Thursday, 29 December 2011

Steady

It is a certainty that any extended time off work will be accompanied with whatever cold/bug is available. So it has been this Christmas, where I first started to feel off-colour Christmas Eve, kept “it” at bay for the larger part of the main day - helped by a paracetamol and ibuprofen combo, but finally succumbed Boxing Day where I spent most of the time stumbling around, bent over, waiting to throw up. I am back on the upward slope, full of cold - or the after-affects - and food. My in-laws were particularly generous; clothes I will actually wear, Blu-rays I will actually watch and a large box of chocolates I will actually... well, it’s chocolate isn’t it.

I’ve watched a few films - not many; I was surprised to like The Young Victoria as much as I did and Son of Rambow lived up to its reputation. I caught up on three series of Fringe, the first series of The Wire, Misfits is terrific and there’s a new series of Friday Night Lights waiting. I’ve even started on a new book. So I've relaxed, eaten a huge amount and I’ve suffered too; I may even have lost weight - an illness can be unpleasant, but it’s effective. Yes alright, maybe not.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The goldfish lives

My last day was also the most tiring I can remember; I was overwhelmed with a need to sleep, and not a drop of drink contributed to that feeling - well, maybe a little. The first day following was dropping off presents and picking one up - a goldfish. I successfully avoided the cat; I can only hope this alternative will prove less expensive after a frightening amount spent on a tank; it cost so much it ought to clean itself.

The next day the guinea pig died. Grief - if that’s not too strong a word - is so difficult to witness in a child, but a garden burial, a Jaqueline Wilson book and a day to remember has eased the loss, if not all the tears. I’m sure I read somewhere of pets being useful in teaching children about death. This time I didn’t mention heaven, though I have in the past. In the time we have - I tried to say - we love those around us and are loved in return; we love and are loved, that’s what life is.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

An infinite number of redesigns

Today was my last day at work, for the year. Not quite sure when my actual last day at work is but judging by the state of various economies, you do wonder. Is it my imagination or have shops been quieter than usual? I loathe shopping during the festive season though the last three trips haven’t been too bad; not too much traffic and easy to park, that can’t be good. Despite all this, and a few other things besides, I shall do what I can to enjoy because, when it comes down to it, why worry about that which you can’t influence? Christmas will soon be upon us, my daughter is becoming more and more uncontrollable as the day nears; and I’m becoming more and more nervous because I haven’t bought any presents.

I’ve been too busy redesigning the blog, the ultimate exercise for pleasing myself - perhaps I should rephrase that? Based on my own ratio of items read to items subscribed, I estimate I have 0.2 regular readers; New Year’s resolution - let’s see if we can boost that up to half of one before the arrival of summer! Not so much the content; I have been swayed by the “menu bar” approach of Twitter, Facebook and Google. It’s clear they influence each other - I often mistake the (currently) black Google bar adorning so many of their products, for the Twitter bar - and I’m pretty sure Facebook fixed their blue bar (rather than have it scroll with the page) not long after Google+ was released. So now I have my own grey (appropriately enough) menu bar, fixed at the top with a lovely shadow effect when you scroll the content “underneath” - my 0.2 regular readers are going to love that.

I really like it, but then I really liked the last look - right up to the point where I was sick of it. It’s minimal and promotes the content, though at the expense of a “visual identity” - the large image occupying so much screen space at the top of many a blog. It’s interesting therefore to find the new Facebook timeline design - for which you can sign up early - merges the two; underneath the menu bar is the user selected cover image. It’s the visual element distinguishing one profile from another, and it’s huge. I’m not sure I’d go that far but it’s enough to make me think again.

Friday, 16 December 2011

A truth universally re-imagined

Praise be, I have finally read Pride & Prejudice; at the third attempt, or possibly the second since I’m not sure picking up the book and never opening it counts. It wasn’t, in case you’re wondering, the graphic novel depicted - I just like the idea and since I’ve seen so many adaptations, perhaps one day this will be another? How could I have doubted Jane Austen having seen this story told so many times? There’s an old version with Laurence Olivier that takes huge liberties with the story, but it helps if you have a crush on Greer Garson. I vaguely remember a BBC series from the 1980’s before their more famous effort with Colin Firth. And there’s the Keira Knightley film of which I’m unsure, despite having seen it a few times. I suppose familiarity was a problem but it proved its worth, despite taking a while to settle on who was who; Firth as Darcy, Mary Boland as Mrs Bennet, Melville Cooper edged out by David Bamber for the role of Mr Collins, yet I could never settle on an Elizabeth; it was no matter, the book was the star. I knew it to be a clever, sharp humour, but never imagined romance could be portrayed so well.

Courtesy of my Kindle which, despite Amazon continually reminding me of a newer, cheaper version with a better form-factor, has proved the spark necessary to get me reading again. I love my Kindle. Pride & Prejudice is the twelfth book I’ve read this year, it’s not a lot I know; I am in awe of you book-a-week types, for me it’s a recovery from near extinction, so I’m happy. Of the dozen, I’d seen film or television adaptations of five. I’m not sure what that says, whether it’s a good or a bad thing, whether it’s a normal ratio, but since I’m planning to read Any Human Heart next, it’s not worried me too much. I bought it on Blu-ray but to be fair, I am going to read the book first... oh alright, second; I saw it on Channel 4 last December.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Rowing boats

There were three men in a boat; Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. No, that’s wrong... and anyway it was the other Miliband and also, it was a crap metaphor. It’s a sign of how bad Labour is on this issue that I found myself comparing the two over their use of metaphors. The leader of the opposition stuck by the “seat at the table”, tried and tested many times before and endorsed by Peter Mandelson today. This is a “unless you agree, they’ll stop listening to you” argument that I find difficult to stomach; whatever happened to the understanding that disagreement is the sign of a healthy democratic discourse?

David Miliband’s riff - the UK had jumped into a rowing boat next to a 25 nation supertanker - has originality to commend it, in that it’s more original than his brother’s effort, but is weighed down by all those unfortunate connotations we have with supertankers; big slow cumbersome vessels that take an age to slow down and stop, even when going in the wrong direction - and their unfortunate reputation for running aground. This is the man seen by many as a better option, but whose party chose his brother to lead instead; thus proving they do have a sense of humour. Labour’s position on the EU veto - if it’s possible to discern one - appears to be that they wouldn’t have needed to answer “No”, because had they been in charge the question would have been different. I like it when it's deadpan.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Inside Facebook

When Mark met Emily
Well it was the BBC, so it was less inside Facebook and more rehash Facebook. There was one amusing (to myself) moment where we were told, based on an expected $100 billion flotation, next year Mark Zuckerberg could be “worth” $17 billion; and I thought “only $17 billion?” - I genuinely thought it would be more. It started with a brief “what is Facebook” introduction, threw in a little bit of history but mostly involved Emily Maitlis asking penetrating questions such as “Where does Mark Zuckerberg sit?” It turns out he sits with everyone else; the poor guy can’t even afford his own office. It was a slight documentary, not quite infomercial, I was impressed with the size of other companies - some with hundreds of employees - living entirely within the “Facebook eco-system”, and there was some criticism.

The most difficult question was to one Facebook executive faced with the complaint that when Emily clicks “Like” on a brand, she may not want to be part of that brand’s advertising on a friend’s page. Hmmm... long pause... and a magnificent recovery waffle about the “nature of advertising”. I’d have gone with “then don’t click on ‘Like’” and risked the wrath of Emily. I’ll bet she's marvellous when she’s angry.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Backward

A kind of existential week; not entirely successful and culminating with the suspect use of “existential” - a dodgy definition formed as a teenager when required by my English teacher to read Sartre. He was always good for a laugh - the teacher that is - some vague notion that it wasn’t so much what you were doing - or even why - more that you were doing something. Thirty years later and with the knowledge that English wasn’t my strongest subject, it allows for last week; something was getting done, but it’s best not to concentrate on direction.

I spent an appalling amount of time working on an application I knew nothing about, tracking down an error, trying out various theories and somewhat bemused to find the developer of some of the underlying database procedures was yours truly. I switched to some unit testing, which I hadn’t forgotten, and in an act of solidarity managed to break that too. The COM+ elements weren’t working so I thought I’d check the application upon which they were based - to find it failing in a different way. A re-install required uninstalling first, uninstalling produced an error; and the windows installer and clean-up utility had been retired by Microsoft to be replaced by something with a much nicer interface that didn’t do the job. On finding the old utility, the install that followed failed with complaints about the registry. Something was getting done...

Bobby Fischer
Genius and Madman was the sub-heading to a Bobby Fischer biography on the BBC. I confess I did feel sorry for Fischer; in particular at a press conference where, having been granted Icelandic citizenship, he was silent for a moment as if aware of what he’d become. I’m not sure what heading I could apply to the woman on the tram whose racist ranting was captured and duly posted to YouTube. On reflection, I wondered if genius was all that separated the two. Fischer came across as an unpleasant individual even before the descent that followed his victory in 1972. Was his anti-Semitism a symptom of his madness, or his madness a vent for his anti-Semitism? The documentary suggested the former, further reading suggests the latter.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The life worth of others

...a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering.
It’s an act I can understand in theory, yet one that on examination leads to a worrying question. When we talk about euthanasia it’s often in terms of a right to die for the seriously ill, but who decides on what is meant by “seriously ill”? Is it a terminal illness or - more contentiously - a severe disability? Assurances that it’s the patient making the decision for him/herself are unsatisfactory. If the patient determines the definition, it is a right conferred to all as the definition is meaningless; and if it’s society as a whole, in doing so is it not making a value judgement? What message do we send to those who qualify for assisted suicide?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kind and helpful creatures

I had an unexpected experience yesterday. On searching for some winter images, the results left me feeling contrary; pictures of snowy landscapes - clich├ęs to be sure, but usually the thing to remind one of magical times. It was as if a premonition for later that evening when Little Miss R informed me “I’ve asked Father Christmas for a cat... and if he doesn’t get me one I’ll ask Mother Christmas... then the elves”. There are various reasons - which I can’t explain - for not getting a cat. I couldn’t explain them to my daughter either, and though the request was funny, I went to bed worried with the prospect of disappointment.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a cold, laying for an indeterminate length of time with my eyes closed, a wandering mind, wondering how long I could last before seeking out some paracetamol. My mind was fixed by the bedroom door opening, followed by light steps around the side of my bed and a gentle shake. “I had a nightmare”, she said. It took a cuddle and a glass of milk to settle, ending with a smile; it took me a cup of tea, and an hour and a half or more to do the same. I read The Accidental Tourist, and then I read the Christmas letter again. “A cat or other pet” said item one, and I could smile too.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Lobbed

Lobbying is one subject I’d like discussed. A lack of specificity suggests the inaccurately titled Occupy LSX movement - currently occupying St. Paul’s - may well have covered this only to circle on. It tickles my imagination; a topic giving substance to claims of representing a broad section of political belief, though I don’t buy that for one moment. Nor, in all honesty, do I believe it to be the simple issue suggested, though some forms are undoubtedly a problem. In this respect the encamped libertarians and other free-marketers - if they exist - do share one characteristic in common with the more practiced protester; vagueness - something is wrong but what, and how to put it right? At least the right-of-centre have offered a “how”. Lobbying though, as described on the UK parliament website, could originate from any of the following:
  • Individual members of the public
  • Groups of constituents
  • Local businesses
  • Organised pressure groups/campaigners
  • Commercial organisations
Responding to members of the public, or groups of constituents, sounds like a job requirement; and an organised pressure group may only differ by virtue of scale. Likewise, I can imagine valid reasons for listening to the concerns of local businesses and, following from that, commercial organisations - or should government build infrastructure on a whim? It might appear we’re running out of suspects; however it’s the “professional” or paid lobbyist who most invokes our ire - thousands employed in the defence of special interests against competition; described by some as corporatism. The difficulty is one of distinction; even assuming agreement on which is which, how can we legislate to separate the good from the bad? I suspect contesting corporatism requires less fight and greater transparency - and better judgement from those we charge to oversee our interests.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Soft target

I noticed, but let it slide; my increased tendency to remark on some innocuous comment I’ve read on Twitter, using one social platform to write about another, sounds incestuous. One should not base a post on such - I find it difficult to say tweet - it’s mean and it's lazy. There are those who will always tempt; the absolutists, the consultants, the educators, knowledge wielded in the style of Good Will Hunting - what an odious film. But it’s the indolence for which I should be marked down; throwing darts at easy targets is shallow sport. It’s dangerous too; I’ve written my fair share of gibberish. That’s bad blogging, Phil - you wrote a bad blog.

Monday, 14 November 2011

When worlds collide

Combining M&S with X Factor contestants seems inherently dangerous; it could rip apart the fabric of Christmas. Pairing an up-market brand with something from the other side of the tracks; it ought to result in something more daring but it’s a terribly safe, by the numbers effort put together by the same kind of mindless drones who once chose Titanic as the BBC Christmas day family movie. Who let them out? I don’t know quite why the M&S Christmas advert should annoy me so much, since their usual television offering is so decidedly bland. Roll on the Iceland release - last year’s production may have been tacky but they had fun on their side - and thank goodness for the following:
Saw Anonymous n absolutely loved it. Love history.
I am completely blown away by this awesome comment. That’s “awesome” as in the opposite of awesome, possibly, since it occurs to me they may have been practising irony; indeed the more I think about it the more I think it must have been? But then… but then it’s from someone using txt-speak and who describes themselves as an ‘educator’ - as opposed to teacher - and you know what that means.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Silence will fall

#remembranceday Silence shouldn't be compulsory, but those who don't observe it show their true colors [sic], and should be judged accordingly
I am uncomfortable in collective forms of remembrance; I generally find their subject best remembered in private contemplation. This of course is a personal view, many prefer to come together and share their grief or thanks. I have no argument with this, except when it requires the adherence of others. I am reminded of two events; the first was David Blunkett (then the Labour Home Secretary) who initially suggested the new ID card (since scrapped) could be optional, whilst at the same time admitting those without would be unable to use NHS services, amongst others. Secondly, the insistence of the ‘great’ British public in requiring Princes William and Harry to parade in public behind the coffin of their mother. There are many forms of tyranny. The comment above was hardly the worst, I include it as a mild example of how intolerant we are, or have become; I’m not sure which.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The red versus the white

Royal Irish Rifles Somme July 1916
An old debate reappeared recently. I’m not sure how, perhaps some innocent comment, like me wondering whatever happened to the white poppy? It’s a dislike of mine, though not for the usual reasons. I’ve no disagreement with those who remain unadorned, and the criticism of Jon Snow for not following fashion seems counter-intuitive to what the poppy should achieve. ‘Fashion’, I should be careful how I use that word. I expressed this concern to my father after having seen the occasional t-shirt with a stylised poppy-print; and my reaction to Robert Fisk’s recent article in The Independent was much the same as that of my Dad all those years ago - what an idiot. Fisk’s article continues a worrying tradition in believing after reasoned argument we must naturally come to the same conclusion. I respect his reasons for not wearing a poppy, but those of us who don’t should afford the same for those who do. It’s obvious really; poppies on the England kit or worse, as hood ornaments on cars, it’s all horribly commercial and not in the true spirit. But suspecting foul appropriations is no reason to besmirch the best intentions of so many others.

I should allow the same for white, but my heart tells me different. An absence can be explained by people choosing to remember in their own way, or deciding the past is the past; an opinion I can understand, but don't share. The white poppy however feels elitist, a suggestion that their proclaimed sentiment - the desire for peace - cannot be found elsewhere; an “up yours” gesture to the rest, a symbol of one’s own beliefs more than a remembrance of the past.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Occupy St. Paul's

There will be a cross-cultural solidarity protest with the Syrian people on Thursday outside St Pauls, 5pm. Please RT. #occupyLSX
-- 2-Nov-2011
Help, they’re being oppressed! At first I thought it a spoof account but no, it’s the real thing and was duly re-tweeted by dozens lacking any sense of perspective. I’d have loved to see the looks of their more rational comrades, such people certainly exist but I imagine they’re drowned out by the more active; and the vigorous political types tend to be at polar ends of any debate. This is a problem for any protest movement claiming to represent “the 99%”, though I think they’ve now broadened the definition to “acting on behalf of the 99%”, as opposed to letting them decide for themselves. Thus some polar explorers will claim it’s a left-wing protest - which it is - whilst being in the interests of the 99% - which it isn’t.

Camping outside St. Paul's, refusing to move, and instead of weeks debating the issues we’ve been diverted by questions of whether they should even be there, whether they have imposed on the good faith of others, and the resignations of people with whom they have no disagreement. If the occupy movement were representative then we’d have had something other than an initial statement inspired by UK Uncut, we’d have had at least one idea with a level of support from both left and right; an intersection rather than amalgamation of familiar gripes. For example, legislation on lobbying might have been an issue that all sides could get behind, instead they gather under an anti-capitalism banner. In place of having a problem, many protesters have settled on capitalism being the problem, rather than an expression of our freedom of choice.

The collapse of any business has a ripple-like effect on those with which it used to trade; the bigger the business, the bigger the effect, to the extent that a bank failing can be a disaster for us all. Where capitalism has failed is not in income inequality, our freedom to choose means some will always be wealthier than others, even obscenely so. Nor is it a lack of job security, businesses fall so that other stronger ones can take their place. Its failure is in a framework that for one particular sector, grants large businesses a government guarantee; it will not allow them to fail, no matter how poorly run, as to do so would be catastrophic. That's what needs fixing, after the small matter of a large debt.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Five days off, five days on

There’s the rub, all that lovely time away followed by a period reintegrating myself into society. Following The White Ribbon I watched The Road, which I’ve seen a few times before having read the book a while back. It’s a film I like more and more, in the same way I ‘like’ The Elephant Man; both have me teary-eyed at the end. My procrastination meant there would be no festival of film, but there were the occasional moments of quality and that’ll do; I’m trying not to feel too guilty that I can’t remember what I did with the remaining time. I ate too much, but I exercised too. A little, though since I dragged Little Miss R on a regular walk and without too much complaint, there’s hope for me yet. And I’m back at work reminding myself how it all works. I ask that question a lot.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Loose ends

Another three-day break from everything, where I unexpectedly found myself looking after Little Miss R - I hadn't realised it was half term. This might have meant a curtailed film program were it not for the distraction of YouTube and iPlayer and every other high-end consumer of my broadband allowance. As it turns out, I find I don't watch nearly as much as I can, and my reading is equally abject. I am without purpose, wandering up and down the TV schedule unwilling to commit; I even gave up on Tilda Swinton, that’s how bad it got.

Today however, I kicked the malaise. Not through the last episode of Hidden, a conspiracy thriller from the BBC conjuring an old trick; appear more than you are through leaving key questions unresolved. My temporary redemption came through a drama altogether different, unsettling and at first unsatisfactory. The White Ribbon doesn’t provide a neat resolution either but there is, I realised on reflection, a strong message. Michael Haneke described it as a film about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature", but it’s not nearly as indulgent as that might sound. Violence corrupts; rarely has this been expressed so well.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

War!

Imagine Yugoslavia as an example. A federation of republics bound together largely by autocracy - dictators tend to get their way - and then by a rotating presidency; that last bit sounds familiar, I’ll bet they even had a single currency. Then they had civil war.

War - what is it good for, apart from (as Harry Hill reminded us on the weekend) ITV drama serials? German chancellor Angela Merkel raised the danger in a speech to the Bundestag yesterday, strong arming them into approving measures to improve the Euro bailout fund. “Nobody”, she pointed out “should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe”; which sounded remarkably similar to my father’s response to a query on the purpose of the EEC. My Dad - and I’ll grant, the chancellor - have a point. 25 years ago I had to concede there were advantages to a common market; bringing nations closer together in a way that is to the benefit of all, reduces the chance of conflict.

Merkel however would go further. “If the Euro fails, Europe fails” she tells us. And because she had the courage to raise the bloody history of our continent, no-one has the nerve to question whether the medicine will avoid a repeat, or achieve the opposite - well, she started it! There must be far gentler ways to bring the people of Europe together - and I’d question whether it requires government. It’s usually governments that cause these things in the first place.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Opportunism knocks

Given the perilous state of the European economy, I’m finding it difficult to be enthused by a referendum on EU membership. Euro-sceptics see this as a best chance in a generation to ditch an unloved institution, so I can imagine how it might make sense to push the issue now, but I can also see problems in this approach. Though it’s a crisis largely of the Euro’s making, there is a problem with the world economy too; in such times people are as likely to develop a herd mentality as they are to strike out with confidence on their own.

This is the wrong time to decide. There are economic advantages and there are regulatory pitfalls - I’m being polite - we don't yet know how these will be changed by the closer financial integration that will form part of the Eurozone recovery. The “loss” of the AV referendum earlier this year was seen as putting the issue of “electoral reform” on the backburner for a generation. Imagine a narrow vote for maintaining membership, used as an excuse for doing the same. Let’s wait until people know what it is they’re voting for - or against - rather than have them base it on a guess.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Any man's death

Society was up in arms about Murdoch being pied, but torturing and murdering Gaddafi is ok, something wrong with that picture.
Well quite, there would be something wrong with that picture if I thought it accurate. However, I’ll pass on this straw man and note the rather disturbing inference that for many, trial and execution by the state would have been preferable. There were three possible outcomes:
  1. Gadaffi executed on the spot.
  2. Gadaffi put on trial and then executed.
  3. Gadaffi put on trial at an international criminal court.
It would seem strange to intervene for the sake of one, when unwilling to do so for the thousands of Benghazi; so I’m assuming the non-interventionists - those who objected to NATO involvement - would continue to proclaim the need for Libyans to handle their own affairs. That leaves two possibilities, both with the same result, and though both are objectionable, in the light of last Friday’s indignation I ask myself which is worse - the blood lust captured for all the world to see, or the quiet rational heart that would deliberate - and then kill.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Am I not Conservative?

Conservative party logo
Against my better judgement I queried “those who want to stay in [the EU], are not Tories”, describing it as “an extraordinarily narrow perception of what it means to be Conservative”. I could have phrased that better, but was still surprised with “no, sonny, it's MY interpretation - or do you want to control that, as well as my ability to vote on the EU?” to which another added “...it's actually not as narrow as you might want to believe, if you're a TRUE conservative”.

Ignoring the “TRUE conservative” - how do you respond to that - I described to the first how I saw it as “the rights of the individual over the state - that'd mean accepting (not necessarily agreeing with) alternate views”. To which he replied “try as I might, I cannot even attach any parts of your reply to the topic”. Mine was a poor description. What I’d have liked to say was that to decide who’s in and who’s out based on that criteria - one that in my experience has very little to do with Conservatism - seems a little prescriptive, and not unlike the actions of the European body he would decry. However there didn’t seem much point in pursuing this, so explained my reply had been my interpretation - in response to his - and apologised for any offence.

I am ambivalent about the EU, as I am the referendum. I preferred the EEC; that is I could appreciate the idea. There are euro-enthusiasts, euro-sceptics and those who are certain of their dislike. I’ve always thought of the Conservative party as the broad church eschewing narrow dogmatic expressions. I’m aware that won’t chime with some, certainly not the “other side”; yet if we do believe in the individual then it seems logical to expect a wider range of views. And since, unlike one of my correspondents, I lived - and voted - through the Thatcher years, I feel as qualified as any to stake a claim.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Nonplussed one

I can’t believe I’m spending so much time on this; it’s a little bit obsessive. I noticed recently that the “share” part of “Recommend on Search, Share on Google+” had stopped working on the blog. What am I talking about? Why the Google +1 button of course!  For a while I assumed it was tinkering by the people at Mountain View, and then took a look yesterday because, even if it’s never used, you want to know it would work in the unlikely event of a click.

It was tinkering - at least, I think it was - though not in the way I’d thought. I assumed the code behind the button had changed whereas I discovered a run-time error in the JavaScript, and only because I happened to look using IE. How can I get Chrome to indicate there’s been a JavaScript error without spitting all over me; an extension no doubt?

Cue a bit of tinkering, moving the script to the bottom of the HTML before the </body> tag - where I realised it should be, but to no avail. Then out of curiosity I removed the script altogether. I expected to lose the button since without the script how would it be generated, but there it was. What’s more, the “share” part of the button’s function was now working. So all I have are the <g:plusone> elements and Blogger, a Google property after all, does the rest; until they change it back again. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

No borders

There’s so much happening, so much I could write about or get “off my chest”, yet by the time I find myself at a keyboard the moment has escaped and I can’t quite remember what, only that I was, excited by something or other. Am I mellowing in my golden years or is this senility; I think we know the answer. I feel I should write it down before anything else slips away.

Liam Fox spent last week hogging the headlines, resigns, and lingers on. The opposition saw a chance to stick in the boot - I grant, it is their job - and suggested amongst other things a mandatory register for lobbyists. This would be the register that Ed Miliband and his friends voted against whilst in power, never mind the dubious assertion that a lobbyist is a clearly identifiable entity. I saw one over the top comment demanding a ban, but at what point does a constituent asking for help become an evil lobbyist asking for the same? The difference between help and lobbying for favourable treatment is entirely subjective. One suspects a continuation of the bad business meme warping so many minds.

Writing of which, how are my Occupy chums doing in London? I shall afford them the honour of capitalisation. I commented on their counterparts - the inspiration for across the world “life isn’t fair” protests - in Wall Street not so long ago. This lot seem equally cluttered in thought, though I should credit them for a limited nine-point statement. Mercifully brief, unsurprisingly vague, it’s full of the usual anti-capitalist nonsense neatly tying in various other complaints - well you might as well let it all out. There are those on the left who want banks to fail, and those on the right, strict free market capitalists who want the same; albeit for different reasons, unlikely bedfellows, neither persuaded by the lessons of Lehmans.

You’d have thought all this would be enough to occupy my mind - see what I did there - but no; the end of capitalism as we know it has been eclipsed by something far more exciting. I removed the border on images, this after a brief flirtation with shadows - though I haven’t entirely forsaken that guilty pleasure. I’m all grown up, the blog feels more mature, except for the content, but you can’t have everything.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A time of pestilence

...to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
In-between the usual weekend tasks - the shopping, the exercise, trying to find something to fill the empty hours - I conceded a need to finish The Plague, which seems an odd thing to say about a book I liked so much. I was curious as to whether a work of fiction from a key philosopher of the last century would manage to be more than intellectual exercise. I found it written with that same intelligence, clarity and genuine compassion for the trials of man I found in Sisyphus, with not a drop of wasted sentiment. Two observations: The by now familiar non-judgemental nature as evidenced by a refusal to condemn Cottard, a black marketeer who most would portray as villain, but of whom Tarrou is moved to describe as “that man, who had an ignorant, that is to say lonely, heart”. Second is the character Tarrou, who might be described as hero, though I can imagine much discussion over who fills this role best, or even whether - given this is Camus - such a role can be filled. He appears to embody some of the themes for which Camus would eventually find himself estranged from his contemporaries. In confiding to Rieux, Tarrou describes a changing relationship with his revolutionary friends:
...once I admitted the arguments of necessity and force majeure put forward by the less eminent, I couldn’t reject those of the eminent. To which they retorted that the surest way of playing the game of the red robes was to leave to them the monopoly of the death penalty. My reply to this was that if you gave in once, there was no reason for not continuing to give in. It seems to me that history has borne me out; today there’s a sort of competition who will kill the most. They’re all mad over murder and they couldn’t stop killing men even if they wanted to.
Obstinately humanist, what a superb writer Albert Camus was. I look forward to The Rebel.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Rigging the search

Is it coincidence, arrogance or unbelievable stupidity? If it is to defend itself from accusations that Google search algorithms show a bias towards Google services, how does it explain Google+ managing to rank so highly? Logged in to my Google account, if I search my name (yes, I know) then my Google+ profile, which I post to only occasionally, often appears right at the top; if “I’m Feeling Lucky” then it has the sense to pick the ‘true’ result, which is my blog. Even logged out and disconnected from my web history, clearing the cache or anything else I randomly think of, using other browsers for example, a search on my name will still place Google+ above more frequently used services such as Twitter or Facebook.

I can imagine an argument that defends the artificially enhanced rank when logged on, though think it poor design; however I can’t see how any objective search would return these results. As a lone example it’s hardly a tipping point, they understandably want a slice of the Facebook action, but search should be solely about returning what is most relevant to the user. If it fails in this, then I can go elsewhere. Google ignores that at its peril; it’s a lot easier to change search engines than social networks.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The King is dead

My name is Phil Ruse; it has been eleven days since my last post. That’s a rate I was at when I first started this nonsense; so either there’s nothing I have to say or there’s nothing left to say... which might be the same thing, not sure about that. Or perhaps I can’t be bothered. I might edit that bit out, at least I’ll take out the “just”; in the bin with “it’s a fact” (it never is), “in my opinion” (it always is) and a growing collection of other aberrations. I wonder if this will undergo the usual vigorous editing, a savage excision to the point of what’s necessary, and lose its intent in the process. I know, you couldn’t tell, and I should probably stay away from the subject of necessary. I shall therefore pluck random events from the news and hope it doesn’t sound too desperate.

Steve Jobs is dead, long live Steve Jobs. I knew he was ill, but when he resigned from whichever position he resigned from, I didn’t realise how ill. There is a lot about Apple I don’t like, or of which I’m deeply suspicious. I loathe the walled garden, the “money for nothing” results of their app store; you make the software, Apple takes the money, OK, a percentage, but still… And a predatory approach to patents which I acknowledge is partly defensive; you can be quite sure that if Apple were playing nice, some idiot patent trolling company in Texas would be doing it to Apple. I’m not sure the technology was always as revolutionary as reported, but the user experience certainly was; Apple replaced the idea of reading the manual (remember rtfm?) with querying why you should need one.

The former CEO of Apple might well have been one of those filthy rich types incurring the wrath of the Wall Street occupation, but since no-one really knows what they want, including the protesters, it’s difficult to say. I’d hazard not, because the Apple chief made his money in smartphones and other tangibles that simple folk can understand. I have some sympathy, because I am simple too; yet for every Steve Jobs we need a Ross Perot for those shiny objects to see the light of day. Some investors, financiers, bankers (whatever you want to call them) become very rich on the back of this, sometimes without risk and yes, this does seem unfair. But if this is all you’re saying (“things must change” isn’t saying anything) then who are you arguing with? Complain about unequal taxation by all means, but don’t dilute the message with a general anti-bankers polemic.

The excellent – and frighteningly prolific - Norman Geras wrote an interesting post defending such protest and while the points raised are certainly valid I can’t help but trip to the next step – there’s always another question - what is the alternative? I’m not enamoured with those systems that have tried, as their method restricts that greatest of freedoms, freedom of choice. I stumble to Churchill’s description of democracy as “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, and wish I could be so polite.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Plus one more

There’s probably a road map of which I’m unaware, but the +1 button seems to be suffering a mini identity crisis; only recently did I discover it now encapsulates the Share (to Google+) function too. That is, +1 allows you to “recommend on Search, Share on Google+”, unless you’re already in Google+ where it only recommends on search, likewise (for some unexplained reason) if you use the Chrome browser extension. In other words, it’s inconsistent.

Also, I’m not convinced by the UI. The design forces you down the route of Recommend and Share, rather than allowing you to choose, which in itself would cause problems. Yes, I could Share and then undo the Recommend, but that sucks. Then there’s the Share function itself, so subtle as to go almost unnoticed, though I suspect familiarity will make it second-nature, and remind myself that I like understated - it’s not like they’re Microsoft. However, even if the +1 button is Google’s preferred route for sharing content, the current design requires one click too many. Does this mean we can expect a dedicated Share button in the future?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Two tweets are better than one

A head full of cotton wool, not literally of course, that would be dangerous, probably terminal; though it would explain the lack of discernible brain activity. I am reduced to blogging about blogging - would that be meta-blogging? Not my own though; in the absence of original thought I shall comment upon a couple of tweets. Would that be meta-micro-blogging or micro-meta-blogging or…
It is time to end the Dark Ages. Tax all religion.
28-Sep-2011
I am not entirely sure how to respond. Is this a hoax, a provocation designed to kick-start a debate, an “I don’t like religion” tweet - perfectly acceptable - or, and I may be giving more credit than is due, a suggestion that any favourable tax status should be reviewed. Difficult given that such status is the result of charity - and are we really in the realm of dictating who can be charitable? Taxing people’s belief; it is I suspect another example of ‘progressive liberal’ thought: penalise that with which you disagree.
Party defections by elected officials should always create by-elections. No exceptions.
29-Sep-2011
I am entirely sure of how to respond. This is either a misunderstanding of how our electoral system works, in terms of who and what we vote for, or another misguided attempt to pass the judgement of an elected official from the electorate to an unelected body. When in the polling booth, whilst in practice I scan for ‘my’ political party, in reality I am voting for a specific individual. It is a marvellous system, a system that could - if we curbed the power of the party whip - encourage our representatives to give due allegiance to their electorate, rather than the party to which they happen to belong. It is the very essence of local democratic accountability.

The logical progression to this - at an extreme end - is that an individual may choose to leave his/her party; whether because the individual or the party’s policies have changed, it is for the electorate to decide. Changing party is in effect no different to changing policy. Were a rule introduced to the effect that party defections trigger by-elections, this could be side-stepped by declaring an intention to leave, as opposed to actually leaving. Easy, you might respond, the party would then eject their unwanted member to get the desired result… only they could then eject all sorts of other ‘troublemakers’ too, and doubtless get more malleable MPs in return, bending to the will of their party first, their electorate second. Is that really what we want?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kind hearts are more than coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Over a year after buying an Ealing box set, I put on the only film in the collection I hadn’t seen as a boy - Kind Hearts and Coronets. Terrific stuff, unexpectedly dark, though given its premise I don’t know why the surprise. I think I was taken aback by how sharp it was and how, though the roles of Alec Guiness are a reference point, it is the performance of Dennis Price I will remember, if not Joan Greenwood as the artful Sibella. Ah, Joan, we shall meet again in The Man in the White Suit; I wonder if I’ll like you quite as much then?

I corrected my omission in response to a spot-on review in The Guardian - who’d have thought I’d ever say that - which starts “There are four great voiceovers in cinema”. Voiceovers; whilst I try not to judge, I regard them suspiciously, chuckle when the somewhat unsympathetic McKee dismisses it as “sloppy writing”; though that’s Adaptation, a film with a wonderfully recursive quality, featuring much ‘off-camera commentary’ itself. Occasionally I do have my prejudice stoked by the truly awful; drama such as The Body Farm - what were you thinking BBC? - or irritated when otherwise they have something to recommend, such as Submarine. On the whole, they magnify any fault, and if that’s the case I have no excuse - and every reason - to look up the others in the list; Sunset Boulevard and The Age of Innocence for instance - how can I have missed those two?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sleepy head

Friday afternoon, my daughter returns from her school activity week with a sun tan and a smile. Fifteen minutes later, we drive for a traffic-afflicted four hours to Padstow - or as I shall now think of it, given the number of establishments, Rick Stein’s Padstow - for a birthday meal with friends the following day. We stayed overnight in Molesworth Manor, far too nice for the likes of me, and left the following morning to walk around town before having lunch at The Seafood Restaurant. Stir-fried squid for the starter, and a steak for my main course; it was good, but Ronnie’s - a local restaurant, walking distance from where I live - is better. Perhaps this is a little harsh, a seafood restaurant should probably be judged on its fish? Then, a four hour journey home in the rain - including a stop for coffee, I needed that coffee - before... and there my recollection of the weekend ends. I think a cooked breakfast may have been involved, and a walk to the shops.

I remember planning to watch The Dead Zone, and ejecting the DVD when I discovered it was letter-boxed for a 4:3 screen. There’s work tomorrow; I shall start where I left off Friday, though since I can’t remember where I left off I don’t know where I’ll start. I need a pillow and a good night’s sleep. Strike this weekend; I’ll relax in the next.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

An apology

Lest I become part of the baying twitter mob, I thought I’d try writing something positive, so I shall offer some advice. An apology should be the main - some would say only - part of an apology; try to avoid the following:
  • Don’t make me count the ways. “two wrong and stupid things” - are you counting the type or number of offences?
  • Don’t name drop. “I took out nasty passages about people I admire” doesn't lessen your transgression, especially considering what you did to those you’re not so keen on.
  • Don’t self-aggrandise. “...the powerful people I had taken on over the years for their wrongdoing” would be wince inducing even if true. You’re a writer, not a freedom fighter.
  • Don’t leave anything out and don’t delay. If it takes several versions, disclosing a little more each time, leaving it until there’s no way out, people might think you insincere.
I do have some sympathy - a little - for your employer, when I last checked over 7,500 people had “liked” your “apology”. Perhaps this is why it feels like the minimum thought necessary, a token gesture to enable you, your employer and your readership to stumble on. There’s a ready market for your polemic, say nasty things about the right targets and it’s proof of something that deep down us ordinary types already knew; money trumps gross misconduct every time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Abandon currency!

Former chancellor Nigel Lawson was in entertaining form this morning discussing the current EU economic mess, though it did sound as if he’d been celebrating too early. The ‘solution’ wasn’t so much for Greece to abandon the euro, but for the EU to abandon its dream of a single currency. As he put it, monetary union requires fiscal union; and fiscal union would require political union, something most Europeans don’t want.

I remember several occasions when people voted “No” and were ignored; in the case of Denmark threatened with the consequences and told to vote again, presumably as often as needed to produce the ‘right’ result. I can easily imagine many wanting monetary union, but not the foundations required to make it work. Just as I continue to find it difficult to square the Liberal Democrats championing of local democracy, whilst pushing for deeper European integration; and if this doesn’t mean political union, what does it mean?

Monday, 12 September 2011

The tragedy of our day

I wonder if the Labour party thought it a good day to bury stupid policy; they have form. I should thank them, and the TUC, for the light relief provides distraction from what might have been a grim day. Not so much the tragedy of what those zealous idiots started ten years ago, more the reaction of those who even now conflate Afghanistan and Iraq with alarming ease; or, for example, the Guardian’s intellectual vacuity in insisting it an act of terror, rather than one of war. Presumably without a formal declaration it isn’t such; and thus becomes the perfect excuse for any state harbouring an organisation wishing to slaughter the citizens of another. The US and its allies prosecuted a just war in Afghanistan, if there can be such a thing; to do otherwise would have been monumental folly, a signal to others that sheltering Al Qaeda carries no risk, no penalty, no matter what.

Yet I am disingenuous, for my daughter has left on a week-long activity holiday with her school. That grim feeling is better described as nervousness; it is her first time away. Much as I feel I ought to, I find I cannot concern myself with the murderous stupidity of others. At least not to the extent - I hope - of changing the way I think, the way I behave. I refuse. We've been through this before.
The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live, and fear breeds repression. Too often sinister threats to the bill of rights, to freedom of the mind, are concealed under the patriotic cloak, of anti-communism.
-- Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Dispelling not-for-profit

I can understand arguments that proposed NHS changes may make the service less efficient. I can understand suggestions they won’t, as claimed, put the patient - or his/her GP - in the ‘driving seat’. I disagree, but I can understand, and in truth can imagine failure. I am less impressed with warnings of impending privatisation; what arrant nonsense. Nor do I care for the consternation apparent at the notion of a private company making a profit. That so many decry the idea of an NHS-run hospital closing - as a result of being open to competition and unable to compete - suggests either wilful obfuscation or an inability to understand the basics.

When the running of the national lottery was open for bids, Richard Branson made much of his group’s tender being not-for-profit; however, the relevant detail is revenue generated. Branson was courting public opinion, that he felt able to throw in this red herring is indicative of how easily confused we are. For example, should we accept a bid that will generate £800 million for the country and £100 million profit for the organisers, or should we accept a not-for-profit bid generating £750 million?

Understanding ‘commission versus provision’ is equally simple. When the NHS spends money on our behalf, would we for instance rather spend £3000 on an ‘in-house’ operation, or out-source to a private hospital charging £2800 for the same service, of which £300 might be profit? Of course these numbers are made up, I use them merely to illustrate that profit should have no bearing on the decision made. Accusations of cherry-picking by private consortia should, if we procure sensibly and ensure multiple providers, also prove irrelevant. An informed choice, one that allows for profit, will result in an NHS that costs less and/or one that can do more.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Look at those silly men

Jack Kerouac - On The Road
As befits a good book, I’m having a hard time categorising On the Road. It defies easy rating; it’s good literature that was no doubt ground breaking for the time, yet time has not treated the movement well. When I think of the beat generation, I think of the dated patois, of Jerry Lewis or numerous other parodies; and in my less forgiving moments I found myself weighing whether this wasn’t a fetid existentialism; less ‘on the road’, more ‘on the turn’.

There are some great moments; I particularly liked the description of roads being widened and laws abated to make way for one of Dean’s visits. The latter stages in general, the trip to Mexico and the slow unravelling of Sal’s sometime companion prove to be more sympathetic. There were a number of genuinely moving occasions where I felt Kerouac really got ‘it’, and his observations of friends worked well too, even occasionally of fellow travellers:
…because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory in this observation, but it works. Most supporting characters however fair less well. For example when Sal finds himself...
... wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic negroes of America.
Oh dear, the last time I read something that patronising was a Guardian account of the working class. Unfortunately this isn’t isolated either; the otherwise excellent trip to “Mehico” has a wince-inducing indigenous population who supposedly speak ‘a leetle like theees’ and descriptions of women that wouldn’t be out of place in an airport novel. “We don’t understand our women”, says Sal, that much was obvious; men are predators and most women exist to be nailed; the 1950’s expression for this is to “work” or “make”, but let’s not argue terminology.

Camus wrote “it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing", appreciation doesn’t require empathy; the question is whether these slight descriptions are a failure of Sal or the author. Since it is a largely autobiographical work I tend toward the latter view; on the Camus test, Kerouac scores highly on one criterion but has mixed success - and some notable failures - on the other.

Yet here I am, over a week later and still I think of “On the Road”. For a large part, even after I had finished, I found the central friendship of the two frustrating; Dean is a horrible character, less shaman, more charlatan; but in this, bizarrely, lay my hope. Sal knows who Dean is but loves him just the same.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Smurfing hell

Katy Perry Smurfette
Somehow I contrived to raise my hopes, and suffered the consequences; The Smurfs was terrible. It only took a few comments of 'exceeded low expectations' for me to take leave of my senses; it might prove to be a guilty pleasure or a hidden gem... well maybe not that far, but I'd thought there might be something to enjoy, beyond a flimsy excuse to post a picture of Katy Perry.

And in eye-popping - I mean that literally - 3D too. I have only seen one film done well in 3D, though from a sample of four it’s hardly scientific. Coraline managed to make it part of the story; its use restrained in her ‘normal’ world, it’s only in the ‘other’ world that we get the full effect. In the other three films, which it occurs to me would have been crap in any dimension, it was full-on, all the time. This has two immediate side-effects; the first is the eye-wrenching alluded to earlier; the second is that you notice the limitations. I could distinguish layers, but with the result that each seemed more flat than if I’d been watching something ‘normally’; it reminded me of those cheap cartoons of the past, with a few overlaid backgrounds to give a sense of depth. Perhaps it’s a drawback pertaining to films converted to, rather than made in 3D. Hence I’ve not given up altogether, despite the film industry’s seemingly suicidal tendencies with this technology. I’ll have to be a little more discerning instead; not easy when you have a ten year old.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Rambling

Once, there used to be a wide old footpath at the top of the embankment running the entire length of that side of town. It was known as the ‘old railway line’. Though the last remnants were removed when I was a child, you could still, walking the length, cross a couple of stone bridges to remind you of the past. The embankment has long since gone, flattened and brought down to our level to accommodate housing, business and a bypass to the small industrial estate. It stays the ‘old railway line’, though all that remains is a thin tarmacked path between old and new.

It’s still used for the walk to the shops, and the bridges are still there, though barely noticeable; where there were fields on one side there are now estates and an office. On one occasion my mother, having noticed the rubbish over several such walks, the small plastic cups and empty sweet wrappers from vending machines, took action with a large bin bag and deposited the results in reception. I used to think that mildly embarrassing, now I cheer; that’s mums for you.

Poor eyesight, not nearly as fast as she used to be - I no longer have to run to keep up – and a catholic; I figure religious enough to make up for those in the family who aren’t. In mass last week she stopped to appreciate a stylish top. At the end of the service, a young member of the congregation sitting behind, put their arms around my mother and gave her a kiss on the cheek before leaving. It was only when my mother stood up that she realised she had a new cardigan draped around her shoulders.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A decade in the life of

On one trip to the Cribbs Causeway cinema, the whole complex - cinema, bowling rink, restaurants and all - suffered a power cut moments before the film was due to start. We were there to watch the Disney/Pixar film Up - which I was looking forward to, and on a subsequent visit I really enjoyed - so we were a little disappointed. If there is any balance in the world I hope for a similar fate tomorrow, when I will be taking Little Miss R to see the new Smurfs film, may God have mercy on my soul. I’ve tried - I’ve really tried - to get out of this one, but I fear there’s to be no escape.

We are celebrating her tenth birthday which falls this week, and hasn’t the time just flown by? Well, no actually, though I typically rue having wasted so much. I can clearly remember, and will never forget, holding her for the first time, the moment when her eyes opened and... maybe she couldn’t see me, but I could see her. Likewise a year later; a visit to Bristol Zoo, or a few weeks ago and her first swim in the sea; I love those moments. One day, if I’ve done a good job, I will need her more than she needs me, and those moments will be all I have. So I shall smile loudly with the time I have left, endeavour to make better use of the next ten years and smile when I fail. There’s the teenager to come, bothersome boys, exams to fret over, university perhaps? To think I worry about enduring a group of small blue fictional creatures - I shall save my wishes for later.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A touch of ordinary

A shop, a walk, exercise (either that or I have to stop eating), two good films later - Il Postino and Garage - and a sudden realisation that I can use Blogger to create a basic “online business card”, as various services such as flavors.me and about.me are sometimes described, or a home page. Curiosity (vanity?) persuaded me to buy a custom domain when setting up my blog; so I could create another and assign the “www” subdomain, and since it’s Blogger it would also (unlike Google Sites) be able to handle naked domains.

Specify the favicon, hide the navbar with a bit of CSS and hack/edit away at the Template HTML to hide almost everything else and I had a blank canvas to work with. The trickiest part was remembering my login credentials for changing the DNS settings - mine were buried away in Google Apps - then undo an existing mapping for “www”, change the CNAME and add some A records. The result is admittedly light on functionality and I only needed to cough up a measly $20 for a whole set of features, but where’s the fun in that?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Concern for the unfortunate

Nonsense - even in politics - can also make you laugh. Take today’s example:
Of course what Tories really think is that there *is* a correlation between poverty and the riots. They think the poor are subhuman scum.
In isolation, your typically silly comment, but when followed up with...
The riots are in large part caused by inequality and poverty. Not because poor are inferior people.
...it becomes unintentionally amusing. But just in case you were unsure, there was this beauty - the unquestioned cornerstone of so many arguments - a few moments later:
...origins of Conservatism lie in hating poor.
What a tweet. That a party would be identified as openly antagonistic to a large section of the electorate - whose votes it requires - shall remain one of the great mysteries, and all the more remarkable for being the view of someone with a first-rate (well, far better than mine) education. To believe that good and (for want of a better word) evil, can be so neatly aligned with left and right-wing ideology is astonishingly simple and self-serving. There is, I’m sure, a larger debate around the correlation (or lack of) between education, politics and morality; for now I shall confine myself to wondering how someone so intelligent can say something so foolish, and elude the inconvenient truth of Hubert Humphrey:
Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fix you

So I went on holiday and everyone - a “lost generation” no-less - stared rioting... for four days. Well thank you, but this post isn’t really about me. By the time I returned the “rampage” had stopped and I had to suffer - am still suffering - the various current affair “specials” on why and who’s to blame. Panorama, for example, used some lovely background music.

Some idiot blamed the previous government; more idiots blamed the existing government. Some thought it black culture innit - whatever that is - others, something to do with the poor, or being poor. If I were one of the less fortunate (and who knows, there’s plenty of time) I’d be getting slightly pissed off at the constant suggestions of my inevitable anti-social behaviour. There was a legitimate seed for protest - a Police shooting a few days earlier - but it was quickly consumed by our more thuggish members.

Besides, our moral grounding is hardly a rock in the knowledge there’s more to lose when you step out of line. And therein lies the problem; it’s not so much the violence, more our naive - and potentially dangerous - belief that no matter what, there is a solution to making us all behave better, all the time; and the lengths some will go to achieve this desired result. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing from the past or even future portrayals of attempts to “fix” the population.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Half way between a giant anteater and a baboon

Lauren and Phil Ruse on Paignton beach
Away for a week, where two really good days sandwiched one really bad day... and the rest were average. I spent a lot of time reading; finishing The Shipping News and the larger part of Kerouac’s On The Road - more on that later.

Little Miss R spent an age on the beach building sand castles - or more accurately demolishing mine - and digging a large hole in the sand which inexplicably she was determined to fill with water; this was - I later found out - her favourite part of the holiday. Later that day she had her first swim in the sea - which was my favourite part of the holiday.

The following day she was sick, so sick; I have never seen so much produced by someone so little, and for so long. Was it the small taste of seawater, the ridiculously large meal or too much time in the sun? It’s to her credit she was uninterested in blame, and it was probably my fault.

If a first swim in the sea was the moment, the best day was a visit to Paignton Zoo. How pedestrian I am, yet it’s never easy finding the balance in our band of three. It’s a big zoo and fills much of the day - perhaps five hours; I am thus satisfied with a long walk whilst Little Miss R - amongst other creatures - is content with a cool Kangaroo. It’ll do.

Friday, 5 August 2011

'Fun' with CSS

For further fun I have been aiming at horizontal (only) scrolling, for the purposes of displaying code samples. Taking a previous post; it overflows correctly in Chrome and Firefox but fails to do so in Internet Explorer 8, and I presume earlier versions. Worse - or to make it more convoluted - I can specify exact width, extract the CSS and the HTML and have it working in IE8, but the same code still fails within the context of Blogger. I’ll trace the cause eventually (and use the <pre> tag rather than a <div>) yet it’s possibly a little obsessive; in all my posts I’ve only displayed code twice, and only once has it required scrolling.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

‘Fun’ with JavaScript

With some on-going tinkering yesterday evening - styling the search widget on my blog - I wasted hours on a difference between how Chrome and Internet Explorer (and later, I discovered Opera) executed some JavaScript compared to Firefox. ‘Hours’ because I managed to side-track myself with the onblur event, and the problem was something far simpler. I put it down to rustiness - an accidental mixing of syntaxes - though the truth may be less kind; never mix alcohol and coding, kids.
<html>
<body>
<input name="search" type="text" size="10" /><br />
<input name="search" type="text" size="20" /><br />
<input name="search" type="text" size="30" /><br />

<script type="text/javascript">
var x = document.getElementsByName("search");
var i = 0;
for (i=0;i<x.length;i++)
  {
  document.write(x(i).size+' ');
  };
</script>

</body>
</html>
As usual it was a case of reducing the code to something more manageable. On executing the example above, Chrome (my default browser) and Internet Explorer will write out the sizes of the three text boxes, whereas Firefox will not. The reason is all to do with brackets; we use square brackets to access an entry in a nodelist, and parenthesis (rounded brackets) for the optional arguments to a function or method call. Chrome and others are effectively treating item as the default method on a NodeList object - hence the example JavaScript works, whereas FireFox isn’t - and the example JavaScript fails.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Developer reading The Shipping News

A Sunday the same as any other. Walk to shops. Reward myself with large latte and a very berry muffin. Exercise the guilt. Then watching Inception, at least think I did. Poor joke that. And reading The Shipping News. Good book; how to impart flavour? Present tense. Choppy sentences. Missing pronouns. Sparse. Don’t get that, not at first. Clever though, has a reason. Unlike this. This is poor. Embarrassing. Worse than a joke. Worse than that joke. Sound like HULK. HULK HUNGRY. MUFFIN NOT ENOUGH. HULK WANT MORE.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Applied imagination

Brainstorming, whether via a formal group or with thoughts collated electronically, is one of the valid methods to problem solving. It does however require an environment that encourages unusual ideas and one that (crucially) reserves criticism; it’s to be expected that the majority will be dismissed. New and successful ideas will only be created in a setting where common assumptions can be freely challenged, even when those assumptions usually turn out to be correct.

Where it is less successful therefore, is in the public domain; when, for example, you’re Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s strategy director. That’s not to say it’s any less valid an approach, more that you’re unlikely to find a mature audience (you’ll certainly not find a grown-up press or opposition party) willing to hold back criticism until the later stage of the process. Perhaps that’s the way it should be, we are a democracy, though the danger will be evaluation apprehension, which is to nobody’s benefit.

Steve Hilton’s offence was to address a perceived problem - that maternity leave hurts women by discouraging employers from hiring them - by suggesting the scrapping of such leave. It’s not even close to being government policy, nor will it ever be, it’s the “challenge common assumption” role; Hilton challenged, the group dismissed, everything worked as it should. What’s depressing - or should that be predictable - is the response when this iteration of the process was made public.

I’ve read several comments inferring he devalued women (he didn’t) and/or pointing out the valuable contribution women have made and continue to make; well, you don’t say. The problem with such statements is they brush over the problem at hand; they don’t even trouble themselves by addressing whether there is a problem, though the long list of female achievements that usually follows implies there is.

Let’s assume as much; some employers are dissuaded from hiring women. What then is the answer? Clearly not scrapping maternity leave, but then constant references to an untapped ‘pool of female talent’ haven’t appeared to work either. Put simply, we have an employer choosing between prospective employee A and prospective employee B; if employee B has more rights (or is more likely to exercise those rights) than employee A, and the employer identifies the exercise of those rights as carrying an administrative cost, it doesn’t take much to figure out what might happen next.

One suggestion is to ensure not only equal rights, but the real possibility of those rights being used equally. A shared paternity allowance available to either partner would make discrimination on the basis of sex, patently pointless. Of course I’m only brainstorming, this hasn’t been thought through and anyway... it’s only an idea.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Reading and writing and the other thing

I’m in a bit of a post-happy mood on WWGCA, as those in the know like to call this blog. Admittedly the subject isn’t always too cheerful, but I am pleased - probably too pleased - at my ability to string a few words together; into what those in the know like to call a sentence. I’ve also been reading a lot, or more than usual, and the catalyst has been my Kindle. Those books I can’t find for my new friend, I read the old fashioned way. After watching Brokeback Mountain last Friday and discovering it’s based on a short story by Annie Proulx, I’ve started on The Shipping News, which already feels like a favourite. I remember liking the film too, though my image of Quoyle is now somewhat distant from that of Kevin Spacey. It’s so good I even found myself reading in the evening, imagine! That’s when I’m not distracted by the collaborative writing exercises of daughter and friends (hopefully) some years ago, now pinned to the board:
Exercise one
Exercise two

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

To entertain a thought

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle
I too was impressed with the Norwegian Prime Minister’s response of “more democracy, more openness”, in answer to the bombing and shooting in his country that cost so many lives. Yet I also find it instructive that following an objection from the police, the perpetrator was denied a public statement; which was no doubt to the relief of the court. I can certainly understand - and suspect - the reason this action was taken, but I note a wider sympathy for denying him any opportunity to speak.

Democracy isn’t the freedom we are given, it is the freedom we give to others; even to those who commit the most terrible acts. It gains strength not through brushing repellent types under the carpet, but by having the courage to confront those more unpleasant elements. It is a willingness to be challenged. If we really are to shut down debate on some subjects - as a recent Guardian article seemingly suggests we should - then whatever the argument, we’ve already lost.

Monday, 25 July 2011

They can see no reasons, ‘cos there are no reasons

I am culpable to a reflex defensive response to the idiot Norwegian who murdered so many of his own countrymen last Friday. I only caught the news late on Saturday, suddenly finding myself in the middle of a stream of Twitter bollocks already well under way. I was, to say the least, less than enthused with comments expressing “solidarity” with “Norwegian socialists”, which with some reflection I recognise as wrong. “Solidarity” has acquired an overtly political intention which in this context I find insensitive, however it’s difficult to argue with identifying the victims by their political beliefs, when it’s those beliefs that caused them to be targeted by that inadequate human being.

But I remain irritated with the grasping appropriation of victimhood by and for those who share a political outlook. Likewise the seemingly inevitable conflation that results when said murderer cites various authors, journalists and other celebrities in his mad manifesto. Is Prince Charles to be lauded as a result of Brevik's displeasure? Or if I might put it another way, Jeremy Clarkson isn’t stupid as a result of being quoted by a stupid man...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The run-down

My reviews being suspect, I shall resort to lists; of the seven, only those at either end were new to me. The damp squib was Saturday’s conclusion, Empire of the Sun; one of Spielberg’s early ‘serious’ films and of interest because in addition to not having seen it before, it featured child actor Christian Bale. Wednesday began with I’ve Loved You So Long and ended with The Luzhin Defence. Thursday was restricted to Downfall whereas Friday was glorious; Lost In Translation and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind were joined in the evening by Brokeback Mountain - I’m not sure I can say which I thought best.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Each wish resigned

I’d forgotten it had a soul, and I made the same mistake as before. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is a clever film, but the world is awash with such. It’s a film I’ve seen three times now and whilst its cleverness will always impress, it has a point; about making the most of the time we have, reminding me that the good memories aren’t cancelled out by the bad. It was the second-half to a double-bill, though in retrospect I wonder if subject might have been best served by reversing the order.

My morning was taken with another favourite, Lost In Translation. It’s not nearly as technically accomplished and its faults are many; it’s voyeuristic, the depiction of the Japanese is at times caricature (accusations of being racist are simplistic), Scarlett Johansson’s character wanders and wonders, and her husband is such an asshole I wonder why she married him. I even thought all that walking around in her underwear unnecessary; suggesting either my new found maturity or - more likely - a cry for help. Yet it too is a film with heart; two people of different backgrounds, brought together by virtue of being lost and alone. I’m at a time where I can remember being adrift at either age.