Monday, 30 April 2012

Zoomorphism


Dear Reader, 

So, finally we have reached the letter Z. For me, the A-Z Challenge has been just that, a challenge. It is a challenge I may have technically failed, but for me, once this last one is completed I have succeeded on a technicality. That being said, it has been very useful in a number of ways, which I will share before the end of the week. There are a number of positives I will take from this as well as some lessons learned. 

So just to finish off this little odyssey I am camped in a bar in a London train station as I am shortly meeting some friends with the intention of watching the Manchester derby. Go City! Once again I have set myself a ridiculous target. Oh well.

Anyhoo, back on track, so the letter Z. Another big spender in the scrabble world, again there is a bit of shortage of options. I was prepared though. Right at the beginning of this I posted about anthropomorphism, the very human habit of applying human traits and behaviours to animals, in my case, my pets.

There is a logical opposite to anthropomorphism, which is zoomorphism. This is the habit of applying animalistic traits and behaviours to humans, amongst other things. Wikipeadia is a little sparse on this subject, which, although slightly disappointing, allows me to draw on my huge personal store of knowledge on this subject. Ah, damn spell checker. In the last sentence the bit after "allows me to" should read "make stuff up". Technology, eh? Getting distracted, must stop doing this.

So, zoomorphism. There is an example in classical literature I can draw upon that demonstrate zoomorphism.  That example of classical literature is Viz, a comic that satirised the British comic style of the 40's and 50's but made it modern, and in somewhat bad taste. One of the regular strips that ran in this fine publication was Billy the Fish. Billy the Fish was the goal-keeper for a struggling fictional football team called Fulchester United FC. 

Billy, in all his glory.
Billy would always manage to save Fulchester United FC from difficult situations with his fishlike skills. Well, until he died anyway. No matter, as his son, who looked just like him and was also gifted wish fish-like skills soon followed. This paragraph sort of sums up Viz for me.

I may soon, return to this post and update with some more zoomorphic entites but for the time-being that is  it for the A-Z Challenge anyway. I will, however, be back with a little analysis of the process quite soon. Time and battery life is against me as the biggest football match of the premiership season calls. 

More soon Dear Reader,
xx

Yak


Dear Reader,

I don't why Y is so difficult but it really is. Put "Y is for" into Google and you get a bunch of recent blog posts from A-Z Challenge participants. Judging by some of the results, yo-yos, ytterbium, it may not just have been me that has struggled.

I have a list of words beginning with Y, it's a depressingly short list. I have just googled "yonder", which is (wave arms theatrically in one direction, pointing,) over there somewhere, apparently. 

I am scanning the wikipedia entry for Yttrium which has all the endearing features of a really dull, relatively common, non-precious metal. None, in other words.

Oh, how about Yggdrasil, Norse cosmology anyone? It was an immense tree that held the nine worlds of Norse cosmology together. Yup, thought not.

This is the problem with Y. It doesn't provide much to work with. How about Yak then? Well I have already posted about Llamas this month, so why not another random furry beast?

Yaks are the default beast of burden if you happen to live in the vicinity of the Himalayan Plateau.

Young yak.

 Penny for your yak, sorry thoughts, I meant thoughts .
Interestingly new sports are springing up with the yak central to them. Take yak skiing, a wonderful idea. Attach a rope to a herd of yaks, feed the rope through a pulley. Get the yaks to wait at the top of a snow covered hill. Attach the other end of the rope to yourself and wait at the bottom of the same hill. Rattle a bucket of yak food loudly. Watch as a herd of yaks stampeded down the hill, dragging you at high speed up the hill. Oh what fun, I wonder when they are having a health and safety audit.

Yak skiing, obviously.
Disappointingly I couldn't find a photo which properly does justice to the madness that is yak skiing. We will just have to use our imagination. It doesn't take quite so much imagination to understand yak polo. Remove the horses, replace with yaks and you get a slightly slower, hairier and more horny version of polo.

Careful with that mallet.
So, that's the yak. Adaptable to all manner of sporting endeavour. Synchronised swimming might be a bit of a stretch though.

Back later Dear Reader, when I will be considering the zen of Z

xx

Sunday, 29 April 2012

X-Factor


Dear Reader,

Onward, ever onward. Here we are at the letter X. Given the relative sparsity of words available X-Factor has proved convenient subject matter. It is also a Dear Lady Wife suggestion so I can always blame her if this goes horribly wrong.

X-Factor then, where do you start? Well, if you haven't seen it then I guess I better explain. It is, on the face of it, a talent competition. It is judged by pop svengali Simon Cowell, accompanied by which ever group of pop luminaries are currently in favor.

The X-Factor plays out in three phases, the auditions, judges houses and finally, the ultimate prize, the live shows. Let us deal with each phase in turn.

The Auditions.
Auditions take place across the UK or US, depending on which one you are watching but follow a similar formula. There are good auditions, OK auditions and bad auditions.

Good auditions first, these will either be really good or OK. Good auditions are delivered by people who have a shot at the live shows. A good audition example:


Not too shabby, Danyl was good enough to make the live shows, but did not win. A good audition does not guarantee success.

The OK auditions are normally accompanied by a story. A story can get you a long way in the X-Factor. The story normally involves misfortune, the type of misfortune that is guaranteed to get an emotional response from people watching. If Kayla is doing it for her recently deceased mother or father then she has a shot. If Kayla is doing it for her recently deceased father and her very much alive mother who is in the audience tonight but doesn't know that Kayla is auditioning because they became separated at the age of four by social services and only made contact again last week and her dog has got cancer and her cat saved the lives of four hundred people by dragging them all from a burning building using nothing but his tail, then, you have a guaranteed audition. That, is a story.

The other side of the coin is the bad audition. Bad auditions are the car crash moments that allow Simon to give full rein to his wit and biting sarcasm. Bad auditions are normally attended by people who have an over-elevated view of their ability, quite often they are also a little bit mad. This combination makes good telly apparently.


Beware the holistic vocal coach bearing gifts!

Much wittling of this nature happens over a four to five week period. Two-three weeks is spent travelling around the host country, followed by a more focused set of auditions which eventually leave us with the acts that move on to next significant stage.

Judges Houses.
The acts that have reached this stage are nearly all competent. During this phase the judges have been allocated their mentoring categories. The categories are as follows:

  • Girls - Regularly win.
  • Boys - Regularly win.
  • The Overs - I call them the overs as the age range for this category is fluid. It could be over 35's, the over 30's, so on and so forth. Never seen a winner in the UK anyway, but commercial success can happen for one who reaches the latter stages.
  • The Groups - Rarely win but, commercially are one of the strongest categories.
There are normally between 5 and 10 acts per category. You would think that by this time everyone in the competition would be able to hold a note and this is largely true. There are however, a couple lurking (normally in the Overs category,) who can only hold a doctor's note. These observations are UK specific, I have not had the pleasure of witnessing another competition unfold.

During the Judges Houses stage of the competition contestants are apparently shown a little bit of the celebrity lifestyle, and perform to the judge allocated to their category. What they are not shown, however, is the judges houses. These are very nice pieces of property rented for the show.

The hook with judges houses is the decisions. Each judge must sit down with each act in turn and tell them the good or the bad news. There will be many, many tears. Tears will often come from the judges (not Simon obviously, he is above all of this.) Tears will always come from the acts though, story or not.

Astonishingly, once this final wittling is over there will be still at least one basket case left in the competition. They will be able to sing a bit, have some charisma and can entertain. They will, quite clearly never win. They are normally in the Overs category. They do however give the live shows some comedy moments, where we shall go to next.

The Live Shows.
So, the X-Factor moves into the final phase. This is where the judges/mentors can only influence the outcome with the help of song choice, styling and production. No matter what they do, it is the public who decide.

In the UK each live show is played out over approximately 5 hours spread evenly between Saturday and Sunday. Filling that time clearly gets more difficult as time goes on. The live show has a host, who is really peripheral but sort of necessary. What this stage is all about is the story. Every week, every artist has a story. It may be a re-hash of a previous story or it may be an illness. It could be that the contestants' cat can't stop coughing up furballs. The contestant may have lost his / her voice for six days. The mentor is with them all the way through all of these mini-traumas if the story is to be believed. They might even be catching those furballs.

Each live show is also played out in the press. All contestants are now under the microscope, their past and present laid out for all to see. If one of them falls out of a nightclub at 3 in the morning with a lady on his arm, the public will know about it. If there is a lot of press coverage, you can be sure that their story for the next week will include this.

It is a perilous weekly journey that finishes with the public vote. Eventually there will be a final three and someone will win. That someone will sell records, without a shadow of a doubt. The someone who has sold the most to date is a diva. This return to the stage for a results show proves that occasionally these shows find someone amazing. Leona Lewis is proof of that.


So when the show is over, some will win and some will lose. It is supposed to be a singing competition, sometimes it is. In reality once you get to the live shows it is a popularity competition, pure and simple. This competition gets played out over the newspapers, forums and the web of the participating country.  

All of this is good for Simon. Many participating acts end up on his record label Syco, a fifty-fifty partnership between himself and Sony, who just want to sell records, as many as possible. Any arriving act who has just spent the last twelve to fifteen weeks on prime-time telly touting their wares is in a good place to start a recording career. This is good business.

I could spend a bunch of words being negative about this show, which begins as a circus and ends being something more akin to a money making machine. It's a guilty pleasure though, at least the latter stages. For the Dear Lady wife, I don't think there is any guilt at all. 

Onto later Dear Reader, as I attempt to yield all of the mysteries of the letter Y.

xx

Wormhole


Dear Reader,

I seem to be on a bit of a science bender at the moment. I like to stick with that unclassified blog thing that makes professional bloggers throw their arms up in the air and talk about marketing. . That always happens when someone mentions marketing in my presence. Anyhoo, you have waited and waited some more, because I am late, but finally I am back to talk about wormholes.

Science seems to be high on my agenda at the moment, I am not sure why. I talked about the Universe and threw in a particle physics joke in the last two days (the latter of which I will always be proud of.)

One thing that must be abundantly obvious by now is that none of this is planned, the A-Z Challenge continues to be precisely that, a challenge. Maybe my W post should be about whining...

So, wormholes, what are they?  Wikipedia says the following:

"a wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that would be, fundamentally, a "shortcut" through spacetime. For a simple visual explanation of a wormhole, consider spacetime visualized as a two-dimensional (2D) surface. If this surface is folded along a third dimension, it allows one to picture a wormhole "bridge". (Please note, though, that this is merely a visualization displayed to convey an essentially unvisualisable structure existing in 4 or more dimensions. The parts of the wormhole could be higher-dimensional analogues for the parts of the curved 2D surface; for example, instead of mouths which are circular holes in a 2D plane, a real wormhole's mouths could be spheres in 3D space.) A wormhole is, in theory, much like a tunnel with two ends each in separate points in spacetime."

I hope that has cleared everything up! If not then try the practical version. Take a piece of paper and lay if flat on a surface. Put a dot near the left edge and another near the right edge. Lets pretend the dot on the left is our Sun and the dot on the right is the nearest star to us that has some planets (albeit proposed), Epsilon Eridani. Epsilon Eridani is 10.5 light years away give or take which in spaceflight terms is a long way away. So the distance between those two dots is 10.5 light years. Using technology that we haven't invented yet, but at least exist on paper we could get there in a couple of centuries(ish.) Wormholes offer the possibility of dramatically shortening the distance, simply by folding the piece of paper and making the dots touch.

What a wormhole might look like, or not, obviously.
There are some problems, though. No wormhole has ever been observed. There is room for them to exist on paper but we have as yet not observer them. The may well exist, but not near enough for us to leverage their function. This is a little like knowing that I could get a tube into central London from Heathrow Airport in 40 minutes, but living in Australia, this information really isn't much help.  

There is another problem as well. Assuming that wormholes exist as proposed, anyone brave enough to take the shortcut would not only be travelling through space, they would also be travelling through time, which would make scheduling meetings a huge headache. 

Regardless of the problems regarding wormholes they have made interstellar travel, even intergalactic travel possible, in science fiction at least. This is a good thing. How many seasons would Star Trek have run for if they couldn't get out of our own back yard. Doctor Who would be a total non-starter.

It's the Moon, Jim. Just like last week, the week before and the week before that.
Without wormholes, my childhood would have been dull indeed, much of my adulthood as well. Salute the wormhole, even if they don't exist.

More soon, Dear Reader when I shall be X-raying the letter X

xx

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Video


Dear Reader,

Welcome to my third attempt at writing a post about V. The first two live in a metaphorical dustbin along with my first attempt at B and some other nonsense. This metaphorical dustbin is not full to overflowing but it's getting close. I wonder if I can recycle?

When I think about video I am actually thinking about two things, the first being video cassettes. For those not old enough to remember some explanation is required. Video cassettes were ubiquitous devices which came in the pre-recorded variety and also provided the ability to record television. These abilities were completely new to lounges and living rooms across the world. It was quite simply a technological revolution.

Bless.

I remember as a child coming home one Christmas Eve to find the gleaming silver machine sitting under the TV. There was much excitement in the house. We spent most of the rest of the evening trying to work out how to schedule the recording of a television program. It was hellishly difficult, almost as difficult as finding a Higgs-Boson particle. Going off topic a smidgeon, whilst searching for stuff on the Higgs-Boson, or God particle I found a Higgs-Boson joke. As it is possibly the only particle physics joke I have ever heard I have to share... 


A Higgs Boson particle walks into a church...
The preacher says, "Higgs Boson particles aren't allowed in here! You call yourself the God-particle, that's sacrilegious!" 

To which the Higgs Boson particle replies "If you don't allow Higgs Boson particles in here, how do you have mass?"

So, being Christmas Eve, suffice to say we didn't work out how to schedule a recording. We were still getting it wrong three years later. It was hard. The other thing that the video recorder did was playback video. Dear Papa had been to the video shop and hired some movies. Hiring videos at this time was the only way forward as films, when first released were prohibitively expensive, as much as £70 pounds. As a consequence there were video shops everywhere, which brings me to the second part of my ramble about video, the video shop.

The video shop was a special place, like comic shops and record shops, where the geek shall thrive. The geek may not inherit the Earth, but it will inherit a small, dusty part of high streets and malls all over the Earth. The assistant in the video shop was king or queen of all he or she surveyed. They were also the font of all knowledge regarding everything on the shelves. 

Mere mortals like you and I would browse the shelves looking for some entertainment to brighten a dark winters' evening. Once you had worked your way through the popular titles, (which may or not be available by the way) you would find yourself wandering through the budget sections hoping to find something. This is where the video shop assistant held sway. They knew everything about the less frequented part of the store. If you were lucky they might share this information, or they might not.

You wander to the checkout with your copy of "Ninja Assasins on Acid 4" or something equally ridiculous and wait to be liberated of the rental fee. The video shop attendant would look at the chosen title and, depending upon the perceived quality of your choice react in any of the following ways:
  • Catch the attention of a colleague in the near vicinity, roll eyes and nod in a negative way. Geeks work well in pairs apparently.
  • Catch the attention of a colleague in the near vicinity, run over and high-five said colleague and then return solemnly to the checkout. It was never made clear what this meant.
  • Giggle, smile, hand the video over saying "it's your funeral, dude."
  • Giggle, smile, hand the video over saying "you should try "Assasins of the Ninja on Acid 4, it's genius, but on hire at the moment."
  • Smile, hand the video over saying "Fine choice, this is Inky Marunichi at his best." This didn't happen very often.
There were many more scenes played out which basically said in a number of ways that you weren't cool enough. You suffered this though, because you had to if you wanted to watch a video. 

On that long gone Christmas Eve Dear Papa must have had to endure this for the first time. Not knowing how best to deal with new and challenging retail situation, he asked for assistance. As a consequence the video shop assistant will create a playlist. What a playlist it was. We watched three movies on the shiny box of moving dreams that Christmas Day. It was certainly a bit of a departure from the norm, when it comes to Christmas Day telly.

So, we watched Dirty HarryDeath Wish II and Dawn of the Dead in that order. 

What else would you open presents to?

Better that the Queens' Speech

It was either this or Coronation Street

I imagine the video shop assistant would have felt his work was truly done, having come up with this Christmas Day playlist. Suffice to say it was a Christmas that I would never forget. 

More soon Dear Reader,

xx


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Universe


Dear Reader,

A big topic for today. A topic so big it took me a full day of thinking before I could write it hence the tardiness of this post from an A-Z Challenge perspective. If you were expecting this yesterday and had cancelled all of your meetings in anticipation of it I am sorry. Knowing me as I do, I would counsel you to not to cancel any meetings in anticipation of anything from me. Anyhoo, getting distracted...

So, a big topic for the day indeed, about a big thing. A thing so big that it is hard for me to put into words how big it is, so I will borrow some instead.

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. 

The Universe, big, innit?
Space, or the Universe is indeed big and getting bigger everyday. It is also full of stuff, some of which we haven't found yet except on paper, like dark matter. I am using "we" in the previous statement in such a way that suggests I am directly involved, hunting dark matter. I have nothing to do with the hunt for dark matter. I am using the "Royal" we. Need to get back on track, again.

Dark matter is tricksy, it exists as the "bit left over" in equations regarding the mass of the Universe, but finding it is difficult. The "bit left over" is a little misleading, as dark matter probably accounts for 83% of the Universe. 

Dark matter, the breakthrough!
As we can't see the majority of the universe I will deal purely with what we can see. What we can see is termed as the observable universe. Within this field of view are  3 to 100 × 10 to the power of 22 stars (30 sextillion to a septillion stars). In simple terms this means there are quite a lot, I would go as far as to say loads. To put it another way consider how many people live on our humble little planet, which would be approximately 7 billion. For very person that lives on our planet there are 4.28571429 × 10 to the power of 12 stars, (taking the lower estimate of the two above.) This means that when you wish upon a star you can have one of your own, without any immediate worries about supply, demand or having to put some number on the end of your name because your star has been taken. This will be of huge relief to john.smith96435789@yahoo.com. Sorry, I've gone off track again.

Around that huge number of stars orbit planets and moons, all potentially capable of sustaining life. We (that will be the "Royal" we again,) are starting to search for objects that exist within a "sweet spot" in relation to their star conducive to sustaining life like us. We ("Royal" we) don't like things too cold, or too hot. We also like to breathe certain specific things and we don't want gravity to be too severe. Water would be nice as well. Using these parameters the search for objects can be refined significantly. Guess what, based on early stages of study there must still be loads, to the extent that you could wish upon your own habitable comfy planet and not worry about supply and demand for a long time.

A quite comfy estate.
Let us pretend that we are not unique. Let us pretend that the only reason we have not encountered anyone else is that the distances involved in getting from point a to point b are just a bit too troublesome which is why we haven't met an interstellar race. Let us also pretend that contact is coming soon with a humanoid race that has evolved and developed separately to us. There would be a sharing of knowledge, they would have done certain things better and we would have done other things better. would have a list of things that we should be doing better, it would start like this:

  • Hose Pipe Bans - always start when we seem to be running out of water. Why is it that as soon as a hose pipe ban starts, a cataclysmic quantity of rain falls? Hose pipe bans came into effect in the UK on the 5th of April. I am pretty sure it has rained every day since.
  • Dentistry - how can it be that leaps and bounds are being made in every form of surgery except dentistry. The only thing that has changed in dentistry since its inception is the implementation of power tools. I accept that I would rather have bad bits of a tooth drilled out if the only other choice is a hammer and chisel, but seriously there has to be a better way. If something is being taken out they still use pliers, if the extraction is difficult the dentist puts a knee on your chest and pulls really hard. Dudes, this is the 21st Century.
  • Trains - why is it that the inventor of the train implements and runs one of the worst train infrastructures in the civilised world?
  • Underground - I've used it for a while now, a while being the best part of 20 years. Will there be a time when parts of the inner workings of it are not exposed to everyone? Will there be a time when it is finished?

I am sure, Dear Reader, you have some thoughts of your own that you would like to share with our inter-galactic neighbours. Use the comment form to share your thoughts and feelings with the wider Universe.

Tomorrow / today I will be considering various variants of the letter V

xx


Monday, 23 April 2012

Tea


Dear Reader,

Another day, another letter. Having managed to distract the Dear Lady Wife from another riveting episode of Judge Judy, we have our daily conversation regarding the subject matter for todays' post.

DLW: What letter is it today?
Moi: The letter T.
DLW: You should write about tea.
Moi: I know, the letter T,  that is what I am going to write about. I just told you that. But what exactly?
DLW: TEA! As in a cup of tea and you can make me one while you're up.

So, here I am writing about tea, after visiting the kettle to make some.

Although tea has been around for a long time, (evidence of tea consumption appears in Chinese history dating back to 10000 BC) it didn't find itself introduced into Britain until 1660. The great unwashed didn't take tea to their collective hearts until the middle of the 19th Century.

Nowadays, in Britain, tea is the cure for all ills. This may not be medically accurate or legally defensible, but bear with me. I remember, as a small child, falling off my bike in what seemed like spectacular fashion at the time. There was pain and a subsequent trip to the doctor as I had sprained an ankle. At the time of the accident, though, there was a cup of tea (with an extra sugar to help with the shock.) I have no idea whether it helped or not but it was very sweet. The subsequent trip to the doctor did not occur until it was quite clear that several gallons of tea were having no effect on the golf-ball sized lump that was emerging from the side of my ankle.  

The Dear Lady Wife hails from the North of the country, where the healing effects of a cup of tea in the most inappropriate of circumstances is common-place. If neighbors come round for a chat and deliver some bomb shell along the lines of  "My wife, Sheila, can't make it today, on account of being diagnosed with cancer of the thumb." The host would inevitably reply, "hmmm, would you like a cup of tea?" 

No scenario, no matter how shocking, can deflect the believe that a cup of tea will make it all better. "My wife, Sheila, can't make it today as she is a he called Charles and has eloped with the milkman." There may be some pursing of lips from the host. "You'll be needing a nice cup of tea, then."

"My wife, Sheila, died as a result of a tea overdose yesterday. It is a rare disorder, which I have also been diagnosed with. Just one cup of tea can trigger a catastrophic seizure." Lip pursing. "Just one sugar then?" Like I said, nothing can deflect the tea offering reflex.

In the British workplace along with tea, came the tea lady. A fantastic invention which, unfortunately, has largely died out. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon a trolley would be pushed around the workplace, delivering tea, with cakes if you were lucky.  

All tea ladies looked just like this, allegedly.
The spirit of the tea-lady lives on in Father Ted, in the shape of Mrs Doyle. She is the housekeeper who will not take no for an answer when it comes to tea and cake, as this snippet attests.


Included in the snippet above are these immortal lines:

Mrs Doyle: Now, what would you say to a nice cup of tea, Father?
Father Jack: Feck off, cup!

There is no doubt the Mrs Doyle character embodies the British relationship with the cup of tea. In the world of Mrs Doyle, everyone needs a cup of tea, all of the time, as demonstrated below:

Mrs. Doyle: There's always time for a nice cup of tea. Sure, didn't the Lord himself pause for a nice cup of tea before giving himself up for the world.
Father Ted Crilly: No, he didn't, Mrs Doyle!
Mrs. Doyle: Well, whatever the equivalent they had for tea in those days, cake or something. And speaking of cake, I have cake!
[She holds up a cupcake]
Father Ted Crilly: No, thanks, Mrs. Doyle.
Mrs. Doyle: Are you sure, Father? There's cocaine in it!
Father Ted Crilly: WHAT?
Mrs. Doyle: Oh, no, not cocaine. God, what am I on about? No, what d'you call them. Raisins.

It's getting late and I am starting to get a little worried that a number of my recent posts end up talking about some television program or another. Perhaps I should have posted about television, an opportunity missed.

Tomorrow, Dear Reader, I will be undulating around the letter U.

xx

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sloth


Dear Reader,

I began this post yesterday, when it should have been published. It didn't feel right, and it was hard to see where I was going with it. So I slept on it, (not literally, that would be silly.) Next morning I began to see what the problem was. I wasn't happy with the word. Seventies (the decade, not the age group) would have been the subject, but, it didn't feel right. Today I came up with something much better, let the sloth begin!

Starting with the sin, sloth, which is a bad one, apparently. Along with lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy and pride it is classed in certain religious circles as deadly. I imagine posting Saturday's post on a Sunday could be considered slothful so that's me sunk. Looking at the list I could see all of those happening in an average weekend, with the exception of wrath. I try to keep my wrath in check. Regular readers of this blog will note that I don't always succeed.

There is another type of sloth who isn't deadly and certainly isn't a sin. These sloths (two or three-toed) are residents of Central and South America jungles. They eat leaves and move very slowly. There are reasons for this which I will explain. 

I like it this way up.
Sloths are in fact specially adapted to be lazy. Leaves are tough and difficult to digest. When a leaf is swallowed by a sloth, it may not complete the journey through the sloth digestion system for twenty days. Leaves do not provide much energy, to cope with this sloths have a low metabolic rate and like to keep their core body temperature down. One of the tricks to achieving this is being lazy. Don't move too much, and when you do move, move slowly.

Sloths have adapted significantly and as a result have become one of the more successful animals that inhabit the rainforests. It would appear that being slothful is not that deadly after all.

Not only are sloths well adapted, they are also YouTube superstars, courtesy of the only sloth sanctuary in the world, Aviarios Del Caribe, located in Costa Rica.

   

I so need to get a job at this place, but the waiting list for employment is very long. You can see why.




Sloths can cross the road all on their own, but they are slow, so sometimes a little help is required. 




Actress Kirstin Bell LOVES sloths. Apparently an emotional character at the best of times, the thought of meeting a sloth for the first time proved a little too much. 



That's enough sloths I think, until tomorrow, Dear Reader, when I shall be tantalised by the letter T. 

xx

Friday, 20 April 2012

Rentaghost


Dear Reader, 

So here we are, at the letter R. Resucitation, resurrection, recombinant, racoon, Rentaghost, arrrrrrgh. Another one of those days where nothing seems to fit. Resuscitation and resurrection are things I need, not things I would write about. Recombinant is probably made-up. Racoon is tempting, a funny animal and a nice word. Rentaghost, hmm, this may have some mileage.

Apologies, Dear Reader, for what seems like another stage managed intro. All I can say is, if you've got nothing  to go with, then you go with what you've got. Rentaghost, then.

When I was a wee bairn I would come home from school, plonk myself in front of the television and share what my parents wanted to see. This was invariably on the "other side" as we knew it in those days. This implies that there were two sides as in "this side" and the "other side". For the sake of clarity: a "side" was what we now call a TV channel.

During these bygone days there were in fact "three" sides but the parents never talked about the "other other" side because it was not for the likes of me. Also the phrase "other other side" sounded a little silly. The parents never watched it either. As a consequence in my world there were just two "sides." The parents may have been syntactically incorrect but it all made sense to me. I could not spell, let alone comprehend the meaning of pedant at this point in history, so I just accepted the two "sides."

Whilst I sat through Crossroads, possibly the most turgid soap every to be unleashed upon the UK nation, all the good stuff was happening on the "other side." 

On the "other side" was Rentaghost. At that time in my life I was against television dumbing-up, if it sounds stupid and entertaining, then it should be. Don't be dressing up any stupid sounding programs in this time slot with anything irritating like education, character development, or science. Rentaghost failed miserably to dumb-up. As suggested by the name and the plot it was very silly, complete with silly titles and a rather amusing title song. This from the first episode, (1974), you'll get the idea after a minute or so... don't be scared of watching it all though.


It was fab on the fleeting occasions that I got access to the "other side." Grange Hill was also often on the other side. I was not so worried about this though. It was about a depressing comprehensive school where pupils had problems. Not only did I have problems with TV dumbing-up, I also had problems with TV not dumbing at all.

The Dear Lady Wife has just asked me about how much I can write about Rentaghost. The reality is about this much. There is, however, one little tidbit worth sharing with anyone who watches (or has watched,) Coronation Street. Scan the cast photo (circa 1984) below and see if anyone jumps out. Answers on a postcard...


If this post made no sense and did not connect, I apologise. That will be to anyone who was not resident in England between 1974 and 1984 and is now between the age of 35 and 45. Let me re-phrase... Apologies to the 6.95 billion Earthlings who don't know what I am talking about. 

Tomorrow, Dear Reader, I will be soliciting the letter S, laters...

xx

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Quantum Leap


Dear Reader, 

I always knew that Q was going to be a bit tricky... Any letter of the alphabet that attracts a double score in Scrabble all on it's own is a force to be reckoned with. This one has had me in a bit of a quandary for most of the day. I even have a dictionary next to me which I was going to open if an idea didn't come by the time I had finished dinner. Finally it arrived, like a bolt from my TV young adulthood.

So, Quantum Leap. This little gem of late 80's TV had a slightly strange premise, which was helpfully explained at the start of each episode. This titles clip below may help clear things up.


If you prefer reading the words here is that voice-over in all its glory.

Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so, Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

OK, that's all cleared up then. My memories of the program are a little more specific. The lead character Sam, played by Scott Bakula, often leaped into historical characters who were women. Consequently he was often in drag.

Very fetching.
Photographic evidence is a little sparse on this, although I counted at least seven instances of this in the title sequence from YouTube so I didn't imagine it, or worse, dream it. Maybe I should type something else into Google apart from "Scott Bakula in drag". No doubt when these usage statistics are collected and shared with I will be offered all sorts of interesting stuff at Amazon. Moving swiftly on...

Dr Beckett got to wear all manner of interesting outfits in the series but it still seems to me that the majority of the wardrobe budget went on Al, Sam's best friend who regularly in each episode in the form of a hologram. Al is from the future, which gave the costume department carte blanche to smoke some dope and then run up some truly natty threads.

Nice.

Nicer.
Nicest.
Yep, that's pretty much how I remember it, crazy like a fox. Mad clothes and a premise that meant every episode was fresh ensured that Quantum Leap has become a cult classic. It has also saved me having to write about quantum physics, I was seriously considering it.

Until tomorrow Dear Reader, when I will be respectfully regarding the letter R.

xx



Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Platypus


Dear Reader,

When casting around for something beginning with P that inspired me I struggled. My notes and scribbles  about this challenge compiled in various places had no spark to ignite me.  As I write this paragraph it is getting late, so once again I am burning the late night oil. Then it came to me... platypus!

It's such a gorgeous word and it's such a great animal. The platypus is a semi-aquatic mammal, a resident of Eastern Australia. That simple statement doesn't really do the platypus justice.

He's a cutie, if a little bonkers. His name is Patrick. 
Some platypus facts:
  • The platypus is one of only five species of egg-laying mammal.
  • The platypus has a bill like a duck.
  • The platypus has webbed feet like an otter.
  • The platypus has a tail like a beaver.
  • The platypus is venomous.
It's one mixed-up puppy basically. It's almost like [insert major deity here] had decided that he / she had finished the big job of creation and decided to kick back and have a few beers. Then he / she realised there were some animal bits left over, sprinkled them over Eastern Australia and this was what came out. How [insert major deity here] must have laughed with his / her mates when they beheld what had been created. I can't imagine how long they must have pondered over the name.

When the first specimen was borrowed from Australia and brought to England scientists thought that the platypus was some sort of practical joke and you can sort of see why.

Whilst browsing for more photos of the platypus, of which there are sadly few, I found this little fella, who is not the spiny platypus, he is in fact an echidna.

An echidna. His name is Eric.
I was a little confused as to why I would find a picture of this chap mixed in with numerous pictures of pet dogs savaging plush platypus toys. Remember there were only five species of egg laying mammals? Well, one is the platypus and echidnas account for other four. Echidnas are also resident of Australia, the land that proudly brings to you every crazy animal you could ever think of and spiders that hide in toilets waiting to bite your bum. This would be some more of the left-over bits sprinkled around after the [insert major deity here]'s post creation party.

Who thought I would end up writing a post regarding the only living species of egg-laying mammals? I am beginning to question my own sanity.

On the subject of questioning Dear Reader, tomorrow I will be doing just that to the letter Q.

xx 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Organisation


Dear Reader, 

Organisation is not my strong point. I remember back at the end of January when I first heard about the A-Z Challenge and thought what a fine idea that would be. I could see all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages. I will talk about the advantages once all this is over, but for the time-being I am going to focus on the disadvantages. These are not disadvantages to the challenge per se, but disadvantages specific to the challenge when undertaken by me.

I was not regular blogger, averaging just under three posts a month. So to produce the required output without losing my mind I would have to be organised. 

Like a student with an overwhelming amount of revision to think about I organised around the task without actually organising the task. Being involved in software I spent some time deciding the best format to store my notes in. I then spent further time working how best to share this information across all my computers all of the time. 

Organising - or task avoidance?
I won't bore you with the process but if you are interested then use the comment box and I will share my method. I ended with a tabbed document, sort of like a filing cabinet. There were 26 of them, and each had a letter on it. For a finishing touch I added the date that corresponded with the letter in question. I was ready, I was organised. It was March.

Come April 1st I had two posts which were pretty much complete and about another three that were half done. Two of these were then rejected and replaced by completely new posts.

Now I need to be a full-time writer, but I work full-time. Consequently, I return from work, saving hello to the long-suffering Dear Lady Wife. She is knitting A-Z Challenge Widow merchandise. I quite like the beany hat. I wave, sweep upstairs with a dramatic sigh and install myself in front of the computer. Another day, another blog post.

A choice currently not available to me.
It may sound like it, but I'm not complaining. Neither is the DLW, apparently she likes knitting A-Z Challenge Widow merchandise.

Having giving myself a proper dressing down about being organised I realise this post is all but finished and it's only 7.20 in the morning. I actually woke up early with this idea floating around in my head. This is scary, but OMG, it feels organised.

Till tomorrow, Dear Reader, when I will be peering at the letter P. 

xx

Monday, 16 April 2012

Navigation


Dear Reader,

Once upon a time there were no satellite navigation systems and your phone was just a phone. During those days people lived in caves and huddled round fires for warmth. When they needed to visit another cave they had to use strange pieces of paper with lines and symbols on them called maps. Maps came in two sizes, far too big and far too small, there was no in-between. If people travelled by car, someone would be nominated the navigator, who would be the master or mistress of the map. Heated exchanges would often be conducted between the driver and the navigator. Phrases such as "I meant the other left" were commonly used. It was a dark and mysterious time. People were often late for appointments.

An all too-common discussion regarding left and right.

Oh, the irony.
The Dear Lady Wife would use me as navigator even if I wasn't there. She had long ago decided that the symbols and lines on maps were just that, symbols and lines. They were also not to be trusted. A phone conversation would take place shortly before the DLW was due to arrive at her destination. A transcript is needed:

DLW: I am out of the underground and I walked the way you told me. I cannot see my destination.
Moi: What can you see?
DLW: Buildings, shops, a street magician.
Moi: I was hoping for a street name. 
DLW: Oh, Frog Street. 
Moi: You are heading in the opposite direction to which we discussed.
DLW: Are you sure your map is not upside down.
Moi: It's on a computer screen.
DLW: Well you clearly told me the wrong thing this morning otherwise I wouldn't be here now!

I can only assume that wherever DLW is when these conversations take place there is so much background noise that it is hard to hear the sound of her own voice. As a consequence she feels the need to screech. I miss those conversations.

Now people live in houses and shiny tower blocks and they have central heating. Huddling round fires is a lifestyle choice. Being late for appointments is a lifestyle choice. One contributor to this dramatic change in fortune is the invention of satellite navigation systems. 

There is nothing more comforting than being told where to go (in the nicest possible way.) Alternatively I can view a map that is the right size without killing myself. I do not have to understand geography anymore. If I visit the same faraway place twice I do not have to retain the route in my mind. As a consequence I can fill this now under-used portion of my brain with more important things like cricket stats.

Lovely Sat-Nav

In the hands of the DLW the satellite navigation system takes on a different, evil persona. Sat-nav can lie, tell half-truths, even speak in tongues. It can be deliberately upside-down, get confused between left and right, it can even lose contact with the sky. It can attempt sat-nav suicide by willfully throwing itself off the dashboard into the footwell of the car at a vital moment. It has even been known to mime.

DLW Sat-Nav
None of this has ever happened to me. The DLW has a special relationship with sat-nav, it is a relationship that needs counselling. As a result we still have those lovely conversations that I miss so much and that is good.

Tomorrow, Dear Reader, I will be ogling the letter O.

xx

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Musicals

Dear Reader,

So, another day, another letter. Musicals, this is one of my favorite things (sorry, rants.) I do have a number of problems with musicals. The dear lady wife has no problem with musicals, in fact she loves them. This is one of the problems I have with musicals. There are a few more, a bullet-pointed list perhaps?
  • A movie or theatre piece should not have major points of plot acted out with songs.
  • The same applies to dancing.
  • The same applies to incidental dancers.
  • The same applies to production numbers.
  • Unrealistic, candy-coated, sickly sweet worlds like those portrayed in Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and the like don't exist and never will, (hopefully).
Does not exist.
Regarding the last point I understand that suspension of disbelief is required, I just have trouble suspending it from that height. Maybe it's a vertigo thing.

I also understand that I am a hypocrite of sorts. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Blues Brothers. At least one major point of plot is settled by a dance routine. There is also one production number. It is however, quite brilliant. 

Perfectly feasible.
Moulin Rouge is very good and I can sit through Chicago as well. So, enough of the hypocrisy. I do have another problem with musicals which I have alluded to on this blog previously here. It does seem that a musical can be about almost anything. Some examples follow in my second bullet-pointed list of the day, some more successful than others.
  • Spamalot - Eric Idle's musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This started on Broadway making an obscene amount of money and landed in London later when I noticed the billboard for it. At the time I was dubious to say the least. On reflection, I think I might quite like it.
  • Jerry Springer: The Opera - So an opera is still a musical right? Take the life of chat-show host and trailer-trash baiting Jerry and turn it into a musical. Obviously. 
  • Shrek: The Musical - The film was successful, so lets make a musical out of it. Hmm...
  • Sweeney Todd - Still running, this is the story of a barber who gets wrongly sent to prison. Upon release he sets up shop again, butchering his customers to music apparently. To clear up any chicken and egg questions coming my way, the musical was first, followed by the Tim Burton film adaption.
  • Shane Warne: The Musical - For those who don't know Shane Warne was one of the greatest cricketers Australia ever produced, a spin bowler extraordinaire. More recently he has hit the headlines in the UK for dating Liz Hurley (still ongoing apparently.) The life of a sportsman is of course a perfect subject for a musical, not.
  • Spiderman: The Musical - currently in production apparently. I kid you not.
This is all highly amusing and proves to me that one thing must be true of musicals: if people will pay for it, someone will give it to them. This is fine of course, this is capitalism. Shane Warne: The Musical might not work so well in North Korea.

Anyhoo, I think I may be done with musicals, more next week Dear Reader, when I nudge and nurdle the letter N.

xx

Llama


Dear Reader,

Once again on a deadline, fishing for anything that inspires me and I came up with Llama. I have always liked the animal, without ever touching one but also the word. So I googled it. Apparently it wasn't just me. The word llama will yield a number of interesting and some what bizarre results.

We have to begin with my first exposure to all worlds Llama. This happened when I was first exposed to a computer and the special talents of a man called Jeff Minter. Those of a non-geek mentality might want to bail out for a paragraph or so. Jeff Minter eventually, ran Llamasoft, provider of some very fine computer software, first for the ZX81, and later for the Commodore 64, Atari ST and others. One of the things that attracted about the games were the titles. Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time, and Sheep in Space still make me chuckle. I note Llamasoft lives still and is currently reproducing all of is classic stuff as i-Phone apps. I will be downloading once space becomes available on my rather clutttered phone. Also on the site is a rather entertaining biography of Jeff, by Jeff. 

Then there is the nice people at Llamas with Hats whose YouTube animations are a joy to behold. Judging by the number of hits, it isn't just me...


So we have two llamas, one mild-mannered and the other a little psychotic and they both wear hats.

Then there is the song. If you have recently recovered from an irritating song related addiction DO NOT click the link below...


Then there was my honeymoon. I didn't go to Peru, (or wherever this particular animal hails from) because I didn't need to. The Llama's close cousin, the Alpaca had a herd in the UK in Devon, where we spent a couple of days on our mini honeymoon before our full-gas run through South-East Asia. I picked this location for two reasons, the alpacas and the private jacuzzi. So, first the jacuzzi... It was certainly private as it was housed in an outhouse / private building a significant distance from the rest of the accommodation. It was in fact, in a field. It did everything it said on the tin, I just needed to look at the tin more closely. 

The main reason for the trip, was the Alpacas who were friendly, allegedly. They were in fact cute, but only from a distance. More stand-offish than friendly. Oh well.

See what I mean? Cute.
The more astute and regular visitors to this blog would know that this is an A-Z challenge post. It should have been posted yesterday. I am late. Perhaps slightly too far under the influence of wine last night I did publish this to my test blog, but not the live one. Better late than never I suppose. Normal service will be resumed later when I will be munching on the letter M.

Till later Dear Reader.

xx