Category Archives: Blog

My blog and occasional comment on current affairs.

The Solar System to scale

This picture is wrong

This picture is wrong

I saw this video about recreating the solar system to scale and it’s really well done. My thoughts were provoked. So I thought I would share. To quote Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

This video puts things in perspective. If you feel insignificant now, just wait till you have seen this. Enjoy.

 

 

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Apple phone controls ants!

This clip has been doing the rounds recently, so I thought share in case you got too excited or impressed. It is basically supposed proof that Apple phones scramble your brains. When the phone receives a call, the ants circle it as if worshipping it in a primitive ant-like way. And if you have seen Ant Man you will know that ants are pretty smart. It’s a bit like the opening of an Apple store in fact. Here you go:

If you watch this full screen in HD you can see something even more incredible. In the top right hand corner, you can actually see ants disappearing from existence! So either this an even more terrifying threat than I thought, or some dick has wasted everyone’s time and used CGI. I suspect the latter. Which I why I cautioned against getting too excited. Sorry about that.
 

Best public transportation systems in the world

I currently live in Bangkok and transport is pretty dire/awesome depending on how you see it. When I first spent more than a couple of hours here in the early 90s, public transport was basically buses, taxis, tuk tuks, motorbike cabs, riverboats, songthaews, random elephants, blah and so on. There are now two skytrain lines, an underground line and an airport link line which are all pretty ok. They are a generally sane bet in a city that thrives on chaos.

Bangkok taxis

Bangkok taxis

The thing about Bangkok however, is that there are about a million taxis (give or take probably hundreds of thousands). There are a lot and they are ridiculously cheap. And this was even before the heady days of Uber. It takes me about 40 minutes in a cab to get to my thrice a week day job and that costs about 110 baht. Or £2. Even with Uber. The main problem, is that in rush hour the limited public transport fills up and Bangkok turns into a colossal traffic jam. Also, if you are a tourist you will get massively ripped off and pay triple what locals and expats pay (tip – use the meter!).

I have previously lived in Hong Kong, London and Sydney so how do their public transportation systems fare?

Sydney – I never really went that far. I lived in King’s Cross for months and there are bars everywhere. I then got a shared flat in Bondi and there is a beach and bars everywhere. I was also unemployed. Occasionally I did travel around a bit and the system seemed fine. I met someone who advised that you shouldn’t travel at night but frankly it seemed safer than the King’s Cross of 1993, so maybe maybe they were just paranoid.

Hong Kong – it was a bit different when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s but Hong Kong exists about 5-10 years in the future compared to everyone else and plans accordingly. I remember the government announcing the underground system they were going to build and that it would take about 10 years. Exactly 10 years later, an entire underground system opened (the MTR). It still works like that there. Hong Kong thinks ” Where will need transport be needed in the future and how long will it take to build?” Then it builds it. Transport there is awesome.

London underground 100 years ago. On a personal note, my grandad was alive in London when this pic was taken

London underground 100 years ago. On a personal note, my grandad was alive in London when this pic was taken, which is pretty amazing

London – Like the city, it is rough round the edges but it works. London had the first underground system in the world, so it has been desperately trying to clean up and modernise for over a 100 years. The height of some tunnels was decided on the average man plus his top hat for fuck’s sake, so cut it some slack. The tube goes to a hell of a lot of places and is bloody handy. All proper Londoners have almost the whole map in their head and can tell any tourist the best route. So it shows how often the tube is used by locals. (Routes may be debated among Londoners, however, but only by them.)

I’ve travelled to a lot of places and frankly this list could go on for hours. Most of Europe is pretty good, places I have been in India, Laos, Morocco, etc, are pretty bad. Seriously, just hire an aggressive taxi. Other places like Berlin, New York, Paris, Singapore, are pretty good. Which is just vague. So here is an infographic with the some of the best as worked out by the good people at businessinsider. Mmmmm stats….

The best public transport systems in the world

The best public transport systems in the world

Thanks to http://www.businessinsider.com/best-public-transportation-systems-around-the-world-2015-8 for the infographic.

 

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Real life robots preparing for the singularity

Atlas Robot

Atlas Robot

No matter how often science fiction writers keep warning about this sort of thing, we are continuing research into both AI and robots. When the singularity comes and robots rise up and take over there will be quite a lot of gloating  and ‘I told you so’s. The main problem is that robots are kind of cool, so we will keep building them. Who knows, maybe they will want to be our buddies like in Star Wars or Asimov’s work (mostly). People shouldn’t necessarily allude to an impending apocalypse.

So check out this clip of Google/Alphabet owned Boston Dynamics’ real life robots wondering around outside. It looks a bit they are taking a drunk Terminator for a walk but it is still pretty impressive. As is the sort of robot dog with a hand for head. Enjoy the apocalypse, it is going to be shiny. (Damn, I alluded… so… hard… not to…)

The full length video is here:

 

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China to build Mega City One, Jing-jin-ji

Mega City One from Judge Dredd - around 100 years from now on east coast of US

Mega City One from Judge Dredd – around 100 years from now on east coast of US

China is going to build a real-life Mega City One. As I am sure you are aware, Mega City One, according to 2000AD, is due to exist around a 15-20 years from now stretching from Washington to New York and, after a few decades, from Florida to Canada. But that is just awesome fiction, whereas China’s Mega City is about to become a reality. (I will stop capitalising it now it is a real concept, rather than a name.)

China’s idea is to build a mega-city called Jing-jin-ji that encompasses the nine major conurbations that surround the Pearl River delta. There is no hyperbole when I state that this plan is going to be absolutely fucking uber huge. 132 million people in a place twice the size of Wales huge. (According to the Guardian).

Guangzhou, one of the cities in the plan in the smog.

Guangzhou, one of the cities in the plan in the smog.

China has been talking about Jing-jin-ji for a while but the plans seem to be more in place in the last week or so, and it finally has a name. I have spent around 20 years in Hong Kong, 20 years in London and am now living in Bangkok where I have spent over 3 years, so I clearly love a megalopolis. I suspect the problem with Jing-jin-ji will be that it will be impossible to breathe. Pollution in China is legendary and even when I lived and grew up in Hong Kong, the air that drifted over the border was a problem. Combining colossal cities in China makes my lungs quiver in fear.

While I love a major city, even mega-city, I am not 100% sold on this. Cities are supposed to grow and have character and develop a personality. When they are merged or artificially created, they can be weird. I have been to New York and Mumbai and whatever their faults, they are more charming than, say, Canberra (sorry but apart from the weed laws I hated it as a 21 year old in the early 90s). A combination might be better than a new city, but China’s air is godawful. As mega-cities go, I will have to wait for mega-city two.

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The Fallen of World War 2

It is hard to imagine horror and scale of certain wars. World War 2 in particular. You can read the facts and figures but it is still really hard to visualise. This video from historian Neil Halloran helps put things into perspective. It basically shows the figures in a very visual way and some of it is pretty shocking. I knew the Russians and Chinese had a particularly nasty time of it but this really drives home just how bad.

I will soon be going back to topics like astronomy and science, because frankly I prefer to be filled with wonder and hope at what humans can achieve, rather than be reminded how much we can suck. Anyway, ‘The Fallen of World War 2’ is well done and I thought it deserved a share.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

 
Written, directed, coded, narrated by twitter.com/neilhalloran

 

This is very Rock and Roll

Last week Dave Growl broke his leg and carried on performing. Then the lead singer of the band John Coffey, a fellow called David Achter de Molen, does this. Apart from sniffing cocaine off strippers, it doesn’t get more rock and roll than this.

Australia, Morocco, Thailand. Three true travel stories

BookcovertraveltalesI haven’t done this for a while, so it is time to publicise one of my incredibly cheap books. “Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories” is a collection that costs a pittance and seems to entertain. I usually give the blurb I wrote but instead I thought it would be nice to include a couple of reviews written on the US Amazon website. I promise I don’t know them. They are ‘Top 1000 Reviewers’ and I should be so lucky to know such important people.

A review:

“Some young folks hit the backpacker trail to gain self-enlightenment and seek spiritual awareness and save the world. With admirable honesty, the author admits that (at twenty-one) he was looking for fun, with the emphasis on avoiding boredom, staying drunk, and getting laid. Not surprisingly, he had more luck in the first two areas than in the third.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as a stoned-and-stupid Spring Break saga. This man is a professional writer and a damned good one, and he knows how to tell a story. He also has a keen eye for the absurd, even when he’s looking in the mirror. The first (and longest) section recounts an adventure in Australia when he and three friends try to earn traveling money picking pears. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm of his imagination (think A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) turns out to be an “outback gulag” and the friendly, generous rural inhabitants consist of a hostile, dishonest farm owner and a pair of hard-working (and hard-drinking) Albanians.

The second story involves getting stranded in the Atlas Mountains during rainy season and taking a hair-raising ride back to civilization (or closer, anyway) in a van packed with Berber tribesmen. Why are the windows covered? “Il est preferable de ne pas regarder.” (It’s better not to look.) The third finds our hero living in Bangkok with his American-educated Thai fiancee Nim where he experiences a strange (typically Thai) overthrow of the government. The Prime Minister is unpopular, so the military steps in, sends the police home, the King okays the deal, and Happy Hour goes on. (That was in 2006 and the former PM is still in exile, but his sister is now PM!)

My only complaint about the book is that it is far too short and I wasn’t ready for it to end.”

Another glowing review:

“‘Ladyboys from the Mambo cabaret strode confidently down the cracked pavement on ridiculously high heels. Further down the road, another elephant mingled with the traffic. “Everything looks pretty damn normal,” Chris said.’ Funny stuff from 3 “paid holidays” focusing on the highlights (or lowlights depending on one’s perspective) of the author’s encounter with a giant Australian spider covering his chest nipple to nipple, riding along with a vanload of Moroccans as it teeters on the edge of a waterlogged roadway, or surviving what is (hopefully) a bloodless coup in Thailand while being serenaded at a downtown bar. So, all I have to say is what three destinations are we headed off to next? Very entertaining book!”

You can buy Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories here and I’d be ever so grateful:

 

 

 

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History of the world in 2 minutes

From when God decided this to now

From when God decided this, to now

Some kid got asked to do a a video for his class and came with a clip that shows the history of the world in 2 minutes. It is really well done, although I am pretty sure Tom Hanks wasn’t around in the particular time period he appears in – you’ll know what I mean. It’s a bit human-centric as we should technically just appear in the last second or so, but I guess it’s not really following proportional timeframes. I look forward to the movie. Anyway, time’s a wasting. Enjoy.

 

 

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Mad Max Behind the scenes

hqdefaultI assume you have seen Mad Max: Fury Road by now. If not, just stop reading and go and see it. It is absolutely superb. As well as being ridiculously entertaining, it is without a doubt one of the most visually spectacular movies ever made. That is quite a lot of hyperbole but I stand by it. Definitely see it in a cinema if you can.

If you have seen the film, I’m sure you’ll have assumed a fair amount of blue screen. There was some blue screen, but not as much as I initially thought going by the behind-the-scenes clip below. The clip is 18 minutes long but is pretty damned interesting. It is the B Roll and contains some interesting scenes showing how certain parts were made. It turns out there are a lot of brave stunt men, George Miller is a superb director, and the variety of ways you can shoot with a camera these days is highly creative. I feel I should reiterate at this point that you should go and see Mad Max: Fury Road, if you haven’t already.
(*Please note that there is no audio until about 50 seconds in, but it doesn’t matter much.)

 

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Lily Camera – amazing new drone

This is the control

This is the control

Just when I thought I had all the gadgets I need, along comes the Lily Camera. This is very cool indeed. It is a drone that follows you around and films you in the most high-tech selfie way possible. It seems great if you are doing outdoor sports. I don’t know how great it will be if you are in a dense urban environment. I live in Bangkok and you can barely walk around without ducking so I doubt it would work well here. You could get some great beach shots though.

Rather than have me explain what the Lily Camera can do, why not watch a video? I wish I had this thing when I was in the Lake District. It seems really easy to control too, just wear a cheap looking watch thing (pictured above). Have a look:

 

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Hawkeye sings about his powers

Hawkeye Avengers

Hawkeye Avengers

I was fresh from watching the Avengers: Age of Ultron (which was superb) when someone showed me this. When watching the Avengers I always think it is pretty cool that Hawkeye and Black Widow are basically just really incredible humans.

In this clip from the Tonight Show (with Jimmy Fallon), Jeremy Renner aka Hawkeye sings about his powers to the tune of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”. It is genuinely funny and Renner/Hawkeye sings pretty damn well. Below the clip are the lyrics. Enjoy.

The lyrics:
When you’re on a team with the Hulk and Thor
And we’re all up there on the movie screen,
Will the people believe that I’m not quite as tough?
Will anyone even notice me?

But listen I’ve got powers too, they’re pretty sweet.
I promise I can do so much more than just archery.

I’m serious guys.
I’ve got a collection of scarves and berets.
I play trombone in a ska band.
I once got to second base on my Tinder date.
And my cat has got its own Instagram.

I tell you now
I kick ass at Mario Kart.
This year I played an extra in Paul Blart.
I can open a pickle jar.
I’m friggin’ Hawkeye.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

So maybe I still haven’t lost my virginity.
But when I bowl I always score at least 70, after six beers

Yes I know ’bout Captain America’s strength.
Hulk becomes a towering man.
But I got seventh place in my fantasy league.
And I once butt-dialed Jean-Claude Van Damme.

When I go to Chipotle I get free guac.
I flirt with the cashier and she says I rock.
I own water-resistant socks.
I’m friggin’ Hawkeye.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

Maybe I’m as super as they are.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

 

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Whisgars Bangkok

Whisgars-logo

Whisgars Bangkok

Being a manly kind of chap I occasionally get a craving for combat, lascivious women, whisky, and cigars. Happily I live in Bangkok where all these things are plentiful and found on most street corners. For legal reasons however, my lawyer has advised me to concentrate on the latter two. But where in Bangkok can you get decent whisky and cigars?

In case you are confused about what Whisgars is all about.

In case you are confused about what Whisgars is all about.

I could do one of those “Top 10” articles but frankly, in Bangkok, you might as well go to Whisgars – it’s superb. They obviously do whisky/whiskey (sorry but my grandad was Irish and I need to include that spelling) and cigars, but it is done in such style and with such expertise, you can’t go wrong. There is more than one branch (as I write, I think there are four) but the one on Sukhumvit soi 23 is my personal favourite but that is mostly because it is the one nearest to my condo.

Just in case I incorrectly skew their sales angle, here is the blurb from the heavily proofed, highly cigar-fumed mouth of Whisgars itself:

“Whisgars is a unique concept bar throughout Asia consisting of high-end Single Malt Whisky and Premium Hand-Rolled Cigars in carefully selected locations. Our bars are completely cigar-friendly and designed to cater to the highest levels of luxury. Our staff is very well trained in providing our customers with the very best in service and creating the ultimate experience at all of our locations.”

Whisgars' hunidor

Whisgars’ hunidor

I have spent many a happy evening in Whisgars (some even spectacular) and can’t recommend it enough. I quit smoking three years ago so really enjoy the occasional cigar and Whisgars not only has a walk–in humidor, but it also has a helpful expert on hand. Usually, coincidentally, it’s an attractive female expert and they give you great advice on your personal choice of luxury inhalant. Their drinks list is also superb and I can vouch for not only an awesome whiskey selection, but also a superlative gin and tonic and cocktail menu.

Thailand is not exactly a famed whiskey producer – even the whiskies that are made here are actually rum – but thanks to places like Whisgars that is not an issue. I highly recommend it.

Next entry – fighting, hunting, beard trimming and women!

For more information have a look at their website:

http://whisgars.com

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FPV Quadcopter racing in a forest

Quadcopter

Quadcopter

Remember that scene in Return of the Jedi where they fly on hover bikes through the Forest of Endor? Well this is a little bit like that minus the explosions, stormtroopers, stupid Ewoks, etc. FPV means First Person View, in case you were wondering.

Quadcopter racing seems pretty fun from this footage but clearly having jedi-like reactions helps quite a lot as they crash frequently.

 

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Free Eyesight Test

I seem to be posting a lot of things about being observant and weird visual effects recently.   I am just following internet trends and it is all the fault of that accursed burgundy and Magrathean lilac coloured dress.

This is not an illusion but different people will see different things. This is because people have varying ocular prescriptions. Or to put it another way – some people need better glasses. I am basically giving you a free eyesight test. Have a look at this:

Einstein or Monroe?

Einstein or Monroe?

Who do you see in the picture? Albert Einstein or Marilyn Monroe? If Monroe, then you’d better pop to the opticians. There is some quite cool science behind this but it basically boils down to how we recognise faces. The picture is a hybrid image that fuses a detailed picture of Einstein with a blurred picture of Monroe. If you vision is a bit blurred, your brain goes with the overall shape of what is can see – which is Monroe. If you see Einstein, then step further away from your screen, or squint, and you might see him turn into Monroe.

You’re not allowed to just say, “I see dead people.”

I spent thousands of pounds on eye laser surgery and can see Einstein from up to a mile away. I hope you fare as well. This free eyesight test is on the house.

Here is a short video explaining this much better than I am:

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How observant are you?

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 6.54.22 pmI thought I was fairly observant but after watching this video, I realised I wasn’t as Sherlock Holmes-like as I thought.

This is a Skoda Fabia car advert but it is a good one. Saying anything more would be a spoiler. So just give it a watch, it’s pretty well done:

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10 iconic characters drawn by 10 iconic artists

What would happen if you took 10 iconic cartoon and comic characters and then have them drawn in the style of 10 iconic artists? Well, see blow. The characters on the vertical are: Asterix, Calvin, Donald Duck, Captain Haddock, Batman, Heimo Vesa, Corto Maltese, Moomintroll, Garfield, and Lucy. The artists across the horizontal are: Uderzo, Watterson, Barks, Hergé, Adams, Jarla, Pratt, Jansson, Davis, and Schulz. In case you get confused, the greyed diagonal from top left to bottom right shows the artists matched with their artwork. (I really like Hugo Pratt.)

Maybe I am just a nerd but I spent ages looking at this when I first saw it on Sploid.Gizmodo.com. They are so well done that I felt obliged to share. Enjoy.

10comicartists

 

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Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars

Have you ever wondered what sunset on Mars would look like? I do, almost daily. Well, now you can see it for yourself thanks to science! When you think of all the achievements that must have taken place for this to happen, it is pretty damned incredible. I was going to list them but it would take too long.

I just thought I would share the picture because it is so damned inspiring. There is also a video (below) which is equally amazing achievement-wise. As an actual video of a sunset it is pretty average – but it’s on Mars, so you know, cut it some slack.

 

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Pale Blue Dot Photo

25 years ago, Voyager 1 turned round and took a picture of the Earth from 3.7 billion miles away. At first NASA wasn’t all that keen – it was expensive and served no real scientific purpose – but the legend that was Carl Sagan, persuaded them to do it. Just so that we humans can get a sense of perspective. And he was right. I have written about this before but as the anniversary just happened, I though I would write about it again. Here is the Pale Blue Dot photo and the Earth is on the right in the shaft of sunlight. It’s pretty amazing.

Pale Blue Dot photo

Pale Blue Dot photo

If that wasn’t perspective enough, add in Carl Sagan’s words:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

It’s even better with his voice. Enjoy and feel your insignificance.

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Lars Andersen is a modern Legolas

Robin-Hood-Errol-Flynn-002A couple of years ago, Mrs Word of Ward and myself took archery lessons in London. I ended up really enjoying it and going back quite regularly. I guess it appealed to the medievalist in me. Plus, society might collapse and I might need to invade France one day. Archery is superb fun and it’s pretty easy to learn. After half an hour you can fire an arrow – but it takes years to get really good or be even vaguely consistent. Anyway, it’s great and as I’m 6’1 they let me use the biggest bow they had which was awesome – it’s based on height and strength so I didn’t pick it and therefore it isn’t compensating for anything. Obviously being more British than Elf, I associated more with Robin Hood, but each to their own ludicrous fantasy.

You do get better and quicker but it is still a fairly slow process to notch and draw and aim. That was why, after a few hours of archery and therefore a massive expert, it is easy to watch the Lord of the Rings and scoff as Legolas rapid-fires arrows into goblins and orcs. At least Robin Hood films had him firing an arrow normally, even if he tended to have a strange accent most of the time. Except it turns out I was wrong. It now seems there are certain techniques that can be used that make you a regular Hawkeye/Robin Hood/ Legolas/ other famous possibly fictional archer.

Thanks to studying ancient techniques and being generally pretty cool, Lars Andersen is a modern-day Legolas. (Tolkein wrote his books to be a mythology for western culture so it counts as the past.) He can fire arrows ridiculously quickly and can even catch an arrow and fire it back. It’s pretty bloody amazing and you should see for yourself. So here you go:

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