Monday, October 31, 2005


The eve of the Feast of All Saints, early evening, and I hear fireworks going off outside. I remember standing in the back garden, in darkness, as a small child with the fiery magic of a sparkler held before me, watching as elfin friends’ faces, lit up with different-coloured fire, seemed to zoom disembodied through the air.

I never once got burned at Hallowe’en, and we never had fireworks — those have always been associated with Christmas for me — but I do remember the pumpkin — or, in our case, the turnip — hung up on the beam outside, so wicked on the night and so corpselike the next day, wizening gradually until it started to smell of decay and old candles and had to be thrown out. I remember not liking toffee apples, but loving putting our pennies, covered in candle-drippings, into a bowl of boiling water after we got back from trick-or-treat.

From Wikipedia:

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicíní (pronounced “pooch-eeny”), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year, a saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc. In 19th-century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. The wriggling of the slugs and the patterns subsequently left behind on the saucers were believed to portray the faces of the women's future spouses.

It’s all very pagan, really. The Celts believed that the new year started on the 1st of November, with the celebration of Samhain, the beginning of winter and a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead were blurred. And on this night in 1938, Orson Welles played a frightening trick on radio listeners by broadcasting his production of The War of the Worlds.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Despair, Inc.

Now, I know I don’t usually post links to companies, but this one, selling superb reworkings of workplace ‘motivational’ posters, is inspired. And since I just got word that I’m starting another job in a fortnight, I thought it best to focus on essentials.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Everything you always wanted to know about Greenland, but were too clueless to ask. Additionally — original documents all about World War 2. Come on, I can’t be the only person out there to be interested in this sort of thing. A Passion for Jazz, which contains, among other things, a really impressive interactive tool for displaying various keys, chords, modes and scales on graphical piano keys.

Night photography in the UK, which has a stupendously good opening image. All these links are from the superb Plep, which is just about the richest and most linkworthy weblog I've ever seen, and which has been added to the blogroll. However it has a glaring fault: its archive pages are white text against a horribly–coloured background so please, Plep person, if you read this... change it? Please?

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Light, wood, and angles

And you get this as a result. It’s a ‘mirror’ made of little wooden panels, lit from the top, and when someone stands in front of it the panels are tilted by a computer to produce a corresponding image. Once you think about the understanding of light and shade required to create it, rather than just the computer which operates it, it’s quite amazing.

Also, inspired by wonderful and expansive threads about classical music on Metafilter, I decided to nick a big pile of my dad’s CDs and rip them. (Remember, when ripping classical music to mp3, use LAME for encoding, and make sure that you choose the “extreme” preset to make sure that the bitrate averages about 300. If you want lossless ripping, still with some compression, but very large filesizes, use FLAC.)

And what riches I rediscovered. If blogs are your way of finding out about anything new or interesting, try reading these classical music blogs: PostClassic, Sequenza21, The Rest is Noise.

Panoramic views of the extravagantly decorated metro stations of Moscow. An utterly superb site.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

House on the Rock

Following on from the earlier post which touched on the wild Winchester Mystery House, I was introduced (via a post on MetaFilter about said abode) to the House on the Rock, Wyoming Valley, US. It seems to be a chaotic museum with insanely large collections of everything, including some cobbled-together organ consoles with 15 manuals, etc. etc. Also, there’s an infinity room — really a huge cantilevered glass spike projecting horizontally over the treetops. Its end is the photo above.

Other things: Gothamist announces that Apple have a new iPod out, and a new iMac too. No official announcements yet, but MetaFilter links to advance photos.

Finally, again, shameless linking to other sites with no real discoveries of my own — Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — lots of interesting resources. And for the sake of completeness, take a look at how the creaky classical industry responded to the BBC’s Beethoven download-fest earlier this year.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lovely roofscapes, and more

A while ago, I was entranced by a feature in Time Out New York about rooftop homes and gardens in New York. From the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle building (where a wonderful loft apartment has been created) to Rockefeller Center above, it has photos of wonderful homes, not to mention a Japanese tea garden. Photos from ground level are also included to give some perspective on how magic these places are.

This month, New York opens its doors for the yearly NY Open House — places you usually wouldn’t be able to see can be home to your wandering feet and prying eyes. I particularly like the building of the Folk Art Museum, and the Prince George Hotel — those are in Manhattan alone.

I’m reminded of my wander around various forbidden London places in 2001. London Open House was the aider and abetter of those transgressive trips over a weekend, in which I visited the Midland Grand Hotel, 19 Princelet Street (wonderful place, wonderful), the Old Operating Theatre (stuck in the roof of a Queen Anne church!)... and I probably intended to visit more after the Hotel, but Jonathan and I probably had more immediately pressing engagements with a cosy café.

Back to New York for a moment: a young poet drowned in the Hudson River after jumping in to retrieve a dropped bag containing his notebook. Writers among you will understand. And moving away from New York while still including it: amazingly goodlooking underground railway stations throughout the world.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

It's not safe! Not safe, I tell you! - Cut!

A can of worms is always opened up when members of a utilitarian profession criticise the way in which members of a creative, or (literally speaking) useless profession go about their work. Angry exchanges arise because, after all, utilitarian professionals have chosen their particular career in line with their concerns — and people with particular concerns usually feel that those concerns should be shared by all. So they give their opinions a passionate airing.

And in the wider world outside narrow subjects of concern, the majority of people listen to the raised voices and hear a risible, interfering whine.

That’s what I hear in today’s accusation by doctors, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, that Hollywood films are very bad and irresponsible because in the space of one film, characters have sex but don’t often develop STDs.

Other concerns proceeding from the furrowed medical brow are that drugs are used, but with no health warning flashing up onscreen. Or condoms aren’t held up to the camera in what could, in the end, only be seen as a sermonizing way which would arguably ruin a film.

Dr Gunasekera and his two co-authors, Simon Chapman and Sharon Campbell, studied the top 200 movies of all time, as listed on the Internet Movie Database in March 2004. The researchers excluded any movie filmed before 1983, the pre-HIV era.

In 68%, people smoked and in 32% they got drunk. In only 8% was cannabis used and in 7% people took other non-injecting drugs. The researchers say the portrayal tended to be positive and without negative consequences. “The study showed there were no references to important consequences of unsafe sex such as HIV transmission, spread of STDs or unwanted pregnancy,” said Dr Gunasekera. “The social norm being presented in movies is concerning, given the HIV and illicit drug pandemics in developing and industrialised countries.”

Basic Instinct has six episodes of sex with no condoms used, no birth control and no public health consequences. American Pie has seven sex scenes, all involving new partners with no condoms or birth control measures. The “only consequences were social embarrassment”, the report says. Die Another Day has three sex episodes, all with new partners, “no condoms, no birth control, no consequences at all”.

Far be it from me to claim knowledge of all the intricacies of medical knowledge undoubtedly possessed by the concerned physicians. But, in the nicest possible way, bollocks to them. :o) Exhibiting all the awareness of cro-magnon man, they have spectacularly failed to recognise an exceptionally simple, visible, downright glaring point — which I’ve occasionally taken issue with here — Hollywood is not about providing culturally relevant teaching, but largely mindless entertainment.

Please, good doctors, realise this: the ramifications of your profession indeed extend to the bodies of every single one of us, but we all have wider lives countless times more massive than any profession can be. Don’t sermonise, or we’ll be forced to issue statements expressing our urgent and pressing concern regarding the lack of incidence of top-notch acting in medicine. ;o)

If you want to write to one of the doctors, follow the first link above: contact info’s given, refreshingly.

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