Duh. Swap the gender roles round, and can you imagine the sort of response that show would have got? Broadcasting House would now be a smoking wreck...
You too can have fun with Google Earth at the expense of major governments!
Mainly because I'm very busy this week at work. Hopefully things should get back to normal next week.
Four year old Byron Grey had a lucky escape when his family took him on a boat trip off the Pembrokeshire coast this weekend, because a sunfish jumped out of the water and landed on top of him. As I've seen the size of the sunfish in the million gallon tank of Monterey Bay Aquarium's Outer Bay Exhibit, I know how lucky Byron is to still be with us - they can grow to be very large indeed! I was amazed to learn that they visit the UK coastline, though; I thought of them as preferring warmer climates.
There was an interesting article doing the rounds yesterday about using morphing wings in the designs of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Making an aircraft's wing morph in flight isn't a new idea - after all, it's what ailerons and flaps do - but every couple of years I seem to end up reading about shape-changing aircraft that promise a whole new range of aerodynamic performance by changing the shape of the wing as if it's some radical new technology.
Mind you, this is usually down to the marketing department trying to make the latest product more attractive to the media. After all, folks seemed to think that the B-2 was a radical step foward in aircraft design, despite the fact that Jack Northrop's designs for flying wings had been around since the 1920s.
The beer festival was packed once again, although by the early evening the best stuff had run out and what was left was of noticeably poorer quality. I paced myself pretty well, and had no ill effects at all, although I'd imagine some of the folks I was with would have had pretty sore heads this morning. I don't know - perhaps I just wasn't in a drinking mood, but I just couldn't keep up with the others this year. Nevertheless, I tried the following selection of beers:
- Blackdown Brewery - Bitter (3.8%)
- Branscombe Vale - Draymans (4.2%)
- Bullmastiff - Welsh Gold (3.8%)
- Castle Rock - Black Gold (3.5%)
- Freeminer - Bitter (4.0%)
- Oldershaw - Regal Blond (4.4%)
- Rudgate - Viking Bitter (3.8%)
You'll have noticed that they were all pretty light; I think the best of the bunch was the Oldershaw's, although the Castle Rock was also very pleasant, and from the taste (and the appearance) you'd never have guessed it was the lightest of the lot. There were quite a few heavier beers available, and we bumped into one guy who had been drinking Orkney Skullsplitter (8.5%) all day. He was still standing up, which rather impressed me.
It's the Frocester Beer Festival today, so don't expect anything to appear here until I've recovered.
First of all, let's hear it for the twins, Rob and Ruth, who have both passed their GCSE statistics exam. Well done, both of you!
Back on the first of April I was talking in an awe-struck manner about Don LaFontaine, the film industry's "Voice of God." You'll no doubt remember that he's the guy who has recorded over 4,000 movie trailers, an inordinate number of which begin with the line "In a world..." As he was famously described in the trailer for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he "sounds like a seven-foot-tall man, who has been smoking cigarettes since childhood."
Today I stumbled across an interview with the man himself which is very funny. I particularly enjoyed the question, "have you ever hid behind something and tried to convince someone you were God?"
I know he's playing Carl Denham (the character originally played by Robert Armstrong) in King Kong, which might be a good role for him, but so far the comedian Jack Black has set my teeth on edge with everything he's done. Maybe it's because I'm British, but I think anyone who is that in-your-face all the time deserves a smart clip round the ear followed by a prolonged course of Librium. If you find him as profoundly irritating as I do, you may be amused to learn that using Googlism for him throws up the quote "Jack Black is like every annoying guy who sat behind you in school." It's a perfect summary of the guy - he behaves like he's about eleven years old - but that's not why we're here.
Instead, here's a story about the real School of Rock. It might be fairly easy to teach kids to play Led Zeppelin, but I can't begin to explain just how bloody difficult it would be to get 12-year-olds to play stuff by Frank Zappa. Mind you, the teacher responsible sounds like he has an even less attractive personality than Mr. Black, and that's saying something.
One positive thing I took from the story is that there's a town somewhere out there in Germany that holds a Frank Zappa festival every year, which is something so amazing that it must be cherished.
The Twins will be delighted with Green Day's performance at this year's Kerrang! awards, as the band walked off with gongs for both "Best live act" and the "Best band on the planet." Billie Joe apparently suggested that whoever had the biggest hangover the following morning should get an award next year, which sounds like an admirable idea.
Another scientific study published today reveals that homeopathy doesn't actually do anything beyond having a placebo effect. Right, as if that will have any effect on practitioners or patients. After all, when did a complete absence of concrete evidence ever deter people from maintaining or promoting any popular belief?
This is, it seems, a result of China exceeding EU trade quotas for supplying clothing, an incident that is already being referred to as the bra wars. Yes, your community is really working for you on this one. All that this latest bit of posturing is really doing is annoying the companies who have already paid for the goods, and who were expecting to be selling them in their shops over the next few weeks.
There was a small earthquake off the south coast of England yesterday afternoon: the epicentre was 50 miles off Plymouth. The quake measured 3.1 on the Richter Scale, which isn't that big, but it's still a fairly unusual event for the UK. Having said that, I'm sure there have been more frequent reports of British quakes in recent years; maybe they are becoming more common.
Virgin Galactic's president, Will Whitehorn, has gone on record to say that if their first space venture is a success, it will be followed up by a craft that can reach orbit. That's more like it. Perhaps we'll have hotels in space before too much longer after all.
...about the pronunciation of Bob Moog's name? It looks like somebody had a word with the BBC.
The result is quite an interesting article on how bad we are with other people's names. Even folks with names as ordinary as mine have problems: someone once typed my name incorrectly when I registered at an exhibition years ago and I still occasionally get mail for Chirstopher Harris. It always goes straight in the bin.
After seeing a pointer on Slashdot today I ended up reading an interesting interview with the writer Neal Stephenson. He recently completed a trilogy of novels set in the 17th Century which feature historical figures like Leibniz and Benjamin Franklin, which examine the structure of political power and the clash of commerce and culture. I have to confess that even though my response was "Ooo, that sounds worth getting," I simultaneously realised that I probably hold a minority view...
The reason I'm discussing the article here, though, is because of this scary quote the interview contains about how the age of scientific achievement appears to be drawing to a close:
"...the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say."
In other words, Stephenson believes that for a range of cultural or political reasons, science is on the decline. The scary thing is that I agree with him. You've only got to look at the depth of knowledge displayed in the average science article in the media to know we're in trouble - despite the fact that for most stories all the reporter has to do is read out a press release, they still manage to get things wrong. More alarmingly, in this last week I have read an item about the University of Texas turning one of its libraries into a coffee house, an article by Harold Evans bemoaning the decline of science in the US, a report that Oxford University will no longer accept child prodigies because it's too difficult to protect them from potential abuse by other people, and a report that fewer students in Britain are taking physics or chemistry exams because they're perceived as being harder than media studies or psychology.
But it's when the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head feels the need to make a movie satirising the increasing levels of stupidity in the general population that you've really got to start worrying.
I've got another blog entry about photography for you today. A collection of Leroy Chiao's photographs has been published on the web. What makes them unusual is that the photographs were taken while he was the commander of Expedition 10 on the International Space Station, so you'll appreciate that he had rather impressive subject matter to play with. NASA have made Chiao's favourite ten photographs available for download as high quality images, too; I can feel a new desktop coming on...
When I was a kid, one thing I wanted really badly was a synthesiser, but not just any keyboard would do. I knew it would have to be a genuine Moog synthesiser, and I finally got one: a Moog Rogue (and the name was chosen because most people don't pronounce the name correctly - Moog should rhyme with rogue). The Rogue is still in my collection, and I cherish a fond hope that it will one day be kept company by an Etherwave Theremin as made by Dr. Moog's company Big Briar.
Bob Moog was one of my heroes for years, so I was sad to see today that he's died of brain cancer at the age of 71. I don't think you could overestimate the impact he's had on popular music, particularly in the field of progressive rock, because it wasn't just me who thought a Moog synth or a set of Taurus bass pedals was a must-have item; names like Mike Oldfield, Isao Tomita, Geddy Lee, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos spring to mind immediately. Moog was once of those rare breeds - an inventor whose products had a massive impact on his chosen field - and his passing is a great, great loss to music.
I got excited when I read one news article this morning, because it mentioned that the Milky Way has a bar! Sadly, they won't be serving drinks at it, because the story was referring to the structure of our galaxy. Rather than the distinctly average spiral shape adopted by most galaxies, the latest data from the Spitzer Space Telescope and other sources shows we're actually living in the outer reaches of the Western spiral arm of a much cooler-looking barred spiral. It shouldn't do the property prices any harm, I would have thought...
No blog entries for the past couple of days, because I've been rather busy. On Friday I went sailing from Portsmouth as a team building exercise for work. We were looked after by the folks at Sunsail, and twelve of us tacked our way up and down the Solent in a couple of 37-foot yachts. It was great fun despite absolutely horrendous weather to start with, but by the time I got home I was so knackered I could barely move.
My sister Annabelle has been staying with me for the weekend. It was her birthday yesterday, so we went out for a walk with her two children up Wotton Hill to enjoy the view and do a bit of birdwatching. Afterwards, we spent a very pleasant evening in the back garden with Dana and Ron, some of her friends who now live in the village; we were talking, drinking wine and watching the occasional satellite pass overhead while the kids all watched Finding Nemo. Today, Annabelle's taken the kids to see the MegaMaze up the road, and I've just finished preparing tea.
According to my weblogs provided courtesy of Statcounter.com, 3179 unique visitors have found their way to this website since the beginning of the year. I had no idea I got quite as much traffic as that, because my old hit counter only shows visitors to the HFO's home page. So thanks for stopping by - you've made an old skier very happy.
The cosmetics manufacturer L'Oreal got its wrists slapped by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday for running an advert it couldn't prove was right. There's an interesting article in The Guardian today about how advertisers come up with the bullsh- I'm sorry, how they come up with the convincing-sounding statements they use in adverts, but it covers far from the whole story.
New Scientist's Feedback column frequently cites some of the dafter claims being made by advertisers out there. The one that particularly annoys me waffles on about removing toxins from your feet using a hugely expensive electric foot bath, which Feedback first picked up on last year - because they discovered that the unit does the same thing to the water in it regardless of whether your feet are present or not. In fact, the writer of a subsequent letter to New Scientist pointed out that using it could be very bad for your feet. The Daily Mirror reported in April this year that Aqua Detox Ltd had ended up in administration, which is odd, because the UK website of Aqua Detox International is apparently still going strong. I'm sure there's a logical explanation.
If I was a cynic, I might suggest that, if you see an advert locally for someone with one of these machines, you ought to go along and get them to run their machine on its own. I'm sure there are quite a few people out there who would be very interested to see what happens...
As this is the Internet, and we're talking about advertising and such things, I ought to point out that there's even a website devoted to the brands, logos and logotypes of all the companies out there doing all that advertising. It's interesting that, for every finely crafted and attractive logo out there, there are several dozen real clunkers - and I'll bet somebody paid for every single one of 'em.
The Onion's been having a go today at Michael Bay, director of Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and this summer's less-than-blockbuster, The Island. The reason? People found Penguins much more attractive than his latest blockbuster. Goodness me!
I should also mention at this point that I finally got to see Team America: World Police last weekend (thanks Rob) and one of the many things that made me laugh out loud were the lyrics to this little ditty... but it's interesting just how many of the websites that offer lyrics to this song (I looked at six) have exactly the same typos in them. You don't suppose they all copy each other, do you?
Victoria Beckham has never read a book in her life, she told a Spanish reporter this week. That explains a lot.
In the interests of safety, I advise you to make sure you aren't drinking or eating anything when you read The Onion's latest take on Christianity's approach to science: intelligent falling. Funniest thing I've seen on the web this year.
I knew there just had to be a website out there devoted to the one substance that will always prevent me from becoming a vegetarian: bacon. Having said that, I'm not too sure I'd want to try bacon-flavoured ice cream, but what the hell.
You know, some people collect stamps for a hobby. Others build things out of Lego, or Meccano. But there are some individuals out there for whom this is not enough. Instead, they are seized with radical notions, such as:
And then, bless 'em, they go right out and do it. What's best of all is that, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we can look at their achievements and ask: "what were you thinking?"
That dinky little start-up of Daimler Chrysler's, the Smart Car, may make a groovy fashion statement to your peers, but it appears that all you're saying to a lion is "I may be edible." The lionesses in Knowlsey Safari Park are also showing the occasional interest in Mini Coopers. Not good.
I've just sent back my 1900th work unit for the classic version of SETI@home. In that time, the program has identified four "interesting" signals in all the data I've analysed. They're the green dots shown on this map which was produced by a great little program called SETI Spy (unfortunately the program is no longer available as its author, Roelof Engelbrecht, passed away last year).
I'm hoping to keep the classic program running until I hit the 2500 mark, then I will move over to the shiny new BOINC equivalent. Meanwhile, my statistics have got me into the top 15 of the team I'm a member of, the Banzai Institute. Star Trek fans should recognise the names of quite a few of the other members of the team.
Last week I discovered a boxed set of 12 DVDs being offered on sale by PlayUSA, which contains a selection of 50 B-movies ranging from the amusingly inept to the jaw-droppingly awful. Before I ordered the set I did a bit of digging to make sure that the films listed were really included. It turns out that a lot of them weren't, but it didn't put me off at all, for the set includes both The Wild Women of Wongo, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Robot Monster, three of the worst movies of all time.
I must confess I'm sorry that the box set didn't include The Thing with Two Heads as promised. I can remember going and seeing this at the pictures when I was a kid and realising even at the age of 12 or 13 that this was an extraordinarily bad film, despite the fact that it starred Ray Milland, who I'd previously thought of as a first rate movie star.
As you can see, I have a long-standing attraction to awful cinema: I once went to a lecture in London given by Michael Medved, of Golden Turkey Awards fame, where he screened Wild Women of Wongo together with two of Edward D. Wood's more notorious achievements: Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Sitting through such an experience took guts and determination, I can tell you. Perhaps it should be said at this point that I already have Plan 9 from Outer Space, as well as Tim Burton's affectionate tribute to its director, Ed Wood on DVD.
So I am currently working my way through such gems as The Incredible Petrified World, Gammera The Invincible and Eegah! Being the graphics kind of guy I am, I even found a site that has pictures of the posters for pretty much all of them. What a movie experience - I hope you get to enjoy it too.
The good news is that it looks like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been launched successfully. It's expected to arrive at Mars next March, and should be able to provide imagery of the surface with a much higher resolution - it will orbit Mars at less than 200 miles up and send back ten times the data provided by ESA's Mars Express probe or NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. In fact, it's fitted with an onboard solid state memory of 160 Gigabits. That can store a lot of detail, and it's hoped that it will help to establish what happened to the Mars Polar Lander and the Beagle 2, which are both suspected to have crash landed on the surface.
The bad news is that the uncertainty over why the Shuttle's external tank still managed to shed some of its external insulation during Discovery's recent launch has resulted in NASA scrapping the next planned shuttle launch date in September.
It must be the weekend: the sun's gone in and after two weeks in Spain, the weather here feels almost chilly. But experts are warning that in the future we'll have to deal with the same sort of temperatures the Spanish experience on a regular basis, and some suggest that we'll need to adopt the practice of taking a siesta in order to cope. I have to admit that now I'm in my 40s, the idea of having a nap after lunch doesn't sound as silly as it used to do.
...and hopefully a little bit wiser. I see from the Internet Movie Database that I share my birthday with Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid, who is 61 today. Happy birthday to us both!
The RAF had to rescue a man by helicopter this week after he'd been stuck for two days in a gorse bush on the North Yorkshire moors. The story has been circulating quite widely, but nobody has explained how he got there in the first place.
I couldn't do without my USB flash drive, and I try to make sure I always have at least one close at hand. No doubt you've seen (or used) them yourself. But were you aware that these days you can run software from them without having to install the program on the host computer? Couple this with a read/write switch on the flash drive, and you have an extremely useful (and virus-proof) computer support tool. What really appeals to me, though, is that you can now download a portable version of Firefox that will run from a flash drive - very useful.
After goodness knows how many months of waiting, ABC's hit series Lost finally made it across the pond and I spent last night watching the first two episodes on Channel 4 followed by episode 3 on E4. Audience figures were very good indeed, topping Channel 4's previous best for a US import, the first episode of ER.
Well, it's certainly gripping, but this is rather obviously by design. In fact it's blatantly apparent that, to ensure that the audience's attention doesn't wander off, each episode adopts the approach of re-enacting the opening plane crash every ten minutes or so. The programme also regularly features members of the cast being killed either by being sucked into jet engines, dying from gruesome injuries (which should, at least, encourage more air passengers to keep their seat belts fastened) or being mangled by an invisible, Forbidden Planet type monster. As several characters on the island met their demise in the opening episode, either the attrition rate will have to be significantly cut down or the prospect for the series running for more than a couple of years looks bleak. Is this going to be a "red shirt" show where each week a guest star or lowly extra will be introduced, only to be heartlessly killed off, or have the writers come up with something a bit more original?
What's the plot? Like Forbidden Planet, it owes more than a little to the initial action in Shakespeare's The Tempest, but to be honest, it's really not that important. After all, any show that features large numbers of people who survive an air accident in which the plane broke up in mid air (and while it was high enough for the passengers to need oxygen, at that) and who are then marooned on a tropical island populated by polar bears is probably not concerned with either our critical faculties or the more cerebral aspects of plausibility, but all the same it's cracking good fun. Where's it coming from? Well, it was created by the man who brought us Alias, and episode three had Alan Carter from Space: 1999 in it (played by an extraordinarily grizzled Nick Tate), as well as the mysterious shadow man from the X-Files (Terry O'Quinn) and Link from The Matrix Reloaded, (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) so you get the general idea.
There was an amusing review of the programme by Nancy Banks-Smith in the Guardian today that's worth reading (although you may need to register to read it - it's free). While checking where the opening lines of her review came from, I stumbled across a remarkable article on Allan Sherman's song, which - given the location of Lost on a mysterious tropical island - rather appropriately manages to weave Ricardo Montalban into things. Boss! Boss! A plane! A plane!
With the potential for establishing implausible but satisfying links like that, I'll certainly be watching next week.
In a discussion about intelligent life in the Universe, the physicist Enrico Fermi once famously asked, "Where are they?" After all, we've never found unequivocal proof that aliens exist. In the 1930's Orson Welles managed to panic a nation by broadcasting as if the Martians had landed at Grover's Mill in New Jersey; in the 1950s we had flying saucer scares and cheesy b-movies to keep interest going, and in the 70s and 80s we had Close Encounters and E.T. But these days, it seems, people no longer believe that the truth is out there, and many of the UK's UFO investigation teams are shutting up shop and moving on. It's sad, in a way: I used to enjoy reading UFO Magazine, which was published by Graham Birdsall until his untimely death in 2003. I think we all need a little bit of mystery in our lives to give us hope that someone could come along and make things change for the better. It may be a less comfortable prospect, but the reality is that we all have to take responsibility for making that change ourselves, and we should never forget that.
Many thanks to Tom, who was prompted by our discussions of intelligent design yesterday to send me information on the Invisible Pink Unicorn, a satirical religion to end all satirical religions; I hadn't realised just how much of this sort of stuff there is out there. I have therefore investigated further at considerable expense, and as a result I am able to offer you this simple guide to the more interesting belief systems you may or may not wish to investigate: enjoy!
|A spoof religion invented by the satirical writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in the novel Cat's Cradle. It proved absolutely useless at saving the world when the crunch came.
|The Church of the SubGenius
|The followers of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, as I mentioned yesterday. Pay them to find out what you really think!
|The Discordian Society
|Understanding these folks will be easier for - ahem - illuminated people who know the significance of the word fnord or who have heard of the writer Robert Anton Wilson.
|The First Church of Jesus Christ, Elvis
|There are many sites out there taking the "Elvis is God" line just that little bit over the edge, but these folks have the coolest artwork.
|The First Reformed Church of SpongeBob SquarePants
|Have you got what it takes to be an absorbant?
|The Landover Baptists
|These are the folks who will sell you a "what would Jesus do?" thong. Do you need any more of a recommendation than that?
|The Reformed Druids of North America
|In their own words, "a simple and lethargic Druid group" who have some fairly serious and sensible goals, although their website displays occasional flashes of satire.
|What, you mean it doesn't spoof religion? What about Reverend "it's all over people, we don't have a prayer!" Lovejoy then? It's the most subversive show on TV, and we love it!
|The Universal Life and Death Church
|Concentrating on the more "commercial" aspects of organised religion, these guys have ruffled feathers more than once - usually a reliable sign that they're getting things right.
Okay, you get the idea. That's more than enough. Way more than enough. And you wouldn't believe some of the other sites I had to look at that I initially thought were satirical, and then realised, with horror, that they were being serious.
Baseball Jesus statuette, anyone?
You know how it is: you start reading an article about one thing and notice a hyperlink that takes you into a different realm altogether. That happened to me today, which is how I found the Wikipedia entry for made-up words in The Simpsons. Interestingly, at least one of the words in the list has caught on, and a once-fake word has gained official acceptance - in America, at least. Cromulent is now listed in Webster's Dictionary as meaning fine or acceptable. I've read many books on the way in which the English language develops, but with the possible exception of the most famous Homerism, "D'oh!" I don't think I've ever come across a word with an etymology quite as bizarre.
Quite how the Oxford English Dictionary will treat the word is open to speculation, but don't expect any reaction from them immediately. After all, they've only just got round to adding "Ruby Murray" to the OED and the rhyming slang for curry has been around for years.
I mention all this because while I was writing yesterday's blog entry I very nearly used the word dispensity to mean "likelihood of enjoying, giving support to, or joining in with a condition or activity" before realising that the word didn't actually exist. I'd probably created a portmanteau out of dispensation (in the sense of "the act of giving something out" and "permission for exemption from religious observance") and propensity (which was the word I actually ended up using). In the context I wanted to use the word, the idea of exemption from religious observance worked rather well, so why don't we establish that meaning here? Google tells me there are less than a dozen other uses of the word out there besides mine, so let's make it exist. Use it today!
By now you'll be aware that I have a different blog header every month. After spending an hour last night scanning in my latest creations, I wondered what would happen if I didn't draw any more and decided to work out how long it would be before I ran out. I was rather surprised to find out I've got enough to last me until July 2009, although I have to add that some are better than others...
Discovery has returned safely to Earth. As if to show that you can't plan for the unexpected, during the launch Discovery experienced a large bird strike before it had even cleared the umbilical tower: as you can see from this picture, it hit what appears to have been a vulture which bounced off the main tank. Fortunately for the crew it dropped down on the opposite side to the orbiter. Unfortunately for the poor bird, it would have ended up being vaporised by the engine plume.
I've already mentioned this over at Linkbunnies, but it's so good I have to share it with you here as well. You may have seen reports in New Scientist and elsewhere about American school boards who insisted that creationist doctrine is taught in schools and who have ordered staff to point out that evolution is "just a theory" (albeit one with an extremely strong empirical basis). Indeed, the board's use of the word "theory" prompts me to wonder what word they use to describe their own point of view...
At least one person decided that things have gone far enough. Bobby Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas School Board, requesting that equal prominence should be given to his own theory, which involves a deity known as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Well, it works for me. I particularly liked the evidence he provides to support a subsidiary theory that global warming is caused by an acute shortage of pirates. This evidence is available on mugs, posters and t-shirts, which shows that not only is Bobby an intelligent American with a highly-developed sense of irony (yes, they do exist), he also has a shrewd business mind. I'm sure he'll go far.
While looking for stuff about today's entry, I happened across the rather marvellous Science Creative Quarterly, which published Bobby's letter together with some additional biographical information. The Quarterly is a fun read - think McSweeney's Internet Tendency but for science types, and you'll have got the general gist. While I'm recommending other sites, if you're interested in other alternative religions, may I also point you in the direction of the Church of the Sub-genius and the First Reformed Church of Spongebob Squarepants? One wonders if these institutions will also be making a request to the state of Kansas for equal representation; given the propensity of internet users like you and me to support such things, both churches could probably drum up as many adherents worldwide as the intelligent design folks can...
I went back to work today after two weeks on holiday, and traffic was already busy at 7:30 in the morning. Holiday traffic down here is getting ridiculous - on the way home on Saturday afternoon I had to queue up for a mile and a half just to get off the M5 - and this was in the middle of Gloucestershire!
There must have been a further 15 or 20 miles of stationary traffic in front of holidaymakers heading for Devon and Cornwall: just what you need to start your holiday, isn't it? To improve things even more, there are now roadworks on the motorway junction I use to get to the office, which had completely snarled things up on the way home. Not good.
I've been catching up on the discovery of the 10th planet by astronomers working at the Palomar Observatory in California. Apart from a number of images and artists' impressions, I hadn't seen much data (hey, I was on holiday) so I was quite surprised to find out it had first been imaged back in 2003. The thing is at least one and a half times the size of Pluto, and its discoverers are confident of its classification as a planet - although Patrick Moore wasn't so sure on the Sky at Night this week. It also has a name, although this won't be announced until it has been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
What I found truly amazing is that, although it's three times as far away from the Sun as Pluto is, amateur astronomers should be able to acquire images of it for the next six months or so. We've come a long way since Sir William Herschel discovered Uranus from his house in Bath, just down the road from here, in 1781.
As I mentioned yesterday, we stayed up pretty late while we were in Spain. The kids stayed up even later - and as a result one night they got to see a spectacular green fireball of a meteor. Last night I had a quick look to see if I could spot any Perseid meteors before I went to bed, and while I didn't see anything quite as spectacular, I did see three good ones, including one that left a visible trail.
For the best chance of seeing a Perseid, look at the sky towards Cassiopeia (the W-shaped constellation in the northern sky) after midnight. The maximum for this year's shower isn't due for another couple of days, and as the Moon sets before the radiant of the shower (the point in the sky where the meteors seem to originate) rises, it promises to be a good show.
I spent yesterday evening online chatting to friends, including someone who is just about to travel to Spain for the first time. As a result, I didn't get to bed until about 1:30am - but that's what I've been doing for most of the last two weeks.
Because they have to deal with higher daytime temperatures than we do over here, the Spanish follow a rather different timetable for the working day. Businesses in Nerja close for a siesta in the hottest part of the day - usually between 2pm and 5pm. Then they open up again, and the shops stay open until about 11pm. The restaurants don't really get going until 8pm and they will stay open well past midnight. For example, there were a couple of places we walked past every night on the way back to the apartment that were still running with every table full at 1:30 in the morning. In fact the streets don't really calm down until after 2 in the morning, so that's when the bin men collect the garbage. And as it's so hot, garbage has to be collected every day - so if you have a dust cart parking outside your window at that time every night there's no real point in trying to get to sleep any earlier.
It was quite a contrast to life in the UK. We flew in to Birmingham airport on Friday night and driving through Solihull at 11:30 there was hardly a soul to be seen: everywhere was shut. It felt very odd after two weeks of thriving nightlife.
One thing I did hear about while we were away was the confirmation of the discovery of what the media are calling Planet Ten - although its official title is 2003 UB313. There are no doubt many other large lumps of rock and ice out at the edges of the Kuiper Belt, but given the distances involved it's no mean feat to spot one.
The blog has been on its holidays, and is now back up and running feeling very relaxed, fit and tanned. Well, two out of the three, anyway.
Where did I go? I've been to the Costa Del Sol on my first ever visit to Spain with Rebecca, Rob and Ruth and the twins' friends Neil and Becky. We were staying at the resort of Nerja, which is about 50 km east of Malaga. It's probably best known for its caves, which are spectacular. We spent one morning exploring just the first set of caverns, which are open to the public. The rest of the system is even bigger, stretching over 7 kilometres - yet the whole complex was only discovered in 1959 by some teenagers who had wandered into the hills to catch bats.
The weather was very kind to us, with temperatures in the low to mid 30s every day. Despite this it was actually pretty comfortable, as there was a sea breeze most days. I hear that this week they're expecting temperatures in Southern Spain to hit 40, so I'm glad I'm back in the UK. Still, the local agriculture takes advantage of the weather, as there are farms growing avocados and mangoes in the area. The local seafood was superb, too - fresh scampi and calamares taste rather different to the frozen stuff we have to make do with back home.
I'll describe my impressions of Spain and some of the other aspects of the trip in the next few days, but for now I'd better continue with my unpacking and doing the laundry.