Monthly Archives: April 2007

My Verbosity Increases

Oh dear. Despite being a slightly shorter month, April has seen the greatest number of posts yet on Losing it[1]: 90! Oh, hold on. If we include this one, it’ll be 91, which is an average of slightly more than three per day. And I’ve still got that Life on Mars thingy to write, and a Doctor Who review, which means that May should get off to a strong start….

Maybe I should calm down a bit?



OK, this will be old news to the more plugged-in, tuned-in and generally aware amongst you, but I thought I’d mention that I recently signed up with StumbleUpon, which is possibly the best way yet of wasting the rest of your life on the internet. I’ve been aware of it for some time, but until now I hadn’t taken the time to investigate it for myself.

All you have to do is install the spyware-free, adware-free, and general nastiness-free toolbar into your preferred web browser, and tell the StumbleUpon server what sort of sites you’d like to see – there’s a good selection of categories to choose from. Once you’ve done that, just click the large friendly “Stumble” button. You will be taken to a web page selected on the basis of the categories you’ve selected, and the recommendations of other users. You can click the equally friendly “thumbs up” button if you like the site, or the slightly less friendly “thumbs down” button if you don’t like it, and don’t want to see anything like it again. Or you can just click the “Stumble” button again to see another site. And again. And again. And before you know it, it’s 1am and you really should have been in bed for hours.

I just started playing with it yesterday, and so far, I like it. I’ve seen some things I might never have found otherwise, and it certainly seems to have a general idea of what I like.

There’s a lot more to play with on the site – you can review pages you’ve seen, communicate with other users, join groups, and all the usual social networking stuff.

Give it a try – you’ve got nothing to lose except hours and hours and hours… :laugh:

Nice start to the week

I was almost tempted to catch the bus to work today, but it was such a bright sunny morning that walking seemed the only possible thing to do. I took a few pictures on the way to work, which may appear here when I find the appropriate tuit.

As I’ll be in Manchester for most of the week, today was my only chance for a visit to the City Library, so I wandered down there at lunchtime. As it turned out, this was a good move. For the first time, I saw the big demolition machine in action, tearing chunks out of the structure of the building. I took lots of pictures of that, and they will be appearing when I find another tuit.

It was still bright and sunny at home time, so I took an indirect walk home, heading down Dean Street and across the Swing Bridge. And yes, I took yet more pictures on the way. Insert standard comment about tuits.

This morning’s weight was down a bit, and the day was improved further when I learned that I’ve got a quite nice pay rise, which should help keep my camera in the luxury to which it’s become accustomed[1]. :bouncy:

[1] It’s been muttering about wanting a nifty wide angle lens. It’s so demanding!

Tut tut. Not good enough.

Mutter. This morning’s weight was up again, to a level I’m not really happy with. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have the motivation to actually do anything about that right now.

And I’ve got three nights in a hotel coming up, so don’t expect any significant drop before this time next week.

Doctor Who – Survival

No, this isn’t the slightly overdue latest episode review, it’s the latest DVD release from the classic series. And it’s a bit of a special one – first shown in late 1989, Survival was the last story in what turned out to be the last series of Doctor Who until 2005.[1]

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy this time round) takes his companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) back to her home town of Perivale for a visit. But something’s wrong – her old friends have disappeared, and it’s not long before the travellers find out where they’ve gone.

They’re transported to the planet of the Cheetah People – humanoid, horse riding predators. The planet is unstable, and appears to be about to break up. And it seems to have a strange effect on the people who are taken there – they gradually become wild and cat-like.

All that would be a lot of fun, but just to make things more interesting, the Master (Anthony Ainley) is around, in full evil form. Somehow the Doctor has to escape from the collapsing planet make sure Ace doesn’t change irreversibly. Of course, the Master has other ideas, and once again his determination to destroy the Doctor gets him into more trouble.

As was normal at the time, this is a three-part story, making it not a great deal longer than a single parter in the current series. And at the time, the series had been cut back to just fourteen 25-minute episodes, meaning that there was a lot less Doctor Who around than we get these days. Interestingly, this final story has some details in common with the revived series – the suburban setting, mostly Earth-based…

Apart from the entertaining story, there’s a nice collection of extras:

  • Cat Flap – a two part documentary on the making of Survival
  • Endgame – a look at how the series came to be cancelled, and how it might have developed if the 27th season had been in 1990 rather than 2005.
  • Little Girl Lost – a look at the development of Ace’s character
  • The usual production subtitles, plus out-takes and much much more

All good stuff, and every fan should watch it!

[1] Insert standard stuff about not paying much attention to the Paul McGann TV movie

Alastair Reynolds – The Prefect (aka Aurora Rising)

Update: For reasons of, err, who the heck knows, The Prefect is being reissued under the title Aurora Rising. This may be related to the forthcoming sequel, Elysium Fire, but it’s likely to cause some confusion.
Woo hoo! Al Reynolds is back with another novel set in the Revelation Space universe. This one is set at an earlier time than most of the novels, set in the Glitter Band, a glorious gathering of thousands of artificial habitats orbiting Yellowstone, the planet that’s home to Chasm City. This is before the Melding Plague, the terrible infection that turned the Glitter Band into the Rust Belt, and made Chasm City a nightmare, and focuses on Tom Dreyfus, a Field Prefect – an agent working for Panoply, the closest thing the Glitter Band has to a police force.

As is usual with a Reynolds novel, the story is as much a mystery thriller as hard sf, and all the better for it. The trouble seems to start when a habitat is destroyed, and all its occupants are killed. The trouble gets worse when Dreyfus’s deputy, Thalia Ng runs into problems while performing what should be a routine upgrade to the voting system on another habitat. Big problems. Really big problems, in fact.

And from there it starts to get complicated. Secrets from the past, betrayals, confusion and the realisation that hardly anyone is whom they seem to be add to the fun.

To defeat a deadly enemy, Dreyfus is forced to track down and deal with something lethal from his past, something he thought had been destroyed.

Like every other Reynolds book, it’s enormous fun, and had me hooked from the start. As it approached the climax, I found myself both desperate to find out how it would end, and at the same time not wanting it to finish.

I hope it won’t be too long to wait for the next book. And I hope we’ll be seeing more of Tom Dreyfus.

Saltwell Park – 11 April 2007

On my way to the Angel of the North, I took a stroll through Saltwell Park, where I took these pictures. There are some views of the Dene, a squirrel, and lots of birds.

What? No Alexa?

More observant readers might have noticed that I used to have an Alexa rank badge icon thingy on the sidebar. For the benefit of the less observant[1], Alexa is an Amazon-owned service that shows the relative popularity of websites. Now this might be useful information, but there’s a wee bit of a problem with it.

It works by recording the web browsing activity of people who have installed the Alexa toolbar. Now most sensible web users avoid installing extra toolbars on the grounds that they’re nasty things that report on their behaviour to the people who create them. I don’t think I know anyone who uses the Alexa toolbar. What’s more, Alexa’s toolbar is only available for Internet Explorer.

So, Alexa’s stats are for a quite specific subset of web users. People who browse with IE[2] and who are happy to install toolbars that report on their habits.

I was prompted to think about this by Matt’s recent comments, which led me to Aaron Brazell’s thoughts on the subject. And I have to say that I agree with Aaron. The ranking figure Alexa shows is quite irrelevant, and doesn’t give any real indication of how many people are visiting a site.

So it’s gone. And I’ll bet most of you never even noticed it.

[1] Or those who just can’t be bothered looking that far down :wave:
[2] A large, but shrinking proportion of web users

Newcastle City Library: Picture update 3

This set was taken on 27 April.