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Sunday, June 24, 2012

What on Earth is a Stinkpipe?

The rusty-green, old-style not-post in all its glory
I've learnt something new, and it's not that I can't take a decent photograph to save my life.

I'm trying to lose weight, and part of this is going for a brisk walk a few times a week. My standard route takes me around the town in which I live and, after having walked and driven past something numerous times in the last five years I finally noticed it.

The photograph to the left shows what I noticed. At ground level it disguises itself as a lamppost, if a rusty-green, old-style variety. With so many posts of different kinds it's difficult to miss something that's a bit different, but notice it I did. I took a photograph of it at the time, too: you can see it and the resultant conversation (including druids and aliens) on my G+ post here.

I figured that, looking like a rusty-green, old-style lamp post, it was just a rusty-green, old-style lamp post. But as someone who just can't help looking up, I did just that and saw that its top end just didn't swing with that particular hypothesis.

The top, replete with absolutely
no bendy-over whatsoever
There's none of this bendy-over-at-the-top stuff that's so popular in lamp-post design. This is a straight-up, no-nonsense pointing at the sky kind of affair. It looks more like a chimney, which provides the first real clue to what it actually (probably) is.

Having posted the original photo on G+ (as previously linked to), @pandammonium tweeted me with the suggestion "is it a stinkpipe?" I've never heard of such a thing, so she was kind enough to furnish me with a link to the Stinkpipe Collector blog (it's honestly more interesting than it sounds, though if you've made it this far through this post you're probably not going to need a lot of convincing).

Performing an image search for "stinkpipes" brings up a host of images, some of which are not entirely dissimilar to my discovered artifact*, so I'm choosing to believe that this is indeed a stinkpipe until someone can convince me otherwise with appropriate diagram-supported exposition.

This Stinkpipe is located in Barton Seagrave on the A6003 (Barton Road) between the junctions for Cranford Road and Linnet Drive: right here.


For completeness, here's the bottom end**
But what is a stinkpipe?

Apparently, stinkpipes (or stenchpipes) are the overground remnants of a Victorian invention to vent stink from inefficient sewer systems so that it could skip the bit of airspace that contained people's nostrils.

It seems that they're all over London, but have you got one near you?






* It may be that no-one else in the area has noticed it either (Stinkpipe collector says that "stinkpipes can remain unseen until they want to be discovered," which makes me a Chosen One), so I would like to suggest it be known, and eventually officially named, TeaKay's Other Stinkpipe.
** Tee hee, he said 'bottom end' in a post about stinkpipes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prometheus: A Review

I've just indulged in one of my loner-trips to the cinema to (finally) catch Prometheus before it disappears from the big screen, after having heard mixed reviews. Many people seem to think it's brilliant, with an equal number proclaiming it a travesty against the genre.

For those who aren't in the know, Prometheus is Ridley Scott's latest number, set in the same universe as the Alien series of films. It's set prior to the events in Alien, Aliens and the other really rubbish sequels, but isn't a direct prequel of the series.

I think I liked it.


The Good Stuff.

It's slick, pacey and stylish, with convincing effects, and even the 3D* was good. The soundtrack was effective, although I like a bit more silence in my movies - yes, a film score helps to set the mood, but at the same time, creeping edgily through a derelict alien spacecraft on a godforsaken rock** is a bit less realistic if it sounds like you're being accompanied by a full orchestra. The story itself was enticing, and I felt that it went on for about the right length of time- I wasn't left thinking 'was that it?', nor did I breathe a sigh of relief when my aching backside was finally released from the torment that is a cinema seat.


The Bad Stuff.

Seriously, Ridley, geeks are clever people. Sci-Fi geeks are into the Fi largely because they know at least a bit about the Sci and want to explore the extremities of what's plausible. Give us some credit. The sciencey bits in Prometheus came straight from The Ladybird Book Of How To Make Yourself Sound All Sciencey*** with barely a nod to actual science. It strikes me at an odd angle that science fiction movies these days are all so blasé with regards to actually making the science believable. Right from the beginning I was left wondering at how the Prometheus had managed to travel five light-years in only two years whilst having only very rudimentary suspended animation technology. The very premise of the movie (which I shan't go into here so as not to spoil it for the few people who haven't seen it) had the biologist in me squirming uncomfortably, and there barely is any biologist in me at all.

I'm ranting - sorry. The plot itself was full of holes so large you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through most of them without worrying too much about scratching the paintwork.

But despite all that, I quite liked it. Fassbender's robo-Pinocchio was excellently played and wonderfully dialogued (and monologued, in parts), and he stole the show. Some of the other characters were a bit two-dimensional, and a couple may as well have started the film in red shirts and with targets tattooed on their foreheads, but clichés aside it was an enjoyable enough movie, and I'll be interested in seeing the inevitable sequel (they left that wide open...)




* I'm not always a fan of 3D, as it seems to be a gimmick for getting punters to part with more cash and doesn't often add much to a movie. It seems to be settling down a bit now, but it's still more moneygrabbing than innovative moviemaking, in my opinion.
** Yes, this particular cliché was delivered by Charlize herself.
*** Which doesn't actually exist, but I might write it myself now I've thought of it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hitchhiker's Guide Live

I've just got back from seeing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show Live at the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton.

Wow.

I've loved Hitchhiker's since my teenage years, and since I was only born in 1982 that means I never got to hear the original radio series as it was first aired*. Of course, I've listened to the recordings, but to experience something fresh is always a bit more special.

So I jumped at the chance to buy tickets for this. I was not disappointed. The production was fabulous. The visuals, for what is billed as a radio show, were absorbing. The sound was crisp and clear. The vocal acting was exactly what I'd expected, with the voices I've heard so many times through a bit less than twenty years of walkmans (walkmen?), ghettoblasters, hi-fis, stereos, minidisc players and iPods sounding just so much more exactly the same when you're in a room with them.

The story contained the bits you already know and love whilst remaining faithful to the franchise's habit of being almost but not entirely unlike itself in each incarnation: a few new bits chucked in here and there, a handful of musical numbers (including a bit of audience participation in a singalong), some old things happening in a different order, some different things happening in the same order, allusions, tributes and sound effects galore, all tied up with a wonderfully Adams-y contrived ending that commands you to go and read the books again.

Phil Jupitus initially felt a little odd as The Guide, but I warmed to him quite quickly. Marvin** was brilliantly believable. Random (Samantha Béart) was gorgeous. Dirk Maggs was mental, and Simon Jones, Geoff McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey and Susan Sheridan were very much Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian.

As a whistle-stop tour of the Hitchhiker's Universe, this is a very definite must-see for anyone who calls themself a fan. If you're even half inclined, book your tickets now because I can't imagine such an opportunity coming around again.



I've been deliberately vague because I don't want to spoil things for anyone who's planning to see the show at some point in the rest of its tour, but feel free to get in touch with me on twitter and either ask me stuff or gush with me about how brilliant it was.






* I was, however, around to hear the 3rd, 4th and 5th radio series that were based on the books that were sequels to the books that were based on the first two radio series.
** I've just been amused by the fact that Stephen Moore, who lends his voice to Marvin in the radio series and in this live production, has, listed amongst his "minor characters" roles on his Wikipedia page, The Ruler of the Universe.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The New Astronomical Dream Team

If you're into any or all things astronomical you could do worse than check out my astronomy blog, Blogstronomy*, where you can read answers to other people's space questions, and ask your own!

I've just been watching the BBC's Transit of Venus Horizon special, and it struck me that there's a new force to be reckoned with in the field of popular science broadcasting. Move over, Moore**, bugger off, Brian***, there's a new team in town. And they're girls.

Science has been distinctly man-dominated since it was first invented shortly after the Big Bang. Science broadcasting has followed suit with female presenters generally being left with a bit of a sidekick role over the years. Even the 'famous' female astronomers of history are considerably less famous than their male contemporaries: Caroline Herschel, anybody? Not any more: astronomy is a discipline which does not require a penis, and new, female faces are coming onto the scene and not only carrying the torch of popular astronomy for the masses but also finally providing role models for young women who like science.

The Transit of Venus special was hosted by three people who've caught my eye recently, and I want to talk a bit about them here because they're bloody marvellous:


Liz Bonnin

French-born, Dublin-raised Liz was first introduced to me**** as co-presenter of the excellent general science series Bang Goes the Theory. With a degree in biochemistry and a masters in wild animal biology and conservation she's got pedigree, and a background in broadcasting has given her the experience to get the message across. For me, her wide-eyed and unabashed awe and wonder at pretty much everything makes her a consistently watchable presenter, and she has a wonderful ability to repeat what sciencey people say in a way that anybody can access and understand.


Dr Lucie Green

Dr Lucie is a real, actual working scientist who I first noticed on the BBC's Stargazing Live shows. She's a solar physicist based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory who seems to be one of those fairly rare types of scientist with a flare for talking about their work to everyday folk. I'm captivated by her natural enthusiasm for her subject, and the way she gets her point across so simply and succinctly. In Transit of Venus she actually said "...my all-time hero Edmund Halley..." in amongst effortlessly discussing the basic mathematics of measuring the size of the solar system, and I almost had to go and lie down for a bit.


Helen Czerski

Dr Helen Czerski is the newest of these three presenters to enter my televisual experience base, having piqued my interest as co-presenter (with Kate Humble) of the BBC's Orbit series. By trade she's a physicist and oceanographer researching ocean bubbles. She's got a fiery passion for her subject that hides behind sleepy eyes and an almost horizontally laid-back presentation style: with her Mancunian roots and dreamy exposition against on-location backdrops, she's pretty much Brian Cox from a parallel universe. I can now see why so many of my female friends (and a few of my male ones) swoon so readily when watching Wonders.


I really, really like the trend we're seeing for young, enthusiastic science presenters who are also actually working scientists. They're surely acting as examples for young people, and hopefully the fact that they're not all male will do something to even things out a bit and encourage more women to explore their love of science.




* See what I did, there?
** I don't mean that- Sir Patrick will always be the Godfather of British astronomy.
*** I don't mean that either- Coxy's done buckets for getting astronomy back into the public domain.
**** That sounds like I've met her. I haven't, unfortunately: it was strictly a one-way televisual introduction. Bang, by the way, is presented by a quartet of hypergeeks and is well worth a viewing or two.