Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Culture, Art and the Nude

Over on the Yachting World web site Elaine Bunting got into trouble (of sorts) from some quarters for stories like this one that involved pictures of scantily clad women.

It highlighted the cultural differences of attitudes to the human form. In the international meeting I'm at I've recently become all too aware of the explosive impact of different attitudes to the simplest of things (long story not to be repeated here).

I was also struck by the attitudes in art to the common theme of the nude (see this for description of life on the front line). Take the sculpture below of a naked woman reaching for something hidden below a layer of decking, which is on display in a park in Geneva.

It is not anywhere in the park, but actually in the children's play area, which is part of a school. Around are swings, slides and a sandpit, marked as to whether they are appropriate for ages 1, 3, 6, and 8 year olds.

I was wondering how a statue and location would be received in the UK: I think it would probably be ok as we are much more European now.

How about other countries? In the US I suspect it would likely cause a scandal "placed where children can see it" etc on the lines of Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.

So what is acceptable in art museums would be unacceptable in public. It seems odd to me that a culture allows TV programs showing torture in a positive light (e.g. Lost) rejects the natural human form.

I guess that makes me European in outlook!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bienvenue a Geneve!

Some pictures from Geneva: above is the view from the top of the Cathedral's north tower of the lake and famous water jet. The Cathedral itself can be seen below.

In the old town saw a street with all these red balloons - no idea why but it added some welcome colour:

There was plenty of colour in the many parks with the lovely autumn leaves:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Secret Door

I have a memory card full of photos from a weekend in an autumnal Geneva, with blue skies and crisp leaves underfoot (including several that show the lovely colours of the trees for Kat).

But as haven't had a chance to load them on the laptop will just give you this picture, again from the hotel. In a sign of to be welcomed eccentricity and character, the manager has camouflaged this door to look like a bookshelf - but where does it go?

Answer: its the lift / elevator - rather an important door for most guests!

ps the naked pipe-cleaner man on a juicer is apparently for sale for SF 1,000 if anyone wants it

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Geneva Hotels

What is this object and what has this to do with Geneva Hotels?

Over time have experienced a range of hotels here: at the bottom end there was the hostel like Hotel du Lac (with shared bathrooms) and the depressingly sparce Hotel Crystal. The popular ones like Hotel Epson (with delightfully named Bar Sulky) are usually fully booked so this trip have had to try a new one, the Hotel des Nations.

Like all Geneva hotels the bed is rock hard and the heating turned up to sauna. However it has made an effort and liberally filled the corridors and rooms with "art". The above is in my room and is called "20,000 lieues sous l'amere" - hmmm more like a naked man made of pipe cleaners sitting on a juicer to me. Looks like another story to add to this excellent post on life in art school.

The hotel seems to have bought an entire collection - more when I get the pictures off the camera.

In the meantime the art chosen for the room is meant to have a theme - can you spot it the figure above and these two?

Me neither, but apparently its meant to reflect the manager's time in Dubai, UAE.

The only connection I see with the UAE (from my recent trip) is the overenthusiastic heating system.

!Light Bulb Moment!

I should create my own installation, in which each room of the art gallery would have its own climate, one dry and hot ("Desert") one freezing cold ("Polar") and another humid and hot ("Rainforest").

Call it "Our fragile world" and submit for the Turner Prize!

Sputnik and the Conference

This is a copy of the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, and has just been given by the Russian Federation to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its launch. Its currently sitting in the Geneva CICG conference centre which is hosting WRC '07 aka the World Radiocommunications Conference 2007 - or more simply known as "The Conference"

So what is a WRC and why do we call it "The Conference" with all those capitals? One answer is another question - how is it that if you travel abroad your phone will work?

The ability to roam around the world with a single phone is one of the tangible results of previous WRCs where thousands of delegates have argued for weeks in the bomb shelter like CICG to agree common frequencies for the radio systems to work.

Radio waves do not stop at country borders but leak into others. Therefore countries must get together to manage what we call the radio spectrum - the range of frequencies that we use for radio, tv, phones, satellite, radar, and so on.

The ITU is the part of the international framework of organisations that is responsible for this and related tasks. It is actually the oldest such organisation, with its key document, the Radio Regulations, now over a hundred years old. Its history can be read here.

The job of "The Conference" is to update the Radio Regulations, which has the status of a treaty document. So unlike normal conferences involving listening or giving papers, this is involves serious negotiation between countries, and only occurs every couple of years (four at the moment).

It is frustrating and fascinating in equal proportions. There is a delicate balance of technical and political arguments, and the RR themselves are the messy results of countless compromises in uncounted numbers of international committees

So if your 4G videophone in the future works from Melbourne to Vancouver to London it will be to some degree due to those delegates who are even now debating in the halls where Sputnik is on display.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Geneva

Currently traveling again - this time to Geneva home of Alinghi. While being home to the twice winner of the America's Cup all I've found is a shop that sells shirts, caps, and nice but very expensive models.

So little chance of an sailing-blog post, though could do a travel-blog post if there was interest - any views?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Heavy weather

I know one of the top tips I gave for the ARC was "hoist the biggest spinnaker you've got and do it from day one".

Well forgot to say don't do it in conditions like this - its a great video of Figaro 2 sailing in 40 - 50 knots.

Also a bit windy off Malta as in these photos.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sunset on London Bridge

Lovely sunset tonight and so on my way to meet a friend for drink stopped on London Bridge to admire the views.

Down river towards Tower Bridge noticed a large ship moored next to the Belfast and thanks to Google found out what it is. As you can find out here it is the Trinity House's Galatea, here for yesterday's naming by the Queen.

London can be beautiful - especially at sunrise and sunset.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Late post for the Environment

Just caught up with something Tillerman posted on - that yesterday was Blog Action Day for the environment.

We have only one planet and it needs a bit of TLC. The environment is increasingly under pressure as greenhouse gases change the atmosphere and loss of bio diversity due to habitat destruction.

But we can fix it and live our modern lifestyle without giving up the modern world - buy electricity from renewable sources, use high efficiency light bulbs, offsetting flights or use trains, and so on.

Not going to go into this in too much detail - just say there are great resources at the BBC and New Scientist that keep up to date with the latest findings.

So instead will do a quick overview of the four types of fog mentioned under the earlier post on season of mellow mists based upon the summaries from "The Complete Sailing Manual":

Radiation Fog

Radiation fog is formed at night during clear conditions, when rapidly cooling land cools the air above and makes water vapour condense into droplets. The fog forms first as mist in low valleys, and spreads and thickens as the air continues to cool.

Advection Fog

When warm, moisture-laden air passes over cold water, it cools down to its dew point, the water vapour in the air condense, and advection fog forms. Also known as sea fog, advection fog can be persistent, requiring a dry wind to disperse it.

Frontal Fog

Frontal fog develops when warm, moist air at the front of a depression rises over cold air. This causes the temperature of the warm air to fall below its dew point. Frontal fog causes most problems for sailors when it obscures landmarks.

Sea Smoke

Cold air flowing over warm sea absorbs and immediately condenses any water evaporating off the sea, forming fog. The water warms the air, raising the dew point, and dispersing the fog. Higher up, the air cools again and the fog reforms.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thames in the morning

Nice series of photos of the Thames early in the morning over on the London Daily Photo.

I got up 5ish one day to go hunting for locations for a script a few years ago and was amazed how busy London was even that early - the buses were packed.

It may be horrid to get up at that time but the city looks lovely in the red glow of dawn.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On the Putney Embankment

After Sunday lunch we went for a walk along the Thames river bank. At the Putney embankment there was a hive of water sports activity, with rowers launching for an afternoon's practice, a flock (if thats the word) of canoes battling against the tide, Laser's being rigged for a sail, and the sea cadets out for an explore.

As I mentioned before, all this action made me keen to get a small dinghy like a Laser and sail it on lovely afternoons like this one. I wondered, though, which sailing club would be best out of the:
- Ranelagh
- South Bank
- Corinthians (ok a bit further away but they also cover offshore sailing)

If anyone has any feedback on any of these that would be appreciated.

There was also much of interest ashore, with an art exhibition of river and sailing paintings in one of the rowing clubs.

And at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin an announcement of the opening of what looks like a fascinating exhibition of how Putney helped change the British political system. After the civil war there was held here the "Putney Debates" about structures for a constitution, which was all recorded and can be read here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Season of mellow mists

Woke up earlier this week to see a thick blanket of fog outside the windows - just the weather to stay in and revise for an exam.

Needless to say only too happy to get distracted from book study to try and remember my meteorology and work out why it is foggy.

My sailing book gives four possible types of fog:
a) radiation fog
b) advection fog
c) frontal fog
d) sea smoke

Which do you think it is?

Answer tomorrow, but in the meantime guess what I saw when it burnt off later in the morning (and that is a big clue as to the fog type)?

Yup, the bubbler was out.

Better keep out of that water, folks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

YW Arc Update

An update on ARC preparations over on the Yachting World web site. Seems like this topic has hit a nerve, with a flood of comments, mostly conflicting.

Just shows there's not just a single solution to an ocean crossing like the ARC. It's also something that everyone who's done it is proud of and has an opinion on.

And it's a great source of sailing stories - so what's your favourite ARC yarn?

ps thanks for the link Elaine!

Monday, October 08, 2007

5 more ARC tips

Five more tips for those doing an Atlantic crossing:

6. Take an astronomy book. The night sky out in the open ocean is stunningly beautiful - stars bright and sharp and shooting stars that make you go wow. In November in the latitudes of the ARC you'll see Orion (above) bright, leading the way as you sail west. Unforgettable.

7. Take the sextant out of its box and use it to take a couple of fixes to estimate your position. After a couple of goes you'll get quite close to GPS: its not just a helpful just in case you get a complete electrical failure, but also rewarding. And you'll appreciate the technical challenges the early sailors had to overcome.

8. Ocean sailings dirty little secret: rubbish. Ok time to come clean, with no marina's rubbish tips what are you going to do with the empty tins and potato peelings? If it sinks (like a tin) or is bio-degradable (like the peelings) we just tipped it over the side. Only remember to do it on the leeward not windward side. And if you do it on the windward side make sure there isn't an open porthole. And if there is open porthole make sure it isn't by the skippers bunk and she is having an afternoon nap in it. She will not be happy.

9. Fishing: by the end you'll be gagging for fresh food so if you're in the cruising division take a rod and try for some doradas. Don't do this if you one of those I'm-doing-20-knots-get-out-of-my-way racers: you'll never be able to land it. And don't let out the line 5 minutes after the start when you're surrounded by 200+ other yachts as you'll only get tangled up in another's spinning generator and it will be embarrasing when you bump into them in St. Lucia. But do take a photograph otherwise no one will believe your it-was-this-big story.

10. Swimming: go for a swim mid way when its 1,000 nautical miles to any bit of land and there is 4km of water underneath you as the experience is amazing. Only don't do it skinny dipping style as there are jelly fish out there and its bad enough to get you're arm stung so protect those more delicate bits.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

5 tips for crossing the Atlantic

Over on the Yachting World web site Elaine Bunting has given 10 tips for crossing the Atlantic - probably as part of that magazine's build up for the ARC - the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

Well I've only done the ARC once and we were safely mid-pack rather than class winners, but here are some suggestions.

1. Parties

Make sure you go to the start and end parties. A lot of the fast boats arrive in St. Lucia and immediately push off somewhere else - I think that's a shame. At least hang around for the prize-giving bash. And turn up to Chay Blythe's speech even if you've heard it all before - the poor man has lost his company in the last year.

2. Bugs

We were told the boat would be crawling with cockroaches and other bugs if you don't wash everything by hand and not take even the cardboard boxes the fruit and veg were delivered in as there could be bug eggs ready to hatch hidden deep inside. So we washed everything, and were happily bug free. If nothing else it will enable you to gossip with your neighbouring boats as they do the same and get a chance to visit to have a nose around.

3. SSB

You probably have Iridium or some other satellite phone for your gribs and wonder about this old fashioned radio, but its worth it to listen in to the net and chat with friends. In particular we got a very good chocolate cake recipe from Happy Spirit for one crew's birthday.

4. Gloves

The one you thing you don't want to get is rope burn mid Atlantic so bring and use your sailing gloves. Yes I know its going to be hot but being unable to use your hands for a week will be a lot worse, especially for the poor sod who has to - er, how to put this - assist in the heads.

5. Practice

You can play it safe and pole out the genoa as Elaine suggests but you will get there quicker if you hoist the biggest spinnaker you've got and do it from day one (wind direction permitting). We didn't as we were a scratch crew learning the ropes and in hindsight this slowed us down.

More tips if I can think of them......

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What is this?

Several times I've seen this Thames Water boat go up and down the river and wondered what it is. Now I know, from a program called "Thames: wildlife superhighway" which was broadcast here during the week.

In this week's episode they went on board this interesting boat to find out what it does, why it does it, and how it does it.

It turns out this is a special boat that pumps oxygen into the river at times when levels dissolved in the water gets low. For example if it rains a lot (like it did this summer) it can exceed the ability of the sewage network to get rid of it. This is a legacy of Victorian London, in that the same networks of pipes is used to carry away both rain water and sewage.

In times of really heavy rain it becomes necessary to let raw sewage enter the river (sorry about this theme, but at least you now know why there is a very good reason NOT to drink it). As it decays it sucks oxygen out, which can kill thousands of fish.

Hence the boat: at times of such stress to the wildlife the boat is despatched out to pump life back into the river.

It may look expensive to have such a dedicated vessel, but the alternative would be creating a whole new network of pipes (we're talking billions) or have the river life be killed off at regular intervals.

I'm glad its there - but now I know what it does I'll be wondering each time I see it why exactly its out there!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dangerous to eat

Another Karachi story about Ramadam - but you have to read this article from the BBC first.

I was warned that eating during the day outside of the hotel might be difficult - but not that dangerous!

Seriously, I had more respect for their traditions than to eat or drink in public, but it was amazing how everyone was fasting at the same time. 95% of the population all following the same rituals together was impressive and rather alien to this westerner. The not drinking anything part must be the hardest and in sympathy I left the cold water bottle they put out for me untouched during my presentations.

However I must disagree with one comment in that BBC article - that the obsession with food was not reflected on TV. For on the widescreen 42 TV in my hotel there was channel after channel of cooking with recipes for Iftar and in between programs advert after advert for food and drink.

I pointed this out to one of my clients who just smiled and said that they know all you can think of is food and play on that.

There was one other thing on everyone's mind apart from food. On the TV in the evening on most channels was overlaid two windows of text and numbers: the first counted down the minutes and seconds to the ending of the fast. The second had equally important numbers - the crickets scores!

Oh, and I also was woken at 3.30 am but not by an over enthusiastic hotel wake-up call: instead by the sounds from the many minarets echoing across central Karachi. I felt lucky to be allowed to roll over and go to sleep, and wondered how many out there wished they could do the same.

Autumn Moon

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pakistan, the USA and the news

Some final thoughts from my Karachi trip. While reading the local paper and surfing the channels on the hotel's 42 inch TV two thoughts came to me:

1) Divergence of the USA and the world

I noticed that there were a lot more channels on TV: from about 8 of which half were state run and the rest the likes of CNN there were now about 90. Of course that was partly because the it was a better hotel, but my local agent said it was also a more general trend. The interesting point was how many were local or from other countries in south-east Asia such as India and also how parochial US TV looked in comparison.

There is much talk about the danger that the US might become more isolationist and withdraw from the world post the next election. From the view point of Karachi it has already happened: the US is going its own way wrapped up in its own thing and the rest of the world doesn't mind as it has a thriving local culture. India can already see itself in a few years with GDP greater than America, pushing that country from first place down to fourth (after China, India and Europe).

The multi-polar world is already here but the US doesn't want to know, which leads me to.....

2) The poverty of American MSM news

Its not a new topic, but the US's main stream media is unable to tell Americans the truth about the world and what America does. Essential and important topics like the occupation of Palestine and oppression of the Palestinians simply are not accurately or honestly reported in the US: the same narrow viewpoint on this subject is echoed from all sides of the political debate from Jon Stewart to Bill O'Reilly, and from all parts of the country from Washington DC to Washington State.

When the local Karachi paper had a diversity of views from a State Department spokewoman to Palestinian writers, Fox News (yes they have it in Karachi) was diverting its viewers from the truth by endless speculation about OJ Simpson.

It reminded me of a State Department report into why the US was hated that concluded that the solution was more information to explain what the US did -which just showed how they failed to understand the problem. For overwhelmingly the group that is ignorant of US foreign policy is not those in the Middle East, but those in the USA itself.