Created a polygonal sine wave generator, which allows you to play sine and cosine waves generated from regular polygons which aren’t circles. Entertaining to mess around with, and allows you to change the frequency of the waveform to suit your hearing as well. Discoveries with A (440Hz) include that while increasing the number of the source polygon’s sides until it most closely resembles a traditional sine wave produces a smoother-sounding note, reducing the number of sides until the waveform resembles a flamboyant triangle drawn with a calligraphy brush creates something which is both harsh and musical at the same time. Fantastically good fun.
The British Library remind everyone that their Medieval and earlier manuscripts are in the public domain and the digitised catalogue is available for use: good news for scholars, the interested, or people like me who are having a bit of a belated spike of appreciation for the times prior to the fall of Constantinople.
The Kerala State Library too have a large digitised collection online in English and Malayalam. Some of the books are very rare, and there are over a thousand titles available.
People have done other things, but I haven’t been paying attention.
Technology being what it is, my faithful Canon Powershot A460 (ooooooold) has given up the ghost on me, and I have just had to empty my piggybank/paypal to get a replacement so I can keep listing jewellery. As it won’t arrive for another five days I can’t dazzle the interworld with photos of my latest couple of projects (one of which was peacefully completed while watching Howard Goodall’s history of music, which means that you might find some Liszt, Wagner, Mahler, or Stravinsky in the links if you look very hard and use your imagination), but in an attempt to stop me from finding out if Paypal have a debtors’ prison, I’ve relisted an oldie:
18 inches / 46 centimetre gold plate chain, pins and findings, brass upcycled windchimes, acrylic beads, and amethyst chips.
With this beautiful purple fairy necklace you can both look AND sound gorgeous; the hanging windchime discs are spaced just the right distance apart to remain silent while walking but to chime delicately while dancing! Absolutely unique.
REDUCED from £15
(Although the necklace looks quite imposing, the display it’s hanging from is actually very small, and the fairy is less than four inches across).
The following pieces are also listed on my Etsy shop.
78 inch / 198 centimetre black satin ribbon belt with copper pins, acrylic beads, and brass coins.
This versatile belt can be worn around the hips, as is traditional for bellydancing outfits, or looped more tightly higher up the body depending on your preference. It is tie-closure, which means the length and layering is up to you: will fit anyone from XS to 4XL, if not above.
17 and a half inch / 44.5 centimetre vintage lace ribbon choker with gold plate fastenings, goldtone setting, black matte rhinestones, and a resin cameo.
This unique dainty necklace is perfect for Classic or Sweet Lolitas, or anyone with an affinity for lace and cameos. The soft lace choker is easy on the skin and will sit just as well as a loose necklace over high-necked clothing as a choker on the wider neck.
Yesterday I took a day out with a friend and went to the Museum of London for the Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition, which I’ll post about later. I also spent five hours in the Centre Page again, down by St Paul’s, drinking Aspall and putting the world to rights in a vague and noisy way around a burger and some diversions relating to Kindle books. Which I won’t be posting about later.
Somewhere between these two points I ducked into Postman’s Park, since it’s on the way from the London Museum to St Paul’s (if you’re in the area sightseeing that’s worth knowing, I think), and since I’d read about it in a guide called Secret London: An Unusual Guide, which I recommend just as reading material: the copy is surprisingly humorous. The reason Postman’s Park features in the guide is what is variously called the Wall of Heroes, The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, and The Watts Memorial.
The memorial consists of a series of tile plaques painted in a distinctive style and colour, commemorating the efforts of “ordinary people who perished in the attempt of saving others”, shielded from the elements by a sloped roof. It is not impressive, nor is it the display of stark and dignified solemnity that most war memorials are. At its core it is little more than the kind of tabloid or local press headline displayed outside shops, recording “Mum of 2 died saving baby’s life” or the opening of a magazine article in a publication called “Natter” or “Relax” which is 50% horrifying stories of mutilation and 50% advice on how to be thinner and more neurotic.
I’m not usually a fan of the use of the word “hero”, either, usually because it is applied with such ubiquity that it has almost no meaning any more. Men who can kick a ball in the direction they want to kick it in are heroes; children who are slightly more stubborn about the political convictions they’ve inherited from their parents are heroes; being fortunate enough to survive cancer with good medical care makes you a hero. It levels the playing field to the point at which it becomes insulting to refer to someone’s behaviour as an act of heroism because it’s belittling what they’ve done to put it alongside someone who remembered to take their medication, and now we’re left in need of new terms (or of letting facts speak for themselves, something most news sources have been loath to do almost since their birth).
The nature of those stories in those publications and even the idea of voluntary self-sacrifice have rarely been of much interest to me – I’m more drawn to narratives of involuntary sacrifice, which is why I spend such an inordinate amount of time crying over books about WW1 and generally making an overemotional nuisance of myself in the Imperial War Museum – but the Watts Memorial was oddly moving. Partly because it is in a quiet, secluded space which has been carved out of an area of very busy city, a transformed garden raised above the street by the bodies of the dead, and partly because of the odd permanent/impermanent impression of the plaques: they seem as if they could be weathered away by a strong shower of rain, with their translucent blue paint. And yet some of them have remained under their awning, proclaiming their bald facts, for over a century: they are the eternal versions of the daily headline on the street, somewhere between gravestones and billboards.
The precise and yet florid nature of the wording, quintessentially Edwardian in most cases, is another blow to the sensibilities: people were “engulfed” or “scorched”. Evocative descriptions of terrible ends as the souls commemorated struggled (sometimes in vain, which adds another layer of pathos) to rescue friends, relatives, coworkers, and sometimes complete strangers from canals, burning buildings, sewers, oncoming trains and so on: the salutatory lesson is largely “children stop swimming in canals please” and “fire alarms are a really good thing”. On a quiet day, away from the hullabaloo of children rampaging through the Museum of London, it’s possible to find a moment’s contemplation amid the suicidally brave. Questions for your consideration, in that environment: confronted with a burning building, would I run back inside to save an elderly widow at the cost of my own life? What characteristic makes people dive in front of a train to shove a coworker out of the way? Is it gallantry to rescue an attempted suicide (as a couple of the men commemorated here did) or is it unjust interference with their acts as a free agent?
Cynical visitors will note that almost all of these events might have been averted by a good coast guard or people not arsing about in the first place, better communication, better housing, and stricter safety laws: in the absence of such, however, it’s perhaps just a little bit touching how many people are motivated not only by the ties of kinship but by basic human instinct to save our fellow hominids from unnecessary death. And stilted and formal though the language is, it’s quite hard not to be moved by the quoted words of the excellently-named and youthfully-expired Soloman Galaman, whose plaque I photographed and texted to Miranda because everyone needs a bit of turn-of-the-century sadness at work now and then:
One of the side-effects of Having an Aspergers and mainlining every single one of the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters has been an increased interest in the period of history they’re set in, The Anarchy. It’s a bit of a misleading name, since there’s no uprising and the chaotic nature of life within the struggle for power seems to be ascribed to them long after by Victorian historians.
Ellis Peters goes into some (whimsical) depth about the personality and characteristics of the battling monarchs, casting Stephen of Blois as a good man but indecisive king prone to abandoning his projects if they did not give up fruit almost immediately (in which Stephen and I have an embarrassing amount in common), and the Empress Maud/Matilda as a great general but too given to arrogance and alienating her allies by not knowing when to forgive them. Stephen gets the accolade of being “extremely wealthy, well-mannered, modest and liked by his peers” on Wikipedia, which is probably about as reliable as the novels: Maud receives “less popular with contemporary chroniclers than Stephen; in many ways she took after her father, being prepared to loudly demand compliance of her court, when necessary issuing threats and generally appearing arrogant”. The third party in this scuffle – after Stephen was taken captive in Lincoln in 1141 – was Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda also known as Maud. So far little has been said of her in the books, beyond an aside of the effect that the Queen is a more ruthless leader or at least better general than her imprisoned husband. Obviously this is Ellis Peters’ character’s opinion, and the actual character of monarchs from nearly 900 years ago must remain to some extent a mystery, but it was enough to pique my interest in the two Mauds.
Women characters in Ellis Peters’ Cadfael books tend to hold a surprisingly good position: constrained by a lack of legally recognised social power, they still manage to assert themselves in every other area of their lives, often possessing as much drive, deviousness, or physical stamina as their male counterparts. They come in a full and fruitful variety of personalities, each of them with their own motive, however venal or misguided, and even the meekest and most withdrawn of them can be roused to action. The question of why Brother Cadfael was not Sister Magdalen (who has a certain amount of influence in the books even as it is) can only be answered with “because she wouldn’t have been able to range as freely”: I feel sure that Ellis Peters could just as well have had a detective heroine.
The Empress was betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor before she turned ten, and was crowned Queen of the Romans while only eight or nine: continuing her eventful early life, she was married at twelve, and had already done a measure of her growing up in a foreign court with none of her father’s family in attendance. One could perhaps forgive her from developing a somewhat abrasive personality in order to protect herself, and perhaps parallels can be drawn with the equally ambitious and married-in-early-life Margaret Beaufort (Countess of Richmond and Derby), who gave the world Henry Tudor (and later acted as regent for Henry VIII). Certainly the Empress was determined to win as much as humanly possible for both herself and her son, who succeeded from Stephen under the terms of the Treaty of Winchester. Unfortunately while this tendency to behave in a haughty and imperious manner may have been a useful survival tactic at first, it seems to have become entrenched and later proved detrimental, driving away potential allies: this attitude may have gone down better during her time as regent to her first husband, Henry V (the Holy Roman Emperor) in Italy, or she may just have been growing impatient with being denied the throne she perceived as rightfully hers, having been named as her father’s successor.
It should be noted here that Stephen was not exactly an exemplar of biddability, and both seized the crown from an absent woman to whom he had previously sworn allegiance, and imprisoned Archbishop Theobald towards the end of the civil war, for refusing to anoint his son Eustace as king while Stephen was still living (this was the practice in France, where Eustace already held land, but Pope Celestine II had banned its adoption in England).
The Queen, on the other hand, seems to have had a better turn at diplomacy (negotiating the exchange of prisoners Robert of Gloucester – the Empress’s half-brother and supposedly her most effective military figure – and the King), and a less enormously turbulent early life. The two Mauds were of roughly the same age, but while the Empress excelled in gathering the power-hungry under her banner, the Queen managed to rally the turncoat friends of Stephen – the war produced an unflattering number of about-faces from many, including Stephen’s own brother Henry – and with William of Ypres turned the tide of the war while Stephen was still imprisoned. One gets the impression that while the Empress was the more imposing figure, she was too unyielding to be able to manage the progression of her campaign as effectively as the Queen might.
Although history and the demands of power struggles in Europe pitted these women briefly against each other, I do not mean to hold them up as adversaries and play a puerile game of “who was better”. Far from it: I have something entirely more puerile in mind. Having read a little about both of these capable, ambitious, interesting, and clearly very intelligent women (although the Empress clearly needs to work on her humility), I’m quite keen on the idea of, as the title of this post even more puerilely suggests, some kind of historical romance alternate universe story in which the vagrancies of the civil war bring them into contact first as opponents and then as lovers. It could be quite a moving and plausible invention in the hands of anyone who does slightly more research than, say, Terry Deary.
Thanks to my snazzy celebrity contacts (by which I mean Melanie, who was very briefly in an episode of Lovejoy as a teenager and is therefore FAMOUS), I am now in possession of one of these babies (a National Art Pass). If you’ve been on the tube at all you’ll have seen them advertised a fair bit in the centre of London and then completely failed to do anything about it because you’re awful and lazy and this is why you will die alone.
So this thing – not the one above, you’ll have noticed my name isn’t Alex Smith – is going to be my ticket to wonders beyond compare or at least a load of very pretty exhibitions and places like Eltham Palace and Marble Hill House and other swank locations (especially if I can be persuaded to break my unhealthy attachment to London for long enough to roam further afield). There is also the knowledge that these passes apparently go some way towards helping preserve places of interest and collections of art for future generations which means that even though I couldn’t give a tuppenny shove if future Britons die in a howling post-apocalyptic cultural wasteland because I’m never having kids, your children will hopefully get to continue going to museums and learning about cool stuff just like we do.
I am doing terribly badly at not running around the website marking my calendar with every event going, but these are the leading contenders at the moment:
The V&A do a fantastic line in pop culture exhibitions, and I’ve especially impressed memories of the Vivienne Westwood retrospective some years back: I’m also pretty keen on Mr Bowie himself (saw him at Glastonbury 2000, cried all over a complete stranger during “Heroes”, like a champion), and his tactics of reinvention and image-manipulation could make for a very interesting exhibition. Plus, with this card thing I get 50% off the entrance fee, which seems a pretty sweet deal to me.
At the Tate Modern, which has been a repeat offender on my “institutions to visit all the time” list since before I moved to London, there’s a slavish adherence to Whistler’s “display everything on white and space it out” approach to galleries: there’s also apparently a retrospective of one of the most iconic artists of the last 150 years, which I probably wouldn’t have gone to if I’d had to pay full price for a ticket because there are moths in my pockets. Now I can get in for half-price I’m deeply curious to see what sort of wider field Lichtenstein’s most famous works come from, and how he got to the lithographic technique which most people associate infallibly with his name. Onto the list!
After pop art and pop music there’s history, and in this case history I have been eyeballing on posters for a while and debating whether I can afford: like most people I first heard about Pomeii and the eery, perfectly-preserved flash-murdered civilisation when I was in primary school, and the idea of being able to see for myself the remains of this suddenly-stopped city makes me half excited and half deeply spooked. Also I have a classicist friend who I suspect would be a grand addition to the information on the placards at the museum (I do advise befriending clever people and going with them to exhibitions, you get this whole other commentary). And this one’s half-off too, so I can afford to take my friend…
Previous exhibitions I’ve seen at the Natural History Museum and been blown away by include a comprehensive look at deep sea fish and the gory but oddly soothing Animals Inside Out collection of plastinated mammals: this look at the future of species (including ours) promises to be informative and hopefully involve more of the NHM’s prodigious collection of taxidermy animals, who have held a place in my heart since I was 12 or so. Also the Art Pass knocks the entry fee down to less than a fiver, which would make it criminal not to go.
Illuminated manuscripts are a breath-taking enough sight, as far as I’m concerned, but illuminated manuscripts from one of the most turbulent and changeable periods from Indian history – the invasion and subsequent empire of the Mughals, from the West – is a whole new proposition.
This one is a dead cert in terms of visiting as I’d already earmarked it long, long before the Art Pass happened (now I can just get in more cheaply and throw more of my money at the unfair number of books about London history in the gift shop! I WILL HAVE NO BOOKSHELVES LEFT AT ALL). The history of anatomical explorations is something which is of genuine interest to me, and has been since a chance encounter with a documentary about the development of anaesthetic some years ago. While the chances of getting to see a live dissection are slim (I missed that particular Gunther von Hagens filming), this exhibition looks like it deals in local history and medical history and now it costs less than five quid for me to get into and I am frankly champing at the bit for my exhibition buddies to come and join me.
It’s still a bit wintry here but I thought I’d get the drop on the warmer weather and list some new jewels. These and others are available from my Etsy store.
22 inch / 56 centimetre gold plate chain with gold plate pins and findings, glass beads, glass crystals, acrylic accents, gold plate leaf connectors, gold plate vintage leaf setting, and olivine glass cabochon pendant.
This magnificent, striking necklace is bold and beautiful and draws every eye to it. Celebrating sun, summer, and nature, it is the perfect necklace for standing out on a sunny day, or catching the light at night.
7 and a half inch /19 centimetre brass/coppertone findings, chain, pins, and key charms bracelet with green glass beads and acrylic accents.
A cute little charm bracelet for the key to your heart. If your wrist is more narrow than the stated size please let me know, it can be easily shortened by up to an inch and a half.
38 inch / 96.5 centimetre dark green seed bead and salix clear beading wire necklace with brown glass pearl accents and brass findings, no closure.
25 inch / 63.5 centimetre metallic green longer seed bead and salix clear beading wire necklace with acrylic “gem chip” accents and brass findings, lobster claw closure.
This dainty set is perfect for combining both with its own components and with complementary necklaces, and is especially suited to day wear. Can also be looped around the wrist to make a series of beaded bracelets.
Having finished the first quarter of my 100 posts about the arts, I’m taking a brief break to return to the glorious and wide-reaching bosom of science. There are a couple of catalysts working in step here: the first is that I, like a number of people, have been enjoying and occasionally yelling at current BBC series Wonders of Life (with Brian Cox doing outrageous things like “basic science on a mountain”, travelling to places I’m never going to get to visit, getting octopuses to punch him in the face, and cuddling impossibly cute lion cubs). The next is that in addition to enjoying the prime-time pop-science show I also have an oft-joked-of propensity for draining the programming on BBC4 of “everything that isn’t steam trains”, and an embarrassingly large pile of pop-neuroscience/linguistics books which have taken up residence in my bathroom along with some stuff on epidemiology because I have run out of bookshelves again and there are exposed pipes in the bathroom which work as bookshelves and how many books do you have to buy before you acknowledge that you have a problem?
I had planned to burble in my tirelessly charming fashion about the fascinating tendency of areas of study to bleed into each other anyway, but then I came across some delightful person claiming that learning about neurochemicals and the source of emotions and the evolutionary function of romantic love was somehow degrading to the concept of love and had to go and head butt a wall for a while. Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan have already dealt with the accusation of science being unromantic with more eloquence and poetry than I could hope to, but the idea of this ostrich-solution to the world still distresses me: you cannot use deliberate ignorance to maintain a state of supposedly preferable untrue happiness and claim that this is somehow makes the truth stop existing.
It has been one of the things which always appealed the most to me about the harder sciences: that regardless of the political applications of knowledge or the dead ends that we encounter on the way to knowledge, there is a singular truth, a set of universal laws which can be determined from rigorous and rigorously adapted methods of observation. Humans are deeply inconsistent: our ideals of morality have changed profoundly over the short time we have had morals at all. Our stories fluctuate in order to encompass the values of the society telling them and the problems of the time period.
Our notions of love and the expression of love alter not only through the passage of societal time but through the phases of an individual’s life: the neurochemicals and pathways which engineer this holy state of being do not. Energy tends towards entropy, organisms best adapted to survive their conditions are selected for over those which cannot adapt, the process of nuclear fusion attends to the same rules as always, the universe like a vast and impossibly complex four-dimensional machine jitters through its motions regardless of whether you or I are kind or cruel, clever or stupid, obstinately ignorant or fevered seekers of truths. Eppur si muove – or to give it a more prosaic iteration, the damn thing moves anyway. The laws of the universe continue, and it is up to us to understand them or not understand them: ignoring them will not make them go away.
And certainly angrily not only refusing to learn but declaring that anyone who wants to share the joy of their knowledge is deliberately trying to spoil your happiness is arrogant in the extreme, and fearful for no reason. Knowing how love occurs still doesn’t tell us why we fall in love with this person and not that person, at this time and not that one. That will take centuries to discover, and even when we understand it, it won’t stop that emotion from having the same effect on your receptors as it always did. What an amazing thing the human brain is, that it can generate pleasure and terror within itself over absent things and abstract concepts. What an incredible engine.
And now back to something I love: documentaries, particularly ones involving wildlife.
That Nice Professor Cox is back on the telly, talking now about how the chemical process known as “life” works, and how it evolves, and what makes it kind of bloody amazing: following on from such televisual treats as Whoa Space Is Pretty Awesome Hey and its sequel No There’s Even More To Space Than That Seriously Look At This. There have been complaints about the presence of the ubiquitous and effervescent professor, even more so after Sir David Attenborough suggested that he might make a nice replacement for himself. Some of these complaints have more credibility than others: the disappointment that the BBC has not decided to employ more female scientists as presenters, for example, to follow on from a slightly better record with history programs (cf. Dr Janina Ramirez on the Hundred Years War, Dr Lucy Worsley on a number of subjects including the Regency, and the inexplicably-maligned Professor Mary Beard on Rome), or a general problem with academic/documentary programming tending to feature an almost unbroken sea of white faces. The less credible arguments include “but he’s not a biologist” (he’s a broadcaster with a good understanding of the GCSE-level science the program is disseminating, and more importantly has the charm and enthusiasm to pull off what he does): with a degree in geology and zoology Attenborough might not have been the obvious choice to usher in colour programming at the BBC, but he oversaw at BBC2 a time of considerable progress and quality.
There are stylistic matters within the program’s presentation that will appeal to some and not to others: I’m fond of the conceit of overlaying basic information on top of some of the footage but then I’m the kind of pervert who likes footnotes. The basic experiments conducted may draw contempt from people like my boyfriend, who scoffed “oh yeah, we did this in school”, but as one of no doubt many people whose school felt it wasn’t necessary to do any practical science or indeed to teach anything in lessons whatsoever a lot of the time, I didn’t, and I find practical demonstrations delightful and informative and above all accessible.
One of the features of this series – which brings us back to the opening of this post – that has endeared it to me besides Brian’s infectious enthusiasm and pleasant voice is the angle of approach on biology. It is fascinating to hear and see the processes of nature and various ecosystems as well as individual parts of different animals factored into the wider universal laws and given a place within explanations which encompass stellar furnaces and molecular structure: it conveys a sense of joined-up learning which is absent from a very discipline/subject-oriented education, where each lesson is an island.
As soon as you start learning across different disciplines it becomes evident in a way it never was before that everything is in some way relevant to something else: the process of galaxy collisions millions of years ago and millions of light-years away helps to pinpoint the precise point in history in which a terrible plague was presaged by the coming of a new star in the heavens; evolution driven by chemistry and the test of the environment on gene expression helps to explain human behaviour and the propensity for war-making; understanding the chemical nature of love in the brain may one day lead to debates over whether it is ethical to induce empathy in psychopaths and a wave of alternate history fiction about famous tyrants infected with great affection instead, for Literature students to analyse and reframe.
Everything we know and everything we invent, everything we imagine and predict, every lie we tell and every deity we envision has its roots in the real and observable universe, which quite frequently turns out to be weirder than we could have guessed. To shut yourself off from the incredible source of inspiration and excitement that is the inkling of an understanding of this vast and infinitely complex universe (both the one we are part of and the one that is part of us) is to do yourself an injury and limit your abilities for no reward.
As snow does for my mood what it does for the national railways, all productivity ceased the other day and I skulked around my flat listening to Howard Goodall talking about Mozart (and swearing, because I don’t like Mozart) until I was in enough of a good mood to cheer myself up by drawing silly pictures of statues:
Aside from demonstrating a) my weird obsession with doing line art in dark red and b) that I should never be allowed either to talk to people on Twitter (whence springs the David) or to use Photoshop, the last came out quite well, so I put it on a t-shirt.
We shall just have to hope that I can get my writing groove back on or there will be more of this nonsense.