Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Veronica Scanner

Two weeks ago I had a 3D scan of my head made at the Royal Academy as part of the Veronica Scanner project. An interesting, if very short, experience, the scan itself taking just a matter of seconds.

Why did I do this? A very good question! I'm not a natural photographic subject, I don't mind spontaneous photographs but ask me to pose for a shot and I don't know what to do. I usually end up looking puzzled or gurning like a man in leave of his senses (some who know me may well think that description not too far off of the mark!)

I suppose it was partly just to try something different and to be part of an art project but it was also, perhaps, to see myself as others see me. We are used to seeing ourselves in a hard copy photograph or on a phone or a computer screen, but whether it's a still shot or a video, it is remains a slightly flat image. 3D promised something different. So why not give it a go.

So, what happened on the day? I turned up ahead of my booked time slot and took a quick look around before checking in at the desk.

There were a number of examples of printed heads on display, in a variety of materials. Of particular interest were a small series loosely based on the wonderful character heads created by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt in the late 18th century. Examples of his work are held in the collections of the V&A and the Wellcome.

The scanner itself sat in the middle of the room in a large perspex box. It looked like a giant, perforated, desk globe, split vertically with the two halves separated by a couple of feet and in the centre was a saddle-like seat.

After signing the waivers, which would allow the resulting images to be used as part of the project, and a very short wait, it was my turn to be scanned. The first choice I had to make was whether or not to wear my glasses. Apparently, most people have chosen to remove them. That didn't seem to make sense to me. Specs have been part of me for the last 50 plus years and relatively few people would remember me without them, so to keep them on was a no brainer.

The procedure was explained and I soon found myself perched on the saddle as the two halves of the sphere closed in on me. The saddle was raised by the operator to centre me in the scanner and we were good to go.

The sphere has 96 apertures and is lined with a number of low powered flash units. Eight Canon EOS 5D cameras are arranged in an arc on an exterior arm that resembles the support on a conventional globe. The cameras are timed to shoot as they pass the holes in the globe. The for those who care about these things, the overlapping pictures are saved as 24 megapixel RAW files.

Some other sitters chose to be quite creative with their poses but I decided on what I thought was a fairly neutral expression, not that I'm a great judge of these things (see my earlier comments). The operator asked me if I was ready and, after a reminder to remain still during the scan, she hit the button. It apparently takes four seconds to complete the scan, but at the time it seemed much quicker. I was aware of the arm swinging around the outside of the sphere and the flashes firing in sequence and then, it was all over. The cameras had taken their 96 shots and it was now down to the computers to make sense of it all.

After a short wait to be sure that the 96 individual shots had been recorded, it was time to leave.

Now, two weeks later, those 96 individual photographs have been processed to produce this! It may take a little while for this to load (especially on a tablet, a friend and I have had problems on different Samsung Tabs, desktops and laptops seem OK) , but please be patient because, as the advert says, I'm worth it LOL.

I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised with the result. There were no guarantees that the scan would be successful and I was fairly convinced that something would go wrong, perhaps I had moved during the scan, or there would be a software glitch, but no, it has turned out OK.

So, what now? I have a digital file that I can send to a 3D printer to have my head recreated in a variety of materials from plastic to glass or even in chocolate. It is also possible to connect to a specialised routing machine to reproduce me in wood (a wooden head? Too close to the truth I think!). There is even the option to print in wax and then produce a bronze Me using the lost wax process! I'm not yet sure if any of these are going to happen for two main reasons. One, I suspect it is going to cost considerably more than a head, an arm and a leg to do it and, Two, I'm not sure that I want to be stared at, in my own home, by another version of me. Might check it out though. Just in case!

The guys below are not me!

In the nine days of the RA event more than 600 heads were scanned. The results of all of these scans can be seen here, along with more information on the project.

I'm not sure that I've learned any more about myself from this but it was an interesting experience with a surprisingly acceptable result.

That's it!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Moving On.

This time last week, I was getting up at stupid o'clock, going to a place where I didn't particularly want to be and doing things I didn't really want to do.

It was known as work!

Today, I got up when I felt like it. I mooched about for a bit, then I came here, doing not very much apart from sitting in the sun, drinking decent coffee, watching the World (or at least a very small part of it) passing by and listening to the birds sing their hearts out.

I can now do this whenever I like (weather permitting!)

This is known as retirement.

Highly recommended.

By the way, "here" is Holland Park, without any doubt, the best park in London and don't let anyone tell you any different. I have been coming here all of my life, from a baby in a pram to the grey haired, near OAP that I am now

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Royal River Salute

On the 9th September, Queen Elizabeth became our longest reigning monarch, bumping her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, off of the top spot. To mark the occasion  there was to be a flotilla of boats led by the Royal barge Gloriana. It was hoped that a rolling wave of cheers and applause would follow the flotilla on it's journey from Tower Bridge (which would open for the occasion) to the Palace of Westminster

If you didn't go, you really didn't miss anything. The whole thing was staggeringly underwhelming. I decided to watch from the Albert Embankment opposite the H of P. Actually, not so much a decision as a necessity, as it was the only point I had a chance to get to, given that I had left it so late to leave home.

I got there just as The Gloriana cleared Westminster Bridge. It was followed by the Havengore, two fire boats, one of which, the Massey Shaw, was a Dunkirk Little Ship. There were also a couple of Police boats and a Thames cruise boat.

These were followed a few minutes later by something that didn't pass under the bridge but was making a variety of wonderful hooting, screaming noises from it's steam whistles. I later found that the source of these noises was what looked like converted (in a good way) trawler named the George Stephenson that, despite having folded its funnel and mast, clearly wasn't going to risk passing under the bridge with the tide as high as it was.

I'm not sure what I expected of the "flotilla" (the information I saw was a little vague about that) but it was a bit more than this and the expected wave of cheers/applause that the organisers hoped would follow this event from Tower Bridge to Westminster, if it ever started, had fizzled out long before it reached me!

On the other hand the weather wasn't too bad and it did get me out of the house slightly earlier than my natural lethargy suggested was possible.

By the way, I was wrong about the George Stephenson. Not a converted trawler but something altogether more interesting. Thank you to Joanna Moncrieff for pointing me in the right direction on this one.

Oh, and I should give a special mention to the crew of the rather lovely cruiser Elvin, who seemed delighted to have so many cameras pointed in their direction, even though they were not part of the flotilla!


That's it!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Walk Under The River

There are three accessible pedestrian routes under the River Thames. The Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are both well known and well used, I've been through both of them on many occasions. The third one came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Work on the Rotherhithe Tunnel commenced in 1904 and it was opened by HRH  The Prince of Wales (later King George V) in 1908. Linking Limehouse  on the north bank with Rotherhithe on the south, it was designed to provide a means for pedestrians and horse drawn traffic to cross the river without the need to travel west to Tower Bridge or east to the Blackwall Tunnel on the other side of the Isle of Dogs. Obviously, horse traffic eventually gave way to the ubiquitous motor vehicle and it is still an important, and heavily used, route from north to south but I had no idea that it was still accessible to pedestrians. According to Wikipedia around twenty pedestrians still use the tunnel each day!

So, this morning, I joined two friends, Jane and Jen to check it out for ourselves. it was a remarkably stress free journey. The pavements (on both sides) are around four feet wide and the speed limit is 20mph so, all things considered, it was probably much safer than the average country lane. The lighting was a pretty good and there were signs, indicating how far you have travelled and how far you still had to go, at regular intervals. I have to admit that air quality was not exactly brilliant but was not as bad as you might expect.

After a walk of just under a mile and reaching a maximum depth below the river surface of  approx. 75ft we emerged into the sunshine and the (relatively) fresh air of the north bank. Overall, an interesting experience but probably not one I'd care to do on a daily basis.

It is a little known fact (?) that beer is the perfect antidote to a potential exhaust fume overdose and to that end we made our way to the Old Ship pub on the delightful York Square E14 (recommended, by the way) for a pint or three. A nice way to end a nice day in good company.

By the way, it was a good job that Jane had her breakdown before entering the tunnel as we didn't have a vehicle to return to!

More photographs to follow on Flickr soon.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Jack the Ripper.....Mystery Solved?

In the 2002  book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed, Patricia Cornwell declared that her  conclusion was , after much detailed research, that Walter Sickert was JTR. This was not an original idea, his name had been associated with the mystery for many years. It wasn't even the first publication on the subject. In her 1990 book, Sickert and the Ripper Crimes, Jean Overton Fuller asserted that he was indeed the infamous serial killer. Earlier still, in 1976, Stephen Knight in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution put forward the theory that Sickert was an unwilling accomplice to the real Jack.

Now we have a new real Jack the Ripper, well not exactly new. This one has been on the Ripper list since the time of the murders. In yet another book on the subject, Russell Edwards (no relation) names  Aaron Kosminski as quite definitely, without any doubt, the real thing. Based on the DNA profiling of samples of blood on a shawl said to have belonged to, or have been associated with Catherine Eddowes who was believed to have been the Ripper's fourth victim (and the second to die under his hand during the infamous double event of Sunday 30th September 1888).

I am, of course, not qualified to comment on the accuracy of DNA results although it does seem fairly obvious that they wouldn't stand up in a court of law (not that that is relevant here). Firstly, the shawl was obtained under what would now be considered very dubious circumstances. Apparently, a policeman took, or was given it, once it was considered to be no longer important to the investigation, to give to his wife. Although why anyone would give a bloodstained shawl as a gift to his nearest and dearest is beyond me.

Secondly, even though it survived and remained in the hands of the same family for all of these years it can hardly be claimed to have been kept in a sterile and uncontaminated condition. Nevertheless, DNA testing appears to show that the shawl was stained with the blood of both Eddowes and Kosminski (comparisons were made with samples donated by present day members of the two bloodlines). It seems to me that without some other supporting evidence, the best that can be said to explain this is that at some time Kosminski came into contact with both Eddowes and the shawl. Given that Eddowes was a known prostitute and that it was quite possible that Kosminski had been a client, it leaves any kind of statement that he was the killer, or was even present during the event, on very shaky ground.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that we are probably no closer to knowing who dunnit. Authors and researchers will continue to reel out the name of the real JTR, usually homing in on one or other of the usual suspects. Interestingly, although the same names come up gain and again, someone once said that if you could line up all of the most "respected" Ripperologists, then throw back a curtain to reveal the man(or woman?) himself, they would all look at him (or her) and say "WHO?"

Without any doubt, the unsolved crimes of the person or persons known as Jack the Ripper are fascinating, innumerable theories and books have appeared on the subject and it's an absolute guarantee that just as many are still to come, but that fascination comes from the fact that we don't know his identity. Common sense tells us that, yes of course, the right thing is to find who carried out these horrific crimes and to close the case to the satisfaction of the law and the state............

.......but, a mystery is a mystery...........and people love a mystery!

For an introduction to the whole affair, take a look at Casebook: Jack the Ripper and the Wikipedia entry here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wet Feet

A few years ago the government of the day (I dont remember which government that was, not that it matters much) declared their intention of building on Britain's flood plains. Flood plains are so called for a reason but that does not mean that it is not possible to use them. Holland carries the term to an extreme as two thirds of the country is way below sea level and is not just subject to occasional flooding but would be permanently under water without the massive sea defences, permanent pumping and properly designed and maintained drainage systems. To be fair, without all of this there would be no Holland but given that their situation is different to ours in both scale and detail, they apparently only spend about twice as much as we do for all of this. Not bad value when you end up with a viable country for your efforts. 

Why is it that we always just dip our toe (excuse the pun) in to these problems. It is expensive to deal with but is there really a choice? Dealing with existing problems is a massive issue but moving on to the UK's flood plains is a whole different ball game. Without adopting the full Dutch approach it would be insane. Sadly that is the kind of financial compromise insanity that I can see our saintly politicos going for but, sooner or later, someone is going to need to bite the bullet and sign on the dotted line to make this happen. To cross our fingers and hope the problem will go away is not an option. Only a fool would take that route........but then again perhaps only a fool would go into politics in the first place.

Rant over.......for now!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Death In Notting Hill

Something very strange was going on in W11 yesterday morning (Monday 29th July). I left home at 5.30am and was making my way towards my car which was parked in Lonsdale Rd. The first thing I noticed was something very bright in the road at the junction of Lonsdale Rd and Ledbury Rd. Although it was warm and the ground was dry, it was still a bit gloomy, a carry over from the heavy rain that we had overnight. They were so bright that at first I thought they were some kind of lights but as I got closer I could see that they were vivid red and yellow flowers, either artificial or artificially coloured.

Closer still, I found that they had been scattered over the bodies of two dead foxes! Some of the flowers appear to have been in the form of a garland but that may have been just the way that they had fallen.

If I hadn't been running late (sorry I'm late boss, I got held up by two dead foxes, was never going to go down well) I would have gone back to get a camera. I would probably also have phoned the police, although I'm not at all sure how that conversation would have gone!

I didn't have time to forensically examine the corpses but a couple of things were obvious.

Firstly, if they were road kill, they had been moved from where they had been hit. They were laid neatly side by side and on their sides. .

Secondly, if they were road kill it is very unlikely that they were killed at the same time or on this spot. I spend half of my life leaving for work at that ridiculous time in the morning and I see a lot of foxes in the area but they are always solo. I never see two adult foxes together on the streets. I'm not saying it never happens  but  I've not seen it.

Thirdly, they appeared to be in good condition. The flowers covered quite a lot of the bodies but they didn't appear to be emaciated and their tails, which tend to get a bit ragged and threadbare as their condition declines, were clearly visible and were bushy and very foxy. There was a small amount of blood on the road by one of the bodies but they did not appear to be damaged.

Fourthly, they can't have been there for long. It was light, the road is never completely traffic free. Also, neither the foxes or the flowers were waterlogged despite the fact that it had been raining heavily just a few hours before (I know, because I had been lying awake listening to it!).

I now wish that I had taken some photographs to support this tale, even if only on my phone, but give me a break, it  was 5.30 in the morning, I was tired and I was dragging myself off to work. Also, I didn't know at the time that I would be writing all of this down, anyway, it's too late to worry about it now.

So what is going on in Notting Hill. Is it satanists, witches, weirdos, vulpophobic aliens with florisitic leanings, animal sacrifice enthusiasts, hoaxers or simply someone attempting to show respect for two creatures that had died of natural causes. If the latter, then why lay them out in the middle of a road? How respectful is that? However, if it was any of the former group, then perhaps we are all in deeper trouble than even I give the world credit for!

Of course, there may be some (vaguely) rational explanation for all of this, but I'm buggered if I can figure out what it is.

Any thoughts or ideas gratefully accepted!