Sunday, 30 November 2014
Another blogger commented a few days ago about me wandering across the High-Level Bridge well after midnight, on the way back from a bit of a do.
So I thought I'd illustrate a brief London walk this time. After dark of course, and starting with a tunnel.
Tunnels can lead to dark places.
Although there could be people busy at work. Even in the darkest night-time.
And that's not to say there won't be a few friendly faces along the way. Even people we might recognise.
As well as the usual hustle and bustle of people going about their regular business.
I had a target destination in mind, which was, inevitably, right in the middle of the tunnel. In a place which led to even more tunnels and arches.
So into a vault (Arch 236D, next to the Gas Bottle Room) for a rewarding drink, whilst waiting for the others to arrive before we headed to Lucy's.
Saturday, 29 November 2014
Through Karen's co-ordination, we'd arranged to meet up at the Vault at 8pm. That's the place along the well graffitied Leake Street, which tunnels under Waterloo Station.
We were there to see the gorgeous Marion Déprez, part way through her series of performances in Lucy's Room.
Great applause as Marion slowly appeared from behind a black curtain, progressively filling the stage with her gorgeous Frenchness.
Marion's delightfully quirky show examines the objectification of women, 'see I can just stand here and look gorgeous' as she flits through a range of sketches from her off-kilter world.
We heard about (but didn't quite meet) her boyfriend, had hints on telling jokes, a tempestuous run through woods, past gorgeous ponies, to a mysterious ivory tower. There were drink-me bottles, a prince and a butterfly which we helped fluff to the stage.
Oh, and a frog. Of course.
Zany and gorgeous. Ideal for a Friday evening.
And plenty to talk about in the pub afterwards.
Did I mention she was gorgeous?
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
An entertaining evening with William Gibson, who developed the original cyberspace through his novel Neuromancer.
Fascinating 30 years after its original appearance to hear him talk of his lack of knowledge of technology back in the days of the earliest Personal Computers. He spotted an advert for the Apple IIc, which looked like a briefcase and needed a separate television plugged into it. Add that idea to him watching people gaming with early Segas and appearing to look into the space behind the TV set and the idea of a connected alternate reality began to appear.
Gibson also assumed that everyone nerdy had already thought of the idea of cyberspace, but for him it provided the arena to present his commissioned novel.
Fast forward to now (I won't say in real time - we've learned its a legacy term) and it was like being able to splice into thought lines thirty years along the novel's trajectory.
Although, some of the ideas of (e.g.) the cellphone interruptertron might have been too advanced for the sensibilities of the early 80s, when people were still getting used to four television channels and the idea of satellite broadcasting.
Gibson explained the necessity of some of his novel's devices 'I wasn't very good at getting people in and out of rooms' and referred to others who had inspired - E.M. Forster's Aspects of a Novel, the literary effects pedals of William Burroughs.
He's just published 'The Peripheral' although I'm only a (virtual) few pages in. Set, I believe, in a future London, which he says is his non-American reference city. A city he knows pretty well but one that also changes enough between his enjoyed visits.
Don't be a stranger, Mr Gibson.
Sunday, 23 November 2014
Time to see 'The Imitation Game' today, which is a movie dramatising the life of Alan Turing, who led a team which cracked the German Enigma machine encryption in World War II.
An enjoyable and engrossing movie, although there were some parts that made me think '-er- I'm not sure it would have been like that'. Some adaptations would certainly have been in the interests of dramatisation and in some cases to simplify the storyline.
Some people have taken exception to the way this version gets told and the historical inaccuracies. I'll regard it as an accessible way to show at least a couple major intertwined themes, in an acceptable movie length format.
There was a simple code example included in the trailer:
It's fairly easy to crack the above using a certain technique, which is similarly adopted in the movie. There's a movie moment quite early on where something gets said which is like the planted line for the later plot point. I won't reveal it, but it made me think 'a-hah' when it was first mentioned.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays an autistic Turing, and there's a great surrounding cast keeping the two time lines in the story-telling moving along.
Afterwards we headed to a Spanish restaurant where the chatter rolled forward to today's spying implications with cloud data. With the suspected state-developed multi-stage Regin viral payload resurfacing, maybe it's time to break out the InfoSec Taylor Swift Security Starter Pack.
Saturday, 22 November 2014
With the festive season fast approaching, I realise that I don't always understand the logic of packing goods for postal delivery.
I can understand that there could be an outer shell carton to help prevent handling damage, and from time to time I marvel at goods delivered in those customised double layer boxes.
This time I'm slightly confounded by the packaging approach to what was a 330cm by 4 cm box containing a tube.
The box which was packed inside a roughly 400cm by 30cm by 25cm carton. The amount of bubble wrap to prevent rattling around was truly wondrous. The box could have easily contained 40 of the tubes. Even the chap delivering commented that the box seemed very light for something so large.
I guess it stopped them posting it through the letterbox.
Friday, 21 November 2014
The television adverts for Christmas are in full swing now and the one with the penguins has been on for about week.
Bizarrely, they are also being advertised on ebay for several quid each.
This shopper has done particularly well, managing to clutch four of the rarer Sloane variety simultaneously.
Although it could get tricky when he gets to the tube station.
Thursday, 20 November 2014
I finally watched that movie/documentary about photographer Vivian Maier during the week. She's the one whose pictures were only discovered fairly recently by John Maloof, who has since been promoting the fine body of work.
The area that gets the most attention are the street photographs, often from around Chicago, where Maier was working as a nanny. Often shot on a Rolleiflex TLR from chest height, many embody the idea of getting in close.
What struck me when I saw her pictures originally was their consistently high quality captures of people in scenes from around the city. She seems to have been able to find ideal moments to tell stories with her film.
I knew there were more pictures, but didn't know the sheer scale of the photographs she had taken. There's tens of thousands, including many that had not been developed, including New York, a world tour and some from Europe. There's a high strike rate of good shots in the ones I have seen, although it's difficult to know whether some were destined for cropping because so many were originally unprocessed.
The documentary shows the unfolding of her story. Born in Chicago she presented herself to employers as if from a small town in France. In the audio recordings she speaks with a hybrid American accent shaded with what to me sounds more German than French. There's footage and recollections from her visits to the family village in rural France.
Maloof is, himself, something of a fastidious person, who meticulously adds to the materials he first acquired from an auction. He has progressively assembled more from Maier's life. There's her still photography both monochrome and colour, some 8mm and 16mm cine films, audio cassette diaries and paper journals. Maier was also a hoarder and there's thousands of receipts and other pieces of documentary evidence around.
At one level the documentary provides answers, at another it doesn't. Why so many pictures undeveloped? How was the continuous photography funded? Why did she choose to show herself with so many different names/spellings/identities? Why nothing ever shown? She appears to also have flipped from mild mannered to sometimes vicious, including with the children she nannied.
One of the people interviewed said something about Vivian becoming too crazy and having to be let go from that specific nannying role.
The documentary was partly about the photography, partly about her curious life and it couldn't help but also show the quirks of Maloof now trying to ensure there's decent recognition for Maier's work.
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Tuesday, 18 November 2014
I was around by Parliament today and decided to have a quick peep at where they are de-leafing the lime trees inside New Palace Yard.
I took a quick snap and you can just see the trees in the background. The ones on the left in the picture still have the bright yellow looking leaves, then there's a couple of stepladders and the trees on the right are de-leafed.
The gardeners have explained that its a more efficient process than letting nature take its course and then raking up the fallen leaves.
I originally thought it was in some kind of major public thoroughfare where thousands of tourists would be slipping over on the wrong kind of leaves.
No, actually its around that secure bit leading to the underground car park for MPs.
In one of the reports it said something about the leaf removal being a form of planching. I don't buy it. I thought planching was knitting the branches together to make a sort of canopy or trellis. This leaf denuding seems to be more like a performance art installation.
Still, it can't be as expensive as that other MP thing going on.
The High Court investigating whether the MP said something unpleasant to the police in Downing Street when they would't open the gate for his bicycle. The MP is suing the Sun Newspaper and apparently has racked up just over £500k costs via his legal representatives Atkins Thompson.
I don't know whether these fees include the speculated £150k for expert inputs to the case. Last year it was reported that one academic was supposed to have been paid £80,000 to calculate the time it would have taken to deliver the MP's alleged “59 syllable” exchange (which apparently took 48 seconds).
I would have provided the speaking rate information for half that fee, but now it is too late, so here's a free version.
Using spoken presentations as an available metric, the average words per minute spoken is around 163 and the average syllables per minute is around 230. So in, say, 45 seconds it would be easily possible to deliver 59 syllables and as much as 230*.75 = 172 syllables. In approximate terms it would only need 15 seconds to deliver the phrases at presentation speed.
But, of course, the MP is saying he didn't actually utter the alleged words.
It all seems somewhat disproportionate. I gather the MP has some previous form for fruity-language exchanges with the police, so somehow this one all seems to have got a bit out of hand.
Sunday, 16 November 2014
I've pretty much switched into winter cycling mode now, although a couple of weeks of gap whilst up north means that I still have a way to go to reach this year's target of 4,000 miles.
Not only that, but I got one of those yow!! leg cramps after my last fifteen miles. Not at the time, but later in the evening. It's slightly annoying because its one of those things that I can just tell will come back until I get rid of the knots in my legs.
Maybe some stretching is required? More likely some electrolyte.
Anyhoo, I'll try to crank out another twenty or so miles this afternoon. And take some High 5 along.
Saturday, 15 November 2014
Oops. I did accidentally succumb to the novel writing madness. A slightly late start and then some time spent underground didn't help, although I somehow seem to be on track at the moment.
Going to that Moon exhibition at the Baltic gave me the initial whimsical thought, around the idea of the second moon of Earth. I've also roped in Ganymede, which is the largest moon of Jupiter.
Now I just need 50,000 words, without resorting to space monsters and battle cruisers.
Friday, 14 November 2014
My recent visit to the cinema got me thinking about the drama of dust storms.
They say that global warming will increase the propensity for dust storms. Cinematically, they look dramatic and can form part of dystopian (sorry about that) storylines.
The thing is, I can remember experiencing a real one that looked just about as spectacular as those in the movies.
It was only around three years ago, when we were in Scottsdale, Arizona and one blew up from the right side of my view and then tracked slowly as a wall of sand across the landscape. I took a photo of the newspaper story at the time.
Not a movie still. This is the real one from around Scottsdale.
We'd only just arrived in Scottsdale which is right next door to Phoenix in the Arizona desert. They both have that 'settled-in' look which dramatically stops at the city limits. It is similar at the outskirts of Palm Springs in California, where you drive past the last block and are suddenly back in desert. Holding back the environment with technology. Switch it off and the sand returns.
The Americans call these big dust storms Haboobs, which I'd heard before when I was in the deserts of Arabia. I think haboob is actually an Arabic word.
Wherever it's from, it's interesting that Hollywood's IMAX depiction of really big storms don't seem to be much larger than some of the real ones that already cut through parts of Arizona.
Tuesday, 11 November 2014
This year we celebrated my birthday in a castle.
Langley Castle was originally built in 1350 during the reign of Edward III, but then got caught up in a scuffle with Henry IV in 1405. He was not too happy with the Barons of Tynedale and in Henry's campaign against the Percys his troops set fire to it. Henry Percy lived to fight another rebellion, but his land had been confiscated and after the second rebellion failed Percy's head was put on a pole on London Bridge.
The castle was mainly a shell for the next few hundred years even when the the Earls of Derwentwater and Viscount Langley took over the estate. They sided with the Jacobite rising in 1715. It didn't do them much good either as they were carted off to the Tower of London where they were executed.
There's a large stone cross by the roadside nearby which says: In memory of James and Charles Viscounts Langley. Beheaded on Tower Hill 24th Feb 1716 and 8th Dec 1746. For Loyalty to their Lawful Sovereign.
They were trying to get James VII of Scotland back onto the British throne instead of Queen Mary II and that Dutchman, William of Orange.
After the executions, the Crown confiscated the estate and took away the titles. Curiously, the estate's administration passed to the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich, some 300 miles away. It may explain why the nearby pub is called the Anchor.
The castle remained a ruin until a local historian bought it in 1882. His name was Cadwalladar Bates and he decided to restore it to its original 14th Century look, admittedly with a Victorian twist. Because it had been left as a ruin for the previous 400 years, it didn't suffer from the kinds of modifications that affected many castles. Cadwalladar and his wife Josephine worked on the castle for many years, and after Cadwallader's death, his wife continued the restoration until her own death in 1933.
The building was then used as a barracks in World War II, then as a girls' school, before being bought by another local businessperson, who converted it to its current use as a rather desirable place to stay. I somehow managed to stay in the actual Cadwalladar room, complete with its 7 foot thick stone walls.
To keep things moving along, the castle as a business is now owned by MIT Professor Dr Stuart Madnick, who is a well-known computer scientist, and author or co-author of hundreds of computing books.
For us, it provided a very suitable place for a bit of a celebration, although I notice there's quite an updraft from the quantity of birthday candles.
No wonder the staff looked edgy, they didn't want a repeat of what happened in 1405.
Monday, 10 November 2014
You can't go wrong having a corn field somewhere in a science fiction movie. Come to think of it, the big chord from the intro to Also Sprach Zarathustra is another goody.
Without giving anything away, the new Christopher Nolan movie manages both in the first minute or so of screen time.
Interstellar is more my kind of space movie than, say, the upcoming Jupiter Rising, which appears to have CGI overtly plastered throughout the film.
By contrast, Interstellar uses mainly practical filming, with real sets and real atmospherics, best viewed on the largest available screen.
And, although a space film, there's a clear grounded quality alongside the movie's big ideas, making something altogether more thought-provoking than the arcade shoot-em-ups of many comic book movies.
There's a few places where a character has to give a plausible-sounding science explanations, and Nolan uses one of his fascinations, expecting the audience to track various timelines (think of Memento and Inception).
Science folk will no doubt pick on some of the paradoxes and questions raised but I'll take that as a Nolan victory that people are puzzling it through.
But I don't really want to say too much about the story and characters, so I guess I'll just have to say it's a movie I'll see on a big screen again.
Friday, 7 November 2014
Thursday, 6 November 2014
I wasn't really planning to do NaNoWriMo this year. That's the thing where we try to bash out a draft novel in a month. 50,000 words or 1,666 words per day.
I've still got several previous attempts in various states of completion, but then somehow this time I've sort of fallen into it.
I think it was visiting that Moon exhibition a few days ago. That and the BFI current programming 'Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder.'
Now I've started writing something about a moon, but decided to look further afield than Earth's moon. I've picked Ganymede which orbits Jupiter. The people mining it are having a hard time. It all needs sorting out. But there's some Earth-based conspiracies to uncover.
I'm only up to 13,600 words so far. I may go a bit erratic for the rest of November.
I also sense the need for some big screen viewing:
The Guy Fawkes fireworks echoing around this northern town faded as I arrived at Live Theatre and to a stage representing South Africa as part of the current Afrovibes season.
The show, called Mamela (“Listen”), shows lives of women born from across Southern Africa at the end of Apartheid or into the so named “Born Free” generation.
Presented as a series of interwoven testimonies from the participants, it has a rawness as they tell their stories around many highly personal aspects of their lives. Based upon edited verbatim transcripts, there is humour and warmth as well as tough and heartbreaking moments creating tears with some audience members.
The overarching tone was still upbeat showing a positive and defiant spirit. The women blended powerful singing and dance with their storytelling, combining to enhance theatricality.
The play was originally developed in 2011 and the intervening years have seen each woman’s story progress further. At the end, the actors described what further had happened to each character. In keeping with their strength, every one of these additions was positive.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
I was in the Sage for a small part of the Free Thinking season a few days ago. Some it has already been broadcast on BBC radio, and other parts are yet to appear.
It was well attended by a broad spectrum of folk and covered a very wide range of topics, spread over three and a half days, although the broadcast version spans the whole of November.
The topics were often the ones not formally suited to the dinner table, politics, religion, that sort of thing, and included thought provoking subjects such as the human copying machine (do mirror neutrons really force us to mimic?), puzzles about where all the money went (dead cat bounces and all) and how happy do we all need to be - including what the government thinks about it all.
There’s often a small bunch of selected presenters for certain topics on BBC television, a few names that pop up repeatedly and sometimes stray across subjects that are on the edges of their normal field. Something to do with presentation skills and recognition. It’s good to see, at events like this, that there’s a wide selection of others that can be drawn into the debates.
Tuesday, 4 November 2014
The evening drink could've been a lyric from Lindisfarne. Meet me on the corner at nine, kinda thing.
Hey Mr Dreamseller, where have you been?
Tell me have you dreams I can see?
I came along, just to bring you this song,
Can you spare one dream for me?
When we arrived at the pub there were still vestiges of Halloweek sprinkled around. We all selected brews and adjourned into what was still a ghostly bar. Officially closed, there were cobwebs and spiders around the edges and what looked like the remnants of a previous evening's shindig.
Perfect for us to chatter at a round table overlooked by a svelte looking Confucius holding a dragon. Possibly after first meeting Lao Tzu? "Lao Tzu is a dragon, and I’ll never understand him."
You won't have met me, and you'll soon forget me,
So don't mind me tugging at your sleeve.
I'm asking you, if I can fix a rendezvous.
For your dreams are all I believe.
I should explain that some of the beers featured names in keeping with the recent zombie season. I couldn't spot any pullable beers with normal names except one from Sussex, which somehow seemed out of character for this far north.
So I chose the ale called Inception, which turned out to be a fine selection, worthy of taking to a few levels of depth, if you follow my line of thought.
Meet me on the corner when the lights are coming on,
And i'll be there, I promise i'll be there.
Down the empty streets we'll disappear until the dawn
If you have dreams enough to share.
Later that evening, after the doors of the pub had been resoundingly shut, I headed back across what was now a slightly more bendy bridge than it had appeared earlier in the evening. I'd certainly reached the third level of inception, although the water seemed to be staying in the proper place.
Lay down your bundles, of rags and reminders,
And spread your wares on the ground.
Well I've got time, if you deal in rhyme,
I'm just hanging around.
Monday, 3 November 2014
After Russell Brand, another Essex-lad book I've just read is Grayson Perry's reprise of his Reith Lectures.
It's an accessible discussion about fine art, which recognises the potential airs and graces of such discourse, but then avoids them to keep a broad audience.
I listened to the original lectures and can hear Perry's voice as he walks through the themes in this book. And yes, its a physical book rather than a Kindle; there's some delightful little sketches within to illuminate some of the topics.
In another of Perry's books and shows called 'The vanity of small differences' he reviews tribes and makes a point about the tribe of Romford car tuning enthusiasts' checking out their sub-woofers compared with weekenders browsing at a farm shop. Different tribes showing their allegiances.
He brings the thinking into the world of art and the multifarious needs of artists, agents, collectors, museums and the general public.
Each to their own part in the world of artistic appreciation.
I've looked at many Grayson Perry art pieces over the years, and they generally set me thinking. I'll consider this little book to be another one.
Somewhere, he makes the point (also relevant to blogging) about irony as a hipster response to a topic; a self protection usable for a flippant quick browse or as a way to demonstrate deep thought on a topic. Apparent elitism. Roll up to join the sniggering classes. The up and down side is that this mode doesn't give much away.
I applaud his small observations which flag criticisms of arty groups posturing as an elitist club.
Somewhere else, he makes the point about well-known artists who sign things thereby enhancing their value. Dollar bills spring to mind. Curiously, this little book has a very strange dust cover; the lower half, where Perry's signature is portrayed, is printed with some kind of smudging ink. The rest of the black print doesn't do it.
I wondered if this was a deliberate gesture, in keeping with Perry's sense of mischief? It's the closest I'll get to 'owning' anything by the man. I'll happily own the mischief.
Sunday, 2 November 2014
A trip to the moon today, at least in the form of a visit to the thought provoking exhibition 'They used to call it the moon'.
Just inside the main entrance is a large shiny satellite, gleaming and pristine, the stuff of dreams. Today, this is art not science. I must remember it's an installation, not a propellable device.
Onward to one of my favourites, it's part of a collection by Marko Tadić and comprises found postcards which support the earth's second moon theory.
Compared with the full series, this is a cut down version, with scenes from all around the world, sometimes showing two moons and sometimes just showing one or another.
The above view is from the larger show which is also here.
More recently, there's been the launch of the Russian satellite, which is almost the size of a small moon, so there's a maybe more truth that one might imagine.
And then there's Joseph Popper's space pod.
It's just like you'd expect from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Gravity or Interstellar. I remember visiting some of the space equipment in NASA and being amazed at the simplicity of some of the construction. Forget about semiconductors, part of the technology used electromechanical relays. Yet somehow it all worked.
This space pod is similar. A closer inspection reveals it's made of polystyrene blocks, the small black round precision controls are coffee cup lids and the press buttons are from sports water bottles. Look behind it (I'll have to go to this again and try to remember to take a picture) the panels are clipped together with bulldog clips.
There's Katie Paterson's moon bounce Morse-coded music score sent Earth:Moon:Earth and into a shiny black piano playing "Moonlight Sonata" with some missing notes detained in the craters. Appositely across the way is a selection of Kubrick's effects cards from the original 2001 movie.
Yesterday's Doctor Who episode echoed part of the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C Clarke theme that behind every person alive stands ghosts, and in Clarke and Kubrick the ratio is thirty to one as the ratio by which dead outnumber the living.
It runs that since the dawn of time, a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth. An interesting number, because there are around a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way.
So in the 2001 story-telling, for every man and woman who has ever lived, in this universe there shines a star.
But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small, nearby star we call the Sun. And most of those alien suns have planets circling them.
So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first apeman, his own private world-sized heaven—or hell.
How many of those potential heavens and hells are inhabited, and by what manner of creatures, we have no way of guessing; the very nearest of them is a million times further away than Mars or Venus, those still remote goals of interstellar generations.
As the few trips to the moon signify, the barriers of distance diminish. Another part of this arty exhibition presents a one way space mission, mysteriously blueprinted for 2016.
Saturday, 1 November 2014
A fresh crunch of glass underfoot this morning as I made my way across the high level bridge.
Yesterday evening was, of course, part of the local Halloweek and something of a limbering-up exercise for the plans of the weekend.
I'd seen sombre zombies roaming London's streets a couple of weeks ago for Zombiefest, and my current location's efforts seemed similar albeit with less clothing.
I may decide to find fortification before tonight's mayhem descends.