Friday, 31 December 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

The story is written, subject to final tinkering, but before it begins I thought I should explain a couple of points. My initial, unconsidered plan was to try to avoid using duplicate words so that every day was unique. Then I started writing and found it next to impossible. I suppose it can be done, but it wouldn't sound like normal English.

I was also planning to use as few 'boring' words as I could get away with - illustrating a load of ands or buts didn't seem like an exciting prospect, but again I found them unavoidable when it came down to it and frankly I haven't given myself long enough to tit around with it. There are in fact a great deal of dull words - some would say all of them - but then I reasoned that it's hardly the most exciting project anyway and who's going to complain that it's worse than they expected?

Finally, I'm not much of a writer. You aren't likely to be slowly dazzled by the prose. As long as you realise that, no one should get hurt.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A mammoth task at any bit rate

I have treated myself to a new mp3 player. My old one is in good working order but I wanted more capacity in order to do something I've wanted to do for ages - have my entire CD collection on one portable device.

I don't buy many CDs these days. Spotify has helpfully removed the gamble of buying a record on spec, and whether or not that encourages bands to try harder I'm calling it a good thing.

If an album passes its streaming audition I'm still only likely to buy a hard copy if it's a band or artist I really like. You know, out of respect. I do have the genuine (if fairly lame) excuse that I'm running out of shelf space, but I remain one of those nasty hypocrites who downloads most of his music while bemoaning the death of the high street record shop. I really can't explain myself - the idea that one day there will be no physical albums at all makes me want to cry, vomit and then cry into the vomit but there I am, helping to nail down the coffin lid. I still have a turntable though, if that offsets the heresy at all.

Anyway, back to my daft desire to compress my entire collection. I haven't counted lately, but there must be almost 900 discs, a very large proportion of which I haven't listened to in years. So why not be more selective and avoid shelling out for a 64GB player? Well, I've got about 150 albums on my existing 8GB device and I always find myself wanting to listen to something that's not on there. So I thought, Sod it, I'm going to eliminate that possibility. But you can't do 90 per cent, it has to be all or nothing, which is why I've spent the better part of the past two days ripping CDs in Windows Media Player, including those I know with certainty I will never listen to again. For some reason I don't find it tedious - I like challenging the online database with obscure titles, though it's annoying to have to enter track listings manually. I've also made some interesting discoveries, namely albums I had no idea I owned. Remember The Electric Soft Parade? Six By Seven? The Distillers? No, neither did I.

The really daft thing is that I usually listen to mp3s when I'm in bed. The player almost never leaves my flat.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

I have actually given this thought

Hey reader! How would you like to be told a story, one word at a time, with 24 hour pauses inbetween, over the course of an entire calendar year?

Well Graham, that sounds like one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Why do you ask?

Because it's going to be my new project, starting on January 1st!

Ha ha. You're joking, obviously.

No I'm not! It's better than it sounds though - each word will be artistically rendered to give the whole thing some visual oompf!

Nope, still among the worst ideas ever.

You really think so?


Fuck it, I'm doing it anyway.

Good for you. [deletes bookmark]

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Janice, take a bow

Today I discovered a remarkable project by a woman called Janice Whaley. She has set herself a target to record cover versions of every single record by the Smiths before the end of this year. Why is that remarkable? Because she is doing it purely with dozens of layered vocals to replicate the instrumentation. I thought it sounded a bit naff until I checked it out for myself.

Each song is apparently created with between 30 and 50 separate layered tracks, some of which mimic basic percussion and others that are pitch shifted to resemble basslines. They take about 30 hours each to complete.

Perhaps it's just because I'm such a big Smiths fan myself, but I find them rather amazing. I admire anyone with that kind of dedication to a project, especially when the results are so impressive.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Starry starry night

It's strange, but only a couple of days after thinking that I'd like to try some astro-photography I got the perfect night for it - cloudless, windless and mild. So I ventured out at one o'clock this morning and found a clearing in the forest to set up my tripod. It's slightly unsettling being in the forest in pitch darkness but to look up and see the stars so clearly is genuinely awe-inspiring.

I just wish I knew a bit more about the night sky. The cloudy vertical band in the image above is the Milky Way, but that's about all I can tell you. Identifying constellations amid such a busy sky is difficult and I wasn't sure if any planets were in view. Can anyone help?

What, for example, is the cloudy star circled in red above? It looks like a supernova but I'd be surprised if such a thing was visible to the naked eye. And the dense cluster circled in green must be easily identifiable, but not by me. The top photograph was taken facing north west, the second facing west.

I took some other shots where I popped a flashgun during the exposure to show some detail in the trees. They didn't really work but it occurred to me that a distant observer might interpret strange flashes in the forest as something other-worldly, especially round here.

Light pollution is the biggest problem. It may have seemed pitch black to me, but I was still only a couple of miles from a load of street lamps. If you can get far enough away from populated areas then it's possible to capture images like this. The only places you could get close to that in the UK are parts of Wales and Scotland, but it's usually cloudy there.

Anyway, there are a couple more images on my Flickr page if you're interested.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


It's often said that we become less reactionary as we get older, mainly because we lose the energy to resist the ever-flowing current of stupidity, injustice and lazy thinking that slowly wears us into shiny pebbles of exasperated compliance. I'm not sure that this is true, but these days I can't be bothered to disagree with it. There's been no shortage of things to blog about in recent weeks and in my glory days when I used to post two, maybe three times a month, I'd have cracked my knuckles and diligently tapped out my views on book burning priests and why the pope is a flatulent arsehole. But now I tend to think 'Can I bring anything new to this debate?' and the answer is almost always no. That's okay though, we're not all social commentators. I'm increasingly bewildered by the growing opportunities for people to state their (often unconsidered) opinions on anything and everything and far from creating lively debate it frequently reduces it to gainsay and conjecture. Twitter is especially dangerous in that respect, as many celebrities have found to their cost.

I used to have a website called Hermit Guide, which was basically a self-hosted blog before blogs became de rigueur for every man, woman and terrapin in the country. I'm not claiming to have pioneered the concept of course - I was practically a luddite slapping soil out of my ears before 1999 - but I was quite happy to prattle on about all kinds of nonsense without knowing whether anyone was reading it or not. Back then, having a guestbook was the only tangible evidence that one's friends were stopping by and even then there was no guarantee of repeat visits. Now of course we're all frantic for feedback and approval in the shape of comments, retweets and likes. Who hasn't compared their number of friends/followers with someone else they know? I've been as guilty of that as anyone, but having an online presence isn't as important to me as it used to be, which might explain my infrequent posts of late.

For that reason I unapologetically offer an unnecessarily technical post that will probably interest none of you. Seriously - you might as well stop reading now.

I am planning to make a film. I often make plans that I fail to follow through with - and when I say 'often' I of course mean 'usually' - but this idea has a strangely enduring appeal to me. It has all come about since the advent of HD video on DSLR cameras. Suddenly, extremely high quality recordings are within the budget of the casual user and it opens up so many possibilities. I was initially sceptical when Nikon's D90 became the first DSLR to feature a video mode. It seemed very gimmicky and consumerish, the sort of thing you'd find on a compact but not on a serious camera. Why on earth would you want to shoot video on your DSLR? Then Canon came along and showed exactly why - the 5D Mark II was their first foray into DSLR video and they managed to stride effortlessly ahead of Nikon with full HD (1080p) capture at 30 frames per second, a significant improvement over Nikon's 720p resolution (two years on and Nikon has only just announced its first 1080p capable models). The Canon 5D Mark II is capable of jaw-dropping video quality, equal to that of high end video cameras costing many thousands of pounds more. It has even been used to film entire episodes of TV shows such as House. Having seen the footage, I knew straight away that I had to get in on the action.

What sets DSLRs apart from dedicated camcorders is a combination of larger image sensors and better (interchangeable) lenses. Larger sensors allow for a greater depth of field, which replicates the look of traditional film. It's a surprising fact that even high end digital broadcast cameras have tiny sensors, as small as 1/4 inch. This gives a large depth of field (ie distant objects appear in focus as well as the foreground subject) which is good for television news reports but not so good for feature films. This is because our eyes don't function that way - it's not possible for us to focus on near and distant objects simultaneously so any camera that replicates this shallow depth of focus feels more natural and engaging to us. Being able to change lenses to alter focal length is the other huge benefit. Overall, a DSLR not only offers better video quality than a professional camcorder but is smaller, more adaptable and of course has the added bonus of being able to capture high quality stills too (which, lest we forget, is its primary function).

Having been seduced by the Canon's abilities, I was in a sticky position. In terms of video functionality, Nikon had been left in the starting blocks but switching over to Canon was never really on the cards because I'd invested so much in my Nikon lenses. Besides, my D700 is a better stills camera than the 5D Mark II so I'd be mad to trade it in. The solution was to get one of Canon's two cheaper models that had subsequently appeared, the 7D or the 550D. In terms of video quality there isn't a great deal between them, so I plumped for the entry level 550D. It was perhaps a hasty decision as I've yet to film anything of substance on it; I've stuck to test footage as I'm still working on ideas. It's a very nice little camera though, and I've bought an inexpensive adaptor ring so that I can use my Nikon lenses with it. The trade off with the adaptor is that the lens can only be used manually - you lose autofocus and aperture control (unless the lens has an old fashioned aperture ring, which most don't).

One issue with the Canon DSLRs is the audio quality, which is a real letdown until you learn how to work around it. The cameras have a built in microphone, which is tiny and understandably poor, and also a 3.5mm input socket for using a better quality external mic. The problem is that all three models I've mentioned have a feature called automatic gain control (AGC) which attempts to boost the microphone's sensitivity when it detects a drop in the audio level. The idea is to produce a more even sound, but in reality it's overactive and manifests itself as a very noticeable hiss. The 5D Mark II has overcome this with a firmware update but the 7D and 550D have not (yet) been afforded the same attention. I found a clever workaround online, but it's a bit convoluted and awkward. It involves recording a 19kHz sine wave (inaudible to human adults) and transferring it to an MP3 player. This is then played into the left channel of the camera's mic input via a special lead, while plugging in an external microphone to the right channel. The constant tone of the sine wave tricks the camera into thinking that it doesn't need to employ the AGC and so you are left with crystal clear audio from the external mic. Then, in your editing software, you just remove the left channel (which is essentially silence) and make the right channel monaural so that it's balanced. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in future models.

The reason that my purchase of the 550D may have been hasty is that Nikon are rumoured to be announcing, fairly imminently, the replacement model for my D700. It's expected to match the 5D's movie capabilities while retaining the incredible low light performance that makes the D700 such a great camera. If it can do that then I'll be upgrading for sure, though it probably won't be out until March 2011.

So, nerdy details aside, what sort of film do I want to make? Well of course I didn't establish this before jumping in with both feet and buying the equipment, but I'll definitely be doing something. It could be a handful of five minute shorts, it could be a full length feature. I've had a few offers from people willing to contribute, which is encouraging, and while I'm wary of relying on volunteers I have to acknowledge that it will be hard to make a decent film on my own. 

Don't expect to see anything soon. I just wanted to dispel any thoughts that I might have retired from creative pursuits to tend my allotment or something.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Do anglers have small rods?

I've been a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ever since I gave up meat 17 years ago. They do great work and I love them. Sometimes, though, their efforts leave me wondering if they could have directed their resources more effectively.

I received an email this morning asking me to spread the word about their new website, called 'Do Anglers Have Small Rods?'. Its sole purpose is to suggest that anyone who partakes in the cruel and unnecessary pastime of fishing is trying to compensate for having a small penis. I think it's fair to say that there isn't a great deal of science behind these claims, especially as it implies that all anglers are male, but it's quite amusing. The testimonials are the best bit - my favourite is from 'Mike in Newcastle' who says: "I got jealous just handling the maggots!"

But do PETA expect this site to shame anglers into giving up? Will doing so cause their penis to grow overnight? Is it really a good idea to insult people as a persuasive measure or is it just a publicity stunt?

Probably the latter. But, like the good PETA supporter that I am, I just wanted to share it with you.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

When readers don't digest

I'm reading at the moment. I disappoint myself by not reading more often, so it's worth a mention. It's about all I am doing, mind. I perhaps should have mentioned that I'm taking a month 'out' of my usual creative efforts (or pained procrastination thereof) to watch the World Cup. Sitting in front of the TV night after night is usually something I can't abide, but a bi-bi-yearly (quad-yearly?) football tournament feels like a decent enough excuse to do just that. They're horrible markers of time, World Cups. I watched the last one at my mum's place, as I was living there back then, with my right leg on cushions as I nursed a torn calf muscle sustained by unwisely cajoling my body through the ostensibly mild - but clearly too demanding - rigours of a charity cricket match. Was that really four years ago? Was I really still in my twenties back then? Well yes, of course. And the next one will be upon you just as fast.

But anyway, back to my reading. It's nothing taxing, just the gentle 'One Day' by David Nicholls. I bought it partly because I liked 'Starter For Ten' but mostly because I like the cover. Here it is:

The back is almost the same but with some enthusiastic review snippets. Tony Parsons reckons it's 'Totally brilliant' but even that didn't put me off. The artwork is by a guy called Craig Ward who, upon Googling, I found to be a very skilled exponent of typography and design. I don't think there's anything wrong with judging a book by its cover, incidentally. Good work should be packaged well, and if it isn't then somebody isn't doing their job properly. I felt pretty confident that a book with a cover like this would be an entertaining read, and so far it's proving to be just that.

Most people would call me a slow reader. I would call me a proper reader. I read books as though I were recording the audio version. Not out loud, I should add, just at that kind of pace. It has always infuriated me that 99% of people who read books do not do it this way. That's largely because I'm jealous of their ability to devour a great many more titles that I am capable of, but I still can't understand how it's done. When I read a review that says 'It was so good I read it in a single sitting!' I want to hurl something heavy at them. It is impossible, I posit, to read a standard length novel in a single sitting unless a) you have got up very early and prepared yourself for an all day slog, or b) you are skipping huge great important chunks of it and getting little more than an overall impression of the story. I once heard someone say that they read a fairly lengthy novel in its entirety while travelling on the train between Glasgow and Birmingham. NO YOU DIDN'T. IT ISN'T POSSIBLE. I was once taught how to speed read news stories; "Just read the first sentence of each paragraph" my teacher explained. "Subsequent sentences just expand upon the first." I've never done that, but it makes sense as a means of gleaning the important information. It doesn't work with a novel though, does it? I've tried picking up the pace, allowing my eyes to travel at increased speed in the hope of shortening my time expense but invariably I end up having to go back to re-read it all again because I missed a vital piece of exposition. So now I just read at my own pace, smugly assuring myself that I am respecting the author's craft. They have, after all, agonised for hours over their choice of words, sentence structure and cadence of tone and the last thing they need is some buffoon editing it all with their careless desire to reach the climax and move on to some other poor sod's effort.

Of course the danger in criticising something that 99% of people do (even if that figure is nothing more than a wild and dramatic assumption) is that you're unlikely to find much empathy in your audience. I'd best get back to my book, I think.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Kill ITV

Perhaps I'm just frustrated that England failed to win their opening match of the World Cup, but ITV's coverage was shockingly poor and I need to vent. If they had any decency they'd just concede that they're not up to the task and let the BBC take over for England's remaining games.

I subscribed to Sky HD in preparation for the tournament because watching football in high definition is great. Well it is on Sky or the BBC. Three minutes into tonight's coverage on the ITV HD channel they mistakenly cut to an ad break. Somebody then realised that you're not meant to have adverts during the actual match and the screen went black as they tried to restore the live feed. I swore loudly at the TV and thought to myself, 'If we score while they're off air I'll never forgive them.' A few seconds later when coverage was restored the first thing we saw was Steven Gerrard and his team mates in celebration. Unbelievable. It's not even the first time they've missed a goal in this manner - it happened about 18 months ago in an FA Cup match between Everton and Liverpool. It was the only goal of the game. Lessons learned? Of course not. ITV are just utterly incompetent, and tonight they couldn't even offer a proper apology. The bumbling Adrian Chiles quickly mumbled something about losing pictures before sweeping it under their bulging carpet but there was nothing to acknowledge the fact that they'd missed the most important moment of the game. To make matters worse, the final three quarters of the match was broadcast in standard definition as the HD switch appeared to be flicked off.

ITV have long been clueless when it comes to broadcasting. They've been using uniform end credits for years in an attempt to form a 'brand' but it's an abysmal idea that kills creativity. Can you name a single show on ITV that's worth watching? I can't. Their news is awful, everything's awful. Someone should pull the plug once and for all. I'd seriously pay double my licence fee for more BBC channels in place of ITV's woeful garbage.

Here is the fateful moment, courtesy of YouTube.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Duff portrait

My speed painting video of Karen Gillan is a YouTube flop. There are probably videos of people taking a dump that have been viewed more often in a comparable timescale. A sensible person would have taken the hint and moved on, sadder but wiser for the experience. Me? Well, I just thought I'd make another one. Persistence and stupidity are hard to tell apart sometimes.

My subject this time is Hilary Duff, one of America's finest singers and actors. If you decided to look for the point where her talent ends you would be searching in vain, for there is no end to her talent. Cited by just about everyone as the single biggest influence on their career she is, quite simply, a perfect human being and therefore a very worthy portrait subject. She is not, thankfully, just another person who I find quite attractive and decided to paint on a whim. Meanwhile, if you look down, you might just catch my self-respect making a crater in the floor.

Click here to view it within YouTube.

Finished painting can be viewed here, as usual.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Karen Gillan speed painting

This isn't strictly a speed painting, but that's what time lapse painting videos tend to get called. I enjoy watching them so I thought I'd have a go myself. There are hundreds of these on YouTube, mostly by nerdy blokes using attractive women as their subjects. Well, if you're going to spend nine hours staring at someone they might as well be easy on the eye.

If you want to see the finished painting in detail, it's on my DeviantArt page.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Sorry for my unimpressive blogging efforts of recent times but I figured that you didn't really care what I thought of the new government or that I now have an electric toothbrush. Since I've raised those subjects though, I will reveal that one of them makes my gums bleed and the other is a valuable aid to dental hygiene.

Coming soon: a time lapse video of a painting I am currently working on of a celebrity female. Can you guess Who it might be? She is 22 years old and British.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Snap snap, grin grin, say no more

I'm a bit reticent these days about announcing new projects because I seem to be getting increasingly fickle with age. What feels like The Best Idea In The World on Monday often flies into a thick volcanic cloud of What The Hell Was I Thinking by late Thursday afternoon resulting in engine failure, lots of screaming and a few days looking for the black box recorder to find out what went wrong. It never used to be this way. I used to be able to focus on things for at least a fortnight. Life was better back then; you could go out and leave your door unlocked and kids didn't give you lip.

So I don't know if I should tell you that I'm getting back into photography. There have been false dawns before in this area and I've soon found myself distracted by something else, but this time might be different. I'm sure you don't really care what I'm up to in any case, it's just a bit embarrassing to announce something with a fanfare and then change your mind before the final parp has finished echoing in the belfries. But I don't want this to become a ghost blog, so what the hell.

Photography is something I've flirted with for a number of years. Back in 2003 because I wanted to progress beyond the limitations of a point and shoot camera so I bought myself a Canon 300D, which at the time was hailed as the first affordable (sub £1000) digital SLR. I had immediately fallen into the trap of thinking that a better camera would produce great photographs with minimal input from myself. What the hell was aperture priority? How would I know what shutter speed to choose? It was all so confusing and I was far too busy being a failed artist to figure it out. I ended up doing what no SLR user should ever do - I slapped it into 'auto' mode and hmmmed my way to a raft of unimpressive shots. It didn't inspire me, unsurprisingly, and after my initial flurry of excitement I placed it somewhere inconspicuous and allowed it to gather dust.

Then, as I'm wont to do, I dug it out again a few months later and gave it another chance. I'm a reasonable man, see. I took a bit of time to learn the basics of exposure, depth of field and composition. It all started to make sense and I decided that I needed to make up for my neglect by pampering my camera with some new lenses. The kit lens looked like it had fallen out of a Christmas cracker from Wilkinson so I called in at an independent (and now sadly defunct) camera shop in town to see what a replacement would cost. It was at this point that my naive self discovered that photography can be a very expensive hobby. A half decent lens was going to cost half as much as the camera itself.  I was so shocked that I bought three of them.

Being an early adopter of technology isn't a great idea. The 300D may have been a breakthrough product, but it was also pretty flawed. The worst thing was that when it went to 'sleep' (after a mere 20 seconds of inactivity) it took two whole seconds to wake up and be ready for use. That might not sound a lot, but when you need to rattle off a quick shot it's an eternity. So I flogged the camera (but not the new lenses) to a work colleague after convincing him it was the best camera ever made. You could probably get one on eBay now for sixpence and free shipping.

In the meantime I had upgraded to a Canon 30D. In Canon's world, the smaller the number the better the camera. I could still use all my old lenses, of course, and I was quite happy with it. It was all the camera I needed - I was just a casual user, after all.

But then, two years later, I was seduced by the dark side. I was browsing through the excellent Flickr and came across some amazing images taken in very low light. Normally when ambient light is scarce you would need to either use a tripod or increase your camera's sensitivity (ISO) to give you a high enough shutter speed to shoot without motion blur (camera shake). The problem with high ISO values is that it creates 'noise' - little speckles in the image that degrade quality and sharpness. The images I had found were hand held at ISO 3200, which is pretty damn high, and yet they were clean as a whistle and pin sharp. How was this possible? I checked the details and found that they were taken with a Nikon D700. Nikon! Nooooo!

If you're a serious photographer, you're likely to fall into one of two camps. There are several DSLR manufacturers, but I would guess that 95% of professionals use either Canon or Nikon equipment. Each have their own fanatic devotees - it's a bit like the PC and Mac divide, only far more evenly split. You're either one or the other. In photography though, you tend to make your choice and stick to it because once you've invested in lenses you're pretty much tied to one system as they're not compatible with each other. I had spent £800 on Canon lenses and yet I knew, deep down, that I had to have the camera responsible for the images I was seeing. And that meant defecting to Nikon.

It wasn't cheap, and of course I had to invest in a whole new set of lenses, but I love my Nikon. It has encouraged me to learn more and more about the technical side of photography and it's starting to pay off. I've found that the more you learn, the wider the possibilities and the greater your enthusiasm. Last Sunday I was on Aldeburgh beach at 5.45am to shoot the sunrise. It takes a lot to drag me out of bed before dawn on a Sunday morning, so something must be working. I ended up selling the 30D to the same colleague who bought the 300D. You know that ace camera I sold you that's the best camera in the known universe? Well how would you like to own an even better one? He loves it. Sticks it on auto mode.

I have also recently discovered the joys of flash photography. In my naive youth I always thought that separate flash guns, or Speedlights, were an unnecessary extravagance. My camera had a pop up flash so I was okay. But comparing a pop up flash with a Speedlight is a bit like comparing a candle with a lighthouse. The biggest joy is being able to place it anywhere and trigger it remotely. This just gives you a whole host of creative options. You can zoom the beam to make it focused or wide, change its brightness (from full power to 1/128th power) and use coloured gels. This allows you to do things that just aren't possible otherwise. I'm such a convert that I'm now thinking of getting additional Speedlights as well as light stands, umbrellas, the works. Like I said, it can be an expensive hobby. Luckily for me, I don't have a social life! Fewer friends, more disposable income. It's the strategy of winners.

Photography is very rewarding but probably best treated as a self-indulgence. Making an impression is very difficult because there are so many others doing the same thing. I'm doing it for my own sake and if no one gives a shit then so be it. I just like the fact that it requires technical knowledge as well as creative input.

I hope I stick with it this time. I've spent countless hours reading articles and watching tutorial videos so I feel equipped for the long haul. Since it's mostly been intensive theory stuff I don't have a great deal of actual photos to exhibit but there's a link on the right to my Flickr page if anyone's interested. It will hopefully swell in the weeks to come.


Next time on New Trash Radio: The Nikon's in the bin and Graham is making skyscrapers from cereal boxes.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

John Gummer and libel reform

A while ago I wrote to my MP, John Gummer, about libel reform. I'm not the sort of person who normally bothers writing to my MP about things, mostly on account of him being a complete arse, but having heard Simon Singh talk about the subject at TAM London last October I felt it was worth a punt.

A lot of you will know Simon Singh's backstory so I won't recap at length (you can read about it here if you need to), but essentially he is putting his weight behind a campaign to get MPs to sign an Early Day Motion backing a reform of Britain's draconian libel laws. Currently they prohibit free speech by making it financially unviable for individuals to question the claims of large organisations, however spurious those claims might be.

I've never liked John Gummer. He is probably best known for a publicity stunt in 1990 in which he attempted to feed his young daughter a beefburger to 'prove' that British beef was safe after BSE scares. As it happened, she turned her nose up at it. To rescue the photo opportunity he then, apparently, got one of his staff to take a bite out of the burger before holding it in front of his daughter's mouth and flashing his pearly whites.

But that was a long time ago. People change. And the fact that he writes a column for The Catholic Herald shouldn't prejudice my opinion either. And those expenses claims for mole-catching, well, they might have been legitimate. I wasn't there.

So I read the reply with interest and was encouraged by what I saw. It appeared that he agreed with EDM 423 and would be joining its supporters. But then, predictably enough, his arse-like qualities came to the fore.

What bugs me is his reasoning. "[T]he burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims". Well that's just daft. He's basically implying that you can say whatever you want as long as you get there first. If I start a business selling the crumbs from the bottom of my toaster and claiming that they have healing properties when sprinkled in coffee, why should the burden of proof be on my detractors? Surely the burden lies with the most extraordinary claim. No one should be scared, for fear of financial ruin, to publish evidence that contradicts a misleading practice.

If you haven't yet signed the petition for libel reform and would like to, you can do so here.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Teething problems for Google's latest venture

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Fifteen minutes of shame

The promised dating update will have to wait a bit longer, possibly forever, because it's proving harder than expected to write. Instead: TV!

Embarrassing Bodies is enjoying another run on Channel 4 at the moment. I've blogged about this programme before but I still find it remarkable that they have so many willing participants. Last Friday's show, for example, featured a man who was experiencing unpleasant odours emanating from his bottom. He bravely visited the clinic and said that he was worried about anal leakage. So far, so good. Boxes are being ticked here. The doctor duly prised open the man's buttocks and noted that he was 'quite dirty' before checking for possible causes. Some kind of infection? A loose sphincter? These were quickly ruled out. Soon, having found nothing wrong, he was forced to sheepishly announce to Mr Smelly Bum that his only problem was not wiping his arse properly.

Now: even allowing for the fact that he may have signed the release form prior to the examination, wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop that footage being used? Wouldn't you drop to your knees before the production team and offer to sacrifice your first born in exchange for the tape? I mean, if you're assisting the viewers by highlighting a genuine problem then I take my hat off to you, but this guy was essentially waving to the camera and saying "Hey, I’m a fifty year old man who can’t even wipe his arse! Why not stop me and say hi?" It would come as no surprise at all to me to hear that, following the broadcast, his entire family had gassed themselves out of shame in his (slightly whiffy) Ford Mondeo.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Having crabs is nothing to shout about

I have tinkered with the layout again because I didn't like the old one much. I think this font is easier to read and I was also less than fond of the tiny comments link, and its location, in the old layout. Plus I get bored of things easily. A change is as good as a holiday, even if this one roughly equates to ten minutes in Cromer.

A layout change usually signifies an effort on my part, albeit a short-lived one, to post more regularly. And so it is again. I need to sharpen my brain a bit so you can expect a few more non-visual posts in the coming weeks, starting soon with an update on my internet dating adventures that will hopefully make more sense than the preceding post.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Meeting people is easy

Nothing to do with my comic project, just a one off.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Introducing the Twee-shirt

Are you desperate for new Twitter followers? Do you know someone who is? Well, I have the answer!

Oh yes, I am going to sell thousands YES THOUSANDS of these. Fully customisable, the perfect party attire. Pre-orders welcome. Shall we say £10? Yes, that sounds like great value. YES.


Monday, 8 February 2010

Willing to consider carnivorous Christian chain smokers

After receiving some motivating encouragement I decided to bite the bullet this evening regarding online dating. I didn't exactly beat my reservations into submission, but was able to sit on them for long enough to sign up with the much vaunted eHarmony site. It's different from most dating sites in that you fill in an extensive questionnaire in order to give them a highly detailed character profile from which they carefully match you with other users.

The questionnaire consists mainly of statements that you have to rate on a seven point scale of 'not at all important' to 'very important' using radio buttons. There are also several lists from which you must choose the three or four things that are most important to you. Doing this for any length of time gets pretty irritating, and the whole thing took almost exactly an hour to complete, but I was quite interested to see how many ladies would have the dubious fortune of falling within my carefully tailored criteria.

Now, you're probably expecting me to say that there weren't any but no - it's not even as good as that. Instead, after all that effort, I got a short message informing me that my profile had been rejected because I didn't fall within their list of matchable character types. Huh! Even the most optimistic person would find it hard not to interpret that as 'fuck off mate, you've not no chance.' It wasn't a particularly polite message either, and there was no hint of an apology for wasting my time, but they did explain that their service was not appropriate for everyone. Quite what group of weirdos and sexual deviants I have inadvertently added my name to I don't know, but I suppose I'll have to cheerily assume that the site is geared towards 'normal' people who throw dinner parties and talk about wine as though it's important.

I wouldn't say I've been deterred, but it does suggest that honesty is less important than heavy compromise.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Things I haven't told you

Although I appear to be a rather neglectful blog custodian, this is not entirely true. I think about posting quite often. In the past week or two I have come close to writing about the following things:

Semi-transparent leggings
Perhaps I completely missed it, but nobody else seems to be talking about semi-transparent leggings. WHY IS NO ONE ELSE TALKING ABOUT SEMI-TRANSPARENT LEGGINGS? Am I really the only person who has noticed them? Does no one else wring their eyes in utter disbelief when they see women / PRE-TEEN GIRLS WITH THEIR MOTHERS wearing them in public? If you haven't seen them, they are exactly as described. Gone, it seems, are the days when women worried about visible panty lines. Now they're happy to go out with - behold! - visible panties:

This is not an exaggeration. This is exactly what they look like. The first time I witnessed this I just felt sorry for the poor girl who had had her skirt stolen. Well, it seemed like the only rational explanation. But then, a week later, another girl. And another. It dawned on me that this was no tragic story of hit-and-run clothing theft; it was intentional. Even Lady fucking Gaga would blush. As if normal leggings - the single most unflattering item of women's clothing ever created - weren't bad enough! Words fail me.

Internet dating
On a cold evening in late December I momentarily considered internet dating as a genuine prospective activity for the new year. This had happened before but usually only lasted long enough to allow my better judgement to clear its throat, await my attention and then bellow: DON'T BE SO BLOODY RIDICULOUS. This time, however, the thought persisted and still hasn't gone away. Why not? Has my mind finally twigged that a lifetime alone might not be much fun? If so, serious resistance is being offered by years of self-conditioning. It's like those cartoons where a devil and an angel stand on each shoulder and slog it out.

A: Well it won't hurt to join for a month or so, just to see what happens. You're not obliged to take it any further. What's the problem?


A: If you don't make the effort now, you'll only regret it later on.


If there's a ceasefire any time soon, I'll let you know.

Project 2010
I have, I'm fairly sure, decided what my next project is going to be. Remember Doormat Picnic, my ill-fated webcomic? Yeah, it was rubbish. But I know I can do a lot better. So now I'm planning to make a long comic book story without the time pressure of posting it online at regular intervals. That's it really. It does mean, however, that you're unlikely to see any evidence of my creative output for a while. (Stop cheering. It's rude.) Sorry, then, if you were holding out for the resumption of Creative Year 'cause it ain't gonna happen.

So yeah, I thought about posting on all of those subjects. Then I thought better of it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Play at home fun

I was once told by someone that I have good spatial awareness. It sounded good and so I believed it. I've never conclusively proved it to myself, but I'd like to think that my judgement of distance, volume and area is on a par with the greatest minds in the world. All based on this one isolated comment.

The reality, of course, is probably quite different but I'd be interested to know how you fare in the following test.

Using your judgement only, imagine that the four black dots in the corners of the following diagrams are joined to form an X. Your task is to identify which of the coloured dots in the middle represents the intersection of these imaginary lines.

Puzzle one:

Puzzle two:

Puzzle three:

Answers: (reveal by using your mouse to highlight the area below)

Puzzle one - red
Puzzle two - pink
Puzzle three - red

That was fun, wasn't it?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Hangover: in-depth DVD review

Well I suppose it wasn't that bad, but after so many glowing reviews (and given that it's billed as a comedy) I expected to laugh at least once. I don't think I even smirked. A dearth of mirth.

In other news, Dean Green wishes to announce his retirement.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

It is no joke

I went out this morning, risking life and limb and dry clothing, to panic buy some cornflakes. One of the perks of my job is having a four wheel drive company vehicle, which certainly comes in handy every twenty years or so, and this enabled me to negotiate the four inch shelf of fluffy snow that had built up around the tyres. Being of a practical bent, I took with me a shovel, a sleeping bag and a note to my loved ones in case the worst came to itself.

I saw the first casualty before reaching the end of my road. The postman lay stricken on the pathway, frozen solid in a semi-recumbent stoop. I removed myself from the relative safety of my Ranger’s cab, fighting the flakes and fearing it was too late, but fortunately it transpired that he was just tying his shoelace. To save him the hazardous trip up the steps to my flat, I relieved him of an envelope containing my Clubcard coupons. We embraced; it was a touching moment indicative of our community’s siege mentality.

The horrors that befell me on the remainder of my journey will stay with me well into next week. Abandoned vehicles cloaked in frost, screaming children buried up to their ankles. Their minds lost to the hopelessness of their predicament, primal instinct came to the fore as they threw frozen projectiles at each other’s heads. I had to shield my eyes as I passed them at 40 miles per hour.

I had taken a hell of a chance on the supermarket being open, but my bravery had been rewarded. This was stiff upper lipness at its very finest. It was clear, though, that my optimism wasn’t shared by everyone as a good half dozen of the thousand or so parking spaces remained vacant. There was still a chance that I would find the shelves empty of course; supply vehicles may not have been as fortunate in their journey as I had. Again, my luck was in as I claimed the last but twenty box of cereal. But this was no time for complacency: I rushed to the tills and paid for my goods, exchanging a minimum of pleasantries with the pay me girl who looked like she’d had enough of the beeps. My haste was such that I forgot to redeem the Clubcard voucher I had liberated from the postman.

On the journey home I didn’t want to risk seeing any more people in distress, so I kept my eyes closed all the way. It was just was well; judging by the number of stray cars I hit, conditions had really deteriorated.

The relief of being back in the warmth of my flat was even greater than I had expected. I still had my life, and had gained some cornflakes. It was a good ten minutes before I realised that I was out of milk.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Man In The Bowler Hat

I found a poem in my inbox this morning, sent to me by a work colleague. The subject line read: 'I saw this and thought of you'.

The Man In The Bowler Hat

I am the unnoticed, the unnoticeable man:
The man who sat on your right in the morning train:
The man you looked through like a windowpane:
The man who was the colour of the carriage, the colour of the mounting
Morning pipe smoke.

I am the man too busy with a living to live,
Too hurried and worried to see and smell and touch:
The man who is patient too long and obeys too much
And wishes too often and seldom.

I am the man they call the nation’s backbone,
Who am boneless – playable catgut, pliable clay:
The Man they label Little lest one day
I dare to grow.

I am the rails on which the moment passes,
The megaphone for many words and voices:
I am graph, diagram,
Composite face.

I am the led, the easily-fed,
The tool, the not-quite-fool,
The would-be-safe-and-sound,
The uncomplaining bound,
The dust fine-ground,
Stone-for-a-statue waveworn pebble-round.

A.S.J. Tessimond

My colleague didn't say whether it was a warning or an observation. He didn't need to.