Saturday, 17 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Score

Cover of the Soundtrack to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Music by Michael Giacchino

When Alexandre Desplat was originally announced as musical score composer for Rogue One, I was intrigued. Here was a very accomplished, Academy Award-winning composer — whose work to date could has been powerfully rhythmic, but pretty low-key — being asked to write in the tradition of one of the most iconic film scores of all time. Not an easy task. To me, hiring Desplat was a very positive sign that the filmmakers wanted to take these Star Wars anthology films in a very different direction from the saga. Alas, Desplat's place in the Star Wars canon was not be be. In September, it was announced at the last minute that Star Trek composer and J.J. Abrams favourite Michael Giacchino had replaced Desplat.

I felt bad for Desplat, but knew Giacchino is a safer choice for this type of film. Rogue One was touted as a war film, and Giacchino has spent more time writing for World War II-themed properties than almost any other living composer on the planet. Desplat ostensibly departed the project due to 'scheduling' conflicts, but given the talk of reshoots (and the evidence of many scenes in trailers not present in the final film) it wouldn't be surprising if the departure was also due to changes in the film's tone.

Michael Giacchino is a pioneer in multimedia music scoring. The first gig that brought him to wider attention was as composer to the score of the maligned Lost World Playstation game. The game sucked, but the music was great and was indeed the first video game to feature a recorded symphonic score. Giacchino's work on this game led to him scoring the first Medal of Honor game, a game produced by Steven Speilberg and his studio Dreamworks Interactive. Giacchino went on to score the game's sequels, MoH: Underground, Frontline (my personal favourite), Allied Assault (using the pre-existing scores from the other games) and — after a hiatus from the series — Airborne. He also scored the first Call of Duty game, bringing the composer back to World War II yet again. These scores are truly great works in any medium. Giacchino's scored a heap of films and television series since his Medal of Honor days, but it is these early scores Rogue One most closely resembles. The games' heroic themes for the Allies and bombastic goose-stepping marches for the Axis are transplanted into a galaxy far, far away, with a great effect.

The Star Wars series is a natural fit for Giacchino. In fact, he's seemed destined for this role for a long time, with his work on films such as Abrams' Star Trek franchise, Jurassic World and others positioning himself as a natural successor to Williams as the composer who can meld bombast with nuance. Abrams, naturally, opted for John Williams to score The Force Awakens so Giacchino — a long-time Abrams collaborator — was cast as a stormtrooper in the opening on Jakku instead.

Which brings us to Rogue One. Fans looking for a rehash of themes from the original trilogy will be disappointed. This score is almost wholly originally. The cover of the album may credit John Williams as the "Original Star Wars music" composer, but this is mainly a marketing exercise. Just as the film uses iconic characters sparingly, so too does Giacchino quote Williams' themes infrequently, but judiciously. Instead of dumping in the Imperial March every time a Star Destroyer appears on screen, Giacchino very smartly develops his own Imperial themes, derived from those of A New Hope, rather than the Imperial March of the Empire Strikes Back.

There was disquiet about Williams' use of the Imperial March in the prequels, owing to the fact that in the timeline of the films, neither the Empire or its theme had been established. Giacchino wisely quotes from it sparingly and instead chooses to develop the Death Star's four note motif (duuh duh-duh DUUUUUUH) and even employs Darth Vader's original motif (sometimes called the 'Imperial motif', but referred to a pre-ESB Williams as 'Darth Vader's Theme') of bassoons and muted trumpets which has not been heard since the original 1977 film.

Imperial Motif or Darth Vader's Original Theme from the 1977 film Star Wars. Music by John Williams

All in all, this is a very good score that serves the film exceptionally well. The same people who threw the banal critique at The Force Awakens soundtrack as not having a 'hummable' tune will probably dislike this score. There probably isn't enough Williams for the casual viewer's liking, and interweb-based film score forums (yep, such things exist) will issue keyboard criticism after keyboard criticism, but this is a very good score. As Gordy Haab (Battlefront), Mark Griskey (The Force Unleashed), Joel McNeely (Shadows of the Empire) and other composers have shown, there can be exceptional Star Wars scores without the original maestro at the helm. Sooner or later John Williams won't be around to compose a Star Wars score; we were very lucky to get a seventh saga score from him. I can't think of anyone better than Michael Giacchino to inherit the Star Wars musical mantle.

Krennic's Aspirations — The re-emergence of a very familiar character and some very familiar themes.
Hope — Once you've seen the film, the opening of this track will probably give you nighmares. It's instantly iconic and will be a track long remembered, to paraphrase a certain memorable villain.
The Imperial Suite — a concert version of Giacchino's new themes for the Empire, like an ur-Imperial March. A lot of similarities to some tracks from MoH: Airborne.

Other Albums You Should Listen to:
Medal of Honor: Frontline (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)
Medal of Honor: Airborne (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)
Battlefront OST, Gordy Haab (YouTube)
The Force Unleashed OST, Mark Griskey (YouTube)
Shadows of the Empire, Joel McNeely (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Democracy Isn't Broken — We Are

The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (later H.M. King George V), May 9, 1901 — better known as The Big Picture — by Tom Roberts
I fear for the future. This time around it is more acute. I seem to see everything through the filter of my 11-month-old son. I think about the world he is going to inherit and I die a bit inside. And that was before the 2016 presidential election.

Already, the media — which got this whole thing so, so wrong — are trying to parse what went wrong to prove their continuing relevance. And at once we find almost everything Trump said about the "elites" in the media to be completely right. We saw it here, too only a few months back, although with a better result: for all the Daily Telegraph's apoplectic fuming against Labor, the party managed to win seats in the great nation of Westsydnia. The media's diminishing influence will be rapidly accelerated after this election. Polls will never be trusted again after an annus horribilis for professional political junkies. When all is said and done, though, the better pollsters can take solace in the fact that they were really only 1–2% off the actual outcome. Most said it was going to be close, and the more sobering ones (which progressives like me in the public and in the media tended to ignore) warned that a small win for Clinton in the popular vote wouldn't necessarily translate into an Electoral College win. How right they were.

Which brings me back to democracy. Friends, if you're going to run around after the election has been held and hope to subvert the will of the people, then you're no better than Trump. If you're going to hope British MPs will ignore the referendum and not vote to invoke Article 50, then you're no less reckless than not accepting the result unless it goes your way. Accept the result, but don't necessarily be happy with it.

Democracy remains our least-worst system. It is not broken, but it is up to us to make it work. It is up to us to make the parties invoved work for us.

Fight and resist every single day and most importantly, learn from the victors. Learn from what they did this time around and harness it the next. That means getting out there next election and fighting for what you believe through any means possible. Join a political activist group, hell, join a political party. They will be made stronger and more relevant by your involvement, not weaker. They will become more represenative of the population the more of the population they have as members. Ultimately, it's up to us. By us, I mean anyone under 40. We're the ones who are going to have to pick up the pieces in four, eight, or 20 year's time. Otherwise our kids will look at our generation with contempt as the group that let this horror happen.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Say NO to Lif3

​There's a wonderful section in the late Christopher Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian where he discusses a daily ritual of frustration that made him feel alive. Every morning, he would sit down to read the New York Times, checking whether the 'bright, smug, pompous, idiotic' motto 'All the News That's Fit to Print' was still there to the left of the masthead. Yes it was. Did it still irritate him? Yes. Then at least he knew he still had a pulse.

I also indulge in a "daily infusion of annoyance", perhaps it is a form of secular self flaggelation. Mine is to visit the Twitter page for Lif3 Smartchip, a $70 piece of snake oil-infused plastic that protects you against the imagined dangers of mobile phone radiation. Because health. And the children. And the health of children. And really, don't you want to protect the children?

Never mind the fact that the overwhelming volume of evidence indicates electromagnetic radiation from mobile and cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers and other 'smart' devices isn't dangerous to human health. Never mind the slight inconvenience that there's no known biologically plausible mechanism for low power EMR to damage cells. Never mind the sober recommendations of the vast majority of national and international health bodies which indicate there's no reason to be concerned about EMR radiation. But overwhelming evidence aside, as Lif3 themselves say, 'why take the risk?' It is, of course, much easier to make a quick dollar by ignoring decades of evidence. Oh, and did I mention the children?

Daily I will visit Lif3's Twitter account and if I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do the insult me with their moronic claims and what do they take me for and why do they bother with their snake oil BS — all while earning the eye-rolling ire of my patient wife — then I know I too still have a pulse.

Unfortunately I can't check Lif3's Twitter page when logged in to my own Twitter account. I have to either log out or use private browsing because these fine corporate citizens have blocked me, along with many others who dared to question their pseudoscientific snake oil. But at least they're thinking of the children...and their parents' wallets.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

(Talcum) Powder Keg

Not cocaine – By Mattman723, Wikimedia Commons
The news today tells me that Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is being sued in the US by ovarian cancer sufferers who claim their use of talcum power caused their medical condition.

This is not new. Talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson has been successfully sued twice in the US after juries found two womens' use of talc led to their terminal ovarian cancer.

Firstly, these are sad cases that often involve very sick people trying to find some rhyme or reason as to why they got ill and, in some cases, family trying to blame someone for why their consequent death. These are tragic circumstances in which these people find themselves.

But even in light of these successful lawsuits, there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, this is not like smoking and lung cancer. Smoking was pretty was known to be dangerous by the 1950s, with links suggested as early as the 1930s (the link is to a history of this research and is fascinating reading).
It was the tobacco companies continued to obfuscate, cover up and deny and their is no disputing their culpability. But there is no such evidence of a similar causal link between consumer talc and ovarian cancer, nor of like behaviour on the part of Johnson & Johnson.
Unlike with cigarettes and lung cancer, where the risks were obvious and well understood, there is very little evidence to suggest talc causes an increased risk of ovarian cancer, and even less to suggest it 'causes' it. Some studies find a slightly increased risk of cancer with talc use, others don't. And, as all the 'red wine increases/decreases risk of cancer' stories demonstrate, humans are crap at understanding what 'risk' really means. More info on the state of evidence here:

Secondly, science isn't decided by the courts, it is decided by the scientific process. Courts and scientists work to very different levels of proof with very different methods. Just because a French court rules a woman should get money because of her claimed electromagnetic hypersensitivity to mobile and wifi waves, doesn't mean such an affliction exists. Actual evidence — tried, tested and retested all over the world — suggests it does not and a judge's gavel cannot render decades of peer reviewed research null and void.
Natural therapy fans, antivaxxers and pseudoscience acolytes often point to these successful personal injury claims as evidence of harm. But they are not. They are evidence of success in a courtroom setting, not a laboratory.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Melbourne: Most Insecure City in the World

Eureka Skydeck, 2013

The Economist Intelligence Unit has named Melbourne the "Most Liveable City in the World" for the sixth straight year. Huzzah! Break out the champagne, but just make sure it's a 1996 Bollinger La Grande Annee Brut. What? You can't afford a $600 bottle of champers? Then too bad, because these rankings aren't for you.

Despite social media crowing from every civic leader from the Premier down, the "Global Liveability Ranking" means very little by itself and means even less to those who already live in those benighted cities fortunate enough to make the cut. Melbourne, like the rest of Australia, is desperate for external—preferably foreign—validation, has taken these rankings and run with them for decades, without actually thinking about what they mean. 

The beneficiaries of this aura of "liveability" are the executives earning a whole heap more than you. These global rankings are generated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the sister company to the more well-known magazine. The goal of the EIU is to help "businesses, financial firms and governments to understand how the world is changing and how that creates opportunities to be seized and risks to be managed". Translation: they don’t care whether your local public school is falling down, only whether there are quality private schools nearby for executives with expense accounts to send their little darlings to.

The rankings are devised for senior executives schlepping into town (in business class, of course) for a two-year stay to restructure the local business (synergise efficiencies and such, the action formerly known as sacking people) before leaving with a well-earned pay raise and a promotion.

The people for whom these rankings are divined will not be searching for an affordable home within a 60 minute drive of the CBD, nor will they be worried about the quality of public education from their nearest state school. They won't be struggling to find amenable employment or efficient public transport because the issues that matter to you and me will be looked after by their cashed-up, tax-dodging multinational employers. 

Don’t just take my word for how meaningless these rankings are, take a look at this quote from EIU themselves on the top 65 “Most Liveable” cities: “Although 17.2 percentage points separate Melbourne in first place from Warsaw in 65th place, all cities in this tier can lay claim to being on an equal footing in terms of presenting few, if any, challenges to residents’ lifestyles."

Soooo basically, tax-dodging multinationals, you can send your overpaid staff anywhere in that top 65 and they will likely not be stabbed or robbed or fleeced and <zinger>will be free to do same to the local government </zinger>.

This is not to say Melbourne isn't a great city—it is. We have great healthcare by international standards, pretty good schools and an abundance of decent coffee [note to self: pitch EIU Global Coffee Index]. But it's strange to think of Melbourne being up there with Vienna. Both are nice cities, but Vienna has a proximity to Europe that Melbourne simply can't match. It is also the home of many international institutions and global initiatives that are simply more important to the world than, say, the Australian Open. It also has dumptruck loads more culture than Melbourne, a functioning public transport system (one that has been updated since the 1930s) and, most importantly, the Leica Shop.

But remember, regardless of how relevant this ranking is, we still beat Sydney. And that’s the important take home lesson from all this: Sydney sucks.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Imperial Evidence

Well done, voters of Queensland (ABC)
I'm usually fairly derisive of Q&A. I regularly admonish its fans and audience as being part of #QandAland, a happy land where harsh political realities cease to exist and we all sing kumbaya around a camp fire, holding hands with a leather-jacketed Malcolm Turnbull who has taken his rightful place as the leader of the Liberal Party (polite applause).

Most of the time, it is a pretty terrible exercise in inertia that gives Fairfax its main news stories for the next week. Sure, it's fun seeing Richard Dawkins and "Big" George Pell field incendiary questions about how evolution is just a "theory" or if an atheist can be a good person, but it's less a debate than a sideshow. There will never be a middle ground reached—there can't be—and the producers are perfectly happy to keep it that way.

Occasionally, however, the show can be revelatory. Duncan Storrar's questioning of a hapless Kelly O'Dwyer demonstrated how out of touch the Turnbull government was (and is), and how low the Murdoch papers will stoop with ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with their noxious world view.

Last night's National Science Week-themed Q&A also offered some gems, along with a great lessons in how to deal with the incurious, ignorant, chemtrail-addled obscurantist bore in your life (c'mon, we all have at least one).

Simple rule: don't argue with Professor Brian Cox unless you are discussing something which is impossible for him to have knowledge of, like the number of cracked Ikea coffee mugs in your cupboard (although he could probably give you a global mean) or on the finer points of Australian New Wave cinema.

One Nation lunatic-elect Malcolm Roberts gave a textbook performance as a conspiratorial nutjob. He challenged Professor Cox to present "empirical" evidence of climate change (it's almost like Malcolm knows what those words mean), and when presented with said evidence, claimed it was doctored. It's classic conspiracy believer stuff, with evidence against their tinfoil worldview appropriated as evidence for their conspiracy.

Think moon landing hoaxers: for them, the extensive photographic and data record of the Apollo program is fabricated, therefore this evidence the average person considers supports the moon landing is seen as evidence against the moon landings in the conspiratorial mind. Any evidence presented by authorities in inherently untrustworthy because it comes from Big Pharma, Big Farmer or the Guvment or Big Space (which is how I assume they refer to NASA).

Even though Brian Cox would have known he would be unlikely to alter Roberts's unfalsifiable position by presenting actual evidence, Cox's approach is a good one to keep in the critical thought toolbox when dealing with nutcases.

First off, Cox presented data. Now, presenting data almost never whips your a conspiracy-minded opponent into contrition, but it's worth a try. At least you know you have evidence to support your contention.
Secondly, when Roberts inevitably objected to the data, Cox asked specific questions as to why he objected. When Roberts claimed the data had been "corrupted" and "manipulated", Cox asked "by who?" By NASA, of course.
For many observers, this will be enough to demonstrate your opponent is a loon. Indeed it was enough for the residents of #QandAland to start laughing. Conspiracy theorists are, by and large, great at creating a compelling macro-scale worldview, but are woeful at detail. Once again, this doesn't change the mind of the conspiracy theorist, but it does deny them credibility among reasonable fence-sitting people.

For #QandAland, this is probably just the first appearance of many by this particular One Nation loon-elect. In an effort to concoct a sense of "balance", the ABC has gone out of their way to make sure fringe individuals like Pauline Hanson and Lyle Shelton get oxygen on programs like Q&A and The Drum. It is even less reason to engage in the alleged "debate" the show engenders.

I think Brian Cox said it best last night on the show when trying to communication the Australian Academy of Science's climate change report to Sovereign Idiot-elect Roberts: " can never get any sense on programs like this. They're adversarial things..."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Ultimately, you're unlikely to change the closed mind of a deliberately ignorant individual. As a rational being, you're already at a disadvantage compared to the science denying loon because you require evidence to support your claims—the denier does not adhere to such inconvenient niceties. No amount of peer-reviewed evidence is going lead someone like Roberts along the road to a Damascene conversion.
But not everybody out there is intentionally ignorant. Sometimes, people just receive bad information and carry it with them. So here's advice from UQ PhD student Diana Lucia, as offered on Radio National's Ockham's Razor: time you’re at a dinner party and find yourself sitting next to a science denialist, return the favour, latch onto every illogical inconsistency they throw at you and force them to address it. Find out exactly what they object to and where they have been getting their information from. I doubt you’ll force them to have a sudden epiphany by the time dessert is served, but you can be part of the process that breaks down the barriers to begin to change people’s minds. 

Until next dinner party...

Good resources:
How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming,
Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates, Skeptical Raptor
Don’t let denial get in the way of a good science story, The Conversation

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Telecom Australia's "Fun & Knowledge Telephone Book"

Consider this my gift to the world.

I have a saved search in my eBay app for "Telecom Australia". Don't ask me why, but I think it has something to do with a time long gone when governments actually owned and built things, rather than making excuses for why they can't or shouldn't.

I'm not saying government-owned monopolies didn't have there problems, but on the other hand, there's little doubt the decades-long regimes of privatisation have left a lot to be desired. With privatisation has come the privation of job security and indeed labour security of any kind.

At Telecom's privatised and <sarcasm> greatly loved</sarcasm> successor, Telstra, a new CEO is installed every few years and undertakes the review to end all reviews. They try to find new efficiencies (read: people to sack) and ways to "foster relationships with [their] key stakeholders, operate at best practice in issues management, build [their] reputation through ongoing promotion of positive activity, and leverage our technology and expertise to make positive contributions to the community" (actual line from Telstra's 2015 Annual Report, p.17).

After all, what else screams "SUSTAINABILITY" than embedding " and environmental considerations into our business in ways that create value for the company and our stakeholders" (ibid. p.27).
But I digress, on one of my eBay searches, I found this delightful publication: Your Fun & Knowledge Telephone Book. It's a freaking Telecom colouring and activity book. How could I not?

Ostensibly I have bought it for my son, but really I have bought it to gift to all you as well so that the imperfect past can be remembered into an uncertain future.

I've scanned each page using my Epson V700 and lovingly cleaned it up so that you too an learn about the history of the telephone and the new technology called "touch tone".

After you've read the books, colour in the pages!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The View from 15B

'Relax' instructed the paper beverage cup on my tray table. Of course I was trying, but there's nothing particularly relaxing about being strapped in a space smaller than a doll's toilet cubicle, hurtling at 900 km/h some 32,000 feet in the air.

I love airports and adore aircraft. The travel itself, however is never worth remembering. At 6'4", the travelling part of air travel appeals to me about as much as a colonoscopy. And trying to relax surrounded by 176 other examples of your fellow living, breathing, sweating human beings is just damn uncomfortable.

Add to the mix a miniature human, some 7 months old lying prostrate across mine and my wife’s lap and you have a strong candidate for least fun one hour and fifty-four minutes spent in an self-propelled aluminium tube.

After the tumult of taxiing and takeoff, little Archer decided to be the happiest boy in the world before cracking the sads. There was no cheering this little lump up. Eventually, he fell asleep with a bit of coaxing from his mother. More than I can say for me. I am typing this with my left hand (goddamn oversized iPhone screen) as he is lying across our laps. With a seat pitch of what I assume is minus 10 microns, my legs are slowly dying under the tray table. I can't put it up because those cups are still there, partially filled with scalding liquid. 'Relax'.

But it's a bit difficult. The man in the seat ahead insists on leaning his seat back, even though he is in an exit row (with an extra 10 microns of leg room) and is far shorter than I. Typing with my left thumb is also proving a frustrating experience and I am filled with regret for not downloading Microsoft's one handed keyboard. Autocorrect is at once, immensely frustrating, but will be amusing with the distance of time: my legs—“dying" under the limited tray table space, were initially "drying"; the wee baby Archer cracking the "sads" was briefly "sass", perhaps an appropriate word if not entirely the one I was looking for.

But soon we’ll be at our destination. The first officer just announced (…with great…and…unnecessary…GAPS between…words) that the temperature at our destination—Melbourne—was 7ºC. A cabin-wide groan ensued. What a lovely cliché. After all, we had not 90 minutes ago left sunny Brisbane where 21ºC was just another winter’s day. Such are the joys of modern aviation that you can leave home and arrive on holiday within a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the return journey is just a quick. Uh-oh. The little man’s moving again…

Friday, 24 June 2016

Fuck Off Baby Boomers. It's time to leave the world to those who actually have to live with your clusterfucks.

The results are in. The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. Yep, the washed-up Norma Desmond of the geopolitical world, has voted to leave the world's largest economy, basically because of fear of the other: xenophobia.

Sure, the "leave" camp (soon to be "the people who destroyed the EU and the U.K.") tried to rationalise their decision as an economic one—that EU sausage regulations were killing Britain—but ultimately it was because they don’t like dem imigrints. 

The vote was heavily skewed between extremes: educated urban folk, who largely voted to remain; and uneducated rural folk who opted to leave. Those over 65 who largely voted leave (and who won't live long enough to rue their decision); and those under 35 who have seen the benefits of peace, prosperity, freedom of movement and not being a dick to people different from them, largely voted to remain. The Scots and Northern Irish—keenly aware of how big a dicks the English are—voted to remain; rural England and Wales voted to leave.

This is depressing. It's depressing for Europe, for the United Kingdom and the rest of the western world, because our population is ageing. The same generation that tipped this referendum into the disaster that is ‘leave’ are the very same gaining the ascendancy all over the western world. The fucking Baby Boomers.

This generation—who were once the hip young freethinking peaceniks of the 1960s—have become crotchety old people upset about younger people on their lawns. And the young people are only on the Boomers' lawns because their rented studio apartment has no lawn and even though there's nobody else at home, their Boomer elders have elected to remain in their five bedroom home because they need a sewing room. 

Yerp. Those who have gained the most from the unprecedented increase in material and cultural wealth in the second half of the twentieth century are now largely denying future generations a share in their prosperity through their pariochial selfishness. 

A little more than 15% of our population is aged over 65. This cohort has the ability to tip elections and to change the future, even though they won’t actually get to share in it. It is this group that overwhelmingly rejects the science on climate change, objects to increased taxation (and any changes to the tax haven known as superannuation), is happy to incarcerate foreigners in offshore gulags, and refuses to accept the housing market is any different from when they bought their first home 1970 (‘We worked bloody hard, got a free education, didn't go out or have fancy phones or computer games or travel overseas. You young people want everything now!!’). 

On current demographic trends, a 75-year-old man has 5.1 years to live with elected leaders like Tony Abbott as Prime Minister smashing asylum seeker heads on Nauru, or objecting to un-havening their superannuation. Someone like me, on average, has another 53.5 years to try and clean up their mess, all while those who kick on past their expected use-by date (an ever-increasing metric shittonne of them) demand more and better care in their decrepit old age. And probably all while refusing to allow the family home into the asset test.

What I am about to say is going to sound harsh—perhaps despotic—but as Prime Minister Abbott always said, you can't make an omelette without raw onion, tough times call for tough measures. The U.K. Referendum result has clearly demonstrated that we must excise those aged over 65 from our electoral rolls. These leeches who have enjoyed every financial benefit and bribe offered by governments of both persuasions over the past 50 years must be weened off the teat of democracy. Those who will never work a day again in their aged lives do not deserve a say on where the tax dollars of earners go. It is time to leave the decision making up to those who will actually live with the consequences of their decisions. 

Such a seemingly non-democratic move could actually save democracy. It is the 65+ age group that is largely more than comfortable seeing liberal nations slide into reactionary right-wing autocracies. 

Right now, there are millions of Britons aged under 35 who are terrified of what the future holds, all because some 70-year-old goat herder in the Cotswolds read a story (probably in a Murdoch paper) about how imigints and EU sausage regulations were not helping Make Britain Great Again. The younger Britons' futures will be irreparably damaged as freedom of movement is restricted throughout the EU and Britain moves away from the common market (TBH, I hope Europe twist the Article 50 knife). Of course I could be wrong. Nigel Farrage et al may indeed return £350 million per week to the NHS. That would be a good thing. But I think that Cotswold's farmer's pigs are more likely to develop wings and fly than that occurring. Believe me, the 'leave' process is far from done and dusted.

The British decision to leave the EU is an unmitigated disaster. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of old white men imposing their fascist hangups on the rest of the world without a care for the future. They should shuffle off centre stage freely, otherwise every other generation should reserve the right to get all Kent State on their arses.

That should take them back to the good ol’ days.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

More misspellings, misconceptions and non-sequiturs from Liberal supporters on social media

The Prime Minister flapping his arms in the theatre of the absurd
OH GOD JUST MAKE IT STOP PLEASE WHY IS IT STILL GOING. Watching Malcolm Turnbull's absurdist interview on 7.30, I was reminded how lucky we are to have such an eloquent Prime Minister who can tie himself in knots of gordian logic, and still somehow extricate himself as a single length of rope:
LEIGH SALES: Would you agree that that fall in your approval rating, because as I said, you've established that you are interested in polling, can only reflect that people have been disappointed in you?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, what I - I've noted the polling, Leigh, but I don't take any notice of it - truthfully. ... And I really am not - I'm not very interested at all in opinion polls. I'm focused on doing my job as Prime Minister. Other people can comment on polls.
LEIGH SALES: But I think people watching this also want to know that you're listening to them and what those polls tell you is that there's something that you're doing which they don't like.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well why don't you ask me a question about it?
LEIGH SALES: Well I am asking you a question about it. What do you think - what do you think - what do you think has happened that you have lost that ginormous chunk of approval?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Leigh, I am not going to be drawn into that kind of introspection. 
Simply stunning.

Unfortunately, his notional supporters aren't so eloquent. They aren't even his supporters. In fact, I can't remember an election campaign where so many voters who should be voting along LNP lines have it in for Turnbull.

Some simply believe that Turnbull is more lefty than the left and is conspiring to take down the Liberal Party as part of a Labour (sic)/Greens plot. I'm not even kidding. If this is discombobulated, I blame those whose comments I've captured for sending my mind afrizzle.

"that being" is about the kindest description of Pauline Hanson I've seen
The NWO Big Bus is the public transport we deserve
Umm...Olivia is anti-logging...I guess?
Heart's in the right place, Angela, but I think Feeney's laboured enough
Well that escalated quickly
As they say, Lorraine, voters get the polititions they deserve
Until next time. Assuming I'm sane.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

"He shows a lot of promise if he would apply himself..."

Anyone who knows me knows my loathing of #QandA. I won't go into the variety of reasons for my antipathy, except to say that it unfortunately acts as some people's only engagement with the political process, "Did you catch Q&A last night?" code for "Look how engaged I am with politics, I am so clever and it will keep me sprouting non-sequiturs backed up by my chosen biases until next Monday, 9.30pm!"

QandaLand has a lot of reason to be disappointed in their patron saint, Malcolm Turnbull. Before becoming Prime Minister (and even now), my stock impersonation of #QandA is Lynne, a 64 year-old retired school teacher who stands up with: "My question is for Malcolm. Malcolm: when are you going to take your rightful place as leader of the Liberal Party?" Loud applause, hooting, smug smile on that smug Turnbull bastard's face, Turnbull's "calming" hand, followed by a smug answer so smug he can barely keep the faux-modesty in place.


Fuck, this election...

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Misspellings, misconceptions and non-sequiturs from Liberal supporters on social media

Indisposed with a small, crying, teething 6-month-old human at home, I am less involved in this election than campaigns past.

But being the agile and innovative entrepreneurial individual I personally myself am, I am utilising technology as my conduit to the outside world.

In that spirit of the zeitgeist, I present my first collection of dazed and confused Liberal supporters on Facebook.

Today, we celebrate our Independance Day.


I don't make the rules, King O'Malley does.

IE GST WTF also punctuation is overrated It was really cold this morning My cats breath smells like cat food

This one's strange, particularly considering s.116 of the Constitution.

Them gona make halal go too funding terrists
More to follow...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Book Review: NASA Graphics Standards Manual

Graphic designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth have been busy. In addition to their day jobs as associate partners at iconic design firm Pentagram, they have been reprinting and reissuing old and seemingly mundane graphics standards manuals – guides made by designers and issued to clients to establish unity and consistency across visual communications – in sumptuous new editions.

First was the pair’s reissue of the New York City Transit Authority’s Graphics Standards Manual, Massimo Vignelli’s and Bob Noorda’s iconic and comprehensive redesign of the New York subway signage and identity. An original ring binder version of the manual was was found in, of all places, a basement locker at Pentagram. Reed and Smyth immediately recognised its brilliance not only as a functional manual, but as a piece of design in its own right. After scanning the manual page-by-page and presenting it online, they crowdfunded a limited print edition which lovingly (and accurately) reproduced the original manual better than ever. Like many major projects of this scale, the politics behind the project is often just as interesting as the designs themselves. The NYCTA Manual is no exception, with the long, storied history of Vignelli and Noorda’s work the subject of Christopher Bonanos’s fascinating essay included with the crowdfunded print edition.

Now the pair have turned their sights heavenward with a reissue of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual – the source of the famous (or infamous) red “worm” logo. In 1974, Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn of firm Danne & Blackburn responded to a request from NASA for a corporation-wide rebranding. This rebranding was part of an ambitious effort sponsored by the federal government to improve and, importantly, humanise government agencies; a project creatively named the Federal Graphics Improvement Program.

(L–R) NASA Seal 1958–present; NASA insignia (the "meatball") 1958–1975, 1992–present; NASA logotype (the "worm") 1975–1992
Since the late 1950s, NASA used its famous (again, or infamous) “meatball” logo, consisting of heavy serifed letters, a space capsule orbiting the letters, a red arrow and various other symbolic iconography. It was (and remains) complex, difficult to accurately reproduce and was not designed for a technological era where computers were playing a greater part in reproduction of designed elements. Fax machines and photocopiers couldn’t reproduce it properly and it looked terrible at smaller sizes. Design wise, it was a corny mess of comic elements unbefitting of the most forward-looking agency in the world. Such a design would not do; it could not do.

I won’t go into too much detail about the life and times of Danne & Blackburn’s masterful creation – Bonanos’s included essay again does a much better job at that – except to say that while the logo (and associated graphics standards) was and remains a thing of beauty, many at NASA hated it. By 1992, the new administrator Dan Goldin decree that everything old would be new again, and the meatball was reinstated as the official NASA logo. The worm would be nothing more than an experimental interregnum, irrevocably bound up with disasters, like Challenger, of 1980s NASA. The future was now the past and the only way forward was backwards, to hark back to the golden era of NASA and the Apollo programme. Or so it might have remained had our über design nerds Reed and Smyth not given the NASA Graphics Standards Manual the same tender, loving and caring reproduction they had done with the NYCTA manual.

Which brings us to the reproduction itself. First off, it is an object of extreme beauty. The book just oozes quality and Reed and Smyth’s passion for not only this manual but for book design in general is evident from every facet of the delivered physical object. The book arrived packaged in a “static shielding” pouch; a shiny sheath that couldn’t be any more “space age” short of being launched on a shuttle and returned to Earth. It’s also a material that would be immediately familiar to anyone who has worked with computer components that come sealed in such a material when new to avoid damage from electrostatic discharge. Very suitable for this book.

Upon removing the book from said shiny pouch, we are treated to the worm in all its red glory. Interestingly, the red is only specified as “solid red plus solid yellow”, but each copy of the original Manual included a page of “NASA Red” perforated swatches to send to printers and designers to match, a page lovingly reproduced in this reprint, although sadly not perforated!

The opening pages are given over to a forward from designer Richard Danne and the aforementioned essay from Christopher Bonanos – both detailed and necessary contributions that add a great deal of context and value to the manual that follows.

Each page of the manual has been reproduced in the best possible quality, but remains unaltered. It is presented exactly as it would have been seen in its original form: recto printed with the hole-punched edges visible on each page. Even the tabbed dividers are reproduced in full. What was most surprising were the fold out pages, the first of which featured a large grid drawing of the worm for large applications. It’s a great throwback to the pre-desktop publishing era when such sheets were indispensable for accurate, reproducible design. It took me back to the lettering books that were all the rage with us kids in the early 1990s, before WordArt came along and destroyed literally everything good about desktop design. There is little I hate more than Microsoft Word and I will curse it with my dying breath.

But I digress, these fold out pages – all ten of them – are quite something. Each provides important details for application of the identity, from an introduction to layout grids, to how building signage should look and even to the worm’s placement on the space shuttle. Sploosh.

The final few pages feature reproductions of the initial presentation given by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn to NASA executives in 1974. These pages stand out as they are printed on full-bleed black. The quality of the printing and the stocks is exceptional. This is a striking design choice, evoking the feeling of sitting in a darkened (and probably smoke-filled) room and seeing these 35mm transparencies projected before you. Well played, Reed and Smyth.

As mentioned in Bonanos’s essay, this meeting resulted in Danne & Blackburn winning the job, but also at this very early stage, perhaps revealed hints of NASA management simply not getting the design. When the designers asked for the executives’ feedback, Richard Danne recalls one exchange between NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher and his deputy Dr. George Low:

Fletcher: “I'm simply not comfortable with those letters. Something is missing.”
Low: “Well, yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Low: “Why?”
Fletcher: [Long pause] “I just don't feel we are getting our money's worth!”

And then, a few minutes later:

Fletcher: “And this color, red, it doesn't make much sense to me.”
Low: “What would be better?”
Fletcher: “Blue makes more sense ... Space is blue.”
Low: “No, Dr. Fletcher, space is black!”

Anyone who has presented new ideas to managers would probably recognise an exchange of this sort. Even NASA ain't immune to that shit.

As a visual identity document, the Graphics Standards Manual is comprehensive. It lays out virtually every possible usage of the worm logotype. Most importantly for a document of this sort, it is accessible to the design layperson, even (or especially) if that person is literally a rocket scientist. In fact this is one of the great mysteries of the worm saga: why many at NASA, people who literally built the technology of the future, never took to this futuristic logo.

There was a strong amateur graphic design ethos at NASA: each mission patch was designed by the astronauts themselves and even the original NASA seal and meatball was designed by an amateur, James Modarelli, the head of Lewis Research Center’s Reports Division. To these rocket scientists (and engineers and physicists and chemists and administrators and comptrollers etc.), NASA’s logo isn’t about a consistent corporate identity, in fact such a concept is anathema to such a group. It was about something more human: the NASA family. Sure, the meatball was corny, but it was homely, and had been there through the good times and the bad.

For if you're ever confused where to put your worm on your Hubble Space Telescope
If that’s the case, then this whole Graphics Standards Manual speaks to an even more exciting time, when creating a new identity meant creating a new purpose: reshaping the future. The worm really speaks to the power and the optimism of design that is lost in today’s constant churn in identity and design (ugh...Instagram, what have you done..??!!).

Reed and Smyth have done a tremendous public service by reissuing this manual. It’s not just about good design, it’s about the potential for design to change things for the better. However, design can’t exist in a vacuum (ha), as the restoration of the meatball demonstrates. Design is subject to the whims of humans, just as it is reliant on those same people for its creation and implementation. Design needs humans and even the best design can be brought down by the people who created it.

Pages of typefaces make Richard happy
Interestingly, just as Reed and Smyth were working with Richard Danne to publish their reproduction of the Graphics Standards Manual, NASA released the original in PDF format on their website. Coincidence? I doubt it. Methinks there may be some passionate design nerds at NASA who would dearly love to see the worm back, and this was one way to honour the work of Danne & Blackburn.

Naturally, people inside and outside of NASA have very strong feelings about their logo. NASA is no normal agency – ask me my feelings on ATO or ASIC corporate identity and I will struggle to give you two shits – it is an agency which stokes the imaginations of entire generations around the world. To me, the worm is NASA. It’s what I drew on space shuttles and fantastical spacecraft of the imagination as a kid, even though the worm had been confined to the design dumpster of history a couple of years earlier. It’s the identity of the NASA I saw popular culture growing up: in movies such Flight of the Navigator and Space Camp (don’t judge me); in hours of documentaries, and pages upon pages of books and news stories. I was and remain a gigantic space nerd and there was nothing in my experience more futuristic than the four letters of the worm.

But now everything old is new again, and as comes with so much of today’s thoughtless appropriation of the past, we praise the past with little thought for the future. As the terminator of the worm, administrator Dan Goldin said when reinstating the meatball in 1992, “the magic is back at NASA”. Sadly, I reckon it was on its way out.

The Worm: 1975–1992. Forever in our hearts and imaginations.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual
Published by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1975
Reproduction by Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth
Published by Standards Manual, LLC, 2015
ISBN: 9780692586532
Extent: 220pp
Hardcover, case-bound, with silver static shielding (plastic polyethylene terephthalate) pouch

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

One Easy Tip for Bringing Down the Liberal Party*

*may not actually bring down the Liberal Party

If you’re enrolled to vote, you may have received a letter in the snail mail containing a postal vote application form. It all looks very official, you fill it in and use the enclosed reply paid envelope to register your details.

Congratulations, your data has just been harvested by the Liberal Party. And you’d probably not even know it. Aside from the letter from the “Malcolm Turnbull Coalition”, there’s no party identification on the included reply paid envelope and barely any on the application form.

The reply paid envelope address that goes straight to Liberal HQ (above) and the actual AEC reply paid address (below)
While the postal vote application form itself is an official AEC form (with a party-political front image), the included reply paid envelope is not. The data on the form is harvested by Party HQ before being forwarded on to the theory.

I say “in theory” because parties have been known to sit on the completed forms so you never get the postal application in the mail – illegal disenfranchisement. They’ve even been known to “correct” (p.135) the details on some forms. This all, of course, is illegal. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Political parties have proven adept at making sure the same privacy laws that apply to every single business and individual in Australia, do not apply to them.

With up to one third of all votes this election to be cast as absentee ballots, there has never been a more terrifying time to be an Australian voter.

So, what to do? You could of course just ignore the reply paid envelope and send it directly to the AEC via the reply paid address listed on the back of the form – Australian Electoral Commission, Reply Paid 9867, [In Your Capital City] – but that would be boring.

Would you like to cause a tiny bit of mayhem?

Postage is expensive in Australia and every time one of these party political reply paid envelopes is used, the receiver has to pay for them. In this case, the receiver is the Liberal Party of Australia.

From now on, when you get one of these party political flog pieces in the mail, don’t chuck it away, go to your internet browser of choice and search for a humorous image. Print it out and chuck it in the envelope instead.

I chose this one. I think it’s utterly fitting.

The whole thing is wonderful, for you get to send an annoying** image to the people you loathe and they have to pay for the privilege of receiving it. Heck, even if it’s an empty envelope, it still costs them money!

Together, we can help put an end to this potentially illegal data harvesting programme.

**At this point, I’ll ask that you do not use the postal service to send threatening and/or menacing content. You take full responsibility for the content you wish to add to the mail.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Election 2016: So Very Tired

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove regaling Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about how big the one that got away was (Facebook)

Making predictions about an election and its outcome is a stupid thing to do. So here goes.

Turnbull is toast. There is no other way I can put this, regardless of the outcome of the election, he is gone sooner or later. Why? Well, if the Liberal Party loses, Turnbull loses. Duh. But if the Liberal Party wins, but only does so with a reduced majority (a current likely outcome), whatever authority the PM has left in the party room falls away thanks to the emboldened Abbott delcon (delusional conservative) rump.

These delcons would (delusionally) be able to claim that the switch to Turnbull did nothing to improve the government’s electoral performance. Of course the reality is the switch to Turnbull gave the Liberals a fighting chance when they were heading for almost certain oblivion under Abbott. Everyone else knows this, hence why this rump is termed delusional. These delcons would view a less-than-resounding win for Turnbull as a win for their brand of fringe politics. As they have done for the past eight months, they would continue to make Turnbull’s political life a living hell. On every issue at every opportunity, they’ll be aggressively ensuring Turnbull sticks to the deals he has made with the delcon devils on issues such as marriage equality, sex education and carbon pricing. These compromises, which have perhaps irreparably damaged Turnbull’s public standing (particularly in #QANDAland) have been his price of power. A few months ago, Turnbull could have counted on an increased majority to stifle dissent within the ranks, but barring a major stumble from Labor, such a scenario is difficult to imagine.

For Turnbull, winning is insufficient. He must win and he must do so with a thumping majority. Anything less means a replay of Labor in 2010...and possibly a return to the Mad Monk.

Friday, 6 May 2016

A Magazine from Blurb

In my last post, I spoke about my most recent experience producing a Blurb photo book as a family album. The album was of a very high quality, however the price was on the high side. If you want you photographs in print (which you absolutely should) there is another option.

In addition to photo books, Blurb also offers other book formats including trade paperbacks (best for text) and magazines. While the magazines don't have quite the print quality of the dedicated photo books, they offer a cheaper alternative for getting your photos printed and bound.

This is the option I took at the end of 2015. With the (very) recent arrival of our first son, I knew time and money for gifts would be at a premium for Christmas. So I prepared a magazine with photographs from the previous 12 months to give to family, with space for one very important 6x4 of our new arrival at the back, who came just too late to be included in the magazine proper.

Although the images from 2015 were more fresh in my mind than previous years, it was no less rewarding going through my catalogue, reassessing previously discarded images, and building a good selection of images. Once again, I undertook the magazine layout in Adobe InDesign, affording me much more design flexibility than with Blurb's own in-house software (I must stress though that Blurb's own software is thoroughly decent if you just want to make a basic photo book from a selection of photographs. But if you have any Adobe skillz at all, InDesign is worth the effort).

140 pages later, I had a magazine. 140 pages may stretch the definition of "magazine", but Blurb's print services can handle it and that's all that matters. Oh that and the familial reception. They loved it; it spawned the usual "oh Richard it looks so professional you should do this for a living because it's so professional" question/statements that ignore the practicalities of profitable publishing. My 104-year-old grandmother sits it proudly on her table, telling me every time how much she "thoroughly enjoys" reading it.

It's nice to have an appreciative audience.

And it's nice to have a physical thing. Yada yada yada, DIGITAL DARK AGE, yada yada yada. No shit, you will lose your shit at some point. Shit being your bits and bytes of data. Either through neglect or nefariousness. A physical printed thing is a hedge against that.

Besides, a physical product like this one is pleasurable to read again and again. You don't read them every day, but it's much nicer flicking through them and reminiscing than swiping through 12,397 images on your tablet/smartphone of choice.



A Photo Book from Blurb

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the physical object in the digital age. As a photographer, that means the importance of the print. The ephemeral nature of data means that already many of our memories and much of our information – that used to be physical – have disappeared. Some are already warning of the "digital dark age", an age where there has never been a greater saturation of recording devices and data, yet we have never been at greater risk of losing it all forever.

This is why it has never been more important to print. Print isn't forever, but it's for a damnside longer than data. Data comes and goes, data becomes corrupted, data gets deleted, reformatted, rendered obsolete by the march of progress (and of marketing departments). A print may get torn or creased or scratched or fade, but there is usually still something left to be seen, to be interpreted. A fragment that is not a slave to the technology of the day. All you need is vision and light. That is why I have been making a concerted effort recently to make more physical things, both photographic prints and photo books.

Blurb is a well-known provider of print-on-demand book publishing services, particularly targeted at one-off publications such as family albums and low-volume photo books. I am a regular user of Blurb, having printed my first book with them back in 2011. Since then I've printed books with a variety of papers and bindings for a variety of purposes. Some have been consciously "professional" photo books, others have more family album-oriented in their content.

It has not always been smooth sailing with Blurb, however. Their print quality back when I first started using them left a lot to be desired, and I've had to return two books because of printing blemishes and errors. But when these problems have occurred, the customer service has always been excellent and rectified the problem promptly.

Most recently, I've been taking the time to collate my vast catalogue of digital images and print something of a yearly album. This most recent album covers almost exclusively 2011. I am trying to give each its own personality, reflecting some of the content inside the album. In this most recent publication's case, it was a year spent mostly at home with study occupying most of my time. Hence the Melway-inspired cover (colours and patterns of the 1993 edition, one my dad kept for far too long in his 1981 Ford Laser).

The downside to Blurb is that they are not particularly cheap. Luckily, they have regular vouchers offering up to 40% off. While these offer good value, I would think these vouchers have conditioned customers to wait until the next promo code comes around to upload and order their books.

Book making is a great experience, however you do it. It is particularly rewarding going back through the archives and discovering photographs you don't remember taking. Indeed it's difficult to resist reopening old files and making new edits. Sometimes you look at a photo just shake your head and think to yourself "what was I thinking!?". This tinkering can be good and bad, although even with years more experience, I found myself more often than not keeping the old edits.

The Digital Dark Age is upon us.


Or should I say...REPRINT!

P.S. the book pictured above is not available publicly on Blurb, it's a Richard-only special