(james benedict brown) on the road


Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 13 September, 2008

Here’s a subtle little urban observation for you. This is a pedestrian crossing on Argyle Street in Glasgow. While I lived on the hip and trendy Avenue du Mont Royal in Montréal in Canada, the city installed coutdown timers on a busy intersection near the Mont Royal metro station. The idea being that there would be fewer pedestrian / vehicle conflicts if crossing pedestrians knew how much longer they had priority. That’s because In North America the countdown ticks away on green, telling you how much longer you have left to cross. But here in Scotland, it ticks down on red, telling you how long you have to wait until you can cross.

What does this say about the Scottish people, as opposed to North Americans? I’ve never seen a countdown crosswalk like this one anywhere else in the UK. As far as I know it’s the only example of its kind in the country. Could this be the one and only example of a countdown pedestrian crossing, and also the one and only example of a misunderstood technology?

In my eyes, it’s the wrong way round, but it suggests an alternative appreciation of the dangers at the crosswalk. It doesn’t warn you that the lights are about to change and that you shouldn’t start to cross… quite the opposite: it placates you by telling you that you don’t have long to wait until the green man reappears.

I noticed a similar tactic during a cross country drive today. The A66 is a major east-west road that crosses from the M6 at Penrith to the A1M at Scotch Corner, linking the two north-south axes of Britain’s motorway network. It, however, is a partially upgraded A-road, and is only partially dualled, with many long sections remaining as regular two lane road. There are a number of four lane dualled sections, where faster traffic can pass slower vehicles (namely caravans, at this time of the year). Naturally, traffic tends to clog on the two lane section, because with only one lane in each direction and precious few passing opportunities, just one slow vehicle can affect the entire flow of traffic.

A few miles in advance of the dualled sections, however, road signs advise you that there is a dual carriageway ahead. What purpose do these signs serve, except to persuade you not to risk a dangerous passing on a two lane road? Patience, they implore, you’ll be able to sweep past this tractor in just a few miles.

Patience, the Scottish crosswalk implores. You can cross in thirty seconds. But like in Montréal, no-one pays any attention. They cross whenever they themselves judge it safe to do so.


Globalisation part II: your local news goes on tour

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 9 August, 2008

Following his observations on the evolution in news delivery (i.e. mass redundancies of journalists) at Global Québec and my post about virtual newsroom architecture Steve Faguy makes some interesting observations about what a green screen to do for local newscasts during the regular newscaster’s vacation. If a newscaster can go on holiday and be replaced by another presenter in another province in front a greens creen, why not just get Jamie Orchard to pack a fold up green screen to take with her to Punta Cana?

Chicago Pride

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 3 July, 2008

On a second floor balcony, looking out over heaving flower boxes of red flowers, I watch through a torrential rainstorm as a man in a dress dances on the flat lead roof of a commercial building. It’s the annual pride parade in Chicago, and I’m on my fourth or fifth Mimosa, wondering why we call that beverage a Buck’s Fizz back home in Britain.

I had been down on the street a little earlier, just before this downpour, standing on a kink of Broadway watching the parade go past. Naturally I’m a little ashamed not to have stuck it out, but firstly there were more mimosa’s to drink back inside and secondly I’m not the most obvious person to be at a gay pride parade. However I did try to get into the spirit as alternate floats of social groups, political representatives and commercial enterprises chugged by to varying volumes of cheers. Barack Obama wasn’t in attendance, undoubtedly aware of the bad press being at such a liberal event might have on his appeal to the necessary wavering conservative voters of America. But his Chicago campaign team were there, handing out stickers and enjoying an electric wave of support from the crowd. The importance of a rainbow sticker with ‘Obama Pride’ on it was somewhat undermined when the next float came by, and I was handed a similar rainbow sticker promoting a wholefood supermarket. Every self respecting major corporation in Chicago appeared to be out for pride, forcing smiles and proudly showing off its non-heterosexual employees, as well as its commercial appeal to valuable consumers who wield the pink dollar.

An hour or two later, and the parade was finished. We had an appointment to make up town so we made our excuses and stepped out in the sunshine that had followed the run. The mid-morning to early-afternoon parade had left a wake of debris in its path, and city employees were already out and about attempting to clean the streets of litter, paper cups and beer cans. The normal ban on public consumption of alcohol is lifted (or perhaps ignored) for the duration of the parade, and the apparently repressed drinkers of Chicago were delighted to embrace the opportunity for al fresco drinking.

America often seems to be a repressed nation to me. As I mentioned before in the promo for the (as yet unfinished … but I’m working on it) eigth episode of the podcast, Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family said at their Birmingham gig that “we’re American… we’re more comfortable with violence than sex.” Chicago saw more than four hundred murders last year, and by the end of my recent visit to the city I was still no less comfortable at the common sight of police officers or even security guards carrying handguns.

As I pegged it north along Broadway, making us more late than ever by stopping for photographs, I considered the importance of Chicago Pride relative to other such events around the world. The last gay pride event I saw was in Montréal in 2006. Admittedly this one was more blatantly American than the multi-lingual event of cosmopolitan Montréal. During the parade we’d seen line dancing cow boys strut past, and hoardes of roaring Harley Davidsons piloted by gay bikers. What better vindication of the gay pride movement than the connection between liberation of sexuality and the ultimate symbol of freedom of movement? Perhaps most admirable, though, were the young black teenage boys who boldly strutted their stuff in the brightest of cross dressing attire. This was, after all, a predominantly white parade in a city that is anything but.

Those sights stuck with me the most. I felt lucky to have witnessed a slice of Chicago Pride’s parade, because in such a masculine country as America it felt so much more vital and liberating to see the bastions of male culture being subverted and ultimately enhanced by the contribution of a homosexual community. In other words, I had no idea there were lesbian biker chicks in America, or even (line dancing) gay farmers. But my respect for American culture and society grows every time I see the stereotypes of modern America challenged and reshaped like that.

Globalisation: more virtual newsroom architecture

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 25 March, 2008

A few weeks ago I wrote about the relocation of the Canadian Global National newscast to a “virtual” studio in Ottawa. One interesting question being, what’s the point of moving your news anchor to the nation’s capital, when all that indicates that Kevin Newman is in Ottawa is a computer-controlled image of the Canadian Parliament behind him?

I’m very interested in the architecture of television news, because it crosses into all kinds of interesting fields of study to do with architecture and the projection of power, security and knowledge. It’s also one of the most readily accessible situations in which virtual architecture finds environment in which it is ready to demonstrate its potential.

The “virtual” treatment of the Ottawa studio has now been applied to the Global Television affiliate CKMI-TV in Montréal. Even when I lived in Montréal I didn’t watch CKMI much, mainly because TV didn’t play much part in my life, but also because the channel’s principal evening news bulletins were broadcast too early in the evening for me to watch. The concept of a 17h00, 17h30 or even 18h00 English language news bulletin in Montréal being to catch the captive audience of anglo housewives waiting for their partners to come home. From that any Montrealer or Montréalais(e) reader will know exactly what sort of political leaning Global Québec takes.


Here’s a shot of Global Québec anchor Jamie Orchard opening an edition of the evening news. See that bustling newsroom behind her? Yep. It’s a hive of activity down there at Global Québec. Or so you might imagine. The physical set isn’t the only thing that has been put out to pasture. A number of control-room and on-screen staff have been laid off as well, victims not only of a remotely controlled programme (the news studio is now controlled from Vancouver) but also of the cancellation of This Morning Live, CKMI’s breakfast programming. The creation of a virtual newsroom doesn’t just dispense with the need to have that buzzing newsroom behind the anchor, it also dispenses with the need to have people working in every regional news studio controlling the cameras and cue-ing up reports.


If there is one good point to note about the application of this virtual studio, it’s that so far the design has been better applied in Montréal than in Ottawa. This opening pan shot, looking down on the anchor and the desk (the only real things in the entire shot) works better than the acuter angle of the opening shot on Ottawa: the perspective is, at least, more believable. That said, I imagine there have been a few instances in which Jamie Orchard has or will be tempted out from behind her desk to stand in front of another hideously mis-proportioned long shot of the non-existent studio.

I can’t claim to be close to any informed sources in the Canadian media industry, but Global has no made no bones in announcing that Global Edmonton, Global Calgary and Global Toronto will be the next affiliates to welcome virtual newsrooms. And that means control-room staff there might do well to start refreshing their resumés.

Canada nostalgia: Taxi 0-22

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 30 April, 2007

In the last few weeks, it’s been a real pleasure to rediscover the Québecois tongue. In attempting to explain this special variety of the French language to my Strasborgeois and foreign friends, I’ve frequently turned to Québecois TV. In this clip, from the TVA series Taxi 0-22, the actor and comedian Patrick Huard plays brings a long running stage character – the politically incorrect and talkative cab driver – to the TV screen. The series features a number of special guests who ride the cab as if they were regular fares. On board today (and playing himself) is another Québecois comedian and actor, Louis-Josée Houde. Huard’s character starts the banter by complimenting Houde on his rôle in the film Bon Cop Bad Cop… the in-joke being that Huard himself played one of the two lead roles in that film. If you speak French but aren’t familiar with the Québecois joual I’d be interested to hear how much of this conversation you catch…

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