A Fresh Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: August 2016

August seemed to go past in a blur. This had a lot to do with the fact that I found myself a new, awesome job. Spare time was no longer in such abundant supply, but I still managed to keep on target for my songwriting endeavours.


...and then two come along at once?

Extraterrestrial civilizations, that is.


In the same month that I found myself blogging about weird observations of a star 1480 light years away which (perhaps) hint that there's an advanced extraterrestrial civilization out there busily surrounding their star with solar panels, I find out that SETI researchers have recorded a strong candidate signal from somewhere a lot closer to home: a star just 95 light years away. HD 164595 is older than our Sun, and almost identical to our own star. We know it has at least one planet - something the size of Neptune - so it's already an interesting-sounding system. The timing of the signal is very interesting too, as it would have been sent when they were seeing our planet as it was in 1826 - by which time the western world's Industrial Revolution was drawing to a close and its effects on the makeup of Earth's atmosphere - a distinctly unambiguous indicator of intelligent life here - would have become visible to a sufficiently large telescope.

Nobody's saying right now if the signal had content, but it will be discussed at a meeting of the IAA SETI Permanent Committee, which is scheduled to take place during the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 27th. I'll be paying very close attention to that.


I use Statcounter to track visits to the website so I can see the occasional manic peaks when, for example, William Gibson retweets one of my blog entries and the rate of site visits spikes by two orders of magnitude. Last week I got an email from them telling me that the relevant code on my site "was broken" and they were no longer able to track visits.

When I took a moment or two to sit down and see what was going on, it became that my code wasn't broken; Statcounter have changed their code to fold in a secure communications layer - apparently intended to support the Shopify e-commerce platform, which I don't use, and I can't imagine a reason why I would use it right now. Clearly this is not the same as my existing code being broken and I was more than a little peeved by having to change the code in well over two hundred web pages as a result - particularly when I discovered that I had to it by hand, as the find/replace routines across multiple files on NetBeans and Notepad plus plus do not play well with code.

Not cool, Statcounter. Not cool.


It's my sister's birthday today. Happy birthday, Annabelle!


I'm managing to stay on track for Fifty/Ninety, more or less; as of Thursday afternoon, I've written and recorded twenty six pieces of music and uploaded them to the site's servers.

My working method is gravitating more and more towards Ableton Live. I used to record most instruments against a click track on the Korg 32-track recorder and then zap them across to the DAW, but I'm now playing directly in to Live. The ability to specify punch in and punch out points to an insanely detailed degree within Live means that I can polish individual instrument tracks far more, and that's given me the confidence to attempt more challenging musical arrangements. I can hear the improvement, too - even over what I was doing back in February for FAWM.

My singing has also improved. I've moved away from double- or even quadruple-tracked vocals and gone for single vocal takes. The NT1-A mic means I can hear far more detail when I'm recording, so I've been able to add more expression into my voice. And despite having a copy of Celemony's "auto-tune" software Melodyne to play with, I haven't used it at all so far (which really surprised me).

I'll be back recording more stuff this afternoon.


The last couple of weeks have flown by. I'm really enjoying my new job, and the work is taking me into new areas of learning and development that are fascinating. Since you asked, my official role is Learning and Development Consultant with Profitability Learning & Development Services, based in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

As you'll see from the website, the company develops business simulations. It's a bit like designing a playground and populating it with toys that people can interact with, then engineering situations where they discover things as a result. Needless to say this appeals a lot to my creative side. This week alone I've been an instructional designer, programmer, video editor, composer and voiceover artist. I'm having a whale of a time.


I just got a card from my bank thanking me for being a customer for twenty five years. A nice touch, but - blimey. Has it really been that long?


Back in January I blogged about how the weirdness level of Tabby's Star, also known as KIC 8462852, had been dialled back considerably after a closer look at the historical data suggested that the star's progressive dimming was an artefact of the change in processes used to measure luminosity over time, not changes in the star's luminosity itself.

But now the weirdness has ramped back up again after Ben Montet of CalTech and Josh Simon of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington uploaded a paper to the Arxiv server which describes their analysis of the data for the star from the most recent source - the Kepler space telescope. Their conclusion is that the star really is dimming, and that over a period of 200 days during the observations, KIC 8462852 dimmed by a whopping two percent.

Stars don't do this.

The authors of the paper politely suggest that the "cloud of comets" theory proposed to explain the star's behaviour

"does not naturally account for the long-term dimming in the light curve observed in (the) data, suggesting that this idea is, at best, incomplete."

As Montet told the website Gizmodo, he and Simon spent some time trying to convince each other that what they were seeing in the data wasn't real but weren't able to. It's an extraordinary phenomenon.

The story reminds me once again of an event that a character refers to in Vernor Vinge's novel Across Realtime. The character has arrived in the distant future after being thrown into stasis shortly before humanity experienced a Technological Singularity. She describes how mankind's engineering capacity had grown to the point where one unexplained project dimmed the Sun by five percent.

Are we seeing this happen out there for real?


I'm really digging the Vivaldi Browser at the moment. Vivaldi is a fork of the Opera browser (which was recently bought by a consortium of Chinese companies) which has retained many of the useful features that the original program subsequently dropped.

You can really fiddle with options in Vivaldi. The Settings page is fantastic - much better than the other browsers I've used. It's worth giving it a go if you're fed up with Firefox's bloat or Microsoft's browser breaking things.


The new job is fun. I don't think I've found myself laughing so much at work for at least a decade...


...but work has meant that I am behind the curve on Fifty/Ninety at the moment. I'm going to head into the studio now and try to catch up.