Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Boom! Boom! Out Go De Lights!

There we were at about half past ten in the evening sitting quietly going about our reading, blogging, Facebookery and so forth when crackle pop! Off went the power. A quick examination of our neighbours' houses from the outside showed that there was not a generalised power cut and a double check of the fusebox showed nothing internal had blown, so we called in the assistance of the estimable National Power Company.
An engineer turned up at 00:50 am and checked it out, only to report that the junction between our house and the mains had blown so there would have to be some major digging up of the pavement and, in order not to cause severe unrest in the neighbourhood, this would be delayed till the following morning. Fair enough, but instead of 'first thing' the functionaries showed up about 9:00 am whence they sat around till the engineers turned up an hour or so later. The jobs are clearly delineated; you have a crew of (Romanian) sub-contracted labourers who do the digging and you have a crew of qualified electrical engineers who do the fixing of the buzzing electrical bits. And the engineers tell the labourers where to dig.
Any road up, they got on with it and we had power back after about fifteen hours. However, it was by then Friday afternoon and the labourers who fill up the holes don't start jobs that late, or work over the weekend. Reinstatement thus eventually took place a week later. Pictured are the electrical engineers, in the blue overalls, who both look uncannily similar to the famous bullet-headed thespian Ross Kemp. The other guy is one of the Romanians. Quite a genial bunch, all told.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Hideaway

I don't suppose Freddie King minded that Eric Clapton covered this on The Bluesbreakers album with John Mayall as it probably brought him a not inconsiderable sum in royalty payments. But here he is in the same year,1966, showing how it's done. Note the lady dancing on the piano, something neither Mayall or Clapton ever went in for, but I reckon both their backing bands could learn a thing or two from the jiving, jitterbugging cool cats backing Freddie.

Mosquitos 3 v. Xorg United 1

Not doing so bad so far. Untroubled by the flying bloodsuckers during the night but the little rotters got me yesterday afternoon whilest I slumbered on the balcony on a post-luncheon metaphysical haze induced, no doubt, by the imbiblification of a bottle of KEO... Meanwhile, one of the blighters bought it the previous evening by landing in my cup of coffee while I was on the phone. So that's one coffee-experimenting mosquito removed from the gene pool. Which may or may not be a good thing.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Nearly All Over...

Click on the picture to embiggificate.
'Amazing Stories' comic back in 1939 suggested that it can happen tomorrow, and this fellow says it will. At 6pm on 21 May, wherever you are, starting with a humungous earthquake. Those who The Almighty deems worthwhile will ascend into heaven in 'The Rapture' and the rest will perish in judgement on Earth five months after that.
So, it's goodnight from me!
On the other hand he could be wrong, but it's not the end of the world if he is. See wikipedia for a summary of some previous predictions.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Gravity Probe: NASA Video

Following on from my earlier post on the Gravity Probe B experiment which confirmed that Einstein's prediction that we are in a space-time vortex was correct, here's a short video from NASA.
(Sorry about the tone of the commentary, which is a bit patronising.)
Addendum: This is a three-dimensional visualisation which doesn't attempt to portray the four-dimensional actuality. So, the bump you see isn't just happening at one end of the earth, as it appears here. It's happening in all directions at once.

Greetings, Earthling

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Things I Have Successfully Avoided Vol.27: Eurovision 2011

I am pleased to report that I have managed to avoid The Eurovision Song Contest almost completely this year. I have not heard any of the songs or even glimpsed a video of any of the entrants whatsoever. I might have totally avoided it altogether but my mother-in-law unwittingly told me that Azerbijan had won it and that Cyprus had been eliminated in the qualifying rounds. But that is all I know and all I want to know about it, and I wish someone would have the decency to end it forever. A testament to banality.

The Twangmasters

Broadcast last Saturday 14 May at 10.30 am on BBC Radio 4: The Twangmasters, a light-hearted look at what constitutes a good lead guitarist; recommended for anyone who ever fancied himself on the guitar. The usual suspects get a mention - Hendrix, Clapton, BB King, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Ritchie Blackmore and Chuck Berry etc. One interesting bit of information that was news to me though was that Chuck Berry nicked his guitar intro to 'Johnny B Goode' from Carl Hogan, who was the guitarist in Louis Jordan's band (on the 1946 record "Ain't That Just Like A Woman.")
Notably, however, George Harrison is given special mention as being an ace lead guitarist because he didn't do flashy stuff, he did solos that added to the song and became part of it.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Well Done, Sherlock!

You're probably thinking that the estimable Mervyn King has yet again won the Well Done, Sherlock! award this time around for his startling discovery that inflation will rise over the next twelve months because the price of things like petrol, gas and electricity will be going up.
But no. The winner of the Well Done, Sherlock! award this time goes to that well known brainbox and incisive thinker, The Secretary of State for Business, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. He's just realised that his partners in the Coalition Government, the Conservatives, are "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal". None the less, he is going to continue to work with them. Clearly, he likes his comfy seat in the Cabinet.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Not Gonna Fill Ya Fulla Lead, Varmint!

It's good to learn that the US military is doing it's bit to save the planet. The Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey has developed new small arms ammunition, the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round 5.56mm cartridge, which eliminates 2,000 tons of lead each year from the manufacturing process. Moreover, the new ammunition also provides improvements in hard-target capability, it is more dependable, more consistent performance at all distances, more accurate, with reduced muzzle flash and a higher velocity. The new ammunition is already being deployed in Afghanistan. So that's a win-win scenario then. Although maybe not if you're an Afghanistani insurgent.

Einstein Was A Clever Boy

In 1959, some boffins at Stanford University dreamed up an experiment for testing Einstein's Theory of General Relativity which predicted that the Earth (or any other large mass) distorts space-time by virtue of its gravity and movement. The experiment was adopted by NASA and has received other independent funding too, and it has now delivered its final results which prove conclusively that Mr Einstein was right.
The experiment has taken so long because the boffins have had to wait for technology to catch up with their ideas, but it is basically simple:
"Gravity Probe B (GP-B) is a NASA physics mission to experimentally investigate Einstein’s 1916 general theory of relativity - his theory of gravity. GP-B uses four spherical gyroscopes and a telescope, housed in a satellite orbiting 642 km (400 miles) above the Earth, to measure, with unprecedented accuracy, two extraordinary effects predicted by the general theory of relativity:
1) the geodetic effect - the amount by which the Earth warps the local spacetime in which it resides; and
2) the frame-dragging effect - the amount by which the rotating Earth drags its local spacetime around with it.
GP-B tests these two effects by precisely measuring the precession (displacement) angles of the spin axes of the four gyros over the course of a year and comparing these experimental results with predictions from Einstein’s theory."
(Two-page .pdf with more info here).
So I guess it's not a Theory any longer. And it shows that what we think of as time is affected by gravity. And time is not an absolute. (More on that story later).
Note: Opportunity Cost Analysis: This experiment has cost about $750 million, which is about £460 million, spread over 52 years. This equates to about six weeks' worth of war in Afghanistan for the UK and about nine days of air strikes/cruise missiles launched by the USA against Libya.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Alternatives

Margaret Thatcher (yah boo hiss) once famously said, when implementing her misbegotten and nasty neo-liberal capitalist financial policies that "There Is No Alternative". Of course, as enny fule kno, there was, and her policies buggered everything up for a lot of people and set the scene for the financial crisis of 2007/2008 (deregulation etc), while making things better for a few people who were already pretty well off. Her successors are doing the same today, claiming that there is no alternative to the cuts in public expenditure, which will disproportionately affect those who can least afford it and who had least to do with the causes of the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the bastards in the financial markets who are to blame are protected and are getting richer all the time.
However, today we are being offered the chance of an alternative of sorts through the referendum on electoral reform. The Alternative Vote system is not the best, and it won't necessarily produce better representation for the electorate as a whole. But it is a step in the right direction and better than the existing First Past The Post system. In 1979, when Thatcher came to power, the Tories got 43% of the votes from a 76% turnout so only 33% of the elctorate voted for Thatcher's government; not quite the mandate she claimed to have. In 2010, the Tories got 36% of a 65% turnout which is only 23.5% of the electorate voting for Cameron's government. Definitely not a mandate for the current wave of half-baked, misconceived and doctrinal economic and social policies being inflicted upon us.
Moreover, given that David Cameron, the British National Party and the Foxhunt Association (amongst others) are against any change and that the 'No' campaign has been funded chiefly by the financial sector, I think we can see who will benefit from keeping the present system and who fears any change.

Rage Against The School Band

I guess this means that Rage Against The Machine should now be considered mainstream.


Head-Banging School Band Plays Rage Against The Machine - Watch more Funny Videos

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Monday, 2 May 2011

Cyperus Alternifolius: The Mill, Kakopetria

Cyperus alternifolius, syn. Cyperus racemosus is also known as the umbrella plant or umbrella sedge. It is a perennial plant which is native to Madagascar, Mauritius and The RĂ©union island. I found a large specimen growing at The Mill restaurant in Kakopetria, Cyprus, and took a cutting. It's really easy to propagate: just cut a healthy stem about 10 cm from the top, trim the leaves to about 2 cm and place it upside down in a jar of water. After a week or so, roots will start to appear and a week or so later green shoots will begin to grow. Let the shoots grow a couple of cm, then plant in a small pot of compost. Keep it well watered - never let it dry out - and give it plenty of light. This cutting was taken last November and is now flourishing here in the UK five months later after one re-potting.
If you're ever in or near Kakopetria, The Mill restaurant is worth a visit. Their speciality is grilled trout in a butter, lemon and garlic sauce, from a local trout farm. The rest of the grub on offer is pretty good too, especially the grilled mushrooms and the pork chops, but don't bother with the seafood salad - you're in the mountains. The landlord is a loquacious fellow; a Cypriot who emigrated to England and ran a restaurant in Maryland Road, Wood Green *. He  eventually moved back to Cyprus where he opened the Maryland Restaurant in Kakopetria - where he introduced his Trout Speciality - before acquiring and redeveloping the Mill.
* a couple of streets along from Spencer Avenue, where my grandfather lived. Small world.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Stravinsky in 3D

A novel works outing experience  recently for members of the Xorg Collective to The Royal Festival Hall for a performance by The Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Iland Volkov, of Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring', with dancer Julia Mach.
Cognoscenti will be aware that 'The Rite of Spring' was originally written as a ballet, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, a Polish-Ukrainian who grew up in Russia and trained at the Imperial Ballet. Nijinsky hitched up with producer Sergei Dhiagelev, with whose company The Ballets Russe he travelled to Paris, whence occurred the first performance of 'The Rite of Spring' in collaboration with Mr Stravinsky in 1913. Apparently Igor and Vaslav did not get along too well; Vaslav thought Igor was a patronising old grump and Igor thought Vaslav was a musical dunce. Be that as it may, Nijinsky's choreography broke down barriers as he dreamed up modern dance to complement Stravinsky's modern music. However, it seems he went a little too far and mimed autoerotic behaviour at some point; in 1913 this was a bit challenging for your average ballet audience and a riot broke out in the theatre. But in the long run, the controversy helped publicise Stravinsky's music, and 'The Rite of Spring' in particular. It has subsequently been performed more as a piece of music on its own merit rather than  necessarily as a ballet.
Any road up, with the recent development of 3D digital technology this chap called  Klaus Obermaier has devised a new way of making the piece visual. This involves a lone dancer being projected live in 3D onto a huge screen above the orchestra, with added digital effects. The whole thing is choreographed; the dancer's movements are coordinated with the music and the computer operator tweaks the images accordingly, with the result that the audience sees , with the aid of 3D glasses, some weird and groovy stuff floating about above and in front  of the stage.
Although the audio-visual concept of the performance is quite novel, the choreography itself was not especially challenging or innovative nor likely to cause a riot. But we got some quirky moments and elements of surrealism along with stretches of what were essentially pretty psychedelic far-out effects. I can't say that the visuals were representational of 'The Rite of Spring' as Nijinsky's ballet reportedly was, being concerned primarily with pagan fertility rites, but it looked good nonetheless and it will be worthwhile trying further experiments in this genre. Obermaier went mostly for the abstract rather than the literal.
The technical set-up required that a blacked out platform was needed for the dancer. This was erected on the right of the stage, taking up the space usually occupied by the basses who were consequently relocated to the left, squashed in behind the first violins. Other sections of the orchestra were likewise relocated and squeezed in, with the result that we didn't get the full dynamics of the symphony orchestra.  The sound came across as two-dimensional as a result - focused within the plane of the stage rather than leaping out  at us.  Future performances should be given somewhere with a bigger stage! However, this inconvenience did not deter the orchestra and conductor from giving the music a fair old seeing to and their performance was pretty darn good.
Prior to the 3D business, the orchestra played two supporting pieces; 'Tuning Up' by Edgard Varese, and 'Lontano' by Gyorgy Ligeti. These were performed wonderfully. Conductor and orchestra played the Varese piece with the right amount of jollity and slyness appropriate for Varese's take on one of classical music's rituals, and with the delicacy and concentration needed for the ethereal Ligeti. Full marks to them, but I'm deducting points for the noisy air conditioning in the Festival Hall which intruded, particularly during 'Lontano'. A bonus point for not charging extra for the 3D glasses though.

Previously...