I got a new watch. Again. I bought my last watch in 2001. There was nothing wrong with it. However, Casio brought out a new version that drops the moon phase and tide graph, and instead has 5-band radio atomic clock synchronization. As you can see, it’s not a major departure, visually speaking. The function of the buttons is slightly rearranged, the actual time is larger and easier to read, the time zones don’t have editable names, and the alarm now has a snooze function. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same watch. Still titanium, solar powered, waterproof. But with the atomic clock synchronization, it’s one step closer to being the perfect watch–which, by my definition, is an indestructable watch that requires zero maintenance. I have a mild obsession with accurate timekeeping. The first watch I ever remember owning was the Timex I had as a child. It was a simple analog watch that required regular winding. Its clockwork mechanism was fairly awful as far as accuracy goes, and I had to adjust it each morning. Next, I got one of the first ever digital watches: a TI-500 from Texas Instruments. Mine was brown plastic with a brown leather strap. Since I was a kid at the time, it got scratched up pretty quickly. It also ate batteries. Still, I loved it; and I bet if I’d kept it, it would sell for a bundle on eBay. But technology was changing rapidly, and before long I had my first LCD watch, a Casio. Casio would soon take over the watch market, almost destroying the Swiss watch industry. My contribution to this process was one of these: That was the watch that never died. It lasted me through the 80s. I also had Casio calculators, but I’m happy to say I never had a calculator watch. I just wasn’t that geeky Since I love swimming and tend to be forgetful of whether I’m wearing a watch, I eventually upgraded to a waterproof Casio, again with a metal case and strap. I don’t remember too much about that one, except that once the battery needed replacing, it stopped being waterproof. Update: I’ve found out you can actually still buy the waterproof metal Casio I had. In addition, as the 90s arrived the backlash had happened, and digital watches were about as fashionable as flared trousers. So I looked for a watch that was waterproof but didn’t need batteries. For a while I wore a Swatch automatic. Aside from the lack of batteries needing replacement, I liked that it was totally unlike any other watch I had owned. Also, the back was transparent, so you could see the mechanism. It kept pretty good time, but still needed weekly adjustments. So, then came the Seiko Kinetic, which I wrote about before. Then, back to Casio. And now, atomic. I don’t know why atomic time synchronization is so seductive to me. It’s not like I need that level of accuracy in my timekeeping. Nevertheless, all the computers are synched via NTP, and we have a couple of radio synchronized clocks too. I think there’s just something fascinating about time, and about the idea of knowing it precisely. When Harper’s recently published an issue that had a whole feature about the debate over leap seconds, it was like they had published it just for me. Part of the fascination is that time is so mysterious. From the point of view of the laws of physics, you can treat it as another dimension; and physics itself doesn’t seem to care about which direction time flows. Yet our perception is that time is utterly unlike any other dimension, that it has a clear direction–and nobody can explain why that is the case. We simply don’t know what time is, even though we can measure it with very high precision. So now I know what time it is. For sure.
I gather that increasing numbers of people these days use their cell phone to tell the time, and don’t bother with a watch.
However, the watch is fighting back. Behold, the quad band GSM phone in a wristwatch, with Bluetooth (so you can pair it with a headset for phone use) and OLED display showing analog hands. Plus 1.3MP camera, kinetic battery recharge, and MP3 player.
At 13mm thick it’s still pretty bulky, but not much worse than my Casio G-Shock.
Once it was decided that we were going to Hamburg, I decided to do some research and see if there were any of the famous Germans I knew of were from Hamburg. In particular, I wanted to know if any of the musicians or bands I’m a fan of happened to be from the area. The answer, unsurprisingly, was yes.
Holger Hiller was born in Hamburg. He played in various local bands, founded a band called Palais Schaumberg, then went on to a solo career in which he created the first album to be constructed entirely of samples from other albums—and a length of plastic drainpipe. He moved to Berlin in 2003.
Also from Hamburg were Xmal Deutschland, all-female Gothic/new wave band signed to 4AD records in the 1980s. Vocalist Anja Huwe has gone on to be a serious artist, and still lives in Hamburg.
TRIO aren’t from Hamburg; they’re from Großenkneten, which is about 150km south west, the other side of Bremen. You can tell because they printed their home address on the front of their first album. Like the Beatles, they played sleazy Hamburg clubs in their early days. They’re best known outside Germany for their one international hit, Da da da ich lieb dich nicht du liebst mich nicht aha aha aha. The concept of the band was to strip down popular music as far as possible; the drummer had a ‘kit’ comprised of one bass drum, one snare drum and a cymbal, musical accompaniment was largely provided by a single guitar, and the vocalist (Stephan Remmler) also played Casio toy keyboards on some tracks.
Stephan Remmler has gone on to have a solo career, and I discovered that he released a new album with a very electronic and TRIO-like sound earlier this year.
I’m not entirely sure if Eloy are from Hamburg, but their first album was recorded there. They’re a kind of prog rock/heavy metal mix with Buddhist influences.
KMFDM started out in Hamburg. I don’t think I need to say anything more about them, they’re well enough known worldwide.
And that’s about it, as far as I know. Most of the other German bands I’ve heard of are from Düsseldorf (Die Krupps, Kraftwerk, Westbam, NEU!, Die Toten Hosen, Mouse on Mars) or Berlin (Tangerine Dream, Nina Hagen, Rammstein, Stereo Total).
Other famous Hamburgers include Heinrich Hertz (first to demonstrate electromagnetic radiation), and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Oh, and Telemann and Brahms.
When Boards of Canada started achieving prominence, it was common for people to post on the Internet about how much they were like Autechre. Even today, they’re often spoken of in the same breath. Yet I’ve come to see Boards of Canada as the opposite of Autechre.
Autechre’s driving force—and crippling problem—has always been their perpetual desire for novelty. Their first album was fairly conventional, at least by the standards of electronica; perhaps because it was really a compilation of unrelated tracks, perhaps because they were extremely limited in the equipment available to them. (Their sampler at the time was a Casio SK-1.) The second album, Amber, had a completely different lush and ambient sound.
But according to interviews I’ve read, Autechre almost gave up music after Amber, because for a long time they couldn’t come up with anything different enough that they felt it was worth doing. When they eventually released tri repetae, it was completely different in style; spare and mechanical. The next album, Chiastic Slide, was yet another complete change, in favor of textures made up of densely packed fragments of digital sound.
The problem is, at some point the quest for intellectual novelty collides with the desire to create something someone might actually want to listen to. In my view, Chiastic Slide was their last uniformly great release. Since then, there have been moments where experimental and listenable have meshed (the title track of Gantz_graf for example), but they’ve been lamentably rare.
So I see Boards of Canada are the anti-Autechre, in that they’ve released the same album five or six times now. If you like anything they’ve released since 1994, then I can confidently predict you’ll like everything else they’ve released since 1994.
Yes, there has been some gentle stylistic progression and variation; The Campfire Headphase had more guitar, and the latest EP is a bit darker. But like Vini Reilly, they know what they do well, and they pretty much keep on doing it.
The new Trans Canada Highway EP is available from bleep.com. They’re selling it as unprotected MP3 files, or as full quality lossless audio in FLAC format.
Also, as a reminder of Autechre’s earlier listenable albums, the Gescom EP The Sounds of Machines Our Parents Used is available as an MP3 or FLAC download. This one is particularly good value, because it’s widely regarded as one of their best, and copies of the hard-to-find original 1995 vinyl release regularly list for over $100. Now for a mere $5.49 you can have lossless uncompressed audio, with no vinyl clicks or pops—just intentional electronic ones.
And if you’re a goldenears type you can buy a Vestax VRX-2000, cut the FLAC files into vinyl, spread a little dust on it, and hear the tracks as originally intended.
It has been alleged that I’m unthinkingly rude and negative about the rich, famous and successful. To disprove that assertion, here’s the first of a series of articles.
Five Admirable CEOs
Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills.
In 1995, a fire burned the Malden Mills factory to the ground. Everyone thought they were out of work, but no. The company CEO kept all the employees on the payroll until the factory could be rebuilt. Wear your Polarfleece with pride!
Paul Fireman, CEO of Reebok.
The contrast between Paul Fireman of Reebok, and the weaselly Phil Knight of Nike, couldn’t be stronger. Knight publically welched out on a deal he made with Michael Moore on camera, continues to use sweatshop labor without apology, and hijacks events like the Boston Marathon for publicity without paying anything in sponsorship fees.
Fireman, on the other hand, is an active member of Amnesty International. He has written articles for business publications stressing the importance of human rights, and supporting the right of workers to unionize. Reebok sponsors many AI events, and Reebok board members have stood for election to serve on the board of Amnesty, with the company’s approval.
Sure, the company’s not perfect. It still makes its shoes in third world countries, and has plenty of critics. But in an industry where margins are wafer thin and competition is extreme, little gestures like paying your laborers 24% above minimum wage mean a lot.
Akio Morita, founder of Sony.
No grand humanitarian gestures here. Just a company that, after Apple, is the most consistently brilliant at creating beautifully designed high-tech devices of reasonable quality. Morita was an engineer, responsible for inventing the Walkman, a device that I think has changed everyone’s environment in surprising ways. His company also gave the world the transistor radio, the VCR, and many other devices we now take for granted. In the process, it changed the perception of the words “MADE IN JAPAN”. Morita built Sony from the ground up, and maintained a punishing schedule right up to his death in 1995.
Sergey Brin, founder of Google.
I’m sure everyone reading this knows how wonderful Google is. Sergey Brin is the “moral compass” of the company, trying to do the right thing in a world where the search engine’s visibility has made it a magnet for lawsuits and commercial temptations. I think, by and large, he’s succeeded.
The Kashio brothers, founders of Casio
Tadao Kashio founded Casio with his three younger brothers; Kazuo is now the CEO. It’s still a family business.
What I love about Casio is that they’re the poor man’s Sony. They have consistently produced quality, reliable products at low prices. It’s hard to imagine now, but a reliable wristwatch or calculator used to cost hundreds of dollars. I think the company’s biggest gift to the world, however, was putting cheap-but-good synths and samplers into the hands of thousands of musicians in the 80s and 90s.
To price products way lower than the market required, build them better than necessary, and yet survive and thrive on razor-thin margins, is an amazing accomplishment. To keep the company in the family while doing so is astonishing, even for Japan.
My new watch arrived. Casio G-Shock. I’ve never had a Casio last less than five years, which is two more than the expensive Seiko managed. Reading the web, it seems that Seiko Kinetics are quite notorious for breaking. It probably doesn’t help that I tend to occasionally walk into walls, doors, and other solid objects, but still…
Essential features of the new watch: time, date, day of week, 24 hour format, waterproof (to 200m), solar powered.
Non-essential features I got anyway: titanium casing, sunrise/sunset times, moon rise times, tide indicator, moon phase indicator, stopwatch, multiple alarms, countdown timer, and everything works across multiple named world time zones. Plus the backlight can be set to come on automatically when (a) you’re holding the watch at the right angle that you’re probably looking at it, and (b) it’s dark.
As you can imagine from the feature list, there’s quite a bit of configuration and setup to do. Each location needs time zone, longitude and latitude, and tidal offset time. In short, this is a watch for the seriously geeky. I’ve installed Linux distributions that were easier to configure.
But now it works, and I can push a few buttons and find out when the tide will come in by my parents’ new house in Bournemouth.
If anyone has any suggestions for watches with interesting designs, please post links. Requirements: 24 hour time or analog hands, water resistant (preferably waterproof to a few meters). Preferences: Under $100, minimal maintenance required, shows day of week and of month.
My watch is broken. Again.
It’s a Seiko Kinetic. When it works, I love it. It never needs winding, never needs batteries, tells me the time and date and is accurate to within seconds a year. Unfortunately, this is the second time it has broken. It stopped at exactly 06:00 this morning.
When I bought the watch, I hadn’t factored annual maintenance into the equation. I think I’m going to go back to cheap Casio watches, which will at least run for five years without failing.
Alternatively, I’m still tempted by the Swatch Internet Time thing. They have some funky Internet Time watches in metal and rubber…
The sky was overcast but beginning to clear as we walked into the reception area at the bottom of the Fernsehturm, the famous TV tower. The tower rises in brutal Soviet modernity overlooking Alexanderplatz, the area which used to be the showcase of the DDR.
An illuminated sign said that there was no view to be seen, but I thought otherwise and the girl in the ticket booth was willing to take our money. We walked into the base of the tower, the interior of which resembles a set from “2001”, a space-age womb of ribbed curving walls and soft lighting. For some unknown reason, the cramped lifts were colder than any other area of the tower.
Approximately 45 seconds and 300 metres later, we stepped out into the observation lounge. The tower is basically shaped like a huge sharpened spike, with first a sphere and then a smaller cylinder impaled on it about a third of the way down. The part of the spike under the sphere is the usual concrete, the top part is painted in red and white stripes, and the cylindrical bit is fitted with a selection of dishes, aerials and microwave receivers. The whole construction looks like what you’d get if you crossed a Soyuz spacecraft with a giraffe.
The observation lounge is in the bottom part of the sphere, with its windows angled at about 45 degrees to the vertical. The glass seemed to be about a centimetre thick, and I had sudden visions of James Bond fighting some evil East German spy
XQ pointed out the various old buildings as the evil Communist spy gave Bond a vicious left hook, lifting him and throwing him against the window. Miraculously, the glass failed to give way. Quickly, the spy jumped up onto the window ledge, and he and Bond began grappling with each other as XQ indicated the Museum Island and the course of the river.
Bond eventually manoeuvred his assailant’s back against the glass, punching him viciously in the stomach. As the East German struggled for breath, Bond grabbed his trusty Walther PPK and shot at the corner of the window. The glass fractured and collapsed under the weight of the spy, and he scrabbled to grab the window frame to prevent himself from falling back and following the shards of glass in their lengthy descent.
A cold wind whipped in from the broken window as XQ pointed down at Marx-Engels-Platz. Bond smiled slightly as he walked up to the East German and gave him a gentle push. His grip broken, the evil Communist spy plunged three hundred metres to his death. I leant forwards and watched him fall, the statues of Marx and Engels in the background.
XQ finished her narration, and we decided to climb the stairs to the revolving restaurant. Ever since as a child I’d first read about London’s Post Office Tower, I’d wanted to sit in a revolving restaurant. Sadly, once the Post Office Tower had been declared an Official Secret for reasons of national security, the restaurant had been closed.
We found an empty table and sat by the windows, facing each other. Eventually XQ waved at one of the passing waitresses, and she tossed a menu to us with all the polite grace I had come to expect in the East. Even without the moody expression and air of “I suppose you can order something, if you insist”, it was plain that she was an Ossi. The over-use of tacky makeup and the slightly seventies cut of her clothes made it sadly obvious.
We scoured the menu for something that wasn’t too much of a rip-off. Eventually XQ settled on something hot, fruity and alcoholic, and I picked a coffee and some Black Forest Gateau.
When the food and drinks eventually arrived, they were surprisingly good. We sat and watched the world revolve around us, chatting about the various buildings that swam into view.
A lone sponge finger swept majestically past on the window ledge, a lonely confectionery digit seemingly raised in obscene salute towards the DDR buildings and statues beneath it. A couple of the buildings still had adverts for Skoda, Intourist or Berolina, no longer illuminated, but most had been torn down and replaced with bright neon saying Technics, Casio and Coca Cola.
I suddenly felt sorry for Karl Marx. What a fate, to have his statue in Marx-Engels-Platz, forced to stare at these bright symbols of capitalist victory 24 hours a day.