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[Stumblings in the dark] - a sporadic weblog

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Saturday, 17th of September, 2011

Bookmark syncing and tagging (9:24 pm)

I've been using social media only for so long that it was only after I wrote this big post on Google+ (after a short series of tweets) that I realised I could blog it! OMGZ! Old media!

OK, so Delicious' Firefox extension was crashing my browser too much and I had a spack attack and removed it. I was never interested in "social" bookmarking anyway – I just want my bookmarks, nicely tagged, available in all my browsers.
I want them to come up in the Firefox Awesomebar and the Chrome Thingybar when I start typing.
I want a nice sidebar with a tags pane and a bookmarks pane (which the Delicious extension does very nicely).
And I want to be able to access and add to those bookmarks whatever device I'm on or browser I'm in.

The last thing is still an issue, but I've solved everything else with Xmarks and the Firefox TagSieve extension.
TagSieve makes Firefox's tagged bookmarks into what they should be – no more heirarchical folders, just tags which you can search in the top pane in the sidebar, and then display the relevant bookmarks in the second pane below. It's simple and lovely.

Xmarks is nicer than Delicious in one way: it's all about browser syncing, so it lets me choose different profiles for different browsers (with exclusion functionality down to single bookmarks, or folders (but not tags)). My work browser has work bookmarks which I don't need sync to my home one, but also shares all my home stuff, my Quicksearches, etc. So when I get the bright idea at home to create a few currency converter shortcuts, I get to work and I can still type "eur 78.30" into the Awesomebar and get xe.com's current AUD conversion of €78.30. Nice.

Where Xmarks falls down is in two ways: firstly, it's still all about folders, not tags. The tags are synced, and in Firefox the tagging box your tags come up as you start typing. Pleasant experience. But at my.xmarks.com, and the iPhone/iPad apps, you're only seeing the folders view, which sortof defeats the purpose of using tags.
The second failing is far worse: there's no API, and it doesn't really seem to be on the roadmap. So my favourite apps like Instapaper (for offline reading of interesting articles I find, short stories, etc), and Reeder (the kickass third-party iPhone/iPad/Mac app for Google Reader) have no way of saving to Xmarks. Not to mention the iOS browsers – I use iCabMobile, which ought to easily be able to have a module to do it, but no can do.
Added later: Ok it's worse than that even. The iPad app doesn't even let you add new bookmarks! I think I'll be investigating Firefox sync for the interim and hoping Delicious get their act together and fix their Firefox extension soon…
Yet later: Nope, Firefox sync is pretty basic and lacks Xmarks' sync profiles, where different computers/browsers can sync different subsets of your bookmarks. Crazy that there's no single solution that's not sucky in some way. This isn't rocket science.

I'm still much happier with Xmarks and TagSieve – it's more natural to just be syncing the actual browser bookmarks, and Xmarks' background syncing is far more efficient than Delicious, plus Delicious was locking up my browser and crashing it allll the time.
But if there's a better solution out there, I'd love to know! It's got to be cross-browser (at least FF and Chrome), cross-platform (OSX, Windows, preferably Linux, iOS). And it has to have an API so that other apps can save to it. Surely not too much to ask! :)

Saturday, 26th of February, 2011

Travelling in Japan (9:17 pm)

Angela & I have finally made it back to Japan, and unsurprisingly we're having an awesome time!
I was going to try and blog, but completely failed when we were in the US last time. So this trip I've decided it's probably easiest to just keep things updated in the Mess+Noise thread I've started, in which Ange appears as "Maoam". So check over there for updates, although I wouldn't mind to write it up in the blog too at some point.

You can also, of course, keep up on the Twitters.

Saturday, 15th of May, 2010

More about me… (1:19 am)

Really, if you want the latest and greatest news from me, you might want to add the RSS feed for my Raven page to your feed reader… But hey, it's up to you!
Over there you'll find a post about the next Raven live gig, happening at Sedition in June.

The cool thing is that there was an article in the SMH on Friday the 14th (sortof still today m'kay?) about Sedition and the current "Left Coast Festival" they're putting on. My gig's part of that – but really, you'll have to go and read over there!
While you're at it, follow the links to my Bandcamp and SoundCloud pages to hear my latest solo experimental sounds. With airplay from Tim Ritchie's Sound Quality and Paul Gough's Quiet Space and some FBi and 2ser peeps, it's gotta be alright hasn't it?

Sunday, 2nd of May, 2010

New shit from or about me! (1:18 pm)

OK, so I actually made a new blog post just recently — but its main content was an old interview and some links to other old shit.
So how about some newness? Well, the most regularly-updated new stuff from me is @frogworth on Twitter. I also have a tumblr, which I haven't used a lot, but it looks like some kind of fun.

The new issue of Cyclic Defrost Magazine just came out, and in it is a substantial new article from me, interviewing the brilliant Icarus. It's a good read — they're both highly articulate fellers!

And my own solo music project Raven now has an updated site in blog format, so you can follow me over here as well! I have a gig in a week's time in Sydney. Sunday evening, 9th of May, Mils Gallery in Surry Hills — more info at the Raven site.

Tuesday, 27th of April, 2010

Autechre are coming! (8:01 pm)

Yes. Finally.
In possibly the most exciting news of the last decade and a half, three cities in Oz are going to have the opportunity, finally, to see English IDM/electronic music kings Autechre perform live. I have never managed to run into these dudes on my travels, so, in the words of The Chap, I am oozing emotion.

Autechre are simply the most inventive, musical, boundary-pushing duo to have been making music in the last two decades. OK sure, there are plenty of other candidates — as any surf through my own radio playlists will readily show — but Sean & Rob have seemed at many times so far ahead that everyone else is just foundering in their wake.

I've been an Ae fan since about 1994. For some more words on just what makes them so special — and so special to me — you can read my autobiographical account of my love of Autechre in this article for Cyclic Defrost, which I'd originally titled Autechre, My Autechre, on the occasion of their 2008 album Quaristice. And back in 2003 I was privileged to get a cassette promo of Draft 7.30, which I reviewed in, yes, Cyclic Defrost (but here's a link to the cross-posted Stumblings entry, with much fan-discussion in the comments as not many people had heard the album yet!)

In 2005 (OMG 5 years ago!) I got to interview Sean from Autechre, and while I caught him at an odd time (with the preceding sinking feeling of another interview missed), he somehow opened up and talked for a surprisingly long time on all sorts of matters. The version on the Cyclic site is suffering from an incomatible character set, mis-rendering all the special characters, so I'm cheekily reprinting it below. Read this, read Autechre, My Autechre, listen to Laughing Quarter, listen to known(1), and then buy tickets!
Perth — Thurs May 27
Sydney — Fri May 28
Melbourne — Sat May 29.

Interview with Sean Booth — First published in Cyclic Defrost, May 2005.

Sean Booth sounds like he's just rushed in when he picks up the phone — and for good reason; he has. He spent the night housesitting for a friend whose place had been broken into while they were away — a disturbing occurrence because it's so rare in a country town in Suffolk (north-west of London) where Booth lives.

"I grew up in Middleton, which is part urban, but it backs onto local farms and such, so it's a bit of both up there — old-school working class, I suppose. I wouldn't say I was a city gent; I mean I used to spend a lot of time in Manchester when I was growing up because it was only about seven miles away."

He then lived in Sheffield (home of Warp Records) for some years, but when Autechre's other half, Rob Brown, moved to London he decided to find himself somewhere closer there. "Rob's lived in London since 1998," he explains. "But in terms of working together, when we started out we used to live about eight or nine miles apart, and usually by the time we'd finished working it was too late to get a bus home, so I'd just walk. I'm kinda used to having a bit of a distance, but these days we're only an hour-and-a-half away from each other, so it's kinda like me living in London, except that it's … not London!"

Having that distance between them isn't a big deal. "We've always worked separately," says Booth. "The Autechre thing is kinda like a crew name — sometimes I do tunes and Rob really likes them, and they come out as Autechre. Sometimes Rob does tunes and I really like them. Sometimes we do a bit and then we hand each other the bit, or we're in the room together, and we hand it back and forth. There's never a set way that we work together — we do it every single way we can. We're both interdisciplinary; there are no set areas of expertise. We do have slightly different aesthetic tendencies, and we're quite good at capitalising on those differences, but it's a completely adaptive process. It could just be: turn on one piece of equipment, hit a pad and go on with that sound for a while, or it can be sitting down for ages building something to use.

"In Sheffield I was living in a warehouse, and it was like, you'd get up at 11am, look out your window — all bleary because you'd been caning it or whatever — and there's just loads of people going about their business. Look out the back and there's this factory, milling, constantly — all you can hear is a bandsaw, just going for it. For four years, it starts to grind you down. It's irritating basically, constantly seeing adverts for products, and people going about what basically seems like quite boring business to you because you're trying to reach some kind of creative spot.

"I find it loads easier to write tracks out here because there's so much space, and so little contemporary culture — I look up and all I see is farms and trees and the occasional kid wearing a baseball cap. I've never drawn all that much from contemporary culture — I've always ignored it, or tried to. I like to have windows open and like to be able to see what's going on in the outside world; I don't like to have my blinds down all day.

Autechre's methodology encompasses everything from analogue acid to digital crispness, generative techniques to intricate programming. It can be hard to pin down the sources in their music, but 2001's Confield certainly brought the algorithmically-generated structures to the fore. "The generative stuff — some of it's process-based; a track like "VI Scose Poise", for example, is completely process-based. That was a process made in Max [a program for creating sound-generating and -processing objects from the ground up] as a kind of sequencer, spitting out MIDI data. It was built just to run. It had various counters that would instigate various changes in the way the patch. We'd hit "Start" and listen to it, and if it did something wrong we'd change whatever variable it was that was making it go wrong, then run the process again. This was completely hands-off.

"Then a track like "Uviol" was made using a sequencer we'd built that changed what it was generating according to parameters we set with faders, so we'd spend a lot of time building it very soberly, and then we'd spend a lot of time very un-soberly playing it. A lot of the tracks on Confield are like that — they're basically made in real-time using sequencers where we'd spent a lot of time making this thing that would generate music according to a few set parameters, and then we'd mess around with the parameters in order to make the music later, when we were in a different frame of mind.

"Draft 7.30 is very different, because it's almost 100 per cent composed, with very little playing or real-time input or anything. Untilted is different again, it's basically loads of different sequences all running together. We've used so many hardware devices this year compared to Draft 7.30 — on Confield there are a few hardware bits and pieces, a few analogue sequences being used there as well. On Untilted, it's basically everything — bits of drum machines, old MIDI sequencers, old analogue sequencers, MPCs, basically the whole gamut of equipment we've had around us for ages, but used in slightly different combinations — in some ways more traditionally, in some ways less so."

Autechre seem to have gotten excited about going back to these roots after intensive use of computers and algorithms. "The thing about a lot of analogue kit is that you haven't got that opportunity for review, and you can basically sit there and drift off into another world — just get on with doing the tune — and it's the same with a lot of MIDI sequencers. For me, a lot of interfaces that don't give you a screen to look at — don't give you a time-line to deal with — are more conducive to making music that's well-paced. Most of our best work has been made on non-timeline sequencers. We still use timeline, especially for editing audio, but for working with MIDI it can be a bit stagnating. I don't tend to use the computer a lot these days.

"We do play keyboards sometimes — for beats and stuff as well. We have pads in here, keys, loads of MIDI controllers — basically our studio's just a massive interface, tables covered in input devices. I really like physical interfaces; when we first bought the Nord Lead, it was the interface that did it for me. The storability, and the fact that it didn't quite sound analogue, just didn't come into it. The interface was so amazing; I could get so much done in such a short time, compared to any other virtual analogue synth around at the time — and it also sounds amazing, for what it is. I just love touching stuff and listening to it; I don't like mouse control, controlling knobs and faders on a screen. I can still write stuff just inputting data, but I quite like being able to play it.

"Sometimes I'll just play the beats, and sometimes it'll be mad editing; sometimes a bit of both, or it'll be a process that's then been edited into something that sounds musical. A lot of the electronic music I hear these days seems to be people who only know two or three ways of doing things — they don't tend to vary their method very much. They're over-commodifying themselves in a way, like they need to have a big trademark on everything they're doing. It's very habit-based, and the kind of thing I try to shy away from, I tend to shy away from anyway."

It's hard to get Booth to talk about whether Autechre try to communicate anything with their music or whether they even think about the listener when making their music. For a member of a duo whose music has an immense emotional impact on many of their fans, Booth is reluctant to impute any emotional content, or so it seems. He is, however, a fanatic about sounds as sounds.

"A lot of our music is sample-based. The samples might not be immediately obvious, but that's the way we like it really. I'm into physical modelling — everybody is these days — but if I'm working with models I prefer to do it in non-realtime situations, or using devices that have been specifically geared around giving you very little access to the parameters necessary to control the model. It might sound counter-intuitive but it makes sense in terms of writing music. It really depends on what's available at the time. I'm really into modelling just as a science, so I can do it on a Nord and a couple of effects units; I can make samples that sound like breakbeats. Sometimes we'll sample sounds that sound like they've been synthesised, because they're so bizarre, and yet they're natural.

"I don't know that we've ever considered ourselves to be sample-based or not. I like the way all the sounds sit together. There are a lot of samples on Untilted — some of them obvious (it depends on your is) and some of them unobvious, regardless of your history, because of what we've done to them. For Confield we used loads of drum machines and analogue kit on there, but that's the thing: because of people's perception, they kind of just stare past it. 'They're using a DMX on there? It can't be a DMX because the beats are going all over the shop!' Well, they're doing that because it's plugged into this delay that's being re-triggered by its own output, and the delay's from about 1983 too.

"I remember being in a studio years ago. We'd met Daz [Darrel Fitton aka Bola] when he was working in a music shop, and he'd let us use some of his equipment. We were messing around with this Ensoniq keyboard that had this sound on there that could've been a piano through a chorus, but it wasn't really — it was really obscenely bent up. As I was messing around with it, this kid came upstairs and was going, 'What you doing there?' I was like, 'I dunno, I'm really feeling this sound for some reason,' and I'm laughing 'cause it was a preset, and he was like 'Oh, what, chorused piano?' And I remember thinking, 'It's not just chorused piano, it's fucking weird,' but the fact he'd identified what it was, in literal terms, meant that I just had to accept his description of it. So many musicians I meet these days are like that — you know, so happy to have tagged something it is that you've done, or somebody's done, in a track: 'He's just compressed his kick drum.' And you're going, 'He's not just done that; I mean what compressor is he using? That sounds fucking weird, have you heard the attack time on that?' There's more anal things to be said about it sometimes.

"A lot of the time it's because we don't advertise our methods very much. When we do they're really transparent, but often you don't really realise what the source is of what you're listening to — that's not the point of what we're doing. We're trying to just make things be what they are. It's like if you were to take a little picture of a mountain that you had embroidered, and repeat it twenty times, it wouldn't be a picture of a mountain repeated twenty times — it'd be this weird pattern. That means nothing — but in a way, maybe it means everything. If Autechre's music is about anything, it's about pushing the boundaries, making the familiar unfamiliar, and maybe repeated embroidered mountains is the perfect metaphor.

"I mean, context — it's one of those weird things. I've never understood how people hear what we do. It's like chucking rocks in a pool, looking at reactions to what we do — it's strange. Some people say, 'It's really great,' and some say, 'I fucking hate this, what's all the fuss about?' Well it's like 'fuss' … at least someone's making a fuss."

Thursday, 11th of February, 2010

The internets are hard for some people… (1:43 pm)

Yesterday, ReadWriteWeb published an article about the new changes at Facebook, including their new arrangement integrating Facebook into AOL Instant Messenger, and also the implications of Facebook Connect. It's a good article, but had the strange misfortune (one might say) of getting onto the first page of Google results for "facebook login".

As we say, here on the internets, hilarity ensued. The comments thread was almost instantly deluged with people who appear to login to facebook by typing "facebook login" into Google, clicking on some high-up link, and then… trying to login. They are then confronted with RWW's blog post, seem to find their way to the Facebook Connect button, and believe they are thus logging into Facebook.

It's really hilarious. You should read the thread, or as much as you can bear. Pages and pages of it.

1. Ok If I have to I will comment,I love facebook so right now just want to log in if thats ok with you..lol Keep up the good work…
12. I just want to log in to Facebook – what with the red color and all? LOLLLOLOL!!!!!111
91. Ok so just when i thought I had about 65% learned facebook, you go and change stuff. No fair.

And so on. All the above are authenticated Facebook users.

But it's more than just hilarious. It's a good lesson for those of us for whom the internet comes easy. It brings the message home even more strongly than the stupid email forwards and Facebook memes and phishing scams. This is what we're dealing with.

Sure, Facebook Connect is a slightly complex concept: it's one of a number of ways that people can tell any site who they are; you say to that site (RWW in this case), "I'm Peter Hollo at Facebook", and prove it by authenticating with Facebook Connect. The site gets some confirmation direct from Facebook, and says, "OK, you're now Peter Hollo (Facebook) over here and can comment away".
Facebook thus becomes a kind of centralised identity provider, and they're in competition with Google, Twitter and others in this regard.

Trouble is, the people we're dealing with in this comments thread are miles away from understanding this. They don't seem to even understand the URL bar – and one begins to see why phishing scams are so successful… They recognize the branding of Facebook, but take little else from the page they're presented with. Google said it was a "facebook login" page, so why is it all red? Where's my Farmville?

I'm not sure what the ultimate lesson is here, but we should at least remember that there are an awful lot of people out there who are essentially internet illiterate, and are trying to get by in this fast-moving, intertextual, inter-connected world. And it's hard.
Let's have a little laugh, and then have a think about the implications – for site design, for more general web strategising, and of course for education.

Thursday, 23rd of April, 2009

Blog redesign(s) coming up… (4:57 pm)

Yeah, I've really desparately needed to redesign my blogs for sometime.
Having upgraded to the wonderful WordPress 2.7(.1), I have recently downloaded a few interesting candidate themes, and will probably play around with one of them soon. I'm ultra-keen to get a new look here, but I'm bad at getting things done. Bah.

Meanwhile, since I'm a slack-arse blogger, how about following me on Twitter?

Tuesday, 13th of January, 2009

Jello Biafra has a few ideas… (10:31 pm)

…that Barrack Obama could do worse than listen to.

I don't have the time to comment in-depth (OK, I'm not even commenting shallowly!), but the article linked above was submitted by Jello to Change.gov and one can only hope he actually reads it (yeah I know…). A lot of food for thought there.

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Sunday, 11th of January, 2009

An end to whataboutery (12:42 pm)

The Liberal Conspiracy has a great post up about the endlessly unproductive back-and-forth that occurs whenever Israel-Palestine is mentioned in the media and blogs. Sunny Hundal and Sunder Katwala call for an end to whataboutery – and in case it looks like a simple "you're all equally wrong" kind of thing, flick through the comments to Sunder, and later Sunny's extensions of what they mean here.

I'm not sure it's any kind of manifesto for fixing shit, but it does manage to express something of the way I feel whenever this happens.

Yes, we mean you. If you can only see the humanity of one side and never the other, one side of the history, and one side of the suffering. If everything you say is to point the finger of blame at the baddies and exonerate the goodies. If you haven’t had a new point to make for five, ten or sixty years.

You are not part of the solution; you are part of the problem.

– if you are ordering pizza for the Israeli Defence Force,
– waving Hamas flags on peace rallies
– organising boycotts, blame and ostracism
– if you think that bombing Gaza will bring peace
– if you think Hamas are a bunch of valiant freedom fighters
– if all you can do is quote SWP or Conservative Friends of Israel talking points…

Peace is difficult because it will come when Palestinians and Israelis recognise the essential truth – that their peace and security is mutually inter-dependent.

That’s difficult for those at the centre of the conflict. But what’s your excuse?

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Thursday, 8th of January, 2009

Not my war (12:13 am)

I want to urge you (and also you) to read this post by Lisa Goldman on the Gaza conflict:
Haniyeh and his Israeli sisters: wartime tales from Gaza and Israel
It's rare to see a perspective from on the ground in either Israel or the occupied territories, that isn't either propaganda or pretty much militant activism of some sort. Lisa, a Canadian journalist and blogger now living in Israel, is always very much worth a read, and has built up a large number of friendships in the Arab world which make her particularly worth listening to.
I've been waiting for her to write about this mess, and the post above is a long and impassioned commentary on what's going on, an informed Israeli anti-war perspective. Even if you're already against this war you should read it, because as ever, the left likes its absolutes; it's not necessary to defend Hamas in any way at all if one wants to condemn Israel's actions and support Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the wonderful Israeli author Etgar Keret has an article in the LA Times on "Proportionality". He argues, in his usual measured fashion, that a mathematical analogy is useless when both sides refuse to accept the narrative, and the suffering, of the other.

The only equation I can wholeheartedly accept is one whereby zero bodies appear on either side of the equation. And until that time comes, I'll choose outcry and protest that appeal solely to the heart. I shall reserve my appeals to the mind for better times.

And for some light relief, here's Jon Stewart (another leftist Jew) at the beginning of the latest(?) edition of the Daily Show, suggesting that Israel is just "getting their bombing in before the January 20th hope and change deadline". January 20th is of course the date of the Obama inauguration. Stewart inevitably veers close to "making light" of the suffering, but that's satire for you. He pretty much nails it, especially on the mendacious hypocrisy as ever on both sides of US politics.
We're not doing much better here, and you might want to support Amnesty's campaign for the UN Security Council to take decisive action (a "humanitarian corridor" and 3hrs of ceasfire a day really ain't enough…)

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