A map of every town in It’s Grim Up North

Where does the North begin? This debate has been raging on the Wikipedia talk page for Northern England for over a decade. Well, luckily the answer has already been given to us by… the KLF. In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute techno song “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, ending with the phrase “are all in the North”.

I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) and ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice – and mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

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Urban birdwatching in Frankfurt — Urbane Vogelbeobachtung in Frankfurt-am-Main

If you follow me on social media, I’ve probably been driving you mad recently with lots of bird pictures. Lots and lots of bird pictures.

In order to have them all in the same place – and not just have them on a social media site that could disappear and/or use them to hack an election at any time – I’m going to put a little list of all the birds I’ve Frankfurt, and where I’ve seen them! (Und auch auf Deutsch!)

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What is the top-heaviest country?

This post is based on an interesting Twitter thread about country populations! In particular, this pair of tweets from Josh Fruhlinger:

It’s an interesting thing – how top-heavy is a country or federation? In other words, how much of the population is concentrated in its largest constituents?

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The periodic table of tastes, and how to cook with them

One of the more confusing bits of childhood science education is learning that there are only four or five tastes (textbooks have been slow to add the fifth taste, commonly called umami or savouriness, even thought it was discovered over a hundred years ago).* How can all the flavours, from chocolate to broccoli, be broken down into just five simple components – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury?

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A short Star Trek thing

Normally I’d just complain about this on Facebook or wherever, but since it’s also a spoiler for the season finale of Star Trek Discovery, I decided to put it here on the blog. Spoilers after the jump!

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Sneaky Thoughts: I, Tonya

Someone suggested today that I should make a habit of writing little reviews of the films we get at Sneak Preview. So, why not?

Tonight’s film was I, Tonya, a biopic of Tonya Harding, the ice skater who became globally infamous after her rival Nancy Kerrigan was beaten in an attack linked to Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly – and possibly Harding herself.

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Play: Human of the Year

This is a play we wrote for a Play in a Day event. It’s not exactly as performed (the director and actors did a good job of cutting it down and neatening it up a bit), but not bad for a night’s work.

Human of the Year (PDF)

Frankfurt Sneak Statistics IV – Sne4k

Here we are again.* A year of Frankfurt movie sneak previews, in statistics! You can see 2014, 2015 and 2016, now without further ado, here’s 2017!

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Short Story: The Judgement of Dr Solomon, Neurologist

Does this count as a story? A work of some kind of fiction anyway.

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The perfect symmetry of Steamed Hams

If you want to see The Simpsons at its best, you could do worse than “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield”. This episode peels away from the Simpson family to show short vignettes from the lives of the series’ many side characters.

One of the best skits from that episode (titled Skinner & The Superintendent, but better known as Steamed Hams– if you haven’t seen it, it’s only a couple of minutes long) follows Bart’s headteacher, Seymour Skinner, inviting Superintendent Chalmers over for dinner. Chalmers is Skinner’s superior: he manages the local school district and often arrives to inspect Springfield Elementary at the worst possible times.

In other words, this is a classic sitcom plot – trying to impress the boss with a fancy meal that all goes horribly wrong. The show winks to this by giving the skit a cheesy sitcom style theme song, complete with an opening sequence.

Ski-i-inner, with his crazy explanations
The superintendent’s gonna need his medication
When he hears Skinner’s lame exaggerations
There’ll be trouble in town tonight

This works as a joke, but for viewers who aren’t familiar with Chalmers (a slightly obscure character, since he usuaully only appears once or twice per season) it doubles as a set-up. Something will go wrong, and Skinner will lie to cover it up, and in the process make everything worse.

In spite of being formulaic, Steamed Hams has gone down as a classic bit. It’s now a meme to mash up the scene in different ways – to turn it into guitar music, to remove all Skinner’s lies, to run it through a trippy vocoder, to replace the words with bad translations, to edit it like the movie Memento, and to reverse the order of the lines so the scene runs forward but the dialogue runs backwards.

This last one really intrigued me, because it reveals something incredible about this scene: its symmetry. Steamed Hams is constructed with the same kind of attentiveness to symmetry that you might expect of Greek architecture or Renaissance art. Don’t believe me? Watch.

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