The Cinematic Portrayal of Graphic Designers in Film & Television

Pretty telling.

I think Colin from Eastenders (also known as ‘gay Colin’ because back in those days, having a gay character on TV was still somewhat cutting edge) was the first ‘graphic designer’ I’d seen represented on TV. It seemed quite cool. He had grey walls in his flat, black ash furniture everywhere, was noticeably middle class, and owned an Amstrad computer.

Curse you gay Colin.

(I jest, of course. Colin and his boyfriend Barry had the first onscreen gay kiss. Michael Cashman who played him is now Baron Cashman, a Labour Member of the European Parliament)

This pot won’t let you kill your houseplants

After criticising the LG fridge that opens for you, I’m going to ignore the contradiction of my delight in this new gadget by suggesting it might have excellent applications in agriculture. Or something.

I’m a plant killer. I need help. Take my money.

On top of watering your plant, the pot does its best to make sure that you don’t kill your plant through other means. It also includes an acidity sensor, a temperature sensor, and a light sensor, and it’ll use those three to tell you whether you need to give the plant different fertilizer, more or less sunlight, or a warmer or cooler environment. Obviously, you’ll have to fix those issues on your own, but the app should make it much easier to keep your houseplants alive.

Read the full story here

This LG fridge opens for you automatically – all life’s problems solved

Great news from LG. They’ve finally solved one of life’s biggest problems:

LG’s new fridge has two big features. The first is the door itself, which now has what LG calls its Knock-On feature, which allows you to simply knock on the door to reveal what’s inside. Put more simply: knock on the door and the interior lights up to reveal whatever foodstuffs you might have forgotten about. Neat. The second, and probably most important, is the Auto Door feature, which allows the fridge to detect when your foot is nearby to gently open the door. Thankfully, the fridge is smart enough to tell it’s you, and not your wandering pet or baby. Which is good, since no one wants their smart fridge to harm their baby.

Here’s the thing though – if I go to the fridge to knock on the door and reveal what’s inside, won’t the door already have detected I’m nearby and open? Am I the first to point out this obvious design flaw?

Meanwhile, The Guardian tells us:

The World Health Organisation has issued a stark new warning about deadly levels of pollution in many of the world’s biggest cities, claiming poor air quality is killing millions and threatening to overwhelm health services across the globe.

But at least we’ve got automatically opening fridges.

Forbes forces readers to turn off ad blockers, promptly serves malware


Shocking (no, not really) news on the adblocking front

For the past few weeks, has been forcing visitors to disable ad blockers if they want to read its content. Visitors to the site with Adblock or uBlock enabled are told they must disable it if they wish to see any Forbes content. […] What sets Forbes apart, in this case, is that it didn’t just force visitors to disable ad blocking — it actively served them malware as soon as they did.

Add this to the list of why the scourge of online advertising is not adblockers, but the crappy ads and practices that encourage people to use them.

(original hat tip to Daring Fireball)

The not-so-secret history of comics drawn by women

 Image by Marjane Satrapi

No women were nominated for the Angoulême International Comics Festival awards because, according to the organiser, there was a lack of qualified women. “The Festival likes women, but cannot rewrite the history of comics,”.

Not so, says Laurenn McCubbin

“For over 100 years, we have seen the presence of women in the American comics,” Caitlin McGurk, the associate curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library (which houses the largest collection of comics and comic-related history in the world), said. “For the first half of the 20th century, many female cartoonists wrote under ambiguous or masculine names, just to increase their likeliness for publication.” McGurk has many examples: June Mills, who went by a version of her middle name, “Tarpé”, when she created the great Miss Fury in 1941. Miss Fury, in fact, was the first female action hero created by a woman, predating Wonder Woman.



Actual text from an email I received today:

‘The past five years has witnessed a massive transformation of the market for horizontal portals. The nexus of mobile, social, cloud and information has at once heightened the demand for this “personalized point of access …” and engendered alternative ways to accomplish it.’

Translation, anyone? Are they selling doors?

Ten inspiring pieces of music 6: Bartok Violin Concerto No.1

Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote two violin concertos, both great pieces. However the first violin concerto was only published in 1959 after his death . Why? Therein lies a sorry tale, and part of the reason why I find this piece so moving and why I count it as particularly ‘inspirational’.

Stefi Geyer

Bartok was in love. With a violinist, Stefi Geyer. And to demonstrate his love, he wrote this concerto for her.

And she rejected it, and him.

Such is life.

The concerto is in two movements, which is unusual, with a slow andante followed by an allegro. We know that the first movement is a portrait of Stefi Geyer, so the assumption is that the second represents Bartok himself.

It’s the first movement particularly that I want to put forward as my sixth inspirational piece.

What is so special about this piece? It is, for me, the best representation of unrequited love I’ve ever come across. Anyone who has been in that situation will feel the emotions depicted here. It opens with a solo violin line playing a quirky, hesitant and awkward theme, with a layered accompaniment being added bit by bit. It feels ‘out of tune’ but it isn’t. As it progresses the harmonies fill out but there’s something ‘missing’. I’ve tried to put my finger on it and as far as I can tell it’s because for the first five minutes the music doesn’t resolve itself – in musicology a resolution is when a perfect of imperfect cadence happens, and the section ends satisfactorily. That doesn’t happen here for a full five minutes.

Listen to the movement in the video and follow the violin. It doesn’t ‘breathe’ until around the five minute mark at which point the line is taken over by woodwind and a mournful timpani beating in the background.

After that the music becomes more and more ravishing with a climax at 6:17 which sees the violin come back with a calmer version of the original theme – but not for long. By 7 minute mark we’re into anguish again with the full orchestra having its say.

At around the 8 minute mark the bitter sweetness comes back in and a new melody is heard, but soon replaced with the one that started us off.

The second movement is a complete contrast and I’ll let it speak for itself. Suffice to say, if the first represented Ms Geyer, and the second Mr Bartok, maybe they weren’t best suited…

My recommended recording is by Elizabeth Faust – it won at the 2014 BBC Music Magazine a couple of years ago, which is how I discovered the work. It’s presented along with the wonderful second concerto. Highly recommended.

(The performance in the videos is by James Ehnes with Gianandrea Noseda conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra – a fine performance too)

Ten inspiring pieces of music 5: Mozart Don Giovanni – Commendatore scene

Some Mozart today – and what to choose? Despite dying in his early 30s he left behind a wealth of music, some of it trivial and trite it has to be said, but more masterpieces than is decent.

The piece that keeps coming to mind is a single scene from one of his late operas, Don Giovanni. It’s the tale of a young, sexually promiscuous man who abuses just about everyone he meets, including his faithful servant. While attempting to seduce (or worse) a young girl, he kills her father, the Commendatore.

Later in the opera, Don Giovanni is in a cemetery by a statue of the slain Commendatore and laughs, only to hear a ghostly voice proclaim that his laughter will not last past sunrise. The inscription on the statute says ‘Here am I waiting for revenge against the scoundrel who killed me’ but Don Giovanni simply invites the statue to dinner, in mockery.

The opera concludes – you guessed it – with the statue turning up to dinner. Don Giovanni nonchalantly orders his servant to set another place, ignoring the statue’s plea to repent. After refusing a final time, Don Giovanni is dragged down to hell by a chorus of demons.

Here’s the scene as rendered in one of my favourite films, Amadeus.

I’m not a huge opera fan but I do like Mozart’s – they’re great music even if you can’t follow the plot, or find it ridiculous. I chose this scene because it highlights the sheer drama that Mozart could conjure up.

There are quite a few videos of this on YouTube spanning everything from traditional performances up to quite modern ones, and I chose a fairly minimal production – the statue isn’t in full costume as in some, the singer simply standing dead still. And I love the acting in this – Don Giovanni, performed by Rod Gilfry, comes across as the arrogant bastard he’s supposed to be.

He was nominated for a Grammy for his recording, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (I believe the performance in the video is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt). It’s not cheap, despite being twenty years old but it is available to stream on Apple Music. Or click the image below to purchase on Amazon.

Ten inspiring pieces of music 4: Berlioz Symphonie funèbre et triomphale

I was going through my CDs when I got to Berlioz and suddenly thought about this. It’s a piece that’s not widely known and I only encountered it as a filler on, I think, the Berlioz Te Deum (which is another contender for this slot). So if you read my first three posts and thought my choices lacked originality I’m hoping this one will stop you in your tracks.

The Symphonie is an odd beast – written for large wind and brass ensemble, some strings in some performances, and a lot of percussion, it’s a classic funeral march of the sort you might hear at a great state occasion. These tend to be repeated ad nauseum as the procession makes its way from the start of its route to its finish (British state funerals use a march by Beethoven for this).

Berlioz’s march is hypnotic and dramatic – this is a hero’s march.

This work was performed at the Proms a few years ago and they took advantage of the venue, placing different sections of the orchestra around the building. This is the recording in the video above.

The work is in three movements, a march, a slow interlude and finally a triumphant hymn

If you don’t want to sit through the funeral march you can skip to 24 minutes for the third section, or watch the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle (this is a coincidence, but he is popping up a lot in this series of posts) in a short extract.

Why do I find it inspiring? I just love the absolute drama of it. It’s batshit crazy in parts.

A really good performance should let rip, I think. If my neighbours are out, I’ve been known to play this as loud as I dare. Really gets the blood flowing.