June 2006 Archives

Old and wrinkly

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I've just witnessed a television advertisement for anti-wrinkle cream... for men. I'm not sure whether this is to be regarded as a milestone in gender equality or a deeply disturbing sign of the times.

For my part I plan on making a concerted effort to shun such products and physically age with as much dignity as I can muster. Hair will grey and hairlines shrink, skin will wrinkle, bodies will sag and droop. Quite frankly given the increasing number of people on television and real life with perma-orange tans and disturbingly stretched faces, I can't say I'm terribly upset with that fate.

Young at heart is good enough for me.

My first mistake was in breaking that cardinal rule of grocery shopping: Never shop in a supermarket whilst hungry. That rule should apply doubly so in Waitrose, a store positively filled to brim with oh so tempting delicacies.

My second mistake was in believing I could restrain myself. That bottle of chocolate sauce, I thought, would be just the thing to treat myself with. A small dash on a banana would make a most pleasant and not too unhealthy dessert. A little goes a long way, and I was certain the contents of the bottle would last me a goodly while.

Clearly I was deluding myself.

Cut to the scene two days later, when not only is the bottle of chocolate sauce empty, but the bottle lies before me, neatly sliced in two courtesy of a handy hacksaw (the bottles plastic hide proved too hardy for my scissors), it's innards scraped clean. I for my part can be found resting on my sofa in a haze of chocolatey contentment.

Moderation is for those without gym memberships say I.

Zzzzz zzzzz thud.

That's what I've had to put up with for most of the day.

Zzzzz zzzzz thud.

Opening the window on a beautiful summers day didn't seem like a bad idea at the time. How could I have know that the bluebottle from HELL would seize the opportunity to invade my home and proceed to attempt to drive me insane with it's constant and disproportionately loud buzzing. And I do mean loud - how can something so small make such a racket?

And as if the buzzing alone isn't enough, the pesky creature has been banging against the window trying to get back out again. Of the four available panes it's managed to thwack itself against three of them, but has so far missed the open pane, despite my frantic gesticulations and shouts of "Down a bit. No, go left!". Sigh.

I swear I wish harm to no living creature, but that bluebottle is beginning to try my patience. It's proven surprisingly swift and has thus far managed to evade my faltering attempts to capture it or shoo it out the window. I've tried to reason with it, but to no avail. Somehow I've failed to communicate that that rolled up newspaper is looking to be an increasingly attractive option. I've managed to trap the thing in the bedroom for the time being, but it's only a temporary solution - I'll need to sleep at some point after all. What I really need is big old spider to come along and gobble it up. I've no particularly love for spiders, but in their favour is the fact that they've always proven much easier to capture under a glass and dispose of out the door.

In lieu of an actual spider though, I was much cheered to discover that the trailer for Spider-man 3 was released today. The arrival of the film itself remains a depressingly long way away, but gosh-darnit if the trailer didn't bring an inane grin to my face. Rather interestingly, it pretty much confirms that the black costume featured in publicity photos is Venom, a character who in many ways epitomises the worst excesses of comics in the 90's and who comes with an insanely complicated backstory that's wholly unworkable for the film. I'm sure the script will successfully distill things down into something more manageable. though. I'm rather looking forward to the film anyway. There just haven't been enough movies featuring evil costumes with a taste for human brains if you ask me....

Do no harm

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Amongst the many things which make me despair of modern society is power of negative publicity, coupled with it's seeming necessity. On the one hand it can be a marvellous tool to effect positive change, and the power of the internet is beginning to place much of the power we associate with the daily press in the hands of anyone with an internet connection. On the other is the underlying implication that it's possible to commit great harm - just so long as no-one finds out about it. That such a mentality seems to be pretty much business as usual in the corporate world is simply depressing.

I suppose negative publicity functions as a sort of check and balance, hopefully reigning in some of the worst corporate excesses, but for the most part it relies on the reactionary and notoriously fickle press, a situation which is far from ideal and places more power in the hands of newspaper editors than I'm entirely comfortable with (particularly now that the UK government seems intent on developing policies to placate readers of the Daily Telegraph). It's easy enough to point to the internet as the great leveller in such affairs, but the amorphous blogosphere doesn't yet seem able to muster the laser-like zeal of the red tops.

Am I naive in wishing for a world in which the words "do no harm" are inscribed in every board room across the planet? Why is that companies need to be shamed into doing what's often quite obviously (loaded words I know) the right thing?

Here's the story that sparked these particular thoughts: http://www.boingboing.net/2006/06/25/disney_we_willwont_s.html

Tim Berners Lee on the importance of net neutrality

Doing the link thing

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I'd write more tonight, but I'm far too engrossed by We Feel Fine. I'm quite in awe of it - fabulous idea, beautifully executed. Link via Jonathan

A pox on you!

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You're out there somewhere I know - you can run but you can't hide. A plague on thee I say, a plague! You knew exactly what you were doing, don't dare pretend otherwise. You could have chosen to dispose of that lump of chewing gum in any number of civilised ways, but no, you chose instead to leave it there on the seat of the bus, there to lie and fester and eventually attach itself to the backside of the pair of jeans I'd just purchased on the previous day. Nasty, icky, sticky mess.

Humbug to you where ever you are!


Some images which put things into perspective a littles


I felt a strange tug to go for a walk late this evening without quite knowing why. I don't make a habit of wandering the streets of Edinburgh after dark I promise, but there was something odd in the air tonight that compelled me to venture outside. Along the Dene valley I strolled in the darkening dusk, and up through the newly finished New Town, the last street of which opened today, some 200 years after the project began. I watched a cleaning crew remove the last vestiges of a street party held earlier in the day to commemorate the occasion. It was only then twigged the significance of the date and the time - 'twas Midsummers night.

The days will start to shorten soon enough, but there's summer enough ahead to keep my spirits up. With that in mind, allow me to take this opportunity to wish you, my readers, a happy summer solstice.

Shake it

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The "discussion" I talked about yesterday has carried on today and I've been involved a little more directly. As far as I can gather my esteemed opposition was trying to improve his standings within the company by presenting himself as an expert on areas I deem to be outside his expertise and took poorly to my unwitting intervention. Although our series of emails this morning has remained cordial, I can't help but interpret a lot of what he's been writing as little more than, if you'll forgive me a crude turn of phrase, willy waving.

Still, rightly or wrongly I waved back (metaphorically speaking you understand) and since I've already extracted what amounts to an admission that I was right I think that we can safely assume that mine is bigger than his.

Yay me.

Let's just take it as read that I whinged about work after someone who didn't know what they were talking about complained that I didn't know what I was talking about. I'm still not sure of the details, but my best guess is that I inadvertently made someone appear foolish and they lashed out on the defensive.

Several lessons were learned from this experience. The first is that I still don't handle any sort of confrontation well. Despite the fact that I was several degrees removed from the person in question and wasn't dealing with him directly, I still felt myself tense up and my pulse start to race when I discovered what was going on. It's annoying because when it occurs I find myself reacting emotionally rather than logically and it's happened often enough in the past that I'm truly fed up with it.

The second lesson was that I discovered I can control these symptoms somewhat by imagining the argument coming from a teddy bear rather than a person. It sounds odd I know, but I think it allows me to focus more easily on the substance of the argument rather than getting upset with the person espousing it. After all, who can stay upset at a friendly looking teddy bear? It's definitely a technique I'll try again in future, though hopefully the opportunity shan't arise again any time soon...


Bouncy bouncy

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When was the last time you got to play in a playground? I pass by them with a relatively high frequency, but it seems I rarely get the chance to play in them. Without a niece or nephew close to hand I'm warded off by the inevitable signs banning adults without an accompanying munchkin. I'd stand at the gates and stare forlornly at the fun to be had on the other side on the gates, but sadly society has labels for grown-ups who do that and I rather not be tagged as such.

But lo, for an all too brief time this morning my flat was transformed into a playground of sorts all over my very own. In lieu of swings and roundabouts and climbing frames I made do with a sudden surplus of sofas crammed into my living room. With little floorspace clear, crossing the room generally involved bouncing from one sofa to another and half the fun was plotting out the best (bounciest) route to take, whilst clambering over sofa after sofa. Unfortunately, in a rather poor piece of forward planning, I managed to wedge the fridge shut which made extracting milk from the fridge a rather vexing experience.

It didn't last for long, though. Old sofas are now gone and new sofas are in place just where I want them (and looking rather swish I might add). I'm entirely happy with the result, but thinking back to this morning I have to confess that I miss the absurd amount of clutter a little. I'm sure it would have worn thin after a while, but it was fun whilst it lasted. On the plus side though, at least I can get milk from the fridge again. Always a good thing that.

Proposal for a never to be made reimagining of the original Star Trek series, courtesy of Babylon 5's JMS.

Sofa so good...

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Sometimes I just can't get an idea out of my head. Those passing stray thoughts which instead of passing through completely to then disappear back into the ether as all good passing thoughts should, instead firmly lodge themselves in the back of my mind, there to take root and grow.

This one was little more than a month or so old. One day it suddenly occurred to me that my current sofa wasn't making best use of the limited space available to me in my flat. It didn't seem a particularly insidious thought at the time, but it kept niggling at me afterwords. Wouldn't a two sofa arrangement be more inviting for guests? And a sofa bed would be ideal for visitors, surely?

I couldn't help but ponder the possibilities. Still I was assured I wasn't going to anything about it in the short term. I was perfectly comfortable with my current arrangement after all and I wasn't about to make any silly spur of the moment purchases. After all, who on earth buys furniture on a whim...?

Mark raises his hand sheepishly. Yes, well, turns out I do. I accompanied Kerry to a John Lewis warehouse sale this afternoon which I'd been led to believe was selling cut price electronics and gadgets, but which turned out to have more space dedicated to furnishings of all varieties, sofas inclusive. And there, sitting in the midst of a small sea of sofas were a pair of cream leather settees which happened to fit my bill almost perfectly and at an irresistible bargain price. I was fortunate to have reached them first. I sat myself on one of them and immediately grabbed hold of the shiny red price tags (thus preventing anyone else from claiming them as their own). The vultures quickly circled, but the price tag remained clutched firmly in my hands and I shooed most of them away. One woman shrewdly tried to put me off by pointing out several marks on the surface, but I'd already established that these were readily removed. I tried to think up reasons not to purchase the sofas but, alas, I bought them before I came up with any.

They arrive tomorrow. I have until then to dispose of my existing sofa, otherwise it's going to be awfully cramped in here.

Remind me not to make any more impulse purchases for a while...

The Pianola

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An intruiging flash based music maker.

An Oliver Sachs account of a blind man who regained his sight after 50 years. It's an old story, but worth a read if you haven't encountered it before

In and out

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My finances are seemingly held in place by a strange set of cosmic rules I only vaguely comprehend.

Rooting through some paperwork this evening I came across a cheque I'd previously missed for a few hundred pounds. The cheque was a dividend from some shares, and should have come as a pleasant surprise, but I recognised it immediately for what it was: a portent of doom! Ok, so doom is putting it a little strongly, but, despite my usually optimistic bent, I've encountered situations like this entirely too many times to be wholly enthusiastic when money falls unheralded into my lap. In my experience, receipts of unexpected sums of money are surprisingly often followed by demands for an amount typically equalling or exceeding the incoming monies.

I wasn't going to be caught unawares this time though. I could feel it in the air - somewhere in my finances was an hole previously unknown to me that this cheque would fill. I set about on my witch hunt, pulling out my bank statements for the last few months and sifting through them for something that shouldn't have been there. Nothing untowards captured my attention. Could I be wrong? Could it be this money came without strings? I remained suspicious. Where else could it be? Credit card perhaps? My last couple of statements were lying unopened since I'd previously paid of the balance in full and hadn't used it for anything since. Or had I? I ventured over to the unopened envelopes, plucked out the most recent one and opened it. And lo, there it was.

It was my own fault. I'd paid my excessively large phone bill (built up over 6 months after the phone company decided to stop debiting money from my account without telling me), using my credit card (since aforementioned phone company refused my debit card) and forgotten about it. The sum outstanding on my credit card wasn't for exactly the same amount as the cheque, but it was within 1% which I feel is pretty good going.

I feel a bit more relaxed now, knowing that my fiscal scales of karma are temporarily balanced once more. It would have been nice to have had the money to spend on fun stuff, but at least there's no nasty surprise in store in the future.

It's times like this I dread to think how my karmic scales would balance were I ever to win the lottery...

Numa Numa!

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Ok, so it's recycling an old meme, but there's something wonderfully joyous about this video which makes it bear repeating

Ok, here's an brief exercise for you: Take four acrylic contact juggling balls, each 75mm in diameter and stack them in your hand in a pyramid formation. Next attempt to rotate the base of the pyramid in a smooth 360 degree circle by wiggling your fingers. At this point in the exercise I fully expect the number of balls in your hand to total zero, and the number of balls scattered on the ground around you to total four.

Basically, it's really rather difficult. And note my clever use of understatement when I write that,

Only last week I was sitting in front of someone performing a pyramid with such silken grace that I swore enviously that I must have been watching an optical illusion of some kind, since after my many failed attempts I was quite convinced that it was impossible. Maybe my fingers were too short or the balls too large. All I knew was that it wasn't happening.

Until tonight. Tonight, after many moons of attempting use the power of mind to bind those balls in tight formation as they circled around my hand, it finally clicked. Slowly, but surely the balls edged around my palm. The movement was halting at best, but no ball left my hand, and that magical fourth ball remained perched up on the stack. Things fell apart after that glorious first successful spin, but I managed to replicate it again, and soon managed several sequential circles.

As is the way of these things, it's now almost difficult to remember how I could ever have found it so difficult to begin with. Of course, I could remind myself immediately by attempting the same thing with my other hand, but for the moment I'm going to sit back and bask in my glorious success.

I rock!


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Oops. Sorry about that. I finally decided to splash out on a new chair for my desk to replace the cheap and cheerful collapsible Ikea chair I've previously perched upon whilst working. The shiny new replacement is comfortable enough in all respects, but still features one significant improvement over it's predecessor: castors!

I could witter on about how that simple addition offers a notable amount of freedom - particularly important when you find yourself chained to a desk all day - but the truth of the matter is, it's fun! I've been skittering about my flat all day on the thing. It does make for some wonderful diversions. Staring at the screen pondering a seeming intractable problem? Wheee!! Sitting in on a seemingly endless conference call? Wheee!! The possibilities are limitless I tell you. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until the fun ends and something shatters in more pieces than I'd prefer to see, but for the time being I don't care.

Now, where was I? Ah yes: wheee!!

My manager asked me how my weekend went today. Here's my response:

I got beaten up by my brothers during a particular violent game of piggy in the middle, but aside from that it was fine.
By way of explanation, I feel I should state my cries that piggy in the middle is intended as a non-contact sport went unheeded. Also, my three brothers have, at a minimum a 3 inch height and 25% weight advantage over me. Suffice it to say when myself and any of my brothers found ourselves racing towards the ball, the laws of physics ensured I usually fared somewhat poorly in the resulting collisions. But, bruises aside, it was all in good fun.

On Saturday I spent some time atop Salisbury Crags, admiring the view over the city. I'd intended to head up to the top of Arthur's Seat, but it seemed rather crowded up the there and being in a reflective mood I contented myself with wandering over the crags instead, admiring the views of the city. I really can't express how dearly I love the shape and sight of Edinburgh. On a fantastically warm summers day, I sat at the very edge of the crags, looked out at the city and felt genuinely glad to be here.

Oh, and, I also emailed someone I vaguely knew at university whom I haven't had any contact with or thought much about in over a dozen years on nothing more than a whim. I'm curious as to whether I'll get any response.

It was random sort of weekend.

I just about spat milk over my keyboard in sheer disbelief when I read the response of a US official to the suicides of three inmates at Guantanamo bay, describing them "as a good PR move to draw attention" and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause".

Is it my imagination, or is the US governement trying to intimate that these men, held indefinitely without charge and without trial in a Kafka-esque nightmare, ended their lives not out of despair, but in order to commit what's essentially being framed as a terrorist act?

I'm appalled beyond measure.

I've just signed up for Amnesty International. It's not much I know, but it seems like a decent place to start.

Updated: Further information from the BBC. The commander of the Guantanamo bay camp has called the suicides "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us". Words fail me.


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Fascinating Brazilian fusion of puppetry and animation

File this under "What on earth were they thinking?"

The last couple of months witnessed the demise of one of the old bastions of the British high street, the consumer electronics store Dixons. The company itself is still alive, as are a goodly number of its premises, but the Dixons name has been vanquished to the nether regions of the internet in yet another pointless rebranding exercise.

I have little truck with rebranding. Shakespeare was right - a rose by any other name would indeed smell as sweet, so why, oh why do boardrooms across the world so frequently fail to recognise this simple truth? And more importantly, why do they fail to recognise its corollary, that sewage by any other name smells as foul? Instead the public are treated as gullible fools, easily impressed by a nothing more than change of window dressing.

Despite my protestations, I suppose there is a point to it. Marketing works, as the countless billions of pounds and dollars spent in that industry each year attest, and even I can recognise that the Dixons logo and general image were rooted somewhere in the increasingly distant past, which is not a good place to be when trying to flog cutting edge technology. But if you're going to go through this whole exercise, shouldn't the first step involve the creation of a brand that's actually superior to that which it's replacing?

Currys.digital, as the Dixons of old is now known, not only hearkens back to the great dot com bubble 'n bust in name (period's are so passé, darling) , but the new logo features one of the worst colour schemes I've encountered involving white and vomitous fluorescent green text on a fire engine red background. Not only is it remarkably similar to the Dixons logo of old (well, with the addition of some hideous green text), not only does it just look plain nasty, but it's the colour scheme is actually hard to read. Who approved this? Really, I want to know. This is a person whose career is worth tracking, if only to make sure I can offer advice to sell shares in whichever company they take over.

Marketing. Just say no kids.

The 4am Chorus

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I have noisy neighbours and I'm not entirely sure how to broach the issue with them. As is so often the way of things, my problem is slightly unusual. I'm fortunate in some regards - I don't suffer from a constant barrage of noise, for example. They don't play loud music, or watch the television with the volume turned up too high. For the most part things are blissfully quiet and I can carry on completely unaware of their existence.

But then the night comes, and... well, how to put this delicately? The night isn't the only thing that comes. Now, I have absolutely no problem with two people enjoying the... pleasure of each others company, but I wish they could do so a little less audibly, or at least a decent time. I've woken in the middle of the night to sound of a woman screaming entirely too frequently over the last few months. And I do mean the middle of the night - 4am seems to be the magic hour. I got quite a start the first time it happened, thinking that perhaps some violence was being perpetrated, before I attuned my ears to the faint rhythm of grunts which played softly against the staccato symphony of shrieking.

It's not a serious problem by any means, but as someone who values his sleep and who enjoys that gentle slide towards wakefulness that the summer dawn brings and I just wish they'd turn down the volume a bit. Perhaps I should start screaming at 4am and see what reaction that brings? Of course, I'm sure that would be more fun with company... sigh.

Too short a season

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Is it Sunday evening already? Perhaps I've been spoiled by the recent spate of bank holidays that crop up each year in May, but I wouldn't mind another day off work. The weekend seems to have flown all too quickly. At least I suppose that's because I've kept myself busy for most of it, scrabbling away trying to put together a blog related project for a friend. I'm not yet sure if anything will come of it, but it's been a good excuse to fire up photoshop and delve into the nether regions of some css coding again - feels like an age since I've done any of that (though I'm sure it's not). I'm moderately happy with the result, but then I've not had any feedback on it yet, so I reserve the right to be crushed should anything negative be said.

Incidentally, I'm not impressed with the default stylesheet that comes with the latest revision of Movable Type. Perhaps there's some internal logic to it that I haven't twigged yet, but it looks like a bit of a mess to me.

Anyhoo - that's been my weekend. Hope yours involved a little more in the way of fresh air and sunshine...

Too close for comfort

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What's the correct term for fear of fire engines? There must be one - if the sight of anything is likely to strike fear into the hearts of the unwary, after all, it's a vision of a fire engine, lights flashing and klaxons clanging, zooming of in the direction of your worldly goods and loved ones.

I mention this for two reasons. Firstly because for a while, after moving into my flat, I did indeed develop something of a fire-engine phobia. It's remarkable how fragile even stone and mortar can appear when you've invested much of yourself in them.

Secondly, it's because I went outside to investigate something of a commotion just a short while earlier and found, not one, not two, but three fire engines parked just around the corner, flashing blue lights painting the scene with an eerie epileptic glow, and a considerable number of firemen scurrying about. There were no obvious signs of a blaze, which I hope means events aren't too dire, but I didn't stray to close, since I have a particular aversion for those who stand around and gawp and the scenes of an emergency or a disaster. Those best qualified to aid were already present, so I retreated to the relatively safety of my flat to ponder my own fragile fortunes and to double check my insurance forms (paperwork never being one of my strengths I have myself uninsured in the past in a time of need).

There but for the grace, after all...

Cone juggling

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Juggling inside an inverted perspex cone. Ingenious.

Just the one, perhaps, but they're no less remarkable for that. Presenting the amazing micro-sculptures of Willard Wigan