26 Jun 2007

Wimbledon and the Hawk-Eye delusion

The Crouch - pic by aluytenuk.
Quite the best part of Roddick v Gimelstob on Monday afternoon was Hawk-Eye doing its stuff.

Court 1, first day: Two enormous men, in enormous shorts, face up to each other across a half-size tennis court. One bounces a ball on the turf and straightens up; the line judges take up their ludicrous Wimbledon Crouch. The ball is tossed into the air, Serve!

Thwack! A flash of agassi-belly, "FAULT!" "15-30"

But what's this? Instead of retiring meekly, a player apologetically raises his hand.

"Mr Gimli", intoned the referee incredulously, "Mr Gimli, son of Thimli, son of McEnroe, is challenging the line call!", then adding rather needlessly: "the call made was: 'out' ".

It was the first ever Hawk-Eye challenge at Wimbledon (and I was there) The crowd loved it. The offending line judge hated it. How he squirmed in his seat as Hawk-Eye blinked into action ("Hawk-Eye operator, actually". Wouldn't that be a great response when quizzed at parties?).

On the big screen a virtual No 1 Court appeared and we gasped as our virtual pov zoomed, dizzily, like google earth, down, down until we took up position a few virtual centimetres above the virtual grass, to see exactly where the virtual ball would bounce. In came the ball. In the background a tiny, virtual line-judge leapt from his virtual seat and a speech bubble yelled 'OUT', but in the foreground we could all see the virtual ball just touching the virtual line - it was in.

Although personally I wasn't convinced: no cloud of virtual dust, see.

Great fun but, at its heart, not entirely honest, for this isn't really a replay. The system isn't really watching to see whether the ball is out or not. It already decided that. This is an animation. It follows the decision, not the other other way round.


Wimbledon sorts people: Centre Court, No.1 or Outside Courts? Members' Enclosure, Debenture Holders' Enclosure or Henman Hill? Food Village, picnic or Pimms & Champagne bar?

Mrs B and I know where we stand, and we headed for the last-named, and a glass each of watery Pimms (no, sir, no Margaritas) where we watched the people. Young people, old people, all middle-class people. To our left a couple were kissing quite passionately, his hand on her leg. The rings on their fingers, showed they were married but not, opined Mrs B confidently, to each other. They were oblivious to our gaze.

Over their heads, on the big screen, a virtual tennis player tucked a virtual tennis ball into her virtual knickers.

One day they'll probably have Hawk-Eye in the bars as well.

21 Jun 2007

The limits of human knowledge

Every once in while, commuting home, I encounter a strange singing duo on Kingston Loop. They have been going a long time now - it might be 15 years since I first saw them - and I'd put them in their 50s or 60s. They make money not from guilt or embarrassment in the way that the young hostel-seekers do, but from their humour: They earn their crust from comedy songs with strange lyrics and not-bad-harmonies, backed up by a thin-sounding guitar; they accept Luncheon Vouchers and Rupees and they collect their money in an omelette pan; they are probably at least half mad; I like them.

They only have two songs, the first is called "This Train" and is a duet:
"This train......."
(...calls at Vauxhall, Queenstown Road, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Town...)

"This train...."
(...is composed of eight coaches and you'll find the guard situated in the middle carriage)

"This train.....".
(...has first class accommodation, for first class ticket-holder only)

"This train....."
They rarely get through the song without being drowned out by the on-board tannoy, which, of course, is the whole point.

I thought of those two, last Tuesday night, while I was listening to the three-quarters-crazy David Gamez opine on the Limits of Human Knowledge at the ICA
"Can you go a go a bit slower, please" was the first question from the floor, as an excitable Gamez rattled through slides of impenetrable powerpoint, gabbling in incomprehensible philosoperese
(....,nonotreallyiveonlygoteightminutestosumupabout300pagersofmynewbooksoI'mjust goingtothrowthisatyouandhopeyougethegistofit")

"Only five minutes, now"), piped up the chairman, helpfully
Just 2 minutes - but fully 17 slides - previously, Gamez had told us there was no such thing as objective time but now, in the face of a watch and an impatient chairman, he folded completely and - was it possible? - he speeded up
(...however, positive scepticism is self-reflexively challenged because it does not place the aspect of positive scepticism above others. This forces the positive sceptic to endorse aspects that directly challenge it, and positive scepticism is led by its own arguments into an unstable sustaining/ negating relationship with the labyrinth of theories around it)
You are quite right: I didn't note that down, I copied it off his website, but I swear that's what he said. He also said that there's no such thing as truth; there's no such thing as knowledge and he couldn't be at all certain that we were real people, rather than aliens.

That last thought was entirely mutual, and there's not a speaker in the land who wouldn't have given an arm and leg to follow a performance as poor as Gamez.

Apart, that is, from Mark Vernon, former priest turned "passionate agnostic" who was next up and who read, entirely devoid of passion, from his script about....well I forget. Or Stuart Sim who promised belligerent atheism, but never came close.

It was a relief when we got to artist (and not philosopher) Emma Kay, who makes art ("digital print, on paper", I ask you) which explores the depths of her own ignorance. The Bible from Memory, Shakespeare from Memory, History from Memory, The Complete Series Two of the Catherine Tate Show from Memory. (OK I made the last one up). Odd, yes, but also oddly compelling, and at least she made sense.

As did - to be fair - the coherent, logical, lyrical and plausible chairman Hilary Lawson, a man whose promise was seemingly cut short in the Lower 6th when he encountered Epimenides' Paradox in a vulnarable moment, and has never being able to shrug it off since.
"The trouble with saying that there is no such thing as objective truth", he lamented, plaintively, "is that the statement in itself sounds awfully like a claim to be an objective truth".
A logical black hole, with a whats-the-point horizon which even a long career in philosophy has not equipped him to overcome.

If there is a limit to human knowledge, it's certain Google haven't heard of it and by the miracle of the net, and the power of Google, the other hit of of the singing duo on the Kinsgton Loop is actually available for you to hear (hat-tip to the OCD-fascinating London Underground blog)

It's a protest song. A protest against not being allowed to have a wash and shave in toilets at Waterloo
"for if you can't have a shave in a toilet", they sing, "then where can you have a shave?"
Now that's question to which answer really is beyond the limits of human knowledge.

9 Jun 2007

Berliner Denkmal

Nicely settled in our friends' garden, with a chilled Weißbier at one elbow, and a bowl of gemischtensnacken at the other, I placed side by side on the table a small-scale bus map and a pictorial tourist plan of the Berlin Wall in 1962.

Studying them intently, I tried to work out whereabouts exactly on our walk from Mexikoplatz to Kleinmachnow we had passed from the old West Berlin into the old DDR

It was hard. Tracing my finger along the along the route I looked back and forth at the two inadequate diagrams... trying to work it out.... looking for some sort of clue... well, now, judging by that bend in the road it must be just about....there!... yes, just where... Hang on, just where Benschallee becomes Karl-Marx-Straße.

A little stupider, but undeterred, I thought hard - trying to visualise it. So that would about around that odd bend in the road...where that strip of woodland was, and the empty lot and.... that memorial to "Berlin, a city divided"....

Our friends' house is just beyond the Berlin city limits; in 2007 this places it outside the dotted line that marks Zone C of the S-Bahn. Twenty years ago the house was outside a twin barbed wire fence and in the DDR. Our friends didn't live there then. It's a brand new house in an always desirable suburb, once the haunt of party workers, since turfed out and banished to small apartments, now the haunt of property developers.

We had a busy weekend. We sailed on Wannsee, toured the Pergamon, walked over Glienicker Bridge inspected Checkpoint Charlie, just missed Knut's visiting hours at the Zoo, tramped the length of the Kudamm (haunted by images of Knut) footsore and dusty until in KaDeWe we bribed the children with €10 each to explore the toy department while Mrs Botogol and I enjoyed smoked salmon, oysters and champagne in the food hall.

Berlin has become a city of symbols and memorials: through the centre snakes a double line of cobbles, marking the path of the wall, of which a few fragments survive (I wondered what would happen if I tried to add to the graffiti - are they still just wall or have they become monuments?) At the site of Checkpoint Charlie a sign still announces that you are leaving the American sector, the Reichstag stands proud, in Friedrichstraße the Topology of Terror records the Nazi history of the old ministry buildings, while near Potzdamerplatz we entered the eerie, disorientating, holocaust memorial, more than one tourist in tears on its blank grey slabs.

Strangest of all monuments: driving from the airport I saw a structure that I couldn't understand, but was sufficiently intriguing for me to note down the text. VVN / Der Toten Mann.

Google tells me the VVN is an anti-nazi organisation, the Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes Der Toten Mann means The dead man.

Did I write it down wrong?

On the last evening we had dinner in a converted mill. It was easy to imagine it lying derelict under the communists' now with its aperitifs, amuse-bouche, ice-buckets, gliding waiters, it was an appropriate symbol for upmarket and sophisticated place that Berlin has become.

Still Germanic though: we had booked a table indoors and our decision to sit on the terrace for a pre-dinner drink caused just a tiny stir... but the Maitre D recovered himself, and ushered us smoothly through with a warm smile. And told us firmly told not sit in any one of the seven tables with the best view. They were all empty, but all Reserviert, all evening.

The menu was big on asparagus, and we did it justice - but not quite brave enough to indulge in that bizarre middle-class English idiom of eating it with our fingers (when in Rome...you use you knife and fork). For main course I had the veal (tasted like chicken) and my companion enjoyed the chicken (tasted like veal). Afterwards we enjoyed A selection of cheeses 125 gram. Don't you love the Germans?

Walking back several bottles of Trockenwein the merrier, a few yards off the road into the woods we came across a war memorial for the citizens of Kleinmachnow who had died for the Fatherland. 1914 to 1918.

There were fresh flowers at the base.

I asked if there were a second world war memorials. "Yes, I have seen one. It's not far from here... It commemorates the fallen Russians"

6 Jun 2007

Work-Life Balance


In the same way that my dog doesn't eat meat*, I don't do those blog-tag, memey things.

However for some reason I was quite taken by outside_jane's journey to work, and I unaccountably resolved to do the same thing. So here it is: my journey from home...

My Street

...to work


Except, not quite the same thing : while she is in the sub-tropical Phillippines, and works in a glamorous dive and surf shop, I am in suburban London and the only surfing I manage is at my desk, between coffee-break and lunchtime. Oh, and in the afternoons.

I'm not sure if this is a good idea, or quite the most tedious post I've ever made on this blog. If for some reason there is anyone still reading, and remotely interested, here's the complete set of pictures - as thumbnails, or as a slideshow

*....because I don't give it any.