For a Few Bloggers More

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: May 2006

In May I introduced discrete #name tags for every day, which simplified the whole RSS feed business and which will also make referencing entries from future blogs far more accurate. (This approach endured until October 2015, when I switched to the HTML5 id= format for permanent links instead.)

The month was bracketed by much excitement (from me at least) about new releases of old films on DVD: the original versions of Star Wars and a new edit of Blade Runner. And we got a few days holiday as well.

Which was nice.


As has already been discussed over at Linkbunnies, Warner Brothers have announced that they're bringing out not one, but two DVD releases of the cult science fiction movie Blade Runner.

The first, coming out in September, is a remastered release of the "director's cut" - the version of the film released in 1992 which didn't have the original's Sam Spade narration:

Sushi, that was what my ex-wife called me. Means raw fish.

but which did have the unicorn dream; a scene that in the intervening ten years had gained almost as legendary a status as the spider crawl sequence cut from the original version of The Exorcist.

The Director's Cut release will be followed in the new year by an all-singing, all-dancing multiple disc set. Details in the Warners release are sketchy but it looks like it'll include the original version from 1982, plus the extended release that was brought out in Europe shortly afterwards, as well as the director's cut, and Ridley Scott's new "definitive" or "final cut" version which sounds like a fanboy dream. Amongst other things it is supposed to have cleaned-up special effects, and the rather visible wires that held up the spinners (the flying police cars) digitally removed. Hopefully the extras will also include Mark Kermode's excellent Channel 4 documentary On The Edge of Blade Runner that was made a few years ago. I can't wait.


Every ten years or so I get frustrated with raking up the lawn clippings and buy another lawnmower, even though the twenty quid Black and Decker hover mower I bought when I moved to Milton Keynes still works (and I still use it when the grass has got too long to cut with the cylinder mower). So I arrived home tonight with a Flymo. I should have bought one ages ago - I was finished in next to no time, it collected the grass so I didn't have to spend half an hour raking the lawn, and it left the place looking nice and tidy. The weather outside is excellent this evening, too, so I might just go and sit on the bench in the back garden and enjoy it.


Meanwhile, copyright lawyer Lawrence Lessig has been speaking at the Hay festival. So has former American vice president Al Gore. Both speeches sounded really interesting - well, that's hardly surprising, as the entire festival is one of those events that a) I always promise myself I'll go to, b) never get round to arranging and c) always end up regretting that I didn't go.

Especially this year, as Seamus Heaney, Sir Martin Rees, Will Self, P J Harvey, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood were all there. And I missed it. Rats.


It's Bank Holiday Monday, and in Brockworth, just up the road in Gloucestershire, that can mean only one thing: it's cheese rolling time.


Now this is an interesting one: a website that monitors expressions of feelings on the web and presents them in a bewildering array of different graphical styles. I heard about the We Feel Fine site via the excellent graphics blog Drawn!


It's a holiday weekend here in the UK, as it is in America. Unfortunately so far it's been raining a lot, so I've stayed inside doing a bit of spring cleaning. The house needed it, too - I've discovered one or two rather dusty corners, I've thrown out bags full of old papers and I think I'll probably be clearing out some more stuff before long.

While I've been doing all this, I've been listening to the radio; Radio 3 are broadcasting a series of programmes celebrating the 80th anniversary of the birth of the ultimate cool cat, Miles Davis. At the moment, I'm listening to a programme about the recording of Miles's most famous album, So What. It's put me a a much more mellow mood than I've been in for a few days (as you might have noticed by the tone of the blog in the past week). It's just as well. I just can't seem to get a decent night's sleep any more - at the moment I don't think I've been sleeping for more than three hours at a stretch. I don't know why; I've tried cutting down on caffeine, I've been cutting down on what I eat, particularly at night, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. I just feel wound up and rather stressed - I think I need a break. Unfortunately since the skiing holiday I haven't taken more than a couple of days holiday at once, which has meant that I'm only just beginning to unwind when I have to go back to work. I need to get out there for a week or so and really recharge my batteries.

I could do with better weather before I do that. At the moment I can hear the water pouring out of a neighbour's guttering, despite the fact that Rob McElwee said we'd only have drizzle today. So far this month, the country has had 144% of its average monthly rainfall and here in the West Country the snails in the garden are having a great time. The Met Office's outlook says we might be in for some better weather before too long, though.


There's a chaffinch somewhere outside my bedroom window, and for the last week it has been chirping away, monotonously and incessantly. It's beginning to get a bit annoying.


The folks at We Make Money Not Art have just won a webby for their site, which is richly deserved. They've pointed me in the direction of some real gems from time to time; at the moment, they're featuring some interesting installations involving washbasins and email - and point out that you can now watch Todd Browning's disturbing cult classic Freaks on Google Video.


You've no doubt already encountered the latest ad campaign that I was grumbling about on Linkbunnies earlier in the week: Tango's spoof of the Sony coloured balls advert for their Bravia LCD Televisions that involves large quantities of fruit raining down on Swansea. It's an almost shot-for-shot duplicate of the original, even down to the frog coming out of the drainpipe. Heck, it even has the same music: Heartbeats, by José González from his album Veneer (I remember hearing about him a few years ago - Argentinian parents, but born and raised in Sweden - and it's a gorgeous piece of music).

But the fact that CHI Advertising (you've got to love their naff tag as "the 19th most creatively awarded agency in the world") had to set up a spoof residents' association website to distribute the video - rather than plugging the ad on its own merits - says a lot about their confidence in the brand they're plugging, doesn't it? Apart from apparently wasting large quantities of food, any company which has to hide what it's doing like that is going to set my teeth on edge pretty damn quickly. Viral marketing, your day has passed. Get over it.


I used to read the indie magazine Deadline, mainly for two comic strips that they published: Wired World by Philip Bond, and whatever spectacular artwork had appeared from Jamie Hewlett - including Tank Girl, of course. So it was nice to hear that Mr Hewlett won a very swish design award last night for his work on the virtual band Gorillaz, which he created with Damon Albarn: he's been voted Designer of the Year. Well done!


The European Media Forum, a think tank run as part of the European Policy Forum is urging the BBC to sell off Radio 1 and Radio 2. The justification, it says, is that they don't provide a public service. Er - neither do many of the other radio stations run by the BBC, surely?

I think the real reason that the other stations are being ignored by the report is that they wouldn't be quite the money-spinning endeavours that a privatised Radio 1 and 2 would be. As those radio stations are paid for in part by my licence fee, I get rather peeved when people start talking about selling them off. Who would pocket the profits from the sale, I wonder? I bet it wouldn't be us...


I used to subscribe to Sky's satellite TV service here in the UK, but got increasingly frustrated with their abysmal customer service. I don't know if it's the same now, but they used to charge me several quid every month for a listings magazine that I didn't want, that was poorly written, and frequently wrong. It used to go straight in the bin. That, together with the patronising approach they took with viewers, and technology that didn't appear to be able to cope with widescreen television broadcasts started really bugging me, so when my monthly subscription went over £40 a month, I cancelled. I've never considered going back.

Sky are still great at pissing off their customers, it seems. The BBC is reporting that a significant proportion of the people who ordered kit for Sky's new high definition service will be getting it two months late. In other words, if you were looking forwards to watching the World Cup in HD, forget it. I bet that's made their customer service department really popular.


I have a strong feeling that this year will be remembered as the year the Eurovision Song Contest returned to being about the music, not the politics. Finnish monster metal band Lordi won, from a field that was a little bit more interesting than in previous years. From watching the semi-finals earlier in the week it was obvious they were in with a strong chance; apart from their headline-grabbing appearance, it was actually a pretty decent piece of rock music. All the same, even Lordi himself seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fact that they had actually won.

Sure, there were some truly cringeworthy entries: Turkey's song "super star" had a rather distinctive high note in the chorus that the singer Sibel Tüzün steadfastly failed to hit more than once or twice in the entire performance. Lithuania had some dodgy looking blokes in suits who kept shouting "We are the winners of Eurovision" and after that I half expected Father Ted and Dougal to crop up singing "My lovely horse."

You may have seen reports in the papers over the last few weeks after Laura Spierdijk and Michel Vellekoop from the University of Twente in Holland published a research paper citing evidence of political bias in the voting of Baltic States in the period 1975 to 2003. In the last few years, it's been blatant, and last year you could tell Terry Wogan was getting sick of it. There's still a lot of support between neighbours, although the customary Cyprus - Greece collaboration this year didn't go quite as expected (Cyprus didn't make it to the final). But this year was different. This year, it looks like most people voted for the music, not for the politics of the country concerned.

The last word has to go to the writer of Hard Rock Hallelujah, though. “From now on, hopefully Eurovision fans will accept more different musical styles than just pop and ballads,” he said - and I heartily agree. Rock on.


Many thanks to Tom, who sent me a link to Mark Rosenfelder's wonderful set of handy phrases in French, Spanish and German for use by the American traveller. I particularly liked the translations used for the phrases "I understand your language perfectly" and "I must compliment you on your understanding of our language." Kids, please don't ask your teacher to translate these, okay?


And thanks also to my colleague Rob, who discovered the website of Cybus Industries today. It gives an insight into the company that brought you the ear pod, and includes a revealing interview with its managing director, John Lumic. In case you're puzzled by our interest in this, let me say that Rob is a bit of a Doctor Who fan.


Superjumbo! The A380 paid its first visit to Britain today, and on its way to Heathrow it flew over Bristol - the wings, landing gear and fuel systems are made in the south west, so it was a good opportunity for everyone who worked on it to see the beast in flight. And it is a beast - it's huge! Here's a picture I took as it flew over the office:

Heavy Metal

It really is pretty quiet for something that size - I suspect a lot of people only noticed it because it flew over so low. After Bristol, it headed down for a landing in Heathrow, where it's spending a day undergoing ground handling and ramp tests. They need to make sure Terminal 3's new Pier Six will fit!


The BBC have been to see the film of The Da Vinci Code at Cannes, and gosh, it's not very good. Duh.

Sorry, but I feel a grump coming on. I've read a fair few books in my time, and some of those have been real stinkers, but Dan Brown's stuff is right there at the bottom. In the past, I've been quite content to let them go, but the carefully contrived furore over this work just drives me nuts. From the opening disclaimer that tries so hard to make you think it's all true, the thing is filled with one tired literary device after another, and none of them is accomplished very well. So I get very, very annoyed when people talk about the book in a positive light. The BBC article got me going more than most, as it talks about "the book's triumphs." From this you'd get the impression that it's a huge literary accomplishment. Please be advised: no, it isn't. It really, really isn't. In fact, if you've actually read it (and unfortunately it appears forty million of you out there have read it), you'll already know that it reads as if it was written by a twelve year old boy who'd just finished skimming through "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." The BBC reckon that Dan Brown was really clever in allowing the reader to figure out most of the plot twists before the characters in the novel do, but let's face it, they're so clumsily telegraphed that the average teenage reader would spot them coming a mile off.

With apologies to Andy and Anna, who got me a hardback copy as a birthday present when it came out, it really isn't worth all the attention and hype that's surrounded it. It's crap. Ignore it. Don't bother with the film. Instead, go out and buy a copy of Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" and spend a few hours reading a book written by someone who knows how to write and who has actually done some research (and creative thinking) of his own.

Thank you. We now return you to your regular programming.


The photosharing website Flickr went live with a whole bunch of improvements last night, and I'm really impressed with them. From an interface point of view they've cleaned things up, put the information you might need as a user in the most appropriate places, and provided a set of one-click buttons for the most popular features. Nice.

I was mildly amused to see that, rather than moving from beta to a final release, the Flickr logo now proudly sports the word gamma. As it's the third letter in the Greek alphabet I can see where they're coming from - plus, it's quirky and more than a little bit unusual, rather like the folks at Flickr themselves.


Intergalactic superstar Bono has been a newspaper editor for the day, taking over control of UK paper The Independent as part of the Project Red campaign to halt the spread of AIDS in Africa. He's proved rather good at it, actually - bringing in the occasional mate to help things out. For instance, there's a great chat between Bono and Eddie Izzard which is available online as well. Best quote has to be:

"It goes without saying, if we were of completely sound mind and proportion in our thinking, we wouldn't be performers."

I'll let you figure out which of the two of them said that. Read the article for comments on Hitler moustaches, and Eddie's music teacher...


If you have a broadband connection, you might want to toddle over to NASA's Worldwind page and download the latest version. Like Google Earth, but on steroids - with imagery from the Moon, Venus, Mars and Jupiter all available as well. It's a huge download, but the results are worth the wait - it's a fascinating program.


The BBC has been summing up events at the E3 entertainment show that took place in Los Angeles last week. I was bemused to learn that there is now a game for grannies, based around "finding your cats who've been captured by goblins who rub them together to make electricity." The cats, presumably, not the grannies.

I was less surprised to read that gamers consider themselves weak and lethargic; I know it's all too easy to sit in front of a console or a computer for a few hours, because I do it myself. So I'm getting out with my camera and taking some real exercise instead.


Is it just me, or was this week's episode of Doctor Who just about the best thing on television for quite a while? The Cybermen, reimagined as the ultimate upgrade - Human 2.0 - and Roger Lloyd-Pack actually managing to sound like the horrors from the sixties.

I used to find the Cybermen far scarier than the Daleks, probably because you knew that if they came to your town, you'd end up being assimilated. Kind of like the Borg, but without the cool accessories or nanotechnology. Just pain. Compared to the Doctor's enemies, the Borg are cuddly. On the BBC, the prospect of coming to a grisly end with your brain welded to a cybernetic chassis is definitely not something you'd want to happen. This week's storyline played that to the hilt, and what a ripping yarn it's turning out to be. Roll on next week's episode!


I've been gardening. I spent most of this afternoon peeling ivy off the walls in the back garden and have managed to completely fill my wheelie bin again. In fact, I was reduced to standing in it to squish stuff down so I could fit more in. I've decided I really must get the garden into shape this summer, because it got away from me a little bit last year. Next weekend it'll be off to the garden centre to get a few bits and pieces - who knows, I may put some pictures up on my Flickr account once it's looking presentable.


The blog's a bit late this evening - given the amount of thunder and lightning going on when I got home I thought it was best to shut everything down and unplug the router from the socket. The weather here's been quite interesting for the last couple of days, but it did mean that I got a pretty good picture or two of what was going on, like this one, for instance. I'm rather pleased with it.


The Guardian reports on the plans of television stations for bringing more reality TV than ever before to our screens this summer. The return of Big Brother, Celebrity X-Factor, and something called "Only fools on horses"... Something tells me I'll be listening to a lot of radio over the next few months. At the moment, for example, I'm listening to the Rick Wakeman show on Planet Rock.


I wasn't altogether sure there was going to be a blog entry today: after yesterday evening's thunderstorms, my telephone line wasn't able to sustain an ADSL connection. It was still down at 6:30 this morning, but I've just fired the router up again and everything appears to be back to normal - at least until the next lot of storms.


The Stilton Cheese Makers Association have come up with an interesting way to plug one of my favourite cheeses: Eau de Stilton perfume. Much as I like a nice piece of Stilton with some crackers and a glass of port, I can't see cheese perfumes catching on in a big way. Mind you, I might change my mind once I've smelt the stuff...

Of course, the actual product isn't the point. I've blogged it, you're reading about it, and there are no doubt many other bloggers out there who, right now, are writing something along the lines of "have you heard the latest crazy marketing idea?" for their websites. So the message gets spread far and wide and suddenly everyone's heard of the SCMA. Even by pointing out what a stupid idea it is, we're helping them plug their product. What would Bill Hicks have to say about that, I wonder?


Back in April I blogged about Jakob Nielsen's report on how people read web pages - well, how Westerners read them, anyway. Today a colleague sent me a link to a response by a professional team who specialise in exactly this sort of thing, and their reaction is almost exactly the same as mine. Er, OK then, except theirs is based on a thorough understanding of the subject under discussion.

More to the point, they are in the middle of publishing the results of a number of studies they've made of commercial websites, which show that (as we all suspected) things aren't really that simple after all. Tweaking the design of a web page page in apparently minor ways can make significant differences to the way in which the page is read - to the point that some things appear to be ignored completely.

One thing that can be inferred from that (although I didn't see the point being made in the article) is that the way pages are rendered by different web browsers could make a more significant change to the layout of the page than any intentional design tweaks. Just have a look at someone's MSN Spaces page using IE, and then using Firefox, for example.

Interesting stuff, and if I find out more I'll post it here.


I used to smile when I heard that track by Rush. I didn't have to think I was going bald; I knew I was. Life had shown me what was in store for me from an early age, because my father lost most of his hair while he was in his thirties. It never really worried me. I also knew it'd be pointless to fight it. Let's face it: given the choice of resembling Patrick Stewart or Gregor Fisher, I'll pick Captain Picard every time. Sorry, Gregor.

In the last week of the last century I finally decided to get rid of what was left by giving my head a going over with a set of clippers. I've never regretted doing so for one minute: now my hair's far easier to look after, always looks neat and tidy, and over the last six years a set of trimmers that cost me less than ten quid has saved me a fortune in barber's bills. Being caught out in the rain without a hat is no problem at all and I can live with the occasional spot of sunburn.

There are other people, however, for whom going bald is apparently a really traumatic experience. Either there's a conspiracy afoot, or some hair treatment agency has a press release in circulation at the moment, because the BBC and the Guardian are carrying articles which are suspiciously similar. And if there isn't a political motivation behind all these articles, then ask yourself this: does a Lib Dem MP's so-called mid-life crisis really need all this coverage?


Bruce Peterson, the NASA test pilot whose crash in the M2-F2 lifting body provided the inspiration (and title footage) for the 1970s TV show The Six Million Dollar Man, died last week in California at the age of 72.

Unlike Steve Austin, Peterson did not require replacement limbs after the crash. Like his fictional counterpart, he did lose an eye; however, despite rolling the aircraft six times and having his head scraped across the desert at several hundred miles an hour, this was as a result of a bacterial infection he picked up during his subsequent treatment in hospital. Test pilots like Peterson are a dying breed, and his passing brings the close of aviation's golden age a little bit closer.


...and you makes your choice. I love the fact that the web pages for this story and this one have the same layout and use exactly the same picture, but one says Keith Richards doesn't need brain surgery and the other (a couple of days later) reports that Keith Richards is recovering well from the brain surgery he's just had.


Apparently not, at least as far as the Ministry of Defence are concerned. They've concluded that there are plausible explanations for all the reports of lights in the sky they receive. Sightings don't require the presence of little green men, or those of any other colour, either.

It's rather sad in a way. I was struck by just how little mystery there is for folks to enjoy these days. When I was a kid in the 1970s, even though the golden age of 1950s B-movies such as The Day The Earth Stood Still was long gone, flying saucers and UFOs played a far more significant role in popular culture than they do now. There was a genuine sense that something (or someone) might turn up at any minute, and the prospect was viewed with a guarded optimism. Perhaps the last gasp of that attitude was Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which came out in 1977. Can you imagine it being made today? I can't. Even Mr S has moved on, giving us dismal remakes of The War of the Worlds instead.

I think the whole alien abductions craze that started in the States in the late 80s and early 90s was a major factor in killing off interest in what's out there - the claims researchers were making got sillier and sillier. Round about the time when people were claiming one person in 20 was being abducted on a regular basis, someone pointed out that the skies over much of America would be continuously teeming with flying saucers just to keep up. The subsequent discoveries of how easy it was for people to recall false memories didn't do much to help witness credibility, either. And let's face it, people have more pressing things to think about these days.

Never one for passing up an opportunity to buck the trend, I'm still watching the skies - in a virtual sense, at least. I started running the latest version of the SETI at Home software today. The new enhanced version takes a lot longer to work through a work unit: about three times as long, because it's performing a lot more analysis on the data. Unfortunately the graphics side of the thing is still pretty awful, but as I have it running in the background I never see it.


Neil Turok and his colleagues at Cambridge University are in the news today, as their new theory about the origins of the Universe gets publicised. The main point it makes is that the Big Bang wasn't a one-off event. In fact, they estimate that although the last Big Bang happened around 14 billion years ago, the Universe is closer to a trillion years old. It's an interesting idea, and it would go a long way to answering some of the big questions physicists ask about how we all got here.

However, don't expect it to help you survive past the next Big Bang to come along, some time in the next 10 billion years or so - the explosion is so cataclysmically violent that not even protons and neutrons would survive. Everything would be turned into photons.


Jerry Bruckheimer, meet Michel de Nostradame, courtesy of those very silly and creative folks over at McSweeney's.


If Blade Runner was "the runaway favourite" in the Guardian's poll of the top ten sci fi films, how could 2001 be a "very close second"? Enquiring minds want to know.


Executive producer Damon Lindelof has been talking about Lost in the Guardian. From what he says, we can expect the show to run for four years, and 100 episodes. Hopefully that will include tying up the questions raised by the show, and addressing what happened afterwards rather than copping out with an inconclusive shambles like the X-Files did.


Scientists have been talking about the fact that major climate change is under way for quite a while, and according to a press release that came out this week they've discovered some new evidence that things are hotting up. However, the interesting thing about this particular announcement is that it concerns climate change on the planet Jupiter, which is developing a second red spot.

Although warming on Earth has been discussed a lot recently, few people seem to be aware that some of the other planets are also experiencing change. Human activities, while they are undoubtedly a major contributing factor to the situation here on Earth, aren't necessarily the only reason things are getting warmer.


Well, it looks like George Lucas has finally relented and is allowing a DVD set of the original versions of the Star Wars films to be released on DVD. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'll be getting a copy. And I'm sure that the date of today's announcement was chosen very carefully.


Sky One are, apparently, going to be making a new version of The Prisoner with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role. I suppose I should be happy; after all, the original series, starring Patrick McGoohan, is one of my all-time favourites. But the fact that television companies are desperate to reinvent classic old series after the phenomenal success of Doctor Who does nothing to reassure me that the results will be any good. In fact, the original show was so utterly iconic that I can't see how you could possibly do it justice with a remake.

But what really sets the alarm bells ringing is the fact that Sky are calling it a thrilling reinvention. Can we say "crash and burn"?


Just before the first episode in series 2 of Lost on Channel 4 last night, there was an advert for the Hanso Foundation which, of course, wasn't a real advert at all; it's part of the backstory for the show. God only knows what it signifies. I gave up trying to figure out what the hell's going on in Lost months ago.

Wandering around the Hanso site, I came across one page in their Active Projects section that discusses their "Electromagnetic Research Institute." It has a picture of tests supposedly being carried out in Bad Salzdetfurth, Lower Saxony. By a totally meaningless coincidence, the nearest town to my village - Yate - is twinned with Bad Salzdetfurth. Spooky, eh?


There's a story in the Guardian today highlighting how easy it is to steal someone's identity using nothing more than a discarded airline boarding pass. It's rather alarming how lax companies and official organisations are with the data they compile in order to - allegedly - keep us safe.


The Guardian website also had a headline graphic today taken from last Sunday's Observer that reads "Wayne's World: Rooney on his love of football and foot injuries." I think they could have phrased that better, don't you? Unless, perhaps, he really does love foot injuries. In which case he should be very happy today. Shame for the rest of us, though.


The Register today were carrying the tale of a hapless US Air Force pilot who got stuck in the cockpit of his brand new, advanced technology F-22 fighter for five hours because the canopy wouldn't open. One chainsaw and $180,000 dollars later, the ground crew got him out by cutting through the transparency. Very amusing - until you start thinking about what they'd have done if the plane was involved in an emergency and the pilot was unconscious. Fast jets have a manual canopy release mechanism that's intended to provide a quick exit for the crew. A similar control is provided on the outside for ground crew to use. If it was me, I'd be asking some serious questions about the design of the components they used on the F-22 for it.


Yes, it's a bank holiday, and I've been busy. I got up before eight, did some stuff on the computer, watched a couple of DVDs, baked some gingerbread men, went out for a walk around Wotton and North Nibley, and even climbed to the top of the William Tyndale monument. There was quite a view from the top (and quite a climb to get there, I might add). Needless to say I took loads of photos, and you can see the first batch over on my Flickr stream. They're the results of half an hour spent when I got back, identifying all the different plants I'd taken photos of. The only problem is that my legs clearly aren't used to this amount of hill walking, and my ankles are definitely not what they used to be.

All the same, I feel like I've put the day to good use, which is a very satisfying feeling.