Streisand Effect: Activate

February 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

It appears that the estate of J.R.R Tolkien (primarily driven by his son Christopher, by most accounts) is continuing in its increasingly absurd attempts to silence those who dare to utter the name ‘Tolkien’. The latest evil copyright-flouting pirate to be brought to justice was the proprietor of a Zazzle store who offered a badge bearing the text “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion.”. If that’s the level of ‘infringement’ that they’re going after now, I’m half expecting a cease-and-desist for this post, to be honest – I’ll be sure to post it here if one turns up, it should make for some entertaining reading.

In the mean time, the internet is responding in the usual fashion – giving the ‘infringing’ work far greater publicity than it would ever have received otherwise. Alongside the inevitable blog coverage, there is now a new store on Zazzle offering a range of censored Tolkien merchandise – how long that one’s going to last is anyone’s guess, but with the preposterous claims that the estate has been spouting thus far it should at least make for some entertaining viewing.

The Cover Tells You All You Need to Know

February 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Although (or perhaps, now that I think about it, because) I am rather particular about my appearance, I have never been a fan of ‘business attire’. For customer facing positions I can understand the draw of having a dress code – the employees are standing there on show in your exquisitely designed space all day, after all, so it stands to reason that you don’t want them messing up the look of the place – but it’s always struck me as very odd that it extends to offices. The BBC has an article (admittedly something of a fluff piece) discussing the issue; even as part of this less-than-groundbreaking journalism, though, the inanity and utter baselessness of the arguments used is rather grating.

The central theme seems to be variations on the well-worn aphorism:

If you look professional, you act professional.

Always stated as fact, yet never bolstered with evidence, it seems to be one of those pieces of ‘conventional wisdom’ which so often turn out to be at best unfounded and at worst downright misleading. The fact that the vast majority of arguments in favour of ‘office dress’ boil down to this is, as far as I’m concerned, roughly equivalent to basing one’s opinion on the fact that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

There are a few other points made – one commentator says that jeans have become as much a ‘uniform’ as the suit, and that people are scared to branch out; reasonable and logically consistent, at least, but an idea which in no way implies the conclusion that the suit is somehow the superior option.

There are also a few points along the lines of:

If you needed a lawyer, went down to chambers to find one wearing shorts, a T-shirt with a logo and battered trainers, are you going to choose him?

And, in the ‘editors picks’ of the comment section:

Jeans are fine if you work on a ranch, flip flops are appropriate if you’re a lifeguard but if you work in an office you should dress accordingly.

Both of which show some quite impressively circular logic. I accept the reality that people are somewhat conditioned to respect what they perceive to be an authoritative style of dress, but the theory that ‘lawyers should wear suits because that is appropriate’ is based on the premise that ‘suits are appropriate because they are what lawyers wear’. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to turn up in court dressed like a stereotypical surfer – people’s preconceptions do matter in the real world – I’m just suggesting that attempting to make an argument that things should remain a certain way needs a more solid foundation than that things are that way.

The Week in Idiocy

February 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

A veritable smorgasbord of moronic stories seem to have come to light this week, and I’m far too lazy to write individual posts of even the most mediocre quality:

  • Russia are, unsurprisingly, expelling foreign journalists who they happen to dislike. Although international denouncement is a perfectly reasonable reaction, I have to wonder whether the British government really has the right to comment when they too have a documented history of banning visitors based purely on their political opinions. Not to imply that I agree with anything I’ve heard said by Terry Jones, Geert Wilders, or Zakir Naik, nor to suggest that they are on the same level as a reporter for the Guardian, but the simple fact is that both countries are refusing to provide a platform for certain speech which they happen to find objectionable. Whatever happened to “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it”?
  • An American school is doing an outstanding job of reminding us why zero-tolerance is very unlikely to be workable in a world where issues are not conveniently and unequivocally divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I do see the theory behind the “no medical marijuana products on school grounds” rule – although I personally disagree with their logic, I understand why some parents and administrators would worry about the potential for abuse, which is much greater than for most other medications. The true stupidity, however, becomes apparent when the zero-tolerance rule is applied; logic and intent go out the window, and the letter of the law takes over. The end result is that a kid who has already moved schools in order to be able to get home quickly enough to take his seizure medication is no longer allowed to return to school after doing so because he is ‘in possession’ of the drug inside his body. Whichever way I twist it, I honestly cannot comprehend how the school feels this to be a decision which benefits anybody.
  • Apparently leaving a 14 year old to keep an eye on his 3 year old brother for half an hour is now worthy of an official police caution. How the police came to find out about this heinous crime occurring is not made apparent by the article. It does, however, raise the very reasonable question of how this issue would have been treated if it were the 14 year old’s own child rather than their sibling; not an everyday situation, of course, but one that makes clear the absurdity of the police involving themselves.
  • Japan has provided a fine example of how the idiotic superstitions of some can have an impact upon us all. Apparently the families of people who commit suicide are being charged large amounts to compensate landlords for the loss of resale value from the bad luck that the death bestows upon the building. I’m not even quite sure if I blame the landlords for this one – it might be considered somewhat callous, but if (and that’s a big ‘if’) the loss of property value is genuine, then I can understand why they want to be compensated, however stupid the reason – but even if it is the public in general who are at fault, the fact of the matter is that genuine economic value is being wiped out by the fear of evil spirits, and this is happening in one of the globe’s most technologically advanced societies. I’m left wondering firstly how people can really accept such utter absurdity in their day-to-day lives, and secondly why this can’t at least make for some nice cheap property in a city where I want to live?

I’m Becoming an Economist

January 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Some choice quotes from a recent BBC article on the ‘science’ of economics:

Paradoxically, while everybody knows that forecasts are mostly wrong, “everybody still demands them,” said the senior economist of a large banking group, speaking off the record.

“It’s a starting point for analysis or discussion,” says the chief executive of a large asset management firm, “but you don’t have to believe it… economists are just one input among many.”

So how often do the economists advising his firm get it right?

He shrugs his shoulders: “Oh, about 3 or 4 times out of ten.”

So evidently all I have to do is set up a random number generator, couch my reports in pseudo-scientific nonsense, and watch the cash roll in. Since everyone at the top apparently already knows that the industry is a scam, they can’t even accuse me of acting in bad faith – if I’m hitting a 50% random average, I’m doing them a favour, after all.

As such, I fully expect that my next blog entry will be made from the back of my brand new (and tastelessly overstated) Mercedes. It will, of course, be the only car on the road with darkened windows – wouldn’t want to draw undue attention to how rich and important I am, after all. If I’m in a good mood, I may even buy one of you proles a beer.

Buggy Whips & 8-Tracks

January 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Anyone care to speculate on how much longer ‘record label’ or ‘publisher’ will be a viable business? Not even thanks to the pirates sailing their captured oil tankers down the intertubes, or whatever other newfangled method people have found to get free stuff. Simply because, as archetypal middlemen with a long and distinguished history of screwing over the vast majority of people they come into contact with, their existence was long supported only by their necessity, and that necessity is rapidly dwindling. Most artists I’ve spoken to are, to say the least, less than appreciative of their works being wrapped in DRM and denied to potential customers, purely because archaic contracts ensure that someone couldn’t possibly be allowed to buy a piece of media from a US server if they aren’t in the US at the time.

It used to be the case that physical production and distribution of media was a major issue, and economies of scale meant that the up-front costs needed to cover thousands of units. The big remaining problem at the moment is still start-up funding – labels swallow the risk of promoting a new artist in exchange for keeping them locked in to a contract if they do make it – but promotion, unlike pressing CDs or printing books, has no fixed cost, nor does it require a large and risky investment. Getting that one remaining necessity, however, generally requires accepting all the crap that comes along with a traditional record label or book publisher. Any idiot can handle basic production and distribution for themselves now, but promotion can be tricky, and hiring a decent marketing or PR firm does still cost an awful lot more than the two cans of beans and old sock which constitute the sum total of what most garage bands will part with.

As soon as a big, free, social platform for music promotion comes along, the labels are dead. Same goes for book publishers, although they do still have some advantage with the tactile physical product. Artists need a kick to get themselves off the ground, but once they do, they can be the ones calling the shots. It makes a lot more sense – the marketers are providing a service to the artist, after all – but the soon-to-be-irrelevant industry executives appear to be rather too busy blaming the whole problem on the aforementioned buccaneers to notice.

[Update, 20th Feb] A rather appropriate addendum, I feel: this video is an excellent reminder both of why publishers did have an awful lot to deal with at one point, and of how much that has changed when the entirety of ‘production’ involves clicking a button marked upload.

Unlimited

January 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

un·lim·it·ed

1. not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
2. boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
3. without any qualification or exception; unconditional.

No, it’s not a life or death issue, but I assume I’d have some trouble if I put up a sign offering an unlimited supply of tasty, tasty marmalade for only £2.86, and then explained to people that due to my fair use policy, ‘unlimited’ actually amounts to ‘three spoonfuls’. I should probably try it and see, however, to provide a rigorous scientific basis for this post.

As the more astute among you may have guessed from my subtle analogy, I’m less than pleased about the fact that ISPs seem to get away with doing exactly the same damn thing. 500MB per month does not even resemble unlimited. T-Mobile are by no means the only offender, just the ones who happen to have pissed me off most recently. No other industry in existence can get away with lying to the customer quite that blatantly. I suppose I should probably be impressed.

At this point I want to say something like “Tell the fucking truth or don’t be surprised when the Office of Fair Trading shuts you down”. Unfortunately the crotchety-old-man complaints I sent to Ofcom (because that’s just the kind of exciting person I am) don’t appear to be garnering any kind of useful response. So far they’re still at the stage of sending canned responses explaining (quite reasonably) why ‘fair use policies’ exist, and gleefully ignoring what I actually said about the false marketing claims.

I’ll probably find a new and exciting way to complain about this same issue when they next send me something bearing little to no relevance to what I actually said. I’m sure you just can’t wait.

Air Travel, etc.

January 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

My first post, and I’m using it to decry the indignity and unpleasantness of modern air travel. I am the king of originality. That, in itself, makes a point: we are all sick of [rudeness/genital scans/overbooking/missing luggage/mysterious surcharges/dubious food/Godzilla-related turbulence], yet nobody has thought of a solution. And neither have I. I’m just going to bitch impotently about my experience, exactly the same as everybody else.

So, to business: I was heading home for Christmas, filled with cheer, goodwill and so forth. Shocked as they were by the annual arrival of winter, the airline cancelled my flight. Nothing special there, although it did result in my birthday being spent staring at a departures screen rather than rolling off a plane and into a pub as I had intended. Long story short, I ended up in the UK two days late, on Christmas eve, and my luggage did not. Even then, my shining holiday spirit was not crushed – still I radiated love, or at least a slightly less vitriolic brand of hatred, to all those around me. If my story ended here, people would question what the problem was; a 48 hour delay and a lost bag are hardly enough to even be considered worthy of complaint, after all.

The real fun started a few days after Christmas, as I was sitting around in borrowed clothing, strongly resembling someone who had staged a slightly inebriated robbery at a charity shop. The news that my bag had been located and was on its way only four days late filled me with the kind of joy usually only found when you notice that the mugger took your cash but kindly left your credit cards. So, one day wasted sitting around waiting for the promised delivery. The next day came renewed promises, and renewed disappointment. The following day it seems they felt it was time for a change; rather than promising that my bag would be delivered, they decided to tell me that it was still at the airport and offer the option for me to pick it up in person. I’m sure the customer service rep had a great laugh at my expense as I came home from a six hour round trip to the airport to collect a bag that was not, in fact, at the airport.

The bag did eventually turn up, two weeks late, and missing the one piece of expensive electronic equipment that I had been foolish enough not to put in my hand luggage. Rather than doing anything so dignified as offering an apology, and perhaps even some kind of reimbursement or compensation, the airline have decided that the best course of action is to totally ignore me in the hope that I go away and stop my whining.

I would say that I hope Lufthansa go and die in a fire, but then I would probably end up in the same boat as Paul Chambers, so I suppose that hoping those responsible suffer some mild discomfort until such time as they apologise will have to suffice.

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