USA’s Popularity Plummets

US popularity plummets

The view of the US’s role in the world has deteriorated both internationally and domestically, a BBC poll suggests.

The World Service survey, conducted in 25 nations including the US, found that three in four respondents disapproved of how Washington has dealt with Iraq.

The majority of the 26,381 respondents also disapproved of the way five other foreign policy areas have been handled.
(Source: BBC News)

I’m sure US right-wingers will rubbish this poll as much as they rubbished the only scientific study on how many Iraqis had been murdered by their illegal invasion. Hell, perhaps they’ll even try to convince us that only a few extremists oppose the USA’s plan of international dominance through war, even though millions upon millions of ordinary people (a lot of them Americans) have marched against this warmongering.

Yes, this is just a small poll but I do think it’s indicative of America’s standing in the international community. Part of this fall from grace has to be due to America’s leader. The USA seems to have frittered away its reserves of goodwill under the aegis of a man who can rarely, if ever, string a coherent sentence together.

Think of the millions of intelligent, articulate, wise Americans there are – is George Bush really the best America can do? How can this bumbling, fumbling neocon patsy still be in office?

But the biggest, most obvious area that the US is alienating world opinion is the debacle in Iraq and the fascistic ‘War On Terror’:

Respondents were also asked about the Bush administration’s handling of six areas of foreign policy:

* The war in Iraq: an average of 73% of respondents disapproved (57% in the US). Disapproval was strongest in Argentina and France, while people in Nigeria, Kenya and the Philippines were more likely to approve.

* Detainees in Guantanamo: 67% disapproved (50% in the US). Backing for America on this issue was highest in Nigeria, where 49% approved.

(Source: BBC News)

Remember, it’s only a survey. All surveys need to be taken with an ocean-load of salt…

…however….

It’s clear that the architects of the Project for a New American Century saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as a golden opportunity. With the old bear dead, what other power would oppose the USA’s global military dominance? China had enough problems of it own and could be bought off. Other nuclear powers were either indebted to or directly allied with America. The only serious challenge would come from the emerging secular and Muslim Middle Eastern states. Their control of the oil fields could prove crucial in the war for the world.

And so, we find ourselves caught in the hellish crossfire between the world’s biggest military and (excluding Israel) the Middle East. We’re bombed and beaten, shot and disappeared. Every day, Americans and Britons find their civil rights being further dismantled by their governments using the cover of fighting terror. The argument goes:

“To protect your lives and freedom from the eeevil Islamists under every bed, we must catalogue you, film you, photograph you, search you, kidnap you, imprison you, torture you, kill you. Your legal rights as a human being are void. We do this for your good! Just think how horrible life would be if the terrorists won!”

Since I disagree with the views of Bush, Blair and Bin Laden, I don’t believe people are stupid. It may take a while, but we do know when we’re being bullshitted by PR campaigns, whether they’re carried out by McDonalds or George Bush.

What’s happening is that the USA, as a brand, is becoming unpopular. What once was synonymous with freedom, chewing gum, blue jeans and rock music has now become associated with the torn bodies of Arab children, lying about WMDs and an idiot President.

Perhaps it’s time for a re-branding?

Mosh Derby Opening Night

Woohoo! I had a brilliant time at the opening night of Mosh Derby! Despite rumours of it being closed / burnt-down / turned into cheese, it opened on time. I was perhaps a little eager as I was first in… heh… Click the pic above for a little gallery.

The venue that used to be Moods / The Loft / The Wherehouse has been completely transformed inside. Everywhere is very swish and the fittings, PA, lighting and finishing are all top-class. Someone’s put a lot of money into this refurb, it’s not your usual club bodge-job. And everything was very, very organised.

The vibe at Mosh was very friendly and the security was also clued-in – crucial with a venue doing alternative music. I’ve seen a lot of alt nights fail because of heavy-handed security who bascially dis-respect the punters. Mosh have got it right.

It was fantastic for me to be out on a Friday night and hear perhaps only three or four chart songs the whole night. By 11.30pm, the place was absolutely rammed! I recognised a few people from other clubs but it mainly seemed to be people who don’t normally go out clubbing in Derby. Why? Because no club caters for them – it’s either Zanzibar or NME chart indie, that’s your lot. Because Mosh does cater to their tastes, they came out and supported it. Build it and they will come…

I danced till I hurt and then sat down and wheezed, like the old man I am. If you’re in or near Derby and at a loose end tonight, pop along! I may see you there! 😀

Revolution In The Valley & iCon

Revolution In The Valley

I’ve been on a bit of a computer history jag lately. After watching ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley,’ I bought two books more specifically about Apple and Steve Jobs.

The first is by someone intimately involved with Apple, Andy Hertzfeld. Hertzfeld was one of the team on the original Macintosh computer. His book, ‘Revolution In The Valley,’ is an in-depth look at how that ground-breaking computer came to be, against a lot of obstacles (some of them internal to Apple).

The book is actually a distillation of Folklore.org, a brilliant website dedicated (currently) to the Mac’s genesis. As good as that site is, it can’t compete with the lavish, beautiful book.

From the first time you open ‘Revolution In The Valley,’ you’re treated to a sumptuous history of the Mac and much of Apple history. Some of the bits I’ve most studied are Hertzfeld’s original notes and plans – I would have paid just to see these amazing historical documents. They’re a peek (sic) into how the world’s first personal computer GUI was implemented through sheer hard work and high sorcery.

But don’t think this is at all a dry or academic read. Hertzfeld does dish out geeky details of how elements were achieved but he also writes with a rare passion and honesty. Through all the anecdotes and asides, all the confessions and conniptions, Hertzfeld makes what could easily have been a musty, dusty journey into something of a techno-thriller. Although we know that the Mac got made, there’s a genuine sense of tension as we see the team face one trial after another. And best them!

Another strength of the book is that Hertzfeld never tries to portray what he’s saying about the history of the Mac as the truth but only as a truth. A lesser man would have portrayed himself at the centre of the Macverse, overegging the pudding. Hertzfeld freely recalls episodes and criticisms of himself that are severely un-flattering. The result of this honesty is that the reader can try and establish their own perspective on the story; they aren’t locked-in to Hertzfeld’s world.

Steve Jobs looms over this book, of course, in much the same way as a tornado looms over a small farm. The picture Hertzfeld paints of Jobs is of a go-getter genius and also a mercurial egomaniac. A man you could trust to procure resources for your project but who you’d hide from if he was walking down your corridor. He also mentions the legendary ‘Reality Distortion Field,’ the force of Jobs’ actinic charisma, which battered even his most vociferous critics into becoming giggling cheerleaders.

If there are heroes in the story, they’re people like Steve Wozniak, father of the Apple II and baby-faced Burrell Smith, uber-engineer of the Mac. Hertzfeld writes about these people like a teenybopper with a crush on Frankie Avalon. And so he should! Without geeks of this stature, this insanity, I probably wouldn’t be typing this now. Or maybe I would… on a CLI terminal leased out from IBM in some grey building…

If you’re at all a computer geek, if you’ve ever dabbled in assembler, PHP or even tweaked a CSS stylesheet, ‘Revolution In The Valley’ is an essential purchase. Even if you’re not into computers at all, this book is a fascinating unearthing of how the tech you’re now using to read these words came to be.

iCon

‘iCon,’ by Jeffrey Young and William Simon has a much larger remit than Hertzfeld’s book. It’s basically intended to be a biography of Steve Jobs but functionally also ends up as a biography of Apple. Whereas ‘Revolution In The Valley’ covers only the original Mac era, ‘iCon’ starts with Jobs’ birth and adoptive parents and travels with him up to 2005. As such, there is more scope for drama. In fact, you couldn’t have a Jobs biography without drama since the man has lead a startlingly dramatic life.

This is the story of a hyper, over-sensitive kid that spent time wandering round penniless in India, trying to find spiritual enlightenment and instead getting scabies. This is the man who, as the cliche goes, was worth $1 million at 23, $10+ million at 24 and hundreds of millions at 25.

Young and Simon leap into the drama gleefully. Sometimes, perhaps, a little too gleefully. Whereas the tone of Hertzfeld’s book is serious, detailed and historical, sometimes ‘iCon’ veers dangerously close to ‘Hello’ territory. I won’t say it’s prurient but it’s definitely occasionally nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

This detracts from what is already a jet-powered read. The book oozes detailed research, shoe-horning factoids into every sentence. One of the best sections is towards the middle when the authors describe the gestation and birth of Pixar and Job’s subsequent war with Disney boss Michael Eisner. The detail here is both meticulous and essential: without all the ins and outs, the reader would have no sense of the subtext behind the terse corporate statements. Just this section alone would be more interesting than most of Hollywood’s current output if it was made into a movie. And you can’t often say that about corporate politics – that’s the power of Young and Simon’s writing.

Naturally, all the early Apple history is covered. A lot of this may already be familiar to computer geeks: the garage days, Homebrew Computer Club, the screeching at Bill Gates, “are you a virgin.” Nevertheless, ‘iCon’ presents familiar history with elaborated contexts and a lot of additional information. Certainly, I was surprised at the spend on the West Coast Computer Faire of ’77 – this is almost always presented as the shirtsleeve, hacker days of Apple. Plexiglass signs and five thousand dollars on presentation – now that’s serious promo!

Comparing the Jobs of Hertzfeld’s book to the Jobs of ‘iCon,’ there are a lot of similarities. There are even some key scenes that are in both books and it’s fascinating to compare them. I think the Jobs of ‘iCon’ is more extreme than that of ‘Revolution In The Valley.’ Young and Simon have naturally got a lot more timeline to play with and that includes some truly over-the-top Jobs’ shenanigans. The most telling of this is the infamous whiteboard incident: Pixar founder Alvy Ray wanted to demonstrate a point so he tried to use Steve’s whiteboard. Jobs apparenty went absolutely nuts, shouting psychotically at Ray. Ray quit and was subsequently painted out of official Pixar history, like Trotsky out of Stalinist photo libraries. Perhaps it’s a very good thing that Jobs has never been seriously interested in politics.

Being picky, there a few technical points that ‘iCon’ flummers around or simply gets plain wrong. The explanation of MP3 is quite hazy, implying that there was an MP1 and MP2. When, as any Googler can tell you, it stands for Mpeg-1 Audio Layer 3. And what about the bit where the authors ramble on about iLife apps called iPhotos and iMovies? Surely it doesn’t take much to have a look at your dock and see the actual, un-plural names?

Also dodgy is when they say Brad Bird had no experience with CGI animation when he approached Pixar to pitch ‘The Incredibles?’ Huh? What about ‘The Iron Giant?’

I’m only being pedantic about the above points because I’m not a huge geek, I’m a wannabe. But if a wannabe like me can spot these schoolboy errors, what would an Apple insider or proper techie make of this book? There may be other errors that I’m not informed enough to spot.

However, don’t let those teeny criticisms put you off this book. Although very different in tempo and temperament, ‘iCon’ is as gripping a read as ‘Revolution In The Valley.’ Perhaps, for some readers, it’s the more gripping book because there’s less hardcore techiness and more dramatic sweep of history. Really, it’s crying out to be made into a feaure film. Steve Jobs has lived a life a thousand times more interesting than most high-octane fiction. I think ‘iCon’ captures that crazy majesty adeptly.

So, buy both these books, read them and you’ll see the world around you entirely differently, even if you’re not a Mac user. Unless you haven’t got an iPod. Or ever watched a Pixar film. Or ever used web browser…

Bad Web Design Part 4341

Is there any reason, in 2007, that I should be looking at web pages like the one below?

Bad Web design

Look at all that wasted space! Look at it! GAAAAH!

I only get three hours of programme guide here when my browser could easily display nine or ten. Would it be that difficult to implement an auto-stretching layout that fetched the browser window size?

Nope.

But I guess if I didn’t have to click around so much, I wouldn’t get to see all the lovely intrusive Flash ads. Which brings me back to an old, old sore point…

I wish to say, again:

DON’T USE FLASH! IT’S SHIT!

If you’re a graphic designer who’s too thick or lazy to learn Java, PHP or other web programming languages, then please don’t become a web designer via horribly clunky, bloated and unstable Flash sites. Flash is anti-disabled, anti-stable and anti the whole point of the web. Flash, if it’s used at all, should only be used for little games or other trivia. Not adverts, not the main portal interface.

Rant over… for now…

UPDATE!
This just in from roving reporter orangeacid:

Lol just read your rant about Flash on Bzangy. I hate flash too – you missed out ‘anti-semantic’ and ‘intrusive’.

As a mac-user, I presume you haven’t enjoyed the experience of using Firefox for a year and then having to use IE at other people’s houses occasionally and it stealing focus constantly. One of the few things more annoying than flash.

ZX Spectrum Widget

ZX Spectrum Widget

Yep, it’s a Mac OSX Dashboard widget that’s a ZX Spectrum, complete with loads of games like Elite, Ant Attack and Manic Miner! Click here to download it!

And it’s FREEEE!

Here’s the games that come with it:

Widget Games

I used to check for new widgets all the time but I admit I got a bit bored. I’m off now to see if there’s anything else new and lovely! 😀

A Guide To Stressful Living


A calming pic to de-stress you…

Via the always great Lifehacker, click here for a great guide on how to live a more stressful, less happy life!

Here’s some of my fave bits:

1. Attempt to control absolutely everything

This is one of the more practical ways of achieving high levels of stress, and can be applied in a variety of ways in almost every situation you are likely to encounter. The key to this method is the fact that you never really have much control over anything, and so it generates stress in proportion to your illusion of control and the imagined responsibility you have as a consequence.
(Source: Everyday Wonderland)

Errr… yes. As someone who’s just released a new album where I wrote everything, played everything, recorded, produced, mastered, did the photography, design and issued it on my own label, I think I can relate to the above tip slightly. 😀

And yet, I still find myself wondering if I’m doing enough! I suppose I could always stick a broom up my arse so I can sweep up as I go along…

2. Believe in the possibility of ‘making it’

The concept of arriving somewhere in the future is another very useful and popular source of stress and anxiety, and the illusion of being able to make it in the world is upheld and added to via magazines, television, movies, and whatever medium used to display how ‘the others’ go about living their lives.
(Source: Everyday Wonderland)

Like most musicians, I used to be guilty of this. When I first started songwriting, twenty-four years ago, I used to have elaborate fantasies where I’d get a call from a major label. They would fall at my feet, at last acknowledging my infinite genius. And then I’d go on to have an international number one and sell hundreds of thousands of records.

Well, the last part came true but only because I stopped fantasising and started living in reality. I only achieved my teenage dream (at thirty!) when I gave up on trying to be what I thought major labels wanted and instead made music totally for myself, music that I was proud of.

As I always say, most musicians seem to waste their entire lives waiting for permission to make music, waiting for the false validation of a record contract. Why wait? Now, more than at any other time in history, it’s possible for artists to make their art and find an audience. I’m not saying you’ll make millions but at least you’ll make great music.

And then there’s the vicious circle of status:

It’s the reason why people spend most of their time working for the purpose of accumulating more things, and then their free time on trying hard to extract as much satisfaction as possible from these things in order to justify the means of attaining them. To be caught in this upward spiral of more and more work for more and more sensory satisfaction is what characterizes the affluent parts of our culture, and the potential for stress on this path is endless, simply because more is never enough. Never has been, never will be.
(Source: Everyday Wonderland)

Yep, been there, done that (and probably still doing it in some ways). I’d also add that the central motor of Western living is self-medication. Or, as I said in this rant from seven years ago:

It’s a vicious circle:

I’ve got a shit job/life —> so I blot it out every weekend by getting wasted —> which costs fucking loads —> so I need to do this shit job to get the money to get wasted…

The logical thing would be to break the cycle. Whether it’s alcohol, coke or a new car to show off to the neighbours, these things are all monkeys on our backs. We think of them as signs of achievement, badges of luxury but in reality they’re heavy chains weighing us down. Bear in mind I’m not being holier-than-thou here: I’ve wasted so much money on gadgets and gimmicks, things that I thought would make me happy but never did.

I even had a phase where I’d get panicky in shops if I couldn’t find anything to buy. I’d walk around, getting more and more nervous, looking for something, anything that would satisfy my shopping craving. I’m not that bad now but those one-click buttons on websites are still calling out to me…

4. Emphasize yourself

There are many ways of inflating your sense of self, and the reason this is of interest to us here is because emphasizing your personal identity can be an excellent source of stress. These include defending your position, making sure you are always right and fighting whoever dares question it; demanding respect and admiration, making sure everyone around you knows who you are and why it’s important…
(Source: Everyday Wonderland)

I’m saying nowt! 🙂

And finally:

5. Be more and have more

At the core, all of the above ideas can be summed up in a single method: simply convince yourself that you need more than you have at any given moment, and you will be able to maintain a steady feeling of anxiety throughout the day. This can be a feeling of needing to become more than you already are, or needing to have more than you have now (which are actually one and the same), and can be felt more generally as a perpetual sense of lack.
(Source: Everyday Wonderland)

If you don’t recognise yourself in the above quotes at all, I envy you! I’ve spent so much of my life worrying about money, status and what other people think of me. I wish I could have those hours back and spend them just sitting on a hill, looking at the sky. Y’know, something actually worthwhile rather than that endless, futile worrying.

Please have a read of the full article, linked above. There’s a lot to digest there and, for me, a lot that’s uncomfortably familiar.

But, hey, don’t get too stressed about it! 😀