Friday, 28 March 2014

crystal gazing


I've continued to commute by cable car for the last few weeks, except the week that it was down for maintenance. It's all about to change though, and next week I'll be back in the more or less central area, instead of out to the east.

Before leaving the area, I decided to check out the mysterious glass building known as The Crystal, which is just to the west of the northern terminal of the cable-car.

It's a sponsored vision of what London could look like by 2050, and features various ideas for eco-saving and new transport systems. There's a all manner of hands-n exhibits and electronic quizzes, as well as special gadgets that only work if you touch them with a special card that is provided when you walk in.

I guess the sponsorship has helped, because the whole exhibition is currently free, and it did present a few ideas around energy management, handling the ever-growing population of London and various ways to improve different layers within London's infrastructure.

One thing I was hoping to find, but didn't, was ons of those maps of London by 2050, showing the changes to the skyline, but I've since discovered another building in London that houses a model of the whole of London with scale buildings to show the changes envisaged.

It's quite difficult to keep up in some areas - see the view from my recent room- with cranes still very much in evidence as new buildings are added.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bailey's Stardust


I was around Trafalgar Square when I remembered that the NPG has the Bailey 'Stardust' exhibition running. Leytonstone lad David Bailey curated the exhibition himself, and it spans both well known faces and some of his projects including his home turf of East End London but also Sudan, Australia and India.

The pictures were re-printed for the show, with Bailey's supervision, and there's plenty of big format striking monochromes to view. Often portraits shot against a plain background, yet pulling plenty from the faces and expressions, whether of well-known folk or simply of locals in a pub.

The top picture here is a Bailey self portrait, east-end pub, woman outside, but look carefully and there's Bailey with his camera framed in the middle.

It's at odds with many of his portraits against clean backgrounds. Bailey fills the frame along with distinct contrasts and shadows. On one of Man Ray, he's featured the eye and nose; with a picture of Cartier-Bresson, the man as a subject is elusive, with his Leica to the forefront.

There's the full set of his 'Pinups' set along a wall of a room, all sized like so many black and white album cover prints, and all fascinating to study.

Curiously, the colour pictures have a kind of deep and slightly(to me) off-kilter saturation, which suggested something from another time - maybe that's the point.

It's one of those shows where I thought, 'wow, that's a striking picture' as I walked in and then kept thinking it over and over again as I walked around.

Yep, Bailey has sprinkled stardust throughout this show.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

ground controlled at the mall


I was just watching a debate about 'ground control' - the way that private land can use telemetry to monitor and manage who is in the space and what kind of information is presented to them.

It's beyond having someone in a cap at the front door of the shopping mall, past simply having cameras, to now being able to sense what people are doing based upon their location.

Last year I also attended some debates around CLD and BSN - Continuous Location Data and Business Social Networks. Part of it included a session about fashion retailing using CLD to configure appropriate advertising of new clothes fashion to the passing shoppers. Somehow Bladerunner springs to mind.

The general point of all these things is the ways that we are all emitting ever increasing amounts of data about ourselves and that there's other people who are keen to get at this data to perform analytics for commercial purposes. To manage us as a demographic data space with a propensity to spend.

We already step into 'their world' in many of these private spaces and quite subtly have to play to their rules.

I've been through the casinos in Las Vegas and it's been a great example of ground control. Managed entrances and exits, no clues about the exterior time of day and in some areas - like the Bellagio or the Venetian - the ability to play with time of day at the press of a button.

Curiously, it was the end of my little bike ride at the weekend that brought it home to me how far it's come along. I'd finished the ride and was cycling back to where I'd parked the car. Spot the wibbly route at the end of the short journey.

Bikes were not really supposed to go in through the main car park entrance and up around the big spirally thing so I had to find another route.

Of course, I'd crossed the ground control line into the privately owned space.

I regarded it as a comedy moment. The road past the car park I needed led to an entrance to the mall. It was up a flight of about 100 steps (no escalator).

Now spot my heart rate spike as carry the bike upstairs. And oh, the irony of my continuous location data and the bike's heart rate monitor being used in the ground controlled space.

I eventually saw the signage for P2, the parking level I needed. Except it was now marked for a different car park.

I asked someone in uniform the way to my car park, and they directed me right into the mall.

"With my bike?" I checked.

"It'll be fine"

I walked in to a late morning hubbub and realised I was suddenly on about the fourth level of the mall.

I'd have to go down an awful lot of escalators to get to the right level to even start to look for my car. The map didn't give much of a clue and I couldn't actually find my car park on it, despite having cycled past it a few minutes ago.

Yes, I was inside their system. The system that was designed to make me go retail.

I decided to find an exit, which was just around the corner from where the uniformed person had helped me. To my surprise, I could see the signage for the other car park in the distance. A three minute walk away. The chap I'd asked must have been facing towards it.

I found my way in, down the stairs, again carrying my bike.

I don't think the uniformed person was deliberately giving me bad instructions. I presume the system of the mall is to get people inside and then subtly encourage them to walk as far as possible until they eventually buy something? Maybe the reward is a sign to their exit. It's like a grand form of hiding the exits in anchor stores.

I found my car, undid the bike's front wheel and packed it away. The camera overhead blinked. The light above my car showed the space was occupied.

Yes.

I was fully ground controlled.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

fun on the Sport Relief bike ride


It's the first time I've been back to the Queen Elizabeth Park since the Olympics were held there. It's about to be re-opened as a proper park and with several sporting zones included.

I was there for the Sport Relief bike ride, which turned out to be rather good fun. My early challenge was whether I'd be able to get my bike out of my car, because of the different opening times of the nearby car parks. Fortunately, I'd moved to the car park under the 24-hour Casino, which meant that, as long as I didn't mind negotiating a few flights of stairs, then I'd be okay.

This trip from Stratford into the Essex countryside was an occasion for proper lycra and a very bright orange top. Unlike some, I decided to go with long legs rather than shorts. My gloves were fingerless, but at 06:00 in the morning it was probably the wrong decision, with the thermometer reading 6 degrees.

A group of us took the perimeter road around the large shopping centre to get to the Lee Park Velodrome, and even at this time there were quite a few people around, ready to see us on our way. I was in the 6:30 wave for starting, and through faffing with safety pins on the number, was one of the last of the first group to go.

Early sunshine, yet still cold, it would be another 45 minutes before there'd be any real warmth, rather than just the sun's low glow, which we were riding towards.

Stratford, Wanstead, Redbridge, Ilford and then out into the hillier Essex countryside. Empty roads at this time on a Sunday and a route that had picked its way through side streets, around an urban farmyard(?) and even a short stretch on a gravelled track. Good organisation, friendly folk waving, cheering and pointing out the route. A well-run event.

I wasn't in a hurry, and a couple of the hills, a dash of sleet and a playful cross-wind also played their part in ensuring I'd not make any fancy time. But hey, this was for charity in any case.

The last part of the return journey was over the same route as the way out. There were many others still on the outward section when I was heading back to base. They'd probably been sensible and selected a more sane start time. By now there were buses and a few trucks around, but the biggest obstacle was somehow the sheer number of cyclists still heading outwards.

When the Orbit tower suddenly loomed into view, I realised I was almost back. Unlike some landmarks, the approach back to the Olympic Park was pretty quick and I was soon on the finishing ramp with people clapping as I collected my little medal and a fresh glug of water.



Friday, 21 March 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel


I stood on a tube platform marvelling at the huge advertisement for the Wes Anderson movie 'Grand Budapest Hotel', already in the knowledge that we'd booked to see it on the comfy chairs in the Electric Cinema.

It's been done on an elaborate scale, with something of a modernised 'Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' crazy caper style about it.

The hotel looks like an iced cake confection in some of the scenes and when shown in its later more run-down state has a kind of over-signaged Germanic utilitarian orange glow about it.

The vast array of well-know actors keep a relentless pace with many 21st century sensibilities in the dialogue, and a sharpness to the wit, rather than something to laugh out loud about.

I enjoyed it, although it is a bit like drowning in a very rich pink iced cake mix.


Monday, 17 March 2014

magnolias, beach blankets and babylon


There were bright blasts of Magnolia trees on every corner, when we decided to drop into BBB for a spot of lunch.

Well, not exactly drop into, it was slightly planned, and meant we could get a complementary prosecco before we dined.

Beach Blanket Babylon is a rococo institution in Notting Hill, and a lovely way to spend a relaxed lunchtime with a good changing cast of interesting local folk.

It's just a street or two away from the busy market, made famous in that film, and an oasis of chill in a bustling area.

We sat close to the bar, in that area with the Gaudi-like mosaics and the understated fireplace.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

re Knog-ing the Cayo


It should only take a few minutes really.

The re-Knog-ing just required the location of the frogs and a quick check that they were still powerful enough. They winked back at me alright but I couldn't resist flipping them and adding new cells.

A quick slip around the carbon of the Cayo and everything was ready.

It's not the frogs that are the problem actually, I've discovered a new creak and it's coming from the Arione. Never mind, the horses can hear me on the lanes.

Today's interesting sightings: The mum jogging up the steep hill with her baby in a three-wheeler buggy. The randomly startled pheasants running back and forth across the road. The caw caw caw from the rookery. The tightrope squirrels on the power lines. That green woodpecker flying parallel to the road. A few early morning gunshots. About a dozen other cyclists saying hello.

Friday, 14 March 2014

tripping the dark fantastic


Last weekend was the first outing for the carbon bike this year.

It involved the rigmarole of pumping tyres and checking things and I really do need to give it some oil to make some of the bits spin around a little more smoothly.

I've entered for some sort of event in just over a week so I suppose I'd better make sure that everything is functional. That includes me, of course, having today tripped over a large loudspeaker box and ladder which had been placed across the entrance into a darkened room.

Ouch.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

not quite a London particular


Two days this week I've woken to an etherised view of London. A grey haze rubbing the window panes.

I've walked past closed sawdust pubs to the morning tube and joined the lines waiting patiently at just the right spots on the platform.

By evening it has all changed. A bright yellow splash across the darkness and those same market-side pubs spilling animated people onto the pavements. Just one more before the bus or train home.

This London is only a stone's throw from the Thames, and with all the signs of a pickup in the beat.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

twelve years a slave


We'd left the pub mid-evening and decided to see Twelve Years a Slave, the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from Saratoga, New York. He is tricked into a visit to Washington, where he is kidnapped and trafficked to Louisiana, and sold as a slave.

Artist/director Steve McQueen shows the Northup memoirs as a harrowing tale. It's from the slave's perspective showing the violent treatment by 'owners' towards what they considered their property in the form of the slaves.

It's unremitting, Northup is passed around from owner to owner, with casual violence in each locale. The wives of the owners are as desensitised, with the slaves mainly treated as little more than livestock.

The narrative creates a range of brutal episodes. It's a tough one to watch because of it, with slow cuts and long scenes to drive home the point.

In parts the camera is closely involved, and at other times there's an almost documentary stillness to painterly yet often harsh scenes.

As the final accelerated ending played out, it left me with mixed feelings about it as a movie. Worthy, yes. A story that needs to be told. Undoubtedly. Closure. No, or at least only partly. There were many things left unresolved and a rushed conclusion.

It's a part of a huge and somewhat suppressed story about the institutional supply chains that supported America's foundations, too vast to encapsulate in this single film.

Friday, 7 March 2014

my hotel television keeps trying to sell me things


Working until late most days this week, plus evenings at a selection of Moroccan, Indian and Brazilian restaurants.

It wasn't until Thursday that I had time to flop in front of the Temporary Television That Has To Be Treated With Care.

That's because although it has a wide selection of channels, it doesn't very easily go past '5'. It's something to do with the remote control, I think, and I've tried pointing it from very close and pressing the buttons firmly, but it'll usually give me a sporting chance to get as far as ITV1 and on a couple occasions I even found Sky 1.

Otherwise, it flips to various sales menus. Would I like high-speed internet access? Maybe a recent movie? Something -er- salacious?

It doesn't tire of offering from around these selections, but it does mean I've been somewhat limited in what I can watch. I suppose I could phone downstairs to get it fixed, and it's probably just tired batteries (the telly's or maybe mine?)

Instead I've remembered that I loaded episode two of True Detective onto the iPad. That will do nicely for an evening's amusement.

I'm still only at the second episode, where there's various quotes from the mysterious 1895 Robert W. Chambers book 'King in Yellow' which is about a play that drives people mad. Chambers set this prismatic story in an unnerving future of 1920.

Considering the obvious tie-in to this story, the creepy book is a steal on Kindle as a freebie at the moment. If there was ever a real live time traveller (as well as Thomas Pynchon) then I'd plump for Chambers as a strong candidate. Oh, okay, and William Gibson. Adding to the fun, I see the Amazon book was transcribed by a community of volunteers to get it into Kindle format.

So, television problem solved. Watch the episode and then read the book. Starting with the macabre Repairer of Reputations.

...And maybe admire the mocked-up magazine cover art on Slate.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

watching the detectives non procedurally, with a king in yellow


I've been watching Line of Duty on catch-up.

I'm not sure if its because I've been away from home, but it's a Wednesday evening "don't miss" type of programme, whilst tucked in my temporary room. Good enough that I watched it again when I got back home this weekend.

I already know I'll miss the next episode because of a business dinner somewhere. It's like the old days of television where you have to be there at the right time. I guess I'll find it on iPlayer afterwards if I'm still away.

The underlying plot involves a deadly witness protection car ambush with Detective Lindsay Denton in charge of the convoy and now the chief suspect.

There's conspiracies, twists and a bit of potential corruption, with other important players not surviving into the second reel.

No need for subtitles from Nordic. Some would call it a police procedural, but I'll call it a proper drama.

I've also just watched the cinematic first episode of the Matthew McConaughey/Woody Harrelson True Detective series set in a moodily drawn Louisiana. It started deceptively grounded in procedure - a murder, ritual, scenes at the morgue but simmering underneath is a kind of Lovecraftian/Edgar Allen Poe mysticism. There's various bumps and screams under the surface which I assume will reveal over the coming weeks.

McConaughey's character frequently trips off on little speeches about existence, “This place is like someone’s memory of a town and that memory’s faded,” he says. “Stop saying stuff like that,” comes Harrelson's more grounded retort. I'm guessing the rather skewed camera angle on the scene above isn't an accident. Look how everything else in the scene is so well arranged.

There's also various occult artefacts. A kind of devil's trap made of twigs. I remember seeing some of these eerily hanging in a wood in Canada once. More work to make than a circle of salt or a pentagram? And possibly a mandrake wrapped in the centre of the trap? Don't they scream and try to kill whoever pulls them from the ground?

I'm expecting this show to go weirder and already have the second episode ready to watch when I get a moment.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

limited time


I've been carrying one of those beanie hats this week because even on short walks there'll be sudden downpours of rain.

It seems to fit with the look on the tube too, where parts of commuter uniform include (a) those hats - mainly more stylish than my plain black one (b) various types of running shoe or similar sports footwear (c) a digital device to read - definitely not a newspaper in the morning. (d) an optional copy of the Standard, Time Out (Tuesday) or bizarrely Decanter(Thursday) to read on the evening tube.

Yes, I'm not commuting by cable car at the moment, but instead picking my tube doors wisely.