Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives


BBC documentary about Mark Oliver Everett, of the Eels, trying to understand the theory of parallel worlds pioneered by his father Hugh Everett III, the quantum physicist.

I watched this when it first aired in 2007, but I only just discovered it has been made available to watch on Vimeo.


The Dunkirk Carnival


After the success of the turkey festival, Mike emailed me a month later to film the Dunkirk Carnival. First stop was Cité Europe, a shopping centre next to the French terminal of the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles. Mike was keen to stock up on few crates of Chilean Merlot, so along with my role as cameraman, I was deputised to Head of Carrying Wine Boxes.

We then headed to Dunkirk for the Fisherman’s Carnival, also known as ‘Les Trois Joyeuses’. The festival runs from late January to the middle of March and is one the biggest carnivals in northern France. Dating from the 18th century, it began as a feast and celebration before the fishermen of the town set sail for cod fishing in the dangerously icy Icelandic water. Many never made it back.

The main event takes place on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Participants of the carnival are known as the ‘Carnavaleux’. The men dress as women, with gravity defying padded bras and colourful wigs, most in full makeup, bright yellow raincoats and fishing waders. Many waved feather dusters and umbrellas in the air, which, (as far as I could gather), was some sort of reference to the English being effeminate. Blackface makeup seemed disconcertingly frequent, and although the participants claim it is tradition and has no social meaning, (as captured in this short documentary by Marie Neirynck), I can’t say I was overly convinced.

The parade usually lasts the best part of five hours, stretching across 6 km of Dunkirk’s streets. Mike explained that from what he’d heard the festival got pretty out of control, and if we got separated, I was to meet him at the Town Hall at 8pm. After about ten minutes I managed to lose Mike, and spent the next five hours wandering around Dunkirk trying not to get trampled in the scrum.

Dunkirk Fisherman's Carnival

It was during this shoot that I learned two very important facts - the first is that a brandishing a broadcast video camera is like owning a magic passport that gets you into practically anywhere, and second even if you don’t know any French, the phrase “Pardon! Télévision anglaise!” will part crowds like nobody’s business.

Thousands of people swarmed through the town’s narrow streets. The noise was incredible, pipes and drums combined with the deafening roars of crowds coming seemingly from everywhere in the town. Frequently stopping to refuel (drink), the Carnavaleux felt like an unstoppable force of feather boas and garters. I was kissed by two flamboyant gentlemen, flashed by a fat French man, and fell into the arms of an extremely attractive French woman for all too brief a time.

At one point, I was walking backwards getting shot of the crowds surging forward. I felt a bump behind me and realised with horror I’d backed into a wall, yet the vast crowd advanced on me. I was about to be crushed and submerged when, just in time, a hand reached down from the top of the wall, grabbed my jacket and half pulled, half dragged me up the wall to safety. My rescuer and I spent the next ten minutes sitting on the top of the wall watching the parade pass.

As evening approaches, the carnival descends on the square in front of the Dunkirk Town Hall. From the balcony, the Mayor appears as the crowd below demand “what they deserve,” and “Let the kippers free”. This last demand is answered by the Mayor and helpers throwing a thousand kippers to the crowd. The kipper throwing is said to symbolise the fisherman’s last meal before setting sail.

My notes include an email from Mike after the event which reads in part, “Hope the balls are better”. Thankfully, in the nine years since these events, I seem to have completely blanked out whatever happened to my balls.

No Comment


From Ed Smith’s latest piece in the New Statesman on the over importance journalists put on Social Media:

In December 2012, the Guardian revealed two facts about its online community… First, the newspaper website’s audited audience for the previous month was 70.5 million unique users. Second, the paper revealed that its site “publishes around 600,000 comments a month, with 2,600 people posting more than 40 comments a month”.

Thats 20% of online comments made by just 0.0037% readers. This is why the comments section on pretty much every website is best avoided. Actually, I’ve been using Steven Frank’s shutup.css tool for a few years which hides comments on many websites via a custom stylesheet. You shouldn’t be browsing without it.

On the subject of comments, I’ve always subscribed to the Daring Fireball line of thinking:

Comments, at least on popular websites, aren’t conversations. They’re cacophonous shouting matches. (Daring Fireball) is a curated conversation, to be sure, but that’s the whole premise.

Or more succinctly:

You write on your site; I write on mine.

This is my site, my name is up at the top. Thats why there are no comments here.

Replacing the Royal Family With Penguins


A few years ago I came up with an idea: replace the Royal Family with penguins. I know it sounds crazy, but stay with me here.

The reasons for removing the British Royal Family from power are probably best saved for another time, but I recommend Hamilton Nolan’s Gawker post, and Christopher Hitchens’ The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favourite Fetish.

So why penguins? Well, everybody loves penguins. They are cute, cuddly, endlessly entertaining, the best characters in Madagascar and the favourite lunchbox accoutrement of every decent British schoolchild. There are no National Security concerns, as penguins already have a track record of performing ceremonial roles. Sir Nils Olav is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard, and a King Penguin living in Edinburgh Zoo.

King Penguins would be the obvious choice, because they are already regal, although Emperor Penguins are another possibility. King Pingu the 1st would be a benevolent monarch, prone to swimming and waddling. Other benefits of a Penguin Monarchy include:

Most importantly however, they would be considerably more cost effective, than the existing House of Windsor.

When I originally proposed this idea, I contacted Duncan Bolton, Curator at Birdworld in Surrey to help with the costings.

Duncan estimated a cost, including fish, staffing, and vet costs, of approximately £1100 per year for each king penguin. As penguins are social animals (Birdworld has 12), we’d need several - so the new British Royal Family consisting of 12 king penguins roughly costs the tax payer £13,200 a year in total.

Coming up with a total cost for the royal family is tricky. According to Buckingham Palace, sustaining the royal family costs Britons 53 pence, per person per year. The total came to about 33.3 million pounds for 2012-2013.

However, Republic estimated total annual cost of the monarchy to taxpayers is £202.4m, around five times the official figure published by the royal household. The official figure excludes a number of costs, including round-the-clock security, lavish royal visits and lost revenue from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall.

Duncan couldn’t give me exact figures for penguin housing costs, but the 1999 build of Birdworld’s modest penguin enclosure build in 1999 came in at £2.4M with a life expectancy of about 20 years. For the sake of argument let’s assume that over 20 years the cost of making the Palace a visitor attraction with penguin enclosure will pay for itself.

A penguin based monarchy would cost 0.0002 pence, per person per year, which works out to 1 pence per 5000 people, per year. If we take the Palace’s figures at face value, then swapping to penguins saves more than 99.99% of the current cost of the monarchy.

In the age of austerity, we must make saving where we can - replacing the Royal Family with penguins is an option worth considering.

Creating Secure Disk Images on OS X


Given the questions around using TrueCrypt tonight, I thought I’d give you a quick explanation of using Secure Disk Images on OS X.

Open up the Disk Utility application, you can find this in Applications/Utilities/

Click the New Image button, or choose File > New > Blank Disk Image.

New Disk Image

Type a name in the Save As field, this will be what the file will be called. You then need to set Encryption to either 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, depending on how paranoid you are. You also need to set the Image Format to ‘Sparse Bundle Disk Image’. The click Create.

New Disk Image

Enter your password and the Disk Image is created, you can find it as an ejectable disk on your desktop. You can now start copying the files you wish to store into the image. When you are done, you can eject the disk.

Remember, if you copied files into the disk image, you should afterwards move the files from their original home to the trash and Securely Empty the Trash, (CMD + right-click on the trashcan icon and select ‘Secure Empty Trash’). Otherwise there wasn’t much point hiding them away as you can easily recover items deleted in the standard way.

Why use Sparse Bundle Disk Images?

Well two reasons, firstly a sparse disk image automatically expands in size, so if you create a 100MB disk image, you can put a 1MB file in it and it will take up much less space on the hard drive than the full 100MB container 1.

The second reason, is that a sparse bundle is a ‘band’ or collection of small files, (8 megabytes each), grouped together as one file. The benefit of this is mostly for back-up purposes; if you use Time Machine or any off site backup, then it will only need to backup the band(s) that have changed since the last backup.

NSA notwithstanding, disk images are secure, and there are no known security issues with them, therefore, if you forget the password of your file, the data stored within in the encrypted disk image cannot be retrieved.

  1. That said, it will not auto-contract. So if you add a massive file, then remove it, you will not regain any free space on your harddisk. You can use Terminal to compress the Image.