1. The Man Who Forgot He Was A Rap Legend

    Posted October 18, 2017 in ephemera, music  |  No Comments so far

    This article about T La Rock (in GQ, natch) is worth a read.

    T La Rock was attacked on the street in 1994, leaving him with a severe brain injury and near-total memory loss. He had to rebuild an identity for himself in a convalescent home in Coney Island, while at the same time finding out about his past.

    I love how the piece interweaves three key periods in T’s life: his involvement in the explosive dawning of hip hop, the time of his assault, and his rebirth in the Coney Island convalescent home.

    [His mother] brought in a boom box so T could listen to records, including his own music. When T first heard those songs again, it felt like a discovery. “You know what?” he thought. “This is pretty good!” But then he had the strange sensation of hearing himself but not knowing the song. It sounded like someone else was using his voice.

    Read it on GQ.com


  2. What Magna Carta symbolises

    Posted June 17, 2015 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    An informative, combative post from Jack of Kent about the Magna Carta, which is supposed to have celebrated its 800th birthday a couple of days ago. Magna Carta plays more of a symbolic than a functional role in English law. But what does it symbolise?

    [It symbolises] not a great English constitutional principle, but the lack of one.  It symbolises the capacity of people to nod-along at being told they have fictional and non-existent rights instead of having rights which can actually be enforced.  It symbolises that people are content with believing in fairy tales.

    Those with political and legal power know this.  It is safe for the government to want you to celebrate Magna Carta, which you cannot rely on in court, whilst it – for example – seeks to repeal the Human Rights Act, which you can.

    Read the whole thing here.

  3. An interview with the actor who played Ziggy in The Wire

    Posted January 21, 2015 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    I enjoyed this interview with James Ransone, who played Ziggy in Season 2 of The Wire.

    As every fan of The Wire knows, the second season was the show’s apogee. It put the larger-than-life characters (Omar, Stringer) to one side and focused instead on the struggles of the working class community around the Baltimore dockyards. But although those struggles might initially seem dull compared with the high-stakes gangland drama of Season 1, the second outing of The Wire is the clear winner in terms of high Shakespearean tragedy.

    The only people who really dislike the second season are white people. People got mad that they moved it out of the hood. And look, there might be an element that the character is annoying, but there’s that feeling of familiarity too. That the blue collar worker might hit a little close to home rather than the projects of East Baltimore. Ziggy is more like a family member you might have; there’s not this cognitive dissonance. You’re much more likely to know someone like Ziggy than to know someone like Omar.

    Ziggy might well be the Jar Jar Binks of The Wire, but he’s a deeply tragic character, and it must have been weird for the actor who played him to only start being recognised on the streets 6 years after the show originally aired.

  4. Trial by PowerPoint

    Posted January 1, 2015 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    John Naughton linked to this fascinating piece about the use of PowerPoint in American courtrooms.

    Just like Naughton, I didn’t know that American prosecutors were allowed to deliver rebuttals with accompanying PowerPoint decks. Nor did I know that they resort to such manipulative, tabloid-esque techniques in the slides they create – techniques that can, in some cases, result in mistrials.

    The prosecutor had dressed up her closing argument to the jury with a series of slides, complete with “sound effects and animation,” the appellate court wrote. On one slide, footprints materialized across the bottom of the screen. Other slides exhibited “concentric rings of a target,” with each ring corresponding to an item of evidence; the defendant’s name, Sergey Fedoruk, was in the bull’s-eye. The prosecution’s final slide, the pièce de résistance, opened with a header that said “Murder 2.” Then, under the header, a single word flashed, in all capital letters, in 96-point red type: GUILTY

    Defendants are not forced to attend court wearing prison garb, because this would create an association of guilt in the minds of the jury and taint the trial. Prosecutors often use PowerPoint to get around this by using mugshots and shifty-looking CCTV footage of defendants and then plastering the word “GUILTY”, in red text, all over their faces. Very subtle.

    Read the full piece over at the Marshall Project.

  5. “If Everyone Jumped Off a Cliff…” — A New Perspective

    Posted October 3, 2014 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    In late 2012 I appeared on one of those comedy-panel quiz TV programmes. It didn’t get commissioned, thank god, so you won’t have heard of it. In front of the studio audience, Sara Cox cracked a joke about the graphics I’d made for my tube seat strategy post of 2011. The good news, dear reader, is that I managed to come up with a witty and suitably risqué retort. But the bad news is that it only came to me in the summer of 2014, approximately eighteen months too late.

    In the early 1980s I was in junior school. Something happened—I forget what it was—which prompted a teacher to say to me, “if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?”

    She didn’t expect an answer, of course, and I didn’t offer one. But last night, fully thirty years after she posed this rhetorical question to me, I finally thought of a retort. Here it is.

    “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, and I decided not to, what kind of world would be left for me, an eight-year-old child, to live in? After all, everyone else would have jumped off a cliff: my loved ones, my friends, the adults I rely on for food, wisdom and emotional support—not to mention all those others who keep society’s wheels turning.

    Yes, I might go home and, for a time, enjoy the unbounded access to toys and property offered by a landscape newly bereft of a human civilisation which had recently chosen to jump, en masse, off a cliff. But before long starvation, depression and insanity would surely begin to take their toll. How long would I last? And how lonely and drawn-out would the end be for me, when it finally came? Perhaps, then, to have jumped off that cliff, along with everyone else, might have been the best thing after all.”

    I’m sure you’ll agree that my teacher would have struggled for a comeback if my eight-year-old self had come up with that. It’s a shame it took so long to think of though. Compared to that, my Sara Cox retort was lightning fast.

  6. Possibly the most enigmatic wayfinding device ever

    Posted September 28, 2014 in ephemera  |  1 Comment so far

    While walking around my new office the other day I came across this mysterious wayfinding device.

    "You can go in one of two directions"

    “You can go in one of two directions”

    You can go left and you can also go right. But what will you find?

    Ah, now that would ruin the surprise.

  7. The worst yes/no dialog ever

    Posted September 8, 2014 in ephemera, user centred design  |  No Comments so far

    If I was better organised and had more time to spare, I’d collect pictures of dodgy dialog boxes and probably set up a tumblr for them.

    As it is, I only take these pictures when I come across a particularly dodgy example. Here’s one.

    "Yes to abort, No to continue"

    “Yes to abort, No to continue”

    It appeared when trying to buy petrol from a self-service machine. You’re quite stressed in those situations as you sometimes have a queue of cars waiting for you to get on with it. The last thing you need is a woeful piece of design like this that forces you to lay aside your preconceived notions of what “Yes,” “No” and big red X’s actually mean.

  8. Your journey to the future

    Posted November 5, 2013 in ephemera, Photos  |  No Comments so far

    Your journey to the future

    You’d think they could have at least laid on a bus replacement service.

  9. Procrastination

    Posted September 12, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    Earlier this morning I found myself writing a long, waffly comment on Facebook. As I typed out the final sentence a question struck me: why am I writing this? It’s not as though more than four people will ever read it, and Facebook – an “ever-burning fire of our memories” – is not the place to store such ponderings for posterity. So why bother?

    Then I remembered – there is a reason why I’m writing long comments on Facebook…


    …I have absolutely loads of work to do.

  10. Some photos of nicely designed house signs in Fowey

    Posted September 6, 2013 in ephemera, Photos  |  No Comments so far

    We recently went on holiday to Fowey in Cornwall. It’s a bit hilly and out of the way but it’s a gorgeous place. This is the view from the house we stayed in:

    Looking across the bay


    While we were there, we noticed nice signs on some of the houses which seem to have been designed and made in the same place. We took photos of them and I thought I’d post them here.

    18 Harbourside


    In 18 Harbourside you can see the hallmarks of this sign-maker, with the scorched-clay cream and terracotta colours and concentric circles emanating from the centre. The designer’s interest in typography is also evident. The font reminded us of the famous Computer typeface, but that might not have been intentional.

    The famous Computer font

    That famous Computer font in full (sort of)

    This next one is the first example of the boat motif appearing in these signs. Fowey is a harbour town so boats are a bit of a thing there.

    23 Beam Reach

    Again, lots of attention has been paid to the typeface, which is a block Roman with slightly sloping serifs. Staring at it long enough you start to see some imperfections in how the type is laid out, but that’s to be expected as this wasn’t done in Photoshop.

    Here’s the smallest and most boring one.

    Number 38BWe spotted it towards the end of the trip, after we’d seen all the other signs, and only photographed it because we recognised the style. If I’d walked past this sign on its own I don’t think I’d have given it a second glance. It’s still a nice sign though, especially the style of the numbers, although the “B” sits a little too low.

    So now we’ve got 38B out of the way let’s move on to the last two which, you’ll be pleased to hear, both feature boats.

    Number 45

    Number 45 is quite a simple and compact arrangement with only three elements: the number, the boat, and a couple of squiggles representing the sea. The style of the numbers is a bit more distinctive than in the previous signs where the designer seemed to be using other typefaces as a template. He or she seems to be discovering a form of their own, which is nice to see.

    As good as it is though, number 45 is a test run for the best of the bunch: number 53.

    Number 53

    The chef d’oeuvre

    This sign wins on every score. Firstly, the concentric circle effect has been toned down – it’s still there, part of the sign-maker’s design language, but it’s not in your face like  on 23 Beam Reach and it doesn’t do any fancy spiralling like on 18 Harbourside.

    Secondly, the composition, with the boat centred above the numbers and the mast lining up with the left hand side of the 5. There’s a lot of empty space in the sign but it’s being put to work by how well the sign is laid out.

    Thirdly, the design of the boat itself. If you ask me it has more character: a ‘working’ boat, unlike the others which look like yachts for leisure. I know nothing about boats though so maybe you shouldn’t ask me.

    And then finally there’s the numbering, which takes the distinctive, personal style of number 45 above to the next level. It has some similarities to Souvenir, a classic 1970s typeface (from 1914, natch) but it really has its own personality.

    Next time we go to Fowey I’m going to try to find more of these signs and to figure out where they come from. In the meantime I’ve created a set on Flickr with the photos above. If you know anything about them, leave a comment!