Friday, November 20

That Olympus EP-2 Press Release in full...

I’m a bit late to this but the new Olympus 4/3rds camera sounds very tempting. I’ve cut and pasted the press release below (sorry, more lazy journalism):

London, 5 November 2009 – Welcome back to the PEN story and the next chapter: "Back in Black".

Hot on the heels of the Olympus EP-1, which was widely acclaimed as a ground-breaking photo enrichment device, Olympus are proud to introduce the Olympus EP-2.

Building on the strengths of the EP-1, the new EP-2 offers a host of new iconic features. The inclusion of a "model village" art filter fully realises the unique photographic and video potential of the legacy Pen series. In addition, the cross-processing, fisheye microphone socket will allow tomorrow's users unlimited leverage into a vast arena of gaping emptiness.

This second digital model takes f-utility even further with diverse, fresh functionalities including:

– Wi-Fi transmission teasmaid port.

– In-camera selective desaturation (red bow and black-and-white puppy mode).

– Remote probability fun control (via HDD-XRT).

– Elephant stun gun.

– Scratch 'n' sniff padlet for mood enhancement (smells include crystalised lemongrass and essence of David Bailey's old camera bag).

– Two new art filters – the model village filter, and the Vettriano filter, which can transform even the most ordinary photo into a fourth-rate watercolour heritage art piece that celebrity chef Gary Rhodes will take off your hands for a couple of grand.

The new model is cloaked in classic retro hyper-babble and is available from larger John Lewis stores.


Sounds great! Hopefully Olympus will send me a review copy.

Monday, November 2

The Axe Vale Festival, joined up transport, and the great horse of Emo

A few months ago I made the journey to the Axe Vale festival on the outskirts of Axminster, billed as ‘probably the best gardening and crafts festival in the southwest’. Enticing!

Planning the journey, my natural instinct was to check the train times first. In a frustrating case of not-at-all-joined-up transport policy, it turned out that I could get a train from Weymouth to Yeovil Pen Mill and then a train from Yeovil Junction to Axminster. The two Yeovil train stations are separated by a couple of miles but despite being joined by a working train line, no passenger trains currently run between them.

Trains occasionally tootle along the line as an emergency measure when flooding occurs, or if a steam train needs to turn around at the Yeovil Junction turntable but there’s no passenger service. Possibly the fact that one station is run by Southwest Trains and the other by Great Western Trains doesn’t help integration.

I spent hours on Internet forums trying to work out how to get between the two stations. Looking at Google maps, the direct route looks like a pleasant stroll along a river, but it turned out to be private property, containing the splendidly named Jack the Treacle Eater folly. There is a road between the two stations but my new contacts on Internet forums told me there was no footpath or verge at all, so it would involve a quite dangerous walk. (At this point, I like to think that Lord Adonis is getting interested.)

So the options were taking a bike to cycle between the two stations, or walking into Yeovil town centre and walking back out, or getting a taxi, or waiting for a bus that might not come. Or a million other combinations that made my brain hurt.

Then, somehow, after spending about half a day researching how to travel between two train stations, 2 miles apart, I realised that there was a bus that would take me directly from Weymouth to Axminster, although the journey time was ominously long relative to the distance covered.

On the Sunday, reaching the bus stop I grabbed some cheapo coffee as the shops were opening and was puzzled by the sight of people crouched over pints in the Weymouth seafront pubs. Had they just started drinking, or were they winding down from last night?

From the top of the bus a series of interesting scenes presented themselves. A civic-minded lady with a small white dog was clearing beer cans and litter from a cricket pitch near Dorchester. Crows loitered ominously around a garden bird table in a front garden in Poundbury. At Martinstown, a Little Egret reared up right in front of the bus – strange to think that just a few years ago these birds were a rare sight in England. At some point I passed a sign that said ‘Revolutions’ next to one that ‘ironically’ said ‘No turning’, which I had previously seen only on the Internet. I didn’t bother to photograph these scenes – the reflections and dirt on the windows means that it’s usually a waste of time.

At last, and feeling a bit travel sick, I arrived in Axminster, and took a few photos at the festival.

After a pleasant day’s shooting I meandered around the town a little, waiting for the vomit-inducing bus journey back. My last view of the town was a group of emo kids leading a very large horse along a pavement.

Sunday, November 1

Clone towns and lazy journalism

Yesterday I paid a quick visit to Dorchester, which like most English towns has been adversely affected by the credit crunch. The town has always had a sizable proportion of independent shops, some of which closed down in the recession. However, more than 20 new businesses and shops have moved into the county town in the last year. I bought a tasty leek and cheese lattice thing from the newly opened Joshua’s, a ‘wholesome natural food’ shop.

In 2004, Dorchester appeared in the Top 10 of UK clone towns in a story that was widely reported in the UK press. ‘Clone town’ is a term for a town or city dominated by chain stores. Puzzled by this, I looked at the source of the data, a report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). Their ‘methodology’ was a request, via their web site, that members of the public fill in a questionnaire based on a walk down their local high street. One hundred and thirty usable questionnaires were received. Southampton, clone town extraordinaire, presumably doesn’t appear anywhere in the report because no-one filled in a form.

Not exactly rigorous stuff – relying on unverified reports from random people off the Internet. The inclusion of Dorchester is obviously completely incorrect. However the top 10 was reported by the serious press as if it was authoritative research:

‘Researchers found chainstores dominated the main shopping street...’
Researchers? Not really. It was based on questionnaires sent in by members of the public.

The Independent
‘according to a report published today’
Sound quite official, doesn’t it?

The Guardian
‘It found 42 of the 103 towns it surveyed in England, Scotland and Wales...’
‘It surveyed’? Well, the NEF didn’t survey the towns itself, it just compiled the information received.

In the book Flat Earth News, journalist Nick Davies describes how much ‘news’ consists of press releases regurgitated without question by overworked journalists. At least, I think that’s what he says – in the true spirit of lazy journalism, I haven’t actually read the book or spent much time writing this blog post, to be honest.

While agreeing with the NEF’s polemic against clone towns, I think what this shows is that the media love a good list, and any old press release with a top 10 will get published without question. Meanwhile, good luck to Joshua’s and all the other new and old independent shops in Dorchester.