Archive for October, 2011
Last night we got back from the pub and were tucking in medium rare steaks wondering what to watch on the TV. This is just the way we live, don’t judge us. Predictably there wasn’t much on, so we turned on the Playstation and clicked on the BBC iPlayer. Annoyingly it wasn’t there instantly, there was a download for new features. I swore and paced and lamented that technology wasn’t yet instantaneous for the 20 seconds it took to download the upgrade and install it.
The first thing I noticed was the change in layout. It wasn’t too bad though and I soon found my way to something worth watching. Frozen Planet
by Sir David Attenborough. This is what I pay my licence fee for, not shite reality awfulness. The BBC, David Attenborough, and documentary, are all words guaranteed to combine into a TV show of epic awesomeness. So I clicked on it and we settled back to be awestruck. Then I noticed an option that was new. You can watch it in HD! I wasn’t sure if my internet connection was up to it but thankfully it was. Obviously it was only 720p, not the full 1080p as no one actually broadcasts in 1080p. Trust me, I work in TV broadcast.
But the picture was still astounding and so was the show. With Attenborough and the BBC you know you are going to see some incredible images and learn stuff you didn’t know. I wasn’t disappointed. Some of the images were so amazing it made me want to weep. You could freeze the show almost at random, print out the picture and could win a photography competition with it. Frozen Planet shows incredible almost alien landscapes and worlds. In this one they go deep under the ice in both the sea and under a volcano at the South Pole. You also see killer whales working together by swimming in formation and suddenly thrashing the water in unison to shatter a small iceberg so they can eat the seal on it. And, well, lots more stuff. I have run out of superlatives.
So IF you live in the UK and IF you have fast broadband and IF you have a playstation (or similar device) and IF you have a Hi Def TV, then you should check it out. Otherwise, I suggest you change your life and buy some new kit and move country. Because you’re missing out. Just watch the trailer below and try and tell me it doesn’t look amazing. You can even watch it in HD.
Over the past month my life seems to have been filled with George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It all started when I was in a bookshop in the Science Fiction section (with all the cool kids) and I noticed that the top five bestsellers in scifi were all from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fireseries. I then read a review of the first book – A Game of Thrones, which was pretty gushing about how great it was. The final thing that happened was mentioning on facebook that Sean Bean drinks in my local pub and suddenly everyone was talking about the Game of Thrones
TV show and its general awesomeness.
So I caved and read the first book and have to say, it was pretty damned gripping. Epic fantasy of epic proportions and not a stupid elf in sight. You can read my review of it here: http://scifiward.com/?p=235
I then watched the entire TV show which was equally epic and extremely well done. I love these big budget TV shows and the added fact that it’s HBO is always a mark of quality. The cast was superb and even though I knew what was going to happen it was thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps all the violence and unnecessary nudity did it for me, who knows. Boobs and gore, you can’t go wrong.
I then read the second bookwhich was also epic and awesome and am currently eagerly awaiting the second series.
What Martin has done is write some very convincing (mostly) characters that you start to empathise with and you end up wanting to know what is going to happen to them. That’s why it works so well on TV and in book form. The main thing that concerns me though is that books four and five are apparently a bit dull. This puts me in a quandary because if I read book three – which is actually two massive books for some reason – then I will feel the need to read books four and five. Especially if it turns out that the final two books are exciting.
Yes, I know. Again! Apparently they fall out of orbit every week but usually burn up in the atmosphere making pretty shooting stars. But last month a NASA satellite fell to the Earth and this weekend a defunct German ROSAT satellite is due to hit. What’s worse is that it will break up and scatter on its way down.
I know what you’re thinking – the odds of it hitting someone are small, right. Actually no, the odds according to the German Aerospace Agency DLR, are 1 in 2000 that it will hit someone. Let’s put that in perspective. Have you ever bought a Lotto ticket? The odds in the UK of you winning are 1 in 14,000,000. So it’s 4,375 times more likely that the satellite will squish someone than you are to win the lottery. If the pieces rain down on a city, entire buildings could be smashed with more than one person dying.
So the odds of you being hit by a chunk of satellite are, er, beyond me. But I’ve chosen to worry. If I was staff, I would call in sick just to be safe.
Why am I telling you this scary news? Well, partly because it’s fun. But also because I want you to have a good weekend. Not enough people live by the ‘Live for the day’ motto. Now that you know you might be twatted by a chunk of teutonic debris, I hope you will really enjoy yourselves this weekend. Essentially I am making the world more fun. No need to thank me.
Just remember: it could be you. Now have a tequila.
I love books. I read about a book a week – that’s not a boast, it is a sad lament on how boring my job can be. They are marvelous things that make your house look cool and make you look smart. Even if they are just Clive Cussler or Dan Brown novels. (Well maybe, from a distance…)
Up until now, I have always loved the physical feeling of a book. Its weight, its smell, its hopefully exciting cover and blurb. The problem now is that I have hundreds and hundreds of the things. My parent’s attic has four huge boxes full of them (with more stashed elsewhere) and my mother-in-law’s spare room is similarly filled. My flat right now has piles of them everywhere, teetering in stacks. There was only one sensible solution: move to a huge house. Unfortunately I can’t afford that. Yet.
I love gadgets and recently downloaded the kindle app onto my iPad. It’s too big to fit in my pocket unfortunately, but I carry it nearly everywhere and hug it when I go to sleep. So I started reading books on it. Not as much as I would with actual books though. One reason for this is that like all computer screens it doesn’t like being outside.It’s a nerd at heart. I work weird hours and spend a lot of afternoons lazing around in parks, cafes and beer gardens and unfortunately that meant I couldn’t read on the iPad and had to carry a backup book. (I know, my life sucks.) Another problem with my weird hours is that I am often on trains late at night in London and while I am a tall, strapping and fearsome fellow, there is always the chance of attracting a mugger. I recently sat opposite four teenagers on the tube at midnight playing on my iPad and realised the attention I was getting was probably not due to awe of my magnificent hair.
I did realise however that when I thought back to the book I had just finished (it was Sharpe’s Tiger and was awesome), I couldn’t really tell whether I had read it in book form or electronic form. Obviously I knew it was eBook form but the only difference was what I was holding when I actually read it. The experience wasn’t lessened in any way at all. It was a superb read.
The upshot of all this wittering, is that I bought a kindle and I bloody love it. I get just as lost in a good book as I ever did. It fits in my pocket and I can take it everywhere. I’m currently reading the second book of Game of Thrones and the paperback definitely won’t fit in my pocket. I guess an analogy would be someone who loves collecting vinyl but also has an iPod. The experience is different but a superb album is still a superb album and it’s damned handy to be able to carry a collection around with you. I will still occasionally lie on a beach or in the bath and read a paper book, but for my everyday life the kindle is just awesome.
The only downside is that it is so horrendously easy to buy books. What’s even worse is that they are now putting classic science fiction on kindle – stuff that was hard to find in book shops. I wrote about the new Sf Gateway site on Scifiward in this post. It’s costing me a fortune. I’m running out of cash. I’m now forced to stay in. Luckily I now have a lot to read. I also have a lovely new shiny gadget.
Astronomers seemingly have the coolest job ever. They get to gaze into the depths of space at stars and black holes and try to find life bearing planets and all other manner of inspiring stuff. It’s just a shame they are such an unimaginative bunch.
This picture is of a galaxy 13 billion light years away. Which also means that we are looking at the universe 13 billion years ago. Or to put it another way, the universe as it was when it was just 840 million years old (give or take a day). Which is pretty damned impressive. Astronomers have learnt all sorts of things like: back then stuff was really red. Also it was just hydrogen and then after a mere 200 million years it was, er, other elements too after a few suns had had a go at it. Or something. It’s all very fascinating and can be read about here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15275545
Of course the reality of looking for this sort of thing requires a certain type mind. One that is happy to work up a mountain or in a desert for years and going through frame after frame of images looking at tiny dots. When George Lucas thought of ‘A long time a go in a galaxy far, far away…’ his mind filled with space battles, asthmatic bad guys, and princesses with weird hair and no breasts. When astronomers saw this image they studied it for years and then called it UDFy-38135539. (Which coincidentally also sounds like a George Lucas film.) They could have called the Hades zone or something more exciting. The big telescope they used was imaginatively named the VLT which, I kid you not, stands for the Very Large Telescope.
Still, I shouldn’t mock or generalise. I’m sure some of the astronomers are fascinating down the pub. Even if not, they inspire the rest of us with incredible images. The good news is that they will soon be able to look back even further as they are building an even bigger telescope than VLT. Hopefully it will be named the Space Megascope 3000 or something.
Nope, just checked. It will be called the ELT – Extremely Large Telescope. Still, the rest of can dream.
An entire week ago, I wrote how warm and pleasant England was. It’s now back to its standard grey drizzle. Ahh, normality. In fact, two days after the warmest October day ever, it snowed in Scotland. Again, normality.
Apparently, though, this winter is going to be one of the coldest winters ever. From November onwards, for months and months, brass monkey will shedding extremities with abandon. Which sucks. I’m taking solace in the fact that the same people predicted that the summer was going to be a ‘scorcher’, when it was in fact ‘shite’.
In fact, I read somewhere (probably on the infallible internet), that if you predict that the weather tomorrow will be pretty much like the weather today, you will be correct about 70% of the time. Professional weather people get it right about 80% of the time. Which isn’t that much of an improvement. If you are thinking of going into meteorology it’s something to keep in mind. If you’re looking for a cushy number, it seems a winner. Plus you might get to be on the TV. Just saying “Yeah, more of the same…” for loads of cash.
I’m partly writing this as a warning in case you are planning a holiday to this soon to be blighted isle - or are lucky enough to live here. But mostly because I’m British and we are curiously obsessed with the weather. If you are a meteorologist and have been offended then I apologise. Feel free to point out my hypocrisy – my last blog entry could easily have ended: next entry, “more of the same…”
The weather here in London is currently sunny, warm and pleasant. That’s an unlikely thing to write at the best of times, but it’s even more mental in October. The last week has been in the high 20s Celsius with the last three days hitting 29C every day. It was 22C in Algeria for comparison and Algeria has a desert for fuck’s sake. If it carries on like this, it definitely heralds the apocalypse.
We all seem to be at a loss of what to do. Normally throughout the summer everyone skives of work and gets drunk in parks and beer gardens and are friendly and nice to each other. Right now is the time of year where we normally get mildly depressed by the prospect of approaching winter and the TV tries to distract us by pretending it’s almost Christmas. We stop all the happy friendliness of July and August and return to being aggressive and cold and starting fights in chip shops.
On my way to work last night I saw: a drunk couple arguing in the street, a guy shouting at a Starbucks employee for giving him an incorrect cake, some hoodies on a bench spitting, and a train carriage full of people desperately ignoring each other. This is all correct and as it should be for London at this time of year. Except: the drunk couple were arguing in front of a crowded beer garden full of wasted people already thinking up excuses for pulling a sickie, the Starbucks guy was in a vest and drinking a frappuccino, the hoodies looked hilariously hot, and the train still had attractive half clad women in it (they disappear for winter).
Thankfully by the end of this week, we will apparently skip Autumn and launch straight into Winter. Then we can return to normal. If there is one thing the British excel it, it’s bitching about the weather. Now it’s just confusing.
Just to end on a high note, here’s a random picture of Britishness taken from yesterday’s Metro newspaper. Enjoy. Next entry: Bloody Weather.