Blimey, it's been a busy few days. This is a brief update to let you know what I have been up to before I go rushing off again for even more fun and games.
On Saturday I took time out from playing Burnout long enough to nip up the road to the Electric Picture House in Wotton. I went to see Coraline, Henry Selick's film based on the book by Neil Gaiman. I really enjoyed it and when I get a chance I will write a review. That's unlikely to happen any time this week, though!
First thing on Sunday morning I was off down the M4 to Bray, and The Fat Duck - the restaurant owned by Heston Blumenthal. This was the menu:
NITRO-GREEN TEA AND LIME MOUSSE (2001)
POMMERY GRAIN MUSTARD ICE CREAM, RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
JELLY OF QUAIL, LANGOUSTINE CREAM, PARFAIT OF FOIE GRAS
OAK MOSS AND TRUFFLE TOAST
(Homage to Alain Chapel)
Shaved Fennel and Jabugo Ham
ROAST FOIE GRAS "BENZALDEHYDE"
Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry, Chamomile
"SOUND OF THE SEA"
SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE GEL
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and “Manni” Olive Oil
BALLOTINE OF ANJOU PIGEON
Black Pudding “made to order”, Pickling Brine and Spiced Juices
PINE SHERBET FOUNTAIN (PRE-HIT)
MANGO AND DOUGLAS FIR PUREE
Bavarois of Lychee and Mango, Blackcurrant Sorbet,
Blackcurrant and Green Peppercorn Jelly
NITRO-SCRAMBLED EGG AND BACON ICE CREAM (2006)
Pain Perdu, Hot and Iced Tea
CHOCOLATE WINE "SLUSH"
Mandarin Aerated Chocolate, Violet Tartlet,
Apple Pie Caramel in "Edible" Wrapper
A selection of cheeses
I've spent the last couple of days trying to put into words what the experience was like, but it is incredibly hard to do so. Just imagine four people sitting round the table talking about Twitter, Flickr and other new media subjects, with each of them saying something along the lines of "oh wow!" every time they took a mouthful of what was on their plates. As I write this, I am still grinning about how much fun it all was. We walked through the door at 12:30 and we didn't leave until after 6pm - and we never felt like we were being chivvied along or frowned upon. It's the most civilised place I have ever been to. NomNomNom.
Last night I travelled up to Birmingham to see Steely Dan at the National Indoor Arena. Although I've been listening to their music since I was a teenager, it was the first time I've managed to see them play live. Becs dropped me off in the city centre and I walked over to the venue. I got there just in time, too; as I walked up to the doors, the heavens opened. Inside it was very humid. The atmosphere was distinctly muggy and the noise of the rain hammering on the roof was rather disconcerting.
At seven thirty the weather had abated (well, the drumming on the roof had died away, anyway). After a brief public service announcement about what to do in the event of an emergency (which is something I can't remember hearing since going to gigs back in the seventies) the support band came onstage. The Toon Roos quartet are from the Netherlands, and they played a short jazz set. They took a little while to get going, but once they'd built up a head of steam they were very good and I was disappointed when they finished after just thirty minutes. After a short interval, the house lights went down again and the main act came on. The introductory number lasted several minutes and it wasn't until it drew to a close that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen finally took the stage.
Mr Fagen advised us to chill and enjoy the show, so that's what we did. They began with a very different version of "Reelin' in the years" which was taken much more slowly, with a very different treatment of the vocals. I began to wonder if the whole set was going to get the same treatment, but subsequent numbers turned out to be much closer in style to the original recordings. Except better. Watching Steely Dan is a lot like having a meal at the Fat Duck; the level of what you get is so much higher than you're used to that using superlatives just isn't enough.
What I can remember of the set list (which, I hasten to add, is likely to be out of order and incomplete) was:
- Reelin' in the years
- Time out of mind
- Bad sneakers
- Two against nature
- Glamour profession
- Babylon sisters
- Hey nineteen (featuring a monologue by Walter in the middle)
- Deacon blues
- Parker's band
- Show biz kids
- My old school
And the encores:
- Kid Charlemagne
The last two on the list are probably my favourite Steely Dan songs, so I was very happy indeed. However, I was very surprised that we only got one song from the last two studio albums. On reflection, I can understand why; when you've had such a stellar recording career as these guys have, any concert that did their back catalogue justice would last for several days. I hope they will continue to provide top-flight musical entertainment for discerning listeners for many years to come.
I've still had time to stumble across one or two interesting things on the web over the last few days. I found a fascinating article by David Eagleman which will make you reconsider what you think you know about how we perceive the passage of time and, by extension, question the validity of notions such as causality.
William Gibson tweeted about Bugatti's Type 57 concept car today. His words paint such an evocative picture when he describes it as
you don't really need to see what the car looks like at all. Any aliens driving the thing had better make sure that the roads in their itinerary are free of sleeping policemen, though...
Despite the fact that I spent most of the day driving on the motorway in appalling weather conditions, I chose to spend my evening pretending to drive around even more. Oh yes. I'm feeling very smug with myself because I have just earned my elite license in Burnout Paradise. It's a computer game, so I'll understand if you stop reading at this point.
For those of you who are still reading, the last five events I completed were all burning routes. I started with the Krieger WTR (which is supposed to be the hardest of the lot) followed by the GT500 (which has had me struggling for months), the Krieger Uberschall 8 (another one that I've tried about thirty or so times before), the Thunder Custom (which turned out to be relatively easy, probably because there's a bigger margin for error to take into account the car's ungainly handling) and finally, the Carson Hot Rod (which took about ten attempts, and I ended up taking a completely different route to the one shown in the link.)
All this means that I've now completed 99% of the single player game. Aside from unlocking spiffy versions of all the cars listed above, winning the elite license also enables a metallic gold finish on all the cars. I've had a quick cruise in a few to see what it looks like; I have to say it suits some vehicles better than others. The Thunder Shadow looks very nice in gold, though. Note the name of the bar in the background, too...
So what about that missing 1%? I have to complete all the achievements in the game. I've already got the majority of them, as they're pretty easy: "win a race" "get a x2 boost chain" and so on - but the last few are far more challenging: "win a marked man in the Krieger WTR" "get a x20 boost chain" and "score a x40 multiplier in stunt run" are ones I'm going to struggle with, I think. With all sixty achievements complete, I'll get 100% on my license which unlocks a platinum metallic finish, so needless to say I've got to get it. That's going to have to be tomorrow's goal, I think. Right now it's time for bed.
I have to applaud Criterion for producing such an engaging game. It grabbed my attention when I bought it last year and it's kept me immersed in gameplay ever since. It's been frustrating occasionally, but that only made completing it more satisfying. To finally get the game credits flash up on the screen gave me a real buzz.
Boing Boing today featured Jeff VanderMeer's interview with Melanie Typaldos, who has an interesting pet.
Caplin Rous weighs 100 lbs, regularly enjoys a soak in his owner's swimming pool and likes appearing in public to freak out locals who have never seen a dog-sized rodent before. Caplin is a capybara, and he obviously enjoys having his picture taken. He even has his own website, gianthamster.com.
A mate of mine who knows of my gaming and Theremin-playing propensities sent me a link to a video of someone from Glasgow who has adapted their Theremin to act as a game controller. Have a look at Greig Stewart playing Mario using a Moog Etherwave. How cool is that?
Less cool is the fact that pretty much every website I looked at today regurgitated the original story, describing Greig as an "unnamed geek." It took me all of thirty seconds with Google to find out his name, but clearly that's too much effort for some people...
The first one was bad enough, from a woefully out of place performance by John Turturro to overblown pixel mangling that nearly made my eyes bleed - and I liked Speed Racer. The new one sounds as if it's a hundred times worse.
It doesn't matter, of course; Revenge of the Fallen (or ROTF, as its rather appropriate abbreviation would have it) is full of Hot Babes and Shit Blowing Up so it will rake in cash by the bucketload. But Warren Ellis tweeted a link to this review by Charlie Jane Anders which is probably the best examination of a film I've read all week. Give the film a miss - just read Charlie's stuff instead.
Are you disappointed with the quality of gadgets available for your 21st century lifestyle? You may not have jet boots or a flying car, but how about an ID card with its own built-in display screen that shows a rotating 360° view of your head? The display draws so little power that it can be run off the radio waves received by the card's RFID chip - no batteries required. Even if you don't agree with the use of ID cards, you've got to admit it's a pretty nifty piece of technology.
The Glastonbury Festival opened its gates this morning. The traffic news was reporting huge jams, even at seven a.m. Things weren't helped by a serious accident on the M4 at Bristol; it took me over an hour to get to work and I was one of the lucky ones; some of my colleagues took more than two hours longer than usual to make it. Even though the motorway reopened in the afternoon, traffic was still struggling to get through Bristol when I headed home this evening.
This year's festival looks like it's going to be keeping up the long-held tradition of attendees wading through a sea of mud to get to the shows; the weather forecast for the weekend is thunderstorms and torrential rain, which makes me rather glad I'm not going.
Over the weekend I cleared another 15 events in Burnout Paradise. Foolishly I believed that my newly-acquired skills would persist right up until I acquired my Elite licence. No such luck, of course. Since Sunday I've cleared just one more event, and I've run out of stunt runs and road rages. I've only got 11 wins to go, but I have a feeling that completing those events is going to take a very long time...
The business plan of the New York startup looked like impending financial armageddon; they had so many debts they should never have survived. But against all the odds, they made a go of things and the third movie about them is now in production.
One thing is for certain: if Dragons' Den had been on back in the 1980s, none of them would have invested in the Ghostbusters.
(Thanks to the folks at my latest favourite blog, overthinkingit.com).
The BBC's motoring show Top Gear returned to the nation's screens last night, apparently. I'd gone to the cinema so I didn't see it, but I have seen the cringe-inducing clip from last night's show where Michael Schumacher was "revealed" to be the mystery racing driver The Stig.
Yeah, I really believed that one. They must be really desperate to boost ratings.
Still, the stunt had the desired effect and the show is being discussed by most of the UK papers today. The Guardian reckons six different people play the anonymous driver; the Daily Telegraph are now telling us that the figure is eight, which is double the number they thought back in January. If all those people have donned the suit of mystery at one time or another, we should really be asking ourselves who isn't The Stig...
Over the last 18 months I have been listening to Mayo and Kermode's film review podcasts on iTunes (you can find them on BBC Radio Five Live). I really enjoy them because their verdicts usually coincide with my own. Even when they don't, their presentation is hugely entertaining - the two of them bicker like an old married couple. I now have an archive of nearly two years of the show and I regularly revisit old reviews if I'm watching something on DVD. It can be quite enlightening to hear what they thought at the time. Even their Twitter feed is a cut above the rest.
To Simon Mayo's horror, Mark Kermode recently mentioned that he Googles himself on a regular basis. He justified it as "how else would I know that I was on a site called fifty people more annoying than Mick Hucknell?" So, if you're reading this, Mark, well done, thanks for recommending the Ninth Configuration and keep up the good work. Oh, and I hope your theremin playing is coming along better than mine is. I bought a Moog Etherwave last year and I need to practise a lot more before I'm ready to play mine in public.
Part of the fun of the show is hearing Doctor Kermode get *really* worked up about the more mindless blockbusters that come out. Like me, he gets rather frustrated by movies with budgets in the hundreds of millions where nobody genuinely creative appears to have been involved in any stage of the production. Several recent "tentpole releases" (ugh, horrible phrase) received reviews from the Doctor that I suspect won't be featuring on their posters. In the last couple of weeks, we've been treated to:
- Night at the Museum 2: "Zzzzzzzzz"
- Terminator Salvation: "Life-threateningly dull"
- Angels and Demons: "The stupidest film ever made."
Apart from the fact that I spent my day at work with a selection of their reviews playing on my iPod, I mention the guys today because last night I went to see Let the right one in. I went to see it because Kermode reckoned it was one of the best movies to come out in the last year. It's a quiet, snowy and brutal story about a 12-year-old boy who gets bullied at school and the relationship he strikes up with the girl who moves in to the apartment next door. The thing is, she also happens to be a vampire...
Not surprisingly I really enjoyed it, and I'll be writing a full review for my Films Page in the near future. So what's next on my list of films they liked? Well, I'm seeing Coraline on Saturday; after that, Looking for Eric sounds like it could be great fun. I'll let you know how I get on.
I'm still pounding the streets of Paradise City on the Playstation 3. For this morning's blast on Burnout Paradise I picked the Hunter Cavalry Bootlegger from the Legendary Cars pack and headed off for a bit of stunt running. The new cars and the introduction of Big Surf Island have combined to make it much easier to rack up huge scores on stunt runs; before I would struggle to score 200,000 points, but after heading over the bridge to the island I can now rack up half a million points without too much hassle. As a result, this morning's efforts ended up with me adding the Krieger Racing WTR to my list of cars. It's quite appropriate, given that it's the British Grand Prix this afternoon. As far as I'm aware, the Krieger is the first full-on racing car to be featured in the Burnout series of games, and it's everything you'd expect from a not-quite-Formula 1 car - it's light, manoeuvrable, stops on a dime, and flimsy as hell. From now on, the only cars in the original game left for me to obtain are the burning route versions of cars I've already unlocked. Burning routes involve driving a set route around the game map within a certain time limit; some of the times are quite challenging. I've already made several attempts to beat the burning route for the Krieger WTR, and each one ended in abject failure. More caffeine is needed first, I think.
The in-game stats page tells me I'm now 95% of the way through the game. That percentage figure is a bit misleading, though; I've spent almost no time at all playing online in what is known as Freeburn mode, and there are a mind-boggling 500 online challenges left for me to complete. That should keep me going for a considerable amount of time to come, but I suspect the biggest hurdle to finishing the game will be coming up with 7 friends to complete the challenges with!
My main computer is getting a bit long in the tooth these days. I guess it's not surprising considering I got it back in December 2004, but even though it's now got more memory and a faster graphics card, it struggles sometimes. I'm not ready to get a new PC yet, though. Instead, I got a performance boost this weekend by changing the antivirus software I use from the tried and trusted AVG free to AVAST!
The main reason I made the swap is because I still run an old Gateway Pentium III machine. I use it for audio and voiceover editing, and it's hooked up to my Korg D3200 for transferring WAV files to and from USB sticks or the Internet. The Gateway is more than sufficient for running Audacity, but it came installed with Windows ME and AVG is no longer supporting the OS (after all, it's only ten years old...) AVAST, on the other hand, is quite happy to run on ME machines.
Like AVG, AVAST is free, and after I installed and registered it on one machine it made sense to put it on the other as well. I've been pleasantly surprised how much faster both machines seem to run, and how much more stable they seem to be. Web browsing is noticeably faster, and AVAST flags up sites with malware on that AVG gives no warnings for. I was disappointed to see that one site it identified as a risk was the Operation Burnout site, so I've removed any links to it from here.
Yes, it's that time of year again. The Summer Solstice was at 06:45 BST this morning. I was asleep, but if you were out celebrating I hope you had a calm and peaceful time.
The most amazing thing I found out today - and probably the most amazing thing I will find out all year - is that since the fourth set of solar arrays were added to the International Space Station it is now large enough that under the right conditions you can see it passing overhead in broad daylight.
Only on the Internet could you find an article with the title Five Reasons why Tolkein Rocks, but I'm glad you can. Tolkein based the structure of his stories on Scandinavian legends, so I was hooked from the start I always thought Norse mythology was far more interesting than the Greek or Roman stuff. I'm not the only one, it seems. In my case it comes from reading Roger Lancelyn Green's excellent Myths of the Norsemen when I was a small child. You can't beat it as an introduction to the mythos, and I highly recommend it. I bought a replacement copy a few years ago, but sadly it no longer has the purple, understated cover that it had in my youth. It's still recommended, though.
Last night I went to see Dweezil Zappa at the Colston Hall in Bristol.
I bought a copy of his album My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama when it came out, way back in 1988. Even though he was heavily in to guitar playing in the style of Eddie Van Halen back then, the title track on the album was a cover version of a song his dad wrote (it appeared on the Weasels Ripped My Flesh album.) In recent years, Dweezil has become more involved with his father's compositions. In 2006 after what must have been a seriously heavy-duty amount of guitar practice, he took a band out on the road to play some of them, and they've been gigging regularly ever since.
When he came on stage, my first thought was that he doesn't look old enough to have released an album that's 21 years old. Then he started to play. The difference in his playing from the 1980s was astonishing, but he made it look effortless. There were no heavy metal histrionics or grimaces, just blindingly complex music being played faultlessly. His band were equally up to the task - the bass player, Pete Griffin, was outstanding. The audience lapped it up, applauding enthusiastically right from the start. After playing the first number, Dweezil said "I've never been to Bristol before - I like it already."
People were shouting out all sorts of stuff for them to play, but as Dweezil pointed out, his dad released nearly 80 albums, so there's a lot they have to learn. So far they've nailed around 18 songs, but Dweezil said their set list is different every night. At the Bristol gig we got to hear "Outside now" from Joe's Garage, "Magic fingers" from 200 Motels, "Dirty love", "Don't eat the yellow snow" and "Cosmik Debris" from Apostrophe ("Is that a real poncho, or is it a Sears poncho?") as well as "The black page #1 and #2" and a whole bunch of other stuff as well. It was great fun. When he came back out for the encore, Dweezil spotted a family in the audience and asked how old their daughter was. She turned out to be twelve. Dweezil said he thought she'd probably been made to come along and would have decided to do something more entertaining like homework if she'd been able to choose, and then dedicated the next song to her. When the encore was over and the house lights came up, I was very surprised, because the band didn't leave the stage. The bassist took the set list, made the rest of the band sign it, and gave it to the 12 year old. Then Dweezil started signing autographs, and people started coming down to shake his hand and say hello; he was still there when we left. He's a very cool guy.
As we were driving down the M5 on the way to the gig, one of Google's streetview cars drove over the bridge in front of us. I'll be keeping an eye on Cutsheath Road on Google Maps to see when the data goes live...
Maryland Zoo spent half a million dollars developing a new enclosure for their prairie dogs. The exhibit was planned as the new centrepiece of the zoo. Unfortunately, nobody told the prairie dogs that the place was supposed to be escape proof and it took the little blighters just ten minutes to find a way out. Luckily all the escapees were recaptured and their escape routes plugged - for the moment, anyway.
I have a lot of sympathy for Maryland Zoo, though. Prairie dogs are devious little critters. When I was a kid, my family used to go and visit Chester Zoo for the day. They had prairie dogs in an enclosure there, too (and I'm pleased to say they still have). But back in the 1960s they had prairie dogs in several enclosures; the rodents had tunnelled under the walls of their home, burrowed under the pavement for visitors, and surfaced in the rhinoceros enclosure next door. They seemed to get along fine.
I've been a part of the Flickr community for years, and I really enjoy it. I like sharing my photos with others and finding out which ones they like. I've even made Flickr's daily list of "most interesting" photos (called Explore) a number of times, and it's a very satisfying feeling. But it turns out that for some people, that's not enough. If you run this nifty little pipes api you can look at a moment-by-moment analysis of what's presently in Flickr's Interestingness set.
Now click on the "List" tab and have a look at which groups have the most pictures in Explore.
"L'amicizia fa la differenza" is in the top three, isn't it?
And I'll bet "The World Through My Eyes" is, too.
When you consider that there are at least two million groups on Flickr, the fact that these groups contribute such a massive proportion of the pictures in Explore every day smells a bit fishy. On many days, they have over ten per cent of the top five hundred each. As a result, some of the pictures in Explore these days just aren't that great; people are calling it the Magic Donkey problem after one such picture, and it's pissing a lot of people off, including me.
Gaming the system is the process of discovering a system's rules and then using them to subvert their original purpose. In the case of Flickr, Explore currently rates pictures with a complex algorithm that not only includes how many times a picture is viewed, but also how many times it's marked as a favourite by other users, how many comments viewers make on the picture, and even how many comments on the picture are deleted. So if a group decide to only comment and favourite pictures that were posted by the other members of their group, they can (for the moment at least) skew the system massively in their favour. As you can see in the WikiLeaks site, the results of a system being manuipulated like this are almost always bad. The behaviour is never forgivable, but at least it's understandable in the political circles the Wikileaks guys were mapping. When it comes to creativity, though, I believe things are a very different matter. It's bad enough that reality TV is turning pop music into a competition, but photography should be judged on its own merits. Artists shouldn't have to resort to gaming the system if their work is any good, particularly on a site with such a massive following as Flickr. People have limited time to examine the millions of pictures on Flickr (with an average of six thousand more photos being added every minute). A facility for showing the very best of those photos shouldn't have to cater to a particular group of people just because they think their stuff demands more attention than everyone else's. If, in addition, their photos really aren't very good (and most of them aren't), it defeats the purpose of Explore entirely. That's what grates so much.
I hope that whatever it is that Flickr have planned to fix the problem works, or their site is going to be far less - ahem - interesting.
Today and Tomorrow is my new favourite blog. For example, just feast your eyes on the collection of Satoshi Minakawa's amazing photographs. It's a pity Minakawa's website is such a window-spawning flash-driven nightmare, though. Note to web designers: I like my browser window to stay the size *I* decide, thank you very much.
It's a lovely day out there this morning. But before you race off to enjoy the sunshine and build up your vitamin D, spare a thought for one species which doesn't really do summer: The Goth. Thanks to Mez for yet another extremely entertaining link.
I have an admission to make: I haven't been playing Burnout Paradise all weekend.
God, I love Unreal Tournament III.
You remember I said that with the new hard disk in my PS3, I'd have room to download more stuff? Well, after Burnout Paradise's Big Surf Island update, the next thing on my list was the Titan Expansion Pack for UT3. Over half a gigabyte of new things to do and places to frag people in. And - best of all - it's absolutely free! Oh yes.
Incidentally... If you go to the UT3 site and listen to the audio, see if you agree with me; I think the narration sounds like it's done by the same chap who does stuff for the Blue Man Group.
If you don't hear much from me over the next few days, there will be a very simple reason. I've downloaded the Big Surf Island expansion pack for Criterion's Burnout Paradise game for the Playstation 3. It's just as well I got that half terabyte drive installed; the download was over 450Mb. Now for the rest of the weekend I'll be hurtling around the place trying to win new cars and awards. I've already jumped all the jumps and smashed all the billboards - it's been that kind of morning.
It's a great add-on to the original game, but what particularly appeals to me is the fact that it is absolutely stuffed with radio, television and film references from the 1980s. Not only do the roads have familiar names, but most of the buildings in the new map relate to children's television shows from my youth. The following list isn't complete, I know - but it gives you some idea of the fun the programmers must have had putting the thing together.
There are a couple of band references:
There are buildings bearing names from UK radio:
Stuff referencing British television:
- Byker Grove
- Grange Hill
- Zammo Mansions
- Maguire Road
- Tucker Towers
- Crakerjack (sic) House
- Noakes Plaza
- Shep's Surf Shop
- The J Craven
- Chegwin Hotel
- Philbin Apartments
- No. 73
- Holness Hotel
- Monkhouse Royal
- Saville Tech
- Stilgoe's Mall
- Krankee's (sic) Chilli
- The Price is Right at Brucie's
- A Local Minimart 4 Local People
The last one is my favourite. Personally, I think every video game ought to have at least one reference to Blade Runner in it. Now if you'll excuse me, my car is parked on the marina and I'd better move it if I don't want to get a ticket...
Richard Hammond is taking flying lessons, and his Top Gear colleague James May is not impressed. He's upset because the Hamster is learning to fly a helicopter. I suggest that Mr May should remind Mr Hammond of the well-known aphorism that "helicopters don't fly; they're just so ugly that the Earth repels them" - or alternatively "helicopters don't fly; they just beat the air into submission."
Hasn't Gordon resigned yet? Apparently not. Mitch Benn summed it up earlier in the week with a post on Twitter: "Christ; Gordon Brown's cabinet is starting to look like the last five minutes of Blake's Seven..."
In an effort to lose weight I started a diet last week. It's one that was recommended to me by my cousin and my aunt, and it involves drastically reducing the amount of carbohydrates that you eat. This is going to be interesting, because rice, potatoes, bread and pasta normally feature very heavily in what I eat. As do biscuits. For the last few days there hasn't been a biscuit or a packet of crisps in the house. Without them, I've been feeling a bit twitchy - but on the other hand I've already noticed that I feel less tired than usual, and more alert. I really miss coffee, though.
Thanks to Mez and Louis for letting me know about an aspect of Wolfram Alpha that I hadn't heard about; it turns out that the computational search engine has a fair number of Easter Eggs in it. As Wolfram himself says, such things are part of the corpus of human knowledge so they serve a purpose. They demonstrate to users that Wolfram Alpha knows about cultural stuff; it makes the engine seem more savvy, which is a useful thing when you're promoting it as a useful source of information. Perhaps there's a little bit of anthropomorphisation going on as well, but even if Wolfram Alpha is incapable of possessing a sense of humour, it's clear that its developers do. What's more interesting is trying to find out how patchy the coverage is. For instance "How many roads must a man walk down?" and "Where have all the flowers gone?" have obviously been anticipated, yet "Do you know the way to San Jose?" isn't recognised. "Flux capacitor" gets a nod; sadly "Oscillation Overthruster" doesn't. I wonder if Wolfram Alpha will acumulate more of these Easter Eggs as time goes by, or are the ones that exist at the moment the only ones we're going to get? I hope they aren't, as this has the potential to be a powerful and fun new Internet meme.
I've been seeing the work of Ross Racine crop up a lot recently. When I first saw it, I thought it had been produced using generative techniques, where computer algorithms are used to create lots of variations of an object without the artist having to go through the hard work of specifying the parameters of each one. There are some amazing examples of this approach out there, like the video of Telematics City. But when I delved a bit deeper, I was amazed to find out that Racine's work is all hand-drawn. I managed to find an interview on the web where he explains a little about how he works. Creating images as complex and beautiful as he does with the basic tools in Photoshop is no mean feat. It's fascinating stuff.
As an update to yesterday, I now have the PS3 up and running with just under 400Gb of free disk space, and I've already downloaded one demo and quite a few game trailers!
If you're interested in video games, I'm sure that by now you've seen reports about Microsoft's Project Natal. Microsoft have not only come up with a video game controller that renders all other game controllers obsolete, it also appears to have put together a Human Computer Interface that isn't a million miles away from HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey (but hopefully without the homicidal psychosis). However scripted the demonstrations might be, it really feels as though we're getting close to interacting with computers on a more natural level, using natural language and gestures. The second video on the BBC's page, where Peter Molyneux talks about how Natal recognises emotions and digitises objects, is stunning.
Microsoft pulled off a significant media coup with their announcement. From what I've seen on the web, nobody expected them to have a product that was anywhere near as workable as Natal undoubtedly is. Natal was so impressive that it looked like any other company's announcements were going to be a real anti-climax. For example, I was expecting the announcement of Sony's new controller for the Playstation to be dull by comparison. That didn't turn out to be the case. Although Sony's technique still requires the user to hold controllers, the interface looked easy to use and - most importantly, really good at tracking the user's movements. That's hugely important in drawing a player into a game; sometimes the Wii's controller glitches and it's frustrating when you can't quite get the thing on the screen to do what you want it to do. Let's hope that both Sony and Microsoft have given us a way forwards where that doesn't happen.
Meanwhile, the replacement hard drive for my Playstation arrived today and I'm in the process of making a backup of the current disk before I swap it out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that swapping drives is as easy as it sounds.
Update (18:25h) - the new hard drive's in. The procedure is not quite as easy as the websites point out, as I got a screen on boot that said "If the system cannot be restarted, the system partition of the hard disk must be reformatted and you must reinstall the system software." As I'd just replaced the hard drive where the OS sits, I'd kinda figured that out for myself...
I have to give full marks to Sony once again, though: the "safety and support" manual that comes with the PS3 tells you exactly what to do. You have to download the latest software update from the UK Playstation site and have that on a USB stick ready when you boot the PS3 up. The PS3 loads the update, formats the disk, puts the OS on it and restarts. Once that's been done the procedure carries on as shown on the web site I linked to. Now I'm waiting for the data to finish being restored, which should take about 45 minutes. Then I can start downloading to my heart's content - or at least until I max out my bandwidth allowance!
I love this story, as it's the sort of thing that only ever seems to happen in England. Chris Packham has been working in the titles of songs by The Smiths into his appearances on the BBC's Springwatch programme. He was a bit blatant with yesterday's choice, which led to him being rumbled; it was Vicar in a Tutu. Chris may be a charming man, but that joke isn't funny anymore...
When I'd finished installing Racedriver:Grid on the Playstation at the weekend I noticed that I was getting rather low on disk space. I know that 40Gb isn't a huge amount of space when you're saving downloaded video files and some MP3s for custom soundtracks, but how much room can savegames for a dozen or so titles actually take up? Er, quite a lot, obviously.
Clearly, I had to do something. Perhaps I've got too used to Apple's obsessive approach to user customisation (i.e. prevent it at all costs), but I was rather surprised to discover that the PS3 has been designed so that upgrading its hard drive is actually rather simple. This makes a lot of sense for Sony, for one very good reason: the Playstation 3 is a connected device. That means it gives me access to online content such as the Playstation Store, where I can check out demo versions of games. If I've got more elbow room on the hard drive, I'm more likely to download those demo games - even if they don't fit my main focus of interest, which is driving simulations. If I play one or two of those demo games and like them enough to buy the full versions, it's a win for Sony. A larger hard drive also makes Sony's PVR add on called Play TV (a plug-in adapter that lets me record Freeview digital television with the PS3) a much more attractive proposition. With a 40Gb drive it's a bit of a joke; with the half a terabyte of disk space I ordered today, it's another matter entirely. When the HDD arrives, I'll let you know if installing it is the breeze that it's supposed to be.
If you wanted to freshen up your Citroen 2CV and money was no object, would you choose to stuff the engine from a Ferrari F355 into it? These guys did. Sorry fellas, but that's wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to start.