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Vape? There’s a magazine for that

Tuesday, 18 November, 2014 0 Comments

vape, verb: “Inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.”

vape, noun: “An electronic cigarette or similar device; an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.”

Those are the definitions advanced by the Oxford Dictionaries in explaining its International Word of the Year 2014. Vaping is so cool that there’s a magazine all about the trend. There’s an app, too, of course. Among its selling points: “unlock achievements at important milestones” and “keep track of your progress with the Vape homescreen widget.” Talking of words, TIME will release the results of its “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?” poll tomorrow. The only four-letter word on the list is “kale”. Our money, however, is on an eight-letter word winner.

Vape

The Vimeo deal with the Weed Guy

Monday, 17 November, 2014 0 Comments

The New York-based video-sharing website, Vimeo, is ten years old this month. Different yardsticks can be used for measuring its tenacity and its success. The 170 million unique visitors a month, for instance, and then there’s the reaction of the censors. Vimeo is blocked in China and in Turkey, too. In May, Tifatul Sembiring, Indonesia’s Communications Minister, announced the banning of Vimeo, citing the country’s anti-pornography law. Coincidentally, the ban followed a global wave of acclaim for Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, The Act of Killing.

With 70 percent of Vimeo’s audience residing outside the US, the company is rolling out new feature to enable filmmakers “subtitle their work in dozens of languages,” says Bloomberg. And it’s taking a jab at the Netflix behemoth. High Maintenance is a tentative step towards capturing a sliver of the streaming audience. In essence, Brooklyn immigrants and natives call upon the services of the Weed Guy to help them manage the stresses of borough life. Ecologically correct, he delivers by bike and helps his clients handle their crises, with an air of Stoicism and an eye for the main chance. Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, the pair behind the series, have the talent to advance Woody Allen’s observations of neurotic New Yorkers to the gluten-free, hipster level.

No!

Sunday, 16 November, 2014 0 Comments

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year,” wrote Emily Dickinson. The “No” in the month’s name arouses wintry, Nordic feelings. The fog is dense, mornings are raw and the air bites at the ears in this 11th month. Thomas Hood, who suffered from ill health through most of his short life, summed up the negatives of November.

November

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon.
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member.
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!
November!

Thomas Hood (1799 — 1845)

Bowie here, there and everywhere

Saturday, 15 November, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, David Bowie will offer the world an early Christmas present in the form of Nothing Has Changed, which covers his music from 1964 to 2014, with some previously unreleased material among the 59 tracks in the three-disc box set. To coincide with this cornucopia, Bowie has issued a très noir video of the first track, Sue, featuring the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Filmed in New York and London, the clip was directed by Tom Hingston. And for those who can’t get enough of the stardust, Hamish Hamilton has made a film about the closing night of the Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. As we look back at what’s taking shape as Bowie’s legacy, let us not forget that he once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

The language of science

Friday, 14 November, 2014 0 Comments

On Wednesday evening, the European Space Agency’s Philae Lander touched down on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and relief was widespread when it tweeted the news of its safe descent from the Rosetta orbiter. As is the custom of this new medium when something dramatic happens, the original tweet was retweeted (i.e. shared) generously. Philae informed the world of its historic achievement in 18 languages, but with nearly 36,000 retweets, one is almost double the other 17 added together.

Nighcrawlers and other concrete jungle beasts

Thursday, 13 November, 2014 0 Comments

Going to see Nightcrawler this evening. Summary: Jake Gyllenhaal plays an amoral practitioner of “citizen journalism”, who sells footage of violent “user generated content” to a Los Angeles TV station, which pays top dollar for visual clickbait. By the way, both clickbait (“the sound a worm makes when it is successfully attached to a fishing lure”) and journalism (“a fancy word for the industry in which stock photos are resized”) are included in the Gawker poll, “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?

By many accounts, the Lou Bloom character played by Gyllenhaal is a version of the legendary concrete jungle photographer Weegee, who captured late-night life and death in New York City 80 years ago. Like Lou Bloom, he listened to a police scanner, and often arrived on the crime scene before the cops did. After snapping the gore, Weegee would develop the film in an improvised darkroom in the trunk of his car. The technology has changed, but the imperative — “If it bleeds, it leads” — has not.

Wegee

The media business is notorious for its sleaze. Names such as Stephen Glass, Johann Hari, Andy Coulson and Fareed Zakaria form the infamous tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface, lots of Lou Blooms are lurking. Looking forward to the film.

The Rosetta Stone

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014 0 Comments

The stone here is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the Rosetta is the European Space Agency satellite that will drop a robot probe called Philae today onto this clump of icy rock 600 million kilometres above where this blog post is being written. Confirmation of the hoped-for success is expected at around 1600 GMT when Philae sends a tweet about its new surroundings to us back here on Earth.

On 20 July 1969, when the first man walked on the Moon, some 500 million people watched the event on TV. A smaller audience is predicted for today’s landing. There is no Neil Armstrong, after all, and most people cannot pronounce Churyumov-Gerasimenko, never mind finding it in the night sky. Still, there’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for all those who want to follow the progress of the satellite and its probe.

Interest in outer space is not what it used to be. The Cold War rivalry that spurred so much scientific competition has cooled, the costs are alarming, the dangers are real and earthly concerns are more pressing these days. Still, the current cinematic success of Interstellar might help revive enthusiasm for interplanetary adventure. With luck, Philae will do the business today. If it does, ESA will feel entitled to be regarded as a serious player alongside NASA. Philae will have to attract more than 1.7 million followers before it can match the drawing power of Curiosity Rover, however.

Comet landing place

Never such innocence, Never before or since.

Tuesday, 11 November, 2014 0 Comments

At the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, an armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany for the ending of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. Hence, today, 11 November, is known to many as Armistice Day or Veterans Day in commemoration of what took place on 11 November 1918 at Compiègne in France.

Fifty years after the start of that terrible conflict, Philip Larkin looked back more in anguish than in anger at the optimism of the young men queuing up to enlist in 1914. Written in 1964, MCMXIV reflects on the heart-breaking idea that the war would be like “an August Bank Holiday lark” for those heading towards the front.

MCMXIV

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word — the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Phillip Larkin (1922 — 1985)

Keep. It. Short.

Monday, 10 November, 2014 0 Comments

“Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

In his blog, Faith and Theology, Ben Myers praises short sentences. “I have been encouraging students to aim for shorter sentences that say exactly what you want to say, not for longer sentences that sound the way you would like to sound,” he writes.

“There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child.” Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Myers supports his argument with a quote from Tertullian of Carthage. In his treatise on the Trinity Against Praxeas, Tertullian cites a list of texts used by his critics and responds with a two-word sentence: ‘Legimus omnia‘ — ‘We’ve read all that.’ Impressed by this succinctness, Myers comments, “What a sentence! Sharp as a sniper’s shot.”

Ultimately, sentence length is a matter of style and the best writers know when to balance brevity with flow. The critical thing is knowing where to place the full stop.

“Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.” Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

The drums of Catalonia

Sunday, 9 November, 2014 1 Comment

The Catalans are having a moment today. They’re holding a referendum of sorts on the notion of independence from Spain. But because central government in Madrid forbids the use of the “referendum” word in this case, Barcelona is forced to speak of “a non-binding, participatory process” instead. When Scotland held an independence referendum in September, EU leaders hailed it as an exercise in popular democracy, but they’re hostile to the right of Catalonia to make a similar decision. Why? “Apparently they have forgotten that the right of self-determination of nations is a long-standing, fundamental and universal principle of modern democracy.” So says Latvian writer Otto Ozols in an article for Delfi. Meanwhile, Sydney has voted on “el 9N.”

Catalonian drummers

The sounds of Ten Cities

Saturday, 8 November, 2014 0 Comments

Take a generous sampling of electronic music producers and musicians from Europe and Africa, mix the lot together and let simmer for a few months. When you take the lid off, the outcome is delicious global dancefloor in the form of Ten Cities. Blurb: “As a result hip-hop from the squats of Naples, bass music from Bristol, experimental techno from Berlin or jazz-tinged deep-house from Kiev are thrust upon the pumping kuduro of Luanda, the free-thinking crackled electronica of Cairo, afro-jazz from Lagos or the Sheng street-slang of Kenyan rap.”

Ten Cities kicks off with Octa Push, two brothers from Lisbon, who pioneered the Portuguese bass music scene.