Friday Reading S11E16

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things. It is now in its eleventh season. Sign up here.

“The whole affair is a perfect example of context collapse, which generally occurs when a surfeit of different audiences occupy the same space, and a piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another — usually an uncharitable one — which then reads said information in the worst possible faith. In this case, the collapse was substantially amplified by Twitter’s Trending widget, which took an anodyne opinion by a verified Twitter user and displayed it to millions of random people as if it was some kind of significant pop cultural event. ‘My imagined audience when I tweeted this was, ‘oh, we’re all at the bar and having this low stakes debate,’ she told me recently. ‘In retrospect, that was totally naive to think anyone would have taken it that way.'”

This is interesting on the day that my friend Elle Hunt, one of the finest reporters of social media events on the planet, accidentally became Twitter’s main character for the day.

“It’s Not Cancel Culture — It’s A Platform Failure” – Charlie Warzel

“I understand the inherent problems with algorithmic bias in AI. Still, these small daily battles I have with my phone leave me feeling like I am at fault. In reality, the fault lies with the incomplete, biased data sources driving automated gate-keeping decisions that block my access to features that are intended to make my life easier.”

“Black data matters: My new phone camera has built-in bias against darker skin” – Maurice Riley

“Norbert Wiener had an invention he thought would revolutionize how deaf people experienced the world: a glove that could channel the sound of the human voice into the wearer’s fingertips. A glove that could, in essence, hear for them. But when Helen Keller tried it out, things didn’t exactly go as planned. This is the story of the hearing glove—a story unearthed and documented by media and disability studies scholar Mara Mills.”

“Helen Keller and the Glove That Couldn’t Hear” – Latif Nasser

Esther Zuckerman with an incredible oral history of the bit in the Lord of the Rings movies when one of the orcs says, for no readily apparent reason, “Looks Like Meat’s Back on the Menu, Boys!”, despite their being no evidence that orcs have ever been accustomed to fine dining or even a slophouse that has a menu. How do orcs even have the concept of a menu?

If I remember rightly in the early 2000s the plan if the Queen died was just to redirect every non-news BBC URL to a single page that was just a black background with a centred picture of the Queen and her dates. It was a static HTML file in the root directory of the server. One of the jobs every new year’s eve was to update the numbers underneath the Queen to 1926-200n. Someone with a better memory than me will have the details, and possibly even the files, stored somewhere.

The coverage of Prince Philip reminded me that this amazing piece exists: Inside the Mind of Princess Diana’s Biggest Fan

“During our hour-long chat John speaks at a million miles a minute, but it’s only at the mention of Marion (his wife who died in 2003) he chokes. No doubt these two griefs – one shared with millions, one entirely private – are linked for him. Yet, for someone who spends every day thinking about death, John is relentlessly positive.”

Car ownership in the UK has increased from 20 million private vehicles in 1990 to 35 million private vehicles in 2020. The number of miles driven in journeys has increased by 29% over the same three decade period. But your racist uncle in the local Facebook group is still convinced that it is LTNs and cycle lanes that are responsible for the traffic… [Sources: 1, 2, 3, any local Facebook group you can point a stick at]

Foxtons received almost £7m in government furlough money for staff and business rates relief. Is now paying a near-£1m bonus to its chief executive. TaxPayers’ Alliance curiously silent of course.

Dimension In Time is canon, and sadly the director, Stuart McDonald, has died.

I think when it comes to Depeche Mode I’ve become “that fan” who had to leave all the forums because all I can post is “Well, it’s not as good now as when I was first taping their 12″ singles onto a C90 in 1862” but nevertheless here’s a Twitter bot that just posts snippets of Depeche Mode lyrics and I’ve found it quite charmingly nostalgic.

A reminder that the second Muppets album used the “locked groove” effect at the end of side two to terrifying effect.


Regular readers will know that I sold all my vinyl, including the second Muppets album, in the early 2000s when my incredible collection was worth exactly jackshit due to the vinyl revival not happening yet. Thus I have ignored the vinyl revival. However, John Earls is good here with a deep dive into what is happening in an industry that is selling more and more expensive reissue vinyl all the time, and has spent a decade adding exactly zero manufacturing capacity.

“A Pressing Issue: How ‘the vinyl revival’ has caught out the music industry during the pandemic” – Super Deluxe Edition

Katie Goh looking at what fans, including herself, have made of Taylor Swift’s unique “Fuck you industry” re-recording project.

I found this essay fascinating on Hainbach‘s projects to make music out of literally any old electrical gear he can lay his hands on, performing live with a heap of random old industrial gear in a museum. But also this approach to his haters:

“I need to find a way to deflect it. I’m going to collect all the hate that I get. And then I’m going to pull it on the tape loop. And then I’m going to destroy that tape loop slowly over time with knives and sandpaper. And I invited a few other of my YouTube friends that have similar problems, some way more nasty than what I get. They read their hate and I put that recording onto tape and made a whole collage. And then that decayed over seven hours. I had one piano loop going to give a context. And then this collage of two tape loops going. Sometimes the piano loop and those hate comments cut up, they would talk to each. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was sad. Sometimes made me angry. Sometimes it makes me indifferent.”

“Channeling Hainbach” – Emma Warren

The frequencies of a vibrating spider web have been made into music and you can insert your own punchline about it sounding better than mine. This piece was by Ian Morse, adding more evidence that the universe is trolling me. This week at work on the Covid live blog I had to keep referring to Professor Snape and another guy called Professor FENTON!

You’ll be able to hear me play some songs from my forthcoming album on this Facebook live stream next week.