Chris Harris's Blog Archive: February 2007

February saw me jetting off for a skiing holiday in Switzerland, which was most enjoyable. Less enjoyable was the cold I caught on the way back, which hung on for most of the rest of the month.

Thanks to the less than judicious use of ampersands I also broke my RSS feed, but it should be fixed now.


I spent yesterday evening in St. George's Hall in Bristol at a gig by the amazing Judie Tzuke. Despite the fact that just about everybody on stage seemed to be battling a heavy cold, it was a great night and I really enjoyed it. I've been going to her shows for quite a while, and she was one of the first songwriters who really made me sit up and listen to the lyrics - they're quite often very dark, but always interesting. I love the words to her new single, out next week, called the Cup of Tea song: I wish I could wake up and be eighteen again, too...

Tours these days are a family affair, as her daughter Bailey does backing vocals and performs a short set of her own songs. There wasn't a lot of the "early" material in the set list other than "Sukarita" "Stay With Me 'Til Dawn" and "Understanding" but the newer material was excellent, particularly "Spin" and a track she wrote with Gareth Gates, called "Dark Days." It's safe to say that she can still rock out; if you get a chance to catch her on the rest of the tour, you'll really enjoy it. Go and see for yourself!


The mystery surrounding Joyce Hatto's recordings has been solved, after her husband admitted that he had used other artists' recordings for CD releases.


There's going to be more trouble with space debris, this time from the Arabsat-4 Briz upper stage 2006-06B - it malfunctioned on launch and was left stranded in orbit in 2006 with tonnes of fuel still on board, and by all accounts it accidentally blew up on February 19th. The results were pretty spectacular by the looks of things, leaving over 1000 bits of wreckage floating about and ready to crash into other satellites whilst travelling faster than a rifle bullet. Oops.

WELL DONE all the Oscar winners; there were no real surprises this year for me (other than the fact that Pixar didn't win the "best animated film" award in what seemed like the first time in living memory). It's over thirty years since I saw Helen Mirren on stage at the RSC in Stratford, and I'm glad she got the best actress award.


After a quiet month for the blog it's all kicking off this week, what with the film director James Cameron announcing that he's producing a film about what happened to Jesus and his family. He's going to be popular in the States then, as his version of events is a bit different. The archaeologist concerned says the idea is "nonsense" but that's never stopped a good story doing the rounds. Amusingly enough the makers of the documentary say they can back up their claims with "DNA evidence," although where they got any corroborating samples from is anyone's guess.

So February is turning out to be a pretty weird month. Follow that story with recent revelations that the US military considered developing, amongst other things, a flatulence bomb, a bad breath bomb and a gay bomb; the story about the disgruntled footballer who dug up his team's pitch after he was dropped; the monster sinkhole in Guatemala, and several other recent goings-on, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the world's gone mad.


To the comic 2000AD, which is 30 years old. I don't buy it any more, but for the first 1100 progs I was a real fan. If you showed me a page from any issue, I could almost always tell you which artist was responsible for drawing it. In the case of my favourites, like Ron Smith, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon or Ian Gibson, I probably still can.

I used to be heavily into comics - apart from 2000AD I also used to buy Deadline magazine which featured such comic creations as Tank Girl, together with less successful publications such as Revolver and Blast! These days I just don't have the time and it's been quite a while since I paid a visit to Forbidden Planet. I think Ian Gibson's comment in the BBC article is rather sad, although it's probably true: most comics can't meet the demands of the Xbox or Playstation generation (and the Internet, I'd add) and so they're quietly fading away. I just hope it won't be for good.


This week, New Scientist features a project run by the Maine Audubon wildlife centre in Falmouth (in Maine, not Cornwall) which is helping to monitor the local owl population. This was done by volunteers who had to go to the selected sites, play recordings of owl hoots, and count any owls that respond. However, they now have an owl monitoring system developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which lets them do the listening and counting over the phone. Sweet.


The postman delivered the box set of Stand Alone Complex: Second Gig today, and I've already watched one episode since I got home. I've missed those folks, particularly the Tachikomas. Will I have watched the entire series of 26 episodes by the weekend? I wouldn't be surprised.


I think I'm finally beginning to shake off that cold. It's that, or the fact that my intake of espresso has increased a lot over the last couple of days. Yesterday I went to the cinema in the evening and called in at Starbucks first - today I was enjoying my own fresh brew at home. I've been meaning to buy a decent espresso machine for years, and today I finally caved in and bought a shiny red one. I was pleased with the first run through, and by the weekend I suspect I'm going to be bouncing off the walls...


Gramophone Magazine picked up the story first, and it also appeared in New Scientist magazine - but I only picked up on it once Slashdot reported how Apple's iTunes software identifies recordings made by the British classical pianist Joyce Hatto as being by other artists. According to Pristine Audio, an audio restoration business who have investigated the allegations in considerable detail, that's because they are by other artists. They suggest that the recording process consisted of playing back other CDs at slightly different speeds and tweaking the EQ on them.

Mrs Hatto can't comment or defend herself, because she died in June last year. Her husband, who produced the recordings, refutes all allegations of wrongdoing. It'll be interesting to see how this one turns out.


Yup, I know - things are pretty sparse here this month. At the moment I just haven't got the energy to do anything: I've been completely unable to shake off the cold I got last week. I spent most of the weekend asleep. I've been to work this week, but that takes up pretty much all the energy I have and by the time I get home in the evening I just want to go back to bed.

I haven't even taken any pictures since I got back from Switzerland, that's how bad it is. I've completely lost all the momentum I'd got last month, to the point where I spent a few minutes just now staring blankly at the screen - I just feel lethargic, I can't concentrate, and I just haven't found anything online that I've felt I needed to comment on here, so it's been really quiet. Sorry!


It's Friday, and my cold is gearing up for the weekend. I'm sitting in front of my PC with a thumping headache, sinuses full of snot, and a sneezing fit that won't go away. I thought going on holiday was supposed to be good for you?


The BBC's website reported earlier in the week that Robert Kilroy-Silk has accused Marks and Spencer of installing magic mirrors in its stores that distort the viewer's reflection to make them look thinner. What can you say to a news story like that? Clearly it's taken M&S by surprise, and no wonder.


One of my Flickr contacts, Steve Jurvetson, runs a venture capital company out in California. This week he attended an event held by D-Wave, one of the companies he's invested in. They were demonstrating a 16 qubit quantum computer, which has caused quite a stir. Actually, one of the reasons that D-Wave have caused such a fuss is that they've been refreshingly honest about whether or not the thing actually works on a quantum level, which is nice to see. And if their system really does do what they think it does, it's a ground-breaking piece of work.

Given that Intel announced a new chip this week that is capable of performing a million million floating point operations per second - yup, that's a teraflop processor on a single chip - I think we're going to see some amazing computers appearing in the next few years.


As you may have gathered from the lack of postings in the past week, I've been away. In fact I was off skiing, this time in the Swiss resort of Verbier.

Approaching snow, Verbier

The skiing was fantastic, with brilliant sunshine on a couple of days and snow on others to keep things ticking over. My improved fitness helped out a lot too, and I really felt like my standard of skiing has improved. I'll be writing more about the trip over the next few days, of course.

What wasn't so good was the air travel. I used to really enjoy flying, but not any longer. I can't think of a more miserable, stressful and tedious experience that people voluntarily hand over large sums of money to undergo, with the possible exception of dentistry. It really was that bad; my luggage still hasn't turned up, and the last I heard, it was in Amsterdam - but I was flying from Geneva to Bristol. Moral of story: don't fly with a tour operator.


If you've been reading my blog for long, you'll know that I'm fascinated by photography. I have been for years, but since I started taking digital pictures it's grown into an obsession. I've been working hard to improve my photography skills, but one of the areas I know I'm not very good at is taking pictures of people.

I'm not sure why - I think it might be because I'm often too embarrassed to ask if I can take a picture. This year one of my goals is to take more portraits, and get a little better at it. But I have a long, long way to go before I reach the level that Bruce Osborn works at. The folks on the WGB pointed me at an article about his Japanese Generations portraits, and I was blown away by how good they are. I love the one of the two sushi chefs.


How many times did you get up this morning? Yup, it's Groundhog Day. This morning, Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow, which traditionally indicates an early spring.


When you were a kid and you went to the seaside, did your parents ever say to you, "smell that fresh air, it's good for you"? Well, they were wrong on two counts: it's not fresh air, it's Dimethyl Sulfide and it's probably not that good for you. I love the fact that the discovery was made in Stiffkey in Norfolk, just down the road from my parents' house. It's a lovely little village, and not at all the sort of place you'd expect to see in a scientific paper.


It's no wonder you can have an attack of apophenia as a result of reading stuff on the web. For instance, today's snippet on the ten worst superheroes in history took me back to the 1980s.

Why? Well, Garth Ennis's Dogwelder is in there (I'm sure you can guess what his superpower was) and I strongly suspect his inspiration for the character would have been a quote from Alexei Sayle. He used to have a routine twenty years ago where he would talk about his education, pointing out that he had one CSE in metalwork and another in biology - "so if you want your dog welding, I'm your man."

You see? It all links together...


Microsoft's Family Discount scheme for Vista appears to have run off the rails a bit. Well, all right then, it's gone completely tits-up.