Twelve years ago today I was blogging about fake news. Back then the idea of making stuff up and presenting it as a news report seemed like a novel and entertaining idea for a comedy show. These days, the concept of news that lies to you has rather more sinister connotations. Today it was revealed that 126 million people were exposed to fake stories on Facebook last year that were apparently created by Russian agents in an attempt to influence political activity in the West. Meanwhile, Mr Trump's Twitter following has grown rapidly in the past month, and huge numbers of those followers are fake. Russians really like getting involved with American politics on Twitter, it seems. We know this, because sometimes they forget to turn off Twitter's location function before they tweet.
It's unusual to get to the end of October before getting a frost; I was beginning to wonder if we'd make it to November without one, but it was not to be: on Sunday night here the temperature outside dropped to -1°C and there was much talk of scraping car windscreens on Monday morning. Things have warmed up a little today (the temperature only got as low as 4°C last night), but the forecast is for colder temperatures to return just in time for bonfire night.
I have therefore resorted to wearing a fleece indoors today.
Twice this week it's been warm enough to eat lunch outside at work, so I did. I saw a red admiral butterfly go past while I enjoyed my pie, too. This late on in the year, dining al fresco is unusual for me, but most enjoyable.
Tonight the clocks go back to GMT, and the weather is changing; there wasn't a frost last night, but we came the closest we've got so far this autumn. The temperature dropped to 1°C and it's supposed to be even colder tonight. I blipped the heat on for an hour earlier this morning, but that'll be it for the day - right now it's comfortably warm in here in a t-shirt.
I've been posting about the approach of winter a lot recently, and this is driven by nostalgia. Provided that I can stay indoors and look at it in comfort, I love winter weather. As a small child, I thought that the days when it snowed were the best days of all. I can still remember being sent home from school on a couple of occasions in the 70s because it was snowing; one of those afternoons was particularly exciting, as I had to cycle home in it. The appeal of a snow day hasn't diminished, either. I've celebrated them more than once or twice in the blog over the years, but they have grown increasingly uncommon as the effects of climate change are felt, and I miss them. These days, I have to enjoy snow vicariously - over on Facebook, some of my friends are already posting pictures of snow lying in their gardens. Perhaps this winter will be different; we'll have to see.
The inner Solar System recently had a visitor - a rock going by the name of A/2017 U1 that was tracked as it swung by the Sun, just inside the orbit of Mercury, and then headed off into the dark again. That in itself is not an unusual event, but this rock was travelling at a blistering 44 kilometres a second when it was first spotted less than a fortnight ago, and as its trajectory was calculated, it started to get people excited - because unlike all the other rocks or comets in our Solar System that have been seen by telescopes so far, this one is not on an orbit around the Sun. We now know that it would have been doing 25 kilometres a second on its way in, that it came from interstellar space, from somewhere in the direction of the constellation Lyra, and that it is now heading back off to the stars, never to return.
As Douglas Adams said, space is big. REALLY big. The distances between stars are enormous, so large that it takes a photon of light more than four years to get here from even the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. Physical objects (that is, things that have mass) need huge amounts of energy in order to accelerate to relativistic speeds. The fastest physical objects we know about in the universe have been launched on their way thanks to a close encounter with a black hole or by being next to a supernova when it went off, and even these objects (which are called hypervelocity stars) travel at a crawl when compared to the speed of light. The amount of energy required to accelerate a hypervelocity star would obliterate a humble asteroid like A/2017 U1. It would not be capable of surviving the encounter. Instead, it would have been launched by a much less energetic event, such as the slinghot effect of a close pass by a giant planet, or a star. And less energy means much slower speeds: A/2017 U1 was travelling at a paltry 0.000083391 of the speed of light when it arrived in the Solar System, and as Phil Plait explains in that first link, that means it started its journey a long, long time ago, possibly millions of years ago. Its next encounter with another system will be just as far in the future.
A/2017 U1's encounter with our Sun is likely to be the most exciting thing that happens to it for a very long time to come...
I spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at Intersound Guitars in Dursley and had a great chat about things musical and techy with Denver and Norm while the wind blew things around in the street outside. Norm shared some interesting "how-to" tips about looping which I spent most of the evening trying out - needless to say they worked, and I noticed a significant change in the quality of results I was getting. I also left the shop carrying another addition to my guitar collection, a second-hand G&L S-500 which will act as my primary "Strat-type" guitar. I've updated my Music Page accordingly and if you head over there I've added a picture of it, too.
On the way back from Dursley I treated myself to a takeaway from the Kingshill kebab shop, which might be the first time I've visited there this year. Working full time has stopped me hitting the takeaways at lunchtime, which is probably good for me, but last night's meal was delicious.
As you'd expect, the evening was spent playing guitar. Yesterday was a good day.
A week after Ophelia, storm Brian has arrived. It's blustery out there, but the weather's nowhere near as intense as it was last week. Right now, there's just a light drizzle falling, which doesn't feel storm-like at all.
This week brought home just how draughty my old doors and windows were. When I got home from work on Monday, the house was unusually warm inside - warm enough that I started to wonder if I'd accidentally switched the heating on before leaving that morning. I hadn't; despite the windy weather the outside temperature was 17°C and the sun shining through the windows had pushed the temperature indoors a couple of degrees higher than that. With insulation that now actually works, the house had retained that heat for the rest of the day.
It was a very odd day. The quality and colour of the light in the afternoon had social media buzzing. Where I work, the sky turned yellow.
When I got home I discovered that the wind had stripped the leaves off the virginia creeper, which was a shame, as they'd gone a spectacular shade of red this year. It's stayed warm for the rest of the week, with overnight temperatures still staying in double figures. The araneus diadematus outside my kitchen window is still thriving. The central heating is still off, and I suspect I'm going to have to cut the lawn at least one more time before winter sets in. But the wind no longer blows rain underneath the back door to pool on the kitchen floor, and the windows no longer rattle in strong gusts. And I'm snug and warm inside.
I know how important it is to show commitment to your fans, but seeing more than one photo of Mark E Smith performing in a wheelchair with The Fall in Wakefield last night has upset me profoundly. The Fall are like Marmite; you either love them or you hate them, and I love The Fall's stuff. I haven't got every album they've ever released, but my collection is in double figures and every listen reveals something new that I hadn't noticed before. Mark has had multiple health problems recently and while his description of other members of the Manchester scene, "hard men with hard livers" is an apt self-portrait, you can't sustain the rock-and-roll lifestyle indefinitely unless your name is Keith Richards. I hope he's back to full health before too long, but right now he's got me worried.
...when the great storm of 1987 hit the UK, thirty years ago this week? I remember where I was: at home in Milton Keynes, and sound asleep. I slept through the whole thing. The city escaped the devastation that took place further south, and it was only when I visited my parents in West Wickham a few days later that I realised just how bad things had been.
The following few months were busy ones for the local tree surgeons. Mum and Dad had already called them in and got the back garden cleared up by the time I arrived. My parents had lost three mature oak trees half way down the back garden, and at the far end a bunch of pine trees had been blown over as well. The change to a garden where I'd spent much of the last summers of my childhood was shocking; there were big holes in the canopy of leaves I knew so well. But there was an even bigger shock awaiting me at the top of the road, in the woods where I used to take the family dog for a walk, spot owls, and occasionally (if I was lucky) watch badgers playing:
The woods remained closed - declared as "unsafe" - for most of the following winter. Even eight years later, signs of the devastation that had happened remained easy to spot. But as most of the fallen trees were left to rot in situ, the subsequent boost to the ecology of the woods was remarkable to see. Undergrowth that had been thin and straggly was now lush and dense, and it played host to far more species of wildlife than it had before. Beetles and fungi in particular had a whale of a time feasting on all the rotting vegetation. New trees were growing strongly in the gaps left by those which had fallen. And the same story has played out in site after site in the south of England. It's heartening to see how well places have bounced back from devastation, particularly as another major storm is expected to arrive in the UK in the next 24 hours. Let's hope we weather this storm without the damage and loss of life that happened thirty years ago.
In advance of Ophelia, the UK is currently sitting in a plume of warm air coming up from the tropics and right now the temperature in the back garden is 16°C, which is unusually high for the middle of October. The average maximum temperature recorded just down the road from me in Filton between 1981 and 2010 was 14.5°C.
The garden spiders spinning webs on the conservatory and outside my kitchen window are still going strong, as there hasn't been a frost to kill them off yet. The temperature overnight hasn't dropped lower than 3°C this autumn and for most of the last week it's stayed in double figures.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I hadn't even got to the stage of wearing a jumper inside this autumn. Despite the balmy weather, I am now wearing a fleece, although my desk thermometer tells me it's 19°C in here at the moment. This change in attire is more to do with the fact that I'm a bundle of aches and pains these days than it is about the weather. I spent four days editing video this week and I suspect that the monitors I have on this computer are set too high, as my shoulders and neck are still twinging every time I move my head. Unfortunately Samsung didn't provide VESA mounting threads for the model of display I bought, and the stands that were supplied are not adjustable so short of changing my desk there's not a lot I can do to make using them more comfortable.
I was in South Kensington yesterday (and more about that in a moment.) I was there because of this:
Their Mortal Remains is an exhibition of Pink Floyd memorabilia spanning fifty years which presents a staggering number of truly iconic objects from the band's archive, including David Gilmour's legendary Black and Red Fender Stratocasters as well as the "Workmate" 1955 Fender Esquire that was used for "Run Like Hell." I was in music nerd heaven; you couldn't have put together an exhibition that was more strongly aligned with my interests if you'd tried.
There were some of Nick Mason's architectural drawings from the sixties; a letter from David Gilmour to his parents reassuring them that he thought joining "The Pink Floyd" would be a good move; handwritten lyrics from Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, a selection of comics for the band drawn by Gerald Scarfe and - a surprise for me - Joe Petagno, who went on to design the "Snaggletooth" logo for Motorhead; the EMS Synthi and VCS3 synthesisers that were used for the recording of Dark Side of the Moon; the Flower Petal Mirrorball from the same era; a load of props and design maquettes from The Wall and the gigantic, iconic heads from The Division Bell, designed by the late, great Storm Thorgerson. It was glorious.
The exhibition was very well presented, with headsets providing relevant commentary (and snippets from the band's music) as you approached each display, although the boundaries between each area were occasionally a little fuzzy and you had to shuffle sideways until the receiver realised you wanted to listen to what was going on next door instead. Red telephone boxes that had been decorated inside with cultural memorabilia from books and newspaper clippings to collages and badges provided chronological context as we progressed through the exhibition. The final, empty phone box by the exit was a poignant reminder that with the passing of Richard Wright, the band have called it a day.
The show has been extended to the 15th October, so you have the rest of this week to go and see for yourself. If you're a Pink Floyd fan, I strongly recommend going.
While I was in the V&A there was a traffic incident outside in which a car hit a number of pedestrians. I'd walked past the area where it happened an hour or so before; the road and the footpath are paved in exactly the same fashion and there is no delineation between the two. I had actually thought to myself as I crossed the road there that it was potentially confusing for both drivers and pedestrians. I suspect that the driver involved lost track of where he was supposed to go. The police soon established that the incident was not at all related to terrorism, although there was still a very heavy police presence in the area when we set off for home.
But for two of the UK's resident idiots, the interim period of uncertainty provided a perfect excuse to unload a pathetic torrent of hate and vitriol. Hopkins deleted her tweets when it became clear that the country was reacting with disgust rather than approval, but if you want to see just how vile her messages were, they were all captured for posterity.
The fact that it was Hopkins who deleted her tweets rather than Twitter is an interesting point, though. Twitter has a long-standing rep for being okay with extremist and otherwise toxic material, to the point that they were warned by the EU last year that they needed to sort things out or face legislative action. That doesn't seem to have happened yet. If you've been on Twitter for any length of time you'll have realised that they're lax with all forms of abuse; dealing with it is not a priority, as can be deduced from the fact that they joined Facebook in offshoring their abuse department to the Philippines. When users report horrendous abuse to Twitter, their reply is usually that no violation of Twitter's code of conduct was found. Death threats and sexual harrassment seem to be, for Twitter, just the way things are.
The world seemed to decide a few years ago that accountability just got in the way of getting things done and quietly decided to not bother with it any more. We're increasingly living with the results of that decision, and it's not looking pleasant.
I've just released the last piece of music I've written and recorded as part of the Saturday Single challenge I set myself this summer. It's called Full Of Beans and it's a train beat, rockabilly track that sings the praises of the humble coffee bean. What's not to like?
It's also the 53rd piece of music I've written or co-written as part of this year's FiftyNinety challenge, which draws to a close today. It's been fun - it always is - but sometimes this year it's been hard to come up with the creative energy whilst holding down a full-time job. Does this mean I'm considering not taking part next year? Of course not! I have WAY too much fun to think of that. And I very much doubt it'll be the last piece of music I release this year, either. Now that I've cancelled my Soundcloud Pro account, I'll be transferring some old favourites to Bandcamp and the temptation to bundle them with some new stuff will undoubtedly be too strong to resist.
As always when I take part in these events, I'll spend a few days reflecting on what I've learnt this time, and I'll post my conclusions here on the blog.
Good grief, it's October. Where has this year gone? The summer seemed to go by in a flash and I realised as I was mowing the lawn yesterday afternoon that it hadn't been cut for a couple of months. There was a lot of stuff in the wheely bin by the time I'd finished and while the garden looks much better than it did it's going to take another few sessions before I can get it back into shape.
Unlike my neighbours, I can't imagine astroturfing or paving the whole thing, though. I might be worn out and aching today, but getting my hands dirty and making my fingers literally green was very therapeutic. And it's amazing how much life there is out there, just beyond the back door: birds, hedgehogs, bugs, slugs and snails and more. The bee hotel that my sister bought me for my birthday last year now has a massive huntsman spider as its principal tenant, and the size of the garden spiders I've encountered this year is impressive. The summer has been warm and damp, and while it's not been good for my gardening activities, it's been great for wildlife.
The evenings are drawing in rapidly now, though; it's getting dark by 6:30 or so and the overnight temperatures are finally beginning to drop off again. That's triggered the virginia creeper on the house to change colour and it's a spectacular variety of reds and crimsons at the moment. The trees have started to turn around the estate at work, too, and it's clear that summer is behind us for another year. I wonder how the new double glazing will affect when I decide to finally put the central heating on again? There's certainly no need for it at present. In fact, I haven't even reached the "needing to wear a jumper indoors" stage of autumn yet, although I am wearing a long-sleeved shirt right now. The part of me that likes saving money is hoping that this continues for another month or two, but my creative side is rather hoping that we get a nice cold winter this year, with some proper snowfall, so I can sit inside warm and dry, drink hot chocolate, watch the snow falling, and be grateful that I don't have to be outside in it.