Archive for March, 2008

Thoughts from the Lodger

Posted in culture with tags on March 31, 2008 by Philonous

I’m not a math-lete by any stretch of the word. I exist in the grey nether region of the social sciences, the touchy feely artists, and dirty archaeologists (the dirt comes from digging, not from being crazy or perverted, although they do drink a lot, and that can lead to all sorts of behavior). So here’s my first post.
At Culture24, homes of all things museums related in the UK, an article announced the shortlist for some award from the Guardian for the best family friendly museums in the UK. Needless to say, my museum, lets just call it The Hall (it’s a medieval Hall in case you don’t know) was not on the shortlist (for this award, anyways!) One quote from the article really amused me:

“To be family friendly no longer means having to have plastic Viking helmets for kids to dress up in or rows of Egyptian mummies. We’ve made too many presumptions in the past about what kids like. They can appreciate fine art as well as finger painting.”

It made me laugh because I know exactly what museum they’re talking about with the Viking Helmets (doesn’t everyone?) And I am pretty intimately aquainted with it now, short of working there, because I pal around with its founder, who is a trustee at The Hall. Nice. The aforementioned museum does get a lot of flak for those helmets and the like, but damn is it popular! It’s now kind of like the Starbucks-McD’s-Walmart of museums, I think. There’s a whole field of study on this type of heritage consumerism (also see Williamsburg). I find it very interesting. But its what museums have to do now to survive- we’re in competition with every other form of entertainment out there for families/kids.
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Picture of the Moment II

Posted in Activism, art, Pic of the Moment, random with tags , on March 30, 2008 by Philonous
Is it just me or does Sundblom Santa look a little bit like Marx? Maybe he had a cutting sense of irony…

Critical Mass 2: I Bike MCR

Posted in Activism, cycling, Manchester on March 29, 2008 by Philonous

It was a dark and stormy night…and yet there was still a considerable turnout for Manchester’s Critical Mass. Yesterday marked the start of the I Bike MCR festival which for the next month celebrates cycling in and around Manchester.

Critical mass has a long standing policy of trying to keep the whole ride as one throughout. Of course, this becomes more than slightly problematic at traffic lights where the right might be severed by a light changing to red. Critical mass therefore has a policy of ‘corking‘ roads. This basically means that if the light changes as the ride passes, some cyclists will block relevant traffic until the remainder of the ride has passed.

As far as I know, this is illegal. I must admit to feeling slightly uneasy at the prospect of corking roads – especially since the ride is supposed to simply by a collection of people cycling in the same direction with no particular agenda or affiliation. In any case, Critical Mass is certainly worthwhile, if only to promote cycling in cities.

Over the next month, a variety of different activities will take place as part of the I Bike MCR festival. Looking over the programme, I noticed that there is to be an Alleycat in Manchester. In fact this is not the first Alleycat to take place in Manchester, just the first of which I’ve been aware. Alleycats are bicycle messenger races. Various checkpoints are chosen through a city, the object being to be the first to arrive at the final checkpoint. There is no set route and so winning the race depends as much upon shortcuts as brute speed.

Alleycats are of course quite dangerous. In order to win, participants have little choice but to break traffic rules and ignore lights. As such, these races are not without their casualties. This is Lucas Brunelle’s video of a (ridiculously fast) London alleycat:

Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to join these folks… In the mean time, here’s a video from the I Bike MCR website showing some of last year’s less crazy events:

Have a look at the I Bike MCR website to find out about the when and wheres of the events this year.

Fashion Obsession

Posted in art, culture with tags , on March 27, 2008 by Philonous

Fashion photographer Scott Schuman, alias “The Sartorialist”, is the man responsible for my fashion obsession. His blog has become one of my top priority lunch break activities: eating, checking emails, looking at new updates on The Sartorialist…
Unlike his counterparts who photograph top models in studios, the Sart goes out in New York, Paris and Milan to see what “real” people “really” wear. The subject of his images may be the elites of the fashion industry, eccentric artists or simply image-conscious people.
Verdict: worth checking out. Although it can make you strangely addictive and can make you wonder where these men and women find the time and money to spend on their image.

(Pictures taken from Wikipedia and The Sartorialist)

Dot Matrices

Posted in art, culture, DIY, tech with tags , on March 26, 2008 by Philonous

Remember those old screetchy printers and the paper with the holes in the edges? Well they seem to be making something of a comeback, albeit in various guises.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a great project involving dot matrix printers used as synthesisers. Moving the head at different speeds produces different frequencies, so the idea is to computer control a printer to play electronic sounding music. Here’s a video with a push-button controller

Thank goodness someone finally harnessed the onerous noise-making capacity of dot matrix printers for good.

Dot matrix printers have also found their way into the world of protest and art in various new forms. In 2004 at the time of the Republican National Convention in New York, a student came up with a mobile dot matrix street writer mounted on a bicycle. The idea was to have people from all over the world write thought proviking slogans on the website and have them instantly written on the pavement somewhere in New York. This “Bike against Bush” was kitted out with a laptop, phone and some sort of GPS device as well as the custom chalk sprayers that made up the printer.

I remember seeing this at the time and decided to check up on the project to see what had happened since. I found the following video about the triumph of American free speech. It turned out that the Feds (or NYPD or someone…well let’s just say the man) had been tracking any signs of dissident activity from militant anarchists to church groups and anti-war protesters for a long time before with the intention of apprehending them before they had a chance to protest. Ah, it’s the world’s favourite democracy in all its characteristic glory.

The latest incarnation of dot matrix printers I’ve seen recently is Bit.fall by German artist Julius Popp. It’s a dot matrix printer for rain! The principle is the same as Bikes against Bush with a whole load of water jets with electronically controlled taps connected to a computer. Perhaps the artist could explain it better himself:

I suppose it’s all part of some sort of 80s revival…

Here are some links:

Sleeping with sleepy kittens

Posted in random with tags on March 25, 2008 by Philonous

How many times have you woken up at night, unable to fall back asleep, plagued by anxiety? “Wouldn’t it be nice”, you thought to yourself “if I could watch sleepy kittens”.

Taxing Water

Posted in Activism on March 25, 2008 by Philonous

I’ve never quite understood the point of bottled water. I’m told that it tastes an awful lot nicer but I suspect my sense of taste isn’t quite up to telling the difference. In Manchester and London in particular, various urban legends about the provenance of tap water circulate constantly. Not so in San Fransisco whose mayor in a Newsweek interview boasted:

“Our water in San Francisco comes from the Hetch Hetchy [reservoir] and is some of the most pristine water on the planet.”

As such he as made it public policy for no (“single portions of”) bottled water to be bought for government offices/functions etc. After all, surely water provided by the state government for the average person ought to be good enough for the government itself. How much of an impact this really makes remains to be seen – it seems something of a publicity stunt rather than anything substantial.

Seattle government has followed suit in order to regain the faith of it’s populus after a recent Associated Press study in the US revealed that various pharmaceuticals were present in tap water. Again, how much impact this really makes in any way remains to be seen.

Chicago has (in my opinion) a more sensible policy of taxing bottled water. The Mayor insists that the tax is not on the water but on the bottles. After all, the city pays for the disposal of discarded bottles, for policies to cut emmisions (which are produced in the manufacturing process) and a whole raft of other costs associated with the manufacture and distribution of bottled water: why shouldn’t people have to pay for the slightly dubious pleasure of drinking water which has in the US a forty percent chance of being tapwater?

Rock on Chicago.