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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: March 2011

I was busy for most of March - I visited Canada for the first time, although I didn't get to see much of what the place was like.

Blog content was somewhat thin on the ground, partly because of the travel, partly because I was spending my spare time exploring the delights of my new Korg synthesiser, but also because I was feeling particularly under the weather and struggling - as always - to get a good night's sleep.


I had the extremely unusual experience this morning of being woken up by the alarm clock. Usually I find myself lying in bed looking at the clock for the half hour or so before it goes off, but today I was dead to the world until the announcer on Radio Three told me what time it was. As a result, I feel a bit more human today - I have a bit more energy, and I don't feel anywhere near as tired.


Ph.D. students in Switzerland have come up with a truly awesome research project: quadrocopter ball juggling. They've got some pretty impressive moves. This was brought to my attention, appropriately enough, via William Gibson's Twitter feed and Bill's description of the video footage as "insane" is absolutely spot-on. You need to watch it.


360 Degrees of Cake by Linus Kraemer. Artwork that goes for one of my many weak spots - totally unfair!


I've been pretty run down over the last week. In fact, I was off work for two days, feeling pretty dreadful. I had the whole gamut of symptoms: gummed-up eyes, sore throat, upset stomach, aching arms, tingly fingers, an inability to sleep and absolutely no energy at all. As a result, I was royally fed up. On Tuesday night I crawled in to bed and pretty much stayed there for the next couple of days. I still don't feel that great, to be honest. On Saturday night I was still awake at 3:30 in the morning. Lack of sleep is a major problem for me these days and I feel like a wreck. Still, I got one important piece of work out of the way today and I expect to do the same with another one tomorrow. That is reason enough to feel a little more cheerful, believe me.

One thing that has made me feel a bit better is the evenings getting lighter - although the downside of the clocks going forwards is that I've gone back to driving to work with my headlights on. What I managed to see of the weather over the last week looked pretty good, though, and there are definite signs of spring in the air: my magnolia tree is beginning to blossom and the cherry tree across the road is a haze of pink flowers. It looks (and smells) wonderful.


Thanks to Alan (Gamma Counter on Twitter) for finding the story of photographer Pierre Hebert. Pierre was given a camera for his seventh birthday but he has only recently rediscovered the negatives, which all date from 1975. He's posted the results on his website, and they are beautiful. The quality and composition of the shots are great for a grown-up, let alone a small child. The other work on his website is excellent, too. I get the impression that he found out what he wanted to be when he was a small child, and turned out to be very good at it. We should all be so lucky.


Astronomers at the University of Hawaii have an update on the whereabouts of the asteroid Apophis, which hadn't been imaged for three years or so. Now, you may be wondering why knowing exactly where a lump of rock sailing through outer space is right now is that big a deal, but a few years ago knowing where Apophis was - and, more importantly, where it was going to be in the future - was one of the most important things we've needed to find out, ever. Since the panic of 2005, measurements of Apophis's orbit have got a lot more accurate and we now know that in 2029, this 270 metre lump of rock won't hit our planet. Instead, it will whistle past just 36,000 km above the Earth's surface; that's closer than the satellites you get your TV from.

The trouble is that in 2029 the Earth's gravity will disrupt Apophis's orbit in ways that are very difficult to predict - with the possible result that the rock crashes into us at some point further in the future. Being able to stop that happening is one of the reasons why we need an active and thriving space program. The next time some idiot from the tea party starts spouting their anti-science nonsense, you might want to explain how useful it's going to be down the road.


It says a lot about modern warfare that a guy in the Netherlands with a computer and a bunch of ham radio equipment can monitor the current operations in Libya and point out to the USAF that some of their pilots have forgotten to turn their IFF mode S transponders off...


The Yorkshire Lorem Ipsum generator (via Lilly Lyle). Well, I'll go t'foot of our stairs...


The hotel I was staying at in Canada last week had an interesting clientele, with a heavy-duty goth theme noticeably prevalent. Conversations were regularly interrupted by the speaker rolling a set of dice. I must admit that I was wondering if everyone in Canada spends their spare time hanging out in ankle-length leather coats decked out with pentagrams until I figured out there was a gaming convention going on. It turns out that I was sharing my hotel last week with these folks. The site has a link to a gallery which gives you an idea of the shenanigans!


Yeah, I know - over two weeks without a blog entry. Blame Canada.


I ended up making a business trip at short notice and I've spent most of the last week in Montreal. After the lovely weather here last weekend, the weather in Canada came as a bit of a shock. There was still plenty of snow on the ground and when I landed the temperature was somewhere around -10°C. The freezing rain wasn't particularly pleasant either, but things warmed up as the week progressed and when I left it was sunny and above freezing.

The trip was a fairly uneventful one. Well, apart from the earthquake, that is...


I didn't feel it at all, and neither did any of the people I was with. At 4.3 on the Richter scale it was pretty minor (especially given the dreadful events in Japan last week) but it brought home the fact that I really wasn't in the UK any more. I'm not one to reinforce national stereotypes or anything, but free time in Canada appears to be devoted to taking part in one of two activities. The first is bowling. No prizes for guessing what the second one is:


Sadly, I spent most of the week in meetings, and I didn't really see much of the place beyond the airport and its environs which were bleakly industrial. I hope I'll be able to visit again when the weather's a bit kinder, as I've been told that downtown Montreal is well worth a visit.


Thanks to Alan on Twitter for mentioning Emilio Gomariz's triangulation blog, which told me about the work of Clement Valla. In particular, it covers the strange results he'd produced using Google Earth. Because GE applies the contours of the ground to its 3D view with fairly low resolution, views of bridges and dams look most peculiar. They're rather fun.


I've been enjoying Professor Brian Cox's new series Wonders of the Universe on the BBC. He's pretty good at explaining the glories of modern physics, and the show has some stunning visuals. However, if you think the stuff he's covering - ranging from pulsars to the heat death of the Universe - is a little weird, I have to tell you that he's treating you gently. The latest suggestions about what our home was like shortly after the Big Bang are deeply weird. It's suggested that spacetime only developed three dimensions when it had cooled down sufficiently. We only got two dimensions of spacetime when particle energies dropped beolow 100 TeV. Before that we had just one dimension of space to go with the one dimension of time. The amazing thing is that observational results of cosmic rays with energies above 1 TeV actually seem to agree with the proposal, as they align in a two-dimensional plane. Oh, and full marks to the folks at Discovery News for working in a clip from Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

Ever since the Big Bang, the Universe has been cooling down and that process still continues, of course - and as a mind-boggling coda the paper suggests that things may eventually get cool enough for five dimensions to exist rather than the four we've got at the moment. J. B. S. Haldane really hit the nail on the head when he said "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." Indeed.


...are meteorology and data manipulation (yes, I'm an anorak). Folks, have a play with WeatherSpark and find out if you need an anorak too.


I had so much fun making a dance track yesterday that I've done it again this afternoon. This one is slightly more involved, as it's got vocoder and Stick on it, but again I rather like it - it may be just me, but when I played the final mix back I realised that it's got a distinctly Michael Nyman-ish feel to it; what do you think?

It's called Leave It to Science to do the Running. Enjoy.


The Korg makes it ridiculously easy to make music. I was chatting to Rob this afternoon and mentioned that I was thinking about recording a dance track or two, and here's the first one, which I've called Got to Start Somewhere. It took me about 90 minutes to put together from scratch. Push a few buttons, play a few notes, and off it goes. Whether the result is any good or not is another matter entirely, but I like it...


Elsewhere, two Italian rabbits called Ra and Ro have been rocking out. Metal! Thanks to Ergo Phizmiz for tweeting about this one.


I recorded these little snippets on Sunday for some friends on Facebook but keep forgetting to mention them here: the Korg M3 has a number of "combi" patches that, when you press the first key on the keyboard, burst into a full rhythm section - drums, chords, bass, choirs, whatever. I found myself working through them all and as I encountered each one I'd improvise something over the top of the accompaniment. Some of the results were a trifle on the eccentric side, as you'll hear:


I don't know whether it's a post-FAWM comedown or just the unrelenting wintry weather, but it's been a tough week this week and I'm glad it's now Thursday evening and there's only one more work day left until the weekend. I've been feeling pretty dismal since my usual battle with insomnia on Sunday night. I've definitely had better weeks.

There's not much consolation to be had from the headlines, either. It's very difficult to cultivate a bright or positive attitude towards life when you've got this sort of thing going on. It's difficult to believe in a government where decisions like this are made shortly after things like this happen - you might almost think the two events were related in some way. One might even go further and start muttering darkly about "following the money" or having the finest government money can buy.

But as for me, I really just can't be bothered.


Perhaps it's not so strange, an architecture blog interviewing a science fiction author; both professions involve the construction of credible worlds for people to inhabit and whether those worlds are grounded in reality or encompassed solely within your skull is of minor consequence. BLDGBLOG has a huge, dense, fascinating chat with author China Miéville that covers all sorts of interesting stuff, and well worth a read.


Yet another fun site recommended by Jason Kottke: 9-eyes has a long and entertaining parade of wonders from Google Earth: seagulls, segways, arrests and bicycle accidents crop up with surprising regularity. But wait - isn't that Wayne and Garth walking down the B3250 in Plymouth? Isn't that - well, apart from being the wrong side of the Atlantic, isn't that a little old?


I was rather taken by the Movie Barcode tumblr: screen grabs from movies, showing the progression (or otherwise) of colour use as each film progresses. Since digital editing desks became popular and colour grading every frame became a practical possibility, colour in movies has undergone a revolution. Here's where you can browse plentiful examples of films made both before and after, and see exactly how modern film is trending rapidly towards beige.

Apart from The Matrix, obviously, which was and always will be be an insipid green.