Archive for the 'Asides' Category

When music went digital

[link] Wednesday, October 1st, 2014


On this day in 1982 the first commercial CD players appeared in UK stores.

On this day…

[link] Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Historic day, eh? The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Golf’s governing body, votes today on the thorny issue of whether to admit women as members.

Oh, and the people of Scotland also vote on whether they want to be independent or not.

(Which makes one wonder what will the “United Kingdom” be called if they vote “yes”. The two candidates I’ve heard so far are fUK — “former UK” — and UK-lite).


  1. The R&A decided to admit women members.
  2. The Scots decided that it was still the UK, not the fUK.

Everything is connected…

[link] Monday, September 15th, 2014


… even in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Photograph by Douglas McArthur.

The Stones and Muddy Waters

[link] Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Terrific video I haven’t seen before. Thanks to Dave Winer for the link.

Valuation, valuation, valuation

[link] Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Now that Mark Zuckerberg’s company is worth more than $200 billion — $201.55 billion at the time of this writing … my favorite comparison — now making the rounds on Twitter — is with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crown jewels, oil producer Rosneft, natural gas monopoly Gazprom and state-owned lender Sberbank. Their combined market cap is $202.3 billion, meaning that Russia’s vaunted energy wealth plus its financial power is worth about as much as a company with 7,000 employees that had just $7.8 billion in sales last year, compared with Gazprom’s $165 billion.



[link] Monday, September 8th, 2014

An asteroid just missed Earth. The rock known as Pitbull is 60 feet in diameter—similar to the asteroid that blew up over Russia last year. It was 25,000 miles (40,000 km) away at its closest point, or just beyond the orbit of geostationary satellites.

From Quartz

Keeping one’s distance

[link] Sunday, September 7th, 2014

One of the difficult balancing acts involved in writing about digital technology is how to keep up with it without drinking its Kool-Aid. In that context, I’ve just come on an observation that Walter Benjamin once made about being a critic.

“Criticism is a matter of correct distancing. It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society.”

He wrote that in 1928. So maybe nothing changes.

Writing home

[link] Tuesday, August 26th, 2014


Or why iPads are useful when you’re a tourist.

Bill Stickers will be Prosecuted

[link] Monday, August 25th, 2014


Bill Stickers is innocent. (Old joke.)

The consolations of error

[link] Monday, August 25th, 2014

Lots of Observer readers have been writing to the Readers’ Editor (and emailing me directly) castigating me for claiming in my essay that Robert Capa’s D-Day Landing pictures were shot using a Leica camera. They maintain — as does Wikipedia — that he was using a Contax II rangefinder on the day, so I’m clearly in error on that point.

There is more disagreement about whether Capa’s famous Spanish Civil War photographs were shot with a Leica. There’s a photograph of him from the time carrying a movie camera with a stills camera in a leather case hanging round his neck. Not being an expert on camera cases, I don’t know whether it’s a Leica case or a Contax one. I guess Capa himself, a guy who covered five major wars, would have regarded this controversy as trivial. But it’s the kind of detail that we obsessives obsess about!

I wish I’d taken the trouble to check the D-Day assertion, but I guess because Capa had been one of the founder-members of Magnum I lazily assumed he had also been a Leica user. Myths endure because nobody checks. Mea culpa.

The same is true for the myths about Dorothy Parker, who is famous for being a world-class wisecracker. In an aside in the piece I claimed that she had reviewed Christopher Isherwood’s I Am A Camera with the crack “Me No Leica”. But, as many readers pointed out, the credit belongs elsewhere — with the theatre critic Walter Kerr. One of his most famous reviews was his three word summary of John Van Druten’s I Am A Camera in 1951: ‘Me no Leica.’

Parker has an enviable trove of wisecracks attributed to her, and she was an exceedingly funny (and exceedingly sad) lady. But in at least one other case she gets more credit than she deserves. When Robert Benchley came to her and said “Calvin Coolidge is dead”, she famously replied, “How could they tell?”, and this has gone down in history as an example of her wit. What’s not so well known, however, is that Benchley replied “He had an erection”, but this was deemed too scandalous for polite society at the time and so Parker’s punchline was the one that endured. Benchley’s widow allegedly went to her deathbed infuriated by the fact that her husband hadn’t got the credit he was due for that exchange.

Still, Eric Clapton hasn’t written in (yet) to say that he does sometimes remember to take the lens cap off his M8. And nobody from the Royal Household has been in touch to say that Her Majesty has, on occasion, forgotten to remove the cap on her M3.