:: home : bio : blog
A storm in the distance, hopefully receding.
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat




Recent Posts

Wed, 29 May 2013
Phantom Ride
# 21:10 in ./general

The Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain is not nearly as large as Tate Modern's Turbine Hall but it is still pretty big and a very impressive space.

This space is currently being used to show Simon Starling's Phantom Ride on a big screen hanging in the center of the hall. It is quite an amazing show but perhaps the first thing you notice is the sound: a very low rumbling whooshing noise that is quite unsettling. This is matched on occasion with the visual image, such as a swooping 360° around Epstein's nightmarish Rock Drill.

Starling seems to have used the latest type of 3D modelling and computer controlled camera control to build a virtual Duveen Gallery within which he can place selected Tate pieces. At one point bomb damage from the Blitz is modelled, before the camera and models swoop around and display a new artifact (perhaps a Picasso, or a Warhol).

You can see some of the video at the Tate web site (or click the image below). But a (free) visit is highly recommended.

Mon, 27 May 2013
Mary Freer
# 10:50 in ./general

Continuing with the Constable theme, he's mostly well known for his landscapes, but he also did some very good portraits. Including this one. For a little background on Mary Freer, see the NYT.

Right: John Constable, Mary Freer. 1809

Salisbury Rainbow
# 09:49 in ./general

The Tate is showing Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows by John Constable , a painting recently purchased for £23 million. The Tate's not far from me, so I went up to have a look. I was in the place early (opens at 10 am) and there were not many people around. The cathedral website has some more background.

I like the picture, and like Constable in general, although I used to have trouble when I first saw how dark the paintings were. I knew he painted outdoors and was famous for the lightness, and play of light, he captured, but the palette was always quite dark. Now I know that I was biased, having come to Constable from the "future" via the impressionists. Going further back to the Dutch landscape painters as well.

Right: John Constable, Fen Lane, East Bergholt. 1817

Fen Lane. Apparently the route Constable would take walking to school, he would have known it well. This is the way the countryside used to be, no motor cars, trains or litter in evidence.

Have a look at more of his work.

Tate Britain is a superb gallery and has some beautiful work by all sorts of artists. I took the opportunity to have a look at the Blake gallery as well this time. I hope to write a little more about the visit later.

Below: William Blake, Elohim Creating Adam 1795/c.1805

Sun, 26 May 2013
Cloud Atlas
# 09:34 in ./books

Spoilers: Not really, but maybe a couple of small ones so be careful.

I knew of the book, and knew it was highly rated, but I actually decided to read Cloud Atlas after seeing the trailer for the film online. Not a usual route I'd take.

David Mitchell's book has received a lot of very good reviews and is also considered quite literary. Sometimes this just means a good vocabulary and well structured sentences but it can also mean a book turns out a bit abstruse.

I'm very glad to say that this was not the case with Cloud Atlas, and I enjoyed the book a lot. I knew very little about it actually, other than it was considered a bit harder ("literary") and had an unusual, multi-story structure jumping between different timelines. Perhaps the word challenging is more apt.

There are six stories, each in two halves that are in a mirrored order, such that we start and end with the first, the voyage of a 19th Century American notary in the South Pacific. Each story is set in a completely different period, from the 19th Century, to the 20th and off into the far future. Wikipedia (watch out, big spoilers there) calls the film (which I haven't seen yet) science-fiction and I found the future (and far future) episodes in the book the best.

The story of Sonmi 451 is a beautifully told tale of a young clone and her education into the realities of life in a future Korea. As a "fabricant" she is a slave and the world she is "born" into both autocratic and consumerist to the extreme. This world bears some resemblance to Huxley's Brave New World, one of my favourite books, and is chilling but fascinating. The story that follows is set further out, in a post-apocalyptic world where the vestiges of humanity cling to the planet by their fingernails.

Every story engaged and entertained me, and if any dragged at all, you know there's another along shortly anyway. There's a deeper meaning here but I'm still working that out, other than seeing the more superficial warnings against consumerism, environmental damage, racism etc. What I'll remember most is the excitement and empathy generated for a vat born clone, escaping her pre-ordained fate for a more immortal one.

Wed, 22 May 2013
AWS Alphabet Soup
# 20:19 in ./tech

Amazon, the online store, do a lot more than just sell books and computers. They also created a massive cloud computing platform to enable their own huge operations. They sell it as a service to everyone else, a so-called Platform As A Service (PaaS) provider. I've been meaning to take a closer look at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and I think now is a good time.

I actually created an AWS account four years ago but never actually used it. I think I was too busy probably, and perhaps also baulked at adding a credit card to the account at the time. I've decided to reactivate it and have a play in Amazon's free tier. This lets you use a few services for free for a year, as long as you use a small system and stay within certain resource limits.

So, I have a test EC2 instance up and running, Apache listening and a single static web page being served. It's using an EBS volume and ... well, the alphabet soup soon kicks in here. Awash in a sea of TLA's. This is one of the reasons I wanted to have a play, to learn about some of the terminology, including how to operate and manage things programmatically. I've created and used a number of virtual machines on Linux, and use quite a few now: this blog is written inside one, and hosted inside another for instance. So one of my questions is to see how different AWS is to the VM's I run now.

I would like to thank Amazon's "Imran I" again here. When I saw that I was probably not eligible for this (account over a year old) I asked Customer Service anyway (I'd never actually used the service at all). He not only enabled it for me but added $100 credit when he saw I mentioned I was educating myself on AWS. Wonderful!

Mon, 20 May 2013
Bright Land
# 14:23 in ./general

Dulwich Picture Gallery has a great show on at the moment called Bright Land, with work by their Artist in Residence, Canadian Liz Charsley-Jory. She's been inspired by the Canadian Group of Seven artists, who had an exhibition on at the Dulwich a year ago called Painting Canada, and created some beautiful pictures in a similar vein. I loved the show a year ago so much that I bought the book.

Most of her work is painted in oil pastels.

Unfortunately, the last day was Sunday (hence the trip) but her web site shows more of her work and I would recommend a look.

The exhibition today was free but I paid to see the Murillo exhibition afterwards.

Right Paddling around Trowlock Island, charcoal on paper

This is a monumental (i.e. large) black and white charcoal drawing, maybe a masterpiece. Sold.

The artist was in the room, doing a bit of painting, and I took the opportunity to tell her that I liked the paintings (as did some other visitors). I would imagine it was a successful show and I overheard her saying she was doing the "Christmas cards" this year. I'll look out for them.

I really love Dulwich Village but couldn't afford to live there. Like many places in London, it's beauty is only minutes from much less salubrious areas ...

Thu, 16 May 2013
Spitalfields, London
# 20:28 in ./general

I worked round the corner from Spitalfields market near London Liverpool Street ten or so years ago. A lot of history in this area, some of it notorious. I made a return visit at the weekend and saw a lot of changes.

For one thing, it now has a goat ...

Right: Kenny Hunter, goat sculpture

Christ Church, designed by Hawksmoor and built between 1714 and 1729, is still there and still striking.

Left: Christ Church, Spitalfields.

SpitalFields Market was bustling and full of fashionable and trendy stalls and shops. Many seem to sell very similar things though, as if there's a "craft" factory somewhere churning out the usual stuff. Still worth a visit because there's almost always something interesting and/or different to see or find. Compared to some high streets now, whether of the delapidated variety (e.g. Oxford Street, East) or the mundane standard variety (many towns), a market like this is much more stimulating.

Below: Spitalfields Market

Sat, 11 May 2013
Debian 7.0 "Wheezy" Released
# 15:50 in ./tech

Good to see that Debian 7.0 Wheezy was released last week after a 10 month release freeze. Some people think this is far too long, myself included.

Russ Allbery and Lars Wirzenius have written up a proposal to improve the Debian release process, with much inspiration from the agile development method. In short, they want to promote the Testing distribution to a state that it is always releasable, at least to the extent that the entire release process takes only 2 weeks to a month (or so, at most).

In brief, the proposal covers :

  • Keep the Testing distribution as close to releasable as possible, with more constant attention to bug fixing (especially release critical bugs).
  • More constant and automated testing done of the distribution.
  • Focus on ensuring the right core packages are ready and releasable, being less concerned with those packages deemed of secondary importance.

The idea that Testing be changed to either a rolling release or to some form of constantly releasable distribution comes up regularly e.g. see Tanglu and CUT. Allbery and Wirzenius are very well known Debian "old-hands" though, so may be able to make more of a impression on the project. I hope so, but Debian is a very democratic and distributed organisation and consensus is hard to build on this type of question. Debian is also well known for its focus on stability rather than freshness, and stability is an admirable goal. I think the process Allbery and Wirzenius describe can speed a release without sacrificing this by optimising and focusing resource better though. Automation may be the key.

Finally, I really appreciate all the hard work done by all the Debian developers and contributors - I've been running Debian Linux on all my machines for a few years now, a very satisfied user. Like many, I installed Testing many months ago but the long stabilisation period is a bit of a drawback. Right now, it's fine but fairly soon it will start to seem slightly stale. This is less of a problem for a server but more of one for a desktop. A way of optimising the release and update process would be very welcome.

Mon, 06 May 2013
Misty Mountains
# 17:29 in ./general

The current banner photograph was taken from a moving train between Edinburgh and Inverness in October last year. I always loved the wild beauty of the landscape in the highlands and the mist here captures some of its chilly but beautiful and awe-inspiring nature.

Very Old Jigsaw
# 17:16 in ./general

The British Museum has a room devoted to the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon ship burial discovered in Suffolk in the late 1930's. Dating from the 7th Century, many beautiful artifacts were found and have been restored over the years. One of the most famous is the Sutton Hoo Helmet.

On the left, a reconstruction of the helmet. On the right, how it looked when it was found.

The reconstruction is described here and it is clear how hard, and how much skill is required when rebuilding such an old and decayed artifact. The original attempt was dismantled in 1968 after further research determined it was inaccurate.

This is just one part of a lot more to see here, including some intricate and beautiful jewellery.

More detail about Sutton Hoo can be found in a good article at Current Archaeology.

Thu, 02 May 2013
# 06:47 in ./general

Luckily, I've only ever been on "stage" back in the mists of time in the school nativity play, where I might have been a shepherd. I think "shepherd" is the role little boys get placed in when they're obviously not star material.

I've not had to do much talking to groups, let alone audiences, but enough to know that I'm not good at it. I tend to clam up and have a severe attack of stage fright with pretty much everything getting thrown out the window: memory, speech capability and heart rate. It's a thoroughly unpleasant experience not sought after!

However, I know that many people overcome this fear, and I'd love to manage to do that myself. Mikael Cho's wriiten about his experiences and how he tried (and succeeded) in fixing his own stage fright. There is hope if you try: small steps first I think with very good preparation.

What happens to our brains when we have stage fright: The science of public speaking

© Alastair Sherringham 2023
Powered by Blosxom.
Still going after all these years.