Archive for the ‘music’ Category

So I went to this. Unfortunately I actually thought pretty much everyone was good. Damn good. Brilliant, in fact. So the spirit of this post is not available. By about midnight the floor had got to about optimal density – not quite to the point where you start worrying that you’re going to be knocked down in the ruth or tread on someone important’s head or catch a dreaded skin disease but well past the point of running at maximum efficiency. People kept packing in and the tall ones turned up. You know the ones – I first encountered them in a pub in Highgate, looking around and being amazed by the vast cliffs on every side blocking out the light.

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Anyway, despite the inverse Randy Newman problem, the hit and hope photos over the wall of tall turned out a bit more fire and forget than I expected.

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And I was asked for drugs – on the contrary to this post, I wasn’t taken for a user but a dealer. I should worry that I’m being accused of progressively more serious offences, I guess.

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Later I found out that someone had sent me a work e-mail while I was dancing. Gah, pales in comparison with the Frenchman I spotted peering at “courriels (professionels)” on a BlackBerry. Faut mieux laisser, quoi. The following isn’t mine but the result of a cursory trawl.

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My lobbying project has been entered in the Open Data Challenge! Someone posted this to the MySociety list, with rather fewer than the advertised 36 hours left. I was at a wedding and didn’t read it at the time. After my partner and I had tried to invent a tap routine to the back end of Prince’s “Alphabet Street” and had got up at 8am to make it for the sadistic bed & breakfast breakfast and gone back to help clean up and drink any unaccountably unconsumed champagne, and the only thing left to look forward to was the end of the day, I remembered the message and noted that I had to get it filed before midnight.

So it was filed in the Apps category – there’s an Ideas category but that struck me as pathetic, and after all there is some running code. I pushed on to try and get something out under the Visualisation category but ManyEyes was a bit broken that evening and anyway its network diagram view starts to suck after a thousand or so vertices.

As a result, the project now has a name and I have some thin chance of snagging an actual Big Society cheque for a few thousand euros and a trip to Brussels. (You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.)

The most recent experiment with the Lobster Project – see, it’s got a name! It’s got you its grips before you’re born…it lets you think you’re king when you’re really a prawn…whoops, wrong shellfish – was to try out a new centrality metric, networkx.algorithms.centrality.betweenness_centrality. This is defined as the fraction of the shortest paths between all the pairs of nodes in the network that pass through a given node. As you have probably guessed, this is quite an inefficient metric to compute and the T1700 lappy took over a minute to crunch it compared to 7 seconds to complete the processing script without it. Perhaps the new KillPad would do better but the difference is big enough that it’s obviously my fault.

Worth bothering with?

As far as I can see, though, it’s also not very useful. The results are correlated (R^2 = 0.64) with the infinitely faster weighted graph degree. (It also confirms that Francis Maude is the secret ruler of the world, though.)

The NX functions I’m really interested in, though, are the ones for clique discovery and blockmodelling. It’s obvious that with getting on for 3,000 links and more to come, any visualisation is going to need a lot of reduction. Blockmodelling basically chops your network into groups of nodes you provide and aggregates the links between those groups – it’s one way, for example, to get department level results.

But I’d be really interested to use empirical clique discovery to feed into blockmodelling – the API for the one generates a python list of cliques, which are themselves lists of nodes, and the other accepts a list of nodes or a list of lists (of nodes). Another interesting option might be to blockmodel by edge attribute, which would be a way of deriving results for the content of meetings via the “Purpose of meeting” field. However, that would require creating a list of unique meeting subjects and then iterating over it creating lists of nodes with at least one edge having that subject, and then shoving the resulting list-of-lists into the blockmodeller.

That’s a lorra lorra iteratin’ by anybody’s standards, even if, this being Python, most of it will end up being rolled up in a couple of seriously convoluted list comps. Oddly enough, it would be far easier in a query language or an ORM, but I’ve not heard of anything that lets you do SQL queries against a NX graph.

Having got this far, I notice that I’ve managed to blog my enthusiasm back up.

Anyway, I think it’s perhaps time for a meetup on this next week with Who’s Rob-bying.

it’s not Thursday…

So it must be time for a non-Thursday music link. New Order “Beach Buggy”. Not sure if this counts as a remix – IIRC it actually predates Blue Monday. It’s certainly a far better version of the same theme.

Also, this rocks although I found it looking for a shareable version of something else. They’re supporting this lot next week but this has probably fallen prey to my disorganisation.

So we did the Stag & Dagger festival. This translated into the following facts on the ground, which I propose to review briefly.

Toro y Moi, at XOYO

This lot could be interesting – if they stopped, ugh, jamming. EDIT. Ended up back in the bar with the house’s DJ. Venue is pretty great, too – fantastic sound, disturbingly reasonable drinks prices and surprisingly nice people. Even though I spotted someone holding a pint in their teeth to facilitate tweeting with both thumbs. Quote: “You’ve really done that skinhead look haven’t you – is that, er, deliberate?” No, I fell under a barber’s shop.

YBAs at the Old Blue Last

If you like vaguely punky, you’ll like this, but there’s a lot of it about. Also, could people stop pretending to be the Jesus & Mary Chain? This was the second act of the night I would have dropped in favour of the house’s DJ like a shot.

Wire at Village Underground

Legends, but ruined by terrible sound in the cavernous railway arch.

James Yuill at City Arts & Music Project Basement

This is going to be harsh, but stop trying to be Jarvis Cocker, especially as you’re a DJ. No-one dancing. Beer prices the highest I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I also refuse to believe that their basement really looks like this and suspect that decorators spent serious money making it look that cheap.

Star Slingers at Queen of Hoxton

This lot sounded interesting and they got the floor going, but for some reason we didn’t like them much. Don’t remember exactly why, probably because they were the last act of the night. And they kept pointing a laser at me. Prices appalling (I brought Daniel Davies here once and even he jibbed), not much point if you’re not on the roof terrace. Handy for the office.

I forget who played at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen but we couldn’t stand the gaff for more than 30 seconds at a time, so the only way to take part would have been to take turns to duck in and out like Soviet submariners during a nuclear accident.

This came up in my twitter feed recently. Charmingly 90s-ish, but I did like the point that it’s very difficult to get decent bass out of a mobile device/laptop/whatever, and this probably has consequences for the kind of music people will make with them. Come to think of it, there’s an interesting economic angle. The electronics will only keep getting cheaper, and the software can be free. But some things require a large physical lump that needs transporting and storing awkwardly. It’s a little like Baumol’s cost disease.

Meanwhile, I read the Grauniad interview with Adam Curtis this weekend and it didn’t make me want to see his next after all. This post sums up why. It’s TV thinking – if the edit is right, it doesn’t matter if the logic contains more handwaving than might be ideal.

What were the most successful public policies of the last 30 years? Apparently, the minimum wage, devolution, privatisation, and the Northern Ireland peace process. I suspect they may not use my definition of success, but even on their terms it’s telling that three out of four of them come from the 1997-2001 Labour government.

Finally, some music.

A lot of their other stuff seems terribly dated now but that one holds up.

We’ve not done one of these for a while, and I meant to get around to a Loleatta Holloway tribute link at some point. Here goes – an absolute killer of a remix that dropped out of the YouTube playlist by chance.

Meanwhile, depress yourself!

The auction of machine tools and fittings, including a 10m antique boardroom table and 20 matching chairs is now being advertised; it takes place at the end of the month.

Ah, where did I leave that post? This stands up pretty well too.

I’ve been rating my way through the SXSW torrent, which is far less fun than it sounds. Sturgeon’s law applies – in fact it’s worse than 90% of everything being shit, it’s more like 90% of everything is inoffensive and a significant chunk of the other 10% is offensive. But then it got worse, thanks to this tweet. The best is the enemy of the good, but they are natural allies against the mediocre.

Alliance Géostrategique is having a month on the theme of independence.

Some thoughts: First of all, we’re constantly exhorted to act as individuals but also to be aware of interdependence. “Interdependence” seems to be the neoliberal mirror image of “solidarity” – rather than being a force that makes for positive liberty, it seems to be a negative one. You never here of anything good coming of it – rather, it’s always about financial crises, viruses spreading on the airlines, cascade failures in supply chains and Internet routing, terrorists and organised criminal networks. We are asked to fork out in the name of interdependence, while individuals profit.

Of course, this is where the similarity with “solidarity” turns up. The supposed virtues of “solidarity” or “community” are often, even usually, indistinguishable from stifling conservatism, Nosey Parker, and the sort of family ethic where everyone knows the worst about everyone else but some people are never held responsible for it. To be really cynical, you know it’s solidarity (or interdependence) when someone’s rattling their tin under your nose.

Getting back to the point, in the world of “interdependence”, why would anyone want independence? If even major powers are constrained by rules, what’s the point? Between the 1980s and the great financial crisis, there was a fashion for a sort of soft nationalism, especially in Europe, in which it was argued that small states were worth having precisely because so many of the big questions of peace and war and fundamental economics had been reserved by institutions like the EU, NATO, the Bretton Woods structures, the WTO, and the less formal systems of the international community. Although there was not much point in having a Scottish Army, by the same token, it didn’t matter. Therefore things like “Europe of the regions” and friends were a valid proposition.

One of the most dangerous toys left to a small state (or autonomous province) was its financial system. If you couldn’t have a Ruritanian foreign policy, you could decide to be a freewheeling sin city of a financial centre, which would give your ruling elite the sort of self-importance the dance of diplomacy did in the Edwardian era. And, in the years when the financial sector itself was exploding in size, it meant real money. Importantly, the same slice in absolute terms means a lot more in relative terms to a small state. So, everyone and their dog wanted to be their regional money centre. In much the same way as the Edwardian small powers insisted on having a battleship or two of their own, they all insisted on having a bank of sorts and building up whatever local financial institutions were available into investment banks. This could be on the grand scale (RBS, WestLB) or on a much smaller one, like some of the Spanish cajas or the Hypo Alpe-Adria in Jörg Haider’s fief. (As Winston Churchill said about the proliferation of battleships, it is sport to them, it is death to us.)

It’s better that people should play with banks rather than battleships, of course – J.K. Galbraith said that one of the great things about a crash was that although it was a fine opportunity to observe all that was worst in human nature, nothing more important was being lost than money. (He may have been wrong – Chris Dillow observes that financial crises seem to destroy wealth more effectively and for longer than natural disasters.)

But I think the hilarious stories of Icesave, RBS, Hypo Alpe-Adria, that caja that was managed by the Church, and so on do tell us something about the value of formal independence, even limited formal independence like that of Scotland or Catalonia, in the era of “interdependence”.

Essentially, I think, the one product that any degree of legal independence lets you produce is impunity. The legal status of independence is important here – without it, you’re limited to hawking the bonds of the Serbian Republic of Northern Krajina to unusually dim marks, but with it, you can be of service to the world’s plutocrats. Some features of independence that always sell include:

  1. Financial regulation
  2. Tax
  3. Shipping and aviation registries
  4. Corporate registries
  5. Criminal and civil jurisdiction
  6. An Internet top-level domain
  7. A direct dialling prefix
  8. Diplomatic privileges
  9. Passports

Criminal and civil jurisdiction, as impunity services go, have lost some value over the years as extradition treaties proliferate, legal norms are internationalised, and contracts come with arbitration clauses. Further, ever since the US Marshals hauled off Noriega, it’s been at least conceivable that an extradition request may be delivered by 1,000lb air courier, in a vertical fashion and without warning. But facilitating tax evasion, the concealment of ownership, and the registration of ships and aircraft without taking responsibility for them are all highly valuable services.

Similarly, being able to register a horde of spammy websites is a good business to be in, especially if your own laws provide for genuinely bullet proof hosting. Unfortunately, many small island states are vulnerable to vigilante action by the Internet operations community as they only have direct access to one transit provider. Lending your direct dial prefix to anyone who wants to originate a mass of sales or propaganda phone calls is also a good business, especially if it involves callbacks and their attendant termination fees.

Finally, selling diplomatic privileges is the individualised version of the state’s impunity. Holding an Angolan diplomatic passport kept Pierre Falcone out of jail for 10 years.

Arguably, turning the libertarian view of the state on its head, it is precisely the minimal state that is the closest to the status of one of John Robb’s “gangs of black globalisation”. Fascinatingly, some valuable criminal functions persist even in the absence of the canonical monopoly of force. It is probably no accident that the neoliberal era has coexisted with an unprecedented proliferation of ostensibly independent states.

We’ve not had a Thursday music link this week….

Because if anywhere made full use of the fraudulent possibilities of sovereign status, of course…

John Band links to very likely the worst recording in the history of music, ever. Imagine that George Michael, many years after anyone cared, decided to do an impossibly portentous version of New Order True Faith ’94, through a vocoder (many years after everyone got sick of those), and worst of all, to not play it for laughs. It’s incredibly hideous, and it’s not even remotely funny.

For relief, here’s a special non-Thursday remix link post, appearing exceptionally on a Thursday due to the unprecedented circumstances.

Here’s the Grim Up North remix of the original. Here’s the Futuremix Discotech remix, also from the original EP:

Here’s another, possibly better than the last one although this may be controversial. Here’s yet another. And here’s Interface’s cover version.

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Non-Thursday music link. But on Thursday! Richard X vs. New Order “Jetstream”.

Looking back at Tunisia, and forward at Egypt, I think there’s an important point that this post almost hits but not quite.

Specifically, I’m fairly sceptical about “Twitter Revolutions” and such – if your revolution has someone else’s brand name on it, how revolutionary is it? – but I don’t think it’s irrelevant.

I’m feeling a little sorry for Evgeny Morozov at the moment. He’d just hacked out a niche as Mr. Grumpy by royal appointment to the blogosphere, when first Wikileaks and then Tunisia and Egypt came sweeping through, and the Tunisian secret police hacked all the Facebook pages in the country, and the Egyptians turned off the Internet, just pulled all the BGP announcements… Sometimes it’s not your day.

I do think, though, that there is an important way in which a whole lot of Internet tools contributed to the revolutions. I recently posted on the way in which people can at least for a while function as if they were part of an organisation just because they shared certain assumptions. It’s the idea of the imagined community, which can be defined as a group of people who are behaving as if their weak social ties were strong ones. If you want a mental model of this, the revolution happens when enough people change state and start doing this, and it stops again when they revert to pursuing their interests in the normal way. Of course, what happens in between may have changed what those are and how they do it. From a different direction, look at Chris Dillow’s post here – it’s theoretically irrational to take part in politics, until it’s not. The point when it stops being irrational, though, is the point when people stop thinking it’s irrational.

In that sense, a lot of the work of starting a revolution is starting a myth. An ironic salute to this was the Egyptian government’s decision to turn off the Internet, and later the GSM networks as well. If the value of the Internet really had been as a way to pass on the time and place to assemble, this would have been a serious blow to the movement. But once you’re a really angry Egyptian, where else would you protest but Tahrir Square? It wasn’t that they needed it for tactical communication, but rather for strategic propaganda. Also, once they took this step, they had also inadvertently demonstrated to the other world media that This Was It. The mainstream media remains very good at bringing its own connectivity, and the main barrier to them covering the news is usually that they don’t think something is news. Giving Al-Jazeera and friends – who had been heavily criticised on the Web for being soft on the Egyptian government – a monopoly may have been a really bad idea as it forced them to cover the news or look indistinguishable from Nile TV.

I suspect that a lesson here is that the last thing authoritarian governments will do in future is turn the Internet off. For a start, they will increasingly need to keep it up for economic reasons – the ISP that serves the Egyptian stock exchange and central bank was left alone, and with time I would bet that it would become increasingly porous to information. But much more importantly, this is not a policy that has a great track record. Burma managed it, but started with advantages (not many users, only one network, and a strong position to start with). Iran did far better with its throttle-down-and-spy plan. Even though the Tunisians funnelled all the Facebook accounts in the country into one, controlled by the secret police, it didn’t seem to help.

Jamais Casco (via here) asked if you could start a genocide on Twitter – a sensible point, as we know you can do so with the radio, the cinema, television, the newspapers, and (thanks to Serbian turbo-folk) rock’n’roll*. Terrorists tried to start a nuclear war with a spoofed caller-ID. Whether or not you could do that, you can certainly start a mob of quasi-fascist loyalist paramilitaries on QQ. Out of all authoritarian governments, China does best, with strategic trolling and semi-official moderators, which may be more important than direct censorship. Andrew Wilson’s Virtual Politics makes the interesting point that Russia in the early Putin years didn’t so much censor the Internet, as distribute government talking-points and favours to carefully selected bastards.

Then again, was the greatest success of the wumaodang model the 2004 US presidential election? The best way to fight one myth is perhaps with another. And the best ones are distinguished by the fact they are sometimes called principles. The really depressing consequence of this is that Paul Staines probably has a job for life, although the less depressing corollary is that he gets to herd several hundred idiots yelling about ZaNuLiebour for the term of his natural.

A couple of other interesting links: Charles Bwele makes the point that in much of the world, the so-called new media are more like the first ones. Did you know about the Grozny riots of 1958?
*The world’s first genocidal remix is yet to come, but I wouldn’t rule it out by any means. All art aspires to the status of music, and just look what people get up to with books.