Archive for March, 2016

1001 grams: Film Review

March 19, 2016
1001-grams

Scene from the film ‘1001 grams’ showing delegates to the BIPM ‘Kilo Seminar’ holding their respective national kilograms.

It has been one year, 5 months and  23 days  since I posted a trailer for the Bent Hamer movie “1001 grams”. And this week I finally saw the film.

I had sought it out many times with no success, but a couple of weeks ago I managed to obtain a DVD encrypted as DVD Region 1. And so when the DVD arrived, I then needed to buy a new multi-region DVD player just to watch the film!

The story follows Marie, who works at the Norwegian National Measurement Institute, her relationship with her metrologist father, her trip to Paris with the Norwegian prototype of the kilogram, her adventures with the kilogram and her relationship with Pi, a scientist who is now a gardener.

Sadly I have to report that although I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed.

The whimsy and insightful observation that characterise Hamer’s films is certainly there. But whereas it is concentrated in the trailer, it is diluted in the film itself.

The film has many great features:

For this metrologist as least – it had many many laugh-out-loud moments. The casting and characterisation (caricaturisation?) of the delegates to the BIPM meeting (i.e. people like me and my colleagues) is shockingly perfect; the scene in which the camera fleetingly captures two delegates asleep in a seminar is also true to life.

The metrologist’s obsession with minutiae and attention to detail is well-captured, both in Marie’s day-to-day work calibrating ski-slopes and petrol pumps – and in relationship to the kilogram. The moment that the delegates peer in to see the ‘Mother of all kilograms’ is exquisite.

And the cinematography is beautiful. The filming of the metrological artefacts and activities is delightful, and the depiction of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) is charming.

And I have to admit that tears did fill my eyes at the point where the meaning of the film’s title is revealed.

But overall I felt the film was just a little light on content, in both the storyline and dialogue. This may be because I lack Hamer’s Norwegian perspective. Or perhaps silence is a bigger part of personal interactions between Norwegians than it is between English people.

The lingering shots at the start and end of scenes that establish a sense of continuing stillness can eventually become irksome for the non-auteur. After a while I got the sense that these were simply padding to get the film past the 90 minute mark.

But overall, I do not regret the £62 I spent to see the film!

Back in 2014 I wrote:

Bent Hamer’s films about IKEA researchers and retired railwaymen were not really about IKEA researchers or retired railwaymen. And I am sure this film is not really about the kilogram.

It is probably about the same thing that every other Bent Hamer film is about: the weirdness of other people’s ‘normal’ lives, and by implication, the weirdness of our own lives. And how important it is to nonetheless grab whatever happiness we can from the passing moments.

I was right.

You can catch a more detailed review with spoilers here

 

Arctic Sea Ice Update: Spring 2016

March 6, 2016
Graph showing the extent of Arctic Sea Ice in millions of square kilometres. This  has been measured by satellites on almost every day since 1979. It looks as though the Sea Ice Maximum this year will be the lowest ever recorded.

Graph showing the extent of Arctic Sea Ice in millions of square kilometres. This has been measured by satellites on almost every day since 1979. It looks as though the Sea Ice Maximum this year will be the lowest ever recorded. Data courtesy of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Click for a larger version of the graph.

While I have been venturing South and East, the Arctic regions have been a enjoying a mild end to their long winter.

One way to quantify this is to use satellite imagery to measure the extent (in millions of square kilometres) of the area of sea which contains at least 15% of Sea Ice. This figure is called Sea Ice Extent.

When the sea and air are cold, Sea Ice grows quickly and extends over a large area. So this relatively simple measurement provides a ‘proxy’ measure for the severity of the Arctic Winter.

Fortunately we have a continuous record since 1979 and the graph at the head of the page shows this years data in context.

Although the freeze is not quite (it usually ends around the Equinox on March 21st), it looks like the extent of Arctic Sea is the lowest it has been at this time of year – at least since 1979.

This is consistent with the long-term trend which has seen the Maximum Extent of Sea Ice shrink by approximately 40,000 square kilometres per year on average.

This is only half the long-term trend in the Minimum Extent of Sea Ice which occurs every September. This has been shrinking by approximately 83,000 square kilometres per year on average.

Using just a linear extrapolation, we would expect the entire Arctic ocean to be free of Sea Ice in September in just 60 years – by 2076. However there many reasons to expect this to happen much faster.

Personally, I expect see the Arctic ‘ice-free’ in summer in my lifetime, which I am anticipating will end in 2040 at the age of 80.

It is worth noting that the record low extent of the winter freeze is not necessarily an indicator that the summer melt will also reach a record low extent. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre have an excellent discussion of these issues and many more here.

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P.S. Whew: All that and still I managed to avoid the use of the phrase minumum maximum!

Indian Reflections

March 3, 2016
In India with two NPL-India colleagues

In India with two NPL-India colleagues

So I am back home safely and the jet lag is almost gone. Ahhh.

But before the tide of life sweeps away my sandcastle memories, I would like to just record a few thoughts.

The problem is that India begs sweeping epithets such as  ‘chaotic’, ‘different’ or ‘immense’. But it is a place of such complexity and history as to render any comment trite. Anyway, with that in mind: here goes:

1. People were kind and polite. At the conference this may have been because I was a visitor. But many times in the street people helped me rather beyond what I might have expected in England.

2. I was not in a poor part of the city, but I saw poverty beyond anything I have ever seen in the UK: families living on traffic islands: beautiful children – perhaps 4 years old – begging on the street. I don’t have any words to say about this – but seeing the normality of it face-to-face left me physically shocked.

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3. Walking back from the conference on the final evening, I saw students about my son’s age hanging around at the bus stop: boys and girls dressed pretty much like they might be in the UK. One boy was opening an envelope and as I passed, I glanced across and saw the words “CURRICULUM VITAE” at the head of a piece of paper. This made me reflect on the aspirations of these children, and how similar their situation was to that facing children in the UK. Regarding behaviour at bus stops, the Indian children were better behaved!

4. Traffic was different from England. At first I saw only chaos: the roundabouts were gigantic free-for-alls and every car sounded its horn regularly creating a cacophony of beeps which merged into a characteristic sound texture that I can still hear if I close my eyes. But in fact the beeps were more like birdsong than expressions of anger and traffic behaviour was – though very unfamiliar – generally rather civilised. Drivers were tolerant of cyclists.

Street scene: bicycle rickshaw, tuk-tuk, cars, buses and the metro sweep over them all

Street scene: bicycle rickshaw, tuk-tuk, cars, buses and the metro sweep over them all

5. NPL India was set in beautiful grounds, with attractive flower borders and bottle palms.

And petals from the flowers were used to create beautiful borders around the stage.

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And from this idyllic setting NPL-India are trying to serve India’s diverse metrology needs, which are at the same time extremely basic, but also include a satellite industry that has launched a mission to Mars!

Summarising, after the first day or two of – frankly – panic, and after the kind intervention of the Star of India, I began to relax. And I began to see that India was a very different place from the UK: different socially, historically, economically, geographically, culturally and … well, in just about every way you can think of. But that even in the face of these great contrasts, people were people, and that kindness was kindness.

Overall, my visit to India has made me reflect on my extreme good fortune in life. My trials, challenges and tribulations are small on the scale of those facing my Indian colleagues. Overall the experience has made me resolve – if I can – to be kinder and more generous.

 


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