Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What I did on Tuesday - a short version

Finished reading Helge Kragh's Introduction to the Historiography of Science. I remember being very excited about this when I first stumbled upon it at LSE and had flicked through it then without really studying it in detail. Then a guide to the Cambridge MSc in History of Science suggested that it wasn't that good a book and I didn't look at it again till now. But I wanted this week to read something serious that wasn't just an article. It was a toss-up between Kragh and Voelkel's The Composition of Kepler's Astronomia Nova (which I might well read next). I have actually quite enjoyed Kragh's book. Lots of fairly reasonable points made it seemed to me. A good framework for the thinking I have been doing about scientific biography. And good to rattle off a book in two days. I shall now wait a week or so and return to it in more detail.

Trading has continued well, though implied vol on options continues to drift down when I would prefer it to stay higher. Fourth trade added today, the last in the August option series. Next week will move onto the September contract. 3.5% profit in two weeks. 145% per annum - would that I could keep that up for the next couple of years! I have even bought a couple of books on spread betting - mainly to critique rather than learn from I suspect.

Temperature remains high (and rising). Best part of the day for me is very early morning - 5:00 a.m to about 10:00 a.m, when I get most of my day's work out of the way.

More exercise today - in the last week I have done more than in the year to date. Just a hint that it is starting to make some difference.

Late afternoon spent considering Aristarchus's proof that the Sun was much bigger than the Earth. And I've started on Voelkel's book on Kepler.

Monday, 29 June 2009

What I did on Monday

5.15 a.m. woke up

5:30 a.m. Sorted out overnight downloads - mainly Glastonbury related. No sign yet of Bat for Lashes set appearing, but do have Black-eyed Peas now. Started work on Helge Kragh's An Introduction to the Historiography of Science.

6:45 a.m. Trip to allotment to water polytunnel - huge weeding needed urgently! Bought papers. Read Independent.

9:10 a.m. Finish chapter 1 of Kragh (page 19). Check market opening in UK and option valuation. +£90 today so far. Listening to first Bat for Lashes cd

10:12 a.m. Finish chapter 2 of Kragh (page 31)

10:36 a.m. Finish chapter 3 of Kragh (page 40). Listening to second Bat for Lashes cd

11:12 a.m. Finish chapter 4 of Kragh. Read The Times - warning that weather later in the week could be extremely hot (for the UK). Papers still focused on Michael Jackson death - not sure why such a fuss. I thought the death of Farrah Fawcett more worthy of comment, mainly as her death is from cancer while I believe that a significant aspect of Jackson's death is self-inflicted, and therefore not so tragic

11:45 a.m. Trip to Millets Farm

12:15 p.m. Lunch - taramasalata and pitta bread. Resume reading Kragh. Listening to Blur's Midlife, a Beginner's Guide

12:45 p.m. Post arrives. One book. Nicholas Jardine's The Scenes of Inquiry: On the reality of questions in the sciences, dedicated to "freeing scientists from the mythology of science", whatever that means, which Jardine clearly considers a good thing for reasons as yet unknown.

12:50 p.m. Finish chapter 5 of Kragh (page 60)

1:15 p.m. Finish chapter 6 of Kragh (page 69). After lunch slump. 30 minutes rest (nap)

1:45 p.m. Back to work - listening to Ash Ra Tempel (to wake me up a little?)

1:52 p.m. Finish chapter 7 of Kragh (p.74) - a short chapter

2:33 p.m. Finish chapter 8 of Kragh (p.88) - a longer chapter. Listening to cd2 of the deluxe edition of The Cure's Faith album. Demos and live versions mainly, plus the excellent track Charlotte Sometimes which I bought as a 12" single when I lived at Passfield Hall in my first year at LSE in the early 1980s.

3:30 p.m. Finish chapter 9 of Kragh (page 107) - "Anachronical and Diachronical History of Science" - another long chapter and very relevant to my MSc dissertation. Preparation for some exercise.

4:30 p.m. Finish 45 minutes on racing bike in garage. Read recent Sky and Telescope magazines and listened to Tangarine Dream on ipod. Dehydration amid huge sweat production as a very hot and humid day. Shower. Start on Kragh again

4:52 p.m. Finish chapter 10 of Kragh (page 119) Overheating from exercise - have drunk 1 litre of water in the last 20 mins

5:10 p.m. Headlines on Yahoo review that Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years. I've never understood why the USA has such silly sentences

5:34 p.m. Finish chapter 11 of Kragh (p.132). Last reading of this for today. Thinking about food - when to do mine in respect of Linda's clients. Amazingly hot day

7:00 p.m 90 minutes relaxation - watching Glastonbury coverage from last night and reading press cuttings accumulated over the last couple of weeks.

7:15 p.m. Dinner - spaghetti with tomato and mascapone sauce and garlic bread. More press cutting reading, plus book on writing biographies

8:00 p.m. Linda finishes for day. Watch Glastonbury coverage and a CSI episode. More reading

10:30 p.m. To bed

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Weekend work

A busy weekend of study with Linda way teaching a course.

First up, a new book, Brian Osborne's Writing Biography and Autobiography, which I have only skimmed through so far. I am interested in three main issues here at the moment. One, the practical aspects of this "craft" such as the creation of time lines, casts of characters, etc. Secondly, the issue of how to deal with background information related to a life (which can in some cases, be vast). Finally, what to do about very technical matters (e.g. how does Fermelo's The Strangest Man handle quantum physics or how does Westfall discuss Newton's Principia in Never at Rest)

Then some progress in sorting out my work the next year of PH404. I plan to mainly study Kepler for really the entire year. So I have found my copies of Jardine's Birth of History and Philosophy of Science, Voelkel's Composition of Kepler's Astronomia Nova, some works by Kepler himself, and 9 files of secondary material - so far!

I have also discovered that the city of Linz in Austria is staging the premier of Philip Glass's new opera- Kepler - in November. I feel I should go to this - it is exactly the sort of thing to talk about in the prologue of one's book, for "added colour". I believe the technical term used by some biographers is "optical research". As far as I can tell, tickets go on sale in September. It costs about £250 to fly to Linz via Frankfurt it seems

An article in The Indepedent on a 10 day Vipassana retreat. This doesn't go into the detail that some accounts I've read have done, but is the main feature in the second section of the paper and so probably got a decent readership. Once or twice recently I have been pondering on going to Gaia House again for perhaps a week's retreat - I should have a look at what they have on later this year.

Had a look at the website for the Warburg Institute in London. Victor joined this and said they had a superb library of Kepler-related stuff. Apparenty I would just need the sign off of academic at LSE - which should be fairly straightforward should it not?

Friday, 26 June 2009

A couple of good days, then one less so

The good things of the last few days include:

Emma getting a first in her second year exams at Cambridge - as good as things get I reckon.

Emma settling into her new job in London ok and making a good first impression - with the accompanying possibility of a permanent job when she finishes college.

A day spent working through all the academic articles I have collected over the last year and creating 10 files for my "secret project". For the first time since perhaps January I have actually enjoyed some element of "flow" - where work comes so easily that it doesn't seem like work anymore.

The first few trades are paying off and have made a return of about 1.5% in the last two weeks - accompanied by the feeling that this might (and I repeat might) lead to another model of how things might go in the future.

Buying a few books at bargain secondhand prices - the Best of Lingua Franca and Jardine's The Birth of History and Philosophy of Science.

Finding out that Oxford Uni DCE was running evening courses in 2009/10 on the Philosophy of Mathematics, the History of Mathematics and even a 20 week course on writing biography. A perfect selection for me at the moment

A dream in which I was working as a writer - a box of hardback books arrives, 450 pages long, with a fine set of photos in the middle.

Listening to Tinariwen (who have a new cd out next week) and an old cd of Will Oldham on a Dutch radio show performing four long religious songs

And the less good things:

An odd feeling of a deep swelling up of depression such as I haven't felt for a couple of years. Not clear as to the reason. At the time it occurred (and it occurred quickly) I was watching the double episode finale of season 8 of Scrubs, my favourite show of the last few years. Could it really be that this episode alone could trigger such an event? - seems unlikely to me. But for the moment, all I want to do is sleep.

Monday, 22 June 2009

A quiet Sunday - lots of small things

The Sunday Times features an article about people addicted to shopping - even in the so-called "credit crunch". For some reason, all three people featured are women. I would guess that the male equivalent is gambling or internet usage? One of the women noted how her husband had tried repeatedly to "reason" with her but she was out of control, and this ultimately doomed the relationship. It seems to me that failure to respond to reasoning could be a key aspect of many "irreconcilable differences".

Still working through a pile of press cuttings from the last few months and hit upon a series of booklets from the Independent on "Love and Sex". One covered grief and noted that grief is the flip side of caring for someone - if we didn't care, we wouldn't grieve. The exact quote - "heartbreak is a sign of life . . . the terrible price that true love demands"

Clearing out articles from Trail and various other walking and climbing magazines, I came across several articles of climbing Mera Peak. This is the "treking peak" in Nepal that I would like to climb one day. It occurs to me that I have probably never been as far away from achieving this as I am now. A sad thought.

Reading Is there a book in You? I was surprised (but also pleased) to discover that most non-fiction books don't get place with publishers via agents. My consideration of writing about Kepler is at the stage where I am planning what my pitch to write such a book would say. A 500 word pitch document is one of my next priorities to work on.

Several calls from Emma - slightly lost on the way to Holborn, not sure what to do about a dress she bought in a sale, and a mid-evening call just because she is on her own in her flat tonight and wanted one last chat before her big day on Monday. We all have our fingers crossed that it will go well for her.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Emma's move to London

Another milestone in our daughter's life today. After a week of debauchery based around "Suicide Sunday" and the two "May balls" at Trinity and Johns, Emma has, this weekend, moved from Cambridge to London for the next couple of months. Today was her moving day.

For me it is a long day of driving, carrying boxes up and down stairs, and trying to do what I can to get Emma settled in and confident that she can cope with everything that living in London will involve. She has a room in a student flat in Bloomsbury and will be sharing with Priya, her best friend from school days. However, Priya won't be moving in for a couple of weeks and there is Emma's first challenge - she has some time living alone.

Our journey goes quite well. I reach Cambridge just before 12:00. We are packed up and on our way by 1:30. Down the M11 and past some of the places I used to live - Capel Road in Forest Gate, and Trumpington Road at the bottom of the Leytonstone High Road. Down past the Olympic village in Stratford, through Mile End and Whitechapel, then the City itself. We reach her flat around 3:30. As these things go, it is not a bad place. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if Emma could get something like this when she starts work in London, that would be very good.

And the location is very good, tucked away in one of the quiet roads close to Great Ormond Street hospital and very close to the Brunswick shopping centre. Emma has nabbed the big room (as she is there before Priya) and this should be fine for her.

A quick unpack of the car and then off for a wonder round. Brunswick has really changed since I lived in this area (as one might expect since that was 1981/82). It has quite a community, village feel to it, not least because of the large number of stalls selling food in the centre. We find the gym Emma wants to join for the next three months, buy her some food and are just about to hop on a tube to Canary Wharf when we discover that the Jubilee line is closed for the day. So we drive instead and Emma is very happy that we did as she now knows where she'll be working from Monday. She only has a few days there and then switches to an office in Mayfair.

We are back in Bloomsbury after our long drive by 7:00 just in time for some food at Carluccio's. By this time I am rather tiring but manage a little more sorting out in her room. Emma manages to get her internet running, her bed made, and some other stuff sorted out. Her other flatmate, Acol, is around tonight but will then be away till Thursday. I make it home by 11:30 or so, totally shattered.

For Linda and myself, it is another step in Emma's departure from us. The day went very well and for the first time in along time, I feel quite useful as far as Emma is concerned. And she bought me nice Father's Day and birthday cards!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Jacob Kirkegaard's Four Rooms

As always, reading The Wire magazine produces loads of fantastic cds that I'd like to hear. Some are sampled on the associated website or on the sites of the record company, and some appear on sites like emusic (in my view, by far the best monthly subscription site for music).

And once in a while I come across something that I am hugely intrigued by but can't hear anything of or acquire elsewhere. The latest cd for this to occur is Jacob Kirkegaard's Four Rooms, the concept of which was enough to make me buy it straight away -my first cd purchase for many months.

The basic model for Kirkegaard's work is obviously Alvin Lucier's I am sitting in a room. In the latter recording, a tape is made of a message. This is then replayed in the room and recorded again, a process that is repeated many times. What happens over time is that the acoustics of the room subtlely distort each subsequent play back and, over time, the original recording gets lost under a series of strange distortions.

Kirkegaard's Four Rooms was recorded in Chernobyl in October 2005, nearly 20 years after the nuclear disaster. Ten minutes of silence was recorded in each room. This was then played back into the room itself and recorded over and over again. Gradually a dense sound develops full of complex overtones. The cd consists of one of these late recordings from, respectively, a church, an auditorium, a swimming pool and a gymnasium. Four beautiful and very different drones - what is there not to like about this concept?
The cover of Four Rooms - available from Touch Records now music fans
One of the Four Rooms
Other work by Kirkegaard includes a series of recordings of the sounds generated inside his own ears - the acoustic effect called "otoacoustic emission" or the "Tartini tone" - and recordings of the "singing sands" - often considered a mythical phenomenon caused by the movement of sand grains of a certain size caused by a certain humidity.
What is there not to like about this guy?
He has a sound installation in London's Space Gallery opening this month - maybe this is another thing I should go and see in London this summer?
Grains of sound - Oman's singing sand dunes, photographed by Jacob Kirkegaard
The man himself - Kirkegaard on location

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Lots of new projects for the next few months

A few days post exam, when I have not been doing any explicit study, and my list of new projects is beginning to grow.

Short term, I have been catching up on our proposed building project which might be just a few weeks away from starting - fingers crossed. Lots of clearing up of the study has taken place and quite a few boxes are now packed up in the garage. Lots of little admin points have been dealt with. My CD listing on Amazon has been refreshed and has started to produce new sales. Some books have been ordered - mainly for Linda but one or two for me. I have also done a little exercise (but very little so far)

Some medium term projects have started. Various tax and accounting things, for instance. And I have made a couple of market trades for the first time in ages, so far resisting the temptation to "tick watch" during the day. I don't have a firm view on what this might achieve but am looking at it on an 18 month time frame. Given the capital at risk (relatively low) maybe a £1500 per month target would be possible - but a long way to go before that can be assessed. But at least implied vol is near the top end of its historical averages rather than the bottom, as tended to be the case a few years ago when trading this way was much harder.

My longer term plans are too loose at this stage for any actual progress. Maybe one or two will be ticked off by Christmas.

On the downside, my hay fever has returned post Spain. Indeed it is really bad at the moment - tablets appearing to make no difference. More worryingly, my main symptom is a heavy chest cough and I am producing gross amounts of phlegm. So I have been staying in most of the time. The few occasions when I do venture out produce an almost-immediate adverse reaction. As a result, little work is going on at the allotment and it is very overgrown again - amazing how this can happens in just a couple of weeks!

But also more time for cooking

Tonight I am cooking spanish chicken with chorizo, peppers and rice. To be followed by our current favourite treat dessert. So here comes this blog's first ever recipe!

Creme Brulee

It is only when you see the ingredients listed that you realise what a ludicrous dessert creme brulee really is

Serves 4

750ml double cream
250ml milk
10 egg yolks
175g caster sugar
60g demerara sugar
6 Strawberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 120 C / gas 1
Whisk the egg yolks in a mixing bowl until combined, then whisk in the caster sugar
Heat the milk until warm, then whisk into the egg yolk mixture with the cold cream. Keep whisking well.
Ladle the mixture into four bowls and cook in the oven for 90 minutes to 2 hours until the mixture has set. Remove from oven and allow to cool
Place three half segments of strawberries in the centre of each bowl. Sprinkle with demerara sugar to cover the tops completely in a thin layer
Light blow torch and caramelise sugar until bubbling
Leave to cool for 1 minute and then serve

What can go wrong? The mixture might not be whisked thoroughly and then separates. The oven needs to be pretty cool really and best to cook for longer at cooler. Can be hard to judge whether the mixture is set properly - but some people prefer creme brulee to be a bit runnier (that's a good excuse anyway)


Creme brulee can be flavoured with all sorts of things. Blueberries and raspberries can be very nice. Simple put a couple of handfuls of fruit in a blender, then whisk into the main mixture before putting into bowls.

A more subtle creme brulee can be made using lemon verbena leaves. Chop about half a dozen leaves and heat with the milk until hot. Leave to cool, then pass through a sieve to remove leaves. Milk will then carry forward the flavour.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Post exam plans

So with the exam out of the way, a few months with less immediate focus opens up. Today was to be spent, in part, on drawing up a plan for this period. All manner of things have been bubbling away in the background over the last few months - at the very least, I should start preparing a list of them.

But most of today was spent sorting out the study which has, in time-honoured academic style, become bogged down in books, magazines, offprint articles and so on, A trip to Oxford results in 30 boxes being purchased. It takes some time to begin to get some sort of order to things. Firstly, everthing related to PH400 can be boxed up and put in the garage ready for movng to mum's when the garage is knocked down in a few week's time. But left over are a whole series of articles that resist easy classification.

I decide that some part of the organisation of materials should be based on my tentative plans to do some serious work on Kepler. So one box gets every article that could be remotely linked to this project. Another box gets all the many weird and wonderful sociology of science and science studies articles that I printed off before Christmas and have rarely looked at since.

Then there is the pile of article that I could see myself reading over the next month or so. Several articles from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Theodor Adorno, Platonism in Mathematics and some other maths ones; a famous article by Charles Schmitt on Renaissance Aristotelianism; Paul Rosen's The Social Construction of Mountain Bikes (!), a couple of economics papers and one by John Milton on induction before Hume.

Finally, there are all the papers that vaguely relate to my proposed dissertation.

Gradually a list of projects is produced. Twenty things I'd like to do in the next week or so. Start sorting out the garage, clear my post tray, list some more cds for sale on Amazon, and so on. Then a dozen projects for the next two months. Various accounting and tax things, plans for next year's study, things like going to see the Richard Long show, taking some photos, going fishing, and so on.

Also today I made the first speculative financial trade that I have made for some while - the sale of an FTSE100 delta 20 strangle in the July options for premium £800. Just to get my eye in again and get used to the online trading system that I am now attached too. Bought a book on option trading too - Trading Option Greeks or some such thing. At 400 pages I am hoping its a serious read.

Finally, I also bought a picture frame in Oxford for my A3 forest picture. It looks very good and I will be trying it out in the main lounge in the next few days.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

PH400 exam & my birthday

As its my birthday, I treated myself to train journey to london for my exam - my "cheap day" return is £23! I am not impressed.

On the way up, I also treat myself to a new Boris cd. I have about 20 recordings by them but have only so far listened to the first dozen or so. So today it is the first listen to their "Rainbow" cd - and at least one stand out track already, "Sweet No 1". Excellent psychedelic guitar - sounds similar to another Japanese band I used to listen to a lot, Highrise.

A quiet morning at LSE. I returned the Philosophy of Science textbook that I borrowed before Easter and have used as my revision text (and paid my accumulated fines). Then an early lunch upstairs where I met Miklos who stopped for a chat - mainly about next year's options and the PH400 revision seminar that occured a week or two back.

And so to my exam. Met Caroline and her husband just before it. She is half way through her exams and is somewhat stressed. PH404 seemed to have gone ok last week though. Anne Marie was also around and I mentioned that I'd like to find out from her how she organised her Philosophy of Mathematics course this last year.

In the end PH400 seems pretty straight forward. No questions on social constructivism or inference to the best explanation, my two best topics, but nonetheless, I could probably have done about 9 of the 14 questions. Main problem was cramp in my hand as the exam developed. It is probably close to 20 years since I last did a three hour written exam.

Afterwards I had hoped that a few people might be on for a drink, but most have one more exam left and so they all shot off. And many of them I probably won't see again - Victor, Leonardo, Mark, Femke, and so on. So a somewhat sad way to end the afternoon - especially as it was my birthday. In the end I walked up to Holborn with Kyle and Jacob, both of whom are off to start PhDs back in the USA this autumn.

A brief walk through Covent Garden to clear my head and then home - an odd melancholic end to the day, despite the voicemail from Emma wishing me happy birthday and hoping my exam had gone o.k. She would have been preparing for her college ball when she rang, so I didn't call her back.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A Week in Spain

Saturday June 6th

An uneventful journey to Spain. I should have a decent amount of reading time, so am loaded down with stuff. Knopper's Appetite for Self-Destruction, Perry's On the Bus (a book about the Ken Kesey/Merry Prankster road trip in 1964), Baverstock's Do you have a book in you?, Garber's Academic Instincts, various PH400 notes and some Wikipedia articles on P of S to critique as the final part of my revision

Snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains - always a surprise to see in southern Spain, this time of year. I have a meal out tonight consisting entirely of local specialities - lots of meats, potatoes and peppers.

Sunday June 7th

A free day, so lots of reading, mainly Knopper's book. This is very good on the history of record labels, but less good on actual music making and the implications of recent developments for this - just a few points touched on this towards the end. It does raise the possibility that record companies will cease to manufacture music in the future - everything will be downloaded. Yet the paradoxical aspect of the current period is that there has never been a wider selection of interesting music available than now - just think of all the fantastic tracks heard on Peel over the years that can now be acquired simply (if often illegally).

Next book is On the Bus. I bought this in 1991 and have read it before. There was a documentary on it a few years ago that I recently downloaded and watched again. A timely reminder of the possibilities of freedom (even if it did cost Kesey $100k)

Lots of interesting cuttings from the weekend's papers. Nuns offering "well being breaks", an article on Joyce's Ulysses, a long piece on Antony Beevor's new book on the D-Day landings, an interesting piece on grief that I entirely agreed with, and so on

Monday June 8th

Finished On the Bus - lots to ponder on from this I thought. It has lots of implications for philosophy of life issues. Wish I could re-read The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test next

Some time free for a drive up to some of the local white villages. Reminds me of the various trips to Pampaniera last year. Some melancholic thoughts about this while taking photos of rugs for sale

Close ups of rugs - always like the geometry of these

An hour of PH400 revision later on - mainly realism, inference to the best explanation and structural realism. I have been pondering on the relation between IBE and detective fiction such as Sherlock Holmes. Are they the same? Would I be brave enough to write this in an exam essay?

Tuesday June 9th

Reading Garber first thing - her discussion of amateur-professional and journalist-academic. All linked in with my very tentative thoughts of writing a book myself.

Afternoon at the Alhambra. Unlike last year, I have acquired tickets to go round the Nastrid Palaces. Very dramatic stuff. I take about 200 photos during the Granada visit, but few are particularly serious efforts. I do like some of the below pictures though, especially the various close ups of decorative patterns in the palaces and the Medina foundations

One of the many classic views of the Alhambra from the Arab Quarter

The distant Sierra Nevada mountains still have snow on them in June!

Impossible to take too many photos of patterns inside the Alhambra

The detail is overwhelming - quite ridiculous really How did they ensure everything was symmetrical?

One of my favourite patterns

And another
The Lion Courtyard - sadly without its lions at the moment

More patterns - I read somewhere that some of the patterns are arabic text

Perhaps my favourite photo - as the exposure is so good! (12 attempts got this one in the end)

Some of the old walls of the Medina

. . . . which do make very nice geometrical shapes

Wednesday June 10th
A quieter day - but no long periods off to visit places. More PH400 revision - mainly social constructivism, a topic that I rather like but which rarely comes up in the exam. Also more reading of Garber's book and also a few chapters of Baverstock - ironically the latter has been damaged and is falling apart somewhat. Now what does that say?
Some swimming today for the first time in ages. Pool temp of 26 is very pleasant. If I had been in the U.K. now I would have been preparing for PH404.
An article in today's paper says that Indonesia is planning extensive new forestry destruction that might threaten the various apes that live there. Apparently this is necessary to ensure that the world's supplies of cheap photocopying paper don't run out.
Thursday June 11th
Into Granada for a second time to find that today is the Corpus Christi festival and everywhere is closed except for the various bars and restaurants. Chuisso - the local doughnut - is available so not all is lost.
It seems a bit hotter today to me - maybe mid 30s. Or perhaps I am dehydrated. I have been drinking over 2 litres of coke and water per day, but feel really tired the moment I go out into the sun late afternoon.
Thinking about maybe doing a small amount of trading when I get back - perhaps something like Oxeye's footsie options strategy. I will have a look at their website when I get back. I know last Sept-Oct was hard for them, but they bounced back well - as they always seem to from these events. Should I invest with them or do it myself? Not sure yet. For the first time in ages I am thinking about implied option volatility
Finally venture out in to the incredibly dark night for some star gazing. Due south, Scorpio is well above the horizon - a constellation that is really hard to see from the UK. Antares is an amazing site.
Friday June 12th
My quiet moments today are spent thinking about landscape photography - some ideas for sequences on photos taken over many hours e.g. identical shots of a hill ever hour from dawn to dusk, sequences showing the sun's motion, etc. Inspired by Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. I have a couple of photographic magazines with me - hard to avoid being intimidated though by the shear brilliance of some peoples' pictures.
Yesterday's slightly hotter temperatures seem to have resulted in me getting slightly sunburnt despite not going outside till after 5:00pm.
We have a barbeque tonight and I get talking to someone who was also a philosophy student and followed it up with a chemistry PhD. He is now winding down his career having been a partner at McKinsey's management consultants. Now I expect that involved long working hours - didn't ask him if he thought it was worth it or if, hand on heart, he had really enjoyed it
Saturday June 13th
Uneventful trip back. Finished Garber's book -the last chapter on jargon was very interesting.
Limited time now for preparation for Monday's exam. But I also feel quite confident about it really - and so I should. Wonder how the others have been getting on e.g. PH404.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Last blog entry for a while

This Saturday I am off to Spain for a week for a work-related trip. I am planning to never include ANYTHING in this blog that relates to paid work. However the trip will have some free time involved and I should be able to do a good range of non-work-related stuff as well.

We are based near Granada for the week. So I have booked a trip to the Alhambra - something we didn't do on our visits last year - and I am hoping to do some driving round the mountains nearby.

Also in my free time I am doing the last prep for my PH400 exam in 10 days time. I am just about reaching the stage when I have had enough of doing this work. Maybe a few more days and then move on to something else.

Books just finished - Alain De Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Michael Lailach's Land Art

Books just started - Emma Kennedy's The Tent, the Bucket and Me, and Steve Knopper's Appetite for Destruction.

Books that I have been reading for a while now - Richard Long's Walking the Line, and Derek Gjertsen's Science and Philosophy

Current listening - Boris (of course), Pere Ubu, Ash Ra Tempel and Lee "Scratch" Perry

But I do have lots of new stuff to start on when I get back - indeed some very exciting ideas

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Hearing something in a totally new way

For a brief period I worked in the music industry as a sound engineer. My main job was to record four-song demos for various bands on the midnight to 8:00am shift, and I mainly worked at a studio in Wood Green, North London (the one where Big Black recorded some of "Songs about Fucking"). Bands would come in, usually a bit worse for wear after spending the evening in the pub, and we'd try, in 6 or 8 hours to record a few tracks.

My recording set-up was usually pretty much the same for everyone. Lots of mics on the drums including some "ambient" mics on the walls round the drum kit, drums high in the mix, vocals relatively low. It made for a bright and very live sound. Rarely did I work with anyone for longer than the one night so the question of final mix was not very prominent in my thinking.

People tend to have the idea that bands have a fixed plan for their songs when they go to record them, but actually that is usually not the case. Much of the final version chosen is "found" in the studio. But this suggests that albums could sound very different. When "alternative versions" would appear later, they were usually seen as simply attempts to rip-off the public with new versions, when actually they might well have been one of the main working versions for much of the time the band was in the studio.

There is little genuine tradition in rock music of recording your version of someone elses work. Cover versions are rarely well-thought-out. There are, of course, some exceptions. The version of the 13th Floor Elevators song "Rollercoaster" by the Spacemen 3 is such a radical take. Likewise Cat Power's version of "Wild is the wind" and several other songs she has covered.

But perhaps one of the advantages of digital music distribution is that bands might not be so locked into a final version of their music as set out on their "final" cd mix. And alternative versions need not be considered mere re-mixes or demos but could stand alone as works of art in their own right. Such versions would extend the listeners understanding of the other pieces, including the so-called "original" the listener knows well.

I am prompted to these thoughts by my latest acquisition - the Japanese version of Boris's "Smile" cd. My understanding of this version is that Boris made the original recordings available to a selection of other producers who simply made their own version of the cd. I have only listened to this version a couple of times but already it has both widened and deepened my understanding of the US version - the one which came out on Southernlord records and which forms the basis for the various live recordings that I have also heard

So a track like the final piece - called "untitled" on the US issue and "Bonus" on the Japanese - is such a radical rework of the version I have come to know and love over the last year or so, that it is like hearing the piece for the first time. It is so fresh and exciting - just like I felt before. Iam totally blown away by it again

Boris have released multiple versions of tracks before. "Feedbacker" can be acquired in four versions. The original cd, on the "Rock Dreams" collaboration with Merzbow, as a live version on "Heavy Metal Me" and on a DVD of a concert in New York from 2004. And I have also managed to acquire a copy of this DVD, which I am desperate to watch but am leaving till later in the week. "The Evilone which sobbed" is also available in quite a few versions

Finally, I also have Merzbow and Boris's "Sun baked snow cave" to listen to as well - what a treat that will be for sure.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hayfever strikes . . . . some recent newspaper articles

Coinciding with a tv advert in which pollen is depicted bursting out from all manner of plants, my annual occurrence of hayfever has exploded in the last couple of days. I had been hoping that working at the allotment would boost my tolerance - but probably the opposite is the case. So despite having been taking for the last three weeks the very product being advertised on tv, I am having several acute sneezing fits a day and am left with a throat that is now raw (probably exact how it would feel at high altitude if I ever manage to do my trip to Mera Peak)

But more of a concern is that I have been incredibly tired recently - something that I have only just begun to attribute to my daily tablets. Indeed, three weeks ago I was so tired each morning that I was often forced back to bed for a 30 minutes nap mid morning. A change of brand seemed to clear this up, but now I am getting the same effect from the new one. As a result, productivity is markedly down - a short burst of work is followed by a period reading something less taxing. Not ideal it must be said.

Some of this less taxing reading consists of working through the current pile of press cuttings I have on the floor of the study at home. I have done this for years - mainly as an abstract form of diary keeping - to look back on what interested me at the time. But like videoing tv shows, buying or downloading loads of other things, etc, this is also an excuse to avoid reading the article at the time. Keep it and I'll read it later . . .

But my enforced slow down has lead me to many gems including -

a piece on how awful it was to grow up with hippy parents;

writing as a cure for depression;

reviews of dozens of books I have already forgotten (and which now reside in my Amazon wishlist);

quite a few pieces by Naomi Wolf whose The Treehouse has been a frequent read over the last two or three years and who I continue to find incredibly sexy;

many examples from the "writer's room" series in The Guardian;

a surprisingly large number of articles about art, downshifting, and themes from the philosophy of life (perhaps these are really the main thing I read from the mainstream media);

many articles tapping in to a perceived post-credit-crunch pursuit of authenticity;

lots of travel articles (the other day I was thinking to myself just how many travel books I have bought over the years, yet how poor my own travel has been - afterall, the guy who mows our lawns has been the himalayas yet I haven't - amazing);

virtually nothing on any aspect of current affairs;

examples of what I take to be really badly argued claims;

a really brilliant article by Emma Kennedy about crap holidays in the 1970s which has turned me to her book "The tent, the bucket and me" which is my current last-thing-at-night reading in bed;

Seperate interviews with Isabelle Hupert and Gillian Anderson - both of whom I also continue to find incredibly sexy;

Some obituaries, such as Rupert Hall, Marie Baos Hall (strange them dying within such a short period of one another), Arne Naess, and so on;

And so on . . . ..

From just this weekend -

a piece by David Stubbs wondering why people admire abstract modern art but hate abstract modern music (doesn't consider neurology, which I would have said was a major factor, sound being closely linked to rational thought);

a review of Steve Knopper's "Appetite for Self-destruction. The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age" (which I have ordered from Amazon and hope will arrive before my trip to Spain in a week's time);

a highly critical article by an Indian writer on yoga in the west;

a piece on anxiety as the leading mental health problem in the West;

something by Chris Stewart about living near Orgiva where we held one of our breaks last year;

a piece on the conversion of Dandridge Mill in East Hanney just down the road from us;

a brilliant article by Rosie Boycott on materialism which contains many points which could be said to form the current dividing lines between Linda and myself (Linda says she hasn't time to read it - an interesting response);

and finally, from today's paper, an obituary of the astanga yoga teacher Pattabhi Jois who has died aged 93 - a good age to go I feel.