Archive for the 'Culture' Category

Notes from Underground

For any fifth millennium readers, here are some incidents and observations from London’s Underground:

  • Northern Line, Bank branch, heading north, Saturday 2016-04-09, 21.35: A dozen drunk young women board the train at Old Street, all but one dressed as elderly women, with wigs, granny glasses, handbags, etc.  One is dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown – presumably she is the bride-to-be.  Several carry large plastic penises.  They are loud and boisterous, but good-natured.  The gentleman sitting opposite, a dapper man in his 60s with a thin moustache, dressed in a suit and tie, with a flower in his lapel and a silk handkerchief in his top pocket, awakes from his slumber. It turns out that he too is drunk, and, in a loud Irish accent, he engages the women. Banter is exchanged, and there are smiles and laughter the length of the carriage. The women detrain at Kings Cross, the Irish gent following them.  Was that his planned stop, one wonders?  What does it say about our culture that a young person seeking to act trangressively dresses as a very elderly person?
  • Northern line, London Bridge station, northbound platform, a Friday evening in February 2014, around 23.30: the platform is empty apart from a group of 8 men in suits and ties, in their early 20s, huddled in a close circle with arms around one another. They are taking turns to ingest something, each throwing his head back as he does.
  • Northern line, Charing Cross branch, heading south, a station between Euston and Embankment, a cold winter’s morning in winter 2012-2013, all the seats in the carriage taken, but the aisle free: a passenger stands up to detrain as the train stops. Apparently his gloves had been sitting in his lap and these are thrown off in different directions as he stands up. He does not see this and moves to leave. Both gloves are caught superbly by other passengers seated opposite and on different sides of him, and one of these passengers shouts at him. He turns and both gloves are thrown back to him.  He catches both and shouts his thanks. The scene looked choreographed and rehearsed, so perfect are the four arcs of the flying gloves and the catches.



Possible Worlds

This is a list of movies which play with alternative possible realities, in various ways:

  • It’s a Wonderful Life [Frank Capra, USA 1947]
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance) [Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland 1987]
  • Lola Rennt (run lola run) [Tom Tykwer, Germany 1998]
  • Sliding Doors [Peter Howitt, UK 1998]
  • The Family Man [Brett Ratner, USA 2000]
  • Me Myself I [Pip Karmel, Australia 2000]

On the topic of possible worlds, this post may be of interest.




Coffee with an Economista

Francis-cafe-Jermyn-Street




London restaurants named after Russian mathematicians

Indeed, both these are mathematical dynasties. For the Delaunays, see here and here.




London Life: Ethereum DevCon1

image

Gibson Hall, London, venue for DevCon1, 9-13 November 2015.  There was some irony in holding a conference to discuss technology developments in blockchains and distributed ledgers in a grand, neo-classical heritage-listed building erected in 1865. At least it was fitting that a technology currently taking the financial world by storm should be debated in what was designed to be a banking hall (for Westminster Bank). The audience was split fairly evenly between dreadlocked libertarians & cryptocurrency enthusiasts and bankers & lawyers in smart suits: cyberpunk meets Gordon Gekko.




Musical Instrument Museums

For reasons of record, here is a list of musical instrument museums, ordered by their location:

  • Athens, Greece: Museum of Popular Musical Instruments
  • Berlin, Germany: Musikinstrumenten Museum
  • Brussels, Belgium: Musical Instrument Museum
  • Monte Estoril, Portugal: Museum of Portuguese Music, Casa Verdades de Faria
  • New York, NY, USA: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Phoenix, AZ, USA: Musical Instrument Museum
  • Rome, Italy: Museo di Strumenti Musicali dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
  • Vermillion, SD, USA: National Music Museum, University of South Dakota
  • Vienna, Austria: Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, Kunsthistorisches Museum



Why read?

Why do we read? Many people seem to assume that the only reason for reading is to obtain information about the world. With this view, reading fiction is perhaps hard to justify. But if one only reads to learn new facts, then one’s life is impoverished and Gradgrindian. Indeed, this reason strikes me as like learning to play the trumpet in order to have a means to practice circular breathing.

In fact, we read for many other reasons than just this one. One could say we primarily read novels for the pleasure that reading them provides:

  • the pleasure of reading poetic text (as in the novels of Hardy, Joyce or Faulkner, for instance)
  • the pleasure of reading elegant, finely-crafted prose (eg, Burney, Doris Lessing, Perec, Brautigan)
  • the pleasure of engaging in deductive reasoning (any detective or espionage novel)
  • the pleasure of imagining alternative societal futures (scifi), presents (political thrillers, espionage novels), or pasts (historical fiction)
  • the pleasure of being scared (crime thrillers, horror stories)
  • or the pleasure of parsing an intricate narrative structure (eg, Calvino, Fowles, Murnane, Pynchon).

These various pleasures are very distinct, and are orthogonal to the desire to gain information about the world. And some of these pleasures may also be gained from reading non-fiction, for example the finely-honed journalism of AJ Liebling or Christopher Hitchens, or the writing of Oliver Sacks, who passed on today.




London comedy life

JesterJester’s open-mike nights at the intimate basement home of Betsey Trotwood:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA




Mash-up culture

If one trope could define the full diversity of artistic endeavour in this Millenium period, it is the mash-up. For visual art, we have become used to collages of images, videos, fashion, and even material junk.  Ditto for sound objects and events.  In movies, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982) became a popular example, at least among college students. And now computer scientists are exploring mashups of programming languages, for instance, here. But not even architecture has escaped.  The increasingly widespread Bauhaus-influenced style seen in new office and apartment buildings in Europe and North America these last two decades is one of  life’s great pleasures of looking.

What distinguishes this architecture? The influence of Bauhaus and de Stijl ideas is evident in straight edges, flat roofs, vertical walls, and structures comprising rectangular prisms.  But these are not the single-box prisms of the International Style skyscrapers of 50 years ago.  Rather, each structure comprises multiple, intersecting prisms, expressing a multiplicity of interpenetrating shapes.  The result is that external walls are not flat or simply lying in a single vertical plane, but extruding or withdrawing into multiple vertical planes. The effect of this interleaving mash-up is most pleasing.

Second, external surfaces are no longer a single, uniform colour or material.   Typically, the different prisms, or the different interpenetrating vertical planes, will be made from different materials:  red-brick, white stone or concrete, grey aluminium sheets, etc.  Here, the mash-up of materials and colours is unlike most western domestic or office architecture of the past two centuries.

Here are some examples.  First is the red-brick apartment building across the street in this photo, in Madison, Wisconsin (Source: via The Dish).  Notice how the external walls do not all lie in the same vertical plane, and note the use of different coloured and perhaps even types of surfaces – red-brick, light-coloured brick, and grey slate.   There is a white trim.

Madison-Wisconsi-Dish-2014-08-24

And here is the Jaclyn Building, in Sofia Bulgaria (Architects:  Aedes Studio), again with red brick, grey and white surfaces, but this time less balanced vertically.

Jaclyn Building - Sofia Bulgaria - Aedes Studio

And here is an apartment building, The Reach, in Leeds Street, Liverpool, UK, with all the familiar elements along with a curved corner.  The only thing lacking from this building is a single tree in green leaf right up against it, to give the image a textured asymmetry of colour and line.

TheReach-LeedsStreet-Liverpool




London Life

Some of the crowd waiting to see Yemeni-American video stars Adam Saleh and Sheikh Akbar (aka TruestoryASA) in Hyde Park London on Sunday 3 August 2014.  The stars were rescued by police.  Report here.

 

HydeParkCrowdforTruestoryASA-3August2014