More fun than fractals

Some time about 15 years ago, I spent way too much time creating fractal images on my mono-monitored, 10MB hard-disk 286 PC, using BASIC I think, or maybe Turbo C. It took a long time to do those calculations and showing a Mandelbrot set at anything like an interesting level of definition could require an overnight run to complete. My wife used to tell me off, because if you left a computer on overnight, it would probably catch fire.

OK. For some reason I was reminded of this when I found something with which I could lose an equivalent amount of time doing something cool, but senseless.

I don’t know when it happened, but the satellite images for Google Maps went global. OK, so some areas are not very hi-res, but it just feels so cool to zoom in and out, particularly to zoom out and drag and drop your way from London to Seattle in a couple of clicks. It’s like you can pick up the world and roll it round (and it scrolls – well horizontally at least, you can’t flip over the North Pole yet).

This is the Perfect Path Penthouse.

Oh boy, I’m all art-ed out!

fk_selfportrait_1940.jpgA great antidote to the summer heat is the air-conditioned peace of an art gallery.

This week, I’ve done more in two days than in the past six months I think. Yesterday, I saw the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. There are some gems but a couple of rooms had the air of an overcrowded art fair – unfortunately I can’t find a list of works online and couldn’t be arsed to fork out 3.50 for a paper one. So I’ll just say Teddy Bears, Swimming Pools and a giant Domino woman, that huge drawing of a rock and . I’m dead cultured me.

Today, I popped down to the Tate Modern for the Frida Kahlo exhibition. Wow. It’s still very busy (I think it only opened last week or something) and by the end I was getting a little prickly with the Japanese schoolgirls pressing their noses up against everything to have the absolutely closest look and other people absently wandering into me. Back to the art. It was really nice to see so much of her work. I guess I’d only seen the self-portraits with monkeys and suchlike before. I was ashamed to admit that I had no idea that she was married to Diego Rivera, let alone that she had an affair with Trotsky! What I found most fascinating was to see bits of the early 20th Century European and North American avant-garde (elements of surrealism, cubism, expressionism) through Mexican eyes, with a Latin American vibe. Favourites were the wedding portrait dramatically over-emphasising the contrast between Rivera’s huge frame and her petite self in a huge dress – love the little feet poking out. Also the self portrait that was part of a pair (with Rivera) for Sigmund Firestone in 1940 (the copy above doesn’t give you the yellowness of the yellow background, or the detail of the amazing braiding in her hair).

And afterwards it started to rain. There was thunder and lightning but it was over by the time I got home. I’d have liked a go at a wineresque thundercast. Maybe there’ll be more – it’s still hot.

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Oh boy, and right now as I finish writing, the Gillmor Gang, live from Gnomedex is coming out of my speakers (well it will be when they get the mics working!). Coolest.

The civic duty to blog

Over the last couple of weeks (particularly on those occasions when I’ve stood up in public and identified myself as a blogger) I’ve been asked the same question several times:

“Do you think I could have a blog?”

And my answer is always the same and unequivocal:

“Yes, not only that, but I think you should”

Increasingly, I’m adding:

“in fact, you really ought to, it’s your duty!”

The model of communication enshrined in national newspapers and magazines is a 20th Century phenomenon. It was born of an industrial world, one where we were coming to terms with mass production, transportation and electrification. National newspapers used the very latest ideas to create a modern system of communication where suddenly people all over the country could read national stories everyday. Combined with education for a vastly increased proportion of the population, news, national (even…gasp…international) news became popularly accessible and with increased supply, the appetite grew. The successful products that emerged were those that mirrored the great idea of the day – centralisation.

Now things have changed again.

We (in most of Europe and the U.S.) no longer live in a predominantly industrial society. We now primarily deal with knowledge, ideas and information. We have created very powerful computing machines; software for recording words, pictures and music and then connected all the machines together so that we can talk to each other. Education has continued to increase and improve. In the UK, Government has a target of getting 50% of young people leaving school each year to go on to Higher Education. According to DfES, 539,900 qualifications were obtained by students at Higher Education institutions in the UK in 2003/04.

So what are these half-million newly qualified people supposed to do with their improved ability to think and learn for themselves? Well according to the established media, they should just sit back and open wide. Carry on taking the medicine; accept the status quo; continue to live with a hundred-year-old system of communication that was invented for a very different society, because we’re too scared to do anything different. Yes, perhaps it means that we’ll have some brighter journalistic stars and more intelligent readers who can critically appraise what we produce, but they should stay in their place and we will stay in ours.

No. People have a voice, they’re taught to use their brains more and how to express themselves well. They are given tools to express themselves easily and to communicate globally. So now the term ‘mass production’ can have a new meaning. Instead of meaning that a few produce for the masses, it can come to mean that the masses produce for themselves and for each other, thank you very much. The successful products will be those that support today’s big ideas – decentralisation and disintermediation.

So do you think you could have a blog? What on earth is the point of taking three or more years out of economic activity getting yourself educated at the expense of your family and the rest of society, developing your thinking and critical faculties in ways that your grandparents would have killed for and then sitting and watching Big Brother for the rest of your life?

How about we create something better? You can, you should and it starts with writing “Hello world, well here I am with my little blog – who’d have thought it!? lol”.

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