July 2005 Archives

Xena, Warrior Planet

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When I first heard the unofficial name for the newly discovered 10th planet (major, minor, or floating space debris - I don't believe it's terribly important), I naturally assumed that there was some history to the name I was unaware of. After all, surely no one in their right minds would a discovery as significant as a whole planet a delightfully cheesy slice of antipodean fantasy. I take it back:

The discovery was announced by US scientists yesterday and the object has unofficially been named Xena, after the TV series starring Lucy Lawless. 'We have always wanted to name something Xena,' said Michael Brown, a member of the team that made the discovery using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory, outside San Diego, California.

You can read the rest of the Observer article for yourselves.

I want to name something now.

I'm...

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Over on another blog entirely, Peter David, writer of stuff, is pondering his discovery that his online identity, PAD (culled from his initials), is also known better known in the medical world as peripheral artery disease. Naturally I'm aware that depending on the circles in which you travel my own initials might be better known to represent Microsoft or multiple sclerosis (which I'm certain is far trendier than peripheral artery disease), but I wondered what other meanings they might have. The internet being what it is, I hazarded that there was a very good chance that it would contain a site somewhere that would be able to give me a little more information. And lo, I was right: behold the mechanical marvel that is The Acronym Finder.

MS returns 172 different results (disappointingly my full set of initials mpjs doesn't return anything), most of which are rather mundane. However, one in particular stood out. It's on the bottom of the first page. See for yourselves. All I can really say in response is: "Bwahaha. Come along, Igor, there's work to be done!"

I've just been watching The Blues Brothers - one of those rare and utterly perfect films that only gets better with subsequent viewings. Anyway, whilst I was idling my time away in front of the television (which was more pleasantly sociable than it sounds - watching tv with my family is one of the perks of living at home), I wasn't doing much else, like thinking of things to write tonight. Instead, have a look at this terribly amusing college paper that comes to you via Metafilter. The graphing of the results (Fig. 1) is truly a triumph of perseverance in the face of face of adversity. Absolutely priceless.

The other Moore's law

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I'm slightly curious about V For Vendetta, the forthcoming film from the Watchowski Brothers. Despite my disappointment with Matrix Revolutions, I'm willing to forgive them a misstep or two - The first Matrix buys them that much at least.

What else makes V worth paying attention to? Well, it's an adaptation of a comic book. With the increasing number of comic book adaptations hitting the screen it's become increasingly trendy for those in the know to sneer at the term "comic". Everyone knows they're graphic novels these days, they sigh condescendingly. The truth, however, is that in the medium only a relatively small proportion of the industry's output is deserving of a such a categorisation. One thing for certain, though, is that you can pretty much guarantee that anything from the pen of Alan Moore will be worthy. Moore in this case being the original author of V For Vendetta.

It's difficult to underestimate Moore's importance in the medium. Along with a small handful of others he's shaped and reshaped the industry. His Watchmen will be forever held up as an example of what can be achieved through the melding of words and pictures, and his story telling skills are sublime. His dabblings in the more 4 colour world of DC comics gave us some of the finest Superman tales ever told, but his output has stretched far beyond those familiar shores.

Unfortunately the comics world seems to have it's very own Moore's law, which states that the brilliance of Moore's work is directly proportional to the stupidity of any film adaptation that follows. Classic examples of this include Swamp Thing, the appalling League Of Extraordinary Gentleman, Constantine and From Hell (the latter two weren't necessarily bad films, but given how much each varied from the source material they were probably wastes of their respective licences). The League in particular turned a intelligent and thoughtful pulp pastiche into a gobsmackingly moronic action adventure. Moore's take on these has been philosophical for the most part - he's content with the money and the fact that his original works remain untainted.

Still, when I discovered that Moore was taking action against the producers of V for Vendetta I became curious as to just how bad the film could be. The strange thing is that, having watched the trailer, this actually doesn't look too bad. It's difficult to say from the trailer alone whether it will manage to capture the spirit of the book, but it looks like it's heading in the right direction both visually and in terms of the plot. Admittedly it's been a long time since I've read the book. V for Vendetta is one of Moore's early work, but no worse for that. Set in a dystopian Britain ruled by an Orwellian government, it's tells the tale of girl who's escapes persecution by falling into the clutches of a masked terrorist, known only as V. Their relationship is the crux of the film and I have my doubts about how well it will translate. What I remember most of the book is it's emotional impact - Evey, the protagonist, is put through hell, and Moore takes the reader down to the depths with her. It's unpleasant, uncompromising, yet intelligent and engrossing. Will the film capture this? Probably not. But even if Sturgeon's law holds sway once more, it still means we're due a decent Alan Moore adaptation eventually.

Next?

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I looked in the mirror yesterday and my reflection gazed back. It looked old. Greying hair, ashen skin. The latter largely due to the coating of dust layered across my skin, but it painted an unflattering portrait of things to come. I've become increasingly aware of the pull of the future. It's gravity increases with every passing day and month and year, drawing my gaze away from the past and the now, forcing me to contemplate what comes next. And I don't know what comes next.

I've never worked for my future, never planned for it, never set myself goals of what I should accomplish and when. Never had to. I look at the accomplishments of others with envy and silently curse my indecisiveness and laziness. I've gotten this far by leaping from stone to stone, from lily pad to lily pad, mostly accepting the paths before me. I've managed to take an interesting diversion or two along the way when circumstance forced a decision upon me, but mostly I've followed the direction of the prevailing wind. It's not something I can continue to do forever. My luck won't hold out that long.

I'm not sure which I fear more at the moment: the effort involved in actually trying to do something worthwhile, or the prospect of failure in such an endeavour.

Who's wearing what

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The BBC have just released the first publicity shots of David Tennant in his Doctor's garb. It's a rather strange assemblage of various items of dated clothing that really shouldn't work at all, but which seem to suit Tennant rather well. And I do like his new coat. Wonder if it comes in black...? I'd cite the fourth picture as the best showing off the coat in all it's length, although it does make Billie Piper look as though she's auditioning for the role of an angry hobbit.

Strangely I also know where that photograph was taken. Just off Brentford High Street in West London (a short stroll away from Kew Gardens). Useless bit of information I know, but at least it shows my knowledge of London's geography hasn't faded completely with my absence.

Now that the work on the living room is mostly complete I thought I'd do a bit of midsummer cleansing and try to rid the place of the accumulated dust, grit and rubble that have infested the place kitchen ceiling caved in. And by golly there's a lot of it. There has to be a systematic approach, presently unknown to me, to handling so much dust: as much as I managed to sweep up I sent billowing into the air, there to hang in a thick choking cloud before settling elsewhere. It was rather like trying to grasp hold of your shadow: intangible and always out of reach.

After inhaling more particulate matter than I'm sure is good for my lungs I eventually gave up for the day. I'll do some more tomorrow. I've got an early start as the tiles for the showerroom are being delivered (sandstone I decided in the end, with smaller mosaic tiles for the floor, as per the tiler's recommendation) at sometime from 8am onwards. For a brief moment I thought it was the last of my seemingly infinite stream of deliveries - cause to celebrate surely! - until I recalled that I'm still due a pair of radiators which were supposed to be delivered many weeks ago. Celebrations postposed due to missing heating implements. Fortunately for tomorrow I had the phone socket fitted last week (it was stripped from the wall some months ago when I decided on a whim it should be located elsewhere), meaning that I might actually be able to fulfil the promise of working from home (my home!) for the first time (although the current lack of toilet facilities may limit that somewhat).

Hurrah!

On the subject of the shooting of an innocent man by police officers in London, a police spokesman said:

"We are satisfied the victim of the Stockwell Tube shooting is not linked to our terrorist inquiry."
Though it was followed by an expression of regret at the loss of an innocent life, I remain appalled by the phrasing and it's unintended implications. I'm equally shocked by the introduction of a shoot-to-kill policy as a consequence of the recent bombings and the subsequent attempts to defend it following the shooting.

In the wake of the tragedy Home Secretary Charles Clarke has reconfirmed his plans to holiday abroad with his family this week.

Ich bien ein oven

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I have an inherent suspicion of ovens. In my dealings with them in the past I've always found them to have entirely too many knobs and buttons, invariably marked with obscure icons as the only indication of what their mysterious purposes may be. In general I've managed to get by by pressing as few buttons and using as few dials as possible (a strategy I also use whenever I have contact with washing machines). My misgivings came into play when it came time for me to choose an oven of my own, and in the end my decision was swayed largely by the fact that I found an oven with a start button and stop button. There were other buttons yes, but even the images next to these seemed to make a degree of sense. And a start and stop button, I mused, that's exactly how an oven should work in my world. It just seemed friendlier than most other ovens I've encountered. All it was missing was the words "Don't Panic" in large green letters on the front.

However, as I discovered when my oven was installed and finally switched on, there was a small problem: I pressed a button at random and on a small, hitherto invisible lcd appeared a couple of lines of bright red text. In German. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this anecdote I am somewhat less than fluent in... well, virtually all languages save English.

The ever-so-friendly start and stop buttons proved exceptionally useless here, and given my wariness with ovens I was slightly reluctant to press buttons at random (an image of my unfinished flat vanishing in fire and flame was forming in my mind). Naturally the thing to do would be to turn to the manual which I'd placed... somewhere. Despite the diminutive dimensions of my abode I've successfully managed to lose a significant number of items in there already and it seems I've misplaced the oven for the manual too. I'm sure it will turn up sooner or later, and for the moment I don't actually need to use the oven. And if worst comes to worst, I'm not that far away from a book store - I'm sure I can find an English/German dictionary...

Under pressure

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In my delight at discovering I have water in my flat again (the good kind of water that comes from the tap, as opposed the bad that came through a hole in the wall and flooded the place) it slipped my mind that I'd meant to test out what the water pressure was like. Being no expert in these matters the test I had in mind wasn't overly complicated - just a simple matter of turning the tap all the way to the right then watching the rate at which the water pours. It was important to me to put my mind at ease over the question of whether the water pressure would be suitably high for my shower. I'd already had the plumbers assurances that the new boiler would deliver water at mains pressure, but I was still a little uncertain as to what that meant in reality, and I've learned that a certain amount of scepticism is healthy when dealing with anything flat related. So today, whilst an engineer was in the process of fitting a telephone socket, I remembered to turn the tap all the way to the right. With hindsight I might have taken a more gradual approach. As it was, the resulting spray of water reflected off the bottom of the sink and gracefully arced across the kitchen, coating with water virtually everything in a 5 foot radius, myself included.

I'm not certain exactly what sort of pressure that requires in terms of bars, but I'm fairly confident that it will suffice for my shower....

I think I promised some flat pictures a while ago - apologies for taking so long to oblige. It's obviously still a work in progress, but various bits and pieces are nearing completion and more seems to happen with every passing day. The surround for the fireplace is now in place and the tap for my kitchen sink has also been fitted. Much to my astonisment water spouted forth when I turned tap. Real water. Real running water! I can't remember the last time my flat had running water. A momentous day indeed.

There'll be more of these to come I promise, but for the moment content yourselves with this brief illustration of progress (or illusion of progress as it's most often felt like)

Ooh whizzy!

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I'm as fascinated by new developments in user interface design as the next person, and stumbling upon a new method for dealing with overlapping windows makes my little geek heart leap with excitement. It's a seemingly elegant paradigm, though I suspect that it might be slightly too easy to trigger accidentally - I'd also be slightly concerned that pointer acceleration would render the gestures involved slightly less straightforward than the video might suggest - it's something I've noticed in general with the trackpad on my laptop. Still it looks like it might have some real world applications besides making for neat eye candy.

Ultimately I'm not so much interested in this sort of thing for simple window rearrangement - it seems like a bit of a waste to me, but rather for dealing with layered documents. I class Apple's Expose in much the same boat - it's a neat idea, and makes for a whizzy demonstration, but it's still waiting for a killer application (and no, OS X new Dashboard doesn't make the cut for me). Imagine Photoshop's layers, or all the pages in word processor document whizzing apart Expose style at the touch of a function key for example, or being able to flip though pages Fold And Drop style.

Who's responsible for applying these innovations. And how do I apply for a job with them?

A new dawn

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I exchanged a birthday present today. It's not something I like doing, since there's always a certain stigma attached to being the giver of a returned gift, but in this case it was so very nearly what I wanted I felt I had good cause to replace it. Pleasingly it ("it" being a very particular sort of alarm clock) arrived in one of those rare confluence of events that would have seen me purchasing it for myself even if it hadn't been presented to me. It's always pleasant to receive a present that's almost exactly what you wanted when you wanted it (even more so if it is exactly what you wanted). And in this case there was only one tiny, nigh insignificant flaw: it ticked.

That an alarm clocks tick is to be expected really, but I'm completely incapable of sleeping through any form of constant ticking. Experience over the years has proven to me that even the sound of a seconds hand traversing the face of wristwatch is enough to keep me awake. My old analogue watch found itself embedded deep within my sock drawer each night as a preventative measure. I've also had to resort to burying wall clocks in out of the way spots when visiting with friends (fridges have proved particularly suitable for this purpose in the past).

So back it went, to be exchanged for the next model up which features a blessedly silent digital display. In case you're wondering why I wanted an alarm clock, you can see it for yourself. The rising sun usually wakes me each morning, and whilst it means I only catch a relatively few hours sleep in the summer, I've never minded too much. Usually I'm content to lie in bed for a few more hours and drift into a gentle sleep. with the curious and pleasing side-effect that I remember my dreams far more vividly when I do so. It's a pleasant and natural way to wake up, which is usually denied me on those bleak Scottish winter mornings looming in the distance. Hence why I wanted the clock. I've yet to wake up to it, but my toying around this evening has shown it to produce a pleasingly dawn-like glow and I'm hopeful that it will make waking in the winter months an altogether more pleasurable experience.

And, if you'll permit me a rather brutal segue, back on the flat front installation of the fireplace is finally underway as of today (at last!), along with the termination of the annoyingly persistent leak in the showerroom. I have to go back in tomorrow evening for the moving of the tv aerial socket (which has been drawn out into yet another ordeal). I'll try to remember to bring my camera and give you a few story-so-far pictures. I'm getting rather excited now...

I can only do so much

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It seems I'm limited in my accomplishments, as though accomplishment itself is a tangible to parcelled up and passed out each day, to be spent wisely by it's recipients. The more effort I put into my flat, the less I'm able to put into my work, into my job. An obvious equation really, given that my presence at one usually precludes my availability for the other. Nevertheless, it's become increasingly obvious as the work on my flat accelerates to it's completion. My availability for my job has dwindled noticeably and I'm certain my output has fallen proportionately. Though, of course, no one has broached this subject save myself. I rather wish someone would. I'm experiencing an absence of guilt that seems most uncharacteristic, and just a touch worrying.

Still, the finishing of the flat is tantalisingly close now. An appointment with a tiler earlier today yielded pleasing results - he'll be able to tile the kitchen this week, and the showerroom the following week, and for a considerably small price than I'd budgeted for (though naturally I instantly reallocated the excess money for more expensive floor tiles). Assuming various other pieces fall into place it's possible, quite possible, that the first week of August could see me living in my flat. I shan't bet on it, though, but it's a comforting thought anyway...

Pottered out

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I was going to post a review of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and though having made a spirited start at it I soon realised that it was all rather dull and lacking in any sort of insight (my review rather than the book). I'd basically taken several paragraphs to say that I liked it for the most part. Perhaps my critical faculties could do with a spot of sharpening, or perhaps I'm simply too self-critical. Nevertheless, I'd like to think I'm capable of offering up something more in the way of wit and incisiveness, qualities I feel I've been lacking in around here for a little while now.

So in the spirit of self-editorship I've decided to pull my review and and instead off up... well, nothing really.

...

Pottering about

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Along with what seems to be a near majority of the British public I've spent this evening in the company of young Mr Potter. I was tempted to wait before purchasing the book in a transparent affectation of aloofness to prove that I'm not just another part of the herd jumping on the latest bandwagon, but the truth is that that I really quite enjoy hopping on board the bandwagon every now and again. There's a certain sense of solidarity that comes from such shared experiences, from the knowledge that at this moment in time vast numbers of people repeating your actions, and the release of a new Harry Potter book in unique amongst there, binding together so many disparate peoples in the reading of a novel.

Sadly, though, the book has kept me up a little late tonight so I'm afraid I'll have to let encroaching sleep cut short any further musings. Good night.

Decisions, decisions

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I thought I was finally done with all the big decisions. Everything important was locked down I believed - I knew exactly what was to happen with all the major fittings, all the things not so easily changed once installed. There are still plenty of smaller items that are yet to be determined, but nothing of great consequence. The big things, however? All done.

Except that all changed with the flick of a switch. The light switch for the shower room, in fact. After bunking off work today (connectivity issues with the company network limited what I could have achieved), I dropped by the flat to catch up with the joiner (one of the most valuable lessons I've learned so far has been to never underestimate the value of being able to stand behind a workman whilst he's working) and set him on some new tasks. Afterwards I retreated to the shower room to bask once more in the warm glow of the freshly installed lights, and check how the plaster was drying out after a small (but annoyingly persistent) leak. Whilst doing so I was struck by how much I liked the appearance of the freshly plastered walls - a light shade of salmon. It wasn't remotely close to darker shade of grey I'd originally decided upon almost six months ago for the wall and floor tiles. Back then I'd narrowed it down to two options - both large square porcelain tiles imitating actual stone (I'd discounted real stone tiles purely on maintenance grounds). One tile was slate grey, the other a fetching shade of sandstone. After much humming and hawing I choose to go with the slate tiles. Partially because they were cheaper, but also because it just seemed right to me. Instinct has played a large role in this process and I've realised that I can do worse that trust it. Admittedly several people commented that the dark walls would make the shower room appear small. My argument against this was quite simply that the shower room is small (really quite minuscule) and that nothing I could possibly do would ever make it appear large.

But this afternoon I couldn't resist checking back on the alternative so I toddled along to the tile shop, only to find myself vacillating again. The sandstone tile looked as lovely as I remembered (perhaps my familiarity with the slate tile has given way to the faintest contempt) and more, it's currently on sale, so I can't discount it on price alone. I purchased a sample tile and consequently spent a goodly portion of this evening staring at it in variety of light conditions, and standing on it, and sitting on it, and lying on it, and generally becoming intimately familiar with this slab of imitation stone. And for my efforts I remain thoroughly uncertain. I'm sure the simplest course of action would be to remain steadfast, and continue with my original choice, but it seems a little late in the day to go with the easy option now. I shall take it to the flat tomorrow to compare with the existing slate tile. I'm quite certain that I would be happy with either, but I think I may now be leaning towards the sandstone. Then again, perhaps not.

Bother.

Because I'm worth it

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Yes, I admit it. I was feeling rather sorry for myself yesterday. I don't think I'm one to wallow in misery for the most part, but I think I had solid reason for my wade through the shallow waters of woe. Still that's all in the past now. I skipped merrily off work early today (part of the reason why I put in such extreme hours yesterday - I finally finished at about 1am and started again at six) to witness the installation of my shiny new and much ballyhooed granite worktop. I didn't have a precise time for the delivery and installation - I was just told to expect it "early afternoon" so I arrived there at midday. And the countertop turned up at 3pm. If I were in being picky I'd describe 3pm as mid-afternoon, but since I was in a particularly good mood I let it pass without comment. And the reason for my elated disposition? It seems the mysterious magical elves who work on my flat in my absence have had a particularly busy couple of days. All the electrical work has now been completed and all my kitchen appliances are now fully functional. Words cannot begin to describe how I felt upon opening my fridge to discover the light inside blinking into life. And not just the appliances - all my lights turn on and off at the flick of a switch (well, all right, several switches, but you get the point). Flipping the lights on and off in their numerous combinations was indeed a landmark moment, like seeing the flooring laid, or the kitchen units installed - I've been a tad deprived of landmark moments of late, and this was most welcome.

But that wasn't all, no. The plasterer had also been by and the living room is very nearly finished, bar the decorating, and the pesky gas fire which remains adamantly uninstalled - but I'm not going to dwell on that. Next week I've been assured, although it seems an all too familiar refrain by now.

And then to cap the day off, there is now an ebony black granite countertop in my kitchen. One of the pleasing aspects of going through this whole process (and yes, despite what feels like constant carping on my part, there have been pleasing moments along the way) is that every once in a while, something gets fitted in my flat and actually surpasses my expectations. And yes, this is one of those. It's absolutely splendid - a thing of cold, black, magnificent beauty. I waited until the workmen had left and then pawed over it's seductive inky surface. Is there such a thing as furniture porn I wonder? Regardless, it more than made up for yesterday.

There's light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, I don't yet know where the tunnel leads, so whether that's a plus point remains to be seen...

It's not been much of a birthday. Not the worst of birthdays either mind you - that dubious accord still goes to the time I was sent quite literally to Coventry and stuck in a small windowless office to work by myself for the day. Today's was pretty close though. The porn project has proven to be a complete mess and I've spent pretty much 13 straight hours in front of my laptop trying to get it sorted, hampered by network problems at every turn. My family ended up holding a birthday party in my honour outside in the garden, largely in my absence. I felt quite guilty about my minimal presence, but on the other hand I have people relying on me who are getting dumped upon rather badly over this whole sorry affair. From that perspective I suppose I received one of my favourite gifts today - the chance to charge in on my silver steed and rectify the grim wrongs wrought by others, to the acclaim and adulation of all.

I'm not sure it was worth it.

Something's lurking in my sock drawer. A flicker of movement at the edge of my vision drew my attention to the spider as it skittered across the chest of drawers. I watched it from across the room, pondering my next move. I should make it clear that I don't dislike spiders, despite having a slight phobia of them. Rather I dislike their proximity. For the most part I'm more than happy to observe them from a distance, although I'll confess that my mood falters when that distance is easily closed - particularly when it can be closed by the spider. My preferred option is to cover the anomalous arachnid with a glass and then throw the spider out the window (and retrieve the glass later), however since I didn't have a glass or other suitably concave vessel to have I hesitated. My mistake. The spider darted down the side of the chest of drawers... and then vanished through a crevice in to the drawer where my socks live. It was a remarkably small gap for such a large spider, but alas that proved no deterrent.

I waited for a few minutes, my eyes fixed up the drawer, waiting for the creature to emerge. It didn't. It still hasn't. Since then I've been unable to prevent myself from entertaining macabre fantasies of a mother spider laying her eggs in there, and having a thousand spiderlings stream out when I next reach for a pair of socks.

I'm finding the prospect of going barefoot for the next few days increasingly attractive...

The anatomy lesson

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I was drafted at work to help finish off a new website for an existing customer. I'm tempted to try and disguise it's nature behind exotic metaphors involving women of the night, but it's late and I can't be bothered. It's another porn site. A brand name porn site, but a porn site never the less.

It's all turned out to be a bit of a farce. I spent until about 9pm tonight fixing the mistakes of other people. The shame of it is that it's all been made vastly more complicated than it needs to be. There's an old adage about an ounce of planning saving a pound of labour and that's perfectly illustrated here. To be fair, it's not the fault of person who's been working on the site. He just doesn't have the experience he needs, and there are few others around who do. Our hiring strategy for the last few years has been to hire programmers first - web experience, of html, javascript and css has been given the short shrift when they're really quite essential when your business model is based around providing web sites. Without giving myself undue credit, I'm easily the person in the company with the strongest of these skills and my absence is definitely hurting them It's something I've pointed out over the last year or so, but it's only now that management is beginning to take it seriously. It's largely why I've called in at this late stage to do something about the mess it's becoming.

And since the site is primarily video based, I've consequently spent most of the day checking pages with various bits of female... anatomy jiggling up and down in front of me. I've tried my best to maintain my clinical sense of detachment, but every once in while something I caught something out of the corner of my eye that startled me a bit. In some ways it's been a revelation (people actually do that? Ewwww...) but on the whole I'd rate it as a thoroughly distasteful experience.

Bleh.

State of the flat

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I pretty much managed to avoid thinking about the flat this week. It was a welcome respite - over the last few months it's turned into as much an emotional black hole as a fiscal one (I'm waiting on that analogy to fail shortly - I believe I'll start to get something out of it very soon now). Nothing much was scheduled to happen with the flat anyway, except for a few loose ends to be tied up by the electrician, though even that didn't get done in the end. I made up for it a little today, by optimistically starting shopping for some essentials. It's not strictly necessary, but there doesn't seem to be any harm in it, given that there are sales on right now and I've actually got kitchen cupboards in which to store things.

I bought some pots and pans, crockery and a set of kitchen knives and in doing so I realised that I do indeed have a strong streak of perfectionism. This is something I've denied many times in the past when accusations of perfectionism have been aimed in my direction. My basis for denial was relatively straightforward: I've worked with a perfectionist in the past, and to be honest, I didn't, and still don't, come close to his infuriatingly anally retentive standard of nit-picking. Now, however, I'm willing to admit that perfectionism can probably be viewed as sliding scale and I'm definitely teetering towards one end. This after my realisation that over the last few months I've examined virtually every set of pots and pans, crockery and kitchen knives in a 20 mile radius (I'm exaggerating for comedic effect, but not nearly as much as you'd hope). I should have picked up on some other warning signs earlier. Having the flooring shipped from Austria for example - that should probably have set some alarm bells ringing (I'll forever remember Mija's response when I told her about that: "You are so gay!" - I found it hard to disagree, although I'm sure straight people have nice flooring from Austria too...)

Anyway, next week should be slightly more eventful. The electrician should turn up, my fireplace should be fitted at last (though given the numerous delays with it along the way, I won't be entirely surprised if it's not), the countertop for the kitchen will be fitted as well and the remaining plastering work should be done. Bar the decorating that finishes off the living room and kitchen and allows me to clear out the bedroom to make a start on that. I've a tiler scheduled for the following week, which means that the showerroom will be finished soon as well. And then... well, I'm not going to think about that. There are still a few too many "should"'s in there, and I've learned the hard way to be cautious about the indeterminism it implies.

Real soon now, or so I hope...

Majora's Mask

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Yes, I know I should have started writing something earlier tonight, but I got rather caught up playing Majora's Mask, one of the earlier Zelda games available on the Gamecube as part of a Zelda's Collectors Edition package. Like it's siblings in Nintendo's long running franchise it's a superb game and thoroughly addictive. At the beginning of the game you're restricted to a relatively confined area of the game world, but the manner in which the world subsequently unfolds and blossoms as you work your way through various quests is a wonderful mechanic, and one which Nintendo in particular seem to have mastered (despite the fact that Metroid Prime and it's sequel masquerade as first person shooters they in fact bear far more similarity to Zelda, in terms of control and play). It can in turns be intensely frustrating and immensely rewarding.

Zelda games typically repeat the same classical story in which the hero Link rescues the Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Gannandorf. It's hardly the most original of storylines, particularly when combined with the games fantasy trappings, but the depth and texture with which Nintendo embroider the world and inhabitants of Hyrule save the game from spiralling into a black hole of cliche. Majora's Mask, however, escapes these trappings and introduces a new and unique theme which sees Link abandoning the land of Hyrule for the world of Termina, where a mischievous imp, possessed by an evil mask, is intent in bringing eerie grinning moon crashing down upon Termina, leaving you with just three days to stop him. The first problem you encounter is that you three days pass rather more quickly than you'd expect them too - each night and night passes in roughly 20 minutes in fact. This soon leads to one of the games most interesting quirks, in that you're granted the ability to return, Groundhog Day style, to the beginning of the three day cycle. Thankfully most of the items you earn as you play stay with you even as you jaunt backwards in time, and many of these will grant you access to areas of the world previously denied to you, allowing you to progress forwards even as you turn back the clock again.

In addition to saving the world, Majora's Mask also challenges you to uncover an enormous array of masks, most of which grant you curious new abilities. Some of these masks are necessary to advance through the game, others will aid you in the many side quests you might chance to uncover along the way. Most of these side quests involve aiding those you encounter in your main quest. Of course, to help them there's a good chance you'll need to catch them at the right moment in the three day cycle, and you might even find you need to wear the appropriate mask to do so. It's a deep and richly detailed mechanic, that greatly extends the life of an already lengthy game.

Majora's Mask was originally released for the Nintendo 64 and runs under emulation on the Gamecube. The graphics and audio are as crude as you might expect as a result, but spend some time with the game and you'll come to appreciate just how little these matter. The game itself has stood the test of time extremely well, and in terms of play I much prefer it to it's successor, The Wind Waker. Both games share a number of flaws in common, however - Please can I beg Nintendo, if you insist on showing the player the same cut-scene more than once, please, please offer some way to skip through it the second time, regardless of how short the sequence may be. I promise you there is no animation or dialogue so astoundingly brilliant or astonishly beautiful that the player will not weary of after witnessing it for the 100th time. Still in the grand scheme of things it's a minor complaint, and Majora's Mask stands as a more than worth addition to the Zelda legend. Those of you with Gamecubes or ageing N64's would do well to track down a copy if you haven't already played it.

It's really jolly good.

Alan's published a compilation of various reactions to yesterday's events, some more light hearted that others. I'm glad that the response so far, at least as I've witnessed, has been characterised by great British reserve, rather than by a lust for blood and revenge.

Like many others I've expressed some concern that the Government will view the bombings as a excuse to press on with implementing increasingly draconian legislation in what's most likely prove a futile attempt to prevent such happenings occurring again. Paul O'Brien has published an except from Lord Hoffman's ruling on the Governments attempt last year to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial. Reading it restored my flagging faith in the British justice system a little and it gives me hope that we'll be able to weather the current storm without ending up in a police state just yet.

I'm in daily contact with my friends and collegues who work still in our office on the outskirts of west London. It began with a complaint this morning that there was some sort of delay around Liverpool Street Station.

Someone told me a little later that a friend of theirs had heard a loud bang near a tube station.

A report came through that there had been an accident of some kind on the Tube, due, perhaps to a power surger.

Had two Tube trains collided? Someone asked.

The power company denied their involvement in any accident.

There were injuries reported, an accident on a bus...?

And more reports of injuries from the Tube.

And explosion was mentioned.

Explosions were mentioned.

In six different locations. In seven different locations.

Inuries became casualties

Two casualties were confirmed dead.

The number of blasts fell to four.

Mention was made of a terrorist attack for the first time.

The number of the dead rose to thirty three.

The BBC reported a statement from an al-Qaeda affiliated group claiming responsibility for the attack.

Perhaps seven hundred people have been injured.

37 dead.

But don't take my word for it:

The BBC
The Guardian
The Times
Reuters
Sky News
Google

Thankfully no-one I know was hurt.

The flurry of test posts you may or may not have noticed on my blog earlier came courtesy of the wise and powerful Jonathan, by whose grace and good will this blog continues to exist. Although my blog continues to look exactly the same, it's actually undergone a fairly radical overhaul at the back end, having shifted up a version or two of Movable Type, the software on which blog runs. I'd actually anticipated that the transition would be a little more involved than it turned out to be, and I doff my hat at Jonathan and his admin skills for putting in the time and effort and for making the switch absolutely painless for me (though I suspect it may not have been from his point of view). At last there's a proper spam filter in place on both comment and trackbacks - you may not have noticed, but if you'd had a trawl through my archives you'd have encountered numerous links to a variety of accursed poker sites, which were rather difficult eradicate on the old version of Movable Type. No more, though! I took a great deal of pleasure in personally eliminating every last reference to texas hold em and it's damnable brethren that I came encountered. Goodbye, good riddance and sayonara to them. Don't bother returning - my spam filter can eat your ilk for breakfast and still have room left over for brunch.

I've decided to leave one of Jonathan's test postings in place to commemorate this fine day. Actually I'm only retaining it because of the reference to Captain iMark. It rather tickled me

Blog course laid in: Second star on the right, then straight on 'til morning.

Final testing.

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Test 4: Blacklist comment spam filter - in place and working.
Trackbacks despammed.

Captain iMark - the blog is yours.




Two unrelated pieces of news today. The first is that Orange are killing off Wildfire, their voice recognition service. I'm sure that when it worked it was terribly useful, but everytime I called anyone who used it was I was always to state my name. The service promised, in it's svelte and seductive female voice, that it would remember my number and would never ask me to repeat my name again. It never worked. Amnesia seemed to strike each time I rang. Was that a hint of contempt I sensed beneath it's velvet tones? I couldn't say for certain. Goodbye Wildfire - you never knew me, or never remembered me at least.

The second and vastly more important bit of information is that the BBC are contemplating bringing Jackanory back to our screens.

Jackanory was the sort of concept that, like black and white tv, seemed to belong to another forgotten era, when children really did watch television with Mother, and all that any child had to fear in the world could be explained by a poorly animated boy and his cat. It was an anachronism, even to me as a child of the seventies and eighties. The concept couldn't have been any simpler. There were no garish colours, no sets of any note for the most part, or even a cast. Just a single narrator. And a story of course.

I've probably forgotten more than I remember now. In some cases just the presenters faces remain. Bernard Cribbins is unsurprisingly ingrained deep into my memory, as is Kenneth Williams with his unforgettable sneer, and host of others - though in most cases I couldn't begin to tell you what they recited. And in some cases the stories remain without the narrator. I remember Little Nose, and a swath of Dahl stories of course. I doubt we shall ever see a finer performance from Rik Mayall than during his deliciously spiteful rendition of Roald Dahl's "George's Marvellous Medicine" - I do so wish the BBC would release that particular masterpiece on DVD. Fragments of other tales remain, along with the imagery invoked. Potent memories too, from just someone reading out loud.

I was surprised just how long Jackanory survived. If you'd asked me I would have guessed that it faded away ended at some point during the mid to late 80's. In truth that's more likely when I stopped watching it. I feel a little sad thinking about that, being unable to pinpoint such a thing. Just one more thing that slips away as time matches on without anything to mark it's passing. The series in fact it continued until 1996. Quite a feat that.

If I'm honest, I'll confess there's a good chance I shan't even watch Jackanory when it returns, but I'll still be able to bask in a rosy glow of nostalgia simply from the knowledge that somewhere out there children are sitting comfortably and the story is about to begin all over again.

I couldn't, could I?

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I made the mistake of trying to consider the future today, wondering what I should turn my hand to next jobwise. Working on my own is, on balance, largely what I thought it would be. It's not been a disastrous experience, but I'm certainly feeling more than the odd pang or two for company beyond my own and the tangy creative juices that flow from interacting with other human beings. I'll also confess that I feel my productivity isn't what it once was. So a move is definitely on the cards, at least once I've rationalised away my current debts, which fortunately shouldn't take more than a couple of months.

I'm still planning on being a programmer - a decision born partly out of the fact that I rather like it (well, some days more than others), and partly because I've no idea what else I should/could be doing with my life. I'd particularly like to specialise in user interface programming, but I fear that might be too much of a niche in a small city like Edinburgh. Regardless, I had a quick peek at monster.com to see what the job market looked liked and was immediately assailed by what's probably best described as crippling self-doubt.

Acknowledging my own strengths has never been one of, well, my own strengths, and I fear that working alone has only exacerbated my already finely honed skills of self-deprecation. Even just reading the job descriptions made me feel like a fraud. Most of them seemed to demand a what seemed a vast array of skills, whereas I feel I've a relatively narrow skill set. It may or may not be true, but the looking came as rather a shock.

At least I don't have to find anything urgently, so let's just take that pesky future, place it carefully in a cardboard box and stick it under the bed where it can gather dust and be forgotten about for the time being. There, that's better. I feel calmer already...


Beethoven's Symphonies 6 through 9 are available for download on the BBC's website. Get them whilst they're hot (number six is only around until tomorrow).

10 CLACK; 20 goto 10;

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Waiting at the bus stop today I wasn't in the best of moods having just discovered that the joiner moved my new desk in order to fit a skirting board. This isn't too bad, in and off itself, but he obviously dragged it out of the way, where it caught a bit of grit and carved a lovely foot long groove in my new floor. I know it's inevitable that the floor will get scratched and dented, but I was rather hoping I'd at least be responsible for doing it.

Anyway, whilst passing time at the bus stop, a mother came along to wait, with her newborn daughter and seven or eight year old son in tow. The son had a couple of large pens with some sort of plastic attachment at the end. I'm assuming they were Happy Meal toys - they both bore the likeness of Disney's Cinderella, and I don't think the son was terribly happy with that. With most of the mothers attention focused on the gurgling newborn, the son was left to his own devices and amused himself by banging the pens on the wall on which he was sprawled.

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Well, that's a bit annoying. Still I had a newspaper to concentrate on so I did my best to put it out of my mind. At least the bus was due soon, so I wouldn't have to put up with it for too much longer.

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Fifteen minutes later, with little respite in the incessant, and increasingly irritating noise, the bus arrived. Huzzah! Peace at last. I boarded the bus, sat down and once more buried myself in my newspaper. And then mother and children boarded the bus. Fortunately, the mother sat herself down the front, whereas I was sitting nearer the back. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the son running down to the back of the bus, to sit... directly behind me. Still, at least he didn't seem to be making any...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

It's alright. I'm alright. I'm not going to get upset about it. Take a deep breath, relax and...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

It's clear that he's just trying to get some attention from his mother, who's obviously besotted with her newborn. I'm sure she'll recognise that in a minute and ask him to stop...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Ah, see, there. She's told him to stop it. And he's stopped. My faith in humanity is restored, all is well with the world and...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Well, she told him once, so I'm sure she'll tell him again any moment now. Any moment...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Oh, for goodness sake! Still it's only a 40 minute bus ride. I can't believe he'll be able to keep going for all that time. It's hardly the most involving of games, after all, and if it's truly meant to attract Mum's attention it's really not doing a terribly good job on that front. He'll get bored and give up. Any rational child would.

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

30 minutes... of course, I should consider the possibility that this is not a rational child.

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

20 minutes to go. Perhaps I could make an escape though the emergency door. Of course, the kid is next to the door. He might fall out "accidentally" when I try to get out...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

10 minutes... I begin to mentally prepare my defense. Temporary insanity perhaps? Surely no judge or jury could possibly convict me...

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK

Oh, thank goodness. They've gotten off a few stops before mine, thus preventing the untimely end of a small child and my unfortunate incarceration. Would I have been out of line to say something? To the kid? To the mother? I'm unsure. Despite my protestations, I obviously managed to cope with the noise, as did my fellow passengers, and the Mum did have her hands full with her other child. I don't think my intervention would have been appreciated, and judging by the malevolent gleam in the son's eye, I doubt it would have made all that much difference...

Misdirection

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Look, over there - there's a man hiding behind the curtain. Go see what he's up to. Don't pay any attention to me. It's late and I've got nothing better to distact you with at moment...

Sigh. Well, ok then - I can't leave without giving you something I suppose. I laughed at this courtesy of Metafilter, and was really rather disturbed by this courtesty of boing boing.

There. Happy now? Can I get some sleep? Thanks. Goodnight.

I was playing with my niece Brianna earlier today. She's only 4 years old (well, almost 5 - the almosts are very important at that age), and we were running around in the garden, playing hide and seek, and catch, and several other of those games children devise with the specific goal of testing the stamina of 30 something uncles in mind (the somethings are very important at my age). At some point she picked up a plastic toy gun that fired those rubber darts with suction cups on the end that could never be made to stick to any surface, and decided we going to play a new game. "Let's pretend to shoot the coloured people," she said.

Woolly minded liberal that I am, I was a bit shocked by this, as well as slightly bemused by her choice of words . I tried to prod as to why she wanted to shoot the coloured people ("because they eat people") whilst all the while trying to suggest that really it wasn't such a good idea, even in play. Ultimately I blustered and flustered my way through a speech that was probably preaching tolerance rather than teaching it and I suspect my good intentions were lost on my audience. Brianna for her part just wanted to carry on playing, but I found my enthusiasm had waned considerably.

Perhaps her attitude is simply due to childish naivety and I'm overreacting - I remember running around playing cowboys and indians after all - but I loath the idea that racism should be allowed to take hold at such an early age.

Any thoughts?