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Chris Harris's Blog Archive: May 2005

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That was definitely the case in May. Other than the General Election, there was far too much blather about advertising, Doctor Who, a few weird coincidences, and the dreadful new graphics system that the BBC have introduced for their weather forecasts.

Still, the weather itself wasn't that bad, and rather than sitting indoors for the entire month, I managed to get some gardening done.


More mayhem is on the cards at Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire, as the annual cheese rolling festival gets under way once more. Yes, you too can risk death or serious injury just to get your hands on a very large cheese that's been rolled down a hill. Hmmm, let me think about that one.


Now that's what I call a real scotch egg. Thank god Ostriches are not native to Scotland, or the incidence of heart disease up there would be huge.


Did you just cut yourself? Then make sure you have a pack of these bandages cunningly disguised as rashers of bacon!


With all this talk of food, I'm beginning to feel a bit peckish. I could do with a nice, light, satisfying giant omelette, I think. Cheese, eggs, bacon - I think we've covered it all, but there should be a couple of slices of toast in there somewhere, just to be on the safe side.

I can't believe I just found a site exclusively dedicated to toast.

More to the point, I can't believe I just blogged about it.


No, the Guns 'N' Roses guitarist has not produced a keep fit video - I've been gardening. One of the flower beds had got rather out of hand, and it was time today to show it who's boss. First job was to get rid of the Rosebay Willowherb that was doing quite a good job of providing ground cover. It's also known as fireweed, because it's one of the first plants to colonise open spaces after demolition or fires, and it's a tenacious bugger. I was actually surprised to be able to do the gardening today, as with a Bank Holiday Monday coming up tomorrow I expected it to be pouring with rain.


Annoying trends this week? First off has to be websites that insist on resizing my browser window. I don't care if your site is lovingly designed for a window that's 500 pixels wide and 473 pixels tall, I've got my browser the way I want it and it's not up to you to change my mind, sonny. Lay off!

Secondly, I'd have to say I'm getting annoyed by the deterioration in quality of stuff being tagged over at del.ici.ous. It used to be a good way of finding the really first-rate stuff out there; every time I used to visit I'd find something that would make me go "wow!" Now it's gradually declining into a listing of the mundane, and I give it three months tops before it degenerates into a mass of adverts for crap websites, orchestrated by gangs of ne'er-do-wells with far too much time on their hands.


to Kylie. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months you'll be aware that she recently had surgery for breast cancer. The condition is becoming alarmingly common these days, so it's probably fair to say that you know someone who's going through what Kylie's going through. The UK has a wonderful charity called CancerBACUP that helps to provide information about cancer to sufferers, and if you want to see the world wide web put to good use, all you need to do is look at their website.

Stuff like this takes time and money to produce: if you know someone taking part in one of the many fund-raising activities going on for charities like this, why not sponsor them?


The Who are looking for archive footage of the band for a documentary. If you've got any, contact them at the new website they've set up.


Thanks to the folks at Drawn, I discovered a glimpse of the classic days of comics at Ben Samuels's Golden Age of Comics Covers site. With the benefit of hindsight, some of the things that got on to the front cover of childrens' comics range from the wildly improbable through more than a little mind-boggling, reaching mildly disturbing before wandering off into full-on let's give 'em nightmares (albeit with a social message). Civic responsibilities notwithstanding, can you imagine any of this being published today?

I have to say that Drawn is worth a regular visit. In recent days the site has also had pointers to a number of websites dedicated to the rather amazing Rube Goldberg. Goldberg was America's equivalent of W. Heath Robinson (and if you don't know who he is, shame on you).


Christopher Lee is 83 today, and still working. Not only is he Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith, he will also be Willy Wonka's dad in Tim Burton's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which comes out in the summer. Today would also have been Vincent Price's 94th birthday. Real horror movie geeks will also be aware that yesterday was Peter Cushing's birthday, of course.


I have no idea why, but I found the fact that über-guitarist Steve Vai keeps bees strangely amusing. Or weird. I can't decide which, which is probably due to my frustration that this is such an utterly off-the-wall piece of trivia that I will never get the opportunity to use it again. Shame, really, as there are even pictures of him demonstrating bee-keeping to a local school.


Every now and then you can see a news team trying to stake a claim to have the daftest story of the week. Such a story should have a ludicrous subject line, ripe for multiple puns, and where possible show up a foreign nation for being utterly thick. If the team are really on form, the subject should involve either cute animals or a pub that acts as the focus of local activities. So I think today's story on the BBC's news website just about wraps the competition up for the year.


Will Wright, the creator of Sim City and The Sims, has announced a new game called Spores. You start off with an amoeba in a 2D world, and end up with an interstellar race of superbeings. Sounds like my kind of game - in other words, the sort of computer program that I will spend hour after hour playing. It's not good news, as I have only just managed to wean myself off the Age of Mythology: The Titans expansion pack.


I've had a CD in my drive almost continuously today: the original cast recording of Spamalot, the new musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that's taking Broadway by storm. The songs are stuffed full of prime Python humour, and the whole thing is great fun. High spots include a song called He Is Not Yet Dead and a six-minute extravaganza based on the original Camelot song, called Knights Of The Round Table.


I've been playing around on the They Work For You website which keeps a record of the votes and other activities performed by the country's MPs. I have to say that with Steve Webb I appear to have one of the best MPs you could ask for, but I knew that anyway. What's yours like?


What was I saying recently about the amount of data you could fit on a DVD? Today we found out that Iomega have filed patents for technology that could provide 850Gb on a single disc. What are the odds that we'll see a way of fitting a terabyte on a DVD by the end of the year? I bet they just got a lot shorter. Good grief, these days even USB flash drives are getting rather spacious.


I've been listening to the repeats of the very funny discussion series Chain Reaction on Radio 4 recently. The idea is simple - someone picks one of their heroes to interview, then the following week that person gets to interview one of their heroes, and so on. Last week, Stewart Lee (half of comedy duo Lee and Herring) was interviewing Alan Moore. This week, Moore got to talk to Brian Eno.

It was a fascinating discussion, not least because both men have first-rate minds. But the funniest bit was at the end, where Eno revealed that when he and David Bowie meet, they usually hold their conversations by pretending to be Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The mental image this statement triggered of the two of them saying things like "So, you done any new music recently then?" while sounding like Pete and Dud had me grinning away to myself.


It's that time of year again, and Channel 4 are about to inflict another series of Big Brother on us. I won't be watching. In fact, I get a strong impression that the producers are planning distinctly sadistic behaviour towards the poor souls unlucky (or gullible) enough to participate.

This is television at its worst. It's unsavoury, exploitative and bordering on the psychopathic. So I'm sure it'll be an absolutely huge success.


Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger, has died.


McSweeney's Internet Tendency is a great site. Where else can you regularly get access to daft little snippets like this or (from last month) this?


I really thought I was going to enjoy BBC's Top Gear motoring programme on Sunday, as it appeared to revolve around the British Army trying to blow up Jeremy Clarkson while he was driving around Salisbury Plain in a Range Rover. Unfortunately they used special effects instead. What a let down.

Clarkson really is becoming a bit of a dinosaur: "We'll keep driving, and the Gulf Stream will keep flowing," was one of his quotes this week. Presumably he's been too busy driving around to keep up with the news that it the Gulf Stream may already be slowing down.


Look, there are some things that just aren't a good idea, no matter how you dress them up. "Filling a fluorescent tube with petrol and then pretending it's a light sabre" is going to come pretty high up the list of things you'd say before continuing with "...is so monumentally stupid you probably shouldn't be allowed near spoons."

The people who tried this weren't even kids - they were, ostensibly, fully functioning grown-ups aged 17 and 20. Needless to say they are now in their local hospital's burns unit.


IMDB were reporting today that cinema advertising is more effective than television advertising (presumably because we can't avoid seeing it.) But for once I agreed with them: after all, cinema adverts are usually far better than their TV equivalents.

For example: when the Twins and I went to see Revenge of the Sith at the weekend, one of the adverts was for Heineken lager, where Ray Liotta turns up on a guy's doorstep with the remains of a pint that he'd left in a pub the other night. You can see the original advert here.

After its original screening on TV, the advert was cut and the punchline (where the flustered punter is so disturbed by Liotta's wonderfully intimidating performance that he drinks the remains of the pint) was removed - making the ad much weaker and almost completely humour-free. But in the cinema we were able to see it in its original form. Nice.


The Register was reporting over the weekend that the US Government is seeking to ban the use of advertising in space. Hopefully this ban will include the oft-touted use of the Moon as a screen for laser-projected adverts, as well as ensuring that neither the Nike Swoosh nor the Coca-Cola logo will adorn the latest satellites.


I went to see Revenge of the Sith with Rob and Ruth at the weekend. Despite the fact that the acting and the dialogue have been savaged in reviews, I rather enjoyed it. It's far darker than episodes I and II and visually it's a treat. I even spotted the Millennium Falcon landing at a spaceport in one shot (at about the time where Obi-Wan says "another happy landing!")

Needless to say the reviews haven't made any difference: the film has broken nearly every single US box-office record.


Today's amazingly amazing page has to be NASA's latest pictures from the Mars Global Surveyor satellite. It's just managed to take pictures of both the Mars Odyssey and Mars Express orbiters that are currently in orbit with it. Just how cool is that?


You know what it's like - you upgrade your PC, and for a while it feels like you'll never be able to fill that enormous C: drive up. Then your technology gets caught up by software, and suddenly you're thinking about buying a second hard disk. Imagine how much worse things are going to get now that TDK have found a way of stuffing 100 gigabytes onto a disc the size of a DVD...


Last year the New Scientist mentioned the development of television screens that use organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. I decided straight away that I wanted one. They're thin, bright, and consume much less power than plasma screens (which should mean they last a lot longer, too - once they've figured out how to make the blue LEDs last as long as the red ones.)

Now Samsung has announced that it's got a working prototype OLED television with a 40-inch screen. That's got a way to go before it matches the amazing Pioneer 50 inch high definition plasma TV I saw in John Lewis last week, but it's a significant step closer.


Every year, the Defense Advanced Reseach Projects Agency (DARPA) runs its Grand Challenge race - get your vehicle 150 miles across desert terrain in one piece, as quickly as possible. The catch is, the vehicle has to be autonomous - there's nobody on board, let alone a driver, so each vehicle has to navigate the trip by itself, avoiding rocks, cliffs, trees, kerbs, other natural hazards and, of course, the other competitors.

Last year, not a single entry managed to make even half the distance. In fact, most came to grief in less than a mile. But this year, Stanford University are entering a robot Volkswagen called Stanley. The idea of a driverless VW hurtling across the countryside does worry me slightly, even if it is taking place somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert...

And that makes me think that if Hunter S Thompson was still around, he'd either be somewhat bemused by the whole deal or would be right in the thick of things, embracing the sheer manic idea of it all and revelling in the inevitable carnage to come.

FRANK GORSHIN 1933 - 2005

One of my heroes died today. Frank Gorshin, best known as the Riddler in the 1960s Batman TV series, passed away at the age of 72. He had a wired, manic intensity on screen that always stole the limelight, no matter who he was acting with. From what I've read, his talents were sadly underused but he remained a pretty cool guy. And that laugh of his will stay with me as long as I live...


It's ten years ago today that I moved into my house. I'd started a new job and moved away from Milton Keynes, where I'd spent the previous eight and a half years. My family tended to move a lot when I was a kid, and I've never lived anywhere for this long before. I'm glad to say I picked a very nice place to do so.


Today's report from the Cannes Film Festival by the BBC contained a snippet of information I hadn't heard before - Frank Miller and his buddies are already preparing a sequel to Sin City based on his book A Dame to Kill For. Sin City doesn't open over here for another week or so, but already I'm really looking forwards to seeing it. Hearing that there's another film in the works makes it even more exciting.


Unlike Jonathan Pryce's character in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you may not be able to take an intergalactic cruise while staying in your office, but this comes pretty close.


Well, Nintendo's version, anyway. Their next generation games console has been unveiled but details are extremely sketchy. It appears that it will be backwards-compatible with Gamecube titles, and it'll play DVDs, so I will probably get one. "We haven't decided what colour it'll be yet," they say. I just hope it's something a little more inspiring than the iPod white chosen by Microsoft and Sony.


Oh dear. The BBC have spent a fortune on a new graphics system for the weather forecast, and it's absolutely terrible. The BBC has been thrown very much on the defensive because it's not just me that hates it - from most of the discussions I've seen it's clearly not gone down well at all. The Scots are particularly annoyed because their part of the country disappears off into the distance, and ITV took a great opportunity to stick the knife in by announcing that they'd trialled the same graphics system a while ago and rejected it because viewers found it too confusing. I see from the same Times article that even John Kettley has gone on record saying he doesn't like the new system.

The BBC's rather feeble response is that people will "get used to it." I'm sure folks can "get used" to just about anything, but it doesn't mean the quality of the forecasts provided has improved. So once again we see the media concentrating on style, at the expense of substance.

When I look at a weather map, all I really need to see are isobars and fronts - these are shown on what is known as a synoptic chart. It's really easy to understand them once you know how they work: there are plenty of explanations available on the web. Synoptic charts are at the heart of the weather forecasting process: the predictions for the next couple of days (for some reason forecasters usually work out what will be happening in 60 hours and 120 hours) are usually produced in this format. Synoptic charts are clear, easily interpreted, and the approach is a tried and tested one that's been in use for decades. Yet strangely enough, this format is seldom used on TV weather forecasts any more. The BBC seem to be positively terrified of the things. It's more important to them that they provide a non-threatening, dumbed-down weather forecast rather than giving us something that actually tells us what the weather is going to be like. Grrr.


I forgot to mention that I got to see the film of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last weekend. To borrow a phrase, actually I quite liked it. I've been a fan of the series for a long time, to the point that not only do I have the books, the LP, the CDs, the T-shirt (and indeed a Disaster Area T-shirt as well) and the DVD of the TV series, I also have one of the towels as well, and there aren't too many movies you can say that about: it has to be one of the most eccentric tie-ins ever. With those credentials you'll appreciate that I'm very familiar with the material.

While some of the dialogue has been edited down a bit too harshly (for example Ford no longer talks to Mr Prosser at all, he just gives him a shopping trolley full of lager), the spirit of the show is still there. Bill Nighy is a star, plain and simple. I think I actually prefer his Slartibartfast to Richard Vernon's original. The Vogons are wonderful, as are Martin Freeman and Zooey Deschaniel. There are some nice cameos, which I won't spoil. I was even pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed Mos Def's performance.

But Zaphod (Sam Rockwell) is irritating for every second he's on screen. There's none of the manipulative ambiguity of Mark Wing-Davey's original - this Zaphod is unashamedly an idiot. Not only that, the representation of his whole extra arm and head thing was woefully inadequate. The sub-plot with John Malkovich fizzles out and is never resolved - it appears to be there solely to provide a means of reducing the special effects budget required for Zaphod.

Never mind - the film is so rich on detail that I will be buying the DVD just so I can take it all in.


BASE jumping has an image of being the ultimate cool pastime, and is publicised heavily on extreme sports channels and the like. I'm sure it's an exhilarating experience. But it's also ludicrously dangerous, and people who attempt the more outrageous stunts can end up dead, as we saw today at the Eiffel Tower.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to jump off something, at least make sure it doesn't get wider on the way down.


Now that's what I call an advert: a Canadian bus stop hoarding full of money. Given the abuse that bus stops are regularly subjected to over here, 3M must be very sure of their product. But how can going through the aluminium frame possibly be considered to be cheating? Spoilsports.


It appears the BBC have been told off for showing scenes of an American committing acts of torture with an electric drill on a prisoner during prime time viewing, well before the watershed. The kicker is that the prisoner was a Dalek. Yes, I'm afraid this is another Doctor Who story. As my colleague Rob suggests, perhaps the BBC needs to add a notice to the end credits along the lines of "No Daleks were harmed during the making of this episode."

As a grammatical aside, surely it should be "BBC censured for cruelty to Daleks" rather than "BBC censored..."


While we're talking the use and misuse of English, let me add to yesterday's report about getting the remaining channels working on the digibox.

The first thing twins watched was a documentary on the channel TMF (I'm not providing a link to a site that is, effectively, one big advert) about the American singer Christina Aguilera. It was a rather sensationalist look at her career, featuring lots of newspaper clippings that highlighted her (cough) "achievements." Presumably they'd been put together by a staffer from MTV using Photoshop, because they were crammed full of spelling mistakes. One that particularly set my teeth on edge was the mangling of "lewd" to "lude." Even allowing for the fact that I can't stand Ms Aguilera's music, I have never seen such a sloppily-produced programme, and I've seen a few in my time. Awful.


What a gorgeous day - the twins spent almost all of it outside while I did manly things like climb in the loft whilst wielding a pair of pliers and getting covered in dust. Never mind - after a high-tech diagnostic approach (which in simple terms meant finding the TV aerial, bending the pole pieces back into shape, stripping the coax and reattaching it to the terminals) the freeview box is now fully functional. Seventy seven channels!

Meanwhile, I discovered that I can now see a daily weather report from LA, as filed by David Lynch. Rebecca wasn't impressed: "You waited three minutes for that?"


This is such a pretty site. I knew I was going to enjoy it as soon as I read the agreement form on the entry page: "By clicking Enter, I certify that I am at least 40 years of age, or am a beret-wearing creative director."

It features bucketloads of gorgeous advertising artwork from the America of the 1950s, with chrome, velour and lycra as far as the eye can see: there's page after page of it. As soon as time travel is invented, that's where I'm heading. This is the sort of stuff that Steely Dan's Donald Fagen used to write songs about.


A couple of interesting stories from the planet Mars today. First of all the first Mars Express Sub-Surface Sounding Radar Altimeter (MARSIS) boom on ESA's Mars Express orbiter has successfully been deployed and all the segements are locked into place. The deployment was postponed for over a year because there were fears that the flexible booms could whip back and damage the orbiter. It looks like that hasn't happened, at least not for the first boom - but there are two more to deploy, so we'll have to wait and see. The radar is designed to look under the surface of Mars, and it should help to establish how much water there is left on the planet.

Secondly, the very clever folks over at Malin Space Science Systems think they've found the missing Mars Polar Lander, which was supposed to land on Mars in 1999. Contact was lost with the probe at about the time it was supposed to land. From the latest imagery it looks like it may well have made it to the ground more or less in one piece, although it probably did so after experiencing the Earthly equivalent of a 40-foot drop. I don't think I'd have been up to phoning home after something like that.


The world's gone mad. John Prescott has come out in favour of the ban imposed by the Bluewater shopping centre on baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts. We've already seen legislation to ban religious dress in schools. What's the betting this is eventually followed by laws against baseball caps and hoodies?

What's next? Banning tattoos? Or sneering? Making it illegal to look at people in a funny way? One thing's for certain: I will not be spending any money at Bluewater, whether I'm wearing one of my many hooded sweatshirts or not.


I've mentioned Adam Curtis's documentary The Power of Nightmares in the blog before. He's interviewed in the Guardian today, as a freshly edited and updated version of the film is being shown at the Cannes Film Festival. I was sad to read that he can't persuade any television network to show the film in the United States, though. I wonder why?


It's now over twenty years since Ridley Scott's amazing film of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was released to the world as Blade Runner. It's an amazing piece of cinema history, and the influence it had on the look and feel of science fiction films was immense.

The spinner, or flying police car from Blade Runner is one of those science fiction gadgets that I saw and wanted one instantly. I still do. But looking at the production stills explaining how it was made, I have to say it's unlikely that I'd be able to fit one in my garage. Shame.


There's a circulating current in the Atlantic Ocean that brings us the Gulf Stream and keeps Britain's climate surprisingly mild during the winter - it should be like Siberia's, apparently. But according to the Sunday Times, scientists have detected signs that the Atlantic Conveyor is starting to fail, and that even now it may be running at "a quarter of its usual strength." The suggested result is that the UK could become colder by 5 to 8°C. Oops.


To keep you warm, I suppose you could always resort to chilli sauce. An American company has launched what it claims is the hottest ever concoction. In fact, according to the BBC, the powder is "so hot that Blair Lazar's customers have to sign a legal waiver before tasting it."


I think it's another slow news day. Today I found out that a Russian astrologer is suing NASA because, she claims, their Deep Impact probe's collision with the comet Tempel 1 in July will "upset the balance of the universe."

What I find sad is that she found at least one law firm that thought the proposition sane enough to actually represent her in court.


Well, one more of George's buddies has gone public to say what he thought of Revenge of the Sith. In this case, it was Steven Spielberg, who apparently burst into tears. "You'll cry at the end," he is reported as saying. "It's wonderful."


It may not be the news you wanted to hear, but it's looking like they'll never manage to kill Star Trek off. Fans are already making their own episodes and putting them up on the web. I'm amazed to read that Paramount have let them do this, provided that the site's run on a not-for-profit basis.

Considering that IMDB are reporting that the latest episode produced by New Voyages has been downloaded 22 million times, it sounds like the unofficial version is actually considerably more popular than the official version. After watching the Star Wars fan movie last month, I have to say I'm not succumbing to anything like excitement over the prospect, but I'll be downloading the episodes this week so expect a review at some point in the not-too-distant future.


Strange how things pan out, isn't it? The BBC took the series Doctor Who off the air for 17 years claiming that nobody watched it any more, yet the latest series has completely demolished its main rival in terms of viewing figures. In fact it's got to the point that ITV have given up completely and I hear that after next week they'll be replacing celebrity wrestling with repeats of the first three Star Wars movies.


Another couple of signs of Summer arrived on Sunday - one welcome, one not so welcome. It's nice to be able to report that the swifts are here at last; the sound of their screaming calls always takes me back to childhood memories of going on holiday in Holt, in Norfolk. However, I have to say that last night I swatted my first mossie of the summer as it sat on the lampshade in the bedroom.


It must be a slow news day. The Guardian has devoted a page to a German photographer who takes photographs of pop stars' feet. One thing it shows, though: just how sartorially challenged many of our cultural icons are when it comes to footwear.


There was a fair amount of consternation on Saturday after a DNS "glitch" threw Google off the air for about fifteen minutes. It didn't seem to be caused by a malicious attack, but the fuss it created was quite considerable.


Lytham St. Annes is the posh end of the Fylde Coast in Lancashire. When I was a kid the place used to have the highest number of Rolls Royces per head of capita of anywhere in the UK. It's always been a very conservative place, so it was rather odd to see the Daily Mail reporting that a bizarre animal had been sighted in a leafy lane at the back of Lytham called Green Drive. Now to my eyes, the Mail's reconstruction suggests that somebody's lost a goat, but you never know.

Over in America, of course, they're doing things on a somewhat larger scale. In particular, folks down in the Gulf are looking for a seven-foot-tall, evil-smelling hairy humanoid that's known as the Florida Skunk Ape. I see that the Bradenton reporters go on to discuss other mystery animals, but unfortunately nobody pointed out to them that the mysterious "goat sucker" is called El Chupacabras. There's an "s" on the end, regardless of whether you're talking about one or lots...


So here we are a day later - did you vote? While Mr Blair is still Prime Minister, the political landscape has changed a bit. With 627 seats declared so far, Labour now have 355 seats (which I figure works out as 13.4% fewer Labour MPs), the Conservatives have 197 (20.1% more) and the Lib Dems have 62 (14.8% more than there were). In general terms the BBC worked out the voting as a 3.2% swing to the Tories.

Now all the election coverage is over perhaps we can get some decent programmes on the telly again. At the moment, though, there's just lots of people pontificating about what the results mean.


I've just had a few of the window panes on the front of the house replaced, as the seals on the double glazing had failed and the units had steamed up. It's nice to be able to see out of the windows again! Thanks to The Window Doctors for sorting that out for me at an extremely reasonable price.


From this story on Ain't It Cool it appears that Bristol's wonderful animation company, Aardman aren't just sticking with their hugely successful claymation technique: they're moving into the computer generated imagery field for a film called Flushed Away. It will star Hugh Jackman as a sewer rat, and other cast members include Sir Ian McKellen and Kate Winslet. I'm guessing that there will be a lot of motion capture involved as they've also got Andy (Gollum) Serkis on board. Interesting.


So election day is upon us once again, and the polling stations are open until 10 o'clock tonight. What difference will it make? If you're interested in this sort of thing, the situation amongst the big three parties when parliament was dissolved on April 11th was as follows: Labour had 410 MPs, the Conservatives had 164 and the Liberal Democrats had 54. We'll see how that's changed tomorrow.


Rebecca and I tend to use MSN Messenger a lot. If you're using an earlier version than 7, you should consider upgrading, because it's full of really pointless new features that are huge fun. The emoticons in particular can leave you wondering what sort of deranged mind thinks them all up.

For the more ASCII-centric or IM-deprived among you, all is not lost, however. I feel I should encourage the more creative use of smileys beyond all that dull colon-hyphen-right bracket routine. So why not brighten your day by consulting the Canonical Smiley List? Mind you, it's not complete - it doesn't have the legendary lost John Major smiley: I once saw an emoticon of our former Prime Minister that was so funny I completely forgot to write it down, and I've been looking for it ever since.


What with all the excitement I completely forgot to enthuse over Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, which featured the show's most fearsome monster, a Dalek. On the whole it was very good, and took me right back to those days when I used to watch the show as a kid. Not for me the hiding behind the sofa, oh no - I always used to watch from the open doorway so I was assured of a swift exit should anything nasty escape from the television set. Particularly if the Daleks were involved.

But apparently the production team had discussions about "what the Dalek's motivation should be." Oh, please. The Dalek's motivation is very, very simple, and it can be summed up in one word: Exterminate!


Now the Dalek Builders' Guild are a fine upstanding bunch of people, and I am extremely jealous of their efforts. But in searching for their site I came across a bewildering number of sites that will help you dress up as a science fiction character. People do tend to take this dressing up lark very seriously.


There's an article in the LA Times this week about the demise of the Star Trek series Enterprise - if you read Slashdot you'll probably already have heard about it. It's written by the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, and I'd guess that his description of the show as a "poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series" might be a bit strong for the fans. He also bemoans the lack of character progression and the investigation of different ideas and concepts - something that I feel has been a particular weakness of Enterprise. But he goes on to make a couple of very interesting points which made me look at Science Fiction (SF) on TV from a different light, and they're the reason I'm blogging his article.

Firstly, Card suggested that SF is in a very healthy state at the moment, with good work appearing both on screen and in print. Given the news about Enterprise this might seem counter-intuitive, but I think he's right. Big-budget SF films regularly appear these days. Back when I was a kid, they were a big deal. If you're under 20 you've been exposed to a constant background of SF movies, both good and bad. Back in 1977 when Star Wars came out there really hadn't been much in the way of interesting SF on celluloid other than Nic Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth and Michael Anderson's Logan's Run, both of which appeared in 1976. In those days, the big SF events stood out by a mile. These days there's so much going on it's sometimes difficult to appreciate that there's good work out there, so well done to Card for pointing it out.

Secondly, I was surprised by his assessment of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as two of the finest SF movies of all time. That got me thinking why I should be surprised; I decided that it was because Card categorises both films as SF. The conclusion I came to is that he's right, of course: they're perfect examples. So what can science fiction fans learn from this?

The best SF raises interesting questions; it makes us think about every day things from a new perspective, it's refreshingly original and it's very entertaining. Good science fiction also manages to transcend the genre. Folks aren't even aware that it is science fiction, so it reaches a much wider audience (after all, if it was identified as SF, people would say "I don't like SF" and not watch it.) We need to encourage more people to watch or read SF to help erode its reputation as being strictly for nerds, because we really ought to share the fun.


We've got the general election coming up tomorrow and, while I'll be voting, it's difficult to work up any enthusiasm. It's hard to stifle a yawn over the never-ending news coverage - although that may be due in part to the fact that I was woken up by the local song thrush singing its heart out outside my window this morning - at 4:50 am. Far more interesting is the story about the five-year-old boy who found a live snake in his box of breakfast cereal. Still, at least the Guardian got Boris Johnson and Robin Cook to road test a couple of cars yesterday, so at least they were doing something productive.


Whether you call it outsourcing, offshoring, job poaching, investment export, the brain drain or the free market economy, there's always money to be made from selling mugs with a catchy take on it all. The Register strikes another blow for um, novelty ceramics.


Talking of poaching (ouch)... Here's more proof, should any be needed, that people will buy just about anything they find on eBay. Would you spend ten quid (and another four for postage) on a hard-boiled egg called Terry? Cheers to Pete at uk.m.g for that one.


I love coincidences, and here's an absolute doozy.

Last month I mentioned the new Bjork album that she's produced to raise money for the charity Unicef - a whole CD full of mixes and covers of her song Army of Me. Well, my copy arrived on Saturday and I've been listening to it over the weekend. I was talking to one of my muso colleagues about it and I mentioned that, in my opinion (and that of the Observer's), it was an interesting album but one track stood out above all the rest. But before I could tell Phil which one it was, he told me that some of his friends had submitted a track for inclusion on the album. You can guess the rest.

"You're going to tell me they're Dr Syntax and CB Turbo vs. Rivethead, aren't you?" I asked. Phil looked vaguely surprised. "Oh, you've heard of them?"

Phil's even sent me a link to a web page of photos of his band The Beavers - that's Tom Haines (Dr Syntax) on drums, Chris Branch (CB Turbo) on Moog and Pascal Wyse (Rivethead) on the trombone, with Phil playing bass. Besides the electro morris dancing, they do a nice line in surfing music. Keep an eye out for them.