Saturday 19 December 2009

A time of goodwill to all movies

I feel so ashamed, sitting in my ivory tower (cunningly disguised as a mess of a spare room) pronouncing on the stupidity of the general public from whom I naturally exclude myself... and then I decide to watch 2012. 2012 film Disaster movies are my Achilles heel when it comes to good taste and I’m particularly vulnerable to the apocalyptic end of the world “we’re all goin’ to die” tale. An unimpressed colleague described the film as akin to being on an overlong rollercoaster. But despite the obvious plot devices, the naff dialog, the implausible escape from a seemingly certain end, the sense that one ought to be more emotionally involved when witness to the death of millions... Well put it this way; I knew it was rubbish but all I could manage was “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

It’s a film with a good cast that includes John Cusack (of the brilliant Grosse Pointe Blank), George Segal (a big name from the 70's) and Danny Glover (only two days from retirement). As mitigation I could suggest that they rose above the material but this would be to evade the truth. My work colleague described it as two and a half hours of her life wasted. I on the other hand will no doubt watch this ridiculous piece of rubbish again. Roland Emmerich flattens The White House once more and leaves my critical faculties in ruin. All I have to do now is enjoy James Cameron's Avatar and my journey to the dark side will be complete.

Friday 4 December 2009

When I was king, I was a truly great king

From director Spike Jonze, the man responsible for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, comes his latest film, Where the Wild Things Are. Since I liked both those earlier films I have high hopes for this latest effort, indeed I’m counting on it to restore an eroded sense of wonder, if only a little.

It’s not that I haven’t seen any fulfilling films this year. I found the Danish film After the Wedding intensely moving; I saw it twice and cried both times, though that probably says as much about me as it does the film. I remember once watching The Elephant Man with my daughter and having to work hard at preventing her from seeing any tears; I’m not sure whether I was successful or whether I needed to be. Probably. I'll have to look into that.

Where The Wild Things Are
But this film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s famous book promises something else. That sense of awe I felt as a child on returning from a voyage with Doctor Dolittle, the scene in Joe Versus the Volcano where Joe looks to the outsized moon and thanks God for his recaptured humanity, or the opening scene in Toys to lift my forgotten spirit and remind me of the glory of Christmas. Interesting that those two films are disliked intensely by a number of my friends and dismissed as mawkish sentimentality, though sometimes it seems any sentiment is regarded unfavourably.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect so much but I stubbornly refuse to let that dent my enthusiasm; every so often we need to be reminded that the world can be beautiful. Will this new film suffice?

Monday 30 November 2009

Not waving

Some bad habits you never grow out of. Such as wanting something, not being sure why you want it, and then not being sure what to do with it once you’ve got it. Such is the case with Google Wave. I logged in, changed my profile picture and… logged back out again. The thing is I don’t have the time to invest and I can’t really think of anything to communicate. I do at least have one contact, that’d be the wannabe writer, the one who deserted me to go and do something more worthwhile instead and who it turns out can write a good tale. Perhaps he could make it up to me by collaborating on a way to hold back time so I can become only slightly adrift.

I am so far behind schedule; the number of constantly snoozed reminders has reached double figures, I see red flags all over Outlook and I’ve been off work ill. I still feel like crap. I’ll feel worse I’m sure when I run through my e-mail. For some light entertainment I may start the day by comparing the mail requiring me to complete my compliance training (ethics and some such) with that explaining the consequences of failing to adhere to the change request process as documented on the company SharePoint. One was undoubtedly from an external service provided to the company… one managed a firm yet friendly warning of what was required… and the other threatened the recipient with termination. Well you’ve got to laugh. At least that’s the rumour…

Wednesday 18 November 2009


On Tuesday evening my daughter and I walked into town to see the Christmas lights switch-on. I wouldn’t normally indulge but children change everything. As a child I remember random moments of wonder and adventure, but over time they dissipated to be replaced with that thing called life; work, earning a living, the usual suspects. And then, unexpectedly, my wife and I discovered that contrary to previous advice, having children may be possible. Even then I was somewhat ambivalent; I didn’t marry to propagate the species, though listening to some you’d think that was the only reason to marry. But my wife wanted a baby and I wanted an easy life. That’s right; I wanted an easy life so we had a baby.

Eight years later and it remains the greatest moment of my life, or to be more accurate I should say the last eight years have been peppered with great moments. There have been trials too, health worries, job worries, marriage worries; life continues to threaten with maudlin regularity. I have many bills, little money and the vast empty expanse of the New Year to contend with, but I am armed with my daughter and the Christmases yet to come, together we remain invincible, undefeated... and I have hope.

Monday 16 November 2009

Lies, damned lies

I’m spending a little too much time ‘task switching’ as opposed to ‘task doing’, but I suppose it’s better to be too busy. I like busy. Being able to see the value in your work helps, but it's not that way for everyone.

I have a developer friend who was once tasked with consulting and updating reports for another department of his company. It was all for a good cause, to determine their internal efficiency. Unfortunately it turned out the department had been taking the term ‘internal’ all too literally and, as if unaware of the outside world, managed to cut the customer out of the equation. Imagine your job is to take data from a customer, manually process the data and then hand it back. Not surprisingly the company want to know how efficient that process is. But the department doesn’t have the tools to record the time taken for data coming in, processed and returned to the customer on the same day; it does however have a tool that records the amount of data waiting to be processed that came in on a specified day.

Oh dear. The department reasoned there was no cost to queuing data coming in and queuing data going out, no internal cost anyway. Hence there was no need to ask for any engineering resource. When the company asked how long it took to process an item they may have meant ‘how long until the customer gets their data back’, but what they got was an answer to an entirely different question. How many customers did they lose? We’ll never know; my friend doesn’t work there any more. Very few people do.

Sunday 15 November 2009

There’s no place like

For the past fortnight I’ve been intermittently without a home to go to. Indeed home became so unreliable that yesterday I dropped any references and set about messing with the DNS, or to be more accurate trying to undo the mess that I created. There’s nothing more annoying than heading for home when the outcome is uncertain; and there’s nothing more anal than periodically clicking Home to check the result.

It’s only a temporary residence too. Google Sites has its purpose but mine was to build a website. I’m a little hazy as to why I wanted to do that but I’m sure given time I’ll come up with a reason. Not surprisingly, I have a random approach to establishing a web presence. I start blogging and only later grasp on the idea of addressing it with my own domain. And I’m determined to use a ‘blog’ sub-domain. And if you’ve got a ‘blog’ sub-domain then you need to have a ‘www’ sub-domain too. Don’t ask me why, you just do. Google Sites was an accident but it serves a purpose in acting as a placeholder. For a while my blog distracted me with a little HTML play, and then I remembered how I’d wanted to understand the various pieces.

Ah yes, maybe that was the reason. So now I look to the ‘Build your own website for people who ought to already know’ books and hope that I really can. Maybe email a few former colleagues for advice. Maybe I’ll use a few technologies along the way... and maybe I’ll even learn something.

Sunday 8 November 2009

All of this has happened before

So the hurricane came and went leaving a trail of devastation in its wake... completely untrue but I rather like the way that sounds. It was nothing personal; it was business though it still hurts. The axe fell in an unexpected quarter, the sales department... as you’d expect, I’m devastated. I’d almost convinced myself that this time, this one time, it really was going to be a ‘state of play’ visit; you’d think by now I’d know better.

Some cynics may suggest the loss of a sales department is no big deal, it’s karma for a lack of investment in product, but one thing is definite; if you don’t have sales people then you don’t have anything to sell. I figured that one out myself. The other clue was when the boss said “we’re not selling that anymore”.

It’s safe to say the patient is on life support and with no hope of recovery. We think he stands a chance of making it into the New Year but the prognosis beyond then is certain. Meanwhile I’ve entered a bizarre alternate reality in which I genuinely like the sales people who survive. Me and sales; who’d have thought it possible?

Since I’m old enough to have seen it all before and wise enough (don’t laugh) to not take it personally, I get on with what work there is; though having said that, due to staff shortages I’m making very little progress. I’ll probably get fired for that. I blame it on my friend and ex-colleague, the artist wannabe, who up and quit work the other week to pursue something worthwhile, rather than wallow in a collective doom and see it through to our inevitable and bitter end. Fucking writers, eh?

Friday 30 October 2009

Sign o’ the times

We had a fire drill on Thursday. The last one I remember, a year or so ago, resulted in approximately 30 employees crowding into a car park whilst waiting to be counted. Yesterday we numbered seven. Still, at least we all got out safe… and our boss is visiting us next week.

Also in the news; I read a book and I’m thinking of reading another. The one I read was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I can see why its polarised opinion and those not liking the book make some valid points, but they also point to the reason I liked it so much. I’ve missed reading; I should do more, much more. So I bought another but starting will be the key. I need a few clear hours to open with and then some regular time to invest… now there’s the trick... and our boss is visiting us next week.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Equality to equals and unequal alike

Plato, through Socrates, described it thus;
...a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.
Or as I once remarked to a friend;
The thing with democracy is that ultimately it’s about allowing morons to vote.
Democracy boulders cartoon
Plato’s ideal system, an aristocracy led by wise men that are (crucially) reluctant to lead, seems inherently dangerous given our understanding on the ability of power to warp the best of intentions - not to mention the scarcity of wise men. So unless we subscribe to this utopian vision or perhaps the benefits of a benign autocracy (and I’m surprised to find there are many that do) we are, for all its perceived limitations, left with democracy; though are these limitations really a weakness?

One might think so since the BBC have invited Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP and a holocaust denier, to appear on Question Time; their most prominent platform for political debate. However such people are a fact of life whatever the system; brushing repulsive individuals under the carpet not only disenfranchises, it’s counterproductive. Who can be persuaded the error of their ways by being denied the right to speak?

I can think of few people who deserve to be ridiculed more but a more constructive act might be to engage them in debate or, to use language his party would understand, debate the sh*t out of them. There are undoubtedly dangers; putting Griffin in a civilised environment may result in some believing the participant himself to be civilised. In addition I would hope the other panellists can avoid indulging in a game of “who hates the racist the most”; it’s a trap the BNP would be delighted to spring.

Yet despite these risks we must engage in debate; not necessarily because we hope to change minds, though occasionally we may, but because this is how a society grows. If unwilling to face up to its more unpleasant members then how can it be worth fighting for? An unchallenged society is doomed to failure.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Pay peanuts...

Hypocrisy; there’s a lot of it about. I’ll bet there are a large number of people receiving benefits in kind that are completely unrelated to their job. Whether it’s a subsidised canteen or gym membership, being able to claim for a television is no different - it’s just a little more expensive.

The current MPs’ expenses scandal has rightly provoked anger on the issue of "flipped" homes and the dubious methods for avoiding capital gains tax. However this fury has impaired the critical faculties of many to the point that any unusual payment is seen as suspect. If televisions and furniture are part of your remuneration then you have every right to make a claim; whilst unusual, they are an inevitable result of paying our elected representatives such a comparatively low wage.

The basic salary for an MP is £64,766, if we allow for a ‘London weighting’ this equates to a little over £56,000 outside the capital. It’s a lot of money but is it enough? This is the salary of a middle ranking bank manager, not one for a person who represents the interests of over 68,000 people; someone responsible for policy that affects every part of our lives and those of our children.

The UK has a first-past-the-post electoral system. Technically we vote for the individual we wish to represent us, not the political party to which they may belong. A Member of Parliament however is still subject to two often competing forces; those of the electorate and those of his or her party. This situation is aggravated by the large number of junior ministerial positions available that naturally carry an additional salary.

If we want people who truly represent us then we should be prepared to pay enough such that politics is more than a vocational choice for the well off. If we want people who think of their electorate first then we should pay enough such that any threat to withdraw party privileges has relatively little financial impact. If we want a simple and more transparent expenses system then we should be prepared to pay the going rate.

But if we’re only prepared to pay peanuts, we shouldn’t be surprised at the result.

Friday 9 October 2009

Failure is your friend

I remember driving in to work one weekend to try and catch up, but on arriving hitting problem after problem; the result being that five hours later I appeared to have gotten nowhere. In reality of course I’d made progress since, come Monday and with all those failures in the past, I could move forward. I’m trying to use this as I wrestle, not always valiantly, with a VB script problem in Excel. I’m not a big fan of Excel, or rather VB script; it’s like being told to play with stickle bricks instead of Meccano. Why do the other kids get the cool toys?

rugby scrum
This isn’t what I meant to write about, at least not directly. I guess I was reminded of these challenges on reading a terrific blog on the spirit of scrum. I can’t say I know much about agile software development, let alone the scrum method, and in passing I wonder where or even if, rapid application development fits on the evolutionary path. Scrum would appear to exist beyond the confines of a software development methodology, though this is only part of its attraction. I suspect I should read more of Tobias’ blog, Agile Anarchy, before passing comment, but I will venture to say that what appeals is its... humanity. I could be way off the mark but I’ve read enough to want for more.

I will doubtless be plagued by the cynical voice that warns I’ll never experience it in practice. Perhaps not, but a good idea is a good idea and anyway, just this once I think I’ll aim high.

Monday 5 October 2009

Unpretty too

One of these pictures is of an ex work colleague and I outside his house, the other is a picture from the brilliant Norwegian comedy Elling; a film about two startled inmates released from a state institution and trying to make their way in the world. I am thus reminded in a most gentle way of how much I’ve aged. My hair used to be black you know.

Sunday 27 September 2009

Me, Leonard Cohen and the Family Stone

I edged out Leonard Cohen in a bicycle race last night. Just as I passed I could hear him singing “everybody knows the race is fixed”… but it didn’t stop either of us trying. Pedalling as fast as we could into a pitch black room, not nearly enough room, I can’t remember what happened next. Darkness and then…?

The Family Stone
And then this morning I watched a Christmas gathering of The Family Stone, which was rather unsettling as the most sympathetic character was the uptight type played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The family itself displayed that worrying right-on yet vicious liberal sensitivity; God help anyone who doesn’t share their view of the world. Which is a shame as, though it was a refreshing reminder that unkind behaviour has no political or social boundaries, it also made it difficult to care for any of them. It was a little bit different but it had the potential to be so much better, which like the family made it annoying too. The Family Stone were mean. I’m not sure I’ll be spending Christmas with them again.

Friday 25 September 2009

World cheers promised 25% increase in level of ignorance

World leaders yesterday lauded another ‘landmark’ announcement from Gordon Brown who, in addition to reducing the number of UK nuclear-armed submarines from four to three, has promised a proportional reduction in the number of people with a rudimentary knowledge of physics.

Alastair Darling
Whilst some have questioned the need for such a measure, arguing blinkers would prove more cost-effective, sources state that Brown has fallen under the influence of a shady group of neo-realists led by the enigmatic mad monk Alastair Darling. It is thought the Chancellor, whose eyebrows have yet to be authenticated, was reminded of the futility of removing nuclear arsenals after running the economy into the ground at a velocity approaching the speed of light. This near meltdown prompted the hitherto heretical belief that the knowledge of how to destroy ourselves might prove just as dangerous as having the means.

Emboldened with such a vision, Darling arranged a summit at a secret service station on the M4 where he met with the Prime Minister and Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Schools and Stuff… and Peter Mandelson, who they bumped into at the KFC. Several family buckets later they produced the Membury Manifesto.

In it is laid the foundations for making the world a safer place, or as Gordon Brown describes it, “a kinder, more stupid Britain”, by engineering a progressively less intelligent UK population through measures such as The Daily Mail, Sky Television and discouraging students from higher education. “The only way forward”, added the Prime Minister “is backwards.”

Thursday 10 September 2009

Shoot 'em up

A part of me died whilst watching Shoot 'Em Up, the rest of me wasn't so lucky. You know how sometimes you think you ought to give a film a second chance, perhaps you weren’t in the right frame of mind the first time out; there are also times when you should leave well alone. I get that it’s over the top, I get that it’s tongue-in-cheek, I get that some of the puns are deliberately bad. On the other hand it’s not often that you cheer the arrival of each action sequence for the sole reason that you won’t have to listen to any of the characters speak.

There was even a point where I found myself saying “no please… PLEASE DON’T do the BMW versus porcupine joke”... only my appeal was in vain. Michael Davis, the director and writer (so he has no excuse) of this entertainment was no doubt hoping to fool the audience, or at least those capable of rational thought, into thinking it’s a parody or perhaps some kind of ironic statement. I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

Monica Belluci Shoot 'Em Up
But if we must find something to praise, let’s praise it for the full-bodied Monica Belluci; she’s lovely. But what’s not to love about a drug-free lactating prostitute with a heart of gold? Monica uses her considerable charm in the film’s only worthwhile sequence, which manages to show some originality in combining the obligatory sex scene with yet another preposterous shoot-out. Yes it’s true; I did find that bit funny. Also we should commend the film on its length. At 86 minutes it’s mercifully short, but then anything longer and I might have become quite negative.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

A perfect blend

Blend Cafe Lounge in ThornburyDon’t you just hate reading a blog entry that’s no more than a flimsy plug for a restaurant that the blogger has happened to eat in? Well since you’re used to it, here’s one more. Blend Café Lounge in Thornbury makes the most heavenly beef burger and chunky chips I’ve ever tasted. The BLEND burger alone is worth a mention, but with the most amazing chunky chips it’s an unbeatable combination. I hesitate to recommend a place on the quality of their chips, it sounds like a backwards compliment, but you’d have to eat there to understand. Perhaps if I mention that they seem to have cornered the market on relaxed and friendly staff...

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Paint the whole world

I had a frustrating day yesterday. By one measure it was productive as I learnt something new… eventually... but it wasn’t as quick as I’d like and I’m impatient to learn more. I was in work at 7.45am and, aside from a break for lunch, didn’t leave until 6.45pm. It would have all felt worthwhile if I’d figured out my LINQ problem, but a solution eluded me and I drove home defeated.

Rainbow over motorway It’s usually enough to dent my entire evening though I ought to know better; experience, or advancing years if you prefer, has shown fresh eyes in the morning often does the trick. But I’ve always found it difficult to separate myself from work once separated from work, thankfully nature made yesterday evening an exception; I saw the most beautiful rainbow. I know that sounds ridiculous, it looks ridiculous written down but ‘beautiful’ is the only way I can describe it. Not dissimilar to this picture and possibly prettier, I could see both ends rooted to the ground and each clearly defined colour in the spectrum arcing over the motorway ahead of me. All I could think was to share the information with my daughter, knowing how excited she’d have been in the car with me, despite the appalling weather. I was on the M48 and it was wonderful. It’s not often you can say something like that.

…and my problem with LINQ? Sorted first thing this morning.

Friday 14 August 2009

The National Health Service’s new clothes

I’ve been rather irritated by the current disinformation campaign of the Republican Party in response to Barack Obama’s health plans. As far as I’m aware there are no plans to create a National Health Service, so holding up the UK as an example of what can go wrong is highly suspect.

Three monkeys. See, hear and speak no evil
I’m equally bemused by the response of most politicians in the UK who’ve rushed to the defence of the NHS; fighting to proclaim their love is true, that their love will last. Love is blind. It won’t be long before one, probably over-compensating Conservative, starts singing to the tune of all nurses are angels and all doctors are God. Absolute drivel – though I’ll admit to having met a few doctors who acted as if they were God. I'm presuming those wearing the rose-tinted spectacles have never had to wait a year (sometimes more) for treatment, or been misdiagnosed with Parkinson's disease and only after TEN years had the treatment corrected; this happened to my mother. Nor have they been victims of the 'postcode lottery' of NHS treatment after moving 20 miles, and in the process happening to move from one health trust that would fund treatment to one health trust that wouldn't; this happened to my wife.

The NHS is a glorious principle in which I whole-heartedly believe, but those holding it up as a paragon of virtue are about as useful as 'death panel' comments from Sarah Palin, or the idiot Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan describing the NHS as a 'sixty year mistake'. Slightly sinister, though hardly unexpected, is the response of Health Secretary Andy Burnham who described Mr Hannan's comments as unpatriotic. Do my comments make me unpatriotic too?

Wednesday 12 August 2009

What a difference a week makes; 168 little hours

At the end of one holiday it’s cliché to comment that one feels like another but… perhaps I should take two weeks out next time around. So what difference does a week really make? I’ll tell you; four films, two guinea pigs, a couple of days out and the BBC iPlayer… and I really regret the guinea pigs, though I had little say in the matter. However the BBC via their iPlayer enabled me to catch up on back episodes of The Street, and a week where I can watch a few films, all for the first time, could never be classed a write-off.

Friday Night Lights film
I have a weakness for American sports dramas though I am guilty of neither appreciating the sport nor understanding the rules. Baseball is a statistical cul-de-sac, rounders with a bigger bat, yet we have The Natural. Basketball is despite the points utterly pointless, yet we have Hoop Dreams - one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. American gridiron football yesterday provided me with Friday Night Lights. Living in the UK I can’t vouch for accuracy, but it felt real. It helps knowing that this particular film was based on a real life season of the Permian Panthers, the football team of Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. Elements are shot in a documentary style yet it also includes the formulaic father-living-on-past-glories and the cocky-yet-likable athlete who you know is going to come undone. Perhaps the best sports dramas are really human dramas. It’s rather like an intelligent compassionate love story set in Paris; I can’t vouch for accuracy but if it feels real it doesn’t make me feel so bad - sometimes quite the opposite.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

A corner of a foreign field

The view from my deskToday has been tremendously tiring in a way that only office moving days can be. I didn’t sleep well last night just thinking about it. This and an unexpected mid-year goal appraisal, which was as much a fear of the unknown as anything else, has left me exhausted.

In the end the update was better than expected. A couple of tasks I didn’t particularly care for were removed and another couple added; they are a part of what my job has become. You do it to the best of your ability and see what happens.

My new desk may be smaller, the space tighter, but it’s all about location isn’t it? Considering I work in Wales the flag, a decorative addition from a colleague, might seem a bold move… but it works for me. It’s back to normality tomorrow or just as soon as I can figure out what that is. There’s a lot of new work; on my optimistic days it’s a challenge and on others it’s the perfect recipe for stress.

When I got home this evening my daughter showed me some photographs she’d found in the spare room.
There’s one of Mummy with long hair and one of you with black hair...

You’ve got grey hair now, Daddy. You look like Granddad...
Today was one of the better days.

Friday 24 July 2009

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Approximately 1600 years ago the world ended. I’ve often wondered if Ammianus Marcellinus, alive at the time of the catastrophic defeat of the Roman army at Adrianople, lived to witness the formal division of empire into East and West. Did he live long enough to see the sacking of Rome only 15 years later, and if so how did he feel? How does anyone cope with the end to their world?

Speaking of work, it’s been rather mad today. I’m tasked with supporting products on which I have little knowledge yet bizarrely… it’s also been rather fun. I think that’s the word - I guess I like the challenge. It’s quite a rush when after many hours you fix a problem; and rather sad that it’s not diminished in the slightest by the thought that with a little more knowledge you could have solved it much quicker. There’s a long and winding road ahead and perhaps enough to keep me interested, dare I say employed, for the foreseeable future.

Moon filmSpeaking of improbabilities, I’d rather like to see the Moon this weekend but finances (I don’t have any) will probably dictate otherwise. I’ve some time off work in a few weeks; if I’m lucky it will run until then. There’s a pile of unwatched DVDs at home crying out for my attention. If I’m really lucky I’ll be allowed to watch those too.

Speaking of science fiction, my PC decided to auto-install IE8 this week. My first completely unscientific impression is that it is indeed better, faster, stronger… but not good enough to win me back from Chrome.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

So you want to be starting something?

Well I’ve blogged for a while, but not very well and not here. I created this blog a few years ago but immediately ran into the problem of having nothing meaningful to say. I still don’t have anything useful to offer but as I reasoned before, I’m not going to let this stop me… although I did. Instead I posted the occasional iffy poem before finally taking the plunge last week and… customising my page.

Now customising pages is something else I can’t do particularly well. After many hours tweaking the CSS, I finally came up with something I really liked which, after randomly browsing some other pages, became something I could just about live with. Tomorrow it’ll be something I wish had never happened.

But all I’ve really done is duck the issue – if you have a blog you have to… blog. I can’t vouch for the quality but one advantage of having a blog that no-one reads is that it doesn’t really matter. And if I write often enough who knows… maybe I’ll manage something passable once in a while. Of course one of the drawbacks of having a blog that no-one reads is that no-one will ever know.
xkcd Dangers

Sunday 19 July 2009

Game over, man

“How are things?” you might ask.

To which I’d reply “Lieutenant Gorman has just seen his ship crash, most of his platoon wiped out by Aliens and arranges a meeting the following day to discuss any concerns the marines may have...”

Tuesday 30 June 2009

Pop star uses bad language, crowd has orgasm

Lest I sound like some Daily Mail anti beardy-weirdy tree-hugging lentil-loving pinko-hippy type, I ought to say up front how much I enjoyed Glastonbury this weekend. I didn’t go of course. The idea of me trying to survive in a tent overnight, let alone three, is ridiculous. Instead I relaxed on the sofa, navigated my way through the various BBC interactive channels and caught up on their website.

I wasn’t taken with Bruce Springsteen, I fell out of love with him a long time ago, and Blur were a little rusty, seemingly desperate to get to the end of some songs with some band members quicker than others. Franz Ferdinand suggested the crowd had carnal knowledge of their own mothers and, judging from the resultant roar of the crowd, they may have been right. I liked their set but, even with the more electronic sound, I’m beginning to find them a little predictable.

There was a whole load of stuff I hardly dare admit I hadn’t heard before. White Lies overcame the cheap suits, lyrics such as “and all we heard was lies about the truth” and my short-lived mean-spiritedness; enough to persuade me to buy their album. Pendulum were loud enough to damage my hearing with the sound muted and were huge fun to watch. There were Doves, who I’d heard of but until now never listened to… and I finally discovered why Lady GaGa is “whack”.

However my favourite thirty-or-so minutes came from The Specials who managed to induce a big cheesy grin throughout their show. Terry Hall has understandably filled out a little and appeared to amble around the stage, leaning forward earnestly every so often; then I remembered he’d always moved that way. My favourite song, “Friday night Saturday Morning” didn’t really work, but that’s a minor quibble.

There was a lot of great music. Even acts such as Status Quo take on a new light when your seven year old daughter starts jumping up and down… though I may attempt to steer her in other directions next year. If I could stay in a hotel I’d take her…

Monday 22 June 2009

Consistently inconsistent

Liam Neeson in Taken
I seem to have a haphazard approach to films recently. Of those I've seen recently, only two (In America, Metropolitan) would fall into a 'recommended' category. The others were either rubbish (Lady in the Water, Curse of The Golden Flower, Wolverine, Paycheck), not as good as I remembered (Cop Land) or guilty pleasures (Star Trek, Taken). The last group is a particular problem for those sad people who have a compulsion to score what they’ve seen; I’d give Star Trek seven out of ten… I enjoyed it but, at the risk of a few Klingon death threats, I can’t quite find it in me to call it good; just to make sure I saw it twice. Taken is problematic because despite the formulaic setup it’s executed well and is a lot of fun. I’ll be watching that again too.

Then there are the films I hardly dare watch again. Is the moment as beautiful as I remember? I watch and am often disappointed... but sometimes I am reminded of how great it is to be. There are those who would argue this reticence is misplaced, that we shouldn’t be afraid of moving on and leaving the past behind us. I’m not sure I care for this brand of progress, or even whether it’s practical or representative of the truth; the past may bind us, but isn't it part of who we are? If we can wipe it away so easily what does that say about us?

Sunday 7 June 2009

Damn… and I only had 8,401 days until retirement

Everything annoys. People leaving shopping trolleys in parking bays. The able bodied using disabled parking spaces. The government for suggesting fundamental changes to our democratic system; when the main mistake was made years ago in breaking with tradition and appointing an incompetent half-wit, from their own party, to be leader of the house. Racist idiots using the expenses scandal as an excuse to vote BNP. People who don’t vote. Adjusting the thermostat up and down or switching the heating off altogether rather than letting the thermostat do its god damn job. The mess in the kitchen. Bullying. Bullying at work. Physical bullies. Intellectual bullies. Men who hit women. Men who hit men. A pack of crisps from a multi-pack is smaller than an individual pack of crisps. It’s the same with chocolate. People talking in cinemas. Big Brother. People who watch Big Brother.

It's entirely possible I may need a break...

Tuesday 12 May 2009


"I’ve started using Ariel for washing the clothes. Sarah’s children have eczema and she says it’s much better for their skin and we have sensitive skin so I thought I’d try it though it’s a little more expensive."

"You’re listening to Five Live breakfast with Nicky Campbell and"

If I had another chance tonight

"It doesn’t hurt to give it a go does it? I spoke to Melanie about"

"Shelagh Fogarty. In the studio we have"

"Mum and she said she’s being very difficult. She won’t talk as it’s"

"Sheila to tell us about RBS. They’ve announced their quarterly figures which are"

I'd try to tell you that the things we had were right

"about Nana and you know what she’s like. She won’t acknowledge"

"a pre-tax loss of 44 million pounds which is round about"

"what the doctor says, or take her medicine when she’s supposed to. Which is just"

If I had another chance tonight
I'd try to tell you that the things we had were right

"…what we would have expected."

Is this my wonderful life
Or the tale of another
One other solitary soul
With an abstract goal
Of happiness

It’s madness
This sadness

I don’t like this beautiful house
Yet the music shrouds me

And it’s not such a bad place to go.

Monday 4 May 2009

The curious case of Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman
What’s up with Harriet Harman? I was rather troubled by an interview I heard last week in which her argument for future leadership of the Labour party, thinly disguised as a presentation of the ‘equality’ bill, was “either you agree with me or you’re a sexist egotistical pig”. Well it was something along those lines.

Most politicians tend to paint the world in broad colours, it’s when they deal in absolutes that we ought to worry; and this isn’t the first time Harriet has indulged in a little rabble-rousing. Not so long ago she suggested Fred Goodwin, disgraced former chief executive of RBS, “shouldn’t count” on his pension, deliberately giving the impression that the government would intervene despite knowing they couldn’t. It might have been popular but the law, after all, is the law; much as Harriet might like to ignore it, which is odd since she’s a solicitor.

And then there was this…
We know that inequality is grounded not just in gender, race, disability, age and sexual orientation, but also by class.
Whoa… full house! Is it possible our wannabe leader is living her political life in reverse? Inequality of opportunity exists in many of these areas, and has blighted far too many lives, but perhaps someone could remind me just how long this champion of the working class, this Labour party, has been in power? Upper and middle class socialists such as Harriet spend more time agitating over class than any other people I know; you’d have thought they could have managed an effective law or two by now.

Friday 17 April 2009


Years erode and memories scatter
Subtle imprints
Of your touch
I reach in faith but only flounder
And to kindness clutch

I remember…

Your first look
My purpose took
And spirit quickly won

Your first smile
Is blinding while
Inept I stutter on

And then…

The ritual dance
I blow my chance

Hopeless fumble
Passion stumble
Ardour crumble

...and I never dance again

Thursday 26 March 2009

They came

First they came for the Moslems, and I didn’t speak up for I was not a Moslem;
And then they came for the Christian, the Jew and the Hindu too;
And I remained quiet for I thought they knew

Who had won?

They came for hate, and that seemed OK;
But passion as well, that went the next day

It’s for the best, they explained;
There’s too much pain
When you get into bed
With love

Now few dare dispute
Their truth absolute

There were some

But whilst they came for Martin
They never came for me
For there was nothing worth taking
Or nothing left to take

Monday 16 March 2009

Cheese and pineapple on a stick

Cheese and Pineapple on a stick
One of the great things about having children, besides the supposed excuse for watching films you ought to have grown out of, is the readily accepted defence for behaving strangely in public. Thus I found myself at a wedding reception dancing in the most peculiar way and, since there was nothing about it in the news, you can trust me when I say that no one was hurt in the process. I even came out with my dignity intact.

OK, that bit’s not true but dancing with a seven year old affords a certain level of absolution; for a short period of time I truly enjoyed myself. Though the worst thing about any reconnection is that no matter how good the moment, there are the moments that follow. Enough maudlin nonsense, here’s the report.

The GPS got me to the church on time. I’m so enamoured of my new best friend that after a stop at the service station I still got her out for a chat despite knowing the rest of the way home. She can take me to the third exit at the roundabout (and back again) anytime.

The church service was nice - though for me the pastor overdid the smiling with his eyes closed, holding his palm upwards and swaying during the hymns. I know there’s nothing wrong with this but I had my religious radar on and it was a little over sensitive. The bridegroom was smiling and relaxed, the bride looked lovely and Little Miss R was totally carried away with excitement.

The reception was good too. The best man was nervous, about half my age, and still gave a far better speech than I could ever manage. Most of the guests may have had strong religious backgrounds but contrary to popular perception the few I spoke to were easy going, genuine and a far better example of kindness than most. They looked just like ‘normal’ people…

I will close by making the following observations.
  • There are far too many middle aged men, or any men for that matter, who know the Macarena… stop it. Conversely there is nothing wrong with the YMCA. This dance personifies cool… as anyone who saw me can testify.
  • The pastor may have thought it was love but personally I think its cheese and pineapple on a stick.

Friday 13 March 2009

Striped pyjamas

I spent part of last week and most of this week being fought over between Texas and Canada. Canada won, so the Texas catch up meeting will be one where I have to explain why I haven’t caught up. I’m spending a lot of time creating large “to do” lists and then farming the work off to other people. This week I had to work on some problems on our next rather than current project and they weren’t even the problems that originally caused me to offload my work. The first turned out to be a fault with the live version of the software; the other error was process rather than software but it took me an age to track it down.

The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas film
So I spent ridiculously long hours at work, drank way too much coffee, learnt how to butter toast yet still had time to watch another film.

My 3rd film of the week (three in one week is a modern day record) was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Now if I were analytical I could point out the limited budget, the stage school child actors who weren’t wholly convincing and compare it to other films on the same subject. But for me the small scale brutality was effective, as it was sudden. I appreciated the different perspective and though it was simply told this didn’t affect my appreciation of the film; the end may have been predictable but it was nonetheless moving.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Welcome to the temple of Richard Dawkins

There are would-be murderers, all around the world who want to kill you and me, and themselves, because they are motivated by what they think is the highest ideal.
--Richard Dawkins
I'm agnostic. I believe the theory of evolution, that’s ‘theory’ in its scientific rather than popular sense. There’s a part of me that wonders why I should have to qualify myself, but the larger part thinks it easier that way.

Charles Darwin portrait
With the recent anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth I somehow found myself reading a Richard Dawkins blog. This was in response to a colleague of mine who had read of a report showing an ‘alarming’ percentage of science teachers who didn’t believe in evolution. It later turned out that actually it was a percentage who weren’t convinced that evolution offered all the answers… then later again we agreed that not only did we not know the result of the survey but that, since we didn’t know the question asked, the previous discussion had been rather pointless… but still a lot of fun.

Regardless, I found myself reading Dawkins’ blog and it wasn’t long before I had this strange feeling of déjà-vu. If I remember correctly (I don’t care to go back because it was an ugly read) the discussion originated on correspondence between Dawkins and a journalist; in which the journalist had the temerity to infer that Richard Dawkins appropriation of Darwin’s significance was counter-productive to the teaching of evolutionary theory.

The journalist suggested that the teaching and acceptance of evolution was best served by keeping it separate from any debate on religious belief. Dawkins reply missed the point; he repeatedly commented that this was irrelevant as the science stands for itself. He either couldn’t, or wilfully refused, to entertain the idea that a person forced to choose between truth and love will sometimes choose love. Personally I think this rather wonderful; though Dawkins and his acolytes would doubtless roll their eyes at the very suggestion.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and an atheist; like most of us he combines what he knows (which is considerable) with what he believes. This is perfectly natural and in Dawkins case it helps to shift a lot of books; but in presenting the two tenets of evolution and atheism as a package he undermines that with which we can all agree. I say this because I don’t know any Christians who disagree with the theory of evolution. If he were to separate the two then science as a whole would find it easier to educate, and sloppy ideas such as ‘intelligent design’ would lose their grip and slowly die away.

So why doesn’t he? Judging from the many contributors to his blog I found it difficult to escape the feeling that they enjoyed the conflict; the intellectual bullying of people considered their inferior. It was unpleasant but I can hardly blame the great man for his following. There’s a certain irony in this fundamentalist approach to following their highest ideal, for they fail to consider the possibility that it’s not so much religious belief that is the ‘root of all evil’ but religious intolerance; and in that respect they condemn themselves.

Friday 27 February 2009

A privatised affair

I’m a staunch believer in capitalism, though I admit I’m prone to try and have it both ways – as an ugly necessity that provides the money to pay for the nice things in life; schools, hospitals and the like. And as I’m someone who grew up in the eighties I’m generally comfortable with the privatisation of national industries; the notion of allowing potentially successful companies to operate free from political interference seems eminently sensible. Since our politicians are often failed businessmen, businessmen on the make or people who’ve never had a real job, they’re the last people who should be trusted to run anything. In addition there’s an inherent conflict of interest in having the same people who own a company being tasked with its regulation.

Whilst Harold Macmillan may have likened it to selling off the family silver, all this remark really demonstrated was (perhaps not unsurprisingly) how out of touch he was. The repeated windfall taxes are ample evidence that the government can, if it wants, steal money just as easily from the private sector as it can the public.

The earliest examples of privatisation (BT, British Gas) were extremely successful; we may complain about the prices but these are driven by market forces and we now have a very real choice. In later years however, flushed with the success of what had gone before, the Conservatives became almost dogmatic in their approach. If they could privatise those industries, they could privatise anything, and at times it appeared they weren’t too bothered with the outcome.

Had there been much left then I’m quite sure the current Labour government would have equalled, perhaps even excelled, the Thatcher years. However they found ways to make the Conservatives look almost prudish by comparison; the fluttering of its eyes at the merest suggestion of a PFI and the sluttish manner in which it jumped into bed with any industry that would have it. The re-employment of Arthur Anderson (accountants to the dodgy but, tellingly, sponsors to various Labour party events) who Thatcher herself had banned from government contracts, was ample evidence that there really were no limits.

Not even the Royal Mail was safe.

In principal I have no issue with a privatised mail service; I do however have a problem with the timing and reason behind the decision to sell a share in the company. I’m no great financial expert but it’s a pretty safe bet that selling in a busted market results in a much lower price than if you sell when all is well. It’s as idiotic as having a large pile of gold for sale but instead of selling it quietly, a little at a time to maximise your income, you announce your plans in advance and thus drive down the price. That particular example, courtesy of Gordon Brown, cost the taxpayer several billion pounds - and that’s back in the days when several billion pounds was a lot of money.

Of greater concern than the government’s incompetence is their duplicity over the need to sell. The company pension scheme has a crippling £6bn deficit and we know the government, in the form of Peter Mandelson, wants to sell. How convenient then that the chair of trustees for the pension scheme should write a letter to Peter Mandelson, stating the urgent requirement to do just that. There are two other methods to deal with the shortfall, one of which suggests the government take over the running of the scheme, allowing the company to run as a profitable concern. This is by far the fairest solution because had the government (past and present) not taken a 13 year pension holiday from paying in, then this problem wouldn’t exist; and neither would the negative image of the company (cultivated by the government) as a drain on public finances.

If The Royal Mail is to be sold, it should be as a going concern and at a time when the best price can be obtained for the British tax payer, not at a time that is politically expedient and the focus of the populace is elsewhere. But before selling we should first ask whether it needs to be; and this can only happen after an informed debate that doesn’t involve the orchestration of correspondence for the purpose of leaking it to the press.

Friday 20 February 2009

David McCallum and some giant man-dissolving snails

My gravestone
God I’m tired. It’s been a horrible week and, since I seem to use that phrase rather a lot, I’m thinking I should get those words engraved. You know where. I’ve overdosed on data scripts for the next rollout; I left my last script to run overnight and came back this morning to find it took nearly four hours to finish. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a data script will take as long as it takes, but it’s enough to attract attention. I think I hold the company record for the longest ever running script, 38 hours to create 17+ million rows, designed to enable on-line queries to execute with greater speed. Is that ironic? I’m not sure, it might be. Did I mention I’m tired?

Ziva David, NCIS
Last night I was on a case with David McCallum who unfortunately, and literally, came to a sticky end. We’re looking at a tunnel in a sand dune, only of course it couldn’t be a sand dune because how can you have a tunnel through the sand? David, with his forensic hat on, takes a look and decides to crawl right in. “I wouldn’t do that” I said, noticing this giant snail, only I was too late. Poor David, he never knew what happened. Only he did, because giant man-dissolving snails aren’t exactly the fastest killers around. I’m not exactly sure what happened next but at one point my arms fell off, I fell over and I couldn’t get up again because… well it’s not easy when you’ve got no arms.

What the hell was that about? Why did I have to dream about Ducky? Why couldn’t it be Ziva? She’s ‘fit’ (I may be middle-aged but I know the lingo) and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t come to a sticky end… at least not from a giant man-eating snail. Though with my luck, she probably would.

Wednesday 18 February 2009


rusty carMy car is ‘briefly’ in the garage for its paint job and I am currently driving to work in the oldest courtesy car on the planet. It’s an automatic, not much of the driver console appears to be working, a brake warning light decides to flash up periodically, it has a tendency to shimmy of its own accord and has 140,000 miles on the clock. To your average U.S. citizen this may be no more than a trip to the local shop, but in the U.K. that’s a long way. Oh, and the radio doesn’t work; so for 35 minutes I am trapped with only my thoughts for company. Now there’s hell for you.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Sing if you’re happy

My car has been patched up - it passed its MOT – it’s safe. I can’t afford to drive it anymore, but that’s a minor quibble. I spent yesterday afternoon shuttling back and forward between garage two, who had done some welding, and garage one, who failed the job because it hadn’t been done properly. I was supposed to be working from home and instead found myself fielding calls on my mobile phone whilst watching my car being welded for a second time. The only positive came when garage two managed to reverse my car into a Porsche. This might not sound too good, but the rear bumper was in a sorry state beforehand, now it gets a free re-spray before I attempt to sell the car on. If I’m lucky it may cover the cost of repairs.

Steam train
It was enough to have me pine for the days when I used public transport. For over ten years I travelled into work by train and even though the journey by car is hardly arduous, and using the train was never very quick (an hour door-to-door compared to 30 minutes if I drove), it was much more relaxed. I could spend my time reading the Metro newspaper (hey, it’s free) or even (gasp) a book. That’s right, I use to read. Whilst doing so I could drink vile coffee and munch on an over-priced cinnamon Danish – there was no end to my multi-tasking skills. I could leap tall buildings in a single bound. I could… I could… you’re not buying any of this are you? I lost you at coffee.

Working at home was much more productive than I’d imagined. This despite being crouched over a laptop, placed on a desk that wasn’t really large enough for serious work, and using VPN to connect to my desktop in the office. I didn’t check my blog once throughout the day. I don’t remember checking my personal e-mail. When I was called up to ‘attend’ a meeting over the phone I contributed far more than if I’d been there in person. Perhaps it was the novelty of it all. It brought to mind the Hawthorne effect – where a change in the working conditions (I think it was factory lighting) would result in increased productivity, temporarily at least. Perhaps when the novelty wears off I’ll return to normal; any advantages gained from having no distractions or being able to sing more loudly than usual will be lost. Singing doesn’t come naturally, I never could sing in tune – but importantly I keep trying.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Poor man, rich man, poor man

John and Yoko Lennon
This week I decided to address my haphazard finances. In the process I found an insurance policy with a high monthly premium that I could afford to cancel, and discovered to my surprise that it had a surrender value (£1045 credit).

Also this week I decided to sort out my car, though I didn’t really have a choice. On Monday I bought three new tyres and had the tracking fixed (£201), having wrecked the other tyre a week earlier driving over a pothole (£40). On Tuesday I put the car in for its MOT and service. On Thursday my car was returned with a seemingly endless list of faults fixed (£726) and a failed MOT. Tomorrow I pick up a new alloy wheel (£151). Next Monday I take the car in for some welding (£Unknown) and hopefully on Wednesday the car will be re-tested (£Unknown).

Hang on a second…

Wednesday 28 January 2009


Is any of it real? I’ve been thinking how much of what we live for is illusory. I don’t mean that in a “what’s the point of it all” sense, more that those things that give our lives a purpose have no scientific basis. A small percentage of us may improve the physical lives of those around them, but the vast majority such as I will fail.

But then I’m not living for a cure for cancer, nor to be witness to other great scientific achievements. None of these things, worthy though they are, give my life meaning. Instead I choose to believe in those elements that provoke an emotional response. Science enables me to live but does not tell me why. It provides no reason for great literature or kindness and compassion; yet none of us doubt these things exist. They are more than mere biology; the whole invariably outweighs the sum of its parts, so how can they be real?

They are real because, regardless of the evidence, we choose to believe. Perhaps then when someone believes in God, then God too is real for that person, and that is all that matters. Perhaps all of us, religious, agnostic and atheist, have a belief system of sorts. Mine may not include God but it encompasses other essentials that have no proof; they only require… faith.

And since we have faith, we should allow for others who have a different kind of faith. Proof is irrelevant. If I deny people their God, then I deny myself the right to love.

Friday 23 January 2009

Don't worry, be happy

British money notesIt seems quite a while since I said goodbye to another year, but it will take another month before I pull myself out of the inevitable post Christmas funk. Though having seen the forecast for 2009 I’m beginning to think it may be better to keep my head down and try to avoid this year altogether. My favourite story this week, notwithstanding the small matter of a new U.S. president, was the advice from a prominent financial guru to abandon the U.K. currency altogether, or as The Times put it, "We're f****d". Oh alright, they didn’t really say that but a blunt assessment of our future is long overdue and it’s simple enough so that everyone can understand – we don’t have a future.

I’m not convinced that the solution to our financial woes, a problem caused by borrowing too much money and spending more than we can afford, is to borrow even more money and spend it on things that we couldn’t afford when we actually had money to spend.

However we shouldn’t despair; because despite what I said earlier there is some hope. I’ve done a lot of research on this - someone has to – and I think I have the answer. The government would be better advised to consolidate all our debt into one affordable monthly payment. With a bit of luck we’ll have money left over for a holiday.

Friday 9 January 2009

Failing the cricket test

Cricket game
In 1990 Norman Tebbit gave an interview in which he questioned the loyalty of immigrants to the U.K. by asking which cricket team they supported. Putting aside any pedants (most Scottish people would fail the cricket test) and accepting the metaphor, a better question would have asked why some ‘fail’ and whose ‘failure’ it really is.

When I was 14 I took part in a school football match before which one player ran around the pitch shouting “There’s no black in the Union Jack”. Whilst this boy (who was prone to writing the initials NF on any available surface and who later joined the police force) was more than capable of beating me to a pulp, it is to my eternal shame that I failed to say anything. I don’t believe we are a fundamentally racist country but there are still too many of us who fail to speak up when we should. Is it any wonder that immigrants in such a hostile environment may sometimes look to their country of birth for relief?

Such problems are compounded by the internet which has become a powerful source of disinformation. I recently read of a primary school in Birmingham where a boy was told that for PE lessons they could wear football league shirts - but NOT an England shirt as it could offend others.

This story isn’t true; yet it features at the start of a chain e-mail currently circulating that includes all sorts of spurious ‘information’ justifying why ‘they’ should adapt to ‘us’ and not the other way around. If we truly are a tolerant people then we should question whether the problem is real and if so why; we should even entertain the idea that we may in some way be to blame.

I don’t doubt that similar stories exist, but consider that we are a country of 50+ million people and local government is prone to silly behaviour from time to time. Why is it that this particular story should have been so readily believed? Why is it that though white immigrants are far more likely to fail the cricket test than those from ethnic minorities, this doesn’t invoke nearly as much ire?