Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dream Tricycle

I got to work early this morning, so once I had finished filing yesterday’s emails and making my to-do list for the day, it was doodle-time.

2 months and 13 days ago, I had a (very pleasant) dream involving a curious vehicle – an old-fashioned penny-farthing, but with two rear wheels. Passengers could stand on the rear axle, but had to backpedal constantly, as one does on a rolling log, to avoid falling off.

My work notebook is filled with sketches of this contraption drawn from various angles, some more detailed than others. Here is a sample.

The black cat did not feature in the dream, and is in the drawing only to show scale.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Guessing the Light

Last weekend I was in Bath, taking photos of snow with a manual camera.

My light meter, like all in-camera light meters, measures reflected light (as opposed to incident light). It is calibrated to assume that all objects are midtone grey, i.e. reflect about 18% of incident light. This works fine in most situations, but when it meters an object that is unusually reflective (such as snow), it is fooled into thinking that there is a great deal more incident light than there actually is. Following the meter reading would therefore result in an underexposed image – grey snow. Taking photos of snow, or other scenes with unusually light or dark tones, thus involves an element of guesswork.

Saha and I often shoot with film, and because film is less forgiving and not all things are midtone grey, it helps not to be wholly reliant on the light meter. To develop a better sense of light (and also for fun), we sometimes play a game. One of us will point at, say, a wall, and call out a film speed and an aperture. For instance, “ISO 200 at f/8.” Then we both guess the shutter speed, and we check it against the light meter.

This photo is from the day Saha and I test-rode tokyobikes in Shoreditch: I over-exposed by one stop to get the right exposure for the light tones.

The label Sports has now been changed to Sports/Games.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Oncethmus and Other Oddities

Some recent articles in the British press, about a government-backed drive to encourage children to learn poetry by heart, reminded me of my schooldays. For each English or Bengali exam, we had to memorise at least five poems, many of which were quite long, or hundreds of years old. On top of that, our teachers insisted – and this strikes me as somewhat unreasonable when I think about it now – that in the exam we reproduce the poem with original punctuation (marks would be deducted for, say, using a dash where the poet had put a semi-colon). It did not help that most poems had seemingly random punctuation, almost as if the poet first wrote up the whole poem, and then thought “Right, what mark of punctuation shall I put at the end of this line?”

Many of us therefore preferred to memorise the punctuation separately, almost like a different, parallel poem. The first verse of The Solitary Reaper, for instance, is the charmingly mellifluous “comma, exclamation, semi-colon, exclamation, comma, semi-colon, nothing, stop.” And who is to say that this is any less poetic than Behold her, single in the field etc.?


When I was a child, from reading books I derived certain stereotypical ideas of how people from different countries spoke. The English spoke like Psmith; Americans spoke like the Lone Ranger. Russians were always hatching intrigues in smoky train stations and wrestling with terrible moral dilemmas.

Most of these stereotypes I have now let go of, but when they are conformed to, there is still a moment when I am secretly pleased and I think, “Ah, this is how it should be.” The Dombai zorb ball incident, an otherwise tragic mishap, had such a moment. The Guardian describes it thus:
[The zorb ball] then hurtles leftwards down a ravine. Onlookers watch in horror, one asking: "What's down there?" A voice replies: "Nothing. Catastrophe."
“Nothing. Catastrophe.” Tolstoy would have been proud of that.


The other day we were playing Balderdash, and one of the words picked was oncethmus, which means ‘braying’. Later we were discussing possible uses of the word, and Nirmalya’s suggestion was the most popular: “Maybe in the title of a sequel to Silence of the Lambs.”

The same evening, shortly after an intense game of Snatch, the Quaker walked over to the sofa and his eyes alighted on an open page of our vintage cookbook. “Check this out guys, a cooking game!” he exclaimed, only to realise that the chapter in question was about cooking game.

I am thankful, especially in winter, that I know several people in London who like to play board games.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Child Borrowing

Some of the tips on consumer finance website MoneySavingExpert.com can be a bit extreme:
[The Family & Friends Railcard] can be used on all tickets when one adult and a minimum of one under-16 travel together (borrowing a child for a day could save you money).
There is also a Disabled Persons Railcard which allows a disabled person and their adult companion to save 1/3 of the ticket price, but I was relieved to note that MoneySavingExpert have not gone so far as to recommend that you borrow a disabled person for a day.