Quotulatiousness

July 20, 2017

ESR on the early history of distributed software

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Eric S. Raymond is asking for additional input to his current historical outline of the development of distributed software collaboration:

Nowadays we take for granted a public infrastructure of distributed version control and a lot of practices for distributed teamwork that go with it – including development teams that never physically have to meet. But these tools, and awareness of how to use them, were a long time developing. They replace whole layers of earlier practices that were once general but are now half- or entirely forgotten.

The earliest practice I can identify that was directly ancestral was the DECUS tapes. DECUS was the Digital Equipment Corporation User Group, chartered in 1961. One of its principal activities was circulating magnetic tapes of public-domain software shared by DEC users. The early history of these tapes is not well-documented, but the habit was well in place by 1976.

One trace of the DECUS tapes seems to be the README convention. While it entered the Unix world through USENET in the early 1980s, it seems to have spread there from DECUS tapes. The DECUS tapes begat the USENET source-code groups, which were the incubator of the practices that later became “open source”. Unix hackers used to watch for interesting new stuff on comp.sources.unix as automatically as they drank their morning coffee.

The DECUS tapes and the USENET sources groups were more of a publishing channel than a collaboration medium, though. Three pieces were missing to fully support that: version control, patching, and forges.

Version control was born in 1972, though SCCS (Source Code Control System) didn’t escape Bell Labs until 1977. The proprietary licensing of SCCS slowed its uptake; one response was the freely reusable RCS (Revision Control System) in 1982.

[…]

The first dedicated software forge was not spun up until 1999. That was SourceForge, still extant today. At first it supported only CVS, but it sped up the adoption of the (greatly superior) Subversion, launched in 2000 by a group for former CVS developers.

Between 2000 and 2005 Subversion became ubiquitous common knowledge. But in 2005 Linus Torvalds invented git, which would fairly rapidly obsolesce all previous version-control systems and is a thing every hacker now knows.

Questions for reviewers:

(1) Can anyone identify a conscious attempt to organize a distributed development team before nethack (1987)?

(2) Can anyone tell me more about the early history of the DECUS tapes?

(3) What other questions should I be asking?

June 13, 2017

Dave Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock now available

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Several years back, Dave Weigel wrote a series of articles chronicling the rise and fall of Prog Rock. Today, his new book is being published:

The fact that I linked to all five parts of his 2012 series is probably enough of a clue that I’m a fan of the genre and will be purchasing my own copy of the book. Here’s some of the blurb from the Amazon.ca page (Click on the image above to go to the Amazon.ca site):

The Show That Never Ends is the definitive story of the extraordinary rise and fall of progressive (“prog”) rock. Epitomized by such classic, chart-topping bands as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, along with such successors as Rush, Marillion, Asia, Styx, and Porcupine Tree, prog sold hundreds of millions of records. It brought into the mainstream concept albums, spaced-out cover art, crazy time signatures, multitrack recording, and stagecraft so bombastic it was spoofed in the classic movie This Is Spinal Tap.

With a vast knowledge of what Rolling Stone has called “the deliciously decadent genre that the punks failed to kill,” access to key people who made the music, and the passion of a true enthusiast, Washington Post national reporter David Weigel tells the story of prog in all its pomp, creativity, and excess.

Weigel explains exactly what was “progressive” about prog rock and how its complexity and experimentalism arose from such precursors as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. He traces prog’s popularity from the massive success of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” in 1967. He reveals how prog’s best-selling, epochal albums were made, including The Dark Side of the Moon, Thick as a Brick, and Tubular Bells. And he explores the rise of new instruments into the prog mix, such as the synthesizer, flute, mellotron, and—famously—the double-neck guitar.

If this clip of Yes performing “Roundabout” doesn’t immediately suggest Spinal Tap, I can only assume you’ve never seen the movie:

But not everyone of my generation was a fan of prog: here’s James Lileks summing up what he thought of the age of musical excess:

It’s obvious from Note One that everyone involved in the effort had so much THC in their system you could dry-cure their phlegm and get a buzz off the resin, but instead of having the loose happy ho-di-hi-dee-ho cheer of a Cab Calloway reefer number, the songs are soaked with Art and Importance and Meaning. You can imagine the band members sitting down to hash out (sorry) the overarching themes of the album, how it should like start with Total Chaos man because those are the times in which we live with like war from the sky, okay, and then we’ll have flutes because flutes are peaceful like doves and my old lady can play that part because she like studied flute, man, in high school. The lyrics are all the same: AND THE KING OF QUEENS SAID TO THE EARTH THE HEIROPHANT SHALL NOW GIVE BIRTH / THE HOODED PRIESTS IN CHAMBERED LAIRS LEERED DOWN UPON THE LADIES FAIR / NEWWWW DAAAAY DAWNNNING!

June 11, 2017

Nostalgia for a lost England

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren got all weepy about bygone times in England:

I lived in England — London, to be more frank, but with much wandering about — through the middle ’seventies and for a shorter spell in the early ’eighties. By the late ’nineties I visited a place that had been in many ways transformed, and clearly for the worse, by the Thatcher Revolution. Tinsel wealth had spread everywhere, trickling down into every crevice. Tony Blair surfed the glitter, and people with the most discouraging lower-class accents were wearing loud, expensive, off-the-rack garments, and carrying laptops and briefcases. No hats. It was a land in which one could no longer find beans-egg-sausage-and-toast for thirty-five new pence, nor enter the museums for free.

I missed that old Labour England, with the coalfield strikes, and the economy in free fall; with everything so broken, and all the empty houses in which one could squat; the quiet of post-industrial inanition, and the working classes all kept in their place by the unions. I loved the physical decay, the leisurely way people went about their charmingly miserable lives. Cricket still played in cricket whites; the plaster coming off the walls in pubs. It was all so poetical. And yes, Mrs Thatcher had ruined all that. For a blissful moment I was thinking, Corbyn could bring it back.

Actually, he would bring something more like Venezuela, but like the youff of England, one can still dream.

I visited England as an adult in mid-Winter 1979, the “Winter of Discontent“, and it was a fantastically appropriate epithet for a chilly, damp, and miserable time-and-place. When we landed at Heathrow, there was some kind of disruption with both the bus service and the underground (“subway” to us North Americans), so getting into London required taking a cab. The cabbie “kindly” took us around a bunch of touristy sites (and probably ran up the meter a fair bit) before dropping us off at King’s Cross station. When we bought our tickets for the train north to Darlington, we were warned that the catering staff were not working that day (no idea whether there was a formal strike or just a wildcat walkout), so there were no meals available on the train. The restaurant at the station was closed — that might just have been the time we were there, as British restaurant opening and closing hours were quite restricted at the best of times.

On the train, we were at least able to get a cup of tea and a stale bun. The journey took quite some time — once again, that might have been normal, but what was supposed to be a ~3 hour journey probably took closer to 5 hours (maintenance, signalling issues, strike-related delays, and for all I know the “wrong kind of snow” were all possible contributors). By then, we’d missed our connecting train to Middlesbrough, but they ran fairly frequently so we weren’t held up too long. We finally reached my Grandmother’s house, only to discover that we might be hit by blackouts as the power station workers were threatening to go off the job. It was a dismal and yet appropriate welcome back to the place I’d left as a child in 1967 … it was tough to recognize the places I thought I remembered, as childhood memories tend to emphasize the (fleeting) warmth and sunshine and ignore the much more traditional wet and windy British weather.

I left Toronto wearing normal winter clothing, which was well adapted to our Canadian winters, but not at all appropriate to the bitter, wet cold of Northeast England at the best of times and this was the worst winter since 1963. My teeth started to chatter as we left the terminal at Heathrow and didn’t stop chattering until the door closed on the aircraft for our return two weeks later (in the middle of a huge winter snowstorm that had us on one of the few aircraft that arrived or departed that day).

My brief two weeks’ experience of England’s Winter of Discontent didn’t build up any particularly rich sense of nostalgia, let me tell you…

May 29, 2017

Mark Steyn on the career of Roger Moore

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On the weekend, Mark Steyn posted an article discussing the late Sir Roger’s pre-Bond roles:

Roger Moore played 007 in seven Bond films – although it seemed like more at the time. He was a rare Englishman in a role more often played by Celts and colonials – Connery (Scots), Lazenby (Aussie), Dalton (Welsh), Brosnan (Irish)… Any Canadians? Yes. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). For some Ian Fleming fans, Moore was a little too English for a role that benefits from a certain chippiness toward his metropolitan masters. Yet he bestrode the era like a colossus whose legs wee almost as unfeasibly long as they are on the Octopussy poster and whose trouser flares were almost as terrifyingly wide as on the Man With The Golden Gun poster.

[…]

But The Saint, for six years in the Sixties, was a hit of an entirely different scale, and made Moore the first UK TV star to become a millionaire (hence, in the Seventies, the tax exile). Leslie Charteris had created the Saint in the Twenties, and the books are very much of their day. But Moore’s version planted Simon Templar firmly in the Swingin’ Sixties with a lot of Continental dolly birds to give it some Euro-cool. Lew Grade, bored by running a local telly franchise in Birmingham, had his eye on the global market and gave The Saint a rare style for the British TV of its day. It started with the stylized graphics and theme tune, and then, upon the initial reference to Simon Templar’s name, the animated halo appearing over the character’s head, at which Roger Moore would glance amusedly upwards – perhaps the first conscious, and most iconic, deployment of his famous eyebrows.

True, if you paid close attention from week to week, the passenger terminal helpfully labeled “Nice” or “Monte Carlo” or “Geneva” looked remarkably like East Midlands Airport, but Moore’s tuxedoed aplomb held it all together. He was almost too dishy in those days – his beauty spot, for one, seems far more prominent in monochrome – and he sensed that he didn’t have to do too much but stand there looking suave. Everything he would do as Bond he did as Simon Templar: the quips, the birds, the sports cars. But he did it, more or less, for real. He co-owned the series, which eventually made over a third of a billion pounds (which back then, pre-devaluation, wasn’t that far shy of a billion dollars), and he took it seriously enough to serve as producer and director – although, on the one occasion I met him, he characteristically pooh-poohed the idea that he had any talents in either field. The series became less of a mystery-solver and more of a spy caper as it progressed, and indeed in one episode Simon Templar is actually mistaken for James Bond. Sean Connery had been whinging about his Bond burdens since at least Thunderball in 1965, and Roger Moore fully expected to get the call.

[…]

Moore belonged to the last generation of British thespians for whom it was assumed that acting meant presenting as posher than one’s origins. Unlike Lord Brett, young Roger didn’t go to Harrow but to Battersea Grammar School. He dad was a policeman who went to investigate a robbery at the home of Brian Desmond Hurst, a prolific director whose films include the all-time great, Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Constable Moore mentioned that his boy Roger quite fancied being an actor, and Hurst hired him as an extra for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and then paid for him to go to RADA. That’s where he met a young actress called Lois Hooker from Kitchener, Ontario, who changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became the defining Miss Moneypenny. Young Lois and young Roger both poshed up at RADA – although, as snootier critics with more finely calibrated class consciousness were wont to observe, from his Saint days to Lord Brett to Bond he was Lew Grade’s and Cubby Broccoli’s idea of an English gentleman rather than the real thing.

May 24, 2017

ESR presents Open Adventure

Filed under: Gaming, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Eric S. Raymond recently was entrusted with the original code for ADVENT, and he’s put it up on gitlab for anyone to access:

Colossal Cave Adventure was the origin of many things; the text adventure game, the dungeon-crawling D&D (computer) game, the MOO, the roguelike genre. Computer gaming as we know it would not exist without ADVENT (as it was known in its original PDP-10 incarnation).

Long ago, you might have played this game. Or maybe you’ve just heard stories about it, or vaguely know that “xyzzy” is a magic word, or have heard people say “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”,

Though there’s a C port of the original 1977 game in the BSD game package, and the original FORTRAN sources could be found if you knew where to dig, Crowther & Woods’s final version – Adventure 2.5 from 1995 – has never been packaged for modern systems and distributed under an open-source license.

Until now, that is.

With the approval of its authors, I bring you Open Adventure. And with it some thoughts about what it means to be respectful of an important historical artifact when it happens to be software.

This is code that fully deserves to be in any museum of the great artifacts of hacker history. But there’s a very basic question about an artifact like this: should a museum preserve it in a static form as close to the original as possible, or is it more in the right spirit to encourage the folk process to continue improving the code?

Modern version control makes this question easier; you can have it both ways, keeping a pristine archival version in the history and improving it. Anyway, I think the answer to the general question is clear; if heritage code like this is relevant at all, it’s as a living and functional artifact. We respect our history and the hackers of the past best by carrying on their work and their playfulness.

April 23, 2017

The Real Reason We Never Hear From Monty Python Anymore

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 20 Apr 2017

The legendary comedy group Monty Python was once a force of nature, influencing everything that came after them with their surreal, absurdist approach to comedy. So, why don’t we hear from them anymore? When Graham Chapman ceased to be in 1989, fellow Python member Terry Jones described it as “the worst case of party-pooping [he’d] ever seen.” His death came the day before Python’s 20th anniversary, and what followed was a bizarre but fitting eulogy, written to pay tribute to the man who’d written a dead parrot into one of the troupe’s most famous sketches. Chapman becoming an ex-person seemed to put a damper on any kind of authentic reunion, but what about the others? What happened to the late, great Monty Python?

Terry Jones’s illness | 0:44
Michael Palin’s travel shows | 1:54
John Cleese’s purism | 3:01
Terry Gilliam’s moved on | 4:13
Eric Idle’s Broadway ambitions | 5:06
They want to finish on a good note | 6:02

Read more here → http://www.grunge.com/53323/never-hear-monty-python-anymore-2/

March 22, 2017

Alberta in the 1970s “had more revenue than it knew what to do with. THAT IS NOT A FIGURE OF SPEECH”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh on the past and future of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party:

On Saturday, as was generally foreseen, Jason Kenney became leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. This sounds portentous and impressive. But one of the things that strikes you, since Kenney is proposing to (at a bare minimum) re-brand the Alberta PCs, is that their leaders are not exactly an honour roll of mighty statesmen. The party was successful and did good, and Albertans are grateful for its legacy. But they are, perhaps, grateful in the reluctant, compromised way one might be grateful to an ex-wife who was not much fun but helped the kids turn out well.

Peter Lougheed helped to change Canada’s destiny and define the compact between Ottawa and the provinces. Ralph Klein put the province on a competitive, economically diverse footing and established the fiscal health that a New Democratic government is now exploiting. But Lougheed’s electorally unsuccessful forerunners are forgotten by all but families and friends, and Klein’s successors all came to unhappy political ends.

Why, then, do Albertans speak so fondly of the Progressive Conservative heritage? I am afraid the answer is that older Albertans have chosen to forget it and younger ones don’t understand it. Peter Lougheed led a government that, owing to 1970s oil prices, had more revenue than it knew what to do with. THAT IS NOT A FIGURE OF SPEECH. Much of the art of Alberta government in the Seventies was trying to think up new, non-wasteful uses for oil money.

Most of Lougheed’s choices turned out to be very wasteful indeed after he left office. Those budgeting conditions have occurred only a few times anywhere in the annals of Western civilization, and they are never coming back. If they did, it would now be thought insane to follow a Lougheed program — make bad infrastructure and “value-added industry” bets, throw doomed loans at resource and tech companies, flood the cities with cheapo housing.

March 4, 2017

The miniatures of Gerry Anderson’s UFO

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

One of my favourite shows in the early 1970s was UFO, by the same creator and production team of the classic “supermarionation” shows Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet. The Prop Gallery has an overview of how the miniatures used in the show were developed and filmed:

UFO is a 1970 science fiction television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the final production of Century 21, formally AP Films, who had previously been responsible for other hit shows such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. UFO was the Anderson’s first live action series, financed by the Incorporated Television Company (ITC) of media mogul Lew Grade who like what he saw in the Anderson produced film Doppelganger, the series was aimed at a more adult demographic than their earlier marionette based work.

The series follows a secret military organisation known as SHADO, an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation, who defend the Earth from alien invasion under the cover of the Harlington-Straker Studios. Starring Ed Bishop as Commander Straker much of the series was filmed the MGM British Studios, later known as Elstree, which doubled as the Straker Studio in a clever money saving move. While the series may have lacked puppets it did feature Anderson’s other trademark, stunning model miniature effects sequences realised by longtime collaborator Derek Meddings who would go on to become an Academy Award winner and one of the most highly regarded and influential effects talents ever to work in the industry.

In early 1969 Century 21 set about realising the requirements for filming from their studios in Slough and work began on developing the various SHADO vehicles. Instrumental in this process were Derek Meddings and prolific designer Mike Trim who created concepts which were to bring yet another Anderson world to life. Miniatures were built in various scales by the talented Century 21 model makers, the old puppet stages used on previous shows were transformed in to fully fledged visual effects stages to handle the construction of larger model sets and filming began in April 1969 under the supervision of Meddings.

February 17, 2017

QotD: The rise of the geekgirls

Filed under: Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, there was not yet anything you could call “geek culture”. Sure, there were bright kids fascinated by computers or math or science, kids who were often “poorly socialized” in the jargon of the day and hung together as a defensive measure; I was one of them. But we didn’t see ourselves as having a social identity or affiliation the way the jocks or surfers or hippies did. We weren’t a subculture, nor even a community; we didn’t even have a label for ourselves.

Slowly, slowly that began to change. One key event was the eruption of science fiction into pop culture that began with the first Star Wars movie in 1977. This was our stuff and we knew it, even though most of us never joined the subculture of SF fandom proper. Personal computers made another big difference after 1980; suddenly, technology was cool and sexy in a way it hadn’t been for decades, and people who were into it started to get respect rather than (or in addition to) faint or not-so-faint scorn.

You could see the trend in movies. War Games in 1983; Revenge of the Nerds in 1984; Real Genius in 1985. To kids today Revenge of the Nerds doesn’t seem remarkable, because geek culture is more secure and confident today than a lot of older tribes like bikers or hippies. But at the time, the idea that you could have an entire fraternity of geeks — an autonomous social group with reason to be proud of itself and a recognized place in the social ecology — was funny; all by itself it was a comedy premise.

The heroes of Revenge of the Nerds were people who created a fraternity of their own, who bootstrapped a niche for themselves in Grant McCracken’s culture of plenitude. The movie was an extended joke, but it described and perhaps helped create a real phenomenon.

The term ‘geek’ didn’t emerge as a common label, displacing the older and much more sporadically-used ‘nerd’, until around the time of the Internet explosion of 1993-1994. I noticed this development because I didn’t like it; I still prefer to tell people I hang out with hackers (all hackers are geeks, but not all geeks are hackers). Another index of the success of the emerging geek culture is that around that time it stopped being an almost exclusively male phenomenon.

Yes, you catch my implication. When I was growing up we didn’t have geekgirls. Even if the label ‘geek’ had been in use at the time, the idea that women could be so into computers or games or math that they would identify with and hang out with geek guys would have struck us as sheerest fantasy. Even the small minority of geek guys who were good with women (and thus had much less reason to consider them an alien species) would have found the implications of the term ‘geekgirl’ unbelievable before 1995 or so.

(There are people who cannot read an account like the above without assuming that the author is simply projecting his own social and sexual isolation onto others. For the benefit of those people, I will report here that I had good relations with women long before this was anything but rare in my peer group. This only made the isolation of my peers easier to notice.)

What changed? Several things. One is that geek guys are, on the whole, better adjusted and healthier and more presentable today than they were when I was a teenager. Kids today have trouble believing the amount of negative social pressure on intelligent people to pass as normal and boring that was typical before 1980, the situation Revenge of the Nerds satirized and inverted. It meant that the nascent geek culture of the time attracted only the most extreme geniuses and misfits — freaks, borderline autists, obsessives, and other people in reaction against the mainstream. Women generally looked at this and went “ugh!”

But over time, geeky interests became more respectable, even high-status (thanks at least in part to the public spectacle of übergeeks making millions). The whole notion of opposition to the mainstream started to seem dated as ‘mainstream’ culture gradually effloresced into dozens of tribes freakier than geeks (two words: “body piercings”). Thus we started to attract people who were more normal, in psychology if not in talent. Women noticed this. I believe it was in 1992, at a transhumanist party in California, that I first heard a woman matter-of-factly describe the Internet hacker culture as “a source of good boyfriends”. A few years after that we started to get a noticeable intake of women who wanted to become geeks themselves, as opposed to just sleeping with or living with geeks.

The loner/obsessive/perfectionist tendencies of your archetypal geek are rare in women, who are culturally encouraged (and perhaps instinct-wired) to value social support and conformity more. Thus, women entering the geek subculture was a strong sign that it had joined the set of social identities that people think of as ‘normal’. This is still a very recent development; I can’t recall the term ‘geekgirl’ being used at all before about 1998, and I don’t think it became commonly self-applied until 2000 or so.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.

February 1, 2017

Mike Oldfield Story (BBC Documentary)

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Embedding has been disabled, so you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch this one.

Published on 3 Nov 2014

Documentary about the musician Mike Oldfield, whose 1973 album Tubular Bells launched the Virgin record label and became the biggest selling instrumental album of all time.

January 20, 2017

Scarfolk Council announces that local prog rock band Beige will perform at the inaugural

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Posting on their Google+ account from deep in the 1970s, Scarfolk Council made this announcement:

We’re proud to announce that Scarfolk’s very own prog-rock group Beige have been asked to reform & perform Space Minstrel in its entirety at Donald Trump’s inauguration tomorrow. https://scarfolk.blogspot.com/2013/03/space-minstrel-by-beige-prog-rock-1978.html



December 23, 2016

Repost – Kate Bush – Christmas Special 1979 (Private Remaster)

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Oct 2013

I know there’s a good few copies of this out on YouTube, but here it is, again! The other copies were either split up into individual tracks, the best complete one (from BBC Four’s rebroadcast in 2009) had the wrong aspect ratio, which annoyed the hell out of me! So, here this is…

Video and audio have been tidied up very slightly, not much was needed!

Kate Bush – Christmas Special
Tracklist:
(Intro) 00:00
Violin 00:29
(Gymnopédie No.1 – composed by Erik Satie) 03:44
Symphony In Blue 04:44
Them Heavy People 08:20
(Intro for Peter Gabriel) 12:52
Here Comes The Flood (Peter Gabriel) 13:22
Ran Tan Waltz 17:02
December Will Be Magic Again 19:43
The Wedding List 23:35
Another Day (with Peter Gabriel) 28:05
Egypt 31:41
The Man With The Child In His Eyes 36:21
Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbreak 39:24

“I was recently asked about this BBC TV special and I thought I’d share my comments here. Kate: Kate Bush Christmas Special is a stage performance by Kate Bush with her special guest Peter Gabriel. Though most of the songs are not holiday ones, they come from Bush’s first three albums (Never for Ever her third album would be released in 1980 after this 1979 TV special was taped). The performances include costumes, choreographed dances and a wind machine, creating an eclectic music TV special to say the least.

This is one of the programs that makes my research quite difficult — because it calls itself a Christmas Special yet it contains only one performance of a Christmas song “December Will Be Magic Again” (a song that wouldn’t be released as a single by Bush until the following year, in 1980). TV programming that calls itself a Christmas Special and yet contains little to no Christmas entertainment is actually quite common — especially on the BBC.

Between the end of November and the end of December each year, there is quite a bit of special programming on television. Remember Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special — it aired in December that year and includes only one holiday song, a performance of “Blue Christmas.” Is it considered a Christmas special? No, not really. And so, despite its title, the lack of holiday programming in Kate Bush’s 1979 TV special means it shouldn’t be considered a Christmas special either. But the Kate Bush Christmas Special is certainly worth watching!”

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

October 12, 2016

This generation gap thingy is bigger than I thought

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I’m far from a McDonalds fan … I darken their doors less than yearly, although I’ve had a long-running “joke” that I need to have a Big Mac at least once a year, if only to remind me why I don’t eat at McDonalds more often. But is the iconic Big Mac a victim of its own success? Has it stopped being relevant in the fast food world? Colby Cosh investigates:

The Wall Street Journal reports that a big McDonald’s franchise owner did some market research recently and stumbled upon a surprising fact: only one in five Americans of “millennial” age has ever tried a Big Mac. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know what my reaction was to this news: a paroxysm of skeptical eye-rolling.

The Big Mac might easily be described as the single most successful consumer product of the 20th century. Of all the various kinds of sandwiches that the human imagination has conceived since the lifetime of the 4th Earl of Sandwich (peace be upon him), the Big Mac might be the specific sandwich that has been prepared and eaten the most. It has a recipe that children everywhere can recite by heart. How is it possible that an entire generation has collectively skipped it, never thinking it might have some merit?

Well, whether or not I would have imagined it, the reactions I got when I asked around convinced me quickly that it is probably true. (Big surprise: a businessman’s expensively gathered information about his customer base turns out to be more accurate than some jackass’s wild guess.) Dozens of young people immediately told me that they have never tried a Big Mac. Plenty of these sandwich-spurners were careful to specify, all with evident shame, that they do visit McDonald’s often; at least one had worked there. A few correspondents had specific reasons for avoiding the Big Mac, but for the most part, the prevailing attitude toward the item seemed to be apathy, rather than hostility.

[…]

As it happens, I was raised in the boonies, and we would visit McDonald’s just a few times a year. I have to acknowledge that my fondness for Big Macs is a matter of generational and circumstantial happenstance. They are, even though I’ve certainly had a thousand of the things, still attainably glamorous — a dream of childhood now indulged at will.

Fortunately, my inherited cheapness protects me from a nightmare of special-sauce overdose. I can never order a Big Mac without an inner Presbyterian voice — Socrates’ daimon, with my grandfather’s accent — grumbling that this damned thing should really cost about $2. What the Wall Street Journal has me wondering is how long the Big Mac can remain on the menu at all, if it has really been bypassed by progress and fashion in the manner of marmalade or pickled eggs. If I knew my next Big Mac was my last — though any one might be! — I might pay more like $50.

Colby and I are of a similar generational group, but I’d probably top out at $25 for my “very last” Big Mac.

September 25, 2016

QotD: Canada’s “Potemkin village” tactics

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Some of us, in another forum, were discussing why UN peacekeeping seems to go so very wrong, so very often ~ not always, I hasten to add, just usually ~ and I quipped, with just a wee bit of hyperbole, that “Simple human decency says that a country like Canada should have dropped a light brigade into South Sudan and destroyed the South Sudanese Army in a short, brutal campaign of exemplary speed and violence … should have if we could have, but, of course, the Canadian Army is a fat, overstaffed, poorly managed corporal’s guard, that cannot deploy any brigade anywhere because we don’t have any nearly fully staffed brigades and even if we did they don’t have enough logistical “lift,” so they are useless once they have marched more than 15 km out of the camp gate … unless a country with a real army (you know, one with trucks and people a to drive them) decides to support and sustain us.

Sadly no one, not even officers who have, fairly recently, commanded brigades in the regular army, challenged my assertion that the Canadian Army has been hollowed out until, now, it is a sort of military Potemkin village in which bits and pieces are deployed and redeployed to create the (entirely false) impression that we, Canadians, are getting a real army for the $20 billion or so that we spend, year after year after year, on out national defences.

The process began, in earnest, in about 1970, when, in response to quite draconian cuts imposed by Pierre Trudeau (but not, it has been suggested, as deep as he wished) the Canadian Forces began to try to “make do” with a “pint sized” brigade in Germany ~ when a full sized (6,500± soldiers) one was need by promising (and practising) to augment it with “fly-over” troops from Canada who were trained and equipped and could move, fairly quickly on to “pre-positioned” equipment … if it was properly maintained. It worked well enough, in a peacetime/training situation, except for the fact that we, eventually (early 1980s), understood that we could not sustain a brigade in Germany with “fly overs” when we needed the same troops to “fly over” to Norway to keep another promise, made to try to placate our allies about our deep defence cuts, and by the late 1980s the Norway task (promise) was quietly shelved (broken) about twenty years after it was started, and after a quite disastrous “test” (Exercise BRAVE LION) proved to civilian planners and military commanders alike that the Canadian Army (which was much larger than it is today) simply did not have the where-with-all (especially the logistical “tail”) needed to sustain “fly over” missions to Europe. But the damage was done … in twenty years, almost a generation, the Army, especially, had gotten used to “faking” its combat effectiveness with Potemkin village tactics.

Ted Campbell, “A Canadian Potemkin Village”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2016-09-15.

September 15, 2016

QotD: Hubert Humphrey’s presidential aspirations

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Toward the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the governor of Georgia was a white trash dingbat named Lester Maddox – who is still with us, in one crude form or another – and when the curtain finally falls on George Wallace, he will probably go down in history as the Greatest Thief of them all. Wallace was the first Southern politician to understand that there are just as many mean, stupid bigots above the Mason-Dixon Line as there are below it, and when he made the shrewd decision to “go national”‘ in 1968, he created an Alabama-based industry that has since made very rich men of himself and a handful of cronies. For more than a decade, George Wallace has bamboozled the national press and terrified the ranking fixers in both major parties. In 1968, he took enough Democratic votes from Hubert Humphrey to elect Richard Nixon, and if he had bothered to understand the delegate selection process in 1972, he could have prevented McGovern’s nomination and muscled himself into the number two spot on a Humphrey-Wallace ticket.

McGovern could not have survived a second-ballot shortfall in Miami that year, and anybody who thinks the Happy Warrior would not have made that trade with Wallace is a fool. Hubert Humphrey would have traded anything, with anybody, to get the Democratic nomination for himself in 1972 …… and he’ll be ready to trade again, this year, if he sees the slightest chance.

And he does. He saw it on the morning after the New Hampshire primary, when five percent of the vote came in as “uncommitted.” That rotten, truthless old freak was on national TV at the crack of dawn, cackling like a hen full of amyls at the “wonderful news” from New Hampshire. After almost four years of relatively statesmanlike restraint and infrequent TV appearances that showed his gray hair and haggard jowls – four long and frantic years that saw the fall of Richard Nixon, the end of the war in Vietnam and a neo-collapse of the U.S. economy – after all that time and all those sober denials that he would never run for president, all it took to jerk Hubert out of his closet was the news from New Hampshire that five percent of the Democratic voters, less than 4,000 people, in that strange little state had cast their ballots for “uncommitted” delegates.

To Humphrey, who was not even entered in the New Hampshire primary, this meant five percent for him. Never mind that a completely unknown ex-governor of Georgia had won in New Hampshire with more than 30% of the vote; or that liberal Congressman Morris Udall had finished a solid but disappointing second with 24%; or that liberal Senator Birch Bayh ran third with 16%……. None of that mattered to Hubert, because he was privy to various rumors and force-fed press reports that many of the “uncommitted” delegates in New Hampshire were secret Humphrey supporters. There was no way to be sure, of course – but no reason to doubt it, either; at least not in the mushy mind of the Happy Warrior.

His first TV appearance of the ’76 campaign was a nasty shock to me. I had been up all night, tapping the glass and nursing my bets along (I had bet the quinella, taking Carter and Reagan against Udall and Ford) and when the sun came up on Wednesday I was slumped in front of a TV set in an ancient New England farmhouse on a hilltop near a hamlet called Contoocook. I had won early on Carter, but I had to wait for Hughes Rudd and the Morning News to learn that Ford had finally overtaken Reagan. The margin at dawn was less than one percent, but it was enough to blow my quinella and put Reagan back on Cheap Street, where he’s been ever since …… and I was brooding on this unexpected loss, sipping my coffee and tapping the glass once again, when all of a sudden I was smacked right straight in the eyes with the wild-eyed babbling spectacle of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. His hair was bright orange, his cheeks were rouged, his forehead was caked with Mantan, and his mouth was moving so fast that the words poured out in a high-pitched chattering whine …… “O my goodness, my gracious …… isn’t it wonderful? Yes, yes indeed……. O yes, it just goes to show…. I just can’t say enough…….”

No! I thought. This can’t be true! Not now! Not so soon! Here was this monster, this shameful electrified corpse – and raving and flapping his hands at the camera like he’d just been elected president. He looked like three iguanas in a feeding frenzy. I stood up and backed off from the TV set, but the view was no different from the other side of the room. I was seeing The Real Thing, and it stunned me……. Because I knew, in my heart, that he was real: that even with a five percent shadow vote in the year’s first primary, where his name was not on the ballot, and despite Jimmy Carter’s surprising victory and four other nationally known candidates finishing higher than “uncommitted,” that Hubert Humphrey had somehow emerged from the chaos of New Hampshire with yet another new life, and another serious shot at the presidency of the United States.

Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous — hanging with Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and a bottle of Wild Turkey”, Rolling Stone, 1976-06-03.

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