Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 17 2012

Letters: The web's new world order

The British people fought wars and went through a great deal of civil strife to construct the form of democracy we currently have. Thus there is nothing wrong with our government seeking to ensure that within its national boundaries activity in cyberspace conforms with its laws. The alternative proposition, that the law of the internet is coterminous with the decisions of the US supreme court, is unacceptable everywhere except the US.

The internet of course is magical and wonderful. But we should not have to put up with all the bad stuff in order to benefit from the good. By failing to deal with significant levels of online crime, I'm afraid the high priests of the internet industry, of whom Sergey Brin is most certainly one, have created the situation of which he and they now complain (Web freedom under threat – Google founder, 16 April). It may not be too late to halt or reverse some of the processes Brin is anxious about, but time is running out and laissez-faire will not cut it.
John Carr
London

• I recently replaced a defunct mobile phone and, a week in, find that the new phone's default settings included backing up "application data, Wi-Fi passwords and other settings to Google servers". Is Mr Brin a suitably qualified glasshouse stone-thrower, or does the above sit uncomfortably with Google's previous sniffing for Wi-Fi networks while making photographic surveys?

Internet freedom must rely upon a sea of small providers rather than disproportionate control by nations or global corporations. I will be looking to remove other Google services from my phone.
Mike Brown
Newcastle upon Tyne

• "Internet freedom" is just a vehicle for transnational corporations such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook to impose their ideology of rightwing libertarianism on the world – strident capitalism, no taxes, no government, no community. They are a threat in the same way as Murdoch has proved to be, but for some reason we talk about them as if they were the post office or the library.
Dr Stephen Dorril
University of Huddersfield

• Ai Weiwei's comments on the power of the internet to achieve freedom (China's censorship can never defeat the internet, 16 April) remind me strongly of the prescience of your former Communist affairs correspondent Victor Zorza (died 1996). I recall the characteristic enthusiasm with which he told me, almost certainly as far back as the 1970s, that he was convinced that fledgling information technology would prove to be a death knell for totalitarian regimes. As your other articles demonstrate, however, this is not quite so straightforward a matter, given the partially successful attempts at censorship in today's authoritarian countries. But the general conclusion still holds, as Ai Weiwei suggests. Once the monopoly of information slips out of the hands of the rulers of such countries, political consequences are bound to follow sooner or later.
Peter Roland
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Russia's alarming restrictions on internet freedom, including the imprisonment of pro-democracy bloggers (Nervous Kremlin seeks to take back control, 16 April), are inconsistent with its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. When he first became president in 1999, Vladimir Putin promised to defend freedom of speech. When he returns to the post next month, Putin would do well to honour his word – and that of his country.
Hillel C Neuer
Executive director, UN Watch, Geneva

• Re your editorial (14 April), New South Wales police have set up a social media community engagement project called Eyewatch. Each of our 80 local area commands has a Facebook page. Each day, police publish local crime issues and crime prevention tips. We are now formulating neighbourhood watch closed Facebook groups across the state so communities can be in touch with police whenever they want to. Our pages have attracted 93,000 fans and over 30m page impressions. Crime is being solved; communities and police are working together to identify problems and create community solutions. This programme – applying the Peelian principles to the 21st century – could be easily adopted in the UK.
Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell
Manager, Project Eyewatch


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


April 10 2012

Instagram: what is Facebook getting for $1bn?

Is the social network just after another chunk of the world's visual memory, asks Guardian head of photography Roger Tooth

In my job I guess it's unsurprising that I keep hearing things about photography. "Facts" like half of all pictures ever taken were taken in the past 12 months. Could that be true? It might be if some people are taking pictures of every meal they eat. A colleague talking to a fellow guest at a wedding, who was sporting the brand new Canon 5Dmk3 costing £3,000 — was he a pro photographer? Oh no, he just wanted the best for his photographs. $1bn for Instagram.

Yes – $1bn for a smartphone app that makes your snaps look like retro Polaroids and sends them to your friends. It probably does a lot more than that, but to misquote Mark Knopfler that sounds a whole lot of money, if not exactly for nothing, really not that much.

Now I know I shouldn't admit this, but I do like some of these toning apps. Some of the effects are quite beautiful and the results can encourage the budding photographer. They're harmless and probably have quite a short shelf life.

In the end it really is the actual image under the electronic processing that counts. Most of the time the filters are covering the shortcomings of the original photograph and the person behind it. They will soon become a visual cliche and need continual updating to stay fresh.

The $1bn is buying Facebook another chunk of the world's visual memory. Facebook is making sure all those images don't end up on Flickr or in some other storage cloud.

But why the boom in making still images? Why are people still taking pictures and not shooting video?

Well have you tried video? It looks easy enough until you try editing it. If it's bad it's not just a bit of a joke it's a boring joke. With a still photograph processed through a toning app one can produce a finished and pleasing piece of work. And don't underestimate the growth of photography as a note-taking medium, not just for documenting family life, but as a useful tool for all sorts of professionals from doctors to plumbers to record and communicate. All those 1,000 words taken care of by the click of a shutter.

Roger Tooth is head of photography for the Guardian


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


November 21 2011

Art to download is little more than dead-eyed commercialism

The vogue for selling digital editions of art by Hirst and Emin at 'affordable' prices is a trivial luxury for a fabled moneyed elite

Human beings are better at inventing things than we are at asking why we invented them. If we can do it, we will. But just occasionally, a supposed wonder of the new age makes me mutter the question: "Why?"

That is how I feel about the vogue for digital art marketing. This week sees the launch of s[edition], a website dedicated to selling digital editions of art. It has been founded by top art dealers and offers the works of top artists, including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, to download for "affordable" prices. You can get a limited edition Hirst skull to put on your mobile phone for £500.

Emin, telling the BBC about the project, said it gives art back to the people by making it affordable (or something like that). But are the starving masses or the squeezed middle really going to fork out £500 for a mobile phone picture? Isn't it more like a trivial luxury for the same fabled Russian moneyed elite who buy their art yachts at Frieze?

To put it another way, what kind of person would want a Britart phone image anyway?

The website kept crashing for me this morning – I don't know if the problem was at my end or theirs – but I saw enough to be uncharmed. The enterprise is straightforwardly commercial in a way that opposes the culture of the internet. If artists such as Emin wanted to reconnect with the youth, surely they would give images away online – not participate in a site that presses you to sign up and join the collectors' club.

This is not the first attempt to marry the modern-art market with the internet. The VIP art fair takes a comparable approach, inviting visitors to sign up – and pay an entry fee – for access to its exclusive dealer rooms. The difference is that it sells material works of art.

Both enterprises seem oddly clumsy to me. The art market works through snobbery and sleight of hand, but here it becomes a bit like a TV shopping channel – watch out, the dead-eyed determination to shift product is showing.

One news story compared the artists involved to Hockney on his iPhone, but where is the comparison? Hockney has played creatively and idealistically with a new medium. This is just a less than charismatic new way of flogging a few ephemeral images.

Could the cold wind of financial crisis be driving the art market to cheapen its style? Will we soon see besuited art dealers hawking their products from disused stores on Oxford Street? These really are the last few skulls and the jewels were hand-crafted …


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


July 12 2011

Tech Weekly podcast: New government data, smartphone explosion

On this week's programme, we're reporting on the smartphone market, a handset ecosystem that's set to reach critical mass in the next 23 months. Once more than half the UK population has access to all the features, what will this mean for how we consume online content, and for trends in the UK software development market?

Also, David Cameron launched the UK's latest open data initiative, releasing a new tranche of public data for use by developers. What new insights can be gained, and has this data been specifically chosen to advance the Tory agenda?

We spend a lot of time talking about privacy issues on this podcast, but most of it related to the corporations behind social networks, search engines and other publishing systems. So what about punters who hijack computers for the sake of art? A New York-based artist has been detained by the US secret service for "fraud and related activities" for uploading software on public computers at Apple stores around the city and then capturing images of shoppers looking at the screens.

Plus Jemima steps into the Elevator with Mark McLaughlin of Ticket ABC.

Don't forget to...

• Comment below
• Mail us at tech@guardian.co.uk
• Get our Twitter feed for programme updates or follow our Twitter list
• Like our Facebook page
• See our pics on Flickr/Post your tech pics



Artist's covert Apple store camera project - was it illegal?

People staring at computers.

It could make an interesting study of our changing behaviour, a clever way of changing the view on a culture that is increasingly screen-focused. A look out, rather than a look in.

Unfortunately, New York artist Kyle McDonald made a rather too liberal assessment of laws around spying and public photography before installing a customised camera app in Apple stores in New York City, automatically taking photos every minute and sending McDonald 1,000 images. These are all posted on his blog, peoplestaringatcomputers.tumblr.com.

The project was up on McDonald's site for a full two days before the secret service called round, he tweeted, and confiscated his laptop, one other computer, an iPod and two flash drives.

McDonald hasn't exactly defended the project with detailed theoretical, contextual explanation, but then he is now following the advice of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and keeping quiet pending the results of the police investigation.

What he did say on his Free Art & technology project site is that: "Before sharing the photos online, I decided to exhibit them in the same places they were originally captured. So I wrote another app that could be remotely triggered after being installed on all the computers in one location. When the app starts up, it takes a picture and slowly fades in that photo. A moment later, it starts cycling through older photos.

"Most people instinctively quit the app less than 10 seconds after recognising their own face, so the exhibition was relegated to the unused machines."

More explanation in his video about the project.

Noble and innocently artistic as his intentions may have been, his interpretation of the law has been more than a little naive. "As I understand, photography in open spaces is legal unless explicitly prohibited," he tweeted.

A modicum of further consideration might lead you to conclude that Apple stores are not "open spaces", by which he presumably means public areas. He later tweeted that he had been told his work violates "18 USC section 1030". It does seem surprising that Apple's in-store security didn't have some sort of system in place to protect itself from this kind of mischief; stores do wipe computers every night, but McDonald came back every morning and reinstalled the software.

It does seem remarkable that, as McDonald explained, none of Apple's customers were particularly phased by being faced with pictures of other people staring at computers though it might have made them dismiss it,
being on a strange machine inside the Apple store. Mashable reported that McDonald had eventually installed the software on as many as 100 computers in the Apple store.

"That's a lot of network traffic, and he learned that Apple monitors traffic in its stores when he received a photo from a Cupertino computer of what appeared to be an Apple technician. The technician had apparently traced the traffic to the site McDonald used to upload the program to Apple Store computers — and installed it himself." It's safe to assume that the visit from four secret service men was triggered by Apple.

Despite the assumptions about this kind of covert photography, one legal expert advised that customers in an Apple store have no reasonable expectation of privacy. "How is this different to being photographed out in the mall, on the beach, at the ballgame?" media law and ethics tutor Craig LaMay told the Sydney Morning Herald.

No updates as yet on those investigations, but there was a rather cryptic tweet on Sunday in which he nodded to the ambiguity of comment threads.

"Thinking about comment threads as a modern exercise in Anekantavada/the Jain parable of the blind men and the elephant."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 09 2011

The Apple has landed: Steve Jobs' plans for futuristic new campus

Steve Jobs gave a masterclass in how to charm your local council planning meeting this week, personally presenting for 20 minutes on its ambitious plans for a new headquarters in Cupertino.

The small Californian town, which is part of the patchwork of cities that make up the sprawl of Silicon Valley, has become synonymous with Apple, which employs 2,800 people at the base on Infinity Loop.

With a very different persona to the one we see at Apple's product announcements, Jobs was authoritative but humble, and personal enough to give anecdotes about growing up in Cupertino. He was also disturbingly thin and at times seemed breathless, and when one councillor asked on Apple's no-smoking policy he snapped: "Both my parents died from lung cancer, so i'm a little sensitive on that topic."

The vision of a vast, circular building is designed to impress. Jobs told the council that through its experience building retail stores, Apple has developed a specialism in building the biggest curved pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. Jobs, who has a summer job as a teenager at Hewlett Packard who used own the land, said there used to be apricot trees on the site and wants to plant apricot orchards. The 150-acre site will be 80% landscaped, he said.

Ground breaking will start next year and the campus will be finished by 2015.

It will be four storeys high, hold around 12,000 people and have its own auditorium. Perhaps future WWDCs will be held here, instead of the Moscone Centre? "We put on presentations, much like we did yesterday, but we have to go to San Francisco to do them."

One councillor asked how Cupertino residents will benefit from Apple's new campus in the city. "Well, as you know we're the largest tax payer in Cupertino and we'd like to continue to stay here and pay taxes. If we can't then we have to go somewhere else like Mountain View and we'll take our current people with us and the city's largest tax base would go away." He added that Apple employs a lot of talented people who end up being affluent members of the community.

Couldn't Apple at least provide free wifi, suggested the councillor? "I'm a simpleton," said Jobs. "I think we pay taxes and the city should do those things. If we can get out of paying taxes then I'd be glad to put up wifi. I think we bring a lot more than free wifi."

"I think we do have a shot at building the best office building in the world. I think architecture students will come here to see this."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 07 2011

The art establishment needs to make its support for Ai Weiwei visible | Philip Bishop

A curator's signature on an online petition is not enough. The great museums should publicise China's detainee via their sites

One of the most successful attempts to galvanise public support for the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been a petition started by the Guggenheim Museum and other art institutions. To date, it has been signed by over 140,000 individuals and organisations. The petition has been so popular, in fact, that the social action website Change.org, which hosts it, said its site has been the target of repeated cyber-attacks originating in China and which, the organisation believes, are aimed directly at taking down the Ai Weiwei petition. The attacks have been so disruptive to Change.org that they've called on the FBI for assistance and a US lawmaker, championing their cause, is calling on Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to tell the Chinese government to stop the attacks.

Ai Weiwei and his associates – Wen Tao, his friend and assistant; Zhang Jingsong, his cousin and driver; Hu Mingfen, his accountant; Liu Zhenggang, a designer — were rounded up by Chinese authorities on 3 April, when police arrested Ai as he was about to board a plane in Beijing. Although there has been chatter in Beijing-controlled media about crimes supposedly committed by Ai, no charges have been brought against the man rated the world's top artist.

Despite the popularity of the Change.org petition and the international furore surrounding it, however, if you visit the websites of virtually any of the petition's major signatories, you would not know that Ai was incarcerated. Judging from these websites, all is well with the world.

The Guggenheim is currently promoting an exhibition about Kandinsky at the Bauhaus; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is talking up an exhibition about Elizabeth Taylor in Iran; and even the Tate Modern in the UK, which until a few weeks ago hosted Ai's Sunflower Seed installation, doesn't disturb its homepage to inform visitors that the artist has been criminally detained, hasn't been charged with any crime, hasn't been heard from for over eight weeks. These three institutions are not alone in their homepage silence. Numerous other headlining signatories of the Change.org petition also have nothing to say on the matter on their homepages, including: MoMA; Art Institute of Chicago; Hammer Museum; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Queensland Art Gallery, Australia; Harvard Art Museums; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

On the other side of the ledger, the US city of Minneapolis deserves credit – as both the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Centre have had some text on their sites about the Change.org petition, while the Serpentine Gallery in London also has text about the petition and a photo of Ai. For its part, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, has a photo of Ai Weiwei at the Tate Modern tossing his sunflower seeds heavenward – and a reference to the Change.org petition – as part of a series of images that cycle through in a Flash slideshow.

Finally, a tip of the cap goes to the Taipei Contemporary Art Centre, which has a brave message on its homepage calling on its mainland adversary to release all activists and to protect the creative freedom of artists, a freedom it says is a sign of any country's mature development. That's four institutions out of 20 publicly supporting Ai Weiwei on their websites – and not the biggest names in the art gallery and museum world, by any stretch of the imagination. This is surely a golden opportunity that sadly has been missed. Yet, as Hari Kunzru writes of the Montreal Museum (currently hosting a China show), it's also a golden opportunity that can still be taken.

The Chinese government, having abducted Ai Weiwei, is making a concerted effort to make him invisible, including removing all references to him from public media, including the internet. They can do this in their land. They should not be allowed to do it in any other. Ai Weiwei was committed and creative in his use of the web when he was free to express himself. He would expect no less of us now that his freedom has been taken from him and he is relying on others to fight for his release.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


May 07 2011

The race to save digital art

Pioneers of computer art are in danger of becoming the lost generation of our cultural heritage because scientists are unable to preserve their work

A race is on against the fast pace of technological change as scientists search for ways to preserve today's most innovative artworks.

A team of experts is warning that some of Britain's contemporary artistic landmarks will be no more than memories within a decade unless conservationists can effectively archive digital works and stop them degrading.

"The threat is very real that, unless we do something, we will have a 'lost generation' in terms of our cultural heritage," said Dr David Anderson, who, together with his colleague Dr Janet Delve at the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth, is leading efforts to save the more complex artworks of the digital age from oblivion.

"Past generations captured who they were and what they did via museums and books," Anderson said, "but the pace of technological development in the digital age has now outstripped our capacity for preservation."

At the same time as the visual artist Hilary Lloyd is nominated for this year's Turner Prize for her inventive work in film and video, "digital preservationists" are campaigning for more shared research and have organised the first of a series of symposiums to be held at King's College London and Cambridge next month.

The fast pace by which technology changes means that many of the earliest works of art created on computer are in danger of being lost, or are already impossible to read, while new interactive digital artworks, such as 3D visualisations and video games, are so complex that scientists are not yet capable of faithfully preserving them.

"Digital preservation is desperately important," said Anderson. "In technology little things change all the time. Over the course of a 20- or 30-year working life, the software we use is updated or made obsolete all the time, but most of us aren't really bothered by the changes. But in terms of science and art, digital preservation is increasingly important."

Preserving today's works of art poses more of a challenge to science than continued efforts to restore and conserve the great oil paintings and sculptures of the past, Anderson and Delve argue.

It is a problem already faced by collectors and contemporary art galleries, as formats are updated and CDs, DVDs and digital recordings degrade.

Lloyd, 48, from Halifax, creates innovative work that poses typical problems for conservators. Her recent film and video footage, previously on display at the Raven Row gallery in London, was put together in a way that subverts expectations of art. A piece that initially appeared to be a still life, for example, turned out to be in perpetual motion. Projectors and monitors formed a part of the work itself.

"In digital art, the key is to find ways of preserving the colour and visual aspects of a piece of art. If we don't preserve the digital art made today, it could be like walking into a world-famous gallery and seeing nothing on the walls, that no art has survived some global meltdown," said Anderson.

A new digital art gallery is to launch on Monday in the centre of Cambridge. The vaulted section, set up by Anglia Ruskin University inside the Ruskin Gallery, which was opened by the art critic John Ruskin in 1858, has been fitted with cutting-edge 3D plasma screens to enable digital artists to experiment.

But the preservation of this kind of work, in contrast, is still a work in progress.

Dr Simon Payne, a digital video artist and senior lecturer in film and media at Anglia Ruskin University, who will be exhibiting at the gallery, points out that many contemporary artists are happy for their work to have a short lifespan, or at least can accept that its temporary nature is a key part of the experience for viewers.

"Some artists who make digital art that is ephemeral, who are almost like performance artists, are dedicated to the idea that it will not last.

"But from an academic point of view, of course, you want to be able to recreate the culture of the past and to show it to students."

Payne's own work is what he describes as "perceptual", playing with what the viewer can see, such as the Op Art movement of the 60s and 70s.

"It is designed with the idea of creating a discrete physical effect on the viewer and for me, ideally, it should be shown in the context of a cinema, so I don't know how you would ever preserve it effectively."

Ironically, an artwork made or recorded on celluloid, or even on videotape, is more likely to survive the test of time than more recent work created or archived digitally, Payne added.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


May 03 2011

Tech Weekly podcast: Looking for art, love ... and Bin Laden

Aleks Krotoski, Charles Arthur and Jemima Kiss are joined in the Tech Weekly studio this week by former Guardian Technology editor and artist Vic Keegan and Artfinder founder Chris Thorpe to discover what the web can do to help art lovers find inspiration.

Aleks speaks with Sam Yagan, chief executive & co-founder of the biggest free online dating site in the US, OKCupid, to learn a little about finding love online.

Plus, Charles breaks down the political implications of the live feed from Pakistan to the White House in Washington DC, during this week's US Military operation to kill al Qaeda's Osama Bin Laden, and fills the team in on the other technology headlines that have been making waves around the world.



March 12 2011

SXSW 2011: Can Facebook photos be used commercially?

Social network grilled over whether businesses and advertisers could co-opt 'Flickr's worth of photos uploaded every month'

Much of the focus of this discussion was inevitably focused on Facebook's photos product manager, Sam Odio, who disappointingly played the "not my remit' card when asked the most interested and pertinent questions about Facebook's use of users' photos, including facial recognition and how images might be co-opted by advertisers.

• Facebook sees "a Flickr's worth of photos uploaded every month", said Odio. But it's worth considering the different values of those two services: Flickr includes some high-quality, well edited photography, while Facebook focuses on storytelling over quality. It doesn't matter, said Odio, if that first photo of your newborn nephew is blurry: it's the social context behind the photo.

• Odio fielded a question by one delegate about how businesses and advertisers might start appropriating photos for commercial use. "We're not in the business of selling ads through people's photos and we want to prevent businesses having free rein over users," he said. "But businesses are users," pushed the delegate. Odio said Facebook would want the people in the photos to be telling the story – which means advertising would be there but more subtly, and directed by users.

• As for ownership of photos, Odio said that comes down to the need to build the API in such a way that it can access your friends' photos. If each of those users retained ownership, that would become very complicated. "There are worries we are going to use photos in advertising but it doesn't really benefit us that much given how sensitive the subject is."

Yan-David Erlick, a serial entrepreneur who founded Mophot.to, predicted that social photos will become even more integrated with our lives through different sorts of tagging. "Timelines between items will mean that over time, these entities are not viewed as individual pieces of media but will have contextual attributes tying them to other pieces."

• Odio explained how after struggling to keep his startup photo site Divvyshot going in 2009, ploughing in all his own savings, he got a random email one Sunday night. It was from Blake Ross, who later turned out to be co-creator of Firefox, at an address at Facebook. "He said 'Sam – your site looks interesting. You should come here.' I was living with six developers at the time and they were all looking over my shoulder to figure out if the email was fake or not." It was, and Facebook acquired Divvyshot in April 2010.

• Feature requests aren't always the best way to develop a product. Odio said nobody asked for Instagram, which just raised $7m in funding, but now it is taking off. Facebook's engineers also have a monthly hackathon where they can work on whatever they like; that doesn't determine product direction but features such as drag-and-drop organisation have come out of that.

• On facial recognition, all Odio would say is that Facebook "hasn't been able to move quickly on it given how sensitive it is", which does seem to imply it would have liked to do plenty if it could have got away with it.

• Odio said a startup should make the product extremely simple; he had got distracted when trying to add too many features and functions. "Focus on one thing and do it extremely well. In early days the product needs to be explained to users in 10 seconds or less."

• One delegate said he was concerned that Facebook is becoming such an important repository for his life, and that photos are the most easily accessible part of that archive compared to status updates or messages. Erlich described the web being used as an external memory for us all, from photos to phone numbers; this ties in with Clay Shirky's idea of cognitive surplus – if machines can take over the mechanical parts of our brain function, what can we do with the space and energy that frees up?


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


October 11 2010

App of the Day: iFontMaker is a whole world of font designing fun

Font geeks will get a chilly shiver of delight when they first crack open iFontMaker, which claims to be the first dedicated font-making tool for iPad.

It's a simple, very easy to use (assuming the user is familiar with the basic principles of Photoshop tools) font-designing app. As you're designing, you can choose from one of 10 standard background fonts to use as a guide. Click on each letter of the alphabet in the top menu to choose a letter to edit, and select from brush, pen or pencil density before using your finger to draw each letters or number. When you've worked through the alphabet, letters 0-9 and some punctuation figures - you've got a whole alphabet in your own hand.

Name your new font, and then type a sample sentence to see how the finished font looks. Export as a true type font, via 2ttf.com, and you're done. It's a delight.

Some might feel £4.99 is a bit steep for an app - but it's all relative. You wouldn't think twice about spending a fiver on a night out, but this is cash supporting a team of developers who deserve the money an the credit. Albeit with a 30% cut for Apple.

iFontMaker is extremely well designed and slick, and it knows the audience it is heading for. Not long ago, personalised font tools were clunky and unimaginatyive, limited to scans of your own handwriting, and few of 2fft's rivals are as slick. This is heaps better, even if it will take a bit of effort to come up with something original now that font design tools are so ubiquitous. One of the nicest features is that once the fonts are finished, users can choose whether to make them public - the democratisation of the font, some might say.

Send us your favourites.


Where: Apple App Store for iPad

Price: £4.99

Do say: Would you like serifs with that?

Don't say: Why not just use Comic Sans?


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


August 17 2010

BBC News visualisation tool revealed

Developer Andy Lintner's visualisation of the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was a powerful and engaging way to explain the impact of the disaster, transposing the size of the slick to anywhere you chose.

Interactive visualisations have huge potential for online storytelling but are a challenge to create under the time pressure of the newsroom. Which is why a new trial project for the BBC is exploring a tool to help illustrate its news and history pages.

Design agency Berg today revealed Dimensions at howbigreally.com which uses the same principle as Lintner's ifitwasmyhome to explain and relate the scale of events with our own location. Chose a 'dimension' - space, depths, ancient worlds, the industrial age, environmental disasters, the Battle of Britain, festivals, cities in history or the war on terror - and it will overlay representations on your postcode in a Google Map. Berg says the trial will be live for the next few months.

"One of the things I love about it is things like that – where something huge and momentous is made grokkable in the familiar. I also love that that's all it really does," said designer Matt Jones explains in a Berg post.

"It's a bit like a digital toy – that just does one thing, very clearly (we hope) and delights in doing so.

"Alan Kay once said that 'A change of perspective is worth +80 IQ points' - that's the goal of BBC Dimensions. So long as it delivers tiny bursts of that along with the little grins of ah-ha it seems to generate, we'll be very happy."

Dimensions was developed by Jones along with Tom Armitage, Matt Brown, Matt Webb, Phil Gyford and Paul Mison, with Max Gadney at the BBC and with KeltieCochrane, who partnered with the BBC on the trial content. Jones would like to see Dimensions opened up for local historians to add their own dimensions, and said it has been built to allow the BBC's designers and producers to create their own scalable graphics.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


February 15 2010

BBC digitises Henry Moore films

More than 20 newly digitised documentaries are to be released online for the first time after a link-up between the BBC and the Henry Moore Foundation. The material will be released on 24 February to coincide with the opening of the Tate Britian's major Henry Moore retrospective that runs until 8 August 2010.

"Visitors to Tate Britain's Henry Moore exhibition will be able to watch clips of Moore, including footage of him in his studio with some of the works featured in the show. We'll also be showing highlights on Tate's website", said Jane Burton, the creative director of Tate Media. "Tate is delighted to have played its part in making these wonderful archive programmes available to the public."

The material encompasses documentaries, interviews and reports spanning nearly five decades of Britian's most famous sculptor. It includes six classic programmes made by pioneering producer John Read for the BBC. Read's first film portrait of Moore was broadcast in 1951 to coincide with a Tate Gallery exhibition, and his "Henry Moore: Art is the Expression of Imagination and Not the Imitation of Life" is considered to be the UK's first television arts documentary. It shows the artist creating the "Reclining Figure" filming the entire process from sketch to the final bronze sculpture.

The material will form a part of a permanent resource in execution of the BBC's commitment to support and enable the cultural life of Britain, particularly through digital access to archive content and investment in arts and music programming. In January, the BBC has launched the interactive website A History of the World in 100 Objects in collaboration with the British Museum and 350 museums across the UK.

"The BBC archive is full of riches and these remarkable programmes are among the most precious. They comprise a treasure-trove of unique footage of a great artist, most of which has been unseen by the public for decades." said Roly Keating, the BBC director of archive content. "We're very grateful that thanks to the support and enlightened partnership of The Henry Moore Foundation, working with Tate Britain, these programmes can be rediscovered and freely enjoyed by audiences across the UK, now and in the future."

The material can be seen by visiting at the BBC's archive website and at the Henry Moore Foundation site.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


January 08 2010

Life through a lens

Everywhere you go these days, there are people with camera-phones – many of us record, document, and upload the minutae of our lives. But, ultimately, should we be doing it just because we can?

There are three people standing in front of a glass case in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Each of us is trying to get a good view of the so-called Becket Casket. As you know, it was made in Limoges in the 12th century and depicts one of the most infamous events in English history, the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket. It is is one of the most lovely things you can hope to see on a bleak January morning.

Only one problem. The bloke in the middle is hogging the full-frontal position, clearly the best view to savour Becket's martyrdom. He has been there for five minutes now – not, so far as I can judge, appreciating the boldly engraved figures against a brilliant blue background, but meaninglessly, endlessly, exasperatingly snapping the same view. He has that dead-eyed, mouth-gaping, eminently slappable face we all have when we hold our camera phones a foot in front of our faces and click, click, click.

Unable to see the casket properly, I reflect sourly on what the great German philosopher Herbert Marcuse wrote about how instrumental rationality undermines the emancipatory possibilities of technology, reducing it to a tool for our domination. What I think he meant by this was that instead of using technology such as camera phones to make our lives richer, freer and happier, we stand like lumps doing something socially irritating and existentially pointless, thereby ruining the view for everyone else. We have become snappers on autopilot, slaves to our machines, clogging up cyberspace with billions of images that nobody in their right minds – not even the person who sent them – thinks are worthwhile. Or maybe I'm wrong.

Seven years ago, the camera-phone hardly registered. Indeed, on 17 June 2003, some idiot wrote in the Guardian that the low take-up of those newfangled 3G phones with their built-in cameras, launched two months previously, could be ascribed to the fact that "it's not immediately clear what they're for, and that mystery is not sufficiently seductive to make many of us shell out". The writer all but argued that camera-phones were destined for the technological knacker's yard, like Sinclair C5s, the Securi-Gnome and NiteMates slippers with their built-in headlights (all real products). With the benefit of hindsight, let me admit what a bonehead I was to write that.

These days, the very idea of a mobile without camera or video facility seems absurd. They're more portable than most digital cameras and, more importantly, offer faster connection with the internet, which is a key consideration in this age of virtual presenteeism. So if you're Jonathan Ross and think your Twitter followers would like to see your photos of you playing in the snow with the kids, you can post them online before you've even cleared your desk at the BBC. The seemingly expendable has become the utterly essential. Such, quite often, is the appliance of science.

The latest figures from the Mobile Data Association show that the number of MMS (or video and picture messages) is rising fast: 336m were sent in the UK in 2006, 553m in 2008, and, when the MDA publishes its UK Mobile Trends report next month, another large rise is expected for 2009. True, the number of video and picture messages hardly compares with the number of texts sent (78.9bn text messages were sent in the UK in 2008), but the MDA argues that, "while SMS [texting] is used or conversational activity, MMS is much more 'event' driven." Hence the yuletide and New Year's Eve spikes in picture messaging: on Christmas Day 2008, 4.4m picture messages were sent – 3,000 every minute. The safe money says many more were sent over Christmas 2009, and that there will have been another huge surge in UK picture messaging thanks to all the snow.

So what are all these images we are sending? The majority are, frankly, worthless, and often taken in socially unacceptable circumstances. During Peter and the Wolf at London's Royal Festival Hall last week, I watched parents (who had been instructed to turn off their phones before the show began) photograph their kids against a backdrop of the Philharmonia Orchestra and a big screen of the animated film. Why? "Just to prove we're here, to record it for our son when he grows up," said the woman next to me and my daughter on row NN, who was one of the parents taking the pictures.

At a Lily Allen gig, a colleague found she was one of the few in the audience not holding her camera-phone above her head to shoot pictures or make films that could be illicitly uploaded online. Meanwhile, at the London Aquarium, a friend's family excursion was all-but ruined by guppy-like adult snappers blocking the view of slightly less gormless, gaping fish. How many pictures of fish in tanks do we, as a society, really need?

When another friend visited the Taj Mahal recently, he noticed how few people, on arriving, actually looked at the building with their naked eyes. Instead, they would lift their phones immediately to capture an image that everybody in the world has already seen a million times. And a recent letter to the Telegraph complained about how the solemnity of a christening was destroyed by a godmother elbowing the vicar aside to get shots of the baby at the font.

Back in Room 8 of the V&A, one of us cracks. "Will you bloody stop taking pictures!" shouts the woman to the man's right. "You're ruining it for everyone. Let someone else have a look for five seconds, please!" She's wearing a tweed cape, a solidly set hairdo and a forbidding expression that seems to say 'I'm on a day trip from the home counties and I'm not having this'. The man, who may have too little English to reply, skulks off towards Room 9.

Minutes later, I find him in front of the Soissons Diptych, snapping away again, oblivious to the hard stares and tutting from those in less favoured positions. I wander up and say: "That's going to be a rubbish picture, mate." He barely stops photographing to offer me this reply: "Yeah? This is a 10-megapixel Samsung SCH-B600, actually, so the photos are going to be pretty excellent. Thanks very much."

It turns out the man does have good English (he's from Manchester). And lines in sarcasm. He's a fan of gothic art and architecture, and plans to set up a Flickr photo stream as well as beautifying his Facebook page with some of the best shots from his trip. He has already emailed a picture of the Limoges Casket to prove that he was, on 10 January 2010 at 11.15am, standing in front of it. He plans to tweet some shots later, too.

Another great thinker, the Leeds-based sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, wrote in his book Liquid Love that, in a modern world in which those purportedly fixed and durable ties of family, class, religion, marriage have melted away, we look for something else to hold us together. Hence, no doubt, the rise of social networking sites – and hence, too, the feverish snapping with camera-phones to take images that can validate our existence to our Twitter followers, our speed-dial intimates, our online "friends". It's a new Cartesian cogito: I photograph, therefore I am (and don't my uploaded images glam up my Facebook profile a treat?). Maybe Marcuse was wrong: we're not so much in thrall to technology, as using it for an unanticipated emancipatory project.

In that context it's not enough to moan, as Telegraph columnist Nigel Farndale did recently, that "photography, once a noble art, has become, thanks to the move to digital, a mental illness" Riffing on the verse of Welsh poet WH Davies, Farndale wrote: "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. Click. No time to stand beneath the boughs – click, click – and stare as long as sheep or cows. Click, click, bloody click."

But moaning isn't enough. We also have to wonder what happens to us when technology increasingly gives us our windows on the world. One thought is that the camera-phone changes our experience of the world for good rather than evil. It can even be a tool against capitalism. Billy Bragg, the politically engaged musician, has been on the receiving ends of the click, click, bloody click of the camera-phone a great deal when playing gigs recently. And, counterintuitively, he loves it.

"I've had to tell bouncers not to stop people taking pictures of me when I'm playing," Bragg tells me. "You have to like it because people who take the photos or make the films with their camera-phones are not thinking you're a pranny. They're doing it because they like you, so there's no point getting upset." It's an interesting corrective to those musicians, such as Boy George, who have tweeted their pleas to audiences to leave their camera-phones at home and watch the show. At last November's 250-gig London jazz festival ushers tried to curb the increasing number of fans using camera-phones to record performances. But, as our jazz critic John Fordham noted at the time, this clampdown stopped his favourite music reaching a wider online audience.

One reason the rise of the camera-phone appeals to Bragg is that it gives him free publicity. It's transgressive technology that helps Bragg and his fans stick it to the Man. "In the past, I've spent thousands of pounds making videos that MTV wouldn't show. Now what happens is that some kid will put a film they've made of me playing live on YouTube and it can have 20,000 or so hits. What is happening is that you're being promoted."

Recently, Bragg was doing a soundcheck in Toronto and decided to have a go at fitting the words of John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chickentown to the tune of Dylan's Desolation Row. It worked so well he played it at a late-night gig. "Somebody filmed it and now it's on YouTube. I thought that was brilliant."

But clearly there are downsides to camera-phones, too – the plague of "upskirting" photos being posted on the web, for example, or Heat magazine encouraging its readers to pap stars in the street and send the photos to the magazine. Aren't these terrible things facilitated by camera-phone technology?

"I'm not sure privacy is all that important an issue when it comes to people who are famous and are seeking attention," says Bragg. Anyway, he argues, camera-phones have more serious uses.

"Thanks in part to camera-phones, we're all reporters now. And that idea is going to have some pretty radical consequences, especially for police officers. Think about it: only an idiot goes to a demonstration without a camera or a camera-phone nowadays." He cites the Guardian investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson, a demonstrator at the G20 protests in London last year, who was shown to have been beaten to the ground by police by means of films made by other demonstrators' mobile phones.

Today, grainy camera-phone images or films demonstrate the virile realness of a news event. We expect them to show that a story was so hot it took place before TV crews and the rest of the old media got there. Hence the wannabe Christmas Day pants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutalib was immortalised in blurry phone images taken as the plane descended into Detroit.

Media commentator and professor of interactive journalism Jeff Jarvis writes: "We are in the era of news served raw. Witnesses to any event can now capture and share what they see not just with acquaintances but with the world, and without the filter and delay of news media. And that doesn't mean just cell-phone snapshots of bombings or surreptitious footage of closed events. We also have access to the guts of news – original documents, full transcripts, unedited video. Life is on the record."

The truth of this analysis was dramatised by the unauthorised images of Saddam Hussein's execution on 30 December 2006, taken by a security guard on his mobile. His grisly footage of the event spread through the internet, subverting the official version. In her paper, The Global and the Mobile: Camera Phone Witnessing in a Age of Terror, social media expert Dr Anna Reading of London's South Bank University argues that the footage "took away the pretence of civility that some tried to place around the act". Instead, it revealed that he was put to death during an unruly spectacle in which onlookers taunted Hussein by yelling, "Go to hell" and chanting "Muqtada, Muqtadaa, Muqtada" (a reference to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite Muslim cleric).

Reading also argues that camera phones lets the world into places from which we would hitherto have been excluded. When the white comedian and former Seinfeld star Michael Richards rounded on two black hecklers at a 2006 comedy gig in Los Angeles with racist abuse, his rant was captured by a member of the audience on their camera phone and broadcast on the internet, arguably ruining Richards' career.

Consider one significant contrast between the 9/11 bombings in the US (2001) and the 7/7 bombings in London (2005). Arguably, what connected us most poignantly with the former were the phone calls from the doomed passengers aboard Flight 93 to their loved ones, while four years later, what made us empathise most with the ordinary victims was the self-portrait of Adam Stacey escaping from a bombed tube train on the Piccadilly Line that the civil servant took with his phone. Imagine how different our perception of 9/11 would have been if the soon-to-die had emailed their last camera-phone images from the twin towers.

What interests Reading is how camera-phone technology can link people across borders. "It is not so much what the images capture indexically, but their iconic status in reminding us of our complicity in a war declared against global 'terror', rather than a nation state. Stacey's camera-phone image escaping from the London bombings was everyman with a mobile phone."

Arguably, the camera-phone first took on this raw witnessing role on Boxing Day 2004, when the tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean, killing nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries. Media outlets relied on footage from people on the spot, many of whom were using camera-phones. And last year, they were used to bear witness to government crackdowns in Teheran against those protesting against alleged fraud in June's presidential election.

In itself, the camera-phone changes nothing. The Standard 8mm colour home movie that Abraham Zapruder took in Dallas on 22 November 1963, which represents the most complete film of the murder of President John F Kennedy, is akin to the footage the unnamed security guard took of Saddam's execution. Both are short, grisly films showing the killing of an important public figure that have gone on to have immense political significance. But there are two big differences.

First, the camera phone is tiny, and thus relatively easy to slip into situations where authorities want to stop unofficial images or films of an event being taken. Second, and much more importantly, the images and films we take with them can be spread around the world in seconds. Our experiences can now travel freely across borders. Admittedly, most of them won't be worth sending in the first place, but that doesn't mean they won't get sent.

"It's absurd to argue that technology always changes things for the better," says Billy Bragg. "Clearly it doesn't. But at best the camera-phone is subversive in the way it's being used. We shouldn't be frightened of it. We should welcome it."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl