Thursday 27 October 2011

Life In the IKEA Catalogue

My absolute phobia, I'll dream I'm trapped in there tonight. "Hjalp mej, I'm trapped in this 'Phluem'. "

Page 23 (English subtitles) from Jeroen Houben on Vimeo.

The Three Graces.

The Three Graces have long been a popular subject with artists. Lola's Loves recently showed a cheeky version of the painting by Regnault, I like the sculpture by Canova, 1817, in the V&A,

However, I recently found this one, by Cranach.
Lucas Cranach the Elder painted these three girls in 1531.

I love it. Far from the sweet girls of Canova, we  here have three who look like young thugs. These are the kids who'll block your path and steal your lunch-money. There's no abundance of sweetness.  Hat-girl's the ringleader, the alpha female, knee-bent girl's her lieutenant, and the one with her back to us is the muscle.
These girls are sharks.

Here, as a bonus, is Cranach's Venus. By the time he painted these, he was one of, or possibly the richest man in Wittenberg. I'd imagine his models did very well out of the deal. In the pic, they're probably idly plotting how to separate him from his gold.

Monday 24 October 2011

Waboba? (updated wednesday)

Half an hour ago, I'd never heard of a Waboba.


Well, now I have, and so have you. And here's a video that shows the strange things that happen when you throw things at the surface of water. Like skimming stones, we've all done that, no?

(did you know that children played that game in Roman times? "And when we came to that place where the little ships, drawn up on an oaken framework, were lying at rest supported above the  ground-rot, we saw some boys eagerly gesticulating as they played at throwing shells into the sea. This play is: To choose a shell from the shore, rubbed and made smooth by the tossing of the waves; to take hold of the shell in a horizontal position with the fingers; to whiff it along sloping and as low down as possible upon the waves, that when thrown it may either skim the back of the wave, or may swim as it glides along with a smooth impulse, or may spring up as it cleaves the top of the waves, and rise as if lifted up with repeated springs. That boy claimed to be conqueror whose shell both went out furthest, and leaped up most frequently."
Minucius Felix,  about 1700 years ago.)

Update: Now for something related: During the second world war, the Allies made numerous bomber raids to attempt to disrupt German war-production.  Much of Germany's heavy industry, building tanks, aircraft, warships, weaponry, was dependent on the factories of the heavily defended Ruhr valley. A british scientist called Barnes Wallis had an idea that massive disruption could be caused by destroying the dams on reservoirs in the valley, causing a deluge, and denying industry of hydro electric power and water. These dams, however, were massive concrete structures, impregnable to an ordinary bombing attack. Torpedoes might be effective, hitting deep below the water line, but the german defenders had stretched torpedo-stopping steel wire nets in the water. So Wallis hit upon a plan to build a new type of bomb. One which would skip over the water, over the defences, hit the dam, and roll down its face before exploding deep underwater.

Nothing like this had existed before. How do you make a four ton steel bomb skip like a pebble? The answer? You build a special bomber to carry it in a cradle, you fit a motor to spin the bomb, and you drop it, still spinning, at a precise height, distance, and velocity.

The result? In the Möhne and Ruhr valleys 11 factories were totally destroyed, 114 seriously damaged, 25 road and rail bridges were destroyed and throughout the region power, water and gas supplies were seriously disrupted. The breaching of the Eder dam caused severe disruption to road and canal communications and destroyed over 50 hectares of valuable agricultural land. In the flooding below the Möhne there were 1,294 casualties including 593 foreign workers. The flooding below the Eder resulted in a further 47 deaths.

20,000 men were needed to work on repairing the damage, and were taken from Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" fortification works, for the remainder of the war, an extra 10,000 troops were diverted from other duties to guard the dams against further attacks.

Of the aircrews that took part, only 11 of the 19 who set out returned. 8 aircraft and 56 men were lost. Three men survived and were taken prisoner.

Was it justified, or was it murder? I suppose that depends on how vital you think it was to stop the German war-machine, a nation which started the war by invading its neighbours and enslaving more than a million of its own people. A nation which invented the "Blitzkrieg" or "Lightning war" in which the first phase of attack was the systematic bombing, with fire-bombs and high explosive, on civilians in towns and cities.

For the record, Barnes Wallis never forgave himself for the death toll his invention produced.
It was never used again.

Second Update. britain's Channel 4TV commissioned a documentary of a Cambridge University engineer, Dr Hugh Hunt, attempting to recreate Barnes Wallis' device. Wallis' notes are gone, nobody knows the exact details. Dr Hunt set out to build a bouncing bomb, and hired a team of Canadians to build a dam... and another team of Canadians to bomb it, (Some of the original 'Dambusters' crews were Canadian), using a 1940's Douglas DC4. Here:

The Divided Brain.

The Royal Society of Arts was founded in a London coffee-house in 1754, as the "Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce".

Ever since that date it has hosted a series of lectures on diverse subjects, and more recently, has published some of those lectures in a form accompanied by animated illustration. The talk here is fascinating (to me, at least), but enhanced, humorously so by the illustration.
Long ago, I was an associate member of the British Society for the Advancement of Science, and attended some great lectures, where enthusiastic scientists would expound upon subjects you might think from the title to be dry as dust, and hold all the audience, the high-fliers, and the plodders like me enthralled.  I love to hear impassioned and articulate people talking about their subject, I may only glean a few pearls of wisdom therefrom, but to me, any day where I learn something new, is a day not wasted.

I have no logfile. Unlike my computer, I can't tell you the rate at which I forget stuff. Or misfile it. I liken my brain to a chaotic library where someone keeps shuffling the index cards, and perhaps destroying a few. The information may be in there, somewhere, but I have no means of reliably accessing it. On the other hand, the brain-librarian bot, wandering about aimlessly in there, can come up with the oddest of stuff that I didn't know that I knew.
Like the fact that Doctor? or Professor? Thaddeus C. Lowe was appointed the first official "Aeronaut" of America.  He persuaded President Lincoln that the lighter than air balloon had great tactical value on the battlefield.............

Anyway. enough of my muddled brain, here's a cleverer one altogether.

Thursday 20 October 2011

I Stole This Picture from the Interwebs

I'd love to pass the pic off as mine, but it's not.  The place? Wasdale, in Britain's Lake District, as seen from Great Gable. If you were to zoom in on the green bump a bit to the left of centre, you'd see a few tiny black specks, people. Down further away in that wonderfully green valley, those filigree dark lines are stone field-walls. The white blob on the right of the green is the Wasdale Head Inn, which, if you've made it to the top of Great Gable from the far side, is probably your destination. The last time I was up there  was quite a few years ago. We were planning a spot of ice-climbing, me having bought my little brother a book on ice-climbing for christmas. So, between xmas and new-year, off we went for the weekend.When we were up on the top, the clouds came in, and the snow. brrrr.
It took quite a while to get down in zero visibility, and to get to the pub.
The pub was vital, because my pal had told his wife he'd call at a certain time, and if an hour passed beyond that time, with no call, she was to call the fell-rescue team (he was a team leader in a different region).
How we cursed him as we scrambled and rolled down a scree-slope in the dark.
The pub was so welcome, the beer too. The landlord, seeing us scraping snow off ourselves, evicted a group of people from the table by the fire, saying we needed it more than they did.
And he was right, because we had tents to pitch, and had to store enough heat for a fifteen-below night.

Happy days.
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Tuesday 18 October 2011

Blackberry's Messaging System

....was down for three days following a major equipment failure in the U.K. "Email, Messenger and internet functions were unavailable to users in the Middle East, Africa and Europe after a crucial link in the BlackBerry network failed."

"ABU DHABI // A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services.
In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20 per cent from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents this week fell 40 per cent and there were no fatal accidents."

Four days later, they were back to normal. That same police force which was urging drivers to eschew the use of messaging devices whilst at the wheel used Twitter to warn drivers of hazardous fog.

"DUBAI // Police used Twitter to broadcast basic safety rules for driving in fog yesterday when speeding drivers caused a 32-car pile-up."

(That 32 vehicle pile-up occurred in ten metre/30 ft visibility at 120 kph/75mph)

Source:  The National via The New Shelton Wet/Dry

Um. That's odd.

I dreamed a little too long this morning. The framework of the skyscraper kept flexing as it grew, it had started as steel, but was becoming organic. And I was trapped on the eighty-fifth floor and there was something desperately important that I needed to get down to ground level for. All the lifts had jammed as their shafts distorted, the concrete stairs were crumbling, exploding into dust as the immense forces of the shifting building chewed at them. I was going out, the window-cleaning cradle on its suspension ropes was my only chance... 
Then the alarm went off and I hit snooze a couple of times, then I thought "F***! it's not saturday!", and leapt into getting-up mode.  Ten minutes to get out of the house... I thought I'd done well, rolled through the gate at work just as the 8 a.m. news started on the radio. It wasn't until I was on my way home, nine hours later, that I wondered why my left foot felt less cushioned on the heel than the right.
That, however, is one of the good things about being male. Going to work wearing odd shoes is not a disaster. And nobody notices, and if they had, we'd both have laughed about it.
Usually, though, my asymmetry is confined to socks.

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Sunday 16 October 2011

Tasteful Products for Halloween

On my american travels, I was impressed by the high quality of consumer goods, so well designed for every need, including all manner of things you will never need. Here's an item designed to cater for a need I can't imagine anybody ever having.

This was on sale in August. I think Halloween is at the far end of October.
Here in britain, I'm sad to report, our retailers are learning from their american counterparts, and selling utter crap too. When I was a kid, etc... the most we ever did was to carve turnip lanterns, and tell scary stories for halloween. Pumpkins are not widely grown in my part of the world, but, mysteriously, they're turning up in baskets in the supermarket about now.
Oh.- And Halloween was one night only.
Not a season.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Peter Green: Man of the World

(Updated edit: if you came by earlier, you might have noticed the first piece of music was missing. Oops. I blame it on posting too long after bedtime.)

I'm in a bluesy sort of mood, been listening to old blues, Peter Green and Danny Kirwan...
Peter Green  founded Fleetwood Mac. He wanted to start his own band , and recruited Mick Fleetwood and John MacVie, who he'd come to know when he took over Eric Clapton's place in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

However, this song was almost his last before he left his own band, which later became something else altogether.
The Fleetwood Mac of "Albatross" is Peter Green's, the Fleetwood Mac of "Rumours" is altogether a different creature. Peter Green, unfortunately, was shipwrecked by LSD, he became unreliable, disappeared for days at a time, tried to give all the band's money away, and at the height of his success, left the band, and music altogether.
Recently, he's returned. He doesn't want to be a star, but he still loves the music.

From Long Ago

Curved Air were a prog-rock band of the late sixties/early seventies.
Here's lead singer Sonja Kristina singing 'Melinda (More or Less)'.

"Come Back Later, the Ship's Still Asleep"

The ship in question, back in 1942, was the atlantic liner, SS Normandie, or by then, USS AP-53 Lafayette. When the war started, Normandie was docked in New York.  Her owners were scared of the german navy, so they just tied her up and transferred their passengers to the SS Aquitania, of the British Cunard Line, whose liners continued sailing.
Eventually, when America entered the war, she was requisitioned by the U.S Navy, and work commenced to turn her from being a luxurious ocean liner to a humble troopship.  It's generally agreed that a worker with a gas cutting torch failed to use an asbestos safety curtain, and fire broke out. 

Amidst arguments about who was in charge of fire-fighting, the fire got out of control. The ship's designer told the authorities that by opening the sea-cocks he could sink her safely upright onto the mud below, but he was ignored by the 'experts'.
As a result, the watertight bulkheads were sealed, thousands of tons of firefighting water were pumped into the upper decks, and the inevitable happened. The fastest steam-turbine-electric ship ever built rolled over into the icy dock.
By the time she was righted, she was only scrap-metal, too expensive to refit.

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Saturday 8 October 2011

Where Next?

"But it says we have to go into THAT door next... or is it upside down?"

The tree which shades our intrepid explorer, is Lady Anne's Yew, planted here in Conduit Court,  Skipton Castle, in 1659, to shade future visitors, and allegedly, as a symbol of Lady Anne's belief in the longevity of her castle. Yews are sacred trees, from long before christianity, they're seen as protection, of the warding away of evil. 
Back in the 1600s,  there was a bloody civil war in England. 
Skipton castle, royalist, held out in a three-year siege by Cromwell's parliamentarian army.  There followed a negotiated surrender.

The garrison was allowed to surrender the castle, and march out in full military order, whilst retaining their arms. This was significant, the defenders were not to be taken prisoner, but to be allowed to march unhindered and unmolested, to another town of their choosing, which remained in the hands of the Royalists. Many, however, acknowledged that for them, the war was over, and returned to heir homes.
Skipton was the last great castle in the north to fall. Part of the surrender treaty agreed that the parliamentary army would respect and take care of the property of Lady Anne.
Cromwell ordered that all those castles which had stood against him should be 'slighted', that is, their walls should be broken down, their power destroyed. In Skipton, however, unlike in most other castles of the north, it seemed that respect for its countess, the only woman to have defied Cromwell for so long, protected it. the roofs and upper battlements were torn off, but much of the fabric remained. Lady Anne petitioned parliament for the right to restore her castle, and was granted it, with the proviso that the roofs were not to be remade strong enough to ever again support cannon.

Those interested in this history might find it here.

Thursday 6 October 2011

A thought crossed my mind. Well, sometimes it happens...
Then I discover I'm not the only one to be thinking it.

Steve Jobs.

There's a plethora of outpourings of grief, and some steps toward deification. There's no doubt he was an extraordinary man, a visionary. Amongst those who are protesting about the disproportionate distribution of wealth, in Wall St and numerous cities around the U.S, there will be many who carry their ipads and iphones, who are tapping away on iconic white keyboards, devotees of the apple brand, people who see Steve Jobs as the creator of all that is good, versus Bill Gates of the 'evil' microsoft.

Well, think, good people, as you scroll through your gigabytes of itunes, Steve Jobs is toward the top end of the 1% you're protesting about. Unlike Bill Gates, he eschewed charity, and delighted, it seems, in the accumulation of wealth. Well, lets be more pointed. He delighted in the accumulation of YOUR wealth.

Muse on that as you mourn his passing.

(p.s. me? I don't own a mac, or any i-things. I find myself drawn to their good design, but repulsed by their price, their monopolistic software etc.)

More Photographs of the Castle With the Wyverns

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Wednesday 5 October 2011


At Skipton Castle, Yorkshire.

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Aggilators? In Northern England?

Now when I was a kid, I was quite sure that scaly crocodilian monsters lurked under the bed and in the dark, waiting to seize the unwary child in their yellow, foetid, unbrushed teeth. So, if you needed to get out of bed in the night, you had to (quietly) roll back the sheets, gather up your knees, and leap, as fast and as far as possible, landing with a slap to the light-switch by the door, because, as we all know, monsters are seared by light, and must snap instantly back into the shadows.
This sign reminded me of my old adversaries. I was in the car, and you're always safe from monsters in the car, so long as the doors are locked and the windows tightly rolled up....
Unless, of course, the monster is of godzilla-like proportions....And this sign wasn't very helpful. I'm not sure if they meant the whole alligator, when raised, was 4.5 inches high.... Or its individual, yellow, unbrushed, foetid teeth. Eek. They'd easily bite through a tyre. I looked around carefully. A few people were returning to their cars. The young woman carrying the box of papers and wobbling on her heels seemed to be pretty good bait for the alligators, I figured they'd go for her rather than try bite through the steel to get to me. Phew. Next time I'll park in a different car-park.

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Saturday 1 October 2011

Some Travel Pictures, Selected by RDG

That is, travel pictures as selected by Red Dirt Girl, over at her blog, "Through the Garden Gate" These pics, she posted, and I promised to annotate them. The easiest way, for me, is to do it in blogger's editor.
I took the photos on my recent trip over to the U.S. as her guest, where we travelled from Houston, Texas, to Newnan, Georgia, and various places in between. I'd bought a new camera just before the trip, and still haven't figured out the full details of how to use it. So some of my pics aren't as I'd like. Really, I still hanker after my old Canon A1, and Kodachrome.... The camera in question is a pretty neat little thing, a Fujifilm F550 EXR, 16 megapixel, 15x zoom, gps, all the knobs and whistles a boy could want.
The other contenders were a Canon, and a Panasonic Lumix, I'm not sure I made the right choice... The fuji software won't run on my computer, and I hate that it won't recharge its battery via usb, in a car, or on my desk. I have to take the battery out and stick it in a wall-wart.
Enough of all that.
Here we go!

A survivor from a bygone time.
City centre Houston has few buildings built earlier than last thursday. there's not a lot to attest to the fact that the city was incorporated in 1837. Well, walk around a bit, there are a few older buildings, just not so many as I'd like to see. There was a railway here once.... but the station's part of a stadium now.

RDG saw this detail first, she likes dragons, This dragon's not a mainstream sort of dragon, it's actually a wyvern, having only two forelegs, no hind-legs and a serpentine tail. But, interestingly, in the markets of my home-town, Leeds, in England, the same mythical beast appears in the markets...

Leeds Market wyvern

These pipes, stacked by the road, interested me. She was a bit bemused. In part of my life, I'm a plumber, and I'm also endlessly curious. Here in britain, we replace old cast-iron water mains with welded high-density polythene, it's joined end to end with a sleeve joint containing a wire coil. Electricity is fed to the coil, the joint heats and welds seamlessly. So I was interested that these large diameter pipes were just side-together, push-fit, with a bevelled end sliding into a socket, past what looks like an EPDM or Nitrile gasket. You'd lubricate the gasket, which would be shaped in such a way that it would grab tighter if the pipe was pulled. We use this kind of joint in waste-water pipes, but not so much in pressure systems. I'd have expected to see some kind of mechanical locking mechanism to stop it blowing apart. Seems that little rubber ring's all it needs.
Currently experiencing severe drought conditions, Houston's water mains have a dramatic number of major high-pressure leaks, this is partly caused by dry earth shrinkage and settlement. Plastic pipes are better than cast iron at resisting this, as they can flex quite a bit.

South Texas Tack, 
 Brenham, Tx. It was impressive, a vast place, compared with any other horsy store i've ever seen. I'm not a horse person, but it was still fascinating, full of beautifully tooled saddles and harnesses, belts, shoes, cowboy boots, lariats, you name it, it was there. Cowboy territory. Cowgirl territory too. No doubt about it, Texas still has plenty of horses and riders. These coils in the pic were lariat ropes. Very stiff rope, plastic, nylon? almost like cable, which, I suppose, helps in aiming them when thrown, and keeps the noose open. Sorry if you're reading this and I'm using all the wrong words for something you know about. Something I think I know but won't google in case I'm wrong, is that the sliding knot on the loop is called a honda?

We both laughed at this.
A stealth horse! There's something of a fashion for camouflage gear in many people who never go hunting, but it seems it's spread to our equine pals too. Imagine, you have four horses, and on a chilly morning you let them loose to graze in the paddock, dressed in their winter warm coats.... How the hell are you going to find them?
It's like the old question of how stealth pilots ever find their planes?  -they just walk randomly around the tarmac, arms outstretched until they go "Ouch!".
Actually it reminded me of a horse dressed for a mediaeval joust.

A cemetery for broken pots? strange folk, these texans.

Mmmm, rust!

A little bit of older texas, in Brenham. No, we didn't stop for a steak. Maybe next time.

The old Doctor's office in Newnan.

Red Dirt territory, -we're in Newnan, Georgia. Evening time, for a walk around her hometown.
It's a pleasant looking town. Actually, it's a quintessential piece of Americana to us foreigners, I kind of expect Marty McFly  to zoom into shot, on a skateboard. Or see Edward Hopper busy painting that storefront.  What you can't see at this zoom level, is the signs... Upstairs in the Stairway to Heaven antique Mall, there's a sign saying "We are OPEN", and on the door directly below, another, saying "CLOSED". I like that sort of stuff, it makes me smile. I'm a simple creature.

Newnan, Coweta County Courthouse (1904)
A monument to the Confederate dead of the civil war stands outside the courthouse, (or, as she says, "The War of Northern Aggression")... There was a field hospital here. The very fine building is the centrepiece, the pivotal point of the town. Georgian style, in more ways than one, a very nice looking building.

The sun was going down as we walked back to the car, I liked the patterns in the mesh of overhead wires against the sky, the rooflines and colours, ornamentation, those shutters, the spire. On another day, with more time, I could have taken so many more pics. 
Next time, I will.

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