Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Joseph Henry Blackburne lived here

June 4, 2017


50 Sandrock Road

J. H. Blackburne dominated British chess during the second half of the 19th century, and at one point he was the world’s second most successful player.

He is perhaps best known for losing heavily to Wilhelm Steinitz and for taking it badly, but according to the biography by Tim Harding he was living in 9 Whitbread Road, Brockley at the time of the 1901 census, later moving to 45 Sandrock Road and then number 50 in the same road, where he died on 1 September 1924.


45 Sandrock Road

So number 45 has changed over the years more radically than number 50, but not as radically as the place in 9 Whitbread Road.


Presumed site of 9 Whitbread Road

Now then, it is known that Blackburne was bombed-out during a German raid in the First World War, but the dates are such that it’s unlikely the view above came into being that way.


J. H. Blackburne (1841-1924)

Now then Steinitz apparently lived in Shoreditch, which only adds to my suspicions that he was really Karl Marx on his day off…

How popular is Russia in the UK?

June 4, 2017


We are sometimes asked how popular Russia is among people in Britain.

In 2015, Chatham House reported results from surveys in 2012 and 2014 asking respondents which countries they felt especially favourable and unfavourable towards.   Above, we derive an overall favourability score from (favourable – unfacourable) , take the average of  this 2012 and 2014 and plot it against the change between the two dates.

We see that Russia is out on its own in terms of being unpopular and becoming more so, followed at a respectful distance by Israel.  This is presumably due to a series of notable events in this period: BP, Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, Ukraine, none of which were well received.

Interestingly enough, a BBC poll of about the same period of attitudes to different states in a sample of 22 countries showed Russia as among the least popular but without the same deterioration.

Stationary points of f(x)=x+√x

June 4, 2017

The curves in the pic are f(x) and f'(x).

Question: The function is f(x)=x+√x. Can you find its min or max value? If you calculate f'(x) and put it to 0, you get x=1/4. But draw the curve and there is no such max/min there.

One suggestion:   Clearly f'(x) has two asymptotes at x=0 and y=1 and so can never be 0 for any real value of x. But why does differentiating lead to the result x=1/4? I agree that f(x) = x-√x has a clear minimum there, but it’s a different function. My answer was that since there’s an infinity at x=0 f'(x) is undefined, but I’m not convinced that’s the answer.

OK, so √x is defined as the positive value of x^(1/2).

Let’s see if we can differentiate it:

x = √x√x  where x, √x >= 0.

D(x)  = 1 = 2√x*D(x) => D(x) = 1/(2√x)

So, f'(x) = 1 + 1/(2√x)

if f'(x) =0, then √x = -1/2.  But √x is >= 0 by definition, so there is no solution.

Let’s try to be a little more systematic while staying within the bounds of high school maths.

We consider the function  g(x,c) = x + x^(1/2)

where x^(1/2) = (√x)*(-1)^c

and we choose c to be either 0 or 1.

So g'(x) = 1 + (1/2√x)*(-1)^c

Setting g'(x) = 0 =>

√x = (-1/2)*(-1)^c

But since  √x is positive, c must be 1 rather than 0 for this to have a solution.

So by accepting a solution here we force the original function to be g(x) = x – √x.


Prometheus Bound, Greenwood Theatre 1430 8 February

February 8, 2017



At the end:  chorus–Prometheus–Io

Prometheus Bound certainly made an interesting choice for this year’s KCL Greek Play in Greek.  One question is whether it actually is a play or merely a scene-setting for following parts of a trilogy.  Nothing much happens apart from various characters coming to sympathise with or talk sense into Prometheus and him referring to the injustices he has suffered and the dark secret he knows.

I remember a production at the Soho Theatre where the clientele were expected to be satisfied by a combination of the manly heaving of the hero’s bare breast and chains.  Lots of chains.  But here it wasn’t quite like that.  We had a female Prometheus, and Oceanus, and whichever it is of Force and Violence that doesn’t actually say anything.

More generally, I’m afraid that there was no sign of a solution to the severe problems posed by staging this piece.  It started off with projections of various modern figures, especially Donald Trump, and you could see how Prometheus might be a kind of Nelson Mandela in captivity, but his captors needed him more than he needed them.  Or Trotsky perhaps, who thought he had the earth-shaking prophecy and was a prisoner to his own well-founded fears. But nothing came of this possible line of thought.

Rather than being chained to a cliff with a wedge through her chest, our Prometheus had to top of a table to call her own.  For some reason sound effects and lianas suggested that this was in the jungle somewhere.  Loud sound effects meant you couldn’t hear what was being said, though the Greek verse sounded to be spoken competently enough.  At the end, Prometheus’s final defiance got lost in underwhelming stroboscopic effects..

On the positive side, the entrance of the chorus was effective, as were some of their choreographed moves.  Likewise for Io’s entry and exit, though I’m afraid she did rather remind me of the domovoy from Morphine.  And indeed there were similar surtitling issues, with lots of text appearing some time after the event.

If you ask what I would have done–well, have a much larger chorus and have them sing and dance.  In fact, have them on stage the whole time and have them  hold up the surtitles on placards, to give the idea of a debate of some importance not people  coming on stage and exchanging words about mouldy mythology…But making something out of Prometheus Bound would be difficult with the best performers and technical resources in the world…






Morphine, Etcetera Theatre 7 February

February 8, 2017



Picture from Anna Denshina’s Twitter feed

So let’s think–what problems might there be with staging Bulgakov’s ‘Morphine’, about a country doctor who falls victim to…err…morphine? Well, putting a non-dramatic work on the stage is always problematic–if the author had wanted to write a play he’d have done things differently. And especially in a case like the present, where the original text is in the first person and reflects the hero’s diseased apprehension of reality more than actual happenings between people. The latter is where you need to have things in a play. Here we also have some more objective narration from ‘Notes of a young doctor’ brought in to set the scene as well.

That said, the show combined the Russian tradition of having music in lots of places where you don’t want it with the English one of having characters shuffle on, deliver their lines through a mask of embarrassment, and then shuffle of again. The cast members showed various levels of comfort with appearing on stage and the Russian language…that said, I thought that Anna Danshina put in a good and affecting performance as the love interest called Anna.

There were also sutitling issues–the surtitles contained a lot of text at one go and tended to catch up after the event.  But I suspect the proportion of the audience who neither knew Russian nor the storyline of ‘Morphine’ was rather small…

Daily Mail: Enemies of the People

November 5, 2016


She’s quite right of course–‘Enemies of the Public’ in English is either calqued from Russian or a translation of Ibsen’s En folkefiendeThere is ‘public enemy’ in English but that means something rather different. In French Revolutionary parlance,  ennemi du peuple is (or was) possible, but rather less likely than ennemi public.  I  don’t even know what народный враг would mean in Russian, since народный is strictly positive in its connotations…

‘And the Lord said…’ (Boris Khersonsky)

July 28, 2016

And the Lord said:  Katsap, where is Khokhol thy brother?
And Katsap answered: I am not his keeper Lord
And the Lord said: You sat to eat together
You sang his songs, you put him to the sword!

And Katsap said: Khokhol is himself at fault,
He is a traitor, greedy, he nibbled all the fruit,
He has artillery in the yard and a gun in the vault
And he puts my first-born right into dispute.

And the Lord said: Not first-born, but born to hate!
Forgetting, Katsap, that the Lord is father to you.
For I will say to Peter, who stands at Heaven’s gate
I will say to Peter, not to open to you.

And the Lord said: Turk, where is thy brother, Khach?
And the Turk answered: Am I his keeper, Lord?
And the Lord said: You thought I would not catch
Weeping from the ground, would not hear, not reward.

And the Lord said: Kraut, where is thy brother, Yid?
And Kraut said, I am not his keeper, nay.
And the Lord said: His blood is yelling what you did,
For vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

И сказал Господь: “Кацап, где брат твой, Хохол?”
Ответил Кацап: “Не знаю, я не сторож Хохлу!”
И сказал Господь: “Ты с ним садился за стол,
ты пел его песни и ты толкаешь его во мглу!”

И ответил Кацап: “Хохол – он сам виноват.
Он – предатель, он жадина, он яблоки все надкусил,
у него в огороде пушка, а в шкафу автомат,
он старшему брату, мне, противится что есть сил!”

И сказал Господь: “Ты не старший, ты страшный брат!
Ты забыл, Кацап, что Отец твой – Бог.
Вот скажу Петру, что стоит возле райских врат,
вот скажу Петру, он не пустит тебя на порог.

И сказал Господь: “Турок, где брат твой, Хач?”
И ответил турок “Не знаю! Я не сторож Хачу!”.
И сказал Господь: “От земли возносится плач!
Ты думал, что я не услышу, что я смолчу?”

И сказал Господь: “Фриц, где же брат твой, Жид?”.
И ответил Фриц: “Не знаю, я не сторож Жидам!”
И сказал Господь “Кровь Жида за тебя говорит.
Ибо Мое есть отмщение и Аз воздам.”

An enigmatic pipe fitting

July 25, 2016


At first I thought the problem was just that this thing (whatever it might be) had  come off the soil pipe (as I suppose it is) at the back of the house.

But it turned out to be split.  In fact, the whole point of the iron thing in the middle was to rust and make it split.


Since neither Wickes nor B&Q nor two hardware stores in Lewisham had anything at all similar, it was a case of bodging up a job with plumbers’ putty:


Further investigation shows no sign of such a thing on the Internet. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Certainly the self-splitting pipe fitting doresn’t sound like such a good idea…

Barber Shop, Thomas Lane SE6

July 20, 2016


We present the opening times for this barber’s in Catford, since there doesn’t seem to be any reliable information on the Internet. It was certainly open at 0915 today…and I got a haircut…


Immanuel Kant’s account of beauty

May 17, 2015




We have been asked to explain Kant’s account of beauty, so here goes.

Kant starts off from the idea that the sensation of beauty is both subjective and universal.  It is subjective because it belongs to the subject (perceiver) rather than the object.  In particular, there are no rules that will make the object beautiful to us if we do not perceive it to be so.  It is universal because the statement ‘X is beautiful’ carries the implication ‘I like X and you ought to like X’.  This is different from the normal situation of liking ice-cream for instance where there is no insistence that anyone else should like it.

So how can something–a kind of pleasure–be both subjective and universal.  In Kant’s thought, pleasure is seen as springing from meeting some need (like hunger for instance).  So what need are we talking about here?  Kant suggests that it is the need for understanding.  But beauty is not about understanding as such–Kant gives the example of an innkeeper’s son in a bush imitating a nightingale, which song ceases to be beautiful once he is found out.  Instead it is the promise of understanding that beauty provides.

So that explains how the sensation of beauty can be both subjective and universal.  By analogy with hunger, there is no particular difficulty with saying that the catalogue of things that are beautiful will be different in different times and places, since what will satisfy your hunger (which is surely something real) will depend on what you are used to and what you’ve eaten recently.

Ingenious, or what?