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April 2006

Death and the Internet

I've blogged about death and the internet before, but my attention was caught this last week by a NYT piece, Rituals of Grief Go Online:

Just as the Web has changed long-established rituals of romance and socializing, personal Web pages on social networking sites that include MySpace, Xanga.com and Facebook.com are altering the rituals of mourning. Such sites have enrolled millions of users in recent years, especially the young, who use them to expand their personal connections and to tell the wider world about their lives.

Inevitably, some of these young people have died — prematurely, in accidents, suicides, murders and from medical problems — and as a result, many of their personal Web pages have suddenly changed from lighthearted daily dairies about bands or last night's parties into online shrines where grief is shared in real time.

The pages offer often wrenching views of young lives interrupted, and in the process have created a dilemma for bereaved parents, who find themselves torn between the comfort derived from having access to their children's private lives and staying in contact with their friends, and the unease of grieving in a public forum witnessed by anyone, including the ill-intentioned.

"The upside is definitely that we still have some connection with her and her friends," said Bob Shorkey, a graphic artist in North Carolina whose 24-year-old stepdaughter, Katie Knudson, was killed on Feb. 23 in a drive-by shooting in Fort Myers, Fla. "But because it's public, your life is opened up to everyone out there, and that's definitely the downside.

Many issues here, but this brings back to my mind Don Park's 2004 post, Social Software for the Deads, and Anil Dash's 2003 post, maybe it's not just hype. It was Anil Dash's post that led me to Ty Longley's site, now seemingly only to be reached via Wayback, here.

Amongst so much else, we need to be thinking how the web we're co-creating can remember the dead — and what issues and risks attend such online, open-access "memorials".

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Wireless networking blues

So much to say, so little time … and then a week's worth plus of wireless networking problems. I think very highly of Belkin Pre-N gear, I really do, and have had a Pre-N router running smoothly for some months in one venue.

So I was more than disappointed when I aborted my attempt to upgrade to the Pre-N router-modem after 36 hours of near-sleepless efforts to get it to work. Then, in another venue, I tried to install a Pre-N router on a new network.  Two days of frustration passed, along with many minutes of conversation with Belkin's helpline people — who are charming, but seem to be reading the manual as they go.

That router goes back to Amazon, and Amazon turn out to be the bright spot in all this: they give me a link for a label I can print out for the courier and issue me a new, replacement router within 30 minutes — dispatched to me within an hour or so and actually with me the next day. It works and, finally, I get the router running as I want it to run — in access-point-only mode.

For the Also-Perplexed, the best webpage I've come across for this is from Netgear (and, oh does it make it looks so simple): here. It seems that, amongst other factors, it is peculiarly important to turn off router-modem, access-point-to-be and laptop and go make yourself a much needed cup of tea whilst the machines forget all about their previous addresses and roles. Machine residual memory …

Ah, this all takes me back to my first engagement with "modern" computers some 12 years or so ago. The hours of frustration and, back then, the discovery (the hard way) of how vital a backup is.

I hate computers when they behave badly. Alex tells me that it's fun and a challenge: it's certainly the latter. He cites Scott Adams: 'if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet'. I traded him Douglas Adams quoting Bran Ferren: technology is 'stuff that doesn't work yet'.

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Music

Over the last holiday I picked up on a number of bands and albums. To start with (and most surprising), the new Neil Diamond album, 12 Songs: the product of collaboration with that interesting producer Rick Rubin, it's an affecting CD … I never thought I'd be recommending a new Neil Diamond album! There's an interview with Diamond here (Guardian) and in a short review Neil McCormick (Telegraph; longer Telegraph profile of Diamond here) makes some good points. Then I came across Secret Machines' Now Here Is Nowhere. I need to catch up with their new release, Ten Silver DropsObserver piece here. I enjoyed the new Flaming Lips' album with its splendid title, At War With the Mystics, but the best discoveries have been Willy Mason (supporting Radiohead on their upcoming UK tour) and his album Where the Humans Eat (Pitchfork review), and Josh Ritter's new album, The Animal Years. On the latter, I'm particularly struck by 'Girl in the War' (mp3), and look forward to catching Ritter in London in May. I'm quite sure I'll be writing much more about Willy Mason once I've had the chance to hear him in May, too.

The social software scene of music listening has its Pandora fans and its last.fm fans. I use last.fm, but this post (via Matt Jones) caught my eye:

People say that the top-down, made-by-those-who-know-what’s-good-for-you approach is now outmoded, but in this case it seems to have what folksonomy will never get us: the element of surprise.

So I was very interested to hear via Techcrunch that the recently launched mashup, PandoraFM, that allows users to submit their Pandora feed(s) to last.fm, now has official Pandora backing. I played with PandoraFM  (in its earlier incarnation) and came away thinking it had a lot of potential. The bugs of the early version, now Pandora has released its API to PandoraFM, should soon be a thing of the past.

Update! Gabe Kangas, the originator of PandoraFM, has posted about the new form of the mashup:

Well, sorry about the lack of warning. www.real-ity.com/pandora is no more. pandorafm.real-ity.com is the future! The name change really means very little though. … there are some … nice features I think you’ll all like. This includes using feeds of information from last.fm to seed Pandora stations. … The other new feature is “tracking” where it tracks what previous artists you’ve listened to and can click on one of them to reseed Pandora if you really like it and want to create a new station with that one. Neat! :) OH oh and yeah I added a url based interface to creating new stations that will submit. I thought it would be cool if you’re like “Hey man check out this new band called The Rockers, they play electropunktripska” so you want them to hear music like that so you can send them the link http://pandorafm.real-ity.com/?artist=The+Rockers.

And then, another sign of the battle that's been coming for some time now: news that Nokia has just released its latest edition of PC Suite, with the emphasis on … music.

  • Transfer music to your phone with upgraded Nokia Music Manager
  • Faster music and video file conversions

Check out the new Music Manager — smartphones vs the iPod …

As if all that wasn't enough, the most astonishing bit of news — via Memex 1.1. The right-wing, US Cato Institute has produced a report (pdf; summary here), Circumventing Competition — The Perverse Consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that concludes:

The Founding Fathers gave Congress the right to recognize copyrights in order to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” It hardly promotes progress to give a handful of companies the ability to tightly control how consumers use copyrighted content. Rather, progress is promoted in a technological marketplace of interoperable products, consumer choice, and fierce competition. The anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA betray the constitutional vision. They impede rather than promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

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YouTube

Be it Frank Zappa specials, such as I am the Slime and Mike Nesmith and Frank Zappa on 'The Monkees', or Captain Beefheart — Lick my decals off, baby … or the loftier heights of The Hearts of Age (Orson Welles) and Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren), YouTube is going to become compulsive viewing. (All links via del.icio.us, the first three via Merlin Mann, the last two via Warren Ellis.)

Wikipedia on The Hearts of Age:

The Hearts of Age is the first film made by Orson Welles. The film is a four-minute short, which he co-directed with William Vance in 1934. The film stars Welles' first wife, Virginia Nicholson, as well as Welles himself. He made the film while attending the Todd School for Boys, in Woodstock, Illinois, at the age of 19. The plot is a series of images loosely tied together, and is arguably influenced by surrealism. The film is rarely seen today, but many point to it as an important precursor to Welles' first Hollywood film, Citizen Kane.

Meshes of the Afternoon, to my shame, is a discovery. Better now than never. Wikipedia here. An Uruguayan site here (Spanish). (Both these links via absurdita, who uploaded the film to YouTube.) IMDb entry here.

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Dual-booting Apples

I've been away in Paris and missed the official announcement from Apple about Boot Camp:

More and more people are buying and loving Macs. To make this choice simply irresistible, Apple will include technology in the next major release of Mac OS X, Leopard, that lets you install and run the Windows XP operating system on your Mac. Called Boot Camp (for now), you can download a public beta today.

Over at Daring Fireball, an excellent essay on Boot Camp by John Gruber:

Right now, it’s a dual-boot situation, which is obviously less than ideal. It’s not hard to imagine, though, that the version of Boot Camp Apple is building into the upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 (a.k.a. Leopard) will be a concurrent virtualization tool — i.e. that Windows (and perhaps any other PC OS) could be hosted within a running Mac OS X session, obviating the rather annoying need to reboot to switch between OSes.

Do I know this? No. But it certainly seems like the obvious direction for Boot Camp to take, and it’s certainly technically possible. E.g. earlier today, their hand presumably forced by Apple’s release of Boot Camp yesterday, Parallels released a public beta of their $50 Workstation virtualization system for Intel-based Macs. It’s like Virtual PC except, because there’s no need to translate between the PowerPC and x86 instruction sets, it executes the hosted virtual system at native speed. I think it’s a safe bet that Apple plans to include something like this with Mac OS X 10.5, for free.

And this points to the rather delicious conclusion that Apple is casting Windows, including Vista, as the new Classic. Boot Camp portends Apple’s intention to become a Windows-only PC manufacturer no more than Classic served as a hedge against Apple’s commitment to Mac OS X — that is, not at all. … This is a move of supreme confidence — Apple relishes the comparison between Mac OS X and Windows XP, and Microsoft has shown enough of Vista via its widely-available beta seeds that Apple quite obviously isn’t afraid of that comparison, either.

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John McGahern

via John Naughton, a beautiful account of John McGahern's funeral. It should be read there, in full. A brief excerpt:

It was a traditional Irish funeral in a country church. There was no music, and there were no speeches by the graveside. His first cousin said the mass and gave the homily, which had been worked out between the two of them for several days and contained McGahern’s own directions as to what should be in — lines from John Donne, from Proust, from Yeats, and then a version of himself, why he ended up back in the church, though he was an unbeliever. For all his differences with the church, it was where he first discovered his first book, his first magic, his first aesthetic, his first sense of beauty, and he could no more turn his back on it than he could turn his back on a part of himself. … The locals turned out for him. He was brought from Dublin this morning, and at every village in Leitrim the route was lined by locals. Apart from anything else, there was a sense of silent gratitude to him for his redemption of other people’s shame — because the Ireland that hammered him is now coming out in the tribunals looking into corruption, child abuse and the rest. And people who did nothing then were just so grateful that there was a wholesomeness about him that they hadn’t realised at the time. There was sense of gratitude to him for having stayed rather than having gone. It would have been awful if he had died in exile in Italy or somewhere. But to have stayed on and then to have seen through the change was what everyone was grateful to him for. He had extraordinary integrity. 

And John Naughton quotes from Colm Toibin's piece in the Irish Times (subscription required):

One night in Co Leitrim, when he had recovered from his first bout of illness, Catriona Crowe and myself sat up late with him. We drank and talked. He’d found the hospital and its community of doctors and nurses interesting and funny but also difficult. He was half amused and half annoyed at being offered professional counselling in the face of death, he said. He sighed at the very thought of it. Then he lifted his glass, drank his whiskey and having left a few seconds of silence he spoke again. “We bloom only once and you’d want to be very foolish not to know that”.

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