Friday, July 30, 2010

See the Future!

The other day I was aimlessly wondering the internet, reading about Mr Linus Torvalds, when I came across a very strange article. It was written in June 2006 for CNN's 'Money' website and was a list of people who had no power, or that they thought were on the way out. It was called the 10 People who Don't Matter. Linus Torvalds was on the list, because, as he gave away his greatest creation, he isn't someone business people have any interest in.

It's all pretty dull and uninteresting to someone who has no interest in business, with the exception of this marvellous bit of punditry from the list.

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook
In entrepreneurship, timing is everything. So we'll give Zuckerberg credit for launching his online social directory for college students just as the social-networking craze was getting underway. He also built it right, quickly making Facebook one of the most popular social-networking sites on the Net. But there's also something to be said for knowing when to take the money and run. Last spring, Facebook reportedly turned down a $750 million buyout offer, holding out instead for as much as $2 billion. Bad move. After selling itself to Rupert Murdoch's Fox for $580 million last year, MySpace is now the Web's second most popular website. Facebook is growing too - but given that MySpace has quickly grown into the industry's 80-million-user gorilla, it's hard to imagine who would pay billions for an also-ran.


I just looked it up, and as of July 2010, Mark Zuckerberg's personal fortune is around 4 billion dollars, while Facebook itself has been conservatively valued at 12 billion dollars.


A few weeks ago I read about the interesting history of the Wall Street Post's Dartboard Column. A venue where experienced investment managers make two stock picks, and then the paper's office intern makes two stock picks (by throwing darts at a copy of the nasdaq index). At the end of the week their values are compared. It was started in the early 1990s as a joke, but it has become a closely scrutinized experiment among those economists who believe the market is ultimately unpredictable. A few years back someone actually examined the data gathered from this column and found that while the investment managers did do better than the dartboard, it was only slightly better, not much more than the level of success you'd expect from chance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We tend to think, in these days of Google Earth and GPS, that we've filled in all the blank spaces on the map, but in the last few days I've come accross a fascinating exception to this, an area that appears to be exempt from the attentions of cartographers and also, it would seem, from the normal rules of space-time.

For reasons that I can't go into (shop) I've been doing a lot of research on the city of Tanger (or Tangier, or Tanja, or Tangiers) in northern Morocco. We had a problem with a piece of text, namely that it contained a wealth of information about the fascinating history of the place, but very little about the city today. As part of my research I found myself firing up google earth, so I could get an idea of the layout of the city. Since most of the interesting history involves the Medina (old walled town) and its environs, I was curious to know where things were. I drew a blank. Literally. Google Earth has no streets marked within the medina, and only a fairly low resolution image of the town. I've you've ever seen a medina before, you'll know that aerial photography is not going to be much use. The streets are so narrow, so overhung with balconies and walkways, clotheslines and wires, that it's impossible to figure out where one building ends and the next begins, let alone chart the course of a narrow alleyway. I then went in search of other maps of the medina. I found a few. The first was an old 1930s map that a literature professor had unearthed while researching William Burroughs (who came to Tangier for the low cost of living, but stayed for the plentiful opportunities for pederasty and heroin). It had lots of streets marked on it, but the street names were all in French and, with names like "Rue Joan D'Arc" and "Rue Charlemagne" it seemed unlikely that they would have survived the departure of the colonial administrators anyway. I then found several other maps of the medina. Mostly in travel guides and from Moroccan tourism promoters. The reason why I gathered so many was because I was hoping to spot some sort of pattern. While they agreed on size and shape of the medina, as well as the location of a few major landmarks (such as the Petit Socco and the Kasbah) they disagreed on pretty much everything else. Sometimes they even disagreed with themselves, putting the same landmark in more than one place. The roads didn't just have different names, there was a completely different road layout in each book. I kept looking at the maps, then scrutinizing the aerial photography, but no one road layout seemed any more plausible than any other. Perhaps they were all correct, perhaps they just selected different roads to highlight and mixed them names up in a tombola.

This wouldn't have been quite so bad if it wasn't for the fact that the blog posts and travelogues I found about tangiers gave wildly contradictory information about the location of specific places. Different people would give completely different addresses for the same museum, for example, or give directions that made absolutely no sense. They all railed at the fact that none of the maps or travel guides were correct, and expressed confusion at the layout of the place. Several of them remarked that giving up any hope of figuring out where you were going was the only way to find anything.

There are only two explanations for this. The first is that Tangier's medina makes use of extra dimensions, disobeys the rules of the universe. This would explain the church that seems to wash up and down a hill with the tide, and the historic diplomatic building that is simultaneously next to the Kasbah and down by the Petit Socco. There is another, perhaps more plausible explanation. As part of my research I discovered that Morocco, specifically the hills around Tangier, produces around half of Europe's cannabis. Seriously massive quantities of hashish make their way down to the docks in Tangiers every day, to be shipped to the needy stoners of Europe. Of course, some of it never leaves the country, enough for the stuff to be cheaper than tobacco and easily obtained. Although none of the cartographers or travel writers mention this, I suspect they may have done their investigations of the city while baked off their tits on hash. This would explain the apparently baffling geography of the old town, as well as the inordinate amount of column inches travel writers devote to "these like, fucking amazing little stands that sell these enormous sugary pastry things..."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Poems

Two poems by Jamie McKendrick, whose work I first became aware of through the Poems on the Underground program. They're a brilliant example of how poetic doesn't have to mean vague and ignorant or science, none of this Keatsian Negative Capability crap.

On Nothing

I do not think it is absurd for you to say that nothing is something,
since no one can deny that ‘nothing’ is a noun.

                                                        -- Anselm of Canterbury

If nothing is the opposite of something
then it too is something and not nothing.
Or is that just language rushing in
to fill what makes the intellect recoil?

It’s us not nature that abhors a vacuum,
though in frictionless space there’s still a fraction
more than nothing, if not enough of it
to slow the planets in their orbits.

But the full moon hides its emptiness
and every plenitude its opposite;
the present buckles into nowlessness

that lasts for never as a dark star draws
downward threads of light. There nothing exists,
crouching like a sphinx among the rubble.

Out There
If space begins at an indefinite zone
where the chance of two gas molecules colliding
is rarer than a green dog or a blue moon
then that’s as near as we’ll get to nothing.

Nostalgia for the Earth and its atmosphere
weakens the flesh and bones of cosmonauts
One woke to find his crewmate in a space suit
and asked where he was going. For a walk.

He had to sleep between him and the air-lock.
Another heard a dog bark and a child cry
halfway to the moon. What once had been

where heaven was, is barren beyond imagining,
and never so keenly as from out there can
the lost feel earth’s the only paradise.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Graphic Design, 1930s style

I found this poster while roaming a strange and obscure corner of the internet the other day.

I remember passing the flying-boat dock and its elegant, if decaying, reception building when I was on a boat tour around manhattan. There's something deep-down awesome about flying boats, just like there is with zepplins. Their bulky and awkward shapes make them seem somehow bigger than even the most mahoosive of superjumbos. They suggest a mode of transport that wouldn't leave you yearning a chemical-induced coma after about an hour.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Shard

It goes up

Guitar Refinishing: Starting over

I've got high hopes that I'll be able to make it work this time. As you can see from the strange way that different layers showed through in different places when i sanded it down, the surface at the end of the first round wasn't exactly flat. Most of those problems seem to stem from the wonky application of the primer right back at the beginning.

Friday, July 02, 2010

whoa now

I was in Halfords the other day, buying some paint, when I saw this.

Are we doing woman-murder humor in auto-parts stores now?