Podcast: Philosopher John Stewart Mill's 200th
In this podcast I become for 30 minutes a genuine pub philosopher, as philosopher and blogger Jonathan Derbyshire and myself discuss the life and times of the British philosophers John Stewart Mill who celebrates his 200th anniversary this year. Our venue appropriately enough was the Jeremy Bentham pub in London just across the road from UCL. I believe it's the only pub in the city named after a philosopher and it's an appropriate venue as Bentham was in many ways the godfather to Mill's own theories. Although he lived 200 years ago, Mill's theories still have great currency in modern political debates. In our conversation we covered everything from The World Cup, to the Danish Cartoon Controversy and, of course, nude rambling.
Podcast: Britain's First Degree in Comedy
Britain's first comedy degree has arrived. It's the brain-child of Dr Chris Ritchie of Solent University and while some wags in the press have sneeringly refered to it as a "joke degree" from my interview with him, he seems committed to exercising the minds as well as the comedic talents of his students. As I say in the podcast, if Aristotle regarded comedy as a fit subject for inquiry who are we to argue.
Going Underground Podcast
Back in California I was propelled from LA to B (via OC) by the miracle of engineering that is a 10-year old beige Honda Accord and everywhere was either 20 minutes or 2 hours away from everywhere else depending on the traffic.
Now I'm back in a city with a functioning, and an historic public transportation system, The London Underground. As well as taking me to and from work, the Underground has, briefly, been the focus of my work the past couple of weeks. First there was an interview with Geoff Marshall about variant Tube Maps (listen here), recorded for the Big Belly Crew (see below). Now exclusively, and only on Pocket Planet Radio..Annie Mole,the blogger behind one of the world's best City Blogs, Going Underground, talks about The Tube, the Wapping shaft, and Bumper Harris. (and yes it was IKB's dad Marc who designed the Rotherhithe tunnel.. I know..I know..)
HMS Surprise with Dolphins
A trip to San Diego provided an unexpected "surprise" (the ghost of Jack Aubrey must be my muse today) for this Patrick O'Brian fan. The star of Master and Commander, H.M.S Surprise is on display at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. A replica of an 18th Century frigate, she was first launched in 1970 as HMS Rose and used in sail training on the east coast of the United States. Director Peter Weir spotted her in Halifax and in suitably grand Hollywood fashion decided to make HMS Rose a star at the cost of her name... not the first would-be actress to lose her bloom after a trip to tinsel town (Capt.RN J.A collapses)
HMS Surprise (is a Yankee really allowed to call herself HMS I wonder) contains props from the film, fiberglass cannon, costumes, etc. The detail is wonderful, it might all be real. Often film sets look ticky, tacky close-up but everything in the ship might be on loan from a museum. It's a commitment to detail that reflects the great integrity of the movie which remains one of my all-time favourites.
Sadly by that time we had run out of batteries in the digital camera and on my mini-disk recorder. We had spent the day before photographing and recording dolphins (see pic) on a trip with Captain Dave's Dolphin Safari. I console myself that I'm unlikely to take a better shot of the Surprise than Peter Weir. Missing the opportunity to speak with one of the ship's curators was a shame though.
Directly behind H.M.S Surprise is a Soviet B-39 diesel attack submarine. To see it leering over the wheel of the wooden frigate creates a peculiar impression, as though you were looking down a temporal telescope. In an interesting footnote to the obesity crisis before entering the B-39 overweight visitors (and those who have difficulty bending) are encouraged to attempt passage through a mock circular door like those found on the sub. I wonder, for those who get stuck, if the curators rouse out powerful emetics and purgatives from Dr Maturin's supplies on Surprise? The blue pill and the black draught would be just the job to effect a reduction in the circumfrence of those of an Aubrine figure.
Where's the Iditapod?
I'm deeply, deeply tempted to sign up for the Blogs'n'dogs seminars held in Banff, Canada if they run it again next year. I'm utterly in love with the idea of dog-sledding (is there a happier hound than a husky?) and blogging is OK I suppose. For those of you unconvinced about the merits of hooking yourselves up to canine V8 and charging off through the frozen north I can recommend Winterdance by Gary Paulsen. A hugely entertaining account of his attempt to run the Iditarod. Here's an excerpt. As you see the main problem for the novice isn't getting the dogs to start..it's getting them to stop.
In subsequent runs I left the yard on my face, my ass, my back, my belly. I dragged for a mile, two miles, three miles. I lost the team eight, ten times; walked twelve, seventeen, once forty-some miles looking for them. The rig broke every time we ran, torn to pieces, and I finally borrowed a welder and rebuilt the thing every night. Every farmer within forty miles of us knew about me, knew me as "that crazy bastard who can't hold his team". I once left the yard with wooden matches in my pocket and had them ignite as I was being dragged past the door of the house, giving me the semblance of a meteorite, screaming something about my balls being on fire at Ruth, who was laughing so hard she couldn't stand.
Read the whole thing, there are some authors who really earn their advances, this is one. Now that podcasting is so mainstream surely the time is right for an Iditapod? According to The Anchorage Daily news quite a few of last year's "mushers" were into their iPods.
"I tried (cassette) tapes," Ramstead said. "But by the time you got done messing around" with a bag of tapes, adjusting the headphones and getting ready to go, she said, "the batteries were dead". A friend made her iPod an insulated bag. She slips in a chemical hand-warmer to keep the batteries strong, she said. Ramstead is listening to Charles Frazier's best-seller "Cold Mountain," and several inspirational books, she said. "I had to be really careful" when selecting novels, she added. "I don't want to be listening to anything too spooky. There's enough scary stuff on the trail as it is."
I for one would be happy to produce an Iditerpod from the comfort of my own well insulated home (provided someone can supply us with something like this). Anyone interested drop me a line.. will work for Pedigree Chum ;)
2005 in Monkey News
The LA Weekly has a round-up of the year's news as it pertains to monkeys. I wonder if this sudden interest in simian samizdata was inspired by podcaster Ricky Gervais' longtime interest in monkey events. 2005 was indeed a busy year for our distant cousins. Research in Capuchin monkeys, for example, seems to confirm that prostitution is indeed the oldest profession (sic)
Capuchin monkeys learned to use money this year. Using a silver disk as currency that could be exchanged for food.... Researchers were stunned when a male offered a female a token for a quick roll in the hay and she accepted. Afterward, the female traded her new token for a tasty grape.
Oddly this article was spotted just as I discovered the joys of reading another monkey's coverage of events back home
On Monday's segment of pods and blogs we had the wonderful chef/blogger from Waterford Ireland, Martin Dwyer, join us. We were talking about Christmas food and drink with Anne of Eat Feed and Jay of Grape Radio. It emerged that Martin is a big fan of the Patrick O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin novels. The food in those books is often a source of amusement, viz the exploding Digester (pressure cooker) in The Reverse of the Medal (I think). But I wondered outloud what that favourite of the captain's table, lobscouse, is. Well after the show Martin emailed with the answer:
It's almost enough to make me rush out (yes I still support REAL bookstores) and buy this
It is a sort of stew of mixed meats thickened with ships biscuit but the interesting thing about it is, they were so partial to it in Liverpool that they were known as Lobscousers in the 18th century or nowadays shortened to scouse.
Oooh Aaaah Ooooh
DARPA Grand Challenge Podcast
DARPA Grand Challenge: Finally the podcast, more a soundseeing tour, of the DARPA Grand Challenge, the $2million race for "robotic" cars. Motoring history was made on Sat. October 8th as a converted Volkswagen Touareg became the first vehicle to successfully navigate itself round the course, 131.6 miles of the Mojave desert. DARPA, the advanced research wing of the US Department of Defense organised the race, but didn't directly fund any of the teams who entered the challenge. Given the obvious applications of robot vehicles in Iraq and elsewhere, in research teams the race delivered " a lot of bang for their buck" and I suspect will be a model of its kind.
So what's next? The USAF already has robotic flight well under development with unmanned planes like the Predator; though these are remotely controlled the time-lag in relaying commands means they posses a small degree of autonomy already. Autonomy on the ground is hard to accomplish..there will always be too many variables for much more than routine applications - or "leader follower" type systems where a human is in the loop directing a convoy. To my mind the obvious next step is the Navy. Under the sea, even at shallow depths, the terrain is pretty uniform, obstacles are few and easily avoided with the same 3 dimensional possibilities available to aeroplanes. Transport ships should be the first to be replaced by robotic "liberty ships" or for hi-value assets ,robot submarines. Next expect an anti-ship version of the Predator; a small nuclear powered robot submersible. Without a human crew it shouldn't need to dock or surface, and should be capabable of diving to much greater depths. And it will be much less expensive to build than conventional submarines.
History of Pinball Podcast
Just behind the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City lives PJ's Pinball Museum. It's a heavenly place if you like your gaming to be a bit more physical than a Nintendo. Computer games are ultimately the product of dusty logic, whereas the parabola of the silver ball in pinball seems beautifully and irreducibly Newtonian; and the sounds of the buffers and the flippers are like the clanking progress of a train. PJ doesn't have every machine ever made..but he does have the game played by the Fonz in Happy Days, and a machine designed for the drummer of Sheffield's finest Def Leppard who only has one arm. Because of music rights issues this podcast doesn't start with The Who though if I could choose any piece of music to intro a podcast on pinball it would have to be The Pinball Song from Sesame Street