Thursday, July 31, 2008

this town, aaah aaah, is burning like a ghost town

Here's some more interesting stuff done by people with far too much time on their hands which they've spent gazing deeply into Google Maps and finding weird stuff. I posted a few links back in January, most notably this one, though that particular blog seems to have gone a bit quiet recently.

Here are my couple of contributions:

Multimap uses Microsoft Virtual Earth for its aerial photography map overlays. This seems a bit (by which I mean a lot) less up-to-date than Google Maps. I'll give you an example - have a look at these two photographs of the Usk in central Newport and see if you can spot the difference. No prizes or anything as it's pretty obvious.

The City Bridge (pictured in the second photo above) was opened in 2004, and the first picture doesn't even show any signs of construction work, so I would guess that must date it at 2002 at the latest. Time for an update, I think. Other things to note: the version of the Multimap page with the maps overlaid shows the current road layout, which apparently magically transports cars over the Usk on a cushion of air. Also, the map renders the Welsh for the river Usk as Brynbuga - this is incorrect as Brynbuga means "Buga's hill" (make up your own jokes at this point) and refers to the town of Usk about 10 miles away up towards Abergavenny. Afon Wysg is the Welsh rendition they were after.

Sticking with the aerial photo map thing, I was looking at some aerial shots of Cardiff on Google Maps the other day, as one does, and I spotted an odd feature up by junction 29 of the M4, where the A48(M) branches off from the M4 - a "ghost" road not connected to anything, and which you'd never know was there from ground level. It turns out this is the original eastbound carriageway, as Cardiff was the original western terminus of the M4 when it was built. More detail can be found here. The excellent Pathetic Motorways database has more "ghost" roads (including the deeply unimpressive remains of the A18(M) in Yorkshire) as well as lots of other interesting stuff, if you're interested in that sort of stuff.

Other examples include the never-built northern spur of the M23 south of London, and, rather more interestingly, Centralia, Pennsylvania. Some of Pennsylvania highways 54 and 61 have been re-routed to avoid the largely abandoned town of Centralia. Why is it abandoned? Cause it's ruddy well ON FIRE, that's why. And has been for over FORTY YEARS. Crikey.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ramps gets the runs

The 2008 cricket season is in full swing, so it's probably about time for a cricket-related post.

First up then, the saga of Mark Ramprakash's hundredth first-class hundred. Much has been written since I mentioned the possibility of it happening a year or so ago; even more since he clocked up his 99th hundred in his 665th first-class innings against Sussex in May. Since then he's played 9 further innings without scoring more than 48.

Those of you who appreciate statistical minutiae of this sort will be interested to know that this means he has another four innings to make his hundredth hundred in order to claim eighth place on the list of fastest batsman to the target (he would be the 25th overall to get there). The current holder of eighth place is the legendary Walter Hammond, who reached his 100th 100 in his 679th innings in 1935. First place is held, inevitably, by Don Bradman who required a scarcely credible 295 innings; others like WG Grace (the first man to make 100 100s) and, more recently, Dennis Amiss, required more than 1000 innings to get there. The other batsmen to achieve the feat faster than Ramprakash are listed here.

Ramprakash's name still crops up in some quarters when England Test selection policy is being discussed; his problems at Test level over the years (52 caps, 2 centuries, an average of 27) have been largely perceived as mental rather than technical, and Geoff Boycott has drawn the interesting parallel between his struggles in the Test match arena and his current problems getting "over the line" now that the full media spotlight is on him. It's all about how you perform under pressure, in other words.

As far as England's current selectorial issues go, though, the main problems are with the bowling. The bizarre decision to cap Darren Pattinson at Headingley and the unedifying mutual hand-washing by Michael Vaughan and Geoff Miller afterwards were bad enough, but the other bowlers knocking on the door of the team must be wondering what they have to do to get a game, Matthew Hoggard particularly. The selectors have pulled another rabbit out of the hat by recalling Steve Harmison for the next Test - his county figures since he was dropped during the New Zealand series earlier in the year have been good, and he offers the sort of pace and bounce that England could have done with at Headingley, but, like Ramprakash, there are a whole host of unanswered questions about his mental fragility. His previous record against South Africa (18 wickets at 59.55) doesn't make pretty reading either.

There have been calls for a recall for Simon Jones as well, and his recent form for Worcestershire has been good. I wonder if the selectors are keeping their powder dry in that quarter with one eye on the home Ashes series in 2009. You can see the temptation to do so, but it could be fatal to take one eye off the ball against what is a very good South African side. And the fact that they have achieved, so far, a comfortable draw and a crushing win without a major score from their best batsman, Jacques Kallis, is a little worrying as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

noodles by post

As if prompted in some magical mystical way by my lunch, my internet noodles have arrived! Lavishly packaged to ensure not a single solitary noodle was bruised or broken; very impressive.

if love is good, let's get to ramen

My internet noodles haven't arrived yet, so I ventured forth on a journey into the unknown at lunchtime today and tested the first of my random noodle selection. First up: Sutah Ramen. These are distributed in the UK by the delightfully named Double Happiness Wholesale Ltd., who are based, rather more mundanely, in Romford.

Verdict: they're pretty good. In fact they're probably largely indistinguishable from the classic Shin noodles in a blindfolded test. The noodles are a bit yellower and go softer a bit quicker, and the spicy soup mix dissolves better so you don't get that slightly surprising sting in the tail you get with the Shin noodles, whereby the last couple of spoonsful from the bottom of the bowl blow your ears off across the room. Your classic egg drop noodle soup combo is pictured below.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Welshman of the day

Sue Jones-Davies, the current Mayor of Aberystwyth.

SJD, as her mates probably call her, is currently campaigning for the lifting of the ban imposed nearly 30 years ago on the showing of the Monty Python film Life Of Brian in Aberystwyth. The interesting bit is that SJD herself appeared in the film as Brian's girlfriend Judith Iscariot ("Leave that Welsh tart alone"). So what we have here is, essentially, a prominent public figure campaigning for nude footage of themselves to be brought into the public domain. Which makes for a refreshing change.

Interesting SJD fact #2: she used to be married to comic writer and actor and for-research-purposes-only-child-pornography-downloader Chris Langham. Some might wish to theorise that Langham was traumatised into his kiddy porn habits as a compensating reaction to frequent exposure to his ex-wife's unkempt Immac-free womanly magnificence (as featured full-frontally in the film). Frankly I would find such speculation distasteful and inappropriate.

And yes, I know she's a woman (I've seen the film, remember), so "Welshman" is slightly inaccurate, but I'm not relabelling all the previous posts.

open and shut case

Brief follow-up to my previous post now it's all over - Harrington won, as (sort of) predicted, and deservedly so - anyone shooting 4 under for the last 6 holes when most of the field were heading in the opposite direction deserves to win, and pretty comfortably in the end, as it turned out.

And as for Norman and Duval?

Well, Norman finished in a tie for third, six shots behind Harrington. It would, I think, be a little harsh to add this to the list of Norman "failures" at major championships, lengthy list though it is. I think it's more to do with not having played in a major since the 2005 Open, and not having been in serious contention in one since finishing third at the 1999 Masters. At 53 he would have been comfortably the oldest man ever to win a major championship, beating Julius Boros, who won the 1968 USPGA at the age of 48.

Duval had an ugly 83 in his third round, which he was commendably upbeat about afterwards, and then shot one of the best rounds of the final day with a 71. So I suppose the jury remains out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Norman sinks a long one

The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is shaping up to be as fascinating as ever. For what it's worth I predict that either Padraig Harrington or KJ Choi will win it, but if it's as windy and wild as it was today then anything could happen.

A couple of interesting characters in the golfing headlines this week, in both cases for the first time in a few years.

Firstly, Greg Norman. One of my biggest golfing heroes when I first got into watching golf in the 1980s and, somewhat remarkably at the age of 53, leading the Open after three rounds. I suspect his lack of recent experience at the sharp end of tournaments will count against him tomorrow, but you never know. If he does win it will be his third Major victory in a career that should have brought him an absolute hatful of wins, but didn't, partly due to his own innate capacity for self-destruction, but also through some of the rankest bad luck ever to afflict a major sportsman. With a bit of luck he could have won, off the top of my head, the 1984 US Open, the 1986 Masters, the 1986 USPGA, the 1987 Masters, the 1989 Masters, the 1989 Open, the 1993 USPGA and the 1995 US Open. The third and fourth of those were successive majors in which he would have thought he had two putts for victory, only to be denied by an outrageous chip-in from off the green (by Bob Tway and Larry Mize respectively) - enough to make anyone think someone up there had it in for them. You would think his recent marriage might have taken Norman's mind off things like sport, but apparently not.

Secondly, David Duval. A somewhat forlorn figure in recent years, so it's easy to forget that between late 1997 and mid-1999 he was the best golfer in the world by a distance. Also one of only three golfers to shoot 59 on the US tour (at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in January 1999), and there's a case for saying Duval's round is the most perfect round of tournament golf ever played: his predecessors Al Geiberger and Chip Beck had the advantage of, respectively, winter pick-and-place rules and a shortish course, and neither of those rounds were in the final round of a high-profile tournament to win it by a shot. Duval then went on to win the Open at Royal Lytham in 2001, and....well, that was the last tournament he ever won. He split up with his long-time girlfriend, was afflicted with a bizarre form of vertigo and numerous injuries, made some ill-advised swing changes and began a long plummet down the world rankings. Which is a shame , because he's an interesting character who reputedly used to read 30+ books a year on his travels on the US tour. Something you can't imagine, for all his extraordinary golfing prowess, Tiger Woods doing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I've changed my mind: these people are LITERALLY crackers

More on the magic biscuit fiasco. Here's a brief summary to get you up to speed:
  • Bloke attends Catholic mass on university campus in Florida, takes communion, but doesn't swallow (stop sniggering at the back); instead attempts to transport the small wafery biscuit back to his pew to show his curious non-Catholic friend
  • Outraged Catholics bar his way and attempt to relieve him of said wafery biscuit by force (by this time it was in his hand, as far as I can gather)
  • Bloke leaves church (somewhat hurriedly one assumes) and puts wafery biscuit in a plastic bag
  • Church demands return of "kidnapped" Literal Actual Son Of God ® (yeah, I know, but remember the transubstantiation thing. It's, like, magic)
  • Bloke returns biscuit
  • Atheist blogger and well-known religion-goading provocateur gets wind of story, threatens to defile further biscuits in unspecified ghastly ways
  • Entirely predictable flood of outraged e-mail results, including some genuinely disturbing death threats, which atheist blogger publishes, e-mail headers and all
  • The full awesome power of internet geekery identifies full details of account being used to send mail (a female employee of retailer 1-800-Flowers)
  • Female employee's husband (a thoroughly charming chap called Chuck Kroll) confesses to sending e-mail. Wife gets sacked anyway. Dinner at Krolls' place reported "quieter than usual". Chuck sleeps on sofa.
This is a rich seam of humour. Note how Chuck's confession is about as unapologetic an apology as you'll ever see; also if you dare dip a toe into the 1000+ comments on each of the Pharyngula threads I linked to above you'll note a disturbing level of cognitive dissonance among the Christian commenters - specifically, where they "dare" PZ to defile a Torah or a Koran. To which there are three very quick responses: firstly no-one's giving out individual copies of either of those with no requirement to give them back as part of some inane ritual (which is not to say that the Jews and the Muslims don't have their own specific inane rituals, because of course they do) so it's hardly the same thing, secondly, oh, so it's OK to do that to someone else's religious symbol, but not yours? And, of course, thirdly, well, actually that angle has already been covered.

Big internet shitstorm equates to minimal real-world impact, of course, though beyond the humour there is a serious point to this, which is that if you drag nonsensical flummery like this out into the light where people can look at it, more fence-sitters may start to say "whoa, you believe WHAT?" and the whole thing melts away in front of your eyes, or at the very least is revealed as some bloke behind a curtain operating some levers. Yes, it's just like the Wizard of Oz.

Korea opportunities

I took a lunchtime trip into central Bristol yesterday to visit the Kin Yip Hon oriental supermarket, which I've mentioned here before. I'd run out of my favourite Korean Shin Ramyun noodles, and this is the only place I know of that sells them. Tragically, however, they only had one packet left, so I had to stock up with a pick'n'mix selection of other brands instead.

Now I'm sure these will all be very nice, but they're just not the same. So I got to thinking: surely in these multicultural times there must be an online Oriental supermarket of some sort? And, well, it turns out there is. In fact I expect there are probably several, but the one I visited is here, and the particular product I was after is here. Postage and packing costs are relatively high, especially when you consider the unit price of a packet of noodles is 45p, so I'd recommend buying in bulk. I bought 30 packets. Yum.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 cheese

What I also did at the weekend (on Sunday afternoon, after getting back from mid-Wales) was pop over to the Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival down at Cardiff Bay. Nice sunny afternoon, the Bay is very scenic after its millennial uptarting, there were some bands playing and, best of all, lots of stalls were giving away free stuff. Among other things I sampled:
  • several kinds of cheese: Caerphilly, goat's, some slightly rank blue stuff
  • a few perrys & ciders, including some slightly TCP-esque 7.2% cider which you could probably descale your kettle with
  • some Norwegian smoked salmon
  • some slightly gamey Norwegian sausage which might very possibly have had reindeer in it
  • various organic chutneys and dips
  • some cherry brandy
  • some Welsh whisky liqueur
  • some other Welsh liqueur made out of whinberries
  • some beer from the Pen-lon brewery
  • some apple brandy
Felt slightly bilious after all that, so we went for a pint and a sit down. A few pictures can be seen here.

what I did at the weekend

One of the great things about climbing mountains is that you don't have to tick them off your list and move on once you've done them; you can get a completely different perspective by climbing the same peak from a different direction. A couple of classic examples would be the contrast between slogging up Ben Nevis by the zig-zag "tourist" path and the spectacular experience of going "round the back" via the Carn Mor Dearg arĂȘte, and the ascent & descent of Snowdon by the usual Pyg Track/Miner's Track combo (with millions of others) or via the Snowdon Ranger Path/Rhyd Ddu path combo, which a) is generally deserted and b) finishes up outside a pub, which is nice.

Pen y Fan is another case in point. I've been up a couple of times (in varying weather conditions) from the Storey Arms car park on the A470, and had a near miss a year or so ago starting from the car park at Torpantau, but on Saturday we (me, my Dad and my brother-in-law Ray) attacked it from the north side. If you want to emulate us (and I recommend you do) then you want to head into Brecon along the B4601 to here, then turn off and follow the road back under the A40, take the leftmost fork at the 3-way junction and follow the road right to the end, at which point you'll arrive at a car park, here. Follow the path up hill from the car park onto the right-hand ridge of the two ahead of you, and keep going along the ridge until you see the unmistakable shape of Pen y Fan ahead of you. There's a sharp uphill scramble to get onto the summit plateau, but nothing life-threatening. Thereafter we headed eastward along the ridge to the shapely conical summit of Cribyn, and a little further along the ridge before heading back to the car park via the old Roman road down the valley.

I think there's a strong case for saying that this is the best route up and down Pen y Fan, largely because it's the only route which shows you the famous side of the mountain (pictured above) on the way up. Horseshoe-shaped ridge routes are inherently pleasing, as well. I suppose strictly one should make the short detour across to Corn Du before heading for Cribyn, just for completeness' sake.

Pictures of the walk can be found here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

South African opening batsman and current (as of lunchtime on day 5 of the first Test) thorn in England's side Neil McKenzie, and squeaky-voiced lowest-common-denominator-pandering laughter-free-zone and multi-millionaire comedy moron Adam Sandler. Oval face, stubble, toothy grin, general air of good-natured bumbling gormlessness.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Devon knows it's miserable now

Here's a few photos from Doug's stag weekend in North Devon (specifically, Mortehoe and Woolacombe). One of my favourite parts of the world, though it's even nicer when it isn't chucking it down with rain most of the weekend, which it was when we were there, unfortunately. Here's a few tangentially connected links for you:
  • The Ship Aground in Mortehoe and the Golden Hind in Woolacombe are probably the pick of the pubs in the area.
  • Going clubbing in the area? Well, you haven't got a lot of choice: either take your iPod speakers to the beach, or get yourself down the Marisco Disco.
  • We went and did some clay pigeon shooting at the South West Shooting School near Ilfracombe; despite the relentless rain it all went very well, and no-one got shot in the face or anything, which was nice.
  • Our honorary bloke Henrietta runs the Rare Tea Company who specialise in, well, rare tea. You should go and have a look at their website and her blog, both of which are quite interesting, even to a dedicated coffeehound like myself.

Soylent Green is.....Jesus!

Today's most hilarious news headline: outrage as man steals magic biscuit. Apparently a student at the University of Central Florida attended a Catholic mass on campus, went up to receive communion, and instead of popping the little wafer in his mouth in the designated manner, walked back to his seat with it. Or, at least, he attempted to, but was stopped by some burly churchgoing chap who was a bit offended by his lack of respect for the Actual Honest-To-Goodness Body Of Jesus. Yes folks, this is all about transubstantiation.

There's been a predictable storm of blogging about this on both sides of the debate (that is to say, the rational side and the utterly insane side), and I'm not sure I have much to add, except a couple of further questions about transubstantiation, which I find fascinating, as it seems to be a place where the claims of religion obtrude into the realms of testable reality (only, as I described in my previous post on the subject, it turns out they don't).

So.....just to be clear, then, it's apparently OK to take a communion host out of a Catholic church lodged somewhere in your oesophagus, or possibly in your stomach, but not in your hand? And this is presumably because if you've got it in your hand you could subject it to some dreadful sacrilegious activity, like, say, dissolving it in concentrated acid, mixing it with a load of other semi-dissolved foodstuffs, shoving it into a long fleshy tube where it's bombarded with more noxious chemicals, and then squeezing it out of your anal sphincter into a toilet, whence it is (eventually) chucked into the sea? Nice. Frankly it makes sticking it in your pocket and taking it away for use in the biscuit game seem fairly mild in comparison.

And what about taking Catholic communion if you're a vegetarian? And if transubstantiation really happens, why bother making gluten-free communion hosts? I mean, Jesus was gluten-free, wasn't he?

The picture above depicts the Purity 125 from Nu-Life Products. This provides the solution to all your low-to-medium-volume consecrated-host-dispensing needs. Also available are the utterly brilliant wine-infused communion hosts. Take two transubstantiated ecclesiastical products into the confessional? No - I just wafer'n'go!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

today's top golfing tip

....don't store your glasses in an external pocket in your golf bag during a round if you're prone to sudden outbursts of maniacal rage during the course of that round - like, for instance, when you hit the ball into a lake. Ignore this simple rule and you can end up with something like this:

Things to note: firstly that the energy dissipated in shattering the case into smithereens as pictured saved the pair of glasses inside, which were subject to only minor and easily reparable bending, and secondly check out the precise central positioning of where the blade of my 5-iron struck the case. If I could strike a ball that cleanly I'd be laughing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

keep watching the skies

The day before yesterday was the centenary of the Tunguska event. One hundred years ago it may have been, but it still exerts an understandable fascination, partly because of the mysterious nature of the event (although it's now generally accepted to have been the airborne detonation of a smallish meteorite, 20-60 metres in diameter), and partly because of what it reveals about the fragility of our existence. It's fascinating to speculate how very different 20th-century history might have been if the airburst had happened over Paris, Berlin, London, New York or any large centre of population. Remember what happened to the dinosaurs.....

And bear in mind that no-one's monitoring the skies 24/7 for bits of rock the size of a house heading towards us, so it could happen again any minute, right above where you're sitting. Makes you think, dunnit? So, given that it could all be arbitrarily ended by fiery death from the sky any second, should we perhaps throw off the flimsy trappings of "civilised society" and rampage gibbering through the streets in a frenzied Bacchanalian orgy of depraved rape and slaughter? Yes. Yes we should. No no, after you.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

sonic cathedrals

No sign of the promised new album from My Bloody Valentine yet, though they have been playing some well-received live shows in the UK, and have some festival dates lined up.

In the meantime they are re-issuing both of their albums in re-mastered and bonusly-betracked form in September - 1988's Isn't Anything and 1991's Loveless. Current perverse rock critic revisionism would seem to want to have you believe that Isn't Anything is the better album, but, fine though it is, Loveless is the one, I promise you. As the review in this month's Q magazine says (paraphrasing slightly), Isn't Anything at least sounds, for all its strangeness, as if it was made by human beings, whereas Loveless is "one huge amplified interplanetary buzz".

In addition to buying both of these, you should download the contents of the Glider EP from iTunes as well (the actual EP seems only to be available as a prohibitively expensive import). That lot should tide you over until the new album appears.

warning: this blog post failed to pbutt the profanity filter and has been rebreastled

Here's an amusing article highlighting the difficulties of automated text-editing, in this case to change every instance of the nice cuddly term "gay" to the more judgmental "homosexual" to better reflect your loony religious right-wing agenda. Trouble is that when the article in question refers to American sprinter Tyson Gay things start to get a bit tricky. Although Tyson Homosexual is quite a cool name, in a weird sort of way. What next? References to Enola Homosexual dropping the first atomic bomb? A nice tot of Mount Homosexual Rum?

This, of course, is a specific example of a problem well-known to those in the computing industry, which is how to get computers to perform operations on text without making what seem to the human eye to be obvious mistakes, computers being, contrary to their usual portrayal in films, phenomenally stupid. This makes writing reliable obscenity filters (see the Scunthorpe Problem) and spell-checkers (see the Cupertino Effect) very difficult. Further amusing examples can be found in this Daily WTF article and the comments following it. You can have fun imagining news headlines after being passed through these sort of filters: JFK buttbuttinated in Dallas: Johnson buttumes Presidency to avoid Consbreastutional crisis.

The other classic example of search & replace ham-fistedness is the immortal phrase "cdesign proponentsists" which exposed the religious fundamentalists' hilariously half-arsed attempt to rebadge creationism as "intelligent design" and thereby shoehorn it into school science lessons. Following on from the epic pwnage described here it's worth reflecting on the full-scale, trousers-down arse-spanking the loons got in court when they tried this on before. Which is no guarantee they won't chug down a few chalices of communion wine and march forth to do it again some time in the future. "The price of liberty is constant vigilance", as Eleanor Roosevelt (supposedly) said. Then again she also said: "A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water", so make your own mind up.