Monday, July 28, 2008

Where are the eReaders?

Recalling a disconcerting conversation in Amsterdam with Mr B and the divine Ms S about the future of books, I came across an interesting article by Nick Hornby about the future of books. B had taken the long view: given enough time and enough advances in the technology, books would inevitably go the way of the dodo, moving inexorably from mass to niche to gone in the blink of an epoch. S, on the other hand, thought this specious guff of the first order: books are among the most successful and durable of machines yet devised by humans, and their shelf-life (a telling metaphor) will extend way beyond the heat death of Apple or Amazon. I was somewhere in between: I love books — but, y’know… never say never.

Anyway, here’s an interesting perspective from Nick Hornby. He’s talking about the reasons he doesn’t see eReaders taking off anytime soon. I was taken with this point:

How much reading has been done historically, simply because there is no television available on a bus or a train or a sun-lounger? But that’s no longer true. You could watch a whole series of the Sopranos by the pool on your iPod touch screen, if you want. Reading is going to take a hit from this.
This is depressingly true. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get through my ever-expanding to-read lists: new novels and old classics, magazines and journals, collections of letters, diaries, even slim volumes of poetry; they all heap up unread simply because I find myself watching/listening to vod/podcasts or even just music (would you believe?). Final proof: since my headphones broke last week, I’ve caned one novel (Howard Jacobson’s Kalooki Nights) and am midway through a second (David Peace’s The Damned Utd).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Four chickens back from the shore

There's selling out, which, as we all know, is the height of evil. No-one wants to see Keith Richards hawking Louis Vuitton.

But there should be a term for the opposite of selling out, for repurposing your songs for the greater good. Selling over, perhaps? Selling beyond? Enough. Just check out this little slice of joy if you somehow haven't seen it already:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Look what she did!

She may have been sweating blood and renting the air with her imprecations against the befuddled masses of middle-management but, according to Roy Greenslade, it was all worth it:

Look at the new Daily Mirror website that began rolling out today. It's not only a genuine departure from its former site but amounts to a totally new approach to all the newspaper sites I've ever seen.

I could say that the paper's online designers have thought outside the box. In fact, it appears that they've thought inside several boxes, because interchangeable boxes form the key element to the top half of the homepage.

Clearly, this allows for maximum flexibility because the blocks can be arranged in any format to fit the news agenda. In a sense, it's rather like the modular layout of a newsprint paper, which allows for the easy expansion of a single column into double or treble columns without disturbing the template.

So, on the page I downloaded a couple of minutes ago, there were three small "single column boxes" above a larger treble-column box with the main story of the day (Jeremy Kyle's car crash escape). Below that was a smaller single column box next to a double column box. The formula repeated further down too.

Presumably, if a really major international story breaks, all the blocks can be joined together to devote the whole top of the page to it.

Underneath the boxes are six lists of stories, broken up by different interests. On the right-hand side at the top is the news video, linked on this occasion to the main story by showing the Kyle crash scene. More videos are listed below.

I was warned by someone who had seen a screengrab in advance that it was "horrific". I have to say it doesn't strike me like that at all. My initial reaction, and I haven't changed my mind, was that the Mirror was deliberately trying a bold new approach. (I see my colleague, Jemima Kiss, takes a similar view). She notes that the design work was carried out by the Spanish consultancy, Cases i Associates, which was also responsible for the Mirror's newsprint revamp.

I think they've done a much better job online than with the paper. Once you get used to how it is organised, the mass of colour is less daunting than it appears at first sight. It also works like a dream. I tried the search option, and it worked better than before. The columnists were easier to locate but the promise of bloggers was less satisfactory.

Of course, things will get better. But I think, overall, it promises more than The Sun's altogether less radical revamp.

Well done, by Christ!

On a different and altogether more hilarious tip, here's Giles Coren's letter to the Times' subs. He's pretty angry:


I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don't know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i'm assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it's only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn't here - if he had been I'm guessing it wouldn't have happened.

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.

And on and on it goes. I've worked wearing both helmets, as it were, so I can see both points of view. But he does protest a tad too much. His gag, such as it was, is so subtle as to be non-existent and also largely lame. I'm not at all sure that the butchery of which he complains didn't ever-so-slightly improve things. Actually, if it was up to me, I'd have changed it to 'a-noshing'.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Only a year to go...

Until Zak Snyder's Watchmen sees the light of day. Will this be the first Alan Moore adaptation they don't balls up royally? Whither a celluloid Lost Girls? And — please God — they will be taking out the Smashing Pumpkins track, right?

Not long now...

The media's getting a little bit excited about Season 5 of The Wire any minute now (not on a proper channel though. On FX, which also shows The Colbert Report. It just makes me to bite my own chin off with fury that execs from the main channels must have looked at both shows and passed on them. Startlingly, these people are still in employment. The world is a cold and worrying place. Anyway...)

Now comes a tricky dance: since we're going to watch this on DVD when it comes out in a couple of months, we have to make sure we don't learn what happens. I'm sure this won't be as tricky as it was for those Sopranos fans who had to wait to catch the last episode (my god: that last episode) but it still means I have to be very careful reading any interviews, profiles, think-pieces etc.

That said, here's an interview with the marvelous Dominic West, McNulty of the Baltimore parish, and also the treacherous senator in 300 ("this is going to hurt"). He went to Eton! He was an acrobat! Most astonishingly of all: he's British! Next you'll be telling me that Stringer Bell's from Sarf London. What's that? Oh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Parasite corner

Here at the Yes, parasites are very cool. For instance, check out this cricket, forced, for reasons beyond its ken, to the water, whereby this happens:

House Of Cards

After much chatting, the House of Cards video is finally here:

Worthing waiting for?

Department of Well I Never

John Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day.



We're in the middle of a fully-fledged moral panic. Everyone has been, or is about to me, stabbed to death with knives. Or, failing that, is a knife-wielding hoodie about to stab you (cue the Beeb's hilarious shots of yoovs with butcher's knives).

Oddly, everything looked peaceful this morning. What's going on?

I awoke to an absurd discussion on the radio yesterday morning. Some chap from a northwestern accident and emergency ward was reacting to what he and many others believed were government plans to ferry young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings.

The doctor's rather obvious objection that neither the suturing medics nor the suffering patients would appreciate such a distraction, wasn't diminished by the fact that no one in government was actually suggesting any such thing.

No, ministers' ambitions were limited to having visits to the wards. Even so, the doctor summoned up an unexpected expertise to say that even such less dramatic mechanisms for confronting young people with the consequences of crime had been shown (in the US, of course) not to work.

I have no idea how he knew this, but when it comes to the prevailing moral panic, we are all experts now. Top experts, naturally, are the Government, about to unveil (or unleash?) their latest youth crime action plan. What is actually going on in the first place?

Only yards behind are the other political parties, each with their own very definite views on what ought and what ought not to be done about knife crime, and the newspapers, whose certainty concerning remedies is matched only by their total confusion as to what the problem actually is.

Is it gangs? Is it just young men and boys? Is it just knives, or guns too? Is it all attacks with bladed instruments? Is the incidence rising or falling? Is it younger victims and perpetrators that are the problem here?

If so, what are the figures, once we subtract older people, purely domestic violence and unusual (if horrific) killings, such as that of the two French students in South London? I want to remind readers of the total pointlessness of including, for instance, the murder of a husband by his wife's brother in a statistic that is then used to indicate the problem of casual street crime.

And if people think that they know what is going on, perhaps they could explain to me why knife crime was almost static in London between the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, had increased by nearly 20 per cent in Northumbria, but had halved in Derbyshire.

Had there been a sudden outbreak of divorceless marriage in Derby round about 1992? Or a fashionable run on shivs in Newcastle this January? And what differences in parenting, imprisonment, policing, schooling or social conditions help us to understand why knife crime levels in Scotland are 3.5 times higher than in England or Wales?

I am not saying that nothing is happening. I am saying that in most discussion of this subject - and particularly in those involving politicians and the media - there is darkness rather than light.

That this is a fully-fledged moral panic is evident when the father of the recently murdered Jimmy Mizen speaks about couples who have told him that they were thinking of not having children at all because they fear their children being murdered.

This - statistically, at any rate - is half as sensible as staying childless because of a fear of filial suicide. As far as we can tell, violent crime, which had climbed for three decades, has now fallen by something like 40 per cent since 1995, and the proportion of that involving knives has not changed much. True, one problem with these statistics is that they don't include the under-16s. They will soon, and that at least we can all agree about.

So, for this problem that - in so far as we can quantify it - isn't much worse than it was, and is carried out for reasons we don't fully understand, we now have a plethora of instant solutions. Much of this involves prison, not just for knife wielders, but for that very different category, knife carriers.

With Gordon Brown knife carriers get jail or “community payback”, with David Cameron they can “expect” a spell in the slammer. Meanwhile, for the Liberal Democrats, Chris Huhne derides the Government for being in past denial about knife crime, but may care to explain why, in their January 2007 document Together We Can Cut Crime the un-denying Lib Dems failed to mention the word “knife” or “knives” on a single occasion.

Are knives so epiphenomenal, that they have taken just 18 months to become a big social problem? “Prison is the only place for knife carriers,” opines The Daily Telegraph, adding - without an iota of supporting evidence - that “the ‘shock' of a spell in prison, even of short duration, will be far more potent deterrent than one of Miss Smith's hospital visits”.

That depends, doesn't it, on why you are carrying the knife in the first place, something that we still don't know. No, I'm sorry, of course we do. It's the Daily Mail's “breakdown of the family and education system”. Or, as David Cameron put it, too many young people “do not recognise a sense of right or wrong”.

And the evidence for this contention is what, precisely? Of all the things that I imagine I observe about young people today, a failure to discuss moral or ethical values is the least characteristic.

We have been here before. Guns last year, flick knives in 1958, razor gangs in 1938, skinhead aggro in 1970 (when steel-capped boots were the weapon), mods and rockers in 1964, young men and boys stabbed or shot or stomped by other young men outside pubs, clubs, dancehalls and stadiums.

In many cases it was just luck that separated the victim from the perpetrator. That point was poignantly made by Alice Miles in these pages recently.

I can't help wondering whether what may be behind any recent real rise in knife crimes, is precisely the recent unreal moral panic over knives. Everyone hears that everyone else is carrying, so they carry too; and if you buy a ticket for the fatal lottery sometimes you win.

It is striking, of course, that almost all those involved in casual knife fatalities are young males. In The Times yesterday there was a story about young girls self-harming, suggesting an unpleasant symmetry - the brothers stab others, the sisters stab themselves. But we start, don't we, with offended masculinity, fear and peer pressure, and work from there?

We might look at actually giving the recent £3 million anti-knife advertising campaign some time to work, at developing non-prison forms of deterrence, at televising court procedures in cases of violence, at simultaneously diminishing the amount of violence-as-entertainment on television and in cinemas, at outlawing violence against children, at reinstituting civility in the public sphere, starting with ourselves. Anything but the present pathetic apology for a national discussion

Monday, July 07, 2008

Wireless Festival 08: Underworld, Fatboy Slim

Bjork has a great deal to answer for. For the first time ever, the Icelandic art-pixie is in my bad books (you listening, Bjork? Yes, I do mean you). Mere days before the Wild in the Country festival, due to take place in leafy Knebworth, Bjork pulled out, citing a lack of co-operation from the organisers. In rapid succession, more DJs, plus Battles, I band I've long wanted to see, followed suit. And then, on the Thursday before the weekend, the plug was finally pulled. Cue mass panic among our number: we were all geared up with nowhere to go. A plan B was needed, quick smart.

So, when V remembered almost immediately that the Wireless Festival was on in Hyde Park, featuring Bootsy Collins, MSTRKRFT, Booka Shade, Underworld and Fatboy Slim, our weekend was saved. Moreover, apart from the tantalizing prospect of seeing Bjork, there was some measure of relief that we weren’t going to have to troop up to Knebworth and troop back again.

Our day begins with a rendezvous in the leafy surrounds of Primrose Hill. M's mum is the famous folk singer Bonnie Dobson, author of the folk standard "Morning Dew", and her house is accordingly festooned with the artistic bric-a-brac of a lifetime: photos, postcards, trinkets and paintings. It's a great way to start the day — and wonderful knowing that this will be our retreat when we finally decide that it’s all a bit too hectic.

So we cab it over to Hyde Park, where we loiter by a tent where an instructor is given dance lessons — V is excited by the sounds of distant Groove Armada track. I can only hear a muffled throb. Good lord, has my hearing become that appalling? We catch up with M’s motley crew and head, after a chastening episode or two in the toilets, to the huge tent at the back of the field to catch the closing strains of MSTRKRFT. Their set of dark tech seems confuses me until I realise that I’d been confusing them with M Craft the whole time. But a set of hand-cranked lo-fi folk tunes would have got no-one in the mood for Underworld. It’s a good job we get to the tent early — they’ve stopped letting people into the tent, such is the crush. Good for the space; not so good for those of us who might want to use the toilet.

It’s very dark and very warm by the time Underworld come on. They are superb, Karl flailing like a lunatic who’s plugged himself into the mains just for kicks. “Two Months Off” is lethal, "Born Slippy" takes everyone to the mental place, especially when they release the giant balloons (at least I think that happened), "King of Snake" keeps them there, and "Jumbo" is a blissful way to end, the crowd drifting out for the start of Fatboy Slim... but what’s this? They’re back for a frenzied encore of "Moaner”, an overload of hyper-staccato synths and Karl's maniac rant, plus a frenzied strobe. It all helps create a sensory overload (M had to leave the tent, such was the claustrophobia in the tent) that we agree that Fatboy's gonna have a hard time beating.

Initial omens are not good. We're at the periphery of the crowd, where the beats are a little quiet and the sound is getting sucked hither and thither by the wind. We creep closer, looking for paths of lesser resistance. You'll forgive me if I don't remember a great deal about his song selection from this point, as I spent the next hour and a half grinning like loon. We’d seen Fatboy play the famous Beach Boutique II down in Brighton (along with, what, a quarter of a million others?), and that had been — OK. Most of my memory of that is taken up with finding it hard to dance on the sloping pebbles and then spending a small lifetime leaving the beach to the never-ending voice on the PA: “please make your way off the beach” etc.

But this time, Fatboy was truly amazingly good, spending the whole set grinning like the extraordinarily lucky man he is, resplendent in Hawaiian shirt and continually exhorting the crowd to give it up, which we were more than happy to do. The music got continually harder and deeper and harder and more technoid and then came up the other side with a kind of ecstatic techno I’ve never really heard before more ecstatic. There were super-deep versions of "Sunshine of Your Love" and "(I can't get no) Satisfaction", a frenzied "Block Rockin' Beats", aa cleansing "Jump Around" and then, right at the end, a soaring remix of Arcade Fire's "No Cars Go". The whole thing was like the sun coming out — which was odd because it was getting progressively cloudier. I read later that he played "Crazy in Love" — but I'll have to take that on trust. He also finished with “Praise You”, before leaving us, in true superstar style, wanting more, bereft that he’d finished so early. It wasn’t even 10:30.

After that — we braved the cold and the buses and made our way to The End for some Layo and Bushwacka, then headed back to our Primrose Hill base for a debrief. Sleep was a long time coming.

So a big thanks to that capital fellow, Fatboy Slim. Oh yes, and a belated thank you to Bjork as well...

[Any info about a track-listing most welcome]