Archive for March, 2012

Found sounds

March 31, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve recently been looking in some detail at community radio, this being related to a speculative project I’m planning to do a little later in the year. I’ve become a regular visitor to the coffee bar at my own local community radio, Hermitage FM but thought I’d share this one I’ve just discovered: Resonance FM.  They’re based in London and the community they transmit to is essentially a creative one: their ‘About’ statement indicates it was established in 2002 by the London Musicians Collective, as a ‘radical alternative to the universal formulae of mainstream broadcasting. Resonance 104.4 fm features programmes made by musicians, artists and critics who represent the diversity of London’s arts scenes, with regular weekly contributions from nearly two hundred musicians, artists, thinkers, critics, activists and instigators.’

And it really is music you won’t hear on any commercial station; cutting edge, innovative, experimental, and hugely varied. It gives exposure to bands, individuals, loose collaborations, and plays the kind of stuff that’s only ever ‘published’ as pressings of a hundred or so white-label vinyl records. I’ve yet to hear anything on there I didn’t find stimulating, provocative or inspirational.

Your own milage, or course, will vary – just bear in mind I grew up listening to everything from punk, goth and rave to Stockhausen and Subotnik, and the first and only musical ‘instrument’ I learned how to play was a VCS3 analog synthesizer!

Community radio, by the terms of UK licensing rules, only transmits at 25 watts with a typical range of 5 kilometres from the transmitter, and they’re based in central London. The good thing about the internet, though, is you can get a live feed to your PC and a lot of their stuff is also available as podcasts.


Being torrented, that whooshing sound, and other matters

March 12, 2012 2 comments

The story of the last week can be encapsulated in two quotes. 

The first is one that comes up on the front page of a freelance website I use: ‘The first 90% of a project takes up 90% of the time you allocated for it; the last 10% of it takes up the remaining 90% of the time.’

The second one is a quote from Douglas Adams. I already knew it but found it again accidentally when I clicked into a story about him: ‘I love deadlines. I love that whooshing sound they make as they go by’ (OK, it may not be an exact quote but you get the idea). So as far as I’m concerned I’m currently on last Monday’s work, it’s going slowly, and my own writing projects are similarly backed up.

The thing is this: if you’re writing distance learning courses you need to remember two things, really. One is that courses need to be regularly updated with old material replaced by fresher examples and all the dead links exchanged for comparable ones that actually work. And the second is that unlike a lecture situation, if you write something that glosses over a point you assume students know and they don’t know it, unlike a lecture there’s no row of blank faces in front of you to warn you that you might need to backtrack a little. It has to be right and it has to be properly documented, first time. And getting these things right does indeed take around 180% of whatever time you set for the job.

In other news – I’m apparently being torrented. I got a heads-up on this from a bit of spam I caught that was a link to So the short stories and bits of flash fiction I put on here are being made available as pirated versions. 

This is the first time it’s happened (that I know of), and I’m not altogether pleased. At one level it means the stuff I’ve posted will be more widely read, which is the aim of most writers – especially those who are relatively speaking unknown. However, it means people are reading my stuff without coming back to to find me, and possibly don’t even know I wrote it or that it’s freely available on So writing stories may entertain more people but it’s not exactly going to work as publicity for me.

Moreover, while those pieces are short, free giveaways and I make no money from them, they’re clearly now a part of the ‘digital economy’ though I confess I don’t see how the torrent site makes its money. It appears to have no adverts and no membership fees, though it is affiliated to a trafficholder site that allows people to buy and sell clickthroughs. So at some level they’re making someone money apart from, presumably, WordPress whose business is hosting free content and which has probably made a tiny fraction of a cent off my content by now… 

While I’m on that topic, incidentally, I also checked out Pirate Bay – something I last did about two years ago – and I notice they no longer have adverts from big-name banks, insurance companies and supermarkets as they did back then. When I first saw those ads I was very tempted to shop in the local supermarket and announce at the checkout that I was taking that week’s shopping as part-payment for my intellectual property rights… These days they seem to be taking ads from D-list dating sites, which suggests they’re experiencing hard times.

I’m also clearly now going to have to police Amazon, Smashwords and other places to see if other people have been ripping off my stories. So if you’re reading this blog as part of a torrent, just bear in mind you can subscribe to and get exactly the same content by Jon Vagg for free. If you’ve been trying to pass yourself off as the author of any of my stories, expect to get some grief about it quite soon.

And in future, while I’ll be posting ruminations of different kinds on here, and I’ll still post the occasional story, the stories will be in a format that won’t be quite so easily pirateable – not because you won’t be able to get the plain text, but because there will other things bundled with the stories that you’ll be missing out on if you don’t come to to find out about. Call it a proof of concept if you like, it’s a set of ideas I started working on for multimedia stories and while I haven’t had time to develop it properly, once I’m done with the current round of distance learning course revisions I’ll be able to spend a little bit of time bringing a year-old idea to fruition.

The toading of Mr Bungle and why it’s still relevant

March 5, 2012 Leave a comment

It may well be a case of small things amusing small minds. But I’m midstream in the process of updating some criminology teaching materials, and it both amuses and pleases me that in a section discussing the ethics of criminal justice, I’ve legitimately been able to ask students to consider and discuss the following question:

– Do you think Mr Bungle should have been toaded? Why, or why not?

Note for those who don’t get the reference: ‘Mr Bungle’ was the username of an individual in a multi-user chatroom who committed a ‘rape’ of another character there, essentially through a series of textual descriptions of actions. This wasn’t, clearly, a ‘real’ rape of an actual person but nonetheless had a significant impact on the real person whose online identity was the target of the descriptions. It was the first time this online user community had encountered this situation and they had to create rules for how to behave in the virtual environment. And, yes, he was toaded (slang used at that time for being thrown off the site).

More information:  Dibbell, J. (1993) ‘A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society’. First published in The Village Voice, December 23, 1993; available online at Dibbell’s website. And yes, the students were supposed to read that article before answering the question.

A serious point underlies the arcane frivolity. Most of us, these days, lead at least a proportion of our lives online and some of us invest a great deal of our personal identity in our online presence and avatars, in forums and chatrooms, social networking websites, Second Life and so forth. We’re also hooked up to mobile phones, text messaging, emails and other computer-based communications. What happens over the wires and airwaves and in these virtual locations can and does have an impact on our ‘real’ selves. Ask anyone who’s been cyber-bullied, flamed or harassed online.

Of course part of the point of Second Life is that we can do things we wouldn’t necessarily want to do in our first lives, and there are people who actually seek out the role of victim in ‘nonconsensual’ sex scenarios (you can also, incidentally, be impregnated by a devil and spend the next few months being pregnant and then giving birth to demons: I’ll avoid the obvious quips about that…). However, those who don’t want and aren’t expecting online nonconsensual sex can still be distressed by the experience. Quite a lot of effort and technical advice has been expended on SL in particular to ensure users’ avatars aren’t suddenly subject to such things.

On a side note, there are also articles pointing out that a great deal of SL is depressingly like the real world. See more on this at Dangerous Ideas and the architecture blog Archinect.

However, the point underlying all this, I guess, is that humans spend a lot of time imagining things, manipulating symbols, investing them with emotional significance and incorporating them into their own identity. And when that happens, ethical problems emerge that can spill over into real life. There are some old but still interesting discussions on this in Wired and TheFWord, from 2007. And the question I posed to my students about Mr Bungle and whether he should have been toaded? That was one of the first cases where the ethics of online interaction became a widely-discussed issue.

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