For those about to blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: June 2006

In June summer arrived with some glorious weather and I got out and about with the camera. Unfortunately the hayfever hit home as well, which left me feeling rather out of sorts.

However I soldiered on, braving daleks and cybermen in Holt, investigating backwards recordings in music and discovering the delights of voice over IP.


Awwww. Moose, the Jack Russell terrier who played Martin's dog Eddie in Frasier, has died. As the article says, at the peak of the show's popularity, Moose got more fan mail than any of the humans in the cast. How many other sitcoms can you think of where a dog's ability to stare pointedly at the leading character was an integral part of the programme's appeal?


There is an absolutely fascinating interview with Michael Gambon in today's Guardian. It's just a pity that, in true Guardian style, Emma Brockes shoots herself in the foot in the last sentence with the phrase "peels of laughter." Laughter, like bells, should peal. Oh well, you can't win them all.


I spent the weekend with my parents in Norfolk. When I got there they told me that Holt was hosting a gathering of Daleks on the Sunday to raise money for the East Anglia Air Ambulance. It's a worthwhile cause, and the pilots are amazing flyers; a while ago they had to land in Holt town centre to assist a woman who had been in an accident. I've seen where they landed, and there wasn't an awful lot of clearance. They've also landed in the stables near Mum and Dad's house after a woman there fell off a horse. That time they were putting down in trees, which is not good news in a helicopter.

I took my camera along and got one or two decent shots


Nice paint job

Not something you see every day...

Daleks - the professional approach

As you can see, Colin Baker (the sixth doctor) was there, as was Terry Molloy, who played Davros. There was a tardis parked in Chapel Yard, and various cybermen walking around (although the rather natty hiking boots one of them was sporting rather reduced the dramatic impact). Oh, and I also saw some guy who appeared to have painted "K-9" on his greyhound with toothpaste. Sadly I missed the "Dalek Trolley Dash" in the Budgens supermarket - I have absolutely no idea what that entailed, but it sounded like it could have been rather entertaining. As well as all this, I saw someone I recognised from Farnborough air shows past: Wing Commander Ken Wallis, who lives in Dereham, had brought along Little Nellie to join in the fun.

Still defending her honour

It was a fun day, and my sister's kids loved it. It proved to all of us that when it comes to rampant eccentricity, nobody does it like the British.


Jenni Russell has an article in the Guardian today with the depressing message that "The public feels patronised, bullied and betrayed." As she says, despite marketing themselves as the antidote to years of Thatcherism, Labour have operated "as a tightly knit, suspicious group, imposing policies or targets or radical reorganisations on public services, frequently without consultation or agreement." Er, isn't that what governments do? Over the last thirty years or so, successive governments have sold off national resources to the highest bidder, wrecked the transport system, created huge bureaucracies which require billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to sustain, and you can guarantee that pretty much as soon as any party gets into power they'll stop listening to the people who voted for them in the first place (not that my vote has ever helped a government into power, oddly enough.) And they wonder why people are so cynical these days, I dunno...


I've been having an email conversation this week with Ricky, and the subject got round to bits of music recorded backwards. In the days of LPs, it could be a risky procedure to hear this stuff, because reversing playback could wreck the record, or your record player. With the advent of computers and mp3 files, it's become a lot easier to actually flip songs round and hear these things the way they were originally recorded.

We started with the secret message in ELO's track with the rather giveaway title of Secret messages but soon moved on to Roger Waters's many additions to Pink Floyd's recordings. For instance, on the album The Wall, in the track Empty spaces you can hear:

"Congratulations! You have discovered the secret message. Send your answer to Old Pink, care of the funny farm, Chalfont..."

at which point Waters is interrupted by someone in the studio with the words "Roger, Carolyn's on the phone!" Waters also recorded a backwards jibe at Stanley Kubrick after the director refused to let him use a sample from 2001: A Space Odyssey on his album Amused to Death.

The all-time biggest and best example of backwards music I've got is Frank Zappa's Ya Hozna from the album Them or us. Given Frank's views on such things, it was probably written to wind up the crowd who hear satanic messages in just about everything they listen to backwards. It consists of Zappa, speaking in English and German mingled with outtakes from other Zappa recordings, including his daughter Moon's vocals from the session that brought us Valley Girl. The song's title Ya Hozna appears to be the literal transcription of the end of "du bist mein sofa" heard the wrong way round.

I think what this proves above anything else is that if you spend more than half an hour listening to your record collection backwards, you need help.


It's been a weird afternoon. As I drove home, I was lucky enough to see a fox, which ran across the road about fifty metres in front of the car and disappeared over a dry stone wall into a field. A bit further on, I looked in a field which normally contains half a dozen llamas only to see that they'd been replaced by what appeared to be an emu. We get all sorts of stuff down here, I tell you...


Because I write stuff for a living, I've developed a keen interest in the language and how it all works. So when I saw the BBC website's article about the most common nouns in use today, as determined by a new study carried out by the Oxford University Press, I was intrigued. It's based on a sampling of Internet articles, and concluded that "time" was the noun in most frequent use. However, the project manager points out that many of the words in the top 20 appear in common phrases, such as "time waits for no man." Perhaps what the study shows more strongly is the love we have for popular expressions and cliches. Now that would be an interesting study to carry out.


It really does look as if J J Abrams's proposed resurrection of the original Star Trek series as a movie starring Matt Damon as Captain Kirk is going to happen. Meanwhile, the 2004 proposal by Bryce Zabel and Babylon 5 creator Joe Straczynski for rebooting the Star Trek universe has been published on Zabel's website, and it makes interesting reading despite the fact that it never happened.

Whatever comes next for the Star Trek universe, the sort of show I want to see would need to reflect more of Gene Roddenberry's original vision than most of the recent series did. I don't think it's any coincidence that this year has brought a new and by all accounts hugely successful Superman movie; we're tired of the conflict, destruction and cynicism that we see all around us every day. What we need now is the notion that things are going to get better, coupled with a reaffirmation of the inherent goodness of human beings. That's what the original Star Trek had in spades, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the reason it's so well loved. Let's hope it's a lesson that Mr Abrams and his crew take on board.


From slashdot: it looks like some Dell laptops can run a little bit hot.


Today marks Midsummer's Day and the summer solstice. Okay, everybody knows that, but what does it actually mean? Let's start with three simple facts:

  • The Earth goes round the Sun
  • The Earth rotates
  • The plane of the Earth's orbit isn't aligned with the Earth's equator.

The third fact is important. As north and south poles don't stick up at exactly 90° to the orbital plane, the Earth is tilted slightly with respect to the sun. In fact, this tilt is what causes the seasons: when the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, it's exposed to more light every 24 hours. The amount of daylight is longer, and nights are shorter. More light means more heat, so we get summer. In the same way, when the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun we get less light, everything cools down, and we have winter.

The summer solstice is simply the point at which the earth's northern hemisphere is tilted over by the greatest amount. Because the southern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, they get winter. So in Australia, because the tilt has reached its maximum value, today marks the winter solstice. Of course, what all this means is that now the nights will start drawing in again, and it must be time to start thinking about booking another skiing holiday, hoorah!

Incidentally (and not a lot of people know this), we get summer in the northern hemisphere when we're actually quite a bit further away from the sun than we are in the winter. The Earth reaches the furthest point from the sun (a point known as aphelion) on July 3rd this year. Because the Earth's orbit is elliptical, not circular, there's a significant difference in the distance to the sun between aphelion and the point of closest approach, called perihelion. In fact, the difference in distance is about five million kilometres. That means a noticeable difference in size when you look at photographs taken at aphelion compared with those taken at perihelion. How cool is that?


Des Lynam has been bemoaning the dismal performance of the UK's soccer pundits at the World Cup, saying they're obsessed with statistics and that if some got any more carried away, their voices would be so high "only dogs would hear them." Des no doubt makes use of the special features available on the Beeb's digital coverage, as you can choose to just listen to the noise in the stadium - with no commentary at all. Meanwhile, the Guardian's Barney Ronay has in-depth match analysis and a look at the major players of the commentating scene.


Some folks provide web cams to help with travel information, others use them to promote tourism. But the NOAA have the most out-of-the-way webcam yet: it's at the North Pole. I bet the pollen count is a bit lower there, too.


I hate the pollen season. I can't get a decent night's sleep because it's too hot, my sinuses feel like they're going to explode, my eyes ache, and all this together with the antihistamine tablets I've been taking has left me feeling tired, irritable and just plain grouchy. Which brings me to...


Another story from the wacky world of marketing, I'm afraid. I have a feeling (or at least a hope) that the 2006 World Cup will long be remembered as being the point where corporate sponsorship of sporting events finally jumped the shark. Last year, if someone had told you that thousands of Dutch football fans would have their trousers confiscated at a match because they had the wrong logo on them you'd have thought they were on drugs - yet this week the media seemed to treat the affair as a mildly amusing joke rather than the frightening and offensive act it actually was.

Who was behind it? The people who stand most to benefit from the confiscation of this load of pants are Budweiser, the beer manufacturer. Maybe they were frightened that the sight of thousands of Dutch trousers bearing the logo of the brewer Bavaria would stop people buying their product. On the other hand, Bavaria - shockingly - hadn't paid an exhorbitant amount of money to Fifa for the honour of being a world cup sponsor, so maybe it was sour grapes on Fifa's part. In either case, none of the companies seems to have realised that the people that were on the receiving end of this bizarre behaviour were all potential customers. Former potential customers, more likely.

The Guardian article lists other examples of corporate bullying, such as the businessman who was ejected from the cricket world cup in South Africa in 2003 for drinking a can of Coca-Cola: the event's sponsors were Pepsi. In the 2004 Champions Trophy cricket matches, fans were given a list of brands they could take into the grounds - all of which, once again, were owned by Pepsi. Is it just me, or do you find the intrusion of marketing into our everyday lives like this totally unacceptable? There's not a lot I can do about it, but it's certainly put me off buying Pepsi's stuff, which includes the overpriced "sports beverage" SoBe, or the orange juice Tropicana. And it'll be a long, long time before I buy another can of Bud.


I was looking up resources on tag clouds and visualisation today, and discovered Joe Lamantia's fascinating site. Joe's an information architect, and his article pointed me in the direction of a funkylittle applet that the New York Times introduced recently: a tag cloud showing the most popular searches on its site over the last 30 days.

A tag cloud is a clever way of using text size to display another dimension in a text list. For example, the bigger a word, the more popular it is as a search term. I'd come across photography website Flickr's tag clouds already, but as popular terms there tend to be things like "cats" "beach" and "vacation" it's interesting seeing a cloud that's oriented more towards current affairs. So what's popular at the New York Times? "Immigration" is currently well out in front, but there's also interest China, India, Iran, Iraq, the World Cup, college, and the TV series Lost. It'd be hard to find a clearer indication of America's preoccupations right now.


The Green Party's Lord Beaumont, bless him, is trying to get a law introduced to ban muzak as well as other forms of piped music and television. Somehow I doubt that he'll succeed, but wouldn't it be lovely if he did?


Following the World Cup on the net? Then you need to be careful about visiting some team and player sites, as more than a few of them are infested with spyware and malware that installs itself on your PC while you're reading about your heroes. According to the antivirus software vendor McAfee, the worst offenders by far are web pages dedicated to Angola's team and its individual players. You've been warned.


You may remember that when air traffic was stopped on 9/11 in 2001, scientists noticed that air temperatures were significantly affected - because contrails cool the Earth during the day and warm it at night. The latest report indicates that the warming effect of contrails left by aircraft is much more pronounced than previously thought. In fact, although night flights only account for 22% of air traffic they produce 50% of the overall warming effect. So, if you're trying to reduce the size of your impact on climate change, one thing you might want to consider is not taking overnight aircraft flights.


We are always hearing about how new technology makes things easier, simpler, and better. So I was intrigued to read about mountaineer Graham Hoyland, who has been investigating claims that the clothing worn by George Mallory and Sandy Irvine in the 1920s wasn't good enough to let them survive on Mount Everest. Mr Hoyland beleives that Mallory and Irvine may have reached the summit almost fifty years before Sir Edmund Hillary, but died on the descent; the popular view is that they died before they got to the top.

After Mallory's body was discovered in 1999, replicas of his clothing were made and Mr Hoyland has taken them to Everest to try them out. Here's where it gets interesting: the clothing was as warm as, and 20% lighter than modern gear. It also allowed greater freedom of movement. The old-style shoes were 40% lighter. About the only problem he encountered was that the buttons used were difficult to fasten - these days, we use zips and velcro. Perhaps the greatest tribute was that other climbers on the mountain thought the outfit was really stylish, and wanted one of their own!

GYÖRGI LIGETI 1923 - 2006

I was sorry to hear that the composer György Ligeti died yesterday. You'll have heard his music if you've seen the film 2001: A Space Odyssey although at the time he was less than pleased that Stanley Kubrick had used his music for the soundtrack, saying that Kubrick had "mutilated and desecrated" his work. The result was a legal squabble that went on for six years. Eventually he changed his mind, and went on record to call Kubrick a genius (and his music featured in Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut).

I have a couple of Ligeti CDs, and while they're not what you might call easy listening, they are deep, complex and ultimately uplifting pieces of music.


Just in case you haven't seen it yet, may I point you in the direction of the story of the black bear that was chased up a tree - twice - by a tabby cat? The photo that accompanies this story is the funniest I've seen for weeks: Jack the cat is rather touchy about trespassers on his territory, and he obviously doesn't care how much bigger they are than him.


I had another wretched night last night, and what little sleep I got was interspersed with some fairly impressive rumbles of thunder. The power went off for a while, too. I was hoping that the rain would bring pollen levels down a bit, but it seems that the opposite is the case.

Even though it feels a little bit cooler this evening, I've just sweated out several pints of water by putting 500 litres of bark chips on a flowerbed in the back garden, and they pretty much disappeared into the bed. I suspect it's going to need the same amount again to get a decent thickness of cover and keep the weeds down.


How things can change in six months; back in January I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't buy a copy of the Yes live concert film directed by Steven Soderburgh, called 9012 Live. Today I found out that it was released on a DVD back in April, with two versions of the film and even a cluster of extras, so a copy will be landing on my doormat in the not-too-distant future.


Isabelle Taylor, who is eight years old and lives in St. Anne's in Lancashire, has developed repetitive strain injury after sending more than 30 SMS messages a day on her mobile phone. What is an eight-year-old child doing with a mobile phone, for goodness sake?

And if she's sending so many messages that she's developed RSI, let alone the fact that she was sneaking it in to school and using it there as well, shouldn't her parents have done the sensible thing and stopped her account?


... congratulations are in order to Clare and Nick. They're celebrating the birth of their son, who was born on Tuesday. Luckily for the rest of us, they've decided against the name Damien and have opted for Jacob instead.


Ten minute sneezing fit when I got up this morning (after the worst night's sleep I've had for months) and then another explosive ten minutes when I got home this evening. The pollen count must have gone through the roof over the last week or so, and I'm rather suffering from the effects.

Still, the weather is absolutely gorgeous out there. And it's the weekend. And there are beer festivals to go to. Woo hoo!


Polly Toynbee takes an interesting look at the recent media frenzy on knives in The Guardian today. "Over the decade the average weekly number of knife murders has been four and a half - and recently, during this panic, there have been no more than four knife murders a week."

So why are the media talking up a statistic that hasn't changed appreciably over the last ten years? And as Ms. Toynbee asks, why isn't more attention given to the positive benefits of parenting programmes and youth inclusion and support panels, which according to the article are far more effective at reducing crime than high profile strategies such as drug rehabilitation and hot-spot policing?


I don't think Charlie Brooker is particularly taken by the success of Sandi Thom's new single. I can't really comment, as I've never heard the thing, but the whole thing does smell rather strongly of a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign. Mind you, I wasn't impressed by the Arctic Monkeys either, so maybe I'm just in the wrong demographic for that kind of thing.


Reading about the popularity of the Champagne brand Cristal with the rap community, I found out that "Hip hop and hiding your light under a bushel do not go together." No, really?

Like Burberry before it, Cristal is the latest high-status brand to view the patronage of some of its customers with a certain amount of ambivalence. It's odd in a way that increasing popularity can actually cause some brands real problems and even result in a drop in sales. On the other hand, you could argue that any brand which is marketed as a high status item (and is, by implication, going for the snob market) deserves everything it gets from the rest of us.


As Rob will tell you, mixing mints and Diet Coke is not a good idea, kids. Don't try this one at home. And especially not in your mum's car. Unless you can set the whole thing to music.


It's the 6th of the 6th, 2006, and people are getting a little bit carried away, although I have to say that the story about Iron Maiden's manager being involved in an accident involving a van full of nuns and ending up with a repair bill of £666 did make me smile.


I spent quite a while at the weekend chatting to my brother in San Francisco, which wasn't as expensive as it sounds at all. I'd just downloaded version 2.0 of Skype, the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) messaging software, and jolly good it is too. In fact, the clarity compared to a normal phone line made me wonder why anyone with a broadband connection would want to pay for a tinny, low quality call when they can get much better results for free.


The Football World Cup is still four days away, and the Guardian have already published a sociocultural analysis of Peter Crouch's breakdancing, a proposal for lining up the worst possible World Cup Squad in the history of the game, and a full listing of the people who will be accompanying the England squad to Germany. Not to be outdone, the BBC have a blog entry from a woman at Luton Airport who watched the English team depart, and a deconstruction of the perfect World Cup goal, which apparently was scored by Brazil's Carlos Alberto against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. What will the media coverage be like once the event actually starts?

I like watching the occasional soccer match, but surely this level of frenzy is unsustainable. Some of the BBC's popular television programmes like Top Gear are taking five week breaks to make room for all the football coverage. I'm sick of the whole thing already and they haven't even started yet - give it another week and I'll be in danger of looking forwards to Wimbledon as an opportunity for breaking the monotony.


At least as far as today is concerned, anyway. The weather is fantastic and I spent most of this afternoon outside enjoying it. It certainly makes a difference having brilliant sunshine and blue skies to enjoy. I had lunch in the New Inn at Waterley Bottom (seriously) and walked off a very nice pint with a quick ramble through the woods. I haven't heard so many robins singing for years, and I'm sure the vegetation seems much greener this year. Maybe it's because we had such a cold winter.


Heard about the day centre that's banned home-made cakes because they considered them to be a health and safety risk? Mind you, the original story was broken by The Sun newspaper, so you can probably take things with a pinch of salt. And two teaspoons of baking soda, an egg, eight ounces of flour, three ounces of butter...


Now, there's taking snaps, and there's serious photography. I'm quite happy switching between the two. But taking pictures with lenses made of ice? That's cool in every sense of the word! I subscribe to the Illustration blog Drawn!, who put me on to that little gem; they're well worth a visit.

See? I told you there'd be something about photography this month.


It's nice to see - although I suspect that it could only happen in this country - that a book about clouds has entered the bestseller lists. Gavin Pretor-Pinney runs the Cloud Appreciation Society and the publication is, effectively, the book of the website. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a weather nerd, and I have been since someone gave me a book on the subject as a child. There are several weather websites in my favourites list... actually, that's an understatement - my favourites list has a whole weather directory.

Sadly one of the best sites, Rising Slowly, stopped being updated last November, although happily its Flickr stream is still active (and it's not just me who adds pictures to it, honestly!)

Update: Giles tells me that something might be happening on the Rising Slowly front in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned...


UKTV Style (a pay-to-view channel here in the UK) asked people to vote for the county they considered to be the most beautiful. Gloucestershire came fourth, hooray! The popularity of Kent has dropped from top spot last year to fifth place, thanks to Eurostar trains and chavs, apparently.