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Retiring

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Scott Adams is asking why the current system of retirement — in which individuals can live for decades without contributing to society — exists:

“Now we have people retiring at 60 and living to 100. Do you still feel good about that? Even if the retiree has saved money for retirement, society is still picking up a big part of the tab. You have the Social Security payments that usually exceed the amount paid into the system, and all the roads, police, firemen, and other services that are being funded by other people’s taxes. The list goes on.”

I agree with him. It’s really crazy that we have this arbitrary age line where, once you cross it, you no longer have to give anything to society — just take. Not all men and women who turn sixty or seventy are infirm or unable to do some productive work. Even if they’re not holding down a day job, they can still be doing something for society in childcare centres and schools and lots of other places. If they’re really not fit to be productive in any way, then they should be in a retirement home or hospital.

We’re giving away huge sums from the collective taxes we pay to men and women who are going to spend decades eating, drinking, smoking, watching television and going to the doctor. All the time without giving anything back to the community who fund their inactivity. There really needs to be a rethink of the situation. Check out Adams’ idea for a carbon-trading-style scheme.

Written by atroche

October 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Posted in opinion

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This Is Not Art: Wrap-up

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So TINA finished on Monday. I’m back shivering in chilly Melbourne after burning in sunny Newcastle, and relaxing for the first time in a week. It was fantastic, and a shame that I couldn’t’ve blogged more of it while I was there. Next time I’m going to bring a camera and a laptop.

Things that happened:

  • I won the Cipher Cities game design competition. $200 JB Hi-fi voucher and a year’s subscription to EDGE! I enjoyed chatting with the team, though I felt sorry for them because not that many people got involved. There was way too much on for most festival-goers to take the time out to design a game.
  • I met one of the editors of Vertigo, Tracey, who also works at Next Media, which publishes PC Powerplay and Hyper. She’s since talked to the editor of PCPP and set up an internship for me there. Brilliant.
  • I sock-wrestled with Geoff Lemon, slam poetry champion of Melbourne and former poetry editor at Voiceworks. He won, even with a cracked rib.
  • Helped produce and distribute Nanoworks, a zine created by Voiceworks and Farrago and contributors specifically for TINA. We were up until 3am doing it in Staple Manor.
  • I got an awful haircut.
  • Attempted to dance to over-the-top avant-garde electro noise bands.
  • Watched wanky, existential anarchist theatre:
  • Got assaulted by protesting zombies. Constantly.
  • Met lots of young, talented, creative and ambitious people.

There are photos up on flickr.

Here are some from Annie Ly:

The point: come to TINA next year or you’re a fool.

Written by atroche

October 9, 2008 at 11:46 am

Posted in tina

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This Is Not Art: Bike Fixing

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So the hostel I’m staying at for TINA is a 10 – 15 minute walk from the fesival hub. A bike would be a fantastic solution to this problem. The good news: TINA has a bike library. The bad news: I didn’t preregister a bike weeks ago, so I don’t get one.

However, there are piles of discarded, unloved and very broken bikes that the organisers have collected. If you can repair one to a ride-worthy state, you can borrow it. I tried to do this today under the tutelage of a bike-hippy-mechanic guy named Daniel, and didn’t get very far before I had to go off to the introductury electronic music workshop. It looked pretty rideable to me, but Daniel wanted to take the whole thing apart and make it fantastic (and safe).

I’m going to go back and do some more work tomorrow and hopefully get a bike out of it. There were lots of other people doing the same thing. The whole point of it, as Daniel and the others kept pointing out, is that we throw out bikes that could really easily be fixed, and that can still have a lot of value derived from them.

I’m really shit at working with my hands, but most of the operations are pretty simple if you have someone telling and showing you what to do. I find the experience really wholesome, and I can step back and look at something and think “Hey, I just made that, kind of, except it was actually made in a factory and then broken and then I put it back together but not really because Dan did most of the work.” Fantastic stuff.

Written by atroche

October 2, 2008 at 5:34 pm

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Cipher Cities

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I’m in Newcastle for This Is Not Art, a festival which is a the merging of Electrofringe, National Young Writer’s Festival, Sound Summit and some other things. It’s the first day, and after going for a swim on their awesome beach, I’m sitting in a room with some developers from Queensland.

They’re showing off Cipher Cities, which is a tool to create location-based mobile games. Basically, you join a game someone’s made, get hints and go around the city trying to answers questions that you receive either by SMS or through your mobile’s web browser.

Set up of Cipher Cities at Electrofringe

It’s simple to make games, but extremely flexible and it can be as complex as you want.

There’s a design competition for it, so if I get time I’m going to try to put something together.

More after I’ve given the game a go.

Next up: introduction to electronic music making.

Written by atroche

October 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Posted in games

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Thesixtyone : A massively multiplayer music discovery service

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Music discovery systems (or social music sites) are great at recommending me songs based on what I already listen to. However, last.fm, which I’ve been using for years now, only really suggests artists that are well-known. This is the case for most of them, in fact. This makes listening easier, but also makes the process somewhat less exciting. The status quo might change, now, with the arrival of thesixtyone, a newish social music system which makes it easier for obscure artists to get that crucial-but-elusive initial exposure.

How does it do this? The site rewards users with reputation and influence for finding new, attention-deserving music before other people do. You get points for listening to under-the-radar music, and can spend those points on “bumping” whichever track you like. More obscure songs are expensive to bump into the limelight, but if other people digg bump the sound later on, then you’ll get rewarded for it. If you’re bumping a track that’s already been around the block and on the front page, you’re not going to get many points for just jumping on the bandwagon.

This way, the system actively encourages people to find the obscure and unheard of and promote it as well as they can. Users who have a high “level”, with lots of points, have considerable power in making the reputation of certain bands. Sounds more than a little bit enticing, doesn’t it?

If you’re like me, it’s an effort to sit down and listen to unfamiliar material – I generally don’t start enjoying music until I’ve heard it a few times. I’m too lazy, especially as of late, to make myself listen to new stuff. The MMOG-player that still hides in me somewhere is enjoying “levelling up” by listening to tracks like this. There’s a lot of shit there (especially the large amount of awful home-made techno), but the good stuff does rise to the top.

Luckily, the website already has a large, established userbase (of artists and listeners) now, having been around for over 6 months, and there are always plenty of freshly uploaded song awaiting opinion. The music coming from the more popular artists is great, and some of the leading bumpers consistently pick music worth listening to. Radiohead (known for their passion for alternative distribution methods) even have uncut, unpublished songs posted.

I never realised until I started using thesixtyone how annoying it is to have to keep a tab on the same page to keep the music playing, a la last.fm. I’m not sure how thesixtyone does it, but the tracks keep playing no matter how much you navigate around the site. Impressive. The site is slick, with little unobtrusive popups of information appearing when relevant. It’s great for a couple of guys with little financial backing.

Anyway, congratulations to them on how well they’ve done so far, good luck to them. Check out their site now. My username is atroche.

Written by atroche

July 9, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Review of Orson Scott Card’s "Empire"

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I’ve read a few reviews of Empire on the Internet and in print, and each one is prefaced with “I love Orson Scott Card, but…” To be honest, this is how I need to start as well. I’ve read nearly ten of his other books, and adore them all. I’ve borrowed his entire short fiction work from my library three times now. He’s a brilliant author. This is why Empire‘s shortcomings baffle me so thoroughly. There are so many I’m not exactly sure where to start.

The plot is this: America is less politically stable than it thinks, and when the President and his Vice are assassinated it plunges into civil war as various factions vie for power in the aftermath’s vacuum. It’s very different from the story of something like Ender’s Game, but Card has also written some amazing geopolitical global warfare in the Shadow series, so I had really high hopes when I settled down to read Empire.

Card is a strict Mormon (though using that adjective is probably tautological…), and I’ve consistently been surprised at how balanced, fair and human his stories are – considering how ultraconservative some of his views are. I suppose when his stories were set in the far future or on alien planets, his ideology was masked or just didn’t rear its head. In a novel like Empire, though, which deals with a blue-state vs. red state war in the very near future, they dominate.

A small example is the way that several major characters are having a discussion (and these are superhuman genius soldiers who are flawless Christians whom we’re supposed to love), and they flippantly refer to Al Gore as being completely insane and of a left-wing conspiracy pushing an environmental agenda. I don’t mind his making these comments if he’s going to justify them, but they make the comment as if it’s an accepted fact. These characters are supposed to be the moderates, but the stuff coming out of their mouth is anywhere but. Things like that just grated on me.

Even if I disagree with some of the politics in a book, I’m still able to love it for its story and characters – often ending up more convinced or at least understanding of the author’s viewpoint (for example, in Heinlein‘s Starship Troopers.) But Empire‘s characters are one-dimensional, generically similar and talk like they’re starring in bad action films.

I’m not kidding when I say that he’s trying to make them flawless: they always have the wittiest possible thing to say, which is fine, except it’s the same wit for all three characters: Orson Scott Card’s. During conversations I would lose track of which soldier was which because they all held the same viewpoints and talked in a similar manner.

The story goes nowhere interesting. The super-soldiers stop the left-wing conspiracy and the United States returns to pretty much normal and everything is saved. The twists and turns were obvious and predictable and when the biggest “surprise” in the book happened I didn’t bat an eyelid – and I’m usually pretty terrible at picking plot twists.

I’ve been so surprised, because characters like Ender and Bean have made me laugh and cry, and his plots have had me shaking my head in amazement. I wasn’t able to stomach finishing Empire, though I forced myself to read three-quarters of it in the hope that it’d improve. I’ll be happy to try other books that he releases, but I pray that they’re nothing like this.

Written by atroche

July 7, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Posted in book, review

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First Impressions of Weezer’s Red Album

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The first eight tracks of their new album have leaked. I wouldn’t know, but rumour has it that a bit of torrent was involved. I’ve listened to the few of them. Or, rather, I started, then shook my head in disgust and punched my computer in the face. Initial thoughts: it’s generic pop-rock with bland, meaningless lyrics. I haven’t really enjoyed any of their whole albums since Pinkerton, though there have been a few good tracks. To spare you from reading the rest of the post, just look at the album cover below. Or to sum it up textually: the Red Album is a hodge-podge of anything the Weezer guys could come up with, thrown together with no coherence and apparently little passion. I like their new stuff maybe even less than I like anything since their sophomore.

Red Album Cover

“Giddy up, we’re going to ride our band-brand for every last, boring dollar!”

Make Believe, their latest LP, made me cringe – quite honestly. Rhyming hero with zero? After wanting to hang around with Rivers in his garage on the Blue Album, his apparent respect for Beverly Hills stars was an unwelcome shock. But, big deal, it’s about the music, right? Well, the music is as generic as the lyrics. Sure, the six minute The Greatest Man That Ever Lived is very weird, but it just splices EVERY STYLE of song they’ve ever touched upon into a short timeframe with no coherence. What the fuck is that song even talking about? And, more importantly, who told Rivers that giving pep talks over the music would be cool?

I’m pretty negative about all the tracks I’ve heard so far from the Red Album. The first song I heard, Pork and Beans, was so mindlessly boring that I was embarrassed to have it coming out of my speakers. I turned it down in case anyone heard it, even though the only person around was my mum. First line of the chorus: “I’ma do the things that I wanna do / I ain’t got a thing to prove to you”. You could prove that you can still write non-cliched lyrics with maybe even a little bit of feeling and thought behind them. But, no, you don’t have to, Rivers, just like I don’t have to like your new album. Yuck.

Rivers with Strat

“Hey Rivers, what you need is a stupid Handlebar moustache to create that ‘whole new image’ you’ve been looking for.”

The start of the next one, Cold Dark World, sounds like “Friday on my Mind.” But I guess that isn’t a very reasonable criticism. The thing that bugs me about this song and the rest of them to an extent is that he’s gone from being a geek to singing like he’s trying to be a hip-hopper or rapper. Is he trying to be cool this way, or is he satirising the “cool”? I have no idea, but I wish they’d gone down a different path.

Their softer one, “Thought I Knew“, has guitarist Brian Bell on lead vocals. What? Huh? Well, his voice is fine, I suppose. But, god, it sounds nothing like Weezer. It’s like they’re an entirely new band with the same old name. Maybe I wouldn’t’ve liked Blue Album and Pinkerton if I hadn’t listened to it so many times years ago and just discovered it today. I hope it’s not just nostalgia. Regardless, I don’t want to listen to their new stuff because it makes depressed – not not from (the end of Pinkerton’s) wanting something beautiful and destroying it with your ugliness but because it’s the final nail in a musical coffin. There’s nothing wrong with changing and developing as a band, but there’s a gigantic and career-ending difference between that and scrapping everything, alienating your fans and looking like fucking tossers. Give me a re-release of their awesome b-sides anyday.

</rant>

Written by atroche

May 14, 2008 at 12:14 am

Posted in music, review

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