Saturday, 2 November 2013

Of Welsh Art, Truth and the Uncanny...

We've just got back from a week in Wales. We didn't do a lot while we were there - although we did visit Bodnant garden and Plas Newydd on Anglesey. We did drive out to Aberdaron at the end of the Llyn Peninsula and spent a pleasant afternoon at Porth Oer, or Whistling Sands. The weather was quite stormy and the waves, spectacular. On the way, we stopped near the top of Rhiw Mountain and took a photo of the waves breaking on the beach at Porth Neigwl:

 I took one or two other photos, on the hills just outside Llanberis:

I always look forward to visiting art galleries in North Wales. A lot of very adventurous art is produced round there, I think. We've often visited Harlech Pottery, but Zeb Reynolds'  ceramics were new to me. I've blogged before about Oriel Croesor which is still -I think- as good as it is remote! On our last day we discovered Ffin y Parc gallery, just outside Llanwrst, where there is currently an exhibition of Chloe Holt's work.


I'm still reading Herzog on Herzog and looking for any related material out there on the internet. I've always liked Herzog's assertion that he seeks in his films to expose "ecstatic truth" rather than "an accountant's truth". I came across this short film  which I liked not only for its subject but also on account of its film (and film music) clips:


Talking of truth, while in Wales I picked up a book of simple science experiments for children on a second-hand bookstall. It appealed to the big kid in me. There's all sorts in it - for a start, it shows you how to explore stereoscopic vision by holding up two parallel fingers to create a floating sausage in front of your nose. This one was a bit obvious, I thought. I do it most days. Then there was how to make a planetarium out of a tin can - something I've always fancied doing but never got round to.

What caught my attention most of all, though, as I flicked through the book, was how to multiply on your fingers. It only works for tables from 6 to 10 but it's uncanny.

Assign your fingers a number (same on each hand):
Little finger - 6
Ring finger - 7
Middle finger - 8
Index finger  - 9
Thumb - 10

If you want to know, say, 7 x 8, then look at your hands, palms up.

Touch your left ring finger (7) with your right middle finger (8). Add these two fingers to the total fingers below them. For most people, this should come to five fingers.

Add a zero. 5 becomes 50

For most people, there are 5 fingers in total above the touching fingers. 3 on the left, 2 on the right. Multiply these two numbers together. 3 x 2 = 6

The answer to the multiplication, "seven eights" is 50+6=56.

Uncanny, but it works! Touch any two fingers and do the sums. It's uncanny because it's impossible -well, for a non-mathematician like me- to see why it works. I phoned my son (whose big subject is maths) and asked him if he could find out why it worked. He emailed me a chunk of algebra. Assume the two numbers we want to multiply are a and b:

(((a-5)+(b-5))x10)+((10-a)(10-b)) =
(10a+10b-100)+(100-10a+10b+ab) =

I pondered this until steam came out of my ears - and I thought Daniel had explained it all for me until I tried working it out on my fingers...


Jenny Woolf said...

I never ask mathematicians to explain anything, for exactly the reason that the explanation is inevitably harder than the question! I loved your first two photos. How violently the waves must have been coming in to shore.

Tom Stephenson said...


Brigitta Huegel said...

Dear Dominic,
First: I'm irritated by Tom's somehow compressed passport photo here beside his comment - not the man I know...
Second: I love Shirley Conran's motto: "Life is too short to stuff a mushroom" - so I will either count with my unnumbered ten fingers or stuck in the old rut of doing it in my brain.
Third: beautiful photos - the landscape is very impressing, the stones as veins on grass fascinating.

The Solitary Walker said...

I used to visit Bodnant Gardens years ago and sell their shop gardening books... However, it's all been completely re-landscaped and improved since then.

I love that part of Wales. The Lleyn peninsula is a very special place, and I love Aberdaron, and the little villages round there at the tip, and their associations with RS Thomas. And Bardsey Island is pure magic, with its Celtic Christian history, its almost tangible spirituality and its wildlife.

Yes, I think it's indisputable: 'ecstatic truth' has a better ring to it than 'accountant's truth'!

'Floating sausages'... Are you feeling ok, Dominic? One potato, two potato, three potato, four...

The Weaver of Grass said...

Your father used to show folk how to multiply using that method - I don't know where he got it from. He probably never showed you how to do it because he was scared it would prevent you learning how to multiply 'properly'! Your holiday sounds interesting. The book you bought me for my birthday is certainly fascinating (Patrick Leigh Fermor's 'The Broken Road') - I am stopping reading it until I have had a good look at the Atlas later today because all the countries of the Balkans have changed their boundaries so much that I really am unsure where he is going!

Joanne Noragon said...

I had such a headache last night I went to bed, and came back to your blog this morning. I wanted to enjoy the photos, especially the hill in the middle photo. Are those stone walls? Or outcroppings. Either explanation is fantastical.
My father, the mathematician, taught us that. And the rule of 9's. And, how we have eleven fingers.

Gwil W said...

Thanks for the video Dominic. It leads to others when the time allows.

I always like to read your tales of Wales. Last year I ran up Cader Idris. It's a lovely area when the sun is about.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

JW: Thank you.Yes, the waves were pretty massive.

TS: Quite.

BH: I like the stuffing a mushroom quote.

SW: We've yet to go to Bardsey, which is surprising, since I would very much like to go - and we go to that part of the world a lot.

WG: It's interesting to know that.

JN: Thank you. Stone walls. I knew the 9 times table thing - but 11 fingers? Base 7?

GwilW: A few years ago I took a wrong turn and DROVE up the Cader Idris massif by accident. Not a place to take a family saloon. The lane got narrower and narrower until it petered out into two faint ruts across a boggy field with no place to turn round. It then turned into a rocky gully-cum-stream masquerading a landrover track.

The final stretch of the descent was so steep the brakes refused to hold the car. Our route is shown as a road on maps - and I've just found it on Google Maps.

A Cuban In London said...

I was in western Wales a few years ago and loved it. The landscape, the people and the food are excellent.

Greetings from London.