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Mon, 31 Oct 2011
National Gallery
# 16:59 in ./general

It's been at least 20 years since I last visited the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. After visiting quite a few museums and galleries in the past year, you forget that this is the grandfather of them all. It has so many stunning pictures.

A Woman by Robert Campin, about 1435

I popped in on Sunday morning for a couple of hours, and was considering how to plan more visits. I thought I would start with the oldest pictures, those in the Sainsbury's Wing (a part of the gallery opened in 1991) These are from the 13th to the 15th Century and are mostly church and altar pieces, many painted in egg tempura on wood (it is only later that oil starts making an appearance).

A lot of pictures are quite naive or simple (but with a charm of their own). In fact, some Italian paintings display a similar body grotesque (e.g. Christ's wounds) to a style more often associated with Northern Europe.

The painting that struck me immediately was the one shown here, A Woman by Robert Campin. It is an amazingly life-like and beautifully rendered painting, all the more amazing for being created in 1435. It's absolutely wonderful.

It is seeing work of this calibre that makes me want to pick up a brush and paint. In fact, visiting art galleries and looking at paintings has stirred a bit of a desire to draw and paint again, something I have not done for over 20 years! We'll see ...

More to come.

Wed, 19 Oct 2011
Literati Electronica
# 11:39 in ./general

I'm the proud owner of one of Amazon's new Kindles, received as an early Christmas present.

First impressions are that it's easy to read from, with a screen (e-ink) that mimics paper very well. Turning pages takes some getting used to but you get the hang of it fairly quickly. In this age of the touch screen, it can feel strange not pressing fingers to the screen to manipulate the page, or a menu. But again, this particular lack of interaction starts to feel almost natural.

Typing in any text (e.g. search the store, password etc.) is the most painful part of the thing, but the on-screen keyboard is simple and well designed, so it's not as bad as I expected. The Kindle Keyboard keyboard takes some getting used to as well. This form factor might be almost perfect for reading, and the software it runs is easy to use and gets out of your way, letting you do the thing it's designed for: read.

It's very easy to buy a book, either via the Kindle Store a menu item away, or through the web site. It's downloaded to the device automatically, within a minute or so. So, I have Tess of the d'Urbervilles (free) and Niven and Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye (paid).

The odd thing is that I have the Mote as a paperback already, and was about 10% of the way through it. I bought it last week in Leakey's Bookshop, Inverness (a wonderful second-hand bookshop, with no web site it appears!). I wanted to finish the book of course, but also utilise the Kindle. So, maybe this is the way it goes. Purchases become so easy, in the internet jargon, frictionless, that I'll start buying more. This will probably be the case - you can think of a book, find it, buy it and download it, and be reading it within a minute. To a person who likes reading, this is a beautiful thing. I'm leaving aside some e-reader negatives for the moment mind you, negatives that include freedom (e.g. to share a book) and corporate power perhaps. That's for another post.

As I was writing this post, I came across another that mentioned this phenomenon. This Business Week article Amazon, the Company That Ate the World says :

Tablets represent a huge opportunity for Bezos, not only to sell a new kind of device but also to entice people to buy more stuff. Even with only 28.7 million iPads sold, e-commerce sites say they see an increasing amount of traffic coming from tablets. Forrester Research reported this summer that online purchases made on tablets now account for 20 percent of all mobile e-commerce sales, and that nearly 60 percent of tablet owners have used them to shop. Bezos says tablets “are a huge tailwind for our business.” Amazon once saw spikes in traffic during the workday lunch hours. Now traffic is more evenly distributed as people pick up their tablets anytime of the week, buying the books and albums they see on television and making impulsive decisions about replacing their dishwashers.

The same will be true of the Kindle.

Unfortunately for my Kindle reading experience, right now I have a stack of un-read books taller than me waiting. Lots of classic style books (i.e. paper) to get through and I'm not going to buy them all fresh again ...

Sun, 02 Oct 2011
Lawrence of Arabia's Motorbike
# 07:55 in ./general

At the beginning of the classic David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia (IMDB), we are treated to an exhilarating ride around some English country back roads, shot in first-person on a fast motorcycle. It doesn't end well unfortunately.

On a visit to the Imperial War Museum in London a few weeks ago, I met the bike :

T E Lawrence's Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle. 1932.
Click to Enlarge.

Informational notice :

This 1000cc motorcycle was the prized possession of T E Lawrence, better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia', and the machine on which he was killed in May 1935. Lawrence's Brough Superior was tailor-made by George Brough himself and cost £170 in 1932. This was the seventh Brough that Lawrence had owned. He named each in succession 'George I' to 'George VII', and also referred to some of them, including this model, as 'Boanerges' (Son of Thunder').

The Brough Superior was the fastest and most expensive machine on the road at the time. It easily reached speeds of over 100mph and was at the cutting edge of 1930's design.

An uncommon bike for an uncommon man. T E Lawrence on wikipedia.

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