I’m not sure this is a “popular science” book at all, not because the lessons are difficult or contain equations (they aren’t and don’t), but if you approach this slim volume from a scientist’s perspective, there is an insight available to you that maybe the man on the Clapham omnibus will miss. Carlo Rovelli’s broad-brush sketches of six important physics concepts are watercolour impressions of scenes that you may have gained intimate familiarity with over years of study, and yet have never really seen. The final lesson addresses our own place in the universe that we have discovered and reconnects us to what brought us into science in the first place.
We found a new place for our annual June birthday lunch: Copper Blossom on George Street and North Castle Street. The menu is varied and inviting, with a range of great food from “bites” to deli sandwiches, to a full Sunday Roast.
I settled on ham and eggs and it was excellent: tender and perfectly cooked gammon under a light glaze, a perfectly fried duck egg and home fries in a bucket. There’s a short wine list that covers most preferences and a similarly short but irresistible dessert menu. The horror of there being no trifle left was amply mitigated by a compensatory Eton Mess that did not disappoint.
One particular delightful surprise was Alicia Ukelele, who sang for all of us as we enjoyed our meal. She has a really good voice and interprets a great catalogue of songs in a way that’s summery and joyous. I particularly loved her rendering of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. Alicia is a music therapist and that’s not a surprise when you hear her performing.
You can hear more of Alicia over at Soundcloud, or better still why not go along to Copper Blossom and see her live on a Sunday afternoon?
So, we thought we’d catch up on Channel 4’s Humans with some popcorn. On with the Sky box and the telly and press the TV guide. Catch up. Here we go. Microwave is on. Sounds of corn popping.
Sky says we have to contact them because that channel isn’t free to view on demand on the downstairs telly. Weird. We can watch Channel 4 for free on the internet-connected upstairs telly OK, but we wanted to sit with our popcorn, now ready to eat, downstairs.
OK, no problem. XBox. There’s an app.
XBox says it won’t connect to the internet because it wants to do an update first. Sake.
Update eventually installed and restarted and we can sign in and find the app. It needs installed. No problem. Popcorn almost finished now. App installs, but Channel 4 wants us to sign in. Why?
We can’t sign in, we don’t have an account. Why would we have an account for a free-to-air TV channel? It seems we have to visit their website first to create one. Uckfay offhay. Have you people never heard of GDPR?
Popcorn finished. The moment has gone. Casualty it is.
Bring on the AI revolution! Technology is no threat to us.
On a Delta Airlines flight a number of years ago, I was lucky enough to be sat next to the author Richard Ford. This must have been shortly before he picked up a Pulitzer for his novel, The Sportswriter. Neither of us probably recall the conversation during the flight but what I do remember is that (unlike me) he made no excuse of the environment and got on with writing: scribbling in a little notebook, staring out of the window, scribbling some more, in a cycle of what I have always presumed to have been the creative process.
Personally, I find it too easy to make excuses for not writing. Wrong environment. Too noisy. Any time slot less than an hour is not enough. Must check email. Need a biscuit. Text message. Look at that dust.
I was remembering Richard’s brilliant short story collection, Rock Springs, dug it out to read again and looked him up on the web to see what he was doing. I came across a short work that he had reviewed called Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. This is a little treasure of advice for the writer: you dip in and pick up some important little nugget that will make you feel better about yourself and gently encourage you to get back to the task you’ve quite possibly been avoiding.
At least, that’s how it worked out for me.
What better way to start the weekend than with a Friday night on Pacific Quay in a nice hotel, some quality food and tickets to see Paloma Faith and her amazing band at the Hydro?
I’m a serial Paloma fanboy since I first saw her perform at the Corn Exchange a few years ago. Every gig is different and yet her performances are as fresh and fun as the first. We bolted from work Friday afternoon and had time to check in and freshen up at the Premier Inn before going for a pre-booked (seriously, you have to pre-book) bite to eat at the Yen oriental in the Rotunda.
We arrived fashionably late, just as the support, Vintage Trouble, were getting into their pumped-up and lively set designed to get even the most reserved of English audiences twitching in their seats: as Paloma said later, Scottish audiences need no such warm-up as they are already “smokin’ hot”. We were on our feet, whooping and hollering as the lead singer Ty Taylor and his LA band gave it all. You remember Ty from his incredible duet at the BBC Proms with Paloma of Etta James’ “I’d rather go blind”. If you missed that, your life isn’t complete. Youtube it now.
The main event started with a dramatic drop of the white curtain that had covered the main stage set-up which was not dissimilar to the arrangement we saw at the Clyde Auditorium last year: white, white and more white, with blue contrast in the band’s clothes and the singers’ incredibly funky outfits. I thought the sound was a little lost for sharpness in the massive Hydro auditorium but lost myself in the music, along with the 80 million other people in the venue (may be an exaggeration). We danced, and sang and let the happiness that the performers had for their work wash through us as the set progressed to an outstanding orgy of well-kent numbers and the hide-and-seek of the encore game.
A brilliant night out in Glasgow, with the cherry on the perfectly iced cake for me being another chance to see my favourite, favourite bass player Andrea Goldsworthy do her stuff. I may have got a little over-excited in the cheer for her, as one of our new friends in our row patted me on the arm and said, “steady on there, boy”. I don’t care. I had been having the best fun in ages: the hallmark of a Paloma Faith gig.
I went to see Interstellar last night. After all the hype and ravings of friends who had seen it, I was disappointed. This three-hour epic story had the style of 1970’s sci-fi, with heavy elements of fantasy clumsily stitched together with a good deal of shark jumping. The most striking thing about the movie is the blind insularity of its American cultural setting: the mid-West is suffering from food shortages caused by blight of major crops and American astronauts save the day. The star-spangled banner is spangled everywhere you look.
As well as the food problem, there is an unexplained problem of dust, perhaps due to soil erosion from the decimation of crops. Up steps the hero who mysteriously finds himself at a secret NASA facility near his farm. By now the plot punchline has revealed itself. The story tries to bring some cool popular physics ideas to the fore, with black holes and wormholes key features of the eventual trip to space to save the human race, or at least the white Americans of the corn belt.
There is much of the physics in the film which makes it attractive for a school trip: Scottish Higher students should be able to have fun picking over the many movie-maker’s errors: the twin paradox, relativity, gravitational gradients, event horizons and some very basic Newtonian mechanics are all at the Godzilla level of believability. There’s a lot more in the rich seam of “Hollywood Physics” throughout this story.
The signature US film-maker’s stereotype is predictably here: there’s a woman on the mission, and she makes the stupid mistake that signals that things are all going to go wrong. A change of genre appears when Matt Damon goes rogue in proper B-Western fashion and attacks the Sheriff. The movie passes through a pale imitation of Kubrick’s 2001 before getting a little emotional, staying just short of melodrama before delivering the final credibility seppuku by sending the hero back for the stranded girl.
This is a horribly narcissistic movie about Americans saving America/The World (the terms are interchangeable in this context) with ignorance, A Bad Guy and some nauseating moralising, badly done. I wish I’d gone to see the Turing film instead.
I’ve just completed a skills audit using Edinburgh University’s IAD skills guide and audit template. No big surprises, except to say that I have been well-advised to follow this route for research because of the skills I have picked up during my varied career.
You can read the results of the audit over on my workspace wiki.
I was loaned a DVD over the weekend as a distraction from an untidy pile of work which has been bugging me lately. The film seemed to be a bit long for a single sitting – 3 hours – so I kept the last hour for Saturday breakfast.
La Vie d’Adèle (Chapitres 1 et 2) is a Palme d’Or winning film written, produced and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. The story is based upon a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, Le bleu est une couleur chaude (Blue is the warmest color, the name of the film in English). The story is one of growing up as the eponymous Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos, left in the picture) concludes her school career before embarking on teaching. The crucial role of the teacher in bringing alive literature in particular and interest in the world generally is played out as a sub theme to the synchronous plot of Adèle’s coming to terms with her sexuality. She makes mistakes – I thought her career choice was lazy – and suffers the consequences. The character presents as gauche and naïve despite her raw passion. Emma (Léa Seydoux, right) finds a muse for her art in Adèle but always remains the grown-up in their relationship.
The storytelling in the film is masterful, with Kechiche taking his time to bring out the nuances in each scene, never taking the procedural approach to capturing the moment, always letting it run. For some this may be irritating but if you can, watch this film and take your time to feel the moments as they unfold. If this film doesn’t make you sob, you haven’t been paying attention.
I’ve been a bit of a Paloma fan ever since I heard New York and yes, I have all her albums. I think I love her most when she acknowledges her influencers, who include Billie Holiday and Etta James. What a treat, then, to see her do just this tonight in her Symphonic Grace event with Guy Barker and his 42-piece orchestra, itself comprised of some utterly brilliant musicians, all of which have some serious credibility in film soundtracks and music leadership.
The first part of the concert had the orchestra rock the house with some proper 30’s jazz before giving the spotlight to two of Paloma’s gutsy backing singers: Naomi Miller not holding back in Preacher Man, and Sabrina Ramikie giving a soulful interpretation of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s Natural Woman, one of my all-time favourite songs. The opening set finished, following a hat-tip to Holiday and James, with a 5-song orchestral medley of Paloma’s most famous pieces and a rapturous appreciation from the packed house.
Paloma’s presentation in front of the orchestra started with her acknowledgement that we were enjoying “real” music: her signature humility is what sets her apart from many artists. That she puts the orchestra and her girls totally to the fore before taking the stage is testament to her groundedness. That said, she wore the most stunning frock (she said she had dressed up as the newly-refurbished Usher Hall), which she worked to full effect whenever she got the chance, in instrumental breaks, or when setting the most appropriate pose-for-effect as motif when she was singing.
The main set itself was outstanding – up to the usual Paloma standard – but I can’t help feeling that there was a trick missed here. Paloma’s ability to fill with soul some of the greater blues, swing and jazz classics might have been shown off a little in front of this band? I can’t complain. Like I said, I love her, and if that means joining in with the jumping crowd as she satisfies their craving for her big numbers, then I’m not going to suffer it.
My enjoyment of the evening wasn’t even dented when I got to the head of the 20-minute queue to pay through the other nostril for three hours of parking, having emptied the first on a G&T and Bloody Mary at interval. These are the small impediments that normally keep me well away from the Usher Hall, but the opportunity to see Paloma Faith in another of her adventures was one I wasn’t going to miss. I’m beginning to think there’s no place I won’t go to get a chance to see her: I’ve seen her at the Corn Exchange (which makes the Asda next door look like architecture), the Glasgow O2 (it’s in Glasgow, enough said) and now Morningside’s Usher Hall. Next? Well, if she repeats her exclusive Vienna acoustic set anywhere I can reach, you can bet I’ll swallow all of my venue standards to be there. The dream gig? I guess it would be at Jools Holland’s Jam House, with the guv’nor in residence.