Sunday, 31 May 2015

clouds of Sils Maria


I watched The Clouds of Sils Maria a couple of weeks ago, but it somehow slipped through my blogging notes. I was reminded by a small and unexpected advertisement for the hotel used in the movie, which turned up in the Economist. Talk about niche advertising.

The movie is about an actress (played by Juliette Binoche) who is at the peak of her career. She is asked to perform a revival of a play where she'd been the young challenge Sigrid to an older woman Helena, but this time to take the role of the older woman.

In international star show-biz terms she has Kristen Stewart (from Twilight) as her phone and blackberry juggling personal assistant and they take a train to the beautiful Swiss Engadin mountains and onward to the remote Sils Maria to rehearse.

Then we get the excellent interactions between Binoche's character and Stewart and the arrival of scandal laden Chloë Grace Moretz, who is to take the role of the younger Sigrid to Binoche's Helena.

The interplay is fascinating, with dialogue that twists and could be from the play being rehearsed, or maybe it is their real-life dialogue. There's a slow cloudiness that take hold in the woven relationships.

The layers are complex, and can include Binoche playing a version of herself, then presenting as the international star, as the rehearsing actress, as well as elements of the younger Sigrid and the older Helena.

Altogether an interesting character study of Binoche's 'Maria Enders'.

As a movie, it runs quite like a mainly two and occasional three-hander play, albeit set in a luscious and sweeping backdrop of the Alps.



Saturday, 30 May 2015

the many layers of puff pastry in modern football recipes


Another football scandal. I think I last wrote about FIFA alleged corruption around a year ago, when the England team booked a day return to the World Cup.

This seems to be another example of individuals exploiting the power of the organisation they represent to gain undue personal advantage. Those old Top Gear presenters struck me as a case in point and FIFA's organisation appears to be another.

I once consulted to an organisation that was based in, let's say, Germany and wholly funded by a consortium of other (non-linked) companies.

The other companies put some money into the pot for this special small but highly leveraged organisation to function.

There were enough contributors to mean that no-one really noticed their individual subscriptions, but the resultant organisation then had bucket loads of money. Unrelated but apposite, their office headquarters had a large champagne bottle advertising motif on the roof of the building. The sort that Jason Bourne hides behind in those spy movies.

This central organisation would keep its member organisations on-side by running fact-finding expeditions as a sort of industrial tourism.

That's how I became involved, doing something that I innocently thought was proper research. The organisers of the trip wanted it to be more about hospitality and it turned into a boozy trip to a New Orleans jazz festival, California and then back to New York.

All about schmooze and ensuring the ongoing funding. Something that FIFA has done well, both upstream (to get sponsor money) and downstream (to opaquely allocate its use).

Huge amounts of money flow through the central headquarters located in Switzerland, that discreet and tax-efficient country. Blatter's own nephew Phillipe is CEO of the Infront organisation which has the TV and hospitality rights to FIFA's World Cup, which must be some kind of uncanny co-incidence.

So we get the award of the 2018 World Cup to Qatar. As FIFA's own Adjudicatory Committee of the Ethics Committee Garcia report summary says, no corruption there.

Nor for the allocation to Russia in 2022. Or the prior allocation to South Africa back in 2010.

All good.

Buried in the report are various implied infractions. A few quick examples I plucked from a skim read:
  • There's the handling of an Australian whistleblower. The report explains that all the evidence provided was ignored because of a leak to the press of some confidential information.
  • There's also the interesting description of 'football development projects', implying money for indeterminate purposes.
  • Then there's the requests made to England by some FIFA officials, later investigated in the FA's own Dingemans Report. England appeared to be trying to support some of the official requests which, in the FIFA report, puts the implied transgressions at England's doorstep rather than the FIFA officials.
  • Curiously, all the bidding nations were allocated 'Low Risk' on operational matters, except two, Qatar (High Risk) and Russia (Medium Risk). Of course, these are the two that ultimately triumphed.
  • The Qatar bid whistleblower was also eliminated from investigations because the voluminous documentation provided appeared contradictory in some areas. The investigation removed this whistleblower's entire evidence.

There's more examples, but as Mr Blatter has already said, he can't be aware of everything that goes on in FIFA, so maybe these points were too small to grab his attention. I suppose the alleged payment of $10m to Mr Jack Warner is one of those trifling details as well? And maybe that missing and unaccounted $150m from after the Brazil World Cup? Perhaps the list of indictments will help to clarify? The really juicy stuff starts around Page 28, paragraph 75 and onward.

The full confidential report (which the FBI are trying to get a copy of) goes on to make some concluding remarks, notably that the main challenge with corruption is to proving it.

I can't help feeling there's some aspects of what magicians call misdirection or attention direction in the report too. Notwithstanding the bid, there's the allocation of suppliers to deliver the substantial project of the actual World Cup. No need to look at any of that which will be all fine and dandy.

So finally, in bold, the report concludes that the 2018 and 2022 bids were in full compliance with the ethics committee.

That's OK then.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

exploring the Transbordador Aeri del Port

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Another proper tourist post today, this time exploring the Transbordador Aeri del Port. It is based at the prominent tower on the outskirts of the Barceloneta area, near to the beach.

Reaching the tower was a quick stroll from the hotel, promising a short cut route to the Montjuïc area which was right across the other side of the harbour.

Now, I'm used to London's Airway cablecar which crosses the Thames in about 7-8 minutes with a service interval of about 60 seconds between individual gondolas. It was only after getting into the queue here that I mentally processed the striking differences.
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  1. this cable car is a much older design built for a world fair in 1929.
  2. you get to it via a slow 6 person lift.
  3. There's only one cable car in each direction with around a 7 minute service interval and a 3 minute change over.
After about 45 minutes of queuing, I was at the ticketing office. Then another 20 minutes to reach the lift to the upstairs area. The tower is about the equivalent of 20 stories above ground and a couple of people in the lift were looking decidedly nervous in a Disney Tower of Terror kind of way as we ascended.
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The tower's top floor revealed another line of people. I worked out we'd be the third crossing. It was actually the fourth.
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And yes, there's a fine view across the harbour. It is made all the more interesting because from most of the ground level Barceloneta beach area the ships and port are hidden from view by buildings. From up high there's a greatly different view which brings together the geography of the area.
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As we crossed to Montjuïc, much of Barcelona spreads out into the distance creating great panoramic views. Fortunately, I was by an open window in the cablecar and able to grab a few snaps as well.
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I'd already decided to find another way back, and sure enough, the line to re-board the cablecar at the far end was at least a further 4-5 return trips long.
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Instead, I opted for ice cream in the cafe, a stroll around the pretty gardens and then a saunter down the hill (it's referred to as a mountain) before heading back to the centre on foot.

I certainly enjoyed the views and adapting the visit based upon circumstance. I have a feeling that most people will only ever do the trip once, because of the waiting times.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

La Sagrada Família

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It wouldn't be that difficult to get the impression that this little city break is really an excuse for a beachside break. The reality is we've been able to do some proper city browsing as well.

So here's a distant view of La Sagrada Família, rising ahead of us. A spectacular Antoni Gaudi work, started in 1882 and expected to be completed around 2026, the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death. As Gaudi commented, "My client is not in a hurry."
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The outside is filled with intricate forms, created by many artists to the original and adapted vision of Gaudi. This includes the Nativity facade, the Passion facade and the Glory facade, which was only started in 2002. There's supposed to be 18 spires, although currently only around 8 have been completed, the rest provided in a virtual sense by the ever-present tower cranes attending the construction.
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Inside provides one of the most stunning cathedrals anywhere in the world, with magical lighting from the coordination of the stained glass windows and the jewelled effects on the intertwined pillars.
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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

almost a postcard scribbled from the breakfast table

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A rather late start today, finally managing to get some breakfast around midday.
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The afternoon involves walking along beaches and maybe a spot of sightseeing. Pass the suntan lotion.
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Monday, 25 May 2015

waiting airside


Playing around at airports today. Valet parked and waiting for the flight.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

summer bicycle tyre selection

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I've just had a couple of weeks with hardly any bike riding. I've mainly been around the fixie-land part of London, but, in honesty, taking the tube has been a better option for me.

This weekend I've been out a couple of times and clocked up about 50 miles, which I can feel in my legs this evening. I also know my earlier plans to sort out the summer bike have been somewhat waylaid. Sure, I managed to swap over a chain and tweak the gears on my mountain bike, but the carbon one is in need of clear attention at the moment.

The most obvious giveaway is that the tyres have become squeezable, which can't be a good sign.

Since last year, I've had two sets of wheels for the carbon bike. One set has a lightweight SRAM red cassette and thinner tyres (the ones that are currently flat). The other set have a hill-climbing cassette and my plan is to swap their tyres for something slightly wider.

It may all sound pernickety, but I think I'm doing enough miles to warrant this obsessive behaviour. I'm thinking I'll put new wider 25mm tyres on the hill-climbing wheelset and probably use it for the upcoming charity bike ride in a few weeks.

I'd better get a wiggle on, so that I've had a chance to test it before I need it.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

[Spooks] The greater good


I've got a secret stash of the Spooks series. It's in a CD tin, one of those 50 CD stacks and it takes up nearly the entire tin, being all ten series. It's all digitised as well so the secret tin has recently been in a drop to another location.

Naturally I was intrigued to see the movie version of the series, which even has a prefix in its title, implying a franchise. The use of the square brackets [ ] is well judged and true to the motif.

After the original 10 TV series, critics said the series had 'run out of ideas', but for me it was still pretty strong, with the exception of a few episodic bloopers towards the end. Most viewers will know that the series didn't leave any of its main players safe. Famously they brought forward the series finale demise of one of the popular characters. She barely lasted into the second reel of the first series.

Since seeing the movie, I've already had a quick spin through early series one again and there's a story, from 2002, about governmental policy towards immigration with a fringe politician stirring up the electorate. Hmmm.

The movie stays true to its London roots and still uses the familiar areas around the South Bank which aficionados have come to love. Okay, there's some Coventry ring road and Moscow as well, but it is a movie, after all.

I won't discuss plot or any of the set-pieces here, except to say it is still a fine extended episode.

My notes would include that they have made Spook Central a bit too much like something that Jack Bauer would inhabit. Harry Pearce used to have an office with pointless downlighters and glass crystal ornaments. That seems to have gone by the wayside in the new one. But then again, Harry gets to go out to play for part of the movie.

There's a few of the old gang who pop up too, and Kit Harington playing a new guy who is already bit disengaged and a loose cannon (naturally). He even has Hoxton mun* hair styling for part of it.

mun - not yet in Scrabble dictionary - Old English for Must or New English for Man-Bun.

Friday, 22 May 2015

pirates of the ring roads

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These London streets may look empty of cars, but its been a difficult day driving around and about.

A feature over the last few days is the increase in cars broken down in a middle lane. The jams build up at the rate of the traffic flow, so in Central London that's a good 4-5 miles per hour.

I know, use public transport, and I'm pretty good with tube, trains, buses and even bicycles, but it sometimes doesn't fit the route.

There's also inevitable roadworks, and an increasing tendency for motorists to use lane piracy to try to beat the queues. Classic places where this occurs are at motorway and trunk road intersections. People drive along the wrong lane and then attempt to pull into the right lane at the last moment, creating huge tailbacks as a consequence.

If it were the occasion out-of-towner that was lost, I'd accept it, but this is calculated. It slows both the lane being targeted and the adjoining one and around London adds tens of minutes at each junction where this occurs. I suppose it gives my sat-nav some fun, adding little red cars and yellow cars all over the map, to warn of jammed areas.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Persona Synthetics in Regent Street?

Persona Synthetics advertisement
The adverts for Persona Synthetics have popped up along Regent Street, as well as in London print media.

It's mainly the advert for 'Sally' which, in this case, is shown as designed for childcare, cooking and personal training.

The advert explains the use of a 4CX-CNS Neural Processor and a fully customisable personality. Oh, yes and an all-day battery.

There's also Charlie, the male-looking version with the same skill set and an asterisk to show that the base station is sold separately.

I'm a bit old school when I think about robots. I start by assuming that the Asimov Laws apply, although in the interests of good drama, they usually don't work.
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Whether it's Hal's pod bay doors, the skittish David in Prometheus who mickey-finns a human's drink, or any of the Robocop type machines, each inevitably goes berserk. Piecemeal developments of operating systems have a lot to answer for - all those Friday scrum sprints before the pub. Along the way, various folk have had a go at redeveloping the Laws including exceptions for military kit, but the originals are still a good baseline.

So when this new series come along, I'll be waiting for the first signs of trouble.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

does double filtering a flat-white really make a difference?

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Eagle-eyed may spot that I've been around Hoxton on-and-off for the last few days. Always interesting, I was trying to describe a couple of the prevailing hairstyles to others less familiar with the area.

Most people know about hipster beards, which have been just that bit more pronounced in Hoxditch than elsewhere in London. It's been that perennial struggle to be proto-hipster before the image gets appropriated by vacuous trendies. Gandalf probably counts as proto.

But that's ever the challenge as beards, beanies, flat caps and turned up jeans with no socks rage through an area: the differentiation between the originals, the hobbyists and the fashion imitators is lost. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion that this recent selfie on twitter from a proper East London policeman is also the real thing.

However, beard-peak was charted as sometime last year, so like the long-gone Hoxton fin now only seen on a few television presenters, we are already entering a retro phase. How long before it becomes vintage?

Of course, we all know there is really no such thing as a hipster, but go with my self facilitating media node Nathan Barley-esque simplification for a moment.

There's a quick test. Talk Japanese novels or West Taliesin to a proto-hipster and they will up the game. Do the same to a trendy-hipster and they reply with a flat-white or a jam-jar of foaming gin molotov.

There's a similar trend amongst the signature looks for new bars blending the charm of Victorian squalor combined with -er- a sprinkle of Modern European cuisine. Give me a non-publicised fridge door leading to an unadvertised speak-easy any day.

But, back to the hair-styles. One of the Sunday papers produced this little reference diagram, as part of a piece about a new fold-out book called, yes, Haircuts of Hackney.
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Monday, 18 May 2015

rickshaws around the square can only mean one thing #RHSChelsea

Chelsea in Bloom
It's the flower show this week, so the roads around this part of London are overloaded.

Last week there was a gas main under repair just at the entrance to Sloane Square. The northbound buses were diverted and I was on one where the driver somehow got lost and drove around a huge unplanned chunk of London to get back to a bus-stop (off route) near to Victoria. I abandoned the bus at that point and sought another route to my destination.

This week it is different. The gas main appears to be fixed, but the traffic in both directions is extremely slow because of the flower seekers. I passed by at least a dozen buses stranded in the jammed traffic after I'd decided that walking was best.

We've got the astroturf on Sloane Square, along with some Chelsea in Bloom promotions and even an extension of the Botanist across into the middle of the Square.

It also means there's a temporary outbreak of rickshaws in the area, although they'll all disappear in a dream sequence as quickly as the flowers from the show.
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Sunday, 17 May 2015

photoshopping the Battersea future with built-in g-g-glitches

Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Bridge Wharf
A few days ago I posted a couple of pictures from around Battersea Power Station, illustrating the changes that are taking place. That's one of my pictures of the real thing, above.

I've also remarked that the changes are now happening faster than the artists' impressions.

The above example artist's illustration is of the work in progress. Behind the building reminiscent of stacked sandwiches with the crusts cut off, adjacent to the gas tower, is the temple-like structure of the QVC building, used to broadcast those fragrant channels selling cuckoo clocks, resemblance jewellery and curious home help devices. The kind of television channel that featured in Bridget Jones, the Movie.

Except.

It's gone. The below picture from the rashbre air force a few months ago shows the same area just as the first cranes arrived.

It's before the first chimney was knocked down on the Power Station, but look behind the power station and what can we see?

A big gap where the QVC building isn't.

No, it's being turned into another set of residential blocks, adjacent to the gas tower shown in this picture. They demolished QVC Marco Polo House and I think are planning some new 15-17 storey apartment buildings. And yes, they've left the crusts on these designer loaves.

So the artistic illustration below with the tidied up sandwiches, the reduced paths and the new ferry stopping point is also wrong.

See? the QVC has re-appeared.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

another Mixtape moment getting into the mindscape for #edfringe @FollowTheCow @UKmixtape #WTFringe

Getting into the Mixtape mindspace
Another gratuitous advertisement whilst we wait for the finger cymbals.

Mixtape

At the Underbelly, Cowgate
6th - 30th Aug 2015, 10.20pm

Join the Mixtapers for their hilarious bitesized theatre inspired by music. Part comedy show and part music quiz.

The Mixtapers perform from themes including Number Ones, The 80s, Brit Pop, Girl Bands vs Boy Bands and Rock'n'Roll.

The rules? The sketches will only use remixed words from the song's lyrics and can be no longer than the tracks that inspired them!

Guess what songs inspired the short sketches to be in with the chance of winning the night's highly coveted Golden Mixtape.

wild tales - six types of revenge


There's some circumstances that can make us all seethe, and there's a sort of therapy watching Damián Szifron’s 'Pedro Almodóvar presents Wild Tales'.

It's on release at the moment via Curzon, and contains several stories, which in Hollywood circumstances could each be a full 90 minutes. In this case we get shorts, each with different sets of unconnected characters.

They are revenge stories, set in a middle class Argentinian world of comfortable air travel, new cars, large family homes, extravagant weddings and gold-boxed cakes.

What starts in each case as a perfectly normal situation flips to one where the characters lose control and bad things happen. That's where the unrelated characters share some common ground. We see them spiral towards increasingly wild actions.

I can't really describe plot points or direct outcomes; it would create too many spoilers, although the result of watching the six pieces creates some enduring mental freeze frames.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

mixing trophy water with a whine

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I'm still at the conference, which is talking about all manner of new ways to connect the world. Curiously the jargon level seems to have stopped at about 2013 levels and I'm not noticing too many new expressions around.

Sure, there's Internet of Things and gamification, but I don't really count them as new. The nature of the sessions here means there's more talk about the ideas than practical examples, what I call PowerPoint-powered rather than live demos.

It raises a few side questions about the reliability of the future too. The premise of the discussions includes devices talking to one another and the information and intent being properly interpreted.

We've all seen those movies where the protagonist walks along the clean streets of a future where the billboards change automatically to the right kind of advertising. Those intelligent mirrors that give time checks, fashion tips and news extracts whilst one brushes the teeth.

Well, I had a glimpse of the real-world state of the technology after I'd left the sessions today.

I dropped into a well-known chain shop to buy a drink. The huge shelves of water were part of a promotion linked to a particular newspaper, which I don't usually read. I reluctantly scooped up this 'deal' and headed to the automated checkout.

You already know what I'm going to say?

Yes, it didn't work. Now I am a regular user of automated checkouts. I get the occasional 'unexpected item in bagging area' or 'an assistant will be with you shortly' messages, which comes with the territory.

But this just didn't work. Two items; a newspaper and a water. I put the water through first.

Message to me: Did I know that there was a special offer and I could get this water 'free' with a certain newspaper?

Oh yes, that'll be my next swipe. After I've dismissed this message.

Scan the paper.

Message to me: There's a free water with the newspaper.

I know, I've got it. I'm thinking this isn't a very good advert for Internet of Things, cross selling or automation.

Subtotal for my 'wave and pay' appears. I almost pay it but notice an amount that can't be right. I realise that I've probably put the items in the wrong sequence and that the robot can't cope.

I decide to abandon the automat and head for the staffed till. But No. I arrive 1/24th of a second too late and a large group of school children buying assorted items beat me to it. This could be some time.

I look back to the automatic systems. There's one of the assistants with a tattered piece of paper printed with a bar code standing next to an unused automat.

I approach and explain my problem. Helpfully, he takes my two items as I do that walk of shame back to an automated till to be helped with my purchase.

Ahah. He has the same problem. These two items won't go through, at least not for the reduced price. He admits that they have been having some problems.

Then he does a sort of paper shuffle using his special tattered bar code. He puts the items through for a second time and then removes one again. I can't follow this card shark sequence exactly, but the amount at the end looks about right.

I wave my payment card in the designated area, pickup the receipt and exit.

I suppose the presenters at my session would say this is a perfect example of why the Internet of Things is needed? Contrariwise I'm thinking that if we can't get a simple 'special offer' right, then what chance of the new stuff powered by RFID, The Cloud, Big Data, heuristics and intelligent beacons?

As I gulp the water I'm musing about the sessions earlier where people are talking about monetising the new object platform and augmenting the user experience and I wonder if I'm standing in another parallel universe about to split from the current one.
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