It's Blogtastic Baby - Yeah!

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: November 2003

November brought a change of domain name, solar flares, a map of the entire universe and yet another new banner...


...for the person who has everything: Ain't It Cool News are saying the place to go is Gentle Giant studios in Burbank, California. Where, for the princely sum of just $5,000, the movie special effects wizards will scan you, and turn you into a genuine 100% plastic action figure complete with blister pack. This has to be, without doubt, one of the coolest concepts I have ever seen. And the figures look spookily lifelike, too.


Everyone should carry around a map when they're exploring unfamiliar territory. But, as readers of last week's New Scientist will know, what you really need is a map of everything. And now, thanks to J. Richard Gott III of Princeton University, Mario Juric of Drexel University, and their colleagues, you can download a .pdf file of just that - together with some fairly dense mathematics on how it was created. The document - weighing in at just over 6Mb - is available for download. It's worth downloading just for page 46, which provides a handy pocket-sized map of the entire Universe. You need never be lost again!


A very odd story on the BBC today about an American woman who found herself talking in a London Cockney accent after having a stroke a few years ago. I'd heard of Foreign Accent Syndrome before, although I couldn't tell you where, but it's not something that crops up every day. It's stories like this that, for me at least, bring home what an amazing thing we carry around inside our heads every day...


Drove over to Mum and Dad's at the weekend, because Dad hasn't been very well (at least he's back home and recuperating, after being carted off to hospital in an ambulance earlier in the week.) I drove through thick fog for pretty much the entire journey, apart from the bit when I drove past Huntingdon, when it rained. What is it with Huntingdon? Whenever I travel to or from my parents' house, it doesn't matter what the weather is when I set off - by the time I get to Huntingdon, it starts raining... Anyway - the weather was foul for the whole weekend, so I missed the aurora that was seen further north. Judging by the pictures taken from St. Andrew's, it was pretty spectacular last week.


I spent Saturday setting up my Dad's PC (his dial-up connection is much faster than mine, it's not fair) after it was finally delivered. On Sunday I called in at Rebecca's; they're investigating the delights of broadband, with truly prodigious download speeds. I was very impressed. Rob had managed to find some bizarre web pages, and one I particularly liked was this Big Brother site (you'll need Flash to see it.) It doesn't do much, but it gives me the willies...


Working on the periphery of the IT business, I find the Register a fun way of keeping up with what's going on. But I'm beginning to suspect that they're losing the plot. Must be the hard slog up to Christmas that's doing it, but do you think this story is altogether serious?


How about this for a novel way of examining the day's news: no words, just the most frequently-used photographs? News Images is already on my favourites list, and I have to say it's one of those simple ideas that had me slapping my forehead and saying "why didn't I think of that?"


Advanced helicopters these days seem to be getting along fine without Roy Scheider (or, for that matter, James Farentino.) Mr Scheider would certainly have trouble fitting inside Seiko-Epson's latest mechanical delight. Remember those Centibots from a couple of months ago? Well, now they can be airborne! The only thing that irritates me about the design is the untidy trailing wires, but it's still an amazing feat of engineering.


As a Fortean, I love it whan science comes up with a new discovery that it isn't altogether sure it should have. The latest example is a doozy - a subatomic particle that shouldn't exist, now been confirmed by a second experiment at a different accelerator. Cue much shuffling and waving of arms amongst people looking a trifle embarrassed. All this fuss over a couple of weird mesons, I dunno...


So BT have said that they'll have Broadband available for the entire country by 2005? Dream on, fellas...


...around the orbit of Neptune is a collection of large lumps of ice and rock known as the Kuiper Belt. You may have heard of the argument amongst astronomers, some of whom want to reclassify Pluto as a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) rather than as a planet. Other KBOs crop up from time to time, and the one discovered this week is one of the largest. Not big enough to be a planet, but you'd certainly notice if it fell on you!


Ever received a 419 scam email? They're usually from some eminent sounding person in Nigeria, asking for your bank details so he can help you make lots of money. Of course it's fraud; the 419 refers to the penal code in Nigerian law that concerns such activities. However, amazingly enough, people do fall for it, losing thousands of pounds in the process. There have also been deaths.

But now, the tables are being turned. The Guardian reports on the latest sport of 419-baiting, where it's the con-men being conned. Refreshingly, it seems that some of the scammers are as greedy and stupid as their victims...


Bet that foxed you, didn't it? Glad you managed to catch up with the shiny new domain name I've got here. I'm very impressed with Demon's customer services, who had me up and running by teatime after I phoned them after lunch. For a little while at least, I'm hoping I'll be free of the two or three hundred pieces of spam I was getting in my in tray every day...


Had a great time this evening at Cheltenham Town Hall, seeing Blackmore's Night in concert. Yes, that's Ritchie Blackmore, he of The Outlaws, Deep Purple and Rainbow. These days he plays lute and hurdy gurdy on stage as well as guitar, although the white Strat did make an appearance. Since I saw him last he's taken his playing to a whole new level - his fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing was jaw-dropping and I really enjoyed the gig. Rock fans may be surprised to hear that it featured music with a profoundly medieval theme (although there was a version of Soldier of Fortune in there somewhere as well.)

The support band (Albert and Thomas from the German band Geyer), were also fun. They had the most esoteric collection of instruments I've ever seen at a concert. One musical instrument they used had me fascinated - I'd never even heard of a nyckelharpa before, let alone seen anyone playing one. It's played with a bow, and appears to use keys to raise and lower frets against the strings as required: a real Heath Robinson affair!


According to this week's New Scientist magazine, the solar flare last week is now assessed as an X28, and it was 40% more powerful than the previous record holder. That's a pretty large increment, and I think I'm now even more worried than I was last week...


Well, I'm back at work after a few days off eating and drinking far too much. Last night we went to the Balti Society again, and although we had to wait quite a while (never arrive at a restaurant just after a party of 16 people has turned up) the food was very good. Today I'm on sandwiches and crisps, and somehow it's just not the same...


Yes, I'm taking the day off. It's Dad's birthday, and I'm over here in North Norfolk for a few days with my parents to celebrate - and to try and get the delivery of Dad's new PC sorted out. The company said they were going to deliver it last Monday, but it never turned up. When I rang on Friday, they told me there was a problem with the courier. Today Dad's been told his system has been re-ordered (which sounded strange, if they'd had a problem with the courier), and they gave him a new order number, which their automated system then refused to validate - when I phoned up later, they gave me a completely different reference number with a different number of digits in it! Considering this company are supposed to be the world's number 1 PC manufacturer, I'm not impressed at all. Certain other four letter words spring to mind to describe them, and they don't begin with the letter D.


Perhaps the most disappointing news I've heard today is the fact that the BBC are planning a new series of the Hitch-Hikers guide To The Galaxy - despite the fact that both Peter Jones (the voice of the Guide) and Douglas Adams (the author) are, sadly, dead. Without them, I'm afraid that any material produced will be woefully lacking. The original radio series was a classic - and it deserves to be left that way.

Remember: Sequels? Just say no!


There was another solar flare on the 4th, and this one was HUGE. Solar flares are classified on a logarithmic scale, so each one is 10 times bigger than the last, from B (the smallest, although "small" is a very relative term when you're talking about stuff happening on the Sun) through C, M and finally X (the largest). X class solar flares are awe-inspiringly big. Even X3s or X5s are pretty unusual, although in March 1989 an X15 solar flare knocked out much of Canada's electrical supply grid (and you wouldn't believe how hard it was to find out that item of information.)

The flare on Nov 4th was an X20. Yup, that's right. X Twenty.

I'm beginning to find all this activity slightly worrying, because there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it...


I saw the Matrix Revolutions tonight - and I'll be writing a review in due course. But all I can say is, save your money. If you have any investment in the mythos, or the characters, or the plot of the first and second films, don't see the film, because it'll ruin it all for you. It's truly dreadful. It's not monumentally awful in the way that something like "Brotherhood of the Wolf" was, which is a shame because at least that film was so howlingly bad that it became hysterically funny. Revolutions just sucked.


Halloween's trick or treaters were rather thin on the ground this year: one solitary kid in a plastic mask, which was a pretty poor show. So I had a bowlful of sweets kicking around at the weekend - luckily Rebecca and the Twins were here again so I had help polishing them off. Although there are still quite a few left... I guess we were too busy playing Burnout on the Gamecube!


Halloween isn't celebrated with quite the same degree of rampant commercialism over here as it is in the States. In Britian, we still seem to devote the majority of our energies at this time of year to Bonfire Night, which is held on November 5th. When I was a kid, everything seemed to happen on the actual day, but these days things have spread out a fair bit. People have been having firework parties round here since the middle of October. There are more going on tonight, judging by the sounds or regular controlled explosions that are drifting across the village.

Next weekend is when most of the big displays take place: I used to enjoy going to the big displays at Milton Keynes city centre, which featured some huge pyrotechnics. This year, though, I'll be taking things easy. If the weather's anything like it was last night there will be some pretty soggy bonfires out there.


The weirdest thing I've found on the web recently has to be this selection of children's drawings inspired by Radiohead's latest album. One has to question whether it was a good idea to play it to children; you don't exactly file Radiohead's music alongside kids' classics like Nellie The Elephant, or Jake the Peg. The results are interesting in a creepy and disturbing sort of way - apart from one or two efforts which determinedly link in to Disney movies come hell or high water.