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Hidden iPod controls revealed

Apple Inc. is renowned for hiding delicious features in its computers and gadgets, little operating system ‘easter eggs’ that pop up one day when you least expect it to enrich your computing life in subtle but important ways.

I recently discovered a new way of controlling an iPod without laying a finger on the scrollwheel. Mine is a 5th generation video iPod, so your mileage may vary (or as the computer geeks say, ‘YMMV’).

Step one: Travel on public transport. Find a seat next to the window, or otherwise ensure that your iPod is in your pants pocket on the side of your body nearest to a vacant seat.

Step two: Wait for an obese person to sit next to you.

Step three: Marvel at the genius of Steve Jobs as the pressing of your fellow passenger’s arse-flesh against your iPod causes tracks to skip backwards, forwards, pause and suddenly play at unbearable levels of volume.

Hilary Mantel on the lure of the unexplained

"To many of us, a great deal of what we encounter daily is unexplained. It is possible to have received a good education and know nothing of science or technology."

Compendium of lost words

A list of over 400 of the rarest modern English words, including a long list of unusual adjectives of relation.

How we work

The habits, rituals and small (and occasionally big) methods people use to get their work done. Includes a number of writers and artists.

Victorian history blog

I'm a sucker for Victoriana; the juxtaposition of grime and ornament, technology and the primitive, manners and monsters. Here's a fantastic blog offering glimpses into Victorian life, by an Australian but with a focus on Victorian London.

Old is the new new

This blog by a historian and 'robot fancier' purports to "drop history like Galileo dropped the orange", so it's clearly down with it, homes, as well as being educational.

Fabulating the Australian desert: Australia’s lost race romances, 1890-1908

A look at the bizarre adventure-romance novels set in the Australian interior at the turn of the twentieth century, including George Firth Scott’s The Last Lemurian.

From canvas town to Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne in colonial children's novels.

Time for an Armitage Shanks armistice?

Being the water wise people we are, we have a bucket in our shower to collect water for the garden. I’m not sure how our plants feel about being hydrated with our icky bodily run-off, but they’re not really in a position to make demands. (After all, when a drought’s on, bougainvillaeas can’t be choosers.)

Ours isn’t a huge shower, but I’m fine with the bucket being there, as long as it’s in the corner to the front of me and to the right; that is; opposite the door, and at the furthest distance from the taps and showerhead.

It seems, however, that every time I step into the shower (usually daily, I’m quite the metrosexual), the previous user of the shower (whom I shall here refer to as ‘the lady of the house’ or ‘m’lady’) has moved the bucket to a less favourable corner. That is to say, the corner opposite the door, but closest to the taps and showerhead.

This I find vexing, as it frequently results in brief but nevertheless undesirable contact between the rim of the bucket and my right calf. And so I move the bucket to my preferred corner — and there it stays until the lady of the house comes to use the shower again.

On one such occasion I wondered if, despite my disquiet about m’lady’s preferred position for the bucket, I should return the receptacle there once my showering is complete. But then I reasoned that if we both moved the bucket to our preferred corner and left it there, we would be sharing the burden equally. If I alone moved the bucket back and forth each time, m’lady would never have to move it, and that’s clearly no way to achieve equality between the sexes.

This reminded me of a formulation I conceived many years ago concerning the most appropriate default position (vertical or horizontal) for a toilet seat in a multisex sharehouse or office. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to a sharehouse or office in which there are members of both sexes, not one that plays host to a multitude of sex acts, necessarily.)

A frequent complaint about men is that they leave the toilet seat up. This is presented as no mere negligence on the man’s part, but as a deliberate, calculated act whose barbaric intent can be equated with that of clubbing a seal or harpooning a whale.

Let me suggest that if there are an equal number of men and women sharing a toilet (not simultaneously, just to be clear), and each person places the toilet seat either up or down according to preference and need, then leaves the seat in that position upon the completion of their transaction, the burden between the sexes is equally shared, as in the shower and bucket example above.

If anything, the males in this equation come out second best, since a proportion of their toilet usage will, one hopes, require the seat to be down. It would be unusual for such a visitor to lift the seat again once full satisfaction has been achieved; therefore, assuming the next visitor is female, they will find to their delight that the seat is in the optimal (ie. horizontal) position and not in the hysteria-inducing vertical position.

My point, elaborately made, is this. All other things (number of men using the toilet relative to number of women, regularity of bladder and bowel emptying, attentiveness to the position of the toilet seat and appropriate dealing therewith, etc) being equal, for every instance of a toilet seat having to be lowered following a previous visitor’s upright urination, there will be a slightly greater number of instances of a toilet seat having to be raised.

If anything, men should be complaining about the toilet seat being down all the time. After all, the consequences of accidentally sitting in a seatless toilet are mild embarrassment and the possibility of acquiring a chill (and perhaps some bruising) around the rump; the consequences of accidentally making use of a toilet from the upright position while the seat is down include, but are not limited to, getting piss everywhere.

In visible ink

Just a quick note to say that I have a story in ‘Junk’, this year’s Visible Ink anthology, published by students of the Professional Writing & Editing course at RMIT. Some wonderful stories (mine possibly not included) and wonderful design (love the perfectly balanced typography on the cover, minor quibbles over the line-length of the internal text).

My story is called ‘Great Hoaxes of the Twentieth Century and Beyond’ and reveals a few things you might not know about Orson Welles. You can find out not much at all at the Visible Ink website.

Copyright remains with the authors so I may eventually put the story up on the site, though I’d urge you to buy a copy if you see it around. Anthologies like this make for great holiday season reading.

“I can’t stand the confusion in my mind!”

There’s an episode in the third series of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer in which Buffy becomes infected with demonic blood and gains the demon’s ability to hear people’s thoughts. At first she finds this new power amusing, entertaining, even useful; but by the end of Act II, Buffy is overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices in her head and falls unconscious in the school cafeteria.

I was reminded of this when I happened upon Twittervision, which is a Google Maps/Twitter mashup tracking the latest tweets from around the world. (more…)

Girls, guns and ghouls

Evil midgets, lecherous men with x-ray eyes, and sadistic hot-rod driving go-go dancers. Is that a promise, Boris?

Passive aggressors, it’s time to kill your demons (or fairies, in this case)

It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe me, in my weaker moments, as having a passive aggressive temperament. It’s a maligned trait; people would much rather you be aggressive aggressive. That way you get everything out in the open. People may get maimed or killed, but at least everyone knows where they stand. (Or not, if there’s been maiming and killing.)

Aggressive aggression led to two world wars during the twentieth century, and countless other territorial and religious conflicts throughout the ages. One wonders how the world might be different if Hitler had merely stood at the border of the Sudatenland, glowering across Western Europe and wearing a ‘Fine, keep your lebensraum’ T-shirt.

However, there are times when I can see the unhealthy and unattractive side of passive aggression. One manifestation of it in particular makes me pity and despise the passive aggressor. You may have encountered it yourself. It’s when someone in your workplace or sharehouse puts up one of those trite, sarcastic and judgmental notices concerning the kitchen fairy (more specifically, the non-employment thereof on the premises).

I’ve seen numerous examples of the kitchen fairy notice, most recently a version in the form of a job advertisement. I can only presume that a simple ‘Please clean your dishes’ notice would fail to a) achieve the desired outcome, b) fill the author with the requisite degree of self-righteousness or c) deliver quite the same Martin-Luther-nailing-his-95-Theses-to-the-Wittenburg-church-door feeling.

Wicked tpyos

When you work in publishing, you live in a state of constant anxiety that you might be responsible for letting a really nasty typo into the wild. I used to proofread telephone directories (oh the glamour) and can still recall the cold, knifing fear that ran through me when it appeared that we’d included the wrong mobile phone number in a paid advertisement for an erotic masseur. The masseur was OK about it, but the owner of the mobile phone, who was not an erotic masseur and had no interest in changing careers in that direction, threatened to sue.

Fortunately, the error was not mine, and I was able to obtain not only the correct phone number but also, subsequently and consequently, the pleasures of a highly relaxing massage.

I doubt the same soothing ministrations were available to English printer Robert Barker when he left out a fairly crucial appearance of the word ‘not’ in the 1631 edition of the King James Bible. Crucial because the ‘not’ was part of the Seventh Commandment in Exodus 20:14, which normally reads ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ — but in Barker’s edition became a commandment of a much more liberating nature.

Barker’s bible became known as the ‘Wicked Bible’. (Wicked as in devilish, not as in ‘Gnarly dude, thanks for the God-sanctioned sex-action’.) Barker wasn’t sued, but he was fined — something like £300, which pretty much destroyed him.

He did, however, manage to squeeze in several weeks of Bible-approved fornicatin’ before a replacement edition was printed.

London Illustrated News pictures online

The London Illustrated News was the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper. This image library features a selection of woodcut illustrations from the newspaper dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

Pirates and printers

A brief account of book smuggling in the British Isles in the late eighteenth century.

Turn to page x if you want to LOL

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as much as the next fat kid with no friends, but I truly wish we’d had these versions back in the day. [via Thinkings Of A Lili]

Facebook hangover

First there’s all the fun of adding wacky information about yourself to your Facebook profile.

Then comes the slow realisation that anyone — current or prospective employers, the police, animal rights activists — can now discover that you’re interested in ‘nude performance art’, ‘cockfighting’ and ‘nude cockfighting as performance art’.

Then begins the guilty, remorseful process of deleting the offending material before it gets noticed by anyone in a position to strip you of your job, your liberty or your afterlife.

A Monday morning sea shanty

I was walking down my street this morning when I heard a tune both mournful and carnivalesque.

Around the corner walked a crusty, withered old rake playing some sort of sea shanty on a mouth organ. He wore a dark navy overcoat and tugged upon his grubby sailor’s cap as we bade each other good morning.

I thought how splendid it was that he was providing his own entertainment. I thought, “Wow, that’s so much better than carrying an iPod around”.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, you can’t listen to a podcast commentary of last night’s episode of Doctor Who on a mouth organ.”

Sculpture vulture

Here are a few of our favourite pieces from the field at the latest Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award at Werribee Park.

We thought the quality was a bit down on previous years but it always makes for a noice day out.

The sculpture above is called ‘Happy Endings’. I’m pretty sure the smile is an exact replica of the face from an old BASIC program for the Tandy TRS-80. Either that or it’s the evil computer Miles from Electric Dreams.

We can’t remember what this sculpture was called but we liked it. Feel free to call it ‘Wood Balls’ — I have.

I thought this was going to be a mother with baby but it’s actually a lonely child sitting at the edge of a playground while the other children play Murderball.

These are mortality statistics made from old railway signage. There are mirrors interlarded among the statistics — you walk up and see yourself as a number. A cheery thought when you’re munching on your cucumber sandwiches*.

* We weren’t actually eating cucumber sandwiches (the cucumber sandwich shop was closed)