Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Three Links

- A heartwarming post from coppersblog

- A more depressing one from battleground. (there may need to be a health advisory on that one for anyone interested in going into teaching).

- A frankly quite distressing graph. From nhsblogdoc.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Two Links

Just a couple of links this time. I have two or three things I want to do big-ish posts on, but finding time when I am rested enough to think clearly, but not so rested that I have slipped into a catatonic Team-Fortress-2-playing coma is difficult.

The 13 most awful American fears
- I don't check Something Awful nearly as much as I should. And neither do you.

Demotivational posters
- These have been ripped off a lot (to good effect, sometimes) but as far as I can tell, did the originals.

Monday, 29 October 2007

"Additional generic cop comment, Brian!"

I couldn't think of a blog entry title, so I resorted to a quotable mainstay. Understood? Good.

I recently started using the StumbleUpon add-on for Mozilla Firefox, and it's really quite handy when you want to be entertained by the internet with little to no effort of your own (shameful, but truthful). You tell it things that you're interested in hearing about and then click the "Stumble!" button and it shows you a website. If you like the website you can tell it so, and if you don't like it you can let it know that too, thereby refining the types of website it shows you. I recommend trying it out.

This page is one of the ones I've liked the most so far. Very clever and very funny. The Thought For The Day is also particularly profound:

"Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic".

Entries of more substance and less rip-offery shall be made in the near future.


My DVD writer has an irritating habit of failing to actually write DVDs. If I decide I want to listen to some music, watch a video, play a game, or even access a media-heavy website, my writer has a tendency to both soak up enough memory that these activities are no longer entertaining and also crash Windows. So, while I'm burning DVDs, I generally end up browsing around various blogs. Today, I started at Coding Horror, recommended to me by a friend of mine*.

While there, I particularly enjoyed this article on blogging, which led me to this article on the same site, which led me to more articles elsewhere. Thank goodness for tabbed browsing. I now have between ten and twenty tabs open, all of which I intend to read. However, these tabs are spawning new ones as fast as I close them. That, after all, is what blogs are meant to do, link me to other relevant material that the writer thinks may be interesting or helpful. And there's no shortage of blog entries talking about blogging out there. The problem of how to deal with this content-virus, constantly tempting me onwards with more and more lists and analyses and constantly multiplying until I have so many tabs open I don't even know which way is back, is my problem.

The real reason I decided to write about this is that it is not entirely clear to me what the etiquette about linking to other sub-linked stories is. Clearly I should provide a link to the blog that led me to an interesting article, partly because the context of my finding a link is interesting, and partly because the linking article might have salient points of its own to make.

But then, what if I'm linking to an article that I have reached through seven or eight step journeys. What if I want to link to sever articles in that day's particular link-tree. What if I don't want to have to type out the address of every interesting page I went through. What if I want to encourage the reader to follow the different paths that I have followed, but don't want to list ten or fifteen urls which are already connected anyway.

What, I think, would be interesting, would be a way of presenting your link tree on a page, beside (or as part of) the link itself. Clearly if you have several links to different, unconnected pages, there would be several link trees, but instead of having to put 'via' next to each link and then reel off a list of other pages that the reader might want to visit, you could provide them with your link tree. I don't want to worry about the construction of this tree particularly at this moment, but it could be done by entering addresses manually into some sort of GUI, or by setting up an 'auto-track' mode, that tracks your movements and then lets you pick a section of this journey to display with the link.

What makes this idea more interesting to me is that if you reached an interesting link tree on someone else's blog, there is no need to worry about building your own to mimic his. Instead, you simply include his tree on your article. Another node is added automatically to represent his article at the top of the tree, and the rest of the tree already exists. Clearly you can trim and prune if you want to, to remove anything that appears irrelevant, but a reader of your article can immediately see that you have been to this other person's blog, and through them, on to other places. Writers who draw together interesting articles are automatically credited by the people who link to them in the future, and people can see at a glance the extent of an article's research and scope.

My interest in this idea is purely whimsical. I have no idea (but would be interested to hear) if there are huge practical or philosophical problems with the idea, or if there is a technology that allows you to do this. Equally, if there is not, I have no huge desire to push for it. It is simply something that occurred to me whenever I wrote the word 'via' after a link.

* a friend, in fact, registered as a writer on this blog. A writer in name only. Apparently.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

"To express one's thoughts / in seventeen syllables / is very diffic"

A bit of linkage to some of my own work. A task I had to do for the creative writing part of my PGCE course was to create a series of haikus about something that has a definite sequence. Being an English geek, I chose to do mine about Shakespeare's Hamlet, attempting to summarise each of the five acts of the play as a haiku. I have to say, I'm very pleased with what I've managed to create. I've uploaded it to my FanFiction page (which, incidentally, I haven't touched for a couple of years until now) and have had a couple of positive reviews already which is always good to see. Here's a direct link to the actual piece. I'll post more links to any creative writing I do here, either stuff from my course that I like or enjoyed, or when I get the chance to do any of my own accord.

By the way, the title of this blog entry is a haiku, called "Haiku", by John Cooper Clarke. I think it's ace.

Friday, 19 October 2007

They flash upon that inward eye

This is a complementary entry to my previous entry. Firstly, after reading back what I wrote last night, the post makes me seem a lot more depressed than I actually was. I said I was "melancholy", which was in hindsight too strong a word to use, but in my defense I was incredibly tired when I wrote the last entry. More accurate a word would probably be "deflated". In all honesty, I don't know the word for how I felt. When I read about the death of the second person, I was shocked. And a couple of seconds later I recalled vividly my meeting with the two people who were close to the first person who died. My emotions entered my stomach which then turned into the drum of a washing machine. It was all so mixed up that a particularly emotional state of shock is probably the best way I can describe it, but as I read that back it doesn't sound very accurate.

Moving on. I also didn't mention that both people died a recently, but not very recently. I don't know how long ago the first person died, but the second person died around a month ago. I just happened to hear about them both on the same day. And that was what took me aback about how I felt. I had heard about two people dying and I was feeling like this? But I hear about people dying on the news all the time, and I don't feel like this every day. If I had a point in the last post, it was something to do with that. Obviously one of the people I had known some time ago, but the other person I had never met. I had never met the two people who had know that person until yesterday. And yet I was affected by it. It just surprised me. I wasn't depressed last night, I'm not now, but I was definitely feeling something I didn't expect. Emotions are strange. Human beings are even stranger.

I doubt this entry has cleared much up. But I read back last night's entry and it seemed alarmingly dour, so I just wanted to clear that up if nothing else. And I'll try to make sure whatever I post about next is a little more upbeat, in tone at least.

In vacant or in pensive mood

I should be going to bed, but I wanted to write something here, however briefly, to attempt to capture some of my feelings at the current moment. Today I have experienced death on two occasions.

The first occasion happened to me this morning. I didn't know the person who died and had never met them. I interacted with two people who were close to the person who died. The person died in a way that, from what I was briefly told, in a way that was not pleasant and was self-inflicted.

The second occasion happened about fifteen minutes ago. I did know this person, although I had not seen him for years. Any direct interaction I had with this person was scarce (although as I type this I have just remembered a specific shared experience between us that stands out in my mind). That said, there was a period in my life when this person was regularly around me and I knew who they were. This person also had interaction with people with whom I am friends, and I have no doubt that they were fairly close to him and were shocked to hear of his passing. I don't know how this person died.

I don't really have a point, other than neither of these people were people that I really knew - in one case not at all, in the other not well - but hearing about their deaths affected me a lot more than I would have expected. I feel somewhat subdued, almost melancholy, after hearing about them. These two experiences together just brought home to me in a way that has never happened before how curious a thing death can be. Probably the most incomprehensible thing life has to offer.

Friday, 12 October 2007

I think this may be why I'm single.

That is, I think this may be one of the huge number of reasons that I am single.

Picture the scene: I'm walking home from work, happily minding my own business, when I receive a text from Attractive Single Girl (ASG). The text reads:

'Hey. Have you seen [film]? x.'

Where [film] is a current release, and not just the word film encased by square brackets. What follows is my internal monologue, as I remember it:

"Oh, cool, a text from [ASG]. Ah, a film. I would like to go see a film with her. Hm. I wonder if she wants to go on a date. No. Don't think like that. That's just setting yourself up to be disappointed. Assume she doesn't want to go on a date. No, don't assume anything. Hm, I've already seen that film. Damn. I wonder if I should suggest an alternative. Hmm. That seems a bit presumptive. Hm. I wonder what the difference between 'assume' and 'presume' is. I dunno. Gah! Don't think about that. Think about [ASG]. She may not actually want to go see a film with me, but be organising a general cinema trip, in which case suggesting an alternative would seem a bit weird. Maybe I should say no and ask whether she's seen it. No, that's stupid too. She's not carrying out a survey, she must be intending to go and see it. Gah! I'm overthinking it, aren't I. Even if she isn't organising a general trip, she may just want to go and see the film with me as a friend. Why should I assume she wants to go out on a date? Hmm. I can't think of a way of saying no and suggesting an alternative without knowing whether she wants to go on a date, just go and see a film as friends, or invite me to a group viewing of a film. I also can't think of a constructive response that would cover more than two of those possibilities, leaving the option that I'll be sending an inappropriately presumptive reply, and making me look like an idiot... Damn... Well I have to send something, I can't just ignore it. Maybe if I just keep it simple she'll ask a follow up question and I can take it from there. Sending anything more complex now is just too risky. Ok. Just answer the question. Have I seen it? Yes. Well that's silly. I can't just say 'yes'. I need to send a full sentence at least. Hmm. I could ask how her day was, but that's a bit of a non-sequitur after her question. Maybe I should say something about the film. Hm..."

... ... ...

"There. That's a good text length. Ok. Review. Is there a situation in which this could be taken the wrong way? No, looks pretty clean. Ok, good. Send. Awesome. Job done."

So that's what I ended up sending:

'Yes I have'. Followed by a short review of the film in question. Gah!

Looking back, I can think of many better ways I could have answered the text, but in the heat of the moment, my mind just did not perform well. I've written this post, partly as a way of showing the bizarre and embarrassing way that my mind works, and partly as a comparison. If this is what is going on in my head when I'm replying to a text message from an ASG, what the hell is going on when I'm talking face to face? What actually happens is that my brain tries to process too many possibilities, overthinks to a point several factors higher than my mind can handle and then shuts down. With embarrassing results.

Sorry for the angsty post, I don't really want to do too many of the teenage 'omg i'm nevvar guna get a gurlfrend. zomg the world hatez me. :'(' posts, but I thought that I could pull this one off and still make it externally interesting. I hope that I succeeded. If not, then I won't broach the subject again.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Locked up

All the way back at the end of August I wrote this post. In some senses this is a follow up.

I was having a discussion about politics with a couple of friends in Nando's this evening, when the guy at the next table decided to join in. He was nice enough, and there with his wife, so we were quite happy to chat to him, even if he'd had enough to drink that he didn't make a huge amount of sense. Anyway, he told a story about his childhood that I thought was quite interesting:

He said that when he was eleven, he'd seen some older kids steal a car and go for a joy ride. He and a friend of his had taken a screwdriver and tried to do the same. They got the car started, but had no idea what to do to actually drive it, and were caught by a policeman, who arrested them. They went to court and were sent to borstal for two months. He described crying for most of his time there, and showed us a tattoo on his hand that some of the older boys had given him (against his will, he implied). He said it was a 'reminder not to fuck up', and said from then on he'd never done anything else that would get him into trouble.

The implication of this story was clearly that he believed a spell in a youth correction facility would help to teach modern teenagers/youths some respect for authority, and help them get back on the right track. He also suggested a mandatory five year stretch in the army for anyone who doesn't have a job or apprenticeship to go into when they leave education. I think the latter suggestion is a bad idea, because a huge influx of bored, angry young men who have been forced into the army against their will seems like a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, if they're not going to form an effective part of the armed services (which they won't if they don't want to), it's no different from keeping them in a highly regimented part-time prison for five years.

His point about the youth detention or borstal system is, I think, also misguided, though clearly driven by the constructive effect it had on his life. I really wanted to ask him some follow up questions about his story, but he was switching topics quite quickly, and it was difficult to get a word in. I'd have been interested to know what his parents thought, firstly about him going to borstal, and secondly about him being tattooed while there. I can just imagine the media circus today about a young child who was forcibly tatooed by other inmates in a young offenders institution. I certainly imagine that there would be lawyers involved.

It's quite possible that for some of the 'problem' youths currently growing up in council estates (and, I'm sure, more affluent areas), a stint of hard dicipline with a threat of more would have an effect, possibly for the better. In general, though, it seems to me that treating kids like criminals would not help them to become productive members of society. A kid with a tattoo reminding him of a terrible experience that he doesn't want to repeat is going to behave out of fear, not because he understands why behaving well is desirable. Perhaps it is wooly liberal thinking, but it seems to me that someone who understands why not stealing a car, why not taking drugs, why not acting in an aggressive and confrontational manner, is desirable by thinking about the sociological consequences of these actions is going to be able to apply those rules to other aspects of life more readily and more accurately than someone who unhappily obeys the rules they are given by people in authority because they don't want to be punished.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe some people would not be able to grasp the reasoning behind laws and social responsibility, or maybe they wouldn't care. Maybe some people are too far gone down their own path to be shown the way back, and maybe some people were never going to be able to follow the path society wants them to in the first place. Whatever the reality of it, it makes me happy that we live in a society when political discussions can break out randomly between strangers in the middle of a restaurant, even if not regularly.

Friday, 5 October 2007

If you consider silhouettes to be NSFW, then NSFW.

I don't really believe that this is to do with left or right side brain activity, it seems to depend more on when you start looking at the animation. Interesting nonetheless. After a few minutes I could get it to reliably change direction at will.

Also good to see Bambi posting again. I was starting to worry that I'd had a schizophrenic episode, registered lots of imaginary Blogger accounts and forgotten about it.

An Inconvenient Profession?

Apologies for my lack of input to this blog lately. I have recently started a teacher training course, and the work and preparation for that has taken up a large amount of my time. There have been one or two things I've wanted to write entries on though, so hopefully I'll be able to get them up here over the weekend.

One thing I wanted to comment on is this story.

I was going to write something about this when I first read about the issue, but as it turns out it may work out better now that a follow-up story has been written.

For starters, I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, but I would like to see it to form my own opinion on it. I also didn't really think of the story with respect to how important the film was in telling schoolchildren about climate change and protecting the environment. What I see is yet another distrust of teachers, the authority they have potentially and that they are rarely allowed to use.

Stewart Dimmock didn't want the film to be shown in school because it contains "partisan political views" and "sentimental mush". If that is indeed the case, and if I was going to use that film as a teaching tool, those are two of the main things I'd try to get pupils to draw out of it. Not to just take it as 100% truth, but to interrogate the film they're watching. If the politics and sentiment are that overt then I'm sure many GCSE level pupils, maybe even those at the top end of Key Stage 3, would be able to work that out, perhaps with a little prompting to question.

To me, Mr. Dimmock is doing one of two things:

1. Not wanting teachers to teach children these kinds of skills, instead getting them to simply take everything they are exposed to at face value.
2. Not trusting teachers to be able to teach these kinds of skills, therefore calling for the removal of texts he deems unable to be taught in English schools.

Either way, he seems like the kind of ignorant person I'm likely to meet more often than I'd like throughout my potential career.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Bible Fight!

Less painful than the real deal (those things are heavy, man) but still Bible Fight!

The loading times are pretty excessive and the controls sometimes annoyingly unresponsive, but a fun distraction for a few minutes.

Also, I downloaded the demo of Peggle (see a couple of posts back) and yes, addictive. Like to the point of "I need to go out and buy more heroin, but I really just want to play this next level. Just one more. My dealer will totally still be there in 10 minutes." Lucky the demo's only 15 levels or so. I think I can resist buying the real thing. I think...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Webcomic Links

A list from FullyRamblomatic (the guy who creates the reviews in the previous post) of his favourite webcomics. And a link to a blog that ridicules poor webcomics.

It Lives!

I keep trying to set aside some time to write something interesting and well argued, but keep failing, so as an apology, I'm going to give you a ton more links.

I've been reading Charlie Brooker's writing for a fairly long time now (I started reading PC Zone just as he was finishing writing for it), including his columns in the Guardian and a couple of his books. His humour is prurient, irreverent and pretty abstract. It's kinda hit and miss too, but generally moves between topics quickly enough that it stays funny.

I was worried about whether it would translate to the screen, and so didn't see the first series of Screen Wipe - his BBC4 show where he provides kind of a commentary on current news in the television industry, kind of an analysis of recent programmes, and kind of a slightly surreal sketch show. Having seen the start of the fourth season, however, I really want to go back and re-watch the previous ones. The vast majority of the show is brilliantly observed criticism of the tv industry and reviews of shows. Brooker is refreshingly honest, and embodies everything modern 'family' television attempts to hide in presenters. He's quick to get to the point, cynically dismissive about anything that he feels doesn't matter and quite willing to attack people personally when he feels that they deserve it. Some of the best moments come from the fact that it is very aware that it is a TV program commenting on TV programs, and the self-referential lines and in jokes are really entertaining.

The occasional miss is generally in a sketch that goes on too long, or a personal insult against someone undeserving, and Brooker's delivery sometimes appears as though he's simply reading from a script, but in general Screen Wipe is fanstastically witty, honest and uncompromising. I keep wanting to call the show original, but really it's not original, it's a show commenting on the TV industry. Surely that can't be an original idea. It feels original because the quick delivery and all too rare bordering-on-the-rude-honesty that is constantly on display is something that I don't think I've ever really seen in the sanitised modern television industry. Anyway, well worth a look.

I was reminded of Brooker's presentational style (and hence encouraged to write a long, rambling post) by a link on KTR* to this review of Peggle. Which led me to these other reviews by the same guy, which led to me laughing a lot. He has the same fast, no nonsense, semi-obscene delivery that Brooker has (although with fewer references to pushing pine cones up people's arses, a staple of Brooker's Guardian column), with the same witty and uncompromising put downs for anything that doesn't make the grade. Which in turn reminds me of RiffTrax. I've never listened to one, but it's a great idea (spawned from MST3000) and one that I may investigate at some point in the future...

One of my friends told me recently that they had trouple reading a previous link from KTR* because it required too much knowledge of gamer history/culture/slang. I hope this isn't the case (because if it is, I apparantly have no way of telling the difference between an article that does and an article that doesn't), as I hope that the reviews above aren't inaccessible to non gamers, as they really are very funny indeed.

Also I'll try and post more often. Even just links. There's nothing more depressing than seeing days and days with nothing written on a blog the express purpose of which was to try and encourage regular content.

* I realise that I'm a horrible link-whore and anyone who reads KTR and Jabberwock (listed helpfully on the sidebar over there) could pre-empt 90% of my posts. But I like to think I provide some small level of commentary too. Or at least aggregation. Or at least text.