Monday, 30 June 2008

Quantum of Solace


I think they've fleshed out Ian Fleming's short story a bit.

Summertime

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Buzzball

Get in the big plastic ball and we'll push you down the hill.

What happens next, we're not sure because we don't like to watch.

HUVO

The report on the HUVO expresses some skepticism as to how well this 330 lb electric car will stand up to a crash test.

I have some skepticism as to how it will stand up to a pot hole.

The Fly Sings!

An opera based on David Croenenberg's 1986 film version of The Fly debuts in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet on Wednesday.

This use of cinematic material as a basis for... WHAT!?!?!

Demron

Radiation Shielding Technologies has come up with a material that protects as well as lead for one-seventh the thickness.

I really must dash off a note to my tailor.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wall–E


I saw Wall–E last night and must say that it made R2D2 look like a dustbin in comparison. Several reviews have compared the eponymous robot to Charlie Chaplin and I must agree with them. This is not only an excellent animated feature and a decent science fiction film, but is also a damn good picture full stop. It even makes the "green" message, which is forty years out of date and inexcusable even on its own terms, forgivable for the set up it gives for a marvelous romantic comedy that shows its more "serious" competitors for the shams that they are.

Also, my soon-to-be-six-years old daughter thought the bra over the eyes joke exceptionally funny, which must count for something in the scheme of things.

Garden Mars

I used to be less than convinced about the necessity for colonising Mars, but the latest results of the NASA Phoenix probe has me looking forward to the day when we can expect to see our skies dark with the annual return of the asparagus fleet from the red planet.

Suitcase Bike

The suitcase bike; if this is supposed to be the answer to getting through airports and railway stations, then I'm just riding the bloody thing to my destination and be done with it.

Paper Shampoo

Goes well with the cardboard soap and the plaster aftershave.

Robowarehouse

A warehouse in Kentucky employs an army of robots to hunt for Sarah Connor.

And shoes.

AMP

A robot boom box that follows you around.

Sledgehammer to smash it into tiny bits not included.

Atomic Golf Ball

A golf ball you can find with a Geiger counter.

Do not carry these around in your trouser pocket if reproduction is one of your ambitions.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Friday, 27 June 2008

Finally!

When I started teaching university nearly thirty years ago, the biggest headache I had was securing adequate copies of the text books I needed–many of which were out of print and only available in dwindling secondhand supplies. As personal computers became available, I always felt that the most logical use for them was to get rid of cumbersome, expensive and ephemeral texts in favour of electronic versions.

And now they've finally done it after only a breathtaking brief third of a century.

At this rate, they'll have gas lighting in no time.

British Challenge

Britain is preparing to break the land speed record with this formidable and slightly International Rescuesque machine.

So?

It's a steam car.

Somewhere James Watt is smiling.

Labour Sinking

Labour has come in fifth in the Henley by-election–behind both the Greens and the BNP.

Anyone who knows the lyrics to "Nearer my God to thee" is requested to ring Labour headquarters.

Dr. Zaius, Call Your Service

Lacking a decent dictionary or even common sense, the Spanish parliament made a mockery of the concept of legal rights by granting them to apes.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Zimbabwe Question

My recent posting on Britain's contingency plans for dealing with Zimbabwe have received a few comments and emails that basically said that my idea of Britain going in and sorting out Mugabe the old fashioned way was not necessarily a good idea and, as this is not the day of the gunboat, we might get our heads handed back to us .

On the former I am entirely willing to concede the point that perhaps military intervention (i.e. pounding Mugabe and his ilk into the ground like a nail) is not the wisest course of action (though not for the craven reasons that Mr. Brown subscribes to, which is what really gets up my nose). The day I present a plan of attack and everyone else says "goodo" is the day I give up on the sanity of the world. I have trouble organising a trip to the swimming pool, so military options I leave to more experienced minds.

On the latter point, though, I must stand firm. True, Britain's might is not what it was, though this is largely a matter of numbers rather than quality, as comparable unit for comparable unit and man for man the British armed forces excel against anyone in the world. And we are not talking about taking on Red China in a land war here. We are talking about east Sub-Saharan Africa with armed forces for whom the glory days of the Impi are a faded memory and whose main experience is in pushing around poor farmers and tradesmen like Cossacks in a somewhat warmer climate. There are only two countries that need to be looked at for overflights to Zimbabwe: Mozambique and South Africa. Mozambique's air force is so small that it doesn't even show on the charts and South Africa only fields one fighter aircraft. I don't mean one type of fighter plane, I mean one plane. Even Zimbabwe only boasts half a dozen clapped-out Chinese fighters and God knows what condition they're in. As for ground defences, I doubt if they field anything that the RN or RAF couldn't take out before breakfast.

But for what happens when the SAS or whoever reach Harare, I submit for comparison the 1981 SAS mission where a force of three men was sent into Gambia to rescue the President's wife and family from left-wing rebels who'd seized the capital. Long story short, the three SAS men got the hostages out safe and for good measure liberated the country with the aid of a contingent of Seneglese paras that they hooked up with. Hopefully they got a commendation for initiative.

As I said, whether that sort of thing is wise is one question, but whether it is possible is another thing entirely.

Readybot


Few people realise that the reason Skynet is trying to destroy humanity is because it just wants to keep the house tidy

Ovei Pod

The Ovei pod is a $100,000 "personal media experience" that allegedly is the final stage in entertainment and your divorce from humanity. The reporter states that he is "betting" that it is air conditioned. Let's hope so or the Ovei will turn out to be the most expensive sauna cabinet in history.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

We Can Regrow Him

Spray-on limbs and print-out organs; the cutting edge (pardon the pun) of military surgery

Marvin

Meet Marvin–an unfortunately named soul who makes up for it with a natty red steel waistcoat. He's an experimental robot at Victoria University in New Zealand who doubles as a security guard, though his singular lack of arms would seem to make him about as formidable as the black knight.

Especially as, according to his maker, he is something of a coward.

Plustek TVcam VD100

I never thought I'd live to see the result of unnatural acts between a USB webcam and television tuner.

Pocket Sundials

Mine has Indiglo so I can use it at night.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

James Hansen: Ecocommissar

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Live Luggage PA

In the old days there were people called railway porters who would meet you at the kerb and with a deferential touch of the cap load your luggage onto a cart and follow you to your compartment while you tucked away your gloves and neatly folded your copy of The Times in anticipation of doing battle with the crossword before making your way to the dining car for a restorative.

I am reliably informed that there was a similar arrangement at the aerodromes where those new flying machines congregate.

Now you are forced to haul your own bags like a coolie along miles of corridor while unsympathetic staff look on with a barely concealed expression of contempt as you try to find your way through the labyrinth to your flying cattle car or sterile airline style seat on a northbound train that will probably be forty minutes late if you're lucky. Hence the need for the Live Luggage PA with its built-in motor to take some of the load off of your harried shoulders.

This is called progress.

CLEVER

When I saw the Technical University of Berlin new CLEVER concept I thought it was another one of those useless green machines like that VW tandem monstrosity that I talked about a couple of weeks back. But then I discovered two things: 1) It tilts up to 45 degrees and 2) If it's anything like it's Dutch ancestor the Carver One, it must be a hell of a lot of fun.


I think Richard Hammond summed it up best:
I want guns strapped to the side of it.

James May & Meccano


We're doomed

House of the Future.. Sort of

Last February Disney announced that it was building their successor to Monsanto's House of the Future. Now it's open and apparently a bit of a disappointment. Not only is it basically a showcase of a load of Microsoft gear–some of which is already obsolescent, but it isn't even a proper house. It's a series of exhibits inside of the old Carousel of Progress.

More of an Ikea Furniture Display of Tomorrow.

Britain's Do-Nothing Contingency

The Times looks at Britain's so-called contingency plans for military intervention in Zimbabwe that reveals New Labour as a load of gutless wonders more worried about how they are seen by tin-pot African dictators rather than cleaning up the mess their predecessors made of Zimbabwe a generation ago at Lancaster House.

Any grown up nation worth its salt would have had plans that ran along the lines of putting together a special forces task force out of Diego Garcia with the mission of taking out the Mugabe regime in toto while the Foreign Office gave a gentle message to whichever country whose airspace was being crossed that the RAF can go through their defences like butter if they don't cooperate. And if any of the assortment of petty tyrants and kelptocrats who infest central Africa want to call it colonialism, they'd best say it very, very softly.

Unfortunately, Whitehall is in a rather infantile stage that demands that civilised men defer to barbarians and the MoD's plans, such as they are, amount to little more than Britain sitting on its hands while Zimbabwe's neighbours decide whether it's worth deposing a fellow dictator and then watching Her Majesty's armed forces hold Mebki's coattails. Or until hell freezes over, which is far more likely.

I assume that Mr. Brown has a barber shave him, because I cannot imagine how he looks himself in the mirror.

Green Slime


Okay, maybe that search for life on Mars wasn't such a good idea.

Father's Day Down the Memory Hole

Father's Day cards and projects are being banned from primary schools around Britain "in the interests of sensitivity" toward single mothers and lesbians.

That's the sort of "in the interests of sensitivity" the Vichy French showed to the Germans in 1940.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Prince Rupert's Drops

If you've never encountered one of these, you've led an impoverished life. We used to play with these ordinary-looking glass drops at university. They're so strong that you can pound them with a hammer, but don't snap their tails or you're in for an explosive surprise.

Lightpipe

The Lightpipe, a €395 lamp designed to look like a section of red-hot conduit about to explode, is just what I've been looking for. It's a pity that I haven't a boiler I can install it in the vicinity of so that I can solicit little girl screams from meter readers.

Knightrider GPS

The Knightrider GPS; for that all important geek-without-a-sense-of-shame demographic.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Zimbabwe Opposition Gives Up

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said that his party will not participate in the runoff presidential elections this week because of President Mugabe's reign of terror.

And so it is that Zimbabwe, once a democracy, albeit an unjustly limited one, and the breadbasket of Africa has descended into a nakedly racist dictatorship ruling over a terrified, hungry and impoverished people. If ever there was an object lesson in how moral posturing leads to disaster, this is it. The old Ian Smith regime was nothing to applaud. Its whites-only government and open rebellion against Britain left a permanent bad taste in the mouth, but it was at least a fundamentally civilised society that, given time, could have been reformed. Instead, a load of we-know-better types at Lancaster House demanded instant solutions that boiled down to handing power over to a Marxist tyrant whose literally only qualification was that he wasn't white. But that didn't matter to successive British governments who just wanted to wash their hands of the whole mess. The result has been a slow motion Grand Guignol while Britain, who forced this situation and bears the largest responsibility for its outcome, sits back and does nothing for fear of being seen as "colonialist."

I'm sure that's a great comfort to the Zimbabweans.

Battersea Saved–If You Can Call It That

The good news is that a group of Irish developers have come up with a way to save Battersea power station from the wrecking ball.

The bad news is that it involves hooking it up to some happy-clappy "carbon neutral" architectural monstrosity that looks like it escaped from a 1980's lighting fixtures department.

Karaoke Cube

Tomy's Hi-Kara karaoke cube: On the minus side, they're harder to find. On the plus side, you can take them out with one blow once you do find them.

Oasis of the Seas

With a name right out a Star Trek movie, welcome to the Oasis of the Seas aka Project Genesis; a cruise ship being built for Royal Caribbean Lines by Akers Yards, Finland. With a displacement of 220,00 gross tons and a length of 1,181 ft and a beam of 154 ft, it is not so much a cruiser liner as an aircraft carrier* with shuffleboard.

If these things get any longer, you'll be able to put the duty free shops on the fantail and never need to leave port. Though I must admit that I do like the idea of the Rising Tide bar, which will be on some sort of a lift and bob up and down between three decks. That way I can for once get totally lost after a hard night on the mint juleps and have a completely justifiable alibi.

*USS Ronald Reagan: 1,092 ft long, 97,000 tons.

Supermosquito

News out of Britain courtesy of National Geographic:
U.K. scientists are genetically modifying mosquitoes to be resistant to malaria, which kills millions annually.
Kills millions annually and these poxy scientists have a problem with that? My God, what sort of... Oh. I thought they meant millions of mosquitoes annually. My apologies.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Pool PC

It's a hot, sunny day. The swimming pool glistens and flashes like living crystal; so cool and inviting. At the water's edge lounges a beautiful, bikini-clad blonde who soaks up the sun like some pagan goddess. On a silver platter is a glass pitcher; bedewed with condensation and tinkling with ice that adverstises the delightful invitation of the planter's punch that it holds.

So, of course, now's the time to check your email.

Bloody fool.

The Crystal Egg


Classic Sci Fi from H. G. Wells.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Al Gored

Former Vice President Al Gore, stung by the fact that his Tennessee mansion uses as much power as some Balkan states, spent $16,533 on new windows, duct work, a geothermal heating system and replacing all the light bulbs with the trendy fluorescent types–and saw his electricity bill go up ten percent.

To be fair, though, hunting Manbearpig is energy intensive.

A Bigger Haystack

Over at the Guardian Cory Doctorow looks at the bumper crop of CCTV cameras that infests Britain and concludes that not only are they a gross imposition on freeborn Englishmen, but that they are self-defeating because beyond a certain point additional information actually confuses more than it clarifies.

I understand what he means. Every time I add another channel to my RSS feeds I feel like I'll never get through that fire hose of news.

Ur Internet

The New York Times takes a look at Belgium's Mundaneum; an early 20th century attempt at the ultimate catalogue of human knowledge.

What makes it so interesting is that it's creator M Paul Otlet envisioned the next step as an electronic interactive system similar in many ways to the modern Web. The article overstates the case, forgetting that Nikola Tesla and Buckminster Fuller had similar ideas well before Olet, but it's still a fascinating story.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

50 Years On


One of the neat little perks about being the webmaster of Tales of Future Past is that people send me stuff. Sometimes it's images, sometimes it's information on various topics, and sometimes it's money via the PayPal tip jar to keep the site going *cough, cough*. And sometimes it's books that someone wants reviewing. In the most recent case, the publishers of The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today: 60 Of The World's Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century edited by Mike Wallace sent me two copies of the book, which is a lucky thing because the deliveryman left the package on my back doorstep where Little Ann the Australian Shepherd found it, ripped it open, and promptly tore one copy to shreds. The other one she tore the cover off of a couple of days later when I was foolish enough to leave the volume out by the fireplace. She's never done this with any other book, so I haven't decided whether this means she loved or hated it, though I tend towards the latter.

In The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today, CBS journalist Mike Wallace approached fifty of the "smartest and most imaginative people on the planet" to ask them how they saw the world in 2058. The list included some fairly obvious choices, such as Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google; Francis S. Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project; Ray Kurzweil, futurist and prophet of the Singularity; and Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. Mixed in with these are the less obvious: Carol M. Browner, former head of the EPA; Kim Dae-jung, former president of South Korea; and Peter Marra, a "leading researcher in migratory bird ecology." The chosen 50 are top-heavy with scientists (mostly biologists and denizens of the softer fields). Though there's a respectable showing of Internet pioneers, futurists, businessmen and bureaucrats, there are relatively few engineers, only one military man, no philosophers or artists of any note and not a clergyman in sight-unless you count Richard Dawkins as a sort of atheologian.

Not surprisingly for a book of short essay's The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today is something of a curate's egg. Some, such as Kruzweil or Craig NewMark, the founder of Craigslist, really get into the spirit of the thing and go into detail about the sort of world they see emerging in the next half century. Others, Such as Louis J. Ignarro, professor of pharmacology at UCLA, deliver essays that can be summed up as "the world will be a jolly nice place if only I can get decent funding." And then there are those like Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, who basically recycle their mission statement. In a way, it's almost refreshing when Dawkins just chucks the whole thing over in favour of a thinly veiled screed against anyone who believes in the soul.

The predictions themselves are pretty predictable with nothing being put forth that would disturb a cocktail party at Berkley, CA or Islington N1. A lot of them ran along the lines of "I woke this morning and my shower head read me my email" and others went along more broad sweeps about how breast cancer will be a thing of the past or nation states and Bangladesh will vanish thanks to Internationalism or global warming respectively. Life expectancy will go up unless it goes down and we'll be richer unless we are poorer. It's certainly a long way from the consensus about flying cars and edible dishes with the off chance of nuclear war of fifty years previous. The only thing that really unites these essays is not what they predict, but what they don't. There is a lot about global warming, but not a word about mass migration or the demographic time bomb that the civilised world faces. Exotic diseases gets a look in, but not free trade. And the sort of emphasis on manufacturing and serious industrial scale technologies that once dominated predictions now give way to lean and green.

But the most disturbing lack is that there is scarcely a mention of terrorism and none at all of the war we are currently fighting against the Jihadists; a war that by any reasonable estimate we will be fighting for at least another generation. Given that some estimates have at least one of the smaller countries in Europe under Sharia law within 20 years or the looming prospect of a nuclear arms race in the middle east with apocalyptic fanatics holding the triggers, predictions that bang on about future employment opportunities for OAPs or tidy little vignettes of Westerners letting their bidets spy on them while they live properly green little lives seems a bit low on the priorities.

Castro Live–Sort of

Castro gives his first television appearance since dying ceding power.

The soundtrack is silent because most of his dialogue consists of "BRRRAAAAIIIINNNNNSSSS!!!!!"

War is Peace, Etc.


Headline from The Telegraph:
Tougher terror laws and ID cards actually enhance freedoms, claims Gordon Brown
And the chocoration has been raised ten grammes

Frenching The Army

France is reducing it's army with combat-ready forces cut from 50,000 to 30,000.

Number of white flags remains constant.

Bin Laden's "Right Hand" Slaps Common Sense

A British court has granted Jihadist cleric Abu Qatada bail pending an extradition hearing.

If New Labour had been fighting the Nazis Rudolph Hess would have been put up at the Savoy rather than the Tower.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Top Gear USA

Top Gear, the only car show in history that got me to watch a car show, is to be transmitted on NBC television in the States. Sorry, not the BBC original with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but an American version that somehow is going to catch lightning in a bottle twice running.

The creative ineptness and poor judgment of American network television never ceases to amaze me–particularly when it comes to buying successful foreign shows.

Any other broadcaster for anything other than game shows would simply have bought the broadcast rights for the original programmes and left it at that, but the major American networks operate by their own bizarre rules due to a little episode in the 1960s when Britain's ATV started making heavy inroads into the syndication market, followed by The Avengers becoming a smash hit on ABC television. The Hollywood production companies had a collective infarct when they saw the possibility of competing with British programmes that they threw down the gauntlet to the networks and told them that if they ever bought another foreign product the producers would boycott the lot of them.

Since then, not a single British series has aired on a network unless it was essentially an American production filmed in Britain and so certifiable hits like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Spaced are relegated to cable while the networks indulge in the strange practice of buying formats, but leaving everything else behind. Sometimes this worked, as in the case of All in the Family and Three's Company, or The Office, though all were pale imitations of their parents. More often it ended up with painful abortions visited upon such classics as Fawlty Towers and Couplings that vanished in a mercifully short time.

But, fools and their money, as they say.

£90 Million Electric Bill

A woman in Cambridge recently received an electric bill for £90 million.

Excuse me while I switch off the porch light.

Lilypad

"A floating ecopolis (sic) for climate refugees"–or, at least, remarkably well-heeled ones. By this standard of living everyone in Beverly Hills deserves refugee status.

Let us hope that Vincent Callebaut is a better architect that he is chart reader, because this thing has an underwater protuberance that looks about sixty feet deeper than the local water.

The Wasp

Never bring a knife to a gun fight–unless your knife shoots a blast of super-cooled compressed air into your victim.

Icon

There's been a lot of buzz in the last week about this two-seater amphibious plane and I must admit that it looks impressive, though I am reminded of the wise words of Ford Prefect:
Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow.

V-STAR

At Tales of Future Past we see a lot of flying cars, but a "flying Humvee?"

The mental picture is a bit frightening.

Motoring in Airstrip One


Welcome to Mr. Gordon Brown ectopian towns. All Outer Party members are informed that all (temporarily) private motor cars must be parked on the periphery of the town, that a fee will be charged for this space, driving during peak hours will result in further charges, and that if you drive out of town you will be fined.

Remember, Freedom is Slavery.