27 May 2016

The whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret

The US military’s nuclear arsenal is controlled by computers built in the 1970s that still use 8in floppy disks.

A report into the state of the US government, released by congressional investigators, has revealed that the country is spending around $60bn (£40.8bn) to maintain museum-ready computers, which many do not even know how to operate any more, as their creators retire.

The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System (DDSACCS), which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to US nuclear forces, runs on a 1970s IBM computing platform. It still uses 8in floppy disks to store data.

We’re not even talking the more modern 3.5in floppy disk that millennials might only know as the save icon. We’re talking the OG 8in floppy, which was a large floppy square with a magnetic disk inside it. They became commercially available in 1971, but were replaced by the 5¼in floppy in 1976, and by the more familiar hard plastic 3.5in floppy in 1982.

Shockingly, the US Government Accountability Office said: “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete.”

- Guardian, 26 May 2016

22 May 2016

Petone foreshore

Sunday afternoon on Petone foreshore, near the Settlers' Museum, 22 May 2016. 

18 May 2016

Regional news highlight of the week

A band of rogue rambling roosters drunk on whiskey has been captured in Westport. Irate neighbours reported the noisy roosters who had been dumped in Westport Domain to Buller District Council's animal control officers.

"Thirteen of these fine-feathered gorgeous looking roosters were strutting their stuff in the domain," said Buller mayor Garry Howard.

"Three renegade roosters took a liking to a magnolia tree across from the domain in a residential area and our animal control staff were forced to climb the tree but it hasn't worked, the roosters are just going higher."

He said their noise was disturbing neighbours early in the morning. They then set a cage at the bottom of the magnolia tree but it was stolen.

"Some homeless Aucklander thought it would be good to steal that to solve the housing crisis and I'm sure it's now in Parnell somewhere," Howard said.

"We asked Mr Google about how to catch roosters and he came up with the idea to give them a bit of whiskey. Our animal control officer sacrificed some of his own finest Kentucky whiskey and we have laced some barley with it and we are getting results," he said.

The roosters were getting very drunk and rolling onto their sides, allowing the officers to pick them up.

- Joanne Carroll, 'Drunk roosters captured in Westport', Stuff.co.nz, 17 May 2016

17 May 2016

The Night Mail

Tonight I watched the 1936 GPO Film Unit short Night Mail, a brilliant and award-winning documentary on the Royal Mail overnight sorting express from Euston to Glasgow. And of course one of the highlights was W.H. Auden's 'verse commentary' (extract):

"Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong"

14 May 2016

James Acaster

James Acaster
James Acaster
James Acaster: 'Reset'
San Francisco Bath House
Cuba St, Wellington
12 May 2016

James Acaster, arguably the most praying mantis-like English comedian at work today, is enjoying a run of comedy festival gigs around New Zealand at the moment, testing his new 2016 show out on local comedy festival audiences before taking it to home turf later this year. It’s a good opportunity to give new material a trial run with a relatively similar audience, give or take, and for New Zealand comedy fans it’s a great chance to see one of the UK’s most popular young comedians at close quarters. (To be specific, from the front row at Wellington’s San Fran venue he was five metres away. Good thing he’s not a spitter).

Without going into too many routine-spoiling details, Acaster's show is definitely a winner, showcasing his appealing brand of whimsy and self-loathing in a show that feels pretty much complete and ready. It's great to see a comedian perfecting their timing, working in callbacks for the audience, responding to tiny mistakes (such as Acaster's lengthy multi-generational tangent to explain his use of the phrase 'you look at yourself in the kitchen mirror'), and in particular, generally fiddling about with the idea of an imperfect person standing on a stage being paid to make an audience laugh. Good standup comedy is always improved by a dash of acting skill, which helps Acaster flirt with the downcast notion that comedians might actually not be enjoying their work. The idea that delivering standup comedy for a living is meant to make everything wonderful has a great deal of comedic potential - the trick, which Acaster has mastered, is to make that exploration funny, so you're both testing what can be achieved on stage while at the same time keeping the audience entertained.

Don't get me wrong, Acaster's new show isn't a Scandinavian gloomfest - he just teases the audience with Hancock-style misery amidst all the silliness, and it makes the show a great deal more appealing. There's plenty of Milton Jones absurdism, done with the same charm and flair: a discourse on the brilliance of being on witness protection programmes ("James, you really have to stop mentioning the programme in your act, you need to work with us on this one"), a brilliant and flawless scheme taking advantage of supermarket loss-leaders, the injustice of volunteering to dig wells in Kenya when the good people of England and New Zealand could walk hundreds of miles without seeing one, and a searching exploration of why the English hate themselves so comprehensively. An extended discourse on the English tradition of wandering the globe nicking treasures and then not giving them back receives an expert analysis ("But the Elgin Marbles are so much better lit here than when you had them!"). All capped off with a big musical finale, David O'Doherty style, which was suitably daft but may well have been slightly lost on the deaf audience members experiencing the act through the game sign language interpreters at the front of the stage.

A few smaller parts of the act based on local observations will I presume not feature when Acaster takes the material back to England, such as his delight, expounded on at length, of the New Zealand phrase 'boil the jug' (instead of 'put the kettle on'), which gives Acaster the opportunity to try out his ropey New Zealand accent. (Most English comedians think they've got it, but too many episodes of Home & Away queer the pitch).

See also:
Comedy: Ed Byrne, 1 May 2015
Comedy: Josie Long, 6 May 2013
Comedy: David O'Doherty, 5 May 2012

08 May 2016


Wellington's south coast near Houghton Bay on a clear, warm autumn Sunday, 8 May 2016.