Saturday, April 29, 2006

Start of play


Start of Play, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

I went to my first cricket match of the new season today. Kent scored a seemingly unlikey 356-3 to win the match just after tea. Really impressive stuff. I am now a little sunburned but utterly relaxed. Put me in front of a day's cricket at a match I have no vested interest in and I shall end up as relaxed as I would normally be after a whole weekend of doing nowt, that's the magical effect it has. To sit in the sun, watching my favourite sport with my buddies and a few beers. Ah, is this not happiness?

Friday, April 28, 2006

iCal and Google Calendars

Warning: This is an out and out geek post for Mac users.

I use iCal to remember where I'm supposed to be. It's handy because it's a neat little app and it syncs with my iPod which I always have with me and I don't yet have one of those fancy bluetooth phones to do the same job. I also like the new Google Calendar and since I use Linux at work and don't always have access to my Mac, Google Calendars is also a useful tool. My problem is that I want to merge both calendars and it's a bit tricky to do. My solution isn't perfect but it does allow me to see both calendars in both apps. So what you do is this :
  1. In iCal publish your calendar to your .mac account (if you don't have a .mac account but do own server space somewhere you can publish to that too).
  2. Make a note of the location of the file - iCal will tell you what this is.
  3. Run iSync and sync everything up.
  4. In Google Calendars add an "other calendar" and in the "public calendar address" tab enter the file path you made a note of from iCal.
  5. Your iCal data should now appear in Google Calendar.
  6. In Google Calendar's "My Calendar" click on the arrow next to your personal Google Calendar data and pick "calendar settings".
  7. From the page that opens get the iCal path for this calendar and make a note of it.
  8. Back in iCal use the "subscribe" options to subscribe to your personal "Google calendar" feed. Pick an "update every ..." option that suits you.
  9. That's all there is to it.
So you can now see the items you added in Google Calendars in iCal and vice versa. Granted you can't edit Google Calendar events in iCal or iCal events in Google Calendars but you can at least see both sets of data in both apps and my Google Calendar data now gets copied onto my iPod so until someone comes up with a better solution it will have to do.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Heroes

We all have heroes of one sort or another. People who inspire us by their actions or work and their dedication make this world a more wonderful place to live. I am a guitarist, and mostly these days I am playing more acoustic guitar than anything else (although my Van Halen influenced eBaycaster is only a bit of soldering away from whammy-bar dive bomb, overdriven humbucking perfection, but that's a story for another day).

My favourite acoustic guitarist is John Renbourn, a portly, eccentric, bearded, uncle-like cumudgeon of a man, who is the only person I've seen take the stage at The Royal Festival Hall in London and remove his shoes before beginning his set. He played in stocking feet again last night when I saw him share a stage with the also wonderful Robin Williamson. John's 62 now and Robin can't be much younger and yet the energy they infused the Bush Hall with was electric. To see two musicians in total command of their instrument (or multiple instruments in Robin Williamson's case) is both awe-inspiring and also deeply comforting. It gives you faith in humanity that we can create such beauty if we try hard enough, utilise our talents and remain true to our roots. It was said of the great English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams that when listening to his music, "one is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new." and I feel that about much of the music I heard last night. There is such a depth to the folk (and I include the blues as a folk music) canon that it seems as if these pieces of music have always existed, that no-one wrote them they have just always been. The performers who can tap into that ancient (seemingly or actual) magic transport us at once to places we seldom get the chance to visit and yet I also feel very grounded and plugged into something deep within myself.

From what I understand John is to retire from live performance soon as his hands are very painful after prolonged playing and even if his fingers are not quite as fleet as once they were the depth of the man's soul and his ability to transmit that to an audience remain undimmed. I'm going to see him again at The Green Man Festival in August which I'm guessing will be my last opportunity to see him perform and I can't wait. I am still giddy from last night's performance and am likely to remain so for the rest of the day.

If you don't know John's work there's some streaming audio on his site and for the guitarists out there he's transcribed some of his signature pieces. I am slowly and ineptly trying to learn "The Hermit" and I'd like to be able to do a passable version of it by year's end. As I said at the end of my Bert Jansch evangelism piece, "Buy all his albums, your ears will love you forever." And the same applies to John Renbourn.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Masquerading as Truth

Last night I went with a group of friends to see "The Exonerated", a play about the death penalty in the United States. The 5 cases featured are real and no names have been changed to protect the innocent. A voice solemnly informs you as the lights go down that the writers wish to remind the audience that every word uttered by an actor portraying a real person was said by that person either in interview, court testimony etc. This I am sure was done to reinforce the horror of the miscarriages of justice described.

Except that I don't believe that it did. I have been thinking a lot recently about works of art that, in a highly representational way, purport to describe real events. Mostly this is because the place at which I work has been involved in two of the September 11th film projects and there's been much discussion here about the whys and wherefores. I knew that I felt uncomfortable with these projects but I couldn't for the longest time pin down why.

The conclusion I have come to is that these works of fiction claim to be representative of the truth - "it's exactly as it happened, in real time", "the words are taken from transcriptions" etc. but they are no more true than any other piece of fiction and often dramatically and emotionally much less affecting. We can try to imagine the horror of being on "Flight 93" or what it might be like to be incarcerated on death row, but an artist will heighten this experience. The trouble with these real event facsimiles is that the people featured are often not particularly articulate and their homilies are trite and clich├ęd however heart-felt. A documentary of the person saying their piece would have impact, but an actor reading their lines feels ersatz and cheap.

Beyond this is the inevitable editorialising that must go on. Objectivity in any artistic medium is impossible to achieve and by making claims to veracity at the start of these pieces it appears to me that their creators are trying to claim that their work is more objective because it takes pieces culled from the records. Not good enough. Elements will inevitably be heightened, subjugated, omitted or emphases changed through performance, editing or whatever. It is simply not "true" and worse than that it may lead people to unquestioningly accept it as so. History is of course open to interpretation and documentaries are also editorialised and biased, intentionally or not, but there is a difference, and that is you can rely a little more on documentary content, provided you keep your critical faculties, whereas you can rely on nothing in these works of fiction as they are, in all important respects, total artifice.

My other criticism is slightly crass but I'll list it anyway. As satirist P J O'Rourke commented, if you want to get a rise out of an audience it's a lot easier to say "I've been diagnosed with cancer" than it is to get up and do five minutes of good stand-up comedy. By extension because there is a direct link made with horrific real events people feel reluctant to criticise these works of art on artistic grounds, and as discussed above I believe these are the only grounds upon which they deserve to be judged since they are no different than any other work of fiction. These works are described as "difficult" and "challenging". They are not. Anyone with a little patience can trawl through court records and cull the bon mots of the wrongly accused. An artist would use these as a starting point to make a wider more deeply felt comment (Picasso's "Guernica" or Shostakovich's 7th Symphony "The Leningrad" immediately spring to mind) but to repurpose these sources merely chopped up and out of context is poor art in my view.

After leaving "The Exonerated" I felt nothing, the horror of what these people undoubtedly suffered had not been made any more real by these readings of their statements. My understanding of the condition of the soul of the incarcerated had not been deepened and my anger at a political institution with which I utterly disagree had not been reinforced nor challenged. Perhaps an American audience, for whom this is more of an active issue of political import, would view the piece differently. There has been no capital punishment for civilians in the UK since 1965 so perhaps we view the play in a more detached manner than in the States. But surely a tale of human suffering is universal and had it been a good play it would have moved its audience wherever they reside?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ostara


Finally spring is bursting out all over. I walk to work every day and one of the great pleasures of doing so is that you really get to watch the changing of the seasons over the same landscape. It may seem bizarre to say so in these demystified, secular times but there is still something very magical about the spring. Whilst we know it's going to happen, that all of a sudden nature unfolds verdant growth everywhere she can get a foothold (including the guttering outside my room I noticed this morning) never ceases to delight and amaze me.

This year in London where we have had a dull, wet winter, never particularly cold, no snow worthy of the name and little but low cloud has led to a bit of a malaise, and thus the regeneration feels even more special this year than perhaps it has in the past where we've had what I would term a "proper" winter. The other aspect that astounds is the speed at which it all happens. Perhaps being mammals we're hard-wired to think of the speed at which things grow in in animalistic terms, but the sheer rate of plant growth - it almost seems to happen before your very eyes. One of the horse chestnut trees I walk past in the park had leaf buds on it last Friday. Today it was in almost full leaf, quite breath-taking and undoubtedly very, very beautiful. And the new growth is that lush, young green hue, unburnt by the sun, undirtied by the city air and bursting with life. It won't last of course but it does go to show that the more we know and understand does not affect our ability to be awed by nature and her fecundity.

PS I know it's a bit late to be mentioning Ostara in connection with all this but I like the word too much not to use it on the few legitimate occasions I get.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Richard Feynman







My attention was drawn this week to this fantastic 1970s "Horizon" documentary on legendary physicist and teacher Richard Feynman. He always impressed me more than most geniuses due to his insatiable interest in all aspects of the universe that surrounds us and beyond that his ability to communicate these ideas so clearly makes this investigative spirit infectious. He is one of those people who makes us think, "Ah, if only I had Professor Feynman to teach me physics at school how much better would I have done?"

But It turns out that in a way you can. When Feynman agreed to teach the introductory course in Physics at Caltech it was on the strict understanding that he would do it only once. So the university recorded and transcribed all the lectures. They've been available as books for many years but I now find out that you can get the original audio (slightly abridged) from iTunes. Joy! The best one to start with for non-pysicists such as myself is the "Six Easy Pieces" set. I am listening to these now and may well get the "Six Not So Easy Pieces" afterwards. Mawbius, with whom I work and who is a proper engineer, tells me that beyond that point in the lectures the maths begins to get hairy for delicate artists (i.e. me) but I may still give them a listen and then start asking him and Tinseltroos dumb questions about what the fancy equations mean. It is very handy to have access to really smart people to help me out in situations like these.

There is a very deep joy in learning new things and asking questions. Half the battle it seems to me is working out that there is a question to be asked, the question itself directs the thought processes that lead to an answer. That there are so many questions that have been asked, and so many more yet to be asked is amazing and beautiful to me. You could see it as overwhelming, but I prefer to be enchanted that there is so much accumulated knowledge out there which builds and shapes our world view in the ever-brightening spark of enlightenment. The more old superstitions are blown away by humans asking questions the better we make the world for us and those we inhabit it with. People like Richard Feynman who ask deep questions and questions that are interesting in and of themselves without having any apparent practical application and then provide profound answers and also communicate them to others are the shining beacons who help the rest of us explore nature and ourselves.

That there is a profound pleasure in asking questions, looking, learning and dreaming is one of the greatest qualities we as a species possess, and we need the Richard Feynmans of this world to remind us of this when we get complacent and lazy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A True King of Burgers

It's recipe time again and as spring is leaping about all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed my thoughts turn to eating outside and barbecues. So here's my burger recipe, refined and honed over the years:

I tend to just use beef mince, but a beef and lamb mixture is often good. So what you do is finely chop a large onion and mix this with a kilo of mince. Add chopped coriander, a good splash of Worcester Sauce and plenty of seasoning. Divide into 4-6 depending on how greedy you are and mould them to be burger shaped. They will tend to contract and become thicker as they cook so make them a little thinner than you'd eventually like them to be. Cook 'em as you like on the barbecue. To serve you will need a bun (duh!) the base of which you spread with mayonnaise mixed with a good quantity of chopped dill. The cooked burger goes on top of this, cheese (I favour melted Cornish Yarg) on top of the burger, tomato ketchup on top of that and then a layer of crisp round lettuce (not iceberg) and some sliced tomato with a little seasoning on it. Gently place the lid of the bun on top and insert into face.

For me, that is burger perfection. It is not fancy nor elegant eating but it brings a smile to the face of all but the fussiest eater.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

More Piccies And All That Stuff

It's been a pretty productive and pleasant weekend. I have spent time with some of my favourite people, I've done some design work and for the last day or so I've fixed all the programming glitches in my short-film to the point where I now have the finished music divided up into 6 tracks, each of which has been processed by a piece of Python code I wrote to spit out animation data. This data is loaded into the animation software I use and drives the speaker cones. The cones blow around 50 coloured cubes which glow brighter the more they move about. Here's a still from one of the more active parts of the sequence where the cubes glow brightest.



Now I have a complete sequence I can start planning camera moves and work out the editing. It's all very exciting and so far I'm pleased with how it moves and looks and I'm gobsmacked that the code I wrote actually works. Miracles will never cease.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tattoo You (Too) 2



Here's the Snake's Head Fritillary version of Tinseltroo's tattoo.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Snake's Head Fritillaries

A short post to draw your attention to these amazing flowers which will soon be making an appearance in the few places in the UK that they grow.

I was completely unaware of their existance until Tinseltroos drew my attention to them as an alternative flower to put on the tattoo design, which I am now in the process of doing. New drawings when they're done. In the meantime do have a look at the flickr sets linked above. How something so magnificent can evolve unaided is a source of continuing delight to me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill 2006

Parliament in the UK is now on its Easter recess (unlike the rest of us poor buggers who are lucky to get the bank holidays on Friday and Monday off). This gives us a little time for some quiet reflection on an insidious piece of legislation which, bar a few yelps of protest, is gently cruising through the Commons and will have its third reading on the week commencing 24th April. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill allows ministers to amend and change legislation without having to consult Parliament. There are a few meagre limitations on its use and since the powers of the law apply to itself there is little to stop the safeguards being written out in future. It will be, if passed, the final nail in the coffin of true Parliamentary democracy in the UK. The tenets of Magna Carta will cease to have any meaning.

The Bill is being touted as an efficiency measure to save Parliament from the trouble of dealing with fiddling revisions to existing legislation by the Executive. What this fails to acknowledge of course is that is precisely what Parliament exists to do. It is a check upon the Executive (not that you'd have noticed given the supine nature of the majority of M.P.s). The Baron de Montesquieu was not messing about when he defined the separation of powers as a vital aspect in maintaining a democracy and the imperfect implementation of it here merely goes to show that we need to fight tooth and nail to keep what little democracy we have left. Never has the late Lord Hailsham's maxim of "elective dictatorship" been truer than it is today and if this Bill becomes law the dominance of the Executive over every other branch of government will become absolute. Only the Judiciary will stand in the way of total ministerial control of the law. As The Canny Photographer pointed out to me, the parallels with the 1933 Enabling Law in Germany are striking and instructive.

We should heed the lessons of history and prevent this Bill from quietly sneaking onto the statute book. Much hoo-hah is being made in the press about funding for the NHS following the absence of any mention of it in the last budget and rightly so. The Health Service is something I passionately believe in. However a health service, or indeed any other policy or political action or rationale is a trifling matter compared to the fundamental freedoms of the citizens of a democracy. Our rights must be protected from any and all authoritarian control and as the conventions of government such as collective responsibility slip away unnoticed into the night we must be utterly vigilant in safeguarding what little we have left from this rapacious government.

If you live in the UK I urge you to read this and that to which it links and consider writing to your M.P.


Save Parliament

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Some just haven't had them coloured in...

A week or so ago my chum, Tinseltroos, asked me one the scariest questions an artist can be asked. Would I design a tattoo for her? I was massively honoured, that she would even think of me was very touching. Now there is obviously a distinct possibility that she won't like the finished design or may decide to do something else anyway but I was thrilled at the prospect. The brief was simple, medieval and floral design. So here's my sketches and work-in-progress doodles:



And after some cleaning up of the line-work and some colour this is the finished design:



I know it's wrong to say this but I'm really pleased with how this turned out. It is to go on the right side of her back perhaps slightly wrapping around her side. I'm especially pleased I redid the tension of the curves on the bottom scrolls as I think they will now follow the shape of her body better. It's really hard to design for a non-flat surface and I still don't know if I've really got it right, but this is the best I can do I think. I hope Tinseltroos likes it and if she has it done I will be ecstatic. There seems to me no higher compliment that an artist can be paid than to have one of your designs permanently adorn someone's body. Even if she doesn't go with it, I still feel honoured to be asked, and it's been huge amounts of fun and really educative to do. I've never attempted anything like this before and the whole new world of design issues it threw up opened up a new perspective of the design process for me. Perhaps I might try some textile design as I've never attempted that and I feel very inspired and enthusiastic following this week's endeavours.

The title of this post refers to a Maori belief that everyone has tattoos, it's just that some of us don't have them coloured in. I've always liked that thought, I know if I had a tattoo done it would be a Green Man and an Oak Tree, but that's a project for another day.

Powers of Ten

Back in the antediluvian past Alex Funke who went on to shoot the miniatures for Lord of The Rings amongst other things made this film for the Eames Office. For anyone with an imagination and sense of wonder at the universe we inhabit and the matter out of which we are made it takes the breath away. One of my favourite films.



Saturday, April 08, 2006

I drew it; I don't know what it means