Monday, October 31, 2005

Skateboarding in Hanley

Yesterday we went for a stroll in Central Forest Park, naively thinking that we might take a few photographs of the new skateboarding ramps before people start to use them. It turned out that the opening event was underway, and the place was packed.

It was great to see so many people using it. Apparently it's the biggest in Europe, so we could have some major competitions soon.

I can't quite see, however, how the City Council can, on the one hand, actively encourage potentially dangerous activities like this, while on the other be quite so restrictive at Chatterley Whitfield. Never mind, I'm sure there's a logical explanation somewhere.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Apple Festival

I've been away in Edinburgh for a few days, so it's taken me until now to look through the photographs I took at the Apple Festival at Reaseheath College last Sunday.

Derek Jones told us about the Granny's Blood apple (the one cut in half in the photograph), a very rare species that originates from the Stirling area in Scotland. It looks as though the colour has seeped through from the skin into the flesh inside.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Alphaphot or Photobet?

I've given myself a little project - take photographs of objects that form letters of the alphabet. There is a reason for this, which you will see in due course, but in the meantime I thought I'd share the project's guiding principles with you.

- All photos are to be taken on the camera in my mobile phone.
- No objects or people to be arranged to form letters for this project.
- No alteration of images afterwards other than cropping or rotating.

And that's it. I want to try something quick and rough, in contrast to my usual slow, considered approach.

As you'd expect, some letters are harder to find than others. J, K and Z are currently eluding me, but I will persevere.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Web 2.0

It's all the rage in blogging circles, but I've yet to grasp the practical implications of Web2.0.

Semantic coding of information to provide contextual meaning makes sense, and ought to be happening already.

I already use RSS feeds to get news headlines on my Yahoo page from sources that interest me, and I intend (once I work out how to do it) to provide an RSS feed for this blog so that anyone who chooses can be alerted to a new post rather than have to visit here just in case I've written something.

Amazon and other sites that paste relevant content from databases into an interface are great. I also see the benefits of Flickr, Wikipedia and eBay, where users provide content, tagging and votes that make up reputations. Google AdWords make sense by providing targeted, relevant advertising, and I can see how this could be translated into local advertising on GoogleMaps.

An end to the eternal cycle of software upgrades would be even better, when or if applications are web-based rather than PC-based.

So far, so good. What I don't understand, however, is how this will affect 'traditional' websites. There is a huge amount of information on the Web that is relatively static, and there's nothing wrong with that. Archived information is an important part of the Web, and websites that break links to such information by moving it are a blight on the Internet (even classified as one of Jakob Neilsen's great web design mistakes).

I haven't found anyone yet who explains or describes what may happen to the multitude of small, informative sites. Am I being thick? Or does nobody know yet? There's a lot of discussion about the new browser Flock, based on Mozilla, with its integration with and Flickr. Other services are promised soon. Some discuss the possibilities it offers, while others are not convinced.

Flock is still being developed, but I have installed it, and, with slight trepidation, will investigate and report back.

Trouble with Blogger

It may be coincidence, but I've been having trouble publishing my post today, and this afternoon I installed a new browser, Flock, which was, in fact, part of today's post, so this is by way of a test post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I must be watching too much television

There seems to be a recent trend in television advertising to create disturbing images, and I'm not referring to campaigns that are meant to scare you into good practices about alcohol or smoking.

I suppose the most obvious one is the n-Power ad where a little girl's parents switch to another energy supplier so her pet blue and yellow 'spheres' are taken away from her. I see distinct overtones of The Exorcist in this one.

The Vauxhall Vectra and Sintra advert has a sinister, odd-looking, bald-headed man in black clothes getting out of a black car with smoked glass windows after lingering round some young boys playing football in the street.

The Weetabix ad has a scarecrow left to die, abandoned and alone, until a kindly farmer feeds him some wheat.

The student loan advert has a young woman surrounded by increasing numbers of vultures that become more and more confident about sidling up to her.

I don't think my final example is meant to be frightening, but I still find it disturbing. It's the ad for the AA, where a woman, standing by a broken-down car, is approached by lots of AA patrolmen. I assume that the idea of so many patrolmen is meant to be reassuring, but to me they look like they're in a zombie horror film, lurching towards their victim to eat her brain.

OK, I've found these adverts to be memorable, so you could say that in some ways they're successful, but they certainly don't make me want to change to their energy/ car/ cereal/ loan/ repair service.

Monday, October 17, 2005

And all because the lady loves Milk Tray

I said recently that I might tell you what happened at Manchester airport the other day. Despite your pretence otherwise, I can tell you are all agog, so make sure you're sitting comfortably and then I'll begin.

I wanted to take some photographs for the Koshino website project, so I went to Terminals 2 and 3 at the said airport. All too aware of recent events there, I carefully checked with security staff at baggage handling points in both terminals whether it was OK to take photographs. They all said it was fine as long as I didn't photograph them or the area beyond the barriers.

A few snaps later, most definitely pointed away from the designated areas, there was a metaphorical tap on my shoulder. "Excuse me, sir. Did you know that it's illegal to take photographs in here?" At this point, I tried hard not to think of the plane-spotters in Greece, but definitely failed.

Proudly explaining the care I had taken to ascertain acceptability, I was politely but firmly taken to one side, where I was told at first I would need to talk with the terminal manager (is that what's meant by a dead-end job?) but was later informed that I would need to seek permission, in writing, in advance from him. The address I was given was actually for the Public Relations section, but let's not quibble. Let's not quibble either about the many tourists still happily snapping away nearby on their mobile phones. Is this a lesson for potential wrong-doers? Take photos of interesting security areas by getting your mate to stand in front of them and smile stupidly.

Apparently taking photographs of people checking in is not a good idea, though whether this is a security risk or just contrary to Human Rights legislation wasn't explained. Anxious not to cause trouble, I said I understood perfectly, and walked smartly back to my car without dawdling, trying (without being too obvious about it) to detect the swivel of any cameras as I passed, but they were too well hidden if they did.

Memory card intact and still in my possession, the website was complete a few days later. Now you can visit the site again, and marvel at the dangers I braved in the name of art. Not all of the background images are mine, but you can have fun trying to guess which constitute a breach of security.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Casting shadows

A few weeks ago, I wrote about meeting April Young when I encountered her beautiful sculptures of leaping horses. Yesterday, I spent a delightful few hours photographing more of her horses as well as some of her unusual figures, ably assisted by April herself and her partner Steve. Some of these images will end up on her website, but in the meantime, have a look at the photos on my Flickr account.

April is a very talented lady, and I strongly encourage you to see her work for yourself. (And no, I'm not on commission!)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hyperframe complete

The post title says it all, really. At last, I've completed Hyperframe, which I wrote about last week. Now I'm on the lookout for something similar. Any suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Michiko Koshino

At last, my latest website is complete (until I start revising it, that is). It was an assignment for College, supposedly creating a website for the fashion designer Michiko Koshino. I see that for some reason some of the gate numbers have slipped, which is quite bizarre. They weren't doing that yesterday and I don't see why they should start now, though I've just remembered that I allowed one of my fellow students to examine my Flash file. Perhaps he accidentally moved these elements? If so, it's easily corrected. Tomorrow I might tell you about the incident at Manchester aiport...

When I started this course, I was under the impression that when you design something, you come up with a few ideas, decide on one, then build it. This second year, however, has proved that the process is far more demanding than that. I kept producing what I thought were some pretty nifty ideas, but my tutor calmly and reasonably pointed out some fundamental flaws in each of them. I'm glad he thought my final approach was OK, as I don't think I could have produced any more.

I'm going to have to learn how to critique my own work more effectively. Next week, I'll hear my tutor's formal response to my final submission.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More puzzle games

Two quirky animation puzzle games here: Quest for the Rest and Samorost. It would spoil things if I said much about these, so I'll leave you to explore and work out what you need to do.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


In a complete change of tone from recent posts, I want to tell you about what I consider to be the perfect puzzle game: Hyperframe. It's challenging enough to make you think, but not so hard that I gave up in frustration. It looks good, it remembers which ones you've solved and which you haven't, and it's free. What more do I need to say to convince you of its worthiness for trial?

You have to link coloured squares on the surface of a cube without crossing any other lines, and there are forty puzzles in all. The early ones are straightforward, to ease you into the way you need to think, then gradually you need to abandon the obvious approaches to solving them. Later on, the size of the cube increases, giving you more and more possibilities to think through. After many days of distraction, I've reached the point now where I've solved all of them except Number 19.

If you know of anything similar, please let me know. Tomorrow I'll tell you about a couple of others I like.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

An Apology

I'm not usually quite so pessimistic as my recent series of posts would suggest. I do think it's worthwhile continuing, in whatever small ways that we can, to resist the lunacy of politicians. It's just that politicans are no longer in control. They can still make things worse, but it's beyond their power to improve anything.

I used to ponder the question, 'Are things getting better or worse?' and even five years ago I genuinely couldn't decide. Now I'm sure.

Not much of an apology, I know, but future posts, I promise, won't be quite as dark. I hated Dead Poets Society, but carpe diem nonetheless.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lost Contact with the Outside World, Part 4

Still considering the future, here. Looking at the emptiness of post-modernism, where there are no rules, cultural references are taken from anywhere and entire societies are used as flip backgrounds to advertisements (Tesco using Stalinist Russia to promote cheap clothes where the models are embarassed by low prices), it won't be long before something emerges to fill the vacuum, and that something will be extreme, a reaction to the freedom and liberal nature of post-modernism.

Indeed, we may be seeing the start of it now, with the tightening of politics and loss of personal liberties in response to the threat of terrorism. ID cards, despite their many, many flaws, are coming. Student loans, specialised schools and city academies, the insistence on 50% of the population going to university, the wider role of the private sector in health care and other public services, the insidious return to building nuclear power stations - in short, the continuing rightward march of the Labour Party, coupled with the complete and utter lack of serious opposition, means that we are heading for extreme politics.

As oil prices continue to rise and we make no concerted effort to reduce our dependency, as war continues in Iraq in all but name, as the United States fails to cope with a hurricane or two, as China rises as a world power, as we fail to build sufficient reserves of vaccine to deal with Avian flu, as terrorist threat, real or imagined, continues, I believe a major breakdown is imminent in our society. I give it ten years at most, more likely five.

I started this series of posts bemoaning an apparent loss of contact with the outside world. I end it by wishing that I really could lose contact.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lost Contact with the Outside World, Part 3

Returning to yesterday's theme of Web access in twelve months' time, I repeat that everyhting that follows is already well documented. It's just that I'm putting it together in my own mind for the first time.

We will soon have mobile devices that allow us, through GoogleTalk and Skype among others, to make free phone calls using VOIP and broadband connections in wi-fi zones, which are spreading rapidly. Mobile phone manufacturers will be faced by the triple blow of this, the low take-up of 3G services and the likely concentration of future demand in developing countries where the need will be for cheap and simple phones rather than sophisticated ones where people have to pay to use the extra features. They will retaliate with low-power transmitters (using the currently protected but soon to be sold-off frequencies in the radio spectrum), which will automatically transfer mobile phones to cheaper calls when within range. This won't be enough, however, to stave off the threat of free phone calls.

Instead, the whole financial model of Web access will have to change. In an extension of AdWords at Google, advertisers will pay for the services we use in return for placing targeted advertisements based on three factors: geographical location (determined by GPS), known economic profile and spending patterns (determined by credit card and loyalty card use), and any information sought by the user via his or her browser. This will be fuelled by the coming revolution in television advertising, the result of businesses being unwilling to pay for expensive television airtime when more and more people use Sky+ or equivalent to zip past the advert breaks.

The implications of this are many, but at the wider level, it will mean that there are fewer shared cultural references, as each group of people, based on age, spending power and lifestyle, will have their own little worlds, even further apart than they are today. My fellow students will be tempted to aspire to fast cars as they eat their fast food and play with whatever replaces the iPod, while I'm berated about retirement plans, BUPA and Saga (if I start to make enough money as a designer, that is). Society will fragment further and faster as we understand each other less and less.

And I haven't even got started on the wider use of video or the introduction of television (HDTV or normal) and video on demand.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Lost Contact with the Outside World, Part 2

I don't normally spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I know roughly where I'm trying to get to, and sometimes that requires radical changes, but on the whole, I spend more time looking at each footstep, knowing that the overall direction is towards the right mountain top.

Recently, however, two College assignments have me forced to think more specifically about the future. One asked us to look at different ways of accessing the Web in public urban areas (street kiosks, wi-fi zones in cafes etc), and draw our conclusions about how such access will change over the next twelve months when we pop out into the world as fully-fledged designers.

It's easy to forget just how much and quickly access to the Web has changed over the last ten years, so my conclusions aren't as radical as they first appeared. In fact, I'm only putting together things that are already well documented, my sources being mainly the Guardian's technology pages and blog and its media section. This post is in danger of becoming too long, so I will leave you to think about this until tomorrow.

The other assignment asked us to consider how we, individually, will use our Foundation Degrees. I'm reasonably confident about knowing which areas I want to specialise in, which areas I need to improve, and which I want to abandon as fast as possible. Oh dear, I can feel this developing into a separate post as well. This is turning into a major statement rather than a throw-away blog entry. Until tomorrow, then...