The Virtual Revolution.

TV The Virtual Revolution, the BBC’s new landmark series about the internet began tonight, introduced and authored by the newly Doctored and fabulously engaging Aleks Krotoski. The first film, The Great Levelling, offered an invigorating primer on the origins of the web and investigated its philosophical origins within the counter-cultural revolutions of the 60s and 70s and its initial attempts to democratise people giving them an equal voice across the network, before demonstrating how that has been eroded over time, by governments and more specifically big business. As a co-production with the Open University it treated the subject with a refreshing seriousness and balance. Often a contributor like Ariana Huffington or Bill Gates would be called upon to offer their experience before being demolished moments later by a naysayer.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly disappointed with the web. The reasons are too numerous and varied to list here, but it boils down to commercialisation and how the blogosphere has drifted into becoming little more than an echo chamber in which individual thought and a weblog as expression of the individual have been swept away to the point that most sites, amateur and professional, have become simple aggregators of links to other people’s content or in some cases the reproduction of that content. Spend much time on the web, and you find yourself reading the same story, even the same words, over and over and over again. Hundreds of clone sites parroting what if you were to trace back far enough could turn out to be a press release which at some point has taken flight and become “news”.

It’s something I’ve continuously fought against here; the new(ish) miniblog and its archive are as close as I will hopefully step towards that and the excessive sourcing of The Guardian. But I try to keep things within my “narrow” focus of interests and talk about life as much as anything else, even if sometimes that’s simply the devouring of content in the real world. To an extent, though I know the quality of this blog has wavered backwards and forwards, it’s sheer bloody mindedness that keeps me going, that and the statistic offered in The Virtual Revolution, that of all of the amateur blogs that were in play in 2002, 90% are no longer active.

The beauty of The Virtual Revolution was that as well as covering the more obvious elements of internet history, it left room for the forgotten subjects, it strove to do something different. Despite having studied the web at university between 1993 and 1996, not too long after Sir Tim flicked his switch, and when Lycos and Alta Vista were still the major players in web search, I was pleased to see there was something I hadn’t previously been aware of, The Well, an early prototype for the social networking sites which would come later. The Well users featured in ropey VHS footage describing their experiences within that system could eerily be applicable to users of Facebook and Twitter.*

It was comforting to know that even social networking is cyclical. Perhaps if I carry on with this for long enough far from being an old fuddy-duddy clinging to some old form of expression, I'll be at the vanguard of a second wave and that at some point in the future, another Dr. will show how people used to write "weblogs" which were the older equivalent of the new thing they're doing then. So though I’ve embraced twitter as a different form of expression (see the miniblog etc), I expect I’ll still be writing this blog for years to come. Or until Blogger, Wordpress and the rest are shut down and become a memory.

* Aleks didn’t make the direct connection, but the description of how The Grateful Dead’s John Perry Barlow made his presence in The Well known to the general populace and caused an influx of new users reminded me of the way Twitter entered the mainstream when the likes of Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross spoke evangelically about it on (near) prime time television last year. There must be plenty of people who've joined because of the possibility they might be able to talk to one of their idols.

Michael Landy's Art Bin at South London Gallery

Wouldn't it be interesting if Landy's work itself becomes an artistic failure? It looks more like an indoor conservatory.

Obama's fight back.

Politics On the positive side, Obama is fighting back against the Republican hoards. He was invited to address a GOP lunch in Baltimore and they let the cameras in. Cue the kind of West Wing moment of the kind I wish we'd seen more of in the past year. As the title says, Obama Dismantles Republican Caucus:

Obama sometimes comes across like the girl in the cafe in Rickmansworth from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:
"And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in RICKMANSWORTH suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever."
The GOP filling in the for the Vogons in this scenario.


“It would be nice to know who the reliable sources are and what makes them reliable. We are told what the intelligence covers, but we aren't given specific instances. Let me put it this way. In film going terms what we have here is the equivalent of a friend telling you that the new Vin Diesel movie is a classic and you should go and see it but not actually telling you why. That's OK because it's just a film. It's £3.50 (or £7.50 in Paris).

Here we are talking about going into war. Lives and governments are at stake. For that kind of thing there has to be some accountability and trust that when given the full truth the general public will be able to make a constructive choice. If we’re going to de-stabalise a whole area of the world I want to really know we're doing the right thing. I want to know that whoever's telling us to do this knows what they're talking about ...”
That was my review of the first dossier released in the run up to the Iraq war which was posted here on 27th September 2002 and which I also suggested was written like a university dissertation. Little did we know.

It’s one of the few occasion when this blog, when I’ve addressed, the war in Iraq. Once the conflict had begun, I talked about how remote the conflict seemed and said that I preferred Euronews’s coverage which on reflection sounds like a Ron Frique (Baraka) film without the Philip Glass’s haunting music. I later commented that I was firmly against the war (which surprised me for reasons I’ll return to in a moment) then later pitied the lack of literacy and statesmanship in the politician’s speeches in the run up to the war and since.

What surprised me is that I have a memory of backing the decision to enter Iraq. I remember thinking that if indeed there were WMDs that it was the right thing to do. I remember subsequently standing outside Beaver Radio’s window in Whitechapel Liverpool watching on a giant television screen, Saddam Hussein’s statue being pulled over in the centre of the Baghdad and feeling elated for a job well done. The memory cheats it appears, thinking the worst of myself when my cynicism really began in 2002 and continues through until today. If I was elated, was it perhaps because I thought the war was over?

Again, little did we know.

My anger about the decision to go to war has only increased over the past few years. If Saddam had been a clear and present threat then of course we should have gone to defend ourselves. But between whitewashes and cover-ups and a Stalinist approach to rewriting history (of which this enquiry is turning out to be another example) it’s become apparent that, the threat posed wasn’t any different between the 10th September 2001 and two days later, it was just that Blair’s perception that shifted – at least that was his justification today as though that’s justification enough. He believes what he did was right and that he has no regrets.

I’ll remember that when I need a new television. Perhaps I'll decide to literally just pick one up in the shop and take it to the taxi: “I believe what I’m doing is right and I have no regrets.” “Very good, sir. Let me get the door for you.” That's a flippant comment but flippancy is my repose when I have to distance myself from the decisions taken in my name then and which continue to be made now. The subjects of Iraq and Afghanistan have become so complex, the facts so obscured that I find it difficult to put into words more intelligent than these how I feel about them. Sorry.

Video: Charlie Brooker on how to report the news ...

miniblog archive

  • Ultra Culture on why the iPad can fuck right off. It's bad for movies. It looks like another piece of technology which is going pass me by.

  • Benny's Buried Treasures. Free Doctor Who spin-off audio drama.

  • University area welcomes Hope Square. Extending the pavement outside of the Metropolitan Cathedral and removing everything but public cars from the area. about 9 hours ago

  • It’s swing time again!

  • Tim Burton? Pan's Labyrinth? Oooh. Ben Cook from Doctor Who Magazine uploads part of the audio from his interview with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and drops some hints as to how the tone of the series is changing under Steven Moffat. Sounds like the nu-Who equivalent of the Hinchcliffe years. Also worth listening to for the chance to hear Matt and Kate interacting for the first time. It's like a scene from The Big Bang Theory.

  • Hadley Freeman on The amazing truth about Zoolander |

  • The Sorry History of US Right-Wing Scoops

  • Paywalled News Site Gets 35 Subscribers in 3 Months

  • The Gallifrey Vortex: Doctor Who Series Five Jigsaw Puzzle

  • The penny drops about characters. David Bishop (who's written spin-off fiction for a range of franchises) talks about working on Doctors.

  • Sitting in on the Prop 8 trial 1 day ago

  • Dancing on Wheels, coming soon the BBC Three. Includes video of one of the choreographers walking out in a strop:

  • The Hugh Cudlipp lecture: Does journalism exist? Alan Rusbridger on why paywalls are bad but will be unsurprisingly good for The Guardian which has pledged never to have one.

  • Is the internet destroying juries?

  • It’s Always Tea Time Somewhere!

  • James Patterson Inc. Or how some writers can churn out nine books a year.

  • Top Gear is looking for editors. They forget to mentions "Cope with Jeremy" in the job description:

  • 'What is the value of Linked Data to the news industry?'

  • Movie Answer Man: Answered by Zuzu herself: The color of Zuzu's petals

  • Speaking of which Peladon has branched out -- it's now offering automated document processing solutions:

  • Isn't this just like sending trisilicate to the Peladonians? 2 days ago

  • Sundance and five Sundance-style movies

  • Petroleum-Free Plastic Made from Smart Mud

  • Radio Tuna Combines Music Discovery and Internet Radio. Somebody somewhere always seems to be playing ABBA:

  • Sherlock Holmes verses the dinosaurs, starring Ianto Jones and Malcolm Reed : 2 days ago

  • Open door: The readers' editor with… a valediction: going quietly. Siobhan Butterworth's final column as The Guardian's reader's editor. Frankly, I'm bereft. 2 days ago

  • David will be free to play Bilbo then ... 2 days ago
  • Beds.

    Life I've never been very good at sleeping. I either sleep for too long or not enough or my mattress is too lumpy or too hard or I'm too cold or too warm or my dreams make me restless. I've never been to see a sleep therapist but that's most because I seem to get by, I don't think my behaviour is abnormal. I probably just need a new bed. One of these perhaps:

    Currently on sale at Liverpool Costco, the Apple Day Bed is a giant hollow basket with a small doorway, a kind of summer igloo. The definition of a day bed seems to be that it goes outside. But having snuggled up inside one (with the resulting comments "Look at that bloke in there." etc) I can't imagine why people would want to sleep anywhere else.

    Lying within its wicker weaves you're saturated by an overwhelming sense of calm as though nature is cradling you. It's entirely impractical to keep in-doors unless you've a very big house. But I've decided that when I do become rich (I'd have to be at that price) and famous and Mtv Cribs come knocking on my door, this is exactly the kind of eccentricity I'd like them to find inside.

    Video:"Why would they even go into academia?"

    Education I know that Downfall videos have become a bit passe, but this one tickled me because of its specificity. Hitler as university head of department:



    Life I used to become quite emotional when my computers stopped working -- this goes back to the nineties when I was still using Windows 3.1; there'd be some virus or the blue screen of death would appear and I'd, well, not be emotional exactly, but I would panic, "No, no, no!" I'd shout, mostly because although I know how to use computers, I don't know that much about them and I knew it would be some time before it could be repaired.

    This afternoon, at about the time I was musing on what to do with the evening, my PC switched from the article I was reading to that blue screen. I was installing some viewing software for an old freeview dongle I'd been wanted to see working again and from what I can gather it deleted something called an SQL server then neglected to replace it with anything and so Windows became confused and shut down.

    Successive restarts just resulted in some other problem or other. I attempted to repair the installation but the same thing happened. I tried to return the machine to an earlier state using a recovery disc but it asked me for an administrator password which I couldn't remember. So I sighed and began to reinstall Windows from scratch.

    But at no point did I panic. I'm positively sanguine. I've lost all of the emails in my inbox and the address book, an archive stretching back to 2001. I've lost the files which make up the archive of playlists I've downloaded in Spotify (a sizeable chunk of my monthly broadband allowance over successive months). Nevertheless, I just sighed through each successive setback and solution.

    Somewhere along the line, at point I can't quite define, I've gone from computers and this computer being the be all and end all to - it's not the end of the world if it breaks. I've even come to the conclusion that it's good to start from scratch once in a while to pull back to the essentials. Does this mean I've finally grown up or simply developed some perspective?

    Or is it just far easier now to get computers working again?

    The Year In Film 2009. Post Script.

    Film Warning. Massive spoilers ahead.


    The key to the success of Moon is Duncan Jones’s deployment of Sam Rockwell’s clever performance. At some invisible point which I think is probably about five minutes after the different versions of the astronaut meet, you forget that one actor is playing both characters. When they interact, it’s seamless and it’s only until some time afterwards that you begin to consider how some scenes, particularly the fight, were completed. Jones also flies in the face of current conventional wisdom by creating a world using largely practical effects and a complex emotional arc that requires the audience to be sympathetic to characters that are slowly having that which makes them human stripped away. That’s what makes the film stand alongside the likes of Solaris (both versions), Blade Runner, 2001 and the rest as one of the great cinematic visions of the future.


    The key failure of Knowing is Alex Proyas’s deployment of Nicolas Cage’s numb performance. At some invisible point which I think is probably about five minutes after he appears on screen, you realise that he’s completely wrong for the role and you wish someone like Clooney, Hanks or Will Smith was filling his shoes. When he acts, it’s understated to the point of somnambulism, his expressionless eyes simply fixing on whatever he’s looking at. The idea might be that it’s then supposed to kill us when he finally breaks emotionally, but by then he’s lost our sympathy. Jones also flies directly into current conventional wisdom by ultimately deploying a CG apocalypse when smaller moments are far more effective and mistakes the omission of narrative information for creating a sense of mystery. That’s what stops the film standing alongside the likes of Signs, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the rest as one of the great cinematic visions of first contact.

    Plug: Orange Rising Star Award 2010

    Film Bafta's PR have been in touch after reading my post from the other day with news of this rather nifty widget which should make the voting process for the Orange Rising Star Award even easier. The video includes samples of the actors work to jog your memory as to who they are. I think I've already intimated who I think is the best ...

    miniblog archive

  • 2-4-6-8, whose lipdub do we appreciate?

  • Windows 3.11 in-a-browser is retrocomputing awesome

  • Interview: Idris Elba

  • In this mesmerising piece on Ellie Goulding, Paul Morley uses a monolithic first paragraph to lists his fav 70s albums

  • “See how many you can spot in this review of Children’s ITV 1985!”

  • OKCupid's Guide to a Successful Profile Photo

  • Dante's Inferno Cover Redesign

  • Wuthering Heights Cover Redesign

  • Digital Revolution

  • Eyam: The Village That Died to Save Its Neighbors

  • RIP Air America

  • Unpacking my first Graze box

  • ESPN Sport free this weekend

  • Dahl's delightful muffins

  • Mel Gibson Definitely is not in Mad Max 4; Will Make His Viking Movie in Old Norse

  • Sarah Palin Makes Us Cringe


  • Best RickRoll Ever