Thursday, 30 September 2010

You are your own best source

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Bike box batty

Proving once again that they hate cars and want to drive businesses entirely out of the city, Seattle opens the first of its "bike boxes", which make it impossible to go through an intersection without ploughing over a squad of cyclists.

This is the reason why I am so glad that I live far away with a range of foothills between me and the lunacy.

The locals don't seem too impressed.

Update: They really aren't impressed

Dymaxion revisited

Last time I was in Madrid was on my honeymoon when, after a 17 HOUR! flight in coach, we reached the hotel only to discover that they'd lost our reservations and we were then schlepped over to another hideously dark hotel where we had a lovely bridal suite with two camp beds pushed together and a balcony view of the the drug dealer to the right, the brothel to the left, and the crew shooting a film directly below.

We checked out at one AM and left the country after a total of nine hours.

If we'd known that there would be a Buckminster Fuller exhibit at the Ivorypress Art + Books, we might have hung around for another day.


How to dial a rotary phone

When the bar was set a lot lower.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The critic's dilemma

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

World's scariest job

This isn't a job; it's a recurring nightmare.

Cellular City

A pity this 1929 idea for a standardised city laid out like a chessboard never came to pass.  Everything would have been so similar that we could enjoy the novelty of being utterly lost in an urban Möbius strip.

The Levytator

Why do I suspect that when this is put to practical use the results will be extremely annoying?

Iron Man case

I really want one of these for meetings with clients.

The trick is to affect a completely blank look when they ask about it and never, ever open it.

This is just in case you don't know what I'm talking about.

And while we're on the subject, if you have $149,999 you can buy an officially sanctioned replica of the epic Batmobile.

Mind you, the old PT Cruiser is looking a bit worse for wear...


Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) believes that the solution to restoring communications is to exploit aerial robot swarming.  It's a very simple idea:  Send up a fleet of small, lightweight electric robot aeroplanes with GPS and networking devices and rely on swarming algorithms to make sure they remain on station while covering the desired area.

They even look charming–creepy as hell, but charming.

Peace at last!

Rejoice!  Let the bells ring out across the land. The First World War has finally come to an end.

At least, as soon as Germany's cheque clears.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Raytheon XOS 1

Nice, but we want armour–and jet boots; definitely jet boots.

The first

Wired looks at some prototypes of modern technology.  It's small stuff, but some of it is pretty cool

The Ur shot

Fun fact from Popular Science, February 1929: The Jell-o shot was invented as a way to get around American prohibition laws which forbade alcoholic drinks, but not alcoholic solids.

It's always in the details.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Spelling is importent

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.


Panasonic unveils a robot that washes your hair–hopefully without ripping your head off.

Sarah Connor reportedly seen buying home perm kit.

Emergency bra

I am not looking forward to the emergency jock strap.

They get ice cream?

In a searing indictment of the brutal treatment meted out to harmless Jihadists locked up at Guantanamo Bay, the Daily Mail reveals that the prisoners' ice cream is rationed, which means that they can't get seconds.

What sort of fiends are running that place?!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Review: Solaris

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Spend a penny

It used to be the proud boast of Central London that you were never more than five minutes from a public convenience.  By the 1980s, this was still true–provided you ran like hell.  Now there's no point in running unless you've got ten bob in your pocket.

You'd think this would be covered under the so-called Human Rights Act.

Cool Air

Turn up the air conditioning.  Now.

How to survive a bear attack looks at how to survive a bear attack and, as usual, they leave out anything that involves blowing Smokey's head off.   Mind you, I'm not a purist.  Courgettes work well, too.

Koran burning is thoughtcrime

If they'd been burning a Bible they'd be okay.
Scream hatred in the streets and carry a sign saying "Behead those who insult Islam"? Receive complete protection from the police, who will even arrest counter protesters for you.

Burn a Koran? Get hauled off to jail so fast your feet don't touch the ground.

Welcome to modern Britain.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Creating believable characters

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Technical diffficulties

When World War III sort of broke out.

Back(side) story

KFC launches a new advertising campaign that involves hiring cute college co-ed bums at $500 a go.

There must be more to this story than meets the eye and I promise to get to the bottom (sorry) of it no matter how much field research it requires.

Motor cars... of the FUTURE! AGAIN!

The Lancia Stratos Zero: May I have one, please?

Looking at the cars of the future that car makers actually put together. Nice.

Criminal creatures

A South African safari park lodge discovers why their hot tub water keeps disappearing.

Meanwhile, we learn that the panda's cute and cuddly act is just a front. Come on; everybody suspected it.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

We don't "do" victory

From the Washington Post's story on Mr Bob Woodward's book about Mr Barack Hussein Obama as Commander in Chief:
According to Woodward's meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.
It gets worse, but there aren't any surprises. Victory for this man is irrelevant; not being blamed for defeat is imperative. I said from the first that Mr Obama sees the Jihadist war as a mere distraction from his Socialist revolution and he never gave a damn about the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan. So long as he can't be fingered for losing the war, the whole thing can crash and burn after 2012 for all he cares–maybe even after 2 November 2010.

We'll see.

Update: The money quote:
We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.
I'm glad The One is so sanguine about the prospect. That will be a great comfort to the dead. Will someone please explain to this president in short trousers that the purpose of war is to see how many blows the enemy can take, not us?

No men need apply

From Reuters:
Larry Summers isn’t leaving the White House until the end of the year but President Barack Obama’s team already knows the ideal candidate to replace him on the National Economic Council–a woman CEO.
Scratch a Feminist and find a bigot.

Update: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

A simple solution

How to deal with worshipers of Blessed Gaia pirates "Environmentalists" who chain themselves to a drilling ship anchor and thus endanger the ship and themselves?

"Number One, pass me my mug of cocoa, there's a good chap."

"Here you are, Captain."

"Thank you, Number One. Oopsy daisy! I seem to have hit the anchor chain release. Oh, dear, oh dear. "

"Circle of Life, Captain."

Ok Go

These guys have got to get out of the house more often.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Streaky bits of Heaven

That sucking sound you hear is your arteries
snapping shut from just looking at the picture.

The Art of Manliness looks at bacon; lots of it, on film and in the studio.

Wonder Woman, call your service

Airbus designers predict that aeroplanes of the future will have totally transparent ceramic hulls that remove the need for windows while giving passengers unparalleled views of the outside world.

It sounds very nice (aside from the prospect of a case of the screaming meemies when looking straight down), but I'd be willing to pass on a flying goldfish bowl if the airliners would bring back seats designed for full-grown human beings, decent cabin service, schedules that aren't works of fiction, and airports that are comfortable starting places for pleasant journeys instead of a hellish cross between a coach station and a POW camp designed to pick your pocket.

Cutting out the middleman: You

Ever feel so exasperated at the Inland Revenue Service that you want to scream, "Why don't they take the whole damn wage packet and be done with it?!?"

Guess what.

Monday, 20 September 2010

No, Minister

From the BBC:
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has said he fears spending cuts could hit the Ministry of Food which he set up in Rotherham to encourage healthy eating.
Let us hope that his fears are justified.

At this point, you probably expect me to demand that Mr Oliver's toy ministry be abolished. I am not. I am calling for this fatuous exercise in converting one man's opinion into government busybodyism to be not only abolished, but that Mr Oliver personally repay out of his own pocket the taxpayers' money wasted on it–preferably by making the little commissar work in a chip shop.

Hell, they should fry the chips in tallow.

In the service of anti-progress

The Electrolux competition: Looking forward to the day when we are all inmates in tiny, eco-friendly prison cells in order to offset Mr Al Gore's carbon footprint.

Quote of the day

Under Communism, politics begins with a gun in your face; under Socialism, politics ends with a gun in your face.
Kevin D. Williamson

The anthem of Ankh-Morpork

All together now!
When dragons belch and hippos flee
My thoughts, Ankh-Morpork, are of thee
Let others boast of martial dash
For we have boldly fought with cash
We own all your helmets, we own all your shoes.
We own all your generals–touch us and you'll lose.
Morporkia! Morporkia!
Morporkia owns the day!
We can rule you wholesale
Touch us and you'll pay.

We bankrupt all invaders,
We sell them souvenirs,
We ner ner ner ner ner ner by the ears,
Er ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner,
Ner ner ner ner ner ner, ner ner ner ner ner,
Ner your gleaming swords, we mortgaged to the hilt.
Morporkia! Morporkia!
Ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner
We can rule you wholesale
Credit where it's due.
Nobody knows the second verse of their national anthem, so the composer decided it would be easier to have a second verse of ners because it's what people would be doing anyway.

Review: Pyramids

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Building a Wellington bomber in 24 hours and 48 minutes

And it takes me most of the morning to get a headlamp bulb changed.

The case against videophones

Why videophones will never catch on.

Friday, 17 September 2010

A sound test criterion

Sir John Mortimer interview (Part 2 of 2)

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Sorry, no neutrals; no deals

Molly Norris, the American cartoonist who started Everybody Draw Mohammed Day with her cartoon in the left-wing Seattle Weekly and then fell over herself apologising for it when it turned out the Jihadists mean business has gone into hiding.

Moral of the story: You don't try to appease a tyrant and grovelling only ends up with you dead, enslaved, or in hiding.

Wine machines

French supermarkets install machines that dispense wine like petrol pumps.

Amusing, but it's a mechanised version of how wine used to be sold in France when I was sailing along the Rivera. We'd put into port and the skipper would stroll down to the vitners with a couple of Jerry cans and then return with ten gallons of vin ordinare that was so cheap it wasn't worth bottling.

It made the passage back to England... interesting. I didn't think it was possible to get halfway up the Kiel ship canal without noticing.

Review: Robots of Westinghouse

Robots of Westinghouse (2006) by Scott Schaut is unusual in that it isn't so much a history of a particular technology as it is a biography of a robot family. In 1924, the Westinghouse corporation was trying to find a way to market its new Televox system. This was an early remote telemetry and control system by which users could control machines at a distance using sounds over a telephone line. Intended to monitor and operate such things as valves, dynamos, pumps and other industrial equipment, it was hardly the sort of thing that was going to capture the public's imagination. Then someone hit on the idea of taking a Televox unit, sticking it inside a cutout robot, hooking it up to a load of appliances, and then sending Televox's inventor Mr R J Wensley around the country to give demonstrations of this wondrous mechanical man.

For the next 15 years Westinghouse produced a series of increasingly sophisticated robots under various names; culminating in Elektro, the Westinghouse Motoman. Elektro was one of the main attractions at the Westinghouse Pavilion at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. A far cry from the early cutout Televox, Elektro was a huge art deco robot capable of walking, talking (with the aid of 78 RPM phonograph records), counting on his fingers, recognising colours, and even smoking cigarettes. He was a sensation and the world's first robot celebrity. If you asked a member of the public of that time what a robot looked like, the description would be very close to Elektro.

Drawing a wealth of images and documents, Schaut provides that most detailed history to date of Elektro and his kin. He not only provides an exhaustive description of the Westinghouse robots and the technology behind them, but also their careers and the public's reaction to them. There's even a bit of pathos in the story as Schaut relates Elektro's later career after the close of the World's Fair in 1940. The mechanical star was sent on the road to tour shops and department stores across the country promoting Westinghouse goods. The years took their toll and like an aging film star Elektro played cheaper and cheaper venues including an exhibit at an amusement park. By the 1960s, he was reduced to a bit part in a low-budget sex comedy followed by storage and a narrow escape from the scrap yard.

However, there is a happy ending to the story. in 2004, Elektro was restored and placed on exhibit at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield Ohio; site of the Westinghouse plant where Elektro was manufactured. Mr Schaut, curator of the museum, does a credible job of telling the tale of the robots and their place in popular culture. He makes full use of the materials available to him including many images that have not been seen by the public for decades. Some readers may find the technical descriptions a bit dull to slog through, but anyone of a mechanical or just plain geeky disposition will enjoy rummaging through this historical loft.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Sir John Mortimer interview (Part 1 of 2)

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

A prediction

Claude Sammut, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems in Sydney, Australia predicts that,
(B)y the year 2050, (engineers will) develop a team of fully autonomous robots that can win against the human world soccer champion team.
I'm not impressed. If they were playing England today, they'd win if they fielded a team comprised entirely of step ladders.


It looks daft, but I wouldn't have minded one in some of the phone boxes I used to call home.

Okay, in the phone boxes I used to call miserable holes in the wall.

C5 memories

Jasper Gerard at the Telegraph looks at a motoring disaster that makes a G-Wiz look like a Bugatti Veyron: The infamous Sinclair C5.

Or I used to call it, plastic death on a tricycle.

Swings and roundabouts

The bad news is that NASA has abandoned manned space exploration in favour of boosting Muslim self-esteem.

The good news is that the agency has paid £70,520 for a naff robot from Cornwall to act as tour guide.

Priorities, you know.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


When you come up with the wrong answer to a non-existent problem

Sucking the life out of the people

Having solved all of Europe's problems, the unelected and unaccountable tyrants who run the EU decide to screw up vacuum cleaners.

Why? Two reason: Because Blessed Gaia commands and because they can.

Sent to the salt mines

Do you need a place to store your bits and pieces? Does it need to be a big place; say, 50 acres? Controlled environment? Secure? Guaranteed against any threat except a direct hit by an asteroid? Then hie thee to Kansas.

Ayn Rand interview (part 3 of 3)

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ayn Rand interview (part 2 of 3)

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.



A very good James Lileks piece about the passing of his daughter's pet hamster.

Reminds me of the day my first dog had to be put down; A horrible day that I never want to forget.

Rocket on Rotor (1955)

When "whoosh" was added to "whacka whacka whacka".

A balanced diet

Lord Summerisle prepares the annual barbecue.

Mark Novak of Paleofuture expands into vidblogging.

First up: Food.


I've always regarded myself as a reasonable man. If any airline installs these horrors, then the only reasonable response is to form an angry mob with torches and pitchforks.

Arthur C Clarke (1964, Part 2)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Kevin McCarthy 1914-2010

The actor Kevin McCarthy has died–at least, someone or something that claimed to be Kevin McCarthy has "died".

F Gwynplaine MacIntyre

A new Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

Ayn Rand interview (part 1 of 3)

New Quill & The Keyboard post is up.

I am Le Corbusier, destroyer of cultures

And now, let us pause and look at the life and career of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret AKA Le Corbusier; the man who did to Western culture what Attila the Hun tried and failed to do.

I must ask him how he's enjoying the ninth level of Hell.

Update: Not an isolated case.

A toast!

Everyone! Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. It is with great joy that I announce that a cure for cancer is at hand. How do I know this? Because finally, finally scientists have figured out why some people like toast and so we can at last get on with the cancer thing.

Arthur C Clarke (1964, Part 1)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Nine years on

It's been nine years since that infamous day on 9/11 when the twin towers fell. I remember that day like it was this morning. I remember my wife waking me because a friend had called her and told her about the first airplane strike in New York. I remember turning on the television just minutes before the second plane struck. I remember seeing it hit the tower; the newsreader oblivious to what was happening on the screen. I remember the gut-wrenching realisation that this was no accident. I remember the Pentagon being hit. I remember the fourth going down in a field and no one yet knowing the story of the heroism and sacrifice on that flight. I remember the air traffic shutting down; the fear my neighbours felt when a police prop plane flew overhead and they didn't know what it was; the relief when we saw jet fighters streak across the sky. I remember my thirst for any news and my thanking God for the Internet.

I remember the fear and uncertainty as we learned who the enemy was. I remember not knowing what would happen in the days ahead. Would madmen show up in the streets with machine guns? Would poison gas be released in the shopping centres? I remember having a very serious conversation with a good friend about what handgun to buy--not whether to, just if a Walther PPK was the best choice. I remember putting together the emergency kits that we carry in our cars to this day.

Since then, we've had nine years of triumph and tragedy. There isn't room here to summarise it all. That would take a book to do it justice. I'm also not so sure that a memorial is the best thing to put forward now. What is more appropriate is a call to arms. Why? because I have always firmly believed that it is only the British and Americans who provide the world with the proper leadership needed in a war to preserve civilisation, which is what we are engaged in. Without it, I fear for our future. I fear that our leadership is now neglected and rudderless. In London we have a schizophrenic coalition that thinks that defence of the realm is secondary to protecting the jobs of NHS bureaucrats and ensuring that foreign aid cheques to Third World dictators arrive on time. In the Washington, we have a President (a man whom I believe to be a profound fool in the truest sense of the word) who apologises profusely for his own country, promotes absurd myths of an Islamic golden age, and only pursues the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan because he knows that if he hauled America's forces (not his, never his) back at the end of a rope as he'd like, he'd be committing political suicide. In both, we have governments unwilling to identify, let alone confront the Jihadists who wish to turn freedom into a memory and each man a prisoner within the confines of his own skull. They share a mindset that makes a crank pastor of a tiny heretical congregation into a world menace to be condemned by the leader of the Free World because his burning of a Koran might ironically send the adherents of the "Religion of Peace" into a homicidal rage. It is a sign of a political class that is, to put it bluntly and generously, gutless.

The Jihadists don't frighten me. This spinelessness does. This unwillingness to admit that we are in a war for our lives does. This is a war that the Jihadists cannot win, but we can lose if we allow ourselves to do so. If we apologise over and over for existing; if we hypocritically defend the building of a victory mosque at Ground Zero yet throw up our hands in horror at a crackpot burning a Koran while our enemies burn alive Christians, Jews, Muslims, and anyone else they see as Kuffirs; if we bleat on about multiculturalism and the "vibrancy" brought on by uncontrolled (mark that word) immigration; if we do not see that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan means less fighting on our own shores; if we do not recognise that a US army officer gunning down his fellow soldiers while screaming "Allah akbar" really is an enemy action; if we do not see the enemy for who he is and the necessity of fighting him until he is utterly defeated and fleeing for his life, then we are in for very dark days.

Will we be defeated by the Jihadists? Will St. Paul's become a mosque and will the call to prayer echo out from the Washington Monument? No, but if our political class do not step up and do the job they were hired to do, then within a generation a very frightened people will sweep them aside and do it for them because when it gets to that point, it really will be a war for survival as a people and as a civilisation. And if that happens, it will be war to the knife and God have mercy on us all.

Don't let that happen.