January 30th, 2008
If you think it’s bad finding unflattering pictures of yourself on Flickr and having to live with the fact that it is not your right to remove them, consider the case of Alison Chung. Alison is a 15 year old kid from Dallas. Her friend Justin Wong took a picture of her at a charity car wash, pulling a face and making a V-Sign, and uploaded it to his Flickr account to share. Which was all perfectly harmless until Virgin, a huge multi-national media company, downloaded the picture (without informing the photographer), attached a nasty caption, and used it for a nationwide Australian poster campaign advertising mobile phones.
Also through the magic of Flickr, the moment where Alison found out she had been humiliated in this way (and the long debate that follows) is in the public domain too.
Alison’s family is suing. Wong didn’t copyright the photograph, probably because he’s a kid, not an evil corporation, but he did allow Creative Commons distribution of his work. This is the Virgin defence, who are insisting they have done nothing wrong. They are saying not only can they take a photographers work and re-appropriate it for commercial purposes, the rights of the subject have also been waived too, i.e. Alison has no say in how her image is used. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.
It’s a cautionary tale children.
January 13th, 2008
Have you ever questioned why we have such large brains?
The modern human brain is approx 1500 cubic centimeters, three/four times the current size of our closest ape ancestors. Two million years ago, our brains were roughly ape size, around 400cc, but in our transition from Australopithecus to Homo Sapien some evolutionary factor drove the expansion of this one organ to extreme proportions.
Biologically, our brains are hugely over-sized for our bodies. They are swollen organs, much larger and more sophisticated than we have ever required to satisfy purely biological needs. In Darwinian terms, our over-sized brains are actually a selective disadvantage, not just because of the mess of stimuli they create to distract us, but also because they require so much energy to support, energy that would be better devoted to, say, running away from predators. They are also dangerous to develop; just ask anyone who has ever given birth which part of the infant was the hard bit to squeeze out.
To quote Stephen Pinker, “Why would evolution ever have selected for sheer bigness of brain, that bulbous, metabolically greedy organ? … Any selection on brain size itself would surely have favoured the pinhead.”
But we seem to have done alright with them. We have adapted to our excess of cognition, and invented things like computer games, art galleries and shopping channels to keep them busy. We can’t simply switch these brains off, so we have developed our tendency to over-think everything into a series of complicated games to make our basic anthropological processes of eating, fucking and breathing stupidly challenging, just to make the most of our fine cognitive skills.
Clearly this hyper-demanding swollen mass we balance atop our slender necks is not acting in the interests of furthering the species. No other species have found the need to invent a Michelin Restaurant Rating System in order to eat, nor to develop hideously complicated systems of money, status, fame and haircuts in order to determine which members of the opposite sex are attractive to them. No other species thinks about their lives so deeply that some members of it decide upon suicide, not bothering to wait for predators or harsh natural conditions to determine their survival, but to do the job themselves. This is how “smart” we are. The survival of our species has not been because of our big brains, but despite it.
All the indications seem to point to the fact that, despite how pleased we are with ourselves at our ability to build bridges, fly aeroplanes, play football, invent religions and then fight wars over them, in the grand sweep of geological history, we are very likely going to be one of the flash-in-the-pan species. The “civilisation” our big brains have built around us has protected us from nature, but has weakened us physically. Over time we have lost the ability to survive in the natural world. In England, it only takes a few inches of snow to grind us to a standstill and make us unable to leave our homes. So it’s not going to take much of a natural disaster to finish us off.
And if we were to be wiped out tomorrow, it is probably unlikely we would even appear in the fossil record, simply because we’ve only been around 30,000 years or so, which is nothing. The entire history of homo-sapien is the final millimeter in the million mile marathon of life on earth. There’s a very good chance we would be gone and, after our bridges and aeroplanes have crumbled back to dust, leave no trace of our ever having been here.
But don’t lose heart, it may not be that bad. We aren’t the first freaky creatures to have survived long enough to leave a mark.
The Irish Elk, or Megaloceros Giganteus, was neither Irish, nor an Elk. It lived on our planet during the Late Pleistocene era. It sported the most ridiculous headgear ever seen in the history of the planet.
The antlers of the Irish Elk were around 12 feet wide, the size of a small car, a spread larger even than the body that supported them. They were hugely inappropriate appendages – large, heavy and awkward. They severely limited the areas the animal could move in. They were unable to seek food in forests, wetland, or heavy bush. They could only live on ground hard enough to support their weight in an environment open enough to permit them to move. To predators the antlers were a gift; too unwieldy for fighting or self-defence, too heavy to allow the animal to move with any speed, and so prominent that hiding or camouflage were impossible. The antlers were so big that just staying upright was the animal’s most immediate challenge. The “Irish” of the name comes from the peat bogs of Ireland where the majority of their fossilised remains were found. It is thought that the weight of the antlers caused the animals to sink into the bog to their deaths, which explains why so many of their remains have been discovered.
Yet still, despite this ridiculous handicap, the Irish Elk were awarded around 400,000 years on this planet. Nature demonstrated remarkable tolerance to the Irish Elk’s monstrous mutation. Who knows, perhaps she might be accommodating to Homo-Sapien’s monstrous mutation too.
Interesting though, it is now thought that the eventual demise of the Irish Elk was probably down to being hunted to extinction by the rise of Man. The beast had successfully survived half a million years of predators, climate change and natural disasters. But then no saber-toothed tiger ever needed a hat-rack, whereas mankind now has a pressing need to keep his swollen brain warm.
Large comedy antlers are probably not half as dangerous a mutation as an organ that can encourage the animal to engage in extreme sports, or build nuclear weapons though. While I’d like to believe we are no more freaky than the Irish Elk, we’d probably have been able to survive a pair of big antlers for a few hundred thousand years without too great an issue. But the big brain is likely to be a much shorter lived biological mistake.
January 10th, 2008
Shade The Changing Man #22 Peter Milligan / Brendan McCarthy April 1992
January 10th, 2008
The very first post I wrote on this blog, long since deleted (yes, occasionally I prune this unweildy bush), was on the first issue of Casanova from Image Comics. This was back when I thought I’d be blogging mainly on the subject of funny books, which I seem to have wandered quite a distance away from over the course of only 18 months and 140 or so posts. It’s weird where the muse takes you.
Casanova is now on issue 11, and is still the best comic on the racks. And still I am unable to quite articulate what is so perfect about this little gem. Guttergeek took a rather good stab at it, and identified a lot of the things I hooked onto (the Morrison/Doom Patrol comparison particularly) and the babbling messiahs on the barbelith forum are trying their best too. But, if I were to attempt and boil it down to one thing, it would have to be this – it’s dense. In a good way. Dense with plot, style, cultural references. Dense. Oh, and it’s sexy too. Sexy and dense.
Back in 1988, there was another comic that had a very similarly feel to it – Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl (twenty years ago! shit), which ran in Deadline. It looks rather dated these days, but that’s okay, because it shows how much a part of the zeitgeist it was when it was being published. One thing I really loved about Tank Girl was the way you got a sense of what they were listening to as they were creating it (Morrissey, The Pixies, and the other great indie stuff of that period). You get this same sense with Casanova too, but with a wider range of cultural influences mushed in. And if you don’t, the creative process behind the issue is discussed in the back matter, which involves the reader even more. Tank Girl‘s experimentation with the form is there too, breaking panels, subverting expectation wherever possible. In 1988 it all felt a little more anarchic, but after two decades of political correctness, Casanova’s slick storytelling can still feel like a shot in the arm.
The plot is basically cross-dimensional sci-fi super spies, pure comics in a Silver Age style, but with a very modern sensibility. Imagine James Bond, or The Man From UNCLE, on drugs, naked, snogging their own sisters, and you’ll be getting close.
Incidentally, it’s funny what you can get away with in a three colour book. If you’d got Adam Warren or Frank Cho to draw this amount of nudity and perversion in full colour, the book would be just porn. But with the abstract lines and limited colour palette used by Gabriel Ba, and more recently his brother Fabio Moon, this becomes something much more lighthearted and groovy. Ba, incidentally, is now working on The Umbrella Academy, which may just be the second best comic on the racks right now.
Matt Fraction, the writer, is starting to make a name for himself at Marvel, so it is only a matter of time before he sells out and wastes all his crazy ideas writing nothing but X-shite for a living, so we should enjoy this book while we’ve got it. I urge you to give it a try. There is a hefty hardback of the first seven issues available, but this is really one that makes more sense in singles. Issue 1 is still available free online here, so make your own mind up and let me know what you think.
And if Cass doesn’t do it for you, or you need other suggestions of something to read, check out Mighty Matt Brady’s picks of 2007. He’s a man of taste.
January 2nd, 2008
Is there such a thing?
Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Coventry and the rest of the West Midlands conurbation have always had a healthy Arts scene, which I have continued to follow remotely via Created In Birmingham, Creative Wolverhampton, et al. But for some time I have been trying to uncover a comparable Midlands New Media scene, and drawn a blank. Either the Midland New Media scene is too small to be seen, or is very well hidden.
Xmas always drags me back to the heartland for a tour of duty (never a chore as I love Wolverhampton and miss it dearly), and whenever I’m back I nose around looking for some signs of New Media activity. Last week I went to Wolverhampton Art Gallery and saw their Pop Art exhibition. Wolves Art Gallery is usually good at promoting local talent, and when I saw they had a touch-screen interactive for the exhibition, I had to seek out the local talent employed to build it. But, after a bit of research, I was VERY disappointed to discover they had employed a London agency for the job.
It’s a great little interactive, but really nothing that complicated. It takes a snapshot using the iMac built in camera, gives you some drawing tools to pop-tart it up a bit, and then uploads it to Flickr. The kids love it, clearly, and it kept me and my little one entertained. But technology-wise, it was the kind of stuff I was doing five years ago, so I couldn’t understand why this had needed to be farmed out of the county. Unless of course that there simply isn’t even the most basic of New Media skills in the Midlands area. Please say this isn’t true.
The UK clearly has it’s New Media hubs – London, Brighton and Bristol – all of which we know about because their activity is very visible. I am several miles from Bristol but I can keep up with what’s going on there via the underscore mailing list. In Brighton we have the BNM list, the Flash Brighton Group, Brighton Bloggers, the Digital Festival, the Flash On The Beach conference and many more. When I look for similar evidence of life in the Midlands area – it just isn’t there.
I’d love to be able to return to the heartland one day soon. I spent most of the nineties farting around on the Birmingham Arts scene (working for the mighty VIVID), and I have always thought of my sojourn in Brighton as a temporary placement (eight years and counting). But I make my living in New Media now, so it looks like I would be unemployed if I was to return home.
So this is my question for the day – why is there no Midlands New Media scene? Please don’t say I’m going to have to come up there to try and start one.