Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Have a great time this festive season.

We're going back to the UK for a week, to spend Christmas with the family and to visit some friends. I don't expect to be blogging while we're away (unless our rented place has broadband), so don't be surprised if the blog stays quiet until we get back on the 29th.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Looking for that late stocking-filler for the rocker in your family?

German Metal band Rammstein are one of my favourite groups at the moment. Their head-banging riffs and gruff German vocals can be menacing and dark, but then a couple of tracks later they reveal a sense of humour, and even show their sensitive side occasionally. Don't let the fact that they sing in German put you off; you don't need to understand the lyrics to enjoy the music. In fact, Till Lindemann's gruff utterances almost act as another percussion instrument. But for those who insist on understanding what a song is about there are plenty of sites on the web that provide translations.

Rammstein's latest release is Voelkerball: a DVD/CD package recorded on their last tour. The centrepiece of the DVD is an awesome concert, recorded last year at Les Arenes de Nimes in France. The open-air, coliseum-like amphitheatre provides a gladitorial atmosphere as Rammstein perform for thousands of screaming fans.

For the Rammstein newbie this DVD is the perfect introduction. Not only does it serve as a "greatest hits" from their five studio albums, but they're also a great live band; they have to be seen as well as heard to be truly appreciated. If you like heavy rock and want to see thousands of ecstatic fans having a great time, and to hear some majestic, pounding, thumping good rock music played by a band of musicians who look like they've just walked off a Mad Max film set, all accompanied by a great lightshow and pyrotechnic display (flamethrowers included), then buy this DVD, turn the lights down and the volume up, and enjoy.

Feuer Frei: BANG! BANG!

I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Broken Telly


My plasma TV won't switch on any more! The other morning I pressed the power button, but instead of coming on in the normal way there was a pause of a few seconds, and the then a final-sounding click, then the power light started flashing red, and flashing red lights are never good are they?

After several enquiries around town I managed to locate a Philips service agent in Riyadh, and they duly sent an engineer round the next day. When he got here however, he was surprised to find it was a plasma TV and not an ordinary one (despite the fact that I had gone to great lengths to explain to the call centre that it WAS a plasma one.

He can't fix plasmas on the spot so he's had to take it away to get an estimate (it's out of warranty too). This was about a week ago now and I've still not heard anything back from him. In the meantime we've had to go out and buy a smaller set to use temporarily.

Good job that a) there's no such thing as Christmas TV programming here, and b) we're going back to UK for Christmas anyway!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Life, the Universe, and Everything

As featured in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, it's The Ultimate Question. The ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. The characters Vroomfondel and Majikthise couldn't articulate it any better than that to Deep Thought: the giant supercomputer they had built with the sole purpose of answering this, the most important question one can ask. Of course you'll know already that Deep Thought's answer to the ultimate question -- after six million years' processing -- was "42", the only problem with that answer being that it could only be of value if one knew precisely WHAT the ultimate question was. But of course, they didn't and so were none the wiser.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

It's a tough question to fit into a single question isn't it? The reason I mention it is that I have been contemplating it recently and taking my sixth and fourth attempts respectively to get to the ends of two famous books on the subject by Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. In both books Hawking attempts to explain what we know about the universe and passionately describes the work going on in Physics right now to fill in the remaining blanks.

Stephen Hawking

Hawking uses several smaller questions to make up The Big One: How did the Universe begin? How/when will it end? Is time infinite or could that too have a beginning and an end? What would happen after the end of time? What happened before time began? etc, etc. Then there's the $64,000 question: If we get to a point where we can answer all of the above scientifically, what role then for a Creator?

The Universe

I've always had an interest in Physics and have been annoyed that, despite having owned both these books for years, I had not managed to get to the end of either of them. They start off accessibly enough for anyone who studied Physics at school, with Newton's laws of motion and Einstein's theories of relativity. I can get my head around gravity, the solar system, elliptical orbits, I can even accept huge-scale concepts such as the speed of light and black holes. But from there on things start to skitter down a very slippery slope of incomprehension, starting with there not being space, and time, but a single continuum in four dimensions called spacetime, and that spacetime is curved and not flat, and that if the universe is even now continuing to expand (as has been proven) like the debris of an explosion, then there must have been an event long ago -- the explosion itself -- where all the matter in the universe was compressed into an object of zero size yet infinite mass and infinite density. This concept is known as a singularity and we call the explosion that marked the origin of the Universe "The Big Bang". From there the slope steepens as Hawking turns his attention to the branch of Physics that everyone is depending on to complete the jigsaw: Quantum Mechanics. I won't go into detail (I can't!) but Quantum Mechanics has to do with the very, very small, dealing with subatomic particles and moving on from there to matter and antimatter (ANTIMATTER!), particles existing in pairs and annihilating each other when they meet up.

Well I am proud (or should that be relieved?) to say that I have finally managed to finish A Brief History Of Time, and am close to finishing The Universe In A Nutshell, having promised myself to plough on through both whether I could grasp all the concepts or not. This is actually a worthwhile thing to do, because there are clear, lucid and important points in among the quarks, photons and gravitons, and it's also the only way of getting through them unless you yourself are a Quantum Physicist. I'm sure there must be many many people who are not professional scientists but who nevertheless have a burning curiosity to understand how we got here on Planet Earth, and to hear a rational explanation for the existence of everything we see around us, on the earth and in the sky. The problem with these books is that they are so technical as to put off all but the most determined truthseeker, despite being marketed as having been written for the layperson. What we need is, "Life the Universe and Everything for Dummies": anyone seen that on the bookshelves? Maybe I'll write it one day.