So that was 2013 that was

On December 31, 2013, in Everyday, by Luke McKernan

Well, in 2013 I…

Slept for 2,372 hours
Sat down for 4,940 hours
Walked, ran or otherwise moved about, or stood still, for 1,448 hours
Ate 1,095 meals
Drank 1,460 cups of decaff white Americanos
Posted 3,118 tweets
Sent 10,000 emails
Read 18 books
Wrote 274 blog posts
Sent 350 texts
Typed out 638,970 words in total
Took 10,707 photographs
Posted 253 photos on Flickr
Posted 4 videos on YouTube
Bought 13 CDs (physical and/or download)
Watched 150 films
Watched 1,460 hours of television
Listened to 547 hours of radio
Visited 3 countries
Travelled 20,864 miles
Gave 7 talks
Attended 5 conferences
Published 3 papers
Produced 1 book
Had 1 change of job title
Acquired 1 niece

In 2014 I shall get out more

 

The Newsroom

On December 29, 2013, in Libraries, News, Work, by Luke McKernan

newsroom

The other Newsroom

Every now and again someone will come up to me and say that they like something on my blog, and I have to ask them which one. I have produced too many websites, blogs and the like these past few years, leaving several by the wayside (Screen Research, Diving for Pearls, Moving Image, BardBox, The Bioscope) while pressing on with others (Picturegoing, Charles Urban, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema). The plan was to cut down on these peripheral activities and to concentrate as much as possible on this personal site, but it’s not a battle that I’m winning.

And so it is that I have started up The Newsroom. This is not my site, however – it’s a blog about the British Library’s news collections, and though I’ve kicked things off and named it, the plan is for it to have multiple authors from the Library’s newspaper reference and curatorial teams, as well as guest writers. The name is meant to express a place from where any kind of news might be generated (i.e. not just newspapers), and doesn’t have any particular connection to the HBO television series of the same name – which I’ve not yet had the chance to see. But I can say that the staff of the British Library writing for The Newsroom will be scarely less glamorous, nor any the less committed to the truth.

Here’s what the blog has to say about itself:

The British Library has one of the world’s greatest news archives. Our collection of UK, Irish and world newspapers numbers over 60 million issues, from the 17th century to the present day, and we have growing collections of television, radio and web news. Whether you are studying history, politics, society, international relations, economics, media history, sports history or family history, our collections will have something for you. This blog provides the news about yesterday’s news, and looks to where news may be going in the future. It informs you about aspects our collections, provides guides to their best use, and reports on activities in news production and news-related research.

So that’s it. I hope it will be primarily a useful reference guide, explaining aspects of the collection to the wide range of researchers who use our news holdings. The challenge will be to strike a balance between telling the story of news for its own sake, and recognising that most researchers who use our newspaper collections (and it is primarily newspapers that they seek out) are seldom interested in the news per se. They want to find any mention of their subject, picking up clues that will take them further down a research trail that will eventually result in an essay, a thesis, a book, a programme, a blog, or a family tree.

But what binds all such activity together is the news itself – the noteworthy events of the day, archived and recoverable, providing specificity. So it is right to try and illuminate how news has been produced, and what changes are taking place to the production, distribution and consumption of news today. The blog’s byline is “News about yesterday’s news, and where news may be going”. Perhaps we should change that “may be” to an “is”. I don’t know. But connecting news past with news present is essential. It’s what interests me at any rate, and I’ll be using the blog to show the ways in which the news media combine, today and yesterday.

The blog will properly kick into action in January, and there will be an accompanying Twitter account, followed by a entirely reshaped version of our news collections web pages, all in time for the launch of the British Library’s new News and Media Reading Room in March 2014. It’s going to be a busy, newsy few months.

 

A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

On December 24, 2013, in Images, by Luke McKernan

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Seasonal greetings from The Demon McGuire, a poem published (anonymously) in Sydney in 1885, with some fantastical illustrations and a Christmassy theme. Just one of the million or so free-to-use images from the British Library’s Flickr pages.

A merry Christmas to all!

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The mad Victorian scrapbook

On December 23, 2013, in Images, Work, by Luke McKernan

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Die zweite Deutsche Nordpolarfahrt in den Jahren 1869 und 1870, unter Führung des Kapitän Karl Koldewey, etc. [Edited by Alexander Georg Mosle und Georg Albrecht. With plates and maps.] (1873)

Following the release of one million free-to-use images from the British Library, extracted automatically from digitised copies of nineteenth century, there has been an astonishing reaction worldwide. Well over 50 million visits have been made top the British Library’s Flickr pages, and more than just visiting people have been identifying, tagging, blogging and sharing those images in a happy orgy of knowledge sharing.

In the spirit of this, and as a follow-up to my previous post on the initiative, here’s a selection of some of the images that have caught my eye while browsing. There’s no particular theme to them – some are curious, some outlandish, some are beautiful, some are polar, some are by favourite artists (Phil May, Lancelot Speed), some are simply typical of their age.

The links take you to more information about the publications, other images from that publication, and other images available from the same publication year.

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The Z.Z.G., or Zig Zag Guide round and about the bold and beautiful Kentish coast … Illustrated by Phil May (1897)

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La fregate l’Incomprise. Voyage autour du monde à la plume par Sahib. [With illustrations.] (1876)

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Voyages and Travels round the World by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet … compiled … by James Montgomery. The second edition, corrected, etc (1841)

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The Demon McGuire. [In verse.] (1885)

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The American Metropolis from Knickerbocker days to the present time: New York City life in all its various phases … Illustrated (1897)

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Elsass-Lothringen (1885)

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London (illustrated). A complete guide to the leading hotels, places of amusement … Also a directory … of first-class reliable houses in the various branches of trade (1872)

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Marching with Gomez. A war-correspondent’s field note-book kept during four months with the Cuban army … Illustrated by the author. With an historical introduction by J. Fiske (1898)

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The Frozen Crew of the Ice-bound Ship; or, the Terrors of the arctic regions. A romance of the wild and wonderful. With illustrations (1868)

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Svenska Expeditioner till Spetsbergen och Jan Mayen utförda under åren 1863 och 1864 af N. Dunér, A. J. Malmgren, A. E. Nordenskiöld och A. Qvennerstedt (1867)

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Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie: a narrative of Count S. Teleki’s exploring and hunting expedition in Eastern Equatorial Africa … Translated by N. Bell. With … illustrations, etc (1894)

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In a Sea Bird’s Nest. A series of stories, some allegorical (1896)

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Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians. [With plates.] (1841)

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La Terra, trattato popolare di geografia universale per G. Marinelli ed altri scienziati italiani, etc. [With illustrations and maps.] (1898)

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Histoire de la Révolution Française (1887)

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I det mörkeste Afrika … Oversat af … C. Delgobe og B. Geelmuyden. Med … Illustrationer, etc (1890)

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De Aardbol. Magazijn van hedendaagsche land- en volkenkunde … Met platen en kaarten. [Deel 4-9 by P. H. W.] (1839)

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The Paradise of Birds: an old extravnza in a modern dress (1889)

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The World’s Inhabitants; or, Mankind, animals & plants … With … illustrations, etc (1889)

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Очерки перомъ и карандащемъ изъ кругосвѣтнаго плаванія въ 1857, 1858, 1859 и 1860 годахъ … Изданіе второе, исправленное. Съ … рисункамн (1867)

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True Stories from French History … Illustrated (1890)

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Mechanical curation

On December 13, 2013, in Images, Libraries, Resources, Work, by Luke McKernan

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Image from “Bibliothek geographischer Handbücher. Herausgegeben von … F. Ratzel”, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11307137526, catalogue record with PDF of full volume here

A few months ago, the British Library launched the Mechanical Curator. This was a tool built out of the BL Labs project, which automatically extracted images from 65,000 or so out-of-copyright 19th century books which Microsoft had digitised for the Library backs in the days when it thought it might compete with Google in the mass book digitisation game (it changed its mind, but we got to keep what had been digitised). By an ingenious process of image recognition and metadata extraction, the Mechanical Curator automatically lifted images from these digitised pages where it could find them, uploaded them to a Tumblr site complete with book title and a link to the catalogue record (with downloadable PDF of the complete book), and proceeded to publish these images one an hour, every hour, announcing each new image via its Twitter account. No too many people actually followed the Twitter account, but it proceeded methodically to add the images, hour by hour.

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Selection of images from http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary

Now the project has gone one stage further, and has uploaded the images to Flickr under a Creative Commons licence, so they are free to use by anyone. There are one million of them. In one fell swoop the Library has created, attributed, catalogued, uploaded and shared a unique image collection of prodigious size and infinite application. There are portraits, sketches, landscapes, cartoons, illustrations of fictional characters, maps, diagrams, photographs, advertisements, ornamental letters and many examples of elaborate chapter titles and page borders. The effect is of some mad scrapbook from the Victorian era, a fabulous treasure trove from an age when people learned so much about the world around them through illustrations. It is a monument to the great skills of the (often anonymous) artists of that age and a delight to the twenty-first-century eye.

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Image from “Pariserliv i Firserne … Med talrige Illustrationer”, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11306904913, catalogue record with PDF of full volume here

But this is just the start. The images have their catalogue records, and often they come with a caption underneath because the Mechanical Curator captures parts of the text around the image to help with its identification. But in general we do not know what the images are. The plan therefore is to combine the crowd with automation to enrich the images with specific information as to their significance. As the man behind the Mechanical Curator, Ben O’ Steen, describes it:

We plan to launch a crowdsourcing application at the beginning of next year, to help describe the what the images portray. Our intention is to use this data to train automated classifiers that will run against the whole of the content. The data from this will be as openly licensed as is sensible (given the nature of crowdsourcing) and the code, as always, will be under an open licence.

And there could be so much more to this. After all, this resource has been built out of 65,000 books, and the British Library is sitting on tens of millions of books, newspapers, magazines and journals which will contains hundreds of millions of images. Of course many of those images will be in copyright, and the vast majority are not held in digital form as yet. But the potential image archive that could be unlocked boggles the mind.

However, it’s not just about unlocking, releasing and describing images. In sharing them in this way, the Library wants to see how people become inspired to take the image and the data and reapply these in new ways. Certainly there is inspiration there for designers, historians, anthropologists, cartographers, artists, authors, social scientists and indeed illustrators, but IT developers can also work with the files (manifests of the images, together with their descriptions, have been released on github). This is moving the library out of its four walls into the public domain, in every sense. We wait with eager anticipation to see who takes us up on the challenge, and indeed what other collections start to do likewise.

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Image from “Auf biblischen Pfaden. Reisebilder aus Aegypten, Palästina, Syrien, Kleinasien, Griechenland und der Türkei.”, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11307115806, catalogue record with PDF of full volume here

There are a number of interesting issues that arise from this initiative. One is the question of scale. We make think that the Internet age has loaded us with more information than we can possibly handle, but really things have only just got started. I wrote a while back how the 750 million pages of our newspaper library, representing over 300 years of publishing history, will be trumped by 1 billion pages of our web archive to be acquired in a single crawl of the UK web space. Here now is an image archive of huge scale created out of a small fraction of our book collection – in theory it could be a thousand times bigger.

Then there is the rough-edged nature of the images. Traditionally image archives present just the image of itself. This archive presents the untidiness around that image. This was a result of the limitations of image recognition software, but there is nothing lost and a great deal gained in speed, context and transparency of method. It is a new, pragmatic way of presenting an image archive.

Finally there is the notion of mechanical curation. What are curators for, if technology can achieve so much to make a library’s content available to all? Any additional description may be undertaken by the knowledgeable general public rather than wait for the Library expert to catch up, If the impulse is towards opening up our collections so all may share with them online, where should the expertise lie? Of course specialist collections will have been identified by, collected, built up and cared for by curators who recognise the value of those objects. The curator brings intelligence to the process of collection, description and preservation. But how to balance such intelligent understanding with the wisdom (and folly) of the crowd? Curators have great knowledge, but it is seldom exclusive to them.

How might you curate these images, now that we have let them go?

Links:

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Image from “Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia irásban és képben. Rudolf trónörökös főherczeg Ő … fensége kezdeményezéséből és közremunkálásával. (Die deutsche Ausgabe redigirt … J. von Weilen, die ungarische M. Jókai.) Hung”, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11306963064, catalogue record with PDF of full volume here

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I remember # 8

On December 8, 2013, in I remember, by Luke McKernan

225. I remember walking past the anti-apartheid protesters outside South Africa House, day after day after day

226. I remember hide-and-seek

227. I remember Mary Hopkin

228. I remember Ilie Nastase, tennis rebel

229. I remember struggling over seven times eight when learning my times tables

230. I remember Disney Time

231. I remember (can this possibly be true?) that my primary school class held a Miss World competition. A girl named Angela won.

232. I remember Chicory Tip

233. I remember the Harlem Globetrotters

234. I remember abacuses (or should that be abaci?)

235. I remember crouching with work colleagues in a corridor away from windows because it was thought a bomb might be nearby

236. I remember listening to the cheerful propaganda from Radio Tirana on my short-wave radio

237. I remember the astronaut who sang ‘I was walking on the Moon one day, in the merry merry month of May’

238. I remember inventing the standing triple jump as a sport (at least I was fairly sure no one else had come up with it)

239. I remember when you banged on the top of the television set to make it work

240. I remember my brothers and I push-starting our father’s car on cold mornings

241. I remember limbo dancing

242. I remember Mary Wilson’s poetry

243. I remember the Fairs Cup (so named because originally the competing football teams had to come from cities that hosted trade fairs)

244. I remember George Chisholm

245. I remember The Singing Ringing Tree

246. I remember Blue Peter annuals, guaranteed in every Christmas stocking

247. I remember Christmas stockings

248. I remember power cuts and eating meals by candlelight

249. I remember marvelling at French hypermarkets because nothing on such a scale existed back in the UK

250. I remember Charlie Chaplin films being shown regularly on British television, eagerly catching each title that was new to me, never once questioning the absence of dialogue

251. I remember exactly where I was when I suddenly felt terribly good about the world and my place in it, and then the moment passed

252. I remember Grandstand, and not knowing what a grandstand was

253. I remember the round reading room at the British Museum and the proud day when I first had a reader’s ticket. I picked a seat and decided that this would be the seat I always used, just liked Karl Marx. The next time I came someone was sitting there already.

254. I remember Bod

255. I remember feedback (on guitars)

220. I remember the sobering day when I realised I was older than anyone in the England cricket team

 

Eroica

On December 1, 2013, in Music, Silent film, by Luke McKernan

napoleon

Napoléon

Yesterday I saw the five-and-a-half hour restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927), which was shown at the Royal Festival Hall between 13:30 and 21:30 (there were three intervals), with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Carl Davis conducting his music. It’s the third time I’ve seen the film (not counting the DVD of the US version of the restoration with Carmine Coppola’s music), though of course it is now longer than any of us have seen up to now, as the restorer Kevin Brownlow has found more footage since the restoration’s original premiere in 1980. To judge from the titles at last night’s screening which described a missing section, we are missing a sequence where an impoverished Napoleon makes boots for himself out of cardboard. The recent additions to what we now see are mostly sequences in Corsica.

It is not a film that I care for that much. To express dislike for Napoléon can be close to heresy in silent film circles, given the heroic story of the film’s production and the still more heroic story of its restoration by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, which is generally argued to have overturned decades of prejudice against silent films and to have ushered in a new appreciation of silent film art, as well as the (expensive) vogue for seeing such films as they were originally presented, with full orchestral accompaniment. But one can be grateful and still be critical at the same time. Napoléon is not a good film; it is a very long film with some good things in it.

Abel Gance, its director, originally planned for six films to cover the entirety of Napoleon’s life, and this first episode takes us only to Napoleon on the verge of conquering Italy. The remaining five parts never got made, though a German film made by Lupu Pick from Gance’s script for the sixth part, Napoléon auf St Helena was made in 1929. Film history is lettered with bombastic attempts to film the life of Napoleon – Charlie Chaplin and Stanley Kubrick never made theirs; Gance filmed only a sixth of his. The lesson from all three is that the directors maybe saw something of themselves in Napoleon, and what they wanted to film was not so much the man as the idea of absolute vision, absolute control.

Abel Gance’s Napoléon (what we have of it) makes little sense as narrative. It presents episodes (the snowball fight from his childhood, the siege of Toulon, the Terror), not a story that grows organically and logically. It offers little in the way of characterisation. The named figures are no more than portrait paintings – only the excellent Vladimir Roudenko playing the young Napoleon gives us any sense of a rounded character, though this time around I found more to admire in Albért Dieudonné’s hypnotic impression of the adult Napoleon. Those scenes which require some interaction of the characters are among the poorest, notably the romance between Napoleon and Josephine (Gina Manès), and the lovelorn Violine (played by Annabella) with her unrequited, quasi-religious worshiping of her hero. Epic events such as the siege of Toulon are rendered incoherent through a lack of narrative skill, while others, such as the orgy sequence, just go on and on to little purpose, or interest.

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Carl Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra take their bow

But it is wrong to expect Napoléon to work in terms of story, character, or as conventional cinema at all. It is better to think of it in musical terms, with its themes, impressions, transpositions recapitulations and codas. Its episodic nature points to symphonic structure; its contrapuntal technique with themes introduced, answered and repeated echo fugue. Music is fundamental to the film’s exhibition, of course – Arthur Honegger wrote the original score (now lost), while Carl Davis’ efficient score combines original music with pieces from contemporary French compositions and parts of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (‘Eroica’) which was originally dedicated to Napoleon. However, there is not an exact correlation – rather Gance is playing with images as a composer might play with musical ideas. This is why the film’s most powerful sequences are those where images of the past are recapitulated in visionary form – Napoleon’s recall of all his encounters with Josephine (an extraordinary rapid montage), a complementary vision of her in multi-superimposition form as Napoleon recalls different aspects of her, and on course in the famous final triptych, which deliver a rapid, ever-changing swirl images of Napoleon’s past, present and future.

This musical use of images does not always work. The intercutting between the revolutionary turmoil at the Convention and Napoleon in a boat on a stormy sea (which originally was to have concluded in tritych form) is an overblown irrelevance – the visual correlation is banal and fatuous, reminiscent of D.W. Griffith’s weaker 1920s efforts to repeat the cross-cutting bravura of Intolerance (the quintessential fugal film). Far better is the recurrent use of the eagle motif, not least because the film’s emotional high point comes early on the childhood sequence where Napoleon’s pet eagle returns to him. It is a fundamental weakness of the film that this thematically, emotionally and musically satisfying moment occurs so soon, and is never bettered.

If you forget story, and character, and dramatic logic, and think of Napoléon as a visual symphony, then for the most part it works. There is not a dull nor a false image in the entire work. It reaches apotheosis in those points where it abandons conventional cinematic narrative techniques and delivers the abstract – the nine-image pillow fight, the ghosts of the Revolution revisiting Napoleon at the Convention, the absolute avant garde of the concluding triptych. But that is not enough. You have to fill your five-and-a-half hours with more than that, or at least Gance tries to, so the failure of the romantic scenes, for example, is down to poor technique, not to any misunderstanding of what he was trying to do. He wants us to care for Napoleon in the way that he does; and we don’t.

In part it’s just that I don’t like grand film gestures. Big is not better, and the grandiosity of Napoléon makes for a great event, but not necessarily great cinema. The cult of the silent cinema restoration with live full orchestra that the 1980 restoration ushered in has led to many ecstatic reviews that suggest that here is the quintessence of cinema, but I beg to differ. Earlier this week at the British Library we showed a ten-minute film from 1910, A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, with a single pianist, to an audience of thirty. There was more truth in that film’s simple exposition of people, time and place, than in all of Napoléon‘s strutting bombast – and finer technique too, if we want technique to have purpose. I prefer my films human-sized, and about ordinary humans, not about the heartless visions of world conquerors. Small is beautiful.

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Dreams of iron and steel

On November 20, 2013, in Art, Galleries, by Luke McKernan

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Who saw this one coming? Bob Dylan as a welder of gates? The Halcyon Gallery in Bond Street is currently hosting Mood Swings, an exhibition of ornamental gates and associated metalwork crafted by a man, who when he isn’t composing, recording, touring, writing, broadcasting or indeed painting, clearly likes to go a junkyard, pick up a few bits of metal to take back to his copious workroom, and build gates.

The results are extraordinary. I’m not sure how one can got about reviewing a gate, though it has to be said that none of the Dylan’s constructions would function terribly well as an actual gate. Instead they are creative, playful sculptures that you could say offer a way in to the greater understanding of the artist. The introductory notes to the exhibition point out Dylan’s family roots in Hibbing, Minnesota, home to the world’s largest open-pit iron mine. Here is a man who can properly claim, as he does in ‘Never Say Goodbye’ (one of my favourite Dylan songs), “My dreams are made of iron and steel”.

However, there is nothing heavily industrial about the gates, which relate more to his poetry than his hometown. What impresses you is their lightness, invention, wit and proportion. They are indeed made up of material re-used from the scrapyard. One may spot wheels, cogs, chains, spanner, hooks, handles, horseshoes, in one place a dog, in another a guitar. The number of re-purposed tools that feature in the gates seems like some sort of joke made about the nature of construction. There is something floral about the way the metal parts have been arranged, like a briar rose – indeed, the full verse from ‘Never Say Goodbye’ goes:

My dreams are made of iron and steel
With a big bouquet
Of roses hanging down
From the heavens to the ground

The welding itself seems to be rudimentary, with obvious joins between the pieces, but those who know their ironmongery have, it seems, praised what they have seen. Each piece is marked with a buffalo trademark. Should you be interested in purchasing one – they’d look nice on any wall – prices range from £50K to £250K. Three in the upper price bracket already had red dots beside them, indicating that they had been purchased, when I visited. So hurry.

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If it wasn’t apparent already, it is obvious now that Bob Dylan is not just a musician. He works across many media, working words and images as the heart dictates (his haunting paintings of railways tracks can also be seen at the Halcyon gallery). The late flowering of this vision, at a time when his contemporaries are either dead or reproducing identikit versions of the songs of their far far off youth, is extraordinary to witness, and makes you realise how it is going to be necessary to revalue the man all over again, just as he continually reworks his songs in performance (he is playing the UK this week, with his usual playing of familiar songs rendered utterly unfamiliar). This is what made the speech by France’s Culture Minister, Aurelie Filippetti, so awful when Dylan was awarded the Legion d’Honneur last week. Her narrow view of Dylan still as protest singer, making a call for liberty, was a complete misreading of the man, his music, and of how the artist operates. Artists work for themselves, not for us. They express what they see and feel. What we then get out of the process is recognising something of ourselves in what they have expressed.

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There are multiple Bob Dylans out there, with one part of that identity being the creative team that fashions his work for an online audience through bobdylan.com. This other Dylan, working in his name, continually thinks up new ways in which to keep his name at the cultural forefront, placing innovation above the marketing of tradition. A genuinely ground-breaking example of this is the video of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ released this week. The song may be a little over-worked by now, but the ingenious solution they have come up with is to make the video like the experience of flipping through TV channels, on each of which there is someone lip-synching to the words of the song. Newsreaders, sportsmen, shopping channel presenters, TV cooks, soap actors, all spout out the snarling words, while the ability of the viewer to flip between these channels (as the song continues seamlessly) makes every viewing a unique one, as well as presumably rending the video impossible to reproduce on any other video platform. At any rate, it has re-imagined the music video, and hundreds of video producers around the globe must now be cursing themselves and asking why they didn’t think of something like this before.

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http://video.bobdylan.com/desktop.html

Of course Bob Dylan didn’t think up how to treat ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ for the video-savvy generation. He was too busy with his blow-torch. But it is all part of the same flowering.

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Anand v Carlsen

On November 10, 2013, in Games, Web, by Luke McKernan

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Carlsen and Anand (with his back to the camera) before the start of their first game on 9 November 2013

The World Chess Championship has started, and I am glued to my screen. Along with millions of others, I am able to follow the contest between India’s Vishy Anand (the current world champion) and Norway’s Magnus Carlsen through a bewildering variety of options, as the internet connects up all of us across the globe to the mental activity of two men in Chennai, India, seated facing each other across a board with sixty-four squares and thirty-two pieces. What takes place in the brain of the two leading exponents of the world’s finest game radiates outwards across the globe, replayed on screens and boards, analysed by programmes, commented upon, tweeted. It is the perfect exemplification of our interconnected world.

The content is taking place over 12 games, between 9 and 28 November, with blitz tie-break games to be played on the 28th is all is square by the 26th. I have been watching via the official site, which provides three views – video of the game itself, video of two commentators with a chessboard on which they play out possible variations, and a board documenting the moves of the game itself. The experience of watching and listening is a little odd, because there is a time lag between electronic board and video (which the commentators are following), so one sees what has been played on the board, then a minute later sees the documented on the would-be live video stream, and then the commentary coming in third.

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Game one from the display at http://chennai2013.fide.com, with video of the players, commentators and the main board

This is just one site among many which is following the game. Alternative include Chess.com’s live TV stream, 2700chess.com, the official YouTube channel and Chessdom. There’s also a handy Twitter guide to the world chess championship.

Given all the hype and the technology, it has been a tad disappointing that the first two games were both quick draws by repetitions, the players early on reaching situations where they would rather repeat sequences than risk a disadvantage – when both players play the same moves three times, a draw is automatically declared. Much more of this and the joined-up world is going to be mightily disappointed, but the age of romantic chess, with its sacrifices, surprises and innovations is long over. That sort of play now exists only in blitz chess, where all the moves must be made in something like five minutes and errors are inevitable. Here instead we have two minds almost cancelling one another out, practically before the games has begun. Chess followers are familiar with grandmaster draws where players follow familiar lines and end up at some point in the middle game where neither can see an advantage to be had and so agree a draw. But will we eventually get to a point where every opening strategy is so well known – and the pitfalls over steering clear of such strategies so obvious – that someone will play e4 for their opening move and a draw is immediately declared? Will chess have then come to an end?

Hopefully not just yet, and hopefully the full contest will prove worthy of its billing. I’m not much bothered about who will win. I want the game to win.

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Taxi!

On November 3, 2013, in Photography, Web, by Luke McKernan

wall

A brick wall in Rochester (Boley Hill, near the castle, in case you want to seek it out sometime)

Here’s a curious anecdote. I live in a town rich in brick walls of every age and description. I like photographing them (I wrote a post about this a while ago). I put several of these photographs on my Flickr site, should anyone want to look at photographs of brick walls for themselves.

Time moved on, and a web designer got in touch with me. He had been looking on Flickr for photographs of walls and just happened to like one of the ones that I had taken. Would it be possible to use it? Sure, I said, what for? For the website of a taxi firm, it turns out. His commission was to come up witha website for a taxi company that wanted to promote booking its vehicles through a phone app. I wondered to myself how a photograph of an ancient brick wall and pavement could be used to denote taxis, but I’m not a designer. I’m not a photographer either, but I said he was free to use the photograph and he promised to get back to me.

scanclickgo

www.scanclickgo.co.uk

Time moved on again, and the website is ready. It’s for Streamline taxis of Headcorn in mid-Kent, and their booking site is called Scan, Click & Go (smart move to have secured that web address, certainly). And sure enough, there’s my photograph, greyed out, with coloured lines to demonstrate travel, a pink car, and a QR code for you to scan with your phone. I’m still not quite sure why you need to show a brick wall, when cars travel along roads, but what the heck. It certainly is different, and I think gets its point across.

streamline_taxi

A Streamline taxi

But there’s more, because I hadn’t realised the full extent of the design plans. The photo, design and QR code appear not only on the website but on the taxis themselves. All across mid-Kent, Streamline taxis are heading out to deliver passengers with my photograph splashed across the side of the vehicles. It’s the oddest thing. I’ve been racking my brain for a moral to the tale, but maybe it’s just a case where curiosity is the story in itself. I took a photograph of a brick wall. I put it on the Internet. Now it’s on a taxi. Rum world.

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