Friday, March 31, 2006

The illusion of life

ou may have noticed that I haven't been posting much recently. As I suspected, travelling to and from Liverpool every day leaves me with little time, energy or inclination to write.

Nevertheless, I'm really enjoying my work placement. The people in the studio are friendly and encouraging, and so far I've mostly been drawing small frame-by-frame animations to add little points of interest in the background of a website that has a hand-drawn feel to it. I've done very little of this sort of animation before, and I'm learning a lot.

This is ideal training - the animations won't be the main focus of attention, so they're to be kept short and simple. The website won't go live for a while yet, but if any of my work survives the final cut, I'll let you know when it does.

The studio produces some marvellous design, and it's inspiring even to be a tiny part of it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Barcelona images

Originally uploaded by Alec_M.
The first batch of my photographs from Barcelona is now available for viewing on my Flickr account.

This photograph is of the Casa Batla, designed by the Catalan architect Gaudi.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

You'll never guess what I've been reading

he bookshelf at the design studio where I'm currently working has the expected range of books about software. It also has an intriuging mix of books about different subjects, which I assume have been required in the past for reference material.

By far the oddest tome is the 'Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia', available from all good booksellers. It contains photographs and drawings of complex tattoos, usually accompanied by a translation of any text. Superficially, it seems odd that someone would want to attach a permanent confession to his or her body, but look further and there is a whole sub-culture at work.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

He knows what you're thinking

erren Brown received a warm welcome at a full Victoria Theatre in Hanley tonight, and left with a standing ovation from about half of the crowd, with the remainder cheering enthusiastically.

He specifically asked journalists and anyone writing about his show on the Internet not to reveal any details, so I won't. He must put in an enormous amount of preparatory work, but he's also a showman: charming yet forceful, funny but disturbing.

His powers of persuasion are highly impressive, and the evening, with the exception of a couple of physical routines that didn't blend well with the rest, was very enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Quarter century

ot only is it twenty-five years since I previously went to Barcelona, but not a single one of the other students on this trip was even born then (and even one of the lecturers was only a year old.)

I had a great time, ate well, saw lots of things, and took lots of photos. It will take a while to sort through them all, but I'll post some eventually.

I'm back now, and I start my six-week work placement tomorrow, which means commuting between Stoke and Liverpool every day. I may not have much time or energy left for blogging, though. We'll just have to see how it works out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ye canna change the laws of mathematics, Jim

o posts for a few days: I'm off to Barcelona. I've been once before, a while ago in fact, but someone must have changed the rules of arithmetic, because it can't be possible that I did something, as an adult, that long ago. 2006 - 1981 is how much? And I'm not talking Euros, either.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Best in Breed

rufts has never interested me as I know little about dogs, but this year, for the first time, I watched some of the programmes the BBC broadcast from show. Instead of the immaculate professionalism we've come to expect from Auntie these days, largely because she keeps telling us about it in connection with programmes like the beautiful but empty Planet Earth, it was hugely enjoyable amateurism.

Voices echoed alarmingly, and a commentator spoke to camera but forgot to pick up his hand-held microphone, so we heard nothing until a fellow commentator picked it up and handed it to him. Shortly afterwards the producers cut back to Ben Fogle in the studio, revealing a stage hand in shot who paused briefly then scuttled out of view. It was as though they were pretending to be atrocious.

Ben himself, however, was the best. His boyish enthusiasm in Animal Park is perfectly placed and his endurance in running across the Sahara and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is admirable. Wearing rimless glasses at Crufts, however, gave only a spurious sheen of intelligence that was quickly tarnished when talking excitedly about wolf hounds, deer hounds, otter hounds and elk hounds:

"These dogs all have very specific roles. What do elk hounds do?"

The owner of the elk hound could only look bemused as he replied, "Well, Ben, they hunt elks."

(By the way, did Rodney, the champion black miniature poodle, have a mad glint in his eye or are all poodles like that?)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Time Goes By. So Slowly" - Madonna

ersonally, I disagree with Madge as much as it's possible to do. I can't believe how ridiculously fast it disappears. Heartless and relentless, that's what it is, and distressingly hypnotic. I pointed some good clocks out to you a while ago. Here are some more.

The first is based on bar codes, while the second is someone constantly writing numbers then erasing them. The third is a simple design with changing curves linking the hands.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Shakespeare

ontinuing yesterday's theme of Shakespearean plays, I also walked out of a performance in Stoke of Romeo and Juliet. It was an English Shakespeare Company production, where Romeo was an alien, and he arrived at Juliet's balcony by dangling upside down from his spacecraft.

In contrast, I've seen some wonderful productions. Illyria's outdoor production of The Comedy of Errors was excellent. Minor costume changes at each side of the performance area weren't really needed because the actors were so good at differentiating between the various sets of twins.

By coincidence, I came across this list of "Things I Will Not Do When I Direct a Shakespearean Production", which is quite amusing. There must be a lot of bad productions out there. The list continues on another page, but it's becoming quite tired by this point.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Scottish Play

recently helped Lisa prepare for some lessons at her school by writing a short essay comparing and contrasting the language in Macbeth's "Is this a dagger..." soliloquy with his monologue starting "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...".

I enjoyed writing the essay. For a time, Macbeth was my favourite Shakespearean play, and over the years I've seen many productions. Some have been mundane, but some have been highly imaginative and effective.

One low budget production in a small, hot room in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival kept the witches on stage throughout the performance, implying their pervasive influence over the story. Even when they had no lines, the witches would take part, for example by tying ropes round Macbeth's wrists and pulling him in different directions as he struggled with decisions.

A production in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with a slightly bigger budget, started with trees on stage. There was no curtain in the theatre, so the house lights went off completely before the actors came on. In complete darkness, there was a sudden, bright flash and a loud bang, then the stage lights came up. All of the foliage had disappeared from the trees, and the 'blasted heath' was a World War 1 battlefield of tree stumps and mud.

Less successful productions have included a performance entirely in Polish, again in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which ended with Macbeth dressing himself in a huge suit of Japanese armour then standing motionless. Few, if any, of the audience, could understand Polish, so it was a while before we realised that the final confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff had been cut.

I've seen two poor productions of Macbeth at the New Vic theatre in Staffordshire. One had a futuristic setting, where Macbeth's castle was made from scaffolding, and the porter and Macduff used video phones and television screens to communicate when the latter knocked at the castle door.

The other was much worse - Lady Macbeth was a vamp. She had apparently borrowed her dress from Miss Scarlet, and she shrieked her lines from the start, so there was nowhere for her to go when things started to get tense. In contrast, the witches, who are surely some of the most melodramatic creations in fiction, stood motionless and intoned their lines with no feeling. We walked out of that one.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lost e-mails

ere's another instalment in the irregular series of posts on items ending up in the Valley of Lost Things...

There is an unfortunate person who receives vast numbers of lost e-mails and mobile phone text messages for the past five years, all thanks to his choice of address. Using the word "null" meant that thousands of improperly addressed messages defaulted to his phone. The problem worsened when the technology spread to cars, then he started to receive sports news, exam results, even test messages for a new medication reminder service...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

All alone

In a strange continuation from yesterday's post, Lisa and I were out today when we saw a single footprint on the road. It wouldn't mean much normally, but there seems to be a strong link to the events of Tuesday evening: the training shoes arranged in the toilet, the barefoot people, and the barefoot statue. What does it all mean?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Left behind, but why?

In a brief break from tradition, there is no drop cap photograph today. I want to reserve the image for a photograph I took, with the camera on my mobile phone, after the reading by Hugo Williams on Tuesday evening.

On its own, it was merely slightly odd, but, coupled with several barefoot people in the corridors and a statue of Icarus, also barefoot, the shoes seemed to grow in potential significance. What is going on here? Who do the shoes belong to? Why have they been left so neatly in the toilets? Let me know your thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hugo Williams

isa and I went to hear Hugo Williams read some of his poetry last night. It was part of the season at Keele University where we heard Fleur Adcock last month.

I was a bit worried for a while, as I was sure I was missing something. His poems are undramatic, uneventful even, with little overt emotion. Beforehand, I'd read about all of the awards he's been given, including the Queen's poetry award, so I was surprised at how straightforward and enjoyable it all was.

During the questions at the end, however, Williams accepted the description of his poems as entertainments, the way Graham Greene described his lighter novels. That was quite a relief, and I felt free to enjoy the poems without searching hard for deeper meanings.

Williams writes about his past in an open and engaging way, at times surprisingly frankly. It must be odd standing in front of an audience and revealing so much of yourself.