Friday, 31 May 2019

salvation of the world (Salvator Mundi)

Whilst walking across to the helipad the other day, I mused the heights some reach and yet they still can't get the staff. Today's news mentions the refusal by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to loan the Salvator Mundi (salvation of the world) picture to the Paris Louvre.

Gossip suggests that it might be because it could be found out to be a fake, or at least 'from the premises of Leonardo da Vinci' rather than painted by him. All that wealth yet he can't get enyone to tell him if the picture is real, let alone before he bought it. I'd want to be pretty certain if I'd paid $448 million for it. Come to think about it, I'd want to buy it from someone trustworthy, not a chain with a Russian oligarch and a disgraced art dealer. Let's follow the paint spots.


‘Salvator Mundi’ dates from around 1500. It was first recorded in the Royal collection of King Charles I (1600-1649) and thought to have hung in the private chambers of Henrietta Maria – the wife of King Charles I – in her palace in Greenwich. It was later in the collection of Charles II.

It goes quiet until Salvator Mundi is recorded in a 1763 sale by Charlie Sheffield, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham, auctioned it following the sale of Buckingham Palace to the king.

It then disappeared until 1900 when it was acquired by Sir Charles Robinson as a work by - wait for it - Leonardo’s follower, Bernardino Luini, for the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond.

By this time, its authorship by Leonardo, origins and illustrious royal history had been forgotten, and Christ’s face and hair have been overpainted.

In the dispersal of the Cook Collection, it was ultimately consigned to a sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 where it sold for a modest £45.

It disappeared once again for nearly 50 years, emerging in 2005 when it was purchased from an American estate at a small regional auction house. Its rediscovery was followed by six years of painstaking research to document its authenticity.

Then, in 2005, an undisclosed consortium of American businessmen purchased the painting. The painting was brokered to the disgraced Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier for $80m.

He sold it to the boss of AS Monaco football club, one Dmitri Rybolovlev, the potash billionaire. Rybolovlev paid $127.5 million as part of a job lot of 37 paintings flogged by Bouvier to Rybolovlev for £2.1 billion. A tidy way to clean up the cash from the *ahem* potash sales.

Bouvier's commission was $45 million. So what would Rybolovlev do? Sue Bouvier for overcharging, of course. The legal action is in cash-friendly Monaco, but Philippe Narmino, Monaco’s justice minister, took early retirement in September 2017 after 'friendly text messages' with Rybolovlev’s lawyer Tetiana Bersheda and other Monaco officials were published (aka “the existence of a secret network affecting the local courts for the benefit of Rybolovlev”) .

So we now have a painting, allegedly by Leonardo da Vinci, refused for display in the Louvre Paris by Crown Prince MBS, the Head of State for Saudi Arabia. He's bought it from a Russian oligarch, via a discredited art dealer and it might be a fake.

Easy come, easy go.

There's quite a few times when 'don't do it' could have been uttered in this chain of events - unless the motivation was other than related to the artwork?

And now the kicker. That Russian football club owning potash billionaire also bought something else of interest. A mansion - the Maison de L'Amite. For $95 million. In Palm Beach. From Donald Trump. But we knew that was coming, didn't we?

Characteristically, Donny sold substandard property. Rybolovlev has demolished it.

rocketman and others.


We were chatting on the way to see Rocketman. I wondered whether there'd be a sudden spate of popstarpix, to follow Bohemian Rhapsody (which we'd seen) and the somewhat delayed Rocketman.

I realised that I've seen Elton around three times - once with Kiki Dee back in the olden days, at Alley Pally. Then for a new year party when he was doing his red piano thing (I snapped it above), and once when we got out of the elevator at the wrong floor and stumbled into an Elton John party at Kensington Roof Gardens.

And this story of Elton (played by Taron Egerton), with Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell) through the early years fairly zoomed along. There were so many good songs to choose illuminating the story and they were reasonably handled by the cast in a manner that didn't scream 'musical number' at every turn.

I enjoyed the simple story-telling and was quite happy to suspend disbelief whenever required. Yes, and we came out singing the tunes.

As for the other movies about pop stars. Electric Church (Hendrix) was playing in the same cinema later in the evening. I saw the encrypted and tracked film stacked in the corner of the foyer. Atlanta in the unforgettable Band of Gypsys era.

But that's not all, how about "Blinded by the Light", the 2019 British comedy inspired by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor's obsession with Bruce Springsteen? Not set in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Oh no, try Luton in the 80s.

And then, imagine. Imagine if a freak event wiped the collective global memory of every Beatles song. That only one person remembered. Yes, it's Yesterday.

I may need a season ticket to the Picturehouse.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

fast cars go slow


Above is my quick recreation of every episode of Top Gear Grand Tour, which is being heavily promoted at the moment. I honestly thought that the three middle aged men with dressing up disorders had been banished to the tumbleweed of Dave and Youtube.

I somehow doubt that they will lead with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) story about car production volumes. SMMT described as “extraordinary” that just 70,971 vehicles rolled off the UK production lines in April, down 44.5% from 127,970 in the same month of last year.

The SMMT’s figures show that for the year to date, car production in the UK is down 22.4% to 441,260, with exports hit hardest – down 23.3% compared to an 18.5% fall in production for the domestic market.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

"Today’s figures are evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers. Prolonged instability has done untold damage, with the fear of ‘no deal’ holding back progress, causing investment to stall, jobs to be lost and undermining our global reputation.

"This is why ‘no deal’ must be taken off the table immediately and permanently, so industry can get back to the business of delivering for the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of the global technology race."


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

production values #felfie


It is fascinating to watch the current leadership bids, not least because of the variable production values being used.

At one end we can see colour corrected wide screen scripted sound-bite pieces with lower thirds titles and background music. In the middle we get camera-stabilised bulleted-list voice-to-camera with hasty subtitles. And then we get the pretend hand-held videocams with blustery background effects and rock solid stabilisation. I can't work out whether it tells a story about the funding of the various campaigns too, nor of their authenticity.

"Come visit me for a chat," tweeted one old-Etonian candidate, from within Kew Gardens,(entrance fee £16.50). In fairness, he added "It's all fake," when asked about the video selfie.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

soviet postcards from generative adversarial networks


As well as the artificial intelligence to create new faces on movies, there's another kind that allows photo-realistic scenes to be created from 'Paintbrush'-style blocks of colour. nVidea Research has been working on this for some time, along with other tools to remove people, creases, captions and so on from pictures.

It's very clever, if somewhat rudimentary, and works better with simple source material. I tried it with this 1 minute attempt by me to blot out a well-known political folly. One can still spot his hands and his suit cuffs. I had to use Photoshop to clumsily drop the tell-tale tophat mask over the scene.

I like the softly spoken narrators in these clips, giving the world software which can create facsimilies of art. What's that law of unintended consequences? Imagine the scene: "Alexa, Paint a street crowd. Paint on a few angry captions..." In the style of Tabloid, of course.

Monday, 27 May 2019

a rip in the fabric


Like the worm Ouroboros, it continues.

I watched some of the results come in and noticed that only around 38% had bothered to vote. I suppose I get it.

First, they said the vote shouldn't happen, then they were forced, so the candidates pulled together some half-hearted blankness. Now it is being declared as The Greatest Result of All Time.

Assuming that Brexit Party got around 32% of the 38%, that's 12% of the electorate who voted directly for Brexit. Let's add in the Conservative 9.1% and the UKIP 3.3% and we get to 17%. If I'm feeling kind I could round it to 20% and call it one fifth. It says a lot for democracy that only 2/5 voted and only 1/5 voted for a Brexit related theme albeit without a manifesto.

But the Westminster Tories have their 'what the people wanted' democracy mantra on repeat (instead of the racy "Can't risk it, we're out") and Farrago will bleat about betrayal. Labour will continue to ponder and pander vague competing vanity-isms.

Sad that with May's madness we've already given much of the United Kingdom away. Services - gone to Europe. Production - crashed or moving to Europe. Retail - crashed or crashing. May carries the dustbin for all of this.

Meanwhile, Westminsteros plans self-preservation even with the shaky arithmetic of the current House. Europe watches in bewilderment as the UK attempts to climb Zora Rach Nam's flaming peak. Theresa's contagious derangement is exemplified by her successors' calculatedly soft-spoken refrains of the same rhetoric.

Bravura makes the scenario distant, but sooner or later another emperor will have visited Brussels, met with the same frozen stare and returned déshabillé. It'll be time to break the glass, but only the box-of-frogs Nutters Club will support the 'managed' crash out no deal WTO WT*.

No one has solved the language problem. How to build for 'Victory' and then have to modify to 'Revoke' and 'Remain'? Time to find the hippogriff egg.

The worm will eat.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Max Headroom was right


I wondered how long it would be before fake versions of videos of news topics would start to appear. Sleazy Mr Trump has managed the first campaigning one, with that video of Nancy Pelosi stuttering her way through an interview. "I didn't know it was fake," declaimed Trump (or some such tosh).
There's a cheerful explanation of how to do it below. The banjo accompaniment heightens the sense that it's all fine and dandy playing around with this technology.

Max Headroom would be pleased.



spoiler alert


Yeah, well.

Now we get the dangerous clown. He's played the buffoon card and dodged with claims of schoolboy error, but behind it all, he's really quite dangerous. Let's start with his lies.

The biggest one was on that bus. He knew it was false, but he played into it anyway. Dominic Cummings might have had some of the ideas, but Boris was complicit. Then there's the minor drip feed lies. Amusing enough, banana police, bans on prawn cocktail crisps. Just enough to tip the gullible over the edge.

As Mayor of London he promised to keep TfL booking halls open (they closed) and to remove rough sleepers (they doubled).

When campaigning about Brexit, he was quick to mention Turkey as a migration threat, despite it not even being an EU member. Ironically, Turkey does have a Customs Union with the EU.

Currently, he's facing a private prosecution about the lies to the electorate during the EU referendum campaign.

He's got form for gaffes too. The road to Mandalay, Hillsborough, Letterbox, so it goes on. He can't wriggle out of all of them with a schoolboy dodge and some pidgin Latin. The formula is all about covering ignorance with self-serving wit.

The infidelities extend across his private life too, Marina Wheeler (wife 2), Allegra Mostyn-Owen (wife 1), Petronella Wyatt, Anna Fazackerley, Helen Macintyre, Carrie Symonds. No wonder he has so many properties dotted around?

Little surprise that Ashley Madison, the affairs dating site, used Boris in one of their adverts. Nor that Boris is used to handling inverted pyramids of piffle.

As the MP's lawyer told a court: “I should make it clear that ... it is absolutely denied by Mr Johnson that he acted in an improper or dishonest manner at any time.”

That's all right then.

Now we must brace ourselves for populist soundbites. It's started already. Speaking in Interlaken, Switzerland at an economic forum, Johnson is quoted saying: “We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal. The way to get a good deal is to prepare for no deal. To get things done you need to be prepared to walk away.”

He also suggested Parliament could legislate to make it illegal to revoke Article 50, which he believes will focus minds in Brussels.

Look forward to a madman at the controls, democratically selected by 120,000 average age 57 mainly white middle class Conservative club members.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

happy balance level up


Adjusting the happy balance.

Our hopes remain with us like a driving force day and night in both good and bad times.

Mai Keha Sadi Asha Jhinah Sadian Sukh Sabelian Nu Din Raat Nu Aoondian Hain, Kimarh Karke
ਸਾਡੀ ਹੌਸਲਾ ਸਾਡੇ ਨਾਲ ਇੱਕ ਡ੍ਰਾਇਵਿੰਗ ਬਲ ਦਿਨ ਵਾਂਗ ਰਹਿੰਦਾ ਹੈ
ਚੰਗੇ ਅਤੇ ਬੁਰੇ ਦੋਹਾਂ ਦਿਨਾਂ ਵਿੱਚ ਰਾਤ


There's dancing, behind movie scenes
Behind the movie scenes - Sadi Rani
She's the one that keeps the dream alive
From the morning, past the evening
Till the end of the light

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Well, it's a brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Well, it's a brimful of Asha on the forty-five

And dancing, behind movie scenes
Behind those movie screens - Asha Bhosle
She's the one that keeps the dream alive
From the morning, past the evening
Till the end of the light

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Well, it's a brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Brimful of Asha on the forty-five
Well, it's a brimful of Asha on the forty-five

And singing, illuminate the main streets and the cinema aisles
We don't care about no government warning
About that promotion of the simple life
And the dams they're buildingThere's dancing
Behind movie scenes
Behind the movie scenes

Sadi rani
She's the one that keeps the dream alive
From the morning
Past the evening
To the end of the light
Brimful of asha on the 45
Well it's a brimful of asha on the 45
And dancing
Behind movie scenes
Behind those movie scenes
Asha bhosle
She's the one that keeps the dream alive
From the morning
Past the evening
To the end of the light

Friday, 24 May 2019

TRESemmé Erinyes reconstructing


Keratin smooth, the Furies are unleashed. Primordial endless jealous rage and vengeful destruction as 13 candidates are whittled to the set-piece two, so that 120,000 aloof members can make a final selection.

Cast Theresa May as Athena and there's the makings of an Oresteia. May believed she had already sweetened the pot four times and now has to deal with calculated opportunist mob action repositioning the Furies in society.

Like all good tragedies, the braying chorus of party members gives away too much control, allowing the vengeful trio to be stealthily disguised as a single mop headed entity. Even the Iliad didn't have such a plot twist.

Controlling the weather, the Furies manipulate the raining speculation, giving an impression of movement whilst the same old Withdrawal Agreement is lodged with the EU and UK steers towards the iceberg.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Edale


Another excuse for a quiet cup of coffee among the memories in Edale, the start of the Pennine Way. It is multiple decades since we did the walk, but the memories are still strong.

A change now is the intensity of the path, which has achieved a kind of motorway status, whereas we struggled to follow it on certain parts and can reasonably claim to have been lost on the moors, sinking into the bogs on Black Hill.

Nowadays it is all laid prettily with flagstones and gravel tracks.

This visit we'd just peer at a signpost before heading back to the south-west, but I'll raise a glass to Tom Stephenson and the others who founded this great walk along the backbone of England.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

craftily useful and beautiful


We landed in Harewood House for a look at the Useful/Beautiful exhibition. 'Why craft matters' showcased various handmade artifacts against the backdrop of a stately home.

It reminded me of that scene in 2001 when the spaceman Kier Dullea arrives at the recreated squeaky home.

Marketing copy would be bereft without artisan crafts. But if, today, craft is used to describe architecture, beer and sausage rolls, the Harewood Biennial explores why. We can bestow strength, skill, force, cunning, magic, deceit, knowledge, science, trades, professions, boats, decorative arts and domestic hobbies with the description.

Now Harewood is a bit of a posh place, so there was a bias towards similarly upstanding craftsmanship.

Fox umbrellas, Huit jeans, that kind of thing. It made its case impeccably, for the rise of carefully produced goods, crafted from fine materials. As an exhibition, it could also be seen as a showcase, for the varied craftsman present.

Who wouldn't like a pair of hand made jeans? what about a knife hand-forged from the steel of the area? the silk-stitched bed covers were enormously attractive, even with a modern day and hard edged housing estate tale stitched into their pattern.

Conflicting then, to see Meghan Markle modelling the (grey) umbrella for a style magazine and seen wearing the £250 jeans. Aye there's the royal rub; the need for cheaper alternatives for the many others less able to select from the pages of 'how to spend it'.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

shifting a chain reaction


A slight mishap with the bike created something of a chain reaction. I managed to break the shifter cable to the back wheel - and it was on the very messy bike too. I already had the spare cable, so it should have been an easy task but I'd miscalculated for the complexity of removing the old cable from the shifter. I looked it up on youtube from my iPhone and it explained which screw to unwind.

Boing!

All the springs and clicky things fell out of the shifter. It'll teach me to pay more attention to the picture on youtube. I can say with some certainty that it was impossible to rebuild the clicker. And the lesson: On my iPhone, it was quite difficult to see what was happening, but on a bigger screen, it was clear that the shifter was differently oriented and that I needed to unscrew the other side of the case.

One £17.00 shifter purchase later and I was back in business. The shifter actually came with a cable pre-threaded, so I didn't even need my spare. I'd saved the two pieces of external cable routing and so it was a case of threading the cable along the bicycle.

Except.

I noticed that to get the old shifter off and the new shifter onto the handlebar I'd need to dismantle the handlebar and remove the brake. Kind of Alice walking towards the castle. Fortunately, it was a straight handlebar and so the end handles just popped off, without any tape to unwind.

Then I put everything back together and looked towards the derailleur which was oily, to say the least. Now to re-index the gear changes. I'd have to put the wheel back and put it onto workbench where I could spin the wheel.

Luckily I'd bought some non-latex gloves to handle the messiness. I still managed to get the glove fingertips caught in the gears and the gloves gave a realistic sensation of oil covered hands, but magically when I removed them my hands were clean.

I'd used the back screw on the barrel adjuster to re-index and the gears were now singing.

A shame I'd managed to award myself a huge time penalty, but at least it's all working again.

And, yes, I did clean it. Pass the Swarfega.

Friday, 10 May 2019

zwift around London


I've decided to revamp the bike turbo as part of the cycling regime. I'd often mused about ways to set up a route around London which could play out on the screen, maybe using Google Maps. Tacx supports it, but the software is somewhat unreliable and crashes so that it is usually a disappointment.

Instead, I've tried Zwift, which already has a predefined London course built into it. It's not entirely the London we'd recognise, but it is a pretty good approximation. There are chunks of it where you'd look at a single frame and know where it is supposed to be, but the geography of the links can surprise with unexpected turns and twists editing out parts of the terrain. Here's the entirely recognisable Embankment (Grosvenor Road including Cycle Superhighway 8), heading towards Chelsea Bridge, with the Battersea Power station (complete with flying pig) on the other side of the Thames.

That's not forgetting the curious area around Waterloo, where you cycle into an arch around where 'The Steps' are and enter a labyrinth of tunnel systems and stairs. It's like cycling along tube platforms and then suddenly arriving in Surrey at the foot of Box Hill.

There's also time-of-day detail and weather to contend with, varying from stippled sunny days to hailstorms of rain bouncing from the pavements (like the picture at the top of the post). Here's the entrance to The Mall, in bright sunshine.

Being Zwift, the roads are busy with other cyclists too. Flags indicate where in the world they are all from, and at any time there will be around 1,000 others cycling the same roads. As for the street scenes themselves, they've closed the roads and put up Prudential Tour 100 stye barriers around the course. There's ample street furniture, with TfL bus stops, red phone boxes, Belisha beacons galore as well as new Routemaster type buses parked conveniently the other side of the barriers. There's even an old-school 15 Routemaster for the fans. I'd be picky about the shortage of pubs and that some of the shopping areas have been rendered as buildings, but that's detail.

There's plenty of camera angles available too, here's me (small dot in the centre) coming through Admiralty Arch, with the scene of Trafalgar Square in the background. You can see a Zwift runner too, and another cyclist 1 second ahead of me. And if I can get some speed on, there's several others ahead in the next 16 seconds.

I'm running Zwift on a Mac with ANT+ to TACX Bushido, and, I'll be honest, I did wonder at the point of the Zwift 'companion' application, which runs on an iPhone, but it does provide additional twitchy power meters, mapping, camera control and snapshots as well as being able to send greeting to other Zwifters. The readout against my name shows I'm using a phone, am currently cycling an interval (Orange Unicorn), have covered 14.4 miles and am putting out 2.2w/kg. The wattage is calculated by Zwift unless one has a particularly fancy turbo unit. I can also see that The Mall has a gentle slope downward (0.1%) and that even flat London has created 248 feet of elevation since I started. I've been cycling for 42:55 minutes and still have around 47:02 minutes to go to get through the intervals.

The interval training is quite clever too. The light beam arches pop up at the end of an interval and adjust to the speed of travel. Too slow and one can see them moving away into the distance, based upon how long to the end of the section. Here I am just 2 seconds from an interval end, and co-incidentally having just hit my personal goal of 62 miles per week.


Along the bottom of the screen, the extent of my exertions can be seen. I'm staying out of the red zone for this tourist circuit, as can be seen in the next screenshot approaching Buckingham Palace.

J Hernandez (who was 0.4 seconds behind) is now just disappearing off the bottom of the screen and into the 30+ second behind distance. And yes, there's 1390 more on the circuit at the moment. Indeed at certain points I'll encounter a peloton, although I'm never sure whether to join in on not. Things can get quite confusing in the middle of the pack, hence my choice of yellow chevron shirt, to attempt to stand out, purely for identification.

Unlike Zwift's Richmond, Virginia, or to a lesser extent New York Central Park, the streets are also busy with people too. There's people outside pubs (of course) and people waiting around at bus stops and at the gates to anywhere that tourists would go.If it rains, the umbrellas come out. In London the cycles include pedicabs and I even spotted a tandem. Animations include flocks of birds (pigeons? starlings?) landing on the pavement and then scattering. It's something I only notice if I pause awhile mid-circuit.

As for the circuits, there are several pre-defined ones, with options to vary the routes. The area covers Tower Bridge to Knightsbridge and sweeps in many of the well-known tourist spots (Trafalgar Square, Harrods, Buck House, Parliament, Embankment). It is possible to free-circuit around the area, or to select an interval training programme which goes around the same area, but with some purpose. There's also various events and challenges in groups or solo that do the same kind of thing.

The mileages are pretty accurate too, with a quick check between my Garmin and the Zwift readouts showing around a mile discrepancy over 20 miles of distance. Given the different way that Zwift treats hills (pedal fast and still only go at 3mph etc) then I'm thinking they've done a pretty good job. Now that Zwift is an ecosystem in its own right, there's also plenty of Strava way-points along the route, with time trials, and Personal Records galore.

I've alluded to the other circuits already; fancy the desert? Or maybe a palm tree island with a volcano to cycle around? Yep.