diamond geezer

 Monday, November 26, 2012

Notes from Boring 2012
A conference at York Hall, Bethnal Green, 25th November 2012

11.35 James Ward @iamjamesward: Unexpected Item In Bagging Area
James is the conference organiser, so he gets to go first. He reminded us that self-service checkouts were first trialled at Marks & Spencer in 2002, rolled out to 11 stores by 2003. A decade later 65% of the population would like to see more, but that doesn't stop shoppers like Will123_ being angered by them. James provided a 7-step guide to using self-service tills, including the iniquities of trying to purchase alcohol, and the ease with which any machine can be fooled into charging for mere cup mushrooms instead of portobello mushrooms. Despite a polite email, NCR apparently refused to divulge why the "bagging area" is so named because this information is confidential. Many punters forget to take their receipts after purchase, so James ended with a gallery montage.

11.55 Peter Fletcher @joyfeed: A Clever Invention
Peter started by acknowledging that front doors contain apertures wide enough for a cat but not tall enough, through which a variety of paper-based items may be pushed (inner portcullis permitting). In July 2011 he collected all 90 items posted through his letter box, weighing a total of 3080g, and catalogued them by type. 51.1% of his mail was addressed, and 8.9% related to takeaway food, mostly pizzas. He interspersed his talk with charming selections from an incident diary he kept whilst a postman in the West Midlands.

12.05 Ben Target @BenTarget: (some performance art)
Imagine a bloke with sandwich-sized sideburns and a Rupert Bear scarf skating repeatedly around the hall whilst a disembodied voice reads from a catalogue of weights and measures. That's ten minutes of my life I'll never get back.

12.22 Leila Johnson @FinalBullet: IBM Tills
Ever since growing up in Greenock, in the heart of Silicon Glen, Leila has been obsessed by technology. She imparted her love of IBM point of sale terminals, 40 of which she's managed to spot and photograph, despite the ever-present risk of being outed by suspicious assistants. These tills are common in Starbucks, Boots and Asda, to name but a few. One particular favourite was the SurePOS 300 with matching hand scanner. If you spot an IBM till in the wild Leila would be delighted if you emailed her or added your photo to her map. [full presentation]

12.35 Ed Ross @wowser: How I Like My Toast
Ed grew up without a toaster, so had to make do with grilled bread (and the occasional toast rack in a hotel). He showed us how to avoid excess condensation by creating a "toast tent". Cooling primes the toast surface for buttering, which in turn optimises glazing with a thin layer of jam. Ed had encouraged his Twitter followers to send him photos of bread toasted on setting number 4, which he was then able to rank graphically in order, with a cheap Asda brand performing worst. He then proposed a simpler scale for toasters, a bit like that found on an iron. This would rise from 'warmed bread' through 'pitta', 'sliced bread', English muffin' and 'sourdough' to 'German rye bread'. Yay for toast.

12.47 Rose George @rosegeorge3: Toilets
Running contrary to the theme of the conference, Rose chose to talk about the least boring object in your house - the toilet. In-house sanitation has added 20 years to our life expectancy, although 2.6bn people still have no toilet and this kills one child in the developing world every 15 seconds. She advised us to wash our hands after handling five pound notes, but declined to tell us about the iniquities of toilet paper. In China, human waste is called nightsoil; in Sweden, it powers cars. Rose urged us to go home and hug our toilet, which may be true but isn't really what you want to hear before lunch.

1.05 Neil Denny @littleatoms: Five Random Breakfasts
This spring Neil went on a scientific road trip across America. Rather than tell us about that, he told us about five breakfasts he'd eaten (and photographed). Basically The Bashful Bull Too is ace, but the International House of Pancakes isn't. [Toby's morning notes]

2.22 Helen Arney @helenarney: Features of the Yamaha PSR-175 Portatune (discontinued)
The PSR-175 was launched in 2003, costing £100 and measuring 931mm×128mm×349mm. Unlikely features included a calculator, a dictionary and a 'DJ' button used to interject hip-hop phrases into the mix. The latter was ably demonstrated, along with the non-variable volume function. Helen's talk was a fine example of an utterly pointless topic brought to life by entertaining discourse.

2.39 Roo Reynolds @rooreynolds: Some Of My Collections In Roughly Chronological Order
Teaspoons first, but it was Lego that took over Roo's life, including an eBay trading empire based on minifigs, and a Lego Studio at home kitted out with neatly sorted drawers and trays. Further collections have been mostly internet-based, especially via Tumblr which is ideal for such things. For example Things Riding On Things, at the heart of which is a matrix showing which animals have been YouTubed riding on what. Another of Roo's Flickr groups catalogues flash photographs taken inside refrigerators using a self-timer. If you attended the conference, you'll be delighted to hear that all the websites referenced are included in a recent blogpost. [Roo's conference summary]

2.58 Greg Stekelman @themanwhofell: Celebheights.com
Greg is in no way insecure about being five foot four, and so shared his fascination for a website where men obsess about the heights of famous people to the nearest quarter inch. Daniel Craig is 5'10.25", apparently, while Nicholas Parsons is fractionally taller. Various obsessive exchanges on the forum were held up for polite ridicule, leading Greg to wonder whether all this pseudo accuracy was really a smokescreen for the discussion of masculinity.

3.11 Charlotte Young @charlotteyoung: 'Too Many Cooks': A Short Study of the Contemporary Celebrity Culinary Expert on Television
If the first celebrity chef was Gross Guillame, a 19th century French baker with a floury face, then Gordon Ramsay and Greg Wallace are merely continuing an age-old tradition. Charlotte was especially unimpressed by the increasingly unrealistic expectations of Messrs Oliver and Blumenthal, and attempted to prove (graphically, exponentially) that 2019 will see the publication of Jamie's One-minute Meals.

3.28 Andrew Male @AndrewMaleMojo: Yellow Lines
Yellow lines have their origin in the Slough Experiment (1955-57), the attempted creation of a "Safety Town" in the Thames Valley. Use of lines for parking restrictions caught on, whereas the Accident Beacon at Crown Corner (which lit red for a week following any fatal road accident) was not repeated elsewhere. Yellow lines are made from chalk, oil, paint, sand and glass beads, in appropriate proportions, and have to be tested for reflectivity, skid resistance, luminosity and durability. The average yellow line lasts three years. Andrew's focus was compromised somewhat by a diversionary investigation of the Festival of Britain, but he provided a poetic elegy to these peripheral urban territories.

3.52 James Brown @jamesjamesbrown: Antiques Road Trip
James Brown founded Loaded magazine, no less. He told us why he really enjoys the multi-faceted format-pile-up of a late-afternoon TV schedule filler.

4.05 Rhodri Marsden @rhodri: A confession
The dulcet tones of Bob Ross's Joy of Painting, a knife-sharpening exposition on QVC, a Turkish Bath Experience infomercial... these were our first glimpses into the peculiar world of ASMR. The acronym stands for Auto Sensory Meridian Response, and a small proportion of the population, Rhodri included, feel a certain tingle when presented with mundane instructional videos such as these. We watched a few snippets, including folding a towel, Dermatologist Role Play and Gentleman's Suit Fitting. ASMR videos might help you relax, or even nod off to sleep, but for most of us they're just a lot of whispering about nothing. [Toby's early afternoon notes]

The Swivelympics
In the breaks, Richard DeDomenici encouraged attendees to try to break the world record for the highest number of rotations in a single self-propelled spin on a standard office chair. James did just that, with a new high of 30.5.
4.50 Elise Bramich @pageantmalarkey: Vampire Numbers
As a numerically obsessed London commuter, Elise has invented a game to play with the numbers on tube carriages. She splits them in two, adding or multiplying the digits, and if they can make equal totals then she's happy. 42015 works, for example, because four and two and zero, and one and five, both make six. She calls them 'Elise numbers', which isn't a proper branch of mathematics, unlike Vampire numbers which have gained a toehold on respectability. These are numbers whose digits can be evenly split, then juggled and multiplied to make the original number, for example 1260=21×60. A brave choice of topic, especially with no visual aids, but I rode home in District line carriage 7025, and that made me smile.

5.00 Emily Webber @ewebber: London Shop Fronts
Emily's been taking photos of London Shop Fronts since 2004, and now has a collection of over 1000 on her website. She has rules. No cars or people must get in the way, and all photos are to be taken straight on, full frontal. In many cases the shops have already disappeared, or changed beyond all recognition. And they're lovely photos - a documentary record of the city as it's lived in today.

5.12 Alice Bell @alicebell: The Science Museum Is Boring
By putting all the really interesting inventions together in the Making Of The Modern World gallery, Alice argued, the rest of the Science Museum has become even more boring. Although the Secret Life Of The Home gallery in the basement is pretty ace, especially the teasmaids. And the fridges. We nearly all ended up with gas fridges, you know, except the electric fridge lobby promoted itself better. And that's why your fridge needs a motor, and why it hums.

5.24 Kathy Clugston @kathyclugston: The Shipping Forecast
Oh wow, a celebrity! Kathy is one of the voices of the Radio 4 shipping forecast, and I'd lain in bed with her the previous night drifting off to sleep as she declared violent storm 11. Now here she was with her soothing voice, and her Shipping Forecast tea towel, to praise the legendary four-times-daily broadcast. We saw a photo of the laserjet used to print out the forecast in the studio. We smiled because Sailing By was written by Ronald Binge. We learned that "imminent" means within the next six hours, "soon" means 6-12 hours and "later" means 12-24. It was revealed that an extended period of silence probably means the announcer is having a coughing fit. And we discovered that Kathy can recite all 31 sea areas in the correct order without notes. She rounded off with a poem from Carol Ann Duffy, and a fun take on the Shipping Forecast by Brian Perkins. A conference highlight. [Toby's late afternoon notes]

5.43 James W Smith @jw_smith: Walking - a presentation
James used to live in Tower Hill and work in Soho, and decided to stay vaguely fit by walking 3.3 miles to work rather than taking public transport. That's 7152 steps, which he used to manage in just under an hour. Recently he recreated that commute, and his peculiar habit of attempting not to swallow any saliva along the way. Exceptionally mundane stuff, lifted by his final uplifting coda urging us to walk more and connect with our environment.


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