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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: February 2008

February was an interesting month, not least because we got an earthquake here in the UK.

In typical fashion, I slept through the whole thing.


Thanks to Linkbunnies, I just got Rickrolled. Mind you, Rickrolling in Doom is obviously more effective than a chainsaw. Just don't try this at home, kids.


The Register are conducting a poll of the most memorable lines from a science fiction movie. Rutger Hauer's speech from Blade Runner is currently well out in front. I voted for "My God, it's full of stars!" because I'm like that.


Let's take a little time today to celebrate the career of one of Hollywood's great unsung heroes, Albert Leong. His name may be unfamiliar but I bet you'll recognise his face instantly, as he's just made a very respectable fifth place in Empire magazine's list of the greatest movie henchmen of all time for his performance as Uli in Die Hard. You may also recognise him as the guy who Arnold Schwarzenegger kills with an ice cream cornet in John McTiernan's somewhat unusual superhero comedy film, Last Action Hero. That has to be the most bizarre movie death in the history of motion pictures, and the guy doesn't even get his name in the film's credits. It's not fair, and I believe that his contribution to film needs to be recognised far more than it is.

As a result, I'm glad that I'm able to draw your attention to a campaign to get him a lifetime achievement gong from the MTVmovie awards. Hell, it's the least he deserves.

You may also know him as the hatchet-wielding leader of the Wing Kong gang in John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. As far as I'm concerned, you can forget John Wayne - Al will always be the quintessential on-screen Genghis Khan thanks to his appearance in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. The man's a superstar.


Remember last month I was talking about the names people give to their children? Today I present to you the list of baby names to end all lists of baby names, compiled by the folks at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It's so comprehensive that they've had to split it into 24 categories, just to make each set manageable. Believe me, you wouldn't want to work through the entire list in one go. In each of those twenty four categories there are several names that are just stupefyingly ill-advised. The names... The names are amazing. Would anyone you know consider naming their child "Toyota" or "Courvoisier"? How about "Maybelline" or "Mauretania"?

Let's face it, if you give your kid a name like "Matrix" or "Chlorine" then it's pretty bloody obvious that they are going to have problems at school. Don't do it to them. In fact, if you think those are cool names for a child then you really, really aren't the sort of people who should be having kids.


I found the baby names link while I was wandering around the Lonely Machines site that I discovered today - after William Gibson blogged the Mall Ninja story they ran a while ago. Do read it, it's very funny, even if (like me) you have limited experience of malls and know nothing about guns. Or ninjas.


Typical, isn't it? We got one of the largest earthquakes in England for twenty years last night and I slept through the whole thing. I received text messages from Ruth and Rebecca this morning - they had a much more exciting experience, hearing deep rumbling noises and having the furniture moving about! The media went into meltdown, even if the most serious injury was a man in Yorkshire who suffered a broken hip after a chimney fell through his roof. Blimey.


One of the folks from the William Gibson Board has gone on holiday with a rather special experimental video camera. It takes video using a full 360 degree spherical field of view, and some of the footage he's taken so far is up on his website for you to look at. You'll need Flash 9 to see it.

It is, frankly, one of the most amazing uses of technology I have come across in the last decade. I can't begin to explain just how impressed I am by this. I want one.


Oh yes. I don't care how desperately unhip they are, I *have* to get one of these: a black t-shirt with a display that indicates when it's receiving 802.11b or 802.11g wireless network signals. When shirts with displays first came out they were scarily expensive, but they've really dropped in price. Sadly, with having an iPod that has WiFi capabilities I'd actually find this *useful*.



The Guardian: underlying Lloyds TSB profits up 6%. The BBC: Lloyds TSB profits fall 6%. WTF?


Busy day

I was away over the weekend catching up with friends, visiting my family and meeting my new niece, as you can see here. She's doing fine, and her family are thrilled. Ain't she cute?


I've been working at home today. I've already got more done than I planned - I tend to be much more productive when I can sit down uninterrupted and get on with things. I've just stopped for lunch, so I'm doing the blog while I wait for a pasta bake to come out of the oven. But I'm sitting here sniffling and shivering, so I hope I'm not coming down with something. I've put the heating on, too - it feels really cold today, colder than it did when I drove home from Norfolk on Monday night. Then I had to contend with freezing fog and visibility down to twenty metres or so. When I stopped to fill the car up with petrol it was coated in ice. Today the greatest challenge I've encountered is the occasional draft; the local weather station is reporting that the temperature is ten degrees above what it was on Monday, but I can't get warm.

Time for a hot drink, I think. I may even have to go out to the local shop in search of some chocolate biscuits.


I came across one or two things while I was away that you may have missed. You may wish to check out the gigantic motorcycle from Australia, some amazing playlist manipulation for your iPod just to get it filled up with stuff you haven't listened to for a while, a scrobbler for the iPod touch that actually works, a recipe for the sandwich that killed Elvis (yummy), a page for the folk from the William Gibson Board who are now taking over LastFM (we now have our own online radio channel, which provides a distictly eclectic mix of music for your listening pleasure), the weird phenomenon of email apnea (holding your breath while you conduct your electronic correspondence) and, of course, the end of the high definition format war.

To me, Blu-Ray is still a rather hastily cobbled-together standard that needs to settle down before I get round to buying a player.

Actually I suspect that I will end up getting a Playstation 3 to provide HD content. Just not right now.


When I blogged earlier this week about the way in which people have succumbed to fear and paranoia since 9/11 I was rather hoping that I wouldn't hear about any more examples for a good month or two but here's another scary story, this time from Stoke-on-Trent. A police armed response unit came very close to shooting a guy dead in the street because someone mistook the mp3 player he was listening to for a gun.

They must have realised he wasn't a threat pretty damn quickly, so what I'd really like to know is why the police then dragged the poor man off to the station to take his DNA and fingerprints if all he was doing was listening to an MP3 player? And who in their right mind thinks that "sorry for any inconvenience" is an adequate apology for treating someone like that?


It looks like Bee and Flower's Dingwalls gig will be happening as planned, which is good news.


There's a certain personality type who has completely lost the plot in the last seven years or so, and they have transformed air travel into one of the most miserable, soul-destroying experiences known to mankind. It's a great shame there isn't a large-scale alternative to jet aircraft, because if there was most airport authorities would see their customer base disappear in milliseconds. Trying to get to your flight these days means subjecting yourself to indignities, coercion, bullying and abuse by people who have little or no idea why they are inflicting the various security measures on us. They don't need to know, anyway. It's enough that they like doing it. It makes them feel important. I used to love flying. Now I loathe and detest it, and try to avoid it as much as possible. That's really not the sort of attitude you want to instil in your customers, is it?

Now it appears that a lot of the same sort of people work in the oil industry, too. Today we learned that the massive security operation on the hotel platform in the North Sea at the weekend was sparked off after a woman told somebody about a nightmare she'd had. One of the people involved described the events as "complete madness on behalf of everyone." That's an understatement, to say the least; so why does the poor woman have to appear in court? It's her managers who should be had up - on charges of gross incompetence and serious overreacting, just for starters. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen stuck his oar in to praise the security services - "after more than three decades of North Sea oil this is the first serious security incident of this kind that I can recall," he said. Except it wasn't serious at all, you silly man; it was someone having a bad dream and the dickheads in charge not knowing what a proper and common sense approach should be.

It only became a serious incident because someone completely misjudged things. We've already seen how paranoia and a willingness to see terrorism as a motive behind entirely harmless behaviour can lead to innocent people being shot dead by the police. The same thing could have happened here. It wouldn't have taken much for someone to have a quiet word with the people involved, but instead it looks like higher management pressed the panic button without thinking and the whole affair roared off, completely out of hand. It's probably cost the taxpayer several million quid. The really sad part of it all is that I'm just glad nobody died this time.


Monday comes around again, and I had a productive day at work today, which has left me feeling in a good mood. The weather over the weekend was fantastic, and it stayed that way today - driving back from a meeting in Oxfordshire this afternoon was very pleasant. I hope you're having a good week, too.


Last weekend I met up with a friend of mine I've known for absolutely ages but who I hadn't seen for nearly ten years. Dana's band Bee and Flower were supporting American Music Club at the Thekla in Bristol. It was a good gig and it was nice to meet the band, hang out and chat after all that time. It was the first date of their current UK tour, but now I don't know whether or not the London gig on the 13th will have to be moved as they were playing Dingwalls in Camden - and there was a major fire there over the weekend. Check out the band's website for an update if you're thinking of going. I hope the tour goes well for them.

Last Friday evening I caught the end of a documentary on BBC Four about Scott Walker - a film called 30th Century Man. Lo and behold, as the credits scrolled by I noticed Dana's name go past; she did some CG work on the sleepwalkers segment of the film. Just a coincidence? I don't know, but I love it when things happen like this. I firmly believe that if you notice bizarre coincidences, and comment on them, the Universe rewards you: "Good, you're paying attention! Have some more examples!" Colin Wilson develops this idea in his book on The Occult, and comes up with some outrageous stories of his own, so I will be watching out over the next few weeks to see if I catch any more.

Of course, in the end they may just be coincidences, but that would make the world a slightly greyer and less interesting place and anyway, I'm a firm believer in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Dirk Gently would be proud of me, I'm sure.


It looks like the attitude of "if it's on the Internet, it must be free" is alive and well, at least as far as The Scotsman newspaper is concerned. They've allegedly been nicking copyrighted material from the web and publishing it in their paper without paying the authors anything for their efforts. Cheeky, given that their site is plastered in copyright notices. Cheekier still the fact that that they've ignored all communications from the author mentioned in the story who is understandably rather peeved.

I get annoyed by people ripping off copyrighted material (particularly since I've been on the receiving end) so I'm mentioning it here, and if you've got a site, why not mention it too? The comments to the story are interesting as well - particularly the poor soul who submitted a photograph to the BBC only to see it added to their stock photo library. Their work has been reused several times and of course the photographer has never received any payment. I've been tempted to enter the Beeb's photographic competitions myself, but being a natural cynic I had a feeling that I might end up getting ripped off in this sort of way. In the end I never submitted anything to them; it looks like that was the right choice to make.

Oh, and I'd just like to point out: this blog is copyright material, too.

Just, you know, sayin'.


I seldom if ever get a good night's sleep. I wake up each morning feeling more tired than I did when I went to bed. Lots of people have problems with insomnia, and until I read the Guardian's story I thought I was one of them. Why else would I be sitting here right now yawning my head off? The thing is, the article suggests that getting a solid eight hours of sleep is a modern invention. The norm is actually two phases of sleep, separated by between one and three hours of "lucid wakefulness." That's me at about three am - lying awake, worrying that I should be fast asleep, getting my rest. The problem is compounded by the fact that with this phase of wakefulness in the middle of the night, I'm still only half way through my second phase of sleep when the alarm clock goes a few hours later and I have to wake up and go to work. I suppose I should go to bed earlier, but somehow there's always something else to do and it's usually much too late by the time I finally decide to head upstairs.


Life just got a little less mysterious today. The Guardian have a puff piece today on the Swedish home furnishings retailer Ikea, which explains the naming convention used to give their products those mysteriously elliptical (and occasionally giggle-inducing) names. Their bathroom stuff is all named after lakes and rivers, while kitchen products are given names taken from grammatical terms. I always hoped that we would eventually get a product range that borrowed heavily from the dialect of Monty Python's Knights of Ni, but it seems that is not going to happen.

On the other hand, there's at least one person out there who has named a child of theirs Ikea, so stay tuned - quite evidently, anything is possible.


I've added another link to the information box at the top of my main blog page. This will take you to my LastFM page. If you're not aware of it, LastFM is a system that lets you check out what people are listening to on their iPod or their computer. Now you can find out just how up to date my musical taste is. Or isn't, more likely.

If you sign up for their free service, they will tell you of other users who have a similar taste in music to you. Their recommendations system is pretty much the best one on the web, and it does a good job of suggesting other artists that you might like to listen to. Be warned, though: if you're anything like me, you'll discover that it's hugely addictive. Another tip - if you have an iPod Touch, I recommend installing the standalone scrobbling software iScrobbler because the LastFM software won't pick up anything you play on it. iScrobbler is a distinctively British application - if you leave your mouse pointer over its system tray icon, it spits out one of selection of phrases, all adapted from popular UK television advertising slogans from the last twenty years!


So Microsoft have made an offer for Yahoo. From where I'm standing it makes good sense for both companies, particularly for Yahoo, who are looking down the barrel at mass layoffs at the moment. I'm less sure about the benefits for their users. Yahoo are big enough to keep Microsoft on their toes, but if they combine we're left with pretty much two major players: Microsoft and Google. I wasn't particularly hopeful when Yahoo bought Flickr, but the prospect of the site eventually migrating to Microsoft technology disturbs me. If the merger is accepted by Yahoo's board (and at the price Microsoft are offering they'd be rash not to) then this year is going to turn out to be a very interesting one for the computer industry.