Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The joys of social networking

Says a BBC news story:

"Companies should not dismiss staff who use social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo at work as merely time-wasters, a Demos study suggests.

Attempts to control employees' use of such software could damage firms in the long run by limiting the way staff communicate, the think tank said."

More ici: BBC NEWS | Business | Bosses 'should embrace Facebook'

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Stout & Large Do...Istanbul - Days Three & Four



I’m running these two days into each other as diary entries such as ‘had long, leisurely breakfast’ or ‘read book on terrace overlooking Bospherous’ do not for exciting reading make, even if the book is the new Neal Stephenson novel ‘Anathem’ and a perplexing, wrist-snappingly heavy delight...So, here’s how to experience time-space compression and have a great and fabulous day in Istanbul.



Morning – The Grand Bazaar. Less of the lawless frontier of the shopping experience that it perhaps likes to bill itself as (that honour has to go to the souq in Marrakesh) , and more of a well-behaved mall with a few more carpets than usual, nevertheless it’s a good place to nose around and get lost in. With something like 4000 shops and 30,000 people working in the place, it’s a network of alleyways and streets that has accreted since the 17th century and had a roof thrown over it to keep the elements out and the shoppers in. It’s divided into districts, so one area is full of goldsmiths and jewellers, another of carpets, another of musical instruments, another (by the looks of it) full of knock-off Prada handbags and so on and so forth. Shoppers and goods and tourists and locals all intermingle under its roof and the only thing it’s really missing – from our point of view – was a camel or two.

We didn’t buy much but got plenty of enjoyment out of the bargaining process. One guy said that he was offering us as a special price as it was his birthday, we said that we’d still only pay him x lira, but we’d sing Happy Birthday to him afterwards. All good fun.

Lunch – In a word, Gozleme. It’s pretty much the Turkish version of a pasty, thought without the industrial quantities of gristle, turnip and various other un-named substances floating around in a brown gravy gloop which has made Cornwall’s finest both revered and feared (by sober people) throughout the land. Wikipedia defines golzeme as ‘a savoury traditional Turkish hand made and hand rolled pastry. Fresh pastry is rolled out, filled and sealed, then cooked over a griddle. Traditionally, this is done on a saรง’. What that doesn’t get across is how moorish the whole thing is (and yes, that was a joke – apologies), nor how thin, light and generally delicious it is too. Add in a glass or two of the wonderfully sweet apple tea, add in a bit of traditional Turkish folk music, top it off with some freshly made baklava at the end, and you have a meal fit for a sultan (or at least the residents of his harem).



Afternoon – Hamam. Apparently recovering from a slipped disc means that lying on a slab of marble while a fat Turkish bloke beats you up legitimately, folds you in half, half-drowns you and then pointedly asks for a tip afterwards isn’t good for you, so Kate went off to do no doubt decorous things while I went for a Turkish Bath.

It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had and it was a bit of a tourist trap too, but even a so-so hamam is a rather fine experience. You change in your own private cubicle, don a towel around yourself, and head to the hot room where you lie on a large, heated marble slab with a load of other people, think of a large steam room but without too there were about a dozen men flopped out on the marble looking up at the dome above them while hot water cascaded out of the taps and into basins all round the outside of the room. You just lie there for a bit, occasionally dousing yourself with warm water, until a masseur comes over, taps you on the foot, then starts soaping you up and squeezing the blood to the end of your limbs/gouging your muscles depending on what mood he’s in. Then he folds you in half like a moustachioed, half-naked and crazed chiropractic while the others around you lounging on the marble chortle at your discomfort, jumps on top of you, cracks your spine, slaps you a bit, holds your head down as he slooshes you with bucket after bucket of warm water, hands you some hot towels, whacks you on the arse and you’re out of there.

Amazingly enough, after all that you feel great...

Evening – Whirling Dervishes. As far as slightly unusual experiences go, attending a concert in the old entrance hall of a train station where the Orient Express used to arrive after its 1700 mile long odyssey across Europe is a bit on the unique side. Add in the fact that it’s a performance of the Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi Mevlevi order, and you’re beyond unique and into something memorable.

The Dervishes are everywhere in Istanbul, their whirling form – long white robe, high brown felt hat, arms outstretched with the right hand pointing up towards heaven and the left down towards humanity – is on fridge magnets, book covers, tea towels and – inevitably – woven into the odd carpet or two as well. All of which is a bit ironic given that Ataturk banned them and the Sufi orders outright when he came to power in the 1920s, with the dervishes primarily tolerated as a form of tourist-friendly folk entertainment for most of the years since.




Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam, and the whirling ceremony – where the dervishes seek to attain a trancelike, meditative state that brings them closer to the divine – is suitably mystical too. After a 20 minute or so musical introduction (which largely serves as a lesson in teaching the several hundred perched on plastic chairs present to turn the flash off on their cameras) five dervishes come out and with infinite slowness shuffle and nod and bow into the start of their dance.

It takes four acts, which represent the dervish growing through love, deserting the ego, finding the truth and finally arriving at the divine and the perfect. In each they start whirling in circles, arms stretching out as the speed increases; fast circles around their own axis, much slower ones around each other, the weighted hem of their robes forming standing waves that flow around them as they spin and spin on their journey to God. There’s a grace to the dance that, together with the music, transcends the environment you’re in and, as some of them whirl faster and faster and the music gets more and more insistent, you find yourself treading some of the same path as their flashing, pirouetting feet whatever your own personal beliefs. At the end the music stops apart from the mournful notes coming from a single stringed instrument, and all there is in the entire world is the sound of that and the slap of the dervishes’ feet on the tiles as they slowly spin down from their excited state and become all too human once more, as do the rest of us.

And that’s it, that’s your day in Istanbul – starting with a bit of light shopping and finishing in the company of an 800 year old mystical sect, with no doubt a bit of a Feeding of the Stray Cats and drinking of Turkish beer (not bad) or wine (not good) to top it all off at the end. Now all I’ve got to do after the end of six years of OU study is try and find a hobby. Hmmm...Then and again they do do these short three month courses on things like Introducing Astronomy or Play Writing or the Geological History of the British Isles which could be fun. I mean, I can give up the OU any time, it’s not like crack. I’ve just got a mild cold at the moment, that’s all...

Stout & Large Do...Istanbul - Day Two



By now, rested and relaxed [2] we were feeling a bit cultural and in the mood to stop pointing and laughing at the drain mirkin and head off exploring. The only problem was that so was everyone else...

Basically, what happens in Istanbul is that first thing in the morning or overnight is when the Mediterranean cruise ships arrive. These are true leviathans of the sea, and disgorge thousands of blinking tourists in one almighty disembarkation into the Istanbul tourist system where they’re route marched round everything worth seeing by a small army of harassed looking tour guides. This pretty much means that on any given morning there is a tour party of several hundred glum Germans, surly Swedes, belligerent Brits or simply Alzheimer’d Americans in front of you and the place you want to visit, with another wave coming up rapidly behind.



The solution? Letting them have the run of the place in the morning and lounging around in bed until they’d all been bussed back to their floating monstrosities seemed to work well for us. Not too much of a hardship when you’ve got a reclining view across the rooftops of the end of Europe, the glittering sea, and then Asia rearing up in front of you. Plus, when you see the thirtieth party of miserable looking people trailing after a sign saying ‘Carnival Cruises – the *fun* ships’ you tend to go into irony overload, not to mention swearing pacts that you’d smother each other if the other one ever piped up with ‘You know what? A cruise seems like a jolly fine idea’...

Anyway, to the stuff. The Aga Sofia is one of the most impressive religious buildings in the world. Built by the Emperor Justinian as a Christian church and then later converted to a mosque, even the guidebooks mention that its outside can seem squat and unattractive (they’re not wrong either – whereas the 11th century on cathedrals of Europe seem to be reaching up to the heavens, the Aga Sofia sits there toad-like, like an extra building left over from the end of Akira. You almost expect it to grow tentacles and start rampaging round the city any moment). The interior though is spectacular, a huge domed vaulting space which, TARDIS-like, seems to reach to the sky in ways that the exterior doesn’t. There’s lots of restoration work going on at the moment which means that its dominated by one of the most impressive scaffolding constructions I’ve ever seen, but it’s still an awesome place.



The Blue Mosque opposite it is the reverse – an amazing exterior with a slightly unimpressive interior. Or so the guidebooks allege, we never actually got round to seeing it. We were baulked several times by vast queues of ratty cruise ship passengers and, the few other times we got back in the vicinity, it was closed for prayers and we both make very unconvincing muslims. Still, it looked good from the outside. And on one of the evenings we were between the two of them when the Call to Prayer rang out and it sounded like the buildings were singing to each other as the sun set and dusk crept over the city.



Much less prepossessing but really rather jaw-dropping was the Basilica Cistern. Yes, yes, I know it doesn’t sound like much- Romans dig underground reservoir, a couple of millennia later daft tourists fork out to walk round it – but it’s incredibly atmospheric. You pass over wooden walkways suspended and threaded between spotlit soaring columns over a couple of feet of crystal clear water looking down at the fish cavorting beneath you (I never knew fish could cavort - these Istanbul ones certainly can) while a sort of sepulchral Enya-like soundscape trickles out of the speakers. Find yourself a spot away from the cruiseship cruisers, lean back against the cold, hard stone, and you’re suddenly someplace else entirely.



It’s also one of the few spots in Istanbul that is free of cats, which is a shame as they’re missing out on lots of fishy treats. The little buggers are absolutely everywhere, and it’s hard to eat a meal of any sort without a couple of the blighters suddenly appearing underneath your table and doing that insufferable cute cat thing that momentarily blinds you to the fact that they’re little furry bundles of death from above to the world’s small mammal and bird populations. In fact, pretty much the only place we didn’t eat without unwarranted feline attention was the restaurant that night, and that was only because it was in the glass topped roof of a rather posh hotel. In one direction we could see the Blue Mosque towering over the Sultanahmet part of the city, in the other the giant cruise ships lit up like exceedingly bling Xmas trees steaming off back towards the Med. If we’d stayed there long enough no doubt we’d have seen a couple more coming back the other way. Man, them seas is crowded...




[2] Well, I was, having slept through the Call to Prayer at four am played at a volume that would have had Lemmy walking off stage in a huff. Kate was a bit less lucky...

Stout & Large Do...Istanbul - Day One




On October 3 I handed in my last ever Open University essay after six years slog – a 4000 word epic on the causes of spatial segregation in the modern urban environment and what can be done about it. I finished it close enough to the deadline that we had to jump in the car and drive to Milton Keynes to physically hand it over. The receptionist smiled when I asked her how many she’d had in so far that day, and pointed to a tottering pile of brown envelopes. “See all them?” she said. “That’s the third pile so far today...”

The question then was, where to go to celebrate? An original plan of flying to Seattle and heading up to mooch around Vancouver and Vancouver Island for a bit had had to be shelved due to Kate having a slipped disc in her back back in August (which she memorably characterises as being now composed of a series of cream filled meringue nests – great for dessert, not quite so brilliant for structural integrity and horse-riding). So short haul, long weekend...in the end Istanbul was the answer. Enough Islamic heritage to be exotic, sill in Europe (just) so it wasn’t a madly long flight, and it had also cropped up on pretty much every OU course I’d done: from world religion to cities and technology, from globalisation and notions of Islamic identity to modern problems of – ulp – spatial segregation and concepts of order and disorder...

So, what was it that stuck in our minds most about our first night in Istanbul. Was it the fabulous architecture and the Aga Sofia and Blue Mosque? Was it gazing out of our hotel window and seeing the lights of the ships move lazily along the Bosphorous? Was it the Call to Prayer ululating gently on the breeze [1]? Nope, it was the drain mirkin. We got back to our hotel after a beer or several and noticed that covering a small drain in the bathroom was a nylon square of fake grass with a few equally plastic daisies sticking out of it. It could only really ever be christened a a drain mirkin and here’s a photo to prove it.




[1] This is a lie. It’s less of a gentle ululate and more of a full throated roar – the sort that would drown out your average Motorhead concert. Our hotel was only 100 metres or so away from the Blue Mosque and the Imams there obviously liked their volume.

Friday, 3 October 2008

If the bomb drops...

BBC TRANSCRIPT TO BE USED IN WAKE OF NUCLEAR ATTACK - circa 73 - 75

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with
nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of
casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. We shall bring you
further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this
wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes.
Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your
homes you could be exposing yourselves to greater danger.
If you leave, you may find yourself without food, without water, without accommodation and
without protection. Radioactive fall-out, which followed a nuclear explosion, is many
times more dangerous if you are directly exposed to it in the open. Roofs and
walls offer substantial protection. The safest place is indoors.
Make sure gas and other fuel supplies are turned off and that all fires are
extinguished. If mains water is available, this can be used for fire-fighting.
You should also refill all your containers for drinking water after the fires
have been put out, because the mains water supply may not be available for very
long.
Water must not be used for flushing lavatories: until you are told that
lavatories may be used again, other toilet arrangements must be made. Use your
water only for essential drinking and cooking purposes. Water means life. Don't
waste it.
Make your food stocks last: ration your supply, because it may have to last for
14 days or more. If you have fresh food in the house, use this first to avoid
wasting it: food in tins will keep.
If you live in an area where a fall-out warning has been given, stay in your
fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out. When the immediate
danger has passed the sirens will sound a steady note. The "all clear" message
will also be given on this wavelength. If you leave the fall-out room to go to
the lavatory or replenish food or water supplies, do not remain outside the room
for a minute longer than is necessary.
Do not, in any circumstances, go outside the house. Radioactive fall-out can kill. You cannot
see it or fell it, but it is there. If you go outside, you will bring danger to your family and you
may die. Stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out or you
hear the "all clear" on the sirens.
Here are the main points again:
Stay in your own homes, and if you live in an area where a fall-out warning has
been given stay in your fall-out room, until you are told it is safe to come
out. The message that the immediate danger has passed will be given by the
sirens and repeated on this wavelength. Make sure that the gas and all fuel
supplies are turned off and that all fires are extinguished.
Water must be rationed, and used only for essential drinking and cooking
purposes. It must not be used for flushing lavatories. Ration your food supply:
it may have to last for 14 days or more.
We shall repeat this broadcast in two hours' time. Stay tuned to this
wavelength, but switch your radios off now to save your batteries until we come
on the air again. That is the end of this broadcast.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Incoming


One of the fun things about the weather in the autumn in the UK is that most of those big storms that come barrelling in off the Atlantic are ex-hurricanes. Course, the forecasters can never say as such ('Expect heavy rain tonight as the remnants of that hurricane that killed all those people in the Caribbean and caused the US to evacuate a few major cities and even remember to take the poor people along with them this time' is not a forecast calculated to keep blood pressures low amongst viewers).

But 'tis so. Next Wednesday there's a good chance it will precipitate mightily in Belfast and it's all down to ex Hurricane Hanna...

Tropical Storm HANNA

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Of Intelligent Design and SF

From the excellent io9 In Recent Scifi, Intelligent Design Is Truth.

Quick excerpt:

Consider Jay Lake's novels Mainspring and Escapement, which are about a kind of alternate Earth where it's obvious somebody (whom they call "God") has created their universe. After all, the sky is filled with gears and their world is run literally by a massive clockwork mechanism. When I talked to Lake about his novels recently, he said that they were explicitly a response to Intelligent Design. He thinks of them as a critique of the belief that our world was built rather than evolved. "By making ID into something that was clearly fiction, I wanted to show that the idea itself was fictional," Lake said.

The monetary density of things


From the rather wonderful Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories...The monetary density of things

Now, we have a peacock that leaves feathers in our back garden, so I naturally assumed we were richer than Creosote for a brief moment (see graph 3).

However, while they might pound for pound (as it were) be worth more than dollar bills, I've just weighed one and it was a mere 3 grams. So at roughly 453g to the single imperial pound and feathers at $410/lb, I make that one worth about £1.50.

Hey, not bad...Just another 150 to go and we've got a lb and £225 or thereabouts. Anyone got any spare peacocks?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Canada seeks historic shipwrecks

Having read Dan Simmons' excellent 'Terror', I can tell you they're not going to find much...

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Canada seeks historic shipwrecks

Thursday, 14 August 2008

A shuttle launch from a passing plane

Two things:

a) That would be very cool indeed to see.

b) I devoutly hope that, if confronted with an opportunity to commentate on something truly amazing for the denizens of the interweb, I manage to come out with something substantially better than just repeating 'Holy Smokes' time and time again (though I suspect that 'fuuuucking heeeeell' or some derivative might be at the forefront of things).

Space Shuttle Launch: Guy Films Space Shuttle Launch from Passing Airliner

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Rush fail Rock Band

Take one Rock Band system, set to Tom Sawyer, add Rush, watch them score a meagre 31% on their own track. Good to know that Neil Peart sounds just like the rest of us when he's playing one o' them crappy kits.

Rush Plays Rock Band Backstage at Colbert

Friday, 1 August 2008

Stout & Large do Rome - Four



While the Pantheon was spared the indignities of lapsing into irrelevance, the next day’s first location, the Forum, had no such luck. Once the centre of power of the largest empire the world would see for nigh on two millennia, by the Middle Ages it was known simply as Campo Vaccino – Cow Field. The cows have gone now, but it is still difficult to map the bones of the temples and arches that clutter the brown grass in the centre of the city with the gleaming marble edifices that would have once dominated the area. Even more so given that what does dominate the area now is the massive lump of white marble called Il Vittoriano; a nineteenth century monument to the glories of Italian nationalism that the Third Reich would have turned its nose up at as being a bit too over the top.

We mooch about the ruins and the Palotino – the Palatine Hill on which the Emperor’s Palace once stood – trying to imagine what it was like and, in all honesty, fail as our northern European brains start short-circuiting in the heat. It afflicts the locals too. One of the many men dressed as centurions who loiter in the vicinity tries to attract out attention by shouting out after us whether we’re brother and sister. We think about stopping and snogging right there and then and giving him a Luke n’ Leia moment, but it’s too hot. Much better was the restaurant the night before when we watched the whole ‘his surname is Stout and mine is Large’ schtik being translated into gestures by the owner of the place much to the assembled guffaws of the Italians there.

So, we amble along to the Colosseum as our giant, blonde ancestors probably did in slightly less salubrious circumstances (ie chains) and have a right old goggle.

It is seriously impressive – a decaying but still grand amphitheatre that would seat 50,000 baying people – and one of those sort of places that you are glad is in Rome and not London where it’d probably be renamed the Carling Colosseum or something. You can’t wander out into the middle – the flooring is gone, and instead you have the ruined walls of all the corridors, chambers, cells and pens that would have stored men, armour and beasts before their allotted date with fate – which at least leaves the locals spared the thousands of ‘I’m Spartacus. No, I’m Spartacus’ or even ‘Wotcher Julius, old boy’ lines. So, instead you climb the sides and marvel at the tales of naval battles, beast hunts and bloodshed that are the dark heart underpinning the whole spectacle of Roman civilisation and achievement.



And that is where it ends. Dinner and lunch follow: one quite posh and featuring one of the best steaks I have ever had and only marred by a gratuitous outbreak of Celine Dion that had to be firmly quashed; one of the paper tablecloths and chipped glasses variety, but which did things with truffles and pasta that would qualify as indecent in most countries. And that was the heart of Rome for me: not the Vatican, not the Forum, not the Colosseum, but sitting across a table from the person you love, eating, drinking and laughing, and just marinading lightly in three millennia of history as the modern city buzzes and bustles around you.

And that is that: Touristi ite Domum. Write it out one hundred times.

And, oh yes, I almost left my bag in the taxi on the way back to the airport too...

Stout & Large do Rome - Three


The evening’s a quiet one – camped out at the edge of the Piazza Navona with a bottle of something chilled and watching the tourists, fire-jugglers, hawkers, artists and the simply rather deranged mingle and jostle around.

The next day dawns, of course, with the knowledge that it’s Geddy Lee’s birthday. So it’s a quick toast of orange juice to the Rush bassist and colossus of music and out the door to the...

Oh wait, of course, it’s also Kate’s birthday too...

Out the door slightly later then, we wend our way through the sweltering streets by way of the Trevi Fountain to the Keats/Shelley House. This is in many ways the reason we are here, Kate having had a thing about the poet since she was but a young lass playing in the meadowy pastures outside Belfast (note to self: check with K that that bit’s correct). It’s a sad place in many ways. Keats was only 26 when he died of TB in this house by the Spanish Steps, unrecognised as even a good poet by all but a few in his day, never mind one of the greatest poets to have ever written in the English language. That all came later. But it’s quiet and it’s cool, is a good insight into the lives and works of the Romantics, and in its own small way provides a sense of perspective on things that no amount of tourist-thronged marble can quite manage.

Lunch is at the top of the Spanish Steps and features a Spaghetti Carbonara that redefines the meaning of the words and will have me hunched obsessively over bowls of egg yolks and parmesan cheese for months to come while I try and get anywhere near it. As for the fresh pasta, don’t even start...

Rome is seriously hot. Back in the Ancient days, the great and the good in their purple togas would perch themselves in their villas on the hills overlooking the city to try and get a waft of breeze in the hot, dry summer months. It’s relentlessly in the mid-30s and, while the anvil heads of cumulonimbus mass on the horizon and promise a delicious thundery breakdown to come, it never quite materialises. So a long lunch leads to a lessening of the mad tourist pointing and seeing plans, and more of a desire for seeing the Pantheon on the way back to the hotel followed by a serious amount of air con.



The Pantheon is stunning. A temple originally built by Hadrian to the Roman Gods featuring what its still the largest masonry vault ever constructed, it got consecrated as a Christian church at the start of the 7th century and thus was spared the city-wide meh that saw most Roman buildings crumbling into ruin and/or being quarried for building material. Indeed, by medieval times the city had shrunk from an Imperial capital of over a million souls to just a large town nestled by the banks of the Tiber with barely 40,000 people in it. Then the Pope moved back in just down the road...

Beers by the square, pizzas so thin you could cut your finger on the edge of one if you weren’t careful, and, by this point, the restaurant next to the hotel beams happily at us as we saunter back around midnight (it’s called Rust, and no it never sleeps ;-) ), knowing that they can probably flog us a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as a nightcap if previous behaviour is anything to go by. They’re jolly well right too.

Stout & Large do Rome - Two


The next morning, all is very much not well with the world. Fragmented memory throws up the following facts:

a) Another bottle of wine then followed

b) It then apparently made perfect sense to go find an Irish bar and drink Guinness in copious amounts

c) We were watching showjumping loudly in said bar with the sort of fervour people normally reserve for rugby matches. Go on my son, etcetera

d) Something or other involving a spilled pint involves us linking up with two excellent Irish lads, one of whom is a bit of a Rush fan and a drummer to boot, which obviously means we are now blood brothers and inseparable

e) I then got refused entry to a club for being drunk which, considering I was in the company of three ratarsed Irish people, means I was probably approaching Olympic levels of inebriation

f) That will explain the headache, and

g) Wracked with feelings of hungover remorsefulness, it therefore makes perfect sense to go to the Vatican

The Wailing Wall might cram in more guilt per metre, but the Catholics really know how to make you feel insignificant: not so much compared to the glory of God, but more to the glory of the Catholic Church itself. The giant Piazza San Pietro with its 240 columns and 140 saints is a stunning public space hundreds of metres across, one side of which is reserved for a mini theme park stylee recreation of purgatory. Lines of tourists stand in the baking heat (mid 30s since you ask) while they queue to go through the metal detectors and bag scanners and decorum police at the entrance. The scanners seem to close on a fairly random basis, meaning you get shuffled from one to another in a sweaty mass of increasingly disgruntled peoples from all countries in the world. ‘Think this is bad?’ goes the subtext, ‘you really, really don’t want to go to the place with the pointy sticks and the brimstone down below. Have you been to confession recently?’.

As a lapsed Catholic of long-standing, Kate daren’t in case the priest she talks to spontaneously combusts and, as bit of a wishy-washy semi-Buddhist, I’m disqualified on theological grounds and smelling of the wrong sort of incense, so we make do with wandering round St Peter’s Basilica. It’s giant and it’s impressive, full of some of the most monumental works of religious art I’ve ever seen. The strange thing is it never feels holy. Some of the South American cathedrals – where I wandered round without forgetting my bag anywhere I would just like to point out – for all their sumptuous ornateness felt like churches – felt like places where people worshipped. This just felt all about power and prestige rather than piety.


More tortured religious similes are available next door at the Vatican Museum where, to get to the motherlode of the Sistine Chapel, you have to walk past pretty much every other exhibit there. See? This ascending to join the choir immortal ain’t easy, you know. But the journey is worthwhile as it takes you past some fascinating Roman statuary, a couple of pieces of really nice modern art and, of course, more bling than you can shake a good-sized stick at. The Chapel itself is crowded and fairly stupendous, the biggest hazard being walking into other people with their heads craned back and gawping at the ceiling and the frescoes that cover every square centimetre of the wall. Strangest thing is the waves of shushing that break out and flow across the space. Big signs say Silencio! This is a holy spot, but every five minutes the background murmur rises to a conversation level and one of the officials makes a loud shushing sound that is taken on by everybody around them and silence reigns for about as long as it says someone to say ‘Cor, will you look at that’. Which, as you’re standing within one of the greatest works of art in the Western world, isn’t long at all...

Stout & Large do Rome - One


You would think that after navigating the hostile environs of South America for a month and a half last year, that Stanstead Airport would be a breeze. Mountains, jungles, all sorts of shady characters, urban areas dodgier than a Tour de France rider’s EPO sample...but no, standing in the queue for the CattleAir plane the following thoughts occurred in this order:

Tickets? Check. In messenger bag.

Passport? Check. In messenger bag.

Messenger bag? Hmmm...that’ll be the one still on the transfer bus from the long-term parking area.

Shit.

A quick hotfoot out of the terminal which probably only resulted in minor contusions for the families I barged past and I managed to throw myself bodily in front of the bus before he drove away, said bag sitting smugly in the front window. I point and pant, driver laughs and opens the door. “There’s always one,” he laughs.

“Yeah,” I think, “but it’s usually some numpty on the way to Lanzarote not a hard-bitten, world-weary globetrotter like me.”

I resist the urge to take my passport out and show him all the stamps that prove that I have been to places unaided and without my mother, and slink back to the terminal.

“Ahem,” I say to Kate, “I don’t think we’ll mention this one in dispatches.”

“Ho ho, if you don’t then I will,” she replies considerately.

Curses.

The flight’s one of those modern transport experiences which is at least brief (when Keats died in Rome, it took the news of his death over three weeks to make it back to England – and even RyanAir manages to be quicker than that). The highlight is undoubtedly flying over Rome itself on the edges of a thunderstorm: looking down and seeing the Colosseum from the viewpoint of the Gods and the Vatican from the viewpoint of, well, God I suppose. Maybe the bolts of lightning flying round the heavens indicates that He thinks it’s all got a little bling for His tastes. Anyway, we arrive in possibly the only country in the world where the phrase ‘three nuns get into a Fiat and drive off at a rate of knots’ describes what actually happens rather than being the start of a long and involved joke with the punchline ‘taking the dogma for a walk’ and that is that.

The hotel’s fantastic (www.hotelteatropace.com) situated right in the heart of the Centro Storico and surrounded by enough bars and restaurants of both the tourist and local variety to keep everyone happy. Its website does a nice line in irony too. Why don’t we have an elevator? See that lovely stone staircase you’ve just said how much you like? Well, we’d have to rip it out to put one in. The Parthenon? Sorry, can’t help you. That’s in Athens...

So, we shower, change, and head out to dine al fresco in a restaurant down a narrow Roman alleyway, eating pizza on a base so thin you could use it to replace a cracked window pane if you had to. A bottle of wine follows another bottle of wine in the sultry summer evening air and all is very much well with the world.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Warner Bros. nabs 'Hyperion Cantos' adaptation

Not sure I like the sound of this.

" King acquired the rights to the series several years ago, but its structure, inspired by Boccaccio's "Decameron" and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," and its multiple timelines made the task of adapting it into a feature unwieldy and challenging."

So cut this, cut that, big up the fight sequences, make the cruciform into a more church friendly shape ('Gee, how about a crescent?'), butcher, maim and generally fuck about with one of the best sci-fi novels of the late 20th century.

Or, alternatively, it could be brilliant. Hmmmm....Bets?

Warner Bros. nabs 'Hyperion Cantos' adaptation

Friday, 29 February 2008

Private Eye kills writer

Death by drowning in the bath, I'm afraid. Well, very, very nearly...

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Arming the world


Map of global arms trade movements, 1950 to present.

It's a big, old, slow, browser-crashing applet though so you might be better off just looking at the picture above...

ARMSFLOW

What do you mean you don't know who Led Zeppelin is?

A US College publishes a very useful orientation primer for teachers explaining how different the world and its cultural reference points are for students starting college every year. It's a bit US-centric in places, but interesting to measure how the references for those born in 1989 diverge from us what are a bit older. This link takes you to the list for the Class of 2011.

For them, a Russia with multiple political parties and a China with multiple business enterprises seems quite normal...They’ve grown up having been taught by an equal number of women and men in the classroom, and with women having been hired as police chiefs of major cities...Food has always been a health concern. Consumer awareness about ingredients and fats has always been energized. They’ve never “rolled down” a car window, and to them Jack Nicholson is mainly known as the guy who played The Joker and Nelson Mandela has always been free. As for the Berlin Wall, what’s that?

Beloit College Public Affairs

[via BoingBoing]

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

3D or not 3D

Nice consumer 3D cinema story from the big green Q - kudos to them for getting it out and about - only marred by the horrible sight of a blurred 3D Steve Shaw ;-)

BBC NEWS | Technology | Why 3D is about to break through

Thursday, 24 January 2008

A Torchwood fan writes...

Okay, not a fan in any proper sense of the word. As I09 has pointed out though, this damning indictment of Russell The T's offspring is actually describing a show I'd want to see. And hell, I'd forgotten all about Lexx.

"It's also necessary because of Torchwood's single redeeming feature, which is that it's efficient television for the sexually frustrated sci fi addict. It's basically the investigating team from Angel, in the universe of Doctor Who, operating off of stolen alien technology like some renegade Welsh Stargate team, solving cases lifted from shows like The X-Files if not from Doctor Who itself, with the juvenile hyperssexuality of Lexx (though without the benefit of cruising around in a planet-destroying phallus, I'm sorry to say), all mixed together with the gender-bending intricacies of The L Word (admittedly, not sci fi, but at least there are lots of exposed breasts, which must count for something)."

More of the rant at Jesus Drives an SUV: Why Russell T. Davies Sucks

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Why Lolcats Control Your Mind


Ah ha, so that's why I just spent 10 minutes looking at the Dunecat picture above while nigh on asphyxiating...

[via i09]

Mad Science: Evolution Explains Why Lolcats Control Your Mind

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Her Light Materials, Volume I

Unhinged skit on Philip Pullman involving the universe being coded in Pascal.
" The next time the Supreme Being chooses to take a compile, the whole of the universe will disappear into a syntax error."
Very geeky and very funny. Well, the non-coding bits I could understand were anyway....

Her Light Materials, Volume I | Reg Developer

Friday, 18 January 2008

Nature As Amusement Park


Finnish artist Ilkka Halso believes that, once we're done thoroughly trashing the planet we'll only stumble across nature in amusement parks. And once that's where we've corralled it, hell we might as well stick a rollercoaster through the middle.

Dystopian and sad idea, glorious image...


[via io9]
Coming Soon: Nature As Amusement Park

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Hacking trams

From El Reg:


A Polish teenager allegedly turned the tram system in the city of Lodz into his own personal train set, triggering chaos and derailing four vehicles in the process. Twelve people were injured in one of the incidents.

The 14-year-old modified a TV remote control so that it could be used to change track points, The Telegraph reports.

"He studied the trams and the tracks for a long time and then built a device that looked like a TV remote control and used it to manoeuvre the trams and the tracks," said Miroslaw Micor, a spokesman for Lodz police.

Roll on IBC...

Polish teen derails tram after hacking train network | The Register

Saturday, 5 January 2008

BSG's Last Supper


Well, it's one way of guerilla marketing your show in the teeth of the ongoing writer's strike: a recreation of the Last Supper which hints at some of the tensions and plotlines that will play out in the final season of BSG.

And is that two Sixes? By golly, I think it is...

Battlestar Galactica: Secrets Of Battlestar Season Four Betrayed In New Photo