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Showing posts from 2011

"Content" is a horrible word

Various thoughts that rattle around in my head and in my draft posts list have coalesced as I've come across a new online magazine. (Did I manage to sidestep Rule 1? You judge.)

I clearly remember the first time that the word content made me mentally shudder. I was listening to Scot Mills who was doing a prank call to some of his colleagues in BBC Radio 1. The woman who answered the phone said to one of her colleagues when she'd worked out what was going on, "It's probably Scott because he needs more content for his show". What? I thought. All that stuff he does with interviews on Stupid Street and Becky's contest with that other guy and "What's Becky's forte", all that is just "content".

The trouble with hearing it described like that is that it made me think about how Scott, and Chris Moyles too, come up with all that, er, content. So they probably sit around in meetings and come up with ideas and send people off with tape record…

Computer games music - Kirby, Zelda, Blob and Goo

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We borrowed Kirby's Epic Yarn for Wii over half-term. It's a delightfully inventive game and I'd recommend it for children of all ages. It's quite forgiving, but that doesn't make it easy. One of the things that struck me was the variety of music on the soundtrack.

Before I cover that though, some thoughts on computer games music generally. Because gaming doesn't occupy a high place in popular culture compared with its turnover, and because it's mostly background, I think it doesn't generally get thought about. Recently, though, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played a concert to mark 25 years of Legend of Zelda.

Mostly it seems like it's pretty generic stuff, see Exhibit A - the music to Da Blob. However even the music on that is cleverer than it appears as the melody only plays while you're painting, but cuts in and out at the right moments.


The World of Goo music is quite distinctive and I think it sounds like a film soundtrack. You can eve…

The two wheeler hierarchy

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When I started riding a scooter 11 years ago I looked at a few scooter forums to see what people were talking about. Some of the people there looked down on those with "plastics" as they called the modern scooters that have become so popular. Then a bit later I got a motorbike and hung around on the Usenet group uk.rec.motorcycles. There everyone looks down on scooters, but the proper bikers look down on "power rangers" as they call those who wear one piece coloured suits and ride when the weather is nice. So we've got a hierarchy growing here.

Anyone with a motor powering their two wheels looks down on those who have unpowered two wheels. So I wonder what hierarchies there are amongst cyclists. I don't know but I imagine people with fixies look down on other cyclists as theirs is a purer form of cycling. Maybe the shiny road cyclists look down on the muddy mountain bikers. Or maybe the world of cyclists is tribe-free. Maybe not.

Who's at the bottom o…

Money tree photo

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My money tree photo got included in an article on thisiscolossal.com.
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You can see some of my photos as part of the Utata Colour Story 2011. I chose a blue theme.

Barbican balcony window boxes

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I was very impressed with these. Nearly every window box had flowers in it. Lots of people making an effort to keep things looking good, even to the tail end of August when gardens tend to look a bit tired and worn out.

Click the picture to see a couple more shots.

Creepers on a wall

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Creepers on a wall, a photo by paulmorriss on Flickr. Third picture on my way to work.

Worn stone wall 1

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Worn stone wall 1, a photo by paulmorriss on Flickr. Another picture taken on the way to work. For some reason I find the fact that these rows of bricks are worn away quite interesting. I've no idea what has worn them away.

No ghost vehicles

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No ghost vehicles, a photo by paulmorriss on Flickr. I've often passed this sign and though I ought to take a photo. Then I think "I'll do it another day". Over the next few weeks I'm trying to stop and take photos that day, rather than just leaving it.

Review of "Build a rocket boys" from elbow

(The lowercase e is mandatory.) Inspired by their nomination for the Mercury awards I thought I'd write the review of "Build a rocket boys" that's been rolling around in my head for a while now. Their previous album, Seldom Seen Kid, is currently my favourite album of all time, so this one had to do quite well to overtake that. It doesn't. However I'm glad I've got it.

This one is to SSK as Ommadawn is to Tubular Bells. (At one point I had an idea that I'd write series of semi-serious, semi-not-serious-hoping-to-be-funny reviews of albums, making sure in each one that I'd compare it to ELO's Mr Blue Sky. This idea came from the bit in the Brady Bunch film where Mr Brady designs a series of commercial buildings, all incorporating that crazy paving exterior wall and other features from his own home. If I write any more reviews they may contain references to Tubular Bells. Or not.) So it's not so commercially appealing. There are a number of…

The Guardian in trouble

I heart The Guardian but it may be in trouble according to this piece on The Guardian burning platform. It's a very well written article, dragged down I feel by my comment with a smiley in it.

Please don't steal my photos

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Regular readers of this blog will know that I post from time to time when my photos get used on other websites. I do this mostly as a way of noting it down somewhere, as well as because I find it slightly exciting.

Google are rolling out a new reverse image search which is available for some people using the Chrome browser. If you go to images.google.com and there's a camera icon in the search box, then you've got it.

I did a search for one of my popular pictures on flickr (below) and found 18 places which are using it. I started contacting the websites saying they were using it without permission, but gave up after a couple. You are allowed to use it so long as it's not for commercial purposes, and as long as I get credit. Those sites weren't. I'm not really that annoyed, as it's not as I make money out of my photos, but it's the principle of the thing. Most of the sites are visitors guides to Cadbury World, one of which looks a bit like an official one, …

Getting quotes for a new boiler

We recently had a new boiler installed. I got a quote from British Gas, because they put a leaflet through our door every so often with an offer on it. I then did some "research" and www.boilerguide.co.uk came up near the top of the search listings for "boiler replacement". Their advice was to go for a local firm.

"But how do I choose one?", I thought. A while later I came across an advert on some other website for boilerguide's "get you a quote" service. That's fortunate for them, because I didn't realise they offered it when I searched before. They tried to get me three quotes, but could only do two. One company didn't call me, but another did, a local man.

I also tried eon and nPower. The eon website was very unhelpful. It had a little chart saying what the steps were for getting a quote. The first step was "fill in the form at the bottom of this page". However there was no form at the bottom and you had in fact to …

So when am I going to get round to sorting out the look of my website?

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When I set up this website last year I had a bit of a steampunk vibe because of the new Doctor Who series, which lives on in my lab. I thought about updating the blogs to have the same look, but I didn't.

Then Tron came out and although I didn't go to see it I changed my Windows 7 desktop wallpaper to the one in the architecture set that was the Melbourne link gateway bridge at sunset as that had the same sort of neon feeling.

Then in spring I changed my wallpaper to the Selfridges building in Birmingham.


So to answer the question, probably never.

Photo from mar00ned.

Back to the Future

We watched Back to the Future as a family at the weekend. It's one of my top ten films, so I was curious to see what the boys thought. They enjoyed it, and I enjoyed too another time, even though I know the plot well. Three things struck me:

The mention of Libyan terrorists was strangely topical.George McFly - Marty's Dad - is a bit like the current Doctor Who. I don't know if Matt Smith has consciously acted like him.Doc Brown travelled 30 years into the future at the end of the film, that's 2015 - so not so far away.

Perfection in the digital world

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Two vaguely related thoughts:

In real life everything is dark until you add light. Photographers, whether still or motion picture, worry about light a lot because it makes such a difference to the picture(s) they are taking. With CGI making a pixel light or dark is just a number. Making light look like the real world is hard. It's easy to create a 3D image. It's hard to make the software light it well. Getting surface texture right is part of it, because part of the way you perceive texture is because the way light falls on parts of the surface that are only small distances apart. Toy Story worked well because the characters were mostly plastic toys which have a very predictable texture. Since the first film there have been a few films based on computer games, but they haven't been brilliant because of the uncanny valley effect. Despite the abundance of CGI cartoons are still popular, probably because they aren't realistic. However when I watch Storkhawks I can see ho…

Rant on incidental music on TV

Actually "rant" is probably a bit strong. I'm mildly annoyed by TV programmes that use a wide variety of small snippets of music throughout. I much prefer the music to be used over and over again as Grand Designs and The Apprentice do. Sometimes they use pieces they haven't before, but they very much fit into the pattern of the regular music. In particular, the music they play when the contestants are about to go into the boardroom must invoke a pavlovian response for regular viewers.

I do appreciate that there must be people who spend a lot of time picking out the music for the programmes, but the two things in particular that annoy me are
- I hear a good song, and I only get a bit of it
- there's less of an identity to the programme, like a cheese and chocolate drop sandwich

On a tangential note, the BBC have researched the fact that people often complain that the background music is too loud. Their conclusion is "Reducing the music by just one point, four…

What blog post should I write next?

I have eleven blog posts in draft waiting to be written. Here are the titles, what should I finish off and publish?


Steampunk, Tron, SpringTimeshifted liferant on incidental music on tvHow can people stop being at the mercy of discussion board hosters?Tell me the major stuff about scienceSongwriters - the unsung heroPerfection in the digital worldWhat if children applied Health and Safety to their play?New words for fansWelsh HolidaySometimes computers are too quick. Really? Yes.

"What was it like in olden times Daddy?"

You know you're old when they make a programme about your childhood.

I watched Micro Men on BBC4 last night, about the rivalry between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry as they developed their home computers. Our school got a ZX80 and then a ZX81 and we got a Spectrum at home (Sinclair's machines). We also got a BBC computer (made by Curry's Acorn company) at our school. So these machines were part of my childhood. I heard names I hadn't heard for a long time like Sinclair QL, Dragon, Oric and BBC Master.

Towards the end they sit in a pub and speculate what it would have been like if they'd worked together, however I think the home computer market may still have dried up. Someone's probably done the analysis, but I guess consoles took over from these computers for games, and PCs for "serious" stuff.

One of my sons got a T-shirt yesterday that said "retro gamer" with a picture of a cassette tape on it. The tape also said 2kB. One of them asked m…

Twitter and TV idea

Because Russel Davies doesn't have comments on his blog I'm encouraged (I'm not saying forced) to write a blog entry rather than post a comment.

Here's an idea that's relevant to his post on a second screen, that I would have put on backstage.bbc.co.uk (RIP):

When watching recorded TV you can't watch the twitter stream unless someone came up with a website that would "record" tweets related to a particular programme, and then replay them when you were watching it, so you can feel part of the virtual audience.

I heart The Guardian

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My dad got me into the habit of reading The Guardian newspaper as he subscribed when I was a child (though he's since moved to the Times). I've stopped reading it at lunchtimes these days so I've started listening to their podcasts. The Guardian is a bit like Sun used to be, before they were taken over by Oracle, in that they look at the way the internet is going and then start giving stuff away. They've released APIs for their content so people can do things like today's Guardian. Whilst all this free stuff is great (e.g. Spotify) my worry is that people might go out of business because they haven't figure out a way of getting it to pay and then you stop getting the service. I think it's a while before we see how things pan out in the newpaper and music businesses, but it's interesting to watch it unfold.

Photo from iamthestig2.

New year's resolution

1280 by 1024 (end of geek joke)

A bit late I know, but more useful if I tell you of progress too.

I've really only had two.
1. Spend more time on Facebook. After slaving all day at a PC anything else PC related is a bit too much like work. However Facebook is handy for keeping in touch. I've cut down on some people I wasn't really that close to. So now I've got 139 of my closest buddies left. Not really, but maybe if I spend a bit more time on Facebook then they all can be close buddies. I'm not the only to cut down.

2. Make twitter not just seem like work. Looking at twitter during the Christmas holidays reminded me too much of work. I probably ought to do more with twitter lists at some point to sort out work-related people from the rest. Sometime. This year. Maybe.

Not quite neural implants

My blog piece of neural implants was fiction of course. However last night I saw a Horizon programme which had a couple of things that came close.

The first was a series of things (with a name I've forgotten) that are built into a helicopter pilot's harness that vibrate when he goes too high, or gets close to the ground. There's one near the belly button that shows you which direction you are moving. It's designed for situations like landing on sand where you have no visibility. They showed a pilot landing a simulator successfully with his eyes closed.

The second one was a belt with 8 vibrating pads around it. It was hooked up to a compass so that the pad nearest North vibrated continuously.

So whilst not quite being a heads-up display as my previous post predicted, it seems there's plenty of spare bandwidth with the sense to touch to get useful information into the brain.

Neural implants - a gadget from the future

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A gadget magazine from the future fell through a wormhole in time and it made very interesting reading. Here's an article from it about neural implants:

Neural implants are the latest essential gadget, but how do they work? Although they aren't the sort of thing you can get a demo of, we talked to a few of the early adopters to find out how they got on with them. The basic setup comes in two parts. The first is an implant which goes under the skull behind the ear in the motor section of the brain. The second goes on the optic nerve as it comes out of the back of the eye.

When you're first given them you don't notice any difference, apart from the after effects of the operation itself. This is the "discovery phase", when you're trying to find out which physical movements trigger the neurons that the motor implant has been attached to. The way you know you've found out is that you get a bright flash in your vision as the optic implant triggers. One per…