Tag Archives: talk

As you may know, last year I made a book of fairy tales called If Only The Grimms Had Known Alice. The premise was very simple: swap the genders of the main characters in 15 Grimms tales so princesses were adventurers no princes fell in love. I posted a photo of the first proof copy to Instagram and a moment later, Matt Locke asked me if I’d like to talk about it at his fabulous conference called The Story, in London. I said yes.

It dawned on me fairly quickly that the process of creating the book – while it took time, effort, and a bit of money – was actually fairly simple. I wasn’t sure I could fill 20 minutes about just that. I decided to have a look around the web to see about other potential topics I could include. It turns out the idea of the gender flip isn’t new. In fact, I’ve had a handful of friends who are parents mention to me that they do this quite consciously as they read stories to their kids. I did discover there’s quite a big trend, a zeitgeist, I’d say, of doing straight swaps, women for men starting to spread. I focussed on the redrawing of women in comics and the ludicrous costumes they wear. There’s quite a vein of artists positioning men in the highly sexualised bum out tits out tight clothes positions women models and supposed heroes are often in, mostly in an attempt to, I think, generate empathy in men of these ludicrous postures and how unnatural they actually are.


I stepped across to The Long Kiss Goodnight, an outstanding film made in 1996 starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s one of my favourites, simply and primarily because the lead character, Charley, shoots straight, doesn’t fall over, and wins. It’s that simple.

Geena Davis established a research foundation on Gender and Media twenty years ago, and have published some real numbers on the pathetic representation of women today’s movie business. It’s shit. Stats in the talk. It’s shit.

It felt important to try to find a female character in film that stood out for me. Lt. Ellen Ripley stood out. There is a lot of stuff about that character on the Internet. Some people are fixated on that scene where she’s alone, in her undies, erect nipples, a bit sweaty, but, there’s a lot more to it. There’s a single scene across four movies where she declares she’s capable of performing a task she’s been trained to do, driving one of those big hydraulic exoskeleton machines she eventually uses to kill the Alien with, and the men let her do what she’s trained to do. Apart from that, she’s about a hundred separate things. She’s all women, she’s Mother as Destroyer, she’s dehumanised into a clone, she bears an alien, she commits suicide, she kills her progeny, etc etc. As I claimed in the talk, this character is monstrous.  As I chided in the talk, she’s like the buffet at Caesar’s Palace of female character tropes. I want to relate to her, but then she dies and is recomposed as a uterus to bear a hybrid alien… I mean really. You can’t make this… Oh, wait. But then I think that Ms. Weaver had an executive producer role, and is apparently talking about making a fifth movie and…

I suppose, in the grand scheme, it’s really only been a very short time that women have been represented in media at all. Perhaps we’re still struggling to allow them to be complex characters. But, we must make these stories more complicated. The conclusion I neglected to reach on stage because my time was running short is that it saddens me greatly that ‘complicating the story’ today still simply means equal representation. In a tragic twist, too, I recalled how Jennifer Lawrence, star of the Hunger Games movies, was abused by hackers who spread pictures of her nude body across the Internet, represented as a sexualised commodity.

I did discover too though, a growing and wealthy network of women producers, like Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore who seem to be making movies they want to see with complex female characters in the lead. The two easy steps which Geena Davis just mentioned in a recent Hollywood Reporter guest post are important, I think, and I hope you will implement them in your upcoming storytelling. This doesn’t just apply to film either, but any stories or media you make, like photos or videos of your workplace, for example.

  1. Take the projects you’re working on now and change some characters’ names to women’s names
  2. In crowd scenes, make half female

It’s really that simple.

Once that’s done, things can finally get interesting.


I’m sitting here in my kitchen after a whirlwind trip to Paris for Europeana Tech 2015. I’m making vegie stock, drinking a glass of delicious oatmeal stout, and finally realizing I like to cook to relax. I took the Eurostar for the first time, and bought some stinky cheese from the station on the way back.

It was a great few days, Paris was gorgeous, it was nice to meet some new folks and see some old friends, and I think the talk went well. I’ll be curious to compare the video with my notes. Perhaps one day I’ll try reading directly from notes like the old days, but this was not that. I did like the quick lecture from Jonas Öberg though, where he just spoke to us.

The main thrust of my speech centered around an appropriation of Kevin Lynch’s brilliant The Image of the City. I likened the giant metadata clearinghouses that exist online today with the odd huge ghost cities in China and now Angola, and how, if we adopt the techniques of designing the clues, keys and paths we are so familiar with in our cities to the data landscape — particularly in the cultural heritage realm — we might start to escape the tyranny of the search box. Google is great for searching everywhere for anything, but that’s not what you’re doing when you come to a museum.

Anyway, here are my slides from Friday:

And if you’d like to read it as slides with notes, you can download this 80MB whopper PDF.

Some personal highlights for me were:

  • Meeting the Executive Director of Europeana, Jill Cousins. Always great to meet women leaders, and she’s been at at the helm since it started.
  • Hearing Jaap Kamp’s no bullshit stance on cultural data and the dominance of search as a (misplaced) mentality for exploration.
  • Seeing old mates like Andy Neale, Dan Cohen and Jon Voss. Nice to call them old mates, too.
  • Meeting Ben O’Steen who’s at British Library Labs, which I’d not heard of but plan to haunt. I particularly liked his cheap solution for providing massive data at hack meetings: a big hard drive, a fat wifi pipe and a router. I’m always a fan of people who make tiny flimsy bridges that are only supposed to last for a short time.
  • Sparring with Dominic Oldman about RDF. It’s not clear that it’ll be possible for me to use his work in a project I’m working on. We’ll hopefully meet in the next week or two to see what can be done.
  • Hearing from Tim Sherratt in Australia and enjoying his vibe about “discovery engineers” and the interesting, engaging work that happens at tiny scales versus the mythical mega project.
  • Giggling at the frankly tone-deaf speaker from Google Research who had no idea who we were and made no attempt to learn. Hey, guy… if you’re going to give a speech, try not to say “I have no idea what it is that you do, but let me tell you about things I call…” Seriously, it’s rude and patronising.
  • Navigating Paris effortlessly thanks to Citymapper. Excellent.
  • The overall theme that huge is starting to feel inaccessible. Like having sex with The Hulk. Ahem.


The meeting was held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which proved to be an interestingly inaccessible building. Lots of us were disoriented inside, even after a day, doors were hidden with flat facades, push then pull to get through two doors, literally scale-mail walls, security turnstiles to enter the stacks… it was all there. An interesting counterpoint that I now wish I’d tried to incorporate into the talk, but, oh well.

It’s an interesting time for this group. There’s so much work going on trying to help the computers understand the wily, complicated humans that describe our heritage. It’s SO COMPLICATED because nobody ever describes things in the same way. Well, they probably never will.

All my wild and windy plans for blogging constantly about fascinating things have lain quiet for a few weeks. That’s because I’ve decided to open a branch of Good, Form & Spectacle in London. Just like I moved to San Francisco to be at the center centre of the web back in 2005, I’m now on my way to one of the major city centres in the world for cultural heritage, and I cannot wait.

As I finish up my projects over here, and come on over, I’ll be looking for nice London people to meet for a cup of tea and a chat (or fish and chips, or even a pint), so if you like the sound of that or know someone who might, please do let me know. I’m not closing the US business. It’s only just begun!

While you’re waiting for me to pop my head up on the other side of the pond, you might like to watch a video of the presentation I gave at Digital Preservation 2014 in July. I’ll put the slides online at some point, once I’ve a) moved, and b) written out the notes properly.

Watch this space! For all the blog posts I have in a million tabs on my laptop whose fan whirrs and whirrs all day trying to keep tabs on everything. Ha ha.