November 26, 2011

Reddit users want to build a new censorship-free Internet


Redditors have flocked over the last week to a new subgroup on they’re calling the Darknet Plan — or sometimes Meshnet, as the name seems to still be in flux — with the aim of building a mesh-based version of the Internet that wouldn’t be subject to the control of any corporation or government, with a focus on anonymity, peer-to-peer architecture and strong resistance to censorship.

The proposal would take advantage of “mesh” networks, in which computers are linked directly to one another, a technique that has been used by the State Department to help foreign dissidents circumvent the censorship of their regimes.

“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by A Winged Victory For The Sullen

A lovely rendition of a lovely piece of music. If you're so inclined, read my review of the original piece by Gavin Bryars.

November 25, 2011

A new Broadcast album & soundtrack are in the works

Broadcast’s James Cargill is working on a new album based on a tapes and recordings left behind by Trish Keenan, who died earlier this year.

During the interview [Cargill] told us, “Trish left a lot of tapes, four-tracks and stuff, and I’ve been going through those. It’s difficult, and I’m connected to it at the same time. It’s wonderful, but I’m also felling a sense of loss." After revealing that some of the tapes he’d come across were the nascent sketches for Haha Sound, he also suggested that he may consider compiling those for release at some point in the future, simpling stating, “I think that would be a wonderful thing.”

Cargill is also working on a soundtrack for a film titled Berberian Sound Studio that he had begun with Keenan.

FACT Magazine has a few more details, including that the new album may be more pastoral-sounding a la Haha Sound.

Via Skoolbus39

November 23, 2011

The necessity of real quotation marks

Tim Bray:

If you are publishing text for people to read and you want it to look even halfway professional, you absolutely must use real actual left and right quotation marks: “quotes” not "quotes". Also right-single apostrophe: as in don’t use “don't”.

This may seem like typograhical elitism, but as Bray points out in a follow-up article:

Some felt I was unduly purist and pedantic, a punctuation jihadi; that those good ol’ mechanical-typewriter compromises " and ' are good enough. Those people are wrong. Modern typography is a highly-evolved combination of art and science, the end-point of centuries of refinement. It’d be insane to discard that accumulated wisdom to save a keystroke or two. Show your readers some respect and do the right thing.

The demise of quality content

Rian van der Merwe:

I think I’ve finally hit the limit of my tolerance for web content that’s designed to make advertisers happy. I have no problem with working hard to build an audience — I have a blog, after all. But we seem to be in this bizarre race to the intellectual bottom to write the most generic article in the world so that everyone with an Internet connection will click through. And the only purpose seems to be to keep the advertising monster fed, fat, and happy.

I’m worried that all the noise makes it increasingly difficult for quality content to be seen. Worse, I’m worried that it’s discouraging the creation of quality content because what’s successful (i.e. what gets the most clicks) is mostly lowest-common-denominator blog post titles that either start with a number or end with a question mark.

Whenever I see an article whose headline was obviously written to be linkbait, not only do I find it sad and desperate, but it makes me doubt the value of the article as a whole.

Regarding unreadable websites

Brent Simmons:

I made the mistake of going to a website today. It’s understandable, of course — everybody does it, from time to time — and I’m sure I’ll forgive myself, eventually.

I don’t mean just any website, of course, I mean a publication. A place where a business publishes interesting things that I like to read.

I couldn’t hit the Reader button in Safari fast enough. In fact, I couldn’t hit it at all, so stunned was I by the flickering colorful circus the page presented. It was like angry fruit salad on meth.

I was there because I just wanted to read something. Words. Black text on a white background, more-or-less. And what I saw — at a professional publication, a site with the purpose of giving people something good to read — was just about the farthest thing from readable.

The site has good writing. But the pages do everything possible to convince people not to try. “Don’t bother,” the pages say. “It’s hopeless. Oh — and good luck not having a seizure!”

They’re filled with ads and social-media sharing buttons — and more ads. And Google plus-onesies and Facebook likeys. And also more ads. Plus tweet-this-es. Plus ads. (And, under-the-hood, a whole cruise-ship-full of analytics. The page required well-more than 100 http calls.)

One of the things that I’ve always strived for with the various Opus designs is to make them as pleasant to read as possible, and this means making conscious decisions to remove anything that could add visual clutter to the page — and that includes the various “Share This”, “Like This”, and “Tweet This" widgets and buttons that are out there. I‘m not saying that they, and other things like them, will never appear on Opus, but I’ll only add them when the trade-off for adding more visual elements that detract from the actual content on the page is worth it. And right now, it’s not.

Via Daring Fireball

November 22, 2011

Regarding Kate Bush’s “50 Words For Snow”

Regarding Kate Bush’s “50 Words For Snow”

Lincoln hasn’t really received any snow yet, but that hasn't stopped me from constantly returning to the wintry climes that fill up Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow. I know 2011 isn't over yet, and there’s still plenty of time to discover lots of great music this year, but I feel pretty safe in saying that 50 Words For Snow is going to end up being high on my year-end list. It’s the sort of album that puts the rest of the year in context, or more accurately, in its shadow — little else I’ve heard comes close to being as enveloping an experience.

As I wrote in my review for Christ and Pop Culture, " could be forgiven for dismissing the album as pretentious. It is pretentious. It’s also otherworldly, delightful, and constantly arresting." I'm listening to the Stephen Fry-enhanced title track as I type this, in which Fry recites 50, well, words for snow (e.g., “drifting”, “swans-a-melting”, “icyskidski”)  while Kate Bush cheers him on (“C'mon Joe, just you and the Eskimos... C'mon now, just 22 to go... Let me hear your 50 words for snow”). It’s cheesy and goofy, and yet quite entrancing and charming all the same.

However, my favorite song on the album is likely “Snowed in at Wheeler Street”. I confess that when I first heard that Bush would be doing a duet with Sir Elton John, I just wrote it off as typical Kate Bush wackiness. However, “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” gives me chills every time I hear it. When John cries out “I don't want to lose you again”, it's the album’s most emotional moment, and one of the most emotional musical moments I’ve heard in a good long while.

But if you still need some additional convincing to pick up this album, here are what some others have said about it...

Josh Hurst:

Obviously, Bush is not setting out to wow us with volume here, but instead she lets these songs stretch out, their pleasures unfolding leisurely and luxuriously. None of the other songs are as fairy tale-ish as “Misty,” I don’t reckon — though there is one that’s all about the Yeti — but they are all about snow, one simple, physical object that unites each of these songs. The album is, in a sense, about snow as a symbolic, physical, historic, mythological, and sensual thing. It considers snow as an idea, and as a tangible object in a physical universe. What this means, I think, is that this is the strangest and most erotic holiday album of all time. I’m half joking — there is only one mention of Christmas here — but half not. The wintery mood here is unshakable, the unwavering focus utterly enthralling. This is a sublime album made of seven extraordinary songs, and it offers true delights of poetry and play that no one but Kate Bush could have devised.

Thom Jurek:

50 Words for Snow is such a strange pop record, it’s all but impossible to find peers. While it shares sheer ambition with Scott Walker’s The Drift and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, it sounds like neither; Bush’s album is equally startling because its will toward the mysterious and elliptical is balanced by its beguiling accessibility.

J. Edward Keyes:

The album’s fulcrum is, unsurprisingly, the title track, in which Bush counts slowly up to 50 as actor Stephen Fry runs through a list of names for snow, everything from the evocative (“whiteout”) to the poetic (“swans-a-melting”) to the ridiculous (“sleetspoot’n”). From a more ham-handed songwriter, the song would feel like an overt treatise on relativism, but from Bush, it feels slipperier, more magical — less philosophy than shapeshifting. Thirty-three years into her career that has been by no means ordinary, 50 Words for Snow does the unthinkable — it pushes Kate Bush into new territory. In doing so, she’s internalized one of its primary themes: Nothing is forever.

Big Boi:

Snow, Bush’s first album of new material since 2005’s Aerial, is a seven-track, hour-long, moody meditation on love (and of course, snow). “The album, to me, is just very somber and very chill,” he says. “Knowing her music and being a fan, it’s very, very deep Kate Bush for me. It’s concentrated. It’s raw emotion. It’s almost like a scene from her diary — she seems to be in love like a motherfucker. Really, really, really in love.”

Train up a child, #3: Little Gamers

Train up a child, #3: Little Gamers

Shortly after this photo was taken, my three-year-old son beat my wife at Marvel vs. Capcom 3. He was Spider-Man, natch.

Watch M83 perform “Midnight City” on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”

And it features an epic sax solo, natch. The more I hear it, the more I think that “Midnight City” is my favorite song of 2011 (though Gang Gang Dance’s “Mindkilla” is giving it a run for its money).

Klout is evil

John Scalzi:

Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s. In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

This is sad, and possibly evil. It’s especially sad and possibly evil because as far as I can see, Klout’s business model is to some greater or lesser extent predicated on exploiting that status anxiety. I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks. At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks, and getting let into Spotify a week early — or whatever — wasn’t worth being seen with dicks, or supporting that particular business model.

I have several co-workers on Klout, but I’ve never much seen the point in it precisely for the reasons that Scalzi mentions.