Friday, January 31, 2014

Is Scarlett wrong? & Happy Chinese New year of the Horse

Scarlett looking regular

Many people see the situation for Palestinians living and working in Israel and the lands 'captured' by them as complex and difficult.
To my mind Scarlett Johansson is very much more than a strikingly beautiful and talented actress but this does not mean that she can not make mistakes. Scarlett very much engages in the world outside her professional activities and the pursuit of further income via promotional work for various brands.

According to Scarlett is worth $35 million (US) she is supporter of Barak Obama and has also been quoted as having long term
What the fuss is about
political ambitions.

 Scarlett promotes a lot of products -amongst the products t is associated with is Soda Stream  a somewhat naff fizzy drinks producing product that manufactures in Ma'ale Adumim in the  West Bank Settlement.

The UN believes that Israel occupies this land illegally, Israel disputes the International communities view and  there is evidence of Israel's rights if one goes back to biblical times.

By most accounts BDS (Soda Stream)  is a good employer for the Palestinians and Israels working at the factory in Ma'ale Adumim, the workforce have equitable conditions across the religious divide and there's an on site mosque.

So the story of Scarlett  terminating her relationship with Oxfam as a result of the endorsement of Soda Stream might put her in the position of being one of the 'bad guys' in some peoples eyes.

Here's a report on the parting of the ways (After 8 years)  between Oxfam and Scarlett.

[footnote: I really enjoyed the recent Don Jon film she starred in and here's the Scarlett advert if you want to see it ]

Year of the Horse

Today's the start of the Chinese New year and this is the year of the Horse, apparently the Horse is all about energy and being  bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able. We had a small celebration at home  accompanied by a bottle  of Portuguese wine, a Portinho do Covo 2012 which was very palatable.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Alain de Botton on News and Newsnight along with some On line philosophy resources ...

One of the reason's I've taken an interest in Philosophy is the populists who have made it possible to talk about the great thinkers of the past and the idea that what they thought about might be relevant to our lives today, one of the best exponents as far as I'm concerned is Alain de Botton who makes readable books about modern life and witty playful; television programmes covering the same themes.
Alain has just completed a new book on the subject of 'The News' it's called The News: A User's Manual and Amazon tell me that it'll be available from February 6th.
Alain who is an accomplished self promoter (and I hope this does not sound critical in view of what his stated  wishes are) was last night trailing this new publication on BBC2's Newsnight with a discussion which included arch spin doctor Alastair Campbell - it was (as you might expect) amusing, embarrassing and appropriate.

[In fact Newsnight was very engaging last night as well as looking at possible changes to UK Labour party's voting structure there was a revealing report on the Liberal Democrats struggle to accommodate their  'extreme' Muslim constituency with regards to the Jesus/Mohammed cartoons].

Here's the report Alain put together to lead into the discussion:


As I go along, finding out a bit more about Philosophy  I'm locating  a number of useful (to me) resources and some interesting  posts, videos and critiques on the subject of Philosophy. My intention is to note them here and update as I proceed (but also if the mood takes me revisit earlier postings and update too).

I will try and categorize and comment on the nature of the selection too.


Wikipedia - for me this is pretty much always a good starting point for a philosopher, or line of thought
examples Trigger's Broom and the connected  Ship of Theseus.

Youtube again this is a great general resource 3 minute guides often capture a key theme effectively
Taking the same example  Trigger's Broom and The Ship of Thesus puzzle. [ Just in case you think this lot is not a problem take a look at Jennifer Wang's look at the phenomenon].

Radio, TV &  Podcasts

The Philosopher's Arms
In Our Time
ABC Australia
Bryan Magee TV series
Philosophy Bites back

Populist Philosophers of today

Alain de Botton
Jules Evans
Michael Foley

The time-line..

Pre-Socratics -
Heraclitus of Ephesus - thought to of coined the axiom about flux and not being able to stand in the same river twice.

Diogenes (of Sinope) - famous for an encounter with Alexander the Great and living in a barrel - an American guy talking about him and here Melvyn Bragg in a discussion about the Cynics



René Descartes 1596–1650

John Locke 1632–1704

G.W. Leibniz 1646–1716

Bishop Berkeley 1685–1753

David Hume 1711–1776 3 minute view, Melvyn Bragg's BBC Radio In Our Time,  and  Philosophy Bites on Hume and a quick mention by me.

Immanuel Kant 1724–1804

G.W.F. Hegel 1770–1831

Karl Marx 1818–1883

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844–1900

Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889–1951

Martin Heidegger 1889–1976

Jean-Paul Sartre 1905–1980

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Home Energy Tips and One High Energy Grammy Performance

Today as part of my ongoing CAB volunteer role I went to a session called "Understanding the impact of living in a cold home" held at  Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall, the session was led by Liz Warren of SE² who  are in the business of providing 'consulting services to the energy and environment sector' which in this case was about how to help people who have challenges around heating their homes the funding for the presentation comes from the tri-borough   Public health money  the Tri-borough is the description of the  three councils in London who work together  on a number of Public Council issues- (they are Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster councils).

What my number one takeaway from the event was that for one  'unit of 'energy'  at today's prices Gas is a third of the price of Electricity - so don't use electricity to heat your home on a regular basis unless you have no choice.

Here are some issues for people who have cold homes around Physical and Mental Health Problems

1) People who suffer joint pains and ailments like Arthritis, Asthma and other respiratory conditions will have their conditions worsened by cold, draughts and and dampness.

2) There is a phenomenon known as Excess Winter Deaths, deaths increase in the winter but sudden cold spells can cause this to peak, for example last year  (Winter  (2012-13) the expected England & Wales winter deaths were 25,000 but as a result of the bad weather this was actually 31,000 an excess of 6,000.

Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall
Living in a cold home can make the occupants more prone to infection this is likely to increase  School and work absences meaning poorer take home pay for some people and a bad effect on school performance

Increasingly people are limited by their budgets and choose between heating and eating this hits old people particularly and Hypothermia can result  (typically prolonged exposure to sub 5° Centigrade environments).

3) As well as a physical detriment people can suffer mental health issues both as a result of  worry over  heating bills and  and as a result of lower levels of personal energy.

The bg lesson coming from the session was that there is help for those suffering be it from Councils the CAB or  ECO (the  Energy Companies Obligations) in Hammersmith.

If you live in London and want to find out more about what your council can do to help you on Energy matters this is a useful resource   just select your borough.

So to list some other points:

There is support for some people who are on benefits and the elderly.(Check CAB for example).

* Initiatives like London Switch might be worth considering but no guarantee that this is the best offer for you Uswitch and Which Switch? are  two good sites for checking alternative suppliers (there are others too).

*Only 5% of us change energy suppliers (we're less likely to do this than we are to get divorced).
And bring your piano indoors

*Consider Loft insulation, double glazing, cavity wall insulation and more sophisticated heating controllers.
(if when there's snow or a hard frost your roof is clear before others around you which still have snow or frost you could be losing a lot of energy through your roof!)

*Lower the heating in rooms you don't spend much time in - keep the bedroom at a lower temperature and use thicker Duvets and/or hot water bottle.
Turn stuff off or down-  particularly when you go away either to work or on holiday.

 Stevie Wonder, Nile, The Hat and a couple of Daft Punks

I still love this song - and what a buzz when the 'control room' is revealed with the two suitably crazily dressed French guys- some great self sampling and fine famous audience figures bopping too...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Looking at Spinoza and Leibniz (being two later rationalists who were following on from the work of Descartes )

Okay so to show something of the range of life from the practical to the less practical today you'll get some material on the two Rationalist philosophers who progressed the work that Descartes initiated (please note my perspective here is more historical than philosophical - I realise that  anything as direct as progress is anathema to a philosopher or means something totally different in the lexicon of philosophy.

But first a short stab at some philosophical definitions and contextualisation  on my part:

Descartes had done some work which led to the conclusion that he existed and so did God (for a few reasons) but had come to the conclusion that there was what has been characterised as a Mind Body Split.

1** Neither Leibniz or Spinoza were happy with this..

2** Spinoza postulated that in fact there wasn't a split and that it was all God (or nature).

3** Leibniz came to the conclusion that everything was ultimately reducible to 'monads' which weren't physical. 

Back to the history..

Unlike many historic figures working in the same academic niché at the same time Spinoza and Leibniz actually met  in  November 1676 when  Leibniz, traveled to The Hague to visit  Spinoza, if I'm correct (and it's not a hoax) there's even some correspondence between the two of them here.

Baruch (Latinized to Benedict) de Spinoza  (1632- 1677) was the son of Portuguese Jews he was born and brought up in Holland and suffered the excommunication  from his faith  on July 27, 1656, he died at the age of 44 as a result it is thought of industrial factors around his day job of grinding lenses. 
Some label him as an atheist or perhaps a Pantheist, one of the catch phrases that was attributed to him was Nature Abhors a vacuum But it seems that Heracles came up with it first.  

Baruch Spinoza 

Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (July 1, 1646 – November 14, 1716) As mentioned before Gottfried held to the concept of everything being reducible to Monads. (here's more about Monads). 
Leibniz was a bit of a prodigy who studied Aristotle at a young age, he lost his father when he was six, he was a Lutheran.
Among the things that Leibniz left us with was that " we live in the best of all possible worlds."


Both of these gentlemen  were also mathematicians but Leibniz (German) was the superior in the field of Maths who independently of Newton discoveredinfinitesimal calculus.

As the  course leader (Citylit Philosophy) Scott pointed out today Spinoza and Leibniz shared many  assumptions and used the same source/s for their work (principally Descartes) what they arrived at though were two quite distinct conclusions and in fact  Leibniz was critical of Spinoza's philosophy (perhaps because he had more of an ego than the self effacing Spinoza?)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Saving Energy with Secondary Glazing

All that rain- West Ealing
I have started to take an active interest in the issues around energy usage and Fuel Poverty. Sadly the disadvantaged are in a difficult position when it comes to taking up energy saving offers and initiatives for a variety of reasons.

This Saturday I took a walk to a home in Hanwell (noting the water 'pooling' by the local railway line from all that rain as I walked there) boy did Iget wet on my walk back.

At the house of the demo' I took part in a practical workshop that addressed the addition of a further layer of transparent (very clear Acrylic)  material to windows (internally) to reduce the loss of heat. For some on low incomes in either their own homes or rented accommodation this is a potential money saver and will improve comfort.

The people behind the presentation were part of the Ealing Transition project and were welcoming and friendly to the half dozen or so of us who turned up to learn more..

Measuring properly
The practical advantages of undertaking a window were apparent both in terms of confidence building (yes I can do this) and int terms of  suggestions for improving the install.

As the Perspex can be delivered cut to specified sizes by the supplier the work and tools needed are quite straightforward,  the addition of fixing to the Acrylic and the existing window surrounds is all that needs to be done.

The tools suggested are:

DIY scissors - to cut the steel and  magnetic  tapes ( these available at Wickes and are  better than wire cutters)

Hammer - to hammer in the wire clips (if used)
You'll need a clear working surface
Gloves - to keep the magnetic tape and acrylic sheet  clean while handling.
Sand paper and Chisel -to remove lumps and burrs around the windows


The fixings and Acrylic for this project were ordered from:

Acrylic sheet 3 milimeters (mm) thick cut to size and delivered from
Robert Horne 

Magnetic tape & Steel Tape: get a Secondary Glazing Kit from
Eclipse Magnetics

* The old artisan adage of measuring advice  is worth sticking to so do 'measure twice and cut once.'

Graham who is helping roll out the project has approached Brunel University with a view to getting post graduate research to validate the initiative both in terms of energy saving and also as a method of empowerment for the (self) installer, to my mind actual indicative figures are essential for getting some momentum behind this so hopefully some students will come on board.

Graham also mentioned the optimum spacing between the two layers, strangely this reminded me of a Physics school project which I undertook around 40 years ago - this had included the idea of triple glazing.

* The gap between layers for secondary double glazing should be between 10mm - 20mm (around  3/4" in old money is ideal) as well as reducing heat loss there is a reduction in acoustic noise from outside and graham said he'd found less condensation formed - practically you'll have to arrive at a spacing that the window will let you make.

Part of the Ealing Transition's vision is for groups to come together to support one another on the install and also act as a bulk buying co-operative minimizing ordering costs, which will reduce the carbon footprint impact (as well as the burden of post and packing).

Here's a useful couple of links

Photo's from the session

Centre for Sustainable Energy

and a nice Youtube video here

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Art, Photography and Politics

On Friday I took some time (and myself) to visit the (two) Serpentine Galleries and then felt the need to go to Tate Modern, in the past I have learnt that my initial impressions on exhibition visits are often a little shallow and with time I can be reconsider and reassess the quality and significance of what I've seen, so it might be with the two major shows at The serpentine, particularly that of Jake and Dinos (Chapman).

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

What I found good/engaging about the Chapman's  'Come and See'  tour de force at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery was  the Ku Klux Klan mannequins and the McDonald's imagery in their three dimensional battle scene landscapes, what irritated me most was the film screening , even though it had more of   Ku Klux Klan mannequins  (is Film art different from Film? Why is it that prize winning artists like Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood are now working in the Film Industry?)
FYI the  Ku Klux Klan mannequins are amusing because of the juxtapose of their socks, sandals and Smiley Faces with the threatening nature of the rest of their garb.
As well as the down beat feel to the perhaps too many examples of what is a very productive duo in terms of numbers of works, what as a one off  'One day we will no longer be loved' (influenced by Goya I gather) tends for me to lose impact in being endlessly repeated - I think more would be less the gallery is packed to rafters with their stuff as well as (and I'm included in this group.) quite a a crowd of pseuds talking loudly (but saying little) - I will try and revisit in a few weeks and might have a different view at this time.

(I would say that looking around it appears that the Chapman brothers do elicit reactions - which is in these bland days is maybe a positive?)

So after the  Sackler Gallery the Wael Shawky exhibition  (again largely film) at the 'Old' Serpentine it felt like something of a breath of fresh air and I must agree with the Guardian reviewer - it being (I think) less up itself and slightly more upbeat, there was humour that was not only of the gallows type  and there was space as well as someone asking me questions about my visit.
I gather it's about Egypt and some of the marionettes deployed reminded me of those rather unsettling images used by East European film makers in their recounting of childhood fables.

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern extension
I've wondered what makes Photography Art, I suppose as Nick Pearson (amongst others) pointed out Art is what Artists do (so the same could go for the above with Artists who have directed films- perhaps)  well I thought I needed some Art that was not of the Serpentine variety and Tate Modern exhibition of the work of the late Harry Callahan (not the Clint Eastwood character of a similar name) was a blast of coolness that made me want to go and get some monochrome film stock and a Leica camera, some lovely compositions beautifully framed and printed - this exhibition is free and really worth looking at.
What a cool self portrait by Harry
The other thing that caught my eye on the way from looking (of course) at the Rothkos was ‘Prose Poems’, by the artist Daniel Spoerri - I suppose there's something of the George Braque collages about it and it also reminded me of some of the trick of the eye works I've seen recently but I liked it for some reason and  it leads me into..

Politics ahead of 2015

To me it's beginning to feel like the starting pistol for the 2015 UK general election has been fired or perhaps it's like that famous Jeffery Archer race with so Jeffery so quick to get off the starting blocks that he doesn't bother too much about the pistol.
Either way the challenge of securing a clear Labour victory is looking increasingly difficult, the timing for a feel good factor for the Tory led coalition is looking near perfect, it might be a hollow boom created around banker bonuses and inflated London housing costs but it is sucking more people into employment and some commentators suspect that inflationary wage rises are just around the corner (including the minimum wage we suspect).
The potential fly in Cameron's ointment is UKIP and the calculations around appealing to the latent British Xenophobia as opposed to the large number of recent migrants and their voting age offspring who will be able to vote is a difficult calculation to make.

With the present scandal fueled chaos within the Liberal part of the coalition Clegg will be given some more 'wins' to crow over but it is likely (I think) that under the prolonged spotlight of the electioneering that will start at the end of the year the schizophrenia of the party's leanings will be clear to the electorate and they will suffer (and they'll probably have a bad Euro-Election too).

Whatever your own views on the best party to rule the UK the Balls manifesto that  includes the reintroduction of a top rate of 50% income tax looks to be living up to its name this allied with Red Ed's promise to widen competition in the Banking sector has managed to make what seem like sensible measures something of a PR mess.

As the Chinese curse says  may you live in 'interesting times' and  it'll be interesting to see how things play out politically in the next year or so.    

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Alex Horne -comedy at The Drayton Court

Unlike Groucho Marx I'm generally quite happy to belong to any club that'll have me and I'm not really sure that Phil Zimmerman's No.5 Club is really a club but more an intimate venue for seekers of merriment (once a month).
The main annoyance for me (and please realise I'm getting more and more aware of trivial irritations) is that the music volume before the performance is way too high, the choice of tracks is okay but I don't understand the benefit
of making it so loud that I can't converse or do anything but think next time I'll bring some discrete ear protectors. Great I've got that off my chest.
In fact I thought last night MC  Phil was a little  less crazed than previously, could be as a result of a group of runners had taken up residence in his 'famous table of doom' or perhaps he was happy to have got rid of Christmas and 2013.
The good news for thew audience was that there were a wide variety of comics to support the headline grabbing Alex Horne (famous for his Radio and TV performances), I think the ones to watch in the future are Dave Green and an American women who was amusing too (hopefully her name will be filled in when I can find it update it was Rosie Martin ).

Alex's performance was well rehearsed and it needed to be as it was reliant on pre -recordings of both his own voice and famous film actor Michael Caine (on a talking book of his autobiography).

The No.5 offers great value in a pleasant  West London pub (also famous for its Ho Chi Minh connection) if you're able do support it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bye-bye to Jocelyn Hay (VoLaV founder ) a fine example of Public Service

Very sad to hear of the death of Jocelyn Hay at the age of 86.

Many people will not have heard of Jocelyn but her work lobbying the broadcasters here (in UK) has helped us retain many of the features of British broadcasting which are still held in such high esteem around the world.
The Voice of the Listener was launched over 30 years ago and mutated into the Voice of The Listener and Viewer (VoLaV) , it was not a censorious body in the mould of Mary Whitehouse's organisation  - The National Viewers and Listeners Association  (which it was and still is sometimes confused with) and Jocelyn herself was no Mary Whitehouse figure.
Jocelyn sought to limit the worst excesses of commercialism in broadcasting and ensure that it met its social goals in trying to meet the goals inclusivity.
Jocelyn was always well prepared in advance of her quizzing of both the broadcasters and the ministers appointed to legislate on broadcasting and was rarely bettered by them.

I saw her at a number of sessions at Westminster, Channel 4, The Royal television Society  and the BBC and it was impressive what a firm grasp she had of the salient points but how she was also able to listen to the argument as it developed.

Hopefully Colin Browne will continue to carry forward the important work that Jocelyn started all those years ago.

(It's good to see that a Wikipedia page has started for VoLaV - I noted yesterday that there wasn't one)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How they get those TV figures - All about BARB

Yesterday evening at once was the  home to LWT (now part of ITV)  I attended a pretty packed event
The view from Southbank last night
where it was promised that some of the mysteries of the audience measuring body BARB would be revealed.
The talk was called "You watch it, we measure it” – BARB’s current and future strategies for TV audience measurement".

Those TV charts
Over the years if you're living in the UK I expect you've seen those TV audience figures in the papers that proclaim Only Fools ands Horses got a record audience or The BBC wins Christmas.

Well the news is that they're not total fiction but a statistical  extrapolation from a sample audience that have their viewing behaviour tracked.

TV audience research has been used for many years with a strong history in the USA with the advertiser customers there  being  the prime movers for the requirement to get delivery of  what is hoped to be the unbiased figures that help set prices for the sale of TV and radio airtime (Nielsen are the historic pioneers)

BARB are the people who collect and collate this information for the TV industry and last night at the Southbank two of their big shots gave something of a presentation on what they do and how they'll transition to a more sophisticated system that more closely fits our multi-media consuming ways.

The first person to speak after a full introduction by Norman Green  was Nigel Sharrocks, who is the Non-Executive Chairman BARB and has a wealth of advertising experience (he's also fed up with being called Mr Fiona Bruce) Nigel is newish to the job and seems to be keen to get more of a profile for BARB, after Nigel we had the  Chief Executive of BARB  who is Justin Sampson, Justin has worked in media for many eyars including time at ITV where he was Director of customer relationship marketing.

BARB have a sample audience across the UK of around 12,000 people in about 5,000 TV households and these are the described as The Panel.

It is intended that The Panel offers a good representation of the makeup of the UK demography and their is some churn as you'd expect but a balance of membership of the various societal groups within our nation (the UK)  is preserved as people leave and join.
The LWT building where RTS sessions are held
An average panel household can expect to receive around £250 in vouchers per year as a thank-you/incentive for the intrusion and effort required by them in providing usable data.

As our media usage becomes more fragmented and the lines between the TV and Computer/tablet/phone becoming increasingly open to interpretation the idea of just measuring one static TV set  looks less worthwhile and BARB's project Dovetail is the answer to what a TV home has been doing in terms of viewing.
Dovetail will hopefully catch all the catchup and Youview outings as well as the IP TV delivery that is beginning to be a factor, one of the presenters though did admit under questioning that the size of the 'pool' meant that Local TV outside  of London would probably not be captured by BARB means.

BARB has been in existence for around 30 years and was preceded by JICTAR it is not interested in analysing why people watch what they do when the TV is on or even if they're really watching (I reckon if I was on their 'panel' something like 5% of my viewing would actually be through closed eyes).
The presentation was slick but did perhaps assume too much in the audience attending having more than a basic understanding of the devices and methods used in collecting the data,  they were though careful not to bombard us with toomany  figures (I did though note that something like 11.3% of UK TV viewing is by 'timeshift' - a higher figure than I would have guessed).

As we all hear so often we are in the age of big data but TV audience figures do not tell too  much of a story by themselves, questions from the audience pointed out the significance of what was happening before and after a particular 'show' (which is of course part of the TV schedulers art)  but weather and family occasions too (for example) will impact our patterns of viewing - so the data needs tyeing together to other information to be of real value.

They kept using the term 'Gold Standard'

I will continue to take the figures with a pinch of salt as we (the audience) are not one big anonymous lump of people but individuals who watch for a variety of reasons with a mixture of engagement levels which need some anthroplogical type tools to extract the real story of what and how we watch (C4's Gogglebox is an education on this!)

Try this Boots!

Like Leonard Cohen I appreciate a good shave my current method is a wet shave, with foam and Gillette Power Fusion blades.What I find with respect to the blades is that it's actually easier to order these from home as when I go to the drug store there are so many variants I'm not sure which one I want unless I've written it down and perhaps On-line are cheaper (?).
I ordered 8 blades at the w/e they arrived early (as is so often the case with Amazon) and Amazon actually emailed me to say they'd been posted through my letterbox at home - amazing. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sky TV starts targetted Ads, Tired of London and Start The Week

It's been something of an accepted wisdom that Media messages that 50% of the money spent is wasted but it's not possible to know which 50% it is.
For many years now the idea of delivering messages that are applicable to the target audience has been tantalizingly close but remained  something of a holy grail for marketing departments of many institutions.
The Set Top Box holds the messages for insertion
Some advertising is by it's nature near universal, Coca-Cola springs (but this too can be targeted if the information of what constitutes your household or where and when you shop is known)  to my mind other messages that seek to influence people need to be sent to people in their considering the purchase mode, perhaps something like buying a replacement car.
So when I heard on Money Box that Sky TV in UK was starting to use their STBs to personalize the adverts I was intrigued, modern Set Top Boxes have internal storage that can be the home for 'caching' paid for messages which are then used to replace non relevant advertising.
It seems that AdSmart has started delivering customised messages for clients such as Tesco and RBS (one of UK banks that's currently majority state owned) if you're not happy with this level of granularity you can opt out but do consider that it's widely accepted in the on-line universe that intelligent advertising is the way to go and the use of more selective advertising has been US practice for many years.

When In London

Yesterday when looking for some background on the London Masonic hall I came across this site ( Tired of London ) superb for visitors and residents of this mega world city.

 BBC Radio 4's Start The Week

There are a number of Radio presenters who to me are almost a guarantee of worthwhile listening amongst them I'd include Matthew Sweet, Russell  Davies and Tom Sutcliffe so hearing that Tom was on Start the Week I though this'll be good, it might be heresy but I much prefer Tom to Andrew Marr.
In fact the programme was very good -lots of stuff to think about around what I think of as a very hot topic, Neuroscience and Free Will  - the BBC synopsis is

Dick Swaab who argues that everything we do and don't do is determined by our brain. He explains why 'we are our brains'. The philosopher Julian Baggini doesn't dispute the pre-eminence of brain processes but believes it doesn't tell the whole story

You can listen using BBC Iplayer radio  a programme on TV that brought history to life  for me was The Man who Discovered Egypt it was all about Flinders Petrie who will be a new name to many of us.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Descarte, 'Cogito ergo sum' and dualism

So today was the second part of the City Lit course Ways into philosophy: great thinkers and we became 
Descartes was big in Maths too
 somewhat acquainted with Descartes famous for both mathematical Cartesian co-ordinates (locating a point using x and y co-ordinates on a graph) which he thought up  and his philosophical catch phrase   
I think therefore I am.
As well as picking some stuff up about The French thinker René  Descartes (1596- 1650)  I realised even more than last week that getting to grips with the ideas of philosophers rather than just finding some facts about them would be (for me) quite hard work.

What was explained (I think) which is useful is that there are two approaches, not necessarily exclusive but which are opposing views, they are
Empiricism- this is generally stuff that can be measured and where we can use experiments
Rationalism - this is generally stuff in your head where you sort of work it out by logic.

Back to Rene..

René Descartes' ideas are still  relevant and philosophers like the hairy Professor David Chalmers
who has done quite a bit of  work on Zombies.
Posing the question what is it to know something would cause Descartes to reduce everything to the point where all we can be sure of is our own existence (our senses often fool us and illness or dreams  can delude us and there's an awkward demon too) this means that we can exist without our physical bits and pieces he  was the man who split our minds from our bodies (dualism).

Descartes sadly died at the age of 54 seemingly as a result of the hard Swedish winter (or was it?)

Nice Building

Just round the corner from the City Lit in Holborn is the Freemason's Hall, I'm not a Mason and haven't been inside but it looks pretty impressive - seems you can visit and user the library , might be worth doing this sometime.
Masonic place

Monday, January 20, 2014

What if they're guilty?

The current wave of Celebrity trials makes one wonder what it means if one or more of these big names is guilty.
Do we expect them to be made 'examples of'' or to merely face the same punishment that others would have in their situation?
How is guilt measured does it increase or diminish over time?
Are there extenuating circumstances due to their particular upbringing or make up, what about others who we expect less from.
I'm not sure what the answers are to these questions but I fear that it may be a 'tip of the iceberg' and that more will come to be revealed.

A view and bird feeding

Took these pictures today - not sure how long before the squirrels get the better of the feeder I got as a Christmas present.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eating in Ealing Bill's, that Soup maker and Minimum Wage,

On Friday we visited Bill's in Ealing it's a new eatery that has been open nearly a week and is going head-to-head competition-wise with Maggie's which is just across the road (and which we visited the previous Friday).

Bill's was pretty full when we arrived and we were parked at the bar while we waited for a table to become available (about 10 minutes), we chose a Cumberland sausage starter and then both went for a main course burger, mine with a bacon addition and we sank a bottle of their house red. Service was very good and the 'beats' fitted well with the general ambiance.
The West Ealing
Papa Johns
The menu at Bill's  offered greater choice that Maggie's which is perhaps over reliant on Burgers and all told I would say we had a better experience at Bill's but I think it's still early days and hopefully the two establishments will survive and develop over the next few years.

Also on the streets of Ealing Papa Joe's have been campaigning hard to get people to know about their new place in West Ealing - not something I'm like to check out but if you've got feedback on it please let me know.
Good New Eatery

Minimum Wage

It's interesting that Gorgeous George has hit the headlines with a call for an above inflation rate increase in the UK's  minimum wage at just about the same time as (not gorgeous) Ed Milliband suggests ways to reform UK banking. Is the 'suggestion' from George coming from his n the role of the custodian of the UK economy or is more from his role as the tactician for the Conservatives' next election battles (don't forget the EU elections that are not so far off)?
How does an increase in the minimum wage impact arguments about limiting migration at the lower end of the skills spectrum, do we expect wage increases to impact prices or will greater efficiencies mean that the cost are absorbed?

Soup Maker time

A couple of weeks or so ago we bought a Morphy Richards Soup maker yesterday we christened it with a Chicken and Mushroom concoction, the machine's a lot of fun and once the ingredients are prepared the process for the steaming hot soup is just tit back and wait.
Hot and tasty although looking like a cross between porridge and mud we'll be experimenting further over the next weeks.

Late addition/edition

Just spotted this interesting piece on possibilities around volunteering and Linkedin.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Vermeer and Tintoretto at the National Gallery and McCartney NEW CD

A different side of  The National Gallery
Having continued to progress through Michael Foley's book I felt that I'd benefit from looking at some Vermeer paintings which he was enthusiastic about so having checked that we had some at The National Gallery I made my way there. The two Vermeers that I saw were both of women playing the virginal (not a euphemism) , in fact it was the same woman in the same room (I think) the paintings were interesting and the use of the look of the subject out of the painting  was engaging, I am also becoming aware (as I'd already been told) that big is not always the best in paintings.

I also took more of a look at the Dutch paintings from around this time and contrasted their 'ordinary- ness' with contemporary works from other European states  - as Foley suggested the art was more about the everyday and of interest to a wider audience perhaps for this reason - the 'low countries' had a big surge in private ownership of paintings at this time.

Another artefact that caught my eye was  A Peepshow with Views of the Interior of a Dutch House by Samuel van Hoogstraten, this was a sort of Doll's house which was also externally  illustrated using a clever distortion that requires a particular viewing angle.
Not the TV Peepshow
Van Hoogstraten appears to have been a talented polymath as well as an artist he was a composer, writer and poet sadly dying at the young age of 51  in Dordt, which was a suburb of Dordrecht,  he was the director of the local mint at the time of his death.

In fact the painting that I looked at which touched me most on my visit emotionally was actually Jacopo Tintoretto's  Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples (1575-80)although it is not my usual taste in paintings I felt moved by it and the accompanying  description of the occasion, looking on-line I see that he made an earlier painting of the same subject (around 1548)  it was a very different painting .


One of the presents I got for Christmas was the latest (and New) McCartney album, am pleased to say it has some really great tracks. I find it   impressive that someone of his wealth and age still has the ethic of getting out performing and publicizing his new material.  Live impromptu (ish) performances in Covent Garden and Times Square show that he's still got the urge to perform.

Like Dylan and Len (Cohen) Paul's producing new material that's relevant and contemporary.

Nice to see that Paul is working with new producers and continuing to experiment, I'm certainly still hearing a lot of Beach Boy influences as well a track that continue to address the hurt Paul feels over the re-writing of History by those who weren't there when John and Paul started composing (Early Days) personal favourite for me is Scared quite a simple performance but effective.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fathers of Modern Philosophy -Socrates, Plato and Aristotle & great IOT

 Before Socrates  Philosophers were known as Physiologoi  (physical or natural philosophers), the term Philosophy is derived from the Greek words Philo 'loving' and sophis 'wise, learned' - so it means basically a lover of wisdom.

There were Philosophers before Socrates, they're now known as the Pre-Socratics they had between them some achievements which persist but undoubtedly Western academia has privileged thinkers from Socrates onwards.

Socrates, died 470 BC aged 71 he didn't write stuff down was a sort of street Philosopher engaging people in what became known (when written down after his death) as the Socratic Dialogues.

Plato died at the age of 80 in 348 BC he was a student of Socrates and started what we might consider the first university  The Academy in Athens. Plato did write and wrote (by all accounts) very well, much of his writing honours Socrates but it is not alawyas clear what is Plato's and what is an accurate reporting of Socrates.

Aristotle died in 322 BC at the age of 62 similarly to Plato's career path he learnt from the best as  was a student of  the master of his time- Plato and like Plato he later had a school of his own  this one was called The Lyceum. Aristotle wrote extensively but much of what he wrote is lost and what we have is often 'notes'.

The Greeks Lyceum University


IOT -Battle of Tours

The BBC Radio 4 In our Time this week really got me thinking, I was unaware of how far the Saracens had pushed into Europe in the 8th Century they actually lost a crucial battle in Tours in what is now France, the programme also highlighted how the Saracen army  in Spain had been recruited and kept loyal to the empire.
If we think of the logistics and communication that were necessary with the Muslim empire at this time it brings into focus the horrors of WWI where we had hundreds of thousand of fighting men being serviced by supply chains across Europe. Does this more recent history  give us clues as to how earlier battles were fought and won, were the numbers significantly fewer and the results less relevant to the vanquished foes?
Fighting for Tours

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ISA Allowances, Plex and stuff I missed

  ISA Allowances

Yesterday I visited a financial adviser attached to my bank, surprisingly (to me) this was quite a useful and pleasant experience as well as a cup of drinkable coffee I got what was (to me) some insights and pointers, one of which was to use ISA allowances for existing funds, I've asked Aviva if I can do this.
A suggestion was also made about taking advantage of CGT and moving away from risk as one gets towards retirement.
At least think about your dosh
Also the very action of considering finances (or other major issues) does throw illumination on future plans and ambitions useful in itself.

Plex media server

The Plex media server has a nice facility via Let me watch this bundle that enables 'one' to bookmark videos on the PC for later viewing on your telly (or other device like a tablet that's running Plex) what you get is an addition to your toolbar and when you have aYoutube (or  other video playing site) site and find a video you want to watch properly you just 'mark-it'. (I followed the straightforward tips from trekkeriii explanation here).

Here's a post I didn't complete from August 2013....  More Tating and 'taters and more Beatles vocal 

 Hume's favourite subject 

 Paid a second visit to the Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain on Wednesday and must say his work is beginning to grow on me particular the large canvases he did in 1951. Overheard a couple of gems from other visitors including the fact that very few (I couldn't see any) of his work has shadows, this he reckoned was as a result f his working at night! Also learnt that he used to have about 6 canvases on the go at once and that he didn't have girlfriends (or boyfriends) looking again I see his work as more political and note his (possible) environmentalism.
His works is said to mirror the French interest in Modern life which artists like  Maurice Utrillo epitomised.

 after looking again at the No Woman No Cry of Chris Ofili and a few others which included another of Gary  Hume's Iconic doors 'Incubus' (above right). I was interested to see Primrose Hill by the artist Frank Auerbach who Tom Davies mentions as a great living artist.
 I also went to Tate Modern it really is good fun and very interesting to see some of the stuff on the 4th floor around conceptual art.

My Vegetables

This afternoon I picked first of 3 rows of Maris Piper potatoes far less damage done than harvesting the Arran Pilots which is pleasing, also picked some carrots the other day.


If you like The Beatles and Abbey Road take a listen to this track of vocals from the Medley - pretty amazing..

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

History of the Bible - Karen Armstrong

When I picked up the book Embracing The Ordinary from the library I expected a fairly undemanding meander through some things that make life good, I was not anticipating the rigour that Michael Foley has so far demonstrated - what is the 'revelation' that I'm talking about you might wonder.

Well what it is is the full on attack on the Church (not religion) particularly the  flavour which is known as  Roman Catholicism - like many Irish born of a certain age, it seems Michael came into conduct with some sadistic types in his education which created some early animosity but apart from this what he has done is research around the bible, papal infallibility and the general rewriting of 'History' that has gone on since Jesus was around.
Michael has used the work of Karen Armstrong as a source -she has written extensively one of her best known works is A History of God.

Here's Karen talking

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bryan Magee helps me into Philosophy...

Last year I attended a Taster of Philosophy at CityLit which I found intriguing, one of the potential next steps from this was Ways into Philosophy : Great Thinkers which I enrolled for before Christmas and which started today.

Unlike the other CityLit courses I have taken part in this one has what is tantamount to a Set Book, Bryan Magee's The Great Philosophers where it scores ahead of many similar books is that the TV show which preceded to book is available to watch on-line (check them out on YouTube) and provide another level of  illumination to the discussions around the selected figures.
As the course leader Scott Biagi pointed out it is difficult  to imagine such a TV Programme being made today.

I've already visited the talk between Magee and Burnyeat on Plato and it helped for me to read and view but this Philosophy thing is not a simple 5 minute endeavour.

It was illuminating to see who was attending, about 15 people I estimate with slightly more males than females and a slight tendency (I think) to the 50-ish, I suppose the sort of people who Lord Bragg tries to address.

I will take a look today at the Aristotle investigation with the sole woman protagonist of the series Martha Nussbaum this afternoon nad hopefully read the relevant transcript too.
So the first session was an Introduction to the course and included a 'quiz' to link famous Philosophers to  their Schtick .
To help me feel that I've learnt something I've listed, chronologically the Person  with the catchphrase we spoke about and a  link which can lead to some further investigation:

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) - I think therefore I am (famous in Latin as Cogito ergo sum).

John Locke (1632-1704) The mind is a blank slate (a key experiential statement).

G.W.Leibniz (1646-1716) All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds this phrase is  used in the play  Candide by Voltaire.

Bishop (George) Berkeley (1685-1753) To be is to be perceived. - sometimes formulated as  'If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?'

David Hume (1711-1776) I am nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions in perpetual fluxand movement - rather paradoxical this is pretty much his definition of the human mind but to make the statement perhaps needs the mind?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind.

G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) Truth is in the whole.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to
change it.
Fred '|god is Dead' Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) God is dead - pretty much a stand out quote from the philosophers philosopher,

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) We have forgotten the meaning of the question of Being.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) Hell is other people. ( It's not about having a bad time at a party - explained somewhat here).