Monday, 30 November 2009

Tech Know: Flashback to the future


Tech Know: Flashback to the future

Well, after a few days of respite where not much of interest has happened that I feel is worthy of comment, along comes this from the B.B.C., detailing the wonderful æsthetic movement that is Steampunk. A splendid group of ladies and chaps all round, I'll warrant, and what fantastic creations, I think you'll agree! The perfect marriage of Victorian style and modern technology. Form and function. If only it could all look like this. To see more of the same, I recommend this fellow, whose creation you can see illustrated here, in addition to the links within the article itself. I admire anyone who takes the modern, anodyne designs that befoul our lives and put in so much effort to make them into works of art in their own right. Carry on!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bentley unveils world's most luxurious charity bus

Bentley unveils world's most luxurious charity bus

Bentleys are amongst my favourite make of motor car, and I've always had a soft spot for Routemaster buses too. So what better than a Bentley Routemaster, of sorts? What is even more delightful is that it is all for charity, so plenty of well-deserving people will benefit too. St Lukes does sterling work without a doubt, and it comes as no surprise to me that a company of Bentley's pedigree and ethos should be involved in such a venture. The kind of story which is full of happy aspects. Hats off to the chaps at Crewe for such a splendid effort.

1920s disaster movie restored

1920s disaster movie restored

In the 1920s you didn't have special effects, CGI and whatnot. So if you wanted a steam train crash as part of your moving picture, you got a steam train and arranged to have it derailed along a stretch of railway line. This is just what happens in the newly-restored British silent film, The Wrecker. Sixty-five years before a similar scene in The Fugitive, here we have an equally-spectacular train wreck captured on celluloid and a reminder that the British film industry was just as capable as Hollywood at the time.

Now - who is The Wrecker?! Where will he strike next? Can no-one stop this madman?! Your guess is as good as mine. The best way to find out would be to buy the DVD, and I think that is just what I shall do myself.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Jetman Yves Rossy fails in Africa-Europe flight attempt

Jetman Yves Rossy fails in Africa-Europe flight attempt

I followed this chap's exploits last year when he flew across the Channel and I was sorry to see that he has been unsuccessful this time in his attempt to cross from Africa to Europe. While I don't think we'll all be strapping rocket-powered wings on our backs and jetting around the world any time soon, M. Rossy is one of those irrepressible chaps who help to make the world a more interesting place. Like Bleriot 100 years ago, or Alcock & Brown, Lindbergh, and Earhart, they capture the imagination and epitomise mankind's quest to push boundaries and to come up with ever more inventive ways to travel and make the world a smaller place. Bonne chance to this fellow, I say, and may he put this episode behind him go on to ever greater successes.

Queen most trusted public figure to fix a car - poll


This humorous story was one that fell into my inbox today and made me laugh out loud, and if it passes that test it will more often than not wind up on here.

The idea of Her Majesty as she is now, in overalls, lying on a wheeled dolly working underneath the Bentley state limousine is just too incongruous. Of course, Her Majesty did do a mechanics course during the war when she was Princess Elizabeth but I fancy, even if she were so inclined, that the modern motor car is a trifle more advanced than a 1940s Army lorry and would be a bit beyond Her Majesty's skills.

On another note, it is slightly worrying that 16% of the motoring population feel that Her Majesty is the best person available to fix their cars. Makes you wonder what else they think is best or normal in the world of driving...

How to have fun in a blackout

How to have fun in a blackout

Not that there's any reason for you to have a blackout, unless you're susceptible to power cuts, but it's an excuse to play a song by the fantastic Mills Brothers if nothing else. Of course, should you ever wish to experience what a blackout might have been like, you need only draw the curtains, switch off all the lights and get a few candles out. If you've got a gramophone and a recording of the Mills Brothers, or the Ink Spots, then so much the better!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Peter Jackson says Tintin film is 'finished'

Peter Jackson says Tintin film is 'finished'

One of my favourite-ever comic book characters is Tintin. I have read, but sadly do not own, almost all of the original books and have the early '90s cartoon series on DVD. The kind of upstanding, decent and adventurous hero that any right-thinking child (or adult, come to that) would be proud to hold up as a role model. His longevity (recently celebrating his 80th birthday) means he can be enjoyed by children of all ages(!). He shows no signs of fading away, either, with the announcement last year of a trilogy of motion-capture films to be directed by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. So no great expectations, then! I have been following this latest development since its inception, and I am glad to see that the first film is "in the can" bar the actual motion-capture procedure. Can I and my fellow Tintin fans wait a further two years? Looks like we'll have to! It's going to be worth it, I feel sure!

Dame Judi Dench takes trip to dentist in full period costume

Dame Judi Dench takes trip to dentist in full period costume

Usually more used to wearing a totally different sort of crown, here we have Dame Judi Dench, national treasure and a jolly fine actress, making an emergency trip to the dentist whilst wearing, one presumes, a bustle and a bonnet amongst other things. How I would have liked to have been in that waiting room! I'm having trouble imagining how she got into the dentist's chair wearing all that paraphernalia! A little light-hearted story; the perfect tonic after the recent spate of serious (yet inspiring) war recollections.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Diary reveals Great Escape plot

Diary reveals Great Escape plot

Further wartime tales here. What I particularly like about this piece is how the flippant comments made by the diary's author encapsulate so well the British traits of self-deprecation, ingenuity, resolve and a stiff-upper-lip in the face of adversity. The best thing about war stories is that they are all, without exception, fascinating. Each and every one is an example of heroism and hardship, the likes of which we may never know. In this case, another little aspect of an important time in history has been illuminated where before there was darkness, if you'll forgive the awkward expression.

World at war captured in aerial photographic archive

World at war captured in aerial photographic archive

A reminder of the sterling work done by reconnaissance pilots during the Second World War, in almost unimaginable conditions fraught with peril and discomfort. The contribution to the war effort by these chaps can never be underestimated and the debt of gratitude owed to them is great. It is also an interesting window into the early years of spy planes, which have since reached their peak with the likes of the English Electric Canberra, and Lockheeds U-2 and SR71.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Glamorous 40s coats

Glamorous 40s coats

And now something for the ladies. Oh yes, I am an equal opportunities blogger dontcha' know. And let's be honest, chaps, wouldn't you be happy to see your lady friend in one of these fine coats? I know I would. Proof once again that vintage fashion isn't all staid patterns and unimaginative designs. I'd much rather see a girl in one of these instead of the ghastly "puffa jacket" or some such modern abomination, wouldn't you?

North Atlantic battle that made legend of HMS Rawalpindi - Times Online

North Atlantic battle that made legend of HMS Rawalpindi - Times Online

Another tale of heroism and bravery here, in the best traditions of the Royal Navy. I have more than a passing interest in military history (well, all history if I'm honest) and this is the kind of thing that stirs a chap's soul. It also holds a little personal interest for me as my grandfather served on a minelayer during the war in the same waters and was once informed that the battleship Scharnhorst was in the vicinity. Luckily they never encountered it; armed as they were with only one 4½-inch deck gun the battle would have been terribly one-sided, as it was in this case too!

Duke of Kent's heirlooms raise £2.1 million - double the reserve price at Christies

Duke of Kent's heirlooms raise £2.1 million - double the reserve price at Christies

Proof that in these hard times even the Royal Family are having to tighten their belts and sell off a few heirlooms. Some pretty interesting-looking stuff, too. A shame that some of it looks to be leaving the country, but at least it is all going to people who will hopefully appreciate the historic and cultural value of the pieces as well as the monetary value.

Borough's smallest library celebrates 35th year

Borough's smallest library celebrates 35th year

Another quaint little community story from my local rag. Good to see such a little place doing well. Here's to the next 35 years and many more besides. Libraries are so very important for people and the local area in general, and there is usually so much bad news about them closing, cutting hours or being forced to provide ridiculously unnecessary services that articles such as this are all the more welcome. Why not pop down to your local library, take out an improving book and, if you've the time, sit in a quiet corner and enjoy the peace, tranquility and mentally enriching surroundings.

When the local palais was the place to be dancing

When the local palais was the place to be dancing

Where better to go of an evening than to the local palais for a night of dancing to the latest bands? At least, that is how it used to be, up until the 1960s. I'm sure many a reader's parents or grandparents met at just such a venue.

Such elegance and gentleness is sadly few and far between in this modern age of "raves" and discos. Time for a comeback, methinks!

This article was taken from my local newspaper, the Essex Evening Echo. Usually more of a source of unintentionally humorous pieces, sometimes it still has the capacity to surprise - thanks mainly to Tom King, local author and one of their better reporters.

This picture is of the Palace Hotel ballroom circa 1923. Linked to this entry partly because it is to do with ballroom, but mainly because it is how I think all dancing events should look.

Our Ebenezer was the opposite of Scrooge

Our Ebenezer was the opposite of Scrooge

A bit of local news from my old home town here. A forgotten piece of history brought back to light thanks to the efforts of a few good folk. It restores your faith in people that they'll go to the trouble and expense of honouring someone that, sadly, few people may ever have heard of but who did so much good during their lifetime. He chose a nice place to retire to, as well!

'Silent' electric cars should carry cowbells

'Silent' electric cars should carry cowbells

Electric cars, so we are told, may well be the future of motoring. It is entirely possible. In the form of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight we already have two petrol-electric hybrids that can be used for everyday driving. The electric Tesla Roadster is proof that the future of the sports car is secure. General Motors will launch the Volt and Ampera petrol-electric hybrids within the year. The technology is advancing all the time and I feel sure that the day is not too far away when we will see more and more purely electric vehicles on every street.

However there is a problem with fully electric cars, above all others, that we may have overlooked in our excitement. As they do not have a traditional internal combustion engine with moving parts, or an exhaust from which gas escapes, they will not make any discernible noise when they are going along. So how are pedestrians to know when one is coming? It's all very well to want to save the planet and to lessen our dependency on the fast-dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, but such concerns must surely pale into insignificance when compared to the worry of having an electric car hit you in the small of the back as you're walking down the street. Well, I can reassure you that the best minds are working on it as we speak. Most likely what will happen is a small but powerful loudspeaker will be placed somewhere on the car and it will produce the sound of a running engine, so that you may hear it coming as you would any normal car.

I can't help but think, though, that this is all a bit too obvious and unimaginative and I'm glad to see that some of our politicians feel the same way. So when the time comes for us all to be driving around in electric cars you'll know which is mine, for it will have a cowbell on it and be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

Moo.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Elgar failed to master the trombone

Elgar failed to master the trombone

Edward Elgar is one of my favourite classical composers, and the trombone is one of my favourite instruments to listen to, albeit more often in the hands of the likes of Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller, or Miff Mole. But here is a reminder that the trombone plays just as important part in a classical orchestra, and what a melodic and lively instrument it can be in any musical situation. I also now can't get the image out of my head of Elgar desperately trying to learn to play it whilst his friend looks on, creased up with laughter. I shall attempt to use the intensifier "dodgasted" whenever possible as well. I like the sound of it! Again proof that history can be interesting, funny and relevant, if it's well-written and enthusiastic, as this is.

Spyker Cars Relocate Assembly to UK

Spyker Cars Relocate Assembly to UK

Some welcome news in these times of economic gloom, and hopefully a sign that we are nearing its end, is the fact that Spyker - Dutch manufacturer of some truly spiffing sports cars, with perhaps the most extraordinarily-designed and detailed cockpits of any production car - is to relocate its production line from Holland to Coventry. Although nowhere near the league of the existing UK-based manufacturers, this will at least mean a few extra jobs should be created and business will hopefully continue to improve for the British suppliers who are linked to Spyker. A jolly well done and the best of luck!

Original King Kong model makes £120,000 at auction

Original King Kong model makes £120,000 at auction

One of my favourite films is King Kong. The 1933 original is still quite rightly regarded by many as one of the seminal films of the last century. The 2005 Peter Jackson remake is possibly my pick of that year too; a fitting homage to a great film, with some truly stunning cinematography. The 1976 version, with Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange and some helicopters... well, not so much. The '33 version still holds a particular fascination for me, however, so I was interested to see this story about one of the props that has recently been discovered. All you'd need is a scale model of the Empire State Building and some model aeroplanes (oh, and £120k), and you'll be most of the way towards recreating one of the most memorable scenes in screen history.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Tests loom for record solar plane

Tests loom for record solar plane

This seems to be the week for record-breaking, it would seem. Rocket-powered cars, fastest lawnmowers and now the latest on Solar Impulse - the solar-powered aeroplane on course to circumnavigate the world.

As you might have guessed, these tales of endeavour and derring-do appeal to me greatly. When I think back to the early years of the 20th century, a time which has always held a great fascination for me, I wonder what it must have been like to follow those engineering pioneers and adventurers such as the Wright brothers, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Johnson to name but a few. Sometimes it's easy to feel, in this time of the Internet, digital media, mobile telephones, advanced machinery and so forth, that there is little else left to be discovered (or worth discovering) or any point in pushing the boundaries of knowledge and endurance. However I like to think that we as human beings are programmed to test our limits and where possible surpass them; that perhaps it is in our very nature to look for the next discovery, the next target. I'm grateful that there doesn't seem to be any sign yet of our reaching the limits of our abilities to try and exceed the set standard and that there are people out there willing to keep pushing forward, whether for the benefit of mankind or more simply because "it can be done". I will keep following their progress and use it to try and keep imagining what it must have been like for those people back in the '20s and '30s, hearing of how, for example, one man had flown across the Atlantic, or travelled the fastest on land.

Lawnmower land speed record

Lawnmower land speed record

Yesterday I brought you news of the latest developments in the world of the land speed record for cars. Today comes the early details of another, and some might say sadly overlooked, record attempt - The World's Fastest Lawnmower.

Yes, just as the chaps working on Bloodhound SSC hope to break the 1,000mph barrier, so those fine coves over at "Project Runningblade" hope to snatch away the lawnmower speed record from the Americans by going over 100 mph.

Here's hoping that they are shear class, a cut above the rest and put the Americans out to grass(!).

Australian hero pilot Dominic James saves six in emergency sea landing

Australian hero pilot Dominic James saves six in emergency sea landing

Here we have another reminder of how skilled aeroplane pilots are. A hearty well done to this chap for doing his level best to avert disaster and saving the lives of all 6 of his passengers. A story that highlights the best in people - determination, skill, bravery and calmness. Something that we can be appreciative of and which, best of all, has a happy ending.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The race to build a 1000 mph car - tech - 18 November 2009 - New Scientist

The race to build a 1000 mph car - tech - 18 November 2009 - New Scientist

This will probably be my last post for today and, by Jove, what a busy day it has been, blog-wise. I really think I'm beginning to get the hang of this, you know.

Staying with the motoring theme, albeit this time to its absolute extreme. Since Andy Green in Thrust SSC broke the sound barrier on land back in August 1997, the target now is the magic four figures - 1,000 miles per hour. Can it be done? I've been following the progress of the British entry for the Land Speed Record, Bloodhound SSC, for some time now and I do so hope they are successful and keep the record in British hands. That's not to say I don't welcome the competition from America and Australia. As any engineer will tell you, competition is a sure-fire way of ensuring that a machine is as highly-developed as possible. It all adds to the excitement of the contest too - who will be the first to set a new record?

John Surtees becomes first person to drive through Channel Tunnel

John Surtees becomes first person to drive through Channel Tunnel

Right, now we're well and truly motoring! This is quite often the way with interesting newspaper articles, I've found - there is a sudden glut of them within one or two days, then absolutely nothing for days - sometimes weeks - on end. Still, I'm not complaining if it means my shiny new blog gets populated nice and quickly!

So on the subject of motoring here we have Mr John Surtees, former British F1 and motorcycle GP champion, driving a British car, the Ginetta (which showcases possible future electric vehicle technology) through that marvel of Anglo-French engineering - the Channel Tunnel. Huzzah! A triumph for British ingenuity and pluck, all wrapped up in a story that we can look back on with a smile about our lips.

Lincoln's letter to boy on sale

Lincoln's letter to boy on sale

Here we have an interesting piece of history that is also a reminder never to take things lying down. I had a similar experience once (well, not exactly similar, I didn't meet the President of the United States, then get him to write me a letter so I could subsequently prove it). I was arguing with a group of friends over an astronomical matter back in 1994 (namely what effect the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 would have on Jupiter when they collided, as they did) and in order to back up my assertion that Jupiter would not "explode" (a view which, somewhat bizarrely, I seemed to be alone amongst my peers in holding) I wrote to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, who vindicated me. You see the analogy though, I hope? Here, wake up at the back there!

Anyway, the moral of the story, I suppose, is that if you truly believe in something, you should always fight your corner. There's always someone out there willing to help, and it doesn't take much just to write to them. You never know what luck a letter may bring.

Was this the Apple store of 1922?


Was this the Apple store of 1922?

Now then, this seems to be just the thing to start off with. Why not join me in the Wireless Lounge at Harrods, where this fellow seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself? Have a little look at the 'paper, put some Jack Hylton on the gramophone and imagine it's 1922 again.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Giant oaks from little acorns grow...

Well, here we jolly well are, what? I mean to say, who would ever have thought I'd be starting one of these new-fangled "web logs" eh? Certainly not me! I'm not very technologically-minded, you see. Anyway, let's see how this goes. I'll start, if I may, by explaining a little further the idea behind all this.

The thought has been playing on my mind for some time now that there is simply too much doom and gloom in today's national and local media. Wars, hoodies, stabbings, shootings, fisticuffs, identity theft, and other nasty business seem to be all-pervading. Almost as a result of all this I find myself consciously looking for the happy, jolly, uplifting, unusual and just plain bizarre stories that are often overlooked in amongst all the scaremongering and finger-wagging. So I figured, wouldn't it be a bit of a wheeze, whenever I come across these stories (and other things that tie in to my interests - which I'll add on here at some point I suppose), to pop them all in one place where other people can see them and, hopefully, have a bit of a giggle and feel a bit better about the world and life in general? Well, that's the idea, at least. Whether it will work in practice is a completely different kettle of fish. Probably a whole load of chaps out there with the same idea and a dozen identical blogs to this one. Still, as I said towards the beginning, let's see how this pans out. It could be the best thing since sliced bread, and appear on hundreds of "recommended" lists (or whatever the litmus test for blog popularity is). On the other hand it could die a death within the month. Watch this space, as they say.

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