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Friday, 22 September 2006

News read by Monkeys

The mobile "Monkey News" product I've been working on (although not as much as the rest of the team) -- the news read by monkeys -- has finally been launched.

Designed for mobile phones, the service features animated news readers, reading newsfeed supplied by Reuters. Real news, read by monkeys. Some would say there's little difference between this and proper tv news but I think that's being a little unfair... See what you think at:

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Fab Holiday

Just back from a terrific holiday in Turkey. Yalikavak, on the Bodrum penninsula is very pleasant, quietish resort: we have been twice and rarely re-visit resorts but our first experience of the place two years ago was marred by a poor hotel, the Ali Baba which has changed management and now gone exclusive. The resort itself appealed and it was why we went back having been made to feel very welcome.

The Windmill Otel was a welcome place to stay this time around: it has no airs and graces, but the pool area and bar are great for time to relax (Barney the hotel's van cat will almost certainly say hello at meal times but will otherwise ignore you); the rooms are basic but if you're on holiday, how much time do you spend in one anyway—and all have A/C if needed.

The staff are great and the Scottish co-runner is forthright, lovely lady, Pat, is very helpful. The hotel also benefits from being off the main drag which means it's less noisy although noise does carry a little from the bar area at night and by September abandoned dogs (people from Istanbul just leave them in resort when they go home) can occasionally kick up quite an early morning chorus in response to the call to prayer. Definitely much better than Ali Baba!

As to the resort: this is not a quiet rural resort like Cavus, where we have stayed before in Turkey, but neither is it as tourist-filled as Bodrum. The local shops sit nicely with some tourist shops and there is a good mix of restaurants to suit any pocket, from the Chumbali (posh) to tapas from the Kosedes. With a big Brit and Irish ex-pat population there are a couple of restaurants given over to British menus; of these we had no problems eating at Mustis, a steak house, even though we prefer the more traditional restaurants like the Half Ada (sadly, this will probably not be there next time we visit). In terms of cost places like Mustis are more expensive but generally we paid around 30 lira tops for a meal at the Half Ada, although we did not drink much alcohol which always brings the price of a meal down! Other recommended restaurants are the Seyir - a fish restaurant near the recently-built marina we did not try but several locals say is good; and the Ali Baba, not to be confused with the hotel of the same name. The Three Brothers is a good place (or was this year) for lunch and late night drinking.

Locally there are some good walks including a two kilometer hike to the deserted village of Sandima - deserted that is apart from a couple of artists who have a galery there that is well worth a visit and an old man who still luves there who refused to move to the coast with the rest of his village!

If you're travelling with a tour company, Thomas Cook was much better than Manos in our experience: our organised trip to Ephesus and Pammukkale this year was one of the best I've ever been on abroad (despite the obligatory carpet factory visit!). Getting around the Bodrum peninusla should be fairly easy by dolmus although be aware that you have to go to Bodrum first by dolmus before going anywhere else.

Local trip wise, you can make a trip to the Greek island of Kos pretty easily, by hydrofoil or ferry - the crossing only takes about 25 - 30 minutes in good weather.

Comics-wise: a lot of US underground reprint as well as a smattering of European strip. No British reprint that I could see (although I have had e-mails from publishers in Turkey with reprint enquiries).

All in all a wonderful holiday, a friendly resort and the usual wonderful Turkish hospitality. Thank you, Yalikavak!

Battles in Time gets national launch

Battles in Time, the Doctor Who part work combining articles, a Customisable Card Game and comic strip by a variety of creators including artists John Ross and Lee Sullivan, is now on sale.

The game doesn't look too bad but the production values on the comic-magazine pale compared with other kids titles on the market, such as TOXIC! - which may look garish but at least is well designed - The Dandy and Wallace & Gromit.

This is yet another case of comics being "dumbed down". When modern kids are considerably more sophisticated compared with my (ancient) generation, why do some kids comics seem to be created as if they're being written for morons?

This formatying issue reminds me of the time Look-In decided to do away with comic strips drawn in traditonal form by the likes of Arthur Ranson and others and make every frame look like a TV screen. The garsish colours, unintelligible layouts and simplistic formatting of many of today's British kids comics all smack of a lack of respect for the intelligence of the target audience who have grown up quite happy to read Harry Potter.

"I suppose it reflects other media," my friend Lew Stringer notes. "Children's tv is now full of noise and primary colours, whilst the local 6 o'clock news programmes look more like sixties Blue Peter.

"It's a conspiracy to make us all too thick to start a revolution I tells ya!"

I'm with you, Lew!

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Breaking into comics - the Bishop speaks

Former 2000AD editor David Bishop recently posted a revealing interview outlining how he broke into comics and thoughts on how to get work in the industry on his Vicious Imagery blog.

As usual, he's very candid about his work, which includes this comment on the shock of working on 2000AD as its editor, having been about to leave Fleetway for pastures new when the position was offered him.

"I had been gagging to get my grubby mitts on the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and was determined to reverse what I saw as the failings of my predecessors, so I stuck around and became Tharg on December 18, 1995," he reveals. "I quickly discovered how tough editing 2000AD really is and gained a newfound respect for my predecessors.

"It’s very easy to snipe at whomever is Tharg and criticise their choices, but until you’ve sat in the big chair you have no idea how tough that job is," he admits with hindsight. "It’s a bit of a bastard, frankly."

Bishop feels it's easier for artists to break into the business than writers but makes some salient points about how to do it despite "bugger all money" for doing so (his words, not mine). Fascinating stuff.

Austen Baker Strikes Back

Oh dear, I seem to have upset Mr Austen Baker after I reported on his letter to Private Eye bemoaning public transport and bus lanes (he gets a right pasting in the current edition from other readers so it would appear I wasn't the only person he annoyed with his 'rich must come first' inferences of the published version of his correspondence to Brtiain's best-known satirical magazine.

Given that his Private Eye letter was of local interest I posted a story about it on Virtual-Lancaster too, provoking a quick response from the gentleman which I am only too happy to publish here for 'balance'

Dear Sir,

You have given prominence to a rant from someone who turns out to be one John Freeman, who appears to be a local public transport obsessive, relating to a letter from me published in the current issue of Private Eye. I'm afraid I would have to give him an F for English Comprehension, on the strength of this item, which also appears on his blog.

I did not say the rich should be given priority over the poor in transport matters, nor did I evince a belief that lower earners are second class citizens. I made two points - in rather direct manner, as befits Private Eye (this is not the Spectator or the Economist) - both of which have to be understood in the context of arguments over transport that have been going on for decades now.

One concern has always been that congestion, because it delays the arrival of goods and workers, carries with it an economic cost. My point was that bus lanes are not the solution to this. Bus users are likely to be on average lower earners than car users (subject to lots of qualifications and exceptions one cannot make in a short letter to the press). Economically (not morally) speaking, higher earners' time is more important - their greater earnings reflect a greater economic value placed on their time. A low earner delayed for 30 minutes represents a smaller loss to the economy as a whole than a higher earner delayed for the same time. This is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a moment or two. And I did not even argue that higher paid car users should be given priority over buses; merely that buses, with their lower earning passengers should not be given priority over cars (which is a quite different argument). Bus lanes narrow the available space available to cars and goods vehicles, thus exacerbating the delays they suffer in order to minimize delays for bus users. There is a cost to the economy of such a policy, and it does not seem to me that it necessarily makes good economic sense. That is all.

The second argument, which represented the bulk of my letter, and which he does not actually refute, is that transport policy ought not to be made against the background of a public debate distorted by misrepresentations.

I pointed out that buses not only emit quite a bit of pollution themselves, but, by forcing queues of traffic behind them to slow down/stop and then accelerate away again each time the bus stops to pick up or set down passengers, create additional pollution not usually counted in calculating environmental impacts (just set your car's trip computer to display current fuel consumption, and compare consumption - which equals emissions - at a steady 30 with the consumption as you pull away and get up to speed: the latter is phenomenally higher).

I also offered a recent example from a recent BBC TV news broadcast. Viewers were told that a journey from London to Edinburgh by car put out 100kg of emissions per person, by plane 50kg and by train 25kg. What they were not told was that this assumes one person in the car but a full to capacity train. Outside peak hours, though, we all know perfectly well that trains are far from full. I have made literally hundreds of journeys on trains little more than a quarter full. In that case, the train works out at 100kg per person, and if two people are making the car trip, the car works out at 50kg per person. You will see how misleading some of the statistics used can be.

I also pointed out the logical fallacy of using such figures to justify a proposal to charge large sums per mile to use busy roads at peak times (as the BBC was doing): at peak times on popular routes the trains are full, so penalising drivers to induce them onto the trains at those times on those routes would have a devastating effect on the rail infrastructure (and I pointed out that the BBC regional news for the West Midlands immediately following the news programme in question, carried an item about how through rail routes were to be cut because New Street Station in Birmingham was already operating at double the capacity it was designed for - highlighting the illogicality of the Government/BBC argument).

Finally, Mr Freeman takes a swipe at the University. I wrote to Private Eye expressing my own views, not those of the University, and it is inappropriate for him to suggest that what I write reflects University transport policy. While I do not speak for the University, I would point out that it does in fact have a coherent transport plan, agreed with the local authority, and makes great efforts to promote cycling, bus use and car sharing amongst its staff (and, with certain exceptions in special circumstances, prohibits students from obtaining parking permits). The University is, however, one of the city's largest employers and a major contributor to the local economy, so it naturally attracts a lot of traffic carrying both staff and visitors - all the transport plans in the world won't change that.

I realise that this is a local community website, but it is Nonetheless important that people are not misrepresented in this cavalier fashion. I would ask that you give my rebuttal equal prominence with Mr Freeman's assertions.

Yours faithfully,
Dr Richard Austen-Baker
Lecturer in Law
Lancaster University Law School

So there you have it - just for balance.

Freak Brothers pilot online

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers pilot is online at last: this is being made in Bristol. if you're not familiar with the Furry Freak Brothers this is probably meaningless to you, but it's quite fun regardless!

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