Truth In Advertising. Or At Least Verisimilitude

I just saw this TV commercial for Bell’s Whisky, in which an orchestra plays Axel F on tumblers of scotch. Quite cool – except of course you can’t make a tumbler resonate by running your finger around the edge like you can a wine glass.¹ So the whole thing was faked.

OK, you expect things in adverts to be faked. I know cars don’t really turn into dancing robots. Nevertheless I’m strangely offended by this. I’m imagining advertising executives with little or no grasp of physics getting really enthusiastic about their idea. So when someone points out to them that it’s not actually a physical possibility, do they change their minds? No, they carry on as if it’s a physical possibility, and fake the cool thing they can’t actually do. It’s like using camera tricks in a magic performance.

Contrast that with the well-remembered ad for Sony Bravia televisions,² where thousands of coloured balls bounce around what look like the streets of San Francisco. That was beautiful, but I wasn’t impressed because after all it’s easy to do something like that with CGI. Only I found out recently, they didn’t use CGI. They dropped one hundred and seventy thousand coloured balls down hills, in San Francisco. Now that is cool.

 

  1. All right, we could get into an argument about this if you like. I think it might just be possible if you superglued the tumbler to something solid. Half the trick of making a wine glass sing is firmly holding it down with the other hand on the base, otherwise the energy you’re putting in with your finger is wasted on moving the glass around. I don’t think that merely holding a tumbler down is going to work though. Firstly, you can’t properly grip it so it’s going to move around anyway. Secondly you’re holding it by the part you want to resonate, so you’re damping it.
    Even if it was attached with glue though, I’m not sure it would resonate at an audible frequency. Only the sides of the glass would be free to vibrate rather than the whole vessel.
    At least, so I imagine. Science, a range of different-sized tumblers, and a clean Formica work surface are calling to me. I must resist…
  2. [Video] If you have the bandwidth, do watch the HD version.

Take Me To Your Media

Braun HF 1 television receiver, Germany, 1958
This is what my Media Centre PC doesn't resemble most

I’m still hiding in a happy kernel of geekery, away from a cruel and now markedly more expensive world. Much of last night was spent setting up the new old PC as what I expansively call a “Media Centre”. That is of course just fancy talk for a computer attached to a TV, worthwhile though since we got a wide-screen one. (Well, wide-ish.) My mother will appreciate this when she gets the hang of it, but things may be a bit confusing for the transition. I’d barely got her to stop calling the computer monitor “the TV”, now I seem to have arbitrarily reversed my position.

But I’m sitting here writing this on my knees. With a wireless keyboard on my knees, I mean. I’m not on my knees. And to clarify my clarification, I didn’t think that you thought I was writing this column on my knees, with a pen. I have the keyboard on my knees, but the words are appearing on the TV. Which is the sort of thing people liked to do in science fiction films. Cool. And simultaneously – as it is a fairly wide screens – I’m also catching up with episodes of QI on YouTube. (The one with Nina Conti the ventriloquist.)

Ideally the screen would have about four times the area, but this is actually pretty nice. If nothing else, it improves my work posture – from hunched over on the couch to sitting back on the couch. I feel slightly better-off already.

Spontaneous Com… edians

Speaking of spontaneous things in Galway, our own Spontaneous Theatre People have gotten together with two other comedy outfits to form a sort of improv supergroup. I’m having a lazy Sunday, so here’s their press release:

The Make-Up Artists Comedy Improv Tour – “A Tale Of Three Cities”

Hold on to your hats! If you live in Dublin, Limerick or Galway, ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ is coming soon to your City. Following an incredible impromptu ‘improv jam’ session at Electric Picnic in 2010, some of Ireland’s top improvisers decided that there was too much fun to be had to leave it it that.

Plans were hatched, and they decided a three city comedy improv tour was in order. Members of No Drama (Dublin), Choke Comedy (Limerick) and The Spontaneous Theatre People (Galway) have joined forces and become the Improv ‘Supergroup’ known as The Make-Up Artists!

Improv Comedy is an incredibly exciting form of theatre. It is energizing for the audience and performers alike, and no two performances are ever alike.

The Make-Up Artists‘ show promises to be a great night of weird and wonderful comedy antics. All the scenes and games are unscripted, and many are based on the audience suggestions. It will have you on the edge of your seats wondering what could possibly come next, and delighted when you find out what does!

Dublin – Thursday 8th December, Doyle’s Pub, College St
Show starts at 8.30pm, admission €10

Limerick – Saturday 10th December, The Belltable, O’Connell St
Show starts at 8pm, admission €10

Galway – Sunday 11th December, Upstairs @ The Townhouse Bar, Spanish Parade.
Doors at 8pm, admission €7/5

Any additional enquiries, email spontaneoustheatre (at) gmail (dot) com

Spontaneous Com… edians

Speaking of spontaneous things in Galway, our own Spontaneous Theatre People have gotten together with two other comedy outfits to form a sort of improv supergroup. I’m having a lazy Sunday, so here’s their press release:

The Make-Up Artists Comedy Improv Tour – “A Tale Of Three Cities”

Hold on to your hats! If you live in Dublin, Limerick or Galway, ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ is coming soon to your City. Following an incredible impromptu ‘improv jam’ session at Electric Picnic in 2010, some of Ireland’s top improvisers decided that there was too much fun to be had to leave it it that.

Plans were hatched, and they decided a three city comedy improv tour was in order. Members of No Drama (Dublin), Choke Comedy (Limerick) and The Spontaneous Theatre People (Galway) have joined forces and become the Improv ‘Supergroup’ known as The Make-Up Artists!

Improv Comedy is an incredibly exciting form of theatre. It is energizing for the audience and performers alike, and no two performances are ever alike.

The Make-Up Artists‘ show promises to be a great night of weird and wonderful comedy antics. All the scenes and games are unscripted, and many are based on the audience suggestions. It will have you on the edge of your seats wondering what could possibly come next, and delighted when you find out what does!

Dublin – Thursday 8th December, Doyle’s Pub, College St
Show starts at 8.30pm, admission €10

Limerick – Saturday 10th December, The Belltable, O’Connell St
Show starts at 8pm, admission €10

Galway – Sunday 11th December, Upstairs @ The Townhouse Bar, Spanish Parade.
Doors at 8pm, admission €7/5

Any additional enquiries, email spontaneoustheatre (at) gmail (dot) com

President Higgins

On October 29, 2011, two days after the presid...
Image by infomatique via Flickr

I’m watching the replay of the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), a significant threshold occasion in our history. An event in my personal life too – this is after all my old Sociology professor. And, one I missed. Yesterday I had to do something to sort out the utter mess my finances had gotten into since the economy hit the windscreen.

It is moving now though, to see one of the few politicians I’ve ever had any respect for become First Citizen. What the hell happened there? After over a decade of naked materialism we’re suddenly electing a socialist intellectual, and with no intervening transition except the global failure of capitalism.

It is a bittersweet occasion though. We now have as President a man who you can say without embarrassment is passionate about equality, about justice, about actually changing society. That we esteem him enough to raise him to this position is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, it’s sad that he was raised to a position of esteem only. As President he has less power than an ordinary citizen; they at least are free to express their own opinions.

Which is unfortunate. Now more than ever we need voices like his.

 

Tim Minchin Live In Galway

Darkside (Tim Minchin album)
Yipee

You know this wouldn’t be a bad lecture or TED talk, on the necessity of critical thinking. Dammit, it would make a pretty timely address to the United Nations too. Imagine that – a guy with a piano on the floor of the General Assembly.

But it’s none of these. It’s a comedy show – and a brilliant one.

Tim Minchin is a stand-up. It’s just that most of his routines rhyme and scan and are set to great music. It’s almost excessive in its wonderfulness, yet unlike other ostensibly clever comedians we could name Ricky Gervais, it’s not about him being clever. It’s about reality, honesty, and where we fail at them.

But it is clever. What did we do before we had comedy this smart? We were laughing at mud and funny-shaped pebbles. More than clever though, it is wise. Insightful, humanistic, brave stuff that takes a stand against a world full of willful ignorance. Is there an audience for that? Well 400 people in a venue in Ireland just gleefully applauded a song with the chorus “F*** the m*********ing Pope”.

And that’s two nights in a row, downstairs in the Radisson as part of the Bulmers Pear Galway Comedy Festival. Which took me aback. I thought I was into something a little bit obscure here, yet even way out west, in a country where Minchin has, to my knowledge, never even been on terrestrial TV, an enthusiastic capacity crowd gave him a standing ovation.

There’s hope for our species yet.

Doing The Digital Switchover

Photo of the RTÉ News Studio
RTÉ trying to look cool

We decided to make the switchover to digital TV, a year ahead of the deadline. Not, let’s be honest, for the many wonders this new technology brings. Nor for the early-adopter cool. No, it was mainly because of stuff in the attic.

You see up until now broadcast TV in Ireland has been on both UHF and VHF.

No? My God, do I have to draw diagrams? That means you need two aerials¹. And because our attic is small these are too close together, bouncing signals off each other. So any time you move one it buggers up reception on the other. In short, trying to get a good picture on all channels was about as much fun as being repeatedly stabbed.

So after we moved the aerials to get the attic insulated, I decided it wasn’t worth going through all that again, and that we should skip straight to the new technology. It’s not expensive. You may have heard you need a new ‘digital’ aerial. In fact you just need a UHF one, so if you’re already getting TV3 or TG4 you’ve probably OK. A very nice bonus is that the all-or-nothing nature of digital makes it a hell of a lot less sensitive about position. Even though ours is so off-beam it renders analogue channels in snowy monochrome, we still get a crisp digital picture.

Nor do you need a new TV, you can buy a digital tuner to connect to your existing set for less than €100. And if you rent one, then it’s the rental company’s problem. Ours was more than happy to swap our 21″ analogue CRT for a fairly nifty 26″ flatscreen at the same rent. (It has so many inputs!!!)

 In short then, approximate cost and hassle of switching to digital = Sweet FA.

So should you rush to join me on Saorview?² Yes if you have a bad picture, in which case the switch could make an amazing difference. Otherwise, nah. For one, it’s not guaranteed to work yet. You may find it ups and disappears on you randomly. (Though if it does, you should still be able to tune in the old analogue signal.) While HD is nice and all it’s not exactly a viewing revolution, and only Network 2 is being broadcast in HD yet. There’s 3e if you’re not getting that already, which justifies its existence by showing Futurama, and RTÉ’s new digital channels, which no one remembers asking for. And that’s about it – so far anyway.

Except that this may be your first brush with owning a widescreen TV – or at least, one with a widescreen signal to match. I’d like to say this makes sense of the whole thing, but it’s still a mess. You were used to films being letterboxed on your old 4:3 TV. Now you have to choose between programmes being cropped, stretched, or pillarboxed. And you must choose, because not everything looks best the same way. And you must not choose stretched. Goddamit people are fat enough these days.

Any other cons? Well on this set at least there’s a very noticeable delay when you change channel. Maybe you get used to that. And you’ll need a new Saorview-compatible DVD player to record from the digital signal, so factor that in when calculating… well, calculating the expense the government is putting you to for as yet no very clear reason.

  1. You may prefer to call them antennas.
  2. We call it Saorview, from the Irish Saor, meaning ‘Free’, and the English View, meaning ‘Radharc’.

A Brilliant Satire Of Market-Driven Idiocy

Julian Gough. Photograph: Anne Marie Fives

Good news: My friend Julian has a new novel out, Jude in London. Here’s the first review, from the Guardian.

Gooder news: You can read it for free. If you like it, you can pay what you think it’s worth afterwards.

Julian and his publisher needed to get copies out ahead of its scheduled publication date of September 6 for the book to qualify for the Guardian’s “Not The Booker” alternative literary prize, so they sent out PDFs on the honour system. The response was so good that they decided to extend the offer, at least until it comes out officially. This “books on trust” idea could revolutionise the publishing industry more than the eBook and iPad combined. Probably not of course, but it could.

If you need to read a bit of a novel before you decide if it’s even worth downloading for free, I can recommend the excerpt The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble, which was published by the Financial Times as a short story and later converted into a radio play by BBC4 (Listen here). It’s brilliant satire of the market-driven idiocy that got us where we are today – most of it written long before the crash actually happened.

A Brilliant Satire Of Market-Driven Idiocy

Julian Gough. Photograph: Anne Marie Fives

Good news: My friend Julian has a new novel out, Jude in London. Here’s the first review, from the Guardian.

Gooder news: You can read it for free. If you like it, you can pay what you think it’s worth afterwards.

Julian and his publisher needed to get copies out ahead of its scheduled publication date of September 6 for the book to qualify for the Guardian’s “Not The Booker” alternative literary prize, so they sent out PDFs on the honour system. The response was so good that they decided to extend the offer, at least until it comes out officially. This “books on trust” idea could revolutionise the publishing industry more than the eBook and iPad combined. Probably not of course, but it could.

If you need to read a bit of a novel before you decide if it’s even worth downloading for free, I can recommend the excerpt The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble, which was published by the Financial Times as a short story and later converted into a radio play by BBC4 (Listen here). It’s brilliant satire of the market-driven idiocy that got us where we are today – most of it written long before the crash actually happened.

It’s All Meme Meme Meme

"O frly?", the (official) free softw...
This is a meme

Gawker have a point. (OK, I check out Gawker occasionally. I’m not proud.) Lazy television producers getting segments – sometimes whole shows – out of the latest Internet “craze”, which generally was over before the segment started and lasted about as long. The “meme“. (Whatever you think of Richard Dawkins, his concept did not deserve this ignominious end.) Here’s a rule which I think the producers needs to understand: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

These things were only really funny when it seemed like they were special, hidden from the rest of the world by a veil of shared cultural reference. But now the Internet is indistinguishable from other media. Everything blends together and becomes brown plasticine. It doesn’t feel like a separate and more mysterious world anymore. It’s as if the process started in September 1993, when the Internet was opened to the public, has finally reached completion.

This is what some people have said about Google+ in fact, that while it’s still in semi-closed testing (you need an invite to join) there is a standard of good behaviour and quality of discussion there that you just don’t get on other bits of the Net anymore. And as Google+ gives you more control over who you hear from and are heard by than other online social networks, there is some hope that it might stay that way.

But then you have the opposite problem. When the Internet was new it may have only been small, but it was global. Now, it’s fragmenting into a great many personal networks. By language, by country, by age, by interest, by taste. All of them separate.

And all of them of course policed – by commercial interest and by government – instead of being a self-policing community.

We need a new Internet. Anyone know anything about wiring?