Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sprains and Climate Change

It’s been a frenetic week at work, so I haven’t had time to give an update on the wedding wrist scenario. Well, it isn’t a fracture and the cast is off, so I’m enormously relieved (and Emily’s happy I can get my right arm into my suit!)

I went to Whipps Cross Hospital on Tuesday and, after hours of waiting and different x-rays, the final diagnosis was a sprained ligament and the cast came off. Thank Christ for that.

On an entirely different subject: climate change. Why isn’t there a big hullabaloo about the fact it’s almost DECEMBER and the LEAVES ARE STILL ON THE TREES. I notice the weeds are still happily flowering in my garden too. It’s all very, very wrong…

My garden yesterday

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Broken My Bloody wrist!

I've had a typically idiotic accident, nearly falling down some stairs, and broken my right wrist. Oh, the joys of Whipps Cross hospital casualty dept. and the itchiness of a forearm in plaster. Unfortunately this means a) my arm will still be in plaster when I married next Saturday (I'll have put my arm behind emily in all the photos!) and b) I can only type with my left hand! Therefore entries will be short and snappy on this blog for a while!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Does Anyone Else Do This? No. 3 in an Occasional Series

Find displacement activities more boring than working but still do them anyway

It isn’t until you’re bored at work that you realise just how dreary the Internet is. At least, that is, if you’re a PC slave like me. It’s amazing – a whole world of people, endless novelty, so much…er…stuff and yet it all quickly becomes tiresome. After all, there’s only so many times you can check your Hotmail, browse the BBC news site for stories about sharks giving birth to robots or check the latest price of the things you’re selling on eBay. The elasticity of time perception is stretched to its limit, dragging like an iron ball on a prisoner’s fetters, as you read yet another review of the Nintendo Wii.

And, interestingly, when you’re flat-out working, time passes really quickly. Your brain becomes stimulated by solving problems, getting a proper work-out. I write and find that hours have flashed by.

Yet, despite knowing this, there’s always the period before I get down to business, where I’ll put it off for as long as possible, desperate to find a worthwhile distraction. There never is one – but this won’t stop me looking…

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm in an abusive relationship with Steve Jobs

Call me a sucker, but after my 4g iPod died (and thank you to everyone for their condolences), I’m going back for more. I ordered a 30gb 5g iPod from Amazon yesterday (£20 cheaper than the Apple shop) and it should arrive today. So, considering the disappointing lifespan of my last iPod, why am I buying another? Am I mental?

Is it the power of brand loyalty? In the case of Apple, it often feels like being hopelessly in love with an abusive partner. No matter what they do to you, you try to see their good side, make excuses for them ("Steve didn't mean to rip me off, it was that Jonathan Ive and his bleedin' form factors") and always go back in the end. But are there rational reasons for buying another iPod?

There are 4 reasons actually…

  1. Seamless synchronisation – no fiddling about with files. Maybe I’m lazy, but I like the fact that everything just…works.
  2. The closest rivals to iPod are Zen and Sony –their products in this bracket are more expensive and have less memory.
  3. Call me eccentric, but I actually prefer to buy music. iTunes is a great place to do so – and, again, it’s integrated with iPod
  4. The ipod just looks so bloody good

Mind you, if the next iPod dies after less than 2 years, I’m definitely saying goodbye to my one-sided relationship with Apple.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Hey, my obituary to my iPod has appeared on the US Wired site - glad someone takes my grief seriously...

Death of an iPod

Death came suddenly for my 4th gen 60GB iPod, who died today, aged just under 2 years old. It could be said that it died young, but given the early mortality rates of these MP3 players, it had a comparatively long life of giving musical pleasure.

This rather portly but capacious character was born in China, before emigrating to the Apple Store on London’s glitzy Regent Street. Soon after having arrived in the West End, it went down in the world by moving to Leytonstone with me.

Having come to East London, my iPod was forced into an arranged marriage with a now sadly obsolete 12” PowerBook. This marriage was a happy one – as the couple were highly compatible – and lasted up until my iPod’s demise. They had a love of music and photography in common, hooking up frequently to share the latest tunes and pictures.

My iPod was widely travelled, having toured the Far East, North Africa and many parts of Europe. Its favourite journey was between E11 and EC1, a commute we enjoyed together many a time.

There were few intimations of my iPod’s mortality until the last week or so, when frequent resets became the norm. This morning it passed on in the streets of Leytonstone, with one last simple poignant message for the world: a hardware failure icon.

It leaves behind one rather pissed off and bitter former Apple loyalist and aforementioned PowerBook.

iPod 60gb, MP3 player; born early 2005; died 22 November 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My Tribute to David Shrigley

I like David Shrigley, although his handwriting is disturbingly similar to my own, so I drew this in 'the style of'.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Witty Wordplay on the Streets of Walthamstow

On the way to work in the rain this morning, walking to Walthamstow Central, I was kindly informed by a young man that he was going to ‘fuck me up proper’. This is the kind of sophisticated discourse one is used to hearing on the streets of London, and it is always a pleasure to engage in a little spirited badinage as one perambulates around town.

It was partly my own fault. I was walking past a bus stop and there was a crowd of people waiting, so there was only a narrow path behind them. I could see a fifteen year old lad walking towards me, shaping up for a shoulder-charge if I didn’t get out of his way. I, for my part, wasn’t in the mood to do that and so our shoulders met and he was bumped rather than me.

I really don’t understand this aggression from lads around my way. It’s like they’ve always got to prove their machismo, even in the pettiest situation. However, I suppose I was doing the same thing.

Anyway, this lad turns and shouts at me in a fury. I guess he sees a nice safe middle class wanker over whom he can assert himself. As usual, as much as I’d like to say I came out best from the incident, I don’t think I did. I ended up shouting back, telling him that if he had a knife, he’d better get it out now, because otherwise I’d kick his fucking head in.

Of course, this is the point where everyone at the bus-stop turns and stares. Now I’m making prejudiced assumptions about youth and probably race as well. Suddenly I’m the bastard. And also a coward, because as he stands there continuing to shout at me, I scuttle off. I’m walking quickly away, feeling like an arsehole and looking behind me frequently in case he does have a knife and stabs me in the back.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Noel Edmunds is Mad (and so is Bill Gates)

It’s a wet, windy morning here in the Big Smoke. The sort of day where you’d prefer to hide under the duvet than face the commute to work (yeah, admittedly every day starts like that for most of us). Especially as I’ve now been told by a rheumatologist that working at a PC all day “is just very bad for you on all sorts of levels”.

I saw the consultant yesterday because I routinely get neck and shoulder problems. The problem is, according to this geezer, postural – just sitting in the wrong position at the PC, probably due to a bad ‘workstation configuration’. But even so, apparently working at a PC is bad in itself. You could extrapolate further and say that employment is bad for you. At least, employment in an industrial society. Admittedly neck ache isn’t quite as extreme as being crushed in a cotton loom or a miner’s emphysema, but it does reinforce for me that working is crap.

This leads me to thinking about people like Noel Edmonds and Bill Gates. People fulfilled only by work. Positive, driven people whose demented search for validation makes them the most successful individuals in our sick society. People whose lives are empty outside the boardroom or the television studio. Bill Gates, according to his biographers, worked 18 hour days and slept under his desk for most of the 80s. It’s just not healthy is it?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Semiotics of eBay Photography

I was flicking through Roland Barthes’ ‘Mythologies’ over the weekend, in which advertising and popular culture are analysed semiotically. Afterwards I browsed for stuff I really don’t need on eBay. This led me to wondering what the philosopher would have made of Internet culture if he hadn’t been run over by a laundry van in 1980.

One particular online phenomenon with its own semiotic nuances is item photography on eBay. I imagine that this would interest Barthes, not only because there are subtle visual codes at work, but also because the codes change over time. There’s collective code creation going on, with customer demand affecting the way things are shown.

What the hell am I talking about? For one thing I think that photography that looks professional is now a sign that the item lacks authenticity. When I first started selling on eBay, I’d try hard to make the photos look at professional as possible. I would put together a white background and arrange the composition artfully. Now I sling the items on the carpet and take snapshots.

Why? Because the codes have evolved.

The rug that the items sit on, or the door on which a suit hangs, are now signs that the seller and the items are genuine. The everyday backdrop now signifies authenticity. The genuine bargain, the unearthed gem, the ethos that is at heart of the eBay user experience.

Amateurish photography equals authenticity

Professional-looking photography actually makes the item look like a fake or creates an anxiety that the seller isn’t in possession of the item. This is particularly true of listings for electronic goods from Hong Kong and China, where the manufacturer’s product shots are used.

If you look at clothes, the reason that authenticity is at such a premium is that eBay is more thoroughly awash with fakes than a street market in Istanbul. If you look through menswear you’ll see a million Paul Smith jeans or D&G tracksuit tops advertised as ‘BNWT’ (Brand New with Tags). The photographic code changes from product to product, with jeans shot from above on the floor, for instance. What will always be the same is the prominently displayed product tag acting as a sign of authenticity. The irony is that the photograph of a tag is now a sign that it is almost certainly a fake.

The display of the 'genuine' tag now equals a fake

The interesting thing is that the label, that other potent brand signifier, is still a sign of genuineness in second-hand clothes photos. Most listings for second-hand designer clothes include a close-up of the label. So the tag means that the item is too good to be true, but the label still means authenticity. It’s all about context; the way meanings slide.

Why do photographic codes get established and change? I suppose the simple answer is that people copy each other. eBay is a marketplace like any other – and ways of selling evolve around what gets the highest price.

So where does this leave us? Well, in the 1950s when Barthes began writing the articles that were collected in ‘Mythologies’, mass media was produced by corporations and government, pushing their own agendas. Now eBay puts the creation of advertising in our hands – and it turns out that we’re just as manipulative and mendacious as the big boys.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Does Anyone Else Do This? No. 2 in an Occasional Series

Go on about how rude people are in London while getting irate with tourists for dawdling

I was in a hurry to get to work today, but as I emerged from Chancery Lane tube station I found my path blocked by a group of about 10 German tourists. All wearing the traditional costume of the European tourist in London – the luridly-hued waterproof rambler anorak - they had decided to stop in the middle of the stairwell to consult a guide book.

I must admit that, when I worked in Piccadilly, one of my biggest bugbears was the way tourists strolled around slowly, getting in the way, gawping at everything, cluttering up the pavement with their aimless meanderings and Kipling backpacks.

I thought I was free of this in Farringdon, but obviously these Germans were lost.

So did I help them, demonstrating English politeness and tolerance? No, I pushed past them, muttering darkly.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Drawing from a long meeting yesterday...

Click to make it bigger

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Scootering No More

The time has come to sell my trusty old Vespa ET4. I’ve stuck it on eBay (see the ad here) and it will belong to someone else by next Saturday. No more road-rage incidents, bus lane fines or trying to find a rare parking space in central London.

Why am I selling? Primarily because we’ll soon be living in Welwyn Garden City, so I won’t need it. Partly because my insurance premium is going up to £300 a year, which is probably half the value of the bloody bike. And, finally, because I’m tired of being fearful that someone’s going to nick it.

Arrivederci, plucky ET4 - it really is the end of an era!