Monday, July 31, 2006

Disaster! They are now using photo bylines at the SMH! But as I have lamented here before, all the pictures I have of myself are disgraceful and I am usually drunk or wearing a 'get-up', or both. I wish I had a stock "fem journo does wry coquette" photo of myself:

It is particularly ironic that the story I have just written for them is about online photos, but B.Ro tactfully didn't mention this. He said that unless I gave them a photo, he would use this one:


So I cropped down an old Incredible Melk photo. I had to crop it down to head and shoulders, because in a kind of Benita-from-Play School-at-the-Logies way, you can sort of see my nipple through the top I am wearing. Plus I have a dreadful smug look on my face. Still, I am sober. Here is the photo:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Procedural comforts. Natalya is in the process of moving out. It makes me sad. Every time I look at the fridge or the table, do some laundry or stroke Meep, I feel that nasty precarious feeling of knowing it'll all be gone soon.

Instead, I will be presiding over a House of Hipsters, a term which suggests our house will be strewn with Japanese toys and framed comic book art, filled with back issues of Vice magazine and pieces of vintage clothing, and ringing with the likes of Spank Rock, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Dance with Voices.

Luckily, Natalya is a procrastinatory packer, so I get the comforts of my old house a little longer. Last night she gave me a bunch of her CDs that she now has on her computer. One of them was The Diary of Alicia Keys, which I listened to this morning while getting dressed, thinking about the comforts of soul. Another of the comforts I will miss is the routine of communally watching procedural television shows.

For a lovely while at the start of the year, it was a ritual to watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with Natalya, Jeremy, and occasionally Penny and Stuart. It is one of my dearest memories that one night Jeremy started rummaging in his bag and said, "I brought something for everyone," and we were all, "What? What?" and then he brought out some bottles of Liptons Iced Tea. And Natalya and I always ritualistically perform the Law & Order theme song, taking turns to be the guitar and the clarinet.

This got me thinking about the soothing rhythms of procedural television. The joy of watching it comes from how the characters, like jazz, gospel and soul musicians, improvise over a narrative structure that both performers and audience know intimately. For instance: last night was an early episode of House (we were arguing over how early) because the rhythm of the photography wasn't quite right, and you could see the narrative structures still being established. During a close-up of House walking with his cane, Foreman asks House why he isn't wearing a white coat and House replies, "Because I don't want them to know I'm a doctor." Later, the patient asks House why he uses the cane. The episode also features Foreman's inaugural break-and-enter of a patient's home (in later episodes, Foreman and Cameron are regularly dispatched to patients' houses -- something I always thought was extraordinarily out of a doctor's call of duty) and the revelation that House hired Cameron for her looks and Chase for his father's connections.

Sometimes I watch a procedural, even though it isn't particularly interesting (case in point, Numbers, a show that Channel Ten laughably claims "gets better with every episode!" -- the early ones must have been really bad), merely for the comfort in the procedure. In the Crider, Glenn Dyer is always puzzling over why viewers continue to tune in to repeats of shows: I think they do it because of this comfort.

But a really good procedural, like a really good improviser, maintains the tension between the expected and unexpected. Just as key changes drive a solo forward, the characters' reactions to new developments in the puzzles they must solve and the courtroom dances they must perform ("Objection! Hearsay!" "I'll allow it") provide the drama and enjoyment. Just as audiences thrill to an improvised melodic line that could hit a bum note at any instant, we enjoy the possibility that this time, the case will not be solved, the protagonists will make a fatal error, the villain will get away. But we always have the comfort of knowing how the song will end.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Short Mel Service: the blog. Since my post about wanting to deliver my blog posts to mobile phones, RSS-style, I have done some research. It has been very frustrating, but potentially quite exciting, because there doesn't seem to be a service that does what I want to do. There are moblogging services that enable you to publish to the web from your mobile, and there are services that enable you to send text messages from your computer; but as yet there doesn't seem to be a simple service that allows you to blog from your mobile to many other mobiles, and also to publish these text messages online.

There are many free programs that can send bulk SMS from a computer. They are quite powerful and sophisticated, capable of sending thousands of text messages a minute. Most of them require a GSM modem: either an ordinary mobile phone plugged into your computer, or a dedicated GSM modem. And I'm uncertain who wears the cost of the messages. Frustratingly, all the services that claim to be completely free appear to be based in the UK. I would imagine, though, that they're free but append an ad for themselves to your SMS, which I don't like. Ideally, I would like to charge people myself to append ads to my messages. That would be how money could be made from this blog.

Other services charge you per SMS sent. At Net2Mobile, for instance, it costs upwards of 16c per message. TriTel proudly says it only costs 9c per message. The challenge for me, then, would be how I could pass those costs on to the subscribers to my blog. The Australian mobile carriers are not particularly interested in dealing with small fry like me, so it would be difficult to make the blog sustainable if it operated this way. Rather than people paying to receive it, I would be paying for them to receive it.

Genevieve referred me to, which appears to be a kind of mobilular MySpace. (Mobilular is one of my favourite words even though I suspect I made it up.) Basically you start up a 'pod', which is like a profile page, and other users link to you using much the same "friends" rhetoric that MySpace uses. My computer crashed as I was taking their Flash-heavy 'tour', but it seems to me that you can blog to your pod, and people on your 'friends' list can receive SMS updates of when you've posted. This is almost like what I wanted. But I don't want to use SMS to direct people to a blog: I want the actual blog posts to be delivered as text messages. Also, the income is split three ways: between me, the carriers and

Genevieve also put me onto MyNuMo, which is a really exciting new service. It's exciting because it democratises mobile phone content: you could be the smallest producer of wallpapers, videos, ringtones or text content, and you can build a subscriber base by selling your wares through the site. MyNuMo acts as a broker between you and the carriers. They also have a tool called NuMoMatic that creates the HTML for you to promote your services elsewhere online. The trouble is, of course, that MyNuMo is a "Mob 2.0" service -- it only works on high-end handsets and through providers like T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon that aren't operating here (or if they are, the take-up just isn't there yet).

While I try to work out how to deliver it, I have started up my text message blog, Short Mel Service. In this incarnation it's quite artificial: some of the text messages I post here were actually sent to my friends, but others are merely the kind of whimsical observations that would characterise Short Mel Service. I write them down when I think of them and then post them when I get back to my computer.

For now, I'm trying to think of Short Mel Service as a generic and stylistic experiment: a medium for passing observations and flashes of inspiration, which before I would only capture by texting one of my friends about them. I also like the way that it shows my thought processes at their most basic: fragmented, excitable, whimsical. I'm hoping to sketch a kind of snapshot of my brain. Hopefully, that would be why people would enjoy subscribing to this blog if it ever got off the ground.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Oh, I just remembered. I had a dream this morning in which I voted in the US election. My dream was based around the idea that many non-Americans are just as interested in (and just as much at the mercy of) the US political system as American citizens, yet they have no say in it. So there was an internet service by which Americans who knew they weren't interested in voting could sign up, and foreigners could get their details and arrange to vote in their place.

So I rocked up at some primary school hall, fake ID in my hand. The voter I was impersonating had a Jewish surname that was completely implausible, but it didn't seem to matter as the counter was staffed by five toddlers playing with old Mac Classic computers. I got excited and said (remembering to put on an American accent), "Oh! I did all my school assignments on one of those!" One child looked contemptuously at me and said, "Shut up, grandma."

Suitably chastened, I got my ballot paper (and accompanying propaganda that I'd collected from various spruikers out the front) and found a spot on the floor. There were no voting booths; you just found a spot on the floor and covered your half-filled-out ballot paper with your arm in finest year 8 fashion to prevent anyone looking at it. But once I looked at the paper I realised that perhaps I oughtn't vote in another country's election after all, because I had no idea who any of the candidates were.

There were seventeen of them. Thoroughly confused, I tried to work out who they were. Each name had no party affiliation but, helpfully, a short paragraph explaining what they did. Some were television journalists, others retired sports stars, others obviously political hacks there thanks to behind-the-scenes brawling. So I ended up filling in my ballot paper based on my cultural preconceptions of who would be the most 'liberal'. Surely the journalist will be a Demmycrat, I thought to myself...

Recently my dreams have been very stressful and procedural. They all involve me having to solve a banal real-world problem. A while ago I had a dream about how I had to upload an image to my blog but the format didn't work so I had to reformat it. I also had a dream about who I was going to interview for the ill-fated EG story if Evet said no. I wake from these dreams feeling anxious.

I wish I could have awesome adventure quest dreams again.

So I wrote this story for the EG. So I busted my arse to get it in by last Monday, because that was the deadline the editor had given me in order to run it in last Friday's paper. Then when I handed in the story and didn't hear from her, I emailed to check and she was all, "Oh yeah, I got it, I'll read it at the end of the week". I was all, "But... but you'll have to read it sooner if it's going to run on Friday... oh."

And so today I emailed her saying, "Listen, you'd better publish this thing this week because Cuizinier is playing Opulent and I tied it into the story..." And then she tells me that she liked the article but the turnaround is too short and she can't run it -- when's the next party, maybe she'll run it then?

I am devastated. Mainly because Evet and Will were so excited about this story, and I have to tell them that I've let them down. I make a point of being professional, meeting deadlines and doing the right thing by interviewees. I am so angry because I did everything right and now I'm the one who looks like a dickhead. Also, the cold that has been hanging over my head for the last few weeks has finally hit and I feel terrible. I just want to lock myself in my room and cry. Also, I'm wearing a black and white striped t-shirt and my hair is hanging in my eyes and my mom and dad never understood me. Boooo-hooooo! Boooo-hooooo!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

SAAS Bulletin #5. Today I happened to come across this story about a long-running legal dispute over whether a pig is a pet or livestock. I feel I must salute the headline from a hardworking Age sub:

But that's not even my favourite bit. Who assigns reporters to these stories? Because check out the byline as well:

I hope he doesn't have a habit of telling porkies...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Jewish dad jokes. Natalie Portman's dad to her gentile boyfriend: "It's just a simple operation." Apparently. The ingredients of a good dad joke are: a) Is really lame; b) Embarrasses the child, often in front of his/her friends and love interests.

I am not Jewish, but after seeing Pirates of the Caribbean on Saturday (or as Jeremy pronounces it, Pirates of the Ca-ribby-an), I was thinking how much my dad would enjoy the film. He is the sort of man who loves shonky James Bond-esque double entendres and awesome stunts that teeter on the brink of farce. For instance, he loves car chases that end up in multi-car pile-ups. He really loves the Indiana Jones movies. His favourite part is in The Last Crusade when the Nazi drinks from the wrong Grail and ages to a skeleton in about ten seconds, and the old knight says, "He chose... poorly."

The best thing about dad jokes is that I get so much pleasure from telling them to my dad, who invariably laughs uproariously and says "I've gotta remember that one!" Here are a few I told him recently:

Q: How do you titillate an ocelot?
A: Oscillate its tit a lot.

A bank teller called Patricia Wack is sitting at her desk when a frog walks in and says "Hello, I'm Kermit Jagger, son of Mick Jagger the famous rock star, and I would like a bank loan."
She looks astonished and says, "Just wait a moment."
She goes into the bank manager's office and tells him what the frog says.
The manager picks up a small china horse from his desk and hands it to her.
Puzzled, she says, "What's this?"
"It's a knick-knack, Patty Wack. Give the frog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone."

And here's one I got from the latest Popbitch:

I woke up this morning to see a man stealing my gate. But I didn't say anything in case he took a fence.

What do you think of blogging to mobiles? By this, I mean using your mobile phone as an RSS reader. Somebody else (most likely the adult industry) has probably thought of this already, but doesn't it seem "really simple" to subscribe to a blog that would be delivered to mobile phones via SMS? Either you would pay on your mobile phone bill for this service, or it would be free to the user but the SMS would include an ad. Let's face it, in any medium that carries advertising, writing has always been mere 'content provision'; but it's only in the last few years that the distinction between the content providers and the content hosts has become clear. And, importantly, you don't have to be a big player to get leverage as a content provider.

According to the Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index, 11% of mobile phone users currently have a 3G handset. More significantly, 25% don't know whether theirs is or isn't. Hutchison's 3 Mobile has only been operating for three years, and the other carriers only introduces their services last year. 12% of respondents to the survey said they will definitely or probably buy a 3G phone in the next six months.

But I'm not talking 3G phones here. And unlike podcasting and vodcasting, which still confuses people and requires you not only to subscribe but also to upload the content to your portable media player, the crappiest of bricks would be able to read this blog wherever the user is, without the user needing to do anything. Of course, some messages could be delivered in pictures and video once this technology penetrates the market.

Now here's the juicy stuff. The blog itself couldn't be just any blog. Its entire premise would have to dovetail with its mode of delivery. Do you have a friend who sends you random text messages with a funny observation? Is that friend me? I see awesome stuff all the time, and lacking a camera phone, sometimes I just have to tell people about it. Like, last night I saw this guy who looked like an ugly version of Jude Law, which is to say, he was not hideously ugly but compared to the real Law, he was. He had the receding hairline, the same colouring and that slight look of distaste that Law often wears. So I said in a text message to LucyMo:
There's a guy on my tram who looks like an ugly Jude Law, if that makes any sense.
Lucy replied:
That is utterly surprising. And informative. I would like constant pt updates. Constant!
She was probably being facetious, but what if that was the blog-to-mobiles? Would you be interested in receiving my little thoughts two or three times a day in SMS form? (And yes, I realise that someone is probably going to steal this idea and do it first now.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Camilla saw the turkey slap coming. I am fascinated by the divergence in the coverage of the Big Brother sex scandal: according to the broadsheets it's an "alleged sexual assault" or a "sexual incident"; according to the denizens of bulletin boards and YouTube it's a "turkey slap". I'm not going to link to the video; you can google "big brother turkey slap" and you'll find it easily enough.

Although I still think Ashley and John's behaviour was calculatedly contemptuous and that they were deservedly kicked off the show, the video makes things considerably more ambiguous. Because Camilla saw the turkey slap coming.
Cammy, come over here.

Cam, come over here.

CAMILLA: (sounding excited)
What? What are you doing? (suddenly suspicious) You're not going to fart on me, are you?

Nup, better.

CAMILLA gets into bed between the two of them, giggling.

Lie down and shut your eyes.


Just lie down and shut your eyes.

What are you going to do? You're not going to turkey slap me, are you?

ASHLEY (laughing)

You are, you liars! Lemme in. (She gets under the covers.) I'll hurt you if you do. I'll bite it.
There's some general giggling between the three of them during and after the "incident". Immediately afterwards, Camilla protests "Heyyy!" and says something indignant and indistinct: "You boys..." Someone else across the room (Krystal?) says, "What happened?" and Camilla says, "I just got turkey slapped!" in the sort of voice you'd use for "I just got egged!"

The boys laugh raucously. Camilla lies back down.
I need a hand.

CAMILLA (sounding wounded)
No. You guys are mean to me.

It's funny, though.

CAMILLA (still wounded)
You're mean.
She sticks her hand under John's side of the bedclothes, but I don't think she is giving John quite the "hand" he's after, because at the same time she's saying in a stronger voice, "That was so mean," and he squeals, "Fuck off!"

The actions of these three people are being caught up in an external attribution of 'blame'. The mainstream media, including the Crider, trod the line that it was an unacceptable incident of sexual assault. So did many bloggers. Blog comments and bulletin boards, however, brought out the really repugnant people. (Jess has the best round-up at Ausculture, which, combined with the shutdown of the official Big Brother forums, brought all the spastics to her site.) These comments suggested, in their semi-literate way, that the incident was a joke that had been blown out of proportion, and even that Camilla had solicited and enjoyed it because she is "that sort" of woman. On the flipside, there has been disappointment and shock because Ashley and John weren't perceived as "that sort" of man.

It's troubling but not at all surprising that men and women still have preconceived sex roles. 'Slut' versus 'nice girl'; 'predator' versus 'gentleman'. As I've commented before, it's particularly troubling that women police these roles more than men, tending to think the best of men but the worst of other women. Personally, I was erring towards the view that the incident had bothered Camilla, too, but that she had tried to downplay it in the interests of making her life in the house easier. But then I saw the video.

Camilla is by far my favourite housemate and I totally want her to win, but after seeing the video, I am trying to avoid taking a stand on who is to "blame" for the "incident". Rather, I'm wondering what I'd do if caught in that scenario. I'd probably be caught between feeling pleased that I was being invited to interact with two people who'd previously indicated that they particularly didn't like me, and being suspicious that they were deliberately humiliating me.

I mean, if I'd spent the last week being sexually humiliated -- by my own drunken admission that I wanted to "pash Ash", by Ash's subsequent play for Claire, and by Big Brother's challenge to kiss the entire household in an hour -- I would welcome any vague gesture that I belonged. And if the gesture did turn out to be an unwelcome turkey slap, I'd feel so acutely humiliated that I would just want the whole thing to go away.

But that's just me.

Extra, extra! Blogging makes you work faster! I am procrastinating like you wouldn't believe. After spending this morning sub-editing the Crider, I meant to spend this afternoon writing the next edition of the Is Not Friendly Society (if you'd like to join, sign up in the bottom right-hand corner of our website), which is putatively being sent tomorrow. Plus I'm writing two freelance stories, one due this Wednesday, the other one next Monday, and I really ought to interview my respective subjects.

But I have taken time out to read this story from The Age, which is about how academics have entered the Tron-like world of blogging, and how it has revolutionised their professional practice. Particularly, I was struck by this comment from RMIT's Adrian Miles:
"The normal process for someone like me would be to send an abstract to conference, write the paper, which would be unfinished, present it at the conference, usually to an audience of 10, get feedback from it and then I might go off and write the paper -- that process could be 18 months. I could do all that in a week in a blog."
All that in a week! What kind of machine are you, Adrian? A creativity/machine, perhaps? :-)
I felt very disheartened upon reading this: much the same disheartenment I feel when I consider how intellectually prolific Glen is. Thinking about things -- really thinking about them -- has become such a luxury for me; perhaps a luxury that 24-hour internet could help me afford. (I tell you what, having to trudge to fucking North Melbourne today merely in order to begin my day's work left me feeling weary before I even began, and poisonously anti-the very idea of a suburb named North Melbourne.) I feel as though blogging has only exacerbated this situation. As the article puts it:
Academic blogs offer a more informal, first-draft-style of writing and do not threaten traditional scholarly writing that represents months of carefully grown ideas and sifted thoughts, threshed from countless sources, all scrupulously cited before being reviewed by peers.
Good academic blogging relies on bloody-minded mental athleticism. Good journalism, of the sort that I try to practise, requires it just as much. It's easy to be mentally flabby when your living depends on writing what people want to publish (the original definition of a hack was someone who'd write any crap that paid the bills); when your format and word length are often antagonistic to thoughtful or analytical writing (which can be interpreted as 'pretentious', 'irrelevant' or 'elitist'); and when you have deadlines to meet and you sometimes seem to be sitting in front of your computer mashing the keyboard just to make words come out.

I think I'm a talented writer in the sense that it comes easily to me; the keyboard-mashing still produces half-decent writing. But I always aspire to do better, and feel frustrated that my most dynamite ideas are just beyond my fingertips, and I don't ever use my time wisely enough. On that note, I ought to get back to the Friendly Society.

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