Two brilliant and related webcomics: Star Wars age 9 and Alien age 11 [via Mefi]. Makes me once again regret this moment of madness.

31 January 2012 · Weblog

Found Functions [via io9].

Apocalyptic video games and the UK riots.

Twitter’s new recruitment video.

The entertainment industry grew by 66% from 1998 to 2010.

Why History Needs Software Piracy. History also needs actual piracy, or the Caribbean would be far less interesting.

30 January 2012 · Weblog

Under Pressure

When I got back from the supermarket at the end of the day I noticed a tyre was down, so after dropping my son home I had to take the car to the nearest petrol station with an air pump (which not all of them seem to have in the UK; which surprises me, because it’s not like you can run an extension cord out into the street to power one of your own).

A 4WD was pulled up at it, and another car was parked behind that, so I joined the queue. After a while it became clear that the car in front of me was waiting for the car wash off to the left instead of the air pump, so that was good, I wouldn’t have long to go.

Read More · 29 January 2012 · x1 · Journal

If you’ve ever looked at a monster truck tyre and thought, “I could totally climb inside that and roll around in it,” dream no more. Dynosphere Auto Runs on One Wheel (1932): “Speeds of thirty miles an hour, with two occupying the seat, have been comfortably attained.” [Via io9, which is actually starting to draw me into the Gawkersphere in a way that Lifehacker and Gizmodo hadn’t.]

29 January 2012 · Weblog

“Research has long backed the therapeutic value of diary-keeping for teenage girls and boys. But according to a new study, when teenagers detail their woes onto a blog, the therapeutic value is even greater. Blogging, it seems, can be good for you.” Psychiatric validation at last.

29 January 2012 · Net Culture

The Danger Zone

So, it’s four weeks since I started this self-imposed challenge of blogging an average of 274 words a day for 366 days, in order to pass 100,000 words by the end of the year. A good time to reflect on how it’s going, especially as I have a lot of ground to catch up after a few days in a row of writing hardly anything.

Read More · 29 January 2012 · x1 · Site News

These latest posts are marking time because it’s marking time. I always feared that this end of January would be the bottleneck through which my blogging challenge might not pass. Even now, I’m supposed to be reading another 2000-word assignment from the pile I’ve been working through, which is somewhere between one and two percent of the total by volume. It’s not the reading that’s the challenge, or coming up with a mark; it’s finding fresh enough things to say in the comments that the process doesn’t feel like Groundhog Day.

Actually, it’s the reading too. And the coming up with marks (that are fair). And the fact that it comes around again every few months. The best point of comparison isn’t so much from Hollywood as it is from Greek mythology.

28 January 2012 · Journal

A nostalgia trip for those of a certain age who loved The Kenny Everett Show (where I first saw it): Bambi Meets Godzilla.

Yes, it’s another day where I have no time to meet my 274-word target, only the post-a-day one. Don’t worry, they won’t last forever.

27 January 2012 · Weblog


Nothing’s happening, dum de dum, la la la.

Five Go Mad Indoors.

Happy Australia Day.

26 January 2012 · x2 · Weblog

Glyn Moody on the next battle after SOPA. He refers there to Meganomics, which is an eye-opening read on the hyperbole that flies around in this debate.

One filmmaker’s Hollywood dream.

Virtual reality tour of the Sistine Chapel.

One-ton metal mammoth made from old farm equipment.

In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero.

25 January 2012 · Weblog

After 4–5 years of relative silence I was hoping the blog comment spammers would have forgotten about me, or would have found themselves more honourable jobs like CEO of Megaupload or the MPAA, but it only took them three weeks to latch onto the place again. As a result I’ve had to switch on comments approval for a while. Sorry if yours gets held up, but as I’m checking the place daily now it won’t be for long.

Or, to put it into words the spammers seem to understand: MeAB7q rwojvswtqqfb wrTNtn fodtkbgwdgyx gsfHbZ pqhfhlcyqljn vKeiwk cpusdbxaeksh xlj2Dd yojhwipnvwjk MsvWeL rdhkpzwlkeis 1KbH3t asftiescrucj.

Read More · 24 January 2012 · x2 · Site News

The SOPA links keep on coming, and rather than just post them, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts of my own.

Read More · 23 January 2012 · Net Culture

Angry Birds Is No Super Artillery: or, What Kids These Days Don’t Learn From Technology, from the excellently named Nobody Reads Your Blog: “The assumption that kids naturally learn technology just by being left alone with it is fundamentally flawed. It is flawed for one major historical reason: it is based on observations about my generation. And since we’ve grown up, technology has evolved to the point where kids no longer need to learn the inner workings of a computer just to make it run.”

That’s Not Online!

What were you raised by wolves?

This timelapse video of Yosemite is the second I’ve seen in a week that uses M83 to soundtrack a time-manipulated video. The other was about surfing at Teahupo‘o and used “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun”. Both worth a watch and a listen.

23 January 2012 · Weblog

Possibly the most perfect obituary ever: N. Molesworth speke about Ronald SEARLE [via LMG].

In the Land of the Non-Reader.

Ten alternative book covers and film posters.

The oldest song in the world, plus recordings of interpretations of it.

A guest post on Miranda Gibson’s Observer Tree blog of photos by Rob Blakers showing what’s at stake there.

22 January 2012 · x2 · Weblog

You know those stories of great scientists who wake up in the middle of the night with a dream image in their heads that provides the answer to a problem they’ve been working on? Like that chemist who dreamt of Ouroboros and came up with the structure of benzene?

I woke up in the middle of the night with two words burnt into my brain, convinced at that moment that they were incredibly significant:

Cat flip-flops.

Read More · 21 January 2012 · x1 · Whatever

Last year was certainly full of bad news, and some of the worst came right at the end, when The Independent reported “dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane ... seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean”. This apparent fulfilment of earlier climate-doom prophecies seems to suggest, as I tweeted at the time, that the gig is up. All aboard the non-stop diesel train to underwater London.

Over at Metafilter, I chipped into the pessimistic thread that resulted. A few people tried to look on the bright side of environmental and population collapse, arguing that a world with fewer than seven billion people wouldn’t exactly be hell-on-earth. But it’s how you get there, I replied in not-so-many words—some of which I want to preserve here, in all their December 2011 gloom. Hey, this reinvigorated blog can’t all be cheery posts about roof damage and congressional attacks on the integrity of the Web.

Read More · 20 January 2012 · x2 · Events

Six Months in a Leaky Boat

It snowed today, briefly, which must be the first decent precipitation we’ve had in two weeks. I could tell because the melting flakes found their way through a gap in our supposedly repaired roofing felt, down a roofing nail, into the ceiling cavity above our bathroom, and through the light fittings. Again.

Back to the roofing company for more repairs, and back to waiting for the next rain or snow to see if they hold. At this rate it’ll be spring before it’s safe to get the ceiling fixed.

Forget the dramatic fires and floods. This is the banality of our changing climate and its more frequent and stronger storms: endless hours of getting the roofing guys back to patch a nail.

19 January 2012 · Journal

SOPA del Dia

Some relevant links collected during today’s SOPA blackouts, from Twitter, Metafilter and Metatalk.

Read More · 18 January 2012 · Net Culture


Speedysnail is joining the online protests against SOPA and PIPA today by blacking out the front page.

Read More · 18 January 2012 · Net Culture

Movies From an Alternate Universe (and the original inspiration). Nice work.

Why you are not into music anymore. Also, some sage advice on how to make a living playing music.

Microsoft are trying to lock out the competition on the quiet—in ARM-powered mobile devices, where they hope people won’t notice.

18 January 2012 · Weblog

Sixty Metres Up

For the past month, Miranda Gibson has been sitting 60 metres up a tree in Tasmania’s southwest in protest at old-growth logging, and blogging as she goes. With the coupe around her about to be logged, her campaign is increasingly urgent. But the campaign to protect Tasmania’s forests has never been anything but urgent; for as long as I’ve been aware of them, they’ve been under threat, being chipped away at, and literally chipped, even as most Australians complacently think of them as “protected” and regard yesterday’s conservation battles as an end to it.

Read More · 17 January 2012 · Politics

Uh-oh. Better post a link before midnight, or I’ll turn into a pumpkin.

The world’s smallest unit of magnetic storage, using just 96 atoms to create one byte of data.

16 January 2012 · Weblog

Just before lights out, after bedtime stories, is when my son raises the big questions weighing on his mind. A few nights ago, a question about two storybook dogs fighting over a bone meant my having to explain—delicately—how and why cows are butchered. I only just avoided having to describe an abbatoir to a four-year-old.

But that was nothing compared to the subject he raised a few times last year. Which prompted this.

Read More · 15 January 2012 · Journal

Caveman Science Fiction.

14 January 2012 · Weblog

Before Christmas I took advantage of a promotional deal to score a couple of free audiobooks, seeing as I’d done okay with an abridged audiobook of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a couple of years ago. (The Martin Wenner reading. From one discussion I’ve read about Stieg Larsson’s authorial digressions, it sounds as if the abridged version was the right way to have gone. It also sounds as if the excellent trailer of the David Fincher film version is enough to watch in that case, too.) Audiobooks have the key advantage of fitting into gaps in the day when you’re commuting or working in the kitchen or whatever, and avoid that slightly oppressive sense of having to sit down and devote quality time to them, which books too often have for me these days. I used to do most of my reading for pleasure before going to sleep, but that window has shrunk to about five minutes a day, and not many books can stand up to being read in five-minute instalments.

So, as they were free, I ended up choosing two audiobooks that I’d already bought in hardback over the past couple of years, but wasn’t likely to read any time soon.

Read More · 13 January 2012 · Books

I missed this in August: 25 minutes of new music from Röyksopp, on their site for free. But hang on: turns out I also missed a whole year’s worth.

12 January 2012 · x1 · Music

A bunch of links trawled from Mefi, Twitter and elsewhere.

Read More · 12 January 2012 · Weblog

The Eleven-Day Itch

Eleven days in and I’m already dropping below my target 274-words-a-day average; posting a link or two makes it easy to post once a day, but it only gives me a few words at a time. Blethering about day-to-day events would help, but if I were drawing on my day for this post I’d have to tell you about the drain that backed up and flooded the passageway out to our shared garden with unspeakable stench; or that getting our roof properly fixed (as opposed to temporarily and adequately) is going to cost five grand, and that getting their share of the payment from five of the six other owners in our stair will take forever because they’re all absentee landlords. Which is depressing enough to deal with, let alone write about or read. Anyway, isn’t that what Facebook is for? I wouldn’t know; I drifted away from Facebook because I wasn’t interested enough in too-brief posts on people’s day-to-day doings. The irony is killing me.

I should remind myself of the purpose of setting an arbitrary word target and post-a-day challenge: to break out of the perfectionist mindset that had me thinking that I shouldn’t post anything because it would be too trivial, or that somebody would already have said it better, and what’s the point anyway. Last year I came close more than once to mothballing the whole site. And yet I know from past experience that it’s only through these pointless throwaway entries that you get to the worthwhile cut-out-and-keep ones. So I’ll keep going.

And hey, another 271 words! Not including these ones. 292 including those. (And also these.) (That’s enough theses and thoses—Ed.)

11 January 2012 · x2 · Site News

Cold War, Hot Toys

Looking for children’s gift ideas for next Christmas? How about a Safe, Harmless Giant Atomic Bomb? Or another of these dozen nuclear toys (not all guaranteed safe and harmless)?

I was trying to think of War on Terror equivalents, but I doubt there’s much mileage in a Safe, Harmless Towel and Bucket.

10 January 2012 · Weblog


A revamp and redesign of the Detail index page, which had become far too text-heavy for a part of the site that’s all about images. There are some new galleries on the way, too.

Read More · 9 January 2012 · Site News

The Corpus of Historical American English looks like a great resource for limerick etymologists and other word fanciers. For some reason the rise and fall of mustn’t caught my attention. [Via Mefi.]

8 January 2012 · Weblog

Behind the Musk

My Australian sister-in-law is visiting with her German boyfriend, and the conversation turned, as it does, to the subject of Aussie food that you can’t get in Europe. Exhibit A: musk sticks. I’d forgotten all about these, but they’re a key component of bags of mixed lollies in Oz. You can get them in the UK, too, provided you’re prepared to pay £3.75 for a measly 200g bag of Black & Gold ones. But the Internet always provides: turns out you can make your own, as long as you can find some musk oil. So, all you have to do is boil down a passing musk ox, and you’re in the pink.

7 January 2012 · Whatever

As tends to be the way, posting has been derailed by new-year design tinkering, with a new banner above, and new sidebars and footers on their way. I’ve also cleaned up the archive indexes for 2010 and 2011. Both now include galleries of the source images of their monthly weblog banners, which served as a kind of visual diary of those years.

But never fear: this post keeps me on the posting-each-day schedule, and the cumulative average is still above target. I’m almost ready to think that this time the resolution might have stuck. We have visitors this weekend, though, which will be a good test; and there’s full-on assignment-marking next week, which will be another.

6 January 2012 · Site News

Popular took a while to work its way through 1992, and my comments on it were relatively sparse too (I said nothing about the entertaining “Ebeneezer Goode”, for example), but here they are.

Read More · 5 January 2012 · Music

Wet Wet Wet

The way things are going, this is going to turn into a Home Repairs blog. There’s a leak in the roof of our flat from the repairs on Tuesday, which has let rainwater into the ceiling cavity above the bathroom. Now the bathroom is full of buckets, all the lights are off throughout the flat, and water has seeped through to the kitchen ceiling as well (not too badly yet, fortunately). The roofing guys were supposed to be back at 9.30, but no sign of them yet. Presumably, half of Edinburgh is chasing every roofer in town for emergency repairs. Not to mention plasterers, electricians and insurance companies.

5 January 2012 · x1 · Journal

My Pingu-loving four-year-old must never see this: Pingu vs The Thing [via Mefi]. Or not for ten years, at least.

4 January 2012 · Weblog

With this update for December 2011, the Feed is closed again. Stick around here instead for all your 2012 links-blogging needs.

4 January 2012 · Site News

Our damaged roof

Here’s a great sight to greet you on your last day before going back to work. When we woke up our top-floor flat was groaning in the wind, and J thought she heard one of the doors down at the bottom of the stairs banging. Then after breakfast she left to take W swimming with friends... and was back in the flat only a few seconds later. The skylight above our tenement stair was almost completely covered by roofing felt. Sticking my head out of the attic window confirmed that it was our felt: the left half of that exposed wooden roof was over our kitchen and bathroom.

Read More · 3 January 2012 · x4 · Journal


Black-headed gulls hanging in the wind at Cramond, Edinburgh, on Christmas Eve. With the black dots behind their eyes, they looked like they were painted by Picasso. It took longer than usual to identify these with Google, because they look so different in summer (guess how), but the RSPB came to the rescue.

Read More · 2 January 2012 · Books


Some years ago I wrote a piece called The Fade, about the impact a shelf-full of faded book spines had on my feelings about home. I should write a sequel, because it’s happened again—not because a tree was chopped down this time, but because I built bookshelves right next to the window of our top-floor Edinburgh flat when we moved in four years ago. You wouldn’t think there’d be enough sunlight in Scotland to fade anything, but there is, and even some books I bought here in the past decade have suffered. So I did some research on anti-UV window film, ordered some a month ago, and this morning finally installed it. Cutting the stuff to size was tricky, and squeegying bubbles out with a credit card was trickier, so the results are annoyingly imperfect; but I think I value the books more than a few air bubbles and plastic wrinkles on the double-glazing.

Read More · 2 January 2012 · Journal

Crash Through or Crash

So, my new year’s resolution was to post here at least once a day throughout 2012, to force myself back into the blogging groove. Maybe I can recapture some of the glories of 2000-2006, or maybe it’ll all be drivel, but at least the place will start breathing again. Tweeting doesn’t count; and after I’ve updated it for December 2011, I’m shelving the Feed again so that I resist the temptation to let other people’s links do the talking.

This first post is just to test that my blogging templates can handle the transition to 2012. I haven’t decided how to reinvigorate the banners yet, but last year’s default will do for now.

Oh, and I’m aiming for a 274-word average a day, so there’s already some catching up to do (this entry is only 138).

1 January 2012 · x2 · Site News

December 2011