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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: April 2012

I don't know where the month went. I visited Dad in East Anglia, had dinner with my sister and her family, discovered the delights of driving the Fosse Way, bought a laptop and another digital radio, did a Flash course and got increasingly frutrated with both Gran Turismo 5 and my Internet connection. Oh, and the weather's been crap ever since a drought was declared. When I walk across the back garden to the bird table, my feet squelch. Roll on summer!


Since I started making music with Ableton I realised that if I was ever going to perform the stuff I'm writing these days in front of an audience, I was going to need a decent laptop to run the software on. The ASUS Eee I bought back in 2009 has been fantastically useful for things that don't require any great degree of processor oomph, but something like Ableton is another matter entirely. Also, the Eee only has a 160Gb hard drive. and during FAWM this year alone I generated over 5Gb of data. So last week I finally got round to getting myself a "proper" laptop and I spent Sunday setting it all up and throwing all of that audio data into a one terabyte hard drive. The 500Gb Toshiba USB drive I bought last month made things a lot easier - if I'd been using my normal flash drives I suspect I'd still be copying files across now. It works fine with the Novation Launchpad, too - which is just as well, as it's the main reason I bought the thing. The final test, which I will carry out this week, is to make sure I can perch it on the side of the Korg M3 without there being any danger of it falling off...

Compared with the Eee, there's a tremendous difference. It's not just the better display, the multi-touch track pad, or the fact that the new laptop actually has an optical disc drive - the leap in performance is stark. The Eee will still come in useful; I'm not about to retire it just yet, but when I head over to Dad's place it's going to be the laptop that comes with me. I've just about got it ready for travelling, after leaving it to download nearly three quarters of a Gigabyte of updates to Windows 7 on Saturday night. I'll probably be heading over to Dad's place next weekend so that will be its trial run, I think.

I've just spent the last hour and a half configuring Dad's new Android tablet, too - I managed to pick up a 16Gb micro SD card for under a tenner from so that's been installed in the tablet's card slot and I've been piling various bits and pieces on to it. I can't believe how small (and cheap) cards in the micro SD format are: 16Gb of storage fits on a sliver of plastic about the size of my fingernail and I'm quite sad I don't have a single device that uses the format. I've given Dad's tablet a thorough test (in other words I've played the Angry Birds app that came with it, listened to a couple of mp3s and watched some videos) and I'm very impressed with the thing. For the money it's impossible to fault it: the display is crisp and clear and the interface is easy to pick up. Okay, the paper manual that comes with the thing is next to useless but any issues that I couldn't figure out how to resolve were quickly sorted out with a five second search on Google. I'm quite tempted to get one of my own. I've set up his browser with links to BBC News, Project Gutenberg, APOD, Heavens Above and a few other pages he might find interesting. All I need to do now is set him up with a Google store account (or whatever they're calling the Android Market this month) and download a few things that he needs, like Skype and an eBook reader that handles epub and pdf files. After that, we should be all set.


In the last week I've installed a new faceplate on my phone socket and done all I can to improve my router's connection to it, but my Internet access is still terribly patchy. Even though the router initially syncs at around 2.5 Mb/s it will eventually drop down to around the 1.1, 1.2 Mb/s mark. The problem is the amount of noise on the line, which has got much worse in the last few months. In the evenings this is getting so bad that the router just gives up completely and this has knocked my BRAS profile down to about 750 kb/s at the moment. There seems to be precious little I can do about it, either - other than moving house so I live closer to the exchange, which isn't really an option I want to consider at the moment. So much for this country's 21st century ultra-fast broadband, then...


To start the weekend off with a bang, here's another gem found by Jason Kottke. Somewhere in Europe, villagers get together with 55-gallon barrels of water into which they drop calcium carbide. This produces acetylene, the gas used in welding torches which is, surprise surprise, highly inflammable. Then it's time to wave a burning rag over holes drilled in the top of the barrels, and enjoy the fun - making sure to keep an eye on your predecessor's barrel returning to earth, that is. Somehow I doubt that the local health and safety executive were consulted by the event's organisers, don't you?


I miss John Keel. The man who wrote The Mothman Prophecies had a lifelong interest in the weird, and boy, could he write about it. Here's his take on Ray Palmer and the Shaver mystery. (Thanks to David Metcalfe for this one.)


Best. News story. Photo. Evar:

Don't let the bears get the drop on you.


There are evenings when a Tesco low calorie microwave meal simply will not do. So, after two rounds of toasted egg, bacon and cheese sarnies washed down with a pint of lager, I feel comparatively normal. Is it Friday yet?

At least I'm seeing signs that summer is on the way. This evening, as I drove home there was a swallow sitting on the telegraph wires in Rangeworthy. That's the first one I've seen this year, and they're pretty late. I guess the weather has been putting them off - I was admiring a line of cumulonimus clouds off to the north as I drove home and although the sun is shining right now, it's been raining off and on all day. We've even had a rumble of thunder or two. Last night I was sitting here listening to hail clattering off the kitchen door; the lesson being that if you want it to rain in the UK, declare a drought.


It'll be thirty years this summer since Blade Runner came out, and nearer the anniversary I will be writing a few blog articles to commemorate the fact. To whet your appetite, here's a letter from Philip K Dick to the production company who funded the movie; this letter has only just been released to the public and it reveals Dick's reaction to seeing footage from the film (which was based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) for the first time:

"My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you... and it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible."

PKD died before the movie was released.


Meanwhile, Sir Ridley Scott's next movie is generating a phenomenal buzz. Just take a look at the latest video teaser, featuring Michael Fassbender as David 8. I wonder just what "unethical" acts David is likely to carry out in the movie?


...and it's Saturday again. The last week has flashed by, not least because at work I've been rewriting a training course on Flash, ha ha. I've spent my days figuring out how best to explain concepts like mask layers and motion tweens, describing what a Bézier curve is and how its control handles work, and then working through the exercises myself to make sure what I said would happen actually happens. I love doing stuff like this, because when I really get going I enter that Flow state I've been blogging about recently. The working day on Tuesday and Wednesday in particular felt like it was over pretty much as soon as it had begun. However, by the time yesterday rolled around I was knackered - last night after half an hour or so of keyboard practice I settled down with a glass of wine intending to spend a quiet evening in front of the TV. Instead, after watching a few episodes of Pinky and the Brain (I'm so highbrow) I'd gone to bed by half past ten. This morning I felt rather under the weather until I'd had a latte and a couple of cheese croissants, but now I'm sitting here at the computer with my new radio playing Radio 3 and I feel fine.

I've just been talking to Dad on the phone, and he's finally been persuaded to get broadband. I suspect this might have something to do with the phone company he uses, as they are currently offering a free six month trial, but that doesn't matter - now I can get him set up with a Skype account and introduce him to the delights of Google, Wikipedia and iPlayer. I don't think he's the type for internet radio, Facebook or Twitter, but from a purely selfish perspective I will no longer feel so isolated when I go to stay. When he's up and running I'll go across and spend a weekend getting him acquainted with the basics of an always-on connection. I haven't told him, but I have ordered him a small Android tablet PC so he'll be able to access the web from his armchair. I hope he'll find it useful - he's quite interested in the idea of eBooks, so we'll see how he gets on actually reading one.


This week the internet got itself into a real frenzy about the late Tupac Shakur's appearance at this year's Coachella festival. People wittered on and on about the "Tupac hologram", but it was nothing of the sort. In fact, the technique used to create the illusion of a dead rapper on stage predates lasers by about a century: it's the theatre trick known as Pepper's Ghost.

The Tupac phenomenon is a great example of how marketers and PR companies can conscript a particular word, regardless of its accuracy or appropriateness, to evoke a particular response in their target audience. As I've spent my entire career having to write in order to convey information accurately in an engaging manner, this sort of approach has me grinding my teeth in frustration. It's just lazy and dumb; these days, however, I'm old enough to realise that this is how much of the world communicates and there's precious little I can do about it.


The idea of using florid or not entirely accurate prose to increase sales is nothing new, and in the 19th century the media were just as adept as they are today at cashing in on the latest buzzword or craze to promote their business. One of the most notorious cases was the 1896-97 mystery airship flap. Researcher Jerome Clark's conclusion was that this craze was caused by a rather mundane phenomenon: the desire of newspapers to increase their circulation.

Occam's razor notwithstanding, there will always be someone out there who, when asked to decide whether an event was caused by either (a) extraterrestrial visitors who arrived at our planet and wandered around in a field for a couple of hours before leaving without attempting to formally communicate with anyone on the planet or (b) someone making up a story so local businesses would benefit from the publicity, will pick (a). To this day, you'll find the airship story still being presented without critical assessment or scepticism on the web.


I wouldn't for one moment suggest that every flying saucer sighting happens because someone hopes to make money out of the resulting furore. Sometimes sightings occur because people misinterpret a perfectly natural phenomenon because they're tired or distracted. The planet Venus is a frequent culprit in these cases. If you've been lucky enough to have clear skies at all this week, you'll have seen it in the western sky after sunset and discovered how incredibly bright it appears - bright enough, in fact, to be mistaken for the landing lights of an oncoming aircraft by a groggy airline pilot, who threw his 767 into a steep dive to avoid a collision. That's not the only distracted pilot story I've heard this week, either: the captain who was more interested in the text messages he was receiving than lowering his aircraft's landing gear came terrifyingly close to crashing.


I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but reading this blog can make your monitor consume 15% more power than it would do if I'd used white text on a black background.


The last time Rebecca, Rob and Ruth visited here, Rob asked me if I was still playing Gran Turismo 5. I had to admit I wasn't - in fact I don't think I've touched the game since last summer. It says a lot about the appeal of the game that I haven't even blogged about it since December 2010. Before it came out, I'd obsessed about it for years and I guess the expectations I had of GT5 were just too high. I expected it to look gorgeous, I expected the physics to be real-life standard, I expected the game experience to be slick, flashy and fun, and most of all I expected to be spending every spare waking hour playing it. Instead, the user interface was terrible, the challenges are, frankly, far too challenging for me and I quickly lost interest in grinding around the same racetrack, over and over again, just so I could level up and (eventually) acquire enough "credits" to buy yet another car that would qualify for entry in the next level of races. But the most irritating part of the game was the driver AI: I got pissed off with other cars driving into me all the time. Your opponents never try overtaking without attempting to drive through you first and I have never for one moment felt like I was taking part in a race with other drivers. Even the car physics feels wrong, somehow, particularly when collisions take place. Driving into the Armco at more than 30 mph will leave your car a smoking wreck and bits all over the track in something like Grid - here, you'll hear an unauthentic, booming "klonk" noise as you bounce right back on to the track unscathed. In fact, if you overcook things going into a corner, the best approach is to bounce off another car to get back on the racing line; your vehicle won't take any damage in doing so. GT5 fails as a coherent game and I'm afraid it's been a huge disappointment for me. I still prefer the much simpler (and far more stylish) GT5 Prologue, but in terms of sheer fun give me Codemasters' DiRT series any day of the week, and I never thought I'd say that. The latest game in that franchise, DiRT Showdown, comes out in May and looks like it's been taking rather a lot of notes from Burnout Paradise. I can't wait.

Last night I thought I'd give the full Gran Turismo 5 another chance, and fired up the PS3 for a few laps round the Daytona 500. At least that's what I'd intended to do: instead I found myself staring at several gigabytes - yes, that's right, gigabytes - of updated software to download in fourteen separate patches: in an attempt to address some of the game's deficiencies, Sony released version 2.0 of the game last October and we're now on v2.05. I spent my evening watching BBC Four's Southern Rock night instead, and the Playstation was still downloading stuff when I went to bed.

This morning all the updates have been installed, and I've given the game a quick run to see if it's any better. The short answer is no, it isn't. It really isn't. The menus still look like a dog's breakfast, the driver AI is still as pathetic as ever and you still have to "earn" gifts and extras by logging in rather than getting them included in the game from the outset. That last item has really started to bug me. Sony are clearly concerned about encouraging people to keep playing the game - not surprising, really, considering it's one of the PS3's flagship attractions - to the point that if you log in for four days in a row you can double the points and experience you earn each time you race. But this solution epitomises how badly Polyphony Digital and Sony have missed the point: if the game is broken so badly that they have to bribe you to play it (and that's effectively what they're doing, make no mistake) then wouldn't it be better to change the underlying design instead? The thing is, even if Polyphony start from the ground up I don't want to wait another four or five years before they decide the fix is good enough to release. When other, better driving games are available, that spells very bad news for the GT franchise.


I was getting a bit stir crazy inside the house yesterday, so I went out for a walk. I took a camera with me, of course...

A wider view

All the recent rain meant that it was very muddy out in the fields, so I didn't go too far, but there were chiffchaffs calling in the woods by the river and a skylark singing overhead. It may be snowing in Scotland, but spring is definitely on the way.


I spent this morning at the Mall, and failed to throw a save against shiny; as a result, I've got a new radio by my desk. It's the latest model of the Pure One that I've had for several years, but this one does Internet radio as well as DAB and FM. The display has been radically updated to cope with the increased amount of functionality and it's a rather spiffy yellow on black six-line screen. Despite all the extra options the radio actually has fewer buttons on the front than the old one. It threw a brief wobbly when I fired it up, as it asked to download a software update from the Internet and then failed to do anything with it, displaying a progress bar that would get to 100% and then reset, over and over again. It didn't give me the option to postpone or ignore the software update, either - not a very good example of interaction design. Eventually I managed to fix things by downloading the update on my PC and then updating via a USB cable (although I had to use a computer with a 32-bit operating system to do that; you can forget about using Windows 7). Now everything appears to be working fine.

At the moment I'm listening to a podcast from KBYU-FM in the United States about Sherlock Holmes and the audio quality is surprisingly good - I haven't heard a single glitch or drop out. There are hundreds and hundreds of other podcasts and live streams to choose from on the radio's menu, so I think I'm going to be doing a fair bit of listening to the radio this week.


I really enjoyed the drive back last night, although it took longer than usual. When I got to junction 1 on the M6 the motorway was closed, and the line of traffic on the diversion stretched off into the distance as far as the eye could see, so I turned off towards Rugby in an attempt to find a different way home. After a few minutes on the A45, I saw a sign for Cirencester via the A429 and took it - so I ended up driving down the old Roman road Fosse Way. The road turned out to be almost completely empty. With lots of long straights connected by gentle curves, the drive was a delight, and it reminded me just why I bought the Z in the first place. It's a wonderful car to drive and it goes exactly where you point it. I wasn't in any hurry, yet I got home less than half an hour later than I normally do when I take the motorway. I was less stressed, too. Result!


I'm sitting typing this at my father's dining table and there's sunlight streaming in through the window, although the weather forecast is for thundery showers and any clouds that appear have been scudding across the sky at an impressive rate. It looks like my trip back home tonight will stay dry, though. That's a good thing, as there are few things more exhausting than driving on the motorway in heavy rain.

Yesterday Dad and I went to The Pigs in Edgefield again - it's becoming a bit of a habit when I visit Norfolk but it's not one I'm going to object to! The food was excellent and as I wasn't driving I could also enjoy a few pints of local beer. We were joined by Annabelle and her family, and it was nice to catch up with them. I was amazed how much my nieces and nephew have grown, even though it's only been a few months since I saw them. Che is nearly as tall as I am now, and I was very impressed with the way he polished off his food - managing a starter, main course and a dessert! I called it quits after my belly of pork, even though the cake made with Woodforde's Wherry Best Bitter and served with nutmeg flavoured ice cream did sound rather tempting... Nevertheless, I've eaten very well while I've been over here in Norfolk - much better than I would have done if I'd spent the weekend at home. The Chinese food that Dad and I had on Saturday night was very enjoyable, and tonight we'll be having one of Mr Otty's pies for dessert.

It's been a nice break, but I'm really looking forwards to sleeping in my own bed tonight. Even though I'm down to a single cup of instant coffee a day, I have been waking up with various aches and pains every night while I've been staying here. My hips in particular feel very sore when I get up in the morning and I'm quite convinced it's the rather thin mattress on the bed that's the cause: when I was here at Christmas I took the mattress off the other bed and stacked the two together, and that seemed to do the trick. The older I get, the more I appreciate my creature comforts and a decent night's sleep in a comfortable bed is pretty high up on my list.

I haven't really got any plans once I get home. I'll need to go shopping tomorrow, as there's very little in my fridge and my favourite pair of jeans disintegrated the last time I washed them, so I need some replacements, but other than that I'll probably stay in the village. Making music, reading, watching films, and opening a bottle of wine or two are likely to be involved, I suspect. I'm not one for going out these days. After finishing Susan Cain's book I've realised that I'm a pretty full-on introvert, although I'm sure that's not come as any surprise to anyone who knows me well. I wouldn't have found the time to run this blog for the best part of nine years without being somewhat contemplative and introspective by nature.

Cain's book provides a number of suggestions for ways introverts can find happiness, and I was interested to see that she namechecks Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow several times. I'm a couple of chapters in to Flow at the moment, and it's a much denser, more academically oriented book than Cain's is. It was refreshing to see that from the outset Csikszentmihalyi is very open about what the book is for - although the cover blurb claims the book is "the classic work on how to achieve happiness", Csikszentmihalyi is very clear that it is no such thing. He explains that there is no cut and dried process that anyone can follow to find their lives magically fulfilled (and that's fine with me: I bought the book out of curiosity about the flow state rather than as part of a search for fulfilment). Instead, the book is more about finding ways to focus entirely on whatever task is at hand. It is this state of engrossing focus that forms the core of "flow", and my own limited experiences of this have been incredibly rewarding and memorable. My goal for the rest of the week is therefore to achieve a state of flow doing something I enjoy. If I can manage that, I will really feel like this holiday has been worthwhile.


It's a damp Saturday afternoon here in East Anglia. I'm sitting in the living room at my father's house, Miffy the greyhound is stretched out on the sofa and Dad is doing some paperwork in the dining room. It's very quiet, apart from the occasional waft of birdsong drifting down the chimney, although the neighbours report that Holt is very busy with holidaymakers. I guess that's one disadvantage of living in a tourist destination: the place gets inundated with visitors when the schools are on holiday (although it's not so popular at Christmas time, when the wind whips in off the North Sea and a trip to the beach is a test of fortitude more than an opportunity to relax). We can't really complain, as we were holidaymakers ourselves the first time we came here.

I drove here on Thursday evening, and the trip was remarkably quiet for the day before a Bank Holiday weekend. The roads across East Anglia were lined with rabbits and I don't think I've ever seen so many; I must have counted over a hundred by the time I got here. They were very visible in the light of a bright full moon and they didn't seem at all bothered by the fact that the temperature had dropped to freezing by midnight.

I had the radio on for the drive, and one of the highlights was the first programme in a new series for Radio 4 presented by Jarvis Cocker called Wireless Nights. It had a strange premise: Jarvis makes small talk whilst sitting next to you on a transatlantic flight, and interviews with an eclectic selection of people fade in and out as the flight progresses. It sounds bizarre, and for the first few minutes I wasn't sure the format was going to work, but by the end of the show I was hooked. Next week, Jarvis will be joining us at a poker game, and I will be fascinated to hear what happens.

Since I got here the weather has been more conducive to sitting inside listening to the radio rather than going out with the camera. It rained quite a bit yesterday, and it's been raining this morning, so I've stayed inside to catch up on my reading. I've finished the Freeman Dyson essays, and I'm about half way through Susan Cain's book on introversion. Later on this afternoon Dad and I might venture in to town in the hope that the tourist influx has died down, and tonight we will have a Chinese takeaway for supper. This has become something of a habit when I come over here as Dad really enjoys Chinese food. I'll go into town and pick it up, and that will give me a chance to catch up with my email, send a few text messages and see what's been happening on Twitter. In Holt I can get a mobile phone signal - here in the village there's no reception here at all. I feel somewhat isolated when I stay at Dad's place and he has no interest in connecting to the Internet. So I drop off the map. I can't even slope off to the pub for a couple of hours, because there isn't one, so when I come over here these days I make sure that I have a stack of good books with me. Not having my usual distractions available means that I should get a decent amount of reading done.

Dr JIM MARSHALL OBE 1923 - 2012

Way back in 1986 I went to one of the big music exhibitions in London. You know the sort of thing: all the music gear manufacturers show off the latest and greatest stuff, music greats demonstrate gear for manufacturers they've got endorsement deals with, and plebs like us get to gaze wistfully at all the shiny goodness, collect stickers for our flight cases, and cadge t-shirts. At the Marshall stand, I bought a copy of a paperback book recounting the history of the company and how its founder developed the iconic amplifiers that were played by such luminaries as Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix (and amongst other things, I learned that part of the reason Jimi loved the amps so much was that his full name was James Marshall Hendrix.) As I paid for the book, I told the guy on the stand how pleased I was with the Marshall gear I had.

"Oh, you play? What have you got?"

"A JCM800 head and a couple of the 1982 four by twelve cabs, a slope and a square,"

The guy nodded, said "Nice. Can you wait there a second, please?" and disappeared off to the back of the stand.

When he came back, he had Jim Marshall with him. I was introduced to him with words that I have never forgotten:

"This is Chris, he's a customer."

Jim smiled, shook my hand, and signed my copy of the book. I still have it and it's one of my most treasured possessions. I still have that stack, too, although it doesn't get as much use these days as it should do.

I met Jim again a few years ago, when his health was beginning to fail but despite his frailness he was still out there meeting his customers. That ethos carried through to the entire company (and I speak from experience: in the 1980s I lived just up the road from the factory in Bletchley, so when I needed anything I would literally walk in through the front door and ask) and their customer service was impeccable. But the legacy of Marshall himself, who has died at the age of 88, goes way beyond running one of Britains's most successful export companies (Marshall Amplification won the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1984). Jim Marshall quite literally changed the sound of rock and roll. Eric Clapton's Bluesbreaker amp and speaker combo was designed so it would fit in the back of a car (and incidentally gave Clapton the legendary guitar tone for the Beano album.) The company's first 100-watt amplifier was designed specifically for Pete Townshend when The Who's guitar player decided he needed more volume, and within months all the big supergroups of the time - Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience among them - were using them. The sound of rock, particularly the wall of sound generated by heavy metal bands, would not have happened without the innovations Jim (together with his engineer Ken Bran) brought to the stage. And that amp of Nigel Tufnel's, the one that goes up to eleven? Guess who made it.

So long as people play guitar, the name of Jim Marshall will be celebrated, and rightly so.

Thanks for everything, Jim.


It's Maundy Thursday, and as of right now I'm taking a much-needed holiday for a week and a bit. I plan to catch up with family and do a lot of reading. My reading stack has got completely out of hand over the last three or four years and this month I finally resolved to do something about it, namely this: I am not going to buy any more books until I have put a serious dent in the pile I've already bought that I haven't read yet. And it is a pile. There are books I bought five years ago that I haven't finished, and this must not continue. For the last week I have devoted a fair chunk of my spare time to doing something about it.

So far I have already finished Soon I will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, which my brother bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago. It's a somewhat geeky tale of comic-book superheroes and I zipped through the whole thing in a day. I'm also reading a collection of Neil Gaiman short stories, a set of essays by the physicist Freeman Dyson, and a novel by Robert Rankin as well as Quiet, Susan Cain's book on introversion. I've found Cain's book to be excellent, although this may possibly be ascribed to the fact that I'm an introvert myself. Even taking this into account, I was surprised how deeply I connected with the material in the book. One chapter discusses a team-building exercise called the subarctic survival exercise, and I can remember taking part in this twenty years ago when I worked in BT's training division. I won't give away the exercise or the solution here, but while the extroverts in the team talked through what we were going to do I remember sitting quietly at the back and colouring in a map that formed part of the exercise so I could understand it more clearly. As soon as I'd finished, it became obvious what the solution was, to the point that when the rest of the team took a look, no further discussion was necessary. We picked the right answer, immediately. Reading Cain's book I was shocked to discover that apparently many teams do not. She makes the point that teams will usually defer to the most talkative member of the team - the most extroverted person - regardless of the quality of their decision making skills; in management, so long as you're convincing it doesn't matter if you're right.

And that, I realised, explains a lot about the state of the world these days.


You won't be surprised to learn that I've had the headphones on for most of the day today. I ended up downloading a lot of those earlier Nerdist podcasts through iTunes and I've been working my way through them. So far, the best ones I've listened to featured Rob Zombie talking about doing what you do as a way of enjoying life, and Matt Smith talking about Doctor Who, football, and conventions. I have so many episodes downloaded it will take me several days of solid listening to get through, and the fact that I will end up listening to them all should tell you something about how engaging they are (and this despite the fact that as a Brit, a fair few of the cultural references have gone straight over my head.) It's the enthusiasm that Chris Hardwick and his gang bring to the shows that make them so engaging, I think. It's infectious. They obviously have a whale of a time making them. Besides which, the nerd ethos demands that I support them in all things.


It ended up being a couple of days later than they said it would be, but the shutters finally came down on Brizzly this morning; their page now points to AIM. I feel genuinely sad to see Brizzly go, as it's been the main interface I've used for Twitter for the past couple of years, and while I might not be all that posty on Twitter (apparently I have averaged two tweets a day since I joined up in November 2007), I read other people's stuff a lot. Brizzly was cool because if someone posted a shortcut to an image or a YouTube video, the linked content would appear right there and then underneath the tweet. Brizzly had its idiosyncrasies, certainly (I don't think the "mentions" function ever worked properly) but their general approach to the user experience was as close to "just right" as you can reasonably expect to get. It will be missed.

As for alternatives, I just find Twitter's own interface really irritating. I'm really not interested in recommendations, and the "people similar to you" are invariably people I already follow. All the alternatives to Brizzly seem to focus on this too much, so the trick is to find something where you can minimise the annoyances. I don't know of anything based in a browser that does the job, so I guess I'll be going back to Tweetdeck. Not because it's the best, but because it's the least worst. Which is kind of sad, really...


I trust you've heard Peter Serafinowicz's Dalek Relaxation Tape, yes?


It was inevitable that I would have to say this eventually, but the whole April Fool's thing has completely jumped the shark. Apart from anything else, "April Fool" stories now start appearing in the middle of March, which isn't really playing by the rules. But worst of all, this year's crop were a sorry bunch of dull, pathetic jokes that weren't particularly well executed. Apart from Google's 8-bit maps "upgrade" that is. Even if it was doing the rounds well before April arrived, the promotional video for their NES version is a work of genius: "Blow on cartridge to fix bugs." The secret to a successful April Fool's prank is that you wish it really was true, and Google's jape definitely meets that criterion. The others? Not so much.

The biggest problem with most April Fool's stories this year is that the real stories in the news are even crazier than the made up ones. The government can't afford to keep running the NHS or maintain the public library service, but it's quite prepared to spend £2 billion developing a system to snoop on everyone's email messages and internet usage; Maryland police pulled over a Lamborghini being driven by Batman and a movie studio released a trailer for a remake of Total Recall that doesn't involve Mars (or Arnold Schwarzenegger) at all. Let's face it - with the batshit crazy stuff like we've got going on in the world at the moment, April Fool's jokes have become irrelevant.


On Friday night I was listening to the latest Nerdist podcast. It's *very* NSFW, but so much fun: Rob Paulsen & Maurice LaMarche - who you may know better as Pinky and the Brain - joined Chris Hardwick for over an hour of sheer joy; not only were we treated to plenty from the nefarious duo, we also got a bewildering array of other voices including Don Knotts and William Shatner and the bit with Bjork had me crying with laughter. They also paid well-deserved tribute to the king of voice talent, Frank Welker (just check out his IMDB listing; if you don't know who he is, prepare to be awestruck...)

I suspect you will probably want to check out some earlier episodes, too - that's quite an impressive roster of guests. And while you're at it, don't forget to listen to my favourite Nerdist production, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, which I really ought to have mentioned on the blog before now.


I finally caved in and got myself a paid SoundCloud account. This has let me update some of the existing tracks there with more up-to-date remixed versions, and it's doubled the amount of storage space I have available for my music. Please check out my spiffy new Spotlight profile - after all, I'm paying for this stuff!