Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Beatles


Firstly I do apologise for the gross length of time since I last published anything, way over a month!

Anyway apologises aside today I am going to write about John, Paul, George and Ringo or the fab four if you prefer. Yes I’m going to be writing about the Beatles! Now to be honest I don’t really need to provide any kind of introduction to the Beatles and their work, pretty much everyone has heard or listened to their songs. Also I think it would be appropriate to write a blog post about them at this time than at any other, because as I’m sure most of you are aware 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles final studio album Abbey road. That is the one with them walking across the Zebra crossing.
Now you may be surprised to read that I wasn’t even born at the time when the Beatles were actually an album producing group, however my Father was and he as a wide collection of Beatles albums, Both Vinyl and CD. So as a child I heard a lot of Beatles music, which I think influenced my musical tastes and musical style as I became a teenager and started to play guitar.
Enough personal yarns, to be honest many may regard the Beatles as way too overrated. And they may be right as the Beatle mania of the sixties was a little bizarre, however not many would say the songs themselves and the music was overrated. For a start the Beatles albums virtually defined the sixties musically and, the Beatles most famous album Sgt Pepper’s lonely Hearts club band is arguably the best Pop/rock n roll album of the entire decade.
Now as I mentioned this year is the 40th anniversary of Abbey road so to celebrate the BBC as put on loads of Beatles documentaries and a couple of the bands films. Which not to be cruel aren’t brilliant. Also all the albums have been rereleased and digitally remarstered, which is nice to see. One final thing before I go which is your favourite Beatle (a bit of a cliché question I do admit).

PS I will try to make my next post a bit sooner than the last one


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Spotify - the soloution to downloads


Well I’m back after my holiday, which was great. Anyway to the point, there is a problem with modern music. Or rather there is a problem with the modern music business.
Before that though let’s go back to a time when things were a lot simpler, the year is 1886 and the place is Berne Switzerland. This is the day when the convention for the protection of literary and artistic works takes place. At this convention the copyright was born! To skip all the dull copyright law, the convention basically decided that anyone who created some new book or piece of music had the legal rights to their own creation. Or rather if they put that little symbol there name and the year on their piece, from then on they had the legal right to how it was copied. Meaning if it was reproduced they had to receive some sort of payment.
So after this convention most countries agreed to the terms and signed up to it happily. Interestingly America however only agreed to the convention in 1988! From then up to near the modern day everyone seemed happy. Records, tapes and CD’s were produced and the bands or artists got their money as per copyright. Books were published and the authors got payment.
However now we have arrived at the modern day and the problems have started. With the advent of MP3’s and the internet along with modern technology, anything can be put on the internet and the copyright law is becoming difficult to enforce. This is making the record companies jolly angry as they fear that people who can get something for free will never pay for it.
Of course to force people to pay for what they listen to or download, governments are branding people thieves and dishing out extreme punishments. The thing is though there is quite a difference between the types of thieves. On one hand there are the people who are downloading an album and burning it onto CD with the intent of selling it to make a profit. And I agree these people are committing a crime. However on the other hand there are the people who are downloading the one song or album for personal use, simply because they cannot afford to buy it at a legitimate outlet. Now these people are not the same as the people who mass download with the intent to sell. As one they are not making a profit. And two once they have downloaded there one song they will probably feel a sense of wrong doing themselves and when they have the money buy the album from a legitimate outlet. Now those two aren’t the same thing. One is criminally wrong the other is at worst ethically wrong.
Personally I don’t illegally download and never have, so I don’t have a two side’s stand point. I do however understand that the artists deserve to get payed and that there fans should be able to listen to their music. Happily for once both sides seem to be able to get their wish, new internet programs such as spotify are allowing people to listen to their favourite band perfectly legally on their computer. While still giving the band or artist a suitable payment due to the advertising that is shown on the spotify website. Unsurprisingly Spotify and others like it are becoming a huge success. So hopefully in the feature the consumer and the record label should be able to reach a happy medium. And they will be no need to brand ordinary music fans as thieves. Also it will make the real criminals easier to catch.

And best of all they might at last remove that stupid advert from every single DVD!


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Impact on Jupiter

Breaking Astronomical news, the above picture is the latest image of an impact on Jupiter. As yet it is I think unclear whether it was a comet or asteroid that caused the impact. Although comets striking Jupiter have occurred before, just over fifteen years ago a comet named shoe-maker Levi 9 came too close Jupiter. Jupiter’s colossal gravitational pull tore the comet into several small chunks. Each one then over the course of 24 hours plummeted into the Jovian clouds. Although the Comet fragments were completely obliterated in the atmosphere, they did leave dark markings (Scars of the impact). Similar to the dark mark you can see above. Incidentally each of these dark markings caused by the shoemaker impact was the size of the Earth. Which is another reason why we should all be thankful of Jupiter’s presence, because if it wasn’t there that comet could quite possible have hit the Earth! Causing Apocalyptic damage.
15 years later it seems another piece of space debris as hit the king of the planets. This impact occurred in Jupiter’s South Polar Region, which rather confusingly in this image taken by an Amateur in Australia, appears to be where the North Pole would be. I’m not an expert on optics but this is I am told is due to the mirror in the telescope which flips the image so it appears upside down. Or the correct way if you are a sleeping bat.
Anyway as more information on this impact unfolds it tells us one thing, the solar system is constantly evolving and constantly active!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

July 20th


I again apologise for the gap in time since my last post, but I was as usual busy with something else. Anyway yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and seeing as that was so widely published I am not going to bother writing about that. Instead I am going to write about lesser known anniversary that took place on that same day.
July 20th was the 60th anniversary of the July 20th plot, where Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler. It is the one that was recently made into a film starring Tom Cruise. The plot was orchestrated by the German Resistance, who planned to overthrow the Nazi regime. To do this they intended to remove Hitler and claim the SS where staging a coup. Therefore initiating operation Valkyrie, which would arrest all the other head Nazi’s (Himmler).Finally if all this was successful the resistance would install a democratic government and call for a truce with the allies. Of course the plot failed. And in the subsequent days and weeks hundreds of conspirators were rounded up and brutally executed.
Before the July 20th plot there had been innumerable plots to assassinate Hitler, all failed for different reasons. Either Hitler didn’t show up at the predicted area, or a fuse for a bomb was unsuccessful. One of the most recent plots before July 20th was lead by a Prussian general named Henning von Tresckow. Secretly he slipped a bottle of liqueur on to a plane with Hitler, timing the fuse so it would detonate in flight. Again this plot failed, due to the high altitude the fuse was delayed and Hitler cheated death once more. It appeared to many that Hitler had the luck of the devil.
By this time 1944 ish Germany was certain to lose the war; the Red army was advancing as was the British and American forces after D day. So you may ask why the resistance didn’t wait for the allies to kill Hitler for them. The answer to this is simple the people who rallied around Stauffenberg, were high ranking members of the army. Who followed there conscience rather than orders and they all knew that every single day literally thousands of people were dying. Most of which were innocent civilians murdered in the Nazi death camps. And they simply and rightly agreed this must end.
So they put in motion what would become the July 20th plot. However before they could put it under way they needed to get General Fromm on side. Fromm was leader of the reserve army and, without him Operation Valkyrie could not be initiated. Eventually the resistance got Fromm on side by promising him a better position in the new leadership.
So on July 20th Stauffenberg and an assistant named Von Haeften set off to the wolf’s lair carrying two bombs in their brief cases, ready to be armed before the meeting.
Just before the meeting started Stauffenberg and Haeften attempted to arm the bombs. However an interruption forced Haeften to leave, giving Stauffenberg only one bomb. Also due to an allied bombing attack a couple of years earlier Stauffenberg was left permanently disabled. He lost one hand, three fingers from the remaining hand and his right eye. Even with these injuries Stauffenberg armed the bomb and headed from the meeting.
Stauffenberg remained confident that one bomb would do the job, as the bunker most meeting was held in was solid concrete, thus magnifying the blast. However due to the heat the meeting was moved to a wooden conference hut, which unfortunately had many windows. Too late to back out Stauffenberg positioned the bomb as close to Hitler as possible, Leaving under the guise of taking a phone call. Minutes later the blast rocked the hut.
Stauffenberg was unsure as to whether Hitler was dead, but seeing as he had to leave immediately he trusted the bomb had succeeded. Meanwhile in Berlin Fromm had failed to initiate Valkyrie, so another General Friedrich Olbricht initiated the order in his name.
So when Stauffenberg everything was in place and the reserve army began to round up all SS officials. However Back at the wolf’s lair Hitler had survived! Sustaining no major wounds. To the right is the destroyed conference hut.
Unaware of this Stauffenberg continued as per operation Valkyrie.
Eventually however in the late hours of July 20th the news of Hitler’s survival was known. And the reserve army was called to arrest the conspirators.
In an attempt to prove loyalty to Hitler, Fromm convened a quick court marshal and immediately sentenced Stauffenberg, Olbricht and Haeften to death. They were shot by firing squad in the early hours of July 21st outside their own office at the war ministry. Stauffenberg’s last words were “Es lebe unser heiliges Deutschland!" ("Long live our sacred Germany!")

The July 20th plot was the last major attempt to kill Hitler, 9 months later with Berlin surrounded Hitler shot himself. Doing what hundreds of attempts could not. Stauffenberg and his conspirators are memorialised in the Bendler block. The place of there execution.
As I mentioned recently this story as been made into a film staring Tom Cruise, I recomend you to watch it as it is very good.


Saturday, 4 July 2009

40 years since Stonewall


I am writing two posts in one day, as I have just remembered that today is the day of loads of pride events. The biggest being London pride and is close to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
As you may have seen I am a supporter of Stonewall and everything it does in it's campaign for equality and equal rights. However I'm not sure everyone knows how it got it's name. Or if you do I won't have anything to write about so put up with me. Please...
Well stonewall is named after a rioting event that took place in and around the Stonewall inn in 1969. Where the police raided the stonewall in in the early hours of that morning and, then later on in the evening the community who went there fought back against the police. This moment is widely believed to be the start of the gay rights equality movement.
Before this really from 1945 onwards, members of the LGBT community were subject to wide spread intolerance and unacceptance from many. Homosexuality at this time was still officially classified as a mental illness! Which many still believed could be cured. Although the “cures” were often brutal forms of punishment that bordered on torture. Meanwhile in England things were not much different, Alan Turing who I mentioned in an earlier post was subject to a supposed “cure”.
Anyway back in 1969 the stonewall inn was a small-ish gay bar in New York city. Where LGBT men and women could congregate. However on 28th June 1969 the police decided to raid the building.
So in the early hours of the mourning the NYPD raided the building and forced all the people outside on to the street. The police were instructed to arrest any men dressed as women on sight. And take them down the local station. When the police van varied a crowd of people had swelled outside the stonewall. Who then proceeded to throw beer cans and coins at the police van. This quickly turned into wide spread hostility from the crowd. Which the police repaid with violence as they attempted to disperse the protesters.
By 4.00 in the morning most of the streets had been cleared. 13 people were arrested, several hospitalized and a few police officers were injured. Also the inside of the Stonewall inn was left completely smashed.
In the aftermath of the Stonewall riots local activists set up a paper titled “Gay” , a title they deemed necessary after most publications refused to print the word Gay in there papers. Later in 1970 to mark the one year anniversary of the riots, a Gay pride march took place covering the 51 blocks to Central Park. Then in 1971 similar pride marches took place across the USA and in London.
After this the Stonewall charity was set up, with an English version as well that still campaigns for equality.
Of course there is still a long way to go before everyone Gay,straight, black, white, of any faith or creed is accepted but thanks to the work of people like Stonewall and countless others we are at least one step closer.

Incidentally today is the London and I think Derby pride day!


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Computer part 3


Again sorry about the quite large gap in time since the last part of this blog story thing. So in the concluding part I am going to go through the history of “Modern computing” and, the apple mania that as swept the land.

At the start of the sixties IMB was the largest company in the world, and virtually the only computer company. Which is quite amusing considering some IBM executive once said “I predict the world will eventually need 5 computers.” They thought at this time that maybe NASA or the USA gov would have one and that was about it. The idea that even ordinary families would have a computer wasn't really taken seriously.
Until about 1976 when two computer scientists named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, built and sold a small computer out of a garage in California. That they named Apple. And it was a reasonable success, showing there was a genuine demand for a computer of the people. IBM thought this was pretty absurd, but still needed to put a competitor of some description out to challenge Apple.
So in 1981 the IBM PC came out. And to be honest by modern standards it was pretty dreadful. There was no mouse just a keyboard, so you couldn't click anything as there was nothing to click. So if you wanted to see any file, you had to type in it's ridiculously long name into the command line operating system. And then you couldn't start moving files without hours of typing away. But besides these massive faults it still sold in the millions and IBM remained the big computerised cheese.
Enter now some groovy Californians who saw the future. These Californians worked for a photo copying company perhaps the most famous the Xerox corporation. Who had a research centre called the Palo Alto research centre in California. There they postulated the idea (that they couldn't build) of what we would call the modern desktop. In this idea the screen was a big box with these weird things called “Icons” that things called “mice” clicked on. And when you clicked on this Icon with your mouse you would be inside another box. You could have pictures, music and even video. At the time that this was being thought up mid to late eighties this seemed like a impossible dream. That many dismissed as mad, in England around this time type writers were still in use!
However Apple thought they could build it and in the year of 1984 Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs brought out the Apple Macintosh computer. It was everything these people at Xerox had dreamed of, it was the desktop that knocked the clunky command line for six. It was a literal overnight success being bought by the famous Hitchhikers guide Douglas Adams. Understandably IBM was worried and needed to bring out another competing product. However instead of creating another command line system, they got a unknown called Bill gates, who owned a obscure company called Microsoft to set the software for them. While they continued to make the box it went in. So Bill and his team got to work by buying out right a operating system, and then changing it slightly before giving it to IBM. After this Mr Gates went to all the other computer makers and got the rights to putting his software in there machines. The resulting computers were called IBM compatibles. At this point IBM was surmounted as the biggest computer company by Microsoft as they had the rights to the important software systems, meanwhile Apple struggled on against Microsoft and Mr Gates.
I am now going to miss a brief period where Steve Jobs left Apple and return to the story as he too returned to Apple.
In 1996 Steve Jobs came back to Apple after his new company NEXT was merged with his original company Apple. Shortly after his return Apple developed a new operating system 0S X. In the years leading up to the millennium and beyond it is not hard to see that Apple as taken over with it's ever inventive ideas . They have of course brought out the train of ipods and itunes store and the more recent iphone. But perhaps the most famous Apple product from this era is the original imac in it's famous “Bondi blue”. Which was developed with help from a one Johnny Ive from Britain. Among the many features that made this Computer significant, was that it used the standard USB ports that all computers now use. As seen to the right
So that is I think pretty much the history of the computer to about today. I apologise if I have omitted anything.
Thanks for reading


Monday, 15 June 2009

Computer part 2


This is part two of the history of the computer mini blog series. In part one I told the story of Charles Babbage and his difference engine. And how it was never finished in Babbage's lifetime. In this part I am going to tell the story of the WW2 code breakers, Alan Turing and the Colossus computer.
First let's paint the picture from after Babbage's death to the out break of WW2. Well there really isn't much to tell computer speaking. After Babbage's death the difference engine was shelved and, the men with pencils were back in a job. The at the start of the 20th Century WW1 started, at this point there was a chance for Babbage's computer if finished to change the world. The Difference engine was more than a simple pocket calculator, it could do ballistic calculations. Namely the trajectory of shells. This meant WW1 could have been brought to a swifter end, because with accurate shells it would be more likely for the shell to hit the target. Of course this would mean more people would be killed which obviously is not good, but you cannot deny a difference engine computer would have helped end the war. After this Germany was defeated and the treaty of Versailles was brought in. Which ultimately led to the rise of Hitler and the subsequent second world war.
So the year is 1941 Europe is under the Nazi jack boot, and it is the hight of the blitz. England is being bombed nightly. And worst of all vital supply ships are being preyed upon by U boats. The problem is the Germans have secrecy on there side, the U boats use a secret code called the Lorenz cipher under which they would spread orders. What was needed was a way for the British to be able to crack this code, so they could head the U boats off and secure allied shipping.
To achieve this more men with pencils were brought in, these men however were the brightest maths brains from the great universities Oxford, Cambridge and Hull (maybe not Hull). One of this number was a very gifted mathematician called Alan Turing.
Turing was put to work in Hut 8 of Bletchley park, code breaker central. Hear Turing found himself working with some of his old friends and Professors form university. Together they began to work to crack the lorenz cipher. However again there was a problem, like most things done by Humans they weren't fast enough. So complex were these codes that by the time one was cracked it was already redundant. Turing and others realised a better system was needed.
Enter at this point a man from a postal sorting office called Tommy Flowers who saw the future.
Flowers realised that a code was simply a mathematical problem, and that a digital computer which essential just does maths very quickly could crack a code in half the time of a Human. To build this computer Flowers turned to Turing and, together they began to design the workings of the first programmable digital computer. Before Turing and Flowers could build the computer dubbed “Colossus”, they had to pitch the concept to the army top brass. When Flowers predicted the computer would be finished in about a year, the army dismissed the project claiming “The war will probably be over by the time it was finished.”
Fortunately for the free world Flowers knew the war wouldn't be other in a year and, built his computer regardless. Flowers even went so far as to spend £1000 of his own money to ensure it was completed on time. When Colossus was finally finished in 1942/3 the war wasn't other and a faster way of cracking codes was desperately needed.
Thankfully Colossus worked brilliantly and could crack the German high command codes in sometimes less than an hour! The army top brass was so impressed they immediately ordered 10. With Colossus shipping was safe once more and, Britain along with the rest of the allies were given the momentum to ultimately win the war. To the right is an image of a working Colossus.
After WW2 the story of Colossus and it's inventors is much less happy. Bound by the secrecy act Colossus was dismantled and, packed off to some storage facility somewhere never to be used again. Even though it was still in working order. Tommy Flowers was given a small reward from the country for his War work, it was barely enough to cover the money he personally invested. After this Flowers was largely forgotten, a shame for such a innovative man Turing also had a sad future. In 1952 he was charged of Homosexuality which at the time was still classified as a mental illness! He was then found guilty of section 11 of the criminal amendment act, incidentally the same charge the brilliant Oscar Wilde was convicted of more than 50 years earlier. His punishment amounted to a chemical castration! Turing died in 1954 a suicide attempt involving cyanide.
Another tragic end for another brilliant man.
After this Britain's involvement in major computer events subsided and, from then on major advances came from America.
In the next part I am going to go form the sixties to the present day, with the modern Apple phenomena.

Thanks again for reading.