Life in Cartoon Motion

This article appeared on The Malta Independent on Sunday ( 04.05.08 )

 

One of the main advantages of blogging is that you are not bound by time or space. Those rules do not work in the world of press punditry and cometh the Friday cometh the deadline and Mr Grima’s inbox must include the latest special direct from the Grand Duchy (among others). This time round I am suffering from a self-inflicted early deadline although “suffering” is not the right word to employ. You see the particular institution I work for has a concentration of holidays starting from Worker’s Day till the twelfth of May. By taking two days off in addition to the institutional holidays I have managed to plan two away trips on the continent – one in the search of sun in Sardegna and one to revisit the Garden of England in Kent. Fair is fair but that means that for two consecutive weeks I get to write my 2,000 odd words on Wednesday and I’d hate to bore you with stuff that is already ancient history by Sunday morning. Such is the high esteem with which I value you dear reader. But worry not… every blogger has a trick up his sleeve so here is this week’s fare inspired by an eclectic singer (among other muses).

Relax, Take It Easy
“How to be Idle” by Tom Hodgkinson is a book that should be standard curriculum stuff for the young. It is an epic volume of advice on how to tackle today’s busy world by taking a stand in defence of laziness and good living. I loved the book, especially since as I turned every page I was sure that I must have met Tom somewhere and that he must have surreptitiously stolen most of the ideas from me. Did I say I was big-headed? The basic theory is as follows: the avatars of Progress and Capitalism have, over the last three centuries, instilled a mindset of the work ethic and crusaded against sloth and idleness leaving no quarter for those who have always detested the “early bird”. Both Capitalism and Socialism have promoted the “job” as a religion. Work is what you are born for. Consumerism fuels this rationale as we work more, get further indebted and need to work even more in the sad illusion that this is the life we want to live.

Look around you. The messages the media send instill this rhythm that enslaves you. First you are shown the problems that lead to increasing your anxiety. Then they propose the solution: money – to afford the luxuries that are supposed to end your misery. And how do you get money? Work, my friend. Work. Even the Bible tells you so. For what is the great punishment meted out to Adam and Eve for their sins? They are condemned to leave work-free paradise to enter a world of toil and pain. Work is the basis of progress they tell you… but faced with this rule we should remember the words of Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider “Yours or theirs?”. I know these are not the most inspiring thoughts to have around Jum il-Haddiem (Worker’s Day) but it’s holiday periods like these that set me thinking. The Ancient Egyptians (one-fifth), the classical Greeks (sixty days a year) and the ancient Romans (108 days a year) set aside huge chunks of the year on which it was prohibited to work. The baby Maltese Republic tried its luck by having more than one national holiday. The French have 14th July, the Americans have the 4th of July and us? We have a holiday to please everyone plus we take great pride in our Catholic holidays too. Hey I’m not complaining. I counted the ECJ’s holidays in a year. We get 22 days off. Still far from the Egyptians which means you’ve got to make the best of them.

Stuck in The Middle

Which brings me to my next point. Making the most out of your days off is as good as it gets in today’s world. That is why I value travel and discovery of other cultures and worlds high on my personal list of priorities.  I strongly believe that people should be encouraged to travel as much as possible – to the extent that I believe in state intervention to incentivise travel. Rather than having airport taxes, fuel taxes and all sorts of disincentives, our government should be actively engaged in ensuring that our community of islanders becomes a well-travelled one. Joining the EU was a big step in this process. Europe should be the first training ground for the uninitiated – and believe me there is enough in the Old Continent to fill a lifetime of travels. Education is not only to be had at the schooldesk. Internet in every home is an important step – as would be further encouragement to have a well-stocked bookshelf. Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the eyeopener of a trip abroad – and I do not mean a One-Day shopping trip to Misterbianco.

We have begun to address these issues and the baby steps in affordable travel are being made. The road is full of pitfalls. Nobody is there to give the people a free ride which is why there should be more choice: more destinations and as many carriers as the market can hold. Plan carefully, plan in advance and plan online. My former colleagues at the Office of Fair Trading will be sure to advise that the best consumer is the informed consumer. The price of the trip is not all in the first figure you see flashing in yellow and blue – there are baggage charges, coach charges and the lot. Make use of healthy competition, choose wisely and… the world is your oyster. Seriously. Like every other citizen I’d have a few tips for those who plan the routes that are to serve the island. Egoistically speaking I’d start from the gaping hole in the middle of Europe that is underserved. It covers the west of France, all of Luxembourg (not much, I’ll grant you that) and the East of Germany.  The Greater Region of Lorraine, Luxembourg, the Ardennes and Rheinland-Pfalz are there for the taking – both for incoming and outgoing tourism. As it is, the people on this side of the equation do not have much choice for holidays in the sun with direct flight. I wonder what the guys at MTA think.

Video Killed the Internet Star?

Sure everything seems easier in today’s world what with the world being at your fingertips. Virtually at least. Book your flights, order your meals, buy products, plan vacations, read the local news in Winnipeg… it’s all there and all it takes is a good internet connection and a little machine. The weird, apocalyptic, news of this week is that the whole internet thingy is in danger of collapsing. Before you panic and rush off to cancel your latest high bandwidth subscription let me try to explain the how and why. It’s all about the bandwidth really. We’ve all heard how the internet is growing and expanding. We’ve also probably all heard about the analogy of information travelling through the ether being comparable to water travelling through pipes. Well the more the information (the more the water) that is travelling, the larger the pipes need to be.

Fifteen years ago downloading a picture onto your computer screen took ages. By the time the whole picture came into focus you had time to bolt down to the kitchen and brew a good cuppa with time to spare. Nowadays, thanks to the larger bandwidth (among other things) you click on the Independent (http://www.independent.com.mt) website and hey presto it opens up in a matter of seconds… pics and all. We know there is more to that. A little patience (under a minute) and Monday morning you can see the latest magic woven by Del Piero and Co. on YouTube. We’ve all seen the virals, the joke videos and the media clips on state of the art websites. Peppi Azzopardi would probably tell you that after googling “pussy” his team would have found a few adult-rated videos for the not-so innocent. (aside: Xarabank’s dreary view of what the internet is about really hit the pits). On Sundays most of the Maltese community in Luxembourg now tunes in to online websites where you can follow your favourite football team live streamed directly to your laptop screen. There’s nothing illegal about it, before the Xarabank crew get piping about it… it’s screened live from China where it is distributed for free – ask Alessio Secco and Cobolli Gigli if you do not believe me.

Well. You get the gist. More and more internet space is being used up by video. Currently video makes up 30% of internet traffic. In two years time it is predicted to take up 80%. Which is where the problems start. Couple the increase with the fact that video quality will increase and be more bandwidth hungry and the end result is that we are approaching a potential internet meltdown.  If you want an idea of the amount of information we are talking about you have to know that it is calculated in “exabytes”. One exabyte is a humungous amount of information – it is calculated that all the words ever spoken by human beings would fit in five exabytes. According to Cisco, more than 12 exabytes will be crossing the internet per month by 2011. That’s a lot of information going around. I know that I want to be there when it happens. I am sure a solution will be found for the overload and that the apocalypse will be averted. Just like travelling, my advice to you is that you should find a place in the information highway too.

Any Other World
Once we are talking about the internet world in this little hiatus from political punditry allow me to “plug” a few pages that should introduce you to the world of blogging and beyond. I hate seeing long http// strings in print and do not believe that many people take the trouble to punch in the address after having read the paper. So I will burden you with one link (other than my own at the bottom of the page): http://www.maltamedia.com/blogosfera. The site is painstakingly updated daily by blogging maniac Sandro Vella. In it you will find the latest Maltese blog posts – another world to escape to on your free days or coffee breaks. A word of advice – it can be addictive and the warning bells of Progress and Capitalism might soon start ringing in your ears if you spend too much time surfing from one blog to the next. On the other hand, who knows, you might like it to the point of trying your hand at some creative expression. I discovered a new gem this week as an old blogger returned to the fold. He deserves a plug for what he has come up with – I call it a step forward in satirical blogging – his name is Arcibald and you can find him by googling “Gandirmalta”. He uses the podcasting medium, one that Toni Sant has been busy pioneering for the Maltese blog scene.

Love Today
Enough of the adverts. I hope you have spent a good Worker’s Day/Weekend. In my family it was always a special day. Not because we felt some particular affinity to the working class and its troubles but because we always celebrate mum’s birthday on the first of May. So please allow me a further digression to wish the world’s greatest mum un merveilleux anniversaire. That’s for you mum!

 

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