December 31st, 2009

being foreign

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A foreigner is shown a harsh welcome at Yokohama, 1861.
Today it’s much easier to be foreign in Japan. Photo: wikipedia commons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this article at the Economist; hoovered it up.

Ernest Hemingway, set the ground rules for the writer as foreigner when he was part of the 1920s expatriate community in Paris: live in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (or equivalent), work in cafés, meet other artists, drink a lot.

Not everyone can be Hemingway. Many foreigners today are threadbare students, overworked managers, trailing spouses. The male expatriate in Bangkok is a great deal freer than the female expatriate in Jeddah. The lot of unwilling foreigners is far worse still. A life of foreignness imposed by poverty or persecution or exile is unlikely to be enjoyable at all.

Even so, all other things being equal, foreignness is intrinsically stimulating. Like a good game of bridge, the condition of being foreign engages the mind constantly without ever tiring it. John Lechte, an Australian professor of social theory, characterises foreignness as “an escape from the boredom and banality of the everyday”. The mundane becomes “super-real”, and experienced “with an intensity evocative of the events of a true biography”.

I often feel a homesickness for places i’ve visited as a foreigner, but rarely (or ever?) for my real homeland.

Beware, then: however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it.

From the Economist. Thanks, Christine.

December 30th, 2009

let’s bring crapulous back

Before the term “hangover” became popular in 1904, one was apparently “crapulous” following a night of drunken debauchery, according to the online etymology dictionary.

After the 1530s we were crapulous, and now we’re just “hung over”. What went wrong? Let’s bring craupulous back.

December 29th, 2009

a decade of technological oppression

From NewScientist:

“THE age of melancholy” is how psychologist Daniel Goleman describes our era. People today experience more depression than previous generations, despite the technological wonders that help us every day. It might be because of them.

Our lifestyles are increasingly driven by technology. Phones, computers and the internet pervade our days. There is a constant, nagging need to check for texts and email, to update Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn profiles, to acquire the latest notebook or 3G cellphone.

The author prescribes a triangular approach to breaking free of these shackles of oppression. One must strive for autonomy, a sense of competence, and a sense of relatedness to those around us.

The first is autonomy – the feeling that our activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed. When we feel in control, we are able to organise our priorities and place effective boundaries around them. But when we feel we have insufficient control, it leaves us vulnerable to our impulses and causes us to abdicate decisions to other people. It is easy to see how technology undermines autonomy, but also how to regain it. This may be as simple as switching off mobile phones during meals and family time, setting aside specific times to answer emails, and being available only when we choose to be.

We also need a sense of competence, a belief that our actions are effective. In this respect our relationship with technology is complex, because many of us feel competent when we deal with an email, when we have the newest BlackBerry, or because 50 people enjoyed the holiday snaps we posted on Facebook. But being truly competent must be a continuation of our autonomy: knowing which activities are important to us and carrying them out in the most effectual way possible, making use of technology where applicable.

More at NewScientist. I think that’s enough blogging for today!

December 29th, 2009

The Times Skimmer

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The New York Times has developed a very clever little gadget — The Times Skimmer — to let you skim their online newspaper in a similarly quick and efficient way to how you would skim a real paper to find the interesting articles.

It seems to be made with netbooks and other mobile devices in mind, because it fits my screen like a glove, whereas their regular site is indeed a bit of a nightmare to navigate efficiently.

Great design solution!

Posted in Design, Site | No Comments »
December 29th, 2009

faking it, big time

In this mindboggling video, photostock magnate Yuri Arcurs gives a tour of his vast studio in Denmark. There he knocks out stock images on an industrial scale, selling pictures for as little as 20c each — devastating the competition.

The video offers a fascinating insight into his whiter than white, faker than fake world! (via growabrain)

December 28th, 2009

the shaggy ink cap deliquesces

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Photo by Steve Greaves (lovely name, no?)

As the cap matures it deliquesces into an inky black fluid. This specimen was found by the side of a path in deciduous woodland.

It deliquesces!

1. to become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, as certain salts.
2. to melt away.
3. Botany. to form many small divisions or branches.

There is a collection of similarly unique mushrooms (such as the “scarlet waxy cap” — poetry! — and the aptly named “turkey tail mushroom”) at Matador.

December 27th, 2009

jamais vu

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It turns out déjà has siblings:

Often described as the opposite of déjà vu, jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer’s impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before.

Jamais vu is more commonly explained as when a person momentarily doesn’t recognize a word, person, or place that he/she already knows.

The phenomenon is often grouped with déjà vu and presque vu (together, the three are frequently referred to as “The Vus”).

(Jamais vu@wikipedia)

December 27th, 2009

no script, no dice

WGA rules:

There is a common misconception that a “story by” credit may be given to a person who simply has the story idea for a film or television program. This is never the case, as all writing credits are for actual writing. Often, a screenwriter produces a spec script that, after being optioned, undergoes a “page one rewrite” that produces a new draft. In many such cases, the original author receives the “story by” rather than “screenplay by” credit.

The film and tv industry in the USA is extremely unionised and as such there are many rules that screenwriters have to adhere to.

This wikipedia page has an interesting list of rules for members of the Writer’s Guild of America regarding screenwriting accreditation.

December 26th, 2009

how are tv ratings measured?

This is something I’ve often wondered about. Turns out sample statistics are taken from participating households and this data is then extrapolated to get an estimated total — similarly to how political popularity polls work.

To find out what people are watching, meters installed in the selected sample of homes track when TV sets are on and what channels they are tuned to. A “black box,” which is just a computer and modem, gathers and sends all this information to the company’s central computer every night. Then by monitoring what is on TV at any given time, the company is able to keep track of how many people watch which program.

Small boxes, placed near the TV sets of those in the national sample, measure who is watching by giving each member of the household a button to turn on and off to show when he or she begins and ends viewing. This information is also collected each night.

The national TV ratings largely rely on these meters. To ensure reasonably accurate results, the company uses audits and quality checks and regularly compares the ratings it gets from different samples and measurement methods.

Well I never. (via howstuffworks)

December 26th, 2009

we should use our wall cavities more…

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Here’s a great concept for a built-in extension lead, designed by Meysam Movahedi (via offcolors).

But wouldn’t having many feet of extra coiled cables in every room probably waste a fair amount of electricity over time, as the current would have to travel further?

I suppose, if that were the case, the problem could be overcome by building in a circuit that you can open and close with a switch.

Posted in Design | No Comments »
December 26th, 2009

The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right.

Richard Feynman relishes the secret nature of rubber bands — part of a series of clips on youtube taken from the BBC TV programme ‘Fun to Imagine’ (1983).

In the next video Feynman points out that when we touch a solid object, we are experiencing physical repulsion from the object caused by electrical forces. It’s such a familiar phenomenon — so predictable and consistent — that we take it for granted. If the particles didn’t repel us, we would move straight through them as with low density liquids and gases. Feynman explains it all much more excitingly and inspiringly than I, so check it out!

It certainly is fun to think about these things; to gain a new perspective or understanding of something you thought you knew well — or found uninteresting — is to be reminded of the potential all around us. Good old science!

Update: I’ve watched all the videos now and my favourite revelation comes in the latter half of clip #2 on fire, carbon and trees.

December 26th, 2009

keep the change

David Mitchell in the Guardian a couple of months ago:

Lots of people find tipping interactions perfectly normal and can say: “Keep the change!” without breaking into a sweat. More than that, they say it with pleasure because, if they’d been unhappy with the service, they would have said that as well.

“If you’re unhappy, you should say something!” is their refrain. “Otherwise how will the restaurant know?” What a utopia they’re inhabiting, where people say when they’re unhappy, where you can wander around blithely confident that you haven’t upset anybody because, if so, they’d have mentioned it.

Well, that’s not my world. Here, covert displeasure is ever-present and you never really know what anyone thinks of you. So what right does a disappointing restaurant have to the free gift of information? Why should I make the enormous effort of will of telling someone something they don’t want to hear when, instead of thanking me, they’ll dislike me? Society is divided between those who can unselfconsciously tell people what they think and those for whom it takes tremendous gumption.

In this article Mitchell’s arguing on the side of the socially awkward in favour of predetermined service charges at restaurants. Mitchell’s writing is keen, full of humour and sometimes arrestingly creative (“side orders of vegetables that bordered on soup”). Fun read.

December 25th, 2009

a blow for illiteracy

I’m not sure whether this is actually stop-motion or 3d graphics animated in a stop motion style… Either way it’s beautiful and must have taken lots of time and skill. Fantastic sound design also. (via drawn!)

Posted in Video | No Comments »
December 24th, 2009

memory goes on, memory goes off

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Photo: LIFE

A new understanding of how memories are stored in the brain.

A strong synapse is needed for cementing a memory, and this process involves making new proteins. But how exactly the body controls this process has not been clear.

Now scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara say their laboratory work on rats shows the production of proteins needed to cement memories can only happen when the RNA – the collection of molecules that take genetic messages from the nucleus to the rest of the cell – is switched on.

Until it is required, the RNA is paralysed by a “silencing” molecule – which itself contains proteins.

When an external signal comes in – for example when one sees something interesting or has an unusual experience – the silencing molecule fragments and the RNA is released.

Could lead to treatments for dementia. (via BBC)

Update: This reminds me of an old post about a woman who can’t forget… Perhaps Jill Price’s memory is jammed in the “on” position!

December 22nd, 2009

colour script

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Making a movie completely inside a computer has its quirks. In any pixar movie, the colour palette is worked out before the animation begins. This planning takes the form of a “colour script”.

Pixar has released several images from the colour script of Toy Story 3, and they’re rather pretty. I wouldn’t mind seeing an entire animation in this impressionistic, sketchy handpainted style! Beautiful light and colour in these sketches.

Two images here, two here and two here (get a single blog, will you, pixar?).

December 21st, 2009

to get drunk and go to pieces

By Michael Hartnett (1941 -1999):

I have seen him dine
in middle-class surroundings,
his manners refined,
as his family around him
talk about nothing,
one of their favorite theses.
I have seen him lying
between the street and pavement,
atoning, dying
for their sins, the fittest payment
he can make for them,
to get drunk and go to pieces.

The poem is called “The Poet as Black Sheep”. I found it via a review of the book Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers, which sounds very interesting, too.

Read the review of Sellers’ book here and more about Irish poet Hartnett here.

December 20th, 2009

unsavoury strategies in menu design

mmmm

Consultant Gregg Rapp tells clients to “omit dollar signs, decimal points, and cents … It’s not that customers can’t check prices, but most will follow whatever subtle cues are provided.”

If a restaurateur has his wits about him, he’s using his menu to manipulate you and make your dining choices the most profitable. So it seems in this feature at the New York Times.

December 18th, 2009

hollywood is greener than you would imagine

Stargate Studios Reel from RAWworks on Vimeo.

This demo reel of Stargate Studios goes to show how much compositing work we take for granted on tv! Green-screen technology has come a long way in the past decade.






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