diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 20, 2011

Notes from Boring 2011
A conference at York Hall, Bethnal Green, 19th November 2011

James Ward: Clement Freud goes through the Customs
James is the conference organiser, and he has a lot of early back copies of Which magazine. The very first review was for electric kettles, in which the top three were made by GEC, Swan and Russell Hobbs. Adjusting for inflation, the Swan would cost £30 more today than the most expensive kettle in the Argos catalogue. In a later test, scientists inverted ballpoint pens inside an oven heated to 90°F to simulate regular use inside a suit jacket pocket. Which magazine also deemed it "maddening" that so many cereal packets topple over due to excess empty volume (although Sunnybisk and Shredded Wheat were both commended for not doing this).

Tim Steiner: Hand Dryers - a beginners guide
There are three different kinds of hand dryer, as you will now notice every time you visit a public washroom. Warm air dryers, for example the ubiquitous World Dryer A48, remove more moisture by blowing than heating. Jet air dryers are considerably noisier (90dB for the Excel Xlerator, as opposed to 72dB for the A48). And finally there's the new generation of hand dryer, exemplified by the Dyson Airblade, which has its roots in the Mitsubishi Jet Towel from 1993. A perfectly-targeted presentation.

Chris T-T: My favourite loos from 2010 and 2011
Chris is a folk musician who gets around Europe a lot, especially (it seems) to heavy metal clubs. The VIP urinals at the Doghouse in Dundee are shaped like open mouths with red lipstick, while one continental loo he visited had an aquarium overhead. He's especially offended by mismatched toilets, for example those at the BBC Maida Vale studios with neighbouring black and white seats.

Matthew Crosby: Talking, tweeting, not talking and not tweeting about Nando's Chicken Restaurant
(recycled Edinburgh Fringe routine)


Dr Galit Ferguson: The Question of Budgens - the reorganisation of a local supermarket
Dr G applied academic techniques to the Crouch End branch of Budgens, proprietor Andrew Thornton. She provided photographic evidence of shelving reorganisation, and survey transcripts from customers annoyed that they could no longer find the Red Thai curry sauce or the falafel. In conclusion, she argued, Budgens create their own pricing policy along Gigetian lines. Spot on.

Jon Ronson: Eyes Wide Shut (London Streets : Islington area)
Following Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999, Jon was invited to his mansion near St Albans to rifle through two portakabins full of photographs. They'd been taken to aid the selection of locations for filming, notably for Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut. In one particularly extreme example, a freelance photographer was commissioned to photograph the whole of Commercial Road from the top of a 12ft ladder, then stitch the whole lot together to create a 6m-long panorama. In the end, the relevant scene was filmed on set at Pinewood. Jon's documentary on Stanley Kubrick's Boxes was released in 2008.

Peter Burnett: The Supper Book
Peter diligently chronicled everything he ate and drank in one year - an art form he describes as "potential literature". Rather than read us an extract he focused instead on key themes, such as the bastardisation of food products (eg the Creme Egg lolly, the Kitkat milk drink) and the regional nature of the pasties sold at Gregg's (eg cheese and leek pasties in Wales). "I will be going to Gregg's later" he said, "not to eat but to see what things are called and what people are saying." When I popped down at lunchtime for a Jaffa Cake doughnut (1½m sold), what people were saying was that management have recently moved the bread racks to make way for additional seating, which is a bad idea - "probably for the Olympics, innit?"

Toby Dignum: The square root of 2
Toby led us step by step through a proof that the square root of 2 can't be expressed as a fraction - a proof which led to the murder of its discoverer Hippasus of Metapontium. In its day this was a world-shattering breakthrough, so I'm not sure it counts as boring, but those in the audience with low level algebraic skills may have concurred.

Leila Johnston: About A Boy - the film that taught me what it is to be bored
With the tenth anniversary of this seminal film coming up, Leila revealed some of its key themes, notably the emphasis on being bored. Lead character Will is a flaneur, making a Baudelarian lifestyle choice, she argued, in a way that might resonate with students and the unemployed today. Through her blog she uncovered the key filming locations, mostly in Clerkenwell and Camden but with statistical outliers in TW9 and SW18. Her readers' online pinpointing of Marcus's school as West Hill Primary in Wandsworth led to the inevitable conclusion that "if you want something doing, ask a bored person". Leila's presentation best summed up the innate irrelevant fascination of Boring 2011 - a highpoint.

Matt Parker: Barcodes
Matt, who'd twisted his security wristband into a Mobius strip, described himself as a Number Ninja. He performed a party trick by predicting the last digit of the bar code on a packet of crisps, using checksum arithmetic. He explained precisely why the ASCII codes used to send text messages use 256 different combinations. And he revealed the maths behind QR codes, including how all the information is compressed into only 30% of the design (in the bottom right hand corner) thanks to Reed Solomon polynomial-based error correction.

Greg Stekelman: Personal reflections on London Underground lines
Better known online as The Man Who Fell Asleep, Greg cantered through all eleven tube lines delivering facts, opinions and celebrity titbits. The Piccadilly line looks like a weeping tuning fork, the Circle line was separately named in 1949 and Steve Davis's favourite line is the Central. The best line, apparently, is the Victoria, whereas he's never been on the Waterloo and City and it looks a bit rubbish. A glaring error crept in when he claimed that the Metropolitan line went from Chalfont & Latimer to Cheshunt, but as he's never been out there either we should let him off.

Helen Keen: "There are no boring shuttle flights"
(recycled Edinburgh Fringe routine)


Will Barratt: The Loebner Prize
Every year since 1990 a competition has been held to determine whether computers have sufficient artificial intelligence to pass themselves off as human in conversation - the so-called Turing Test. The most successful computers win by being either defensively boring or programmably paranoid rather than linguistically independent, Will argued, because humans are too easily fooled.

Rhodri Marsden: Small Talk
Like many of us, Rhodri is very bad at small talk. He doesn't have the knack of asking appropriate questions to move a conversation forward. But he does have a book coming out in February. And he did make us laugh.

Josie Long: Ten maligned towns to which I recently took an alternative pop-up comedy protest tour
(future Edinburgh Fringe routine, no doubt) (she went on far too long)


Mark Stevenson: Cynicism
(badly-pitched sweary rant) (like a lead balloon, I'm afraid)


Richard DeDomenici: Health and/or Safety
22 photos illustrating global health and safety malaise, from escalators in Chicago to doorless lifts in Helsinki. Remember how dangerous Routemasters used to be, especially when driven at speed? And have you seen how hazardous the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is in snow - they don't grit it, all those sharp corners.

Dr Felicity Ford: Vending machines of the British Isles - a Sound Diaries project
After a fairly lean spell, Boring 2011 was right back on target with this project from sound-diaries.com. Dr Felicity's audio quest had begun at the Oxford Brookes University coffee vending machine, which we all had a listen to, from the initial whirr to the final plaintive ting. Her Powerpoint played up after this, overlapping the sounds of a Glasgow Coca Cola machine, an Oxford Mini Cheddars vend and a vitamin water dispenser in Reading, but we got the idea. Dr Felicity described her project as a good exemplification of Georges Perec's theory of the infraordinary, which sent the two people sitting either side of me scuttling to their iPhones (which tells you a lot about the conference audience).

Adam Curtis: BBC Television Archives
Adam started out on That's Life, but now makes opinionated documentaries for the BBC like All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. He brought us news of a behind the scenes project at the BBC Archive (a big shed in Perivale) where an employee called Andrew has been staying behind after work to catalogue "the bits between the programmes". Announcements, trails, logos, public information films, that sort of thing. He's watched his way through the first fifty years of this stuff - the stitching between the programmes - and has noted everything down in marvellous detail. Adam treated us to a compilation of archived BBC continuity, like the introductions to party political broadcasts, the spinning globe, a GPO TV Detector Van film and the elegiac closedown sequence at the end of another day on BBC2. "Over on BBC1 now, some space-age hippies feature in the latest episode of Star Trek (except for viewers in Wales)". And then Adam switched completely, to his trademark documentary style, warning of parallels between 1980s Soviet society and our current sleepwalking austerity. We live in an era of boredom, he argued, brought about by innate passivity and exploitable stagnation. So that was a far from cheery note to end on. But a boring note, hell no.

» A wonderful three page sketched summary of Boring 2011 by Eva Lottchen
» The contents of the Boring 2011 goodie bag


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