On Friday, as part of Flatpack Festival, there’ll be a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia: the documentary about the Felt, Denim and Go Kart Mozart frontman (nay, genius). The blurb goes thusly:
“Lawrence is one of those legends that very few people have heard of. Hellbent on stardom from an early age he jettisoned his surname and formed Felt, an 80s indie band with enigmatic allure, enormous influence (on Pulp and Belle and Sebastian, amongst others) and negligible sales. Later came Denim and then Go Kart Mozart, but fame never quite arrived. Rather than a talking-heads rehash of the whole story, Paul Kelly (Finisterre) has crafted a tender, bleak, funny portrait of the man himself now, a labour of love which accumulated over several years. This screening is a homecoming gig of sorts – Lawrence used to live over the road from the Midlands Arts Centre – and both subject and director will be here to talk about the film.”
I like to think I’m an amusing writer, and that I can think quickly. Doing a radio show for a couple of years I think demonstrated that, and I’ve tried my hand at stand-up comedy. But until recently, apart from the odd Twitter witticism I’d not really tried writing topical comedy. BBC Radio Four Extra’s NewsJack is one of the few radio shows that has an open submissions policy, meaning that anyone can send in jokes and sketches and maybe get on and then get paid for them. I’ve had a few near misses that made it to the recording but not the edit, as they’re topical they’re disposable really so I wouldn’t share them. But this one from this week has a little bit of longevity so I thought I’d pop it up here. Hope it makes you chuckle.
I write, you know, it’s sort of the core of loads of stuff I do—writing is a founding block of good social web engagement which is where I get most of my living from. It’s also part of teaching or training in a way, you need to be able to construct narratives and find the right words. Journalism, or at least the writing of words to order for publication, is fun too. But the writing that’s most rewarding is where you get to have an idea, and then run with the bugger until it’s done.
Listening to all six hundred and ninety eight Elvis Presley songs in order in one sitting was one of those, but Dirty Bristow was sort of like that on a grand scale, and not just me writing.
When you look around there seems to be a straight choice for writers: the web and freedom (but no guaranteed audience or context) or whatever publication will have you and whatever rules they apply. Not that rules are bad: it’s not just the subject/audience/word count stuff that’s the problem, it’s the context and the pressure of it. Want to discuss South American literature and pop-culture in the same breath? You’ll be too worried that not everyone will get it, waste the word count explaining things and end up with something without the élan you wanted.
So we invented a magazine with as few rules and pressures as possible, it seems (artistically at least) to work. That sorted what’s the next challenge?
Or to be specific, nostalgia for a lost and fictional time and piers are a good knob to hang this particular type upon.
Danny Smith, with whom I’d managed to hold out against the advice and make the magazine, said there was something in a book visiting all of the pleasure piers in Britain. He didn’t know how many there were, how long that would take, but it sounded good. I said yes, and then basically a lot of people said ‘no’. Or rather they said “don’t do it”, “I’m not coming”, “that’s stupid”, “why?” or most devastatingly of all for Dan “you’re wasting your life” (his mum).
But we’re going to do it anyway. We’ve researched a bit, and know where they are. We’ve press-ganged a driver—I say so my creative stance isn’t diluted, my friend says “so your drinking isn’t interrupted” and she’s possibly half right. But it’s more so I don’t have to worry so much.
I love new places, but find that travel can be a trial, even if arriving is a pleasure.
I get nervous: sit on a train, is it the right train? Is it working? Have I go the right ticket? What if it doesn’t stop at the right place? What if it breaks down, what if… No, I can’t relax. Not til all decisions have been taken off me—which is sort of why I can cope a lot more easily with the regimented walk/don’t walk watch-the-screens travel by air. I mean, they’re actively trying to make sure you don’t get on the wrong plane—and the consequences of a break-down are a little more final than having to spend the night on Crewe Station.
So if I don’t have to think, and the worst thing that can happen is that I die, I’m good.
I don’t have a point or an allegory for the journey, certainly not one as deeply thought out and involving the A-Team as m’colleague Mr Smith has. Nor am I thinking about group dynamics in a wider sense than I don’t really want to have a row with either of them. I’m not looking for conflict or hardship: the last thing I want is for this tale to turn into one of struggle, of dirty sleeping conditions or danger. We might find some, but I’m more interested in the ghosts of the past.
There’s something we’ve lost culturally, it’s like a love that’s gone and hurts. The empty past leaves you constantly hungry around the heart: it’s true to call it an ache but there are sharp pains too. There’ll be explosions of emptiness, like going over a humpbacked bridge too fast.
Inspirationally, for me the trip is a mirror world version of Drummond and Manning’s Bad Wisdom series. In that two differing writers travel to the unknown, testing themselves and their sanity—we’re hunting the familiar in a county that is changing faster than we can cope with. Except that instead of two independently wealthy ex-pop stars, we’re two people without two pots to rub together; having spent what little spare we had on the magazine itself.
People have been kind, we’ve had offers of support and places to kip as well as a surprisingly quick race to the (low admittedly) Crowdfunding target. Thanks everybody.
If you want to check out something similar, there’s the much smaller scale trip we did around Birmingham’s pubs Concrete and Cocktails that you can download for nowt.
More details of how to help or get involved in this madness are here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/pier-review-a-book-about-a-journey-to-the-outcrops-of-a-dying-culture-311
Now that is what I call a map. Every pub in Birmingham as available from the Open Street Map XAPI (on 6/1/11), for use as a navigational aid.
Plotted as a mapless map with Maperitive, and text tided up in Illustrator, no data was added or removed (except for duplicate of ‘The Tennis Courts’ in Perry Barr, which is plotted twice on OSM).
Prints available , although you’re free to open, download, and explore the PDF.
Data and icon from and © Open Street Map under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence and as such the PDF/image here is too.
Just a little fun seasonal project I’ve made with the layout and design help of Gavin Wray.
It works very much like my other sentiment analysis tools, but with a sprinkling of Santa’s magic. Santa’s magic in this instance being that any tweets with the words ‘Christmas’ or ‘Xmas’ in them are weighted doubly—that is the scores are counted twice for the purpose of producing the mean score.
(click through for big)
Last night I turned my sentiment analysis tool on two hashtags: #bcfc and #avfc, the most widely used tags to refer to Birmingham City and Aston Villa during their League Cup quarter final game. It was a chance to see if visualising to ‘competing’ tags around the same event would be a useful exercise.
Caveats that would apply to this:
There was a generally a downward trend throughout the match, tension? Bad football? It could have been both. The first two goals seemed to have a much bigger impact than the third—this I don’t quite understand, but it seems to be more about the tweets themselves than the tool.
I could see how a special subject-set of emotion words could be created for football, which could cope with more nuanced or unusual words. It’s something to consider.
The obligatory Wordle:
This is me doing straight stand-up comedy for the first time, just five minutes and a couple of fucks:
Next Friday (26th November) I’m doing a brief set as part of this Stand up Comedy thing.
I’ve not written the act, as such, yet—but it’ll probably be something to do with beards.
As promised, I turned my Twitter sentiment analysis tool on the big TV/social web phenomenon that is the X-Factor. I started the script running at around 6:30pm and off again at 10:30pm — but the really interesting bit is during the show itself (thankfully watching the results stream in meant I didn’t have to watch the show itself).
It ran every minute and looked at the most recent 1,000 tweets tagged #xfactor.
The real reason for using the X-Factor is that I was aware just how violently the emotions can swing on Twitter when watching—and also it is a very defined timeline of events. The Valence (the happy-sad ratio, red line) had greater peaks and troughs in short times than any sentiment graphing project I’ve tried before.
The differences are far more prominent in the graph than any trends over the whole two and a half hours. Arousal (awake-ness, for want of a better word) was relatively constant, as was dominance (the feeling of control), although both jump up and down (within boundaries) along with Valence.
And who was ever-so unpopular around 8:50pm? This chap:
Next, I think I’ll try Question Time.
I’ve tried two experiments with the “is Birmingham happy” algorithm in the last few days, as they’re not based on place it makes more sense to use the popular term ‘sentiment analysis’ to refer to what it’s doing in this instance. As they were both reasonably short uses it was posible to update the reading often (and use a smaller number of tweets as the sample, giving more variation in the average scores) and give the sentiment graphs a live ‘wormal’ feeling, watching the ratings change over time.
First was on the Personal Democracy Forum EU conference in Barcelona, for the length of the two-day conference I monitored the hashtag #pdfeu every five minutes:
(click image for larger view)
The highest rating was 64.4% (at 12:45pm on Tuesday), the lowest 49.6% (Monday at 12:14pm during a short power failure). What was interesting to me was that the “arousal” rating seemed to work well as it stayed pretty steady during the power failure (or even leaped up a little) even as the happiness of the hashtag users dived. Post-lunch conference lulls and periods of excitement (the big spikes in day two, at least, corresponded with much applause) were mapped quite accurately.
The overall average was 57.29%. If you would like to explore or graph the data yourself, you can see in all in a Google Spreadsheet here.
Secondly I tried a much shorter and more mainstream application, David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference:
The emotion tracking tool graphed here ran every 10 seconds during David Cameron’s speech to the CPC and analysed the last 100 tweets with the hashtag #cpc10 and the word “tories”. I chose two versions as I wasn’t sure that non-Conservative supporters would use the ‘official’ hashtag, I theorised that they would be likely to use the word ‘tories’. As it turned out I think that while there was a more even spread of pro and anti political types using the hashtag than I expected, but the ‘tories’ Tweeters were definitely more hostile. (See the data.) There was greater movement across the graph than on any other test I’ve run.
Conclusions? None so far, other than that I think this might be a very useful tool, and that more interesting data is created the more Tweets you have and the more you can afford (server-wise) to poll for results. I’m itching to try it on another big live event with conflicting opinions, that might mean training it on a reality TV event. Roll on the X-Factor.