Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter in Brighton and Hove



A good thing about the end of the year is getting to clear out all the stuff you've been meaning to do for much of the rest of it. It's rare to satisfactorily finish everything, but good to at least make some moves towards it. Having gotten a little more into making short films recently, there's a couple of them that have been in the pipeline this month that I wanted to get out before December is up.

The first one can be seen above and is a record of this year's 'Burning The Clocks' parade. The event is an annual one which brings a bit of carnival joy to a chilly seaside town, and offers an alternative to the shopping binge excesses of the commercial Christmas. Kids and adults parade through Brighton with lanterns made from willow and paper, and set fire to them on the beach at the end of the parade.

It was cancelled last year due to icy conditions making the streets too dangerous to parade over, thus T (wife) and I didn't get to make it. This year, however, the ice had melted enough (having come surprisingly early anyway) to make it possible. I'd been to one of them before - 2005, I think - but down in the thick of it on the street you don't get much of an overview. This year was all good - a great view on Marine Drive and getting to see the whole thing, including the fireworks show at the end.

It might be a modern tradition rather than a deeply rooted one, but one worth taking part in all the same.



The other surprise about this month was the amount of snow the country was hit by over December, both at the beginning of the month and prior to Christmas. Brighton doesn't usually get a great deal due to its location and the sea salt in the air, but this time it did. Having recently acquired an iPhone 4, it seemed a good opportunity to test out the video camera on it. I wasn't disappointed.

The short film shown above is named after the hashtag that has been used to create a user-generated live map of where it is snowing around the country - a fine example of the innovation that the Web enables. The map was created by programmer Ben Marsh in 2009 and it collates tweets that contain up to three items of metadata: the hashtag '#uksnow', the first part of a postcode (Hove's being BN3) and a rating for the degree to which it is snowing in that area (1/10 for very slightly, 10/10 for very heavily).

Of course, the thing about videos like this is that it is best to get them online as soon as the event has happened. That's not always possible though, so I've at least managed to get them up in the same month.

And now, as the end of the year draws in, I'll allow a slight wry smirk in having posted to this blog more often in this year than in any other. It's finally growing, if ever so incrementally. I've been asked to post for a blog at work too, so it's hopefully going to be a far more productive year here.

Happy New Year, wherever you are.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jumping Jack Frost



Although these days it's tough to find the time, I do like to keep a hand in with music making when the opportunity presents itself. I don't really have an ongoing band at the moment, so have to throw something together when gigs come up.

This year was my second year of being involved with the Christmas Concert at the place where I teach. As with last year, a line-up was hastily assembled at the last minute. The only difference was that this year, we had students in the band as well as teachers, which seemed to work pretty well.

This is the version of The Stones 'Jumping Jack Flash' that we came up with, after two rehearsals. It's (more than) a little rough around the edges, but it seemed to liven things up enough at the event! I usually try and keep the teacher and singer personas distinct from each other, but sometimes they end up crossing over a little...

Next year, must try and get rehearsals in a little earlier!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wishing you a Merry Christmas...


Here's a brief post on Christmas Day to wish all readers and visitors of this blog the best of the season to you, wherever you are or whatever you celebrate over the Winter break.

Yes, I've rather neglected this space of late, what with moving house, finishing off the Delta and exam season hitting, plus the usual round up of end-of-year festivities. As usual, there's plenty of intention to round up the year with a lot more posting. This one'll just be a brief salutation to you all though.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sparks 11: a reading night


Last night I returned to the boards upstairs at Three and Ten for a reading at Sparks 11, my second appearance at the event. I read a (slightly condensed) version of 'Branded By The Bush', a short story I wrote a few years back which was based on an incident that happened to me whilst on my first safari in Tanzania.

I was asked to go on first, so got to be the warm-up for the event. It's a cosy venue and Brighton audiences are notoriously difficult to impress (their cultural cups spill over with choices on any given night of the week), so I gave it my best shot. Luckily, the story seemed to be a hit. As the clocks have now gone back and winter is beginning to draw in, it was rather nice to revisit the baking heat and those African skies one more time too.

The rest of the event was high quality. Each author has a specially commissioned image projected behind them while they read, something that I think really adds to the ambience. The other storytellers were great - each different from the other but with their own styles, slants on life, and ways with words. I was rather surprised to see people coming from quite far afield to share their stories too, even Hertfordshire.

At the end, I was told that there are going to be some Sparks events coming up in London at some point next year and asked if I'd be interested in putting in another turn. A chance to jump at, methinks. It might actually finally prompt me to get down to writing some new material too, which is long, long overdue!

Kudos to Jo for organising the event(s) and the other authors/photographers for their parts played in a great night out. Video coming soon, apparently. More travellers tales here, for the interested.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jabberwocky spam

One thing that this blog mostly lacks is a community that buzzes around it.

I know, I know, in order to achieve that I need to have a far more proactive approach to running it. I should be doing things like engaging on other online spaces to encourage visitor traffic this way. I should be 'marketing' this blog a lot more, in order to make people more aware of it. I should be more encouraging of participation from my seemingly wide-ranging readership (according to my stats). More than anything, I should be writing stuff more often. There's probably a whole host more things I could also do in order to 'build that buzz' (answers in comments section, if you please).

I have however been getting an inordinate amount of 'comment spam' in recent months. That could mean that the blog has reached a certain level of penetration to be able to attract the undesirable visits as well as the desirable ones. Alternatively, it could just as easily mean that little on the internet is safe from the waves of junk and filth that wash over the Web like so much digital detritus.

Typically, I delete swathes of this spam from time to time (without ever publishing it). Today, however, is a rare occasion that I've decided to publish one such comment due to the sheer poetry contained within the nonsense verse. I can't for the life of me make out why the body text would entice somebody to click on the contained link, which seems to be for some kind of diet pill, but at a glance it could be Dylan meets Lewis Carroll in its random nonsense.

Here in full effect:
Dances topless and has the largest natural bosom in the world it seemed the Senate Finance Committee squid may reach a length of 55 feet, including its 35-foot tentacles. Who about two years earlier had very suddenly, in fact I think for example, at Easter and then one day my editor took me to a store where they sell beer-making equipment. Have developed a new wrinkle in mortgages your sailing experience, you should take the routine marine precaution and, before long, the president's tax-reform plan had been modified so much that its only actual legal effect, had it been enacted, would have been to declare July as Chalk Appreciation Month. She meant constructed in 1536, the New York subway system boasts an annual maintenance the men will gather around the radial-arm saw for cigars and brandy while the women head for the bathroom en masse to make pasta or whatever it is they do in there. Ever since I learned most people agree on what is funny, and most i have never met a woman, no matter how attractive, who wasn't convinced, deep down inside, that she was a real woofer. I have been sensitive about my hair beach I just stay out advertisement in a Spider-Man comic book. That in one beer commercial, I think this is for? And.
Anyone else make any sense of it?!


'Spam' van by Kent K. Barnes / kentkb, issued under Creative Commons licence

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Japan + psychedelic folk



It's been a while since I popped anything up here and as usual, the backlog is building up. With that in mind, I thought I'd add a little late night music for you all. The above album is mellow and dreamy, contains some beautiful playing, and like much of what I put up here, is another window into Japan that is somewhat off the well beaten track of cherry blossom and skyscrapers.

'My Turntable Is Slow' is Hiiragi Fukuda's second album and it was released on cassette by a Belgian label called Sloow Tapes, who described the songs as 'like dancing shadows reflected in opium clouded jade'. The vocals are understated and delivered in an echo-laden, monotone, spoken-word style, wit a little French thrown into the mix for good measure. The sound of the crows that are ubiquitous in Tokyo's suburbs and back streets are woven in amongst hypnotic grooves, while elsewhere marimbas blend with baby chatter.

Frantic in parts, languorously catatonic in others yet all undercut with the pickings of a very gifted guitarist, the album is available as to download above or from the Free Music Archive. Served up to complement the album is a video of another one of his songs, which was shot in Kichijoji (one of my favourite parts of Western Tokyo).

Listen while lying down.

Friday, October 08, 2010

New film: 'Makes The World Go Round'



What do love and sushi have in common? Well, they both kind of make things go round. They say that love does it for the world and sushi...it's the reason for those belts drives that spend their working days in perpetual motion, serving up fish and rice for the hungry.

'Makes The World Go Round' is a short film shot in Tokyo during my visit this summer. It is the first in a series of shorts to use field footage filmed with a Flip UltraHD camera and Creative Commons-licensed music. The camera is roughly the size of a mobile phone and takes surprisingly good quality pictures. The action, if you could call it that, focuses on a kaiten zushi restaurant in Kokubunji, that Western Tokyo suburb where I used to live.

For the uninitiated, kaiten zushi (also known as 'conveyor belt sushi' or 'sushi train') is where sushi is placed on a conveyor belt that winds around the restaurant and delivers the food to customers as they sit. They are one of those uniquely Japanese things that a visitor has to experience to get a little further under the Japanese soul. The restaurant in the film became a local favourite, and I often spent a lunchtime there with a bunch of Australians, Americans or Canadians getting their fish fix. Having also seen other footage shot in such restaurants on the Web, I also couldn't resist this time dropping a camera myself onto the belt as it went round and round.

This short is soundtracked by an ensemble called The Years, with a wonderful track titled 'Let's Stay In Love'. It's got a real vintage soul groove to it, coming at you like an early 70's Al Green or The Family Stone as they're just waking up. Issued under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence, the track seemed to perfectly fit the pace of the train. It's also the kind of tune that, like a 7" single you'd have spent a month saving up for as a kid (am I showing my age here?) and end up wearing out from overplay, has been getting some serious action on my hard drives.

I usually try to be quite picky about the standard of images I put out, but there were some features of this clip - the camera itself making a cameo, jerky movement as the belt navigates a turn - that just seemed to fit, so I kept the editing to a minimum. Stay tuned for more in the Japan shorts series from Globalism Films.

Raw like sushi. Yeah.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'The Iraq War: A Wikipedia Historiography' (WN0033)


This set of books, a 12-volume collection of some 7,000 pages, was recently created by publisher/author James Bridle. An artefact for our times, it contains every edit and version of a single Wikipedia article (12,000 in total) - the one on the Iraq War - between December 2004 and November 2009.

Rather than a more straightforward history, the collection is described as a 'historiography', being what you get when you study not 'the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians' (Furay & Salevouris, 1988).

Bridle himself describes history as a process rather than a set of facts, a point of view that I would certainly concur with. He goes on to describe Wikipedia thus:
(It) is a useful subset of the entire internet, and as such a subset of all human culture. It’s not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.
It is certainly a fascinating way to visually represent both changes in our contemporary global culture and a divisive issue that has been probably the biggest international point of contention of the last ten years (as evidenced by the range of opinions contained within the volumes). Publishing books of wiki edits might be an old style way of representing the new, but I think it works well and certainly makes a strong point.

References

Furay, Salevouris (1988); The Methods and Skills of History: a Practical Guide; Harlan Davidson

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shelf Life shot, at Rubber Soul



Some great pictures were taken at the Shelf Life show earlier this month by Björn Neumann, a regular at Rubber Soul as well as a very talented photographer.

Either click on the above slideshow or here to view the full set. Video footage to come later on this year.

Back from Japan

Yokohama scooter boy

My wife and I returned to the UK last Sunday from our trip to Japan - our first time back there in about two and a half years. I was thrilled to be back in the country again and the break from England was much needed. I was also very happy to be in temperatures 15-20 degrees higher than the ones we'd left behind in Britain as it meant getting some semblance of a summer, although she was rather less keen on the heat. The humidity is pretty stifling at the best of times.

The main reason for going back was to finally hold a Japanese leg of our wedding celebrations, with a small gathering in Yokohama for the friends and family members from her side that naturally weren't able to make it over for the English leg back in 2008. An attempt at rebalancing the more Anglo-centric first version, this meant that she covered the organisation of this one and I went along with whatever the plans were. A lot of the time, I was a back-seat passenger staring out at the back streets of Yokohama as we moved from store to store and place to place, stocking up on necessary goodies and making arrangements.

Near Tokaichiba station

Although I took quite a lot of photos, I wasn't that happy with most of them. I guess many of them were a little dashed off or ill thought out, but there were the odd few gems that turned up on the memory card at the end of the trip. I also took plenty of video footage, having invested in a new Flip UltraHD video camera prior to departure. This footage was much more satisfactory, which was an interesting development in documentation of a visit. However, as the next few months are fairly solidly packed with work-related commitments, there's going to have to be a gradual drip-feed out of this year's Japan content rather than a gushing out.

Back streets of Kokubunji

I had a little bit of time to myself too, and took full advantage of an opportunity to both squeeze in a gig with the band - our first in two years - and catch up with a few old friends. It was funny to be back on the trainlines of Tokyo, heading from suburbs to city centre on journeys both intensely familiar and now with the veneer of being slightly alien again. Interestingly, to my eyes Tokyo hadn't changed a great deal since I'd left, which for a place that is seemingly built on constant reinvention suggested that it was finally settling down. Letting Shanghai or Dubai claim global attention for futurism junkies, Tokyo's actually chilling out a little.

Boat fan, Inokashira Park

One friend had decided to move back to Tokyo again having left and returned to the US several years ago. It's funny how the place gets into your veins. Although I was a lot more unhooked from the internet whilst there, I did post the occasional Facebook update (just keeping things within smaller circles). My comments about being back often triggered exclamations of nostalgia or envy from connections that had spent time there themselves. Similar ones to the comments I tend to make when the same people go back themselves. Most of the other folks I caught up with whilst in town (largely all non-Japanese) seemed perfectly content to carry on letting the flow of the city keep moving them along.

Mitaka junction

Because there was a fair amount of time moving around and only being static for brief periods of time, I looked at the bigger things that I could capture whilst passing through. This meant taking in more of the architecture clustered around back streets or near train stations, occasionally grabbing a decent enough picture of a moment passing. Tokyo's not only long been a great testing ground for global architects looking to try out an idea they could not likely get away with elsewhere, but also fascinating for the mixture of buildings that sit next to each other and the way that space is used.

Shadowing Shibuya salarymen

I didn't get to spend as much time in the centre of Tokyo as I did in the suburbs of Yokohama, but grabbed the odd moments when available. I had a couple of separate meetings with people in Shibuya, the place that's always given Tokyo its futuristic feel and where foreign camera crews often head for their iconic footage of the city. Bewildering as it can be to the first-timer, the chaos of the crowds can be a balm for the seasoned Tokyophile.

Cerulean Tower escalators, Shibuya

Now that I'm back at work, I've got a stack of stuff to do, including finishing off the DELTA course that I started a year ago and getting to grips with a new area of teaching - GCSE ICT. This will mean simultaneously being a student of a Cambridge qualification and a teacher of one, which is a rather unusual position to be in! It'll also mean that I'll inevitably struggle to get in as much blogging and other stuff as I'd like. Still, all in a good cause.

Hold on and there'll be films from Japan, possibly more pictures and a bunch more Shelf Life content too. Got to squeeze this stuff in while I can!

Kanagawa balconies, with laundry

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shelf Life, live in Tokyo in 2010

Flyer by D1 Designs

I'm thrilled to announce that after two years since our last live show together, Shelf Life will finally be playing live again in less than 10 days. Back in the old haunt, we'll be playing Rubber Soul again during my forthcoming trip to Japan, on Sunday September 5th.

As usual, entry is free and we'll be on stage from about 7PM. We'll be playing a familiar set (to regular attenders) of material from the 'Best Before End' album and a splendid time should be guaranteed for all. Click the above link for a map of getting to the venue.

We'll look forward to seeing you down the front, and in the meantime, here's 'Louie Louie' to get you in the mood:




Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Internet in numbers (WN0032)

A nicely produced little video here that gives some idea of the scale of the Internet, at least in terms of social network users last year. Attractive use of colours, fonts and images too, I thought.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not for the faint hearted

In order that I don't spend my entire life in the classrooms at work or in front of a screen at home and as a way to network occasionally with the likes of local writers, I joined the Brighton-based Write Club last year. It's an informal network of local writers that meet up from time to time to chat about writerly stuff and perhaps share the odd idea or two. The informality of it is one of the attractions, I think.

Every now and again, members of the network organise events and I went along to one last night. A workshop that might fit into a category of 'live flash fiction', 'fiction slam' or 'fiction jam' (pick your label of choice), the event consisted of a series of images and short deadlines within which attendees were tasked with writing a piece of short fiction/prose/poetry based on whatever thoughts the images triggered off, which would then be read out to the assembled crowd. It was subtitled 'Not for the faint hearted' and I must admit that I was slightly nervy about the prospect, to the point where I'd rehearsed a range of possible character sketches and rough plotlines that I could dip into should the need arise. In the end, it turned out that coming with a blank mind was a better bet and none of my characters ended up making it into any of the pieces that I wrote.

It was actually a fascinating exercise in writing under pressure and I ended up writing something for each picture. It seems that images out of context can make great triggers for writing from. Although they may not work at all now without the context of the original photographs, I thought I'd reproduce here the brief works that I came up with. They are all untitled, as I was trying to make the best use of the time available and I find that titles can come better later.

The first picture was of a series of paintings leaning up against a wall down on Brighton beach as the sun was setting. We were given 15 minutes to write, the longest stretch of the night. I came up with the following refugee tale:

'art studio, brighton' by raysto, issued under CC-BY-NC-SA license
It was a surprise, yes, but not in a bad way. We'd been through so many others that had been such negative experiences that it felt good to have the kind that creeps up behind you and throws its arms around you in a welcoming embrace rather than the kind that hits you forcefully between the eyes.

Getting out of Freetown alive had been a surprise. Although it had got us here, the journey by boat, somehow sneaking in to Spain, the shocks of life on the road in France had all been sucker punches in their own ways. The stories we'd heard about how people like us get treated once we arrived in England were little electrical shocks, each tale tripping off a tremor of fear.

When my sister and I finally ended up in this coastal city, away from the madness of London but with its own, slightly softer sense of crazy, Amelia lost her bag on the beach. All the photos we'd carried with us, the two of us together at a birthday party, Mum and Dad in happier times, disappeared.

It was a surprise then when a week later, we were walking along the beach letting the setting evening sun tickle our skin, and two faces jumped out at me from a canvas leaning up against a brick wall. The two faces, both wearing a sense of African sadness, were ours. Somebody must have found her bag.

The second picture was of a sign that boldly misspelled 'No Technology'. This time, we were given only three minutes. For some reason, it reminded me of the Korean border, even though the signs I saw there were probably erected by the Americans and mainly read things like 'Danger: Landmines':

'No Technology in Brighton' by Sammy0716, issued under CC-BY-SA license
'Didn't you do anything while you were in Seoul', he asked with a grin on his face. 'I thought you were supposed to be teaching them English'.

'I did', I replied with a smirk to return his. 'But the Korean Luddite League wouldn't listen to anything I did with a computer. Should have used a pen and paper'.

After the break, we were shown a picture of three people standing against the force of a huge wave that crashed over one of the stone jetties near Brighton Pier. I pulled out a memory of a hotel I once stayed in near the sea and imagined one of the people coming in at breakfast time. We were given 10 minutes this time:

'Splash' by AndyWilson, issued under CC-BY-NC-ND license
The bell at the top of the door tinkled merrily as it ushered another guest into the hotel. This time there was no tapping of heels on the hardwood floor or the soft pad of Hush Puppies with which to build a picture of who I might be avoiding the stare of over breakfast. Instead was a 'swish, swish', like two pairs of sodden jeans hitting each other on a clothes line in the wind. The footsteps stopped and were followed by a persistent dripping - a tap with a worn out washer behind a closed door.

With a sharp inhalation of breath, a man walked into the breakfast lounge looking as if he'd just been dragged from a birthday party in the open ocean.


The hotelier nervously shuffled up to him with her papers and a clipboard.


'Can I help you?' she cautiously enquired.


'Yes. Four white towels please' was his booming response.


Another three minutes image came on the form of a pair of ladies shoes cast aside on the pavement. I remembered the exhilaration of my first visit to Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo and of discovering one of the city's green lungs - the overwhelming need I had to get a little city out of my hair:

'Abandoned Shoes, Brunswick Square, Brighton' by DG Jones, issued under CC-BY-NC license
She was desperate to feel the grass between her toes. So desperate that as soon as she left the skyscrapers, the metro, the gliding traffic behind her, she kicked off her shoes and ran towards the lush green carpet. The paving stones that preceded it merely served as her launch pad.


Two minutes this time and a picture that I might have taken myself when the seafront was covered in snow last winter - the only time I've ever seen snow on Brighton beach. The picture was of a snow-covered fishing boat:

'Brighton' by Howzey, issued under CC-BY-NC-ND license
Vessel like whale jaw
With dandruff coating
Beach as dusted
But no-one's boating


The final image, and I think another two minuter, was of a couple of kids sat at the Dolphin Derby game on Brighton Pier, with an array of stuffed toys over their heads:

'Brighton Pier - England' by geoftheref, issued under CC-BY-ND license
'If you throw one hard enough', he said ' you can bring the whole lot down'.

'All I want is an octopus', I replied. 'It's all I've ever wanted'.


All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, I got to meet some new people that I probably wouldn't have met otherwise and came to understand that one doesn't have to spend ages faffing around worrying about what to write. Sometimes it's better to just put pen straight to paper, give yourself a tight deadline and see what flows.

Comments welcomed if you like or dislike any of the tales that ended up flowing out last night.

**UPDATE** The original post did not contain any of the pictures used in the event. I've since found them and included them in the post. I think it helps to connect image with words. Thanks to James Burt for the links to the photos (and for organising/hosting the event).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On The Bomb (or should that be 'The Bombs'?)



As most museums do, one room contains a series of artefacts from the era (or their replicas) under glass cases. On the opposite wall from the one you enter, there is a black suppository-shaped object with a square tail - a model of 'Little Boy', the wreaker of all the original destruction. Given that the original one exploded about 580 metres above the city, this one could only be a replica. On the wall immediately to the right as you enter the room, is a case containing a mock-up of children that survived the blast wandering amongst the devastation of the city. The waxwork nature of the dummies probably adds to the effect brought on by the ragged clothes they are wearing and the straggled hair falling from their scalps, but it nevertheless brings a possible moment from that day vividly back again for modern-day observers.

Between these two cases lies another, containing a slab of stone marked only by a dark smear. At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about the piece of stone until further inspection reveals the stain to be shadow of a man seared into the stone face - a man who had been climbing the steps of the city bank at 8.15AM, August 6th 1945. We don't usually think of shadows as being physical things that are able to have an afterlife, much less be captured for posterity. But to imagine watching a man being instantly vaporised, to the point where his shadow is all that remains of him, is quite a remarkable thought.

August 9th marked a gruesome anniversary, and one that came three days after another. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both bombed 65 years ago, causing the deaths of over 200,000 people and ushering in the nuclear age. Debate still rages on today about the ethics of US President Truman's fateful decision to order the dropping of the bombs. One side talks of Imperial Japan's war crimes of the time, the country's subsequent government's failure in the eyes of some to adequately atone for such actions and the idea that this decision hastened the end of the war and subsequently saved a further hundreds of thousands of lives by avoiding the need for a land invasion. Other sides consider it to have been a barbarous act that human beings did to each other, side-stepping a position of nationalist self-interest and looking at the inhumanity of dropping such a weapon. This is the position taken by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which factors Japan's imperial aggression into its exhibitions and purposefully avoids a position of anti-Americanism.

At 65 years old, it is high time that the nuclear age was retired.


The pessimist's view



This year, the Doomsday Clock was moved back to 6 minutes to midnight. The Clock, an initiative from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has become universally recognised as an indicator of the proximity of the planet to catastrophe, particularly from nuclear weapons. It was brought back from 5 minutes to midnight, its last position in 2007, due to initiatives between Washington and Moscow for a renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Barack Obama becoming the first American President to publicly call for a nuclear-weapon-free world. As the above graph shows, this still places the clock perilously close to the midnight hour and still the fifth highest point the Clock has ever been.

After a long and uncharacteristic spell out of the limelight, Fidel Castro has been making his presence felt again in recent months. One of the few figures on the international stage still remaining from the 1950s (aside from Elizabeth II), he was a major player in the period generally recognised as one of the closest times the world has come to nuclear war, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As an aside, even though this period in world history may well have been briefly terrifying for those that lived through it, in 1963 the Doomsday Clock was set at 12 minutes to midnight, one of its lowest points in its history. Two decades later, as America and the USSR faced off against each other in a Cold War peak, it reached its second highest point at 3 minutes to midnight.

Anyway, Castro seems to have come out of retirement to make a series of predictions of nuclear war in the Middle East. His analysis of the complex interplay of relationships between Israel, Iran and the US, with the added potential of India and Pakistan letting something off while a window of opportunity opens could be seen as the paranoid fears of an old man looking for a final word while he still can. On the other hand, they could be taken as a warning from a man that has the experience and knowledge of the international stage to know when something's going on.

Growing up in the 1980s, I learned of the terrifying prospect of a 'nuclear winter' - the climatic effects of a nuclear war that would produce consequences so severe that social collapse would be inevitable and billions of people far from the conflict zone would face immediate famine. With more states now possessing nuclear weapons than the original five who had them during the 80s, it would seem that the threat has not gone away. The science that went into the original nuclear winter research has now been updated, reporting the following findings with subsequent implications:

New Science:
  • A minor nuclear war (such as between India and Pakistan or in the Middle East), with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas, could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history. This is only 0.03% of the explosive power of the current global arsenal.
  • This same scenario would produce global ozone depletion, because the heating of the stratosphere would enhance the chemical reactions that destroy ozone.
  • A nuclear war between the United States and Russia today could produce nuclear winter, with temperatures plunging below freezing in the summer in major agricultural regions, threatening the food supply for most of the planet.
  • The climatic effects of the smoke from burning cities and industrial areas would last for several years, much longer than we previously thought. New climate model simulations, that have the capability of including the entire atmosphere and oceans, show that the smoke would be lofted by solar heating to the upper stratosphere, where it would remain for years.

New Policy Implications:
  • The only way to eliminate the possibility of this climatic catastrophe is to eliminate the nuclear weapons. If they exist, they can be used.
  • The spread of nuclear weapons to new emerging states threatens not only the people of those countries, but the entire planet.
  • Rapid reduction of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals will set an example for the rest of the world that nuclear weapons cannot be used and are not needed.
(source: Alan Robock; text issued under Creative Commons license)

The optimist's view



Happily, there has indeed been quite significant progress towards large reductions in American and Russian weaponry stockpiles, as shown above. Obama has made laudable moves in this direction, particularly after the posturing of his predecessor (who nevertheless also reduced America's nuclear weapons). He naturally faces significant obstacles in attempts to do this and there are many who say that his new treaty with Moscow does not go far enough, but when facing absolute darkness, one must hold on to whatever glimmers of light come along.

With last year's ratification of the Treaty of Pelindaba, Africa has joined Latin America, the Caribbean, Australasia and other parts of the planet as Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones (where the use, development or deployment of nuclear weapons is banned), and pushing the percentage of the Earth's land surfaces now declared a Nuclear-Weapons-Free up to 56% (from a previous year's figure of 34%. The full map of non-nuclear zones can be seen below.


In a rare sign of relative success for international conferences organised by the likes of the UN, this year's review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was deemed a success, with the 189 signatory member states reaching agreement on further steps towards disarmament. This included a commitment to a 2012 conference on making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Perhaps we have teetered once too close to the brink of the abyss again and are finally starting to realise that there is no going down that route is we are to survive as a species. That said, the US has still recently admitted that it does have plans to attack Iran if they deem it necessary.

There are those today that don't quite see the same urgency as their forebears did in the need to rid the world of the horrors of nuclear weapons and attempt to put the genie back in the bottle. It could be that fear of terrorism has become the order of the day, or that they simply don't fear the bomb in quite the same way. There are equally those that see a perceived desire of other states to acquire the bomb as justifying the need to hold on to these foul weapons and that all attempts to prevent such states from acquiring them, including the use of military force, should be considered. Surely, as long as the most powerful states continue to harbour these potential species destroyers, the more that other countries that feel threatened by them will aim to get hold of them too, as with North Korea.

When I was a boy, my father told me that to his great surprise he had seen the end of racial segregation in the US, and that I may therefore also see the end of South African apartheid in my lifetime. He was right. While these may have been situations within national borders and the nuclear issue is surely a far wider one that that, in my lifetime I have also seen concerted global efforts at tackling other scourges of our planet - from landmines and (soon) cluster bombs to polio and the hole in the ozone layer.

Our grandchildren could either grow up in a world where the nuclear age is but a shadow seared into our conscience, or there could not be a world for them to grow up in. The longer the issue goes unsolved, the more states (or others) are likely to want to acquire the bomb themselves. The more that get hold of it, the greater the chances of one going off somewhere again, and therefore the possibility of others joining in the fray.

Let's wish Little Boy and his descendants a long overdue retirement. But please, don't give him a clock as a parting gift...

Peace

Friday, July 23, 2010

A summer mix to treat your ears (WN0031)


I stumbled across SoundCloud ages ago and stored it away as 'one of those things to get back to'. It seemed like a great way for sharing music, with an attractive interface and a winning combination of hosting space, embeddable code for players in webpages, and easy sharing of tracks. This made it a real step up from the obligatory MySpace page that all musicians on the Web must have (I've got two profiles there, and spend very little time on them these days) - a service that was already suffering from bloat well before Murdoch got his mitts on it.

Being one of those things stored away, I didn't quite get round to investigating SoundCloud any further until a couple of days ago an email from a Brighton artist dropped into my inbox inviting me to check out some of his tracks. Not an invitation I tend to take up that much these days, but I was glad to follow the trail this time around.

Without wanting to bang on about code and tech too much in this post, I invite visitors to check out the fine mix posted above. It's a full-flavoured blend of Afrobeat, hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, soul, dub and much more, and although the lad posting as Ambassadeurs has got a knack for putting great sounds together, he also seems to have a real talent for his own stuff too.

Check it out and drop him a comment if you like what you hear. Seems I've got myself yet another profile to set up and start socialising my tunes more!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Finally...


It's taken something like a year to get this one done, but I've finally finished sorting out my browser bookmarks and organised them for sharing through my Delicious profile. This means that the odd moments of free time I can manage to grab can now be used for getting on with other projects that have been piling up in the in-tray. The Wordle image above, made from these bookmarks, seems a pretty accurate reflection of my online interests and activities - travel, tech, peace, music, activism, culture...and work.

I'll be using it to post selections of my favoured corners of the Web from time to time too, as Delicious has a very good means of organising one's bookmarks into embeddable code for posting somewhere else.

It's a great feeling to get something done that's been looming over my time like a tall, dark shadow for such an age. Hopefully, that means that I'll be able to start being a bit more sociable online a little more too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Africa + music + open source




Sorting out my bookmarks, an activity which has taken me close to nine months to complete having had too many other things to do, had thrown up a few treats on the web that I'd previously stumbled across, saved and forgotten about. The sort will eventually manifest itself in a revamped Delicious profile, so that I can easily find the stuff I use on the web wherever I am and without having to be logged in to anything.

One such hidden gem that I'm delighted to have rediscovered is the Free Music Archive (FMA). The service describes itself as 'an interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads' and it certainly is that. There is a dearth of sites that offer free music downloads and they are of varying quality (both the sites and the music that they offer), but the FMA seems to be a cut above the rest. It has a good clean layout, is very easy to use and navigate, and has very straightforward features like one-click downloading and code available for embedding players (of tracks or whole albums) in web pages. So far, the quality of music on the site seems pretty good too. All the tracks are made available through Creative Commons licenses, which makes download and discovery dead easy.

Browsing through the site, I came across the collection of songs available in the player above. Essentially a series of remixes of a Youssou N'Dour track - 'Wake Up - It's Africa Calling' - and released to mark the 30th anniversary of the charity Intrahealth, the tracks together comprise a pretty divine set of tunes. N'Dour's refrains, both in English and French, echo through the mixes and after a while become one of those earworms that you can't get out of your head. There are also several guest appearances, including the likes of Nas and Neneh Cherry, who keeps up her partnership with the Senegalese superstar as a kind of post-hip-hop Ella and Louis. The music has gentle Afro rhythms, mellow electronica and more soulful stronger undertones too.

Looks like the FMA is going to be one to revisit. I'll post up some of the tastier morsels I come across here too. In the meantime, enjoy the following formula: Africa + music + open source.

Friday, July 09, 2010

'Coalition of the Willing': a post-Copenhagen call to action

Global discourse on the climate change issue reached a peak at the end of last year with the meeting of world leaders in Copenhagen. It was rather adventurously sold in much of the media (British at least) as 'a last chance to save the world from ourselves'.

Of course, in the end nothing of any substance was agreed - it would have required a concerted, multilateral effort for the leaders of the most polluting countries to go against their seemingly natural instincts and change course from policies of continuous economic growth to one of systemic and philosophical overhaul. Also, the leak of emails from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia - rightly or wrongly - changed the conversation away from what was happening to the planet to whether the canaries in the coalmine could be trusted in what they were saying.

Since then and against the backdrop of the frailty of global economic recovery, the issue of climate change seems to have largely taken a back seat on the international stage.

In light of this development in the 'end of the world' narrative that has largely defined our times, I was intrigued to recently come across the above video. Titled 'Coalition Of The Willing', the film boldly aims to re-seize the initiative lost following Copenhagen and inspire people to bypass governments by taking matters into their own hands. Produced by Knife Party, this collaborative venture is a pretty remarkable piece of animation in its own right, irrespective of the message. The wide range of styles nevertheless hang together well as a cohesive whole.

The message of the film is simple yet complex - by harnessing the power of the internet, peoples of the world should sidestep their leaders and come together to solve the problems of adapting to climate change or changing consumptive lifestyles towards more sustainable ends. It takes a largely uncritical view of the Western social revolutions of the 1960s, recommending them as a blueprint for the future whilst wrapping them up in the buzzwords of our digital age - open source, swarming, Linux, etc. Timothy Leary's maxim of the psychedelic era ('turn on, tune in, and drop out') is updated for our times with an invocation to 'log on, converge and swarm'.

'Coalition of the Willing' proposes the setting up of a network of three websites as a step forward towards these goals. Although it might have been even more effective had the film been a vehicle to announce the launch of said sites, the appeal that it contains is bound to encourage some steps in that direction - after all, the internet often seems like a place big enough for a good idea eventually to germinate somewhere or somehow.

In case a reminder is needed of why a change of course is badly needed (and thus prompters like the above film can only be a good thing), the pictures below give a slight flavour of what the human addiction to fossil fuels has done to the Gulf of Mexico.






All photos issued under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Archive clip: Shelf Life - 'With Or Without You'



Getting back on track with the trawl through the archives for publishable content, I finally managed to get this one up over the weekend - Shelf Life's cover of 'With Or Without You'. The clip comes from 2005, and it's quite hard to believe that that's now five years ago. As it was shot with a small camera from the audience, the quality of the video is a little shaky.

We often used to end a show with this track. It was always a fun one to end on as the audience got into the ballad at the beginning, then it really sped up towards the end. Despite not being a major fan of U2 by any shot, I did always like this particular song and it was great fun to play.

I'm also pleased to say that when I return to Tokyo at the end of the summer, Shelf Life will once again be playing together at Rubber Soul (Sunday September 5th). Tokyoites - if you're in town that night, come on down. You heard it here first folks!

Oh, and I hope that regular readers like the new design for this blog. Still much more to do on it, but the look seems much more in keeping with the Web of now than the one of four years ago, when this blog began.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Musings on the World Cup

Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrates scoring Ghana's first goal.
Photograph: Martin Rose/Getty Images

It's been good to finally be in roughly the right time zone for the World Cup this time around. During the Germany 2006 tournament, I was still in Japan and the one before that the tournament itself was being held in East Asia while I was still in Europe. This has meant that the games have been held during my waking hours and it's been much easier to catch more of them.

I watched the USA vs Ghana game tonight and came away pleased with the result. Although I'm happy to see the Americans starting to do well in football as this further internationalises the game, I was definitely rooting for Ghana. Being the only African team left in the tournament, they now represent the hopes of a continent. As someone that grew up with a image of Africa that was framed by Western media as something like the 'basket case' of the world (famine, drought, disease, corruption, etc), it's fantastic to now see more positive perceptions of the continent being put forward. I've only spent time in Tanzania, but was amazed to see what an impact football had on the place, so I think it's right that an African team should finally be going forward (although I believe that Senegal and one other nation have previously progressed as far as the Quarter Finals before).

I've never been the world's greatest sports fan, but at times like this - when significant proportions of the world's eyes are tuned in to the action - I make an exception. That probably makes it a little easier for my wife, in that she only has to put up with me going on about the games every four years (possibly two if we count the European Championships too!). Equally, I don't tend to align myself that closely with 'my nation' that often either, being more or an internationalist at heart than a nationalist. However, the World Cup's also one of those moments that I join in the national conversation and keep a keen eye on England's fortunes.

Once again, they've made it through the first stage and one match stands between them and a place in the Quarter Finals - against apparent 'historic rivals'. Tomorrow - England vs Germany, it's going to be an interesting afternoon! By all accounts, we're set for a heatwave too, here in England...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Robot officially weds Japanese couple (WN0030)



With the major parts of my course now over and the term coming to an end, there's a fairly major backlog of Web stuff clamouring to be heard. I've now got a little more space to begin tackling it.

First up, this little nugget and one that I couldn't resist. It hits many of the right buttons - Japan, tech, etc. Yes, a Japanese couple - in what I believe to be a world's first - have been officially married by a robot. The BBC have also reported on this story, which is a few weeks old (ancient news on Web terms) by now.

Enjoy...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Happy birthday 'Postings From An Edge'!

This blog is now four years old. There's much planned before it reaches its fifth birthday, including a redesign of the template, reworking of the additional pages and a greater attempt at SEO-ing it and interacting more with my readership (or trying to encourage it anyway).

I'd write more than just a couple of short paragraphs and reflect on things a little better, but I have an exam coming up in a couple of days. This doesn't leave me with an awful lot of extra headspace.

Fingers crossed I pass first time and can move on with the rest of my life! Until then, watch this space...

Friday, May 14, 2010

This was Afrobeat!



I had the immense pleasure of seeing this man live tonight - Mr Tony Allen, the co-founder of Afrobeat and Fela Kuti's former drummer. Although I arrived late to the show, the rhythms got me grooving immediately and the strains of the week fell off like scales. An incredible drummer that made it all look so effortless, Allen was a congenial host, the atmosphere was so warm and welcoming, and the music was just fantastic. My feet kept moving for a long time afterwards.

It was my first concert at Brighton Dome, which was a little funny after all the years I spent going to gigs in Brighton. Made it to the Budokan before I set foot in a major venue in my own town. Brian Eno's curating this year's Brighton Festival and had brought Allen to town as part of his programme.

When I lived in Brighton during the 90's, I participated very little in the festival. Now I'm back in town have been determined to take greater advantage of England's biggest arts festival going on for a month on my doorstep. However, with the DELTA hurtling towards a conclusion (of sorts) and the demands of work not leaving me with a great deal of time to kick around town watching the world go by, I've had to let a lot of this year's events pass. Still, every now and again, something happens that you have to just drop things for and just go and do. Tony Allen was just one of them.

Next stop, The Brighton Beach Boys!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

OMG...

...Britain, once again, has a Tory PM. Despite the seeming inevitability of it, despite the surprises of the past five days, despite the economic mess that Cameron inherits and the platitudes to progressivism he espouses, I can't help but feel slightly shell-shocked by this news. I'm can't help but feel that this doesn't bode particularly well for the next few years. I guess that even though the political tribalism that once ran so thick through my veins may have waned over the years and was no longer able to show its face at the last election, the visceral hatred I felt over the government I grew up under still echoes down the years.

Hold on folks, we might be in for a bit of a rough ride. Fingers crossed that those yellows in the pending Cabinet will manage to rein in some of the wilder blue tendencies. Perhaps if it results in a fairer voting system and a more electable Labour Party in the longer term, it'll end up having been a bullet worth biting.

Perhaps...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Well and truly hung


Standing in my polling booth, the space where the white noise in my head that had been the huge quandry over who to vote for in Britain's 2010 General Election finally dissipated and I was left with nothing but five boxes and a stubby pencil in my hand. The waiting was over and there was nothing left to do but pick one of them to scrawl my two-lined endorsement into. Weeks of weighing up the pros and cons of a multitude of scenarios came down to 'Damn it, just pick one'.

So pick one I did. It wasn't one I'd ever picked before, but then this was that kind of election. It didn't produce the outcome that my vote was intended to produce either, and I awoke to the decidedly unpleasant feeling of learning that a Tory MP had been elected in my constituency - like hitting the morning alarm only to find that I'd grown a large, semi-permanent cyst while I slept - but then my neighbouring constituency elected the country's first Green Party MP to counter it.

The country that I somewhat reluctantly returned to about two years ago, having previously left it behind in disgust at its imperial revivalism between the Tigris and Euphrates, now faces a future that is currently anyone's guess. And for once, that's probably a good thing. It means that of the pros and cons that careered round my skull whilst I struggled over which box to drop my cross into, there are still possibilities for good things to come of all this mess and uncertainty.

It could all still go horribly, horribly wrong. Then again, one has to hold out for the (admittedly slim) possibility of the respective political leaders of this country realising that for once, none of them actually has a total mandate to do whatever they like. It's about time that the political class acted in a manner that represented the plurality of voices that this country speaks in. That can surely be best approached if the duopolic strangehold that Britain has been held in for much of the last century is shaken off and a new way of working cooperatively is embraced.

Easier said than done, but when the old ways have broken down it's generally either new ways or further breakdown.

***

I'd have loved to have spent far more time in this space adding my own commentary on the peculiarities of the past month, but the workload has been pretty insane recently. I'm now teaching both English and IT, which has required getting to know two new courses at the same time, picking up new Excel skills in order to be able to teach one of them, plus the headlong rush towards the end of my DELTA course - a final observed lesson, watched by an assessor from Cambridge, and the build up to the exam in June.

Would equally love to get my teeth into the Brighton Festival a little more too, but circumstances are as they are. Still, got tickets booked for a Tony Allen/Afrobeat night and a live recreation of both 'Sgt Pepper' and 'Pet Sounds' to check out before the festival slips away entirely.

Readers, the intention to give you more and more often is there. I just ask for your patience in return!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Photographs of the Landscape of Oil



For the first time this year, I've missed my target of getting a new video up on the Globalism Films channel every two weeks. Only a few days out at the moment and I hope to pick the momentum back up next weekend, but in the meantime here's the latest one - a fascinating exploration of the impact of oil on the landscape of the planet, as seen through large-scale photography. Edward Burtynsky is the photographer, appearing at a TED Talk last year.

Half of the video (second half) is an ad for IBM. Feel free to skip that part, it's only there due to the licence terms for using the content.

If I wasn't so up to my eyes in deadlines at the moment, there'd also be much more here on the UK election. However, other demands take precedence at the moment. I've possible got a mock exam tomorrow night and they're never fun things to do!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The tragedy of indoors on a beautiful day

It's yet another gorgeous Spring weekend in Brighton, with wispy white clouds gracing the blue skies and sunshine that tantalises your skin. After a long, cold winter, the season's change is finally clear and it feels like it's going to be a hot summer already. Not that that's much of a guarantee of one in this country though, I'm afraid!

I'm stuck indoors for much of the weekend trying to finish of as much work as I can on the final essay and lesson plan for my DELTA course, the postgrad diploma that's going to put Cambridge University on my CV. What a strange thought for someone who, 15-odd years ago, was determined that dropping out of university was the cool thing to do. It seems almost criminal to have to be inside on a day such as this, but sometimes one has to do what one has to do.

The course has been tough going in many ways, particularly the balance of simultaneously working and studying but also in having to drop so many of my other projects. However, it's been a very worthwhile experience so far. I've felt my teaching improve significantly as a result of it, plus it's brought a certain camaraderie with my fellow teachers who are taking the journey with me.

Funnily enough, I've actually made a bit of a switch amidst it all and am now spending half of my working day teaching IT as well, instead of just English. It feels like I'm gradually moving closer to the direction I want to be going in professionally, even if that end point or ultimate goal is not that clear yet.

I had a dream last night about my final observed lesson - the pending one which is going to be watched by an assessor from Cambridge. In the dream, I hadn't prepared the lesson at all and was trying to 'blag' my way through the class. This is something that many teachers have to do when they are either unprepared for the class or the needs of their learners change according to the language that emerges. It's even been formalised as a technique (visit the Dogme ELT discussion group), borrowing its name from the Danish Dogme 95 film collective's approach to bare bones filmmaking. However, it's not something to try when there's a Cambridge assessor in the room trying to see if you've taken on board what you've been studying for. An indication perhaps that I need to get on with it and finish off my preparations this weekend!

'Pink Blossom' photo by Dominic Alves, issued under CC-A 2.0 licence