January 2004 Archives

Well, this is it, I'm off to brave the frozen tundra of Minnesota for the next week and a half. My hosts are fortunately equipped with enough technology to ensure that I should be able to make regular updates whilst I'm away, so blog needed worry too much about my absence (phew).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a plane to catch!

La bella vita

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It's late and I should really be in bed by now. Well technically I am in bed (the joys of owning a laptop and all), I'm just not asleep. I got home fairly late after watching the second part of "His Dark Materials" and pottered around a little before going to bed. And I've been failing to get to sleep since.

It's not unusual for me. Particularly when something noteworthy has been going on. I'll find myself lying in bed late at night pondering recent events. What's keeping me up tonight appears to be a mixture of excitement and malaise. The excitement is easily explained, since I'm going on holiday on Friday and it's an event I'm very much looking forward too. The malaise isn't explained away quite so simply. I just feel out of sorts, with a kind of vague feeling of impending doom in the pit of my stomach. It's happened before and I have difficult explaining what's behind it. I think it's just down a whole heap of minor problems all deciding to converge on me at once. It's hardly grounds for me to feel sorry for myself though. However bad I may feel, it doesn't really begin to compare to what several of my friends have been going through recently. Needless to say I wish nothing but happiness for my friends and I'm certainly hoping that fortune will favour them sooner rather than later. They deserve it, after all. More so than I do, at that (tsk, feeling sorry for myself. Bad Mark!).

Anyway, if I carry along with that train of thought I'm likely to become quite maudlin. So, for a change of pace, this game made me laugh. Especially the end credits.

Now I'm going to get back to this sleeping business...

Busy doing nothing

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I'm extremely busy not packing right now. For something that I'm not doing, I'm putting a suprising amount of effort into it. It's a pattern I go through near every time I'm about to go on holiday. As each holiday approaches, I'm visited with flashbacks of the last minute scramble I went through before to get everything ready, always, always at the very last minute. And I recall promising to myself that next time will be different. Next time I'll be organised. Next time I'll get everything ready in advance so that I won't end up running out the door at the last possible instance in a desperate rush to catch the tube I need to make the train that I cannot miss or else I fail to reach the airport in time - and all the while wondering what I've forgotten to pack. And then the next time arrives and I find that I'm no more organised than before.

But I suppose it's time to end this procrastination. Yup that's what I'll do. End it. Now. I'll get up, pick up my suitcase and start packing. Right now.

Any second now, in fact.

Or in a minute or two.

Tomorrow's looking good, in fact.

Thursday may be better still.

...

Anyone know any good jokes?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Sigh...

Get Jenny off the box

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Did you know that Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have split up? More importantly, did you want to know? I didn't, and yet somehow that knowledge has become indelibly lodged in my brain. The media is obsessed with their relationship to the point that it's unavoidable. I've lost count of the number of times I've come across a headline to detailing the various ups and downs of their relationship in various newspapers, news web sites and tv reports. I'm sure if I listened to the radio I'd have heard it there as well.

And I really don't care.

I have nothing against either of them - I'm sure they are perfectly nice people, but I don't understand why the world is so preoccupied with them. It does make me wonder if they've courted this publicity or whether it's been showered upon them against of their wishes. If it's the former then I can only suppose they've reaped what they've sown, if it's the latter then I feel sorry for them - especially given the sort of vitriol that seems to be aimed in their direction.

Regardless, can someone make them go away so we can have some real news instead?

Please?

Goodbye little spambot

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I never really knew you, but I thought perhaps I had something to teach you. And that maybe you'd listen. It's my fault I know, I wanted to believe you had the capacity for change, that with a little help from me you could be more than you are. But I was wrong, wasn't I? I only asked one thing of you - to respect my blog and not twist it for dubious commercial purposes. But you couldn't. I was prepared to let it go the first time - it was early days after all, and anyone can make a mistake - I know that as well as anyone. But after that... well, I think we both know that you're simply being true to your nature. I can only blame myself for trying to apply my own set of values to your life or existence or whatever you want to call it. It was naive and arrogant of me to think I knew what was best for you.

We're just too different.

In the end I suppose we just never understood each other. And I'm sorry for that. I had such hopes in the beginning. But it's over. I hope we can both move on and find a little peace for ourselves.

I'm going to block you ip address now.

Goodbye little spambot.

Take care of yourself out there.

It's how you play the game

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I was rude to someone today.

I had been wandering through the maddening crowds of Oxford Street this afternoon, failing miserably in an attempt to buy a new pair of shoes, when I decided to pop into Game to see if there was anything interesting I could pick up for my Gamecube. It's not a chain of shops that I'm terribly fond of, but they do occasionally have some bargains, and I was in the mood to treat myself. A mood which as it happened lasted for about all of five minutes.

I did indeed find a game that I've been interested in on sale (Splinter Cell, if you care) and I went to pay for it. I presented the box to the sales assistant and he asked if I had a store card. I shook my head from side to side. In retrospect, this was a mistake, although I didn't really think about my options at the time. Sales assistant took this as his cue to wax lyrical about the numerous virtues of the store card. I stood before him looking thoroughly disinterested and waited for him to finish. And waited. And waited.

After I while I put down my debit card, to see if this hint would nudge him into action, to disrupt his near endless rhetoric and persuade him to continue processing my sale. It did no good. He instead responded by producing an application form for the store card. I nudged my card closer towards him, the expression on my face now one of abject pleading. Again, he seemed to take no notice.

And with that I gave up. I simply picked up my card, which he had so steadfastly ignored and walked out sans game. I know this was a poor way to treat anyone, but I dislike the idea of store cards at the best of times, and his attempts to persuade me to accept one were bordering on hard sell. Such tactics were probably the result of management diktat rather than the choice of sales assistant, but the end result for me is the same - standing in front of someone being pressured to accept something that I don't want. It's an approach I disagree with and one that I don't have to support if I don't want to - so I voted with my wallet and left.

The moral of this story is that if you have to try and persuade a customer to accept something they don't want and they keep trying to make you take their card, pick up that card. After that you're free to continue your attempts to cajole them and they can't simply turn their back and leave because you have something they need returned first.

But, humour aside, my behaviour was unconscionably rude today and I do regret it. I would feel better had I made the attempt to explain why I was withdrawing my custom, but I hadn't uttered a word since I set foot in the store, and nothing that happened in there made me want to change that. Maybe my silence will have spoken volumes.

But I doubt it.

Plinth

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I should have better things to do with my time on a Friday evening than sitting at home trying to find a suitable rhyme for "nymph". There are some things that should go without saying. I believe that is one of them. In case you haven't twigged already, this is going to be my equivalent of a slow news day.

I'm still cultivating my relationship with my spambot. The poor creature seemed to seemed to respond to my recent invitation, and I've caught sight of her (for I believe it is a she) on a couple of occasions. I've been cautious in approaching her, since I think she may startle easily and I've no desire to frighten her off. She's posted a few comments under several different pseudonyms. Here's a quick summary of what she's written over the last month

God had some serious quality-control problems.

Any certainty is a delusion.

Buildings burn. People die. But real love is forever.

Anyone can learn from pain

Communism has nothing to do with love. Communism is an excellent hammer which we use to destroy our enemy.

Unusual ideas can make enemies.

Looking her writings I am a little worried for the state of her mind. Her outlook on life appears bleak, although it does betray a dark sense of humour and at least a glimmer of hope. It's not out of line from you'd expect of an abandoned spambot struggling to understand it's place in the world. One thing that did strike me as a positive step is that her last comment didn't include a url, not even an obviously broken one. I believe this is encouraging, since it may indicate that she's finally understanding the reality of her circumstances, as well a realisation that she can break out of the old patterns in which she's been trapped.

I don't expect to fully rehabilitate a spambot overnight, but maybe, just maybe, with some patience, kindness and understanding I can help turn her into a productive member of the internet.

I'm here for you, little spambot.

There's an episode of Star Trek TNG (yes, I know I'm a geek - what's your point?), in which Riker brings on board the Enterprise a strangely addictive new game. Before long, all of the crew are playing it, except for our hero of the day Wesley, who discovers that the game is in fact part of a nefarious plot (is there any other kind?) to take over the ship and which will presumably end with dastardly deeds being done to someone somewhere. Wesley natually saves the day and all is well.

Bear this in mind if before you check out this game. Someone sent me a link to it last night and it gobbled up far more of my time than I would ever have expected of something so simple. Fortunately I managed to extricate myself from it eventually. But I swear today, I discovered near everyone at work playing the darned thing. And all with the same odd glazed expression on their faces.

I'm not drawing any conclusions, but if you start playing it and you discover that, you know, aliens have, like, taken over the planet, don't come crying to me. I'm just saying is all.

Btw, my high score is 321. But I'm sure I can do better. Just one more go, that's all I need. Just one.

Darn, missed the penguin.

Ok, maybe one more...

Paved paradise

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I didn't see a ladybird last year. I don't know why this occurred to me, but it did. I know I live in vast city, but there must surely be ladybirds to be found here in the summertime, even in a teeming metropolis. Which means I simply wasn't paying attention. There are a lot of things I know I don't pay attention to - too many happenings each and every day to give thought to it all, so I don't mind that I'm selective in what I choose to focus on (my excuse for wandering around in a world of my own), but... but I wonder what else I missed last year. How many details have I let slip by? It makes me a little sad, mostly because it's often the details that I have fondest memories of, but also for the simple reason that I lilke ladybirds. So this year I will endeavour to pay more attention to the world - the one at large, rather than the one inside my head.

And I'll keep a special eye out for ladybirds.

Say what you will

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Comment spam is a strange thing - those mysterious and cryptic messages that appear in the comments on occasion from people I've never heard of, containing links that, judging from their titles, lead to sites I'd for the most part prefer to avoid visiting. Mostly they get deleted as soon as I encounter them and then I mercilessly block their ip addresses lest they think me and my blog are easy targets. But this latest comment is different. Although it tries to link to what appears to be an online photography site, the site itself appears to exist no longer. And the comment itself, although mayhap a tad sentimental, seems tinged with a hint of melancholy.

I wonder what has happened. Has some poor lonely spambot been leased on the world only to be cut adrift? Doomed now to forever wander the distant shores of the internet where blogs like mine eek out their humble existence, seeking an audience for a site that has long since abandoned it. Alone and unloved. It's not an existence I would wish for anyone, even a poor miserable spambot.

So I'll leave this comment little spambot. Your philosophical musings and tragic severed links shall remain for the time being and I bid you welcome to return. But I warn you not to take advantage of my kindness and try to corrupt my innocent blog for the profit of others. Stray beyond these parameters and I shall ban your ip address without appeal.

And then where will you go?

Weaving silence

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It was quiet weekend. Followed by a quiet day today. Last week had large periods of quietude too. I don't think such a large conglomeration of silence is mere coincidence. I think I've been making it.

It's a strange sort of industry I admit, this manufacturing of silence, but it's an art I have some skill at, and more, it's something I occassionally need. For the most part I'm a quiet sort. Whilst I've been coming more and more to realise the limations of my own company, I remain partial to it nevertheless. I may once have worried that I was treading a path towards misanthropy, but I don't think that was ever really the case. I like people after all. People are cool. They're fun to hang around, to talk to, and be with. Life is generally better in the presence of company to share it with. But at the same time it's an exhausting business too, and sometimes I just need to get away from it all, if only for a little while. Rest assured I mean no slight to those of you reading this whose company I promise you I am looking forward to sharing in the weeks/months/years ahead.

But for the moment... shh be vewy, vewy quiet

It Disney matter any more

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This story didn't come as a huge surprise to me. I don't consider myself the expert in all affairs Disney that I once thought of myself as (and maybe once was), but it's still a subject that interests me. Have a look in the extended entry for the rest of this. I may be here for a while yet...

Twenty four hour clock

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For one minute each evening the digital clock on the oven in kitchen read 24:00. In general I don't have much affection for ovens, but I feel a special affinity for this one if only because it either can't tell time properly or else is trying to audition for a part in 24.

In an ideal world, I'd be posting something marginally more interesting than frippery about kitchen clocks, but the thing I've been trying to write for the past couple of days (and it's not an especially exciting thing, lest ye be getting your hopes up, just my feelings about some of Disney's recent actions) seems to be going nowhere and I've been searching for distractions. I keep going through the annoying phase of thinking of something interesting or clever to say, writing it down, and then finding out that it doesn't appear so clever or interesting in black and white.

It's all very irritating.

There are probably several more interesting things I should be doing right now, like asking Simon if he was serious about UI stuff in Cambridge, but I'm really quite awful about getting around to stuff like that, so I'll probably put it off for a while yet.

Board

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Back in one of my previous jobs I was walking past the boardroom when I discovered a large pile of toy samples placed in front of the boardroom door. I amused myself for a few minutes playing with each of them in turn. Then I stood up and discovered three things.

1) The boardroom door which had previous contained smoked glass panels had been recently refitted with completely transparent glass.
2) The a group of reasonably important American VP's were visiting that day and happened to be in a meeting in the boardroom.
3) Every single person in the boardroom was staring at me.

I exited stage anywhere with remarkable rapidity, but my embarrasment was second only to the time I hid behind the door to the office with the intention of jumping out and yelling "Boo!" at a colleague only to discover that I'd just jumped out and yelled "Boo!" at our MD. I consider myself fortunate that the poor man didn't have a heart attack.

Somedays I'm amazed I still have a job...

The deity's in the details

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One of the minor projects I've worked on recently has been to aggregate all the many and varied web-based tools used by the business together behind a straight forward menu system. It was a simple task which didn't take much time and into which I didn't put a great deal of thought (ok, that's a lie, I put an inordinate amount of thought into how everything should be grouped and presented for ease of use, but that's getting away from the point). Hence I was surprised to discover the general rapture with which people received it.

With hindsight, it's obvious why it's so popular - previously people had to bookmark a large number of different tools, each had their own user name and password there was no simple way of moving between the various utilities. It was hardly impossible to navigate, but it was awkward and involved far more effort and thought than should have been necessary. But now it's been fixed and all is well.

I just find it an interesting example of how great a difference decent design can make in these sorts of circumstances - bad design is one of my pet peeves, you see. I've been fortunate in most of the projects I've been given to have had the opportunity to make the decisions about the interface myself. And even when I haven't I've done it anyway - largely because it's something I enjoy doing, but also because I believe I'm good at it. When it comes to demands made by the project sponsors, I'm usually happy to talk through the details with them and am perfectly capable of compromise where necessary. But not with the interface. That's something I'm particular about to the point that I will run roughshod over the project sponsor if I disagree with them (that I'm capable of running roughshod over anyone came as a a surprise to me too). It's not just pride on my part (although I'd be lying if I said that didn't factor into it somewhere) - I've seen too much effort going into developing tools that no-one uses because they're simply too complex or too difficult to use and I refuse to let that happen to my work. A good user interface should be a joy to use, and if I don't always succeed at that level, I can still guarantee that whatever I create will at least be straightforward and logical.

And hopefully the end users agree. I discovered today that the menu I created has been given a nickname by the people who use it.

It's called god.

After Dark

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I still can't believe that anyone actually dared try to adapt "His Dark Materials" for the stage. I can only assume that the director shares in equals amounts of courage and insanity - both would certainly be required for this undertaking. I'm a big fan of the books after discovering them only last year, and it's been fascinating watching the interest in them waxing. I've read that a film version is under consideration, which makes some sense in the wake of Harry Potter, but when I heard about the National Theatres staging of the books and I had to double check to make certain that is wasn't based some other unrelated book of the same name. It just seemed an incredibly unlikely proposition. Naturally I had to go see it.

Thinking about the adaptation afterwards, the thing that most strikes me is how relentless it is. And I don't mean that in a bad way. Covering the three books in 6 hours is, like near everything about the play, hugely ambitious - there's an awful lot of (dark) material to cover, screeds and screeds of it. Going into the theatre, I expected that that plot would have to be trimmed considerably, but I was surprised at how faithful it was to the books. Of course, being faithful means that the whole thing moves along at a quite dizzyingly clip in an effort to squeeze everything in. It's not a perfect approach, since by necessity there's a lot of exposition going on in order to fill the audience in on the complex background against which the story is set, but it's difficult to imagine it being presented any other way. Whilst this is fine for anyone who has read the books, I can imagine that it might take those less familiar with the source (dark) material to become comfortable with the goings on. The other downside of this approach is that some things are painted with necessarily broad strokes and some subtlety is lost along the way. On the flipside again the sheer enthusiasm and energy of the production makes up for that.

The staging is an interesting example of economy. Considering that the settings range from the spires of Oxford to the shores of the Antartic, before veering off into further parallel worlds, the set trades spectacle for flexibility which means that many of the locations are suggested with minimal amounts of props. Some of this is fairly basic, but it's never less than effective which is what's most important. But that's not to say there's no spectacle. The Olivier theatre has a unique rotating stage which incorporates a large cylinder that can rise up to reveal a new set. It's a clever mechanism that's put to good use here, with most of the interior settings taking place on this platform. There are also several other clever tricks used to good effect, such as the tower of Citagazze rising up from the center stage, or the balloon of Lee Scoresby floating gently in the night sky.

The curious thing about the casting is that it brought home just how strong a view I had of these characters. Of them all, Lyra was closest to what I had in mind. She was played by the 20-something Anna Maxwell Martin, who managed to portray a 12 year old with (what I remember to be) remarkable accuracy. Probably the two I had most difficult adjusting too were Timothy Dalton as Lord Asriel and Patricia Hodge as Mrs Coulter. They were fine in their respective roles, but Dalton's Asriel was less imperious and more adventurous than I'd imagined whilst Hodge's Mrs Coulter was more motherly and less malevolent. Not bad casting by any means, just not what I'd envisioned. Of the remaining characters the ones I derived most enjoyment from were the non-human characters, such as the various daemons and the polar bears. If you've seen The Lion King on stage, a lot of the puppetry involved in creating these effects will be familiar to you, but they are used equally well here. That a simple effect involving a man holding a mask can manage to create the illusion that he wears the bulk of a polar bear is testament to the skills of all involved, actors and technicians alike.

Anyway, I've prattled on for long enough. I'm honestly not certain what my expectations were when I entered the theatre, but I don't think I expected the play to measure up to the books. I was wrong. They play is not perfect, but it's easy to forgive it it's flaws and in the end it manages to stand on it's own two feet, aside from it's parent, remarkably well. Of course, I've yet to witness the second half of the production, so I should probably be a little more cautious in my judgements, but I am impressed with what I've seen so far.

Good stuff.

Yawn

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Just got back a little while ago from seeing the first part of "His Dark Materials". I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was rather long, hence my late return. I'll blog more about it tomorrow.

Nighty night.

What should I do? - updated

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I was kidding. Really and truly. Everything below was written with my tougue firmly lodged in my cheek. This particular post was prompted by some spam I recieved, a variation on the infamous Nigerian email that we all love so. I don't actually receive much spam at all (a couple of pieces a month usually) and this was the first time I'd been hit by this particular scam. I was quite amused by it, hence the entry below. Rest assured that how ever naive I may appear to be, I'm not that naive.

To all those of you who expressed concern for my wellbeing/sanity I do thank you and I hope you can rest a little easier now :)


I probably shouldn't be writing this, but I feel I need to ask you all for your opinion of a matter of some importance. As I was urged to maintain the highest levels of secrecy, I shall not go into the matter at hand in too great a level of detail lest I inadvertently reveal the identity of, or worse, endanger those those who have trusted me so.

This morning, you see, I received an email from someone seeking my help. My correspondent is a refugee from an African country in political turmoil. In his native country he has been entrusted with a considerable sum of money, which was to be used to finance new agricultural initiatives, but which he is now sure will only end up in the hands of his native lands corrupt regime. To avoid this outcome he is seeking ways to safely transfer the money out of the country, and has personally asked for my help to do so. I confess that I was previously unaware of my mysterious friend until his mail arrived, but he said that he discovered me through a personal search, so I feel justified in vouching for his character. I feel fortunate that he has come to me, since the sums of money involved are so large I am sure a less scrupulous person than myself would be tempted to take advantage of the situation. As it stands my friend has generously offered me 15% of monies involved in return for my cooperation, all in return for the small favour of using my bank account to transfer the money. Whilst I had some concern with this initially, let me allay your fears by telling you that I am assured my participation carries with it no risk to myself. Obviously such a sum would not be unwelcome to me, but I do not feel that I could in all honesty accept it, especially since it would be at the expense of those whose need of it is far more desperate than mine. Nevertheless I feel it only proper that I should still offer what assistance I am able to provide.

Inexperienced as I am in matters of business, I find myself uncertain as to how now to proceed. My friend has advised that I form a partnership with him in order to make the process easier. If anyone has any advice as to how to go about this I would be grateful. Please send me what details you have, although again I implore you to maintain the absolute secrecy required in this transaction.

God Bless You.
Yours Faithfully,
iMark

...and it was water. Lots of it. But it wasn't there for very long.

It didn't rain this afternoon. Well, technically it was rain, but that really doesn't describe the experience adequately. Imagine if you will, a small lake dropping out of the sky. That's more like it. Actually considering the size of London, it was probably closer to a large lake. I left the house and it was a little overcast. Then it was a lot overcast. Then a few small drops of water fell. And then I was wet. Very wet. Drenched even. Remember the classic Morcambe and Wise riff on "Singing In The Rain"? Well, like that. Only without the music.

And then the sky was blue and the sun shone brightly. I've never seen such a quick turnaround in the weather. Fortunately other people looked wet as well, so I'm reasonably confident that I wasn't being singled out by higher power (you can never be certain about these things).

It was a good day.

I was good last year

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Over the past couple of years, I've made a concerted effort to control my spending. I thought it would be hard. It wasn't. That fact alone was a little surprising. It's amazing what you become accustomed too. I was used to buying near whatever I wanted, often on a whim, and usually without giving too much thought to the consequences. Not only did it not seem odd to me, but judging from what I see around me it was probably quite typical. We live in a consumer driven society where an ungodly amount of thought goes into discovering new and innovative ways to separate an increasingly suspicious populace from their hard earned monies and, much as I'd like to believe I'm immune to the effects of advertising, I know at heart I'm not. Still when it comes to apportioning blame for my past profligacy, I'll attribute the lions share of the blame to myself - it's my life after all, and I neither expect nor desire anyone else to take responsibility for it - but I can't help waggle a finger disapprovingly at our capitalistic society. Not that I have any right to condemn it of course, since quite frankly I'm amongst the last people who could suggest a credible alternative (should such exist). But I do wonder that we seem to be encouraged to link our happiness to our possessions, driving people to buy more and more, often beyond their ability to pay for it. Partly this was raised by the latest consumer debt report that announced the average person in Britain is somewhere over £4000 in debt (I believe this figure excludes mortgages, lest you think my halo is looking a little tarnished). Again, I doubt I'm in a position to say whether this is right or wrong. But for what it's worth, I hope everyone has got their £4000's worth of happiness.

As for myself, I've not been a complete angel. I still buy plenty of things for myself, it's just that I try to ask myself first a couple of questions before making any rash purchases. Questions like "do I really need this thing?" or "will I be happier or will my life be any better if I own it?" - simple stuff really, but surprisingly effective. I still can recount a number of not-inexpensive toys that I've purchased for myself since I decided to amend my ways (laptop, ipod, new digital camera, erm... flat in Edinburgh), but I'd argue that these purchases have been made possible ('specially that last one!) by my being more a little more cautious with my spending. And I can also point at a long list of items I don't own because of my newfound prudence. Am I happier as a result? I'm not sure. I'm not terribly good at assessing my own levels of happiness as a general rule of thumb, but I'm certainly not unhappier and I think I'm a little more in control of my life as a result.

On the whole I consider that to be a positive outcome.

I have Simon to blame for this. Over the years I've accumlated a variety of strangely fascinating toys, mostly gifts. Since I'm of the belief that such things are meant to be played with, I usually take them into work and place them on my desk. People come to my desk to play when they're stressed. It's my contribution to a happier work environment and I like it.

But thanks to Simon the work/play dynamic has begin to tilt in favour of play. Ordinarily I wouldn't view this as a bad thing but it seems to be escalating. How? Well it all started off with one of these. It's an extremely cool construction kit consisting of a number of magnetic rods and steel bearings. Perfect for building that geometric fantasy you've been dreaming of. Simon kindly sent me the 42 piece kit as Christmas present (thanks again Simon!). It's been something of a talking point since it landed on my desk. One of my nearby co-workers was also particularly taken with it. Yesterday we were both merrily ignoring our assigned tasks and instead trying to build a vaguely bridge like structure when it struck us both. We needed more pieces. After a quick hunt online we found a site that not only sold the sets, but also offered a next day delivery service.

This morning we received the 184 piece set. This afternoon we did very little work. Early this evening we reached another conclusion: We need more pieces.

I'm sure it can only go down hill from here...

I did promise a review of Return Of The King a goodly while ago. Please pardon me my distractions of late and allow me to give you my thoughts on it now.

I should probably begin by saying that, much as I love The Lord Of The Rings in it's entirety, I found the third book to be in some ways the weakest, or at least it was the one that disappointed me the most out of the three. That's not to say film and book aren't marvellous stories - they are, absolutely, and the fact that I've now read and watched the trilogy several times over will testify to that. It's just that I felt the third book to be slightly anticlimactic, in particular the destruction of the ring was over all too quickly. From the point where Frodo and Sam reach the Crack of Doom until the ring is cast to its end is less than a single page. It seemed to me a poor end for the object that was the driving force behind the story. However, the pacing of the film of the film definitely goes some way to making up for that particular deficit, to the point where the scene at mount doom supplies two of my favourite moments from the film: Frodo's chilling refusal to surrender the ring and Gollum's ecstatic admiration of the ring even as he plummets two his death. I have to credit Peter Jackson's casting decisions here (including Gollum) - nigh all the actors in the film are note perfect. To cast such well known and beloved characters in such a high profile and budget film must have been the stuff of nightmares and yet scarcely a foot was put wrong. All the cast performed admirably and the trilogy's astonishing success owes at lot to them. Kudos to all involved.

I've always been impressed by the production design of the trilogy. From Fellowship onwards, near everything that has appeared on screen has simply looked just right. The characters, creatures and costumes, the sets and effects, the weaponry and more - the the amount of thought behind even the smallest of details is quite staggering, and ROTK is no different. I bring this up because there are a couple of things I have to single out for praise. Minis Tirith was easily my favourite setting from all the books, and it's appearance on screen managed to exceed even the picture of it I held in my minds eye. It's truly a spectacular piece of design. Similarly Shelob is also almost as perfect. I say almost, not because she isn't a beautifully (you know what I mean) realised, but rather because she doesn't look quite as I'd envisioned her - but that's just nit picking. Spiders really aren't something I'm terribly fond of watching as a general rule (and the same holds true here) but of course that just works in the favour of the film. I was squirming in my seat in the scene where Shelob was hovering silently above Frodo picking her moments carefully. Icky, but in a good way.

ROTK also contains what is easily my favourite scene from all the films - the lighting of the beacon at Minas Tirith and following journey of the fires across the mountains, gracefully wending from beacon to beacon as each is lit. It's a simple idea, brought to life with incredible beauty across some breathtaking scenery. I can imagine a representative from The New Zealand Tourist Board watching this scene with little $$ signs flashing over his eyes. I really wish I'd visited New Zealand already, because I imagine the tourist hoards will be descending on it in ever greater numbers as a result of this. Still, if anyone decides that a visit to New Zealand is on the cards please be assured that I'll happily provide you with some company on the journey.

I don't think I can comment much about the battlescenes, other than to say they were breathtaking. I'm quite fed up with people saying that such scenes are obviously cgi. Well duh. Cgi may not yet have reached the lofty goal of true photo-realism just yet (thought dear lord is it coming close), but then neither had any sfx technique previously. What's important as much as anything is the level of artistry and skill that goes to create the final visual and on this level it's difficult to fault the work that WETA have created. Some of it may not be quite perfect but it's as close as anything I've seen dangnabbit, and Gollum remains an absolute triumph.

The pacing of the film isn't completely quibble free, but to be honest it would be churlish of me to point at any flaws. I read an interview with Peter Jackson where the interviewer complimented him on the faithfulness of the films to the books and Jackson responded by starting to list the vast discrepancies between the two. That such differences exist isn't really the point though - that they are artfully hidden is. The fact that all three books have been condensed into little more than 10 hours of film and yet not only retain their plot but also their flavour a stunning achievement. I'm sure many a hard choice were made when it came to writing the script, but as far as I'm concerned they got the balance right.

I'm a little sad it's (mostly) over now. I think I became a little spoiled having a new film to look forward too each year. But at the least I have the extended edition to look forward to next year. After that though...

Sigh.

One fragment gone

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I had a date last Saturday. The first in a very long while. And I'm still not wholly sure how I feel about it all, although it seemed to go quite well. We met up again on Sunday and fed assorted ducks, geese and psychotic seagulls in the park. He seems to like me even though I still exhibit my usual mixture of fear, nervousness and excitement whenever anything approximating a human emotion is aimed in my direction. And as for my feelings... well, I'm still not too great with those, despite my penchant for introspection. Right now I'd say that nothing will likely come of it. But it's nice to be appreciated.

Let's go back Into The Woods again

And I know things now, many valuable things,
That I hadn't known before.
Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood.
They will not protect you the way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers, even flowers have their dangers,
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.
Now I know, don't be scared. Granny is right, just be prepared.
Isn't it nice to know a lot?
...And a little bit... not.
And home before dark.

Left wanting

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Foots said it best with a quote from Into The Woods.

Do you know what you wish?
Are you certain what you wish is what you want?
I thought about it and the answer is no.

Still no.

It's always been no, after all.

Sigh.

Hmm, there seems to be an excess of existential angst around here just now. Sorry about this. Unusually for me, the new year does seem to have focused my mind a little. It's not so much that I've been doing a lot of thinking, it's just that several questions seem to be persistantly hovering at the back of my mind.

I wonder what would happen if I tried to answer them.

Different than before

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I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, particularly The Sandman.

There's a sequence in The Dolls House when the barriers between the dreams of a group of people of are shattered and all the disparate dreams begin to intertwine. Clumsy words for such a beautifully portrayed scene and the simple idea that all our dreams a separated by emphemeral walls which could be swept away if only we knew how. And one character at least seems to embody the notion that perhaps the natural state of our dreams is not as the individual fragments we perceive them to be.

I'd probably try to a draw a meandering parallel between those fragmented dreams and my own life, but strangely I'm not in a mood for that right now. However, I do believe my life has become a series of fragments. Not recently, but over the course of time, and largely through my own fault. The moments of my life that seem to have most meaning I seem to encounter but fleetingly and in oft distant places. Or at least places distant from where I seem to have condemned myself to spend my days. Living for a moment here and a moment there is a poor way to spend a life. My life at that.

So this is my resolution for this year. To gather the pieces of my life together again. To tend them and mend them. Stitch them together into something that makes sense to me again.

And no, I don't know how to accomplish any of this, or if even it's a wise thing to do.

And that's probably just as well.

The want song

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It all started with Little Shop Of Horrors - Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical comedy rather than Roger Corman's original - that age old tale about about a man and his carnivorous alien plant intent on world domination. The song was "Somewhere that's Green". Ashman christened it "The Want Song", since quite simply it's a song about what someone wants in life, the things they believe will bring them happiness in life. Ashman and Menken later went on to pen songs for Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin, before Howard Ashmans untimely death. Each contained their own variation on the want song, although Aladdin was eventually drastically restructured and the song never made it into the final film.

Everyone should have a want song. It's an idea I'm really rather fond of - it would make understanding people easier, not to mention making life a little more interesting.

If only I could sing...

Oh woe, woe is me

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I knew I forgot something. I blame the supermarket. As far as I knew, yesterday should have been an ordinary shopping day but, alas, the supermarkets decided to close early. This would not have been a problem, save for one thing. I was running low on milk. It wasn't disastrous, since with some careful rationing and scrimping I still had enough to last me through until this morning, but much to my embarrassment and displeasure I forgot to pick up more milk today. I never forget the milk.

So I have no milk for breakfast on Sunday. I can't remember the last time I didn't have enough milk for breakfast. And worse, the supermarkets don't open until 11am tomorrow. I'm going to have to wait for hours before having breakfast. I know this is all my own fault and I have no-one to blame but myself, but I'm still going to whinge about it and feel sorry for myself.

I feel hungry already.

I own a sofa. In fact, if I do a quick tally, I own 4 sofas. And a chair. Two chairs in fact. Wait, I forgot the chairs around the table. Make that 5 chairs. Oh, and the table too. Two tables - there's a small coffee table in the living room. And a wardrobe. And a chest of drawers. And a bed. Although I've never seen the bed, so it doesn't really feel like it counts.

So much furniture, so little space.

Out of all the things I've ever done in life, I don't think anything has made me feel like an actual grown up so much as buying furniture - not even buying my flat. After all, the flat I can let out - owning it is not a commitment to living in it.

But furniture is different. I didn't realise when I bought it all that furniture lays down roots. It's not just furniture, you see, it's my furniture. I find it strange that I seem to be more emotionally involved with the furniture I've bought than with the flat itself. I suppose it makes a degree of sense, since the flat by itself is little more than a blank canvas. It's what I put into the flat that will make it mine. The reason I own so many sofas is because I couldn't quite face the idea of buying the sofa I wanted and then having strange people using it in my absence (the same also applies to the bed). So instead, for my tenant, I put into the flat the cheapest sofas and bed I could find, enough to suffice until I move in there myself and replace it all with something more to my own tastes. But since moving is ever present on my mind I decided to take advantage of the winter sales and buy a sofa in preparation for my eventual return northwards.

I knew exactly what I was looking for. I already had a fairly complete idea of exactly what the living room would look like in the end, and a burgundy leather corner sofa would fit in just perfectly. So I bought a turquoise blue suite instead. It was on sale.

It wasn't exactly an impulsive decision. I liked the shape and feel of the sofa, but the colour was not what I had in mind by a wide margin. So I sat in it. And kept sitting. I discovered that the salesperson took approximately 5 minutes to do a circuit of the shop floor. He also kept trying to be helpful every 5 minutes, which can get very distracting when you're intent on doing some serious sitting. In the end, after about 8 salesperson circuits and having done some concerted reimagining of my future living room, I decided that I could live with the blue. And I bought the suite. I think I detected relief on the salespersons face as I left...

I own a sofa. It's turquoise blue leather, comfortable and mine.

I feel like a grown up.

Jeh-ree! Jeh-ree!

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Well, last night I decided to break with my normal New Years routine of curling up at home with a good book followed by an early turn to bed neatly avoiding any hint of the festivities. Instead I toddled off to see Jerry Springer The Opera. It's a show I've wanted to see for a good while now. I first heard about it several years back when the I discovered that the writer, Richard Thomas, was holding what he called a "beer for ideas" evening, presenting the ideas he'd had so far along with music he'd written, looking to the audience for suggestions. Fortunately he also had an array of useless junk to give away so I came away with a odd looking lamp instead of the beer. It was an interesting evening. He brought along a couple of singers as well, and at one point they performed songs from earlier show, Tourettes Diva. The woman stalked through the audience before she decided I was a likely candidate, sat down next to me and proceeded to sing at me a song consisting near entirely of profanities. I can honestly say that I've never been sworn at so mellifluously. I think I turned a little red.

Anyway, it was fascinating to see how the show evolved since then. Much had changed, but most of the core concepts remained with the overall structure being vastly improved. What I did note was that the final product was far, far funnier than I remembered. It was absolutely hysterical and everything was perfectly judged. From the audiences cat calling, to the fights between the guests and even the security guards enjoying their 15 seconds of fame, it was note perfect. It also helped that the budget and cast were obviously considerable larger making possible such highlights as the tap dancing legion of klu klux klan members

The first act is pretty much along the lines you'd expect, taking place during the filming of an episode of the show with the theme being that all the guests had a secret that they wanted to reveal to their partners. Hijinks ensue. The guests cover the spectrum of Jerry Springer archetypes and half the fun to be had is from watching the stage audience react to them, and sometimes be won over (they went from a jeering "Chick with a dick" to an almost admiring "Chick with a dick with a heart" :)

The second act goes to hell quite literally as Satan intervenes, deciding quite naturally that the Jerry's show is ideal platform for him to deal with his grievances with Jesus and God. I think I can safely exercise a degree of understatement by saying that this act is moderately blasphemous. It also proves my theory that devil always gets the best lines.

So overall, the language is foul, it both parodies and plays to the dregs of society and there's not a song in the score that you'd play to your mother (well, my mother at least - your mothers may vary) - highly recommended indeed.

Happy New Year Everyone!