Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy Hogmanay

Or Bliadhna Mhath √ôr 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”.