Sunday, 26 September 2010

Napster Bombs

The arrival of Napster in June 1999 was not universally popular. For it's users the chance to exchange files of music could mean acquiring whole libraries of music for pennies, but for the majority of the music industry it caused alarm.
Some artists supported the idea as another way to promote their music and felt that if people liked what they heard they would buy the CD as well.
Others were not so sure. Metallica and Dr. Dre filed lawsuits against Napster in 2000 for copyright violation and this was quickly followed by a case brought against Napster by various record companies.
Napster lost the case with the record companies and eventually settled the cases with Metallica and Dr. Dre but only after declaring itself bankrupt in 2002 having run out of money to fight the various legal cases it was embroiled in.
So it was the might of the record companies and some of the biggest names in music that did for Napster eventually but there were attacks upon the site from a number of directions employing some rather creative methods.
In 2000 Michael Fix was stunned to see how easy it was to download music for free from Napster.
His wife, Stephanie, was a singer and songwriter and Michael was concerned that her career could be harmed by the fact that people had an alternative to buying her records if they liked her music.
He decided to take direct action against Napster and, along with his brother John, began to upload files to the site labelled as being songs by artists such as Bruce Springsteen.
However, the songs would only start with the tune it was labelled as. Thirty seconds or so in the brothers had edited in one of Stepanie’s songs.
This form of protest was initially attacked as being a form of promotion for Stephanie’s work so the brothers quickly modified their methods to make it clear it was an attempt to foil online piracy rather than a tawdry commercial device.
They set up a website explaining how to create ‘cuckoo’s eggs’ to upload to Napster.
These would be tracks labelled as popular songs and would indeed have the song as labelled at the start of the track but, again, thirty seconds in the track would be replaced by random noises such as bird song or audio clips from cartoons.
The Fixes explained that if people were, as was being claimed by some, downloading track by track and listening along to the songs they would be able to stop the download and not be affected.
They were targeting those who were exchanging industrial levels of music without actually checking to see what they were actually getting.
The Tabloids, a rock band from Oakland, California, set up a website encouraging people to do the same thing and named their mislabeled songs ‘Napster Bombs’.
In the end these attacks were little more than an annoyance to Napster and its users but it’s encouraging to know you didn’t have to be a petulant millionaire to be passionate about the fate of the artist in the digital age...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Arrive Alive

‘Arrive Alive’ went into production on the 12th of April 1990. On paper it had all the elements in place to be a perfectly acceptable knockabout comedy.
The cast was headed up by Willem Defoe, who had just broken into the Hollywood A-list with a string of hits, including ‘Platoon’ (1986), ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988) and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ (1989) and Joan Cusack, who was an alumni of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and had just enjoyed a number of strong comedic roles in films such as ‘Broadcast News’ (1987) ‘Married to the Mob’ and ‘Working Girl’ (1988).
The director, Jeremiah S. Chechik, had just worked on ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989) and the producer, Art Linson, was a veteran of such films as ‘Car Wash’ (1976), ‘The Untouchables’ (1987) and ‘Scrooged’ (1988).
The plot of the film was to involve Defoe as a hotel manager and Cusack as his girlfriend getting involved in various scams.
However, after a single weeks filming it became apparent that the script was simply not funny enough to produce a decent comedy film.
The producers decided then to take the brave step of cancelling the rest of the shoot and writing off the $7 million they had already invested in the production...

Sunday, 12 September 2010


Neptune was the first planet to be ‘discovered’ by mathematical prediction rather than empirical observation. Following Newton’s work on gravity, astronomers knew that planetary bodies affected one anothers orbits due to the gravitational field of each object working on the things around it.
Unexpected fluctuations in the orbit of Uranus lead to the hypothesis that there must be an undetected planet lying outside of its procession around the Sun and pulling the planet out of its natural motion as they moved closer together.
Urbain Le Verrier, a French astronomer at the Paris Observatory, calculated the position of this celestial object using mathematics and his observations of the discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus against the orbit established by Newton’s laws of gravity.
Le Verrier announced his final predicted position for the unseen planet on August 31st 1846.
The planet was observed for the first time by Johann Galle, a German astronomer at the Berlin Observatory, who used Le Verrier’s prediction to guide his viewing.
Le Verrier’s calculation was within 1 degree of the actual position of the planet that was to become known as Neptune.
At the same time Le Verrier was working on fluctuations in the orbit of Mercury.
Again Le Verrier used the Newtonian model to calculate the effect of gravitation on the movement of Mercury around the Sun and in 1843 published a provisional theory on the existence of a previously undetected planet between the Sun and Mercury that would explain the erratic orbit that Mercury demonstrated.
A transit of Mercury, where the planet would pass across the face of the Sun, would provide an ideal opportunity to spot this new planet and fortunately there was a transit in 1843, shortly after Le Verrier published his prediction.
The transit came and went but no new planet was seen in the area Le Verrier had anticipated it would be. He continued with his work and in 1859 published a more complete study of Mercury’s orbit. This was consisted of modifications to his calculations and more thorough observations based on 14 further transits.
Le Verrier was so confident of his prediction that he suggested the planet should be named ‘Vulcan’ when it was eventually discovered. The Roman god of the forge and fire was an ideal namesake for a planet closer to the Sun than any other previously discovered.
Many observations of the new planet were reported from across the globe by astronomers who used Le Verrier’s calculations, however none of them could ever be confirmed and Vulcan evaded any concrete detection.
Le Verrier died in 1877, still convinced he had discovered a planet that had simply never been seen.
With his death astronomers became less certain of his prediction and observations of the planet died down.
Eventually, in 1915, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity. This modified Newton’s work and proposed that the size of an object would affect the strength of the objects gravitational field. The Sun, being by far the largest object in the Solar System, simply had a strong enough gravitational field to affect Mercury’s orbit in a manner that Newtonian mechanics would never predict. In reality the mass of the Sun affects all planets in the same way but Mercury’s proximity to the Sun, and the fact that there are no large objects between the Sun and Mercury, simply makes the effect more pronounced.
Le Verrier couldn’t have been more wrong, it was the lack of a planet between the Sun and Mercury that had caused the erratic orbit.
The idea of planet Vulcan never entirely died though.
In 1966 Gene Roddenberry, the creator of a new Science Fiction television show called ‘Star Trek’ needed a fictional home planet for Spock, one of his characters.
Originally Spock was going to be a Martian but Roddenberry felt there was a strong possibility of a manned trip to Mars during the shows run and this would cause the character to lose some of his mystique. To be on the safe side Roddenberry chose the name of a planet that had been the subject of feverish speculation but would never have a man walk upon it.
Spock would be a Vulcan...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Coventry Cathedral

On the 14th of November 1940 St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry was almost entirely destroyed in an air raid by the Luftwaffe.
The tower, spire, outer wall and tomb of the first bishop of Coventry survived but the rest of the building was obliterated.
In 1950 a competition was held to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral.
Over 200 entries were submitted, most suggesting the rebuilding of the original structure with others proposing to demolish what remained of the old building and the construction of an entirely new development.
The winning design was put forward by Basil Spence.
His idea was to build a new cathedral but retain the ruins of the older building as a memorial and develop it as a garden of remembrance.
Hollington sandstone, the material used in the construction of the original building, was used for the new cathedral, giving an element of unity between the two structures which were visually very different.
The foundation stone of the new structure was laid on March 23rd 1956 and the Cathedral was consecrated on May 25th 1962.
Basil Spence had been an intelligence officer during World War Two and had taken part in the D-Day landings.
On his second day in France he had watched British tanks destroy two Norman churches in Ouistreham and Hermanville. They had shelled the belfries to kill German snipers who were positioned up there.
That night a friend asked Spence what his plans were once the war was over.
He replied:

‘To build a cathedral...’