Friday, 26 December 2008

Linkables 26/12/8

2008 in photographs, from The Big Picture, part 1, part 2 and part 3.

DeathKiller, a love story.

If programming languages were religions.

Unbelievable civil rights violation for family who made unconventional child-naming decisions.

Funky WWI-themed strategic flash game. Send thousands of men to their deaths without ever leaving the comfort of your chair.

A very cool video connecting six-years worth of self-taken photos:


And finally a great talk from the TED series about why we are(n't) happy.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Seasons greeting from teh interweb

Google wishes you

  • a very merry christmas (1,260,000)
  • a very scary christmas (5,280)
  • a very mary christmas (2,550)
  • a very berry christmas (2,480)
  • a very cherry christmas (1,650)
  • a very hairy christmas (954)
  • a very jerry christmas (277)
and
  • a happy new year (4,640,000)
  • a crappy new year (4,000)
  • a sappy new year (418)
  • a gappy new year (100)
Also, priority-wise:
  • christmas AND party = 149,000,000 results
  • christmas AND gift = 135,000,000 results
  • christmas AND sex = 63,300,000 results
  • christmas AND turkey = 55,800,000 results
  • christmas AND jesus = 37,000,000 results
Also, Christmas - not as good as you think.

Hope everyone's spreading the peace and goodwill. Merry Christmas :D

Friday, 19 December 2008

Ctrl Alt Shift Open-Brain

The title is something that I came up with a while ago and really hasn't much sense to it other than combining the fun of keyboard shortcuts and the general brain farting existence, and thus relates to me quite well.

So there's an explanation of that, just so that you kinda get where it comes from as it's mostly unrelated to this post, although is some strange ways it is

So I came across this piece on writing styles a week or so ago via the medium of stumbleupon. In it says something to the effect of "Write like whot you does", but better worded and using proper English. The actual phrase is "Sound like yourself", point 5, paragraph... I dunno, 27. And this has kinda made me think a little more about my "writing style" and how I tend to try, to a degree, to tone myself down a little and not really be true to my thought process, in a sense.

I'm relatively liberal with my typing on this 'ere blog, but I do find that I'm trying to make it as well written as possible (generally not very well written at all), which sometimes leads to something that is relatively soulless (not that it ever will really have a soul, but you get my point).

Anyway, I'm also probably going to have to keep to point 2 as well, "don't ramble", probably the most difficult for me to do.

Well yes, that's it really, aiming to keep my personality whilst writing anything really, I find that work emails are the hardest thing to write as I really don't want to put my personality into them too much, mainly because my personality doesn't suit the environment I work in and also it'd probably lead to me being inappropriate, not in a sleazy way, but in a make a silly comment that goes down like a lead balloon, anyway rambling, sorry. Errr... yeah so my posts are normally relatively rife with textual representations of my thoughts, but I tend to reign them in a little, so it's more likely that their presence will increase rather than decrease. Sorry.

I guess I kinda want to urge the rest of you to be a bit more personal with your posts and inject nuances of yourself into your writing (which I think mostly happens anyway) as it could help to make this blog even more unique and hopefully better as it becomes less about reading well formed documents about things that have caught our attention during the week/month and more about engaging with each other, and allowing other people to engage with us, on a more personal level and share our various experience of life. Not to say that I think that this blog is lifeless or anything. So enough back-pedalling and rabbiting.

Regards

Andy Wotherspoon
Web Developer


(as my work emails end so boringly)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Conversationally

So picture the scene. Big London theatre. Glitzy night out. A group of us on our way to see a certain comedian. Delightful. As we traipsed through the wood-panelled and richly carpeted interior, we came accross an employee of the theatre, standing in front of the door apparently leading to our seats. Dressed smartly, and with a polite smile on his face, this gentleman was clearly epitomised the stylish, classy experience we had come to the theatre for. However, he still stood between us and our seats. Hoping for directions to our place in row P, one of my companions held out her ticket towards him and asked "P?", hoping to be ushered through. His response? "The toilets are just through there, madam". And to our laughter and my companion's faux-shocked "what kind of woman do you take me for", he offered only a shrug and the cryptic "Welcome to Shaftesbury avenue, mate" in response.


Now we're on a bus in beautiful suburban Putney. Towards the back of the bus are two kids on their way to school. I guess about 9 or 10. They're behind me, so I can't really see. Unfettered by any adult supervision. Apparently playing some sort of game.

Boy: "Look, there's a silver car"
Boy: "Made you look" *punch*
Girl: "Ow."
Boy: "Look, there's a house"
Boy: "Made you look" *punch*
Girl: "Ow."
Boy: "Look, there's a lamp-post"
Boy: "Oh my gosh, look... look!"
Boy: "Oh my days. I made you look" *punch*
Girl: "Ow."

at this point, the girl was apparently becoming wise to his subterfuge, and so he had to change the game they were playing in order to continue with the fun.

Boy: "Double E" *punch*
Girl: "I thought we weren't playing that any more"
Boy: "We're always playing it. Double A" *punch*
Boy: "Double P" *punch*

it became apparent that they were looking at repeated letters on anything outside the bus, particularly number plates.

Boy: "Double N" *punch*
Girl: "Double V" *punch*
Boy: (spotting a sign with a telephone number on it) "Double O. Triple O." *punch* *punch* *punch*
Girl:"What do you call it when there's four O's?"
Boy: "Qu-triple O" *punch* *punch* *punch*
Girl: "Ow."
Boy: "Double upside-down M" *punch*
Boy: "Double Z. Double G. Double 4" *punch* *punch* *punch*
Girl: "Where? You're making them up!"
Boy: *laughs*


And finally some shorter ones, such as the guy on the train who broke off his conversation with his mates about the amount they'd be drinking that evening to watch a woman walk past them and leave the train and then remark to his companions: "Ooh, big legs... big legs". It wasn't clear whether this was a compliment or not.

Or the girl behind the bar, who felt the heat coming out of a freshly opened dishwasher and stated "Ooh, I'm right cold. I wish I was a glass, so I could just sit in there all night".

Or the guys on the tube who went from discussing business, to giggling like schoolchildren when someone farted nearby. "That's good!" one of them pronounced. "That's fucking Camembert!"


Who needs an ipod when the people around you can be so entertaining.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Ninja Link Steal!

Well no doubt Mr Telf was planning to post this link and I was all for letting him, but it links with my next link...

...here's the first one (link) - Gamedamage, only just realised the "clever" pun. Hosted by Yahtzee (of Zero Punctuation fame) and some other nerds. Not amazing, but will hopefully get better over time.

andyway (as I keep typing, a and n is naturally followed by d and then y, in my brain atleast), This next little vid is very cool, great animation and just a cool idea, It's called RAM.

- clickity

so, they link for this simple reason, they're both on the aussie ewetube mate, with all the sheep and shrimps on barbies (is it oz or nz that has the sheep?)

- Through the above link, and some google searching, I found this vid, called Undo, which I really love the concept of and think it's pretty well animated, wish it was longer, but such is life with this kinda thing. No doubt aniboom will hold some other cool links, which I shall leave you to find.

Err so yeah, that's pretty much is, some ninja link stealing and then a couple of other cool links.

Keep it real yo!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Snowdrops on Moses and noses on mittens

Seven things that make me happy.

1. Summer thunderstorms
I love the release of the tension in the air when a really big storm hits during a hot, humid day. I remember once running outside to stand in a downpour wearing a vest top and skirt. My boyfriend at the time just couldn't understand it, but the feeling of cold rain on hot skin was simply blissful.

2. Books
When I started at school, I was pretty much the only child in the class who couldn't read. Within a term, I'd learnt and there was no stopping me. Books are amazing, absorbing, transporting and once I start reading a good one, not much will stop me, short of being hit round the head with blunt instrument or forcibly prizing the book out of my locked fingers. I get so caught up in books that they regularly reduce me to tears (of sadness or laughter), but there's nothing quite like the quiet solitude of the printed word. They're infinitely portable, require no batteries and good books can yield new insights on every re-reading. They can provide an easily accessible form of escapism or, whether in fact or fiction, provide earth-shattering insights into all sorts of things. You can say the same of TV, film or radio, but there's something about reading it in a book that helps you have the realisation by yourself.

3. Playing my clarinet
I've played the clarinet since I was 10. Playing on my own is fun, but there's nothing quite like the buzz you get of playing in an ensemble. I don't know the science of it, but certain chord progressions, tunes, key signatures etc. are known for generating feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Over the years, there have been times when all the hairs on the back of my neck have risen up, and I've felt simply electrified to be playing in a group. The feeling of being part of live performance can be amazingly uplifting, like a gentle, prolonged orgasm. It's not the same as a sexual experience, but some of the physical sensations are remarkably similar. The feeling of everyone playing together, getting it right and producing something moving and beautiful and unique is just wonderful.

4. Writing
When I produce something that feels original, skilled, interesting and well-crafted, it really is immensely satisfying. It's good to put something of yourself out into the world.

5. Skin
Skin is amazing. It is so sensitive and soft. There is nothing like the feeling of skin on skin. This ranges from sex to the touch of finger tips on the back of the neck. From shaking hands when you first meet someone, to embracing them before you leave. All the sensations are exquisite in their own way. Harking back to the first point slightly, skinny dipping is one the best things I have ever done. Feeling the whole of your body being caressed by water all at once without a swimsuit is a fantastic sensory experience. It makes you feel really whole in a way you don't most of the rest of the time. You are aware of every inch of the surface of your body and it gives a wonderful feeling of inter-connectedness. I've only done it twice and I really hope the opportunity presents itself again.

6. Dancing
I love dancing. I love moving to a rhythm or beat. There doesn't have to be tune, even, a set of complex rhythms will do. I love things like African or Japanese drumming. I don't care what I look like, I just love feeling a pulse and expressing that through movement. I don't like learning a set of steps, I just like moving in a way that feels natural to me. I would say I'm a good dancer, but the secret of that is just to be confident in what you're doing. Inhabit your body, don't be ashamed to do what you're doing and you'll be fine. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of you, as long as you move to the beat, it doesn't matter.

7. Leather jackets
I have five (one brown, one blue and three black). At one point I had seven. I don't own any other leather clothes, like trousers or shirts and I'm not into heavy bondage. I just love leather jackets. I've bought brand new ones, I've been given old ones, I've bought second hand ones in charity shops. They're practical, durable, always stylish, comfortable and versatile. They're probably my favourite pieces of clothing out of everything I own.

Following the trend, some little things I like:

1) Things which fit together really neatly, particularly when packing / tidying and when the items involved have no particular reason to fit at all. Also true in numbers, for example shopping when it all adds up to a nice number.

2) Films with a childish imagination; 'Finding Neverland' and 'Tideland' are fine examples (though no-one I've shown it too has liked 'Tideland' yet).

3) Waking up feeling refreshed. Hard to make happen, but lovely when it does.

4) Playing a game / sport where you know you and your opponent have both played really well (and know it), and the game / match was extremely close. This is especially nice when you win : - )

5) The smell in the air after rain, which I'm told is ozone.

6) Really good cryptic crossword clues (which you get)

7) Computer games which can be 'perfected', i.e. you can spend as much time as you want going everywhere, collecting everything, etc

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Geese with tatoos and trumpets with wings...

...These aren't a few of my favourite things, but these are:

A) Innovative use of technology (coupled with common sense).
It mostly comes down to things that you can geek out over like the size of flash memory or the versatility of an iPhone, but also extends to sensible things like Facebook (I don't normally compliment Facebook for anything but this I will) where searching for someone's name like (Tiff) and being presented with the person you where looking for on the strength of mutual friends is great and sensible.

2) People with extraordinary gifts (who don't flaunt it too much)
I get a chill that runs down my spin when I see/hear a kid who is great at something or see something that I know required skill. I went to see Monkey: Journey to the West, last night at "The O2" (a twatty name if ever there was one) and the first few minutes gave me the same chill/get me close(ish) to tears at just the sheer awesomeness of the music, graphics and skills displayed within. I guess some of it comes down to longing to be that good myself, but hey it still makes me happy.

III) working out how to do something for a website after going "wonder if I can do that?"
It just makes me happy, I have achieved something I wanted to do, wooo.

For) A good story
Something that I can really engage with and get lost in and get some emotional response out of me (getting kinda close to crying on a train with lots of people around, always fun). This covers books, films, music, games, comics, pictures, anything really that can convey a story really.

%) Being able to be generous
Having a job has enabled me to say things like "Do you want me to buy you lunch" and other such things. I enjoy being able help someone out in a way that is relatively easy but can make a difference, when I was a poor student not having to worry about affording something was nice and help relieve the stress I felt from struggling with money, so to be able to do that for someone else is cool, I should do it more!

9(but upside down))
Hanging out with people I know and can be myself around
. This includes people I've known for a while and also those that I've not known too long but feel I can be me around, happened recently with some colleagues from work, who'd've thought it.

Heaven)
Doing something I love with people I love
Ok so that's one for the future, but it's hopefully going to happen and will be about as close to heaven (how clever am I) as I'm likely to get whilst I'm still alive.

So there we have it continuing the trend and also giving me something to post about.

Warm n' Fuzzy

Memes are sometimes met with groans in the blogosphere on the internets round these parts, but I do generally enjoy reading them. Sure, they can be lazy post-generators, but with a little effort, they can be something much more interesting. It's often easy to lose the personal aspect of a blog in the more ranty or abstract posts, and I often really enjoy reading a blogger's answers to a list of meme questions, or completion of a meme task. In that spirit, then, I shall keep an eye out for interesting memetic content (since, you know, it's not like we're overflowing with posts here, discounting the absurd spike this last week). And indeed, I shall start now, by following in Bambi's footsteps and completing Martin's suggested meme.

So, in no particular order, some things I like...

Lie Ins. In particular the moment when you wake up, realise it's a holiday and allow yourself to settle back into the warm pink embrace of sleep, drawing up the covers around you.

Watching rain from somewhere dry. Especially inside a conservatory, tent or somewhere with a thin roof, where you can really hear the rain lashing down. Bonus points if I'm curled up in an armchair, have a mug of something hot and if I can see people outside in the rain and the cold.

Having nothing to do for a day. I know people who are so busy they barely eat or sleep, and though they certainly get lots done, I feel like they miss out on the joy of a truly free day. One for which you haven't even pencilled in any tasks or activities. One in which anything can be accomplished, and everything is possible. The knowledge that I don't need to get out of my pyjamas or leave my house until I return to bed really clears my mind and makes everything I end up doing seem more enjoyable.

Organising my computer. In case you weren't aware, I really like my computer. And though I shy away from tidiness is almost every other aspect of my life, I thoroughly enjoy getting the innards of my computer working well. Especially with the large amounts of downloaded media I have, getting it all into a state where I can easily find any particular item is somehow extremely cathartic.

The internet (and being a geek therein). Watching a brand new information communication structure emerge within my lifetime has been massively exciting. I don't know how anyone can look at the internet as a technological, social, philosophical or cultural achievement and not just be blown away by its scope, its success and its possibility.

Being good at what I do. Yeah, it sounds horribly self centred, but that's what this kind of post is all about, and I do get great pleasure at the moment from doing my job well. It's a big change to go from spending school and university doing endless exercises and exams that ultimately mean nothing to a job where suddenly the work I'm doing is both helping people to better do their jobs as well as helping a small company to grow.

Being this age. Being just old enough to finally have almost reached total independence, with all the repercussions thereof, while being young enough to be healthy and unhindered by real responsibility. Secure job, no dependants, plenty of free time and living in a big city with a huge number of my friends. Having the rest of my life to worry about pensions and savings and mortgages. Being old enough to have learnt from some mistakes, and young enough to make many many more.

It was tough to narrow it down to just seven, there. Coming soon, seven things I hate...

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

So Martin tagged all the contributors to this blog (not including himself) on his own blog to complete a meme where you name seven things you like. I appear to be the first to do so, but I hope I'm not the last.

Seven things I like:

  1. Being in a relationship. I guess that's a pretty wide-ranging thing to like, but I couldn't pick out just one thing. Relationships are things that I have relatively little experience with, so to be in one (and such a positive one) is both a feeling of exhiliaration, fulfilment and treading on new ground. Having been with my girlfriend for almost seven months, I can't imagine being with anyone else, nor can I imagine not being in a relationship. I feel more grown up than I ever have, and I really really like that.
  2. Drum and bass music. Whilst I don't listen to drum and bass exclusively, of all the types of music I listen to it's probably the genre that I could do that with most easily. There's enough artists out there (Chase & Status, High Contrast and Sub Focus to name but three) creating fresh and exciting drum and bass tracks to keep the music interesting, innovative and definitely worth keeping up to date with. Also, still the most fun music to dance to by far.
  3. Pupils who make teaching worthwhile. The ones who go out of their way to achieve their very best, and show their appreciation of you striving to help them. Whilst I genuinely want to give all the support I can to every pupil I teach, it's the ones who show their elation at succeeding after you've helped them that remind me just why I chose to become a teacher in the first place. There are lots of other things about teaching that I like, but this one is much more in the forefront of my mind than any other at the moment.
  4. Watching films I haven't seen before and really liking them. Watching a film and enjoying it is one thing, but few things beat the feeling of when you walk into a cinema or stick on a DVD and a couple of hours later feel like you've experienced a film that will stay with you for a long long time because of how much you enjoyed it. This has happened to me recently with the Lethal Weapon films; the feeling is at its best, however, when the film is little-known or non-mainstream, as it gives you the added bonus of feeling like you've discovered a hidden gem in the vast seas of forgettable cinema. Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers do this most regularly for me.
  5. Dr. Pepper. Best fizzy drink ever.
  6. Not waking up to an alarm. The fact that waking up to an alarm always, without fail, feels like such an unnatural thing to do, coupled with the fact that I have to wake up to an alarm five days out of seven on a regular basis, makes waking up when my body wants to wake up on the remaining two days all the more sweet.
  7. Michael McIntyre. The more I see of him, the more I like him. Hilarious, personable, and never appears to pretend to be someone he's not. A comedian who has quickly joined the ranks of Ricky Gervais and Bill Bailey as one of my favourite stand up comedians.
I hope that's given you some insight into my mind at the moment. I look forward to reading any other lists that go up here. And as pretty much everyone I know who blogs writes here, I'll leave it to someone else to pass this on via tagging.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Linkables 11/12/8

Just a few links today. And one hilarious video:


It's official, Obama is not, in fact, British. (BBC, as usual providing us with plenty of title quotation marks for me to fume about).

Apologies if it resurrects nasty memories for some, but you too can experience the joys of the eleven plus from the comfort of your own home.

Andy may have beaten me to it, but I'm still going to link to Time's Top Ten Everything Of 2008.

Explore the popularity of search terms across the United States...

And finally, from the blogs, Bete de Jour and babies, Belgian Waffle and birthdays.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Hannah beleefs in teh Ceiling Cat

Ceiling Cat Creed
We blieves in one big kitteh, Ceiling Cat,
who maded teh urfs an teh skiez
an all teh cheezburgers an teh invizibul bicycles an stuff.
We blieves in one happycat, Jeebus,
onliest son ov Ceiling Cat,
bornded beefor all teh cheezburgers an stuffs,
He gots some Ceiling Cat in him, srsly, k?
He helpded Ceiling Cat makes all teh cheezburgers an stuffs.
"Fer all teh kittehs he comez down frum teh ceiling
an beez a kitteh thru da Force an teh virjn Hello Kitty! wit no hankie pankies,
an was reely a kitteh, srsly.
He got teh crucify fer us kittehs by Pilate;
An gots todally pwned and faceplanted.
An caem bak to lief on teh thrd dai liek it wuz fortolded in teh Bible
An went bak up to teh Ceiling, an tuk a nappy in teh sunbeam nex to Ceiling Cat.
He will come bak daon frum teh Ceiling, to be teh judge ov teh live kittehs an teh dead kittehs.
An hiz kitteh kingdum bees furevr.
We blieves in Hovercat, teh giber ov life,
who comes frum Ceiling Cat an Happycat,
who we lurves jus like Ceiling Cat an Happycat,
an who tellz teh profits whut to sai.
We blieves in teh itteh bitteh kitteh committeh.
We DO NOT WANT baffs, but will hav wun fur furgivness.
We spektin to caem bak to life after we faceplant,
an lives furever in teh Ceiling.

More like this can be found at The Lolcat Bible. Some people indeed have waaaaaay too much free time. If you can stand reading back to front words, it's pretty funny.

Miscelleny

I've got another links post in the works (assuming Andy doesn't steal all my links...), so this is just going to be a bit of a general round up of randomness.

I like it when facebook throws up random coincidences in the news feed, showing people who have never met, in the same mindset:

or even the same place:
I can't be the only one annoyed when sites go out of their way to make my account less secure...
And sometimes even scrabble will fuck you right in the face:

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Review: Eddie Izzard - Stripped.

The Ten Commandments. The development of language. Jesus (and his brothers). British giraffes. Tigers using iPhones. Giant squid diaries. Hannibal's Alpine journey. Squirrels, badgers and crème brulee. Appendices.

An Eddie Izzard show always promises varied rambling monologues, packed with entertaining diversions and tangents, and in this aspect, his latest show, Stripped, doesn't disappoint. Everything you'd expect to get from having seen his previous shows is there (though I'm not familiar enough with them to be able to compare overall quality), and he is a very entertaining performer to see live. There were very few lines that fell flat, and a good number of times (particularly in the second half), I found myself unable to breathe from laughing.

There were some down points. As Martin mentions, he does kind of seem to be playing a part, rather than being himself, and seemed a little guarded and reserved, possibly lacking some energy and enthusiasm. He also sometimes seemed to leave side threads before he had fully explored them, perhaps being too eager to return to his underlying plan, rather than having faith in his tangents.

The brevity of this review shouldn't overemphasise the negatives above, as they were relatively minor in an otherwise excellent evening. However, a night out in London like this is a pretty expensive proposition, and so any minor points become much more prominent in ones mind when thinking back, simply because of the expense incurred. I feel like £60 a ticket is a lot to pay to see anyone, and while the experience was certainly worth it as a one-off, I can think of very few people who would be able to make themselves seem worth every penny of that.

The night was a great success, and the performance excellent by any standards. If you get a chance to see it for less than an extortionate fee, I'd definitely recommend it, and if you're forking out for a one off night out in London, you could do worse than going to see the king of the extended tangent, still as inventive and funny as ever.

Topity top top toppppp

Skippity skip skop skap on over...

enjoy...





That's all your getting, nothing more...








no seriously I don't have anything more for you...








I can recommend the viral video about Christian the lion...










What do you want from me????










Go away!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Dogs that go woof, cats that go woof...

Izzard. Wonderful. Death Star canteen. Classic.

Tonight we saw him at the Lyric in Soho. He was good, very good, and definitely worth seeing. Hannah thought perhaps there were too many noises and not enough laughter making - especially (my guess) in the first half. I thought he'd slightly become a caricature of himself. He certainly leans fairly heavily on the old stalwarts ("Never... do that bit... again...", "What the fuck was I talking about?", etc).

Still, some future classics from this evening (with apologies to the easily offended):

Student: Sir! I suffer from pong [dyslexia - renamed for simplicity of spelling]!
Teacher: Ok then, go and sit at the side and chew something.
And a few others (jog my memory in the comments, guys!). Strangely, no women's clothes this time. Also gone are the fake boobs. Quite a tailcoat though.

Overall, recommended. Very enjoyable, if bloody expensive. Better than Sexie, and with an awesome lighting design to boot.

Apologies to anyone who suffered cardiac arrest upon noticing that I'd actually contributed something. Don't bet on it setting a trend!

Laugh Out Loud

Stand up comedians I have discovered/got into recently:

Michael McIntyre -- Very, very funny. Very likeable with an accent that helps his act no end. His routines are generally about stuff that has no doubt been covered on the stand up circuit before, but putting his own spin on it makes the vast majority of his material seem incredibly fresh and regularly hilarious. Occasionally plays it a little too safe for my liking, but equally as often comes out with something pleasingly dark.
Favourite routine seen so far: using Bank Of Scotland notes in England.

Rhod Gilbert -- I saw him on Live At The Apollo (coincidentally, the episode compered by Michael McIntyre) and initially found myself underwhelmed. Once he got into his stride the man was a riot. A strong Welsh accent that gets stronger when he's wound up only makes matters more absurdly hilarious. I have since googled/youtubed him (is "to youtube" a verb yet?) and discovered that he's been around for a few years, with some fab material.
Favourite routine seen so far: attempting to buy a duvet.

Steve Hughes -- A guy my sister introduced me to. Australian, dry, very funny from what I've seen so far. Someone I'll be looking out for more in the future.
Favourite routine seen so far: straight is the new gay.

So, yeah. Check 'em out.

"Kate..."

"... WE HAZ TO GO BACK!"

(Explanatory YouTube link for non-Lostophiles).

Variable Asset Tally

Back when VAT was 17.5% I noticed that the whole £.99p was all down to clever maths type stuff that meant that the price of things ex. vat was a more random number of pence. This was all so that silly people (including myself at times) see £9.99p and go "oooh under £10, what a bargain". Obviously you're only getting a penny back so it's not too helpful and most people have a jar or something like that where penny's live. A leaper's colony of sorts for the most useless of our currency. This also kinda translates into pounds too, £1999 (normally touted as less than £2000) which gives you a whole pound back, wow, so glad it wasn't £2000 as now I can buy a bar of chocolate (unless the "credit crunch" gets too crunchy). Incidentally I invented the Credit Crunchy a few months ago, it's essentially a crunchy but a little cheaper so you can still afford chocolatey goodness to keep you all happy and stuff whilst in massive debt. Annoyingly the whole VAT reduction thing has kinda blown this idea out of the water as now the normal Crunchy is cheaper (by about a 4p). Anyway, seeing that I have disposable cash these days I have been generally buying stuff more and am so used to prices for games being £39.99, £45.99 etc. that when I noticed that games where now priced at £34.35, £38.89 and other such non £.99p prices it filled me with mild joy. Firstly the variety of utterly useless coins which we have, 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p and 20p may now have a place. It was unlikely that you would carry around 99p in change before, so the option for paying in £s and then getting 1p back was the best option, however now there is more chance that you'll be able to come up with the 25, or so, that is required. having said this, I rarely use cash as I find it's easier to chuck my card at things I want that carry around cash. I also quite like random sums of money so being able to buy a game for £39.29p is mildly enjoyable. Another "bonus" of the 15% VAT is that the £.99p stupidity has been temporarily (as I'm sure it will reappear) removed. No longer will you be fooled into buying something that appears to be under £10 and only get a penny back, now you'll get 21 pennies!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Transparently ludicrous

Politics and media are something which I talk about a fair amount on here (often, admittedly at far too great a length and backed up by little or no knowledge or research), but politics affects us all, and media is a vital important tool in modern politics, so excuse me for a moment if I ramble on about it for a while.

The power of the news media in modern western countries is a double edged sword. On the one hand they inform us on every aspect of day to day political life, which, as well as being useful in its own right, also ensures that any shady dealings are more likely to be brought to light, which, in an ideal world, perhaps, keeps the politicians honest. On the other hand, of course, no section of the media is without its biases, and since as a whole they have what almost amounts to a monopoly on the information the public receive about politics, they can (if not explicitly, then inadvertently) lend their own weighting to issues. This leads to small stories being blown out of proportion, while potentially more important ones are ignored. And since most of us get our opinion of what is important in politics from the media (even if we try to stay objective, none of us has time to do our own research), this colours our views of politician and the political scene.

This post isn't about my opinion of the news media and its pros and cons, though. It's about how I believe politicians can do more to help the media be the best it can. And it's about Barack Obama (I know, I have like three set topics I talk about on here, huh).

Over the last few weeks, Obama has been releasing video clips addressing the public, describing his (and his soon-to-be-administration's) views on the issues of the moment (usually the economy, so far, unsurprisingly). These have been received well in general, and allow Obama to try to keep a human face on his presidency, as he descends into the maelstrom of bureaucracy and spin that is the White House.

The clips are being released on YouTube, as well as various other places, and are in keeping with the Obama campaigns ability to use the web effectively as a tool for organisation and communication. Looking at the Obama/Biden transition website confirms this too, as it outlines a huge number of policy objectives across the political spectrum, as well as invitations for the public to submit their own pressing issues to ensure that nothing has been forgotten.

In these senses, then, Obama is certainly using the internet, but I would love to see him using it more effectively and more fully. The video clips are a great gimmick, and an excellent way of connecting the administration directly to the public in a personal way, but are also too short to be of any real significance. With only three minutes per video, there's no time to really discuss the issues he raises. The video acts like a bullet point, when what I would like to see, and what I think would be more useful is a paragraph, or even an essay.

I'm not saying that the videos should be hours long and discuss each policy objective in interminable detail, indeed I think aside from the occasional longer one on a particular occasion, the videos are doing as much as they can do. Instead, what I would like to see is a real flow of information out of the White House and into the public eye. Not necessarily through the single outlet of the press room and the news media, but through the internet. The problem with a three minute video clip is that it forces a politician to sound the way they sound on the election trail, vague, well meaning, optimistic, and idealistic. Full of soundbites and slogans to catch the viewers interest. But sometime we want more than that, especially once the election is over, and the real work of governing begins. We want to know why decisions were made, why one policy is preferred to another, why this tax is going up and this one is going down, why this law is being repealed, and that one is being tightened. Exactly why, too. Not a soundbite, but an argument, backed up with statistics. And a public argument, facing up to the concerns and fears of the voters and of the political opposition. Not spin, unless you describe any government release as spin, but an honest account of what the government is doing, day to day, meeting to meeting, law to law.

Imagine a database of public-directed, government-released information, accessible online (and I'm not talking just about America and Obama here, he was merely the trigger for this - it can be imagined for any country). Kind of a combination of a rolling manifesto and the responses to petitions on the Downing street website. Every policy decision outlined in as much detail as possible. Opposition questions and complaints predicted and addressed (and with the database updated with new responses as new queries arise). An account of every vote and every meeting. Every government study and independent body would have their results released here, and every law discussed would be spelled out and broken down.

If a government is confident in their stance on a particular issue, then there should be no problem with this sort of public log of their intentions, their progress and their successes. And if a government is not confident of allowing public scrutiny of their intentions and decisions, then I would suggest that those intentions and decisions may need to be re-thought.

This kind of undertaking would be the best possible way to inform the public on government intentions and reasoning. The public, the media and the opposition would all be able to look at the argument put up by the government (and backed up by statistics and testimony) before responding. The government would be able to clearly and easily respond to specific concerns raised by any of these bodies, and it would be much harder for the party in power to be accused of dodging questions, or avoiding giving straight answers.

By building up a database of the governmental thought process, as it were, an administration also protects themselves to some extent against future queries about previous decisions. Why did the government decide to spend rather than save at this point? Well let's check the records and find the exact reasoning. Why was this policy supported, rather than something more strict, or more relaxed? Here's an article describing the pros and cons of each option, and the decisions that were taken in getting to a final choice. Links are provided, of course, to transcriptions or minutes of appropriate meetings and to any statistical reports or data used in the process.

Logistically, clearly, it is not something that could just be created overnight, and it would need to be built up over time (maybe it's even so impractical that it would be impossible to find the money or the manpower to support it), but I can't see any real reason why it would not work as a concept, and it seems to me that this kind of transparency would be a great antidote to the constant accusations of spin levelled at politicians.

Have the database run by an independent body if necessary, to avoid claims of government interference, ensure all data changes are logged, and all changes and additions read and approved by someone in some kind of authority.

Of course, all of this is based on my possibly ludicrously idealistic notion that it is possible to have a spin-free government, that takes responsibility for all of its actions, works constantly for the good of the country rather than the good of the party, and is confident enough about itself to be open, honest and accountable at all times. If that sort of government is something that can never happen, then the idea of any kind of transparent record of activity is clearly a pipe dream, and the best we can hope for is the twice-filtered reports from the news media. Though the idea that honest government is impossible would, I think, be a rather depressing outlook.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

How to make Coldplay more interesting

I don't have anything against Coldplay as such. Their music isn't for me at all, but that's not to say that I don't respect them as a successful band. Chris Martin seems like a nice bloke. I saw them performing from a festival on TV once, and thought they put on a decent show. But I will never buy a Coldplay album, and to date I none of their songs that I've heard have ever done anything for me. "Not my cup of tea" I think is the correct idiom to sum up what I'm trying to say.

So, for someone like me, who isn't a Coldplay fan, how does one make Coldplay more appealing? Well, like this, actually.

Add a Prodigy track to a Coldplay track creating a more energetic mash-up. Maybe have another artist cover one of their tracks, such as Pendulum or Mark Ronson, or maybe Richard Cheese or Moped if you fancy something a little more humorous. But probably not Avril Lavigne, at least not for me.

Just a few suggestions. I'll share some of my other favourite cover versions (and maybe some more awful ones too) in the future. But for now, enjoy Coldplay as they never intended.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Linkables 1/12/8

Yarr, me hearties. Some more links for ye, plundered from the briny deep of the internet. There be no law out there, ye know. Pirates are very in, right now, you know.

And while I'm linking musical youtube videos, this is a very famous one, and one which I've never got. Perhaps it's a testament to my total lack of a musical ear, but I genuinely can't connect the songs he's referencing and the base tune he's claiming they have - they just don't sound the same to me at all. Weird.

How not to reference.

For any Top Gear watchers wondering what The Stig's morse code has been saying this series.

Is it going to rain?

A little app with no purpose other than to frighten you with statistics.

And the rather sweet idea of the human clock and human calender.

For the browser-based gamers: live, multiplayer caption competitions, board games and tank battles.

Or, maybe you prefer your gaming to be more console-based. Perhaps even open-source-console based.

And finally a couple of blog posts: on getting older, and on getting pregnant.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Not-even-a-paragraph reviews 3

Tropic Thunder
Generally good fun. Starts weakly, but picks up after ten minutes or so. Irritatingly inconstant pacing and variable level of bleakness, like it doesn't know whether it wants to be a satire or a straight comedy. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr are great, but Tom Cruise is truly amazing.
7/10

Brick
Brilliant concept flawlessly executed. Film noir set in a high school. Effortlessly tells a complex tale without faltering, and maintains its theme and style throughout. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic (as always), and there's not a poor performance on show. One of the best movies I've ever seen.
10/10

Blood Simple
Slow, brooding story that just gets darker and darker once it gets going. Atmospheric, tense, and with the guts to take things to their necessary conclusions. Excellent.
9/10

RocknRolla
Good, enjoyable romp (and not just compared to Revolver). If you can look past the 'gangster' styling and the occasional dodgy bit of mumbo jumbo, there's some fun to be had. I'd have liked to see more of Toby Kebbell, but the rest of the cast share the spotlight well enough, and the film offers a good number of memorable moments. It's not a classic, but Ritchie has done much worse.
7/10

The Good Shepherd
Tortuously complex at times, and possibly tries to do too much. There's a slight feeling that the overall message might have been obscured by all of the little story threads being explored. Nevertheless, a great thriller that keeps the audience guessing throughout.
7/10

W.
Oddly anticlimactic. Tries to fit too much caricature into what could have been a really deep exploration of motive and power. The relationship between the Bush Jr and Snr is the highlight, and both Josh Brolin and James Cromwell are excellent as the respective characters. Feels a little insubstantial, and is certainly not a clear-cut and damning critique. Meanders along well enough for the most part, but lacks a dynamic central thread, and finishes with the story half told. Perhaps we'll get a better biopic in 10 or 20 years.
5/10

Julia
Interesting and well rounded story focusing very closely on Tilda Swinton's alcoholic title character. Good twisting plot and interesting characters drive the film for most of its length, but having avoided cliché for so long it's a pity that it suffers slightly from a predictable finish. Solid thriller, and well worth a look, though.
8/10

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Linkables 26/11/8

A nice little satirical/political resource-management flash game. Not the deepest, but worth a few minutes of your time.

Ever needed to let someone know just how simple it would have been to search for an answer rather than asking on a forum? This resource is a nice sarcastic response when JFGI won't cut it.

Speaking of Google, here's a list of the words that'll violate a safe search. There's some interesting inclusions and omissions. And a feminist reaction, for good measure.

There's more safe-search discussion towards the end of this article too, which also links to this slightly odd New Yorker article on lewdifying children's stories.

Maps and analysis of UK racial violence and newspaper story coverage.

Philosophical questions from the BBC.

Graffiti causes crime.

Programming jokes and an awesome geeky sci-fi cross-media webcomic joke.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

DVD Review: "Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1"

I picked up the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1 DVD through a mixture of mild curiosity and having fairly recently enjoyed both Wall-E and the short film which preceded it, Presto. I bought it with the intention of dipping into the collection every so often watching a short film here and there, this being much easier to fit in than watching a full feature film of around two hours in length, seeing as the total running time of all thirteen short films in the collection comes in just short of an hour. What actually happened was that I ended up watching all of the short films, plus the DVD extras, in two sittings, and this was only because I didn't start the first session early enough in the evening to complete the DVD in a single viewing.

The short films presented here aren't just very entertaining; they demonstrate just how vast the technological leaps in computer animation have been since the first short on this DVD, The Adventures Of Andre & Wally B, was made in 1984. The early shorts come across as primitive and possibly underwhelming compared to today's standards of computer wizardry. But considering the earliest shorts were made over twenty years ago, with the earliest in the year of my birth, the achievements represented through these short pieces of film are almost incomprehensible. The advances are huge between one film and the next, showing Pixar's continual lust for bigger and better things.

But the technological side of things isn't all that is demonstrated through this collection. Through each of these short films, it's clear to see that the people behind Pixar and its animations have always had a superb ability to not just make pictures and characters move, but to bring them to life. Through 1986's Luxo Jr. - a short about two desk lamps - it's not difficult to see that the people who made it also had a hand in making millions of people care about a tiny non-speaking cockroach in Wall-E twenty-two years later. From the moment the first lamp begins to bend, you forget that it's a piece of desk furniture and immediately buy into it as a character with a personality. And this is before the second, smaller, "cute" lamp has even appeared.

There were only a couple of shorts that I only liked quite a lot, rather than loved, and that was largely because they were tied into Pixar films that I either didn't particularly care for (The Incredibles) or haven't yet seen (Cars). The special features aren't particularly expansive, but are definitely worthwhile. There are four Luxo Jr. spin-offs that were used in episodes of Sesame Street, and a short documentary on Pixar's history of creating short films, all of which are both entertaining and interesting. They help to round off what is a neat one-disc DVD set, a fascinating and heartwarming collection that I'm sure I will revisit many, many times.
10/10

Monday, 24 November 2008

Training part 2: Coaching.

The companion return leg of my massively productive outward journey was far less smooth than its blog-post-inspiring sibling. Having neglected to check the existence of trains running the reverse route on the day I wished to return home, I was thrust into the sticky arms of the National Express coach service.

The combination of no leg room, a bumpy journey and a headrest made for someone either two inches taller or two inches shorter than me was exactly what I'd expect to get from everyone's second-choice method of long-distance transport. I've always wanted to be one of those people who can easily make conversation with the stranger sitting next to them in these kinds of situations - with the lights off and little chance of sleep, I imagine it would allow the time to pass much more easily. With my particular brand of insecurities and social anxieties, I've never been able to quite pull this off. It generally takes me longer than a single journey to get a comfortable rapport going with a stranger, so unlike those people who can end up with a real bond after a few minutes of conversation, I rarely get past the small talk stage.

On this occasion, I was sitting next to Ana, a Brazilian woman living in Portugal and working in Manchester. Her English wasn't particularly good, and my Portuguese is non-existent, but we manage to get across that she was a cook in a grill-based restaurant serving Mexican, Portuguese and Brazilian food. She likes cooking, and likes it when people enjoy her food. She finds Mexican food boring and too hot ("too piri-piri, too piri-piri") for her, but loves Portuguese food. She explained that no matter how much she showered (which she constantly referred to as "douching"), her hands still smelled of spices, and she was right - the smell of onion and some sort of chilli was ingrained in her skin. She agreed that my hands in turn smelled of nothing at all.

She was travelling to London to stay with a friend of hers, and when she initially instigated conversation with me, it was to ask whether the coach went to "Golden Green", and if not, whether the driver could be persuaded to stop there. I suggested that he wouldn't make an extra stop there, but that she could maybe travel to there by train from Victoria station once we arrived. She did ask the driver a couple of times whether he could stop anywhere other than Victoria, but he was unsurprisingly reluctant.

She said that she found England too cold, and I agreed that it was very a chilly weekend in Manchester. I said I didn't like it when it got too hot, and she laughed at me. She said her hands hurt from the cold, and that she needed a bigger, warmer hat. I tried to explain that I'd bought a new coat that weekend because of the cold, but I don't think she understood.

For large portions of the journey, I tried to sleep, only catching a few moments here and there, while she craned her neck at the motorway signs out of the window, shouted down the phone in Portuguese and occasionally pulled her hat down over her eyes, crossed her hands over her handbag and appeared to sleep for a few minutes, until her phone rang again.

By the time we got to London, the result of her phone conversations was revealed, as her friend had in fact gone to work already, and so was not available to meet her. This meant she now needed to get to Heathrow. From Victoria. At midnight. On a Sunday. As we walked into the station through the bitter cold, she told me about what she was looking forward to: a hot shower ("ver' hot. ver' hot douche. fifty C douche."), a good meal and a good night's sleep ("by this time tomorrow, I be at home in my bed").

We had a look at the boards, and couldn't see any trains heading to Heathrow, so I took her over to the ticket office. No trains to Heathrow, they said, try the underground. We ran down to the underground entrance but the men there said she wouldn't make it to Heathrow by train before the tubes shut down for the night. They suggested she try to get to Paddington and get a train from there, so we ran back upstairs to the front of the station. We wandered over to the taxi rank and I asked a taxi driver how much to Heathrow. £60. "Too much!" she said, aghast. And to Paddington? £12. I tried to explain that she could go to Paddington and then hopefully get a train to Heathrow, and she seemed happy with that.

"Thank you!" she said, "You come to Portugal. You and girlfriend come to Portugal. I help you. You stay with me there." Then she gave me a hug and got into the taxi. I instantly felt guilty that I didn't run to a cashpoint and get out the £60 to get her to Heathrow, rather than subjecting her to another unfamiliar station, and without a guide this time. I really hope she made it to Heathrow, and I really hope she's in Portugal now, enjoying her food and her hot shower and her bed.

Meta-blogging. Meta-living.

In the fifty-three days since I last made an entry on this blog, many things have happened. I've travelled to places in this country that I've never been to before. I've watched plenty of films, some for the first time, others being rewatched. I've celebrated six months of happiness with my girlfriend. I've celebrated being alive for twenty-four years. I've even started writing a blog entry for this very page (it currently sits unfinished, although it's closer to being unstarted). America has chosen a new President in a historic milestone election. Credit has continued to crunch. The fourth series of Lost has been released on DVD. And I've rewatched that too. Three other people have made twenty-two entries on this page. In short, quite a lot of stuff has happened. And whilst I have written the occasional comment on some of those aforementioned entries, I have failed to create a new entry of my own.

Having kept up-to-date with the comings and goings on this page day after day, reading what others have said, I've had good intentions regarding the writing of entries. And yet it has not come to fruition. Days have passed and no new entries. Not for lack of subject matter - there are a great many things that I've filed in the back of my mind under "blog entry material (future)". But that filing cabinet is getting more and more full, and dust is also beginning to gather upon it.

I can feel this entry becoming unfocused, so I'm going to get straight to the point: it's not a lack of desire to write entries here that has hindered my blogging; nor is it having "better things to do" - I have had other things that I have needed to do, I wouldn't necessarily categorise all of them as "better" than writing an entry here. I enjoy writing here and being part of the ramshackle community that comes and goes leaving opinions and musings for others to digest. But since my last entry, I've let "life" get in the way. That sounds awful. Let me clarify.

I'm really enjoying my life at the moment. I'm enjoying being in a relationship. I'm enjoying my job, even though sometimes it feels as though I have to run in order to stand still whilst doing it. There are friends and family that I wish I could see a lot more than I do, but at the same time I'm enjoying having taken the step of moving away from home and having further independence. At the moment, my life feels jam-packed, but in a good way. All of the things that make up my life I'm loving. The downside of that means that I seem to be letting some of the things that seem of lesser magnitude fall to the wayside.

Yes, I've watched several films. But I still have DVDs and TV series waiting to be watched, that have been waiting for some time, and that I only want to watch when I'm certain I will be able to sit down and watch them properly. I've been playing around with music less. Only recently have I begun making a new mix CD for my friends, something that I used to do more regularly. And I've not been writing here. Probably the easiest one to remedy when I think about it - yes, a blog entry can take a while to write if it's of a fair length or a topic that deserves time spent on about it; but an entry can be written in small parts, saved, edited and finally published after being visited and revisited several times.

I'm not entirely sure where this entry is now headed. Basically, this blog is important to me, even if at the moment it's taken a back seat to other things. I'm aware that I've done that, and that will change, simply because there are plenty of things that I want to write here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Training

Part of the reason I convinced myself two months ago to buy a laptop which I clearly didn't need was in order to take advantage of long and otherwise unproductive journeys. I keep complaining that I have no time to blog, so what about harnessing the untold hours spent sitting alone, staring out of the window while being shuttled to and fro by the nation's public transport system? It's difficult to blog on a bus, it has to be said. Journeys tend not to be long enough for effective introspection, and people tend to look at you strangely, or read over your shoulder and laugh, or read over your shoulder and point out when you've spelled embarrassing words wrong. Words like gonorrhoea, or cunnilingus. So not the bus, then. And similarly not on the plane, given my tendency to holiday either in the cold, wet confines of this country, or even, perhaps preferably, simply in my own home and more specifically my own bed. Little to no airline travel involved there, then, and thus no excuse for an extravagant laptop purchase.

But, I thought to myself, what about all those long train journeys to far flung parts of this windy isle? I remembered as a child being entertained by my parents for the three-and-a-half hour slog up to Newcastle: playing chess with my dad; doing (easy) crosswords or reading comics; eating sandwiches out of a bag; cherishing the one tube of sweets that had to last the whole journey. And, speaking of sweets, anyone who has had a sibling must surely have had those unspoken competitions when treats were limited and ruthlessly equal. One tube of sweets would have to last the whole trip, and so clearly there was some self-rationing involved. But there was more to it than that, there was strategy. With a sibling eating their own tube of sweets, it became a game of cat and mouse. You simply couldn't be the first to finish. Were you to make this schoolboy error, and was your companion in consumption to notice, you would, for the remainder of the journey, be subjected to the pure enjoyment experienced by He Who Saved His Sweets. Little moans of pleasure, audible mastication, and the slowest possible consumption of each delicacy, while staring innocently across the table at you, driving home the message that He Had Something You Didn't, a true achievement in the tightly regulated world of similarly-aged siblings. The complex tactics developed for this sugary underground warfare might need a post of their own, but suffice it to say that they were not limited to pre-dividing sweets into tiny fragments, sorting and resorting them to buy time, and even pretending to eat them, whilst palming them away into a lint-filled pocket for future enjoyment.

Hm. Where was I? Ah: train journeys. Yes. So, I thought to myself, train journeys as an adult will be just as long and uninteresting. A laptop will provide the perfect solution to this, giving me a creative outlet. With no distractions in the immediate vicinity, and no internet connection, I'll only have to contend with reading, listening to music and staring into space. Surely this will lead to the occasional flow of creative juices, and the associated gob of blog-worthy phlegm. And so, armed with this suitably flimsy argument, I went out and bought a little Eee PC. Not a powerful machine by any standards, but pretty, portable, and certainly novel enough to stave off boredom for the occasional train journey. If, of course, such journeys were undertaken. For, of course, in my haste to convince myself that a shiny new piece of hardware was necessary, I had conveniently managed to forget the miniscule amount of time I actually spend on trains. And so the first three months of the laptop's existence were marked by its presence on top of my chest of drawers. Pristine, but rarely touched. Attractive, but unused. Enticing but redundant.

After that first barren period, however, fate, as she sometimes does, gave me an opportunity to take more regular train journeys, and I leapt at the opportunity by dusting off my little technological wonder and preparing for the creative explosion that would come with so much uninterrupted keyboard time. I also bought a little external hard drive to ensure that any actual keyboard time would in fact be spent watching films and downloaded TV shows, thereby at a single stroke, effectively nullifying any potential productivity (a skill I honed during my time at university).

And so we come to the present day, and the reason for such an uncharacteristically long and flowery post. I am, as you may have guessed, writing on a train, having spurned the distractions of films or television shows through somehow losing my external hard drive. And I have to say, it's everything I had hoped for. This was going to be a relatively simple post, but the lack of distraction has turned it into an overly personal, irrelevant ramble, filled with inappropriately extravagant language, pretentious airs, and wandering asides. And I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Were I to be writing at home, I'd have got up to get a drink, or turned on something to watch, or listen to, or started to tidy my room, or browse facebook, or checked my email, but here there is none of that. I can finally reach the true horrifying lows of my unfettered blogging potential. And don't think you'll get off lightly, I'm only 50 minutes into a three hour journey, here, so there's plenty more to come.

A final aside: Ever since I saw the BBC series "The Last Train" as a child, (in which the various strangers in a train carriage have to work together in a harsh and unforgiving environment after a meteor wipes out civilisation while they were in a tunnel), I have found myself imaging how I would fare with my companions on any given journey, should this, or something similarly far-fetched, arise. I have to say I'm feeling reasonably confident with the current situation. Should the worst happen, I plan to stay close to the huge black guy sitting across the aisle from me. Should it come down to a difference of opinions in a post-apocalyptic landscape, always try to side with the person who could rip someone's head clean off. The teenager to my left, playing with the music on his mobile, seems fairly annoying, but is probably wily. He'd learn some harsh life lessons, but come out a better person. The old man at the table in front of me would help provide wisdom to the team, and the slightly annoying middle-aged guy, who expressed displeasure at his reserved seat and went to find another, could come along, but would probably get eaten by jackals at some point, to keep the rest of us mindful of our own mortality. Should such a situation turn out less like a seven-part BBC drama, an unlikely but possible outcome, I'm fairly sure we'd all just wander around for a few days, run out of food and starve to death. I don't think I'll share this bleak outlook with my fellow passengers, however. They might find it a little odd, and there's nothing worse than finding yourself in a carriage with some weirdo rambling on about post-apocalyptic landscapes and laptops. Assuming it's out loud at least. I'm sure I'm quite bearable when I'm simply typing it.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Linkables 19/11/8

Vital advice for cat owners! And for pogonophobes (I particularly like reason 2)...

"Minority report" style computer interfaces.

Good advice on how to read statistical news reports, focusing on recent talk of national debt.

Recipe database, for the kitcheny amongst you.

What should you watch next (includes West Wing spoilers)? For advice on new series to try out, take a look at the comment thread.

A video taken from inside the head of a November the fifth Guy. Weird and kind of moving. (via the f-word).

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A little over the top gear?

I just started watching the best of top gear (series 10) on iPlayer and noticed there was some pixelation which had nothing to do with the video quality over James May's face. Now putting 2 and 2 together, one of the 2's being that Jeremy Clarkson was holding a pipe and the other being that james may appeared to have his had near his face (assuming he wasn't chewing on it, which understandably would be censored) I deduced that the reason for the pixelation was that he was seen to be "smoking" (sarcastic quote marks) the pipe he was holding, which was neither lit nor smoking in any form.

Does this seem like a little over zealous to anyone else? I'm not really a supporter of smoking but still to censor someone holding a pipe in their mouth seems a little odd. Reaction to recent events or just plain silliness?

Friday, 14 November 2008

QFT?

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but the BBC love their quotation marks in article titles on the website, and it still annoys me on a fairly regular basis. I may be wrong, but it seems to me like quotation marks around a word or phrase when used in a news article should be direct quotes, and should be relevant to the article. So these two recent examples annoyed me:

'Secret' Obama code name revealed. Given that the first line of the story describes the code names as "not-so-secret", and the only time the word secret is used in a direct quote in the article is when the secret service says of the code names that: "There's nothing top secret about them", why in the headline of the article is the word secret used in quotes. No one seems to be describing the codes as secret except for the journalist writing the article. While it could be argued that the article isn't a serious piece of news, and is more human interest than anything else, I worry that quotation marks are able to be used without source and in a way that opposes the information in the rest of the article.

Shannon accused 'is a bit creepy'. This article about the trial of those accused of the kidnap of Shannon Matthews is a little bit more worrying. In the first line of the article we have the line:

The niece of the man accused of kidnapping Shannon Matthews said her uncle was a fantasist and a "bit creepy".

But later in the article we have the actual courtroom exchange:

Ms Meehan was asked by Frances Oldham, QC for Ms Matthews, if she agreed with the description that her uncle was "a loner, a strange character, a bit creepy and a fantasist".

She replied: "Yes".

So, no only is the first line misleading, since the niece did not actually say the things that are being claimed, and merely agreed with them, but the quoted text in the headline is again not verifiable as a direct quote, since nowhere in the article does anybody use the phrase 'is a bit creepy'.

Again, maybe I'm nitpicking here, but I would expect news reports in general, and those from the BBC in particular to be a little more careful about the quotations they use. If a quote is used in a headline (which may be the only information seen by large numbers of readers), it seems as though that quote should be reliably sourced and reproduced within the article. There are many more examples of this, such as this article about Osama bin Ladin's whereabouts, in which the headline quote is not attributed or reproduced. Without knowing more about the rules that journalists are under, clearly I can't say much of substance, but to me this kind of quotation practice seems at best disingenuous and at worst outright misleading.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Linkables 12/11/8

What would you do with a ham sandwich, and what does that say about your politics?

The kind of public health statistics at Google's fingertips.

Really interesting and powerful short story. Potentially weird and disturbing too.

The story of one man's investigation into guerilla advertising.

For fans of The Day Today, On The Hour (which I was not at all aware of) is seemingly back in podcast form. Hit and miss, but often worth the listen, especially since each one is so short.

A cool little dice game, with the advantage that it looks just as simple to play with real dice as it is in the flash version.

And as Prop. 8 protesters get possibly unexpected support, here are some excellent and interesting vote breakdowns on the issue, by county.

This nearly made me cry...

...but it's awesome.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Poem of the Week #3

Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby's Scheme). I died in hell -
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I'm there;
"In proud and glorious memory" ... that's my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he's never guessed.
I came home on leave: and then went west ...
What greater glory could a man desire?

by Siegfried Sassoon.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Linkables 7/11/8

Election-related links: Vote value by state, electoral cartograms and a pictorial presidential history.

A flickr pool: "Messages for Obama", as set up by Meg. (including one from me)

Collected customer stupidity at Not Always Right.

Charlie Brooker's usual calm and reasoned reaction to the Ross/Brand affair.

Inflation in Zimbabwe in pictures.

How real gamers play World of Warcraft.

Ugly souvenirs! Humorous roadsigns!

Enjoy your weekends :)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

44th

It seemed like too much to hope for almost two years ago when he stood up on a cold February day in Illinois and announced that he was running for president. It seemed like something from fiction - something that the world, with all of its pain and hatred and cynicism would not allow to happen.

He can give a good speech, we said, but where's his experience? This isn't a local senate race - how can a Democrat honestly take on the Clintons, with all their influence and money and entitlement, and expect to win. America isn't ready for a black president, one step at a time. Back down, some said - don't rock the boat - get behind a more electable figure and wait your turn. Maybe in four years, or eight. Don't risk dividing the party over a pipe dream.

Even with the nomination gathered we were fearful. Sure, you can triumph against people who broadly share your views, but that's not a real triumph - what about the Republican smear machine? What will you do against the power of Karl Rove and Fox News? It's difficult enough for an old white Democrat to fight them, how does a relatively young, inexperienced black man expect to take on a war hero like McCain with all the backing and experience of the GOP's electoral team?

And yet last night the world watched into the early hours as America said that it was ready to take the next step, that it was ready for a change, ready for a Democrat, and ready for an African-American. We watched as Pennsylvania, visited by the Republicans 21 times during the campaign, threw itself behind him, closely followed by Ohio, home of Joe the Plumber. With no sign of the Bradley effect, Republicans were talking about what went wrong from the start of the night, and the BBC's coverage had all but named the new president from the start of the programme. With the race too close to call in four key states, we had to wait until 4am GMT for the big projection, as California and Washington state put their weight behind senator Barack Obama and pushed him over the magic 270 electoral votes.

There were many other states backing him, of course. In Virginia, where the populous north was described as not "real Virginia" by the Republicans, the north did its work, and took the state to the Democrats by four points. Florida finally threw off the memories of 2000, and turned itself blue, followed later by Indiana, which overturned a 20 point Republican margin from 2004. North Carolina, another solidly red state for eight years was too close to call through into this morning, with Obama holding onto a slender lead.

We watched McCain appear in Arizona and give a humble and gracious concession speech and then drove home listening to Obama's magnificent victory speech. In two and a half months time, he'll take on a country with huge financial, social and military problems both at home and abroad, without a filibuster-proof senate majority, and with a crippling global economic climate to contend with. It turns out the last 21 months of scrapping and debating and smears and slurs and great speeches and personal revelations and media scrutiny and rumours and robo-calls and polls and predictions and ups and downs was actually the easy bit. The real work starts here, and I couldn't be more confident in his ability to take it on.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Unbelieveable?

There's an interesting post from UK Polling Report, talking about the factors that might cause people to change their mind about a political candidate, if discovered. The results are interesting, and the post goes through them in a bit more detail, but the one that stands out to me is the one concerning atheism.

While in the UK only 20% would refuse to vote for an atheist, similar to the numbers for a gay or Muslim candidate, in the US the number was 53%. Note the question:

If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist, would you vote for that person?

So 53% of the American electorate would refuse to vote for a member of their own party who happened to be an atheist. That is, given the binary presidential situation in the US, they would consider someone whose views they broadly agreed with (except, presumably, on religion) to be unsuitable for office, and would either actively help, or passively allow, someone with opposing political views to get into office instead.

Clearly, there is the possibility that some people may have answered a question that was not asked (Would you like an atheist to be president), instead of considering the exact phrasing of the query, but if we assume that this is not a large number (since otherwise the survey results are obviously useless), this means that 53% of the electorate would put the issue of their candidate's personal view on religion above all other issues. They might agree with their candidate on the economy, on immigration, on healthcare, on education, on Iraq, on oil, on the environment, on everything but whether God exists or not, and that would be enough for them to prefer someone who disagrees with them on all those matters to become president.

Perhaps in reality people would react differently - 38% of conservatives said they wouldn't vote for someone who was 72 years old, but McCain doesn't seem to have dropped that much of the Republican vote, suggesting that some of those could be won round by other factors. Also there is no allowance for the opponent's views, which could affect voters, or the existance of third candidates (which would seem to become more important if one of the major parties fielded a candidate with one of these "problem" characteristics).

Overall, the results pretty much exclude an 'out-of-the-closet' atheist candidate from openly appearing in any electoral race, simply because they will not be able to guarantee enough votes from their base to get official backing. They'll never get the votes because there is a large backdrop of prejudice against them across the board, and so they'd get no significant financial backing or public endorsements.

Looking at the historical data that's also linked, running as an atheist candidate today would be roughly equivalent to running as a woman in 1945, or as an African-American in 1958, both of which would be candidates running so much against ingrained prejudice as to have no chance of winning.

I'd encourage people to glance through the other results in those posts, too - there's lots of interesting data there on other demographics and historical comparisons.

So, would you vote for an atheist? And if not, why not?

The Mysterious Blue Thing



I found this on the back of my door today when I got home from work and assumed that it was from Joe, however it transpires that he has nothing to do with it's existence and neither does any other of my housemates, therefore it was either placed there recently and I have only just noticed it now or there is a cunning ninja going around who likes to give people random presents instead of killing them.

The people who have recently been around our house who could've placed the blue thing are Patrick, Russ and Sam, so they will be the culprits for the moment.

Odd.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Brand new row

I don't really know how I feel about the whole Jonathan-Ross/Russell Brand thing that has blown up over the last week, and I'm too tired to try to write something coherent, so this'll probably be just bullet-pointed thoughts:

- I like Brand's style of humour. I think he's very funny most of the time.

- I wish people would stop referring to it as a "prank call", since by all accounts it wasn't a pre-planned exercise by Brand and Ross to call up and be outrageous. They didn't pretend to be anyone, and the call was expected and agreed upon beforehand by Andrew Sachs. Instead, you have two men trying to be both edgy and funny, suddenly put into an environment where they were not just being recorded by the forgiving studio, but by an external device. It seems unlikely to me that there would be such a furore if there had not been an answerphone involved, and if they'd just made jokes about Brand possibly sleeping with Sachs' granddaughter as part of the banter on the show itself - more offensive things have been said in the past, and will be said in the future, on the radio. If this is the case, then the problem is not with what was said, necessarily, but with the fact that it was piped directly into the answerphone of the person about whom the joke was being made. An embarrassing error, certainly, but not one, I feel, that necessarily deserved to cause such a storm.

- The BBC could have handled it better, by making far greater efforts to contact Andrew Sachs before the broadcast was released and check what his views were, which would probably have resulted in pulling that segment, and issuing an apology. Certainly there would not have been such an outcry.

- The outcry itself is interesting, since there were only two complaints initially, ballooning to thousands once the media got hold of the story. Complaints from people who did not actually listen to the show live (and perhaps, cynical though the thought may be, did not listen to it at all before complaining) must be taken as that. The people listening, the audience to whom the broadcast was made, and at whom it was aimed, by and large did not seem to be offended (or at least not until the media told them to be). Offence is a difficult thing to judge, and part of the point of having a surfeit of media is that the audience can pick what it wants to hear. The people who were offended by the broadcast would never normally have known it existed. I would suggest the BBC has broadcast more edgy and potentially offensive things in the past (MonkeyDust springs to mind, I'm sure there are other examples), but they didn't generate such a storm partially because there was no "answerphone issue" and partly because there was no media crusade. I would therefore suggest that the content of the show itself should not be something of concern.

- I think there were funny elements to the call. I liked Brand's little improvised song, and I liked the back and forth banter between the two of them. It wasn't immensely comedic but neither do I feel it was particularly more offensive than a lot of other media.

- I think the comparison to the Stanford incident in cricket is interesting too:

> Prominent media figure(s), check.
> Slightly embarrassing unpremeditated action.
> Recording of said action causing problem where otherwise there might not have been one.
> Apology offered and accepted by the party directly affected.
> Media reporting constantly referring to the financial aspects of the affair.

Anyway, that was all pretty stream-of-consciousness, so don't know how much sense it made. In general, I think there are questions to answer in the procedural handling of the show's production, but I don't believe that the performers are the people who should take the brunt of the media-stoked backlash. Anyone agree? Disagree?

Happy Halloween.