Paloma Blanca

Miami ViceThe nineteen-eighties is a period sometimes referred to as “the decade without style”, or “the decade with no taste”. Even if you didn’t live through it, you can still snigger at the shoulder pads in re-runs of ‘Dallas’ or ‘Dynasty’ or the rolled-up jacket sleeves in ‘Miami Vice’.

And Crockett’s jacket was usually white. Cars were white. Stilettos were white. Abba dressed in white.

I can’t remember exactly when taste and sanity returned, but nobody wants to go back there, not even the fashion industry, notorious for lack of ideas and recycling old styles.

But over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a return of white cars to the roads. New ones, so clearly deliberately chosen by their proud owners. (If you’re buying second-hand, colour is a less important consideration. I’ve never liked mine much — a very pale metallic bronze.)

In some people’s minds then, a white car is not crass, vulgar and tasteless, as everyone agreed after the eighties. Improbable as it seems, they think it’s cool.

It bugged me. I kept asking myself how a proportion of the population could miss the obvious fact that white is the epitome of tasteless colour choice for a car. Who was to blame?

Eventually, I worked it out. It was Jonathan “Jony” Ive.

He designed the first iPods and iPhones. Yes, they were white, but they looked amazing compared to anything else on the market and were beautifully made. They were far more expensive than the competition, but some people like that. The device becomes a status symbol, and the whiteness a kind of trademark. The accessories were white as well. It can’t be a coincidence that Jony Ive began his career designing toilets.

Of course, iPhones and iPods aren’t necessarily white any more. (In 2008, the last, cut-price batch of the iPhone 3 was BLACK.) But it’s too late. The curse of the nineteen-eighties had been forgotten, by some people at least. They buy white cars.


The Long And The Short Of It

“Aspect ratio” is a common enough term, I think, even if a little technical. It’s simply the ratio of the width of something to its height. For me, that’s about 1:3.4 because I’m a tall, thin shape like most humans.

The early movie industry, back in the silent era, used a 35mm film with a ratio of 4:3 which also is supposed to reflect a person’s central field of vision. Television inherited 4:3 and used that format up until relatively recent times, but movie-makers decided to offer something which television couldn’t: widescreen.

The first wide movie standard was CinemaScope from 1953. It was 8:3 or twice as wide as television. The film industry scales the numbers so that the height figure is 1, making CinemaScope 2.66:1 in their terms. Common commercial formats today are 1.85:1 and 2.40:1. Television, meanwhile, has adopted 16:9 or what the movie industry would call 1.78:1.

Now that I’ve introduced aspect ratio, I’ll get to the point, which is that some people don’t get it. A common situation is that “old” 4:3 television is shown on a “new” 16:9 set, and there are a few options. In fact, my own set has several. Probably the best in most cases is simply to place the 4:3 image in the middle of the screen, with black bars down each side. You’re not using some of the set’s expensive pixels, but at least you can see the full original image.

Because an alternate option is to spread the image across the whole width and crop off the top and bottom. Since 4:3 is the same as 16:12 (multiply by 4) on 16:9 you only see 9/12 or 3/4 of the vertical — rarely what you want. One freaky-looking alternative on my television set is to fill the whole screen with an image which is stretched more the further horizontally you get from the centre. I don’t really use that.

But those people who don’t get it (and I know they exist, in fact I’m related to some of them) are quite happy to watch a 4:3 programme simply stretched across the wider, 16:9 screen. It makes everything look short and squat, and basically just wrong. Well, it does to me, instantly. In fact, it distresses me and I can’t watch it.

One place you come across the people blind to aspect ratio is on YouTube. Many a time I’ve looked for a video of one of my favourite bands, only to find that some idiot has converted it or uploaded it wrong. And does anyone add a comment to say that it’s incorrect, or even that the band concerned seems to have put on a lot of weight? Not ever.

So I went to YouTube to get you examples of what I’m talking about. The first “old” television show I thought of which would likely be uploaded was the BBC’s music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. Sure enough, a proportion (sorry) of the clips featured short, fat musicians in a low-ceiling studio.

For example, here are squat Lynyrd Skynyrd live on stage. You see that logo on the wall at the right? It’s supposed to be circular.
Squat Lynyrd Skynyrd

And here are Gary Moore and Phil Lynott under the same, egg-shaped logo. Hardly looking their best.
Gary Moore and friends

But finally, here’s how it should be done. Bob Marley (no, his hair is supposed to look like that) nicely framed and in the correct proportions.
Bob Marley

If you can’t instantly see that the first two are wrong and the last one right, then you have the aspect ratio disability. I’m not sure if there’s a cure.

Red Shoes

perlvisesWhen the archaeologists dig up a skeleton, the most reliable way of determining the sex is by the shape of the pelvis. A woman’s pelvis has to allow for the birth of a baby with the unusually large head that is unique to newborn humans.

The different pelvis shape, though it may not look much, determines the different way that men and women look and move. And evolution has equipped us with the ability to distinguish the sexes instantly, even at long distance. Try it on a busy street. You can easily tell the difference, even hundreds of metres away. (Of course, it’s not just the hips and waist. Breasts make a difference too. Assuming that they’re big enough to be seen hundreds of metres away.)

It’s a good guess that if there’s a sexual characteristic that marks out the sex that we’re attracted to, then emphasising that characteristic will be a good way of getting us interested. That’s why men’s clothes and women’s clothes are different, to reinforce sexual identity. And I suppose, why dressing the “wrong” way can be such a strong rejection of sexual identity.

All my life, I’ve been curious about the exact mechanism that makes my male brain turn to mush when I see a woman in high-heeled shoes. I can only theorise that it’s a trick that exaggerates the male-female difference in sillhouette and movement: this more-female-than-female appearance triggers my sexual attraction. And it does too.

legsAlthough I’m fairly sceptical about the research that anthropologists and sociologists do, there was a report recently of a study that “proved” that long legs are a sexually attractive attribute. Which is so obvious and so in line with common observation that it must be suspect. Things are never as simple as they appear.

But I suppose that could be one way in which the high-heeled shoe works; by making the leg look longer. Especially useful if you have short legs. But the heel also affects the whole body posture, the gait, the shape of the leg, and even more importantly, the shape of the ass. Believe me, I’ve studied this carefully for a long time.

Short, long, broad, narrow: I’m convinced that any woman, of any size or shape, can look better in heels. Oh, I know they’re not necessarily comfortable, or practical; and learning to walk well can be a chore. I wouldn’t blame you at all for not bothering with them. But if you did happen to want to get men’s attention, I promise you, it’s guaranteed.

Floating In A Most Peculiar Way

When Apollo 8 came round from the far side of the moon, and the Commander, Frank Borman, rolled the spacecraft to point its antennas back to Earth to reestablish radio contact, the astronauts were presented with the incredible view of a half-Earth next to the horizon of the Moon.

Borman and William Anders both grabbed cameras to capture the moment. There was a bit of confusion later about who shot which picture, but it’s accepted now that Anders took the colour one that became such an icon. But Borman’s black and white one is pretty good too.



But here’s the thing, Borman’s is “the right way up” — the way he composed it and took it, but the more famous one, Anders’ photo, isn’t.

Of course, there’s no up and down in zero-G. Experienced astronauts tend to pick an orientation and stick with it for a while, since constant changing can lead to space sickness (messy). But in Borman’s mind, the spacecraft was flying over the lunar landscape, like a high-altitude aircraft; and the Earth was “up in the sky” ahead.

Anders was looking at it differently. To him, they were orbiting around the equator of a solid sphere. “Up” was aligned with the Moon’s axis of rotation, and the Earth was “ahead”, also rotating “upright”, with the North Pole at the top. To me, Anders’ viewpoint is the more astronautical as opposed to Borman’s terrestrial image — more ‘Space Oddyssey’. Here’s how it should look:

Right way up