A Bit More Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: June 2010

June has been an absolutely awesome month. Not only did I get a new and extremely sporty car, I actually went out and did interesting stuff. I went to two They Might Be Giants gigs in London and a talk by Clay Shirky, an exhibition of modern art and a Senser gig in Bristol. The high pollen count didn't stop me getting out and about in the beautiful countryside around Gloucestershire, and I took some good photos.

Even the stuff on the Internet seemed to be more interesting than usual, with discussions about the effects it's having on our cognitive function and the announcement by NASA that there might - just might - be some form of life on Saturn's moon Titan.

And then, of course, we got the season finale of Dr Who. The result of all this awesomeness being crammed into a single month resulted in the second biggest blog I've ever written, and I've been doing this for seven years!


I've just got home from a talk given by Clay Shirky at Bristol's Watershed. It was one of the most thought-provoking and stimulating events I've been to in a very long time. It also left me with a profound sense of optimism for humanity, an optimism that is very evident when you listen to what Clay has to say. He's touring to promote his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age and I'm already a couple of dozen pages into the first chapter. It starts out by discussing the rise of gin drinking in the late 18th century (as you do). He explains how this was a response to the social problems which started to crop up as London began its metamorphosis into one of the first true modern cities. People had never been subjected to the pressures of big city living before and with no systems in place to mitigate the conditions in which they lived and worked, the populace turned to gin as a means of escape. If you couldn't afford a glass full, you could buy rags soaked in gin to suck - and that gives a particularly gross picture of just how badly some people needed to escape from the city around them. Prohibition and law proved ineffective in controlling the problem, and it was only when social change caught up with the transformation, when people learned how living in a modern city worked and began to mitigate those problems, that the gin craze finally began to tail off.

This evening, Clay started his talk with the example of the Pink Chaddi campaign in India, where social networks enabled a group of women to organise peaceful non-violent protests against a campaign of violent attacks on women which was being encouraged by a local religious leader. The campaign, coordinated through a group on Facebook, was so successful that the religious leader found himself being taken into "protective custody" by the police and the attacks stopped. Then there was the story about a lift sharing website that became so popular a Canadian bus company sued them - successfully - to put them out of business and dispose of their competition. The resulting outcry embarrassed the Ontario Government to the point that the law regarding the case was changed, allowing the website to resume business. PickupPal now have getting on for 150,000 users in 116 countries and their efforts have saved an estimated 17.8 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.

What does all this have to do with cognitive surplus, then? Clay suggests that industrialisation together with a significant increase in population density and a redistribution of personal wealth made it possible for new institutions to come into being; it triggered a huge growth in social organisations. The result was that once the gin craze stopped, it left large numbers of people with spare time on their hands. Clay suggests that we're going through another period of significant social change today. These days we don't use gin to escape any more, we use television, and the amount of spare time that television consumes is scary. I was staggered by the figures that he gave us: in a single year the population of the United States will spend 200 billion man-hours watching TV. By comparison, an enterprise like Wikipedia took, in its entirety, something in the order of 100 million man-hours to complete. Americans spend that amount of time just watching the adverts on TV during the commercial breaks between programmes in a single weekend! Collectively, the human race therefore has a stupefyingly large amount of free time on its hands and the obvious question is: apart from watching TV, what else can we do with it? The two examples in the paragraph above show the kind of successes that can be achieved when people wean themselves off what Harlan Ellison called The Glass Teat.

Back in the 1990s the folks involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence asked an interesting question. Millions of computers throughout the world spend a sizable proportion of every day switched on but standing idle. What if all that processing power could be put to some constructive use? Coming up with an answer to that question led first to the SETI@Home project, and then to the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (BOINC) which allows users to contribute their spare computer time to a number of amazing, maths-intensive initiatives. Apart from seeking out alien life, you can help out with investigations of particle physics, climate change or prime numbers, they can help track down neutron stars or design cures for diseases. BOINC's users donate thousands of Teraflops of processing power every day.

As I sat listening to Clay, I was wondering: how possible would it be to come up with a parallel of BOINC that allowed people to donate their free time to some form of social enterprise?

And I think that was the main point of this evening's talk: the Internet has evolved far enough that it makes it so much easier for that process of collaboration and joint enterprise to take place. It may allow you share funny pictures of cats with your mates but it also allows campaigns and protests to be organised in a way that reduces the risk to those taking part. Clay took great pains to point out that even I Can Has Cheezburger lies somewhere on the continuum of creative acts, but clearly some of these enterprises are more noble than others. There are millions of ways in which people can get together in order to devote some of their spare time to making their world a better place. He pointed out that when he was growing up, he considered train-spotters or people who did macramé to be somehow uncool. At the same time he would think nothing of spending another hour on the sofa watching TV. Now he's older, he's realised how backwards that world view was - it's the people who are off doing something who are cool, not the ones sitting in front of the telly.

The man speaks a lot of common sense, and I found myself nodding regularly in agreement; he has that rare talent of making you look at something familiar in a new light and coming up with something that when it sinks in is facepalmingly obvious but at the same time you know you'd never have thought of it on your own. When Clay finished his talk, he took questions from the audience and his responses were just as entertaining as the talk. The event was being streamed to a venue in Manchester so as well as taking questions from the audience in the Watershed, he handled messages received via Twitter and Skype. And that reminds me: when I tweeted about his talk last week I got the day wrong. Within half an hour I'd received a direct message from Clay himself to set me right, ending in "see you there!" Tonight he very graciously signed both books for me and thanked me for all the nodding I'd been doing - he'd used me as a gauge to see how his talk was going over with the audience! He also wanted to know how far I'd come and what I did for a living. Somehow that led to talking about Lave and Wenger's work on communities of practice and how they arose in dysfunctional organisations, all in about a minute and a half.

You had to be there, I guess. I could go on and on and give more examples of what Clay talked about this evening, but that wouldn't be fair to him and really you should just go out and buy his stuff. You can order his latest book on Amazon; why not get his first book Here Comes Everybody at the same time? Even better, go listen to him talk. He's one of the most impressive speakers I've ever seen and he made giving a presentation that weighed in at forty minutes plus look effortless. The talk was full of jaw-dropping snippets of information and laugh out loud funny asides.

I want more evenings like this.


A special shout out this morning to Graham Linehan, who retweeted one of my messages on Twitter about Clay Shirky's talk. This meant that I spent the rest of the day grinning like a maniac and unsettling my colleagues at work.


Serious games continue to make their way into mainstream culture. A few years ago the predominant business culture was "if it looks like a game, you're fired." Now, the big boys are getting involved. NASA recently teamed up with the US Army Game Studio to develop an educational game where the player must adopt the role of an exploration team member in a futuristic 3-D lunar settlement. The game is called Moonbase Alpha.

The goal of the game is to restore critical systems and oxygen flow after a nuclear explosion blows the Moon out of orbit a nearby meteor strike cripples a solar array and life support equipment. The game will be available on Steam from July 6th. Commander, your moonbase is ready.


Today the postman delivered paperback copies of Jake Brown's Motörhead book - which includes some pictures I took when the band were recording Iron Fist at Jacksons Studios in Rickmansworth back in the early 80s. This was a complete surprise. Thanks must go to Lucien at John Brown Publishing once again.


If you've got me down as a contact on Flickr you might have seen that I changed my car yesterday.

Time for a new toy

I don't do this very often; it's been nearly four years since I bought the Brian the Celica (so called because its registration plate ended in ENO). On the whole it's been a good car, but it suffered badly from the alloy wheels problem experienced by many Toyota owners. Frost gets under the paint and it bubbles up, making the wheels look dreadful. The rest of the paintwork was definitely in need of some TLC, too - but then again, since getting the Celica in 2006 I've put 80,000 miles on the clock thanks to a ridiculous number of business trips and I was bound to pick up some chips and dings along the way. In the last few months as I watched the odometer approach the six-figure mark I finally decided it was time for a change.

The trouble was that Toyota aren't really a sports car manufacturer any more. To my profound disappointment in the past few years they've not only ceased production on the Celica, they've also stopped building the MR2 and the Supra as well. What could I get instead? To start with I had absolutely no idea, but then inspiration came from an unexpected source: my gaming habit. Over the last few months I've been weaning myself off my Borderlands habit by playing a lot of driving games on the PS3. The 350Z appears in both GT5 Prologue and DiRT2, and I'd used it quite successfully in both games. In fact, my DiRT2 stats show it as my "favourite" car, so a month or so ago I decided that if I did so well with the virtual version, I ought to see how I got on driving a real one. After the first test drive I was hooked and I headed out on to the Internet to do some digging about the car. When I found out that Jeremy Clarkson hated it I knew I was on to a winner. The rest of the Top Gear team did what they do best and ignored him completely, making it their Car of the Year for 2004. I particularly liked the fact that Clarkson had to present the award!

After doing a bit more research it became clear that if I wanted the best interior I ought to get a post-2005 model, so I've been keeping an eye out for a suitable candidate over the last month or two. Last week I spotted one for sale just down the road in Bristol and after taking it for a spin I decided that it would do nicely. I collected it yesterday morning. And yes, I'm sad enough that I changed the colour of the car I've been driving in GT5 Prologue to match the colour of my real one; these things are important, you know.

What's it like to drive? The difference between the 350Z and the Celica is evident right from the start. The performance isn't really a surprise; it's to be expected considering I've gone from a straight-four 1800cc engine to a 3.5 litre V6. The weight of all that extra ironmongery under the bonnet is quite evident when you want the car to turn, but it's not difficult to drive; it goes where you point it, and it takes corners as if it was on rails. The handling is exceptional and the steering is much more responsive, giving a much better idea of what's going on between your hands and the tarmac. This is the first car I've driven where I can actually tell when the texture of the road surface changes as I drive over it. The car also feels like it's got some heft to it, whereas the Toyota always felt a bit insubstantial and floaty to me. It's taken me a while to get used to the different gear ratios - first gear seems very short, even if the manual says it's good up to 35 mph; it's actually quite tempting to pull away in second. For the first half an hour I just couldn't get the hang of the clutch biting point, and lurched away from rest on several occasions. I had exactly the same problem when I first drove my old GT-Four. I've found I'm driving around with the windows open more often - the engine sounds amazing (and you can hear it for yourself - it plays at the beginning of the promotional video for the dealer where I got it from.)

I knew I was going to take a hit on fuel economy compared with the Celica, but that's not the reason you buy a car like the 350Z. The amount of gadgets and gizmos installed was a nice surprise: I wasn't expecting quite as many bells and whistles as I've ended up with. There's no satnav, which is a good thing, as it means I can buy a TomTom - provided that Brian Blessed provides a voice for them, of course. There is a trip computer, and it does all sorts of clever things, such as calculating how far I can go with what's left in the tank or letting me set the engine speed at which the "upshift" light comes on. The sound system is made by Bose and it monitors cabin noise, boosting frequencies that are being masked by tyre or engine noise. It has cruise control, the first time I've owned a manual transmission car with it fitted. There are controls on the steering wheel for the audio system, cruise control, and my mobile phone. That was a pleasant surprise - as I investigated all the little cubbyholes and compartments in the car I discovered that it was fitted with bluetooth. As a result, my iPhone now includes "Nissan 350Z" in its list of bluetooth devices it can connect to which I found amusing in an extremely geeky sort of way. Needless to say, the phone integrates seamlessly with the audio in the car and there's an unobtrusive microphone above the rear-view mirror so I can leave my bluetooth headset in the house (it spends most of the time connected to the PS3 as it is!)

The bottom line is that the thing is much nicer to drive, and I don't just mean the speed and the handling. The seats are great to sit in as well. I'm still tweaking the driving position but even as it is, it suits my style of driving. On the Celica I could never get my legs in a position that was comfortable for long-distance driving. In the 350Z my feet rest on the pedals, exactly where they should be, and I've found myself looking forwards to going on long drives again.

What better endorsement could you ask for?


After a very late night last night I managed to catch a few hours' sleep, but not too much: we had the season finale of Dr Who to watch and neither Rob nor I was going to wait any longer than we had to before firing up the telly. I'd stayed away from Twitter, I'd avoided the Internet, and I went in to the episode knowing absolutely nothing about what was going to happen. No spoilers, indeed. The first minute or so of the recap was pretty straightforward. Amy was still dead. Nobody suddenly "remembered" some useful gadget that they'd neglected to mention the week before. There was no technology we'd previously been given to understand was too dangerous to use, didn't exist, or was just flat out impossible. Everything didn't turn out to be a dream.

And then Steven Moffat delivered the first of several "WTF?" moments that made the show one of the most amazing chunks of television that I've seen for years. Little Amy opened the Pandorica to reveal - not the Doctor, but her future self. Karen Gillan's line, "Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated" was absolutely note perfect; she wasn't kidding. And best of all, it all made perfect sense given what had happened last time. Moffat had given us all the pieces of the puzzle the week before, we just didn't see him do it. Now that's how you write a show.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov proposed a law of narrative that says that if you show the audience a gun in act one of your play, then the gun must be fired by act three. If you introduce something into the story, you need to use it. But conversely, if you need to use something in the story, don't suddenly invent it to get your plot out of a dead end (and this was something that happened with depressing regularity while RTD was running the show). Looking back, we saw the gun on the mantelpiece, metaphorically speaking. The Pandorica is the ultimate prison - so it wouldn't allow its inmate to escape, even by dying. Substitute the "mostly dead" Amy Pond for the Doctor, and you've solved the dead companion problem without resorting to any hand-wavy magic flim-flam. We had all the pieces of the puzzle last week but we not only didn't know how they were going to fit together, we didn't know they could fit together. We got something unexpected, satisfying, and entertaining all at the same time.

As I drove home this afternoon after taking Rob back to Solihull, I was still thinking about the episode, and why I enjoyed it so much. I knew beforehand that Steven Moffat says it's the greatest thing he'd ever written, but it was still a surprise to find out that he was right. As I pottered along on the M5, I was trying to figure it all out. What made it so bloody good?

I eventually decided that it was all about something that happens quite early on in the episode. Although we have seen the Doctor imprisoned in the Pandorica, he suddenly materialises in front of Rory. He's carrying a mop. And wearing a Fez. He tells Rory what to do, leaving Rory as confused as we are. What got me hooked was the idea that Rory could be told what to do by the Doctor despite the fact that the Doctor was locked up in the Pandorica at that moment in time. If you've ever seen Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure you'll recognise the scenario - Bill and Ted retrieve their companions from the clutches of Ted's father down at the police station with the help of their future selves, who have already succeeded in the task and who can therefore send assistance back through time to the moment when the present versions of Bill and Ted need it (even down to the letter on the typewriter that tells them to duck at the precise moment that they read that particular sentence...) The Doctor's appearance is bizarre, unexpected - impossible. But half an hour later, we see the same events again from the Doctor's POV and suddenly it all makes perfect sense. The Doctor survives, which means he can go back in time to tell Rory how to save him. And because the Doctor went back in time to tell Rory what to do, the Doctor survives. It might make your head spin, but that's the whole point of why last night's episode was so fantastically satisfying. Your mileage may vary, of course. Some friends of mine felt that the Doctor coming back and rescuing himself was somehow cheating. If you feel that way, that's fine, but I have to disagree with you.

Once the Doctor showed up to organise his own rescue, I realised Moffat had nailed it. He gets the fundamental concept of the show in a way that I don't think RTD ever grasped. More to the point, he can write scripts which reveal that concept to the camera.

So, what is this high-falutin' concept? Well, if you're going to write a show about time travel, you really need to investigate what the consequences of being able to travel in time might be. Every once in a while, you need to show how weird and different and non-linear your life would appear to everyone else. You can move backwards and forwards in time, and you can play merry hell with concepts like causality. Wouldn't that be fun? And let's face it, if you were a Time Lord, wouldn't you want to do this, once in a while? The problem is that portraying time travel plays havoc with narrative, and people quite understandably like their stories to have a narrative structure that they can follow. Writing something that fundamentally transgresses narrative and yet still ends up making sense is a pretty ambitious task to take on as a writer. Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse-Five is about the only example I can think of that made it to mainstream culture, and the film of the book is bemusing, to say the least. Non-linear events do crop up in Doctor Who - just not very often. Before last night's tour de force, the last example I can think of was the sequence at the beginning of Freema Agyeman's first episode as Martha: David Tennant's Doctor walks up to her, takes off his tie, and shouts "Ha!"

Of course, the tie incident is a fine example of the Doctor showing off. The Doctor loves to show off. There was a lot of showing off in this week's episode. Why else would the Doctor arrive at Amy's wedding by landing the Tardis in the middle of the dance floor and emerge wearing a quite spectacular tuxedo? "Oh, this old thing?"

But at the point where the Doctor takes off his tie in Martha's timeline, she hasn't met the Doctor yet. By the end of the episode, the Doctor knows Martha and travels back in time to convince her that yes, time travel is possible. At that point, she remembers that she has already seen the evidence of this. The realisation hits us as the audience, too. Now we know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The end is when we get the payoff.

It's a simple gag, but the plot device of a mysterious event that you don't understand until the end of the episode is something that Moffat has honed and polished over the past thirteen episodes. The machinery of each story has been wound up like some intricate music box, until this week the catch was released, the cogs started to turn and we finally heard the melody. Not only did Moffat plant things early on in last night's episode, it became clear that he's been planting them throughout the entire recent run of the show. Obtuse and mystifying events in earlier episodes suddenly become mind-bendingly obvious. There was the issue of the Doctor regaining his jacket from the weeping angels; his abrupt change in tone towards Amy while she is temporarily reduced to blindness; the fact that his bow tie occasionally changed colour during a scene. Things that we might ascribe to glitches in continuity on other shows suddenly become clues to what was going on. They weren't accidents at all, they were intentional. The pieces that we'd been looking at in bemusement for thirteen weeks suddenly fell into place. There must have been folks all across the country sitting in front of the TV last night, slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, "Of course!" Moffat's not done yet, either. The full and extremely non-linear story of River Song remains to be told...

The Doctor's life should be riddled with little instances of non-linearity. For me, that's the side of the Doctor's story that I want to see. As yesterday's episode got going we were getting non-linearities by the bucketload. The series has finally embraced the fact that the Doctor is a time traveller. Moffat is using that fact to completely mess with our heads. Things that appeared utterly crazy suddenly make perfect sense.

It all comes down to hiding the Doctor's point of view from the audience and then, finally, revealing it. I'll say it again: that's a classy bit of writing. Using the trope within a single episode is no easy task, and the logistics of filming a show so that it eventually makes sense must have been a daunting challenge. But then, to do it with the entire season is an achievement several orders of magnitude greater. We got "extra" scenes from previous episodes to flesh things out. Glaring plot-holes were suddenly filled in and in the process, they turned out not to be plot holes at all. If there are no stars, what was lighting up the Moon? Ah. Solitary Earth wasn't in orbit around the sun, but there was an exploding Tardis to brighten up each day.

The characters of Rory and Amy have both come in for a fair amount of criticism in recent weeks, so when Rory's timid, rather spineless nature was finally cast aside and he landing a pretty good haymaker on the Doctor's jaw, I cheered. The poor boy finally became interesting and the Centurion's story was a lovely touch - even if we didn't see much of Rory actually living it. Grown-up Amy is still a bit of a cipher, especially when she's compared to her seven-year-old self but the nice inversion of last week's "why am I crying?" exchange was a nice touch.

Where Moffatt's writing really shone was when we started to see payoffs from other non-linear events from earlier episodes. The Doctor's abrupt change in tone inside the wreck of the Byzantium is because he's the Doctor from episode 13; he's setting up his own rescue for the ultimate payoff - a complete reboot of the Universe thanks to Big Bang 2 (and if that isn't a sly dig at RTD's penchant for resetting the world's timeline at the end of each season, I don't know what is). It's not just Moffat, though: the whole production team did a tremendous job. A friend of mine was particularly struck with how the red-and-gold colour theme in use at the wedding mirrored the Roman costumes and even Murray Gold's music seemed less bombastic than usual. The direction by Tony Haynes was rock solid, and he had a nice touch in gags; the fact that young Amy's aunt didn't trust Richard Dawkins "because he believed in stars" made me chortle. I giggled at what the Doctor does when young Amy tells him she's thirsty. The Doctor's attempts at dancing provoked sniggers. But the cherry on the top of the cake was River Song's reaction to the Doctor's fez, which made me laugh out loud.

If ever there was a season of Doctor Who that demands going right back to the first episode and watching through all over again, it was this one. And you can bet that I'll be doing just that.


This blog entry is mostly for Ruth, as she's busy in Bangor and couldn't make it to London where her brother Rob and I had tickets to see They Might Be Giants play two gigs at the Royal Festival Hall. We had an early start for a weekend, leaving the house before 9am. After nearly three hours on the motorway, we left the car at my brother's house in Orpington and caught a train into town.

The weather this week has been amazing, and when we stepped on to the platform at London Bridge the heat hit you like a hammer. London was heaving - it was busier than I've seen it for a long time. After a bite to eat at a Bagel place I know in Hays Galleria we slowly walked along the riverbank to the Southbank Centre.

It's 350 years since the UK's academy of science the Royal Society was founded and the Southbank Centre has teamed up with them to "celebrate the human impulse to understand the world we live in through scientific and artistic exploration." The foyer of the Royal Festival Hall was decked out with exhibits promoting the UK's involvement in many different aspects of science. The folks from pneumatic and electric automation specialists Festo were showing off their extraordinary contraptions, and I spent a while talking to one of the guys who explained how they make a lot of the components using a 3-D printer. It's the only way they can get such ornate mechanical devices assembled cost-effectively and still have them work. There were folks from the Diamond Light Source synchrotron at Harwell; a team from the European Extremely Large Telescope project who talked about the amazing optical telescope that will be built at Cerro Armazones, near Paranal in Chile and which should receive first light in 2018; Rob talked with a team of biologists who were displaying the tree sample that is used to calibrate all the radiocarbon dating readings throughout the world. It was all fascinating stuff, but it wasn't why we were there...

They Might Be Giants rocking the RFH

I've seen TMBG several times over the years and I've been a fan of theirs for decades. The afternoon show was a family show - something they've been doing for a while now after the success of their children's albums like No!, Here Come The ABCs, Here Come The 123s and most recently Here Comes Science. You've probably spotted the tie-in. Family shows mean reduced sound levels, child-friendly songs, and no swearing (which is one aspect of the show the Johns say they don't always remember to enforce...) They started off with Fibber Island, and ran through a great selection of songs from all four of the children's albums. We got some of the old standards, too - including Doctor Worm, which is one of Rob's favourites. There was a guest appearance from the Avatars of They, too - the sock puppets that John Linnel and John Flansburgh use for the TMBG podcasts. The Avatars made several good-natured digs at James Cameron and asked the audience if they had stayed to the end of the credits of Cameron's film to see their guest appearance. It was quite surreal. And all the while, the Festo penguin was flapping over the audience, and the band!

John Flansburgh stared at the silvery object flapping over his head, then asked the crowd: "Have you met our new road manager, Shiny the Penguin? This morning we came into town past the cover of Pink Floyd's 'Animals'. Day just keeps getting weirder."

Sadly, they had to land the Air Jelly and The Penguin because the control systems were interfering with the band's wireless monitors, but it was quite a sight to see. In true TMBG fashion the band continue to mix things up and Flans now performs Why Does The Sun Shine? by pretending he's a pirate. After all, there's a line that goes "Yo ho, it's hot" in the original version...

By the end of the set the band had covered the front dozen rows of the audience in confetti (the cannon ran for about a minute during the pause in "Older" and John Linnell looked like he was struggling to keep a straight face - I'm not surprised: it was completely over the top and I have never seen so much coloured paper fired at a group of people in my life. The kids in the audience loved it and spent the rest of the show running back and forth, scooping up handfuls of paper and throwing it back on the stage. After an encore the band left the stage, the penguin and the air jelly were spirited away and Rob and I went for a wander. We ended up having tea in Nando's - the second time I've eaten in one of their restaurants this week. I made full use of the "bottomless" soft drinks as I'd let myself get fairly dehydrated. I hadn't realised just how badly I was suffering until I'd downed about a pint of fizzy orange. After that, I felt much better and we walked back along the Thames to the Southbank Centre for show number two.

The first surprise was that we got a support act. The second much bigger surprise was that it turned out to be long-time associate of TMBG, the former frontman for Soul Coughing, Mike Doughty. "Now I'm 'just some guy,'" he explained. He ran through a set of songs played on acoustic guitar and got a good reception from most of the audience, apart from the young couple behind me who turned up late and proceeded to talk to each other, loudly, for the last half of his set. Why do people do this? They clearly had no interest in the man's songs at all, so why even bother taking their seats when they could have sat outside in the bar and annoyed someone else instead? Grrr...

Mr Doughty eventually left the stage to considerable applause and after a short break TMBG took the stage once more. The evening show was a standard rock set and while there were one or two common songs, the majority of what was played was different to the afternoon's concert. They kicked off with Cowtown, one of my favourites, and carried on with newer songs interspersed between lots of oldies. The band invited folks down to the front rather than sitting in their seats, and this completely changed the dynamic of the gig. Fair play to the security at the Royal Festival Hall: they let everyone do as they pleased rather than making an issue of it, which I've seen happen with other bands at other venues. TMBG actually stopped the show before one song to say how much they appreciated how well the staff at the Hall had treated them - lovely!

The audience went absolutely nuts when the band launched into Birdhouse in Your Soul as about the fourth number, and we got quite a few other numbers from Flood as well including Particle Man, Your Racist Friend, Dead, and another rendition of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) that began with an amazing clarinet solo. Rob and I were delighted when they played Ana Ng and even more so when they played Where Your Eyes Don't Go - that's the song that Terry Pratchett memorably described as the scariest song ever written. Then, when one of the encores turned out to be The Mesopotamians, I was over the moon. The band came back on stage three times, as the audience wouldn't let them go - there was much chanting and clapping but sadly it all eventually came to an end and Rob and I headed off to Charing Cross to catch a train back to Orpington and pick up the car. We left Orpington at midnight and pulled on to the drive at 2:30 on Sunday morning. It had been a long and tiring day, but we both agreed it was a most excellent one. Let's hope TMBG come back to the UK soon and we can do the whole thing over again!


This evening's match between Denmark and Japan was the best game I've seen so far in a World Cup that has been distinctly lacking in drama or great playing. But still, behind everything else going on there was the blaring, relentless drone of a stadium filled with plastic trumpets. I don't think there can be many people left on this planet who don't know what a vuvuzela is. The massed hordes of one-note horns have been roaring away at every match so far. The noise at the opening matches was so bad that the BBC's commentators struggled to make themselves heard. The sound pressure levels reached 130dB, which is more than loud enough to damage your hearing. Audio engineers talked about the limited effectiveness of using a notch filter for TV coverage because the frequency of the sound is approximately that of the human voice saying the vowel "e" so it would make speech sound funny, but people went ahead anyway.

Now, I know fads and crazes are nothing new. Hula hoops are the first example I can think of, but I'm old enough to remember when clackers and deely-bobbers were novelty items. I'm sure you can think of other times where everyone wanted a ridiculous or annoying toy of some description or other. I appreciate that folks see something like this as an opportunity to make a bit (or even a lot) of money, or gain a fleeting fifteen minutes of notoriety but it's getting beyond a joke.

Recent crazes have been more about demonstrating how marketing trumps value or substance, even if one or two examples are quite clever. But the sheer amount of coverage of the vuvuzela phenomenon has turned it into a craze that - to borrow a phrase from television - has definitely jumped the shark. It was bad enough when someone opened a Twitter account for the thing (and tweeted nothing more than "ZZZZZZZZZ"). Of course, the joke was copied by someone else which immediately stopped it being funny. But now there's an internet radio station, a button to add the vuvuzela drone to videos on YouTube, and of course the inevitable iPhone app or three. The predictable backlash has had absolutely no effect. There are already instructional videos, a vuvuzela orchestra, and spoof video games. You can buy limited edition vuvuzelas, read blogs about the sociological aspects of the instrument's popularity or letters to medical journals or articles by ethnomusicologists on the instrument's religious connotations. The juggernaut shows no signs of stopping and we haven't even started the round of the last 16 teams yet. I just wonder what other naff tie-ins to the vuvuzela madness are going to crop up before we reach the final.


"Odeon, take note. THIS is how to get people off BitTorrent and into cinemas." A showing of the science fiction film Blade Runner in London, Secret Cinema style. It looks amazing.


Something I discovered via Kottke: Sick Systems or, How to keep someone with you forever. This should be required reading for anyone with a job. It's disturbing reading, and I worked for a company that had exactly that culture. Eventually, I quit - and it was one of the best, most satisfying things I have ever done.


I installed iOS4 on my phone on Monday night. The new version of the OS is free (which makes a change for Apple - I was expecting them to gouge me one more time) and the download, which also required me to install iTunes 9.2, was around 400Mb all told. The new OS is not compatible with my first-generation iPod touch, so I only had my phone to update. Some people I know have encountered difficulties during installation (primarily with iTunes locking up at the "verifying" stage) but mine went without a hitch.

First impressions? Well, the most obvious change is that when you clear the lock screen, the application icons on the home page slide in from the sides of the screen. There are other, more subtle cosmetic changes, too: You can set different background images for the lock screen and the home screen, and the different background for the bottom row of icons which appear on every screen has changed to a 3D effect (they now look like they're sitting on a rectangular glass slab in the best Web 2.0 tradition). Slightly more useful is the ability to drag application icons together to group them into folders. Folder naming is automatic, and context-sensitive (so if you create a folder full of games, it's going to be called "games"), but if you don't like the folder name your phone comes up with, you can change it. The use of folders means that should you feel the need, you can now have up to 2160 icons on your phone. I've had my phone over a year, and I've got 85 plus the four icons on the bar at the bottom.

In terms of genuinely practical changes, the text messaging app now has a counter so you know when you're about to bust the SMS 160-character limit (although you have to go to the Settings page and turn it on first). The mail application has been improved considerably. It now allows mail messages to be displayed as threads and it aggregates all your inboxes so they can all be checked at once. The interface looks cleaner and clearer and when you check for mail a progress bar is displayed at the bottom of the window. There's a system-wide spell checker for text input.

As for the much-touted "multitasking" function, it's not really true multi-tasking at all. It's closer to the Alt-Tab function on Windows: tapping the home button twice slides the home screen up to reveal a multitasking bar rather like the Mac's dock. This will show icons for all the apps you've run recently, allowing you to return to them without scrolling through multiple pages of your home screen. However, just because an app is on the multitasking bar, it doesn't mean it's still doing its thing. The OS allows certain threads to continue but the rest of the app will be frozen until you call it up again. That's a good thing. I don't want an application I forgot to close down to keep running, draining my battery. If an app has been written with iOS4 in mind, it will remember its saved state, so when you return to it, everything's exactly where you left it. Now that is useful.

There are dozens of other changes. The camera app gets a 5x zoom (which, like all digital zooms, is achieved by cropping the image on the sensor, so it's of limited value unless degraded picture quality is your kind of thing). The camera app itself seems to run more smoothly, and several reports I've read online suggest that there's been an improvement in shutter speed as well. On an even more subjective level, the multitouch seems more responsive when you're resizing photos or web pages but I've got no evidence to support that claim at all. Nevertheless I'm pretty pleased with the update and I agree with the reviewers who suggest that it will keep 3Gs users happy enough to not bother about getting the iPhone 4.


I've bought a few games for the iPhone and the amount of enjoyment I've got out of them has been variable. One or two were disappointing; some have been very challenging, but when you get to the end that's it - there's no incentive to go back and play again. The two games that I keep coming back to are FlightControl and Ragdoll Blaster. I picked up FlightControl last year after I heard a couple of people I know with iPhones complaining bitterly about how much time they were wasting playing it. They were right - it's a well-thought-out little game where you're the air traffic controller for a small airfield (or an aircraft carrier). You have to drag your finger across the screen to set the path each aircraft will take to its runway. Red aircraft must land on the red runway, yellow ones on the yellow runway. As the game progresses, more aircraft appear; pretty soon you're spending most of your time rerouting aircraft to avoid collisions. The challenge of beating my high score kept me coming back and having "just one more go" for months.

Ragdoll Blaster is even worse. The idea behind the game is simple. You fire "ragdoll" dummies out of a cannon to hit a target somewhere on the screen. When you hit the target, the level is complete. Simple, right? Er - no. The dummies you fire interact with a bewildering array of objects and obstacles on the screen. There are see-saws, boxes on springs, merry-go-rounds and more that your dummies have to negotiate. You have to figure exactly how you're supposed to complete each level (and there are dozens of them) before you can start to work on improving your score.

As if I wasn't addicted enough to Ragdoll Blaster on the iPhone I discovered today that I can play it on the web as well.


The Science Fiction Airshow. Make sure you take a look at the "guided tour" slideshow - the "Buckinghamshire Incident" made me chuckle.

CHRIS SIEVEY 1955 - 2010

I was very sad to hear that the creator of Frank Sidebottom, Chris Sievey died at the weekend. Frank was one of those brilliant, bizarre comic creations that appeared in the 80s. Perhaps it says a lot about television back then that producers would think nothing of booking a performer with a gigantic head made out of papier maché singing terrible - but still endearing - versions of pop songs for their show, but I suspect a lot of it had to do with Chris/Frank's unswerving and unrelenting optimism.

He wrote a computer game for the ZX Spectrum. He had his own TV series. He introduced the world to Caroline Quentin's Mrs Merton. He wrote an episode of Pingu and invented travel snooker. He could halt an inveterate channel surfer like me dead in my tracks. You never knew when he might crop up, appearing on the most bizarre assortment of programmes and channels in unexpected contexts, which made his whole act even more surreal. In the hands of a lesser performer, Frank's giant head, staring eyes and manga-like appearance might have become sinister or creepy but with Mr Sievey in charge, when Frank cropped up you just felt like cheering. Even when his illness was diagnosed last month, his "Hoorah, I've got cancer!" message on Twitter summed up his complete lack of self pity and all the tributes being paid to him go to considerable lengths to note what a genuinely nice bloke he was.

Very sad news indeed. It really is.


I headed into town at the weekend to see the Art from the New World exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It's a striking collection of work by a pretty intimidating selction of artists from the United States, curated by the Corey Helford Gallery based in Los Angeles. The exhibits range from oil paintings and pencil sketches through to ceramics, digital art, vinyl inflatables, and spectacular creations like Colin Christian's Candy Rider, which is made from fiberglass and automotive paint:

Candy Rider

Christian's work was definitely my favourite but I really liked the selection of other work on show as well. Some of the artists (like Gary Baseman, who crops up on Boing Boing from time to time) I'd heard of before, but others were entirely new to me. Luckily, I'd arranged to meet up with Remote from the WGB who was able to tell me a bit about the artists involved.

It was interesting to read some of the comments in the guestbook, though. They ranged from the enthusiastic to the decidedly sniffy; the first comment I read said "this isn't a PAINTING exhibition!" Well, duh. Some of the art is quite provocative; disturbing, even - so I was a little creeped out by comments in the guestbook saying how much they loved one of the works that for me definitely fell into that category. The exhibition does address some adult themes, so it's not really the sort of thing for younger children, but if you want to stimulate your critical faculties, head right along.

Admission is free, and if you're in the Bristol area in the next month or so, I strongly recommend paying the show a visit.


Remote and I ended up at the O2 Academy to see Senser. The support band were called Starseed, and if ever you needed an example of a band which is very clearly run by one person, look no further. The drummer's backing vocals drowned out the singer completely. The drums were louder than everything else by a wide margin, and two songs in a 35 minute set started with protracted drum solos. I only heard the lead guitarist for about twelve bars in the middle of the last couple of numbers, and the bass was so overdriven that the PA was reduced to making "phbppp" noises. They were wildly self-indulgent, not particularly inspiring, and played to an audience of about a dozen people. Maybe everyone else knew about them beforehand, and had decided to turn up later? Who knows.

The venue filled up considerably before Senser came on, and when they took the stage there was a good crowd waiting for them. I don't have any of their albums in my collection but I knew a bit about them - they're from London, they're often described as "rap metal" and they fall somewhere in the general area of bands like Rage Against The Machine.

More Senser

They got the audience going with no trouble at all, generating a real buzz and obviously enjoying themselves in the process. As they worked through their set I realised I knew quite a few of their songs, too. The new single, End of the World Show, reminds me of the glory days when PiL were on top form, and can't you just imagine Lydon singing that refrain?

The show was over far too quickly, but we were treated to a cover version of Public Enemy's She Watch Channel Zero?! for an encore, singer Heitham Al-Sayed explaining that it was the record that inspired them to start the band. By the end of the night I'd definitely become a fan and I've already taken steps to fill in the gap in my record collection!


The debate over whether or not the Internet is detrimental to our attention spans continues. Now Nicholas Carr has responded to the piece by Steven Pinker that I mentioned last week. This is a discussion that could go on and on, because both men are making good points, backed up by academic research. I'm fascinated by the fact that although their viewpoints are diametrically opposed, they've both come up with excellent evidence to support their position. This one is going to run and run, I think...


I was out and about last Sunday. I'd gone out primarily to buy a tent, as the little one-man dome tent I've used for the last ten years has seen better days and I fancied something a little less cramped as the festival season approaches. I treated myself to an inflatable air bed, too - I'm getting too old to rough it in a sleeping bag resting on a foam mat. I got myself a nice new tent that pitches in a couple of minutes - the instructions say that with practice you can have the thing up and ready to be pegged down in twenty seconds!

As it was a lovely day here on Sunday, I took the camera with me. So, after doing my shopping I ended up on Selsley Common, which is just south west of Stroud:

The view from Selsley Common

Once again, I ended up taking the best pictures of the day with the EF-S 10-22mm lens. I love the look of the shots I can get with it.

Unfortunately the fine summer weather has had its usual effect and over the last couple of days the pollen count has skyrocketed. I woke up this morning with my sinuses clogged and barely able to breathe. However, as I was working at home I didn't struggle quite as badly - I was able to take a break and managed 17km on the exercise bike. After having a shower I felt much better. It's things like this that really make me appreciate being able to work from home, but it's also far easier to concentrate here than in our office, which is a very busy place these days. Being able to sit and think about what I'm writing without interruption means I'm much more productive.


The campaign to persuade SatNav manufacturers TomTom to provide the option to get directions from the wonderful Brian Blessed gathers momentum with this proof of concept video. Just make sure you watch right to the end...


The inventors of the target-setting method for shortened limited-overs cricket matches were awarded MBEs at the weekend. Hoorah!

(I can't believe I just typed that...)


I blogged on Thursday about some of the press coverage of Nicholas Carr's new book The Shallows, in which he suggests that Internet use is eroding our ability to concentrate. Now MIT's Steven Pinker has weighed in, and he's not impressed. In fact, he dismisses the whole thing as a moral panic.

So the question arises: is the problem imaginary? Whose interests are served by the creation of such an alarming story? The original report doesn't seem to be medicalising everyday life in the way that newspapers do to sell fish oil tablets, for example; perceived shortcomings in behavioural or cognitive performance can't always be solved by popping pills, anyway. The original story had no product to hawk as a quick and affordable cure for the problem it described, but I have no doubt that it was intended to sell books.

When it comes to journalism, hyperbole rules. People like a pithy, single-line summary of a story that makes readers sit up and pay attention. Problems arise when writers come up with something that sounds plausible but which overstates the original findings. To give one example of this, just take a look at this week's New Scientist magazine, which has "What's Wrong With The Sun?" in huge letters on the cover. A headline like that is clearly alarmist. One might expect that something dreadful had been discovered which might threaten our continued existence - like the Sun going out, perhaps. Inside, the more sober answers are provided - (a) nothing is "wrong", it just looks like the Sun may be heading for a reduced period of activity along the lines of the Maunder Minimum and (b) we've found out as a result that we don't know as much about our nearest star as we thought we did. The New Scientist does things like this on a regular basis these days, because they've learned that this behaviour sells more copies. It's not always as easy to spot when a story is exaggerating things for dramatic effect, either. You could argue that there's no place for dramatic effect when it comes to science reporting, and I'd agree with you. Unfortunately when it comes to economics, dramatic effect works very well indeed.

Pinker's main point is that when we discover that use of technology can alter the brain, we shouldn't be surprised. It happens every time we learn something. "If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence," he goes on to say, "the quality of science would be plummeting." This is, of course, not the case. People like Clay Shirky make a good case that the Internet actually helps creativity, too.

So who is right: Pinker, or Carr? In all likelihood, they both are. The Internet is full of small, easy to assimilate lumps of information that demand very little of their reader. It's also riddled with dense, profound chunks of rich, introspective contemplation that give the mind a real workout. How we approach information is dependent on so many different variables and conditions that generalisations are impossible (unless you're trying to sell copies of your newspaper). Sometimes I can be cognitively lazy - but not always. I've spent quite some time on today's blog entry. I've left Twitter alone; I've not checked my email. I've proved to my own satisfaction (if nobody else's) that I can still focus on something without immediately being diverted elsewhere. Tomorrow will be a different story; my levels of tiredness or hunger will be different, I might have less caffeine in my system (an unlikely situation, I'll grant you) and there might be something else that will have a more pressing need for my attention.

I don't need to blame the Internet for that. It's just the way things are.


"The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate, but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains."

These are the words of Gary Small, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles. And he should know; over the past three years he's been using fMRI scanners to look at how someone's brain behaves when they surf the Internet. His finding is extraordinary: in people who were new to the Internet, just five hours of surfing the web was enough to drastically change the location of activity in their brains. The changes resulted in much more blood flow to areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with decision making and problem solving. Great, you might think. Using our brains more is a good thing, isn't it?

It turns out that more activity is not always a good thing. The problem is that all that effort being devoted to deciding which hyperlink to click is eroding our ability to concentrate. We become distracted, sidetracked. As a long-time web surfer, I noticed this was happening to me a while ago and I've been trying to limit the amount of surfing I do every day, particularly in the evenings. I knew it was time to do something when I realised I could no longer sustain my concentration long enough to read a single chapter in a book. After fifteen minutes or so, something in the book would prompt a train of thought about something else or I'd experience a strong urge to Google something in the text to see what else I could find out about it. I realised that this was a thinly veiled attempt by my subconscious to let it see what was happening on the World Wide Web. It seems I'm not alone. It's scary to read about the results of having our brains rewired, too - in the words of one paper, we suffer a decline in abstract vocabulary, mindfulness, reflection, inductive problem solving, critical thinking, and imagination. I don't know about you, but I like having those skills. They tend to come in useful. I love the deep focus that comes with concentrating on a particular task like writing or drawing, when your intellect locks on to a particular theme or concept and explores it minutely; where you suddenly sit up and discover that three hours have gone by without you noticing. It's a profoundly satisfying state of mind. I'd hate to lose that ability.

The rise of social networking applications like Twitter and Facebook has made things even worse. They're little more that interruption machines, training us to pay them attention every few minutes as the next news item or the next batch of tweets appears on our screens. We grow into the habit of skimming things for information, rather than paying them our full attention. That may be fine when you're tweeting about Eurovision or catching up with what your friends have been up to over the weekend. But the cursory level of information processing associated with activities of that sort is not always appropriate. Sometimes we need the ability to analyse, to synthesise and evaluate things in much more detail. It's all very well taking the occasional pleasant diversion, but we're becoming at risk of forgetting where we were going in the first place. As Nicholas Carr says in the book that has prompted the appearance of all these stories in the media, even though the Net is shiny and appealing, it's blinding us to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives - even to our culture. That's a sobering thought you might want to keep hold of for a while. While you still can.


Remember last year how Chris Packham was working the titles of songs by The Smiths into the BBC's Springwatch programme? Well, he's doing it again. And this year he's using songs by The Cure. This week he's already worked in "Boys don't cry" so let's see what crops up tonight...


Yes, there's a new iPhone. Yes, it looks like the one we've seen on various technology blogs over the last few months. It has a front-facing camera, a thinner (and more boxy) design, and... Actually, considering Apple have just touted "integrated antennas" as being a design innovation worthy of mention, I give up. If they really can't think of anything more inspiring or radical to say about it, neither can I. It's a phone, okay?


NASA have supplied a few more details about the latest discoveries from Titan. Astrobiologist Chris McKay reckons that hydrogen is "the obvious gas for life to consume" on Saturn's largest moon, and the Cassini probe can't find any at the surface, even though it's present in the atmosphere. There's no sign of any acetylene, either. This isn't what folk were expecting, so we're into "unusual" territory here. Of course, Cassini can only fly overhead - ESA's Huygens probe landed on Titan five years ago. It confirmed that there are hydrocarbons - lots of them - on the surface, but while its Surface Science Package told us a lot about what the surface was like, it didn't alert us to the presence of anything resembling life. I'll be interested to see if Cassini will be able to discover more detail - if it can't, we'll have to wait until someone gets round to sending a more complex probe to the surface and that, unfortunately, is likely to be decades away.


I've not seen the last episode of this season of House yet, but after reading last weekend that the whole thing was filmed on a Canon EOS5D Mk2, I really want to see it. Why? Because the camera they used is a stills camera. It's a bit of a publicity coup for Canon, and it raises interesting questions about the future of cinematography.

For a start, in comparison with your average video camera, the 5D is tiny. That means it's possible to get shots from places where a video camera wouldn't fit. People have been using stills cameras to get specialist shots like this for years - the most well known example of this is probably the mine trolley sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Dennis Muren's effects team used a model of the mine and a 35mm Nikon SLR with a modified back that could take 30-foot reels of film. The camera was small enough that it could ride on the model cart through the innards of the set. In more recent times, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride was shot using the Canon EOS 1-D. But both of these sequences relied on stop-motion photography, shooting each frame one at a time - on House, the camera was loaded with an 18Gb compact flash card that gave the director the opportunity to shoot 22 minutes of action without a break, as if he was using a video or film camera. The first question is, therefore: are television programmes about to show us the world from a truly different point of view?

Secondly, stills lenses tend to be much cheaper than their equivalent film lenses. While the price may allow a gifted amateur director to get shots he wouldn't be able to afford if he was using a movie camera, he's going to have his work cut out for him: there's a reason those movie lenses aren't cheap. In film, a focus puller will be able to work with the lens and nail the field of view exactly where it's required. Stills lenses just aren't built for this kind of task, and the accuracy of placement for the field of focus is likely to be patchy. The second question therefore follows: will focus be as important in future programmes as it is nowadays?

How the first question is answered could prove really exciting. I hope that the answer to the second question is that stills lenses get better (and more consistent) focus controls. Aside for the occasional arty blurred shot, the trend towards massive, high definition TVs putting ever more pixels on the screen is not really compatible with anything that might prevent the viewer seeing a sharp, well-defined image. We want to be able to pick out every detail, in crystal clarity.

Putting the problems aside for one moment, though, I'm really excited by what the House team have done. I hope that the acceptance of material shot with the 5D will result in lots of people getting interested in motion pictures. Who knows what sort of talents might appear on the field in the future?


Spot the IT guy.


Say hello to the Airfish.


Scientists analysing data from NASA's Cassini probe have found evidence of "unusual chemistry" on Saturn's moon Titan. Two unexpected results - a lack of hydrogen near the surface and the absence of acetylene atoms - have been detected, and while it's possible for this situation to arise as a result of non-biological reactions, it's also possible that they may be caused by microbial life... This isn't the first time that "interesting" discoveries have been made in the field; you might remember how last year, the presence of methane on Mars was making exobiologists sit up and take notice. I'm no planetary biologist, but this story strikes an odd note, so I'll be keeping an eye on things.


Climate change denier crosses paths with associate professor of engineering; professor points out robustly and incontrovertibly that the denier was making stuff up. Oh yes.

The fact that some people are so unsure of their world view that they have to falsify the scientific evidence they're quoting isn't really news, especially to those of us with any experience of using the Internet but all the same it's really satisfying when you come across someone trying it on and getting well and truly slapped down. If you're really interested, you can listen to Professor Abraham's rebuttal of Monckton's claims in its entirety, and believe me, he doesn't leave him a leg to stand on.

Incidentally, one of the web sites that linked to the Professor's piece introduced me to a verb that I'd not encountered before. Fisking refers to the practice of rebutting an argument, line by line, usually through the medium of the Internet. The example I linked to above, which demolishes each and every assertion that Monckton made in his speech is a great example. We need more people like Professor Abraham around, because some of the loonier elements making outrageous claims on a regular basis are people who'd like to run the world for us.


Every summer I get to meet up with my sister and brothers and their families at my parents' house in Norfolk. This year will be no exception and I'm really looking forwards to seeing them all. The kids will need entertainment, of course, so I've been gathering a collection of films for them to watch. The latest DVDs I ordered arrived today. I sat down to watch one of them this evening (for research and qualty control purposes, of course) and ended up really enjoying it.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs is based on the children's book of the same name, and tells the story of a young inventor whose attempts at increasing his popularity in the town have comical and then catastophic results. The cast is very good - when you get Bruce Campbell playing the conniving, self-centred mayor you can't really go wrong but when you add Mr T as the town's policeman and James Caan as the hero's father, you've really got something special. The animation's pretty good and there are a number of sly cultural references to spot as well - from the Twilight Zone episode where William Shatner spots gremlins on the wing of his plane to digs at Roland Emmerich's eco-disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow as well as reversing the traditional Good heavens Miss Sakamoto, You're Beautiful trope by making the hero fall for the heroine only after she puts on geeky glasses and scrunches her hair up in a ponytail. Bonus points for making a USB flash drive a plot device, too.

I also picked up the Blu-ray of Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan. The picture quality is excellent, one of the best transfers I've seen for a long time, but the sound quality is all over the place. It's not quite as bad as the sound on Star Wars, but in places it's not far off. Shame.


I had another rough night last night, not getting to sleep until nearly three in the morning. It appears I'm not ready to come off the antidepressants just yet, so eventually I caved in and took one. That did the trick. When I did finally get off to sleep I had a deeply convoluted dream in which I appeared to be the proud owner of an iPad.

And throughout the dream, I was thinking to myself, "I don't remember buying this. Why would I have bought one of these things? I don't need one, and I certainly wouldn't have bought the first version of the thing. So when did I get this? I don't remember..."

I woke up before the issue was resolved and discovered, with no small relief, that I didn't have an iPad after all. Phew!