Awe-inspiring place of worship? Visit Salisbury not Stonehenge

Stonehenge’s new visitor centre is a huge improvement on what it replaced, but it remains difficult to appreciate the stone circle with a jammed-up major road just a field away. You can do better a few miles south.

First published on Beacon. Continue reading “Awe-inspiring place of worship? Visit Salisbury not Stonehenge”

Review: The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser – how to burst these bubbles

I referred to filter bubbles a while ago, and thought I should get around to reading the book of that name by Eli Pariser. Written in 2011, and subtitled ‘What the internet is hiding from you’, it is an interesting review of web personalisation and its dangers, current and future. It takes as its starting point Google’s announcement in December 2009 that it would personalise every search result, so trapping web users in an ‘Adderall Society’, where like users of that drug they become more focused and less curious.

It’s an interesting read, and Mr Pariser – who among other things has been executive director of the online campaigning service and is now co-founder of viral-with-a-purpose social media firm Upworthy– has civic-minded concerns about people becoming ignorant of hard news, particularly from abroad, as the likes of Google and Facebook serve up only what someone is likely to click on.

However, while it’s good that The Filter Bubble includes a section headed ‘What individuals can do’, I think quite a lot remained unsaid. The section suggests you delete cookies regularly, and there’s a good comparison of Twitter and Facebook, the former with simple rules and lots of user control, the latter with complex, often-shifting ones which have been known to change a user’s semi-private data into public. Continue reading “Review: The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser – how to burst these bubbles”

Review: Bedsit disco queen, Tracey Thorn’s creative career advice book

Tracey Thorn’s account of her years as half of the band Everything but the girl, Bedsit disco queen, has been praised as both an enjoyable, honest memoir and a fascinating journey through British music from punk to the mid-2000s. It is both, but it is also possible to read as a guide to a creative career, in this case in music. I’m going to review it as that.

Thorn started with a punk ethos of, we can do this ourselves. In 1980, her first band the Stern Bops provided a track to a compilation cassette sold for £1.50 through a couple of local record shops and an NME small ad; she recalls going to a tape copying facility in London to get more run off. The chapter is titled ‘DIY’.

Thorn and her partner Ben Watts formed the band Everything but the girl in 1982 at Hull University and continued until 2000. Despite this, she describes being a singer as “a job I wasn’t really cut out for” – she feels more comfortable writing and recording, and suffers periodically from stage fright. She uses this distance at some points of the book to assess pop music as a career option. Continue reading “Review: Bedsit disco queen, Tracey Thorn’s creative career advice book”

Salford Royal Hope building: a hospital that looks like a design hotel/art gallery

Salford Royal NHS foundation trust makes damaging fewer of its patients its priority (in other words, it aims to be safest trust in the NHS). But when visiting last week for the day job, I noted that ‘having a hospital that looks like a design hotel or art gallery’ had also been added to the to-do list.

Interviewing trust IT bosses for EHI Intelligence means visiting a lot of NHS hospitals. While special places in many ways, they tend to look functional rather than beautiful. As previously discussed, the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is gleaming and full of light, like a really nice shopping mall. But while I knew Salford Royal was proud of its new Hope building – which was a construction site when I last visited two years ago (it opened in autumn 2011) – I wasn’t expecting it to be cool. Continue reading “Salford Royal Hope building: a hospital that looks like a design hotel/art gallery”

Art galleries in northern France: La Piscine Roubaix beats Louvre Lens

The north of France is a lot like the north of England. It’s a bit colder, metropolitan types think it has funny accents and food and it has suffered from a decline in industry, particularly mining. Lille should get itself twinned with Manchester – both cities have great histories and great ambitions for the future (and both are now major student and cultural centres). Continue reading “Art galleries in northern France: La Piscine Roubaix beats Louvre Lens”