All entries for May 2007

May 31, 2007

Geek blog

Look away now if you’re not even slightly interested in science fiction, technology, computers or anything like that.

This is really cool – and I’m sure it’ll be used in TV sport in a couple of years’ time… The video starts at a pedestrian seen-it-before level, but the snowboarding stuff is brand new.

The kit looks like this:

There’s 11 high-resolution cameras on that thing.

Could have come in handy during Woolsack Day actually!


May 30, 2007

35lbs of wool… up a big hill

More at www.tetburyonline.co.uk


May 26, 2007

A Tale of Two TV Shows

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Twelve months ago, I would have told you 24 was the most rewarding TV show that I watched and that Lost was the most frustrating.

Twelve months on, I’d have got it all the wrong way round.

Both series finished their sixth and third seasons respectively this week, and while 24 was annoying, predictable, dull and just awful, Lost was absolutely flipping amazing.

In 24, having had a double Emmy-award winning second season, we were thrown a sort of ‘greatest hits’ series full of rehashed plots from previous ‘days’ in the life of Jack Bauer. Nukes, kidnappings, White House conspiracies and foreign embassy shootouts. All done before, and all done again. It was poor, and the finale did nothing to redeem this season. A pathetic ‘shock twist’ involving a much-loved character was so predictable I nearly fell asleep.

But Lost was sublime. The producers of the show had referred to a “snake in the mailbox” which would bite us when we put our hand in the last episode. And bloody hell, did it do that. Serious spoilers now… The series’ flashbacks have been an integral part of the show, and the non-linear plot has made the show special. So how about a forward-flash? The final scene took us (according to the internet, three years) forward in time, to a meeting between two of the show’s main characters. They’ve made it off the island. But they’re not both happy. One has gone into a major psychological slide, and wants to go back to the island. Not everyone made it off the island. And one of the characters has just got into a coffin. Oh, and did I forget to mention that back in ‘normal time’, they think they’re about to get rescued from the island they crash-landed on? Except they’re not, and it’s a trap.

And then the season ends.

Every time the show gives us an answer, it throws up a billion more questions. And it’s brilliant. There’s only going to be 48 more episodes. And I can’t believe they’ll be anything other than amazing. If you’ve not got into the show yet, you need a box-set or three.


May 23, 2007

All–nighter

Due to a lack of common sense and general incompetence on my part, I’m spending the night in a darkened room, watching the Welsh soap Pobol y Cwm on a loop. It’s a bit like the chocolate river-boat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Scary.

I may be here for some time as I’ve bluncdered through my coursework and I’ve got tonight to rescue it. Brilliant. I’m armed with dolly mixtures, Chelsea buns and some overpriced water.

Oh, and I’ve just been to a two-hour lecture on slavery. Just for fun.

I’ve been working for fourteen hours and have at least another three to do. June can’t come soon enough.


May 17, 2007

Gordon Brown – the 'Unity' leader?

It’s that time of year when A-Level Politics students sit down and are faced with the question:

I have no idea what their answer should be. The question should really ask:

Gordon Brown and Jack Straw tried to explain how the Labour Party had had its say. In reality, the coronation of Gordon Brown is identical to the way in which the 1922 Committee used to elect the leader of the Conservative Party, before they realised democracy was healthy.

Within Labour, policy had long been ceded by the party conference to the party leader(s), but that was taken on the chin because at least the party members got to decide who those leaders were.

But the party’s MPs closed ranks around one candidate who offers little difference from the last one. Technically, the trade unions and constituency parties can still nominate someone to be leader. Only their choice is either a) Gordon Brown, or b) Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown outside the offices of Bloomberg, today.As well as defending the election farce, Gordon Brown also veered straight towards the Rumsfeldesque at times. He repeatedly spoke about how the electorate would be able to have their say in “the next period…erm…of time”. Has he just stepped off a Tardis? I could forgive him saying this nonsensical thing once, but over and over? Oh dear.

Nearly 90% of Labour MPs nominated Gordon Brown for leader. Of the other 10%, about half abstained and half voted for John McDonnell. Gordon Brown thinks those numbers are representative of the party he leads. He thinks he’s the “Unity” candidate. He’s probably wrong, and the blogosphere at least seems to indicate disaffection may be high.

Mr Brown could have stopped this. He could have told more MPs to vote for McDonnell if he really wanted a contest. In fact, he could have just not tried instead of putting a determined three-line whip on MPs who were supposed to be loyal.

He’s shot himself in the foot. Labour Party membership is already very low. How many will leave the party now, knowing that the only vote they’re going to get is in the vanity contest for the non-job of Deputy Leader?


May 16, 2007

What's your favourite fruit?

You can tell it’s exam season.

I spent far too much time yesterday debating the merits of certain fruits, in the futile quest to find the world’s best fruit.

Contenders include:

  • The strawberry, which has been defaced by the British who try to eat it all year round from African polytunnels. The in-season, natural strawberry is still brilliant though.
  • The pineapple. Again, the British tend to have no concept of what a pineapple really tastes like. We’re used to the rubbish tinned variety, although even our ‘fresh’ pineapples aren’t that great. Go to the tropics and try one – it’s hard to argue against them.
  • The mango. Just like the pineapple, it’s got to be eaten in its country of origin. We pair it with apples in the UK (i.e. juice) because the ones we get are so bad and need mixing with something else.
  • The banana. A divisive choice. Personally, a slightly unripe banana is fantastic, and a ripe one is horrible. Any sign of brown and it’ll get offered to someone else. Others feel completely the opposite. This fickleness is the only thing going against the banana. Otherwise it’s perfect.
  • The raspberry. Not so sure on this one – I’m not a fan of the seeds, and again the supermarket ones aren’t as good.
  • The blackberry. Similar problem as raspberries, except you can’t beat apple and blackberry crumble.

I’ve left out apple, which many will see as an obvious choice. I think they’re too much of a staple really. If I asked you what your favourite vegetable was, would you say ‘potato’? I don’t think so.

I think my choice would be banana or pineapple. But if there’s any trends to be made it’s that fruit from hot countries is much better than from Britain.

What do you think?

And on a complete tangent, how quickly can you guess what this video’s on about?


Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote - In Cold Blood Obsessive is the only way to describe Truman Capote’s study of what drives a murderer to kill. In Cold Blood, follows the story of Dick Hickock, Perry Smith, and the family of four that they murdered one night in Kansas.

It’s an incredible read. The pages read like a more convincing, more psychologically accurate version of a Patricia Cornwell novel. And there’s a reason for this feeling of realism. The events Capote describes were real.

Capote apparently decided to chase the story after reading a 300-word piece in the New York Times that started:

A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.

There was little more for Alvin Dewey, the detective sent to Holcomb, Kansas, or Capote to go on. The killers were only found because one had foolishly bragged to a fellow inmate that he intended to rob and kill the Clutter family.

Once the killers are identified, the book becomes a dissection of the relationship between the two killers, but also the relationship they had with their parents. Their plan is to escape to Mexico and search for gold. The first bit of the plan works well, the second less so. Their short cash reserves are quickly spent on prostitutes and only a dangerous return to the United States can resolve their financial difficulties.

What makes the book so incredible is the accounts that Capote manages to grasp from the key players in the story. Hickock and Smith seem to reveal every detail to him while they await execution, and even the hurt family members tell him quite personal details. All this becomes more surprising when you find that Capote infuriated the people of Holcomb, who detested the forensic examination of their already bruised community.

In Cold Blood is a brilliant book. Dripping with Capote’s obsessive streak, it becomes as much a book about the author as it does about the murder itself, but is no worse off for it.


May 15, 2007

Cow products don't belong in Mars Bars

Mars BarsI’m not a vegetarian. I LOVE meat. I could eat steak every night of the week if it didn’t cripple my wallet and give me a heart attack.

But the decision by Masterfoods to start using the products of calves’ stomach lining in its Mars, Snickers, Twix and Maltesers brands is completely ridiculous.

Now I know what you’re going to say. We’ve been eating gelatine in our sweets for years. And you’d be right. We have been eating gelatine for years. But what’s the point of adding even more animal products to foods that have been perfectly satisfactory for decades?

Simple. It has to be cost-cutting.

But it’s also mindless arrogance and stupidity from a food manufacturer who must realise they’re swimming against the tide. Just as organic, well-sourced foods are on the up, they start selling something which (unbeknownst to the consumer, as it’s not listed on the packet) turns out to be from a baby cow.

Masterfoods said:

If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate.

So you’ve just told a few % of the population to go screw themselves and eat something else. These guys aren’t going to be challenging Google’s business skills any time soon.


May 14, 2007

A new era for British–Franco relations?

Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.

The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:

Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.

Sarkozy and Blair, 11th May 2007Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.

The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.

Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.

Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.

An infamous Sun front-pageSarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.

Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.

But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.

Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.


May 13, 2007

Did you get the joke?

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krisse_Salminen

Eurovision. Did you get the in-joke? Because I didn’t.

But the blonde girl who kept sticking her ore in throughout the evening was – apparently – a spoof. Krisse Salminen is a Finnish stand-up whose routine is to prance around like a cross between Miss Piggy and Paris Hilton.

Unfortunately, Finnish comedy doesn’t seem to travel very well, and no-one seems to have realised she was a joke.

Perhaps they should have tried Borat.


Crazy Mother Hubbards

Scientologists… I know berating someone’s “beliefs” isn’t very politically correct, but what a bunch of nutters!

This Monday’s Panorama looks like being a bit of a humdinger, as John Sweeney confronts the people who believe the teachings of an American sci-fi writer. Only Tom Cruise… you might think.

The best bit about Scientology is that it’s only open to the wealthy. And if you hand over enough cash, you get told the baffling stories of Ron L. Hubbard secrets of the cult religion:

Xenu is introduced as an alien ruler of the “Galactic Confederacy” who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls then clustered together and stuck to the bodies of the living. The alien souls continue to do this today, causing a variety of physical ill-effects in modern-day humans.

It’s like Toy Story, albeit scarier.

The documentary’s already causing controversy, after the reporter John Sweeney lost his cool – to put it mildly – while interviewing a Scientologist. The situation wasn’t helped because the Scientologists were filming everything the BBC were filming – standard procedure for arguing against common sense.

Of course you can watch the Scientologists’ version or the BBC’s version. I know which I believe.

Panorama’s on BBC One, Monday at 8.30pm.


Eurononsense

The winning entryOh dear. It gets more ridiculous every year. I swear Yugoslavia keeps dividing like an amoeba just to secure a win every couple of years. The Serbia / Montenegro love-in was particularly daft.

The Eurovision Song Contest is hardly the pinnacle of European musical talent (if it was, it’d be dominated by Brits and Yanks, and if you don’t believe me, check out the charts), but the competition seems to laugh in the face of ‘music’ even harder than it ever has.

Musically, I thought the Georgian Matrix Reloaded-style rave-up song was pretty good, although Mrs Doubtfire’s Ukrainian entry was also mildly entertaining. I thought they had it sown up, to be honest.

Scooch. Crap.The Eurovision party I went to (my first, and perhaps last) did seem to degenerate into a ‘hot or not’ contest, involving the entrants as well as the Fearne Cotton-type voting people around Europe. Iceland didn’t let us down, it was decided, although Sweden went with a man, much to the disappointment of the boys. The girls were just as bad though – if a bloke showed a bit of thigh they were panting and sweating.

We came second-last only to Ireland, and that was entirely thanks to the bias of Ireland themselves (shooting themselves in the foot yet again) and the Maltese. We may as well give the Isle of Wight a vote…


May 12, 2007

Wishful thinking

This was a genuine screen-grab from CNN International.

Adam, I hear there may be a vacancy going…


My parents will be so pleased they let me borrow their sat nav…

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/6646331.stm

It clearly works so well in Wales… This ditzy student followed her GPS system to the letter and ended up getting her car smashed to bits by a train.

Obviously this was the fault of the GPS system, and not the girl who obeyed everything it said.

How easy would it be to add a road to the GPS database that goes over the cliffs of Dover?


Lost in translation

The French seem to have found my blog, after one of their newspapers linked to my thoughts on Gordon Brown. In honour of my new visitors, you can now translate the front page into five languages (French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic) by clicking on the icons in the sidebar.

In the last thirty days, 93% of readers’ first language is English, French is about 2%, and German, Spanish and Polish are about 1% each. Unfortunately I can’t translate into Polish at the moment.

I wonder how native French, German or Chinese speakers navigate the mostly English internet. Do they have a toolbar that translates into their own language anyway? Do they just get on with it and use English? Or are these sort of icons useful?

Feel free to suggest any other languages, although I’ve got no evidence that anyone’s trying to read this in Inuit.

Incidentally, whoever’s viewing this in a screen resolution of 2560×1024, stop showing off. And I’m surprised so many people are using Firefox now – around 35% compared with IE’s 60%. Finally, 3% of you are using Microsoft Vista. Are you brave, or simply mad?


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