Friday, March 31, 2006

Atrocity's First Law of the Internets

"By the year 2120 every single image on the internets will have had a lightsabre Photoshopped on it by someone."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Back in the Land of the Living

I have no idea what evil little micro-organism I have to thank for it but I spent most of the weekend and Monday with a horrid stomach bug meaning no food for two days and nothing to drink for one. Thinking back I haven't felt so wretched in a long time, nor have I listened to so much of the World Service throughout the night (did I mention I couldn't sleep either?).

Well this isn't a tirade against microbey whatsits though I am less fond of them now than I was; this a mini-post in praise of the sense of taste. Now I can eat again everything tastes amazing. The first thing I dared try on Monday afternoon was a fruit smoothie as it's a halfway food/drink and I didn't fancy pushing my luck with solids too soon. Clearly it wasn't, but at that time it tasted like the best smoothie that the world had ever seen. So sweet, so refreshing, so much flavour bursting out - I grinned like a fool. Similarly the ham sarnie I'm tucking into at this moment (I'm feeling braver with my diet today) could not be crusty-breadier, cripsy-lettucier, juicy-tomatoier and fatty-salty-jambonier (can we say umami?) if it tried. I think by any standard this sarnie is pretty good, but after the last few days it is extra good, and that is perhaps nature's reward for putting you through the lurgy.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More film stills

Here's a still from another short film I'm working on. I've written some software to take a .wav file and output animation data. I'm going to use that data to drive the speakers you can see attached to the box. Now all I need to do is record some sounds, put some objects in the box to get blown about, work out some camera moves and render it. Easy eh?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

You don't often get to say that...

...Hermione Granger almost ran me over in a golf-kart today.

But it's true.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Right Up My Strasse

At the risk of this blog turning into a general arts review and recipe collection (which wasn't my intention when I started it) I have to get all over-excited and evangelical about the László Maholy-Nagy and Josef Albers show which has just opened at the Tate Modern.

Disclaimer - I am unabashed modernist, and as a product of the UK art education system which, especially at foundation level, is so closely modeled on the ideas and principles taught at the Bauhaus, I feel a very close affinity with what they were trying to achieve.

It is so refreshing to see artists who explore every medium, especially new ones, to develop and push their ideas and creativity. From typography, to furniture design, from glass-ware to painting this show has it all, and it all still seems so refreshingly new, especially the Weimar era work. There is a palpable sense of a new generation throwing off the shackles of what has gone before both artistically and more generally in an effort to consciously create something new and better. The Bauhaus era work (1925-1933) is so clean, so full of energy that it is almost impossible to walk through it without a spring in your step. It is uplifting and if you are artistically inclined, enormously inspirational. There is a continual playful experimentation that I, in the middle of a bit of a creative rut at the moment, found very liberating.

The later rooms focus on the artists' post-Bauhaus work, mainly in the USA, and these pictures seem much less free and optimistic than their forebears, especially Maholy-Nagy's paintings. If his earlier work seems to be part of an attempt to make a new society, a pro-active art if you will, the latter work is reactive and more passive, commenting upon what is going on in the world rather than trying to shape it. Perhaps the optimism of youth faded; perhaps it was the Weimar dream that was so utterly crushed by the Nazis and led to a War ended by the atomic bomb that put paid to the idea that the arts and culture could in some way lead society to a new and better place. Post Hiroshima it certainly seemed that hard-science was the leading force in shaping society and that I think continues to this day. It is almost sad that Maholy-Nagy's work is in purely chronological order as I find it a little depressing to see the exuberance of the 1920s crushed and replaced by the later introverted reactionism.

But it isn't all doom and gloom. Albers' later work showed a continuing experimentation with ideas of form and especially colour that is fascinating in its almost scientific approach both in terms of experimentalism and empiricism. The book resulting from his investigations, "Interaction of Colour" is a classic work on colour theory. So it is perhaps fitting that the show ends with Albers' later "Homage to the Square" paintings (Maholy-Nagy died in 1946 and so never saw the post-war world) where his artistic experimentation has taken on the ideas of scientific inquiry to probe the meaning of colour. It is perhaps the only way he could reconcile the position of the modern artist in his post-nuclear industrial world.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

By way of explanation...

Why "Mr Atrocity", Mr Atrocity? Well, dear reader, there is a little story attached to this. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Back in the early 1990s my dad had one of them thar new-fangled Apple Mac Classics with the now-defunct Claris Works on it. I still own this pooter as I can't bear to throw something so beautiful away and who knows I might think of something to do with it one day. Gutting it and cramming the innards from a Mac Mini into the case have occured as a thought but got no further than that. I did manage to give away my treasured Silicon Graphics O2 last year. I had finally realised that my phone had more processing power. Sniff, how the mighty are fallen. "My name is Ozymandias" and all that. Any way this is all way off the point, back to Claris Works. The first thing we did when we got it was to write a letter, which concluded with my name. Now spell-checkers were pretty over-zealous in those days and not very bright (a bit like the GOP today) and would offer suggestions for absolutely any word it didn't have, including proper nouns. The best it could offer for my surname was "atrocity", hence the name. Over the years it's stuck and as a nom de guerre I like it. So now you know.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Media We Deserve (Follow Up)

Well I'd never have thought it. Actually that's bad of me, I have simply not credited Rupert Murdoch with the intelligence he clearly has. In this article from The Guardian, Murdoch discusses the move from spoon-fed media to us leaving the nest and flying out into a world of hunter-gatherer media consumption. I don't agree with his interpretation of how we relate to the media but I do agree with his view of what will happen in the future to any media empire that doesn't move with the times.

The owner of Fox News added: "Never has the flow of information and ideas, of hard news and reasoned comment, been more important. The force of our democratic beliefs is a key weapon in the war against religious fanaticism and the terrorism it breeds."

"Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall," he warned. "That applies as much to my own, the media industry, as to every other business on the planet."

I'd agree with that other than to point out that the same information and ideas can and will also be used to spread ideas of fanaticism and in a nominally free society that is right and just. To attempt to control what is "reasoned comment" is to deny what makes the net powerful and different. It is of course also impossible to censor the internet as the network is engineered to route around any obstacle put in its way; that's how it works.

He had some words of hope for his industry peers buffeted by declining circulations, free titles and the internet. "I believe traditional newspapers have many years of life but, equally, I think in the future that newsprint and ink will be just one of many channels to our readers," he said, predicting a future in which "media becomes like fast food" with consumers watching news, sport and film clips as they travel, on mobile phones or handheld wireless devices.

Yes, but all those people can, if they wish, make media as well as consume it. It's not just one-way traffic anymore, that I think is where the real excitement lies. As discussed before it's the concept of massive peer-review that destroys the notion that establishment journalists have a truer or more valid take on events than potentially anyone else and if they don't work harder to produce interesting content, they're dead in the water. Still it's interesting that the last of the Hearstian media moguls seems to be aware of the new era that is upon us. I wonder if the rest of his ilk are?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Media We Deserve?

I finally got around to watching "Good Night and Good Luck" this week. What a fabulous film. Everything about it was perfectly conceived and produced. So George Clooney can act, write, direct and be very handsome, all at the same time. I am jealous. But that's not what I wanted to write about. The film is bookended with excerpts from this speech Edward R Murrow gave to the RTNDA Convention in Chicago on October 15, 1958. It's well worth reading in its entirety as the argument that the media needs to act independently and confront its audience whether the advertisers who pay for it like it or no is succinctly and convincingly put. He accuses the media and the corporations that pay for it of underestimating its audience but he also levels a stern gaze at a complacent and comfortable public. Perhaps to misquote H. L. Mencken we get the media we deserve?

The aspect that strikes me hardest from reading the transcript is both what remains the same today and what has changed, not at an institutional level, but at a technological and sociological level. Today the mass-media is owned and controlled to an even greater extent than it was even in Murrow's day and the direct distortion and selectivity in reporting is perhaps even more blatant. Imagine The Times, The Sun or Fox News criticising Rupert Murdoch? Doesn't seem likely and that's just a single obvious example. The other similarity, or logical extension of Murrow's thesis can be seen by looking at any TV schedule at prime-time. Asinine soap opera, "reality" TV that bears no relation to any reality I've ever experienced and other low-attention requirement shows that aim to comfort not challenge, relax not provoke and anaethetise not enliven its viewers. Murrow's wish that every now and again a spot should be found on the major networks at primetime for a show that would increase the "exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation" has largely not come to pass, principally because the cost of television is now so high that the marketing applied to its production has been finessed to a precise science of not upsetting anyone at all. And since we still consume it unquestioningly, we get the media we deserve. Or do we?

Today The Guardian reports that for the first time Britains are spending more time per day online than they are watching TV. We still watch nearly 3 hours of TV per day (who has the time?) but the trend is clearly in one direction. Now it is possible, likely even, that most of this online time is spent on eBay and finding pictures of Scarlett Johansson in the buff but the difference is that the era of being spoon-fed media is over. Murrow wanted an occasional prime-time slot for some serious journalism because that was the only way he could hope to reach a sizable audience. Spectrum was limited and the barriers to access were high. Today we can view what we want, when we want it. If you want to check out Newsnight at 3 a.m. because that's when you feel best able to process it, you can. So my first point is that we can now control when we experience our media and how we experience it.

The second change from Murrow's day is that the quantity of media out there is exponentially greater. The internet provides almost barrierless entry to anyone with a little technical nous to become a media creator, and through the power of the search engines if your article is deemed good by other users and is linked you will become an authority. Peer review at a truly massive scale. Of course 99.9% of the content of the net is garbage but this is not really a bad thing as it enforces a lot of critical thinking by those who consume it. The concept of something being authoritative simply because it is published has always been fallacious, but it is now palpably absurd, and more importantly, that is blatantly obvious to all. So we peer filter our content. Something I find online intrigues me, I e-mail it to friends and we discuss it. They may pass it on to people I have never met. Sites like or provide links to interesting pages around the net i.e. they provide the same function at a higher level. The issue today is not the stymying of opinion or content, it is whether we can develop the critical and technical faculties to find, filter, disseminate and process that data.

The change from spoon-fed media to a hunter gatherer approach does not come easily and much that we learn in our formative years does not equip us with the skills that will become more and more important. The ability of anyone to comment or criticise leads us to long threads of discussion on any topic imaginable. Articles are debunked; the debunking is debunked and so on. You can follow a meme as far as you want to take it and experience it from multiple perspectives. The sheer amount of opinion and data means that it is possible for anyone with some critical facility to "triangulate" their stance on an issue by examining not just the data itself but others' interpretation of that data. The notion of an authority has changed from one of deferential respect, immortalised on paper or tape, to a Darwinian evolution of ideas where the consensus is always in flux and the viewpoints multiple.

I suspect that Murrow would not have felt comfortable with this sea-change. He seems very much to me a benign patrician of the old school of journalism. He had his opinion, which he believed to be right and fair, and that was what he reported on the radio and latterly television. The notion of editorialising was difficult and most seemed to feel that if the facts reported were correct that was sufficient. That other equally verifiable facts were not reported did not seem to them editorialising. It does to me. To put it another way, old-media because of its limited spectrum and time (as well as the bias of its reporters in whatever direction) meant that it was always going to be, in the words of Alan Clark, "economical with the actualité". It is unavoidable and no amount of semantic twisting and turning can disguise it. The new media is to all intents and purposes infinite which is a scary proposition, but ultimately if we can conquer our preconceptions and our technology it is a liberating one.

These are the last two paragraphs of Murrow's speech. We can substitute "the internet" for "television" in 2006. In 1958 I don't believe he was right, television is too limited a medium but perhaps now, finally, we have stumbled upon something that we really can use.

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival."

Because no-one controls the sword and scabbard of new media it is impossible for it to rust. Someone will always want, and have the ability, to use it.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Beard Cricket

This morning I've been playing beard cricket on my way to work. The rules in the version I play are :

Sideburns below ear length - 2 runs
moustache - 4 runs
full beard of non-epic proportion - 4 runs
Moses style epic facial fluff - 6 runs

Goatee beard - HOWZAT!!???

At lunch on the first morning's play of England vs India, England won the toss and elected to bat :

A J Strauss b. I K Pathan 4
A N Cook c R Dravid b Habhajan Singh 60
I R Bell 26 n.o.

Total 90 for 2

"Should be a tense afternoon session as India seek to apply pressure and break into the England middle order though at lunch I think England will be the happier dressing room. Fred, my dear old thing what do you make of it?"

"Well I had these lovely boots. Made in Northampton of kangaroo skin. Very soft you see. Trouble today is that none of these youngsters...." (fades out to the shipping forecast)

Friday, March 03, 2006

ho for hoggwarts (chiz chiz)

This is a link for an audience of about 12. Worldwide. It assumes a good working knowledge of Harry Potter and the superb Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. If that describes you then give it a read, it's pretty much perfect.

it is ritten by a GURL who may be SWOT and a CISSY and probly loves BEAKS chiz chiz. poo err gosh I say. beware gentl reeder reeding can leed to danjerus things like KNOLEGE and as any fule kno this hav never helpd anybode.