Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Broad Is Your Band?

I have this great app on my iPad called 'speedtest' or some such, which allows me to measure the speed of my broadband connection. Even in the wilds of Cromer, I'm happy to report download speeds of more than 5 Mb/sec and upload speeds of 300 kb/sec. This difference in download and upload speeds was news to me - but bear it in mind for what comes later.

The surprise was pleasant given that, whereas in the Grand Metrope one has fibre-optic cable, and in the 'burbs one must put up with old copper wire, up in Norfolk we have to make do with small pieces of wet bailer twine loosely tied together. It's no comfort when some of the bailer twine becomes unhitched, as it does from time to time, but, well, there it is, and it's quite sufficient to support the connectual needs all the Croxii, such as they are.

It is claimed that everyone in Britain now has access to broadband - yes, even Professor Trellis of North Wales - the only known exceptions being a few draughty doughty crofters in South Uist and a small dog in Upper Teesdale. However, access to broadband doesn't mean that broadband speed is any good - and speed declines sharply with distance from one's telephonic exchange, especially if one is reliant on copper wire and/or bailer twine. The signal leaks out on the way, you see, so that every point between the exchange and one's own computer is lightly showered with stray bits from one's emails, Facebook conversations, iTunes purchases, YouTube videos and so on, such that whereas the signal might very well surge with tumescent puissance from its sauce tzores source, by the time it gets to one's abode it can barely get to the end of the wire and fall off.

Therefore I am grateful to Mrs S. S. of Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire, who ought to know, for telling me of a new report showing that in some areas, broadband can literally be outflown by carrier pigeon. In the test, ten pigeons carrying USB memory sticks were released from a Yorkshire farm, bound for Skegness, 120 km away. At the same time, a five-minute (300Mb) video was uploaded. By the time the pigeons arrived, an hour and a quarter later, only 24% of the video file had uploaded.

This is pretty amazing. Even considering the under-advertised fact that upload speeds are much less than download speeds, this translates as an upload speed of only around 16 kb/sec - slower than the most antiquated dial-up modems of yore. As broadband goes, that's fairly narrow, one might even say etiolated - and very much narrower than a pigeon.

Here's my working in appropriately small print. 24% of a 300Mb file is 72Mb, or about 72,000 kb. One and a quarter hours is 75 minutes or 4,500 sec, and dividing 72,000 kb by 4,500 sec gives 16 kb/sec.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Date For Your Diary

Notwithstanding inasmuch as which the well-attested fact that my nemesis friend Dr R. P. G. of Rotherhithe is the controlling intelligence behind the science blogosphere, (this startling discovery having been made by my friend Dr A. C. R. of Santiago de Chile), I suspect that he has no familial or professional connection with the Grant Museum of Zoology, a venerable collection attached to University College, London.

It so happens that the Grant Museum (and other Institutions associated with UCL) puts on evening lectures, and in a fit of utter madness wisdom and percipience invited me to give of myself, as it were, holding forth, or, with a following wind, fifth, about the life of an editor at your favourite weekly professional science magazine beginning with N.

So, if you have nothing better to do at 6.30 p.m. in the afternoon on Tuesday 26 October, do come along and find out such arcana as what I think about when I think about manuscripts; the previously unsuspected link between Nature's Physics Team and the Lord of the Rings; the obscure connection between Nature's Biology Editors and the cast of Kill Bill, and so on and so forth in like fashion.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Signs O' The Times #126

This one kindly sent in by Dr R. W. of Toronto, who I'm sure deserves our gratitude.
That's not the kind of "Adventure In Food" I had in mind.

A Present from Liverpool

Mrs Crox is a journalist. She's just back from covering the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool. Here's something she brought back for the kids.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Maison Des Girrafes Caption Competition #62

One day I'll write a proper blog post again. One day.

Signs of the Times #431

This one spotted by Cath@VWXYnot...

 a business model we'd all do well to adopt in these straitened times. I can think of several businesses in Cromer that run like this - they seem to be the ones that go on forever, whereas the more go-ahead, seemingly dynamic businesses round about go to the wall.

The second exhibit for today comes from Mr J. McQ. of Hackney, following a visit to China. The translations are quite charming.

OOFTUGs all round, I say.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Signs of the Times #31

This sign kindly sent in by my old friend Professor Trellis of North Wales. Gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a Portaloo.

Orders of the Unicycling Girrafe liberally libated on all contributors whose signs get published in this salon. Please send them to the usual address, Third Park Bench on the Left, The Esplanade, Cromer (in the Town Hall if Wet. Restrictions May Apply).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chutney Apocalypse Postponed

Almost exactly a year ago I described my adventures into chutney making. Well, it's that time of year again, only this time I thought I'd be more prepared. No cop outs this year with strange gourds that look like engorged genitalia.

The apple tree is shedding another mammoth harvest of cooking apples.

I'm in the market for marrows.

The jam kettle is locked and loaded.

I have consulted the recipe. I have clocked the correct amount of tickling pickling spice, ginger, ground carpet tacks and vinegar.

Mötörhead (my chutney-making accompaniment of choice) is cued up on the iPod.

The sauces tzores sources of shallots are squared. The middle class is quite prepared. But - oh woe! - when I looked in the shed for my secret stash of jars - they had gone, like the collapsing stack of genitive constructions that is Old Mother Hubbard's Dog's Bone.


That's when I put in my order with Lakeland, the only choice for the organized homemaker housewife (my mother wasn't the local WI President for nothing, and yes, I picked up more than how to accompany a lot of old ladies by playing Jerusalem on the village-hall piano, and no, since you ask, they all had their clothes on, as far as I remember).

I ordered a dozen one-pound bombs jars, with all the trimmings.

Chutney Apocalypse will have to happen next week, after the Canaries have slaughtered played Hull City at Carrow Road. It's no accident that marrows are yellow and green. On The Ball, Chutney!

Beelzebun Demon Bunny of DOOM c.2000-2010

It is my sad duty to report the demise of Rebecca Rabbit, alias Beelzebun Demon Bunny of DOOM. One of the Maison Des Girrafe's more colourful characters, she arrived in the Jardin Des Girrafes at a relatively advanced age, having burrowed out of been pre-owned, first by the Vicarage at Cromer, and then by some other friends who could no longer accommodate her wild, headstrong ways (for many years she was known as Roger, having believed to have been a buck). Refusing to be trammeled by a hutch, she lived free-range disguised as a chicken, scooping out what might still be a foundation-threatening refuge under the garden shed. Utterly fearless, she saw off cats, other chickens and Mr G. S. of Glasgow without discrimination.

She must have been at least ten years old when she died. In her last months she went blind from cataracts, and this might have contributed to her last escapade in the pond. She will be missed by Buttons the rabbit, Naughty Pants (Not His Real Name) the cat, and her fitness instructor, Canis croxorum.

No More Dr Nice Guy

What would we have to do without, if we had to do without science? iPads. iPods. Computers. Well, I could live without those, maybe. Mobile phones. Maybe those, too. Phones of any kind? Well, it would be quieter round here.

Food in plenty at all times of year? Hmmmm. Sure, I could start bottling and growing and storing, if I had the time. Or the space. Which I don't.

Electricity? Sure, I could use candles. Gas? Maybe, I could get the minor Croxii to fart in a bottle. Oil? Perhaps. If I could do without a car, and work at home, because there wouldn't be any trains. But - hang on a sec - I wouldn't have a computer. Or even a pen and paper. Memo to self: should start growing my own papyrus and grinding my own ink.

Medicine? Antibiotics? Well, if you want to play roulette with the reaper. Me? I'd have died without them, in childhood, from measles, pneumonia, any number of things.

What else?

Pretty much everything, actually.

Without science, we'd go back five or six hundred years, to a time before the Enlightenment, when the much smaller number of people who then existed lived a subsistence lifestyle, and were plagued by famine, pestilence and war. Quite a lot of people live like that today - in countries that do not have science. (Aside - I think the Catholic Church wishes we were still there).

The government is proposing to cut science drastically. Now, I'm a Tory, bluer than blue, through and through. I think the country has to endure cuts, and drastic ones, to make up for the profligacy of the last one - which supported science, but on borrowed money. Science, too, could probably absorb its share. When Mrs Thatcher cut science in the early 1980s, she did the right thing - there was a lot of dead wood to remove. That dead wood has now long gone, and British science is a lean mean machine that punches well above its weight in the world.

If science is to be cut, it must be cut with extreme care, for one never knows whence the next discovery will come, from whom, or how. You can be sure, though, that it will come from a research program designed to look for something completely different. Expect the unexpected. And, as someone once said, prediction is very difficult - especially about the future.

What, then, is to be done? For a start you can do more than read my ramblings. A lot more. At the very least, join the Science is Vital Facebook Group. Take to the streets, lobby your MP. Scientists are not prepared to take this lying down. As my colleague Dr J. R. of Canada Water puts it, No More Dr Nice Guy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ancestral Furniture

Two things have inspired this post. The first was a beautiful post from Cath. The second is the night - it's Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish liturgical calendar, when we reflect on the misdeeds of the past year and how we can become better. Yom Kippur is always a bit of a slog for the unobservant me; but the Kol Nidre service is very beautiful, and I'm a little sad not to be going to a service tonight.

Instead, I'm going to tell you all about furniture.

But wait, there's more. It's not just any old furniture - for furniture marks my own ancestry, my own Jewish past, which, therefore, allows for a certain amount of reflection, and also a style of confessional similar to that of the well-known televisual emission Who Do You Think You Are? in which slebs trace their genealogies.

I can trace my ancestry back to my great-great-grandfather, one Aaron Israel Ginsberg, who lived somewhere in Russia, and died, I believe, in 1924. I knew nothing whatsoever about him except his name, until I was given a plastic bag of stuff from the effects of my late great-uncle Monté, one of the sage's grandsons. They included a silk tallit, which was so fragile that it ripped with every movement I made when I tried to wear it in the synagogue; together with some decayed leather tefillin.

There was also a siddur - a service book - written in Russian and Hebrew, with an inscription in cursive Yiddish, which proved all but impenetrable even to an expert reader (my good friend and co-conspirator Mr A. K. of Barkingside), though we did manage to work out the year of Aaron's death, and that the siddur had been printed in 1909 in Vilna, once a great centre of Jewish learning. I know nothing whatsoever of Aaron or his life, but I suspect Fiddler On The Roof is a much-romanticized version of some of it. Aaron was not the village milkman, like Tevye - he was almost certainly the village furniture maker. It seems that cabinet-making was the family trade.

It was Aaron's son Wolf who came to England, bringing his skills with him. For a long time all I knew of Wolf was an old photo of a severe-looking Russian in a flat hat, and a mahogany sideboard in my parent's house. My back still aches at the memory of its weight, as my father and I moved it from one end of the hall to the other.  However, I was recently given six mahogany dining chairs, made by Wolf. These are probably the nearest things I have to heirlooms, for all that Canis croxorum gnawed the legs of one of them. Here is one of them.

Wolf had three children, Bea, Ernie and the baby Monté, all of whom possessed a great gift for arts and crafts, especially woodwork. Bea married a man called Lionel, a skilled craftsman who walked from Swansea to London in the Depression in search of work. He worked for Wolf - and married his daughter. Lionel and Bea were a veritable hothouse of activity. I still remember the house they built in Hampshire, with Lionel's 300-foot-long garden full of greenhouses and orchards, his astonishingly skilfully made furniture (he panelled their living room with linenfold panels, each one carved by hand from oak) and Bea's ceaseless activity with the needle and the pickle-jar. Their three children inherited the volcanic talents of both.

Monté was also an excellent craftsman, but for him music was in the ascendant. He learned to play the saxophone and the violin, and spent many years in orchestras on cruise ships. His son went on to be a recording engineer (he assisted on a couple of early Queen albums).

It was Ernie who was my grandfather. He changed the family name from Ginsberg to Gee, but I never got to meet him - he died young, just before I was born. However, I have seen a few of his tools and artefacts, including a 'masterpiece' of a box and lid carved out of a single block of lignum vitae. Ernie was a cabinet-maker for Rolls Royce, and in the war used his skills to build Spitfires.

My father trained as a lawyer. But when I was young he had a workshop in which he produced all sorts of beautiful things. When he was the age I am now, he made this dresser

which as you can see gets a lot of use in the Salon Des Girrafes.

Which brings me to ... er ... me. Now, I don't have the patience or the skill of my forebears, or even my threebears. On the other hand, when I put up a shelf, it stays up. When I hang a door, it stays hung. And I have found that when the elder male of the clan reaches his mid-forties, he is seized by an implacable urge to make pine dressers. The Cuisine Des Girrafes is largely furnished by my own efforts, which Mrs Crox charitably describes as 'rustic'.
So, when I look at the handmade furniture in the Maison Des Girrafes, whose degree of finesse correlates with its age, and whose manufacture goes back four generations, I am minded of my own heritage. And so, dear readers, I'm signing off, in the hope that you will all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

RPG Rules

I have borrowed this picture, taken by Dr. E. A. of Cambridge, as it encapsulates a universal truth, and wins another OOFTUG for Alejandro.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Hereby Give Notice

Meanwhile, Crox Minima and I are almost 3,000 words into Defiant The Guinea Pig: Firefighter! and poor Defiant has still to fight a fire. He has, however, been given careers advice by a rabbit; been befriended by an armadillo and a penguin; fallen through a hole in the floor; and has had to plunder his secret stash of carrot pies. This could turn into an epic.

While you are waiting, here are some more signs and portents from my collection.
Nihilism 101

Nihilism 101, from Cromer East Beach.

The By-Laws of Islington converge with those of Dubai.
The bye-laws of Islington collide with those of Dubai.

I daren't comment on this.

Die Recyclanschauung.
Hay Scifi small
This one kindly sent in by my friend Professor Trellis of North Wales.
This sent, possibly, by Mr G. S. of Glasgow.
I toook this one many years ago, just after it changed its name from New Amsterdam.
And finally, OOFTUGS to anyone who knows what this means...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Signs O' The Times

Here is a picture taken by an entity who wishes to be known as Rufus T. Firefly, communicated to me (with permission) by my friend Mr D. M. of Leeds."I thought you might like this sign for your collection," said Mr. D. M., to whom I'm sure we owe our gratitude.
I'm rather fond of odd signs. I suspect that the fondness comes from a certain literal-mindedness borne out of paddling in the shallow end of the autism spectrum along with many other geeks and nerds. This sets my imagination sparking off in all sorts of unexpected directions. Here, for example, is an advertisement for a roofless house, seen in a chip shop in Roughton, Norfolk:
whereas this notice, observed in a garden centre, gives me hope that Ents still walk the Earth.
 Some remind one of golden ages that perhaps never were ...
... perhaps in mysterious realms, far away ...
 whereas others warn of clear and present dangers, closer to home ...
... and some serve as salutary reminders of one's fleshly, corporeal estate.

Introducing GOOFTUGS

Regular readers to this blog deserve, I deem, some recognition of the efforts they make to dig into my inner psyche contribute to its output. So, as a rip off hommage to Cath's 'Bragging Rights Central'  on VWXYnot? I have introduced a new column (on the left. Down a bit. Down a little more. No, too far. Go up a bit. There. Perfect) in which such contributors will be exhibited awarded the Order of the Unicycling Girrafe, the highest honour that this blog can bestow, and be inducted into the Grand Order of the Unicycling Girrafe (GOOFTUG). They will therefore be entitled to style themself GOOFTUG and receive the approbation of their friends, family and colleagues.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Late Summer CroxSection

I've been busier than a very busy thing, so rather than bore trouble you with lots of long blogs, I thought I would, with your permission, or even without your permission, present this smorgasbord potpourri croxsortment of items for your general gelifluxion and genuflection.

Autumn Beckons

The first sign of autumn was that the younger Croxii embarked on their annual migration back to school. Here is a common hazard met while driving Crox Minima to her school, the Mrs Joyful Academy for Young Ladies.
'Crikey - look at this, Inspector Morse Moos!'
[choking back vomit] 'Best throw a cordon around it, Lewis, until the Scene-of-Crime boys get here'

The beach, however, seems - as it sometimes does at the end of summer - to present long, lazy afternoons, with almost no wind, and apparently endless vistas basking in sunshine. Here is a picture of Cromer East Beach yesterday afternoon, about teatime, got up as a backdrop for a surrealist landscape. Imagine, if you will, a decomposing girrafe in the foreground, with a set of drawers falling out of its chest, and its head on fire. (And, yes, OK, I did enhance the colour. A bit.)

SALVADOR DALÍ - Le corps d'une Girrafe de Cromer qu'on utilise a un Unicycle.

The Greening

A little while ago I learned (from my friend Mrs C. C. of Hellesdon) of a fine local craftsman who builds very large wooden planters, suitable for growing vegetables in. His name is Paul Todd and his rates are very reasonable: he built us two two-metre troughs. Here is one of them in our front yard, planted out with herbs and some carrot and lettuce seedlings. The sheet of glass, used to protect the seedlings [planting seedlings out in September? You must be barmy - Ed] came from our old back door - I had saved it after cannibalizing the wood to make the piece of furniture (I use the word advisedly) on which our fish tank now resides.

But I digress.

Paul told me that I could get free compost from the Green Build Event to be held imminently at Felbrigg Hall, just down the road. We had indeed been to the same event last year but hadn't made any definite plans for this one - however, I am sufficiently cheap that the thought of free compost was enough for me to drag the entire Croxii along.

It was a great morning out.

- Crox Minor built a kind of capsule hotel for bees;

- Mrs Crox bought two more chickens (we now realize that the absence of eggs issuing from the hindquarters of the Choox croxorum is due to advanced age);

- I found a nice man who makes rustic doors;

- I picked up all sorts of interesting information about solar thermal water heating;

- Crox Minima and I went to a fascinating lecture about how to build a house out of straw bales. The lecturer reassured me that such houses are proof against wolves blowing them down;

- And I could enthuse about compost to the comely lass from the North Norfolk District Council, who let me look inside her wormery at her specially bred, exhibition-grade compost worms. I love compost.

- And I bagged my three bags of compost - made from the Council from recycled garden waste collected from citizens such as myself - and filled the trough above with it, as you see.

Stephen and Me

It has been put about by my friend Dr R. P. G. of Rotherhithe that I am, in fact, an avatar of the actor, comedian, author, raconteur, novelist, gadget-wrangler, and wit Stephen Fry. I am not sure what led to this scurrility. Notwithstanding inasmuch as which that I am of imposing build; have Mitteleuropean Jewish ancestry; went to Cambridge University (though as a graduate, not an undergraduate); have adopted Norfolk as my home; am fond of lexical panegyrics rich in classical allusion and a species of literary bathos that tends to a predilection for Anglo-Saxon rudery; enthuse about the products of St Steve of Jobs; went to China recently; have featured as a celebrity gadget guru (turn to page 31 of the latest BBC Focus Ultimate Gadget Guide); and am a keen supporter of Norwich City Football Club (I acquired a season ticket not long after Mr Fry became a Director); there is nothing - nothing whatsoever - to connect me with Mr Fry. For example, I am neither gay, nor do I drive  a London taxi (though I did, once, investigate the possibility). Neither am I a convicted felon (though I was once arrested for busking), nor have I featured on intellectual TV game-shows (though I was on the University Challenge team from Leeds University that got to the quarter finals in 1983 or thereabouts). And nobody could accuse me of being a national treasure. Any resemblance between me and Mr Fry is entirely coincidental and any contention to the contrary is just so much feculent arse-dribble.

The Beautiful Game

While on the subject of football (this, for readers in the U. S. and A., is the game you call 'soccer', and has very little resemblance with the game you call football, which is really more like wizard's chess), I have as previously mentioned acquired a season ticket for Norwich City, as has Crox Minor. Although Crox Minor now has a suitable vocabulary for the terraces, acquired at the seat of secondary education she attends, her utterances are characteristically unique, and yelled at stentorian volume in the cut-glass tones of Dame Edith Evans doing Lady Bracknell. 'Suck it up, you pansies!' was one such, on the hearing of which other supporters at the River End within a five-metre radius gave amused pause.

As Mr Stephen Fry is now a Director of the Canaries, however, I feel bound to improve the quality of football insults, so instead of yelling 'Ref - Are You Blind?' I am more inclined to utter such things as 'Ref, you are the Very Antithesis of Argus!'

Music News

Music has been more witnessed than created in recent months. On 4 September the Croxii went to Holkham Hall for an outdoor concert featuring the ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again. The rain stayed away and the concert was fantastic.
Bjorn Again seen from a very long way off. Recently.

Concerts at Holkham are very informal - you bring your picnic and disport yourself over the gazon, in a style that's probably Glyndebourne-lite. The concertgoers make for a varied bunch. For example, here is one with two heads.

Bjorn Again were totally convincing, right down to the pretendy-Swedey accents. They were supported by the 'Original' Bucks Fizz - a pop group which had a few hits more than twenty years ago - who were very, very sad. They looked OK from a distance but up close they would have been mutton dressed up as lamb mutton. This thought engendered in me a train of thought about music and its presentation. Clearly, it is better to go on tour as a band pretending to be someone else, than to go on tour as yourself, but long past your sell-by date. ABBA (the genuine one) clearly decided on the former, perhaps wisely. To a degree, then, music is a conceit, if not a deceit, reliant on the willing suspension of disbelief.

Stomping somewhere into this morass was a band I saw on Saturday night. Seeking any excuse to flee from Ritual Humiliation of Talentless and Deluded Obese Proles with Ant and Dec, or whatever the Saturday-Night Special is that currently enamours the goggle-eyed hordes at the Maison Des Girrafes, I was only too relieved to have received a summons from my guitar-totin' pal Mr N. H. of Trunch to see the Honeydripper Blues Band at the Unicycling Girrafe White Horse in Cromer.

The Honeydripper Blues Band, on Saturday.

The band was sharp, tight and most entertaining. The repertoire is one you can hear any night of the week in pubs up and down the land - electric Chicago blues, which is a genre I happen to like (well, I knew every one of the tunes, though I still get Messing With The Kid mixed up with Walking The Dog). The HDB clearly nod to Dr Feelgood, who themselves owe a nod to Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Blind Yellowbelly Axolotl of DOOM and any number of blues originals. I've played and jammed with bands like this for the past three decades - but to what extend are they originals? Are they simply blues 'tribute' bands, somewhat like the Blues Brothers? Well, yes, no, and, arguably, spoons. To be a tribute act to ABBA you have to look and act the part -- but to be a blues band, you are promulgating a more diffuse entity, a tradition, leaving yourself free to take what you want from the masters and put your own stamp on them. Well, that's what I think.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Maison Des Girrafes Caption Competition #37

Imminent CATastrophe

Captions invited for this shot of imminent CATastrophe. Orders of the Unicycling Girrafe liberally largessed for captions that drag me out of my customary torpor. Here's one to start you off (HT Mrs Crox) "I'm going down with the ship, Captain".

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Open Letter to Mr Barack H. Obama, President of the U. S. and A.

SIR - first, my apologies for breaking in on you like this, at what must be a difficult time. I hope therefore that my humble suggestion, offered below, might engender amusement, if not a change in foreign policy. However, it could be that my offering might find favour with you and your advisers, as it does, to coin a phrase, kill two girrafes birds with one unicycle Sharon stone.

As every schoolboy knows, no invader from Alexander the Great onwards has ever succeeded in conquering Afghanistan. Heavens, I'm a Brit, so I should know, tales of the turbulent North-West Frontier and what the fierce Pathans got up to behind the Khyber Pass come down to us with milk and crumpets in our earliest nursery years. The fundamental problem, I deem, is that the invaders are much less committed to invading than the inhabitants are to resisting. The inhabitants know every crook and granny and will fight to the death to defend them, whereas all the invaders want to do is get out of that blasted desert as soon as possible and enjoy a salami. In short, it's all about commitment. The short answer is to pull Our Boys out of there as soon as possible. But, I hear you cry, isn't that just running away, before the job is done?

Well, not quite. I hear that no little anxiety, fuss and brouhaha has been occasioned in your Great Nation by some mad hatters having a tea party in which they plan to shove a dormouse into a teapot burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11, or as I would say, 11/9. To me, the word 'Quran' is no more than a rather good move in Scrabble. However, I am given to understand that it is a text in squiggly writing that's sacred to many people in Afghanistan and some other countries in a similar way, I believe, to the way the News Of The World is sacred to certain elements of the political classes in Britain, or, as you would say, England, if not more so.

But I digress.

If, as you have stated yourself with statesmanlike eloquence, the act of burning the Quran will endanger Our Boys and others of the salami-eating classes, an obvious solution presents itself. It appears to me that the mad hatters are as committed to defending their incendiary intentions as the residents of Afghanistan are committed to resisting invasion - both, in their own ways, to a degree approximating unreasoning lunacy.

I expect you can see where this is going.

All you need to do, once you have reunited Our Boys with their salamis, is to ship the mad hatters and their tea party over to some suitable location in Afghanistan, introduce them to the residents, and leave them to get on with it. I think you will find that the problem will soon sort itself out, one way or another.

In the hope that this idea will find a favourable reception,

Yours very sincerely

Monday, September 6, 2010

Introducing - the iPet

Now, I like my iPad so much that at the weekend I bought the company one for Mrs Crox. With that, the entire human contingent of the Maison Des Girrafes has been Appled Up. There we were, sitting around in the Salon Des Girrafes, each involved in our separate apps, deaf to the mournful kvetching of Canis Croxorum. The answer to this, of course, is not to put away our electronic devices and interact meaningfully with our pets - but to bring the pets into Apple's ever-more-inclusive orbit.

So how about it, Apple? You've enslaved every person from the trendiest trendy to the geekiest geek. You have led away our children like the Pied Piper you are. Nu? How about an iPad for pets?

But St Steve of Jobs didn't get to where he is today by failing to see a market that most people assumed didn't exist until he tapped it. Here, for example, is a clip of a dog interacting meaningfully with its owner through the magic of the iPad (with thanks to Mr S. K. of London for sending me this link). But why should dogs have all the fun? Teh Kittehs can join in too. It won't belong before there are apps for bunnies, guinea pigs, chickens, and, who knows, maybe even axolotls.

But seriously, if cats and dogs can see moving images on an iPad, and the device is so user-friendly that even babies can use them (iPads are already being used in hospitals to educate and calm patients, especially children, about procedures they might have to endure) it won't be long before they come into the lab as an essential piece of kit for testing cognitive performance in everything from monkeys to crows. The iPad has already been used to interact with dolphins (my thanks to Dr. E. A. of Cambridge for that information). In the not too distant future, iPads will be able to calm animals in veterinary surgeries; play soothing music and images to cows and sheep; come up with psychedelic patterns for loved-up octopodi and mantis shrimps; and even show pictures of lady guppies to entertain gentleman guppies (Ideas To Make My Fortune #151 - pornographic apps for fish). There'll be iPad apps to stimulate reluctant pandas into frenzied reproduction, and iPad apps that broadcast the songs of whales and the calls of seabirds, leading them away from potential stranding or oil spills. The iPad will save threatened species from extinction.

You see? The iPet is already here. All it needs now is to be made waterproof, and shock resistant, to protect it from the multiple threats offered by the animal world, from the high-impact punches of mantis shrimps and the pecks of bird beaks, to the scratches of teh kittehs and the gutinous ichor that is doggie dribble.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Beachcombing is one of my favourite things. I like the loneliness of it; the primordial white noise of the surf; and the possibility that I might stumble across something interesting to add to my collection. Beachcombing is extra special at the season's end, when the wind gets up and all the summer visitors have been blown away, and an atmosphere settles on the shore that is at once bracing, elegiac and melancholy (Drat. You can tell I have been reading Stephen Fry lately, can't you?)

But beachcombing is also a lot of fun with the kids, who find more things, because they have sharper eyes than eye I do, and their eyes are generally much closer to the ground. The minor Croxii accompanied me on a beach walk just last week, as the summer holidays were drawing to a close, and we found three interesting things within a space of about ten minutes. I can't remember who found this:
though I think it was probably me. Jellyfish do get stranded on the beach now and then, and it's always great to see one, if only so that one isn't disappointed that it's a plastic bag. I strongly suspect that this one is a compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) - I have seen its friends and relations at Cromer before, though probably no more than about once a year.

It was definitely Crox Minor who found this:
This is a fossil sea urchin, of which we have quite a collection. Cromer is built on Upper Cretaceous chalk. The chalk is where all the flint comes from, used to build Norfolk's lovely brick and flint vernacular architecture. You can find great clods of chalk on the beach here, especially at low tide, and some are actually the infilled moulds of fossil sea urchins. Less infrequent - because more durable - are sea urchins preserved as flint. The heart-shaped Micraster urchins are found regularly, but one can also find the tall Conulus urchins, such as the one here. Crox Minor's Museum of Geology curates twenty or so of both genera, found on the beach over the three and a bit (almost four) years we've lived here. Months can pass between findings. And yet on one miraculous occasion Crox Minor and Crox Minima found a fossil sea urchin each within a few minutes of each other. (Belemnites, though - they're common as muck.)

Crox Minima has the sharpest eyes, and is also closest to the ground. It was she who picked up this exquisite common top shell (Calliostoma zizyphinum), about a couple of centimetres tall.
This species might seem unremarkable enough - but as I mentioned before, shells of any kind are rare on Cromer beach, and top shells are among the rarer ones.

At the very end of this walk, which had been punctuated by some decidedly mixed weather (the sea urchin and the top shell were photographed in the convenient refuge of the beach hut Maison Des Girrafes Marine Biology Field Station) the minor Croxii noticed this lovely rainbow -
If there were a pot of gold appended, it would be buried on the beach pretty much outside the Maison Des Girrafes Marine Biology Field Station.

Fast forward to earlier today, when Crox Minor and I decided to go to the beach once more, on the last day of the summer holidays. The wind was up, blowing sand along the beach in long streamers -
Looking closely, you can see that any and every pebble, no matter how small, builds up a sand dune on its leeward face -

This field of view is perhaps no more than ten or twenty centimetres across, and yet I could probably pass it off as an aerial photograph of the Sahara Desert or even Mars. It struck me that in this quality lies much of the romance of the beach: that is, the self-similarity whereby every rock pool becomes a lake or sheltered cove full of mystery; each braided stream draining into the sea as the tide recedes is a great river or gulf, cutting off island nations; and one can indeed build empires in grains of sand. The beach is a vast tablet on which one can build one's fantasies, leaving the ordinary world behind. No wonder sandcastles are so popular.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yet More on the iPad in Field Conditions

Regular readers (both of them) will have noted my fondness for the iPad, and its testing under field conditions, first on acquisition and then after a busy summer at conferences. Whan that septembre with his shoures soote/ the droghte of sumer hath perced to the roote, to coin a phrase, I sense the start of the autumn writing season, and I shall certainly have a lot with which to occupy myself.

As an appetizer, as it were, I am working on Defiant The Guinea Pig - Firefighter! - a kids' story I'm coauthoring under the editorial direction of Crox Minima (aged 10). At home, Crox Minima and I cluster round the iPad where we both chip in to the writing, and she comments on and changes things I've previously written. Crox Minor is doing some illustrations. (No tittering at the back! This is important!)

Most of my writing, however, is done, on the iPad, on the train.

Now, here's a problem. How do you back up files you've written using the iPad's word processing application, Pages? Because the iPad has no fathomable directory structure, you can't simply drag and drop a file onto an ftp site, or back it up onto a memory dingle dangle dongle stick. The only way to get a file out of an iPad is with a crowbar to email it to yourself. Which is great, but these days one demands something rather more elegant. Eyebrowraisingly, Pages on the iPad doesn't even allow you to dump stuff on iDisk (that is, into the cloud) using Apple's optional pay-extra MobileMe facility. Given the other export options - and the fact that iDisk and MobileMe are handy gadgets invented by Apple itself - this seems a curious emission omission.

Sounds like a job for iGuru, in the form of my colleague Mr J. McQ. of Hackney, who introduced me to Dropbox. This is a free file sharing facility notwithstanding inasmuch as which you can park files and work-in-progress (and music, and photos and so on) in the cloud, very much more handily, yea, even than iDisk. You can make files accessible to friends and family, or keep them to yourself, so they won't be interrupted. If you mark a file as a 'favourite' it becomes visible offline. Which is wonderful. I now can haz Dropbox on my iMac, my iPhone and my iPad, and they all synchronize with one another in no time at all, or even less. Lovely!

You get 2Gb for free on Dropbox - after that you have to pay a rental. But 2Gb should be more than adequate for personal use, unless you want to use it to store your entire music collection and the contents of the National Gallery in HD. I have uploaded quite a few files of works in progress and have used all of 0.3% of my allocation. For anyone paranoid about losing vital files through hardware or software error, Dropbox is a useful solution (I wish I'd had it when I was writing my doctorate thesis, when I would be forever fosseting away diskettes at home and in the lab, and foisting yet more copies on my girlfriend, my parents, and as many of my friends who'd succumb ... honestly, young people these days have it easy).

But soft - there is still a problem, which I guess you have seen. You upload a file to Dropbox. Easy. You can pull out a file from Dropbox to edit on your iPad. Peasy. But how, I hear you cry, can you save the edited version to Dropbox, on the iPad, without all the tedious hoopla of emailing the file to yourself so you do can the drag-and-drop thing later, on a Proper Computer? Dang it all. You can't. Or, at least, you could, if it hadn't been for those pesky meddling kids.

Enter, once again Daphne Velma Shaggy Mr J. McQ. of Hackney, who has discovered a snappy utility called 'GetHabilis', whereby you can email files straight outta Pages on the iPad and directly into your Dropbox. Just like that. Now, how cool is that, eh?

Disclaimer: The End Of The Pier Show feels itself obliged to say that there are undoubtedly other file-sharing gizmos out there, some arguably even more whizzy than Dropbox or GetHabilis, neither of which has paid me to say any of this. These are just the ones of which news has reached Cromer. The interwebz is no doubt jumping with similar products for you to go out and explorify for yourselves. I should also say that all the Apple gadgetry which now clutters up the Maison Des Girrafes has been bought, by me, with real money (except for Crox Minor's iPod Touch, which she bought with her own money, after many months of dog-walking and sundry other chores). However, were St Steve of Jobs inclined to bestow upon his grateful customers any benisons in gratitude for this writer's unflagging advocacy of his products, etcetera etcetera, and so on and so forth in like fashion...