Wednesday, 7 December 2016
Here we are mid-way into December and the external thermometer is showing 12 degrees Centigrade. No wonder there's people on the sand along the edges of the Thames. I took this picture looking right across to the middle of the City. Spot St Pauls, The Cheesegrater and Cannon Street Bridge.
It's a contrast to indoors at home, where the central heating pump has packed up and needs to be replaced. The local plumbers are all saying how their phones are 'ringing off the hook' at the moment, so it's time for fan heaters to make a short term come-back.
Nevertheless, as I type this from a currently unheated part of the house I'm still getting a 20.6C degree readout from the digital thermometer on the smart meter.
Although, come to think of it, it's also showing 3.345 kW of power consumption, so there must be at least one heater running somewhere.
Tuesday, 6 December 2016
Part of the programmed endgame of Westworld's first series again reminds me of the conclusion of Punchdrunk's 'A Drowned Man'.
For the avoidance of direct Westworld spoilers, the above picture is from the Punchdrunk show and shows the couple outside the caravan, behind which is a forest where onlookers can walk across the trampled leaves towards the small hilltop where a conclusion plays out. Punchdrunk's world for the show was huge, set across all the floors of a defunct Paddington Post Office sorting office.
Of course, it's still tiny compared with Westworld, although the viewing construct is fairly similar.
Back to Westworld and I also see the overlaps with the second series of Humans. We have robots breaking through from their programmed mind to discover some form of a conscious state. That's in both shows. It takes slightly different paths, one of which is more routed in the inner voice being developed as the result of catastrophe (Westworld). In Humans there's some hidden programming code which can flip the robots up to a higher level.
Westworld positions the idea of a bicameral (two-chambered) mind where an outer reactive being is able to modify behaviour (think) based upon discovered consciousness. Julian Jaynes' bicameral consciousness theory supposes that great catastrophes were the catalyst for the discovery of inner self. Jayne's theory uses the non inward looking Illiad as a reference point. I'm considering the Odyssey-like quests in Westworld too: Homecoming, Wandering, Guest-Friendship, Testing and Omens, maybe?
A scratchy description of this inner self discovery appears in the Westworld story using the consultants' favourite triangle diagram depicting a simplified Maslow hierarchy followed by a magician's trick turning it into an onion diagram. A-maze-ing ;-)
What is also interesting is the idea of the language processing needed to express the feelings that emanate from inner self. The stuttering broken synth called Odi in Humans discovers consciousness but struggles with its extended vocabulary.
Both stories could develop the idea of the other structures needed to make a synth-world which doesn't simply end in all-out conflict.
Anyway, here's Laurie Anderson with Language is a Virus, from the William S Burroughs 'Ticket that exploded' cut-up/fold-in novel about creating insoluble conflicts for the life forms on Earth.
In Burroughs' story the conflicts were put there to destroy, but maybe Westworld ascribes to Nietzsche along the lines of that which does not kill us makes us stronger?
Monday, 5 December 2016
I was at a gig recently which had professional VR filming set up using a cluster of GoPro cameras. So far it hasn't been released, but some of the people attending are already looking into the necessary equipment to get that immersive feeling.
Something like the Oculus Rift costs about £550, needs a separate PC to run and probably requires the hand controller to be upgraded for the serious aficionado. It makes going to the original music gig seem like very good value for money.
Then there's the HTC Vive, at a cool £685. It is probably close to the benchmark, although some of the demos are a little bit sketchy.
I decided to start at the other end and see what could be done for almost no money, to get the effect until the technology properly matures. Roll on the Virtoba Reality Viewer V2, which cost me the princely sum of £5. Yes, five quid.
Admittedly there is some modest assembly of the cardboard structure required, but it does include all the velcro, elastic straps and even a rather basic control button. It took me about 2 minutes to get a fully functional unit, including setup of the VR environment via my phone.
The system works by putting a smartphone into the box, and effectively using it to provide the stereoscopic moving pictures, much like a Viewmaster from the olden days.
And it works rather well. I'm sure it's not as good as the expensive models, but at circa 100 times less, its not only 1/100th as good.
In fact, I booted up a 360 degree version of a Mr Robot episode and it was eerily realistic sitting in the room next to Elliot. As I turned my head I got the corresponding change to the view of the room. This example plays with the format too, with the start looking like someone has taken some video on a phone in portrait, before spilling into a 360 degree room (look behind to the open window, or spiral up in the air to look down on the action. Later the same storyline goes outside to Coney Island we are soon on the chairs in that big wheel that features in the TV show. And right in the middle of the conversation.
I've showed my cheap as chips VR to others and had various reactions from 'Yay' to 'I don't like the way it is moving about'. Most people comment on the pixels, which are more visible than, say, watching the same kind of thing on television. It's a factor of the iPhone's resolution, which, despite retina, still needs a further boost for full-on VR.
Here's the Mr Robot 360 unwrapped, but it's much better to watch it properly immersed on a headset viewer like with.in.
So here's a few more with.in viewable extracts: They do boot onto a regular browser and give 360 viewability, but the headset version with the stereoscopic sound is still much better. Even if it did cost £5. And even if it does look rather silly watching VR with a cardboard box.
Saturday, 3 December 2016
It was time to plant some crocus, snowdrop, daffodil and tulip to boost the garden for the spring. I say that, but it was really time to plant the bulbs about a month ago.
General guidance is to plant between October and December. I know it's December now, but the challenge isn't so much that the bulbs won't grow (they were already sprouting) so much as the civil engineering required to get them into the ground.
I'd managed to pick a sub-zero day to attempt to plant them, knowing that over the next few days it will actually get colder. I tried the usual gardening implements, which just glanced off the ground. I think I only imagined sparks, but suffice to say it was all rock hard.
I've previously mocked a distant neighbour who sometimes drills into the ground to plant bulbs, but that would be one gadget too far.
Instead, I headed to the garden centre to get some compost. How difficult could it be to plant the bulbs in a lovely fresh covering?
I heard that 'neep' sound as I headed to the stacks piled in the open air in the garden centre. I could have worked out that this wasn't a great idea when the door to section had to be specially opened.
Sure, there were plenty of bags available, but rock solid frozen with the bags welded to one another with ice. I hopped between feet, fiddled with the trolley and I tried to look as if I was in the wrong aisle. I could see the man who runs the place looking at me but deciding not to intervene.
Undeterred, I found another type that seemed to be in a more sheltered spot and, yes, I could even lift the bags. Some felt squidgy in a not full of water or ice kind of way.
Then to drive back home with the bags stashed in the car. 24 hours of shelter before deployment and yes, the next day I was able to identify and plant the various bulb types. For my purposes the crocuses look like small electric transformers, snowdrops are tiny, daffodils are like little onions and tulips are thin skinned and white.
Either that or they'll all come up in the wrong place.
Friday, 2 December 2016
My deliberately flared picture today was taken on the South Bank a couple of days ago. It could show the sunshine, but I can't help thinking it looks a bit like one of those meteor pictures in this case headed towards Parliament.
And kind of prescient, given that the stock market seems to be taking a bit of a tumble today, as more odd news creeps out.
Over in Trumpton, first we get the bankroller of Mad Max:Fury Road and Suicide Squad, Steven Mnuchin, to run the Treasury. Not enough? The President Elect has now appointed Mad Dog Mattis to be his Defense Secretary. There was much whooping' and a'hollerin' at the rally in Cincinnati where it was pre-announced.
Mattis is the one who made the quote: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." His favoured call sign is "Chaos".
Then there's the oil price 'agreement' with Saudi Arabia, which was supposed to bring stability to pricing, but has instead caused investor speculation everywhere. Add in the American payroll announcement which sets the stage for a rate increase in a couple of weeks, so maybe Trump should inherit Mad Dog's callsign? Mattis can revert to Warrior Monk.
In Europe the Italians are getting ready for their referendum at the weekend, which, if Matteo Renzi resigns afterwards, could further destabilise the already frail state of play in that country.
And here in Britain the news is finally sliding out via Hammond and Davis about the expected payments to the EU to remain able to trade. Quelle surprise. The EU has got used to the money from UK and is now looking at ways to continue having it post-Brexit.
Perhaps the Italian referendum or Austrian election this weekend will push another country towards a form of EU-exit? It's certainly knocking the shares around.
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Some times if I pause Apple TV when watching something, it will jump into the generic screensaver. One of the views it shows is that flight along the Thames from around Isle of Dogs to Waterloo Bridge.
It's interesting to pick out the landmarks, but also the ones that have already changed since the fly-by was produced. A case in point is the area around the Shell Centre, which is shown intact, although it has been a hole in the ground for more than a year.
Walking past it right now it is clear to see the the replacement apartment blocks going up fast with a commensurately high crane count. Just visible through the gap is the London Eye.
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
I managed to drop in on the modernist photography exhibition at the Tate.
The photographs are from Sir Elton John's collection and part way around the show there is a short video of him explaining how he first got into collecting photographs and some of his favourites. The video shows around Elton's Atlanta home, where it looks as if nearly every inch of wall space is covered with photographs.
There's no end of 'greatest hit' type pictures from the likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange. Some of the pictures on show I'd seen before in other exhibitions; as examples the Man Ray Glass Tears (1932) - which was in a Portrait Gallery show a couple of years ago and some of the Lange/Weston Farm Securities Administration series which I saw in a New York show a few years ago.
Beyond the famous pictures there are plenty of lesser known gems (at least to me). A Man Ray picture of his assistant, Berenice Abbot, framed in what would still be a modern format today (below). There's a Henri Cartier-Bresson selfie with his wife, Ratna Mohini, riffing a cool Spanish vibe (top of the post).
They are just two of the many pictures worth an extended view during a browse through what must be 100s on show.
Elton has a few favourites too. The tiny 1917 contact print of the underwater swimmer from André Kertész, or the mysterious 1940 white door of Edward Weston. There's some new topics for me too. A series of Irving Penn pictures shot in an angled faux corner of his studio. Helen Levitt documenting New York in the late 1930s.
The vast majority of the show is monochrome but, unlike some web archival views, the colours of the different papers and techniques are all visible in these many originals, giving a further richness and texture.
To my great joy they have carefully carried the finishes and monochrome colours into the show's excellent catalogue, which was an unmissable item from the shop.
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Today's version of the blog theme represents the transition from black back to a brighter look. I found yesterday's black background with white text a bit gloomy - unless it's for a photography site ;)
As a part of the latest household project involves painting and decorating, I thought I'd include a messy background that is representational of the current situation.
In the home project, theoretically I'd be painting the gloss before the matt, but there's an area where it has worked out the other way around, which therefore requires extra care.
The gloss paint also has a more persistent aroma than the emulsion, but we've still managed to create an accidental white stripe along a black coat as a consequence of the redecoration. I used washing up liquid to remove the gloss, which worked surprisingly well.
So, that's the loft cleared, garage rationalisation in progress, a new home for one of the bicycles being sought, and redecoration in progress. At this rate we'll be on schedule for another stage of the process in January.
Friday, 25 November 2016
I've received plenty of those UK Black Friday adverts, which, for a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, is a slightly strange thing. I've even made the site 'blacker' for a few days. Those old posts about tyres and of monochrome woodcuts have a whole new life now.
I believe Black Friday UK all started when Amazon began promoting the day after Thanksgiving in Europe, causing many UK retailers to copy the approach. There were a few black eye events too, when some cheap televisions and laptops caused scuffles.
This week in Oxford Street (Which now seems to have a Black Five-Day week) there were people doing reconnaissance visits to see what the goods were like before buying them on-line instead. My #BlackFiveDay contribution is below:
Now we get the warnings on telly about how many of the deals are real. Either trick pricing or in a few fraudulent cases non-existent goods.
What has also been quietly happening in the background is the stealthy increase of cookies per web-site viewed. I usually have Adblock switched on, but decided 'mute' it for a few hours to see what the sites normally look like and how many cookies they were installing, particularly with the retail frenzy.
A busy UK site like The Daily M**l instals 20 trackers when visited. The S*n adds 25. The Washington Post a mere 13. Even rashbre central installs 4, of which one is my own tracker to count visitors - I can understand Google and Google + being there, but how Doubleclick has slipped itself onto the site is a mystery.
Then, just for fun, I decided to find a site with an even higher number of trackers and randomly tried Time International. It was promising as a high count because it knew about Adblock and displayed a different version accordingly.
I could see that even in the 'muted' form, it was installing 23 trackers. Then I tried it with Adblock off and ker-blam it was right up to 38 trackers. All so that it could display to me a banner about Microsoft Cloud and an advert for Vodafone data SIMs.
Maybe I'll simply step away from the screen until tomorrow, although I have a sneaky feeling that Black Friday will last over the whole weekend.
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Almost time to hire another skip.
The next stage of the process is clearing some of the roof space and then in turn getting further along with what seems to be a multi-year task to clear the garage.
I know, I should be using KonMari principles and putting all the stuff of the same category in one place and then sifting for the Spark Joy items. It'll take a while to get to the luxury of starting that phase. At the moment its still just bulk removal.
It's not surprising when the garage has, at various stages, held our stuff plus further bits from Chelsea Bridge Wharf and even from 'up north'.
At least the most of the bags used for the stuff in the roof were non-biodegradable. Sounds odd to say, but where stuff has been stored in biodegradable bags, they turn into many small slivers of plastic, akin to been eaten.
There's already been trips to charity shops, the recycling zone as well as fully laden trips to the local tip.
I've also been finding some new and interesting types of item, especially as I get further into what is becoming more like an archeological dig. As an example, here's a late 20th Century railway layout buried under some crates, old coins and a 1980s book about Feng Sui.
Yes, I will get around to the bicycles, but, like some musical instruments, I'm told you always need one more than you already have.
Sunday, 20 November 2016
My usual time limit for a blog post is still ten minutes.
Ten minutes and a picture, as frequently as practical from my own camera (like the bullet train above). Then another different ten minutes to whizz around few of the other bloggers and maybe drop a comment or two.
Sometimes there’s so much happening that I (a) don’t blog at all or (b) get into more detail which breaks my own informal rules.
I realise there’s a declining use of blogs, but also for me that there’s a chance to straighten some thinking by the mere act of writing it down - or like today’s post - by dictating it and then skimming it with the keyboard to fix the typos - thank you Nuance.
Right now there’s the big wide world stuff like Trumpton and Brexit and the possibility of knock-on effects towards people like me. I do mean ‘us’ of course, but that's a version of us involving the people I know directly.
There’s secrets embedded in all of what is happening. One is an American situation. Obama knows it, Janet Yellen knows it but Trump might not yet. It's the scale of the US Federal Reserve liabilities. Currently around $4.4 trillion dollars. That's a lot of wonga and gives a leverage of 112. In other words there’s underwritten cash for only 1/112 of the total. Something will have to give.
Back in Harvard and Cranfield days, we used to talk about good leverage for banks being around 20-25. Actually the Bank of England used to insist upon it.
A quick look at the biggest bank in the world (HSBC) shows they run at a leverage of 12 and a UK highstreeter like Lloyds is around the 21 mark.
So Trump will have a huge debt to figure out as part of whatever happens next.
The UK isn’t quite at that level, but it is really quite difficult to determine because the Bank of England has a special off balance sheet Treasury vehicle where it can hide anything to awkward. Who says the BoE is independent of the government? The fiscal and political have some interesting overlaps.
Why do I care about any of this stuff? Partly in a perhaps misguided attempt to understand what is happening in the world, but also to try to figure out what to do next at a personal level.
Back in blog-world, I keep most of my real world stuff away from the blog. Employment, family and the personal stuff may only appear quite tangentially.
But, as Shakespeare might say, there’s the rub. I paraphrase, but however much the whips and scorns of time, of oppressor’s wrongs, from law’s delay, the insolence of office and spurns from those unworthy of patience, it’s still about deciding when and where to act. To be, or not to be, so to speak.
And that raises the intertwined question.
Reflection that requires action as well. Perhaps it's time for a reboot?