Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ever been to a book club?

The first rule about book club is: you do not talk about book club.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Satin Bowerbirds

Why Satinbowerblog?

Tsk and sigh.

The Satin Bowerbird is an Australian bird which gathers trinkets for passers by to look at.

For some reason these birds are obsessed with blue objects - this has become an easier obsession to feed since the appearance of western people with plastic rubbish.

I thought the analogy for blogging was complete.

And obvious.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Circulating on the net, funny I thought:

Excerpts from a Dog's Diary ...

8:00 am - Dog food! My favourite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favourite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favourite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favourite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favourite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favourite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favourite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favourite thing!
6:00 pm - Oooh, Bath. Bummer.
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favourite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favourite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favourite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat's Diary ...

Day 983 of my captivity.
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.

They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow - but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now ...

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Ever since a somewhat spectacular head injury I have been troubled with regular migraine headaches. As every sufferer will tell you - they're something of a pest.

A kindly neurologist has given me access to gratis Zolmitripan - an expensive drug of rapid and complete effectiveness. One is somewhat wary of it's side effects - which unfortunately include the absence of the drug becoming a trigger for headaches.

But lo! After some internettery I found that some people use the most delightful and unexpected preventative measure. After protracted trials I can now publish the fact that - for me - dark chocolate stops nascent migraines. Woo and hoo!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Urban Dictionary

A friend was told at work (in the 'states) that something was "S.O.L."

The context implied that being "S.O.L." was to be of great misfortune, to the extent that one might feel somewhat aggrieved.

Turning to the net - I stumbled across the Urban Dictionary.

Turns out I guessed correctly

The site is amusing provided you're able to tolerate a high level of obscenity and profanity.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Join my LinkedIn Network

I've never met a trainspotter - but I imagine that trainspotting is about standing forlorn on windswept railway platforms writing down lists of trains you have seen.

It seems to me that LinkedIn is about sitting forlorn on Herman Miller Aerons writing down lists of people that you have worked with.

Toot toot!

Saturday, December 6, 2008


A book of disconcerting proportions - a fat paperback as thick as those abominable airport-bookshop ones with their lurid titles in gold relief lettering. Polished turds most of them.

Shogun however is pretty fab. In spite of its bulk here are very few dull pages in it ...

It is loosely based on the exploits of William Adams - thought to be the first Briton to reach, then feudal, Japan.

Some time ago Giles Milton wrote one of his very palatable popular histories on Adams:

Read the novel first I would suggest, it is a shame to let facts get in the road of a good story.

Attempting to make a virtue of a necessity.

Most bloggers blurt out a torrent of self indulgent inanity - eventually realising that no-one reads it and no-one cares. This includes me, of course.

Recently a commentator, Todd Sieling, has identified slow-blogging - in which people carefully craft large higher quality essays at their own pace, posting quite infrequently (eventually realising that no-one reads it and no-one cares).

In place of slow-blogging I give you: working-very-hard-on-a-new-job-of-eyewatering-complexity-and-stress-levels-and

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde

This pic is from a farm in south-eastern Australia where my much envied in laws live.

Their stock is occasionally troubled by foxes. (Yes, there are foxes in Australia - they were imported for hunting by early European settlers. Hardly surprisingly they bred up and ran riot. Both settlers and foxes that is).

The dog is a Maremma, which is a working dog with an interesting trait. They bond to whatever they're bought up with, often sheep in their native Italy, and are left outside to live with that adopted family. Usually quite gentle, they are big and brave, and will fight anything that threatens their "siblings". Most predators know better than to try.

In a reverse adoption - this dog, Bonnie, was adopted by a duck. As far as I know the duck has no name - but I would suggest Clyde is appropriate.

Sadly most of Clyde's flock had fallen victim to foxes - however she was smart enough to latch on to Bonnie - now sleeping beside the big dog at night. Occasionally she tests the relationship by plucking out bits of Maremma fur for her nest - so, not completely smart it seems.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The past 2 months' Saturday morning mountain bike rides have been very autumnal. Clear skies, crispy cold to start and then warming as the hours pass.

This morning was the first proper winter ride - grey, relentlessly cold and loads of mud. Bursts of mud-traversing-horsepower pushed through summer softened bikes led to a large number of "mechanicals" including a major one after a fall (by luck rather than skill - this was not me).

For the cognoscenti a wrenched handlebar crushed the top of the fork steerer - this meant that the spacers had to be moved above the stem so that it was gripping lower down on what was left of round steerer tube. Getting the spacers off past the squished tube involved comedy application of nature's hammer - being a large lump of wood.


The derailleur hidden in the mud above is the last bit of XT equipment on my bike. It knows that there is an XTR replacement sitting waiting for it to fail - because of this it keeps on working - happily shuffling the chain side to side under the most dire of circumstances.

The boots, by the way, are Specialized Defrosters. Warm and dry - I recommend them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Last year the Office of Governemnt Commerce launched their new £14,000 logo. Happily no-one thought of what happened to the logo when it was turned 90 degrees clockwise as might easily happen when printed on a pen or a mousemat. Most excellent.

Order from chaos.

SpecialBike is a company that sells restored bikes. They seem to dredge up discarded bikes from dumps, canals, carboot sales and completely rebuild them into plain, elegant and rather lovely new ones.

If you want a rubbish bike to ride to the pub once or twice and then leave outside to rust then get a £100 bike from Halfords or the like. Priced somewhere between this and a more expensive proper bikeshop bike you may find a Special Bike.

Here are some.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saburo Sakai

Saburo Sakai was an extraordinary man.

Research into his life is left as an exercise for the reader. If you can get hold of his biography "Samurai!" you may find it moving. While the underlying activity of young men fighting to terrifying deaths in aeroplanes is awful, his bravery and talent make for a fine story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bella Donna

This Ducati Pantah is one of my motorbikes from the 1980s. A far faster bike than I was a rider, quite pretty, a fantastic noise. By now it will either be rusting somewhere in a dump, or someone will have rescued it and it will sit glittering and pristine in a nice dry garage. The latter we hope.

For the terminally sad - here is what a Pantah sounds like. A purposeful growl I think.

My little garden

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flight of the Bumble Bee

Metafilter is a slacker's timewasting internet site. Never look at it! It's too late for me - so allow me to watch for interesting things for you. I stumbled across a Metafilter link to a YouTube clip of someone playing a marimba. They were hammering out "Flight of the Bumblebee" with blinding speed. You remember what a marimba is - they're a big xylophone for grown ups - for a mysterious English reason they are usually played by swivel eyed mad women toward the end of the last night of the proms, god awful. A quick look through the related YouTube clips showed that Flight of the Bumblebee has an unholy appeal to marimba players. They seethe over the piece like iridescent green blowflies on a particularly fetid turd.

Bear with me now ...

Joseph Goebbels was a Nazi minister - naturally this means he was a horrible horrible person. The remarkable thing about him was his exquisite hypocrisy. The man was Minister for Propaganda (Minister of Public Enlightenment was his title, I believe) and thus in no small way responsible for the persecution and murder of zillions of people partially because their appearance didn't conform to the Aryan ideal. So - was he 6'2" of broad shouldered, chisel featured, deep voiced military elan - pah! - he was a potato headed weedy club footed little intellectual. No bad thing in itself, but remarkable given his chosen path in life. For this reason he might be considered to be a very good Nazi.

The point is, that there are fields of endeavor that are evil, and sometimes certain people are very good at them. Talent worse than wasted.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I must confess to complaining about "enormity" out loud. I wish I hadn't now.

Here is an essay on language by Stephen Fry. It is a fucking belter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I was fortunate enough to spend a dreamy childhood in and around this wishy-washy watercolour river mouth - swimming with my dog, sailing my little boat, busy doing nothing.

I remember a perfect late summer's birthday (11th I think) largely spent floating around on a washed down tree trunk along with a gaggle of school friends. Days seemed endless and infinite in supply.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Killathrill viral?

I'm well past the age where one should grow up and stop thinking this way ... but deep down I still harbor a distrust of the right wing. Perhaps this is why:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba

You've never heard of her. Listen to this.

Do try to keep up.

My hovercraft is full of eels

I can never get french waiters to talk to me in their own language, they tend to be learning English and keen to practice. In addition to this, my french is at best teeth-grindingly bad - or more often - plain nonsensical.

Here is a kooky overview of a useful net delivered language resource, Yabla ...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Phaic Tăn

Google Books also has a preview.

This mock travel guide is a bit hard to find, but relentlessly funny.

The book was a gift from friends now too far away, you know who you are.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Two Favourite Climbs

Mont Ventoux

A long climb. Do not slack off in the red bits. You must stand and fight. (Well, I have to stand and fight - a stronger cyclist might breeze up, casually smoking a Gitane. Sadly in the 1967 Tour de France Tom Simpson breezed up, buzzing on amphetamines and alcohol, and conked out)

Alpe d'Huez

Shorter, more famous, and perhaps more picturesque than Ventoux. Apart from the first bend it's easy - unless, that is, you want to do it quickly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Evolutionary deadends

... are often interesting. If for no other reason than that they are not entirely familiar.

Eurypterids, zeppelins, LINC, 50 failed industrial designs

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hi Sarah

Look! Someone is reading from Alaska this week - I'm guessing it's someone who has had a recent disappointment and is depressed enough to spend time reading blogs of people she doesn't know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Small Wheel Bikes

Fed up with tripping over folding bikes on the train? It's only going to get worse you know.

Hotel Alicja

At first I thought that this was a cruel, but funny, photoshop fake. I.e. that someone had added in the cooling towers in the bottom pic.

But, some detective work correlating the hotel website:

with google maps:

View Larger Map

proves otherwise. Strangely the website makes no mention of the abundant and reliable electricity the hotel clearly enjoys.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Buller's Tale

Do you have a dog? Is it a much loved part of your family? In spite of this, does it annoy you by eating inappropriate things, clearing coffee tables with a careless swoosh of its tail, and bursting into ear splitting barking at things in the night that just aren't there?

When she was a girl, Beryl Markham had a dog - a feisty mutt called Buller. Buller woke her up in the night once, at the foot of her bed barking furiously - only, there was something there. A leopard had padded into her bedroom. The ensuing fight, cat and dog, tumbled out of her room into the Kenyan night. Markham was left to join dots of blood to try to find her pet the next day.

Markham's autobiography of life in colonial Africa is riveting.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Surf Pics

Here are some extraordinary surfing pics from Southern Tasmania.

The Jetski is used to tow the surfers up to speed in front of the front of the forming waves - it seems that you can't catch these monster waves by doing the flappy paddle thing that surfers usually do.

There are very large seal colonies around the tall rock. A surfer in a black wet suit looks a bit like a seal - this is not so great.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ne manquez pas

Belleville Rendezvous

A quirky animated film, largely done by old-school hand drawing.

The scene where the heroic grandmother uses a pedalo to determinedly pursue an ocean liner is just gorgeous.

Friday, October 31, 2008

If, every now and then, I could ...

... find a few things and write a blog entry like a Cornell box ...

... it really wouldn't matter much. I'd be pleased though.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two more Fredo Viola videos I like.

"Sad Song" seems to involve riding a bicycle through cool forests in upstate New York. Sunny day, dappled light - not completely sad then.

I've no idea what "Puss" is about other than showing off the fact that Viola now has a higher definition camera capable of more than 15 secs video at a time. Oh, and also that there is no better person to sing audio-treacle with than yourself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunrise ... Sunset, Sunrise ... Sunset

More than I could chew

I tried the Marmotte - and after many hours I'm afraid that I bonked.

This is the horrible cyclist's "bonk" - not to be confused with the wider use of the term.

Watch The Trilogy Vol.3 La Marmotte, France in Sports Online  |  View More Free Videos Online at

I will succeed in this matter. (The Marmotte, that is)

Monday, October 27, 2008

A old joke ...

... but I thought a good one.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I've finally finished the Internet. The last level was quite hard.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Slow, always beautiful, often funny, never tedious.

Être et Avoir. A hard film to sell - except perhaps to teachers, or parents of primary school age children.

A fly on the wall documentary in which the director, Nicolas Philibert, portrays the home and school life of 13 children in a one-room village school in rural Auvergne. We follow the children and their avuncular teacher through the 3 seasons of the school year - we learn, clearly to the children's concern, that it is the autumn of Mr Lopez's career and that he is soon to retire.

So far so dull, huh?

George Lopez has completely mastered his chosen work, utterly utterly brilliant at teaching small children. It's always a pleasure watching something done with effortless perfection, no matter what. Watch him discuss infinity with Jojo, watch him shape mutual respect from mutual contempt after a playground scuffle, watch him talk to a distraught boy about a grave family illness, watch him foil a bank robbery by nudging the fleeing Aston Martin off a cliff with the wing-tip of his biplane. No - not the last one, no car chase.

So hard to describe why this film works, I can't even find a worthy review to link to. It astonished all concerned by taking 2 million euros at the box office, this for a snail's pace documentary. It is quite special. Give it 20 minutes - I bet you finish it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A visitor.

In June we had a striking visitor to our suburban garden.

Perched on the high paling fence was a small bird. He had predominantly grey plumage with a little white and small hints of a peachy pink. From his fierce eyes and hooked beak I was sure he was a raptor - but an extraordinarily tiny one. After some research, and assistance from people who know about such things, I worked out that he was a little Sparrowhawk. This is not my photo, our bird had less peach.

These birds hunt by stealth. With explosive acceleration and an astonishing eye for aerobatics they fly known hunting runs extremely low and fast; To their prey they must appear from nowhere. This is a little clip of one - in the final seconds of the clip you see its size in context because it is standing by a fallen apple.

I was lucky enough to see our Sparrowhawk do some gung-ho flying, in defense as it happened. There is often an inky black rook skulking high in the trees at the very end of the garden - for some reason the Rook took exception to the Sparrowhawk and tried to dive bomb him. Happily the Pitts Special Sparrowhawk saw Stuka Rook coming and launched forward off the fence - fell almost to the ground and then shot off at ground level, in out and around bits of the garden, finally disappearing up and over a tall hedge. I like to think that before the Sparrowhawk flew he gave the approaching Rook an arch "catch me if you can" look, regardless I'm sure both birds knew that the Rook's flying was not in the same league. Sadly the Sparrowhawk has never seen fit to return - perhaps it's for the best as the Rook still waits.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My wind up beetle.

Eons ago - when my now teenage son was an adorable little boy* - I was away on a brief work trip. I promised this appealing little squirt of humanity a present on my return, and said that he could choose what it might be. Fully expecting him to ask for a pet tiger or a helicopter or the like - I was delighted when (in fewer words) he said that the sole thing his heart ached for was "a wind up beetle".

It took a very long march around pretty well every toyshop in a pismire provincial town before I finally found what I thought was perfect: a wee beetle which when wound up scuttled across the floor quite convincingly.

Rather sweetly, on delivery he nearly cried with delight. I'm unsure of exactly what the appeal was, perhaps the unfathomable mechanical intricacy - for such a cheap mass produced thing it did have a certain magic.

The toy remained in his collection of small boy treasures for a long time - inevitably it eventually disappeared - probably into the bowels of a the natural enemy of the wind-up beetle - a vacuum cleaner.

I am unable to find a picture of long lost beetle, but I can find a nerdy video of one of these:

It's a Curta mechanical calculator. So delicate, intricate and complex that they too are magic. My big boy heart aches for one. Easily found on ebay the only problem is that they are insanely expensive for what would really be a desk ornament.

You could be sure that I wouldn't lose it to a vacuum cleaner though.

* I still adore you mate, but if you have a beer in front of the telly then, as repeatedly asked, please do not leave the frigging bottle clattering around the sitting room. Jesus.

Oh - and you might warn me should you take the last one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Big Blue Book

You know how it is - a bicycle is a simple machine - so you should be able to dismantle a bit of it - easily see what is wrong - perhaps buy a new part - and reassemble it. Easy.

Problem is, that halfway through the dismantling - due to a combination of ignorance and a missing, exotic and un-substitutable tool - you will break a teeny and critical piece - usually made of titanium.

Well with this book you can commence your operation well informed and armed with your new, expensive and beautifully made Park Tools. You can confidently break your titanium pieces with a graceful flourish.

Hoot hoot!