Sunday 23 December 2012

Second sight

Apple iPod Touch 2nd generation
I decide to prove the model of iPod Touch bought all those years ago (3 ‘normal’ years = 21 ‘Apple’ years) rather than settle on indirect signs. Wikipedia’s information that a particular generation can’t be updated beyond a certain version of iOS is a strong clue, as is the rather annoying discovery that whilst this version is good enough for some apps, if the model isn’t as required you’re still going to be stuffed buying your apps whilst the device is attached rather than through the device itself; you’re allowed to purchase even though the app won’t play. Over to the Apple website where I find proof comes in the form of a model number on the back, yet I can only see the memory capacity, under which I can make out some etching indecipherable to the naked eye.

Great - another evisceration of Apple, what could be better? There’s a USB microscope on the PC next door, I can write a blog on this and I’m going to be so witty, just like the last time, only my daughter spoils it all by walking into her room and asking for an explanation, upon which she picks up the iPod Touch unbidden, looks on the back and reads out:
Model number A1288. There... now can I have my laptop back?

Monday 10 December 2012

Santa Claus has come to town

Lee Majors in The Night The Reindeer Died
Children are great for this time of year; before they come along the message has likely given way to parties and some much needed time off work. Once they arrive, sweeping you up in the purest joy they amplify the true meaning of Christmas, which is something to do with presents and Santa. The latter made an appearance on the weekend courtesy of our local Round Table, his arrival heralded much excitement as I swept up my daughter and headed to the front door, opening it just in time to catch the man in the bright red suit as he was strolling past. Turning, he came forward and offered her a sherbet lolly from the tin he was carrying. “Thank you, Santa”, we said, for I may have joined in, and on closing the door my daughter turns to me and says
Daddy, you are SO embarrassing.

Sunday 2 December 2012

The anti-upgrade, from Apple

A month elapses between posts, five days pass between tweets. Once again I find myself with nothing left to say - which doesn’t sound likely - or no time in which to say it, or perhaps I’ve once again forgotten how. I passed on the gift-wrapped opportunity to give the BBC a well-deserved kicking over the Newsnight debacle and have given my brain cells a well-deserved kicking instead; and all because the developer loves his WPF. Well maybe it’s too early to call it love, but there’s enough of a sense of how much there is to learn and how worthwhile it will be. My car, I wrote about my car, several paragraphs about my car and I have no interest in cars. My car has gone to the great big scrapheap in the sky for which I was paid a sum just short of a cheap tablet computer, or a fraction less than the cost of my daughter’s Christmas present.

Then just as I’m about to give up the ghost, Apple push me over the edge when I rather optimistically decide that, yes, I will update iTunes and I’ll update the firmware on an iPod Touch. What was I thinking? Logic suggested this way I might be able to run some of the newer apps. I was tired. It’s not something I’d normally attempt, especially on a device that’s three years old, which in technological terms is still three years old but to Apple is an opportunity for a good shunning.

I have two complaints; I’ll start with the minor first. If I have my device connected, you’d think when purchasing an app the store would be able to first detect whether the device is capable of running it; you’d be wrong. The tipping point however was finding that previously purchased apps won’t re-install on an iPod Touch with the updated OS because they now require an even newer version of the OS, one not available to your ancient device. Can you imagine the shit storm Microsoft would endure if an OS upgrade resulted in a third of people’s purchases no longer functioning? Apple doesn’t really care.

Apple Maps fiasco
And that’s because of you since, thirdly - OK, three complaints - whilst this might be Apple’s fault, really it’s yours; maybe it’s not you, but statistically speaking there’s every chance it’s the person sat next to you. S/he’s the person who nodded approvingly when Tim Cook CEO issued his non-apology for the farce over Apple Maps; since it sounded vaguely like an apology that was all it took for some of their captive audience to express sympathy - yet it was something entirely avoidable and it happened for two reasons. Let’s not kid ourselves that Apple was in any way surprised over the inadequacy of their product. They upgraded their customers to Apple Maps because there’s a lot of money in controlling the map, and also because they don’t care, or at least they gambled correctly that they could get away with it.

They don’t care because they don’t have to. You see, you - or the person sat next to you - are equivalent to Ferris Bueller’s best friend Cameron, and Apple is like his hypothesised girlfriend. And Ferris was right to be concerned:
She won't respect him, 'cause you can't respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn't work.

Thursday 29 November 2012

For you

This gentle kiss, the slightest trace,
those tactile moments that lead to more.
I recollect desire, bound in memory,
ofttimes wistful though ne’er forlorn.

Wishing well emotion extant,
my verse unbundles, undone while
I think of passion once laid dormant
and it gives me cause to smile.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Quiche, through and through

It was a long week. Last Sunday I finally decided to fix the car which had been SORN’d for over three and a half years. I started by replacing the battery. For reasons that I’m not going to make clear as it would make me sound like an idiot, I’m curious as to how long a never-used battery lasts after having been bought. Is it I suspect, like a not-used-in-a-long-while battery, dead unless given a charge every now and then? Let’s pass on that, on Saturday I bought another battery, and on Sunday I took over two hours to remove the dead one in the car. On the VW Polo there’s a plastic casing inside which the battery sits that wasn’t quite as described by the Haynes manual my father helpfully bought me 18 months ago. Nevertheless I felt a misplaced sense of manly achievement, though this wasn’t enough to fix the car.

Dented Ford Puma
Three and a half years and I confess the main (only?) reason for this effort was the knowledge my Ford Puma - 117,000 miles on the clock with one not-so-careful owner - had about as much chance of passing its MOT as I have of reading The Busconductor Hines, which was Friday’s Kindle Daily Deal. This of course was a purchase with the noble purpose of understanding how the other half think (other readers that is) and at less than the cost of a prawn sandwich I couldn’t go wrong, though on reflection I should have bought the sandwich; given that it’s set in “Thatcher’s Britain” I only have myself to blame.

On Monday I called the RAC. My heroic and ultimately successful struggle with replacing the battery had not been enough; the engine turned as if from a slumber with no intention of waking up. It was time for the professionals. Mine spent hours in the rain with me watching him doing something with coils and spark plugs and fuses, several times he removed and replaced the engine cover - I didn’t know you could do that, I didn’t even know it was a cover - at one point he used a hair dryer and hit the base of the car with a screwdriver. Was an oxyacetylene torch involved? It may have been. Yet even an expert wasn’t enough; at a cost of £90 (since it had no MOT and therefore wasn’t covered) I had to have the car - the good car that is to replace my crappy car - towed to the garage.

To Rockhampton; a small village that can be reached along the back roads from my not so tiny town, there you will find Woodward Motors. An essential part of my motoring life for several years and the one on whom I was reasonably sure. It could be the fuel pump, was their guess when I handed over the keys, and a phone call the following day confirmed it to be the case; this, some rusted up brakes, a service and an MOT accounted for an impressively large bill, impressive for a VW Polo. I wasn’t impressed; I’d deserted the car and gotten my just desserts.

Volkswagon Polo 2002
Flooding meant a delay of a few days; it wasn’t until Friday when I could pick up the car from a sand-bagged garage. I had only the car tax left which at ‘only’ £135 was cheaper than before. On the point of applying online, being prepared to wait a few more days before I could drive, I remembered something called a post office and thus only 15 minutes later I had a legal car, one I could drive once I get rid of the smell.

If car tax was the second, the first saving was insurance. A worthless car costs more to insure than one with value, this despite the insurer only replacing to the market value of the car. My father reminds me this is because I am seen as more likely to have an accident in a 1.7L Puma than I am a 1.2L Polo, though as anyone who’s seen me drive will know, I am no more likely to have an accident in one of those cars than I am the other. I can’t possibly be blamed for having been hit three times, though there was that one time I span off into a ditch. Oh, and the time I swiped the concrete pillar in the car park, accounting for a large dent over the rear wheel arch. Yours, for less than the cost of a cheap tablet computer. Though on reflection....

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Continuing adventures

Home office desk
I’ve not been too productive when it comes to writing, but then I have an excuse; not so long ago, I started a new job. As befits a new job, at least one worth sticking with, there’s a level of tiredness from taking in all that’s new; that’s the attraction. A new language, a new subsystem for building the UI, a new model design pattern, it’s all good. Mind you the office is 170 miles away, which is why I work from home with an occasional one-day visit; that’s a long day; up before 5am, back home as late as 8pm. So the reading has faltered too.

I was on a roll; The Sense of An Ending, Waterland, The Mayor of Casterbridge and A Tale of Two Cities to name a few. I’ve started the long run-on sentences of All The Pretty Horses – thankfully I’m used to McCarthy’s play-by-his-own-rules punctuation - but it’s had to wait until a short break this week to give it its due. Before then, instead of useful activities such as practicing how to read and write, I found myself perturbed by the recent events in Emmerdale. How did their first ever music festival make a £0.5 million profit on those crowds? Oh, and somebody else was murdered. It’s enough to have you lying awake at night wondering whether the alphabet can be re-produced in a semi-recognisable format using only nine pixels; some companies spend millions producing ‘retina displays’ but I like to ‘think outside the box’. It must be the long hours.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Zombie apocalypse preparation update

“The best place to hide” I mused some time ago whilst waiting by the fountain in The Mall at Cribbs Causeway - where all the cool kids hang out - “the best place to hide in the event of a zombie apocalypse would be John Lewis”. A rather childish thought I realised on a subsequent visit to their top floor; whilst the escalators to the food hall are easily blocked off, I hadn’t taken account of the elevators. “Can zombies operate elevators?” I wondered. I still do, I can’t remember from The Walking Dead whether they can even use doors, but I think the thing is, with all those flailing arms someone - or rather something - is going to get through unless you lock it up/down.

And then there are the emergency exits. And staff access. We’re going to have to do something about that.

Sunday 30 September 2012

There were three prompts

This may be an indication of my short-attention span, but placeholder text used as the label has been bugging me for a while, and it seems to be getting more popular. I use it on the web version of this blog; the Search function in the top right uses a placeholder, though if you’re using Internet Explorer you won’t see anything unless it’s IE10. And if you’re using Firefox then older versions will result in the text clearing on focus, unlike Chrome (and presumably other WebKit browsers) where it only clears on user input.

Imagine however that all browsers implement HTML in a consistent manner and that there’s some placeholder text identifying the input that’s been designed to disappear on the text box receiving focus. Or imagine I’d used jQuery. For a single input field it’s a fair solution but for more than one it doesn’t work; I’ve found it niggling for something as simple as the usual three prompts (email, name and website) before adding a comment.

Proponents will point out the snapshot is unfair. In real life I’d be entering this information together; I’d know what I’d just clicked on. This might be true for some, it depends on the point at which your focus moves to the next field; is it before or after you click? For me it’s ‘after’, or would be if I used the mouse (or similar) to navigate the input. However, I use the keyboard and, I suspect like most who do, my focus doesn’t move until I tab away; hence my attention would only move to the next input field after it had already received focus, and lost its identifying label. Therefore if there is placeholder text it shouldn't clear until the input has content, though I'd question whether user content is an adequate identifier.

Friday 21 September 2012

Materialistic wobbles

On Tuesday I caved. In the week in which the world updates their iPhone, I upgraded my Nokia... to another Nokia. This is my first smartphone and I chose not to follow the herd, or even the Android herd that copies follows it; at least that’s what I tell myself. From a distance I genuinely prefer Windows Phone to those two big hitters; so what if Microsoft supposedly makes more money from wielding its mighty patent sword at Android than it does from its own operating system - it has originality to commend it. But comparisons are unwise since the closest I’ve come to a Jesus phone is a three year old iPod Touch, though I did once hold a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Could this be a case of blissful ignorance? It matters not, as the main reason for my conversion was a £7.50/month tariff, cheaper than what I had been paying; this isn’t a materialistic wobble after all. It’s not an iPhone or top-of-the-range anything; it's more a bottom-of-the-range something that still manages to drag me into the modern world. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. I suspect bad. I suspect I'll forgive myself. And reading of the misfortunes riddled in Apple Maps I confess to a certain schadenfreude since the pre-installed Nokia Maps on my Lumia knows exactly where I am - in my bedroom - useful that.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

It’s broken because we designed it that way

Scott Hanselman’s recent post, on a week of annoyances caused by troublesome software, was entertaining because we’ve all been there. Thankfully it managed not to indulge (or at least I could stomach) the allusions to a lack of “passion” and “craft” and the comments were mostly sane, albeit I didn’t necessarily agree. I must confess to occasional astonishment at how much does work, not only in the world of IT but the world in general; yet we can do better, and if we didn’t think so then what’s the point?

xkcd: Good Code
It doesn’t have quite the same impact, but many of his gripes would be more accurately described as “less than perfect” rather than “broken” and it strikes me - in development, now more than ever - that “less than perfect” is not only allowed, it’s actively encouraged - I’m thinking of “release early, release often”. For example, I like Agile - since customer requirements will evolve it’s helpful to have an adaptive method that anticipates this - but it comes with an understanding that what’s initially released isn’t the finished article. Ironically the separation of concerns afforded by such patterns as MVC and MVVM not only enable this, but necessarily come with additional code you’d expect with any abstraction.

One can argue the difference between internal and external releases, and there is a balance, but if we don’t release early then any perceived advantage from user feedback becomes moot. The point here is that “less than perfect” is something we accept, as quicker and better is expected in the long term. The business challenge is to ensure as much effort is extended to the updates as the early release - which in turn requires challenging (or should that be refining?) an “if it ain’t broke” mentality.

A further confession: I’m not particularly understanding when “less than perfect” hits me; though yesterday’s example was a bug. In creating an online account to manage my Barclays mobile phone insurance I discovered the password format validation was different to that on logging in; the latter was strictly alphanumeric, the former allowed for what would have been more secure. Thus the telephone call I’d hoped to avoid by creating said account became inevitable; not that I could explain the problem to the person on the other end.

Friday 14 September 2012

London in 2012, not London 2012

Harry Potter studio tour The British Museum The Shard
The Millennium Bridge The London Eye feet The Houses of Parliament
The London Eye Big BenDowning Street
Think of this as a bump... with pictures.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Amazon’s square peg, round hole

This post is hardly cutting edge; a search shows people asking the same question as my mother, only three months ago. Not quite the same, my Mum’s phone call said she couldn’t find the option to switch off the radio on her Kindle; it wasn’t until after we’d hung up, having agreed to her stopping by after church because I had no idea, that I realised she meant wireless. And indeed this wasn’t a case of her forgetting how, or having lost the hand-written instructions she makes for every device, be it DVD player, iPod or this, her latest device. The wireless on/off option had disappeared. It wasn’t on the main menu, nor had it moved to the settings sub-menu.

Only of course it had. If I’d looked more closely at the blurb under ‘Airplane Mode’, which I’d briefly registered as not having seen before, or if I’d even given some thought as to what ‘Airplane Mode’ might be, I’d have realised this was the wireless option, relocated and renamed and with the on/off options therefore reversed. Presumably done with the noble intention of consistency with other products, the iPhone for example, that’s still a crap user experience.

An iPhone has several functions transmitting a signal and ironically, depending on the aircraft operator, since ‘Airplane Mode’ isn’t standard, it allows you to re-enable the Wi-Fi independently. So if Amazon is determined in its effort to be consistent, to a term that isn’t, it needs a specific option for switching the Wi-Fi on/off, in addition to its ‘Airplane Mode’ - which on my mother’s Kindle can only switch the Wi-Fi off/on. Or perhaps Amazon should concentrate on applying patterns where they fit.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Understood by all and with value to none

The closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics was what I’d feared of the opening ceremony. An antithesis of that glorious spectacle it was a mess of ideas, a shambles, a ‘history of British music’ degraded to a party or some such excuse. Early on we were treated to an extended montage of athletes crying, and with subtlety suitably bludgeoned it was on with the show.

Fashion supermodels in the Olympic closing ceremony
And what a show; the stage imaginatively made up in the style of the union flag, the athletes were kettled within and encircled by several billboard trucks driven to the tune of David Bowie’s Fashion. From each truck emerged the fashion supermodel pictured who then, to prove his or her versatility, walked to the centre of the stage and posed fashionably. Some marvelled, some wondered. It was this sense of the unknown, this crazy sense of danger that kept me watching; here, some supermodels standing upright; there, a middle-aged pop group aboard a flatbed, none of whom wore seatbelts, one of whom, the saxophone player, dangled from a wire; it was madness.

Or was the highlight Liam Gallagher and his new band, whose ‘new arrangement’ of an old Oasis ‘classic’ amounted to singing out of tune? Not a problem with recorded slots, of which there were several including the aforementioned Bowie, and of course John Lennon whose challenging contribution - “Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do” - caused the more enlightened athletes to vanish in a puff of logic.

Not to be outdone, George Michael - who was able to attend - in a paean to the great days of Top of The Pops, mimed to a recording of his new song. It’s an outrage, suggested various commentators afterwards, to use the occasion to plug your latest single, and who presumably thought the Spice Girls and The Who had appeared for philanthropic reasons. There were lights, there were fireworks, an emotional time was had by all. I’d liked Michael’s performance, preferable anyway to the adoration inexplicably given to five wannabe pop stars screeching “spice up your life”, which was my daughter’s favourite moment; my daughter is ten.

Saturday 11 August 2012


Mo Farah. Olympic 10,000m champion. Olympic 5,000m Champion.
The party is almost over and as befits two weeks of almost non-stop entertainment, I am due an almighty hangover. I’ve enjoyed the Olympics so much that a verbing medal no longer perturbs; though a podium probably would; small steps and all that. So good, I couldn’t manage the upset required at Aiden Burley’s asinine comments on multiculturalism during the opening ceremony, nor the daft notion that ‘super Saturday’ - a day on which Team GB won six gold medals - somehow proved the Conservative MP wrong. He was wrong, but the ‘proof’ was equally silly.

So many sports, some of which I was only barely aware, yet sensible to this: whilst it has been fun, I am no more motivated to get on my bike, take up running, dive back into the pool or punch or kick someone for sport; at least, no more inclined than I was before all this started. Many I know, will be; some of whom may medal in the future. You see, I am trying.

Monday 30 July 2012

The isle is full of noises

London Olympics. Voldemort versus Mary Poppins
I’ll admit to wincing when I heard there would be an NHS section, it sounded a little too ‘eastern bloc’ for my taste - workers of the state perform for your entertainment - yet what we got was fun, not light hearted fun - that came later with Mr Bean’s Chariots of Fire - but creepy fun, the much reviled American NBC commentary were right about that, it was kind of creepy and all the better for it. My biggest concern was a rehash of the tried and tested, some bland brightly coloured offering understood by all and with value to none. Instead nurses jived around beds before settling their charges down for the night; J.K. Rowling began with a reading from Peter Pan, from which sprouted imagined terrors, ghouls from every corner, the child catcher, the Queen of Hearts, Voldemort towering over all. Who would save the children? Why a band of Mary Poppins, of course.

Even the lesser segment - into the digital age - effectively a performance to a rock-through-the-ages concert, avoided the temptation to delve into the merely popular but kept faith with those providing an alternative, an independence, or who, if I may indulge in cliché, have stood the test of time. I don’t like rap but for a few short minutes I was a Dizzee Rascal fan. And there were so many other great touches; the Queen and James Bond featured together, illuminated doves cycled around the stadium to the Arctic Monkeys singing The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, and at the end of it all the lighting of the torch, itself a wondrous architectural achievement.

London Olympics industrial revolution
All of this, all of it, was set up by an extraordinary opening 30 minutes. First the orchestra playing Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, then the countdown until we were ‘live to the world’, starting with a terrific recorded opening sequence taking us from the source of the River Thames into the Olympic stadium, live. Songs followed representing the constituent parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - my daughter joined in for Flower of Scotland - topped and tailed with Jerusalem; Nimrod then Jerusalem, two of my favourites, how did they know? This was a precursor to an economic history of our country, the history I was taught at school; the tearing up of land that forged the industrial revolution which in turn would lead to Victorian riches and place us at the centre of the world. From Kenneth Branagh’s inspiring lines from The Tempest, his Brunel strode the stage as six stacks sprung from the ground to power a new forge; ‘molten iron’ blazed a path to a ring, tempered then lifted glowing into the sky to converge with four others.

A shame that some were unable to watch this without political context, and thus judged based on whether this self-constructed context matched their own; how narrow a life they must lead. Personally it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was entertainment, it was history lesson. It was magnificent spectacle without losing its humanity. It was, as another of J.K. Rowling’s creations might say, bloody brilliant.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Sharing via AddThis

A long time ago I decided to add some ‘social sharing’ into the blog; the how in this instance being more important than the why. I didn’t care for the layout of Blogger’s own set of share buttons so hacked an alternative, adding in the Google +1 button when it became available. Sometime (or was it immediately?) after the launch of their new social networking platform the +1 button was extended to “recommend on search, share on Google+”. Whilst this was kind of OK - platform first, then API - it twisted the metaphor; when, I wondered, would Google+ have a function dedicated to “Share”? It happened so quietly - back in April - I hardly noticed; the share buttons on YouTube had altered, specifically Google+ no longer referenced +1. This is much better; the lack of direct sharing must have further limited people’s use of Google's offering.

My first thought was to enter the HTML jungle representing this blog - in which there has been far too much messing around - and code up a new button. My second thought, which occurred shortly after escaping said jungle, was to look for something else. Something unobtrusive and easily configurable, I settled on AddThis. Using their “Install Blogger Widget” option places some HTML-generating JavaScript in a widget. Done this way it’s easy to remove - always reassuring - and still relatively easy to customise, of which there are a plethora of options.

It's early days, but so far I've only three gripes. Visually I'm not keen on the two-column pop-up menu showing the other bookmarking and sharing options, and I don’t really want to spend time overriding the styling. Having said that my two other concerns are addressed if I hide the menu header. The first of which is if I select one of the services the header changes to “Share successful!” irrespective of whether I have shared. The other is something that happens in Chrome (but not IE or Firefox) as a result of the following piece of AddThis code:
<a id="at15sptx" href="#" onclick="return _atw.clb()" onkeydown="if(!e){var e = window.event||event;}if(e.keyCode){_ate.maf.key=e.keyCode;}else{if(e.which){_ate.maf.key=e.which;}}if(_ate.maf.key==9){ addthis_close(); _ate.maf.sib.tabIndex=9001;_ate.maf.sib.focus();}else{alert(_ate.maf.key)} _ate.maf.key=null" tabindex="9000">X</a>
Keycode alert
It took me a while to track down as I hadn’t noticed that I’d explicitly closed the menu, and then I assumed I’d left some code of my own hanging around; it is in truth the kind of thing I’d do in testing. Then I noticed this behaviour everywhere. For example, using the Chrome browser I tried this out on the official London2012 page detailing the Olympic opening ceremony: Hover over the “Share” icon, explicitly close the pop-up menu by clicking on “X”, then press a key, (almost) any key; I typed “A”. Well, it made me smile.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

When the bough breaks

How fragile we are, our lives hanging on such an unconvincing thread; from one end plugged into a wall socket, once used for nothing more complex than a telephone call, now winding around the living room, behind the chairs and the bookcase, to the other end plugged into a router; from which other wires protrude; one to the BT Vision box, another to the Nintendo Wii, one more to the television; wires; wires everywhere.

Kick Ass film
When the router breaks...
On Sunday afternoon I settled down to watch Kick Ass on LoveFilm Instant, or rather with the two hours of streaming my DVD package allows, only to have it buffer then come to a complete stop. Navigating to another page and a check with my daughter - who through BBC iPlayer, ITV player, YouTube, Netflix and so on, can usually be relied upon to be doing something - confirmed she could do nothing either; there was trouble ‘t router.  A reboot later and things were still slow, no chance of video, with occasional outbreaks of adequate performance allowing me, for example, to log on to the BT website and do a speed test. The last time I had such problems I phoned an engineer and we were close to the point where I’d be unscrewing the phone socket, only – thank God - I hadn’t a screwdriver. So with a promise to try this later, I bought a new router instead.

And lo, did the shiny new router provide broadband performance to the speed foretold. This time, well hopefully I’m not on the way to another fried ‘Home Hub’; I don’t fancy the wiring checks required before BT will (presumably) replace it. It was a Sunday, and this being a connectivity problem involving a number of possible suspects, I did the only sensible thing I could do; I mowed the lawn. Try again later, the advice of many, work instead of games; I may be able to play after.

And yea, did the internet return; too late to watch a film, and knackered from gardening, I settled in with the last few episodes of Breaking Bad. Yo, Jesse; at the end of season three he really has broken bad, and it won’t be until Netflix UK start showing series four that I find out what happens next. On television, through the Wii; for Sunday’s challenge aside, Netflix with my help is now as reliable as BT Vision or BBC iPlayer, and this wasn’t always the case. I don’t know whether a wireless Wii is more prone to interference or whether the wireless card was cooked – broken IT appliances often acquire a baking metaphor – but with a LAN adaptor (the console has USB connectors) it worked perfectly, giving me cause to smile… and another wire to worry about.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Four years ago

Because four years ago I took my then six-year-old daughter swimming, having had to drive to Bradley Stoke rather than walk to our local swimming pool. Back then there was no family changing at Thornbury Leisure Centre; even now, if the plans are accurate - and I should check this - it’s not much better. I suppose it’s logical; any refurbishment not involving a 100% conversion to family changing will result in a bias towards the female changing rooms; which is a shame as I’d like to take my daughter more often.

Rebecca Adlington
Four years ago, on a Friday evening, we jumped into the Bradley Stoke pool and before I can make my usual suggestion of warming up with a couple of lengths, she’s off. Flying along with a ragged front crawl she’s half way before I can even respond, turning back she switches to the breast stroke. Then again, this time more streamlined - she always was the better swimmer; lessons, you see - and I have to make an effort to keep close. On this occasion there was no letting her touch home first, and when she did so my daughter looked back at me with a big smile. “You’re keen!” I said on catching up. “I’m Rebecca Adlington” she replied, “and I’ve just won the gold medal.”

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Whine like you mean it

The anti-Olympic dirge has lessened from its opening crescendo of complaint aimed at Olympic traffic lanes, they’re back to whining about everything - truly this is the age of social media. There are times you have to throw your hands in the air - exasperation, not surrender - I get it, you don’t like the Olympics. And fair enough, the heavy-handed enforcement of commercial rights has been unedifying, the level of security frightening; it is, I find, a little too close for total enjoyment; I’m one of those hoping it can go off without anything really bad happening.

But my daughter doesn’t see this, she’s really excited, and one who doesn’t normally care for sport. Her attention is drawn to whether Usain Bolt is still the fastest man in the world, whether her original inspiration, Rebecca Adlington, will win again. And the enthusiasm of one ten year old trumps the practiced cynicism of countless others every time; the rest of you can shut up, I’m going to enjoy myself too, or at least try.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

Ed Balls
You say Labour, I say Libor. It’s hardly original, yet one feels the need to state this as another scandal that happened under the previous government. Leveson, it is true, expanded to be so general as to catch everyone in its net, and the result has been people with only a passing interest instinctively blaming the current rather than previous administration. This you feel is the driving force behind the calls from Ed Miliband and Ed Balls for a “wide-ranging” judicial inquiry to cover all bankers’ activities. Any such investigation will allow the Labour party to bury its culpability amongst a slew of other unpleasant deeds; muck spread equally is to the detriment of no-one in particular.

If there needs to be a wider look at the way banks conduct their business, let this be separate to a focussed examination on one specific area of known wrong-doing. Let’s not distract ourselves from the 2008 conversation between the now former Barclays CEO, Bob Diamond, and the Bank of England deputy governor, Paul Tucker. Diamond makes it quite clear to Tucker that other banks were lying about the rates they would be charged for borrowing and asks him to relay this to the senior Whitehall figures he'd alluded to earlier. The deputy governor repeats a reference to the level of the Whitehall figures as “senior” and suggests the Barclays rate didn’t need to appear as high as it was.

In vagueness they are damned. Diamond’s note doesn’t record an explicit request to “lie about Libor”, yet this appears to have been the inference subsequently made by the now former Barclays COO, Jerry del Missier. Ambiguity at this level springs from a knowledge that what is being asked for is wrong. What we need to know is who was asking? What we need to avoid is an attempt by the Labour party to bury the issue in a morass of endless and irrelevant detail.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Bella bella

FIFA rankings June 2012
In sports journalism parlance the only difference between “honest” and “crap” is the result. Last Tuesday England put in one of their more honest performances; one suspects they’ll need an extraordinarily sincere performance to come through against the Italians on Sunday; applause for the Italian player who claimed - with a straight face - that England would start as favourites. If by some miracle England beat Italy they meet Germany in the semi-final, and we all know what happens then. Yet there’s always hope, were Italy really that good against Spain or were Spain starting slow? And when I think about it, for 60 or so minutes Germany didn’t look too convincing against the whipping boys Greece until, remembering they were “in it to win it”, they started to play like their usual selves. But first things first, let’s concentrate on tomorrow’s game; I find England are ranked sixth and their opponents twelfth... that makes us twice as good... we ARE the favourites. These are the FIFA world rankings - where dreams can come true.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Bad medicine

There is a deficit in this country that can be tackled through a mixture of cuts and taxes; the latter not being particularly good for growth, attention has focused on the former. This is nothing that the private sector hasn’t already experienced; whether through pay cuts, redundancies or the cutting of employer pension contributions. A similar exercise is underway for public sector workers whose own pensions tend to be more generous, and the decision made that proportionally more of the burden would fall on those most able to pay; it’s not a label I particularly care for, but this is often called ‘progressive’. Over several months there have been strikes from various public sectors, each convinced that someone else should pay. Today it was the turn of doctors; their own unintentionally amusing take is that they are disproportionally affected. It’s as if they’re not aware - not even the liberals amongst them, of whom I know a few - that this is the whole point.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Not totally crap

Cristiano Ronaldo cockerel
Spot the difference.
It must have been the excitement of Sunday’s Netherlands versus Portugal game, a game where I found myself hoping both protagonists would lose; the Netherlands because they’re the Netherlands and Portugal because they’re Ronaldo, and for a short time - when Denmark took the lead against Germany - this was possible. Or maybe it was confusion from all the above. I put them on the chair, went into the kitchen (I can’t even remember what for), returned to the living room and sat on my glasses. They’re ‘designed’ to come apart when pulled out of shape but I'm a little too much. Anyway, I am several years late to the opticians; thanks to the adjustable font size on my Kindle it wasn’t until I read The Handmaid’s Tale in classical format (previously known as a book) that I realised quite how bad my eyesight had become, or rather it was then I resolved to do something about it. That was several months ago, to leave it any longer would be pushing it; there’s only so much trust I can place in Sellotape.

And if I thought two teams I don’t care for was exciting, how exciting will it be to see England beat Ukraine tonight? They are fighting, lest we forget, for the right to be beaten by Spain or Italy in the quarter-finals. England have impressed by being not totally crap, except for 15 minutes in the 2nd half against Sweden when they were totally crap. Not even Harry Redknapp’s desperate attempt to keep himself on the back-page - by mouthing off even more than normal and getting himself fired - can deflect from the euphoria of still being in a competition over a week after it’s started.

Wednesday 13 June 2012


Margaret Thatcher - The Musical, it’s only a matter of time. Not actually what I wanted to scribble but a random thought on the “is she or isn’t she (a feminist icon)” maelstrom that was. The film however was an age ago; the arguments, stale, packed away awaiting their final outing. I’ll not wait; on this subject I need to scratch an itch, though it’s hardly original. The answer to the question is “yes”. Those who answer “no” seem to fall into a number of groups:
  1. Those who miss the question. A person needn’t be a feminist to be a feminist icon; in the same way one needn’t be gay to be a gay icon.
  2. Those with the dogma, the syllogistic fallacies common to student-level politics; socialists are feminists therefore feminists have to be socialists. Oh dear.
  3. Those lacking a sense of history. Some might find the misogyny of today’s “lads mags” and the “girl power” message of not so long ago phony and dispiriting; I know I do, but it’s a breeze compared to the 1970’s.
The answer to the question is “yes”, albeit in a historical context and understanding the meaning behind a core creed of gender equality. This isn’t, as popularly stated, a belief that women are every bit as good as men, but that women are every bit as capable. ‘Good’ to my mind encourages unhelpful boxing of positive attributes to one’s own political beliefs. Equality demands impartiality, ‘capable’ allows neutrality. Whether for good or bad, irrespective of policy or her own conviction, the UK’s first - and to date, only - female Prime Minister, symbolised the possibility that a woman could reach the pinnacle of her chosen career, and at a time when “a woman’s place” could be spoken of without any sense of irony. If that doesn’t make her a feminist icon, I don’t know what does.

Sunday 3 June 2012

The 110%'ers

I put it down to poor use of a thesaurus; desire begot passion, and passion won out over professionalism, which suffered through being less easy to fake and having too many syllables. But who am I to talk? Two comments annoyed me last week; quite why I’ve been so irritable or these particular remarks I don’t know, they’re hardly the silliest. I’m beginning to think I have a specific dislike for good points badly made, or good subjects undercut by an over-the-top zeal.
Why are so many businesses down on discussion with emotion and passion? Gotta harness them and focus on a good final outcome.
New Yorker cartoon - Enthusiasm by William Haefeli
This is easy to answer; they’re not. Are you one of those people who whoop and holler when the audio engineer checks the microphone, or is it the result of hearing something really good? Yes, I know this analogy is shaky, but the point I’m trying to make, badly, is quality, commitment, a clear vision, and so on, will result in those other signals that indicate success. There’s nothing quite so dispiriting for some as enforced jollity, the ‘spontaneous’ applause at the end of every stand-up. It’s cyclical, you don’t create good product by getting excited about it, you get excited at the prospect of creating good product, and this requires those old fashioned virtues we seemingly only whisper. Then there was this:
If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you’re doing it wrong.
No, no, no; you’re trying too hard - change the word “not” to “never” and I’d be a lot more... erm... you know, though not that much. I’ve had enough of these false prophets, those 110%’ers who’d have us believe that anything less is to fail. This particular example might not seem so bad on reflection, yet it is, tending to an authoritarian school that inflicts us all; I’m always tempted to respond “is this evidence based?” because such slippery-worded nonsense defies proof. Imagine the reaction to “I’m not very comfortable with this new release but, hey, you know what they say.” What the comment should be trying to convey is the advantage in stepping outside your comfort zone every so often, pushing the envelope occasionally or whatever cliché floats your boat, challenging commonly held assumptions; which is a little different from permanently living on the edge. False dilemmas such as the one above lead to a suspicion their purpose is more self-validation than advice.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Philosophy and spirituality and the whole damn thing

The diagram that follows is wrong. In a recent discussion, a friend’s description of religion sounded - or so I thought - like philosophy, later I decided spirituality, which led me to wonder, as most do, on the relationship between the three. I am not completely happy with any of it, meaning I’m partially happy with some of it; and then I added atheism, lest I forget, to skewer my ideas completely. Canon Giles Fraser pointed out to Richard Dawkins not so long ago the questionable merit of pronouncing on someone else’s belief. Hence my own notions can only ever suit my own imperfect ideas. I think of it as a start to a more internal discussion.
Religion Atheism Philosophy Spirituality

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Don’t light my fuse

In the fabulously funny (I may be overselling it) Mystery Men, the hapless heroes are brought together by the shadowy Sphinx; scrum master by day, crime fighter by night, a figure whose aphorisms inspire his team to save the city from Prince Practitioners. Judge for yourself:
He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.
To summon your power for the conflict to come, you must first have power over that which conflicts you.
When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.
I’m psyched. I’m exaggerating. The Sphinx, as far as I’m aware, isn’t an Agile consultant; though sometimes my Twitter feed suggests he could be. A 140 character per-post social networking service does tend to encourage brevity, tending to meaningless. It’s harmless enough, and within all the chaff there’s an occasional nugget. It is - and I wish I didn’t feel the need to say this - in no way indicative of the worth of this set of development methods, as Twitter is in no way indicative of the worth of anything. It makes me smile, if not always in the way intended. Sometimes it makes me frown:
Legacy maintenance is nothing but a pay-cheque. Sustaining a healthy, talented team of engineers in that arid environment is impossible.
Now there’s a statement that troubles in a multitude of ways, it’s a dead-end, a mixture of obvious, worthless and insulting. “Obvious” because we learn nothing in being told certain tasks aren’t that enjoyable; you might as well comment children are our future and fun things are... erm... fun. “Worthless” as one definition for legacy is any live software (I read that on Twitter!) and therefore most projects would require, bar the first iteration, some level of “legacy maintenance” - how do we live with ourselves? “Insulting” since telling those who do such work they’re only in it for the money, and (unintentionally?) insinuating they have no ability, isn’t very helpful. It doesn't progress the subject. It’s also bollocks. It’s a cul-de-sac of thought; at worst a “talented people don’t do these kind of jobs”, at best a “some jobs are more enjoyable than others”; well, you don’t say, but they still need to be done. Just what kind of world do we seek; one that would ghettoise certain types of work, or one where all can contribute, and all contributions are valued?

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Police misuse of the English language is “criminal”

The Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking at the Police Federation's annual conference, did so in front of a stage bearing the slogan “Cutting Police by 20% is criminal”. Literally speaking this isn’t true, but of course this is wilful ignorance on my part; it’s a play on a word, though its passive-aggressive tone serves a purpose – to discourage debate.

The Police don’t want to discuss how a 20% cut might be achieved, because their most recent complaints have included how much time they spend doing paperwork. Some of this, they claim, is the result of cuts to back-office administrative staff, presumably to keep up the headline number of the boys and girls in blue.

I share this concern, and as I want to help might I suggest one obvious measure? Since it is cheaper to employ someone trained for admin work in an admin role, we can save money without affecting those on the ‘front line’ by making the highly trained (and expensive) police officer – the one his/her Federation says is stuck at a desk - redundant.

Saturday 5 May 2012

It’s useful to know what you’re voting for

If there’s one lesson to be learnt on the referendum held in 10 cities on whether to have directly elected mayors, it’s this: it’s useful to know what you’re voting for; because without detail on what the job entails, voters will justifiably question the need for any change. In a Guardian article, Chris Game from the Institute of Local Government (INLOGOV) comments that in mayoral meetings the two issues that came up were “what additional powers would a mayor have and how do we kick out a deadbeat?” I don’t doubt it and the “Yes” campaign are right to be disappointed in not having an answer to give, but earlier in the same article we’re told:
It was thought white, working-class communities in Birmingham were most opposed to what they saw as another layer of politicians.
Quite who “it was thought” by isn’t made clear, and neither is why “white working-class” people are singled out, let alone identified as a community. Only kidding, this is The Guardian; lumpen profiling a speciality. Never mind the perfectly reasonable concerns at another layer of bureaucracy, it’s as if the idea of replacing one layer with another hasn’t even been considered by INLOGOV, though one supposes that might result in biting the hand that feeds it.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Enough with the passion!

They should have shown more passion, thus spoke the commentator and the various studio heads nodded in agreement. A simple diagnosis adopted by the press because passion is something we all understand, but since when did simple and the truth become such easy bedfellows? I’m pretty sure England’s failure to win the World Cup in my lifetime isn’t down to a lack of enthusiasm. Likewise I don’t think those who succeeded did so because they wanted it more.

These truths are self-evident, yet we persist in this nonsense. Popular culture - for example, cookery competitions - place a passion for what you’re doing ahead of knowing what you’re doing. Worse, far worse, this silliness has infiltrated our work. This is not to denigrate enthusiasm; it’s to challenge the idea that enthusiasm is a pre-requisite to doing good work. I don’t mean ‘good’ in its technical sense, more that definition alluding to professionalism and a strong ethic; sometimes I love my work, sometimes it drives me to despair, always I give my best. The notion we’ll only ever work on what interests us is absurd, so why suggest otherwise, and what use is someone who saves their best for those projects using the latest technology? I’ve worked with a developer who lived and breathed ‘the craft’ - I imagined shelves at home lined with books about coding, and their work when using the newest framework was often brilliant, but we also had a number of legacy applications, you can guess the rest.

Contributing to open source projects, writing a technical blog and all that other stuff is cool, doing anything you enjoy is really cool, but as in any way of life, when we start to think of what makes us happy and productive as the template for others, we should take a step back. Hence my appreciation for the tongue-in-cheek 501 developer manifesto, it’s a long overdue correction to those who have looked pejoratively at others with a different method. Yes, it’s a little bit rude and some humourless types have taken exception, but if you’re going to ‘pity’ anyone you ‘pity’ those on the pedestal because ... that’s how a joke works.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Burn ‘em, Burnham

To get his Bill thru, PM repeatedly told Commons #NHS waiting times were falling. We now know those claims were false. Cameron = NHS Conman.
-- 19-Apr-2012
This is, I presume, what passes for insightful political comment from the Shadow Health Secretary; or what we in the wider world recognise as frontier gibberish. I’m only commenting because 50+ unthinking sheep (and counting) have already re-tweeted this pearl. The trouble is:
  1. I don’t remember waiting times being a key subject of the debate, the implication they were instrumental in getting the bill ‘thru’ is too silly; and this is because ...
  2. If waiting times had been a key subject of the debate, you’d hardly claim they were falling and then use this as an argument for change. Conversely, if waiting times are in fact rising....
It’s almost as if Andy Burnham MP hasn’t thought it through.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity

A victim of my never ending tinkering, I noted that of the two blogs using my custom domain, the naked domain was being redirected to the ‘blog’ rather than the ‘www’ sub-domain. On the face of it this is easy enough to fix in Blogger settings, yet when I changed the setting on one blog this was reflected on the other; either both were set to redirect or neither were. Whatever order I unset and then set I seemingly couldn’t change the destination of my naked domain. Until I remembered to clear the cache; fool me once, Blogger, shame on you, fool me twice ... actually, I think this is the second time.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

We need to talk about Ken

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson
Tax avoidance to the left.
Oh dear, what are Labour going to do, what are any of us going to do should Ken Livingstone defy the odds - and the supposed intelligence of voters - by winning the London Mayoral contest next month. At the moment it doesn’t look likely, thanks to the recent discovery that on the subject of tax avoidance he’s a hypocrite, or as Boris Johnson is supposed to have said, “a fucking liar”. It turns out Ken organises his tax affairs in much the same way as I (when a contractor) used to, only - unlike the former and would be future Mayor - I never combined this with articles painting the Tories as “rich bastards” exploiting “every tax fiddle”. That would be a bit cheeky, yet Ken did exactly this in a 2009 article in The Sun. How deliciously ironic to find that because of the way he arranges his own tax, Ken Livingstone pays a far lower rate than that of his Tory rival. Indeed, Ken Livingstone pays a far lower rate of tax than most people, including myself, despite having a far greater income.

In some ways this is a relief, as otherwise we might be discussing whether the allegations of anti-Semitism and his association with certain anti-Semites would help or hinder his chances of becoming Mayor. Sometimes it’s what Ken doesn’t say that we should worry about; this from the BBC:
Egyptian-born Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has been criticised for condoning suicide bombings and having anti-Semitic and homophobic views. The Mayor of London [at that time, Ken Livingstone] acknowledged that he and the cleric would not see eye-to-eye on Lesbian and Gay views.
How odd then that despite the double standards on tax avoidance, his openly antagonistic stance to Jewish people and having previously campaigned against his own party, party leader Ed Miliband is today throwing his support behind Ken Livingstone’s campaign. Well... he’s in the club, though Labour party rules suggest he shouldn’t be.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Pet cemetery

Pet Cemetery
The goldfish is dead; long live the (other) goldfish. At 6pm on the evening of April the 7th, the father of Miss Ruse was called to a fish tank in a bedroom north of Bristol, there to pronounce Minnie the fish ‘dead on arrival’; dead on my arrival, it’s not like the fish could go anywhere. I’d expected a body afloat, not a ghost floating through a former home. Unsure of what should follow I asked my daughter, who fishing out her former pet requested a burial alongside Humphrey (the guinea pig) for the following day, Easter day, which entailed an overnight period of lying in state for the deceased. I can recommend Tesco re-sealable sandwich bags.

I am on the downward slope of my extended weekend yet nowhere near the arbitrary schedule imposed to complete Tender Is The Night. Unexpected deaths aside, I’m not too concerned as it’s achieved the desired effect of making me read, and when finished I can decide on Gatsby, recently read and Fitzgerald’s most famous, or this last and less well received of his novels. Of course I don’t really have to choose but I’m tending towards the latter. It’s decline and fall repeated; though extrapolated from where I am in his story, Dick Diver’s descent looks terminal in comparison to that of Logan Mountstuart whose own decline, whilst it might sometimes have been self-induced, was mostly one that afflicts us all.

Friday 6 April 2012

Rise and shine, readers

Yesterday, having woken at an ungodly hour I remained such for hours, until close enough to an alarm that getting up made no difference. I was tired, so much so that driving into work occasioned one of those “where am I” moments similar to when, having driven from Bristol to Manchester, I failed to remember Birmingham. This time it was an eerie one minute tumbleweed along what later transpired to be the M48, but that’s motorways for you; and my excuse for the second - and definitely not the last - latte and cinnamon Danish combo of the week. It wasn’t enough to protect from a malcontent office air conditioner, but then what is?

Today starts a long Easter weekend in which to recover, eat chocolate, repent, think about fixing the blog, laugh at Ken Livingstone’s predicament and finish that book. Hopefully not in that order; I can laugh at Ken anytime and I’m committed to Tender Is The Night which, though brilliant, teases with the possibility of becoming annoying or worse, ordinary. I have four days, and no excuses.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

How beastly the socialist is

How beastly the socialist is
especially the female of gender--

Pretty, exceedingly pretty--
shall I make you a present of her?

Isn’t she gorgeous? Isn’t she fit? Isn’t she a fine piece?
Doesn’t she look the fresh clean councillor, outside at play?
Isn’t she Bevan’s own? Tramping her thirty tweets a day
after outrage, or a little strike action?
Wouldn’t you like to be like that, all class, and quite the thing
in comment on Margaret Thatcher?

How beastly the socialist is
especially the female agenda--

Petty, exceedingly petty--
shall I make you a present of her?
It’s another ‘socialist says something mean’ story - would all Conservative whiners please leave the room. You’re surprised? Are you really surprised? You’ve not heard what they said - what they still say - about their last successful leader, the one who won three in a row, the “war criminal” Tony Blair? With apologies to D. H. Lawrence and a nod to stones and glass houses, grow up, the lot of you.

Thursday 22 March 2012

The poor should pay

Another budget and if you believe the calculator on the BBC website (what kind of simpletons use such things?) I’ll be £100/year better off. Usual lefty rubbish regarding the 50p rate being lowered, never mind whether it’s effective they’re predictably displaying their ‘tax as a punishment’ credentials. Who’d have thought tax should be about raising revenue with the lowest impact; certainly not the Labour party. Of most interest is this theme, for which we can thank the Liberal party, of excusing the lower paid from paying anything; I read one who fancifully described it as an obscenity that those on minimum wage should pay any tax, and it’s not limited to those on the left, Conservatives seem bound to hold the same view; I don’t.

For all the good intentions, such beliefs marginalise those they’re meant to help, entrench a ‘them and us’; those who contribute and those who don’t. This isn’t about worth, it’s about upkeep; I don’t know many - aside a few libertarian wingnuts - who believe society (however we define it) has no cost and are thus unwilling to pay. If we believe we should be in this together (putting aside the issue of whether we are) then we should share the responsibility in addition to the benefit. Though for the lower paid this may be token, or cancelled for administrative - not social - reasons, the principle should remain; everyone has a stake.

Friday 16 March 2012


So much misinformation, so let’s look at just one piece of nonsense; the hysteria raised at the news NHS hospitals will be allowed to generate up to 49% of their income from private patients. This has been presented as anything from “handing over 49% of the NHS to the private sector” to the only slightly less-nonsensical “49% of NHS resources being used for the private sector”. Such statements fail to note the private sector will have to pay. Also we can be confident in the assertion (since otherwise there would be nothing in it for the hospital) that any provision of services to the private sector would be at a charge greater than their cost - in other words, a profit - an important detail given that simple logic shows this will enable the treatment of more (not less) NHS patients.

In this illustration, whilst accepting that not all operations cost the same and therefore some beds cost more than others, we will for the sake of simplicity use a hospital bed as the financial unit of measurement. And since we accept there must be profit, in this example we will say it is in the order of “1 bed” profit for every “100 beds” of service to the private sector. This allows us to make the following three statements:
  1. An NHS hospital funded by the tax-payer to the equivalent of “510 beds”, and with no income from private patients, has a capacity of 510 beds for use by NHS patients.
  2. An NHS hospital providing “486 beds” to the private sector will make (rounding down) “4 beds” profit for NHS patients.
  3. An NHS hospital funded by the tax-payer to the equivalent of “510 beds”, and with a private income of “490 beds” of which “4 beds” is profit, has a capacity of 514 beds for use by NHS patients.
Of course the service provided by a hospital is more than the number of beds, and in the example above we arbitrarily choose the level of profit, but what we can also see is that the 49% limit is entirely artificial and no doubt politically motivated. The fact remains that an NHS hospital having any level of profit generating private income will, for the same level of tax-payer funding as a hospital funded by the tax-payer alone, be able to provide more services to NHS patients. Indeed this statement is so patently obvious, I wonder at all the fuss.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

God distracts the faithful

Whilst God distracts the faithful I see eleven films over four days, only two of which are new. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Garden of The Finzi-Continis; the latter had been sitting on my shelf since just before Christmas and as I’d seen The Conformist on Netflix only a few weeks ago, it would complete a Dominique Sanda double-bill. The Conformist is visually striking but in that category of ‘appreciate’ as opposed to ‘love’, whereas Finzi-Continis, having a gorgeous colour palette, is not only beautiful to look at but a film I’ll watch again; this despite a soundtrack that on occasion appears off, apparently the result of being post-synchronised rather than recorded live. Something I couldn’t help noticing with both Italian films is that voyeuristic regard to female nudity you find in late 60’s and early ‘70s European cinema. There are some who will call this a brave (for the time) expression of female sexuality; you believe that if you want, it looks like a wet t-shirt to me.

Giorgio Bassani's story is of a wealthy Jewish family separated from the rise of Italian fascism by the walls of their estate; odd that I too came to believe the high-walled garden would shield them from the world outside. There were many festival highlights, but the other that springs to mind is an old favourite, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. My reaction each time is the same. It starts quirky, turns rather clever and - just at the moment you feel a danger of it disappearing up its own fundament - becomes something quite wonderful. Joel shows Clementine an embarrassing moment of his past, to which the younger Clementine leads the younger Joel away through a gap in the fence. “I’m so ashamed” he says. “It’s OK”, she replies “you were a little kid.”

Sunday 11 March 2012

Phil's four-day film festival

Something WildThe Garden of The Finzi-ContinisWonderland
Revolutionary RoadCity of GodThe Machinist
The Dark KnightMoonTinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The FountainEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Something Wild; Jonathan Demme (director), Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, Ray Liotta.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis; Vittorio De Sica (director), Dominique Sanda.
Wonderland; Michael Winterbottom (director), Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson, Molly Parker.
Revolutionary Road; Sam Mendes (director), Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet.
City of God; Fernando Meirelles (director), Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino.
The Machinist; Brad Anderson (director), Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The Dark Knight; Christopher Nolan (director), Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart.
Moon; Duncan Jones (director), Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Tomas Alfredson (director), Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt.
The Fountain; Darren Aronofsky (director), Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Michel Gondry (director), Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet.