Friday, December 30, 2011

Player of Games

My colleague's book club dumped The Player Of Games, by Iain M. Banks, on her reading list. "I'm really going to hate this", she said, "not my cup of tea at all".

"It's one of my favourite Culture novels", I said, "I must re-read it". Which I did with great pleasure, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear positive reports the following week. OK, so he's sold a few copies but I thought it was a specialist thing. Perhaps I'm underestimating his quality as a writer.

His commonly-used background culture, called (er, what shall we call it?) The Culture has been well-discussed. It's essentially a post-shortage society, which means that they have all the energy and matter they need. No shortage, no money, (almost) no problems. Tiny sarcastic flying robots that can do almost anything, including saving your life if you fall over a cliff. Enormous sentient spaceships that can do everything else. Banks has stated its origins as a hypothetical society where everything is organised how he would want it to be. Banks is, like me I suppose, a bit of an anarchist so it's almost the opposite of a fascist dictatorship.

The Player of Games, may well, as an essay in realpolitik, be about the way in which the powers that be get their way without seeming to use their weight. Poor old Gurgeh, the wizard of all games, he suspects he's being used. And he is, not only for his mastery of games, but for his naive approach to everything else. But he doesn't seem to mind being a pawn in the end.

The amusing bits of Culture novels are often about its limitless entertainments. You want a firework display the size of a canyon? OK then. You want to surf down a waterfall, without breaking your neck? OK then. There never seems to be any hassle, or queues, or tickets, or cops.

I had a tiny taste of this when we were in Austria for a short break. Parts of Austria are extremely well organised and neat, and at the same time laid back. E.g., when it snows, the roads are cleared within a couple of hours, and the buses all keep going. I've no idea if the following is typical.

On an an afternoon walk in the bright snow, about two miles from the village, we stopped for a coffee and strudel at a forest cafe. Someone in our party spotted a stack of toboggans of various sizes outside. Are they for hire? A school party's?

It turned out these were just laid on, for general use, for free. Having been ridden down to the village, they could be stacked against a barn at the end of the lane, and would be returned by a tractor at intervals.

This is perhaps a side-effect of the outdoor industries of the Tirol (all the serious neck-breakers are busy sking nearby, and the village knows the value of competing for entertainment), but can you imagine this in, say, in Surrey or Yorkshire? (Assuming regular snow). No insurance disclaimers. No Deposits. No chains and guard rails. No, er, chavs. Just good old playful fun:

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

West Quay - SuperSampled

West Quay by Drift Words
West Quay, a photo by Drift Words on Flickr.

The previously mentioned Lomo SuperSampler, a cheap plastic camera that takes 4 sequential exposures on each 35 mm frame. Not as good as I'd hoped, but not bad either. More at the SuperSampler Tag.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nice day out


Brighton looks so lovely in the sunshine, but the water looked too cold to get in. And then there are the pebbles.

We were lucky in our train connections, so had plenty of time to wander. Apart from staring at the sea and window shopping, we met up with our niece and nephew and their parents at the Marina end.


We ate at the Pagoda, and then poked around the shops, which are steadily building up in number at the Marina. I bought a print by Colleen Slater from the Eclectia Gallery, and tasted a few hot things at Fiery Foods, coming away with some great Brinjal (Aubergine) Pickle.


More of these Brighton photos on Flickr.

Oh, I've been playing around with the Lomo Supersampler. This was a present from Santa to me. I'm collecting my first reel of film today, that's been sitting in the camera since Christmas. Yes film!

I encouraged the kids to go wild with it. "Where's the screen??" They didn't finish the film, so I've got nothing to show from their games as yet, but watch this space. Meanwhile, here's a random selection from Flickr: Super Sampler.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The water's lovely

I was interested in participating in something called a Midsummer skinny dip, organised by, or at least in support of, Mary Curie Cancer Care. It turns out I won't be able to join in, but they've been sending me the bumpf.

This poster is not much to look at, but then I went on to the website of the Illustrator and started looking around at their watercolours. I did a couple of watercolours last weekend, and I know how difficult they are, so I've been looking around for technical inspiration. I don't exactly go for her girly whimsical style, but she has delightful brushwork. Check out the red onion in her sketchbook section.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Told you so, bring back luggage van


Hauled myself out of bed slightly later today, so I took the later train. Guess what, it's just as packed as the earlier ones. There is normally enough space for three bikes when I get on in the special bike compartment of this train, and they are all full arghh!

For the train nerds, this is a class 444, i.e. a Siemens Desiro.The advantage of my nine o'clock 444, apart from listening to Today at slightly more leisure, is that the seats are only four-pitch rather than five-pitch, so you get some elbow room. But there's nowhere to put my effing bike!

In some ways these trains have been an absolute joy compared to the crappy slam door stock they replace. But I remember the time there was some quiet controversy about the loss of the guard's van. Back in the day, this was frequently full of bikes and all sorts of luggage, and being a draughty old cabin it was not competed for too much. But, apparently capacity is key, and as many seats as possible were fitted into the new stock. This is all very old history now, as the new trains came in about 8 or 9 Years ago.

Sure enough, on this mid week near Easter, there are already four bikes, two of them folded, in the bike section when I get there. So there is no room to fold mine so I put it on the pile with the others. During the journey I have to get up several times to help other bike users manage the pile.

Basically, we told you so. They should have been enough uncommitted space for bike users and luggage users, who, guess what, also make use of this commuter line with more than a briefcase. Simply ripping out some seats could help, as you can see on the class 450, based on the same train chassis. This has a variety of bike and wheelchair sections, along with bigger doorway aisles. Ideally this would have 4 in a row seats, but then they would have to run 20% more trains to make equivalent capacity so it ain't never going to happen.

So my bike's gonna have to put up with a few more scratches from other folk's pedals.