diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 01, 2014

Notes from Boring 2014
A conference at Conway Hall, Holborn, 31st May 2014

10.45 James Ward @iamjamesward: Twenty-Five Cows and a Fork-lift Truck
Conference organiser James explained how browsing through a gallery of modular buildings, and trying to date one of the pictures, led to a Twitter conversation about the precise age of a particular model of Mazda. James realised that certain unnecessary fields of knowledge, for example in the fields of cars, music and football, are deemed by society as acceptable enthusiasms. However ITV once devoted a Saturday night show, namely You Bet, to celebrating unacceptable enthusiasms (such as being able to recognise segments of the tube map in black and white, or identifying actors from The Bill from their facial features or recalling 30 London bus route numbers from their endpoints). The series originated from a German format, Wetten Dass, which included classic blindfold stunts such as identifying the colour of crayons by licking them and part-concealment games in which two children named their friends solely from their bellybuttons. Alas, such extreme hobbying has no place on prime time UK TV today.

11.06 Martin White @martylog: The Unbelievable Journey In A Crazy Aeroplane
Other than James, Martin was the other man at Boring IV wearing a suit. Travelling from London to Berlin one day in 2005, he noticed that Germans give their films extremely literalistic names, for example 'translating' Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang as Eine Zauberhafte Nanny Knall auf Fall in Ein Neues Abenteuer. The title of his talk is what happened to Airplane once the Germans got their hands on it, while The Cable Guy was downgraded to The Annoying Man. Martin used Chomsky's breakdown by syntactic unit to illustrate Brecht's warnings about "culinary theatre", and blamed Hitler for erasing foreign words from German vocabulary.

11.18 Valerie Jamieson @valeriejamieson: Boringology
Valerie works for New Scientist magazine, published locally, and had been charged with investigating the science behind three proverbially tedious scenarios. She visited a Grass Research Centre in Aberystwyth to watch grass grow, and observed one superbreed that you can actually hear extending. More everyday grasses grow 3.5mm an hour, from the bottom up. Ditchwater is not dull if you can see the microscopic zooplankton and diatoms within, as we eventually saw when the appropriate video was sourced from YouTube. Alas we were not able to watch paint dry due to a media fail, but Valerie assured us that all the interesting polymer stuff happens in the first 20 minutes.

11.35 Toby Dignum @dignut: Calendars
Toby, whose Powerpoint skills were the most advanced of any of the participants, gave us a quick run through how the Gregorian calendar came to be. He demonstrated that Walkers crisps always reach their sell-by date on a Saturday, and then led us through John Conway's Doomsday Algorithm. This can be used to determine the day of the week of any given date in the calendar, and is rather nifty, although the speedy summary may have overshot several members of the audience.

11.51 Ali Coote @alisouthsea: Ice Cream Vans
Instead of the chime round-up that many had been hoping for, Ali instead provided in-depth anecdotal analysis from her two summers whipping in the Guildford area. She'd driven a Whitby Morrison Bedford at the time, but most modern vans are direct drive Merc Sprinters. To be a successful ice cream van operative you need a strong bladder, strong mental arithmetic skills, no social life and the ability to whip up the correct air/mix ratio to avoid the unforgivable sin of cornet droop. Things have changed since the early 90s, with the number of vans down from 22000 to just 5000, and chimes now permitted to be played for 12 seconds rather than 4. A fascinatingly personal peep behind the scenes of the ice cream industry.

12.06 Martin Austwick @martinaustwick: Eggz
Martin presented an endearing cartoon paean to the ubiquitous egg, in particular praising its versatility and structural integrity. He also revealed how the #eggchat hashtag had been hijacked by marketeers and how this led indirectly to the creation of the first vegan scotch egg.

12.18 George Egg @georgeegg: Hotel Cookery
George is an anarchist comedian, and presented an inventive routine in which he demonstrated how to cook using supplies and equipment available in a typical hotel bedroom. Two upturned irons on a frame of Gideon Bibles, for example, provided a stove on which he proceeded to fry walnut-topped mini-pancakes. Alternative techniques in George's urban foraging cookbook include heating pasta in a shower cap, custard in a cereal bowl bain marie over the kettle, and a vegetable lasagne (sourced from 212 tubs of UHT milk). We didn't have time for those, and hairdrier-heated popcorn didn't work so well, but George certainly takes survivalist cuisine beyond perceived parameters.

Lunch: Top local locations included the Park Cafe in Red Lion Square, and The Fryer's Delight on Theobalds Road.

1.37 Rhodri Marsden @rhodri: National Anthems
Conference stalwart Rhodri proposed that the unimaginative national anthem is one of Britain's most successful global exports. Having researched 192 national anthems in search of surprising similarities, he was able to play the final bars of 26 (from Afghanistan to Tuvalu), all of which ended with the same three note sequence. Only nine of the 192 national anthems are in a minor key, while 26 mention the glory of death, and as many as 43 reference the country's flag. One of these is Somalia, formerly the shortest national anthem of the lot and with perfectly uplifting lyrics. For sheer musical joy you want Bangladesh, but that's rather complicated and Rhodri couldn't manage that on his mini organ, so he played us Uganda's instead. [two minute audio snippet]

1.57 Francesco Tacchini, Julinka Ebhardt and Will Yates-Johnson @RuffNuff: Space Replay
Three first year students from the Royal College of Art demonstrated (on video) their floating black ball which replays sound after a time delay. The mechanics weigh only 120g, so can be supported by a 3ft sphere of helium, which many have said has echoes of The Prisoner (and the Commodore 64 game The Impossible Mission).

2.07 Andrew Male @AndrewMaleMojo: Eric Clapton's Bookshelf
In what proved the most elegantly constructed argument of the day, Andrew revealed an obsession for Eric's sparse bookshelf, first revealed in the background of an interview scene during a 2010 TV documentary. Its composition concerned him, amplified through further documentary appearances, from the handful of art volumes to a framed cover of a faked Motorsport magazine. By getting some of Eric's books out of the library, Andrew detected the subtext of an artist dwarfed by a more charismatic friend, and deemed the bookshelf at Hurtwood Edge a liminal space in a house of misdeeds.

2.24 Ben Target @BenTarget
Ben recounted his family's history whilst eating cream crackers, before spluttering most of the latter out of his mouth, and revealing that the former was a fake. This proved uproarious to some, but was the conference lowpoint for others.

2.35 Emerald Paston @EmeraldPaston: My list of all the girls and boys names I could think of
Emerald rescued conference bonhomie by revealing a list she drew up during her pre-teenage years of all the names she could think of. That's 523 girls names (arranged alphabetically from Anna to Zena) and 272 boys names (listed irregularly as she thought of them). Emerald endearingly deconstructed her childhood persona by analysing the repetition, ordering and inclusion of various names (Hatshephut, Waynetta, what was she thinking?), and gave fair warning that any future offspring might be lumbered with one of the dodgier classical titles.

2.44 John Grindrod @Grindrod: The Ladybird Book of Modernism
Ah, excellent, time to celebrate the hidden Modernist agenda in Ladybird's output from the 60s and 70s. Seminal titles such as The Story of Houses and Homes and The Public Services: Electricity contained more than their fair share of tall metal frames and sharp concrete corners. Some scenes were unashamedly Brutalist, even Bauhaus, with one particular town planning illustration intrinsically Le Corbusier's vision rendered through the Ladybird prism. Airports, flyovers and cooling towers helped reinforce the modernist message, along with an entire double page devoted to building with reinforced concrete. And if these childhood favourites helped to engender an architectural awakening in their young audience, I don't think any of us who read them back then are complaining. [Ladybird Modernist blogpost 1] [Ladybird Modernist blogpost 2]

2.57 Marc Isaacs: Lift
Marc couldn't attend due to family illness, so instead we got to watch his seminal 2001 film 'Lift', compiled from footage shot in an East London tower block elevator. As an insight into the mundane trials of millennial life, it's hard to beat. [watch all 24 minutes]

Break: A 20 minute pause, after which James hosted a game of Mini 4-in-a-row Connect on the stage (won by Greg Stekelman)

4.00 Marc Dean Quinn @markdeanquinn: Inkjet Printers 1999
There's always one speaker at every Boring Conference who misses the point, and is ramblingly tedious rather than interestingly dull, and then goes on painfully longer than his slot deserves. Marc's non-illustrated routine about obsolete printer technology, with ill-advised audience participation and no planned script, was this year's example.

4.20 Nathaniel Metcalf @natmetcalfe: Deep Roy
Nat revealed his obsession with the diminutive Indian star, who you may never have heard of but you'll have seen, for example in The Never Ending Story or as every Oompa Loompa in Tim Burton's 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. By creating a fan site and filling it with movie stills, Nat gained contact with other Deep Roy fans, mainly members of the great man's immediate family.

4.30 Helen Zaltzmann @helenzaltzman: Cookery Books of the 50s and 60s
Helen's trawl through postwar cookery books revealed a cuisine that was almost entirely brown, including Devilled Tongues, Kidney Scramble and Liver Risotto. More disturbing was the fairly blatant subtext that a woman's place was in the kitchen, and that conjuring up an offal surprise was the route to personal validation. Meals to prepare for hubby included Sherry Ham, which might earn the cook a new Easter bonnet, and conference favourite Spaghetti on Burgers With Grapefruit. Of the last chocolate-related dessert we shall not speak, but let's just say that racial tolerance has moved on a long way in 60 years.

4.41 Vincent Connare @VincentConnare: Comic Sans
And finally, the man who invented Comic Sans came to give a talk on Comic Sans. It emerged thanks to Microsoft Bob, one of the first software packages aimed at the family market, in which users were guided by a dog called Rover speaking in Times New Roman. Vincent thought this a most inappropriate font for a cartoon canine, so was inspired by a Watchman comic to create a hand-drawn font for use in less formal situations. Comic Sans shipped with Windows 95, and kind of snowballed from there, right up to the moment it was used to announce the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012. Vincent now lives in Brixton, and is also the designer of Trebuchet, but didn't mention that because it's not true Boring material. Yes please James, same time next year (but fewer comedians, thanks).

See also: Boring 2011, Boring 2012

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