Archive for the culture Category

Roots (disambiguation)

Posted in culture, film, Food, history, literature, maths, music, science with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2008 by Philonous

In Euclidean Space:

Let V be a finite-dimensional Euclidean space, with the standard Euclidean inner product denoted by . A root system in V is a finite set Φ of non-zero vectors (called roots) that satisfy the following properties:

  1. The roots span V.
  2. The only scalar multiples of a root α ∈ Φ that belong to Φ are α itself and −α.
  3. For every root α ∈ Φ, the set Φ is closed under reflection through the hyperplane perpendicular to α. That is, for any two roots α and β, the set Φ contains the reflection of β in the plane perpendicular to α.
  4. (Integrality condition) If α and β are roots in Φ, then the projection of β onto the line through α is a half-integral multiple of α.

In view of property 3, the integrality condition is equivalent to stating that β and its reflection σα(β) differ by an integer multiple of α.

The rank of a root system is the dimension of the Euclidean space V in which it resides. Here are examples of rank 2 systems.


In the Plant Kingdom:

In vascular plants, the root is the organ of a plant body that typically lies below the surface of the soil. But, this is not always the case, since a root can also be aerial (that is, growing above the ground) or aerating (that is, growing up above the ground or especially above water). On the other hand, a stem normally occurring below ground is not exceptional either (see rhizome). So, it is better to define root as a part of a plant body that bears no leaves, and therefore also lacks nodes. There are also important internal structural differences between stems and roots. The two major functions of roots are 1.) absorption of water and inorganic nutrients and 2.) anchoring the plant body to the ground. Roots also function in cytokinin synthesis, which supplies some of the shoot’s needs. They often function in storage of food. The roots of most vascular plant species enter into symbiosis with certain fungi to form mycorrhizas, and a large range of other organisms including bacteria also closely associate with roots.

On TV:

Roots is a 1977 American television miniseries based on Alex Haley‘s work Roots: The Saga of an American Family, his critically acclaimed but factually disputed genealogical novel.

Roots was made into a hugely popular television miniseries that aired over eight consecutive nights in January 1977. Many people partially attribute the success of the miniseries to the original score by Quincy Jones. ABC network television executives chose to “dump” the series into a string of airings rather than space out the broadcasts, because they were uncertain how the public would respond to the controversial, racially-charged themes of the show. However, the series garnered enormous ratings and became an overnight sensation. Approximately 130 million Americans tuned in at some time during the eight broadcasts. The concluding episode was rated as the third most watched telecast of all time by the Nielsen corporation.
The cast of the miniseries included LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte, Leslie Uggams as Kizzy and Ben Vereen as Chicken George. A 14-hour sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, aired in 1979, featuring the leading African-American actors of the day. In 1988, a two-hour made-for-TV movie, Roots: The Gift, aired. Based on characters from the book, it starred LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte, Avery Brooks as Cletus Moyer and Kate Mulgrew as Hattie, the female leader of a group of slave catchers.

In the Charts:

Roots is the sixth studio album by Brazilian thrash metal band Sepultura, released in 1996 through Roadrunner Records. It was the band’s last album to feature Max Cavalera. The majority of the themes presented on Roots are centered on Brazilian politics and culture.

The inspiration for Sepultura’s new musical directon was two-fold. One was the desire to further experiment with the music of Brazil, especially the percussive type played by Salvador, Bahia samba reggae group Olodum. A slight influence of Northeastern Brazil‘s native music is also present in the guitar riffs, especially baião and capoeira music. Another innovation Roots brought was the inspiration taken from the (then) cutting-edge nu metal sound of the Deftones and KoЯn – especially the latter’s debut, with it’s heavily down-tuned guitars.

Roots was released in February 1996 and received with unprecedented enthusiasm. Even the popular press, that usually doesn’t pay a lot of attention to metal records, halted the presses to appreciate the unusual rhythms mixture of Sepultura. American newspapers like The New Times, the Daily News[disambiguation needed] and the Los Angeles Times reserved some space for the Brazilian band: “The mixture of the dense metal of Sepultura and the Brazilian music has a intoxicating effect”, wrote a Los Angeles Times’ reviewer. The Daily News went even further: “Sepultura reinvented the wheel. By mixing metal with native instruments, the band resuscitates the tired genre, reminding of Led Zeppelin times. But while Zeppelin mixed English metal with African beats, it’s still more moving to hear a band that uses elements of its own country. By extracting the sounds of the past, Sepultura determines the future direction of metal”.

Acknowledgements: This post would not have been possible without the untiring effort of all of those kind folk at Wikipedia who are up at all hours of the day and night writing entries.

I’d also like to thank they keys Ctrl, C and V

Warsaw: From the Stare Miasto to the Pałac Kultury i Nauki

Posted in culture, history, travel, warsaw with tags , on July 20, 2008 by Philonous

The lover of mind has landed in Warsaw. This city is extraordinarily beautiful, green and without blemish. From the old town which was rebuilt after having been destroyed during the second world war, to the grandiose 43 storey stamp of the Pałac Kultury i Nauki, one can’t help but be impressed by it all. I’m staying in a very lovely hotel just south of the city centre next to a grand park and all of the various embassies. From there i was advised (by folk in the know) to go to the old town (Stare Miasto) to have a look at all of the lovely old (new) Polish buildings. During the second world war, Warsaw was essentially gutted. Most of the historic buildings were completely destroyed and the old town centre was rebuilt from scratch.

Wandering around European cities, one becomes accustomed to the sight of buildings which if not exactly crumbling, show all of their three hundred or so years. Here everything comes across a little bit Disney. The entire old town is so incredibly pristine that rather than being 300 years old, most buildings look as if they have travelled through time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole Stare Miasto was injection moulded in one piece from fadeproof plastic in a Detroit factory and shipped over as part of some covert Marshall plan. It’s a great shame that so much of this great city was destroyed in the carnage of 1939-45.

Still imposing upon the skyline is Stalin’s great stamp of authority, the Pałac Kultury i Nauki-a full blown propaganda factory mass producing and distributing Soviet pronouncements in the form of films, books, plays and exhibitions. Now though, the huge tower is somewhat eclipsed by the skyscraping testaments to Poland’s new legacy. Viewed from one side, the Stalinist face of hard nosed totalitarianism is still there to be seen. Viewed from the others, the huge Carlsberg parasols, the brightly coloured advertisments and the various other skyscrapers peer over Stalin’s long-dead message. Perhaps even more ironically, underneath one face is a massive skate park full of teenagers humming Green Day and periodically rescuing their trousers from the ever present clutches of gravity. If you look carefully at the right hand photo, you might just be able to see on the left the massive cuboid of the Intercontinental along with various other skyscrapers belonging to foreign banks. The man of steel would turn is his grave.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog

Posted in culture, film, internet with tags , , on July 19, 2008 by Philonous

It seems that the internet has spawned a great number of heroes of the 15½” screen. Here are a few examples of folk whose fame is in no small part due to the internet:

Eventually, ornery folks like me decided to get in on the act and start blogs detailing the minutiae of their humdrum existences from their fury at milk having gone sour to diatribes on the meaning of Pokemon. Various actors and artists have quickly siezed upon sites such as YouTube as conduits for expression and more recently, actual famous people have started using the internet and its inherently viral mechanism (and small world properties) to further promote themselves. Here are video blogs from (in order) Chris Crocker, lonelygirl15, P.Diddy and Imogen Heap.

This seems to me to typify the transition from the internet as a means of distribution of traditional media to a medium in its own right, with the production of film solely for internet transmission. Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame) along with various less well known collaborators is the latest fairly big name to have dipped his toe in the water with the low-budget, three act musical video blog Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. This foray into internet television is a direct result of this year’s writers strike which left Whedon twiddling his thumbs for a few weeks. It is designed primarimy as an experiment on the financial viability of online media. The show itself is divided into three parts, with a staggered release throughout this week. The last of these will be released on Saturday at which point all three may be watched back to back and for free. After Sunday, they become available as a DVD and at a premium. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out (though I suspect Whedon has nothing to worry about since it is already topping the iTunes chart). Check out the trailer below.

If you do see the full production, have patience – it takes a while to get going…

Bearing all

Posted in art, culture, film with tags , , on July 18, 2008 by Philonous

First, a shout-out to my main man Chris who posted a link to this video in a comment after Le Fox’s Flying Rats Go Human! post : I think you’ll all agree, it’s a triumph.

After Le Fox’s critique of the slow pervasion of air-rats into urban consciousness (featuring track bike), I suddenly remembered about 2007 Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger and his film, Sleeper. Check out this video of Wallinger talking about it.

Here are a few links:

Beirut or Busk

Posted in culture, music with tags , on July 16, 2008 by Philonous

Following Skiffle and the Busker’s Art I found this video of Beirut on another edition of the culture show. (You may have noticed my small but perfectly formed obsession with this band through their featuring heavily in the Interesting Music posts.) Will they beat Mark Kermode and his Dodge brothers….? Watch to find out!

Skiffle and the Busker’s Art

Posted in culture, music with tags , on July 14, 2008 by Philonous

Check out the following clip from the BBC’s Culture Show. One regular segment of theirs takes major rock/pop stars and puts them on a street for 15 minutes to busk, the proceeds going to charity. A constellation of stars including Moby, Black Francis and Broken Social Scene have all taken part with varying degrees of success.

Mark Kermode, more usually known for rubbishing various films happens to be in a skiffle band – The Dodge Brothers. It seems that skiffle is summed up as somewhere between blues and rock’n’roll, using washboards rather than a drum kit (making it extremely portable). Apart from being one of my personal heroes, Dr Kermode (Manchester) happens also to be rather handy with a double bass and has the charisma to pull in the punters (and their cash). Marvellous.

BM est. 1759

Posted in culture, history, travel with tags , on June 23, 2008 by Philonous

Finally, since I am in London after all, I thought it only right that I visit the British Museum. The first time i walked into this building, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The huge classical colonade gives way at the entrance to a dark foyer flanked by the giftshop and a couple of galleries. I remember thinking that it would be full of very stuffy old men looking at very stuffy old exhibitions which would be nothing more than the trophy cabinets of dead merchant soldiers.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Walking through, the dark recess suddenly opens into a huge marble space. In the centre is the cylindrical reading room, famous perhaps more for Marx choosing it as his study while writing the communist manifesto than for its books. Now it is simply an architectural curiosity, the constant stream of tourists making constructive thought rather difficult. I suppose that originally, this part was open to the elemts before it was roofed over in the 90s with a perspective warping glass triangulation.
This time my attention was drawn by a 1st century AD statue of a cheeky chappy on horseback, featured to the right. The thing that caught me more than anything else was that he was naked in all the ‘important’ areas, and yet sports a pair of sandals and a lovely oversized handkercheif. Either that or he just hasn’t quite mastered the art of wearing a toga.

Picadilly, Peekahdeelee, Pick-a-Deli…? a culinary exchange

Posted in Cuisine, culture, Food with tags on June 19, 2008 by Philonous

Last weekend we hosted a party at our place for which we cooked a range of popular French party dishes, including a cake au jambon (a cake with ham, cheese, fresh green peppercorns and herbs). Our guests – who were mainly British – had apparantly never heard of a salty cake before in their lives. Some just called it quiche. A few said it was “very good”. Others just looked confused. It was as if we had brought fish and chips and steak pie to the French people: “what eez zeez eengleesh food?!”

When I tell people that I come from Paris, some will automatically tell me how they went there on holiday and how the food was absolutely fantastic. I wonder! The cake au jambon certainly demonstrated that there are differences in culinary tastes and expectations. Parisians know that you have to pay a lot to get good food in their city – and where tourists go is usually expensive and serves mediocre food. Did my friends really have real French food?

Just like I had to discover that in some parts of England having tea means having dinner and having dinner means having lunch, some still have to discover that British super-market quiche and baguette doesn’t taste French. And there was me thinking that Jane Eyre was constantly drinking tea and eating scones and sugar coated cakes! “yes, yes, verrree breeteesh”.

I still haven’t gotten used to steak (and kidney) pie and fish and chips, but there are a few things which I appreciate about English gastronomy:

  1. Pimm’s with lemonade – because it’s got cucumber in it, which I think is eccentric
  2. sausage and mash patatoes with ale – because it’s easy and filling pub food
  3. peas with mint – because other French people hate it
  4. crumpets – who would have thought that bread could have such a consistency
  5. Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam – because the Queen’s beagles have it for breakfast
  6. pheasant – especially if it’s home killed in fox hunting costume and AGA cooked
  7. christmas pudding and mince pies
  8. jacket patatoes with beans and cheese – because that’s the only decent food from my work cafeteria

Next dish I would like to try: the toad in a hole – because of the strange name!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to cook French I recommend the website marmiton.org. People have already posted many of their personal recipes on this site, and the good news is that an English version is also available.
For your next Paris holiday, you’ll get authentic food at Le Balzar. The best time to go is on sunday for lunch. Of course you’ll have to start with an apéritif like a kir. And after your entree and plat principal, you’ll have to eat one of their delicious dessert.

Acquiring target…

Posted in culture, science, tech with tags , on June 15, 2008 by Philonous

Stalking friends through facebook (hurrah!) I stumbled upon the following bit of Tai Chi for the tech-generation:

my morning ritual
Date: 2004-05-10, 9:56AM EDT I have a morning ritual that I need to share. I
call it “the terminator”. First I crouch down in the shower in the classic
“naked terminator traveling through time” pose. With my eyes closed I crouch
there for a minute, visualizing either Arnold or the guy from the second movie
(not the chick in the third one because that one sucked) and I start to hum the
terminator theme. Then I slowly rise to a standing position and open my eyes. It
helps me to proceed through my day as an emotionless, cyborg badass. The only
problem is if the shower curtain sticks to my terminator leg. It ruins the
fantasy. I think maybe I read too many comic books when I was a kid…

Having returned to my chair from the floor (which I should probably hoover one of these days) I remembered something I’d read recently about research happening at the University of Washington. Forget massive virtual reality headsets from the nineties, forget cinema specs from the noughties, think Terminator style text superimposed on the world – the contact lens display is here.

Ok, it’s not totally here yet, at the moment it’s an array of minute LEDs in a contact lens, but the possibilities are intriguing. These circuts are so small that manufacturing them by hand is impossible. Instead, somehow the team harnesses capillary action to have the components assemble themselves. This to me is a marvel in itself – that a collection of parts can somehow be designed in such a way that it is their very nature to combine in an ordered way is completely mindblowing. This is apparently old hat. The main issue was to make the lens itself biologically inert. To do this, the circuit, which is itself only nanometers thick, is sandwiched between a couple of layers of an inert polymer. Nevertheless, the lens has only been tested on rabbits so far to check for adverse effects.
No doubt this will soon be snapped up by some corporation or other for further investment. In a few years we’ll all be able to play at being Arnie…

Gunther von Hagens (Anatomist)

Posted in art, culture, Manchester, nature, science with tags , , on May 26, 2008 by Philonous

Dr Gunter von Hagens in front of his work (from www.bodyworlds.com )


Today, Le Fox and I were invited, through mere serendipitous fortune, to a question and answer session with the mysteriously eccentric Gunther von Hagens. For those not in the know, the Body Worlds exhibitions have been confronting taboos throughout the world with its sensationalist if not puritanical insistence on public knowledge of anatomical detail since its Japanese inception in 1995. Gunther von Hagens himself is the leading proponent of the concept of a modern renaissance man. He claims:

“The presentation of the pure physical reminds visitors to BODY WORLDS of the intangible and the unfathomable. The plastinated post-mortal body illuminates the soul by its very absence.
Plastination transforms the body, an object of individual mourning, into an object of reverence, learning, enlightenment, and appreciation.

“I hope for BODY WORLDS to be a place of enlightenment and contemplation, even of philosophical and religious self-recognition, and open to interpretation regardless of the background and philosophy of life of the viewer.”

On Saturday night, I found myself in the extraordinary position of inquisitor in a closed session with the progenitor of Body Worlds 4 himself. My question, rather flacidly put, was:

“In your exhibition, you quote Descartes’ Medations on First Philosophy and allude to Vesalius’ groundbreaking discoveries in the field of anatomy, in particular his direct opposition to Galen. Descartes work marked the transition from a scholastic age of philosophy to an age of rationalist foundationalism (and Cartesian dualism), while Vesalius revealed to us fundamental new discoveries relating to that most basic of questions: of what stuff are we made? Where in the history of knowledge do you place yourself, and how do you judge your legacy to future generations?”

Of course, this paraphrased piece of nonsense is a dressed up version of the question I would have asked had my inexperience not entirely paralysed me with a mix of awe and stereotypical British politeness. As it was, I asked a messy question along the same lines but put with much less force and sadly lacking in eloquence. He answered rather obliquely, insisting that personal vanity did not enter into Body Worlds.

A plastinated man


Let me put my opinion on Body Worlds in some context. Initially, spurred on by the widespread pubic fervour, I was convinced by a wily Le Fox that it would be an experience not to be missed to see the public airing of Dr von Hagen’s most controversial exhibition to date. With considerable misgivings and almost insurmountable cynicism, we made our way to the MoSI, as it has been rebranded, to see what there was to see. Once I’d entered the first of the four or five crowded halls, I was struck by an intense feeling of awe, my gaze settling on installations of carefully arranged muscle and connective tissue. There were certainly cringeworthy moments, not least reading Goethe quoted next to ‘Gunter von Hagens (Anatomist)’. (Incidentally, when i put this to him, Dr von Hagens himself seemed noticably to cringe, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of his wife’s design of the exhibition.)

I must admit however that the my general experience was overwhelmingly one of wellbeing and a greater awareness of the viscera of which we are, as human beings, composed. Interspersed between the deliberately provocative poses were some truly fascinating invitations to medical science and disease. Comparative displays of normal lungs and livers with those of smokers and drinkers were a graphic health warning and seemed to fulfill one of Dr von Hagen’s stated aims of promoting greater body awareness among the general pubic.

The rather disappointing truth is that in order to maximise visitor numbers, Body Worlds must rely on sensationalism for its marketing which paints it as anything but serious science. The meeting showed more than anything that Gunther von Hagens is primarily an academic with a passion for anatomy and its public understanding. The success of Body Worlds has had the unfortunate consequence of his message being subsumed by the publicity machine that surrounds him and the rabid commercialism that inevitably followed.

Check out these links for more: