So we visited my home village over the past weekend, and on one of the days went for a few hours to the Otter Pool, the almost-dried riverbed of the Dee created when the river was dammed upstream – I spent many happy days there as a child. This time, I spent a large amount of the time immersed both in the cool, clean running water, and in my Kindle.
You can see photos and a short video I shot at the Otter Pool on Flickr, or get an idea of the drama of the place with this [Silverlight-requiring] panorama.
(He doesn’t like it if you stop petting him.) He’s a sweetie, and up for adoption at the Bath Cat and Dogs Home; can you offer him an engaged, lively home?
After weeks of work-enforced absence, we went back to BCDH today, and this was the chap we were asked to walk. Lurcher in shape but with a bit of Staffie colouring and bulk, Hudson was very sweet. He did, however, get a bit over-excited and bitey – proper taking-my-arm-in-his-mouth bitey, though without intent to hurt – a couple of times, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him muzzled the next time I go up. Still: lovely to be back.
Most of America’s innovations have made their way to the UK, especially those relating to junk food. But one cultural artefact, to which we’ve been exposed for decades through American TV, never has: those little cardboard fold-up containers for Chinese food. So tonight, after the awesome Susie at Mac|Life sent some empty ones over along with a buttload of candy, we made* Chinese and carefully decanted it into these little boxes of joy and pretended we were living in New York. One observation: no wonder Americans are always taking leftovers out of the fridge the next day; these things are fucking huge. (That open one has a full portion hiding at the bottom of it.)
*Bought from M&S, heated in the microwave
More pictures on Flickr. (And as it turned out, it was almost exactly like Jenny’s sketch; four years at art school not wasted!)
I was reminded of this when creating the sleeve and face for the movie I put together of Jenny’s grandma’s birthday, using one of the shots I’d taken of her birthday cake. I don’t usually do this kind of pastel, chintzy affair, but it’s entirely appropriate for this project.
This little pocket rocket of a Staffie is called Red, and at the time of writing, he’s available for adoption at BCDH. Pant-pant-pant!
What can it do? Run software, dumbass…
Mention or dumbly hand an iPad to a non-geek and they’ll ask you what it can do; a geek would never do this because a geek knows that it runs software. And with software, the more useful question, especially in the context of Apple’s controversial App Store, is “what can’t it do?” Non-geeks will show surprise when they learn than you can, say, watch TV on an iPad, and would struggle with the – yes, esoteric – concept that it’s not ‘TV’, but bits of data flowing from, say, tvcatchup.com; it’s not ‘doing’ TV, it’s just doing software. (This is why Apple’s advertising – not “hey, it’s a smartphone” but “hey, you can book a find a table at a nearby restaurant” is clever.) And as for what it can’t do? You forgot about “yet”.
Magazines are good
I am, yes, a magazine journalist, but credit me with enough integrity to make this point without it being interpreted as “of course you’d say that”. Fact is, I think magazines are great. The price is right for a little treat – though I suspect many of us now would drop that cash on a few apps instead – the shape, robustness, disposability, flickability and sheer information delivery mechanisms are fantastic. I have been surprised at how much I enjoy reading magazines such as Wired on the iPad, and there’s lots that magazines do wrong (often because that’s just how we’ve always done them) but I genuinely struggle to envisage a world in which sheets-of-paper-fastened-together-down-one-side are no longer a significant part of the way many of us consume media.
Fragmented work patterns
Too often these days, I ⌘⇥ to my email client, say, to find I’ve opened a new message, typed “The best thing we” and then gone to do something else. Or I turn from my iMac to my MacBook Pro to find I’ve opened a new tab but not entered a URL. Or pick up a pen to write something in my notebook only to find, when I refocus after answering a colleague’s question, I have no idea why I started to write “Fol…”. Hell, maybe it’s early-onset dementia, but I am genuinely concerned about my ability to focus. (I’m not alone in this, right?) I need to retrain myself. Or just wear headphones and play whalesong.
The perfect font for writing
What, for you, is the font you write in? Lots of people are font-blind and either don’t notice or don’t care. I’ve recently switched, though, to the classic Franklin Gothic, and it’s gorgeous. It’s smart and workmanlike, but with just enough flair – the squat (not old-style) numerals are very clear, and the double-storey lower-case g is lovely – to make things interesting. It has a kind of Rhapsody-in-Blue, New-Yorkey kind of busy authority to it, and it lends a perhaps-unwarranted authority to whatever I write. I use it at 10pt, at 200% with 1.2× line spacing and 6pt after a para.
Knee-jerks and smart arses
Increasingly, I tire of the habit so many on the internet (and possibly in meatspace too, though I’m certainly exposed to it less) seem to be developing of forcing a polarised, black/white, rocks/sucks reaction instantly to everything that happens, and also of the habit of showing the fuck off. I’ll often make a throwaway remark on Twitter and someone will ping back with a rebuttal, a tangent, a wilful misinterpretation or a random criticism. That’s all well and good when it’s in the spirit of debate, but so often it comes off as merely an attempt to demonstrate knowledge and garner attention. It’s taking the fun out of it.
(I’ve also been thinking a lot about my wife. She’s swell.)
Genghis Khan – he of the floppy ears – has become my regular companion at BCDH, and, though the picture above was taken last week when I was on my own, Mrs P and I both went up today to give the young mutt a bit of exercise. We actually managed, after an hour’s walk and a half-hour frantic scamper around the paddock in pursuit of his rubber ring, to tire him out to an extent that the carers thought most un-Genghis-like.
It’s glorious up there these days; Summer is at full strain, and the greenery is just stunning.
As a turbo-charged magazine, it’s very good…
…but better can be done.
What is a magazine? In the issue, there are reviews of glasses for geeks, with a beautifully-shot picture of them. It would be cool to let you virtually try them on using a photo from your library, but you can’t. And there is, as yet, no exploiting of, say, location-awareness or the always-on internet connection to parse data from the web for live charts. But is this the role of a magazine? To what extent can we play with its definition and still deliver something that makes sense and that, crucially, the public will ‘get’ enough to buy into?
Interactivity ≠ tapping a button to play a video full screen.
Yes, it’s a big download. Perhaps ironically, some of that heft comes from advertisers’ videos, the stuff buyers don’t actively want. (But if advertisers want to, they can take advantage of the fact that the line between editorial and advertising seems peculiarly blurred here, and create ‘advertising’ with genuine ‘editorial’ value.)
Flickability is poor. Despite the nav, it seems to focus you to a linear reading style. The print magazine format is still peerless for browsing.
Whether as a consequence of the low-res screen (forcing large point sizes) or the fact that content ‘reflows’ when the orientation changes, I don’t know, but there’s a real rash of ugly hyphenation. (I assume the pages are static, flattened graphics, and that text isn’t in any real sense reflowing; the level of layout and typographic control Condé Nast surely demands would be difficult to the point of impossibility with truly dynamic content, I suspect.)
I dislike, as I have begun to in some traditional utility apps, that the content changes depending on orientation. Not just the layout; some content only appears in particular orientations. While gamers might like this hidden feature malarky, it gets right up my tits. One reason magazines are good is that they’re finite; they curate, unlike the constantly-fed web, and you can ‘finish’ one. I have never in my life finished a game (actually, I could end that sentence there, but let’s carry on) and felt the need to go back through it to ‘collect all the coins’ or whatever; I have no desire to reread a magazine in a different orientation solely to see a few fragments that I might have missed the first time round.
If you believe £2.99/issue is too much,
- you are an American who has had your reasonable perspective on pricing trashed by the American market’s ad-driven (rather than coverprice-driven) model, or
- you have no idea of how much work goes into the production of a print magazine (or that you need to square it for a layout that can change, and cube it for anything that includes even basic interactivity or multimedia content), or
- you’re a moron
(And I can’t think of even a good business reason, never mind a good UX reason, to sell individual issues as discrete apps.)
It is, ultimately, the best digital magazine on the best platform yet for digital magazines. Don’t dismiss it, but don’t hold it up as a paragon either. I’m sure Condé Nast is delighted with what has been achieved; I’m equally sure it recognises it has built a 1.0 experience.
It’s been quiet on the dog-walking front recently, partly through pressure of work, and partly because I’d been working with dogs y’all had seen before. Today, though, I was determined to get up to BCDH, and we walked a very, very sweet Rottweiler called Jazz. She goes proper batshit-crazy when there are other dogs around, but once she’s out and walking, she’s one of the most good-natured mutts you’d ever meet. I mean, look!
So thoroughly delighted with Wonders am I, and so keen to share it with everyone, that I’m giving a copy of it away. To enter, all you have to do is retweet my tweet about the competition; there’s no cost to entering, anyone can enter worldwide, and I’ll pick the winner at random. I plan to give away a copy of the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk – it’s not clear if it’s region-coded, but it’s probably safer to assume it’s region B – but if the winner would prefer the DVD edition, they can request that.
I’ll pick a winner at 9am on Wednesday 14 April 2010.
And here he is just having a sniff around:
There’s just one problem: the installer doesn’t like Snow Leopard, at least if you want to use it on Wi-Fi. It’s easily remedied, however, and in fact, even when Canon gets round to updating the installers, I’d still recommend this method simply because it doesn’t clutter your Mac with relatively low-quality Canon ‘value-add’ software. It’s likely that this process will work with all recent Wi-Fi MFDs from Canon, but I’ve only tried it with the MP640.
01 CONFIGURE THE PRINTER FOR YOUR WI-FI NETWORK After you’ve unpacked the printer, installed the print head and cartridges, and run through the calibration process, use the Easy-Scroll Wheel to go to the settings menu on the printer, and join it to your Wi-Fi network.
02 PLUG IN OVER USB Snow Leopard has a new (Windows-like; shhh!) feature that will automatically grab printer drivers; plug the (switched on) MP640 into your Mac over USB – don’t worry, this is only temporary – and when the OS pops up a message asking you if you want to download and install the software for it, click Install.
03 ALLOW THE MAC TO INSTALL THE DRIVERS Will take it a while to find, download and install; be patient!
04 ADD THE PRINTER Now launch System Preferences and click the Print & Fax icon. You can delete the newly-added printer from the list (and disconnect the USB cable) unless you also want to be able to print/scan over USB as well as Wi-Fi. Click the + icon and up pops the window below; ignore the Bonjour scanner for the moment. Wait a few more seconds, and a second entry will appear, this time of the kind ‘canonijnetwork’. (The name for yours will be different; I changed the Bonjour Service Name prior to starting by connecting to the printer from Safari’s Bonjour browser; this is unimportant, however.) Select that printer then click Add.
05 WI-FI SCANNING You can also scan over Wi-Fi. You don’t actually need to do anything extra here. You can fire up Image Capture and, after a few seconds, your MP640 will appear under Shared devices. You can, though, repeat step four, selecting the Bonjour scanner in the screen above, which will give you a wireless scanner ‘app’ – complete with pretty icon for the Dock – that you can double-click to launch from the Print & Fax pane, then choose optionally to keep in your Dock. It’s actually reasonably accomplished, too, though the full proper scanner driver – part of the MP Navigator EX program, that you may be able to install separately; I didn’t try – offers more control over variables such as descreen.
Overall, though, I’m delighted with the MP640; I installed from the enclosed CD on a Mac running Mac OS X 10.4, another running Mac OS X 10.5, and a PC running Windows XP without incident. And, like I say, I actually prefer the purity of my two Snow Leopard systems, which are free of Canon crapware.
Please do Digg, Stumble, tweet and, best of all, link to this post so that anyone having trouble can easily get their MP640 up and running with 10.6 on a wireless network!
Two things strike me as sufficiently important (and sufficiently non-self-explanatory) to warrant my time to write and yours to read. The first is that while that part of the industry – hacks, devs, users, retailers and sundry analysts – which is possessed of adequate humility, imagination or integrity is quietly positing a future in which less time is spent using computers to tend to computers, Apple itself was peculiarly restrained in its stated vision for the iPad. We weren’t told that this was a new computing paradigm. We weren’t told that this was a shift from Old World to New World computing, regardless of how logical that shift might seem. I’ll entertain as plausible the idea that this was because the notion of telling people that ‘the Mac/PC is dead’ is too big to sell – especially to investors – or that, as it stands, Apple’s implementation of the iPhone OS ecosystem is simply too immature to serve as a convincing replacement even for those relatively simple tasks it excels at. But still: it’s notable that it’s the industry that is even debating the future of the personal computer paradigm, not Apple. (Caveat: …at least publicly.)
There has always been a drive to make the complex accessible, to abstract away the mind-buggeringly difficult, and present just the bits we need to see in order to control. (I know how an internal combustion engine works in theory – couldn’t build one – but I can make a car go by pressing the accelerator. I know how the internet works – couldn’t build it – but I can buy a new lens for my SLR by going to Amazon.) The National Rail app, however, is emblematic of a tempo change in this push towards accessibility, usefulness and merit.
I would be disappointed if, by the time I retire, even this use of highly complex and interdependent technology to present a simple, human-centric – ‘human-parsable’ – result is seen as anything other than dreadfully old-fashioned, yet I say again: if the iPad represents a future in which the highly complex isn’t merely made less so, but is mashed up with other stuff to create usefulness far in excess of its constituent parts, then that’s something worth feeling happy about.
Steven Frank: I need to talk to you about computers
Fraser Speirs: Future Shock
My post at MacFormat: Is the iPad a computer or a peripheral?
Tom Royal: There are two ways to reduce complexity
John Gruber: Various iPad thoughts (Aaaargh, car analogy!)
Craig Hockenberry: iPad liberation (Describes what I usually refer to as ‘sitting forward’ and ’sitting back’ computing. Has resonance for me as a journalist, as I suspect that one of the reasons e-mags remain niche is because the dominant paradigm for computers is ’sitting forward’, requiring thought and attention, and reeking of work.)
I was slightly wary of Ellie the Weimaraner, having been told she was ‘in here for a reason’ and being warned that she was dog-aggressive, but as it turned out she was sweet as pie. When we encountered other dogs, I’d just stop, keep her on a short leash, and keep a gentle touch on her head to remind her I was there and I was calm. And in fact, once we were out into the fields, she was nothing short of lovely – very playful, though desperate to be off her lead, and affectionate. And just look at those big floppy ears! More pictures – including her Queen of the World™ pose – on Flickr. (What is Dog of the Week?)
Does it do touch?
Damned iPhone. These days, everyone expects handheld devices to have touchscreens. Less than three years ago, despite touchscreen PDAs and some smartphones’ relative popularity with the alpha geeks, very few people would have asked that question at all, never mind as an initial reaction to a new piece of kit. People are disappointed when they learn that the Kindle doesn’t do touch, and that’s remarkable; how did we get from ‘no mainstream devices do touch’ to a position where people feel (not necessarily think) a device is technologically retarded if it uses buttons?
Some research has suggested that devices with touch interfaces create a stronger bond with their owners simply because of their inherent tactility – a geological instant separates an ancestor who would stroke its mate’s fur from a Hoxton metrosexual paging through his contacts by stroking his iPhone’s screen – but I am delighted that Amazon chose, even in the second (and third) iteration of its ereader, to shun touch. Not only does adding a touch substrate, as in the case of Sony’s touch-capable model, decrease the contrast of a screen already a bit muddy compared to an LCD, but the fact that the next/previous page paddles on the Kindle fall naturally under your thumbs as you’re reading means you don’t have to stretch a digit or involve your other hand just to swipe across the screen to turn the page. (Annotating and more general computing tasks are a different matter, perhaps, but for reading, the paddles are perfect.)
[Actual answer: no]
Is it colour?
Again, I think that the implication here is that if it only monochrome, it’s shit. Which implies, more broadly, both that people simply expect colour displays these days – fair enough, I guess, if a bit unimaginative – and also expect their gadgets to be general purpose, good-for-everything devices. Interesting.
Colour E Ink is in development, and I can see its value for magazines, websites and some technical manuals or richly-illustrated novels, but I’m perfectly happy with monochrome for reading novels – and that, after all, is what the Kindle’s for. (It’s very good at it, too, though it’s much, much less good at non-linear media such as newspapers and websites. The developers have tried, implementing clever nav elements for newspapers, say, but the experience is still sub-optimal. Sometimes, simply taking the time to adapt to a new way of interacting with media reveals the new system to be either as good as, better than, or merely different to the old paradigm, but in this case, the linearity of the reading experience on a Kindle just can’t compete with the inter- and intra-page flickability and serendipity of a physical mag or paper.)
But if colour E Ink is so far away, why not just use traditional LCDs or even those OLEDs that gets the geeks priapic with anticipation? Because they’re the wrong choice for this platform. Not only do both consume significantly more power than E Ink – the battery on my Kindle can last weeks between charges, depending on how much reading I manage to fit in – but they’re also both much less pleasant to read. Honestly: E Ink is a revelation, and it’s considerably gentler on the eyes, especially after a working day spent bathed in LCD backlight.
[Actual answer: no]
Can you read your email on it?
Curious; the question’s not usually “Can it browse the web?” but “Can it do email?” I don’t know whether this is because as a primarily text-based device, people associate it with messaging, because people perceive it as a potential productivity tool, because we just plain want our devices to be capable of email, or because this is another test, another enquiry designed to ascertain whether this new thing is, in the abstract, ‘good’. Regardless, it’s another example of how, apparently, we’re starting to shun single-function devices, and place a greater burden of ability on the personal technology that companies want us to buy. Perhaps that’s blinkered; perhaps it’s only now that people are even imagining a multi-function device is feasible; the ten-year-old me didn’t even think to ask the question ‘can this Discman make phone calls?’ because it was so utterly obvious that it couldn’t. Stick a big bitmap display on something, now that components are small, the internet exists, and wireless bandwidth is ubiquitous, and it really is now a question of ‘what can’t this device do?’ rather than what can it.
[Actual answer: yes, though some webmail interfaces, if you’re in a territory where Amazon allows you to access any web site through the built-in browser; in the UK, for example, since the Kindle is a US device roaming internationally, for which Amazon is paying the data bill, you may only access the English-language version of Wikipedia.]
None of these questions presage especially dramatic wider social shifts in and of themselves, but I was struck by how significant the Kindle felt, how it focussed – and sometimes, with good reason, ran contrary to – many of the trends in consumer technology. Speaking on the PC Pro podcast, David Fearon, the magazine’s rather brilliant deputy editor, commented (and I’m paraphrasing) that the Kindle felt somehow important, like it felt like something – a product, a service, a model – was trying to take shape in your hand. I’ve no idea what that something is, but I feel it too.
(If you buy the international edition of the Kindle 2 or the larger Kindle DX from these links, I get commission from Amazon.)
What bigs eyes you have!
What big teeth you have!
What a pink nose you have!
What fluffy paws you have!
I’m not overly sentimental about animals, and on the scale of human cruelty, I guess that dumping a dog for whatever reason barely registers, but I’m utterly at a loss as to why someone, having taken an animal from a rescue home – and having been given the education that is insisted on there – would still think it acceptable to pull up in a car, push a dog out, and drive off. They know that the rescue home exists, and while I’m sure you’d feel like a heel returning an animal to a centre after trying to home it, that’s surely preferable to betraying its trust and dumping it to fend for itself. Bah.
He wasn’t the most demonstrative dog – though latterly he warmed especially to Jenny – but he was very gentle and sweet with his big paws and his droopy jowls and his big heid, and he was delighted to see his carer again. I suspect he now sees the Bath Cats and Dogs Home as being his safe and loving place, which, though true, is still sad.
But it’s an odd experience, to deny myself stories and knowledge until a new format arrives. Wonder if anyone ever thought “No, I don’t want to hear the troubadour recount the latest must-hear tale; I want to wait till I can read it in one of these book things. They have so many advantages over the old oral tradition.”
* In this case by many different companies in many different industries, for many different purposes; less direct than the make-a-water-gourd-from-a-bladder approach, but certainly more effective than the in-the-West-we-kill-a-pig-just-for-a-couple-of-chops-and-throw-the-rest-away-and-isn't-it-a-crying-shame mindset that seems to prevail among a few of the more determined crusties.
And, as always, there are a bunch more photos from France on Flickr. Not terrific shots, I must say; the weather was against me, and, worse, the muse just didn't seem to be with me.
Ma and Pa Phin came to visit a couple of weekends ago, and we went up ensemble to walk some dugs. We got Jess (top) and Monty, a couple of very, very sweet Collies. Monty, unless, as above, you were tickling his tummy, was a real ball of energy, and we were all exhausted when we brought them back to the kennels. More pictures on Flickr. (What is Dog of the Week?)
And last week, we walked Kizzie, a sweet old Rottweiler whom we’ve walked before. We actually got her by mistake, as I got her confused with the much livelier Rottweiler, Cassie, that I’d had the week before. But then, after we’d walked Kizzie, we spotted Cassie in her kennel, and when I walked up to say hello, she bared her teeth and started barking at me. I’m going to go ahead and assume this was because she was feeling nervous, enclosed in her kennel, and that I’d just been too presumptuous in walking straight up to her, because she was very well behaved when I had walked her the week before. Plus, I was wearing sunglasses, and she might have been freaked by not being able to see my eyes. (What is Dog of the Week?)
...got Sheila and Isla convinced that Wii Tennis was a great game...
...and, with the power of OldBooth on the iPhone, turned Sheila into a man:
I’ve been mucking about with virtual machines a lot recently, and in order to get Windows 95 to install, I had to dig out my USB floppy drive to make an image of the boot floppy. Young whippersnappers may never have heard the satisfying clunk and whrt-whrt-fud-fud-fud of a 3½″ floppy drive, so I’ve preserved it here for all eternity. May we never see its like again. (I am, as an aside, just old enough to remember 5¼″ floppies, and weird enough even to remember the weird, chunky 3″ models used by the Amstrad PCWs my family had.)
We also went to Cardiff to see Cope, and though we had to leave early today so I could get back and get some work done, we took time to visit the bay and stop into the Assembly building. It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and the use of wood and slate is a sympathetic yet bold mix of traditional materials and techniques married to uncompromisingly modern aesthetic. The openness and welcoming nature of the place is also striking.
What’s more, though the shots below – the brick building is not the Assembly, though I forget its name and use now – have been Photoshopped (sorry Adobe), they’re the first in-anger pictures I’ve taken with the iPhone 3GS, and they are at least passable.
It would all have been fine, even though she then just started randomly telling us facts about her life and basically just not buggering off again after the message was sent, but for one odd little postscript to her rambling. It could have been ‘the gays’, but I think she was actually complaining about all the coons, and how they get everything and we get nothing. It’s apparently why she won’t go to London. At this point I made it clear somehow – it may have been by saying ‘goodbye’ with uncharacteristic firmness – that we were done talking, and she ambled off. The bigoted old trout.
It was a Venn diagram intersection of serendipity: I wanted to muck about with some portrait photography, and Wife fancied some up-to-date shots. So off we toddled to Westonbirt with my cheap-but-lovely f/1.8 lens and a bag full of shrugs and egg yolk to take some pictures. Much fun was had there and in Lightroom, and further results can be seen on Flickr.
Detractors of evolution say that you can’t see it happening. Supporters of evolution say that that’s not bloody surprising because the effects take millions of years to be readily discernible. I say bollocks; I say, you can see the process of evolution happening every time a baby is born. Let’s take humans, because we can – unsurprisingly, and not a little punnily – relate to them. If a Caucasian man and a Caucasian woman have a child, the child will be Caucasian, yes? Let’s take a more specific example: If a man with an enormous nose fathers a child, that child too has a chance of having a similarly Brobdignian schnozzle. The child inherits – not exactly, not perfectly, but it inherits nonetheless – some of the traits of the parents. And if those traits are useful or desirable, children who inherit them grow up to be big and strong and will have nookie and will make new babies to whom they will pass these traits.
(Note: nobody – save perhaps Hitler and other eugenicists – consciously decides what constitutes useful or desirable. It might be a slight resistance to malaria – in which case the child will have a better chance of reaching sexual maturity and being physically able to reproduce – or something less quantifiable. The mechanism isn’t perfect, and we may prize characteristics that have no apparent evolutionary pay-off – why, for example, do gentlemen prefer blondes? – but it keeps poking away, pushing and thrusting in different directions to see what works.)
It takes so long both because the process is inexact – we don’t create clones or even averages of two parents when we reproduce – and because we don’t practice eugenics. We may think that a genetic propensity for baldness, myopia or a pot-belly are undesirable traits, but, as your humble narrator can attest, they’re not sufficiently debilitating in the short-to-medium term to stop people growing up and bonking. That species go extinct suggests that evolution is simply too slow to accommodate changes to the environment – both in the ‘trees and clouds’ and the ‘animals and shit around you’ sense – and I wouldn’t be surprised if folks were to show me examples of where evolution has pushed a species down an awkward road from which it can’t retrace its steps, but none of that argues against the basic mechanism. Look at a child, see how like its parent it looks, extrapolate a little and apply your understanding of basic reproduction, and evolution, I think, looks inevitable. The theory of evolution isn’t tied up neat with a bow – there is, I’m told, lots still to work out – but I remain puzzled at how the contentious the observable facts are; we pass on characteristics, and if they prove useful to a species, they stabilise and flourish, and shape species over their lifespans.
Marvin was, despite his angelic looks – brought to you here courtesy of my review iPhone 3GS – a bit of a Bad Dog. He was very young, pumped full of Collie madness, and clearly not dealing well with kennel life. Still, that was no excuse for jumping up, grabbing my t-shirt in his mouth, and tugging at it. It was all in play – no damage to the material, even – but never have I issued a ‘No!’ with such force. Bad dog!
We also went out to Lacock; it’s only half an hour’s drive west of Bath, and it’s utterly entrancing. We’d been to the village before – where at the moment filming for Cranford is taking place – but never to the abbey. If the cloisters below look familiar somehow, it’s because it’s where many scenes for the Harry Potter franchise are shot. Lovely place, and if you’re local and haven’t yet been, floor tiger judges you.
Wife insists that this was originally her idea; this may be* technically true.
Stig may be the daftest dog ever born. When he found this stick, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to chew it or carry it, so opted for walking along, head tilted back, attempting to eat the stick at the same time. This was, it scarcely needs saying, doomed to failure, and the stick was frequently dropped. He would also, adorably, throw the stick for himself, tossing it away with a flick of the head then bounding the two strides to where it had landed before gumming it up again.
This is Stig on a log, trying to walk in seven directions at once, and chew his own lead. Like I said: daftest dog ever born. More pictures on Flickr. (What is Dog of the Week?)
This is Cara. She is mad. We wanted to keep her. (What is Dog of the Week?)
People, eh? Well, I’ve long wanted to visit Shetland or Orkney, and since we’ve booked off some time in July, and I have an uncle who lives on Shetland, we thought we’d bloody well just go. OK, it’s hardly Paris, but it’ll be beautiful, bracing and budget-friendly. Hey, The Internet, how much would it cost to get to the stunning Scottish islands?
Return train fare to London £98.00
Sleeper service to Aberdeen £246.00
Actual berth in said sleeper service £76.00
Return flights from Aberdeen to Sumburgh £222.20
Train fare, Aberdeen to London £246.00
GRAND TOTAL £888.20
On the other hand, a quick visit to lastminute.com suggests:
Flights + three nights in Paris £396.16
Even if you add in the cost of driving the short distance to the airport and parking the car, that’s half the price, and we hadn’t even added luxuries such as accommodation or perhaps a hire car while on Shetland. Vive l’Écosse!
Stig was huge, and was on two leads. He liked to stand on his hind legs with his front paws on my shoulders, and to chew his chain lead. He was, however, a sweetheart, and I was given some treats to help train him; if he got too boisterous, you gave him the ‘sit’ command while holding a treat at shoulder level. He’d immediately drop to his haunches – good boy! – and sit waiting for his treat which you’d then drop for him to clop out of mid-air. (He did at one point try to clop a bumble bee out of mid-air, but missed, luckily.)
I forgot to put a card in my DSLR, so the above picture is courtesy of the iPhone’s appalling sensor, heavily Photoshopped.
And some non-novelty pictures too, such as this one, below. There are lots more, ripe for the desktop-in’, on Flickr.
I know; I’ve completely overcooked the colours. The crazy slab of shadow is real, however.
Never mind; it’s all good. I have new laptop, our dishwasher will soon be plumbed in, and we have all sort of japes planned for the end of the week when I shall be celebrating the final birthday of my second decade.
We bin walkin’ some dawgs, too, though I’m not going to dwell on this because the dog we walked last week, Shadow, managed to cut her nose while trying to wrestle her muzzle off, and the thought of this makes Wife sad. Here she (Shadow, not Wife) is, looking chipper, though; she was so utterly dedicated to straining at her (new; we finally bought one) leash that for most of the first half-hour she was walking at this ker-a-zee 45° angle.
And today, I went up and took a mastiff cross called Maurice (Maw-REECE) out for a spin. Very aggressive towards other dogs, he also had a worrying habit of lunging at small children too; a short leash, to put it mildly, was called for.
Once we were about in the fields, though, he settled down and was a real sweetie. Occasionally he’d block me, snooking his head around my leg so I couldn’t move it forward. He’d then stare dolefully up at me and give a small wag of his tail until I hunkered down and gave him some love. If I dropped something and had to stop, he'd trot solicitously back; “Oh, hello, hooman, you appear to have dropped something. I have no opposable thumbs, but I'd like to help. No? OK, what about a wag? What about leaning against you; I’m not particularly heavy?”
* Apart from all the other stuff. And Twitter.
On Friday we had a Poringe First: we were visited by a little person. The Family Brennan came to visit, and that meant that for the first time we see young Niamh in the flesh; boy is she a cutie. I mean, look at those teeny little hands next to Wife’s; someone pass me the chilli dipping sauce!
More photos of Baby Brennan on Flickr.
Today’s companion on the walk was Alfie, ostensibly a Staffie though he looks a bit too gracile to me. I thought from that grey muzzle that he’d be a bit docile. Bollocks; he was fast and determined to follow only his route. I was originally resistant to this, but then I relented when He Found A Stick. Or rather, as you can see, a log-ette. He carried this for over a mile, and it was only when we were about to head back into the home – with me thinking they might be none too impressed – that I took a firm grip on it and said “give”. And he did. Given that I’m such a gamma male in real life, it’s astonishing how quickly dogs seem to identify me as the leader of the pack.
In other news, we bought a knife sharpener and a new iron today. They can, respectively, be summed up as “magical” and “badass”. The iron is black, yo, and has a two-stage anti-calc system. Respect.
As is now traditional at parties, Mrs Phin and I were loud and boorish, though in an ‘entertaining’ fashion. The food was nom-worthy, the music swingin’, and, most importantly of all, the guests utterly charming.
I did manage to make myself ill at the end of the night – tiredness? my cold? too much alcohol? that one little cheroot? – and I strained my poor sore throat so much that I really can’t talk today and have to communicate with Jenny through sign language and email, but it was still much fun. Thanks, Copes and Thomas-Passmores!
* The ConGen 8000 was a box wrapped in tin foil, featuring a door and a fake handle, that was filled with facts, ‘would you rathers’ and questions, authored by my mildly psychotic wife.
It was strange, going home together and comparing notes on our day that sounded like the wrong person was saying them; her concerns were all editorial, and mine were all about teaching, learning objectives and assessment. Still, it was fun, and I’m looking forward to the next two sessions – intermediate and advanced – over the coming days. (Picture included below simply because I think posts can look a bit bereft without images, but it’s just a static PNG; no free Keynote training for you, Jimbob.)
While you’re here, why not pop over to my ma’s Picasa page and witness the demolition* of my childhood home?
* It’s not actually being demolished; only the manky modern extension is being knocked down, and in its place a phoenix† will arise.
† A smarter new extension with lots of storage and an en-suite, I meant to say.
If you get them all right, you could win either a Mars bar or the chance for me to put three objects of your choosing under the microscope and have me email the images to you. In the event of a draw, the prize will go to the person who most specifically identifies each object. Wife, of course, is not permitted to enter.
Fast forward to now, however, and Things Done Change. A slightly newer 500MHz Power Mac G4 in our study is now dual-booting into Mac OS X and Ubuntu, the Live CD’s installer was a joy, the screen’s at my display’s native res, and it’s connected to my WPA-protected wireless network courtesy of a Broadcom Wi-Fi card fitted in a PCI slot. I’ve even connected to my iDisk – yes, of course I am; it’s just a vanilla WebDAV volume – and am working off that in a rich text editor that puts Word to shame. And all for free.
All this is possible not just because Ubuntu is a very user-friendy distro that has come a long way, but because my knowledge of computers has increased as well. (I had to fetch the Broadcom firmware before my Wi-Fi card would work; ‘Broadcom’ and ‘firmware’ are moderately complex notions, and editing the yaboot.conf file to define the default boot OS is something many would balk at, so it’s not mass market yet.)
But – and excuse me as I saddle up my hobby horse – technology these days doesn’t have to get simpler for it to have mass-market appeal. It’s like has happened with me and Linux: where a downward-curving ‘complexity’ line meets an upward-curving ‘ability’ line lies the point at which technology and humans get along. ‘Win’, in other words. We no longer have to make technology simple enough for those who in the 80s were famously unable to programme a VCR. Sure, it’s nice to have simplicity and intuitiveness as a target – and Mac OS X gets this right better than any Windows or Linux flavour that I’ve used – but the great thing is that for people of my generation and for those coming up behind us, the language of computing is so instinctual and ingrained that a smidge of complexity doesn’t panic us.
And all so I can have Stephen Fry in America ready to watch when I get home. I like to think he’d be tickled by this.
I didn’t, just to be clear, dream of having a business. I just wanted to have the cards. Thinking about it sensibly, I suspect this was largely because in the films of my childhood, the ultimate moment of cool was when the be-shoulder-padded gent reached into his inside pocket and flicked out a small rectangle of white card, and said, with that special intonation that’s impossible to capture in text: “my card”.
As a troubled teen, I’d design cards on my Amstrad PcW10, print them onto special pre-perforated sheets of A4, then allow them to moulder quietly on a pile. I was, after all, a teenager, and didn’t have anyone to give business cards to.
Recently, though, I’ve found myself genuinely in need of cards that have some of my details on them. Of course I have cards for MacFormat, but that’s not always what I want to give out, and in any case they don’t have my mobile number on them. And so I designed something and got them printed up properly. The idea, because I’m ostensibly someone who writes for a living and who revels in verbal wit, was to have a card that narrated a little story, telling folks a bit about me, and that, for example, they could call me on this number, but that I prefer to get email at this address. I’m happy with the way they’ve turned out, with lots of little typographic attention to detail and crisp, publication-like black-on-white text; the one thing I’d have done differently with hindsight is to have orientated the cards vertically, the more closely to mimic the magazine pages that I help produce.
To Avoid Blockages, Please Only Put Toilet Tissue Down The Toilet Pan
Clearly, there’s some weirdness with the <twat>wonderfully vernacular</twat> setting of the type, and the persistent Crazy Caps™ are a bit odd as well, but the thing that stands out most is that it lends itself to a particularly anal kind of, if you’ll excuse the pun, piss-taking, of the “Oh, so we can’t put bodily waste down the toilet now?” stripe. And every time I visit, my mind wanders and tries, vainly, to reword it so it’s concise but immune from gags.
So here’s your task, web peeps: reword this sign, presumably from scratch, so it is both elegant English – nothing cutesy, please – and not open to any kind of punning abuse from work-monkeys. Go!
As the Mateus Rosé flowed, it occurred to me that nothing marked us out as uncultured heathens more than the reaction of the other guests to the little bowls of pink stuff Lise put out to accompany the Monster Munch, Twiglets and Crispy Pancakes. For us, this was, clearly, Angel Delight. But we’re common; everyone else assumed it was taramasalata. I had never heard of taramasalata before the age of 23, and it’s not hard to see why. “Haw, Jimmy; Ah canna get this tarry massey latta tae stay in wan bit lang enough tae deep-fry it.”
More photos, including one of Mrs P’s get-up, on Flickr.
Oh, and thanks, all, for the rockin’ book recommendations in the comments thread on my post below; keep ’em coming.
Use of Weapons Iain Banks
You’d probably want to have sex with me if I said that my favourite writer was Camus or Chekhov, but for me it’s Banksy every time. Yes, this is sci-fi, but ignore the label; it just gives Banks the chance to work against a different – and awesome – backdrop. This is simply a classic yarn, told with conviction and flair. My copy is well thumbed; it’s one of the few books I can happily re-read, and it’s worth buying just to see the craft of storytelling practised so well. The fact that he shares a surname and beard with one of MacUser’s illustrious columnists and all-round dudes just makes him all the more rockin’.
A David Lodge Trilogy David Lodge
The thing that Lodge does so well is to get you inside the heads of his characters and show you their motivations and neuroses. The clever bit, though, it that he usually alternates between different characters and sometimes an omniscient narrator, so you get to see how a situation looks from different perspectives. OK, not ‘clever’, but at least ‘well done’. Get the trilogy – ostensibly about the world of academia – as you have the added bonus of some characters popping up as cameos in later books. They’re described as the current characters see them, but because you’ve known them from earlier books, you know the stories behind these impressions. It’s basically fiction for nosey people, but done with gentle wit and a kind of very British understated panache.
The Science of Discworld II Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen
I’ve given up pretending that I’m too cool to like Pratchett. And besides, at their best his books can be very well-done satire and parody with all the power they have to make you see reality in a different and often more illuminating way. But if the sheer silliness of the Discworld has put you off up to now, try this. Every second chapter is a pretty normal Pratchett tale – featuring the wizards of Unseen University – but alternating with these is a bit of pop science, explaining how the mind works, concepts of phase space, and why storytelling is so important to us as a species. The fiction and fact weave together very well – Christ knows how, logistically, the three authors got everything so neat – and each leavens the other.
And because I can’t stop at just three, you should also check out The Road to McCarthy – the man can out-Bryson Bryson – Raymond Chandler – yes, his books sound like they’re being narrated by Frank Drebin – and anything by David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs or Kyril Bonfiglioli. And now, I have to go and pack for our Carrie-Bradshaw-meets-Jack-Kerouac-meets-Tom-and-Barbara weekend away in London. Oh, and bonus props to anyone who can complete the line that’s the title for this post without Googling it.
Now it’s your turn, dudes and dudettes: I need new books to read!
Wanky disclaimer All the links to books on Amazon contain my affiliate link. (Was that even necessary?)
- Jenny cannot drink more than one glass of Kir Royale without becoming utterly and amusingly drunk. No other drink has this effect on her.
- It’s not a weekend unless you visit Sainsbury’s at least once for every day of the weekend. Bank Holiday Mondays are included in this.
- There are only three basic plots for Sex and the City. (In this it’s very similar to Scot-wean-toon Oor Wullie, but with more, um, willies.) A Men are bastards/unnecessary B Women are sassy C Maxing out your credit card every episode is consequence-free.
- It’s impossible to buy a REDACTED in Bath, no matter now often you visit the REDACTED shop, largely because it’s never fucking open.*
- We could eat kedgeree for breakfast and dinner. In fact on Monday we did just that. We ♥ kedge. Bonus fact: when I first knew her, Jenny hated fish, rice and curry. Getting her to eat all three in the same dish for breakfast is proof, were any needed, that you can change someone.
* Censored so that D&L don’t have any inkling of the amazing† costume that I’ll be wearing to their 70s party on Saturday.
† Lame and overworked
And today we went to Dyrham Park, a National Trust property near Bath. Though there were some beautiful landscape shots to be taken, my attention was caught by the selection of old wooden wagons and agricultural implements in the outhouses.
High-res and other shots, comme d’habitude, on Flickr.
But we’ve had all sorts of fun back in Bath, too. There have been DVDs (hey, Cloverfield is good, isn’t it?), cinema visits (hey, The Dark Knight is good, isn’t it?) fancy meals out and trips to Westonbirt Arboretum where I played about with my cheap-but-rather-rewarding new Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Since I took some photos for Mrs P’s Arts Week at the end of term, a couple of her colleagues have asked if I would take some portrait shots of them and their families, and I wanted a lens with a nice wide aperture to let me work in low light and to get some nice bokeh going on. (I’m never sure how to pronounce ‘bokeh’, which I know is an anglicised spelling specifically designed to make it obvious how to pronounce the Japanese; how should a gaijin pronounce ボケ味 so as not to appear like a twat, oh Japanese-speaking-brother-in-law?)
Despite having lived here for well over a year now, it was only this week that we went to the baths for the first time. We’d been to the Roman ruins a couple of times before, but this was out first visit to the new Thermae Bath Spa. It. Was. Idyllic. The rooftop pool is paradisal, and by lying on your back with your ankles tucked over the side and one of the big floaty foam tubes wrapped around you, you can soak up the sun in near-silent bliss.
No dog walking today as some manner of sporting event prevented us from find anywhere to park up at the university. Never fear: the relentless, pitiless and pointless stream of pictures-of-dogs-you-don’t-know-taken-by-someone-you-probably-only-know-a-little will resume next week. Stay tuned!
Finally we got a tent that was easy to put up. So easy, in fact, that our conviction that the first one we bought was actually faulty has only been strengthened. Having given it a dry run in the back garden this afternoon, we’ll pack up the car and head for deepest Cornwall on Monday. I’d like to get as far down as Land’s End – having been to John o’ Groats as a child – but given that the forecast for next week is a little rocky this may be a vain hope. We may be ‘forced’ to ‘endure’ the ‘lack of adventure’ to be found in a cosy, family-run B&B.
I’d like to take this opportunity, too, to make it clear that my technique for folding up a tent – doing a roly-poly along its length to get all the air out so it rolls up tight – is perfectly legitimate and not at all embarrassing. To me.
I will have my laptop with me next week – I have some freelance to polish off; it’s not that I can’t live without it* – but we’ll probably both be offline by choice until 2 August. Keep an eye on my main Flickr account and the photoblog account as we might throw some photos up there.
* No, really. I’d have my iPhone anyway.
Pretty, pretty Sandy! Pretty boy! Look at that pretty face! He’d been in isolation and this was one of his first walks; he was literally jumping with excitement – bounding up to shoulder level – when he was brought out of his cage. He was very bright; though initially foxed by some of the swing-gates that we encountered – trying in the first instance to poke his head straight through the bars – by the time we were on our way back he knew just how to snake through them. Pretty, clever boy! Flickr pics here.
I had one when I were a lad, and really liked it. I’m enjoying rocking the retro vibe – BT Cellnet, for fuck sake – but WTF is with no predictive text, monophonic ringtones and, of course, no pissing web access? I can’t, as Aston was wont to comment, work in these conditions. Roll on Friday...
Meet Ozzie, the most doleful of Staffies. From his gummy eyes to the bald tip of his tail, this walking tragedy was nevertheless a real sweetheart who, whenever Jenny or I fell behind, would turn round and stare mournfully until the whole pack had caught up.
And now, excuse me while I fall asleep face-first into my keyboard. Despite taking Friday off, this has been a prodigiously busy weekend and I’m pooped.
spEak You’re bRanes If you don’t know about this site — which comments on the braindibble left behind by the Great British Public™ on the BBC’s Have Your Say pages — go and visit it now. I guarantee it will take forty minutes out of your life. Read the archives too.
Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles [NSFW, kinda] A filthy comic strip about a foul teddy bear.
Top 10 TED Talks Not, as someone dear to me thought, ten talks by a man called Ted, but the most-viewed short videos from the TED conferences. Go and watch Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight which I only recently saw even though it’s been doing the rounds on t’internet for ever; I’d be fascinated to see if the kind of disconnected young people we pin so many of society’s ills on would be able to point and laugh at a woman in such an odd emotional state, given her utter conviction. Mathemagic is cool too, and the colour-changing octopus in David Gallo’s talk is mesmerising.
Fazed Slightly pot-luck-ey, given that you don’t really know what each link is, but it’s usually worth clicking on.
Digg Folks knock Digg, but poking around the front page usually throws up at least one link that’s worth your while. Also try the Upcoming page so you can be ahead of the curve and say “oh, yeah, I saw that yesterday; good, isn’t it?” with conviction. This means ladies will want to have sex with you.
Wulffmorgenthaler [NSFW, kinda] Another ’toon strip. Of variable quality, but when it’s funny, it’s fu-neee.
xkcd After years of seeing occasional strips from this ’toon popping up all over the web, I decided to RSS the sucker. Very worthwhile, even if there’s a good 32% of the gags that go straight over my head.
Photoshop Disasters Wonder, as thousands of pounds-worth of cutting-edge hardware and software are wielded by chimps and fucktards.
The Big Picture I know, I know, everyone’s linking to it, but it is genuinely good; big pictures with usually very useful short captions.
ProCon Feeling virtuous after all that frippery? Go and read up on controversial subjects at ProCon.org.
I do, by the way, apologise for so much doggy nonsense on this blog, but the way I figure at least I’m posting something. Without our weekly walkies, this site would be terminal, and not in a Unix-ey kinda way.
Robbie — another Staffie since we find ourselves loving their compact, brassy charm — was a-dore-able. While for the first half of the walk he was all about the forward momentum, once he’d tired himself out a bit he became much more affectionate and would roll on his back to have his tummy tickled, submit to all sorts of velvety-wonton stroking, and even jump up next to me to have a cuddle when I sat on a log. He was the most outwardly affectionate of the dogs we’ve walked, and though he was happy to trot back into the home — and was delighted to see his carer again — when we walked away after giving him back, he tried to follow us. Bless.
He was a hugely muscled dog, and though small, he was capable of really tugging on the lead. His shoulder and hindquarters were just pure, solid muscle, of the kind that makes my flabby, sedentary body weep with jealousy.
In photography news, I need to start taking more control of shutter speeds. Lots of the shots I took today were too blurry, not because of ISO, aperture or available light but just because the camera was deciding that a slightly sluggish shutter would suffice. Tv mode needs more investigation, I feel. Some of the better shots are up on Flickr.
Yes, Gabriella was foisted on us again today, looking more dishevelled than ever from rummaging about in the long grass. Every day is a bad hair day for Gabriella. She was joined by Titch, and seemed much more lively than she had been in Troy’s company. They were quite sweet as a couple, actually, with Titch refusing to walk on if Gabriella was busy engaged in some post-sniffing or grass-munching.
The damp weather doesn’t auger well for this evening’s Crowded House gig at the Arboretum, but it did give me the opportunity to take some pretty, pre-release-Leopard-default-desktop-rip-off photos of dew on grass; download a desktop picture pack, here, licensed as . Lots more pictures of the dogs too, as always, on Flickr.
Or: Take two dogs into the shower? A moment of heart-stopping panic today when Troy (left) slipped his harness and went careering into an adjoining woodland; we could only hear him rustling around in the undergrowth. Just as I was about to call the home and tell them we’d lost one of their dogs, he popped his head up further along the wall and Jenny dropped everything – including Gabriella’s lead – and harnessed him back up again. Gabriella, bless her, just sort of stood there looking on and occasionally munching grass; no mad dash for freedom for her.
Troy’s boisterous-yet-lovable nature – he slipped his harness a second time, and was a wilful little bugger – led us to christen him Oliver Reed, and Gabriella’s grizzled old lady looks earned her the name of Elaine Paige. The naming-of-random-animals-that-don’t-belong-to-us continues.
Left my 400D in the office on Friday, so pictures are courtesy of my PowerShot S70; found it more difficult to process the RAW images to give me a pleasing finished image than with the 400D, and I’m still not entirely happy with the finished result. It’s a bit flat. Hey ho.
- There should be a real feeling of anticipation before you begin reading.
- You should be excited about getting started on a nice bit of breast – the big main coverfeature that attracted you to the magazine. And it should be mighty satisfying...
- ...but there should also be delicious legs and wings – smaller features that are just as delicious as the main ones but that you didn’t necessarily buy the chicken for.
- And even when you think you’ve finished, there should be a few little regular treats – the oysters, say, or bit of crispy skin – that you tend to forget about before you actually start eating the chicken, but that when you remember about, you’re really glad the chicken’s, um, editor, implemented them some years ago.
- Even then – after the breasts, legs, oysters, skin and everything else have been eaten – there’s still some enjoyable picking to be done. Captions to be read, sidebars to be enjoyed, letter to be read; that sort of thing.
* Assumes you like chicken, and that, like me, you’re a breast man.
Today, we walked a greyhound. I say ‘walked’. I mean ‘stood in close proximity to while she rolled around in the grass and snuffled into the undergrowth’. It was ironic that of all the dogs we’ve walked, the greyhound’s circuit took by far the longest thanks to Nelly’s insistence on flopping her butt down with a thump and rolling around in the long grass.
She clearly hated the kennels, and for the first time we felt oddly guilty about handing a dog back to the (very nice) staff. The other dogs we’ve walked seemed to have a pretty stoic attitude – “OK, well, thanks for that walk, friends; no hard feelings OK? I’ll just be here in this cage if you need me...” – but we really got the impression from Nelly that every time she gets taken out for a walk, she hopes she’ll never be taken back; we felt like we’d betrayed her just a little.
This is by way of being a completely manufactured introduction to a rather pretty little question that formed in my head the other day: what accent do people ‘do’ when they do an accent of your country?
Let me give you an example: when people do a Scottish accent, chances are it’s going to be a Glaswegian, or at least broadly-west-coast-of-Scotland accent. I blame the big yin. And so I’m imagining that when people do a generic American (Cope, I’m looking at you) accent, it’s usually specific to a city or at least region of the States. Ditto for Welsh (you saw that coming, huh?), Irish (Susan?), German and so on.
So given that I have so many international visitors, I’m hoping y’all will oblige me in letting me know in the comments what city or region tends to define the accent that represents your country when people do an impression of you and your compatriots talking. Rope in friends, enemies, colleagues and those with whom you have never worked before. I’ll do a special page somewhere on the site if I get enough responses.
A little guidance
- It’s not about what accent actually is the most representative of your country; it’s about listening to the accent that people from outside your country ‘do’ when they’re being Scottish or French or whatever.
- This is about national accents, not about ‘what people sound like who try to do a Brummie accent but fail’.
- For a given value of ‘national’. In my world, ‘Welsh’ is national, rather than ‘British’. You decide.
- This only really works in my mind with places where English is spoken natively, but I’m assuming the same will hold true for other major languages spoken in different countries. What does a Québécois think a Parisian sounds like doing an impression of a Québécois? Of course, I’d love to hear that British people speaking English with a mock German accent all sound Bavarian on whatever, so just have at it in the comments.
(The only one that I’m thinking is probably going to be difficult is ‘English’ itself. When I were a lad growing up in Scotland, an English accent was always an unbearably posh RP-meets-early-Queen-Elizabeth-II, but that was probably as much to do with a tiresome background anti-Englishness than any notion of a coherent English culture. But knock yourself out in the comments.)
This old lady's most endearing physical characteristic was the two little head-mounted leathery wontons that she calls ears. Her most endearing personality trait was her slightly grudging and undemonstrative affection; I lay on my stomach at one point to take some dogs-eye view shots and Jade walked straight towards me, tucked her head against my shoulder, and just stood there leaning against me.
Note, we'd have to change her name if she was ours. We'd go with ‘Gloria’.
Things we've learned about Big Dogs from Fraser, today's walking companion:
- We lack upper body strength.
- Big Dogs do Big Shits.
- Some dogs don't really care much about hoomans; Buster and Fraser were more disdainful towards our presence than any cat we've ever been snubbed by.
- We really want to walk – and photograph – a dog that doesn't need any sort of face furniture; we completely understand why Buster had a muzzle and Fraser had his face-strappy second lead arrangement, but you can't help but feel sorry for the little guys.
In other news, I appear to be unable to post a photograph without trying new ways to create a subtle vignette effect, a thing photographers have been trying to eradicate with better optics for years. I wonder if there are support groups I can go to; “Hi, my name's Chris and I put an archaic low-end photography effect on any picture I take with my expensive semi-pro camera.”
Foux! There to eat lemons, axe gravy soup.
(Apologies for this gag's vintage; I've just read it for the first time and it made me giggle.)
* Whenever I get irritated about inconsequential stuff like this, the image of Mr Brennan, looking on with a mixture of pity and wonder that any one man can contain so much petty anger, comes unbidden into my mind.
But it would probably end up sounding like Phil Collins.
And then there's Weston-super-Mare. Which is as depressing a fly-ridden cesspit of a town are you're likely to visit before making your one-way trip to the nethermost reaches of hell. And so this is a public service announcement: under no circumstances think "Oh, I know what would make a nice bank holiday Monday day out: Weston-super-Mare!" It will only end in tears. And a possible car-wide suicide pact.
One dead hard disk + One chipped front tooth + One inexplicably painful y-ligament + Piss-poor + (Long nails + showering quickly + a painful nip in a surprisingly intimate area) / (Walking a dog + Making two huge lasagnes) = Meh.
So yes, not sure what's going to happen with my chipped tooth (and no, I have no idea how it happened) as I'm having a hellish time finding a dentist in Bath. The hard disk has been swapped for a rather lovely 250GB Western Digital Scorpio, so that's a bit of all right. There's bugger all I can do about the cash situation – apart from whoring myself out to sister Future titles for freelance – and the lens from Mrs P's glasses spontaneously popped out today while watching telly.
Never mind. Today we went up to the Bath Cats and Dogs Home and walked a long-legged Jack Russell cross called Buster. He was a cute little thing, though he had to wear a muzzle as he's 'dog-aggressive'. I refused to go and see the cats as I'd have been unable to walk away without secreting some old and mouldering puss somewhere about my person. More dog-walking is in order, I reckon, and I have a horrible feeling that we're on the brink of physically threatening our octogenarian neighbour-landlord until she agrees that we can keep a bugfuck crazy retirement-age pet.
We do also, however, have some fun things planned. We're signed up for Crowded House at the arboretum, Ben Folds at the academy in Bristol and, perhaps best of all, a hot air balloon flight at the end of May courtesy of an almost year-old housewarming present from my folks.
Oh, and my lasagnes promise to be fucking epic.
I started looking through my late papa's film SLR bag, and found that although the lenses are the wrong mount system (FD rather than EF; apparently non-optical adapters are available for about £27 on eBay – any experience, folks?) the flash (semi-)works in the hotshoe, so the missus and I had fun taking big washed out stylised portraits. I might get one of the adapters after payday partly because I like the idea of using my papa's stuff from his AE-1, and partly just because one of his lenses is a sweet-looking 200mm telephoto. The 400D means that I'm shooting in RAW really for the first time, and, um, it's quite good, isn't it? I'm loving the flexibility, but hating the disappearing gigabytes. I think the time may be ripe to migrate to Aperture or Lightroom, but I need to talk to people who know more about the two before deciding which one to go for.
So, yeah. I know that this sort of stuff is neither big, clever, nor particularly difficult to achieve, but I'm still really loving it.
A reminder: I have two Flickr accounts. My cameraphone account is out-and-about snaps, while my main account will hold all my 400D shots.
* Yeah, I don't know why her retirement was a reason to buy me a beautiful DSLR, but don't draw attention to this, mmm-kay? Particularly since she very sweetly also bought Jenny a 32GB iPod touch as well. Yay, my mum!
Such typographic faux pas are not as potentially dangerous as grammatical fuckups – there's little chance that using a period instead of an interpunct will obscure or confuse your meaning – but they are nevertheless wrong, at least for the time being. The large-type heading for each section contains an example of a typographic mistake; if you can see what's wrong in each one before reading the explanation below, give yourself a pat on the back. Then examine your life priorities.
One last disclaimer before we get started: by ‘mistakes everyone makes’, I include my lazy-assed self and exclude you if you're a professional typographer. Or just someone who care about the little things in this amoral pit of a world…
OK, an easy one to start. Yup, those aren't proper quote marks; they should be ‘sixty-six and ninety-nine’ quotes. The mistake happens because typewriters, pushed for space, decided to have only one neutral quote on the keyboard, not dedicated opening and closing quotes, and the convention stuck.
THE FIX: alt-[ and alt-shift-[ for double quotes; alt-] and alt-shift-] for singles.
New in iWork ‘08!
Of course, now we have word processors that do smart quotes for us automatically, everything's cushty, right? Wrong. If you type the above sentence in Word or any other modern app, it will think that because you type the first ‘apostrophe’ in a sentence, you want an opening, ‘six-style’ single quote. Instead you actually want a ‘nine-style’, closing apostrophe, so you have to enter it manually – or type two and go back and delete the first – so that the sentence reads New in iWork ’08!
THE FIX: As above.
I am 5' 10" tall
So those 'straight' quotes aren't for proper quotes, but they represent feet and inches, right? Wrong. They're not actually for anything. Feet and inches should be represented by primes, which look a bit like straight quotes tilted slightly to the right. If your browser supports the characters, the above statement should read: I am 5′ 10″ tall.
THE FIX: Sorry, but this is a bugger to fix. If you're in InDesign or QuarkXPress, use the glyphs palette. Otherwise, OS X's Character Palette – check the International pane of System Preferences – is your only salvation.
10.5″ x 9.4″ x 4.5″
You fix one problem, and another one just bloody well comes along. So, hurrah for getting the primes right, but using a lowercase X for the ‘by’ character is another lazy I-can-see-it-on-the-keyboard-so-I’ll-just-type-it thing. Correctly rendered, the above measurement should be 10.5″ × 9.4″ × 4.5″, not 10.5″ x 9.4″ x 4.5″.
THE FIX: Again, a tricky one. You'll need to break out the character palettes.
14º and overcast
This is a really subtle one, but that degrees symbol you see up there isn't a degrees symbol at all. It's actually an O ordinal, used, inter al, in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish to denote masculine gender.
THE FIX: alt-0 gives you the ordinal, while alt-shift-8 is a true degrees symbol; alt-K is a ring above accent. [thanks, silverpie!]
Some - indeed most - use hyphens incorrectly
A hyphen – the kind of short dash you see above – should really only be used when linking words such as ready-made. It shouldn't even be used mathematically to represent a minus, as there's a dedicated character for that, too [thanks, Dash Nazi!]. Most other uses mandate an en dash – as here, for example – or when planning meetings from 1–2. Changing fashions mean the the long dash—this one, called an em dash—is rarely seen, but where it is, it's usual to render it without the spaces on either side or with special hairline spaces instead.
THE FIX: alt-hyphen for an en dash, alt-shift-hyphen for the em.
Again, laziness and the democratisation of typesetting mean that we've lost the use of the correct interpunct in prices. £17.99 should be correctly rendered £17·99. After decimalisation in 1971, a period was only supposed to be used if technical limitations meant that a middle dot couldn't be printed.
THE FIX: shift-alt-9 types an interpunct [thanks, Nic!]
Quite probably. But what you see above is just three periods, not a true ellipsis. Want a proper ellipsis? OK then… (In this font, three periods looks like this, much more tightly packed...)
THE FIX: alt-; types a proper ellipsis.
These (honest!) are brackets
No, those are parentheses. Brackets [like these ones] are used to add in information missing from a sentence you shouldn't change – such as a direct quote – or to add information outside the voice of the original text. And don't think you're smart using angle brackets to replace quotation marks when writing French; <en français> is horribly wrong, and you should instead use proper guillemets if you want to write «en français».
THE FIX: Just be aware of the difference, and don't call parentheses brackets! [Note that Lise makes a very good case for me being wrong in the comments, but I'm not so sure. More research is needed...]
3 1/2″ and 5 1/4″ disks are obsolete
Though complex fractions have to be created individually, most mainstream fonts have the characters for a quarter, a half and three quarters. 3½″ and 5¼″ not only look better and are more accurate than the use of the forward slash, but they're clearer too. 3 1/2 looks like ‘three and one or two’, and you obviously need the space in there otherwise it becomes 31/2. In this age of decimalisation, 3.5″ or 5.25″ are, of course, alternatives, but there are some uses where a proper fraction is more sympathetic to the source or context than a forced decimal.
THE FIX: You're going to need your character palettes again. You didn't just tidy them away after the last time, did you?
Well, how did you score? Do you have your own typographic bugbears? Or am I just an insufferable busybody who will hasten myself to an early grave, getting my panties in a bunch about stuff that doesn't matter a damn? That's what the comment box is for…
I might just order one of these puppies. It's a neat Canon all-in-one, and though it's entry-level, it's Canon entry-level and it's the from the current range. The real clincher, though, is the price. With £20 cashback, it's £17.99. And given that my otherwise-excellent Canon i6500 needs ink, this is justifiable as a money-saving exercise...
I suggest you all buy one now. And if you buy it through this link, you get Amazon's free delivery and I get a smidge of commission. Cashback offer ends April 13th.
They're right; we had, though Bath is a bastard of a city to navigate round, and it's all too easy to do this by mistake. We know, we did it; so of course I paid up. A small, spiteful but ultimately tit-numbingly stupid part of my brain, though, wanted to force the council to rescind the fine, because if you look closely at the bottom right of the frame showing us pootling along in our car, you see the legend Evaluation period has expired. Please buy the Elecard MPEG2 Video Deco[der]. Thieves and brigands the lot of them.
To add insult to injury, we'd been snapped on Mrs P's birthday, a day that even before this letter arrived we had agreed had been something of a birthday-tastrophe. Ah well.
In other news, we briefly visited Liverpool yesterday for the world premiere of Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater in the city's Anglican cathedral, and I was absolutely entranced by the cathedral building. It's incredibly masculine but without being repressive and bullying – a real feeling of benevolent, trustworthy authority. A few (quite poor) pics on Flickr.
Unless you're interested in my setup or share my OCD tendencies, you will find this post very boring
The big black box at the bottom left is a Drobo, basically a big, extendable hard disk. It stores all the programmes recorded by the Mac mini (just below the telly) and those DVDs that I have ripped to H.264 to be watched using the mini's Front Row feature.
The DVDs you see represent only a fraction of those we own – we didn't have TV in London for years and so bought far too many – but they're arranged in a particular way. They're not sorted alphabetically but rather by colour; both Jenny and I have visual memories and find it easier to remember the colour of a DVD spine rather than whether we filed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire under H or G. All those that have been ripped to the Drobo have a little black sticker dotted onto the top of their spine so that if we go to watch a film and it has a black dot, we know it can be easily accessed from Front Row. I also know which ones I still have to rip.
The Mac mini is hooked up for sound to my beloved, ageing Technics stereo, and the balance is adjusted to give true stereo even though the screen is offset from the centre.
My brother-in-law bought a PS3 when he was in Japan but can't currently use it, so you see it sitting up next to the speakers, with its wireless controllers on the shelf beside my collection of Penguin 70s. Currently I'm being shit at Colin McRae: Dirt, and the young lady and I are rockin' out to SingStar; I really want to get some Blu-ray movies and try them out on our shiny Samsung TV, but that particular luxury will have to wait for a) a little disposable income and b) some decent movies on Blu-ray that I don't already own on standard def. (The TV, incidentally, has two HDMI inputs, so both the mini and PS3 are hooked up over sweet, sweet digital connections.)
The router – that nice pre-N Netgear model – is on the shelves too. It's positioned beside the Penguin 70s, on the shelf just above the stereo, in such a way that its blinking lights are hidden from Jenny when she sits in her usual place, but I can keep an eye on it from my seat.
And the finishing touch was added with an hour of backbreaking contortion with a hammer round the back of the unit, tacking all the wires in place so it all looks neat.
Now wasn't that interesting?
“Man said it would take 24 hours to cool down/freeze up properly and gave the helpful advice of ‘put some ice cubes in it to help it along’. Oh yes. Let me just get this tray of ice cubes I've been keeping up my arse.”
Remember – the next Philm Club is Sideways on March 1. It will, of course, be wine-themed, but we won't be drinking any fucking Merlot. Wanna come? Let us know!
If you bring up the keypad on the phone and punch in a number that happens to exist in your phone book, it will display the name of the person on whose card it appears. So what? Dozens of other mobiles do this. But as you'll see above, if I tap in my home phone number – which is listed for me and for Mrs P – it will elegantly display that it's the home number for 'Christopher or Jennifer Phin'; if anyone else had done this, I can guarantee that at best you'd have got 'Christopher Phin/Jennifer Phin'.
Utterly beautiful UI design, and a perfect example of why, as someone who is happy enough in Windows or Linux, I'm still a Mac user. Or to put it another way, Apple FTW.
The background is the passing of a vote of no confidence in Romano Prodi, but that's not the fun bit. No, that comes from reading the captions and looking at the pictures. During this sitting, we learn of one politician who was called a lump of shit and a cuckold before bursting into tears and collapsing, see politicians throwing water all over the chamber, and – the crowning glory, this – stuffing mortadella in their mouths as an act of political satire.
Click here to see all the pics.
Further wallowing in Old Technology Nostaligia™ the other day, I bought on eBay the 100th issue of PCW Plus magazine. It was the first magazine I read with any regularity, and it helped me with my first computer, an Amstrad PcW 10. Plus, it's an old Future mag, so there was a second connection.
Turns out there's a third: in this issue not only had I written a letter that had been published, but I'd also submitted a design to the magazine's inaugural Readers' Gallery and won a £5 voucher for, um, the application I'd used to design the thing. The fact that the design is one for the cover of my Standard Grade Physics folder perhaps tells you everything you need to know about Teenage Chris.
Or maybe that doesn't paint a clear enough picture for you of a 14 year-old me. In which case, I present Exhibit B: my letter that appears just above my masterpiece.
"Insufferable little shit" just about covers it, don't you think?
A allowing me to watch as much Top Gear as I liked
B not shouting at me when I blew my nose
C merely gritting her teeth and taking a deep breath when I sneezed
I basked in this unprecedentedly luxurious standard of care.
She would no doubt appreciate it if I pointed out that she thinks my nose-blowing and sneezing are louder than the average. The average pachyderm, possibly. But then again, she smells of wee, so it's all swings and roundabouts, really.
I dressed better then than I do now; check out those pseudo spats!
This looks like a picture you might find in a picture frame when you buy it from Habitat.
Jenny hyperventilated at my expression in this picture. Can't think why.
One word: insouciant. Three more: where's my dignity?
I've never seen a picture of this old puss looking so young. Still miss her.
Option 1: The baby-face
The classic look for the baldie in your life. Fully shaved with what hair remains on the heid buzzed down as far as it can go.
Option 2: The gangsta
Not to be confused with the Village People, team this look with a cigar for the full effect.
Option 3: Jaaaaaz
Add a goatee, sideburns and a far-too-small vintage chapeau perched jauntily on your bonce, and you have all the ingredients in place for a generic jazzy, beatnik-style look.
Option 4: The wine ponce
It took us ages to work out why this look was so clearly a wine ponce look, but we've just two words for you: Paul Giamatti. Requires a phenomenal amount of upkeep.
Option 5: The Wild Man of Borneo
The Full Beard™ offers the maximum distraction from your backwards-leaping hairline, but it's a delicate balancing act. You run the risk of looking simply like you couldn't be arsed shaving, or like you should simply be selling big shoes*.
So there you have it, folks; five looks, each as ridiculous as the last, and all of them designed to ease the crushing sense of mortification you carry as a balding, tubby gentleman. Laugh through the tears, folks; laugh through the tears.
* The Big Issue. Seller in Scotland are wont to call out "Big ishu! Bigi shu! Big shue" as you walk past.
* Laying a screengrab of a Google Maps satellite projection over a frame capture in Photoshop, and setting the former layer to Multiply.
All this makes it a phenomenally stressful place in which to actually live. My seething temper, never far beneath the surface, regularly erupts as socially-inept hordes fanny their way around the shops, regularly pooling into gaggles of mediocrity. Entire clutches of children – the very verb that would best describe what ought to be done to their necks – roam like vapid, brutish meerkats, while oxygen thieves insist, against all the laws of common sense and physics, on attempting to push triple-decker prams along cobbled streets.
The very epicentre of this fuckwittery, it would appear, is Marks & Spencer. Take one part Wether's Originals, one part KFC and three parts mermaid, compress to a quantum singularity, and you have the apparent effect of one regular-sized M&S to attract the old, the chav and the plain suggestible.
Today, a mother-and-daughter duo were walking side-by-side, their combined bodies plus a hip-mounted basket each taking up the entire width of the aisle, as the mother repeatedly vouchsafed to her daughter "I wish it was in brown! Yeah, I wish it was in brown!" Seriously, she said this four times, each time taking the time to stop, make eye contact with her spawn, and clutch – there's that word again – her by the arm just to make sure she really got the frigging point that – all together now – she wished it was in brown. Needless to say, I killed them both.
Feel free to judge me.
Apologies for the lack of updates and the disappearance of the webcam; I was hit with Fasthosts' password nonsense and was locked out of my own site. I didn't have a chance to sort out the webcam before leaving work this evening, but it should be back on Monday. Put a red ring around the day in your calendar.
The krazy kids at Dennis are obviously enjoying it. Here, accompanied by the note "Future Publishing forced to ban Tippex after staff bullying incident" is Barry's effort.
Nik wasn't to be outdone.
And then came this from Ross. "Ooooh. You should really nail that page furniture down more securely. Imagine if that had been an ACME anvil, for example."
It's not like they have magazines to publish or anything.
There are some sample chapters up for browsing at the publisher's site, and if you want a copy – it's only £15 – you can buy it from Amazon; click here or on the graphic in the sidebar, and I'll get a little slice of commission from Amazon.
In other news, I tottered through to London on Thursday for a press briefing which was held at the O2. I now more than ever regret not making it down to Greenwich when 'the O2' actually was the Millennium Dome. It's a phenomenal building, and I'm really looking forward to next weekend's trip to see the Foo Fighters performing there.
There are more photos from the trip on .Mac and Flickr.
And this morning we wandered through to Bristol and I plunked down some hard-borrowed credit card money on a proper Samsung 32" LCD telly. Annoyingly, it won't be ready for collection until Thursday, but it's all very exciting.
Hey, have you met my wife? Not only does she write the back-page column for the mighty ’User, but she teaches, embroiders and can act as an impromptu nursemaid when you're struck down with some mucus-centric lurgy. This much we know. But to coincide with the soft-relaunch of her own website, recedinghairline.co.uk is delighted to be able to share with you its Top 5 Secret Jenny Facts!
She's writing two novels
Oh yes. Not just one, not just one and half, but two. Two, two novels! A-a-aaaa! They're each at only about 15,000 words long at the moment but they're both phenomenal. It came as something of a pride-pricking surprise – I'm the professional writer, dammit, etc – to learn that she is an incredibly talented author; far, far better than me at non-technical writing. I know writing can be hard work for her, but when you read her fiction, it seems so effortless. I had no idea she had this talent, and in fairness I don't think she realised it either. These two novels are my pension. And I'm only half joking.
She worked in a coathanger factory
Oh yes. For en entire summer, she worked three days on–three days off–three nights on–three nights off at a Mainetti coathanger factory, working amongst noisy heavy machinery that fired red-hot needles. I'm sure there was a reason for the red-hot needles other than simply to motivate the workforce – “Ah, the old carrot-and-red-hot-needles approach” – but it has temporarily slipped from my recollection. Incidentally, I recommend against clicking on the above link for Mainetti; it will simply raise more questions than it answers, such as “How, for fuck sake, is it more than just a hanger? Surely ‘a hanger’ is precisely what it is, no more, no less?” and “What qualifies a hanger as a randy hanger, and for what might such objects be used?”
The 6pm brewski
We had to go to the recycling centre recently as the kitchen surface would no longer support the weight of all the empty Grolsch bottles. I had drunk maybe four of them. That said, it certainly does take the edge off. Oh yes.
She lived in Skye
Oh yes. While I spent my entire conscious life in one little village, Mrs RH, having been born into the Silver City with the Golden Sands – Aberdeen, but don't let on; its nickname is so much prettier – moved about a fair bit, and spent a few years living on the quite astonishingly pretty Isle of Mists. She can count from one to ten in Gaelic and sing songs. In Gaelic, like. I'm not just pointing out that she can sing. Though she does have a beautiful singing voice, it must be said, and plays guitar and violin. And writes songs. Can you blame me for loving this woman?
She once sat on some cakes
Now, you might not think this is worthy of an entry all to itself – and indeed I've had to leave out so many other fascinating facts just so this one can be here – but it is worth it. Y'see, it wasn't just that she sat on some cakes – it was a box of six Waitrose mini Victoria sponges, since you ask – but rather that she was sitting on the sofa already, then sort of jumped up, moved sideways and bounced back down onto the box with a distinct crrrrump sound. We spent the next ten minutes hyperventilating with laughter. Quite what precipitated this quasi-Tourettes leap is now forgotten, but if you ever bring cakes near her, bear in mind that there is the danger of crumpage.
While working in the classical section of HMV Oxford Street, she served Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and, unfortunately, the credit card system decided to do a random check at that point. Asking a moderately major Hollywood star to prove their identity must be a sobering experience, but apparently Mastrantonio took it in good spirits.
So there you have it, folks. For more Jenny-related paraphernalia, go and visit her site. It's at www.ribbledoot.com* and has just been completely redesigned. Over the coming months, creative tutorials, videos and more will be being added, so be sure to bookmark it and visit again soon. As an added incentive, her blog is now password-free and damned funny. See for yourself why people as varied as Dave Stevenson† describe her as “irritatingly gifted”!
* A chewy cookie to the first person who can explain the etymology of this rather odd URL. Jenny, you're not allowed to enter.
† And they don't come much more varied than Dave, as he'd be the first to admit.
I understand that the top line translates as “Your new best friend”, so I'm assuming the French call dogs man's best friend too. I understand that in response to one dog's question “But what does it have that we haven't?”, the other answers, “Dog, Oscar, dog”, and I imagine that there is some hilarious play on words there – ‘chien’ meaning both simply dog and something else – but without knowing what that ‘something else’ is, the whole thing takes on a surreal quality which is only heightened by how dazed I already am from this whole expo thang. Bleh.
* Never actually happened. Though I think that if we had not bought this table now, Mrs RH would have bought lap trays. And that really would have been the end.
Also, should you not have seen the summer's sleeper hit yet, here's your chance:
Soundtrack courtesy of Lee Maddeford.
A G&T in the H&H
(Gin and tonic in the Hare & Hounds); some more photos of the afternoon's sketchin’-readin’-drinkin’ here.
The Westonbirt Arboretum
Less than half an hour's drive from chez Receding Hairline is this huge, idyllic fancy forest (as I like to call it). Trees, shrubs, glades, dappled sunlight, dogs, people walking incredibly slowly, the desire to wear sandals and a hat and walk with a stick; it has everything. Including The Festival of the Tree, where there are lots of Phil Harding types all busily turning wood. Into tat in most cases. The worst thing that can happen to you at an arboretum is that you twist your ankle in a hole and fall down; anyone who meets my wife over the next fortnight must offer sympathy. More pics in the Flickr and .Mac galleries. (Same pics in each; .Mac is a bit prettier, but Flickr does more. All pics are untouched cameraphone snaps.)
Mrs RH doing some craft!
This is a happy accident; I was testing some webcams and happened to snap this. For some odd reason I like the photo even though it makes it look like the crafting is being done on the high seas in a force nine. Includes a guest appearance from my best friend Erik the filing cabinet.
Bah. I've tried embedding the video here directly, but clearly I'm doing something wrong. Click here to watch Jeff’s Opus hosted on .Mac; it's well worth it.
Oh, and if anybody can tell me why the code below isn't doing what I want it to do – it just shows the blue QuickTime Q, but nothing loads – I'd be most grateful.
<embed src="http://www.recedinghairline.co.uk/othergraphics/Opus.mp4" type="video/quicktime" width="467" height="274" href="http://gallery.mac.com/chrisphin/100077" kioskmode="true">
The wife and I took our wee car to visit Cheddar Gorge today, and since he was going too, we decided to go along for the ride. You can come too! Well, virtually, that is, thanks to the wonder of iLife ’08 web galleries!! Click here to see lots of pictures!!! Well, nineteen, anyway!!!!
Also, I'm mucking about with some video at the moment, and Mrs RH has been filming anything that moves recently with our trusty Canon MD160. The resulting opus has been in preparation – merci bien, iMovie ’08 – for some days now; you'll be invited to the iPremière shortly.
And finally, paying lip service to this blog's title – and in the hope that it nets me some more lucrative receding hairline Google ads – please view the below video which demonstrates the ultimate evolution of the humble comb-over. Only in Japan.
Also, this article on the ol’ Amstrad PCW brought back fond memories; my first proper computer was the PcW10 with its 'paper-white' display. I'm a LocoScript boy at heart.
And finally, below is the phenomenal volume of paper and assorted tat – note that the mug and pen are special Induction-branded examples, though you can't see it – from my official Future induction. Note too that the foil-wrapped thing is a lolly, not a condom; they don't encourage that degree of colleague interaction. Future. Is. The. Best. Better. Than. All. The. Rest. *beep*
“I mean, how much does yer actual wedding cost these days,” I asked.
“Can be twenty grand,” she replied. “Which is frankly ridiculous. I mean, I know you get a nice day, but how nice can a day be? For twenty grand, I'd want a day of continuous orgasm. And I wouldn't want to get all dressed up and have to be polite and gracious. I'd want to lie in a hotel room, farting and watching films, and being fed rare delicacies. Or actually, have the actors themselves come in and act out scenes from the films.”
EDIT She has just opined that she'd like a rooftop jacuzzi for in between the orgasms. But, ever the logical male, I pointed out that with a continuous orgasm, there's be no ‘in between’; if it were a continual orgasm, there would. She just gave me a funny look, suggested instead that the jacuzzi could be to round off the day, and went back to reading her book. Le sigh.
Well, New Cross, we've lived in your filthy yet strangely comforting bosom for just over two years, and we're almost ready to pack up and ship out. You've been fun, frustrating and – it's worth saying again – filthy in almost equal measures. Folks who say you have terrible transport links are just plain old wrong; the 453 goes straight into the heart of the metropolis via Waterloo, the 436 to Paddington via Victoria and the 172 to St Paul's if you feel in need of spiritual nourishment, and the 177 will carry will passengers at annoyingly infrequent intervals to the myriad delights of Grinij should you require top-notch gastropubs. The view from the window of the new flat in Bath isn't as diverting as the one from the lil' flat at 186 New Cross Road, but then again, we do benefit from not living at a fairly major junction of a four-lane A-road, next to a bus depot. Plus, emergency services of every stripe seem to have an irrational fondness for this particular route, and having the ability to pause live TV just to let sirens wail past – or, more often, sit at the lights making noises like amplified queens – is less of a luxury than a necessity for us. Oh well. I imagine that in years to come, we'll tell our children that “your mum and I used to live in London, you know” but the ungrateful little shits (I think it's important to begin developing an appropriate parental attitude as soon as possible) won't have an inkling of the sheer hard work and emotional trauma living in the capital city entails. It has been a phenomenal effort, but while we're undoubtedly making the right move for us right now – we may find ourselves back here in the fullness of time – I am grateful for everything the city and the people we've worked with in it have done for us, and I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to work here when we were young enough to live it properly. Thank you, London. See you around, yeah?
Ma and pa are down in Bath at the moment, en route to their holiday-of-a-lifetime in South America. It is, of course, very good to see them, and not just because for the fortnight plus that they'll be away, I have the use of their car. Hurrah holidays and hurrah Peugeot. In theory, the world will be able to follow their travels on the simple blog I set up for them, phinsinperu.blogspot.com. Bookmark the site or the feed, why doncha?
Please can you call Phil Hadler @ FSC Music on no peeking, folks.
The message I took is 'Rock Frog £89'. He said you would know what that meant.
Sam @ Monmouth Street Reception
Try saying the last sentence in an ominous voice: “He said you would know what that meant...” Also, I'd like to point out that this entire communication was intended for a colleague of mine, Chris Vinnicombe. I thought not working with Chris Finnamore at Dennis would have put paid to hilarious crossed wires...
Random fact I learned today: the phrase “the man on the Clapham omnibus” has been incorporated in Canadian patent jurisprudence. Canadian, I tell you. Madness.
In fairness to the poor dear, life has been almost intolerable recently – worse for her than for me – and just keeping body and soul together is challenge enough. Also, last weekend wasn't all country jaunts and hilarious tales of hyphae, and I damn well need a holiday. That won't happen until after The Move, and that throws up new head-fucks every day. Dear everything: please just all be over.
...but News Knight with Sir Trev, which only started tonight on ITV, had me laughing out loud mostly because it has him saying stuff you usually only hear from Rory Bremner. I think the comedy works largely because we've heard that particular voice read out headlines for thirty years; I've never known a time when he wasn't presenting news, and to hear him doing comedy – albeit a slightly smug, knowing comedy – is funny in itself. Plus it had Clive Anderson and Marcus Brigstocke. Recommended watching, and if you missed the first one, I have it recorded.
And finally [bong] I have to report that this was a very dull weekend during which I couldn't muster up the energy to do much. I'm now getting seriously bored and pissed off at being sans wife. The end of July cannot come quickly enough.
Is there anything nicer than a freshly baked Maris Piper potato, oozing melting Cornish butter, with cracked black pepper and a sprinkling of Anglesey sea salt? Why yes, yes there is. And that something is the self-same baked potato with tuna mayonnaise and spring onions. But I didn't have that tonight. Oh no, it was the unadulterated potato* for me this evening, largely – indeed solely – as the blinding realisation dawned on me as I went to prep the tuna a couple of hours after popping the potatoes into the oven that I don't have a tin opener here in Bath.
* Good name for a band, Mr Cope?
Remember kids: back up. (I had, I should point out, but for various dull reasons restoring wasn't a simple clone-across-and-be-done-with-it thing.)
Also, apologies for the terrible geek joke in this post's title; I never can resist.
I started drafting a post about the new Olympic logo, but found that Coudal got there before me with something far more articulate, less ranty, and more swearword-free. Their post is perfect; the one thing I'd add is my wife's observation that the new logo evokes the graffiti you see everywhere in London, which is quite a nice visual play.
And will everyone please point at least one visually illiterate dolt to the following text from Coudal's eighth point; if we can make just a few people take this on board, mankind may have a chance at being not so pig-headedly stupid:
“When we hear ‘my kid could have done that!’ we think ‘success’. Some of the greatest logos of all time involve two lines (the Christian cross) or three lines and a circle (Mercedes). Your kid could have done that, but she didn't. Nor did she design the graphics standards manual that goes with it. So give it a rest. Or send us her resume.”
On the subject of Better Half, I should record for posterity the immeasurable good she has done to the apparent taste of my music library. Yes, Max Raabe is still in there – nothing to do with her, I hasten to add – but it's been very rewarding to have a proper muso for a wife. And I do mean proper muso. As a teenager she was an avid reader of Q and the NME, and, though not quite as fundamentalist as she once was, she still maintains a pretty hard line on novelty records, bubblegum pop and the musical stylings of Phil Colins. But then, that's quite as it should be.
If it weren't for her, though, I'd never have sought out and discovered so much music that I now love. Case in point: The Divine Comedy. (I know they qualify as mainstream by most people's reckoning, but work with me here.) I recently bought Victory for the Comic Muse and it's been on continuous loop on my iPod ever since. You can preview it on iLike or through iTunes, and is one of the most rewarding albums I've bought in ages. I humble direct you to A Lady of a Certain Age, Mother Dear, and, just because it amuses me, Threesome.
* No, not humping. Humphing may be a Scottishism, and just means lifting, though it suggests that the objects being lifted are heavy and unwieldy, and that the process of moving them around is tiresome and unwelcome.
Even the graffiti in Bath is polite, has a social mandate, and is pretty. Keep an eye on Flickr for more photos of life in Bath.
I think I'm finally getting to grips with the layout of this town, though that might have something to do with recent purchase of a pop-up map of the centre. Above, for example, you see the Pulteney Bridge, that shares the rare distinction with only three other bridges of having shops along both sides. That – it looks like a street, not a bridge, while you're on it – added to the fact that the Avon loops quite severely, was, I think, the root of my disorientation. Or maybe I'm just a bit crap.
It's all a bit odd, really. The shops are shut when I leave work, I feel at risk from scurvy from a lack of fruit and veg, and we moved so little stuff on Saturday that I don't even have any crockery here. It feels almost like I'm living in a very poorly-resourced hotel, and spend my life pretty much either in bed or at my desk:
The work is good, though, and it's exciting to be trying new stuff. Acclimatising to a different publishing house's systems is disconcerting; my colleagues throw around phrases and words without thinking relating the processes governing how the magazine is put together, and it's all very alien. Sometimes it's just a simple translation – 'editing' is 'proofing' here, while 'proofing' is 'signing off' – but Future's much more robust, regimented content management system has its own very specialised lingo and customs that I'm having to learn.
In other news: I know it's wrong, I know it's parochial and patronising, and I know that I too have a strong regional accent, but... when I overheard a chap with a very broad West Country accent on a mobile this afternoon talking about advanced enterprise hardware configuration stuff, I couldn't help but grin to myself. There's just something about hearing 'server' pronounced 'zerver' that gives you a warm glow, particularly when the speaker signs off what is obviously a business call with 'all right, my lovely.'
At the moment, though, I feel very much between two worlds. My keyring holds two sets of keys – London and Bath – and my identity cards bespeak a slightly schizophrenic sense of self. My lady wife is still in London too, so I kind of feel like I live in neither place. That should change over the next few weeks, though, as I find my bearings here and explore the city more. Any recommendations?
Let me know if you want an invite to Joost (what's this?) – I have 999 of them to give away, though the invitation process seems to be b0rked. Works on PC and Mac, but only Intel variants of the latter.
I'm moderately impressed with the experience and the technology behind it, but it's flaky as hell on my MacBook. 0.9.4 just crashes out after a couple of minutes, and the version I have running on my PC fares little better. Ah well, that's why this is a beta programme. Oh, 'programme' geddit? Arf, arf, arf...
(I discovered a small spot there yesterday, and when I reached up to scratch a niggling itch, I noticed a little blood, so I've just given myself a little clean up. With the consequence that I am literally wet behind the ears.)
Yes, this may be a quietly nauseating story, but when was the last time you were a walking cliché? Huh?
I bought the third series of Peep Show the other day to watch in anticipation of series four starting on Channel 4 tomorrow; it's one of the best things to hit British TV screens in the last decade, and we were really looking forward to watching fresh episodes. Its stars, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, also play the characters of Mac and PC in Apple's recent advertising campaigns.
When we fed the DVD to our Mac mini – which acts as our central media server – it spat it back out again, claiming that the anti-piracy features of the disc meant it wouldn't play back. Sure enough, on tiny print on the case, it stated that the disc probably wouldn't play on a PC, Mac or Xbox. Now, I acknowledge that DRM and other systems aren't inherently Bad – usually just clumsily implemented – but the implication that because I'm watching a DVD on a computer I'm a pirate really rankles; it's like having to sit through that bloody 'you wouldn't steal a car' nonsense at the start of many commercial DVDs. It can't be skipped, and just makes me resentful: I've just spent fifteen quid on this disc of plastic and metal – and all the intellectual property it contains, I know – and you're telling me 'piracy is a crime'; it's difficult to escape the innuendo that I'm considering piracy.
As if it wasn't ironic enough that one of Mitchell & Webb's own DVDs will play on neither Mac or PC, the final glorious insult is that it the anti-piracy feature, which prevents me from watching the DVD, doesn't actually prevent anyone from pirating it.
One last, tangentially-related thing: if you pop on over to pcpro.co.uk/links/152podcast, you'll hear me arguing against PC Pro's deputy editor David Fearon's assertion that PCs are better than Macs.
There are more such pictures of the Albert Hall here.
10.4.9 also includes support for USB webcams which is pretty exciting; can't wait to put it through its paces.
...in which Mrs Receding Hairline has shielded herself from the glare of the early afternoon sun with the application of this handy tshirt-cum-hood in order to check the directions to Atlantis. We've dubbed it iFalcon, as it follows on from her occasional habit of wearing a tshirt on her head during the night to block out the light, something like the little hoods birds of prey wear in falconry.
By 'Atlantis', we don't, I should point out, mean the lost city – the Interweb isn't that good – but rather an arts supplies store in Whitechapel*. Why they didn't call it ARTlantis, I have no idea. Clearly a missed opportunity.
On the way back from buying exciting things like paints and canvases, she was again telling the story of one of her pupils who, at sixteen, had been asked to model by Lucien Freud. She turned it down, and while acknowledging that sixteen might indeed have been a bit young to get yer kecks off in front of an old man, both my wife and I agreed that if at any point an artist of Freud's calibre had ever expressed an interest in painting us, we'd have jumped at the chance, and to hell with the risk of low-grade sexploitation. Imagine being able to look at that picture when you were sitting in a bath chair wearing a muffler – by which I mean 'old' not merely of an eccentric bent.
Mrs R H put it best: "Even if he wanted to paint me with a banana up my ass, I'd be fine with that."
Amen to that, sista.
I haven't, incidentally, neglected the FFC; results are still being collated – you can still vote! – and I'll report back soon.
* The first time I am aware of hearing 'Whitechapel' named was in a song by Edith Piaf, in which she pronounces it something like Wet-chapelle; it always sounded impossibly romantic to me, though I have been disabused of this notion following today's visit.
Basically, a FFC (that's 'Funny Face Competition', to you, buster) involves pulling various hi-larious faces, taking photos, and putting them on the web for all to see and possibly vote on. Whaddaya say?
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Tracing the IP address of the source of the attack (hey, man, it is an attack; I feel violated...) suggested that the perpetrator was based in Shanghai – apparently rendered 上海 if your browser will show the pictograms properly – hence the tongue in cheek, mock-hysterical title to this post.
I ran a port scan on the perpetrator's computer, and he had a few ports open as well, including FTP, but at this point I decided to take the moral high ground and leave him be. That, added to the fact that I wouldn't have the faintest idea of how to go about exploiting an open TCP port.
Needless to say, a stop has been put to the incoming attack.
It was a week of ups and downs, but I'm in an uncharacteristically and inexplicably good mood at the moment. It could have something to do with snagging a Mac from work. It turned up in our labs weeks ago, and as I was tidying up the labs in anticipation of a big group test, I came across it again. Further investigations revealed it was an old machine of IT's, but that they were happy for me to give it a good home.
Now, souped up with a SuperDrive, a stonking 32MB graphics card, and the weirdest RAM configuration you're likely to see when sober (576MB?!), it's sitting under my desk in the office, quietly ripping DVDs. (My laptop gets around 23fps with the encoding settings I use; this ol' 500MHz G4 gets between 1.5 and 2; bless.)
This afternoon was spent on various freelance projects and on making bolognese. For reasons which may become clear as I age, I seem to have decided to make two pans of the stuff, so – and I mean this quite literally – if anybody within practical striking distance wants mincey goodness (I'm looking at you, Darien, and all you crazy cats at Dennis) let me know and I'll pack some up. Note: my bolognese has made grown men weep with its deliciousness.
We've also upped our home broadband – I'm loving Virgin Media's new bundles – to 8Mb with free evening/weekend calls; all for £14.99 a month. Luvverly. This was partly made practical by the fact that we had a visit from a BT engineer to fix our ailing phone line – as fully paid up landline owners now, we've joined the 19th Century's technological revolution. It'll be horseless carriages next.
On Friday Aston, Ruth and I had lunch with young Algernon, and it sure was good to vada his dolly old eek again. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the old roué's company – come back to work in London, Albuquerque!
But as always, I'm just done with all the business of getting my life and flat straightened out, and would like another day's weekend to enjoy it; bah.
When I were a lad, growing up in the wilds of the southern Scottish countryside, multi-day power cuts were common, and if we suffered from extreme weather, folks just damn well got on with it. Not so in London. Flurries of snow – like the one that fell last night – frequently bring the city grinding to a halt. "What's this? Snow, you say? Well... What do we do about this devil's dandruff? My wife has a big hairdryer...?"
Below a quick snap from the plane, somewhere around the Lava Beds National Monument.
What's your big hope for the fresh new year, then? Me, I want to get the work/life balance right, whatever that takes. And that's about more than just doing the appropriate number of hours; it's about clearing space in my mind to deal with the minutia of home life as well as being determined to enjoy the time I spend out of the office to the full. I guess that amounts to A Resolution, but since that all sounds a bit hardcore, let's shy away from that definition.
I suspect that 2007 will, too, be the year that my hairline will leap the last few inches back across my shiny pate, exposing a monk-like 'do that must be kept trimmed as short as possible if I'm not to end up looking like a mad physics professor. It'll be the half moon glasses next, and that's the end, really. I wonder if I should register recededhairline.co.uk too?
Lumme and heavens to Betsy all round, eh? Here's what my better half and I think we'll look like in the autumn of our years:
Note that although I'm squinting comically, my myopia and astigmatism appear to be cured. Maybe by the time we're approaching retirement, medical science will have provided me with brand new eyes with 20/20 vision. Maybe the missus is just wearing glasses to Make A Statement.
Happy Noo Year, chickens!
In other news, we only just got round to putting up a Christmas tree on Friday, He's a pretty, slim thing, though. Witness my wife, stricken with the cold, wrapped up in a voluminous Aran jumper, decorating him.
And here she is again, sitting beside me on the train Oop North. Witness the two laptops sitting in front of us – married people don't talk to each other, dontcherknow; married geeks communicate on ICQ – and marvel at having t'Internet on t'rain. Admittedly it's slower than Connex South Eastern – hey, a gag! – but it's still a great way to while away the long, long train journey...
Merry Midwinter Festival to all, by the way. See you in 2007!
A few scenes later, and we see him mocking her pubescent body. All together now: "I've got a luvverly bunch of coconuts, [Da-na-na-ner-na], There they are standing in a row..."
The director is also rather fond of showing the young Atkins and his co-star Brooke Shields in the buff. Like, yer actual buff, not just artfully placed fern fronds and loin cloths. It all seems to be amazingly innocent, and the actors are remarkably mature in their handling of the nudity and sex scenes. In the spirit of keeping this blog family-friendly, the furthest I'll go is this grab, but you get the, er, point.
At only one point does the film get a bit hackneyed, and it's at the point apparently when Emmeline's sexuality awakes. Now, I never passed through puberty as a teenage girl, so perhaps female readers could enlighten me; do highlights on water turn neon blue?
Of course, they're marooned on a desert island, two randy teenagers, so they're soon bonking away merrily. It's a most entertaining film; partly because of the calibre of the acting – though an early near-cameo from one of my heroes Leo McKern does up the average ability quite a whack – but also for the slightly spacey plot and increasingly surprising naïveté. Now I just need to track down the 1923 and 1949 originals, the 1991 sequel starring the rather lovely Milla Jovovich, and the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole wot started it all, and my emotional education will be complete.
I only have one major gripe with the system: I don't like being reminded how few friends I have, and how socially incompetent I am. *Sob*
* How much must that domain have cost?!
I have a theory.
Okay, so the 'i' was a given in Apple's naming conventions ever since the iMac, and 'pod' works quite neatly as the idea of a little container – making the association perhaps between a seed pod in which the seeds are your tracks – but I think there's more.
What is the iPod? It's a portable audio device*. How do you shorten 'portable audio'; how do you make it into a handy handle, a brand that people can begin to associate with? One way is to take the 'p' from portable, and the 'odd' sound from the first syllable of 'audio'; and you get 'pod'.
Portable audio = p + 'aud' = pod = iPod
The disclaimer here should be obvious: I have no facts with which to substantiate this theory. It's pure speculation.
Do you think it's accurate, or even plausible? That's what the comments box is for!
* Yes, it now plays other media plus games, and acts as a 'PDA Lite', but originally, and even now, its primary function is as described.
7' 2" (2.2m)
What's up with thaaaat?
Bleh, it's late for a school night, and I've degenerated into l33t. I blame the wine at the Roundhouse, which the label proudly proclaimed 'Good White'. (I didn't ask to try the 'Mediocre Red', or the 'Pants Rosé')
The "gig" was very good indeed, despite starting late because the "disk jockey" who was opening for Seu was apparently so overawed to be in his presence earlier in the day that he forgot to pack his records. Moderately important for a DJ, non?
The Roundhouse is a beautiful venue, though it was stuffed to capacity; anywhere that sells tortilla chips with blackened tomato salsa gets my vote. My better half and I did very much enjoy the novel experience of being at an event where the rest of the audience was broadly the same age as we are; more often that not, our middle-aged lives take us to the Colliseum or the National Theatre, at which we lower the average age by a good few percentge points. Night, night.
Yes, three hundred quid for vinegar. OK, it has been on the planet a little under four times longer than I, but still. Three hundred pounds. F&M is quite beautiful, though, and I yearn for the day when that can be the supermarket at which I do my weekly shop.
We popped across the road so Jenny could show me the little fountains in the forecourt of the RCA. They're very pretty little things, a few inches tall, bubbling up all over the pavement, though with a bit of judicious hunkering, you can make them look a little more imposing.
Autumn is a very photogenic time of year, with the low-slanting sunlight and the warm reds of the leaves. Even shitty New Cross looks story-book.
And now I must dash, as we're off to see Seu Jorge, of Life Aquatic fame, at the Roundhouse, thanks to Ruth's hectic social life meaning that she was unable to use the two tickets she had bought.
But as if that weren't enough for one day, the tiny rural village (pop. ≈250) from which I hail was catapulted to national fame tonight, appearing on primetime BBC 2 in Coast. Not only that, but during the 1:42 segment, the UK was also made aware of the wonder that is the World Flounder Tramping Championships. I'm not quite sure I can do justice to getting across the slightly manic feeling that overtook me and had me yelling "Oh, my God" at the TV. Suffice to say that my excitement almost matched the moderately unbecoming enthusiasm my better half demonstrated for presenter Neil Oliver.
Tee-hee-hee! It's graffiti for the middle classes: invisible, except for when exposed to UV light. "More fun than making your own goat's cheese tortelloni." – Christopher Phin
This building in Tblisi has the air of being dreamed up with the help of Lego and some rather spiffing weed.
I really want to sketch my own furniture. I wonder if anyone has used this very techy and expensive system to construct big willies...
Oops, I did it again as you have never heard it before. The irony is that this is the 75-year-old original; I urge you to have a listen. Compare it to the version we all know
But here's the problem: 'normal' is quite a useful shorthand. I tend to base my experiences and judgements on generalities – as I think most of us do, though perhaps unconsciously – and being able to make reckonings based on what's normal and what's not is a very useful tool. We do it every day, whether it's choosing what clothes to wear or making major lifestyle choices.
My solution is to use 'typical' wherever I might use 'normal'. Yes, I sound like someone trying to coin a new politically-correct term, but I actually think it's much more useful, and genuinely more meaningful in this context, than 'normal'.
Describing something as typical is less loaded than describing something as normal. It's a straight statement of fact: "this act is typical of this group"; "typically, people wouldn't choose to adopt this lifestyle"; "a teenager who choses to watch Postman Pat on continuous loop is not typical."
I think it's a helpful distinction. Do you agree?
[I'm forcing myself to make this site be more than a litany of my whinging. Nobody in their right mind would want to read 24-hourly updates describing What I Did Over The Last 24 Hours, particularly since my days consist largely of eating, commuting and working. Hence a concerted effort on my part to post regularly for a while, and not to indulge in so much navel-gazing.]
While we wait for normal service to be resumed...
My influence increases – a review I wrote for sister title PC Pro was licensed to an Australian PC magazine, and has appeared in print and on its website. I wasn't even aware of this till I had an email from the developers of the software reviewed noting the review.
Creative advertising: some lovely examples here [thanks, Nik], here and here.
Amusing* story: I phoned A Major Internet Service Provider the other day, and was told that it would be pointless to send them an email as their email system was down.
Finally, who doesn't love kitties doing cute things? [thanks, Nik]
* For a given value of 'amusing'.
Yup, Summer is over. Pitch black mornings, dark on the commute home, torrential downpours of rain, and that chilly feeling on slipping into bed. Gah. And still months till Christmas – the good cheer may be forced and phoney, but it's still some good cheer, people.
In other news, check out these quite beautiful composite pictures of Sydneysiders, this really quite disturbing video footage from a service in a Pentecostal church, and this fantastic blog post from my erstwhile colleague, Chris Brennan, entitled The Seven Stages of Mac Fandom.
In other news, I've been doing some rearranging of our media centre setup, and have had the Macs going full tilt encoding, reencoding and moving various media files. Above you see the MacBook ripping a DVD, converting some DivX to H.264 (pulling the originals off one networked drive, and saving them to another) while the Mac mini (with the blue desktop) was engaged in DivX to H.264 encoding as well, plus copying gigabytes of data from a network to a local, and between two local drives. Phew. All this was happening simultaneously, and nothing fucked up – result!
It's a life of such little triumphs and minor catastrophes at the moment. Got caught in the rain today, which was so heavy that at times I was sloshing literally ankle-deep in water in some places. Utterly drenched. I was taking our washing to the launderette – I could have just sprinkled in a little Ariel around the case and pulled it over some cobbles and achieved the desired effect, I think.
In typically male fashion, I wish there was something I could do to help my wife. Her work is stressful and not particularly rewarding, and she is what psychiatrists call Not A Happy Bunny. I think she's caught in a live to work cycle that leaves no space for her to enjoy the good things in life. I guess we're both at a what's it all for, really, when you get right down to it place that makes self-motivation a bitch. Even having fun seems to require so much damn effort. Gah, sorry, you didn't come here to read twenty-something angst*. Do not adjust your sets...
* Like teenage angst, but with more household commitments and fewer spots.
And while we're on the subject, I stumbled across this, the pilot for Family Guy. Consistently one of my favourite shows, and certainly the most grown up toon around, you do wonder how this pitch ever earned them a commission.
You know that way when you're very, very busy, but still manage to find time to play practical jokes on your colleagues? I arrived at my desk this morning armed with a healthy* and nutritious† breakfast of Coke and Monster Munch. Had a meeting first thing, so barely opened my crisps, and returned from said meeting to find a solitary Munch remaining. The rest, as it turned out, had been hidden away in my drawers‡ in this ingenious capsule constructed by taping together two plastic cups. MacUser: always creative, always innovative.
The paintballing of last week was fun, though if I never do it again I won't count my life wasted. The Morning After, I thought I'd come out fairly well, but found, on walking down the very short flight of stairs in our flat that leads to the bathroom, that my thighs genuinely couldn't support my weight. Up stairs, fine; down stairs; actually impossible. Boy, I'm in peak physical condition. Now my legs have returned to normal, though I still have a few blooms of multi-coloured bruising all over my body.
Lastly: do you ever get that thing when you try to explain a concept you've heard explained clearly and concisely, and find that your explanation lacks punch or indeed any intelligible content? Thankfully for me, I came across by chance someone pointing me to an article on the Underpants Gnomes which highlights the eponymous gnomes' business strategy for which I'd been grasping for so long. Basically, it goes like this:
Many a true word hath been spoken in jest; this so succinctly illustrates the problem with so many business strategies, particularly in this era of YouTube-esque Web 2.0 ventures.
* For a given value of healthy; sue me
† For a given value of nutritious; sue me
‡ As in slidey-out-of-unit things, not British slang for underwear
The Copes have arrived chez vous, and currently my better half in engaged in drawing out the 'hilarious' plans discussed over dinner tonight for Mr Cope's funeral, representing all the countries in the United Kingdom. Believe me, it's funny.
They're off to see the Minnesota Orchestra at the Proms tonight, so we accompanied them to the Albert Hall. The evening sun on all that red brick was really quite beautiful, and the recently spruced-up Albert Memorial gleamed in the light of the retiring sun. A few more photos here.
And so the English exam results were announced today, and the traditional ballyhoo about whether the exams were getting easier ensued. In the midst of all the reporting, it's often forgotten that continually surrounding students with the news that the exams they've knocked their collective pan out to undertake – and pass, hopefully – are viewed as being somehow 'easy'. It seriously devalues their work and achievement, and it pisses me right off.
So well done, then, to the various examining and qualification authorities in the country for taking out a full-page ad in the national press, congratulating the students and showing some examples of questions from this year's exams. These will hopefully go some way towards making just a few people realise what students today go through.
Now, the way the papers are marked and the levels at which the grades are awarded are much more subtle and contentious matters, but that's what has to be decided: what are we testing kids for? Is it more important to get the right answer ('1+1=2') or to be able to articulate how you think you'd go about solving a problem ('I have one of something, and if I add another one of something – look, I can show you with my fingers – I'll have a different number of things, which I think may be three') but possibly getting the answer wrong?
Because ultimately, society has to decide – very abstract phrase, I know – whether they want to equip its next-generation leaders with a bunch of facts, or with the tools and mental models which allow them to tease problems out.
It's an question I don't have an answer to; as with so much, the solution will probably lie somewhere between the two extremes, but all too often in the vox pops and in the opinion pieces in ought-to-know-better media outlets, we hear mock outrage that today's students get marks for the wrong answer (but for having displayed working out that got them three quarters of the way there) or that today's students couldn't tell you when the Battle of Naseby was fought.
The teaching of history is a particularly vexed topic, I think. While my parents were still of the generation that was taught reams of battle dates, I was taught how to evaluate sources, examine context for evidence of bias, and construct reports based on my research. These are skills I use every working day of my life, and which help me analyse news coverage of contemporary events. But while I think these are important – vital – skills, I do think I missed out on learning historical context that would tell me more about the geopolitical make-up of this country, this continent and this world. Perhaps some time should be given over in the citizenship lessons that pupils undertake today to make them aware of the history that leads up to this now, while History (capital H) is used to teach students how to interpret past and present events.
A big, bellowy hurrah, then, to all students who opened envelopes today to glimpse their future. How would you have done with one of this year's maths questions?
Frightfully sorry to have kept you. I hope you haven't been waiting long? We've been on holiday, d'you see, and sans Internet.
Lovely, lovely time. For an eighteen thousand word post on the subject (based on the 'a picture is worth a thousand words × 18 pictures' formula) see here.
Being back in our own, huge bed is bliss, mind. And having the Internet back? Words cannot describe...
“...the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur”
I ♥ useless information, and this site sure lives up to its name. Quite therapeutic; you can learn without having to take anything in.
How to help someone use a computer
Friends and family will take great delight in the knowledge that I plan to study and digest this advice.
Check your typing speed
I got about 65wpm on the first attempt, but let me have another go...
Tells you all sorts of stuff about your birthday, including probable date of conception.
I know, I know, I'm a geek, but do us both a favour and click the link: I dare you to tell me it's not a teensy bit cool.
The camera does lie
History of the early days of manipulating photographs and daguerreotypes to show scenes different from how they appeared in front of the lens.
Couple of things before I go: I know 'humour' and 'IT' are rarely happy bedfellows, but a few gags in this list managed to raise a smile. Also, doing these Polaroid transfers looks like a bundle of fun. I want the time to do this kind of stuff, dammit.
Also, isn't this a pretty picture? Taken with my beloved cameraphone, and totally un-retouched, it's my good lady holding a glass of mint tea.
* Wanky post title, only to be understood by colleagues of a certain vintage – perhaps the originator of the story would like to tell it chez lui?
I'm quite used to seeing my surname misspelled – pity my poor wife – but never yet have I seen someone so comprehensively fuck up the spelling of my first name. They've changed the C to a P, kept the H in place, swapped the R for an I, and, while they've replaced the I with an L, the S has been dropped off entirely. Tut, tut, tut...
Not that I'm in any way objecting to the name, but it did amuse me...
I proofed the above ten year-old quote in the magazine today – quite telling, given Apple's current love affair with the iPod – and noted that it contained a mistake. Can you spot it?
(I know that at least two people who read this are or have recently been in the subbing business, so I'm rather hoping they at least will have.)
It's our old friend "its". Now, despite belonging to the generation that wasn't taught English properly, I read (and read; damned English syntax) a lot, particularly in my youth, and thus appear to have simply absorbed a kind of gut feeling for when things are correctly spelled and structured. Start talking about sub-clauses and the subjunctive and I'll nod politely, but, though I can't often tell you why, I can usually spot when things are wrong.
But even as my pen started marking the proof, I hesitated. Unlike with most proofing corrections, which are usually just plain wrong, it suddenly occurred to me that here, both its and it's were legitimate, respectively meaning:
...milk the Macintosh for all the worth it has
...milk the Macintosh for all it is worth
- Finally tracking down the original quote showed that my instinct had been right, but I'm glad I thought to check.
I was, understandably, hooked; it wasn't that I was the smallest man in Australia, I was only pretending to that exalted title. And doing it all the time, to boot. Surely the story could only get more interesting?
Thankfully, as she turned over, plumped her pillow, and prepared to return to full-on unconsciousness, she filled out the narrative: 'I was big,' she said – all without opening her eyes, but with a faint smile playing across her lips – 'I just kept saying "smaller and smaller".'
Despite not getting closure on this particular incident, I hope she never breaks this habit.
The sun is shining and I don't have any work to do this weekend – hurrah! The young lady and I have just spent a few hours soakin' up some rays in our local park. It was surprisingly quiet, so perhaps some sort of Foot Ball match was on. That's the great thing about the World Cup from my poncey, artsy, girly point of view: all the places that are fun to hang out at are dead quiet while everyone locks themselves in smokey, darkened rooms watching 22 men kick a ball around. Bliss. A few more pics from the park here.
Nothing else to do today but spruce up the flat a little, cook dinner – pork chops with cherry tomato and spring onion, served with Basmati rice – and see if today's investment in the Poor People's Tax has paid off. Toodle-pip!
My aged and infirm iBook G4 has been officially retired, and in it's place I have a rather lovely 2GHz MacBook, powered by the rather lovely Intel Core Duo chip. Performance is astonishingly good; Spotlight searching – especially in my huge Mail database – is lightning-quick, and it's just generally super-responsive. I know that part of this is just that it's A New Computer and so lacking the years of accumulated detritus that was slowing down my iBook, but still. And having started off hating the keyboard, I'm now a total convert; it takes a lovely light touch to type. Best of all though is the glorious gloss widescreen display, and it ability to drive a second monitor. I'm something of a fan, you see.
Mac number two is a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, bought with the proceeds of a sudden and unexpected little chunk of internal freelance, which sits permanently hooked up to our television and stereo, browsing shared media libraries and our movie collection stored on a NAS via the rather spiffy Front Row software. Even my lady wife is impressed with the mini, which, when not media centre-ing it up to the max (or Macs, possibly) is working for the good of mankind by running various BOINC projects. Everyone wins...
I am quite happy with this state of affairs.
1 absolutely necessary; extremely important : [with infinitive ] it is essential to keep up-to-date records | fiber is an essential ingredient. See notes at inherent, necessary .
• [ attrib. ] fundamental or central to the nature of something or someone : the essential weakness of the plaintiff's case.
ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense [in the highest degree] ): from late Latin essentialis, from Latin essentia.
Hot on the heels of the Panic boys' discovery that their graphics were being purloined and used on other sites without their permission comes my discovery that the Donate via PayPal button graphic you'll find on this site's Tutorials page has been nicked by a Mac consultancy company which shall for the moment remain nameless. (I ain't stopping you Googling the text shown above, mind you.)
I just happened across the site randomly – the graphic isn't being referenced from my servers – and sent the company a little note congratulating them on their support for the Mac community, but pointing out that nicking a graphic I created without asking permission is at best a little unprofessional. I have yet to receive a reply – I'd hate to be a customer in urgent need of assistance.
If they'd asked me, I'd have said go right ahead, with my blessing, but I hadn't released the graphic under Creative Commons or any other GNU licence, and it's a little cheeky just to lift it verbatim. Am I being too much of a Western-capitalist-consumery square?
In other news, having been paid on Friday, the young lady and I breakfasted at Carluccio's this morning – mmm! – and I bought myself a new wallet to replace the one which had been inadvertently chucking in the bin alongside the remains of a sweet and sour king prawn. We wandered around the deserted and very pretty marina complex at Canary Wharf, taking some photographs, before ducking into the UGC there to watch X-Men 3.
Finally, if you're looking to waste a little more time on the web, check out the highest viaduct ever built; details on designing information systems to keep people away from nuclear dump sites; a design for a dog bowl to stop your mutt from, pardon the pun, wolfing down his food; what happens to salt grains when you vibrate the table they're on at various frequencies; the review of a restaurant recommended to me by Ruth; and finally, this most adorable picture on a cat on an iBook, taken from the Cats love Macs Flickr pool.
I could have sworn I'd stepped onto a 453 on my way home from work today, but at one point I looked up from my book to discover I was cruising through an unfamiliar urban landscape. I thought we were just on diversion, but it gradually dawned on me that I was actually riding a number 12, en route to Dulwich.
I hopped off and started walking through Burgess Park; every day I pass by what now turns out to be a minute corner of the park on my commute, so thought I'd be minutes away from my normal route.
Burgess Park is huge – 113 acres, apparently. Unusually, it was created by actually clearing away housing, industry and transport infrastructure following its proposal in 1943, and it's a genuinely lovely, beautifully-landscaped bit of land. Right in the middle – or, more likely, just on the periphery, since I don't think I have yet quite absorbed the size of the park – you come across the above structure. It's a kiln, built to provide mortar – by converting lime to quick lime – for a housing boom in London, and was still in use up to the 60s according to information panels embedded in the pavement. Who knew?
My journey from there took me through Southwark, Peckham, Nunhead and, finally, Lewisham and New Cross. Some very lovely houses and mini-parks – Southwark in particular was very picturesque. If only I could be bothered moving...
The BBC inadvertently mistook a cabbie at the studio there to collect technology expert Guy Kewney for technology expert Guy Kewney, and interviewed him live about the recent Apple vs Apple court case.
You know that dream you have sometimes when you're on stage but can't remember your lines? That's what it felt like for this guy. I know that for sure because of his expression as he is introduced. Kewney himself was watching the monitors in reception.
You can imagine how it happened, though – some runner walks out into the holding area, calls "Guy Kewney?" and the cabbie there to collect him understandably answers. I wonder if he went through makeup? He is wearing a lapel mic – you might think that would have given the game away, but in television folks are always bustling around you, pinning something here, pressing something into your hand there, hustling you through this doorway or other.
Play it again. There must be seven different expressions flit across his face as he's introduced.
The BBC covered the story itself in News Watch; for more, watch this video.
ETA: Oh bugger: turns out the real story isn't quite as entertaining. Ah well, I shall just chose to disregard this new evidence.
Top of the list are these rather lovely, if a little overtly whimsical, shadow oil lamps called Lumen. Very pretty. Then there's the invisible bookshelves which just look super groovy. I don't actually want one of the new three-wheeled Piaggio scooters, but they look interesting. Me, I'd have one of the proper retro ones.
But if you're in the mood for gift-giving, please don't trouble me with these mere bagatelles. I want a yacht. But not any yacht. I want one that looks like any other yacht, but which is actually a submarine. Luckily, such things do exist. Scrap all my ambitions hitherto; from now on, I dedicate my life to captaining one of these little beauties. (Have a look at the PDF; you can buy one too and we'll, like, race along the mid-Atlantic trench, OK?)
According to the census from 1898-99, the flat in which we currently live was occupied by folks classified on the social spectrum as 'Mixed; some comfortable, others poor.' Plus ça change, eh? Londoners will probably find their houses on there too with a bit of clicking around. Go away now, I have to work...
It rained heavily yesterday. Me like sun, me no like rain.
Mrs Receding Hairline* and I both came down with a bout of minor food poisoning and spent the day within easy reach of the khazi.
Due to some spectacularly bad financial management, I'm currently over my overdraft limit. It's 19 days till pay-day. I came away from the reluctant cash machine thinking some rotter must have fraudulated me, guv, but no, apparently I really am this bad with money. Worst of all, Bank of Scotland are the very devil when it comes to bank charges. I did try get in touch to plead for leniency in this regard, but the very nice Scottish wifey calmly refused. Some people would say that threatening to make her life and the life of anyone she has ever cared about a waking nightmare might have been taking things too far, but I disagree. You can't be too nice to these people. Violence and intimidation is the only language they understand. And, in some cases, Urdu.†
My beloved iBook is definitely on its last legs. It crashed twice today – unheard of – taking large chunks of unsaved data with it each time. 'Inconvenient' doesn't begin to describe this. 'Really, really piss-titty-hellhole infuriating' just about begins to describe it, but doesn't quite have the requisite sense of throbbing, homocidal bile to it that I'm feeling right now.
Go to bed, everyone – what are you doing up at this time?
* ...who has a full head of shiny, manageable hair, I'm contractually-obliged to point out.
† This is, I realise, very close to being your actual racism. I edited it out and typed it in again several times over. Let history judge me, I say.
When the weather gets fine, you'll generally find me switching to one of two Summer tipples: Pimms or cider. Here I am clutching a pint of the golden nectar (remember, Coke is the brown nectar) at Thursday's inaugural computer division quiz night.
Now, while the idea of a bunch of computer journalists answering general knowledge questions while swilling beer and eating finger food may sound both repellant and tragic, it was actually a fantastic evening, and I can't wait for the next one. Ironically, the one round in which I think we did least well was the technology round. The questions had been set by some sadist who thought we'd all be well versed in the maximum theoretical refresh rate for DVI-D, and the data throughput of fibre channel. We, um, weren't.
More pictures courtesy of Nik here.
"It's a shame we have to lean against the hurty pain of the doormat"
If anyone would care to hazard a guess as to exactly what might have precipitated this statement – she herself remembers saying it, but has no idea why – we'd be interested to hear. As would the shrink.
In other news, I think my new ambition is to live in Winchester. We visited on Saturday with the wife's endearingly eccentric relatives, and despite having been once before, that first visit was brief and limited to the still pretty main street. This time, however, we wandered much more extensively. The architecture is just fabulous; London has seen such extensive rebuilding, particularly after the great fire, that few ancient buildings remain, but in Winchester – the 10th and 11th Century capital of England – you do feel like you've stepped into a time warp.
Better than this, though, are all the streams, channels and rivers that run through the centre of the town. I find the sound of running water particularly relaxing – Pisces is a water sign, after all, and I can never quite dismiss this whole zodiac bunfight – and the presence of ducklings, no bigger than a baby's fist, valiantly bobbing around in some strong currents, made the scene even more idyllic. More photos from the trip here.
Then there's the rather beautiful Protea lampshade – this is part of what designers are talking about when they mention 'truth to materials'; it's using the physical characteristics of the petals to move them rather than relying on some over-engineered electro-mechanical solution. There's also a whimsical, humorous twist to the design, and the comment it makes on the inefficiency of converting electrical into light energy gives it a bite of politics too. So much from a lampshade...
Third it's the spectacular UV tattooing ink seen here; part of why I love this is that under natural light there are no visible markings. I always quite liked the idea of a tattoo, but I'd only do it if I was in better shape than I am now. I never bought into the whole 'think how it'd look when you're 70' argument; even assuming I didn't have the same aesthetic value system as I do now, I think I'd like the reminder of my youth.
Next up is Nintendo on their [deliberate grammatical error] official name for the Revolution, the next-gen gaming console. I actually do like the rationale behind the name and the logo – the two lower-case I glyphs do look like two people, and mirror the shapes we've seen of the new motion-sensitive controller – but this explanation does stray just a little too far into naff for a company whose products are aimed at pretty media-savvy folks. And I think we'll soon get heartily sick of 'And together, Wii will change everything'-type puns. Plus, there are just ... too ... many ... gags about urine.
Lastly, and for colleagues only, does this picture suggest to you that a slightly prettier version of one of PC Pro's young staffers is working in the Blu-Ray industry? The natty protective chapeau even looks a bit like his hair. In any case, doesn't the company concerned here have a legal minimum age for its workers? This guy looks like a school leaver...
That is all. This weekend we will be visiting eccentric relatives in the country. Plus a cat.
PowerPoint Presentation Specialist (late shift) £neg
Jeez, when ya put it like that...
Here's a nice bit of intelligent design. Egg sent me a reminder about the loan I have with them, printed on lovely thick matt stock, and at the bottom left of the A4 letter there's a little tab, so that you can use this letter as a divider in your filing system. That's a thoughtful touch that demonstrates a good understanding of how users actually interact with documents once they're pulled out of the envelope.
Egg do documents incredibly well; everything's spectacularly clear and well laid out, and there's a very clear visual hierarchy of information that makes it simple to prioritise information. And the language used is the perfect balance between formal and chatty. Hurrah for financial institutions devoting resources to working out how to communicate effectively with their customers.
In other news, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes set arrived today; it's utterly captivating.
I had never even heard of Calvin and Hobbes before I met my good lady, but I immediately fell for the little kid and his stuffed tiger. The illustrations are beautiful, yes, and they capture expression just perfectly, but it's Calvin's attitude that makes the strips at once very funny and incredibly poignant. It really does suck being a kid sometimes, with everyone around you dictating your limits and behaviour. Here's a sample strip – it's impossible to find a favourite, but this one is lovely.
Continuing the theme, I also ordered The Muppet Show - Season 1 on DVD; should provide many a surreal moment.
If this were accurate, it would be a smidge under 231 millenia before this operation completed. By which point, I suspect, at the very least, we'd have a whole 'nother millennium bug-style dating problem to deal with.
In other news, I've imported all the entries from my previous blog; find them in the archives before October 2005. Some made me smile. Others made me realise I've felt this pressured for longer than I had realised. Nighty night.
Despite our best efforts today, we didn't get to Brighton as planned. There was a 'frank exchange of views' over which station to go from, so I checked online. 'King's Cross' it said. Ah, but no. Apparently, there are two King's Crosses in London. Right next door to each other. We did not know this, so having looked at the departures board at King's Cross (more accurately: a King's Cross), we went to Waterloo. Ah, but it's not Waterloo either. So we gave up and went to the Tate Modern for breakfast. (It's Victoria, by the way.)
Thence to Leicester Square via Paternoster Square (above) to see Ice Age 2 with young Mr Malcolm. I loved the stylish, slick treatment of the animation in the first film, and the sequel managed to be even more lush. We did get a running commentary from the kids around us – one of whom insisted on proudly reading out any and all text that appeared on screen and several for whom the 'plot' was too intellectually challenging and who questioned their loud-mouthed and oblivious parents throughout – but since it is a kid's film, I guess I shouldn't really complain. Is it so wrong to wish parents educated their children that they should be considerate of others, though?
Jim had work to do, so off he toddled, and the young lady and I wandered down through Trafalgar Square – our third square of the day – and the happy families and tourists clustered around the base of a be-scaffolded Nelson's Column, and caught the 53 back home.
We're hoping to go through to the seaside tomorrow, so long as the weather is half as picturesque as it was today. I asked Jason where he recommended we ate in Brighton – as well as the obligatory fish-and-chips-on-thePier-while-fighting-off-pneumonia – and he suggested Terre à Terre; we'll try to get there for lunch when it opens at noon.
Not going to Brighton was fun, so going to Brighton must surely be even more fun, right?
A few more photos from today on Flickr.
MacUser is swapping Labs with sister title Custom PC – a total head-fuck of a story, but I won't bore you with it here – and I came across this little floppy disk carefully archived away.
So many things appeal to me about it: the fact that a backup copy was made, the fact that though it's obsolete, we've stored it this last decade, but most of all the fact that we went to the trouble all those years ago to buy or have a stamp made up specifically to denote those items which were obsolete. Truly, publishing was different in them days.
High technology and I enjoy something of a love/hate relationship, which at the moment is best characterised by the observation that I love it and it hates me. To wit: our router is odd. It has taken to deciding – apparently at whim, for I can discern no pattern – that one or more of the four main computers in our household has no business being on the network. The connection just drops. No warning, just the plaintive message in Safari upon attempting to load a page informing us that we 'are not connected to the Internet'. Clearly, Safari attends the School of the Bloody Obvious as well.
This is more than just irritating: restarting the bastard device sometimes – sometimes – clears it up, and we'll biff along quite the thing for a bit. Then pouf and we're once more disconnected from the Hive Mind.
What's worse, it's interfering with my ability to work, which is doubly bad. Bad in the first because it means that work cannot be done, and bad in the second because it saps what very little motivation I have to be writing content for the magazine at this time on a Sunday evening. Hence blogging.
And what have I got to look forward to? According to my diary, I have a dental check-up at 9am. I ask you, should any man be forced to start the week with an admittedly very kindly man poking about in your gob while cross-examining you about what RAM his laptop takes? (The answer to that question is 'no', by the way.)
(Note: never tell your dentist what you do for a living. He will only try to take an interest, and your repartee will be a little curtailed by the presence in your mouth of three fingers, a couple of chunks of compressed cotton wool, some variety of hand-held pick-axe and a small Dust Buster. Failing that, inform your dentist that you do something unspeakable, in the possibly vain hope that he won't press you to speak of it.)
Oh hells. Right, the connection is back, and the gods alone know for how long, so I must get back to this feature. Blasted technology; maybe Stevenson has the right idea after all...
Not only is the notion of a textiles emergency inherently comedy – "Quick, we need more plaid!"; "Stop that, you schlemiel; you're warping your woof and woofing your warp!"; "You don't understand: if I don't get this knitted by noon tomorrow, we'll loose the Webster account!"; etc – but the fact that I was minutes later to be seen walking down Regent Street with a fistful of peacock feathers streaming out behind me in the wind added a satisfying note of whimsy to a story that already had plenty of potential to amuse.
Oh, the reason, if anyone's still reading, for the email was that one of her students had ordered some for one of her projects but they hadn't yet turned up. John Lewis charges £2.50 per feather. I have a sneaking suspicion that its 'Never knowingly undersold' policy is founded on the corporate equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "La la la la, I'm not listening!" and that the one chap whose job it is to pricematch with other stores is based in Abergavenny's less salubrious suburbs, and is armed with one HB pencil, a pad of PostIts and a choleric pigeon.
So, let's see if this works. I've recently discovered and very much been enjoying the music of Lambchop and they have some albums on the iTMS. This is just for my amusement to see how the system works, but I do actually recommend Lambchop, so you're welcome to check them out and buy the music through that link.
Apparently, if you don't have iTunes installed, it will take you to the download page. If anyone runs into problems, please let me know.
So I thought I'd break out the big guns and try using the rm command from Terminal. And it brought a smile to my face when I got this friendly warning from the Darwin layer:
The folder's still there, by the way. Neither the -f, -d or -R flags helped; Terminal also just insisted that the folder didn't exist too. Suggestions on a postcard, please. Or a comments field, which is probably easier.
I'm quickly becoming obsessed with faked tilt-shift photography. There may come a time when all my photographs – firstborn, graduations, the lot – are made to look like the subjects are on a model train set. There are a bunch of my experiments now on the Flickr album.
My lady wife has returned home after a brief soujourn in The Mother Country; on passing the border, the poor tot promptly succumbed to a cold. Evidently, she has become A Soft Southerner. Her mother responded appropriately, though, forcing tumblers of Bailey's between her parched lips, and encouraging the cat to keep her company. Not that the cat needs much encouragement – I've never met such a talkative beast. Apparently, she – the cat, the cat – has now adopted the habit of only sitting down to eat at the same time as my in-laws; regardless of the time her food is put down, she only appears when the humans pick up their cutlery.
In other news, a small area of flesh on my wrist looked like crispy bacon this morning, on account of me inadvertently – unlikely as that adverb may seem – pressing said body part against the heating elements of our grill. But worry ye not: thanks to the frankly terrifying regenerative capabilities of Elastoplast's spiffy new SilverHealing plasters, it looks much more like normal skin. I imagine it will only be in years to come that the metallic nature of the patch of bio-engineered skin on my wrist will come to light, when I inexplicably start setting off airport security systems and saving-the-world-while-wearing-my underpants-on-the-outside.
Ah well, with the state of pensions in this country... *digs in ribs, waggles eyebrows suggestively*
Those of you wedded to the joys of XML (viz, "phwoar, look at the tags on that") will be delighted to know that Receding Hairline's RSS feed now behaves itself, embedded photos and everything. You'll find the link to the feed below the ads in the right-hand column. Suffice to say that the issue was all down to User Error, but many thanks to RapidWeaver's developer, Daniel Counsell, for diagnosing and solving the problem without me even asking him.
(If anyone wants the vector RSS logo above, use the Contact link at the right to send me an email; I'll do an orange XML one too when I get a chance.)
As was the one my brother bought.
Ditto my parents.
Ditto many, many others.
The problem was this: Apple manufactured a batch of iBooks which later developed problems in their logic boards which caused them to fail. The affected computers suffered from:
- Scrambled or distorted video
- Appearance of unexpected lines on the screen
- Intermittent video image
- Video freeze
- Computer starts up to blank screen
How do I remember so clearly? Because Apple did finally admit the problem, and the FAQ about the logic board exchange problem – wherein, after interminable wrangling, the company will replace the faulty components in affected iBooks – and the information about the programme, which needed to be extended to deal with all the faulty models, is still online, here.
All well and good, you might say. But no.
Today, sick of all the interoperability problems around showing Mac-authored presentations on Windows computers, my wife took her iBook G4 (that's G4, mind, the next generation of iBooks) into work with her to present.
I got a panicked phone call this morning from her: “My Mac isn't working; the screen is just showing weird colours and lines.” I tried a few things – remote troubleshooting is always tricky – but it sounded ominously hardware-related. And tonight, when I examined the laptop, I was struck by the similarity of symptoms with the good old iBook G3 issue. I saw the scrambled video; I saw the computer starting up to a blank screen.
And what do I find with a little research on the problem? It's all happening all over again. (Also, see here)
The similarities are just too strong. The symptoms are identical, with a new addition; as with my wife's laptop, many users are reporting that on startup, there are no chimes, and the fans run at full. Pressing down on the left of the unit – something to do with the graphics card, apparently – can obviate the problem; many users are now running their 'portables' successfully by clamping it to the desk to apply this pressure. Go figure.
Consequently, and with a wry smile or irony, I currently have my PC sitting on top of her laptop – on the floor – as I make a backup of the information on the hard disk using FireWire Target Disk Mode.
But so what, right? If the logic board problem was fixed for the iBook G3s, Apple will do it for the G4s, right? Wrong. Apple has not yet admitted that there is an endemic problem, despite much evidence to the contrary.
In our house, this isn't disastrous. I have a few iterations of backups for my main Mac and her's, and computers are numerous enough that she will get work done without too much inconvenience. But what of the pleasure her iBook
But dammit, even that's not the point. Speaking not as a journalist but as a customer of Apple's, I find it fantastical both that it can continue to manufacture products with apparent inherent flaws and that when such mistakes are made, not immediately and with no fuss do everything to rectify the problem and placate its customers.
After all, my own main computer is the same model – 12in 800MHz G4 – implicated in user reports, and it's surely only a matter of time before it too fails.
It's late, I have a hundred and one other things to do, and the last damned thing I need is for technology to fail. It's not fair on me, and it sure as hell ain't fair on my wife.
Over Christmas, and with absolutely no prior warning or apparent reason, my iPod died. I was quite proud of it. I bought it not long after the launch of the third-gen model, and was inordinately proud of its slinky shape and then-vast 20GB storage capacity. Over the years it acquired a distinct patina, and as I wrote in the magazine recently, I discovered that attacking the metal back plate with a sanding block gave it a lovely brushed aluminium effect which completely disguised the scratches.
But now it is no more. I just went to switch it on and the hard disk made the most gut-wrenching scraping sound. While I could technically have replaced the hard disk, the iPod was BER – beyond economical repair; a new iPod could cost less. So today it shuffled off this mortal coil in style: by being dissected. Above you see a quick camphone shot from the inside of the front casing showing the plethora of capacitive sensors which determine where on the scroll wheel your finger is.
It will be immortalised on the printed page in due course laid out with all the reverence of a pharaoh, but it the meantime I am sans iPod. I could in theory afford to buy a new one, but I can't quite justify the expenditure so close to Christmas. I may have to wait till March for my birthday, but that does mean three months without my music collection, In Our Time podcast and audiobooks. :'(
This is a low-end PC by today's standards – 2.8GHz Celeron D, 512MB RAM, 80GB hard disk, DVD-ROM, XP Home – but it only cost me £199, it's brand new, and those specs would have been impressive only a couple of years ago. Doing some work on Pricerunner shows that to get the same specs brand new online would take £330. And if we look at, say, the 'best value' model in PC World's current sale, it costs £100 more and has half the RAM, and an AMD Sempron 3000 chip that runs at only 1.8GHz. True, it includes a 17in CRT, but who wants that when you have a decent 19in TFT? (I now need to get a decent KVM switch, but the decent ones tend to be expensive – like, £80-on-Amazon-expensive – and I don't know if it's worth getting a cheap one. Need to do some research.)
Very exciting all told, but I imagine it'll be a while before it arrives at this time of year. It'll be good to use Windows XP on a decent-spec'd machine rather then trying to convince my 800MHz G4 iBook to chug along with VirtualPC.
In other news, we have been alternating festive viewing on our MiniCine™ (as I like to call it. In my mind.) between my wife's choice of trash TV (Season 3 of Dawson's Creek) and mine (Emma's Christmas gift to me of the complete series of the weird, made-for-TV mini-seriesTaken). I don't actually mind The Creek, but the dialogue truly is fucking awful. The actors who play Pacey, Jen, Grams and Jack can sometimes make a silk purse from a sow's ear, but the rest of them are just ... shite. Every time Katie Holmes' droopy mug comes on screen, and every time Dawson "I-have-a-chip-on-my-shoulder-the-size-of-my-already-abnormally-large-forehead" Leery psychoanalyses another quite unimportant plot twist, I hurl abuse at the screen. The abuse may soon be followed by rotten fruit. Just have sex already, people. You're all clearly in your late twenties. Now granted, this show is aimed at teenage girls, so the direction I'd like to see the characters move in is somewhat at odds with the programme-makers intentions, but hey, a man can dream. And shout stuff at the TV.
* This traditionally-quoted figure is highly contentious. The fact is that most figures for market share are based on unit sales. Fair enough, you may say, but in truth people tend to run Macs for a lot longer than PCs, so if we're talking installed user base, and taking into account the post-iPod impact of the Mac mini, I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking nearer 10%, and maybe even more.
That was. The most. Relaxing Christmas. Ever.
I feel totally blissed out. The young lady and I have had the most chilled, fun, rewarding day. No timetables. No expectations. Just hours of each other's company, very good food, lovely gifts, and big-screen movies. (We have turned our spare room into a mini cinema with a projector borrowed from work; Jurassic Park never looked so good.)
More to follow over the next day or two, but for now many, many thanks to everyone for everything you gave us, in particular Emma (Jenny may frequently stumble on me holed up in our mini cinema) and Grah, whose mini tripod came in very handy for taking some of the pictures from the day.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all ... a ... good .... *yawn*
PS I never dance. But I was in such a good mood, and had drunk far too much of the very delicious red wine given us by the wife's boss-lady not to have a bit of a boogie to the B52s. Apologies to all for inflicting on you the sight of us shaking a leg.
Also, je suis vraiment fatigué. Too many parties last week, not enough sleep, and I seem to have inherited Chris Brennan's low-level cold. It's like a normal cold, except rather than making you feel like shit for a few days, you feel a little under par and sinusey for a few weeks. Joy.
In other news, I have a warm glow inside at the comments left by readers in response to my good lady's column in the magazine. And tonight I am making char-grilled lamb cutlets with cumin and thyme, plus sprouts, roast potatoes and glazed parsnips. If this cold holds, I won't be able to taste a thing.
It was very blustery and bright at Canary Wharf on Saturday; you can just see the old ball and chain peeping into view at the left of the frame, carrying a shopping bag blown almost horizontal.
OK, so I understand why Paracetamol Plus 'Contains Paracetamol', but why doesn't regular Paracetamol?
I have no problem with 'Contains nuts' on peanut packets or 'Contents may be hot' on takeaway coffee, incidentally. They amuse me, but I understand why it's the logical (if facile) conclusion of necessary consumer advice.
Another bonus post below...
When I arrived at Goodge Street station, I decided to throw caution to the wind and buy a sausage roll and a can of Coke from the shop next to the entrance. I didn't look carefully at the can till I got it to the office, but when I did, I discovered that it not only contained 10ml more liquid than a regular can, but it said in large letters around the top "EXPORT FOR MARITIME CONSUMPTION ONLY". I will award a prize (genuinely this time) for the most illuminating or funniest suggestion for why this may be.
A very short post today, peeps. In fact, let's do it in Cope-style bullet points:
• Neodymium magnets (from www.powermagnetstore.com) are the coolest things on God's green Earth (hell, that capitalisation looks odd. As does the juxtaposition of 'God' and 'hell'; oh well...) and many of my nearest and dearest can expect a couple for Christmas. In the above pic – taken during a lunchtime birthday drink for Westy – we see three pennies linked together by the power of just one of the little beauties. And PC Pro's Deputy Editor David Fearon looking on in awe.
• The new Harry Potter film kicks all kinds of arse. British director = pawky Brit sense of humour. Mad-eye Moody surprisingly convincing. Voldemort genuinely scary = 1 generation of fucked-up kids. Scope utterly epic.
• I overheard a French mum asking her poorly kid on the bus today what he would like to eat that evening. She asked in French. He replied with a strong Sarf Lahdahn accent, "Fish fingers ... chips ... et du pain." That last with the softest French accent you ever heard. Vive la difference!
• Three people I know and whose blogs I read, today completely independently and for different reasons posted about David Bowie. Two specifically about Labyrinth. Have they tapped into some collective consciousness?
• I need to shave off all the hair on my head, bar the eyebrows. My hair is usually kept to a #1 and the beard kept down to a stubble at worst. I have cut neither since our Awards, with the net result that I look very furry, and my male pattern baldness (which gave rise to this site's URL) is more pronounced than ever.
I don't know if you know of the $100 laptop project? It's the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the founding chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, and it involves putting together a wind-up laptop which will cost less than $100 to be distributed to millions of schoolchildren, ostensibly in the developing world, in a bid to level the playing field a bit in today's economy. Very laudable.
Today, most feeds in the Mac section of my RSS reader are reporting that Apple offered to supply its operating system, Mac OS X, for the laptops completely free. Again, laudable.
The folks behind the project politely declined the offer, on the basis that Mac OS X isn't open source – click here for a definition if you're not a geek – and most of the Mac sites around the globe have been smacking their collective palm against their collective forehead and condemning Negroponte and his colleges for denying 'starving children in Africa' the chance to use super-duper Mac OS X (my quote marks).
But here's the thing: although there's much in Mac OS X that is open source, the operating system is still, to all intents and purposes, a closed system. It can't as easily be adapted to a specific task, can't be as quickly fixed if a systemic flaw is discovered, and can't be worked on by legions of alpha geeks the world over.
The decision was entirely justified, but even so I imagine that it wasn't taken lightly. It would have been an interesting business move for Apple, and one which at a stroke would have radically improved its still-tiny market share, but it must have been very tempting for the $100 laptop coordinators.
Open source is not a panacea – it should coexist alongside commercial software – but the reaction of MacDailyNews to the story is misinformed and bigoted. (MDN, it should be pointed out, it the most rabidly pro-Apple site I know, even more so than Apple itself.)
To characterise open source software as a Ford Fiesta compared to a Lexus (ignoring the obvious observation that for a lot of people the Fiesta will be better suited, more econonical to run and less likely to get keyed while parked) is plain wrong. Open source software can be spectacularly polished and very easy to use – hell, OS X users use open source every time they fire up iChat, retrieve email or even just boot the operating system – never mind all the advantages inherent to a system that has thousands of individuals continually working on how to improve it. And bollocks to the suggestion that open source is patched up with 'Bondo'. No system is perfect, as the steady stream of security patches Apple itself issues for OS X proves.
Here, have a Lexus for free. No thanks, we'd rather have this here Ford Fiesta. You can't tinker much with a Lexus, but the Fiesta's hood always seems to be open. Check this out, we put some big knobby tires on it, filled in the rust spots and holes with Bondo, took it to Earl Scheib and, voilà! All your Lexus does is smoothly go 150 mph without complaint. Plus, nobody can break into it and it just runs and runs and runs.
Most of those nice things you've just said about Mac OS X can be applied to most modern operating systems today, from Windows to Palm OS to Symbian. Standards such as USB Mass Storage, TCP/IP, Bluetooth and 802.11 are making these archaic notions of Why-The-Mac-Is-Better-Than-Anything-Else-You-Smell-Like-Pee-Anyway much less relevant.
Wouldn't Mac OS X – which runs a wide range of polished applications, networks easily, accepts peripherals painlessly, is extremely secure, plus many other reasons – work best for such a project, especially if Jobs offered it for free? What a boneheaded decision to decline Apple's offer!
Absolutely, first intelligent thing you've said, though it must be noted that you're now promoting open source; what about the Lexus/Fiesta analogy? Darwin is a great, open source component of the Mac OS X experience. But, people, it's a component. Sure, open source bods can dick about with it to their heart's content, but stick Darwin on a £100 laptop and you ain't got Mac OS X.
And what about Darwin? http://developer.apple.com/darwin/
So let's get a bit of perspective here. I am a Mac user, and for 80% of the time, that makes me a very happy bunny. But there's room for other operating systems, and frankly I'd be at least as excited about the idea of a $100 laptop running a Linux variant than one running Mac OS X. Guys, it's still windows, icons, menus and pointers. Your mum could use it. Have you ever used it?
There's a feeling among the Mac Faithful that Apple can do no wrong and that it's still a maverick company piloted by a bunch of feel-good hippies. Bollocks. Apple is a business. If it had the chance to be in Microsoft's place today, you can be damn sure it would be. Give it a monopoly on the $100 laptop – a project which is closer to socialist ideals than capitalist – and after a few years I'd be very surprised if they didn't start tightening the thumb screws a little. And, let's say this all together folks, if it's a closed system, nobody but the controlling company can dictate progress or direction for the operating system. By using open source, the $100 laptop can go wherever the needs take it.
In other news, I wholeheartedly endorse the reaction to über-twat Jason Kottke's comment about stickers made by the lovely folks at 37signals.
I also support* Trees for Cities – specifically a little copse on the South Bank. Though it's not a panacea, I love the concept of carbon offsetting, and like to think that I am in a very very small way helping to make myself carbon neutral. (Not a sentence you'll hear often, I suspect, viz: "What do you want to be when you grow up?", "Carbon neutral.")
In this vein, here are a couple of suggestions for an ethical Christmas. Friends of the Earth have teamed up with The Magazine Group to offer cheap subscriptions to a huge range of magazines. On top of the savings you make, FoE gets at least £8 for every subscription sold through this link. (If I might make a suggestion, I hear that this magazine is particularly fine...)
There's plenty of time still to get Christmas cards ordered from Card Aid, which supplies cards of various designs to support over a hundred charities.
Best of the bunch, though, is the fantastic catalogue I got through the post a few weeks ago detailing lots of ethical gifts, such as preserving an acre of rainforest for £25 or a £20 hive of bees to provide income for a disadvantaged family. There's a website too – check out www.goodgifts.org – and you can feel virtuous even just reading it.
To cheer up this post which has rather slipped into the po-faced, here's a picture of the rather lovely bottle of apple juice I bought the other day at a painfully right-on sandwich bar near my office. Quelle retro!
* Support in these instances doesn't just mean setting up a Direct Debit. I do try hard to join in debates, lobby my MP (the frighteningly glamorous Joan Ruddock) and generally muck in. But, like I say, bleeding heart liberal.
That was a hell of a week, but at least it's all over. I had a few big projects to complete – not ordinarily a problem, naturally, but there have been so may other little exta jobs cropping up which have mean that the major projects got bumped further and further back.
It's a tricky time of year, this. We have the MacUser awards and the big Mac show, this year back to Olympia. I got myself involved in both (partly through my self-sabotaging inability to say no, partly because I hate to see a job badly done, and partly for other reasons...), had to write some extra little bits for the magazine... etcetera, etcetera, etcetera [to be said à la Yul Brynner in The King and I].
No matter. A late finish on Sunday night meant that it is all done. Finished. Completed and submitted.
And you have no idea how good that feels.
True, there are many thing I need to do this week, but the pressure should be nothing like as bad as it has been since the last post.
You never know: maybe this blog will cease to document my mood swings and start to offer some decent editorial content as opposed to being the 21st century equivalent of the snivelling diary of a teenage girl.
As I write this, I'm sitting in an adorable café near to the office, drinking Earl Grey and eating a fruit scone with jam and cream. (The young lady will tell you that I'm easy to please; a cream tea will rescue me from all but my blackest moods.)
Thanks for the words of encouragement, particularly from my Ma. And a specific 'thanks for nothing' to Cope for suggesting that the sapping malaise I feel is endemic and uncurable...
(Incidentally, the above pic was taken last night as I was working on some stuff; it's of the shadow one of our tea strainers balancing on the spout of our teapot.)
We have no doctor in London yet (after three years), but I went to the pharmacist to ask for some medication to provide some respite. I now have a 24 hour remedy (colour-coded tablets for night and day) and anaesthetic and antibiotic throat lozenges. Plus plenty of fluids. She hasn't eaten a full meal since Saturday evening; the best she has managed is half a bowl of soup yesterday and, today, a few chunks of pineapple.
We, collectively, as a household, feel like shit at the minute. We've both been hurling ourselves at our work with gusto for so long, and now, at the end of the year, we just seem to be running on empty. There's just nothing left. A sort of long-term exhaustion has set in. Not the self-congratulatory exhaustion that comes at the end of a stint of hard work on one project, but the sapping malaise that comes from realising that once you've finished that project, there are three others to be done, one of which is already late. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. We need a holiday, but we have neither the money to hand over to someone to do it all for us, nor the energy to piece together a budget option. Plus, apparently I only have half a day's holiday left in this year's allocation.
The problem we both have is that we just don't know a different way to work. We both need to be throttling back a bit, I think, for our sanity and physical well-being, but neither of us likes the idea of a job done badly. There must be corners which can be cut or processes which can be streamlined, but for the life of me, I don't know where.
So, yeah, it's all a bit fucking depressing, really. Plus, there's the very real possibility that I'll get this bug from my better half myself.
I can't take this for much longer; something's gotta give.
The media/UK Government are whipping up a tide of hysteria You can't whip up a tide, unless you have a god-sized whisk concerning avian flu. There's a clue in the name - avian. Humans can't catch it. Wrong, smart-arse. At present it can't be spread from human to human – though that may change as the virus evolves; the WHO currently counts the number of dead as 60. From what do you think they died? I think there's something else going on here, the drug companies are seeking to cash in on something that doesn't exist. It fucking well does exist you cretin. The WHO's official estimate for the death toll is between 2 and 7.4 million, with the UN cooridinator talking in terms of 5 to 150 million. Remember WMD and the Millennium Bug? I do, yes. I don't know enough to pass judgement on weapons, but I do know that the reason the Millennium Bug was such a non-story in the event was that companies spent billions verifying and upgrading their systems in time. Like avian flu, the Millennium Bug was A Real Thing.
Besides, he starts off by saying it's the media/government that's behind it all, then he goes on to say it's the drugs companies. Can't even get his conspiracy theories right, let alone his facts. Grrr.
The service does, however, rely on having enough data to analyse. Because I've bought so little music from iTMS, it appears to be struggling a little to make meaningful recommendations to me. If someone can play the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and get me from Bach to Bon Jovi in six steps or fewer, I'll be mightily impressed. Do you think it's just alphabetical?
So, do we reckon this entry on Motorola's site suggests:
a) An admirable focus on you, the customer. You, you reading it, you're the most important person in the world to us at Motorola.
b) Motorola has only one customer who asks questions on a regular basis. Frequently, in fact.
c) Motorola has only one customer.
d) Someone at Motorola doesn't understand basic English grammar.
Unfortunately, we did only 'play' at host, however, for though we carefully prepared our spare room for his arrival, I was far too tired to be of any use a a host, having been up all night with Jenny who had contracted a violent stomach bug. Needless to say, the young lady herself was about as much use as a nun in a knocking shop. So we did try very hard to be witty, vivacious and entertaining hosts, but fear we may have appeared as foul-mouthed, barely-animate zombies. Sorry, Cope.
In other news, we saw the new Wallace and Gromit movie (Mini-review: Warm-hearted and very rewarding) and I made some kick-ass consommé for my convalescent wife.
The site is coming on; all feedback appreciated.
* The odd nature of the method by which we know this man was brought home to him when he went through HM Customs and Excise: when asked who he was staying with, he gave our name. Then he was asked how he'd met us. In retrospect, his honest answer of "On the Internet" was perhaps not the best one, but the man let him through. After conducting a full body cavity search.†
† Not really.‡
‡ Yes, really! ◊
Similarly, you'll no doubt find bits of this site that are unfinished, and regular visitors (who am I kidding?) will probably notice the structure shuffle around a fair bit. But do feel free to have a poke around, and please do drop me a line if you notice any spectacular errors.
The impromptu interview I did at Apple Expo Paris has now been aired, but because it's for an obscure show on BBC World, nobody will ever see it. Except, of course, you, because, if you follow this link, you can find links at the right of the page to watch the streamed version for dial-up or broadband.
Yours truly appears twice; once, round about 4 minutes in, and again somewhere around 5:30 in.
But it's an odd experience. I'm used to editing other people's quotes for my stories, and angling them so that they suit my particular take on something. To be the victim of the same is disconcerting. I'm amazed at how clear my normally mumbling diction appears, but am shocked at how negative my comments about Apple appear to be. I now have a fresh appreciation of the politician's traditional "my comments have been taken out of context."
It's even more apparent in the pullquote towards the bottom of the accompanying news story. Ah well, c'est la vie.
The number of referrals you need depends on the value of the item you want. I've signed up to get a free Mac mini, so I need 10 referrals.
It seems perfectly legit; one of the offers is for ScreenSelect, a DVD rental company along the lines of Netflix or LoveFilm. It's a free trial, which you can happily cancel once your referral has been registered, apparently in around 5 business days. That's what I did.
I now need to convince 10 other people to do the same. Anyone who follows my referral link at the bottom of this post, and completes one of the offers, counts towards my total. And it also means that you get onto the scheme, so you're one step closer to a free Mac mini yourself.
I'm curious to know if this works, and I guess you are too if you've read this far. It'd be great if ten of you could participate, and I'll report back here on my experiences.
Just click on the link below, and follow the prompts. I recommend the ScreenSelect offer, but if there are others which appeal more, go for them.
I like to tinker with different operating systems (it's OK, I have a wife already), and I occasionally even need to muck about with Windows for various reasons. To do this, I use the generally pretty excellent Virtual PC, now developed by Microsoft.
Normally, I use it in a window under Mac OS X, but I sometimes switch to full screen to take screengrabs or whatever. When I do this, I forget that it's just a emulated system, and that, for example, if I want to close a window, my hands instinctively reach, not for control-w but for the Mac-standard command-w keystroke. This, though, closes the Mac window, which is the one containing Windows, shutting it down.
A rather more disorientating thing happened today, though: as I was working in Windows, I triggered Dashboard*, bringing the OS X Widgets floating over the Windows screen. It really threw me (nasty, aliased Window text and shiny, anti-aliased Mac text side-by side), and I spend a good few seconds trying to work out where the hell I was, OS-wise.
Hell, that was a really boring story wasn't it? Must try harder, See me, etc.
* Dashboard is an application layer (honest) that brings handy little tools zooming across the top of what you're doing when invoked. You do your thing, then dismiss them. They're much more useful than I've made them sound. I'm obviously having a bad day today, writing-wise...
All of this, however, doesn't stop you leaving it in a taxi.
I sent a text from the wife's phone, though, and the kind cabbie rang back half an hour later* offering to send it Special Delivery. I didn't think it was possible to love black cabs any more, but now I do. Suggestions on gifts for the nice taxi driver (as well as reimbursement for the postage, plus maybe a tenner) as a thank you solicited via the comments.
* ...just as I was on the phone to Vodafone to cancel it. I was alarmed to note that my call credit limit has been surreptitiously upped to £210, which means that if I lose my phone, or it's stolen, either without me noticing, any n'er-do-wells could spend £210 of my money and I'd have no come-back. It's a practice Nik keeps noticing with his provider too (coincidentally Vodafone too, I think), and he apparently rings them quite regularly to get them to lower the call limit back down to £50. Looks like I might have to ask him to put in a word for me at the same time.
A couple of nights ago, after a very dull, overcast day, and without any warning, the sky over London flashed from slate grey to a very unnatural and saturated orange for a few minutes before dying back to darkness. It was really odd, and put me in mind of Richard Burton's narration in Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds, where he talks of 'the weird and lurid landscape' of Earth as it's being suffocated under the red weed. The quality of the light as well as its colour was otherworldly - it filled our front room with bright, flat, gold light for minutes - and I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that there was a huge fire raging nearby, or that we actually were under attack from Martian forces. I thought we were the only ones really to see it - a foolishly self-important thought in a city of almost 7.5m people - but a comment on the only photo I got of the event led me to find loads of other people on Flickr who had managed to capture much more convincing shots that I.
The picture above is from this guy, but there were also some great shots to be had here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Gotta love Flickr.
In other news, we had a fire drill today at work, but since it was such a nice day, standing around outside for a quarter of an hour was actually most pleasant. At lunchtime I wandered around Fitzrovia taking pictures for my photoblog; if I don't spot anything else good over the next few days, I have a surplus from today that I can continue to post.
Eeek! Much has happened and I haven't written about it. OK, so, the wedding all went without a hitch (apart from us getting hitched) and we had a lovely London honeymoon.
One of the things we did was visit London Zoo (a first for me) ostensibly to do some sketching for one of Jenny's projects for the new term, but, mostly thanks to my childlike enthusiasm for the animals, we ended up just wandering around. I got heartily fucked off by a lot of the parents, though. In one area, you basically enter a huge cage that the little monkeys, above, scamper about in. There are a lot of gentle, firm and very clear signs everywhere telling you not to have food visible and not to get too close. And yet there were toddlers reaching out their grubby paws to the monkeys as they were fed on wedges of watermelon as tall as they were*. The staff kept having to ask the parents to keep them back, but they took no notice. I have little doubt that the parents would have been the first to sue ZSL had one of the ostensibly wild animals had deftly hooked little Liam's eye out. (What, incidentally, would you call partly tamed animals? 'Feral' refers to domesticated animals gone wild, but I can't think of a word which describes the process working in the opposite direction.)
It was even worse in the aquarium - surely one of the oldest parts of the zoo; it looked very Victorian, and made my ever see-sawing opinions about zoos take a sharp turn for the negative - with kids and adults alike banging on the glass despite clear signage telling you that this can cause distress to or even kill the fish.
With a very few exceptions, the kids all ran around the zoo like they were on some sort of amphetamine- (in reality, I know, more likely sugar-) induced high, screaming and demanding attention and just generally operating at 90%. I am positive I was much better behaved as a child; yes, it's the old 'kids these days' line, but the logical conclusion is that I was probably as much of a tearaway to the preceding generation as the current one is to me.
Sorry, zoo-tastic rant there. Let's change the subject.
I today took possession of my new mobile phone. I only wanted to change the tariff (down, as it happens, to the very cheapest on offer), but Carphone Warehouse gave me the just-last-week-released Sony Ericsson W800i for free. I will another time wax lyrical about why this is a fantastic phone in many ways, and why Carphone Warehouse demonstrate impeccable customer service, but of interest to us here is its build-in 2 megapixel camera. Hiterto, the cameras on phones have been there as an interesting toy, and have been included as a kind of technological willy-waving on the part of the manufacturers. But 2 megapixel is good. As good as my first camera which cost me £250 only two years ago. OK, so the images aren't quite as crisp and are a little more noisy at 100%, but for 6x4 snaps, the W800i is more than good enough.
The upshot of this is that I've started a photoblog; there are links to subscribe to an RSS or Atom feed at the bottom of the page. I'll try to post one a day.
Onwards and upwards. I think I'll take this opportunity to do a link dump - some horribly out of date by now - so in this post, you'll learn about bacon plasters, optical illusions which will make you question your sanity, Leslie Phillips, and the music mixing concept Audiopad.
You'll watch a video about the differences between real life and the internet (one for the young lady especially, there), be amazed by the world's largest container ship, be educated by this very useful page on the great Wikipedia, and feel conflicting emotions of pity and lust for this toy UFO (be sure to watch the video).
There's also the opportunity to be worried about babies (Do they really not have the imagination? Must we spoon-feed them everything...?) and worried about adults, though I'm not sure if I'm more concerned about the people who make these last products or those who buy them.
There is more, but it's late and I have the new Iain M Banks novel to finish. Toodle-pip.
* I should perhaps clarify: the monkeys were being fed watermelon, not the kids. And the watermelon was as big as the monkeys were long; the zoo wasn't breeding mutant, toddler-sized watermelons or anything...
More photos will be added as guests send us their pictures.
Right, I'm off to do married things* now.
* Without the requisite bickering, natch.
My next post will be as a married man! See you all on the other side...
According to my little weather widget, it's going to be sunny but overcast for the wedding on Monday. I'm really excited. The young lady has spent the last week putting the final touches on preparations (if it takes this much work for the very low-key affair we're having, how much more stress must yer generic white wedding entail?), and we're pretty much sorted now thanks to her.
Admittedly I haven't bought anything to wear yet, but, hey, there's a day to spare still, no?
I always support ticket inspectors, as folk who don't pay their ticket push up the price of mine, but it still rankles that I was fined when I'm always very conscientious about paying for my ticket.
I don't dispute that I was in the wrong - my ticket was invalid - but I wish there was some flexlbility.
On Friday I went into the young lady's school to teach some Photoshop skillz to the teachers in the art department. As it happens, a bunch of laconic sixth formers also joined the lesson, and I had to quickly in my head run through the slides I had prepared to make sure that I hadn't inserted some comedy swearing in them. It went well, though time constraints and the fact that the lesson was being delivered to a mixed ability group rather than the group of largely starters that I had expected threw me a bit. Ah well, they seemed to get something from it, and I at least got their stack of graphics tablets out and running.
I also witnessed (and helped teach!) a couple of the young lady's lessons. Some of the kids were little horrors, but the older ones especially were rewarding to work with. Adorably, at the end of the day (since it was near the end of term), her whiteboard was covered in farewell messages from her students, one of which is shown above. Bless!
Yesterday was spend cleaning and tidying in between huge gouts of reading. The young lady wolfed down the new Harry Potter in less than twelve hours, and I finished the very excellent We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Today will hopefully be more of the same. I'm now off to try to recreate a Patisserie Valerie cream tea at home.
Last night, an earwig bit me in the balls.
I felt a little nip on my arm as I was drifting off, but just thought it was a crumb or a more usual bedbug. I began to slip once more into slumber, when I felt a much more deliberate nip on a distinctly intimate area. I fumbled for the light, and saw an earwig (or 'wiggin' as they're called in our house) sitting quite calmly on the duvet.
Though not given to such acts, I'm ashamed to say that the corpse of the offending insect is now drifting through London's sewer system.
It's a dignified reaction. The biggest 'fuck you' that can be delivered to the groups and individuals who perpetrated the attacks is the simple act of keeping the economy ticking over through hard work and hard play.
I came across an article today, 'A Letter To The Terrorists, From London,' which manages to summarise the feeling pretty well without being mawkish or nationalistic.
The really annoying thing is that I thought the problem was to do with the order and/or formatting of the previous hard disk, so the previous week or so has been spent on and off reformatting it in various ways, only to discover that the Mac was picky about what drives it liked. Ah well, done now.
I now face a bit of a dilemma. I really don't want to spend much on this machine - I've already bought a wireless card for it - but even if I was happy to splash out some cash on a brand new drive, there's no guarantee it would work. The linked-to thread above suggests buying a new PCI controller but that's just even more cash. Maybe I'll just keep an eye out for a whole 'nother machine on eBay rather than trying to get this astard to work. Must go to work now. Feeling very fucked off.
Am now running comprehensive hardware tests overnight. Let's see how it goes, shall we? It has to be a hardware fault.
I finally tracked down the problem that was causing it to crash on startup occasionally during installation. It should have been much more obvious - it's real Mac 101 stuff - but yes, it seems to have been down to a duff RAM chip. Seems to be all working now, touch wood; I spent the best part of the last weekend on and off trying different installation techniques, so that was a tad wasted...
I'm also delighted that the PCI WiFi card I installed did indeed just work. A thousand thanks to Mr Brennan who knew that, despite being listed as Windows only, BT's range of PCI adapters use the same chipset as Apple's own, so that not even a driver was needed. The Mac is now downloading and installing all the latest updates.
Once all set up, it will act as a central server, giving us the ability to print wirelessly to our inkjet printer and access our backup and other drives. Huzzah!
Once that's done, I'll be taking my IT life in my hands and installing Linux onto the other partition. Should be child's play...
Jenny looked stunning; I was flattered to have such a ravishing creature on my arm.
In other news, to maintain the illusionary lifestyle to which we aspire, I suggest we purchase this car; not only is it the car I've dreamed of all my life, but it was once owned by a retired headmaster from Normandy by the name of Monsieur Dupoisson. I mean, who wouldn't want it?
Four enormous trolley-loads later, and we've almost completely succeeded in furnishing our new flat. It's all very exciting, but also quite spectacularly stressful. No matter now good we are at keeping calm and maintaining a sense of proportion, every 93 minutes or so we dissolve into narkiness.
No matter. We signed the forms and picked up the keys to the new place today. I dare say it's modest by some people's standards, but to me it's a bloody palace. We actually move stuff over tomorrow, though we still have a fair chunk of packing up to do tonight. Young Mr Malcolm has kindly agreed to help us lug boxes around.
We're feeling pretty tired already. Goodness knows how we'll feel by Sunday!
The phone line and web aren't plumbed in to our new house yet, so posting here is likely to be even more sporadic than before.
Click on the photo above for a higher-resolution version (taken with my super-fancy new digital camera); lots of photos of the move to follow soon.
AkibaLive: Name Stamp & USB Memory Card
ThinkGeek :: Albert Einstein Action Figure
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This morning I fired up a group of bookmarks and found this one staring me in the face. Granted there are many thousands of Chrises out there, but I couldn't help but feel victimised. After all, maybe it was about me...
Well that's it; we're finally moving. To a two bedroom place which is more convenient for travelling. Before we'd even signed anything, however, our estate agents had plopped this sign outside our current abode. Nothing like feeling unwelcome in your own home...
Apologies for the infrequency of posts; we've been very busy. This weekend, however, we took time out to visit Jenny's aunt and her husband in Fleet. We went to Winchester for a little day trip; photos of the cathedral will be up shortly. Bloody .Mac service is being very flaky.
We toyed with the idea of a stone other than a diamond, but in the end bought into the whole 'diamonds are a girl's best friend' corporate line and did plump for a hunk of compressed, superheated carbon.
Someone told me that the tradition now is to spend two month's wages on an engagement ring, but we both agreed that if this was the case it was a damn silly tradition.
In other, much less exciting news, my computer is finally back up and running. I am childishly delighted by this.
For those who don't already know, the young lady has promised to make an honest man of me. Yes, in a move which removed any shred of masculinity I had left, she proposed to me on my birthday. It was utterly adorable, and though we're both trying valiantly to keep everything low-key, even the choice of picture for this post demonstrates that at least my standards of taste and decency are beginning to slip.
The proposal was two nights ago, and in a move which may anticipate our future married life, Jenny tonight was pestering me to post about it. I will not be owned! x
I'm also seriously considering bidding on this ancient piece of computing. I was trying to justify to someone the other day why I spend so much on computer equipment which is effectively obsolete, and it's actually a very simple answer. As a kid, I yearned to own so many gadgets, but they cost thousands of pounds. Now, the ridiculous rate of change in the world of computing means that I can at last own them all, and all for pennies. It's a mildly ludicrous justification but then it's a fairly harmless hobby.
That particular computer is the fancy version of the first laptop I owned, the Amstrad NC100. Both computers were marketed with the slogan "If you can't use this computer in five minutes, you'll get your money back". The NC100 was a fantastic piece of equipment, and I remember writing a manual for connecting it to my desktop computer using a system called, I think, ProLink Plus; I wrote to PCW Plus (edited by the redoubtable Alex Summersby, who I believe is still working in the industry) about it and got a ridiculous number of orders for it from the letter they published. Is there anything more adorable than a tale of a young geek?
Incidentally, it was in this same journal that another letter I submitted was given the 'Best Presented Letter of the Month' award, printed as it was on paper I was selling at school for a project under the brand 'Skoosh'. This all sounds a bit trippy, doesn't it?
Anyway, I worked pretty solidly over the weekend on magazine stuff so was very kindly given today off. I'm currently sitting in Patisserie Valerie in Soho sipping loose-leaf Earl Grey and stuffing myself with toasted fruit scones with jam and clotted cream.
Jenny has been incredibly supportive, bless her heart. I returned home today to find the flat spring-cleaned, meatballs made for my birthday meal tomorrow, and pancake batter with blueberries mixed for breakfast. What a sweetheart.
This, apparently, is the world's oldest woman. She's 125, and still surprisingly spry. Now, "a hundred and twenty-five" doesn't, to my ears, sound so fantastical, but that does means that she was born in 1880. That's when it really hit me. 1880. Astonishing.
Read more about this admirable lady here.
The Apple sticker in the centre is an official one (albeit very old), and it coincidentally perfectly fits over the glowing Apple on the lid. There are more stickers on the bottom.
I'm doing the whole thing very neatly; the red sticker at the left wraps round over the join between the screen and the main body, but has been carefully sliced so that the lid does still open.
I spent far too long last night browsing eBay for other funky stickers to add, and came up with a very long list. Hence, I'm now waiting for some ironic, possibly hazardous, baldness-related, cheery and assorted stickers to arrive in the next few days. I'm also very very much hoping to win this auction for Royal Military Police insignia.
If anyone who reads this has other stickers – the more retro or odd the better - please do drop me a line. I'll be posting proper photographs of the project in the coming weeks.
The iBook itself remains hors de combat, unfortunately, since my spanky new hard disk is yet to materialise. Bah.
Click image for pricing information from Pricerunner
An early birthday present! I was chatting to my mum on IM this evening and she said that I could order the hard disk necessary to get my iBook back on its metaphorical feet. I have therefore ordered the above little nugget of technology, and look forward to its delivery; should be here Monday. One of my colleagues has kindly agreed to fit it for me. The drive I'm getting is both fast and capacious (for a laptop drive) at 100GB and 5400rpm, and will make my life much easier; it got good results in Bare Feats' tests.
Surprisingly sexy packaging for a hard disk, eh?
There is large a problem with the company which directs the trains in my line: the communication. Sometimes it is when we are sat down on the train in the center of nowhere and the driver say to us that it do not know why. One formerly it is perhaps on the ways when the screen reads ' System Fault'. Yesterday Ca was with the fenetre tickets. ' I have a ticket "weekender". Or can I go tomorrow, ' I ask. ' Norwich? Peterborough?' Paul is still in Gran Canaria with Trevor, Jon and the others, thus I desired outward journey with quotes, or perhaps the beach. Well on it will be cold, but I have large a wind-breaker and I like to look at the sea on the rocks when there is nobody around. ' Only London, ' known as the woman in the other face of glass. ' London?' I say. ' But I can go in Clacton and Ipswich before the exchange of organization which directs the trains.' ' Yes, ' she says. ' It is true, but maintaining it is all different.' ' Why?' I ask. ' One moment, ' it say, and appele supervising to them. Both speak for one moment, and supervising it leans towards the fenetre. ' We do not know, ' it says. ' Before the exchange, you can go everywhere known the network, but now we are to dispute some with our department of walk. They cannot decide if you etes peremettre to travel in places which you cannot go with the ticket which you always use to go has London.' ' If that must I make?' I ask. ' Can I go to the beach this weekend?' ' I do not know, ' it admits. ' You can still ask for matain tomorrow... ' I leave has this point. Thus I am not with the beach today, but they are not necessary bad. Many papers about my loan-housing arrive this morning and I owe these lira. Perhaps I will walk in the centre town for a coffee and I can read them in comfort. More comfort than there has on the trains or is a beach cold, any way.
"it leans towards the fenetre" is one of my favourite phrases. Something at the back of my mind tells me that there should be an accent floating above one of the vowels, but it nonetheless amuses me that Babel Fish just couldn't be bothered translating it.
Ah well. Jenny made surprise pancake batter yesterday, so I'm off to make 'em alongside some crispy bacon and maple syrup.
I'll leave the last word to Jenny, who was very taken with the kitchen in one of the properties we viewed; it was accessed from the living room by descending a short flight of stairs.
I've been mucking about with it over the last few days, and have been impressed at how little it has aged. It's both aesthetically attractive and surprisingly competent. I added an Ethernet card, and it's now both accessible over our network, and can access the Internet. Since I'm using Internet Explorer 2.1, many modern sites don't display properly. But you can still, for example, use the BBC's 'text-only' news page:
Saturday passed in a bit of a haze; we decided to give ourselves that day properly off, and not even plan anything fun. We just lazed around in our collective pants watching Quantum Leap and 'Allo 'Allo.
Sunday was considerably busier. I wrote the final thousand words of a review for the mag, and we made the flat look all shiny and clean. We do complain bitterly about this flat with depressing regularity, but when it's tidy and the spring sun is flooding into the front room, it's a cheerful wee place.
Yesterday, then, was Valentine's day. We had a protracted discussion about whether or not this was a cynical Hallmark Holiday or a venerated tradition; in truth, we just didn't know, but we decided that it wasn't in any way important. Having worked out that we had barely a handful of sous between us, we didn't do anything extravagant. Instead, we planned a day in the house, cooking time-consuming and comforting food; all the ingredients were bought beforehand. Turns out it was one of the most pleasurable days together that we've ever enjoyed. Breakfast was American-style pancakes with organic maple syrup and crispy streaky bacon; these pancakes proved to be far easier to mix and cook than those we eat on Shrove Tuesday, and were a triumph. We then went out for a very blustery walk, though due to our apparently ingrained inability to remember which of the many marble arches around Hyde Park is Marble Arch, we spend this time getting very slightly lost around Piccadilly. Back to the house, then, to spend a pleasant 45 minutes mixing and shaping 53 meatballs (no, this figure wasn't in the recipe). These were duly cooked in a tomato sauce and served with fresh pasta (not made by us, unfortunately, as we have no roller) to sounds of near orgiastic pleasure. God, they were good. Oh, and we had bruschetta to start, with lovely fresh garlic and flakes of Maldon salt. Mmmm. We had intended to have a big feast o' fruit to finish, but were too stuffed. Instead, we had two each of some ridiculously expensive chocolates from Godiva. Worth every damn penny.
Now, I must sign off, as after a day of helping Jenny sort out her classroom and eating leftover meatballs we have tickets to see His Dark Materials at the National. These were bought with tokens Jenny's folks gave us for Christmas. There are pictures of the production here. Toodle-pip.
Well anyway. Yesterday Nik came across this laptop online for only £380. It's perfect - I don't need anything powerful or even attractive, and I have a legal copy of Windows to put on it - but unfortunately even that bargain basement price is way out of my budget at the moment, what with a failed hard disk and some serious dental work to be done. Dammit.
In other news, we went to the recording of an instalment of The Museum of Everything tonight which was lots of fun.
Jenny's early mornings are beginning to take their toll, though; the poor angel is permanently exhausted, and we find we have so little time for each other. Keeping the house in order is proving to be a little beyond us at the moment, too. We actually considered getting a cleaner, but this does seem a mite drastic and not a little poncey. We appear to have role-swapped too, with Jenny leaving no end of clutter on her wake and me doggedly attempting to keep at least one room moderately presentable and cholera-free. Ho hum.
Plus it now appears that my hard disk is broken (actually, physically failing) and I really don't have the cash to repair it (see dental hell, above). Hence no computer for me for the foreseeable future. For these and other reasons, life is a little less than sparkly at the moment.
Night toots. Cx
I thought I could rise to that challenge, and scourged M&S - then one of the few handbag-selling emporia still open when I left work - for a likely candidate. No mean feat, as the designers at M&S seem to think that festooning daschund-shaped tubes of Pleather with zips, and artily stitching geometric patches of tan leather together in a manner no doubt intended to convey the impression that it was crafted by a wild man of Borneo, are the very height of fashion. I got news for them.
I waited more or less patiently in line behind a 20-stone woman apparently buying her annual wardrobe to pay for my prize, dashed downstairs to pick up the food, then burst, gasping, onto Oxford Street. I breathlessly phoned my darling to give her the glad tidings: not only had I got her a funky, smart bag, but I had remembered her culinary ambition. "Oh noooo. What did you buy that for? You have to cook it all and wash dishes and..."
Love you too, angel.
In her defence, the poor dear is tired and stressed, and quite understandably revolts at the thought of putting in one joule of energy more than is required. x
Shows how fun our lives are. We also had a man in 'fixing' our bathroom. I use the quotation marks deliberately, as it appears that rather than fix the root of the damp problem (basement flats are martyrs to this and problems of condensation), he just slapped a layer of Dulux Once over the mould on the ceiling. Reading that back, it makes our flat sound particularly nasty. There was mould, but it wasn't, er, frondey, and looked more just like black marks on the ceiling. It wasn't furry either.
By the way, is that spelling of 'mould' correct in this context? That is to say I don't mean to suggest that there was some kind of negative shape on the ceiling from which people could cast humorous gnomes. I would have sworn the organic matter was spelled differently, but the problem with the otherwise good dictionary.com is that it's based on American English, and I suspect the colonies (as mad old King George III referred to them; or at least, as Nigel Hawthorne referred to them in the film) treat the spelling of that word differently. Since an annual subscription to the OED online costs £195 + VAT, I'm blaming any spelling error on the BBC.
*Plus, I am beginning to hate MindSay in general, and this template in particular. Will move something more grown up onto my own URL soon.
What the hell. Jenny should be home within half an hour, and I can't wait to see her.
I find that cities never look like how they do in the movies, but San Francisco is an exception. It's a very beautiful place, and after the torrential downpour of yesterday, I was rewarded with a warm, sometimes sunny day today. Consequently, I have once again crippled my feet by walking for 7 hours straight.
It is one of my greatest pleasures to wander unaccompanied around an unfamiliar city, occasionally getting slightly lost, but keeping going nonetheless, finding little side alleys and kooky shops; San Francisco has a surfeit of these. I can't believe how big is it, either; despite spending so long on foot, I didn't cover half the ground that I had intended to.
Nevertheless, I saw some beautiful sights; this is a particularly photogenic city, with bags of charm. Lots of odd characters, and plenty of bustle without being too hectic. The cable cars are very pretty; they are a ridiculously inefficient mode of travel, but San Franciscans got the system declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, so the last three lines are preserved. I read in my guidebook that the cars latch onto a cable which is constantly running just underneath the street – stopping by dropping the connection – and right enough as you cross the lines you can hear the cable trundling away in a slightly disconcerting manner.
Lots more to write about, but it'll have to wait for another time; I'll be heading out for a meal with the boys at some point reasonably soon. I'll keep this gallery of photos updated.
One last thing: acting on the advice of Jenny's pal, the redoubtable Mr Cope, I today purchased a packet of Fritos, and I agree that they truly are the king of packet-based snacks. If I may quote from the packet: "When hunger strikes, a lightweight snack just isn't going to cut it. You need something that's going to hold you over and keep you satisfied. At times like these, you need the big, bold of Fritos". And so say all of us. Jenny, I'll be bringing back what's technically known as "a shitload".
Just occasionally, technology does something right, and reminds me why I work in this industry. Earlier today, the young lady and I used iChat AV to videoconference (nasty, corporate word) and it was fantastic. I'm rarely excited about technology for its own sake, but I do get very fired up about what it can achieve. Full screen, simultaneous, smooth video streamed from opposite sides of the Earth is amazing, and served to make the 5000 miles between us seem less imposing. That we're both using wireless connections too meant that we could wander about the room too; Jenny knows every inch of my hotel room, now...
So, am a little zonked. Not to be defeated, however, I've just had a bath (something I often do at hotels and very rarely do at home; that is to say I usually shower, rather than 'not bathe') and am about to venture out briefly in search of some fast food before retiring for the evening.
Surreal moment #1 I switched on the hotel TV (you just do, don't you) to be greeted with the Discovery channel mentioning Montrose on the East coast of Scotland. Some Asian-inspired tidal wave programme, apparently, but citizens of that redoubtable town need not panic; the last time a major wave struck there was 7000 years ago. Nothing interesting has happened since.
Surreal moment #2 [Of possible geek-only interest] There was a slight mix up with the second hotel reservation for the guy I travelled out with today, so while it was getting sorted out, I signed on to the hotel's wifi network. Ridiculously, it's not complimentary (that very basic Jenny and I stayed in in Paris has free wifi, for goodness' sake), but even worse, it'[s split into zones, so that if I pay for a 5-day access package while in the lobby, ($50, by the way) I can only access the Internet there. So not in my room. Utter insanity. Thank goodness for corporate America, and the guy at the support line got me sorted out after a few minutes on hold.
'The City' awaits. (It's apparently very gauche to call it 'Frisco')
First up are some humorous airport announcements. We then move to pee-mail, which is only slightly less infantile than it sounds. It's nice to know the geeks are still hard at it, and that ancient Macs are still at the cutting edge. Good to see too that the Mac inspires the kind of fanaticism necessary to create this beautiful series of adverts.
I came across this a few days before the young lady and I went to Paris and intended to read it before we went to the Louvre. I have neither read it nor been to the Louvre*.
As shameless a piece of publicity-seeking as I have ever seen. I really want to buy several of these; the only reason I haven't is that I can't be bothered working out postage and stuff to the UK. Better page here.
A very beautiful little animated movie.
Though I can't quite put my finger on why, engineering cats for allergy sufferers seems wrong. Conversely, this cultured brain which now controls an F-22 fighter jet simulator just seems bloody scary. Not, possibly as scary as the social ramifications of this rather amusing game. The game where you play an IT manager is slightly less gripping.
I forget exactly what this list is; I think it's a list of characteristics common to all known human civilisations.
These pens are very cool indeed.
The Rasterbator - now in colour!
These pictures are of the water management system beneath Tokyo. I'd love to visit; they look spectacular, like something out of a particularly successful computer game.
My own little brush with fame; one of my articles linked to from Wired.
Tragic. The more I look at this, though, the more it looks faked.
Snazzy phone. Kool kalender. Spectacular pictures. Don't muck around with fireworks, kids. Wow. Tiny little orange. U2 worked out a good deal to get a U2-branded iPod; David Hasselhoff didn't. Crochet chaos (literally). Another gorgeous music video. Shame it looks so crap.
Phew! I promise not to let it build up so much again. Apologies if I have screwed up any links. Cx
* Technically I have, just not on that trip.
One side-effect of this is that I'll get even fewer exciting stamps in my passport as I travel around. The whole EU thing stopped much of that, and now I won't even get US stamps.
And now, for your amusement, compare the photo in my visa to that on my passport. The latter was taken in 1997 when I was 17. Look at the amount of hair!
In a moment of rash romanticism, Jenny agreed that we could have A Real Tree this year, and after passing over a frighteningly large wedge of folding money we found ourselves in possession of a very handsome specimen which we immediately christened Tommy Tree.
We scuttered off to B&Q to buy decorations and a stand, only to find that they had run out of stands two weeks ago (WTF?) and that the few decorations left were ripped open and trodden underfoot in a way reminiscent of the scenes of devastation in 28 Days Later.
Undaunted, we ferreted out a few whole specimens with which to dress Tommy, and bought the raw materials with which to fashion our own stand.
On returning to the flat, we set about hacking Tom's lower branches off with a bread knife (you can't buy class, as Mr B says) and attempting to strap shelf brackets to his nether regions using tree ties. We both got a little fractious during this escapade, however, and I decided we should call it a night.
We got up (comparatively) early this morning and wandered purposefully into Greenwich (apparently properly pronounced 'Grinnidj' rather then 'Grenitch') where we managed to get the very smart green number shown in the bottom-most picture.
So Tom is now fully dressed and in pride of place in our living room. Jenny is currently wrapping presents to rest in an exciting fashion at his feet. Ho ho ho!
Thursday was fun; we finally organised something for our editorial day out, a supposedly annual event where the whole MacUser editorial, art and production team all go out on a bit of a bonding exercise. We went on an open-top bus tour of London, then up to the top of St Paul's, then to the cinema to see The Incredibles. My photos from the day are here, and Nik's are here. Dare say there are more, but those are the only two albums I know of.
I had the day off yesterday which was very pleasant, and I wandered into town for 5 to meet up with some folk to celebrate Jenny's birthday. A good time was had by all; photographic evidence of this can be found here.
My mum sent me this picture of a very young Christopher Phin gamely riding his (probably brand new) Skatebike. For those sorry souls amongst you who don't know what a Skatebike is, it's basically a three-wheeled unicycle. (I know, I know...) The two font wheels are skateboard wheels (you can see the cunning behind the name now, can't you?), and you lean from side to side to turn. Huge, huge amounts of fun, and I wish I still had mine.
Jenny finds it hilariously indicative of my very slightly left-of-centre upbringing that when the time came for all good primary school children to sit their cycling proficiency test (the first taste of exam pressure in those days), I was unable to, owning only, as I did, a Skatebike. Ho hum. I am therefore one of a very, very small minority of young adults who do not possess the fabled cycling proficiency certificate.
INTERIOR, RESTAURANT AT TATE MODERN. WINTER.
Chris: [Pushing plate away] Mmmm, that was delicious!
Jenny: It certainly was! What shall we do now?
Chris: They tell me that there are some galleries attached to this excellent eatery. We really should go one day.
Jenny: Hmmm, maybe. Or we could just go straight from here to the bar at the top.
Chris: [Euphoric] Great idea!
FADE TO BLACK
I have high hopes that I'll post properly about this whole holiday once I'm back in Blighty, but then again I might just get too distracted by being surrounded by people speaking English to bother.
The plan today is to get the Metro up to the Arc de Triomphe, walk down the Champs-Élysées, cross over the bridge at the Place de la Concorde, visit the Musée d'Orsay, walk down the south bank to Île de la Cité, admire Notre Dame, and dine in a restaurant called Allard that I went to when I was last in Paris.
We have arrived safe and sound in Paris after a disgustingly early start. All very exciting; much reading out of shop names and street names. I'm aware the woman was only angling after a tip, but my unflappable cool (irony) was flapped when my French was complimented in the first café we patronised.
Our hotel is, um, basic, but clean and cheap. Bizarrely, they also have free (I think) wireless access, so both the young lady and I will be posting some of our experiences online as the days progress.
Must dash; the Eiffel Tower awaits!
This amused me no end.
In other news, we head for the Continent tomorrow. We spent a large proportion of yesterday and today clearing our backlog of washing (no fewer than four suitcases, embarrassingly) at out friendly neighbourhood laundrette. Now all I need to do is finish my writing for MacUser, and we'll be all set.
Ah well. I'm glad I have Jenny. And Green & Black's organic chocolate. That helps too.
Hick*: I'd have been in there on 9/14; blasted them all off the face of the Earth. They declared war on us first!
BBC reporter: They didn't declare war on anyone; that was Al-Qaeda.
Hick: [genuinely uncaring] I don't care. They're from around there.
Little more needs said. The only possible postscript is to point those who have not yet seen it to the Guardian's recent experiment.
* She wasn't really a hick; she sounded otherwise fairly intelligent. This might well be the most worrying part.
Friday night was wonderfully romantic. Jenny came into Dennis at 6 and we spent a couple of hours printing huge resources out for her school. (That's not the romantic part, don't worry.) We then went out for a meal at a Carluccio's off the top end of Regent Street. The evening was dark and crisp, but since all the tables inside were full, we decided to sit outside under the canopy. Warmed by the huge gas-powered heaters, on whose hot metal umbrellas the rain spat into steam, we started with a salty, tasty platter of salamis and cured ham. A soft, papery glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo washed down the main course (pork and beef lasagne for Jenny, pollo Milanese for me), and we rounded the meal off with a tiny, thick, spicy cup of cioccolata Fiorentina. We paid up and then scampered through the rain to catch the bus home.
Saturday morning came as a bit of a shock. Jenny's school had an open day, and we were both up at 6am to get in and finalise the setup before the eager parents came to look round. I'm glad I've now seen her school, and seeing 'her' classroom suddenly makes her seem very grown-up, professional and focussed. Her head of department is suitably manic - she's an art head, after all - but lives up to the very positive reputation Jenny gave her. I managed to finish a piece for work when I wasn't needed, which was very useful. When the open day ended, we went to Greenwich and sat in the Gypsy Moth (the pub next to the Cutty Sark), eating a rather delicious gastro-pub lunch and reading books and newspapers with a glass of Rioja not far away. We arrived back at the house around five o'clock, and promptly fell asleep. That's what red wine and an early start will do to you. I did manage to rouse both of us around eight so that we didn't wake at 3am and try to eat breakfast.
Sunday was the lazy day of the weekend. Up at 11. Breakfast of muesli. Jenny went for lunch with Lucy. I lolled and tidied. Dinner was glazed butterflied leg of lamb with tenderstem broccoli and Yorkshire pudding.
The date of the MacUser Awards approaches with alarming rapidity, and I suspect I may find my kilt even tighter this year than last if I keep going at this rate. Sigh.
My folks are off to Spain for a week; hope they have a fabulous time. Only a week till Jenny and I head Continent-wards ourselves.
Finally, a moment's silence please for the passing of Jenny's blog. She has good reason to, and haven't spend the day moping like I did when she canned the last one.
Night, all. x
I'm just in the final stretch of writing a feature, and my Mac decided to crash. This is rare. Since I've switched to OS X, oooh 3 years ago, I've experienced fewer than 5. The problem with this is that when your Mac does fall over – technically a kernel panic... it's a Unix thing – it takes you completely by surprise.
I very nearly lost all of today's work. Yes, I had been saving like a good boy, but due to the project- rather than document-based way the application I was using operates, I had to do some lateral thinking to recover it. It's all back now, and my heart has now resumed normal operation, but it was touch-and-go for half an hour.
A Mac crashes with such panache and finality, too. A transparent grey curtain falls over your screen, and this alarming, but very multi-national error appears
I'm writing this as I copy the file up to a remote disk so that even in the very unlikely event of this Mac going completely tits-up, I will still have a copy. I'll be neurotically hitting cmd-s at the end of every sentence now, I fear.
Never mind. I was kindly allowed to take the day off work to recuperate, and the day has been spent feeling comprehensively sorry for myself, listening to Radio 4, soaking my way through a superhuman-sized box of Kleenex Balsam (because I'm worth it), and being on the web whenever my eyes cleared sufficiently to allow me to squint at the screen.
You see that unassuming icon second from the left? That means I have access to a wireless network. And not just any old wireless network, oh no. The young lady and I are now fully paid-up members of the 21st century, boasting, as our house does, 512k broadband access. It's astonishing. I realise I sound like one of those poor saps for whom the iPod is a new discovery ("All my music? But it's tiny"), but it just revolutionises the way you use the web.
For starters, we can both be on at the same time, though as Jenny's AirPort Extreme card isn't being delivered until tomorrow, she is currently tethered to our ADSL modem/router by an Ethernet cable. Phone calls can come through, access doesn't have to drop after 2 hours, and it's blindingly fast compared to 56k dial-up. Plus, I had internet access in my sickbed today.
Now that I appear to have shrugged off the worst of the cold, though, I'm off to make a half-heated attempt to catch up on the work I missed today. Jenny is thinking kindly of her bed, I think. Well the poor little mite does have to get up at 5:50am.
Yes, I have been generally pretty good with my bike. It hasn't yet rained, and I've been commuting on it most days. My original complaint ("this doesn't seem to be having any effect at all; I don't feel stiff") was proved horribly inaccurate when, at the end of the week, I actually pushed myself just a fraction, rather than just sailing blithely along like I was some sort of Oxbridge undergraduate. Cue much groaning the next morning.
Jenny and I finally got round to booking a few days away in October at half term. In choosing Paris as our destination we are displaying such stunning lack of originality as hasn't been seen since someone last told the chicken/road gag, but it will be our first ever foreign holiday. We'll be nipping over the Channel courtesy of Eurostar terrifyingly early on Monday morning, and staying for three nights at some businessman's haven which appears to think that an oversize sink qualifies as an indoor pool. Though I was amazed at how much French came back to me when I was over a month ago, I suspect that a phrase book may be in order; I daresay my poor mother, who tried valiantly to guide me through Higher French, would wince at grammar so rusty no amount of linguistic WD-40 could fix.
The two of us scooted off to Eltham Palace today. We were both dressed very appropriately too – me in a white striped shirt under a brown tank top, and Jenny in her beautiful new coat with a fake fur stole from Oasis – looking every bit like extras from Jeeves & Wooster. We also bought a rather wonderful CD of 30s music, and are now warbling along to such hits as Cheek to Cheek, Let's Face the Music and Dance, Let's Do It, Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the immortal Marlene Dietrich oozing out Falling In Love Again. I'll be subjecting the office to that tomorrow.
Tomorrow sees us getting broadband activated at the house, an event which has had me squeeing with joy for a whole week now. We have a wireless ADSL modem/router too, so wireless broadband is on the cards for Monday evening. I suspect Jenny and I will never talk again, except through the medium of instant messaging. (viz: [typing] "Where are you, baby?" "On the pan." "Ah...")
Familiar though I am with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer's "Developers! Developers! Developers!" and "I love this companyy-yyyeah!" speeches, I hadn't before been aware of this clip in which he attempts to sell the benefits of Windows 1.0. Is this real? (You won't be as rich as he is, but you could check your ranking using the beautifully-designed Global Rich List.)
Staying with nerdy stuff, while one chap has spent time highlighting some of the changes in the newly-released Star Wars DVDs, another fan spent even longer writing out why no self-respecting fan would buy them.
Lots more has happened since I last posted. A page of early Apple advertising has been brought to my attention, as was the patently ridiculous Conference Bike. It would be almost fun but for that name, and all the connotations therein.
Someone posted a detailed page about making some of Escher's models in real life, and I was reminded of the LifeGem company which will make a diamond from your mortal remains. Part of me likes the idea.
On a lighter note, why not enjoy a quick game of the Independent's excellent Paperboy-esque little Flash game? Bone up on tricks of the trade? Read all about the BBC's plans for the weather bulletins? Or just have a snigger-ette at this or this.
Sleep well. x
Unfortunately, you miss the full horror of this flyer by not seeing it in the flesh. In addition to the reverse featuring a cartoon to which 'Andrew, IT specialist' almost certainly does not own copyright, and as well as chewed, roughly scissored edges, one of the most terrifying things about it is the appalling print quality. The print heads are out of alignment, and it seems to be printed at 360dpi on a six year-old Epson.
Physician, heal thyself.
How excited am I? I've just bought myself this rather spiffy new Raleigh with the express purpose of switching from a bus commute to a cycle commute. The bike itself is really quite swank, with lots of lovely detailing round the tyre rims, little push-button gear changes, and spectacularly comfortable seat and handle grips which demonstrate above all else how much bike design has moved on since the 5-speed racer of which I was inordinately proud as a child. I dare say I won't hold this view when I've ridden the infernal machine for any length of time, mind you.
Of course all the sundries were purchased, too. A frighteningly light helmet, little flashing LED lights, a lock and mudguards have all been ordered; I pick it up on Tuesday after work. I think I'll add pannier racks to the back to make carrying stuff into work easier, but I'll leave that for next month. Similarly, once the nights really start drawing in, I'll invest in some high-visibility gear, too.
My plan is to don some old shorts and cycle into work, there to shower and change into my work clothes.
Click on the image to visit the Halfords page for the bike.
Dear Christopher Phin,
I am a big fan of your contributions to the magazine.
You keep mentioning Palnackie, which is where my grandmother lived. Did you live in the School House there? That was my mum's old school.
For a while I thought you were a teacher who once taught at my school, CD High. However, having seen your photo in a recent volume I realise you are far too young to be him, but are you his son?
Is your mum Maggie Middleton? She taught me French at CD and I was completely in love with her. However she hated me and kept giving me the belt for talking to Sandra Brown and probably for ogling her, your mother's, chest (sorry to be so indiscrete about your mother). She almost certainly has no recollection of me, but I have very fond
adolescent-type memories of her. I also remember Mr Phin popping in to see Maggie, long before they got married!
I spoke to my mum, who did indeed remember the man. She was happy to provide a reply, and, god and production departments willing, the following will be printed alongside his letter:
Margaret Phin, nee Middleton replies: Yes I remember you well, and I remember the ogling. I didn't hate you, and if you think you got belted more than anyone else, it's probably because you talked too much. Specifically, I seem to recall an occasion when I was standing in front of you and a wee voice came from behind me saying "Miss Middleton, I can see your bra!"
Take yesterday, for example. Having spent the bus journey home listening to some tin-pot intellectual (who later turned out to be a columnist for the Daily Mail; go figure) mincing on about being a 'global warming sceptic' and making some of the most repulsive discriminatory statements, I began to wonder about the nature of discrimination.
One of the things that has fascinated me from an early age is the thought that us humans are animals. I try to figure out if we are special animals - look! Beethoven's 9th! The Beach Boys! Global warfare! Bakewell tarts! - or if I'm just incapable of making an objective decision being as I am a member of the human race; maybe dogs' dependance on smell makes them think they are the dominant species - I don't know, I can't smell what they do - or perhaps its the Spanish Flu which thinks it holds sway since it's capable of bringing whole human civilisations to its knees.
(We'll get back to discrimination in a paragraph or two; hang in there)
It was the notion that so much of what attracts us to one another is based on smell that first made me think that we were much closer to what we regard as more base animals than we'd like to believe. I'm interested in the extent to which those things that we regard as being higher brain functions are in fact mere impulses triggered by such elemental forces such as smell.
I like the idea - one which I'm proud to say I formulated for myself at a young age - that anything that we regard as evil is basically something which harms society. This concept is codified in law and religious dogma, but it driven by basic, Darwinian ideals of evolution. The thing that drives us, we're told, is the need to procreate. Anything which arrests the development of human society or the evolution of the species is viewed as Bad.
So what does this all have to do with a Daily Mail columnist? The thought that occurred to me was, what if discrimination has a good, evolutionary reason to exist? Society tells us that to make generalisations is wrong, that we should avoid using our experiences of the few to make judgements about the many. I've never found good reason to argue with this.
Before mankind became civilised (and I use that term without apology or sarcasm, hoping that you will know what I mean) if an individual ate a red mushroom which subsequently made him ill, he would be justified then in viewing all red mushrooms as suspect; he could die otherwise. (An aside: the first mushroom I could name as a child was "Fly Agaric", that terrifying white spotted red mushroom which, while not fatal, shouldn't be included in your next mushroom omelette) I've chosen to discriminate by colour deliberately, since this is the type of discrimination that quite rightly excites the most controversy today.
This doesn't license us to hate or damn Jews, gays, blacks, Tories, women, men, Chelsea supporters or any other group of people you care to name - let's face it, the Daily Mail wasn't there telling all the other homo erectus that red mushrooms were comin' over here, takin' all the white mushrooms' jobs - but rather it should give us cause not to be slaves to evolutionary instinct. We do seem to have special skills as humans, and one of them is the capacity to inform our instincts with something approaching rational thought. Let's do that.
See if you can spot all the occasions on which he makes nakedly populist* comments.
"Political correctness is driving people mad. There are so many examples, it's difficult to know where to start. But here are a few, to get us started.
During the last World Cup, office workers were forbidden to hang English flags from their windows, [sarcastic] for fear of offending supporters of other teams.
Or the publican who was refused an extended licence on the grounds that [indignant] St George's Day wasn't special enough, despite having had no problem getting one for the celebrations for the Chinese New Year."
Even if I was in danger of voting Conservative, those oily, sly, manipulative few sentences would change my mind. I wouldn't want to align myself with a political party whose leader stoops to such underhand methods, nor with the people to whom they are intended to appeal.
How rude. Does he think that sentiments like that will endear him and his party to any group other than middle English voters? One of his other crackers was calling for "the protection of minorities, while allowing the police to do their job effectively"; that's such a loaded and emotional sentence.
* "Populist", for my purposes here, is defined as anything designed to appeal on an emotional level rather than ideological or objective one. It's distinct from "popular", and no matter what Ann Widdecombe says, it's not about tapping into a national mood. Or if so, it's an ugly mood, and our political leaders should be able to resist the temptation to exploit it, doing instead that which is right rather than that which is popular.
And before anyone accuses me of youthful idealism, I'm aware of how naive this appears at time.
Click me! Photos from the wedding anniversary shennanigans
Click me! Graphic design cleverness
Click me! Scottish man + London = a right good read!
Click me! The problems with translating Harry Potter into ancient Greek; much more interesting than it sounds
Click me! The most untranslatable word in the world. Apparently
Click me! How good is your popup blocker?
Click me! Optical illusion; click on the proof, otherwise you just won't believe it...
Click me! The nicest iPod accessory I've seen
Click me! An apparently very thorough survey of inconsistencies in the Bible; um, I haven't checked them all, though...
Click me! Waaahhh!
Click me! One for the Star Wars geeks
Click me! The science of word recognition; I confess I haven't read it yet, but I will...
Click me! Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness
Click me! Pretty pictures
Click me! Exactitudes; a study of stereotypes
The last few are perhaps what we'd term 'NSFW'; Not Safe For Work. None of them are actually pornographic, but they might set off a klaxon in your IT department. They're in descending order of dodgyness; if one offends, the next one will be worse...
Click me! The Always Amusing Euphemism Generator
Click me! If condoms had sponsors
Click me! If KY advertised (sadly, this is not an official ad)
Click me! The Harry Potter merchandising you may not have heard of...
Click me! Spiderman remixed
Why is this bliss? I've got an electrical socket! I'm writing this at 2:30, and I'm not due to arrive in Euston until after 9. This would ordinarily be a complete bitch, and would necessitate much careful planning given that I'd normally have enough juice in my laptop to last through one movie with ten minutes to spare. But now I have unlimited power. Unlimited, I tell you! *maniacal laughter*
(So please forgive me if this turns into something of an epic post; it's just that I have unlimited power!)
The upgrade to first class for travelling the length of the country only costs £20, and frankly it's worth every godforsaken penny.
This week away from work has been, largely, much fun. What it hasn't been is a holiday. It was lovely to see Emma, and it was of course fun throwing my folks their silver wedding anniversary bash. But what with running around the country visiting relatives, having ice cream, painting ceramics, troubleshooting no fewer than three computers, one of which was running Windows XP, paddling at the Dhune – not to mention organising the anniversary bash – it has been something of a knackering few days.
Hence pampering myself with the upgrade to first class before I launch back into real work tomorrow.
The anniversary party went off flawlessly, but I want to draw attention to Jenny's conduct throughout the whole débacle.
She was a star.
No matter how nice they are, spending time with the in-laws can be taxing, and the stress increases by an order of magnitude with each additional family member. So by the time I'd dropped her off at Isla's at well past midnight last night, she had spent time being charming, witty and gracious with Mum, Dad, Nana, Johnny, Julie, Ross, Fraser, Paul, Martin and Elizabeth – the last she was meeting for the first time. All this without getting in any way tetchy, or being at all a bad sport. Thank you, sweetheart.
I was very grateful to note too that my family really seems to have welcomed Jenny in – Nana in particular went out of her way to be very affectionate towards her.
One slightly embarrassing note. I had apparently left my mobile sitting on the back seat of the car when I got out to come to the station; I think it just slipped out of my pocket. The folks very kindly battled their way back from Paul's flat to return it to me.
I'll be posting some photos from the anniversary celebrations soon for the rest of the family to enjoy, and will post a link here when I get back home to unmetered internet access. We all managed to keep it secret, even if it did nearly kill us. There were a few near missed – Julie's 'Pick up anniversary cake' to do list in plain view, Fraser's wibbling about silver presents in plain hearing, my humming Happy Anniversary as we walked down towards the restaurant – but I genuinely don't think they suspected a thing. The meal was excellent, and the bonhomie flowed just as readily as the wine. The Midds gave them a silver basin filled with 25 individually-wrapped silver presents – ranging from silver bottle openers to silver foil by way of Silver Spoon sugar – and Nana's gift was a big, framed silver anniversary cross-stitch with a very sweet message on the back.
Back to the house for champagne, cake and fireworks. The cake was in the shape of a 2 and a 5, with one being sponge and one fruit. Apparently they didn't have a cake at their wedding, so it was particularly nice. Much family whooping and hollering when I showed on the TV the couple of hundred photos from which I had selected a few for the book. Cries of "I've got brown hair in that photo!" and retorts of "You've got hair in that photo" echoed around the top room.
The fireworks were utterly spectacular. I decided to get them as when, on a whim, I had bought a rocket and a couple of Roman candles for last Hogmanay, the folks went mad for them. I tried to get something similar from the same place for the anniversary. I'm glad I couldn't. I actually bought an Annual Extravaganza online, and carted it up on the train. It's a single-ignition system: just plonk it down, light one fuse and retire. Quickly. It seemed to last for ages, and the show was magnificent, with all sorts of different individual rockets.
The cows in the field next to us were a bit spooked, though, stampeding from patch of field to patch of field, eventually coming to a dazed halt on the crest of a hill. I like to think they had realised what was happening and were just settling down to watch the show, but I suspect the real reason was slightly less cutsily anthropomorphic. I had nipped into their field so as to be behind a stone dyke if the rockets decided to fire sideways, but confess to a Brennan-esque squeak and jump back to the other side when the cows started running towards where I was standing at full tilt. The unlikeliness of a rogue firework was preferable to the much more probable trampling I would otherwise have received, I think you'll agree.
Saturday's concert in the grounds of Glamis castle was fun, especially if, like Jenny and I, you spent a significant amount of time spotting genuine rich people. It's a subtle art. The only immediate disqualifications are people who actually look rich; they're just aspirant middle-classes. What you're looking for is people in baseball caps. Be very careful not to confuse pikey with posh, here; a good rule of thumb is that if the cap features a Burberry check, it's pikey. Tweed is another indicator, yes, but very battered tweed that obviously cost as much as a family car twenty years ago. Again, I hope to post some photos later.
Right now, though, I'm looking forward to getting Home. Home with a capital H. My bed, my things, my worries. My life. Jenny doesn't come home for a week. I will enjoy the time alone, but all things considered I'd rather she was with me. It feels like we haven't had time together for a very long time. I'm going to start putting away at least £5 a week to start building up a holiday pot. We've never really had a holiday before, just the two of us. Come October, if we haven't got anything else planned, I'm going to book something for next summer. I don't care how much it costs. We need a proper break, and I think we deserve it.
a) Long-term readers, and
b) Technologically inclined
...will no doubt be delighted to know that the email encryption thing I was prattling on about a while back is now available to read on the MacUser website. Go and enlighten yourself here.
LOGIC EXAMINATION BA9054
Chris, Jenny and Graham need to travel between Scotland and London, but at different times. Chris and Jenny both want to travel to Scotland on the 11 August, but while Chris wants to go back to London on the 15th, Jenny won't be going back until the 20th, accompanied by Graham, who will be travelling down to London for a fortnight's work experience. He needs to travel back up to Scotland on 4 September.
Jenny wants to sit with either Chris or Graham on each leg of her journey. The tickets should be able to be bought over the internet, where no special instructions can be made.
How can this be achieved?
TEACHER'S KEY FOR Q1:
HISTORICAL NOTE: The solution to this problem was first discovered, coincidentally, by a Jenny. She was renowned for her knitting abilities, teaching prowess, and susceptibility to turning lobster-red after ten minutes in the sun.
a) I can never articulate exactly what I want to say. I hear myself talking, and think "What a twat, why would somebody say that?"
b) My diction isn't particularly clear anyway, and my voice is pitched pretty low.
c) I have a Scottish accent, a tremendous handicap in London
All three things mean trying to communicate ideas end up with me making a prize tit of myself, and of people thinking they ought to tiptoe around me, as I appear to be so sensitive.
It really pisses me off, and is one of the chief causes of any frustration I feel at work.
Thanks for using MindSay. We're sending this email because we noticed you haven't logged in or updated your blog in more than a week! One of the best things about blogs is the ability to keep friends and family up-to-date, but an inactive blog ruins the party!
So here I am blogging. Are you happy? I mean, really...
Anyway. Two items of interest at the moment. (There are others, but I can't be bothered, and need to hold back a few items for when Mindsay pressures me again...)
I learned about these quite beautiful cups today – they feature unglazed patterns on the base which print using the tea you slop over the side – and sent an email to the company asking where I could buy them. Turns out that the UK distributor is building a shop not far from our office, so I wandered round there tonight to pick up a couple. I will forever – or at least until I break them – remember that I was the first person in the UK to buy them...
The other thing is that, taking a different route from the office to the bus tonight, I turned a corner, and found myself in front of what must be one of the most elegant synagogues in London. It's on Great Portland Street, has very simple, clean lines, and features this quite stunning gold mosaic doorway. Utterly arresting.
I will only be insulted if you don't laugh.
There is another of similar vintage concerning the doings of Mr and Mrs Twiddle which I'll share with the world if the world wants it...
It's boxed, with all its manuals, disks, cables and training guides.
It cost less than £30.
OK, so it's not quite as swish as Mr Brennan's eMate, but I'm rubbing my hands with glee at the mere thought. I always fancied a Newton, and while I doubt it'll sway me from my beloved Palm OS, I'm delighted that I got one in such good condition for so little money.
Click on the picture to view the original auction and get some more details, or click here if you're a geek and want much more detail. The pic here is from the auction; I'll try to post a better one when it arrives.