Friday, 25 March 2011

25/03/11 - Fighting fear with mundanity

It feels a little like the world’s coming apart at the seams, doesn’t it? With everything that’s happening in Japan, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Israel, Syria and, well, everywhere else, it’s tempting to ignore the alarm clock and just hide under the duvet instead. It’s scary out there.

But this is not the apocalypse. Yes, there’s loads of awful stuff happening, even at the hands of our own government (still, at least Cameron’s got his war; every new PM needs to celebrate with a major international conflict), but there’s only so much panicking we can do before our brains explode. Natural disasters are always tragic, particularly on the gobsmacking scale of what’s happened in Japan. War is also a terrifying thing, but we just have to trust that it’s happening for the right reasons. So what can we do on a day-to-day basis?
Well, nothing. If you’re not in the military, or an aid worker, or someone of considerable political clout, then there’s pretty much nothing you can do except observe proceedings and hope things will be alright.

So running around in frantic circles and shaking your fist at the sky isn’t really the way forward. Sure, you can bury your face in your hands and whimper if that’s what you want to do, but it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference; your fear will not topple an oppressive regime or rebuild a Japanese village. Why not help out in the best way you can, by simply restoring a bit of happiness, calm and good cheer to the world in general? Here are a few ways in which you can do just that this weekend…

Sit in your garden with a glass of Pimm’s and a Wodehouse novel
Now, there’s nothing more civilised than that, is there? If there’s one thing that the British people can be truly proud of, it’s the ability to sit out in the sun – or under the clouds, it doesn’t really matter – with some exquisitely witty prose and an alcoholic fruit salad. Once you’re in that middle class Olde England bubble, you are entirely safe from harm. Crunch on a moist segment of apple and appreciate the fact that the world is still, for the most part, a beautiful place.

Visit an English Heritage site
There’s much to be said for an afternoon spent absorbing the sumptuous splendour of times past. Get out of London for a bit and enjoy the windswept drama of Reculver Towers, the scattered remains of Berkhamstead Castle or the majestic arches of Boxgrove Priory. They’re much more chunky and reverential than your own house, but you’ll feel great when you get home and remember that you’ve got windows and telly.

Visit a National Trust site
Forgive them the folly of trying to popularise the appalling neologism ‘daycation’, they do great work. Much like the English Heritage sites, you have a huge choice of National Trust places to visit; you can enjoy the beautiful spring flowers of Rayleigh Mount, the verdant poetry of Runnymede or the bold towers of Sissinghurst Castle, and still make it back to London for cocktails. Lovely.

Go for a pint with someone you don’t see very often
It’s just a nice thing to do, isn’t it? Circumstances so often dictate who we see and who we don’t, and life can get in the way. But think – do you have something against your old school friend/cousin/ex-colleague/whatever? No, of course not. And you like to go for a pint every now and then, right? There you are. Give ‘em a call and find a nice little beer garden somewhere.

Call your mum
…and not just to ask her for something. She’ll appreciate you phoning for a zero-agenda chat, to show some interest in how she’s filling her days. None of us do this enough.

Do something mundane
Stay in on Friday night, order a takeaway, enjoy a nice bottle of wine, watch a bit of telly, play a video game for a while, arse around on the internet, then stick a DVD on. Because there are a lot of people in the world who can’t do this kind of stuff. Enjoy it.

Wrong Number Texts

The clue's in the name, really. Endless fun to be had here.

Withnail and I vs. Star Wars

The ultimate combo...? It works brilliantly.

Fuck Yeah Headlines

In the artist's own words, 'Each weekday I find a headline on a major news site, and illustrate it without reading a word of the story.' Click here.

The tale of Panyee FC

A lovely little story, courtesy of Leo Burnett Thailand.

Party in Rob's room!

The tin foil is particularly special...

God Hates Protesters

A fantastic round-up of the best and worst protest signs from around the world. Click here.

Smithy to the Rescue

This was by far the best bit of Comic Relief - massive all-star cast.

Rap News #Revolution

Compelling, if exhausting...

First Person Mario

Reporter brainfail


XKCD - Radiation

There's a lot of nonsense flying around in the press about how people are affected by different levels of radiation. This chart from XKCD clears it all up nicely. (Click to enlarge.)

Charlie Sheen's Winning Recipes

I was getting really bored of the whole Charlie Sheen circus until I saw this... but now I'm half-convinced that he's some kind of genius.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Pegg & Frost's Star Wars

While filming Paul, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took a little time out to perfectly recreate the Star Wars trilogy. As you can see below, they succeeded admirably.

Unfinished London 2

This is brilliant for two reasons:
1) it's very interesting.
2) it's really quite strange.

Actually, it's brilliant for a lot of other reasons too. Seriously, if you only watch one YouTube clip on JuicyPips this week, make it this one.

Kate Middleton: anything but common

Bless her, she's a national treasure. Click here.

Sophie Dahl is filthy

Camera traps

The Smithsonian Institution use motion-triggered camera traps to snap pictures of creatures in the wild, offering a glimpse into the lives of animals when humans aren't around. Click here to see the gallery.

The Only Way Is Essex - music video

Hooray! Everyone's favourite gaggle of obnoxious cretins will be returning to our screens this Sunday. Oh, shut uuuuuuup...

Show Us Your Long Drop

Fighting adversity with humour, Christchurch residents, finding themselves without adequate sewerage amenities, introduced a competitive element to the whole 'dig your own khazi' scenario. Click here.

SuperMassiveRaver vs. Facebook

These videos just get more and more intricately-constructed and bizarre. Love it.

Funny Exams

You've seen the emails that circulate sporadically showing funny exam papers. Well, here's where they all get archived!

Dali & Disney - 'Destino'

A 1946 collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney. As you might expect, it's rather surreal.


If there was a Mario Brothers movie, I'd want it to be exactly like this.

McDonald's across the globe

A random selection of the weird stuff that foreign folk can order in Mickey D's. Click here.

Sexy Sax Man

There's nothing about this that isn't amazing.

Typographic cities

A rather lovely project from Niklas Johansson and Albin Holmqvist, taking a typographic look at a number of cities. Watch the videos, you'll see what I mean.

EF - Live The Language - London from Albin Holmqvist on Vimeo.

EF - Live The Language - Beijing from Albin Holmqvist on Vimeo.

Click here for more videos.

Friday, 11 March 2011

11/03/11 - Cosmic inadequacy

Allow me to introduce a concept to you: cosmic inadequacy. You are all alone in space and time. You are insignificant, inconsequential, unremarkable and really rather small.

As a great man once said, ‘space is big. Really big. You think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.’
The universe is, of course, bigger than your puny human brain could ever comprehend. Without wanting to get caught up in the difficulties of the concept of infinity (which is a spectacular mindfuck in itself; existing as we do in a strictly compartmentalised society in which everything has a beginning and an end, it’s just impossible for us to grasp the idea that there’s no end to the universe. Don’t even try. Just tell yourself that it’s a really long way to the end, at which point you’d find out that it wasn’t the end after all, and so on ad infinitum), our own galaxy is enough to boggle the mind, let alone all that’s outside it. Consider this: our galaxy is 100,000 light years across. A light year, in simple terms, is a measure of the distance light would travel in a vacuum in one Earth year: about six trillion miles. The two mind-boggling facts there are that a) one hundred thousand multiplied by six trillion equals really quite a big number, and b) that if you shone a torch into one side of the galaxy - if such a thing were possible - it wouldn’t reach the other side for 100,000 years, even though the speed of light is a brisk 186,282 metres per second. (Sorry, I’ve mixed metric and imperial units there. That’s the matter-twisting effect the universe has on my logic circuits.)
But in cosmic terms, our galaxy isn’t even that impressive in stature. In fact, it’s quite small. So just how small are you, within all that? You are an infinitesimal speck on an infinitesimal speck.

And space isn’t the only concern. Time is really depressing.
The Earth is 4,540,000,000 years old. It can probably continue to sustain life in some form or another for a further 500,000,000 years. Through the ebb and flow of evolution, countless civilisations of various biological make-ups have developed, thrived, foundered and dissolved, always to be replaced by some new formula. Human beings have been around, in a modern-ish form, for around 200,000 years. We act as if the planet is ours, but we are very much merely destructive newcomers. It’s unlikely we’ll be around for too much longer, although within our own blinkered perception of time this isn’t something we need concern ourselves with on a daily basis. But when the humans do die out, we’ll simply be replaced by something able to evolve to survive in whatever toxic remains we leave behind us. Even now, life can exist on an atomic level in a bottle of arsenic or a phial of mercury, so the Earth probably isn’t too worried about us.
Let’s say the average lifespan of a healthy person in the West is about 80-90 years. Compare that amount of time to the time the Earth’s been around. If the planet had a significance gauge, you wouldn’t even register. Nothing you do really means anything. How can it?
If nothing else, there are 6,900,000,000 people on this planet; how many of them do you think are paying attention to you right now?

It’s not all bad news. Let me tell you about a thing called phylloxera.

Phylloxera is a near-invisible aphid that was first identified in the late 1840s. Wine growers in the Bouches-du-Rhône region noticed that their vines were wilting; very quickly they were withering and dying altogether, and the condition was occurring throughout France. The aphids’ modus operandi was to attack the roots and work their way up, so by the time the vines started showing symptoms, it was already too late. So over the next fifteen years, producers had to just sit back and watch their crop yields shrink; in that time, 40% of vines in France perished. However, of these dead vines, 80% of them managed to be brought back to life by grafting on American roots. You see, for some reason, vines from the Americas were unpalatable to the aphids and they left them alone. (The American vines themselves made unsavoury wine, but the hybridised version was a strong compromise.)
For reasons that are unknown and unknowable, certain parts of France were immune to the ravages of phylloxera. All of the Champagne region was decimated apart from two vineyards near Reims, which were entirely untouched. They remain the only Champagne vines that still have original French roots. Other regions contain similar fortuitous pockets of exclusivity, and for the truly pedantic wine connoisseur, bottles from producers with true French vines command a massive premium. Going well beyond appellation controlée - which governs that a product (say Champagne, or Roquefort, or Cornish pasties) may only be so named if it was produced in the region in question - the hunt for wines from old French stock is a complex, expensive pursuit; officially, all European vines are now grafted onto American rootstock, so the identity of the remaining ‘true’ vines is a closely-guarded secret that plebs like us are unlikely to discover. In the late eighties, wine merchant William Sokolin paid $519,750 for an eighteenth-century Château Margaux (which, incidentally, he managed to smash), and even today, new wines from the few remaining original vines are seen as being the only pure French product, unsullied by American dilution. Some wealthy collectors will drink nothing else.

This kind of thing really matters to some people. To most of us it’s entirely insignificant but, hey, in the spirit of cosmic inadequacy, isn’t everything?

What's in Spock's scanner?

This is just incredible. The constant uncomfortable silence is what makes it shine, but really everything about it is perfect. Hope it's the first of many...

Knocking Off

Click here for a glorious round-up of cheap knock-offs and shonky merchandise.

Misery Bear's Comic Relief

With the increasingly hit-and-miss nature of Comic Relief content, it's gratifying to find gems like this.

You are not a photographer

Amusingly vitriolic blog dedicated to relentlessly highlighting the fact that owning an expensive camera doesn't automatically make you a good photographer, particularly if you claim to be a 'professional'. Click here.

Cameras explained

Confused about what all those little symbols on your camera are for? Wonder no more...

Eat yourself dead

Want to die eating? This list rounds up the top spots where you can do exactly that. You fat bastard.

KLM's personal space

I've been doing this to people for years. Now I can pretend I work for KLM.

Pirate ship bedroom

I wish my bedroom looked like this. I don't mean when I was a kid, I mean now. Click here.

Police typing

This is just wonderful. The awkward two-finger jabbing at an obviously locked computer makes my heart smile.

MI5 Mobile Surveillance

Think you've got what it takes to be a Mobile Surveillance Officer for MI5? Click the image and test yourself. (But bear in mind that if you're serious about it, the actual testing might be a bit harder...)

Suave Debonair - I.T. Dave

Particularly amusing if you have someone called Dave in your I.T. department...

...and this is genuinely good, rather than just being a novelty track. Two thumbs up. :)

Frontier Life in the West

Some truly astounding photos of early frontier life - click here.