March 2009 Archives

Things you have to have seen to be a proper Internet citizen

Two Chinese guys lip-synching to pop songs is part of our shared YouTube heritage.

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Whatever you call them (two chinese boys, Backdorm boys, variations thereof), these guys have produced some particularly fine examples of the art of YouTube lip-synching. This stuff is from their early days, before they got popular and started doing lip-synching live on TV and in stadiums, which to me sort of lost the point that they’re doing this stuff sitting in front of a computer in a University computer lab, with apparently oblivious people working on other computers behind them.

The best place to start is with the song that made them famous, the Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way”:

Another early classic is this chinese love song:

Plenty of costume changes with the Black-Eyed Peas’ “Don’t Lie”:

Proving they still have it, a completely over-the-top version of a silly Jessica Simpson song:

And finally, a completely ridiculous German song, just in time for the World Cup:

What do people use Little Italy's website for?

Perhaps Dunning Design should have checked first.

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Little Italy is a Glasgow institution, and they make tasty pizza. So, finding myself in the car park of IKEA just past 9pm, and hungry, I immediately thought “If Little Italy is still open, I can phone a takeaway order in and pick it up on my way home.” So I checked their website.

The previous version of their website had their opening hours on the front page. The new version is better in almost all aspects - it’s cleaner, it’s fresher, there’s more information - apart from this particular epic fail: if you already know that you like the place, want to order, but can’t remember when the place will be open, the web site will no longer tell you.

To add insult to injury, their “Contact us” page - which, for all I know, might have their opening hours on it - times out, which is pretty much inexcusable. The website was designed by Dunning Design, but the only mention of Little Italy on their website is this news entry from May 2004 about designing “packaging for their take-away services”, which I assume to be custom pizza boxes. Except that Little Italy still use bog-standard pizza boxes, four years later and counting, despite the obvious marketing appeal of having people walk around Byres Road with tasty boxes with your logo slapped on them (similar to how Amazon advertise by the postman delivering parcels with an Amazon logo on them to your neighbours).

The sad thing is, in many ways the new website is much better. The old frame-based layout is gone, but more importantly there’s more information about the people behind Little Italy (I didn’t know that Remo Crolla’s dad ran Dino’s in town). With a bit of effort the site could become far more interesting. Apparently the management team go to Italy once a year for inspiration; that sounds like excellent blog fodder to me.

Now, Little Italy does well enough that perhaps they don’t particularly need to advertise. As I said, they’re an institution in Glasgow’s West End, and for a good reason: their food is very good. (The two Italian restaurants that have opened in the last few years, each within a block of Little Italy, are by all accounts rubbish.) Still, guys, get the basics right?

My little pony Han Solo frozen in carbonite


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My little pony Han Solo frozen in carbonite

Plenty more my little ponies at the artist’s website.


Looks like you might want one.

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Some sort of reptile holding a cricket in its mouth

These plants are not as exotic as you might think

It's "pick on the BBC" day today, it appears.

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Michelle Obama is planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. Good for her.

Says the BBC:

The more exotic plants in the new garden will be arugula, cilantro, tomatilloes, hot peppers and anise hyssop herbs.

That would be rocket and coriander, for British viewers. Of the remaining plants, the first two are basic components of Mexican food, and therefore to be expected in a North American vegetable garden, and the last one is a herb that makes nice honey (the Obamas are also setting up bee hives).

Assuming none of these terms meant anything to you, you could find out what they meant in 15-20 minutes, tops, just by asking Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is by no means a be all and end all; you shouldn’t use it as a definitive source. But you can at least start with Wikipedia, surely?

The names, they are a-changin'

This appears to especially annoy people whose business it is to remember that other people are rich and famous mostly because of their name.

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When Cleodhna and I got married, one of the questions people asked was whether she was going to change her name. I thought that was a silly idea; partly because it seemed a bit possessive (if this is a marriage of equals, why do I keep my last name but Cleodhna loses hers?), but mostly because it would deprive the world of a genuine Dr Nightshade. (It’s important to say “Dr Nightshade” in an evil super-villain sort of voice. You can’t just say it casually.)

This occasionally causes some confusion. A letter from our vet arrived the other day addressed to Mr & Mrs Nightshade, totally failing to identify either of us: I’m not a Nightshade, and she is, but she’s a Dr.

In this context, a BBC article addresses the thorny issue of whether people should be called Miss, Mrs or Ms, in the light of a pamphlet the European Parliament has issued asking staff to use “Ms” as a general-purpose title, rather than “Ms” or “Mrs”. Needless to say, this is like catnip to Eurosceptic Tories and the Daily Mail, and all sorts of positively ghastly people have been happily bellowing “political correctness gone mad”. The article mentions some pretty good reasons why you might want a title that didn’t bring up marital status, and you should read it; I’m more interested in the guy from Debrett’s Peerage and Aristocracy.

The article concludes:

For Charles Kidd, of Debrett’s: “It’s important to get someone’s title right. If someone does want to be called Ms then that’s fine.” But, he added, he had never been asked to change somebody’s title of address from Mrs to Ms. “I’ve just never heard of it,” he said.

Bear in mind that this is the same person who was quoted at the start of the article as objecting to people being called Ms Blah, saying:

“I was brought up to address a married woman as Mrs John Smith, for example.”

It seems to me that if you’re in the business of selling biographical dictionaries of important rich people, it may well be totally reasonable, given the sort of people you talk to all the time, to regret not addressing women as their husband’s chattel.

But if you genuinely haven’t have heard of a title feminists and post-feminists have been using for the last 30-odd years (Wikipedia reckons people started using Ms in the early 70s), why the hell should any normal person pay the slightest attention to you?

The Daily Cynic

I misinterpret BBC News headlines so you don't have to.

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Why the Pope opposes condoms: Because he’s a vicious nazi God-botherer who doesn’t want anyone to have fun.

Prince William says how he hopes to follow in his mother’s footsteps: “One day I hope I can die in a car crash.”

In the late 90s we were regulars at the comedy night at the QM Union, which was part of (I think) the Newcastle Brown Ale comedy circuit. I remember in particular one night where the penultimate guy on the bill died really, really horribly, finished his set early, and to fill the gap, one of the guys in the audience got up and did a 5 minute stand-up. The headliner came on and muttered words to the effect of “My, you’re a tough crowd. In case you don’t like one of the comedians you bring your own.”

So Diana had just died, and this guy came on after having just done other student unions up and down the land, and started saying stuff about how terrible it was that Diana had died, and how bad we all felt, and she was the People’s Princess etc. etc. And he noticed he wasn’t getting any laughs. “Ah, I forgot, you’re Scottish, aren’t you? You don’t give a fuck.”

What are you doing in there? Can I play too?

Habibi does this all the time.

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Dogs peering under a door

Learning from history

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

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Says Kevin Drum, about the lessons we’ve learned from the Great Depression:

If we had taken the same policy actions that Hoover and Mellon took in the 30s, does anyone doubt that the results would have been another Great Depression? I don’t. We may still be doing a lot of dumb things, but we’re an awful lot smarter than we were 80 years ago.

Some interesting corrective thoughts in the comments, including the fact that these are non-farm figures, and far more people worked on farms in the 1930s than do now. Also that unemployment figures have been massaged downwards pretty much in every major industrialised country - you need to add the people who have given up looking for a job, or who are working two jobs when they’d rather be working one (a particularly US-centric phenomenon, I think).

Sometimes we don’t learn, though (via drjon:

The Australian accents just make it funnier.

The future is here, whether you like it or not

"There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke."

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Says Clay Shirky, in an article everyone seems to be linking to today:

It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.


Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

Take time to read the full thing, if you’re interested in what it looks like to be in the middle of a revolution about, amongst other things, publishing and journalism.

On a similar level, I’m reminded of what Fake Steve Jobs had to say about the music industry:

The music companies are in a dying business, and they know it. Sure, they act all cool because they hang around with rock stars. But beneath all the glamour these guys are actually operating two very low-tech businesses. One is a form of loan-sharking: they put up money to make records, then force recording artists to pay the money back with exorbitant interest. The other business is distribution. They’ve got big warehouses and they control the shipment of little plastic boxes that happen to have music in them.

Old industries are dying, and it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to take their place. I thought it was exciting living through the end of the Cold War, seeing Nelson Mandela freed and the end of apartheid, and then the year 2000. I suspect the mainstreaming of the Internet will be more interesting still.

This is what newspaper journalism is all about

It's long, but it's worth it. Make sure you read right up to the end.

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A Pulizer-winning staff writer has the time and space to research a story that most of us have never even thought of. The result is powerful, harrowing, and humbling. Via Making Light, whose comments are a worthy coda.

Things I saw on the Internet that you need to see too

Because this is the future, it's video you can download in nothing but a flash. Because it's still human society, it's three different Flash video players. Oh, and some owls.

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Via jwz

And this week’s Zero Punctuation (you do read Zero Punctuation, don’t you?):

The final throwaway line of what is ostensibly a video game review, describing morbidly obese people as looking like they smuggle tripe for a living (highlight to un-spoiler) explains why, even if you have no interest in video games, you should nonetheless watch Zero Punctuation every Wednesday: like Penny Arcade, it manages to be obsessive and detailed about video games while still remaining inherently funny.

Edit: Oh, and pretty much everyone is blogging the Daily Show’s takedown of CNBC, and their so-called financial expertise:

Incidentally, if Flash video bothers you / makes your machine slow, and you’re running Safari on Mac OS X, download Click to Flash. It replaces any Flash content with a simple gradient, and only loads the (bloated and system-hogging) Flash if you decide it’s something you actually want to see. It’s worth it just to avoid annoying animated ads.

And if you don’t like video, here’s some more owls: Two owls, one snootier than the other

How an entire nation went suddenly insane

One man goes to Iceland to find out why apparently everyone suddenly got into international banking.

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Via Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly: What the hell happened to Iceland?

Back away from the Icelandic economy and you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them. All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting. […] At the dawn of the 21st century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it.

Enter investment banking.

It’s wonderfully-written, and fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way. Also, bizarrely, Hilzoy got it in turn via Felix Salmon, who I realised a few months ago was simultaneously a) a professional journalist with a lot of useful things to say about the economy, and b) the guy I knew at Glasgow University when we were both students writing for the student newspaper who was a right dick.

This is how my mind works

This is the sort of thing I'd post to twitter if it wasn't over twitter's character limit.

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I’ve just had the best idea ever for a sitcom.

It’s about this otherwise perfectly normal guy, who inexplicably, and hilariously, has to regularly convince people that he is in fact a perfectly normal guy, and not, for some reason, a large flightless bird from New Guinea.

It’s called “What, me cassowary?”