Sunday, March 22, 2009

What I Did Today

In The Beginning...

Full Beard

Goatee and Sideburns



'Tache and Pipe

Clean Shaven

The End.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bletchley Park

Last Monday I did a day trip I've been meaning to do for ages. After breakfast I took a train from Euston up to the nondescript small town of Bletchley, just south of Milton Keynes. Bletchley itself has little to recommend it but about five minutes walk from the station is a site of massive historical importance in modern history and in cryptanalysis as a whole.

Bletchley Park is an estate with a manor house built in around 1880 by the Leon family who lived in it. When the family sold up the site was bought by the UK government. It was convenient to them as it was close to the main rail and road routes to London. The reason for the purchase was that the government wanted to move their cryptanalysts out of London and expand the cipher-breaking operations at the outbreak of World War 2. The operation took over not only the manor house but a myriad huts, and brick office blocks built on the site to provide work space for the up to 10 000 people who worked there at the height of the efforts to break the Enigma cipher that the Germans were using to encrypt their communications.

The site is now a museum, many of the huts have displays about the Enigma machine, the bombes used to break its cipher and the minds who enabled this to happen, especially Alan Turing. The site also has a rebuilt Colossus, arguably the world's first electronic computer, which was constructed to break the even tougher Lorenz cipher that Hitler used to communicate with his chiefs of staff.

It's a fascinating place and I will probably go back at some point. Here are a few photos I took of the place:

The Main Block

Decipherment Hut on the Right, Intelligence Hut on the Left

Looking After Colossus

Office Reconstruction

Statue of Alan Mathison Turing

Inside one of Bletchley's Bombes

More Huts

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Holidays, Part 2

So, last week I did my final date on my current UK tour of universities with a trip up to Sheffield. I seem to be specialising in Northern unis at the moment, what with Teeside a wee while ago. The train journey was quick and uneventful; a little over two hours from London. I spoke to the students at Sheffield last year and their lecturer essentially wanted the same talk again to get the students thinking in the right way for the course work. I also updated the video clips to make them more current for the section of the talk where I take a shot we've worked on apart and explain how all the elements were created and put together. So out with Harry Potter and in with "Hellboy 2". I actually had better "making of" resources for Hellboy anyway so I think it made the talk snappier. After a quick glass of water, I delivered the talk to about 50 students and staff. That seems to be the usual number. It's always hard to tell how things are going across because kids these days seem very reticent to ask questions, but they didn't talk amongst themselves and laughed at the jokes so I'm claiming it as a win. I have to say, the more I do these talks the easier they become. I've never been one for much in the way of stage fright but I don't even have notes anymore and yet I think I managed to talk fairly lucidly for an hour.

After lunch I lurked around in the college's workshops so that the students could get some one on one advice for their films and so I could do careers advice where it was wanted. I always try to do something like this and wherever I go I only ever get a tiny handful of students who take me up on the offer of advice. It's never more than 10% of the folks who show up for the lecture. I find this really odd. When I was a student I remember trying to drain any visiting lecturers of any advice they could offer, it always seemed like a "must do" thing. Well, not any more. Once it was clear that on-one else wanted to talk to me, I made my way back to the station and returned to London.

I spent the rest of my second week of holiday going to as many exhibitions as I could manage. I saw shows on Le Corbusier, Rodchenko, Popova, millinery, ancient Greece and a show of paintings in South London that a buddy of mine had a picture in. I also started doing some formal planning on my short film idea, doing story boards and so on. I had a pretty quiet weekend and then last Monday, the one just gone, I went to Bletchley Park where I took lots of photos and I'll do a post all about them hopefully tomorrow...


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Holiday Update: Part 1

It's been a awhile since I wrote anything so I owe you and update on what's happening. The main thing that I have not been doing is working. I have now had two weeks off and I have a third to go before I must reapply my nose to the grindstone. Last week I spent a couple of days in Cornwall, the same hotel I stayed in last year. I arrived at about half past five on the Wednesday and had a leisurely dinner and an early night. I had two full days in St. Ives and I'd decided, even before I travelled, that I would spend one day pottering around the town and one doing a major walk. So Thursday was spent in the Tate art gallery which had an exhibition of Ben Nicholson paintings which, for me, got better the more abstract they became. On Friday I walked to Zennor, as I did last year. It's a good solid 7 miles of serious hill walking and very rocky underfoot. Here's one of the few photos I took: me on Zennor Head:

Me on Zennor Head

I took a little over three hours to make it to the village centre and spent a happy hour and half having a couple of ales and a ham sandwich before getting the bus back to St. Ives. I did a few sketches instead of taking photos. Here's my view of the Tinner's Arms bar in Zennor:

Sketch of The Tinner's Arms in Zennor

Having returned to my hotel room at around half past three I took a shower and changed out of my muddy clothing. My walking boots and trousers seemed to have accumulated quite a quantity of rural Cornwall on them by the time I was done walking. Once I was clean and changed I ordered a cream tea from room service, put the commentary for the cricket test match on the radio (actually through the TV, but it was just sound) and relaxed with my view of St. Ives' through my room window.

A View, a test match and tea.  Perfection.

Friday night's dinner was the gastronomic highlight of the trip. The Porthminster Café gets very good write-ups and T's mum, who had visited St.Ives last year, also recommended it. My starter was a very tasty fish soup but the main course was the highlight. Pan cooked local pollock was served with a tomato salsa, chorizo and beautiful, big prawns. The combination of flavours was superb, really interesting and all the ingredients were of top quality as was the cooking. I finished my last evening in Cornwall with a wander along the beach followed by watching a great game of rugby on the TV in my room.

On Saturday, after a leisurely breakfast, I had another uneventful five and half hour train journey back to London. I arrived feeling relaxed and ready to do a day's lecturing in Sheffield on the Monday. I'll write about that tomorrow if I get time.