Monday 17 December 2012

<pun> A routine step for Man </pun>

Bar-room chat with Armando and Pierre very naturally turned to the Isle of Man moon-shot plans.

Having in the past authored a documentary piece mistaken by some as spoof or fiction, I saw an immediate opportunity to create an entertaining scam. But truth, as ever, is stranger than fiction, and it seems that the Isle of Man does indeed have a place near the front of the moon-shot peloton. The island state is variously listed as fourth (Hyperbola Flightglobal blog) or fifth (Daily Mail) most likely nation to mount the next personed lunar expedition.

It seems that the combination of the tax regime (well-known) and the Island's active encouragement of space industry (less well-known - to me anyway) combine to give Excalibur Almaz real plausibility of returning humans to the moon. The firm will use ex-Soviet former space stations; details are available.

Geeks are referred to the aforementioned Hyperbola blog, where technicalities are discussed in a measure of depth - I did like their observation Big rockets, complex spacecraft, and (lots of) money needed for manned lunar return. I think I had guessed that already.

Notable quotations on this hot topic:

  • writes: A three legged lander is a stable configuration as NASA’s unmanned Lunar Surveyor landers found in the 1960s.
  • Hyperbola notes: While at first sight sensible, the plan does present other problems ... .
  • The Daily Mail reports: Industry insiders have already said the island is already ‘punching above its weight’ in the 21st century space race.
  • IOM today said: The Isle of Man is another step closer in the race to the Moon, according to space industry experts.
  • The FTsays: Excalibur Almaz will charge wannabe astronauts an average of £100m for a six-eight month journey exploring deep space, and The company also hopes to drive revenues by emblazoning adverts across its space station, and If you make a mistake in space, it will kill you
  • The IoM blogger ShareCrazy notes I am afraid of heights so will not be volunteering ... which UK citizen would you nominate? We offer up a choice in our Poll: Tony Blair (war criminal, serial liar), Cherie Blair (freeloader, parasite, ‘uman Rights persecutor), Lady Thatcher (Greatest PM we ever had, please come out of retirement), Wayne Rooney (congenital idiot, scumbag) and Bob Diamond (fat cat casino banker).
(I understand the Sark cold-fusion project has stalled).

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch: reviews

A visit to Google will yield many reviews of Scott Walker's "Bish Bosch". Some representative comments are:
  • The first time I heard Bish Bosch, I never wanted to hear it again.
  • ... who wants to buy an album you can hardly bear to listen to?
  • The first thing you hear is 30 seconds of drums that aren't so much being pounded as punished, overlaid with a kind of electronic shriek. And this is one of the more approachable moments on Bish Bosch.
  • Bish Bosch is sick with corporeal disgust and philosophical disquiet
  • Walker has always protested that people miss the humour in his work - in fairness, that's perhaps an inevitable consequence of writing songs about existential despair, Nicolae Ceausescu, illness, and disgust at the human body
  • ... listening to Bish Bosch is a bruising, draining experience
  • There's something repellently fascinating about Scott Walker's notion of music these days.
  • At the center of it all is an old man wailing about cutting off his own balls and feeding them to someone.
  • And, boy, has Walker really bitched it this time - nine new astounding abominations, nine new non-songs, bastards all, hymns without harmony, sheer discordia, and, lyrically, nothing but beasts, buggeries, and decapitations.
  • ... furious assault of dystopian instrumentation
To be fair, here are a couple of the rather fewer positive [sic] comments:
  • I started listening to this album with a mild amusement but kept returning to it to be both terrified and impressed in equal measure.
  • It might not encourage repeat plays, but to dismiss it as a racket is to do it, and its maker, a huge disservice.
Well, I've listened to it twice now.

I suspect some of these reviewers have not heard some other things I possess since they might then find Bish Bosch disappointingly melodic. While it may not be the thing I would play when Mother-in-law's at home, it's certainly a possession of note. Ah, that voice.

Thursday 29 November 2012

45 more minutes of Rapid Radio

Rapid Radio is described elsewhere. Earlier I posted a random 45 minutes that I dropped onto a C90 over 20 years ago.

Here's the other side of the tape: this one is from 30th March 1991 (Easter Day!). Around 22.10 you can year the DJ welcome in a local youth: I estimate DC Ranko to be about 12 years old, and he hosts the rest of the session.

Track listing

The DJ's speed and accent, coupled with my incompete knowledge of the genre, make this a little incomplete and unreliable.
Italic indicates uncertainty - corrections welcomed.

Time Title Artist
2.27 Thriller U Back on my feet again
5.44 Freddy McGregor Stop Loving You
9.14 ??? Nothing like this
13.12 Freddy McGregor Loving Pauper
16.09 Richie Davis Jah Army
19.45 Leroy Mafia Can't get enough of your love
23.48 Tenor Fly Defend your words
27.07 Shabba Ranks, Admiral Tibbet, Ninjaman Serious Time
30.17 Red Dragon X amount
33.28 Johnny P By law
36.44 Godspell Golden Rule
39.5 Capelton Magnet
43.14 Panhead International Wok

Thanks to TechnoSauce for technical support.

Friday 26 October 2012

I can't dance, either

A lot, and probably too much, has been written about Hawkwind. Quite a lot, and probably enough, has also been written about their quondam dancer [sic] Stacia.

I doubt that even the band themselves would lay claim to significant musical ability, but their show was certainly spectacular. When I saw them during their 72/73 tour they were rather loud with lotsa lights and electronics and probably (no, certainly) lotsa drugs. A jolly good evening.

Stacia - 6'2" tall with 52" bust - habitually danced naked and this encouraged a particular kind of audience: simple arithmetic will tell you I was a male in my late teens ....

In a splendid documentary on the band Lemmy explains that "It was very easy to get into our band in those days ... she had an uncontrollable urge one night to take all her clothes off and paint herself blue ... ".

Diligent research reveals that Stacia is very close to me in age and attended school in Exeter, as I did. I have no recollection of her at all from those days, which is odd. I attended a boys' grammar school.

The documentary includes a clip from the immortal "Hurry on Sundown", covered by Vetiver (who can indeed play their instruments) in their 2008 release Thing of the past , which is strongly recommended.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The hourly knell ringers

I attend Coventry Swimming Pool.

Much of it is busied by the junior section of City of Coventry SC, who are moving at quite a pace.

As I plough up and down, I spot a man of about my age. He sits fully clothed at a lane end in an easy chair, and has over recent years eaten many pies.

Tiny water nymphs approach him at pace, performing arms-only butterfly. "HEAD DOWN. HEAD DOWN" he bawls at them. They turn to do the next 50m legs-only. "LEGS. KICK. KICK." My, how this takes me back.

[I was swimming in the "General, medium" lane - not the slow lane - and was faster than most in it.]

Monday 15 October 2012

Some corner of a foreign field

...there's some corner of a foreign field,
That is for ever full of old ironmongery

The Internal Fire Museum of Power near Tanygroes is one of those unsung wonders of this earth. I've driven past the end of its road N times and not registered its existence, but we went on Saturday and wasn't it splendid?

They have 3 "power" days each year and we went to see one - nearly every one of their many machines is in good order so it's hard to estimate how many gallons of diesel they got through. Of course, you've got to like engines.

But, as is so often the case, it's the incidentals that really take your fancy. Who could fail to be entranced by a Replica of a one-legged milking stool (left), and some technical drawings (right) that have enhanced my German vocabulary no end.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Photo-voltaic cells: free money

We have a 4KW photo-voltaic installation on the roof, installed most efficiently by Llani Solar just over a year ago.

The annual statistics augur well for the future: the picture shows a plot of generation (slightly smoothed with a 5-day moving average) (blue) and a best fit sine wave (red). It also shows a similarly smoothed plot of use of the external supply (yellow) overlaid with another "best" sine wave (green).

The two sine waves are (click to enlarge)

(It's reassuring that the offset coincides almost precisely with the spring equinox - do note the lamentable weather in June). This implies an average daily generation of 9.79KWh; the FIT is 41.3p/KWh, so we grossed 366 x 9.79 x 0.413 = £1480 tax-free. Ha!

The external usage is slightly foxy to analyse as actual usage is the sum of the measurement and whatever the PVs can supply when the demand is made. Since we habitually turn on the washing machine and toaster at noon, actual usage may be much higher than the plot. Similarly, it is not possible to measure with precision the surplus power we feed into the grid which attracts another modest payment.

Monday 3 September 2012

New career for Lady GaGa

I am staying at The Croft Guest House.

Predictably, there is a cooked breakfast on offer. I quote: "Eggs sourced from our own hens - Lady Ga Ga, Hildatwo, Kissing Hariot, Phyllis, and Lulu".

Monday 20 August 2012

Swyddfa'r Post

My local Post Office is run by two ladies of a certain age who chatter to each other incessantly in Welsh.

This morning, I embarked on a lengthy transaction (don't ask) with the Chief lady (Pennaeth), during which the Deputy lady (Dirprwy) opened up a long narrative which I guessed might be a joke.

As the Deputy culminated, the Chief dissolved into helpless giggles for some time. Catching my eye, and remembering the precise level of my fluency in Welsh, she said, "Only I had to laugh, you see - she said something funny".

Saturday 30 June 2012

The Aberystwyth Funicular Disaster

The sea bathing of the elephants at Aberystwyth of 5th July 1911 is well known: Salt and Sauce were taken by their keeper from Bostock and Wombell's Menagerie, which was visiting the town, for a bath, and photographed by Arthur Lewis.

The famous 5th July 1911 scene in which Salt and Sauce join
the Aberystwyth bathers. Photographed by Arthur Lewis.

Less well known is the catastrophic aftermath: the keeper - revelling in public attention - chose to walk the elephants up Constitution Hill to the popular tourist attractions at the top. The path is steep, and crosses the equally popular Aberystwyth Cliff Railway (visible in the photograph). The railway opened in 1896 (being electrified in 1921) on a water balance system and had operated without incident.

The precise chain of events remains unclear, but it appears one of the animals was badly spooked by the sight of the descending car and blundered through fencing (which gave way easily) onto the track, colliding with the ascending car. The force of the collision unbalanced the car which fell on its side: the descending car was brought to an immediate halt but the connecting cable remained intact.

The scene today of the disaster.
The elephant entered at the left.

The damage to the ascending car and its occupants was considerable: two people and a small dog belonging to a woman named Pugh lost their lives at the scene and many injured were carried the laborious journey to the recently opened Waterloo Hydro Hotel. At least two later deaths among these were attributable to the incident.

It is not known which of the elephants was the victim/culprit: it sustained lacerations and bruising but it is believed to have recovered.

While the accident is of note for its seriousness and unusual cause (the only known instance of an elephant causing a funicular mishap), of equal interest 100 years later is the cover-up that followed. Aberystwyth was being marketed as the Biarritz of Wales; furthermore, King George V was scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the new National Library of Wales later in the month. The authorities were desperate not to attract negative publicity and sought to prevent any coverage of the incident. They were abetted in this by the happy chance that HRH Princess Alexander of Teck (later Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone) was in the descending car. Shaken but uninjured, the 28 year old mother of two was keen to conceal her presence in the town as plentiful circumstantial evidence suggests she was midway through a torrid affair with a local apprentice baker, Dewi Gryffydd, and wanted nobody to know of her presence.

Times being what they were, it was straightforward for the combined forces of the Princess's office and the local authority to suppress all press coverage. The Cambrian News and Welsh Gazette carried nothing on the incident - not even the famous bathing. Their columns were dominated by plans for the forthcoming royal visit, and the present deplorable state of Penparke [sic] which was brought before the Council with disgusting plainness.

For many years afterwards the town population knew better than to mention the matter in public. The principle of secrecy for the common good ensured that within two generations the incident was almost completely forgotten. A tourist from Remscheid near Wuppertal did discuss the matter on his return home and it was reported in the Krefelder Zeitung. The Princess's German influence was enough to get this excised. The Wuppertal connection is ironic, given the elephant-related monorail event of Wuppertal in 1950.

The 1950 Wuppertal "Tuffi" incident, in which
an elephant leapt from the monorail into the river.

What must have seemed a generous payoff to the Gryffydd family (whose descendants until recently still ran Y Popty on Terrace Road) ensured that Dewi said nothing. The incident could indeed be completely forgotten if Dewi's brother Alun had not written an account in semi-literate Welsh, complete with sketch of the scene. This account is held in the National Library, still under a level of security that prevents access to all but the most privileged of readers. Alun was later killed on the Somme and no other authoritative account is known, although it is argued by some that Mark Storey's poem The Elephants at Aberystwyth is a veiled reference.

Friday 29 June 2012

The Elephants at Aberystwyth

Published as part of a collection: The Elephants at Aberystwyth, M Storey, Flemish Old Masters Press, 2007.

When the train gets there,
The track is choked with weeds:
This is the end of the line.
In January, whole days go by
When nothing can be seen,
When the horizon disappears,
And you could walk on water
Without knowing anything about it;
There is little telling whether
The hills go up or down,
And all the signs talk double-Dutch.
You only know there are people about
By bumping into them, but even that
Happens only now and then.
There is no such thing as sound.
No-one remembers that Bartok
Played here once, in 1922).
The locals dream of summer,
When they might take a stroll
Along the sea-front, watching out
For cormorants, or pointing to
The funicular that climbs the cliff
At the far end, reminding everyone
of what this place was like, when, they say,
(And there are postcards to prove it),
Elephants used to bathe in the sea,
After crossing the Alps with Hannibal,
Before getting lost in the mists, and
Half-wishing they were back in Carthage,
Where everything, on the whole,
Seemed so much more propitious.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Lise Meitner in Bramley

The story of Lise Meitner is pretty well known: the physicist who has the primary claim on the identification of the principle of nuclear fission, whose male co-worker Otto Hahn got the Nobel prize for it. Meitner and Hahn had earlier isolated the element Proactinium (91), and in later life she did an enormous amount to support female scientists. Ruth Sime has written a very good biography.

It's no secret that she is buried in Bramley, Hampshire. If you go looking for the grave, you'll find it in the plot behind the churchyard proper, halfway down on the right beside the footpath. The stone is getting hard to read, but records Lise Meitner, 1878-1968, A physicist who never lost her humanity.

The citizens of Bramley must be proud of her, as a residential street on the north of the village is named after her. Be sure to visit Meitner Close.

Meitnerium (Mt, 109) is named after her - perhaps a better memorial all round?

Tuesday 5 June 2012

PBS: Museum of grot/Masterpiece

The only eateries to be found in Preston are "Fish restaurants", which is a shame as it's widely known that eating fish is bad for you. Eventually I found a Chinese that did a less than exceptional Business [hem hem] Lunch for £7.
But I got to inspect Preston Bus Station and its associated car park at length. Much has been written about this fabulous and threatened building:
  • the dedicated website records ... the Brutalist architectural style ... a capacity of 80 double-decker buses ... the second largest bus station in Western Europe ... space for 1,100 cars ...
  • A letter to the Guardian is not positive: If eyesores like Preston bus station are all that pass to make a town unique, it is a sad day indeed ... bold and uncompromising are the stenches of urine and skunk cannabis that fill its many nooks and crannies ... only permanent access is via intimidating, low-lit subways ... a monument to social and economic decay, an asbo magnet ... St Pancras it ain't ... an architectural dinosaur ... a museum of grot
  • A showcase of the architects’ work records Preston Bus Station is part of one of those classically 1960s attempts to redevelop a town through the remaking of its circulation into walkways, underpasses and towers, with people separated from cars ... the Bus Station is the masterpiece ... its glorious sweep is so simple, so confident, so right, that only a churlish antimodernist could fail to be seduced by it ... the Bus Station is held in encouraging public esteem
  • The 20th Century Society are understandably leading a campaign in its defence.
  • et seq.
There are more pictures of this thing on the web than anyone needs, so I won't add unnecessarily to the load. But for me, the highlight was the long deserted taxi rank at the end. Will you just look at those lovely curves?

Sunday 27 May 2012

Bus shelters of Aberystwyth

I suppose every settlement has a rich variety of bus shelters, but I do feel Aberyswyth is especially blessed.

Let me not bore you: if you do happen to be interested then my growing collection is readable, and I'll be delighted to accept contributions.

Saturday 28 April 2012


I visit Coventry.

This place has quite a story to tell: some of it is more than a little sad and all too evident in walking the streets. Let's not dwell on that - it's all well known.

Two very high points: the Transport Museum (which leads very quickly to a sad story if you let it). Coventry was home to more motor and bicycle companies than even people who know what they are talking about could guess at.

This car was a recent acquisition. It had been sat in someone's garage for aeons - I especially liked the cat pawprints on the windshield. I certainly hadn't known that. These ladies had a lot to say in and around Coventry. Nearly all the industry was given over to war work in 14-18 and 39-45, and nearly all the workers were women.

The second really good thing was Taylor John's House. What a great bar. What terrific music.

Tuesday 10 April 2012


Took a walk in the nice weather from Cwmrheidol up the steep hill to Pontarfynach.

As you cross the Vale of Rheidol Railway, there are some super spots to get pictures of the locos really labouring up the last few furlongs of ascent.

Catch 47 seconds of video of the recently coal re-equipped loco working past me.

Saturday 7 April 2012

45 minutes of Rapid Radio

Rapid Radio is described elsewhere.

Sometimes I just dropped 45 minutes of the broadcast onto one side of a C90. This one is from early evening, 18th October 1991: around 32.50 you can hear the DJ imploring his successor, due in 30m, to be punctual.

Track listing

The DJ's speed and accent, coupled with my incompete knowledge of the genre, make this a little incomplete and unreliable.
Italic indicates uncertainty - corrections welcomed.
Time Title Artist
0.24 Marksman Shuggo Banton
1.43 Body workshop General Pecos
3.51 Watch your speech Dirtsman
7.18 ??? ???
10.15 Dirt Heart Cocoa Tea and Ninjaman
12.04 (played twice) Respect Due Mighty Diamonds
16.20 (played twice) See some breast Little Meeky and Daddy Meeky
21.36 Prove Reggie Stepper
23.56 Remember Thriller U
26.27 Simia Pinchers
29.14 Hypnotic Love Phillip Leo and C.J.Lewis
32.50 Here I Come Again Nerious Joseph
35.32 Fire Burning Marcia Griffiths
37.23 Warning Tony Rebel
39.47 Poor People Courtney Melody
41.32 Which One Of Them She Love Shabba Ranks
43.08 Call me Ken Boothe
44.23 It's over Thriller U

Thanks to TechnoSauce for technical support.

Friday 6 April 2012

Rapid Radio

Before mobile phones were ubiquitous, there was a wave of pirate ragga and dancehall radio stations in Leeds (& probably elsewhere), centred principally on Chapeltown. In the late 80s and early 90s, you could scan the dial up from 100MHz and find lots of them, often with a life expectancy of days or weeks. Head and shoulders above them all on 105.3FM stood Rapid Radio.

RR lasted longer and had a reliability far in excess of the others. We suspect the transmission gear was moved from house to house around Leeds 7 to avoid apprehension, although John reckoned that the forces of Laura Norder were far happier with the boys running a radio station than being on the streets looking for something else to do. They got as far as jingles (Rapid Radio – broadcasting from the roof of Chapeltown Police Station) and a schedule of sorts, although listening to DJs wondering where the hell the next, very late, guy had got to was a regular laugh.

Usually they just played stuff they liked - you could tell when they liked something especially, as they just played it again. And again.

I owe my liking of Tinga Stewart, Shabba Ranks, Ninjaman and a host of others to RR. My greatest triumph was ringing in for a request for Bea, who was 7 at the time; one flaky conversation, believe me. After a considerable delay, we got “This song going out to a girlchild called Beatrice”, and they played something I had not asked for – but she I and thought it was well worth the wait.

Keenies will like to learn that I have some cassette tapes of RR from 1991 which I am digitising for publication hereabout. Big thanks to TechnoSauce for technical input in this complicated operation.

Monday 26 March 2012

Pickaxe handle

There can be few things in life more satisfying than a new pickaxe handle. Surely in everyone's Top-10.
After fitting it, I saw a forager, so prepared a bait hive.

Yow! I collected a swarm on March 25th. We'll take a look in a couple of days to seee if she's doing the bizz.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Token Man?

Tuned in to Radio Ceredigion as I walked across the cliffs - Popular Music [sic] interspersed with Welsh banter. Some of what they played was OK and some was diabolical. The highlight was a reggae band singing in Welsh, whose name I could not disentangle from the Welsh torrent at the end of the song.

Apropos of which, I once knew a man in Leeds called Jules who cracked a ceiling during his sexual endeavours. He was the only white man in a reggae band playing the pubs at that time (errr, 1983). He referred to himself as the "Token Honky".

Apropos of which, my contribution to the Women in IT Blog Carnival has received honourable mention.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Making things

Somehow, I got asked by Rob Phillips to contribute to his project on "Making Things". I had to take a photo of a thing I had made, or was making, and jot a few words about why.

I suppose he will distil something from dozens of such inputs. If you want to contribute yourself, I expect he'd be glad to hear from you.

My photos were of the sea, a hive stand, some honey, a posting like this one, a computer program, die Frau, Oliver, a script, my German dictionary, a plant, some cider.

Friday 20 January 2012


Welsh is one of the very few languages in which words may be spelled with the same letter "three in a row":
(Actually, "Amgueddfa" means "Museum", and "Amguedddfa" is a misspelling).

Saturday 7 January 2012

3 things about women in IT

I read a request for blogposts on "Women in Tech". Here are three observations:
  1. The percentage of women taking A-level computing in the UK was never >50% (quiz question - in what year was this exam first sat?), but this already low proportion took a significant dive around 1984. Now why's that?
  2. In 2008 I gave the welcoming address to the inaugural Lovelace Colloquium for women students in Computing. This was the only time I have been in a full theatre and been the only man. As someone present said to me: "Now you know how it feels".
  3. In our household, the gender divide of computer scientists is 50:50. This system works pretty well.