Saturday, 16 March 2013

There was a time, O' Bee

There was a time, O’ Bee, when all crops were lovingly tended by conscientious farmers. Yet now the pesticide-soaked world is rapidly being seized by multinational companies like Monsanto who care not for you, nor your brothers, nor the farmers, nor the people who ingest their ‘food’ as they violate one species with the genes of another. gold and ebony black. Should your brothers see you laying there they would want to clothe themselves in mourning dress. Perhaps they too will fall from the sky, their wings suddenly freezing mid flight as they finally succumb to undernourishment  Your distant ancestors could buzz from flower to flower, soaking up their goodness.  But you, poor Bee, had no such pleasure. It was the genetically modified crops that slew you, deprived of the vital nutrients.

It was unbeknownst to you that the flowers you were pollinating would feed you so little. Tragically, many human beings too do not know the dangers of GMO, or chose to ignore them. Your brothers and I, O Bee, long for a time when the wickedness stops. When farmers will once again be in control of their precious lands. My dearly departed friend, how long will it continue that the rich in this world waste copious amounts of food whilst the spindly-legged, bloated-bellied poor wake up each day to a torturous struggle? It doesn’t have to be this way. You didn’t have to die. 

Photo by Peter Joseph Swanson, taken from here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Exploring the Zooniverse

Last night I attented a talk at Sheffield’s lovely, independent Showroom Cinema by Astronomer Steven Bamford from Nottingham University about the Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse citizen science projects

When Dr Chris Lintott, a researcher in the department of physics at the University of Oxford, first considered launching a website to ask the public to help classify photographs of 1m galaxies, he assumed it would probably take three or four years to complete. Galaxy Zoo was launched in July 2007, with a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged by the SloanDigital Sky Survey (SDSS). The images, taken automatically by the telescope, were previously unseen by human eyes.
Dr Lintott hoped that that each image would receive 10 classifications and that the public would prove able to accurately classify galaxies. Three weeks and 10m classifications later, he was proved right. In fact the public was sometimes better than professional astronomers at classifying them.
Users were asked to define whether it was a spiral galaxy, elliptical galaxy or a merger and if it was spiral, to specify the direction of the arms.

It is estimated that the perfect graduate student — essentially, a human computer that never eats, sleeps or takes a bathroom break — spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week analyzing Galaxy Zoo's data would have needed three to five years to match what Galaxy Zoo's volunteers collectively accomplished in the project's first sixth months.

Over 50 million classifications were received within the first year, contributed by more than 150,000 people. This saved many hours of valuable (and expensive) telescope time. It took cofounder Kevin Schawinski a mind-numbing week to classify 50,000 himself.

Confident in user’s classification abilities, Galaxy Zoo 2 was launched and users were asked to take a closer look at just over 200,000 of the brightest of the Sloan galaxies. They were asked about the number of spiral arms, the size of the galaxies' bulges and more. Within 14 months the site received over 60 million classifications.

The website’s third incarnation, Galaxy Zoo : Hubble drew from surveys conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope to view earlier epochs of galaxy formation. In these surveys, which involve copious days of dedicated observation time, light from galaxies which has taken billions of years to reach us can be seen. The idea behind it was to compare galaxies then to galaxies now, giving a clear understanding of the factors influencing their growth, whether through mergers, active black holes or simply star formation.

The current Galaxy Zoo website combines new imaging from Sloan, with the most distant images from Hubble's CANDELS survey, which uses the new Wide Field Camera 3 - installed during the final shuttle mission to Hubble - to take ultra-deep images of the Universe.

Data collected from this form of citizen scientists allowed scientists to write detailed papers, which would not have been possible without the public’s health. Even computers are incapable of efficiently differentiating between the different types of galaxies 

Perhaps the most interesting finding is Hanny's Voorwerp
(dutch for Hanny’s object) discovered by Hanny van Arkel, a green gas cloud which looks a bit like a monster, below a galaxy. It is thought to be a portion of a gas-cloud, mostly made up of hydrogen, heated by the jet from a black hole.

If you’d like to have a go at classifying galaxies click here to be redirected to the Galazy Zoo website. Make sure that you sign-up and are logged in so that you can get credit for any interesting discoveries you make. Or if galaxy classification isn’t your thing, visit the Zooniverse website, which sprung from the Galaxy Zoo project. It allows you to do other forms of citizen science, from exploring the surface of Mars to help discover what the weather is like on Mars, to helping marine researchers understand what whales are saying.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kate Middleton and the topless tempest

Looking at photos of a respectfully shrouded Duchess of Cambridge beaming widely in her visit to a mosque in Kuala Lumpa I detect a falseness in her overly joyous demeanour. She is forced to constantly act in the real-life play that is her life.

Strikingly, these images were circulating simultaneously to those of the topless of Kate Middleton on a private terrace in Provence published by Closer magazine in France. They are a stark contrast to one another.
BEAMING The Dutchess of Cambridge and Prince William
You cannot help but think of Princess Diana and the photos snatched with a long lens whilst she was holidaying with Dodi Fayed.

Publishing the photos is no doubt breaking French privacy laws, considered to be the most robust in Europe.

’s not the first time that compromising photos of royals have surfaced from France. Twenty years ago, photos of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was pictured topless with an American businessman sucking her toes. And in 1994 paparazzi took pictures of Prince Charles stood naked on a balcony of a French chateau near Avignon.

French laws ban not only disclosing someone’s private life, but also forbid the “theft of personal image” which technically bans paparazzi taking photos even in public places. But such laws did nothing to deter the magazine from publishing the photos as they knew they could make sums far more superior than any fine they would be punished with. Raunchier titles, like Closer, Public and Voici, unashamedly indulge in celebrity gossip and in fact budget for seemingly inevitable legal payouts.

GROTESQUE The cover of  Closer

Voyeurism in its extreme, the publication of these photos is a disgusting invasion of privacy. Whilst some remain sympathetic, others think that she brought it on herself. 

“Any woman, let alone one who has acquired some celebrity, who bares her bosom where she’s visible to a long lens is a fool,” wrote Erasma2 in a Washington Post comment thread

“No use for the photographer or the magazine, but no sympathy for Kate either.” "Kate topless even on private property should expect the photos to be splashed in the news,” added commenter Desertdiva. “There is NO expectation of privacy for anyone."

Would such people be of the same opinion if photos of their naked or half-naked son or daughter started to circulate the internet? I doubt it. 

The question of where a person is really in private is a complicated, one and it is not just famous people who are affected by since we live in a “I just tagged you on Facebook without your knowledge” culture. 

There is clearly a massive difference between Harry drunkenly gallivanting naked at a Las Vegas party with strangers and choosing to disrobe whilst sunbathing with your husband. 

Perhaps she shouldn’t have ventured onto the balcony. But where do you draw the line? What if she happened to be nearby a window that has accidentally been left uncovered for example. The fact remains that it was in the environs of a private place and not somewhere for all to see. The excuse is that the photos were taken from a public road. Of course it would have been easier to use a drone, something which is becoming increasingly popular amongst journalists and ethically-challenged photographers. 

It will be interesting to see how the storm continues over the weeks to come.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Snig Hill Gallery - a hidden Sheffield gem

Nestled in-between Fargate and Riverside just nearby the Sheffield law courts you can discover the quirky café galleria The Snig Hill Gallery.

With inviting-looking sofas, church pews and tables with unmatching chairs the furniture is as eclectic as the art displayed on the walls.

When you arrive you are greeted with the tantalising smell of freshly-ground coffee beans and if you treat yourself to a cup you can spend time sat in comfort enjoying perusing the art on the walls.

The most featured artist at the moment is Julian Christophers.

Cornish-born Christophers began painting at the age of 20. Early in his career, Patrick Woodruff advised him not to attend art college as he felt it would alter his vision and destroy his unique style.

Julian has been painting and sculpting in Cornwall since 1982, drawing influence from this unique environment.

His boat paintings are deceptively child-like. The bright colours would bring cheer to any heart even on the darkest of mornings.

My personal favourites are his gull paintings which seem to perfectly reflect the personality of an angry sea-gull. You can’t help but imagine yourself being at the beach admiring a squall of fighting gulls combating for the tiniest scrap of food.

The paintings of slightly strangely-proportioned naked people remind me of he works of Lucian Freud, one of my favourite artists. So Freud fans are bound to adore Julian Christopher’s work.

If you have a free afternoon, treat yourself to a visit the Snig Hill gallery. Relax with some freshly ground coffee and some delicious home-made cake or a tasty sandwich and soak in the art.

The Snig Hill Gallery
24-26 Snig Hill
S3 8NB

0114 2709559

Twitter @snighillgallery

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The homeless: Street furniture? Wifi hot spots? Individuals?

Two conversations I heard on the radio recently really got me thinking. The first was on the Terry Wogan show on Radio 2 on Sunday morning. They were talking about homeless people and relating it to Charles Dickens. To help him cope with his persistent insomnia, he wandered London’s streets in the early mornings, bearing witness to the degrading power of drunkenness, prostitution, poverty and homelessness.

He described these wanderings in his Night Walks essay. He saw the experience as an “education”:

In the course of those nights, I finished my education in a fair amateur experience of houselessness. My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night in the year.

It was a huge learning experience to Dickens and it no doubt planted one of the seeds which lead to Dickens desire to combat social inequality.

Interestingly, slightly later on in the essay, he seems to put himself in the shoes of the homeless people, saying “us homeless people” and “we”.

The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles and tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first entertainments offered to the contemplation of us houseless people.

Dickens makes it clear that the ordeal of homelessness stretches far beyond just not having a house. His description really evokes the desperation, loneliness, isolation and ennui of people who live on the streets. He shows that staggeringly drunk people can easily have a sense of fraternity yet companionship amongst the homeless is fragile and easily disturbed.

The most poignant sentence, and one which was evoked on the Terry Wogan show, was: “in the yearning of the houseless mind would be for any sign of company”.

It continues: [for] any lighted place, any movement, anything suggestive of any one being up--nay, even so much as awake, for the houseless eye looked out for lights in windows.

The light here is clearly more than physical. People on the streets are searching for a way out of their dark situation and for hope.

The guest to Wogan’s show was saying that if lent had not been going well then instead we should give up ignoring homeless people. How many of us deliberately avoid eye contact with them as we walk past? I myself often deliberately cross the road to avoid going past a Big Issue seller, either because I feel guilty for not wanting to buy a copy or because I don’t want to feel compelled to buy one.

Simply giving money to a homeless person is not going to make a huge difference to their life.

When helping out one Saturday night in a homeless outreach run by the church one of my housemates go to, I heard one homeless person remark that when other groups handed out food to the homeless, certain individuals acted really coldly towards them. They just handed out the food and did not want a conversation. What the homeless man really appreciated was that students who participate in outreach projects are really willing to give up their time to actually have a conversation.

Dickens gives one personality in the story/essay the name “Houselessness”. In both Dickens time and our own, there is a tendency to group homeless people together as though they are a distinct race. There is a tendency to generalise. For some people this generalisation is taking to the extreme. “Oh I’m not going to give any money to that guy because he’ll only spend it on drugs and booze”. “She’s probably only on the street because she was too lazy to work” etc etc.

Another phrase in Dickens which struck me (excuse the pun) was the following:

When a church clock strikes, on houseless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first mistaken for company and hailed as such.

This stood out to me because it reminded me once more of the homeless outreach. My boyfriend, who also helped out, told me that one woman he was talking to. This woman, her homeless boyfriend and their companion were sadly rather drunk. She told my boyfriend that she had tried going to churches before but had never felt welcomed by them. She felt judged. It is so sad that someone who was searching for help, for company was treated in this way.

We need to remember that the homeless are people to. Unfortunately, this is something which a ad agency seems to have forgotten. This was being discussed on a radio show I was listening to today.

A division of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) equipped 13 homeless people with 4G wifi devices in Austin, Texas.

Someone from the agency said it helped raise awareness. Surely there are less demeaning ways of raising awareness, ways which do not turn homeless people into a commodity?

Sadly we live in a society where human beings are being turned into commodities. We are less the consumer than the consumed.

We are put into categories by ad agencies and companies such as Facebook and Google. It needs to be remembered that we are humans, we are individuals.

My challenge for you is to treat homeless people as human beings too instead of treating them as an item street furniture.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Transforming the ordinary to the extraordinary

A dreary council estate would be little inspiration for many. Garages, the end wall of a house, the local bus stop, a scene containing a bin for dog poo and abandoned-looking shops with their shutters down are probably not the top of most artists’ lists for a choice of subject matter. Yet for George Shaw they seem to be a great inspiration. For over two decades he has been painting the Tile Hill housing estate in Coventry, where he grew up.

Many of the scenes have a ghost-town quality. They are void of human life, except the occasional light being left on in an upstairs room. The paintings seem drab and lifeless yet at the same time are exceedingly compelling.

The Resurface (2010) by George Shaw - A painting of a new bit of tarmac by some lock-up garages

Shaw seems to dwell on his past but at the same time is at a distance from it. Everything seems boarded-up, closed down or inaccessible. In the Resurface the brick-built lock ups with tarnished bricks, scrubbed out graffiti and a moss-covered are juxtaposed with the new tarmac emblazoned with the word NO. The doors are padlocked shut, the trees in the background are empty of leaves, their trunks a drab grey. Evergreen trees in the distance are blurry with undefined edges and the trees behind the building are closed off behind a metal fence. It is as though the world wants him to move on, he wants to move on but somehow he could never let go of his past, even the most mundane aspects.

What is particularly haunting about the scenes is that such sense of abandon is more and more familiar to us. In many towns and cities we are confronted with boarded up shops, half-finished housing estates and buildings in disrepair.

He is not alone in painting the aesthetic wasteland which were are surrounded with since plenty of other artists have created works of arts based upon it. But Shaw’s paintings are different because they are suffused with feeling and memories. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Also present in his paintings is the constant struggle between man and nature. Ugly man-made structures are contrasted against natural beauty. Nature seems benign but there is a sense that it is capable of taking over, engulfing what man has abandoned and reclaiming what was once its own. In the Time Machine, which features the iconic British telephone box it seems to fight against the metal fence. Nature seems to be defiant despite the actions of man. In Where First and Last Things Sound the Same there is again a metal fence, a tangled mess of roots and branches, a tree stump which was severed by man but is neighboured by another tree which seems to obstinately live on.

It is a pity that Shaw did not win the Turner Prize for which he was nominated for. He certainly deserves it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Gaddafi dead

This is the monstrosity of a front page published in the Sun today. I have blacked out the images because some of you may find them disturbing and not wish to see them. Although I suspect they already caught your eye if you happened to go past any news agents. If you really want to see it in its full ‘glory’ please click here to see various newspaper pages.
“THAT’S FOR LOCKERBIE And Yvonne Fletcher. And IRA Semtex victims.”
So ok Yyonne Fletcher was shot by a gunman in the Libyan embassy and Gaddafi was apparently a friend of the IRA and provided them with Semtex.

But hold on a minute, hasn’t the British government sold arms worth tens of millions of pounds to Gaddafi’s regime? Didn’t they sell a £5million package of water cannons and armed personnel carriers back in 2007?

The regime used these weapons to slaughter pro-democracy protestors

The list goes on, lasts summer the Coalition government approved licences to sell products to Libya including ‘crowd control ammunition’ and ‘tear gas/irritant ammunition’ and towards the end of last year sniper rifles were shipped to Libya.

Military export licenses to Libya alone since the start of 2009 totalled £61.3million, according to Department for Business figures.

If we are to agree with the Sun’s headline then a Libyan who has lost a family member could just as easily hunt down and kill David Cameron and Nick Clegg and say “That’s for my son!”

Did you know that we also sell arms to Mugabe’s regime? I have to wonder if he’s the next target...

There are also many other countries we sell to: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria.

And then our media frown upon the Chinese government who were going to sell £124m worth of weaponry to Muammar Gaddafi's government.

Pot. Kettle. Black.