Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tourists + Phone box

Maybe it's because of living in a city, but it's always interesting to watch tourists taking souvenir snapshots near famous London landmarks. There are certain scenes which you see again and again... people posing next to a horse-mounted guard in Whitehall, on the lions in Trafalgar Square, by the gates of Downing Street or with a uniformed policeman. Or by a classic red London Routemaster bus (though there's hardly any of them left now, sob sob...). Or next to a red phone box.

The red phone boxes are classics, originally designed by Gilbert Scott in the 1920s and '30s. Good things to pose with, to show you've been to London. But there is one particular phone box in Parliament Square which is really popular with tourists. I think it's because from a certain angle you can also get the Houses of Parliament in the background too... I guess I should test this theory really.

But some tourists go one better with their photos ... why not be snapped coming out of the phone box, posing with one hand on the open door? That's much more interesting! An original take on a classic tourist landmark! Well, it's a funny thing, but other people have had the same idea too. I've seen exactly that pose before, hundreds of times over the years. Always the same phone box, different people but same pose, same excited look as they take the photos. There must be so many people all over the world with exactly the same picture in their photo collections, just different faces, clothes and weather. It could go back decades... mind-boggling.

I almost wish I'd taken photos of them taking their photos by that phone box. It would be a very large and quite strange visual record of tourists in London. But instead, I just watch briefly, vaguely amused to see the same behaviour again and again, year after year, and feel pleased that people like visiting London.

So in case you feel the need to add that particular pose and landmark to your holiday snapshots, here's the location. It's the phone box on the corner of Parliament Square and Whitehall, facing the Houses of Parliament, SW1. Or wait and watch ... you'll soon see what I mean!

The Blogger's Graveyard

Since I've got interested in this blogging thing, I've been reading a lot of work blogs by British public sector employees, mostly police and medical ones. The police and the NHS feature on the news often enough, and in fictional TV dramas, but you don't often get to hear individual's stories about what their day-to-day jobs entail. TV reality shows pretend to do this, but they've been through an editing process before screening.

I've been surprised by the number of police blogs that have to stop, presumably under orders from their senior ranking officers once the blog is 'discovered'.

The Police Locker Room blog said this week:

"Very sad to say the Blogger's Graveyard is expanding. Sensible Policing has simply just disappeared off the face of the earth (never a good sign) and now even the PCSO blog has joined the ranks of those found out and has deleted every post he's ever written."

He/she posts a few days earlier about a blog by 'Semper Fi', whose only remaining post is a sad goodbye... Another, The World Weary Detective , had to cease blogging in March and ends his last post 'This is The End' with a grim quote from George Orwell.

I read both police and medical blogs because as a long-time tax payer, I am a potential user of these public services, so it's interesting to know more about the trials and tribulations of the jobs behind the uniforms and the public image presented in the media. I don't assume each blog is representative of the opinions held by the whole service, just a single voice. Might be embroidered a bit for the readers, might be based on fact. I don't know. I don't necessarily always agree with what I read, but that's fine, it's their opinion. That's what blogs are supposed to allow.

It just gives a different perspective on what they do, not filtered through a journalist or TV crew. It doesn't make me mistrust them or lose confidence in the services they provide (or should it?). It has only reinforced my understanding that all public sector employees are governed by political decisions frequently out of their control, which can impact negatively in practice on the actual provision of public services. Particularly when combined with stupid misuses of emergency services by members of the public, as is often recounted in ambulance-related blogs, also Random Acts of Reality.

I don't quite understand why police blogs seem to be stamped out more rigorously than far more overtly critical medical blogs, like the NHS Blog Doctor (which I really like for many reasons, including the quirky images).

Are dissenting voices (or even just unofficial voices from the rank and file) seen as potentially more dangerous to public opinion when coming from professional upholders of law and order, rather than those dealing with life or death medical cases?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Requiem in Four Acts

I guess, like many others, I had forgotten about Hurricane Katrina, when it quickly disappeared from regular news bulletins after the immediate flooding had subsided. Perhaps it became no longer newsworthy to international media.

But over the past few nights, the BBC has been screening Spike Lee's HBO film 'When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts' about the hurricane and its aftermath, several months later. It uses a good mix of footage from the period of the hurricane, combined with a broad selection of interviews, conducted months later, with people involved in different capacities, from residents of New Orleans telling their stories, to civil engineers, lawyers, politicians and news reporters. The use of jazz and blues as part of the musical background to much of the footage is really excellent, being both celebratory and mournful in different ways.

Although the Louisiana State Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team closed the Victim Identification Center in March 2006, the impact on survivors' health and in Post Traumatic Stress related deaths escapes theses official statistics. The death rate in New Orleans stands at over 30% higher than before the hurricane... serious illness, depression and suicide all different responses to what happened in August 2005. Debris was still being cleared 6 months on, while homeless residents had to wait months just to be offered temporary housing in trailers.

Apart from being obviously heart-rending in hearing peoples' experiences, the film leaves a really depressing realisation that so many deaths and personal tragedies could have been prevented, with a less inept response from various authorities involved. Presumably it is the huge price paid by those living in a relatively poor part of the USA, where political capital to be made from that area is limited, once the natural gas and oil supplies have been mined and the profits channelled off to central Federal funds.

Canadian Mounties and offers of help from Central America came within 2 days... while Bush and his cronies were shown fly-fishing, shoe-shopping at Ferragamo and attending lectures on disease control, all nowhere near New Orleans. It was pointed out that the USA mobilised aid for the boxing day Asian Tsunami within 2 days of it happening, while it was 5 days before federal involvement in one of their own States. But the Mayor was eventually summoned to a meeting with Bush on his presidential plane, Airforce 1 (or his 'pimpmobile' as Nagin called it...) and hey presto! Military help rolled into town led by 'a Black John Wayne'.

So many of the people interviewed had an incredible spirit and attachment to the city, with family roots in that area going back generations. The HBO site has links to various organisations continuing to help rebuild both the city and people's lives.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Yes, phew - I'm glad that paper's over! Not one of my best, as was still nervous and mis-timed it horribly, but at least they were interested in the topic. Nothing worse than that painful silence after someone's given a paper and no-one asks a question...maybe because it's too boring to think about, or they just can't be bothered. So at least that's something!

Still can't get used to being treated like a user by IT tech support people, though. I guess 10 years is quite a while to work in that sort of job, so I'm not likely to abandon it all mentally because I've moved on to something different.The very nice IT man told me in great detail how to open my Powerpoint file, and then how to get the memory stick out of the laptop afterwards... maybe I was like that when I was a technical support person (the only female one in the college for many years, actually...). I usually decide it's best to say nothing and be grateful for their help, because one day I won't know what I'm doing and will be glad of advice. I'm still crap with AV stuff anyway, so often need help with that! But I don't want to become one of those users from hell who think they know everything, they're as annoying as the rude ones.

Anyway, it's quite interesting to see how other people do provide technical support for their users from the 'other side'. I could identify with the geeky techies as well as the users in The IT Crowd sitcom when that was screened, but maybe identifying with the techies will gradually fade as I get more immersed in academia. Or maybe I'll always be part nerd and be interested when I come across strange Netware-related problems, or have to stop myself crawling around under the desk to fiddle with cables...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Blogs on TV Web doc

Could be interesting on Tuesday 5th December... a BBC Documentary about the web, 'Imagine', including various bloggers... (info via Random Acts of Reality blog)
Details from the Mildly Diverting blog...
"...a really excellent programme about the creative culture of the web. It's not hardcore geek - that wouldn't be right for the audience of the show - but it's a great overview of the way the MySpace generation are changing cultural consumption."

"The list of heavy hitter interviewees should give you a good flavour of how right she's got it: Tim Berners Lee, David Weinberger, Clay Shirky, Jimmy Wales, Henry Jenkins, Chris Anderson... I hope you'll agree that's a good mix of people, all of whom have really sound insights into the way the web is permeating everyday life, and how media is getting democratised."

"There are some real grassroots voices in there too - David Firth, creator of Salad Fingers, was reccomended by m'estimable colleague David Thair, and looks to be in the final cut. There's Dickon Edwards, Girl with a One Track Mind, and some modern beat combo called the Horrors, too. "

'Tattoo sleeves'

My attention was directed towards these things earlier... one step up from stick-on tattoo transfers, these 'tattoo sleeves' have their tattoo designs printed on sheer mesh stocking fabric, ideal for would-be tattoo fiends with a needle phobia. Or part-time subcultural rebels, who don't want to quite commit themselves with permanent body changes for the weekend, as it's back to the office job on Monday morning. Put your Harley Davidson back in the garage, wash out that temporary hair dye and take off your tattoo sleeves...

"With this incredible invention, you can get a fierce tattoo as quick and easy as putting on a shirt. Tattoo Sleeves have changed our lives. Now, when we walk through warehouse districts and dark alleyways, people see our tattoos and get out of the way. If we'd just get rid of our 'Hello Kitty' backpack we'd really be intimidating!"

It would probably be nice for the police and everyone else if it just took a few tattooed mesh things on your arms to scare people off and make you feel safe, but sadly, I doubt life is that simple, judging by the frequent knife and gun incidents you hear about on the news and elsewhere.

I did actually see someone in the local supermarket today, with arms like these sleeves, and couldn't help smiling... were they real tattoos or had I guessed his little secret? As it wouldn't be very 'hard' to be discovered with cut-down printed stockings on your arms in public, especially browsing the cheap TV soap guides and celebrity gossip magazines, I erred on the side of caution and averted my eyes. Just in case.

Thanks Paul - nice to know other people spend ages looking at really useful stuff on the internet when they've got loads of work to do too!! Still haven't finished my bloody paper... my plans change from day to day to accommodate each day's slowness and academic inactivity... it's not boring at all, I just can't make myself do stuff quickly any more. Maybe it's an end-of-term thing. Tomorrow I will start to panic and then it'll get done. Actually, probably not...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pink everywhere...and not a Barbie in sight

BritBlogs report that 'pink gifts are all the rage this Christmas'... presumably still just for the girlies though? And when you've got your pink iPod nano sorted, you can listen to it safely while lurking under the pink lighting if you live up in Lancashire. It may soon be installed in public places, in an attempt to prevent street crime, intended to have a calming effect on teenagers and supposedly preventing anti-social behaviour, but it also 'accentuates spotty teenage skin'. The Sleepy Policeman notes that even apparently stupid-sounding ideas in beat policing work sometimes. So your new hi-tech gadgets should be safe... unless you meet a mugger who doesn't mind his spots showing up, and who has no aversion to nicking stuff in a street lit up like a set from Barbie.