Mixing history, food and drink in London

If you enjoy discoverying little known historic locations and also places to eat and drink, Etain attempts to combine the two by creating a directory of London bars and restaurants where historic events took place.

I recently did some work for the owner of Etain using data taken from English Heritage and cross referencing it with Foursquares venue data.

Shall definitely be using this site next time I have to entertain friends in London!

Bookshelf: The Pirate’s Dilemma

The Pirates Dilemma
The logo is free to remix

I recently finished reading The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Hackers, Punk Capitalists, Graffiti Millionaires and Other Youth Movements are Remixing Our Culture and Changing Our World by Matt Mason.

I posted a link to Amazon to buy the book but it’s free to download (you choose the price) from the Official website.

I’ll start by saying that this is a great well-researched book for anyone who is (a) a pirate (b) a creator (c) a media exec or (d) wanting to look at the history and origins of piracy in context.

Mason starts off from the odd perspective of introducing us to the punk revolution. The entire first chapter is devoted to punk capitalism. Whilst I think this has it’s place in the history of piracy, I didn’t think it was necessary to devote a whole chapter. I did at one point wonder if I was about to settle into a book which was using piracy as a subterfuge for writing about the history of the music industry, but by chapter 2 we dive right into the heart of the matter, with pirate radio and patent trolling. Nice to see the Principality of Sealand get a mention too. So we can thank Mason for the brief history of punk and forgive him for confusingly making it the premise of the subject of the book.

The other niggle I have is the use of the apostrophe in the title. Surely it’s not a pirate’s dilemma at all, but a pirates dilemma – since the dilemma is with the media industry?

There is a lot of references to history and the use of copyright, which made informative and educational reading. I had heard before of how early America basically stole works from Europe but I was not informed of the whole story, or of the origins of the contemptuous nickname ‘yankee’! In summary, America was historically a nation of pirates, Hollywood in particular founded on piracy – They were the original Pirate Bay of the 19th century. Don’t take my word for it – read the book!

The book pretty much covers all the topics around copyright and piracy, and answers many questions that the less informed may have. Mason frames the act of piracy in terms of culture and history very well – making a compelling argument for not only why we should allow piracy, but support it. The subjects range from graffiti art and other counter-culture movements to the foundation of hip hop and the invention of the iPod.

Mason sticks to his music reporter roots throughout and provides insight into his own background in pirate radio and the discovery of Grime. However, despite my issue with the way the book started, he actually does a good job of making the connections of the roots of music with the remix culture, cultural revolution and of course, what is now termed piracy.

It’s not all a one-sided argument either. Of course, given Masons background he could be considered biased toward piracy but he actually offers up both the good with the bad – drug dealing and happy slapping are just a couple of examples. With regards to happy slapping, Mason considers this a kind of ‘last resort’ for a younger generation. A generation desperate to get away from a media and marketing culture that ‘pounces’ on any grass roots youth culture movement before it has a chance to become established. Mason references parkour as a strong example of this. Though I don’t think something like happy slapping can be so easily excused, it has given me a new perspective and I’m finding myself agreeing with this view.

The Pirate’s Dilemma is not a roadmap to a better future, in fact the logic would seem to indicate we are in a constant war between creative freedom on one side and powerful corporate interests on the other. However perhaps if enough of the right people were to read it – politicians, media execs, content creators, then perhaps there is hope for a more open future society.

Already Spain is showing itself to be a much more progressive country in this respect. Could this truth spread to the rest of the Western world some day? I hope so.

Why I Still Use Facebook Despite The Issues

Over the past year I’ve agonised over keeping my Facebook account, but everytime I’ve considered deleting it I’ve come to the same conclusion – the benefits of having one far outweigh the benefits of not having a Facebook account.

Big Brother is Poking You

Let’s start with the negative shall we? First is privacy – Facebook is infamous for dicking around with users profiles and privacy settings. It should be on the tip of every Facebook users mind that what they post in private today could be on the front page of The Sun tomorrow. It’s something I’m concerned about and it’s likely if Facebook did not give me some measure of control over my privacy settings then I’d definitely look for an alternative.

Farmbook

Second, Farmville (and it’s ilk). Seriously I don’t mind if you want to raise your virtual tomatoes with your virtual seed that you bought with your virtual cash that you paid for with you real money. However, why does Facebook feel it’s important that I should know all this? I don’t care, I don’t want to know about your gold egg, your new apartment, your lost Koala, your bean crop or anything you spend mindless hours filling the bank account of some company you’ve never even heard of.

The Great Unwashed

Thirdly, popularity. Yes I appreciate most will not understand this one. Let me try to explain. When I joined Facebook it was little more than a listing site. You could post photo’s, a profile and maybe there was a few extras I don’t remember. Then a couple of years later came the MySpace refugees – and with them they brought their ugly profiles and ubiquitous junk plugins. OK so I was a Facebook snob, I never got into MySpace and I’m glad – I feel less dirty for it. Yes the MySpace crowd ruined Facebook – but I will admit I played some of the games to start with, I took part in the stupid polls and apps that desperately scream “define me”! It’s not something I’m proud of.

So why stick with Facebook despite these issues? Read on…

Continue reading “Why I Still Use Facebook Despite The Issues”

Bookshelf: The End of America

I picked up this book in the Borders sell off, it wasn’t one I was desperate to read, but it piqued my interest. End of America, the: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot, by Naomi Wolf was first published in 2007 and is already starting to feel a little dated – reading it just 3 years later after a new President and the rhetoric of The War Against Terror (TWAT) is losing it’s appeal. The warnings contained however, are not dated, and will continue to be relevant to both Americans and future societies who aspire to a democratic ideal.

The End of AmericaReading this book brought back memories for me of the last decade and my general disgust with the theme that the world had changed and would never be the same again – that we were entering into a perpetual war. I was against action being taken against Afghanistan, though initially I had always been pro-war when it came to Iraq. Mainly because I believed our leaders when they said we were in danger. I was not naive enough to believe the lie that Saddam was behind the 9/11 terrorist attack – but I felt he was a dictator that deserved to be removed anyway.

It was the 45 minute claim by Tony Blair that first made me question my assumptions – particularly when this 45 minute claim turned out to be completely false. That started me down the path of questioning the government and media as a whole – so much so that from being a ‘just war’ type of person I became vehemently and extremely anti-war. I never did join a protest but I read and took part in blogs and forum discussion anonymously. It certainly shaped a lot of my decisions and mentality towards life and the church since then too – not all negatively – In fact I’d say it’s had a lot more positive effects in raising my intelligence and a reasoning beyond the surface level.

All these feeling were evoked again reading this book, because Wolf has taken much time and effort to document the decline of American freedom and democracy under President George W Bush. The book follows the outline of 10 steps in a slide towards facism. It’s refreshing to hear someone define the word and apply it correctly, not just punting it around in a throw-away manner.

Wolf is careful not to go too far, in declaring that America has already entered into a fascist state, but from her descriptions and real world references it certainly sounds that way. She also maintains the premise that America’s political spectrum is rather like a pendulum, swinging towards democracy and freedom at some points in history, and back towards fascism at other times (Witch trials, McCarthy-ism etc…).

This doesn’t quite wash with me, perhaps because it seems like an excuse, or simply something that is inevitable and not something that should be prevented. But Wolf maintains the importance of the checks and balances put in by the founding fathers, and that is good enough for me.

Speaking of the founding fathers, I am glad that Wolf made a lot of effort to link current times to the times that they made the constitution – there purposes for making the constitution and the importance of the checks and balances that were all but destroyed under Bush. I think the founding fathers would have called for an insurrection by now if they could see the state of America today – it’s plainly not their vision of what the ideal democracy should be.

This is well worth a read, if you have the time or are interested in American history and politics.

Buy End of America, the: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot Now at Amazon.

Bookshelf: The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats I was a little curious when I saw the title of the movie come out and when I spotted this book on sale I decided to pick it up and satisfy my curiosity.

As it is, I’ve now read the novel before the movie, in fact I’ve only watched half the movie so far. For what it’s worth I don’t think the movie does this book justice at all! In fact the movie is less an adaption of the novel and more of a poor tribute to it.

There’s just so much detail left out and from what I’ve watched so far, it’s really treated entirely as a comedy with little care or attention paid towards the serious, more saddening side. Of course I’ve only seen half so all that may change towards the end of the film, but where I left it just seemed to be getting nowhere near the darker side of the novel.

As for the book, the book is fascinating, immersing, funny and tragic all at the same time. The author carefully leads us through interviews and historical events, offering background and explanation to the occasional bizarre moments that leaked into mainstream press and public consciousness. It also shows a darker, sinister side to the lighter, much joked about moments such as the leaking of torture using Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Linking all of these events and bizarre military strategies is something that sounds like the plot of a badly concieved B-movie. The First Earth Battalion, brain-child of and army man gone native hippy taking inspiration from the peace movement of the 70’s. The author, Jon Ronson carefully lays out how something that started out as a thought experiment in creating a US army of peaceful warrior monks – bringing love and peace to the conflict zones – became so twisted and corrupted, ending with something a bit like Saw franchise meets X-Files.

Of course, it’s hard to touch on so much material and cover-ups without eventually succumbing to a conspiratorial tone, and towards the end of the book, as the author runs out of leads, there is a slight leaning towards speculation. It doesn’t detract from the novel in any way and after everything else that’s been presented, it doesn’t feel that far reaching. However, it does leave an small opening for sceptics to question the research and sources.

Nevertheless, I felt enlightened after reading the book, since there are so many references to real and tangible historical events, it really makes sense of it all from an inside perspective. It certainly makes you more media aware when looking out for those occasional blunders that make it into the spotlight.

The Men Who Stare at Goats totally belongs on your must-read list, click on the link to buy it now at Amazon.co.uk!

Book Review: Charles Mackay’s Extrodinary Popular Delusions & The Madness of Crowds

“A modern-day interpretation of a finance classic”

That was a long title for a short book. It’s not the actual Charles Mackay work, it’s a modernised version written by journalist Tim Phillips that basically summarises the important details and lessons that apply today, as much as (if not more than) they did back then.

“Here’s the catch: we rarely spot bubbles as they occur. We can identify them with hindsight, but that’s not a lot of use if you’re investing. It takes a strong stomach, when a price keeps rising, to hold fast to your belief that it was fairly priced at half its current price.” Ch. 22 p. 45

Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: A Modern-day Interpretation of a Finance ClassicEach chapter is broken down in to two concise pages and covers everything from the crusades to witchcraft and the dutch tulipomania to the recent economic meltdown. It makes for an extremely easy read, allowing anyone with even a basic education and knowledge to access the wisdom contained within.

The lessons are clear and sober, there is a soundbite for every topic – a quote called a “defining idea” and a footnote with ideas about how to apply the lesson to your business.

This is a must-read book for pretty much anyone who either invests money, uses money, is interested in the economy or finds their lives affected by it – which pretty much covers everyone. In fact I’d go as far as saying it should be made into a school textbook. This is required reading for life.

Buy Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: A Modern-day Interpretation of a Finance Classic (Infinite Success Series) today on Amazon.co.uk

Graphic Novel Review: Maus

Last year I read Watchmen for the first time. I read it before watching the movie because I didn’t want my perception of the novel to be influenced by the movie, I wanted to compare the movie to the graphic novel.

I’ve read edgy graphic novels before, but I was primarily brought up on a diet of 2000 AD and Batman. After reading Watchmen however, I made a pledge to broaden my reading spectrum and seek out more edgy, interesting and unusual graphic novels that don’t feature super heroes – particularly ones that have not yet been made into movies. I picked up a copy of 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide and one of the first novels I decided to purchase was The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Maus is the true story of the survival of Spiegalman’s father and mother through the Nazi holocaust with Jews depicted as mice and Germans depicted as cats as well as Polish pigs, French frogs and others which go to form visual metaphors for the range of nationalities featured and their attitude towards events at the time.

Despite its animal theme and comic format, Spiegelman pulled no punches in depicting the realities of life at the time, including the violence and death that encircled his immediate family. At the same time, the novel does not attempt to paint Vladek (Speigelman’s father) as a wholly innocent and guilt-free victim. Not only do we see Vladeks resourcefulness and caring side, we see prejudice, paranoia, stinginess and even racism. In fact this is part of what makes the story so powerful – the fact that his father, despite all he has been through, is human just like the rest of us.

The story recalls to my mind both Watership Down and Animal Farm. Both of which use animals as metaphors to convey certain characteristics, and both of which deal with violence, persecution and other mature themes. The story is both intense and immersing. I didn’t want to put it down, but had no choice due to it being so weighty in words. I do not think it is intended to be a tragedy, nevertheless this is the feeling you get when you come away from it, yet there are moments of humour and hope punctuated throughout the story, including towards the end where Art and Vladek seem to become reconciled towards one another, as well as Art’s revelations through meeting with his shrink. I particularly like the way Spiegelman has drawn himself ‘shrinking’ to the size of a little boy whilst sitting on the couch!

Rich in details and character driven, I highly recommend Maus, it’s a story I think that will appeal even to people who don’t usually read graphic novels.

I hope you liked my first review of a graphic novel, actually my first review of anything really. I just hope my next one is a little shorter and less work!