31 August 2011

The Wanderings of the WEEE Man

People around the United Kingdom have been in for a big surprise. A seven meter three tonne metal man has been wandering in their midst. Who (or what) is he and why is he here? Is the Earth about to stand still? Hardly, but like Klaatu he brings a message to which we should really listen!

Asking people to think about waste is sometimes difficult – you might even say it can be a waste of time. People do not like to be preached at. So how on earth do you make a European Union Directive interesting enough to grab people’s attention? Through art? Well, it’s worth a shot! A mysterious seven meter creature was born.

So here is the result – WEEE man! On average a citizen of the United Kingdom will produce 3.3 tonnes of waste in their lifetime. At the same time that sounds like an enormous amount but, considering our lifestyles in the West it does seem rather small at the same time. This is only, in reality, a fraction of the waste that one person creates. In fact, it only represents the electrical waste that will be produced by an individual in their lifetime. The WEEE man weighs in at this exact weight – and as such offers a direct insight in to the enormity of the problem.

What is he made of? Firstly, large household appliances, such as washing machines and television sets make up a large part of his structure. Then there are smaller objects, such as toaster, irons, and other electrical tools. There is lighting equipment and automatic dispensers, IT and telecoms equipment and toys and leisure items, all making up this latter-day Frankenstein’s monster of Brobdingnagian proportions. This guy is big! Waste is no longer out of sight, out of mind. The hope is that his birth will make people think about their behavior when it comes to disposing of the electrical equipment they no longer want.

People still do not consider recycling sufficiently. To draw attention to this the British Royal Society of Arts started to think – and think big. Hugh Knowles Mark Fremantle, both Fellows of the RSA developed the idea in tandem with Giraffe Innovation. The result was WEEE man – seven meters tall and, yes, over three tones in weight. He is a scary looking guy – hardly the ‘wee’ man you might imagine if you were told you were to be introduced to him at the bar after work! Wee, of course, is Scottish slang for someone of diminutive stature – and this wonderful play on words is integral to the impact of this work of art.

At the risk of sounding like a cosmetic ad, here’s the science (or at least the boring bit – the reason why WEEE man was created in the first instance. WEEE actually stands for the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) which became European Law way back in 2003. Its aim was to set targets for the collection, recovery and (mais bien sur!) the recycling of any and all types of electrical equipment.

The law recognizes that it is not the sole responsibility of the buyer to dispose of their electrical equipment once it has become redundant. Rather it is the equal responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that their customers can return their WEEE with ease – and for nothing. Additionally, the organizations mist use the collected materials in a way that is ecologically friendly – which means no more selling off the used goods to poorer nations to bury a few meters below the ground and ruin the water table for the local inhabitants.

So, the WEEE man was considered a good way to draw attention to this. After all, out of all the European Union Member States only little Cyprus managed to meet the deadline to place this Directive in to their own national law. The UK (and its usual tagalong play mate Malta) were the only two member states not to transpose a framework of the regulations at the very least in to their national law. Step forward the Royal Society of Arts with a reminder of the governmental responsibilities – and we are not talking a post-it note on the PC monitor here, either!

Once the point had been made, at the South Bank in the heart of London, WEEE man now finds a home at the marvelous Eden Project in Cornwall. There he remains (but will be on tour soon), a colossal reminder of the waste that we produce and a nudge to our consciences that we must do something about it. How he has managed to encourage discussion around our throw-away consumer society could never properly be quantified. However, something this big gets noticed and hopefully this WEEE man has made people think about their choices when it comes to the disposal and recycling of our waste.

29 August 2011

Twin Tower Cameos - The World Trade Center in the Movies

From 1969 to 2001, the Twin Towers made countless cameos in Hollywood films. Sometimes they featured prominently in the foreground, sometimes lurking in the distance. This montage by Dan Meth celebrates the towers' film career with songs that capture the passing decades.

Some of my favourite films are in here, from Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico to Escape from New York and Working Girl (call me an old softy) plus many, many more.

It must have taken forever to do this; trawling through the movies and then getting the footage altogether, sound tracking it.  The World Trade Center may be gone but this remarkable piece of film will help us to always remember these iconic towers of New York.

Plasticine Tatooine - Every Dodonna has its Day

Most people can name at least three characters’ names from the Star Wars movies, right? Some can name five to ten. Yet after that, how many of you out there could name twenty, thirty or even forty names from that galaxy far far away?  OK, but what about those momentary bit parts, the walk ons who were on screen for seconds? Ever wondered about them?

Elliot Quince does. A lot. So much so in fact that he has created his own homage to these lesser known characters. What is more he has created them through the medium of that matériel splendide of our childhood - that putty-like modelling material made from calcium salts, petroleum jelly and aliphatic acids we called plasticine.  Somehow, it just seems so right.

Born in the year that Episode 4 was released, Quince wanted to ‘imagine how bitter they must have been at not making it big, how badly they were treated on set or how cruelly their lives have panned out since the movies were released.’

So, here we have the like of Bib Fortuna, Jan Dodonna, Nien Nunb, Max Rebo and the horribly underused R5-D4 who can now all have their own moment in the sun away from the scene stealing antics of Solo, Chewie and the various Skywalkers. Well, perhaps not in the sun as such: we all know what happens to plasticine there. Take it as a metaphor.

Quince has created and collected all these characters and made them in to a wholly unofficial but lovely book, about which you can discover more (and buy perhaps) at his website, Plasticine Tatooine. Just click any pic to get there.

Pictures by kind permission of Elliot Quince.

28 August 2011

The Segue Sisters

Segue Sisters Carrie Marx, Charlotte Jo Hanbury and Kerrie Fairclough combine their harmonious singing and unique comic personas to give a fresh take on classic tunes from the past, present and future.

Originally taking their influence from 1940′s singing trio The Andrews Sisters, the girls incorporate this classic style of singing to perform a range of repertoire from ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B’ to the more contemporary rock songs of groups such as Nirvana and Alice Cooper – to provide a cheeky comic twist.

British readers will notice some familiar faces in here - Steve Furst, Al Murray, Arthur Smith, and Lionel Blair.  The video was directed and edited by Chris Lincé.

Urban Pacman

This is very, very silly – which we like. A lot. Take the Pacman game and place it in a real, urban environment and you get two things. First (I imagine) a lot of fun to be had by the filmmakers and secondly a very funny, extremely daft piece of film.

It was created by Directed by Sergej Hein with co-direction by David Moya and produced by Julian Holland. Filmed somewhere in Germany (I think) the most fun seens to have been by Gustavo and Davide who got to run around in life size Pacman and Inkey costumes.

Although the makers are probably far too young to remember this, those costumes reminded me of the giant outfits that contestants had to wear in the game show of yeasteryear It's a Knockout (or Jeux Sans Frontières if you are reading this on the mainland.

This just looks like huge, enormous, delirious fun. Can we have Space Invaders next, please? Tomorrow?

The Meerkat - Sun Angel of Africa

Over at the Ark in Space there is an interesting photo essay packed full of interesting facts about the meerkat. This uber cute African mammal goes under a number of names, the best of which by a mile is the sun angel.  Some African tribes believe that the meerkat will look after them and their animals if they get lost, hence the name. For more facts and a great selection of photographs which really do get 10 out of 10 on the aaaw scale, head over to the Ark in Space.

27 August 2011

The Doctor Returns Tonight!

It seems to have been a long time since he was last on our screens but tonight the Doctor returns - in search of Amy Pond's child Melody (aka River Song) in the wonderfully titled Let's Kill Hitler

25 August 2011


This is jaw droppingly, mouth openingly (!) cool. Twenty-one large triangles animated in Melbourne, Australia, throughout Federation Square. MÖBIUS is a sculpture that can be configured into many cyclical patterns and behave as though it is eating itself, whilst sinking into the ground. The result is an optical illusion and a time-lapse of people interacting with the sculpture and moving through Melbourne's landmark location throughout the day.

MÖBIUS was animated over two weeks Friday, Saturday & Sunday between the 6th - 20th of May 2011.

Well, Hello

This was one of those happy occasions when the photographer An Untrained Eye had taken three or four OK shots using this background. He decided to wait just five minutes more - at which moment along, as if on cue, came a rather handome chappy wearing red-framed glasses very similar to the ones that the lady in the art work is also wearing. Do you ever get that lucky when you are taking photographs? Let us know!

The X-Band Radar

In these seen-it-all days it is unusual to catch a glimpse of something man-made that will genuinely cause the head to turn and a hand to scratch it simultaneously. One such thing, looking like something out of an episode of Thunderbirds, is the Sea-based X-band radar. At first sight the onlooker may query what they are looking at – the three letters WTF being a contemporary but more than adequate euphemism for what could be exclaimed.

What is it indeed? The name may be a dead giveaway as to the purpose of this monster of the seas but the what can soon be replaced with a why. Yet, let’s not rush. This leviathan is a mobile radar station (which propels itself rather than having to be tugged). Where might the idea for such an ocean going goliath have been born? Hardly surprising when it is revealed as part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System of the United States of America.

At its heart though is Russian building: perhaps ironic given that the proliferation of missiles that could simply be described as, well, big was due in no small part to the antagonism between the States and the former USSR. Sure enough though, the X-Band Radar’s platform was built at Vyborg but based, however, on a Norwegian design for an oil-drilling stage. However, fear of the Russian bear is not so much on the agenda these days. The X-Band radar is designed to detect incomings from North Korea or China.

It had to be mightily modified at a later stage to become a defender of the land of the free. The conversion took place in Brownsville, Texas and the radar mount was constructed at Ingleside in the same state and mounted there. Although the X-Band (which sounds as like a Simon Cowell inspired troupe of adolescent male singers) is based in Alaska – at Adak Island it roams throughout the Pacific Ocean. Its mission, to detect the arrival of a number of apocalyptic horsemen cunningly disguised as nuclear weapons.

At 116 meters in length and a height of 85 meters such a giant could not possibly have come cheap. How about a hundred million dollars, then? A fair guess? You would be wrong – multiply that colossal figure for this colossus by nine and you have a much better approximation of where quite a few tax dollars went. It has a crew of up to eighty five people, mostly civilian and it displaces over fifty thousand tons of water when in motion (and is surprisingly stable in all kinds of weather conditions). As for its range though – if I told you, I would have to kill you. The range is strictly classified.

The Missile Defense Agency controls the X-Band and the platform allows for movement to places where there is geographic need for improved missile defense. Although this construct will not win any boat races it can travel up to eight knots, which is useful. Due to the curvature of the earth and the size of the USA it was deemed necessary to construct this roaming radar station. In a missile attack the main job of the SBX as it is known will be to differentiate between real missiles and decoys. X-Band radar, being a higher frequency than the S-band (Aegis) of even the C-band (Patriot) the resolution of objects its tracks is very high indeed and this makes the differentiation possible. Once it has done this it will precisely track the true warheads and ascertain exactly where they are headed.

The large dome enfolds and guards a phased-array X-Band radar antenna which sounds like something Seven Of Nine might cobble together to save the day in an episode of Voyager. A phased array ensures that the direction of the radiation pattern of the whole system can be focused in to a specific direction and not others. The central dome has a flexible cover, the air pressure of which is varied according to what the weather is doing at any one time.

The SBX is somewhat power hungry. The array alone requires over a megawatt of power. Add to this the need to be self-propelled then you have a requirement for six 3.6 megawatt generators, located equally in compartments on the starboard and port side of the platform.

This means that at the moment the SBX can generate 12 megawatts of power. Roughly speaking that is enough to power well over a thousand homes. There are plans afoot to add a further two generators. Why? If one of the compartments is lost (rather careless, it might seem, but replace the word with ‘put out of action by enemy activity’ and you have it) then the other compartment will be able to ensure full capacity operation.

To give you an idea of the power of the SBX, it can track an object the size of baseball over a distance of almost three thousand miles. So if Alex Rodriguez were to ever go back to his, ahem, performance enhancing days, then anything he shoots in to the atmosphere could successfully be tracked by the SBX. America can sleep soundly at night.

23 August 2011

Levitation Photography – Mid Air Magic

You might say that levitation is impossible: you might also say, on occasion that the camera never lies. You might well be wrong on both counts if these amazing photographs are anything to go by.

If you are a casual photographer (which might well make you a living breathing oxymoron) then you may well have taken a snap which, with some sheer blind luck, has given your subject the appearance of hovering in mid air. Yet there is a whole sub school of photography in which the aim is to give the appearance of levitation as seamlessly as possible.

It may not have started with Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman but since that particular photograph was taken in 1948 things have certainly moved on with the advent of digital photography and applications such as Photoshop. Yes, you may still need wires for objects but computer programs now allow for layering of multiple exposures with the stuff that you don’t want (step ladders in many cases) air brushed out.

As long as the photographer is careful not to move the camera during the multiple exposures, it shouldn't be too hard to separate out the background (the walls, the floor, the appliances and so on) from the various levitated objects (do a subtraction), which makes it as good as, if not better than using chroma key (green screen techniques).

When it comes to floating objects, however, the secret is the same – multiple exposures layered on top of each other. Objects are held, usually from the ceiling by wires or from handy trees – occasionally they are wired from the ground. Then, the offending wires are removed using a computer application and hey presto.

It does all sound rather time consuming, but look at the superb pictures here and you may realize that the effort is all worthwhile when the photograph is complete. Let's face it too - planking is so last year - anyone can do it. So you see, with a little help, sometimes the camera (with the aid of a computer) does lie.

Why not try it? You may want to just get someone to jump in the air and hope for the best. However, if you reall want to see how it's done then in this video tutorial, Danylo Bobyk shares some insight on how to make someone levitate in an image along with the lighting setup and Photoshop workflow that's at his blog post.