Friday, October 31, 2008


First Youtube

Music is Violina: The Last Embrace by Lisa Gerrard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Aptness

Too Soon?

Laser Fox

We went to Formby Point at the weekend, hoping to see the Red Squirrels but they have been badly affected by Squirrel Pox recently despite signs in the rest of the country that the Reds are developing resistance. Not one squirrel was there. As compensation the Forest Animals Committee had managed to persuade the above fox to station itself within metres of the car park. Obviously it wanted feeding and I'm sure it would have accepted an ice cream but none was forthcoming. It sloped off eventually, mumbling something about "bloody tourists". I do hope the squirrels survive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I used to stare up into the sky quite a lot. Sometimes it was for a reason - an eclipse or high plane but sometimes it was just to look at the clouds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Indus Trial

There is nothing interesting in the papers today. There has actually been no news and so over to Vladimir Ashkenazy for some music. It is also a No Weather Day (Copyright D.O. deBorde). All of which is possibly the result of me reading about The Cotard Delusion in this book. I'm certain I've never been close to suffering anything as bad as this but the book defines the spectrum of disorders which range from the alienation we all feel right through to being convinced that one is dead or that the world does not exist other than in the mind. It is impossible to rationalise these fears - they by default have to come from a severe disturbance or injury to the brain? What trigger within the mind needs to be removed to let this feeling take over?

One of the Obvious but Wrong answers on QI once was that we have five senses when it is clear from a basic inventory that we actually have many more. The most interesting is of course proprioception which is the body's mechanism for knowing the position of every bit of itself relative to the rest. This is how we can touch the tip of our noses in the dark or be able to move our eyes to look at where we hold our outstretched fingers. It is often difficult to tell where the boundaries between senses actually are but they must extend into the myriad mechanisms within the brain for keeping us within the range of acceptable behaviour. I suppose my internal coffee stack is just a part of one of these mechanisms. There are just so many interlinked systems in the body - chemical messengers - nerve impulses - and a whole range of things which link these things together. You cannot define the mind in terms of different black boxes because the whole relies on every other part to work. And you cannot say what will result if one of these systems breaks down - you cannot fix it replacing the broken piece.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

God-Shaped Hole - a Round-up

A Honey Trap for the kooks.

Church and State.

Not Believing in Buses.

My Brother is Bigger Than Your Brother.

Dream Diary:

Dreamed that Mount Fuji was maintained by a secret group of Shinto Monks who went up the mountain at regular intervals to shepherd the crumbling sides back to conical perfection and to spread the snow out in a pleasing way. Seems to have been a visual reference to the perfection of Haiku.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yes Pussyfooting

As is common I cannot think of anything structured to say. This seems to be happening a lot recently meaning that loads of entries here are of the Random Friday type. However, I did start a post last week which I called "Why am I right?" - a hypothetical question about why should my opionions be any more likely to be correct that anyone elses. (The first version was rubbish and I deleted it.) This was sparked by reading various forthright blogs which state opionions with no room for manouvere even if the position is obviously ludicrous. I am of course of the weedy mentality which tries to see things from all sides with the result that my opinions never coalesce into anything solid. Should I try and be more inflexible? It is standard to think that your opinions drift to the right politically as you get older but to accept this would be trying to live your life based on an episode of Father Ted. I wonder whether all those students who used to accost me with Marxism Today still stand up as Socialist Workers these days. Ramble warning has been sounded here but I'm not going to delete the post this time.

Anyway, I have been sitting here for most of the time it took to write this staring into space without anything other than abstract thoughts in my head - thinking without words I suppose it is. In the future I forsee new computer input devices which will let us record these images - maybe direct to whatever replaces blogs in the future. (Please not Twitter - but that may well be the first step.) My brother did have an idea which involved old EEG equipment linked up to computer to allow positive feedback which got me interested for a while. I have actually just been trying to get random numbers out of the stream of data that the PC returns from the microphone - someone has had the idea already though it seems that their examples used wave files to generate the numbers rather than using DirectX from the mic as I've been doing. I suppose if I could turn the output of an EEG array into sound we would have something wouldn't we. I suppose I could just go and buy an interface device. As usual this idea will fester for a few weeks before dissolving into nothing, like Lyra leading the souls of the dead to become one with the universe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Timelords XI

Sergeant Petrovski got in the way of the rudder pedals today. Meant I shot down that FW over our own runway and the rest of the flight could only land on the grass. Well - I got the YAK down at least, even if the gear did collapse and the prop got bent - any landing you walk away from is OK by me I suppose. Petrovski owes me a drink I think. Treble Vodkas all round. Pip Pip. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Toast-to-Bacon Ratio

It's fogging! Goddamn this paper - failing me and Year Zero. How to sleep in this light-speed anxiety? I was asleep then and the whole failure of the country came to me in one jolt, like a bullet to the chest, throwing me back into the bed. I imagine it pushing me down, through the bed, through the floor and the earth and The Earth, mantle, core, mantle and out through the sea that is our antipodes. I am swimming with the fishes, the strange, deep-living, white-scaled, aquatic exotica that darts about this sea trench. And then in one glorious moment my head comes above the water and I think now that I might make it. Even alone with the sharks and no water and sunburn, I have made it through the planet, so I must survive. On the horizon, a white dot, a tanker - by my wondrous luck heading straight for me. It must see me. I know it will see me. And now I am up the ladder dripping and happy and safe for here there are beautiful people, rich people taking slow trips round the world, roughing it and reading in the shade, the throb of turbines far below lulling them to worry-free sleep. And then I know I must be still asleep, in the scruffy sheets of many nights occupation, but the dream does not go away. It feels real. It feels real.

Soft and sweet are the biscuits in Georgia, just over the state line, severing this warm peninsula from the dry mainland. I watch the forests fly by in a blur of green, seeing the roadside stalls that offer us everything. Biscuits and lemonade, general sugar and comfort. It is midday, sun high and hot but cool in here with the shadows of bridges flashing by like film shutters. Humans are not designed to process fast-moving images; a dart of the eye across the scene, leaves no sense of movement, just a blank space in memory, a split-second removed from time. Maybe if I keep my eyes moving like some child's idea of a spy, I can make the day pass faster. But here in this bus, moving at a speed far faster than we were meant to, whole counties fly by in the space of mind diverted by a thought from a book.

In the back of a rubbishy van. Five of us, me obviously, your all-seeing narrator, one who knows the thoughts of everyone he describes and the entire four-dimensional whereabouts of an entire school. I know this because I invent them all. No one here exists or ever existed. They all despair of ever being real but that is the fault I give them. Deep down they worry about this while obeying what I tell them. None of this will make it through to the final tale, but it is the foundation on which everything they do is based.

Last ten minutes. Here is Mary, months older than me, long-legged, black-clad and trying to be cool. Whether she succeeds is defined by how close you are to her. In this van she is a cool quiet icon, our almost-silent leader, brought up short by having to deal with people she does not know. But if black clothes are a mark of cool, then we are all sub-zero for black is our uniform, all black from shoes to tie and even hair, most of us being good local Celts. Mary is teaching the baby to swear while her mother is inside the shop. And the rest of us being well-brought up boys, are trying to suppress our discomfort at this and snigger along with her as the baby refuses to play along; the words are just too complicated and we are happy to leave the possibility of outraged elder aunts to later in our common life. To be honest any of Mary's aunts would happily join in with the subversion, most of them having fled to the rougher parts of the country to bring succour to the masses it seems and each picking up a trooper's vocabulary along the way. And of course her parents won't be bothered either so we go along happily with this half-hearted, obscene education. Still more minutes. So who else is here? There is our mad drummer, an artist and faker who alone amongst us favours bright colours, cricket jerseys and tartan trousers which make him look more like Roy Castle than Johnny Rotten but we cannot tell him that of course. The baby you know about but being so young he does not speak and does not know yet what colour clothes he likes. These four are the people in this van. But Mary has a friend, not invisible but not human either. Her friend is her comfort, her nighttime security, to be checked before sleep and laid to rest like a child - her baby. And her friend is our friend coveted and loved unrequited.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Any Quants You Want Surveying?

It seems that most financial trades these days are carried out between computers - which reminds me of the old joke about answer phones having a better relationship than the people who own them. It is not possible to work out whether the assertion that the "Quants [fed] the beast ever more intricate lines of code" is true but I suspect that it is. Why should trading programs be any different from all the other wonderful bits of spaghetti which rule our world these days? With the recent Turing Tests in the news, I am beginning to wonder if the first truly intelligent machine will actually arise by default from the random sets of complexity that seem to have got away from their creators. Of course such a haphazard creation will have all the faults that plague our imperfect minds. This chimes wonderfully with the evolutionary argument that points out that the imperfections in the natural world are proof that evolution is random and uncontrolled. I suppose if any nebulous financial mind arising from these automatic trades should really come about, then like the bomb in Dark Star it might start analysing its own purpose in life. Maybe this has already happened and the mind that exists considers itself far superior to its creators and has decided to bring the market down. I can't quite believe that yet; I suspect that the current chaos and short-termism is just the result of there being no difference between sheep and share owners. (The rest of this paragraph was a descent into manic and irrelevant ideas and has therefore been deleted).

We were really quite disappointed in Stephen Fry in America. I suppose it was diverting but you really expect more in the way of analysis. It may have been the editing but my let-down was because Fry had said he was not going to pander to the general British idea of Americans and then did just that. The glaring sentence was a glib summing-up of the creation of the IMF and the world bank at a hotel that looked like the one on The Shining but was actually Mount Washington Hotel. Never mind, a comedian of the semi-same ilk - Griff Rhys Jones - has been doing a wonderful job of guiding us round The World's Greatest Cities. This obviously proves that liking something is all a matter of it reaching your expectations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


My parents' local paper has come with this winning entry for the story with most local interest - Hospital quiz sheet contains errors. Having laughed at the country people, I cannot actually think of anything or urban interest myself at the moment. I was slightly excited by BBC4 showing both high-speed London-to-Brighton films side-by-side last night but that mild euphoria has vanished in a puff of credit crisis. Oh well!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Only Eating Posh Puffins

Call me a fuddy-duddy but I like quiet libraries - I turn off my phone whenever I go - the silence seems to swallow any outside anxiety and that is its beauty. Now it seems that in the name of progress libraries should become fun places where you can laugh and joke and generally carouse as if in the pub. Think of the quiet of a traditional library, the distant thump of a window being closed, the heavily filtered sound that is the mix of traffic and all other external sounds. Our library has a coffee bar outside but it has tables and as far as I know you are not allowed to bring purchases into the bit with all the books (that would be the "library" - ed.) We have Internet access but the machines have headphones. We have the really intellectual bit upstairs with all the reference books. The only time that sound is allowed is toddlers' story time though I've never been to that so I can't tell how loud that actually is.

As a bonus, the article by Victoria Coren also links to her own website here. Anyone for a quick round of The Platell Game?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Out of the Frying Pan

More enlightened ignorance. It is the only way. Take no part in the
maelstrom until it is upon you and then run like hell

It is a strange Autumn here - the leaves have turned and yet it is warm - maybe a perverse, envronmental two fingers at the high price of energy. And with that pathetic fallacy we leave meteorology for today.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Findus Crispy Golden Ratios

I was going to be all pessimistic and talk about misery. Instead I will only mention Spike Milligan's assertion that money cannot buy you happiness but will get you a better class of misery. We only have relative misery. (Who whispered "mother-in-law joke" at the back there?)

I want to talk about The Golden Ratio which kept us awake for a few minutes on Monday but now I come to have fingers-at-keyboard it just seems pointless. I did think I was going to write loads today but all the notes now seem silly. You may want an antidote.

My notes include the google search that brought up this very site which was "Alexander Von Slippenbach Pakistani Blogspot" and "Proof of dislike of change." This last one was prompted because the sandwich van which comes to our car park every lunchtime had changed its attention-getting horn sound, which made everyone comment negatively. Sometimes no change is very sexy. There is also a line about "posh apples" and something to remind me to link to this about Mail Goggles.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

On Remembering National Poetry Day

Well as you can see from the previous post I did remember. I was reminded by spotting an article by Andrew Motion which unfortunately turned out to be boring and so I won't bother you with a link - Google is your friend if you minded to search for it.

The only things I can possibly link to are this - Pieces of Me by Frieda Hughes and this.

Four Claws - Haiku

Money came and went
like cataracts of silver
through the moonlit sky.

We provide for rain,
things hidden in the darkness
buried deep and loved.

Loved too much, these things
have boiled away and vanished
into empty air.

And yet we own them,
gold and silver back to us
with extra linings.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

... Without Going Through the Brains of Either

I love BBC4! I would elope with BBC4 if I could be sure of getting it down the ladder. I imagine Alan Yentob standing fuming at the window shouting "why? why?". After a week of art which made me feel cleverer but still stupid we now have the small boy that is Marcus du Sautoy doing The Story of Maths which was like channeling Bronowski via Michael Rosen. The show did in fact show the proof of the Pythagorean theorem using the same method that Bronowski used in The Ascent of Man though of course today we have computer graphics to replace the cut tiles in sand of yesteryear. And then both programmes went on to discuss Harmonics. Happy bunnies we are.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Oh For Art's Sake

Just finished the last of the BBC4 art programmes that have filled up the PVR over the last week. I bought the book Ways of Seeing years ago though most of it was (and probably still is) over my head. However, the TV programme on which it is based was easier to take, being in four half-hour slots. There were quite a few truisms but they may just be the result of the ideas becoming accepted over time between then and now. It was also easy to see the right-on Marxism and iconoclasm. Still a respected series today. I can't really be bothered to say much else about the other programs - they were interesting - but I do have to mention the bit where Brian Sewell called Sister Wendy a clown - not to her face; I wonder who got to the face paint first.

It will be interesting to see the results of this mass Turing Test. I didn't have much difficulty in working out which of the two sample conversations at the bottom of this article was the computer though I have to say it was far better than some IM conversations I have which purport to be from real people. For sometime I have been trying to get together enough expertise to write an agent to respond to IM and I wondered this morning what knowledge would be the result of priming two such agents against each other. Obviously there would need to be some real-world input to keep the two things going - but what intelligence would result from two machines talking at each other? Try one of the machines for yourself. At least I think it was a machine - it told me it was convinced I was a machine but it typed its answers too fast to not be a machine. Asked "Who was Sylvia Plath?" I got back "Sylvia is a well-known member of feministically-oriented chatterbots organization 'The NonShutUpAble'" which is rather clever if a little insulting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Moon Cable

The All-Planets Formation Dancing Team

This is obviously the result of a collaboration between The UN and the Liberal Democrats, an organisation destined to rule for a thousand years or until next Thursday, whichever comes soonest. And of course to lose two Blairs within 18 months looks a lot like carelessness. Never mind - the sun is shining, until tomorrow at least and the good Senators/Congressmen/Whitehouse Cats are looking after every one's best interests.

I have an omission from the reading log which I need to confess; I didn't even get beyond the fourth page of The War Against Cliche before it was jettisoned. I may have another go but the first chapter seemed so arch and self-conscious that I was wondering if it was actually an example of the stuff that Mr Amis was intending to criticise. One part of it was so glaringly naff that the book was instantly launched into the untidy bedside pile. This reminds me of the long telephone conversations I couldn't help hearing this week. They were examples of how to conduct a discussion using stock phrases without them containing any original thoughts - I'm wondering now if it might be possible to record a number of the usual suspect phrases to play back in lieu of actual attendance. The reviews of TWAC suggest I should try again. I cannot get on with just dipping into a book - it has to be read in order, from start to finish, though as you know jettisoning it allowed. However, I may skip chapter one of this.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reading Logs catch up

As a palate cleanser I've just finished Nice Work for probably the fifth time. It's a quick way to feel clever as it references so many things without ever slackening the fast and funny pace. Having watched the BBC version of North and South, I was aware of many more linkages between the two books than the last time I read it (NW that is). Both of the main characters are introduced with many faults and yet they both come out of it as likable people though be warned that the ending is not the fairy tale of the Mrs Gaskell Novel. I do wish the BBC would show their version of Nice Work; it's so long since I saw it that the Warren Clarke of my mind is too old and chubby to play Vic who from the book seems a slim and slight figure and therefore more plausible as squire to Haydn Gwynne.

I jettisoned A Devil's Chaplain a couple of chapters from the end because it was just too stodgy after the lightness of Dawkins' tributes to Douglas Adams. However to keep up the meaningful stuff I have started dipping into Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams again. To start this has a wonderful cover in Ransom-Note style. Its title story is a beautiful, syrupy and dark tale of a secretary who works in the Psychiatric out-patients department of an American Hospital where she secretly copies and reads the dream books going back to when the department opened. Without spoiling things, I can say that I do think that it might have been in Will Self's mind when he wrote Ward 9. The other stories of Johnny Panic have an air of twisted domesticity, being written often for Women's magazines and therefore having to be far-removed from the dark stuff of Plath's later poems. But still these dark influences come through the surface gloss, either by being part of the beautifully-written prose or because of my own association with the events of Plath's life. Short dip-in stories they are, brilliant for filling up gaps.

I'm just not sure what serious book to pick up next. Suggestions please.