On Advertising

Looking back it seems as if it only took a second. It was as if something snapped inside of me - a bubble burst and its contents scattered, no longer constrained. In reality my discontent had been brewing for a long time, but standing in HMV and surveying the aisles brought it all to a head.

One of the best parts of earning money is spending it. I love music, and so I tend to buy a fair amount of CDs, but I have strong aversion to paying full-price for an album. I haunt the aisles of the sales, clutching my "£5 off when you spend £35!" voucher, casting a discriminating eye over the racks of CDs trying to find a selection of albums that I'm willing to pay £(x-35) for. On this particular occasion, though, the offerings were particularly poor. My mind wandered, mainly as a defence mechanism against the awful music they insist on pumping into chain record stores, and a question popped into my head.

"When was the last time you were in a record store, and there wasn't a sale on?" I couldn't remember. I wasn't sure it had even happened. Those red stickers proclaiming "£8.99" like it was a bargain seemed even less alluring. How can it be a special offer if it happens every other month, I pondered. The whole mindset came crashing down as I saw each prominent price label metamorphose into the words, "Buy me!"

Crass advertising It was a revolutionary moment, but instead of release & euphoria it invoked cynicism, disillusionment, and depression. It made me realise that advertising was everywhere, and it is unescapable in today's modern world. Television, magazines, newspapers, radio, and the internet are all plastered with adverts trying to convince you that they're offering you The Best Deals! and Limited Time Offers!. Leave the media alone and go for a walk, and you meet it on bus shelters, the insides and outsides of busses, trains, stations, shop windows, telephone booths, and so on. Drive out into the countryside, and you're still not impenetrable - SMS advertising is a small but growing activity.

And it is everywhere. Think of one thing you've done this week that didn't have advertising. Ice skating? Adverts around the rink. Gone to the cinema? Sit through 15 minutes of adverts and trailers before you get to the bit you wanted to see. Gone out drinking? There'll be drinks posters in there, or maybe even a video screen blaring out adverts at you. Nothing is sacred in the eyes of a marketer. Everything, everywhere, is an opportunity for an advert. People adjust and tune out the adverts, so they become bigger, more brash, and harder to ignore - until people stop responding to those, and the cycle repeats.

There are a few basic kinds of adverts:

  1. Exclusitivity - an attempt at convincing you that you're getting something special that sets you apart from the crowd, or that their product is head-and-shoulders above the rest. See E&J Gallo's "Just a wine?" posters for the latter and most watch adverts for an example of the former. There's also a kind of inverse exclusitivity that invites you to be part of something - anything with the phrase "Welcome to our world" is one of these.
  2. Sexiness - Again, there are two broad types at work. Either a "Buy me, I'll make you sexy!" - perfumes, bras, most makeups - or a "Buy me, I'm sexy!" - laptops, mobile phones, and so on. The former is always a bit of a con, as these products can help make someone sexy, but they're not enough in and of themselves. A hefty dose of self-confidence is far more enticing than the perfume you're wearing. If the Lynx effect actually existed I wouldn't be writing this article - I'd be lathering myself up under a sprinkler. For the latter, sometimes the product is sexy, but not always. The iPod, for instance, is a tasty bit of hardware, but consider the Renault Megane. Renault designed an awful rear end to the car, then ran a whole host of adverts revolving around buttocks featuring lots of clips of sexy arses. The adverts made the car sexy, not the other way around.
  3. Appeal to lifestyle - Some adverts will try and convince you that their product will slot perfectly into your life. They're just what you need! The iPod advertising does this, to an extent, and mobile phones are frequent culprits.
  4. Good vibes - Whether it's Ben & Jerry's telling you about their generous corporate policy or Charmin's cartoon bears, there's possibly no better way to get you to buy a product than by making you feel good for doing so. Whether it's supporting a good cause, or just through cute mascots, making people feel good will sell your product. The reality can be completely different, as it's all in the perception. As long as the consumer believes that the company's being socially responsible, it doesn't matter if they're destroying trees or making their goods in sweatshops.

The reason why all this brought me down was because all of it is completely, entirely empty. It's a desperate attempt to get you to spend your money by convincing you that what they're selling is just what you need to make you happy. Everything's about whipping up a frenzy of excitement to try and make people think that what they're buying is unique and special - take DVDs. You can't buy a film on DVD. You can buy special editions, collector's editions, special collector's editions, director's cuts, special director's cuts, and so on. Stick a bit of printed cardboard around it and call it a boxed edition. It's all a big lie - none of it will make you any happier, any more sophisticated, or sexier. It's just a way of washing every last aspect of individuality out of yourself as you start defining yourself according to how the companies define you. Those gap pants - do you really think that they're cool? Or is it how they were presented to you?

I spent four years of my life studying economics, so I'm versed in the theories of supply and demand. I know the theories behind why shops offer sales, but I don't believe them. They're a psychological trick to make people spend more money, and that's all. Present someone with the assurance that what they're buying is normally priced higher, and it's reduced for a limited time, and people will drop their reasoning and open their wallets. I'm as guilty of it as anyone, but I will be seduced by the promises of "Virgin's BIGGEST EVER sale!" no longer. Who measures these things, anyway? What makes it the biggest ever - floor space? Price? Money off? Amount sold? Are these CDs and DVDs ever going to go back up to full price? Is £1 off an album sold for £10.99 really a reduction worth shouting about?

I'm convinced that all of the sales are a con. The company's still turning a profit in all the sales - lower margins, shift more units. Revenue increases accordingly. Music and DVDs are price-elastic goods according to this reasoning, which is probably true. It's win-win, as far as the shops are concerned - you walk out smiling, thinking you've got a bargain, and the shareholders and directors giggle all the way to the bank.

In the Western world, we've all bought into the consumer culture in a big way. It's unavoidable, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The desire to go out and buy things has made life easier and cheaper. But by worshipping at the altar of consumerism we've lost sight of what really matters. Good food is no longer what is wholesome and tasty - it's what Jamie Oliver endorses. Good company is no longer what makes your dinner parties great - it's the wine that you serve. Your clothes are not what make you sharp - it's who they're made by. This pattern repeats forever in a swirling morass of brand loyalty and recognition. I say that yes, you should go out and buy clothes. Go and shop for food and make tasty meals. But buy these things because you like the way they look or the way they taste - not because it's got "FCUK" or "Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Range" written on it.

So what's the solution? There are many ways of attacking the problem, but most people won't have time for most of them. The easiest thing to do is to look at things with a far more critical eye. Don't get swept up in the sales culture - so what if there's £100 off? Would you pay £50 for the item you're considering? If the answer is no, then don't buy it. The other easiest thing to do is to complain when products and services don't live up to expectations. Writing a letter is the best way, as it takes time and effort (and thus demonstrates to the company that you were sufficiently annoyed by their failiure to live up to expectations for you to take that time and effort), but email is another effective way of registering your comments. Don't be offensive, or demand recompense. Just explain what happened to you, how it differed from your expectations, and what you're going to do about it - for example, you might say you will take your business elsewhere in future, or will not be buying their products again, or will be complaining to Trading Standards. Even if you just say that your confidence in their product is severely dented, then it should hopefully be enough to get them to sit up and take notice.

Other things you can do are varied. Depending on what it is, you could talk to trading standards or the industry ombudsman, complain to your MP, tell your friends, write to the Director of the company or the parent company, boycott their products, or anything else you can think of. But really it all comes down to not getting swept up in the hype, and evaluating things for what they are.

A CS Christmas Carol

Over the summer, I was struck down by chickenpox. As a result, I had a large block of time in which my chief responsibilities were lying around and trying hard not to scratch a variety of very itchy sores. One of the things I produced in this process is the below - a Computer Scientist's Christmas Carol, to the tune of "The 12 days of Christmas". There's a list of items for those short on time or know the lyrics already.

In the first week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Get to all your lectures early".

In the second week of leng term my tutor said to me,
"Comment your code and get to all your lectures early".

In the third week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the fourth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the fifth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the sixth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the seventh week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the eighth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Learn to use raptor, work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the ninth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Start coursework early, learn to use raptor, work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the tenth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Read the course newsgroups, start coursework early, learn to use raptor, work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the eleventh week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Textbooks are in the library, read the course newsgroups, start coursework early, learn to use raptor, work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code, and get to all your lectures early".

In the twelfth week of lent term my tutor said to me,
"Talk to lecturers, textbooks are in the library, read the course newgroups, start coursework early, learn to use raptor, work in the reading week, get a good night's sleep, don't pla-gar-ise... Go to seminars, use the rocks, comment your code...
and get to all your lectures early!".

The List

12: Talk to lecturers
11: Textbooks are in the library
10: Read the course newsgroups
9: Start coursework early
8: Learn to use raptor
7: Work in the reading week
6: Get a good night's sleep
5: Don't pla-gar-ise...
4: Go to seminars
3: Use the rocks
2: Comment your code
1: Get to all your lectures early.

A PHP snippet to calculate your age

MyAge is a code snippet that calculates your age. I hadn't bothered posting it, as it's fairly trivial, but someone asked for it in an IRC channel last night so I thought it might be more useful to people than I realised.

<?php /** * MyAge by Alex Pounds <> * A small script to calculate my age, instead of updating a webpage once a year. */ // Edit the numbers below to match your birthdate. $birthyear=1982; $birthmonth=4; $birthday=23; $nowyear=date("Y"); $nowmonth=date("m"); $nowday=date("d"); if($nowmonth > $birthmonth) { //Age is simply the difference in years. print $nowyear - $birthyear; return; } else if($nowmonth == $birthmonth) { if($nowday < $birthday) { print $nowyear - $birthyear - 1; return; } else { print $nowyear - $birthyear; return; } } else { print $nowyear - $birthyear - 1; return; } ?>

Button-up Flies

It is a good thing for my employers, my degree, and my website that I have the standards of personal hygiene that I do. I find I solve a vast amount of problems in the shower. All of my algorithms go down the plughole clockwise, and most of my pieces of coursework hold a faint odour of shower gel.

Of course I jest, but I do find that a lot of my technical thinking is done during my morning ablutions. On reflection, this is hardly surprising - it's a block of time where I'm mostly acting on autopilot and have very little competing for my attention. It's the perfect time to figure out the intricacies of a bit of code, or let my mind churn over something I'm stuck on.

I'm not proud to admit this next bit, but here goes: I find my bathroom breaks during the day have a similar, although lesser, effect. Again, it's a couple of minutes in a hectic life where it is quiet, serene, and very little thought is involved. But whenever I wear my blue denim jeans my little islands of mental processing are destroyed, and my productivity falls away sharply. You see, these jeans have button-up flies.

Back in the 1800s I'm sure button-up flies were a fantastic invention. And it's entirely possible they are very fashionable today. In a way, they're quite sexy - grip the top of the trouser, pull the part with buttonholes away from my body, and the material parts like badly-hung wallpaper. Alas, I find myself peeing far more often than I find my pants being removed in a time-constrained frenzy of lust and so this fringe benefit is negated by the need to stand in front of a urinal, fiddling with my crotch in a suspicious fashion, for anything up to a minute after I've finished peeing.

One can deal with that, though. This is only part of the torment, though - as soon as I have unbuttoned my trousers (an effort in itself, if you just want to open an orifice in the trousers, not unfasten them entirely), my mind enters a tight loop of panic. "Oh no, I'm going to have to do them back up, and that's always a struggle," I find myself thinking. "What if someone comes in while I'm doing them up? What if someone comes in before I'm doing them up, starts peeing, and then I button it in the wrong buttonhole and have to spend time correcting it?". You get the idea. Any chance of thinking about something else - fluid dynamics, say - is obliterated.

I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't for the way that they're just so unnecessary. We live in a world of zip fasteners, and I think that as it was invented in 1851, it's high time we got with the programme and used them across all trousers. I'm not sure if the designers of this particular pair had a vehement dislike of paying royalties on the zip. Perhaps he thought that it was somewhat stylish, even though anyone paying enough attention to my crotch to notice is likely to need further convincing of my allure. Maybe he was embittered and twisted by years in the fashion industry, and vowed to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting consumers by this subtle act of sabotage. I doubt humanity will ever find the answer to this one.

The Goverment

The current UK Government scares me.

I wish I could say that I was exaggerating, but alas I can't. Simplifying, maybe, but certainly not exaggerating.

Parliament House I'm a big proponent of democracy. Having seen processes at work, both on a small level (student politics) and on a larger level (national politics), I've come to appreciate them for what they should be. I'm not a fan of beaurocracy, but people tend to confuse the two. Democracy is representative; it's a way for everyone to have their say, and to have their opinion given equal weighting. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and the majority view goes. You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can please most of them.

But recent events have caused me to lose my faith in the UK Government. As a rule, I'm quite apolitical. I don't get involved or follow national politics that closely and I'm not affiliated to any political party. I'm moderately well-informed about things, though, and every now and again I dip my toe in the waters of national politics.

As I write (2004-04-08), last Wednesday the new Higher Education Bill passed its 3rd reading. This was the bill regarding the infamous top-up fees. I was in the Strangers' Gallery - the balcony just above the House of Commons - and got to watch the final debate and vote. And despite the protests, despite the opposition, despite the flaws and lack of consultation the bill passed. It was at this moment that I really lost faith. The constituents came out and lobbied the Government, and they went ahead anyway.

Protesters marching against top-up fees But let's play devil's advocate, and say that those protesting against top-up fees are just a bunch of smelly students. The other big issue recently was the war in Iraq. Something like 70% of people were against it, from all age groups and professions, and we went ahead and attacked anyway (please bear in mind it's possible to be anti-war and anti-Saddam before emailing me about this). And over the past few days compulsory ID cards have leapt to the fore as an issue. But not even as an issue - they're being described as an inevitability. With no studies to show whether or not it is a viable, cost-effective method of combatting terrorism, it seems a bit crazy to throw vast sums of money at it.

The scariest thing of all is that there's no real opposition. New Labour have pissed on the will of the people by going to war, broken promises that got them elected ("We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them" was a manifesto pledge), and now make moves to continue the march towards a police state. The Conservatives still haven't managed to organise themselves into a decent opposition, and people either see them as bigoted, prejudiced, or simply tainted from Thatcher, Major, et al. And nobody takes the Liberal Democrats seriously, despite them having quite a few policies that seem like a good idea to me. If the Lib Dems can't get a look in, then no-one else will either. With no viable alternatives to vote for and a lack of "No Suitable Candidate" on the ballot slips democracy falls apart as people stop voting on the basis of "Who's best?" and start voting on the basis of "Who's least worst?".

Statue of Oliver Cromwell Put it all together, and it scares me. We're reaching a situation where there's no viable alternative to a government that ignores the electorate. The populace stand up and say "We don't want you to do this!" and the Government say "Lalalala, we're not listening, we're doing it anyway". People are running scared and handing over their freedoms whilst they're being sold an illusion of security and safety from the threat of terrorism. I just don't have the faith in the Government to be 100% benign, 100% honest, and 100% safe.

Autonomy and the NUS LGB Campaign

I spent one and a half years involved with the LGBT scene at University. I'm away on my year in industry at the moment, so can't be so involved, but I'd still consider myself an interested party. One of the things I experienced was the NUS LGB liberation campaign and so got a unique insight into the joys of autonomy.

The NUS has some odd ideas. It's a very strange organisation, due to the way it's evolved over the years. One of the things it gets off on is calling things "liberation campaigns". The other is this concept called autonomy. Certainly sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? You'd think an autonomous campaign is one that runs itself, with no outside intervention. In its own way, it is - you see, autonomy really means that only those who seek to be liberated can take part. In the case of the LGB campaign, this means that only those who self-define as LGB.

Let me lay my cards on the table: I am very comfortable with my sexuality. Unfortunately for the LGB campaign, I am straight. This means that I cannot attend NUS LGB conference, be involved with the liberation campaign, or attend training for LGB representatives. While autonomy seems like a good idea, I believe that it's deeply flawed. Here's why:

  1. It's undemocractic.

    One of the central tenets to NUS is its democracy. Scratch the surface, however, and you soon find that it's just a veneer. Because I* am not LGB, I cannot stand for election as LGB officer, nor serve on its Executive Committee - the constitution forbids it. I take the view that it's up to the members to decide who represents them, not the rules of the organisation themself.

    Likewise with training and the conference. If the students of my Union elect me as their LGB officer, I wouldn't be able to go to conference. Even though I've been chosen democratically I would not be allowed to attend, and nor would I be welcome at the training.

    I am not sure why my sexuality is of any relevance at conference, either. If I'm attending, I'm acting as a representative of the students at my parent organisation. My own position should be irrelevant.

  2. It's hypocritical.

    "We want to be accepted for who we are, and not discriminated against based on our sexuality! We want to be seen as equals because we are!"
    "Sounds great, I want to help out and be involved!"
    "Err... Sorry, you can't be involved. It's because of your sexuality. You're not gay enough."

    When one of your main campaign goals is to stop people being excluded based on their sexuality, I would have thought the last thing you should do is exclude people from your campaign based on their sexuality.

  3. It's counterproductive.

    By excluding a broad swathe of the population, you're throwing away a large proportion of the thoughts, skills, and sheer manpower available to you. I am not sure why my skills as an organiser, web designer, campaigner, or placard-waver are less useful because I happen to be straight. The involvement of non-LGB people would help the campaign - "This is not just an issue that concerns LGB people," and so on.

  4. It's exclusionary.

    I thought that student politics was all about getting involved, doing what you can to change the world for the better (I'm a naïve optimist, I know). By acting as a closed shop, people who want to get involved and change things are being tripped at the first hurdle.

  5. It's offensive.

    The main argument employed by those for autonomy is that because I'm not LGB, I haven't got the required perspective to be a part of the movement. I would disagree. While I can appreciate that I probably would not be the best "leader" of the movement the idea that my opinions are completely invalid is very offensive. Homophobia affects us all. It affects the society we live in, I've seen my friends come across it, and I've encountered it when people leap to conclusions about me. Furthermore, I don't believe that you need to have direct experience of something to hold a valid opinion about it. I am not a citizen of the US, but I hold an opinion about their politics. I am not a woman, but I would campaign and support the battle for equality of the sexes. I will not be affected by top-up fees myself, but I have protested against them and lobbied against them. My opinion is not rendered invalid and my skills made irrelevant simply because I am not directly affected. The weighting given to my opinions and skills might be reduced, but it does not invalidate them.

  6. It encourages heterophobia.

    Heterophobia is a weird thing that sounds very theoretical, but it's out there. Through a variety of mistakes, I have been on an NUS training event. It was a closed (ie. LGB people only) event, but the person in charge of organising it didn't realise that when they invited me. It was a real culture shock to be dropped into such hostile waters.

    The University of Kent's LGBT Society is open to anyone, regardless of sexuality. This seems like A Good Thing™ to me. Turns out a lot of LGB societies don't have this in their constitutions, though. A lot of societies exclude non-LGB(T) people from attending, as I found out:

    "So, do you have any straight members of your [LGB] society?"
    "Oh, no no no no no. We don't allow it. I would be most uncomfortable to have any straight people attending our meetings."

    I listened to this, and in the back of my mind there's a voice saying, "Shit, I'm a committee member. They would lynch me if they knew."

    "Does your Union have an equal opportunities policy?"
    "Of course. We take it very seriously."
    "And yet you exclude people from your society based on their sexuality?"
    "Err... Well, when you put it like that..."

    Point is, heterophobia is just as bad as homophobia. Encourage a heterophobic mindset, and you do your movement harm. All that happens is that it becomes its own little insular group, seperate from the rest of society - the exact opposite of what it's trying to achieve.

  7. It's not necessary.

    The other main argument used by those in favour of autonomy is that if the LGB campaign was open to non-LGB students, then they would instantly be deluged with bigots and homophobes denouncing them. Or - horror of horrors - the bigots could take over the movement!

    Well, it just wouldn't happen. For a start, the delegates would have to be elected by the students at the University. Even if the homophobic candidate managed to get elected, (s)he is just one person, and would most likely be voted out at the next election once their true agenda became known. For homophobes and fascists to take over the campaign, they would have to be elected in hundreds of universities across the country simultaneously. And if that looked like it would happen, you can bet that every students' union across the country would mobilise to raise awareness and campaign against it, and balance would be restored. If anything, such a move would work in the favour of the campaign - it's these little shake-ups that motivate fresh people to get involved and take a stand.

So, in summary, I am very much against the autonomy of the NUS LGB campaign. I believe it's doing more harm than good and is in need of a radical rethink. However, as the Buddhists might say, change must come from within. So by default nothing will happen, and given the sheer lumbering inertia of NUS beaurocracy it wouldn't happen for years. Convenient, that, isn't it?

* This is the first time in my listed points that I've used the word "I". I'm going to be using it a lot, I'm afraid. Whenever you see a reference to myself, please be aware that I'm just using myself as a convenient example. All my points extrapolate out to refer to anyone who wants to be involved with the NUS LGB movement, but explaining that every time would soon get clunky.

Basically, I'm not just whining about my tough luck.

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Catering for me

So you want to cook me a meal, for some reason or another. I'm sure you have your reasons. Anyway, to try and ease this difficult time for you, I thought I'd do a page of help.

  1. Do not panic

    I'm not that difficult, really. You won't have to learn anything new. Well, maybe you might have to learn a little bit more about where your food comes from, and what's in it, but that's about it.

  2. Don't forget the staples

    There's loads of stuff you can already cook that's vegan. Baked potatoes and beans. Salads. Pasta (not egg pasta, obviously). Vegetable curry. Vegetable chilli. Chips. Beans on toast. If your ultimate goal is to stop me dying of starvation, rather than providing my tastebuds with a lapdance, then you've got nothing to worry about.

  3. Use the net, Luke

    MrFalafel's posts on are legendary in terms of being fantastic recipes. There's also loads on the internet.

  4. I'm not picky

    I'm not a picky eater, and if you've gone to the effort of cooking it for me I'm going to eat it and I'm going to enjoy it.

Student Life

I'm fast reaching the conclusion that I'm just not cut out for student life. Not from an academic point of view - I'm fine with that. It's the time away from lectures and seminars that I find tricky. It's odd, because in some ways I'm a stereotypical student - affinity for cheap stuff, listener to the Smiths, play the guitar, odd dietary habits, and so on. Yet in other ways, I'm massively different. I don't drink or do drugs, my dietary habits put me in the minority, my musical tastes are eclectic, and so on.

It all comes down to having a very hazy sense of identity. Most people's friends are people who have similar qualities to themselves - similar tastes, similar interests, similar views, and so on. Most of my friends aren't like that. Of course I don't want to be surrounded by clones of myself, but I would like to know more people whose idea of a good night out is not getting wrecked and making it home with all the limbs they set out with. Yes, there's nothing stopping me sitting in a pub and not drinking, but it becomes very boring very quickly.

Returning to the point of identity, it's all a case of relativity. Your sense of self is related to that of others. You can only be good if others are bad; you can only be generous if others are niggardly. When explaining why you like your friends, you'll probably list ways in which they're similar to you, or to the person you want to be. Let me be explicit: I think all of my friends are wonderful. That's why I'm friends with them. But I think they'd agree that they are very different from myself.

Some people make this similarity thing very easy for themselves by identifying with a subculture. Most of these offer obvious visual clues that someone is just like you, or you are just like them: Goths, Emos, Punks, and so on. All have a distinct visual style that results in an instant comaraderie. Other subcultures are less visual (geeks, artists, writers) but all offer a similar pool of people who you know are going to be pretty similar to yourself.

Here's the kicker: I don't class myself in any of these categories. I'm vaguely hippyish in general, but wait - there's the no drugs thing. I'm getting increasingly cynical, but I like life too much to be goth. I'm into IT but find a lot of the geeky thing irritating. So finding people who "get" me is hard, and that's what it all boils down to - lonliness and isolation.

Returning to the topic of student life, what is there to do for a student like myself? Pubbing and clubbing holds little attraction. London, with its wealth of galleries, exhibitions, live music, and bookstores is too far away to visit regularly on a student budget. Sitting on IRC, coding, or other computer-related stuff just isn't enjoyable when you're either learning about the damn things all year or working in front of a monitor for 8 hours daily. Books are good but antisocial. Canterbury doesn't even have any late-night coffee houses, which might offer a way out.

A lot of this sense of isolation and lonliness would be mitigated if I had some eventual goal, some purpose to strive towards. "It's OK, I'm here as a step towards achieving X." would be a great way to avoid these nagging feelings, but of course I have yet to find an eventual goal or a purpose to my life. I've shied away from the "The purpose in life is to be happy" school of thought because it's pathetically vague. Happiness is a byproduct of doing something; it's finding the something that's the tricky bit.

The point of this article isn't to bitch and moan, or to serve as a self-indulgent rant. I'm trying to get this stuff clear in my own head, as a way of finding a solution. I talk a lot about friends, and having a few more friends like me would probably help, but it's not a solution in itself. Really I need to find some direction, some goal. Recently I've been thinking about forgetting the whole computer gig, and focus on living a rock and roll lifestyle. Drink, drugs, guitar, sex, everything. I would live it up and be a bad example to others. The ultimate goal would be to die in a pool of my own vomit surrounded by unconcious groupies. Attractive as this gloriously hedonistic plan is, I don't think I can bring myself to travel down a road so self-destructive.

As I mentioned before, I don't have a solution to the problem of this fuzzy feeling of discontent. Finding the key to a satisfied mind is tricky, and I have no idea where to look. For now I'm going to keep trying to stay happy in my own company, and spending time with my friends, as a lot of this blends into the background when I'm with them. It would be nice, though, if it were not such a temporary fix.

Working with Models

There's hundreds of articles like this one out there on the net. So one more won't hurt. Here's some tips and hints that might, or might not, help the amateur photographer work with models.

Before we get started, we need to define who a model is. This article is pitched at the amateur who's talked a friend into modelling for them, or has been put in touch with a friend-of-a-friend, or approached by an aquaintance who wants some photos. If you're working with professional models, you probably know all this stuff already.

  1. Be professional

    So you might be using small desk lamps as lighting, your studio is your bedroom with sheets hung from the curtain rails, and your camera is older than you are. This doesn't mean that you don't have to be professional. Make sure you get model releases, and proof of age (take a snapshot of your model holding up her passport, although a photocopy of it's better). You don't have to be super-organised but keep them safe. You might be lucky, and never have to refer to them again. But if you do have to, you'll be glad you've got them.
    Be professional when dealing with your model, too. Turn up on time, and be polite and respectful.

  2. Be amateur

    Don't try and present yourself as someone you're not. You're letting your model down if you're pretending to be David Bailey but are really David Bellamy. It's all a learning process. If it's the first time you've worked with a model, let them know that, and ask them to be tolerant of any equipment failiures, things you haven't considered, and so on. Things will go wrong the first few times, and if your model is not expecting that it won't go down well.

  3. Bring a book

    Have a book on you at all times. Have one for your model, too. Chances are there will be delays: you'll be waiting for the sun to come up, or for people to wander off, or whatever. Even if you're shooting inside there's times when you'll be changing film or fiddling with your lights and so on. The cunning thing to do is to have a few well-illustrated photo books to hand. Often these will give your models good ideas, and can help produce more varied results.

  4. Bring more kit than you need

    Film is cheap. Time isn't. Make sure that you cart along all the film you need, lenses you might use, your light metre, your tripod, and so on. Better to have it with you and not use it than have a great idea and not be able to execute it because you're missing your red filter or the light's a little too low.

  5. Respect your model

    Just because they're showing their exhibitionist side it doesn't mean they're up for everything you can think of. If your model seems uncomfortable, don't pressure them. If you want to touch them to help them pose, ask their permission first, and if you can demonstrate it without contact then do so. Finally, don't hit on your model. Even if she seems up for it. If you want to see her outside of the model/photographer relationship, then arrange to meet up for coffee or something and make it clear that it's a personal (and not a professional) meeting. Things will get messy, otherwise, and if you're mis-reading the signals or just imagining things you could end up in nasty legal waters. Your model is in a vulnerable situation - even more so if you're doing nude shots - and it would be wrong to take advantage of that.

  6. Talk to your model

    Talking to your model will lead massive benefits. At the most basic level, you need to be able to explain what poses you want her to adopt. If you're trying to achieve a natural, unposed look, explain that, too. If you take the time to explain what you're up to then your model will probably seem more "alive" (as you haven't bored her) and you'll keep her attention longer.
    Talking to your models offers you another practical advantage. You'll find that people tend to reflect your moods in themselves - if you're looking for a light, friendly pose then you try some light banter with your model. Likewise, if you're after an impression of gravitas you should be interacting in a much more serious fashion. Finally, talking to your model gives you the opportunity to put them at their ease. If your model is tense, it will show up in the final photo.

  7. Talk with your model

    It's not enough to talk to your model; you've got to listen, too. Models often have good ideas that you haven't thought of, and can often suggest poses and settings that work well. Plus, taking an interest in people can only work to your advantage - if they feel like they're being treated as a human being, and not just a mannikin, they're more likely to end up with a positive view of modelling for you and so are more likely to recommend you to friends. A bad reputation is a hard thing to shake off.

If you think I've missed something, I probably have. Get in touch and let me know what I could add to make this page better.

The Infamous Thornbush Incident

I've told this story many times before, but never set it down in writing. I thought this was the time to change that.

The story is set in my Freshers' Week. The beginning of the week was your standard, run-of-the-mill Freshers' Week - roll up, unpack, meet housemates, find the bars, etc. I'd never been that much of a drinker before Uni, but I'd got drunk now and then. "But this is Freshers' Week," I thought. "Let's really go for it.". So I did.

And for the most part, this worked out fine. I passed the days with admin stuff and exploration of my new habitat, and my evenings with socialising and drinking. I found this a satisfactory state of affairs, on the whole. Until Wednesday.

It started like any other evening: me and several of my new friends installed ourselves in Woody's, our local watering-hole. The drinking commenced, and continued. In the hour leading up to last orders, I fell into the drinker's folly: the Withnail-style "More booze!" quest. Last orders rolled around, when my new friend Maike and I agreed to get a bottle of wine and go back to my place to split it.

My memory is hazy at this point, but we went back to mine and split it. This takes us up to about midnight. From then on I have a complete blank spot, with no idea what I did until 4AM, when I found myself sitting in a thornbush with no clue how I got there. I believe I was talking to the thornbush, which proved a little one-sided.

I sat there jibbering to the bush for a little while, before deciding that it would be a good idea to leave its company. I then struggled for around 10 minutes trying to leave the bush, which was hard - thorn bushes have thorns everywhere! Who'd have thought? Finding somewhere to put my hands that didn't result in them getting pierced proved to be impossible, so in the end I just forced myself to get stabbed as I clambered out.

So I left the bush, climbed over the small barbed-wire fence in front of me, and fought my way through the small patch of trees. I was then standing in a grassy field, lit dimly by moonlight. It did not look familiar. A helpful little voice in my head was audible, saying "Turn right - that's the way home.".

I ignored this voice, and turned left.

Leaving the field via a small prickly alleyway, I found myself confronted with a road. Again, disturbingly unfamiliar. My sense of direction is generally quite good, but it seems that when inebriated it bites the dust fairly quickly. I wandered off in the direction that I thought would leave me home. I covered quite a bit of ground, it turns out. After walking for about 20 minutes, I encountered 2 older women walking their dogs. The dogs are just a guess, as I have no recollection of them, either, but unless they were as drunk as I was there's no other explanation for them to be out that early.

I fell into the drinker's folly number 2: trying to seem more sober than I am. I think I startled them, as I was only in a T shirt and trousers, and covered with bleeding scratches, so my pretence of normality was fatally flawed.

"Excuse me, ladies, could you tell me whether this is the direction back towards Park Wood?"
"Erm, that's the bit of the University, isn't it? Are you alright?"
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes... I'm fine. Parkwood's not really the University - it's a little bit outside of it, I think."
"Well, love, I'm not really sure, but I think it's back the way you came."
"Hmm. I think I'll continue on the way I'm going. Thank you, though!"

Having parted company with these slightly scared women, I wandered on a little further before coming across another small path. More thorns, more stinging nettles, and so on. My sense of direction temporarily returned to me, whispered "This way!" and disappeared again. I fought my way past nettles, brambles, mud, and darkness until I found myself standing on the edge of a plowed field. Again, completely unfamiliar. I needed backup.

Fumbling in my pockets brought my mobile phone to my hands. I paged through my address book for a saviour, a saviour at 6AM: Emma! At this point I still thought she was the most fantastic woman I'd ever met (thank you, alcohol!) so rescuing me from a field some 200 miles away from her should be easy.

"Emma, it's dark, it's 6AM, I'm drunk, I'm standing in a field... and I'm scared!"
"Eurrgh... Can you remember how you got there?"
"Kind of."
"Go back the way you came."
"Hmm. Nah, I think I'll keep going this way."
"Alex, go back to the road, and back the way you came."
"I think I like this way more. Bye"

You know, someone called me stubborn the other day, and I didn't believe them? Anyway, I skirted around the edge of this field, terrified I was about to get both barrels of a shotgun from an angry farmer. I came to a small plank laid across a brook, and crossed it. I wandered up through a field, and came to a main road. Later reconnaissance showed that I passed through someone's back garden, but at the time this didn't concern me.

I crossed the road, and made my way into Blean Woods. I then wandered round there for an hour and a half. I did try and get to sleep on a stile, but it was too cold and I was shivering. I also tried to call Emma again, but my phone battery had died. Eventually I made my way out of the woods, and wandered back along the road. I asked some bin men which way it was back to the University, and they looked at me as if I were something they'd just scraped off their shoes. But they pointed me in the right direction.

I also stopped into a very posh school opposite the Uni, and got someone there to point me back in the right direction. I made it back to my new house, and went for my back pocket - the home of my housekeys. Nothing.

It was now 8:30AM; somewhere in the past 8 hours I'd lost my house keys. Standing there, trying to marshall my thoughts into a solution for this latest challenge, I heard a sweet, sweet sound from the window above me: The Microsoft Windows start-up sound. My housemate was awake!

"Martin..." I stage-whispered. "Martin!" I repeated. He briefly stuck his head out, disappeared, and seconds later the door was opened and he let me in. He was an absolute star - of course, my door was locked, so he took me up to his room and offered me tea. Somehow I managed to explain what had happened, and how I was without my keys. He'd clearly been paying more attention than I had, as he knew that the admin office was already open. I thanked him and wandered off into the breach once more.

I pulled off drinker's folly #2 a little more successfully, this time, and got a housekey out of the admin office without too much trouble. I guess Uni staff see this kind of stuff all the time. I wandered back to my room, tugged off my clothes, fell into bed and passed out until 3 in the afternoon.

Appalling CDs

We've all done it. Mistakenly bought a CD in the belief it was something worth listening to. And then you get it home, and find out the horrible truth: there was a damn good reason why it's on sale at such a low price. This page exists because I wanted to post a warning online for others for the first disc listed, but it turns out Amazon claim the rights to all reviews posted. Fuck 'em; I like my copyright to stay assigned to me, thank you. Hence this page.

I find you very attractive - Touch 'N' Go

Yes, yes, yes, I should have seen the warning signs. They had a single hit several years ago, and the CD is titled with the most memorable vocal hook from that track. But everyone on Amazon said it was great, and I could listen to that hit single, so like a fool I coughed up 5 pounds and ordered it.

Alas, after the first 30 seconds of listening, reality sunk in: this album is complete dross. It's bland, samey crap. If you don't already hate synthetic pianos, guitars, drums, and horns, then you will after this. It tries to be edgy and sexy, with its psuedo-naughty lyrics, but fails with its complete lack of any interesting musical constructs and poor sound quality. If the tracks had any "bite" to them, with a well-rounded sound and prominent bassline, it might just be listenable. But no, they're dull, flat, and lifeless.

It really is a case of "Would you?" re-worked 12 times. Unless you're the Beta Band, there is no excuse for sampling your own tracks. Whoever decided that a samba remix of the aforementioned hit was a great idea, complete with MIDI samba whistles (you'll find them on channel 10, in the standard GM drumkit - come on, buy yourself a decent synth), should be committed. It would be easy:

"What grounds do you have for requesting this individual be placed in the care of the state, specifically a padded soundproof room and a straightjacket?"
"Your honour, I present as evidence the following remix."
The tape is played to a court, which sits in silence with looks of ever-growing horror and distaste on their faces.
"Take him away. And fetch me an ear-syringing kit and a bottle of scotch."

Trust me: Your ears do not deserve this. I think I'm going to give it away to someone I hate. Go and buy yourself some decent dance music, if that's what you're after, or if you're after the " contemporary, common jazz" that the Amazon reviewers seem to think it is get yourself a Lemon Jelly CD. It's far funkier, has a better beat, and won't make you wish you were born deaf.


A few months ago, I had occasion to really examine my thoughts and opinions about music. I've always been clear on what I like, and what I don't like, but I had to put my finger on why. It's harder than it sounds - why do you like what you do?

This all started when I was with Libby. One of the sticking points of our relationship was music; basically, I'm not a fan of what gets played on local radio. Which boils down to pop, commercial, and R 'n' B. Libby is. It sounds like a really trite thing to have disagreements about, and in a way it is - but music is a massively important part of my life and a very pervasive part of our culture. What do you play in the car? Or when relaxing? A timeshare option isn't really that great, as it means that half the time one of you is not enjoying their environment.

Anyway, the question was often asked: why don't I like local radio? And it's a hard one to answer. On the surface it's quite easy. I've done my tenure in a convenience store, and as such have spent at least 9 hours a week for about a year listening to local radio. Often more. It wasn't so bad when I figured out I could put anything I wanted over the store's PA, but it's still a lot of time listening to the radio. You listen to a local radio station in the UK for 5 solid hours, and you'll find a lot of the material repeats. Listen to it for 4 or 5 hour stretches 2 or 3 times a week, and the music quickly becomes repetitive.

But surprisingly, this isn't what got my goat about the music. It turns out it boils down to a simple difference of what Libby and myself listened to music for: I listened for the music, and Libby listened for the lyrics.

This is a massive difference, although it might not be immediately apparent. Fundamentally, people listen to music because of the emotional effects it has, and we were taking our meanings from different places. Libby could listen to and enjoy Celine Dion, for instance, because of the lyrics, and what they said. But I'm not a fan of her voice, and the underlying music isn't that great in my opinion. So I would be unable to find enjoyment in Celine, whereas Libby could. Interestingly, Libby really was just about the lyrics; instrumental pieces didn't interest her at all, whether it be the modern delights of Mike Oldfield or the classical wonders of Beethoven, Bach, etc.

But that's not just it. It isn't just that I couldn't take my joys in the lyrics of modern music; there is something about it that repels me. And it took me a while but I figured it out. It's this: The manufactured quality of it.

Music to me is kind of a two-way street. Listening to a piece of music isn't just about the music itself; it's about the person who wrote it, and the person who played it. A relationship-like bond forms between you and the perception of the musician. Take the song "Sex and drugs and rock and roll" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. When I listen to this song, it's not just about the words in the song, or the guitar links behind it. It's about the people performing it, and their writing. It's Ian Dury making a statement, telling a story about a belief of his. And over an album, or a set of albums, you get an impression of the people who wrote the music, what they thought, what they felt, and how they changed over time. You form a relationship with the artists, and get to know them to an extent through their works.

Contrast this with the commercial music today. It's not written by the performers. It's generally not written by one person, either. It's put together by a group of people, as a complete work of fiction; the emotions and stories behind it aren't real. And that genuine quality is something that matters to me. I just can't enjoy a love story that was written by a committee of ghost-writers aiming to tug on heartstrings.

Other bits and bobs annoy me about modern music, but they don't merit as much discussion. Things like a lack of subtlety; I like some subtle detail and variation in my music. Which is just me being anal, but I like to hear little twists, slides, etc. that I just don't catch in commercial stuff. Which might be partially down to the fidelity of where I'm listening (bursts from the radio compared to CDs or minidiscs), but I think it's also lacking in a lot of places. I'm also not a fan of most of the ideas and values portrayed, simply because it's not something I can relate to or enjoy.

So there's a bunch of reasons why I don't like commercial music. Pick your favourite.

Student Kitchens

[Note: Since this article was written, I've moved on from the kitchen discussed below.]

I'm developing a real dislike of student kitchens.

I am not by nature a tidy person. My room pays tribute to that. You can generally tell how busy I am by the state of my room, and I'm busy a lot these days. However, I have a low mank factor. I don't mind mess, as such, as long as it's my mess. And as long as it doesn't cross the boundaries from "messy" to "unhygienic". However, student kitchens - and my kitchen in particular - trips out my mank factor.

My mank factor is my way of referring to the point where things make me go, "Ick". I'm not particularly squeamish, but there are some things I don't like to do. Like fish old food out of the sink (trips the mank factor), or take out the bins (doesn't trip the mank factor). The mank factor is the point where I say, "I'm not doing that.".

But returning to kitchens. The problem with a student kitchen is that it gets used a lot more than a family kitchen. Your standard family kitchen gets used a few times a day; an evening meal is cooked there by one parent, and breakfast may be prepared by 2 or 3 people. Lunch is probably bought, or prepared in the mornings. Contrast this with a student kitchen; you've got 4 or 5 people, who will (generally) be preparing meals independently of each other. And there's a chance people will be in during the day, so you might have lunch to contend with, too. Plus you haven't got someone who has the established position in society to keep the kitchen clean (the mother). I'm stereotyping here, I know, and I'm all for the emancipation of women. Get over yourselves. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm saying it happens.

As previously mentioned, I'm not the tidiest person. However, I have some habits that I thought were fairly standard components of a decent upbringing. These include:

  • When you take something out of a wrapper, throw the wrapper in the bin.
  • When you spill something, mop it up.
  • If you use some crockery, cutlery, or other kitchenware, wash it up.
  • If you make some food, wipe down the work surface afterwards.

I'm not a kitchen nazi. The first 2 points I'd probably expect to be done immediately, or fairly soon (we're talking minutes here). The 3rd point isn't so bad; I try and wash up within 24 hours, but have been known to stretch. I think 24 hours is a good time to aim for. And as for the final point, it can be waived occasionally, but if you're leaving visible crumbs then clean them up.

Basically, it comes down to this: I can't see any reason why someone else should be expected to clean up after me. I can't see any reason why I should expect someone else to do it. It's nice to find someone's done my washing up; it's nice to find someone has cleaned up when I've been lax. But I try my hardest to keep the kitchen neat and tidy, and clean.

Some people I live with, though, don't do this. At all. And it's come from 2 places I didn't expect. One person who I worried about turned out to be brilliant. They'd spent the past year living in halls, which means they'd had catered accomodation and a cleaner once a week. But it turns out they're great; they wash up, hoover, tidy, take the bins out, etc. They're not perfect, but they're as good as can be expected. I would not expect them to do more, and are (in the field of "upkeep of the household") superb. Another member of the household, though, had the same background, and isn't nearly as good. Actively bad, I'd suggest. My theory is that their mother cleans up after them at home, which would explain most of the behaviour. It's nothing major; they wash up after themselves, kind of (there's a subtle but important difference between "washing things up" and "getting things wet"), but don't clean up spills, crumbs, and bottle tops. And I can't get my head around it. If you've just peeled off the top of a bottle of milk, surely your first instinct is to throw it in the bin?

A tangental point here; just because you're hardly in, doesn't mean you're never in or that you never use the kitchen. If you're making yourself breakfast in it, and a bedtime drink, it means you're using it twice a day at least. So you have an equal responsibility to at least run some kitchen towel over the surfaces now and again, I feel.

Another housemate is having trouble adapting to the influx of 3 new housemates, I think. Last year they lived here with others, and cooked for them every night. In return, they never did any washing up. Which seems fair to me. However, with me being vegan, and another housemate hardly being here, they generally only cook for one other housemate. Why should that guy have to wash up every bit of crockery and cutlery the offending housemate produces? More importantly, why should I be expected to wash up things? I don't mind helping out, and generally do a drying-rack's worth regardless of whether I made the mess or not. To be fair, this housemate doesn't annoy me quite so much, as they keep the bathroom clean, the lounge clean, etc. And that seems like a fair trade-off. But it still seems unfair on the other guy.

All the people I live with are adults, and all the people I live with are students. There are certain qualities I expect people to have developed by this point. One relevant one is taking polite requests and criticisms without throwing a strop over it. If I say "If you spill something, could you wipe it up, please?" I think it's over the top to have "I can't deal with this right now!" yelled at me. I can't think of a politer way to raise an issue; it's abstract, timeless question. A simple "yes" and maybe a "sorry" and I'll be on my way. There's no element of immediacy, or specific events. Likewise, if I say "Bob's gone away for the weekend, do you think you could wash up your saucepan from your meal? I don't like washing up meaty saucepans." a grumbled "Well I don't like fishing long hair from the shower" isn't an appropriate response. It almost stands, apart from all of us in the house have at least shoulder-length hair, and I haven't gone near a block of meat for 2 years, whereas they're in close proximity to long hair every second of the day. You have the facts, ladies and gentlemen: derive your own logical fallacies.

The other thing I expect people to have developed is the realisation that the universe does not revolve around them. Everyone in the house is busy; all of us have mental health issues, I think. Generally just depression, but it still counts. Ask any psychiatrist, psychologist, or doctor. Anyway, the occasional bout of uncleanliness is allowable - we all have deadlines, and we all get overwhelmed with things. But it's not a constant "get out of housework free" card. It's the height of arrogance to presume that what you do is important to the point of expecting others to clean up after you. At least your mum or dad has parental obligations to you, but I'm not your mother. I'm up to my limit of business, all things considered, but still make time to wash up and tidy. You should too.

So, to summarise: Clean up after yourselves. Your parents aren't here to wipe up after you any more, and even if the people you live with aren't complaining they're probably seething on the inside. Don't abuse the goodwill of others just because you have a life, as they do too.

Photography on a budget

  1. Introduction

    Let's face it, photography can be a pretty expensive hobby. Cameras aren't cheap, and nor are lenses, and there are so many. And then you get film and tripods and filters and so on and so on. Like music, all the equipment can be seductive. But in general, I can't afford it. So, here's an article with hints and tips on photography on a budget.

  2. Buy stuff second hand

    You really don't need the latest Nikon to get started with photography. In fact, you'll learn a lot more if you pick something older. I do all my film photography using a Praktica Super TL. This is a fully manual camera, and its light meter in the viewfinder is the only concession to luxury on it. This makes it more of a challenge to shoot with at first, but it means you get more control, more satisfaction, and learn much more. A second-hand, manual camera, will set you back anywhere between 40 and 100 pounds depending on where you buy it. The lens is more important than the body, so get a good prime lens on the front of it and you'll have the raw materials to take some great pictures.
    Charity shops are great resources, too, mainly for books and props. I've got a big hardback book ("The Book of Photography" by John Hedgecoe) for 4 pounds, and a couple of others ("1000 Photo Tips" and "Practical photography") for a pound altogether. You can also find blankets and sheets, bits of material, clothes, and accessories like hats etc. too. The cheap bookstores can be interesting as well - I've got a history of photography and a bok of Eugene Atget's work from my local cheapy store.

  3. Buy in bulk

    It's worthwhile buying your film in bulk. I get mine from MX2 online, which works out around 2 pounds per roll, for 36 exposures. It's a larger up-front expense, but if you're going to buy 10 films in the next 6 months or so, then you might as well save yourself some money in the long run.

  4. Shoot in black and white

    If you shoot in black and white, you can develop it yourself and then scan the results into your PC, or just make your own prints and enlargements. This might be a good option for you if you've got easy access to a darkroom - say, are near a college or go to Uni, or there's a friendly photographer in your neighbourhood.

  5. Don't shoot in black and white

    The flipside is that black and white film tends to be more expensive, and costs lots more to develop as nowhere keeps the machines to develop it. Buying C-41 process black and white film (which means it can be developed in the same chemicals as colour film) might be a way around this, but I haven't tried that yet.

  6. Borrow stuff

    Loads of people enjoy photography. Use their stuff - borrow lenses, tripods, backdrops, and so on. Just make sure you take good care of it. Oh, and use your local library. The selection of photography books might not be huge, but there's almost certainly a book in there that can teach you something new or improve your photography.

  7. Improvise

    Yeah, it's nice to have pro stuff, but sometimes it's just not possible. A large sheet makes a good backdrop, and can transform your front room into a makeshift studio. Use some halogen desk lamps instead of the pro photo lights (you'll need quite a few, and will have to shoot in black and white to minimise the effect of colour casts). A tall stool can take the place of a tripod or a light stand, if you're careful. Yeah, your results might not be perfect, and you'll have to experiment. That's part of the fun.

  8. Barter

    Trade your skills for things you want. You might not be able to pay your models, but maybe you can cook them a meal, or mow their lawn, or pick up their groceries, or babysit, and so on.

  9. Conclusion

    It's perfectly possible to photograph on a budget. Hopefully these tips will have given you a place to start. Drop me an email if you've got your own tips to share.

Without me

So I've got this stalker friend named Keeny, who followed me from college to university. Well, I might have followed him, in the strictest sense, but it's my site and I'll be the pioneer if I want to. Anyway, he sent me the following demand, and suggested I put it on my site. As he'll a) probably regret it in the morning and b) have no excuse to ramble on about how he's not on here, I have posted it for all to see.

Dearest Alex

I have finally had a proper read through of your qwebsite and found thast there is no direct mention of me in any of it, not weven in the writings section. I request, nae demand at least a passing reference in at least one section. I know this may sound needy but you know what, I don't care. I also know that htere are a numbwer of typos already in this document, but I can't be bothered to correct them. And yes I have been drinking. I will now save this and go get some more VODKA.

Wow I hate Mungos on a friday night, it takes soooo long to get a drink. Anyhoo where was I ? Oh yeah, neediness. Is that spelt righjt? No, probably not. I think the main problem with the elderly of today is their selfishness. I got a very pointed letter from a more "mature" member of my sdtreet, complaining about raised noise levels the previous night/morning. She (Dorothy) made it very clear that the letter was written sometime around 3AM and that it was RAP music that was being played from a CAR. I would like to point out now that I had nothing to do with this, and in fact I was woken up by the very same disturbance. But it did raise an intreseting point. . . I'm not sure what this point was, but I can tell you I was bloody pissed off by it. Who the hell does she think she is, lumping all students in the same category; as trouble making alcohloics?????? I can't afford a car anyway. I would also like to point ouit that this very same Dorothy rented her house out to students the previous year, so she shouldd know what to expect, and it's a bit late to start phucking complaining.


  1. It is expected
  2. Everybody else is drinking
  3. It's really cheap

Why do the older people critisise the young anyway? Maybe because it's expected of them as well. I mean, all the other old people critisise the young, and at the end of the day, it doesn't cost anything to do. Maybe complaining is an alcohol substitute for the elderly, after their livers have collapsed and died. Or maybe I've runk too much. He he he; runk!!!! I've been writing for a while now. You really shouldn't let your lectures get in the way of your education. . I had this dream a couple of nights ago where everything ws covered in frost, but it was a very sunny afternoon. I decided to take my shoes off and run around in it. Then I woke up and my feet were cold, as they were hanging out the end of the duvet.. I think student life is like that, your brain just making up things that fit the situation, without really working out what the hell is going on. I wonder if i will think the same things of student life in 10 years time, as I do now???


The meaning of life is as unique as the person it belongs to. To propose a blanket meaning of life for everyone is to negate life's very purpose. Each individual must discover their own meaning, their own reason for being. It may be to become a famous movie star, it may be to become a caring and respected member of society, it maybe to become a pizza eating, larger swilling couch potato; each is as valid as the first. As long as a person is comfortable in their own meaning, then they are truly a complete person.

I though of this while I was in the shower.

Yours Sincierely, Eddie the Cheese!

P.S. 'NADS!!!!

P.P.S. Maybe you should put this on your webgiste as n example of the evils of alcohol??