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16 December 2012 @ 07:08 pm
I'm not going to talk about the main story of the week. It's very sad, and the more coverage it gets the more likely someone else is to decide it's a good idea. Here are some other things that have been in my mind.

Two stories about sports crowds caught my eye in the last week, one positive and one negative. The first was the Italian man who turned out to be the only supporter of his team at a match the other side of Italy. He was in the relevant city on business, but no-one else had decided to make the trip. The home fans started out mocking, but by the end were very positive, and the opposing club bought him dinner. The second story was in the UK, at a darts match. The long-haired, bearded appearance of a member of the crowd garnered attention from other fans, leading to chants about him being Jesus. The players became a little distracted, and I have sympathy for them, but I have always sort of assumed darts matches are quite noisy. The really bad bit is the response of the security team, which was apparently to remove the poor spectator for causing a disturbance.

Some people seem to be paying tax by popular demand, which confuses me. A bit like when the argument for reducing the highest rate tax band was that it wouldn't make any difference to the amount collected. I'm fairly sure that the whole point of taxes is that they aren't voluntary, on the grounds that we wouldn't pay the amount required to provide the services if we had the choice.

Finally, I think I have worked out why there need to be three very lengthy Hobbit films. If Peter Jackson films at 48 frames/second, and most cinemas can only show films at 24 frames/second, then clearly it will take twice as long as it otherwise would have done to show the thing. To those who have watched it, are the dwarves' voices very gruff?
30 November 2012 @ 10:54 pm
Busy weekend last weekend. The Saturday consisted of a bit of political campaigning (with yesterday's result showing that my partner is better at this than me), then some shopping, and then a very pleasant dinner party.

But, Sunday brought sitting all day in a draughty hall in Bethnal Green for the 2012 Boring Conference. Do go here for the official version. Obviously the marketing of this event is non-standard. While we were waiting for things to get going, the big screen encouraged us to tweet where we were. The good news was that five minutes before this announcement came up, the hashtag #boring2012 was already trending. The bad news was that most of the coverage was slightly confused people saying that they had rather enjoyed the year, actually.

Anyway, the conference finally got started with a very entertaining discussion of supermarket self-check-out machines. Speakers after that were of variable quality. At lunch, I was telling a latecomer to our group what he had missed, and it turned out I had completely blanked out one segment. The highlights were probably a talk on photographing IBM tills, a comparative analysis of toasters, and one called, "Some of my collections, in roughly chronological order". The organiser said that there were no headliners (last year they had Jon Ronson and Adam Curtis), but given that I recognised one speaker sitting in the audience before the start (Rhodri Marsden) and recognised another's voice (Kathy Clugston, talking about the shipping forecast, with souvenir tea-towel prop), I did not feel hard done by.

This was my first Boring Conference (there have been three), but I feel that I understand the concept. The experts took a topic inherently boring and made it interesting, but not everyone can do that. The real point of the event, I think, is that most people have one or more interests that are not well-known and not understood by the wider public, and if they are given a platform, ten minutes, and a sympathetic audience, they can show why those obscure, overlooked subjects matter. Maybe they can't show that they do or even should matter to everyone, but they can show why they matter to them, and that's all that matters.

Despite the poor quality venue (probably deliberate, as they used it last year), poor quality catering (definitely deliberate) and technical problems (rather implausibly claimed as deliberate), I think the event was a success. It received positive national and international media coverage, and I commend the effort put in by the speakers and the organisers.
14 November 2012 @ 11:53 pm
A couple of weeks ago I attended my annual games tournament weekend. Last year I was in India, so I was looking to defend one title and remind everyone why I'm a threat across a range of competitions. I ended up managing an extreme example of a different characteristic in my games performances.

In poker, the last position to be eliminated before the prizes is known as the bubble, and I've made rather a speciality of achieving that position, which I did again in Birmingham. It was especially funny this time, because in the other two competitions I entered there were prizes for the first three places, and in both I finished third equal, only to miss out on tiebreak both times.

Sad image of the week was seeing a Tenderheart Bear in a skip near the school I walk past on my way to work in the morning.
28 October 2012 @ 07:24 pm

A film about the 1988 referendum on the rule of General Pinochet in Chile, with the main viewpoint that of the advertising executive brought in to help the no campaign get its message across. As I wasn't 100% sure of the referendum result going in, I'd better not mention it here. The film is an interesting discussion of political campaigning, with humour, and about 30% of the film is archive footage, mostly from the yes and no campaigns themselves.

Caesar must die

An adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, filmed in an Italian prison and using prisoners as the actors. The directors discovered a theatre company in the prison, and decided the play would be an interesting project. The Shakespeare adaptation was good (one of the prisoners has started a professional acting career since his release), but some of the interspersed interactions were much too obviously staged. Worth watching for the audition sequence.

Post tenebras lux

Hmm...what to say about this. One of the scenes involved a luminescent horned devil, with prominent rear and front tails, wandering through a flat holding a toolbox. This was almost the only scene in two hours that I understood. My companion was very impressed with the film, though.

Winter of discontent

An Egyptian film, set during the protests in Tahrir Square and contrasting the reaction of the state security service to its previous efforts against dissidents. The filmmakers did as much filming as they could during the protests, including shooting reactions to Mubarak's resignation the day before he stepped down. They then came up with a plot afterwards, which hung together very well. The result was, I expect, a rather partial record of what happened in Egypt early last year, but that is understandable. The very existence of the film is to be applauded, and the writing, acting and directing were of a high standard.
21 October 2012 @ 07:48 pm
Much of this week has been taken up with the London Film Festival, of which I expect there will be proper reviewing later. But first, a mystery has been solved. On my way out of the flat yesterday morning, I saw a postal worker emptying the nearby pillar box, so I took the opportunity to ask why all the boxes had been closed for several weeks. Apparently, a set of keys disappeared, meaning that they had to change all the locks on the boxes before they could allow people to use them again. The postal worker was convinced that the keys had been stolen, and was very annoyed.

And now, some satire:

Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, MUSHROOM CLOUD!

Latest reporting is that the cull isn't going to happen, at least for a while. This is obviously good news for the badgers, and as I couldn't see it making a lot of difference to the cattle one way or the other, I am pleased.
01 October 2012 @ 10:42 pm
Today was the first proper day of term. After several weeks of wondering where all the students were, today a significant number of them turned up in the library. As did quite a sizeable number of new books, so the team had a decent level of normal work to do as well as the back office stuff I have been keeping them busy with. I, meanwhile, was teaching, both running a seminar and delivering a lecture. The lectures stop this week (I think), but the seminars have only just started, and I have today agreed to run pretty much as many of these next week as the students want. As there are about eight hundred of them eligible, it could be quite a few. I have to deliver the same lecture three times to fit them all in the theatre. The up-side of this is that I get to choose which lecture recording gets put on the virtual learning environment. I have not yet been brave enough to listen to any of the previous recordings I've made.

Of course, at exactly the point when the term kicks into gear, I seem to have developed a semi-cough/sore throat, one of my team had distinct sniffles, and another has actually called in sick. The nature of the university is such that we're not even restricting ourselves to germs from all over the country.
24 September 2012 @ 01:20 am
Today's weather in London probably cut down on the popularity of Open House - it's not all that much fun travelling around in the pouring rain. But yesterday seemed to be a success. I've been busy, and not motivated enough to arrange big-ticket items requiring pre-booking. But I did have a look round a nearby recycling centre, which was very interesting. It looked as though they had a permanent visitors' centre, but they had also added in some temporary entertainment activities for the day, plus the traditional Open House tea and biscuits.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying Person of interest, which looks as though it was the result of Jonathan Nolan being annoyed by Minority report and J.J. Abrams wondering about an alternative career path for Benjamin Linus. One-off episodes filled with action and occasional humour, plus thoughts about what constitutes a moral act and the nature of guilt and redemption.
15 September 2012 @ 10:45 pm
Last week, the pillar box by my flat was blocked up. I have seen this before, every so often, so while a minor disappointment it was not worthy of comment. This weekend I have been walking around the area, and have found, without really looking for them, three more blocked up pillar boxes, including one on a major road. Significantly, what I haven't found is one I can use to post a letter. I did see a post van, and one of the small red wheely trolleys, so the area hasn't been cut off from the post completely. It just looks as though we have to travel to use it. I wonder how far.

The positive side of the wandering around was a closely-fought tennis match and a country show. I think traditionally this might have been mostly about farming. While there was a farm area there, including a display of sheep-shearing, it took up a lot less space than the funfair.
09 September 2012 @ 08:36 pm
A small family get-together on the south coast received an interesting start with staggered arrivals. This allowed different kinds of activity at different times, making for a fun and varied but still communal weekend. Then I returned to London to join a picnic in Hyde Park. Radio 2 were having a big party on the other side of the Serpentine, but we concentrated on relaxed chat and far more food than was needed. I found out that the sand from Horseguards Parade has already been converted into public beach volleyball courts.

Out of date cultural reference of the week is London : the modern Babylon. This documentary received a cinema release and BBC broadcast in early August. The director edited together a mass of archive from a hundred years of London's history. At times it felt as though there were big time jumps, especially towards the end, but perhaps that was because it was covering history that I can remember. Almost all of it was interesting, and much of it was visually striking. Perhaps even more restricted in the number of people able to appreciate it than the Olympics opening ceremony, but to be recommended to anyone interested in the documentary form, as well as Londoners.
02 September 2012 @ 08:00 pm
Term will start very soon (early bird registration has already happened), so this weekend has been about relaxing and wandering around the local area. Fortunately, there was a music festival taking place in Southwark, across seven parks and a multi-storey car park. We looked in at four of the venues, with the variety being good, and the quality being a little variable, although some of the acts were excellent. The council describe it as an annual community festival, so we may well be able to look forward to another one next year. If we can't wait until next year, there is the Thames Festival next week.