sandsmith50

Am I there yet? Almost.

December

So this is late even by my standards. I had sort of started to give up hope about writing a December post and in some ways that seemed like a fitting end to what I am pretty certain was the worst year of my life*.

And maybe that’s how I should have left it.

But very bizarrely my memory seems to have started working again; I was pretty much convinced that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was on the way but suddenly I am starting to remember names of things again. I have absolutely no idea why but in that spirit of remembering I thought I should try and finish off 2014.

So I went and saw a show at Wilton’s Music Hall. The venue is amazing and well worth a visit but the show was noting to speak of; so I won’t.

Another Xmas party came and went. It is quite surprising how much I have come to dislike Xmas parties. Reflecting in April with my newly resuscitated memory I am tempted to think that I have always hated them but on reflection I think I didn’t mind them so much when I was teaching. I think then there was a spirit of camaraderie which rarely got displayed publicly but it happened at Xmas parties and the drinking after. Since moving to work in an office I can’t see the point of them and would really prefer to avoid them.

Much more enjoyable was Henry IV parts 1 and 2 at the Barbican; though as usual with the history plays I was shocked by my lack of knowledge. My impression is that I should have enjoyed them more than I did, amongst Shakespeare’s best plays very well performed but I am afraid I just don’t get the whole Falstaff bit and ribald humour. I don’t think it is because I am a prude but whilst once my ear attunes to the language much of what Shakespeare has to say still resonates the humour doesn’t.

I started another walk. Having only done the first leg it seems a little rash to recommend it but I think I will take that risk. The Thames Estuary Path runs from Tilbury to Leigh I am not sure that it is beautiful but in the heart of winter there is something very soothing about the vast open skies that you see from the estuary, a great break from being cooped up indoors. There is quite a nice app that you can download for the walk which plays you little snippets of history at relevant points along the walk. Hoping to do the next stage of the walk sometime soon.

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And of course it being December there was Xmas. I like Xmas. I hadn’t expected to like this Xmas but I did. I think my highlight was probably going to the pub with the children on Xmas eve and us all getting a tiny bit tipsy.

As it is or rather was the end of the year here with no real commentary is my track listing for 2014. If you have time to listen I hope you enjoy.

* Which just goes to show what a charmed as is on fortunate, life I have led up until now.











http://shuffler.fm/tracks/site:427/-/2794971



PS If this was a normal blog, e.g. at least somone one read it, then I would be asking whether you want me to blog any more. But as no one reads it then I guess it is really entirely my choise and all I need is some inspiration as as to what to write about.

November

A highlight of November was a return to Amsterdam after 33 years. I first went to Amsterdam as a very immature 18 year old towards the end of a month’s inter-railing around Europe. By this stage the three of us who set out together had decided to try taking slightly different approaches to inter-railing and had agreed to reconvene in Amsterdam. For my solo effort I had decided to visit as many countries as possible in a very short time, so I had made myself a cup of tea in Vienna train station, bought a flag in Vaduz, ate pizza in a very small Italian railway station, bought chocolate in Brussels and fell in love in a couchette. As you can see basically I saw and slept in a lot of trains and stations but not much else. We had agreed to meet at the Youth Hostel in Amsterdam and so on on arrival I set off for the hostel. Did I mention I was very immature, so I arrived at the hostel in a state of some nervousness having been accosted by several people trying to sell me drugs and then getting into a panic that I didn’t know the proper etiquette for saying no thanks to a prostitute. So I was somewhat devastated to find that the hostel was full; I think the staff must have detected the extent of my devastation, e.g. I probably looked like I was going to cry, so they let me sleep under a table in one of the living rooms. I went to bed early and slept fitfully under the table and was relieved to leave Amsterdam the next day.

A highlight of the trip for me was that we stayed on a lovely houseboat, some pictures of the houseboat and surrounding water below

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I was pretty confident that I would enjoy Amsterdam more this time around and this proved to be the case though it was still managed to make me a little anxious. Everyone talks about how great it is for cyclists and I guess it is, but as a pedestrian you have to think very hard before you cross any roads as there seem to be cyclists coming from every direction. We generally had a very nice time and drank a fair amount of beer in a very civilized fashion. In one of our sojourns to the less salubrious parts of amsterdam we came across the Hangover Information Centre. It seemed very white and bright situation quite close to the middle of the red light district, we didn’t quite work up the courage to go in so I still can’t work out what an earth it is, an art installation, a con to make you buy water or some elaborate dutch joke. watch the video and see if you can decide.

I also had another go at Silversmithing in November. In 2013 I had really enjoyed making a silver spoon in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors who had been a silversmith. The spoon I made now occupies pride of place in the sugar bowel

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It had been an incredibly enjoyable day, partly the physical act of making the spoon was exhausting (there is a lot of hammering involved) and rewarding but our teacher Steve Wager is really passionate about silversmithing and passing on his skills and knowledge. The class takes place in his own workshop under one of the jewellery shops in Hatton Garden, there is a nice story attached to this as apparently when he opened up the workshop the trade in the shop went up as customers assumed that the jewellery was being made in situ as it were. Viewed through my current educational obsession to do with apprenticeship it was a really fascinating day. I was prepared for disappointment the second time round, as I rarely enjoy anything as much the second time I try it but to my surprise I still came out buzzing and wondering how I could cut back on work so I could do silversmithing courses during the week. And I suffered a whole new kind of pain as my little finger went into a massive spasm brought on by planishing. Anyway I still need to do some more work to finish up the bowl but here is what it looks like

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Recently I have been having a certain amount of fun trying to track down pieces made by Benjamin Smith, so far the highlights have been the Wellington Shield in Apsley House and the Presidents Cup in the National Maritime Museum.

So in the silver theme here is a very brilliant (no really you should listen to this if you have got this far) and modern although it doesn’t sound that modern track,

And another much older silver related track

Silver Machine by Hawkwind

And for no other reason than they popped into my head and I thought it was a long time since I had heard them, Religious as Hell by the March Violets

October

Another month another visit to a car park (actually the same car park) to see some art. This time it was the The Ada Project by Conrad Shawross at the Vinyl Factory. The project is centered around the mathematician Ada Lovelace. She worked with Charles Babbage and is sometimes described as the first computer programmer as she wrote algorithms for Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I should really have known more about Ada Lovelace as one of the rooms at the Institute of Physics (where I worked for a while) was named after her. Anyway, the premise of the work is that a robot is controlled by Algorithms similar to those developed by Ada Lovelace, in effect the robot dances to her tune. But the actual music is written by musicians to reflect the movement of the robot thus reversing the normal pathway which tends to have the music leading the dance.

Sometimes this works really well, although perhaps it is hard to know what works means in this context. The video below is a live version with Mira Calix singing ‘to’ the robot. I didn’t see this live and although it looks more emotionally engaging I think the large numbers of people would stop you being able to see the shadows that the robt creates which was one of the things I particularly enjoyed.

I started playing snooker again, well perhaps that isn’t strictly true. I went to a snooker hall again for the first time in years. I used to go fairly often before I had a family, despite this I never got to be any good and things haven’t changed I am still no good. For a simple game it is really very difficult. Still despite my feebleness at it I found it really enjoyable, there is something rather magical about the low lighting and general seediness of the hall. The very brightly lit green baize and accompanying rainbow of balls makes the shadows that surround them all the more stark, and the thought of being punished to sit in these shadows while your opponent basks in the glory of the light seems very apposite. OK that’s quite enough of that.

Some musics, I can only think of really terrible snooker songs, so the following have no particular relation to this post.

Shia Le Bouf – Rob Cantor

Banks – This is what it feels like

April Showers – Abandon Ship

September

Up at the O2. In summary it is OK but if you really like seeing London from high up then there are better places to see it from. One of the problems is that London’s sky line is becoming a little Manhattan like so that from outside it is a bit two dimensional, you really need to be in and amongst the tall buildings to get a feel for how London works as a space. So I would go for the Monument as a day trip before the O2, or if you can get in then the BT Tower and CentrePoint are also very good. One nice thing about the O2 is that it does help in making sense of the Thames. My ‘orderly’ mind has a tendency to try and straighten the river and use it as a horizontal axis for determining North; in places this is a very bad idea!

Here is a pretty hopeless panorama shot

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And here is my intrepid climbing companion

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Later in September I had more city vistas to enjoy as following a rather interesting VET (vocational education and training) conference in Switzerland I spent the weekend in Zurich. Zurich was very pretty I thought although perhaps not a huge amount to do. My highlight was doing the planet trail, this is a walk along a ridge just outside Zurich, so you can catch an impressive Swiss train which climbs very steeply to the start of the walk near the Sun and then when you get a bit beyond Pluto 6km later you can catch a cable car back town to catch a train back to Zurich. It is a nice walk with good views over Zurich and towards the Alps. I should really have a bit of a feel for the dimensions of the solar system but it is still really surprising when you walk it to see how far apart the outer planets are and how tiny the planets are compared to the Sun. This has caused something close to complaints.

The Sun

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The outer limits of the solar system

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Instead of a proper rant this month I am just going to say iTunes. One busted computer later and a restoration of a back up I don’t seem to know what I was listening to in September. I can’t seem to find any Swiss related songs so …..

Well it was another birthday so from the mighty Altered Images (if there was any justice in the world I would have had Clare Grogen sing me Happy Birthday at least once),

And following the view theme

And to try and rescue this from another emo based posting. This is a sort of thank you to Clare and Paul for a lovely wedding, I still owe you a CD but see the comment on iTunes earlier! classic space

I seem to know very few space/solar system records so here instead is a song with physics in the title, and possibly it is my favourite of the 5 songs I have with physics in the title (suggestions of other contenders would be very welcome). It was by Plaid Dragon but maybe now it is by Ings, I am not quite sure how this works

August

Well that was very silly of me, at my age it is not a good idea to wait a month before trying to write about what I thought and did, so I think this might be a rather short post.

Anyway, like most of the rest of the world I duly trooped along to the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern. There were some things I quite liked but overall I felt a bit underwhelmed, I suspect that when the he originally started using the paper cutting technique it was quite shocking and perhaps as a result thought provoking, but years later it is nice to see the famous ones but for me at least not hugely thought provoking or nice to look at.

The bit of the world that bypassed Matisse, largely children, seemed to head for Digital Revolution at the Barbican. The exhibition started with a nostalgic (for me at least) look at early computer gaming/graphics/synth stuff. Apparently this is called digital archeology. Nothing like seeing people marveling at the primitiveness of a technology that you experienced as truly cutting edge to make you feel like a fossil. Mind you the speed that technology seems to be changing it seems possible that you may not even be able to have this sensation in the future as technology that is now less than 5 years old already starts to look dated. I had hoped there would be rather more digital art, as it was it felt a little more like a science museum exhibit with lots of buttons to press. I know that no one reads this blog but if by some miracle some one with any kind of influence over the way things are curated is reading this – please, please halt the rise of video explanations of exhibits. Honestly they really don’t work and they cause very tedious queues as people wait to see if there is anything interesting that they should be watching. Surly there must be a way of using smartphones to perform this function if it is really necessary. However, I did really enjoy watching (not participating obviously) the The Treachery of Sanctuary exhibit:

Maintaining a positive slant, not sure how long I can keep this up, I finally got to visit the Deal Timeball Museum

I had expected to enjoy the visit but it was actually even better than I expected with some really interesting exhibits explaining signalling and in particular time signals. If you are in the area and it is open I heartily recommend it.  In case you are wondering, at 13.00 precisely, triggered by an electric signal from Greenwich the ball drops. I should have had a video of it to post unfortunately my watch didn’t have the precise time so when the ball dropped I was still fiddling around with my camera trying to get the exposure perfect. In the past, the ball dropping was used by sailors to check the accuracy of their clocks before embarking on long voyages. If you knew the time precisely then you could calculate longitude. This is all explained , though time balls aren’t mentioned, in the excellent Longitude by Dava Sobel

So given the emphasis on time some vaguely related songs:

When I was young it seemed like my mum was obsessed by this, at that age doing or watching anything more than once seemed like an obsession. I saw this Casablanca on the big screen a couplle of years ago and was really blown away by how good it was.

I really like Little Dragon, can’t claim the cradit for discovering this as it comes from James. It is a pleasing thought that as I enter my dotage I should be supplied with new music by my children.

And finally one of more my recent discoveries Saint Motel – slightly worried that there are distinct echoes of Wham in this but how can you resist old fashioned pop songs with brass in them?

July

So as usual July started with the Tour de France. The Tour is one of the few sports that I still watch on TV. Cricket used to be my mainstay for the summer, nipping into the prep room during lessons to see how things were progressing and then getting home to watch the end of play and of course listening to the radio 4 commentary but somehow when the coverage went to Sky or maybe there were just so many tests I started to lose interest, and cricket is not a sport to watch half-hearted. So I look forward to the Tour as it in some ways it has a lot of the elements of a cricket match, some quite long periods of consolidation (or to put it more bluntly – boring bits) with periods of intense drama. Anyway this year the Tour came to London, I have seen bike races live before but never the Tour. So slightly against my better judgement I took the afternoon off work to watch it in the centre of town. I think the photo below captures the experience quite well!

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I guess this is probably my rant for August there are just too many people like me who like doing things that I want to do in London. So you either have to make sure you buy tickets for things miles in advance or you turn up to things to find that you queue for ever and then probably can’t see anything anyway. It seems possible that I am something of a misanthrope, see

Typically we failed to get our act together and so despite both children being past school age we ended up going on holiday to France at the expensive end of July. I shouldn’t really complain, I guess I am very lucky that the children are still happy to put up with me on holiday. Anyway, we went to Luc Sur-Le-Mer which is a really lovely small Normandy resort. Our house was right on the sea front so I could nip out in my swimming costume without any glasses or even a towel and swim in the sea. I think floating on my back looking up at the sea is one of my favourite things, considering the potential for getting a mouth full of seawater it is incredibly relaxing and soothing. I think my former O-level French failing self would find it inexplicable how much I seem to like France – not the food or the drink particularly but they seem to have held on to some things that we have lost in England and it makes it a nice place to be in.

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Apart from burning on the beach – well it is a holiday tradition – we managed to visit the Bayeux tapestry. It turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected, and a rare case where an audio guide was a positive boon as everyone shuffled round at a pretty similar pace so once you had got through the queue to get inside you actually did get to see the tapestry and not other peoples’ phones taking pictures of it. I can’t help feeling that it was a rather biased view of the Norman Conquest, the tapestry itself is obviously propaganda but the sleeve notes did little to challenge the history described by the tapestry. But in thinking about this I realised that my history of the Norman invasion has been shaped by some entertaining novels, in particular the Last King Of England, where Harold is portrayed as a good but doomed king. I guess the reality was a lot more complicated and the fact is that all of the contenders were aristocrats but I can’t help wondering if the Goodwine strand of Norsemen had triumphed rather than the Normandy strand whether we might have ended up a rather less hierarchical sort of country. It feels as if the Anglo-Saxon Witan was ahead of anything that the Normans brought over.

While on holiday I read In the Light of What we Know. It is a clever book, perhaps too clever but it has some really nice passages that got me thinking about the limits of knowledge. The book repeated a version of the following version of the following joke (taken from )

A biologist, a statistician, a mathematician and a computer scientist are
on a photo-safari in Africa. They drive out into the savannah in their
jeep, stop and scour the horizon with their binoculars.

The biologist: “Look! There’s a herd of zebras! And there, in the middle:
a white zebra! It’s fantastic! There are white zebras! We’ll be famous!”

The statistician:
“It’s not significant. We only know there’s one white zebra”

The mathematician:
“Actually, we know there exists a zebra which is white on one side”

The computer scientist:
“Oh no! A special case!”

Which was then followed (at least in my memory) but a description of how these limits of what we know might be employed with dolphins. There seem to be quite a few stories of how dolphins have saved humans by helping them to get back to dry land but of course there are no stories where the dolphin led the unfortunate sailor to the middle of the ocean and left them there to drown; as the sailor is unable to report the villainy of the dolphin and so maybe we have a rather over inflated view of the goodness of dolphins.

I don’t know quite why but this has been my humming song of choice recently

and to continue with a vaguely poppy theme,

and not quite sure how to describe this but one of my favourite tracks from 2014

June

Where did June go? I think it is always a bit of a quick month; one minute you are enjoying long evenings, finally realising that you really can go the whole day without wearing a sweater and then before you know it the nights are drawing in and if you haven’t got a tan yet you will need to go abroad to get one. Sigh.

To add to the usual disappointment of an accelerated June there was the usual disappointment of England’s early exit from the World Cup. It was strange the way the press seemed to start laying into them once they were actually out; I think the initial analysis which suggested they played quite well against Italy and Uruguay and (in retrospect) Costa Rica was about right. England may not have got as far as they did in South Africa but they were a lot less painful to watch.

As a result of all this football this was quite a quiet month in terms of cultural activity. But there was one real highlight which was a half day conference on physics and art.

Now I have some serious doubts about Sci-Art, it tends not be good art or good science but I suspended my doubt as one of the speakers at the conference was Conrad Shawcross. I had seen one of his pieces, Slow Arc Inside a Cube I, at the Heywood and loved it. It is inspired by the work of the crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin, and reflects on how sometimes we see nature by the shadows she casts. It seemed like rather a good way into teaching about Bragg Diffraction, although it is a different mechanism, it helps to give a sense of what the scientist is trying to achieve, often something that we neglect when teaching abstract concepts to children; the Everest like – because it’s there – seems very unsatisfactory although the intellectual effort required does seem to have parallels with climbing mountains (I usually get stuck in the foothills).

Anyway, I thought it would be really interesting to hear Conrad talking about his work. And indeed it was. Gratifyingly, he, like the other artists, talked about their work with passing references to the physics involved. But I think the physics context meant that they talked about their whole body of work rather than individual pieces; and to me there seemed some similarities between the intellectual journeys that they had followed in pursuit of artistic realizations with the journeys of scientists trying to establish a theory. There is some underpinning belief about the right thing to do, which is not necessarily entirely rational, and this drives them to overcome a series of obstacles in order to bring the thing to life.

Other speakers included:

David Batchelor Really interesting on the pursuit of colour without form, I particular liked the pieces made up from old shops signs.

 

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Adam Pritchard Going from bursting paint bubbles to kinetic pieces using viscous goo.

 

Gratifyingly for me, it seemed that the artists relied on technical teams in a similar way to the way that scientists rely on technicians. This isn’t just gratifying because these days I like to find technicians in everything but also if you look up a definition of technician as well as what I guess is the more common usage:

–           a person who is trained or skilled in the technicalities of a subject.

You will also find

–          a person who is skilled in the technique of an art, as music or painting.

One final comforting thought that came from the conference was that in these days of bid data there is now a role for art in helping to visualise the data. I was left hoping that one day the language of science might be art rather than science (then I might have a chance of understanding it).

So many rants in June against referees, tourists, politicians but I am choosing to vent my spleen at the idiot cyclists who feel compelled to move in front of you at the traffic light (as they will obviously be faster than you are) but in doing so get to a position where they can no longer see the traffic light so don’t move when the light goes green. Idiots! I am sure there should be a way of changing the lyrics of this song to make them fit; something like and things have learnt to cycle that ought to walk?

I rediscovered these from a great compilation ‘Scared to get happy’ that I was given as a recent birthday present. Expect more 1980s pop jangles coming soon (very soon)

And then something a little more current (?)