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Nice and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Côte d'Azur, France, September/October 2016

We returned again this year to one of our favourite cities. We were anxious to see how the people of Nice were faring after the horrific events of 14th July (short version: very well, they are carrying on with life as normal although the event will never be forgotten).

Out and about in Nice (click the picture to see more)

We had a nice day at nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer, mainly to see the Villa Kérylos (click the picture to see more)

We also visited the National Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, on one of the few cloudy days (click the picture to see more)

If you are interested, these are also the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Out and About in Nice]
[Beaulieu-sur-Mer and the Villa Kérylos]
[National Marc Chagall Museum]

[Our first visit to Nice in 2015 (many pictures)]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Out and About in Nice, Côte d'Azur, France, September/October 2016

If you want to know why we like Nice (map link) so much, you will find lots of photos of our first visit to Nice here.

On this occasion we didn't take many pictures of places we had been before, but once again we had a very pleasant visit, and were exceptionally lucky with the weather.

Just a nice plaque on the wall of our apartment's small courtyard garden

View of the Promenade des Anglais and the Old Town from the Colline du Chateau - spectacular weather

Two hilarious locals on the Colline, passing many comments and something of a tourist attracion

A rare dull-weather evening on the Promenade des Anglais - but people still out and about as usual.

Promenade du Paillon - the fountains temporarily quiescent and lulling new visitors into a false sense of security...

...although nobody minds getting a little wet in this weather!

A beautiful sunset on the Promenade du Paillon...

...and people still out and about enjoying themselves

[Nice and Beaulieu-sur-Mer visit continues in Part 2]

National Marc Chagall Museum, Nice, Côte d'Azur, France, September/October 2016

[Nice and Beaulieu-sur-Mer visit continued from Part 2]

The National Marc Chagall Museum, about a 15 minute walk uphill from central Nice, is the only museum dedicated to a famous artist that was opened by the artist himself (so far as I know). Many great artists, unfortunately, were not fully appreciated in their own life time. Marc Chagall is one of our favourite artists.

The images below are my own photos (photography without flash is permitted in this museum), processed to correct perspective etc.

Stained glass windows in the auditorium

If you like this, you might like...

[All of my art posts]
[My stained-glass posts]

[Index of all my photoblogs]

Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villa Kérylos, Côte d'Azur, France, September/October 2016

[Nice and Beaulieu-sur-Mer visit continued from Part 1]

Villa Kérylos in nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer is a Greek-style property built in the early 1900s by French archaeologist Théodore Reinach [a very interesting guy], and his wife Fanny Kann, a daughter of Maximilien Kann and Betty Ephrussi, of the Ephrussi family. Madame Fanny Reinach was a cousin of Maurice Ephrussi, who was married to Béatrice de Rothschild. Inspired by the beauty of the Reinach's Villa Kerylos and the area they built the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at nearby Cap Ferrat.”  —Wikipedia article

Beaulieu-sur-Mer (map link) is a well-named place only a 6-minute train ride from Nice Riquier station. Walking beneath the railway line at Beaulieu-sur-Mer brings you quickly down to the waterside via a pleasant short walk.

Looking towards Cap Ferrat, on the other side of which is Villefranche-sur-Mer, even closer to Nice

Looking towards Villa Kérylos

On the villa's terrace

There was a very arts and crafts movement feel about this place

[Nice and Beaulieu-sur-Mer visit continues in Part 3]

“Moonlight Cruise”

“Moonlight Cruise 2”

“Sunset over the Atlantic”

Some great aviation photography © by JPC Van Heijst, a professional photographer and pilot who currently flies as a Senior First Officer on Boeing 747-8 and -400 freighters. His other work is well worth checking out.

Found on the very fine pages of blacksock - thanks!.

A very nice image by Vyacheslav Palacheva - it's a little like this in the UK, right now

Thanks mairem (and Jerry)!

Gene Wilder
11th June 1933 – 29th August 2016

Last month saw the sad death of Gene Wilder, a gentle comedian whose best-loved films included Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and (one of several with on-screen buddy Richard Pryor) Silver Streak.

My personal favourite was the classic Young Frankenstein, one of several collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks.

Many memories of that wonderful collaboration will be found here.

Amy Purdy (a link well worth following) dancing at the Rio Paralympics Opening Ceremony...

with a KUKA industrial robot...

in a stunning 3D-printed dress.

Their bring-the-house-down routine (including a samba from Amy that was able to wow Brazilians) suggested the theme of “disability meets technology”.

However, watching the athletes at Rio, and the many others all over the world that they inspire, we aren't seeing “disability” - just amazing ability.

If you like this, you might want to revisit...

[Breaking the Mold: The London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]

[London 2012: The Beautiful Games]

The wonderful kinetic sculptures of Anthony Howe...

as shown on his web site

...and combined brilliantly with the Olympic Cauldron in Rio (click for more images)

What we take for granted...

The Global Positioning System (GPS) seems to be part of our lives now in all kinds of navigation and positioning applications, from the aircraft we fly in (and Tomahawk cruise missiles) to smartphones and domestic Sat Navs.

I first encountered the GPS in my flight simulator, mirroring what was happening at the time in real aviation. One of the joys of the very realistic sim was learning to navigate from charts and radio beacons. GPS and flight computers took some of the fun out of that, while making aviation safer - although the radio beacons are still there and are still essential.

(Not too many years from now, I fear, much the same might be said about self-driving cars... but that's another story.)

Having only recently acquired a modern smartphone, which packs a GPS receiver (and much more) into a mind-bogglingly small space, I became curious to know more about the GPS system.

I hadn't realised, for example, that GPS satellites follow 6 different orbital paths, with several satellites distributed in each path. Each satellite takes about 12 hours to orbit the Earth once, timed so that it passes over nearly the same locations on Earth every day (as you can see if you keep your eye on a particular satellite in the graphic for two revolutions).

The graphic (from Wikipedia) is visual example of a 24 satellite GPS “constellation” in motion with the earth rotating. It shows how the number of satellites in view from a given point on the earth's surface, in this example from Golden, Colorado, changes with time. (As of February 2016 there were 32 satellites, a few of which are not in use, to improve receiver calculations with redundant measurements.)

A GPS receiver has to be able to receive signals from at least 4 satellites in order to function correctly... but why?

And how do the satellites themselves know exactly where they are in space at any given time as they orbit?

The key to the GPS, it turns out, is time - very accurate time taken from atomic clocks. The GPS receiver in my phone doesn't need an atomic clock itself, but it has to know (among other things) how long the signal from each satellite that it can “see” has taken to reach it. Since this signal is moving at the speed of light, a difference of 1 metre is a difference in signal arrival time of a little over 3 billionths of a second (3 nanoseconds).

The GPS satellites know very accurately where they are at all times because they are tracked from the US Air Force's monitoring stations around the world in the GPS's Control Segment, as described here. As part of this process, the Control Segment updates each satellite with knowledge of how it is moving and with fine time corrections - satellites carry atomic clocks that are synchronised with each other and with atomic clocks on the ground. Why and how both of Einstein's theories of relativity (which have opposite effects on time) are taken account of by the GPS is described in this fascinating article - or else try here.

Satellites that are currently having their orbits changed are marked “unhealthy” so as not to be used by GPS receivers.

How a GPS receiver uses the transmissions from 4 satellites to work out its 3‑dimensional position is described here. The reason that it needs 4 satellites instead of 3 has to do with the fact that a GPS receiver's clock is not synchronised to the satellite clocks, for cost and complexity reasons.

And that's not all, folks... (at least, not for me).

I look at my slim smartphone and wonder: how, with its tiny GPS antenna, and certainly without several parabolic dishes, does my phone receive usable signals from satellites that are at least 12,600 miles away (the shortest red lines on the moving graphic above)?

A GPS satellite is powered by solar panels, generating only a few hundred watts, not all of which is available for transmission. Furthermore, the transmitted signal is not, of course, sent straight to my phone... it spreads out over a large area of the Earth, its power diluted enormously, and a tiny, tiny part of that power falls on my little smartphone's GPS antenna. That antenna must be receiving each satellite's signal as the faintest electronic whisper in a sea of electronic noise.

As Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Is there also a danger that we become too reliant on the GPS? Following extraordinary political decisions in the USA, the GPS was made fully available for civilian use around the world, with the same precision for civilians as for the military. On the other hand, of course, there are safeguards in the event of hostilities, and occasional disruptions from activity in our sun, particularly Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). The ability to read maps and navigate for ourselves might be a skill worth preserving...

It's also good to know that real-world pilots still have to be able to navigate using radio beacons, as well as by dead-reckoning (and navigating by the stars when available) over a large ocean.

If you like this...

[What we take for granted... what would a megabyte (gigabyte, terabyte) look like if we could see individual bits?]

Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We recently went on a 7-day cruise on the Douro River in Portugal, a wonderful experience. This cruise started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

We saw many examples of Portugal's use of solar power and hydro-electric power, and learnt why its world-leading investment in renewable energy is so good for its economy, as well as for the environment.

Click the above image to see the trip itself...

...or click this one to see my photos of some of the art we found in public places

We also visited the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum in Salamanca. Photography wasn't permitted there, but click the picture for my post about it.

If you are interested, these are also the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Cruise on the Douro River]
[Some Wall Art Along the Douro]
[The Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, Salamanca]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Given what's going on in the world at the moment, we could all use a little more of this right now!

If your news channels give you a continual diet of doom and gloom, why not try the Good News Network as a healthy alternative?

From my previous post on Bhutan:

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

[If you're interested, read more here.]

“Summer’s End” by Marci Oleszkiewicz - thanks yet again, Jerry!

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice, France

We recently spent two very nice weeks in Nice, one of our favourite cities (if you are interested you can see a photoblog of our first trip to Nice here).

This time we stayed not far from this museum, where they allow you to take photographs without flash. These are my photos of some of my favourites, which feature the wonderful colours of Provence. The first picture is my kind of place... if you like it, you'll probably like some of the other nice places in this collection.

Click a label if you would like to see links about that artist.

“Autumn Light” by Cathy Hillegas, whose other work is well worth exploring

Snaffled gratefully (as so many others) from Jerry's fine pages.

Dear Esther

Last month I also spent some time here, on a wild Hebridean island.

Dear Esther is called a computer game, or sometimes a “walking simulator”, only because there isn't another way to categorize it. Your only objective is to explore the island, while the mystery of a past tragedy unfolds - an unlikely source of enjoyment, you might think.

The island itself is a true work of art, a vast environment that has to be experienced through the “game” (including its atmospheric soundtrack) to be appreciated. Among many extraordinary details, the sparse foliage is stirred by the wind that blows constantly (and blows harder as you climb upwards).

You can - and should - explore everywhere that isn't too steep. You can leave the paths (such as they are) and walk across open terrain, or the rocks of a stream bed, or enter water (salt or fresh) and try swimming. A flashing beacon on the highest point of the island, visible from many places, provides some orientation and a kind of goal.

Your exploration will fall into 4 sequential segments, or chapters. You can (and will probably want to) re-enter the exploration at the start of any segment you have been in before, or at the last point that you saved.

My screenshot above is taken close to the end of the second segment. If you are brave enough (you think I'm kidding?) to follow the path that eventually reaches the bottom of the chasm in front of you, you have a chance of entering the third segment - for which I am deliberately not providing screenshots.

The following are some of my screenshots from the last segment:

If you click any of these screenshots then you will find out a lot more about the game. The principal genius behind it is Robert Briscoe (a link worth following if you're interested in the technology).

If you play the game then you may be surprised by the apparent lack of controls or guidance information. If so, you might find this helpful.

And finally, if you haven't met Steam before, it's a good way to buy and share computer games without physical media, much as streamed and downloaded video is gradually replacing DVDs. Having bought this game through Steam, I can download and play games for free from the Steam libraries of my American family, providing that the purchaser isn't playing any of their own games at the same time - but the sharing mechanism (intended originally for families with separate computers) is somewhat tricky and counter-intuitive to set up.

If you like this...

[PC's most relaxing games - PC Gamer]

1 Hour Long Sunrise at Langstiņi Lake, Garkalnes novads, Latvia (map link)

If you're feeling stressed, or even if you're not, why not stop for a while and watch this nice example of Slow TV (full screen on the TV in your living room, if you can)?

Florida - Jensen Beach and Stuart, February 2016

Some posts about our recent visit to Florida appear below (or click either picture to go there).

If you are interested, here are the direct links to each section:

[Florida Sunsets]
[Stuart - Atlantic Coast]
[Jensen Beach - Indian Riverside Park]
[Stuart - near St Lucie River]
[Savannas Preserve State Park, near Jensen Beach]
[Moss Park, near Orlando Airport]

I have also made a major update to the place information on my Florida Map.

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

“Abstract | Autumn Watercolors” © by lighttrouve (Russell Tomlin)

One of many fine examples of his work, which include some wonderful landscapes and abstract photography.

“Out early” (free translation) © by Sergey Betz, whose other work is well worth checking out
(includes some very nice artistic nudes)

If you like this...

[Try clicking the urbanscape or mist tags... just a suggestion!]

“Upper” by Andrey Korotich, who produces some nice mood portraits, e.g. Reflection in a Mirror

I have seen this popular photo-art image used in several YouTube videos - nice to have finally found the author!

Sir Terry Wogan KBE DL
3rd August 1938 – 31st January 2016

And yet another sad goodbye... to Terry Wogan, who died this morning at the age of 77, after a short struggle with cancer.

Terry was a broadcasting legend in the UK. I woke up to him every morning on Radio 2, while at university and long afterwards. His relaxed charm and whimsical humour were the best start to any day one could wish for. I listened to him on a Heathkit valve FM tuner and amp that I had assembled myself - that was some time ago!

He is being fondly remembered in the UK for so many things in his long career. I shall remember two things in particular. The first is the long pause (several seconds) that would often follow the first part of a typical bit of Terry whimsy. It wasn't a dead pause - you could almost hear the chuckles all over the country, and see the smile on Terry's face. Among many other things, he was a master of comic timing and ad-lib speaking (he never used notes in the studio, apparently).

The second is the time when he introduced our nation to that wonderful ground-breaking TV show Hill Street Blues, with its gentle theme tune by Mike Post that took over from the noise of sirens in every wintry opening.

Terry seemed immortal in life - he has passed into another kind of immortality now, and will be sorely missed.

Alan Rickman
21st February 1946 – 14th January 2016

Another sad goodbye... to Alan Rickman, who for many people will be Professor Snape, has died of cancer, aged 69.

He was a superb actor who played many different kinds of role, from the RSC's As You Like It to Galaxy Quest to Truly, Madly, Deeply, but his comic villains (like the Sheriff of Nottingham) will perhaps be best remembered.

Not so many people will remember one of his first roles, as the oily Obadiah Slope in that sublime period comedy, The Barchester Chronicles (click the image for a link in my movies page), one of my all-time favourites.

[Reflections‘ farewell to Alan Rickman]

“You blew me away” from a wonderful sculpture series by Penny Hardy

The World of Paksennarion

If you like fantasy books such as those by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey or Christopher Paolini, and have never heard of Elizabeth Moon, then a real treat is in store for you.

These are the main “Paksworld novels”, which essentially form a single epic story in two very long parts, the second part split into 5 volumes.

(The first book by itself is nearly as long as The Lord of the Rings, containing far more than its title would suggest, and was also split into 3 volumes for paper publication.)

The unique flavour of these books naturally has to do with the author herself. Among other things, she became a 1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps while on active duty, is an experienced paramedic, has degrees in history and biology, and obviously knows everything there is to be known about horses (and mules).

These books, set in a complex medieval world, often read like a well-researched historical novel. However, no historical novels or epic fantasies that I have read contain the kind of action and adventures taking place here, nor the qualities shown by several of its main characters in the leadership and personal development of people.

Click the image or go here if you would like to read more about them in the Fantasy section of my Books page. You won't be sorry.

“Solar” © by Sergey Betz, whose other work is well worth checking out (includes some very nice artistic nudes)

Untitled photo © by Olesya Pominova - another find on the fine pages of Jerzee55sst (Jerry)

(Click his tag to see lots more of his good stuff that I have gratefully snaffled over the years)

Click either image above for more on this amazing place, and there are lots more links about it here if you are interested.

If you like this...

[More about Giuliano Mauri]
[More about Bergamo]

“A warm Farewell” by Scott Ruthven - from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst

© Mary Engelbreit Enterprises, Inc.

Mary Engelbreit is a graphic artist and children's book illustrator who launched her own magazine, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion in 1996. She writes:

“This is a variation of a card I did years ago for the St. Louis Art Museum. It featured a bench that is in the museum's fabulous collection (although I embellished this one a little!)”

Another great share by Sandy (overthetrail) (Sandy is nowadays mostly on Facebook, but click her tag for many more nice things that I have snaffled from her).

“Winter Skaters” (1906) by Wassily Kandinsky - one of my favourite paintings, kindly found for me by Ceara

“Solitary” by Mary Pettis

Gratefully snaffled (as so many others) from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks again, Jerry!

Fallingwater is the name of a house built over a waterfall in southwest Pennsylvania. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, designed the house for his clients, the Kaufmann family. Fallingwater was built between 1936 and 1939. It instantly became famous, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.

“Why is it so famous? It's a house that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out over a 30’ waterfall. It captured everyone’s imagination when it was on the cover of Time magazine in 1938...”

One of many several nice places that Sandy (overthetrail) has visited and shared (which she does nowadays mostly on Facebook, but click her tag for more of her great shares).

© Lia Melia

Click either image above to see more of Lia Melia's Ocean Waves paintings

Thanks again to regtf1948 for this great find!

“All the Colours of the Rainbow - Solar Phlox” by Claudia Shifferova, whose other work is well worth checking out

Found on the very nice pages of Raktazole (Danièla)

If you like this...

[The Still Life category on]
[... and my still-life tag]

Nice, Côte d'Azur, France, November 2015

This was our second trip to Nice this year (our first trip in Feb/March can be found here if you are interested). We revisited many of our favourite places, so this time I am showing our visit to the Asian Arts Museum and Phoenix Park, both in a nicely redeveloped area near the airport.

Click the image above if you would like to see this visit, otherwise if you would like to skip the photoblog then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post.

The wonders of (and revealed by) the Hubble Space Telescope never cease to amaze me...

I took this picture today in Baulk Wood, near Henlow in southern England (a site reclaimed beautifully from what used to be a rubbish tip, and extended as a nature reserve and walking area).

It was sunny when I set out... until I saw this coming. Luckily we're not getting the devastating floods hitting the north of England. Yesterday the Honister Pass rain gauge in the Lake District recorded 341.4mm (13½") of rain - the highest 24-hour rainfall since records began.

In 2012 there was an excellent Channel 4 documentary taking a serious look at the question: Is Our Weather Getting Worse?, which I featured here in January 2013. It might be worth looking at again...

“Morning Stillness” © by lighttrouve (Russell Tomlin) - one of many fine examples of his work, which include some wonderful landscapes and abstract photography

Shadows in the mist - September 28th, 2015

High pressure finally building after a long gloomy summer, leading to chilly clear mornings which started misty. I took this while walking the dog - less than 800 yards away the sun was shining brightly on leaves turning brilliant fall colours, worthy of Vermont!

If you like this...

[Beautiful autumn - Havant and the South Downs, October 2012]

“Clear Ahead” by Kirk Larsen

Snaffled gratefully (as so many others) from Jerry's fine pages.

Lisbon, September 2015

Some posts about our recent visit to Lisbon appear below (or click a picture to go there).

If you are interested, here are the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Lisbon, September 2015 - Local scenes]
[Lisbon, September 2015 - Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, and the walk back]
[Lisbon, September 2015 - Lisbon Oceanarium]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Lisbon, September 2015 - Local scenes

A nice start to the day - early morning at our hotel (location at the centre of this map)

Walking down from the hotel a short distance to the National Museum of Ancient Art. As well as some interesting contents, it turned out to have very nice café with garden on the other side (see below).

Looking back uphill, before entering the museum (no photography allowed inside)

The café garden, near the river

Not too hot, quite a wind blowing from the sea! Looking towards the famous Ponte 25 de Abril (a bridge which never seems to come closer however long you walk towards it!)

Walking towards the city centre from the hotel on a very quiet Sunday morning, I passed this ornately decorated building...

...which seemed worth a closer look!

[Lisbon visit continues in Part 2]

Lisbon, September 2015 - Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, and the walk back

[Lisbon visit continued from Part 1]

We passed The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, a truly amazing place, on a river trip during our previous visit.

It is said to be the world's most advanced centre for research into cancer, brain damage and blindness, both medically and from an architectural point of view. From the river it looks a little like a cruise ship, but it is designed to look quite different from almost any angle in which it is approached.

On this occasion we took a (cheap) taxi to the Centre (location at the bottom left of this map) so that we could walk around it, and then walk back along the river towards the Ponte 25 de Abril, near which we knew there were some nice restaurants.

Inside the centre. This is as far as we could go (and we discovered later that photos inside aren't really allowed)

The best job in the world, possibly - official Lego model creator at work!

The habitat inside is part of the healing process

Looking past the edge of the Belém Tower to the gigantic Christ the King statue, which was inspired by the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro. It was erected to express gratitude because the Portuguese were spared the effects of World War II.

Looking back - showing the aerial walkway to the auditorium

The auditorium (the inside of which is shown here), with sun blinds closed, and a café restaurant that looked like a great place to eat (but opens at 12.30, as do most restaurants in Lisbon, too late for us on this occasion)

Heading back along the river... the memorial outside the Military Museum (one of the best in the world, according to Tripadvisor reviews)

The amphibious HIPPOtrip vehicle going by (we took this trip last year, an excellent way of seeing what there is to see)

Approaching the The Discoveries Monument, built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

In the background is the Ponte 25 de Abril, near where we were planning to eat. It didn't look too far away at this point...

After a long walk in which the famous bridge never seemed to get nearer, we stopped gratefully at the Café In - highly recommended! My spouse chose a smoked salmon salad - this wasn't what she was expecting, but it was absolutely
delicious! Good value food here, too.

[Lisbon visit continues in Part 3]

Lisbon, September 2015 - Lisbon Oceanarium

[Lisbon visit continued from Part 2]

The Lisbon Oceanarium (location in the centre of this map) is said to be one of the best in the world. It is located on the banks of the Tagus (which the locals pronounce somewhat like a sneeze), which is enormously wide at this point, being crossed nearby by the 12km long Vasco da Gama Bridge.

The Ocenarium is is organized as 4 "oceanic ecosystems" around a huge central tank. This is the Antarctic...

I had to look twice before I saw the bird!

The Temperate Pacific kelp forests... I have always had a weakness for sea otters, since I once saw them in the wild like this off Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, California. The Lisbon Oceanarium's sea otters are famous, apparently.

If you like sea otters, too, don't miss this video of an otter giving itself a massage which was shot here...

The Tropical Indian coral reefs

The big central "ocean" is accessed on two levels. We're looking down at a school party on the lower level. The Lisbon Oceanarium has all kinds of educational activities, many of them especially for children (e.g. “sleeping with sharks”, a different kind of pajama party!).

Down at the lower level

The inhabitants are hand-fed on a very scientific diet, designed to keep them healthy and avoid one species feeding on another. In the case of the sharks (no photos - sorry) hand feeding is done at the end of a very long plastic pole! Very interesting video shown in the lower level theatre about all this...

One of the nice features is that the big "ocean" is ringed by natural-looking grottos, which you can look through from outside

Outside the Oceanarium, on the way to a very good (and cheap) fish food restaurant

The area surrounding the Oceanarium looks really interesting (e.g. see “Sights Nearby” here) - worth a day in its own right

If you like this...

[Index of all my photoblogs]

Humpback whale and calf, off the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico

A really interesting, in-depth article about the study of humpback whale songs, with many opportunities to listen.

The article starts with the discovery by scientists that the strange and eerie sounds were actually songs, and the fact that humpback whales don't just sing songs - they compose with the whales around them, singing a song that evolves over time.

The article describes how acoustic biologist Katy Payne analyzed the sounds... and the results are fascinating.

Thanks again to overthetrail for sharing this on her FB page.

Sea Turtles in Danger

From “Protecting Honu” - the green turtle of Hawaii

From “Sea Turtle Endangerment

My spouse wanted to sketch turtles for a project of hers during our recent visit to the Lisbon Oceanarium. We didn't see any on that occasion (possibly because they weren't there) but we learnt about the danger they are facing from marine debris in the ocean, in particular from plastic bags, which can take 1,000 years to degrade.

In Britain, the use of one-trip plastic bags has thankfully decreased considerably over recent years, and in a few days' time all large shops in the UK must start charging for them. The problem, however, will take a long, long time to go away. Let's not add to it any more...

If you like this...

[A nice advertising video with green turtles to chase away those winter blues]

The Forest Where the Wind Returns... a major new project by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki - but it's not a movie. It's a theme park on Kume Island in Okinawa, Japan, due to open in 2018, which reflects the love of nature that Miyazaki shows in so many of his films.

The image above is my screenshot from The Wind Rises - click it if you would like to see my post “The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli”.

[Latest news about the new theme park]
[Kume Island]
[All of my posts on Hayao Miyazaki]

“Harbor Master's House” by Barbara Applegate, whose other work is well worth checking out

Gratefully snaffled (as so many others) from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks again, Jerry!

This is my photograph of a painting by the Portuguese artist António Neves, hanging in the lobby of the hotel in Lisbon where we stayed recently. (I took it from the side to avoid glass reflections, and then fixed perspective etc. with image processing.)

I have posted some photos of our Lisbon trip here.

Such a beautiful use of autumn colours, from my friend ArtistryBySandy

These gardens (near Philadelphia) look like a great place to visit. For those who can't make it (like me) their web site is a particularly attractive second-best.

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (the other Sandy) for this one!

(She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

First touch of autumn - August 17th, 2015

A chilly start to a beautiful day on our meadow. It was also the first time that I had to use manual focus on my camera, which couldn't “see” this one!

“Emerald Morning”, an oil painting of an “absolutely classic PA barn” on the Granogue Estate, by Stephen White

Gratefully snaffled (as so many others) from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks again, Jerry!

If you like this...

["Autumn Frost", a very fine photograph by Alex Ugalnikov]
[...and try the jerzee55sst or autumn or landscape tags - just a suggestion!]

Found on the very nice pages of Vedika, where you will find much interesting and beautiful stuff. If you haven't already, do visit!

“Landscape with House and Ploughman, 1889” by Vincent van Gogh

From The Blessing of Autumn, one of a number of fine posts by Jonie combining inspirational paintings and poetry.

Jonie (if she's the same person, and I'm pretty sure she is) had a fine blog on SU. I can't find posts from her anywhere later than 2012, but this particular blog is a treasure trove. Don't miss it.

If you're interested...

[Some info about this painting]

Ceara is rebuilding her fine collection of art - a resource not to be missed, full of high quality images and high quality information.

Her collection is well tagged, too - for example you can easily see all of her collection of impressionist paintings.

(Click the palette for more good art sites.)

I greatly enjoyed Minions... and hearing words apparently from a number of languages, including Japanese and Spanish, that form the strangely comprehensible gibberish of “Minionese”.

I didn't realise, though, quite how many languages that French director Pierre Coffin actually plundered (and voiced) for his “Minionese”. Click the image above if you would like to know more!

Constructing realistic languages for books and films, on the other hand, seems to me to be an awesome task. The supreme example of this must surely be J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings - a massive work of scholarship, love and time.

(Click the image to the right for an in-depth article.)

Tolkien, it is said, wanted to write The Lord of the Rings entirely in Elvish, but (fortunately for us) was persuaded that the result would not be saleable...

I was very grateful to Peter Jackson's team for letting us hear these beautiful languages (both Quenya and Sindarin) in the screen version of The Lord of the Rings.

The next most impressive example of such a language (corrections gratefully received!) must be Klingon, originally created as a basic sound and a few words by James “Scotty” Doohan for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but developed considerably thereafter - much further than I had imagined.

Like Star Trek itself, Klingon has found its way into all kinds of other popular culture (e.g. it appears several times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, I had no idea how far it had spread - if you're interested, take a look here.

Along with many people, I enjoyed the remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, who said, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

Also like many other people (I suspect), I hadn't realised that you can read him in the original Klingon - it's a real book called The Klingon Hamlet. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but it represents a considerable tribute to the development of the language. There's also Much Ado About Nothing: The Restored Klingon Version. Check them out!

Constructed languages, it seems, can take on a life of their own...

At a much earlier stage of development than Klingon, but obviously gaining momentum, is Na'vi, the constructed language of the sapient inhabitants of the planet Pandora in the film Avatar.

Unlike Klingon, Na'vi is intended to be only a spoken language, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Nevertheless there is a growing community interested in learning it - a strange phenomenon, but perhaps a tribute to the work that went into its construction (and is still ongoing), and to the film itself.

In following these links I came across an amazing resource:

for both real and constructed languages. You can delve there into the various varieties of Chinese, for example, and also into Klingon.

Which shows that you never know where a trip to the cinema is going to lead you...

“Smile for today”, one of many, many reasons to visit Gatorindo's fine pages

(Click his tag for more reasons!)

Thanks to ensemble5 for this one!

From the wonderful cartoon collection of moonshadow68 - don't miss the rest!

[More cartoons by Tom Cheney]

A beautiful animated tribute to Cecil, speedpainted by Aaron Blaise

Click the text below for a lot more...

Thanks to my younger daughter for this one!

“Lost in Thought”

“Little Indians”

Wonderful photography by Ellen-OW (Eleonore Swierczyna), whose full portfolio is well worth checking out

I found this (as so many other good things, click her tag!) on the fine pages of Toetie.

“Playful Friends”, a watercolour by Christelle Grey, a South African now living in Australia

... featured on the site of The Wildlife Art Society of Australasia (also well worth visiting)

If you like this, click the text above for more about Annie, and please visit Chaotiqual, from whose beautiful and interesting pages this comes.

Parham House and Gardens, Sussex, July 22nd, 2015

My photoblog of our July visit to Parham House and Gardens appears below (or click the image to go there).

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Poldark (the BBC TV productions and the books by Winston Graham)

Two reasons why the 2015 BBC remake of its 1975 original was so popular are not hard to find...

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. Aidan was previously best known for playing Kili, an improbably handsome dwarf, in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit.

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Eleanor's best role (prior to Poldark) was probably Georgiana Darcy in the excellent BBC adaptation of P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley.

The name “Demelza” is apparently Old Cornish for “Fort of Maeldaf” or “Fort on the Hill”, but Winston Graham is said to have derived it to mean “Thy Sweetness”, with “Melza” being originally derived from an old French word for honey.

Whatever, Demelza will always be associated for me with a feisty red-haired Cornish waif, who develops through hardships and class barriers in a way that still resonates today.

It was Angharad Rees's memorable portrayal of her in the 1975 TV series (right) that made her perhaps Britain's best-loved redhead (Demelza is a dark-haired lass in Winston Graham's novels). When I started watching the new series I felt that Angharad as Demelza would be a tough act to follow... but Eleanor has done the series proud.

I didn't start reading the 12 Poldark novels until I had watched the recent TV series, which brings me to another reason why the latest BBC remake has been so successful: the stories on which it is based (the first two novels, and a bit of the third novel).

Winston Graham's writing combines an almost cinematic quality of description with powerful character relationships that drive the suspenseful story, a fascinating historical background, and (in Ross Poldark) a humane view of the injustices and hardships of the times and a positive struggle to do something about them.

The latest TV adaptation has taken full advantage, doing a great job of conveying the first few novels to the screen. This isn't Downton Abbey, BTW - it's a much grittier and deeper story altogether.

(BTW, if you have watched the 2015 remake on PBS in the USA, you may know that PBS cut several small, important scenes from your version to suit its schedule - an act of artistic vandalism IMO. Buy the uncut DVDs!)

The above image was taken from a truly excellent blog post by Michael J. Bayly - a link well worth following.

I also strongly recommend Winston Graham’s Demelza: developing an 18th century Cornish world, a very thoughtful and deep analysis of the second novel, which will also tell you a great deal about the others.

The title of the third novel, BTW, is a little misleading (at least to me). It gave me the impression that the novels were a saga spanning generations, whereas in fact Jeremy Poldark is an unborn infant for most of that novel. I am currently reading The Black Moon (written after a gap of 20 years, although there is no sign of this in the writing), but so far as I can tell, the principal characters remain throughout the whole series.

So far, I am experiencing that rare thing: a set of novels and a screen adaptation that are equally satisfying. I look forward to Season 2!

“Elle”, a watercolour by Cynthia Barlow Marrs - from her portfolio Sketch Portraits

I found this, as I have so many good things, on the always-beautiful pages of ensemble5 (if you click her tag at the top of this post, you'll see what I mean!).

“Woman with a Parasol” by Claude Monet

One of my favourite paintings, kindly found for me by Ceara - click the image for her original, fully-documented post

If you like this...

[Many other paintings by Claude Monet]
[Ceara's collection of Impressionist paintings]

“Country Pub in Brannenburg” by Max Liebermann - my kind of place!

Another one from the wonderful art gallery of Ceara - click the image for her original, fully-documented post

“At the End of the Porch”, a beautiful picture by the American artist John Sharman

From the wonderful art gallery of Ceara - click the image for her original, fully-documented post

Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe, May 2015

After a sad event in my life, I spent part of the next day in this wonderfully peaceful place, set in the hills above Charlottesville, Virginia, not far from the more famous (and much more busy and expensive to visit) Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.

It was very quiet, a slight breeze blowing and just the sound of birds singing.

A very interesting guy, I discovered - see here

An old game where you flip a ball up with your foot and hit it with something like a small cricket bat to a group of catchers

A modest home for a great man, set in a beautiful part of the world

This minimalist house has been designed by Barend Koolhaas, and is set among the beautiful countryside of Almen, in the Netherlands.

Despite its outward appearance from the front of the property, the building is actually triangular in shape, cutting its apparent footprint in half. The exterior has been designed in the shape of the barns found in the local area, and it’s been clad with timber siding, and corrugated steel on the roof.

This great example of living simply and sustainably is worth looking at in more detail, as is the rest of the site.

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (Sandy) for this one!

(She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

There seems to be a sudden upsurge in interest in green roofs (click the image for some great examples).

For instance, this story from March 2015 has been widely reported:

Green roofs are apparently popular in Germany and Australia. It is not hard to see why if you take a look here.

The city of Toronto mandated the use of green roofs in industrial and residential buildings in 2009. It's good to see an entire country following its example, even if it's in a modified and flexible form... hopefully other countries will realise the benefits and do the same soon.

The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

I am a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, and I still consider Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away to be the finest animation ever made (a close runner-up being The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet).

One reason that I am a fan is the beautiful environments (often urban) created in many of their films. These are works of art in their own right, and I have done my best to capture (with my own screenshots) some of the ones that I particularly like.

In order to keep this post a reasonable length, and because the art in many of the films can only be appreciated in animated form, I have chosen only three films (omitting, for example, the beautiful natural environment of My Neighbour Totoro along with many others). Click any image if you would like to see links about that film.

Kiki's Delivery Service

This charming story about the early difficulties of a trainee witch, based on a children's fantasy novel, would be worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and city. When the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, I watch this film again, thinking how much I would like to live here - and how much designers of modern architecture could learn from the film.

Kiki standing outside the bakery, overlooking the sea. Behind her is a glimpse of the lower part of the fictional city. The (apparently hand-painted) details of mortar, stones, plaster, tiles and so much else is incredible - the more you look, the more you see. As with so many of Miyazaki's urban environments, it is set on a hill, giving it added interest as a place and a wonderful three-dimensional feel as art.

The fictional city is “Koriko” or “Coriko”, although the characters don't mention it. Miyazaki's inspiration for it was the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden (worth looking at), although the fictional Koriko is a much larger place.

This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)

The bakery, with another glimpse of Koriko rising above it, lit (as often in Miyazaki's films) by a low sun. The room at the top of the stairs is a kind of storage loft, which Kiki can use free as her room (and have free use of the telephone for her delivery business) in exchange for helping out at the bakery.

The view from Kiki's room, as evening falls.

The bakery at night.

The Wind Rises

This is to be the last of Miyazaki's films (see here), and in many ways is very different from the others. A very good description of it can be found here.

It is a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighters that flew in WWII. It features many things: the love and mystique of aviation (and a repugnance for its use in war) that is Miyazaki's own, a stunning sequence covering the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter scale, that devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area, and a bittersweet story concerning his love for Nahoko, a girl whom he rescues during the earthquake and then doesn't see again for some time.

The story is fascinating from a historical point of view, but it also features some fine art work that somehow makes even factories and aircraft hangars things of beauty. I have selected just a few here.

A train journey during a period of tranquillity. Jiro is on his way to a hotel where he will again encounter Nahoko. Trains, and other means of transport, feature in many of Miyazaki's films with an extraordinary attention to realistic detail. (In Kiki's Delivery Service, when looking through the front window of an old-fashioned bus about to depart, we can see its nose rise as it is lifted by the torque of the engine, before setting off - a detail most people wouldn't even care about, or notice.)

The outfall from a beautiful spring pool, near the hotel where he encounters Nahoko.

Walking back to the hotel, caught in a sudden rain squall. Wind, rain and clouds are often major features of Miyazaki's films.

The hotel where Nahoko and Jiro meet.

Nahoko sadly dies of tuberculosis. They marry so that they can live together for the short time left, but Nahoko disappears one day, returning to the sanatorium so that he will remember her as she was. Together with other patients, she lies (well bundled up) on the verandah of the sanatorium, and in this beautiful short sequence she looks up at the sky as snow falls.

Whisper of the Heart

This is another great favourite of mine. It's a coming-of-age story set in modern Tokyo. Its heroine Shizuku is led on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

The film was written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki hoped would take over from him. Kondo's premature death shortly afterwards, apparently caused by overwork, seems to have led Miyazaki to announce his retirement, although (fortunately for us) he continued to work for a further 15 years but at a more relaxed pace.

The apartment block where Shizuku lives is far from luxurious...

The door is metal and the interior is very small and cluttered. Nevertheless Shizuku's family lives happily there, and apart from the expected occasional friction with Shizuku's older sister, is very supportive of her.

Shizuku's life is one of an ordinary young teenager. She attends a local school, remarkable only for the respect that Miyazaki always shows being given by children to their elders and teachers. Shizuku writes two translated versions of John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (hilarious when translated back to English in subtitles) - she doesn't really understand the concept of a “home town”, and her second version is entitled “Take Me Home, Concrete Roads”.

Shizuku is a voracious reader, borrowing books from the library, and keeps encountering the name of a previous borrower, Seiji Amasawa. She encounters Seiji several times without realizing who he is, and is extremely cross when he teases her. But things will change...

One day when Shizuku travels on the local train, she is joined by an unusually independent cat. When they get off together she follows him...

...losing him...

...but discovering him again higher up the hill.

The cat leads her up a steep, narrow rubbish-strewn alley.

(Monitor test: you should be able to see considerable detail even on plain concrete walls.)

Shizuku emerges into what, to her, is a different world...

...and discovers an open, and apparently deserted, antique shop... which she will discover Seiji's grandfather, and learn that Seiji himself lives downstairs, learning to be a violin maker.

Here she also meets The Baron, an amazing statuette with crystal eyes, whose story links to an unfulfilled love in the grandfather's past life.

Seiji's grandfather shows her a marvellous clock that he is repairing, whose mechanisms include another depiction of unfulfilled love.

Shizuku later meets Seiji here, and learns that he hopes to leave schooling early for a career making violins - but first he will have to prove himself by becoming an apprentice to a strict violin-making master in Cremona, Italy.

Shizuku realises how much she will miss him, and decides to challenge herself while he is away by writing a long story, which she calls Whisper of the Heart, inspired by the story of The Baron.

Seiji's grandfather wants to be the first to read her story, and Shizuku waits for hours on his lower verandah while he does so, in an agony of suspense. He finally appears and tells her that her story is a little rough, like any craftsman's first work, but she has dug out some real gems from her heart - and makes the hugely relieved Shizuku a supper of Ramen noodles.

Early one cold morning Seiji returns, and calls to Shizuku to come down.

He takes her high up to one of his favourite places... watch a magical sunrise above Tokyo

If you like this...

[Wingsee, a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]
[The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”]

La droguerie de limandes, Scheveningen, 1882 aka “The fish-drying barn" by Vincent van Gogh

A particularly nice picture that I hadn't seen before - thanks so much to Betty-Boop for this one!

This great hi-def trailer video comes from Fantastic Fungi, The Official Site for Everything Fungi - “for foodies, scientists and explorers”.

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (Sandy) for this one! (She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

Hand-painted stones, examples of what the artist calls “dotillism art”, by Elspeth McLean, a painter and art therapist from Australia, who writes:

“Painting is my way to find my “happy place” and colour is a way to express and celebrate the colours of my soul. By using bright and vivid colours and intricate dot work style, the artwork I create becomes a direct expression of my experience of life. I tend to focus on the more uplifting and beautiful aspects of this world because I think there is already enough darkness.”

I can certainly relate to that...

One of many delights to found on the pages of regtf1948.

“Red Dinghy”, acrylic on canvas, by John Mansueto, whose other work is well worth checking out

Another one gratefully snaffled from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks, Jerry!

Silk: Interactive Generative Art

“Draw something...”

A simple and brilliant App that lets even people like me produce some wonderful coloured patterns. This was my first attempt, and not so wonderful, but you can change colours on a blend chart, alter the symmetry, add spiral effects, and of course save and share your artwork.

Click the image to try it!

Thanks to Ceara (who has a wonderful art gallery on Categorian) for this one.

Night view of one of the Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk (from Wikimedia Commons, click image for source)

If you like this...

[“Windmills of your Mind”]

Peia's “Machi”, a beautiful hi-def video from her album Four Great Winds

Peia Luzzi, who currently lives in Portland, Oregon, describes herself as “a vocalist, composer and Sacred Song preserver of traditions that span across the globe.”

Thanks to my younger daughter for this one!

Illustration Art

“Many talented illustrators develop a style, find an audience, and enjoy a long, successful career catering to that audience. But there is a special place in my heart for illustrators who take their initial success and re-invest it in new challenges. In my view, that's the highest use for success.”Gregory Manchess

Click the image to see Gatorindo's original post, one of literally thousands of great posts that he has produced over the years containing music, art, humour and so much more.

He has shared (and I have gratefully snaffled) some wonderful stuff, as you will see if you click his tag above.

“Little Girl at the Aquarium” by Royce Hutain (aka Visual Burrito)

Royce Hutain is also the guy who makes those neat LED “Glowy Zoey” stick figure costumes that glow in the dark. If you want to have some fun at night with your kids, check them out!

I found this here on the very nice pages of Reflections, a visit to which is highly recommended.

“Do You Want to Kill Some Rebels?”

Hilarious Star Wars version of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Frozen... thanks to my nephew Chris for this one!

A fine work of animation, featured in one of many, many fine posts by Retrit, one of the best bloggers to move from SU to Categorian. Enjoy her post, but don't miss all the other great stuff on her pages!

From the wonderful cartoon collection of moonshadow68 - don't miss the rest!

Johanna Basford's work (see here) is well worth exploring.

Another item gratefully snaffled from the fine pages of batchbatcharak!

“Sunset Tree” © by Vanda Ralevska, whose other work is well worth checking out

Fire place at the Casa Batlló, one of Gaudi's most famous and beautiful creations

Found a very long time ago on the fine pages of batchbatcharak, one of my favourite Categorians (click his tag to see why!).

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre at Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo, South Africa. The plan for this visitor center, designed by Peter Rich Architects, began with a motif etched on stones uncovered at the former location of a South African trading civilization. Its free-form vaults were built with a 600-year-old construction technique that is both economically and environmentally responsible: Local laborers made the 200,000 pressed soil tiles as part of a poverty relief program. Though it’s inspired by the past, the center’s design is at home in the 21st century, with modern geometric forms that create a new topography in the ancient setting. Photo by Obie Oberholzer.”

“To create new art, Brian Dettmer trashes old books. The painter-turned-sculptor (TED Talk: Old books reborn as art) takes outdated reference materials such as textbooks and encyclopedias, seals them with varnish, then carves away at their pages with an X-Acto knife. Dettmer knifes through books swiftly from cover to cover to reveal images that explore our relationship to information. He adds no color or text; it’s all what he calls “a subtractive sculptural process.” Take a look at some of the amazing results.”

Thanks to my friend Ceara for this beauty from Rob Hefferan

If you like this...

[You might like the romantic tag - just a suggestion!]

“The Art of Snacking” © by Trisha Selgrath, whose other work is well worth exploring

“Implement Blue” by Margaret Preston

“Margaret Preston was an Australian artist. She was highly influential during the 1920s to 1940s for her modernist works as a painter and printmaker and for introducing Aboriginal motifs into contemporary art.”Wikipedia

If you like this, you may enjoy exploring the various links above (including clicking the image for info about the painting).

Nice, Côte d'Azur, France, February 28th to March 15th, 2015

Some posts about our recent visit to Nice on the Côte d'Azur appear below (or click either picture to go there).

If you are interested, here are the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Nice, Côte d'Azur, France, February 28th to March 15th, 2015]
[Day trip to Saint Paul de Vence, medieval walled commune in the Alpes-Maritimes]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

... and I can't resist heavy horses either - a very nice Budweiser ad from this year's Super Bowl

Animal Buddies

I don't do “Awwwww...” very often, but I couldn't resist this cute and heartwarming collection of animal buddies...

If you like this...

[Wild polar bear's amazingly friendly encounter with sled dogs in Hudson Bay (2008)]

“Marina”, a beautiful portrait © by Sergey Spoyalov - thanks, Lex!

The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”

Alan Jones, writing in the UK's historically-named Radio Times (now our leading TV and Radio magazine):

“This deft vrsion of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale find Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) trapped in a tower by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), who uses the princes's long magical hair to stay forever young. Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) is the handsome, cocksure thief who provides the kidnapped royal with a possible escape route. It's a smart, snappy and sparkling tale, which uses Rapuzel's multitasking flowing tresses to great effect.”

Frozen is (to date) the most successful animation feature ever made, and I really enjoyed it. However Tangled is still my favourite production from Walt Disney Animation Studios, thanks in no small part to Glen Keane, Disney's master character animator, who subsequently left Disney (more on that here if you're interested).

Pascal and Rapunzel (click the image for many more)

Click this image for the full-size HD wallpaper, which also shows several of the new animation features used in the production

Flynn, beginning a long process of personality improvement...

Maximus, a horse with serious attitude, and a real masterpiece of character animation... definitely worth clicking on this one...

A particularly beautiful animation sequence (click the image for many more)

It seems that Tangled was produced at a critical time for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Recent productions had not been a success, and they were losing out to studios like Pixar Animation Studios and Dreamworks Animation. The turning point for Disney animation was Glen Keane's seminar to his colleagues, many of them wedded to old-style animation, reported here in The New York Times.

From Wikipedia's article on Tangled (worth reading):

Technical and artistic brilliance wouldn't have been enough in themselves to make Tangled as successful as it was. As Alan Jones wrote, it's a “smart, snappy and sparkling tale”, with a strong story line and many really hilarious moments. Many people were involved with that, but without Glen Keane it would have been a different tale altogether.

If you like this...

[Watch “Duet”, a wonderful animation short by Glen Keane]
[Superb animation that was NOT done by motion capture: the Tiger in “Life of Pi”]


And if you like this, don't miss the other list from Time: The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time.

You might argue with which list some books fall into, but you'll probably find some of your favourites in one or both lists - and maybe discover a few new ones, as I did.

(BTW: you'll need to click the right-arrow on each page to see all 100 from each list, if that isn't obvious.)

From the page:

There's more thought-provoking stuff to read here, for example the statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons supporting previous findings that “the unaffiliated and the nonreligious engage in far fewer crimes.”

The question “Can we be good without God?” is one that has interested me for some time, and I am not surprised by the findings of this research. My own thoughts on the subject, FWIW, appear here on my web site.

My own answer to that question is yes, there are a number of ways, including the humanist point of view, the best-known proponent of which is probably the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who sadly died recently (see my previous post below).

From my web site:

It is a sad fact that some of the world's religions, as practised by people, have given rise (and are still giving rise) to much human misery, in spite of their otherwise good aspects. Again FWIW, my thoughts on that subject can be found here on my web site.

Hmmm... Food for thought...

A suggestion...

[Try clicking the life-improvement tag at the top of this post...]

Sir Terry Pratchett OBE
April 28th, 1948 - March 12th, 2015

The world has suffered the loss of an almost universally loved fantasy writer, humanist and campaigner for the right to die with dignity and for Alzheimer's research.

He was an enormously prolific author, filling the bookshelves of people all over the world with many treasured possessions. As years went by his output became seriously funny, in every sense, and was often deeply humane.

Not all of his work was fantasy - for example “Dodger”, one of his finest works, is a gripping story set in historical London. As with many of his books for younger readers, “Dodger” can be (and is) enjoyed equally by adults.

He was knighted by the Queen in 2009 for services to literature.

He will live on in so many ways (a good number of which are described here). One of these ways is through his daughter Rhianna, already an author, who (with his blessing) will take over writing the Discworld series.

Click the image of Sir Terry for a superb tributes page (thanks, Karenak), and click the quotation for many of his best quotes.

“Under the Vaulted Sky” © by Vanda Ralevska, whose other work is well worth checking out

Awesome beauty destroyed about 6,000 years ago - but we can still see it...

A new, sharper image of the iconic Pillars of Creation - structures in the Eagle Nebula that no longer exist (in this image, Hubble is looking about 7,000 years into the past) - taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3

Image source: this Hubble page from NASA

A different and fascinating picture emerges when the structures are seen in near-infrared:

From Astronomy Magazine:

“This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken in near-infrared light, transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes, which are seen against a background of myriad stars. The near-infrared light can penetrate much of the gas and dust, revealing stars behind the nebula as well as hidden away inside the pillars. Some of the gas and dust clouds are so dense that even the near-infrared light cannot penetrate them. New stars embedded in the tops of the pillars, however, are apparent as bright sources that are unseen in the visible image.” More...

The story of how the Pillars were destroyed is a fascinating one - see here if you are interested.

If you like this...

[Space Sounds - electromagnetic vibrations in 20-20,000Hz range, translated to audio - eerie!]
[All of my astronomy posts]

Battlestar Galactica (2003 TV miniseries followed by 2004-2009 TV series)

“Galactica and Pegasus” by Balsavor, typical of much fine fan art spun off by the series (and worth seeing full size)

High resolution (2400x1600) Viper wallpaper, showing some of the series creators' loving attention to detail

OK, so I messed up on this one. This post was going to explain why the re-imagined BSG (based on Glen A. Larson's 1978 original) is the finest [insert category] television drama ever made, and why you shouldn't miss it if you haven't already seen it, even if you're not an SF fan. In the UK it's currently available free from Netflix, Amazon Prime, blinkbox and iTunes (and no doubt similarly in other countries).

The problem is that BSG is in a quite unique drama category, and so is bound to be the best of its type. Yes, it has awesome space hardware and effects, superior IMO to those in most blockbuster movies, but those exist just to give a very realistic background to a story about politics, ethics, religions, war, love, prejudices formed and overcome, loyalty and betrayal, what it means to be a person, and much else besides. Short version: my wife liked it as much as I did.

If you've seen it, hopefully this will bring back some memories. If you haven't, it helps to know that the Cylons are a cybernetic race originally created by humans, but now evolving themselves. Many Cylons are human in appearance (and in many other ways). These exist as many copies (or instances) of a small number of Cylon “models” - the exact number is one of several unfolding mysteries in the story. Some instances don't know that they are Cylons, believing that they are human until triggered.

Models are referred to by Cylons by number, e.g. Six, but not all models, nor instances of a particular model, think or behave the same way. The development of individuality and dissension amongst the Cylons is one of the rich elements of the story.

If a Cylon instance is killed then its personality is downloaded (if important circumstances are met) to a resurrection mechanism whose details emerge only gradually in the story, and is reborn in another identical body with memories intact. An instance that survives in this way is effectively immortal.

The Cylons have their own religion (the humans have several), and at least one non-corporeal “Angel”.

And, of course, the (supposedly) human characters in the story, both military and civilian, include an unknown number of Cylons. What happens as they gradually become aware of this is one of the many fascinations of the series.

Enough confusion... I'll hand over to some of the main characters.

Edward James Olmos as Commander (later Admiral) William Adama

Like his ship, Adama is ready for retirement when the story opens. The obsolete nature of his ship's equipment, and his justifiably paranoid refusal to network its computer systems, allow his ship to survive the Cylons' first sophisticated and devastating attack on the humans' Twelve Colonies, when more modern elements of the fleet are apparently all destroyed.

The attack - whose cause is not as obvious as first appears, as with so much of BSG - leaves only about 50,000 civilians alive in the human race, who eventually embark on an epic search for a new home, the fabled Earth, pursued at every turn by the Cylons.

Mary McDonnel as Laura Roslin, the surviving Secretary of State for Education who has to take over the role of President of the Colonies

Laura turns out to be a tough cookie, deceptive appearances to the contrary, and an able leader of the diverse remnants of the human population now inhabiting a motley assortment of civilian spacecraft. She and Adama will have many run-ins and conflicts of interest, eventually developing mutual respect and a very touching relationship.

A rare peaceful interlude. In a pivotal section of the story, the Colonists are persuaded to reject Laura as president by the despicable Gaius Baltar (below), abandoning their search for Earth to settle on a planet they call “New Caprica”, supposedly hidden from the Cylons by a nearby source of stellar radiation.

Many of the military elect to join the ground colony and start families, under the indolent presidency of Baltar. Galactica and Pegasus (the other surviving Battlestar encountered later) are essentially reduced to watchkeeping (and Adama grows that moustache). Then all hell breaks loose, as the Cylons find the colony, thanks indirectly to one of Baltar's many betrayals. There follows a period of occupation and guerilla-style insurgency, suicide bombing and reprisals. Some humans join the Cylon's secret police force, Baltar is coerced into signing death warrants for civilians, and a conflict escalates which echoes many around the world in recent times, as well as the Nazi occupations of WWII.

The four episodes that open Season 3, leading to the final liberation of the human colony, would make a blockbusting movie epic in their own right.

The beautiful Canadian model and actress Tricia Helfer, who plays many different instances of the Cylon “Number Six”

“Number Six” is undoubtedly the most complex of the Cylon models. As the instance known by the Cylons as “Caprica-Six”, she is responsible for seducing the brilliant scientist Gaius Baltar, giving the Cylons access to the Caprica defence mainframe and enabling the devastating nuclear attack on the planet.

Gaius Baltar (the English actor James Callis) with “Head/Inner/Messenger Six”, a non-corporeal instance of the Cylon model who constantly guides and motivates Gaius

One of the quirks of BSG are the frequent views of Gaius and “Head Six” when other people are present. Her interactions with him are quite physical, and when we see them from other people's point of view (when she is invisible) he is doing all kinds of strange things, including apparently talking to himself, which he has to desperately cover up. Surely someone would notice? And it gets even stranger before the end...

Gina Inviere, a very different instance of “Six”, with Gaius Baltar

Gina infiltrates Pegasus and is responsible for its invasion by Cylon soldiers. She is subsequently unmasked and traumatized by severe sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Pegasus' crew, instigated by and participated in by the brutal Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). Baltar assists her to escape, whereupon she kills the Admiral (something that most viewers will feel is long overdue). Baltar hides her in the fleet, forming a long-unrequited relationship with her that complicates his relationship with “Head Six”. This relationship will ultimately lead to the discovery of New Caprica by the Cylons.

A full description of the “Six” model instances will be found here (with spoilers).

Katee Sackhoff as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, considered to be Galactica's best Viper pilot

Kara is one of BSG's most deeply-developed central characters. Tough but vulnerable, she has complex relationships with other main characters. Saul Tigh (see later below), Galactica's Exec, throws her in the brig for insubordination. Commander Adama sees her as a daughter figure, and his son Lee Adama sees her as lead pilot, sparring partner and sometime lover. Kara doesn't appear to value her own life, but saves the fleet many times by extraordinary feats of flying and courage.

She has a final destiny that I have no intention of describing here...

Kara with Lee “Apollo” Adama (the English actor Jamie Bamber), who for some time is the CAG (Commander, Air Group) for Galactica

Due to tragic family history (caused inadvertently by Kara, though this isn't discovered until later), Lee and his father have a difficult relationship, one of many such interesting story-lines that thread BSG.

Kara in deep trouble, later in the story, and an illustration of how Kara's character was developed through Katee's acting ability

The American-born Canadian actress Grace Park as Sharon “Boomer” Valerii, one of the instances of the “Number Eight” Cylon model

The first Sharon that we meet is “Boomer”, a pilot who doesn't realise that she is a Cylon. Boomer has an against-regs relationship with Chief Tyrol (see later below), who initially protects her when Sharon realises that she is unwittingly performing acts of sabotage. She asks Gaius Baltar to test her for being a Cylon; Gaius does so but falsifies the result out of cowardice.

Eventually she is triggered into shooting Commander Adama, nearly fatally, and is subjected to severe interrogations by Saul Tigh and Gaius Baltar. She is subsequently shot and killed by Cally, a female colleague of Chief Tyrol. A new instance of Boomer will return later...

We meet the second Sharon (given the callsign “Athena” much later) when Karl “Helo” Agathon (the Canadian actor Tahmoh Penikett) is stranded on Caprica. Helo thinks that this is the return of Boomer who was evacuating civilians; this Sharon is a knowing part of a Cylon plot to form a relationship with him and infiltrate the human fleet. But then Helo sees another “Eight” copy and realises what is going on, by which time this Sharon has genuinely fallen in love with him, and is pregnant with his child - a child who will be of immense importance in the future.

Returning to Galactica, a really interesting sequence of events develops, as various attempts to have her executed are postponed by Sharon's decisions to support the humans against the Cylons, saving the humans on several occasions. Winning trust (including Helo's) is a long and painful process, culminating in Adama's extraordinary appointment of her to lead the rescue mission on New Caprica, as only she can defeat their systems on the ground.

“How do you really know that you can trust me?” she asks Adama before the mission. “I don't,” replies Adama. “That's what trust is.”

On her return from the successful mission, it is the pilots themselves who give her the callsign “Athena”.

Helo later becomes the conscience of Galactica, first arguing against and then thwarting an opportunity to completely wipe out the Cylons in an act of genocide. Adama, secretly relieved, declines to punish him for what is in fact a serious act of treason, and the notion that Cylons are “just machines” begins to die.

Chief Galen Tyrol, “The Chief” (the Canadian actor Aaron Douglas)

Responsible for keeping Galactica's fighters operational, and even building one as a personal project during a desperate period, The Chief was originally intended to be a minor character in BSG. However he becomes a complex and important part of the story, representing the interests of the working man, becoming part of the resistance movement on New Caprica, and at one point making a key discovery in the search for Earth.

Samual T. Anders, callsign “Longshot” (the American actor Michael Trucco)

Sam Anders' role in the BSG story is much more complex than first appears. We meet him on Caprica after the Cylons' nuclear attack, leading a resistance group that escaped the initial devastation. In planting explosives he encounters Caprica-Six, the reincarnated Boomer and (for the first time) “Three” (see later below). Inexplicably at the time, the first two turn on “Three” and allow him to escape, one of the first indications of dissention developing among the Cylons.

Anders later meets Starbuck who is on a personal mission from President Roslin (an unapproved mission which leads Adama to imprison the President and declare Martial Law). Anders and Kara form a relationship, and Kara promises to return to rescue him and the rest of the team, although it will be a long time until she can fulfil that promise.

Sam marries Kara on New Caprica, and later rescues her from a particularly unpleasant captivity after the Cylon invasion. Kara's problems and her relationship with Lee Adama make the marriage very difficult, and eventually it breaks down. But Sam's part in the BSG story is far from over...

Saul Tigh, Galactica's Exec (played by the Canadian actor Michael Hogan), after losing an eye during mistreatment by the Cylons on New Caprica

Adama welcomes Saul back to Galactica after the rescue mission on New Caprica. Saul's experiences there have made him very bitter, and for a long time he is useless, and even destructive, as a functioning officer. He was responsible for hard-line insurgency on New Caprica, and was put in the position of killing his toxic wife Ellen after she (not quite fatally) betrayed the rescue operation.

Prior to the New Caprica incident, Saul had a disastrous experience deputizing for Adama after the Commander was shot by Boomer. His relationship with Adama goes back a long way, and we discover over a period of time why Adama tolerates less than ideal behaviour in his hard-drinking Exec.

Saul Tigh with an instance of the Cylon “Three” (the New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless), towards the end of the story

This encounter follows some extraordinary developments in the lives of both of these characters (and in many other lives as well). Explaining why would be a serious spoiler...

BSG does have some flaws or weaknesses, unsurprising in an epic of 77 episodes including the opening miniseries. Some people view the end itself as one such; I found myself coughing gently when I recognized the Citroen DS, and several other European cars, parked on Caprica (the makers must have hoped that US audiences wouldn't notice). However from my point of view these are totally minor, and I am enjoying BSG just as much, if not more, on my second time through.

If you like this...


[List of BSG episodes]
[Quotations from BSG]

“Life is an overwhelming whirlwind of stress, responsibility, existential crises, and utility bills. So it’s a good thing we have video games, which are the equivalent of burying your head in the sand and forgetting about what a gruelling, thankless chore simply existing can be.

“When I’m feeling the burden of sentience, these are the games I turn to. They’re all relaxing in their own special way, and the perfect way to unwind after a hard day of doing whatever it is you do to pay the rent.

“So light some scented candles, put on a Brian Eno CD, and slip into a warm bubble bath of pure tranquility. But not too far, ‘cause you might fall asleep and drown, and you’ve got work tomorrow.”

Andy Kelly (aka Ultrabrilliant) in PC Gamer

Andy is probably the finest journalist writing on video games. I have gratefully borrowed his words in my selections below from his article, and added some links. Click any image to see the full article with all 10 of Andy's suggestions.

Space Engine

“This one’s tricky. Flying around Space Engine’s beautiful 1:1 scale recreation of the universe can be remarkably humbling and soothing, but you run the risk of suddenly realising just how small and insignificant you are and having a mild existential breakdown. For the best experience, disable the in-game music and listen to the sci-fi-tinged ambience of ‘Tomorrow's Harvest’ by Boards of Canada.”

Take On Mars

“This slow-paced simulator sees you exploring the surface of the red planet with a variety of rovers and landers. The missions don’t get any more exciting than ‘probe some soil’, but the feeling of being alone on a distant, lonely world is palpable. The howl of the Martian wind as you trundle through the dust creates an evocative atmosphere, and the sedate pace of the rovers makes for a strangely hypnotic experience.”

The perfect companion to reading The Martian by Andy Weir (see my previous post below).

Dear Esther

“The bleak Hebridean island that this short, story-led game takes place on is one of my favourite virtual places to hike through. It evokes the same lonely feeling as Take On Mars, but with a more earthly setting. The world and sound design are hauntingly atmospheric, and the understated music and narration give it a serene, dreamlike feel. Can we have more games set on remote Scottish islands, please?”

... and a couple of the rest (click any image above to see the full set):


“This surrealist exploration game marries sound and visuals in a really captivating way. As you wander around a procedurally-generated island, constructed from simple, abstract shapes, the dreamy music reacts to your actions. Then the seasons begin to change, transforming the landscape around you, and your worries slip away. It only takes an hour to finish Proteus, but the world layout is different every time.”

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

“This detective adventure is like watching an episode of Poirot or Morse or something. It has that sedate British crime drama vibe about it, and even though most of the cases are about grisly murders, the gorgeous, authentic environments are a pleasure to explore. It’s like being transported to Victorian England. The pace is slow and measured, and none of the puzzles are too taxing. The perfect game for a lazy Sunday.”

If you like this...

[Other Places - videos by Andy Kelly exploring the tranquil beauty of game landscapes without violence or stress]
[Slow TV from Norway]

This book is a nail-biting masterpiece of ingenuity, perserverance and human spirit - not to mention considerable humour in the face of major adversity.

Short version of the plot: an authentic survival adventure in the spirit of Apollo 13, the main action taking place on a very real Mars.

Longer version: click the image to the right!


(1) This book has been described as “hard sci-fi” but is really “hard engineering”. For me, it captures perfectly the co-operative human qualities and engineering skills that make space exploration very unlike (say) politics in Washington (some thoughts on that here). However, if technical details of what it takes to stay alive in a hostile environment are not your thing, the book may not be for you - but you might want to take a risk with it anyway!

(2) If you have to go to work next morning, don't start reading it the night before...

(Found for me by Karenak, whose help pages anyone new to Categorian should visit - but there is much more to her pages than help!)

PS: I see that Ridley Scott is making a film of this book starring Matt Damon, due for release 25 November 2015.

If you like science fiction...

[The SF section of my books page]

...or the real thing...

[Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, screenshots from NASA TV with my commentary from watching it live]
[Mars Curiosity Rover on Facebook]
[NASA JPL on Facebook]

Untitled picture © Jean-Michel Priaux, a photographer who transforms landscapes into art with expert photomanipulation.
Click the image for many examples of his work (highly recommended).

Thanks once again to Chaotiqual for this one!

“Racing for the Cup” by Poppy Balser, a fine watercolour painter living on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada. You can see many images of her other paintings (recommended!) if you click the picture above.

Another gem gratefully snaffled from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks, Jerry!

If you like this...

[Try clicking the boats tag... or some of the other tags... just a suggestion!]

“Downs in Winter”


Marvellous watercolours by the painter, designer, book illustrator, wood engraver and official War Artist (1940) Eric Ravilious, whose other work is well worth exploring (click either image above if you're interested).

For me, the spirit of Granny Aching still watches over these scenes of “The Chalk”. If you know what I mean then you might also be a fan of Terry Pratchett's wonderful books about Tiffany Aching (trainee witch) and The Wee Free Men (a bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans), set in a mirror of this countryside (and assorted interconnecting worlds). The books are a unique combination of deep humanity, earthy wisdom and hilarious dialogue - if you have yet to try them, you might enjoy taking a look here.


“Little Fishes”

From “Slater's Sussex, the colour woodcuts of Eric Slater” by James Trollope, the first study of a British colour woodcut artist since Malcolm Salaman's William Giles as far back as 1928.

[More selections from classic Peanuts...]

[...and don't miss moonshadow68's great cartoon collection!]

This talk by Brené Brown (a link worth following) is a real treat. Imagine, if you will, Bette Midler as a scholar and research professor explaining some valuable secrets of life...

Thanks to my younger daughter for this one!

If the evil things going on in the world get you down, then trust me, the antidote is BBC's series of 5 programmes called Operation Meet the Street (which can now be seen here on YouTube). The title gives no idea as to how truly wonderful and heart-warming (and effective) this initiative to combat isolation and loneliness is.

A particularly touching sequence (out of many) occurs in Episode 3, when a man who has literally lost everything except his guitar, and feels that he has nothing left to live for, is introduced to the most wonderful place for him that you can imagine.

James Martin (a TV chef who among other things has fought to improve hospital food in Britain) gets my vote for one of the nicest people on the planet. I hope he gets an OBE for this one. The lady next to him in the above picture from Episode 1 is Denise Lewis, the Olympic heptathlon champion and sports ambassador who already has an OBE, returning to her home area to help James bring people out and get them together. The way in which this happens will warm the cockles of your heart...

If I had to choose just one picture to convey the flavour of expressioniste (Aline)'s wonderful pages (an impossible task) then this still from Albert Lamorisse's 1965 classic Le Ballon Rouge might be it (see here for her post with more stills).

And if I had to choose just one phrase to sum up her pages, it would be the "joie de vivre" which she kindly spreads to all of us. Whether it's her love of all things French, or beautiful fashion, or sunny pictures, or her delight in good food, or any of a hundred other things, I always (reluctantly) come away from her pages feeling much happier about life than when I arrived.

If you like this...

[Enjoy some more "joie de vivre"!]
[French films]

From the beautiful and uplifting pages of Chaotiqual:

which reminded me of this great song, which I always associate with the movie Sleepless in Seattle:

sung beautifully here by the Russian-born jazz vocalist Sophie Milman:

If you like this:

[Random acts of kindness (links)]
[Pay it forward (from my web page)]

If you like violin music, you will really enjoy the virtuoso performance of 11-year-old Sirena Huang from Connecticut, which ranges from classical to folk tunes. However, don't miss Sirena's charming short interlude talks, which start about 9 minutes and 16½ minutes in. Enjoy!

“Swan Lake”, a lovely image by Elena Shovkoplyas, whose other work is well worth exploring

Indian Scops Owls brood of young © by the Dutch photographer Peter Otten

Thanks to my younger daughter, who knows that I have some sort of relationship with owls... (see the owls tag...)

BTW, if you ever read “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell, it was a baby Scops owl that he found as a young boy and smuggled home. One of my all-time favourite books!

27 Kids reading “Little Humans” by Brandon Stanton (warning: it may crack you up)

Thanks again to my friend overthetrail (Sandy) for this one! (She hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her overthetrail tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way over the years.)

The 10 healthiest cities in the world (from this CNN poll):

From CNN's page:

Here are 3 of CNN's selections (in no particular order) - click any image or the links for some interesting information about the city and why it was chosen in the CNN poll. If you don't have time for them all, I recommend the links about Copenhagen - you'll want to go there if you haven't been already!

Land of the elders: Okinawa, Japan

Take a deep breath: Vancouver

Where happiness is the truth: Copenhagen

For the full list of cities and why they were chosen, see here. It seems like there are some great lessons to be learnt from these places.

“The Gotheborg”, an acrylic painting by the Canadian artist Neil Hamelin, who writes:

Another one gratefully snaffled from the fine pages of Jerzee55sst (Jerry).

“Surrounded by the Italian Alps, Funes is blanketed by a layer of crystal white snow every winter.”    —photographer: ewitsoe (exceptionally recommended)

Shirakawa-go is a small, traditional village known for its incredibly steep roofs that were made to withstand some of the heaviest snowfall in the world.”    —photographer: Miyamoto Y

Vyborg lies on the border between Russia and Finland and is surrounded by the Saimaa Canal, which freezes over in winter. From the castle tower, the entire town is visible in its snow-capped beauty.”    —photographer: EGRA

This page is unusual in crediting, and linking to, the sources of all of its photos, including the three shown here - sources that are well worth following up!

Many thanks (again) to Renaissance2007 (Julian) for this find.

“Synevir” by the digital artist Danapra (Mykhailova Olesya)

The artist credits Dmitry Peretrutov for the photo, which was used in the film poster for the first Ukrainian 3D horror movie “Synevir” (you can watch the trailer, should you feel so inclined!). I am not sure how the work was split between Danapra and Dmitry - does anyone know?

I found this when revisiting Danapra's Veranda, an absolutely gorgeous picture to chase away those winter blues, which I posted here a long time ago. I see that “D. Peretrutov” is alo credited with the photo on that one, so maybe these two people are partners, or even alter egos?

Synevir (or Synevyr), BTW, I discovered is the largest lake in the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine.

“The other love of my life”, a beautiful portrait © by our very own 007Sue (Susan Brett)

Black raspberry vine in Oregon, beautifully photographed by my friend overthetrail (Sandy)

Sandy (a friend from Stumbler days) doesn't post here very much nowadays, but I have had so much good stuff from her over the years. Click her tag above for some treasures from the past.

“Facebook Update” © by the wildlife photographer Marsel van Oosten, whose other work (as that of other photographers featured on the page) is well worth checking out.

Another great share from Gatorindo (David) (I really recommend clicking his tag above, as well as visiting his pages).

Wonderful video of a cat concerto... The cat really is playing the piano - sure, the video has been edited, but not CGI'd - and a marvellous orchestral accompaniment added.

A real treat for music and/or cat lovers - don't miss it!

Thanks again to my younger daughter for this one!

“Love Song” © by Ivan Lee, whose other work is well worth checking out

Gratefully snaffled from Lexlu4's great pages - thanks, Lex!

Fairies spread a little festive happiness... the nicest Christmas TV advert I have seen so far this year!

Click to play...

[All of my Christmas posts!]

In this particularly beautiful video, Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, explains what he considers to be the most astounding fact about our universe: that we are all literally made of “star stuff”.

Of course, we are all more than the sum of our parts!

After watching the video I reflected sadly that some religions close their eyes to the true wonders of creation - which reminded me of this (apparently often misunderstood) quote:

If (like me) you wondered what Einstein really meant by this, go here or click the quotation for a good discussion article, or go here for an in-depth Wikipedia article on Einstein's religious views.

If you like this...

[The science of the movie Interstellar [1]]
[The science of the movie Interstellar [2]]

... and FWIW:

[My own thoughts on the conflicts or otherwise between science and religion (from my web site)]
[Magical Loops: wonderful complexity from repeating simple rules many times (from my web site)]

Nuenen, a city in the Netherlands, has a new extraordinary attraction – a dreamy solar-powered bicycle path that glows in the dark. The path, created by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, looks just like a river of stars, fallen down from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” And it is, in fact, inspired by the great artist, who lived in Nuenen from 1883 to 1885.”

Thanks to my younger daughter for this find!

The other work of artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is well worth checking out - click the panel below for an example.

It seems that all over the world, inventive people are rethinking the possibilities of our roads - for another example, see my post on Solar Roadways.

NGC 6302 is reckoned to be one of the 10 most beautiful nebulae in the Universe, a collection that I found on the very fine pages of Toetie, and one which certainly lives up to its name.

From Wikipedia (click for the full article):

From what I read in the article, NGC 6302 is tiny by the standards of the mega-structures out there, but it would still take about 3 years to traverse from one “wing tip” to the other at the unimaginable speed of light.

When I searched around to see what a more realistic speed would be in the near future, it seems that the fastest actual spacecraft currently projected (the Solar Probe Plus, to be launched in 2018) would take about 4,500 years to cover the same distance at its blistering maximum speed of 200 kilometres per second. To reach NGC 6302 from Earth would take the same spacecraft (if it could keep its maximum speed around our Sun all the way) about 4,500,000 years... passing our Moon after only half an hour... and the awesome Hubble Telescope can see structures that are much, much further away. The mind boggles!

If you like this...

[Faster than light? A guide to Starship Enterprise Warp Factors]
[A rather beautiful wallpaper image of Starship Enterprise NX01 on patrol]
[... and you might try clicking the astronomy tag...]

A collection of soothing music videos, arranged as a playlist, perfect for insomniacs... thanks, Little Lu Lu!

(Click the image to play)

This great photo of one of the Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk (from Wikimedia Commons, click image for source) reminded me of Noel Harrison's version of Michel Legrand's song "Windmills of Your Mind" (“Les Moulins de Mon Coeur”) that appeared in the original 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

It wasn't a great movie, I have to say, but it had much to enjoy, notably the sexual chemistry between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (including their famously erotic chess game).

If you'd like a nostalgia trip to the 60's, you can watch the movie's glider sequence, which was accompanied by an abridged version of Noel Harrison's song, here (or click the image to the right).

Noel Harrison performs the complete version of his song here.

BTW: The girlfriend watching Thomas Crown gliding is played by the beautiful Dutch fashion model Astrid Heeren (a purely decorative role in this movie).

In searching for videos of Michel Legrand's original, I also came across this very nice video of the instrumental version.

In complete contrast...

Later on, the Muppets produced a gloriously funny interpretation of the same song, which anyone who has suffered from seriously jangled nerves (or is only “calm on the outside”) can relate to... you can watch that here (or click the image to the left).


If you like this...

[Night photo of the Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk]
[Great music and style from the 60's: Claude Lelouch's film Un Homme et une Femme, with music by Francis Lai]

I've just been there...

What is Suzanne Collins doing with in Central Park with a rat, you ask?

I'll get there in a minute.

Suzanne is probably best known for her “young adult” blockbuster trilogy The Hunger Games. I nearly didn't read the books, or see the movies, because a short description of the plot (children fight to the death in an arena) somehow didn't seem like my thing.

In fact, as several authors who have climbed on her bandwagon have found out, The Hunger Games is a very tough act to follow. The story is basically about an uprising against oppression and injustice in a dystopian future. Beginning with a struggling community in the Appalachians, the author makes you really care about the characters and what happens to them. It is a truly gripping adventure, very well told, and there is no upper age limit on who might enjoy it.

Looking around for something else by the same author, I discovered Gregor the Overlander, a single story in 4 parts (the last part spread over 2 books) notionally aimed at a younger readership than The Hunger Games.

As with The Hunger Games, a short description of the plot (boy living in New York descends to an underworld populated by giant rats, bats, cockroaches and a whole range of other talking beasties) wouldn't make me want to read it. And as with The Hunger Games, it's hard to convey easily how very good the story is, and why there is also no upper age limit on who might enjoy it.

The themes in the story are actually very adult (and very relevant to today's world), and many traditional conventions of children's books are well and truly broken. There are many heartwarming moments as unlikely bonds are formed with apparently loathsome and/or fearsome creatures, but there are also scenes of horror, agonizing loss and dire peril - and yet it is still a story that children can read (see here, for instance).

The climax of the gripping story includes a siege that reminded me strongly of the battle for Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings, and a moving love story between two very young people that is not a fairy tale.

If you like reading, and whatever age you are, I recommend this one.

(Like The Hunger Games, it's also available as good-value (and properly produced) eBooks.)

If you like this...

[Brian's Place - The Book Corner]

“In Silence” by REgiNA (whose other work is well worth checking out)

“Imagine” by Nikki Harrison

Autumnal colours in a rather beautiful form - thanks, Lexlu4 (Lex)!

“I will be there”, one of Katie Melua's most beautiful songs (full orchestral version, I like the album version even better)
(If, like me, you are getting problems with the audio on this particular VIMEO video, try here)

“What a wonderful world”, a special duet between Katie Melua...

...and the much-missed Eva Cassidy (as well as a non-performing appearance by the French rock star Johnny Hallyday)

Katie Melua is one of my favourite singer/songwriters. Some years ago I was lucky to see her perform live at Kenwood House, Hampstead on a beautiful summer's evening, hearing several new numbers that were later to appear on her album Piece by Piece.

A live, exhilarating performance by Jesse Cook and friends, a medley of tracks from Jesse's album (and full video) The Rumba Foundation.

“The Rumba Foundation” (see the bottom of this post) is essentially a musical lesson in Rumba Flamenca, which could almost translate as “how to enjoy life”, and the various fusions around it.

Jesse Cook is not just an awesomely talented guitar player, but an ambassador for world music and an extraordinary team leader. He is Canadian, and it happens that my other favourite Rumba Flamenca artist, Govi, is a German who spent 8 years in India. Both of these people obviously have Latin deep in their souls!

If you like this, do NOT miss...

[The Rumba Foundation - Full Video (59 Minutes)]

“Enjoy this beautiful piece with an appropriately awe-inspiring slideshow”

“The Adagio in G minor for violin, strings and organ continuo, is a neo-Baroque composition popularly attributed to the 18th century Venetian master Tomaso Albinoni, but in fact composed almost entirely by the 20th century musicologist and Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto.” (thanks, Antonio!)

Nice desktop wallpaper, probably taken in Bay of Islands, New Zealand... reminds me of the great time we had here on the Florida Keys.

“Vessels” by the realist painter Patrick Nevins

Thanks yet again, Jerry!

If you like this...

[Try the jerzee55sst or realist-painting or still-life tags]

Images © Stian Klo

Stian is a landscape photographer from Norway who grew up in Vesterålen and is now based in Harstad - two places that I would like to visit!

Stian's other work is well worth checking out.

A beautiful Orivit Art Nouveau vase, from a blog well worth visiting

Discovered for me by Tamarlass, whose pages are also a treasure trove of beautiful things and well worth visiting!

Click the image above to visit this wonderful page.

When you get there, you can drag the globe around with your mouse, or roll the mouse-wheel to make the globe bigger or zoom in to see fine detail.

You can also click the word earth (when you reach the page) and change what you are looking at in lots of interesting ways, including viewing historical or forecast data instead of current data.

Click the word earth again to return to the full view.

I have a desktop stretching across two monitors (easy if your graphics card has a dual head), and I like putting the big earth on the left hand monitor - I could watch it for hours!

If you want to do this, and you have two monitors, right-click the image above and select "open in new window", and just drag the window to the other monitor. (People with two monitors probably know this already, but I thought I would advertise one of the many benefits!)

Thanks to joris3pinter for this great find!

This 18-year old Middlesbrough teenager appeared on BBC Breakfast a short while back, and I can tell you that she has a smile that can light up your entire day.

Her name is Jade Jones, and she's a T54 wheelchair track athlete for Great Britain and the British record holder over 400/5000m.

She represented GB at the London 2012 Paralympics, and won the bronze medal in the women's para-sport 1500m in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The London 2012 Olympics were watched by a good proportion of the entire planet. The USA, however, largely missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, due to a perceived or actual lack of interest by USA viewers (or maybe just by NBC), and so missed out on an extraordinary communal party that equalled or even eclipsed the Olympics.

The sheer feel-good factor of both events lifted the spirits of Britain (and maybe other countries) in a way that is good to look back on now. However the Paralympics also changed forever the view of “disability” for everyone who watched it.

I observed afterwards that the American political system (unlike very many American people) seems to suffer more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit - the exact opposite of what we watched, especially in the Paralympics.

There has been so much to enjoy in the recent Commonwealth Games, not least the fact that normal and para events have been integrated. It seems quite normal (at least to UK audiences) now. The larger Olympics, at least in 2016, won't be able to integrate the events in this way, but only because (I have heard) they would simply become too large.

The Olympics and Paralympics were the best thing to happen in Britain (IMO) in 2012, and perhaps for many years to come. Because of this, I put a lot of effort into recording the events, with images, commentary and links to some great music, for my own benefit and maybe for others who missed out:

The short version (from my web site):

[The beautiful games]

The full versions (linked to from the short version):

[Olympics opening ceremony]
[International inspiration to young people: Jessica Ennis and Denise Lewis]
[The fabulous Olympics closing ceremony]
[The stunning Paralympics opening ceremony (visit this, if nothing else!)]
[Royal Mail commemorative stamps, one for each paralympic gold medal winner (with links to each winner featured)]
[My review of the Paralympics, and the closing ceremony]

The apparently ageless Dolly Parton at age 68, wowing the crowds at Glastonbury 2014

The Mexican singer Malukah (real name Judith de los Santos) has a beautiful voice, and she has made some very popular cover versions of songs from computer games like Skyrim (among others), as well as music from other kinds of popular entertainment.

I particularly liked this version of the Game of Thrones Theme and “The Children” from the same popular TV series, as well as her recording of “Misty Mountains” from the film The Hobbit.

You can currently download several of her songs for free at her web site, or watch and listen to her here on Youtube.

My favourite part of this great talk is Alain's visit to a tabloid newspaper, this kind of newspaper being “the number-one organ of ridicule in modern times”. He presented them with plots of great tragedies of western art, and invited them to come up with a headline. For example, the plot of Othello as outlined by Alain resulted in a proposed headline of “Love Crazed Immigrant Kills Senator's Daughter”.

Perhaps we all need to spend 17 minutes listening to Alain if we want to stay sane and happy in today's achievement culture...

I had never registered Glen Keane's name until I saw this wonderful short animation. Now I keep noticing it, most recently when I finally got around to seeing his work on Tangled, which I liked as much as I liked Frozen. Glen apparently quit Frozen to work on Tangled - the text of his resignation letter is here.

Glen was also responsible for the character animation in one of my other favourite Disney films, Beauty and the Beast, which took the quality of Disney animations to a whole new level.

If you like animation, I recommend...

[More about Glen Keane]

007sue writes:

“A great pastime... drew my little granddaughter while I was laid up in bed with flu... sort of LOL”...

Sue has many talents - check out her photography also!

The 13 year old child prodigy Leung Pak-yue giving a great performance of Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” on a harmonica

Thanks to Bluesemotion for this one!

Moonshadow68 has a wonderful collection of cartoons - if you haven't checked them out, I highly recommend a visit!

Lisbon, Portugal, July 2014

My wife and I recently spent 4 wonderful days in Lisbon (our first visit to Portugal). We fell in love with the place (a huge and beautiful city, full of art and amazing architecture, with friendly multi-lingual people who don't mind in the least that a foreigner hasn't learnt their language).

The Discoveries Monument, built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

I took the picture above from our amphibious vehicle on a guided tour of the city. One of the other places that we passed on the river was so amazing that I have made it a separate post (if you're interested, you'll find it here).

Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon's Champs Elysée - but this avenue is much quieter and places along it are much, much cheaper (we had a good meal in an excellent restaurant and it cost less than a Prezzo or Café Rouge in England, which won't surprise our American visitors to the UK).

The avenue is nearly 300 feet wide and totally covered in trees - further along the temperature is nearly 100, but the avenue feels much cooler (the trees naturally air-condition it, as well as shading it) and there is always a breeze blowing.

Some places that we passed on the land section of our amphibious tour.

Even ordinary places are colourful and interesting.

Lisbon's Eden Theatre, a wonderful Art Deco theatre/cinema from the 30's, now converted into a hotel. I love the way in which the Portuguese often incorporate trees into their major buildings.

If you like this...

[Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Lisbon]
[Index of all my travel photoblogs]

My wife and I recently spent 4 wonderful days in Lisbon (our first visit to Portugal). We fell in love with the place (a huge and beautiful city, full of art and amazing architecture, of which we have seen about 1% if that, with friendly multi-lingual people who don't mind in the least that a foreigner hasn't learnt their language).

I took the photo below from a guided tour in an amphibious vehicle, which tours the city and then goes up and down the river. I can thoroughly recommend the tour (the HIPPOtrip) should anyone visit Lisbon for the first time. It was very entertaining and informative, bilingual in English and Portuguese (at least half the passengers were Portuguese), and serious attention was paid to safety on the water.

This is The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, a truly amazing place. It is said to be the world's most advanced centre for research into cancer, brain damage and blindness, both medically and from an architectural point of view. From the river it looks a little like a cruise ship, but it is designed to look quite different from almost any angle in which it is approached.

The image below is my composite of some of the images from the Indian architects' web site - well worth visiting.

Charles Correa writes (in part):

Click either image above for more from the web page.

It is possible for the public to visit some of this centre: see here. When (not if) I return to Lisbon, this place will be high on my list!
If you like this...

[More about The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown]
[More pictures from our visit to Lisbon]
[My travel photoblogs - pictures and info about some nice places]

Watercolours by Edward Seago   (click images for sources and related pictures, click other links for place info)

“Cattle on the Marshes, Norfolk

“Behind the Dunes, Sea Palling

“Shrimp boats on the Suffolk coast”

Brancaster Staithe

If you like this...

[Try clicking the watercolour tag (just a suggestion!)]

I saw this superb film yesterday... so intelligent, so well acted, so relevant to today's world, and such a gripping story.

The visual effects are so good that you don't notice them as special effects - the whole film simply looks real.

Unlike the entertaining CGI tosh served up nowadays to show off bigger machines, stupidly unrealistic stunts and ear-bashing sound, the visual magic in this film is there to support the story, not the other way around.

On top of which, the 3D is just right, which is more than I can say for most 3D films.

Oh... and I just loved Maurice (no, he isn't the baby). If you've seen the film, you'll know what I mean!

(Click the image for links.)

for this one!

If you like this...

[My Movies/TV page]

Mathias (Richard Harrington) and Mared (Mali Harries) in the “Welsh Noir” mini-series Hinterland

From the page:

You may remember Richard Harrington from Bleak House, IMO one of the finest TV dramas of all time, and certainly one of the finest TV versions of a Charles Dickens novel. (Richard is also one of the actors featured in my previous post below.)

I have featured some of my favourite “Nordic Noir” here. On a scale of the Swedish Wallander (my yardstick) = 10, Hinterland scores for me about 7 - but that's a high score, and it's well worth watching for its highly atmospheric stories (4, so far).

The other joy of Hinterland for me was listening to the beautiful Welsh language, with subtitles. One of the reasons that I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (the book) so much was the depth given to it by Tolkien's creation of the various languages, and Elvish in particular (he was persuaded not to write the whole book in Elvish as it would have been unpublishable).

Having also greatly enjoyed Peter Jackson's film version, and the care taken to do justice to Tolkien's Elvish language (among many other things), I found myself listening to Welsh in Hinterland and often almost hearing the Elvish that Peter Jackson's team worked so hard to reproduce. I knew that Tolkien had drawn on Celtic roots for his story, but this was still a very interesting and pleasurable surprise.

A collection of fine actors read truly great poetry - a feast of sheer quality packed into less than 2 minutes.

This is a real treat... don't miss it!

What can I tell you about this cracking first novel by Sally Green, without giving away the plot?

Half Bad a young adult fantasy novel (a genre that contains many of my favourite books), set in a modern-day world of male and female witches. It's some distance away from the world of Harry Potter (muggles are fains in Half Bad, but any close resemblance pretty much ends there).

As the story develops, it reminds me oddly of the first “Jason Bourne” movie, as the hero becomes a boy with a mission, pursued by various evils, while his own nature and identity (as well as those around him) are an unfolding mystery.

The style of writing (for me) has a dash of Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and even at times Quentin Tarantino, with a hefty slug of originality.

You will find plenty more about the book here (or click the image). It's also available as a good-value (and properly produced) eBook.

A word of warning: this is only the first book of the “Half Life” trilogy, and the next part, “Half Wild”, isn't due out until March 24th, 2015.

If you like this...

[Brian's Place - The Book Corner]

"Jeune femme allongée sur un banc, 1913 (The blue lantern)" by Carl Larsson

From the always-beautiful pages of ensemble5, who got it from this very nice Carl Larsson art blog.

So true...

...unless, of course, the book is The Da Vinci Code, in which case the iceberg would probably turn turtle!

...or the book is Elizabeth von Arnim's delightful tale The Enchanted April, which might have been written as as a script for the wonderful movie adaptation, one of my family's all-time favourites...

...but this is exactly how I feel about the film adaptations (so far) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.

Keyhole Iceberg, Illulissat, Greenland, © by Brian Luke Seaward

(I lost track of where I found this... let me know if it was you!)

Anothersusan writes:

The mysterious stone figures known as inuksuit can be found throughout the circumpolar world. Inukshuk, the singular of inuksuit, means "in the likeness of a human" in the Inuit language. They are monuments made of unworked stones that are used by the Inuit for communication and survival. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is "Someone was here" or "You are on the right path."

This is an example of her own amazing photography, and is only part of what you will find if you click the image to visit her original post.

A visit to Susan's site is highly recommended!

(Latest update to this post: 5th January 2017 - the URL for this post has changed and is now here)

Some time ago, Julie and Scott Brusaw grabbed the imagination of several million people, with an invention that may eventually benefit the lives of hundreds of times that number: a modular system of intelligent solar paving slabs made of non-slip, highly durable glass, with many applications.

Apart from generating electricity, these paving slabs can provide variable signage or illumination from high intensity LEDs, keep road surfaces free of snow or ice, and perform a variety of other useful functions.

These smart slabs will also act as local components of the Smart Grid.

Click the graphic, or go here, for more information from my web site.

This wonderful happy song (click the lyrics to listen) reminded me...

Life sometimes seem just too frenetic, with no time to stop and watch the world go by.

The Norwegians, recognizing this, have pioneered a new kind of entertainment with Slow TV. You can spend hours on a train just looking at the scenery, or enjoy a slow cruise up the Norwegian fjords, or stare dreamily into a log fire (if you're not lucky enough to have one of your own), or watch salmon swimming upstream...

It sounds unlikely as a crowd-pleaser? Well, an early experiment drew 1.25 million viewers in Norway, about a fifth of the population, and the idea is certainly taking off as you can see here (literally, in the case of British Airways, who are introducing an example of Slow TV on their long haul flights).

I peek into the future and sadly see people still living in urban sprawls, but with low-cost giant HD screens showing a better world outside...

If you like this...

[A complete virtual trip (can be sampled!) on the Trans Siberian Railway]
[Caretake this moment...]
[Go placidly amid the noise and haste...]
[Creating a field of flowers]
[Things to enjoy in life (including this one)]

"Spring Blossoms II" (2011) by Catherine Nelson

Click the image to see a complete slideshow (worth viewing full screen)

From the page:

If you like this...

[More images of Catherine's work]

It's always nice to wake up to Jim's North Carolina pics on Facebook, especially when the weather is not so good over here!

— from this excellent article.

It's worth reading the whole thing (Seb Emina and Daniel Jones are really interesting people, too). Click the excerpt above to read more.

I dropped in on this Internet radio station throughout a waking day recently, and took some screenshots which appear below. The sunrise pictures change as the world turns. Sometimes the pictures are local to the current radio station (one of more than 250 being played in sequence), sometimes they are from somewhere else in the country, or aerial photos where no other picture is available. I'm sure these will change over time, and you can probably send in your own photos!

Click any screenshot to listen to this rather wonderful invention. It's a very human window on our world - even in troubled areas of the Middle East, you realise that when you get down to it, folks everywhere are just folks.

There is also plenty more interesting stuff written about Global Breakfast Radio.

BTW: I discovered this (as I do so much other good stuff about news, gadgets and apps for computers and smartphones) on the BBC's excellent Click Programme.

This spectacular HD video was filmed over the course of 7 days at El Teide (El Pico del Teide), Spain’s highest mountain, located in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, one of the best places in the world to photograph stars.

This video is by Terje Sørgjerd, whose other work (such as this collection of his time lapse photography) is well worth checking out.

If you like this...

[Try the time lapse photography tag!]

Lake Hallstatt (or Hallstätter See) in the Salzkammergut, Austria

Lake Sampaloc, an inactive volcanic maar on the island of Luzon, the Philippines

Lake Ohrid, straddling the mountainous border between southwestern Macedonia and eastern Albania,
one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes

Thanks to Cyrion for this find!

“Today the account of an extraordinary encounter with an extraordinary woman, leading me from Erfurt in Germany to Wessex in Britain, Simiane in the Provence and Orsalina near Locarno in Switzerland” —Gerbrand Caspers

A modern view of Simiane-la-Rotonde, Provence

“View of Simiane”, probably 8th century

If you're interested in art and/or history, click either image for a typically fascinating entry (one of very many) in Gerbrand's Linosaurus Blog - a detective story behind just one of thousands of linoleum and woodblock prints.

(Gerbrand hails from the Netherlands, but he is kind enough to present most of his treasure-trove in English.)

Gatorindo writes:

“Great art site full of prints and etchings from all over the world with comments and facts about the works - lots of stuff to see and use here...”

For an example of what you might find here, see my next post.

Thanks again, David!

(BTW, this site is written mostly in English, but a few parts are in Dutch. If you didn't know already: the Chrome browser is great for viewing pages in foreign languages, since it has an automatic translation facility.)

“Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder”

This strikes me as a great (and surprisingly interesting) example of how many of society's problems are best tackled at the community level, or “bottom-up”, rather than waiting for governments or local authorities to fix them.

The idea of a Men's Shed began in Australia, as a way of improving the quality and length of life of males. In the Northern Hemisphere the idea spread first to Ireland, where the Irish Men's Shed Association was formed, and whose work was featured a while back on the BBC, and has now been adopted in many countries (as can be seen if you click the image above).

From the Irish association's web page:

“Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions. There has been little encouragement for men to take an interest in their own health and well-being. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Probably because of this many men are less healthy than women, they drink more, take more risks and they suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression.

“A Men’s Shed is any community-based, non-commercial organisation which is open to all men where the primary activity is the provision of a safe, friendly and inclusive environment where the men are able to gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men and where the primary objective is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men. Men’s sheds may look like a shed in your back yard yet they innovatively share some characteristics of both community education and health promotion projects.”

If you like this sort of thing...

[Ways of making life better]
[Beyond “Big Society” (and partisan politics)]

A beautiful and interesting film (well worth the hour to view) shared by my friend Overthetrail - thanks, Sandy!

(Sandy hasn't posted here much for a while, but click her tag to see some really nice stuff that she has sent my way)

"Bearrr" by Leticia Reinaldo, a very talented Brazilian 3D modelling and texturing artist now living in Los Angeles

(BTW: you can spend hours on the Pondly site, a treasure trove for great images... worth taking time to check it out)

If you like this...

[Lots more images by Leticia]

[...and if, like me, you have a weakness for bears, you might like these]

“Is Our Weather Getting Worse?”

This great photo (source here) was taken at Great Yarmouth as homes were being evacuated ahead of the UK's December 2013 storm surge (click the picture for many images of the surge and its effects).

England still isn't having enjoyable weather, to put it mildly, and nor (I see on TV) are many other parts of the world.

In 2012 there was an excellent Channel 4 documentary taking a serious look at the question: Is Our Weather Getting Worse?, which I featured here in January 2013. I think it might be worth looking at again...

Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia on BBC Breakfast, talking about “The Bridge”

A couple of days ago we saw Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, stars of the mega-popular Scandi-hit The Bridge (finishing its second season here in the UK, with another season in production), appearing on BBC Breakfast. They are over here for London's Nordicana Festival, devoted to Nordic fiction and film.

It was particularly nice to meet the real Sofia, who has a charming and bubbly personality very different from that of Saga, the character she plays on television. Saga has an unspecified condition that might be Asperger's, a condition that makes her a brilliantly intuitive (and sometimes scary) detective who is almost totally deficient in inter-personal skills.

Kim is obviously a big fan of Sofia. “People ask me how I can work with someone without feelings - but when Sofia is acting, you see all of Saga's feelings in her eyes - so many feelings.”

Asked about any problems that came up between the Swedish and Danish languages, Sofia explained that the initial difficulties actually helped. “Being Saga is like being behind a glass wall. At the beginning it was very difficult... It demands a good one [Kim] to play against, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to do it.”

The Nordicana Festival, running in London at the beginning of February, is a remarkable illustration of how popular Nordic entertainment and literature has become over here (see my previous post, for instance).

If you're interested...

[More about The Bridge, and the “Scandinavian Invasion” generally, here on my web site]

Borgen III

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays Birgitte Nyborg
(image from this Danish article on her new English-language role in the forthcoming movie The Duke of Burgundy)

A sizeable part of England has pretty much fallen in love with this lady, whom we have just said goodbye to in the third and final season of Borgen. It has been IMO one of the best (and most enjoyable) political and human dramas that we are likely to see for quite some time.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of a subtitled foreign-language TV series grabbing a whole country's attention would have seemed crazy - particularly a series about coalition politics in a country of only some 4 millions voters. But that was before Wallander (with Krister Henniksson), The Killing (original Danish version), and The Bridge (now running its second season over here), made BBC4 a prime time channel.

On top of which, unlike the other Scandi-hits, Borgen is not a crime drama, but is every bit as gripping - thanks in no small part to its creator and main writer Adam Price (an interesting character in his own right). Adam made unlikely issues (such as unethical pig farming and hypocrisy over prostitution) so compelling in Borgen that they apparently affected real-life politics in Denmark.

In the final season Birgitte returns to politics from her spell in the international private sector - and eventually realises that she must take the apparently mad step of trying to form a new centre party. As before, her combination of womanly sex-appeal, gritty determination, political savvy (not infallible) and essential humanity make her a very different kind of “Iron Lady” from the famous one.

Also as in previous seasons, Borgen is far from a one-woman show. Katrine Fønsmark (played by the beautiful Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, nominated as “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series” at Monte Carlo in 2013), moves from journalism to a major role as Birgitte's media adviser and campaign manager. Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief (played by Søren Malling, Sarah Lund's sidekick in The Killing), finds himself sinking beneath personal and work problems, the latter due to the attempted dumbing-down of TV1 news in search of ratings (a cliff-hanging development that also threatens Birgitte's political success). Will he recover? Will the worm turn? And the formation of the new party brings in a collection of characters of different political shades, some of whom are old friends to Borgen viewers, some new, and all excellently portrayed.

While on the international circuit, Birgitte acquires a new (and thoroughly nice) English architect boyfriend, Jeremy Welsh (played by Alastair Mackenzie, also thoroughly nice in real life and best known for the well-loved TV Series Monarch of the Glen). Asked on BBC Breakfast to explain the appeal of Borgen to non-Danish viewers, he said that apart from Birgitte Nyborg herself, it was simply because the series was so good.

Adam Price's decision to draw a hard line under Borgen III allowed the story to reach a very satisfying (and unexpected) conclusion. It also liberated the small pool of Danish top-class dramatic talent to work on new projects, including one of his own (a new television drama in collaboration with House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs).

Fans of the Danish (and Swedish) TV hits have had some fun spotting how this small pool of Danish dramatic talent gets recycled between different productions. But now we are also getting used to seeing them appearing in British TV - e.g. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen appearing in Agatha Christie's Marple with Julia McKenzie (the recently aired episode Endless Night), and Lars Mikkelsen as the wonderfully repellent master villain Charles Augustus Magnussen in the cracking third and final episode of Sherlock (season 3), His Last Vow - and see the caption on the above image!

If you haven't seen Borgen but think you might like to, may I suggest this as your next stop!

If you like this...

[My posts on Nordic Noir]
[Borgen II]
[Borgen I]
[Birgitte Hjort Sørensen]

...and from the Movies / TV page of my web site

[The Scandinavian Invasion]

Just what it says... nice and soothing to play in the background (opens in a separate window).
Thanks to Adrian von Ziegler for this free gift!

From the page:

If you're a Miyazaki fan, click the image below to see all the artist's work full size (and see how many details you recognize)... and please visit batchbatcharak, from whose fine pages this comes!

If you like this...

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]

and maybe also...

[Beautiful stained glass by Rober Oddy]

Electrosynthetic Fruit

“This is a really fascinating website, it shows the connection with food and history (past, present, and future) and it is surprising how these connections work themselves out. Some things are so amazing that you will do what I did, saying "Really?" and "No Kidding?" and things like that.

“I thought you might be interested in this...
   —from Gatorindo

Interesting is not a strong enough word for it... the variety of topics is incredibly rich. I could spend hours and hours on this site.

Thanks, David - for this one and so many others!

Some wonderful surreal images by Caras Ionut - click the image for more, which are well worth seeing. Thanks, saboma!

*Broken link fixed!*

Last year at Christmas the UK's John Lewis department store chain produced a truly charming advertisement called The Journey (well worth watching at this time of year if you have never seen it)

This year they have produced another, The Bear and the Hare. Enjoy!

This was 8th December outside my window... After the big storm a few days earlier which flooded homes on the east coast high pressure settled in, and we had some really nice sunsets. But today another storm is moving in from the south west (lowest pressure in 65 years in the depression, almost the lowest ever recorded). It's very windy outside!

A sample of the beautiful photography of Anna Ådén, a fine art and freelance portrait photographer living in Umeå, northern Sweden (click each image for the various sources)

I found this photographer here on the beautiful pages of Annie Hall, and I was introduced to Annie (as to so many beautiful things and people) by ensemble5. A visit to both of these Categorians is highly recommended.

If you like this...

[Try clicking the winter or sweden tags, among others...]

The International Dark Sky Association

Casa Grande from Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas - Feb. 25, 2012
(from Texas Parks, Towns, Embrace the Dark Sky Movement)

This is what the night sky looks like from Cherry Springs State Park, PA. You can see up to 12,000 stars on a clear night.
(Click the image above for a full-size version, and more on dark skies at Cherry Park here.)

I came across the International Dark Sky Association when the BBC reported that the IDA had awarded Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park dark sky status. The status means the night sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution. In honour of the award the area will be renamed Northumberland Dark Sky Park.

As so often happens when eco stuff is done right, Northumberland is set to make a lot of money from astro tourism, as well as improving many people's quality of life.

England suffers particularly from light pollution. I haven't properly seen the dusting of stars in the Milky Way since a trip to a turtle protection area of Florida many years ago, and before that when camping in the Massif Central of France - and just a few more times in my entire life.

The real evil of light pollution, IMO (he says, waxing philosophical) is that it removes from us the sense of our place in the Universe - so these developments are great.

If you like this...

[Watch this beautiful video of the Northumberland sky being enjoyed at night (full screen recommended!)]
[Realistic images of darkened cities by Thierry Cohen]

If you like Japanese culture, this Facebook page is well worth checking out (and you might like my Japan tag also)

Wonderful photography © by our own 007Sue1

A beautiful portrait © by the multi-talented Vietnamese photographer and artist Duong Quoc Dinh,
whose other work is well worth checking out

If you like this...

["A Family Album Portrait" by Nadya Kulagina]

From a Facebook post by Garage Sale, and many similar posts going right back to 2000 and maybe earlier (you'd think we would have learnt something by now!):

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL BORN IN 1930's, 1940's, 50's, 60's, 70's and Early 80's!!!

First, you survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, your baby cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paints. You had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when you rode your bikes, you had no helmets, not to mention the risks you took hitchhiking...

As children, you would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van - loose - was always great fun. You drank water from the garden hosepipe and NOT from a bottle. You shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

You ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but you weren't overweight because...... YOU WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! You would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach you all day. And you were OK.

You would spend hours building your go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out you forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, you learned to solve the problem.

You did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no text messaging, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........YOU HAD FRIENDS and you went outside and found them!

You fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. You played with worms (well most boys did) and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever. You made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although you were told it would happen, you did not poke out any eyes. You rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Local teams had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! The idea of a parent bailing you out if you broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. You had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and you learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL! And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.

... and this one (apologies for having mislaid the source)

The budget airline South African Kulula Airways provides security announcements in its own unique manner...
(in English with French subtitles)

Thanks, Louvain95 (Lou)!

This is the most charming and delightful video that I have watched in a long time.

Camille Roux writes: “Hello, with my little brother we realized a trumpet-guitar cover of a [female] French singer (we're french) : Joyce Jonathan - Ca ira.”

Enjoy it for the music and the wonderful antics of this lovely pair. Also, I recommend another of Camille's videos, C'est écrit.

If (like me) you have never heard of Joyce Jonathan, try her video Je ne sais pas - you won't be sorry!

Another of Gatorindo's many great shares (click his tag above for a lot more good stuff that I've had from him). Thanks again, David!

This is a wonderful, surreal animation by Cordell Barker, presented by the National Film Board of Canada. The spiky social-commentary humour reminds me a little of Sylvain Chomet's "Belleville Rendezvous" (Les Triplettes de Belleville) (I describe some of Sylvain's work here on my Movies web page, if you are interested).

I owe this gem, as so many others, to one of Gatorindo (David)'s many great shares - this one, in fact. Well worth reading!

Maligne Lake (I learn from Wikipedia) is a lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. It is famed for the colour of its water, the surrounding peaks, the three glaciers visible from the lake and Spirit Island, one of the most photographed locations in the world.

I've just added it to my bucket list!

Click the photo (donated to Wikimedia Commons by Christian Abend) for a desktop wallpaper sized image.

Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast, Italy, September 2013

My photo of the sailing cruise ship Club Med 2 lying off Sorrento, with Vesuvius in the background

Start of a beautiful day in late September, leaving Sorrento for Capri

Click either picture, or go here, if you would like to see my photoblog of our recent trip to the Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast (you can skip the photoblog if you click the >> below)

If you liked reading The Little World of Don Camillo and its sequels, then you will love this blog by “An American Fan”. It's more or less complete now, but it stands as a wonderful work in its own right - a true work of love. You will also discover that there was much more to Giovanni Guareschi than Don Camillo.

If you haven't read the books (so much better than the entertaining screen adaptations), then may I strongly recommend them!

From the blog intro:

Astronomers discovered this young stellar system using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. In this artist's impression, a disk of dusty material leftover from star formation girds two young stars like a hula hoop. As the two stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk, making the system appear to "blink" every 93 days. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

[This image as desktop wallpaper]

This artist's concept shows a simulated view from the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. Europa's potentially rough, icy surface, tinged with reddish areas that scientists hope to learn more about, can be seen in the foreground. The giant planet Jupiter looms over the horizon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

[This image as desktop wallpaper]


The Worldometers site keeps you updated, in real time, on a whole host of statistics about the health and resources of the Earth and the people living on it, as well as many things we are doing (like producing cars, bicycles and computers, or sending emails or tweets).

The statistics are grouped under headings World Population, Government & Economics, Society & Media, Environment, Water, Energy and Health.

For many statistics, you can choose to see today's total changing, or the total for the whole year so far.

Fascinating to watch!

If you like this sort of thing...

[My environment and technology page]

"Eagle's flight", a White-Tailed Eagle in the Czech-Moravian Highlands, © by the Czech photographer Zdenek Ondrasek

One of many treasures to be found on the fine pages of Toetie.

“Other Places” (1 of 2)

My screenshots below are from one of my favourites of these videos - Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls V). Click any image below to enjoy the landscapes, set to nice music.

You can find all of ultrabrilliant's Other Worlds videos here, and another set of screenshots (urbanscape, for a change) in my previous post below.

If you like this...

[Another post on Skyrim]

“Other Places” (2 of 2)
[continued from Part 1]

My screenshots below are from another of my favourites of these videos - Empire Bay (Mafia II). Click any image below to enjoy the cityscape, set to nice music.

You can find all of ultrabrilliant's Other Worlds videos here, and another set of screenshots (landscape, for a change) in my next post above.

If you like this...

[... and try clicking the urbanscape tag above...]

It's wonderful how kids' clubs are introducing children less than 3 years old to art, in a practical and fun way, using great masters as inspiration.

This is an example from a place that my grandchild goes to. The first two were used in the session Paul Klee - Taking a Line for a Walk:

"A Young Lady's Adventure" by Paul Klee

"Castle and Sun " by Paul Klee

The next two come from the session Kandinsky - All About Colour:

"Concentric Circles" by Wassily (Vasili) Kandinsky

A masterpiece by very young children!

Click any image to visit the club activities page.

If you like this...

["Rainbow Fish", from Mrs. Bearden's Art Room at Euharlee Elementary, Georgia]

"Sunset on the gums" by Natalia Kolyadyuk (a wildlife and nature photographer whose other work is well worth checking out)

If you like this...

["Girlfriends", beautiful picture of dog and horse, by Natalia Kolyadyuk]

"Lazy Sunday Afternoon With a Glass of California Chardonnay" by Alexander Orlov, a Russian artist who died in 1979

Thanks, Jerzee55sst (Jerry) (lots more good stuff on his pages!)

"Girlfriends" by Natalia Kolyadyuk (a wildlife and nature photographer whose other work is well worth checking out)

"Dog Heart" (probably not a good translation) by Elena Shovkoplyas, whose other work is well worth looking at

I have seen this wonderful picture before, but unfortunately only in posts that were linked to the original image (which doesn't identify the author), rather than being linked to the web page containing the image (which does identify the author). It took me several hours to track down the photographer, using every search technique I could think of.

Eventually, by going through page after page of Children's World, one of my favourite categories on, I came across a photo that seemed to have the same style as the one I was looking for. Unlike many previous such guesses, I was lucky this time!

The time wasn't wasted - I came across a lot of other good stuff in the search, not least all the other good work that Elena Shovkoplyas has done.

(BTW, if you didn't know already: the Chrome browser is great for viewing pages in foreign languages, since it has an automatic translation facility.)

“Monkeys in Pashupatinath - the largest Hindu temple complex, located on either side of the Bagmati river on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal.

“Pashupatinath is considered the most important temple of Shiva in the world... Pashupati is an incarnation of the Hindu Lord Shiva as "Lord of animals", so the monkeys feel very comfortable with this complex of temples, and live their own lives paying virtually no attention to the pilgrims coming here.

“In the background you can make out the outlines of one of the 108 temples of Shiva Lingam, located in the temple complex...”

—adapted from an automatic translation of information provided by the photographer, Anton Yankovoy (whose other work is well worth checking out) and Wikipedia

The Quangle Wangle's Hat

Click the image for one of Gatorindo's many great posts, this one being a short musical version of Edward Lear's poem, together with a lot of the other good information that he always provides.

Screenshots from a beautiful NASA video - click any image to play

Thanks to my friend Sandy for this one!

If you like this...

[LUX AETERNA, a beautiful video with music from Cristóbal Vila]

The Iniciatic Well on the Regaleira Estate, Sintra, Portugal (another great image of this place will be found here).

Thanks to masnich9 for this one!

"Seascape around Naples c1866" - Wikimedia Commons

"Across the Apennines (1867)" - Naples, Capodimonte Museum

Two wonderful paintings by Giuseppe De Nittis (1846-1887), an Italian painter who fell in love with Paris and whose work merges the styles of Salon art and Impressionism. An excellent article on his life and works will be found here.

If you like this...

[Slideshow of some other works by Giuseppe de Nittis, with nice music]
["Aux beaux jours, 1889" by Jules-Alexis Muenier (1863-1942)]
["Conversations in the Garden of Luxembourg" by Vittorio Matteo Corcos]
["Girl With Guitar", a beautiful example of Decorative Impressionism by Richard Edwardl Miller]

BTW: seascapes are one of my favourite categories... if you like them too, try clicking the seascape tag...

A complete virtual trip on the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok by train. You can listen to balalaika music or the rumble of wheels or somebody reading War and Peace in Russian as you trundle across the continent.

Since you probably don't have several days to watch and listen, you can use the route map or the list of scenic locations to jump into the trip anywhere you want. When you get to the page, pop the video out onto Youtube and watch full screen!

Strangely calming…

Thanks to my elder daughter for this one!

A beautiful untitled portrait by Anna Gusarova

(BTW, if you didn't know already: the Chrome browser is great for viewing pages in foreign languages, since it has an automatic translation facility.)

If you like this...

[All portraits from this site, sorted by popularity]
[Ginger-Snap's fine collection of redheads]

"Marusya" by Bozhena Puchko, whose other work is well worth checking out

Thanks to Jerzee55sst (Jerry) for this one!

The Hollywood beauty Jessica Alba

Best known for her looks, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Drama for Dark Angel, a series co-created by James Cameron.

*Broken link fixed!*

A wonderful surreal film by Nicolas Devaux, whose other work is well worth checking out, e.g. here

(My personal prize for the most cretinous comment seen so far this year on YouTube, an award for which there is fierce competition, goes to the person who saw a few minutes of this film and triumphantly announced that it was "a fake".)

Thanks to romancinme and ensemble5 for this one!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

My American family is into computer games and music (among other things). They always have something good to show me when I visit, like this...

A scene from the standard Skyrim game (click the image to read a major Wikipedia article, and there's a good review here)

As I understand it, Skyrim has an open architecture, and a whole community (the Skyrim Nexus) is involved in extending and enhancing it - this is an example from Skyrim Visuals and Graphics enhancements, an image that I found here (click the image above for a full-size version)

And then there is the music from Skyrim...

The Mexican singer Malukah (real name Judith de los Santos) has a beautiful voice, and she has made some very popular cover versions of songs from Skyrim (among others) - this one is The Dragonborn Comes (and a video of a Skyrim trailer with the same track wil be found here)

...and here is Malukah singing another Skyrim song, one of my favourites, Tale of the Tongues

You can download many of Malukah's songs as MP3s, including these, free from her web site.

My American family is really into Anime (as well as music and computer games, see my next post). They recently introduced me to Anime Music Videos (AMVs) which are really an art form within an art form. They showed me this hilarious example. It's a lot of fun - do play it.

From the National Trust Knightshayes:

“Some of the lovely wild art created over the weekend in one of our 50 things before you're 11¾ themed acivities:”

Click the picture, or go here, to see the rest of the wild art from these activities

(the "50 Things" referred to are featured in my previous post)

Devon and Somerset (Knightshayes Court and Cothay Manor) April 2013

A beautiful willow sculpture in the gardens of Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton, Devon

Click the picture if you would like to see some posts about our recent visit to Devon and Somerset

If you are interested, here are the direct links:

[Knightshayes Court, National Trust gardens, Devon]
[Cothay Manor, privately owned with beautiful gardens, Somerset]

My photo of the immense glass roof of the British Museum, from the stairs leading up to what is now the Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind exhibition (see below).

Not having my camera with me, I took this with my Kindle Fire HD's front-facing webcam, which is really only designed for things like Skype. It was a case of point in several directions, take lots of shots, and hope for the best... We have only seen the sun a few times so far in 2013, so this was a lucky day!

From the British Museum's Facebook Page:
Here’s a sneak preview of an object being installed. It shows a reindeer engraved on bone and is around 13,000 years old.

We saw this exhibition yesterday... truly wonderful. The careful, intricate work and artistic imagination of people in those times (going back 40,000+ years) is amazing.

Click the picture for a very good review of the Exhibition, which runs until 26 May 2013.

Looking at the achievements of people who lived so long ago, I couldn't help imagining the title of a hypothetical future exhibition, part of which would read "departure of the modern mind". But that's another story.

If you're interested in environment issues, you may like to know that I have updated the Environment & Technology section of my web site.

The updated parts include The "Negawatt Revolution", Hybrid and plug-in electric cars, Recycling, and Environmental documentaries, movies and videos.

Although the section is quite large, you will hopefully find that it is easy to navigate. I have tried to make it rich in high quality links (many of which have also been updated), so that what you see on the pages are just the tips of many interesting icebergs, so to speak.

If you visit it and really like it, then please share it anywhere you think it would help the environment - thank you!

I am sure that the section could be further improved. Any suggestions would be really welcome.

An onlooker witnesses the annular solar eclipse as the sun sets in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 20, 2012.
Photographed by Colleen Pinski of Peyton, Colorado, for the the Natural World category. (©

Thanks to my friend Overthetrail for this one!

Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics

The image above is mine - feel free to share...

It turns out that all the technology that is based on transistors - computers, mobile phones, the Internet, you name it - depends on the strange reality of quantum physics, as does almost everything that we see (and don't see) around us.

I recently read, or rather am having the great pleasure of working through in several passes, most of The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen, a book written by Professors Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. (I say “most of” because the the chapters in the book lead you up to a real worked example in the Appendix, a seriously high mountain which I have yet to attempt!)

In 1927 J.B.S. Haldane famously wrote: “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

The Universe is truly a queer and wonderful place, and this book clearly explains some of its most queer and wonderful mechanisms. The method of explanation, using familiar clock faces and waves, doesn't eliminate the occasionally frightening mathematics, but conveys brilliantly what is really going on.

(Anyone thinking "I can't do maths", by the way, has never had teachers like these (or Salman Khan, see bottom of this post). I wish they had taught me when I first attempted to learn this stuff!)

Equally fascinating is the authors' explanation of how science reached its current understanding of the theory that predicts so accurately how the Universe behaves, from the chemistry of life (and table salt) to why (since atoms are mostly empty space) we don't fall through the floor, to the life-cycle of stars.

Unusually in a science book, the authors are not afraid to explain the limitations of science, either: scientific knowledge isn't perfect and fixed, but always growing, and here is a great description of how science helps knowledge to grow.

You can read a really good review of the book here. Click the images for more about the authors.

I find it sad that in today's world some religions still cannot accept science, but must imagine an alternative reality (with a bogus science that doesn't constantly test itself critically against evidence, as real science does) that doesn't conflict with their beliefs.

It is also ironic, as well as sad, that people following these religions promote their messages (and do much else) using technology that depends on the science that they don't believe in.

Creationists (or whatever they call themselves) have a perfect right to believe in whatever they want. However I find it horrifying to read about persistent attempts to have Creationism taught in classrooms, and teachers being intimidated for teaching real science.

Disrespect for science is no new thing, and not confined to reality-denying religions. The “mad scientist”, for example, has always been a popular feature of movies and TV shows (even in The Muppets, one of my all-time favourites!). Scientists have not always performed well, and have not always found it easy to communicate clearly with the non-scientific public (a hard but essential job when issues like climate change and health are at stake).

A while back, the UK woke up to the fact that its future prosperity depended on reversing this trend, and many popular science programmes (among other things) have resulted - from the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory to some extraordinarily illuminating programmes featuring Brian Cox.

J.B.S. Haldane, should he be observing from somewhere what is happening in physics today, might not change his suspicion (the inner workings of gravity, for instance, still have much to reveal to science) - but I am sure that he would be “watching developments with great interest”.

If you like this...

[More thoughts on Science and Religion]
[Is our weather getting worse? (major Channel 4 documentary)]
[Some wonders from NASA]
[Some thoughts on Science and Politics]
[One of the greatest FREE learning and teaching resources on the Internet: The Khan Academy]

And here is the weather report for England...

West Yorkshire, March 23rd - 2 days past the Spring Equinox.

A Scandinavian high pressure area, apparently permanently stuck in place, has been feeding biting easterly winds into England for what seems like forever.

The reasons for this are explained here (among many other places).

Yeah, right...

Hats off to guys who have to go out and fix things in this weather

Our nice Kate (the Duchess) out there with the scouts

Looe in Cornwall, where 24 hours of continuous rain caused a landslide of saturated earth, killing the unfortunate woman living in what used to be a house (the other houses in this row have been evacuated)

...and not too much fun being had in Newlyn, normally a pretty place (see paintings here) a little further to the west

If you're interested in this, see my earlier post...

[Is our weather getting worse? (major Channel 4 documentary)]

“What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface?”

Click the picture, or go here, for a serious answer to this somewhat macabre question, typical of many other hypothetical but interesting questions answered by physicists weekly on this site.

BTW... A source close to home tells me that UK companies are now holding executive events at Chernobyl (which is now a nature reserve). She knows this because she was asked to arrange one!

“Nima Dialla”, some really nice fusion music by a very talented ensemble - Bill Frisell (from the USA, one of the world's foremost jazz guitarists), Djelimady Tounkara (from Mali, one of Africa's foremost guitarists), Greg Leisz (American multi-instrumentalist, playing lap and pedal steel guitars, guitar and mandolin), Jenny Scheinman (American jazz violinist) and Sidiki Camara (from Mali, now lives in Norway, contemporary percussionist/composer), performing at London's Barbican Theatre.

Thanks (as so often, see his tag at the top of this post) to Gatorindo (David) for this one. Click the image to see his original post, and to play the video.

Kindle Fire HD... I like it!

One of many screensavers on the Kindle Fire HD (with the ad-free option), each screensaver representing a different kind of content - the display is much sharper than I can make it appear here (click the image for my full review)

This was my first touch-screen device (my mobile phone is appreciating in value as an antique!). I bought it because I wanted an affordable entertainment and Skype device that would also connect to a TV and let me try services like LOVEFiLM, as well as being a big-enough tablet to browse the web and get me familiar with Android and touch screen stuff.

The other selling point, for me, was the advertised dual-antenna Wi-Fi connection, as our existing non-touch Kindles sometimes struggle with our router signal. I already have a whole library of Kindle books, and other free documents that we read our existing Kindles, and I was interested in seeing the difference on the Kindle Fire HD with colour, different navigation and a white background.

For anyone interested, I have posted a full review on Amazon, which you will find here, including some hopefully useful information on problems and solutions encountered.

If anyone out there has one of these devices, I would be very interested in knowing about your experiences!

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, one of many good reasons for watching the superb Danish political thriller Borgen
(see my previous post below)

Borgen II

A less likely scenario for a major television hit would be hard to imagine: a story about coalition politics, with a non-obvious title*, in a language even less familiar to most of us than Swedish, with subtitles...

However ever since the Swedish Wallander and the magnificent first Danish series of The Killing, Scandinavian police and political drama has attracted a large audience in the UK. BBC4 has established a prime time Saturday night slot, with multiple repeats through the week, for high quality original-language drama of this type (we are currently getting Spiral, a French import).

The second season of Borgen has sadly just come to an end, and it has been every bit as good as the first season. Thanks to great acting, direction and scripts, the main characters have somehow become part of our lives...

(If you click on one of my screenshots, in most cases you will get many more images of the actor.)

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, here coming to terms with the effect of her life pressures on her young teenage daughter

Mikael Birkkjær (a hearthrob for female viewers, I'm told) as Phillip Christensen, whose marriage to Birgitte fell apart in Series 1, but who is still part of Birgitte's life. We saw him as Detective Ulrik Strange in The Killing.

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Katrine Fønsmark, a headstrong TV1 news anchor (whose attitude gets her an enforced leave of absence from TV1 to do other things), with Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister's media adviser. Katrine and Kasper each have relationships with other people, but keep gravitating irresistably together...

Johan Philip ("Pilou") Asbæk as Kasper Juul (also a hearthrob for female viewers, apparently). We saw Pilou in a wheelchair as the 3rd victim in The Killing II. Here he is meeting up with his demented mother, near to resolving his relationship-threatening history of child abuse.

Søren Malling as Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief, here about to pronounce on whether Katrina can have her job back. Søren was superb as Sarah Lund's colleague and foil Jan Meyer in the first series of The Killing, and we also saw him as Major Kàrlis Liepa in the English version of Wallander, in an episode called "The Dogs of Riga".

Lars Knutzon as Bent Sejrø, some time Finance Minister, and always a good friend and mentor to Birgitte - one of many excellently-drawn minor characters without which Borgen wouldn't be as good as it is

Bjarne Henriksen as Hans Christian Thorsen, the Defence Minister, here listening to Birgitte in the Danish Parliament. His role in Borgen is a minor one, but in the first (and greatest) The Killing he was superb as Theis Birk Larsen, father of the murdered girl around whose death that story revolves... in 20 one-hour episodes.

Birgitte, delivering the "extraordinary statement" to the small Danish Parliament that closes Season 2 of Borgen

We're told that the third (and probably last) season will be transmitted in the UK in 2014 - I'm really looking forward to it!

*(Borgen, I discovered from Wikipedia, translates as "The castle", "The fortress" or "The burg", which is the nickname among Danish politicians for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.)

If you like this, you might like my other posts on...

[Nordic Noir]

“We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle...

“I want to grow old without facelifts. I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I have made...

“Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn't that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.”

The timelessly beautiful Marilyn Monroe, photographed by Carl Perutz

Thanks to my friend Sandy for this one!

I love this... shared some time ago by a kind friend whose name I have mislaid - if it was you, please let me know!

A truly beautiful video, blending science, nature and spirituality, from Cristóbal Vila
(click any screenshot to play, opens in a separate window)

Thanks, Elegantlady (Roberta)!

If you like this...

["Nature by Numbers", another beautiful video by Cristóbal Vila]

Is our weather getting worse? Channel 4 documentary
Britain has had some extraordinary weather in 2012, varying from severe drought to record levels of rainfall, with flash floods across the country. This excellent Channel 4 documentary (from which my screenshots come) considers if extreme weather is to be expected occasionally, or whether it provides evidence of an increasing climate change problem - not just in Britain, but everywhere.

Judging by how often the documentary is being repeated on UK TV, it's a question that certainly interests people in the UK. If you click on any image, you may still be able to view it online if it interests you as well.

(The rather beautiful instrument seen above, by the way, is a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, invented in 1853 and still in use today.)

This is some of what happened in Britain in 2012:

On January 3rd, severe storms with gusts of over 100 mph battered the coastline of much of the UK from Scotland to the south.

On February 5th, 4" of snow fell across southern England, with hundreds of flights cancelled.

4 weeks later there was a dramatic change in the weather. On March 26th, record-breaking heat baked Scotland, Aberdeen, with temperatures above 27°C (81°F).

Drought affected 35 million people across the country, in the driest Spring for 100 years.

Then, no sooner had the hosepipe ban been issued, when everything changed. On April 3rd snow warnings were issued across the country. In Scotland, temperatures plummeted by 27°C in just 2 days. The snow quickly melted, and on April 18th was replaced by torrential downpours across England and Wales.

By the end of the month the Met Office declared that it was the wettest April in a century, and the heavens remained open through the whole of May. By early summer the whole of Britain was saturated.

On June 22nd, a series of torrential thunderstorms funnelled into West Yorkshire's Hebden Bridge (which floods once every 5 years on average, but nothing like this). A month's worth of rainfall fell in 7 hours.

On July 9th, another cunim cloud, 10 miles high, towered over West Yorkshire. It burst at 1 pm. A month's worth of rain fell in just 3 hours.

And the extreme summer just went on and on. In July, a severe storm in Leicestershire produced hailstones the size of golfballs, and the rainfall continued into August. By the end of the summer, 4,000 homes across Britain had been devastated by floods. Saturated ground meant that even small amounts of rainfall caused flash floods.

On September 25th, a severe storm churned up plankton in the North Sea, swamping the Scottish town of Footdee in a thick layer of strange foam.

On October 11th, this flash flood was triggered in the Devonshire town of Clovelly when 2 weeks worth of rain fell in just 90 minutes.

Flooding doesn't just destroy homes, it takes lives. By far the deadliest place to be is trapped inside a car.

Training for flood survival and car rescue is not for the faint-hearted. Teesside Barrage at Stockton on Tees, a major facility for international "white water" events, is also used as a flood survival training centre. Four huge archimedes screws (each 13 metres or 45½ feet in diameter) lift water to create an artifical flood, pumping tons of water every second into the river. (BTW, there are plans to generate electricity by running these screws in reverse when the course is not being used.)

It only takes seconds for the weight of water to break the instructor's grip and sweep him away (a cubic metre of water weighs a ton). Avoiding lethal debris means keeping pointing downstream and trying to steer around what is coming.

Car rescue training starts inside a car anchored to the concrete bottom.

You need to get out through the window, and onto the roof...

"I'm on the roof, but there's not a lot to hold onto here..."

What has been causing Britain's extreme weather in 2012?

Part of the story is this:

The northernmost of 4 jet streams is responsible for delivering weather to Britain, and its position varies according to our seasons. In Spring 2012 the jet stream moved north of the UK, a position it normally takes in mid summer. This early move north brought us unusually high temperatures and drought.

And then in summer, something very different happened. The jet stream switched south, a position it usually takes during winter, bringing cold stormy weather to the British Isles. Even now, the behaviour of the jet stream remains a mystery(*).

*In January 2013, the BBC Weather Report featured a new development which has managed to link Sudden Stratospheric Warming with changes to the jet stream, and has allowed the Met Office to forecast weather events relating to jet stream movement much earlier than was previously possible.

Was 2012 just a freak year, or are these events part of a much bigger picture? Is our weather really changing?

What we saw in 2012 was certainly not a one-off. The past 15 years saw 8 of the warmest years on record, and some of the wettest years on record.

On July 28th 2005, a tornado ripped across Birmingham, spawned by severe thunderstorms, causing £40m of damage in 4 minutes.

Tornados by themselves are not enough to indicate that our weather is changing, but they are part of a series of extreme weather events that have plagued the UK in the last decade.

December 2010 was Britain's coldest ever.

In 2003, UK temperatures hit a record 38°C (100°F). This intense heatwave killed more than 2,000 people.

In fact, extreme weather events have occurred throughout the last century, and much earlier than that...

Over nine hundred years ago, in 1091, a medieval version of Mary-le-Bow Church in London (immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons - a Cockney is traditionally defined as someone born within the sound of Bow Bells) was destroyed by the first recorded tornado in British history, approaching via the site of the modern London Eye and ripping the church tower to shreds - more than 600 homes were destroyed and London Bridge was damaged.

The deadliest natural disaster ever to hit our shores was in 1703, when a destructive hurrican ripped across southern England, killing 8,000 people. It became known as The Great Storm, the first properly documented weather disaster in British history.

We have always had violent and erratic weather events, but have they become more frequent?

Less than 70 years after The Great Storm, the collection of reliable weather data had begun. In 1772 scientists started to record the daily temperature of central England.

The Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder was invented in 1853, marking the start of systematic weather observations from around the world. As well as using instruments dating from Victorian times, data is now gathered from satellites and weather balloons, and analysed using supercomputers.

Scientists can see that the world has warmed by about three-quarters of a degree in the last 100 years, with an even greater increase of one degree for Britain in the same period. One degree may not sound much, but it's enough to change our weather. As temperatures across the world rise, so does the level of moisture in the atmosphere, with more heat, and more energy in the system.

The atmosphere has 4% more moisture now than it had in the 1970's, and with more moisture, there is much more likelihood of severe weather events.

The increase in world temperature, climate scientists agree, is caused by greenhouse gases.

By drilling nearly a kilometre deep into the Antarctic ice sheet, we can measure levels of carbon dioxide and other gases that were present in our atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. They show that CO2 levels have fluctuated over thousands of years, however it always remained below 300 parts per million. 100 years ago it was 280 parts per million. Today, we are just crossing a threshold of 400 parts per million. Most scientific institutions conclude that man-made CO2, following the industrial revolution, is the culprit for global warming. Most scientists agree that global warming is having a dramatic effect on our weather, leading to more and more severe weather events.

The warmth contains lots of energy, and it's the energy from the warmer ocean and land that is driving our extreme weather.

Scientists at the Met Office have calculated that the chances of 2003-style heatwaves in the UK have approximately doubled. Ironically, we might also get colder, harsher winters in the UK, because of the effect on the Gulf Stream. If melting polar ice causes the Gulf Stream to weaken, then some calculations show that temperatures in Britain in winter might fall by 5 degrees, heading for more like a Scandinavian climate.

These predictions, scientists emphasise, are by no means a certainty - much work still needs to be done.

It isn't just Britain...

When we look at the whole world, we begin to realise that recently extreme weather has touched every corner of the globe...

America's recent weather events are well known, but in Italy in Winter 2012 we saw extreme snowfalls occurring in places that had never seen snow in living memory.

In 2010, the hottest summer on record affected many parts of the world. In Russia alone, 50,000 deaths were directly attributed to the sweltering heat.

In 2011, severe flooding caused havoc across the globe, from Australia to Thailand, and in the same year America's worst tornado season in living memory claimed 500 lives.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy was fuelled by near record ocean temperatures, something people living on the USA's East Coast will not soon forget.

After watching this sobering documentary, I reflected that it is easy to understimate the effect of a few degrees rise in temperature. It doesn't take much energy to raise (say) a litre of water by a couple of degrees (an average person could generate this much energy on a stationary bike pedalling for around 20 seconds), and it doesn't give up much heat when it cools again. But the world's oceans contain about 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water, and each cubic kilometer contains a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) litres of water. Even if a tiny fraction of the ocean warms by a few degrees, the energy involved is beyond imagining.

The other thing that struck me is the complexity and importance of the three-dimensional system of currents in the ocean, and how drastic can be the effects of an alteration in their behaviour.

Unfortunately, if decision-making people continue to ignore the science (which seems to happen for political, religious or corporate profit reasons, among others), we won't have to imagine the effects of global warming as the years go by - they will be all too obvious, and it will be too late to do much about them.

If you're interested in this kind of stuff, you might also like...

[The Secret Life of Waves]
[My environment and technology web page]

"Two lives, one leaf" - author unknown

Found on the very fine pages of Toetie.

Prize-winning illustration by the Korean illustrator Jae-Hong Kim, whose other work is well worth checking out

Original illustration by E.H. Shepard for the chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh "In which Piglet is entirely surrounded by water"
...a feeling known to all too many people in the UK this year!

Two samples from the post Rainy Day Kids, from Shelley Davies & Julie Fortenberry's wonderful blog Children's Illustration, a treasure trove for those who love the magical ways in which children see the world.

If you like this...

[Try clicking some of the tags at the top of this post!]

Once in a while, we are lucky enough to get a movie that provides an experience like no other. Last year, for me, that was Hugo. This year it was Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee.

Apart from being a great story of spirituality and adventure, the movie contains what must be among the most beautiful images ever seen in the cinema, and some of the most awe-inspiring visions of the ocean in all its moods and variety. Like Hugo, it can't be fully appreciated except on the big screen, and like Hugo it really needs 3D.

Not to be missed!


If you're interested in the technology of film making, Scot Byrd of Rhythm & Hues Studios corrected an article in Time Magazine as follows:

Just to be clear, motion capture was not used in "Life of Pi." Key frame animation was the technique employed by the digital artists at Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects company responsible for production of the computer-generated animals in "Life of Pi." (R&H also created the photorealistic skies and oceans during the open ocean scenes. London's Moving Picture Company - MPC - was responsible for the shipwreck sequence.)

Motion capture technique uses sensors to capture a single performance, usually performed by a human being. (Imagine putting motion sensors on a living tiger!) Key frame animation works like puppetry inside the computer. The animator sets a pose, which the computer remembers as a key frame. The performance is created as the artist sets a multitude of key frames/poses and the computer moves the character rig from pose to pose to pose.

The origins of key frame animation go back to traditional 2D cell animation, as seen in any Disney animated feature going all the way back to Steamboat Willie, followed by most Saturday morning cartoon shows and the modern animated incarnations up to and including those produced by Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, BlueSky, et al.

For Rhythm & Hues, the actual line of ascension runs from the Coca Cola Polar Bears to "Babe", "Cats & Dogs", "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", "The Golden Compass", "Alvin and the Chipmunks" to "Life of Pi."

While it may seem an academic distinction, in the world of animation, the key frame technique has a long tradition, and the artists who have spent a lifetime developing their craft deserve their recognition. The added challenge and critically acclaimed success of melding photorealistic, computer-generated characters with photorealistic computer-generated environments demonstrates just how groundbreaking the technology and artistry of "Life of Pi" is.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

"Who goes there?" from an original painting by the wildlife artist Roy Chaffin

Roy sent me this picture recently as an electronic Christmas Card. I am lucky enough to receive one of his paintings each year in this way, and thereby hangs a tale (which you can read here if you are interested, especially if you like aircraft or flight simulation).

(Meerkats, BTW, feature in a surreal and beautiful sequence in that awesome movie, Life of Pi - if you haven't seen it then I highly recommend it!)

A Splendor Seldom Seen

From the page:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase... More...

Thanks to Fourteenth for this one!

If you like this...

[BBC Audio Slideshow: Splendour of Saturn]

Happy New Year!

The fireworks display in London on New Year's Eve was possibly the greatest ever... celebrating what for the UK has been a fantastic year, thanks mainly to the spirit around the London 2012 Olympics and the London 2012 Paralympics. (Crime is down 10% this year in the UK, apparently, in spite of police cutbacks... I wouldn't be surprised if the Games, and all that went with them, have had something to do with it.)

Whoever or whatever controls the weather, it wasn't allowed to spoil those Games... but as for the rest of the year, after the words "hosepipe ban" had faded, all that was left was to enjoy the rain!

Wherever you are, and whatever political/economic/meteorological climate you are experiencing, I wish you a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

One of the nicest stories to come out over the festive season... the true spirit of Christmas.

I came across this great scheme a few weeks ago at our local Waitrose supermarket. A volunteer hands you a small shopping list as you come in, like the one on the left. You buy one or more items off the list as part of your shopping, and leave those items in a collection trolley on the way out.

it's a very direct (and deduction-free) way to donate, and obviously quite popular with shoppers.

From the page:

Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Trussell Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.

In 2011-12 foodbanks fed 128,687 people nationwide, 100% more than the previous year. Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static income, high unemployment and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to come to foodbanks for help.

The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.

If you're interested, read more here (or click either image).

"Old Friends", 5th December 2012

A group of gravestones in the old cemetery in a nearby meadow. The inscriptions are almost faded - all I know from the dates is that they lived their whole lives during the reign of Queen Victoria

A beautiful fox picture (author unknown), one of a set shared by Elegantlady - thanks, Roberta!

It's been raining here for what seems like forever... I wish it would snow!

And if by any chance you haven't seen it already, don't miss...

[The funniest, coolest Christmas video ever]

This delightful lady is (IMO) one of the UK's finest imports from Spain. Tamara Rojo, who is Principal Ballerina at the English National Ballet, has recently also been appointed its Artistic Director.

I saw her talking about her new role (which she manages to combine with dancing) on BBC's Breakfast show. Her bubbly, positive personality reminded me greatly of the beautiful Brazilian-French actress Bérénice Bejo, whose smile as Peppy Miller in that wonderful movie The Artist could brighten anyone's day.

(If your day needs further brightening, you might also like these posts.)

This is a wonderful site where you can listen to free music with videos - typically 40-50 tracks (selection may vary from visit to visit) from almost any artist you want.

Start here, type in the name of the artist you want to hear, select from the drop-down list (even if it doesn't seem necessary), and away you go!

You can skip tracks, or go straight to a track that you like from the playlist. From a playlist page you can type in the name of another artist that you want to listen to, or select your next artist from a list of suggestions. That last feature has the nice effect of introducing you to other artists that you might like, based on what you are playing now ( also does this, but in a different way).

Here, mostly for my own benefit, is a somewhat eclectic (and growing) list of artists that I really like listening to from this site (you may have to wait a few seconds after clicking one of these before the corresponding playlist opens):

ABBA ~ Abbey Lincoln ~ Alicia Keys ~ Amy Winehouse ~ Andrea Bocelli ~ Bert Kaempfert ~ Blackmore's Night ~ Blondie ~ Carpenters ~ Chris Botti ~ Chris Spheeris ~ Diana Krall ~ Dire Straits ~ Eddi Reader ~ Emmylou Harris ~ Enya ~ Eric Clapton ~ Eva Cassidy ~ Fleetwood Mac ~ Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass ~ Govi ~ Imogen Heap ~ James Galway ~ Jesse Cook ~ Katie Melua ~ Mark Knopfler ~ Melody Gardot ~ Nanci Griffith ~ Natalie Imbruglia ~ Neil Diamond ~ Nick Drake ~ Nigel Kennedy ~ Paul Simon ~ Queen ~ Roberta Flack ~ Roy Orbison ~ Sara Bareilles ~ Sarah Blasko ~ Secret Garden ~ Simon & Garfunkel ~ Sophie Milman

Descriptions of this site that I have found suggest that selecting your next artist queues up that artist for when the current playlist is finished - hence "neverending". However with my PC setup, selecting the next artist jumps there immediately. That's no problem for me!

Thanks to saboma and s-reg for this one!

Should you want to return here...

[Permalink to this post]

I have just finished reading The Night Circus, a very ambitious first novel of love and magic by Erin Morgenstern.

For me it is almost a really great book - there was so much that I liked about it, but sometimes (especially early on) what I call the "narrative drive" kept faltering, while various wonders continued to unfold. Eventually, however, I was gripped, and it would be worth reading if only to enjoy the author's wonderful imagination and descriptive powers. I shall certainly read it again.

An excellent review of it (which I fully agree with) can be found here.

The book is obviously a very attractive proposition for movie makers, and it seems that Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment are approaching some kind of deal on its production. Eager fans aren't waiting - the movie poster to the left, and the trailer below, are totally unofficial (click either image for more).

There is also a feeling by fans of the book, which I share, that the scope for making a real mess of bringing the story to the big screen is considerable. On the other hand, if done well, the movie could be a cracker. I await the outcome with eager nervousness...

"House in Winter" by Scott Prior, one of my favourite artists

Found on the always beautiful pages of expressioniste (Aline) (I always love her Christmas posts).

"Surviving Winter" by Amy Bennett

Thanks to Gatorindo (David) for finding this picture, and to bristol3 (Sharon) for tracking down the artist!

(Two people whose pages are well worth visiting, BTW.)

It's snowing here!

We hardly ever get a White Christmas in southern England (except in movies) but with all this climate change that isn't happening, who knows?

[More selections from classic Peanuts...]

A wonderful interactive star map, with cool music (it's a "Chrome Experiment", and seems to work a little better in Chrome than in Firefox).

Click the image to play... it's definitely worth spending time with!

Thanks to my elder daughter for this one.

If you like this...

[Stellarium, an open-source software planetarium]

Trees on Mars?

A HiRISE image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing trees on Mars... or so it appears!
Click the image for full-size version

(Image from this page - check out the "subimage")

Explanation from the page:

There is a vast region of sand dunes at high northern latitudes on Mars. In the winter, a layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the dunes, and in the spring as the sun warms the ice it evaporates. This is a very active process, and sand dislodged from the crests of the dunes cascades down, forming dark streaks.

Another discovery on the fine pages of batchbatcharak.

If you like this...

[More about HiRISE (High-resolution Image Science Experiment)]
[More examples of carbon dioxide fans from HiRISE]
[Polar Geology on Mars (science theme from the HiRISE site)]
[Awesome desktop wallpaper images from HiRISE]

From the page:

This image was taken by Curiosity’s MAHLI camera, which sits on the end of the rover’s extendable arm. MAHLI snapped 55 pictures from different locations. The different positions overlapped just enough so that the arm couldn’t be seen in the final result.

What can be seen are tire tracks, scoops in the Martian dust that Curiosity made, and the foothills of the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp in the background, which Curiosity will be driving up in the coming years. The rover will be investigating this area for signs of habitability in the Martian past or present. NASA will present new results about the Martian atmosphere at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, which may include analysis of methane on Mars, a possible indicator of geologic or biological activity.

I cut out two relatively tiny images from the high-resolution original in order to show the detail that it contains:

Curiosity’s “eye” at the top with a reflection of Mars and the rover’s arm

Fine detail of the wheel and surface

Click any of the above images if you want to see the original... thanks, Bordertourista!

If you like this...

[My coverage of Curiosity's landing on Mars, taken from live NASA TV]

In her final days as Commander of the International Space Station, Sunita (Suni) Williams of NASA recorded an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory and downlinked the video on Nov. 18, just hours before she, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency departed in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan. The tour includes scenes of each of the station's modules and research facilities with a running narrative by Williams of the work that has taken place and which is ongoing aboard the orbital outpost.

Suni, who is of Indian and Slovenian extraction, is a Captain in the US Navy, where she was a helicopter test pilot, and (I discovered) has a very impressive career in both the USN and NASA.

Click on any screenshot to play the video... 25 minutes of privileged viewing not to be missed!

Columbus, the European Laboratory, one of many on the Space Station (this one on the right hand side) where a lot of medical experiments are done

A sleep station module, containing 4 of these sleep stations...

"It's sort of like a little phone booth. It's also like a little office, with a computer and some toys and books and other things that make it sort of like home"

No gravity, so each of the 4 sleep stations...

...are in a separate wall

One of the space suits in storage, a miniature space vehicle...

"...your head turns inside the fixed helmet, you need a wide angle of vision and usually it's pretty sunny out there, so you need sunglasses, which make you look pretty cool"

A tour of a space toilet...

...with more information on cleaning up null-gravity messes than you may want to know!

Heading down from here, we get to "one of the coolest places on the Space Station, like a glass bottom boat"

You might want to take a look at this link (opens in a separate window)...

[Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola Module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below]

...the Cupola, with windows all around... (over Africa at the moment)

"That's the Soyuz spacecraft that's taking us home to Planet Earth today"

After showing us the exercise equipment, Sunita heads for the Soyuz spacecraft (a long way!)

A diversion to fly down the PMM, a big silver canister when seen from the outside - essentially a closet where things are stowed, "and a lot of fun to play in - and much bigger than the Soyuz"

Entering the Russian segment (Kevin, the next Commander, is doing the filming) "you don't need a passport either"

A long way, passing Yevgeny coming in the other direction

The Russian segment was the first section to come up to the Space Station, in 1988. The Station has been manned 12 years, and been up in space 14 years.

After another long passage... "here we are in the heart of the Space Station, really - the Service Module or Central Post". The service module is also the place to come when there's an emergency (fire, depressurization, toxic atmosphere) - "we gather here to figure out how to deal with whatever it is".

Controls to help fly in visiting spacecraft if they need it, and Russian and American computers that "help to control anything we need to on the Space Station"

Two Russian crew members, and on the wall behind them, pictures of Russian heroes of the space programme "which reminds us of our roots"

After showing us a lot of other stuff, Sunita heads down another long stretch to the Soyuz spacecraft that will take her home later today

...and at the end of that passage, she drops down another long shaft, arriving at...

...the docking probe which incoming spacecraft use to dock to the ISS (and we get an explanation of that, too)

Squeezing into the top section of the Soyuz (this part gets burnt up on re-entry - in a few hours time, in fact)

Looking up, that's Kevin, the next ISS Commander, looking down into the Soyuz

Squished into the tiny Descent Module, which has been getting made ready over the past couple of days, Sunita sitting in one of the three personalized custom-made seats (which she'll be using later today for real). "It's a pretty safe ride home... behind us is the parachute, all of our survival gear just in case we land in some strange place on the planet and nobody's there to rescue us right away..."

Some of the instruments, including hand controllers you can fly the module with

Listening to this lady, you would think she is talking about taking the bus home after a day at the office, instead of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in a tiny capsule after a few months commanding one of humanity's outstanding political and scientific achievements. (She did get home safely, by the way.)

I take my hat off to her, and to NASA for providing us with the privilege of seeing so much detail of what goes on up there.

(Thanks so much to ensemble5 for this share.)

If you like this...

[A view of Endeavour docked to the International Space Station - and some thoughts to go with it]

No, it's not CGI, or a sign of the beginning of the end of the world, or something caused by clandestine radar experiments, or the result of a skydive from space...

From the page:

A fallstreak hole, also known as a hole punch cloud, punch hole cloud, skypunch, canal cloud or cloud hole, is a large circular or elliptical gap, that can appear in cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds. Such holes are formed when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water has not frozen yet due to the lack of ice nucleation particles (see supercooled water). When ice crystals do form it will set off a domino effect, due to the Bergeron process, causing the water droplets around the crystals to evaporate: this leaves a large, often circular, hole in the cloud... More...

Thanks to Cyrion for this one... and click her tag at the top of this post if you want to see more of her great finds featured on these pages.

"Aasleagh waterfall" (County Mayo, Ireland) by Ulrich Greger

An example of many fine photographs of places and people all around the world that can be found on - a great photographic travel site linked to Google maps, well worth exploring.

Thanks, Elegantlady (Roberta)!

[All images from (paged!)]

"Aux beaux jours, 1889" by Jules-Alexis Muenier (1863-1942)

One of many beautiful works of art to be found (among other things) on the fine pages of Toetie.

Nice desktop wallpaper (author unknown) found for me by batchbatcharak


If you haven't met the very useful "site:" option in Google search before, which restricts your search to a particular site, try this link for fun (it produces a lot of good photos):

[All images from (paged!)]

(you can refine the search by adding further keywords in the Google search box like animals or landscape, or playing with Google's Search tools)

"Shorelines", one of many beautiful photographs © by our very own Fourteenth, whose art blog is well worth visiting

Havant and the South Downs, October 2012

A much-photographed scene that I took near the Royal Oak at Havant (near Portsmouth), a favourite pub of ours

Click the picture if you would like to see a post about our recent visit to Havant and the South Downs

"Sweet Dawn" by Diane Varner - from her Daily Walks along the Northern California coastline and mountain trails
(seascapes, landscapes, insects, animals, found objects and macro images)

One of many fine things to be found on the pages of batchbatcharak.

"October" by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Found on the beautiful pages of ensemble5 - a visit to her pages is highly recommended (and so is clicking her tag at the top of this post!)

(The linked page is a great art resource, BTW... click the palette below if you would like to see a list of more art sites featured on my pages.)

I have to say that Marion Cotillard is fast becoming one of my favourite film actresses.

It helps, of course, that (IMO) she is one of the most beautiful women on the planet...

(Desktop wallpaper - click image for source)

However, she is also a very fine actress, as demonstrated in this recently-released movie (which I strongly recomment if you haven't seen it):

The movie co-stars the muscular Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, an ex-fighter living a bleak life low on the income scale, accompanied by his young son from a failed relationship. The name of the movie, appropriately enough, refers to the taste in your mouth if you are on the receiving end of a hard punch.

The basic story sounds unlikely, and tells you little: Stéphanie, a trainer of Killer Whales at a marineland park, loses both legs above the knee in a horrific accident. Initially suicidal, she recovers her life through a developing relationship with the unsentimental, flawed Ali.

This is not a love story, in the conventional sense. What Ali offers Stéphanie comes through an unpitying friendship and (eventually) sex, and is one of the most moving human relationships that I have ever seen in the cinema.

This is not a special effects movie, either - it is about as far from one as you can get. However, it contains the most jaw-dropping special effects that transform Marion Cotillard into a paraplegic, with or without the prosthetics that she eventually receives. This is really "art concealing art" - the technique is so good that it vanishes from view, and you simply accept what you are looking at. (If you're interested, an outline description of the technique used by Mikros Image can be found some way down on this page).

For more on the movie, see this review from The Guardian or click one of the following images for more links.

Stéphanie with Ali, in a sequence where he persuades her to come into the sea with him

Stéphanie re-enacting her lost relationship with the Killer Whale, which apparently moved the audience to tears at the Cannes Film Festival

The reunion scene. Stéphanie, walking on prosthetics, appears in front of an empty tank, and taps on the glass. Time passes, and then the Orca appears and rises up in front of her. "its vast shadow falling like a benediction" (as Rachel Cook writes here in The Observer. This is the best screenshot that I could find (I'll add a better one later when I get the DVD!).

After watching Rust and Bone I seriously wanted to check that Marion Cotillard still has those lovely legs - and she does

If you like this, you might like Marion Cotillard in...

[La Vie en Rose (her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf)]
[Nine (a sizzlingly hot musical based on Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical movie )]
[Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen's feather-light time-travel romantic comedy, one of his most delightful films)]

Natalie Cole giving a wonderful live performance of "Smile", a song whose music was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie Modern Times, the lyrics being added later for Natalie's father Nat King Cole's original recording...

...which you can listen to on this nice video (but I apologise in advance for the probably inappropriate advert that you may have to use the "mute" button for!)

Bhutan girls - click the image to read an extraordinarily fine article in a very fine blog

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

The important thing in Bhutan is that every government policy decision will be run through a GNH filter - and that is the key idea which is spreading, in a variety of forms to suit individual countries.

If you are interested in how this is happening, check out (for example) the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the London-based Economic Foundation's Centre for Wellbeing, and many more examples here.

Although nothing is likely to happen in Washington D.C. until more people in the USA's political system become less interested in partisan dogma, some individual U.S. states are going ahead strongly (e.g. Vermont's Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI).

Since presumably even Ebenezer Scrooge was happy in his own way, not everyone's idea of happiness is the same. There is a fascinating web site called The OECD Better Life Index which lets you see how different countries rate against each other on a number of measures of well-being. Initially these measures are equally weighted, but you can change the weighting according to your own ideas of what's important.

If you don't follow any other link, may I strongly recommend this article, and the fine blog from which it comes. And thanks to the paper edition of Time Magazine for many of the links included here.

As a footnote... however you measure it, the UK became an obviously happier place this summer, with a community spirit and a sense of achievement that has not been felt for a long time. The reason for this was the events leading up to, around and through the London Olympics (my posts on which are here), followed by the equally wonderful London Paralympics (my posts on which are here).

If you like this...

[More links on how Bhutan is affecting the world
[World Happiness Report]

The beautiful Christina Hendricks - one of several good reasons for watching Mad Men

(This popular wallpaper was apparently published by Eggshellgb on deviantART as a retouch of a bad production photo, but has now disappeared from there. If you want to find a full-size original, first click the image above, then select Larger than... 800x600, then go to Options, Advanced Search and select an aspect ratio of Wide - good luck!)

Angels Take Manhattan was the last episode of Doctor Who to feature Amy Pond (I shall really miss Karen Gillan). It was probably the best Doctor Who episode of all time, thanks to a superb script by creator Steven Moffat and great work by the whole team.

The long time-knotted story of Amy Pond, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and River Song (the superb Alex Kingston) reaches an emotionally charged, bitter-sweet conclusion in this episode. The series that have featured Matt Smith as the Doctor have occasionally been barmy (for example Churchill and the Spitfires flying in space), but at their best they have been really good - and this episode, which features the genuinely scary Weeping Angels, was in a class of its own.

As well as a few of my screenshots, I have reproduced the closing words from the story below. As spoken by Amy, they really cracked me up...

Afterword by Amelia Williams

Hello old friend - and here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone. So know that we lived well, and were very happy. And above all else, know that we will love you always.

Sometimes I do worry about you though. I think, once we're gone, you won't be coming back here for a while, and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don't be alone, Doctor.

And do one more thing for me. There's a little girl waiting in a garden. She's going to wait a long while, so she's going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she's patient, the days are coming that she'll never forget. Tell her that she'll go to sea and fight pirates. She'll fall in love with a man who'll wait 2,000 years to keep her safe. Tell her that she'll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived, and save a whale in outer space! Tell her: this is the story of Amelia Pond - and this is how it ends.

Autumn is here again... this happened suddenly to just a few trees near us, a few nights ago (it's been chilly)

[Autumn is one of my favourite seasons... and tags]

It's looking great...

[Click the image to visit the official Hobbit Movie blog]

Dartmouth, South Devon, Sept/Oct 2012

View of Kingswear (left) and Dartmouth castle (right, in the distance) from near the Bayards Cove Inn, Dartmouth

Click the picture if you would like to see some posts about our recent visit to South Devon

If you are interested, here are the direct links:

[Dartmouth, boat trip to Totnes, local walks and steam railway trip to Paignton]
[Visit to Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home above the river Dart]

The London 2012 Paralympics

“Beijing was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as equals. London was the first Paralympic Games where we were treated as heroes.”

Everyone who watched these amazing Games will have their own memories... Here are a few of mine:

Hannah Cockroft, golden girl of the Paralympics, delightful and bubbly off the track, a fearsomely unbeatable opponent on it...

David Weir, the "Weir Wolf"

One of the most memorable moments of "Super Thursday" was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

The blind runner Libby Clegg and her great guide/partner (actually a photo from her silver medal win at Beijing)...

...and winning the Gold in London

From this article: Derek Derenalagi, the British discus thrower whose legs were blown apart five years ago by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, drank in the moving warmth of the sustained applause as he entered the Olympic Stadium for Friday night’s competition.

Sadly for his own aspirations of a medal, he could finish only 11th from a impressively strong field. Derenalagi’s longest throw of 39.37 metres, yielding 771 points, was comfortably adrift of the benchmark set by Russia’s Alexey Asapatov, whose effort of 56.19m equated to 977 points.

The 37 year-old, born in Fiji, had been desperate to mount the podium but recognised that his mere appearance here verged on miraculous. In 2007, he had been lying dead on an operating table at Camp Bastion, before a member of medical staff detected a pulse.

In the five years that ensued he helped galvanise public support for those seriously wounded in the service of the country. He was pivotal, indeed, in the creation of Help for Heroes after the charity’s founders, Emma and Bryn Parry, visited him at Selly Oak Hospital and found themselves moved by his dignity in the face of extreme adversity.

“It was devastating for both of us to see somebody so injured when we visited him in hospital,” Emma Parry remembered. “But to see him five years later, having battled everything to get through to the Paralympics, is absolutely extraordinary.”

His resolve to reach the Paralympics was forged in the grimmest of those hospital days. Watching the Beijing Games from his bed, he decided that his ambition was to wear Britain’s colours at London 2012 and worked indefatigably at identifying his strongest sport, the discus. His specialist prostheses have been built to be especially resilient to withstand the force of his throwing action.

Derek as he was in Afghanistan

One of many warm moments in the Paralympics as Ellie Simmonds, our "pocket rocket" in the swimming pool, shares the rostrum with her great friend and rival Victoria Arlen from the USA (the medals were the other way around in a previous race, but the friendship is just the same)

Channel 4 did a great job. As well as covering the Paralympics, they did a great job in promoting these Games ("Thanks for the warm up" was their cheeky salute to the London Olympics) and making them a real turning point in people's view of disability.

One of their advertisements was probably the best of its kind every produced - see here.

Channel 4's review before the actual Closing Ceremony added some more memories (these are my screenshots from their coverage):

For many people, Clare Balding (transferring from the BBC) and Ade Adepitan, the unfailingly cheerful gold medal-winning wheelchair basketball player, were the main faces of Channel 4's presentation team. They were joined by many other really good presenters... of whom was Giles Long, who won Paralympic Swimming gold 1996 and 2000. Giles (Clare told us) was the guy who recognized that to the viewing public, classification is the only barrier to enjoying paralympic sport at its full.

Giles invented LEXI, the Lexicon Decoder, which made such a difference to our understanding. Giles said that it took him 6 months to crack the classification system just in swimming, then another 2 years or so to get it right.

Oscar Pistorius, the South African super-athlete, a gentleman and a true ambassador for the paralympics

Brazilian blind 100m runner and guide, two of many Brzilians celebrating

"... it's a pretty safe bet that the party will continue in Rio 2016"

David Weir with son Mason after winning the Marathon [Link]

Another warm moment, as the German Jochen Wollmert comforts GB table tennis player Will Bayley, after beating him in the final. Jochen previously won many hearts by over-ruling the umpire who mistakenly awarded Jochen a point against Will, and then won them again in this moment.

In another match, astonishingly dynamic play as a so-called "disabled" table tennis player hurls himself to the right, the ball whistling back over the table to the left for a winner...

Running blind with a partner involves total trust and a unique form of partnership


...and tears

In some ways this didn't seem the most important aspect of the games... but it's a source of huge pride for many people in many countries

The actual Closing Ceremony, after the magnificent Opening Ceremony (see my article here), was a little disappointing to me and (I have read) to some others. It contained some great stuff (see below and this great set of pictures), but a large part of it consisted of a concert by Coldplay, joined by Rihanna, where Paralympians and disabled people were an audience rather than participants (a link on that here).

However, there was still much to enjoy (including Coldplay's music). These are my screenshots from Channel 4's coverage:

The opening film sequence featured the gathering of some fantastical steampunk vehicles who will appear later in the Arena...

(A great picture of this wonderful vehicle will be found about half-way down this page)

We had our first sight of disabled aerial performers from Circus Space

In the Stadium, the "Festival of Fire" gets off to a great start...

Captain Luke Sinnot, who lost his legs and an arm in a blast on the battlefields of Helmand, climbs The Flagpole of Human Endeavour [Link]

Luke is a keen sailor aiming for Rio 2016, with a boat funded by Help for Heroes (whose members featured strongly in this sequence)

A Royal Vehicle like no other, cobbled together from a 1930's gangster car and a military vehicle used in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie, a very impressive individual, welcoming people to the Festival of Fire.

Rory is a 26 year old South African, who served in the British Army as a Combat Medical Technician - his own story can be read here

Entry of the flags..

...tonight, all the 4,259 athletes are here

One of many steampunk vehicles. Paralympians customize their own vehicles, for both performance and individuality. These fantastical vehicles, some huge, were constructed from materials found in dumps and old cars and trucks.

A group of 6 paralympian athletes from different countries (France, Turkey, USA, Spain, Netherlands and Hong Kong China, elected by all the athletes to join the IPC Athletics Council, who will play a big role in advancing the paralympic movement...

...joined by representatives of the amazing volunteer Games Makers, who received immense applause on several occasions tonight...

...a moment symbolically bringing together people with and without disabilities who have already done much to change the world

Entry of "disabled" aerial performers from Circus Space...

Mat Fraser, who has short arms because he was born with phocomelia, drummed with Coldplay for their song God Put A Smile Upon Your Face

The British Paraorchestra is a new orchestra created by the conductor Charles Hazlewood and composed of 17 performers with disabilities – including a one-handed pianist and an electronic musician with such severe cerebral palsy that she requires 24-hour care - joining Coldplay and playing the Paralympic Anthem [video links]

Handover of the Paralympian Flag between the mayors of London and Rio

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. In a brief, heartfelt speech he shared a story about a doctor, one of the Games Makers, whom he met while on the way to a boxing event:

“...After a very British dance about who should thank whom, he suddenly cut through the politeness and told me: I was on duty on 7/7, that awful day. For me, this is closure. I wasn't sure I should come, or whether I could face it. I'm so glad I did, for I have seen the worst of mankind, and now I have seen the best of mankind.”

He also shared a story about a wheelchair basketball athlete who told him that the sport had "lifted the cloud of limitation" for her. He said that in this country we would never think of sport the same way, we would never think of disability the same way, and that the paralympians had, indeed, lifted the cloud of limitation.

His thanks to these people and to all of the volunteer Games Makers drew extraordinary applause, which also honoured Seb Coe himself

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete, praised all those who brought these Games to London and who made it successful, with very special thanks - again - to the thousands of Games Makers, the British Armed Services, and the Emergency Services.

He told a story from his own family about a 5-year old boy, whose friend was reading a book featuring a picture of a man with a parrot, an eye-patch and a wooden leg. She asked him who it was, expecting him to say "a pirate". Instead he replied: "Well, he only has one leg. He must be an athlete."

“Kids just get it. Now thanks to the amazing performances we have seen here, we all do.”

Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds extinguishing the Paralympic Flame...

...but the spirit moves on...

There followed more music (with the Olympic Stadium's pixel system providing its stunning light show) from Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay Z, and of course a firework finale - pictures of all of which can be found here and here - but the essence of the Paralympics had already been conveyed.

As record audiences and visitors watched the London 2012 Paralympics, while the Presidential race continued to run in the USA (where the Paralympics have received relatively little coverage) I was struck by a strange contrast.

It seems at times that the American political system (unlike very many American people) suffers more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit.

The exact opposite is what we have been watching in the amazing events going on in London.

Maybe we can all learn something from this wonderful group of international athletes...

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

Majorca, September 2012

Click the picture if you would like to see a post about our recent visit to the south-west coast of Majorca

If you happen to be a Brit watching these amazing Paralympics, you will obviously be delighted with our great run of gold medals.

The Royal Mail earned its own award from me (FWIW) by issuing commemorative stamps within a day of each medal, exactly as it did for the London Olympics.

This may not be surprising to people following the London Paralympics, but for everyone it's an indication of how successful these Games have been in changing perceptions about "disability". We haven't seen disability in these Games - just amazing ability. The "Super Thursday" athletics track finals produced the kind of excitement that the equivalent finals in the Olympics did. The only difference was that the excitement (and noise) on that occasion was even more intense than in the Olympics. I say "noise", but one of the most memorable moments of that night was when Jonnie Peacock asked the crowd for silence at the start, and 80,000 people went silent as in a church within about a second. After which, this man (who happens to have only one leg, although we have sort of stopped noticing that) ran 100m in 10.9 seconds, beating probably the best group of 100m athletes ever seen in one Paralympics final.

There are some great stories of human achievement hidden behind these pictures - if you click on any image, you'll get links that will tell you more about that athlete.

Several athletes (like Sarah Storey, our greatest paralympian) won several gold medals and each one was commemorated with a separate stamp - I haven't shown all of those here, and I may have missed some of the team events.

Also, there have been many athletes from other countries, and/or who haven't won a gold medal, or any medal, that have won the hearts of the many people watching - see my post here.

[Images sourced from here]

If you like this...

[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

On August 29th, a peak audience of 11.2m watched Channel 4's coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony (from which my screenshots are taken), which was the biggest C4 audience in 10 years.

The ceremony featured some great and inspirational music. You can find the full event playlist here, and in what follows I provide some links to videos of the music, in some cases taken from the event itself (don't miss the last one!).

However you thought the opening ceremony of a Paralympics Games might start, it probably wasn't like this...

As the stadium became a Nebula, Professor Stephen Hawking, probably our greatest living physicist, invited us all to stretch our minds and our conceptions:

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world: why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.

“But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a Universe for him to describe?”

...a question that introduced a symbolic Big Bang...

...featuring the British umbrella motif that returns again and again, quirky and effective

Specially trained volunteers, many of them disabled, take to the air in an aerial dance to Rihanna's "Umbrella" [video links]

...introducing (from the air) Shakespeare's Miranda, played by the disabled radio actress Nicola Miles-Wildin, who will be led through a journey of discovery and enlightenment by Prospero, played by Sir Ian McKellen (whom the world will probably always see as Gandalf)

A sequence featuring The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first article of which is so relevant to this occasion

After the official opening by the Queen, and the entry of over 4,200 paralympians into the stadium (less a few with early events the next day)...

Let spirits soar… the blind soprano Denise Leigh and deaf actor Deepa Shastri bring the Paralympic motto – Spirit in Motion – to life in an original composition by Errollyn Wallen [video of this segment]

Lord Seb Coe, father of the London Olympic Games, equally committed to the London Paralympics. He began by looking back to Doctor Ludwig Guttmann's achievement at Stoke Mandeville. Among his words:

“[In setting up these Olympics and Paralympics] we determined that London 2012 would be the next great advance for the [paralympic] movement... and a landmark for people with disability everywhere.

“To [the] athletes I say: You will hear us. The enthusiasm for these Paralympics is extraordinary. The crowds will be unprecedented. These will be games to remember. And to my fellow countrymen and the millions watching around the world I add these final words: Prepare to be inspired. Prepare to be dazzled. Prepare to be moved by the London Paralympic Games of 2012.”

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee. a British former Paralympic athlete and an obviously proud native of Bolton, Lancashire, said among other things:

“Tonight is a celebration of the development of the human spirit, a celebration of the Paralympic Movement coming home, and a celebration of dreams...

“In 1948 [Sir Ludwig Guttmann] organized the Stoke Mandeville Games, on a small piece of land sandwiched between the back of the hospital and the railway embankment...

“Most importantly, welcome to you, over 4,200 paralympians... you have before you some of the finest sporting stages on which to perform. Every step of the way you will be cheered on by the most passionate sports fans that you will have ever seen or heard. Your performances will inspire and excite the world. You will inspire not only a current generation here, but many generations to come. With record ticket sales, media and broadcasters, your stories and performances will challenge the way people think about themselves and how they think about others. You are all catalysts for change, and role models for an inclusive society. ... You not only have the ability to win medals in London, but you have the ability to change the world.... and remember... make sure you have fun!”

Eight members of the British under-22 wheelchair basketball team starting the ceremony of the raising of the Paralympic flag, to Elgar's Jupiter Suite from The Planets. The music was chosen as a universal anthem to inspire people from whichever country they may come from. [video links]

In an extraordinarily beautiful sequence, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sings Handel's Eternal Source of Life Divine - absolutely wonderful [video links]

...and to that glorious music we were treated to a wonderful aerial ballet by six paralympic athletes (I am filled with admiration for everyone in this event who performed at what must have been a dizzying height)

This was followed by an equally inspiring segment where Birdy played Bird Gerhl (written by Antony Hegarty) [video links]

...while David Toole, later joined by Miranda, performs another wonderful dance that rises into the air.

The C4 coverage didn't show everything else going on at the same time, but you'll find another view if you follow the video links above.

Stephen Hawking introduced a section featuring the Large Hadron Collider, symbolically transformed into a collision of ideas.
I shall always remember these words of his:

“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit.

“What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

This section featured a raw performance of Ian Dury's angry Spasticus Autisticus (once banned by the BBC). It seemed to fit in perfectly, perhaps because you have to face reality before you can make the world a better place (a good link here).

Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend brings the Paralympic Torch into the arena via zip wire from the Orbit Tower, more than 350 feet up...

Only 5 months ago he was in Afghanistan, where he lost both legs to an IED. He hopes to compete as a paralympic triathlete in Rio.

Possibly the most amazing and inspiring handover of a torch ever seen (so far). This image is so extraordinary that you might think it has been photoshopped, but Joe is suspended, perfectly still, by wires from very far above. Joe handed over the torch to blind footballer David Clarke...

...and that beautiful cauldron was actually lit by Margaret Maughan, the oldest paralympian, who won gold in archery 52 years ago. She was treated by Doctor Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville after a car accident in 1959, who introduced her to archery.

It's hard to think of a more uplifting, appropriate and inspiring climax than "I Am What I Am" performed by Beverley Knight (accompanied by Caroline Parker & Lizzie Emeh). You can watch it here - don't miss it!

...which turned the packed Olympic Stadium into one huge party... the centre of which stood the giant version of Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant, the sculpture of the limbless woman that once looked down from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square (see this excellent article).

This amazing ceremony has proved to the the beginning of an equally inspiring Paralympic Games, still going on as this is written (more posts to come!). In Britain, and in other countries whose broadcasters are giving them access, the Olympic party is happening all over again.

Disability? What we are watching in these Paralympics is ability, in spades.

[More links for the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Paralympics]
[All of my posts on the London 2012 Olympics]

From my web site:

[The beautiful games]

The South African athlete Oscar Pistorius running using Össur’s Flex-Foot Cheetahs

Oscar is currently competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games, having previously competed against able-bodied athletes in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The controversy over Oscar's potentially unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes (now resolved) would, I am sure, have given Doctor Ludwig Guttmann, the amazing human being who pioneered athletic competition for disabled people, enormous pleasure.

Doctor Gutmann's story was recently told in an excellent (and very moving) BBC documentary called The Best of Men.

(It appears that the USA, thanks to poor broadcasting coverage there, is missing out on the current Paralympic Games, which are like no other such games in the past. They are being every bit as inspiring and popular as the London 2012 Olympic Games - possibly even more inspiring. The view of disability in this country, and in all countries watching, will never be the same again. Further posts to come!)

Indescribably wonderful...

[The London 2012 London Paralympics Opening Ceremony]

Neil Armstrong
August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012

Picture from NASA's Biography of Neil Armstrong

Like many people, I will always remember what I was doing at 02:56 UTC (GMT) on July 21st, 1969, when Neil Armstrong made his famous "one giant leap for mankind" in the Sea of Tranquility (I was watching a very small black and white TV in a small flat in London).

A true American hero of the "final frontier", he was a shy and modest man as well as a superb and very brave pilot. I am sure that he would want people also to remember Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, his companions in Apollo 11, and the many, many people who worked together in the extraordinary endeavour that was the Apollo Program.

I don't suppose that I will live long enough to see manned spaceflight again, other than this variety (which is going to become really interesting in the next few years, I think).

For now, JPL's Curiosity Rover is doing a fantastic job on Mars.

I think about the life I live
A figure made of clay
And think about the things I lost
The things I gave away

And when I'm in a certain mood
I search the house and look
One night I found these magic words
In a magic book

Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day

And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you

There's a hand to rock the cradle
And a hand to help us stand
With a gentle kind of motion
As it moves across the land

And the hand's unclenched and open
Gifts of life and love it brings
So keep your hand wide open
If you're needing anything

Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day

And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you

Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day

And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you

'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you
You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you

You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you
You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you

A beautiful song, written and beautifully sung by Abbey Lincoln, a jazz singer, actor and civil rights activist who was strongly influenced by Billie Holiday. Abbey died in August 2010.

If you like this, you will find a really interesting New York Times article about her life and work here.

Thanks again to ensemble5 for this one.

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."John Muir

A nice post that appeared in my friend Sandy's Green Eco Communities blog... and on occasions when I have eaten a bit too much, I really relate to that frog!

"Monet’s Water Garden in the Rain", photographed at Giverny by Robert Mack

Channel 5 recently screened a restored version of Disney's animated version of "Robin Hood". It was a very long time since I had last seen it, and I had forgotten what an entertaining movie it is (in spite of importing lots of Americana into Sherwood Forest and recycling so much from Disney's "The Jungle Book"!). It's actually one of my Disney favourites.

It features some nice songs, and artwork like this. It happened that I paused the movie on this frame when my spouse returned with a friend from an afternoon's shopping. When the friend noticed it she thought it was a nice screensaver. Guessing what movie it came from would be quite tricky, I think!

"Desert Bloom", nice desktop wallpaper obtained from here

You're on Mars... take a look around!

Thanks to Fourteenth (whose pages are well worth visiting) for sharing this one.

If you like this...

[More from Mars...]

I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms from the London 2012 Olympics. For more than 2 weeks (a lot longer if you include the Torch Relay) the UK has seemed a different, happier and more community-minded place. For these weeks we were a country of street parties, picnics in parks, crowds jostling each other during the rush hour in the best of humour, smiling mounted police riding along the edge of a huge crowd gathered for a road race, slapping hands with the lifted hands of spectator after spectator, completely deserted streets in housing estates that would suddenly ring to a simultaneous shout of YES! ... and it just went on and on.

Along with goodness-only-knows how many other people, on the final day I watched the BBC's coverage leading up to and through the Closing Ceremony, from which my screenshots below come.

The first set of screenshots is from the signing-off montage, which the BBC does so well at the end of major sporting events (e.g. Wimbledon):

People will always remember the magnificent Opening Ceremony that began it all

A new pride in Team GB, which we somehow all felt part of (one of the LED panels from the audience pixel system is partly visible here, see later)

These guys were really flying. Did you see the BMX events, at one of many superb new venues created for the Games?

Gemma Gibbons in tears after winning a silver medal in Judo (our first Judo medal for 12 years), crying "I love you Mum".

She lost her mother Jeanette to Leukemia - Jeanette encouraged her daughter to take up the sport at their local judo club when Gemma was just six years old.

Victoria Pendleton has just been beaten in the sprint final (Victoria's last ever race) by the Australian Anna Meares, her great friend and rival, in Victoria's last ever race... the whole spirit of the Games is right here

Tears of joy from Anna Meares at winning her gold medal for Australia

One of Team GB's (and Scotland's) greatest moments...

...and another


Chris Hoy MBE, now our greatest Olympian, with plenty to smile about

London has been a more magical place than usual in the past few weeks

From the coverage leading up to the Closing Ceremony:

240,000 people applied to be volunteer Game Makers. 70,000 were accepted, and their contribution to the Games was incredible. They weren't all from the UK, either; the two white-haired ladies on the left, just interviewed by Clare Balding, were from Adelaide and Michigan (the latter, nearest the camera, is an ex-heptathlete). The volunteer that Claire is talking to has just decided to re-enlist for the Paralympics.

During this part of the broadcast we were also seeing congratulatiory Tweets coming in from many famous sporting names.

This was shot in Greenwich Park, a wonderful venue used for equestrian events overlooking the Olympic Park (now returned to the public)

From the Closing Ceremony itself (some great pictures from which will be found here ):

Athletes from all countries filling the arena, transforming it into one great party

John Lennon performing "Imagine", one of the theme songs for the evening, in a video restored by Yoko Ono especially for the event. He joined an incredibly moving performance of the song by the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir performing alongside the Liverpool Signing Choir (if you follow only one link in this post, please follow this one)

Representatives of the 70,000 volunteer Game Makers received a special award, to immense applause

The concert started with the spine-tingling harmonies that open Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" - and a gasp went up as the spectator area was transformed into a giant oscilloscope with complex sound patterns shown visually...

...courtesy of the amazing "audience pixels" system - a vast, stadium-wide video surface comprising a custom-built 9-pixel LED panel mounted between every one of the stadium's seats (no still picture can do justice to it), whose wiring was an engineering feat in itself (some great pictures of the system in use will be found here)...

...Annie Lennox approaching the camera in the prow of a ship, with the audience pixel system in full use behind her

The Spice Girls, still as popular as ever, performing as a quintet probably for the last time (photos)

Freddie Mercury leading the enthusiastically-responding audience from beyond the grave...

...followed by Brian May CBE of Queen in a solo performance that (IMO) knocked the socks off any of the other rock music performed on this evening

Sebastian Coe, former great athlete and the father of these Games, making one of the two closing speeches (the other from President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, one of our favourite Frenchmen).

Lord Coe's speech was full of pride for the London 2012 achievement and thanks for everyone that contributed to it, including the team that built the venue...

... and he gave special thanks to the volunteer Game Makers, who got a long standing ovation from the huge crowd (and to the many members of the armed forces and police who kept the games safe discreetly and with great humour, which also drew a huge cheer)

A sad moment as the flames in that wonderful cauldron were slowly extinguished (but I loved the symbolic Phoenix)...

...leaving us with so much to celebrate, not least the all-important Legacy that this Games has focused on so strongly

If I had the power, I would give a gold medal to everyone who brought these Games about, and to everyone who made them such a wonderful occasion (including the BBC commentary team). And I would bring down a horrible pox on everyone (including some of the BBC news team) who cast every kind of doubt on London 2012 before it happened (and even during it), constantly reporting as "news" opinions about forthcoming disasters and bad organisation that failed completely to materialise.

A great part of the achievement of the people who bid for and mounted the Games was overcoming the miserable doom-sayers, who between them have probably never created anything worthwile in their entire lives. Such people talk about "costs" when others talk about "achievements" and "earnings". No doubt they will find every reason why the Olympic Legacy won't happen properly - and I bet that they will be just as wrong.

This was indeed the greatest party on the planet. I hope that people from other countries enjoyed it as much as we did!

From the page:

Every year in mid-August, the Earth passes through the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is nowhere near the Earth, it leaves behind debris in the form of a meteor shower that lights up the night sky...

This NASA handout image, obtained by Reuters on August 16, 2011, shows a tweeted photograph from astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 28 flight engineer, aboard the International Space Station on August 14 with the following caption: "What a 'Shooting Star' looks like from space, taken yesterday during Perseid Meteor Shower." The image was photographed from the orbiting complex on August 13 when it was over an area of China approximately 400 kilometers to the northwest of Beijing

The Perseid Meteor Shower is about to happen again - I'm hoping for clear skies (we might be lucky here for the next night or two).

If you like this...

[Curiosity lands on Mars - my screenshots from NASA TV]

[... and an occasional reminder to click one of the tags at the top of this post if the topic interests you!]

A beautiful romantic jazz number from the Mexican singer-songwriter and actress Ximena Sariñana.

Another wonderful share from Gatorindo (David) - if you click the image you will be taken to his own post, where you can read more information and play the video.

Great stuff...

Thanks to burlm47 (another ex-Stumbler) for this one. If you haven't visited his pages yet, please do!

One of the best features of the Olympics (IMO) is the inspiration that it provides for young people - and two inspiring (and beautiful!) Olympic athletes are the heptathlon champions Jessica Ennis and Denise Lewis.

Jessica Ennis MBE was awarded, among many other things, "Most Inspirational Sportswoman of the Year" at the 2010 Jaguar Academy of Sport Annual Awards.

Denise Lewis OBE, now retired from athletics and one of the BBC's regular commentators at the London 2012 Olympics, won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. In July 2009, Denise became an International Inspiration Ambassador for London 2012's international sports legacy programme.

(Click the images for their various sources.)

Denise at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996

Denise appearing on Desert Island Discs

London 2012's international sports legacy programme is making a big difference to the lives of young people all around the world. Check it out!

From the page:

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine being a women in the mid 1800s. Your family has decided to try their luck in the west, looking for free land. These journeys across the frontier were far from glamorous - it was a life of arduous toil. Women packed their lives into a wagon and traveled for hundreds of miles across the frontier in search of a better life.

Much of the work in establishing a home, feeding the family, working in the fields and all other manner of domesticity fell into the hands of women. For many of these women - who came from the more established Eastern states, it was an extremely difficult time as they were often left on their own - in the middle of nowhere - with their children and neighbors few and far between. Many of the books that have been written on this subject offer hundreds of first hand accounts...


Artwork by Joanne Raptis - the original author of these great words is unknown!

Found on the always-beautiful pages of ensemble5.

Some great advice on clear writing by by Frank L. Visco (click the image for more!)

A really good post by Anil Das, asking for responsibility to be taken by web site owners for unacceptable comments posted by visitors

Image by the New York based photographer John Fraissinet (whose work is well worth checking out)

From the page:


As it turns out, we have a way to prevent gangs of humans from acting like savage packs of animals. In fact, we've developed entire disciplines based around this goal over thousands of years. We just ignore most of the lessons that have been learned when we create our communities online. But, by simply learning from disciplines like urban planning, zoning regulations, crowd control, effective and humane policing, and the simple practices it takes to stage an effective public event, we can come up with a set of principles to prevent the overwhelming majority of the worst behaviors on the Internet...


(Thanks to my elder daughter for sending me this one!)

I have just watched the successful touchdown of the Mars Curiosity Rover, streamed live on NASA TV... here are some of my screenshots from this truly historic event (click any image to get to the site where I watched).

When this sequence starts, it is too late for control signals to get from Earth to Mars in time to influence anything, so everything is happening automatically at the Mars end.

JPL are getting signals about 15 minutes behind actual events, even with signals travelling at the speed of light, relayed from