Wednesday, 5 November 2008

TED Talk: Rives on the Internet

I saw this video on the TED website and it put a huge smile on my face. As part of my work over the last few weeks I've become mildy addicted to the videos on TED. A significant portion of my hard drive is now consumed with videos from the site. All of them are free to download, free to promote, free to pass on. Go and see if there are any there that catch you fancy - I would be very much surprised if there is not something for everyone.

My personal favourite: Joshua Klein talking about the intelligence of crows, and how he designed a vending machine for them to use. Quite simply, one of the best talks I've ever seen.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

So What Happened?

Basically, I finished my writing every day for a month, got caught up in tutoring for three days on a workshop and then started working from home. For some reason it felt like when I was at home I had to work, even though when I was doing my PhD (and working for the grad school for those three weeks) it never seemed to bother me if I wrote two or three blog posts some times.

Has been an interesting couple of weeks. I've got another two workshops lined up over the coming month, and have been commissioned (in the first instance) to spend a day developing an outline for some new online resources for the university's Graduate School. I'll be doing that this week, before the workshop this Wednesday to Friday, and if the man at the top is happy on Thursday then it looks likely that I will be commissioned to actually make the resources. I'd say there's about a 75% chance that that will happen, he seems really up for it.

Above and beyond the financial reward for doing it, there are two other reasons why it would be very good for me to do it:
1). It gives me valuable experience of actually being able to do these kinds of things, developing resources being the other half of the job that I'm carving out for myself.
2). By developing multimedia resources it gives me a very cool showreel of things that I can show potential clients.

An added bonus is that the man at the top has said that I can sit down with him and copy his list of contacts for people in his position at other institutions, and then he'll give me some pointers on what to put in a general letter/leaflet that I can send out.

So all is going well, even if I feel like some times I'm not progressing as quickly as I would like. I've been to a couple of courses on being self-employed, and also one on tax for the self-employed. Just have to keep on top of my records.

So there it is. All is well. Just a bit busy. And National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Day 30 - Work Work Work

Thirty days. All done.
I wish that this post was longer.
But it isn't.
Work was busy today - and tomorrow, when I start tutoring, it will be even busier!

More soon.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Day 29 - End In Sight

A short post today: London was good, especially not going around all of the sites as I've tried to do in the past. We didn't go to Hyde Park or the Houses of Parliament, or Downing Street or Leicester Square, or the West End or Soho. The Tate Modern on Saturday was tiring enough by itself! Lots of interesting things in there, some cool pieces... And I can now say that I have seen a video of a naked man rubbing cream on himself, jumping up and down a bit while wearing a monkey mask.

It was just so nice to have a weekend away from the norm. Maybe I said that at some point in one of my phone posts, I can't quite remember. I finished reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which was an interesting book but which left me a bit bemused at the end. Watched a lot of Stargate SG-1 at my friends' flat, went to church yesterday morning for the first time in a long time, and that was alright too.

This morning coming back I had just under an hour to spare and breakfast to get at Euston (by the way, in case you don't know, and despite what you might have heard about its services, the London Underground is amazing). Ended up getting some breakfast thing from Burger King - tasty, but bad idea, a bad, bad idea.

The salty, starchy, crisp hash browns which are no doubt incredibly bad for me kickstarted a need for junk food that I don't often get - and this lunch time when I went out to get some samosas I ended up coming back to the office with a caramel slice and a can of Coke!!!!!!!

For a long time my Coke habit has been once a year, if that... It's been twice in the last two months now... I think I might be getting addicted again. I don't even like the taste really, I just saw the red can and needed it...

Right, another half an hour in "work" and then home. Going to the library this evening, time to take my books back and find some other fun stuff to read: fingers crossed for a good popular science book and maybe a book on magic tricks!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Day 28 - Weekend in London

Ah, this is the stuff. Don't get me wrong, I think London is way too big, way too noisy and way too crowded for me to ever want to live here - although, you know, never say never - but if you're visiting there is always something to do.

It's the middle of Sunday afternoon, and we've just got back to the flat after church and lunch and a wander across and around London Bridge. Yesterday we had a lazy morning followed by a walk to the Tate Modern (there's a post coming, possibly tomorrow, on modern art) then came home, had a roast and watched TV while chatting away. Brilliant.

It's been really great just to get away and out of the regular routine for a couple of days - even though the routine lately has been highly irregular - and to have a break. It shocked me a few weeks ago when I realised that this was going to be my only holiday for the year; I've had days off, but none in a row, and I've not been away except for work-related stuff.

That said, my life is pretty exciting (and a little scary) lately with all of the changes that are going on. I'm glad to have this break but I don't want to be away for too long - there's so much great stuff going on in my irregular life!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Day 27 - Metropolis

This will be quite a disjointed post I think, seeing as how it is being written from my phone and my phone doesn't give me a great indication of sentence/paragraph length.

Another reason it will be quite disjointed is that what I'm going to say hasn't really been thought through properly; this is also a reason why the post might be on the short side, as my argument and points run out of steam.

In coming to London for the weekend, and having spent a good portion of the week thinking about lots of different things relating to futurism, society and open source concepts, I'm wondering whether humans are really meant to live in such massive social and physical constructions. We (in the UK at least, and to some degree I think in the US) see the same headlines rolling around all the time, at least it feels that way...

"Climate change" - "Obesity/Healthcare" - "Terrorism" - "Financial Crisis"

All of these are really complex issues, and we see on the TV and in the papers - well, on news sites - how people are trying to make a dent in them: renewable energy, reducing carbon footprints; education for the young on the importance of living healthily; preaching tolerance and reducing civil liberties; ... hmm, has anyone got an idea of how we approach the economic downturn?!

However it has occured to me that all of them have a root cause that I think is being completely overlooked: we did this to ourselves, not recently, but years and years ago when our ancestors started moving into cities... When we stopped buying food locally and instead bought preserved food shipped from halfway around the world, and later ready meals pumped with calories and chemicals but no nutrition... When we started on a path of exploiting "less developed" nations (for their own good, naturally), preaching "do as I say, not do as I do"... When we bought into the idea of centralised economies and currencies, piggybacking finances from one institution to another, and all the while spend-spend-spending because "hey, why not? And it keeps the economy going!"

We poisoned the well. We got too big for our britches.

Is the real root problem capitalism, and those sneaky, shady, omnipresent corporations? Is it governments running agendas, playing games above our heads? Is it just our own apathy, saying "it'll all work out, now move out the way, Big Brother is on"?

While I can't quite articulate my reasons on the subject yet, I'm beginning to wonder if the problem isn't just something as simple as this: as the size of a society grows the chances of that society failing increases exponentially...

These are all just thoughts, no conclusions, observations without solutions, tapped out on a small object of metal and plastic that wouldn't be possible without modern society.

More soon.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Day 26b - Sleepwalking to Dystopia

I saw this shocking post on the rollout of biometric radio chip embedded ID cards for migrant workers in the UK - with the added thing that this was a pilot scheme that would eventually widen its arms and embrace the whole population - and literally sat with dropped jaw and stopped heart.

Have you ever read a story or seen a film about a dystopian future? 1984, V For Vendetta - heck, even Equilibrium - we read or watch these and shudder, and think "Well at least that couldn't happen to me, to us, at least we're safe in our world." And we think, what must have happened for that world to come into being? How could a society let that happen? How could we allow the authorities to take our rights away from us, how could we let them spy on us all the time and make us feel guilty just for walking down the street, worried that we would be stopped for no reason?

We are living in the back story. This - the world today - is the prequel to that society.

Day 26 - Off To London

The last time I was in London was about six months ago, and I was there for only about six hours all in all (I was invited to give a talk in Essex, and didn't have time to stay over, literally there for the afternoon). I've never actually stayed in London more than one night, and although I've been there for a day's sightseeing before I've never been for a weekend or a short break.

Quite looking forward to it; have no big plans, other than trying to see if I can persuade my friends who I'm staying with to go and see Avenue Q - I don't really know if it is there sort of thing or not, but I've wanted to see it for quite some time now, and I've never seen a West End show.

If the weather's nice then we might go for a bit of a wander. I like the area around the Embankment, and Hyde Park is quite nice on a sunny day. Taking my camera and going to force myself to take lots of photos, it's quite difficult for me. I like taking pictures so that I can have something to look back on, but at the same time it always seems like something I forget to do because I'm so busy trying to enjoy myself in the here and now.

(my two weeks in Japan was an exception - I had to fight to stop myself from taking pictures there, and also struggled with the number of pictures I could take. Am thinking that for my road trip next summer I'll be figuring out some kind of external hard drive arrangement so I won't be limited on the number of pics I can take)

Sunday will be interesting, as am going to church with Chris and Charlotte; it's the first time I will have been to church in over a year (save for my nan's funeral in April). I've not been mainly because I don't know where I would worship. My previous church just didn't feel like home any more, and the other churches in the area similarly don't feel like they have much to offer in terms of worship or people of my own age. My mum's started going to a new church, so I might try that with her one Sunday. Anyway, this Sunday will be interesting I think, possibly challenging.

Alright then, back to work. I will keep the blogging up over the weekend, but probably from my phone, so posts might be a touch short, or possibly expressed strangely (I find that the small screen effects sentence and paragraph length when I've written on it in the past).

Have fun, see you next week - four more posts to go before I finish my goal!!!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Day 25 - DO NOT WANT

Admittedly some of my blog posts over the course of the month have been a little light on content, but today was the first day when I've woke up and really struggled to think about what I might write. Not to worry, I thought, something's bound to strike me at some point over the morning.

Well, it did. It struck me and knocked me down.

Now, before we go any further (and because I hate spoilers myself) let it be known that I am going to be talking about the book I Am Legend and the recent film starring Will Smith. I might even find myself talking about The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price or The Omega Man. Let's see what happens.

Once again, SPOILERS!!!

Empire posted today about plans to make a prequel to I Am Legend. The title of the article was enough to make me sigh deeply, and then look heavenward and ask God, "Why? Why??? WHY?!?!?!"

I've wrestled with my thoughts on I Am Legend since I saw it for my birthday in January. It's one of my favourite books ever, a book that I read at least once a year and have done so since I was 17. It's amazing, it's just fantastic. The protagonist isn't a superman or exceptional in any way other than the fact that he is the last man alive in a world of vampires. He is an ordinary man surviving in extraordinary times. That he then goes on, and motivates himself to try and understand why the world has turned out the way it has gives us a brilliant story, one of the best in science-fiction and certainly the best vampire story (as many have claimed) since Dracula.

Why is it then that every film adaptation of it has somehow got it wrong? Strangely, the first, The Last Man on Earth, gets it most right, keeping 90% of the story and putting Vincent Price in the title role - only the slightly ropey direction and lifeless supporting cast (even for vampires) undermines it. One has a sneaking suspicion watching it now that the same script made with a bigger budget would be really interesting to watch.

The Omega Man just made me laugh for the most part: jettison the vampires, throw in some crazy Luddites and a group of young and groovy kids who've somehow survived while Charlton Heston lives it up in an apartment fortress... Where would I begin? Where would I stop?!

And then there's I Am Legend... I was quite hopeful about this. The trailers promised quite a lot, and one can't deny that there is an unsettling beauty in all post-apocalyptic films of a similar bent (28 Days Later springs to mind) where one sees the cities that we all know, not in ruins, just unpopulated, or overgrown. You can't really fault Will Smith either, who really gives it his all. There are two big failures in the film: the first is the script, which throws out the vampires again in favour of people "infected" and all but rejects the notion of these different humans forming their own societal structures (there are faint traces of it, but they're totally unexplored, and lead to the audience having to make some pretty big leaps to jump the plot holes); the second is the use of CGI to create superhuman monsters which nearly all look the same and hardly ever look convincing.

I appreciate the different narrative structures in novels and films, and that some times in adapting works of fiction from one medium to another (or even one time setting to another) changes must be made. But why do we have to change the plot so much? The ending of the film just didn't fit with the book at all, and the "legend" was the final insult, taking away all the dark poetry of the final page of the book and turning it into something mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy.

(I have to confess that I didn't say this at the time when I saw it; I went out for my birthday with a friend who I was hoping to form a relationship with. Afterwards, over dinner, I was a bit non-committal about the film - I praised the look of it a lot I think - and tried to impress on her that the book was much, much better)

And now, now a prequel is in the works? Just... Why??? Is the box office the only thing that matters any more? Wait, am I kidding myself, was there anything other than the box office that ever mattered? What would a prequel add to the story?

We know how the world got to the way it is: the film showed us that in flashbacks. We know that Robert Neville will survive, because he's in I Am Legend. We know what happens to his family. So what does that leave us with? An action film of set-pieces, showing the last days as the population of New York are whittled down and Robert Neville plays scientist in his basement?

Sigh. Rant over. Hollywood, if you're listening, when it comes to adapting works of fiction in to films think about the following: you're adapting something because you think there is a fan base for it. You're adapting it because you think that there is something good about it (however we want to define "good"). Novels are not films, I accept that, but keep this in mind: change of pace, not change of plot.