Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I'll tag the high road

he geek in me has kept quiet for a while, but has finally burst forth once more. Those of you who are fleet of foot and astute of eye will have noticed that some tags have appeared at the foot of this post.

"And what is the point of that?" I might hear you ask. Well, Steve Rubel says that it helps to bring your site to the attention of people searching such terms in Technorati, and is thus likely to increase the number of people visiting it. He points people to this tutorial on tagging, which among other things explains the difference between categories (internal and structured) and tags (external and loose).

I'd been feeling slightly left out of this tag business, not having a Wordpress or Movable Type blog, but I found these instructions which work with Blogger (but only in the "Edit HTML" panel, not the "Compose" panel). Also, it only works with Firefox 1.5 and you have to install the Greasemonkey extension before installing the user script. I was slightly daunted at first, but it all went smoothly.

I'm also going to start promoting this blog by adding a link at the end of all of my e-mails. If I'm at a loose end one day, I might go back and add tags to old posts as well. Of course, all this presupposes that other people might be interested in what I write, which is a pretty large supposition.

Let's see what happens to those visitor numbers...

Monday, February 27, 2006

Another Place

t's taken much longer than I expected, but I've finally finished re-working the interface I designed for College using my photographs of Anthony Gormley's Another Place. It's now uploaded for people to test. (It took a long time because I felt I had to re-vamp my website as well before encouraging anyone to visit. It's not complete yet, but the general design is there.)

My Anthony Gormley piece was created for a module on Interaction Design, but the module was too short for any user-testing. I'm sure it could be improved in all sorts of ways, so I'd be grateful if you would have a look at the piece and send me your comments - on any aspect, but especially on the navigation system. And please don't be polite. Constructive criticism will be welcomed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

You gotta work hard to keep up with them

norr has done it again. I wrote a while ago about the advert that asked us, in what some people might consider poor taste, to treat stock cubes as though they had been abandoned like neglected children. The effect was heightened by broadcasting this immediately after an appeal by the NSPCC.

This time the Knorr ad, in a way that will offend far fewer people, refers to a different icon: "All we are saying is, 'Give peas a chance'." What would John and the other Fab Three say?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Waiting for No One

isappointing. That's the only word for the Andy Goldsworthy exhibition at Tatton Park. Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire, so it makes sense that he should play such a large part of the estate's art and landscape project called "oneplace". In my opinion, however, the exhibition does the local man few favours.

Goldsworthy created six pieces at Tatton during November last year, using ice, wood and leaves. Display boards in the centre of the small room show some photographs taken at various stages of construction, while a short film in a nearby room shows Goldsworthy at work, collecting sheets of ice from the pond and assembling some of the pieces.

This meagre offering is supplemented on the walls and in display cases by about twenty large photographs of other work covering the years 1982 to 2005. The small number of images with no coherent theme and taken over such a wide timespan suggests that they have been variously begged, scrounged, found under cushions and otherwise scraped together.

All of the work, both old and new, is temporary and outdoors, and ranges from the intruiging and enigmatic to the downright hauntingly beautiful. An essential part of each piece, however, is its relationship to its surroundings. The effects of light and wind will change frequently and rapidly, while the work itself will change as it gradually melts or disintegrates.

How, then, can Goldsworthy's work be adequately represented by one, or at best two, photographs?
"Each work grows, stays, decays - integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its height, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit." - Andy Goldsworthy
I don't know when Goldsworthy said that, but I'm not convinced by it. It sounds to me like justification after the fact from the days when video recording was ludicrously expensive. (Sculptures that last a long time would also require repeat visits.)

If so, the film at the Tatton Park exhibition contradicts it. Watching the artist at work is interesting but it's such a shame they didn't go that little bit further and record the work after completion. Apparently, Goldsworthy gave a talk at Tatton Park on 24th January. I wish I'd known about the event and asked him about this.

(A DVD called Time and Tide was released in 2004, but it's a Region 1 disc and in NTSC format, which isn't compatible with most televisions in this country.)

Despite my criticisms, I'm glad I went to the exhibition. It reminded me how much I like Goldsworhty's work, it stimulated me to think in new ways, and it gave me ideas for several multimedia projects of my own.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tree tops glisten, and children listen...

now doesn't fall here often, but it did today, albeit briefly and thinly. So perhaps it's appropriate to point you to Snowdays, a website where you can create your own snowflakes, attach messages, and see those created by others. It's slow and gentle, perfectly relaxing.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Germaine Greer in the 21st Century

went to see Germaine Greer the other night at the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford. She was as amusing, witty, challenging and forthright as you would expect.

Her talk was structured around a proposal she had received (for the second time) for her to present a television programme, where the central argument was that the current problems of society are largely the result of too much sexual liberation in the 1970s caused by the victory of the feminist movement.

In a prolonged and scathing attack, she proceeded to demolish this premise, and the various steps contained within it, with controlled anger. There was no victory by the feminists, she said, merely equality to be victims of capitalism, and there will be no sexual liberalisation until everyone and everything have ceased to be seen as commodities. (I think I've summarised her main points accurately, but I could well be wrong.)

The audience, for the most part, seemed impressed. Laughter at all the right places, and complete silence at the particularly challenging parts.

Questions aftwerwards included "Where do you see organised religion in this?" and "How does this compare with primitive socities?" (She didn't like the word 'primitive', and talked with awe about the resilience of the Aborigine people.) There were also less intense questions, such as "What was Celebrity Big Brother like?" and "Do you like men?"

The last of these was asked by a woman who, on questioning by Germaine Greer, said that she and her friend had been happily married for over forty years, had never felt exploited or mistreated by her husband, and thought that everything Germaine had said that evening was complete 'tosh'. That was a refreshing end to the evening, though it was a shame there wasn't more time to explore that view.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Take part in the largest climate change experiment ever

he BBC has just joined a research project set up in 2003 to predict climate change, and we are all encouraged to donate the idle processing power of our computers. This will allow the processing of vast numbers of calculations to test different models of prediction and thus find which are the most accurate. There will be a programme about this on BBC4 on 20th February.

This approach is called distibuted computing, and the most famous example is SETI@home, which now has 5 million participants around the world helping to analyse data from radio telescopes to look for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence. That project is coming to an end for various reasons, and the participants are being encouraged to join other distributed computing projects. A useful article elsewhere describes some of these projects, and lists some of the issues to consider when getting involved.

The climate change project works by giving each participant a unique mathematical formula that attempts to explain changes in the world's climate. The model runs in the background, attempting to predict what the climate would be like from 1920 to 2000. If it's reasonably close to what really happened, then in the second phase, the model will attampt to predict what will happen up until 2080. You can watch progress on your monitor if you wish, in the form of a screensaver showing the rotating Earth, using colours to portray a choice of rainfall, temperature, cloud cover, sea temperature, air pressure or sulphur.

The software you download to take part in this research only runs on PCs, not Apple Macs. Although the film on the BBC website which explains how to install the software shows people using laptops, the small print suggests that laptops are not suitable because they can get too hot. On an average computer with average use, the process will take about three months. You are encouraged not to leave your computer running just for the sake of this research as that wastes electricity.

Intriguingly, the BBC website doesn't stress why accurate predicition of climate change is important. Do they assume that we all know why already? Or are they wary of overstepping what the organisation is supposed to do with the licence fee? Perhaps they don't want to appear too political.

Anyway, whatever form of research you choose to take part in, it makes sense to use that idle processing power to achieve something big.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The greatest living English language poet

isa and I went to hear Geoffrey Hill read some of his poems last night at Manchester Metropolitan University. Lisa, who knows about these things, considers him to be as great as Tennyson, and the Guardian has called him the greatest living poet in the English language. This was one of only three readings in this country, so it was an event not to be missed.

I'd never heard of the man before, but clearly others had because the audience was large - I estimated about five hundred. Indeed, it was too much for the lecture theatre booked, so we had to move to a bigger one. There was an definite buzz in the air, a combination of academic seriousness and undergraduate excitement.

Superficially, the readings were deadly dull. Hill has a dry, donnish, monotone voice, whether speaking or reciting, and the pitch would fall inexorably towards the end of each line, conveying no emotion other than an impression of fatalistic gloom. The sound system and acoustics of the room seemed to emphasise this too. The little I could pick up from his words suggested that melancholy and confirmation of anticipated disappointment permeate his work.

And yet... and yet...

Hill said little between readings, and didn't once look up at the audience, but what he did say was remarkably funny, all the more so for being delivered in that same miserable tone of voice. After one poem, he commented that it had prompted A N Wilson to describe him as "a silly old git". He confessed to feeling like a "stand-up comic manque", who modelled himself on Hilda Baker and Frankie Howerd, and hoped that that came through in his work, though appreciated that it probably didn't.

He even admitted that when his work was compared to Jimi Hendrix, he bought every CD and DVD he could find of Hendrix and grew to like the music. On re-reading the article later, he discovered that he had, in fact, been compared to U2, but by then it was too late because he'd written the next poem he would read out about Hendrix.

I didn't appreciate the poems as much as Lisa did, but I'm glad I went.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


ood grief - I hadn't realised quite how long it's been since I last posted here. I haven't lost interest in the blog, just far too busy even to think about it. First there was the website to build for Xlither Films. I wouldn't have designed it like that myself, but the director had a clear idea of what he wanted, so I put it together for him, and enjoyed using Photoshop extensively. I also learned a fair bit in the process about slicing graphics and using parameters when incorporating Quicktime movies in .html pages.

There will be a few tweaks to the site in the next few days, but at least it's ready for the people in Hollywood to look at. The film which the site promotes, The Xlitherman, is currently in post-production, and it will be entered in European and American film festivals over the coming year.

Then there was my portfolio to complete in preparation for an interview for a work placement at Smiling Wolf in Liverpool. I really like much of the work they do, and it seems a small, pleasant company, so I'm delighted to say that I was offered the placement, and will start there towards the end of March for six weeks.

Finally there was the Interaction Design assignment to complete for college. The brief was free-ranging - all it asked for was a threee-level interface, with the choice of content left to us. I picked Another Place by Anthony Gormley, having visited it rececntly to take photographs with Penny and Tony. You can see their photos on their photoblog, and they've kindly given me a guest gallery displaying six of mine. I'll be putting more of my images up on my Flickr account in a short while.

Penny asked me to put the Anthony Gormley interface up on the web when it was complete, which I will do over the weekend. I know that I could improve it greatly in so many ways, but I'm at least pleased with the underlying structure.

Monday, February 06, 2006

All we need is the disco mirror ball...

very so often I find a logic or puzzle game that grabs my attention. Previous ones have included Hyperframe, Samorost 1 and 2, and Quest for the Rest. The latest one (discovered courtesy of Stumble Upon) requires you to bounce a laser beam off mirrors and refracting lenses to light up a number of bulbs. The challenge, of course, lies in efficient use of the limited number of lenses provided and the need to avoid hazards.

I've had a cold recently, and the game has helped me pass the time while I haven't felt up to doing anything important. So far, I've reached level 17 out of 25, though I've forgotten how I managed to solve levels 12, 15 and 16. Any help you can offer would be gratefully received.

Friday, February 03, 2006

4 holidays, Part 1a (subsection A1.i)

hen I left univeristy in 1985, I was lucky enough to be able to visit parts of South America for four months. It was an organised tour with Encounter Overland, now known as Dragoman. We travelled in a large truck and camped in tents, except when we were staying in towns for a few days, when we would sleep in cheap hotels. Our route took us from Rio de Janeiro through Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Peru to finish in Ecuador. I also spent a couple of days in Caracas in Venezuela on the way there and again on the way back.

The highlight of the journey, and the principal reason I wanted to go to South America, was walking part of the Inca Trail to see Machu Piccu. That story, and many others, such as a friend needing oxygen on what was, until recently, the world's highest railway, will have to wait for another occasion. Instead, I'll tell you about the day that was at the same time the best and the worst of the whole journey. Today's episode is the bad part.

It was a long-awaited relief to get off the truck for a change. We knew little about what was planned, other than that we would spend the night on Amantani, an island in Lake Titicaca, which is the world's highest navigable lake. (There's a lot of height in Peru - something to do with the Andes. Getting dressed in the morning when camping at well below freezing point wasn't much fun.)

Having set sail from Puno, we soon stopped at one of the Uros islands. These islands are in a shallow part of the lake and are made of reeds, so that, although they're joined to the lake bed, they float in an initially-disconcerting way. The Indians were well-practiced in receiving tourists. Children immediately ran up to us demanding sweets, which were distributed by members of my group with condescending largesse while most of us stood in the tiny clearing in front of the huts taking photographs of women weaving and a mand making a reed boat.

We easily out-numbered them, and behaved like the abonimable tourists that we were. (Checking on the Internet while writing this post revealed that several companies are still offering this tour, so the horrible charade continues.)

OK, that's the bad part over. Next time, you'll hear about the happier part.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

It's a Wrap!

t's over. Filming for my Hamlet stop-motion animation is now complete. It was quite intense, since I only had use of the drama students for an hour yesterday morning.

The lighting in the TV studio had changed completely since I was last in, which took me by surprise, and the set-up I inherited was quite dark at the front despite the addition of a floor lamp. Matt helped me again, and Nick took over image capture from the second camera. That left me free to direct the action, which was just as well since the masks I'd made were too thick to have eye holes, so the drama students had to move blindly. I filmed a few extra shots which I'll need to edit in, then make the DVD case cover sheet.

I can't tell yet whether or not I'll like the end result. If I do, I'll post it on the web.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"War - what's it good for? Absolutely nothing." E. Starr

n Manchester yesterday on a college trip to look at interactive displays (the Clore Gallery in the Manchester Art Gallery and then the Museum of Science and Industry), we went to the Imperial War Museum in Salford Quays.

The quays are a wasteland of hideous architecture. In the case of the War Museum, I can understand why the building is so harsh, but the rest exemplifies everything that's wrong with urban regeneration ( and I write as a former proponent of the profession).

I can't make my mind up about the museum. First impressions were poor. Huge blank walls seemed to imply sparse content, backed up by the large volume of the building which is far greater than it need be. Every hour, on the hour, an audio visual presentation starts, but this is on a scale I've never experienced before. The entire hall goes dark and images are thrown onto the huge, fragmented walls from at least twenty banks of projectors, so that faces tower over you from all directions. No single viewpoint lets you see everything, which encourages wandering around, though few visitors yesterday were doing so.

There are three presentations in all, and the one that had just started when we arrived was Children in War. Considering the power of the subject and the depth of immersion in the presentation, this could have been very moving, but I felt the presentation lacked impact and I was left cold.

The other presentation I saw was War at Home, about the impact on civilians. Like the first one, most of it dealt with the Second World War, which linked neatly with my recent reading of Our Hidden Lives, but there were parts about wars in other countries. This was more effective than the first, but I was told afterwards that the third, about combat, is the most powerful of all.

I used the time between the two presentations to explore the displays hidden in what are called 'silos' behind the blank walls and on the walls behond the silos. The build-up to the First World War is the earliest conflict covered and the first Gulf War is the latest. That's still a lot to cover, and much of the content is superficial - one paragraph on the conflict in former Yugoslavia and two sentences on the genocide in Rwanda - but the complete failure even to mention the recent invasion of Iraq is staggering. Doesn't it count if we do the invading? (And what's with the 'Imperial' in the museum's name? What's that about?)