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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: February 2012

Like last year, February was a hectic blur of song writing and music making. I had a great time doing something creative and rewarding (who doesn't?) and I also learned something about the creative process itself. By the time the 29th rolled around, I'd added 19 original songs to my collection. Not bad, eh?


I've just uploaded my 19th original song to FAWM, an instrumental called Proteus.

Including my collaboration with Matt Blick on his track Cheese on Toast, that makes 20 songs I've worked on this month, which is way beyond the target I set myself just four weeks ago, and I'm delighted with the results. Once again, I've learnt a huge amount about writing, playing and recording music, and my singing has improved considerably (not as big an achievement as it sounds, as it was, frankly, dismal when I started!)

Okay, I wasn't entirely serious for some of the time - in fact, those pieces are the ones I enjoyed doing most. Last night's effort, for instance, stemmed entirely from a very silly idea I had as I got ready for bed on Monday night. Once I'd found a decent Ring Modulator VST plugin for Ableton, I couldn't resist recording what happened when I opened the studio up to a guest vocalist who called himself "Bob" although I suspect that wasn't his real name...


Making Promised You The Galaxy was fun.

When I was a kid my friends and I used to spend the summer holidays recording skits and sketches like this on my cassette recorder. If I'd had the technology I've got now back then, I don't think I would ever have left the house.

I was also chuffed to discover that fellow FAWMer Johnny Cashpoint played my track F15 in his podcast this week. That was jolly nice of him!


When I last checked in here, I still needed to write one more song to "win" February Album Writing Month. Since then I've finished another three tracks, so I think we can safely say I've managed to hit my target. Let me talk you through the latest batch of tunes...

F-15 is an instrumental.

I left my fifteenth track for this year's FAWM with the name I'd given it on my DAW, because it seemed to fit. Although I was going for a drum and bass approach, things didn't go according to plan and as several people have noted, what I actually produced ended up sounding like the theme tune to a 1980s science fiction TV show. Not that that's a bad thing, I hasten to add; I like 1980s science fiction TV shows!

Next up was Nevada.

FAWM wouldn't be FAWM without at least one song about aliens, and if I'm writing something with an extraterrestrial feel to it, you know I'm going to wheel out the Theremin. I'm pretty pleased with this - it might be a bugger to play, but I kept it more or less in tune throughout. And yes, I managed to sling a quote from last year's song in there too.

Proton Decay was a bit different.

While I was compacting the hard drive on the multitrack recorder on Saturday night, I decided to try my hand at an ambient piece just using the Korg as a MIDI controller triggering things in Ableton. I wanted to see if I could sound a bit like Boards of Canada, so the song structure is just a repeating chord sequence (there is a B pattern there early on, but it's well buried) with some suitably atmospheric processing. I very rapidly ran out of processor power on the studio PC - so I ended up rendering each track out to a WAV file and then importing them back into the arrangement. It seemed to work OK and it's got an ethereal feel to it that I'm rather pleased with. I might record a few more of these!

February's not over yet, so there may well be more music in the next couple of days, but that's it for the moment. I hope you've enjoyed this mad burst of creativity as much as I have.


Gearbox Software have released the first full trailer for Borderlands 2 and announced the release date. Don't expect to get anything sensible out of me during the last half of September.


Peter Lippmann is a photographer whose work specialises in themes of dereliction and decay. I heard about him from this Feature Shoot article about his Paradise Parking set. It's heartbreaking to see some of those lovely old cars disappearing into the undergrowth, but those are some great images.


I'm continuing to make progress with FAWM - in fact, if this wasn't a leap year I'd already have reached my target. Last night I sat down at the keyboard with a vague idea of writing something with a 1930s feel, complete with lo-fi vocals. Two and a half hours later I was uploading my fourteenth completed song to the web: Dog Tired.

When I started out on FAWM this year, one goal I set myself was for the songs to outnumber the instrumentals. So far eight of the tracks I've uploaded feature singing and another has spoken words on it, so I think we can safely say I've achieved that goal. But I've yet to record anything with Theremin this month; that's a goal for the weekend, I think. First I need to come up with a suitable context for a song that features spooky electronic noises, so I have started casting around for inspiration.

Yesterday everyone seemed to be talking about how tired they are. When I'm this far into FAWM if a subject crops up in conversation more than a couple of times during the day, I take it as a sign that I ought to write a song about it. I've got a 15-song milestone to make so I'm not going to pass up inspiration; I'll take whatever I can get. Given the subject matter of the songs I've already posted this month, you've probably already figured that out for yourself.


My academic side finds the whole process of songwriting fascinating, particularly as I seem to have two completely different approaches to coming up with a tune. The first approach, which is the one I've used since I first started writing music nearly four decades ago, is to come up with a melody and then write lyrics that fit it. The way I wrote last night's song followed that pattern and it was a slow process, taking things line by line. But my second approach, one that I've only really started to use in the last couple of years, is that I'll suddenly think of a word or phrase that "feels" like it belongs in a song. If I'm lucky, when I sit down and start writing out the lyrics, everything falls into place in a few minutes. This month, both "Gear Acquisition Syndrome" and "Hack The Gibson" were created like that. In a few minutes I'd written all the lyrics, and as soon as I read them back I could hear the song in my head. One way to describe the process is that it feels like I'm discovering something rather than making it. Perversely, although this sounds like I have less conscious control over the creative process when I work this way, the music that I create is almost always far more satisfying. I enjoy listening to it much more. Even the process of recording tracks with this approach is easier and many of the instruments I play get laid down in a single take. That was certainly the case with the two songs I mentioned above. The synthesiser and synth guitar on Hack The Gibson are all first take, as are the bass and keyboards on Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I've learned to really treasure pieces I've written that turn out like this.

My experience raises a couple of interesting questions: why does this happen, and how can I make it happen more? FAWMer @debs mentioned a term on the forums last night that I'd not come across before called Flow. As soon as I read the Wikipedia page about it, I realised it describes the condition I blogged about last month when "the muse shows up" and the creative act seems to become both focused and effortless. The term "Flow" was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and there's a video of him from 2004 where he talks about people who achieve flow in their everyday lives over at TED.com. Achieving mastery in your chosen field, something he defines as having worked at something for at least ten years, seems to be a prerequisite for making flow possible. It's an interesting talk, even if he can't give everyone a quick solution to achieving flow for themselves. As you've probably guessed, I've ordered one of Csikszentmihalyi's books on the subject, so I'll let you know what I learn from it.


On Tuesday my latest set of studio gear was delivered, and I spent the evening switching connections between computers, recorders and instruments. The first thing I discovered was that you can never have too many leads and patch cables. I had to buy a handful of TRS cables and there are still a few connections I need to wire up, but I've got all the important bits working. By the time I was finished, I was too tired to do anything other than give the monitors a quick try out, but after using it with a definite goal in mind on Wednesday night I'm very pleased with the revised setup.

Putting its unfortunate name to one side, the Mackie studio matrix controller is going to make life much easier. It lets me select between four different input sources and route them to up to three sets of monitors, something that wasn't previously a problem until I started using Ableton. Suddenly I realised I needed to hear what the PC was doing through the same speakers that I used to monitor the D3200, but at the same time I needed to be able to switch routings on and off quickly in order to prevent feedback when I fed the PC output back into the Korg. The Mackie does all that brilliantly, but that's not all it does: while the ability to switch between several sets of monitors is not something that I ever thought I'd need, I've already found it very useful. For the first decade or so when I recorded music I only ever listened to what I was doing through a pair of headphones. Since 1995, when I started using computers to make music, I've also been using a set of Altec Lansing computer speakers. The set is a 2.1 system that came with a PC that I've long since retired, and up until now I thought they sounded OK. The subwoofer definitely helped cover the lower frequencies, and the general sound field got the job done. But now for the first time I'm listening to my recordings through a set of active near field monitors, and the control matrix lets me switch between my old speakers and the new ones running at the same volume, just by pressing a button. The first time I did this was a revelation, believe me. I hadn't expected the difference to be so great. Unfortunately it meant I rapidly decided that everything I've produced so far will need remixing at some point. I've kept the Altec Lansing speakers connected so I can hear what my stuff will sound like on systems with a more limited frequency response such as a car stereo, so they're still going to be useful. But the KRKs reveal subtleties in the sound that up until now I had missed completely. And the RP5s are the baby speakers in the range - god knows what the bigger ones sound like. I'm glad I didn't choose the larger ones, to be honest, because they just wouldn't have fitted into my workspace!

I'm still messing around with my studio gear, and I suspect I always will be. After all, didn't I just write a song about this? The next change I've decided to make is that the Mac Mini I've currently got linked up to the TV in the living room would be better employed in the studio - especially as I can now run it through the same display that I'm using for my DAW. It's got a few audio programs installed, including a copy of the legendary sound synthesis software Supercollider - but learning to use that will be a project for later in the year, I think. It's not going to be a trivial task.


Laws of physics not broken after all. A loose connection on a fibre optic link to a GPS receiver used to pinpoint the location of the Gran Sasso neutrino detector appears to have been the source of the 60 nanosecond discrepancy that had some people thinking the speed of light had been broken. Moral of story: if you're given the choice of 2 reasons for unexpected results and those reasons are (1) Einstein got special relativity wrong or (2) somebody goofed, pick option (2).


I totally agree with this: Splash screens == sloth. Kas Thomas works for Adobe, and he's fed up of the splash screens that sit in front of you while the program you want to use loads. He takes a deliberately extreme point of view in the post, but a lot of what he says strikes a chord. He's not the only one who doesn't see the point of showing the credits every time you use the software. My graphics program is not a movie. Programmers are not film directors.

More to the point, I'm also old enough to remember what life used to be like when he says "I remember when whole operating systems ran in less memory than Firefox leaks in 10 seconds, for crying out loud. (Yeah, so, I guess I am old. And cranky.)" I'm in the same boat: I remember when the OS I used came on a 360 Kb floppy disk! So why is it that the program I use for reading .pdf files (and yes, it's an Adobe product) needs to take up an amazing 250 Mb of disk space? Quarter of a gigabyte, just to show a document on screen? That's without providing any functions for doing anything to it, like editing the text it contains. I guess it's only when you compare today's software with earlier versions that you really notice how bloated it's all become. Wouldn't it be lovely to use a computer that booted up in a few seconds, and where everything was available immediately (or as near as makes no difference) at the click of a mouse? Is that too much to ask?


I was surprised how little flap was caused this week by the Obayashi Corporation's announcement that it intends to have a space elevator in operation by 2050. Considering that involves using carbon nanotubes to build a massively strong cable that will stretch a quarter of the way to the Moon, I thought people would have been more excited. I was - I just hope they'll let 90-year-old guys have a go on it when it's built...


Not much on the blogging front this week, but I've been very busy filling my spare time with FAWM-related activity. As of teatime tonight I have thirteen songs uploaded, so I'm in sight of the target. As I should have expected, the new monitors for the studio I ordered in January are due to arrive on Tuesday, by which time I fully expect to have everything done and dusted.

Ah well. You can listen to my latest additions below.

Shut Up was inspired by a thread on the FAWM website about people's problems with barking dogs and other extraneous noises interrupting their recordings. For me it's birds. Sparrows keep sitting on the gutter outside the window of the room where I do all my recording. I was doing a vocal track earlier in the week and I could distinctly hear the noise through my headphones.

I think I sound like John Shuttleworth here, and somebody else said I reminded them of Jona Lewie. But I like the way the Chapman Stick blends in to my trademark glitched piano loop.

For Gear Acquisition Syndrome, I got the funk, and I got it bad. And if you're a musician you are probably all too familiar with the devastating condition known as GAS.

This track took almost all of Saturday for me to do. It's the first song this year where I used nTrack to program a proper drum track rather than just winging it on the Korg or pasting loops in with Ableton. When I came to start work on it, I realised I'd completely forgotten how the software worked, and had no idea where to begin; it took me the whole morning just to get the drums ready. It was worth doing, though; I really hit the right groove with the slap bass this one. I have to say I'm very proud of the end result. I can actually listen to myself singing on this without wincing, and that's a first for me.

In contrast to the last track, which took almost all of yesterday to do, Petrichor was completely improvised and just half an hour after I'd started it I was uploading it to the FAWM site. I'm sure I don't need to tell you what petrichor is, do I?

When I listened back to it after recording it, I realised that one of the licks I'd played sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember where I might have heard it. This morning I found it: it's from the great Tom Waits song Dead and Lovely on the album Real Gone.

Some background is needed for Fair Means Or Fowl. There was a thread at FAWM with the title Write a song with this line in it... where @kermy and @bradbrubaker had come up with a pair of totally ludicrous lines (from their dreams) and issued a challenge: write something that contained them, unadulterated, uncut, and unrefined. I couldn't let a challenge like that go past; the problem was that the two lines were

"Held the feathers of the impoverished chickens"


"Don't let your puppets fall off the dock."


For some reason, I ended up making things even more challenging by deciding that I'd imagine what it would be like if the resulting track was taken from an album about how chickens had taken over the world called The Coop. An album, my imagination told me, which had been recorded back in the middle of the 1980s by a very successful British rock band just before the two main creative forces in the group had their final spectacular bust-up...

One comment I got on this one used the phrase "mad brilliance" which pleases me no end.


If you've been reading the blog for a while you'll know I recently established that my sleep problems are closely related to the amount of caffeine I consume every day. Earlier this week I discovered that two doctors at Penn State University have developed an iOS app that helps you manage your caffeine intake. It's generating a lot of interest, (it made Slashdot, which is how I heard about it) and quite deservedly so. There's a free version with adverts, and an ad-free version that you have to buy. I'm tempted, but there are too many variables outside the control of the app for it to be a practical solution.We saw back in December just how variable caffeine levels in coffee can be. How do I tell how much caffeine there is in each cup I drink? There doesn't seem to be any reliable way of finding that out.


Not many people know this, but civilisation is actually being run for the benefit of foxes. Once they've queued up to get cash from the machine, it's time to hit the shops. As The Gentle Author explains, I'm afraid these photos aren't quite as remarkable as they seem: they are from a set by the photographer Martin Usborne and the fox was, sadly, a stuffed one. The fact that one of them was doing the rounds on Twitter today is a perfect example of how images acquire fresh meaning when they are copied, their original context stripped away either on purpose or just as a result of the gradual erosion of practices like attribution or (ahem) copyright. All the same it's a great set of photographs and the photographer's meaning remains clear.

In contrast, you may have seen a photograph plastered all over Facebook this month which shows two large black birds sitting on a park bench with the "LOLCAT" style caption ATTEMPTED MURDER because, ha ha, two crows aren't enough to be classed as a murder of crows, the collective noun for a gathering of crows being a murder, geddit? Except that, thanks to the ineptitude of the person who first came up with the caption to associate with that particular image, the photograph doesn't actually show any crows at all; the birds are ravens and the caption should really read "ATTEMPTED UNKINDNESS" which er, isn't even remotely funny.


Thanks to @bridge and @mondoagogo for bringing to my attention the most fantastic quote from a scientific article I've read so far this year: Seagoing dinosaurs did not explode nearly as often as scientists believed.

As we're talking about decomposition and the build up of gases, I would have thought "burst" would have been a more accurate word than "explode", but it's much less exciting. And hey, if it gets your research paper mentioned by the Guardian, who's complaining?


A Canadian man "named Joe" has been excavating his basement since 1997 using remote controlled model diggers and bulldozers. This fact leaves me completely lost for words.


Track number nine for FAWM included Stylophone. Let's just smile gracefully and move on, shall we?


The entry in my diary for February 13th 1995 just says "Project meeting: Filton, Bristol." Seventeen years ago today I started working down here; the night before I'd got back from a week's skiing holiday in Italy. I can't believe how fast the time has gone. The decision to leave Milton Keynes and move down to the West Country has proved to be one of my better ones and apart from a few months where I ended up living in Florida I've been here ever since. It's a lovely part of the world and I've got very used to village life. The cows around these parts are real, not concrete. I don't miss the city at all, although it's nice to visit London every now and again.

When Rebecca stopped by yesterday she commented on how many birds there were in the back garden - it's nice to see. However, it has meant that some of my music recording activities have to take place after dark: when I'm trying to record a vocal track and all I can hear in my headphones is chirping sparrows and a chaffinch singing outside the window, it reminds me I'm not living in a bleak and sterile city.

DAVID KELLY 1929 - 2012

The "Orilly Man" is no more.

The great Irish actor David Kelly has died. When I first saw him on TV, he made quite an impression; he played the inept builder Mr O'Reilly in Fawlty Towers. The next time I saw him on TV my reaction was "oh, it's that guy!" He was appearing as the one-armed waiter Albert Riddle in Robin's Nest, and he played the role so well that it apparently confused a lot of people he met - as they had assumed that he really did only have one arm! From then on I always enjoyed seeing him crop up in all sorts of different roles. Whatever he did, he always brought something special and entertaining to the roles he played and I was delighted to see him playing Charlie Bucket's Grandpa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a few years ago. The fact that he won't be cropping up in any new movies has left me feeling rather melancholy tonight.


Spirit of the West is my seventh song for FAWM this year, so I'm half way to my target. This one owes more than a little to the Spaghetti Western Orchestra gig I went to on Thursday night, of course.

I'm on a roll today; here's FAWM track number eight, which works in a reference to Charlie Stross's novel Accelerando as well as nods to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. It's called Working On The Moon.

I am informed, m'lud, that this type of music is referred to as "trancefloor."

This one still needs work - there are too many things going on around the frequency of my vocals and everything's getting a bit lost. For me even this second attempt at a mix isn't very satisfactory, even though it's a huge improvement on the first. Maybe I'll just record the track again with some different settings...


I took a couple of days off from February Album Writing Month this week to head into Bristol. On Wednesday I was at a colleague's leaving do which was held at a giant "all you can eat" buffet restaurant near the Watershed called Za Za Bazaar (warning: hideous and badly-written website). The food was okay, but the place had massive floor-to-ceiling windows down one side and was obviously suffering from the extremely cold weather - there were space heaters dotted all over the place. It was absolutely packed, to the point where it took so long to queue up for some things that it was very difficult to overindulge. So I didn't, which is a good thing.

On Thursday I ignored the warnings of imminent snowfall and headed over to what has become my favourite venue in Bristol, St George's. The acoustics there are better than anywhere else in the city, and the guys I saw made full use of them. The Spaghetti Western Orchestra do exactly what it says on the tin; they perform the spectacular music which Ennio Morricone wrote for the films of Sergio Leone. Five guys get through more than 100 instruments in just under an hour and a half, playing everything from grand piano, trumpet, bassoon and mandolin through to jew's harp, theremin, double bass, two asthma inhalers, a small packet of cornflakes and a cabbage.

Now, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. My friends and family know it, too; when the SWO's Spaghetti Western Prom was shown on BBC Four last summer my brother, my cousin and one of my friends rang me up in the first five minutes to tell me to watch (needless to say, I was already glued to the screen). Live, it was even better. Thursday's show was one of the most deeply engaging performances I've seen in a long time and for most of it I was absolutely transfixed. The rest of the time I was humming or singing along (as directed by the band). Even the music that started playing through the PA when the lights came up at the end of the gig left me smiling, because it was Zappa's Peaches en Regalia.

I bought their live CD, which was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It's an excellent record of their show. And I'm following them on Twitter, too. If you ever get a chance to see them, don't hesitate. And in case you're wondering, yes, I got home before the snow started.


Even from my limited experience of making the things I thought this condensed guide to drawing comics made a lot of sense. While I'm talking about comics, may I recommend my current obsessions on the web? I'm still loving Jeph Jacques's Questionable Content but thanks to @rbrwr on Twitter I recently discovered John Allison's rather excellent Bad Machinery. Both strips are thoughtful, well-drawn epics full of interesting plots, great gags and regular nerdy references (and I loved Jeph's nod to Alistair Reynolds in the latest episode of QC). What's not to like?


Douglas Trumbull on the future of movies. Hollywood, put this guy in charge immediately. Super-bright, laser-projected images running at >100 frames per second, looking so real that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas didn't realise that they were looking at a film? How could this not be anything other than amazing? In case you're unfamiliar with Mr Trumbull's work, pop by the house sometime and I'll show you some of it: he created the visual effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he was photographic effects supervisor on Blade Runner, and he directed two of my favourite films: Silent Running and Brainstorm. He knows what he's talking about; I just hope the right people are listening.


I was most amused to discover from my Statcounter records that my website ranked first on Google this week for the query "getting drunk on long coach journeys". Go me!


Last night I was back writing music, but there's lots of finishing off to do on the recording I made so now it's time to fire up the machines and get back to work. I want to create at least three tracks this weekend to add to the ones I've already submitted to FAWM, so let's see how I do...


One of the UK's truly great science fiction novelists passed away on Friday. When I first discovered SF I read anything and everything I could find that was written by Christopher Samuel Youd. You may well have done so (or seen adaptations of his work on television) without realising it - as he published much of his work under the pseudonym John Christopher.

My childhood would not have been the same without his contribution, and neither would my subsequent reading habits. The Tripods stories in particular made a huge impression on me, as did his dark, apocalyptic novel The Death of Grass. This was the first work he published as John Christopher and it is the first book I can remember reading that took ecological and environmental issues as its main theme (and it was published in 1956, way before such things had reached popular consciousness). It is also a very bleak novel - and coming to it from the lighter work of authors like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov or Andre Norton was quite a shock. I remember the younger me being really taken aback by his worldview. With the news of his passing I feel like a little bit of that bleakness has seeped into our reality.


Cutting down on my coffee intake has definitely helped with my sleeping, but now that I seem to have got the hang of sleep again my body obviously can't get enough of it. I sat down for a FAWM lyric writing session last night but by nine o'clock I had only managed three lines and I could barely keep my eyes open; half an hour later I was in bed and turning out the light. I'm still ahead of schedule with four pieces written so far but I hope tonight will be a little more productive.


My latest effort for FAWM was recorded last night before I went to bed in a single take - no tweaks, no overdubs, no mercy.


This evening's effort for FAWM was recorded in a little over an hour. I might be getting the hang of this lark.


I had the heating on all night last night. My little weather station tells me the temperature just outside the kitchen window dropped as low as -9.1°C overnight, so I think that was justified. I got home a few minutes ago and it doesn't look like the temperature got above freezing all day as there is still a thick frost on the back lawn. At ten to five in the afternoon it's -4°C, so I suspect we'll be in for another cold night tonight. Sadly it looks like the blue sky out there at them moment won't stick around because the forecast for the weekend is for snow.


Singer David Lee Roth is very rarely lost for words, but the Guardian's Michael Hann manages it when he asks if Diamond Dave needs Eddie (and Eddie needs Dave) in order to create their best work. (Any fan of the band could have told you that, but it floors Mr Roth.)

A little more research would have made for a better article, though. Describing the new album as "the first recordings Roth has made with the band since departing (...) in 1985" is complete bollocks. Roth got back together with the band in 1996 to record a couple of new tracks for their "Greatest Hits" album - Me Wise Magic and Can't Get This Stuff No More. I remember getting very excited at the promise of a renaissance of one of my favourite bands, but it didn't happen; Dave very rapidly fell out with the rest of the band again. I hope that the current arrangement is more robust, because together the guys have produced some of the greatest rock music of all time and let's face it, now more than ever we need some feel-good music in our lives.


I'm blogging this so I can refer back to it in the inevitable serif-versus-sans-serif conversations I will inevitably participate in at some point in the future.


My friend (and fellow WGBer) Lilly tweeted me yesterday when I mentioned I was doing FAWM. "Write one for me" she said, so here it is.


My first song for FAWM this year is called Get Out There...

Hope you like it.


It's February, and that means it's time for February Album Writing Month (a.k.a. FAWM) once again. As it's a leap year this year, we get an extra day of mayhem, so the goal is to write 14 and a half songs in 29 days. That extra half is supposed to be a collaboration with another FAWMER - we'll see how that goes. Now I have a Soundcloud account I can embed tracks in my web pages with a nifty little widget, so I will be posting my stuff here as I produce it, thus enabling you to applaud my efforts with wild abandon (or point and laugh cruelly, whatever takes your fancy).

As I'll be rather busy over the coming weeks, here's a bumper bunch of blog entries to tide you over until I've built up a decent buffer in my recording schedule.


There's an interesting interview with Jack Womack at Rhizome in which he talks about his 1994 novel Random Acts of Senseless Violence and how terrifyingly prescient it now looks, especially in the context of last year's civil unrest in London. If you've never read Jack's stuff, you need to change that, pronto. He's a really interesting writer. If you want your futures bleak and dystopian, populated by characters that you care about, then Jack's most definitely your man. He also presents a series of podcasts for Orbit Books where he talks with other SF authors about their approach to writing that I have on my iPod as a default load-in. Recommended.


The latest update to iTunes has subtly changed the user interface. The Get button on the podcasts listings has disappeared. So far I've been unable to determine whether this is just a bug in the latest release of the program or a conscious decision on Apple's part - I quickly discovered that double clicking on a podcast had the same effect as the Get button used to have. When I have more time, I'll investigate further.


In one of those "you couldn't make it up" moments, the Chicago Tribune reveals that Ben Huh, the man who runs LOLCat central (otherwise known as I Can Has Cheezburger) is allergic to cats.


Lego Gollum? And Gandalf? I want this more than I could possibly convey.


Maintenance procedures are useful things; it pays to read them carefully and then follow them to the letter. If you don't, things can get very expensive in an astonishingly short space of time. Here's how someone who didn't check the procedure and left a maintenance plug in a fuel tank cost the United States Air Force something on the order of 26 million dollars...


It's one thing reading about Judge Dredd using self-guided ammunition in the pages of 2000AD back in the 1980s, it's quite another to read Sandia's latest development report on their version of the real thing. Scary stuff.