Friday, 21 November 2014

penguined out

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The television adverts for Christmas are in full swing now and the one with the penguins has been on for about week.

Judging by the local store, it seems to be working, because just about everyone seems to be walking around carrying the penguin bags.

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.

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Although it could get tricky when he gets to the tube station.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

finding Vivian Maier


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

Almost Wordless Wednesday - #vehicle

The red wheel trims give it away
or maybe:
I wonder what this one is?
Yes, a few of the fancy cars in the nearby car park are being wrapped up for the winter season. Others parked here are more hardy:
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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

stopping the leaves from falling

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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.
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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

cycling towards winter


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

a NaNoWriMo reason for being a bit quiet


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

realistic hollywood haboob

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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

another year adds a bit more history


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

interstellar transcendence


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

perfect pre interstellar advert from lurpak


I know, its been around since April, but it's a great commercial prior to watching Interstellar ;-)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

NaNo Moon

moon hall
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:

Afrovibes Mamela


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.