Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 14 Sep 2005

Burn baby, burn

Five years on we have another round of fuel protests in the UK. The current prices may be partly due to Hurricane Katrina, but they were creeping up anyway. So now we see people queing for petrol everywhere. I filled up the Zafira on Monday, but only when I found an Esso with no queue. I should be okay for a week or so now.

You would think with prices nearing 1/Litre people might slow down a bit to use less, but that does not seem to be the case. I'm trying to reduce my usage a bit by keeping my speed down a little and being more aware of how much pressure I use on the accelerator. We will see if I can improve on my usual figures of around 48mpg. I like the fact that I can easily get over 500 miles on a tank.

I'm still waiting for affordable cars that give much better economy. Maybe the latest hybrid cars like the Prius will get more popular if fuel prices keep rising. I know most of the UK price is tax, but that's unlikely to change much.

My theory about people speeding is that they do it because it is easy and they are unlikely to get caught. Modern cars can cruise at high speed and are so quiet that it doesn't feel that fast. You have to go really fast for it to feel exciting. Don't get me started on those noisy exhausts that seem to get fitted to every 'hot hatch'. I've even seem them on people carriers.

Speed cameras do not make much difference as most people know where they are or they buy gadgets to tell them. I wonder if there will ever be widespread use of technology to check your speed over long distances, e.g. sets of cameras on the motorway that log your registration number and make sure you don't get to the next one too quickly. It's all possible, but there are implications for privacy when everyone's number is logged.

I just find it ironic that a lot of the time speeding makes very little difference to journey time. On my commute I often catch up with drivers who zoomed past me earlier and have hit traffic. I'll keep driving for economy.

[08:35] | [/Motoring] | Comments | G

Sun, 04 Sep 2005

Leonardo da Vinci by Sherwin B. Nuland 3/5

I've been wanting to learn more about Leonardo, not just because of the Da Vinci Code, but mainly as a major character in the history of science. I picked this book up in Miami.

I tells his life story in a fairly brief form with some emphasis on his anatomical studies. It talks about his art to a lesser extent. There's some exploration into the possible causes of his alledged homosexuality.

It was an interesting read, but I could have done with more detail on his inventions and more pictures. When you are reading about such a great artist it's nice to see the works.

I know there are plenty of other Leonardo books. Any recommendations?

[20:29] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Nikita 4/5

I got into the films of Luc Besson via The Fifth Element (one of my favourites) and Leon. There's just something about his style that I like. I've been adding them to my DVD collection gradually, but some were disappointing. The Big Blue is long and slow, The Messenger is a bit messy. Nikita is one of his earlier works when he was still working in French and is about a drug addict criminal who is recruited by a government agent as an assassin. It has a similar feel to Leon and even features Jean Reno in a similar role. Anne Parillaud plays the lead very well. It's a sort of My Fair Lady with more guns and less singing.

I'm not that keen on Eric Serra's music. Part of that may be that the synthesiser sounds are very eighties. I found The Big Blue soundtrack grated similarly.

I bought the DVD ages ago, but it had been sitting on the shelf waiting for me to find the time. I started off watching with the English dub, but this was too annoying, so I switched to French dialogue plus English subtitles. My French is very limited.

The film was remade in America as Point of no Return (I think it was The Assassin in the UK), but I've not seen that.

One of these days I'll get Leon on DVD, but I fancy the US version that has extra scenes and have never seen it cheap.

[20:29] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Wed, 31 Aug 2005

Google Talk

Whilst I was on holiday I heard that Google had announced their new chat software called Google Talk. This looks like a competitor for Skype. That market is starting to get crowded. To get started you need a Gmail account. This is still invitation only, so if you need one then mail me as I have loads of invitations. It's a pretty good webmail system with about 2.5GB of storage.

Today is Blog Day as 3108 looks very vaguely like 'Blog'. You are supposed to link to other blogs to help people find new ones to read, but I have not got properly organised. Here's a couple from people I know that have some interesting content:

[15:22] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Summer Holiday 2005

We went camping with another family at the Haven Seaview near Weymouth. We chose this as a family friendly site, but it turned out not to be. The tent area was very basic with no showers and very basic toilets/washrooms. There were better facilities as short walk away at the main complex, but even these had problems. The showers were not that good. On the plus side there were outdoor and indoor swimming pools, that we used once, a restaurant with affordable food, an entertainment bar (with insufficient seating) and amusement arcade. Their main focus seems to be on selling static caravans for thousands of pounds. Our main complaint was about the lack of control of some rowdy campers. Several large groups set up around us and we had to put up with loud music until late at night, bad language, mini-motorbikes and free-roaming dogs. I could put up with that at a motorbike rally, but not at a family camp site. Luckily the kids slept through the worst of it. We made several complaints with little result. We shall not be using Haven again. The other family left a day early as they had had enough.

One thing we can't blame them for was the strong winds one day. After sheltering in the complex all morning we returned to find our tent about to blow away. One guy rope had snapped and others had pulled out of the ground. I managed to secure the tent using all available pegs, but a few things got wet. The tent was really flexing in the wind and one metal pole got a bit bent. Meanwhile, the sturdy frame tents didn't budge. A few others fared worse than ours. In the end we managed to repair the damage.

Weymouth has a very long beach with all the usual attractions. The beach slopes very gently, so you have to walk a long way out for a swim. It was fine for the kids to play in the sand. Nearby is an excellent Seal Life centre. Next door to that was the fun Pirate Mini-Golf. Tanya had an impressive round with two holes-in-one.

Durdle Door is a beautiful spot, but not such a good beach for the kids. It is reached by a steep path down the cliff and consists of a pebbly beach and a sharp drop-off into the sea. Fun for strong swimmers.

We had a great day out at Monkey World. It's sad that they have to rescue so many apes and monkeys from bad treatment in homes and the 'entertainment' industry. They are really well cared for there and the staff really care about them. The kids loved it. They have a huge adventure play area as well. We adopted some of the animals for the kids as it's a very deserving cause.

Many years ago I used to visit Lyme Regis with my family. It's a small fishing port famous for it's fossils. It hasn't changed much. There's just no room for it to grow. It happened to be their Candles on the Cobb day, a charity event attended by a very large crowd.

Our final day was spent at Lulworth Castle. It's a restored ruin with extensive grounds. The main attraction for us was a jousting display, but we also enjoyed the 17th century dancing and the petting zoo.

[09:57] | [/News] | Comments | G

Fri, 19 Aug 2005

Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire 3/5

I've always been quite interested in mathematics. I enjoyed it at school and took it as part of my degree. I've since forgotten most of it, but have played around with mathematical recreations like the Mandelbrot set, simple 3D graphics and other subjects on various computers. I'm also into public key encryption that involves large prime numbers.

It seems there are some theorems regarding primes that can never be solved just by calculating them on computers. One of these is the Riemann hypothesis. It's been around for nearly 150 and not been solved. This book is about the history of the man and his mathematics. It alternates chapters between the history and the theory, so you can choose to just read one or the other.

The technical stuff is fairly heavy and I don't claim to understand all of it, but it introduced me to some new areas of mathematics. The history is fairly well told, but mathematicians are not generally the most exciting of people. I'll probably read it again some time to try and absorb more. I think this one is reserved for those who are into mathematics rather than history buffs.

I'm now reading a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.

You will notice a lot of links in this article to Wikipedia. It's a very addictive site. I'd like a plug-in for my blogging tool that could add these links automatically. Maybe I should write one.

[13:30] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Sun, 14 Aug 2005

Film Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 3.5/5

This is one we've been waiting for. We've read the book to Tilly a couple of times and she has since read it herself too. The previous film had a certain darkness about it, but with Tim Burton at the helm this promised to be interesting. His films always have some magic about them, except perhaps for Planet of the Apes.

Burton regular Johnny Depp takes the lead, but plays the part as a neurotic recluse haunted by memories of his dentist father (Christopher Lee). This is not something from the book. The sets are amazing and the kids are pretty much as you would imagine them. The oompa loompas are all played by one actor who had to work hard for his money performing each scene hundreds of times. The trip on the boat is closer to the book and a lot less disturbing than last time.

It's a re-interpretation of the book rather than a remake of the previous film. Johnny Depp's Wonka is totally different to Gene Wilder's. The latter is closer to what I imagine from the book, but still not quite right. Neither captures the real joy of Wonka.

There are some laughs to be had in this film, with quite a few reserved for knowing adults rather than the kids, but mine enjoyed the film anyway. Tilly rates it as very, very good, but still likes the other film.

Overall this version sticks closer to the plot and images of the book. A few side stories have been added without real harm, but the changes to the ending could have repercussions to the sequel if that is going to be made this time.

There is plenty of trivia etc on IMDB and Wikipedia. The latter can keep you occupied for ages following the various links.

[17:01] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Fri, 12 Aug 2005

Escape from Canada

I had a productive week in Toronto and so was allowed the come home a day early. A few hours before the flight I heard that there was a strike at Heathrow, but my flight still seemed to be on. Nic and I got to the airport early to find that it had been delayed 24 hours! I'm not sure what was going on, but as well as the crowd of confused passengers there were lots of cops, TV cameras and then a couple of SWAT-type guys armed to the teeth.

We both managed to get transferred onto a Canadian Airlines flight that left an hour later than we were meant to. Unfortunately this meant travelling economy! At least it meant getting home that night. So I spent a short, uncomfortable night on an aging Airbus with no personal video screen (what's the world coming to?). I had been thinking of watching Hitchhikers on the BA flight.

Heathrow was busy when I got in, but at least I didn't have to wait in the huge non-EU passport queue and found my case as soon as I got to the casousel.

What could have been a nightmare was not too bad in the end. I'm back with my family again.

And big congrats to big Al on his first-born son.

[19:41] | [/News] | Comments | G

Thu, 11 Aug 2005

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon 4/5

I heard about this book ages ago and it sounded interesting. I picked up my copy in a Salvation Army shop and found time to read it on my Canadian trip.

It's a fictional, first-person account by a 15 year old autistic boy, Christopher, who finds a neighbour's dog has been killed and decides to investigate. Assuming the depiction of his condition is accurate, this gives an insight into how he thinks. He's a less extreme version of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man who needs routine to help him deal with life. He has to make some radical breaks to that routine and uncovers some shocking facts.

Christopher is good at maths, if not a prodigy/savant, and the book includes a few little mathematical diversions, but you don't have to understand them to follow the story.

I actually have the children's edition of the book, but it's aimed at teenagers and above. There's some swearing and talk about 'adult themes'.

I found it an enjoyable and fairly quick read that made me think.

Can anyone tell me how to get a slightly larger gap between the image frame and the text. It's not too bad in IE, but Firefox renders it a bit tight for my tastes. Using the Amazon link will benefit Tilly's school.

[16:29] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Tue, 09 Aug 2005

Film Review: Kingdom of Heaven 3/5

Ridley Scott does another epic historical film. This time a humble blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) becomes a crusader knight and goes off to Jerusalem. There's a rugged authenticity to the film, shields look battered. The battles are epic with lots of blood flying in the close-ups and some impressive siege engines.

It doesn't demonise the muslim side. Actually it's some of the christians who come of worst as they are portrayed as blood-thirsty war-mongers. Saladin comes out of it very well. They actually used arab actors rather than disguising Europeans.

There's a bit of a love story with a princess, but otherwise very little female involvement.

I saw it on a plane, so didn't get the full impact of the effects, but they looked pretty good.

I'm still not totally convinced by Orlando. He's better in this than in LotR, but still lacks the charisma of someone like Russell Crowe. I can sort of see why people say he could be James Bond one day, but he needs to grow up a bit. He's not even 30!

Details of the film on IMDB.

I will resist the urge to rant about the pointlessness of fighting for a religion. I'm tempted to read more on this period in history. Any recommendations?

[21:59] | [/Review] | Comments | G

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