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Letter From England Number 15

July 2011

I am not sure how I would categorize this letter. It starts off with a certain amount of self-promotion, but for some strange reason I end up plugging the work of someone who I have never met and have no financial interest in. Peculiar! One thing I will say is, see how I neatly segue each section!

Spotlight On Tales Of Curiosity

This month I want to introduce you to what I guess should be called my flagship site, TalesOfCuriosity.com.

Screenshot of Tales Of Curiosity

When it comes to popularity, Tales Of Curiosity beats all my other sites. In fact it has more visitors than all the rest combined. But, it all came about by accident and sprung from Letter From England.

I started playing around with video and audio when blogging here, which then led to me making a video about a subject I had written about, Oliver Cromwell's Head. If you want to learn a rather peculiar and gothic tale I suggest you watch it.

Title From Tales Of Curiosity The Tales Of Oliver Cromwell's Head

I was rather pleased with my first attempt and decided to make some more. So it was Tales Of Curiosity was born. Due to time constraints this meant the temporary demise of Letter From England. But after a frantic few months, it became much harder work making the videos than I realized and it got very draining. So I left Tales to drift along for a bit, whilst I made a few other sites (as you can see they are proudly plugged on the right here).

After enjoying the 'break' that never was and even more sites to look after, we are now back in production. This time I am pacing myself so a slow but steady flow of videos and pages will emerge over the coming months and years.

When devising the site I made four rules that are unbreakable:

  1. All videos must not infringe copyright with both images and audio
  2. They must never exceed 6 minutes. Which gives me approximately 5 minutes worth of content, plus a minute for introduction and credits
  3. They will not contain moving images. In other words they are a frantic slide show
  4. They will never contain my voice. A lesson I learnt from this site!

What was a bit strange and unexpected is that they are being used quite extensively in schools and also for foreign language students. The prime example for this is The Gunpowder Plot.

Title From Tales Of Curiosity The Gunpowder Plot

Due to the time limitation, they are fast and sometimes difficult to keep up with. So, I put all the images and lots of information on the page. If you miss something on the video you can always watch them again!

There is a certain irony that The American Revolution is being used in American schools, which as an Englishman I think is rather cool. Even though we were soundly whipped!

Title Page For The American Revolution By Tales Of Curiosity

So if you haven't seen Tales Of Curiosity I suggest you have a look, all in all I am rather proud of it and I am sure you will find at least one video you will like.

My New Best Friend

The last video just released for Tales Of Curiosity is Great Achievements In Space.

When making it I was looking for an image of people listening to Sputnik and found this:

Jim Howard As A Young Radio Ham

I found it on Howard's Notebook. It was just what I wanted, so contacted the owner via Facebook. Cutting half the story short his image appears for 5 seconds on my video and it also adorns my page along with those of Yuri Gararin, Buzz Aldrin, Alexey Leonov and a few pieces of historic space equipment.

Now, I whilst I have hit the big 50, Jim has hit the big 70 and has been computing and broadcasting for a long old time.

Before the World Wide Web, he ran a bulletin board. If you don't know what one is, the best description is a very early website, but it was just text and you dialled up on your phone line via a modem. It was only one person per phone line, and as the majority of 'sites' only had one line, you would have to wait and keep redialing if someone was already connected.

The lights flashing, the sound of the modem dialing and then the noise of the 'handshaking' after connection is a thing of the past. But it really was exciting - you were out 'there'. Oh, the good old days!

Jim's Sites

Jim has a few sites including a channel on YouTube. But his main site is Howard's Notebook.

The first video I watched was a product review, which had some great footage of Jim breaking into the packaging, which took a minute or two, including the loss of scissors and a near miss on whatever artery runs down your arm.

My second was a review of an Amazon product Jim had ordered. But, when the packet is opened it is actually a Christmas present of a space pen sent by his daughter. So, we have a review about that instead.

Image Of Jim Howard

Apart from product reviews of Jim's latest gadget, he also makes a few videos about his life. But there is a another category of videos he makes and they are highly political.

I think that if he was born a bit earlier Jim and Senator McCarthy might have had a few choice words with each other. Putting it mildly, Jim does not like the Republican Party and in England he would be considered a "left-winger" and 1950's America would have been branded him a 'commie'. As my political persuasion is somewhat to the left of Lenin, I feel a great affinity to his views. And he talks a whole lot of sense.

So, from a rather bemused first impression I now really look forward to all of Jim's blog updates and even more so to his videos. Not only are they entertaining, they are also thought provoking.

The only trouble is that I so far have agreed with every single word he has said. It doesn't matter where in the world you live, the ruling elite live off the back of the working classes. If you state this fact you are will be branded 'unpatriotic' no matter whether you live in a capitalist or a communist country. Which is really a load of bull!!

The Bean Counters And Space

Jim is a great space fan, and that is how I bumped across him, so I now smoothly move on to the next topic.

I was two months old when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. So as a youngster the space race was in full flow and the Americans were slowly clawing back the Soviet's lead, as they headed for the moon.

I tell those younger than me what exciting times they were and I normally get blank expressions. But it was really was, well for me anyway, and I have been space mad ever since.

I remember our local priest visiting the school during the Apollo 13 troubles. He asked us all to pray for the astronauts, which I dutifully did as hard as I could. It struck me at the time that the priest was a bit like Father Christmas (Santa) and only ever appeared at Christmas. It's only now that I think they were preparing us for what seemed to be the inevitable death of the crew.

A School Assembly In the 1960's

Since those times there have been some great achievements in space and maybe they have been more scientifically valuable than those during the early years. But, they are not quite so inspiring. Even the Shuttle is about to be retired and so it will be rockets to the International Space Station from now onwards.

Although it might yield great benefits, I really cannot get so excited about an orbiting laboratory and I guess many feel the same. It has all become rather mundane. Don't get me wrong images from Hubble and the Martian rovers have been awesome, but what we need is a moonbase and a man (or a woman I don't care) stepping foot on Mars.

The Money Lender And His Wife

I really don't get the argument about the money would be better off saving the starving millions. That problem can only be fixed by a change in the way the world's economy works. Which would mean as a few examples: Russian oligarchs no longer adding yet another super yacht to their collections, American billionaires not out bidding each other to spend yet another hundred million on a painting or Indian metal magnates buying a few sporting teams. These are all just playthings and the obscene wealth should be redistributed. Problem solved!

Coming back to space, the costs of moon bases and Mars landings are obviously astronomically high (pardon the very bad pun). But, I argue they are not as high as the bean counters would have you believe. You cannot cost such momentous achievements using a simple balance sheet. Apart from the many financial spinoffs, which they do not take into account, there are those which are totally impossible to quantify.

You cannot put a value on inspiring both young and old. There would be world unity (at least for a few brief hours) when an astronaut finally steps foot on Mars. It would demonstrate to kids there is more to aspire to than the current celebrity get rich quick culture. It could make a dent in religious dogmatism. I am not saying that it would create a new generation of Einsteins and be the death of terrorism, but it may well be a small start on that road.

Hopefully, the ambitions of China and India may well kick start a race back to the moon and Mars. It is long overdue and I just hope I live to see it!

Goodbye

Well, I got a few things off my chest. I am sorry if this was a bit of a rant, sometimes I do get a bit despondent about the way the world is going. But, I am by nature an optimist so I am sure it will turn out alright .... eventually. Also, I must make a mental note not to plug other peoples sites, no matter how much I like them.

The next letter will be a lot lighter in mood, including food!

I hope you have a good month!