Big Brother Amazon is Watching You

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

This is why I don’t think books are going to be replaced by e-readers anytime soon. Bizarre (and ironic):

Amazon apparently sent out its robotic droogs last night, deleting copies of the George Orwell novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindles without explanation, then refunding the purchase price. As you can imagine, a lot of people caught in the thick of Winston and Julia’s love story aren’t very happy — and rightfully so — the idea that we “own” the things we buy is pretty fundamental to… ownership.

Jeff Jarvis Kevin Marks says “I dread to think what happens if you buy Fahrenheit 451 for your Kindle…”

The Guardian covers the story too and Talking Points Memo is calling it a “big, big step backwards” for the platform. David Pogue of The New York Times is also covering it.


A logical response to the "too many design students" argument

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

One of the common complaints that crops up every now and then from “industry” is that there are too many design students. In fact I had a go at Ken Garland about 18 months ago after he got up at a panel I was on and said exactly that – basically his argument was that design was a “special” craft that only an elite few should be allowed to pursue which, as I told him then, is a bloody stupid thing to say. I’m not one for hero worship, me.

But the usual motivation for complaining about the number of design students is either that it must in some way mean the overall quality is rubbish (oh really? Funny how that argument never gets trotted out when we call for more doctors, or teachers, or policemen. Or, indeed, plumbers), or that it’s unfair on students and/or employers because we’re training people the industry just can’t absorb. (In fact, the complainers are almost always employers* who, let’s face it, couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about students or graduates because if they did, they’d pay them decent salaries and give them decent jobs instead of expecting them to work for nothing until a “vacancy” arises).

Now of course the correct response to this argument is that education isn’t about training – that a good undergraduate education in design produces… graduates, not designers. Same as a degree in history produces graduates, not historians. And so on.

But for some reason that argument just butters no parsnips with some people so here’s a better argument. It’s perfect because it’s beautifully logical.

If you have a vacancy in your company, what would you rather have? A choice of one candidate, or the pick of ten?

Well there you go, then.

*What’s worse is when students say there should be a limit on the number of students. Nothing gets my wick up more than that. Well, almost nothing.


Friday, June 26th, 2009

“Many things went on at Unseen University and, regrettably, teaching had to be one of them. The faculty had long ago confronted this fact and had perfected various devices for avoiding it. But this was perfectly all right because, to be fair, so had the students.”

“Interesting Times”, Terry Pratchett

Wangfujing Night Market

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Some video from my recent trip to China – tucked away off a busy shopping street in Beijing is the famous night market where you can get pretty much anything to eat (except burgers, deep fried chicken and fish and chips).

This short video tries to capture the feel of the place but it’s pretty much impossible. It was packed, noisy, smelly (mostly nice smells!) and a lot of fun. The dumplings were a disappointment but the octopus tentacles were interesting. I didn’t go for the scorpion kebabs or the deep fried bugs (but I did have fried wasps earlier in the week and they were actually rather nice).

Overgate Scene #1: On Seeing A Fat Girl In Bright Yellow Lycra

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

A poem I wrote while waiting for my friend in Dundee’s Overgate shopping mall.

A rather large girl and her friend walked by, inspiring me to verse.

It’s not anti-fat, it’s anti Lycra and skin-tight jeans.

You’re a great big yellow idol
To the north of Gregg’s and O2,
And you made me lose my appetite
When you lumbered in to view.

I wonder what you’re thinking
When you dress yourself each day.
You clearly do not worry
What others have to say.

You waddle by oblivious
To your sin against good taste,
As you dig in to your pasty
Letting nothing go to waste.

It’s not so much the rolls of fat
Like some gross lemon jelly;
It’s the way the cloth rides up your side
Showing off your fearsome belly.

And I see you have a skinny friend
Who’s no oil painting either.
But she stands a chance of pulling guys
With a slug like you beside her.

As you pass your ass strains at the seams
Of your skin-tight denim trousers,
And I wonder if you really think
That your taste in fashion wows us.

May he who invented Lycra
Burn forever in hell’s fires
For the crimes it’s since committed
On girls’ fat round spare tyres.

"Decisions, Decisions" composed by me!

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Download now or listen on posterous

Decisions, Decisions (pizzicato).aif (23178 KB)

An old girlfriend of mine used to perform Poulenc’s “Trois Mouvements Perpetuels” on the piano and I wrote this to see if I could mimic its style. It’s one of my first compositions, dating from around 1992/93 (I’m self-taught so forgive me!) Originally it was intended to be performed by a wind quartet and sound like it had come straight out of a French art house movie. The version here is for pizzicato strings.
The title, “Decisions, Decisions” comes from a long email exchange I had with a student about five or six years ago.
She kept changing her mind about her dissertation topic and kept coming back to the same idea, which is really how this piece works. Up until then it had the title “Happy Dance” which I’d always meant to translate into French or something to make it sound a bit more pretentious (“Danse Heureuse” I suppose).
Incidentally, Poulenc is a strange composer – his music is very rhythmic and uses odd intervals, timings and discords, but it’s often very exciting and beautiful. Listen to the Domine Deus from his “Gloria” for example:

The whole piece is worth a listen if you can get hold of a good recording. I took part in a performance of that piece at York University conducted by the composer John Rutter. Blimey, he was a bad tempered guy that day… Went right off him.

White Noise – Love Without Sound

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Download now or listen on posterous

01 Love Without Sound.m4a (3055 KB)

Great track from the 1969 album An Electric Storm

Graphic designers and cabbies

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

In a discussion with a journalist from Times Higher Education last week about Twitter he asked how I responded to critics who said Twitter threatened to “dumb down” education and research I speculated that the same complaint was probably made about moveable type (Guttenberg, not the blogging tool).

Stephen Bayley over in The Observer asks if technology makes us stupid.

All new technologies, going back to fire and the wheel, by way of movable type and light bulbs, de-skill people. Old crafts are abandoned or lost in favour of automation. And when you de-skill someone, you alter not only his culture, but his personality. Satnav has done this to black-cab drivers. Once this proud tribe had a private religion known as the Knowledge; all of London’s streets had to be memorised. It was an amazing feat achieved only after great effort, and consequently it was admired and therefore empowering and dignifying. The Knowledge gave black-cab drivers what the marketeers call a “point of difference”.

Now any larrikin can buy a satnav for £199 and tell you how to get from Edmonton to Peckham by using rat runs. The USP of the black cab has disappeared in a miasma of pixels. As a result, some urban anthropologists have noted a change in behaviour of cab drivers. Once known for courtesy and reliability, many have become sullen and aggressive. This is because technology has democratised their proprietary knowledge and beliefs.

When I read that I thought “you could say the same about graphic designers as for cab drivers”. By which I mean the invention of Photoshop, QuarkXpress and so on. I know, I was there at the time. My first job interview consisted of a guy throwing me out of his studio because he wanted a paste-up artist – a skill – not a Mac operator. His business didn’t last long after that.
Funny thing is, I still hear it. Bitter old men (and not so old, and not always men) bemoaning the loss of respect for their once proud profession.

The thing is, being a cabbie is more than just taking someone from one address to another. Surly cabbies are missing their real USP if they think the satnav has castrated them.
There is a difference between “skill” and “craft”. And “the knowledge” is more than knowing the quickest route from A to B.

Designers need to bear that in mind, too.

It’s not funny! You shouldn’t laugh…

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

I’m not dead yet!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Buying travel insurance for my imminent trip to China (Shanghai and Beijing over two weeks – very excited!) I was a little concerned at some of the small print in different policies.

One insurer offered to pay me £50 every day in the event I am kidnapped. Up to a maximum of £500. Go figure.

Another promised to pay for me to be cremated or buried, but omitted the clause “in the event of your death”. Fearing some overzealous undertaker knocking on my hotel bedroom door, I decided not to go with them.

Reminds me of this classic sequence from Monty Python and the Meaning of Life: