Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turing Pumpkin

...but before I go, here's a seasonal pumpkin bearing a festive simulacrum of programmable computing pioneer and persecuted gay icon Alan Turing.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Thanks to Cornwall Matt, who thought this might be the kind of picture I would like. And he was right!

Monday, October 30, 2006


Well everyone, I'm leaving the (still) surviving pelargonium to fend for itself again, as I'm off back to France to do battle once more with nature's rubbish bounty, vanilla deodorant, and France Télécom's feeble dial-up connection.

Back in Blighty in the New Year, back in the blogosphere...in a couple of days, no doubt.

À la prochaine, mes amis.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Second Coming

This is the last thing I'm going to write on this subject, I promise...

Today's Observer has a big feature about - yup, you guessed it - Second Life.

Reading it, I got an even greater sense of déjà vu than I did from last weekend's Telegraph feature about Habbo Hotel*.

Trailblazer that I am, I was in Habbo Hotel in 2002 (as briefly documented in this post), and it was as rubbish and full of teenagers going 'asl' and 'lol' as it apparently still is today. In fact, for all I know, I might *still* be in there, gathering virtual dust Miss Havisham-style in my virtual apartment. That would be cool.

But anyway. In 1996, long before I had an avatar and a room in Habbo Hotel, I had an avatar and a room in a place called WorldsAway. Here, just like in Second Life, you had an avatar that you could customise, which wandered around socialising with other people's avatars, earning in-world money, furnishing the in-world apartment that you bought for it, and buying and selling in-world items.

WorldsAway looked like this:

I'm so powerfully reminded of WorldsAway whenever I read the latest gushing article about the 'new' world of Second Life, that I went in search of old media articles to check that WorldsAway really did once exist, and to reassure myself that the current media frenzy is actually a frenzy about something that's been around for more than a decade.

So here we go:

Exhibit A is an article from Wired magazine's June 1996 issue, entitled 'Metaworlds'.

Exhibit B is the cover feature from today's Observer Review section, entitled 'Goodbye, Cruel World...'.

The Wired article makes fascinating reading. Media coverage of information technology is usually so forward-looking, and we take technological developments for granted so quickly, that it's instructive to stop for a second, look back and understand where today's technology came from rather than where it's going.

But assuming that you don't have the time or inclination to read a 13-page article from 10 years ago, here are some things that haven't changed:

1. Snow Crash as Ur-Geschichte
Science fiction often anticipates technological developments, and virtual worlds are no exception. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash vividly anticipates the dual reality created not just by Second Life, but also by its forebears like WorldsAway:
"...to keep things straight, I'm going to call [places like Worlds Away] metaworlds. This is partly in homage to Neal Stephenson, whose 1992 novel Snow Crash portrayed a metaworld that's a few technological and cultural notches above what's possible right now: the Metaverse, a virtual world so immersive and detailed it rivals the real one.

In Stephenson's Metaverse, an avatar can look any way you want: 'If you're ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you've just gotten out of bed, your avatar can still be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse'."

- Robert Rossney, 'Metaworlds', Wired, June 1996

"Second Life, or something like it, was first imagined by the science-fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash. His prophecy was uncanny. 'Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too,' he wrote, 'and if the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see him, just as he's seeing them. They could strike up a conversation: Hiro in the U-Stor-It in LA and the four teenagers probably on a couch in a suburb of Chicago, each with their own laptop. But they probably won't talk to each other, any more than they would in Reality ...'."

Tim Adams, 'Goodbye, Cruel World...', The Observer, 29 October 2006

2. Virtual Worlds as Consensual Hallucination
William Gibson came up with the idea of 'cyberspace' as 'a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of operators', way back in 1984 when hardly anyone outside of the Pentagon and MIT had even heard of the internet. The idea of a virtual world as a kind of dream or hallucination shared by many people at once held sway in 1996 just as it does today:
"WorldsAway's long history is a little too evident. It looks cool - the background graphics are in a hallucinatory art nouveau style, sort of Aubrey Beardsley meets William Gibson..."

- Wired, June 1996

"In his forthcoming book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner...traces the ways that the Californian non-conformism of the Sixties helped to create the revolution of the personal computer [...] the individual self, trapped in the human body, 'would finally be free to step outside its fleshy confines, explore its authentic interests, and find others with whom it might achieve communion'. In this reading, computers [...] took over where LSD left off."

- The Observer, October 2006

3. The Value of Virtual Real Estate
It seems that the old 'location, location, location' mantra has always been as true of virtual worlds as it is of the real one:
"There's nothing to do in AlphaWorld [another 1996-era virtual world] but build, and the buildings themselves have no purpose. Nonetheless, the place is crowded with structures - so much so that new users have a hard time finding any space of their own to build. All the land near the metaworld's entry point has already been taken...Worlds Inc. is adding teleporters to outlying undeveloped areas so that new users won't give up before they find a patch of open ground."

- Wired, June 1996

"Each new resident of Second Life is offered a plot of land. Kenny [the journalist's avatar] chooses one on Blacktail Ridge. It is, I have to say, a disappointment: a dark and icy wasteland with a few scattered shacks...Good land has become so rare in Second Life that people are prepared to pay hundreds of real dollars for it."

- The Observer, October 2006

4. Virtual Living as 'The Future'
The technology industry and its media are obsessed with the future, always presenting whatever's happening now as a crude and primitive version of how things will be in some shiny future age. Frothy-mouthed futurologists are forever predicting the day when machines will become sentient (the so-called 'Singularity'), and humans will evolve into World of Warcraft characters.

I think it's terribly sad as it tends to dismiss the past, thus preventing people from properly understanding the history of technology, and it makes us take for granted all the wonderful, bizarre and fascinating things that are actually happening now. But anyway, both of these articles fall into this futurology trap, thus:
"The technology needed to support something like Stephenson's Metaverse is not really that far off. What if we find the combination of avatars, gestures, and persistence compelling enough to make them the standard? What if we all move into these metaworlds, conducting large portions of our lives online? [...] We shouldn't be expecting metaworlds to supplant the real world or fix it. They won't. What they will do, though, is give people something they are ceaselessly searching for: new ways to connect with each other."

- Wired, June 1996
This has actually happened now, but we're still looking to the future:
"A brave-ish new world has recently been created. You can access it on your PC with a password and your credit card. And as soon as you arrive in it, you can easily convince yourself that you are seeing the future - or at least one future - of entertainment and interaction and business."

- The Observer, October 2006

Rah. So, next time the media starts going all gushy about Second Life, remember to roll your eyes sweetly and say 'gosh, how terribly 1996'. But as established virtual citizens of the blogosphere, you would do that anyway, wouldn't you?

* Which isn't available online; I checked.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virtual Company Disappears Up Second Arse

Chris Morris couldn't have made a better job of this:

The Crayon Manifesto

My favourite bits:

"In the new marketing world, there is no precedent; there is only gut, intuition, common sense and intelligence."

"Our master is the customer; our master is the truth; our master is change. We fully intend to bias against the status quo and represent the road not taken with 110% of our minds, bodies and spirits."

"If you have new marketing blood pumping through your veins and have the kind of passion, intensity and originality that is waiting to explode upon impact, inquire within."

"All crayons will have skin in the game."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blogger Writes Blog Post Inside Second Life

Having recently read this, this, and (dear god help us) this, I thought I'd just test whether the deployment of the magical phrase 'inside Second Life' automatically results in impressionable venture capitalists battering down the door of Quinquireme Towers to shower me with cash.

I'll shut up now and do some work.

Inside Second Life.

UPDATE: Readers, have you heard of any other companies launching a nonsensical operation inside a virtual world for no reason other than to appear fashionable and/or to attract large cash donations from stupid people? If so, send in your reports! I might set up a Nonsensical Virtual Operations Monitoring Agency...right here in the blogosphere.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hey Mr Lawnmower Man

As you know, on this blog we like to chew over the important issues of the day. Could North Korea test a nuclear weapon inside Second Life? What would the prevailing political ideology be called if Gordon Brown became Prime Minister and appointed 'Sir' Alan Sugar as Chancellor? Should Nelly Furtado be quarantined for avian flu, just in case?

You know, the weighty stuff.

Today is no exception. The other day commenter NIBUS opined that there are no pop songs about lawnmowers. Today commenter JACK SPANNERS retaliated by observing:

Not a song *about* lawnmowers as such, but the Talking Heads song "Nothing but Flowers" contains the line: 'If this is Paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower'. Top song, as well.

And so there we have today's topical discussion topic:

Songs about lawnmowers or that have lawnmowers in them: are there any?

Ooh, it's getting *just* like Comment is Free in here, isn't it?

Signs Of The Times, Part The Umpteenth

A blogger uses his Guardian column to explain why newspaper columns* are no longer relevant in the blogging era.

Ahh, we bloggers are like teenagers who think they can live without their parents, but keep running back for food and money and clean clothes.

* Admittedly he's on about leader columns, but it's still nicely ironic.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter ALBERT, who drew my attention to this piece from Comment is Free last Thursday. It's by Jeremy Langmead, editor of camp interiors mag Wallpaper*. Can anyone square this bit of his tirade:
Neither my ex-wife nor I are the most mature, sane or practical people in the world - we can be juvenile, bad-tempered and stubborn - but we worked hard at keeping everything as pleasant and humane as possible. She helped me hunt for a new apartment, I babysat when she went out on a date, and one evening we sat down with a bottle of wine and worked out a financial settlement, even though neither of us ever came anywhere near to passing a maths exam. Having watched both our parents go through destructive divorces, we knew what the pitfalls were and made sure we avoided them.

Nearly a decade later, we are still the best of friends. We live on the same square in north London and the children happily hop between the two homes depending on which kitchen contains the most chocolate biscuits. My ex-wife lives with her partner and their new baby and we all comfortably socialise and even holiday together.

with this bit:

Some of my younger colleagues at Wallpaper are part of this blog brigade and I have open-mindedly visited their sites to see what all the fuss is about.

I discovered what music they liked, what books they'd read, the names of some of their friends and what a wild time they had at that party last Saturday night - the last accompanied by blurred pictures of drunk people gurning at the camera. Oh, and one of them enjoyed the Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Proof was in the accompanying picture of him outside the gallery with thumbs in the air.

I came away with the feeling that I'd been watching a particularly dull MTV programme; or delving into the online equivalent of one of those brightly coloured patent diaries that 12-year-old girls covet because they have small gold padlocks with fiddly keys.

Sadly, the minutiae of our everyday lives are rarely riveting. Only a handful of diarists over the centuries have managed to transform humdrum into drama. When future generations read the blogs compiled this week, the most interesting thing will be how uninteresting they are. I've yet to be convinced that blogs are anything more than an outlet for people who didn't make it onto Big Brother 7.

This week Jeremy read Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett "I'm not into celebrity outpourings but this was cruel, witty and well-written." Jeremy listened to 5.55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg "A heavenly combination of Air and Jarvis Cocker wrote the songs for this brilliant album ... tracks were used for almost every catwalk show in Milan".

I really, really want to believe that last bit is a hilarious joke, but something tells me it actually isn't...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Patroclocast 1

I almost changed my whole blog name to Quadrireme, just so I could bill my inaugural podcast as a Quadcast. What a tosser! But common sense stayed my hand, so Quinquireme it remains, and this is my inaugural, erm, Patroclocast.

Obviously I am just blatantly copying my fellow bloggers Billy, Del and Annie, all of whom have been producing excellent podcasts for, ooh, years, in Web 2.0 terms.

Be warned there's no talking on mine. This is because I wish to preserve my allure and mystique and not at all because I'm far too self-conscious to broadcast my voice wantonly about the IP-waves. But if I *was* talking on it, this stuff below is what I would be saying:

Howe Gelb - 'Paradise Here Abouts'. Alt.country's answer to Lou Reed goes all indie gospel blues with Canada's Voices of Praise gospel choir. Featuring Jeremy Gara from the Arcade Fire on drums, fact fans.

Betty Harris - 'Break In The Road'. Yer 1960s New Orleans funk is technically a bit too in-your-face and raunchy (ooh, how I hate that word) for me - I'm all uptight and British, for god's sake. But I make an exception for this, as it's very funky (and raunchy) indeed, and also makes admirable use of guitar feedback a good fifteen years before the Jesus and Mary Chain were even invented.

Husky Rescue - 'Poison'. Finland's finest doing a lovely loungey cover of Alice Cooper's paean to S&M. Try to ignore the 'black lace on sweat' line. Ewww.

Viva Voce - 'We Do Not Fuck Around'. Sinister vengeful piano ballad turns into massive, synth-driven swearfest. Single of the year, I reckon.

Tilly and the Wall - 'Bad Education'. Flamenco-flavoured noise-pop celebration of cross-dressing. With tap dancing for percussion. Brilliant.

Matson Jones - 'New York City Fuck Off'. The fifteen year-old in me can't help but like angry, spiky songs with lots of gratuitous swearing in them. The thirty-six year-old in me can't help but like the deployment of sophisticated string instruments (cello, double bass) in angry, spiky songs with lots of gratuitous swearing in them. Result: I really, really love this song.

Ike & Tina Turner - 'The Game Of Love'. Hmm, it all goes a bit sexy for a while here, as Tina informs Ike that she's just as capable of putting it about as he is. Which is immediately followed by...

Lovage - 'Stroker Ace'. It's an incredibly sexy trip-hop song about a cat. Need I say more?

Ladytron - 'International Dateline'. I hate their name, I loathe their artwork and I'm not the world's biggest fan of synthy music (despite any evidence to the contrary presented here). So why I love this is a bit of a mystery.

Her Space Holiday - 'My Girlfriend's Boyfriend'. Indie geeks like this for the looped violin sample. I like it for the line 'you can't make someone love you with a song'. Because we all know that's not true, and indeed if you were going to try to make someone love you with a song, you could do a lot worse than:

Barry Adamson - 'Come Hell or High Water'. Officially my favourite song of all time. It's cool, it's funny, it's sexy, and it has the lines:
...and the silence is louder than an H-bomb
That explodes when I close my eyes
Sending shockwaves to the town you're from
In the hope that you'll stir and come alive
Which makes me go a bit funny every time I hear it.

That's it then: 11 songs, all of them brilliant, and thus 43 minutes of your life well spent, even if I do say so myself.

Get it here!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

They've Got One Leaving Today...

UPDATE 3 (seeing as everyone still seems to be reading this one): A mini Milky Way and a half-chewed lego spaceman are even now on their way to commenter SEAN MCMANUS, who has very correctly pointed out that 'Walking On The Moon' by The Police is a bad pop song about space. Nice work Sean!

There I was, innocently writing a brochure about something or other, when my lovely colleague D. appeared on MSN Messenger claiming that there aren't very many pop songs about space.

What rot, thought I. There are LOADS of pop songs about space. There's practically the entire oeuvre of the Pixies, for a start, and most of early David Bowie. There's 'Yuri G' by PJ Harvey, in which she threatens to do all manner of saucy things to the moon while masquerading as Yuri Gagarin. And there's the Dukes of Stratosphear*'s 'Bike Ride To The Moon', in which Andy Partridge chivalrously hops on his BMX in order to protect the moon from the West Country temptress's saucy advances.

There's Tasmin Archer's 'Sleeping Satellite', in which she bemoans the fact that we ever went to the moon in the first place, probably because in doing so we exposed it to the corrupting influence of a flawed Mankind (exemplified by PJ Harvey's saucy advances). There's 'Higher Than The Sun' by Primal Scream, which probably isn't about space at all, come to think of it, but it can still go in because it's ace. There's the Prodigy's 'Outer Space'. There's 'Rocket Man' by Elton John. There's 'Another Girl, Another Planet' by the Only Ones, which is surely one of the greatest songs of all time.

In fact I put it to you, readers, that not only are there loads of songs about space, but they are all, without exception, completely brilliant.

A mini Milky Way and a half chewed lego spaceman to anyone who can prove me wrong!

* UPDATE: XTC, sorry. There goes my lucrative guest-editing spot on the OMM.

UPDATE 2: No, I was right the first time. Hurrah! Lucrative guest-editing spot on the OMM, please.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Is Web 2.0?

In the old days (1996-2003), I used to waste time at work reading stuff on the internet.

Now I waste time at work writing stuff on the internet.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

UPDATE: Then LC drew my attention to this, which, together with its 200+ comments, explains it all much better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Battlestar Quadrireme

*picks self up off floor*

Well, the faster-than-light jump seems to have worked OK, with one tier of oarsmen as the only casualties, and they were fairly expendable anyway, and the extras were getting quite expensive, and they could never get a proper purchase with oars that long, so quite frankly they were really only there for decoration and for showing off, a bit like when Oracle supremo Larry Ellison decided he was going to build the world's biggest yacht just because he could.

So who's been left behind, and who's made the jump with me remains to be seen, but it probably won't be long before the others pick up my signals via Technorati and Statcounter and battle can commence once more.

Until then, I'll just settle in here and continue watching Series 2 of 'New' Battlestar Galactica until something terribly dangerous and exciting starts happening to my defence mainframe.

*breathes contented sigh*

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Grammar Interlude

I've lived in London for eight years, so I don't know why this has never vexed me before, but it suddenly started vexing me quite a lot yesterday as I was travelling towards Victoria on the District Line:

Why does Earl's Court tube station have a possessive apostrophe, but Barons Court doesn't?

Answers on a crumpled one-day Travelcard...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Patroclus 0, Editorial Policy 0

Everyone knows my editorial policy by now: no sex, no blogging when depressed.

But you know, hypothetically speaking, what if I suddenly really wanted to tell the whole world about what the lovely Mr BC and I have been getting up to?

Sensible approaches might be:

1. Start a juicy anonymous sexblog (advantage: may also result in massive book deal).

2. Whisper it into the ground, in the manner of King Midas (disadvantage: office is very quiet and open plan, people might hear what I'm saying and then wonder why I'm lying on the floor saying it. It might erode the air of professionalism and gravitas that I like to project in the work environment).

3. Write it in an actual diary book thing (disadvantage: years of bending my fingers back to 'impress' people with my double-jointedness have left me unable to hold a pen).

A not-terribly-sensible approach would be:

4. Write about it in the company newsletter.

So naturally I chose option 4.

The company newsletter is distributed every Friday to hundreds of people in the technology industry, including all of my clients. My 'column' is written under my own real name. Within minutes of receiving it, a client sends an email to the general company email address saying "good to hear Patroclus is getting some!"

I hide under my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oh God, What Am I Wearing?

Hmm, I seem to have come into work dressed as a slightly wrong version of the Queen on a Sunday afternoon's huntin', shootin' and fishin' at Balmoral.

Even though my boots are brown suede and not Hunter wellies, and I got my tweed skirt in a French department store rather than Daks, and my green jacket is a sort of military-style effort and not a Barbour, and my necklace has flowery beads rather than pearls, I still look like I'm about to nick off to spend my Civil List moolah on a couple of footstools for the corgis and a headscarf to keep the pheasant blood out of my hair.

When actually I'm just off to M&S to buy rice salad and nuts.

*waves regally to the cheering mob of serfs, peasants and oiks*

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Borderline Origami

In retrospect, the signal that we eventually settled on on Saturday night to indicate our whereabouts to other bloggers possibly erred on the side of the over-subtle.

If you turned up and failed to find us, it's probably because we were sitting as far away from the on-stage action as topographically possible, and only identifiable by this small and hastily-improvised table decoration:

It's meant to be a (blue) cat, but it looked alarmingly like the rabbit from Donnie Darko, and I think we were all quite relieved when the barman took it away. Later on, James applied his black-belt origami skills to the re-creation of the unicorn from the end of Blade Runner, thus:

I don't think I need say any more about that one, except to note that it now graces my mantelpiece along with a small Transformer that doesn't actually transform, and two packets of Moomin chewing gum.

There was also a disappointing lack of people dressed as otters (unless they were only slightly dressed as otters and spent the evening hanging about in the shadows), and the band member we thought was GW Patrick turned out to be someone else entirely, which was strange, because we had met Patrick earlier in the evening and he definitely existed and everything.

So in conclusion, sincere apologies to anyone who turned up and couldn't find us, and a hearty hurrah for Slaminsky, Corin, Billy and the lovely Llewtrah, who did. And it turns out that Billy and Corin live about three feet away from me in London's swinging Shepherd's Bush, so I'd better be on my best behaviour when prowling about in Askew Road.

UPDATE: Lots on my mind at the moment, the writing-about of which would almost certainly violate my Second Rule of Blogging. However, it isn't possible to get *too* depressed while there are still joyous uplifting orchestral indie-jangle-pop songs in the world - and here for your Monday afternoon musical delectation is what is probably the bestest example of the genre EVER:

The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic (mp3)


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Withered, Condemned, 8-bit Bleeping

There comes a time in a woman's life when she must face the fact that her 36th birthday* is approaching with worrying alacrity; that her marriage came to an untimely end; that she has no successors to look after her in the autumn of her life; that her finances are in tatters due to some injudicious decisions she made in earlier, more carefree times, and that the growing out of her expensive blonde highlights reveals more grey hair than she is particularly comfortable with.

At such times there is only one sensible course of action, and that is to embark on an epic internet quest in search of obscure yet strangely brilliant Finnish videogame music.

Luckily the quest proved satisfactory, and so, bent but not broken, I proudly present you with the fruits of my endeavours:

Desert Planet - Asteroid Hopper (mp3) - seriously, this is really good.

Desert Planet - Return of the Ninja Droids (mp3)

Go to it, good readers, while you're still young and beautiful!

* Anyone who fancies celebrating this auspicious occasion is welcome to join James and me at the Borderline on Saturday night, where GW Patrick's band 7 Seconds of Love is apparently going to ROCK like no band that features a member of the Green Wing production team** has ever ROCKED before! More details here.

** And, as it turns out, that Joel Veitch from rathergood.com. Photoshopped kitten ROCK mayhem ahoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Radio Silence

Yes, well, I tried to write something very serious and considered about Raymond Williams and the structure of feeling, but it appears that I can't trust myself to write anything at all - not even about deceased cultural theorists, mmm, saucy - without committing a flagrant breach of my Strict Editorial Policy. Radio silence will therefore be observed until further notice.

*grins wickedly*