Monthly archive

Haven’t you got better things to do?

Eden - Tropical Biome

It is astonishingly hot and humid coming into the Tropical Biome, like walking into a warm sweaty sock, and within a few minutes of steep climbing through the jungle, you start to think maybe Britain’s boring mild climate isn’t so bad after all. I have no doubt that the real jungle is much, much worse, and there isn’t a magnificently stocked organic cafeteria a few hundred yards away. Still once you have got to the top there is a wonderfully refreshing waterfall, which becomes a stream running all the way down through the forest to a pool at the bottom.

It is a common photographers’ trick to shoot moving water with a slow shutter, to give this nice motion blur effect. This was taken at 1/20th sec, but as you can see it is extremely difficult in full sunlight to keep the exposure from being much too hot. A neutral density filter (or a pair of sunglasses over the lens) would probably help here.

Eden is not a botanical garden but what they call ‘a living theatre of plants and people’, where they try to show what plants mean to us and how they shape our world. All through the Tropical Biome are displays about the plant products that we take for granted such as rubber, sugar, Coca-Cola, bananas, chewing gum, rice ekcetera (though the world’s most valuable commodity is mysteriously absent; perhaps local councillors balked at the plans for the ‘Up Your Nose: Cocaine Past, Present and Future’ exhibition featuring huge bales of Peruvian flake and fronted by the vivacious Daniella Westbrook), and as you come into the biome it is as though you’ve just landed at the docks and are looking around excitedly at your surroundings, full of traveller’s excitemint at a new paradise to explore, and about to be taken for a bloody fortune by a grinning local taxi driver.

It is not surprising that inside the world’s largest conservatory there should be some pretty tall plants. This palm is massive and I saw in the DVD that it had to be brought on the same low-loader that they use for transporting the Space Shuttles, and it nearly did not make it in through the doors. It would be funny if it was removal men and they just crammed it in saying ‘Don’t worry luv we’re professionals’ and ripped off all the branches, broke a window and some irreplaceable china, and then pissed off to sit in their cab smoking roll-ups and reading the Daily Mirror.

The biome is awfully cunningly laid out, so that the paths and stairways double back on one another and wind up and down through the jungle so that you seem to be walking for miles, through oceanic islands, Malaysia, West Africa, and Amazonia, although it is actually only about three acres. Still it is big enough to fit the Tower of London inside according to the Eden Project web site, although I am not sure how they know. Perhaps they borrowed the Tower of London one drunken night and drove it to Cornwall on the low-loader. It is like the next stage on from waking up badly hung over with a policeman’s helmet in the bed.

This cheerful truck represents the sugar industry, or something, although it looks more like the hippy bus to Marrakesh or some vehicle that Cheech and Chong might drive, made entirely out of panels pressed from gold-quality hashish. Do you think when they transport great shiploads of sugar across the world that Customs officers have to sample every bag just in case they’ve slipped a couple of tons of heroin in there? It is an entertaining thought.

Eden - Temperate Biome

Just various flowers and such like. It would be great if I had a big super garden like this, and it would be full of sweet scented plants and herbs and flowers. As I was saying to Sarah I would like a verandah, some jacaranda, and a lot of other things ending in ‘-anda’ such as a gander, or a panda.

Passport photo

The rules say you are not allowed to smile. So this is my official passport face.

I have an interesting relationship with my face. I mean I do not know whether it is actually good looking or not, but in several senses it does not really matter. It is the one I have, so there’s no changing it anyway. It is not like press-on faceplates for cell phones, although that would be pretty interesting. Maybe I could have a red shiny face in the winter, and it could be a sleek, futuristic brushed aluminium in the summer months.

hullo clouds hullo sky

More grainy cameraphone pictures. I am quite impressed with the little K510i really considering it only has no megapixels, and is being operated by a wazzock.

This is the view from my window. I leaned dangerously out to take this which is a silly idea after a bottle of Leffe, so this was almost an obituary. “Lard, 34, is survived by his collection of guitars and a half-eaten chicken balti.”

The Bay of Rainbows

I was watching an exciting movie about space (Event Horizon) but I kept noticing actual space out of the window behind the screen; the great shining pregnant Moon riding clouds in a dark sky. I think I would have been all right in the days before telly as I can sit and look at the Moon and stars for hours, as everyone who knows me can testify with some annoyance.

I do not know why I never thought of it before but the little binoculars that Steve the Sheep gave me for bird noticing also come in handy for Moon noticing! Looking at our nearest neighbour with the naked eye is a bit disappointing as you can see a vaguely familiar pattern of dark smudges, or a face, depending how many and what grade of drugs you’ve smoked. But a zoom lens or even the smallest binoculars teleport you into a breathtaking landscape of craters and dark seas, hard-edged and glowing in brilliant sunlight against the pure blackness of space.

It is even more amazing through a decent telescope: the image that swims into focus in front of you is so clear and sharp that it is like looking at really high-quality satellite photographs. You feel that if there were people down there you’d be able to make out their license plates and newspaper headlines. It brings it home to you with a gut immediacy that you are looking down on an alien world, and it’s real.

The photo (by Eric Roel) shows a detail of the Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Rains.

To find it, look for the three roughly similar sized-blobs at the top right of the Moon’s face (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, otherwise, the bottom left) and go left to the large dark area above the bright pinpoint crater Copernicus. This is the Mare Imbrium. Now look at the patch of lighter highlands to the north - the ‘shoreline’. There is an almost perfect semicircular notch out of it. This is Sinus Iridium: the Bay of Rainbows. What an amazing name!

You can’t help looking at the Moon differently when you know there’s a Bay of Rainbows up there.

The rain came down

I did not see any meteoroloids as it turns out. Because of cloud!

I had a super day out bikling today though and went to Barnet, came back via Tescos where I bought healthy chicken salad ingrediments, stopped at the Dignity for a couple of refreshing pints of Leffe and to do the Telegraph crossword, and then relaxed with intellergent dramas such as I, Claudius. It does not get much better than that really, except that I also recorded a new session from the Archway Guitar Quartet!

Chich'en Dippers

So as to rinse that slightly unpleasant taste out of my mouth, here’s the cheerful news of the day!

I got a lot of things done including

  • Company tax return
  • Monthly invoice
  • Laundry
  • Gave my bike a good wash (somewhat to the detriment of the bath) and thoroughly degreased and lubed the chain
  • Installed some new speaker cables which necessitated burrowing so deeply into the nest of wires and fluff behind my desk that it basically counts as archaeology

So hurrah for me!

Also when I was hunting on Amazon for People of the Serpent, E.H. Thompson’s classic 1930s tale of exploring and excavating the Maya cities in Yucatán, including Chich’en Itza, which always sounds like some kind of fowl pest, I did not find it but Amazon suggested these very acceptable substitutes:

  • Spotlight-mode Synthetic Aperture Radar: A Signal Processing Approach by Charles V. Jakowatz, Daniel E. Wahl, Paul H. Eichel, and Dennis C. Ghiglia
  • Quincy, Seasons 1 and 2 DVDs
  • Laser Weapons Technology III by William E. Thompson and Paul H. Merritt
  • Trentepohliales: Cephaleuros, Phycopeltis, Stomatochroon - Morphology, Taxonomy, and Ecology by Rufus H. Thompson and Daniel E. Wujek
  • Development of Long Rigid Bars for Roof Support Along the Coal Face by H R Thompson and E M Loxley
  • Skelton Village: The Continuing Community by H E C Stapleton and Michael James A Thompson

So there is a rich seam of intrest there for when I get bored with amazing temples and pyramids ekcetera. I’ve been meaning to get some of these books anyway as I am fed up with always feeling embarrassed and left out at parties when the conversation turns to synthetic aperture radar.


Especially for Sarah, as I sent her this grainy phone-cam picture but she could not see it owing to potato-powered Irish cellphone network. That is a joke by the way in case I get hundreds of emails from outraged Irish readers, it is a beautiful and modern country which in many ways puts this one to shame, and it is not all Guinness and jockeys like you thought. Well, maybe a bit.

The Cher Effect

I was reading up a little on Auto-Tune, a proprietary pitch correction system well known to sound engineers. Digitally adjusting the pitch of a vocal sound is not hard to do, but having it not sound like Cher on ‘Believe’ is quite a bit more involved. It turns out according to an intresting Sound on Sound article that the ‘Cher effect’ was actually done with a vocoder, which is sort of the inverse of a pitch corrector. But lots of people have copied this effect by just using an Auto-Tune set up for over-aggressive pitch quantization.

I think it’s quite amusing that engineers probably laboured for years to make a subtle and undetectable pitch correction system, only to find that everyone just turns the subtlety off and makes themself sound like a poorly-maintained robot on purpose. For a while the effect was so annoyingly overdone that there was a big backlash against it and now Auto-Tune has a bad name - even though it wasn’t actually responsible for the Cher effect.

The surprising thing though is how widely it’s actually used. Auto-Tune-like DSP plugins are standard fare in audio software and, used sensitively and sparingly, pitch correction can be undetectable. I do notice it on the odd track, though - Maroon 5’s ‘She Will Be Loved’ has a bit of Auto-Tune wobble which I hope isn’t a deliberate producer decision. I’m sure there are lots more examples. In the old days engineers used to ‘punch’ a dodgy vocal, re-recording the line and effectively cutting and pasting the right note in, or just put together one good track from several takes. But this can burn a lot of expensive studio time, and of course you can’t do it live.

A cynic might say that the advent of decent real-time pitch correction allows people who can’t really sing to become pop stars. The trouble is that all the expressivity and emotion of human music lies in its deviation from perfect pitch and timing. Craig Anderton in an article in EQ magazine tells how he applied time quantisation to a superbly expressive piano performance to make it ‘perfect’ and completely ruined it, making it sound, well, sequenced.

I do not really listen to a lot of pop music, as I’m completely divorced from all popular culture, and tend to not be familiar with anything written after about 1750, but what I do hear leaking from people’s iPod earbuds and minicab radios everywhere sounds very bland and undistinctive. I can’t help wondering to what extent the cheapness and ubiquity of digital sound processing equipment is to blame. An engineer of my acquaintance once told me that you should spend all your studio money on a really top-notch reverb and forget everything else.

Perhaps that budget should now be amended to include a few singing lessons.