Friday, June 27, 2008

The English : Judge, Jury and Executioner

The English have, no doubt, gotten a pretty raw deal in modern media. Look at any action flick or poorly written space opera, and you can be sure that the fellow in the over-starched grey uniform will give his orders with a terse, aloof accent that, while not one that can be found anywhere in the world, nevertheless is one that the World in General thinks the Brits have. The Brits also appear to be on the side of oppression in almost every historical epic worth mentioning. Even if it's say, Ancient Rome, you can bet your toga that Nero will have the flair of the Isle.

It's as if America has some sort of ancestral memory of the Brits, scars of taxation without representation and taking orders from gentlemen with fancy accents and powdered wigs. I imagine that'd be a wound that wouldn't heal well.

But in many ways the US still holds the English in powdered wig role. Anytime one needs the Authority on something, or A Real Serious Decision, it's always someone with an accent that sounds most at home making comments about "Chelsea" or ordering a scone. The Severe English Judge has become a trope in reality TV. If you have judges judging things: dancing, singing, dancing in groups, there is some bloody Brit in there making the FINAL DECISION.

There are two throwaway judges, usually, The Artist, who adds nothing useful and just wants EVERYONE to win, the Wannabe, who tries to make some sort of critical point but is hindered by his overuse of the word 'dawg', and the Brit.The audience pretty much ignores ALL judgements except for the Brit's. The Opinion That Matters.

Americans aren't to be trusted in their assessment. They are too 'rah-rah why can't we all win', yet at the same time, by the very nature of contests, someone has to win. So it's up to the Brit to nod his well coiffed head and either give begrudging approval or sit and ponder while he constructs the best way to destroy the aspiring singer/dancer/group dancer's dreams in a way that only a Greater Demon from the ninth circle could.

I think it's also the sentiment that the Brits, and Europe in general have more rigour. Things are more Old School Serious over there. One gets images of 2nd Grade children having to memorize every little country in western africa for their geography lessons, whereas in the America the children just have to find the US on a globe. Maybe this is part and parcel with Britain having Tradition and History. I mean, when there have castles, they aren't ironic remakings of a bygone era, they are actual castles (albeit bought up and inhabited by some media baron or Madonna).

It's the order of the world. The Brits, have Rigour and Judgement, the Americans, well, they have the guns, I suppose.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Thanks to ~ RAYMOND for the photo.

Below is my article for my work newsletter; this issue's theme is 'Style'.

We nerds,-- the Basement Dwellers, Code Slingers, the Reviled Who Shall Not Be Mentioned -- can blissfully ignore style. We also ignore fashion, slickness, presentability and anyone who points at us and says "heeey, straight shooter!".

It's partly that yes, we have the social awareness of a leperous donkey, that cannot be argued; but for most of us, it goes deeper.

There is a long standing tradition, nay, I'd say a belief that runs to the ROOT of geekiness. That is, FUNCTION, over FORM. This is not right in all cases, maybe not even in most cases, but it's a leading tenet of being nerdcore.

There are many instances in which this belief is challenged and crushed. The iPod, for example. There was time when it wasn't the dominant mp3-music-video-lifestyle-media-enabler it is today. There was a time when all sorts of horrid, ugly, but reasonably priced mp3 players vied for your dollars.

There was one in particular that was the darling of the nerd community, the Archos Jukebox. It was better than the iPod in almost every single respect: (BLAH BLAH BLAH technobabble BLAH). Short version, the iPod was a late 80's Lamborghini, and the Archos was a Corolla. Yes, one look admittedly much nicer and sleeker, but it was would also be a mere footnote in the book 'Things to Waste Enormous Sums Of Money On With Laughable Durability' whereas the other car (with all the style of a pail of compost) could easily be passed down the generations until the Four Horsemen take a canter.

Sadly, one look around any bus stop will tell you who won that race. For nerds, it was an outrage. The iPod was inferior in every way: capacity, compatibility, battery life, price.

It was sexy though.

It often goes whistling by geek's heads that sometimes, the FORM IS the FUNCTION. Personal mp3 players were well, PERSONAL. They were mini-status symbols of coolness. You could carry around an Archos if you found external hard-drives particularly fetching, but otherwise you went for something sleek, that looked like it was forged in a crucible of pure Design and Hipster Cred. Which reduces your choices to Apple products or if I.M. Pei ever gets around to designing personal electronics.

In the end, we geeks can appreciate there is some sort of value in style. That, in some instances, our raw understanding of function is not the end all and be all of how useful things are. We can appreciate such ideas at a very abstract level; it won't stop us from wearing spaceship T-shirts and jeans.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Conference : Amenities

Thanks to Hysterical Bertha for the photo.

It's like the dot-bomb never happened. There were pool tables, foose-ball, bean bags, Really Cool Chair that look like they were made by Apple designers with too much free time and an advanced degree in plastics, free pop, juice, muffins, candy bins. It was a little overwhelming. At any moment I was expecting someone to walk by with a shirt and start raving about his stock options.

At lunchtime, the conference provided the lunch, in three large rooms, one for Mexi-Cali, another for deli, and another for grill (burgers etc). The opulence of it all was pretty stunning, especially for me, coming from the public sector; where the only thing that's free are the stir sticks for the coffee you had to pay a quarter for.

The after party featured a band with enormous geek cred, "The Flight of the Concords". They sing songs of fantastic musical value about awkward park meetings, a future populated by ironic robots, and the tepid and routine love life of a couple that have been together for years. The crowd went as wild as crowd full of (mostly) hyper-intelligent geeks can get over loud lights and music.

The party room itself almost sent me into full cardiac arrest. They had free arcade cabinets, open bar (beer, wine, etc), sushi, sundae bar, thai food, pasta to order, Wiis setup with Wii Sports all loaded up.

It felt like it was 1999. Without Prince, of course.