Sunday, 11 July 2010

Beer Sweep 2010: Argentina

So, how to report my abject failure in finding an Argentinian beer here in sunny Hong Kong? Luckily for me, Argentina have proved equally unsuccessful.

A quick google reveals that Quilmes is the Argentinian beer of choice, but an attempt to find Honk Kong based outlets proved unsuccessful. It was time for another idea. Obviously the Argentinian Consulate here will be happy to help me with my inquiries, right? Maybe they have a few cases stashed away behind the Fererro Rocher. But no dice! Finding beer for me, even if it means the chance of winning further beer, is not "an official consular service." My dreams are dashed, I was picturing sitting in the lobby of the opulent consulate, sipping a cool beer and discussing the geopolitical situation in a South America where Brazil is rapidly becoming a global power. It was not to be.

Twitter user @RecentlyDrunk helpfully suggested that I could find some in my local Tesco. That's probably in Dover, 5935 miles away, and although I am committed to beer, I am not that committed. I also tried a Argentinian restaurant, but they are apparently no bigger fans of their nation's most popular drink than the consulate general. Come on, Argentina! Have some national pride!

As the video indicates, I decided to find a Brazilian beer, because it's next to Argentina, and probably at least one Argentinian has drunk beer from there. Once. Also, Skol is available at the local store for the princely sum of 90p for 3. And there you have it:

It's not Argentinian, but it's closer than Tsingtao.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time

And, really, aren't we all? Take music. Not only does everything sound like everything else, the way we consume it in a random swirl juxtaposes Talking Heads with a cover of Talking Heads by Local Natives, and, really, is there a difference? Really, does it matter if there is?

I just read a piece by Bruce Sterling about atemporality in art. He talks about a shift in the perception of narrative and history from something that, when it was performed with pencil and paper, was a strictly linear journey, to something else, something that in a very real sense is, to use Vonnegut's immortal line, 'unstuck in time'.

Is it crazy to honour the people who got to an idea first? Or is it healthier to dwell on the finest examples of that idea? Does preferring a cover version to the original make me a bad person, and does it diminish the achievement of the original artist? Is it crazy to concoct, as so many people do with their fantastic imaginings of steam or 50's atom technology gone wild, futures which might have been? In a world where google makes the past, the present and the possible future equally accessable, I would say that these things are a normal reaction to our situation. Up until 10 years ago I was forced to consume culture in discrete, time-specific, chunks, as albums or books. Now I am not only able to consume media (read: knowledge) in chunks that have been placed next to each other with no respect for creator control, and still less for the context they were created in, I most often choose to do so.

Gone are the days where the artist or the scholar could dictate context for their work. There was a small furore over google banning a particular video which depicted artistic nudity from its Youtube service. It later overturned the decision, but can we fault them? The context is not there to split art from pornography, and increasingly that context does not even exist. Observe:

Now imagine it without the context. Are we reaching for a place where everything is offensive because context cannot be imagined at the time of creation? Or will people realise that they create their own context, and rule that nothing is offensive in and of itself, only when regarded that way?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

More Writing Tips

This is like some kind of uber-list from the Guardian. Good stuff, especially Will Self.
Page 1, Page 2
Also, you have to love this explanation of genetics:

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Denmark Again

Further to my previous post, here's a report about an new series of Danish tourism videos:

Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

InfoVis: Redux

This is the Twitter (which I still kind of fail to see the point of) coding effort rendered intelligable, and, it must be said, beautiful and dramatic (although a lot of that is to do with the music). What an age we live in.

Twitter Code Swarm from Ben Sandofsky on Vimeo.

Right, off to Thailand.


Is the dirty secret of capitalism that once you put a price on something, you are forced to put a price on everything?

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur. It's a bit different from his earlier work, the topics that he focuses on are more serious, and though they are dealt with in the same kind of style, the general feeling is of an author who has consciously tried to raise himself above the level that he feels other people have placed him on. Having said that, I enjoyed it, and I especially enjoyed the final essay about the manifesto of the Unabomber, Industrial Society and its Future.

In this work Theodore Kaczynski outlines his philosophy, which is extremely pro-individual and anti- both society and technology. One of the claims he makes is that "technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom". What does this mean? Klosterman frames the argument in terms of his desire to live in an air-conditioned apartment:
Yet what am I giving up in order to have a 70 degree living room in July?

Nothing that's particularly important to me.

For the air conditioner to work, I need to live in a building that has electricity, so I have to be connected to the rest of society. That's fine. That's no problem. Of course, to be accepted by society, I have to accept the rules and laws of community living. That's fine, too. Now, to thrive and flourish and afford my electric bill, I will also have to earn money. But that's okay--most jobs are social and many are enriching and unnecessary. However, the only way to earn money is to do something (or provide something) that is valued by other people. And since I don't get to decide what other people value, what I do to make a living is not really my decision. So--in order to have air-conditioning--I will agree to live in a specific place with other people, following whatever rules happen to exist there, all while working at a job that was constructed by someone else for their benefit.

In order to have a 70-degree living room, I give up almost everything.

Yet nothing that's particularly important to me.

Now, that is interesting. Our desire for comfort far outweighs our desire for the freedom to live our lives in the manner that we would in the absence of these temptations. I think the technology in this example is a red-herring, or at the very least it is only a symptom and not the root of the problem. I want to ask 2 questions: To what extent can any of us actually have desires which are separate from our social environment? And to what extent can any of us, even cabin-living recluses, be said to be "outside" of society?

I have spent a significant portion of my adult life trying to both avoid responsibility and generally act in a way which defies the expectations placed on me by society. I'm not entirely sure which one of those is the cause of the other. I do know that I have failed in both. By trying to confound expectations, I have framed my life in opposition to those expectations. Is that really any different from taking the expected path? In both scenarios, my conception of what society wants from me is influencing my actions. When I think about how I could live outside of society, my ideas are the ideas my society has of people who live outside of it. Let me make that clearer. I can imagine living on an island, and fishing for my food. But I only think of that as a possibility because I have seen it 100 times in movies and films as representing what a person who has forsaken society acts like. Quite apart from the practical impossibility, my escape from society is in a very real sense an act of a member of that society. Even in dropping out, I would be dropping out in one of the ways that society has mandated. I don't think that anyone, with the possible exception of the truly insane, can escape the pull of our socialisation.Can we, as functioning, or even semi-functioning, members of our societies, even comprehend what freedom is? Would we want it if we could?


A bit of shameless self-promotion. I've been taking lots of pictures in the last couple of months with my awesome new camera, like these.

If anyone cares in the least, here is my photostream!

Matt's Photostream!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Futurism, restated

If you follow futurism like I do, you will be familiar with the work of Bruce Sterling. If you are, or, I'll wager, if you are not, you will find this interview amusing. But maybe only if you are of a certain frame of mind. An extract:

Joris Peels: How long will it take for someone to develop the first prank disease?

Bruce Sterling: You mean besides "smallpox blankets?" Maybe massive lethality on entire populations doesn't count as "pranks."

Maybe it's me, but I have been chuckling over that for a good 10 minutes, and that's not even all of it. Do yourself a favour and look here.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Rumours of my Bacon-Related Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

And, in fact, the bacon turned out deliciously. Observe:

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Brave New World

A popular trope in science fiction is the colonising spaceship sent out to explore some promising star. The distances involved are such that the journey could take centuries, and, once there, the settlers will essentially be out of contact with Earth. There are two main ideas for getting live and viable humans across interstellar distances and timespans. The first is to have on board a fully functioning ecosystem, in which a breeding populations of humans would live. The eventual colonisers, then, would be the great grandchildren of the initial crew. The other is to cryogenically freeze the crew, then autothaw them on arrival.

Think of it, in 30 years time, you see an ad in the paper (or in whatever ads are in in 30 years time). Head to the Stars! it will say, sleep for 200 years and wake up surrounded by beautiful green alien women, wanting you to demonstrate this human concept of 'love'. Sounds great, right? Where do I sign, you're thinking. I would urge caution before committing your mark to the contract.

Imagine if the technology had existed in 1910 to send people to the stars in 200 years; they would be halfway through their journey by now. I think it is fairly safe to say that if that technology had existed, we would have ships today that would be, on a very conservative estimate, twice as fast. A crew setting forth today, then, would arrive at the same time. So, bold 1910 explorer, how do you feel with your revolver and telegram, when your brass spaceship door rolls open to reveal the other ship parked just across the way disgorging its crew with their iPods, tastefully aged jeans, relaxed attitudes towards sexuality and, most strikingly, hand-held automatic weaponry. Indeed, oh voyager, how do you feel now?

Andrew Bird and Braid

Last night I went to see a concert here in Hong Kong by Andrew Bird. It's not often that indie bands/artists come through here, but that's not what I want to talk about. The economics of bringing an act to Asia must favour a certain leanness, as Andrew Bird turned up with just himself and a sound guy. Turns out that was a good thing. The last time I saw him it was at a festival, it was with a full band and it was awesome. This time it was also awesome, but in a very different way. Using the magic of loops, Bird would record himself playing several different parts for the song, then he would trigger them while he played live, giving the illusion that he was playing with others.

People always talk about how technology is ruining music, setting the barrier to entry too low and other such nonsense. Andrew Bird give the lie to this by using technology in an organic way which adds immeasurable value to his performances. This concert could not have existed at any point prior to about 10 years ago. You really have to see it to appreciate it, so enjoy this video:

It reminded me a lot of an indie game I've been playing a bit recently, Braid. It seems like a typical platformer, save the princess etc. But the game plays with time in very interesting ways. You can reverse it, certain objects cause the time around them to warp, and, best of all, you can create copies of yourself spread through time, and, by interacting with them, solve convoluted puzzles. In many ways it's analogous to what Bird is creating by performing with time-shifted versions of himself. Isn't technology brilliant?

Braid trailer from David Hellman on Vimeo.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Dandelions and Orchids

Here's an interesting story with relevance to the eternal nature/nurture debate. It seems that certain combinations of a dozen or so genes are very strong indicators for antisocial behaviour. So far, so much that we already know. However, it turns out that the population can be, very roughly, split into two sections. Dandelions are children who can thrive under any circumstances and are not predisposed to antisocial behaviours, no matter what their upbringing. The other group are likely to exhibit these behaviours if they are raised in an adverse environment. These children could be, and have been, classed as vulnerable. New research, however, indicates that these 'vulnerable' children (children with the genes which make them prone to antisocial behaviour), when moved to a stable, loving home, not only do as well as their 'dandelion' peers, but outstrip them in achievement. Hence the use of the term 'orchid': they can die in harsh conditions, but become something beautiful with appropriate nurturing.
The article goes into a lot more detail about how this pertains to humanity's evolutionary success, but I think it's more interesting as a possible explanation for the so-called class barrier, which has previously been explained by some people through reference to lineages of 'superior' genes. Maybe the hothouses that money can buy are the thin line between exceptional, and exceptionally badly adjusted.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Best Day of the Year

Today is the day when the Edge World Question Centre comes out! Basically, every year, very intelligent people are asked a question and the results are available on the website. This year the question is: How is the internet changing the way you think? I've not read the answers yet, but the question seems slightly less interesting than in previous years, where the questions (and the answers are still available for viewing) have included: What's your dangerous idea? and What do you believe but cannot prove?

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Wonderful Denmark

I have a soft spot for Denmark and Danish things, but this advert, apparently commissioned by the Danish tourist board is confusing to me. I think they are trying to sell Denmark as a wonderful land of attractive blonde girls, who will conceive your baby in a drunken one night fumble (characterised here as hygge = cosiness, another weird Danish thing which I'll write about one day), and then, you know, be all Scandinavian and cool about it. That's a pretty specific holiday plan to advertise.

PS: The bacon is looking awesome.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon

I think I'm in the majority when I say that I had never really imagined that I could cure my own bacon; it seems like one of those things that are best left to the professionals. Well today boredom and curiousity got the better of me and I decided to have a go. I bought a large, fatty piece of pork belly (Hong Kong is well supplied with pork butchers), which, disturbingly, still had nipples attached - I cut them of for the sake of aesthetics and my sanity. I used a recipe I found on the Guardian's website. Of the optional spices, I only added the coriander. As I write, the pork is oozing its delicious juices into a container in my fridge.

I'll update in 5 days, when the curing process is finished. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of the delicious proto-bacon, sans nipples:

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Royal Society

This year, the Royal Society celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding. To celebrate this, the BBC's consistantly intriguing In Our Time radio show has produced two programs on the Society's history and influence. The first is here, and deals with many of the events fictionalised by Neal Stephenson in his System of the World series. Did you know that there is, brilliantly, a telescope running the entire height of London's monument to the great fire? Nor me. Good stuff.