Curious to note that sensitive US indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie — catch them on Atlantic Records, a subsidiary of the colossal Warner Music Group, catch them on the OC, Fox’s top-rating TV drama about the affluent youth of Orange County, CA — ultimately gets its name from sociologist Richard Hoggart, from The Uses of Literacy, his 1957 critique of British popular culture.

In conversation with the once angry young man, now grand old man of British cultural studies, DJ Taylor evaluates Hoggart’s thesis 50 years on — a culture devised by ordinary people for themselves is being stamped out by a mass culture devised by corporations for maximising shareholder profit.

Donning an avatar (she plumps for a “grumpy old woman”), Jenny Diski discovers that the online virtual world Second Life is less a chance to restart her life, more a cartoon-shaped replication of the real world:

Second Life is a reiteration. It’s a virtual world of buying and selling, profit and consumption, material decoration and political apathy. What you get in this alternative world are houses, home decorations, clothes, jewellery, cars, motorbikes, casinos, strip clubs and shops in which to sell all these things to cartoon characters representing their computer owners, who ‘live’ in the houses on the virtual land they have bought, titivate their interiors, change their clothes, hair and jewellery, drive the cars, gamble in the casinos and stand around gazing at naked pole dancers. That is to say, staring at cartoons who shimmy up to two-dimensional poles and rub their pixillated breasts and pudenda in the time-honoured weary wanton manner.
Jenny Diski, London Review of Books

How come it took Bill Gates five years to revamp his flagship bunch of code? Was it laziness? Procrastination? Perfectionism? Did Bill mislay his copy of Getting Things Done?

One straight-forward answer is that in trying to compete against Apple and internet-based companies, in trying to anticipate whatever the future may throw at the PC, Microsoft ran into problems with Vista’s code. The geeks made it too complex. Senior executives stepped in and refocused Vista. And shipping got delayed.
Microsoft milks the cow one last time, Independent
After delays, Microsoft in party mood for launch, San Francisco Chronicle

Gates, not surprisingly, gives a positive spin to this. Five years is a worthwhile investment; it lays the deep foundation for incremental improvements down the line:

Well, we haven’t been idle. During that time, we had many Media Center releases, many Tablet releases, lots of things like desktop search. We had a security-oriented release called XP SP2. But, we also had to invest in the layering of the operating system, so that we could be more agile in the future, and have things at the higher layers, like the browser, release on an every-two-years, or even in some cases every-year-type basis, whereas the deep things like the scheduler, the file system, you don’t want to change those more than every three years or so, because they affect compatibility. So you want stability in those pieces. So we invested a lot in layering and security.
Bill Gates, Q & A, Business Week Online

But maybe Scott Rosenberg has the better big picture answer. He doesn’t quite say it, but it’s there, bubbling under with a bunch of proximate causes: free coffee and pizza and a big salary; and it’s just too easy for the guys at Redmond to get into the flow, to succumb to the temptation of trying to create the one, perfect, transcendent program:

… unlike computer hardware — the microchips and storage devices that run programs — software isn’t rooted in the physical world. It’s still written, painstakingly, line by line and character by character; essentially, it’s all made up. Software straddles the wide-open realm of the imagination, where it’s created, and the fixities of everyday reality, where we expect it to work. And so far, it has proved uniquely resistant to engineering discipline.
Scott Rosenberg, Washington Post

Avoid any easy hype about the potential of the internet to usher in a new age of democracy, warns Jackie Ashley.

Murdoch and the better-off are mapping their monopolistic powers over to the new digital medium while the old medium’s powers to question these elites are being sidelined:

We should be nervous when politicians start boasting, as they are, that the net allows them to bypass irritatingly persistent, difficult interviewers such as John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman. Obviously, they need to be scrutinised and cross-questioned by well-briefed interrogators, secure enough in their jobs to push the point. Democracy demands it. Putting up your own website, conducting online question-and-answer sessions, is a doddle by comparison. They allow the politician to control the terms of the exchange and never face a public challenge on questions they don’t want to answer.
Jackie Ashley, Guardian

We’ve spent a lot of time, post-Enron, criticizing the flaws in the investment community’s gatekeeping activities. But I think we should also recognize what the Enron case tells us about the value of newspaper journalism. Maybe, in other words, we have underestimated the value of impartial, professionally-motivated, under-paid and overworked generalists in tackling the kind of information-rich, analysis-dependent “mysteries” that the modern world throws at us.

All of which, of course, points out the irony of what’s happening in the newspaper business right now. We are dismantling the institution of newspaper journalism precisely at the moment when it seems to be of greatest social value.
– Malcolm Gladwell: Enron and Newspapers

Writers at NYC’s Gawker Media get paid bonuses for the volume of traffic and page views their stories generate, according to bitter and jaded hacks getting drunk in one of the dives on Fifty-second Street uncertain and afraid as the clever hopes expire etc an inside source.

In a profile of Gawker boss Nick Denton, a “born mischief-maker who has made a fortune out of gossip”, by the Guardian’s James Silver, a Gawker underling reveals:

We got quarterly bonuses based on traffic which results in this all-day obsessive monitoring of traffic. As long as page views stay high, advertising rates stay high, which is all that matters to the company. We are paid to get traffic and that dictates what stories you do.

From the lofty heights of Gawker Towers, former FT journalist Denton, pecking at a laptop, monitoring traffic on his sites, says he’s “distrustful” of dotcoms set up just to make money:

You obviously have to make money otherwise it’s no fun, but those kinds of projects lack internal energy or a driving-force.

The driving-force behind Gawker Media? Denton says it’s publishing the kind of stories not getting published in old media newspapers, publishing what journalists tell each other after deadline, over a drink or three.

More convergence at the BBC. Yesterday, its TV and radio departments shut up shop. And were then born again. Following Director-General Mark Thompson’s restructuring plans, the Beeb is regrouping into Vision, Audio & Music, Journalism and Future Media & Technology.
BBC Vision launches with a promise to audiences

The BBC needs to be ready for “360 degree multi-platform content creation”, according to Thompson.
BBC reorganises for an on-demand Creative Future

Or as one BBC radio, sorry, Audio and Music presenter put it:

You can’t say radio any more in case people are listening on a mobile phone or a toenail, or a haddock, or something.

via Ben Hoyle, London Times

Words of wisdom from dotcom entrepreneur, billionaire, Ayn Rand fan etc Mark Cuban:

You can find any type of discussion group across the Net that is finite enough to make you a hero. It might just be three people, but in that group, you’re your own David Koresh. And I think that gives people a false sense of wisdom. And I think that’s kind of a hassle right now.

Mark Cuban, What I’ve Learned, Esquire

Yes, Google’s newly launched News Archive Search is a great boon to those lacking subscriptions to super expensive public record/newspaper/academic databases – all the news going back decades that’s unclassified and fit to print – such as LexisNexis and JSTOR.

For a few dollars a shot, bloggers can now sample what journalists have become totally hooked on.

Click over to one place and search. Cut and paste from a clutch of database cuttings. Leaving no citations to indicate that your great thoughts aren’t your great thoughts alone, damn, you sound authoritative.

Due respect to old skool Google, but you won’t want to go back. It’s like coca leaves v. crack cocaine.

And you won’t talk about it. In the last month, no journalist at any British quality newspaper, not the Guardian nor the Times nor the Telegraph, has mentioned, casually, in passing, that he or she uses LexisNexis. No mention in any US newspaper either. But everyone’s doing it. Quick and easy access to vast databases of information must be one of the most significant changes to journalistic practice in recent years.

Once the Google News Archive Search becomes more compelling – the timeline becomes more intuitive and there’s more content and more of it is free – and once bloggers, the end users that turned, start mining archives in the same way they mine their RSS aggregators, the standard news story format, in blogs and then in newspapers, is bound to change.

The prosumer news blogger, brought up to link and link again, is likely to introduce links to old newspaper stories. Iraq is the new Vietnam? Or the new Suez? Why not compare and contrast in great detail?

Great. The mainstream media shudders as the bloggers at the gate get fourth dimensional. Breadth is easy to provide thanks to broadband and Google. Now, users can expect depth as well, the historical context for any breaking news story.

But there is a fl4w. You’re unlikely to ever touch bottom, get the fully searchable depth, not the full 200 years (LexisNexis in comparison goes back only about 25 years) that Google claims it can deliver.

Before getting out the tinfoil over Google Earth and the emergence of a Google cosmology or worrying about the recent airbrushing of a New York Times’ entry in LexisNexis, concerned citizens should be concerned about the technological limitations of news databases.

A search for “Internet” finds 15 news stories for 1819 and earlier:

He had heard a great deal about lhe .hipping internet…
The Times, 6 October 1812

Sadly, this isn’t evidence of any early success with steam-driven computers, the spawn of some Charles Babbage abandonware. It’s due to the limitations of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology.

For your average machine, Times Roman on yellowing newsprint is difficult to read. “Internet” and “interest” look pretty much the same.

According to Nicholson Baker, searchable OCR text is often “intolerably corrupt”. A typical JSTOR article has a new typo every 2,000 characters – every page or two.
Nicholson Baker, Double Fold, p71

Enough to throw any serious research.

Maybe the OCR technology will get better. Google is on the case. It recently released Tesseract OCR, an open-source version of an old OCR engine.

But, as Baker laments, the scanning of newspapers is mostly done. The cost of rescanning would be prohibitive. And, in any case, scanned newspapers tend to pass out of the archival system. They tend to get pulped or turned into decor for Dad’s den wall.