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Chris Harris's Blog

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Current: April 2014

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12 April 14 (permalink)


It's been a long time coming, and if things had stayed as they are I probably wouldn't have done anything about it, but life doesn't always give you the option of standing still and circumstances have pushed me into making the leap, so...

Moving On

My trusty old Asus Eee netbook has booted Windows XP for the last time. This week as support for Microsoft's operating system finally concluded I wiped the hard disk and installed Linux Mint on it. Unlike the Government, I don't have several million quid lying around to pay for further upgrades, so I decided it was best to make a clean break and start afresh.

I chose Mint because it's a well-respected distro, and I'm running the xfce desktop because it's light on resources and clean and efficient. I'm really pleased with things so far, and it's nice to have a computer running Linux again.


It's been a long time coming, and if things had stayed as they are I probably wouldn't have done anything about it, but life doesn't always give you the option of standing still and circumstances have pushed me into making the leap, so...

After nineteen years I will be leaving my current job at the end of this month. I have no idea what I'll be doing next. I 'm not rushing into anything, as I have the luxury of being able to stop and take stock of things for a while first, but it still feels like the end of an era. But I've decided to make a clean break and start afresh. I have a number of things that I'm planning on doing in the next couple of months which might turn out to be great fun if they pay off - but at the moment, to borrow Edwyn Collins's phrase, The Possibilities Are Endless.


One thing that struck me as odd about the graphic for the "skydiver hit by meteorite" story that I blogged about last week was that the rock is very close to the skydiver when it's first seen. It's almost as if it appeared there when the parachute was deployed. And the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait reckons that that is exactly what happened: the rock wasn't a meteorite at all. If it was packed with the parachute, it would have fallen out as the skydiver pulled his ripcord and tumbled past. It's a plausible theory, and Occam's razor suggests that it's the most likely explanation. Which is a shame.


I saw Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier this week and I have written a review. However, be warned: there was a point in the film where I actually said "oh bloody hell" out loud. I'd just heard a line of dialogue which to me revealed who the character The Clairvoyant is in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Don't read my review unless you're happy to find out all about that.


A few years ago I read a great book by Maryanne Wolf called Proust and the Squid. It's about the way we read and the way the brain has evolved to support such a pleasant and life-changing activity. This week Wolf cropped up in an article in the Washington Post about how reading stuff online is changing the way the brain analyses text, and it is not a reassuring story. In fact it's frightening. Reading too much on the Internet can damage your ability to parse complex sentences, and it encourages you to skim things, pick out keywords, and hare off on diverting threads. Or, as Wolf describes it,

After a day of scrolling through the Web and hundreds of e-mails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.”

“I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”

I've noticed in recent years that I do this too, and I had just put it down to the fact that I'm not as young as I used to be. I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn't take something in on my first reading back in 2010. But since I read the article, I've made a greater effort to read more text on paper, and I agree with what Wolf says later on in the article: by giving yourself time and distance from screen-based text you can regain the ability to read things properly again. The ability to "slow down, savor and think" is one to be cherished, and encouraged. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to spend the rest of the afternoon in my favourite armchair with a good book.

5 April 14 (permalink)


It's been an eventful few days and as a result the blog's going to be on hiatus for a while, by the looks of things. Things will get back to normal when things get back to normal, whenever (and whatever) that may be. In the meantime, here's a video of a Norwgian skydiver nearly getting hit by a meteor.

2 April 14 (permalink)


I'm not even going to attempt to list some of the dismally tedious and grindingly inevitable April Fool's jokes that the jolly media played on us this year because apart from CERN setting their entire website to display in Comic Sans, there wasn't a chuckle to be had from any of them.

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