Thursday, 25 February 2010

Eclectic Hottest 100

For years I used to get upset at the awful repetition you would get listening to commercial radio. In my early 20s I spent a bit of time listening to Triple J (that's a public "alternative" radio station for those outside of Australia) and realised that even public radio has the same problem. Awful repetition, just different music being repeated.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the music well enough. It's just that once you listened for a week or two you would find yourself listening to much the same songs every day. No different to my current forced radio listening (the radio on at work). Classic Rock 24/7. Nice in moderation.

Here's what a friend of mine tweeted after the recent Triple J Hottest 100 was announced:

As usual the JJJ Hottest 100 was about as narrow-minded as any commercial radio countdown, which is fine... just don't pretend it's better.

That pretty much sums it up. The Triple J listening crowd do tend to see themselves as quite the alternatives, but that's really just a matter of perspective. And I'm sure similar stations all over the world have much the same attitude. "Triple J" music is a particular sort of music and its listeners don't have all that much to differentiate them from each other.

Do we all really just listen to a limited playlist like every radio station ever? Here's a little test... user Anthony Liekens has created a couple of very useful scripts for our desired purpose. They take your top artists from your user profile and add in all the similar artists to each of them. The more unique artists you get in the total, the more eclectic your musical taste.

Try out the Eclectic Test and if you are truly awesome, the Super Eclectic Test.

If you get a pass result on either of them, give yourself a clap. And then consider coming and joining the Better Hottest 100 group on I've got this idea that if we get enough truly eclectic listeners joining in, at the end of the year we can create our own chart that would show Triple J and its listeners was alternative really means.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Where's my Dr Who Lego?

My 12 year old son and his friend spent much of last weekend mixing and matching all his lego minifigs to make his own Dr Who Lego.

Given that there was nothing manufactured specifically for what they were trying to make, I think they did a great job.

I've never been that interested in branded Lego, but if they ever did a merchandising deal with the Beeb over this, they would have a large amount of my money. And plenty of my childrens' too.

Please excuse the poor photography. I rushed a bit, perhaps I can upload some new versions later.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Conjurers' War and The Locusta

The Great Empire of The Gristika was formed on its maritime power and for centuries had ruled the oceans. Its polar opposite was The Rozan Empire, created out of a forge of magic and violence. These two great peoples conquered The Known World. Ultimately their rivalry peaked and there was war.

Neither could gain the upper hand. They had such enormous armies that the chance of either making any sort of great advance was minimal. An arms race of sorts developed. Weapons that had never before been seen in the world were used. Explosives of the most violent sort. Flames from the very pits of Hell. Artillery that could attack from vast distances.

While this unending war raged on, the people of the central territories of the Empires barely knew anything was happening. The front would move tens, even hundreds of miles at a time, but always back and forth. The central peoples were untouched. The common man in either Capital wouldn't even know there was a war on unless the prices for his favourite delicacy increased or if his son was conscripted and sent off to the front.

One hundred and years and more this went on. If the truth was really to be told, the war was off more often than it was on. On the frontiers there would be clashes; some small, some larger. Every few years a great conflict would arise, shifting the front to the advantage of one Empire or the other and then the armies would settle back into their uneasy routine. The war became part of the daily life of the Empires. Something that was just always there. Something to talk about in the market place. A jingoistic rallying point for the leaders. A place to go for the searchers for glory.

As so often happens in history, the approach to the war changed simultaneously in both Empires. Emperor Nikolae of the Roza and Francois de Gristika were both approached by their own Sages. They had calculated that if they couldn't win the war using the people they did have, then they may have more success if they were to bring some more in. In other words: summon them from elsewhere.

At first, the Emperors rejected this idea. The wizardly discipline of Conjuring had been outlawed for centuries. Humankind had known, almost inherently, that they could not guarantee the control of creatures from beyond the mundane. They both resisted all advances.

The Sages went out gained support from the nobles for their ideas, and the nobles from the commoners. Ultimately, the Emperors were unable to control the discontent. They were asked "Do you not wish to win this war?" and they were unable to answer. They could not be seen to care about their Empires while they resisted this easiest of options. And besides; what if they decided not to take this route and the enemy had no such reservations? They would be wiped out.

With Imperial approval the Sages and the Colleges of Wizardry researched and tested their theories for a decade and a half. The Gristika worked towards what they thought would be the most simple, reliable and safe option: The Faerie Realm. The faeries (or the Vitter in the old tongue) were closer to the mundane and as such easier to control.

The Roza thought only of raw power. They looked to the very pits of the Abyss for their servants and would call forth whatever hell-spawn creatures they could get their hands on.

The Abyssal creatures, the Ferb, were most willing to come up to the world. It was their greatest desire. The Roza spent their time researching how to control them once they arrived. The Vitter were much harder to bring forth. They assumed it was their job to bring humans into their realm, not the other way around.

The initial summonings were simple and went relatively well. The creatures were powerful, able to perform all sorts of feats that their human opponents were not and they defeated whole armies at a time. After a number of defeats on each side, the Empires each realised that that their enemy had worked on the same plan. From this point on, the arms race began afresh. Each side needed to summon more and bigger creatures.

Eventually, the empires found themselves with armies of barely controlled and hostile aliens. Without any real warning they rebelled. Entire cities were destroyed. The armies of both Empires were destroyed from within by their supposed allies and the Conjurers themselves were destroyed and consumed by the creatures they were supposed to be controlling.

For five years the aliens (the Locusta as they came to be called) ravaged the lands. The human race escaped extinction only because there were two tribes of the Locusta. They killed each other on sight and their numbers gradually declined. With no more Conjurers, no further creatures could cross over into the mundane.

Unbelievably, the two men who started this devastation, Emperors Francois and Nikolae survived. Between their Battle-Wizard guards and their own cunning to survive, they had manage to avoid the Locusta, their own people, their human enemies and the now unrestrained barbarian tribes once kept well away from their borders.

In the wilds of the desert, they came across each other. They had both long since regretted their weakness of mind, they had no reason left to want to kill each other and decided to work together. Their team of wizards numbered one dozen only. They were the last of their kind and were the world's last hope.

A year went by as they studied their enemies and worked out the best way to counter the efforts of the Conjurers. In the end it was decided that half of them would to work on a Dispelling, an anti-conjuring, to create a rift back to the worlds of the Locusta. The others worked on a great spell that would enable them to control the very elements, to call lightning from the sky in great thunderstorms and to rend the ground with earthquakes. As a team, they would create a rift and then use the elements to force the Locusta into it.

The emperors knew that they would not be able to destroy all of them at once. They worked on a plan where they would pick off small groups of Locusta, drawing attention to the fact that someone out there had worked out a way to destroy them, that they no longer had free reign around the world.

The Saints smiled on their efforts. For a year they travelled from mountain to valley to hill to coastline, finding groups of two or three Locusta and attacking. Eventually, the remaining Locusta decided that they could no longer ignore this threat. Setting the trap, the Emperors attacked on the ruins of Algundy, the former Gristik capital, killing half a dozen Vitter-creatures and then setting camp and waiting.

Four hundred Vitter and Ferbin arrived within an hour. Another hour later and there was nothing living left within one hundred miles. The Emperors dead. Their wizards torn apart by the Locusta and their own mighty magics. The Locusta killed or banished. And a continent, once the jewel of civilisation, destroyed and populated only by the desperate and the wild.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

I like... Time Machine

No, not that sort of time machine (though I do happen to like the TARDIS, and the DeLorean and HG Wells' as well, but that's another conversation).

No, I'm talking about Time Machine, the backup-made-so-simple-any-idiot-can-do-it software that comes with Mac OS X (10.5 and above). I won't bore you with the details of what it is and how it works, you could find that out for yourself if you are so inclined. Instead, I'll share why I like it so much and few extra comments.

I'm not any idiot (as referred to above), but I am a particular kind of idiot. I know the importance of backups (having desperately needed one on a number of occasions) and usually manage to keep up a good routine. The key word there is "usually". A backup that doesn't happen every time it is supposed is only fractionally better than no backup at all.

Time Machine (when your Mac is attached to its backup drive) backs up every part of your system every hour. Without fail. When you combine that with a wireless network-connected Time Capsule you are on to a sure winner.

Here's what I do: I have the Time Capsule at the hub of my network (connected to printers etc) and two Macs elsewhere in the house. They get their files backed up automatically to the 1TB hard drive. Right now the oldest backups on the drive are about 3 or 4 months old and these gradually get deleted as newer ones take up more space.

Once a month, I bring home another external USB drive (which lives in the safe at work). I attach it to one of the Macs and change the Time Machine preferences so the backup is made to the USB drive. Of course, the incremental backup takes a bit longer (not having been done for a month) but it is still relatively fast and very, very easy. Repeat the process on the other machine, switch the prefs back so that the Capsule is used again, take the drive back to work and we are done.

So what I have is a local network drive with almost complete backups on it and a spare backup off-site with backups no more than a month old. If we have a hard drive failure or a broken computer, then we restore from the local backup and lose nothing. If we get broken into or our house burns down and lose everything, then we've got years' worth of data safe off site and we lose at most one month's worth.

Yes, I could do this better. My data could be even more secure, but I think this method is an acceptable blend of security vs effort. And apart from my once-a-month secondary backup, it is as good as automatic.

So, I've just got two thoughts on Time Machine to leave you with:

  1. This really is a killer app. Time Machine is a good enough reason on its own for you to get yourself a Mac. Seriously. I switched to Mac just before Leopard came out, but when I saw how Time Machine worked, I realised I would have swapped just for that. Setting up a computer for your parents or I-just-use-a-computer friends and co-workers? Get them to get a Mac and watch them never worry about backups.

  2. Why on Earth has no one done anything this good for Windows or Linux? Time Machine is over 2 years old. It doesn't usually take this long for the me-too programs to arrive. Does Apple hold some super-sensitive patent that is preventing anyone from doing it? Inquiring minds want to know.

And that's it. Thanks Apple. Thanks Time Machine.