So, farewell then, John

So sad to ponder what could have been.

John Sessions: Stephen Fry leads tributes to ‘lovable’ comedianBBC News
“When I left Rada, my plan was to try and do two careers at once – to be a comedian and an actor,” he told The Guardian in 2014. “For some years, I managed to juggle the two, but I never felt I joined either club.”

He went on to star in a string of his own BBC TV shows, such as a self-titled solo improvisation series in the late 1980s, followed by John Sessions’s Tall Tales and John Sessions’s Likely Stories. But he never quite achieved the stardom of his friends Branagh and Stephen Fry. He said he “ran out of steam” when he turned 40. “As I was getting older, I wasn’t getting more confident, I was getting less confident,” he told The Guardian. “I lost my way.”

John Sessions: a brilliantly unhinged, self-effacing geniusThe Guardian
Stella Street is a metaphor for Sessions’ career – comic genius, too often sidelined or ignored. It was the fate of many of the Whose Line Is It Anyway? crew – Tony Slattery notably but even Stephen Fry, whose generous talents have been loosely strewn. It is the Peter Cook syndrome: the imagination is so great, the possibilities so enticing, that they cannot easily be fitted into a conventional commercial box.

So, farewell then, Argos catalogue

Some sad news via Bill Bailey.

Argos axes ‘book of dreams’ catalogue after 48 yearsBBC News
“The laminated book of dreams,” was how comedian Bill Bailey jokingly described the plastic-coated Argos catalogue. But 48 years on from its launch, the catalogue is finally coming to an end. The encyclopedia-like catalogues, the basis of many a child’s Christmas wishlist, will no longer be regularly printed by the end of the January 2021.

And I see that the link to the catalogues from the 70s onwards that I shared last October has gone now, too. What a shame.

Update 01/08/2020

Here’s a working link (for now, at least) to that back catalogue, via things magazine.

So, farewell then, Christo

Some time in the 90s, I was convinced, absolutely convinced, that I had come across a secret Christo within the grounds of the University of Leeds. Of course it turned out just to be some wrapped scaffolding for a building renovation project. It did look pretty cool, though, and gave me just an inkling of what looking at the Reichstag (and perhaps still the Arc de Triomphe?) might have been like.

Christo (1935–2020)Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known as Christo, passed away of natural causes today, on May 31, 2020, at his home in New York City. He was 84 years old. Statement from Christo’s office: “Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork brought people together in shared experiences across the globe, and their work lives on in our hearts and memories.

How the visionary artist Christo (RIP) changed the way we see the worldOpen Culture
After removing the wrapping from the Biscayne Bay islands, a project he called “my Water Lilies” in honor of Claude Monet,” Christo remarked that Surrounded Islands lived on, “in the mind of the people.” So too will Christo live on—remembered by millions as an artist who did things no one else would ever have conceived of, much less carried out.

The story behind Christo′s ′Wrapped Reichstag′DW
In 1978, Christo presented a model of a veiled Reichstag at the Zurich Museum für Gestaltung (Museum of Design). Despite the troubled history of the structure built in the late 19th century under Kaiser Wilhelm II, Christo saw it as a symbol of freedom: the Republic was proclaimed there in 1918. Freedom had been a recurring theme in Christo’s art since his escape from communist Bulgaria in 1951.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrap Up the Reichstag – Tate
Walking on Water: Christo’s Floating Piers – DW News
ART/ARCHITECTURE Christo – The School of Life
Christo on the Quai de la Tournelle, Paris, 1962. Photo: Jeanne-Claude

So, farewell then, EU

My first post tagged Brexit was in 2016, looking at the higher education angle. Since then, I’ve shared nearly 40 more, and here we are, our final day as members of the European Union, spending our 50p coins on tea towels.

The full story didn’t start in 2016, however. This comprehensive yet accessible look at the history of this struggle—how to balance control and influence—starts with Atlee in the 60s, and continues with Thatcher in the 70s and 80s, and Maastricht in the 90s.

Why Britain BrexitedThe Atlantic
The conservative British-American historian Niall Ferguson regards Brexit as beginning not with the 2016 referendum but with this period, with Britain’s decision not to follow much of the rest of the EU into the euro. “Britain was an equal and voluntary member of a very loose and voluntary confederation until European leaders tried to turn it into something more like a federation,” he told me. “Brexit was a logical conclusion.” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, agrees: “Britain emerged [from Maastricht] having secured exceptions from those bits of the treaty it most opposed. Yet Maastricht represented a turning point in our relationship with European integration and contributed, albeit indirectly, to our decision to leave.”

So what happens now? All change? Not so much, at first.

Brexit explained: how it happened and what comes nextThe Guardian
British passport holders will continue to be able to travel and work in the EU because the country remains in the single market for the transition period up to 31 December and the freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital over borders applies until then.

Give it a few months, though, and Brexit will be all over the news once more.

Brexit: here’s what happens nextThe Conversation
By the end of June we will have had the first major dilemma: whether to extend the transition period or not. The withdrawal agreement includes the option to extend the negotiation period for one or two years but that decision must be made by July. Johnson has also already said he does not intend to extend.

Whether or not Johnson sticks to that pledge matters deeply. If there is no extension, then the rest of 2020 will become a race to conclude as much of an agreement as possible before the December 31 deadline. Given the Christmas break, that means getting to a text by mid-December, so that it can begin a provisional implementation. This means allowing much of the agreement to come into effect, while the ratification by both sides trundles on in the background.

Since this truncated timeline makes it harder to reach a comprehensive relationship, businesses and citizens will have to think about preparing themselves for a marked change of circumstances at the year’s end. In the worst case, with no agreement at all, that might look a lot like the no-deal scenarios that were much-discussed in 2019. Only Northern Ireland will have a cushion.

The road to Brexit: the lols and the lowsYouTube

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

So, farewell then, CEEFAX

Teletext was slow but it paved the way for the super-fast world of the internet
The BBC has announced that 2020 will mark the end of the Red Button text service – the final incarnation of what was originally known as CEEFAX and Oracle. Those old text-based TV services would seem ridiculously clunky and old-fashioned to an internet generation used to instant streaming and apps for everything. But – as slow and frustrating as that old text system was – it paved the way for the World Wide Web and helped prepare us for the world of social media.

A kind of internet but without social media — what could be better? It wasn’t quick though, was it?

When you fetch a web page, your browser sends a request to the server and the server sends the requested data back to you. CEEFAX, on the other hand, sent each page in turn, on a sort of endless loop. So you would put in the page number you wanted to see using your remote control, but it could take some time before that page came around again. It was a bit like waiting for your favourite sushi dish at one of those Japanese restaurants which use a conveyor belt to deliver the food, or your suitcase at an airport baggage claim.

Those were the days.

So, farewell then, iTunes

Technology, software, media — none of it stands still. Here’s something that’s been getting a lot of attention from the latest Apple updates.

The rise and fall of iTunes, Apple’s most hated app
The success of iTunes cannot be overstated; it outlived pretty much every other consumer-focused piece of software from its time (here’s to you, Winamp). Windows 10 users would search for iTunes so much in the Windows Store that Microsoft eventually convinced Apple to bring it to the store last year. Over the years, however, Apple’s original philosophy of providing a one-stop shop for all your media became iTunes’ greatest undoing by saddling the app with more and more baggage that’s eaten away at its usability. The world has moved on as ubiquitous connectivity, cloud storage, and streaming media became the norm. iTunes is still around as a legacy app for those who need it. But for everyone else, iTunes is now officially a thing of the past.

I’ve moved away from Apple things now, but back in the day iTunes was such a large part of it all for me, so it was nice to see a screenshot of the old version alongside its less familiar new look.

so-farewell-then-itunes-1

Winamp gets a mention there, which reminded me of this bookmark I’d kept from last year.

Winamp is coming back as an all-in-one music player
First released in 1997, Winamp was a popular freeware media player famous for its utilitarian music playback and its wealth of incredible community-made skins. It was acquired by AOL in 2002, then sold to Radionomy in 2014. The last time Winamp was updated was in 2013, so news that a revival is coming should be welcomed by longtime fans of the app.

Those were the days. We shouldn’t live in the past, though, should we? But before we say goodbye to all that, let me point you to this again.

Update: 12/09/2020

OK, just one more trip down memory lane.

Winamp Skin Museum
The Winamp Skin Museum is an attempt to build a fast, searchable, and shareable, interface for the collection of Winamp Skins amassed on the Internet Archive.

So, farewell then, 80s icons

Some sad news from earlier this month.

Magenta Devine, presenter of Network 7 and Rough Guide, dies aged 61
In addition to her TV work she was appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 1998, heading a campaign for women’s equality and reproductive rights. In the 1990s she was treated for a heroin addiction and declared bankruptcy in 2003. In a 1996 interview with the Guardian, Devine was asked how she would like to be remembered, replying: “Brilliant, witty, clever, beautiful, generous, sexy, wise. Well, that’s what I’d like …”

Magenta Devine: an 80s TV icon of effortless style and substance
Certainly, the moral effect her shades had on her was impressive. Unlike later yoof TV presenters such as Amanda De Cadenet she was never exposed as poorly briefed, gormless or self-absorbed. I was interviewed by her myself while working for Melody Maker (for an item about George Michael) and was impressed by her methodical calmness and discreet, unflappable intelligence. This could have been Joan Bakewell. Whether reporting from the frontline of an acid house event, or presenting an informative item on Dublin in her Rough Guide series or calmly putting a typically blustery, snarky John Lydon in his place, she was the appropriate frontperson for a style of TV which, initially at least, sprang from a good countercultural place, genuinely wishing to inform rather than patronise young people.

Later, of course, Yoof TV mutated into the dismal The Word, a braying freakshow for the Friday night back-from-the-pub crowd. But Devine had largely disappeared from our screens by then. She was very much of the 80s, stylish, attractive but never an object of the sort of boorish, sexist attention of the laddish 90s. She was forgotten; now that she has gone, however, she should be remembered as a representative of a lost era of TV idealism, when style and substance went hand in glove.

I’d forgotten all about Network 7 and just how much I loved it.

Magenta Devine, TV presenter, dies aged 61
According to Guha, Devine was representative of the “yoof” TV genre, “a new kind of television that had attitude, irreverence and a commitment to telling it like it is”. “I knew she was ill, but her death is a body blow,” he went on. “I have lost a soul mate and a partner in adventure.”

so-farewell-then-80s-icons-1

And news of another iconic sunglasses wearer from the 80s.

Mark Hollis, lead singer of Talk Talk, dies at age 64, reports say
Hollis’ influence has often been referenced by musicians, including Elbow’s Guy Garvey. “Mark Hollis started from punk and by his own admission he had no musical ability,” he told Mojo. “To go from only having the urge, to writing some of the most timeless, intricate and original music ever is as impressive as the moon landings for me.”

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It

What a song, so deceptively simple. Here, writer and musician Tom Maxwell gets to grips with Mark’s later work.

Remembering Mark Hollis of Talk Talk
Songwriter and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis died in late February. He was 64. I would love to say that I knew the man’s work beyond the 1984 synth-laden hit “It’s My Life,” but like many people, that was not the case. Knowing how much extraordinary music is available to audiophiles, as yet unheard, can be a concern as much as a comfort. It’s wonderful when a new star appears in your musical horizon, but how many are yet to be seen? Anyway, it’s doubly sad when an artist’s death is what leads you to marvelous art.

So, farewell then, Opportunity

15 years. That’s not bad at all.

NASA’s record-setting Opportunity Rover mission on Mars comes to end
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

Nasa confirms Mars rover Opportunity is dead
“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said. “What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays. It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”

A dust storm has killed NASA’s longest-lived Mars rover
In 2005, Opportunity overcame a sand trap and the loss of one wheel to arrive at the Victoria crater, a 2,400-foot hole that it explored for two years, finding features at its bottom again shaped by ancient water. It next explored the Endeavor crater, 13 miles away, starting in 2011. Most recently it had traversed a narrow valley leading down into the larger Endurance crater.

As this video from NASA shows, the Rover had been on an incredible trek these last 15 years.

Opportunity: NASA Rover completes Mars mission

Here’s xkcd’s surprisingly moving take on it.

so-farewell-then-opportunity

xkcd: Opportunity Rover
Thanks for bringing us along.

Absolutely.

So, farewell then, GeoCities. Again

Ten years after it shut down for the rest of us, Yahoo Japan has finally pulled the plug on its GeoCities service.

Yahoo Japan is shutting down its website hosting service GeoCities
The company said in a statement that it was hard to encapsulate in one word the reason for the shut down, but that profitability and technological issues were primary factors. It added that it was full of “regret” for the fate of the immense amount of information that would be lost as a result of the service’s closure. […]

The fact that GeoCities survived in Japan for so long speaks to the country’s idiosyncratic nature online. Despite the fact that Yahoo—which purchased GeoCities in 1999 for almost $4 billion at the peak of the dot.com boom—has fallen into irrelevance in much of the world, the company continues to be the dominant news portal in Japan. It still commands a sizeable market share in search, though it has steadily ceded its position to Google over the years.

So it goes.

So, farewell then, John Berger

05/11/1926 – 02/01/2017

Adrian Searle on John Berger: ‘Art for him was never apart from being alive’
He was a natural and one of the reasons Ways of Seeing was so good was that he never came over as the patrician smart-arse superior critic. He made you feel he was thinking on his feet, right there in front of you. John would screw up his face and affect an expression somewhere between bewilderment and anguish, before launching into an argument that seemed to arrive fully formed. He was enormously compelling.

How John Berger taught us to see
Talking with John is enormously pleasurable but quite strenuous. There is no bullshit. He has changed his life so radically and so often because he cannot bear idle conversation. Suddenly everything you say becomes more weighted because John is a great listener. You talk and he listens and, often quite slowly responds. But both the listening and the response are so charged that you feel you are in a heightened form of conversation and that John’s attention makes you more intelligent, more consequent.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)

So, farewell then, App.net

app-netI’ve decided to cancel my app.net subscription. In the little please-tell-us-why-you’re-leaving box I put something about not feeling geeky or technie enough to feel I belong there.

I like their we-are-selling-our-product-not-our-users thing, and I really loved the founder’s podcast about business models and Instagram’s recently difficulties, but I just don’t feel that I’m getting enough out of the service to justify the cost. I don’t have a smart phone with which to experiment with all the apps, I’m not especially social with my social media and I wouldn’t recognise json if he hit me with an argonaut. There are only a few people I follow there anyway, and Google Reader will still help me catch what they’re saying and follow any of their links to anything interesting.

So I’m sticking with Twitter, though no idea why. I’m sure I’ve written about that before. And Facebook too, I guess, though this tweet from @nickbilton sums things up quite well.

So, farewell then, typewriter

UglyA sad day perhaps, but if we’re being honest, those modern typewriters look bloody awful. The BBC article talks of typewriters holding “a special place in the hearts of members of the public”, but I’m guessing that applies to only certain typewriters and certain generations of the public. I loved the ones I had, but can not imagine, as a student, say, completing a dissertation with one. I know others did, but jeez, can you imagine?

UK’s ‘last typewriter’ produced