From the vaults: Tutti Frutti

This piece originally appeared in Deek Magazine on September 23, 2005.

Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia. The Deep South (like most of America) was a wild place in those days. Richard’s father was a preacher and a bootlegger, selling hooch and salvation as an adherent of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church — a sect of Christianity founded by a farmer named William Miller, who once wrote a book with the unwieldy title, Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843.

Richard spent his youth on the dirt street where hustlers of all types would hang out in the hot, dusty Georgia afternoons, singing to snare marks and move goods. There were old men with vegetable carts, ward heelers making the rounds, soap box preachers selling religion… people hustled whatever they had to get by.

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Condo at the End of the World

A new breed of survivalist is wealthy, educated, and plans to ride out 2012 in style

Somewhere in the old Cincinnati-Dayton Defense Area that spans Southwest Ohio and Southeast Indiana sits a $1.5 million “man cave.” I made my way to the site on a warm fall morning with Google Maps and GPS coordinates supplied by my real estate advisers, Matthew and Leigh Ann Fulkerson of 20th Century Castles, LLC. Built in a decommissioned Nike missile site, the residence boasts a kitchen, four bedrooms, two baths, an exercise room, indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, and an elevator for lowering the owner’s classic automobiles below the surface. On clear days, the doors that once exposed anti-ballistic missile for launch can be opened to let sunshine penetrate the otherwise dimly lit basement.

Continue reading at The Verge

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick

Kevin Mitnick is a liar. In fact, he wrote the book on lying (well, a book on lying, called The Art of Deception). I’m not trying to call his character into question, but the fact should be noted. In his younger days, Mitnick’s obsession with exploring telephone and computer systems allowed him to maintain a very casual relationship with the truth, one that found him impersonating cops and telephone company employees alike. His hacking was always more than just knowing his way around an operating system and exploiting security vulnerabilities — he could think on his feet and weave fictions out of thin air, which made him a natural “social engineer.” He probably spent as much time on the phone talking telephone companies and state agencies out of sensitive information as he did behind the keyboard, exploiting vulnerabilities in software.

While we can’t be certain of the extent of his exploits, an approximate list could include: breaking into computer systems owned by Sun Microsystems, DEC, NEC, Motorola, and Nokia; getting his hands on documents relating to Pacific Bell’s SAS (Switch Access Services, which could be used to wiretap phone lines); and of course a number of crimes related to his being a fugitive (including identity theft). Mitnick has always maintained that he never profited from his crimes — and there is no proof that he ever did. So how did he become “the most dangerous hacker in America?”

Continue reading on The Verge

The children of the Marx Brothers and Rambo

It’s 8am-ish (2pm-ish in Paris) and thirty-six degrees. I’m looking forward to a new episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia tonight. That show’s good for the soul. The characters have little use for consensus reality, so they’ve gone ahead and formed their own consensus (created a new reality). Sure, their delusion is only a symptom of a bigger problem, but who cares? Most great artists are “great” because they’re nuts. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Unless you consider the folks behind Reverend Jim great artists (except for Jimbo Belushi, of course — he’s top notch; really, really great).

But yeah, the Sunny gang… Every episode brings a new world, one that they suck everyone else into. And when they create new realities, new perceptions, it’s not the result of academia or heavy-handed anything, artsy-fartsy avante-garde bullshit, it’s the result of enthusiasm, lots and lots of enthusiasm, and naivete, bordering on the criminally stupid. They’re creating spectacles! Situations that can’t be analyzed away because they’re counter-intuitive, utterly goofy, and they defy analyses.

We could learn a thing or two from the gang. Because while the escapades they engage in turn the world upside-down, the characters responsible remain unchanged, pure. They’re the heirs of the Marx Brothers, raised in the age of Rambo.

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How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop

How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop
by Dave Tompkins (Stop Smiling Books; $35)

World War II increased the rate of human innovation to a pace unseen in any other period of history. New technology from the era includes everything from synthetic rubber to the atomic bomb to magnetic audio tape, which the Germans successfully kept secret until the war’s end. After the Reich fell, Lt. Jack Mullin of the US Army Signal Corps shot footage outside of Hitler’s home, grabbed one of the Fuhrer’s piano strings for a souvenir, and brought two AEG Magnetophons (along with fifty reels of Farben recording tape) back with him to the states. He then sold a reel-to-reel tape recorder to Bing Crosby, revolutionizing broadcasting and music-making in the process. Another device that made its debut in World War II only to be later adopted by the entertainment industry is the Vocoder.

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Presenting the Bad Ideas Department mixtape for July, 2010:

  • Rolling Stones: Sing This All Together
  • Big Hurry: Save Your Breath (Left of the Dial mix)
  • A Guy Called Gerald: Voodoo Ray
  • The Juan MacLean: Give Me Every Little Thing
  • Giorgio Moroder: Utopia – Me Giorgio
  • Big Hurry: Tell Me (Electric Vocoder mix)
  • Tiga: (Far From) Home
  • The Fantastics: Ego Tripping
  • Sweet: Fox On The Run
  • Big Hurry: Paper Trails (South Side Sound Machine mix)
  • King Tubby: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
  • Lou Reed: Wagon Wheel
  • Le Tigre: Hot Topic
  • Bow Wow Wow: Mile High Club
  • Transvolta: Disco Computer
  • Big Hurry: Radio (Scott Simons mix)
  • Happy Mondays: W.F.L. (Wrote For Luck)
  • Tippa Irie: All The Time The Lyric A Rhyme
  • Ultramagnetic MCs: Traveling At The Speed Of Thought
  • Joshua Ryan: The Interview Is Over
  • Big Hurry: Silver Screens (Clash mix)
  • The Beach Boys: Do It Again

The Rebellion at Foxconn

Foxconn Technology Group is the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components worldwide. If you own something by Apple, Nokia, HP, Dell, or if you own a Kindle, a game console, or anything with an Intel motherboard, it was probably made at Foxconn. The company’s main manufacturing plant is located in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, a sprawling compound described by the Wall Street Journal as “The Forbidden City of [Foxconn CEO] Terry Gou.” Something like 400,000 employees live and work there, work that proceeds at a pace that a Chinese journalist named Liu Zhiyi (writing for Southern Weekend) describes as transforming you into “a component that’s entered the assembly line, just following the rhythm, belonging to that heartbeat at 4am, no way to escape.” While certainly poetic, this also goes some way to explain the twelve-plus employee suicide attempts so far this year (I think we might be up to sixteen or seventeen now — at least ten of which have been successful). It’s gotten so bad that the technology site Engadget (where I am a contributing editor) has been keeping a sort of suicide watch, while my colleagues at the Computex trade show in Taipei were greeted upon their arrival by protesters branding Apple CEO Steve Jobs an “OEM profit bloodsucker.”

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Rough notes on politics and Playbook

FOUCAULT: Your question is: why am I so interested in politics? But if I were to answer you very simply, I would say this: why shouldn’t I be interested? That is to say, what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject to our existence, that is to say the society in which we live, the economic relations within which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct. The essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves.

This is the thought process of someone with perspective. An activist might say something similar: someone who has no other recourse than to fight for justice. This is Politics as Self Defense, really.

What we get from Washington, however, however, is Politics as Sport.

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Being There or We are all Chance the Gardener

From Roger Ebert’s review of Being There:

The movie’s implications are alarming. Is it possible that we are all just clever versions of Chance the gardener? That we are trained from an early age to respond automatically to given words and concepts? That we never really think out much of anything for ourselves, but are content to repeat what works for others in the same situation?

The last words in the movie are, “Life is a state of mind.” So no computer will ever be alive. But to the degree that we are limited by our programming, neither will we. The question is not whether a computer will ever think like a human, but whether we choose to free ourselves from thinking like computers.

They don’t make ‘em like Being There anymore… unlike so many movies now, this one really breathes. This is my ideal type of comedy / satire: strange, thoughtful, and a little uncomfortable. And in Hal Ashby’s hands it is relaxed, but it’s never ponderous. I cringe at the thought of what most directors would do with this one had it been released in 2009 instead of 1979.

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Shoplifting Malcolm McLaren

Today Macolm McLaren’s funeral procession made its way through the streets of North London and onto Highgate Cemetery. According to the NME, the coffin, stenciled with the words “Too fast to live, too young to die,” like one of the artist’s many t-shirts, “was drawn by four black horses in full funeral regalia.” The coffin was followed by a Routemaster (the iconic English double decker bus), whose destination was marked “Nowhere,” just like one of Jamie Reid’s graphics. The whole thing, including a PA that blasted various “punk anthems” (including Sid Vicious’s renditions of Rock Around The Clock and My Way, the latter being Paul Anka’s favorite, incidentally) was met by hundreds of unruly fans at the Camden Town tube station.

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