Thursday, 7 June 2012


Listening to:

invisible pants by Drop Trio, in their album Cezanne.

Just read:

Jane Austen, Emma.

I think this is probably Austen’s most cheerful novel. This cheerfulness makes the whole novel very likeable; if you haven’t read it, you should just go grab a copy and read it right now. The general cheer stems in large part from the main character, Emma Woodhouse, who is young, optimistic and more than ready to interfere in other people’s lives. This interference is what drives the plot forward, to humorous effect, but it also allows for a little character development. The varying levels of success that Emma manages in her various hare-brained schemes eventually do have an effect on her, and she gets to learn who the really valuable people in her life are. And so everything can get nicely wrapped up at the end with a happy romantic conclusion.

The generally cheerful tone is helped along by the fact that there are no real villains. Mrs. Elton, something of a young Mrs. Bennet, is insufferable, but there to be mocked. Otherwise, the nastiest moment, the big crisis if you will, stems not because someone is desperately ill, or because a younger sister has been seduced by a scoundrel, but because Emma says something thoughtless.

While there may not be any nasty characters, there’s plenty of careful observation of what difficult circumstances can do to genteel life. Emma Woodhouse is rich, but many of the people she mixes with are not. If you are looking for “shadow” in your literature, this is where it comes from in Emma. The darkness or shadow is mostly off-stage, but the unfolding of the various sub-plots is very decidedly tied up with economic circumstances. In Emma, Austen paints one of her broadest pictures of early 19th century life, even if she simultaneously manages to confine all the action to one little village.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

I, For One, Welcome the Prying Eyes of our Model-Aircraft-Flying Overlords

Listening to:

Bathtub Gin by Phish, from the 30 December, 2010 concert. (See Marco Arment on Phish for more on these guys.)

Flying a Quadcopter-Mounted Camera

This is super-awesome stuff (and the video is pretty typical I think; I’m sure there are lots of people doing just the same sorts of things all over the rich world). The technology is way cool, but it’s also amazing that the technology to do this is now within the hands of “ordinary people”.

(From this blog-post.)

It’s also all rather disturbing to imagine where this might end up. Yes, there are already some regulations in place (see the comments on the blog post). Yes, the little UAVs are still pretty large and obvious as they fly around. But when they get small and quiet, and so much harder for normal people to detect, will people be flying them around willy-nilly, completely ignoring the various regulations?

I get the impression that the rules in place today are there to prevent people getting hurt by largish objects crashing into them. But when the objects are not so large, the risk of physical harm is rather lower. It is then that society runs the risk of having the “less moral” destroying privacy by spying on people just “because they can”.

Certainly, things will get interesting. I have no idea how society will evolve to deal with this, but I’m pretty certain that it will need dealing with. I don’t imagine the technological clock will get dialled back, so the question becomes: “What will the counter-measures be?” People lock their doors to deter burglary, but society does a lot of other things too: it generally tries to teach its children not to steal, and it uses police forces and criminal punishment too.

Are there plausible technological ways of countering miniature flying spies? What will the laws look like? Will people respect them, or observe them mainly in the breach? What will that do to our own intuitions about privacy?