Sunday, 10 November 2019

Emma Watson, Normality and The Observer

Did you hear about Emma Watson? Apparently she's failing to be 'normal' in a fantasy world, whatever that means. Those are the words of The Observer, offering clickbait comment wrapped up as concerned advice from a friend you didn't want. Disappointingly, it's as happy to feast on Ms Watson's fame as the tabloids.

The Observer's article starts with a quote from actor Helen McCrory. "So often when you meet child actors they're weird, they're freaks. No, I mean it, they're really odd people", she's quoted as saying. The original ITN interview continues "because they have a very weird life that as an adult you can just about get your head around".

Who's she talking about? Well, it's something she said eight years ago to endorse Asa Butterfield, who'd just co-starred with her in the film Hugo. "For a child to go through that and not end up very strange is really exceptional, and he's managed it."

There's no apparent reason to assume this is a snide reference to anyone specific, let alone Emma Watson, who'd been seventeen when she'd filmed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with McCrory, but that's what this article does. And then it builds on this assumed strangeness by throwing in the slyly pejorative 'precocious daughter of two divorced lawyers'.

Okay, being chosen as a child to audition for a film role is unusual. But 'strange'? I'm not sure. Graduating from university is apparently also an indicator of her strangeness, as is campaigning for gender equality. The article talks of Watson as 'an earnest believer in the ability to use her fame for good' but that's not enough for The Observer. 'Her controversial comments about ‘self-partnering’ may not have helped her', the paper says. It doesn't want to judge, of course, which is why there's a slippery 'may not' in there. It's the OTHER media that's been judging - The Observer handily provides a list - but not THIS newspaper. Except, well, it can't resist a bit of sarcasm. 'By apparently looking to reinvent an identity hitherto explained by the drably last-century concept of being, say, “happily single”, Watson said that “self-partnering” was a state that she had reached.'

Riiight. A hyphenated construct rather than two separate words. That's what this is all about. A repurposed quote, a list of other people's complaints, attacking Emma Watson without being seen to lay a finger on her, plausible deniability. Oops, no, not plausible deniability. The Observer goes on to nail its colours to the mast: Watson is 'indelibly sensitive and prone to navel-gazing'. Unfair, I say. The sensitivity is hardly surprising, given the behaviour of elements of the media, whilst the navel-gazing accusation is the inevitable result of being expected to explain yourself in every interview. Even if it's true, none of this justifies commissioning an article for a national newspaper.

Watson's often found herself 'a target for cruelty, rather than sympathy', the paper tells us. Indeed so. In fact, the article is a perfect example. How very meta. Criticism speckled with fragments of faux concern, sentences plucked from other people's interviews and a punchline that says she should 'try to learn and do better'.

She's doing very much better than I would have done in the same circumstances, I think. And showing a better example than the newspaper column, too.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 3rd November 2019

In this week's 'Talking Culture' show on Rocket FM Lewes my guests were:
business author Sam Knowles
glass artist Claudia Wiegand
Jonathan Brown, who's organised the Lewes Festival of Solo Theatre
and novelist Beth Miller.

The music I played was:
Taylor Swift: Our Song
Gilbert O'Sullivan: What's In A Kiss
Sarah McLachlan: Fallen
The Dead End Kids: Have I The Right
The Whitlams: Your Daddy's Car
James Taylor: Fire and Rain
Chris de Burgh: Lonely Sky
Imelda May: Tainted Love
Jill Sobule: Almost Great

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 27th October 2019

I've been invited back to present another series of 'Talking Culture' shows on Rocket FM Lewes.

My guests on this week's programme were:
playwright Philip Ayckbourn
artist Keith Pettit

The music I played was:
Badly Drawn Boy: You Were Right
Delta Goodrem: Lost Without You
Simon and Garfunkel: A Hazy Shade Of Winter
Barbra Streisand / Josh Groban: All I Know Of Love
Bay City Rollers: Give A Little Love
Patsy Gallant: From New York to L.A.
Mary Chapin Carpenter: I Feel Lucky
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: Don't Leave Me This Way
Co-Co: Bad Old Days
The Wonder Stuff: The Size Of A Cow
The Reform Club: Endless Faithless
Linda Thompson: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The case of the absent hedgehog

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It's all gone a bit CSI in mum's road. The hedgehogs have disappeared. No-one really knows why, although some are casting suspicious glances at one particular house. There's talk of poison. Rat poison. Not a deliberate act - well, not targeted at the hedgehogs - but a feeling that careless anti-rat sentiment has caught the hogs in friendly fire. It's more than likely: low levels of hedgehog literacy mean they're unlikely to read the warning notices. Even if they do, they may inadvertently snack on slugs that have eaten rat bait but aren't affected by the poison. That's spectacularly bad luck for the slugs, I reckon. But back to the matter in hand. A few weeks ago, mum and her neighbours had a regular dusk visit from two or three hedgehogs. The visitors would enjoy a gentle supper and a quick drink of water before moving on. Now... nothing. At the same time, one of the residents talked about waging chemical warfare against the rodents on their property. There's a suggestion of neighbours planning a 'casual' visit to see whether rodenticide has turned into a broader extermination; whether any attempt was made to keep the poison away from Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Pricklepants and Sonic. After all, there's a legal requirement to protect wildlife from poison you put down for pests. Interestingly, the RSPCA's advice is to deter rats and mice through some simple property management. If that doesn't work, they say an effective traditional-style spring-loaded trap can do the job. It offers a quicker departure for the rats and, if the traps are properly set and placed, is much friendlier to everything else. Except, perhaps, the occasional human finger. And if that happened, it certainly wouldn't need a detective to find out who was hunting the rats.

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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Rudolf Bing at Glyndebourne

In 1934, Rudolf Bing was an experienced opera house manager who had recently lost his job in Germany as Nazi influence grew.

"The next couple of months were the darkest I knew", he later wrote in his autobiography '5000 Nights at the Opera'. But then he received "a most remarkable commission" from conductor Fritz Busch.

He was invited to help organise John Christie's new Mozart opera festival at Glyndebourne. Christie had built an opera house on his estate, contacting Fritz Busch who, in turn, had insisted he worked with artistic director Carl Ebert. Ebert and Busch organised some of the principal singers before approaching Bing to employ the rest of the performing company.

Photo of book '5000 Nights at the Opera'"Everything about this enterprise seemed crazy", wrote Rudolf Bing Working from his home in Vienna, he "managed to interest some excellent artists in the Glyndebourne project, largely, of course, because it involved working with Busch and Ebert". As the season approached, Rudolf Bing wanted to learn more about this curious English opera house. In May 1934 he decided to go on his own - "nobody said anything about paying my expenses" - leaving home in Vienna with his wife Nina, who stayed temporarily with her family in Paris while Rudolf took a ferry to Newhaven.

In his book, Rudolf Bing paints a vivid picture of those early days at Glyndebourne - and his later time as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He talks of John Christie, his colleagues, the house and Christie's butler Childs. "On one of the first occasions that I was an overnight guest at Glyndebourne, Childs woke me with that abominable English custom, the early-morning tea, and said 'Breakfast is at eight-thirty, sir.' I said 'Good morning, Childs. What time is it now?' 'Nine o'clock, sir', he said."



A blue plaque remembering Sir Rudolf Bing can be found overlooking the Glyndebourne lawn, just round the corner from the box office.

Photo of Sir Rudolf Bing blue plaque at Glyndebourne

Sir Rudolf Bing blue plaque at Glyndebourne with busts of George Christie and Audrey Mildmay

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

March 2019 'gadget guru' technology for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a brief reminder of the tech I chatted about in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation this afternoon:

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Once upon a time, mobile phones that folded in half, with the display on the top part and the keypad on the bottom. Today, folding phones are back on the scene - but we’re now talking about a folding display.

So let’s start with the Samsung Galaxy Fold. This is a slightly chunky affair compared with conventional devices: from the side it looks a bit like two phones stacked on top of each other.

On the outside there’s a 4.6-inch display, which is the sort of sensible size you found on a smartphone a few years ago. But the phone unfolds, with a tablet-sized high-resolution 7.3-inch display inside.

Samsung has gone overboard with the cameras; there’s a selfie camera on one part of the outside and then three on the other: a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens, which is the same kind of set-up as the new S10 flagship phone. There are also two more cameras available if you need to take pictures when the device is unfolded.

Inside it runs the Android operating system, offering 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and 4,380mAh of battery power with the option of wireless charging. There’s even a choice of a 5G model if you want to be future-proof.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is due to be available from the end of next month with a starting price of US$1,980, which is just over £1500 (€1750).

Huawei Mate X

Let’s move on to the second folding phone - and, surprisingly for the mobile phone industry, it’s a very different device.

The Huawei Mate X doesn’t have a big screen on the inside. Instead, it’s on the outside. So, when the phone’s folded, you get two screens to choose from, one just over 6½ inches from corner to corner and one just under.

Open it up and they become an 8-inch display which, like the Samsung, is better than 2K resolution.

Because there’s effectively only one screen, the Huawei phone is a few millimetres thinner than the Samsung. The other big difference is that Huawei’s phone has an edge containing the cameras, which means the same camera can either be used for selfies or for taking conventional photos, depending on how you’re holding it. You'll find three built-in cameras: a 40-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens.

Like the Samsung, this also runs Android and can support 5G: it has slightly less RAM but still 512GB of storage, there’s a memory card slot and a slightly bigger battery but no wireless charging. Availability is expected in the summer at a price of around €2,299 (just under £2,000).

Slide smart curtain system

The creators of Slide call it “the world’s first retrofit smart curtain system”.

What does that mean? Well, at a basic level it offers a remote control - but it also connects your curtains to the internet, which means you can program them from your phone.

So instead of an alarm clock- or perhaps at the same time as the alarm on your phone – your curtains can open automatically in the morning. If you’re going on holiday, you can program your curtains to open and close, giving the impression someone’s at home. And you can control them via Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

There’s a little box that attaches to one end of your curtain track - assuming it's horizontal - and pulley that goes on the other end. The control box has a wire that attaches to the edge of the curtains and runs through the pulley. Apparently it should only take a few minutes to fit, it’s all hidden behind the curtain and works with curtain tracks that are up to six metres long.

Slide runs off mains power and connects to your internet via WiFi, with an app on your phone for programming. There’s also an optional remote control you can buy – and none of this stops you from drawing the curtains by hand.

Slide can currently be found on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, where you can pre-order two Slide devices at a discount for $449; that’s around £350/€400 plus shipping, with delivery expected in May.

Teplo connected teapot

Here’s another crowd-funded project: an internet-connected tea pot. Why would you want one? Well, you can ask the teapot to brew tea based on your emotional state. For example, if it senses you’re tired, it can brew your tea at a higher temperature so you get more caffeine out of it. Or if you’re stressed, it’ll produce a more calming cup of tea.

This is a nice-looking piece of kit; not unlike a cross between a water filter, a kettle and a coffee percolator. It stands about eight inches tall, connects to your internet by WiFi and runs off the mains: sadly it’s currently only available for the 110v supply used in the United States and Japan.

You add cold water to the kettle part, you put tea leaves in the tea infuser, you select the type of tea from the Teplo app on your phone at this point - and if you’re after a really personalised brew, you put your finger on the Teplo sensor.

Teplo then adjusts its tea brewing based on your heart rate and body temperature along with the room temperature, noise level and humidity level. It heats the water, swirls the tea leaves in the water for the right time and then takes the leaves out so the tea doesn’t spoil.

You’ll find Teplo on Kickstarter: it’s expected to be available from April next year if everything goes according to plan, with a price of $299 at the moment (around £225 / €265 plus shipping).

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for February 2019

Here's a summary of the technology I talked about in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat this afternoon:

Meizu Zero mobile phone

Chinese manufacturer Meizu has taken a recent design trend to its logical conclusion – or perhaps to its extreme. This is a phone with no sockets and no buttons, hence 'Zero'.

The phone looks like a single piece of shiny ceramic with a 6-inch display embedded in it. There’s no obvious way in except for tiny holes that are needed for the microphone – so, as you might expect, it’s protected against water and dust.

Under the screen is a fingerprint sensor for security. The screen also acts as the loudspeaker or earpiece – and there’s fast wireless charging. You press the side of the phone to adjust the volume but there aren’t any physical buttons there; there’s not even a SIM card slot because it uses an electronic eSIM.

The whole thing runs a custom version of the Android operating system and it is available to order for around a thousand pounds via crowd-funding site indiegogo.com

Moto G7 Plus mobile phone

Motorola is one of the longest-established names in mobile phones. It’s currently owned by Lenovo, the computer company, and it’s built a reputation for making straightforward no-nonsense smartphones.

Ahead of Mobile World Congress it’s announced four new models: the Moto G7 family, which consists of the G7, the G7 Play, the G7 Power and the G7 Plus.

The Moto G7 Plus is at the top of this particular range, although the lower-spec 'Power' has a better battery. Choose the Plus and you'll get an Android smartphone with a 6.2-inch full HD screen, toughened Gorilla Glass, an enhanced 16 megapixel camera on the back with optical image stabilization and a 12-megapixel camera on the front. The stereo speakers have been tuned by Dolby, it’ll recharge incredibly quickly and it’s resistant to being splashed by water.

It’s not some world-record holding top-spec smartphone with a four-figure price ticket: it’s £269 (just over €300) without a contract, which seems like a very good deal to me.

CleanseBot

Cleansebot is, according to the manufacturers, the world’s first bacteria-killing robot. Picture the scene: you turn up at your hotel, the bed’s freshly made… but you really don’t know whether they pay as much care with their laundry as you do. Never mind, you whip the Cleansebot out of your suitcase and put it to work, killing any bacteria that might be lurking below the blankets.

Cleansebot is a circular disc, looking a bit like a fire alarm, but it contains similar technology to a robot vacuum cleaner. So you switch it on, put it on your bed and it drives around for half an hour, shining ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. The light shines underneath it and also comes out the top if the robot drives under the covers. There are 18 sensors built in to make sure it doesn’t get stuck or fall off the bed.


The device runs from rechargeable batteries that’ll give it up to 3 hours of use; each automated cleaning run is either 30 or 60 minutes depending on your preference, so there’s plenty of power.

At the moment the manufacturers are taking orders via crowd-funding site Indiegogo for a special offer price of $99 USD, which is around £77 plus shipping. Delivery is expected in April.

Squegg

Squegg is an egg-shaped squeeze ball, hence the name. It’s the kind of thing you might have on your desk to help you relieve stress. Or perhaps you might want one to help strengthen your grip for sport or for physiotherapy.

What’s missing from a regular squeeze ball is technology. Squegg adds it. On the outside it’s a silicone ball but it contains a rechargeable battery, a Bluetooth transmitter and some sensors to measure your grip. As a result, it can talk to an app on your phone and track your progress. It’ll also play grip-related games with you and will even let you challenge your friends – a bit like arm-wrestling without having to be in the same room.

It’ll run for around 80 hours before it needs recharging – and if you don’t use it, standby time is over five months. US pricing is $39.99 plus shipping (around £36 / €41).