Everything is a Remix

Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker.
Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker.

Everything is a Remix is a series of four short documentaries by New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson about how so many new things (music, technology, ideas) are actually inspired and influenced by what has happened before it.

I’ve had this on my “Must blog about this…” list for the last few years. I kept meaning to blog about it after part four was released and… well, I forgot. Sorry.

The Song Remains the Same

Part 1: The Song Remains the Same (7′ 17″) examines Led Zeppelin. Did they just rip off other people’s material, admittedly within legal bounds, and remix it to their own ends and success or was there more going on there? It’s a nice introduction, with plenty of examples, to the series.

Remix Inc.

Part 2: Remix Inc. (9′ 47″) looks at movies. In the last ten years of the 100 most popular films 74 are either sequels, remakes of earlier films or adaptations of comic books, novels, video games, etc. “Transforming the old into the new is Holywood’s greatest talent,” Ferguson notes. Standard elements are appropriated, transformed and subverted to create something new. And yes, Star Wars is in there. A lot.

“Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others”
—Kirby Ferguson

After the credits roll Ferguson goes on to briefly look at Quentin Tarantino, and in particular Kill Bill.

The Elements of Creativity

Part 3: The Elements of Creativity (11′ 16″) opens with the words, “the act of creation is surrounded with a fog of myths […] but creativity isn’t magic.” Ferguson talks about copying and emulation. The greats, whether in music, literature or comedy, started by copying others and then slowly tinkering with them to create something new. The most creative leaps are when different ideas are combined.

“The basic elements of creativity are:
copy, transform, and combine
.”
—Kirby Ferguson

To explore this Ferguson looks at computers, begins with the kings of copying: Xerox and its role in bringing the Apple Macintosh to the mass market as a home appliance.

Following the credits Ferguson asks the question: if some of these great inventions, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee creating the World Wide Web, hadn’t happened then would the world be a vastly different place today? He argues not. Often when something amazing is created there are often others working on something very similar at the same time.

System Failure

Part 4: System Failure (15′ 26″) is the final part of the series. It begins with Luca (the Last Universal Common Ancestor) which is a core element in understanding evolution’s work of copying, transforming and combining. Culture does something similar, not through genes but memes (ideas, behaviours, skills).

Ferguson looks at the legal aspect of ideas. The law seems to think that ideas can be protected, that the boundaries around them are tidy. But in reality they are tangled and interdependent. For most of our history ideas were free. They could be copied and built upon but the market economy changed that. Our ideas could be bought and sold.

When we copy we justify;
when others copy we vilify.”
—Kirby Ferguson

Having briefly looked at issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright laws he goes on to explore the fuzziness of software patents and litigation that has led to conflict rather than creativity and progress.

Ferguson ends with the challenge that to address the problems of today we (not corporations or governments) need to come up with the best ideas, we need them now and we need to spread them. Maybe this focus on over-protecting our ideas isn’t the best way forward, and given the evidence perhaps it’s not even accurate to say that anyone’s idea is unique and original: after all everything is a remix.

It’s an interesting idea. It certainly holds a lot of weight in my experience. Something to explore further I think, in many areas of life perhaps: web development, writing, politics, music…

Bizarre suggestions from Amazon UK

20110413-amazon

Amazon UK has just sent me an email wondering if I might be interested in the following bizarre collection of books:

Wonderfully bizarre!

I’m now five-shelves of books lighter

Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor
Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor mid-clear-out

Okay, so whose bright idea was it to try to simplify life a little and get rid of books that I haven’t even opened in years?!

In the end, this afternoon I cleared out five shelves-worth of books which will be donated to charity shops in St Andrews tomorrow afternoon.

I had to be ruthless. I find it really hard to throw away books because there is usually something of me in them (for many books I remember where I was when I carefully selected that particular book, what I was hoping to get out of them) and for many there is something of them in me, a part of who I am today is because of something that I read in those volumes.

And then there are the books that I bought or acquired (freebie hand-me downs from retired clergy) that interested me at the time or reminded me of something that found really interesting at university and was keen to follow up … but never did!

Strangely, between the initial weeding out of my bookcase and my packing them into boxes to take to charity a few of them crept back onto my shelves.  Saved for another purge in a couple of years time.

It feels good, though. No regrets.

Future rounds of my patented game “Win it or bin it” will feature: PCs and accessories, games (board and computer), videos, DVDs, guitar sheet music, and folders of who-knows-what that have sat on my shelves for the last 10 years.

The last three months

Sun behind clouds

How can it be the end of March already?!

It’s not just me, is it? Easter felt infeasibly early this year. I happened before the clocks went forward (from GMT to BST). In fact, it happened before it had even stopped snowing!

And now that Easter is passed, Jesus has risen again (Alleluia!) and in a strange way I feel as though I’m emerging back into the sunshine. Have I been hibernating for the last few months?

I’ve certainly been fighting more bugs than is healthy in the first three months of any year. I don’t remember any other year when I’ve been inundated with so many illness bugs, and viruses and the like. Just as soon as I’m getting over one the next wave of attack hits me. It’s not funny … I want it to stop. Please!

In many ways the last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity and emotion, which has largely been responsible for the dearth of blog posts here this year.

I’ve pretty much been doing the following:

  1. Waiting
  2. Coding
  3. Reading

Waiting

When the calendar clicked over to 2008, a couple of months ago, and we got (another) green light from the hospital to say that our IVF treatment would begin (again) this year a strange thing happened: I felt a though I began to retreat into myself.

I’m not entirely sure why, except that I guess I wanted to protect myself and from the relative safety of my ‘inner cave’ examine how I felt about this enormous step we were about to embark on (again!). It’s not an all-together bad thing to do, all things considered. In some ways, quite responsible. (Perhaps this means that I must be a grown-up now.)

One of the hardest things about the whole IVF programme (so far) is the waiting.

There’s a lot of waiting.

And unlike many of the procedures involved in the In Vitro Fertilisation process it’s something that the man can do equally well as the woman. In fact, it’s something that they can do together … since they can’t do any of the other things that are normally involved in trying to start a family!

So we’ve been waiting. And waiting some more. And in between the waiting … well, actually it’s mostly been waiting if I’m honest.

At times it’s been quite unbearable. We just want to know. One way or the other.

Coding

For the last few weeks I’ve hardly known what to do with myself. I’ve felt like a kid waiting for Christmas.

Jane started on the IVF drugs in July 2007 and it dragged on and on and on. One more month, another month after that … and then in December it was cancelled. Brought to an abrupt halt.

We could have had a child in that time!!

So in order to distract myself I’ve been bringing work home with me. I’m currently working on a recoding of the University’s website. And with the recoding a bit of a design tweak here and there.

Bringing it home has given me something to focus on. Something consistent. Something that has a beginning and an end. Something that I have been able to create.

I’ve been really enjoying it too, which has been the important thing.

Reading

And when I’ve not been sitting in front of my monitors I’ve been reading. Sometimes curled up in bed, other times on the sofa keeping Jane company.

Here are a few of the books I’ve been waiting through.

So I’m still alive and well, just keeping my head low just now.

Putting in the time

Back in the day when I was learning how WordPress worked (that’s the blogging/content management software that’s running this here blog-like thing) I must have literally spent hours pouring over the documentation, I printed out the source code and picked it apart, and found out what made it tick.

I really need to do the same with Joomla! 1.5 — but it’s hard to settle down to a leisurely investigation exercise like that when you just want the site that you’re planning on building with it to be built and delivered yesterday.

But there’s no shortcut in learning this kind of thing.  You just have to put in the time.

Thankfully I’ve got Barrie M. North’s excellent book Joomla! A User’s Guide to help.