The Yellow Pages QR Code Ultimate Putdown

If you see this on the Interwebs, it came from my camera, like that matters.

If you see this on the Interwebs, it came from my camera, like that matters.

This afternoon the new Yellow Pages came though the door.

He’s right. Every year this increasingly redundant and dramatically shrinking book comes through the door and I post something about how increasingly redundant and dramatically shrinking it is. Acting superior to dying media platforms comforts me.

Recently I’ve taken to posting a photo of their QR code instructions too. Last year it generated a few titters and quickly fell into the soup of forgotten tweets. This year it went mildly viral with 279 retweets and 79 faves at time of writing (not to mention another 100+ quote-tweets, or whatever we’re calling them now).

This doesn’t happen to me very often but when it does I’m always struck by how it has nothing to do with me. In order for something to “go viral” it has to be divorced utterly from the original context. The meaning is folded into the narrative of the sharer. The source, even when credited, is irrelevant. It’s part of the hive-mind, an object around which relationships, prejudices and opinions are shaped and enforced. That I took the photo is beyond irrelevant.

People who haven’t had this experience can get all excited on your behalf when something like this happens, thinking it’s going to have dramatic knock-on effects. Yesterday at least 2,252 people saw the photo on Twitter and I got 25 new followers. The day before, with nothing special going on, I got 14 new followers. Given most will be spam or ghost corporate accounts (the sorts where no-one actually reads the stream) let’s be generous and say 10 actual people followed me because of this picture. That’s a conversion rate of 0.44%.


I’m not complaining. I’m happy my funny resonated and I’m glad to have provided a weapon in the war against QR codes which are as stupid and ugly and useless as they ever were and need to die. But, as with the Amazon Rape T-shirt whirlwind, I’m under no illusions that this was about me.

Harkiving my listening with photography

Harkive is a curious little project aiming to understand how people listen to music these days, the assumption being it’s a little more complicated than simply putting a record on, by keeping a record of when music comes into their lives. The official day of Harkiving (get it?) is July 9th and since this is the first one they’ve asked a few people to test drive it. As a camera-jockey I was asked to do this through the medium of photographs, uploading them to Flickr with the tag “harkive” so they can be found. Here, then, is my day of music for June 11th 2013:

Computer Game Music
The soundtrack to Apoc Wars, a passable iOS clone of Starcraft, is by Disasterpeace whose bandcamp email alerted me to its presence.
Harkive Music Listening record 01

TV Show Theme Music
I’m currently mainlining The West Wing so the patriotic strains of Snuffy Walden are part of my life. There’s also incidental music, often from the pop stable.
Harkive Music Listening record 02

iTunes In The Office
When I’m working, and Fiona either isn’t there or doesn’t need to focus hard, I slap iTunes on shuffle. It works through 13,300 mp3s that I’ve rated as not-shit meaning I don’t tend to hear the same stuff over and over. It’s plugged into the stereo and is probably the closest I get to HiFi listening.
Harkive Music Listening record 03

Washing Up
I very rarely put music on for a task but washing up and cooking seem to require it. I used to listen to the radio but don’t have a radio in the kitchen. This is a five-star rated playlist of a hundred-ish tracks on shuffle. When I sync it removes anything that’s been played or skipped in the last few weeks and replaces it with stuff that hasn’t.
Harkive Music Listening record 04

Previewing on Bandcamp
Speaking of Disasterpeace (above), Bandcamp informed me he/she had a new album out which I bought for a few dollars. I previewed it on the Bandcamp site for a bit first though. I probably won’t listen to it in full for a while.
Harkive Music Listening record 05

iPod In The Car
I don’t listen to music radio in the car as the talky bits (chat, news, adverts) irritate the crap out of me, so I’ve rigged up my old 80gb iPod to the stereo with cables and velcro. This is the same 13,300 track selection as on the desktop. Since my journeys are never more than 20 minutes it’s usually shuffle though I sometimes put albums on.
Harkive Music Listening record 06

Movie Night
Friends invited me over to see a movie with pizza. The film, No Country For Old Men, was actually pretty music free though there was some over the credits.
Harkive Music Listening record 07

Pub DJ
My friend Seb DJing at 8bit Lounge, a nostalgia-fetishising computer games night at the Hare and Hounds pub. I sometimes do this myself but I forgot a critical cable tonight. Seb’s playing chiptune mp3s through Traktor with a USB controller deck thingy. All the legacy DJ crap in the background isn’t being used.
Harkive Music Listening record 08

(Photos in the house taken with Nikon DSLR, photos away from home taken with iPad.)

The most interesting thing about this exercise was how often I don’t listen to any music at all. I can go for hours without deliberately putting music on, despite having it loaded on all of my devices from phone to computer to telly. And when I do listen it’s not to anything specific – music is background, wallpaper.

Anyhoo, if you’d like to join in with Harkive on July 9th you can do so in all manner of ways. Please do.

Manbag Techbag

Like I’m sure many of you, I need to cary a small but significant amount of peripheral tech around with me. I don’t mean the phone/computer/camera/etc – I mean the little things, the cables, adaptors and plugs that support those things. And like I’m sure many of you I’ve often found myself in a situation where the right cable is not in my bag. It’s at home, on my desk, or in a different bag. And so, because this sort of thing is often related to my work and therefore mildly mission critical, I’ve bought a bag (effectively a pencil case) which neatly fits next to the iPad and the Nikon in my shoulder bag (aka my “manbag” according to Fiona) and put together my essential kit. Here it is:


And here’s what’s in it.

Techbag Inside

From top left to bottom right:

  • iPad to VGA adaptor
  • iPad SD card reader
  • USB SD card reader
  • 4GB USB drive
  • 1GB USB drive
  • Micro USB adaptor
  • A different Micro USB adaptor
  • Clip-on microphone
  • Headphones
  • Headphone/microphone dual-socket splitter
  • 1/8″ to 1/4″ audio plug adaptor
  • 1/4″ to 1/8″ audio plug adaptor
  • HDMI to Mini HDMI adaptor
  • 1/8″ audio cable
  • Analogue video cable
  • USB cable
  • Old-style iOS cable
  • Mini-DVI to VGA adaptor
  • USB mains plug

I’m sure there’s something missing and I’m sure the contents will change over time, but for now there it is.

Inspired, in part, by this.

This post has been an exercise is displacement procrastination. I shall now return to what I was supposed to be doing.

The Alpha Rabbit

So in January we accidentally got rabbits. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing while relatives moved but they were so happy and they made us so happy that the relatives in question said we could keep them, so we did. And now we have rabbits.

For some reason I haven’t had cause to write about them, other than the occasional tweet, and even photos and videos have been scarce. Maybe that reason is I’ve been spending that part of my attentions building their home. Here’s the video of the first iteration of Bunminster Towers:

It’s now completed (at least until I start on the next iteration) so maybe it’s time to start documenting them a little more. The problem is having gone through the first few months I’m not sure where to start. Maybe it’s best to just dive in.

Bunminster, the male rabbit, is at least a year older than Mrs B, the female rabbit we still haven’t found a name for (latest candidate: “Brenda”). When she was introduced to him she was just a wee kitten (baby rabbits are called kittens) and so he was able to establish himself as the dominant rabbit.

Rabbits are herd/pack animals, like dogs, so it’s important that they know their place in the group. Even a bonded pair like our bunnies have to have a pecking order and originally it was him over her. But then she grew up. Mr and Mrs B are mongrel rabbits, mixes of various domestic breeds with, I suspect, a dash of wild in there. He’s quite small and svelt with a thin lizard-like head. She’s a big fat-faced bruiser, twice his size and not afraid to use it.

It reminds me a bit of when I was on the farm a decade ago (by the christ was it really a decade ago?) and one of the chickens was tricked into hatching a clutch of duck eggs. At first she was happy – the ducklings were kinda the same size and temperament as the chicks she was expecting – but soon they grew, and grew, and eventually she was trapped in a pen with 10 manic quacking lunatics. Bunminster doesn’t have it that bad but I do feel a little sorry for him at times. His young bride hasn’t turned out quite the way he expected.

But he hasn’t given up. Sometimes he fights back against her physical advantages with a sharp nip on the nose. She’ll squeal and run off and he’ll have the look of a lion, relaxed in the knowledge that he’s leader of the pack. It never lasts, of course, and within a few hours she’s climbing over him and stealing his food. But for that short period he’s the boss.

Today he was feeling particularly kingly. The morning started with them fighting over banana chips as my mother (who is visiting) tried to coax them back in the hutch. She thought she’d trapped Mrs B’s in the door given the noise she’d made and was feeling guilty, but it turned out he’d nipped her. She was cowering in the tunnel while he dozed in the sun.

Later, once were back to their loved-up bonded-pair coupleness, the neighbour’s cat came to visit. Battle Cat (hey, blame Neil (hi Neil!)) is the fluffy one in my current blog header and, despite appearances, is actually a testosterone-fuled tom cat. While he finds the rabbits endlessly fascinating in recent weeks they’ve all started mellowing out a bit. But today either BC or Bunminster pushed that detente to the limit. The rabbit nudged at the cat, the cat patted the rabbit on the head, the rabbit didn’t budge, the cat swiped a bit harder, and eventually the rabbit barrelled into the cat, chasing him out of the garden.

Battle Cat was probably just playing with these weird furry blobs that have been in his territory since January – he’s a cheeky little sod and never learns his lesson (see this fantastic video Fi shot). But Bunmister was doing something else. The cats have been hanging around for long enough now that he sees them as part of the pack, and so he needs to know where they stand. Is he in charge or should he yield? After today I think he knows who the boss is. It’s him. (See also the story of Daphne and Felix – yes, I’ve been reading far too many things about rabbits written in this style…)

For Bunminster Bobbin, today was a good day.

An Engagement

So on Saturday morning I asked Fiona to marry me and she said yes and then we were engaged which is like a whole thing where everyone congratulates you and it’s lovely but kinda weird at the same time because nothing has really changed but everything has sort of changed and I feel nice but kinda odd at the same time, like I’m grown up but the world is new like it is for a child and anyway, we’re getting married.

No idea when. No idea how. To be honest the idea of “getting” married fills us with a bit of dread. We’re more interested in “being” married. Maybe we’re too old for all that nonsense.

Anyway, it occurred to me the news only existed on a few tweets on Saturday and a Facebook thread, and that won’t do, so here the blog post.

And here’s a photo of us on Friday night, at a birthday meal for Fi’s sister when I decided, yes, I’d like to have this ridiculous family around me for the rest of my life.


Paging Alfred Korzybski

So I’m reading The Meme Hustler this quite long article by Evgeny Morozov about Tim O’Reilly and it’s both fascinating and really annoying in that way some journalism can be when you know a bit about the subject under discussion. I’m finding whenever I’m familiar with what Morozov’s writing about I can clearly see how he’s twisting and excluding information to make his broader point, but when I’m not familiar I’m all “ooh, that’s interesting!” and I get annoyed because I’m not able to transfer my scepticism to this new-to-me information because, well, that’s what professional writing excels at. Unfortunately for Morozov this completely undermines his broader points which could well be a useful and vital critique of prevailing ideologies in Silicon Valley, and this is a tragedy because they really need a good analysis that isn’t tainted by whatever grudge Morozov has against O’Reilly and his chums. It’s always been this way. Critiques of technology cultures seem to be unable to see through the red mist of fury. I have no idea why.

But I’m still working through the article, because for whatever its flaws it’s well written and does uncover some interesting nuggets, though not necessarily for the reasons Morozov intends. Take, for example, Alfred Korzybski, a philosopher who O’Reilly has time for. Here’s the bit that caught my eye, from about half-way through Morozov’s essay:

For Korzybski, the world has a relational structure that is always in flux; like Heraclitus, who argued that everything flows, Korzybski believed that an object A at time x1 is not the same object as object A at time x2 (he actually recommended indexing every term we use with a relevant numerical in order to distinguish “science 1933” from “science 2013”). Our language could never properly account for the highly fluid and relational structure of our reality—or as he put it in his most famous aphorism, “the map is not the territory.”

Korzybski argued that we relate to our environments through the process of “abstracting,” whereby our neurological limitations always produce an incomplete and very selective summary of the world around us. There was nothing harmful in this per se — Korzybski simply wanted to make people aware of the highly selective nature of abstracting and give us the tools to detect it in our everyday conversations. He wanted to artificially induce what he called a “neurological delay” so that we could gain more awareness of what we were doing in response to verbal and nonverbal stimuli, understand what features of reality have been omitted, and react appropriately.

To that end, Korzybski developed a number of mental tools meant to reveal all the abstracting around us; he patented the most famous of those—the “structural differential”—in the 1920s. He also encouraged his followers to start using “etc.” at the end of their statements as a way of making them aware of their inherent inability to say everything about a given subject and to promote what he called the “consciousness of abstraction.”

There was way too much craziness and bad science in Korzybski’s theories for him to be treated as a serious thinker, but his basic question — as Postman put it, “What are the characteristics of language which lead people into making false evaluations of the world around them?” — still remains relevant today.

I love this. Besides that glorious summary of what we see on Twitter etc every day – “people… making false evaluations of the world around them” – it taps in to so much of the stuff I’ve been thinking about over the years but haven’t found a coherent home for. Some notes:

  • Photography is the capturing of moments of a world in flux. No two photos of an object or place are ever the same. See the heroic futility of photographers climbing mountains to try and replicate Ansel Adam’s landscapes. It can’t be done because those landscapes don’t exist anymore.
  • Nostalgia has been fascinating me for a while. While I enjoy it on a personal level, I don’t think it’s healthy. It involves a denial that the world changes and that this is a good thing. It’s a desperate clinging on to a past which can never return because it is the past, and an infection of the present with faulty memories. It’s pernicious.
  • I love the idea the we are made of stardust, that the matter in the universe is the same as it was at the Big Bang. That our bodies are merely reconstructed material that, centuries ago, was distributed across space. It gives the question “what is this made of” a vertiginous quality.
  • The relational (is that right?) concept of place is also fascinating. If the Earth is moving through space then my notion of where I am (my living room, Birmingham, UK) is only accurate in relation to other places on the planet. As Buckminster says, “we are all astronauts aboard a little spaceship called Earth”. Where are we going?
  • On a quantum level, which I naturally don’t fully understand, there might not be such a thing as solid matter. It’s all just energy. The space in atoms is so relatively huge that it’s theoretically possible to walk through walls should the electrons align.
  • When we have a connection with a place, what does that mean? A relationship like that is usually built up over time, but over time a place changes. Are we connecting with that narrative? With the differences that we’ve experienced? Is being “from” somewhere a case of sharing the development over time?
  • Radical change upsets us. Slow changes gives us identity. An absence of change is impossible.
  • Time. Moving through time. The fourth dimension. I jokingly sub-titled a long-exposure photography workshop “Mapping The Fourth Dimension” which was a silly distraction but I couldn’t help myself. If a photograph captures a moment, a slow shutter stretches that moment while showing that our concept of a “moment” is pretty narrow. Can a moment be a hundred years long? Well, geologically speaking, yes.
  • Time-lapse photography seems a desperately underused artform. Flat, regular, boring. The greatest innovation in recent years seems to be to “pan” the camera, mechanically or in post. How could time-lapse be used to explore these ideas of time and place?
  • I’ve long held the opinion that the world is deterministic, in that what happens can be predicted by tracing causality, but that it’s so complex that it might as well not be, the illusion of free will being effectively fact. This seems to relate to Korzybski’s ideas. Which is nice because I’ve never found the notion outside my head.

Anyway, did I mention I’m applying for an Arts Council grant? More on that later this month.

I interviewed Hunt Emerson about Birmingham Arts Lab


Flatpack Festival – Back To The Lab: Hunt Emerson

As some of you will know, Hunt Emerson has long been one of my favourite cartoonists. So when I was given the opportunity to interview him for the Flatpack Festival as part of their retrospective on Birmingham Arts Lab, where Hunt was a printer and effectively started his career as a cartoonist, I simultaneously leapt at the chance and hid behind the

Of course Hunt was lovely and generous with his time and I quickly got over my totally inappropriate and embarrassing star-struckedness. We talked for 90 minutes about the Arts Lab and lots more and about a third of it made the edit for the Flatpack blog, concentrating mainly on the Lab itself. It’s my intention to rework it into a longer piece that’s more about Hunt and his work, but it’s my intention to do a lot of things.

The Arts Lab really is one of those missing links in the evolution of Birmingham’s arts and culture, feeding the roots of what we have today, and until now it’s been criminally under appreciated. I remember when I first came across the Arts Lab during my time at Created in Birmingham, being amazed that there was nothing online about it. Thanks to Ian at Flatpack for rectifying that.

If you’re around over the next week and interesting in the Lab, Flatpack have a whole load of events on which, naturally, are recommended.

Oh, and a special bonus. At the top of this post is a cutaway cartoon by Hunt of the original Tower St venue. Here it is today on Google Street View:

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