Friday, 30 May 2014

30/05/14 - Rocky Mountain Locusts

In 1873, the western United States of America and plains of Canada experienced something unprecedented and terrifying: the arrival of the Rocky Mountain locust. Or, more specifically, rather a lot of Rocky Mountain locusts. The swarms were massive – as they flew overhead, they blotted out the sun. The effects of their landing on pretty much anything at all was devastating; they stripped cropfields clean, ate laundry from lines and wool from the backs of sheep, gnawed through wooden buildings – it was an event as close to the apocalypse as anyone had ever experienced, making ear-shattering cacophony as they buzzed by. One swarm was estimated to be 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide, taking a full five days to pass. Just have a think about that for a moment. That’s a hell of a lot of insects, and each one capable of – nay, seemingly intent upon – the absolute destruction of everything in its path.
It was the largest recorded gathering of living things that the world had ever seen, with one estimate putting the total number of locusts at twelve trillion. People were swatting at them with spades, dousing them with insecticide, blasting them with incendiary devices – nothing made any difference. They were unstoppable.
At a time of enormous migration of farmers to the western US and Canada, the entire area was reliant on crop yields, with every farmer indebted to brand new mortgages and shiny fleets of machinery. The locusts destroyed countless lives.

At the end of the summer, they disappeared.

Scores of folk had suffered greatly from the Rocky Mountain locust crisis, but it seemed to be just an inexplicable, unfortunate and random one-off. People started to rebuild their farms, communities and lives.

And then it happened the next year, with even larger numbers of locusts. And for the following two years, with numbers larger still. It was an entirely helpless situation, with so much investment having been poured into an area that was evidently inhospitable to human life for large periods of the year. Families moved to the Midwest and east in droves.

Then it all just stopped. In 1877, the swarms were smaller and seemed kind of knackered and sluggish; after that, it never happened again.
It turned out, in the end, that it was increased farming in the affected areas that was killing the locust pupae in the ground, although that wasn’t worked out until decades later. Farmers had accidentally solved the problem without even realising, simply by tenaciously sticking with what they were doing.

That’s the odd thing about life. Sometimes, shit just happens.

How to do visual comedy

This is well worth eight minutes of your time.

Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Mario, selling Mercs

Bit odd.


Presumably this will be 2014's big Hallowe'en costume. So I won't be going outside in October.

Arcades, 1979-89

This Flickr group is brimming with nerdy gaming nostalgia.

Aug(De)mented Reality

Lovely bit of analogue/digital phone-based animation. - Farage

This is so well judged, and brilliantly executed. Great work.

Friday, 23 May 2014

23/05/14 - Oddbins Wandsworth

My local branch of Oddbins, cheerfully nestled on the Wandsworth one-way system, has seen fit to do a thing that scratches at the irritation gland of anybody that works in advertising: they’ve made their own advert. And, in the same vein as Ryanair’s shite old press ads, it’s bewildering in its rubbishness. On a large black board attached to the wall, they have a sign which reads thus:


Now, just what do you suppose that’s all about?
OK, let’s take a minor leap and assume the sign’s referring to Justin Bieber, Jeremy Kyle, Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan. What do these four people have in common? Let’s look at them individually to see what’s what…

Justin Bieber
Here’s a shining example of Macaulay Culkin Syndrome – the worrying consequences that manifest themselves in a public way when a child is furnished with limitless cash, endless swathes of aroused admirers, and a team of people who shout ‘yes!’ in response to everything they say. Of course he went off the rails. Viewed as a squeaky-clean teen idol, it was only natural that he’d cover himself in tattoos and start dressing like a sort of comedy gangsta, all snapback caps and saggy-crotch jeans. He was arrested for vandalism in Brazil. He was arrested in Miami Beach for driving under the influence with an expired licence. He reportedly smokes weed and takes Xanax. He was arrested for assaulting a limo driver in Toronto. No-one was especially surprised when the news recently reported that he might have been involved in a robbery.
He’s not the sort of person that Oddbins Wandsworth want as a customer, even though he’s spectacularly wealthy and probably has a thirsty entourage. Hmm.

Jeremy Kyle
For the uninitiated, think of Jeremy Kyle as being a sort of unsavoury parasite who revels in parading other parasites in front of TV cameras from a position of assumed moral superiority. His agonising television show bristles with captions such as ‘I’ll never marry you if you fail the lie detector’, ‘Even if my son is yours, he’ll call my girlfriend ‘dad’’, ‘Prove I’m a dad, then I’ll prove I haven’t slept with my mum’, ‘Should I leave my violent, cheating wife?’ and so on (those are all genuine, by the way) – it’s basically a showcase of people who don’t look after their teeth, who feel that the best outlet for their personal problems is to have them judged and ridiculed in public by a fundamentally unlikable arse.
Nevertheless, for all his many, many faults, I’d have thought that Jeremy Kyle was just the sort of person that Oddbins would be interested in courting. He presumably has a bit of cash – why else would he do what he does? There are certainly no moral rewards – and the killer blow is dealt by his family heritage: Kyle’s dad was the Queen Mother’s personal secretary, so presumably there’s a fondness for gin within the family. I bet he gets through gallons of the stuff. Do your research, Oddbins.

Simon Cowell
Back in 2003, Channel 4 compiled a list of the ‘100 Worst Britons’ – Cowell placed 33rd. That’s a phenomenal achievement. Think of all the awful people that he’s considered to be worse than – hordes of murderers and paedophiles, all judged to be less bad than a man who’s become famous for being a bit abrasive in his criticisms of other people’s work or talents. He’s really good at making people think he’s a bastard. I suspect the widespread revulsion doesn’t keep him awake at night, as he reclines in luxuriant fashion on his dolphin-skin sheets, throwing clods of caviar at peasants through the windows of one of his many mansions.
He probably isn’t a bastard, you know. I bet if you met him in a social context, you’d probably find that he’s just some bloke. Some bloke who happens to have fabricated a hateful public mask, and has become staggeringly wealthy as a result.
Imagine the excitement if he were to wander into Oddbins Wandsworth. They’d be beside themselves.

Piers Morgan
Awful. Just an awful person.

So the thread that seems to pull them all together is that whoever made the sign considers these people to be the sort of unsavoury characters that they wouldn’t welcome in the shop. Oddbins are clearly picky about their clientele, and analyse customers on a scale of overall worth to humankind rather than merely their ability to pay. This is either laudably public-spirited or despicably fascistic, it’s hard to say.

My wife’s analysis of the sign is probably correct – it’s an embarrassing dad-joke, presumably come up with by the manager and nobody wanted to argue him down. It probably sounded amusing to him when he said it off the cuff, reeling off four random names that he’d heard on the news that week and thought people could relate to, but he appears to have mistaken a toadying absence of a ‘that’s rubbish, Steve’ (or whatever his name is) response from his employees for any kind of actual wit or cultural relevance. Poor bloke. Bit embarrassing really.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the sign refers to Colin Bieber, Alison Kyle, Duncan Cowell and Brenda Morgan, four alcoholics from the nearby Winstanley Estate who’ve all been banned from other branches of Oddbins for shoplifting. That might make more sense. Perhaps I’m overthinking it.

DIY adamantium claws

Woah! Blimey! Cor!

Summary Bug

A glitch in the Netflix app was merging the summary descriptions of various films and TV shows, leading to some wonderfully odd ideas. It's since been fixed, but you can find loads of examples here.

King of the selfies


Fancy living in Boca Raton? Here you go, $35m and it's yours.

Catching stray baseballs

How to do it wrong, and how to do it right. First video is callous in the extreme (he doesn't even check on the old dear!), second one features a kid who is smoooooth...

Signs from the Near Future

Bit odd. Clicky.

Meth...'s a hell of a drug.

Edwardian Britain on film

Lots of hats, basically.

Friday, 16 May 2014

16/05/14 - Fahrvergnügen

There was a really irritating programme on TV a few years ago about a teenager in America who didn’t like swearing. Pretty mundane subject matter, you may think, but this kid was a nauseating little prick – annoyingly smug about his moral superiority in never saying a swear-word, and acting like everybody who ever swore was some kind of mentally deficient lout who only cursed because they didn’t have the intelligence to otherwise form a coherent sentence. The thing that really riled me about the boy was this quote (remembered from some time ago so possibly not verbatim): ‘In a situation where other people might use the f-word, like if they’d hurt themselves or they were really angry about something, I’d never curse. I’d just say “farfegnugen”.’
Now, you can probably see the flaw in his logic here. Imagine him banging a nail into a wall, accidentally thwacking his thumb with the hammer, and yelling out ‘Oh, farfegnugen!’. See, that is swearing. The word itself is immaterial, it’s the intent behind it that makes it, by its very nature, an expletive. His pathetic moral crusade is entirely without foundation; he is a hypocrite thanks to his own stupidity.
(‘Farfegnugen’, incidentally, is a bastardisation of ‘fahrvergnügen’ - a German word meaning ‘driving enjoyment’, used by Volkswagen in various ad campaigns, and adopted by cretins [divorced from any meaning, but just as a funny-sounding word] to add to their arsenal of horribly twee phrases; the sort of people who say ‘Jiminy Crickets’ and ‘absotively, posilutely’. Hateful.)

The kid was wrong. Swearing is magnificent, it offers a rich and versatile palette of emotions and possibilities. There are many words that can arguably be categorised as swear-words; the obvious likes of ‘fuck’, ‘shit’ etc can’t really be disputed, but there’s a certain amount of debate over such light expletives as ‘crap’ and ‘bollocks’ (Google ‘Sex Pistols obscenity trial’ for an interesting case featuring the latter). But let’s just pluck one rude word out of many, and look at the word ‘fuck’.
Are you familiar with The Wildhearts? You should be, they’re a national treasure. Anyway, they released a track in 1996 as a b-side to the ‘Red Light Green Light’ EP entitled ‘The British All-American Homeboy Crowd’, which featured a sample of comedian George Carlin musing on the versatility of the word ‘fuck’. Here’s what he says:

‘Perhaps one of the most interesting words in the English language today is the word ‘fuck’. It is one of those magical words which, just by its sound, can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love. It can be used as a verb, both intransitive – ‘Mary was fucked by John’, and transitive – ‘John fucked Mary’. As an adverb – ‘Mary is fucking interested in John’, and as a noun – ‘Mary is a fine fuck’. It can also be used as an adjective – ‘Mary was a fucking beautiful girl’. As you can see, there are not many words with the versatility of fuck. Besides the sexual meaning there are the following uses: fraud – ‘I got fucked at the used car lot’; dismay – ‘Oh, fuck it!’; trouble – ‘I guess I’m fucked now!’; aggression – ‘Fuck you!’; difficulty – ‘I don’t understand this fucking job’; displeasure – ‘What the fuck is going on here?’; incompetence – ‘He’s a fuck off’; ignorance – ‘Fucked if I know’; apathy – ‘Who gives a fuck?’; defiance – ‘The fuck you can!’…
I know you can think of many more uses, but with all of these uses, how can anyone be offended when you say fuck?’

It’s all about appropriate usage, of course. You shouldn’t just randomly say ‘fuck’ to a bus driver or a child in a playground. And sure, the sort of people who say ‘fuck’ in every sentence willy-nilly possibly do fit into that preachy teenager’s profile of lacking the intelligence not to swear, but that’s not the whole story. Casual, functional, day-to-day swearing is not something to be vilified – when used properly, ‘fuck’ is fucking useful. And anyone who has a moral objection to that… well, they can fuck off, can’t they?


Think you can handle an hour-long video intro to Windows 95, starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry? Here, do your worst. (They did.)


If this doesn’t get people voting, what will?

Politicians as you've never wanted to see them...

A twitter account to amuse and horrify here.

A Million Ways To Die In The West - Trailer #2

So looking forward to this.

Spurious correlations

A great selection of statistical non sequiturs here.


This is what your cat's really getting up to when it goes out. (This is the reference, obvs.)

100 Days Project: Found in Translation

Lovely idea, this. For 100 days, this artist is uploading an image a day to illustrate a word that doesn't easily translate into English. Clicky.

War Worm

A soldier's unlikely friendship with a glowworm. Marvellous.

Relics of technology

Lovely set of photos here. So, how old do you feel now...?

Godzilla vs. Walter White

Adorable little robot

...will be your master one day.

Friday, 9 May 2014

09/05/14 - 'That's so surreal!'

Surrealism, as a movement, wouldn’t survive today. Our brains are no longer wired in a way that would be able to process it as a new thing, it’d just get lost in the jumble of randomness that spills into our heads from the myriad media sources that permeate every plane of our existence. It wouldn’t be a broad-reaching and influential art movement, it’d just be a ‘You Won’t Believe How Strange These Pictures Are’ list on BuzzFeed, shared for a couple of days and then forgotten.

The cultural movement of Surrealism originated in the 1920s, broadly across the media of visual art and literature, offering jarring and often disturbing scenes that usually incorporated surprising juxtapositions, bold non sequiturs and dreamlike exaggeration. It grew from post-WWI Dadaism (which railed against the atrocities of war by transmitting an anti-war stance through art that eschewed traditional methods and conventions), radiating from its Parisian epicentre to spread across the globe in a kaleidoscope of weirdness.

André Breton was the founder of the movement, whose Surrealist Manifestos defined the ethos thus: ‘Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
In other words, the expression of ideas without having to take into account pesky things like physics, truth or reality. Breton highlights the dream as a key reservoir for Surrealist inspiration, while influencers on the movement include Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Dante, the Marquis de Sade and, of course, the absurdist humour of Dadaism. What this resulted in was a tidal wave of colourful strangeness, from Dalí’s melting clocks and Duchamp’s rotating circles and spheres, to Ernst’s pencil-rubbing frottage.

The point of all this is that the 1920s were a time when such a concept could be embraced as a genuinely exciting thing. People were just getting to grips with the idea of the subconscious (or ‘unconscious’, if you want to get all Freudian about it), and Surrealism was a very clear means to display what the subconscious actually meant, how it worked, how the mind’s perception of reality could transmute and rework things.
But now we live in an age of image manipulation of a different kind. There’s no polarisation of what distinctly is and isn’t physically accurate – airbrushed models in swimwear ads, befuddling online text-on-a-picture memes, retweeted Photoshopped photos of celebrities. Things may be presented as surreal but they aren’t, they’re just random. The term ‘surreal’ has entered the common lexicon as something that’s interchangeable with ‘odd’ or ‘weird’, and that really dilutes its function. There’s no subconsciousness beneath a picture of Wally (y’know, of ‘Where’s Wally?’ fame) Photoshopped into Tiananmen Square, it’s just postmodern comic juxtaposition.

What I’m really getting at is that the next time you hear someone misusing the term ‘surreal’, you need to microwave their wall clocks till they go all floppy.

Two short animations

A couple of snippets of loveliness here - one about a fridge, one about a dog.

World War I in photos

It's a hundred years since the First World War broke out, and to mark this The Atlantic are sharing a series of outstanding photos from throughout the conflict - the intro is here; keep an eye out for the ten-part series as it unfolds.


A compilation of SCIENCE.


Some truly world-class food puns here.

Some political Czech comedy

Er... hmm.