Sunday, August 12, 2012

Albedo 0.39.

Erith made the national press for all of the wrong reasons this week; on Tuesday the Sun reported on the story of an Erith resident who had mistreated his pet Alsatian dog so badly that it had died of starvation. The story was originally run by the News Shopper, but my guess is that they have sold it on to the tabloids.  I don't think the scumbag who was found guilty of animal abuse will have a particularly pleasant time in jail, or indeed when he gets out. Serves him right. You can read more about the distressing case by clicking here.

The extensive re - roofing work on the North wing of Pewty Acres has now been completed, and the scaffolding was removed on Wednesday morning. Almost all the building work has now been completed; all that remains is the installation of the bespoke tempered glass splash backs in the kitchen and the bathroom, and a small amount of snagging work - it has been a long and very expensive process, but it is now looking very good. 

I was debating covering the then impending landing of the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover on Mars in last weeks’ Maggot Sandwich update. In the end I decided against it, on the grounds that had I written about it, something might have gone horribly wrong. The whole landing sequence was horribly complicated and fraught by dozens of potential dangers. Fortunately the craft came down in a text book landing. NASA are not missing a trick – the rover has a Twitter feed that it updates on a regular basis you can read it by clicking here. From what I wrote last week about conspiracy theorists and the “false flag” brigade, I assume that they think the whole thing is being filmed in a warehouse in Los Angeles, rather than actually on the surface of Mars. The fact that NASA have already released footage of the landing, taken from the MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) a satellite that has been in orbit around Mars for some years already. The Curiosity also shot “dash cam” time lapse photography of it nearing the Martian surface, and finally touching down, from a small, low resolution camera that is primarily designed to stop the vehicle bumping into things when on the surface. Now that Curiosity's camera mast is now up and capturing high definition photographs we are getting a much clearer idea of what the surface of Mars looks like. What the gainsayers will do with all of this virtually real – time information is anyone’s guess – they seem to be the 21st century’s equivalent of the old Flat Earth Society.  The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail both inadvertently gave support to the rumour that a UFO had been spotted over the Stratford stadium during the firework display that marked the ending of the opening ceremony. You can see what the Mail said by clicking here. As you will see from their breathless and rather under researched prose, they are pretty convinced that ET is about to land in the East End. The trouble is, if you listen to the sound track of the video footage, you can clearly hear a couple of four stroke petrol engines. Now, I don't know about you, but if I was needing to traverse vast swathes of interstellar space, I would want to use something with a bit more poke than a brace of Volvo six pots. If you watched the BBC TV coverage of the opening ceremony, there was extensive footage shot from above, from precisely the location where the flying saucer was supposed to have been. Starting to see a pattern here? The "UFO" was actually the shiny underside of the former Goodyear blimp*, reflecting the flashes of the fireworks as it was used as a filming platform by the Beeb. Only the very most hard of thinking cannot have worked this out. It is lazy journalism to have so unthinkingly reported what really was the most flimsy of stories that stood up to very little in the way of analysis. *The blimp, which has been flying round the local area recently, as I have photographed, currently is blank and unbranded; the Goodyear name and logo were removed from it to keep the main Olympic sponsors happy. The Daily Mail continue to dig themselves into an increasingly deep hole with another "paranormal" story they reported on Thursday; A couple, concerned that their car was being vandalised on their driveway, installed CCTV cameras, and were then amazed when a "ghost child" appeared to walk over their vehicle. Do you recall the Father Ted episode where Ted was trying to explain to Dougal the difference between big things far away, and small things nearby? As anyone who has worked with CCTV will tell you, arachnids are attracted to the Infra Red LED's that many cameras use to film in the dark - to the extent that several manufacturers actually produce spider repellent sprays to keep the cameras free of the creatures. The so called "Ghost Boy" is nothing more than a spider crawling over the camera lens. Yet another piece of poorly researched sensationalism on the part of the Mail.

Have  you noticed how pretty much every TV advert ends with a splash screen saying something along the lines of “visit our Facebook page” – even the current adverts for the Territorial Army has it. It seems that no business or organisation feels that they can do without having a large online presence, specifically on Facebook. Have we not all seen this before? Do you recall it was not that very long ago that it seemed like everyone was using MySpace – yet that seems to have disappeared virtually without a trace. Prior to that it was deemed de rigeur to be on Friends Reunited, and prior to that,  AOL, before that MSN ( to a lesser extent) and in the dim and distant past, the service of choice was run by CompuServe. What links all of these services is that they are / were all “walled gardens” – a pay per use or ad supported private network with their own rules and communities. They are not truly part of the World Wide Web, and applications developed for use in these enclosed communities usually won’t run out in “the real world”. By limiting yourself to any of these walled communities, you are cutting yourself off from a lot of good stuff. Facebook is already showing the first signs of dying. Give it a year or so and another online service will have taken its’ place.

I am not, as Jeremy Clarkson would put it, a motor bicyclist, but when I came across this short film featuring the 2012 Isle of Man TT race, I had to feature it; motorbikes travelling at close to 200mph on (closed) public roads - astonishing, and I am sure the Health and Safety brigade would never allow it on the mainland. Cracking photography, editing and sound make for a very entertaining six and a half minutes.

The Radio Society of Great Britain (of which I am a member) has been making very strong representations to OFCOM about the forthcoming new regulations for PLT (Power Line Telecommunications). This might sound like something really technical and irrelevant to the general public, but if it is not addressed in the correct manner, it could come back to adversely affect just about everyone. PLT is a technology that allows data to be transmitted over a standard domestic or business power grid – basically using the electrical wiring in a building to run a computer network. It can also be used to transmit data over longer distances using the national grid. This sounds absolutely great – whilst Wi Fi is good, it is limited in range and often has problems penetrating thick walls and structural steel beams. Running RJ45 Ethernet cable can be a problem in a domestic or small business environment. So if an option becomes available to use the power line infrastructure to carry the data, it would seem to be a win / win scenario. Except that it is not. The adaptors that inject the data signal into the power lines also generate RF (Radio Frequency) signals, which then propagate via the cabling – which acts as an antenna. Radio Hams have been complaining as their particular set of H.F radio frequencies (1.8 to 30MHz) are one of the worst affected with radio interference. Well, you may think, who cares if a small bunch of beardy anoraks suffer from a bit of interference?  The trouble is several fold. The H.F bands are not just home to Hams, but are shared with aircraft, ships at sea, the military, diplomatic services, as well as international shortwave broadcasting stations. Any interference to these services can potentially lead to risk to life. In the event of natural disaster, radio is one of the few methods of communication that will get through when the normal infrastructure is damaged or out of commission. It just seems that OFCOM are pretty toothless when dealing with any threat to the radio spectrum – they certainly don’t have the appetite for a fight that the old DTI Radio Investigation Service had – I should know, they tried to feel my collar on a number of occasions, when I was still a poacher, rather than a gamekeeper now. The Power Line Telecommunications radio interference story looks like it will run and run.

Residents of Abbey Wood are in for some local changes – the area is about to be the recipient of an investment totalling £85 million. This will comprise of 220 affordable homes, a children’s nursery, an 80 to 100 bed hotel, and a new town square, which will have a large Sainsbury’s supermarket, with a floor area . There will also be 5,000 square feet of space allocated to new start up businesses. This is all very good news for an area that is too often overlooked for investment. My only real question is in relation to the proposed hotel is who exactly is going to use it? There are no big businesses in the area which would merit an overnight stay by business travellers; Abbey Wood station is not an interchange where someone heading elsewhere might break their journey, though Ian has suggested that the hotel will be built in anticipation of the forthcoming Crossrail Project, which will link North Essex, Abbey Wood and West London with a fast rail link. The area is currently really too far from London to merit tourist visitors (those that do come to stay in Abbey Wood generally stay at the excellent camping site run by the Caravan Club in Federation Road. The site is open all of the year round, and receives one of the highest rated customer satisfaction reviews of any site in the entire UK. Once Crossrail opens, this situation will markedly change.

Two veteran prog rock multi instrumentalist composer performers must be rubbing their hands with glee right now. Both Mike Oldfield and Vangelis have very astutely released “Best of” compilations, designed to coincide with a surge in interest in their music, following their key performances in the Olympic opening ceremony. Oldfield and Vangelis have in many ways had very similar careers. Both started up playing in bands where they were frustrated at not having total control over the musical direction. Both have had hugely successful albums where they collaborated with singers, and both have had varying degrees of success in writing film scores – an area in which Vangelis especially has excelled. Both have for years been deeply unfashionable (despite Oldfields’ woeful foray into dance music during the period in which he lived on Ibiza). This lack of fashionability has actually worked in their favour. A lot of the audience for the opening ceremony had quite possibly not heard of either musician prior to the event – and having been exposed to a few minutes of their music, were interested enough to want to hear more. I think this will have benefitted both artists, as broadly speaking, most people who like one, will probably like the other, as their styles are not dissimilar. It will be interesting to see how their compilation albums fare in the charts. Personally I would be tempted to dust off my copy of Vangelis’s Albedo 0.39” album from 1976, were my Linn Sondek LP12 turntable not packed up for storage, along with my entire collection of vinyl.

I was contacted a week or so ago by the administrator of the Melbourne Theatre Company; she asked my permission for them to use a photo of mine as the backdrop for a forthcoming theatrical production the company were undertaking. They had found my Flickr account and had been looking at my work. I have given them permission to use the photo free of charge, providing that I get a written credit in the Programme. This is the photo that they will be using - not that impressive, I agree, but they wanted something of an urban landscape.

The video clip this week is the trailer for a new British comedy horror movie Cockneys versus Zombies”. From the trailer, it would appear to be a cross between Shaun of the Dead” and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. The movie has a fantastic cast, including Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Alan Ford, Michelle Ryan and Georgia King. Basically it features a group of cockney gangsters who take on a zombie invasion. Any movie that features Richard Briers with a zimmer frame, toting an Uzi 9mm has got to be worth seeing! The trailer is not very office friendly, as it does feature some bad language, but it is very funny. This kind of low to mid budget genre film did get me thinking. Back in the 1980’s at the height of the home video boom, every parade of shops had an independent video hire shop – in the days before Blockbuster came to dominate the market. In addition to the big Hollywood movies that everyone wanted to see (and were invariably already out on hire) the shelves were packed with B – Movie grade films, many of which never got a cinematic release in Europe. The production company behind many of these was Cannon Films, an Israeli – American outfit who produced a huge array of low budget, but very profitable movies such as Missing in Action, American Ninja, Masters of the Universe, Death Wish II, The Delta Force and so on. Cannon were instrumental in popularising the career of Chuck Norris (no sniggering at the back, please) and also in running an independent chain of cinemas in the UK. The company was wound up in the early 1990’s, but it strikes me that a modern version of the production house could do well now. We have the giant Hollywood movies, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make and to promote. No newcomer is ever going to be able to compete with this; however, now that the worlds of cinema, home video and online streaming are becoming increasingly intertwined, a low budget, tightly run company producing niche films might well be successful. When one considers the recent success of Iron Sky – which was produced by a small, independent company using online resources to produce the CGI effects, it proves that it can be done, and for a far lower cost than would be the case in Hollywood. Anyway, watch the trailer below and feel free to leave a comment.

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