Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Google Earth - Verdict: F***ing amazing

This photo, decreased massively in size, and also in quality for space’s sake, is from the excellent Google Earth.

I can’t tell you enough how impressed I am with this free program — as people add more information to various databases, more can be done, but in noteworthy sites all over the world you can zoom in on the actual terrain — so you get to see actual elevations — as well as 3D buildings in selected US cities.

You can add all sorts of local information. I tried to display roads in a small village in the English Lake District, for example, and it got all the correct roads. If I lived in the US, it could tell me which train stations, coffeeshops, supermarkets, cinemas etc. were on those roads. It could link me to prices, opening times, that sort of thing.

Get more info here. Download it here. And when you've done, take a few tours.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Trouble with your keyboard?

Then why not reach for your trusty typewriter?

A fascinating little zip through a collection of typewriters, found in Rick Poynor’s elegy for his manual typewriter at Design Observer. — I often think it would be appealing to draft and redraft using a typewriter — so much more hands-on, in a way, than a computer and printer.

The excellent film Wonder Boys deals with this question very elegantly by having the protagonist, a novelist, start the film using a typewriter. He tragically (and hilariously) loses his entire paper manuscript. The end of the film sees him using a laptop and hitting the ‘save’ menu option. Innovation indeed!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Creative space

My post about the sense of responsibility which comes from being an artist is due for a follow-up sometime soon, and that will deal with the practicalities — the needs of working artists. As a way of leading into that, I thought I’d post about a new centre in the English Lake District which is partly a research centre and partly a present to readers, writers and artists which provides a truly conducive environment for their work.

The Wordsworth Trust, an organisation set up to promote and conserve thematerial and literary legacy of William Wordsworth and his associates, recently opened its new Jerwood Centre. (NYT link - go to bugmenot for a username and password.) The building provides excellent storage facilities for 90% of his manuscripts, as well as reading and writing facilities for those who need them. It is the building which attracts me.

It is a long barnlike building with a circular rotunda attached, all faced in the local slate to ensure that it blends in — as it is obliged to in a National Park — with the surroundings and other buildings nearby. The reading rooms in the barn and rotunda are airy and light. (Photos are attached in the links.) And best of all: a couple of minutes’ stroll down the lane is Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived and worked.

Napper Architects’ design is also important in that it shows how a national collection can be located successfully in a village, while demonstrating how local building traditions can be developed imaginatively leading to new building types that work with heritage culture without being subservient to it. The use of materials here is exemplary; the Jerwood Centre belongs to Grasmere, while bringing something freshly creative to the Lakeland village, just as William Wordsworth did 200 years ago.

Although very crowded from Easter onwards with daffodil-loving tourists, the roads contain enough twists and turns to ensure that this centre is within easy reach of the bustle as well as being secluded from it. What any writer needs. Heaven.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Summer Solstice 2005

It was that time of year again this morning… over 20,000 people turned up to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice, with another 2,000 going to Avebury. English Heritage has soem very politely English conditions of entry (you usually can’t walk anywhere near the actual stones at the henge).

When in the area, I always prefer Avebury, Silbury Hill, and West Kennet Long Barrow.

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The fall of the grain elevator / Night photography

I’m sorry there’s no photo here, but all the photos I wanted to show are displayed on the excellent flash site for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio 3. You need to single-click the opening image to be taken to the table of contents.

Flash = no saving of images unless you have a program which I still haven’t reinstalled yet. But here are riches: for a start, the site is excellently designed and a joy to use. The point of this post: the night photography of Larrie Thomson. Wonderfully good. His dedicated site is here.

And within the same CBC site I linked to at the start is a series of writings and photos about the old wooden grain elevators (see the links page) of the prairie, which are gradually being torn down all over North America and making the grasslands empty again.

Via Incoming Signals.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Blocked-up head

Looking out of the window at the cloudy evening, sticky with warm air, I started talking to myself about what I want to do next in terms of work. I’ve had a particularly bad day of hay-fever: the entire surface of the skin feels warm and clammy, the nose streams every second of the day with sharp dribbles of burning mucus, and the brain refuses to work beyond the mechanical reflex of needing and seeking more tissues and medicine. My head is, to be precise, stuffed-up and at a stop.

The job that I have had for the past year is at an end and although the mechanical job-hunt is once again in motion, yielding some relatively easy future possibilities, I still seriously and surely keep circling back to the same certainty: I do not want a career. My brain and personality, my ways of thinking, my mental processes in their entirety add up to the sure ideological conclusion: they are not built for the world of conventional work. I do not want to shut my brain down for the next 40 years.

Just so that you don’t confuse a life of writing with a life of escape and easy work — if a publisher contacted me tomorrow with an offer to publish my manuscript and a list of remaining work needing attention, I would shit myself far more than if a letter from a conventional employer appeared telling me of a strange new job in a strange new building with long hours, low pay, and difficult public transport links.

Why? Because I know that, for me, the real work has always been in the part of my brain not responsible for the mechanical, automated ‘rote-work’ of the nine-to-five career. Humans have one brain and two distinct (but not mutually exclusive) ways of using it: procedural and intuitive. Which can also be seen as: careerist and creative. A brain which feels as dead as mine feels today can be carried by its owner into a workplace and can provide the processing power for any number of difficult procedural tasks.

But it is when this part of the brain is allowed to rest that the creative brain can take over, and here is the paradox: the creative brain gives you just as much of a headache. Creativity has to be teased into life, little by little, by our 21st-century, careerist minds. It exists in the teeming space left unused by our tasks and checklists. And it can only be successful — in the sense that it can produce worthwhile creative work — if its owner can balance on a delicate tightrope between encouraging such a full river of abstract thought to flow on the one hand, and having enough attention to grab and arrange individual thoughts on the other.

In short, an artist of any kind must be able to look out at the world with an intelligent and perceptive eye, and able to survey his/her mind with a libertarian and exacting discipline. And there’s the headache. It’s so difficult to do well.

So when I mention art on this blog or in conversation, when I show a poem to a friend or to cyberspace, it is because I have either seen or created something in which I recognise that these complexities have been answered with just as much wisdom and rigour as it would take a master surgeon to wield the tiniest of scalpels over a stricken human being.

And it is that sense of responsibility which keeps on calling me back to these monoliths: art is difficult to create. The world of work is profoundly impossible to settle into. The world is so absorbing. I must write. Even if there were no careers, I still must write.

I’m sure I’ll end up writing soon about how the practicalities of a life as an unsalaried artist fit into all this. But since I had all this buzzing around, and since it’s been a while since I’ve made a linkless post like this, I think it matters enough to be set down for your thoughts and comments.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005



This is enchanting:

In response to the September 11 tragedies, twenty Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery constructed a sand mandala (sacred painting) at the Sackler gallery. This seven-foot-square mandala, one of the largest ever created in the West, was offered for the healing and protection of America. In addition, the monks participated in chanting, meditation, and other traditional healing ceremonies.

Unique to Tibetan Buddhism, sand mandalas are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the mandala to be created, and monks consecrate the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they make a drawing and fill it in with colored sand. The finished mandala is consecrated and, having served its purpose, is swept up and dispersed into flowing water.

Of course, if you don’t believe in the mumbo-jumbo or don’t want to find out more about it, you can at least take an awestruck look at the superb image gallery. The delicacy involved in making the thing was phenomenal.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Highly recommended.

The lights are going out
in the museum, a fetus
suddenly darkens

for the smell
I plane another shaving
snow buries my tracks from the house

Passport check:
my shadow waits
across the border

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Monday, June 13, 2005



Above is a photo of a sculpture which stands in the courtyard of CIA HeadquartersLangley — in the USA. It’s a sinuous sheet of copper which has thousands of letters punched into it. The letters form a puzzle whose solution is said to be co-ordinates pointing to something marvellous buried in the grounds of Langley. And for 15 years the puzzle has remained stubbornly unsolved.

But perhaps not for too much longer. There’s only one third left to go.

There’s an extensive site about Kryptos here (nobody can visit it because the place is off-limits to everyone but CIA HQ people — this is the best you’ll get), and here’s the Guardian article linking its presence to The Da Vinci Code which sparked my interest.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Teenager imprisoned against own will by homophobic parents, Memphis, TN

A gay 16-year-old (link goes to his LiveJournal) has come out to his parents who have placed him in a christian-based ‘camp’ in which he will undergo ‘treatment’ to try to reverse his sexuality and make him straight.

The organisation’s website here. The teenager posted a list of all its deeply crazy and hateful rules.

A blog calls for action; another joins the call; protests are held as the teenager is now going through the 5th day of the loveless regime. (I got tipped off by MetaFilter.)

This is appalling. Read the list of their rules I've linked to above. Take a look at their site. Send email. If you live near Memphis, TN, consider protesting. If you’re a lawyer or know one likely to be sympathetic, please act now in whatever way you can. And if you’re a journalist with current access to a paper (as I so wish I was at times like this) please try to get this into your news meeting.

This teenager is not perfect. He is not more deserving of help and support than any other oppressed person on this planet. However, he’s a human being with a sexuality he’s sure of and he should be given every assistance to sue his parents and that place into the ground, and every shelter should he be subjected to further senseless violence. — This is nothing but violence, the program he is being forced through is psychological violence, and his experience should also serve as a wake-up call to any and all who care.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Untrammelled greed!

Hot on the heels of Hyperion Records’ difficulties posted earlier on this blog, I’m very pleased to point you to a superbly acerbic post, dripping with sarcasm, on the newly-discovered and excellent The Rest Is Noise. Heh.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005


A couple of interesting articles to blog about today. The first is a nuanced account in which Os Guinness examines a new book about religion and politics. The book argues that rich societies are becoming more secular but the world as a whole is becoming more religious. The arficle examines whether or not people’s insecurities and fears created religion, and whether, in today’s America — and especially after 9/11 — there really is religious freedom, or freedom to speak against religion, or neither, or both. I’d say neither.

Salman Rushdie writing for the Toronto Star, however, just yanks out his six-shooters and blazes away at religion. Like Gore Vidal, who called religion “the great unmentionable evil” at the very centre of our culture and ethics, Rushdie has no time for those who sit back and ideologically handle religion with kid gloves, while it ideologically punches many areas of life and culture full in the face.

Rushdie makes an interesting point about dead religions v. live ones: that only after a religion dies is its art and literature available for true enjoyment by all. It’s as if the pagan Norse poetry and Greek and Roman temples are only now opened to the view, only now flung wide for the mind to examine — only now their religions have passed out of memory and practice.

One lunchtime in London, I stepped into Westminster Abbey to sit for a while in the middle of its history and beauty, and was told that it was closed for a service. I looked the guy in the face and said I had come to pray. He stepped aside. I sat for a while, listened to the music and looked at the wonderful stonework, and didn’t think about god once. I thought about visiting a famously beautiful new temple out in the suburban terraced streets and abandoned the idea when I found I would have to remove my shoes; I have never genuflected in a Catholic church (although I have played the organ in many) and will not do the equivalent anywhere else. Maybe all Rushdie’s fierce blasting is closer to my worldview than I thought.

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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith


So yeah, there was this trailer for The Fantastic Four which looked really good.

The Fantastic Four also makes an appearance as a comic-book series in Ang Lee’s film The Ice Storm, if anyone’s interested.

As for the movie that we went to see... erm. How do I put this delicately? Acting which makes you want to see Shattered Glass (to remind you that Christensen can actually do the job), Moulin Rouge and Black Hawk Down (to remind you likewise about Mc Gregor). Scripting which makes you want to see American Beauty (to reconstitute your brain).

The only things in this movie which got me awake or sitting up in expectation were: the opening music, the corruption of the Senate as setpiece, Yoda fighting the Sith Lord, and Obi-Wan yelling at Anakin/Vader as he sizzles near the end. Think of any movie that’s been universally panned. This is the same quality, and the only reason people are reviewing it well is because of the special effects and Star Wars franchise.

And postscript for the ever-sensitive Giles: taking into account all the above, it was certainly watchable, just like they all are.

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