Rando Man


The photo below does not inspire much, I imagine. It is in many respects quite depressing. A dry and slightly burnt piece of toast, a cold strip of streaky bacon, and the end of a rather watery looking class of orange juice, all wrapped around a white circular border. It is, other than the leftovers from my breakfast, a pitifully ordinary scene worth no moment of fame in any media. It is not artistic, so don’t go thinking it is. The loose crumb is only a loose crumb, the juice was as I left it, as was the toast and bacon. Just to the right was a eggy plate and a mug with a thin brown layer of leftover coffee. The photo was entirely random. So why bother?

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Regulars to this blog are probably familiar with my use of instagram and flickr, and even on this blog itself my photographs can take up a large amount of many posts, although not all. I use an iphone 4, which by today’s standards is quite a simple piece of phone tech, but it does have a camera on it, which I have with me always and which is very easy to operate and relatively decent quality pics. I also use a Sony DSC-H9 and a Nikon D5100 of course, but my phone is undoubtedly my main camera.

As well as being addicted to taking pictures, I’m also quite interested in new apps and phone related tech, including of course new phones which I cannot afford, or indeed apps that I don’t want to pay for because I’m cheap. It’s quite a dynamic area of the tech market now, and unless an app is successful you can see many being replaced by something similar within a short period of time. For example, I’ve lost count of the amount of different apps I’ve downloaded to help arrange my time, for want of a better description, and I have deleted all of them, prefering to use my regular phone calendar and Evernote. The thing is if you visit the Apple App Store you will always find some new fangled app lauded as app of the week or something which promises to be the next best thing in productive time saving organisational technology.

I’m ranting. I should stop before I lose control.

The point I’ve been getting to is there are always loads of apps which always seem to have some greater purpose, some means for making your life better, or for making your smart technology experience smarter and more wholesome. This takes all apps, from photograph taking, games, organisers, and social networks, to spirit levels and voice recorders, into consideration. But with this little camera app which took the photograph above, there seems to be absolutely no real significant purpose whatsoever. And that’s why it’s worth talking about.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not selling out, not that I was every sold in or anything. The app is free, or comes at no cost to you, Mr or Mrs/Ms Downloader. I, like every other single person on this planet, am a consumer, and I, like every other consumer on the planet, like to flaunt my consumed goods. So please allow me this moment.

I want to look at what the app actually does, and how what it does fits in with how I often look at how the world exists with so many people in it. I think it does something kind of special, something which we don’t look at enough in the realms of technology and even in terms of human existence. I’m getting pretty deep here, so let me take a couple of steps back and explain what the hell is going on.

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The name of the app is Rando, and it’s a camera app. It functions by simply taking a photograph of something within a white circular border, such as some of the images in the examples above. There is no title, there is no ability to like or share, there is no way to edit, stylise, or even upload a particular photograph. All you know is that there was a photograph taken and more often than not, you can find out where it was taken. It is then sent to the great cloud in the sky where it is randomly sent (although I’m sure there’s some algorithm at play) to another user somewhere in the world. In return you recieve another users photograph. There is no way you can tell who sent or received the photograph. You may or may not find where this user is. It’s as complicated as that.

So says social media addicted world, what’s in it for me? Nothing whatsoever. And that’s what is so great about it.

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It’s no secret that the internet has been inundated with egotism since social media took off. And the greater its influence grows the more we see the egos expand, myself included. One word which is constantly bandied about with social media which is generally not used in the correct context is the word ‘share’. We see it all the time, and particular websites use this term to insinuate that they are providing a fantastic opportunity for you to provide your loved ones and friends with snippets of your life. Of course, this is the idealistic perspective, because anyone who uses social media knows that it is rarely used as a place for sharing, more as a means of displaying.

What this particular app does is different. It is not in any way social, it is more voyeuristic, but not in the sense that you actually know what you are looking at. It sends a picture of nothing, really, other than something which is happening or exists in another place which you cannot see. There’s no liking or sharing of this photo, there’s no applause or means of advertising, there is simply a picture within a white round border. It’s simple but it is effective in its own little way.

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This little app has a fair amount going for it in terms of how we interpret the world. Take exactly where you are sitting or standing at this very moment. Look around you, and while you’re looking make sure to closely examine some fairly rudimentary objects in your proximity. I’m writing at my desk in work so obviously I’ve my computer with a printer just to the side left of it, and too the right I’ve a phone and pen holder, a jar with a dried flower, some paper clips, a stress ball (never used), some throat sweets, photographs, and other nondescript objects which on their own are unnoticable and insignificant. But they are there, sitting, minding their own businness and waiting to be interacted with, much like everything else in the world.

How we choose to interact with much of the world is our own decision. It is unfortunate that humans have chosen that our interaction is mostly on the phyisical and destructive level, rather than a visual one, where we just accept and appreciate each individual element. With Rando though we are seeing tiny scraps of originality, perspectives of this huge planet shared indiscriminately for the purpose of … well I’d like to say enlightenment but I’ve a feeling it’s a lot simpler than that.

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If you think of it in the way that it is simply just informing you or whoever views the photograph that this part of the world exists, and that someone is here, doing something similar to you. We get that impression that the world is not that small, and that we are all less unique. Despite how much we like to think about it people everywhere share the same gripes and concerns, and they see the same things, granted they may be in different shapes.

To conclude, if you could imagine yourself flying on a transcontinental flight as I have done many times, flying over the massive Eurasian continent, and somewhere over Kazakhstan or the Ural Mountains, you look at the flightshow and all you see is a green expanse of country with a few rivets here and there to imply terrain. You stretch your head into the window as much as possible to try and glance down at the land below. There is nothing you can see but you know without a doubt that something is happening there, and someone is there living away and not trying to fly with you. If you thought for a minute what they are doing you would not find a recognisable image, or anything remotely familiar.

I don’t think that this phone app really bridges any gaps here, as it’s completely random, but it does allow you the simple moment, like flying 20,000 metres above or even just driving by fast in a car, where we can catch a closeup of another part of the world. For a minute, we are given the opportunity to consider it. That is all. And then let the world continue to rotate again, until you take another picture that is.

You can download Rando here if you want.

This blog post is not intended as a review and I don’t get any money or kudos from the company who made the app. It was just something that struck me as being worth talking about.

P.S. It seems there’s an incredible amount of Korean pictures coming through. What’s up with that?

Feeding the North Korean Troll


Enough is enough. Kim Jung Un this is for you:

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We’ve had enough of your unappreciative tone, and like a screaming and whining little misbehaving child, we are giving you exactly what you want; a big plate of fried chicken (from Suwon’s finest 진미통닭 no less).

You see there appears to be no other solution. You have trolled the international media far too long, and I for one have had enough.

For starters, my twitter feed is full of newspapers making you out to be important, while all the while we just see is you hiding under that big black coat and looking at really old looking phallic military pariphenalia.

We get it, you miss your dad and feel obliged to pretend you are him, which is sweet, but at the same time why don’t you just do us all a favour and fuck off. Yes just fuck off.

We’ve more interesting stuff to be worrying about and complaining about on the Internet. You might not realise it but there are some of us here who actually use the Internet for wasting hours and hours of our time on a daily basis. You are making this activity near unbearable with your poxy threat laden excretions.

So as I was saying, eat the chicken, shut up, and be happy the world doesn’t get it into their heads that you’re worth blowing up, or something to that effect you self serving YouTube warrior!

P.S. Get a better haircut please, I beseech you for the sake of humanity.

November


I like November and I always have. The month just sits there, almost Christmas but still far enough away to be still kind of normal, and long enough after any summer holidays so any pining is well gone. Even though it can signal the true beginning of winter, a season I don’t shine too, with all the cold rain, wind, the leaves losing their leaves, I still look forward to November every year.

I think it’s one of those reliable months. I know it will be colder because the wind will suddenly pick up a notch and the temperature must drop a few degrees further. Despite this, I can prepare well. November is a great time for dusting out those heavy jackets, wooly jumpers, thick socks, gloves, scarves, and hats in warm, earthy colours of browns, burgundy, and dark greens to keep me cosy.

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And to keep me satiated it is certainly a most appropriate time for food, with soups and stews and baked root vegetables all coming out of the kitchen. It’s a great time to really roll up my sleeves and rekindle the worthwhile craft of cooking a hearty meal. In Korea as well, there is no shortage of stews, and then of course all-weather barbecue dinners take on a new life as they move indoors. These are particularly special treats, which start as soon as I step inside and the hot air warms me through instantly, and after a feed of beef or pork, not to mention a few – if not several – drinks, stepping back into the icy night air afterwards is the ideal way of encouraging passage to the second round.

If you have a fire there is no better month to first light it than November. The joy of sitting by the warmth of a crackling, or gas flowing hiss, while the television shows a late night movie and my glass is half full with my second decent sized glass of red wine cannot be praised too much. Add to this the company of Herself or friends and I can do little to complain – unless I end up drinking too much wine and wake up with a corkscrew of headache and no memory of the end of that film I was watching.

In Korea, of course, fires are far from common in the home. In fact if I lit a fire I would probably be arrested, that’s if I survived my home burning down as well as the entire building I live in. I don’t think my neighbours would be impressed. As a worthy compromise there is the always reliable underfloor heating which is piped throughout every apartment. While it can be slow to start off, once the heating is primed it doesn’t take long for the house to warm up. Stepping into a room with the floor heating on always feels like I am passing into stove warmed cabin; it is cosy, inviting, and homely, and any memories of firesides with wine are forgotten once a basket of freshly baked sweet potatoes are passed around.

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But for me, the real magic of November waits outside. By the time October has passed the trees are well beyond deciding whether or not they will move on to their winter hibernation. Their leaves are either in the process of their radiant discolouration, or they are tumbling down the street in a series of never-ending somersaults courtesy of the stiff breeze. Ochres, auburns, maroons, mellow yellows, fading greens and coppers are splattered about the trees, while the crunching and scratching of the already deceased come from where my feet meet the street. It is always hypnotic.

The air at this time of year has only began to bite and with each small gust it nibbles away at my ears and cheeks, as I duffle up my jacket fully for the first time and perhaps tie a scarf snuggly under my chin. The sky is as blue as if it has dressed for the occasion of being painted in a landscape, and if there are clouds they do the same, ballooning up in a white lather like bubble bath. At all times the sun shines down down, strong as ever, but warm like an old radiator in a big stone room.

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The buildings stand in sharp relief to this bright blue scape, with their every angle being caught and stretching out in a long straight shadow courtesy of that sun which no longer reaches a central apex. It is undoubtedly as the architect had imagined when the designs were first sketched, with the sun catching in a pinprick sized corner of glass which reflects as beaming spot light upon the riotous Renoir painted scene below.

The Art of Waiting


Imagine for a moment that a long time ago there was a secret art, or perhaps it was common practice, where people waited without fuss and hindrance. Do you have that picture in your head now? Good. Allow me to begin.

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I just came back from a quick trip to the shop where I bought a can of Sprite and a packet of crisps (or what we shall call crisps for arguments sake). I went to one shop first and then moved on to another shop as it didn’t sell Sprite and I’m not hungover so Korean Cider wasn’t on the cards.

As I stood at the crossroads, myself and the person next to me tried to cross on a red light a number of times, only to be cut off by approaching traffic. I eventually darted over. After leaving the first shop I walked towards another shop, and along the way I checked my phone twice for reasons which will be only described as ‘updates’. After finding some Sprite and a suitable packet of crisps I left and made my way back to my apartment.

Standing by the lift door was a fellow dweller who had entered the building at the same time as I. He pushed the call button for the lift, checked himself in the mirror, then in an almost panicked movement jumped to check his phone, which like me, was some race of smartphone. The screen lit and his thumb lingered over the screen kind of twitching in an anticipatory way I am familiar with, because I know that nervous kind of ‘what will I do now’ expectancy from whenever I do the same thing several times a day.

As I watched I could feel my own thumb stroking my own phone in my pocket, a bit like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings would with the his precious. I stopped for a minute and looked around for something else to do, or something else to occupy myself with for the two or three minute wait as the lift dropped someone off up high and then came down to collect us.

As you can imagine, there was not a lot to do. I looked at some flyers for some restaurants, I looked at the wall and some bicycles cluttered by the door. I rubbed my fingers up against the mottled edge of a pillar to feel if it was smooth or not – it was not – and all because I was struggling with waiting a few minutes for a lift to come down.

What came into my head, and this was merely fifteen minutes ago, was had we lost the ability to wait patiently for something to happen? Are we bored so easily that we cannot stand still and expect what is actually going to happen, and why do we have this sudden urge to fill what is only a tiny piece of essentially empty time with a trivial activity? I could ask more questions here about this same idea but I won’t. This is enough.

Even thinking about this, you almost wonder what did people do before they had technology to fill up so much of their time? I recall that the subject of smartphones came up in a writing class I was teaching, and someone suggested that people must have been bored before smartphones turned up. I got this impression of people sitting around a fireside in Victorian times all leaning on their chins, exhaling deeply, drumming their fingers and wishing someone would hurry up and develop 3G technology. The world can hardly be that boring that we need to entertain ourselves for every moment we are conscious.

I think we’re selling ourselves a little short by expecting the world to excite itself up a little so that we can pay more attention to it. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped setting such high standards of simple pieces of machinery when there are much more exhilirating experiences to be had which do not involve live up-to-the-minute stats and social-media fed responses, among other benefits.

Much of this would require people, and especially this person writing, to slow down and wait for things to happen, because they will and life will probably be just as self fulfilled finding out information tomorrow as it will be today.

In Kuala Lumpur


We arrived in Kuala Lumpur this morning after staying in a small airport hotel last night. Taking the airport express train, we were carried from countryside through to suburbs and then briefly through the city until we alighted at KL Sentral, the main train station of the city.

After booking train tickets on to Ipoh for tomorrow, we found a taxi which took us in the central shopping and business area of the city, Bukit Bintang. It is also where we have reserved a room in a quaint guesthouse within sight of a large hotel we had been considering before our friend recommended otherwise. As we had arrived too early to check in, we left our bags with reception and set out to take a short wander around the locale.

It wasn’t hot outside, nor was it humid. The city held itself in a cool after-rain balm which had yet to be pestered by the afternoon sun. As it was early enough in the day, the streets seemed lazy and trafficless, but we knew better as the taxi we took on the way spent some time negotiating almost perpetually red-lighted crossroads. We made our way into a large shopping mall and wandered downstairs to explore the restaurants.

It may seem like a peculiar decision to do something like this, but after living in Asia for some time I find that food halls in shopping malls actually serve a function other than feeding the working and shopping masses. As a traveller, before you dive into the street food and corner restaurants pack with locals, a food court gives a base from which to approach other eateries. Invariably mediocre but never overpriced, food courts give you an idea of the variety of food on offer and also an idea of how much you should actually be paying for a meal. I always take a moment to explore all the small restaurants and consult their picture menus, then if I’m lucky I can come to a decision and pick up the courage to order something. Once I’ve eaten, I’ve had my fill of food courts and can feel more confident approaching local cuisine from local restaurants.

After eating, we wandered around a little more but slowly we made our way towards the guesthouse where we were to stay. On return, we checked in quickly and made our way to our room where we lay in the cool of the air conditioner for a while. I stepped out and made my way down to one of the communal lounges. As I sat there reading up on Kuala Lumpur it started to rain. A prompt and straight rain that the drummed heavily and incessantly on everything, while in the background thunder sounded like heavy goods vehicles hurtling down a country road. A stiff breeze blew in the wide open windows and cooled the room where I sat, and it is still the case now.

Since then the rain has lessened and some construction workers on the streets outside have returned loudly to their tasks. There is an occasional hiss of a car passing through puddles near by, and the the tap-tap-tap of rain here and there. We will go out soon, rain or no, and finish our first day exploring the capital city of Malaysia.