Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sun it rises

Wandering home wards last night, I was walking east and I could sense the sun rising in the distance. Looking behind the sky was dark and still night, but ahead the light was growing and the stars were fading. You could almost feel the warmth entering the day, the sun rushing forward across the earth.

It just felt good.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Checked out

I had watched the guy in front of me, and he was a pro. He did the entire thing without speaking once. He barely made eye contact. I had to step it up, there was no half measures here.

I strode to my position and it began. Beep. Beep. Pack. Pack. Beep beep. Pack. Pack. On we went, almost flirting; she threw down the ham, I packed it faster than you could say swine flu. The sausages followed suit; thrown, bagged. Bring it on. But still we registered not a flicker of recognition of the other.

Soon the final item, the eggs (cleverly positioned by me), were coming down, and as I packed them away I knew, and I knew she knew too, we were coming to the hardest part of the ballet. Instinctively, before she had a chance to tell me the cost, I took my card from my wallet and glanced at the Chip & Pin screen. She hit her button to do whatever was necessary and I inserted the card, chipped & pinned, and withdrew, placing it back in my wallet. She took the receipt, handed it to me, I placed it in the bag and was about to turn, when... all went wrong. I don't know what happened but...I faltered, something kicked in, some latent shred of human interaction London hadn't managed to crush and destroy took over and from my mouth, before I could stop it, like vomit from the hopeless drunk, came the words 'Thanks very much!'

I turned before she could make eye contact, but the damage was done. I had broken the code. I had been cheery. I felt ashamed and knew she was chalking up another victory.

But I've learnt my lesson. Use the self service machines. No chance of human interaction then.


I went to Aylesbury last Friday. The only thing I knew about Aylesbury before the visit was that it is famous for its ducks, or the ducks that used to be bred there. From Wikipedia:

The breed was developed around the early 18th century and became a cottage industry in Aylesbury in southern England. The ducks were walked to the markets in London, some forty miles (64 km) to the south, stopping at night at inns which provided large enclosed yards for a charge of a few birds. Each morning the feet of the birds were given some protection by driving them across a shallow ditch filled with cold tarry solution which made their feet sticky, then through sawdust which adhered to their feet.

How quaint and old England. Walking the ducks to market, and tarring their feet up to protect them on the long trip.

Hidden messages

Quick link - some brilliant examples of hidden and/or subtle messages within companies logos and the power of graphic design. I've never seen the arrow in the FedEx logo before (find it right) or the bear on Toblerone.

Better to travel in hope

So the Champions League final was a disappointment. Barcelona were excellent, United were not. The build up started at 10am on the BBC Sport website, while The Guardian had the decency to start at 6.45pm. Despite of nine hours and 45 minutes of pre-match hype on the Beeb the match was never a proper contest and will not live long in the memory.

Now there is the inevitable avalanche of writing that will appear on the match; reasons why United were poor, why Barcelona were so good, why Ferguson got it wrong, or why Messi is now the best player in the world and so on. But it's just football. It's just a game. Sometimes one team wins, sometimes another. As United won it last year, and AC Milan the year before, So Barcelona have won it this year and someone else will win it next.

See this article that underlines the futility of in-depth sports analysis. And this shows why it doesn't pay to take these things too seriously.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finishing touches

I've just noticed how image light the top of my blog is; it looks a touch drab. I don't want to go OTT but something for the banner on which the text could rest would be good. Any suggestions?

If you chip away long enough...

I don't watch ITV news but apparently last night's lead story was about Lily Allen (you know that quite popular singer) writing a tweet (a message on Twitter) in which she said that she thought that Susan Boyle (you know that semi-famous non professional singer, who looks a bit different) was 'overrated'. This off the top of her head comment, on a website, was the lead story.

Why? It's just opinion. It's not news. Today she said she was 'looking forward to the football tonight'. Is that worth a news story too? One could suggest that because ITV broadcast Britain's Got Talent they want to generate as much discussion = money as possible, so decided to use their flagship news service to do so.

"Well done everyone, we've made it through! Oh look, the barrel was standing on a paving stone all along."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scuse me while I diss the Sky

Sorry, lame pun.

Seriously though. Sky. Their adverts have been playing for a while now extolling the merits of High Definition TV. They say, " even more thrilling..." and " even more mesmerising..." and I can't stay silent any longer.

Because it's not true. Sport isn't any more or less thrilling when it's in high definition or low definition. It's just a better picture on which to watch the thrilling-ness, or lack there of. Indeed, a dull 0-0 between Portsmouth and Hull isn't made any more thrilling by Peter Crouch's face being more sharply defined.

Documentaries are as mesmerising as the content they provide. If it's fascinating subject matter then the quality of the image - which let's be honest, is hardly that poor at the moment on regular TV anyway; any underwater shots from a BBC nature show will prove that - is irrelevant to the content. The fact that you can show it in HD shouldn't somehow add 'mesmerising-ness' to the programme.

But I get it. They're just trying to flaunt the damn thing.

Living the dream

Today I attended an event hosted by Research in Motion, best known for their BlackBerry smartphone gizmos that high powered business execs use. It was very enjoyable and interesting. The PR company involved were also very nice about it all, and even arranged for a car to pick me up from home to deliver me to the event. That's how you know you've made it.

Saying that, it did mean about 30 minutes silence / small talk with the driver. He was perfectly pleasant, and we did the usual 'dash awful weather isn't it,' which passed about a minute of the journey, and he asked, 'so where you off to then this morning?' to which I duly answered, taking up another two or three minutes. But that was it.

I didn't ask him what time he knocked off though as it was 8.30am. Seemed pointless.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some ukulele goodness

An awesome interpretation of While My Guitar Gently Weeps

A clever cover of Creep by Radiohead; link here.

And how could I forget, the gorgeous 'Somewhere over the Rainbow / Wonderful World' medley by Israel Kamakawiow 'Ole (including some live footage from his funeral in the pacific ocean).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Earth has not anything to show more fair

The workers are on strike. The Victoria Line is down and the Piccadilly Line is full of refugees from this silent passage under the city. With another day done it was, therefore, a sojourn to Westminster to make the migration home from there. The sun shone, the air was fresh and my legs were moving almost of their own free will, unaware of the very concept of tiredness.

I walked past the Houses of Parliament and spied the lovely Joanna Lumley looking radiant, talking to passerbys who had gone up to her, while on the square the remaining Sri Lankian protesters continued to shout slogans and wave their placards. The towers of the house stood stark against the blue blur that occurs between afternoon and evening while Cromwell stood majestic and silent, a very different ideal to the fiasco that has been unravelling, warts and all, in those corridors of misused power.

To nice to enter the tube just yet.

So on past Downing Street and into Trafalgar Square, weaving through the spaces left by the evening drinkers, the speeding cyclists, the wandering tourists; cutting down side streets and moving towards Covent Garden with some vague notion of direction; ducking into an HMV (okay too corporate too sound romantic, but it is 2009), and peruse some DVDs. Then back to the Garden, watch a juggler entertain the crowds, before strolling on up to Holborn, past the Mason's building and all the mystery that holds.

And all this, all this mighty heart beating so loudly, is so easy to ignore each and everyday as we shuttle back and forth in tubes.

The workers are on strike. I'm outside soaking up the energy of one of the world's greatest cities.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Biscuit Fail

From the ever brilliant Click on the story to enlarge.

Pop up

In case you miss this story it's worth linking too.

Wild talk

So, as I am now 24 and far too mature for my own good, I attended a lecture last night (in my own free time!) at UCL by two members of the BBC Natural History Unit, Paul Williams and Chris Howard, on 'How to make a wildlife documentary' - which focused mainly on the history of wildlife filming, as well as interesting divergences about their experiences on location.

They started by looking at some of the first filmed wildlife shots - primarily these involved people shooting animals and then standing over the carcasses. There was some fairly graphic examples, including a tribe spearing a lion to death, and a female rifle hunter squaring off against a rhino and, as it charged at her, she shot it, point blank.

There was also a fascinating piece of film in which one of the early pioneers of wildlife filming - Cherry Kearton (pictured above) - was shown visiting an island inhabited with penguins, or "little Charlie Chaplins" as he called them with a wonderful turn of phrase. He also filmed the 1911 movie 'Roosevelt in Africa' (nearly an unintentional pun on veldt there...) in which President Roosevelt, yes you've guessed it, shot and stood over various wildlife.

From here we moved forward through the advancement of camera techniques and technology, including examples of the use of cameras attached to animals - such as golden eagles or tortoises - and the stunning footage that can now be captured with super-slow motion cameras - most famously the recent footage of a great white shark catching a seal and leaping clean out of the water in doing so. We also saw some early footage of David Attenborough, contrasted with some footage from one of his latest series, Life in Cold Blood, in which he came across the smallest chameleon in the world. It was quite moving stuff as you could see just what it meant to the great man.

We also saw the footage made by Disney of the infamous lemmings myth - in which the film makers just pushed a bunch of lemmings off a cliff and created an entire generation of lies. You could see some of the lemmings scrabbling like mad to stop themselves falling. This is all part of the 'drama' wildlife documentaries usually involve, to create moments of tension and so forth - but this was a case too far, obviously.

We then got a few sneak preview shots of a new BBC series coming out soon called 'Life' (large in scope then) and these are known as "Blue Chip" documentaries - the type only the BBC can make due to the cost and time invovled. We heard from Paul how he had spent four weeks camping wild in the Arctic, only to miss the shot they were after - even after one 60 hour wait at one point. Never work with children or animals.

We also learnt why they now insert these 10 minute 'diary' segments. They sell the show to the US sans the diary segment - so it comes in at 50 minutes, for ad breaks presumably - and to make up the hour for us, add in these bits. Makes sense.

Afterwards there was a free glass of wine and a chance to look around the Grant Museum of Zoology - where Darwin lived / studied - which was very interesting too - lots of weird and wonderful skeletons and pickled animals in jars, and there was a chance to talk to these speakers, both very nice chaps. Overall it was a very interesting and enlightening talk from two very amiable, interesting presenters. And, as it was all for free, was credit crunch value for money too. Perfect.

Note for London based people - I found this via a great website for interesting, quirky, under the radar events - updated weekly. Worth keeping an eye on for things of this nature.

No George Formby jokes please

After all that talk of mandolins a few posts ago I now have a ukulele too thanks to my brother. Here's a vid of us. One take. Done.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where do we go from here?

Yesterday a friend used the phrase 'Web 3.0'. I think it was the first time I'd heard it said and it made me wonder if we are on the verge of the third age of the internet. Web 1.0, or just Web as it was known ,was a bit rubbish, (in hindsight) a bit beta, but Web 2.0 has been an unqualified success - Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Wikipedia, Google and all its spinoffs etc. that we now use day in, day out, without a second thought as to quite what these services are actually offering us.

Web 3.0 though. What's it going to be? Wolframalpha? Google Chrome? I'll admit I don't know what it will entail, or does entail already, but it seems likely that as we hurtle towards 2010 the phrase Web 2.0 will start to look outdated, especially to the new generation of technology developers who will soon be arriving on the scene, aged 15 - 21, who will no doubt design and develop the next web successes. It should be an interesting time. The future usually is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's in a name?

Clearly a lot according to Aviva Union, or Norwich, as they're going to be called soon. Or are called already.

In the first adverts they released to inform us of this change, Ringo Starr asked "Would any of this (being in The Beatles) have happened to me if I'd have still been Richard Starkey?" to which the answer is, "Well probably yes actually. It did to the others, the best 75%, and they used their own names". Well Paul's first name is James, but we'll let that slide.

Then, in the newest adverts, a bunch of celebrities and normal people are shown demanding a list of things they want from their insurance provider ("don't treat me as a target market", "take me seriously" (asked by a clown - oh clever) "just recognise me" (this from a man who is shown to have 3 identical brothers - which I think is a bit of a hard request actually).

And what does Mr Ringo Starr (who, remember, would never have been world famous if he had been known as Richard Starkey), demand?

"Don't call me by my stage name"

What? Hang on a moment. Make your mind up. Is it Starr or Starkey? Richard or Ringo? Ringo Union or Nowich Starkey?

An Icelandic horse

For work I regularly have to make use of copy right free images - perhaps from dedicated sites like Morgue File (a staple of university days) - or be perusing the various terms on Wikipedia and Flickr images to see if they are free to use. Being a small company it's important to be judicious with funds you see.

What I like about this is three things:

One - that people are willing to be so open with their images. They take them and uploaded them purely because they will of interest, benefit and use to millions of people around the world. Often in ways they couldn't imagine.

Two - how many talented people there are out there. Some of the photos you come across are truly fantastic, and yet they are in all probability taken by a keen amateur photographer who is happy enough to see the image online.

Three - the best reason though is just the fact you can come across some fantastic, striking and beautiful images completely at random. Earlier today I was looking for an image of Iceland. I found this one, which is a beautiful shot and will be the one we use, but I also came across this (the image above), which is also a wonderful shot and finding it through such a roundabout way makes it all the more enjoyable.


Okay, just a short Lost based entry here. Season five finished on Sunday night, with more twist, turns and surprises than you could shake a really suprised stick at. They certainly know how to keep you guessing. I said similar things about season four.

The show is so far on now that no-one who is still watching can surely hold any 'they're making it up as they go along' thoughts, and, in many ways the show has repeatedly showed how shrewd and crafty the writers are. Case in point:

Season four ended with a slow reveal over a coffin to show us the, as then, unknown inhabitant inside. As the camera rose up and over the open lid the music swelled to reveal...Shock! It's...(Spoiler potential - but you probably know if you watch the show).

Season five - final scene of one strand of the finale - slow reveal over a make shift coffin, the music swells as the camera rises in exactly the same angles over the coffin to reveal...the same person inside...who we thought was alive and well...

Now it's not explained yet how this has come to happen but I was suitably impressed by a show that can end a season finale, with, basically, the same shocking twist as it did a whole 18 episodes previous, and yet it be so utterly different and as baffling as before. Roll on the final season - if only to get this whole thing over and done with.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Crouch End 10k: rain, doughnuts and more rain.

This morning it was a short walk over the hill to the start of the Crouch End 10k. During the night the heavens had opened so surely it was all set for a crisp, dry race? Perhaps not.

We queued up and, about five minutes before the start, the heavens we went, around the start which was in the local park, being slowed up by the narrowness of the course and the number of runners, which meant the first kilometre passed in a terribly slow 5.35m. The rain was sheeting down now and I was soaked through.

Kilometres 2, 3 and 4 passed quickly (after running a marathon 10km seemed quick anyway) and soon I had caught up with a friend who was running too and we ran onto kilometre 5. I had been aiming for sub 45 minutes on this run but halfway around I was at 25 minutes so clearly not on schedule. I made a quick calculation and figured if I really ran hard I could do 5k in 20 minutes.

So I pushed on and went careering around the course, overtaking everyone in sight; there's no better feeling in running that reeling in runner after runner, using the overtake as a catapult: you can almost sense their annoyance at someone passing them at pace. It's good, self-centred, motivation.

To kilometre 8 and I needed to run the last two kms in nine minutes something. Just about doable. Perhaps. So on I went, the rain lashing incessantly down, the wind buffeting us from all sides, and I spied the 9k sign coming into view. I sprinted on and after around 200 metres had to slow down. How the marathon professionals do it, I have no idea. I now had two minutes to finish the final 800m. Not going to happen.

I ran on and entered the finish area in the park. Around the final few corners, including a great sprint around the final bend to overtake two runners who had just overtaken me (ha!), and home in 47m 37seconds. Tantalisingly close. I think the lesson learned here was, need to run the first 3k faster and ideally start further up the field to avoid the 50m runners. This was my third 47 minute 10k, from three, so at least I'm consistent.

A delicious doughnut from a local bakery and a banana later and, with my two runner friends found, we headed home. As we did so the rain stopped and the sun came out. Typical.

P.S. In the race information booklet that was sent out, there was a comedy little mantra that read, 'remember, you'll go faster with pasta, but when you get to the end make our free doughnuts your friend.' Which I love. I actually thought about this at kilometre nine. Yum.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I knew this was so, but....

A friend's friend has been auditioning for the next series of X Factor (yes they're doing another one), and has so far had two rounds of auditions, and has another one coming up. Each time she's been told to get there at 5am, and not been seen to 8pm and 11pm respectively.

But the worst bit is this is just auditions with production people, not 'the people'. Well, 1/3 of them is off on Britain's Got Talent so obviously He's not going to be there. But this clearly means the 'hilarious', awful comedy people they get on must be going through this process too, being told each time something ambiguous like, 'Yeah we definitely think you've got something...(evil snigger), you've got a real...talent...heheheh...' and this is probably why, when these people arrive at the TV camera stage and are told, 'you are the worst singer ever, who ever told you you can sing, didn't know what they were talking about', it's no wonder they look so shocked and surprised.

They may be deluded to not have ever stopped and listened back to their voice and realised they're not as good as, say, Steve Brookstein, but it's no wonder they are so bewildered when they go through such a rigmarole which leads them to believe that perhaps they do have that 'X Factor' that is apparently so needed in the bloated pop world, only to find out they're actually a BIG JOKE!.

For more, better X Factor bashing, you can also watch this, probably again.


A very good friend of mine, who once was famous, but now is less famous / not famous, but still a very good friend, is offering drumming lessons in the Brighton area. If you're in and around there and want to learn, get on his MySpace (retro!) and drop him a line. You can listen to some of his work while you're there too.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Future shock

Saw Star Trek on Sunday, very good it is too. Enjoyable, well-paced, exciting and with enough humour to be fun, rather than irritating (as shoe-horned in humour often can be in action films).

Two thoughts though.

One: Why in sci-fi films (most famously in Empire Strikes Back) do space stations / ships of the future have a vast inner section that plummet downwards into nothingness where the villain and hero always end up fighting, balancing preciously on the edge of narrow walkways and gantries, often leading to the villains demise? All that technology and they don't even bother building in a few handrails.

Two: I think the creator JJ Abrahams could be from the future. Both Lost and Star Trek contain time travel elements and the more I think about it the more I wonder if perhaps he is just normalising us to the idea of it before he reveals his true intention.

That is all.

Careful, you could have someone's eye out with that

Last night I helped a friend cart a dismantled book case across London. This involved a bus to a tube, the tube across London, out of the tube, then a short walk to his new place, with the awkward, cumbersome shelves and units. We got a few odd looks, but we pay enough for the tube so we should be able to use it for such endeavours if we wish.

The first bus we boarded, as chance would have it, had a bus company official on as well as the driver, probably taking a freebie ride home, who told us we weren't allowed on as the wood 'constituted a health and safety risk' because it could 'kill someone' if it fell on them. The second driver didn't bat an eye lid.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pea Diddy

Those with a penchant for puns will no doubt remember the fun we all had on Comic Relief day when @serafinowicz set up a 'vegtable pun game' and asked people to contribute a small donation in return for entry to the competition of having their winning entry painted. That was a long sentence.

The winning entry was The Notorious V.E.G. and on Mr S's new, fancy website he's put the winning image up. It's AMAzing, and done by the clearly supremely talented Jim Vance. I just wanted to share it.

If I ruled the world...

I'd ban Vodafone from ever making another advert ever again.

Every advert they've ever made (off the top of my head) is always awkward and misjudged. The latest ones are the worst. In the first one, the fisher-price lookalike mimes incredibly badly, and couldn't look less like he was singing the song, while the second one is just so odd. The kid is just sitting at home, then out of nowhere, starts 'singing', then in the very last second of the shot, as he finishes 'singing' he starts to fight with his brother. Why?

Not only that, but the whole thing is just an advert for text / minute bundles that is apparently so freeking good it's akin to 'ruling the world'. Hateful stuff.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cornish success

One of my best moments in my short journalism career thus far was when I saw my photography and writing in the glossy print pages of Cornwall Today magazine.

Since then I've done numerous features for them: Tops 10, various walks and a couple of interesting one-off features too. So I was delighted to see the magazine has won the Magazine of the Year award at the Press Gazette Regional Awards bash in London. I'll take a 1% share of the award, maybe?

It's great to see something you've been part of succeed and, irrespective of my connection to it, seeing something that represents the county I come from, being recognised and rewarded for its fine work.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Musical endeavours: Or how 175,000 people came to watch me play mandolin.

Ever since I first heard feedback I thought I wanted to be a rock and roller. Not a nu-waver, or landfill indie-er, but a genuine Jimmy Page, Rock and Roller. So I had guitar lessons and so on and got quite good, but found I couldn't sing, but could play a mean (ish) guitar. But I was no Jimmy Page.

Still, as I grew up and enjoyed playing music for itself, rather than as an ambitious way to make money, I became less bothered by this, and just enjoyed impressing people by playing Wonderwall by Oasis at parties*. Then the internet invented Youtube and suddenly people like yours truly had an outlet to record and share their music. I was intrigued. Around the same time I received a mandolin for my birthday. Being the sharing sort I recorded a brief ditty I had come up with, uploaded it to the Tube (as people were calling it then), and sent it to a few friends through Facebook (remember Facebook, it was really popular), and forget allllllll about it.

Then, about two months later I checked my video again (out of sheer vanity you understand) and, with my eyes shooting out on stalks like a cartoon character, I noticed it had been viewed...15,000 times. Wow. Now, that number is 175,000 and rising. It goes up about 200 - 1,000 a day, sometimes I get two/three comments a day, sometimes just one a week, and most are positive, and the average rating is four AND a half stars. FTW. Watch here if you wish.

It's bloody weird. To have played a made up mandolin piece to over 175,000 people is just bizarre. There's no way I could sell out Wembley stadium two nights running on the promise of a 1m 55sec mandolin piece, I'm fairly sure, but I've played to that equivalent number, right? It's a stretch......but the reality is true. I also think, perhaps, I should go on Britain's Got Talent and see how I do. However, I remain unconvinced that Amanda Holden, that paragon of talent dissection, is a mandolin fan.

The whole purpose of this post though, really, was to tell you that my brother, who clearly wanted to emulate big brother (emulate being the correct word), has become a guitar and piano player (show off) and can sing too. Bastard. He's starting to post his own Youtube stuff now, including an entire song he's covered, playing every single damned instrument on it. Watch below. It gets really good at 1m 45sec when the electric guitar kicks in. But then I would say that, being a flashy guitar solo obsessed guitarist wouldn't I?


*. Note, this is a joke and I have never, ever, ever, ever done this.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

News worthy

The old addage is, 'Dog bites man = no story, man bites dog = story'. Also, as you may know, local newspapers are dying out there, falling standards, fewer readers, smaller advertising revenues and so on. Quality seems to be shrinking too...

Example one: Woman can't find custard in any local shops.

Example two: Dead fish died of exhaustion.

Example three: Chair set on fire.

On one and three the comments from readers go on and on, mostly bemoaning the quality of the story, or making he-lar-ious puns on the stories. Perhaps the future of local news is to report nonsense and hope people's love of puns will run riot on the comments sections below. This would increase page impressions and encourage advertising spend. It's an idea.