Rachel's Blog Rachel's Blog: Ideas

Sat, 02 Aug 2008
With regard to mechanical knowledge

Just substitute a few words here and there and, you know, not much has changed in the world of change.

With regard to mechanical knowledge, it is probable that we are still in our infancy, and when it is considered that, fifty years ago, many inventions for abridging the operations of industry, which are now in common use, were utterly unknown, it is not absurd to conjecture that, fifty years hence, some new contrivance may be thought of in comparison with which the steam engine and spinning jennies, however wonderful they appear to us at present, will be considered as slight and insignificant discoveries.

- Fredrick Morton Eden, circa 1790, quoted in English Society in the Eighteenth Century, Roy Porter.

Also, sentences were longer in the olden days.

Wed, 11 Jun 2008
Rowling gives Harvard commencement speech.

At my graduation we had some guy talking about road accidents and statistics. This speech is far more motivating, and I must say, more appropriate.
The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.

Mon, 28 Apr 2008
Clay Shirky and the Cognitive Surplus

This is one of those things that everyone is pointing to, but it's really worth watching or reading the transcript. Especially if you're in media, publishing, watch tv, drink gin, play online games, read books, wonder where people find the time, or are awake.


"A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken." - my new motto.

Wed, 05 Dec 2007
The Story of Stuff

An engaging 20 minute animation looking at where your stuff comes from, where it goes to, why you have so much of it and what to do about it.
The Story of Stuff

(via Boing Boing)

Tue, 17 Jul 2007
Lapsarianism vs Singularity

The natural endpoint of Lapsarianism is apocalypse. If things get worse, and worse, and worse, eventually they'll just run out of worseness. Eventually, they'll bottom out, a kind of rotten death of the universe when Lapsarian entropy hits the nadir and takes us all with it.

Running counter to Lapsarianism is progressivism: the Enlightenment ideal of a world of great people standing on the shoulders of giants. Each of us contributes to improving the world's storehouse of knowledge (and thus its capacity for bringing joy to all of us), and our descendants and proteges take our work and improve on it. The very idea of "progress" runs counter to the idea of Lapsarianism and the fall: it is the idea that we, as a species, are falling in reverse, combing back the wild tangle of entropy into a neat, tidy braid.

Of course, progress must also have a boundary condition — if only because we eventually run out of imaginary ways that the human condition can improve. And science fiction has a name for the upper bound of progress, a name for the progressive apocalypse:

We call it the Singularity.

Cory Doctorow: The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights

Wed, 04 Apr 2007
Essential technological advances for day-to-day life.

In addition to web-compliant supermarkets, there are two more technological advances I think the world needs, starting today.

Firstly, radio stations should broadcast track data—artist, title, album—alongside each song. All newer cars have digital displays don't they? Imagine listening to a cheery little tune, glancing across to the radio and swearing to never purchase any band with a name containing "New", "Life" or that creates a plural using a "z". It couldn't be that hard to implement. It's so tedious waiting for the dj to back-announce, which they inevitably won't do if it's a track you're curious about.

Secondly, and speaking of tedious, advertisements for the voting schemes of reality TV shows should not be shown. Too much to ask? OK, how about they not be shown after you're generous enough to vote. I don't even watch these singing-dancing-weight-loss-humiliation shows, but I'd very nearly pay the 55c to not ever see or hear again "If you want to keep Ducky in the show ring 1902 123 456. If you think Ferris should stick around ring 1902 123 457. If you preferred Curly Sue's performance ring 1902 123 458. Or SMS your favourite contestant's name to 1902 RIP OFF."

I guess that TVs in that case would need something similar to cookies, which is probably a gross invasion of privacy once it was linked to your phone account. But still, the ads are almost bad enough to warrant it. Perhaps it's a grand nefarious scheme which they're poised to implement in the guise of saving your eyeballs and brain, but instead they'll be armed with mountains of marketing data to on-sell and, I'm raving aren't I?

Tue, 03 Apr 2007

Have you ever noticed the incredible amount of energy you have to expend in order to go to the supermarket? There's so much activity necessary to complete such a seemingly straighforward, not to mention essential, task.

At first glance supermarkets seem ideal - all your day-to-day items in one place for you to select from and take home.

It's a false sense though. Despite all those kilometres of shelving, (a rough mental calcuation suggests around 2.5km at my local store) selection is limited. You're restricted to the items that sell well, have a recognisable brand name and a certain price-point. Take the example of Woolworths who recently pulled an "environmentally friendly" nappy from the shelves because they weren't selling. Oh, wait, they were selling and sales were on the rise, but not fast enough. Sorry, that line has been deleted.

But back to the energy expenditure. First you have to go to the store. Which means driving. They're not equipped with thousands of carparking spaces so you can easily walk there. Even if you do walk, pedestrian access is a laugh. It's even worse if the supermarket is within a mall. Even more walking to get to and from the one available parking space at the far end of the architectural monstrosity.

Next is the finding of the trolley. This alone would be worthy of a computer game, with the end of level boss represented by the trolley jockey and his Massive Trailer of Carpark Havoc Doom! (That's after you've wrestled all the exercise deficient women who need an entire trolley to cart their handbag around in.)

But say you've achieved all that and you've made it into the supermarket with the trolley and, because you're having a good day, you've even got a list to work from. Here's what you have to do:

  1. Walk every aisle. It doesn't matter what you're looking for. That one slightly unusual item you need is never where you would have put it. (For the record - bicarb of soda is with the baking goods, bulk vinegar is in the cleaning aisle.)
  2. Load your trolley. I hope even if the steering is wonky that at least it doesn't squeak.
  3. Find the checkout with the shortest* line.
  4. Read a magazine (Do NOT purchase it.)
  5. Unload your trolley onto the conveyor.
  6. Wince as your items are inexpertly packed. Hope the grapes aren't squashed.
  7. Pay for goods.
  8. Reload trolley.
  9. Return to car.
  10. Unload trolley.
  11. Return trolley to bay.

*Shortest is relative. In my experience it doesn't matter which queue you choose, it will still take the same amount of time. In a longer line where people have fewer items you'll be inching forward, in a shorter line where shoppers have full trolleys, you get to stand still.

Note that in this scenario you're so busy unloading for the convenience of the store, which is absolutely not offering you any customer service, that you cannot observe the screen that is placed for the specific purpose of allowing you to check the pricing of the goods you are purchasing. Thus your faith must remain with the store; you miss any opportunity to catch errors; the store has fulfilled its legal obligations.

Where are the self-checking trolleys? Why is online supermarket shopping such a painful and expensive experience? Where are the employees that are specifically rostered on to help you locate items and get them safely through the maze of activity to your vehicle? Naïve? Yes.

I confess that there can be something comforting about the ritual, but there are so many ways that the pains of this weekly errand can be eased. That is why I fully support and endorse Supermarket 2.0

(via Boing Boing)

Thu, 19 Oct 2006
Aren't it All Amazing?

What do Numbers Radio Stations, the new Bravia advert and Blackalicious' Alphabet Aerobics have in common?
Aside from them being very pretty to watch, I think they make a nice edumacational trio.

Sat, 15 Jul 2006
The Tomorrow That Never Was

Phrase of the day: Raygun Gothic.

Tue, 13 Jun 2006
Defensive Parenting

I'm going to use that previous post as the first example of a technique I'm calling Defensive Parenting. It's the strategy employed by carers who are recieving charges of deficient parenting by other parents/relatives/people in the bus queue. It's a perfectly legitimate technique, one I employ myself when the need arises, but I felt it needed recognition. You'll find it can often be identified by the phrase "Oh, but only..."

"Oh, but only so I can give Junior his three a.m. feed and my wife can sleep through a little longer."

Disposable nappies:
"Oh, but only when we're going out."

"Oh, but only because we're renovating the bathroom again and I can get in another coat of paint during a Wiggles video."

Defensive Parenting is indispensible when faced in the supermarket queue by another parent who you just know has read all the same books and magazine articles as you and who raises an eyebrow at the new dummy/pacifier you've placed in your trolley. "Oh, it's for me," you can say, "It's the only way I can get to sleep at night." And your toddler will pat you comfortingly on the cheek before he reaches for a packet of his favourite all-natural lollies.

Wed, 29 Mar 2006
Culture of the Lost

Kim Torney's book (adapted from a thesis) Babes in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image explores the ingrained Australian story of the lost child; how it is unique to Australia, it's origins, representations and how it is still part of the national psyche today. Readers get an idea of colonial life, the changing views of children and childhood and the position of aborigines as trackers and (rarely) scapegoats.

Towards the end, in a chapter on two memorials of lost children in Victoria as being unique in their scope (the Jane Duff Roadside Park and the Lost Children's Walk and tombstone in Daylesford), Torney makes mention of the number of memorials in Victoria in general.

Victoria is replete with all sorts of memorials. Why this is so remains open to speculation — one factor may have been size. As one of the smallest states, it seems to have quickly arrived at a sense of being settled, unlike the larger states such as Western Australia, Queensland or New South Wales. This process of settlement was hastened for Victoria by the influx of people and money that accompanied the discovery of gold; impressive city buildings and institutions such as a university and museum-library confirmed that the pioneering days were over. The speed with which the metropolis developed generated what Griffiths calls the 'preservation impulse'. The perception of a rapidly disapearing past was very probably a major factor in the Victorian process of memorialisation. This occurred within what Griffiths also calls the 'evolutionary, scientific vision of history', which he links with the spread of Darwinian theory. He argues that this 'led to a premium being placed on tangible monuments and relics, on original and authentic physical sources that could be conserved as evidence of unique past experience.' [pp 206-207]

Which I immediately related to science fiction, because that's how my brain works. I have not made any kind of examination into this, but there has to be masses of scope for planet-conquering stories to explore the idea of cultural bereftness, where culture is specifically tied to the land.

I think this is why we immigrant Australians have so much trouble pin-pointing our culture. (By immigrant I mean everyone since 1788.) Torney talks about identity being tied to the idea of "loss to the land". We hold most dearly to individuals who have conquered the land, given it an identity we can relate to, by being lost (lost literally or lost as in dead) to it. So the non-Aboriginal Australian is trying to claim the land, not by millennia of tradition, but by lives. This excompasses all our floods, fires, lost children, explorers, bushrangers to a degree, but also soldiers fighting overseas. (Even if the flag wasn't ours, the sentiment was there.) Even the jolly swagman drowned. It's clearly impossible to artifically create a culture that is based on the idea of fear of the land you are occupying.

If anyone would like to take the baton and discuss where this sits with the Stolen Generations I would be most appreciative.

Thu, 26 Jan 2006
Australia: State of Fear - John Bell

I'd like to give Howard credit for successfully stirring up debate by declaring the debate over, but I'll bet he didn't mean to.

I believe we shall never achieve a uniqueness, a sense of self, until our head of state, the person recognised internationally as our chief representative, is one of us.

Edit to add: I just noticed the Freakish possibilities. Anyone up for giving John Howard a makeover? "One of us! One of us!" (That will absolutely not make sense if you haven't seen the cult-horror film Freaks, but you should.)

Wed, 14 Dec 2005
Mushroom View

The next time you're slicing a mushroom, trying cutting it perpendicular to the stalk instead of across the cap.

Tue, 06 Dec 2005
It's not feminism; it's capitalism

I've spent the last couple of hours reading threads that largely spawned from this article, America's Stay-at-Home Feminists.
After a couple of hours reading and drinking, I'm now too drunk to even finish the damn article, suffice to say that when the arguments are all about marrying younger or poorer in order to boost your chances at staying in a high powered job once the kids come along, or planning a tertiary education with an eye on career goals (instead of a liberal-arts degree), it's not feminism; it's capitalism.
Sure, housework sucks and men who don't do their share, or more than their share, or all of it, or whatever, whether they have kids, a wife, a partner, or still live in the basement of their parent's homes, suck too. But earning $100K a year is not going to fix that one bit.
The author interviewed, for reasons lost on me, only high profiled women whose marriages were announced in The New York Times. She seems to have missed the point around about here:
[W]hen they quit, they were already alienated from their work or at least not committed to a life of work. One, a female MBA, said she could never figure out why the men at her workplace, which fired her, were so excited about making deals. "It's only money," she mused.
I think, and I'm drawing on my own circle of data friends here, that had she interviewed more widely she might have discovered a disillusionment with the grossly inflexible capitalist system of umpty hours work a week. Women are just way smarter than men at figuring these things out.

Mon, 21 Nov 2005
Pollinate Chain Reaction

Drawn has - er- drawn me to this video on creativity by the design agency Belief. It's well worth a look. About 45 mins long and yes, the voice over text is annoying, but they largely duplicate each other so don't stress. Includes lots of examples from fine art, advertising and music videos (ie it's pretty too).

Leave a message if you'd be interested in participating in a chain photoshop thingamajig.

Thu, 03 Nov 2005

I was staring, scrying if you will, into the milk dregs at the bottom of my cereal bowl this morning when it came to me. There will be no revolution of the Australian people.
No matter how angry we are. No matter how we fume on our weblogs and gather in small groups to rail against the system.
We are spread thinner than vegemite on toast. We’re complacent. Comfortable. Apathetic when it comes to action.
Oh, tens of thousands of us will gather in peaceful protest. But then we’ll wander back into the suburbs, order a pizza for dinner and sit down to watch ourselves on the television.
We’ll be proud. We showed them.
I wonder if it is possible to drown in a half centimetre of milk.

(Please prove me wrong.)

Sun, 16 Oct 2005
Spice, Buffy, Women and Identity

I was just digging through an old notebook - I'm trying to come up with something to write in November - when I came across these notes. They're pretty random, but I thought they were interesting enough to type up for you, dear reader. Dates from about mid-2003.

Where the Spice Girls have lied to us:
The notion of Girl Power (not Woman Power) is a false positive for women. Baby, Sporty, Posh, Ginger and Scary (who can be read as Sexy/Exotic Spice) are all passive non-threatening characteristics. Where are Intellectual or Mother Spice? Note that male pop singers can be paternal - Puff Daddy, Daddy Cool, but you don't find maternal ones.

Even Buffy is a false idol. Her "power" is given (forcibly) to her by a group of men. No other identity for Buffy - or any of the other females on the show - is ever throroughly explored, apart from that as girlfriend or weapon of war. She never even cracks a book that has nothing to do with demons, and even then rarely.
Joyce - positive role model - killed off, ditto Tara.

Willow has a talent she can't control and spends a whole year being as self-deprecating as she was as a high school student.

Villains - are the worst always women? Drusilla, Wilow, Faith, Professor Walsh (played God), Sunday (wanted to take Buffy's identity.) Those with power are always men - from The Watchers to The Master and Mayor Wilkins.

Creator Joss Whedon, self-described feminist, has received almost as much media exposure as the show itself. By giving her such an effeminate name as "Buffy" then saying it's OK, she's really powerful. But this is physical power only - she is never portrayed as any kind of intellectual genius ("Nice girl, not too bright"). Created by a guy, but that's OK too - he's a feminist i.e. One of us.

Labelling child-rearing and domestic chores as work is intended to satisfy women and keep them "out of harms way" in terms of society as a whole: art, culture, international relations, university tenure, news gathering...
Yet they remain unpaid jobs - so the satisfaction is supposed to be in what Miriam Dixson calls "substitute gratification".*

What about the natural human desire to find out more about the world and oneself?

It's to do with suppression of identity. Trapping a woman in her home to be subjected only to the messages that the media can give her - which are all about keeping other people happy.

The number of women who compulsively clean and care for others in order to suppress their personal pain - which they believe is unique because of the patriarchal tendency to destroy small community.

Men wage wars on societies which are unlike the ones they find themselves miserable in.

In that same way women are beginning to turn against each other for speaking out against the status quo. Naomi Wolf for example gets her head bitten off every time she suggests that the common social structure is not good or good enough for women/mothers/teenage girls/children.

Outcast groups from society set up thier own elitist universes, marked by highly restrictive codes; snobbishness, intolerance, feelings of superiority. In particular I am thinking of goths, punks, geeks, artists - in short and group with a specialised knowledge and traceable history.

I did warn you it was a random collection of notes. No test, but please feel free to Discuss.

*I'm pretty sure this quote is from Dixson's book The Real Matilda.