Consume less, create more

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Perhaps three people will read this essay, including my parents. Despite that, I feel an immense sense of accomplishment. I’ve been sitting on buses for years, but I have more to show for my last month of bus rides than the rest of that time combined.

Smartphones, I’ve decided, are not evil. This entire essay was composed on an iPhone. What’s evil is passive consumption, in all its forms.

This amazing essay really hammers home a major part of why I blog at all. Creating things on the Web is good. Creating things at all is good.

A side-effect of social media culture (repost, reshare, subscribe, like) is that it’s found perhaps the minimum-effort activity that humans can do that still fulfils our need to feel like we’ve participated in our society. With one tap we can pass on a meme or a funny photo or an outrageous news story. Or we can give a virtual thumbs-up or a heart on a friend’s holiday snaps, representing the entirety of our social interactions with them. We’re encouraged to create the smallest, lightest content possible: forty words into a Tweet, a picture on Instagram that we took seconds ago and might never look at again, on Facebook… whatever Facebook’s for these days. The “new ‘netiquette” is complicated.

I, for one, think it’d be a better world if it saw a greater diversity of online content. Instead of many millions of followers of each of a million content creators, wouldn’t it be nice to see mere thousands of each of billions? I don’t propose to erode the fame of those who’ve achieved Internet celebrity; but I’d love to migrate towards a culture in which we can all better support one another’s drive to create original content online. And do so ourselves.

The best time to write on your blog is… well, let’s be honest, it was a decade ago. But the second best time is right now. Or if you’d rather draw, or sing, or dance, or make puzzles or games or films… do that. The barrier to being a content creator has never been lower: publishing is basically free and virtually any digital medium is accessible from even the simplest of devices. Go make something, and share it with the world.

(with thanks to Jeremy for the reshare)

Passport Photos

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"Passport Photos" photo of a man with a fire next to him.

“Passport Photos” looks at one of the most mundane and unexciting types of photography. Heavily restricted and regulated, the official passport photo requirements include that the subject needs to face the camera straight on, needs a clear background without shadow, no glare on glasses and most importantly; no smile.

It seems almost impossible for any kind of self-expression.

The series tries to challenge these official rules by testing all the things you could be doing while you are taking your official document photo.

I love this weird, wonderful, and truly surreal photography project. Especially in this modern age in which a passport photo does not necessarily involve a photo booth – you’re often permitted now to trim down a conventional photo or even use a born-digital picture snapped from an approved app or via a web application – it’s more-feasible than ever that the cropping of your passport photo does not reflect the reality of the scene around you.

Max’s work takes this well beyond the logical extreme, but there’s a wider message here: a reminder that the way in which any picture is cropped is absolutely an artistic choice which can fundamentally change the message. I remember an amazing illustrative example cropping a photo of some soldiers, in turn inspired I think by a genuine photo from the second world war. Framing and cropping an image is absolutely part of its reinterpretation.

Metropoloid: A Metropolis Remix

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Yaz writes, by way of partial explanation:

You could fit almost the entire history of videogames into the time span covered by the silent film era, yet we consider it a mature medium, rather than one just breaking out of its infancy. Like silent movies, classic games are often incomplete, damaged, or technically limited, but have a beauty all their own. In this spirit, indie game developer Joe Blair and I built Metropoloid, a remix of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis which replaces its famously lost score with that of its contemporaries from the early days of games.

I’ve watched Metropolis a number of times over the decades, in a variety of the stages of its recovery, and I love it. I’ve watched it with a pre-recorded but believed-to-be-faithful soundtrack and I’ve watched it with several diolive accompaniment. But this is the first time I’ve watched it to the soundtrack of classic (and contemporary-retro) videogames: the Metroid, CastlevaniaZeldaMega Man and Final Fantasy series, Doom, Kirby, F-Zero and more. If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare and a love of classic film and classic videogames, then you’re in the slim minority that will get the most out of this fabulous labour of love (which, at the time of my writing, has enjoyed only a few hundred views and a mere 26 “thumbs up”: it certainly deserves a wider audience!).

The International Flag of Planet Earth

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Flag of Planet Earth

Inspirational, well thought-out proposal for a flag for unified, “for Earth” projects. The website is terrible, but the artwork’s great, and it’s always nice to see an artist focus on the idea of “uniting humanity” in spite of our politically-fractured world.

The Bad Hair, Incorrect Feathering, and Missing Skin Flaps of Dinosaur Art

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llustrating long-extinct creatures is difficult, but important work. With no living specimens to observe, it’s up to “paleoartists” who draw, paint, or otherwise illustrate the creatures of prehistory as we think they might’ve been. Their work is the reason that when we talk about velociraptors, stegosaurs, or even woolly mammoths, we have some idea of what they looked like.

But since all we have to go on are fossils, deciding how a dinosaur would have looked is as much art as it is science. And there’s at least one paleoartist who thinks we might be getting things wrong…

Work Calendar [NSFW?]

In my office at the Bodleian, we’ve got a calendar on which employees mark their annual leave. The theme of the calendar is supposed to be paintings inspired by flowers… but – and maybe it’s just my dirty mind – this month’s image seems just a little bit saucy:

Our calendar this month. That's supposed to be a flower, is it?

Click to embiggen. It can’t be just me that sees… it… right?

The Shark

This morning, I left Earth to go to nearby Headington. This trip was primarily to put money into the back, register with a GP, and get some keys cut for the new lock in the garage door. However, I also took the excuse to re-assemble my bike since the move and get out and about because it occured to me that, through working from home (as I now do), I hadn’t actually been outside at all in several days, and I’d be at risk of some kind of cabin fever if I didn’t get some sunlight once in a while.

Headington’s perfectly nice, and an easy 10-minute cycle away from Earth: there’s an uphill section which I was ashamed to see other cyclists pushing their bikes up, but having spent the last ten years in a hilly Welsh town, there was no such nonesense from me. It’s nice to be living somewhere with cycle lanes pretty much everywhere, and motorists who pay attention to the bicycles that weave amongst them: having cycled along the unlit A44 at night and narrowly avoided being cut down by the speeding lorries that frequent that road, it’s a relief to be somewhere where cyclists are better-protected.

While running my various errands, I also took the time to visit the Headington Shark.

Yes, I now live a short walk away from one of Britain’s most unusual art pieces: a 25-foot fibreglass shark stuck head-first through the roof of a small terraced house in Oxfordshire. It’s supposed to be some kind of protest against nuclear proliferation, and it first appeared on the 41st anniversary of the atomic boming of Nagasaki, but I’m not sure that I “get it”. It is kind-of awesome, though.

In other news: this weekend Ruth, JTA and I will attempt to go to Jen & Nick’s wedding, in Belfast. I say “attempt” because we’ve not had a lot of luck with weddings, recently. Last year, Ruth managed to upset the bride at a wedding that she and I went to. Then, this year, the three of us failed to get to Andy & Siân‘s wedding when we had a series of car-related problems, and then the bride and groom didn’t make it to Adam & Emma’s wedding reception, after they got stuck in the USA when an inconsiderate volcano caused their flight to be cancelled. We’re hopeful that we’re not going to bring our string of bad luck to this wedding, too!

Silliest Thing I’ve Seen All Week

As this hilarious BBC news story tells it, an artist came home to his Liverpool house to find that:

(a) A criminal had broken in to his home.
(b) Mistaking a piece of his artwork as a human head in a jar, the criminal turned himself in to the police to tell them about it. He also confessed all of his crimes to his mother.
(c) The police broke down the door and raided the house, and found that the contents of the jar were merely formaldehyde and a mask made from rashers of bacon.

I laughed.

Now I’m going home. I’m not feeling top-form today.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #49:

Tear apart a pile of stolen computer keyboards to make a cool name plaque for your door, with real pressable buttons for each letter of your name, and not-pressable ones that say Enter, and Compose Character, and Do, and Lock, and, my favourite of all, stolen from an old dumb terminal, Rub Out. Also Blu Tack on some old network cards and a circuitbord. My room here is really starting to become a home…

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #47:

Steal some old VT-320 keyboards from the skip outside the Llandinam Extension and smash them up to make a cool nameplate for your door out of the keys. It reads:
[D][A][N][I][E][L], then lower, [Enter], and then by the lock, [Lock]. Not bad, I thought.

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.