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.