Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mettā Data

I was reading a rather snooty piece in the London Review of Book by Jenny Diski of "Harmony" by the Prince of Wales.

I've not read HRH's latest offering myself, but she quotes him as saying "no brain-scanner has ever managed to photograph a thought, nor a piece of love for that matter" which strikes me as odd because, as I understand it, Richard J. Davidson, Director, Lab for Affective Neuroscience & Waisman Lab for Brain Imaging & Behavior, UW-Madison Psychology Department has.

It is published in Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise as figure 2.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

mind body connection

Two years on from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I have just finished Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I think it is a kaleidoscopic marvel of a book, and I'm glad to have enterntained it. Bizarely I was nudged into reading it when I told Miranda the story of Penylan Well (see Icons passim) and she told me that she had just finished it herself and that it was "a book about someone who spends a lot of time in a well."

It took a long time to get through as it weighs in a little over six hundred pages and it fell into the role of the book I read for half an hour every other day when I do my exercise on the stationary recline bike in the gym. This, if I ever lend you my copy, explains why it looks so careworn; there is a lot of sweat on it. The red thumb print that also adorns a page, though it looks like blood, is just paprika infused oil that oozed from a chunk of chorizo.

In an alternative universe Murikami won the Nobel prize for literatiure in 2000 (Icons passim). This year in this universe Ladbroke's had him as third favourite to win it at 7/1, but it went to Mario Vargas Llosa.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair launch mobile phone scheme for women in developing nations.
This is wrong in so many ways that I scarcely know where to begin.

1. The proposition that Clinton H, and Blair C should be role models for independent, up-by their-bootstraps women entrepreneurs, is risible.

2. The idea that folk living on $2 a day need smart phones as opposed to - say - plumbing, is incredibly patronising at a let-them-eat-cake level of abstraction and delusion.

3. The notion that giving women in reactionary, misogynist societies mobiles will somehow magically empower them is dangerously disingenuous and Panglossian. A tool that will let men monitor where their women are all the time, and give the patriarchy the ability to summon their drudges instantly for any whim seems as likely to oppress as liberate.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

them chickens jackin' my style

I got up early yesterday and went to the gym to get it out of the way as I had appointments in town.

I took the tube to Victoria and walked to Buckingham Palace for a meeting with the Royal Household.

Then, as I had some time to kill, I wandered up to the British Museum to check out 'Images and Sacred Texts' which is an exhibition of Buddhist sutras, painted scrolls and sculptures from Sri Lanka to Japan.

In the afternoon, I had to go to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Victoria street, then in the evening I attended a discussion on "The Future of Mobile" at the RSA.

The RSA is a charity which encourages the development of a principled, prosperous society and the release of human potential.

This morning I woke up with a Nestlé Milkybar button melted in my hair, though I didn't notice it until just now when I scratched my head.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The tumult and the shouting dies—
The captains and the kings depart—
Here is Dawn of a New Day, Ray Ozzie's valedictory address to Microsoft.

It is an insightful piece, and well worth a read, but there is no disguising the fact that the software giant's "new brain, new broom" (see Icons passim) has failed to bend the hordes of Redmond to his will regardless of the power of his analysis.

The long decline continues. You can't help but wonder how long Steve Ballmer has left.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

unfriend (verb, transitive)

I went to see The Social Network last night. Much to my amazement - the subject not obviously lending itself to dramatic treatment - it is rather a good movie.

As Facebook continues to devour everything in its path even Roger Scruton is wading in and invoking, by way of explanation and much to my delight, Hegel's notion of Entäusserung. (That's all clear then.)

Last night's programme also included the trailer for Catfish, the other Facebook movie.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I went to Comida last night. Las Iguanas was the Brazillian stop on eat your way around the world in London back in 2006, but this is quite a different proposition.

It's a churrascaria, a restaurant serving grilled meat, and in this case offering as much as you can eat: the waiters move around the restaurant with the skewers, slicing meat onto the client's plate. This serving style is called espeto corrido or rodízio.

Hugh, whose idea the visit was, discovered the concept in Richmond, Virginia of all places.

Good company and friendly helpful staff, this is one to visit again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

sometimes I just sits

I read Tim Parks' Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing recently. It is a fascinating book which has led me (via the its references to the author's Vipassanā retreat I think) to Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, thence Richard J Davidson's experiments - in cooperation with the Dalai Lama - on the effects of meditation on the brain, which introduced me in turn to the wonderful Matthieu Ricard. (Much to my astonishment, a subset of Google Tech Talks - the ones curated by Chade-Meng Tan - is a great source of information in this area.)

It's a subject for another day, but I think that the evidence that is emerging that the mind can change the brain's structure is likely to be one of the most profound discoveries of our age.

The point I want to make this morning is that as I was watching The Big Silence - in which a Benedictine introduces five ordinary people to silent, monastic contemplation - on BBC2 last night I was struck by the amount of overlap there was at the level of practice with Buddhist methods.

I suppose that if meditation really is therapeutic, we shouldn't be surprised - looking at it phenomenologically - if parallel approaches arise in different cultures.

Compare and contrast:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Forced rhubarb

The Odd Boy lay down by the football field
Took out a slim volume of Mallarme
The centre-forward called him an imbecile
It's an Odd Boy who doesn't like sport

Sport, sport, masculine sport
Equips a young man for Society,
Yes, sport turns out a jolly good sort
It's an Odd Boy who doesn't like sport.

I have dropped the Bomber off at an early morning running club before school today. He was signed up after his cross country triumph last week, and certainly seemed keen enough considering the hour I had to rouse him from the arms of Morpheus. From Friday week, he wants to do indoor cricket as well which means he'll be doing judo Thursday evening, running Friday morning, and cricket Friday evening.

Andy asked him to have a trial for AFC Wimbledon, but he has politely binned that notion having given his heart to rugby football. If he'd taken it up he could have been playing or training in some sport or other six days out of seven.

I'm in a bit of a quandry. I can see that - given that he seems to be quite able - it is likely that he will get a lot of opportunities to try out interesting recreations, but I also see a danger of it getting overwhelming.

I'd be perfectly happy if he just stayed with judo and rugby plus whatever he does in school to be frank, but on reflection I think that the prudent way to handle this going forward is to be equally relaxed about him giving things up as well as taking things up.

Note to my future self - the day he says he wants to quit judo or rugby, grin and bear it regardless of what you would actually prefer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belabour him at will

How to Defend Yourself, without Running any Risk of being Hurt, if you are Carrying only a Small Switch in your Hand, and are Threatened by a Man with a very Strong Stick.

Just in case the issue ever comes up.

When you are proficient with the small sword and sabre, the quarter-staff and bayonet, you will know at once what to do with the leg of an old chair, an iron bar, a hop-pole, a boat-hook, or even a lady's parasol. Depend upon it that any moderately strong and active man who is a good boxer, fencer, and wrestler may be a very nasty customer for even two or three footpads to attack.

I can't get enough of this stuff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

she senses I'm shallow

Myself: So, did you do shoot the photographs in there or what?

Prodnose: Yeah, I sorta dabble around, you know.

Myself: They're wonderful, you know. They have... uh... a quality.

Prodnose: Well, I would-I would like to take a serious photography course soon.

Myself: Photography's interesting, 'cause, you know, it's a new art form, and uh, a set of aesthetic criteria have not emerged yet.

Prodnose: Aesthetic criteria? You mean, whether it's a good photo or not?

I've watched all seventeen minutes so you don't have to.

They key quotes are:

  • Gracie Carvalho (nibbling with no shirt on): It’s been incredible. Even though I was partially naked and only 18 years old I’m loving it!
  • Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (jumping out of a pool deshabille): I love doing shoots like this where you’re not representing a piece of clothing or a designer — you’re actually representing yourself, and that’s really exciting. It actually gives you an opportunity to give more of your soul and your heart in the picture.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How beauteous mankind is

By way of a corrective to yesterday's Utopian speculation about computer games, a more cynical diagrammatic appraisal of the congruence of personality traits driving social networking.

You pays your money and takes your choice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

get your game face on

As a planet, we collectively spend 3 billion hours a week playing computer and video games. Today’s youth are contributing a particularly heavy share of that load: The average young person in the UK will have spent 10,000 hours playing games by the time they turn 21. It’s enough to make you ask: Shouldn’t we all be doing something better with our time? Something more productive than, say, slaying virtual monsters, racing virtual cars, and managing virtual football teams?

But the gamers (and they make up more than a third of the UK population) may be on to something: It turns out that gameplay is extraordinarily productive. It may not increase GDP. But it does produce, more cheaply and reliably than almost any other activity, the positive emotions – such as delight, curiosity, pride and bliss – that scientists say are crucial to our health and success in real life.

It turns out that people who experience on average 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion they feel live 10 years longer. They’re more successful at work, school and personal pursuits – and they also have longer, happier marriages. Scientists say it doesn’t matter where you get these positive emotions – it just matters that you sincerely feel them. And if you watch the faces of gamers while they play – whole-heartedly engaged, passionately motivated, and intensely rewarded – you know that they’re not just playing games. They’re also building up their inner reserve of good feelings.

They’re also producing social capital. Research from major universities such as MIT and Stanford show that we like and trust other people more after we’ve played a game together -- even if they’ve beaten us. More importantly, scientists have discovered that we’re more likely to help someone in real life after we’ve helped them in a cooperative game. Games aren’t just making us happier – they’re also building up our social bonds. No wonder 40% of total hours spent on Facebook are spent playing games. Our 3 billion hours a week gaming are producing the two most important aspects of well-being – positive emotions and positive relationships. There’s simply nothing better to be doing with our free time.

I'm not sure I agree with Jane McGonigal, but that is an intriguing thesis, artfully expressed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Content Management

I am just back from the Camberley Mini Rugby Festival. The Ruts didn't distinguish themselves to be brutally frank, though Ben played pretty well as ever, and the two six minute halves of Guidlfordians versus Sutton & Epsom RFC Under 10s comprised as gripping a contest as I've seen in any sport this year.

Standing on the touchline on a crisp October day, sipping coffee from a polystyrene cup, munching a bacon bap, and watching the kids play rugby is probably as close to content as I will ever get in this vale of tears, so it is worth recording.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Restlessly channel hopping on Thursday night (the Bomber was upstairs asleep so I couldn't go out worrying sheep) I came across The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom of which I'd never previously heard.

I thought it was great. Though the shows are completely unalike it reminded me of my similarly serendipitous discovery of Curb Your Enthusiasm all those years ago.

I can get the first three series from Amazon for £26.93 but I've still only watched one episode of The Wire, and I've had that for over a year now.

There are people with worse problems I suppose.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Buying books is fun, with a glass in your hand

Elif Batuman's article on sending alcohol fuelled, late night booty calls to the Western canon is an hilarious confirmation of several WBI memes:

"But hey, enough of my yacking," I yield the spotlight to Ms Batuman:
Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn't usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol. I won't say I never did it, because that would be a lie. But it wasn't a habit. After a couple of glasses of wine, I tend to fixate on the present. I have no use for five to seven days' delivery time. The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people because you can climb into bed, press one button, and The Anatomy of Melancholy instantaneously materialises before you, plucked by the so-called Whispernet out of the surrounding ether.

The number of books I buy while sober is, I have noticed, inversely proportional to the number I buy while drunk. It's a zero-sum game, as Proust once observed of wet dreams: when all the resources are consumed in the night, none are left for waking life.

Counting free samples and e-books from the pre-1923 copyrightless domain, the total number of books I "purchase" per month has actually gone up by about 200%, while the number of books I purchase while sober has dwindled to about 5% of the total. You used to be able to say that someone's library looked like it had been assembled by a drunk person. Now, for me, the metaphor has become a reality.

..... read further......

Thursday, October 14, 2010

coup de théâtre

I went to see Birdsong in the Comedy Playhouse last night.

("Comedy?" Prodnose).

The second and third acts were harrowing and masterly. I can't help but admire Trevor Nunn's technical skill in marshaling his resources on the stage, crass as it may seem to make that remark of a play about the trenches in the Great War.

While I'm on the subject of theatre visits, and for the sake of completeness I also recently saw Cyrano on the Moon at the Wimbledon Studio. It was balderdash.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.

There had been much dark muttering from a disappointed bomber over the last week or so when he found - after being convinced it was in the bag - that he hadn't been picked to represent Poplar at a six school cross country event that took place yesterday.

I also cancelled going along to watch, but come the day one of the three members of his year's team had to drop out and I'll be darned if Ben didn't take the spot as a substitute, grit his teeth and come home first out of a field of eighteen in the boys' year five race. (The school also won the whole event overall on points for the first time ever he told me.)

Cue wild celebrations (apple crumble) in Browne acres.

P.S. He also got four tries against London Scottish on the weekend.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Le Parapluie Uncassable

You have got to watch the video above. I was genuinely crying with laughter. What elevates it to the sublime I think, is the way that our hero looks utterly bored to death throughout, as well as the telling detail of his wordless opening and closing of the brolly before he belabours each consecutive prop.

The Unbreakable Umbrella works just as well as a walking stick or cane but does not make you look funny or feel awkward. Whacks just as strong as a steel pipe but it weighs only 1 lb. and 9 oz. (710 g). And yes, this umbrella resists the wind and will keep you dry in rain just like the best umbrella should.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ignorance is bliss

Wimbledon Bookfest is over for another year.

Yesterday I went to see Robert McCrum at an event in the extraordinary Southside House (of which I'd never previously heard) where Alex Munthe wrote the, by all accounts extraordinary, The Story of San Michele (of which I'd never previously heard).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anyone for tens?

Today is the tenth of the tenth of the tenth and a big day for weddings.
At the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, the owner, Ron DeCar, has 150 ceremonies planned in five chapels, beginning at midnight. He has had to hire extra Elvis impersonators, he said, to bring the contingent to six.

There was a similar surge on July 7, 2007, and he is already planning for 11/11/11 and 12/12/12.

For those of a geeky bent, the date has another layer of importance — it is made up entirely of ones and zeros, the binary language of computing. Kevin Cheng and Coley Wopperer of San Francisco have been waiting nearly two years for their wedding date to roll around, having realized over dinner with friends in 2008 that, as one suggested, “you could have a binary-themed wedding!” he recalled.

“Both of our eyes just lit up,” he said.

“We’re very much technology people,” Mr. Cheng explained, as if it were necessary to point this out.

The dinner group quickly calculated the more familiar base-10 value of the binary number 101010, and found that it was 42. “That totally sealed the deal!” he recalled.

Footnote: For fans of Douglas Adams, author of the series of science fiction comedic novels beginning with “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” the number 42 is instantly recognized as the punch line to one of literature’s most revered shaggy dog stories. In it, super-intelligent beings have created the most powerful computer ever to provide the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.” The computer labors for 7.5 million years. Finally, it answers: “Forty-two.”

Which means, gentle reader, that Kevin Cheng and Coley Wopperer are truly meant for each other.
So for all the freaks and geeks jumping the broomstick today, I sincerely wish you wish you all the very best.

Wedding vows in Vegas
Weren't meant to last for ages
You've got to be courageous
To play the odds that love will win
Whatever city you're in.

Friday, October 08, 2010


"As tiresome as a child with a taste for religious controversy." Where did I read that?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Soane, and so forth

There is a special candlelit opening of Sir John Soane's Museum on the first Tuesday evening of each month, 6-9pm, and I went along last night largely, I think, because I am a big girl's blouse.

I didn't get in. "Please expect long queues," says the website; accurately.

In the absence of my report on Sir John's collections and personal effects, acquired between the 1780s and his death in 1837, you will have to divert yourself with this video of Bruce Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks.

Let's just relish that again: table tennis with nunchucks. He really was comprised entirely of awesomeness.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ryder on the storm

Perhaps we have evolved gills in Europe after all?

These are happy days with the Ryder Cup regained in Wales in Welsh weather and a USA team gracious in defeat.

Terry Matthews (Newport 1943) is a Welsh Born Icon.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Zune, just one look

After lunch on a wet and miserable Sunday yesterday, the Bomber and I sat down to entertain ourselves with the remake of Clash of the Titans.

It wasn't broadcast TV or a disc however, it was streamed to the new XBOX over the net. We only stumbled across the feature, but using it was next to effortless, and the quality was fine.

Writing here every day let's me see how much of an improvement that is over four years ago.

I think perhaps my DVDs will have gone the way of my CDs in another forty eight months.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


First kids rugby cancellation of the year this morning. First of many if last year and the Ryder Cup is anything to go by. I'm surprised we haven't evolved gills in the UK.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Katy Am Byth

Eberyting Welsh dese days.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Cardiff Internet Movie Database

SEATTLE – September 28, 2010—, Inc. (, the authoritative source of information on movies, TV and celebrities, and part of the, Inc. group of companies, today announced and launched IMDb20, the company’s 20-year anniversary campaign. Beginning today, IMDb will treat fans to an original video interview with a different A-list artist each day, culminating on Oct. 17, 2010, (the date of IMDb’s 20th anniversary). The goal of the online countdown and companion editorial section is to celebrate the films of the past 20 years.

Yes my pretties, but in 1992 when it kicked away the shackles of rec.arts.movies and launched itself onto the World Wide Web (a network in its infancy back then) it was known as the Cardiff Internet Movie Database and was powered by a database residing on the servers of the computer science department of Wales' Cardiff University.

For is - and will ever remain - a Welsh Born Icon.