Shiny, stompy

Janet is now the proud owner of a black 16GB iPod nano 4G. It’s shiny. It’s curvy. It’s tiny. It even has a motion sensor so you can play little marble-rolling games — for some reason. Considering that this is an upgrade from an old mp3 player that only had space for three albums, she’s very pleased.

We saw the Watchmen trailer at the cinema for the first time today, and it looks great. I also [via percyprune] really like this viral marketing for Watchmen in the form of a faux-historical news article on Dr Manhattan. Really nicely done.

And finally for snowking on the occasion of Hoggmas, hot on the heels of the Steampunk Cyberman comes a competition to design a Steampunk Cylon. STOMPY.

Fangs and Shiny Thangs

Disturbingly, LiveJournal has apparently morphed into UndeadJournal. My Halloween-loving wife approves of this “tremendously”. She’s already bought some sweets in preparation for the trick-or-treaters this Friday. She’s also bought a Witch’s hat because the team on her enquiries desk at work are dressing up for the occasion. And, yes, she’s now pretending to be a zombie and saying “Grr, Argh”, which segue-ways me nicely into…

Joss Whedon has posted about Dollhouse in his inimitable (i.e. insane and free-associative) way. He talks about the show and its behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations. It seems like a fairly honest post given how much detail he goes into about the difficulties with the network, but he also sounds enthused. Right now I really have no idea what to expect from this show or its premise, or if I’ll even like it, but I’m definitely intrigued to find out.

Today I succeeded in viewing the BBC iPlayer on our Wii, using the internet channel (for which I had to pay a trivial but somehow annoying £3.50). The Wii is an incredibly clunky way to browse the internet, with all sorts of zooming in, zooming out, scrolling around pages and trying to hit tiny buttons with the blunt instrument that is the Wii remote. It’s a bit like doing watch repair while wearing oven gloves. However I did succeed in streaming part of Simon Schama’s series about the U.S. using this method. Of all the ways to get TV on demand this is probably not going to win anyone over, but it does actually work. After a fashion.

I also now have a new mobile phone. I went with the Samsung G600 in the end, because although I don’t think it’s the best phone out there, it’s the best one whose shininess I fell in love with. My verdict: shiny! Seems good so far. Okay, I had to do a stupid menu hack to get it to synch with the PC, and if I want mp3 text-message tones I have to upgrade the firmware with a special cable I don’t own, but these niggles aside it’s a nice phone to use. I now have the Firefly End Theme as my ringtone. Did I mention the shiny?

Dear (ebook) reader

My wife asks me to put the following issue to the enlightened denizens of LiveJournal. Since I don’t know any, I’m asking you lot.

For some time now (and specifically after seeing them on The Gadget Show) Janet has been considering getting an ebook reader.

You must understand that my wife reads a lot of books. She owns a lot of books. She owns a lot of books she hasn’t even read. She and books share an understanding. She even makes books. It’s not that she wants to replace books.

However she does think that it would be cool to download books: it would save on shelf space, and it would be handy when going on holiday. Now that ebook readers use ‘e-paper’ that doesn’t flicker or tire the eyes but looks just like printed text on a page, she’s getting really tempted. It’s this Sony model which has caught her eye.

On the plus side it looks decent, is small and light, gets good reviews and supports a variety of formats including the new standard “epub” file, audio and image files. Waterstones are promoting it and if she orders it by 3rd September you get 500 bonus points. They’ll have more than 25,000 ebooks to buy from September. She could download new books instantly, and cart them around. Plus she’d be living in Teh Futur.

On the down side it’s still pretty costly (circa £200), and the technology is still in its infancy so it could quickly become out of date (e.g. although it can display images the screen is currently only black and white). Also the files seem to generally come with DRM restricting how you can use them — i.e. a max of six devices — which seems like it goes against the spirit of a book. Most worrying of all, there are proprietary formats it can’t play (including Amazon Kindle) so you can’t necessarily just download ebooks from the US where they are plentiful. This last one is really what’s made her stop and think.

Personally I suspect that I’d love to own one of these but I’d never actually use it. I’m also incredibly materialistic and like having shelves full of *things*. I still buy CDs, even though I immediately convert them to mp3. I’m also not keen on the inverted “negative” image you get for a moment whenever the page changes, which can be seen on this video.

Opinions and anecdotes gratefully received. She’ll probably ignore you and do what she was going to do anyway, but you never know…

Broadband woes

Anyone got any idea about this one?

Our broadband has been absolutely fine since we had a BT engineer come and update our master socket and lay a new extension cable a few months ago.

But suddenly, even though the router reports being connected at speeds of between 3Mb and 4MB, every broadband speed test reports 128 Kbps or very close to it. (In a reversal of the normal position we can upload on the speed tests at a little over twice that rate!) Web pages seem veeery slow.

I’ve swapped to a different router with the same result. I’m a bit perplexed.

EDIT: BT’s speedtester Best Effort Test:
Your DSL connection rate: 4480 kbps(DOWN-STREAM), 448 kbps(UP-STREAM)
IP profile for your line is – 135 kbps
Actual IP throughput achieved during the test was – 123 kbps

So I’m thinking something has caused BT to re-profile our line as REALLY SLOW. If so, I think I’m right in saying it’ll improve after 72 hours if our sync speed stays high. I think.

EDIT 2: Yay! All fixed and speeds back up to normal. Apparently if there is a large percentage improvement in ADSL sync speed BT will revise your speed upwards in 5-6 hours instead of 72 hours. I have to assume this is what happened today, since the connection was moving like a broke-legged donkey until lunchtime and has now sprung into normal speeds again.

In which I become an IT bore

What the– Steve Martin has apparently made The Pink Panther 2. Sometimes the world is far a more surreal place than I generally allow myself to believe.

Anyway, the actual point of this post was not to watch Steve Martin’s career circling the drain but to drool shamelessly over my shiny new PC.

I bought a gorgeous LCD monitor last week, replacing my 19″ Samsung with a 22″ widescreen Samsung. It’s the same height, but wider. Soooo much wider. I have no actual need for a widescreen monitor, but it does help with spreadsheets and 16:9 video looks significantly bigger. But really: pure self-indulgence of the highest order. Mmmmm….

Then, while browsing the interwebs looking for upgrades to my creaky victorian motherboard, I belatedly realised that the best chip it could possibly take is now only available second-hand on Ebay. This started me thinking a) OMG I’ve been in a coma for ten years and no-one told me, b) I have lots of money saved up because I am crap at shopping, and c) these days you can buy a whole PC pretty cost-effectively compared to the good old days when computer fairs were the way to go and everyone still thought The X Files was a pretty neat idea. So I ordered a nice new PC off Dell, and it’s a pleasure to use. No more 10 minute startup times. No more waiting five minutes after my desktop appears before I’m actually able to do anything. No more HD movie trailers that look like slideshows. Yes, I’ve been catapulted into what SF authors call “teh present”.

For record, it cost a mere £384 (excluding the £220 monitor *cough*) which frankly is only about twice what my crappy upgrades would have cost. The specs are excellent, though not out of this world:

AMD® Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 5000+ (2.6 GHz)
4GB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
256MB ATI® Radeon™ HD 2600 XT graphics card
500GB (7200rpm) SATA Hard Drive
19-in-1 Media Card Reader
Windows Vista Home Premium
DVD+- RW / CD RW Drive
Integrated 7.1 Audio

I’m not entirely sold on the bloatware that is Windows Vista but having switched off most of the annoying visual effects I’ve more or less got to grips with it. Thanks to the miracle of home networking I’ve also transferred all my old documents, emails, pictures, settings, videos and mp3s. It’s all feeling comfortingly familiar, and yet still cool and new.

This has been pointless gadget porn. We now return you to your scheduled programming.


Yesterday we had no internet access.

We arrived home to find that some random contractor had dug metre-deep holes into the grass verge at intervals all the way down our street. For no obvious reason.

We went inside and discovered that we had no internet connection. Also the phones didn’t work, but mainly we had no internet connection. Suspiciously, we went back outside and peered into the hole in front of our house. In the hole were several huge tree roots, a manky looking sewer pipe, and two frayed ends of telephone cable separated by a couple of centimetres.


Our neighbour had already reported the ‘fault’ to BT, so there was nothing more to do except curl up in a ball and wait for morning get on with our busy lives. Janet played Oblivion. I decided to use this opportunity to finally get around to watching my Transformers movie DVD.

During the following two hours and twenty minutes of hokey comedy, moronic plotting, tedious characterisation and gigantic robots repeatedly failing to kill Shia LaBeouf, I silently plotted the death of whoever dug that hole.


Following on from the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) (aka Johnny Five) the US military are developing yet another robot to do helpful things on the battlefield like run amok and kill everyone carry the soldiers’ kit. It’s called ‘BigDog’, presumably because ‘K-9’ was already taken.

This video is amazing. The way that it keeps its footing when it’s pushed or when it slips is quite uncanny. It’s also strangely creepy in the alive-but-not-alive signals it sends. The sinister buzzing noise is not helping.

Time for a poll, then.

Kielder Water

We spent a nice day ferrying my brother-in-law up to Kielder Water in Northumberland. He works up there teaching outdoor pursuits, and it very slightly beats-the-hell out of my office as a workplace. Photos on our website here.

Kielder is a large reservoir surrounded by dense forest. Although it’s man-made, you’d be hard-pressed to tell once you get away from the dam itself (and the really quite science-fictional looking observation tower that pokes out of the water nearby). There’s some ongoing erosion around the shoreline as everything naturalises in, but otherwise it would sit comfortably on the outskirts of the Lake District. It’s bloody cold at this time of year, so we didn’t wander around for too long (plenty of frost in the shadows and actual ice along the high water mark) but we’re lucky to have beautiful countryside like this only about 90 minutes away.

Janet actually stood on the floor of what is now the Reservoir, at the foot of the observation tower, when she was a child (thanks to her Dad who was servicing some of the machinery in use on the site). I think that’s pretty cool. Looking at wiki it was finished around 1982.

It was nice to get out. Janet was ill with a nasty cold and cough for the best part of last week, but struggled diligently into work throughout — apart from last Monday when it became clear that even crawling out of bed was beyond her best efforts. I persuaded her to see sense and take the day off sick. As a result we haven’t done a great deal other than sit in the warmth for the last couple of weeks.

I have however purchased a lovely Ipod Classic 80GB in black, and the atrociously-named Jivebox from Logic3, a fine ipod speaker dock with a really solid and satisfying sound. I nearly bought several other ipod speakers from the thousands on offer, but a few good reviews (including a Gadget Show recommendation) convinced me and I’m pleased they did. I’m now um-ing and ah-ing about the in-car listening arrangement. At present I’ve got a lash-up that feeds the ipod headphone socket into the RCA cables at the back of our stereo. This works fine but I could do with a proper dock that holds the ipod in a convenient place and charges the ipod while we listen. This is the front-runner at present (the 2008 version, which may not be available ’til next month).

Things you didn’t know, or didn’t want to know

The Coen brothers are to film Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. It’s a novel I haven’t read (although I plan to) but this strikes me a A Good Thing.

Val Kilmer is to be the voice of KITT in the new Knight Rider pilot movie, replacing Will Arnett who had to pull out. Val, Val, Val. Where is your career going? I want you to think seriously about this.

Thanks to white-hart asking and example22 telling, this incredibly nifty bit of freeware lets you rearrange the programs on your Windows taskbar. How anal awesome is that? Best gizmo ever. Now everything can be in the right order. Yes, there is a right order.

The American Film Institute is to honour the ten best films in ten genres: Animated, Fantasy, Gangster, Sci-Fi, Western, Sports, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama and Epic. Interesting set of genres for a start. You have to register (for free) on their website to see the fifty nominees in each genre, but I’m nice so here’s the pdf. They won’t release the results until a US TV special, presumably hosted by Jimmy Carr with a fake american accent.

“AFI defines “science fiction” as a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with imaginative speculation” they say, before including Independence Day in their nominations. There’s a good mix of eras, though, and any list that includes The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, A Clockwork Orange, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has to be considered eclectic at the very least. It all means nothing, but it’s interesting.

Just for the sake of argument

So let’s say, hypothetically, that I haven’t treated myself to any gadgetry in ages and I have money burning a hole in my personal account.

Let’s posit, further, that an iPod Nano would be cool for any number of reasons including letting Janet listen to mp3s around the house (using an iPod speaker dock of some sort).

And thirdly, let’s suggest that I’d really like to plug this iPod into a car stereo (either our current one or a new one) in a way that doesn’t involve FM transmitters, gives decent sound quality, and lets me navigate to a required song in less time that it takes to complete my journey.

Any suggestions?

I don’t mind trailing cables, but if I was to plug the thing into the back of a car stereo how would I go about getting the cable through the dashboard? Are there facias? Are cigarette-lighter connections any good? Is it better to get a stereo with a jack on the front? I’ve done some googling but the internet is vast and full of cheap electrical outlets selling a baffling array of poorly explained kits.

In short: help!


Some sparkly things that have captured my ever-drifting attention:

Everbody’s favourite transporter chief1, Colm Meaney, says he’s filmed the pilot episode of David E Kelley’s U.S. version of Life on Mars. He’s in the Gene Hunt role. I’m extremely interested to see what it’s like. The original BBC show, especially the first series, was excellent but there’s room for a different take on the concept. Relocating it to LA could just be enough of a difference.

Ben Goldacre’s seminal explanation in The Guardian of why homeopathy doesn’t make sense (it’s really good–read it) has won high praise from James Randi. Which is nice.

Galactica showrunner (and Trek alumnus) Ronald D Moore has a shiny new blog replacing his moribund one on the Sci-Fi Channel site. At present there are musings about Galactica and the Writer’s Guild of America strike.

Speaking of the shiny, in the wake of the terrifying number of Trek fan series underway on the internet, there’s now a Firefly fan series named Into the Black in production. As with most things in modern fandom, the production values are surprisingly decent. The cast… not so much. At least, not if the YouTube trailer is anything to go by. Also the song is quite scary.

Lastly, for the woman who has everything except a talking Stephen Fry clock: a talking Stephen Fry clock. Cool, but not quite as cool as Lego Batman: The Videogame.

1 Unless you favour Mr Kyle but, really, how geeky would that be?

By the power of Ebay

We have now become the last people in the western hemisphere to own a Wii. This is thanks to my wife’s considerable perseverance and the power of Ebay, which is a little like the power of Greyskull but less melodramatic. Haven’t played much so far but the sheer novelty of the Wii remote infuses even the most mundane game with a mixture of fun and frustration. At some point this will seem natural, but right now it’s like gaming with my feet. In a good way.

Interfering with our Wii-ing has been a flurry of cinemagoing this weekend.


Pretty pretty

Not much happening here lately except work, work and work, not necessarily in that order. There’s nothing much to say, therefore, so in the meantime, as Tony Hart used to say, let’s take a look at the gallery.

An ILM employee is making a CGI short film of an Arthur C Clarke short story as a side project. Looks interesting.

I was also browsing for the pretteh the other day and happened across the forums of the CG Society where the cream of the CGI images are displayed. There are some truly stunning works to be found here, ranging from the nearly photo real (that second one–seriously?) to space opera that wouldn’t disgrace a book cover, and the wildly imaginative. Worth a browse.

Lastly there’s some official Firefly CGI work here.


Janet is very excited to learn of this long-awaited computer game sequel. Even the game company thinks it’s been a long time coming. 🙂 Looks pretty.

She dug out the original Starcraft a few months ago and it still looks and plays great, but the graphics are shockingly low resolution compared to the way you thought they looked when you last played it. Amazing how everything subtly moves on without you noticing.

Some Things

I was going to post about Tom McRae’s mixed bag of a new album, and my struggle to get back into doing some art for the first time in years. However I’ve accidentally switched my brain into standby mode so those topics will have to wait.

In the meantime, here are some links. Use them wisely. Use them in peace.

There’s an Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, apparently.

Russia launches cyber-attack against Estonia. Allegedly. It’s less exciting than it sounds, but you get the feeling that if the real world just picked up the pace a little it might catch a glimpse of science fiction on the horizon.

The finalists in the Best visual illusions of the year competition. I quite like the extremely simple leaning tower illusion.

I come from the future

We missed the final instalment of Face of Britain on Saturday on account of my brain being missing. I couldn’t find it in any of the usual places (the programme, not my brain). Then I remembered that we are all now living in Teh Future where everything in the world is available instantly, so I hopped decadently across to Channel 4’s 4 on Demand website and downloaded it. Big, crisp image, and the whole thing is completely free. Now that’s what I call progress.

It’s hobbled by Digital Rights Management so you can’t burn it to a disk and watch it on the TV, but that’s not unreasonable under the circumstances. Basically you have 48 hours from whenever you first press play to watch it as often as you like, in a rental-type way. The only downside is you have to use Windows XP, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player in order to access the service, so if you’re a Gatesophobe this could prove awkward.

The BBC are introducing something that looks suspiciously similar later this year.

The future really is a shiny place. Although that may just be the global warming.


The generally entertaining Gadget Show on Channel 5 is running a campaign to get free wireless internet access on the streets of our cities, as has apparently already been done in, er, Norwich. While I remain sceptical that this is going to happen in any coordinated Government-led way, it does seem to have happened in Norwich so you never know. There’s a petition on their website if you’re interested.

Sad to say The Gadget Show is actually the closest thing to science programming on TV most weeks, and although it’s not always the most highbrow of shows its heart is in the right place. It’s that rarest of things, the genuinely IT literate TV show whose presenters know what they’re talking about and who actually geek out about shiny brushed aluminium gadgets and cool robots. Next week it looks like they’re testing stores like PC World to see if their staff actually know anything about computers. Seems like a foregone conclusion to me…

The angst of the internet shopper

BBC News 24 can be an odd beast when it comes to reporting technology stories.

On the one hand they’ve just given lengthy free advertising to some new price comparison website for supermarkets because they appear to believe that this is the most amazingly amazing idea ever. Clearly the exciting nature of supermarkets elevates this wholly original new “invention” – as they termed it – to a whole new level.

On the other hand they’re reporting a survey that take-up of Broadband is increasing massively, and yet the general tenor of the article is that despite the fact that two-thirds of homes are predicted to have broadband within a year or two, the Government might not meet its broadband targets. Doom. More amusingly the presenter was looking both earnest and concerned at the idea that the UK’s average Broadband speeds are lower than those in Europe, asking why our broadband is “so comparatively slow”, and how much we’re missing out on. Obviously, anyone with a heart would be moved by the plight of thousands of people unable to browse Ebay to its fullest using a 2MB connection, but somehow this doesn’t feel like technology reporting at its most sophisticated.

Random video linkage

A few bits of video linkage that caught my eye recently.

Firstly, how cool is this sliding door? It would obviously annoy the crap out of you if you actually had one, but the technolust is too powerful to resist. Janet thinks we should get one.

Those who saw my recent post about the Frank Miller adaptation 300 may have seen the video showcasing several scenes from the film (from a recent comics convention). The official trailer is now available, and it’s every bit as testosterone drenched as the previous video, only in better quality. It’s also rather stylish, and very beautiful. And it features a shouty man with lots of teeth.

In one of my excessivly geeky moments I talked about the remastering of the original 1960s Star Trek show; primarily this is just a high-definition clean-up and rescanning of the original film/negative, although it’s not yet airing in HD. Controversially they’ve also chosen to update the effects using CGI. Less controversially they’re hewing incredibly closely to the look and feel of the original effects, the only complaints so far being that the CGI space shots are allegedly even blander than the original model work. (Well, not the only complaints since Trek fans are a fickle bunch. In fact the faithfulness of the effects is in itself becoming controversial, with some individuals feeling that there’s no point in redoing the effects if they’re not going to try something a little more daring.) Me, I love the original Trek with the completely non-rational portion of my brain1, and I know a lot of the episodes very well indeed, even though it’s years since I actually sat down to watch one of them from start to finish. I’m also generally opposed to special editions, since part of the pleasure in watching something old is in analysing how it looks, whether it’s dated well, what still works, what looks hokey, etc. There’s a part of your brain which stands back from the story and appreciates it as an artefact of its era. But that said, these do look pretty good. Some sample pictures and videos here and here, including this nice new Enterprise flyby.

1 Yes, there are some rational bits.


Day 34. Internet connection still crappy. PlusNet finally agree to move us back to the BT network at no charge to us – which will take at least 7 days since they basically have to ask Tiscali for the MAC code to move us. This is no different to the situation if we were moving ISPs. How crazy is it that they would put us on a product that’s essentially with a different supplier, which makes it significantly more problematic to troubleshoot problems or indeed to leave?

Still, they’re actually moving us back, which means that either the connection returns to the lovely stable 2MB one we used to have – win – or we can now up-sticks and move to any other ISP as normal – win! Here in the customer trade we call that… well, we call it a month of hellishly poor service followed by an achingly slow resolution with the prospect of further disruption to come. But we’d probably try to work the word “win” in there at least once.

Changing tacks and slipping gracefully below the spoiler space we’ve now seen episode 2 of Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip…

On being a sucker

Much as I hate to be sold the same thing twice, so far all the evidence shows that I’m a complete sucker when it comes to reissued DVDs. It’s particularly difficult when the temptation is more than any mortal could resist. For example, the Firefly TV Series being remastered in High-Definition. Sob.

Of course, there’s the small matter of not owning an HD-Ready TV or DVD player, but these are mere trifles. It will be mine. Oh yes.

What’s heartening is that there’s felt to be market for this kind of thing. It looks like the remastering is for a TV airing initially, but no doubt the DVD will follow. It’s easy to imagine some of the older shows that were shot on film, such as the original Trek, being remastered and reissued on DVD in similar quality. Where we’ll lose out is with the generation of shows that were shot and edited on videotape, where the potential for seeing them in high quality doesn’t really exist (barring the invention of CSI-like levels of image enhancement technology.) So ironically we may well end up with classic older series being more future-proof than TV of the late 80s and 1990s, including the later iterations of Star Trek. (If memory serves, TNG was shot on film but transferred to video for the effects work).