Thursday, August 28, 2014

SaaS metrics - good

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mobile tracking for 18 weeks

Study maps network of 7 million cell phone users from
Scientists have constructed a map of a societal communication network based on the mobile phone usage of 7 million individuals during a span of 18 weeks. As the first study to have access to a large amount of direct data of cell phone calls, the results show a counterintuitive requirement of weak ties rather than strong ties to maintain the integrity of a global network. In fact, the scientists found that removing these fragile weak ties can cause a global network to collapse.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eric Newby - A short walk in the Hindu Kush

Eric Newby, who died on Friday aged 86, was the author of some of the best books in the canon of English travel writing, notably A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and Love and War in the Apennines.

Informed by a pin-sharp eye and a self-deprecating persona, Newby's literary style was inspired by the comic portrait of the Englishman abroad presented in the writings of Alexander Kinglake, Robert Byron and Evelyn Waugh. In a preface to the book that made Newby's reputation, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958), Waugh identified the central elements of this humorous tradition: its quintessentially English spirit of amateurism and its tone of ironic understatement.
For Newby's "short walk" was in reality an arduous journey through the more remote parts of Afghanistan, culminating in a dangerous assault on Mir Samir, an unclimbed glacial peak of 20,000ft. The sum of his preparation for the mountaineering ahead was a brief weekend on the Welsh hills.

Some of the book's comedy is genuine, as when tribesmen test the waterproof nature of Newby's watch by immersing it in a goat stew. But much of its humour stems from a self-ridicule that borders on melancholy, such as the description of the exquisite pain Newby suffered from walking in new boots, literally flaying his feet. He was fortunately far tougher than his literary persona suggested.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush climaxes with the most celebrated meeting between travellers since that of Livingstone and Stanley, when a tottering Newby encounters the striding form of Wilfred Thesiger on the banks of the Upper Panjshir.

The meeting is presented as that of inept amateur and professional adventurer, with Thesiger representing a certain Englishness to be both admired and satirised. When Newby and his companion begin blowing up air mattresses to cushion their rocky beds, Thesiger reacts with immortal disdain: "God, you must be a couple of pansies."

George Eric Newby was born in Hammersmith, west London, on December 6 1919.
His father was a partner in a firm of wholesale dressmakers but harboured dreams of escape. As a child he had run away to sea, reaching Millwall before he was recaptured. His nautical ambitions resurfaced as a passion for rowing; he spent the afternoon of his wedding day sculling on the Thames with his best man, missing his honeymoon boat train to Paris.

His tearful bride was a former dress model at Harrods.
Young Eric grew up in Barnes, overlooking the river. From the start, his father passed on to him his own escapist tendencies, notably by reading to him from Arthur Mee's The Children's Colour Book of Lands and Peoples.

Eric was also inspired to travel by hearing a lecture at his school, St Paul's, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of Scott's party and the author of The Worst Journey In The World.
One of his father's frequent fiscal crises, and Eric's persistent failure to pass algebra, saw him removed from St Paul's at 16. He joined an advertising agency, where he spent much of his time riding a bicycle around the office. He was mercifully released from this when his employers lost the Kellogg's account, and in 1938, aged 18, he signed on the four-masted Finnish barque Moshulu, engaged in the 30,000 mile-round grain trade between Ireland and Australia.
Newby later recounted his experiences in his first book, The Last Grain Race (1956), which gave a vivid description of the claustrophobic life of a sailing ship's crew.

It gave notice of his powers of observation, his unforced prose and his taste for the ridiculous. One memorable set-piece describes Newby's attempts at dentistry in a swaying fo'c'sle after an alcoholic Christmas lunch, with most of the molten gutta-percha spilling down the throat of the ailing seaman. Newby also survived several close encounters with death, being once almost swept overboard in a hurricane, the rope stripped from his grasp by the sea "as though a gentle giant had smoothed his hands over my knuckles."

In 1940 Newby joined the Black Watch, serving in India before volunteering for the Special Boat Section, then operating out of Alexandria. In August 1942 his detachment was sent to sabotage a German airfield at Catania in Sicily. This highly dangerous mission, unpromisingly codenamed Operation Whynot, was designed to aid the passage of the Pedestal convoy, bound with vital oil to Malta. When Newby landed from his dinghy it was the first time he had set foot in Europe. The operation was not successful — no one had thought to tell the SBS men that there were 1,000 German troops at the airfield — and Newby was captured by fishermen after failing to rendezvous with the waiting submarine.

He was sent to the prison camp at Fontanellato, in the Po Valley. The camp's hierarchy, he later wrote, resembled that of a public school, divided into the "socially OK and the rest", its kindly headmaster the prison commandant. With his connivance, the prisoners broke out into the countryside after the Italians surrendered in September 1943, Newby hobbling on a broken ankle. He related his subsequent adventures in perhaps his best and most original book, Love and War in the Apennines (1971).

Having been initially helped by his future wife, Wanda, Newby was later sheltered, at great risk, by the Italian peasantry. He passed the winter of 1943 on a farm, clearing the stones from a vast field, and then hid in a cave. Once he met a German officer out butterfly hunting, who recognised Newby but preferred to share a beer rather than ruin a sunny day with the business of war.
The book is studded with exquisite descriptions of weather and landscape, notably an epic climb to the high point of the range. From there Newby saw the whole sweep of the Alps round to the Dolomites and down to the Ligurian Sea.

He was betrayed and captured after five months, and spent the rest of the war at camps in Czechoslovakia and Germany. He was demobilised in 1945 with a Military Cross, belatedly awarded for his bravery during the Sicilian raid.

Newby then worked for MI9, which was helping those who had shielded escaped prisoners. This allowed him to return to Italy and win Wanda Skof for his wife. They were married in the Bardi Chapel of the Church of Santa Croce, Florence, in 1946. Newby afterwards undertook other intelligence work, including the chance identification of Central Asian missile sites while returning by air from the Hindu Kush.

After the war, Newby spent 10 years in his father's dressmaking firm, later recalling his time in Something Wholesale (1962). Although his imagination was engaged by the trade's creations (one memorable horror he christened "Grand Guignol"), he was not suited to the grind of routine and responsibility. Nor did he enjoy the financial uncertainties of business. Once he and his father took a taxi to a meeting with the Inland Revenue; they returned home by bus.

Newby worked for the couture house Worth Paquin from 1955 to 1956 and then, while starting to write, for the publishers Secker & Warburg for three years. He then returned to fashion as the central dress buyer for John Lewis.

In 1963 he and Wanda were the first to travel the 1,200 miles of the Ganges by rowing boat, a journey described in Slowly Down the Ganges (1966). Newby later made the first descent by a European of the Wakwayowkastic, a tributary of the Moose River in Ontario. Thereafter he was travel editor of the Observer from 1964 to 1973, and wrote several more books, often travelling with Wanda.

His later output, however, including The Big Red Train Ride (1978), On The Shores of the Mediterranean (1984) and Round Ireland in Slow Gear (1987), fell markedly away from the exceptional standards he had set with his early work. He seemed to have a gift for distilling the accidental experiences of his youth, but not for searching out new ones. His later writing was often amusing, but lacked freshness, its tone and observations perhaps too professional.

For many years Newby lived in Dorset but he had latterly moved to Surrey. He tended to play up his unworldiness for interviewers, but was actually rather practical, happily pocketing renewals by film companies of their options on Love and War in the Apennines.

He was a highly accomplished photographer; among several collections of his images are What the Traveller Saw (1989) and Learning the Ropes (1999), the photographs of his time aboard Moshulu.
Eric Newby was appointed CBE in 1994.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Geographic Society.
He is survived by his wife and by their son and daughter.

Major Henry Druce - SAS officer who ambushed a German column while dressed in corduroy trousers and a silk top hat.

Major Henry Druce, who has died aged 85, won the DSO and the Croix de Guerre while serving with the SAS behind enemy lines in the Second World War.
In 1944 Druce was serving as a captain in the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment (2 SAS). On August 12, as part of an operation code-named Loyton, he was in command of a small advance party which was dropped into the Vosges. Their objective was to reconnoitre the area, contact the French Resistance, establish a suitable dropping zone for the main group and select targets for future action.

Druce was not supposed to have gone on the mission at all; but, at the last minute, the troop commander lost his nerve and pulled out. Druce was rushed to the airfield, where he was quickly briefed. His party was dropped 40 miles west of Strasbourg in an area of ravines and deeply wooded mountains. He set up a base camp, but had to move out quickly when he discovered that the location had been betrayed to the enemy. A week later he reported that 5,000 German troops were combing the area for them. His difficulties increased when the loss of the group's wireless sets cut communications with their base.

For the next two weeks, Druce's party was hunted and harried, and was often short of food and close to exhaustion. Yet it managed to dodge the German patrols and inflicted casualties on the enemy which were out of all proportion to the size of their force. One morning Druce led his Jeeps into the town of Moussey just as an SS commander was assembling his men. Druce accelerated towards the Germans, opened fire at 40 yards and, having expended several pans of ammunition, took off into the mountains.

He inflicted many casualties and caused so much confusion that 250 troops withdrew from the town in disorder in the belief that a greatly superior force had arrived. On September 29 he and a comrade headed west on foot to the American lines, carrying a Panzer division order of battle which had been passed to them by a Maquis commander. They were challenged by German sentries and passed through the enemy lines three times before handing over the documents.
Druce flew back to England early in October. He was awarded an immediate DSO, and the citation paid tribute to the officer's skill, daring and complete disregard for his own safety.
Henry Carey Druce was born on May 21 1921 in The Hague (his mother was Dutch), and educated at Sherborne and RMC Sandhurst before being commissioned into the Middlesex Regiment. He volunteered for the newly-formed Glider Pilot Regiment and was posted to 21st Independent Parachute Company.

He was fluent in French, Dutch and Flemish and was seconded to MI6 in 1943; but his service in Holland was cut short when his cover was blown by a Dutch agent who turned out to be working for the Germans. After Operation Loyton, Druce was promoted to major and rejoined 2 SAS in Holland. In April 1945 he was ordered by Brigadier Mike Calvert to lead a column of 10 Jeeps north from Arnhem to penetrate the German lines. Druce protested, saying that the war was almost over, the German positions in that area were still strongly defended and that it was one of the most ridiculous schemes he had ever heard.
"Druce," said Calvert, "are you a regular officer?"
"Yes, sir," replied Druce.
"Well, I think you should be shot," exclaimed the Brigadier.
Druce complied with the instruction, and, operating behind the lines, his troop allowed the retreating Germans no respite. On one occasion his Jeeps, each mounted with four Vickers machine guns, took cover in a wood and ambushed a German column with devastating effect. A comrade said afterwards that Druce was dressed for this action in corduroy trousers and a black silk top hat.

At Deelen, the troop was in a café awaiting the arrival of the Canadians before liberating the airport when a German motorcyclist arrived. In his saddle-bags was a ham that he had stolen from Arnhem. Druce, still in his top hat, ordered the man to get off his bike and, when he did not respond, seized the ham and knocked him off the machine with it.

After the war, Druce rejoined MI6, first in Holland and then in Indonesia until the latter achieved independence in 1949. Having left government service he worked in Anglo-Dutch plantations in Java until 1951 and, after 18 months' travelling, moved with his family to Canada.
There he built up a shipping business on Newfoundland, and later in Quebec and the Cayman Islands, before retiring in 1981 and settling in Victoria, British Columbia, where he remained active in business, enjoyed golf and kept in touch with old comrades' associations.

Druce was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his services with the French Resistance and was made an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his work in Indonesia.

Henry Druce died on January 4. He married, in 1942, Mary Docker, who survives him with a son and two daughters.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

20 storey non-stop snow storm

My Bag
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions

Hey I was walking my bag
Through a 20 storey non stop snow storm
Pirrelli calender girls wrestling in body lotion
My head's swimming with poetry and prose
Excuse me one moment whilst I powder my nose
Me and my good thing are just about as close as can be
We gave up sleep at the age of 17
My world's getting bigger as my eyesight gets worse
I can't see the lines on my idiot board
What about love?
I don't let that stuff in my house
This is the glamorous life there's no time for fooling around
Lord have mercy
I know what I'm doingI don't need an alibi
I need a fire escape and an open window
It's my problem it's nothing I can't deal with
I'm not chasing anything just jogging baby
What's your bag?

Hundred million dollar jam
Got some traffic yessir in my nose
Motorcycle speed cops burning up my dust roads
My baby left me heck ain`t that a shame
She's over in the corner with my new best friend
I'm doing fine with my whisky and wine
And meet me in the john john meet me in the john john
Lord have mercy...what's your bag?

Spin spin whisky and gin I suffer for my art
Bartender I got wild mushrooms growing in my yard
Fix me a quart of petrol clams on the half shell
Feels like prohibition baby give me the hard sell
More give me more give me more more more
I'm your yes man yes maam I'm your yes man
Lord have mercy...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Brigadier "Speedy" Hill

Brigadier "Speedy" Hill, who died on Thursday aged 95, won an MC and three DSOs as a commander of airborne forces during the Second World War.
In 1942 Hill took command of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, which was dropped at Souk El Arba, deep behind enemy lines in Tunisia. His orders were to secure the plain so that it could be used as a landing strip and then to take Beja, the road and rail centre 40 miles to the north east, in order to persuade the French garrison to fight on the Allied side.
To impress the French commander with the size of his unit, Hill marched the battalion through the town twice, first wearing helmets and then changing to berets. The Germans, hearing reports that a considerable British force had occupied Beja, responded by bombing the town.
On learning that a mixed force of Germans and Italians, equipped with a few tanks, was located at a feature called Gue, Hill put in a night attack. But a grenade in a sapper's sandbag exploded, setting off others, and there were heavy casualties when the element of surprise was lost.
Two companies carried out an immediate assault while Hill, with a small group, approached three light tanks. He put the barrel of his revolver through the observation port of the first tank and fired a single round. The Italian crew surrendered at once. He banged his thumbstick on the turret of the second tank, with the same result.
But when he used the method on the third tank, the German crew emerged, firing their weapons and throwing grenades. They were dealt with in short order, though Hill took three bullets in the chest. He was rushed to Beja, where Captain Robb of the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance operated on him and saved his life.
The citation for Hill's first DSO paid tribute to the brilliant handling of his force and his complete disregard of personal danger. The French recognised his gallantry with the award of the Légion d'Honneur.
Stanley James Ledger Hill, the son of Major-General Walter Hill, was born at Bath on March 14 1911. Young James went to Marlborough, where he was head of the OTC, and then won the Sword of Honour and became captain of athletics at Sandhurst.
Nicknamed "Speedy" because of the long strides he took as a tall man, he was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers, with whom he served with the 2nd Battalion, and ran the regimental athletic and boxing teams.
In 1936 he left the Army to get married, and for the next three years worked in the family ferry company. On the outbreak of war Hill rejoined his regiment, and left for France in command of 2RF's advance party. He led a platoon on the Maginot Line for two months before being posted to AHQ as a staff captain.
In May 1940, Hill was a member of Field Marshal Viscount Gort's command post, playing a leading part in the civilian evacuation of Brussels and La Panne beach during the final phase of the withdrawal. He returned to Dover in the last destroyer to leave Dunkirk, and was awarded an MC.
Following promotion to major and a posting to Northern Ireland as DAAG, Hill was dispatched to Dublin to plan the evacuation of British nationals in the event of enemy landings. He booked into the Gresham Hotel, where several Germans were staying at the time.
Hill was one of the first to join the Parachute Regiment and after being wounded in Tunisia in 1942, he was evacuated to England. Although forbidden to take exercise in hospital, he used to climb out of his window at night to stroll around the gardens. Seven weeks later, he declared himself fit and, in December, he converted the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment, to the 9th Parachute Battalion.
In April the following year, Hill took command of 3rd Parachute Brigade, consisting of the 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which he commanded on D-Day as part of the 6th Airborne Division.
Given the task of destroying the battery at Merville and blowing bridges over the River Dives to prevent the enemy bringing in reinforcements from the east, he completed the briefing of his officers with the warning: "Gentlemen, in spite of your excellent training and orders, do not be daunted if chaos reigns. It undoubtedly will."
Things began to go wrong straight away. Many of the beacons for marking the dropping zones were lost, and several of the aircraft were hit or experienced technical problems. Hill landed in the River Dives near Cabourg, some three miles from the dropping zone, and it took him several hours to reach dry land.
The terrain was criss-crossed with deep irrigation ditches in which some of his men, weighed down by equipment, drowned.
Since he did not trust radio, he kept in touch by driving around on a motorcycle, periodically being found directing traffic at crossroads by his advancing men. Near Sallenelles, Hill and a group of men of the 9th Parachute Battalion were accidentally bombed by Allied aircraft; 17 men were killed.
Hill was injured but, after giving morphia to the wounded, he reported to his divisional commander, who confirmed that the battery at Merville had been captured after a ferocious fight, and that Hill's brigade had achieved all its objectives.
Hill underwent surgery that afternoon, but refused to be evacuated and set up his headquarters at La Mesnil. Under his leadership, three weak parachute battalions held the key strategic ridge from Chateau St Côme to the outskirts of Troarn against repeated attacks from the German 346th Division.
On June 10 the 5th Battalion, Black Watch, was put under Hill's command. Two days later, when the 9th Parachute Battalion called for urgent reinforcements, Hill led a company of Canadian parachutists in a daring counter-attack.
The 12th Parachute Battalion, took Bréville, the pivotal position from which 346th Division launched their attacks on the ridge, albeit at great cost. Hill said afterwards that the enemy had sustained considerable losses of men and equipment and a great defensive victory had been won. He was awarded a Bar to his DSO.
The 3rd Parachute Brigade returned to England in September but three months later it was back on the front line, covering the crossings of the River Meuse. In the difficult conditions of the Ardennes and in organising offensive patrolling across the River Maas, Hill's enthusiasm was a constant inspiration to his men.
In March 1945 Hill commanded the brigade in Operation Varsity, the battle of the Rhine Crossing, before pushing on to Wismar on the Baltic, arriving on May 2, hours before the Russians.
He was wounded in action three times. He was awarded a second Bar to his DSO, and the American Silver Star.
Hill was appointed military governor of Copenhagen in May and was awarded the King Haakon VII Liberty Cross for his services. He commanded and demobilised the 1st Parachute Brigade before retiring from the Army in July in the rank of brigadier.
He was closely involved in the formation of the Parachute Regiment Association and, in 1947, he raised and commanded the 4th Parachute Brigade (TA).
The next year, Hill joined the board of Associated Coal & Wharf Companies and was president of the Powell Duffryn Group of companies in Canada from 1952 to 1958. He was managing director and chairman of Cory Brothers from 1958 to 1970.
In 1961, Hill became a director of Powell Duffryn and was vice-chairman of the company from 1970 to 1976. Among a number of other directorships, he was a director of Lloyds Bank from 1972 to 1979.
He was for many years a trustee of the Airborne Forces Security Fund and a member of the regimental council of the Parachute Regiment. In June 2004, he attended the 60th Anniversary of the Normandy landings.
A life-size bronze statue of him with his thumbstick, sited at Le Mesnil crossroads, the central point of the 3rd Parachute Brigade's defensive position on D-Day, was unveiled by the Prince of Wales, Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment.
James Hill married first, in 1937, Denys Gunter-Jones, with whom he had a daughter and, in 1986, Joan Haywood.
At Chichester in his final years he enjoyed pursuing his lifelong hobby of birdwatching.

Wing Commander "Bunny" Currant

Wing Commander "Bunny" Currant, who has died aged 95, was twice awarded the DFC during the Battle of Britain when he was one of the RAF's most successful fighter pilots, being credited with destroying at least thirteen enemy aircraft.
Currant achieved his first success on August 15 1940, the day the Luftwaffe mounted its biggest raid against the north of England. In a co-ordinated attack, large formations of bombers attacked from Norway and Denmark and were intercepted by the few RAF fighter squadrons based in the north east. Currant and his fellow pilots of No 605 Squadron scrambled in their Hurricanes and engaged the bombers off Newcastle. Currant shot down two Heinkel bombers and probably destroyed a third. The Luftwaffe's losses were so high during this raid that they never returned in force to the north.
No 605 was transferred to Croydon and fought throughout the most intense phase of the battle. On September 8 Currant damaged three bombers and shot one down over the airfield in full view of his groundcrew. He shared in the destruction of two more the following day. September 15 was the climax of the fighting and during a morning scramble, Currant shot down two Dornier bombers and damaged three others before his Hurricane was severely damaged, but he managed to crash land. He was airborne again in the afternoon and shot down a Messerschmitt fighter.
By the end of September he had accounted for two more fighters and was awarded the DFC "for his great skill and courage in air combats in the defence of London". He celebrated the award by shooting down two more enemy fighters. The Battle of Britain officially ended on October 31, by which time Currant had added another to his ever-mounting score.
In December he destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Dover and in the New Year was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Currant left No 605 in January for a rest tour; the squadron diarist commented: "Bunny Currant had without doubt been one of the most successful pilots in the history of the squadron and whose leadership, wit and outstanding fighting spirit would be very sorely missed."
The son of a Luton hatter, Christopher Frederick Currant was born on December 14 1911 and educated at Rydal School. He joined the RAF in 1936 and trained as a pilot, when he gained the nickname "Bunny" which remained with him for the rest of his life.
After serving with No 46 and No 151 Squadrons flying bi-plane Gauntlet fighters, Currant converted to the Hurricane and joined No 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron in April 1940, when he was commissioned. He survived a mid-air collision before the squadron moved to Hawkinge in Kent to provide support for the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force.
Operating on his first patrol over France on May 22, he attacked three bombers over Arras. The engine of his Hurricane stopped and he prepared to bale out. He stepped on to the wing but realised that the aircraft was still able to fly, so climbed back into the cockpit and crash-landed in a field, breaking his nose. He made his way to Calais and eventually boarded a ship to return to England where he rejoined No 605 still carrying his parachute.
After the Battle of Britain Currant served as chief flying instructor of a unit training fighter pilots. On August 14 1941 he began his second tour of operations in command of No 501 Squadron equipped with the Spitfire. Flying from Ibsley in the New Forest, he led many sorties escorting bombers over France and against shipping. On one occasion three German fighters attacked him and his aircraft was shot up. The instrument panel was destroyed and a bullet struck the back of his head but Currant managed to escape at low level. In great pain he landed at a forward airfield, but his aircraft turned over on to its back due to the undercarriage tyres having been shot through. He was trapped in the petrol-soaked cockpit but was soon rescued from the wreckage. After a month in hospital, he returned to flying with fragments of shrapnel still in his head.
During September 1941 Currant played himself in the film First of the Few, which starred David Niven and Leslie Howard. Currant was cast as the squadron commander "Hunter Leader" and flew his Spitfire in the aerial sequences. In one shot he was shown firing his guns at a Heinkel bomber. The film was described as: "The epic of the Spitfire with pilots of Fighter Command." It was considered a great success.
Currant flew many sweeps over France during the spring of 1942 and in July he was promoted to wing commander to take charge of the three Spitfire squadrons that formed the Ibsley Wing. On July 7, he was awarded the DSO, being described as "a most courageous pilot and a brilliant leader". In August 1942, Currant moved to Zeals in Wiltshire to form and command No 122 Wing equipped with Spitfires, which came under the control of the new 2nd Tactical Air Force.
In April 1943 Currant added a Belgian Croix de Guerre to his British decorations. He led his wing during the D-Day landings in June 1944 before departing for a lecture tour in America. On his return, he crossed to France to join No 84 Group Control Centre working in the tactical air operations centre co-ordinating ground attack operations in support of the Army. He was twice mentioned in dispatches.
Currant remained in the RAF after the war and after attending the Staff College spent three years in Washington on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After two years as the wing commander administration at the fighter airfield at Wattisham, and a year at the Ministry of Supply dealing with guided missiles, he left for Norway, where he joined the staff of the Royal Norwegian Air Force Staff College. At the end of his two-year appointment, the Norwegians asked him to remain for a further two years. On his departure in 1959, the Norwegian government awarded him the Order of St Olaf.
Currant retired from the RAF as a wing commander and joined Hunting Engineering in 1960, undertaking research and development work on weapons for the RAF. He finally retired in 1976.
A very modest man, Currant gave great support to local Air Training Corps squadrons and to the RAF Association. He also was a strong supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. A keen sportsman, in addition to refereeing hockey matches, he umpired at a number of Wimbledon tennis championships. Currant was also a passionate golfer and claimed that he started to make his most significant improvement after he was 70.
The remains of a Hurricane that he flew during his time on No 605 were found in India some 50 years later and restored to flying condition. It will fly in salute at his memorial service.
"Bunny" Currant died on March 12. He married, in August 1942, Cynthia Brown, who survives him with their three sons and a daughter.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Billionaire Smoker - How could you be more content?

Anton Rupert, who has died aged 89, was one of South Africa's most eminent industrialists and philanthropists; in classic rags-to-riches fashion, he started with a £10 investment which he eventually transformed into an multi-million pound international financial conglomerate.

During the apartheid era, Rupert developed a business empire based on tobacco, liquor and luxury goods which extended to 35 countries and was worth some $10 billion. He was listed in Forbes magazine as among the 500 richest men in the world.

A courteous, quietly-spoken Afrikaner, Rupert was a passionate conservationist, becoming a founder of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and promoting the concept of trans-frontier reserves - called "peace parks" - under which some of southern Africa's largest national parks are being amalgamated across national boundaries. He also co-operated with former president Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, in shaping South Africa's black empowerment policy, under which the country's businesses, great and small, are being opened up to encourage black entrepreneurship and active participation in the economy.

Anton Edward Rupert was born at the Karoo town of Graff-Reinet on October 4 1916. He helped to pay his way through the University of Pretoria by starting a dry-cleaning business, which soon went bankrupt. It was to be his worst, and most salutary, business failure. After completing his masters degree in Chemistry he tinkered with hand-rolling cigarettes in a garage at his home.
Calculating that there would always be a great demand for tobacco, regardless of what happened in the world, he developed a cigarette-making company named Voorbrand, soon to be renamed Rembrandt Ltd, whose overseas tobacco interests were eventually consolidated in Rothmans. He made his first investment in liquor in 1945, running the Distillers Corporation which did much to lift the status of South African wines internationally.

Using his flair for marketing, Rupert soon acquired interests in an array of South African companies ranging from gold mining to banking and medical supply interests, demonstrating a shrewdness that belied his modest, self-effacing demeanour. As South Africa became increasingly isolated because of its apartheid policies, Rupert moved his major interests, including Rothmans, offshore by establishing the Luxembourg-listed Richemont company. He anticipated the growing aversion from tobacco products and, through Richemont, diversified into luxury goods with Cartier, Montblanc and Dunhill.

Rupert's own aversion from his country's apartheid policies was expressed quietly but forcefully. He did not get on well with Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, regarded as the founder of apartheid, which Rupert considered a misguided vision of South Africa's future. In the 1980s he publicly urged the government of PW Botha to "get rid of the dead, stinking albatross of apartheid".

He maintained steady behind-the-scenes pressure on successive white South African governments to look for an alternative policy that would involve partnership with the black majority. This contributed greatly to the eventual release of Nelson Mandela, free and fair elections and the advent of majority government. Partnership had been the cornerstone of his business philosophy, and he saw no reason why it could not apply to politics.

Rupert retired from the active day-to-day running of his empire in 1990, handing over the reins to his son, Johan. He continued with lively participation and sponsorship of his many other interests in the arts and in conservation.

He remained a moderate cigarette smoker until the end, believing that he had to demonstrate some loyalty to the product on which his fortune had been based.

Doctors said that he never fully recovered from the loss of his wife, Huberte, who died aged 86 in October last year after 60 years of marriage. Anton Rupert died at his home in Stellenbosch on January 18. He is survived by a son and a daughter.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

B W Robinson - Scholar of Persian miniature painting, Japanese swords and Catches

B W Robinson, who died on December 29 aged 93, formulated the bases for the classification and chronology of Persian miniature painting upon which scholars continue to depend; he was also a world authority on both the arts of the Japanese sword and the work of the celebrated 19th-century print maker Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

"Robbie" to his friends, BW Robinson to his readers, he was Keeper of the Department of Metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1966 until his retirement in 1972. He then spent four years as Keeper Emeritus, helping to establish the museum's Far Eastern Department. Robinson had joined the V&A's staff in 1939, and throughout his working life there - with a break for war service - he consistently combined a powerful intellectual range with a structured routine of careful study and regular publication. This enabled him to build up the most impressive knowledge and expertise in fields well outside the immediate area of his day-to-day professional concerns, as well as within.

Many of Robinson's publications and in particular his important catalogues of Persian miniatures and manuscript illuminations in public collections - including those in the Bodleian, Chester Beatty, India Office, and John Rylands libraries published between 1958 and 1980 - are, and will long remain, essential points of reference for the serious scholar.

Equally, A Primer of Japanese Sword-blades (1955), The Arts of the Japanese Sword (1961) and Kuniyoshi (1961) have all come to be considered indispensable items in the library of any museum curator or collector in those fields. Robinson's book Kuniyoshi: the Warrior Prints (1982) won the Uchiyama Memorial Prize of the Japan Ukiyoe Society.

The great success of the V&A's loan exhibition Persian Miniature Painting from Collections in the British Isles (1967) - later described by the Museum's Director, John Pope-Hennessy, as "one of the most sensitive and sheerly beautiful exhibitions that had ever been held in the museum" - was due entirely to Robinson's sure connoisseurship and skill. He also provided the inspiration for the museum's Kuniyoshi centenary exhibition in 1961 which, commentators agreed, firmly established that artist's reputation as the last great master of the Japanese colour-print.
Basil William Robinson was born in London on June 20 1912, the only child of William Robinson and his wife Mabel (née Gilbanks). The family lived in Stanhope Gardens and on wet afternoons young Robbie (he never liked the name Basil) would be taken to the museums at South Kensington, where his fascination with eastern art began. The Arms and Armour and Oriental collections at the V&A became firm favourites, and it was there that Robbie first saw and fell in love with Persian miniatures - starting with a Layla and Majnun manuscript of Qasimi, left open in the display case at a miniature showing Majnun in the wilderness.

His enthusiasm showed no signs of abating, and once he had become familiar with the V&A's limited Persian manuscript holdings, his mother began to take him to the British Museum. There Dr Lionel Barnett once showed them the delightful Shahnama (Book of Kings) of 1486.
Mabel Robinson also took her young son to call on the secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, Miss Ella Sykes, who thereafter sent Robbie a book every Christmas. One of them - A Persian Caravan, by A Cecil Edwards - he would continue to re-read, with great enjoyment, for the rest of his life.

By the time he went to Winchester as an exhibitioner in 1926, Robinson had already accumulated, by way of birthday and Christmas presents, a small library of books about Persia and Persian art, including histories of the country by Sir John Malcolm and Sir Percy Sykes (Ella's brother), and Ernst Kühnel's Miniaturmalerei im islamischen Orient (minus one or two illustrations his father considered unsuitable). By the time he left school, he had acquired all nine volumes of the Warners' translation of the Shahnama, as well as Sir Thomas Arnold's Painting in Islam - the latter bought with some of the £5 he received for winning the Kenneth Freeman Prize with a paper on Greek sculpture. In the spring of 1931, during Robinson's last year at Winchester, the great International Exhibition of Persian Art opened at Burlington House. Robinson attended the exhibition on several occasions, once as guide to his housemaster, and at other times with Miss Ella or Sir Percy Sykes. On one embarrassing occasion, Robinson recalled, "Sir Percy gave a running commentary on the exhibits in a loud voice, with the result that, although his remarks were addressed directly to me, we soon found ourselves followed by a growing crowd which must have numbered 20 or 30 by the end. As we left the exhibition he said to me: 'I wanted to give these people the benefit of my knowledge and experience.' "
From Winchester, Robinson went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where what he later described as "an excess of extra-curricular activities" - such as drawing cartoons for Isis and playing the guitar in the University jazz band - led to his securing only a Third in Greats.
He nevertheless persuaded the university authorities to allow him to stay on for a further year to write a BLitt thesis on the collection of Persian miniatures in the Bodleian Library. This was to form the basis of the comprehensive catalogue he would later produce.

Oxford was followed by a short spell as a prep school master at Bognor, and then the offer of a place at the V&A. Having always wanted a museum post, he accepted at once, and took up his duties in January 1939. After a few months in the library, where his first job was to re-catalogue the small collection of Persian manuscripts, Robinson was transferred to the Department of Metalwork, with its extensive Islamic and Far Eastern collections. He remained there until the outbreak of war in September, and then from 1946 until his retirement.

After call-up and a year in the ranks of the Royal Sussex Regiment, Robinson was sent out to India. He was commissioned in the 2nd Punjab Regiment, Indian Army, and served in India, Burma and Malaya. Arriving at 14 Army HQ, Comilla, East Bengal, in 1944, Robinson fell in with two officers at the mess bar. After a few drinks they asked him his name and, on the spur of the moment, he answered "Kegworthy" (a character from PG Wodehouse). Thereafter he was known in the Army as "Keggers".

Two chance wartime encounters enabled Robinson greatly to advance his knowledge of eastern art. In India he found a bearer who wrote, and taught him, Nastaliq script; and when later, in Malaya, at the time of the Japanese surrender, Robinson was given the task of listing and cataloguing the Japanese swords - many of them with blades handed down in a family over generations - he enlisted the help of a Japanese PoW, Colonel Yamada, who was expert in the field, to assist and teach him. A large, amiable figure, with an air about him of the Victorian era to whose music-hall songs and traditions he was much attached, Robinson was a great encourager of the young and a dependable friend to people all over the world. He always remained, for instance, a firm friend to Colonel Yamada.

An enthusiastic singer of traditional English songs - he once impressed a party of Uzbeks in Samarkand with his rendering of The cheerful 'arn blows in the marn' - Robinson founded the Aldrich Catch Club, which met regularly at his London house to sing rounds and catches of the 15th-19th centuries, often ones which Robinson himself had unearthed. He had a phenomenal memory for songs, and with RF Hall compiled The Aldrich Book of Catches (1989). In 1967 Robinson was elected honorary president of the To-ken Society of Great Britain. He was president of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1970 to 1973, and Keeper Emeritus (one of the last) at the V&A from 1972 to 1976.

He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the British Academy. He gave the Hertz Lecture at the British Academy in 1983, taking as his subject "Persian Painting and the National Epic".

His later publications included Persian Paintings in the Royal Asiatic Society (1998) and The Persian Book of Kings (2002).

Robinson married first, in 1945, Mary Stewart, who died in 1954. He married secondly, in 1958, Oriel Steel, who survives him, together with their son and daughter.