Victory (Venezia 168)

So much of the modern world seems bent on what feels to me like a selfish isolationism based on ethnic division.  We saw it when communism relinquished its grip on Eastern Europe; Czechs and Slovaks experienced the velvet divorce, whilst Yugoslavia tore itself apart in bloody conflict.  Since then we’ve seen Sudan, Syria, Iraq flare up as the interests of one group are favoured over another.  Scotland came close to leaving the UK, and now we Brits will debate whether to remain in the European Union.

It saddens me.  I’m a great believer in the value of diversity and working together, (yes I’m pro-Europe) but increasingly I feel as if I’m in a minority.  Or perhaps I’m blind to my own selfishness.

Against this its easy to forget that Italy’s relatively recent history is one of unification.  The country didn’t exist until unified following a series of wars in the mid 19th century; Venetia being annexed in 1866 by King Victor Emanuel II in 1866, hence his statue alongside St Mark’s Basin.  The unification has lasted longer than the monarchy as Italy became a republic in 1946.





On the Origin of Melodies*

After yesterday’s shoot with two talented musicians I was interested to learn today about a project that is applying the principles of evolution to the development of music.

If you think about it, music does change over the years, some styles survive whilst others lose popularity, similarly some instruments evolve whilst others change very little.  The violin, whilst having earlier origins, is largely unchanged from the instruments being made in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and whilst it is possible to buy electric violins these have not significantly changed the way the instrument is used.  The guitar by contrast has been transformed by electrification.

Two evolutionary scientists at Imperial College London have turned their attentions away from biology and used their Darwinian expertise to create a computer program that evolves music, and does so in much the same way that the species they study develop and change.

The program initially creates shorts loops of random music, but then by gathering feedback from listeners about those which people seem to like, it learns to abandon those traits which people find discordant or boring, and to create melody and rhythm which is more acceptable.

Initially the progress of the computer program was rapid in making changes but then slowed down to a more gradual rate of refinement.  The project is called DarwinTunes – give it a listen and see if you think it has a future.

Not sure what today’s subject will make of this.  He’s called Dean, he’s Sudanese and he smokes a cool cigarette.

*after Charles Darwin.

Oh, Doctor Beeching!

Growing up in the Fulwell area of Sunderland in the 1960’s meant that the railway played a major part in my life.  The street where I lived ran parallel to the line, so I took for granted the rattle of local passenger trains, the chugging of steam engines and the scream of the occasional express.

The local landmark where we kids used to play was “the green bridge”, a small footbridge over the line that allowed you to peer down at the trains as they passed, feeling the bridge vibrate beneath your feet as they did so. From there you could sneak down cobbled back streets in games of hide and seek, or if feeling really adventurous, find a way onto the now abandoned branch line to swing on ropes and annoy the pigeon keepers in their lofts on the opposite side of the cutting.

Naturally there was a station close by, and so if travelling into town to Josephs’ toy shop or Willie Watson’s sporting goods shop I was as likely to take the train for a few pence as wait for a bus.

Between Seaburn Station ( in Fulwell, not Seaburn, but the nearest stop for the seaside) and the main station in Sunderland there was only one stop, Monkwearmouth, where a magnificent Edwardian building with columned portico stood.  Quite a contrast with the main station, a subterranean study in concrete.

Monkwearmouth Station Museum Original descript...
Monkwearmouth Station Museum Original description: Monkwearmouth Station Built in 1848 now used as a musuem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a time of great change in the railways; the country was criss-crossed with many duplicating routes, built by independent rail operators in the heyday of rail.  Now in the years after WWII, many of these were badly maintained and rarely used.

Enter Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of British Railways (now nationalised), to conduct a study that looked at the thousands of miles of rail and recommended the closure of a third and the reduced usage of still more.  During the 1960’s the government acted on his report causing outrage in the press, and giving Beeching a notoriety that lasts to this day.  Along with the line closures, many stations felt the Beeching axe fall, and in 1967 Monkwearmouth was one of them.

Luckily for this Grade II listed building, it was restored and opened as Monkwearmouth Station Museum in 1973.  Trains continue to pass through but no longer stop there, although in a rich stroke of irony, the opening of the Tyne & Wear Metro line to Sunderland did require another station to be built at St Peter’s, no more than 200 metres away!

It was outside the station that I met Sulaiman, a Sudanese student currently reading linguistics, but hoping to study medicine in due course.  His name means “man of peace”, a quality that has been sadly lacking in his home country for some time.

After yesterday’s extensive photoshoot, my beloved Canon was clearly seeking revenge for the settings on my diopter had changed, presumably as I removed the camera from its bag, resulting in a shot which was not focused as I would have liked, but I still think it’s a nice picture of this fine looking African.