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Image post up at If it Has a Name, from the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.

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nagasaki manga-ka portrait sketch

There I was, peacefully pondering the remarkable level of Oedipal tension subcontext in Back to the Future 2, when we found a manga-ka doing portraits for a measly grand. Mine, as I mention on If it Has a Name, is similar to a picture of me done by some Chinese students of mine a few years ago: it seems to deeply begrudge the beard attached as an afterthought to an otherwise blank expanse of emasculate bishi features.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Cho-chan (male, 22) posing for a sketch.

I’d love to write about the cultural significance of Japan’s love affair with the bishonen, the gender-ambiguous razor-jawed boy-woman. Bishi protagonists are generally the sign of weak or indulgent plotting, while as a sidekick/secondary character they generally serve to highlight the relative normalcy of the protagonist with extreme martial ability, sports, queerness or flamboyant humour, similar to the figure of the “perverted best friend”.

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

Compare the non-protagonist at the centre of The 10k Commotion, whose mystic bishi-abilities (especially at Dance Dance Revolution) drive the story while never allowing him much of a personality.

dynamite 10k tenkay commotion

Also compare the absent Mary-Sue poetess protagonist at the centre of Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s generation 14. The actual protagonist is both a clone and a reincarnation of her ‘Original’, whose work was so revolutionary that it threatened her post-dystopian world, causing her to be killed midsentence.

generation 14 priya sarukkai chabria

Can’t find a single better cover image, and it’s nowhere on Amazon. Best get it from Penguin India here. Extracts here.

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The clone narrator has a mutation which enables her to remember her Original and her other past lives, and her cognitive development is a combination of fan-fiction and a Bloom-style Oedipal urge towards her ineffable, genetically perfect poète fatale ancestral donor. She is urged to to become her, to recall her work perfectly, but she also wishes to slay her with her own Work, establish her own identity. It has its problems but it’s excellent psy-fi. Recommended.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Nat with her alternate-universe femme fatale persona.

Finally, the best thing about Generation 14 so far, appropriately enough, is the epigraph. Like The God of Small Things, which Emiko kindly lent me, it’s obsessed with the multiplicity of life and hence of Work: Roy’s epigraph is John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told/ as though it’s the only one”. Chabria’s, which I will re-rob without shame for Iland, is a Leonard Cohen extract which I somehow hadn’t come across before.

Ring all the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

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Is plagiarism a problem on the internet? Well, yes. The waka I wrote at If it Has a Name is, I said, a simple sentiment in a consciously finite format, and so I find it hard to believe it has not been written before, even if it is formally incorrect: I line-break a subject particle, for instance. I don’t have the heart to google it.

Is plagiarism inevitable on the internet? Well, logically it is becoming exponentially more difficult to identify except in oneself, and so it may be approaching a stage where it exists suspended between being inevitable and being indeterminable.

As a concept, is plagiarism being subjectivised out of existence? Well, that depends on what you believe about reading the internet. Whether you believe that online people are automatically exposed to a proportionally, ideologically and stylistically broader field of reading material. Or whether you believe that online reading allows people to constrict their reading, to micro-manage their language and its signifiers. Which is the old argument about the Daily Me all over again.

Extract from a covering letter, sent with CV to a very interesting company who wanted to know applicants’ opinion about the success of one internet institution. I haven’t heard back. Oh well.

Feel free to skip.

I took every opportunity for personal research during my course to study online communications, including a course essay on the language of bias in supposedly non-ideological “News Watchdog” sites, and my thesis, entitled “The Information Sphere: Ideology and Langauge in News on the Internet”.

Inevitably, some of the ideas I formed in this thesis have been modified by the online news revolution in the late stages of the American election, and the current status of The Huffington Post is an interesting study.

In the thesis I argued that the internet does not have an inherently ‘radicalising’ influence on newsreading, as in Sunstein’s ‘Daily Me’ argument, nor does the proliferation of ‘citizen journalism’ necessarily herald the deprofessionalisation of journalism as many have argued, notably CNN’s Christiane Amanour.

This said, I did argue that because of the experience of choice in newsreading, and the increasing experience of participation, users would tend to develop ‘personal news cycles’: first referring to a small group of professional newsroom services, which are increasingly pressured to present “unbiased” newswire copy, the users then research and participate in news communities grouped by affiliation.

At the time of writing I cited Drudge, but his power as a maven ended with the election and his embarrassing himself (in my opinion) in the final weeks. The current era belongs to the more openly slanted magazine/conversation-styled Huff, and its web and talk-radio counterparts on the right wing, of which a web leader has yet to emerge.

I think Huff’s popularity is partly a result of its nurturing a returned sense of community in politics, which Drudge’s ‘insider’ aggregation approach rejects, and partly a result of its responding to a demand for personality in news content.

For the future: successful attempts to create a single ‘news homepage’ have rarely worked and will probably get rarer, and so I think Huff’s investment in for example sports and even entertainment reporting is probably wide of their core business, when specialised alternatives like Gawker are proliferating.

teenaged in the pace age

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Update: Instead of “are proliferating” I should have said “are proliferate”, though CVs in general make poor canvases for experimental adjectivism. I need to find myself a word that’s between proliferate and profligate, to describe the status of sites with a high, cultivated visibility but an uncertain readership, like Gawker or American Apparel ads.

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phillipe1He: “A lot of these girls have fangs…”

Me: “Yes, or are in some unobtrusive way demonic.”

Introduced my friend BPL to Danny Choo’s figurine reviews, in the course of an hourlong skype conversation. I’ve missed talking to him, because it’s always refreshing to find someone who shares a lot of my interests, but approaches others of them as odd pursuits which only shallowly intersect with his serious nerd passions. As a Magic player, for instance, he’s spent a lot of time in comics shops, but I was startled to find anyone, least of all him, still under the impression that comics are generally speaking musclebound, misogynist pulp, or at least sparkle-filter tooth-rotting manga.

pixy hiyori naked figurine danny choo

Of course, that kind of formula tat is still the best consistently-selling weekly format, just like in movie theatres. Nick said to me when we were just starting out on Iland scripting: “I think I enjoy making comics more than reading them”, and I think I’m finding the same. A treeware comic has to be really something special for me to read it cover to cover (although I can forgive a webcomic almost any amount of short cuts, revision, poor scripting or cheap jokes so long as it updates regular. That’s the fun of the medium).

I once spent a long rant to K trying to use Watchmen as proof of legitimacy: that comics can be literature, though almost none have managed it. His coolness was frustrating: I had to admit that Moore was the exception, and since he could quite reasonably argue that the majority of the medium was gnash, there wasn’t a particular revelation at the end of the argument.

I cited Margaret Atwood’s semantic squeamishness at hearing Oryx and Crake described as “sci-fi”, one of my great disappointments in literary heroism.  K just dismissed it as a generational thing, but that’s no excuse for a great writer, or so I insisted. Her failure of generic enlightenment doesn’t diminish the book , or course, but neither would the label Science Fiction, except apparently in her mind. And hence probably in the minds of much of her audience. Ki o mite, mori o miteinai.

margaret atwood science fiction scifi schi-fi oryx crake

Ben and I also talked a lot about online distribution and publishing. Nick and I had made a joke earlier in the week about our sheer presumption: we might distribute teasers or limited chapters or something online, but ultimately we want people to go out and buy a book from the shops? What kind of punk kids did we think we were?

There’s the ownership argument, of course: DVD box sets are still doing alright, despite falling overall media sales. You get the sense of ownership with a box, as well as the convenience, and buying a whole personal Veronica Mars marathon is also an indulgence which might fall into the category of distractions and anodynes which actually increase in sales during a recession. We both have Family Guy box sets, and in retrospect Ben was able to say that his purchase had in some way contributed to keeping the show on air a while longer. “That’s a positive contribution that I’ve made as a consumer, and as a consumer you can’t say that very often”.

danny choo room

Ben is also part of a (possibly dying, possibly not) breed which will never get into the habit of reading regularly updating things online, outside of some very specific interests. With his usual charm he pointed out that if I, his friend, published a book, then he would undoubtedly buy it and read it through. But if I maintained a webcomic, on the other hand, he would probably never follow it. (You’re a sweetheart lad. Say goodbye to that free copy. Not that you’re reading this, of course) I can’t feel too insulted: the man was introduced to Gunnerkrigg Court and manages not to check it every day. Weirdo.

gunnerkrigg court tictoc bird

Spent this afternoon writing magazine copy and trawling through various areas of the London Media job market, that venal field of harriers and waspish matey placement ads. Was listening to Chris Morris’s Blue Jam monologues from his early 90’s Radio 1 show while doing so, which was a slightly schizoid and inadvisable choice. He strips and tars his hated “Media People” through the naked eyes of his Kholstomer-like child-tramp protagonist (who incidentally is one of the most sympathetic and timely literary depictions of mental illness since Gogol). And he lets them feather themselves, with an imitating voice that’s far more convincing than Nathan Barley ever was.

It’s strange-making, ostranenie, using a madness of uncomprehension to expose a madness of mundaneness.

economies of language

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phillipeTea ceremony practice yesterday morning, then scripting and magazine work and avoidance work. I bought some chalk and started using my windows as blackboards for Iland plotting, A Beautiful Mind-style, and now I can’t really see out. Not that there’s much to see in my dim construction-aesthetic zoned residential. Then to school to practice my new kanji regime and supervise an hour of child madness in the gym. Back for a dinner that can only be described as gelatinous, then economy-drinking with the fellows before we headed out for an electronica gig. We really don’t do that enough: talked about the odd frictionless art and storytelling of what will one day be known as The Simpsons’ Late Period. And movies, nerd pursuits of one kind or another, superheroes, tabletop gaming: even Todd revealed an in-depth knowledge of the Baldur’s Gate and KOTOR series.

Then out to Momochi to the site of one of my first reviews, Zepp!, for the Capsule gig. Back when I was there to review the childsafe, Hard Rock Cafe-sponsored Japan Tour of Motley Crue, the gig began promptly at the advertised hour and ended in time for the coiffed, pointy-booted crowd to catch the train home, like the least rock n’ roll thing since Brideshead Revisited. This time, however, it turned out that there was a huge grab-bag of anodyne, wall-of-sound DJs and Vjs on first, and the main event weren’t even on till one AM. Our pathetically lazy pre-drinking looked like superb planning, especially since the venue’s standing only.

Our opinion was unanimous: the singer from Capsule is ludicrously hot, though we couldn’t work out exactly why, any more than we could decide whether or not it was a wig.

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Maybe it’s just that she was obviously having a great time on stage: maybe it was her teeny frou-frou skirt or her bike lock gold chain, or the fact that she couldn’t really dance but really wanted to. All we knew was: Yes

Home at about six, then up in the morning to clear my email and then get to an entrepreneurship seminar at the Nishinippon Shimbun building, run by the City council and The Indus Entrepreneurs, which turned out to be the largest nonprofit entrepreneurs’ association in the world, started in the nineties to collect the India/Pakistani Silicon Valley heads together.

I had dressed like how I imagined Venture Capitalists dressed in an attempt to blend in, new-gonzo style: I was infiltrating the world of the high-flyer through my publication, even though I have little to no understanding of how markets work! Though, as my friend Emiko later pointed out, I immediately identified myself as one of The Enemy by my habit of playing ominously with a biro then absently inserting the pen behind my ear, and wearing it for the rest of the day. The pen like a gun, in the words of Seamus Heaney: careful what you say, he might make it public!

It all proved pretty pointless in any case: I was lucky enough to have ten minutes On Record with an Indian American self-made millionaire entrepreneur, web pioneer and philanthropist who looked exactly like your Dad: velcro shoes, tweed jacket, classic ’93 Casio calculator watch, ring of fans and meishi-holders hoping to catch a droplet of wisdom. In the late eighties his company developed and popularised TCP/IP, and hence he had a pretty pivotal part in the invention of the internet, but as a millionaire dork he still dressed pretty much like he would if he was just a regular dork. Sharp as a whip, and didn’t pull any punches on Japan’s failing to incentivise and mentorially stroke its potential entrepreneurs.

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Networked helplessly for a while: even if, with my suit as disguise, I was going to pass for a potential investor or other no-name confidant, I would invariably bring up the publication eventually in a vain attempt to make conversation or see a flicker of recognition in my opposite number.

Plus, let’s face it, everyone has heard of the magazine round here, and to those who haven’t it’s possible to make it sound more important than it is. And these days I can say with a straight face that I’m responsible for a large part of it. The Gay feature about The Gays (which had taken A LOT of work) headed the latest issue, and I had a text from K saying that he was surprised and pleased by it. I was already proud, if apprehensive, about how it turned out, but his endorsement was all the positive feed I needed. Hard to believe that I first interviewed him for the article, which turned into a two-hour office-closer, which turned into a drink, was probably only December. I’d have to look it up.

Then back to the office to start stallingly writing up the interview (tomorrow). My boss had talked me into coming, and left the questions and the byline largely to me, which I’m immensely grateful for. I’ve become very fond him, as I do of any of the few people who I’ve spent long periods of time trying to convince of something. I’ve taken to calling the poor man “chief”, in personal homage to Superman comics. Our Social Networking developments are taking off: next stop, podcast. “Can we pay you in laptops?” “I don’t see why not.”

Then a pint in the Half Penny, reading Zola, and dinner with Emiko to talk American literature and Japanese Cinema. I promised Emiko I’d go home and sleep: I have a lot to do tomorrow even before I meet her for a comics convention or soemthing.

Instead I started in on the beer and Wikipedia, and now I’m reading about the Irish diaspora and Shane McGowan’s dental problems, and watching the legendary 1987 Bones Brigade skate video The Search for Animal Chin (feat. haunted, anaemic 17-year-old vert ramp beanpole Tony Hawk), and listening to Flogging Molly, the latter two of which I think would mix up really well.

I have an idea for an experiment with Wikipedia, where you get five strangers and put them each in a room with a computer tuned to some innocuous control Wikipedia page with a lot of links, like say Photography or Superman, and you leave them alone for fifteen minutes and see where each one gets to within Wikipedia’s halls of madness. And how many of them are rapidly closing windows or looking faintly shamed when you walk  back in without knocking.

I don’t see why not

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Rough up

napsterbadgesmall1I had a great idea for a sitcom tonight, while walking around the gigantic new mall that’s opened just across the paddyfields from our dorm. I had been thinking about how Megavideo‘s closing down on its non-subscriber free use, and I was talking to a friend about the vast discrepancies between different films in release delay in Asia. After all, if Dark Knight came out here in Japan three months after the American release, everyone who would have watched it would have already pirated it. Hence, in Japan it’s been out for months is available for rent, while Wall.E is only just out now, presumably because there aren’t many families who queue up rips they’ve downloaded to show at their kids’ birthday parties.

Or do they?

Thus was borne The Pirate Family. A hypermodern take on classic sitcom formulae, like the traditional scene of the patefamilias sweating and cursing over the snarl of busted, 10-year old Christmas lights, his kids whining about why they don’t just buy a new string every year.

Except here Dad, belly protruding and ponytail a-quiver, is cursing over his antiquated KaZzaa and DivX player trying to get the family’s evening viewing to play, while his consumerist ragamuffin kids whine why they don’t just get it from iTunes. “Will you shut up! It’s the principle of the thing! You kids just want to pay for everything!”

“The family that rips together, stays together” says mother from the sofa, swiftly minimising quotationgarden.com as she does so.

“But I don’t want to watch An Inconvenient Truth again!” cries little Arwen. “Shh!” hisses her brother Data. “Better that than The Times of  a Sign*, or late M*A*S*H or Torchwood.”

“I wanna watch Mythbusters!”

“You take that back!”

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Maybe I got a little carried away.

The new mall is set to change our lives, frankly. It’s certainly going to change how we look back on this year in seven months’ time, and the sorts of things we say in the advice package we write to our successor scholars. “You lucky devils” will likely be the gist, but still. I honestly can’t say whether life will be better with one of the biggest malls in Kyushu five minutes’ walk away, but I suspect it will be a lot more expensive. It will be easier for us and the kids who come after us to, say, eat Italian or conveyor-belt sushi. But really, who cares? I have a fairly unpromising diet of ramen when left to my own devices, but there’s nothing stopping you from buying vegetables and eating well here.

But what last week was the sticks of a small city in Japan has become the sinkland surrounding a commuter shopper’s paradise. I’d love to be able to say that the area will benefit from the presence of thousands of families out for Sunday worship at the mall, but it’s unlikely to do anything but clog up the rail stations, choke the waste disposal with garbage, and sprawl across the paddy fields without its food-court denizens ever venturing out for inferior local coffee.

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I was directly responsibly for confirming the grimiest prejudices of gaijin in a whole group of Japanese guys just trying to finish work. Sat in the food court we had been speculating about what would be done with all the unsold donuts from the Mister Donut, when we turned around and noticed that dozens on dozens of donuts, pastries, flans and the like were being wedged, pile on crumpling, uniform brown pile, into a bin. Stomach churning and outraged, I went over and asked in broken Japanese whether, if they didn’t need the donuts, they could give them to me. No, store rules, I was told by the supervisor, and the two young men went on folding pastries into the bin.

I’d like to point out that I don’t feel stupid for what I did, despite my horrible Japanese and the looks of disgust I was given. They are stupid for throwing away what could probably heat the whole mall for an hour on burnt sugar alone.

I’m going for my Christmas shopping there tomorrow, while the opening sale is still on. It will be a fascinating, delirious experience.

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professionally short attention span

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PS Christiane Amanour on why the internet is a liability to journalism. I have to believe she is not correct, and have expended thousands of words arguing so without ever being able to fool myself all of the time. I still don’t think she’s got the longview down, but then who am I to criticise, when I mock and despise the excesses of our new mall while not recognising its liberating potential? Right?

Believe me, if you saw some of the outfits being marketed in this place, you might think differently. The cry of my generation will be “no, see, there is a difference between Barbie and Bratz“, those obscene warped husks of femininity. Just as my parents’ generation had to see a difference between making fun of Reefer Madness and making light of Ecstasy. Or whatever.

PPS the forecast said snow for tomorrow, but cold though it is I doubt it. Manky though snow would be around here anyway. “It’d be like snowball Urban Warfare,” I said earlier this evening. “Like Stalingrad. Charging through the slush, over the barriers. Two rounds to a man. Use them wisely.”

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ascension

eurionsvgOpen Letter to the Man, supplementary: the project to convince my local magazine employer to build a free forum. I’ve been spending time reading the legal contracts used by webhosting companies, particularly Bluehost. Now, if anyone has any advice or horror stories about choosing one hoster over another then I’d love to hear it, but I’ve spent far too long reading glowing endorsements on what turned out to be shell review sites to believe any host is going to be perfect. I’d settle for perfectly well-meaning, but it’s in the nature of legalese that these companies have already prepared themselves for abuses not yet thought of, and in doing so retain the kind of powers that would give the average Free Culture reader an aneurism.

Below is an extract from the ToA used by Bluehost, which seems to be fairly standard. The terms may be altered at any time without notice, and use or continued use of any of the company’s services constitutes aquiescence to the terms. Maybe it’s a mark of my generation that I found the inclusion of profanity surprising. It’s a very specific kind of freebooter ignorance: I can scroll through linear miles of images of truly awful things without batting an eyelid but I balk at the notion that someone might seriously try to limit the distribution of such things through their hardware and under their questionable legal “jurisdiction”.

Feel free to skim.

12. Child Pornography. The use of the Services to store, post, display, transmit, advertise or otherwise make available child pornography is prohibited. BlueHost.Com is required by law to, and will, notify law enforcement agencies when it becomes aware of the presence of child pornography on, or being transmitted through, the Services.

13. Other Illegal Activities. The use of the Services to engage in any activity that is determined by BlueHost.Com, in its sole and absolute discretion, to be illegal is prohibited. Such illegal activities include, but are not limited to, storing, posting, displaying, transmitting or otherwise making available ponzi or pyramid schemes, fraudulently charging credit cards or displaying credit card information of third parties without their consent, and failure to comply with applicable on-line privacy laws. BlueHost.Com will cooperate fully with appropriate law enforcement agencies in connection with any and all illegal activities occurring on or through the Services.

14. Obscene, Defamatory, Abusive or Threatening Language. Use of the Services to store, post, transmit, display or otherwise make available obscene, defamatory, harassing, abusive or threatening language is prohibited.

The whole hosting edifice works because no-one seriously expects hosts to ever really act upon the caveat emptor they supply. The companies are just covering their backs in case of the advent of an iPatriot Act, and leaving themselves room to exercise a common sense policy in the case of extreme misuse of the format. At least it’s an American company, and as such has a notion of the broadly positive terms of Fair Use, which legally empowers a common-sense approach that’s often assumed to also be enshrined in British Law, which of course it isn’t.

[Two sides to googling “fair use”: hundreds of Fat Boy Slim album torrents “defending Fair Use”, and the story of the star of his first album cover who sued for unlicensed use of image. The court ruled that because he was smiling in the picture, he had wanted to have his picture taken, thus constituting fair use. Thanks to Japanman.]

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An assumed ‘common-sense’ pseudopolicy, such as it is, is communicated in the Bluehost contract  where specific, severe abuses such as child abuse imagery or copyright infringement are referred to in earlier clauses, while the more catch-all terms like “profane material” come in later, shorter clauses impling a generalised right to refuse. Though it’s always the short clauses you have to watch out for.

Of course, if you don’t like it, you can buy your own server. Or don’t, and stay in a backwater, certain that you’re aware of every foreign or polluting current which enters your pond, and handle it as you see fit. My generation has been forced to concede that being aware of something, being able to speak its language, discuss it, even fictionalise it, does not necessarily convert you, make you an advocate, make you tainted by it.

Yet at the same time everyone familiar with the internet has seen the same natural cycle countless times: where any decent forum will eventually become more dimwitted and drama-ridden as more and more unknown entities arrive and start ‘fluencing the tone, till everyone good leaves. It’s even happening to the Achewood assetbar, long the preserve of intelligent yet weirdly uncritical enthusiasts. No matter how good it is, it’s only a few trolls away from degenerating into flaming rubbishness.

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One of the lesser-known Livejournal Wars came around the middle of last year when thousands of people woke up to find their groups and pages banned.  At the request of Warriors for Innocence Livejournal had instituted a new policy aimed at cracking down on “paedophiles and their sympathisers”, groups and individuals using it to trade “sexually abusive images and ideas”.

The policy, however, was to ban every account which listed keywords like rape and paedophilia in its interests or registered a high number of hits on those words, resulting in the banning of several rape support groups and numerous fiction and fanfic-writing and trading communities. Livejournal, vast hive of self-absorbed drama that it is, erupted in outrage and the parent company pressed the ‘back’ button a few days later, going back through each banned site individually to verify its use.

To paraphrase Jay-Z: when you argue with fools from a distance people can’t tell who is who. But though it’s easy to make fun of Livejournal’s squalling mass, its users were rightly enraged that short-sighted policy had lumped thousands of them in with a tiny minority of genuine mis-users. Such is the potential of censorship. We trust whoever arbitrates it to share our sense of decency. Or we don’t, of course.

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I’m trying to set up a local forum for English-speaking foreigners in Japan, because we have enough of a name in our city to try to get most of the local online gaijin conversation happening under our banner. I’ve talked to my boss a lot about the need for a clearly laid out moderation policy.

He’s already more or less vetoed the idea of having a Japanese language forum at the same domain, in part because he doesn’t want conversations he can’t understand perfectly happening in his backyard. He also vetoed the idea because he has doubts whether he’d find a native Japanese speaker with the same notions of ‘moderation’ as us, or who’d express them in the untranslatable subtleties of forum-speak in a way he or I would agree with or even recognise.

Though I don’t agree with everything he says, Will Hutton has shown that braving accusations of neo-yellow-perilism can pay off. Japan is a very foreign place, not least in its often mystifying, even clandestine politics and its confusion of earnest Western-style Okinawa hippies, disconsolate consumerist teenagers, radicals of every stripe.

Once when I was just entering my teens I asked my Dad whether China and Japan weren’t, basically, the same, and he told me why not in some detail. A couple of years later I opined that America was pretty much like Britain, only more so. “No,” my Dad said. “America is the most foreign place I’ve ever been”, which at the time included Japan, Europe, Scandanavia and much of the Middle East.

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I started this blog to ask which seemed more distant, Japan or five years in the future? I’m pretty sure I have an answer, though not a very satisfactory one. Nothing will ever really be as foreign as the future, particularly when it comes to communications. But then, communication technology’s influence on the future is so unpredictable and so alien because that influence will increasingly be determined by people who ‘we’ in many ways do not understand.

The internet has exposed its values to people, making everything available free and without judgement. But that doesn’t mean that people are infected on exposure: you aren’t tainted, but you aren’t converted to a warts-and-all freedom-loving shareista. On English blogs the talk is always about forwards or backwards: whether the net will grow wild or be potted. But the real direction will be determined by people whose forums we can’t read or participate in. The truth is, right now the future is just as foreign as everyone else is.

ichi go ichi e

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PS. the thumbnail image I use for technology posts is the so-called EURion constellation, which features prominently in the floral decorations on Japanese banknotes. I would scan in a version to show, but, you know.

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eurionsvg2Drinking: Kirin Strong 7

Reading: The Seagull

Listening: The Columbia Broadcasting System Presents: Suspense

(I went through a period in Uni of being barely able to sleep without listening to online archives of old radio shows, mainly episodes of the Goon Show, which ultimately found its way into my undergraduate thesis and which I could probably quote verbatim.)

I went into the magazine office today to interview two flamboyant Italian wine dealers, and went to dinner with my editor/CEO. He told me a bit about what’s been holding up the reforms of the website which I’ve been trying to push through, which is really pretty crappy backroom skullbuggery. Our current designer is in the process of slowly defecting, and is already working on various freelance projects which borrow to a greater or lesser extent from new ideas that the office has been working on, in its own deliberate way, for months. One such project is set to undercut the release date of our big tourism project by about a month with a more streamlined, “hip”-specific rag model. Which is pretty rubbish.

Editor is locked in, not only because he may need to find a new designer but also because the current one is responsible for the design and upkeep of the current site, and hence its reliance on the relatively arcane language Ruby. We have no idea of how idiosyncratic his code is, how easy it will be for another designer to pick it up, and we still don’t really know if it will be possible to properly integrate a Ruby forum client like Beast into the site as it stands and host it on our current office server.

SO before we get pipped to the post again, we’re just going to call shenanigans and launch a forum. Editor has long been convinced by the idea -he’s actually pretty savvy, having run an early BBS back in the nineties- and finally decided to just go for it when I pointed out that we could just launch a forum with a a third-party hoster, with a slim design but under our name,  and call it an indefinite beta.The important thing is to get area conversation happening under our auspices, before it becomes entrenched somewhere else.

So we will have a forum. We will seize it before someone else does. Or, more likely, before any of the area-specific no-name forums which probably already exist become big enough to attract notice. We will attract ire with amateurish guerrilla marketing posts on fuckedgaijin forums and JET Facebook groups. It will be mayhem. There will be nutters, we will ban them, they will sign up with new accounts, and life will go on.

I think our tolerance for this, the organic process by which the internet happens, was increased the other day when a fairly personable but very odd bloke walked into the office with an 800-word “opinion piece” on chemtrails in Japan. I love a good conspiracy theory, but I was also the one to argue that these particular two cents might discredit our new opinion column before it really got off the ground. So he’ll be getting an indefinite postponement and a “thanks for making us aware of this!” email tomorrow.

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So, along with a LOT of magazine business, this weekend will be a process of sorting through the litter of information and phony third-party reviews on subscription forum systems to find one with high uptime, a good design toolkit and so on. I was mildly rattled by the level of consumer hatred directed towards Sitegrounds when you dig just a little under their very shiny shell sites, so I am going to be looking as carefully as I can. Maybe Hostmonster.

I turned a tangent on ARGs into a bit of a rant over dinner (Sri Lankan: my curry capacity has gone way down and I’ll have to get into practice before India over Christmas). But Editor was interested, and said he’d had an idea to do some sort of Game connected with the website, but hadn’t thought about it for years. I had visions of having to work up a redundant online Sudoku or something every month, but he actually meant a real-life treasure hunt with an online component, maybe a challenge to our Japanese readers to get a photo taken with a Gaijin, with a prize at the end. I talked about Geocaching, maybe using the now-ubiqitous QR codes:

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Electronteering! Unique codes on stickers with the magazine logo, posted all around the city , and you have to catch-em-all using the reader built in to every mobile phone camera. Urban info-scrumping!

Suffice it to say, I got a little carried away with ideas of questionable legality, but the concept is sound.

More soon. Also, Wowzio widgets.

this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

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n1708278_30464745_3993I’ve been thinking a lot lately about divergence, about how modern communications technology gradually makes cultural artifacts more fragmentary.

Like, say, my Dad, you can know all there is to know about a subject which almost no-one cares about. That’s always been possible. But now, speaking proportionally, something can be legitimately considered “famous” which almost no-one has heard of.

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I have said, with a confidence that I don’t feel is unwarranted, that no news story on the scale of Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan can ever be kept a secret again, because newswriters and newsmakers alike will know that whatever you offer, someone will figure they can make more money by breaking the story on their own. It’s the same principle by which the stock market works (or used to): there is always someone who will buy a crashing share.

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Drudge broke the Harry story, and now the American election has retired Drudge in favour of a plethora of more openly-ideological sites in the same style. There may well never be another news site in the “insider” mould with the reach and influence of Drudge, because as his haegemony dissolves his users will go their seperate ways to new sites, based on past experience or word-of-mouth. Or, more likely, they’ll fill the gap left by Drudge’s nadir with several sites which together provide a similar sense of coverage.

When tv-links went down, it was international news, albeit page 4 stuff. Similarly with Pirate Bay. The users scattered, and many sites stepped into the freed niche. There will never be, for instance, another Napster. Limewire, Soulseek, whatever it is the kids use today: they haven’t followed one another in natural technological generations, but the staccato progression of indie popularity: people migrate out of one program because another one has become “the” place to download”

And in filesharing programs, or anything which encouraged community, such shifts are incredibly, mathematically obvious. They’re probably still updating Limewire: I could probably re-install and load it up and there might be 500,000 people online, yet it’s still fair to call it irrelevant. I would consider Achewood and ninjavideo.com and Nathan Fillion popular, even famous, but the perfectly normal and pleasant people with whom I live probably wouldn’t have heard of any of them. This is all nothing new, but I’m arguing that the effect is only to get moreso. As is often said, in the 17th Century is was at least possible to know more or less everything about everything known. Now it is mathematically impossible for anyone even to watch every video on YouTube.

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Heroes are heroes to a few. Even “everymen” are specific men. Look at Dilbert.

There may never be another technology battle as vital as the late 90’s Console Wars or, say, VHS vs. Betamax. Probably no technology will ever again be as ubiquitous as Windows or the iPod. It is still possible to determine what will be “the toy” for a given Holiday Season, or “the film” for a holiday weekend, but these increasingly are only marketers’ terms for sale spikes that are diminishing and puddling into the Long Tail. This is what happens to conventional capitalism when endowed with some form of wacked-out supercommunication.

One problem about this continuous multifarious branching is that since there is so much to choose from, “taste-makers”, the cornerstone of modern marketing theory, will become ever more influential on the individual’s decision-making; but also ever more multifarious and scattered, and consequently harder to “recruit”, to influence or predict.

The Dark Knight had by far the best ARG campaign yet devised, but it would be presumptuous to mark out any of the movie’s sales demographics as sale-dependent on the ARG. I.e., the campaign may have been a huge exercise in preaching to the choir. The type of person who would research, get hooked and go and pick up a Joker Cake is the sort who would see the film anyway.

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I believe in the ARG as a medium for storytelling, but since up to now it’s been essentially nothing but an experiemental marketing technique of uncertain cost-effectiveness, the medium as a profession might die in its infancy. There will be more and more ARGs, of course, and great things coming out of them, but history has shown that the more you mak it possible for people to make things in their bedrooms, the more great-but-obscure things you get.

Now, if this means that more people make a living creatively, and large publishers and other middlemen corporations have to work harder for lower margins, then so be it. The change to the average creative person’s income will likely be little.

In the past “all boats rising” has been a pretty misleading allegory, never more so than today. But with the radical democratisation of attention,  industries like entertainment that are dependent on Attention might well find that the same amount of “leisure” money is spread around a little more evenly or, dare I say it, deservingly.

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My brother once said, with a tipsy seriousness not entirely unwarranted, “Molten Core man, Molten Core… It’s our generation’s Vietnam.”

Well, that may be so. In twenty years’ time my brother will still be able to make the reasonable conversational gambit of mentioning Ironforge or Epic Sets or damn Paladins getting nerfed in 1.7, and if it pays off he will be able to have an effortless conversation for hours with a total stranger about their shared experience. Because of the sort of people I hang out with I see that sort of thing all the time, but never before has it been true of eleven million people. And it never will again.

I pray that there will never be another generation’s Vietnam. It’s not totally unreasonable to hope that the 2004 Asian Tsunami will be the worst thing, numerically speaking, to happen in my lifetime. There may never again be another shared experience of trauma as widespread as incinerating the Weighted Companion Cube. There will probably never be “another Snakes on a Plane”. The argument that people are thematically scattering has always been my defense against the argument that the internet causes them to polarise. It remains to be seen which is worse. The future’s not ours to see.

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I mean honestly, what kind of a world is capable of making a dumb-looking film of Watchmen, but a film of Max Payne which looks far cleverer and more entertaining than the game?

Maybe films just wear “parodic” better.

then you shoot him in the back of the face

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