Saturday, November 28, 2009

An electric turn of phrase

A view past a lightning conductor from inside the tower of the Duomo, Florence.
"upright Rods of Iron, made sharp as a Needle and gilt to prevent Rusting, and from the Foot of those Rods a Wire down the outside of the Building into the Ground;...Would not these pointed Rods probably draw the Electrical Fire silently out of a Cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible Mischief!"
Benjamin Franklin

In Response to Sahlah's comment below:
As is often the case as an editor I was distracted while checking a fact on the web. After establishing, as my author had claimed, that Benjamin Franklin had indeed invented the lightning conductor, I was impressed by his writing about it; including the scattering of capital letters and what is to us an antique vocabulary of concerns - yet he achieves a clarity that few designers today manage - what will they expect for their bright ideas a century or two hence?

Benjamin was on any measure a remarkable man, one of the many that I didn't get to learn about at school in England, because he was on the 'other side' of that war.

We never learned about the incredible courage required to challenge a government and king and seeking independence as Franklin's fellows and he did (just though we were taught their cause was). The American War of Independence, was important, however it is but one event of Benjamin Franklin's life and works. His achievements, intellect and virtue are exceptional, on the level of a true Renaissance man - so much so that it's a relief he had a face like a second-hand pear, with spectacles, for if he had good looks as well, he'd have been all-too-much.

Where are our Benjamin Franklin's today?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Work in progress

More drawings from me, and then I'll leave you alone for a while, promise.

This is one that's a work in progress. I wanted to document the way it's changing, so I've scanned the original idea -- a picture of a cosy scene around a classic Italian advertising poster.
Inspired by a half-memory of the poster a friend and her husband have on the wall in their flat.

Redrawn, and then painted. This is the first two sessions - two layers of watercolour. There's probably one more to go.

And then, should it be fine black ink details, brush or pencil? I need to decide....


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


... are for admiring.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Samantha Gilkes

From the Homemade cookbook. (hhm-mm!)

This is the easiest, quickest and yummiest chocolate cake recipe. It’s moist and delicious on its own or even better with any kind of icing you like.

1 1/2cups milk
1 tbsp vinegar (white or brown)
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)
2/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 eggs
60 g butter, softened
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
1 tsp vanilla

Prepare cake tin and preheat oven to 180°C.
Add vinegar to milk and let it curdle.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt (if using) and cocoa into a bowl.
Add remaining ingredients and beat with electric mixer for around 3 minutes.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through.

Monday, November 23, 2009

For Eileen

Recently, inspired by Eileen's efforts and my class in book illustration techniques, I've been trying to draw or paint every day. Well, almost.

This is one of last weekend's watercolour paintings. The courtyard in Malta. Bright sunshine on white rock: so bright it hurts your eyes. Smell of water and blossoms. The lemon grove and the alley walk. I can almost see the baker coming through the big wooden gate, loaves big as pillows, full of holes for butter and honey.

I think the cyprus trees were blacker in the sun.

Keyboard dyig mstfinsh

Maybe I'll give it another try?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

And the Crusaders came in like a tide

...and levelled the castles.

Mad Monkeys And Odd Bananas

Thanks to our fellow blogger Sahlah here for her investigations of why one might not wish to 'Party with Potassium'. Pop on over to her blog post and take a look. But stand well back, or you might just end up looking like the monkey.

(Photo credits to Sahlah's blog.)

Meanwhile back to Australia, here's a recent banana experience we had. We do like to 'organise' things as humans - the 'taxonomic twitch'. So is this one banana or two? Or is it a bananananab?

Certainly it added nicely to the pancakes, although I'm not sure whether it was regarded as one banana or two bananas in the ingredients list. Of course it was bought at the Queen Vic Market, because you won't find something like that in the sanitized world of the supermarket's fruit and veg.

Sometimes it just goes to show it's not important to count and talk, just enjoy.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

British Steampunk is alive and recordbreaking...

From the British Steam Car website.

Another land speed record falls to the UK. Perhaps one that's not exactly facing ferocious competition these days, but it is the fastest steam-powered car in the world.

On August 25th, 2009 at Edward's Air Force Base in California, USA, the British Steam Car, driven by Charles Burnett III broke the existing land speed record by a steam powered vehicle with an average speed of 139.843 mph over two consecutive runs over a measured mile. This was recorded and has since been ratified by the FIA.

On August 26th, 2009 the British Steam Car, driven this time by Don Wales, broke a second record by achieving an average speed of 148.308 mph over two consecutive runs over a measured kilometer. This was also recorded and again, has since been ratified by the FIA.

From the Steam Car website.

BBC Report here.

Well done, team, and that'll teach them to say steam power is dead! Not to mention the recent construction of an all new mainline steam engine in the UK. (That would be the 170 tonne 18 year project locomotive No. 60163 Tornado.)

Oh, and for those that might be puzzled by the headline, Steampunk (Wiki page) refers to an aesthetic and idea combining generally 19th century concepts (such as steam power) and style with more modern developments, usually along an alternative history line - William Gibson & Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine being often cited as a pioneer of the idea - and a rattling good yarn too. But they didn't foresee this real-world steam development.

(Thanks to Ross for the pointer.)


Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Golden Hoard

Images from the Staffordshire Hoard Flickr pages.

Very occasionally something tremendous comes along. Something that makes us re-evaluate our collective past by providing a huge new selection of jigsaw pieces for the great puzzle that is history.

On September 24th an announcement was made: a huge hoard of previously-unknown artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon era had been discovered in Staffordshire. The discovery, in June, of gold and precious objects was in the process of being catalogued and conserved and would soon go on display. (Even a museum can act quickly when enough gold and publicity are running around.)

What is it about a hoard? The word itself - hoard - conjures up its friends 'loot', cousin 'booty' and great-aunty 'treasure'. Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: crock of coins buried for safer days, lost to history. Discovery by the worthy, as in the fairytale younger son (or daughter).

We learned about this era at school (when we weren't reading fairytales about pots of gold). It was called 'the dark ages', not (as we thought) because they all wore tights and lived with their livestock in dark low houses, but because there are so few artifacts. So little evidence. More critically, later eras were documented in a way that made it 'history' to us: names and dates, battles and treaties, inventories and so forth.

Finds like this enable both archaeologists and historians to answer some existing questions -- but also to propose some new ones. Long-held perceptions of the time and its people will, no doubt, be overturned and restructured. It's almost as exciting as, well - a pot of gold.

The size of the find is enough alone to out 'gee-whizz' most sceptics. It contains, '... in excess of 1,500 objects made from various metals' including '5kg of gold and 1.3kg of silver'. By contrast, the Sutton Hoo find, generally accepted as the largest or most significant find of the type contained a mere 1.66kg of precious metals in total.

The bracelet in the centre of this photo echoes motifs familiar from the Sutton Hoo treasures, but of course adds to our understanding of the making and spread of such items in Anglo-Saxon England. But, just like Sutton Hoo, we don't know whose treasure it was.

The Sutton Hoo discovery had enormous value in other ways. A hoard within a ship burial, it contained a significant and (essentially) complete array of objects belonging to one individual at the time of their death. Or at least, so we think.

The Staffordshire Hoard, on the other hand, offers apparently no contextual information, at least not yet. It is just the precious items - probably from one exalted person, or court, but even this may be impossible to define with any degree of certainty. It is the difference between trying to find out about someone's history and story by having either the remains of their sitting room and car -- or just the things in their safety-deposit box (without any paperwork).

A damaged gold plaque showing two birds of prey gripping a fish was part Britain's largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure, which was discovered buried in a Staffordshire field. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters, via CBC report)

When she sent us the link, we were talking about the find on email and Tamsin said: "I love the gold plaque of the birds of prey grasping a fish, fabulous scrollwork..."

Given that all of this material was hand worked by individuals without any of the mass production or power (or even magnification) tools that we take for granted in our industrial age, the hoard is even more impressive. And consider that the value of the items in the hoard -- as compared to the material available to the average person of the era -- it's in a relative sense as outstanding as any King's ransom, crown jewels or even the whole British Museum itself.

The hoard has sparked enormous interest from archaeologists, historians, press and public. Dr Kevin Leahy, from the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said of the Anglo-Saxon treasure:
"The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate. This was the very best the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good. Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich, glowing effect; it is stunning. Its origins are clearly the very highest-levels of Saxon aristocracy or royalty. It belonged to the elite."

Leslie Webster, Former Keeper of the Department of Prehistory and Europe, British Museum, has already made it clear that:

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England… as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries. Absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells."
More information can be found at the Staffordshire Hoard website, and photos on the hoard's Flickr pages.

James & Bev

Watercolour Foreshore

A Port Phillip Bay foreshore from about 1,000 ft on a sunny day looking like an abstract watercolour.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bella Italia - Chiesa con gelati

A church in Treviso.

Whenever I'm in Italy, I can't help but be reminded of ice-cream. Sometimes, as here, mint.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Striped Tomaato or Striped Tomahto?

Just five questions, thanks to a recent DVD fest.

What's with running over car bonnets (sorry, hoods)?

Could you choose between no branded clothing and plaid of the 1970s, or todays' delightful branded clothing and the retreat of plaid?

Why does Paul Michael Glaser run funny?

When choosing a car for stakeout, would you really take a - actually, no, make it the - striped tomato, and ensure you screech the tyres every time you exceed 2mph?

Why does the hood's car in the opening credit car-chase follow our heroes into the parking lot rather than escaping?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Incidentally, it's actually a lot better than remembered, except sartorially. But you'll have to excuse me, I'm about to accelerate away while casually clapping a red flashing light to the roof.