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Weds 27th February 2008

The Philosopher's Magazine have this fun game called Battleground God . I managed to survive unscathed and was even awarded the TPM medal of honour! smile

god_medal1.jpg

They also have a whole host of other games which are a little out of the ordinary. Despite what TPM recommend, I'd play Battleground God before Do-It-Yourself Deity - it's more fun and intuitive!

Monday 18th February 2008

Robyn Hitchcock

I've been a fan of Robyn Hitchcock since I was about 17. The first song I heard was Uncorrected Personality Traits which I thought was very strange! I've got tonnes of his albums, and seen him play around a dozen times.

Tonight, he was playing tracks from I Often Dream of Trains which included that first track I ever heard! Mostly, this album is soft and melodic with some quite psychedelic guitar. One of the nice things about seeing Robyn live are the rather odd soliloquies he gives in-between songs. We also had Terry Edwards on various instruments including piano, and Tim Keegan on guitar. Tim played a solo set too which was very good and the perfect pairing to Robyn - they're both very practiced guitarists. For the encore, Morris Windsor appeared to play some percussion and do vocals - though he appeared a little uncomfortable.

robyn_hitchcock.jpg
Robyn Hitchcock

tim_keegan.jpg
Tim Keegan

Sunday 17th February 2008

Tamworth Castle

I've never been to Tamworth before. It's a strange mix. There's a castle, and a cathedral dating back to around 1100. However, facing the cathedral is one of the worst examples of a squat, concrete, 1960s/70s shopping centre I've seen. Just what were they thinking!

The night had been very cold, and there was a frost on the ground, but the sky was very clear and the sun beat down to create very clear "frost shadows".

frost_shadows.jpg
Frost Shadows

Here's a picture of the view from the castle - note the contrasts.

view_from_castle1.jpg
view_from_castle2.jpg

The displays in the castle were good - with various costumes etc to try on. There is quite a nice picture of me in the stocks, but maybe this isn't the best place to post it smile

However, I think my favourite things at the castle were the children's letters of thanks. Have a look at these two:

thank_you_letter.jpg
"Thank You - I licked the air raid siren" - Why didn't I think of doing that? It sounds like fun!!!

thank_you_letter2.jpg
"Thank You - Be good though..." If you can't quite make it out on the photo, this one says Dear Staff, Thank you for letting us make our lucky charms. If you did something really wrong you would have your head chopped off. Thank you for letting us go. It reads like a bit of a veiled threat to me.

After the castle we had a pub lunch at a local hotel, followed by a very nice walk along the river.

grafitti_bridge.jpg
Graffiti Bridge

another_bridge.jpg
Another Bridge

Saturday 16th February 2008

Rapunzel

Kneehigh Theatre are one of my favourite companies, and today I saw their performance of Rapunzel at Warwick Arts Centre.

Performed in the round, with some me the audience, including myself, luckily, seated on hay bales up close. Wonderful staging. The stage consisted of two interlocking circles of slated wood with space underneath for the company to whizz around while lying on little carts. This meant they could, for example, make a herb garden grow by poking plants through. The centre of the stage attached to ropes hanging from the ceiling allowing it to be lifted up as Rapunzel's tower. As always they had a live band, with a characteristicly recogniseable sound. No sound track cd was available, unlike at Cymbeline.

As this was a matinee performance, there were a lot of (generally quite young) children there and there were some quite gruesome bits - eyeballs being plucked out on the points of scisors; a finger being chopped off. Ow!

There were also lots of laughs and warm, funny sections. There was a live, cute, rabbit and a sheep attack! There was also a wild boar who poo'd on the stage! You had to be there really. smile

We also had a child friendly explanation of the concept me inflation and a more adult falling-in-love scene - Ping-a-ling! as the song went. Overall, a fantastic performance, which just confirmed my love of Kneehigh. If you get the chance to see them performing anything, go! You won't regret it smile

They do one big production each year, and this should come to the REP I hope - their Brief Encounter and Cymbeline were stunning!

Wednesday 13th February 2008

Los Campesinos

As both Ken and Ben have been recommending this band for an age, I thought I'd better check them out! The Academy (2) was packed with a mixed, but mainly quite young crowd.

Supporting were local band, Johnny Foreigner (or "Hibbt Fireuber" as I just mistypoed into Google) who encouraged us to buy their t-shirts so they could "afford to get out of Birmingham" because they were sick of it! Hmmm... not the best way to seduce your crowd. And when one of the crowd did shout out that they fancied the lead singer, he made it quite clear he didn't appreciate that sort of comment from men smile I make them sound bad, but they weren't really. They could probably just benefit from being a bit more tolerant of their audience!

Musically, they were at their best for me with the lighter songs where they could make the best of the dual male-female vocals.

Los Campesinos also featured multiple vocals, and a multitude of instruments - including a glockenspiel and violin, making a mellower sound and causing some wild dancing and a lot of crowd surfing - with our surfers being passed across to a very resigned looking security guard.

Tuesday 12th February 2008

Darwin Day

Darwin Day celebrate's the birthday of Charles Darwin, and here in Birmingham it brought together a wide variety of speakers on topics ranging from "Global Warming - What Happened Last Time" (it took around 10,000 years to occur, lead to mass extinctions, and the planet took 100,000 years to return to the previous temperature - this time it's happening about 400 times more rapidly!), to the family history of Darwin's descendants. We also had parasitic plants, and the application of evolutionary psychology to crime! Melvin Bragg would be proud of us smile

darwin_day2.jpg
What happened in the last 4.56 Billion Years...

The image above shows some major events in the history of the earth. Note where the dinosaurs appear (projected onto our speaker's left leg). They're pretty far to the right aren't they!

The event you can't really see at 1.7ish Billion years ago is "First Cells with Nucleus" - took a while!

Rafta Rafta

The Rep's main house is playing Rafta Rafta at the moment - a (mostly) comic story about a Bolton based Indian family. I loved it - great characters, and an amazing set - a open fronted terraced house, where selective lighting was used to draw yours attention to the room where the action was happening. Due to illness, the part of the father was played by a different actor than scheduled, but he was excellent - I couldn't believe they would have had someone else playing that part!

Monday 11th February 2008

Lasan's

I've only eaten at Lasan's once before, a couple of year back, and recall it being good. A post card which came with our bill quoted the Independent as putting it in the top 10 of British Indian restaurants. Without doing the survey work, I can't place it it the ranking, but the food was very good and quite a refreshing change from most "Indian" (i.e. balti) food in Brum.

As a starter I had very tasty little cakes made of spinach with a crispy outside, and for a main I went for stuffed marrow - very nicely presented in cleanly cut rings. Rasmalai with a pistachio ice-cream froth rounded it off.

Definitely one to visit again.

Sunday 10th February 2008

Chinese New Year

Actually, Chinese New Year was on Thursday, but as that wasn't a public holiday here in the UK, the Birmingham celebrations took place today. I caught the last hour or so of acrobatics, dance and dragons at the Arcadian Centre in China Town, and it was packed! So many people with camera and camera phones. The acts were good (and slightly bizarre), a contortionist who balanced multiple candelabra on her body, a troupe of young men in space-soldier costumes who did amazing leaps though small gaps, and the amazing Chinese mask magician! A special word has to be said for the compares, who gave us humorous intros in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. My Mandarin is a bit limited, so I didn't catch all that was said, but before the candelabra balancer came on, the Cantonese woman told us that there we could keep any items that fell into the audience!

man_with_two_heads_balances_benches.jpg
Man with two heads balances benches

finale.jpg
Finale Pyramid

lion_and_crowd.jpg
Look out for that Lion!

Thursday 7th February 2008

More You Tube Election Statistics

Here's some some quite striking figures on the official YouTube "channels" for Clinton, and Obama. I threw in BarelyPolitical too, as I know they've got some videos with high viewing figures.

obama_you_tube.png clinton_you_tube.png barely_political_you_tube.png
obama_most_viewed.png clinton_most_viewed.png barely_political_most_viewed.png

Interesting to compare the content of the 3 videos above too. Obama's is about policy, Barely Political is a catchy song, and Clinton's is an appeal for people to send in suggestions for a theme song!

Wednesday 6th February 2008

Anonymous Action

The weird anti-scientology hacker action group, Anonymous, are at it again...

They started with an excellent manifesto (YouTube), which is both strange and engaging, like an artist's manifesto, but like something from Sci-Fi too. They've previously organised cyber-attacks on the scientology web-servers (Scientology often tries to suppress other websites who criticise them), and are planning a series of real life protests against the "church" of scientology - here's their (rather odd) set of rules for protesting (YouTube).

There's a big Scientology centre in Birmingham, just off New St, opposite Chez Jule I think. You can see the people with clip boards hanging out on New St almost every day. There was a small anti-Scientology protest there a few years back, and they had some great leaflets explaining more about the amount of cash and time you'd need to invest in order to move up the levels of this "mystery religion", getting revelations at each stage, until you find out that the reason problems exist is because you are inhabited by the spirits of long dead aliens! (South Park clip on You Tube).

And yes, really is, "what Scientologists actually believe "

Maybe there'll be more protests in Brum in response to this. That would be fun!

Monday 4th February 2008

Kate Goes... and does a Radio 1 Session

Ace Moseley band Kate Goes... did a Radio 1 "Maida Vale Session" with Huw Stephens recently. It was broadcast last Weds and you can hear it here (It will probably disappear on Weds). They are about 1 Hour, 12 Mins into the show. You'll hear great versions of Happy Dancing, Walk in the Park (or is it called "flob"?), Kung Foo Movie, Heartbeat and the Kate Goes... on a Lifesaving Course theme tune.

There's also videos of the session to check out where you can see their costumes smile

Sunday 3rd February 2008

Wargames

I ran across this trailer for Wargames on YouTube today. It reminded me what a good film it was. I think I'll try get hold of a copy.

When I was a kid I won a modem in a competition (run by British Telecom - Boy! Did they make their money back), so I used to have a modem back when no-one knew what they were. I had access to Prestel (which was very like teletext, but you could send emails and there were lots more pages), and bulletin boards which you had to phone up. Those were the days...

The Youth/Internet Vote in US Presidential Elections

BBC News has an article about a "Youth Forum" debate for presidential candidates . I've been look in a little at how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton compare online - though it's difficult to compensate for Hillary Clinton's previous stint as first lady.

For instance:
Search Results for ... "Barack Obama" (Obama) "Hillary Clinton" (Clinton -Bill -William) Notes
Flickr 25k (43k) 13k (73k) Full names not in quotes due to tag system
YouTube 29k (71k) 33k (65k)  
Google 4.1M (15M) 10M (3.5M)  

Interestingly the google search for clinton -bill -william mainly turns up places called Clinton.

Search Trends show Obama ahead:
obama_clinton_trends.png
Google Searches for Obama and Clinton (6 months)

obama_clinton_trends_jan2008.png
Google Searches for Obama and Clinton (Jan 2008)

But the nail in the coffin for the Clinton re-election campaign has to be Obama Girl (YouTube)! She's "Got a Crush on Obama" and her Super Obama Girl video is currently riding high in the YouTube Charts.

Saturday 2nd February 2008

The Wonder of the Internet

It's Saturday morning, I could be listening to Radio 4 or reading a Saturday paper, instead, due to the marvel of the internet, I'm listening to a podcast of the "Best Japanese Albums of 2007" courtesy of Japanator Radio and browsing colour photos of the VoynichManuscript which probably dates back to the 14th or 15th Century.

The great thing about podcasts and internet radio is that you can skip the bits you don't like - e.g. the noise-metal!

How to Neaten Up Images with VectorMagic

Every tried resizing an image for printing and got this?
1_original_bitmap.png 2_zoomed_in.png 2b_section_of_resized_original.png
The Original Bitmap from
Birmingham Friends of the Earth's
new website
A close up of the original What happens if you resize the original.
It looks funny. Funny peculiar.
Odd. Not nice. frown

VectorMagic is a great service from Stanford University. It takes a bit-map image (e.g. a photo or logo in .jpg, .png or .gif format) and converts it into a "vector" image. Basically it spots the lines and shapes in the original and converts them from a pattern of dots into the actual shapes. So if your image has a circular pattern of dots, it works out it's meant to be a circle and stores it as such.

Why is this useful? Well, it's great for allowing you to re-size images. If all you've got is a small .GIF file version of a logo, you can (i) upload it into VectorMagic and then (ii) download a .SVG version which you can re-scale to any size - without getting a blocky image. What you get out is actually better than what you put in, breaking the old computer rule of GIGO (Garbage-In, Garbage Out) using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

You can just download the smoothed and processed image as a .PNG file (the modern equivalent of a GIF) in which case you'll have cleaned it up but not re-sized it, or you can download it as an infinitely scalable vector graphic in .SVG or .EPS format. This is very handy if you want to print something much bigger than your original image. E.g. You want to take a logo from your website and print it in a magazine or onto a banner.

Once you've got your .SVG file, you'll want to be able to re-size it, and this is where I got stuck... I tried lots of programs and combinations of programs and special image converter etc. but to no avail. I then downloaded the GIMP Graphics Editor . Here it's dead simple. When you (iii) open a .SVG file in Gimp, the first thing it asks you is how big you want to render it in pixels. (iv) Enter the size (click on the "chain" icon to keep the width/height ratio the same), then (v) save it as a PNG or BMP or GIF or whatever, and job done!

5_zoomed_resized_vector_version.png
Close up of the logo after resizing
using Vector Magic and Gimp.
Smooth eh! smile

Click to see full logo resized using Vector Magic and GIMP

The process above (and saving the examples) took me 10 minutes, and I just chose the default options in both Vector Magic and Gimp - easy!

Incidently, for simple graphics editing on windows I recommend Paint.Net which is easy to use and looks much more like a standard windows program than Gimp. For image viewing (e.g. flicking through photos) I always use Irfanview - it's fast to load and use, it works well and it's not over complicated.

You can also use Vector Magic to clean up and smooth photos and I think you get some quite nice effects.

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