Where Old Sci-Fi Meets Goth

I don’t know how many of you have watched Metropolis, but it’s a fine film.

On what may seem like an unrelated note, The Sisters of Mercy are a fine band.

To bridge these two diverse media sensations, DeNomad Damon has produced a video, matching clips from the movie with the song “Body Electric”.

The dance being performed by the inestimable ‎Brigitte Helm is named “The Whore of Babylon”, where she tempts the audience of decadent young men into sins of all nature.

The song is a tirade against the dirty nightclubs of ’90s Britain, full of “alternative” youths and appealing to the “gothic” scene.

Andrew Eldritch has railed against being labelled Gothic (or anything else, for that matter) on many an occasion, and seems to hold a blatant disregard for anyone who likes his music or attends his concerts.

Setting aside the incongruous messages of the pieces, DeNomad has picked works that fit so well together you might think they were made for each other! From the bass-line matching perfectly with Ms Helm’s wiggling hips, to the final sequence mirroring the refrain “This place is death, with walls”, it sets a text-book example of of how to make a music video!

DeNomad Damon’s other works are well worth a look, but I think this is the pinnacle. Watch the video. Watch the movie. Listen to Sisters of Mercy.

Message Ends.

(This post inspired by the inimitable Lucretia, My Reflection)

A Foray Into Steampunk.

My alter-ego, P.C. Wizard, has always been interested in computers, electronics and techno-gizmos of all varieties. So I came up with a way of linking several hobbies into one Project:

The Digital Walking Cane!

Taking my Smart outfit (colourful shirt, waistcoat, pocket-watch) as a starting point, I decided that a Cane would be a nice addition. But not just any Cane would do! P.C. Wizard demands that it be Interconnected, interactive, and wifi-compatible!

So I’ve had a good think about what capabilities the Cane should have, and this is what I have come up with so far:

  • Wifi. So that it can communicate with other devices (see: Utility Top Hat)
  • GPS. So that I know where it is at all times.
  • Weather Sensors. Why bother waiting for the local Weather Report on TV when I can just poke my Cane out of the window and get my own report!
  • Compass. Remember all those times that you needed to know magnetic North, but couldn’t remember how to calculate it from the position of the Sun? No more being lost in the wilderness. Just point The Cane until the beeps tell you which way to go!

With these basics decided upon, I looked at the best way to put the gubbins inside the Cane. A quick look around the Vintage Stores of Leicester (including the very helpful Pink Pigeon vintage store) led me to the conclusion that I would need a custom-made Cane. Standard sizes just do not have the room. Luckily, I know people in the woodworking trade, and am awaiting their enthusiastic response …

While the actual Cane is in hiatus, I next look at the electronics needed to run the Cane Systems. First, a central Power House. The Heart of the operations. I am looking at two basic options (each with multiple ways of implementing).

  • Raspberry PI. A fully-fledged computer that fits in a (large) matchbox. I have an older, larger version, and a friend has lent me the new NanoPI to play with.
  • Arduino board. A Micro-controller designed for electronics projects.

Both would do the job, and the PI is more powerful. Too powerful, if anything. I need to keep an eye on battery life. A little investigation shows that there would not be that much difference in getting them to work, so I think the Arduino will be the way to go.

Next stop: The Electronics Point. Last time I touched a soldering iron was over 20 years ago, so a little refresher course in all things electronic is probably in order. The forums there are very friendly, and I received some very useful answers to my (probably very stupid) questions. Some good pointers on Arduino-based components and packages, too. But overall, I am still a virtual beginner. A peruse of the circuits I will be needing persuaded me that I need to relearn the techniques, and catch up on new developments. Back to the Breadboard, as they say.

So, from my idea, I am  now back at the basics, ready to build from the bottom up. I dug around for my old box of electronic bits, left over from college days. A quick glance made obvious my suspicions: I need to buy some new parts! A quick trip to Maplins got me the basics, and also a very interesting chat with the young lad at the counter, who gave me some good suggestions on part numbers and types of sensor.

Armed with my new array of parts, I skipped over to the on-line tutorials at Spark Fun to get started! Dang, more components needed! I can’t even get started without some kind of Power! The plan is to run the breadboard from a 9V “square” battery, which I need to drop to 5V (the standard board voltage). A simple circuit, but I don’t have the right capacitors!

Electronics Point recommends several suppliers, and I settled on BitsBox of Rugby. £12.01 of my hard-earned cash later, and I have ordered far more than I need, including a big box of assorted resistors (an essential for any project!).

So now I am in the hands of BitsBox and Royal Mail.

Tune in later for updates!

Ramblings

Is it possible to use well-established Artistic ideas, such as Dada and Surrealism, to create anti-establishment shock-art? Or would I just be flogging another dead horse? And would it still be Art?

In its time, Dada was a counter to the cultural status-quo, defining itself by what it was not, and what it was against, as much as anything it was for.

While a lot of the concepts that Dada railed against are still prevalent in our societies, is hailing back to previous movements merely giving oneself the  label of “Rebel”?

Dyed hair and piercings have lost their 70s-punk power and are now considered mainstream. “The Persistence of Memory” appears on postcards. Banksy murals are bought and sold by local Councils.

Is there anything left to rebel with? Is rebellion itself a form of acceptance? Has questioning authority become a new form of subservience? Is writing a blog-post, assisted by wikipedia and thesaurus.com, bemoaning the impossibility of rebellion just grasping at passing bandwagons?

For new Art to be challenging, it must address the Culture of the day, in ways that acknowledge that culture as existing, identify its flaws and clash with it in a meaningful way. Harking back to times long gone, whose rebellions are now identified, clarified and classified, does no more to advance the cause of Creative Mutiny (or Mutinous Creation) than repetitively quoting well-scripted jokes about spontaneity.

Does one need to study the history of Art, of anti-art, of punk and pop-art, to qualify as a bona-fide rebel? Or does that study inherently embed one in the established traditions?

The answers to the questions raised here, as I read so many times in text-books, are left as an exercise for the reader. Please show your working.

Adventures of the Travelling Stick Salesman

You will all have seen those fantasy pictures: large panoramic views, beautiful scenery. And somewhere in the middle ground, a lone figure, cloak swaying in the breeze, and hand firmly grasping a long staff. You can visualise it so well that I won’t bother posting an example.

The Belgian Jordy Lakiere has come to the conclusion that he is a Travelling Stick Salesman, touting his wares across lands far and near! From Mordor to Tatooine, he seeks out potential buyers, and then vanishes into the mists.

A collection of his customers can be found here:

http://sticksalesmanadventures.tumblr.com

EDIT: Tumbler Blog has changed. Try his Facebook Album

There will be some you recognise, some you don’t, and some you’ll be sure you’ve seen before but can’t quite remember where!

I won’t go rambling on. Go visit the site!

Meanwhile, Bacchus at the Cafe …

You may not be too surprised to hear that I found some Art at a clothes shop today, but it may intrigue you to know the details!

Opposite one of my regular haunts is a clothing alteration shop. I’ve seen it many a time, while sat sipping a latte (No pumpkin spice, thanks. Or vanilla, or any other “exotic” flavours. Coffee. With milk. In a mug. Cheers) in the sunshine, but it was only today that I took a proper look at the decorations around the doors.

The Clothing Alteration Company. Decorations around the door and windows.

http://www.clothingalts4u.co.uk/

None of the surrounding shops have similar frontages, so I thought I would inquire. I stepped inside, and sought knowledge!

The lady at the counter was very friendly and helpful, and explained that the shop used to be the site of a wine merchant, and they had decorated the front with images of Bacchus, the Roman god of Wine and Agriculture, in homage to Leicester’s Roman heritage.

Carvings of Bacchus over the shop doorway

Door Decorations

She was very happy to grant me permission to take a few photos for this blog, so I snapped away for a while, and include a few of the best pictures.

Side panel showing more Bacchus imagery

Side Panel

Detail of side panel

Detail of side panel

Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to dig out the name of the wine merchants that commissioned these pieces, but I will be looking further into this!

In the meantime, if you have any clothes that need altering, and feel a blessing from Bacchus would help, do visit The Clothing Alteration Company in St Martin’s Square! While your clothes are being altered, grab a coffee and admire the decorations!

(I nearly made it all the way through a post without mentioning The Cank!)

The Cank: Part 2. No Plaque! (EDIT: Plaque returning soon!)

EDIT: Leicester City Council Twitter (@Leicester_news) have replied, and are looking into the status of this. Please keep your powder dry while we await their response.

EDIT 2: The Leicester City Council Twitter team have assured me that the plaque is in safe storage, and will be replaced as soon the the renovation work is completed in the area.

In my previous post, I extolled the virtue of The Cank Street Well, and lauded the fact that Leicester remembers its past.

Cank Well Plaque

Close up view of Cank Well Plaque

So imagine my surprise when I found out that, after a period of renovation, the large brass plaque explaining the origins of Cank Street’s name has been removed!

The small brass tile still marks the original site (as best as we can tell) of the Cank Well, but there is nothing to tell people it is there, or what it was.

I foolishly thought that Leicester City Council’s Social Media Manager might be able to shed some light on this, but my request on their Facebook page has gone unanswered. Next will be a strongly-worded email, requesting not just an explanation for the missing plaque, but also for the ignoring of one of their Constituents! Such is the Wrath of a Wizard wronged!

As the next stage of my campaign, I am urging the good people of Leicester (and anyone else who wishes to get involved) to let LCC know that their negligence, whether through malice or ignorance, has not gone unnoticed, and request that you contact them with regards to replacing the plaque!

EDIT: Leicester City Council Twitter (@Leicester_news) have replied, and are looking into the status of this. Please keep your powder dry while we await their response.

EDIT 2: The Leicester City Council Twitter team have assured me that the plaque is in safe storage, and will be replaced as soon the the renovation work is completed in the area.

Link to Leicester City Council contact page: http://www.leicester.gov.uk/contact-us

Postal Address: Leicester City Council ,City Hall, 115 Charles Street, Leicester, LE1 1FZ

Please do what you can to get The Cank Street Well recognised!

Lady Burghclere and Ethel

Detail from an Egyptian mummy at New Walk Museum

Detail from an Egyptian mummy at New Walk Museum

One of my clearest childhood memories is visiting the New Walk Museum, and finding they not only had dinosaurs and holograms, but also Egyptian Mummies! The Egypt section was dark, like a tomb, and a little scary for a young lad such as myself, but I was fascinated.

Later, when I joined up for the Natural History Sunday Club, we would always find some time to wander through the Egypt display. They have Royal mummies, funereal urns, and even a mummified cat!

Alas, childhood gave way to other, more important, things (or so they seemed at the time!). Rock ‘n’ Roll. Girls. Computers. Howard Carter and his ilk had to take a back seat for a while. But they never completely left.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I found this blog: http://ladyburghclereandethel.com/

A friend has found letters to her grandmother, Elsie Merrall,  from Ethel North, lady’s maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, the elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon! You probably know that Lord Carnarvon is not only the business-partner of Howard Carter, discoverer of Tutankhamen’s tomb, but also the inspiration for the UK TV series Downton Abbey.

Ethel and Lady B travelled the world together, and Ethel wrote many letters and postcards to Elsie, telling of her exploits and adventures, along with commentary on many subjects. These  letters are now being compiled into a book, ready for publication.

To find out more, including how to get hold of the book when it is released, visit:

http://ladyburghclereandethel.com

Art – An Update

So, what has been happening in the Wizard’s World of Art?

Firstly, some sad news. Cakes-By-Natalie is closing. My sister-in-law has been making cakes for weddings, birthdays, or any other occasion, and even made me some Sword-And-Sorcery cup-cakes. But due to rising costs of ingredients, and other overheads, she has decided to explore other areas. You can still find her at Snowdrops Online. Less edible, but just as Art!

In better news, Dark Flights Art are continuing to produce pewter jewellery, and are looking into moving into bronze. This is being done alongside their oil-on-canvas fantasy scenes, inspired by Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews.

It is five years since OnLine-OddBall Ola Helland completed his challenge to assemble One Million Giraffes. Starting out as a drunken bet, Ola took to the Internet to get people to submit their drawings, sculptures, tattoos and other giraffe-based art. From the simplest of stick-figures, to beautiful watercolours, people also used lego, plasticine, cocktail sticks, felt-tip pens (on their hands, arms, legs, friend’s faces …), jotter-books filed with scribbled figures, a latte coffee, tangrams, and one person even found a cloud in the shape of a giraffe! The site is still up, so go take a look, and maybe even buy their book!

Melissa Lawrence is still producing hand-crafted cards, stationary and other gifts. Juggling her time with writing her book, she now also produces craft-kits, for you to make your own products from!

Linda Rudkin will be in Harrow this month, giving talks on ‘Colours From Nature’, and offering Workshops on Flower Pounding and Silk Paper Sculpting. Also dates in Leicester, check her website for details.

And in a controversial move, Leicester’s newest Art Installation will feature “No race-based content, political or propaganda content and nothing about crime. It will not feature drugs, alcohol, gambling, lotteries, adult content or third party advertising.” – In other words: Nothing to talk about.

More controversy from Leicester: The Cank Street redevelopment has thoughtfully replaced the marker of the 12th Century Cank Well, (as discussed previously), but have neglected to return the large brass plaque detailing the history of The Cank! Should we rack this up to Leics. City Council’s ineptitude, a bureaucratic error, or something more sinister? Come on Leicester Council, Celebrate your history, and let us celebrate it too!

So there you go. The ups, down, ins, outs and twisty-turny bits of Art. Enjoy.

 

Li’l Singing Suzy

(WARNING: NOT ART! Unless you consider a section of creative writing detailing one man’s journey through the treacherous world of “Purchasing a Car” to be some kind of art.*)

Alas, the time came for the Silver Stallion to face its Fit For Work test (MOT), and upon consultation with its carer (Thorpe Satchville Garage), I was told that they would not be willing to do the amount of surgery that would be needed: “Be more weld than chassis when I’m done. Not gonna happen, mate”. 

A month before the MOT, with a couple of weeks insurance left, I had to yet again enter the murky world known to the brave and foolhardy alike as “buying a second-hand car (shudder)”. I looked online, browsed the auction sites, trawled through many a list of “real bargains” and “reduced for quick sale”. I very nearly bought a copy of Exchange and Mart!

Asking around my social circles and networked contacts (didn’t we used to call them “friends”? Y’know, back in the last millennium?) bore little fruit.

Driving home one afternoon, I remembered a local car dealer: Flora Bros. I’ve driven past them a hundred times, spotted the Polish lads washing cars, and a few dozen “good runners” and “one careful owners” sat on their forecourt. Got to be worth a look.

Indeed, they had several possible options. A couple of Fiat Puntos, a Fiat Idea and a Suzuki Alto were vying for placement in my price range. The Idea was a little on the expensive side, but with low mileage and a full service history, it had to be worth considering. It took three visits before I managed to pluck up the courage to ask for a test drive. “What’s the Suzuki like? Can I take it for a spin?” , “Not until the boss brings it back – he uses it to drive around in.”
To me, this sounded good. He’s not going to use one of the clapped out bangers, is he?

I consulted with my Financial Advisor, and extolled the virtues of the little red car. Being my Dad, he insisted upon seeing it for himself before lending me the money. Luckily, he agreed with my assessment: despite the higher mileage, it looked in good condition, drove well, and being from a local dealer with their own mechanics, it should be reliable. They agreed to put he Silver Stallion out to stud (Yeah, I know, he’s off to the Glue Factory!), so we shook hands and signed the paperwork.

I am now the proud owner of Li’l Singing Suzy! We’re taking some time to get used to each other, like in any relationship, but so far there have been no major incidents and I think she likes me! The clutch is a bit sharp, and she shudders a bit while idling, and for some reason really doesn’t like going at 40-50 mph. She is a little lacking in the parcel shelf department, but this can be resolved, and I do miss the sheer number of pockets, alcoves, and general storage-sections of the Ebony Goddess (but I can’t mention her in Suzy’s presence. Suzy has more space overall, so we’re good).

When she’s in the mood, I’ll get some photos. For now, you’ll have to be content to know that the first couple of weeks have gone well, and I look forward to many more miles!

*Yes, I know this wasn’t going to be a car blog. But apart from the railway bridge with its new “feet” mural, there’s not much Art going on right now.

The Dark Art of Java Programming

To add another string to my bow, I have decided to learn how to write apps for the Android operating system (For those not in the know, there are basically 3 types of smart-phone/tablet: 1) Windows Phone/Tablet (Microsoft), 2) iPhone/iPad (Apple) and 3) Android (made by Google). if your smart-phone is not an iPhone, and is not Windows, it is almost certainly running Android).

Android

Android

The base code for writing programs for Android is called Java. You may have seen Java Updates in the corner of your PC screen. It is a well established computer language, and is used in all manner of ways on web-pages. You may also have seen this chirpy fellow on phones, apps, and elsewhere. He is the mascot/logo for Android. Wherever you see him, you know that you are looking at something for the Android system.

So, back to writing apps. I learnt some basic programming a long time ago, in a language known, appropriately, as BASIC. While it still exists, BASIC is not used very much any more, as languages have evolved, and new, better ways of writing code have been developed alongside new technologies.

Java was originally called Oak, and was developed for Interactive televisions in the early 1990s, but was far ahead of its time. It was renamed in honour of the large amounts of coffee drunk by the development team, and published by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Quickly included into most Web Browsers, Java Applets (small sections of Java code) became very popular for adding interactive features to web pages.
But enough of its history. What of its future? In particular, its future in my hands!

First, I needed a goal. What was my App going to do? I decided upon a Character Reference Sheet for D&D.* To play the game, each player needs to keep track of their Character’s capabilities and skills. Each Character has a Profession, which gives them access to unique abilities (such as a Wizard’s ability to learn Arcane Spells, or a Warrior’s rapidly advancing combat capability). Add in their Power Levels, Hit Points (how many times they can be ‘hit’ in combat before succumbing to their injuries), and several other things that need recording, and it seemed like a reasonable task, that could be built up piece by piece.

Character Sheet App

Character Sheet App

So, I’ve been reading through tutorials, looking over examples, and typing up my own code. After what seems like months of tracking down error messages, figuring why what looks to be correct code produces garbled output (or no output at all!), and generally hammering my head on my keyboard for hours on end, I have produced a simple program that records and displays some of the more important facts and figures needed. I have learnt a lot along the way, including many ways NOT to do things, and as the app grows, I find myself having to rewrite it from scratch, trying to reuse as much code as possible under new structures, as the old code becomes tangled and unwieldy.

I did have a chat over a beer with a friend who knows a lot more about this that I do, and he has pointed me in the right direction in several parts of the program. Hopefully, the next version will be tidy, efficient, and cover most of what is required!

If anyone is interested in a copy of the App, they can contact me at the usual email address: support@thecrystalwizard.co.uk

(Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Photos and names blagged unceremoniously from one of the tutorials I found very helpful: )

*Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop Role Playing game where players take on the roles of Warriors and Wizards to do battle against Evil foes such as Goblins, Orcs and Dragons.