Archive for February, 2009

On a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

Friday, February 27th, 2009

St. Paul's Cathedral

On a recent visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London I was shocked by the corruption of the Christian ethic.

Here in the capital city of England is a glorious monument of faith, built  by the church to demonstrate the power and majesty of God. To see it, is to be astonished at all the human endeavour involved, the complexity, the design, the perfect symmetry… all dedicated to the infinite love and compassion of Christ and His teachings.

Except you have to pay to see it.

Now I’m not an expert on religious buildings but I thought their function was to inspire people into believing that there is a God and he is worth checking out. To do that, people have to be able to visit the building and see it for themselves. Only now, the poor, the disenfranchised and the lonely aren’t welcome any more. These were the people who formed the bedrock of the church and built it up through their obedient following and service. But now they have served their purpose, the church is very successful and powerful thank you very much and they don’t require the attendance of such destitute people as it doesn’t help their coffers any, so go away now please.

As I stood in the reception area of the commercial faith machine (I refused to pay on principle), I saw a young man sitting in front of a cash register working conscientiously at taking in the money. Isn’t there a passage in the bible about Jesus coming to a church and finding the money lenders trading in it. And wasn’t Jesus furious about it and physically threw them out? I thought so.

So what would Jesus do if he came back and decided to visit one of his dad’s houses, say, St. Paul’s in London? Would he have changed his tone and say something like, “Well, yeah, these cathedrals don’t build themselves you know and the maintenance bill is, how many pieces of silver? Anyway, most of the people who come here are only sight seers, so they don’t count when it comes to joining the Heaven party and they can probably afford it too”.

So much for the largesse of the church. It doesn’t matter that the Catholic church, for example, is one of the richest organisations in the world, to be awed by its artistic acquisitions, is an experience that requires a large admission fee.

To be fair, there was a begrudging sign up in the reception area that said if someone really wanted to worship, they could do so at no charge when a service was being held – but get out quickly when the service has finished!

Okay, I made that last bit up, but you couldn’t help get the feeling that the entire concept of worshipping God had been abandoned and it was all about worshipping the money now.

It made me consider what the business models of the future might look like.

Information wants to be free, someone famously said. The digital age makes that a reality, so what is left that can be charged for?

Spectacle demands attendance, I now famously say, and St. Pauls is a classic example of how this works. No YouTube video is going to do it justice. You have to be there to appreciate the massive grandeur. It is a unique experience and as that experience can be controlled, it can be monetised.

The music industry has slowly woken up to this fact. An mp3 costs nothing to reproduce and distribute ergo it is worthless. A live performance on the other hand is a unique experience, which demands attendance, which means it can be controlled and therefore monetised.

Film making will become the spectacle – those willing to pay will see the process in action – and the actual finished film will become a mere artefact, a free memento of the experience. The stars of the films will have to get used to being paid a much reduced working fee and make do with the fame alone and possibly some creative satisfaction. Clever writers of screenplays will accommodate the commercial exigencies of the new film making process by allowing for a large paying audience to gather on the set in as many locations as possible so people don’t have to travel too far to attend.

People will still be able to make films but the films will look a lot different.

Rage Club – and now the power!

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Rage Club logo
There has been an advertisement on television recently depicting a ’spontaneous’ dance event taking place in a railway station. According to the London press, a copycat event was staged at the same station by a Facebook group. This event brought total chaos to the station and it had to be closed for one and a half hours.

Think about this. The sheer weight of bodies in one place made the normal place of business inoperable.

There is nothing to stop people, in this country,  gathering together in one place in large numbers (yet).

Think about this. At the moment, these social groups are using the internet for recreational purposes and bringing chaos to various locations. What if such events were used not for fun but for political purposes?

Here’s an example. I mentioned the boycott of Nestle in a recent post. What if a flash mob event was organised for the factory gates of Nestle’s operations in York?

Or what if such an event was organised for the shopping outlet of a company that uses child labour in Third world sweat shops for it’s UK products? The shop would have to be closed for several hours resulting in loss of trade and profits – a language these people understand.

Okay, so what’s the difference between this and a mass demonstration?

Speed and fun. An event can be organised within hours, minutes even, over Twitter etc. If the event is a spontaneous dance event or balloon blowing event, it is much harder for the mainstream media to report it as a ‘terrorist’ attack planned and organised by the Hard Left. Also, the police and the business targeted wouldn’t have time to organise themselves against such disruption. Remember, the idea is to hurt the business in a legal, non violent way. A smashed up shop is simply claimed for on insurance and Joe Public ultimately ends up paying for it. Loss of earnings can’t be claimed for.

Of course, this is a democratic country (of sorts) and so it would not be just the environmentalists or anti-capitalists who could use this power; anyone with a large enough following could adopt these tactics and that includes the Hard Right. Welcome to people power.

Surely someone must have realised the potential here? Or is it a case of someone actually putting it into practice?

Shall I start?

Alien planet

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Alien planet image

Rage Club, an example

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

You would think that there are problems in this world which are big enough to occupy the best or even the worst brains of our species to the exclusion of any other problem. But no, someone has to devote time, energy, money and precious resources on solving the pressing problem of what to do with dust coming off dishwasher tablets.

It is simply not enough to develop a dual layered soap tablet with a different coloured ball neatly cradled in the centre of it. Most accomplished artists would have declared such an artefact perfect and complete. But these marketing geniuses can’t sleep at night with the idea that they might be missing a trick, that somehow perfection can be improved.

After loading up the dishwasher, I went for a tablet from the cupboard under the sink. I noticed my wife had bought a newly branded box full. When I opened the plastic carton I found the familiar tablets inside but each was individually wrapped in plastic. My immediate thought was ‘what a nuisance. I will now have to discard this wrapper before I can place it in the machine’. Whilst I was doing so I wondered why have they had done this? Perhaps my wife had bought a discounted job lot or something, but that still wouldn’t explain the reason for the wrapper. I couldn’t explain it in a rational way. My best guess was that some mistake had occurred in the factory and the tablets had become wrapped in plastic so instead of dumping the batch, they decided to sell them at a huge discount to compensate for the inconvenience of having to unwrap every single tablet (my wife loves a bargain).

Then on the fourth occasion of my loading up the dishwasher my wife came into the kitchen just as I was taking a knife to the wrapping on the tablet.

“What are you doing?” asked my wife.

“Taking off the wrapper.” I answered.

“You’re not supposed to take it off!” she screamed. “It’s water soluble, you just put it in as it is.”

“Duh.”

This confused me even more. My attempts at explaining the existence of this wrapper did not take into account the fact that someone might have actually wanted to put a wrapper on it. To me this was like wondering why someone might want to increase their risk of skin cancer by exposing their bodies to man made UV light or paint themselves orange or poke themselves in the eye with a sharp stick. Not only that, but the manufacturers efforts have cost the earth another little bit of its limited resource, for what, just so that some moron in the marketing department can justify his or her meaningless existence in a totally useless job?

The addition of a wrapper does not enhance my experience of placing a washing up tablet in the machine one iota. I did not subconsciously think, “Oh my, this wrapper has transformed this tablet into the premier, maintenance free, washing up tablet of all time and has ensured my loyalty of it unto death”.

No, it enraged me that someone could be so inconsequential as to think this small and that consumers can be so gullible and accepting of such useless developments. The world is going to crash and burn in a matter of decades and the best idea that someone can come up with is a water soluble wrapper on a washing up tablet.

At least the tablets will have a better chance of survival in the coming catastrophe in their individual protective coats.

Cult of Culture 1

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Cult of culture thumbnail

Colliding satellites – let’s exchange insurance details

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

A couple of satellites recently collided in space. Both were totally destroyed (although I believe the Russian one was defunct. The other was American).

Now it costs a lot of money to get a piece of kit into orbit around the earth, an awful lot. Assuming that both those satellites were commercial functioning pieces of equipment, what is the legal status of them? Is there a grand space traffic control system which maps the orbits of everything that is intentionally launched into space, or is it a free for all similar to the situation in the early days of aviation? It was only when two aeroplanes collided in mid air (over New York I believe) that people started to discuss an air traffic control concept.

Presumably if there is a space traffic control system, one of the satellites must have been rogue. If that is the case, can the other satellite owners sue the other party for loss of earnings, equipment etc? Because if the box is essential for some service, it is going to need replacing at a cost of… how much is it to put a box in space?

Can you insure against such a loss? And what about all the junk that is floating around in space? If a paint flake or lost spanner slams into one of your pristine communications satellite – who’s responsible for that? Is it just bad luck?

I believe people can buy land on the moon. Is there some international agreement about space ownership? Can anyone place a satellite in orbit, even Al Queda? Can it become a space-fill – come and dump your atomic waste here? Who’s to stop you doing it?

It seems to me an international government is going to have to be proposed at some point. This recent financial debacle is a case in point; it’s going to need co-operation between nations to fix it thoroughly and to stop it from happening again. Also, the whole climate change/population growth issue is going to need a world wide consensus.

Who’d like to be President of the world?

Rage Clubs

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Rage Club logo

I find the idea of comedy clubs a bit of an anomaly.

A group of people gather together in a special place to encourage and experience one particular emotion – laughter. As far as I know, we don’t do this for any other emotion. People don’t get together to encourage and experience an emotion like crying for example (that is, if you ignore certain football grounds).

Why did we decide laughter was the only emotion worth promoting? Or is it that we simply haven’t explored the idea of doing the same thing with some of the other emotions?

Actually I think we have experimented with the idea on a small scale with the Rave phenomenon from several years ago. At its root was simple primitive tribal dance celebrations with modern technology (and modern narcotics) added. I never went to a Rave but the conclusion had to be drawn that people must have found these events beneficial in some way, otherwise, why would so many people attend? It couldn’t be just the herding instinct. Strangely, the mainstream media portrayed it as some kind of satanic cult – what were they so afraid of?

Maybe it would be a good thing if we did encourage the mutual encouraging and experiencing  of individual emotions, not just laughter but grief, nostalgia, anger. Maybe we would become better people for it. By expressing our emotions openly, we could become more human and compassionate. I believe statistics demonstrate that the relaxing of pornography laws in Scandinavia resulted in the reduction of sex crimes (o-oh, I sense a counter statistic coming on from the guardians of decency). At least the logic makes sense; if you suppress pressure in one particular spot, the energy manifests itself unpredictably somewhere else. Far better then to release the pressure in a controlled and known environment.

So here is my suggestion for making the world a better place. Rage clubs.

For all those people who have ever been exposed to the mainstream media and experienced impotent rage upon hearing and seeing the stories of greedy and powerful bullies perpetrating unpunished crimes, here would be the perfect palliative.

This is how they would work. People first gather together in a large open space (a barn or warehouse type area – incidentally, no alcohol would be allowed), then several passionate speakers incite the crowd with stories of injustice and exploitation inter-cut with biased news reports (there could even be a standard canon of examples; Bhopal, Gaza, The Crusades, Big tobacco. For ‘light hearted rage’ the subjects could be narrowed down to, poor user interface or badly designed electronic equipment or non existent customer service). The speakers would then lead the crowd into demonstrating their wrath and frustration with screams, tears and rending of shirts (bought specifically for the event from charity shops). A percussion ensemble or rock band will create a throbbing soundtrack of primitive trance like rhythms building in volume. The crowd will simultaneously produce various implements of noise making capability and commence to create a cacophony of sound so powerful it would even make Lemmy from Motorhead stop his ears.

Areas will be set aside where crockery seconds can be hurled furiously at a brick wall. Effigies of slippery political criminals will be stuck on poles and aggrieved victims given fifteen minutes with a baseball bat to put their point across to them (this is contentious I know, but it is meant to be purely symbolic. The signal sent out will be that such behaviour will only be tolerated at the Rage Club but at the same time it will also be a reminder to the authorities and multinationals: “we people know of our power, so don’t screw with us and ignore us at your peril.”)

Ultimately, an energy of pure rage will be created and each individual will experience a catharsis which will lead to exhaustion, reflection and a reasoned course of action to methodically change those things which enrage them.

I made the last bit up. I’ve no idea what would happen after the climax of destruction and rending of clothes but it might be interesting to find out.

Fight you fuckers

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

However you look at this financial crisis you can only ever reach one ineluctable conclusion; the poorest will carry the heaviest burden.

All those with the greatest responsibility for the meltdown are still exceedingly wealthy. They may claim to have lost a fortune in share options and the like but I don’t see any of them signing on yet or riding around on the bus. They gambled with other peoples money – and lost. Their money was probably sensibly invested in off shore accounts.

So now the government steps in to rescue the bankers. The money the government pledges is not theirs, it is our money entrusted to them to provide all the social services we expect in return for all the taxes we pay. Bailing out the bankers is not going to improve welfare services or environmental improvements. It is going to impoverish us, especially the most vulnerable in society. The government is selling its poorest people into bonded labour and the chief executive gang masters continue with their reckless profligacy.

And we put up with this.

I say again, it doesn’t matter how you do the calculations, the current tax regime puts the greatest burden on the least well off. And so, how do the perpetrators respond? Well, just recently, we had four of the major culprits appear before a Select Committee here in the UK and perform their practised apologies with all the sincerity of spoilt brats caught stealing from the sweet shop.

And we put up with this.

At the start of the crash some wag put up a sign on wall street which exhorted the traders there to “Jump you fuckers”. I am putting up a sign here on Joe Public Place. Mine says, “Fight you fuckers”.

We don’t have to put up with this. We don’t want insulting apologies, we want retribution. It’s all very well exhorting the bankers to jump, but they won’t jump. They will gladly take their golden severance packages and pull the same trick somewhere else some other time when they are again unbelievably, appointed CEO of some ‘me too’ outfit. These people need to be pushed. And they can be pushed. Switzerland has already clawed back some of the bonuses paid to errant bankers there though public pressure. Government officials who are all matey with these people aren’t going to jeopardise their own positions unless someone bigger tells them to do so. That someone bigger is us.

The dispossessed need to act, to demand reform, to use the power that they are unaware of to get some of their money back. At the very least, vote. If you are not registered, do so and make your voice count. Vote for the candidate that makes sense, not for the one that makes the most false promises. Vince Cable, for example, makes sense.

Write. If everyone who felt outrage at the naked greed of the system wrote just one letter to their MP the MP’s would very quickly realise the strength of feeling and do something about it.

Form a co-operative. Work for favours or contra deals. Cut out the puppet masters.

Here is a link to some intellectual heavyweights fighting our corner and here is a template letter for you to fill in and send to your representative as required;

As a law abiding citizen of the land who only asks for fairness and justice, I am writing to you as my representative in government to right the wrongs of the bankers who have made this world poorer. You asked me for my support in your ambition to make a difference in this world and I gave it. I am asking you now to justify my faith in you by bringing to account the people who have nearly wrecked the banking system. I particularly ask you to lobby for punitive legislation which would recoup some of the money paid out to these people in bonuses – bonuses acquired through misrepresentation.

We have all been taught a lesson during this economic depression but how much have we learned? What legislation is being considered to prevent this from happening again?

All I want is a better world. That means a fairer world with responsibility, accountability, sustainability, moral prosperity and meaningful work.

I ask you now, as my public servant, to serve the people who have been wronged, all of them. The rich and powerful must be seen to be within the law of the land. If common criminals stole money from a bank it would only be right and proper that they be punished and that the money be recovered. These bankers have effectively stolen money from the banks, the government and from me… what is your response?

I look forward to your reply.

Photography, old school

Monday, February 9th, 2009

small image of snow scene

Photography is so easy today; just take a picture on a digital camera and view your results in seconds. Usually, you get a perfectly exposed, pin sharp image.

Take for example the picture above. From seeing the picture, taking it, transferring to my computer, adjusting it in Photoshop and having it ready to upload to my blog took all of fifteen minutes. My tiny camera even has a ‘night time landscape’ option so there was no need to guess a long exposure.

Compare this to the days of film. I remember when I used to shoot on black and white film with a brick of an SLR camera. Everything was manual apart from the exposure meter which suggested the correct setting in reasonable light (it didn’t work in low light). This meter had to be first calibrated according to the film speed used in the camera.

Once I had taken a picture there was no instant review of images. I had to wait until the entire film was used up which sometimes could be several weeks as film was relatively expensive and I couldn’t afford to fire off an entire roll on just one subject. To see anything at all I first had to process the negative.

Patterson developer kit

This entailed hand winding the film back into its cassette and then transferring the film from the cassette into a developing container – a process fraught with all sorts of dangers. For a start it had to be done in total darkness to avoid fogging the film. In a house, this meant the operation was done either under the bed covers or in the cupboard under the stairs. Then the tricky bit was feeding the film into a plastic wheel with a one way transport mechanism. This was as nerve wracking and as important as an adolescent fumbling in the dark trying to unhook his first bra (worn by her, not him). The film could easily get caught on the transport mechanism of the wheel resulting in creasing or even tearing of the precious negatives. Once in the light tight developing tank, the wet work could then be done.

The chemicals used had to be mixed to the correct concentration and prepared to the correct temperature. This usually entailed setting up a lab in the bathroom with several spare thermometers to hand as almost invariably you were tempted to mix the chemicals with the thermometer itself and so occasionally break the damn thing. Then the development had to be timed (a complex calculation taking into account speed of film, temperature etc.) along with regular agitations of the film, stopped with another chemical, fixed with yet another chemical and then rinsed for twenty minutes or more in running water (luckily, this was in the days before I had a water meter). After that, you could take a peek at the wet negative. This was an exciting moment as it was only then that you discovered whether you had exposed correctly. If you had not, usually your entire film of thirty six images – the maximum you could fit in a standard SLR camera – were either ‘thin’ (under exposed) contrasty (over exposed) or just plain blank (fortunately this never happened to me).

You then had to dry the negative in as dust free an environment as you could manage, which was difficult to find in a domestic house, and so the bathroom was pressed into service again and the negatives would be hanging next to the tights. When I later encountered at art school special drying cabinets for films I discovered they eliminated a huge amount of dust noise.

And that was only half the process! Then you had to print the negs, a process which required a darkroom (a light tight room dimly lit by a reddish light), several chemicals, running water, special photographic paper and an enlarger which basically took the photograph again! Guess which room in the house got commandeered for this stage of the process. No wonder everyone in my family were filthy, they never got the chance to wash.

If you had a poor lens on the enlarger, the expensive lens on your camera was made redundant. Again, any chemicals had to be at the right temperature and an exposure had to worked out for the contrast on the negative and the grade of photographic paper which varied in ‘hardness’ to accommodate different contrast ratios in the negative. A contact sheet had to be made first so that you could assess which negative was worthy of being blown up. Generally, I was lucky to get one or two images out of thirty six that made the grade.

During the exposure of the paper, a certain amount of dodging and burning could be performed on the image. This is where the photographer would move a light blocker (sometimes specially cut to fit a required area on the image) over the paper to either emphasise of knock back a shadow or highlight. The length of time one kept the blocker over the image and how much ’shake’ one applied to it (to avoid hard edged emphasis) was down to experience. Dodging and burning was an art in itself. A dust free environment was also best for printing as dust motes were effectively light blockers during the printing process and would produce ’snow’ in the finished print.

Then the black and white prints had to be washed in running water and then dried. Finally you could admire (or despair) at your photography.

It’s weird I know, but I seemed to derive more enjoyment form the old process than I do today with the digital cameras. It is almost as if the amount of effort expended is proportional to the satisfaction gained. If something is too easy, it has little satisfaction to offer.

Its like mountain climbers. They don’t have to climb the mountain and they certainly don’t need to go on foot to get to the top. They could do it using helicopters or hang gliders but there is this concept that it doesn’t count unless they have expended a lot of effort to do it. This concept is purely arbitrary as it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

For example, you could argue that the only criterion that must be observed, if argued logically, is that climbers must attempt the mountain naked as any equipment is deemed to be using technology and makes things easier. And why just naked? For real enthusiasts, maybe they could agree that only one hand can be used in the climb or maybe blindfolded. It is really only about challenging yourself and reminding yourself that you are alive.

At the other extreme, the logical conclusion of business success is achieving everything that you set out to do. So once everything is achieved, you do nothing, sit back in the sun and… die basically.

Okay, I accept that digital photographer has allowed the photographer to concentrate more on the final image but digital photography doesn’t improve a photographer’s eye.

Here’s a thought experiment. What if they brought out a camera that had a ‘talent’ setting and which instructed you where to stand, where to point, when to wait for the best moment etc. and everyone took belting images. Then in Photoshop, there is also a ‘talent’ filter which processes the image into the optimum everything. At what point do we admit that the picture is not ours and actually belongs to the programmer of the software? At this point we might as well just let some talented photographer take pictures for us to enjoy. Would we admire the images less because we knew it required very little effort to achieve them? I think we would because we only admire that which we find difficult to do ourselves. It is the struggle that is important, the achievement is just the icing.

The journey is the destination.

Under new management

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

When listening to a speaker who is an expert in her field, I am always amused when she trots out some ’science’. In my field of creativity, for example, an expert will usually mention the concept of left brain thinking and right brain thinking. I won’t go into the specifics of the concept because it is largely a waste of time.

If I show you a diagram of a brain with neurons firing on either side of it, how does that help you? If I described the structure of bacteria and the rate at which it can reproduce, how does that help you avoid disease? If I told you that empirical evidence showed that washing your hands before handling food reduced the incidence of food poisoning you could act on that information. That information could make a significant difference to your life.

It is so unfortunate that most people are willing to be impressed by useless ’science’ and even more unfortunate that a lot of scientists promote the view that we should be impressed, as a lot of science prizes are awarded on how impressive a discovery is, not how useful it could be.

Similarly, a sign outside a building which says ‘under new management’ does not help anyone except the new proprietor and her ego.

Demonstrate that it is under new management by improving the exterior, service, food, or whatever. That kind of information could make a significant difference to my social life.