The industriousness of ants – strangely hypnotic

I stumbled across this video on the Internet. There’s something strangely hypnotic about the way these ants work – and bearing in mind their size it seems all quite incredible.

This is why cats are cool

I’ve always liked cats.

I’m a fan of dogs, of course, but cats just do it for me with that slightly snide cunning, that sense that they really are the sharpest tools in the box. In that spirit, meet Kido – a very cool cat who plays a shell game and wins every time.

That said, I think mine would rip my throat out if I tried to get him to perform on camera…


White House reassures Jedi with no to Death Star

death-star-660x448According to the last census (2011), there were still 176, 632 Jedi Knights in the United Kingdom.  As the Guardian reported, that represented a significant decline on 2001 when around 300,000 Jedi Knights were keeping us safe from The Empire (coincidentally, George Bush was US President from 2001 to 2009), but they are still a force to be reckoned with. And thankfully, we are not in Star Wars: Episode IV “A New Hope” territory yet.

Hopefully, the ranks of aspiring Luke Skywalkers will be emboldened by the latest announcement from the White House. In responding officially to a petition on the White House website calling for America to build a Death Star, Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, offered this formal response:

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

The geopolitical ramifications of building a Death Star aside, Shawcross is quite right to remind folks that actually it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of robust design. Perhaps a little more worryingly it shows just how deeply imprinted Star Wars is on the American psyche. But let’s not go there!

Anyone wanting a little light relief and some reassurance that, just occasionally, government officials do have a sense of humour, should read his full response.

Coming soon… A history of noise

Noise.

It fills our lives. It is something that is so constant that I doubt any of us really experience true silence except perhaps on a few occasions in our lives. There is the daily burr that forms a soundtrack to our lives that we barely pay attention to any more. There are the phones chirruping away, cars passing, doors closing, papers shuffling, colleagues talking at the water cooler, footsteps in the corridor. The list is endless.

In more peaceful places there is still noise: the wind in the trees, birds singing, the sea on the shore, the rustle of grass as we walk. Even now, in this house, with no music playing, the windows double-glazed and with the heating currently off, I can hear the whirr of the computer’s fan and my fingers clicking on the keyboard (and what a joy it is to be typing on a real keyboard, not a laptop or a Blackberry). At other times there might be the creak of pipes or the sound of the house settling after the day or a distant siren howling through the town.

Interestingly, pretty much the world’s quietest place isn’t in the middle of nowhere at all. It is at Orfield Laboratories, in their anechoic chamber:

anechoic chamberAnechoic means echo free and this chamber is designed to completely absorb sound waves and create an experimental space in which there can be absolute silence. Somehow or other I suspect that I would end up being driven mad by the sound of the blood rushing in my ears!

Anyway, browsing Facebook, the feed of an old friend with whom I wish I kept in better touch flashed up a link to a blog: Noise – A human history. Starting Monday 18 March, this 30-part series will explore the role of sound in the past 100,000 years of human history As it says on the blog:

“Recorded on location around the world, it will take us from the shamanistic trance-music of our cave-dwelling ancestors, the babel of ancient Rome, the massacre of noisy cats in pre-revolutionary Paris, and the sonic assaults of trench warfare, right through to our struggle to find calm in the cacophony of a modern metropolis. This is not about sound in the abstract: it is about sound as a matter of life and death, pain and pleasure, feeling and intellect. People, and their past behaviours, are at the heart of it.”

Sound has always fascinated me – how we become attuned to some sounds and not to others, how music can bend our emotions, how people communicate, how we hear the world when we actually stop to listen. Something tells me that this series will be quite special.

Check it out – and those of you who enjoy quality radio, listen out for it.

Remote-controlled quadcopter – I want one (please)

This has to be the ultimate gadget junky’s toy!

Flight control specialists DJI-Innovations have released a consumer toy version of their radio-controlled flight platforms – and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

The Phantom quadcopter is a technological mini-marvel. It can hit 6m/s vertically and 10m/s horizontally, has a range of 300m, built-in GPS for fly-home programming (i.e. if it goes out of range, it’ll fly home and land itself if the GPS signal is strong enough) and a flying time of between 10 and 15 minutes. It can also automatically land itself if the battery is low.

It also comes with a mount for the phenomenal GoPro range of video cameras. Beyond the geeky fun value, the potential for amateur film-makers wanting a different perspective, or the likes of conservationists, gardeners etc. who want to see how things appear from the air looks immense.

Tech blog gizmag has an extended review.

So if anyone is feeling generous, I’ll have one of each, please.

Bob Newhart on the origins of tobacco

“Bob” Newhart, born George Robert Newhart in Austin, Chicago in 1929, is an American actor and comedian with a fascinating and varied career. I first came across him guesting on Desperate Housewives.

In awarding him a Peabody Award for the Bob Newhart Show in 1961, the board said:

… a person whose gentle satire and wry and irreverent wit waft a breath of fresh and bracing air through the stale and stuffy electronic corridors. A merry marauder, who looks less like St. George than a choirboy, Newhart has wounded, if not slain, many of the dragons that stalk our society. In a troubled and apprehensive world, Newhart has proved once again that laughter is the best medicine.

His routines are characterised by a deadpan delivery and one of his classics is entitled “Introducing Tobacco To Civilisation”, performing a very funny riff on how we started smoking.

Sometimes humour stays fresh across the decades.

Literally brilliant – Vikings rock

I admit to finding much of today’s children’s telly incomprehensible. My brother and sister-in-law, who have four scarily bright and funny kids, assure me that it is so much better than when we were younger.

For someone who holds a certain nostalgia for Mr Benn, Trumpton and Finger Mouse, I confess I find In The Night Garden beyond my ken, though The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom have an understated, calm charm.

However, one series that excels at sharing knowledge in a fun and mischievous way is CBBC’s Horrible Histories. It has a wickedly entertaining way of making history fun and accessible, often accompanied by tunes better than those pumped out by better-known acts.

Now, I absolutely know I am not the only one who has found myself in front of a laptop at 3am, having imbibed far too much wine and whisky, playing clips of favourite rock and metal. There is a standard format for such occasions. Both participants (there are usually two, occasionally three) open with a standard metal classic (Nightwish’s Storytime here or AC/DC’s Shoot To Thrill), before choosing more and more classic rock numbers until all semblance of sobriety is conquered by peace songs and revolutionary anthems (from the Dropkick Murphys etc).

To this exemplary canon has been added another clip which forms a part of the “must see, must hear” experience: the Horrible Histories team’s Viking song.

There are rock groups around the world that couldn’t do this – and its pastiche of Queen, symphonic metal and rock ballads is a gem.

Enjoy.

And more from the Horrible Histories crew in due course.

A mobile life

I’ve always been a techno-junky, at least as long as I can remember. It’s taken the rest of the world a long time to catch up, but thankfully Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Rajesh are showing the world just how cool us über-nerds are. (That’s The Big Bang Theory for anyone who spent 2012 living on Mars.)

It was Star Trek that did it, I think. Between the communicator, the tricorder and the universal translator there was never much chance for an inquisitive sort like me, who was convinced that aliens were waiting to land, if not here already. (I never bought the theory that the planet was being run by giant lizards. That seemed a little silly. Like David Icke – who I foggily remember for his sports commentary on Grandstand, not the Illuminati.) And for interest, How Stuff Works has a a fascinating article on the 100 Star Trek technologies that have come into being

I remember the first mobile phone I had.

It was Dad’s phone that he passed over to me when I started work. It was a Nokia, a 2140 on the Orange network – the only phone available on Orange when the network launched in 1994. Those of you who had one may remember the retractable antenna. I remember how cool it felt when several  people, a lot older than me, and a lot more important, needed to make phone calls whilst we were stuck in a meeting. Their surprise when I pulled out a cell phone (!) was very gratifying in a geeky, nerdy kind of way.

After that there was no stopping me. Mobile phones and mini-computing became technological areas of fascination and over the years I acquired a series of mobile phones, mini-computers and tablets.

This morning, in the cab on the way to church, a guy on Radio 5 was talking about wearable computers the size of a stud earring that he thinks will be the norm by 2040, which will contain more computing power than every device in the average home today. He was saying, quite straight-forwardly, than in 15-20 years we will have electronic circuitry printed directly onto our skin and that transaction by reading this circuitry will be quite normal. The stud earrings will create local networks to allow off-grid information exchange, ostensibly to protect privacy.

If that sounds insane, you should know that the EES (Electrical Epidermal System) is already here, designed two years ago by engineers John Rogers  and Todd Coleman to collect information on your vital organs and transmit it back wirelessly to a computer.

I wonder if the sense of incredulity I felt was anything like that of those who shook their heads and wondered why on earth I thought I needed a phone in my pocket? Perhaps such imprints and implants will indeed be the norm, even in my lifetime, and we will dispense with our mobiles and games consoles.

In the meantime, here is a gallery of the phones and associated gizmos that, over the years, have led to technology becoming hard-wired into my social and professional life.

Oh… And a small legacy of one of my favourite phones, the Nokia N70 – the picture of Portreath at the top of the blog was taken on it, a good few years ago now.

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When gaming and amateur film-making cross over

I’ve long been a gamer, ever since I first laid my sticky mitts on a ZX81 and dived into Mazogs:

My favourite games these days are MMOs, usually fantasy-based, like EQ and EQ2. I have also had a sneaking fondness for FPS games, like Unreal Tournament. The game I am playing most at the moment is Battlefield 3. Up to 32 players on each side, from across the world, play as either US or Russian forces in various forms of battle on various maps, small and large. My liking for this sort of thing is probably a throwback to watching films like Where Eagles Dare as a kid, though there is also a real and peculiar sense of camaraderie when four of you are locked down in the same squad, all communicating by Team Speak, buildings blowing up around you and ammo running low. It is also remarkably cathartic after a frustrating day.

We are so used to seeing computer graphics in films these days, like the magnificent CGI tiger in Life Of Pi, that we can barely distinguish them from the real thing. Conversely, the graphics in many modern games, like BF3, are so realistic, and the models so controllable, that artistic sorts around the world are creating films using exclusively in-game footage.

This effort from Fierce Eagles, a team of gamers in Pakistan, and ultra-violent as it is being based on BF3, is quite something else.

Take a look at Mazogs above.

And then check out the video below to see how scarily gaming technology has advanced in the thirty years since Mazogs was published by Bug Byte in 1982. (Warning: there is a lot of shooting and killing.)

Where will full-immersion 3D, more powerful processors and even higher definitions take us in the next thirty years?

Kino rage: the death of cinema etiquette (or… Be quiet!)

What is it about cinema? I’ve always loved it and we are spoiled today with an array of multiplexes. With their smaller studio screens they have even recognised that there is a market for art house and foreign cinema, as well as the latest blockbuster, so even those of a more discerning taste can find something to watch.

However, today’s excursion to Skyfall, a second viewing, mid-week and starting at just about tea time, was an eye-opener as far as the behaviour of other cinemas-goers  went. Perhaps at 40 I am becoming a curmudgeonly old git. On the other hand, perhaps my twat toleration levels are severely depleted. Anyway, herewith some handy thoughts to make communal viewing a more pleasurable experience, inspired by unprecedented levels of cretinous behaviour at today’s screening.

Start time

It used to be that you had to buy a local newspaper to find out what was on at the local cinema. Now, though, with a little initiative, you can find the start time listed online. Ain’t technology great? Knowing when the film begins is Very Handy. It means you don’t have to walk in after the adverts, after the trailers and after the opening sequences. Yes, that goes for all TWELVE of you that did that today. You can actually enjoy the whole film (!) if you turn up on time.

Seats

Cinemas generally allocate seats. You can find your seat reference handily printed on your ticket. Don’t be a twat and pretend that you didn’t know you were sitting in the premium seats when you only paid for standard. It’s only embarrassing for you when you are asked to move.

Fidgeting

Sit still. I realise this is a challenge in our ADHD-addled 21st Century world, but honestly. The length of the film can be found online. If you can’t sit still, don’t bloody ruin it for the rest of us by fidgeting like an arse and making your chair squeak.

Food and drink

It’s a cinema. Not a restaurant. Of course have a snack or sweets. But EAT QUIETLY. And certainly with your mouth shut, unlike the munching fules that insisted on rustling their popcorn today before chomping away with their mouths open, so we could all share in the sonorous delights of their mastication.

The loo

Go before the film. Trust me. It’s the best plan. As above, you can tell how long the film lasts. You know how long you can usually go without going. So go before. And don’t order that bucket-sized Pepsi which is a diabetes bomb waiting to explode. You never know when you are going to rub up against the person who won’t move or stand up to let you out. Plan ahead.

Phones

Does this really need saying? Turn them off! You are not James Bond, even if you think you are. You are not going to be called into action. If you are awaiting an important call, or are concerned about the welfare of someone else, get your priorities right and get out of the cinema. It’s not like you have to wait years for it to come out on DVD. You are NOT more special than the rest of us and you really can survive without a text message for two hours. There was a time when people went their entire lives without sending or receiving texts. No, honestly. It is true.

Talking

Don’t! Again, does this really need saying? The odd whisper? Of course. A gasp of surprise? Definitely. Laughter? If appropriate. Talking? NEVER!

And finally?

Follow these simple rules and enjoy the film. Or else…