Sunday, 3 March 2013

Oh Internet, I think you're pulling my leg

Here I will discuss my journey through discovery, wonder, belief, further research and resultant disillusionment and enlightenment, occurring through the internet image magpie mania that is Pinterest.

Things can really take off through this medium, and I imagine it would be very hard to keep track of where an image or video has spread to. Unknown people across the world can pin an image from a website or upload it themselves, another total stranger will repin it - and you end up with multitudes of spontaneously dividing threads.

This, paired with gradual information loss and distortion along the way.... who knows where an image comes from?

Sometimes it's difficult to tell if an image is for real, however incredible it looks, or if it is just a Photoshop jobbie.....

From yellow_reporter
This was a favourite architectural image of mine, until by new best friend - the Tin Eye reverse image search - enabled me to find where else the same image appears on the web, eventually leading me to its source: a clever photographic manipulation by Dutch artist Jan Oliehoek.

Tin Eye doesn't even have to lead you to the original source for it to be useful - it is valuable for just finding out the name of an object, structure or place, which enables you to conduct a more informed search from there....

This example also shows the deterioration of information through the web - when I first came across this pic on Pinterest, the comment said it was in Ireland, but the rock and background scenery is in Thailand - an understandable mistake when you sound out the words, but the two places could almost not be further apart! 
From wikipedia

More specifically, the rock is James Bond Island in Ao Phang Nga National ParkThailand, and the castle is Lichtenstein Castle in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

I know, the castle still looks fake! 
But it truly 
does exist - from my experience Germany 
and Austria really are the best places 
to find fairy tale picture perfect castles

It was almost believable while I was browsing these other pretty amazing (and completely real) constructions that to the laypersons' eye, seem to be gravity-defying or at least testing the limits..... 
From myyellowbells. This is the Capital Gate skyscraper in
Abu Dhabi. It has an 18-degree incline, which is over four
 times more than the tower of Pisa's unintentional tilt, which
itself is beaten by 1.22 degrees by the lesser known church
steeple 'Leaning Tower' of Suurhusen, Germany.
The “South Heavenly Gate” which has a 
narrow walkway of planks skirting the 

mountain rock face while people hold on

 to a big chain attached to the walls. 

Located in the Yellow Mountains of 

Huangshan, China.
'Horizons', a welded-steel sculpture with a carton-like
quality, created by Neil Dawson and located on
“The Farm,” a large private art park in New Zealand.
Le Grand van Gogh by Bruno Catalano,
in Saint-Paul de Vence, France

Tin Eye revealed to me another person who seems to have been taken in by Oliehoek's trickery/artistry... poor fool...

Does he not notice that the castle is JUST NOT THERE in the panoramic picture?

I also wanted to blow the whistle on another hoax taking the Pinterest world by storm:

Creating 'Water Marbles' aka Water Beans, Jelly Marbles...

There are step-by-step images and videos going around that claim to show you how you can make these transparent jelly-like marbles from a few simple kitchen ingredients, by various heating/cooling/mixing stages.

From latterdaylearning
From cometogetherkids
Pretty, aren't they? They really seem to have the power to make people go 'oooh'

One characteristic of the water marbles produced by the DIY hoax that produces amazement in viewers is when the marbles supposedly form when you bring them into contact with air - in actual fact, the marbles were there all along in the water, but because clear colourless ones have been used in the kitchen 'experiment', it is very hard to detect the edges while they're in the water.

Anyone who has some general knowledge and didn't completely miss their school chemistry classes by falling asleep might be able to guess that using baking soda, vinegar, calcium bicarbonate and iodized salt will not create such neatly spherical objects.

Also I would question the wisdom of putting your hands into this mixture, it doesn't sound too skin-friendly!

The blogger to whom I owe my enlightenment on this hoax explains all on ChemSpider.

I'll leave you with some more of my favourite Jan Oliehoek photo manipulation creations, featuring both the cute and the shocking:

And one more to calm your nerves and reduce adrenaline after those last two:

Don't forget to think critically about what you find on the internet!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Internet Doppelgängers - when your identity unexpectedly finds its way online

A "that's so weird" blog post

Casually checking how my various internet presences on Blogger, Flickr, Pinterest etc. link up, I stumbled across my internet doppelgänger.

This would not be so strange by itself. I have a relatively uncommon name (I was named after an actress in a horror B-movie from 1989 called The Urge To Kill) - it feels slightly disturbing to hear my name in a song (Genesis, Bob Dylan, you mortify me) or see it in film credits and that's just my first name. On the Google search (25/01/13) to check out the searchability of my blog, 7 of the 10 first-page results relate to me. But I knew it's not absolutely impossible that my full name isn't 100% unique. 

What I found weird about this doppelgänger was that 'she' had written an online article about exactly the same topic I had once written about for an English GCSE coursework assignment back in school. This would be within reason had the doppelgänger gone through the same school system as me - which is specific to the UK and perhaps the region too - and had been set the same coursework, but really, what are the chances? I just don't know.

So what is a doppelgänger?
  1. A paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.
  2. An evil twin.
  3. A remarkably similar double.
  4. A person who has the same name as another.
  5. A fantastic monster that takes the forms of people, usually after killing them.
 (definitions and picture from Wikipedia)
And who is this person? Lets narrow down the options:
  1. I don't believe in the paranormal
  2. I believe my parents when they say I'm an only child
  3. I don't know what she looks like but...
  4. Same name, same topic.... linked minds??
  5. I'm not dead yet

I then thought, wouldn't it be interesting if I could dig up what my 14-year-old self had written back in that Year 10 English classroom, and see how it compares?

And so I did. 

And in the end, this ghost had existed all in my own mind. 

My coursework was written under the title "Analyse the techniques used by Baz Luhrman in making the new Chanel no.5 commercial. How successful is it in your opinion? Does it justify the huge amount of money it cost?" - everything a school essay question should be...
And this doppelgänger's title was simply "Assessing the Chanel No 5 Mega-mercial". Otherwise, the essay was word-for-word, paragraphs identical. 

For several days I genuinely thought there was another person with the same name as me, who had by coincidence written about the same topic nearly two years after I had. However it turned out that the article published in May 2007 on Helium here was my own piece of writing, originally penned in November 2005 with my scrawly black fountain pen. 

This left me with a far less supernatural, but very real mystery. 

I have no idea, no recollection of how, when or why I might have uploaded this article to the internet, to a website that didn't even exist when I first wrote the piece. 

So what might have happened? I had a brainstorm of the options:

  • A more internet-savvy version of me in a parallel universe has been publishing my school scribbles?

  • I travelled in a time warp to post it?

  • Somebody uploaded my work with the idea that as a set coursework piece, other students might be having a sneaky search for answers online to give themselves a clue on what to write, or simply to plagiarise?

This last option - could it be? Given that Helium authors can earn money if their article garners particularly high numbers of views, this worries me a little. 

On the other hand, having listed the article under my name would have been a precautionary step to avert the appearance of mal-intent. Even so, there would have been someone out there using my own work for their own gain without my consent. 

At this point I just don't know what to conclude. Have I found a piece of internet fraud? Do I just have a really bad memory? Was I more forward-thinking and internet-savvy than I thought I was at age 14? 
I'm not even sure how to convince Helium that I am the real author if I contact them to find out how my essay got there! 

Has anyone else ever found their work in places they didn't expect or intend?  I can imagine this happening in a picture-version, where a photograph of yourself was used as advertising...

If you have come across your doppelgänger, how did it feel to know there is a virtual stranger answering to your own name?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Worlds of books: Fantasy, contemporary, and delicious mixes in between

Response to ‘Fantasy Worlds’ post by Heather James

As a reader I think a subtle blending in of the contemporary to the fantasy world is ideal, in that a modern-day reference makes the fantasy world much easier to relate to. It has the power to add a whole level of implicit meaning and complexity to the fantasy world with little effort on the part of the author. For me, Heather James’ use of ‘switch-tops’ in Fire which are clearly mobile phones really made the world she created ‘pop’. 

I love the way the cultures and values of people from the different Realms seem to be derived from the elements they control, for example where fire is the focal element in the Helian Realm, the socially desirable attributes of the population are to be bold, intense and unforgiving.

Fire is thoroughly engrossing and caught my imagination right away. It dangles questions and clues at just the right points yet doesn't give the game away prematurely. I'm genuinely looking forward to the next in the series!

A book that blends contemporary and (historical) fantasy with aplomb is The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - and I highly recommend it to anyone! Written for the most part from the male protagonist’s point of view and not shy of allowing him to be a bit crass (he is, after all, a former porn star and the book begins with him driving under the influence of drink and drugs) makes this book an unusual read in the world of love and fantasy, and hopefully more accessible to male readers.

Yet ultimately a love story this is. The story traverses between modern day and historical timelines which become intertwined via the eccentric Marianne’s tales of their ‘past’. Think of the ideal romance of one true love, the hope and the joy, played through to heart-wrenching end, reincarnated and replayed poignantly over and over again. I certainly cried a lot for this one.

The most vivid, creative and complex fantasy worlds I have encountered are those in Iain Banks' sci-fi work, for example his Culture novels. He invents an exciting mix of politics, populations, fauna and ecosystems on an immense scale. However I always feel like the story is running, running, running then suddenly falls down flat with an unsatisfying ending. In contrast I really enjoyed some of his contemporary novels such as Dead Air, and the ending of the plot line was like the cherry on the cake. It was realistic, it made sense, the baddies got their ‘just desserts’ while the good characters were left with good things to look forward to and you knew they were going to be ok. I may have even shed a tear in happiness. 

This disparity between Banks' sci-fi and contemporary novels could be due to the feeling that the energy spent on providing a spectacular setting for the story just peters out when it comes to supporting the plot line the whole way through, or it could be to do with other factors (have I just read an unlucky selection of Banks’ books?). 

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – now a film still waiting to be released in the UK – is another interesting mixture, charting the lives of six main characters in a journey through six separate time-points, from historical to contemporary to sci-fi and all the way back again. I love the way each character gains a glimpse of the previous character’s existence, most often by the whisker of a chance but sometimes more overtly. However it slowly becomes apparent that there is some other link between them which hints at the supernatural or perhaps fate, but for me this link was tenuous at best and made a weak impression.  

I look forward to see how this is depicted in the film and hope that it is brought to life in a way I feel the book just didn't deliver!

Other books that I am sorely tempted to sing praises for on the merits of the worlds their authors have created, fantasy, mixture or otherwise, are:

but this post wasn't intended to become an essay! 

If you feel passionately about a particular book and want to rave about it, or want to air your views on what uses of worlds makes a story work, please share it with me!

Book cover images sourced via Pinterest

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Murder in the Dark -
Growing up psychologically

Nature, Beauty, Gratitude. by Louie Schwartzberg

From TED: a talk by Louie Schwartzberg, an award-winning cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life. I just had to share it!
A visual buffet of nature in time-lapse photography with a beautiful message.

Quote from Louie Schwartzberg: “Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature’s tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with.” 

It is a real shame that we as humans have made it necessary to protect what we have left of nature, and that it is us protecting what has existed for millennia, while the existence of our species constitutes a whisker of a fraction of the history of the earth. 

What we need to do next is to accept and embrace the responsibility of protecting our Earth, to take it upon our shoulders like the grown-up child who is now capable and strong starts to care for their parents, and the realisation of seriousness dawns on them. Then we can hope to have a chance of tackling the enormity of the task before us.

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Ponies in the New Forest

Prescription for the UK: 
exercise your right to wellbeing

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Jack White & The Kills at Alexandra Palace

Here comes my review of a much anticipated gig put on by Jack White and his all-female band, with special guests The Kills on Saturday 3rd November 2012.
Jack White & his all-female band

This gig was one of the highlights of my own live music experiences, so I am loath to start off on a negative. 

Brit/USA duo The Kills kept fans waiting for an uncool 1 hour, during which roadies casually distributed fluffy white towels around the stage in expectation of a sweaty performance.  

When they did appear they came flanked by leather-clad handkerchief-masked drummers, not something I expected to see but it meant the pair didn't look lonely on stage, on top of adding to their rough and powerful dark rock sound and aesthetically grungy appeal. 

Vocalist Alison Mosshart had the energy of a small sun, fired up and bounding around on stage, stealing the spotlight with her seductive voice. 

The majority of the set list came from their most recent studio album “Blood Pressures”, appropriately so as Mosshart is quoted to have said that she feels her music with guitarist Jamie Hince is always evolving. 
Jamie Hince & Alison Mosshart of The Kills
The Kills may have been in a supporting role but the duo delivered a performance on par with any headline act. Just as well, they recently celebrated 10 years together although you might not know it from their website, which doesn’t give much away – I resorted to Wikipedia for their biography. It wasn’t clear how many Kills fans were in the crowd, who bopped around a bit but were reserved. 

But the audience really came alive for the much anticipated main event that was Jack White. Accompanied by his stylish all-female band, Jack White evoked a contagious excitement from his fans who weren’t shy to sing along. 

With his solo album Blunderbuss he is more soothing than he’s ever sounded before, but don’t let that put you off! White seamlessly integrated bluegrass rock into his unique sound that fans would know anywhere. 
Member of the male band (different night)
Jack White

He didn’t rely on his solo album to drive the concert, rather he drew on many much loved tunes from across his musical career (remember “Steady As She Goes” from The Raconteurs and who could forget “Seven Nation Army” from The White Stripes). 

Jack White is truly a one-of-a-kind musician and is finally following his own lead with great success. 

However truth be told I am more in love with The Kills than before for seeing them perform live, which in my view is the truest sign of talented musicianship.

And man, they did need those towels in the end!

Can anyone tell me what Jack White/The Kills have been like as performers before?
If you were there, what did you think of the show? 
The audience in Alexandra Palace
Photos of Jack White from
and of The Kills from

Read the rest of The Stag Issue 52

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

If the shoe fits? Feminism and feet

Women have it pretty good in the Western world of the 21st century, our culture is far more equal and alleviated from sexism than other parts of the globe, yet it’s still not perfect (and possibly never will be). The trouble with using the term ‘sexism’ is people think it refers to something men impose on women, or vice versa. But sometimes we inflict it on ourselves. 

I have a bone to pick and it is with high heeled shoes. Wearers, we put ourselves at risk of sprained ankles and injured dignity if we lose balance in them, but the damage doesn’t stop there. The downward pressure on the toes impacts the joints at the front of the foot and over years of continued wear can lead to horribly deformed feet in unnatural triangular shapes.

The question to ask is whether men are doing it too. If heels were so great, men would be wearing them too (ok, a few men do, generally on stage, at home or sometimes to the local cafe).

Christian Louboutin is well known to ridicule the concept of comfort, claiming it "is not part of [his] creative process". Sure, a woman can afford to wear impossible heels if she has driven to work and sits behind a desk all day. Some heels are really only for sitting down in.

Another quote from Louboutin says "'The core of my work is dedicated not to pleasing women, but to pleasing men" – hence the eye-catching red soles trademarked in 2008. 
A Chinese woman shows how 
her feet have been re-shaped

This attitude and the resulting abuses we are doing unto our feet for the sake of fashion is not nearly as bad as yet not worlds better than the old Chinese practise of routinely breaking and binding feet. This was a painful and disabling practise which most likely originated among upper-class court dancers in 900's AD but spread and became common among all classes due to men thinking it highly attractive, feminine and dainty. 

For some reason heels do have a certain appeal and look good, but generally men are more likely to be looking at your bum or legs, not what's on your feet. 

Thankfully foot-binding has now died out despite lasting for about 1000 years. Trouble is, when we are immersed in a culture we can't see that some normal practises and attitudes promote more pain and discomfort than they’re worth. 

Jimmy Choo has said "shoes are like the foundations. If the foundations aren’t right, the building won’t stand upright".

I'm not saying all high heels are bad – a friend of mine recently put together a small Ikea table using a high heeled shoe as a hammer. 

I know that life can often feel like a fashion parade, and sure, I'm far from practising what I've just preached. However we should be kinder to the things we rely on to take us places - don't make the foot fit the shoe.

Picture sources: Google images

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Read the rest of The Stag Issue 51

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Procastinations . . .

Prescription for the UK: exercise your right to wellbeing

A couple of years ago, if someone asked me if I played sport I would have looked at them as if they had said a dirty word. Sport was just not something I ‘did’, and I was probably the biggest cynic out of my friends and family when it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympics. Now, with that great legacy fading to a sparkly memory in our minds, I realise I have changed in a way I didn't ever expect. No, I am not about to run a marathon or even a half-marathon, but see sport as something that can enrich a varied and healthy lifestyle. Because sports may not seem like the most pressing issue in modern Britain, but boosting the perception of it in the minds of the population could be just the answer to the problems in healthcare and crime on the street. It’s obvious that sport reduces crime, reduces obesity, and sure as hell improves ordinary people’s sense of wellbeing.

It was hard not to get swept up in the excitement and feelings of unity when the Games were in town. The government probably have a goody bag of statistics now saying how public participation and interest in sports has increased/doubled/improved by x amount as a result and they've gotten practise at talking a good talk. But if they don’t act accordingly and revive sport in schools and communities, I fear we are going to get nowhere in the long term. We are a lucky nation to have been so well-represented in a variety of sports at the Olympics. You just had to look at certain events and notice how entirely under-represented African countries were in the swimming and diving to realise the importance of accessible sporting facilities – let’s face it, Africa is not known as a place with water going spare.

I'm fed up of seeing signs in parks and playing fields declaring “NO BALL GAMES”, “NO CYCLING”. Boris can get on his bike all he likes but it doesn't change the fact that roads are more often than not a dangerous place to cycle and are certainly not a fun place to do it anyway. Also, not all of us are lucky enough to have a garden where we can invite our friends for a good kick-around. This country needs to stop strangling spontaneous recreational physical activity (I don’t mean sex by the way) just in case a ball sent rocketing skywards might fall back to earth and hit a granny. Some 40 years ago in rural Croatia where my mum grew up, air rifle shooting was a regular part of the school sports programme - would young people in Britain today be able to believe it?

You don’t have to pay out for the gym or join a team (although I’d really encourage it, with the number of sports societies on offer at uni), but let’s not restrict sport and exercise to something ordinary people only do on machines in a purpose built complex, like dancing only when slightly (or very) inebriated in a darkened room with pulsing music. It’s really encouraging to see the number of families who turn out on bicycles for local events like the Olympic torch passing through Guildford and the finale of the Tour of Britain. I realise these people are the already-converted since the events I just mentioned are heavily sports-related, but working a short cycle into your daily routine or going for a jog to clear your head could really be the answer. Try it, and I promise you’ll feel better!

Picture sources: Google images

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Read the rest of The Stag Issue 52