The Blog that Wouldn't Die

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: September 2009

September was an interesting month for me, even if it didn't do much for my carbon footprint: a business trip to Norway was followed by my first "proper" holiday in about four years. It turned out to be one of the best holidays I've ever had, too...


We're having a break after today's lunch, so I'm half-way through my second full day of Andrew Whittuck's landscape photography course. I'm so glad I brought the Eee with me, as it's proved very useful. Apart from the fact that I can write up my thoughts ready for uploading them to the blog when I get home, its internal card reader means we can review our photos when we get back from each expedition. Two of my fellow students use SD cards and the remaining two of us have cameras that use CompactFlash. I've just downloaded the 300 or so photos I've taken so far to the hard drive and I'm about to empty the card, ready to fill it up with some more pictures when we head out again.

Yesterday was great fun. The principal thing I've learned so far is how useful filters are when you're taking photographs. I always used to think that filters were simply a means of achieving the sort of effects that I could get much faster using Photoshop, but this turns out not to be the case at all. They provide a very effective means of controlling the amount of light that gets into the camera, particularly where your photograph has the sky in it. The sky is much, much brighter than the land and while our eyes and brains can compensate for the different light levels, a camera sensor can't. So filters prevent the sensor getting overloaded, allowing you to get a better exposure of the darker areas of the image. The results we've been getting have been a revelation, even if we're holding the filters in front of our cameras by hand rather than clipping them into a holder. I have a few Cokin filters and a holder kicking around in a box somewhere back home and I'm already itching to try them out.

We've been chauffeured everywhere by Andrew in his car, and we've been driving up and down the mountains in search of things to photograph. We visited the neighbouring village of Montgaillard before tea last night; the place shelters in the lee of a small hill and we climbed up to the top, looking down on the surrounding landscape and taking plenty of photographs.

It's so quiet and restful here. I could get used to the way of life here very quickly, although employment opportunities are quite limited. As I mentioned yesterday, the local industry is viniculture, and that's about it. There are vines everywhere. The green grapes have already been gathered in, and the black grapes are likely to be harvested in the next week or two. The process is known as la vendange, and it looks like it's a difficult process for the vines; those that have been harvested look decidedly frazzled. It's been a difficult summer, by the looks of things - the bunches of grapes that are still on the vines look quite sorry for themselves. Apparently this is likely to mean that the wine is particularly strong and tasty - but this has to be offset against the fact that you get far less of it than you would from a crop that's had more rain and a milder climate.

The weather has been superb considering it's nearly October; the temperature has hardly dropped below 20°C since we arrived. We've had coffee on the terrasse a couple of times, and I've realised - too late - that I should have brought some sunblock and a hat with me.

I've been fascinated by the local wildlife. I've seen at least four species of swallowtail butterfly, from an enormous black-and-white version to one that was a spectacular shade of yellow. The local grasshoppers and crickets are enormous, and when you track one down and examine them up close they almost appear to be enclosed in armour. There's something chirping away outside the window in my room as I type this. I'm told that there are praying mantises in the area as well, so that's one of my goals for the week - find one, and take its picture. I am sharing my room with a gigantic spider that lives inside one of the cupboards; I'm told that there may also be a small lizard or gecko in here with me but if there is, it's keeping itself to itself! The birds around here are also fairly secretive, but at the cascades waterfall yesterday morning I saw my first eagle, which was soaring on the thermals above the cliffs. It had a plaintive cry which we heard several times as the day wore on.

Our most exciting encounter with the local wildlife so far happened last night after dinner. I went outside to look at the moon, which was just over half full. As I stood on the terrace I realised that there was something crashing about in the undergrowth in the garden. Whatever it was, it was off in the darkness, but the consensus was that it was a sanglier, or wild boar! Apparently there are quite a few in the area, but as they are hunted by the locals they tend to be extremely reclusive. Perhaps it was looking for fruit - the garden has a couple of fig trees in it and the figs are ripe, soft, succulent and absolutely delicious. The smell alone is enough to make your stomach rumble, and I had one this afternoon picked straight from the tree. With food that good to hand (or trotter), I'm hoping that the boar will visit again and we'll get to see it. Meanwhile, some of the figs we picked today have been put to good use in the kitchen. Dessert tonight was an orange and honey sponge cake which was mouth-wateringly good, topped with a couple of figs fresh from the tree. Nomnomnom!

This morning we were awake by 7 am so that we could travel up to the cascades again and catch the sunrise. Once again, I learned how much of a difference a graduated filter can make in getting the picture correctly exposed. It took me a few attempts, but I think I've got the hang of it:

Mont Tauch at dawn

After the sun had come up we carried on to a small reservoir at the head of the valley near Massac and took pictures of the reeds with the sun shining through them. It was idyllic; apart from the occasional passing tractor we were the only people around. After a tutorial session back at the house, we had an early lunch and it's now siesta time. Later on we're heading out to see the wind turbines at the top of Mont Tauch followed by a visit to Chateau Agilar, then photograph the sunset at Padern Castle. I could get very used to this - but for now, I'm going to sign off and have a snooze.


It's eleven o'clock on Saturday night. As I type this, I'm sitting in bed in a small house in the Languedoc region of France listening to crickets chirping outside; I'm also digesting a very nice meal prepared by Chrissy and Nick who, together with Fawzia, help out at the house here in Dernacueillette. They've already made me feel very welcome.

I flew from Stansted to Perpignan with Ryanair earlier today, and arrived here this evening for a week-long photography course run by Andrew Whittuck. Although we haven't taken any pictures yet, I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy this week a lot - the people are lovely and the landscape is stunning. We're up in the Corbières mountains, which are liberally dotted with forests (in which I'm told the wild boar roam freely), vineyards (we've already sampled some really nice red wine from the region) and ancient Cathar castles (which we're going to be exploring later in the week.)

The Ryanair flight was okay - I'd been quite worried that I was going to fail one of the conditions for getting on the plane, but in the end it was quite painless. The relentless marketing approach set my teeth on edge but it was worth putting up with the adverts and self-aggrandizing fanfares to get to such a lovely part of the world. The sun was shining when we arrived, and it is pleasantly warm.

I feel like I've travelled into a different world. Away from Perpignan it feels like time has slowed down and the majority of people have moved elsewhere. The roads were quiet; the towns we passed through seemed empty. The weather has been sunny and warm. It's like returning to summer again, and I'm already starting to unwind - although that may have something to do with a couple of glasses of a local muscat that I had as an aperitif a couple of hours ago. Any land that can be cultivated is devoted entirely to viniculture, and I'm looking forwards to trying the local produce.

That will have to wait, though. It's now going up for midnight and the Eee is down to a 15% charge, so when I've finished the blog I'll call a halt for this evening. Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day.


I bought Iain Banks's latest novel today. I'm about half way through it already and I'm really enjoying it. It's interesting that the cover does not bear his middle initial, which he has used in the past to distinguish his science fiction works from his "serious" writing; Transition is very definitely a science fiction novel but it deals with extremely serious issues. The book asks whether torture or assassination could ever be acceptable, the science fiction approach letting Mr Banks examine worlds where the powers that be have decided that it is. So far (which is a fairly big proviso when you're reading one of Mr Banks's books; there is often a mind-bending plot twist waiting just around the next chapter), the novel concerns the activities of The Concern, a secret organisation whose operatives possess the ability to travel between many different versions of our planet. It seems that agents of the Concern act throughout the multiverse to prevent bad things happening to the human race, although as the typical modus operandi of these people involves frequent messy deaths and leaving innocent bystanders to take the blame, the morality of their approach is decidedly open to question. There also seems to be a lot of sex involved. Multiple narrative threads weave in and out, and the concept of author as unreliable narrator is most enthusiastically turned up to eleven. I'll probably blog a bit more about the book once I've finished it and had time to ponder.


I've been off on my travels again. Yesterday, I got back after spending a few days in Norway. I was staying close to the picturesque city of Kristiansand, which I first visited nearly ten years ago.

Norwegian Wood

I really like Norway; it's a beautiful country. Our hosts were - as always - extremely generous and we were looked after very well. Although the trip was to do with work, I managed to visit the town and take a few photos and we even caught a football match at Kristiansand's new stadium on Monday night. Local team IK Start were playing the Stavanger Vikings, and their supporters were out in full force:

Rather over-bannered

The match ended in a one-all draw, but it was very entertaining. Norway's TV2 television channel were showing the match (warning - they have a migraine-inducing, throw-everything-in-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to their website) and one of the people I was with got a phone call during the first half to say we'd all just appeared on TV!

Workwise, it was a productive trip, and I'm sure it won't be the last time I visit.


The photos above were taken with my Canon Powershot A720IS rather than the EOS50D, as I was travelling light. In fact, I travelled to Norway without checking any baggage in the hold; last time my luggage failed to keep up with me so I wasn't going to chance KLM losing it again. I had to make do with 8 megapixel pictures rather than 15, but I got a few fairly good shots.

I've had the 50D nearly two weeks now, and I've only taken 26 pictures with it. I took more photos than that just on the flight from Bristol to Amsterdam on Sunday! I intend to give the new camera its first serious workout next week, so you can expect to see the results on my Flickr stream in the not-too-distant future.


I've been pretty busy over the last week, and next week will be the same, so this is going to be a very quick round up of stuff I've come across. If you follow me on Twitter, you may already have seen these, but I'm listing them so I can find them again if I need to...

For a start, I have spent quite some time playing with Ambiloop, a free piece of looping software that was recommended by Ergo Phizmiz. It's great fun. Once I can figure out a way of recording the output on the same computer that's running the software, I will be off and running...

The Las Vegas branch of the Hard Rock Cafe has an amazing new exhibit; it's an eighteen-foot-wide, super-HD multitouch display screen. We really have to get one of those for the office.

When the Maoris told tales of an eagle with a three-metre wingspan that lived in New Zealand and was capable of carrying off children, they weren't kidding.

I was mildly freaked out by the idea that gene therapy can now be used to modify sight. At the moment it's been used to cure colour blindness in monkeys, but can you imagine having vision that dropped into the infrared or extended into the ultraviolet? Suddenly, that doesn't seem such an outrageous prospect. Imagine a squad of supersoldiers with built-in night vision...

Then I found out that the controlling faction among America's Republican party appears to regard action on climate change as ungodly because it will delay the second coming. This, folks, is the point when religion ceases to be a means of exerting moral control over the population and turns into a serious threat to the survival of the species.


Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson is a contributing editor to the New Scientist this week. It's worth getting hold of a copy.


I've been playing Muse's new album on fairly heavy rotation since it arrived on Monday. I also managed to catch Radio 1's Muse Night which was (maybe still is) available on the BBC iPlayer. The more I listen to the album, the more I like it, and after the positive first impressions from Monday night, I'm now developing a serious appreciation of the thing. So, what is the experience that we have come to know as The Resistance?

For a start, I now think that Undisclosed Desires may be the greatest thing they've produced, ever. It's a superb piece of music. But considering that every song they wrote this time around ended up on the album, it's amazing how strong each track is; there isn't a duff tune in there. The lesson the band appear to have taken from Black Holes and Revelations is that it's okay to turn the bombast up to eleven provided that you do it with a sense of commitment. I couldn't agree more. I doubt that there are many bands these days who could pull it off, but to Muse it comes as second nature. Who else could open an album with a track that sounds like they crossed The Glitter Band with the Doctor Who theme tune and produce something that out-Goldfrapps Goldfrapp in terms of danceability?

After listening to the whole album several times, I'm beginning to notice the flashes of subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) humour in their approach to music. As they confirmed in their chat with Zane Lowe on their Radio 1 special, their track United States of Eurasia shamelessly references the music of Queen so gratuitously that it made me laugh out loud. The tribute isn't just with the vocal harmonies, either: the second time they sing "there can be only one," (geddit?) just listen to the guitar back in the mix on the left hand channel - it's pure Brian May.

"Guiding Light" takes a tilt at U2's anthemic work around the time of Unforgettable Fire and fits it inside a high concept work that looks at the place of the individual within society and the need for empowerment. As you do. That's a common theme in terms of the lyrical tone this time round. Their political stance is put across even more forcefully than they did on "Knights of Cydonia." Muse aren't the sort of band who write about fluffy kittens; they are more likely to come up with a catchy tune that considers the woeful lack of ethics in the modern banking system. Ideology is very much to the fore, and that seething rage and discontent with the powers that be energises the new album even more than it did its predecessor. But it's what the anger resolves into - a three-part opus called Exogenesis - that makes the album really interesting. The lyrics concern the thoughts of an astronaut travelling to the stars and spread human life across the galaxy. He's asked what his final message should be as he recedes into the darkness. "Just let us start it over again, and we'll be good. This time we'll get it - we'll get it right," is his reply.

Muse have certainly done just that.


Not too much blogging or anything achieved yesterday; after twelve hours spent either driving or reviewing course materials I got home, had a glass of wine with my tea and realised after doing the washing up that I couldn't keep my eyes open. I was in bed by 8:30 and sound asleep shortly afterward. However, the day's count of red kites was a record: I saw eight.


Well done, Eddie. In contrast to my sloth and lethargy, consider Mr Izzard, who has just run 43 marathons over the last seven weeks to raise money for Sport Relief.


Most of the people who know me know that I'm a huge fan of the Canadian band Rush. I've seen them play live more than thirty times since I first caught them at the tail end of their Tour of the Hemispheres in 1979. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart's blog is full of the amazing writing that I've grown up with over the last thirty years or so, and his latest report brought a lump to my throat. Congratulations to Neil and Carrie on the arrival of their daughter Olivia on August 12th. Awww.


I'm still working my way through Arkham Asylum. After getting stuck for a couple of days where I couldn't take down super-bad-guy Bane, I finally managed to beat him and continue with the story. I've now completed a third of the game, and while the endless crawling through ventilation ducts is getting a bit repetitive, I'm still finding it very engaging.


The Resistance was waiting on my doormat when I got home tonight and when I've finished writing up the blog I will be wathching the "making of" DVD that comes with the album. Over the last year I've developed quite a liking for Muse's music, and last weekend I was lucky enough to be in the audience when they played a couple of gigs in their home town of Teignmouth. The gig was excellent.

To start with, we got a twenty minute set from Zane Lowe, who did a great job (once he'd found his records!) He's very definitely a frustrated rocker, and he was working in all sorts of stuff from Hendrix and Zeppelin to the Imperial March from Star Wars! The support bands weren't bad, either; The Sea are from Newquay, and are a couple of brothers - Peter and Alex Chisholm - who are both surfers. Considering it's just drums and guitar, they made quite an impressive sound and the vocals were particularly strong. I must admit I was a bit put off by the second band, Hey Molly, because their street team had obviously hit the town hard in the preceding week. Their posters and stickers were everywhere. Guys - if you feel you've got to do that rather than letting your music speak for itself, there's something wrong somewhere.

After a second set from Zane Lowe the headliners finally hit the stage, introduced by a sideshow barker resplendent in ringmaster's gear who introduces them with "will you please welcome, from Teignmouth, in Devon..." although I don't think anyone in a fifty mile radius of the town was unaware of the fact. They started off with The Uprising, which is the first single from the new album. The bass line was amazing - in fact the sound for the whole concert was extremely good. Matt Bellamy has added to the range of custom built Manson Guitars with a most bizarre creation dubbed the Keytarcaster. He used it to play a track from the new album called Undisclosed Desires which I reckon has the potential to be a huge hit, mark my words. The next hour and a half flashed past so fast I was genuinely surprised when they walked off stage. I will definitely go and see them again.

Right, I'm off to listen to the new album...


Sometimes, the web can be too clever for its own good. There was a link on the front page of The Times today to an article about ways to spend the Great British Summer. "With the days lengthening," the article enthuses, "there really is no excuse for not making the most of this British Summer." The story has today's date at the top.

Putting any meteorological discussions of the summer aside, I found myself wondering why the Times would think Britain now occupies the southern hemisphere. After all, the days have been growing shorter since the third week in June and in just a couple of weeks from now there'll be more hours of darkness every day than there are hours of daylight.

The explanation is, of course, that it's an old article. A quick peek at the source code for the page reveals that it was written back in June. For one reason or another, The Times webserver automatically stuck today's date on it.

This got me thinking about how we judge the currency of anything we find on the web. In the early days, it was fairly easy to determine if a site was old just from what it looked like. Fads like blinking text and logos that were on fire made sure that an out of date website looked out of date. If that failed, you could check the HTML header - the build date would normally indicate how old the content was. Finally, the website's domain would lapse and the abandoned material would be erased from sight, solving our problem for us. But as server technology improved it became possible to include scripts on pages that could show today's date and time, and content could be shifted to separate databases. These days a web page might have been created expressly for you in the last few milliseconds, but it could be hooked up to a database that has been static and unchanging for years. Should we care about whether a story is new or not?

Clearly, for a lot of websites the currency of their data isn't particularly important, but the news is, by definition, information about recent events. It has to be judged on those terms, and that's why today's encounter with text that was all of three months old brought me up short. The fact that it carries today's date is (hopefully) a glitch, but it emphasises how important it is to know when something was written. On a trivial level, you might find it annoying to read about an event that you'd consider going to, only to discover when you got there that it took place weeks ago. But on a more serious note, knowing the date of a story provides context for the information it contains. As a training designer I know how incredibly important context is and the part it plays in just about every aspect of our daily lives. Context shapes us and drives our actions; coupled with hindsight, it acts as a powerful tool for sociological and psychological analysis of modern attitudes and culture. When that analysis is skewed or misdirected, it can bring the truth of things into question.

These days, that's not a trivial matter.


You may have noticed various mysterious strings of characters appearing in my blog and twitter feed this week as I struggled to get things hooked up with the metablogging site Technorati. I haven't managed it yet. Right from the outset I should have realised that things weren't going to go well; the online submission form mangled this blog's URL by removing the "www." No matter how I tried to enter what I knew was the correct web address, Technorati decided that it knew better and then complained because it couldn't find any data at the version of the URL it insisted on using. I sent an email to their support line but all that's got me so far is an automated response.

Even when I tried linking to my standard, blogging-friendly feeds like my Flickr photostream and my Twitter account, I didn't get anywhere. Quite frankly I no longer care if Technorati works or not. In design terms, the process has exceeded what Paul Saffo describes as my threshold of indignation (and I'm enough of a geek and early adopter to consider my threshold to be higher than your average user.) The task just isn't important enough for me to spend hours jumping through the hoops that are required of me, trying to compensate for software that doesn't do what it's supposed to, and then searching for possible reasons why the thing doesn't work. So that's it; I've given up.

Anyway, I have better things to do...


As I disappeared offline yesterday after a fairly brief blog entry (and will no doubt disappear again once I've finished writing this), it's only fair to write a little about the thing that was responsible. I spent about five hours yesterday playing Batman: Arkham Asylum but even so, by the time I'd stopped last night I'd got less than 10% of the way through the game. It's a massive, cinematic experience and I'm enjoying every minute of it. There's a proper story to work through, scripted by Paul Dini so there's an authenticity to the plot that makes a tremendous difference to the experience. This is a proper Batman game, not a simple first person shooter that has a couple of franchised characters parachuted in. From the ground up, everything feels right. The opening cinematics of the Batmobile speeding through Gotham; the foreshadowing of the dialogue between Joker and his guards; Jim Gordon greeting Batman when he arrives at Arkham - these are places and characters that I know and love and they are all presented in high definition using the Unreal rendering engine. I was marvelling at the leaves being blown about as the Batmobile rushes past and marvelling at the raindrops splashing in the puddles. There are lovely touches in the sets, too, like the "Hitchhikers may be escaping patients" sign by the road outside the gate.

The game not only looks good, it sounds good as well. Ron Fish's music is suitably cinematic, echoing the best of the scores from the films. Quite a lot of the voice talent comes from the Batman animated series, so they're familiar with the roles and this adds yet more credibility to what's going on. Mark Hamill is outstanding as The Joker, and Kevin Conroy does a sterling job as Batman. Arleen Sorkin has a strong supporting role as psychiatrist-turned-villainess Harley Quinn. Everyone sounds like they're supposed to. Wally Wingert delivers a suitably Carrey-esque performance as the Riddler (as well as half a dozen minor characters) and Adrienne Barbeau's distinctive and imperturbable voice comes over the hospital tannoy from time to time.

The plot has been fairly simple so far. The Joker has allowed himself to be captured so he can get Batman to take him to Arkham Asylum. Of course, it's a trap. Joker has maneuvered the authorities into incarcerating hundreds of his henchmen there (by setting fire to Gotham City's other detention facilities, by the sounds of things), and they're just waiting for Batman to arrive so the party can begin. Once he's passed through the doors of the Asylum (which happens during the opening credits), Joker escapes and draws Batman into following him into the depths of the building; Harley Quinn has taken over Arkham's security systems so Batman must negotiate gargoyles, pipes and ventilation ducts as he goes after his foe. As Batman works his way through the bad guys, he has to complete challenges such as rescuing hospital staff, clearing areas of poison gas or protect the Batmobile. At the same time, he must solve puzzles left him by the Riddler - who takes great pleasure in taunting the Caped Crusader over the tannoy. While Batman moves towards each goal, various other inmates of the Asylum such as the Scarecrow and Bane crop up. There are also some mysterious sigils scratched into the building's stonework which need to be located and translated. Winning fights and solving puzzles wins points, which can be turned into upgrades for Batman's combat abilities or gadgets. I like the fact that fighting isn't always a question of rushing in with fists and batarangs flying; sometimes you need to lurk in the shadows and bide your time. I've really enjoyed this approach - when you're picking off henchmen one at a time, the ones that are left get increasingly agitated. By the time there's just one or two left, they are so terrified they will open fire at the slightest noise from the shadows. Swooping down from the ceiling and taking down the bad guys is exactly the sort of thing that Batman ought to be doing, and it's hugely satisfying.

After you've been playing for a while, you begin to unlock the game's "challenge" modes where you must beat the bad guys in hand-to-hand combat. Playstation users like me have a really nice extra feature that allows you to play in this mode as the Joker. The more opponents you beat, the higher your score. Needless to say my score is pretty pathetic compared to the high score table that pops up after you've been taken down, but I will keep trying.

I need as much practice as I can get, because I'm still struggling with the controls. I've won melee fights within the game itself more by luck than judgement, and on "normal" setting the bosses have been either ridiculously easy to beat or frustratingly hard. There are so many different things that Batman can do that it's difficult to keep track of what button to press. It's important not to press the wrong one, too as this can result in things blowing up when you don't want them to! I've also struggled with solving the Riddler's puzzles, as the solution involves using the R3 button to zoom Batman's field of view, fixing your gaze on the object which the puzzle refers to, and then pressing the "analyse" button. In some cases it's taken me half a dozen attempts to get the game to accept that yes, I am actually looking at that teddy bear on the table or the jar of shark's teeth on the gurney. But this is a minor niggle. The game is richly immersive and feels like you're working your way through a film. The level of involvement is addictive, and although I took a couple of breaks, I found myself thinking "I'll just play for a bit more..." and the next thing I knew it was half past ten and time for bed. I suspect the same thing will happen tonight, too...


Thanks to Mez for pointing me at a heartfelt little page entitled If architects had to work like web designers. True, so true.


The Batmobile is waiting. I'm off to Gotham City.


Adrian Bennett has moved from Bradford in Yorkshire to the Australian town of Silverton, in New South Wales. The town has a population of just 51 (including Mr Bennett's family) but it sees more than 100,000 visitors a year. The reason why it's such a tourist trap is simple: it's a favourite location for movie makers. Mr Bennett has been a devoted fan of one of the movies that was shot around Silverton for nearly three decades, and he intends to set up a museum in the town in the film's honour. He already has the car and the dog and I reckon he must be the world's greatest fan of Mad Max. I really admire his determination, and the car is ace.


I managed to find somewhere online with a reasonable discount on Batman: Arkham Asylum together with free shipping, so I caved in and ordered it. This morning I got an email saying my copy has been despatched, so it will be arriving at Stately Harris Manor in the next couple of days. I haven't been this excited about a game since Burnout Paradise came out. Expect to get very little sense out of me once I've introduced it to my PS3.

In the meantime, us PS3 users have been busy downloading version 3.0 of the operating system. The word that springs to mind is sparkly - the basic XMB interface now has a new graphics layer of animated small dots, which make it look like it's just escaped from Sir Ridley Scott's movie Legend. The most obvious feature of the update for UK users is that there's a new icon category - TV - which features the BBC's iPlayer running in the PS3's browser. But there are lots of other little tweaks as well, including one which has brought me deep joy: the ability to output audio over more than one connection at once. Yes, I no longer have to switch on the surround sound system to hear anything I play on the PS3 - the console now downsamples soundtracks to a stereo signal and pumps it out over the HDMI cable to the TV. Perfect for late-night, low-volume listening.


The truly awesome Eddie Izzard is running around the country at the moment - 30 miles a day for six days a week - to raise money for Sport Relief. His goal is to run 1100 miles in seven weeks, and he's on the homeward stretch back to London right now. I'm incredibly impressed by his dedication and determination, and I've already sponsored him. But I want to spread the word and get other people (that means you!) to sponsor him as well. Go Eddie!


September's here, the schools are beginning to go back and the weather is appalling. I've given up on the idea of having another barbecue and returned the grill to its normal location at the back of the garage along with the folding chairs and miscellaneous bits of garden furniture. Let's hope next summer is a little better.


Several newspapers (and the Metro) were carrying stories about the graphic artist Paul Lung today, and if you look at the gallery of his work in the Daily Telegraph, you'll see why. He spends 40 to 60 hours on each work, drawn with a mechanical pencil on a piece of A2 paper, and they're as close to photorealistic as you're likely to get. It's amazing stuff.


Now would be a good time to start reading Phil Gyford's excellent online presentation of Samuel Pepys's diary. Mr Pepys's life got quite interesting on September 2nd 1666. My apopheniac senses started tingling as he refers to some of the local ne'er-do-wells as "sparks" the evening before...


The last few episodes of Torchwood (I'm sorry, but I can't really justify calling five one-hour shows a series) featured a rather spiffy set of contact lenses that enabled the gang to follow what was going on elsewhere. The Torchwood chums got a video feed from an inbuilt camera, and sent instructions back to the wearer via text messages that appeared in her visual field. The idea is a first-rate science fiction trope, harking back to the bionic eye that Steve Austin was fitted with in the Six Million Dollar Man - except that a team at the University of Washington is building the real thing: augmented reality contact lenses. As Bruce Sterling observes, bionic vision systems may be years away from prime time, but the idea is much less crazy than it looks. Give them a couple of decades and we'll all be wearing them.


Peer to peer networking users spend much more than average on home entertainment devices and media. See, this is why I don't use P2P services. If I increased my media purchasing by 34% there wouldn't be any room left in the house.


Thanks to William Gibson for introducing me to the delight that is That 1 Guy playing Buttmachine. Mike Silverman's home-built instrument is a little out of the ordinary, to say the least.