Blame it on the Twitter

I’m about to do what I never thought I would do.

I have been an infrequent blogger over the last couple of years, writing irregularly and infrequently, sometimes for work and sometimes for fun. I have always harboured a dislike for blog posts which begin “Oh my dear readers, I am so so sorry for not having written more recently, but I’ve been so busy, etc. etc.” Who cares? If you have something to say, then say it. If you don’t, well fine – there really is no need apologise. There is plenty of other stuff out there to read.

But with several weeks since I last enjoyed the selfish buzz of expanding some thought or other on my blog, I have found a need to look at why I’ve not been writing as much recently. And I haven’t had to look very far.

The culprit? Twitter.

If you’ve not seen it or played with it, Twitter is one of the best toys on the internet, largely down to its sheer simplicity. In summary, imagine a text message, or a similar 140 character outburst, in response to the question “What are you doing?” Your answer, via web or text, gets distributed to anyone who has decided to ‘follow’ you. Correspondingly, you receive, through your gadget of choice, a series of so-called ‘tweets’ – the thoughts of your friends as a string of short messages scrolling through your awareness.

‘Microblogging’ is one term that’s been coined to describe what Twitter does. ‘Ambient intimacy’ were the words used by one of my friends to more accurately describe Twitter’s gift to the internet. With so many grown-up tasks occupying a day, it’s comforting to be exposed to the ups, downs and emotions of others you know. “Sitting on the beach watching seagulls”, “In need of a cup of tea and a coconut macaroon”, “Off to a meeting to learn more about a new project” or simply “Having a bad day” all represent the stuff of tweets.

When you’re feeling unmotivated, it can be great to receive a humorous tweet from someone having a better day. And when you’re on top form, it’s nice to share that with others, through the simple investment of 30 seconds of thumb-time.

Pre-Twitter, each time I had a thought, it would linger in my mind for a day or two before either fading away or providing the seed for a blog post. Now, I have no reason to wait – I just grab my phone and in the time it takes me to produce a text message, that thought is on the internet. It is on the screens of my followers, it is on sidebar of my blog and it is even fed directly into the status update on my wretched Facebook account. The current feed-based nature of the web helps content to spread quicker than ever before in a very focused way. This is both a strength and a weakness of my current fondness for Twitter. Great as it is for thoughts to just fly from one’s conciousness onto the internet, I sometimes wonder if something gets lost in the haste to tweet. Would an idea, more thoughtfully considered, become a more informed bit of writing if allowed to grow? Equally, would it be consigned to the bin where it may arguably belong?

To get the very best out of Twitter, you need the right equipment, set up the right way. That’s not to say it’s difficult to do, however. When I first dipped my toe into the world of Twitter, I was strictly a web-based tweeter. A look every so often at my Twitter homepage would show the thoughts and emotions of everyone on my list.

But taking the simple step of setting up Twitter on my phone has really started to show me what this is all about. As I grumpily wait for a train, I receive a tweet from someone recommending a new pub or reveling in a new recipe. Moreover, tweets often contain links to recommended places on the internet. This is where the benefits come in having a current web-enabled phone rather than the antique rubber Nokia with which I struggle along (to be fair, I am long overdue a phone upgrade, but I am equally put off by the dual prospects of either half an hour haggling with a call centre or being talked at in the flesh by an 18 year old with an excessively wide tie and a glut of product in his hair). My next phone will enable me to fully engage with this fun, following links and joining in as quickly as this stuff flows around the web.

Grand Hotel, Brighton
So who uses Twitter? Well, as a newcomer myself, I can’t pretend to give an accurate picture, but I think it’s fair to say that it is largely the toy of those working in marketing, web stuff and ‘new media’ (I still dislike that term…). A quick look through my short list of followees reveals that I was drawn into this gentle addiction by a bunch focused largely around Brighton’s web marketing scene, chiefly at Nixon McInnes, an agency with whom I worked during my time as Neilson’s webmonkey.

I feel slightly as if I have gatecrashed a party. A party where everyone is discussing films, food, hangovers and other banter alongside their favourite database languages and jokes about obsolete code. But geeky though it may be, this is a party attended by warm, amusing folks who are very welcoming to an outsider such as me.

It’s nice to be party to the thoughts of this genuinely entertaining crowd, but if I’m honest, I wish Twitter would pick up a little more with the rest of the world; the rest of my world, at least. It would be great to trade moments of wisdom with fellow mountain bikers, to knock about ideas for a night out with my usual bunch of drinking buddies, or to keep up-to-date with the thoughts and work of the amateur photographers I have got to know through Flickr. To be fair, many of these folks must be using Twitter – maybe I just need to do a better job of finding them. Or persuading them.

Look at Facebook. A year or so ago this was a niche site with a word-of-mouth appeal. Then word got around and it’s now ubiquitous – some would say regrettably so. The genius of Twitter is that it is simpler, more adaptable and less of a chore to engage with. In fact, since I linked my Twitter account to my Facebook profile, I rarely bother to sign on to Facebook, happy in the knowledge that friends can follow my rambling momentary thoughts without me having to dodge the flying hordes of custard pies, vampires and other detritus which litter the site.

So there is my confession of the new love in my life – Twitter. But I realize that for all the benefits of this instant banter tool, I miss the enjoyment of knocking around a thought with a little more consideration, a little more editing and a little more time. So I’m back on the blog. After all, why say in 140 characters what you can say in 6,594?

Posted in internet, marketing | 3 Comments

Double 700C and Tonic

Just before Christmas, I found myself joining the staff of a bike shop for a Christmas night out. We started in a pub before moving on to a Chinese restaurant.

Early in the evening, the boss returned from the bar with a substantial round of drinks, and we started discussing the considerable mark-up placed on drinks by the licensed trade.

Tubes and Drinks
Later in the night, we somehow got onto the subject of how we could hardly judge – as bike shops have their own equivalent profit-maker: inner tubes.

Drinks.
Inner Tubes.

Hmmm.

What followed was a boozy conversation which, though it seemed like a good idea at the time, is admittedly one of the geekiest in which I have ever played an active part. For some reason that I can’t explain, it seemed a natural process to find an appropriate drink to match each of the inner tubes for sale in a bike shop.

I present below our reasoned findings, transcribed from the paper napkin upon which they were noted. Make of them what you will.

Inner Tube Drink
700 x 38C Schraeder White Wine
700 x 35C Presta Real Ale
20 x 2 Schraeder Vodka Red Bull
700 x 21C Presta Mineral Water
27 x 1 3/8 Tubular Red Wine
26 x 2 Schraeder Carling
26 x 2 Presta Becks
20 x 1 3/8 Schraeder Vodka and Tonic
16 x 1 3/8 Schraeder Tanqueray Gin and Tonic
29 x 2.2 Presta Single Malt Whisky
700C Cyclocross Tubular Sloe Gin
24 x 2.5 Schraeder Strongbow Cider
26 x 3 Schraeder Stella Artois Lager
Posted in cycling | 4 Comments

Cycling Meets Agriculture Down on the Allotment

A couple of days after Christmas Mel and I found ourselves in the beautiful city of Bath. We spent a lazy day wandering round shopping, drinking coffee and taking in the atmosphere. I was keen to see the beautiful Royal Crescent, so on our way back to the car park we detoured through Victoria Park before we chanced upon a sizable area of allotments, where Bath’s keen smallholders were cultivating their fruit and veg.

Melody loves her allotment, and the idea of snooping around other people’s always excites her, so we climbed over the gate and began nosing around the cabbages and leeks. We were about to leave the allotments and resume our search for the car, when I spotted what looked like a bike, but with its front end attached to some kind of archaic mechanism.

IMG_9660

This bike had been adapted into a pedal-powered sieve, presumably to rid the local soil of stones and lumps. A chain lead forward from the pedals and was connected to a large mesh drum, which was then intended to rotate, shaking the soil contents so that fine earth falls through and rocks are retained. It was sadly not functional, else I would certainly have hopped aboard and taken it for a cheeky spin.

I’ve always known that bikes have the ability to solve many of the world’s problems. But I never knew that lumpy soil was one of them.

IMG_9659

Posted in cycling | Leave a comment

First Ride-By Shouting of 2008

So there we were.

About half-past midnight no New Year’s Eve and Mel and I are riding merrily along Brighton’s seafront cyclepath.

Given the time and date, it is no surprise to see dozens of pedestrians wobbling about in the cycle lane. Understandable given the whiff of booze in the air.

So we ride along, happily honk-honking (Mel) and ting-a-linging (me) to clear a path through the merry-makers. We’re greeted with countless cheery waves and new year wishes as folks get out of our way.

Until one bloke turns around and shouts “What are you doing? This isn’t fucking Amsterdam!” We smile and wave back. There may even have been a bonus honk from Mel.

But he was serious: “This isn’t fucking Amsterdam!”. What could we say? It wasn’t.

But it did smell a little like it.

Posted in Brighton, cycling | 2 Comments

Anthony McCall, Serpentine Gallery

We were strolling through Hyde Park, hoping it wouldn’t start to rain before we we reached Exhibition Road.

As we neared the centre of the park, the light drizzle started to increase in intensity and we looked for somewhere to take shelter. The Serpentine Gallery looked closed, but we we headed for its doors anyway, in the hope that we could find hide from the rain in its doorway.

Despite its appearance, the gallery was in fact open, so we stepped inside to see what was on display.

Anthony McCall, Serpentine Gallery

I had never before seen the work of Anthony McCall. The main focus of this show is a selection of works with titles like Long Film for Four Projectors 1974 and Line Describing a Cone 1973. These pieces are essentially darkened smoke-filled rooms, with projectors throwing ever-changing sheets of light through each gallery. The resulting three-dimensional works of art fill the room, inviting you to play with them and interact with them.

It’s hard to describe how much fun this is. You walk through the rooms, disrupting the beams of light and changing the way the ‘objects’ appear to other viewers. One of the shapes evolves into a perfectly enclosed cone, so before it disappears, you excitedly insert your head into the cone’s interior, to see it from the inside. Suddenly a chink appears in the tube of light as the head of a passing child intercepts the bottom of the beam.

Gradually, the shape changes and becomes two parallel sheets of light. You use limbs and digits to poke holes in the sheets, and watch your body cutting enormous shadows into any part of the object further from the light source than yourself.

Anthony McCall’s work is showing at The Serpentine Gallery until 3rd of February. If you’re passing anywhere near Hyde Park, I’d certainly recommend calling for a play.

So much fun.

Posted in art | Leave a comment

Is Television the New Meat?

Simon's Sosmix chicken

I’ve not eaten meat deliberately for around 14 years. (There was that chain of accidental events back in Finikounda, but that’s another story…).When I first went veggie, I became used to the curiosity of those around me: “But why not?” “Is is because of the animals?” and the classic “I bet you miss bacon.”

I’ve grown used to all the questions over the years, but people don’t seem to interrogate veggies like they used to. Their curiosity is no longer there. Being a vegetarian has become normal in our society. I am officially mainstream.

However, confess to people I don’t have a television, and that’s a different matter. They are fascinated. Or horrified. “What? Not at all? But how do you know what’s going on? What do you do in the evening?” They are taken aback. Declining to watch television is seen as a puritanical self-denial of the most extreme kind.

Television is the new meat.

And what will be the new television? Driving licenses, I reckon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2007

I love photography in many forms, but I’ve never really thought of myself as a fan of wildlife photos. Give me portraits, landscapes, sports, architecture. I’ve never had much time for the animals, I’m afraid.

But when Mel suggested a visit to the Natural History Museum’s Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year show, I agreed it could be worth a visit.

Wow. As someone who doesn’t consider himself a fan of wildlife photos, I lost count of the amount of amazing images which blew me away. Staggering colours, amazing situations and some inspiring creatures.

It’s so hard to decide on a favourite, but this shot of a bear by Sergey Gorshkov is one I will remember for a while.

The show was beautifully presented in the Jarwood Gallery of the Natural History Museum. Lightboxes were displayed around the perimeter, with winning shots shown large in enclosures in the centre of the gallery.

Also in the centre of the room were interactive displays reminiscent of Flickr’s map functionality. We were able to browse the photos geographically, and were invited to email the photos to ourselves. Disappointingly, my choices have not yet appeared in my Gmail, but I don’t mind when the Awards’ website allows you to browse the finalists and leave comments.

It was plain to how the entrants were dominated by digital equipment, in particular the Canon 1D and other Canon cameras. Of the few photos shot on film, Fuji Velvia was the film of choice.

The show is on until 27 April. Go see.

Posted in photography | 5 Comments

Brick Lane and East is East

Of the films I’ve watched recently have been a couple which address similar themes – those to do with the life of British Asians.

I bought Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane around a year ago, in the process of being snagged by a crafty bookseller’s 3 for 2 promotion. The book has since sat on my bookshelf, as yet unread in a queue of similarly ignored, but no doubt worthwhile, literature. When Brick Lane recently opened in the cinema, I swallowed my guilt about the unread book and took my seat to watch this wonderful film. What a joy.

Carefully put together, the story seemed to bring together several themes – love, family, race, religion and London being the most evident. A young woman from Bangladesh marries a man unknown to her and moves to London, where she becomes part of east London’s significant Bangladeshi community. Many of Brick Lane’s observations are complex and worrying, but there are nuggets of joy and comedy which add a lot of depth to this lovely story.

I will certainly be dusting off that book.

Then, sorting through some DVDs the other day, I found myself in possession of another, very different, film addressing the lives of British Asians.

East is East is a cheeky comedy. Set exactly thirty years prior to the bulk of Brick Lane’s narrative, it tells the story of a Pakistani man and his English wife who married in 1946 and brought up seven children. The Khan family, of Salford, have been testing out the reality of multiculturalism long before it became the norm for our cities. Throughout the film, we see the young Khans walking the tightrope between the expectations of their father and the realities of the English society in which they are growing up. In most cases, we see their challenges through the medium of comedy, but East is East is not afraid to show some upsetting, sometimes even violent scenes, especially when dealing with the father’s attempts to maintain a traditional authority over his wife and children.

It was plain to see how, though different in many ways, these films were very similar in others. They may not share the same approach – Brick Lane was a touching drama while East is East borders on the slapstick, especially in its last few scenes – but they both have something to say about our country and the compromises faced by many of our citizens. Both films show that life is never simple.

Brick Lane and East is East. Very different. A little similar. Both good.

Posted in films | Leave a comment

I Got Moo

I Got Moo

I’ve been a big fan of Flickr for a while. But I’ve not yet experimented with the commercial services and third party add-ons that tempt you from the page margins. Until now.

I did it. I ordered myself a pack of 100 MOO Minicards. It’s hard to explain why they’re so much fun – but they are. It seems they have a bit of a cult following, especially on Flickr.

So next time I see the Brighton Flickr lot, I won’t feel left out when they start swapping MOO cards around the table.

Posted in photography | 2 Comments

Whizzkid Kingpin


I’ve just seen news of the arrest, by New Zealand police, of a teenage hacker who is being questioned in connection with major online fraud.

In the article the police are reported to have alleged that the teenager is a “whizkid kingpin”.

A whizzkid kingpin. Superb.

Firstly, can you ever imagine the British police describing someone in these terms?

But more interestingly, I would love to hear these words spoken in authoritative tones by a policemen with kiwi accent. How on earth would this phrase sound with those mutated kiwi vowels?

Whuzzkud kungpun.

I love it.

Posted in language | 3 Comments