Archive for the ‘Seasonal Greetings’ Category

Happy New Year Everyone!

January 1, 2022

I wish all the readers of my blog a very happy New Year, whatever their religion, or lack thereof, or philosophy. My you all enjoy health, prosperity and happiness despite the Tory government and Keef Stalin’s stranglehold on the Labour party. I realise celebrations were muted this year, due to the rise of the omicron variant and the consequent lockdown in parts of the UK, but I hope you managed to find ways to celebrate nonetheless. May it all end this year so that we can finally be united with our relatives and friends.

And this year, may peace win over the forces and leaders trying to drive our nations to war.

Love and peace to you,

Beastrabban.

The Utterance Robot that Speaks Like Humans

December 30, 2021

I hope everyone’s still enjoying the Christmas season. I know I haven’t posted anything political over the past few days, or even much at all, but I thought I’d try to leave the important, emotive subjects till after the holiday. Well, that’s not going to happen, as I’ve found a few videos on very serious issues I’d like to post and comment on. But first some fun.

This is another robot video, from the ikinamo channel of YouTube. It’s about professor Hideyuki Sawada and his team at Kagawa University, who have created a robotic version of the human mouth in order to mimic real, human speech more closely. The mouth looks like a long, flesh-coloured tube, below which are a series of rods which rise and fall to manipulate it. The mouth also has a tongue, The machine is operated by a pump, which pushes air into the mouth through vocal chords. Above the mouth itself is a plaster nose to add resonance, the plaster having the same resonance as a human nose. The robot needs this to make the ‘m’ and ‘n’ sounds, while its tongue allows it to say the ‘r’. The changes in the mouth cavity and movements of its artificial lips create the same types of sound as a biological human mouth. The machine also has a microphone so that it can hear itself. It possesses autonomous learning, so that it can correct its mistakes by listening, and working out what a particular sound should be. It’s not quite right just yet, as it has no teeth and so can’t pronounce the dental fricatives. However, they are teaching the pitch and words to a Japanese song so that it will be able to sing that.

Something very like this robot was created by Klemper, a German scientist, in the 19th century. He also reasoned that in order to create speech mechanically, you should start with a mechanical mouth. As he was German, the machine also spoke with a German accent. And back in the 1980s I read an article in one of the popular science magazines around then that the way to solve problems with robot and computer speech would be to build an artificial mouth, so that the machine would speak like a human would.

Like the various types of artificial muscle being developed, this is clearly another example of robotics engineers following nature in their quest to create machines that function like humans and animals more closely. It’s ingenious, but does look weird as a disembodied, mechanically operated mouth and nose.

Alex Belfield Spreading Fear and Suspicion about Armed Windsor Castle Intruder

December 28, 2021

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and/or holiday season, depending on their religious beliefs or lack thereof, despite the threat of another lockdown. Still, if it saves a few lives from the Coronavirus, it will have been worth it no matter how awkward and difficult it is for the rest of us. I really shouldn’t be giving the mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield any more publicity, but I caught one of his videos today commenting on the intruder, who tried to get into Windsor Castle with a crossbow to kill the Queen. According to the news, the would-be assassin was a 19 year old man, Jaswant Singh Chail. Chail said that he wanted to kill her to avenge the 1919 Jallianabagh massacre, in which British troopers fired on unarmed protesters in the Punjab. He also wanted to avenge everyone who had suffered racist persecution. Chail is believed to have mental health problems, and his father has said something about him hopefully getting the help he needs. As the lad has also declared that, in addition to being a Sikh, he’s also a Sith called ‘Darth Jones’, I think his father and the arresting authorities are probably right. But not so Belfield. He has said he finds it interesting that Chail’s been diagnosed as mentally ill following his intrusion, and thinks that there is an elephant in the room we’re not being told about.

This seems to me to be wrong and potentially dangerous. I might be reading him wrong – I hope I am – but it looks like a piece of dog whistle racism.

I don’t believe for a single minute that this is the case. I realise that there is good and bad in every people, but the Sikhs I’ve met weren’t any kind of angry fanatics. I used to work with a Sikh lad, who was very spiritual and wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose. In fact, he was worried about the sectarian tension and violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in India. A few years ago I was on the bus and there was an older Sikh man in full traditional costume, turban, orange sash and robes standing near the driver, and the two were laughing and chatting. When I was studying religion as part of my minor degree at College back in the 1980s, as part of the course on sociology of religion we had to go to a different place of worship and observe what was going on. I’m an Anglican with Roman Catholic relatives, so they simply took me to the local Catholic church for mass. One of the girls in the class was taken by her sister to a Sikh wedding. The girls were Christians, but were nevertheless made very welcome by the people there. As far as I can remember, the last time there was mass protests or disaffection in the British Sikh community, it was in the 1970s when the government brought in the law that bikers had to wear helmets. I think some Sikhs protested because it made it difficult for them to wear the turban. And that was very definitely decades ago.

So no, I don’t believe there is more to it than an angry young man, who’s spent too long brooding about an historical injustice and no doubt his own experiences as a victim of racism. He may not be serious about the claim to be a Sith. ‘Darth Jones’ sounds like a spoof of a Sith name, rather than something genuine sinister like Darth Sidious, but I don’t think there’s any more to it than a grotesque sense of personal grievance.

It really does look to me like he was a disturbed loner, and any suggestion that there’s more to it is just dangerous fear-mongering.

The Victorian Invention of the Christmas Card

December 25, 2021

I found this account of how the Victorians invented the Christmas card in the children’s book Amazing Inventions and Concoctions, by Howard Elson, illustrated by Kim Blundell (London: Octopus Book 1988). This says

‘Every Christmas, it’s a great ritual to send out greetings cards to your friends and relatives, and the card industry is a thriving business all over the world.

The Christmas card was first designed in 1843 by an Englishman called J C Horsley for his friend, Sir Henry Cole. The card, printed on stiff brown cardboard, depicted a sketch of a family eating, drinking and making merry. The words, “A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year To You”, were printed underneath. 1000 were put on sale in London.

Americans had to wait 32 years before Christmas cards were introduced in the US by Louis Prang of Boston, Massachusetts.’

The BBC showed a programme on the origin of various Christmas customs the other year, which covered the invention of Christmas cards. According to them, Horlsey invented it because he had so many friends he was tired of having to write complete letters to them all. Well, it’s great to be so popular!

Wishing All My Readers a Merry Christmas

December 25, 2021

I hope everyone reading my blog has a Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Unfortunately with a second lockdown looming, this is going to be a time when the toast ‘absent friends’ is particularly relevant and poignant.

I particularly wish my Jewish readers ‘Shalom’, Muslim and Arab readers ‘Salaam’, and the Russian people ‘Mir’. These are all words for ‘peace’. May our leaders step back from war, hatred and violence next year, and work instead to benefit our common humanity and combat climate change and the environmental destruction that is threatening our beautiful, fragile Earth.

Very best wishes to you all and everyone your pray and/or care for.

Wishing All My Readers A Happy Easter

April 4, 2021

This is just to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Whether you’re Christian or not, I hope everyone here has a great Easter bank holiday, despite the lockdown and the Tory government.

Boston Dynamics’ Dancing Robots

January 1, 2021

The American robotics company Boston Dynamics posted this video on YouTube a few days to wish everyone a happy New Year. It shows some of their various robots dancing to Gordon Berry and the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’. The robots include the bipedal, anthropomorphic Atlas robot, as well as a four-legged machine and one with two legs ending in wheels. The machines do an uncannily good display of human dancing. Some of the commenters on the video naturally felt that if robots can do all this, it won’t be long before they take over. Others suggest that the machines haven’t done any of it. It’s been done by human actors using green screen. I think this is probably right, following the video of a combat robot in action. This also looked unnervingly real, until the producers put up a video showing how they had made it. And it was all done by a human actor, whose image was replaced by that of a robot using CGI. If the dancing robots are similarly the product of computer graphics, then at one level it’s a disappointment and at another a profound relief that just yet they don’t quite have those abilities.

But regardless of how it was produced, it is hugely entertaining! Please watch and enjoy!

Do You Love Me? – YouTube

Happy New Year to Everyone

January 1, 2021

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season despite the lockdown, Brexit, the new, more virulent strain of the coronavirus, and the fact that Boris Johnson and his vile cronies are still in government. I wish everyone reading my blog a very happy New Year. I hope they have peace, good health and prosperity, and that things improve for all of us in 2021.

Silver Monoliths and the Great UFO Ball Invasion

December 30, 2020

I hope everyone’s having a great Christmas, despite the outbreak of an even more virulent strain of the Coronavirus, the consequent lockdown and Boris’ farcical deal with the EU. I haven’t posted anything over the past few days partly because I wanted to enjoy Christmas, and didn’t feel like dealing with all the misery Johnson’s coterie of thugs and entitled bandits and looters, and partly because I simply don’t find much of the news that’s surfaced over the past few days at all inspiring. I was intending only to publish odd, cheerful or uplifting stuff over the holiday period for a change, more in keeping with Christmas as the season of peace and goodwill. Well, that’s gone out the window, as I do intend to blog about serious issues. But for now here’s something far less grim than the faces and policies of BoJob, Gove, Priti Patel, Starmer and Rayner.

Among the serious news there have been reports over the last few weeks of a mysterious silver monolith appearing around the world. It first appeared in America, then disappeared, only to re-emerge in Britain, on the Isle of Wight or somewhere. It disappeared again and then moved to somewhere else in the globe. It’s a pity that some of the urban folklore magazines of the 1990s aren’t still around, as this is the kind of event they loved. Small press magazines like Dear Mr Thoms/ Letter to Ambrose Merton, Folklore Frontiers and the academic Contemporary Legend used to follow similar stories. Like the stolen garden gnomes that went around the world, sending their former owners postcards from whichever new location they turned up in. This is somewhat like that. But it most closely resembles a British UFO hoax from the early 1980s which was covered, I believed, by that venerable journal of the weird, the Fortean Times. I’ve forgotten quite when it all happened, but sometime in the early 1980s or perhaps the late ’70s, a number of silver spheres appeared around Britain making beeping noises. They were designed to appear like alien objects from a UFO. The silver monolith also looks to me like it’s intended to resemble the alien monoliths from Kubrick and Clarke’s classic SF film, 2001, but with the difference that theirs was pitch black. As far as I know, no-one has claimed responsibility for the supposedly alien spheres, although I think it was suggested they were the work of students. I think it’s highly unlikely that either spheres or the recent monolith are the work of aliens. However, latter did appear at the same time as an unexplained signal was received from Proxima Centauri. This is the nearest star to ours, at about four light years away. Scientists were excited about it because Proxima Centauri is believed to have two planets. One is a Jupiter-sized gas giant, but the other is a rocky planet like Earth. So there have been videos on YouTube asking whether what was picked up was another ‘WOW signal’, like the burst of radio noise from Eta Carinae in the 1970s that astonished radio astronomers. It was so close to what they expected a signal from an alien civilisation to be like, that someone wrote ‘Wow’ next to the printout of it. It’s been a matter of debate since whether it really did come from aliens or was natural. The signal was never repeated, like the recent signal from Proxima Centauri, so I think most scientists believe it’s almost certainly natural. I think the Proxima signal will probably prove natural too. But you never know, and we live in hope.

As for hoaxes and stunts like the silver monolith and beeping spheres, while they aren’t remotely the real UFO landing people hope for, they do no harm and keep people amused. And in these grim times, we definitely need everything we can get to keep our spirits up.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

December 24, 2020

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and I just wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May you all have a very happy and peaceful holiday season, whatever your religious beliefs. And I hope you’re still able to keep in touch with family and friends despite the lockdown restrictions. The toast ‘Absent friends’ will be particularly resonant this year.

And most of all, may those spirits of Christmas truly grotty – Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Gove, Starmer, Rayner and all the other horrors be far from your thoughts and those you love.

Have a great time!