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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Why Worry?

Clink the link above for five  minutes of sublime music from true master-craftsmen. Treasure this because when they are gone something unique in the world of music will be over.
This music makes my skin tingle with pleasure and I think I've got something in my eye.
The comments on You Tube really say it all but please add your opinion here!
In the very early days!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

My Heroes (36): Alan Turing

This week saw the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing's birth.
This is, ultimately, an extremely sad story. The name of Alan Turing should be as famous as Einstein and Newton and when he died at the age of of 41 in 1954 he should have had a state funeral. All he got was a public apology on behalf of the British government from Gordon Brown as recently as 2009. Read on to find out why.....
Alan Turing
He was an English mathematician, cryptanalyst and war-time codebreaker who had studied at Princeton in the US from 1936 to 1938. During the Second World War when Britain was standing alone against the Axis Powers and near to starvation because German U-boats were destroying Atlantic convoys bringing food to the United Kingdom. Churchill was, secretly, extremely worried. The Germans had invented the Enigma Machine which was a very advanced encoding device through which the submarines received their daily information. Realising that breaking the code was absolutely essential Turing, already known as a brilliant young mathematician, was put in charge of the top-secret 'Hut 8' at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. Thanks to his brilliant efforts the secrets of Enigma were discovered with an almost instant beneficial effect on the safety of Atlantic shipping. What went on at Bletchley Park remained highly secret until long after the end of the war. In fact one of the worlds first electronic computers which used thousands of thermionic valves (tubes) was smashed to pieces after the war. The government presumably must have thought it was too dangerous to be kept going. After all, what possible use could there be for computers in peacetime?
This leads to Turing's other great claim to fame; he is generally recognised as the actual inventor of the electronic computer. Although this may be arguable, he did invent the concepts of a processor and of memory storage using binary code. He never received any public recognition of his heroic actions.
Are you wondering, dear reader, why this might be?

Alan Turing was gay at a time when homosexual practices were criminal in the UK and he had been charged with indecency two years before his death. He died of cyanide poisoning and a half eaten apple was found at his bed-side but it was never tested for poison. This has led to various conspiracy theories. His distraught mother strenuously denied that he had committed suicide and it has been postulated that the manner of his death had been a deliberately ambiguous act to spare his mother' feelings.                                                                                                                      
The late Steve Jobs denied that the half-eaten Apple trademark was a silent tribute to Turing but said "I wish to God that it had been".

It is deeply ironic that a man whose actions helped to saved thousands of lives could not save himself in the society of 1950s Britain.  It is not by chance that Google purchased his papers to donate to the London Science Museum; they know their very existence might not have happened without him.
Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly due to star as Turing in a new film tentatively titled 'Enigma'. Good casting if he can get the stiff formal 1950's English accent right.
Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, secret headquarters of code-breakers during WW11. It is now a museum.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Painting of the Month (30) June 2012: Hokusai

Hokusai's 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa'
This iconic image was produced in about 1830 by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. It is a wood-block print and the first in a series depicting views of Mount Fuji. These kind of prints were usually made using cherry wood by a printer engraving from an original painting and the artist would not be involved in the process of  it's production. Many prints were made and this is an early, very high quality version.
Ying &Yang
The tension in the picture is derived from the impending crash that the huge wave is about to make. The power of the wave makes a ying-yang contrast with the space beneath it as the scared Mount Fuji sits serenely in the background. There are three fishing boats in the scene that are so cleverly interwoven that it is easy to miss them at first look. The boats would have been bringing fish from the islands around Edo (modern day Tokyo) to the mainland. It was unusual at that time to depict everyday work-related events in a painting.
I think the clean lines and pure colours make this a work of true beauty. Incidentally the artist has made good use of the, then recent, availability of a new blue pigment known as 'Berlin Blue'.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas 1914 - 1953

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The form of this poem is known as a vilanelle; a strict format with nineteen lines - five tercets (three lines) followed by a final quatrain of four lines. Notice that each stanza has the same ABA rhyming scheme.
The lines 'Do not go gentle into that good night' and 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' have become iconic in their own right. The influence of this poem has become widespread since it's publication. It is an exhortation to resist the onset of death, written as his own father was dying. The poet gives the examples of how  'wise men', 'good men', 'wild men' and 'grave men' do not meekly accept the inevitable.
Television writers have borrowed deeply from the poem including Doctor Who, Northern Exposure, Mad Men and Family Guy. The poem's connotation with death and endings was used to effect in the final episodes of St. Elsewhere and Roseanne.
As well as taking his name from Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan was hugely influenced by his writing style and developed Thomas's themes of conflict in his own lyric writing.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

London Monopoly (10): Marylebone Station.

Marylebone Station facade.
First of all let's get the problematic (even for Brits!) pronunciation  of Marylebone out of the way: you say mah-l'bone (Click to listen)
Until a few years ago Marylebone was the smallest of the London termini with only four platforms but it has since been enlarged. It's certainly one of the most attractive stations and the only London terminus not to be electrified, it serves only diesel locomotives.
It is operated by Chiltern Railways and runs to Birmingham and Kidderminster and, notably, to Stratford-on-Avon - Shakespeare's birthplace. (That's nothing to do with Stratford in London where the Olympic Park is being built.)
Scenes of The Beatles first film, A Hard Day's Night were filmed there and George Harrison met his future wife, Patti Boyd, who was a schoolgirl extra in the film.
The station opened in 1899 and it's architecture, which is sypathetic to it's more urban surroundings, has made it a favourite.