Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy Hogmanay

Or Bliadhna Mhath Ùr as my mother would say, and all the best for 2009!

Make sure that you enjoy your extra second of 2008, just long enough to savour that dram of fine malt at the back of the throat.

Congratulations to one of my favourite authors on being awarded a knighthood in the New Years Honours List – arise Sir Terry Pratchett!

I am heading West to Cheddar for the festivities, so posting may well be non existent for a few days – if I get to bed before 05:00 tomorrow it will be a miracle.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Goat News

Over in Sweden a town builds a 43 foot high goat out of straw every festive season (don't ask, must be down to the long winter nights) and most years since they started in 1966 it does not last beyond Christmas.

Vandals keep burning it down, full story here.

Meantime police in Manchester show how out of touch with reality some people are, I mean dialling 999 because the pizza you ordered came with the wrong topping - WTF?

Over in Afghanistan the CIA is getting creative with Viagra – I thought that only doctors were supposed to prescribe it?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

PJ Harvey

I am on the road visiting family, so with no further delay here is a song from the great Polly Jean Harvey:

Friday, 26 December 2008

The Wire

WARNING Contains a Season 5 spoiler!

This past couple of weeks I have finally caught up with the last two seasons of The Wire and was not disappointed apart from the fact that for me it has come to an end.

At first glance it could be taken as a simple tale of cops trying to take down a street drug organisation in the wastelands of West Baltimore using wire taps. This would be a major disservice to the breadth of vision demonstrated by the show's creators and writers; it is more of a detailed examination of inner city life in the US as seen from different perspectives of organisations and their members operating within it.

The stories of drug gangs, police departments, labour unions, city/state elected officials, city school systems and a local newspaper are all intertwined to varying degrees. The plots unfold slowly over the entire season or in some cases seasons, it comes across as more of a novel than a tv cop show.

It could never be described as an easy watch and is the antithesis of all the CSIs and L&Os where one or two plot lines are revealed and wrapped up in 42 minutes.

Background music is rare in the shows and only appears in context, rap music pounding in the dealers cars or that Pogue's song from yesterday when the police gather in an Irish bar for a wake for a dead colleague.

It also contains the most unlikely heroic figure ever to be seen in a screen drama, a stick up artist by the name of Omar Little who lives by a strong code and only targets drug dealers and enforcers and would never threaten an ordinary citizen. While ruthless in his pursuit of money and drugs he takes the time to bring his grandmother to church on a Sunday and is outraged when he is attacked doing this as her life has been threatened.

In this clip he is giving evidence against a drug enforcer accused of murdering a state witness and gives as good as he gets to the venal defence attorney.




Here he is pursuing his chosen line of business and this last clip shows him coming to the sort of end his life style made inevitable.

Cannot praise this show enough, the writing and the acting are superb and the depiction of the lives of the corner dealers feels very realistic – well worth catching on dvd.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Yule Greetings

Whatever your faith (or lack of one) have a really cool Yule and a stress free holiday season.

Feel sure that a lot of people that I know will be glad to see the back of 2008 and hopefully 2009 will bring them better times.

From the classic album Rum Sodomy & the Lash (well the 2004 extended version) here is a fine track as featured on The Wire (more on this later).

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Birthday Earthrise!

It was 40 years ago today that the astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to view and photograph the earth rising from the moon. The pictures are iconic and the story of how they came to be taken is interesting as it all occurred as an unplanned, unscripted part of the mission.

Only 24 humans have had the privilege to view the sight and that number is unlikely to rise in the near future, the pictures remind us that while our planet seems like a large place to us in the cosmic order of things it is a small beer. Perhaps best depicted by the words of Douglas Adams:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.“

Monday, 22 December 2008

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice (or shortest day of the year) and as usual a bunch of pagans, hippies and druids gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the occasion. It is also thought by some to mark the start of the midwinter Yule festival – another relic from pagan times.

While not a pagan this is my favourite astronomically marked day of the year, as from today on the days start to lengthen and the idea dawns that Spring is just around the corner.

Enjoy the photos to be found at the link.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Demolition Time

Have always enjoyed watching buildings being demolished, this link is to a clip of a US football stadium coming down and has further links to other clips. These examples are done using explosives which is a highly skilled art while also being expensive.

Fred Dibnah was a Lancastrian steeplejack who became a television personality in the late seventies after appearing on some BBC documentaries. His method of demolishing factory chimneys was a great deal cheaper while also requiring skill, he would install wooden props to support the structure on one side while removing the bricks from the base.

Then a mixture of old tyres and wood was placed on that side and a fire was lit, after the props were consumed the chimney would fall having vented smoke for the last time. Here is a clip of his 90th and final chimney demolition.

Friday, 19 December 2008

28 Weeks Later

Lil' bro' had a very dodgy copy of this film on dvd which would only play the first 5 mins so I was very pleased to pick up a copy at a very discounted price while doing my vulture impression over the “not quite dead yet” body of Woolworths last week.

This is a pretty dark tale with an amusing twist right at the end, starring Robert Carlyle it describes the aftermath of a viral infection which has killed most of the UK's population.

It has to go down as one of the best zombie”rage virus infected
human” movies of all time, and contains the best death by helicopter scene in any film that I have seen – worth a watch.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Questions Answered?

Are children made hyperactive by sugar intake or do we lose up to 50% of our body heat through our heads? These and other myths have been scientifically debunked by a couple of bright researchers at the University of Indiana.

Hands up everyone who knew that adultery is a criminal offence in South Korea? Or that it will “celebrate” it's 50th birthday next year? It came as news to me when I read this story.

Had to check the calendar and make sure that it was not the first of April when I read this, lady wakes up goes into another room and powers up her computer, connects to the internet and logs onto her email account and sends three messages – while asleep!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

German Shepherd vs £25 Million Footballer

This video is impressive, with the right agent this dog could be earning £130,000 per week in the English Premier League as a top defender. No matter what Torres tries the dog is more than a match for him.

Deserves a large bone for that effort.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Chris Hoy

The man proved himself to be a hero of track cycling this year by winning 2 World Championships and 3 Olympic Gold medals, he also won Gold at the Olympics 4 years ago and then found that his event then had been discontinued.

On top of all that he is a native of my homeland of Scotland and is a pretty unassuming kind of dude; last night he won the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year competition voted by the British public.

In his acceptance speech he seemed to be a tad surprised at winning, which was justified considering that the bookies had a 19 year old swimmer and double Olympic Gold medal winner (& Jimmy Choo product addict) or the youngest F1 champion as hot favourites.

Could not find any footage of his Olympic wins but here is some footage of him winning the World Championship sprint final.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Glasgow Subway

This underground system opened on this day in Glasgow 112 years ago and was initially called the Glasgow District Subway, it was renamed the Glasgow Underground in 1936 which lasted until 2003 when it became rebranded as Glasgow Subway.

I used it back when I was at the other University in the city and found the service to be reliable, compared to the one in London the trains are a lot smaller – in the number of carriages as well as their size. Always thought that the London ones were huge until I came across double decker ones in Sydney.

Note that this video incorrectly describes the last station as Partick Cross when it is then revealed to be Kelvinhall – great concert venue where I first saw Steve Hillage back in the seventies.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Jimi Hendrix

Was trawling through my off line archives earlier and was stunned to notice that I have been posting for a fair wee while now and had never put one up about Jimi.

Never got the chance to see him live (right up there with Bob Marley as the top two I missed) but own all of the stuff released while he was still alive. An electric guitar player without any peer in my opinion this is a live performance of Little Wing, shame that there is no video but as it was recorded 40 years ago not that surprising.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Zeitgeist

Google has just published it's 2008 Zeitgeist list of what people have been most searching for through their engine, broken down by countries and search subjects. This makes for interesting reading, the entries at numbers 4 and 7 in the global fastest rising list meant nothing to me but turn out to be social networking sites in Spain and Poland respectively.

It was good to see the large hadron collider making it into the UK's fastest rising list at number 6, demonstrates that we are still interested in “big science”.

Well worth a visit and some time browsing through the results.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Life On Mars?

Well not really but in an interesting scientific development scientists have perfected a technique that allows them to determine the presence of water and carbon dioxide in planets many light years away. If we are ever able to develop a faster than light method of space travel then this would allow us to identify star systems worth visiting to search for life or to colonise when our planet gets too crowded.

Meantime back on earth the worst ten tv ads from the UK for this year have been chosen by a magazine, they are listed here with handy links to YouTube if you need to remind yourself of how bad they were. Luckily for me I had only seen around four of them (fast forward is a great invention) but they do contain some very wooden performances from “celebrities”.

At least our commercial broadcasters are restricted to around 8 minutes of adverts per hour, in the US that figure is 18 minutes which explains why when watching imports from their on satellite stations here there are so many trails for other shows topping and tailing the breaks.

And from “Pointless West” as my relatives in the catchment area describe it, comes this tale of a very successful cat burglar called Frankie.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Oliver Postgate

Oliver Postgate died yesterday at the age of 83, a demi god amongst the pantheon of UK tv children's programming he was the creator and writer of a number of popular series from the late fifties through to the seventies.

The were made using the stop motion film method and reflect a gentler age – the series of Bagpuss was voted most popular children's programme of all time in 1999, so still relevant at the end of the 20th century.

This short clip from Noggin The Nog will give you a feel for the gentle whimsy that ran through most of his work.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Doctor Kermode's “Advent” Calendar

My liking for the good doctor's film reviews and sustained ranting has been pretty well documented, have been meaning to put up a link to his Advent calendar which contains video clips of him culled from this years efforts – well worthwhile dropping in each day.

While on a festive theme, lil' bro' sent me a clip of a Yule tide message from Osama which is worth a look – if only for the happy ending!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Yesterday In History

50 years ago yesterday there were two significant developments in the history of the UK, starting off with the first section of what is now our motorway network being opened. An eight mile stretch of dual carriageway had been built to bypass the town of Preston, with a hedge running down the middle and no hard shoulders at the sides – they used soft shale which turned out to be a bad idea.

In an interesting counterpoint a new 5.8 mile section of what has since become the M6 was opened yesterday joining the English network to the Scottish one – I look forward to using it on my next trip home to the Highlands rather than the tractor infested section of dual carriageway that had been there for many years.

Meanwhile on the same day in Bristol our constitutional monarch became the first person in the country to use Subscriber Trunk Dialling to make a long distance telephone call without having to go through an operator.

Difficult to judge which of these events has had the greater impact, we now have around 2,200 miles of motorways criss crossing the land but at peak hours (or following an accident) they can come to a total standstill. On the other hand the phone network(s) have leapt forward at a dizzying pace over the last 25 years following the introduction of the first digital telephone exchanges.

Call waiting, caller id, ISDN lines were just the start; I am writing this using a 6Mbps ADSL connection which is costing me around £10 per month – my first internet connection cost around £7 per month and I was lucky to get 33 Kbps from it.

We've come a long long way together – an excuse to stick in a link to the Fatboy Slim track Praise Me.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Nothing To See Here ...

so move along people!

Head on over to Noddy's place and view his incredible festive light show.

You will be amazed.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

One Billion Mice

Logitech has announced that they have manufactured their billionth mouse (in China naturally), I have been working in the IT industry long enough to remember using machines without them and the first time that I came across one back in '85.

That was on an Apple Mac which was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a GUI and a mouse – 23 years later and that interface and a mouse is now the current standard for human computer interaction.

According to industry analysts the day of the mouse may be coming to an end with increasing use of touch pads and screens and other interfaces – while they started with mice Logitech has since diversified and will probably survive.

Nowadays a billion refers to 1,000 million but I grew up when in the UK we were still using the long scale definition which was a million million and it was not until 1974 that we adopted the short scale definition. What surprised me reading the wiki entry is the number of countries (and Quebec) that are still using the long scale definition – guess it makes for an easy ride when meeting the IMF, “oh our national debt is only 2 billion ducats”.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Saint Andrew's Day


And in order to celebrate all things Scottish today here is a track from one of our finest bands – Shooglenifty play a style of music that some describe as Celtic fusion, all I will say is that they are a very fine band who are best experienced in a live environment.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Toots Hibbert

Saw the movie This Is England this week, an interesting and at times uplifting account of a 12 year old boy's summer in 1983 in an unnamed English coastal town. It also contains a very dark central theme of racism and the far right which some might find a total turn off.

The film opens with a montage of scenes from the time set to one of my favourite Toots and The Maytalls tracks 54-46 Was My Number. Uplifting ska which brings a grin to my face every time I hear it or any one of their other tracks, always brings back memories of hot summer days – particularly appreciated on these dreich frozen November days.



Here is some footage of them doing Sweet And Dandy – which might have been lifted from the movie The Harder They Come, but it is so long since I have seen it that my memory cannot be relied upon.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Roman Oratory

Read an interesting article in the paper this week about the next US President's use of “tricks” of oratory first deployed by Cicero in Ancient Rome in his speechifying; these include the tricolon (strings of three points), antonomasia (the identification of a person by an epithet or appellative that is not the person's name), anaphora and epiphora (repetition of a phrase at the start or end of a sentence).

Always good to learn new things, not that I am planning a career switch to become a politician.

This demonstrates yet again just how far ahead the Romans of over 2000 years ago were in their thinking or how bereft of new ideas Western civilization has been for the last 1000 years.

There was also a reference to a book about the dumbing down of President's speeches over the last 100 years from college reading levels then to 8th grade school kids now (ages 13-14 if wiki is to be believed).

Googled the author and found myself on his blog, he writes pretty well as you might expect for someone whose higher education was done at Oxford. This post on why he thought it was now time to change the mantra “Support Our Troops” to “Honour Our Veterans” struck me as thought provoking.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Jeff Buckley

A good friend of mine was a huge fan of his dad (Tim) and so made for an early convert to the songs of the son, he met him after one of his first low key gigs over here and was impressed by his openness and friendly demeanour. Sadly he died at the age of 31 in a swimming accident in Memphis He would have turned 42 on the 17th of this month and I imagine that he would have given us more fine songs.

This one is a cover of a Leonard Cohen song and is a live performance rather than the more familiar studio version (which seems to crop up on soundtracks on a regular basis). The stark musical style and intricate vocal phrasing remind me of some of his dad's work and illustrate what a great loss his early death was to the world of music.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tax The Rich – But Not Us

Monday's budget statement attempted to get our economy back on track but it looked like the usual smoke and mirrors to me - reduce VAT by 2.5% but increase the duty on fuel, alcohol and tobacco by the same amount. However the excellent Private Eye magazine draws this interesting fact to our attention:

£150,000

Earning threshold at which Government is to introduce new 45% tax rate.

£141,866

Annual salary of cabinet ministers.

Business as usual then in the corridors of power - and a rare example of the Treasury getting their sums right.

Thanks to D for pointing this out.

Monday, 24 November 2008

ISS Spotting


Heard on the radio today that the ISS (International Space Station) is currently on a orbit path which makes it visible over the UK. While the station is visible with the naked eye the missing $100,000 toolkit will require the use of a pair of binoculars – but if the sky is clear it should be found some 6 minutes ahead of the station.

Only visible for a couple of minutes which is a real plus considering the current freezing temperatures; it is a pretty impressive sight and I find it inspiring to think of the people up there living and working on it.

First time I saw it was up in the Highlands where we were staying at a rented house that did not let you smoke inside, so were sat out front in the middle of nowhere smoking and drinking when one of us noticed it. Luckily we had an expert with us who identified exactly what we were witnessing.

There is a very good site where you can enter your location or lattitude and longitude to get some sky maps to show you where to find it. You can obtain your lat/long values by visiting the Met Office site and finding the town where you live or one nearby and the values are listed on the weather page. If you live high enough to want to enter your height above sea level then go over to Metcheck and enter your post code and use the ASL value.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Florence and The Machine

Stumbled across a song by this young lady during the week and was blown away by her voice, it was released on an independent label earlier in the year and since then she has been snapped up/kidnapped by Island Records. Her lyrics and tunes are pretty cool as well - judge for yourself by clicking on some of the links below and enjoy some of the sounds that have been rocking DBA cottages this week.

The Force is indeed strong in this one – I predict a long and successful career until such time as she becomes bored with it all.




This is the video for her new single Dog Days which comes out on the 1st of December, this is a live rendition of Girl With One Eye, and finally here is the fantastic video for Kiss With A Fist – wee bit different to the live version above.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Silly Money

This is the title of a credit crunch 4 show special by Bremner Bird and Fortune which came to and end this week, using their usual mix of impressions, two handed interviews of "establishment" figures and relevant archive footage. These 3 satirists have been taking the piss out of our “glorious” leaders (and every one else's come to think of it) for the last 9 years.

Not everyone's cup of tea but they do make me laugh, in the first one they attempt to address the question of Where The Money Went? This clip is the start of the first show (the others are available via related links).



The second one attempted to answer the question of Where Did The Money Come From, and the answer appears to be mainly China – it is estimated that 70% of their $2 trillion reserves is invested in the US. This is a link to the full 48 minute show.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Stem Cells To The Rescue

A woman in Spain has a new lease of life following a successful transplant of part of her trachea (windpipe) without the use of anti rejection drugs thanks to the use of stem cells. This is also a story of European cooperation as the stem cells were added to the trachea by scientists in Bristol who then passed it on to colleagues in Italy who used their bioreactor to fuse them in place. Finally the surgeons in Barcelona performed the operation back in June of this year and in a short time her left lung was back operating as normal.

I saw an interview with her surgeon last night who said that he had received a call from her in August at 05:30 complaining that she was short of breath; when she explained that she had been out dancing in Ibiza until that time he replied that there was nothing to worry about and he would have been feeling the same if it was him.

This could prove to be a real turning point in modern medical technology if it can be replicated in the future – and they get the funding to pursue it.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

World Toilet Day

Today the 19th of November is World Toilet Day.

Sounds like a joke but for millions of people around the globe the lack of decent sanitation is a very serious health risk. The presence of a decent toilet is something that most of us in the West take for granted, a place where we can have a quiet read or talk on the phone according to this survey – WTF?

Not a very glamorous thing but the absence of adequate sanitation is a problem for an estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe according to this charity – something to ponder this morning while sat on the throne – got to be better than phoning a friend.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Augustus Pablo

Was over at a friend's blog and came across a video which featured someone playing a melodica and that reminded me of the late great exponent of the instrument Augustus Pablo.

Originally a keyboard player he became entranced by the melodica and put this so called child's instrument to great use as a lead over reggae dub rhythms. Must have first come across him in the late seventies and from the outset I fell under the spell of his haunting solos – he always worked with the cream of Jamaican musicians and produced several excellent albums.

He sadly passed away in 1999 but he left behind a fine legacy in very distinctive reggae music, here is a live version of Java:



Here is a track from his classic East Of The River Nile album that I had never heard until today, it appeared as one of six bonus tracks when the CD was reissued in 2002 – that will teach me to “never” buy something that I already own on vinyl – Islington Rock.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Mark Kermode – Quantum Of Solace

Have not included one of the good doctor's rants for a while so time to dust him off again, here he is weighing into the new Bond film describing eloquently why it failed to move him and almost had him nodding off.

Not as scathing as his contempt for any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, he identifies the main faults of the movie while going on to say that it will rake in loads of cash at the box office.

His best line comes when he seeks to illustrate his point that you do not feel any pain from the action sequences - "like watching teletubbies bouncing around in a padded cell".

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Kristallnacht

Today marks the 70th anniversary of this infamous night in history, over 25,000 Jewish men were removed from their homes in Germany and sent to concentration camps. Mobs attacked Jewish owned businesses and synagogues – destroying many of them, 91 people died while the police watched and did nothing.

The violence was organised by the Nazi government which had been looking for an excuse to unleash this terror against the Jewish community, that had come from Paris where the son of a Polish Jew who had been deported to Poland (along with 15,000 others) the previous month shot an official at the German embassy.

This night marked the start of the Holocaust and millions died and suffered as the results of events set in motion on this day but planned well in advance.

Nothing on that scale has been seen since then but even in the last 20 years similar events have taken place in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur in Sudan.

On this day of remembrance we should all pause and reflect that in some places the same old shit that was being carried out 70 years ago is still happening to people. It would be good to believe that one day it will stop occurring but I do not think that it will be in my lifetime.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Happy Landings & Other Tales

Came across this story yesterday, the pilot of a light aircraft had a stroke at 5,500 feet and went blind, kept his wits about him and radioed for help. An RAF pilot flew beside him and escorted him to one of their airfields and a safe landing – a happy outcome for something which could have ended in tragedy.

Jeremy Clarkson made an off colour provocative remark last Sunday night (no real surprise there, it's what he does) about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes and 500 people complain, an MP calls for him to be sacked. A more reasonable response came from a Glasgow based games company which released a game where Jeremy can be run over by trucks while collecting license players cash – fun for all the family.

There is a link available to play the game on the news page.

Meantime in Malaysia a blogger has been released after spending 8 weeks in prison under some very dubious legislation – 2 years without trial under some “Internal Security Act”; just the sort of blanket power our government would love to get put in place here.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bonfire Night

Tonight is bonfire night when we celebrate the foiling of a plot to blow up the King and his parliament on this day in 1605, this is done by having bonfires and letting off fireworks at public or private displays. What I had not realised until recently is that for over 250 years the celebrations were compulsory by royal decree.

Even more surprising was that they had their 36 barrels of gunpowder in a rented cellar under the House of Lords for 8 months before their plans ran off the rails.

Might appear odd to celebrate a failed explosion plot by burning large piles of wood and filling the sky with colourful explosions, but I suppose that it is traditional. Have always enjoyed a good outdoor display under a cold clear autumn night – not much chance of that tonight as it has been a dreich overcast day.

Here is an 8 min display from London a year ago that was set to music – enjoy.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Was watching a documentary on American history a couple of weeks back and they played a CCR track at the end of it (Have You Ever Seen The Rain). Had not thought about them since John Fogerty's solo success in the mid eighties, so dusted off some old vinyl and drifted back in time.

They sound as fresh now as they did on the first listen, simple short songs well executed with great harmonies and fine musicianship – that was what passed for pop music back in the day.

To a wee loon in the highlands they conjured images of a distant and exotic landscape; today with thousands of air miles and a fair few places visited around the planet they still manage to do it.



Here is another favourite Bad Moon Rising – cool animation.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Good News

Due to the murky way that financial regulation operates in Germany a number of hedge funds have been hit with a bill of around £24 billion. These are the fine/deranged dudes whose specialisation in the dodgy practice of short selling has not helped the current world shares downturn. They were gambling on the share price of VW going down while being unaware that Porsche had been buying up shares through intermediaries – this would illegal over here but is fine in Germany.

Good to see that they are getting the comeuppance which they deserve.

A Qantas flight from LA to Sydney lost the use of it's weather radar shortly after taking off, luckily an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland was flying not far in front of it. So the Qantas flight followed it to Auckland where the problem was resolved – good to have friends in your airspace.

Good to hear that someone is making a profit in these gloomy economic times, coming on the back of BP's $10 bn profits (up 148% from last year) and Shell's $10.9 bn profits (up 71%) we hear from Exxon Mobil. Spare a thought for these guys. they only made a profit of $14.8 bn in the third quarter – a disappointing increase of only 58%. expect to see their begging bowls any time now.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cider 104 – Sainsbury's Original Somerset Cider


In these times of credit crunch and house prices crashing I am pleased to bring this product to your attention. At £1.20 for 500ml it is reasonably priced being around 60/70p a bottle cheaper than a premium brand, however there is a better reason for drawing it to your attention.

The product is made by my favourite West Country cider maker, Thatchers whose ciders I have posted about on two or three occasions. This comes through in the taste, probably a medium dry with a fine appley flavour – and at 4.5% abv it will not take your legs out unless drunk to excess.

This one will go down well with tonight's curry - Slàinte mhath!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Born Of Hope

Was pointed to their web site today, and have to say that I really enjoyed the trailers. The aim behind the project is to make a 60 minute film depicting the story of Aragorn's parents that looks like it was made as part of Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings.

If all goes to plan the full piece should be available to download next November, as it is being made without any major funding lets keep our fingers crossed for them. Here is this years teaser trailer:



Entering the title into YouTube does give some related results but the further you scroll down the results start to get a wee bit weird, especially when some US politico with the initials BO starts to appear.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

News or Olds?

So some 1200 years ago it turns out that Arabic sailors were taking their dhows from the Gulf to China and back – which has to be a round trip of over 10,000 miles, pretty good navigation skills there. The discoveries from this wreck off Sumatra show that they were not just popping across for a supply of tea.

Saw something on tv this week about using kites to generate power from the Jetstream – sounded like a pretty difficult task. Turns out it is not only the Dutch who are interested in the possibilities – if they get the funding this might just work in the long term.

My pal Noddy was in knots about the fate of Fudgie the hamster earlier this week – he will be relieved to learn that the escaped miscreant has returned to her cell/cage of her own free will.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Cheap Wine?

Okay, this post is for the benefit of my UK readers but the idea is so cool that it may have been “invented” elsewhere. The basic premise is that the quaffersoffers site allows you to search for discount wine deals available now or coming soon from 11+ UK supermarkets/major wine chains.

You can tailor the search by retailer, country of origin, grape variety, colour/type and price range. They give you the results and when the offer on each wine starts and ends.

For some time now I have been doing this on a random basis with a good friend, we go into a supermarket and spot an offer on a wine type that we enjoy and then phone/mail the details back and forth.

This place takes out all of the legwork and is exactly the sort of site for which the internet was invented – they even give you the percentage discount that your are going to enjoy!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Wills

I do not mean the foppish second in line to the throne over here, but wills as in recording your thoughts on what should happen when you “pop your clogs”. Have had a couple of friends pass this year and it set me to thinking about this subject, even if you do not have large amounts of stuff to dispose of setting down what you would like to happen after the event will make things a lot easier for those left behind.

What type of service and what format? Cremation or burial? Last resting place? Flowers or not? The lists just keep on coming.

Everyone's life comes to an end at sometime, it is the one certainty for us all and the least we can do for those we leave is to make the immediate aftermath a little less fraught with agonising decisions.

Have not yet finalised my thoughts but am much clearer on what I would like to occur; a non religious service, some music and maybe some readings from Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett to lighten the tone followed by a cremation and my ashes scattered in the Highlands.

Oh, and a large wad of cash behind the bar to pay for some Guinness and a few drams at the wake.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Amy LaVere

Came across her last weekend appearing on Jool's show, had never heard of her before but enjoyed the two numbers that they did. She opened up for Seasick Steve at his recent Royal Albert Hall gig, and “coincidentally” or not he appeared in this show – now playing a guitar with all six strings.

Originally from somewhere on the Texas/Louisiana border she is now based in Memphis and is touring over here until the end of the month. Check out the dates at her site – would love to make the one on Monday at a village hall in Cumbria but that is not going to happen.



Here is a song called Take 'em or leave 'em from her first album, from the same gig as the other clip - shame that her bass does not feature strong in the mix on these.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Drunk Pony & Other Tales

This aptly named pony (Fat Boy) got more than he bargained after gorging on apples which had fermented on the ground, probably having difficulty walking (a known side effect of cider drinking that I have experienced) he fell into a swimming pool.

Scientific “proof” that surfing the Internet is good for the brain in older people can be found here.

Some more good news for red squirrels, it appears that some of them are developing immunity to the virus which has been wiping them out. Now that is a line of research that Red Squirrel beer could fund to good effect.

Big Brother came another step closer yesterday, why the government feels that it is best placed to store data on dates and times of calls, emails websites visited is beyond me. ISPs and phone companies are required to store the data for 12 months and will supply the data to police/security services on request and this system enabled the convictions to which the Home Secretary referred.

In order to comply with the EU directive the cheapest option would be to double the 12 months to 24 – but then there would continue to be an external audit trail of information requests. Call me cynical but I cannot think of any other reason for this ludicrous “plan”.

To prove the point read this story from earlier this year which reveals that there are more than 600 public bodies in this country which already have the powers to monitor communications.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Stephen Fry

Where to start, comedian, actor, author, columnist, blogger, wit? The Grauniad newspaper once described him as a “Treasure of the British Empire” whatever that may mean; like the Elgin Marbles, Cleopatra's Needle – or any of a load of stuff that we have liberated,looted, robbed from around the globe?

Well not really, his accent is 100% plummy and quintessentially English as this clip of him as General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth demonstrates.

Whatever he is doing he can usually be guaranteed to bring humour and intelligence to the proceedings, take this blog entry/column on his friendship with Douglas Adams and their shared passion for the latest technologies.

Here is a short clip of him correcting a panellist's grammar on the QI show:



Never afraid to make a fool of himself as this one shows he remains one of the finest humourists of our times, and you can always catch up with him on his website.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Roy Harper

One of the best gigs I ever attended took place in a small back room of the social club of the IT company who first employed me and featured Roy Harper. This was not the first or last time that I had seen him perform live but that night was really special, a small PA system, a couple of guitars and an A4 ring binder and the man himself. It must have been 20 or more years ago but it still remains fresh in my memory.

There could only have been around 40 people in the room but it was a cool relaxed atmosphere and after doing some new numbers he was happy to play anything that was requested from his 20 year back catalogue.

A great guitar player and song writer he has never gained the main stream recognition which his talents should have brought him, but then he has always been content to do his own thing, making the sounds that he wanted to make and not chasing the illusions of “success”.

This was filmed in 1984 with his friend and collaborator Jimmy Page (who played on the studio album version from 1971 – which came in over 12 mins long).



This next clip is from the same TV show, they were half way up a hill in the Lake District.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Aliens

When I saw this last night my first thoughts were of the climax of Aliens where Ripley climbs into the exoskeleton cargo lifter and battles with the alien queen. Then I came across this clip of the same device.

Developed in Japan for a practical use in in nursing homes and hospitals this sci-fi looking exoskeleton allows the user to lift weights 40Kg greater then they would otherwise.

The clip comes from an Aussie tv show Beyond Tomorrow which appears to be descended from an old BBC show Tomorrows World. It is a fascinating watch and a reminder in these turbulent economic times that scientists around the globe are still striving to make the world a better place.

Monday, 6 October 2008

News Digest

Starbucks gets itself into trouble for wasting millions of litres of water every day, they run cold water taps at “low pressure” for cleaning utensils. They claim that they need to do this to prevent bacterial growth but food hygiene experts are mystified by this assertion, conventional wisdom would be to use dishwashers.

True love is going out every night for three months collecting rubbish to recycle in order to get flights back from a dream honeymoon trip. The rubbish was recycled at a machine at a Tescos store where they collected loyalty points which they then converted into air miles.

Did you know that this is red squirrel week? Me neither, but a Scottish brewery is launching a Red Squirrel ale this week (no squirrels involved in the brewing process) and some of the proceeds will go to a charity trying to maintain their numbers.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Magic Roundabout

This was a stop motion animation series for young children made in France from the mid sixties through to the seventies, the version shown in the UK had a completely different narrative from the original created from the visuals.

The English scripts were written and narrated by Eric Thompson (whose other claim to fame is that he is the father of the great actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson). The dry wit of these ensured that the show became a hit with adults as well as children and audience figures reached somewhere around 8 million at the time.

The success of the series led to the development of a feature film Dougal and the Blue Cat in 1972 and I have memories of seeing this in the cinema with a bunch of friends one Friday night. For a children's film it contained some very dark passages and I have often wondered if traumatised some wee tots.

Take a look at this clip where the blue cat (Buxton) is undergoing a series of tests:



Still not convinced, then try this short clip where King Buxton's army sets out to conquer the magic garden.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gurkhas Win Right To Stay In UK

For over 200 years Gurkhas have been recruited from Nepal to serve in the British army (a simplification glossing over the unlamented British Empire days) and whenever sent into combat have never failed to distinguish themselves with their bravery and ferocity.

Last year our government ruled that any serving after 1st July 1997 (when their base was moved from Hong Kong to the UK) should have the right to live here. The others never having lived here should be denied this right, it was OK for them to serve in our army and be killed/wounded for the aims of the UK government but not to live here because “they had no strong ties to the UK”.

Yesterday, common sense prevailed and 5 of them won their case in the High Court, it should never have come to this. I would like to think that our government will now do the honourable thing and allow all who want to come here to be admitted, but I will not be holding my breath.

If there is a way to weasel out of what should be a firm commitment then this government will find it, just ask the police officers of England and Wales.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Internet Amusement

Sponsored by a burger chain these shorts come from the creator of Family Guy Seth MacFarlane. In this one Super Mario rescues the princess.



This clip features Bob Marley and this one is a promo clip for the series, looks like they should be worth watching.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Return of Rocket Man

Back in June I wrote about the Swiss guy who threw himself out of a plane in a wing suit powered by model aircraft engines, today he was at it again.

Slightly higher today at 8,200 feet but then he was planning to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover a distance of 22 miles. He made it in one piece in less than 10 minutes and landed safely and you can watch an extract here, he is back to the day job next week flying aircraft for Swiss Air.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

News Digest

These Swedish ladies qualify for a Darwin award, though I suspect that a long stay in a psychiatric ward would be more appropriate, have to feel really sorry for the police who had to deal with this insanity and the drivers who were involved.

It turns out that back in the day “big tobacco” were paying Hollywood studios and actors big bucks to promote their brands in films. Part of me wishes that this policy was still being applied to certain “celebrities” in 2008.

Now here is one very very smart 12 year old, he has worked out a way of improving on the design of 3D solar cells, almost gives you hope for an end to energy problems in the future. Thanks to the Dilbert dude Scott Adams for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Ricardo Patrese Scares Wife

Retired Formula One driver takes his wife for a lap of the Jerez racing circuit in a Honda Civic Type-R and she is scared witless. While I do not speak Italian her body language and demeanour leaves little doubt in what she is telling him.

The icing on the cake comes when she realises that there is a camera on the dashboard as they are slowing down entering the pit lane, his calmness while subject to the tirade is also quite impressive.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Billy Connolly

These days people tend to forget that when The Big Yin first started out in showbiz it was as a folk musician, then he became a folk musician who introduced his songs with humorous introductions before becoming a comedian who played the odd song.

I was lucky enough to see him in a small venue before he became famous across the country after his appearance on a tv chat show – very charismatic and more songs than on subsequent appearances. Here is his UK Number One hit from 1975, a spoof on Tammy Wynette's DIVORCE.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Session

Folk music here and in Ireland has a long tradition of the session, where a bunch of musicians would gather in a private house or pub and play together. One musician will start a tune and be joined by those others who know it, those that don't will sit it out and make a start on learning it for a later date.

It is a long established way of preserving (and enhancing) traditional tunes and songs, the informal setting allows less experienced musicians to participate and develop their skills. All of the great Irish folk groups are filled with people who will have started out playing in sessions, and most of them will continue to play in them when they get the chance.

In the late nineties myself and a group of family and friends spent the new year in Westport (County Mayo), a grand wee town and home of the famous Matt Molloy's pub. He is a well known folk flute player and was in The Bothy Band before going on to play with The Chieftains, if at home it is not unusual to find him playing in a session.



We were not lucky enough to witness that, but on the Sunday night we did catch a fine session from some talented musicians, one of the highlights of the trip.

This clip gives you a flavour of what you might be lucky enough to stumble across in an Irish pub, note the careful ingestion of stout by some of the musicians while taking time outs.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Question Answered

Back in April I was wondering why Australian wines purchased in Indonesia had labels warning of “Produced with egg and fish products as a processing aid. Some traces may remain”, and why I had not seen the terms on the same wines purchased in the UK.

The answer is that these allergy warnings were introduced by legislation in 2002 for the Australian/NZ markets, what has been harder to track down is why they are still not being used over here.

My suspicion is that it is down to some EU regulation, after an hour or so of googling I was able to confirm this thought.

This summary opinion (from 2005) appears to suggest that there is no evidence of allergic reactions to these products in wine and that without a scientific study there is no reason to add a warning to labels. The only “allergenic” warning required in the EU is for sulphites or SO2 which is found in most wines.

Still, it does seem strange that they have to put on different labels depending on where the wine is being sold.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Gordon Brown Downfall – The Prequel

Came across this last week (unfortunately I cannot remember where I first saw it) and is ROFL funny, warning the subtitles do contain strong language.

Some background for non UK readers, at a by-election in July of this year the standing Labour candidate managed to turn a 13,000 majority into a 1,000 vote deficit to the SNP candidate, the election was in Glasgow East.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Valentino Rossi

Is a five times winner of the premier motorcycle racing series (known as MotoGP since 2002) and the way that things are going this year it looks like he will make it six. He also has a 125cc and a 250cc World Championship title.

Watched my recording of Sunday's race at a very windy and rainy Indianapolis Speedway the other night where having started from pole he ended the first lap in fourth place. By lap 14 he had taken the lead and when the race got red flagged at lap 20 he was over 5 seconds ahead of the second place man. This was not the most exciting race to watch but under the atrocious weather conditions they were all doing really well just to stay upright let alone do any overtaking.

This win was the 69th of his career taking him past the record of 68 wins previously held by Giacomo Agostini and means that he only has to gain another 13 points from the last 4 races to become champion once more.

This clip is from Laguna Seca 2008, it shows Rossi duelling with Stoner (last years champion), this sort of overtaking action is what I enjoy about MotoGP. These guys are nutters, exceptionally skillful but nutters nonetheless; shame about the music it would have been better with just the noise of the engines.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

News

Amid all the global economic crisis stuff there is some more cheering news to be found, check out the new planet found, only 500 light years from here.

Elsewhere, scientists discover that London taxi driver's brains have in-built sat nav.

Bad news for the criminal underclass who eat processed foods, their high in salt sweat can leave recognisable corrosion marks on metal surfaces, high temperatures can enhance the marks on shell casings.

Was sad to read that Richard Wright of Pink Floyd died yesterday of cancer.

From the 1994 Division Bell tour, third and last time I saw them perform live, here is one that Rick wrote The Great Gig In The Sky, seems appropriate.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Queen Medley in Japanese

This is mad, kind of like finding yourself in a Tokyo karaoke bar where the only CD that they have is Queen's greatest hits. The anime that goes with it is pretty cool, but judge for yourselves.

Found at the Accordian Guy's place

Sunday, 14 September 2008

BT Shoots Itself In The Foot

A tale of a giant telecommunications company which is not moving as fast with the times as their advertising would have you believe. A relative of mine orders a broadband package from BT in the middle of August, this duly arrived but her PC (10 years old) lacked a USB port to connect it.

So a visit to the local high street stores produced a shiny new HP desktop with flat screen monitor running Windows, no prizes for guessing which version of Windows, yes it was Vista. First problem is that the ethernet cable supplied with the BT broadband hub was not long enough and would have required a hole to be drilled in a wall to provide a connection.

Relative and lil' bro' (who was visiting at the time) look at literature supplied with the hub where the BT Voyager 1055 Wireless USB Adapter is identified as being the best thing to buy to create a wireless connection. Relative rings them up, tells them that she has just bought a new computer and wants to connect it via wireless, adapter gets purchased and is delivered on Friday of last week.

Now, I had told her that installing this would be very easy and that she could do it herself, but as a non technical person she delayed for a week until her brother could attend to assist. They insert CD and nothing happens apart from an error message, they look at box for adapter where Windows 2000 and XP are mentioned but not Vista and then ring me.

I check out the sales page for the product and there in the small print at the end is OS Required Windows 2000/XP. Hmm, this is over 18 months since Vista escaped/was released into the wild so I click on the Description down arrow and find a link to Click Here For Vista Drivers.

I explain to them where to go to find the file and what to do with it when they get it, this will require her brother to do it from his functioning internet connection. Up the stakes by telling them this must happen all the time and that they will probably ship the drivers on a CD if you ring up customer services – big mistake.

Not only did they guy she was put through to tell her that this product would never work with Vista he also said that because she had not said that her PC was running Vista she was not eligible for a refund. He went on to dispute her claim that any new PC bought this year would come with Vista installed , claiming that Vista was only for high end machines. He may have been operating out of an Indian call centre, it is the only explanation that I can think of to support his claim.

He did supply the number of the product technical support people but they had knocked off for the weekend by this time. He became flummoxed when she told him that it was possible to download the Vista drivers from their web site if you had a working connection.

I explained to her that the adapter was old stock and that what BT should be doing was removing the shrink wrap, throwing in a Vista drivers CD and a small piece of paper telling customers with a Vista PC to use it.

Not rocket science and I would be very surprised if my relative was the first person to fall down this micro black hole in BT's retail sales “plan” for 2008. It will be interesting to hear what sort of response she gets from the product technical support group.

UPDATE

Tech Support sorted her out with no problems, and even as I write a CD with drivers is on it's way in the post.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Beer 115 – Morland Old Crafty Hen


Had this one at Eldest Niece's place on my last visit, cannot remember if this was a one off brew or the first of a batch to be brewed and released on general sale – I blame the beer – she works for the brewers so this particular one might be a a limited run.

That would be a shame as it is a fine drop, pretty dark in colour with a strong malt taste, slipped down a treat, a word of caution though as it is 6.5% abv and it would only take a few of these to turn the brain to mush and the legs to jelly.

I can also recommend Old Speckled Hen from the same brewery and on general sale everywhere.

UPDATE I have been reliably informed that Old Crafty Hen can be purchased at Tesco.

Friday, 12 September 2008

David Bowie

My short lived career as ticket sales agent/bus operator started and ended while I was still at school, it was back in '73 and David Bowie was doing his Ziggie Stardust tour of the UK, we were 80 odd miles west of Aberdeen which was the most northerly stop of the tour.

A few of us were interested in attending and one of us had an uncle who worked for the local bus company, he found out that if we could get 30 bodies on board we could hire a coach to take us there and back for a reasonable price.

I vaguely remember advertising around the school to get the numbers up and that we achieved them with ease, money was collected, tickets purchased and the coach was booked

It was a great night, the music was fantastic and a bunch of under age kids had too much to drink but there were no problems and every one returned home safely – this event kick started my life long affair with major gigs, but I have no idea how we managed it.

“My brain hurt like a warehouse”

Here is the opening track from the album Five Years:



This trip down memory lane ended up with me spending way too much time on YouTube this morning, here is a live performance of Suffragette City from '73.

Long before anyone had head of “MadDonner” Bowie was at the forefront of artists constantly reinventing themselves with every album release.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Big Science

After 20 years of planning and building and at a cost of around £5 Billion the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland gets switched on today. Basically it will send 2 streams of 50 billion protons flying around a 17 mile track at speeds of around 99.999,9991% of the speed of light in the hope that they crash into one another and confirm some theories of particle physics.

The particles will be doing 11,245 circuits of the track every second, eat your heart out F1/NASCAR. The data volumes being collected from the experiment are mind blowing, 15,000 terabytes per year and that is after they have discarded 99% of all observations after automated cursory checks.

It will attempt to confirm the existence of the theoretical Higgs boson particle, search for dark matter, confirm the number of dimensions which exist (10 or 11 according to theory) and a bunch of other stuff that makes my brain ache just trying to think about it.

It is unlikely that it will succeed today in sending around one stream all of the way round and is more likely that it will take a few months to calibrate.

Even if it succeeds in creating micro black holes the planet is not going to be swallowed by them today or at any point in the near future – even higher energy collisions occur in the upper atmosphere every day and the world has yet to end.

It is difficult to predict what good might come from this experiment apart from an increase/decrease in our understanding of particle physics, and some have argued that the money would have been better spent elsewhere.

I have two answers to that, firstly the project has had scientists and engineers from 40 countries working in cooperation for the last 20 years which is a good thing. Secondly and arguably more importantly if the project had never started I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it – Tim Berners-Lee invented the concept of the World Wide Web while working there.

If you are interested then you can read more here.

UPDATE

The first beam made it all the way round in less than an hour from startup which is pretty impressive, they expect to start getting their first collisions within a month or so, micro black holes here we come.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

North Korea Turns 60

Amazed that it has lasted that long but what really surprised me today was learning that up until the mid 70s that the North had a higher GDP per capita than the South! Not only that in 1984 they actually sent food aid to the South – as compared to today when it is reliant on foreign food aid just to feed the population, ironically a large amount of that comes from the US.

So, not really much to celebrate today apart from the usual large parade of military manpower and hardware – oh and the strange absence of the “Dear Leader” from this event, could he be ill?

The video of the parade is worth watching, for the lack of formidable modern weaponry if no other reason.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Firefox 3


Switched to the new version of this Open Source browser last week after my anti virus software released a compatible version for their toolbar addon. So far I have been pretty impressed, it not only runs faster but is less prone to locking up than version 2 – what used to happen was that after a lengthy online session the browser would lock up and Task Manager would have to be used to kill it.

My not very extensive research on the new version has only had a lock up occur once, and it was confined to one tab which was much easier to cure.

There have been some concerns that some of it's malware detection features are not as rigorous as they should be, but that will only impact naïve users.

This is not intended to be an extensive review, there are enough of those around to read, but if you are using an earlier version of Firefox you should upgrade now – it is only a 7 Mb download. Users of Internet Explorer should give it a try, it will import your existing bookmarks and will ask you every time that you start it if you want to make it your default browser.

The only real downside is that under Windows it only supports versions from Windows 2000 onwards.

It can be downloaded from here.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Ry Cooder

One of the finest guitarists to emerge from the USA, I have been a big fan since the early seventies as the vinyl on my shelf confirms. His solo work is pretty impressive but one of his lasting legacies will be the way that he brought musicians from around the world to greater public attention.

Buena Vista Social Club is arguably the best known of these (and one that I enjoy) but my personal favourite is Talking Timbuktu his 1994 collaboration with Ali Farka Touré

All of these clips are from 1973, looks like he only packed the one shirt and bandanna for the trip, starts off with some fine slide playing on Vigilante Man.



Then we get some wizard mandolin playing on Goin' To Brownsville, and we end up with some more guitar on Jesus On The Mainline.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

News

You are having a stressful day so you decide to take a comfort break in your local “evil empire” coffee shop and exit with your beverage of choice, having forgotten to retrieve your fully loaded firearm. Still, close encounters with Tony Blair are probably inclined to turn your brain to mush.

Meanwhile in China an Asian elephant has been cured of heroin addiction after a year long methadone program. What intrigues me about this tale is how the police officers concluded that it was suffering from heroin withdrawal, do they see a lot of elephant addicts over there?

Another tale of oversized mammals abusing drugs comes in from Japan.

There are some cute photos of frogs in this report, worth watching the sounds made by the smoky jungle frog when it gets picked up.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hellboy 11 The Golden Army

Review delayed as we did not get to see it on Saturday but I finally managed to catch it yesterday and it did not fail to disappoint. While ostensibly a superhero blockbuster this is so much more than that managing to be intelligent, funny and beautifully shot as well.

For anyone not in the know the lead character is a demon from hell raised from childhood by humans who has renounced his past and now devotes his life to protecting humans from the forces of the dark.

Written and directed by the Mexican Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) it is a visual treat for the eyes while offering a proper grown up story line. Hey, do not take my word for it, here is what the good Doctor Kermode had to say about it.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

One Year Old

Just checked back and found that I made the first post year exactly one year ago today, wow some 240+ posts later and I am still here.

Big thanks to everyone who has dropped by to read my ramblings, will try to keep posting as long as my muse keeps cooperating.

Tomorrow's post will be on the subject of this summer's major comic book/superhero movie – and no it is not the one of which you are thinking.

News

Sad to hear that Geoffrey Perkins has died in a road accident, while he had a very successful career in tv I will always remember him as the producer of the greatest ever radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Life imitating art or art imitating life? Do not know, but actor (David Duchovny) enters rehab for sex addiction is not very surprising news.

Meanwhile in the Red Sea scientists have discovered a new species of giant clam.

At the Birnam Highland Games today they are holding the World Haggis Eating Championship, good to see that the lager they are serving up with it is the ordinary Tennent's rather than the mind blowing Super (9% abv).

Friday, 29 August 2008

Carbon/Silicon

This bunch slipped under my radar until yesterday, as a fan of the works of The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite I was not surprised to find that I really enjoyed their works.

Good to see that a pair of old punk rockers embraced the “wonders” of the internet and adopted a very low key approach to their music, read the back story here.

Here is a sample of their output:

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Fosse Way

Saturday lunchtime finds the happy travellers (well fed and “watered”) needing to get from south of Leicester to Cheddar in Somerset; any route finder would have sent us down 4 different stretches of motorway but we had a “plan”. Hairy nephew had suggested using the Fosse Way to get down to the M4 at Chippenham as he has motorcycled down it on a number of occasions.

The Fosse Way was originally built by the Romans and ran from Exeter to Lincoln and formed the Northern barrier to the Roman Empire, the section from Lincoln to Ilchester runs for 182 miles and deviates no more than 6 miles from a straight line.

I was familiar with the top section ( down from the A5 to South of the M40) from years gone by but had forgotten what a blast it is to drive on long straight roads that follow the contours of the land. There are some awkward crossings to be found here when the road intersects with major roads and visibility is not great, however the long straights, pretty villages and country views more than make up for that.

The rest of the journey did not disappoint, more views and interesting sights (the exterior wall of some country house that must have run for at least two miles beside the road outside Fossebridge). We were lucky that the traffic levels were light and we did not encounter a single large lorry on the journey so were able to make pretty good progress. The route is very popular with motorcyclists who are able to use the long straights to clear traffic at speed, one pair went screaming past and then braked for a speed camera before we could hear them winding up the throttles after they cleared it.

All in all a very pleasant driving experience, so good that we used it on Sunday to return North as far as the M40.

This site has some photographs of the road and gives some background.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Road Trip '08

Could well be off the air for the next three days, lil' bro' is flying in from Indonesia today and we are going on a wee road trip; big bro's, hairy nephew and Irish Lass's and then on to eldest niece, her man and wee bairn.

Miles will be driven, copious amounts of food, beer, cider and red wine will be consumed and there will be much banter, laughter and good times had by all.

Posting may be light but the laptop will be on the road as well so if time allows something may appear, failing that have a great weekend and see you next week.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Malazan Book Of The Fallen

Oh no, not yet another epic multi volume fantasy series I hear you cry but yes it is with a planned 10 books from Steven Erikson and 5 accompanying novels from a different author.

Read the first one around 5 or so years ago and was immediately hooked by a few aspects of it, the first was that it felt like you were joining a story that had started in an earlier book, the large and diverse set of characters, the labyrinthine plot lines and an air of darkness to it.

There are no obvious heroes underpinning the multiple story arcs, nor is there a single dark lord who must be defeated but it does contain various gods pursuing their own agendas, mages and the use of explosive munitions by the Malazan forces. Multiple races appear throughout and the action switches between locations inside the Malazan empire and without it.

The first book Gardens Of The Moon was published over here in 1999, seven years after it had been written and the good news was that the publishers contracted the author to write another nine for a very large advance. Book 8 was published this year so the end of the tale is in sight but how it is all going to end is far from apparent.

So, an epic fantasy series which is well written and with some great characters within the dizzying number of parallel story arcs – what's not to like.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Terry Pratchett On The Box

The great author was on tv this week criticising the decision by NICE to not make the Alzheimer's drug Aricept freely available to patients who are in the early stages of the disease. The decision was made in 2006 and various groups have campaigned against it on the grounds that it can help in some cases to prevent the progression of the disease.

He is buying his own and says that he and his wife have noted a significant improvement in his condition since he started on it – a big plus for all fans of his books. His arguments are not about his own case but about the thousands of others who are in similar conditions and cannot afford the £17.50 a week that the drug would cost.

Since Terry was diagnosed late last year he has not only helped to raise public awareness of the disease but also donated £500,000 for research – makes a change to see a “celebrity” doing something for the greater general good.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Mark Kermode - The Dark Knight

There has been some brouhaha in the printed media recently about the 12A certificate given to this movie, the gist of it being that parents have taken children under the age of 12 to see it and they have been scared witless. Various media watch groups have taken the opportunity to pour opprobrium on the BBFC for not giving it a more restricted classification.

As the good doctor pointed out again on Friday the key sentence in the guide to the classification is “Responsibility for allowing under-12s to view lies with the accompanying or supervising adult. “ .

This leaves no wriggle room for those people who have taken children under 12 to see it, grow up and accept the responsibility for your actions.

Still. it gives me an excuse to include Mark's review of the film:

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Imagined Village

My friends from Dorset have spent some weekends performing roadie duties across this land and Europe for this fine band. Their music is a stunning fusion of English folk with other musical styles and the line up contains a long list of very well known names; including Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza, Billy Bragg, Sheila Chandra and Paul Weller.

Rather than attempting to describe their style here is a track called Cold Hailey Rainey Night:



For more tracks and details of tour dates check out their own site or their MySpace page.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Gnome Takes Holiday

Came across this story about a garden gnome being “kidnapped” from it's home in England and taken on a round the world trip taking in 12 countries including Thailand, Australia and New Zealand which lasted for 7 months. It was returned to it's owner last week along with a photo album which contained 48 pictures of the gnome on it's travels.

I suspect that the gnome's missing feet arises from an over zealous customs search for contraband rather than an abseiling accident.

Turns out that this is not the first occurrence of a gnome being treated to travels in foreign parts, there was another instance last year. Interesting to read the reaction from the local police force, it would appear either that they have lost a sense of humour or more likely they have become too focused on easy crime detections as the result of the government's obsessions with targets.

Meanwhile the local government body in Birmingham appear to be confused about in which country they are located.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

WTF?

So on Thursday I go off the news grid for 48 hours and on my return discover that Russia and Georgia have got into a shooting war, seems that Georgia sent it's army into a former province to regain control on Thursday and that the Russians responded in force. What were they thinking, that everyone's eyes would be focused on events in the far east?

Meanwhile I had decamped to West Dorset, had a grand meal with friends on Thursday night drank some wine and rounded the evening off with a bottle of Dows vintage port (1983) – awesome. Friday was spent watching a county cricket match in Taunton under a mainly blue sky meeting up with more friends.

As a result it was Saturday afternoon before I returned to discover that Russian planes were bombing the bejazus out of the Georgian forces. It appears to have come to a halt today but in this miss match of forces there was only ever going to be one winner – we are all lucky that Georgia did not get it's way and obtain membership of NATO.

This unexpected conflict also had the undesirable side effect of increasing the price of crude oil, rising again after the recent falls.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Olympic Free Zone

With the exception of this post this blog is an Olympic Free Zone, even if it is subject to terrorist attacks, typhoons, plagues of locusts or incredibly amusing tales they will not be mentioned here.

Wish I could say the same about the rest of the media here, the BBC are planning wall to wall coverage on their 2 terrestrial channels and talk radio station plus their web site. Interestingly their team out there will be 100 larger than our “athletes”, which attracted many derisory comments when it was revealed.

The other channels will have some coverage in their news bulletins and no doubt will send some anchors out there to cover the games and news stories around them. I cannot see the point behind this (apart from giving the anchors a free holiday in one of the pollution capitals of the world), but they will all be at it. Print media – same sort of story but at least you can elect not to buy them for 16 days.

Am not sure when my disillusionment about this event first started to set in but lets say that it came to fruition with Ben Johnson in '88 and little has occurred since then to make me change my mind. It is sad that clean “athletes” are tainted by the actions of others but the reality is that the drug cheats are always one test ahead of the game.

Rant over, normal posting will resume.