24 October 2014

Democratised connectivity & modern conflict

Connectivity has huge effects on conflict: democratizing and weaponizing communications technology, and putting into the hands of individuals a suite of lethal tools that used to belong only to nation-states.

In August 2011, for example, in the Libyan coastal city of Misrata, school children used mobile phones to mark Gaddafi regime sniper positions on Google Earth, allowing French warships off the coast to target them. In the same battle, rebels used smartphone compass apps and online maps to adjust rocket fire in the city's streets. Syrian fighters use iPads and Android phones to adjust mortar fire, and video game consoles and flat-screen TVs to control homemade tanks. Snipers use iPhone apps and cellphone cameras to calculate, then record, their shots.

The technology writer John Pollock has brilliantly described the role of online activists in the Arab Spring, not only for political mobilization, but also for logistics and tactical coordination -- as in April 2011 when Libyan rebels, at night in the open field, planned an assault on a rocket launcher via a multinational Skype hookup. None of this would have been possible a decade ago.

This democratized connectivity will increasingly allow distant players to participate directly in conflicts. For nation-states, we see this "remote warfare" trend in the Predator remotely piloted aircraft, which can be flown from the other side of the planet through satellite uplinks. But non-state groups can play the same game: In 2009, Iraqi insurgents pointed ordinary satellite TV dishes at the sky, then used Skygrabber, a $26 piece of Russian software, to intercept the Predator uplink. The guerrillas had hacked the Predators's control system, far easier than shooting down the actual aircraft.

- Dr David Kilcullen, 'The Future of War? Expect to see urban, connected, irregular 'zombie' conflicts', Foreign Policy 'Best Defence' blog, 28 May 2014

22 October 2014

Doomed in his innocence in the sun

Tonight I enjoyed watching Bruce Dern in Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running for the first time - an influential 1972 ecological sci-fi film. But the soundtrack just goes to show how tastes can date - what would be the modern equivalent of a film featuring such jarringly awful songs as those sung by Joan Baez, like this one?

Trumbull, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials in the movie world, having been the special photographic effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey and also having worked on effects for such films as The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner and more recently Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.

See also:
Movies: Children of Men, 21 January 2014
Movies: Contagion, 13 November 2011
TV: 'When We Left Earth', 26 October 2009 

21 October 2014

Two films by Walter Ruttmann

One advantage of enjoying films from the archives of silent cinema is that those films are often available online to share with others. Such is the case for the two German films I saw last night at the Film Society screening in Wellington. The two 1920s 'portrait' films shown, both by the Frankfurt-born Walter Ruttmann, were the global gazetteer Melodie der Welt (Melody of the World) from 1929 and the Berlin-glorifying Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City) from 1927. Both were 'half-length' features, with Melodie running 49 minutes and Berlin just over an hour. Each has its own Germanic charms.

Melodie is hugely ambitious and must have taken ages to shoot, with its multitude of film imagery from all over the globe offering a hopeful view of human endeavour and the similarities amongst peoples. It's a hectic journey. For example, the film's third act contains parallel scenes including the start of a pampered, upper-class woman's day in Germany compared with that of a peasant worker in Southeast Asia, and illustrating how a geisha's hair is prepared, before hurrying on to a survey of languages of the world (with a smattering of humour in a moderately bizarre cameo from George Bernard Shaw asking some chap for directions to St Albans), meals of every type, dance and music, and the toil of work followed by the joy of returning home at the end of it. (Note if you're viewing the clip, the film does have a soundtrack - it's just the first few minutes that are silent).

The more focused Berlin is so busy and lively it should have been an inspiration for Richard Scarry's 'Cars & Trucks & Things That Go'. Berlin under Ruttmann's lens is a pumping, thriving mega-machine, churning out heavy industrial produce and shunting thousands of denizens in every direction through its massive train stations. It's a great example of documentary film-making and a wonderful record of a day in the life of a proud city before the 1929 stock market crash and the coming war swept so much away.

Ruttmann died in 1941 from injuries sustained during front-line action as a war photographer.

See also:
Movies: The Famous Five in German, 1 June 2014
Art: NZ posters by young German artists, 30 June 2012
Blog: My top 5 museums in Berlin, 24 June 2011

19 October 2014

Southward hood ornaments

Half a dozen shining harbingers of automotive luxury, from the collection of the Southward Car Museum on the outskirts of Paraparaumu, taken this afternoon. This sort of motoring garnish fell out of favour with car designers once people realised that they had a habit of impaling pedestrians involved in car accidents.

1935 Packard One-Twenty Sedan

1936 Hispano Suiza K6 Sedan

1930 Bentley 4.5 Litre Tourer

1934 Chevrolet Sedan

1954 Chevrolet 210 Sedan

1930 La Salle 8-Cylinder V Type
See also:
Blog: National Automobile Museum of Tasmania, 7 December 2013
Blog: Omaka Classic Car Collection, 29 January 2012
Blog: Southward Car Museum, 29 June 2009

18 October 2014

A little light blasphemy

(London, 1532. A gathering of merchants discusses civil disorder in the city:)

Humphrey Monmouth says, 'Shall we have our meeting first, and broker marriages later? We are concerned, Master Cromwell, as you must be, as the king must be ... we are all, I think', he looks around, 'we are all, now Bonvisi has left us, friendly to the cause for which our late brother Petyt was, in effect, a martyr, but it is for us to keep the peace, to disassociate ourselves from outbreaks of blasphemy...'

In on city parish last Sunday, at the sacred moment of the elevation of the host, and just as the priest pronounced, 'hoc est enim corpus meum', there was an outbreak of chanting, 'hoc est corpus, hocus pocus'. And in an adjacent parish, at the commemoration of the saints, where the priest requires us to remember our fellowship with the holy martyrs, 'cum Joanne, Stephano, Mathia, Barnaba, Ignatio, Alexandro, Marcellino, Petro...' some person had shouted out, 'and don't forget me and my cousin Kate, and Dick with his cockle-barrel on Leadenhall, and his sister Susan and her little dog Posset'.

He puts his hand over his mouth. 'If Posset needs a lawyer, you know where I am'.

'Master Cromwell,' says a crabbed elder from the Skinners' Company, 'you convened this gathering. Set us an example in gravity'.

- Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, London, 2009, p.384-5.

16 October 2014

Huge generalisations about women

Dylan Moran, from his 2004 standup DVD Monster: 'I don't want to make any huge generalisations about women - I'm not here to do that. It's vulgar. But all I'll say is that they have no feelings'.