Bush of Goats

Life's too short for empty slog. ans.

CLARKSON POOS ON BABY!

I’ve never had any time whatsoever for Jeremy Clarkson. He’s an insufferable pillock, adept at moaning about how hard-done-by the well off are. I’ve never found him funny (intentionally) and his recent comments about Mexicans displayed not only the sort of lazy stereotyping you’d expect from men of his age and privilege, but a lack of awareness of just how much effort they’re currently putting into brutally slaying and torturing one another to death for the right to keep Americans high. His turgid attempts at sparking controversy bore me to tears, but in an astonishing twist of fate, I actually found myself siding with him over this preposterous hullabaloo about firing squads.

While the unions ‘sought legal advice’ over whether he might be arrested and made to pay for his inhuman suggestion and (currently) 21,000 of the professionally offended jammed the BBC switchboard, he managed to keep his massive flapping gob shut for once and allowed a spokesman to point out his comments were taken out of context.

Many’s the time I’ve heard people claim that their comments were taken out of context. For the first time this week, it actually seemed to be true. The first rendition of Clarskongate I heard featured only the line about the shooting. It was only later the full clip emerged and set his words in a wider context.

He’d begun by thanking them (the strikers) for keeping London’s streets and restaurants empty so that he (and his equally privileged chums, no doubt) could zip about more easily, before going on to point out that as this was the BBC, and they were required to present a balanced view, that they should all be shot. In front of their children. Clarkson said sorry, the BBC said sorry and th- OH BY THE WAY, DID I MENTION MY NEW DVD, FEATURING LOTS OF SIMILARLY FAUX CONTROVERSIAL TOSH, IS NOW IN THE SHOPS IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS? -en a subtext leaked out all over the place. Thank you Bonnie Greer – who I think I might actually love – once again proved herself to be the smartest observer in the room, in her appearance on Any Questions:

Bonnie Greer comments on ‘Clarksongate’. Any Questions, 2.12.11 ©BBC

My other favourite media was this little funny from The Times, spotted and tweeted by @IndiaKnight:

The last para    –      just here ^ .
So there we have it: JC has a DVD out for Christmas, the BBC is impartial and some people still take themselves and everyone else much too seriously. As you were.

 

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Filed under: Noticing

The Watchmen made me watch them.

One of my best books ever is Watchmen.

As I’ve said previously, I think the context for a novel is paramount, and Watchmen and me were made for each other: I was at art college, doing student politics, loving the indie disco and developing a keen interest in recreational doorways; It was a multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego, armageddon and the monoculture in a comic. We hung out.

I saw Watchmen the movie when it came out and I was sorely disappointed. I watched it again last week and, without the cloud of PR hype distracting from the actual thing, I thought I would right down what I thought of it.

This has been said elsewhere, but if you’ve read Watchmen, the first half hour of the movie version will make you believe you are about to see the greatest screen adaptation ever. Unfortunately, as the extended multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego-cum-title sequence gives way to the ‘film proper’, it stops being that and becomes just another movie franchise. Don’t bother hoping it’ll improve; it doesn’t.

Watchmen the graphic novel is about a great many things, but it takes as a start point the idea that the comic books of the 50s gave rise to a masked vigilante craze: a strangely dramatised version of cops and robbers wherein committed citizens would chase down the good old fashioned criminals (the burglars, the bank robbers) and rough them up a bit before dumping them off at Police Headquarters. Some off-duty cops joined in. It was a bit like WWF.
But then an accident at a nuclear research facility creates the first actual super-human.

Dr Manhattan is a blue man with pure white eyes and no discernible penis. On the plus side, he is able to travel through time via dimensions unknown to regular people, decide to be 60ft tall (or just to be a 60ft tall penis with white eyes) and of making people explode USING THE POWER OF HIS MINDE IF HE FEELS LIKE IT. I guess that’s probably a ‘win’, overall.

What actually happens in Watchmen is I think less important than being in its world. It is a written world you can lose yourself in, but one that also comes with pictures. Instinctively, you expect this to intrude on the mind’s own theatre, but amazingly, they don’t: there are pages and pages of  effectively empty scenes, often with the fractured lapsed thought bubbles of Rorshach (the blotter-faced psycopathic PI) as a bleak semi-relevant narrative. Labouriously repeated frames of rain puddles scattered by hurrying feet that slowly simmer back down to the blank reflection. Shadows arcing across walls as cars drive by, out of sight.

These sparse frames are jazz and rainy; paintings of Blade Runner, from a paused videotape. They are a there-not-there backdrop to your mind as it wanders through the possibilities and the likely implications of the most recent twist of the plot. And echo in their form the themes of the good blue Dr. as he lives in different dimensions and does stuff both before and after it has happened .

Unsurprisingly, this comic book reinterpretation of one of film’s structural components doesn’t make it back into the film adaptation.

What the film does decide to do is elevate the largely irrelevant love story that pootles along within the book to the status of main theme. Honestly, it feels like it was edited together on the basis of a Google Keyword search. The love theme ends up providing what feels like several hours of unscripted theatre drama for actors who want to improvise their way out of a bad divorce.

In fact, the more I think about it, the idea of a google word search editing policy seems to make more sense. The fanboys (me included, I guess) are going to watch this regardless of whether it’s good or not, but if the studio can get it highly matched with ‘date movie’, then they’ll tap into an even bigger market. Who cares about the integrity of the project. This is Hollywood, numb nuts!

Furthermore, there are a couple of moments of ultra (ultra) violence that I found entirely without purpose, which I think are recreated exactly as they appear in the book (I only think this, as I can’t check: I lent my copy of Watchmen to an Italian AD who subsequently disappeared from my life, taking my original copy of the book with him. I am an idiot.). Anyhoo, the moments of violence follow on from the extended relationship improv scenes and made me inextricably angry. I felt like I was being clumsily manipulated and I still cannot for the life of me understand why these moments of inconsequential brutality are included.

I suppose one of the insurmountable problems with Watchmen the movie are also those that Hollywood itself might yet fail to overcome: an inability to recognise and translate our growing sophistication with our understanding and expectations of time into things we’ll want to do to for pleasure and for relaxation.

More and more I watch films now where I think, this would have been a better game. The things you could do with time in a game about Watchmen might be better suited to uncovering and amplifying the themes of the book and letting players drift in spaces that might somehow reveal  the deeper meaning of what you’re being asked to pursue.

Linkses:

Watchmen, the Graphic Novel.

Watchmen, the film

Saturday morning Watchmen (this is a brilliant parody: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warner execs who greenlighted the movie thought this was what Watchmen was all about. However, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, it’ll probably just confuse things. Mum.)

Filed under: Noticing, Uncategorized

ReFryed Celebrity

So, Stephen Fry, national institution and all round good egg, is apparently ‘having a break’ from Twitter. Can’t says as I blame him. His position is surely an intolerable compromise.

What I think is interesting about Twitter is its disavowal of the idea of ‘audience’. It’s not about broadcasting (despite the oft-stated criticism of it that it exists to tell people every tedious detail of your life): it’s about saying. If I want to say something, I am saying it for my benefit, not for that of others. If someone hears it, and says it again or wants to hear what I have to say in the future, that’s nice, but it is not the reason I am doing it. I am speaking for my own satisfaction, not an audience (and if you were to explore my twitter profile, you’d see I don’t really have an audience).

So, I am currently pondering the idea that the act of ‘saying’, in digital spaces, is an expresison of thought. I, Marc Williams, am a complex collection of lots of stuff, but digitally, via twitter, @bushofgoats is just one tiny particle. Nothing I say matters more (or less) than anyone else. I cannot help but be free of ego, amongst so many other 140-string particles. My un-uniqueness is a liberation.

Does this, in fact, make Twitter the dawning of an agglomerated Artificial Intelligence? Hmm.

In Iain Banks’s science fiction novels, he has created what I really hope turns out to be our future: The Culture is a universe-spanning, aeon-wide collection of races who just get on with their own thang. What occurred to me about it, thinking this stuff, was how it has no celebrities within it. And that seems to make perfect sense. What use does an egalitarian collection of billions have for individuals for everyone else to watch and pore over?

But back to Stephen Fry. How to square being a proud node; a sore thumb in an age of supple fingers.

Imagine you are he. You are listened to by nigh-on a million people. Your thoughts, your inconsequential digital utterances, are perceived by this mass not for their being said, but for their being heard. Some of the tiny constituent elements who hear him have projected his celebrity, his non-un-uniqueness, onto themselves and feel entitled to speak to him as equals. But he simultaneously has to manage the brand that is S. Fry across all manner of other, older channels: if he responds (as any good particle is entitled), he is criticized, if he ignores them he is vilified. How can he be both granule and hill together?

And so he is trapped, trying to balance the old idea of celebrity status with the future’s idea of numbers so vast that the idea of being famous becomes ridiculous. Maybe, if we really want to achieve world peace, equality for all, no poor, etc, etc, we have to kill celebrity first. We all need to be nobody, for everyone to be somebody.

And as for Twitter, if I do ever achieve any kind of public fame (please god no) I will be locking my account and permitting only those people I am happy to speak in front of to read my thoughts.

 

Filed under: Noticing

Godzilla

Godzilla

Since moving here (to Somerset, from London) a lot has changed: the scale of change has been a bit daunting on occasion, but generally, it’s been good. One of the biggest changes has been the sudden and very literal presence of the church in my life – the above photo is from my office window, and largely captures (albeit with a lower competence than your eyes could) what I can see from my desk.

Now I’m fairly open-minded and willing to entertain all thoughts and outcomes (unless it’s morris dancing, or that other thing) so I knew when we first saw the house that the presence of St Peter might have a bearing on our lives: I am no kind of christian, but, I was willing to think about it and, if needs or mood changed, to actually engage with… God.

The thing is, my internal, ‘Am I becoming a christian?’ dialogue was starting to take over. Every time I sat down to work, I’d look up and see that. But then one of the most astonishing things happened. You can’t make it out from the photo (Again, the limitations of not being able to see with your own eyes) but reflected on the window beyond which sits my tormentor, is my laptop.
More specifically, my Apple Macbook, WITH ITS ILLUMINATED LOGO OF AN APPLE WITH A BITE OUT OF IT is reflected in the doorway of the churc
That made me laugh (and gasp a little bit too) and there’s nothing like a good laugh to shake off an ominous sense of dread is there?
Now, whenever I start fretting about who has ultimate control of my destiny and whether I should get on side with him, I just have to look up…. and a bit to the left.

Filed under: Noticing

ShowCo ’09

I spent the last few days in Sheffield, at a children’s media conference entitled, ShowCommotion. This was my first engagement with a new industry and featured just the same amount of excruciatingly awkward networking practiced by solo delegates at conferences throughout time and space. *sigh*.
It was a really good little package, all in all, with the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in about a decade, and introduce myself, whilst curling my own toes, to some new ones. I also got to hear some smart people say stuff. Now that I’m back in the cocoon of my office I can commence with the cogitation.
A chap called Paul Tyler produced a great session entitled, ‘the Cross Media Comfort Zone’. It was basically about new technologies and how these hold potential for ‘us’ (as in Children’s media producers) to create new things for kids to play with. He and his panel examined a variety of the latest technologies – a big area of interest was ‘Augmented Reality’ ( frankly all a bit ‘meh’ at the minute, but with loads of potential) and several examples of soft tech.
One that has stayed with me was the work done by some german students, where an incompetent looking robot asked people to point it – literally, by pointing – in the right direction: it used image recognition of the people it was asking to read their body shape as they stood before it and pointed the way.
Another standout thought from this session was something put forward by Dom Mason. He made an interesting point about how gestural interfaces will mean we no longer have to learn a series of difficult, obtuse thoughts and commands to engage with our computers (a word which will itself come to seem quaint and unnecessary).
“Ok, so… go to File, choose Open, select File.. .oh, where’s the file? Hang on, I didn’t put it there… it’s on the E drive… that means I have to go back here…”
This all seems easy enough,but then we’ve learnt what those words mean in the context they’re being used. But when we have gesturally aware computing – Microsoft Natal, the dumb looking robot – available to us, we are also removing the user engagement with the structural principle of computing and using, soft, clever, tactile technology to soften the blunt edges (like forgetting which drive the file we want is on).

This got to me, and on the train back home, I figured out why.
We are paying deference to the user’s inability and building technologies and interfaces which will magnanimously ‘take the blame’ for our inability to locate what we want.
Is this such a good thing? I’m not sure if it is. Doesn’t being wrong provide us with a learning experience?(Even if it is only to remember where we usually keep our stuff).
What happens when we never have to be wrong again?

Filed under: Games, Noticing

The shadow-handed puppet-masters of Television today

I just watched the Susan Boyle clip from Britain’s Got Talent on YouTube.

I don’t think anyone has ever quite lived up to the title ‘Evil Pantomime Genius’ like Simon Cowell does (which isn’t to say I don’t like him- I actually find him charming and I like that he smokes), but this Guardian article meant when I watched Cowell’s latest prodigy, I had already had a peek behind the curtain. and discovered some interesting facts about the heartwarming story of Susan and Simon™.

For instance, judging by the way tedious shitpipe Piers Morgan and the strangely bovine ham, Amanda Holden acted all gaspy and ‘shocked’, you’d think they never seen or heard Susan before – like in the rehearsals, or at the auditions they would have attended. Neither would they have been, I’m sure, informed by Mr Cowell, over the six weeks prior to her arrival on stage that he’d been touting her for, that their was a sensation on the way. Only a cynic might not be surprised to learn Max Clifford had been brought on board long before she took those first faltering steps out onto the stage to meet her artfully primed public. She already has an album deal and studio time lined up as well. But such tedious inconvenient truths are not part of the myth everyone seems so engaged in creating.

So while I can hardly blame Simon Cowell for being smart enough not to miss an opportunity like Susan, all I could think was how weak reality television’s prying eye had made what might once have been an interesting story, had the makers not bothered to pretend they were invisible in the process; how they can only watch helplessly as the hideous leering machinery of media strips away Susan’s modesty to reveal her tragic plight™ in front of carefully selected socio-economically representative teenagers calling her a ‘same-face’ behind their sleeves, because, right, their preconceptions are about to be challenged, but they don’t know it, yeah?

For f*ck’s sake.

Please, reality telly makers! Stop trying to make us believe that *this* time you’ve **really** captured the essence of the human spirit with your magical electrically-powered lanterns? These are the same old ham-fisted spiritualist parlour tricks you and others of your ilk have been trying on for years. Believe it or not, some of the people who watch TV also actually know how it works! we know Star Wars wasn’t actually made in space! Please stop treating us like medieval children you can hypnotise with a mirror: you do still want to be an industry in twenty years, don’t you?

Ranting aside, regardless of whether Susan is nice or difficult, when she opened her mouth to sing… i thought she warbled quite a lot. But there it is again, the crepusculent hand of reality television – ‘oh don’t worry about that,’ leers a producer, ‘we’ll amp up the crowd, that’ll drown her out. anyway, this isn’t *about* the singing … we can sort her out a vocal coach after the fuss has died down…’

And that’ll be it, off into the blackness for Susan Boyle: lost in the machinery, singing the lead in the made for the 24hr TV musical docudrama of ‘Jodie Marsh – my suicide’.

I’m sure Susan Boyle, as she once was, was an interesting personality that anyone venturing into her remote part of the world would have been sure to remember – perhaps even as a very good singer, had they heard her perform. But now, thanks to the fucking magic of television™, we can all share in the wonder of her remarkable story, and enjoy the barely dressed commodification of interesting variables into a global singing phenomenon™ that is Miss Susan Boyle.

Filed under: Noticing

Bletch

IMG_0410

There is something peculiarly English about Bletchley Park.

As you can probably tell from the image above (taken in the ‘car park’) it’s in some state of disrepair.

And right now there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of where it’s headed. But right now, Bletchley Park is stood at a cross roads: it’s very close to being awarded a substantial grant from English Heritage.

But at the minute, It’s teeming with builders doing something to the roof of the original house whose scaffold is elaborately navigated by parties of the old (led by equally elderly tour guides). Tellingly, in half term week, there are very few kids. I counted less than a dozen, and they all looked like they were in the school chess club – no offence.

The part of me which is always thinking about promotion was horrified.

This isn’t some second rate stately home – this is Bletchley Park, ferchrissakes! It could claim to be the birthplace of modern cryptography and had one of the first ever digital computers installed there. It should be a geek shrine, stuffed to the gunnels with interactive stuff, not wasting away, because lazy tourists don’t understand what was achieved here.

Shouldn’t it?

See, another part of me likes the quaint, incompetent modesty of the place, and cannot imagine anything worse than Bletchley being turned into a modern attraction.

The work carried out at Bletchley during the war was intensely complex and dull and repetitive and required great fortitude and discipline to complete. Churchill said of the Bletchley team, “My geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.”

So, is their memory and achievement better served by the hard won discovery of a small, engaged minority, or by trumpeted convenience and a MacDonald’s?

Whatever its fate, hats off to they g33s3s.

Filed under: Noticing

‘What seemed like a kick in the Shins…’

I had a good meeting at the BBC yesterday and was travelling back from there, when shuffle (‘oh how I love thee managed randomness!’) threw up something by The Shins.
When it came out, ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ was on constant repeat on my iPod and was on the way to becoming one of my all time best favourite albums of the last few years ever – mostly because of James Mercer’s exquisite lyrics (‘Gold teeth and a curse for this town,’ is one of my all time favourite opening lines). But I had stopped listening to them.
Why? The drumming :(.
Now, I am hopelessly inept at drumming as I find the flight control required to keep all four limbs on separate trajectories virtually impossible. But I can recognise talent when I hear it (There should be a kinetic statue in space to Jon Bonham; the guy who plays for Franz Ferdinand is a genius) but the Shins skins man is not a particularly adventurous thwacker, and I”ve always found the sound a bit flat and lacklustre. I used to tut. ‘they should get another drummer – they could be huge’.
But listening now, from a different perspective, what I realise is the importance of the team: he might not be the greatest drummer, but how is it possible to calculate his value to the other members of The Shins? Maybe he acts as a moderating force, or an orchestrator. Maybe he has an ear for a musical phrase; maybe James would be lost for words if it wasn’t for his Lemon drizzle cake (I’m just speculating here: I have no idea whether he makes cakes, Lemon or otherwise). But you get the jist.
In a way, this connects back to that Tom Taylor thing I mentioned about creating software (in this case, music) and seeing how it works, then building it again with the benefits of experience: There is no one music; there is not even only one Shins album.
Hmm, *beard*.

Go find out about The Shins

Filed under: Noticing

The Little Big World of Work

This isn’t a review of what might well be a very good game (and my expectation is that it will be exactly that) but a thought on how it fits in, and why it works.

“Little Big Planet’ on the PS3 (and quickly we’re at the nub of why this isn’t a game review: I ain’t got no PS3) allows you to create levels and experiences to play through yourself or to share with others. I’m sure the sharing and the showing off part is the major draw for many, but it’s the building that interests me. The essential gameplay involves you building levels from a collection of graphics and objects that reminds me, as a designer, of using PhotoShop.
We are making work into play.
Clearly everyone wants to express they-selves, but I wonder as to the ripple effects this may set off. Manipulating graphical elements to achieve a desired result is directly in the hands of everyone: we are porting the idea of being good at playing a game into being proficient at art and design. This is isn’t about ‘giving people the tools’ (a much over-used phrase now stripped of any real meaning) it’s about redefining what the tools and the job are in order to make use of other skills we may have already, and that they’re skills we never thought would be relevant is exciting. Isn’t it?

The promo-site illustrates the idea quite well:
littlebigplanet.com

Filed under: Games, Noticing

Random factor (like a piece of farm machinery)

I used to do a bit of DJ-ing (well, I say that, it was actually just this guy I knew). I’d started because I was trying to get closer to a central joy of clubbing, namely the moment you realise the song you are hearing is being followed by another tune you recognise. (Obv. nightclub often contain lots of other people you who also recognise the tune and are similarly excited. Plus, sometimes there were might be drugs.)

So now I don’t go to night clubs anymore, where can I get that same sensation?

Shuffle.

The iTunes random function has replaced night clubs as a way of experiencing moments of managed chance through music. (‘what about radio?’ It tries, but commercial requirements are stacked against it; and there’s the inane chatter in between, and the 20-song playlists that dominate the airwaves in service to the major labels) And so the incredibly simple, localised function of letting someone (or more accurately, ‘something’) else decide what I am listening to, whilst also allowing me to confidently predict I will like what I hear, has become iTunes greatest function.

Except, of course, it isn’t anything like entirely random, it just feels that way because I haven’t intervened in the instant of change: I’ve certainly dictated the parameters (it’s my iTunes library), but at the moment the song starts playing, I do not know what it will be.  I find this ‘fake randomness’ fascinating because it rewards in the same way as real randomness, except I’ve done something to manage chance, and thereby participated in the event: I am rewarded as both author and audience.

Which brings me onto a book I’ve been reading recently: Supernature Written in 1973 by Lyall Watson, I had been enjoying it up until last night, when the ‘curious outsider’ descended into loopy supposition.

At the start (the good part) the book points out how physicists and astronomers have long been aware of the effects of the sun  on the planets of the solar system, and are ‘only now’ (in 1973) beginning to understand the waves of incalculably complex energy thrown off by sunspots. Watson points out that this study of cosmic waves is also the basis of astrology: the belief that the position of the planets in relation to the sun and each other can fundamentally affect life on earth.

This made me wonder:

Is it possible to use astrological data in combination with other more prosaic factors (like musical preference) and produce experiences of managed randomness for the purposes of experiencing pleasure?

Don’t ask me; I don’t know. Not yet, anyway.

Filed under: Noticing

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