Archive for April, 2008

Foudre en boule

Posted in nature on April 30, 2008 by Philonous

My Grandmother once told me that as a child, when she used to stay in the countryside with her uncle and there was lightning, it was quite frequent that the thunder would come through the fire hole. The thunder ball would then go around the room and find the nearest exit. My Grandmother’s advice: “Stay very still and it won’t hit you”. Of course I could never be sure she was telling the truth until I saw Tintin:

Another advice my Grandmother gave me about thunderstorms is: “In case you’re walking outside and there is lightning, wear nothing but a silk scarf and you’ll be safe.” If you decide to try it, send me a picture 😉

Farm life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 29, 2008 by Philonous

One of my favorite times on the farm when I was little was when the power would go out. It was such an adventure! We had a wood burning stove in our house, so we could still see, stay warm, and cook. It was such a novelty to put the pan on top of the stove just like they did in the olden days. We would usually cook something out of a can as it was easy. I remember feeling very industrious and pleased to live on a farm, because that meant that we could survive anything! We had all the tools and supplies we needed.

Living in the city now is the complete opposite, just like Philonous said, you look around and realize how entirely vulnerable you are. Imagine just trying to get out of the building and having to rush down 7 flights of stairs- what if the door wouldn’t open because the buzzer was off? Our urban societies are much more fragile than we think.

Power Cut

Posted in culture, Manchester, random with tags , on April 26, 2008 by Philonous

Earlier this evening, the electricity supply for some reason cut out. I was at the time surfing the web on a laptop so the instant the power went off, the network connection disappeared. Having fumbled around the house for matches for a while, I finally managed to light a candle which for once wasn’t being used for ambience. It suddenly occurred to me that without electricity it would be essentially impossible to survive in my flat. Being relatively new, my home depends exclusively on electricity for energy. From heating to cooking, everything in the house is plugged into the wall in some way.
I had been planning to heat up some leftovers in the microwave. But now I couldn’t use a microwave. Or a toaster. Or the oven. In fact, I couldn’t eat any raw food at all – it was lucky that there were some leftovers, however cold. Sitting on the couch, swaddled in a duvet against the dwindling warmth, it occurred to me that by the next morning any remaining hot water in the tank would have cooled and anything in the freezer would have started to defrost. My only consolation was in reading a book by the flickering light of a couple of candles.

No wonder Russia weilded so much power over the Ukraine when it came to energy supplies. There has been so much publicity over the rising cost of energy in general, but we at least still have access to energy, however expensive it may be.

And then the lights came on again.

Technology- amazing.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 25, 2008 by Philonous

Just saw an article in the Guardian that made me marvel at technology (how old do I sound?) There is an idea to put ‘under floor heating’ beneath road surfaces, but heating that is powered by solar energy, collecting it during the hot summer to melt ice in the winter and improve driving conditions. Wow. Now that’s a good idea, and I hope it works.

Read more here

I love you Google…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 24, 2008 by Philonous

I’m glad I’ve got a google account (thanks to this blog) because now I’ve set up my iGoogle page, which is clever on their part, so now each day I’m greeted by new art, quotes, and words to ponder on. I never thought it would be so easy to enrich my life- it really seems like cheating. But here is a quote to start:

Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
-John Le Carre

Save the animals – buy fur.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 21, 2008 by Philonous

I must admit, the thought of buying fur makes me feel slightly queasy. I have no explanation for this other than an emotional response triggered by many years of exposure to the anti-fur movement’s advertising. On the face of it, farmed fur really is a pretty horrible thought. Animals raised in captivity in terrible conditions just so that folk can be dressed from head to toe like someone from Dr Zhivago. Now that synthetic materials are avalailable which perhaps offer better protection against the elements than mother nature, it really does seem rather a cruel and distasteful fashion accessory.

I was amazed therefore to read of fur as being marketed by various organisations as an ‘eco-friendly’ product. According to Canada’s Fur Council. Their website in the optimistically titled ‘Fur is Green’ section argue that fur is a renewable resource and is fully biodegradable (as opposed to fake fur which is make from petroleum byproducts). Indeed they seem to imply that they are somehow in tune with (and I quote) ‘the circle of life’, calling it ‘the ultimate eco-clothing’. I can see hundreds of hippies wandering round in bear-skin Birkenstocks right now…

A slightly more serious claim to environmental responsibility in relation to fur is New Zealand’s possum fur industry. Though quite cute, possums are considered eco-system destroying pests across New Zealand since their numbers have grown beyond all expectations. The trapping and poisoning of possums is in fact encouraged by the government in an attempt to preserve natural habitats from dessimation by these marsupials which were artificially introduced around 150 years ago. Amazingly, conservation organisations such as the WWF have endorsed the possum fur industry as essential for maintaining biodiversity.

Writer’s block and favourite poem

Posted in culture, music, poetry with tags , , on April 20, 2008 by Philonous

I thought it would be nice to post my favourite poem. It was composed by the German dada artist Kurt Schwitters. It is a love poem that doesn’t make sense (a translation is posted after the original):

o du, geliebte meiner siebenundzwanzig sinne, ich
liebe dir! – du deiner dich dir, ich dir, du mir. – wir?

das gehört (beilÀufig) nicht hierher.
wer bist du, ungezÀhltes frauenzimmer? du bist
– bist du? – die leute sagen, du wĂ€rest – laß
sie sagen, sie wissen nicht, wie der kirchturm steht.
du trĂ€gst den hut auf deinen fĂŒĂŸen und wanderst
auf die hÀnde, auf den hÀnden wanderst du.
hallo, deine roten kleider, in weiße falten zersĂ€gt.
rot liebe ich anna blume, rot liebe ich dir! – du
deiner dich dir, ich dir, du mir. – wir?
das gehördt (beilÀufig) in die kalte glut.
rote blume, rote anna blume, wie sagen die leute?
1. anna blume hat ein vogel.
2. anna blume ist rot.
3. welche farbe hat der vogel?
blau ist die farbe deines gelben haares.
rot ist das girren deines grĂŒnen vogels.
du schlichtes mÀdchen im alltagskleid, du liebes
grĂŒnes tier, ich liebe dir! – du deiner dich dir, ich
dir, du mir – wir?
das gehört (beilÀufig) in die glutenkiste.
anna blume! anna, a-n-n-a, ich trÀufle deinen
namen. dein name tropft wie weiches rindertalg.
weißt du es, anna, weißt du es schon?
man kann dich auch von hinten lesen, und du, du
herrlichste von allen, du bist von hinten wie
vorne: “a-n-n-a.”
rindertalg trĂ€ufelt streicheln ĂŒber meinen rĂŒcken.
anna blume, du tropfes tier, ich liebe dir!

(Kurt Schwitters, An Anna Blume)

This poem has also inspired the German hip-hop band Freundeskreis:


You, oh you, beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I love ya! –
You thine thou yours, I you, you me. – Us?

This (incidentally) does not belong here.
Who are you, countless woman? You are
– are you? – People
say you are – let

them say it, they don’t know where the steeple is.
You wear a hat on your feet and stand
on your hands, on your hands you walk.
Hello, your red clothes, sawed into white pleats.
Red I love, Anna Blume, red I love ya! – You
thine thou yours, I you, you me. – Us?
That (incidentally) belongs in the cold embers.
Red flower, red Anna Blume, what are people

Prize question: 1. Anna Blume has a bird.
2.Anna Blume is red.
3.What color is the bird?
Blue is the color of your yellow hair.
Red is the cooing of your green bird.
You plain girl in an everyday dress, you dear
green animal, I love ya! – You thine thou yours, I
you, you me – us?
That (incidentally) belongs in the ember box.
Anna Blume! Anna, a-n-n-a, I am dripping your
name. Your name drips like soft suet.
Do you know, Anna, do you know yet?
You can also be read from back to front, and you, you
most marvelous creature of them all, you are from the back
as you are from the front: »a-n-n-a.«
Suet drips caress my back.
Anna Blume, you droppy animal, I love ya!

I found this translation on Unfortunately the complex German grammar
which Kurt Schwitters plays with in this poem cannot be translated into English.

Are you people or sheeple?!

Posted in Activism, movie on April 19, 2008 by Philonous

Yesterday, I watched the “What would Jesus Buy?”, a documentary following the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on its tour around the USA.

The centre of the film is the charismatic Reverend Billy who urges devotees to stop shopping and turn around the consumer culture which they see as a marketing-driven addiction. He and his gospel choir preach and sing their message to various people around the USA in a protest against gentrification and large corporations.

I found the film entertaining enough, but was never totally sure whether there was a religious aspect to Rev. Billy or whether this was all a humorous package for a serious message. Check out the trailer:

Also check out the Church of Stop Shopping’s website.

100 hat solution

Posted in maths, puzzles with tags on April 16, 2008 by Philonous
I suddenly realised that I haven’t yet posted the solution to the hundred hat problem.

In slightly mathematical language, here’s the solution. Replace black by 0 and white by 1. Let the ith prisoner have hat colour c(i). The first person shouts out the value of

The next person does the calculation

and shouts his answer out. In general, since the kth prisoner knows c(2), . . . , c(k-1), (having heard them shouted), c(k+1), . . . , c(100) (being able to see them) and

courtesy of the first prisoner’s shout, he can calculate c(k) = (c(k) mod 2). Of course, here we’ve set the number of prisoners to 100, but this isn’t necessary.

For non-mathematically literate folk:

The idea really isn’t complicated at all – if it seems so, then I’ve explained it badly. First of all, knowing if a hat is white or not is equivalent to knowing its colour since there are only two. The first person to go counts up the number of white hats he can see in front of him. If it’s odd, he shouts ‘white’ and if it’s even, he shouts ‘black’. Prisoner number 2 then counts the number of white hats in front of him. He then figures out if it’s odd or even. We know that

  • (odd number) – (odd number) = even number
  • (odd number) – (even number) = odd number
  • (even number) – (odd number) = odd number
  • (even number) – (even number) = even number

Prisoner 2 can use prisoner 1’s shout as the first number and his own tally as the second. This spits out something on the right hand side. If he gets ‘even’ he shouts black, if he gets ‘odd’ he shouts white. Prisoner 3 has heard prisoner 1 and 2 and also knows whether the number of hats in front is even or odd. He then does a similar calculation and shouts out the right answer…and so on.

Perhaps this isn’t perfectly explained. Never mind.

Adbusters adbusted?

Posted in Activism, art, culture, Manchester with tags , on April 15, 2008 by Philonous

Tonight I was wandering in Manchester city centre as one does when suddenly, a projection appeared on the side of the City Tower in Piccadilly Gardens. Since I’m not in the habit of carrying a camera/tripod with me on my strolls, I had only my mobile phone to take a quick snap. It’s slightly hard to see, but there’s a projection of a few pawprints and the text “Felix for Mayor”.

On returning home, I went online to see if anyone else had noticed what was going on. Searching for the slogan “Felix for Mayor” brought up someone’s flickr page with a picture of some advert in what I think is the London edition of Metro. It turns out that this is a publicity stunt by Purina, the multinational corporation responsible for the well known pet food brands Go-Cat, Bakers Complete, Felix as well as my favourite Bonio, no doubt after the eponymous character in Romeo and Juliet’s raunchier sequel.

The spontaneity and slightly cobbled together advert reminded me a little bit of so called culture jamming. For those who aren’t in the know (like myself until Le Fox kindly filled me in), culture jamming is the process of subverting corporate brands to expose various perceived social injustices. Most culture jammers don’t seek to make any sort of profit and so can be seen as somewhere between part time artists and activists, promoting various often radical social perspectives through guerrilla-art. They could perhaps be thought of as media hackers who seek to bring what they think of as balance to capitalism’s constant stream of advertising.

Tonight’s event was part of a wider program of organised publicity stunts presumably to give the Felix brand a bit of a boost. While adbusting relies on twisting carefully planned and widely established corporate brand images to deliver high impact messages, it would seem that the the quirkiness and spontaneity characterising guerrilla art has been hijacked by a corporation. The social and political messages of culture jamming have been changed into an meaningless and inane phrase supplementing adverts in traditional media.

Seeing this, it occurred to me: has Purina managed to culture jam the notion of culture jamming itself? It would seem that it has.

Some links: