Simian Substitute Site for June 2024: Kai's Monkey Business

Kai's Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2024

Books: We're only a short way into the audiobook Your Face Belongs To Us, written and read by New York Times journalist Kashmir Hill, but it's already turning out to be quite the rollercoaster ride. Its subtitle - A Secretive Startup Quest To End Privacy As We Know It – hints that it’s going to be another one of those True Tech Crime books that we’ve enjoyed before (see also: Fancy Bear Goes Phishing). It begins with Hill discovering the existence of Clearview AI, a spookily accurate face detection program. Alarmed by the possibility of being able to identify anyone from a single snapshot, she tries to investigate it further, but is shut down every time she gets close. From there, we flash back to the story of a pair of right wing tech bros who, somewhat predictably, are the people behind its development. And just as we think we’ve got a handle on the timeline, Hill throws up a 350 BC caption on screen like we’re in an episode of Doctor Who or something, and goes deep into the history of dumb people assuming you can judge human character from facial structure, from Aristotle onwards. It’s a book that covers a huge number of contemporary hot button topics, but does it with the lightest of touches. At least, that’s how it feels three chapters in, and I hope it stays that way.

Music: "Did you know that Sexy Sadie was originally about the Maharishi?" asks The BBG. Well, actually, yes I did, though it turns out it was news to her. She discovered this towards the end of the Liverpool multimedia exhibition The Beatles Story, which we were visiting as part of a Christmas present from my sister (ta!). But that made me realise that the Beatles didn’t really have a story: they had hundreds of stories that intersected in various ways. And even an exhibition the size of a city block could never hope to cover all those stories to everyone’s satisfaction. This exhibition partly acknowledges that by putting all the important stuff in front of you, and relegating much of the other material to the audio guide, so you can choose to listen to it or not. For example, I don’t think there’s anything in the exhibition proper about the existence of Hey Jude. Still, the large number of stories we get make for an enjoyable couple of hours, enhanced by the substantial afternoon tea that was part of our package. Inevitably, the gift shop at the end is mostly full of Beatles-branded tat, but at least I was able to pick up that remastered copy of Revolver I’ve been promising myself for a while now.

Travel: And a few more highlights from our recent flying visit to Liverpool, with apologies to Eddie and Lee for not managing to touch base with them while we were in town. Aside from The Beatles Story, we did a couple more music related things. Over at the Jacaranda pub (which itself played its part in the Fab Four's early days), they're regularly running a fascinating event in their upstairs record shop called the Vinyl Listening Bar, where they play vinyl albums while pairing them with specially designed cocktails. The cocktails are excellent, but the noise leakage from downstairs stops you particularly enjoying the albums. Basically, I’d like someone in London to steal this idea and do it better. A slightly more successful musical event was the gloriously named Shit Indie Disco at Electrik Warehouse, although this being Liverpool they tried to persuade us at one point that Twist And Shout was an indie classic. In terms of pure touristy stuff, the tour to the top of the Royal Liver Building is worth the trek, and not just for the views. Finally, of the various beer joints we ended up in, we can recommend copying our crawl around the Baltic Triangle, taking in Baltic Fleet, Black Lodge Brewing, Love Lane Brewery and the one-of-a-kind Hobo Kiosk.

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Circumresurrecting Iceland part 2

Whenever I see this picture, in my head I'm hearing one of those bits from Monty Python & The Holy Grail where they're shouting 'Run away! Run away!' With all the coconut shell noises, obviously.Thursday 28th March (continued from here)

It’s Good Thursday in Reykjavik. Not just because it’s the day before Good Friday – it’s a tradition they have on the last Thursday of every month, when the city’s art galleries and museums all do something special. Some reduce their entrance prices, others stay open late. The House Of Collections (a name I keep accidentally misspelling like it’s some sort of bondage dungeon) is doing both, and one of their exhibitions appears to be ridiculously topical.

Flight from volcanic eruptions – sketches and paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of 50-60 images – paintings, watercolours and sketches – all on the same theme: a volcano going off, and people and horses running away from it. The promotional material for the exhibit is a bit deceptive, as it makes it sound like Jónsson made pictures of nothing else, like the art equivalent of that guy who only ever wrote stories about Roy Orbison wrapped in clingfilm. In fact, the House has cherrypicked these images from Jónsson’s wide-ranging oeuvre. Also, because much of what’s on display is in sketch form, the whole exhibit fits in a single room.

Still, at least I now know what the first picture on this page is going to be.

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Simian Substitute Site for May 2024: Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic Ornament

Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic OrnamentMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2024

Books: Evelyn Waugh penned these words: ‘Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.’ It is daunting to consider the sudden wave of disillusionment that must have swept over such a brilliant man and caused him to write such balls. Sorry, Jane Austen, but the award for Best Opening Lines Of Any Book Ever has to be passed on to David Niven, for the beginning of his 1971 memoir The Moon’s A Balloon. I'm a bit late to this one, I admit, but I was on a train looking for something to read and it was on offer for a quid on Google Play. It feels like the template for what we expect from celebrity autobiographies these days, a combination of gossipy chattiness and surprising frankness. There's no denying that Niven is great at anecdotes, and it feels churlish to complain that they're all about people - I was hoping for a bit more about the films he was in. I ploughed through the lengthy section on his wartime experiences, looking forward to a discussion of his first post-war job, the magnificent A Matter Of Life And Death: a film he literally dismisses in a single paragraph. It's possible his followup, Bring On The Empty Horses, may have more about the movies: let's see if Google Play knock that one down to a quid as well.

Food and Drink: Obviously you should never kick a gift horse in the bollocks, but I'm going to grumble about Virgin Experience Days in general and one in particular. Having been given a couple of these over the past year, I've started to feel sorry for the people who buy them as gifts, who are given limited information about what they're buying - it's only when the recipient has to redeem the vouchers that the catches become apparent. Let's take a look at, say, Countryside Break with Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting at Chapel Down for Two: a voucher covering a combination of a night in a country hotel, followed by a morning's worth of fun stuff at one of Britain's best vineyards. And then you try to book the bugger. How busy is the hotel? It's frequently booked out for fancy weddings, so there are only limited weekends when they can take you. Is the hotel near the vineyard? No, it's about four miles away. Can you get a bus? They're massively infrequent and slow. Can you get a taxi? The number of cabs in the village appears to be in single figures, and you need to book them a week or more in advance. Can you drive there? Even if we could, let me point you at the words Wine Tasting in the event title. Quite a few of Virgin's offerings seem to involve getting two unconnected things, packaging them together, and leaving it to the recipient to sort out the nearly impossible logistics of co-ordinating the pair. Having said that, the Chapel Down tour is absolutely delightful and worth doing on its own, but maybe make your own arrangements for getting there.

Music: Probably time for another one of these. YouTube links included for the non-Spotifiers among you.
1. Whenever Ringo Shiina has a new album on the way, you can always count on its first single to be something that stops you dead in your tracks. No denying that she's done that again.
2. I'm liking Lucy Rose's singles when they turn up on the radio, but find a whole album of what she does a bit too much. Those singles, though...
3. It’d be unfair to describe Norman Pain's contribution to the Sindhu Sesh series as a suicide note you can dance to, because you can’t really dance to it.
4. Not really familiar with Anna Erhard before now, but her satirical takedown of Arseholes On TripAdvisor has a jolly Wet Leggish energy to it. Hey, remember them?
5. "Hi, I'm Shabaka Hutchings, and I've decided to give up the saxophone I'm world famous for and just play Japanese flutes now." That's a hell of a career move.
6. Tom Cardy's track is the only one on this playlist that wasn't released this year, but I've always been a sucker for a song that tells a story.
7. For Caroline Polachek, see Lucy Rose above.
8. I've only really known Chilly Gonzales before for his piano work, so I'm very much enjoying his Shabaka-like pivot to classical music criticism.
9. This Ed Harcourt song's been knocking around for years: a live version of it ended up on Pick Of The Year 2018. Now he's finally got around to recording it in a studio (and naming his new album after it).
10. And finally, Yard Act with the song that was my inevitable earworm during our visit to Chapel Down.

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Circumilluminating Iceland part 1

Our tour guide actually apologised to us for the volcano being 'between eruptions' right now. (photo by The BBG)In March 2019, we put down a deposit on a cruise around the coast of Iceland, to be taken in the summer of 2020. Maybe you can guess how it went from there. Before we could get on the boat, the world was plunged into a pandemic, and we had to postpone the cruise until 2021. And when that date rolled around, we had to postpone it again to 2022. Happily, by 2022 we were all pretending that Covid was over, so we made it over to Iceland and had a terrific time.

But you remember what the travel companies were like back then – they were desperate for people to stop claiming refunds on their cancelled journeys, and postpone them to a later date instead. So they started bribing us. The long and the short of it is, for the last couple of years we’ve had several hundred quid’s worth of credit with Icelandair, which had to be used by late 2024.

So, five years after paying that deposit, we used it to spend Easter in Iceland this year. And you've probably got two questions relating to Icelandic natural phenomena at this point. To get one out of the way immediately: that puff of smoke you can see in an otherwise clear sky in this picture is the closest we got to the Grindavík volcano that's been in the news for a while now. As for your other question - did we see the Northern Lights? - it'll take a couple of days to get around to that.

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BrewDogging #88: Gatwick Airport

How does that work when you're airside, exactly?First Basingstoke, then Exeter, now this: it’s beginning to feel like all of the new BrewDog bars we’re visiting this year are in shopping centres.

I mean, have you seen the duty-free in Gatwick North Terminal lately? I swear it gets bigger and longer every time we fly from there. A good five minutes of walking past shelves full of booze, and not a single decent beer in sight. Still, at least that changes once you get into the departure area... eventually.

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