October 2004 Archives

In brief

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Kings Cross. rAdam. Cambridge. Simon. Crepes. Kings College Chapel. Punting. Much wandering. Slug and lettuce. Haunted greenhouse. Fireworks. Home. Tired. Bed. Goodnight.

Over heard today, an old man and woman walking along next to me.

Do you want to get a cup of tea here?

We're not there yet.

What?

We're not at the theatre yet.

No, I asked you if you wanted to get a cup of tea here.

Of course I want to get to the theatre. Now hurry up or we'll be late.

Our paths parted at that point, but I watched them doddering off into the distance for a little while. Neither of them seemed to understand a word the other was saying, yet they seemed serenely happy together.

It made me wonder how the introduction of hearing aids affected the rates of divorce amongst older couples...

Confluence

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It's rare that my friends meet my family. Of course, these days given how scattered my friends are, it's sometimes rare that I meet my friends, let alone have the opportunity to introduce them to any of family. It does seem to be something of a family trait. We never really shared our friends much. Perhaps we were all too busy striving for our own individuality, and having our own groups of friends was another way of staking our identities. Or perhaps I'm just projecting. Still, I'm sure my feelings on the matter have changed over the years. Nowadays I'm happy to draw close whatever friends and relatives I can muster. And if the end result isn't a horrible implosion, so much the better.

Tonight saw my Michael and Denise, my eldest brother and his wife, in town to see Billy Connolly perform. I'd arranged to meet up with them beforehand for a bit to eat. Into this mix was then added rAdam, also visiting - though from somewhat further afield - after finding a cheap flight on short notice. Much to my delight, it proved to be a very pleasant evening, devoid of the lengthy pregnant pauses I always fear when introducing people, and passing all too quickly in the end. I felt somewhat guily about failing to organise any proper sort of entertainments for rAdam after Michael and Denise parted our company. I ended up resorting to my oldest of standby's - walking. Just the thing after a transatlantic flight. Still, I enjoyed the trial around the city, and hopefully we'll be able to come up with a better plan for the weekend.

Right, I'm tired after all that walking. Nighty night.

The wisdom of cats

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I'm reminded of an old Garfield strip, in which Garfield is sitting in front of a television set during a commercial in which an obnoxious presenter proudly proclaims a brand of cat food is now "New and improved! New and improved!" In his infinite sagacity, Garfield asks "Does that mean all this time I've been eating old and inferior?"

This particular reminiscence is brought to you courtesy of a new McDonald's advert for chicken McWotsits. Over a shot of a group of suspiciously happy looking children, the announcer proudly proclaims that that their chicken McThingamujigs are "Now made with less salt and real chicken breast."

So just what on earth was in them before? Fake chicken? Or is it better not to ask...?

Light of my life

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Ding dong, the contractor's gone. Huzzah!

For the past couple of months I've had a contractor sitting next to me. I can't say it's been a great experience, but he finally finished on Friday and I'm absolutely delighted to see the back of him. He wasn't a bad person by any means (although he was decidedly mediocre programmer), but our various quirks intersected rather badly. Most of it was fairly trivial, like the fact that he insisted on eating smelly food at his desk, or that he always managed to sit just a shade to close to me, despite having a considerable amount of desk space of his own to play with. Those traits I could live with, but by far his most irritating habit was insisting that blinds had to be closed as the light was reflecting off his screen. Perhaps not the most heinous of crimes, I'll agree, though it didn't seem to bother anyone else in the area. It wasn't too bad to begin with, at the tail end of summer, but as the days faded to dusk earlier and earlier, I started to grasp for whatever meagre traces of daylight I could find, only to find myself rebuked if I tried to let the most fragile ray of light into the office. Sitting in a dull grey office, under the most pallid of fluorescent lights, all the while knowing that the light of the sun is just the forbidden tug of a blind cord away has not done anything to improve my mood.

But like I said, he's gone, goodbye, good riddance. Today I took immense pleasure in drawing back all the blinds in the office. For the rest of the afternoon I sat at my desk bathed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

And it was glorious.

Mea maxima culpa

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Someone apologised to me at work today, in an email I received at the end of the day. I'm not entirely sure why.

Considering that I'm the type of person who will apologise at the drop of a hat (quite literally - "You dropped your hat? Oh, I am sorry"), I've never been entirely comfortable being on the receiving the end of someone else's mea culpa. In general I consider other peoples apologies to be unnecessary things. I can sense contrition (a tingling sensation at the nape of my neck, in case you were wondering - it's common to all catholics) across a crowded room, so the need to put it into words often seems superfluous.

Of course, this usually assumes that I understand the reasons why someone might actually want to say sorry, and that just wasn't the case today. I'd been discussing a problem with a colleague and we seemed to arrive at a conclusion after much to'ing and fro'ing about what might be the best approach. I'm well aware that I have a terrier-like approach to debating, which is to grab hold of a point in my teeth, shake it about a bit, and refuse to let go of it regardless of what other tasty morsels might be dangled in front of me (though I might drop if it my tummy is tickled). I'm certainly aware that such an approach can be immensely frustrating for other people, but when it comes to discussing things in the abstract like this I'm usually fairly thick skinned myself. I definitely wasn't upset over anything that was said and I thought we parted amiably, hence my surprise when I later received the email. I wonder now if I might have been a little too... animated in some of my responses.

I'll have to track down my colleague tomorrow and find out exactly what she thought happened. I'm sure it's all been a misunderstand for which I suspect I'll end up apologising myself... though I'll try my best to refrain.

Kevin's mentioned Jon Stewart's name, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, to me a few times, so I was at least vaguely aware of his existence before his name recently starting cropping on the web after his appearance on the political debate show Crossfire (depending on your point of view some words or phrases in that last sentence should be in quotes). Curious, I finally got around to looking up the clip in question. It's well worth the 13 minutes or so of your time it will take to watch.

Stewart gives a remarkable performance, managing to be at once incredibly funny, insightful, and scathingly critical of the current role of the media in politics. Being of a liberal bent myself, I find it hard to disagree with him. His comments to the shows hosts are priceless and it's deeply satisfying to watch the Republican in the bow tie attempt to take Stewart down a peg or two, only to have the tables well and truly turned.

Go see for yourself.

Fleeting moments

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I managed to catch up with Matthew this morning, who's briefly in the country for a wedding. It was great to catch up with him (you!) again, however briefly, though I wish it could have been for longer. Such occasions are always happy, though tinged with melancholy too - wonderful whilst they last, but they rarely seem to last for long enough...

I really sent this...

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Dear British Midlands,

I appreciate the necessity of telephone hold mechanisms, and whilst I'd much rather speak to someone immediately, I'm normally quite content to wait. Perhaps even for a considerable amount of time. Certainly I've waited longer than the 15 minutes I've currently been on hold for before without complaint.

Whilst waiting, I ask for very little. Some soothing classical music perhaps. Something current from the charts at a stretch. I can even stomach muzak if the situation absolutely warrants it. What I've just discovered I can hardly bear, however, is the incessant advertising of your services you're currently forcing on those who would deem to speak to any of your representatives on the telephone. It really does adds a whole new level irritation to the experience. Please can I beg of you to end these prattling announcements and replace it with something - anything - more bearable.

Let me just be clear:

I don't care about the weekly flights to Antigua or Saint Lucia. I didn't care the first time I heard it and I certainly don't after the fifth or six times I've heard it. Similarly I'm planning no trips from Manchester to Toronto, Washington or Chicago.

Nor, despite your endlessly looping pleas, am I about to sign up for a BMI Classic Mastercard. In fact I'm now unlikely to ever do so, purely out of spite at having been forced to listen to the same advert over and over and over.

I'm not impressed that BMI is a member of Star Alliance, nor that the afore mentioned alliance is the largest of it's kind. The immensity of the organisation has done little so far to enable me to speak to a human being, and such bragging feels like rubbing salt in the wound.

Finally I'm already familiar with your website, and I promise my affection for it is waning with every repetition. Functional though it is, can I suggest that you publish a contact email address in future. It seems a curious omission and I feel much happier writing to an email address than I do submitting an anonymous web form.

I appreciate this has been a bit of a whinge - please be assured that I bear none of the staff of BMI any ill will, and I write this with as much good humour as I can muster as I'm slowly driven insane by the none stop marketing campaign I currently have no choice but to listen too.

Ah, I'm afraid I've been summoned to a meeting so I have to take my leave of you now. Alas, I must hang up the phone before having the chance to speak to anyone. Please let me know if there's any chance of obtaining an alternative hold tape - I'm quite partial to a spot of Elgar if you require any suggestions - in the near future and I'll refrain from calling back until then.

Kind regards,
Mark Steyn

That Friday feeling

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I spent most of told holding onto the erroneous belief that it was Friday and the weekend was gaily beckoning to me at the end of the days work. It came, therefore, as something of a crushing disappointment to realise that Friday lay yet before me and I was going to have to go through the day all over again. A particularly cruel sort of deja vu.

What can I say? I just don't know where my mind is right now. I'd taken to keeping it in a jar under my bed (next to the goose egg containing my heart). For safe keeping you realise. I still talk to it on a regular basis - it's quite the sparkling conversationalist you know - but I think it's a lonely existence for a mass of grey matter. Certainly it's not seemed itself lately. Prone to wandering, which is quite an achievement when you're living in a jar under a bed, and given to the most peculiar flights of fancy. Quirks I could live with happily enough, but it also seemed a touch down in the dumps, perhaps a little lonely. I'm quite certain I spotted it moping on more than one occasion. It tried to cover it up as soon as it realised I was watching - I'm certain it didn't want to worry me - but it nearly broke my heart (thank goodness goose eggs are remarkably resilient). I couldn't stand to see that poor thing in such a state (I'm very attached to my mind), so I let it out for some fresh air, and the next thing I knew it was gone. I should have realised - if it can wander whilst still in a jar, goodness only knows what it's capable when set loose. I haven't seen it since. 'Tis a vexatious and cunning beastie when it wants to be, capable of great hidyness and sneakiness. Of course, I've gotten along this far without it, which says much about the merit of possessing such a thing to begin with. Still I can't help but feel that I should begin searching for it. I'd draw up a plan of some sort to find it, but that's precisely the sort of thing I relied on it for. I really don't know what I shall do without it....

I found myself absent mindedly humming a song today. I didn't even realise I was doing it, until I stopped to wonder what that out of key tune was and where it was coming from - only to realise that I was in fact the chief culprit. The odd thing was that I eventually remembered it to be the theme from Quantum Leap, a tv series I don't think I've watched in about a decade. I've no idea how it managed to lodge itself in my head. I've a sneaking suspicion it was a mobile phone ring tone I overheard somewhere. After all, these days ring tones seem to be the preferred meme preserving medium for themes and jingles that would otherwise die a slow and lingering death (some of them deservingly so).

Still, Quantum Leap. A welcome bit of nostalgia that.

Comedy of errors

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Ever had one of those days when you wake up, go to take a shower, open the door to the bathroom, stand on a small fragment of something extremely sharp, yelp in pain, steady yourself on the door frame as you try to see what pointy object is embedded in your foot, only to remember - just a fraction of a second of a second too late - that the door is weighted so that it will swing shut and at this precise moment in time is fact accelerating towards your hand, and no, you don't have time to move it before it slams down upon you?

Or is it just me?

A matter of grave import

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Gravestones are starting to disturb me.

Not real gravestones mind you, but those of the fictional variety. I'm not certain whether that makes the situation better or worse. A few tombstones have cropped on some shows I've watched lately, and what's troubling me about them is the date of birth of the expired characters. Programmes like Buffy and Smallville feature likable characters with whom I still find it relatively easy to identify. Of course they feature people who are invariably cooler, smarter, hipper, stronger and wittier than me (and probably you too), but then isn't that the basis of escapist entertainment? Anyway, because of that identification I naturally expect the date of birth on the tombstone to be around the time of my own birth. Which makes it all the more disturbing when the date is in fact in the mid to late eighties. Children are born in the mid to late eighties. Or at least they should be. Instead it's now young adults who hail from such a time. Adults! When did that happen, from whence did this vast chasm of an age gap appear?

It seems that some part of my brain hasn't yet cottoned on to the fact that I've reached my thirties, and that my teenage years are some way distant. I do feel my responses are mitigated somewhat by the fact that many of the young adults featured in such programmes are considerably older than the characters they play. Sarah Michelle Geller and Tom Welling for example, are both 27, scarcely a stones throw away from my age. I'm not wholly certain that makes things better, but hopefully it makes my tv viewing habits seem a bit less creepy...

It's a school night and I've left it a bit late to blog anything interesting tonight. How are you all doing anyway? I know I've been a bit self absorbed for the last... well, thirty years or so if I'm honest, but I promise I've not buried my head in the sand completely - even if I've lately started to feel I've dropped off the edge of the world a little.

I remember watching a video, as part of a training session, in which Stephen Covey (I think) gave a simple demonstration of how to approach problems. He graphically illustrated it by asking a volunteer to fill a container with a number of rocks and a pile of sand. As you're probably aware, the only way to complete the task is to fill the container with rocks first, and add the sand afterwards. The moral of the story being that if you fritter your time away worrying about the smaller, less important items on your to-do list, you'll be unable to accomplish the more substantial projects later.

It's a lesson I've never quite managed to learn, despite the fact that I'm intimately acquainted with the basics of it. At the moment all I can see are the small problems, and though I know there are larger headaches out there, I'm not sure I can bring myself to acknowledge them, let alone do anything about them. After all, I find myself struggling with the sand just now. Perhaps I just need to start building sandcastles. That's got nothing to do with stretching the metaphor, by the way - I just like the idea of sitting on a sunny beach somewhere building sandcastles...

I watched the RIBA Stirling awards on tv earlier, the annual award ceremony for British architecture. I'm not an architecture wonk in any shape or form, save for the fact that I appreciate my environment and pay attention to the events that shape it. All entries were fascinating in their own right, although some clearly never stood a chance (the Spire in Dublin, for example), leading me to wonder how the short list was drawn up.

The most interesting entry, from my perspective, was the Bexely Business Academy, a new school designed by Lord Norman Foster (who was well represented in the short list - more on that in a moment). In shape and form the school is far from extraordinary - it bears close resemblance to many an office space, from the inside and out - but it still manages to be unique. Class rooms have been more or less wholly replaced by open plan areas and the interior makes excellent use of space, resulting in an interior that's bright and airy and a million miles removed from the dank 70's classrooms in which I was taught. It was heartening to see a building where such careful thought had gone towards it's usage rather than it's appearance, and the end result was a school in which I wish I had had the chance to be taught.

Perhaps a little surprisingly the eventual winner was Foster's 30 St Mary's Axe, more popularly, and perhaps even affectionately, known as "The Gherkin". I say "perhaps" because I still recall the considerable degree of animosity directed towards this project when it was initially announced. The tower is located on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, a lovely and much loved old building that was devastated by an IRA bomb some years back. Many wanted to see that building restored to it's former glory, so the decision to build a skyscraper instead was never going to be popular. Famously in London, it's impossible to discuss the erection of any buildings within the City of London (the borough, rather than London proper - there is a difference, although I'm quite certain there are some who would dispute it) without mention of how it will affect the views of St. Pauls Cathedral. Or, more accurately, how it will invariably ruin the aforementioned views and eventually bring about the untimely end of civilisation and humanity as we know it - they're a conservative bunch when it comes to architecture in the City. Of course, having witnessed some of the scars our cities bear, I can't necessarily disagree with such an approach (although I do wonder what views people complained about ruining when St. Pauls was being built).

Anyway, for these reasons it seemed that the Gherkin was always going to face an uphill struggle when it came to winning the hearts and minds of the public. But it did so, and I suspect that fact alone is reason enough for it to win. There's little doubt in my mind that It has improved the London skyline immeasurably - though this isn't hard to do when the competition consists of drab concrete monoliths like Tower 42 (even the name is dull).

The success of the Gherkin now seems set to spur architects to reach ever higher in London. It'll be interesting to see the results in the years to come, although, come to think of it, I'm not planning on being around to witness them...

Something in the air

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I "felt" Christmas earlier. Not the day itself mind you, but the atmosphere. It may be something to do with the weather and the earlier arrival of dusk, or the perhaps it's the racks of Christmas merchandise congregating in shops throughout the land. I'm not certain, but it's out there, lurking around corners, ready to spring out upon the unwary.

Normally I object to shopping for presents any earlier than December (preferably the last week - put it down to masochism), largely because I object to the wholly consumerist nature of the beast (although I still buy gifts, which should tell you something). This year however I'm constrained by a number of events going on at the end of year, primarily the logistical problems involved in transferring my worldly belongings, meagre though they are, 400 miles northwards. Whilst I'll be ably assisted in this endeavour by my brother and newly minted sister-in-law Kerry, it will happen at the end of November, leaving me to live out of a suitcase for the remainder of my time here. Those remaining possessions I'm going to have to heft on a plane, so when it comes to yuletide gifts I'm faced with one of two possibilities: Either shop earlier, and let the presents be magically transported North at the end of November (thanks again Nicky, Kerry). Or else buy really small presents.

Personally I kind of like the latter idea. At least it's theme....

I was followed today. By a song of all things.

Sitting on the train this morning, I overheard it on an iPod. Then at lunch it played softly in the background as we dined. Finally it featured on the soundtrack of a documentary on TV earlier. If it was a song currently present in the charts I could understand, but Soul Bossa Nova? Fate has an eccentric sense of humour.

Star light, star bright

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Every wish I've ever made upon a star has come true, a fact which tells you more about the modesty of my wishes than about the nature of my beliefs. Wishing upon stars is wholly frivolous pursuit, and yet one I take surprisingly seriously. I attribute it to the brief walk I used to make late at nights from the bus stop to my house, back when I was at university (so very long ago). About 15 miles outside of Edinburgh it wasn't quite far enough away to escape the light pollution completely, but the constellations were visible enough on clear nights (though I could only identify Orion with any certainty). Back then it was probably the only time I really spent looking at the night sky. I looked up at the stars, contemplating them and occasionally wishing upon them.

Tonight, for the first time in a long while, I made a wish on a star - though it may very well have been Venus - and the outcome is uncertain. I hope it comes true, but only time will tell...

Karma versus courtesy

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Is a little courtesy too much to ask for? Although I pretty much resort to autopilot when it comes to navigating a well worn route, I'm never completely oblivious to those around me. I may consider crowds a nuisance and I might not be able to describe a single telling feature about the strangers I skirt around on the street, but I recognise their presence and try not to inconvenience them. I queue politely and patiently. I don't shove past people, even when in a hurry. I step aside to allow others to disembark from the tube before attempting to board it. In short I behave as I believe others should.

Today, as the train pulled into the station, a woman standing by exit pressed the button to open the train doors. A rational person might press the button and wait for something to happen, but this woman kept repeatedly jabbing her finger on the button, and, when nothing appeared to happen, jabbed even harder and started to swear loudly at the door. Someone else moved forward to have a look, and she rudely manoeuvred to block them, all the while continuing to curse and prod the the button. I considered her behaviour rather discourteous and mentally prepared a small list of things I would like to say to her. In the end though, I settled for just one.

"Excuse me," I said, "you're pressing the close button."

It's just a bird

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I remember, back near the beginning of the nineties, DC Comics attempted to whip up a flurry of publicity by announcing they were going to run a storyline that would feature the death of Superman. If you were to believe the PR, this was going to be it for the big blue cheese - the actual, final, honest-to-gosh death of Superman. Needless to say, nobody expected Superman to stay dead for long, despite DC's attempt to persuade people otherwise. And sure enough, about a year later, in time honoured tradition Superman proved that not even a cunningly constructed marketing ploy could keep him down.

Still, one editorial from that period stuck in my mind, or at least one quote from it:

Look, up the sky!

Is it a bird?

Is it a...

...no, wait. It's just a bird.

It's a sad thing to realise that the world is a little more ordinary than the day before.

Be well.

Or else!

Ooh, shiny

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Passing along Tottenham Court Road, London's primary repository of furniture and computer shops, this afternoon I couldn't resist stopping in Micro Anvika to have a fiddle with one of the new iMacs . Interesting beasties they are, utilising an all-in-one design of the sort Apple were widely predicted to introduce with the last iMac, before confounding virtually everyone by introducing a computer that appeared to draw inspiration from an angle-poise lamp instead.

Having seen it in the flesh, I'm not wholly sold on the design. Although I can't deny that Apple have shown their usual attention to detail, the proportions of thing just look off to me. The large white space under the screen where the Apple logo's located is just about acceptable on the 17" model, but appears absolutely vast on the 20". That said, it's a solidly constructed device, displaying in full all of the elegant little touches you've come to expect from Apple. Stock features of other personal computers, such as the appearance and placement of the speakers and ports are subtly blended into the overall design - even the "L" shaped base, a single solid piece of aluminium, looks gorgeous.

If I were a potential purchaser (which I'm not - I'm still holding out hope for a G5 Powerbook at some point next year) I'd a little concerned about some of the specs. 256Mb of memory is rather low end these days, as is the Geforce 5200 graphics card. Admittedly, those looking for high performance gaming machines aren't likely to be looking at Apple, but these are the sort of specifications I'd expect on a cheap PC, and given the iMac is far from a bargain basement option such choices smack of stinginess on Apples part.

Still, whilst it's not quite as unique a concept as the angle-poise iMac, it's an unusual and interesting design which I can see blending nicely into many a living room, which I suspect is ultimately the point.

Hot, hot, hot

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Another late return this evening after being invited along to a friend's girlfriend's birthday dinner (I really need to work out how to refer to people around here...) at the last minute. It was supposed to take place at an Italian restaurant, just around the corner from Picadilly, but a error with the booking left us seated at a small vegetarian Indian place a couple of doors along instead. I'll admit that I don't eat Indian food often - a mishap involving the confusion of green beans and chilli peppers some years ago means that I now approach dishes from the sub-continent with a considerable amount of trepidation. Fortunately tonight's repast proved a pleasant surprise.

Lentil donoughts accompanied with a mint sauce to start with, followed by a stuffed pancakey... thing. It tasted considerably better than you might imagine from that description. The company was in a jovial mood and everyone soon began passing their dishes around for everyone else to sample. Luckily for me the majority of it was relatively mild, though I did encounter one hairy moment when I tried something that looked as though it contained a quantity of green beans in yogurt... which turned out to be chilli peppers. How many times must I learn that lesson...?

Though everybody was quite stuffed by the end of the main course, curiosity got the better of us, and we had to order a portion of an odd sounding concoction of carrots, condensed milk and cardamon. I wouldn't go so far as to describe it as delicious, but it was an... interesting new taste. Pleasantly edible, although I suspect it would have gone well with some ice cream (but then, doesn't everything).

Perhaps next time...

Sofa so good

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My little sister called me last night to compliment me on my taste in sofas. Whilst that may seem a curious rational for a phone call, there is good reason behind it. My sister, you see, has just moved into a new home. It's a charming little place, and in order to help furnish it I donated a spare sofa I happened to have lying around. Yes, I've reached the point in my life where I have spare furniture. The suite I wanted for my flat came in three pieces, though I only wanted two, and consequently I had a two seater sofa left unused. As with many of these things, it proved surprisingly difficult to get rid off, so I'm glad it's finally found it's way to a good home.

If I felt a twinge of envy when Claire managed to move into her home before I in mine, the fact that she's now sitting on my sofa only compounds it. That said I'm extremely happy for her. Most of my brothers and sisters (there are many of us) have either now settled, or are in the process of doing so. I won't quite be the last, since I have another younger brother who's showing few signs of deciding exactly how to direct his life just yet. Still, I'm looking forward to joining them.

And to end on a completely unrelated note, please go have a look at this extraordinary picture. It's a shockwave file, so you'll need the necessary plugin, and it's also quite slow to download - however I do promise it's worth the wait. Quite remarkable in concept and execution.

Sorry about the title. I passed someone wearing that slogan on a t-shirt today and immediately wanted one for myself. I tend not to geek out so much around here, largely because I don't want to alienate those of my friends who don't speak fluent geek, but in this case I couldn't resist. It's funny, honest.

By one of those curious turns of fate, Mija's just blogged about Gmail, Google's new webmail application, just as I've found out that Google has introduced the one feature I've been waiting for to before I'd consider switching to it. I had a play around with it a little while ago, and whilst I thought it had some pretty funky features (the search in particular, not to mention the 1Gb of storage), the fact that it didn't allow for mail forwarding or pop access limited it's usefulness for me. However I've just discovered that, lo, as of today mail forwarding has been introduced along with a couple of other new features, so I've decided to give it another shot and try it out in anger.

You do have to hand it to Google - their marketing ploys are as simple as they are brilliant. The notion of making their beta products invite only has managed to spark a veritable feeding frenzy, immediately dividing the population into the haves and have nots. And those who have not invariably want to have - viral marketing at it's most elegant. Admittedly, they've been victims of their own success with this strategy before (proof that for every hype there is an equal and opposite reaction?), but they seem to have learned from their mistakes and Gmail already appears to be a polished product.

I also discovered today that I have a few Gmail invites to give away. I suspect that most of you who would be interested in such a thing will already have an account, but if not, let me know and I shall wing an invite your way.

I feel all benevolent now.

Elephant rainbow medley

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Everyone huddled in the railway station to escape from the rain. Outside the sky was black sky to the east, with the remains of the days light still shining from the west. From within the station it wasn't possible to see much of the sky, so I wandered outside, and, standing in the rain on an empty railway platform, looked for what I expected to see hanging in the sky. I was rewarded the glorious arc of a rainbow. I felt sorry for everyone waiting inside the station. They may have been dry, but they were missing this.

A small wine bar opened a month of two back, just a couple of doors down from where I live. I've not ventured into it, nor paid it much heed at all - wine bars and pubs aren't places I frequent without reason. Today though, as I passed by, it caught my attention. Inside a pianist was playing. Outside everyone else was scurrying through the rain. The Elephant Love Song Medley from Moulin Rouge drifted through the air as the pianist played. I stood outside, rain dripping of my forehead until he'd finished the piece.

It was the sort of day where nothing much happened, but it turned out to be just enough anyway.

Don't mention the war

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I'm still trying to download a video of the U.S. presidential debate. I had little interest in it beforehand, largely because it seemed as though the whole affair had been carefully constructed to prevent any form of meaningful dialogue taking place. In the end, though, it appears most of the rules (some thirty pages of them!) were quickly discarded and the result appears to have been something worth taking notice of. Assuming I can ever get hold of the thing.

Even not having yet watched it, it does appear, by most accounts, that Kerry has finally emerged from the flurry of negative press that the Bush campaign has spent so many months whipping up (whether he'll once more be submerged under it is another question). It's almost frightening just effective that press was - I'm already sick of the phrase "flip-flop" and I don't even live in the country. Still, I can't help wonder if the Bush campaign's relentless negative strategy will now backfire. Having spent tens of millions of dollars trying to paint Kerry as an ineffectual, indecisive intellectual (but does he like green eggs and ham?) , the public has finally got to Kerry for themselves, and what they're seeing is not tallying with what they've been told to see.

I'm not yet convinced by Kerry as a candidate, but I've despaired of Bush long enough. Many people have jested that Kerry's only distinctive trait is that he is not Bush. It's not probably not an ideal foundation on which to build an election campaign, but quite frankly it's enough to sell me on him. Failing that, where do I sign up to get my "Hillary 2008" badge?

Various sound bites from the debate have been making the headlines, even over here, but without the relevant context most of these are little more than bluster. Still, a few of them were at the very least amusing, and at most rather telling:

Bush: Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden.
Quite.

Shake it baby

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Last year I picked up a second hand Dreamcast, for the sole purpose of playing a single game: Samba De Amigo, which is probably my favourite game in the whole wide world ever. Alas, the Dreamcast only lasted a few brief but happy months, before it it left me to go to that great arcade in the sky. I looked around but failed to find a suitable (i.e. cheap) replacement. Until now. Yesterday I discovered a nearby shop selling refurbished Dreamcasts for the paltry sum of £20. Huzzah.

Samba De Amigo falls into the rhythm genre, in which games typically demand you perform some action in time with music. Beginning with Parappa the Rappa, the most famous is Dance Dance Revolution, a game which involves players hopping (dancing) onto one of four squares on a board in time to the beat and which in reality is far more frenetic and demanding that I've just made it sound. Samba De Amigo never quite reached the same heights of popularity as DDR, but it my opinion is no less fun. Rather than being supplied with a mat on which to boogie, Samba De Amigo offers you two maracas and a sensor which determines the height of each. The object of the game is deceptively simple - shake each maraca in the correct position (high, middle or low) at the correct time and erm... that's it. Part of the joy of the game is it's absurdity. The screen is populated with an array of typically Japanese cartoon animals (Amigo himself, the host of the game, is an overly enthusiastic monkey), and all the music is latin themed. Some of the songs are right at home, including covers of Ricky Martin's Living la Vida Loca, and Cup of life, where as others are a little more off the wall - latin themes remixes of Take On Me, and the theme from Rocky, for example. It's absolutely ludicrous, but immense fun and a good way to shed a few calories at the same time.

If you've ever seen any of the legions of Japanese girls playing Dance Dance Revolution with frightening speed and accuracy, well, that's pretty much the level I got up to with Samba De Amigo last year. I could breeze through almost all of the hardest challenges the game had to offer (well, aside from one which I'll swear no human being could possibly complete without the surgical addition of another limb). Alas, I'm shaky at best now (geddit? Maracas, shaky. Ok, I'm sorry. I'll stop), struggling to achieve 100% scores on normal difficululty level, let alone hard. But it's all starting to come back to me now. Admittedly, this is in the privacy and comfort of my own home now, well away from prying eyes, so I'm safe from the sort of mockery I'd no doubt endure if anyone ever saw me playing.

Still, having spent entirely too much time moping recently, it's good to have something that's relentlessly silly to take my mind of my non-problems. Now, where did I put that other maraca...

So I finally went to see Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow this evening, another of those films I've been looking forward to ever since I saw the trailer. After all, if there's one thing the cinema is lacking these days it's Giant Robots. Monsterously tall Giant Robots wreaking mechanised mayhem on a gloriously stylised rendition of 1930's New York in all it's art deco wonder. What's not to love about that I ask you?

Well... in deference to those of you who've already seen the film and enjoyed it, I'm not going to be nasty, though I will admit I had several problems with it that mitigated my enjoyment somewhat. There's still a lot to enjoy about the film, particularly in terms of the visuals. It manages to capture the tone of all those 1930's serials we know and love so well, whilst still applying it's own unique sense of style. The result is quite lovely to look at, and unlike anything that's gone before it.

Probably the biggest problem I had with the film (aside from the plot), was is character of Polly Perkins, the eponymous Sky Captain's altogether too ubiquitous sidekick. Roving reporter, intrepid photographer and all round pain in the a**, she's probably the singularly most irritating character to grace the silver screen since the advent of Jar-jar Binks. I really did find her that annoying. First let me make it clear that I have nothing against Gwynyth Paltrow, she does well the material she has to work with and she looks the part perfectly, but I found the character she plays wholly unlikeable - she's deceiptful, arrogant, and, on more than one occasion downright stupid. What the good Captain ever saw in her is lost on me. As a couple they seem to lack the sort of chemistry that's required for their sparring to be effective. There are a couple of good moments between them, but too few considering the amount of time they spend together on screen. Conversely Angelina Jolie makes a wonderful foil for Jude Law in her all to brief appearances, hamming things up beautifully in comparison to the too earnest Paltrow. I can't help but wish there'd been more of her characters and far less Polly Perkins.

Um... did I mention the lovely visuals?

The other "f" word

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All the time I've been spending recently looking at fittings and fixtures for my flat (ninety two days and counting!) has proved a most educational experience. For instance, I can now look upon a vast range of furniture and instantly gauge it's approximate price simply by how much I like it. Needless to say my attraction to it is directly proportional to the cost (would that it were otherwise) - It seems I'm blessed with expensive tastes, not to mention an unfortunate aversion when it comes to compromise. After all, I've waited long enough to finally take possession of my little corner of Edinburgh (am waiting still), and I want it to be just right. Not mostly right. Not very nearly right. But just right.

And there are a surprisingly large number of things to be gotten right.

My current obsession lies with my shower room (my shower room. Sorry, I just like saying the "my" word in that context) which I intend to refit completely. As with the rest of my flat, I've got a very small area to work with, but I still have a relatively grand vision for it. As a result, I've spent an age looking around to find all the right bits and pieces. Objects that once registered nothing more than antipathy in me, are now capable of generating surprising levels of excitement. Taps, for instance. And shower heads. Heaven help me, but over the last few weeks I've even had to catch myself before uttering the dreaded "f" word with regards to such items (that would be "fabulous" in case you were wondering). And you don't want to get me started on basins.

See what I've become.

Last week I happened across a set of taps and a shower that looked just perfect. My heart both leapt and sank even as I saw them, since they were indeed (forgive me) fabulous, and I realised that if I liked them that much, they would have to be beyond my price range. I was right. They turned out to cost approximately two and half thousand pounds together. Ouch.

I may not be particularly fond of compromise, but I think in this case we'll learn to live with one another.

Company

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Jonathan's down in London for a few days, so I caught up with him and a few of his friends this evening. A most enjoyable night all in all, even if it did threaten to keep me out past my bedtime. And speaking of beds, that's where I'd best be right now. Goodnight.