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2013-05-04 11:45 pm


It's very easy to go through life thinking of the vastness of the world as a series of options, rather than a lot of things happening all of the time, -- a semiotician might say that it's easy to mistake the syntax for a paradigm.

There's a stream at work, actually it's the River Cam but is about as big as your typical village stream at this stage. There's a place along it where I go at lunchtime, for a few moments, where a bush hangs over the water and drags some twigs along with it. About a metre downstream, the water rises in three humps, maybe five or ten centimetres high, maybe as a consequence of the bush or maybe to do with a midstream weedy patch about five metres further towards Cambridge. The humps seem to persist in all conditions, and so are oddly both ephemeral and architectural.

And I often think how it's hard to believe in the clattering of the stream, and the dynamics of the river as happening all of the time: right now; when I'm asleep; when I'm just getting on with other things.

It's a little like we're in the audience at a theatre, and we see cloths flown in for the desert, or the races, or Paris, and don't ever really think about how the flies are full of all of these things all of the time. There's no need to enumerate them (which would be impossible) but the concept of the flies themselves is something we even forget. Why do we never think of it? Fly towers are the most prominent things in many theatres, but we oddly ignore them (and the cyclorama paint shop, or whatever). Never mind the components, we're not even really aware of the aggregate existing (which is all we can really hope to be, I think).

At this moment something, -- loads of things, -- are happening in Bhutan, and Wiltshire, and Droylesden, and in the world of magnetic fastenings. There are motorway hundreds-of-yards markers, throughout the country, cooling down (principally by convection) after the drop in temperature following sunset and the decreased flow of traffic. Some will probably creak on their rivits as the metal contracts. There are things way more random than that happening all of the time; now. All those trees in Russia, the birches in the Taiga, they're just standing there as you read this.

But we seem to go through life as if it were something on a screen, conjoured up according to our inputs from abstraction. It's not like there are pixels in our TV rolled up onto spools and showing (to no one) shows that will never air.

But the world is like that. We've kind of known that intellectually since we were kids, and we can even manage to grok it for people we love, but that's not really much of an achievement given the scale of the problem, is it?

Why can we work with Aleph Naught, series in the limit, black holes, and the like, and yet not have some similar notion of circumference for the goings on in the world which we can maintain for mental use?

Very strange.
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2013-05-03 01:38 am


God bless you, Dee D. Jackson.

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2013-03-06 07:36 pm

Baby concert

One of the things which calms Edward when he's with me is for us to listen to music together on YouTube. He's often grumpy in the evenings and he can be quiet for a good hour and a half listening to music.

It's interesting what he likes (ie is quiet for or make "happy noises") because it's similar to what I like, which is odd: It seems to be by far the best way to predict what he'll enjoy is just to go for what I like (rather than, say, something I think a baby might like or using past evidence of preference for a particular thing). Maybe he can feel it when I'm holding him.

I'm also amazed at his attention span at that age!

Tonight's concert was:
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2013-02-01 12:48 am

Sinking of the Titanic, Bryars

Found it on YouTube. Why not set this going in another window as you browse?

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2013-01-26 08:45 pm

More three than six

Here's some C20th music which I've liked recently that's more Radio 3 than Radio 6.

I believe other radio stations are available, though goodness knows why, :-).

  • The Sinking of The Titanic -- Gavin Briars
  • Popcorn Superhet Receiver - Jonny Greenwood
  • Different Trains -- Steve Reich
  • WTC 911 -- Steve Reich
  • Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima -- Krzysztof Penderecki

Oddly, the disaster connection in many of these is something that's only apparent when I type them in now.

As far as recentish charts are concerned, Sweet Nothing by Calvin Harris and Florence Welch is a favourite.
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2013-01-26 05:01 pm

Fake Guns & Historical Bombs

There has been an attempted armed robbery in a bookmakers in Plymouth.

Though it wasn't said in the headline, I could tell from the picture that it was an English south coast port.

They all look very similar, I thought to myself, -- Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton -- all 1950s and 60s, seemingly put up in a hurry, with an odd speck of an older building cropping up in the oddest of places.

Not so odd when you think about it. History really is everywhere, isn't it? Thinking of all that heartache monumentalised in those flat rooved pebble dashed wide parades.
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2012-10-25 12:16 am

"This is the most German thing I've ever seen"

For anyone who enjoyed Slimelight in the 1990s.

(for something slightly sillier try their Super Space Invaders).
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2012-10-24 11:29 pm

A manifest of images on Voyager

A calibration circle,
The location of the sun,
counting in binary,
the units of time and space.

Small planets
and great;
our star
through a prism.


The Nile.

Atoms and molecules.
One diagram of DNA
after another.

A skeleton
with organs,
and rear.

A ribcage,
draped muscles,
heart and lungs, back
to front.

Human genitalia.
Diagrams and
photographs of conception.

A fertilised egg.
A foetus in a diagram,
and in a jar.

Male and female bodies,
child birth,
a nursing mother,
a Malaysian father and child.

Squatting children,
A family silhouette;
continental drift and
the structure of the earth.

A desert island,
the shore.
A river,
sand dunes,
monument valley.

Mushrooms in a forest.

A leaf,
a fallen leaf,
Sequoia in snow.

Daffodils by a tree,
a crane fly near flowers;
Diagrams of vertebrate evolution.

schools of fish
and a toad.

A crocodile.
An eagle,
a watering hole,
and Jane Goodall with chimps.

Bushmen in silhouette
and sepia print.

A man from Guatemala
a dancer from Bali,
Andean girls
and a Thai man, carving elephants.

An elephant.

An old man in round glasses smoking a cigarette;
an old man in lush meadows exercising a dog.

A conquering mountaineer,
a time-lapse gymnast,
Veleriy Borzov winning a race!

Teaching at school;
a globe rounded upon by children,
and cotton harvesters,
and grapes.

Fruit, toy trucks, and basketballs in a supermarket.

A fish,
A fishing boat,
Cooking fish,
A dinner party,
Licking, eating and drinking,
The great wall of China.

African brickies,
Amish barn-raising,
A house in Africa,
in New England,
and a Mexican Modernist pile.

An artist sketching by her hearth,
the Taj Mahal,
Oxford from an elevated position,
the UN by day
and night.

Sydney opera house,
a craftsman with a drill
an assembly of machinists,
some bones in a museum.

An X-ray,
A microscope,
A traffic jam in Pakistan.

Rush hour in India,
an Ithacan dual carriageway,
and the golden gate bridge.

A train,
A plane,
and Toronto airport.

An imperilled expedition to antarctica,
a Radio telescope with cyclists alongside,
and without.

A great book of Newton's;
an astronaut in space.

A rocket launch,
a sunset,
and a string quartet.

A violin with a score.

-- EJ Thribb, ;-)

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2012-10-14 01:26 am

This Month's Tenner on Music

This month I bought an album: Perfume Genius' Put Your Back N 2 It.
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2012-10-13 11:27 pm

Stirling Prize; HIGNFY

I don't think I can really believe that architecture other than on a human scale can be truly beautiful. It seems to me that any kind of building which doesn't relate to the form and size of the body is just a representation of tyranny and vanity. Even one of my favourite large buildings, Lincoln Cathedral, is saved only by the profoundly human St Hugh's Choir at its centre, with the rest of the building as a kind of sarcophagous for it, like the building around the Mary Rose.

This is one of the most amazing buildings which I've visited in the past few years. I think it would have been a more worthy winner of the Stirling Prize.

Things are very odd at the moment in terms of political culture, entertainment &c, very discombobulated and fin de siecle. If you didn't watch this week's HIGNFY, I really think it's worth it, not because of its comic value, but it's very odd atmosphere -- I think a turning point in political life. There's definitely a twenty-first century thing going on here, which makes everything seem a little strange. The roles of sincerity and parody between the governors and the governed seem to have flipped.
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2012-09-17 05:16 pm
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2012-09-17 01:26 am

Falstaff -- Chimes at Midnight (Film Review)

Being a fan of Shakespeare's Henriad, and of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in general, I was looking forward to seeing Orson Wells' Falstaff -- Chimes at Midnight. It was a disappointment.

The film is a retelling, mainly (entirely?) in reassemblies of the original text of Henry IV Parts I and II, with parts of Richard II and Henry V thrown in, and told from the perspective of Falstaff played by Wells himself.

There were powerful moments in the film, but they were written by Shakespeare: uneasy lies the head; I do / I will; I know thee not, old man; What is that word, honour? In between seem to hang vague, flabby bits, cobbled together from scraps in the plays, with a never particularly mirthful Falstaff enacting half-hearted Benny Hill sequences or morosely boring us at the inn. Overall the effect is a little like a "clip-show" where a cheap episode of a drama is made from some low-quality contemplative conceit interposed with extra footage from other episodes.

I find it hard to know what you might get from this film that you wouldn't get from watching a good production of the Henriad or even just one of those plays.

It's certainly no more accessible than the original. The language isn't helped by largely understated (film-y) delivery from the cast (other than Wells and Gielgud, who is excellent as Bolingbroke). And the production is set in that strange, Douglas Fairbanks era, alternative Hollywood reality where nylon, polyester, and elastic tape were invented some time in the eleventh century.

Falstaff is altogether too present. Shakespeare's most interesting characters -- Feste, Miranda, Cordelia, Lady Macbeth, Malvolio, Ophelia and, I think, Falstaff -- have an oddly liminal existence where they are very much on screen for events, but seem to execute their monologues and have their existential crises just off the stage out of view. It often seems like there's a much more interesting play going on next door, to which you are rightly not invited. Rightly because it seems to me that's the point: you're supposed to think about these people and imagine pasts, presents, and futures. The problem of who they are is supposed to occupy you. The desire to consolidate and linearise Falstaff seems to me to be akin to the desire to know how magic tricks are done: magic is done by you not knowing how it is done.

On the plus side, the battle of Shrewsbury scene is pretty much everything it's cracked up to be.

Just go see Henry IV Part I instead. If you like it see Part II. If you want to find out more about Shakespeare's intriguingly half-absent characters go see something creative around them like Hamletmaschine, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Propspero's Books or read the Prospero's Daughter trilogy. Don't bother with this clip show.
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2012-09-16 12:59 am

(no subject)

The weird thing about "the most expensive dress in the world" is it's not actually a very good dress, it just incompetently uses expensive raw materials.

The skirt fabric is unimaginative and poorly integrated with the bodice, the details follow lines bizarrely taking no account of the shape of the human body, it's tied round the middle like a sack of potatoes, the "shrug" part adds nothing new but isn't really a part of the whole, the back is just a subdued recapitulation of the front, the hem line is inditstinct, the skirt is clearly not bias cut for no very obvious reason or effect in a long gown.... Very odd.

BBC video thereof
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2012-09-12 07:31 pm


It's very strange the way politicians and PR folk say "I wish to apologise" and then you wait for them to do it and they don't. They've started saying things like "I'd like to rebutt those allegations in the strongest possible terms" and "I wish to express my deep sadness", but given then given the chance they don't say anything else. It's all a bit meta for me: I'm kind of surprised by them stopping and feel like saying "go on, it's ok!". How long will it be before they start saying "I wish to insert a witty remark" and everyone laugh?
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2012-09-07 11:26 pm

Ministry of Average Machines

Ok, I posted this saying it's an example of litotes and I realise that it's not really, it's meiosis. But it's amusing, still, I think:

The soviet nuclear weapons program was overseen by the Ministry for Building Average[1] Machines. (Министерство среднего машиностроения)

[1] In the sense of: average / middling / typical / normal.
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2012-09-06 10:53 pm

Anyone have a name for this computing idea?

This is used in loads of places but I'm not sure what it's called (Amazon use it a lot), not even a slightest clue.

The problem is one of coming up with a succinct notion of performance for a repeating task which may well be highly non-normal (eg page requests on a site with very different kinds of pages). Even among the people who know what variance is and can calculate it, very few people grok it, and that usually has all kinds of normality assumptions built in.

The argument is that people don't pay much attention to speed (care much about it, anyway) unless something is over a certain threshold of slowness. Folk will also forgive slowness up to some percentage of experiences, but only a tiny proportion (say 1% or 0.1%).

So what people do is select a percentile (usually 99% or 99.9% depending on if a request is seen as "critical" or not) and ask how long a request takes at that percentile. And that's all that's reported, that one number.

For example, Amazon web services all negotiate performance by passing historical 99.9% response times. Aggregating services drop sub-requests (or fail back to backups) if the reported 99.9% figure is too high for them to sustain their own 99.9% contract with their own contract. This goes way deep into their code, not just at the services level. A contract might be "99.9% of pages within 1s".

You can extend this to things like memory usage, bandwidth, the latency of garbage collect pauses, and so on and, I think, even people's perceptions of brand quality generally. 99.9%, for my own personal experience, is a pretty constant figure in software terms.

I think this is a wonderful idea and I think the main reason people think Firefox is slower than Chrome: it's not because its sustained performance is slower (though it is) but because Firefox has an extremely rubbish and non-threaded javascript garbage collector which inserts massive pauses way to frequently to be ignorable at 99.9%.

So here's my problem. What's this whole idea called? I know Jeff Bezos is a great exponent of it but I very much doubt it was thats guy's original idea: it must be from some business guru or something? Or maybe some statistician who advocated it? Anyone know? When I use it I call it bezos_* at the moment, which I'd very much like to stop doing.