I love space

I’m really obsessed with space, partly through years of sci-fi immersion (of both the classy and trashy types), but mainly because of the incredible size and scope and possibilities that are out there. I’d love to go to space more than anything, but i fear civilian space travel is unlikely in my lifetime, even if i could afford it, and i’m definitely not clever or fit enough to be an astronaut. So instead, I love out the fantasy with grand space operas like Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity and Star Wars or the (modern) Star Trek films, and thanks to NASA’s incredible Instagram feed, which captures the greatness, terror and opportunity of space in bite-size snaps, for the contemporary astrophile. The video above and pictures below are just some of the nuggets of amazement that these pioneers and loons have created to help us understand space a tiny bit better.



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Flawless strength

Amidst all the noise about Beyonce’s new “surprise album” is a seeming shift in policy from Queen Bey. After sidestepping the inevitable “are you a feminist” question for a good few years — disappointing cultural commentators and fans alike — she’s now smartly aligning herself with feminism without actually answering the question, by sampling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s great TEDTalk on new track Flawless.

I’m ashamed to say i hadn’t watched Adichie’s talk before (there’s really a lot of TEDTalks and only so much time in the day!), but, led by Bey, i was captivated by it (as I’m sure many more fans will be). Powerful, thoughtful, touching and funny, the author talks about how women make themselves smaller to be less threatening to men, pretending to be less than they are and turning that pretence into an art form.

She also raises the excellent point that many of the characteristics that led men to be more prominent (such as physical strength) are decreasingly important in modern business, which instead prizes intelligence, creativity and innovation. Many writers and commentators say that these are “feminine” qualities, but I rather disagree (not least because it seems a conciliatory gesture  – “Men may rule the world, but women are creative, nurturing” etc.) Like Adichie, I believe that neither gender owns these talents or skills – they are up to an individual to cultivate and explore. Ascribing certain values to one gender or another – no matter if they are positive or not – keeps people in gender boxes, dictating who we should be rather than who we are. And while physical strength may have lost its prominence, the strength we gain — men or women — from being ourselves is an increasingly important currency. 

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Dressing for the gaze

This is too cool for school. These dresses are gaze-activated, moving or lighting up when someone stares at them.

(no)where(now)here : 2 gaze-activated dresses by ying gao from ying gao on Vimeo.

The designer, Ying Gao, describes the project thus:

“Absence often occurs at breakfast time – the tea cup dropped, then spilled on the table being one of its most common consequences. Absence lasts but a few seconds, its beginning and end are sudden. However closed to outside impressions, the senses are awake. The return is as immediate as the departure, the suspended word or movement is picked up where it was left off as conscious time automatically reconstructs itself, thus becoming continuous and free of any apparent interruption.”

The movement is certainly mesmerising – and uncanny – but the science behind these dresses is the real amazement. Each dress is made of photoluminescent thread and organza, which is embedded with eye-tracking technology that is activated by a spectators’ gaze. As people’s gazes are constantly shifting, so the surface of the dress keeps moving. The idea of transience is really firing up my synapses right now (not least because of elusive communication forms like Snapchat!), but this is a really beautiful way to demonstrate transience as a positive thing, not a throwaway one.

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Bladerunner in 60 seconds

One of my all-time favourite films, Bladerunner, got an animated and abbreviated makeover from Philip Askins, winner of Empire’s Done in 60 Seconds award. His monochrome figures and dispassionate voice-over add an even more noirish tone to an already wonderfully dark story…

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Shopping without looking

For a former fashion gal, and seasoned international shopper, I don’t actually like shopping that much. Contrary to the sexist female tropes, I don’t find any great liberation or inspiration from trawling around the shops (however, I reserve the right to still love chick flick shopping montages, Pretty Woman being the zenith, of course)

However, I do like buying stuff, which is different. That’s why I’m so into the idea of subscription retail. It’s all over the trendsphere (yes, that’s a thing). So far, the product offers seem to be highly gendered  (deodorant or razor subscriptions for men and knickers and beauty products for women) or very dull things (loo roll and cleaning products). This ad for Dollar Shave Club, however, is aces:

Anyway, I would like things that I purchase regularly, or things you can never get hold of them when you need them, delivered to my door. Including, but not limited to:

  • Shu Uemura cleansing oil
  • MAC lipstick
  • Fizzy sweets
  • Whatever not-horrid shampoo and conditioner are on spesh in Boots
  • “Extra Bits” orange juice, salted butter, artisan bread
  • Cheap white Ts
  • What’s Love Got To Do With It on DVD
  • The latest conceptual/unflattering navy Cos dress

Wouldn’t that be brill, to have that delivered to me the minute the last one reached the end of its useful life. There’s all sorts of tech that can apparently do that for you. As long as I’ve been a trendster, there hasn’t been a year without the launch of a “revolutionary” new fridge which senses its contents and orders replacements when they’ve run out. Still, people’s fridges seem to have gone un-revolutionised. I suspect they don’t work, but whatevs.

And of course, all the clever algorithms employed by Google, Amazon et al supposedly learn what you like, while the heavy behavioural trail we leave with every online purchase should give companies enough information to know when we’re ready for more stuff, and what stuff we want. And the systems have got cleverer in some ways, while still being dumbass in others – like the Target data analysis which could work out whether a woman was pregnant from her purchasing patterns (clever) and then telling the world by sending her targeted mama-marketing (dumbass).

But, could a subscription service do something cleverer? For example, could Boots send me the on-spesh stuff without me having to trawl the shelves, or, you know, choose something specific? Or could Sainsbury’s online grocery service sense when I’m bored of ordering “My Usuals” (like now) and send me some new inspiration, based on my Gojee browsing or whatever annoying cookery show I’ve been watching? Surely my Sky+ algorithm should be able to talk to my online shopping data trail?

Obvs, if this actually happened, I would pretty much have no reason to leave my house, of which I am always in danger. Or if I invent it, I could be a millionaire. That sounds like effort, though…

Good cover version

Cover versions are a tricky thing. Most covers reveal either the weakness in the original or the weakness in the coverer. But sometimes, like Gourds’ Gin And Juice, or Lorez Alexandria’s Send In The Clowns  they rework it in a new and unexpected way that far exceeds the original. As LIPS choir (of which I am a proud member) has discovered, bringing a newly sensitive edge to oft-forgotten 80s pop is a sure-fire way to bring the house down. But Dark Captain’s cover of Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out is next-level: a real beauty of an 80s pop makeover.

As you may have noticed, I usually like to post things in threes (a hangover of the old “thrice a trend” rule, I guess. Also, three is famously the magic number).  However, I am so in love with this, I just had to share…

Not-so-secret desires

If you’ve read the quality press over the last few weeks, you would think that women have only just learnt that it’s OK to have desires. In the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian et al, there are surprised articles charting the rise of “mommy porn” (what a horrible phrase) like 50 Shades Of Grey, or growing e-book sales for romantic and erotic fiction. The successes of both are said to be because their formats and branding mean women no longer have to feel ashamed about enjoying saucy stories, but this seems rather reductive to me.

Being able to hide the lurid cover of a bodice-ripping book in the shell of a Kindle is not necessarily about women hiding their shame – it also suggests that the freedom of formats means they feel more able to enjoy whatever kind of reading they like whenever the hell they like. Which sounds more liberating than shameful, no?

And that sense of open minds and liberated sexuality is even more important with the wind of slut-shaming blowing in from America. Major radio personalities have called women who seek birth control ” sluts“, while a slew of ultra-conservative lawmakers (and even more worryingly, a presidential candidate) are trying to make sex solely about procreation, which is no fun. Especially if, like growing numbers of western women, you have no desire to procreate. So, you have to procreate or be celibate? No thanks, Mr Senator.

But perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to women’s increasingly visible sexual confidence, and the power of recognising that change – a mainstreaming of desire, if you will. It’s a new debate about sex-positivity that I hope will continue with the long-awaited release of films like Turn Me On, Dammit (below, and probably NSFW) and Hysteria; or the huge popularity of “female-friendly” porn stars like James Deen, soon to be featured in Bret Easton Ellis’s The Canyons; or even the Desire Project, which features different women openly talking about their desires.

So, the reason that I’m thinking about all this is that the issue seems to be coming to a head (it could also be because an interesting recent date has given me Red Car Syndrome). Anyway! I’m brewing ideas right now for a forthcoming piece for Viewpoint, so I’d love to hear some other ideas if you’d care to share anything you’ve seen or heard or thought…?

Mannequin just got real

In the seminal 80s movie Mannequin, a young Kim Cattrall stars as a shop window dummy who comes to life, bounces round a failing department store in a series of bright and embellished body-con outfits, and saves it (along with Andrew McCarthy). Now, Tokyo department store Takashimaya is hoping a lifelike robotic mannequin will do the same (without the McCarthy bit).

Created by Dr Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, she’s (bafflingly) being used as part of the store’s Valentine’s Day promotions. She yawns, she smiles, she fidgets, she sits primly with designer bag on knee and smartphone in hand, looking for all the world like your average bored Tokyo chick, but each movement is a response to the actions of passers-by, thanks to Kinect technology.

It’s all a bit uncanny valley, but apparently, it’s the future of visual merchandising. I hope they get her messed-up-looking legs sorted out before then, mind: they look like they’ve been hobbled by Kathy Bates, and that is not a luxury look.

Barista, schmarista

Living as I do in London’s trendy East End, I am blessed/cursed with a plethora of artisan coffee shops nearby. In fact, there are more schmancy independent coffee places than there are Starbucks, which is quite something. After trying Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street (great coffee, odd service, delicious-looking snacks) and my more regular stop, Luxe in Spitalfields (coffee’s only OK, but the handsome Italian winks at me, and it’s on my way home), I discovered Taylor Street Baristas, a little coffee bar on a barely-troubled street off Bishopsgate. I was a little put off by the pretentious “Australian-trained baristas” notice, but the artfully diffident staff surely brewed me a skinny latte. It was only when I went to put in a little brown sugar that I got softly and sadfacedly upbraided…

…She looked at me with dismay, and I was told in future I should alert them to my saccharine requirements before the coffee was made. “Of course!” I answered brightly. “That sugar’s only for takeaway coffee, when people don’t know what they want” she said, sotto voce. “OK, I’ll know for next time!”, said I, now starting to get freaked out. “Next time, just tell us” she pleaded, inaudibly. I fear I’ve disappointed this paragon of caffeine. Not sure whether it was for not warning her that I was the kind of trashy arriviste that needs sugar (which I am), or because stirring it messed up the nice fern-leaf pattern all artisan baristas pour into the milk froth, so it looked like any old MOR latte. In spite of all this, the little cup was filled with pure delicion, dammit.

The experience was kind of like this excellent Coffee Snobs parody from Funny Or Die, but more sadface and less aggressive…

Obviously, in East London, there’s a fine line between parody and reality. Over towards Shoreditch, DunneFrankowski have set up shop in the premises of branding and insight agency Protein. They seem to take the whole thing veeerrreee seriously:

(Pr) DunneFrankowski from Protein® on Vimeo.

It’s no great art to make a good cup of coffee – a skill i would equate with pouring a good pint of Guinness – but, thanks to the obsessiveness of the coffeepreneurs round my manor, i am learning the difference between good coffee and meh coffee. Good coffee is delicious, yes, but do they need to be so earnest about it? Really, how much difference can a good cup of coffee make to your day – I reckon a 3% boost, tops. Whereas a well-made superdry vodka martini with a twist adds 10% extra brill to your day – drink-for drink, that makes it far more worthy of earnestness…

Dolly + gospel = Joyful Noise

Dolly Parton is awesome. Gospel choirs are awesome. We hold these truths to be self-evident. So, therefore, a new film that involves Dolly Parton joining a struggling gospel choir can only be brilliant. Joyful Noise is the film, and if it’s anything like the quality of Sister Acts 1 and 2, it will be a charming and heartwarming romp. Dolly was trailing it during her UK summer tour with a smattering of rapping – due to the fact the Queen Latifah’s also in the film – which rather confused the audience.  You can see what that might have been like here

In spite of that, I, for one, cannot wait…

In other news, you can win the chance to get a gospel choir to sing a message of your choice, just by using the hashtag #sendsomejoyfulnoise, or via the Facebook app

Joyful Noise movie site