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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts from June 2007

Smoking

In which the office suddenly becomes a much busier place

Room 3B (IT Office) is – as is standard practice for Room 3Bs and IT Offices, I think – located deep in a remote part of the Head Office building. Not many people pass our door, other than the people in the adjacent rooms. Not many people pop by to say hello, because our office isn’t exactly in a well-trafficked area, it’s not on a busy corridor. Sometimes this is a good thing. We don’t get disturbed much, when we’re busy.*

That’s all about to change. Tonight, the Upstairs Smoking Room closes, and we suddenly will be on a busy corridor – the direct route from most of the office to the new Outdoor Smoking Area – or, the bike shed, as it’s also known. To be fair, it was built specially for the new workplace smoking law. On the other hand, it is definitely a bike shed; there’s a bike rack in it.**

Some of the management are a bit unhappy about this. Not because it might mean extra fraternisation with the IT department, but because of the distance involved, crossing from one side of the building to the other to reach the Outdoor Smoking Area. It might mean smoking breaks being extended by a whole 2 minutes or so, just to cross the office. Me, I don’t particularly care; although if people are going to pass by and say hello more, it can’t be a bad thing.

* Although, of course, you can guarantee that when we do get interrupted, it’ll be when we are busy.

** Update, August 28th 2020: A couple of years after writing this, I came across a copy of the official regulations for what counts as an enclosed area for the purposes of the English smoking-at-work laws, and discovered that in actual fact the smoking-shelter-cum-bike-shed wasn’t actually legally usable as a smoking shelter at all. It had three full-height sides, and therefore in law counted as an enclosed area with no smoking permitted. So there you go.

Floods

In which the waters rise again

Everyone has a flood story at the moment. Lots of people who couldn’t drive home, who had to abandon their cars in the street. People whose houses were cut off, who had to wade home. Phone photos of water, water, everywhere. Some rivers burst their banks last night, and have expended themselves, run out of effort. Other rivers are still rising – our Doncaster branch office was evacuated late this afternoon, and the escaping staff saw rescue officers tying motorboats up in the dry streets, ready for the flood water expected to come.

I’ve stayed dry myself, although at some points last night we were cut off and surrounded by the water, if we’d tried to go out. I slept fitfully, wondering if it would rise more, creep over the front step and into the hallway. And the clouds outside are dark again; still more rain to come.

Tasty

In which we look forward to a delicacy

Science news of the week: scientists have finally invented an odourless breed of durian, the tropical fruit which is popular in the East Indies, but entirely impossible to obtain in Britain. It smells like a potent mix of vomit and custard, and is banned from the cargo holds of every airline because of that. In Malaysia, several people are killed by durian every year, not because of the smell, but because they are large, spiky, and grow high up in trees. My former Malaysian flatmate would send me news clippings about deaths rising at the start of each durian season. Note to European publishers: start getting those durian recipe books ready now!

Underground

In which we’re puzzled over Tintagel and an archaeological definition

If you looked at yesterday’s photos of Tintagel, and read all the tooltip captions and the post tags, you might have noticed that I described one of them as showing a souterrain; or, at least, a souterrain-ish thing. Noone, as far as I know, calls it a souterrain; and I’m not entirely sure why.

I could be wrong here. I don’t have access to an academic library, or a big pile of archaeological literature on the place. So I’m not sure that noone, ever, has said there’s a souterrain at Tintagel. I haven’t found anything yet, though.*

A souterrain is a fairly common thing in British and French archeology. It’s an underground passage, with a bend in the middle. They’re generally found in France, Cornwall, and north-east Scotland; although in Cornwall they’re called fogous. There are scattered examples elsewhere as well. Noone really knows what they’re for. There are plenty of ideas, but all of the ideas have flaws. You could store food there, but it probably wouldn’t keep well, as souterrains don’t have great drainage. Animals: the same problem, and they’d be too awkward for anything other than poultry or sheep to go in and out of. You could hide in it – but attackers would be pretty stupid to go away without checking the big hole in the ground coming out twenty yards from your house. So, noone really knows what they’re for. We could go back to the standard archaeological “I don’t know why this is here” standby – “it had a ritual purpose” – but frankly, we may as well just admit that we don’t know what they were for.

The thing that British souterrains generally have in common, though, is that they were dug in earth. Some may have had above-ground roofs at some point. Most probably had multiple phases of building and rebuilding;** and most were stone-lined at some point in their lives. They had corbelled roofs. A corbelled vault is a bit like an arched vault, but is less sophisticated, and a lot less stable.***

The Tintagel passage, though, isn’t dug into earth. It’s tunnelled through bedrock, with metal-edged tools – which fits the presumed dates of the other souterrains and fogous out there. It has a similar profile to a corbelled vault, but it isn’t one. It’s the right sort of size, though, and it has the characteristic bend in the middle. The bedrock, though, is so far as I can see the only “not a souterrain” factor to it. It’s in the middle of a medieval castle – but a medieval castle built on a site that had been occupied for hundreds of years previously. It’s on top of a rocky headland – if you did want to build a classic earth-dug souterrain, you’d be a bit stuffed, because there isn’t enough depth of earth to tunnel into. Nevertheless, to my eye, it looks just like it should be listed as one, even though the local materials and circumstances were different. Archaeology can be a strange thing, sometimes.

* If you search the web for the phrase tintagel souterrain, yesterday’s post is the top hit already.

** but what long-use buildings don’t?

*** Which is why they’re not used any more. It looks a bit like an arch, but solely with horizontal courses of stone. Wikipedia has some explanatory diagrams.

Arthurian

In which we visit Cornwall

This June was originally going to be Photo Month on this site, given the oodles of photos I took on holiday. Unfortunately, I took so many photos on holiday,* I still haven’t managed to sort through them all yet.

Here’s a few, to be going on with. The Tintagel area. I have more to write about Tintagel.

Medieval arch, Tintagel

Souterrain-like tunnel, Tintagel

Beach, Tintagel

Beach, Tintagel

Church, Tintagel

* 803 in total

Lost terminology

In which a word is snappy but fails to catch on

Jargon changes over the years; bits of it get picked up, some bits become mainstream, and some wither away.

On a trip to Wet Yorkshire the other day, I started thinking: there’s one piece of jargon which I think it’s a shame didn’t get picked up. It’s Charles Babbage‘s term mill, which he used to name something that was, for him, a new concept: a machine which would carry out arithmetic calculations according to a sequence of instructions. Today, we’d call it a computer CPU; but there isn’t really any better term for it other than that awkward three-syllable abbreviation. I’d much rather be talking about the newest Core Duo mill, or Athlon mill; it rolls off the tongue. A twin-mill machine sounds much snappier than a dual-processor one. If you look at one under a microscope, it even looks vaguely like the giant mechanical grids of 19th-century looms,* just like the mills Babbage was originally alluding to. Is there any chance of the word making a come-back? Probably not; but it would be nice if it did.

* I was tempted to take up “loom” and segue into a Doctor Who discussion, but that reference would be too geeky even for me.

Moments Tact Is Important

In which we know when not to start speaking

Moments Tact Is Important, number one: When introducing your partner to the person you fantasise about during sex.

“And this, darling, is the person I fantas… oh, bugger.”

Alarming

In which there is a flood, and the flood sirens stay silent as per specification

A few months back now, the famously low-quality Local Council decided to spend lots and lots of money on flood warning equipment. They picked the most advanced flood warning system they could find, and erected enormous, giant-scale towers around the town, with large banks of speakers on top. They published maps of the town, with circles spattered over them, looking rather like those 1980s maps of nuclear blast radius,* so everyone knew which areas would be able to hear the flood sirens.

And now, with the worst rainfall for years, and roads closed or barely passable all over town, what have the flood sirens done? Absolutely bugger all, of course. Because that’s not the sort of flood they’re designed for. They’re to warn us against floods from the river defences failing, or the New Haven** bursting its banks. Neither have happened, although the New Haven looked to be within a few inches of a breach yesterday. Instead, we have flooding here because the Council don’t bother cleaning the drains out, so all the rainwater puddles on the roads.

* Talking of nuclear blast radius, who was the “psychic” who “predicted” that Hull would be destroyed by a nuclear attack in 1981? I really must look him up some time.

** It’s the “New” bit of the sluggish stream running through town, because it was cut in the sixteenth century.

Sleeping satellite

In which we notice that Google Maps is a step back in time

Google Maps has recently, it seems, spread its high-resolution satellite coverage over much more of the UK than before.* It now covers, for the first time, this part of the world.

I spent quite a while looking at various places around the area, seeing what I could spot; and it quickly became obvious that even though Google have only uploaded the pictures recently, they’re not new pictures. I asked around the office for advice, and as far as we can tell, the pictures are four or five years old. The new cinema next to the Boating Lake is, on Google, an empty field. My car isn’t anywhere to be seen, because I didn’t have a car back then. Wee Dave spotted his own car, outside his old house.** Various other buildings haven’t been built, or are still there on the pictures having been knocked down a few years ago. It’s intriguing; and I can’t help wondering just how Google picks its areas to upload, and if it’s been sitting on these tiles since Google Maps UK first started.

* Thanks to Martijn for mentioning it, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed

** actually, he spotted “the one that the missus wrote off a few years ago”

Infernal machines (part 2)

In which we discuss an artist of invention

The other week, I wrote about W Heath Robinson, and how I first discovered him: illustrating the children’s books of Norman Hunter. He wasn’t as good for the stories, though, as a later illustrator, who is much less well known. His name is George Adamson.*

Adamson’s work is, in a sense, much more mundane and ordinary than even Robinson’s. Robinson is, in his “mechanical” work, an artist of ridiculous things. Adamson, though, makes ridiculous things look ordinary. Like, for example, a Mayor having to take his tea in a bathtub:

The Mayor taking tea in a bathtub

Robinson’s machines look entirely plausible, and their workings are out on show. Adamson’s machinery, though, is hidden away. It’s magical, because you can’t see how it might do what it’s supposed to; it fits Hunter’s descriptions of machines that can do the physically impossible. Some of them are sinister: very 1950s in design, plain cases with the occasional dial or switch, presumably painted grey or pale green. Others are more complicated, but their working is never obvious or spelled out. They are wonderful depictions of machines which never do as they are supposed to.

The Professor

* not to be confused, of course, with George Adamson