Lecturer in Popular Fiction, Birmingham

Lecturer in Popular Fiction, University of Birmingham, UK. “The successful candidate will have research expertise in popular genre fiction (with Horror, the Thriller, Noir, Mystery, or Young/New Adult as areas of research interest that would be particularly desirable).” On the slim assumption that this is a rare English Literature centre that hasn’t effectively become a Dept. of Politics, it sounds like a really good job.

Digital histories

“The Museum of London has started contacting digital agencies and web designers from the 90s and early 2000s in order to locate saved content. At the same time the museum will be running an oral history project to document the untold story of the beginnings of the Web in London. At the same time the museum will be running an oral history project to document the untold story of the beginnings of the Web in London.”

It’s The Museum of London, so I guess they only want ‘London’. But perhaps it’s also time for West Midlands to dust off and secure its early work and websites in the same way?

Power to the people

A new report from environmental consultancy Julie’s Bicycle for the Arts Council shows that…

“a core group of 136 arts organisations have been reporting energy use since 2012/13. The total kilowatts per hour they consume – of electricity, gas and on-site renewables – have dropped by 22% over the period. This includes a 9% decrease [in just the one year] between 2015/16 and 2016/17.”

So basically the big UK arts orgs have cut their bills by 22%, through energy efficiency measures. Apparently the reporting data was “robust”, not arts-wooly. So that’s pretty good, and presumably there may be more efficiencies to come.

However, one then has to consider that the green ‘stealth taxes’ added by energy companies to quarterly bills. The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change calculates there has been an 18% green stealth-tax for electric bill payers, which pays for useless wind-farms and bio-fuel schemes. That comes in addition to the huge 120%+ energy price rises seen since 2000. The same Committee forecasts that the UK’s energy-intensive industrial sectors are overall set to see another “5.9%” rise in energy bills, due to the green ‘direct-to-the-bill’ stealth-taxes, by 2030.

Therefore, it seems to me that the arts probably need to find about another 8% saving, and then to maintain the resulting 30% savings total, if they’re to just-about come out ahead of the green stealth-taxes on bills by 2030. Still, they’re showing the UK that it can be done, which is something.

Exhibitionists wanted in Stratford.

A fab West Midlands job, just appeared: the Royal Shakespeare Company requires an Exhibitions Officer, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Innovate UK

Innovate UK, in Birmingham. The event…

“will explore themes such as robotics and urban planning and what this means for the individual, business and government. Other topics include artificial intelligence, smart cities, alternative food sources and space exploration.”

8th to 9th November 2017 at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, UK.

NEC not looking quite this pretty, but we can hope that it might in the future…

John Baskerville: Art and Industry in the Enlightenment

A new Birmingham history book, just published: John Baskerville: Art and Industry in the Enlightenment

“Baskerville was a Birmingham inventor, entrepreneur and artist with a worldwide reputation who made eighteenth-century Birmingham a city without typographic equal, by changing the course of type design.”

It’s a Beast…

BEAST FEaST 2018, 26th – 28th April 2018, at the University of Birmingham, UK. Three days of electroacoustic music, meetings and ideas. Sadly all the submission dates have been and gone.

Pop off

I’m researching the 2018 gallery exhibitions. I’ve lost count of the number of galleries that block my Web browser’s view within micro-seconds of arrival, with their infernal marketing-spam pop-over layers. Any I have a few browser add-ons that try to stop such things. Between this and the pollution of the search results, how does anyone (who isn’t tech-savvy) manage to surf the Web these days, and actually find anything that isn’t marketing ra-ra-ra?

When it happens on a low-grade source I’m increasingly just going back to the search results, and there perma-blocking that site from ever again appearing in my future search results.

“No events found”

“No events found” for BM&AG: Adults / Exhibitions. I had the same result a year ago, when researching the new 2017 exhibitions.

It’s not due to the lack a date input either, as the same setting gives a range of events when ‘Exhibitions’ is not the drop-down choice.

Sky-Fi

The Drayton Manor theme park’s science-fiction fireworks display this autumn, Sky-Fi.

“Will have you truly enthralled and entertained, with fireworks set to music from sci-fi favourites including Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars [etc].”

Very expensive, but it sounds refreshingly different.

Graphic Medicine

Graphic Medicine : the interaction of comics & healthcare. A lively and dedicated website complete with: an occasional podcast; a “This Week in Graphic Medicine” digest; comics reviews; and an annual conference (2018: Vermont / 2019: Brighton, UK).

Brexit, what Brexit?

Looking through Eventbrite in the West Midlands. Where are the local “Are you Ready for Brexit?” and “How to Get the Most From Brexit” and “Preparing for a Great Brexit” events? Businesses and universities seem to be still trundling along for a snooze at “European Funding Workshop: Part 23” etc.

Close To The Noise Floor

Close To The Noise Floor, a “4-CD, 61-track set exploring the origins of electronica in the UK” from 1975-1984. A collection of extreme rarities, judging by the track listing, and with almost no overlap with my own more pop-y chronological Space Patrol : the rise of early British electropop, 1977-1983. The Human League’s “Being Boiled” is the only overlap, although there are two versions so perhaps even that isn’t an overlap.

Windows Burpdate

The cover of the latest ComputerActive magazine, one of the best-selling magazines in the UK. Windows Update now assumed to be a front-page threat to your PC…

Postcards from Stoke

A new photoblog, Postcards from Stoke showing vintage picture postcards from Stoke and across north and mid Staffordshire (and the nearby Peak and the bits of Cheshire bordering Staffordshire).

Austra: Future Politics

I had a listen to Austra’s new album Future Politics (2017), lured by the far-future sci-fi theme and a reviewer’s rather ambitious comparison to Eno’s famous album Another Green World. Though I was almost dissuaded from investigating, by off-putting leftist virtue-signalling in a media interview. But, like the Russians under communism, I’m increasingly developing cognitive filters of sufficient strength to enjoy well-made media even while batting away the feeble leftist cant found in weaponised narratives. So I gave it a go.

I was glad I persevered with Austra as there’s doesn’t seem a lot of evidence for serious politics, that I could remember after two listens. Some cliched lyrics about “Gaia”, however well wrapped up in electopop, does not make one the new Poly Styrene.

Austra’s sound is… well, think: Joanna Newsom backed by Komputer. Both whom I like, but surprisingly not in this particular combination. Or not for the most part. Many of the songs on the album, and its predecessor Olympia (2013), don’t appeal.

However… I did find what was looking for. There’s definitely a really cracking electropop sci-fi E.P. hiding out in those two Austra albums. And, thanks to YouTube, here it is…


Olympia:

“Reconcile”

Part Jerry Cornelius time-shifting, part Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, with backing singers evoking the Medieval Baebes.


Future Politics:

“Utopia”

Bio-engineer seeks love in a future mega-city?

“Freepower”

A lament that robot companions are not truly alive? In a toe-tapping style that recalls Jimmy Somerville’s future/present song at the end of Orlando.

“Beyond a Mortal”

A hauntingly lovely song, with very hard-to-catch lyrics. But perhaps about being in love with someone who has made themselves immortal?

Rural Staffordshire is not declining

It’s often rather casually assumed that rural places everywhere around the world are in deep decline, and I heard the same story again on a recent podcast. It’s an easy and slipshod elite metropolitical explanation for recent populist votes — “oh, those old rural yokels, in declining places, everyone leaves, only the dumb racists are left, etc etc”. But that’s not the case in Staffordshire, which is a Brexit heartland. According to the Staffordshire Rural Economy Evidence Base: Final Report, 2015, rural places in the county were generally doing very well 2011-15, despite the recession and despite some remaining rough pockets in places like Cannock Chase and a few villages on the fringes. And despite the ongoing long-term neglect by the tendency which today styles itself Greater Birmingham. But overall…

* “Some 59% of Staffordshire’s population lives in rural districts”.

* “a greater proportion of rural Staffordshire residents tend to have higher-education qualifications (NVQ4 level qualification or above) than the [urban + rural] Staffordshire average”

* “The rate of employment in rural areas is high relative to the [urban + rural] Staffordshire and [the] England average” [and in future] “rural Staffordshire is expected to see expansion (in terms of GVA and employment) in some highly productive sectors”.

* “The population living in rural Staffordshire is expected to grow more quickly than the Staffordshire average by 2025 and [also] by 2037” […] “The rate of population growth is expected to be particularly high in the rural districts of East Staffordshire and Lichfield through to 2025.”

Which means, according to the report, that resulting problems are those of growth and technology upgrade. Not problems of decline…

* New housing and roads, and the consequent need for good schools. Freeing up planning restrictions on improvements to existing buildings.

* Faster Internet speeds, wider rural coverage. Encouraging down-shifters from London, etc.

* Finding the space and staff with which to upscale your businesses. Creating informal local knowledge networks that loosely network the local talent.

* Maintain birth rates. Later, ways to bring back some of those young people who will have have moved away for university.

* Managing the transition to re-wilding, as we need less land to grow food.

* Getting services to an educated and able elderly population. Which means things like innovative in-home healthcare visits that are about real empathy and friendship, and which offer real knowledge via sensors and AI-linked devices. Rather than simple ‘home help’ cleaning/food services and/or social-worker -style spying and trotting out pat ‘health propaganda’ messages.

Listen Notes

Listen Notes, a podcast search engine that’s fast, simple, comprehensive… and actually works. At last.

Secondhand bookshops, coming back?

Wormwoodania muses on The Rise of Secondhand Bookshops in Britain, and crunches the overall numbers with the aid of a 1984 Driff’s Guide and the current thebookguide.

“So we can see that there are indeed more second-hand bookshops in the UK than there were thirty years ago, in fact about 25% more.”

Interesting. Yes, given the general rise in UK tourism, and the increasing spread of that outside London, I can see how someone in a good position in a tourist town might have a worthwhile trade in secondhand books. Especially if they were a savvy buyer. I guess I was lucky to spend my teenage years in a tourist town which had no less than five large second-hand shops, all with good non-fiction and local interest stock. Plus a bookseller indulgent of impoverished teenage browsers, in the shape of Mr. Bailey and his partner who owned three of the shops. Birmingham was also a short train trip away, for science-fiction books everywhere from Rog Peyton’s costly Andromeda shop, to the 50p shop in the edge of the Bull Ring, to (if one was doing an adventurous circuit on the No.11 bus) Erdington market and various good charity shops whose non-fiction stock was topped up via the proximity to the university.

As for Wormwoodania, his figures admittedly includes 287 charity shops with substantial book holdings. The problem with even the larger charity shops today is the stock, in that they will siphon anything worth having off the shelves and onto the Web. What’s left is usually both over-priced and lowbrow. But it’s all been made rather moot, but eBay’s new alliance with Sainsbury’s for the convenient in-store collection of used books at their Argos collection points.

As for the historical shift in the used bookshop trade, I reckon it was the triple-whammy of the proliferation of charity shops (about 1987—) which took away many of the casual fiction buyers; then the spread of the ‘publisher’s remainders’ bargain bookshops in the High St. (1993?—); and then eBay + Internet (1997—) which changed the trade forever by taking away the niche collectors and scholars. There was also the brief golden age when one could get dirt cheap books posted from the USA via Alibris and other list aggregators, often with free or very low-cost postage, though that was effectively clamped down on by the early 2000s. Again, that must have taken away a small but affluent chunk of the intellectual non-fiction and fannish market. The general rise in shop rental costs and competition for prime High St. space in the boom of the late 1980s can’t have helped matters. The other factor was probably the decline in dirt-cheap jumble sales, ex-library stock sales at ’10p a book’, bulk sales of small local personal collections by widows at clearance prices. Which meant that bulk stock at a high quality / low price became much harder for a trader to get hold of.

New report: BBC spending in the Midlands

The Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands has a new report out…

“The new annual report showed the BBC spent just 1.5% of its programming budget in the Midlands in 2016, down from 1.8% the year previously.”

Admittedly Birmingham will soon get BBC Three, but on investigation that’s less impressive than it sounds. According to Computer Weekly it’s only a “second HQ” for the online-only BBC Three, housing the bit which undertakes the “creation of some of its short form content and social media” made by a “new youth team” for its Daily Drop yoof brand, with the move to Birmingham being a bid to “save £30m” in costs. There’s also set to be a “digital innovation team” alongside the social meeedya-ites, of unknown size, presumably managing and training up the young content makers and feeding the best down to London. Worth having, if it lasts, but probably likely to be very Birmingham-centric and not the huge slate of regional content-making that we deserve. Not that I’ll see any of it, as I’m the wrong demographic.

In general the BBC makes little difference to me, these days. My BBC consumption has withered away and is now limited to .mp3 downloads of Radio 4’s In Our Time, and the venerable Doctor Who series. Although in the light of the mostly-lacklustre recent season of Doctor Who, continuing viewing of even that is now debatable and will depend on the first three episodes of the next series. What would bring me back, or boost my hours of BBC-time? In Our Time headed by Paxman, with Bragg doing offshoot in-depth ‘specials’ like his Darwin In Our Time series. A weekly 90-minute digest podcast with the best local interviews and outside broadcast pieces from my local radio station. Bringing back the ability to view online listings only for BBC Radio 3: Speech and Documentary. A ‘new radio documentary downloads’ digest and alerts service blog, kind of like a niche boutique Radio Times with an RSS feed. That would be a start.