Spread Labels, the Mutant Algorithm

Spread Labels

‘How much detail do we have to include?’
The teacher glanced at his half-finished gouache picture. ‘Just put down what you see – or enough of it to allow the viewer to imagine what you are seeing now.’

Marcus stared at the objects in front of him; a wine bottle, a ceramic mug holding three pens, and half a red cabbage.
‘But the label’, he began, ‘it’s so elegant, I don’t want to just put down a dark block. And I don’t know how to capture that texture.’

Miss Carter casually picked up the bottle and inspected the label, aware that this would annoy her students. ‘Yes, I see.’ She held the bottle up and asked if anybody in the class could suggest a means of capturing the odd appearance. ‘Look, you’ve got a matt black ground with elongated club shapes picked out in a gloss finish. Do you just paint highlights or can you think of another way?’

Not bothering to wait for an answer, she carefully placed the bottle down in the same spot and wandered over to help one of the other lads in the class.

The art studio had the usual collection of old textbooks and glossy magazines; leafing through one of these, Marcus found a car advert which consisted of a small red square on a page filled with dark blue. He tore the page out, then proceeded to cut a rectangular section from it, planning to add this to his still-life instead of trying to depict the label. But the piece was too large; and just as he was about to trim the edges, one of his friends came up to admire the painting.

‘Is this going to stick out, like a real 3-D bottle?’
‘Nice one’ said Marcus; ‘It is now!’

The teacher was unimpressed. ‘It looks like a mistake’ she said, looking at the protruding arch of glossy black paper. ‘And it will be damaged in storage. Keeping it flat might have been better.’

With a sullen gaze, he turned away. ‘Better just dump it in the bin, then’ he said. But the next day he returned to the studio, reluctant to throw away this piece that contained so many hours of work. The picture was nowhere to be seen; anxiously he looked under piles of half-finished works by his classmates, and then remembered his flippant remark of the previous day. There in the bin, he saw his picture – torn carefully into four pieces, the black glossy square flapping loose at a ragged edge.

Stunned, he gathered the sheets together and wandered down the corridor to the common room, ready to burst in and deliver an angry tirade against the teacher. But the only other students there were people he hardly knew, so he contented himself with laying the pieces on a table and trying to work out some way to repair the picture.

One of the others got up and made to leave the room; glancing at Marcus, he offered a careless ‘Hi’ and held out the latest ‘New Scientist’ which carried a lead story about a chemical called Novichok. After reading this article – or the little of it he was able to understand – he then started browsing through some of the chemistry textbooks on the common room shelf.

A week later he was back in the art studio, starting all over again with his still life. The teacher was scornful, saying that he would never have enough time to complete the piece for the end-of-year exam show. ‘Can I submit the picture I was working on last week instead, then?’ he asked, moving the drawing to reveal the amended still life that she had destroyed.

He held up the work; the four quarters had been neatly trimmed to form uniform rectangles and stuck together, each image having been rotated so that the picture had an abstract, architectural quality. Along the edges of the piece he had drawn a set of scales, linear and logarithmic; and spreading across the whole picture were seven curved white lines forming a set of boundaries, like a map. Along the top of the piece, a series of letters cut from magazines spelled out ‘phase diagram novichok’.

Behold, the Mutant Algorithm

Gradually, the components of the mutant algorithm
Converge and intersect; the student’s hand is given
To demonstrate how Francis Bacon slashed the canvas
That night, we dined on steak and mashed potato

And later, drifting along the quiet avenue
Where huge swathes of Himalayan balsam
Manage to confuse the darting bees, whose dainty
Map of ultraviolet roads recall somebody’s name, and
Persuade each one to stay another languid night.

There’s just too much at stake; a flash of understanding
Cuts through the catalogue of lies
 Whose framework makes us wonder how the latent
Energy reveals the staggered biorhythms
Of all my personalities. One day soon, we’ll rendezvous

To sip the liquid happiness that occupies
The flower’s distant throat. Somewhere inside
The hollow antiprism we find the gleaming spines
That wait in vain to vaccinate us all against the truth.

The Awkward Customeuse

Journal Entry, Sat 6 Mar 2003: Last night the Twisted Wheel Soul Club was at Wells Fargo so MSC went to meet at the Legends Piano Bar. Not most suitable.
B- suggested that we approach one of the pub landlords in town – they are normally closed at weekends cos of their links to office workers.

Have just heard on the news that Adam Faith has died at age 62. But wasn’t it he who told everybody to start pension plans at the age of 12?
Last night went back to Deans Road on the 2 a.m. bus, which was awful; some dreadful girl sat behind us kept squawking that she was an accountant and owned her own house.

Fri 17 Oct 2003:   Discreetly summoned to SP’s office for a ticking-off about my memo re: warehouse stocks. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ he asked wearily, ‘Has someone put you up to this?’

I had noticed that we had 7 or 8 pallets, each holding about 125 kg of material which had passed its ‘Use By’ date. When I checked the retain sample, it appeared that the coating had settled out during storage to give a thick sludge, so it cold not be applied by brush or spray. So I sent a memo round saying that this material needs to be removed from the warehouse and quarantined.

What I should have said was ‘We are due to have the British Standards Quality inspection next week, and if they decide to examine these materials they will find them to be out of date. And it’s my signature on the Certificate of Conformity, so I don’t want to be blamed for a load of redundant stock.’

Fri 31 May 2003:   At work, typed up Lucchini meeting notes.

Asked Gill W to do DSC testing of vinyl resin tower paint and Becker’s tower paint – both gave similar exotherms.
Gill H asked if I was planning to go to Surfex, and then asked if I had been told about the impending reshuffle of the QC dept, uniting the SCD and EPD parts of the firm.

Last night had a Brie-and-pork-pie salad, went to bed early, had a long and convincing dream about meeting Steve Rhead; apparently, we were living not far from each other and ended up shopping in Manchester.

Jubilee and World Cup weekend.
US and UK nationals living in India and Pakistan are being advised to leave those countries.

Senegal beat France in opening world cup match.

The Awkward Customer

She had a prim little mouth
And a tight little hole
Rejoicing in the dry frustration
Of promises she’ll never try to make
From the empty basket of her desiccated soul

She wears resentment like mascara
Peering through tight little eyes
So as not to squander precious sight
On a sinful, undeserving world
Where satellites of evil rule the night

She likes to think that we believed
That she was bored with wickedness and vice;
Debauchery was such a drag,
And anyway, she’s seen it all before. But now
Behold her, fuming with distaste.

And I don’t suppose she’ll ever die, for
That would mean surrendering
To self-indulgent idleness. Without her
Would the cold grey world
Have any greater burden of distress?

Covid Mask Fiasco

01 August 2020 – It’s Saturday morning and I’m watching the Horror Channel on TV, which is showing previews of this week’s menu: marauding psychopaths, mutant zombies, witchcraft, aliens, severed limbs and demonic possession.

However, this catalogue of nightmares is wholesome and reassuring compared to the real stories which have dominated the TV news schedules over the past week or so.

We have the ongoing Covid-19 saga, which has killed about 46,000 people in the UK and 156,000 in the US. Boris Johnson was recently telling us that we could carry on socialising in pubs and restaurants, with a government subsidy offered to persuade people to dine out; but on Thursday night it was announced that restrictions would be imposed on residents in Greater Manchester and nearby districts, prohibiting visits between households.
About 4 million citizen-units are affected, many of them Muslims who were gearing up for a weekend celebration of Eid, with large family gatherings planned. And since the weather has been glorious, huge crowds have appeared on the beaches at Brighton and Bournemouth.

Three teenagers have been convicted of manslaughter following the death of a police officer who ended up tangled in a tow-rope attached to their getaway car. The three youngsters are career criminals from a traveller family, who went to great lengths to obstruct the police enquiry and intimidate jury members at the trial. The appalling details of this case, and the resulting sentences (less than 20 years) are described as being an insult to the memory of a public servant.

Meanwhile, the government has nominated several distinguished people for elevation to the house of Lords, among them Jo Johnson (former Minister for Science and brother of Boris) and Evgeny Lebedev, media mogul and socialite. We have to wonder how these assorted characters will improve the lives of UK citizens, and if they will insist on being paid their daily attendance fee.

02 August 2020 – It’s Sunday morning, and the news is full of speculation that new travel restrictions will be imposed on London to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The cabinet is also considering telling over-fifties to stay at home instead of socialising or going to work. And science adviser Graham Medley has provoked widespread alarm by suggesting that in order to reopen schools in September, it may be necessary to close all the pubs again.

03 August 2020 – A ‘major incident’ has been declared in Manchester, just days after residents were ordered to refrain from gathering in each other’s houses and gardens. We are being assured that this is simply a legal mechanism to enable local agencies to work together to coordinate their public health activities.

A Conservative MP has been arrested following allegations of rape, but his identity is being kept secret and he has not been suspended by the party. The chief whips have failed to take any action on behalf of the alleged victim, so she went to the police. Furious online debate ensued, with some people saying that he should be named and suspended (as would be the case with someone in any other profession) while others point out that this step would risk disclosing the identity of his accuser and putting her at risk.

05 August 2020 – For three weeks I have been suffering from lower back pain, one week bad enough to keep me off work and largely in bed. Before getting up, I raise my knees and rock gently from side-to-side to restore some mobility to my back. Then I use Voltarol cream (diclofenac 1.16%) and Naproxen tablets (250mg) to bring me to life before I can start work.

Yesterday a massive explosion destroyed the port area in Beirut, killing over 100 and injuring thousands of people. Video footage showed a series of small blasts before a huge blast occurred, creating a mushroom cloud and shock waves. The explosion was blamed on a warehouse containing over 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate and destroyed most of the wheat supply for Lebanon which was being stored nearby.

06 August 2020 – The anniversary of Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was used in 1945 to bring the second World War to an end. Immediate casualties numbered about 140,000; a similar number of people suffered ongoing health problems due to radiation poisoning.

The UK government has announced a shake-up of planning law to enable construction of more housing. This has generated lots of debate about the merits of building projects. However, the entire UK economy is built on one basic idea, that housing is an asset which will always increase in value. Therefore, the supply of property must always be kept significantly below demand, to guarantee upwards pressure on house prices; and so there will certainly be lots of meetings and reports, but very little in the way of actual building work.

08 August 2020 – The recent news stories are about healthcare: the UK government recently ordered 50 million protective face masks for NHS workers, but when these eventually arrived they were found to be unsatisfactory because they had ear-loops instead of head-bands.

And by an amazing coincidence, the company supplying these items of PPE turned out to be Ayanda Capital, an obscure firm based in a tax haven, whose shareholders include some staunch brexiteers and close friends of our glorious leader Boris Johnson.

We also had the entertaining spectacle of 750,000 unused Covid-19 testing kits being recalled due to safety concerns. The kits were supplied by  a firm called Randox, who are advised by Tory MP Owen Paterson. Randox must be a terrific firm, since they were awarded the contract for these kits without needing to submit a tender!
Randox was also the firm used by UK police forces to test blood samples in criminal cases, and it was found that the laboratories had been engaged in ‘data manipulation’…several prosecutions have been overturned and it is suspected that there may be thousands of unreliable test results waiting to be uncovered.