Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Minority Report computer lives!

I'm not a person who really cares about what sort of car/computer/gadgets I have. If it does the needful, then I am not someone who minds about how it looks or how shiny. But... this page includes a video of a multi-screen computer that allows the sort of manipulation shown in Minority Report, and it is amazing.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Printable freebies

I have had a newsletter from the Lisa Vollrath site for Altered Book work - and a lot more - offering free printables in return for links. It seems the least I can do! This is the link.

I love her sites, and her work... it has made me determined to turn some of my unwanted books into altered books.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paradise Lost

You may not know that I am a big fan of Anton Lesser, whose voice in the title role of Falco on BBC Radio 7 entranced and entrapped me. I can honestly say that I would enjoy listening to him reciting the London telephone directory (if such a thing exists any more) or endless shipping forecasts or something written in a language I neither speak or understand.

It was in that spirit that I downloaded a free lecture from John Carey (halfway down the page for Paradise Lost there's a link for the free download from Naxos books) on the poetry of Milton, because it featured live readings by Anton Lesser. I didn't expect to enjoy or understand the lecture, as I have only vague knowledge of Milton and do not know his work at all well. I suppose I should confess I had another - very slight - reason for having an interest in the content. The Quaker meeting I (infrequently, currently) attend recently celebrated its 350th anniversary and I discovered in my researches about its history that Thomas Ellwood, who prepared the accounts in a fantastically beautiful flowing hand for the first purpose-built meeting house in Uxbridge in 1693, was also Milton's amanuensis, needed as Milton's sight failed.

I had read Thomas Ellwood's journal, in which he takes the credit for the subject of Paradise Regained, and emulates his master in poetic form. I like him, and am interested in him and his time.

Being too sleepy to get down to work (the dog having kept me awake overnight, asking to go out) I decided to listen this morning to the free lecture I had downloaded some days ago, and I was surprised to find myself not only enjoying the accomplished and intelligent readings from Anton Lesser, but also the talk about the poetry by John Carey. I was intrigued that I knew so little about Milton's poetry, and that I hadn't realised how accessible it was - or seemed - with the readings and explanation. Some of it was so beautiful. The reading does make all the difference to that: I have always said that it makes an immense difference if the person doing the reading really understands and loves the words that they are saying. Even though the content remains the same in terms of the words, if Shakespeare or Milton are read by people who do not understand them, they will be gibberish, and convey very little.

Anton Lesser's reading is gentle and so full of emotion and understanding, that the sense of the words comes over even when sometimes if you stop and think about the individual words it is quite difficult to penetrate the meanings. And John Carey had chosen extremely well. The words do sing. I have found myself throughout the day returning to listen again.

I liked the fact that I am beginning to feel I know the period that Milton was writing in, having studied it in drawing up the history of my meeting, but I was surprised to learn that Milton thought he was writing new chapters of the bible in writing his works. That hadn't come across in the writings of Thomas Ellwood. Mind you, Ellwood wrote some execrable poetry in imitation of Milton. I like his prose writing very much, but his poetry is just terrible. I would be incapable of telling you why I think Milton's poetry is great and Thomas Ellwood's is not, but I feel that I know both to be true. Thomas Ellwood is an interesting journal writer, and a very human observer of some of the important people who lived during the founding of the Quakers. But no one would call him a great poet. The words of Milton, as read by Anton Lesser, sent my flying off to find the passage in Paradise Lost where Adam made the decision to follow Eve's fall:
How can I live without thee, how forgoe
Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn'd,
To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn? [ 910 ]
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart; no no, I feel
The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,
Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State [ 915 ]
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe....

As soon as I can afford them, I will buy the whole reading of Paradise Lost... for now repetitive listening to the lecture will have to suffice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Altered books

I am an absolute bibliophile, and so the idea of trashing books is something I find quite difficult, but I have been seeing more and more beautiful examples of altered books, and I thought that it would make a fantastic project for a home education group - or even a collaboration between home education groups. Especially if it uses a book which would otherwise be thrown away. It could be a great project for outgrown board books - a lot of artists have started with one of those.

The first site I found was this one, which includes some tutorials on how to go about preparing books, and which taught me that sewn bindings are more durable than glued ones - and how to distinguish the two.

Most people choose a book they dislike, or a jumble sale buy. The school nearby often throws a large quantity of books into a skip after jumble sales - they would be perfect rescues for this sort of project. Mostly they remove pages to make room for sticking things into the pages that remain, but some people do very complex things, adding drawers or envelopes or recesses for items to be kept inside the book. I think that if you have some skill with this art form, you could make marvellous mementoes of holidays or events, bringing together objects, tickets, photographs into one object that can be kept.

Some people work on books as a group. I have seen projects where each member of a group of four people decides on a season and then the books are circulated, so that each of the group of our artists contributes pages to each of the books in the set.

Sometimes a broad subject like peace, or women or christmas is chosen and everyone in the group starts a book and they are swapped every month to enable everyone in the project to contribute pages to all the books.

I think it would work very well in a home education group, or even with a group of home education groups, all swapping books and contributing towards them.

There are other techniques for altering books which do not involve adding things. I'd already seen Brian Dettmer's work featured on Boingboing. He must choose his books very carefully and then makes a work of art by cutting away parts of the pages to make something quite wonderful which is a book and...not a book.

Some people make a new book before they start, although how you get up the courage to write or stick anything to beautiful pages like these, I am not sure.

you can find a lot more by googling "altered books". Once you know about it, you see them everywhere.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Giles Ungpakorn protest

Giles Ungpakorn is a Professor at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, who has written a book about the military coup in Thailand, which has come to the attention of the authorities. Giles, who has joint UK and Thai nationality has been charged with lese majeste, and his family are fearful that he may be prosecuted and imprisoned for his critical comments about the political situation in Thailand.

You can help to draw attention to his case by writing a letter as quickly as possible to:
The Ambassador
Royal Thai Embassy
29-30 Queen’s Gate
London SW7 5JB

(letter to start Dear Ambassador,)

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva,
Government House,
Thanon Nakornpratom Dusit,
Bangkok 10300 ,

(Letter to start Dear Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva,)


Dear ,
I am writing to express my dismay at the news that Ajarn Giles Ji Ungpakorn has been summonsed by the Thai Police Special Branch to answer a charge of Lèse Majesté.

I understand that Giles's work includes analysis of the political process and recently history of Thailand, and that it may be this which has brought him to the attention of the authorities.

It seems to me that all countries need to look critically at their history in order to learn from it and to move forward towards a future in which the best of the past and the best of the future can be joined together. I hope that in these fast-moving times, when things are rapidly changing, Thailand can allow academics to participate in this process without fear of prosecution.

Being free to look at the important events in a country is obviously an important part of the job of a lecturer in political science. I would ask you to please drop the charges against the Professor.

Yours faithfully

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

1911 census

The 1911 census is released today, three years ahead of the normal 100 year embargo, which I have blogged about on my family history blog.

I have an uncomfortable feeling about the way in which government takes public data and makes us pay to access it. Ihave an even more uncomfortable feeling about the way in which they are quick to claim copyright on data, even data which was originated by other people and then donated to the national archives - which may be a copy and not the original document.

They have in the past few years sold access to the census returns to other commercial companies... so the information from your ancestors suddenly becomes an asset which you aren't allowed to reproduce or give to anyone else.

I have a similar sense of unease about national galleries which refuse to let you photograph national assets. It just seems wrong for them to be charging people simply to photograph artwrks - and claiming copyright in the photographs of things which are out of copyright. I hope that more and more follow the model of allowing free access to works which should be in the public domain.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Writing tips from Cory Doctorow

Brilliant article from Cory Doctorow about writing in the age of distraction. Every word is pure gold, savour it!

I am a serial offender in this respect: I used to insist on the right environment long before the internet was around to distract. Thus I would find myself having to wash up before I sarted to write because the washing up would distract me; doing the washing, dusting, hoovering before I could start even though I didn't worry about those things being undone when I wasn't writing.

I'd make tea, get food, warm up or cool down the house... it could easily take three or four hours to get everything set up, and then the slightest thing - a phone call, a noise from outside, the washing finishing - would distract me.

I realise now it is the discipline of doing a small amount every day that I should be focussing on, and hope to make myself do it.

Happy New Year!