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Tuesday 31 July 2007

Sundogs in the Evening

Audrey noticed something unusual in the sky this evening as we were making our way to the cinema to see "The Simpsons Movie" - it took me a couple of seconds to realise that I was finally seeing a Sundog. They're not rare at all but you have to be paying attention to notice them. On the off chance that it would be visible over a fairly wide area I sent some messages off to Eddie and Shay and they could both see it even though they were 5-10km away so the effect covers a much larger physical area than a rainbow. It was unfortunate that we didn't have a camera with us but here's one captured by a UK astronomer last year that is almost identical to the one we saw. The Simpsons is a blast too, but you knew that.

Left Sundog - (c) Dave Pearson 2006.

Freely Downloadable E-Books

Following on from yesterdays post about Peter Watts and my Google Reader link to Preston McAfee here are a few more books that you can snarf an electronic copy of for free.

Charlie Stross - Accelerando
Cory Doctorow -
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe & Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
Mike Brotherton -
Star Dragon

Share and Enjoy

Monday 30 July 2007

Panorama Protects the Children

The BBC's Panorama team just aired a fairly weak investigative report called "Children's Fight Club" that did a very poor job of presenting a difficult issue. It was very heavy on the "we must protect the children" hyperbole and very light on any analysis of the potential wider impact of the extremely simplistic solutions that they presented as mechanisms to prevent this style of distribution of abusive video. This is all the more depressing because there is a serious social question behind the popularity of this material that needs to be analyzed and understood.

There is a real conflict here between society's necessary limits on acceptable behaviour and our desire to protect both freedom of expression and the freedom of private citizens to publish contentious material. The producers completely failed to indicate that there were any issues at stake other than the fact that videos of children brutally fighting each other can be found on the web and most of those should be removed.

Panorama seems to have become less reliable recently. While they still produce some great material such as their investigation into the bribery of a Saudi Prince in order to ensure a multi-billion pound deal for the British arms industry and the quite excellent report by John Sweeney into Scientology they have also had a few clangers in the last year. The abysmal
drivel on "WiFi Pollution" is possibly the worst tech reporting I have ever seen and their coverage of Bob Woolmer's death at the Cricket World Cup was incredibly ill informed and eventually turned out to be totally inaccurate (not that you can tell from that link).

Beer Floods

PZ Myers has a relatively uncontroversial (for once) post today where he links to this wonderful post on the Great London Beer Flood of 1814. I have had some experience with Beer Floods as some of you may know but for those who don't...

Early on in my professional career when I was working in construction in South Africa I spent some time on a project in a fairly large Brewery. This was waay back in the days when RTE was still showing the Sally O'Brien Harp ads and you absolutely could have fried an egg on the stones there. Anyway on one very hot and unfortunate day I was involved in an incident where we managed to dump a quarter of a million litres* of beer from a tank that we were convinced was empty. It actually made a very pretty fountain as I recall but the passing thoughts of "wow ain't that cool" quickly evaporated as it dawned on the three of us that the incident would probably get us fired. Luckily for us fate intervened for once and we were saved by the fact that the client's own engineers made an identical but even bigger error that very same day. Where we had accidentally emptied one tank they emptied 5 (if I recall correctly) which at 1.25 million litres almost matched London's Great Beer Flood of 1814. I had the privilege of being only about 20m away when the error was discovered by the senior consultant opening the doors to the bright beer cellar that contained the 5 (now empty) tanks. The sight of that poor man getting carried away on a small tidal wave of beer is one of my most treasured memories.

*To put that in perspective if the three of us who were responsible were to drink 10 pints each every day it would take just over 40 years to drink that amount. And we dumped it all in about 30 seconds.

Sunday 29 July 2007

Hard Core Nerd-Fi

The web has some good freebies on offer but if you have even a vague interest in the bleading edge of science fiction and the near future dystopian genre in particular then there's a goldmine waiting for you at Peter Watts' website. With the recent (well April 30th) release of the third part of The Rifters Trilogy, ├čehemoth, his entire catalog is now available for free download under a CC license. You can find the earlier parts of Rifters, Starfish & Maelstrom, and the even more head bendingly brilliant Blindsight on his back catalog page (here).

Be warned though, this is not pop-corn pulp sci-fi, Watts is hard core in all meanings of the word.

Saturday 28 July 2007

Shooting Stars and other Links

Been a while since I've posted anything but here's some link candy as a start.

Stardust Based on one of Neil Gaiman's best stories the movie version is due out in a week or so. The cast is great - Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro have the major roles but there are also some very good names in minor parts (Ricky Gervais, Rupert Everett, Sienna Miller, Peter O'Toole ..). Given that a major part of the plot is about a falling star its opening date of the 10th of August is conveniently just two days before the Perseid Meteor Shower.

For some hints and tips on seeing the Perseids you could start with Shadow and Substance - a very nifty site with useful links and animations about astronomical events that you can see without generally needing much equipment (meteors, lunar & solar eclipses, comets and such). They give a chart and some advice on catching the Perseids on August 12th which might be worth making an effort for this year since the event coincides with the new moon for nice dark skies.

Later in the year another Gaiman project, Beowulf, will hit the big screen early November. That is shaping up to be quite interesting and although I have my doubts about how well the story can be presented as a movie I'm hoping it will work well. In any case as Daithi pointed out in a Twitter post earlier in the week the casting of Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother is absolutely inspired.

Some other upcoming movies of interest.
The Golden Compass. (also here )If you haven't already read Phiip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" then do yourself a favour and go out and buy it. It is a fantastically crafted story and I'm hoping that the film will do justice it.

Coming in 2008 Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak's classic is my all time favourite "Book to read to (very young) children" and at a push I could probably still recite it all from memory. I've no idea how anyone can consider turning a 20 page 300 word children's bed time story into a movie but they're doing it and I'm dying to see how it turns out.