Elementary Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: November 2007

November was another very busy month, and my problems in getting on the net in the evening continued. I was so busy I ended up dropping my attempt to complete NaNoWriMo this year.

As a result, this month's blog was a bit thin on the ground compared with the average. Nevertheless, there were some interesting things to comment on, so here they all are.


What has happened to the BBC's News 24 channel? It used to be really good. Now - with one or two exceptions - it's full of vacuous presenters talking crap about trivial things. They seem to be obsessed with the world of entertainment, and while I don't mind hearing about that sort of thing occasionally (and I really enjoy Mark Kermode being grumpy about the latest brainless Hollywood blockbuster) I don't believe for one instant that it needs regular dedicated segments on the subject. It's not news, folks. It's marketing.

Yesterday evening things got really out of hand. About half the evening seemed to be taken up by talking to people at the premiere of The Golden Compass. The BBC's news website is also plastered with stories and pictures related to the event. The amount of attention the film got was completely out of proportion to its significance compared to other events that happened yesterday, such as the continued disintegration of the government's credibility, civil unrest in France, more trouble in Sri Lanka, a new initiative for peace in the Middle East, and problems with beef imported from Brazil. News 24 made no mention whatsoever of the death of Quiet Riot's singer Kevin DuBrow as far as I can tell. But every ten minutes or so it was back to the red carpet. I hope the BBC were well paid for all their advertising coverage.

After all, they could do with the money.


Thanks to Sam for pointing out that in Greenpeace's current "name a humpback whale" competition, there's what looks suspiciously like a bit of vote rigging going on, as Mister Splashy Pants has roared off in the lead (if whales roar, that is) with nearly 70% of the vote. We reckon Alan Davies is behind it all.


Okay Dr Who fans - the last time we saw Rose Tyler she was stuck in a parallel universe that was so out of the way that the Doctor had to use a supernova just to get enough energy to make a phone call to her. Now forgive me if I don't remember this correctly, but weren't we told that there was no possibility of further contact at that point?

If that is what happened (and I'm pretty sure it was) it's going to be interesting to see how Russell T Davies and the gang think up an explanation that brings her back.


Good grief. Forget the references on the web page to the Terminator, someone has built a real-life honest-to-goodness power loader suit like Ripley used in Aliens. Heavy manual labour will never be the same again.


While we're on the subject of heavy manual labour, I have to say that I could really have done with one of those suits last week. I'm not as young as I used to be, and my back will no longer tolerate the abuse I used to happily subject it to. Last week I was moving chairs, bookshelves, sofas and whatnot around. As a result of all that lifting, sitting down anywhere - let alone in front of a keyboard - has been unbearably painful. I've had to either lie flat on my back or stand up for most of the last week. The back pain has gradually faded away over the last couple of days, so I think I'm over the worst of it - certainly I've not had to take any painkillers since Thursday night. Even so, the chair I'm sitting in as I type this is only really comfortable because I've got several cushions supporting my back. It'll be interesting to see how I cope with my chair in the office tomorrow.

Why was I moving furniture around? Well, I finally bought a new TV. This one fits nicely on the wall, and has freed up all the space the old one took up. My old telly, it has to be said, was rather large. In fact it was the size of a refrigerator. As a result it would only fit in the room at one end, and if I was sitting in my usual armchair which was at the other end of the room, the screen was just too far away. Now I have a larger picture and I am sitting closer to it, which has made a great difference; watching Match of the Day yesterday was great. The old TV will be going upstairs as soon as I can find someone to help me lift it, but I will be tackling that problem very carefully as I don't want to have to spend another week flat on my back.


I've also been having another bunch of connection problems this week. My brother found this article about dodgy Netgear power supplies on the web, so I bought a beefier adaptor from Maplins in an attempt to fix things. I was still having problems, so I rang BT to get the line tested. While I was on the phone to them, we were subjected to a deafening burst of static from something or other. That's what you might call an "aha" moment - no wonder the line was dropping. They've gone away to test things, and since that phone call I haven't had any more problems. Of course time will tell, but certainly at the moment things seem to be OK.


I listen to quite a bit of music, as I'm sure you already know. The twins signed up to a music website a while ago and they have occasionally suggested that I ought to sign up as well. Last week I finally got round to setting up a Last.FM account, and I've been very interested to see how my music listening habits build up from day to day. For example, I listen to far more Beck than I thought I did. I also listen to a lot of Allan Holdsworth, but there again I knew that already - I'm off to see him play live this evening in the Swindon Arts Centre.

What's really interesting about Last.FM, though, is the way it recommends other artists that you might like based on what you've already listened to. Its recommendations are far more on the money than, say, Amazon's. For example, this morning Last were suggesting that I might like albums by Bruford (they are already in my collection, and I'm listening to One of a Kind right now), Ben Folds and Gorillaz. Interesting combination, and they're artists I already listen to. But some of their other recommendations were a bit more obscure for me: Harvey Danger, Cosmosquad, and Diskreetse Mango Trio. I'd never even heard of these people, but a brief riffle through the web makes me think I need to hear more Cosmosquad, at the very least.


Apparently, Des'ree wrote the worst song lyrics in the history of music. Nice to see U2 in there at number five, too; the biggest surprise for me was that Oasis could only manage seventh place.


Well, this year the spark didn't catch. I've really struggled with NaNoWriMo this month and I'm over 10,000 words behind where I ought to be with a piece of work that I really can't see going in an interesting direction. My back is giving me a considerable amount of grief at the moment and sitting in front of a keyboard for any longer than I absolutely have to seems like a silly thing to do, to be honest, so today I decided that I won't be carrying on with that particular piece. It's a shame, as a really enjoyed last year's event.


I subscribe to the Snopes RSS feed, as it's a good way to keep up to date with the latest Internet memes doing the rounds. Occasionally though, they send out information on stuff that really did happen, and one article published recently led me to this amazing collection of photographs of portraits and insignias formed by groups of soldiers who had recently returned from fighting in the First World War. Actually, "groups" doesn't do them justice, as one picture of The Liberty Bell is formed by 25,000 soldiers standing around on a parade field. It was taken by Arthur Mole and John Thomas, who seem to have made a career out of making pictures in this way. Wouldn't it be nice if all the armed forces had to do these days was stand around contibuting to art projects?


British mobile phone users now send more than a billion text messages every week. That's more than the total number of messages sent in the whole twelve months of 1999, according to the BBC. In 2006 UK users sent 41.8 billion messages, so that's impressive growth for a technology that's been around for several years, and the graphs just keep on going.

While we're talking about SMS messages, did you know that the first message was sent on the Vodafone network on December 3rd 1982? It consisted of two words, spelt out in full: "Merry Christmas!" These days, any mobile phone you buy can send and receive SMS messages across any of the networks - but that only became possible as recently as 1998. The technology has become ubiquitous, and its conventions are spreading into the wider world. Several teachers and instructors I've spoken to recently told me that they often receive homework or mark exam papers that have been written in text speak. There were reports last year of decline in SMS messaging ability being used to diagnose stroke or other neurological problems. SMS messages in Europe are frequently used as a way of paying for goods and services as an alternative to using a credit card; this is particularly useful for online businesses which are aimed at children, as their target market is unlikely to possess a credit card.

The situation is different in the United States, however. There, both the sender and the recipient may be charged for the transmission of a message. The integration of SMS across different providers has taken much longer. With unlimited talk plans on many phones, it could simply be cheaper to just give someone a call. And why send an abbreviated message of just a hundred or so characters when you can use your Blackberry or Sidekick to send a proper email message? It'll be interesting to see if American users start up the same growth curve as the rest of the world


A selection of photos
By Chris Harris

What could be nicer than a book of photographs taken by your friendly neighbourhood blogger?


Yes, it's true. I've foolishly signed up for National Novel Writing Month again. The idea is that I have to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. That's fifty thousand words by midnight on November 30th. Am I mad? Well, I managed it last year, and I'm certainly going to have a go at making it two in a row. Just to keep myself under pressure to make my daily word count, I'm posting this link so you can keep an eye on my progress. Right now, I've got just under 47,000 words to go.


I put this up on Linkbunnies, but it's so good I'm posting it here too. One of the blogs I read regularly belongs to a very talented photographer called Ben Hammersley, and his entry today features video of a stunning rant about Pachelbel's Canon in D by Rob Paravonian. Here's the YouTube version. I always wondered why that Green Day song sounded so bloody familiar.


If you live in America, at least. Sadly, the headline promises far more than the story delivers.


I've been using my new iPod to find much silliness on YouTube. Thanks to Rob Zombie I am now aware of the mashup trailer for House of 1000 Muppets which even he thinks is funny. There's Max and Gabe's Internet Thing (they're the guys who produce Penny Arcade in case you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years), and there's the video for They Might Be Giants' new single The Mesopotamians which manages to riff on the Monkees and the Beatles whilst taking the mick out of Albarn and Hewlett's cartoon pop band Gorillaz.

You can also see the TMBG video for I'm Impressed, but I don't expect that one to make it on to British TV any time soon; a robot version of Julius Caesar is going to freak the younger kids out a little too much. Better let them watch The Shadow Government instead, which features the classic refrain:

"Here comes the HMMWV
Up the library steps...