Blog posts

  • Christopher Ironside's Decimal Designs

    Reading this piece about Australia's introduction of decimal currency, it struck me that despite having lived through the process 1 I didn't know anything about who had designed Britain's decimal coins. Thankfully there's a web site about the UK's transition, complete with an account of the (very British) process as seen by Jean Ironside, widow of Christopher Ironside who designed the UK's first set of decimal coinage:

    In the end, after months of to-ing and fro-ing, Christopher finally managed to attend a Royal Mint Advisory Committee meeting. I believe this had not been done before as it was feared designers would become tongue-tied in the face of an eminent gathering which included Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Anthony Wagner and John Betjeman and which was chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Philip. Possibly by now the Mint realised that Christopher's tongue was seldom tied.

    He found the meetings he had with the Committee very helpful. He could pull out a pad of paper and demonstrate what happened to some of their suggestions. Thus time was saved. One recurring problem was Garter King of Arms who had to be satisfied with the accuracy of the heraldry. Christopher used to call on him for clearance from time to time which led to the saying in our house, 'If only Garter could be more elastic'. Year in, year out, the secrecy prevailed. Christopher supposed he was now designing the coins but he did not know. At one point, when answering the telephone to Alan Dowling, I said in desperation, 'Has Christopher won or not?'.

    He paused for a moment. 'You have grounds for great optimism but don't run up a flag. Nothing is certain until the coins are finished and have received Royal Assent'. This exchange sealed our affectionate later enjoyment of Sir Humphrey in the programme Yes Minister.

    1. As it happened, the UK's transition took effect on my 8th birthday. I remember getting a presentational pack of our first decimal coinage as a birthday present.

  • 30 Minutes on: 'The Apartment'

    I haven't seen Billy Wilder's The Apartment in a long time: reading Matt Zoller Seitz's 30 Minutes on: "The Apartment" yesterday on the bus on my way to watch The Big Short 1 reminded me why I ought to rectify that omission. 2

    In the Ordinary Policy Department of Consolidated Life, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, desk number 861, sits C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon), the twitchy, socially awkward hero of "The Apartment." He's a nebbish who will grow into a mensch someday, after a long period of misery that we later learn is mainly self-inflicted. Bud loans his bachelor apartment to married Consolidated executives who need a place to take their girlfriends. He falls in unrequited love with an elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), whose affair with top executive Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is evidence of self-punishing streak as pronounced as Bud's. It isn't until late in the film that we understand where Fran's emotional masochism comes from - that it's part of a recurring destructive pattern of workplace flings that's gotten her drummed out of one job after another.

    When's the last time you saw two lead characters in a romantic comedy with this much complexity? When's the last time you saw a film that was hard to categorize as either a comedy or a drama, but had something to enthrall any thinking adult? […]

    1. FWIW, ‎my review of 'The Big Short'.

    2. Yay iTunes Rental!

  • The Trouble With Superman

    MetaFilter comment of the day week month year: The Trouble With Superman

    My favorite thing is Justice League interactions where Batman is being all growly and gloomy and Superman is all "I LIKE MILK" and, you know, Parks and Rec, but fighting robots and aliens and natural disasters.

    btw, I said this completely off the cuff, but now I'm thinking about it and it is totally true– Batman:Superman::Ron Swanson:Leslie Knope. They disagree fundamentally about almost everything, but by gum they are going to work together to make the world a better place.

    -Batman just wants to be left alone, has vast hoards of gold (wealth)

    -Batman is constantly nauseated by Superman's love of teamwork, but goes along with it because it isn't worth the effort to get out of it (only to do whatever he was going to do anyway, regardless of the plan)

    -Superman would 100% give Batman a present that allowed him to slam his doors shut

    -Superman often has to save Batman from his scary exes

    posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:04 PM on February 8

    Mind. Blown.

  • Concerning the Bodyguard

    Concerning the Bodyguard:

    Based on the short story of the same name by Donald Barthelme (originally published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1978), and read by author Salman Rushdie, "Concerning the Bodyguard" is a story about power, conspiracy, and the overthrow of a dictator in an unknown Near Eastern country. […]

  • A Kind of Magic

    Kieran Healy's musings on living in a world where Apple tries hard to keep mere users from understanding what's going on in the background of their kit are worth a look:

    Arthur C. Clarke's third law of prediction is, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Clarke's premise is that the technology works, but in so sophisticated a way that it is opaque to our meagre understanding. His promise is that, in the future, we will have technologies like this to hand and we will understand them - or at least, understand them enough to relate to and command them rationally.

    What complaints about Apple's software design bring out, I think, is that Clarke only gave us half the story. Any sufficiently broken technology is also indistinguishable from magic. It just works … mostly. When it fails, it presents only a blank face by way of explanation. And when you want to intervene, it offers nothing. The result is that, instead of being the powerful wielder of a magical device, the user is forced back towards magic's traditional role in human societies: the ritual performance of obscurely relevant steps intended to force the Gods to do something.

    One of the reasons I switched to Mac OS X back in the day was that I liked the notion that much of that system's underpinnings had Unix roots, so if all else failed there would be a log file entry somewhere that would at least marked the spot where the stumble occurred and give me some chance of working out what just (didn't) happen and why.

    I like my iPad Mini 1 and my Mac Mini very much but I dread the day when Apple ends up pricing less well-off people out of the market for OS X systems and I have to choose between a locked-down iOS device and switching to something less elegant but more communicative.

    1. It's an ancient first-generation model, so old that it doesn't even have a Retina™ screen let alone a decent amount of RAM, but when it works it's really a delight to use. A nicely designed, very locked-down delight.

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