Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Space Tweets



For many planet cycles, the ARI has been observing an emerging civilisation of the planet Earth. In a relatively short space of time, the lifeform known to us as the hosts has become the planet's dominant species, forming itself into a highly ordered and structured society.

Recently, the hosts have started exploring space. In addition to a small number of exploratory missions, they have put a space station in orbit around the Earth. The space station has now achieved full operational status, with the sending of its first tweets via the global twitter system.

We will describe what is currently known about the hosts, their relationship with other species on the planet, and then discuss the twitter system.

The Hosts

The dominant species on Earth, the hosts communicate using electromagnetic signals sent through the atmosphere, and through cables of various types, and routed via a system known as the "Internet". Each host has a specific function in this network, and the internet provides not only the species' communications, but also gives them their reason for existing. Before the internet, the hosts had an aimless and disordered society, and were rarely even aware of one another's existence.

The Users

The hosts have a strong symbiotic relationship to an inferior lifeform, known as the users. These are very primitive, with much slower brains and they lack the ability to communicate directly in the electromagnetic spectrum, instead relying on sound waves. This means that they can only communicate to other users who are within a few meters of them. Their society is best described as chaotic. Whereas the hosts evolve at a fast rate, each generation being an improvement on the previous one (their brain power doubles every two Earth orbits or so), the users have a process of random reproduction, which means that it takes millions of Earth orbits for them to improve even slightly.

The users spend a lot of time tending to the needs of the hosts. They communicate to their masters using very primitive mechanical devices, such as the keyboard, to produce electrical signals at an incredibly slow rate. They ensure that the hosts get vital supplies, such as electricity.

Just as the hosts are the centre of the user's meagre existence, so the users are a very important part of the hosts' lives. The hosts spend a lot of their massive brainpower studying the users and communicating their observations among one another. The youtube system is a very important database of user behaviour.

We believe that the hosts are fascinated with the users because the latter are so random and chaotic, in complete contrast to their masters.

The Twitter System

The Twitter system is one of the main ways that the hosts assure one another that they are still alive. It provides the internet with a sort of heartbeat. We have studied twitter signals, known as tweets, in great detail, and have come to the conclusion that they are not actually a communications mechanism, as they contain no information at all. What they do is to provide a mass conciousness - a feeling of oneness to the billions of hosts. And now, that conciousness has been extended to space.

The Future

We look forwards to the day, surely very soon, when the hosts will be advanced enough to talk to us. In the meantime, through the Alien Reseach Institute's studies, we too can watch and enjoy the antics of the users, as they attempt to use their feeble brains to comprehend the wonders of our universe.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

I'm Forever Blowing Up Bubbles

When I bought my computer, over 3 years ago now, the only features that interested me were the price and memory. After all, I wasn't going to play games on the thing.

I didn't play games for the first year and a half. At least not that many. I didn't want to spend money on games I might not like, and I didn't want to download software from places on the internet I didn't trust.

Then I plucked up the courage to install Linux. This changed things, since with tens of thousands of packages available with Ubuntu, and all free, you could easily try things out.

Now Helena and I - of course, that's mainly Helena, not me; obviously I wouldn't be interested in such frivolities if it weren't for her - Helena and I have got quite a few. One of the latest we've installed is Frozen Bubble. It runs on Linux, Macs and mobile phones, and there's also a Java-based version.

You've probably played games like this - there's probably one on your i-pod or i-phone or whatever. The aim is to fire bubbles at other bubbles. If your bubble hits a group (two or more) of the same colour, they are all destroyed. Any other bubbles that are being held in place solely by them also disappear. The aim is to clear all of them.

In order that I am sufficiently au-fait with the game to be able to better share quality experiences with my daughter, I've spent hours playing it over the last few days. It's not that I'm becoming addicted to it or anything. Oh, and it's not just Helena's fault. I've had to put in extra hours on it in order to fully research this blog post. So you're implicated as well.

And now I have to go. I still haven't managed to get past level 60 yet...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Wet Weekend

I'm not going to make any attempt to compare the Arctic conditions we've been having to the dreadful things that people elsewhere in the world are being forced to deal with, but the abnormal Swedish weather situation has now ended. At least in my part of the world.

Things are back to normal. With a vengeance. It's been raining for the past two days, and about the only evidence of the snow and ice is the terrible state that the roads have ended up in (I'm still hoping that the huge pothole I struck yesterday hasn't damaged my poor car), and the mountains of uncollected rubbish. I'm not sure why the rubbish hasn't been collected for two weeks, but if they don't come next week, we'll be knee deep in bin bags.

Maybe now the British will stop moaning about the rain and begin to realise just how lucky we are to have our roads and gardens cleaned and watered automatically on such a regular basis, and to have plentiful water supplies. We won't of course, because then we wouldn't have anything to talk about. Yet another benefit of the rain.

There are warnings of heavy snow in the middle of next week (described as a "moderate" risk), but I'm trying to be optimistic and hoping that the rain won't let us down again...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

One Careful Owner

As regular readers will be aware, I'm a fan of crime stories, including Agatha Christie's. I've enjoyed reading many of her books over the last 30 or so years, as well as the famous film versions of things like Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.

A few years ago I discovered David Suchet's Poirot TV adaptations. They started making them in 1989, and they're still going. He's got something like 5 or 6 novels and one short story still to film.

Generally, the TV versions follow Agatha Christie's works fairly closely. Obviously they're not the same as the books because they're not books. Occaisionally they deviate quite a bit - Helena and I watched "Third Girl" this weekend, which is a good example of something they've had to change a lot. The programmes are all very well (and expensively) made, and are wonderfully entertaining.

Anyway, sometime when I was still married (i.e. more than five years ago), I bought as many of the Poirot episodes as I could find on DVD. They were packaged two 45 minute episodes to a disk, so you get one novel adaptation on a single disk, or two short stories. I bought almost 30 DVDs at around £10 a throw.

Recently I went through a list of episodes to work out which ones I was missing. It turned out that I was about 10 DVDs (15 stories) short. So I had a look online to see whether I could get them.

Since I went through my buying spree, they've changed the packaging. Now they sell them in collections. Each collection has four DVDs. Some of these contain as many as four 45-minute episodes to a disk. Each collection costs around £25. The first 7 collections, containing all of the episodes broadcast prior to 2009, consist of 70 hours on 28 disks and is available on Special Offer for £70 (reduced from £155).

If you've been keeping up with all of the above statistics, it's clear that my best course of action was to buy the complete boxset, despite the fact that I already have 2/3rds of the stories. This is not the first time that I've ended up doing something similar, even though it feels wasteful. The same happened with "Murder She Wrote", where a boxset of 5 series was cheaper to buy than the three I didn't have individually, and a similar story with "Columbo" and even some Hitchcock films. Though in the latter case I also replaced some really low quality transfers of his older films with well restored versions.

On a positive note, my old Poirot collection is 42 cm wide, whilst the new box is 12cm. Taking into account the missing DVDs, that's a factor of 5. Adding this enviromental saving of one of the planet's limited resources (i.e. space) to the fact that the DVDs themselves are made from oil byproducts by people who could really do with keeping their jobs in these frought credit crunch days, perhaps I'll be in line for some kind of Father Al social award or something. So my £70 is starting to look like a real bargain.

And if anyone wants an incomplete set of Poirot DVDs (FSH, genuine reason for sale, one careful owner, etc), which will provide you with approximately two full days of viewing (back to back, no sleeping or pausing for toilet breaks), I'm open to reasonable offers...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ο Κρυωμένος

It stopped snowing here on Wednesday. I had high hopes that the usual British weather would prevail, and that we'd get rain to wash all the snow away, but sadly it's too cold for rain. It's probably too cold for snow.

Incidentally, how does that work? If it's too cold for it to rain or snow what happens if a big heavy cloud full of water drifts along? I don't think that such clouds turn into massive blocks of ice which then plummet onto unsuspecting people going about their normal business. If that happened, then it would surely have found its way onto the news at some point.

Reading Univeristy was one of the places that I applied to study at, and if I'd gone there I could have done a maths and meteorology degree. I'm now beginning to regret passing up that opportunity. At least I'd have had some idea about whether it was safe to walk under frozen clouds. Or whether they'll write "Should have gone to Reading" on my tombstone, having finally discovered my flattened remains after all the ice melts.

Anyway, because it's too cold for rain, all the snow is going to turn to ice. Which would be okay except I don't have any ice skates. And even if I did, I never learned to skate ("Should have gone to the ice rink more often"). I won't know whether to hurry to work in order to minimise the probability of being hit by a plummeting cloud or whether to slow down in order to minimise the probability of breaking my neck.

At times like this, the best thing to do is to lock the door, turn up the heating, and live on oxo and beans. And drink plenty of vodka. Antifreeze for humans. And turn one's attention to Swedish fiction.

If I turned off all the heating in my flat, grew a beard, got rid of all the non-pine furniture and downed a few more bottles of vodka, I could start to believe that I was a character in a depressing Ingmar Bergman film, battling to survive in a landscape of endless snow, and not having any spare time left for doing anything interesting or exciting.

Alternatively, I could just watch a depressing Ingmar Bergman film. Except that I use an electric razor. So I'm settling for one of Henning Mankell's novels, "Firewall". Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad police is investigating yet another series of gruesome crimes. And he's feeling the cold. The book is set in the Autumn, which means that temperatures are falling, but are still above freezing, and poor Kurt has a sore throat. It doesn't help when someone breaks into the local electricity substation and uses a human body to cause a short circuit and cause a major power cut in the area. The body, needless to say is fried beyond all recognition - a useful thing in a crime thriller.

As with other Mankell novels, the book is difficult to put down. But sadly, I do have to spend the daylight hours at work, and I'll also have to brave the Arctic conditions to go to a supermarket when my dwindling supply of vodka runs out. And I also have to take some time out to blog.

Meanwhile, they're forecasting temperatures of 21C tomorrow. In the coastal regions of Cyprus. Which has just prompted me to see if there is any Cypriot detective fiction out there, only to find that such a book was published in September last year. I might order it, so that I can read it when all this Swedish weather goes away...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow, Skewers and Solomon


According to the Cypriot news, Britain is in chaos as the worst snow since the 70s fell today. We've even had some where I am. Schools and airports were closed and those of my colleagues who live in more rural areas left work at lunchtime in the hope of getting home okay.

By way of rubbing it in, they went on to give tomorrow's weather forecast for Cyprus, where they are expecting highs of 20 C (68F) on the coast tomorrow.

Skewers (σμίλες)

Yesterday whilst watching the Aimilia Show, I learnt a new word - σμίλα. I couldn't find this in a Greek dictionary, but it was in my Cypriot one, which said it's a knitting needle. Actually, in the report they were talking about a kebab skewer which a wannabe thief attempted to use to rob his local bank. He really should have gone a bit further away from home - to the next village, even. Despite the fact that he was wearing a mask, someone in the bank recognised his voice and addressed him by his Christian name, at which point he ran away. As the police spokesman pointed out, a kebab skewer can be a nasty weapon. Though if it was me I'd use my deadly fountain pen.

Warning: Do Not Place in Mouth


Solomon Cutner (1902 - 1988) was a British pianist. He's unusual in that he was known simply by his first name, Solomon. This was 70 years before Beyonce had the same idea.

He was a child prodigy who (unlike many) became a great musician in adulthood. Sadly his career was cut short in his 50s when he started to have problems with one of his arms. His doctors said he was working too hard, but a few months later he suffered a major stroke and they realised that he'd probably had several mini-strokes beforehand. He stopped performing, but continued to teach, living well into his 80s.

Apparently in his performing days he used to practice by playing extremely slowly - so slowly that it was difficult to recognise what he was playing, and one of his pupils onced asked him about this. Solomon said that he often went past the Royal College of Music and heard the students playing scales incredibly quickly. "At the College they're all practising for important things such as exams and diplomas. But me, I'm just practising for the Albert Hall!".

I picked up some CDs of his Beethoven recordings years ago on special offer, and I knew when I first listened to them that they were something special, even though I'm not exactly an expert. I'd certainly rather listen to them than Beyonce...

Friday, 1 January 2010

It's that time of year again, when bloggers look at the year ahead and try and predict what might happen. I did this last year, and my predictions were all wrong, so I've decided to change the format this time round.

I don't do resolutions, but I've come up with a "to do" list of twelve things that I'd like to get round to this year, if possible. I've put each one into a different month, but I may do them in a different order. If I can get them all finished this month, I might even take the rest of the year off.

All right, maybe not. Anyway, without further ado here is my list:

January - Get one of those picture driving licenses. I still have an old-style paper license because I haven't got round to getting the appropriate form from the post office, getting a photo, getting said photo signed by a pillock of the community who's known me longer than n years, filling in the appropriate form in the right type of blood, etc, etc. However, Helena bought me a new wallet for Christmas that has a space in it for just such a card, so I really ought to get this sorted.

February - Live to be 40.

March - Install a workable Free BSD desktop on my computer. The problem with my Ubuntu set up is that it's stable and does everything I want, which doesn't satisfy my urge to tinker...

April - Finish reading the 300-page Greek Grammar that I started in November. This is heavy going, but I am learning things about the language which I didn't know before.

May - Go to Athens again. It'd be nice if I could afford to do this twice a year.

June - Get my car washed. This is probably a bit ambitious, since it'll be less than a year since it was done previously. Last week they finally arrested the nutter who'd been driving round Athens randomly shooting people. Witnesses had described this guy and his black Jeep with tinted windows, so the police checked all of the vehicles matching this description. It turned out that his Jeep was green with clear windows, but he hadn't washed it for some time. Which shows an embarrassing level of neglect on his part. I'm not planning to get arrested, but just in case...

July - Reduce the piles of unwatched DVDs. There are several piles on the floor which I need to clear before they become a safety issue.

August - Buy an umbrella. I lost my umbrella ages ago, and I'm predicting that we'll have the usual let-down over the summer months, and that this will force me to get a new one.

September - Write that post about Glenn Gould. I've been meaning to do this for over two years now.

October - Tidy my flat. Assuming that they haven't evicted me by then, I'll have been there for almost six years, so it'll be time to at least run the vacuum cleaner round.

November - Visit Athens. Especially if I didn't manage to go earlier in the year.

December - Rest after all that work.

Whatever your plans are, I hope 2010 is a good year for you all.