That Blog Thing I Do

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: August 2011

Thanks to the Internet, I learnt all sorts of things this month. I found out that Mariachi music is an ideal way to communicate with other species, that there may yet be liquid water on Mars, that it's possible to knit an impressive full-size replica of architeuthis dux out of Sainsburys plastic bags, and that NASA's latest space mission is using astronauts made out of LEGO.

In real life, I ran into a bunch of Daleks, a Cyberman, and some Ood.

Even for me, that was a pretty weird month...


Ever since I first saw it, I have wondered where the photograph of the default Windows XP desktop was taken. You know the one: it shows rolling green hills beneath white fluffy clouds in a spectacularly blue sky.

Today I learnt about photographer Charles O'Rear and found out exactly where that hill is, and how the view has changed since the photo was taken. The landscape in the photograph looked somewhat rural and remote, so I never thought I'd be able to fire up Street View on Google Maps to look at it. Silly me - you'd think I would be better at estimating the ability of the Internet to provide obscure nuggets of useless information by now...


The PS3 has gone away for repair. I'll let you know how things go, but the folk at the place I chose are charging me less than half what Sony wanted and I get my original machine back when they've finished repairing it, not some reconditioned substitute.

The perversity of the subconscious is a curious thing. Even though I've hardly played any games on the thing since about February, the mere fact that now I can't has rekindled my interest in gaming tremendously. Having said that, the PS3 has been getting a lot of use recently. I have been using it to watch movies a lot, and since I've gone back to using my DVD player instead I've realised it is nowhere near as good at upscaling. Even with my eyesight, the difference is quite noticeable. And I do miss the full HD stuff - I have three blu-ray discs to watch, so I am really looking forwards to getting the thing back from the service people.


Several of the graphics people I know have been commenting on Wacom's announcement of their new Inkling product today. I'm not exactly sure what it does or how it works, but it seems to be a ballpoint pen that also functions like a graphics tablet, without needing a graphics tablet - instead the pen sends data to a small receiver that clips to the side of your sketch pad and watches the pen tip. When your drawing is finished, you connect the receiver to a computer and upload it. It's a nice idea, but I can't say I'm seized with the desire to have one for myself. I've never really got on with graphics tablets; I prefer working on paper and scanning the results in to the computer afterwards.


I must have really been in the zone today at work. I got lots done and when I looked at my watch this afternoon, it was time to go home. I like it when that happens. However, I suspect that this pace will now continue until Christmas, which is not so good. By the time November comes around I will definitely need my break at Aldeburgh. While writing this year's Nanowrimo novel, of course.


It says a lot about popular culture that today I can mark the passing of a snooker referee I never met with genuine sadness. But Len Ganley, who has died at the age of 68, was a TV legend. You don't get a song written about you for nothing, you know. I was working references to him in my artwork 25 years ago. My condolences and best wishes go out to his friends and family.


A higher quality setting in Photoshop sometimes reduces JPG quality.


I have spent far too much of this weekend sitting in front of the computer, so in an attempt to compensate I intend to go offline for the rest of the day and focus on other things instead. Drinking wine may well be involved. Have a good one, y'all.


Last night saw the BBC resuming broadcast of the latest series of Doctor Who, and after it finished I got a text from Rob which just said "Thoughts on Dr Who?" We ended up spending quite a while on Skype talking about what we thought of the episode. I've been mulling things over still further since then; as always the blog is of course the place where such contemplation ends up, so let's crack on, shall we?

To start with, I was concerned - because whenever a series introduces someone as a previously unheard of "best mate" of one or more of the principal characters it's usually a sign that some major retconning is about to take place. As the TV Tropes page says, retroactive continuity is a tool used by writers "when the creators are caught writing a story that violates continuity and isn't very plausible." However great Steven Moffat's talent as a writer, the continuity in a science fiction show that's been running since 1963 has been so spaghettified and twisted by reboots, context switches, revisionist purges and Dallas-style "it was all a dream" plot revelations that the whole edifice feels like it's about to collapse. Perhaps that's why Mr Moffat describes the show in terms of fairy tale these days - it's easier to explain away some of the more outrageous leaps in logic or character arcs that we've seen over the past couple of years when the plot doesn't have to follow anything but its own internal logic. But this carries a significant risk. You could argue that the Doctor hasn't really developed as a character over the last 48 years or so, as he still relies on his companions to show him the humanity that he sometimes misses - but in truth he has come a long way and his responses to the images of Rose and Martha in last night's episode ("Guilt!" "More guilt!") underlined that. As a member of the audience, I have a considerable amount of investment in that development and there has to be an underlying solidity to it - and to the characters of the Doctor's associates - that grounds the show and makes it something I can relate to. You can only do so much dicking around with the narrative thread of a show before you start damaging the audience's relationship with the main characters. Things happen, people change, and it's not fair on your audience if you suddenly decide that they un-happen or become never-happened-in-the-first-place.

The introduction of the Mels character wasn't the only abrupt shift in context last night. For example last night we learned that the Silence aren't a race of aliens at all, they're a religious movement or order who are convinced that when somebody asks the first and ultimate question (whatever that may be), "silence will fall." We learned that there's an organisation acting as a sort of Time Police going around inside robots that seem to be a cross between Mystique from the X-Men, the Robert Patrick T-1000, and the Burt Reynolds "control room" sequence from Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid To Ask (although several people I follow on Twitter have suggested The Numskulls comic strip from The Beezer as an alternative reference) and that the Time Police appear to know more about the Doctor than the Doctor himself - although now the Doctor does know about the events in The Impossible Astronaut because Amy and Rory nearly caught him looking at the information on a screen in the TARDIS. And, yes, those Time Police: Rob pointed out to me last night that they may be the organisation that Captain Jack was working for when we first met him in London in 1940 back in The Empty Child - which, as I'm sure you don't need reminding, was written by Steven Moffat. Their technology had a similar style to Captain Jack's clunky time-travel wristband. (But the robot antibodies? Oh, spare me; they were by far the weakest element in the episode.) Even if the Time Police are setting up the eventual return of Captain Jack to Dr Who, the other switches in context felt overdone.

Having said all that, it says a lot about the show that I still thought it was pretty much the best thing on TV this week (although the Comedy Prom on Saturday night and the Spaghetti Western Prom on Friday night meant it was most definitely not a one-horse race, which makes a nice change.)

The principal cast were all superb, but Matt Smith is now firmly settled as my favourite Doctor of all time. He always pitches his performance at an appropriate level and conveys a genuine sense that this is a show about a mad man with a box. I laughed out loud when he got to call Robot Amy "You big ginge" this week.

As we'd expect from a Moffat episode, there was plenty of classic dialogue:

Where are we?

A room!

What room?

I don't know, I haven't memorised every room in the Universe yet! I had yesterday off!

Rory got all the best lines in the episode once again - which is beginning to be Arthur Darvill's specialty. I loved his "Clues? What kind of clues?" in a cod-Scottish accent when Amy told him how to find their daughter, and then there was this...

Is anybody else finding this day just a bit difficult? I'm getting a sort of banging in my head.

Yeah, I think that's Hitler in the cupboard.

That's not helping.

And this:

Can you ride a motorbike?

I expect so. It's that sort of day.

And this:

Okay, okay, I'm trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I'm really trying not to see this as a metaphor.

And this:

How do we fit?

Miniaturisation ray.

How would you know that?

Well, there was a ray, and we were... miniaturised...

The episode went shamelessly for comedy gold when River ducked off-screen to examine her appearance after her regeneration:

Oh, that's magnificent! I'm going to wear lots of jodhpurs!

Talking of River's lines, Alex Kingston's "Hello, Benjamin" continues the running gag of the Doctor referring to River Song as "Mrs Robinson" from The Graduate during "The Impossible Astronaut". Watching the episode again, I realised that the Doctor has promised to marry River Song - even if he didn't realise that was what he was doing at the time. So I suspect that the rest of this series is likely to be rather interesting. Roll on next week - which from the trailer looks like Mark Gatiss ratcheting up the "creepy toys" setting to eleven...


This morning I discovered a cache of links I'd squirrelled away earlier and completely forgotten about, so as my Sunday blogging homework I decided I'd throw them all together in a big lump and let them take their chances. So here they all are.

This week I was not in the least bit surprised to learn that "w00t" is now an "official" word (this just means that the Oxford English Dictionary will include it in its next edition). It looks like the OED aren't ready to take the final leap into full-on l33t-speak just yet, though: they're spelling it with the letter "o" rather than using zeroes. Pfff.


The BBC were reporting about IBM's latest neurosynaptic computing chips this week and people have been talking enthusiastically about the future of machine AI again. The folk at Goldsmiths College tried to temper the speculation with a bit of common sense - Dr Mark Bishop told the Beeb that "[I] understand cognition to be something over and above a process simulated by the execution of mere computations, [and] see such claims as verging on the magical," which of course has only made matters worse, because it immediately brought to mind Arthur C Clarke's third law, viz:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


I've blogged about the amazing collection of animated gifs at If We Don't, Remember Me before, but the author Graham Farmelo pointed out that all the Kubrick ones have now been gathered up into one handy and somewhat overwhelming page. It's a masterclass in cinematic style.


Who would have thought that web surfing was the key to productivity? This isn't the first study to point out that a little distraction is a good way to refresh those tired neurons; there have been others, but the point bears repeating. As a training specialist I learned that the amount of productive attention you can devote to something is limited, and that you'll only get your students to focus on one specific thing for around 10 minutes before their performance drops off and they need a refresher. Changing instructional style (or activities) is a good way of resetting the clock so it should come as no surprise that surfing the web is another way of achieving the same effect. However, I also learned that the reinvigorating effect of a break maxes out after 15 minutes; you gain no additional benefit after that. So if you're spending a couple of hours at a time on the web, you really can't claim to be recharging your batteries, I'm afraid.


I'm taking a long weekend break and I've spent the day at home. I was up and about by 9am and got a fair bit done: the car's taxed for another year (ouch - you don't want to know how much that cost me), I've done some more gardening, and put a couple of loads of washing through the machine. Strange as it may seem, it's been very relaxing. But this afternoon I was sitting in the living room reading a book when I suddenly realised that I couldn't keep my eyes open. I was exhausted - to the point where I went back to bed and slept for 90 minutes or so. I woke up again at 5:30 and feel a bit better - so I hope that's set me up for the Bank Holiday.


Last November you may remember that I had a spectacular day out at the Snape Maltings when I attended Thomas Dolby's TEDx Aldeburgh conference. Yesterday I noticed on the Aldeburgh website that they will be holding another one on November 5th. The evening before, Mr Dolby will be at the Maltings kicking off a British tour to promote his first new studio album in over a decade. Thanks to my friends Julian and Nikki giving me a very well-timed heads up about it, we're all going to be sitting on the front row when he does. I can't wait.


There has been a lot of discussion this week about the founder of Apple Computer after he handed in his resignation. Of all the coverage that I've seen, I was most moved by this sweet story from Allen Paltrow about growing up as a huge Apple fanboy and, one day, meeting Steve Jobs. Read to the end of the article, because the follow-up is beautiful.


Here's an animated map of the impact of this week's earthquake on the East Coast of the United States, as revealed by messages about it on Twitter. It's fascinating to see a pattern - the fault line, perhaps? - as it emerges out of lots of 140-character tweets.

Boing Boing also ran a story about animal reactions to the quake observed at the Smithsonian National Zoo. The zoo's press release describes some unusual behaviour (particularly from their great apes) that took place before the quake hit. Apart from the Giant Pandas, that is, who apparently didn't react at all. Very mellow, those Giant Pandas.


The Trendy Guide to Graphic Design actually made me laugh out loud yesterday, which was quite an achievement after a rough week. Tip of the hat, as always, to Colin Peters who really does find more than his fair share of the Internet's gems.


Thanks to Bruce Sterling I am now reading a happy little scientific paper about the likelihood that our part of the Universe will eventually and suddenly end in a "negative-energy bubble collapse." Imagine the Big Bang in reverse and you've got as good an idea of what that's likely to mean as anybody. I suppose the good thing about it - if it ever happens - is that it'll be over so fast we won't know what hit us.


The thing about the armchairs in the living room is that when you get up after sitting in them for a while, they spend some time reverting to their former shape; the leather creaks as it settles back down. As a result, I'm fairly used to random noises in the house when I'm by myself. But this afternoon as I sat typing at the computer (yes, I managed to get a little bit more writing done today, I have had a very productive weekend) I eventually realised that the various rustlings and bumps coming from the direction of the armchair by the bay window were a little more active than they normally are. So I went to have a look.

Of course as it's me we're talking about here, I grabbed the video recorder first...

Once I'd retrieved the key for the window, it only took a few seconds for me to free the little bugger and he flew off into the street. And he's clearly none the worse for his experience, either, as he had soon returned to the back garden. He's been working his way through a fat ball on the bird table for most of the afternoon and as I type this just before 8pm in the evening, he's just paid the bird table another visit. Makes a change from the raucous starlings, which are now old enough to get touchy about territory - there have been quite a few avian punchups on the patio this afternoon.

It's been a lovely day, though - I did a few hours of gardening this morning and I finally got round to airing and cleaning my camping gear after the inundation it got at Latitude last month. I even have a set of straight tent pegs again.

When I clean the bird table I've been putting the bird seed on the lawn, and it became clear last night that the amount of birdseed lying around is one of the reasons why I get regular visits from hedgehogs. After it went dark last night, two of them were happily hoovering up the seeds in the grass at the top of the garden. And I know this, because once again they were advertising their presence with a ridiculous cacophony of snorting. This time, I had the Zoom ready to go and the results are a distinct improvement on my last attempt at recording them. And this is just a rendered down, normalised mp3 - the original 96 kbps file, although quieter, is amazingly detailed. It's also enormous, hence the lower resolution here...


The RSS feed for the blog causes me far more hassle than it ought to. I check it by subscribing with Thunderbird, which this week steadfastly refused to recognise any of the updates I've made since the 18th. Until just now, when it happily showed them to me. Although as far as I know the xml is W3C compliant, Thunderbird occasionally goes through phases of just not wanting to know. I've already discovered that putting unusual punctuation marks in the <description> field is a Bad Thing but there's clearly something else not right somewhere. Whatever it is will remain a mystery for the time being, I guess - I have no idea what I did to fix things this time round.


I clouted the Playstation with the ironing board while I was doing the ironing a couple of days ago, and it looks like the PS3 wasn't very happy about it. Last night I discovered that the HDMI port is only working intermittently, which wasn't the best way to start the weekend. I guess a visit to the Sony Centre at Cribbs is on the cards next week - which I am not looking forwards to. Given that it's Sony we're talking about here, I doubt that any repair is going to be cheap.

On the other hand, it means that I have even less reason to turn the TV on at the moment. Twitter is agog at the moment thanks to the return of several long-running television programmes that I can't stand. X-Factor, Big Brother, All Star Celebrity whatever-it-is all do nothing for me other than set my teeth on edge. I can't summon any enthusiasm for watching the things, let alone discussing them on the Internet.

It's not all bad, though: there's a Brahms symphony from the Proms on BBC HD at the moment so that's what I'm watching this evening.


It's been a better day today; I've got quite a bit done. This morning there was much tidying up. As a result I can actually see the surface of the coffee table and the dining table. This afternoon, the focus moved outside and the patio is no longer covered in hedgehog droppings. I've potted a couple of plants and tidied up what used to be the rockery, and I've decided I will be getting a couple of the bigger shrubs in the back removed so that I can see what's going on in the rest of the garden. The number of birds coming and going is still growing, and it would be nice to watch them from my desk.

I've even managed to get a little bit of writing done as well. Of such minor triumphs is my happiness constructed these days - well, that and the bottle of Deux Fleurs that's currently breathing in the kitchen...


If you haven't seen the "stay out of my room while I'm on holiday" photos from Facebook yet, go and have a look. The amount of creativity that there is in that family leaves me awestruck.


To celebrate next Tuesday's announcement of something-or-other by the one and only Mr Tom Waits, please enjoy this rendition of God's Away On Business, as interpreted by the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. This is exactly what the Internet was invented for.


James Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas, has been looking at the way we use language. After discovering that people change the way they think about significant events in their lives if they write about them, he wanted to find out "if there was a healthy way to write" and his findings are fascinating. He discovered that the way people use pronouns like "I" "she" "they" or "you" had a significant correlation with their mental health; for example, poets who eventually committed suicide used I-words more than non-suicidal poets.

Another of his team's findings was that the higher status someone has, the less likely they are to use I-words in communications. And just in case you're not sufficiently floored by all this, Pennebaker also found that he could predict a student's college performance reasonably well just by analysing the comparative rates at which they used nouns as opposed to verbs and pronouns. In other words, using lots of nouns and few verbs or pronouns was reliably associated with higher grade point averages. What has intrigued Pennebaker is the fact that while he's been able to develop computer systems that can make a range of reliable predictions by analysing written communications using simple rules like this, human beings are steadfastly less successful at carrying out that same analysis. It appears to be something that we just don't do, even though it's obviously quite easy to do.

I wonder why?


The postman delivered my latest gadget today: a Zoom Q3HD field recorder. Yes, after struggling with Audacity trying to remove a nasty 700 Hz hum from that recording of hedgehogs I made last week, I went looking for something that I can use to record stuff outdoors at decent quality and with no buzzing noises. I ended up with the Zoom, which will record 16-bit or even 24-bit sound at 96 kHz. Not only does it do a grand job of recording sound for sampling purposes, it can also record from external sources via a line-in socket. Best of all, it shoots video in 1080P HD. Here's my first go at doing all of the above...

I'm very impressed with the sound and video quality and the thing's a doddle to use. It records to SD memory cards and I've got several of those lying around already, which is particularly handy. An eight gig card will let me record an hour of video at full HD which should be more than I need!


Now this is how you take portraits of people. Idil Sukan's photographs of performers at the Edinburgh Fringe are quite extraordinary and she's uploaded loads more on her Flickr stream, which is stuffed full of brilliant pictures. Thanks to Lilly for the link!


It has been brought to my attention by my learned colleague Wendy that the latest social problem to assail our civilisation is the menace known simply as Kitten Huffing. I think it's shocking. Why hasn't David Cameron acted to stamp out this heinous practice? Doesn't he know the damage it can do? Has he no idea of the countless lives that have been ruined? Has he no sympathy?

We should start an e-petition or something.

Before it's too late!


I really, really love the Internet. After reading about the exploits of an eight-metre squid knitted entirely out of Sainsbury's carrier bags in Berlin (yes, you did read that correctly) and commenting on Twitter today that I really want my own version of Plarchie for Christmas, I was informed by his concerned creator Deadly Knitshade that this would be an incredibly bad idea, as I would be eaten.

Eaten in a festive manner, certainly, but eaten nonetheless. And you can't argue with that.


I'm not your average middle-aged bloke. There's probably a certain element of Aspie tendencies in my genetic makeup but if you've explored much of this website you've probably already come to the same conclusion. These days I'm old enough and experienced enough to recognise this, and make the conscious effort to do something about it. I'm far better in social situations these days than I used to be when I was younger. But every now and again, I find myself in situations where I'm confronted with what might have been if those Aspie tendencies had been left to grow unchecked. Today was one such day...

RNAS Yeovilton is the home of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and they have several hangars filled with a spectacular collection of aircraft from the heyday of British aviation, including Concorde 002. I'd been meaning to pay a visit for ages, but when I heard from a colleague that this weekend they were hosting a two-day Dalek Extravaganza, my mind was made up. Now, I've done these events before - you may remember me blogging about Holt's Dalek Day back in June 2006 - so I expected to get a few decent shots, but even if I didn't there was the Museum's collection of aircraft to look at. I grabbed the camera and set off for deepest Somerset. I arrived just after the museum opened for the day but there were already plenty of cars in the car park. On the lawn outside the Swordfish Restaurant, a David Tennant lookalike and a Billie Piper lookalike (complete with huge gun) were having a conversation with a Dalek (as you do). By the entrance to the museum itself, there were a couple of Daleks posing for photographs:

Enough with the Daleks already

The black one looked very convincing indeed but when it spoke, even through the ring modulation circuitry of the Dalek's voicebox it was obvious that it had a very strong Bristolian accent which made it rather less intimidating that it would otherwise have been! The other Dalek turned out to be fitted with a water pistol and when he squirted my camera with it, he came very close to getting his plunger inserted where the sun doesn't shine...

Inside the museum things were already beginning to warm up and there were a couple of Ood on hand to greet any family with small children. There were wide-eyed kids wandering about in fancy dress, obviously having a whale of a time and not at all fazed by all the Daleks that were trundling about. In the main hall I spotted the TARDIS parked off at the back behind Concorde, while another Dalek was standing next to what is in my opinion the museum's prettiest attraction - the Fairey Delta Dart:

Fairey Dart - and Dalek

There were lots of other Dr Who monsters wandering around, including an impeccable pair of Venetian robots from The Girl in the Fireplace, a very convincing scarecrow from The Family of Blood, a smiler, a somewhat less convincing pig monster (who really should have tucked the bottom of his mask inside the collar of his uniform), a rather lonely-looking cyberman, and K-9. There were also a fair few people in fancy dress. Some people were obviously there as part of the event, but some... weren't. The quality of their costumes made that fairly obvious. Some (particularly the ones who were following the Daleks around) needed to be taken gently aside and persuaded that it might be better for all concerned if they just, you know, stopped doing that. And to be honest it all felt more than a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe that was just my reaction to seeing how I might have behaved when I was younger and didn't know any better, but maybe it was because it really was creepy - I don't know.

An audience gathered under Concorde for the first big event of the day, which turned out to be a sort of Dalek-centric version of Question Time with decent versions of the Fifth Doctor, the Tenth Doctor and Amy Pond doing the moderating. All questions were posed by small children in the audience, and the Daleks gave some fairly funny answers. But for the majority of the time what was being said was completely inaudible. The PA just couldn't cope with the size of the hall and only one of the microphones being used appeared to have a decent battery pack connected to it.

After that event finished I still needed to shake off the lingering feeling of creepiness so I went for a wander round the rest of the museum. The big attraction is the fairly new "Carrier Experience" exhibit, which shows what life was like on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal circa 1974. It's extremely well done - both immersive and engaging and as a learning experience it was really rather impressive. The finale - involving a ride down to the maintenance bay on a deck lift - was surprisingly atmospheric. But once I got back out in the main halls again I still felt like there was something wrong, and even though I couldn't really put my finger on what was upsetting me, it all felt a little bit tawdry. By half past one I'd had enough and made my way back to the car.

Yes, I'd been thoroughly and comprehensively out-geeked. And you know what? That's a good thing; by the time I got home I felt positively mainstream.


Things didn't go exactly according to plan for one balloonist at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this weekend. On Friday Martin Read and his stepson Terry lost more height than anticipated as they swapped gas bottles and ended up hitting several houses in Kingswood before they managed to get the burners going again and climb out of danger.

Everyone seems to have responded to the accident with good humour; the same can't be said of the reception given to the hapless crew who had to land up the road in Southmead, though.


Last night after sunset I was sitting on the back step (as I often do) looking up at the night sky. I was taking advantage of a perfectly clear sky to watch for Perseids and a possible aurora after the CMEs that were reported earlier in the week, but had no luck. I did see a particularly bright Iridium flare, though; Heavens Above had it as -8 magnitude, and that's bright.

But my skywatching was rudely interrupted by a couple of regular visitors to the back garden, who were crashing about in the undergrowth and making some quite ridiculous noises. It was very hard not to laugh, but I have a soft spot for hedgehogs - I haven't seen a slug around here for years.


Reports of the mess in London this morning make for sad, depressing reading. The news seems to indicate that the riots were sparked by tensions with the police following the fatal shooting of a man earlier in the week. I can remember watching the news reports coming in about the 1992 Los Angeles riots which occurred after four police officers, charged with using "excessive force" on Rodney King, were acquitted - a verdict which, if you've seen the video of the incident that was shot by a member of the public without the police officers' knowledge, can best be described as questionable. In LA, anger at the police boiled over on to the streets and 53 people ended up dead. The events surrounding Thursday's shooting in London are less clear, but the end result was similar - although fortunately nobody was killed last night.

The saddest part of it all is that the community has effectively destroyed itself by protesting like this. After the LA riots, there was literally nowhere to buy food in South Central LA: all the food shops had been burned out. Last night there were widespread reports of looting and several buildings this morning look like something out of the blitz. How many shop owners in Tottenham are going to feel like maintaining a spirit of togetherness or trust when a bunch of their customers spent last night strolling off with their livelihood?

As Twitter user Tony Parsons observed, "you can never tell who is fighting for justice and who is just fighting for a wide screen, hi-def plasma telly". In the end, the results are the same: the only message this sort of thing sends to the rest of the world is that when the idiots are running the show, everyone loses.


As I type this, the sun is trying to come out. It's been raining, off and on, for the last twelve hours or so and last night the rainfall was heavy enough to disrupt the signal on my Freesat box. That doesn't happen very often, and I could hear the noise of the rain over the television as I watched the network premiere of Watchmen on Channel 4. Further east, there was flooding and the Met Office are warning that parts of Scotland could be affected today.

I mowed the lawn yesterday for the first time in a couple of weeks, and I'm glad I did; today really doesn't feel like a gardening day. In fact, today feels like a "chilling out and doing very little" kind of day. I'm still trying to shake off the cold I had last month, and thanks to various aches and pains I'm still sleeping badly. I've only been back at work for a couple of weeks and I already feel like I need another holiday. I think I need to ramp up my creative activities a bit and give myself the satisfaction of actually achieving something.


Thanks to Hive for pointing out that the NASA Juno spacecraft, due to set off to Jupiter tomorrow, will be carrying small figurines of the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno as well as the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. But the best bit? The figurines are made out of Lego.


It really looks like there's liquid water on Mars. Something in a set of images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appears to be flowing out of rocks warmed by the sun and then disappearing, and the best explanation the scientists have got is that it's salty, muddy water. The implications of this could be profound - because everywhere that there's liquid water on Earth, there is also life.


(Or at least I hope you have been watching) the video of a Mariachi Band serenading a Beluga Whale which has gone viral this week. Fuldog observed that, judging by the whale's reaction we should use mariachi music when communicating with alien civilisations - I agreed, because after all we already know of one omnipotent alien who really, really digs mariachi music.


Neil Fraser built a centrifuge in his living room so he could find out how increased gravity would affect a lava lamp. He built it out of Meccano. "Runs were conducted from the relative safety of the next room while peeking through a crack in the door," he reports. It sounds terrifying.

Interestingly enough, experiments in orbit have proved that you can still get convection (the process that happens inside a lava lamp) in the absence of gravity. The thermal expansion of a material can drive convection in the same way that changes in buoyancy do here on Earth.


There's a feature on the BBC website today about a guy who has been a hero of mine since I first found out about him in the 1970s - the King of the Kustomizers George Barris.

He designed the Batmobile for the Adam West TV series as well as the Munsters' Koach, the Beverly Hillbillies' truck, and the sinister black Lincoln in The Car. The Batmobile alone is enough to ensure he has my undying admiration; when I was a small boy, I was obsessed with that car.


After blogging yesterday about sleeping badly, I got a decent night's rest - until five o'clock in the morning, when I was woken up by a flock of geese flying over. You should have heard the noise!


The weather is hot and humid and as usual, I'm having difficulty sleeping. When you're lying in bed trying to rest, the hours can really drag by, believe me. Work could be going better, too; it's only Tuesday evening and already I'm wishing it was Friday. There must be more to life than this, but whatever it is, it's successfully managing to evade me at the moment.


On Sunday evening I walked into the back garden and stood there, staring into space and wondering why all the neighbourhood dogs were barking. After a remarkably long period of time I realised the large object hanging right over the house wasn't something that was normally there, and I dived for the camera...

Dropping In

They landed on the playing field by the village hall. I'm sure it won't be the last balloon we see over the village this summer, either, as it's nearly time for the Bristol Balloon Fiesta once again.