Monday, May 28, 2007

Great 'Bare Naked Ladies' live video

Love it. I like that song anyway, but the Queen homage in the middle makes it great.

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Doctor Who: Human Nature

Best episode of the series so far! Quirky, creepy and a great cliffhanger. This is what Doctor Who is meant to be like. Although, it must be noted that this episode didn't actually include The Doctor as such.

The actors playing the boys were all well cast, and you really do hate the posh one who was body snatched. The evil sniff is brilliant.

But the downside of cliffhangers is that there's a whole week (OK, only 5 days now) to wait for the conclusion...

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Friday, May 25, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

Just watched the DVD of 'A Scanner Darkly', the rotoscoped animated version of Philip K. Dick's novel starring Keanu Reeves. Visually it was really good. But I really wasn't interested in the plot until more than two thirds of the way into the film and was never 'hooked' by it. I wouldn't bother watching it if I were you, unless you happen to be a Philip K Dick fan already.

The decision I now have to make is that I recorded Richard Linklater's (the director) other rotoscoped film - 'Waking Life' - the other night. Haven't watched it yet. Can I be bothered now? Not sure. I'll let you know if I do watch it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Enough about Science?

Leaving This Earth
by Dave Stewart
from the album 'Sly-Fi' (1998)

She's leaving this earth again
there's a shuttle bound for take off
11.45 a.m. she'll be there
she's special, oh so special
knows enough about science
to get married to a millionaire
she'll be there

She takes a shower in a small town near Birmingham
and though here clothes are unfashionable
they have a timeless feel, but is she real?

She leaves the building and walks through
the housing estate. It's 7.30, a state grey sky
but in spite of this she turns and blows a kiss

She's leaving this earth again
there's a shuttle bound for take off
11.45 a.m. she'll be there
she's special, oh so special
knows enough about science
to get married to a millionaire
she'll be there

He'll comb his hair in a high rise apartment
on the river Tyne, though his neck is scarred
he has a strong and handsome face, a human face
he leaves the building and walks to his electric car
it's 7.30 there's a bitter wind but in spite of that
he turns and tips his hat

He's leaving this earth again
there's a shuttle bound for take off
11.45 a.m. he'll be there
he's so special oh so special
knows enough about science
to forget about his morning prayers
he'll be there

I'm leaving this earth again
there's a shuttle bound for take off
11.45 a.m. I'll be there
I'm special oh so special
I was chosen by the captain
of a spaceship in Trafalgar Square
and I promised I'd be there or be square!

Just out of interest, how much about science do you have to know to either:
  1. ... get married to a millionaire, or
  2. ... forget about your morning prayers?
Just wondering...

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15 minutes of fame...

A friend commented on the magazine clipping I posted yesterday, saying "Wow, I never knew you were so famous!". But my fame extends way beyond that photo, oh yes.

Surely you all saw my star turn on the BBC Horizon show "Skyscraper Fire Fighters" on BBC 2 on Tuesday 24th April 2007:

I was on screen for a whopping 1.4 seconds there. You missed it? About 17 minutes and 20 seconds into the show, you may need to use the pause button.

What about the time I was on the Channel 5 (UK) documentary "A to Z of Disasters"? (May 2001)
I was on screen for about eight seconds that time, though my voice can be heard for about thirty seconds. What? You missed that one too? (click on the image above for a video clip then).

Oh well, I guess I've still got more than 14 of my 15 minutes of fame remaining...

Still, you can buy my book on Amazon if you want ;o)

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


This is the saddest picture in the world for me. This is the only picture my Dad ever had of his own mother. The mother who died a few days after giving birth to my Dad, her first and only son, in February 1923. I'm crying just typing these words.

The night before he died, my Mum spotted my Dad looking at this picture (it hung on the wall of their living room) and asked him if he thought of her often. Dad's reply was simply 'Every day'.

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Kids today...

Kids today, eh?

You know, there's many, many cool things that kids have today that hadn't been invented when I was a kid, or were so overpriced that they couldn't be bought by anyone with a reasonable pocket money allowance. And in almost every instance, I don't wish they had been around or affordable when I was a kid.

It was fine growing up with only 3 channels on the telly (OK, so there were 4 by the time I was 12, but...), no video or DVD (I never had a VCR until I was a student), no iPods, no mobile phones, no handheld games consoles (apart from the occasional space invaders or pacman), no internet (i.e. no hotmail, msn, skype,, etc.), and so on. I was even in that unfortunate generation that was slightly too young for skateboards when they were first popular and slightly too old for them when their popularity returned a decade or so later. But I had a great childhood. There's nothing kids have today that I would have wanted back then... except Heelys.

Why, oh why, were these not invented when I was eight? I would have loved a pair of them! I could have coasted around the streets pretending I was one of 'Bailey's Comets' (sorry if that reference was lost on anyone under the age of 35, it was a cartoon in the early 70s). How cool would that have been? Sigh.

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We've been clearing out my Mum & Dad's house recently as it goes on the market today. Dad died a few years ago and Mum has now got to the stage where she can't live on her own anymore. But more on that in another post sometime.

In clearing out I came across Dad's scrapbook of newspaper clippings relating to all the times any members of my family have been in the news or on the TV. Here is my earliest magazine appearance from the Radio Times 18th January 1973, aged 2. There are loads of other clippings related to both 'Ask the Family' appearances (1968 and 1971), Dad's appearance on 'Brain of Britain' (TV version, 1969) and a few non-TV things. I may scan and post them for posterity sometime.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Doctor Who: 42

How can you call a sci-fi episode '42' and not refer to Douglas Adams?

This episode was a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the elements we've seen before - e.g. in 'the impossible planet' in the last series of Doctor Who and in the recent film 'Sunshine'. But the message was different, I suppose. It was also in 'real time' in the style of 24 (anyone else notice that if you reverse the digits of 24 you get 42? Ooooh...), which was a bit different. But it wasn't exactly gripping stuff. Certainly it was too boring (and not enough aliens) to sustain interest from my five year old daughter. And I wished it would simply get on with it most of the time. The eco-message was laid on a bit thick as well. If this was a school essay I think the teacher's summary would be 'could do better'.

And what was with the teaser last time featuring Captain Jack? He was nowhere to be seen.

Next week's one looks fun, and almost certainly too scary for a five year old.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sum up your musical tastes...

OK, here's a challenge...

I was listening to the 'Almost Famous' soundtrack on my way to work today. A couple of the songs on that CD contain almost all the hallmarks of my favourite music. So I started wondering - how few songs would be needed to more-or-less sum up the span of my musical tastes?

So here's the challenge: select a small number of songs (5 or less?) which would convey the span of your musical tastes to someone who doesn't know you.

I'll try and figure it out for my own musical tastes and post a list here in a day or so.

For example, one of my songs is likely to be 'Out of my life' by Fish - I've chosen this one for a few reasons; Fish is one of my favourite artists, the song bridges the gap between Scottish folk & general rock, the song also spans acoustic guitar music & rock and it has a slightly bitter & angry vibe to the lyrics - something which I generally like (possibly because I am not generally bitter or angry). You see? In one song I have identified many 'hallmarks' of my favourite music. How many other songs do I need to pick to cover all the other hallmarks of my taste?

So what are your songs?
Update: Having thought about it for a couple of days, here are the songs that summarise my span of musical tastes:
  1. 'Out of my life' by Fish (for the reasons given above)
  2. 'Make me' by Heart (acoustic riffing, mid-rock beat, great hook)
  3. 'The Millionaire's Waltz' by Queen (art rock, prog rock, epic, fun, ott vocals, heavy guitars)
  4. 'The ballad of Curtis Loew' by Lynyrd Skynyrd (blues rock, classic 70s rock)
  5. 'There's a touch' by The Proclaimers (acoustic, fun, Scottish, great singalong)
And that should do it.

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Mp3 player RIP

My current mp3 player is on its last legs. I get the feeling it will shortly be an ex-mp3 player. It is about to expire. It has already lost the cap that goes over the USB plug and the battery cover. The multifunction on / off / play / pause / stop button only works about one time out of four presses. The forward / back / skip / select control frequently sticks, jumping to files that I don't want it to and occasionally deleting tracks that I don't want it to. Its been a good player and more-or-less constant travelling companion to me for the past two years. Not bad for £20 on eBay. But it is dying and needs replaced. So what should I replace it with?

Well, I am thinking I should probably go for an iPod, but the question is which iPod?I bought my wife a 4Gb iPod nano for her birthday a few months back. The 4Gb capacity holds about 3/4 of her CD collection - including all the albums she listens to on a regular basis and quite a few she only listens to occasionally.

I have a much larger CD collection. I figure I could store my entire collection in a 20Gb iPod with not much room left over for future addtions. So maybe I should go for a 30Gb model? I don't really need / wouldn't really use the video playback options of the current models, so maybe a second hand iPod Photo from eBay is the way ahead (20Gb models currently go for about £60, if you're lucky, 30Gb for about £75).

But I really like the way my current mp3 player simply hangs round my neck on a lanyard which has earbuds built in. You can get one of those for an iPod nano. But even an 8Gb nano can't hold even half of my CD collection. My current mp3 player only holds 256Mb, so I have no option but to select a few albums or podcasts, etc., each time I travel. Even with an 8Gb nano, which has 32 times more storage than my current player, I'd have to load and unload albums sometimes - perhaps have a 'core' selection of 4Gb of albums which is always on there, but have other stuff sometimes.

So the choice is big capacity (but has to go in a pocket) or ideal size (but only containing 60 albums or so)...? No decision yet. I'll let you know.
And of course, if I do opt for an iPod nano, I can buy one of these - the ultimate in geek coolness.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

I, Robot (the movie)

I watched I, Robot - or should that be "I, Product Placement" - the other day. It is simultaneously a good film and a bad one. Simultaneously dumb and clever. Switch off your brain and enjoy, but if you switch on your brain you start thinking: "Yeh, but what about the bit where...?" and so on.

Wil Smith is surprisingly not annoying. The robots are really quite creepy. The FX are good. The plot is swiss cheese. But its OK. Especially if you have a three hour flight with nothing better to watch.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Eurovision expectations

Hei! I'm in Helsinki. The Eurovision song contest is to be held here on Saturday, but you'd never know it.


There's Eurovision flags, posters and signs everywhere... I'm kind of glad I won't be here on Saturday as it'll be simply crazy.

Update: Tonight there are even giant screens up in the city centre showing videos of previous Eurovision entries... and I saw some weirdly dressed people emerging from 'Eurovision' branded cars and heading into posh hotels.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

DoctorWho: The Lazarus Experiment

This is more like it!

After a few weeks of disappointing episodes (in fact, most of the series so far) we get something good. OK, so we've seen most of the plot elements before (if we've read/watched enough sci-fi that is) but it was still an enjoyable ride for 45 minutes.

And it featured a 'few times removed' cousin of mine - Bertie Carvel - as the mysterious man who warns Martha's mother about the Doctor...

No Doctor Who next week due to Eurovision, but the episode on in two weeks looks good - Captain Jack is back.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

You know you're getting old...

...when the barber offers to trim your eyebrows after he's finished cutting your hair. Sigh.

(I was asked this when I last got my hair cut. I have never been asked this before. Maybe it will be years before I am asked it again. Maybe I'm not that old...)

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

'Ysabel' by Guy Gavriel Kay

For well over a decade now I have classed Guy Gavriel Kay as my favourite author. I have thoroughly enjoyed all his books with only one of them ('A song for Arbonne') being, in my estimation, merely very good. His last book - 'The last light of the sun' - was fantastic, the 'Sarantine Mosaic' (two books: 'Sailing to Sarantium' and 'Lord of Emperors') was outstanding, 'The Lions of Al-Rassan' (currently being made into a movie by Ed 'The Last Samurai' Zwick) was great and 'Tigana' remains the best book I have ever read. So to say that I had high expectations of this book is a complete understatement.

My first impressions (before reading the actual book) were that 'Ysabel' is a much slimmer work than any of his previous books (except possibly 'The Wandering Fire' - the slimmest of the three volumes which make up the epic 'Fionavar Tapestry' - but that is a third of a story, this is a stand alone novel) and a slight worry in that this story, unlike all his previous works, is set in this world - all the action takes place in 21st century France. But neither of these issues is actually important. It may be different to his previous works, but is not any poorer because of this.

There may be some 'spoilers' in what I am about to say, but I will keep them minor and will not reveal anything that will spoil your enjoyment of the book. Promise.

All GGK books are about people. Sure, some of those people are caught up in world changing events, but the heart of the books is the people and how they change, act and interact, rather than being too concerned with the changes in the world - indeed, the Lions of Al-Rassan concludes with an epic battle between two nations and the book ends without revealing which nation triumphed (ok, so it tells us in the epilogue, but the main point of the ending is that two friends ended up on opposite sides in the battle and that one had to kill the other - it actually didn't matter which side 'won'). Ysabel is no different, it is primarily a story about a 15 year old boy, Ned Marriner, the relationships within his family and the ancient and supernatural events that he gets caught up in - and how he (and his family relationships) changes as a result of the events.

I think having the main character as a 15 year old is a brave move for GGK. In all of his previous books, the main characters have been adults - thinking like adults, behaving like adults, having adult responsibilities, dealing with adult relationships, etc. Here we have Ned, a teenager with teenage responsibilities (e.g. homework), teenage interests (iPod, music, etc.), teenage desires (girls...) and teenage attitudes thrown into a world where he has more intuitive understanding of events than all the adults around him. Not that he understands anything, but that's where things get interesting. All previous GGK books have involved some degree of sexual politics and in a few of them a sexual liaison has been pivotal to the plot development. By having a (not sexually active) teenager as the main character, GGK has forced himself to approach the relationships between the main characters in a completely different way. Here, all the main relationships are family ones, putting a very different spin on things. But this is good.

This emphasis could put Ysabel in the same playing field as J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman, although the story is much more subtle than the Harry Potter books and less epic than the His Dark Materials books. Although the themes of children approaching adulthood in Pullman's books are echoed here.

They say that all stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This story doesn't really follow that pattern. Two thirds of the way through the book I felt like I was still reading the beginning, but the apparent lack of 'middle' and the brevity of the 'end' were not problems in any way - the main story in the book is a slow-building thing which gradually gives us information and gives us clues which all come together at the end. Indeed, I suppose the book is much more of a 'thriller' than most novels that fall into the category of 'fantasy'.

In that sense, Tigana was the perfect fantasy. The beginning set up the premise - there was a seemingly impossible objective that the various princpal characters were setting out to achieve. The middle described all the actions they took to achieve the goal and the ending was the point where everything came together to actualy achieve the goal, and a final - utterly gobsmackinly masterful - twist in the tail. In Ysabel the objectives are not clear for at least the first half of the story - the main characters simply get caught up in the midst of extraordinary events - and even when one of the objectives becomes clear, most other things remain obscured until the closing two chapters of the book. We simply get swept up in events and carried along at an ever increasing pace until the conclusion.

While I really enjoy the fantasy elements of GGK's books - getting to explore fantasy worlds which sometimes reflect and sometimes differ from our world - the heart of these books is always the characters. Here we have a group of perfectly realised and totally believable people in extraordinary circumstances. Masterful.

This book managed to live up to my high expectations. I can happily recommend this to anyone.

Sigh, probably another three years to wait for the next GGK book...

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