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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: January 2004

The new year brought snow and storms, apocalyptic discussions about pole flips, and a brief diversion over the Swedish obsession with really bad Shockwave animations...


I didn't so much wake up this morning as give up trying to get to sleep. I felt terrible. I ache all over, and I feel knackered. Whether it's one of the many bugs that are going around at this time of year or just generally being run down with the Winter blues, I don't know. Shame really, because this morning was lovely - bright sunshine and clear blue skies: not what I was expecting from the weather forecast at all. This afternoon the village got a light dusting of snow, but not really enough to build a snowman with. This evening? Well, the moon's out, so I guess we've had all the snow we're going to get. Right now, the only thing I want to get is a decent night's sleep.


There was a lot of discussion in the office today about the forecast "Arctic weather" that Britain is expecting. It's already snowing in Scotland, but will the weather make it down here to the sunny South West? Will I finally get to build a snowman in the back garden? Personally I'm doubtful, but I'm always ready to be proved wrong.

If you're the sort of age I am, a common topic of conversation is always "we never get snow like we used to." I can remember playing in seriously deep snow when I was a toddler, and it was a fairly regular occurrence. These days, of course, we seldom get snow - and when we do, chaos ensues. So it was rather alarming to read an article today that suggests that one of the more perverse effects of global warming might be that Europe is plunged into an ice age. Not only that, it says, but there are also signs that at least some of the things that (it is suspected) might trigger a fairly rapid onset are starting to take place. By "rapid," climatologists mean "within the span of a human lifetime." Best get those snow shovels out, then.


If you're interested in tracking the progress of the weather, you could do a lot worse than this page of weather webcams. Bear in mind, though, that some of the cameras are no longer working. Still, there was a nice picture available of the snow on Cairn Gorm this morning. Which reminds me: remember to take local time into account - there are links to cameras all around the planet!


What is it with Sweden and Shockwave files? Here's another very strange little Shockwave application that was obviously the product of a twisted and dangerously creative mind. Once again it's lurking on a site with a .SE domain name. Singing horses? I love it.


...and the nominations have been announced for that most important date in the film-making calendar, the one that everyone's waiting for. Once again, it looks like the critics have singled out a film that epitomises the traditions we've come to know and love. The bookies seem to think that this film will clean up in most categories this year. Yes, we're not going to let Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez forget about Gigli in a hurry, at least as far as the Golden Raspberrys are concerned.


Many years ago when I lived in Stafford, a parrot bounced off the dining room window one dinnertime. No kidding. We rushed outside and found it, looking very dazed, sitting in a rose bush in the back garden.

The words evil-looking bastard still spring to mind, decades later. It sat there, idly using its beak to snap off branches that were as thick as my fingers and covered with thorns, until two guys with a huge cage appeared at the front door. This particular parrot had escaped from a house up the road, and was eventually recaptured.

Despite this evidence of poor flight skills, I always suspected parrots were far more clever than they were letting on. Now, it seems that one has let the facade of stupidity slip a little bit. The BBC's story shows that at least one parrot has a sense of humour, and they even suggest that it's telepathic. So when mankind eventually succumbs to our new feathered rulers, remember who warned you about it first.


One of the guys in the office found this *terrible* Shockwave tune on the net at lunchtime. It has no redeeming qualities at all, it's amateurish, and it's profoundly irritating. So of course, everybody's been rushing to look at it. Yes, the Internet is an amazingly sad place... :-)

> Subject: i dont understand this
> This may take a while to come up, but its well not worth it
> and you will be less of a human after you see it.

Ah, those crazy Swedes. Thanks to Justin for that one.


More proof that the Internet is a sad place: it enables us to do pointless and utterly bizarre things, just because we can. Case in point: we can use the net to put our names forward to NASA, who will burn the data on to a CD.

A spacecraft will then fly this aforementioned CD off to a comet, taking years to get there.

When it arrives, NASA propose to blow the CD up, together with a large chunk of the comet, and see what happens. Needless to say I rushed to get my name on board, and you can too - just visit the Deep Impact site. But hurry: you only have until the end of January to put your name down!


At least NASA are trying to enthuse the public about what's up there. Most folks these days have precious little opportunity to find out for themselves. What with the modern scourge of astronomers - light pollution - and everything else, people these days have very little experience of the night sky. Particularly when it's doing things it doesn't normally do. As a result, news stations have developed a habit of going bananas every time someone videos anything remotely unusual. Here's a good one, a UFO story with some associated video... Can we say the word meteor?


As I get older, I've developed real problems getting a good night's sleep. I'm lucky if I get four hours in before I wake up. Just to rub it in, there was a story in the news today about research that shows that getting a decent night's kip is not only good for our health, it also improves our creativity and ability to solve complex problems. After reading the article I spent a while at lunchtime today wandering round sleep websites getting even more depressed. And it begs the question: what the hell were Channel 4 thinking putting on a show like Shattered?


The latest report on the production work for the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie has a really sweet-looking picture of what is claimed to be Marvin. I'd be quite happy if it turns out to be true, as the rest of the story suggests some spot-on casting: Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast. Perhaps things will finally happen now - it's been a long time coming. Keep your fingers crossed.

HOWEVER BAD YOUR JOB IS... could be worse, as one macabre story this week showed - a poor worker died at his desk recently, and it was two days before his colleagues noticed. Apparently they thought the reason for his lack of communication was that he was "poring over documents." Gee, wouldn't you just love to work with people like that?


I'd like to apologise for my recent articles that could be interpreted as having suggested that the music industry might be beginning to come to its senses over the way it treats its customers. I should have known better, and I let a misplaced sense of optimism get the better of me. I may even have insinuated that the business may have realised that giving customers a good deal is good for business, and was taking steps to make it happen. As today's story about CD WOW and the BPI clearly shows, nothing could be further from the truth.


From the "Truth is stranger than fiction" department: I went to see Lost in Translation last night with some friends. It's a sweet film - go and see it. You can read my review in full here, but in simple terms Bill Murray plays an actor called Bob Harris, visiting Tokyo to participate in an advertising campaign for Suntory (a Japanese brand of Whisky.) The line above comes up during a photo shoot, when the photographer suggests he should behave like 007. Coincidence or not - but today we hear that Sean Connery will soon be advertising Scotch in a TV advert to be shown elsewhere in Europe, after advertising whisky in Japan for years. And, yes, it was indeed Suntory whisky that Mr. Connery endorsed in Japan. The scariest part is that the photograph of Mr. Connery looks uncannily like our favourite Highlander is pulling the same expression that Bill Murray is directed to wear in the film...


...or completely barking. You should have realised by now that I'm a bit of a GameCube nut. Partly it's because people in the games industry that I've talked to reckoned it's the best of the current bunch in terms of playability, graphics, and so forth. Partly it's because the games available for the GameCube are a little more, well, left field. Frankly, I think it's because game designers for the GameCube are on better drugs. Or stronger ones, anyway. Things in GameCube games can get a trifle... strange. I mean, look at Pikmin, for goodness sake. or Animal Crossing. And as for Zelda, the Wind Waker: come on, the signs are all there. How many games on the Playstation involved fighting off giant stoves, or getting around a level by holding a giant leaf and waving your arms?

Partly, too, there's also an aspect of rooting for the underdog. How many companies could turn a short fat plumber with a moustache into an international superhero? Go Nintendo! Especially given that the alternatives are to buy still more products from either Sony or Microsoft. The GameCube doesn't really have net gaming down: you can't use it to play CDs or DVDs, and if your TV doesn't have a SCART cable you have to pay extra for a cable to plug it into the aerial socket of your TV. So it's not an immediate choice for the homebrew Linux crowd. And yet, it appears that the Penguin People are about to release a port of Linux for the Nintendo GameCube. I have to get hold of a copy - even if all it does is display a picture of a penguin. It's the principle of the thing that matters here.


This website's produced quite a few laughs over the last couple of days. Type in your name to find out what sort of disease you are. In the office, just to be different, we typed in a couple of project names - one, apparently, was "caused by monkeys" and was cured by "running around in circles." Strangely enough, some of the folks in the office had come to the same conclusion months ago... Of course, if you want to be boring and just type your name in, go ahead. It turns out that I can be cured by becoming the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. Perhaps it's about time I dug out the helmet, cape and lightsaber.


It seems those dastardly lectroids from the film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai continue their nefarious plottings... There's a review of the latest episode of "Angel" up at Ain't It Cool News that reveals a couple of the companies who are represented by Wolfram and Hart. One is the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, familiar to anyone who has watched the "Alien" movies, and a well-known movie reference to amuse the geeks. But the other, more obscure (i.e. Banzai) reference, is to the Yoyodyne Corporation. Egad - there are other people out there who are even sadder than I am! What a reassuring thought!


I've read a number of interesting articles on digital photography recently. In one, Lord Lichfield commented that moving over to digital photography had saved him £75,000 a year in film. That's quite a saving; but I have to say that since I bought my digital camera I haven't bought any more rolls of film. In fact, I'm still working my way through a box of four rolls of Kodak film that I bought a couple of years ago in the tax-free shop at Birmingham Airport. As you may have gathered, I'm not really in the same league.

The other article was on the BBC's website today, which concentrated more on the fact that because we can see the results of digital photography more-or-less instantly, the quality of our photos is improving. The story commented that this might be because we take more pictures, and wipe the ones we're not happy with. I think they're right. In 2002 I had one or possibly two rolls of film developed. That works out at between 72 and 75 pictures. In 2003 I kept 601 digital photos - those are the ones I didn't erase as junk. That's a staggering increase in photography, and I also used the camera to produce 29 Quicktime movies! Why such an increase? It was easier than the old way, helped me do things like put this website together, it means I only need to print out the pictures I want hard copies of, and if pushed, I can do the whole process from taking a picture to picking a glossy A4 print off the printer in about ten minutes flat.

If our pictures aren't perfect, the article also said, the fact they are in a digital format means that it's easy to "tweak" things before printing them. Again - they're absolutely right. I printed off a few shots over the weekend and found myself tweaking and trimming shots to get them just right - which I'd never have been able to do sending conventional film off to be developed. If you want to be fancy about it, as far as I'm concerned, digital photography is a superb means of creative empowerment. In simple terms, though, it's easy and it's fun. I'm sure I'll be using the camera even more this year.


It's taken a while, but the music industry appears to be realising that if you make CDs cheaper, you sell more of them. Whilst doing the shopping tonight I noticed that Tesco now sell chart CDs for under a tenner - a big change from the days when the industry was charging up to seventeen quid for something that probably cost twenty pence to make...


I was going to put this on Monday's entry, but thought I'd save it: The astronomy picture of the day was a strange one - a circular hole in a cloud formation that looked like someone had taken a hole punch to it. I'm sure I've seen similar pictures before - but I can't recall exactly where. Today even the BBC were intrigued. "Ice crystals falling off an aircraft" was the proposed explanation. But why would that create a circular hole? Surely most clouds associated with aircraft - vapour trials - tend to be long lines, rather than circular. Distinctly odd.


Yeah, I know - I haven't been updating this blog so often recently. I've been busy doing other things, so please accept my apologies. To make it up to you, here is a bumper collection of oddities I've blundered across on the web over the last week or so.


What have I been up to? Well, one of the things I've been doing was trying to track down the answers to yet another one of those Excel spreadsheet quizzes... The one that got me hooked involved identifying album covers after the text had been taken away. It took ages to get them all, but I eventually managed it with the help of some of the folks in the office.


While trying to identify the one album cover nobody knew, I came across yet another of those wonderfully eccentric sites that spring up on the net from time to time. This one recreates famous album covers using LEGO. I was particularly impressed with the Jamiroquai cover - the resemblance is uncanny!


I can't wait to see what sort of applications we get from Toshiba's latest high tech marvel - a hard drive smaller than a PP9 battery that holds several gigabytes. It'll hardly be worth putting flash memory or compact flash cards in cameras by the time they're available in bulk - and Toshiba reckon they'll be making two to three hundred thousand of the things a month by quarter 4. I'd bet that it also means that personal MP3 players will be getting even smaller.


It was pretty horrible weather this morning, driving in to work. The forecast for the rest of the day was pretty bad, but it's actually turned out OK this afternoon. Where I was in the Midlands didn't do too badly at the weekend, weatherwise. Things were nowhere near as bad as they were further south: there was a waterspout in the Bristol Channel on Sunday. I can remember seeing several of the things during a storm in the 70's. They were weaving up the Ribble Estuary at Lytham St. Annes, and were quite a spectacular sight. For some reason my parents wouldn't let me go and have a look, which I thought was a trifle unfair... :-)


Yes, we bring you the Sesame Street version of America's national security alert level indicator, courtesy of those nice people at

Today's status level is:

Terror Alert Level


I'm not altogether convinced that this is a genuine article or not, but it was an amusing way of passing five minutes or so: a set of drawings allegedly produced by an artist during an LSD trip. The article's not as deep or disturbing as the famous BBC film from the 50's in which the very proper, formally-dressed presenter takes mescalin and then tries to describe what's going on straight to camera ("I know the secret, and it's my hand") but it's still somewhat weird.

Kids, just say no. If you don't, your drawings will be crap...


Now this is what every IT department should aspire to: a fileserver setup housed in cases made out of gingerbread. No doubt this is great when you're feeling peckish, but if your network manager starts wearing a black pointy hat and cackling, it's time to bring in Hansel and Gretel from accounts and get things sorted.


The BBC have been running yet another pole reversal story on their website. The fact that the Earth's magnetic field is doing strange things at the moment is quite interesting, but it's proved to be a motherlode for every type of cult and catastophe pundit imaginable: the Fortean Times recently did an article on the Japanese Pana Wave cult, for example. You may have seen them on the news from time to time, as members dressed in white, drove around in vehicles covered in white signs to protect them from harmful electromagnetic radiation (it says here...) and predicted that the world would end on May 15th last year. As it didn't, things went a bit quiet, but I'm sure they'll crop up in the latest round of stories. That reminds me: isn't it about time that the silly pole reversal movie "The Core" came out on DVD? Expect a few more stories to appear when it does...


There's not much of a blog entry tonight, I'm afraid. I bought a second hand copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 for the GameCube yesterday. Big mistake. Once again I've spent most of the evening playing on the damn thing. I don't know why it is that my two favourite games involve BMX bikes and skateboards, as I've never had the remotest desire to own either article in real life, but I find video games about them highly addictive. So much for me getting an early night tonight. Ah well, maybe tomorrow...


Yes, the blog has been on its Christmas holidays, visiting friends and family in various locations around England, eating and drinking too much, playing on the GameCube, and not paying too much attention to what's going on in the wide world of the web, so there haven't been any updates for a couple of weeks. Some pieces of information did percolate through while I was away, however: I'm sure you'll join me in congratulating Tim Berners-Lee (the man who started the whole world wide web thing going in the first place) on his knighthood.

Let's keep fingers crossed, too, that Beagle 2 phones home on the 7th, when it should switch to a new operating mode involving sending a radio signal 5 times every hour.

For now, the holiday has drawn to a close, and a blog update is a gentle way to get back into the work routine ready for tomorrow. It's always a shock going back to work after a relaxing holiday, particularly being woken up early in the morning - courtesy of the radio alarm - rather than gently surfacing at about half past ten under my own steam. I've never been good at mornings...