Perversion for Profit

Perversion for Profit is a 1965 anti-porn documentary film. Very little footage is shown apart from the presenter in the studio: George Putnam. His didactic pronouncements, tone of voice, and Brylcreemed presentation would seem hilarious to many today, and this manner is constantly (and justifiably) parodied on TV - The Simpsons perhaps being a good example. Most of the facts Putnam presents are statements of opinion - connected without demonstrating correlation, much less causation. He doesn’t discuss the morality of censorship at all. It’s well worth seeing, though, as an example of propaganda - although less subtle than, say, Triumph of the Will, it’s still crisp, clean filmmaking.

You can download the film for free here (part 1) and here (part 2). There’s also an impressive re-edit here that totally reverses the message.

Some choice quotes from the film beyond the split.

_‘The preoccupation with the female breast…which has become a fetish’ _(duh)

‘Very few blind people join nudist colonies’

‘They tell youngsters that… it’s thrilling, it provides kicks to be a homosexual… and every other kind of deviant’

_‘This same type of rot caused 16 of the 19 major civilisations to vanish from the earth’ _

Tesco Show What Innovation Is

Tesco FruitsA small example of innovation in the supermarket industry. I know that I should eat a variety of nutrients from fruit and veg, but it’s hard to find the time to study foodstuffs in detail. Tesco provide a rough-and-ready guideline on the shelf - at little expense to them, and some benefit to me. I hadn’t come across this before. It sounds like a generalisation that’ll have plenty of exceptions, but is still accurate enough to be useful.

Yet another reason why I’ll be avoiding Sainsbury’s in Winchester in preference to Tesco in the future.

Powaqqatsi

Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation is the sequel to the film Koyaansiqatsi: Life out of balance. Both films share a common style: most shots are of slow-motion or time-lapse (speeded up) photography. Although both are technically documentaries, the only narrator is a Philip Glass soundtrack. In both cases, this means the message is up for debate. The primary difference between the two is the setting: whereas Koyaansiqatsi is set primarily in the developed world, Powaqqatsi takes its themes mostly from developing countries.

Powaqqatsi is the kind of film that would quickly get repetitive in editing. The long slow-motion scenes are as viscous as the mud portrayed in the very first scene of the film. I’m sure it wouldn’t be boring though; each scene is visually stunning - the camerawork is first class, and each shot is perfectly in focus and perfectly framed. Despite the mostly slow scenes, the action seems to jump from continent to continent by the minute; nothing is identified, and you’re never quite sure where you are. A classic and iconic shot of an abandoned car in a highway median at one point is the best example of this.

Halfway through the film seems to develop a message - brought on by a montage of TV scenes from around the world. Themes of modern communication, war, finance, and so on contrast with the rural subsistence existence so far seen. It isn’t clear, though, exactly what this message is. Is modern existence dangerous? Is it just different? Does it clash - or can it be in harmony? I’ve got my own opinions on this, as most people probably do, but the filmmakers don’t seem to. It’s a disappointment that the film doesn’t commit itself more clearly. On a lighter note, it’s also a shame that they cut off my favourite scene - of a speeding train descending a steep hillside - far too quickly.

Otherwise, though, Powaqqatsi is film-making at its most professional. Whether you prefer this or Koyaansiqatsi will probably simply come down to which theme you find more interesting - for myself, it’s definitely Koyaansiqatsi, with its focus on technology. Both are a worthy watch.

(Note: There is also a third film in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi: Life as war)

Happy Birthday PC - But What About Network Computing?

It’s the 25th birthday of the PC (Personal Computer) today. It was announced on the 12th August 1981 (when I was one), and its impact since is well-understood (Wikipedia has more detail on its history). As a recent Economist article makes clear, it was an unusual product for IBM, and defined part of the company’s image for a long time (the PC business is now owned by Lenovo).

The death of the PC, often seen as the thickest of thick clients, has been predicted before on several occasions. One of the more prominent was by Sun and others in the late 80s and early 90s, when they claimed that Networking computing (based on thin clients and powerful servers) was going to make the PC redundant. They were perhaps ahead of their time, probably because the network just wasn’t up to the job yet, but there’s a possibility that they may yet be right.

It looks like Web 2.0 might have a lot to do with this. Google and others are making it feasible to do ‘office work’ (as in the type of work one might do with Microsoft Office) online. Web-based email has been widely available for some time, and lots of people use it. Blogs such as this are created online. A decreasing amount of computing work is done offline.

Another related trend is the use of other bits of hardware apart from the PC on one’s desk to access ‘the network’. Mobile phones are possibly the most obvious, but what are also significant are the number of PC terminals in hotels, internet cafes, etc. used by people away from home (or, in poorer areas of the world, who don’t own a PC at all). What this implies is that the software on the PC, apart from the web browser, is becoming less significant, and the content on the network is what’s important.

More compact and streamlined PCs such as the Apple iMac are gaining prevalence as well, meaning that even the PCs themselves aren’t as huge, power-hungry, and ugly as they once were.

How quickly this change will continue remains to be seen. Maybe we will end up in a world where we don’t care which network-connected device we use, any more than we care which power socket we use. I suspect things won’t go quite this far. But it will be interesting to see what other useful tools are developed as more data and applications are network-driven, rather than PC-driven.

7 Java Irritants

Java is a pretty robust language for the objectives it seems to set itself - being a clean and easy-to-learn object-oriented language - although the slippery slope towards featuritis is very apparent in 5.0. The automatic garbage collection, in particular, is a godsend for someone migrating from C++.

But there are still plenty of little niggles that could be rectified:

  1. Make the structure of the program dependent on indentation, like Python, and get rid of the curly braces everywhere. It makes sense.

  2. Get rid of the primitive data types (int, long, etc.) at the source level. Auto-boxing in Java 5.0 makes them less annoying, but they still aren’t necessary - the lack of a primitive string datatype makes that clear.

  3. Have an explicit modifier for package-private/friendly visibility, for consistency, and make it mandatory to specify a visibility modifier. These things make the code less ambiguous for those unfamiliar with the rules.

  4. Remove the one-class-per-source-file restriction (in theory this is for public classes only, but because of this, most people use a separate file for each class). It makes for huge and unwieldy build and deployment structures. C++ shows how it can be done.

  5. Get rid of the syntatic inconsistency between interfaces and classes. Methods in interfaces are always abstract as they cannot have a body. Java allows the _abstract _modifier to be missed out, however. This can be confusing.

  6. Make /* */-style comments nestable. It is very irritating to comment out a block, but have to do it in bits because of a ‘real’ comment block that’s part of the code. Colour-coding text editors mean that there shouldn’t be any confusion when doing this. It would also make //-style comments largely redundant.

  7. Merge the concepts of list and arrays, as Perl does. This allows for a far greater degree of expression in the language, and reduces some of the OO waffle necessary in Java when dealing with lists.

This kind of stuff is almost always about personal preference, so it’s unlikely that you’ll agree with all of the above. But I’d love to hear your comments anyway. What little things annoy you about Java?

subscribe via RSS