Hail To The Blog, Baby!

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: September 2003

The evenings start to close in, the links got weirder, and I found a new alarm clock.

In September the blog continued, with yet another new banner...


Yes, term has commenced and the students have started at UWE.

Traffic mayhem has, naturally, ensued. So I've taken to coming in earlier and going home later. The fact that as a result I've effectively lost two hours of my spare time every day pisses me off. A lot.

And rather than directing traffic and trying to keep tempers from fraying, the police were just sitting in the lay-by booking people driving on their own down the carpool lane. A more cynical soul might suggest that it's only natural for them to be concentrating on a revenue stream rather than the common public good, but of course I wouldn't dream of doing so...


A mate of mine sent me this URL from a college project, which has to be the most bonkers thing I've seen in quite a while. I mean - when your lecturer suggests that it'd be really great fun to implement internet protocol using a novel transmission medium, and someone suggests bongo drums, do you:

a) nod sympathetically and edge toward the door
b) laugh heartily at his excellent joke, or
c) start thinking hard about the technical implications and potential bandwidth available?

You've guessed it - this lot picked c). I don't think any broadband providers will be losing sleep, but if my dial up connection gets any worse I might be giving them a call...


(all together now) Syn-chro-nic-it-eee...

Don't get me started on the confusion most people have between synchronicity (a Jungian concept on the significance of shared events, and the idea of coincidence as a meaningful act) and synchrony (things that happen at the same time). I've read papers by college professors who don't know the difference. Maybe it's because synchronistic has more syllables than synchronous. Maybe it just sounds cooler, I don't know. But that's beside the point.

MVC have been doing an offer on Police albums this month, and you can pick up most of the back catalogue for £6.99 - which is pretty reasonable, I thought. So I bought Ghost in The Machine and Synchronicity, as my vinyl copies have been played rather a lot over the years, and are scratched to hell. But what a shoddy job A&M made of the CDs! The booklet for Synchronicity is full of typos (one track is apparently called wrapped around you finger) and in places the lyrics appear to be quite different from what Sting's singing. Don't these people have QA departments? Frankly, if they'd got a foreign exchange student with no knowledge of English in to type the whole thing up, it would probably have been an improvement. Unless, of course, that's what they actually did...

When I went back to the LP sleeve in disbelief, I noticed something else, too: the credit for words and music for Miss Gradenko was originally by Stewart Copeland, the words and music (and dodgy singing) for Mother was by Andy Summers. Not any more: if you read the CD notes, it appears all songs were written and published by GM Sumner. Considering how much Sting must earn from publishing, does he really need the extra money from these two songs?


In Cheltenham, as a matter of fact. My cousin Janet was down for the weekend, and we headed out for a bit of retail therapy. More importantly, there's a French restaurant on the Rotunda in Montpellier in Cheltenham called Le Sacre Fleur. We always go there when we visit, and we always seem to have the same thing: boudin. It's the French version of black pudding, which I first encountered in Louisiana, but the boudin that they serve here blows it away. It's gorgeous stuff, shipped over from France every week, and served with a couple of slices of baked apple. Yummy.


It's been a long old week, I've been working hard, and I really haven't had time to put all the stuff in that I've wanted to - so today you get a bumper entry... Enjoy!


I've always fancied building my own Dalek. Yes, you were listening to the programme on the radio this morning that named the site above as their website of the day, weren't you? But I bet you've never driven a Dalek down Kensington High Street, have you? I have. And here I am blending in unobtrusively in Kensington Gardens:

Chris's finest hour: steering a Dalek round London!

The Dalek was the mascot of the Royal College of Science's rag week, and when I was there <mumble mumble> years ago, we spent a Saturday afternoon in it taking turns to drive it and collecting money for charity. It stopped traffic. Great fun!


Naaah, there's the meteor... (You have seen Pixar's Tiny Toy Stories, haven't you?)

From a research paper published this week by Princeton University, it seems that the Chicxulub impact has been acquitted as the cause of the mass extinction 65 million years ago. The paper suggests that, based on fossil records of single-celled organisms called foraminifera found on the KT boundary, it seems that the impact took place about 300,000 years before the big die-out. So, what really killed off the dinosaurs? It's suggested that an even bigger impact took place somewhere else, and we haven't found where yet. All the same, for you folks who put money on the cause being the Deccan Traps (a supervolcano that erupted in India round about that time), it seems that the jury's still out...


After Friday's quake off the coast of Japan you may be interested in some resources on the web to do with earthquakes. Being the sad, anorak-oriented kind of guy that I am, I quite often have a look at the US Geological survey's site showing recent earthquakes in California (although in mitigation, I have to say I have friends and relatives out there.) If California isn't your particular interest, then here's a map of the entire world showing recent quakes. Don't say we don't try to fulfil your every requirement here at the Head First Only Club!

You're probably already familiar with the Richter scale, but did you know that it isn't the most widely used scale for assessing how powerful an earthquake is? What you need is the Modified Mercalli scale, which goes from one to twelve. That's one of the facts I learnt from a little booklet called Earthquakes and Earthquake Faults of California which my friend Roz and her Mom gave me on Roz's birthday in San Francisco back in 1984 and yes, Roz, I still have it!


There's always something interesting to be read in the Fortean Times, and I've been a regular reader for 20 years or so. They've long been fascinated by the phenomenon of almost inaudible hums that people hear in certain parts of the world. They were initially dismissed by scientists as "psychosomatic" (which was usually read as "imaginary"), but now it seems that they do have a physical cause, as the Indianapolis Star reports. Acoustic engineers tracked down fans on two industrial buildings in Kokomo that were generating low-frequency noise. Intriguing, as Commander Data would say.


As you may already know if you've had a look at my digital photography page, I've got heavily into making QuickTime panoramas. I recently sent a CD of them off to my brother in San Francisco. He liked them a lot, and he emailed me this link to today's article in the New York Times (you may need to register with them to see the article.) The article has a gallery of panoramas produced by other people - one of the funkiest is this panorama from Beijing, complete with a computer-generated cycle race and lens flare! I also like the panorama taken from the roof of the Penn Hotel in New York. Now, all I need to do is figure out how to use PanoTools, and Java...


It looks like Michael Moore is ready to unleash another classic on to an unsuspecting American public. The author of Stupid White Men has the chapter listing up for his next book, "Dude, Where's My Country" at his official site. I think it's fairly safe to say that I'll be ordering a copy.


I can't remember which comedy show parodied Skippy with the quote above, but I used to take the exploits of Australia's favourite TV marsupial with a pinch of salt. But it seems that kangaroos are indeed caring and intelligent animals - at least the one who found a farmer unconscious in a field and raised the alarm is. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction...


I had another enjoyable weekend up in Solihull with Rebecca, Ruth and Rob. Apart from going for a walk in the local park, there was much playing of video games, of the GameCube variety. I'm bordering on being addicted to the GameCube now. I think I may well have to get one. My sister has been suggesting that it'd be fun to get one for ages, and I've held out so far, but after playing Rob's BMX bike game (where you scored points for falling off in a particularly spectacular fashion) I'm seriously weakening. I liked Super Smash Bros, too. But I have to admit that most of the other games were beyond me. Using leaves for hang gliding? Being attacked by iron stoves? Squirting water out of a gun and flying through the air? Hmmm...

On the Sunday morning we were wandering around the shopping centre. This was probably a mistake, as I ended up buying yet more books, including Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and a copy of the enormous Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction that cost me just £7.

Talking of SF, in another shop I found this superb alarm clock of Robbie The Robot from the movie Forbidden Planet. Result!

Is that cool or what?

Welcome to Altair Four, gentlemen...

I've just spent the last hour or so listening to the new ZZ Top album Mescalero. It's cracking stuff, although I doubt it'll rekindle the planetary success that Eliminator earned them. But I was rather surprised by the "hidden" track at the end: a cover of the old classic "As time goes by" which, if you've ever seen Casablanca, is likely to be as weird for you as it was for me. Which, of course, is exactly what the Lone Wolf Boys were about on previous albums. Neat-o!


If you've been hanging around the net for long, you'll know that there are hundreds of really impressive pictures out there that look too good to be true. They are too good to be true - because they've been faked. Remember the shark and the helicopter "photo of the year" that was doing the rounds a while back, for instance?

Still, every now and again, you come across a photo which is breathtaking, and real. Urban legends site Snopes have an article on a forest fire picture which is genuine, and which knocked my socks off. I don't think I'd have wanted to be anywhere near the photographer when he took it!


Snopes is always a good place to check any of those internet emails that arrive at regular intervals - you know the ones: they always begin "this is amazing, and it's been proved true!" Surprise surprise, most of the time they haven't been proved true at all. Most of the time they're complete drivel. There's so much drivel out there, it's amazing that people believe anything on the web. In that spirit, it's refreshing to see some excellent sites out there acting as monuments to human gullibility. One that found its way on to my browser's favourites list is the Museum of Hoaxes, which is well worth a visit.


Almost every time I fly somewhere, some idiot decides that, despite being told that it's not safe to use a mobile phone in or near an aircraft, it's perfectly OK for them to use theirs. I'm sorry, but I believe that such people should be nailed to a desk and told to write out this article from the Sydney Morning Herald on the effects of cellphones and laptops on aircraft systems a hundred times.

A word of advice, though: if you're flying soon, you might want to read it when you get back.


This superhero is different; primarily because he really exists. Yes, folks, it's Angle Grinder Man! No Denver Boot is safe while he's in town! Will wheel clampers cower under his steely gaze? Will traffic wardens quiver in dread? Or will the police hunt him down and nick him for criminal damage? Hmmm, that's something The Incredible Hulk never seemed to worry about, for some reason. Can't imagine why not...


If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll have caught on that I believe the music industry has lost touch with reality. It's now desperately trying to save itself with draconian measures that are alienating the very people it depends on for survival. Suing a twelve year old kid for downloading music? Mmm, imagine how much better everyone thinks of you now, folks. What excellent PR work. Good job!

Have a look at this article on the success of the DVD market compared with CD sales. I totally agree - the rate at which I buy DVDs far outstrips the rate at which I buy CDs. They're cheaper, for goodness sake! I wonder what the record industry makes of all this. Oh, wait, that's them in the corner over there. With their fingers in their ears, going "I'm not listening, I'm not listening..."

And finally on this subject: will the record companies actually sell you the products that people are downloading? I've looked for a number of albums by various artists recently only to find that they've been deleted. In other words, the record companies have decided that they can't make sufficient amounts of money selling a CD that costs pence to press, so they withdraw it from sale altogether. And, as they own the copyright to the music, rather than the musician who produced it in the first place, the artist is effectively prevented from making his or her music available to the public. Just how screwed is that as a way of doing business?


Not just a Go West album, also a weather forecast. It has been gorgeous here for the last week or so. It's really a drag when you see what it's like outside and I'm stuck in front of a computer in the office. So what am I doing sitting in front of a computer this evening, when I could be outside? I must be crazy. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to shut down, grab a beer, and go and sit in the garden. Cheers!


I went to see Judie Tzuke in concert last night at the Salisbury City Hall. It was wonderful to see her touring again, and that voice is still utterly amazing. The final encore was a rendition of "For You" with just a piano accompaniment, and it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes - and the only other musicians I've seen who have ever done that to me are The Eagles. I guess a lot of it has to do with the memories that came flooding back. The first real love of my life was a girl called Anita, and she introduced me to Judie Tzuke's records. We used to go to the concerts together - and if I remember correctly we were at the gig where a lot of the live album Road Noise was recorded, as well as the concert at the Fairfield Halls where the Cat is Out DVD was taped. Anita died in 1992, but I really wish she could have been with me on Saturday night because it was the best performance I've ever seen Jude give. She would have enjoyed it so much.

The current album is The Beauty of Hindsight and features Jude's versions of other people's tracks. Her rendition of John Martyn's song May You Never was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Judging by one new piece of music played on Saturday night, which I think was called I Will, the next album is really going to rock. It sounded great! Respect particularly, to David Geddes, who was responsible for the guitar hero parts of the evening. Respect, also, to Jamie Muggleton, who has organised the whole tour, booked everything, runs the concession stand, and still finds time to be a thoroughly nice bloke as well.

It was kind of disconcerting to realise just how long I've been a fan of the music, though. This was really brought home by the fact that the "little Bailey" who has a dedication on the Turning Stones album is now helping out her Mum by doing a great job on backing vocals, as well as writing her own songs, and fronting her own band!


I got home from work on Friday night and by 7pm felt very weird. I got dizzy when I stood up, my heart was thumping, and I felt distinctly peculiar. Then I started to get a headache, and realised what had happened. Going to the bin, I retrieved the packet from the new-flavour McCoy's crisps I'd eaten earlier. I was looking for one particular ingredient, and I found it: Monosodium Glutamate.

I suffer from what is sometimes called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome or even Hot Dog Headache - I get a very bad reaction to the stuff. MSG can give me a far worse hangover than six pints of Adnams' Broadside, and it takes much longer to wear off as well. It's not fun. This was the worst attack I've had for years. Strangely enough, rather than chinese food it's usually packets of crisps or snacks that set me off, and there are some products that I've learnt to avoid eating altogether.

I was interested to read that the condition is not thought to be a normal allergy. Instead, it appears to act on your neurotransmitters; evil stuff! One thing that the article mentioned was that the minimum dose found to cause a reaction was 2.5 grams, so presumably something else I'd eaten during the day must have tipped me over the limit. Either that, or McCoy's are seriously into flavour enhancers.


It's Friday, so here's a couple of extremely silly quizzes for you. Firstly, can you tell the difference between a computer industry whizz-kid and a mass murderer? It's harder than it looks. I'm not altogether reassured by the fact that I only got 5 out of 10 for this one.

If that's too complicated, then how about establishing whether someone is Hitler or not? Oh - and some of the people who aren't Hitler are quite famous in their own right. Including that Mr. Bronson from Grange Hill...


I guess I'm contributing to the slashdotting of www.toynbee.net by mentioning them, but it's such a surreal story that I had to include it here. Toynbee tiles are extremely durable tiles inlaid into road surfaces throughout America. They have peculiar messages written on them in coloured letters. Messages about something to do with colonising Jupiter with dead people by using the monolith from 2001. As you do...

As I've said before, why bother making stuff up? Real life is far more interesting!


I don't often have vivid dreams, but on Sunday night I had a most peculiar dream in which I was running a custom car dealership. There were loads of really nifty sets of wheels for sale, most of which appeared to be yellow (so I was definitely dreaming in colour). It got weirder - Dave Lee Roth kept on turning up and buying them. What I found interesting was the fact that the following day, when I logged on to amazon.com, the music recommendation was for Diamond Dave's new album - and that's the first time I'd seen news of the chap for about a year. Coincidence? Downright spooky if you ask me...


My brother (hi Dave) emailed me to tell me he'd been searching for a local fencing company called Acosta, and when he used Google to search the web, my blog came up third on the list (because of my recent discussions about Dr. Gonzo himself, Oscar Zeta Acosta). No doubt this self-referential blog entry will confuse things even further.


I've gradually drifted in to the whole MP3 thing - not so much for file swapping or anything like that, more for the fact that I can't be arsed to keep going downstairs to get another CD to listen to while I'm working on the computer. That, and the fact that as our office has been burgled several times, I don't take loads of my albums into work. So I bought a small boombox last year that will play CDs full of MP3s, but it doesn't have a headphone output. All the personal stereo devices I've seen up until now haven't had enough space for a decent collection, so I've steered clear. But one of my neighbours has the ideal toy, made by a company called Archos. I want one. The latest version of this baby has a 20 gigabyte hard drive, which could keep me going for quite a while.


I went to the Spice Mahal in Rangeworthy tonight with Rebecca, Rob and Ruth. This whole curry thing seems to be turning in to quite a habit... Once again the food was very good, but I think I'll steer clear of the chilli chicken masala that Rebecca had. I tried it, and it was very tasty, but the word "blowtorch" springs to mind...


Some of the stories reported in the BBC news website story on rail excuses sound a bit dodgy to me; I mean, "eaves on the line" for goodness sake?


Shame about QinetiQ 1, but I hope they'll be successful next year.


I had a weird bit of junk mail recently from a guy looking for a "dimensional warp generator" so he can build a time machine. It's either a very original large-scale piece of performance art, or a nutter sending spam, and I can't decide which. Neither can Wired magazine, who ran a story about the guy and the mock eBay sites that he's inspired (if that's the right word to use...) It just goes to show that, provided you're paying attention, real life will always be weirder than anything you could make up.


I've spent the last couple of evenings capturing video - six gigabytes of it - to edit down into home movies. Now they've been edited and rendered I'll be burning them on to CD and sending them to my brother Andy and his family in the States. I've really enjoyed myself doing it, and I think I'm beginning to get pretty good results. When I worked for BT I loved doing video editing, I could never get enough of it. I never thought I'd have my own TV production facility on a desk in my bedroom, though. Being able to do things like that brings home the fact that, yes, we are living in the 21st century.

I was particularly struck by how much better the video quality is when I capture directly to the computer's hard disc compared with stuff captured from tape playback. Funny, I thought the point of a digital system was that there shouldn't be a difference. Oh well...


Well, the coundown's still going on the QinetiQ balloon altitude attempt. Good luck, fellas.


You may have noticed that Mars is particularly bright in the southern sky over the last few weeks, and at the weekend my brother Dave and I were trying to get pictures with video cameras. The results were disappointing - especially compared with Eric Ng's amazing pictures taken with a webcam and an amateur telescope from a tower block in Hong Kong, as I mentioned last month. However, I was curious to see whether NASA would point the Hubble Space Telescope in the appropriate direction. Well, they did - and the results are pretty spectacular. Looks almost close enough to touch...


Well, my new bed's been delivered. It's, er, a bit bigger than the old one. The top of the mattress must be a good 20cm higher off the floor, which is a tad disconcerting. It feels much higher. It is, however, extremely comfortable. Hopefully I'll get a nice, restorative night's sleep on it tonight.