25 June 2012

‘The Week in Books’, Guardian, 23 June 2012

A small but fitting tribute to the late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury has been suggested by the tech world: a new website error code. You’ve probably clicked a broken link and seen the error code “404 Not found”. Or you might see “403 Forbidden”, which means “Private: keep out”.

But the “403 Forbidden” code is now being abused by British internet-service providers. Continued →

CTRL-S   rescue child

SHIFT-CTRL-S   rescue child while wearing a certain superhero costume

CTRL-A   I want everything

CTRL-C, CTRL-V   become a renowned writer, like Johann Hari or Jonah Lehrer

CTRL-Q   leave job as renowned writer after previous shortcuts discovered Continued →

Yesterday’s Google Doodle was a playable Moog synthesizer to celebrate what would have been the 78th birthday of its inventor, Dr Robert Moog. Below is a 1998 article on his Minimoog from my Guardian column about music technology, “Top Gear”.

Moog is such an evocative name — the “moo” of placid, bovine friendliness, darkly laced with the stylised, ultramodern violence of “Droog” — that it’s hard to believe Bob Moog, inventor of the synthesizer, was actually christened thus. And in one way, indeed, his hideously successful progeny have rendered him the phonetic impostor: his surname is pronounced to rhyme with “vogue”, but a Moog synthesizer sounds resolutely like a cow. Continued →

10 March 2012

Psychotic flânerie and the history of Grand Theft Auto ((An edited version of this article appeared in the Guardian‘s Weekend magazine on March 10, 2012.))

The fastest-selling cultural product in history was created by people you’ve probably never heard of. While this year’s Oscars honoured films in which the movie business sweetly congratulates itself on its own birth — The Artist, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — the most rapidly dollar-hoovering entertainment release ever is not a film, still less an album; it’s a videogame. Continued →

Some people are saddened at the abrupt removal of Google Reader’s sharing tools, and the social history that represented for those who used them. But this is only the latest example of a regular and predictable pattern of internet disappointment. Previously, folk have been distressed by the nuking of their messages on Hotmail, or gremlins deleting photos on their photo-sharing sites, or their thousands of Tweets not being lovingly archived, or being locked wholesale out of their Google Accounts, and so on and so forth. It’s always a real shame for those people affected, but by now it should no longer be a surprise. In case it helps, I hereby declare the following iron law of “free” internet services:

If you’re not paying for something, you have no reason to expect it to be there tomorrow.

Continued →

28 July 2011

I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, by Douglas Edwards (Allen Lane)

In Douglas Coupland’s 1995 novel Microserfs, the twentysomethings who work at Microsoft are so cossetted by perks and freebies that they barely have lives outside the office “campus”. Reading this book’s picture of the early days at Google, one is tempted to suppose that the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, pored over Microserfs very carefully indeed: “Google encased us in a cocoon of essential services — on-site haircuts, on-site car washes, on-site dentist and doctor, free massages, free snacks, free lunch, free dinner, gaming groups, movie nights, wine and beer clubs,” and so on. If you worked at Google, Google was your life. Continued →

11 September 2010

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, by Nicholas Carr (Atlantic)
Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by John Palfrey & Urs Gasser (Basic Books)

Do you find it hard to concentrate these days? Do you get fidgety after two pages of a book, and look around for something else to do? Is the online abbreviation “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) your response to basically everything? If so, Nicholas Carr feels your pain, and has diagnosed the cause: using the internet has rewired your brain and turned you into a flibbertigibbet. Continued →

9 February 2010

At first, it will seem like an ordinary power cut. You look out your window, and see that the whole city is dark. Then you notice the distant rumbling in the sky, and flashes of light beyond the horizon. People in the streets below are climbing out of their immobilized cars, looking upwards. Peering into the night air, you see what seems like a flock of giant birds, which resolves into a geometric fleet of stubby-winged drone aircraft. The top of a distant building explodes into flames. At length you realize the drones are firing down on the city. There is a flash, closer this time, and the crescendo whine of incoming. Before your apartment is incinerated, you have time to think: Who is doing this? Continued →