Sunday, 26 February 2012

Stuff You Didn't Know You Wanted To Know About Leap Years

As you are probably aware, this week brings us a very special day. Yes folks, in three days' time it will not be March, it will in fact still be February. 29th February to be exact. In honour of this shy little day's appearance, I found out some stuff (6 stuffs to be exact) about leap years.

1. The Earth takes 365 days to complete one circuit around the Sun. Well, in theory yes. In reality it actually takes a bit longer (approximately 0.242199 days longer). This means that the calendar year is a teeny bit shorter than the solar year (5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds shorter to be precise). It's this slight discrepancy between a calendar and solar year that result in 29th February making an appearance every once in a while.

2. If we didn't add this extra day every four years, things would start to get a bit squiffy as the solar and calendar years would become increasingly out of sync with each other. After four years, for example, the calendar year would fall behind the solar year by about a day: after 100 years the difference would grow to around 25 days. This is all fine and dandy until you realise that the seasons  would begin to drift and before you knew it, we'd be having Christmas in summer. Shudder.

3. Working out whether it's a leap year or not is pretty simple: there a few ways you can do it.
Number One - check the calendar. If there's a 29th February, it's a leap year. If there's not, it's not.
(Note - the calendar must be a calendar of the year in question. Doesn't work if it's not)
Number Two - work out whether the year can be evenly divided by 4. If it can, then hey presto it's a
leap year (e.g. 2012 divided by 4 = 503 exactly).
Incidentally, if the year can't be evenly divided by 4, the remainder will tell you how many years it
is since the last leap year (e.g. 2013 divided by 4 = 503 remainder 1).
Number Three - befriend someone who was born in a leap year. When he/she turns a multiple of 4
(e.g. 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24 etc), it's a leap year.

4. There are two reasons for a leap year being so called (there are probably more, don't sue me).The first of which is that fixed holidays (such as Christmas) 'leap' forward an extra day during a leap year. The second, and my favourite of the two reasons, is that hundreds of years ago, the extra day had no recognition in English law. Essentially, the day was 'leapt over' and ignored.

5. So you know how I said earlier that a year must be evenly divisible by 4 in order to be a leap year? I lied. In order to keep things in line and chugging along nicely, some clever folks decided to get rid of a leap year every few hundred years. This means that, in order for a century year (1900, 2000, 2100 etc.) to be a leap year, it must be evenly divisible by 400.
2000 divided by 400 = 5 (year 2000 was a leap year)
1900 divided by 400 = 4.75 (year 1900 was not a leap year)

6. 29th February is supposedly the one day when a woman can propose to a man. Apparently this is because in ye olden times people believed that, since the leap day had no legal status (see point 4), it was reasonable to assume that tradition had no status either. Women of ye olden times at once rubbed their hands together with glee as they realised that they could take advantage of this assumption by proposing to their partners and breaking with tradition. Take that, tradition!

If that's whet your appetite and you'd like to find out more, here are some websites:
Time And Date
Leap Year Calculator
Info Please

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Stop Motion Animation

Howdy folks!

So I haven't posted a new bloglet in a while but I kind of actually have an actual, valid excuse. Sort of. 

Well, not really. I've been playing with my birthday presents (12th February if you missed it this year and would like to send something next time - don't worry, I don't have a 'special' birthday for a while - I'll remind you nearer the time).

Anywho, the present which has dominated the past couple of days is the 'Make Your Own Morph' kit sent in by Adam, aged 22 from Stevenage. Thanks Adam.

For anyone who didn't watch Morph as a child (and frankly your childhood was severely lacking if you were denied this pleasure), here is a picture of the little guy.

Happy little dude, isn't he?

Aardman, the creators of Morph (and later Wallace & Gromit) used stop motion animation to create short videos. 'Stop motion animation?' What the chickens are you on about, Becky? Well, folks, good old Wikipedia defines stop motion in the following way:

Stop motion (also known as stop frame) is an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence. Dolls with movable joints or clay figures are often used in stop motion for their ease of repositioning. Motion animation using clay is called clay animation or clay-mation.

I decided it would be an excellent idea to have a go at making my own Morph video (which you can see at the end of this bloglet). If anyone else wants to try their hand at stop motion animation, here are a few tips:

1. Patience is a necessity - not a virtue - a necessity. My video takes less than 2.5 minutes to watch. It took 2 days to make. I don't have any fancy software which could speed up the process, but even if I did, the process of taking the pictures would still take a while and requires a lot of patience.

2. Only do it if you enjoy it. Sounds pretty obvious, I know, but it links in with the previous point: if you're enjoying it you're more likely to stay patient and the final outcome will be better.

3. Teeny tiny movements are the key. You'll see in my video that I don't always stick to this rule and Morph jumps from one place to another.

4. Less is not more. There are probably over 1000 pictures squeezed into my little video (I took around 860 but used some more than once). The more photos you take, the smoother the movement will be.

5. Lighting is vital. Because you're only making tiny alterations to the model's pose/position each time you take a photo, it can take a long time to make a scene. Your lighting should, therefore, be kept as constant as possible. Again, I failed at this in my video - at one point if you look out the window you can see the sun setting and rising as I use the same pictures in chronological and anachronical order.

Anyway, enough of me babbling. Here's Morph.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time there was a girl called Becky. Becky had a sister and lots of friends whom she loved very much. They often did lots of fun things together, like singing and dancing and going to exciting places. Sometimes, when the singing and dancing happened, Becky and her friends would drink lots of falling down juice and be rather silly. Becky would look forward to these times very much.

One day a thought occured to Becky. Wouldn't it be nice if I could record some of the fun things we get up to? Then I could look back at the recordings and see my friends even when they weren't near! So Becky decided to save up her pocket money and buy herself a video camera.

Becky was very happy when she had saved enough money and finally found the camera that was just right for her. Unfortunately, it wasn't available in any of the shops near her, so Becky had to buy her camera off the internet and get it delivered to her house. She didn't mind this too much because she would only have to wait a few more days before she got her nice, red camera.

The nice people at the Yodel delivery service gave Becky a special code which would let her track where her parcel was. After a day or so, Becky used this special code and, what do you think? It said that her parcel was already out for delivery! Becky was very excited when she realised she would be getting her camera sooner than she had expected!

All day long Becky kept checking out the window to see if she could spot the delivery van on its way. After a while, the sky began to grow darker and Becky was a little disappointed. You see, it was getting near her bed time and she thought that she might have to wait until the next day to play with the camera. But she was still grateful to those nice people at Yodel for delivering her parcel earlier than she had expected.

A few hours later, and with still no sign of her parcel, Becky used the special code again. She saw that her camera had been taken back to the depot. Oh well, she thought to herself, if it had come today it would have been earlier than those people at Yodel told me, so I suppose I can't be too sad.

The next day, the special code told Becky that her camera was on its way again! Phew, she thought, it will arrive right on time and I'll be able to play with it today!

But can you guess what happened next, boys and girls? Yes, that's right, no parcels arrived all day. Becky was quite upset when the special code told her it had been taken back to the depot again!

Can you imagine how sad little Becky was when the same thing happened for another two days? I'm afraid she was a very sad little panda because she had been told three times that her camera would arrive 'today' and three times it had been taken back. Poor little Becky.

When it reached the end of the fifth business day (for that was when the day by which the camera should have been delivered), Becky wrote a message to the people at Yodel to ask them where her parcel was. The next day (which was a Friday) Becky got a message back from Yodel, saying that her parcel was on its way and would be with her by the end of the day. Becky was still a little annoyed that it hadn't arrived on time, but she was glad that she would finally get her camera.

All day long Becky kept an eye out the window for the delivery van. She'd had a message from Yodel promising that her camera would be with her that day, and she knew that a promise should never, ever be broken. When it got to the end of the day and the camera still hadn't arrived, Becky was very angry. She used the code again and saw that the parcel had been taken back to the depot again! She couldn't believe it. Those nasty people at Yodel had broken their promise and, because it was a weekend, Becky knew that she wouldn't get her parcel until Monday - 4 days after it should have been delivered!

Becky decided to write another message to Yodel to tell them just how disappointed in their service she was. Now, because she was rather (justifiably) angry at that time, Becky's message was not a particularly friendly one. She didn't use naughty words, but she did remind the people at Yodel that the journey of less than 20 miles between the depot and her house really should not take five days.

In response, Becky received a message from those wicked people at Yodel saying that they had not had her full address and that that was why they had been unable to deliver the camera. Becky, thoroughly pissed off that those useless people at Yodel had not bothered to get in contact with her in order to check the address, wrote another message (she was getting rather good at writing messages now). This time it was to the shop which she had ordered the camera from. She told them all about those evil people at Yodel and made a point of saying that if, when the camera did eventually arrive, there was a single scratch on it, she would happily march down to her local shop and make a great fuss until she was given a perfect replacement.

Soon, someone from Head Office gave Becky a call and explained that they had been in touch with those bastards at Yodel, who had told them the same thing they had told Becky - that they had been given an incomplete address. The nice person from Head Office then told Becky that, when the address had been checked, it turned out that it was exactly the one which Becky had given them and that there was actually nothing missing at all. This did nothing to cheer Becky's dark mood.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a happy ending to this tale as Becky is still without her camera after 7 days of those imbeciles at Yodel apparently attempting (and failing miserably) to deliver her parcel.

The moral of the story is simply this, boys and girls . Never use Yodel.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Dancing on Ice 2012 (5)

Apologies for it being a day late, but here it is, DOI bloglet number five! Enjoy.

An advantage of the recap being late is that I'll be watching the show on the itv player and have that most magical of magic options: pause (no, unfortunately we don't have the ability to pause live TV in this household. We're not that hi-tech).

To start things off the itv player decides to advertise the film 'One Day' to me, telling me that it is the perfect gift for Valentine's Day. There are two things wrong with this, itv player. Firstly, I do not have a Valentine and secondly, I've read the book and found it horribly tedious. I have absolutely no desire to watch the film. Ever.

Clearly the itv player isn't convinced by my dismissal of 'One Day' and tries to persuade me that it really is the perfect gift for Valentine's by showing me the advert again. You and I are going to fall out, itv player.

Judging by a quick recap of last week's show it seems that everyone enjoyed THE DUEL and is looking forward to the theme this week of pop songs.

itv player is obviously in a mischevious mood today and chooses this moment to stop working. When I reload the page guess which advert I get? At what time of day does it become acceptable to start drinking?

Ah look, Wand Erection have turned up to try and cheer me up. They're even in little suits, bless them. Unfortunately for them I did not like them when they were on X Factor as individuals, I liked them less when they became a band and I like them even less now they're popular and doing well for themselves. Lovely aren't I? They sing/mime their way through one of their songs while T&D and the professional skaters perform and try to take my mind off annoying DVD adverts and out of tune singing.

When it's all over and I can remove the cotton wool from my ears, Phillip and Not Holly turn up to say hello and inform me that Wand Erection will be peforming again later. Again? You spoil us, DOI producers.

Aaaargh! Technical issues lead to me being told for the fourth time about 'the perfect gift for Valentine's day'. So that I don't bore you silly, I'll just make a note at the end of the bloglet of how many times I've had to sit through THAT advert, and not keep mentioning it all the way through.

Jennifer and Daniel (Vogue)
Jennifer tells us that last week was the first time she's skated and enjoyed herself. Dan says that her state of mind and attitude towards skating has completely changed for the better. Mr. Dean attributes an improvement in Jennifer's skating to a boost in her confidence. I'm expecting good things from her perfomance this week.
I'm in agreement with Christopher: there does seem to be an improvement in her skating this week and, although you can never tell for sure, she looks like she's enjoying herself on the ice. Unfortunately for Jennifer there are the Jorgies and Matthews of the competition, and in comparison to them, she hovers around the 'somewhat average' group of celebrities. Having said that, it was a good, clean performance, if at times a little slow, and a nice way to start the show.
Judges' score: 17.0
Louie thinks it was a lovely perfomance, not fantastic, but lovely. Robin (who, for some bizarre reason, looks like a middle aged business man tonight) commends Jennifer's confidence over the ice.

Sam and Alexandra (Wake Me Up)
This week Sam is working on overcoming his nerves, which apparently let him down last week. As well as having to cope with the prop of a double bed (of course), Sam has also been given an over the shoulder lift, which is apparently rather tricky. In training he seems to like dropping Alexandra.
Fantastically ridiculous 80s outfits distract me from the fact that the song has been chopped up in very annoying places. Thankfully Sam manages to keep hold of Alexandra and not drop her during the lift. Probably because he didn't actually stand up straight but lent forward so it didn't look as impressive as it could have.
Judges' score: 16.5 (best so far)
Sam is grateful that Alexandra trusts him despite dropping her numerous times. She is a fool! Katerina comes out with a corker when she describes Sam as a 'surprise egg' because when you open up you never  know what you're going to get. I love her ridiculousness. Louie blabbers on about Sam keeping tension in his arm. Robin thinks Sam took two giant (metaphorical) steps forward this week.

Charlene and Matthew (Poker Face)
"Hi, it's me, Suzie Skate-Off." Feeling a little sorry for ourselves, Charlene?
Charlene's goal this week is not to end up in the skate-off. My spidey senses tell me you won't achieve this goal I'm afraid.
Professional skater Matthew is bloody loving this song choice! Holy mackrel, Jennifer's not the only one who can do the splits ... and it's all the more impressive with Charlene's more ... mature age.
Judges' score: 13.5
Charlene is disappointed. Matthew doesn't really care because he's still excited about the song.
Robin criticises Charlene for not putting anything new into her routine and relying on Matthew to push her around the ice. Katerina agrees. Louie make some positive comments about the dance content and Charlene's impressive flexibility and he encourages her to do the splits on a tilt in the future. He demonstrates for us and Charlene copies. Lots of clapping and cheering from the audience.

Sebastien and Brianne (Fire With Fire)
As Phillip introduces this couple he raises my hopes by saying that Sebastien is a big fan of Steps (are we going to be treated to one of their classics?) ... because he jumps off them everyday (oh, probably not ... it was just a reference to the free running thing, dammit Schofield).
T&D are confident that Sebastien will soon be snapping at the heels of Jorgie and Matthew, and so they decide to give him a number of tricky jumps in his routine this week. Unfortunately for Sebastien, mastering them on the ice is proving a lot tougher than mastering them off the ice because ice is "slippery and unpredictable". No shit, Sherlock.
Oh. My. God. Pause! Since the recording of their training Sebastien seems to have grown a mohican. I'm not sure I like it and I am suspicious of where it's come from. Seriously, how did he grow that in a week? Maybe it's a stick-on mohican. It's probably a stick-on.
He's certainly improving. Not quite as good as Matthew yet but I find him more exciting (yes, probably because I don't like Matthew). The jumps which he struggled with in training seem to cause him no problem on the night and he's doing so much better at skating with his partner these days.
Judges' score: 21.5. Tony tells me this equals the best score so far.
Louie is full of positivity and IS EXCITED AGAIN (he shouted), Katerina is in love with Sebastien's spirit, Robin is enthusiastic about how much Sebastien has to offer.

Heidi and Andrei (Price Tag)
Heidi was annoyed with a little stumble in her routine last week but was encouraged by the fact that she won immunity.
There's a quick shot of Chris explaining some of the choreography and he says something along the lines of "So you've got the price tag here and then you throw it away." Oh no no no no no! We're not literally acting out the song are we? That would be a rather big fail in my books.
T&D are very happy with how far Heidi has come in the competition and so they decide to challenge her by giving her a section in the routine where she must let go of Andrei and skate independently. This seems to cause issues. It's week five and the idea of skating on her own is causing ISSUES. What the hell? Heidi makes excuses, saying that it's not about him holding onto her because she can do the sequence when she and Andrei are only just touching finger tips. Basically she's just being a wuss.
Yep, she has an oversized 'pricetag' in her hand which she waves at us. Yes, we've seen the connection to the song title, Heidi, just get on with it. She skates backwards and finds that Andrei (standing still in his best mannequin pose) has a price tag hanging from his wrist. What a co-inky-dink. On his is the word SALE written in nice, big letters which we can't fail to see. Heidi is very pleased by this sale item and gives an overly dramatic wink to camera as if to say 'What a bargain, eh?' It's all very pantomime-y and tedious.
Apart from the sequence when she has to skate independently (which seems quite painfully slow), the rest of the routine is good. Clearly this week is all about the splits because Heidi decides to do it/them upside down above Andrei's head. As you do.
Judges' score: 16.5 (her best so far) Heidi is very pleased with this. She talks about the independent step sequence and describes it as being "literally in me 'ead." Literally? LITERALLY? Literally that step sequence was IN. YOUR. HEAD? Ugh.
Robin wants Heidi to allow herself to have confidence without Andrei, Louie thinks the routine was simplicity at its best and enjoyed it a lot. Katerina thinks Heidi grows week by week. Careful, Katerina, you've already called Chemmy 'a big girl'.

Andy and Vicky (500 Miles)
This week Andy took Vicky to the Coronation Street set so that they could spend more time together and practise the routine as much as possible. Yep, a soap opera set sounds like the perfect place to practise an ice skating routine.
During training, Chris said that he wanted Andy to show off his comedic talent on the ice. This routine allows him to do that but unfortunately sometimes at the expense of him showing off his skating ability. I don't know, maybe I'm talking rubbish and the judges will disagree.
Judges' score: 17.5. Jayne thinks Andy is the most improved celebrity since the start of the show.
Katarina (apparently I've been spelling her name incorrectly for 4 weeks, sorry) likes the partnership Andy and Vicky have, Robin thinks Andy is engaging and fun to watch. Louie says that Andy makes him smile. So yes, I clearly was talking rubbish.

After the advert break there is a special guest. It's only Gordon the ruddy Gopher! Love that puppet.

Chemmy and Sean (The Locomotion)
Last week gave Chemmy a confidence boost (which means 'beating Corey last week gave Chemmy a confidence boost'). This week she's skating to Kylie which is rather a coincidence because, as she tells Chris, someone recently said to her that she looks like Kylie. That person was clearly a moron. Chemmy looks nothing like Kylie.
Apparently lots of concentration is required in this routine because there are a number of lifts and technical moves. Chemmy is understandably concerned because of comments Katarina made a few weeks ago about the sight of Chemmy doing big lifts scaring her to death. Jayne tries to assuage these concerns by reasoning that Katarina probably meant it was too early in the competition for Chemmy to be doing the big lifts. I don't think that's what she meant, Jayne. I think she just meant that Chemmy's too big for her partner to lift, simples.
Technical difficulties mean that the routine looks more like a stop motion animation, but the audience seems to enjoy it. Also, apparently there was a banana spin lift towards the end.
Judges' score: 20.0
Robin likes the power and energy, Katarina likes that Chemmy only did the lifts to her partner's shoulder because she wants her to stay out of the 'danger zone' so that she can compete for her country in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Louie wants Chemmy to pull back on speed and power so he sees more elegance and finesse. General mutterings of disapproval from the other two judges.

Matthew and Nina (The Look of Love)
This week Matthew has suffered with a bad back which has prevented him from being on the ice much. This makes him nervous for the live performance.
I may be overly critical of Matthew but I really don't think this is anywhere near one of his best performances. There are no stumbles or obvious mistakes, but it doesn't amaze me. The sit lift which was mentioned in the VT doesn't seem to be done properly - Matthew doesn't straighten his arm. It's probably down to the back pain and the judges will probably let him off for this week.
Judges' score: 23.0 Yep. Judges are judging him on what he CAN do, not what he did this week.
Louie loves the consistancy and fluidity. Katarina disagrees and says that she could tell Matthew was nervous. She's so wise. Robin says he scored Matthew so highly because he did more than anyone else will do in terms of technical moves. Little bit harsh to write off the rest of the celebrities before even seeing them, Robin.

Chico and Jodeyne (Don't Stop Moving)
Apparently there are lots of elements in Chico's routine this week and he's been working on the inbetween moves, which Louie picked up on last week.
It's good. I actually don't think it's far off Matthew's performance and I'm expecting a similar score to his 23.0 if the judges are judging on what he did THIS WEEK and not in previous weeks.
Judges' score: 21.5. I'm happy.
Katarina commends the control and independence Chico has on the ice, Robin advises Chico to look after himself instead of giving so much to everyone else. Louie wants more diversity.
Chico reminds us to follow him on twitter. Sorry Chico, 5 minutes on a Sunday night is enough of you for me.

Rosemary and Mark (It's Got To Be Perfect)
Rosemary enjoyed not having a major hiccough in the live show last week. T&D have given Rosemary a 'fun, flirtatious' routine. She has a big lift which looks so messy in rehearsal that I'm worried for her. There is also some danger of her vomitting all over the ice too. Yay.
Well, the upside down sick lift (Rosemary's terminology) doesn't really look any neater in the liver performance than it did in training but she thankfully manages to keep control of her stomach. Unfortunately it still looks like Mark's pushing her round the rink.
Judges' score: 17.0 For some mad reason Katarina awards a 7.0. Come on, Katarina, you're meant to be the sensible one.
Louie thinks the routine was similar to last week's. Katarina thinks she is charming and elegant and that that deserves a 7.0. I think she's been on the dizzy water. Robin praises the basic quality of Rosemary's skating skills.

Jorgie and Mat (One More Time)
Jayne (very seriously) tells me that Jorgie's routine is fast and must be carried out with precision.
Mat thinks that the challenge will be to make all the elements look seemless.
It looks pretty seemless to me!
Judges' score 24.0 Best so far (beats Matthew - heh)
Robin thinks that Jorgie encapsulated the role of Britney throughout the routine. Katarina liked the combination of concentration and enjoyment on Jorgie's face. Louie praises them for their finesse.

'One Day' advert count: 12. Twelve. Bloody. Times.