Plan Bee

Humankind was shocked this week to find out that bees, not content with terrorizing our lives with the menace of spoiling a Summer’s picnic with a single sting, are in fact tiny geniuses. According to The Guardian

Bees can solve complex mathematical problems which keep computers busy for days, research has shown.

So, whilst we have sat here worrying about the day when our calculator would take over the nuclear defense systems and turn us into organic batteries, we didn’t notice that bumble bee was all the while working out complex mathematical problems. This of course means they plan to enslave us.

But fear not, because serendipitously just as we found out that bees had the potential to defeat us at Countdown, the human boffins have come up with a weapon to foil their plans. A tiny catapult that fires tiny pies at them. Yes, really. Don’t believe me? Check out this video: (via kottke)

Your move, bees.

Say what you see, see what you say

Damien Mulley has a really interesting post this morning about how people are using multimedia devices and the net to capture, record and share their experiences. We’re seeing it more and more all the time; a breaking news story or simply an interesting observation can be captured and shared like never before. Terms like “citizen journalism” float around, whilst Sky News now ask us to supply amateur footage.

In Damien’s piece he points out that this level of almost ubiquitous connection can be a positive thing:

Maybe the positive with these tools is we are becoming more observational of our surroundings at times, because of these tools

This jumped out at me, because it is at odds with conventional, mainstream wisdom. I wrote only days ago about my fears that ever present WiFi was helping grow the phenomenon of having to be constantly connected. The way I thought about it, this was then a disconnection from ‘reality’. When we tune in, we drop out of our immediate surroundings. I also thought of Chris Ware’s haunting New Yorker cover, showing a neighbourhood of zombie like figues, gazing intently at their mobile devices. I think we all see how many people walk around now with their attention not at their surroundings but a tiny screen relaying information from elsewhere, beemed in.

But Damien’s take is refreshing. Could it be that with the ability to share our experience that we become more aware of our experience. With the boom in amateur photography thanks to cheap, but impressive technology are we seeing our environment in a new light? More and more people are taking and sharing their photos, and they are not just the obligatory ‘group shot in the pub’. Someone I was talking to on Twitter recently berated a new mini video camera for not having WiFi, so content could not be immediately shared. It occured to me then that we are moving towards a state where it is not enough to simply capture the moment, we want to share it too, and that is equally important.

Damien acknowledges that these tools also disconnect us, which is what I alluded to in my previous post. If we are just refreshing our inbox, or reacting to a digital stream (in a closed loop), we are less aware of our environment. These are the charges which are commonly made against these technologies. Although I also sometimes struggle with the idea of people who are constantly reporting on their surroundings on Twitter. I do indulge in it myself; during a football game or a live TV event, and it can be really rewarding to join in in a massive conversation. I also appreciate it when someone can report back with insights from a conference I cannot make (or a football match I cannot see). But I also sometimes wonder why people do it at other times. I see people talking about what they are doing in a pub or at a party. I’ve sent the obligatory Hipster-cam photo of my pint from time to time, but I find these places are for other types of communication (Neither is better or worse than the other, just different, and both have a time in our lives). It also brings to mind a Tommy Tiernan show I once saw where he berated a woman for taking a picture of him during the show, in which he alluded to people living their lives through a view screen.

But its really interesting to think that these devices can be seen to increase our connectivity with the real world, not decrease it. The more we begin to live in a world where we are reporting and reacting in real time, will we hone our senses to what is around us and effectively do the opposite of what many tech-bashers think would happen?

One to think about.

Another apt Ware cover:


Last year Jay-Z released his latest album “The Blueprint 3”. Whilst most of the album was a particularly pop-sounding affair, he kicked off proceedings with one of his most hard-hitting singles ever, “D.O.A (Death of Autotune)” The title gave the impression that the track was going to be a violent denouncing of the ubiquitous Autotune software that has infected popular music lately. But its not. The song is about how good the song is. The song you are listening to. In its lyrics, Jigga catalogues how great the song you are currently listening to is.

This is anti autotune, death of the ringtone,
This ain’t for iTunes, this ain’t for sing alongs

This sets off the tone for the song. He then opines:

My raps don’t have melodies

Which would explain Rhianna’s appearance on the album. I digress.

He also humbly predicts less than stellar success. For the song you are listening to.

This ain’t a number one record

And so the song continues, continuously self-referencing itself. Which led me to consider the genre of the meta-song, songs that in their own lyrics refer to them selves, a kind of sonic Mobius Strip.

So, what other songs can we include as musical snakes eating their own tails? Take Public Image Limited’s “This is not a Love Song”, whose chorus simply repeats this edict over and over. This. Is. Not. A. Love. Song. This is a particularly curious example. The song is about not being about something else. Its a surprise you can hear anything at all.

Then we have Elton John’s “Your Song”. This tear-jerking ballad is about that very same tear-jerking ballad. Elton very nearly tears a hole in the time space continuum with this one.

My gift is my song and this one’s for you

In fact, the recipient of this song would not be out of place feeling a little bit short changed. You have the special honor of being gifted a song by two of the worlds greatest love song writers, and they spend half of it telling you they have written a song for you. Cheers lads. They even suggest:

And you can tell everybody this is your song

“Hey everyone, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote me a song!” “Sweet, what’s it about” “well, erm, its about how they wrote me a song” “Oh”

The final exhibit of meta-music I want to talk about is Carly Simon’s 1972 classic “You’re So Vain”. The song has enjoyed legendary status due to the debate over who the song is directed to. I think the most interesting thing about this song is that in referring to itself in such a manner it outs itself as the biggest lie in musical history. Carly sings herself into a paradox. By scornfully berating the mystery ex-lover for thinking the song is about him, Simon makes the song about him. Thus, the phantom target’s vanity should not be in question, Carly’s Ouroborous has swallowed itself. The result is a song that is about someone but that person shouldn’t think the song is about them.

I would like to see more appreciation for the post-modern marvel that is the meta-song. Any more examples?

Wifi verus Lofi

Wifi is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in public. It started in cafes, then spread to hotels, pubs, then onto modes of transportation (which, I think most people would admit, elicited a bit of “this is the future, now do I get my jetpack” excitement) and now can be found in barber shops, and garden centers and the sides of cliffs. It has reached a point now where it is almost expected in any kind of place where people can sit for more than 3 minutes. On Twitter people regularly champion those places who offer free Wifi and berate those cave-dwelling troglodytes who don’t. If they are somewhere where they expect Wifi and it isn’t working, they often vent fury at the ineptitude of the providers. (This of course was wonderfully lampooned by Louis CK in a now infamous appearance on Conan where he describes a fellow passenger on an airplane who, having learned the Wifi connection was down, remarked “This is bullshit”, to which Louis offered amazement that people could become so irate at the lack of a service they just discovered existed…)

This desire for public Wifi is perfectly natural, and I myself have long been a supporter of free wifi in public and on transport. But recently I have found myself amused and a little concerned with our incessant demand for it. When I hop on the bus home on a Friday I almost immediately whip out my phone or iPad and make a connection to the buses Wifi service. This is despite having spend most of my day able to dip in and out of the web. I used to just sit there and chill out, either by dreamily staring out the window at the world going buy, or getting stuck into a book. Now I just roll my days browsing onwards, till I can get home and connect again. Things like the bus used to serve as a little break from the river of information, now it drives straight through it.

this is more like it (this afternoon
Photo owned by velkr0 (cc)

A friend recently expressed a wish that the train to Cork would have Wifi so he wouldn’t be bored. I jokingly suggest he read a book. That’s what we used to do on trains, wasn’t it? During the summer I had to get the train up and down to Dublin for the first time in ages due to my broken leg. Aside from the joy in rediscovering the views that unfold as we whizzed past, views that i have lost since I became a bus-user, I was also surprised to find that the Enterprise train service had no Wifi. This at first was slightly irritating, and it was then that I realized that I had become infected by this zombie need to connect. It was kind of a wake up call. I put away my phone and reveled in the little pocket of disconnection I had found.

Of course, you can simply point at me as a man with no will power. You can argue that it is my own fault I need (or feel the need to) connect all the time. This is something i have written about before, but my main point is that I have noticed this general trend towards expecting, almost demanding, the ability to connect, all the time, everywhere, amongst the general public.

I read an interesting article recently about the birthplace of Wifi cafe culture, San Francisco. It was one of the first places to see so many coffee shops offer the service, but in recent years there has emerged a kind of counter-culture movement which has seen venues ban Wifi, and even pride and market themselves as having no Wifi. I found this fascinating. As the city which has had this phenomenon for the longest, it is beginning to tire of it, and as the city has always done is rebelling against what has become mainstream.

I am, of course, a complete tech nerd. But I have found myself becoming a tech nerd who is ever-so-slightly concerned with how much technology has come to dominate our lives. I am not advocating smashing the machines, I love my gadgets, but I wonder if we need them all the time, constantly streaming to us information from afar. We need pockets of radio-silence. I don’t help myself by purchasing 3G enabled iPads and smartphones, but I think its a discussion we need to have. I have to admit, a little bit of me was delighted by hearing about coffee shops that champion their non-Wifi status. There is a bit of a tendency online to treat anyone who questions technology as a fossil, a luddite who just ‘doesn’t get it’. Its nice to see an alternative. Again, the problem isn’t the technology itself (it rarely ever is), its our relationship with it, and how reliant on it we let ourselves become.

Ten Ten Ten Ten Ten

I don’t really see the hoo-haa about today at 10:10am being 10:10 10/10/10, I guess it’s mildly interesting. However, on Twitter @redmum set up an interesting project. She asked people to take a pic at that particular time, then post it with the hash-tag #10101010pic. I love ideas like this.

I grabbed my phone (my proper camera is missing, presumed lost :( ) and strolled out the door. I was walking down towards the beach to get your typical landscape horizon shot, when I saw something much more interesting. So here’s mine:

You can follow the others here.

Update: Redmum has collated all the shots into one post.

While I was down the beach I witnessed something I hadn’t noticed before. The tide is way out (Dundalk bay is one of those spots where the tide retreats very far out and comes back in twice a day), but due to the blustery conditions I could hear this awesome roar of waves crashing way out at the horizon. Amazing sound. Kind of spooky.

Anyway, in the absence of a proper post, that’s your lot. (I swear, I am writing…i am!)

It is better to regard such things as unknowable

In carefully scrutinizing the affairs of the past, we find that there are many different opinions about them, and that there are some things that are quite unclear. It is better to regard such things as unknowable. Lord Sanenori once said, “As for the things that we don’t understand, there are ways of understanding them. Furthermore, there are some things we understand just naturally, and again some that we can’t understand no matter how hard we try. This is interesting.” This is very profound. It is natural that one cannot understand deep and hidden things. Those things that are easily understood are rather shallow.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo – Hagakure : The Book of the Samurai