Monday, August 27, 2018

AMBITION AND LOVE WEARING BOXING GLOVES [124]




Until I recover my pictures, this is a cautionary tale.
We choose to use old digital cameras. We choose to use technology from two decades ago over our smartphones, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to frustrate and drain the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is not one we should have been willing to accept, one we are willing to postpone, and one which we intend to win, or not, just give me a break.
Whereas John F. Kennedy proposed reaching the Moon to push the United States into the future, using an old camera attempts to catch the past within our present, reframing what we see now in an evocative and familiar fashion – usually a less detailed, less colourful version of now.
I tried to replicate this effect using what I already own, but reducing the resolution of pictures taken on my iPhone 7, or even on my Sony CyberShot camera from 2009, down to the 0.3 million, 640 x 480 pixel-size standard for digital cameras twenty years ago, only gives you smaller versions of well-taken pictures. Buying a camera that uses film was out of the question, as were the costs now involved with developing film (such as travelling to somewhere that still does it), so finding something suitably old almost took me back to the beginning of digital cameras. The first consumer digital camera was 1994’s Apple QuickTake 100, but I was able to find an Olympus Camedia C-420L, from 1998, for a modest amount on eBay... However, it could not read the memory cards inserted into it, so I then found a C-830L, released the following year.

Both Olympus cameras could be mistaken for a 35mm film camera, perhaps to make them easy for first-time digital users. To take a picture, you have to look through the viewfinder window at the top – there is also a screen, but you have to turn it on first, with the rest of the operations controlled by the buttons and LCD screen along the top. The cameras have no internal memory, requiring you to load a SmartMedia card (a large predecessor to the SD card) like you were loading film – the C-830L takes cards of up to 16 megabytes in size, enough for nearly 100 pictures, or only 24 pictures in high resolution (1.3m pixels). The cameras do not simulate the click of a picture being taken, as enough mechanics remain for it to make that noise anyway.
So far, so good, but this is when progress in computer technology starts to eat away at your resolve. We are so used to plug-and-play devices, USB connections, cheap controller chips, and common software and file formats - we expect everything to be read first time without question or issue. This is an incredibly recent luxury – even adding a mouse to your PC once meant loading a program to make it work. In addition, Microsoft Windows has been through about seven different versions in twenty years, meaning old software will no longer work on new computers – this is why businesses continue to pay Microsoft to maintain support for Windows XP, which dates back to 2001.

Here is where I stand: I have a camera that should have some pictures on it, in some form. I could not connect it to my computer – what I thought was an old-style serial port turned out to be a monitor output, so I have sourced a USB adaptor. The software provided for my camera is so old, my Windows 10 computer cannot read it. To create a computer that can read it, I downloaded Oracle’s VitrualBox program, which can simulate a virtual old-style computer within your regular one, but even that requires its own operating system to work - as a result, I bought an unopened copy of Windows 98, the first version of Windows that provides proper USB support, for £10 on eBay. All I need to do now is to get it to recognise the ports on my computer, and I should reach the end of my journey.
I refuse to be beaten by this - I have come too far. This is no longer about nostalgia, or even about the pictures: this is about the will to succeed. When the time comes, I shall share the results, but until then, the journey continues.

Monday, August 20, 2018

NOW THE FISH JUMPED OFF THE HOOK [123]



The following should have been what caused me to think, for once and for all, “that’s enough.” The use of capitals confirms both who wrote it, and where it was posted:
“There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people. HONESTY WINS!”
Under the same lack of awareness, the same person later spent time moaning about how the platform he was using discriminated against right-wing voices, saying it cannot be allowed to happen: “Who is making the choices, because I can already tell you that too many mistakes are being made. Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!” I think he said this because there have been already many calls for him to be kicked off the platform.
Recent news from the United States often consists of news surrounding its President, which just caused his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani to blurt out that “truth isn’t truth,” in a ham-fisted attempt to make the idea of truth into a subjective, “he said, she said” thing; the usual backlashes to things said on Twitter and Facebook; the cavalcade of far-right people, alt-right people, racists, incels and so on; arguments over political correctness and free speech...

...and then there was the mayonnaise. In the magazine “Philadelphia,” an article published under the title “The White Stuff” was given a clickbait makeover: “How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise.” In it, a mother bemoans how her mother’s salad recipes are not eaten by her children anymore, and once globalisation is mentioned, along with salsa and kimchi, things went haywire: “It’s too basic for contemporary tastes — pale and insipid and not nearly exotic enough for our era of globalization. Good ol’ mayo has become the Taylor Swift of condiments.” I prefer salad cream, and that is the end of it.
The furore over mayonnaise, even more than what Donald Trump was saying that day, was what drove me over the edge: can we just put the United States on “mute” for a bit, just as I probably should be doing with its President? For a country whose issues are currently in a feedback loop, and whose technology, especially through social media, facilitates and relies on the continuation of that feedback loop, wouldn’t it be easier to leave them to sort themselves out elsewhere? Rather than the onus being on me to reduce my own access to information to avoid being overwhelmed, shouldn’t the system that does the overwhelming try dealing with itself in its own time?
The reason the answer is “no” is because I am from the UK, where our own feedback loop, Brexit, has caused its own set of problems, even if it feels more like a localised dispute than anything that ever comes out of the United States. When our information systems depend on the American-created internet, and American technology companies the size of countries, any issue from any other company could be rendered a localised dispute.
However, the UK has a Commonwealth, while the United States currently has “America First” – countries as people, versus countries as land, and dialogue versus boundaries-then-dialogue. Engaging with an opponent is easier than waiting for it to tire itself out, especially when it has its own feedback loop. I would rather have that hope when I see the words “fake news” in capitals on Twitter again.

Monday, August 13, 2018

AND OTHER FRIENDS OF MINE, TAKE YOUR TIME [122]


I would love to visit New York again. While my only trip so far, in 2011, confirmed I would rather not live there – London is a beehive, but New York is a wasp’s nest – saying I visited the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park Zoo and FAO Schwartz (before it closed) is not bad at all.

We also had two art galleries in our sights: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. However, the only photographs I have of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were all taken from their roof garden, and the three I have from MoMA were for reference purposes: a portrait transmitted by RCA Photoradiogram in 1926, a print of Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel by those chains (from the SS Great Eastern), and Edward Hopper’s painting “House by the Railroad,” which inspired the Bates House in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

The clearest picture of all from MoMA is one stuck in my mind, and like “House by the Railroad,” the painting was given anonymously: it was Salvador Dali’s 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory,” presented to them in 1934. Apparently inspired by a Camembert melting in the sun, many examples of Dali’s surrealist imagery are present: melting watch faces representing the passage of time, ants representing death, a creature of some indiscernible type, a foreboding foreground shadow, the Catalan landscape, and so on. This artwork has been reproduced endlessly, and working melting clocks are now just something you can buy.
Regardless of the content of the picture, the memory that has persisted of “The Persistence of Memory” is just how SMALL it is: it is only 24 centimetres (9.5 inches) tall, and 33 cm (13 in) wide, making it a bit bigger than both A4 and Legal paper sizes. The oils are painted very finely, and having seen only photographs of the picture previously, I imagined the brush strokes would have been much larger. Dali must have had his eyes tested regularly.

I usually do not take pictures in art galleries – if I want to refer back to what I saw, I will buy a guidebook, or find the picture later online. However, what I will have taken from the visit is a sense of proportion, and a sense of colour: because so many pictures have been taken of it, “The Persistence of Memory” is available online in many different levels of quality, brightness and contrast, and even shape, depending on how the picture has been cropped. One of them must be right, because I cannot take an average of them.
I am not in favour of banning photography in art galleries, although you should consider flash photography and copyright before you walk in, but if you walk around a gallery with a camera permanently in front of you, taking snapshots of that time you saw an object, and it looked like “this” when you “saw” it, remember you were already there: you don’t need to look at the work later, you can look at it now. Just like a film is made to be shown in a cinema, art galleries provide the right conditions to contemplate ALL of an artwork, including its size.
There is only one legitimate copy of “The Persistence of Memory,” and it is a picture I did not realise existed until last week: Dali’s own “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” (1954), and on display at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. In this interpretation, the shadow has receded, and the landscape has been blown apart into straight-cut bricks, revealing a further surface underneath, and the unidentified creature has mutated. The painting is thought to mark the loss of Dali’s interest in surrealism, just at the point where other forms of art at the time, particularly Pop Art, become more about what is presented on the surface. As it happens, it is also about the same size as the first painting.

Monday, August 6, 2018

AND IT WAS ALL YELLOW [121]



On 1st September 2017, Yell Limited announced the next edition of the Yellow Pages will be the last, with the final Brighton edition for 2019 coming fifty years after the book was piloted there. Like Pears’ Cyclopaedia, whose final edition, after 120 years, was announced by Penguin Books on the same day, when did anyone last use the Yellow Pages?
Let’s see: opening up the final edition for my area, which arrived last month, I randomly find the category “Video & DVD Hire & Retail.” In the UK, the final Blockbuster Video closed in 2011, and the first Blu-ray disc went on sale in 2006. Yes, the same category in the previous year’s Yellow Pages didn’t have anything listed under it either, save from telling me to turn to the section titled “Music Shops (CDs & DVDs)”. Both editions have only one listing there, for an independent record store based over thirty miles away, in another county altogether – there is one in my home town, and it is not listed, along with three others I can think of, and perhaps many more besides them.
Before getting on to how the internet changed everything, TV ads for the UK Yellow Pages focussed entirely on the good things in life, rather than just referring to the book when you have a blocked drain or a broken window, which were the examples they gave. Instead, you have the examples of how it can solve problems for the better, like finding a French polisher before your parents get back, or finally finding a copy of the book on fly fishing you once wrote. On the other side, businesses will want to pay to advertise in the Yellow Pages because everyone is likely to use it – I remember the banks of shelves in my local library that collected all the phone books for the whole UK, but I haven’t been there in some time.
Bristol 2005-06 and 2016-17 editions
Now, there are simply easier, quicker, cheaper and more effective ways of finding the same information, and this was foreseen very early. Yell.com has operated since 1996, pre-dating Google by two years, and offers free listings for businesses, while continuing to make money off both online advertising and their directory enquiries number 118 247, which began in 2003. Their main competitor, the Thomson Directory, launched when British Telecom took over Yellow Pages production from Thomson in 1980, has already ended in print form, and now specialises in website design, SEO builders, and all the stuff to make your business easier to find online – their 2014 printed directory, which I found in our garage, didn’t list even one music shop. Even the major classified ad magazine Exchange & Mart converted to online only in 2009, and forms the backbone of classified ads for a number of local newspapers, although 2009 was also the year I opened an account with eBay.
The end of the Yellow Pages is really just another story of something ending that we already thought had done: it was still relevant where the enormously comprehensive books could not fit through your letterbox, but some novels are longer than the 192-page final edition I received. However, the “let your fingers do the walking logo” will continue online – it was originally designed for the US Bell System (now AT&T) in 1962, but because it was never trademarked (and AT&T were too late when they remembered to try) it is now in the public domain, alongside the gay pride flag and the Smiley Face. I could use it to launch my own Yellow Pages, but I’d need to Google the information to go into it.