Thursday, 29 December 2011


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


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.