September 20th, 2004



Perhaps not, mon ami. I was awake very early this morning (but then again I was in bed at a quarter to ten) and tuned into the World Service. The news from 5 is one of my favourite news segments: plenty of info, not all about whitey. I may still be half-dozing, but was that really an item I heard about a possible smoking ban in France? If there's one country I can't help but associate with fags, it's France. In the post-pissoir, blonde tobacco world, France has lost much of its urine-Gauloises tang, but that is the smell I'll always remember. Cross-channel ferry, pop the windows in Calais, Le Havre, Cherbourg and there it would be. The unmistakable scent of différence. So that's gone and now it seems that France may soon follow Ireland, Sweden et al in banning smoking in public places. It will happen, but I'm sure that the French won't disappoint in staging a series of strikes, demonstrations and other actions along the way. If I had the money, I'd invest a small amount in producing a series of face masks of celebrated French puffers. They could sell quite well, especially if they offered some limited NBC protection.

I've worked in a few retail establishments over the years. There was a year in Boots, back in '86. Then a year at Tower Records in the mid 90's and, most recently, I worked at a shop called Au Ciel selling chocolate, cakes and such to the ladies of Dulwich Village. When people stop me in the street and say "Sarmoung, what the heck is it you do, anyway?", these days I generally describe myself as a post-graduate historian. Maybe not for much longer. I'm not going to go into it here as yet, the specifics are being held close to my chest, but I may soon be running my own shop. Where? What? Why? When? I'll let you know in due course. I wouldn't be surprised if the shop contained a Zihotch or two though...

Well, I do think it should contain a wide variety of reading matter. In a correspondence I have enjoyed of late, one subject that came up was our respective choice of books within hand's (hands'?) reach of the sitter. In addition to various novels and essays, I have a few copies of The Saturday Evening Post from the 1960's which I found on a Mayfair pavement a couple of years ago.

The magazines date from a world before the digitisation of media. There's no Photoshop or Quark or what-have-you. The colours are gorgeous. It's a saturated technicolor world of liquor (Old Taylor 86), cigs ("It's hard for a writer to give up smoking: here's how I cut from 4 packs to 0 in 5 days" by Quentin Reynolds - "Bantron Smoking Deterrent Tablets" - which seem to be lobeline sulphate, the Marlboro Cowboy with exclusive Selectrate filter, a housewife with black eye - "Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch") cars (Wide-Track Pontiac Le Mans, the new Chevrolet El Camino, GMC trucks, Ford: "Night had fallen over the kingdom when the little princess and her guardians arrived in a magic chariot. Magic, because all the bumps disappeared under the sorcery of a wider tread, and longer springs. A fairy tale? Test-drive a new Falcon Squire and let it cast its spell on you") and household appliances (Tappan Fabulous 400 Reach-In Oven, Kelvinator, "New Sylvania Dynamic America TV - outstanding performance and styling at a truly sensible price. New Power Stream Chassis. 23" Bonded Screen. Lo-boy, Early American, contemporary cabinet in walnut veneers, selected hardwoods". Think Far From Heaven. I can't say I think much of the Post's political line, but here's a short piece from the Editorial section at the back (November 23, 1963, Issue No. 41, p. 96):

By The Numbers
It's getting so that life is just a numbers game: serial numbers, digit-dialing numbers, license numbers, Social Security numbers, bank-account numbers and ZIP-code numbers. A popular movie is called , and the newest character in "Peanuts" is 555 95472, or 5 for short. His sisters are 3 and 4. The poor children's father was under the influence of area codes and ZIP codes when he renamed them.

The numbers game has had the opposite effect on us. We are outnumbered. There are so many numbers to remember that we spend half our time searching through our wallet trying to find the number on our supermarket identification card to cash a check, or going back to the phone book to look up a number that is too long to remember.

There was a time when our telephone number was three digits - 667. The operator, whom we called "Central," was a friendly human being who personally placed every call. If you didn't know the number, the name would do. To call out of town, you said "long distance" and dumped the whole problem in the ear of this helpful soul.

Now, in the name of progress, it is every man for himself. Call long distance and you can dial directly, without the help of any mortal being. All you have to do is remember 10 numbers, if you can find them. If it turns out you have to talk with another person in the same office, it is easier to call Hong Kong than to have the call transferred.

The result of this numbers-happiness no doubt will be a world like alphabet soup with digits instead of letters. Peoplle will say, "Four, nine, three, six five," and clever conversationalists will reply, "Zero two, nine eight eight seven."

In journalism there is a number that is used to end a story. That number is 30, and that is what we would like to say to the business of turning names and everything else into numbers. 30.

When people stop me in the street, often they ask, "Sarmoung, do you have any favourite websites?" Okay, so no one actually stops me in the street unless they're panhandling, but that aside. The answer is not really. But here's a couple I encountered recently.

The first is Shoboshobo, which I learned of through Momus journal. There's not a huge amount there, but I do like their free OSX icons. Very nice.

The second is Levitated. I think I did once see something on this site a while back, but I was busy tracking something else and didn't investigate further. It's math-meets-Flash and I think it's inspired, simple/complex and provoking. There's also a lot of it and it's all open source.

*In case this title is one knight's move too far, Maido is Osaka dialect for hello. John Maeda is at the MIT Media Lab and well worth reading/looking into. He's clearly an influence on Jared Tarbell of Levitated.