Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Money Money Money

Jason Calacanis' post suggesting that Wikipedia could deliver $100 million a year to charity by accepting unobtrusive advertisements and donating the income has been generating a lot of heat but little light in the blogosphere.

I've nothing to add to the controversy, but it has inspired me to ponder a parallel micro-initiative. I run Google ads and Amazon associate links here on A Welsh Born Icon.

I seem to recall that I decided to take the plunge with Google ads when I saw how they were working on both Chris and Kali's blogs because I enjoyed both the relevant ads and the apparent non-sequiturs. Chris's context sensitive ads, as I write for example, proffer:
English Medieval History Learn About 11th Century England at the Home of the Domesday Book
The Battle of Midway 1976 epic of conflict and life during battle.

I am bemused as to the relevance but still entertained.

I don't know about Chris or Kali, but I have made a grand total of $5.28 out of my Google ads; not even enough for it to make it worth their while actually paying it out to me.

As I wrote on Saturday, I've actually been paid £10.42 by Amazon for business I have sent their way. I wish I could get Amazon's self optimising ads to work because I think that the biggest customer for books, DVDs, and CDs relevant to my screeds would be me.

In summary, it seems to me that the affiliate schemes run by Google and Amazon can enhance both my own blog and those of my peers but, let's be frank, it ain't gonna be enough to help us pay off the mortgage.

If I had a simple option when signing up for Google or Amazon to donate my earnings to charity I would take it like a shot.

My contribution wouldn't even get into three figures, but what if we all did it? It could raise millions.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Shake Your Money Maker

When I moved to Whitton in the mid Eighties there was a slim, but real chance of running into either Peter Green or Pete Townsend in the street in Twickenham. A deeply trivial observation of which I was reminded last night when - having finally invested in a freeview decoder - I dragged myself away from "The Kids are Alright" on ITV4 to go along the 60th Birthday Tribute to Peter Green at with the Robin Bibi Band at Bob Brunning's Sunday night blues club which is hosted at GJ's.

I may be in the minority here, but I have always been unimpressed with Pete Townsend. The genius of The Who - if genius it was - lay in the front man and the rhythm section. I think that they could have propelled any spotty Herbert's angst ridden adolescent jottings to a world wide audience, but "Rock Operas", God help us. I've got room in my life for the soundscapes of "Baba O'Riley", but the rest of Townsend's music and lyrics seems clumsy to me.

Compare and contrast Mr Green, who gave us prime candidates for the 60s' best:

  • instrumental - Albatross
  • pop song - Black Magic Woman
  • wig out - Oh Well
  • ballad - Man of the World
No contest. Speaking as someone who has never heard any difficult music without wishing it was impossible, another great thing about the Green oeuvre is that you can make a fairly decent fist of it without being a fantastically accomplished guitarist. Once you get your head around hammer-ons and pull-offs for example, the central riff of "Oh Well" is pretty much available to you regardless of the fact that the pyrotechnics of - for any local readers for example - Papa George's version are beyond you.

I had a chat with Bob Brunning late last year, and I was pleasantly surprised today to find that he has a Wikipedia entry. He was persuaded last night to man the bass for "Shake Your Money Maker", and said that he had invited Peter Green to the gig, but that he could not be tempted from his Swedish fortress of solitude. Someone also passed along to him a signed and dedicated copy of Precious Little, Jeremy Spencer's first new album in 35 years.

'Twas great just to have been there.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Virtual Worlds: Real Taxes

LONDON (Reuters) - Users of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft transact millions of dollars worth of virtual goods and services every day, and these virtual economies are beginning to draw the attention of real-world authorities.

"Right now we're at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise -- taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth," said Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.

"You could argue that to a certain degree the law has fallen (behind) because you can have a virtual asset and virtual capital gains, but there's no mechanism by which you're taxed on this stuff," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

My peers and I remain agnostic about Virtual communities like Second Life, but maybe we are swimming against the tide. When the taxman starts dreaming up new ways of fleecing something, you know that it has arrived.

I've got a niggle in the back of my mind though that makes me wonder if Second Life might not be where the real action is.

World of Warcraft is an order of magnitude bigger than Second Life, and I was dumbfounded this week, when my six year old told me that his character was up to level 6 in it. I didn't even know that he was playing, but it turns out that he has been logging with his 16 year old half brother - my erstwhile stepson - when he is at his Mum's.

His brother actually made a point of thanking me for paying his World of Warcraft subscription - something that I've done since he started in happier times - the other day. Something that is so precious to a standard grunting teenage boy that it inspires him to a gracious unprompted gesture, must really have its claws in him.

I should really check it out for research but it is difficult to generate any real enthusiasm - Ben and I are getting Raybs World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Expansion Pack for his birthday - here's the pitch:
Several years have passed since the Burning Legion's defeat at Mount Hyjal and the races of Azeroth have continued to rebuild their once shattered lives. With renewed strength, the heroes of the Horde and Alliance have begun to explore new lands and broken through the Dark Portal to investigate the realms beyond the known world. Will these heroes find friends or foes? What dangers and rewards lie in wait beyond the Dark Portal? And what will they do when they discover that the demons they thought vanquished have returned to renew their terrible Burning Crusade?
Don't really float my boat these days I'm afraid, but each to his own. (I'm glad I looked my pre order up on Amazon again this morning because the expansion pack seems to have been put back from next month to 2007, so we are going to have to dream up a different present.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Out of the blue, I've got an email from Amazon saying that enough purchases have been made from this site via their affiliate programme for them to pay me the princely sum of £10.42.

I'd pretty much got out of the habit of putting appropriately configured Amazon links into posts here. Maybe I'll start again. I certainly get more than £10.42's worth of a kick from the idea that people have put their hands in their pockets after reading my ramblings.

Speaking of Amazon, I think that their S3 and EC2 initiatives are two of the most interesting things that are happening online at the moment. I noticed on the Amazon Web Services Blog last night that Jeff Barr was saying, "if your US, European, or Japan-based group or event would like to hear about the Amazon Web Services (lots of technical information, lots of demos, some code, and plenty of Q&A) sometime soon, send an email to awseditor@amazon.com and we'll do our best to be there", so I've contacted Ian, and he is going to try and get them along to one of his shindigs.

I've also posted the Beta code for Amazon self optimising links below, but it doesn't appear to be doing anything. Maybe something will appear in time .....

Friday, October 27, 2006

Martial Art

Here are my six year old and Kru Johnny - his Muay Thai instructor - posing at the Jackapong Gym with a picture of a Thai boxing bout that Benny painted at the ArtTess 4 Kids Arts and Crafts School and Gallery.

Squaring the circle in Colliers Wood.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

XBOX 360

The profit burglar and I spent yesterday evening playing around with the XBOX 360 trying to get our heads around its multimedia and online features.

We didn't include online game playing, but my main conclusion is that while the implementations are competent enough, they're dull.

There's nothing very interesting to see in the Live Marketplace, and while you can watch videos and recorded shows from your Media Center PC, you can't stream a DVD over the network.

In general I am too disappointed with it to feel that it is worth writing any more.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

the weekend has landed

For the sexiness of Wales, an idea that I acknowledge has taken some getting used to, is becoming almost an orthodoxy.

Michal Gove writing in The Times.

In time honoured fashion, however, it degenerates into a scuffle between Swansea and Cardiff:

But there is an undeniable strain of loucheness in the South Wales air, and one that I think is even more pronounced if one goes a little farther west, to the city that even more than Cardiff is Britain’s most Mediterranean — Swansea.

Some things never change.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

OPML Kaizen

I have just noted a Dave Winer post saying that Google Co-op supports OPML for "annotations".

Here is the relevant Google page. What this means in English is that it would be trivial to produce a custom search engine based on my blogroll - as I speculated minutes ago - because my blogroll is available from Newsgator in OPML formal.

When I think that Winer to all intents and purposes gave us RSS, podcasting and OPML, I am amazed he is not lionised more. I must write a post on him one day.

(Clue: he is a hedgehog rather than a fox. The "one big thing" that Winer knows is that standards and ideas can be important because they are simple, not despite being simple; a modest insight that continues to elude everyone at Microsoft. More power to his elbow, his contemporary influence is extraordinary and - which is more, and though I disagree with him politically - positive for both technology and the broader culture.)


It turns out that the custom search engine that I have created on Google for the blog has its own Google Co-op - Home Page.

It has struck me that I could also create a custom search engine for my blog roll. That might be interesting.

I have also just thought of a better way to display search results. I created a dummy post for back in January 2005 and put the result display code there. I think that works better than pasting it over the homepage.

Search Me

By a remarkable coincidence Google Co-op has been launched just as Chris was asking me to help him with adding that sort of functionality to some projects of his own.

Harness the power of Google search to create a free Custom Search Engine that reflects your knowledge and interests. Specify the websites that you want searched - and integrate the search box and results into your own website.
Build and customize your own search engine
Specify the sites you want to include in searches.
Place a search box and search results on your website.
Customize the look and feel to match your website.
Invite your community to contribute to the search engine
I've done a quick job - which I intend to polish over the next week or so - of installing it here in place of the technorati search code that I have featured for a long time.

I'd be delighted by any feedback on how it looks on different platforms and resolutions. At the moment, touch wood, it seems to work and it wasn't hard to set up, but I think the appearance needs polish to blend with the site.

The search box may be a bit wide and pumping the results into an iframe that obscures the original content may be confusing. What do people think?

My overall first impression is that it is better than what I had before, though.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tip Topper

I was surprised to read on the BBC website this morning that Terry Chimes - the drummer in the Clash - has become a chiropractor.

I wasn't so much shocked by the career change, it was just that I had always thought that Topper Headon was the drummer in that famous band.

It turns out that Chimes was the drummer on the UK version of the first LP but Headon was on the drum stool from the "Give 'em Enough Rope" album through to "Combat Rock" after which he was sacked because of his heroin addiction, and at which point Chimes rejoined the - by now - sinking ship.

A pebble this has dislodged with me however is that I remember - back in the early 90s I think, when we were working in Hammersmith - Neil MacPherson told me that Topper Headon had been driving the taxi that picked him up when he got a cab home after one of our many nights drinking after work.

This seemed desperately unlikely at the time, and I would certainly have taken it with a pinch of salt if any one of numerous other acquaintances had told me such a tall tale, but Neil is a South London boy of the right vintage to recognise Topper and not known as a fantasist.

I've googled it today and it seems plausible, so chalk that one up for Mr. MacPherson. It just goes to show how low smack can take you I guess.

All together now, "everyone knows someone who knows someone who's famous."

Maybe I've still got a chance of that Diana Ross pizza.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

You're a better man than I am

And who so will, from Pride released;
Condemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East.
About him at Kamakura.

I want to recommend two articles I've read today:

  1. At War With Himself - Griff Rhy Jones on Kipling from the Sunday Times.
  2. Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching - Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins in the London Review of Books.
I've thought for a long time that Kipling (and especially Kim) has a lot to teach us and it is good to see that Jones gets it.
The essence of Kipling is to get under the skin of other men. He inhabits them. “He does the voices.”
Like all good writers, he doesn’t take sides. His characters do.

Kipling's protean facility reminds me of Shakespeare. You feel as if he can't help but create rounded human beings regardless of his advertised prejudices. Mahbub Ali, Hurree Babu and Teshoo stand out in this regard in the immortal Kim, but what about Father Victor the Irish priest in the same novel? Kipling was no supporter of Irish Catholics, yet in the novel, the omniscient narrator says of Bennett, the Anglican Chaplain:

Between himself and the Roman Catholic Chaplain of the Irish contingent lay, as Bennett believed, an unbridgeable gulf, but it was noticeable that whenever the Church of England dealt with a human problem she was very likely to call in the Church of Rome. Bennett's official abhorrence of the Scarlet Woman and all her ways was only equalled by his private respect for Father Victor.
One of the things I love about Kipling is that his empathy is entirely free of the taint of self congratulation that - for me - cheapens any mention of tolerance and respect in the global dinner party that passes for our culture's debate with itself. He accepts that his protagonists have prejudices, and that is a lot more honest and valuable than the New Labour chatter in which prejudices are never held by people like us - perish the thought - but by a boorish underclasss who feed their children fried food through railings and against whom any calumny may be uttered with impunity.

Come to think about it, Marx and Engels were forever slandering the lumpenproletariat as well, so maybe it's not that new a development. Give me Tommy Atkins any day.

Moving from Marx to a Marxist, I never thought the day would dawn when I would be praising Terry Eagleton to the skies, but he does give Richard Dawkins a very thorough shoeing in the LRB and for that we are forever in his debt.

Let us acknowledge our prejudices; I admit my Dawkism. Richard Dawkins is a proficient writer, but his fulminations on religion and philosophy strike me quite frankly as puerile and I am amazed that more people don't point it out. Reading them is like reading music criticism written by a tone deaf reviewer.

For me Dawkins is the last representative of an arrogant and daft intellectual movement in the first half of the last century that gave us dead ends like logical positivism in philosophy and behaviourism in psychology by announcing that the "life, the universe and everything" questions that had fascinated the brightest and best for millenia were in fact meaningless.

You just can't move the goalposts like that; so goodbye AJ Ayer, and goodbye BF Skinner. I am sure that Dawkins R will be joining you in obscurity soon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Not Fade Away

We seem to have run into a vein of form with old photos since I posted a shot of my father in action from the 56/57 season last week.

Chris has posted a picture of his Dad digging the foundations for the Swansea Uplands Rugby Football Club at about the same time. (This also contains a link to a history of the club contains the strangely inspirational fact that "the club played its final pre war fixture on tour against Old Whitgiftians in Croydon on 10th April 1939 and following a meeting held on 18th April 1939, the club enlisted en-bloc forming a “sportsman’s platoon” in 5th Battalion The Welsh Regiment".)

I've also found two posts on Paul Flynn MP's website that show details of a photograph of the staff and pupils of St Illtyd's in 1947. I can see my Mum's brother Michael Milton on it and I am sure it should feature my father as well but I can't seem to find him.

(The links are: http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk/hotnewsdetail.jsp?id=496 and http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk/hotnewsdetail.jsp?id=506).

Finally, another photo of the Old Illtydian's off duty in the 1950s toasting a stuffed wolf. Go figure.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Yesterday's Papers, Yesterday's Girls

SCREENING FOR BREAST CANCER 'MAY HARM WOMEN' screams the front page of the Daily Telegraph:

Breast cancer screening may be doing more harm than good, a new report says yoday.
The research found that for every 2,000 women invited to have mammograms, one would have their life prolonged but 10 would endure potentially devastating and unnecessary treatment.
It suggested that most women having surgery, including mastectomies, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, following screening do so even though abnormalities identified in their cells would not have become a problem during their lifetime.
The research, a major review of studies covering half a million women, is published by the internationally-respected Cochrane Library.
Prof Michael Baum, a pioneer of England's £75 million-a-year screening programme, called for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to investigate whether it should continue.
Let me first acknowledge that we have a little bit of involvement here as we coded the current versions of the PERFORMS and REPORTER systems that radiologists in the UK use to get feedback on their breast screening skills and diagnostic performance, but I think that this is a deeply irresponsible headline. Read it again: SCREENING FOR BREAST CANCER 'MAY HARM WOMEN'.

Balancing the potential harm of false positive diagnoses against potential death sentence of false negatives is a serious business, but no scan means no diagnosis and for lives to be saved breast screening must detect cancers in the early stages.

Over diagnosis may have been a problem in the past, and for all I know - God knows I'm no expert - may even be a problem now, but I do know this; the combination of a growing library of scans for which the ultimate pathology is known, research and improvements in technology, plus the developing experience and skills of radiologists is bound to make diagnosis better.

Loose talk about closing the screening system down does a profound disservice to the future.

It is a bit like proposing that we stop weighing ourselves because the much touted Body Mass Index is such an imperfect indicator of present and future health.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


The premiere of a new sci-fi drama, from the same stable as Dr Who, has taken place in Cardiff.
Torchwood - an anagram of Doctor Who - has been created by writer Russell T Davies and will be broadcast on Sunday.
Set in Cardiff, the series stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack - one of the characters from Doctor Who - and Welsh actress Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper.

Torchwood being to Doctor Who as A Welsh Born Icon is to Nicholas Browne (and indeed as The Profit Burglar is to Paul Robert Fright) I must doff my cap.

All hail Swansea's Russell T Davies, hereby elevated to join the elect order of offical Welsh Born Icons that I maintain.

You have to admire the huzpah of the man who previously created 'Queer as Folk' when he announces that his new series will feature "psychotic fairies".

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

History and the Movies

The comments on my post about 300 suggest that folk are still unconvinced by the prospects for the movie.

Here - the historian Victor Davis Hanson writes graciously about this new film of the Spartans' finest hour. (C'mon Chris, give it a break, it's got a blog.)

Hanson's involvement with the film can't help but remind me of Robin Lane Fox's far deeper commitment to Oliver Stone's 'Alexander'.

You'd think that academic historians would most likely be argumentative, hyper-sensitive, nit picking controversy hounds, but experience suggests that they seem to be generous and indulgent mentors of anyone who is trying to spark interest in their discipline with a movie.

........... or maybe they're just star struck like me.

(It made me smile when Hanson mentioned Steven Pressfield’s novel Gates of Fire in his article, as I am currently holding Chris's copy of it hostage as he his holding my copy of Hanson's own A War Like No Other rather in the way that ancient kings used to keep the children of rivals and neighbours at their courts as guarantees of good behaviour.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Everyone knows someone who knows someone

A few days ago, I was enjoying a convivial beer in the kitchen with the parents of a school friend of my six year old while our offspring busied themselves with whatever it is six year old boys busy themselves.

There was a TV playing quietly in the corner,and when the station it was tuned to began to promote the new DVD of "X-MEN The Last Stand", my boy's friend's mother said, "my brother worked on that film".

"Wow," I said. "What did he do?"

"He was the second unit director."

"That's the guy who organises all the big action scenes I think?"

"Yes that's the sort of thing he does. He worked on Troy and Terminator 3, that sort of thing." She addressed her son, who had been half listening. "Did you know that Uncle Simon worked on that film?", she said gesturing at the TV.

He'd obviously been eavesdropping, becuase he replied, "you mean Uncle Simon is your brother?"

"Yes!" said his Mum.

The son went back to his game, shaking his head ruefully as if to say, "what are the chances of that happening, eh?"

When we got home I couldn't help but check the guy out on IMDB. Here he is, he turns out to be a legendary stunt man, turned stunt coordinator, turned second unit director, soon to turn director: He's been profiled in The Sun for goodness sake.

I'll come clean and admit I find this rather thrilling. This may well be an immature and uncool reaction, but I think that something sweet, innocent, trusting and irreplaceable will have died in me come the inevitable time in the future when I don't get a kick out of a similar revelation.

The profit burglar has come up with a song from his vast collection to describe my condition.Press play below, I am guilty as charged.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Box Clever

Celebrating the successful defenses of world titles this weekend by Welsh boxers called Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Maccarinelli, I definitely think my musing on national identity earlier this year was right on the button.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

sometimes in the night

Once in a blue moon, Churchill's black dog appears unheralded and sits on my chest through the small hours. When it happened last night I thought of these lines from Rilke - a poet I've been looking at in a desultory fashion since I was reading The Time Traveler's Wife, a book that is drenched with him.
You, neighbour God, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.

Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.

They stand before you hiding you like names,
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.

And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

Try it on your black dog next time you have a day in which, if you were a character from the Time Traveler's Wife, you'd be Ingrid.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Green and Gold Anniversary

I sponsored the club's games last week and past and present players gathered to celebrate my father's captaincy of the Illts fifty years ago in the 1956/57 season.

My cousin found a photo of him in action from that very campaign so here he is on the left with an Elvis quiff and, what appears to be, Koala bear eye make up.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Second Life

Second Life: If I'm honest, I just don't get it.

I first learned of Linden Labs 3D Virtual World when I was drinking with the stragglers who told me risque anecdotes about it after the Howard Rheingold dinner recently. I was intrigued enough to try it out over that weekend, but a Eureka moment eluded me.

Momentum continues to build. According to The Economist:
Publishers now organise book launches and readings in Second Life. The BBC has rented an island, where it holds music festivals and parties. Sun Microsystems is preparing to hold in-world press conferences, featuring avatars of its top executives. Wells Fargo, an American bank, has built a branded “Stagecoach” island, where avatars can pull Linden dollars out of a virtual cash machine and learn about personal finance. Starwood, a hotel and resort chain, is unveiling one of its new hotels in the virtual world.
Toyota is the first carmaker to enter Second Life. It has been giving away free virtual vehicles of its Scion brand and, in October, will start selling all three Scion models. The price will be modest, says Adrian Si, the marketing manager at Toyota behind the project. Toyota really hopes that an “aftermarket” develops as avatars customise their cars and sell them on, thus spreading the brand “virally”.

It sounds absurd, but is it fundamentally different from the Lego Star Wars II XBOX 360 game that I am enjoying so much in tandem with my six year old?

As well as holding press conferences in Second Life, Sun Microsystems is also rattling cages by seeking permission from the SEC to disclose news about Sun Microsystems on the technology company's web site and on the CEO's blog without running afoul of Regulation Fair Disclosure.

Here's the text of the letter.

Sometimes I think that things are changing too fast even for me.

I wish I had enough money to retire and devote myself to claret and Elgar.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pole Dancing

I missed last night's mobile clubbing, not having realised when I scheduled it, that it coincided with the Croatia England game. Nothing would do for 'the profit burglar' apparently than having his backside on a seat, his eyes on the TV, and a drink in his had from six in the evening until late, so we watched the game in the King's Head.

Istrian cuisine is the food of Croatia, and quite the coming thing in foodie circles, but there doesn't seem to be any available in London, so "eat your way around the world in London" settled on booking a table in the restaurant at the Polish White Eagle Club, another long time culinary target of mine, for 8:30.

What we hadn't realised was that Poland v Portugal was kicking off at 8pm. When we got to the club the enormous hall/bar was packed to the gills with hundreds of excitable young Poles watching the game, but after we fought our way through them to the restaurant it was practically deserted.

I began with herring which I followed with hunter's stew, and Paul had potato cakes and then a knuckle of pork.

Good honest fayre which only came to £27 between us including drinks, but the real fun of the evening was just the delerious company of the Poles as they celebrated a famous and unexpected 2-1 victory over a Portugal side rated the fourth best in the world. Not a dry throat in the house.

Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mad Dog

There can never be too much Welsh chauvinism in the world.

That Sir Howard Springer is the Welsh born chairman of Sony I will grant you, but shouldn't there have been a Welsh chairman earlier?

I also raised a quizzical eyebrow when I heard that Nobuyuki Idei - the previous incumbent - had remarked that "Sir Howard had retained his Welsh sense of humour".

Japanese executives were studying how to understand his jokes, he said - "but Welsh humour is very difficult to understand."

In truth, he may rest assured that, given Saturday's 5-1 drubbing by Slovakia, Welsh humour is actually in abeyance at the moment.

So - for those in need of solace - I offer this balm:

Whilst it was generally believed that Columbus was the first European to discover America in 1492, it is now well known that Viking explorers reached parts of the east coast of Canada around 1100 and that Norwegian Leif Erikson's Vinland may have been an area that is now part of the United States. What is less known is that a Welshman may have followed in Erikson's footsteps, this time bringing settlers with him.

According to Welsh legend, that man was Prince Madog ab Owain Gwynedd.

A Welsh poem of the 15th century tells how Prince Madoc sailed away in 10 ships and discovered America. The account of the discovery of America by a Welsh prince, whether truth or myth, was apparently used by Queen Elizabeth I as evidence to the British claim to America during its territorial struggles with Spain. So who was this Welsh Prince and did he really discover America before Columbus?

Owain Gwynedd, king of Gwynedd in the 12th century, had nineteen children, only six of whom were legitimate. Madog (Madoc), one of the bastard sons, was born at Dolwyddelan Castle in the Lledr valley between Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

On the death of the King in December 1169, the brothers fought amongst themselves for the right to rule Gwynedd. Madog, although brave and adventurous, was also a man of peace. In 1170 he and his brother, Riryd, sailed from Aber-Kerrik-Gwynan on the North Wales Coast (now Rhos-on-Sea) in two ships, the Gorn Gwynant and the Pedr Sant. They sailed west and landed in what is now Alabama in the USA.

Prince Madog then returned to Wales with great tales of his adventures and persuaded others to return to America with him. They sailed from Lundy Island in 1171 and were never heard of again.

They are believed to have landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama and then travelled up the Alabama river along which there are several stone forts, said by the local Cherokee Indians to have been constructed by "White People". These structures have been dated to several hundred years before Columbus and are of a similar design to Dolwyddelan Castle in North Wales. Were they built by Madog and his fellow settlers?

Early explorers and pioneers found evidence of Welsh influence among the tribes of Indians along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers. In the 18th century an Indian tribe was discovered that seemed different to all the others that had been encountered before. Called the Mandans this tribe were described as white men with forts, towns and permanent villages laid out in streets and squares. They claimed ancestry with the Welsh and spoke a language remarkably similar to it. They fished with coracles, a type of boat still used in Wales today. It was also observed that unlike members of other tribes, these people grew white-haired with age. In addition, in 1799 Governor John Sevier of Tennessee wrote a report in which he mentioned the discovery of six skeletons encased in brass armour bearing the Welsh coat of arms.

George Catlin, a 19th century painter who spent eight years living among various Indian tribes including the Mandans, declared that he had uncovered the descendants of Prince Madog's expedition. He speculated that the Welshmen had lived among the Mandans for generations, intermarrying until their two cultures became virtually indistinguishable. Some later investigators supported his theory, noting that the Welsh and Mandan languages were so similar that the Mandans easily responded when spoken to in Welsh.
I've got a new song for us to sing in the Millenium Stadium boyos:
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Strange Fruit

Overweight people should be given lessons in how to eat fruit and vegetables, a health minister said today.

Caroline Flint said too many Britons are refusing to eat fresh produce because they see it as 'scary food.'

She wants supermarkets to provide instore demonstrations on how healthier food - even apples and bananas - should be prepared and eaten.

A genuine report from today's Standard. My ongoing riff about living in Beachcomber's world is getting so absurd that I'm not even sure that it is funny any more.

Knock Yourself Out

I've thought that George Michael was a clown ever since he slagged off Cliff Richard all those years ago, branding his promotion of his "Millenium Prayer" single as "vile". I bear no brief for Sir Cliff and have never knowingly contributed to his bank account, but I think he's one of those people who has the right enemies.

If you are not particularly moved by the Cliffster, your default mode should be indifference, folk whom he rouses to righteous indignation have lost the plot somewhere.

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou's recent brushes with the law (and indeed brushes in the bushes) would seem to support that hypothesis.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Be Drunk

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it--it's the
only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks
your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of
a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again,
drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave,
the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything
that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is
singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind,
wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: 'It is time to be
drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.'

Good advice from Baudelaire.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I have decided to celebrate the new trailer for 300,a movie due next year about the Spartans by summarising Herodotus, and paraphrasing Simonides, in a limerick.

Leonidas' Royal Guard at Thermopylae
Met Xerxes' challenges stroppily.
The passer-by heartens
To "Go tell the Spartans,
Though dead we lie here we died properly."

Leonidas' nobility has always been a little tarnished for me by the fact that he told the helots that they were staying to die with their masters when he dismissed the rest of the army.

Luvvies should be delighted though that the Thespians stayed with the Spartans for their heroic last stand.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Had we but world enough, and time

With Chris's book club meeting - hosted at my gaff this time - looming I need to pull my finger out and finish off the guys' nominated books, so I've polished off The Time Traveler's Wife this morning.

Oddly enough I got the feeling that Clare - the time traveler's wife herself - might have fit in quite well at the last meeting as she had "Brideshead Revisited" in her purse on page 306 and was reading Louis d Bernieres 11 pages later.

For me, the author started off under a handicap because I found it impossible to read the name "Audrey Niffenegger"on the cover without thinking of Steve Martin's Dr. Hfuhruhurr in "The Man with Two Brains". Also, thinking of the cover, when I was younger I would certainly have turned my nose up at anything upon which the approval of "Richard & Judy's book club" had been bestowed. I'm certainly glad to have enough miles on the clock these days not to give a monkey's about coolness.

I don't want to write too much about the book as if I do I'll have nothing left to say about it when we get together. (As an insane aside, I already find a little spooky when people know things that I've written here when I have no recollection of telling them.)

I was surprised that I had no trouble at all however with suspension of disbelief in a novel with a central character suffering from Chrono-Displacement Disorder, a genetic disability that makes him liable - in moments of stress - to disappear from his day to day existence and find himself transported in time to other scenes from his future or past.

The intricate plot, rather appropriately, is as elegantly tuned and tooled as a chronograph and I had - sentimental fool that I am - a little blub up at the end, so I recommend the book to you as Chris did to me.

(Geek warning - stray talk with a minor character in this book suggests that you can write a computer virus in html. If nonsense like that would provoke you beyond endurance, simply omit the 8:20pm sequence in the otherwise heartbreaking "New Year's Eve, Two" chapter.)

Onwards now to Anthony Beevor's "Berlin: The Downfall 1945", Nazi and Red Army capers and atrocities aplenty. That is going to do wonders for my already jaundiced view of humanity, I'm sure.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Writely or Wrongly

This is a test post made directly from Writely, Google's online word processor.

Update: It gets as far as blogger.com where the post can be seen but doesn't seem automatically to ftp it in turn to my server which makes it a waste of time for me. It is fairly astounding with both Writely and Blogger being owned by Google that system falls down at this stage. Neither digg nor flickr has the same problem.


I've been reading Helen Keegan's web log since I met her at the recent Howard Rheingold dinner and we shared a tube journey home as she doesn't live too far away.

This post caught my eye yesterday:

Mobile Clubbing returns on Wednesday 11 October 2006 at London's Liverpool Street Station at precisely 19:24.

There are some rules to follow:

1. Bring your favourite dance music and walkman/mp3/ipod/phone with you

2. Arrive at the station at around 19:15

3. No dancing before 19:24

4. Spread out throughout the whole station concourse

5. When the clock strikes 19:24 DANCE LIKE CRAZY!!

6. Try not to dance in one place

7. Dance like you've never danced before

8. Dance for as long as you can

9. Enjoy :)

Don't worry, you'll be one of many (apparently) and there are also events happening on the same day in New York, Paris and Madrid.

This I have to see, even though I am likely to be too reserved to swing a shoe myself.

Thinking laterally it has struck me that "eat your way around the world in London" could combine sticking our noses into this event with sticking our snouts into the trough nearby at Bubba Helberg's Arkansas Cafe - an establishment that has been preying on my mind since June last year - which would allow us to tick another State of the Union off our list.

Opening times can be tricky round the City where tumbleweed blows down the deserted streets in the evenings and on weekends. I will have to check to see if we need to eat pre or post our disco frug a gogo.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

UP For It

Last week - after I wrote about my neighbours - Naude, who runs the the South African Radio Station down the hall, told me that he had read my blog because traffic I was sending his way turned up in his referrer logs.

I'm always surprised by any evidence that people read my ramblings but I suppose that I should carry on sharing the love by announcing the launch of UP MUSIC MAGAZINE.

I met Ben - who runs it from an office in the Mills - when Lisa of Surrey Strings comped me with some tickets for a music night that they put on at the Watershed a few weeks ago.

Although I am a bit long in the tooth to care too much about whether the drummer from the Arctic Monkeys has ever cried watching Neighbours on TV, I can tell you that the mag is a really slick and professional piece of work. Check it out, another contribution to the gaiety of nations from SW19 2RD.

(On a technical architecture level, I've told him I've got reservations about concealing the content behind a subscription barrier and keeping all the words and pictures in a monolithic flash file because I think it makes it harder for people to find and share the result of his labours.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How to Register a Domain

I've long hoped and suspected that education might be the "killer app" for the internet. Here French Maids demonstrate "how to register a domain", a mundane task that I've done as a favour for not a few friends and customers. In future I will just point them to this post.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Left Turn Unstoned

It’s been a long march down the crunchy granola path from macramé and LSD to the Web, Wikipedia and Google ........
It is timely, and passing strange, to be reminded of the fact that our emergent technological culture is just as much the offspring of the flower children as it is of Eisenhower's military industrial complex.

The barefoot, vegan Steve jobs who, before cofounding Apple, only took a job at Atari to fund a spiritual retreat to India seems a long way from the business colossus who bestrides the worlds of technology and entertainment today.

Indeed it seems odd to me - especially as we make the bulk of our income from "the man" - that I came to the business via the literary Steward Brand/Kevin Kelly/RU Sirius/Brenda Laurel/Howard Rheingold/Ted Nelson route as much as anything else. (I'm still vaguely astonished that I've managed to meet both Nelson and Rheingold over the last eighteen months or so.)

We can't all be Magic Alex can we?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Broken Arrow

After the short-lived Defence Secretary John Reid wrote a sanctimonious letter to journalists explaining, as if to toddlers, that British troops were merely peacekeepers, we have rapidly reached a chaotic situation where Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, cautions that it can 'only just' cope.
One of the few former soldiers in parliament, Sir Peter Tapsell, adds: 'We couldn't do this job if we had a hundred thousand men there.'
The Prime Minister's response is to put on a sober tie and speak of 'standing firm', as if he was quelling a Cabinet-room squabble. He also coos about our 'capable, committed and dedicated Armed Forces'. So does Mr Brown. Yet note this: neither pays much attention to the treatment of those forces. It has taken Sir Richard to remind us that the military were never brought under minimum wage legislation, and that private soldiers risking death daily in our theatres of war often earn half of that minimum. He spells it out: a man with a year's training, engaged in Helmand, is taking (or more likely sending) home £1,10 a month. "Is that fair?"
Our soldiers abroad pay tax - unlike US servicemen, and unlike those Revenue-dodging offshore businessmen so dear to party fundraisers. A newly qualified squaddie facing suicide bombers, snipers and rockets round the clock earns two thirds of a British policeman's wage; in a combat zone the 16-hour watches give an hourly rate of £2.45 and in Helmand, getting off duty after 16 hours is often a pipe dream anyway - fighting goes on for days. After Reid gaily said that they could leave "without a shot fired", and beetled off to insult the Home Office, they are fighting a confused war in the hardest conditions possible. On peanuts. Even the separation allowance of £6 a day only kicks in after 12 months. Oh, and they pay council tax on their barracks rooms back in Britain.

No one ever remembers the name,
Of another proud man left out in the rain,
And no one ever needs him,
till they need him again.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A New Hope

For the last one, flip the lever near the entrance to release a steam jet. Put Threepio on it and he'll be jetted up to where he can access the last switch. You can now hop on the Falcon and get out of here.

Today in "Birthday II" - we burned up some calories on my six year old's Everlast Tower Power Inflatable Punching Bag (an impulse purchase not likely to survive many pumellings on the scale of this morning's assault) and covered a few miles, in some of the heaviest rain that's ever run down the back of my neck, on his new bike.

When we got back home we were drenched to the bone so we peeled off out sodden clothes and put dressing gowns on as we dried out and started trying to come to terms with "Lego Star Wars II" on the XBOX 360 that I got for him (or perhaps more accurately for us).

My inner geek noted that he quality of the graphics that the 360 pumps out to an HD ready LCD TV is really something to behold, but it also made me smile to imagine the Daily Mail editorials that might have been extemporised in the heads of any nosey parker passers by who may have peeped through my window to see us gaming in our nightwear in the middle of the afternoon.

I've never really played computer games much before, but I can see the attraction after the two of us messed around with them for a few hours this afternoon. We finished four levels with my boy on the controller and me the eminence grise, before I had to take him back to his Mum.

Rather worryingly, I finished level 5 "Death Star Escape" - which we were about 60% of the way through - on my own when I got back so that we wouldn't have to start it again.

I've been playing with the Media Extender tonight. The XBOX 360 is hardwired into my router, but my Media Center PC - through an accident of history is only connected via Wi Fi. Much to my surprise this is still perfectly serviceable for video. I've found that I can't stream "backed up" DVD's to the Extender though, which rather puts the kybosh on My Movies. I am sure that such deliberate hamstringing of software will rebound in years to come on the MSM in all its manifestations.