Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Delicious Children's Book Illustrations of Júlia Sardà

I love this lady's work. It makes me smiley.

Her individual take on classic stories is glorious. I am in awe of their fun and energy.

See more of her lovely week on her website here.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Some Stories you Might have Missed - September Edition

The Stranger's Guide to London - Everything the Georgian countryman needed to know in order not to be ripped off by duffers, waylaid by Jilts, tricked by Coin-Droppers or smuggled abroad by Crimps.

Down the Rabbit Hole - An analyst looks at the sale of a million sex toys and their reviews and asks, 'Just what do we get up to in the bedroom?' Some fascinating and surprising insights from what may turn out to be one of the most honest sex surveys done in decades.

Behind the Scenes of Vintage Pin-Up Girl Art -  What it says on the tin. Safe for work!

The best 'Man Walks Into A Bar' joke you'll ever read here.

The 62 Areas of Britain that are more expensive than London.

The Girl who was frightened to Death by a Coffin - Some delicious Victorian strangeness, and some more here with The Strange Tale of the Ladies who Limped.

You really can be bored to Death - Study shows that boredom is bad for you; those who live tedious lives are twice as likely to die young.

Internet Trolls really are Horrible People - Study reveals that trolls are narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic ... as well as being arseholes.

A Messy Desk encourages a Creative Mind - Study shows that the state of my desk is just right. I knew it all along.

The Global Think Tank Directory

Friday, 26 September 2014

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful

Need I add anything? A wonderful collision of art and science created by Seattle-based science artist Eleanor Lutz. Do visit her brilliant blog, Tabletop Whale, here.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Wooden People of Bruno Walpoth

As I've said before on this blog, I'm not a huge fan of hyper-realistic art. I can't see the point of it. It seems to me that hyper-realism gets people focusing on the technique rather than the artwork and that, for me, means that what we're applauding is physical skill rather than human expression. However, I love art that is almost realistic; art where you can see the brush strokes and the chisel marks. That adds a textural element to the work and also shows me something of the artist and what was in their head. For that reason, I can't help but be wowed by the life-sized wooden sculptures of Bruno Walpoth.

I love the use of semi-transparent paints and glazes that let the wood grain and the imperfections shine through. Each sculpture seems very warm and alive.

More of his work on his website here.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Gigantic Plywood Art of Henrique Oliveira

Take some old plywood strips and stain them with wood stain. Then start sticking them together. Eventually you might end up with artwork as awesome as this.

Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira uses salvaged wood collected from the streets of São Paulo to create massive scale, site-specific installations with dense layers that twist, curve, bend, and split. Oliveira uses tapumes - which in Portuguese can mean fencing, boarding, or enclosure - as a title for many of his large-scale installations. Henrique's breakthrough occurred when he was a student at the University of São Paulo, where for two years the view from his studio window was a wooden construction fence. Over time Oliveira began to see the deterioration of the wood and its separation into multiple layers and colours. One week before the final student show opened, the construction was finished and the worn out plywood fence was discarded.

Discovered here.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Two Film Techniques that Blew Me Away

This is, without doubt, some of the most beautiful CGI work I've seen in a long time. The textures, the movement of objects, the light and shade and shadows ... staggering.

It's a piece by digital artist Alan Warburton called Spherical Harmonics. You can read more about it here.

It reminds me of an interview I saw many years ago with John Lasseter, the groundbreaking animator behind Pixar, in which he said that it would probably be possible to make a new film starring Marilyn Monroe in his lifetime. He may be right.

This second movie is simply called Box. The creators, Bot and Dolly, used projection mapping onto robot-controlled flat surfaces to create amazing 3D optical illusions. The whole thing is shot in real time in-camera with no post-production. Quite stunning.

You can see just how the film was made here.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Birdie Yum Yum

Yesterday I travelled to oh-so-trendy Shoreditch in East London to be one of the speakers at Birdie, a photography conference for the passionate snapper. This was an event aimed at both professional and amateur and the speakers covered a wide range of subjects and approaches. It was a really great day; very relaxed, very informative, very casual.

After an intro from the chair of the conference, Dan Rubin, we had our first talk of the day from the amazing Kevin Meredith - known to many as Lomokev due to his love of lomography (look it up if you don't know what that is) - who spoke to us about making the move from amateur to professional photographer.


I should stress, as Kev did, that the term 'amateur' wasn't being used as a measure of quality but as simply meaning 'not being paid for it'. His own story was fascinating, stressing the importance of doing projects because they are the things that get noticed and land you the work.

Next up was Dan Rubin being interviewed by Tom Seymour, editor of FLTR magazine. The guys talked about the future development of camera-related tech including smartphones, wearable devices such as the new Apple watch and Google glass. Both men were early adopters of new tech in the past and spoke about how tech that was once viewed with suspicion or at least a jaded eye is now ubiquitous. We were left with the impression that things are going to get very exciting.

Then came an often hilarious talk by music photographer Katja Ogrin who shared her journey with us from snapping acts at jazz festivals in her native Slovenia to her move to England and to now being a professional music photographer. We saw some amazing action shots of band like The Hives, Linkin Park and Katy Perry and this band (see above), whose name eludes me, but whose lead singer had a thing for swinging upside down off the chandeliers.

Copyright is an issue that affects all creative people and helping us to tiptoe through the minefield was Naomi Korn, our next speaker (after a nice break for tea, coffee and chat). Naomi somehow managed to make the subject both understandable and even fun. A marvellous speaker and very knowledgeable. I know have a pretty good bead on what I can and cannot do by law. And, indeed, what people can or cannot do with my stuff. She was followed by the very affable Conor Macneill who travels the world finding the darkest places in which to take his extraordinary photos of the night sky. To see what's up there and to know that, thanks to light pollution, the majority of us are robbed of such glorious beauty made me want to seek out the nearest desert and set up camp.

During the lunch break, I had a look around some of the sponsor's stalls and saw some amazing gear. I was particularly impressed by the Instant Lab made by Impossible. This great bit of affordable kit allows you to turn your phone photos into physical Polaroid shots. It's brilliant! I also loved Trigger Trap's 'dongle' that allows you to remotely trigger your DSLR using your phone's button or microphone. We all had great fun in the 'Screaming Booth' where our yells activated the camera. Here's Kev and friend and me and Dan being loud.

I also got to chat to Tom Elkins, CEO of  charity called Photovoice that used photography projects to empower mrginalised individuals and communities. it's remarkable work. I've written about it in more detail on my problem-solving blog that supports my new book Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? Do have a read here.

After lunch, first speaker up was yours truly giving the delegates a post-prandial alternative and Quite Interesting history of photography that took in laughing Victorians, invisible mums, even more invisible Loch Ness monsters, Lunar calendars, selfie-taking classical statues and Kermit the frog's bottom.

The penultimate speaker of the day was the lovely Agatha A Nitecka, a stills photographer who works almost exclusively on the sets of films when they are in production. Her film-based photos are deliciously atmospheric and many have ended up as the poster art for the films she's worked on, most recently Wuthering Heights and the forthcoming Mr Holmes, Sir Ian McKellen's much-awaited story of Sherlock in his later years. Never less than passionate and truthful, Agatha's talk was spellbinding.

Last but not least, came an old mucker of mine, Chris Wild - best known as The Retronaut - whose hugely popular eponymous website (and now book) shows us that as much as things change, most things stay the same. As Chris says, 'Retronaut is a photographic time machine. It is a digital collection of tens of thousands of pictures from across the past, all with one thing in common - each one has the power to warp your sense of time.' In his brilliant presentation we saw people from the early 20th century who looked like people we'd meet in the street today - all that had changed was the fashions. In the past people laughed, shopped, wept, danced, fell in love and died just as we do. And, of course, for them it wasn't the past; they lived in the present just as we do. It was an extraordinary talk by a man with an extraordinary view of history. And an extraordinary dress sense too as he turned up in what appeared to be clothes from the Wild West. Consider my sense of time warped Chris!

As I said above, it was a wonderful day and I really hope that they do it all again in 2015. Massive thanks must go to Ruth Yarnit and all at White October Events.

Oh, but before I go, I must just throw in a few camera phone shots of my own. Shoreditch and Hoxton are so photogenic these days due to the proliferation of great street art. You can't turn your head without seeing a piece worthy of capturing.

And the arty hipster aesthetic also extended to the Hoxton Hotel where I stayed overnight. The place was full of shabby-chic furniture, handmade soft-furnishings and retro bric-a-brac. And the room sported a fecking huge mirror. In other circumstance, I sure such a thing would have been damned good fun. In this instance, all it meant was not being able to avoid the sight of my own beer gut.

But still, a very nice hotel and one I'd stay in again.

P.S. The envelope was from the Birdie organisers with details for the following day ... it wasn't a payment!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Amazing Creepy GIFs of Kevin Weir

Kevin Weir uses historical black and white photographs  he finds in the US Library of Congress online archive to create these amazing animated GIFs.
His website is here. You can see more of these extraordinary animations on his Flux Machine website.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Terrible lizard, terrible name

Dreadnoughtus Schrani, possibly the largest dinosaur that ever existed, was all over the news today. This new species of titanosaur from Argentina - where all the biggest dinos seem to have come from - is believed to have been over just over 85 feet (26m long) in length and would have weighed up to 60 tonnes. It's a big bugger.

But once again I find myself saddened that no one called it Brontosaurus. Brontosaurus means 'thunder lizard', which is surely appropriate for the largest ever dinosaur (that we know of to date). And the name is available!

When I was a kid, there was a small, select group of celebrity dinosaurs that everyone knew. You know their names too: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus ... and Brontosaurus was there in the dino Green Room with them. Incidentally, you may also have had Pterodactyl in your list. But that wasn't a dinosaur. And it didn't exist. There were pterosaurs - flying relatives of the dinosaurs - of which one small pigeon-sized species was called Pterodactylus. The one with the big boomerang-shaped crest on its head that many people think of when they think 'Pterodactyl' is probably Pteranodon. There is, sadly, also a growing body of evidence to suggest that what we've been calling Triceratops is actually just the juvenile form of the larger Torosaurus. You can read all about it here.

But back to Brontosaurus which, as I said, is available as a name ... because it doesn't exist either.

Brontosaurus was a casualty of the so-called ‘bone wars’ of the mid-19th century in which fossil hunters constantly tried to outdo each other. Two of the main players were Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh (left and right below), whose rivalry was so intense that fossils were sometimes damaged or destroyed in their haste to get them out of the ground. It also meant that, in their rush to be first with any new discovery, they sometimes based their claims on inaccurate or sketchy data.

In 1877 Marsh published details of a partial fossil of a sauropod – a long-necked and long-tailed dinosaur – measuring some 50 feet in length. For reasons best known to himself, he called the animal Apatosaurus or ‘deceptive lizard'. Then, later in the same year, he published again, this time describing a much more complete fossil skeleton of an even bigger sauropod called Brontosaurus, which was some 70 to 80 eighty feet in length. Because the Brontosaurus skeleton was so complete, it was the first sauropod to be mounted in a museum – in this case the Peabody at Yale – which is why it very quickly caught the public’s imagination. No one had ever seen something so huge. However, in his haste to piss off Cope and the other bone men, Marsh had made a huge boo boo. In 1903, a man called Elmer riggs discovered that the Apatosaurus fossil that Marsh had found was a juvenile Brontosaurus. Therefore, applying the rules of ‘first specimen bags the name’, Brontosaurus became an adult Apatosaurus and its previous name was no longer valid.

But Brontosaurus refused to die. The name had become so synonymous with the long-necked sauropods that it continued to be used for toys, in films and TV shows and even in books for decades to come. I have dinosaur books from my school days – some 70 years after the name ‘Brontosaurus’ became void – and there is Bronto, floundering around in a swamp. And, at the same school, we sang a song about a Brontosaurus. Do you remember it? It took me a while to track it down but I found it:

The whole 'Brontosaurus-isn’t-its-real name' issue came to a head, quite literally, in 1970 when John McIntosh from Wesleyan University and David Berman of the Carnegie Museum, discovered that the head that Marsh had mounted on his Brontosaurus was actually the head of a Camarasaurus. And then, to make matters worse, in 1989 the US Post Office released a set of four stamps featuring illustrations of dinosaurs ... and the scientific and education lobbies went nuts. Not only did one stamp feature a Pteranodon, which isn’t even a dinosaur, but one featured Brontosaurus, a dino that officially hadn’t existed since 1903.

It was the final nail in the coffin of Bronto. Despite a last rallying call to save the name by some prominent people including biologist Stephen Jay Gould (who wrote a brilliant essay on the subject called Bully for Brontosaurus) and dino expert Robert Bakker, Brontosaurus was gently put to sleep and all dinosaur-related media now referred to the beast as Apatosaurus.

So that’s the situation today. And, despite a number of new gigantic sauropods being found in the past couple of decades, no one, it seems, wants to re-use the name and give us our Brontosaurus back (see afternote below).

And that makes me sad.

In recent years, as more and more huge dinosaurs have emerged from the Patagonian sands, the names have got more and more hyperbolic, such as Seismosaurus, Supersaurus, and Ultrasaurus to name but three. They don't have the class of Brontosaurus do they?

Dreadnoughtus is a rubbish name.


Afternote: As m'learned QI colleague James Harkin pointed out after I'd posted this, you can't re-use a species name that has been superseded as it is still technically a synonym. It's an annoying rule, but sadly true.

However, if it is a synonym, it must therefore have equal weight. Otherwise, what point is there is having a synonym?

So how about a campaign to replace Apatosaurus with Brontosaurus? I mean to say ... which is more accurate - is it a thunder lizard or a deceptive lizard? I know what I'd plump for ...


To read about my involvement with another sauropod - the London Natural History Museum's famous Dippy the Diplodocus - click here.