Sliver's Journal
20 entries back

Date:2006-03-07 09:29

We finally got to see MirrorMask last night and it lived up to my very high expectations. Yes its a small film, a story about adolescence and revolt and its a film that could only be made with DV and CGI. But its exactly the kind of film that makes the most of both technologies.

Neil Gaiman's screenplay is both taut enough and with sufficient gaps for the art and imagination of Dave McKean to fill with doodles of brilliantly realised creatures and characters.

Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry fill their tiny roles and provide tremendous credibility, Rob Brydon shows that he's more than just a comic talent but an excellent actor and Gina McKee acts all of the parts of Mother, White Queen and Dark Queen with a huge sense of fun and menace in equal measure. The actor that best seems to fit his CGI body is Robert Llewellyn as the Gryphon but perhaps that's after so many years as a robot in Red Dwarf, Andy Hamilton runs him close as the small spiny creature though.

I forgot the most impressive performance of the film which was that of Stephanie Leonidas a remarkably assured delivery with that, probably, very real vulnerability of a 15 year old. She will be a star.

We had to go to Birmingham's Star City to go see it, which was a fairly surreal experience in itself. We were glad to slink back to the comfortable darkness of the country.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-03-06 12:29
Subject:Lila, an Inquiry into Remebrance

I've just finished *The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana* by Umberto Eco and this even more than his other novels leaves me rolling it around in my head, probing it as you do a missing tooth.

It's a beautiful book, not just in translation but in that its an illustrated novel, illustrated from the comics, woodcuts and images of western civilisation available around before the War and during the 50's.

It's the interior experience of a man that awakes with no personal memory, no personal history but a complete and encyclopedic knowledge of all the books that have ever passed through his hands, which is pretty much all of Western culture since he's a dealer in rare books.

In his character Yambo's attempt to rediscover a personal history by following the trail of books and comics stored in an abandoned family residence Eco takes us through the popular culture of pre-war Italy how it lived with Fascism and even in the midst of the propaganda of war a curl of the truth of events can be disclosed.

In this process Yambo also learns that he was continually in pursuit of his first and unrequited love, Lila. All the women in his life, and he was not unsuccessful with women remind him of some quality of this unknown girl. Lila disappeared from his life and shortly afterwards died without him knowing and so his search was always going to be fruitless.

At almost the culmination of this recapitulation of his own unknown life he discovers a First Folio Shakespeare in some trunk and has a final stroke. In the midst of this stroke he recovers his personal memory and recapitulates the emotional history of his life. The book ends in darkness, whether a darkeness of sleep prior to waking out of a coma or a darkness of death we do not know. But the Broadway Melody feel of the final part of the book where all of the comic characters make a final and interconnected bow does imply a termination.

The use of the name Lila for his Beatrice, his unrequited and unmet love interested me, it reminded me of Lila by Robert Pirsig where he approaches Quality from degradation and the collision of pleasure and guilt. But Lila in that context was from the Hindu Lila, the play of shadows in the cave of Mara.

So, I'm left toying with the idea that that is what Eco meant that we inhabit our own solipsistic Universe in the end as Yambo does, not knowing what is real and what manufactured by him or that the novel itself is just playing with the ideas of idea.

The alternative is that Lila is Night, which is its Arabic/Phoenician meaning, and Delilah a version of it. Though Yambo is no Samson, even if he is eyeless in Gaza at the end.

Read it and see for yourself. It has lots of pretty pictures if nothing else, and there is a lot else.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-02-27 08:23
Subject:FOSDEM IV and truncated visits

FOSDEM has been and gone, I have some photos on the camera to get off and occasional incidents that are worth remembering.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-02-03 11:49
Subject:Missing out

I've neglected this journal for a little while partly because of work and partly because of one of those occasional tidal waves within online communities where they are washed away and a certain amount of time has to be spent with the flotsam and jetsam and wondering where everyone else is.

Sort of.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-01-22 12:19
Subject:Police and State inextricably adjacent.

With the new Drugs Act one has to give written consent before a physical search of the person (and presumably inside the person), can take place. This sounds a step forward. In the same breath though the legislation adds, unless it is considered that consent is being withheld unreasonably in which case consent can be implied.


So Mr Pisspot you are refusing to grant us written permission whilst lying prostrate on the floor with three beefy police officers pinning you down and my gloved finger about to invade your rectum, I have no alternative but to imply that you have given consent by unreasonably refusing to give that consent.

Under English Law the basis of being policed is that of consent from the public now even the implied consent of refusing it is no longer required. The principle of arrest was very clear in policing. A policeman has no more rights than anyone else in arresting someone, they are citizens whose job it is to protect life and property but do so under the same restrictions and controls as any other citizen.

Or rather they were. Under the new regulations that came into force in the New Year a policeman can now arrest someone for any offence whatsoever even if it be ever so minor. A citizen can now only arrest an individual for an indictable offence.

Since being arrested is sufficient cause for search and sufficient cause for search of premises and home there are now no controls on any fishing expedition mounted by the police on any individual. You truly can be arrested for stealing a sandwich from Pret a Manger and then have your gaff turned over for possession of drugs, arms, fertiliser and insecticide or whatever else it is that's high on the Chief Constable's list of undesirable products this day.

The Government has handed over the keys to the Police and now we must trust to their benificence in how they use those keys. Blair will undoubtedly wrinkle his eyes in disgust and simper simultaneously (a very peculiar performance and singularly performed by him) at the notion that we live in a Police State but the position is clear.

Police States are eminently safe and secure for those that the Police happen not to be interested in, we must individually pray now that we do not attract their interest.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-01-16 18:27
Subject:Creative Locksmithing

Original posting follows:

Once I had the replacement lock I cut into the stiff polycarbonate packaging designed to scrape cuticles from fingers and started to look at assembling the lock to the door.

Which was when I remembered the game we had fitting the lock some 17 years or so ago. That was when my father in law was alive and he did virtually all the DIY around; because he was good at it and because I made a good plumber's/carpenter's mate. Hmmm.

The new lock wrapped around the door edge and would need rebating into the door. This didn't daunt me so much, even though I knew it would be a pain as the door was extremely hard wood and I should really take the door off its hinges to do it, but that would require someone else to manage the door with me and that I didn't have.

What was the problem was that when I removed the existing lock, which just attached to the face of the door with the face plate and I came to drill the holes for the two pegs attached to the new lock escutcheon I found that all that happened when I started the drill was that a plug popped out of the back of the door. A perfectly formed crescent shaped plug. My father in law had cleverly plugged the original hole because no lock we could find would fit that original distance from the edge of the door.

So I stood and pondered for a while and decided to go to B&Q and think some more.

A number of alternatives came to mind.

  1. Buy a new lock of exactly the same kind, if I could.

  2. . Make a combination of old barrel and new box (which would mean one key for outside and one for inside).

  3. . Depending upon one leg and the barrel connection only. Somewhat dodgy.

  4. . Giving up on the door and buying a new front door. Rich man's alternative.

  5. Banging my head against the door until unconsciousness resulted and I was found by wife whereon a professional locksmith/carpenter could be prevailed upon to make all the madness go away.

For quite a few minutes option 5 seemed the most fruitful. Then I steeled myself and found the exact replica of the lock that had been on there and suffered the payment of another £41 for the fix. I couldn't go through the ordeal of swapping yet another lock, besides which the polycarbonate packaging was now well and truly cut to extremely sharp ribbons.

It was with considerable optimism that I carried on with the new lock, all I had to do was screw the new plate to the door and assemble the lock. Which was when I discovered that the geometry of the plate had altered very very slightly but sufficiently for one of the mounting screws to hit the edge of the existing hole and do nothing at all.

Oh well I thought, one mounting screw will be enough until I get the lock mounted. And I work on using the existing hole. The head of the screw snaps off as I screw it in with the power screwdriver leaving about half of it embedded solidly in the very solid hardwood.

So I then twist and manoever the plate so I can get some purchase for another hole which I augur with my hand augur and start with a drill hole about half the width of the screw. I apply the power screwdriver and then stop and start finishing with a hand screwdriver. The top of the screw twists off in exactly the same way and leaves the rest of the thread embedded just as solidly in the same very solid hardwood.

I do not kick the door, I don't weep in frustration but I do say 'Fuck' under my breath a few times.

I'm left with a single solution, which is to get the lock mounted using the bolts running from the face plate through the hole for the lock without being able to see where the bolt met the lock inside the door. I banished all thought of the possible hours I could take to get the one bolt connected and forgot about the ache in my fingers holding both lock and faceplate in the right orientation with the tab of the lock meeting the slot in the face plate since connecting it without that being right was pointless.

It took less than three minutes, and I managed the second bolt at the second try. It was a little complicated getting the lock even on the door and its a little stiff to turn. But it works.

I was quite pleased with myself, even if it did cost £50 more than it should have. The other lock can go in the box of other stuff useful on some other day.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2006-01-15 13:26
Subject:When accused of fraud

repeat the allegation in a loud and clear voice.

I have to replace the main lock on the front door and the one I'd bought from B&Q was the wrong one, I need a 40mm distance from the edge of the door and not 60mm. So I go this morning to take the lock back to exchange it. The problem is my wife paid for it on her debit card to her account. She gave me her card as they'd probably want to credit it.

I knew this was a bad idea, if B&Q used chip and pin then it would be fine but they don't.

So I give the lady the card she accepts it and the receipt and then does the credit presenting me with a slip to sign, to which I say, 'It's not my card so I can't sign it.' She gets agitated and says 'That's fraud.'. I say no its not fraud, the card has been credited not debited, its the same card used in the original transaction and you have the goods back. It is not fraud and if you continue to repeat this I'll call the police and you can repeat the allegation.

So she calls the manager.

The manager bumbles over after the requisite several minutes at which the rest of the queue remain fairly patient and give fairly pleasant smiles.

Having heard from his assistant the manager says 'But that is fraud.'. To which I repeat my explanation that it cannot be fraud in a loud clear voice and say in a louder voice that if he persists in accusing me of fraud that I will call the police. He backs down immediately and has her give me a slew of vouchers instead.

All of which could have been avoided if they didn't insist on crediting the same method and instrument as used in the transaction in the first place. If they had used chip and pin then I could have just used the pin number as the one change which happens with chip and pin is that they never check the name on the card. Not that she did in this case anyway.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-23 17:01
Subject:Seasons Greetings, Mazel Tov

As unlikely as it may seem for a hardened and well bitten atheist here is my general Christmas card for all.

It's our tree in the living room this year and its much the best tree for a great many years, thanks to J for picking this one.

Today was the Christmas lunch of my major, almost only, client and I, like most of us, chose the Thai meal. I didn't know it was going to be a banquet, the dishes kept coming and coming and coming and it was some of the best Thai food I've had outside of Thailand.

Most amusing was the reaction to the Tom Yam, from gasps to snorts and even the dribbling of mucus from noses. It was a truly excellent soup.

All that was missing was a desert, though a couple did steal christmas pudding from the 'traditional dinner' table. When I got home after picking S up from bag packing for Guides at the Co-op I had a tall mug of Guatemalan coffee along with a fresh mince pie baked by J. She really does make the best that exist.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-21 03:25
Subject:When Nostalgia pushes you into something New

Today, and yesterday if you count Jethro Tull and the Isle of Wight, has had more than a slight haze of nostalgia to it. Firstly, J in clearing out cupboards in what is a Christmas season ritual known as getting ready for decorating, discovered my old press photograph that was done at Digital Research Inc showing me with hair (well just about), and a beard that wasn't white. It was taken in case journalists wanted a picture to go with whatever article I'd been mentioned in or provoked to have written as was the style then.

It was also the style to have the photo taken from some bizarre angle, from underneath on a set of modernistic stairs pointing up the nostrils for example. Mine though was of the kindly doctor type, fingers poised over the keyboard and a benign smile on my face. It would not look out of place on a book published by Wrox.

Then for some reason I remembered MicroCornucopia the best little technical fanzine in the world, until the beige world of PCs took over. I remembered it because I remembered thinking about what would be a good subject for the blog other than my irascibility. It was buying Dr Dobbs that provoked the original thought. That there are no (none) decent magazines on software and hardware anymore. None with the kind of journalism that do it for me the way Micro C did, or the way Dr Dobbs used to do it. Or Byte come to that.

The reasons for this are obvious. Whereas every other human endeavour has its own niche little magazine or two to keep its enthusiasts in a state of anticipatory excitement or energised post-reading frenzy and it just so happens to have a few thousand web sites as well, computer stuff saturates the InterWeb. There is so much stuff on the net that your average computer enthusiast is just going to think 'I'll Google for it', the below average one will ask on JOS. Which is fine but it isn't journalism.

There are a number of blogs (probably hundreds or thousands) that are good journalism and there are all sorts of aggregated feeds and mechanisms to build your very own magazine every ten seconds. But readers make very poor editors.

A magazine has some kind of ethos, some recognisable slant or view on its world and its readers buy into that to a greater or lesser extent or they like one author over and above any other. One person's aggregated list is just that, a list with more or less lint on it.

The sites which attempt to be online magazines quickly descend into being rumour sites. There's nothing wrong with rumour, I love gossip, after all I built I Just Heard to be my very own gossip aggregator. A proper magazine though isn't just about reacting to the next gossiped meme, it should be both reflective and newsworthy it should have opinion but the opinion should be more than just an assertion planned to provoke a flame war.

Make looks like an interesting idea. A magazine about stuff that people have made, can make, may make. There's no boundaries, though most of it seems to be about creative use of biscuit tins or other ephemeral hardware.

But I still want a magazine that talks seriously about software, hardware, strange products and new techniques but which isn't connected to a brand or a particular platform. I'm not interested in language wars, OS wars or chip wars. I'm just interested in good writing, and its not going to happen. Not in a printed magazine anyway.

After I thought about MicroCornucopia for a bit and the kind of ethos Dave Thompson the editor forged out of a frequently diverse miscellany of writers and subjects I looked for the domain name and somewhat surprisingly it's available. So i bought it and its now one of the possibly useful collection of domain names I have that probably won't get used for anything useful, ever.

It is true that using the word Micro totally disappeared in computer usage at the end of the 80's in favour of PC and my mother could go on cooking things in the micro without raising the occasional eyebrow. We are still using microprocessors though and the ubiquity of the clone or even the boringly similar designs of PCs have now gone. We're almost back to a state where we can craft our own madcap solutions to problems no one else even dreamt existed which magazines like Micro C championed.

So perhaps I'll create a new MicroCornucopia site (Dave Thompson is welcome to have the name back if he wants it), and invite people to write for it, for no money obviously.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-15 14:16
Subject:Music that stops you working

There's two kinds of music that stops me working whilst its playing, that which engages me so much that I just have to listen to it and nothing else, and that which drives nostalgia to the extent my head bangs.

In the first category, Picaresque presented by The Decembrists. I'm mostly reminded by Steve Hammill, Van der Graaf Generator and such and there are other influences I think I detect, the Kinks perhaps. In any event, wordy music that has its own wit will always grab me.

Which takes me to the one in the second category today, Nothing is Easy, Live at the Isle of Wight Jethro Tull. This is Tull in I think their best period around Aqualung, though it doesn't include Cross Eyed Mary and most of the rest of the studio album, it does have My God which I think was on it. Anyway, nostalgic magic for me from 1970, pop pickers.

Oh and both came from Emusic

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-12 13:04
Subject:Slouching Home to Bethlehem

On the Sunday morning we woke in our small corridor of a room (Quality Hotel, Hyde Park, just don't), and I stuck the news on. An oil refinery was on fire after explosions (and still is today).

Our route home is the M40, not the M1, so I knew we wouldn't be directly affected by the M1 being closed around the area but I did think that the traffic would be increased and so it was.

In between banks of fog and low winter sunlight I kept checking the sky, even though we were well to the west of the fire. On the plateau just before the dive through the chalk cutting towards Oxford (see the beginning titles of the Vicar of Dibley for the actual spot), I looked up and to the east apart from the oddly stained clouds I could see the main trumpet of cloud, black and roiling and it discharging blackness into the sky.

Welcome to Iraq, I said to J.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-12 12:58
Subject:Ringing the Twankey Out of the Evening

In the evening, the three of us went to the Old Vic to see the panto, Aladdin with Sir Ian McKellern playing Widow Twankey.

It was in lots of ways the very best pantomime I've ever been to and Sir Ian's performance transcends just the simple description of dame. Yes he used all the usual exaggerations of the panto dame, the vulgarities the excessive dress, the innuendo all mixed up with that strangeness which is gender bending and which is fundamental to English culture. But he was also the first dame that has actually made me understand how it was that actors could believably play female parts in Tudor theatre.

He was balletic, light on his feet, comically clumsy, his knees springing apart when sitting down in too tight a dress and entirely, completely in control of his entire body. It is a tour de force of a performance yet, amazingly, he doesn't overshadow any other performer, he both gives them generously the space they need and interacts with them on exactly the right level.

In the programme McKellern gives thanks and acknowledges the help that other dames have given him in preparing the performance, including Christopher Biggins but even more than the current dames he runs through a gamut of other dames, tiny slices and shades of comics he's seen. Some of them I spotted, even a little Les Dawson, but there was one I seemed to be the only one to recognise and that was Rob Wilton, 'the day war broke out', since I was the only one that laughed.

There was a little demon on my shoulder from time to time whispering about how vulgar the jokes were and whether children were really being involved at all times but it was a very quiet whisper.

Abbanazer, Roger Allam, has a tremendous dark brown voice, an intelligent baddie, a sardonic, mocking baddie so, as often, I looked forward to his entrances more perhaps than anyone. The slapstick was largely provided by the acrobatic Hanky and Panky who were very good but it was one of the things the demon pointed out, that there was not quite enough slapstick.

If the entire cast, and the ensemble, performed brilliantly they did so even more with the curve balls that the technical set threw them. It is a very technical set with a lot of use of expanding boxes revealing sheets of material forming palaces, ming vases, flags and what have you. All too often the material was caught up in itself, it must take the accuracy of a parachute packer to get it all right in which case the cast must be thanking their various gods that it was panto they were doing and not sky diving.

The set completely knocked out the cast at the end of the first half where Aladdin is descending into the Cave of Wonders as he climbs into the set and emerges from what looked like a tent from the Army and Navy Stores there was a sharp clunk and small collapse, Alladin squirmed out, there was a brief pause and then the curtain closed. Some thought it was the end of the act and started the sprint to the bar until a member of the management came onto the stage and explained that there was a technical fault that they were trying to fix.

After about five minutes the curtain went up on the Cave of Wonders, a complicated arrangement of silky material, glittering strands and the like. Abbanazer calls down to Aladdin, 'Are you there, did you take the long way round?'

In the programme John Allam says that they've promised him that the Cave of Wonders will be working properly this year 'Oh Yes it Will', 'Oh No It Didn't!'

Still no matter the problems with the set, and the final scene was marred by the flag across the stage being twisted around itself, the production was stunning and if anyone is interested in pantomime, loves pantomime and is a little jaded with the Cadbury sponsored productions where soap opera actor (though the posters at the Old Vic could have 'Sir Ian McKellern of Coronation Street') and character actor are mismatched and bags of Buttons are thrown out into the audience then go see this Aladdin.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-12 12:04
Subject:Babylon at Christmas

It was an excellent weekend even if it was expensive, extravagant and excessive.

We met I for lunch in Kensington High Street and after real decent coffee in a tiny place by the church we went over to Babylon.

The restaurant is on the floor above the Roof Garden, hence the name, and is that kind of ultra cool decor that one only really finds in major cities. I'd read varying reviews of the restaurant some scathing of the service but I have to say we didn't have any complaints with the service from our blonde Russian/Ukrainian waitress who even managed to even out the wine usage.

Mine and S's starter was a grilled goat's cheese thing on a mound of salad which was pleasant enough but could have done with a sharper dressing. A raspberry vinegar based dressing maybe. J had cauliflower soup which looked very good and soup I find is the only thing that cauliflower does well as its largely water frozen into a cellular state. 'I' had smoked salmon which looked pretty much like smoked salmon.

J chose sausages with champ mash for mains and the rest of us chose fish and chips. I think this was more down to the relative cost of the dishes rather than anything else, though 'S' was pretty certain about the fish and chips from the beginning. The chips were more like railway sleepers than even fat chips being squared off but were very good and went well with the quite delicate battered fish, the batter made up with beer. Still about the only way we could have had a more expensive fish and chips would have been to take a flight and go have them on the pier at Monterey, though they are by far the best fish and chips I've had at any time in any country. Which is a little galling.

The deserts were quite spectacular, though S and I had the same, 'I' had the selection of ice creams. I don't know why S chose the Calvados Baba, probably because she didn't know what Calvados was and she did complain that I was copying her though I do have a particular fondness for Calvados. The waitress was concerned that S would find the dessert too strong and I pretty much agreed with her but (and perhaps I was foresighted enough to realise that I'd end up with the baba if she didn't like it), we felt she'd be better off finding out for herself rather than doing the you're too young to know thing.

The deserts came on some square and triangular bits of glass that you generally see in bathroom windows, opaqued with striations and bubbles. The babas were small towers of sponge soaking with calvados but when you carved a slice out of the side the sponge was crisp and dry and only yielded up the calvados as you ate it which was lovely. It came along with apple sorbet and apple crisps that were completely dry.

After coffee we took a walk on the balcony over the garden, which has its own rill and a duck was slowly paddling around the pool it ran into. It is almost Japanese in feel, though there is nothing Japanese about the design of the garden or the plants.

All in all an excellent way to begin the Christmas season.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-09 15:22
Subject:Oh No You're Not!

Oh Yes We Are!

It's the annual corporate Christmas lunch with I and friends and such this weekend. They came to Worcester last year, so this year we're in London and staying over.

I've also got tickets for the Panto at the Old Vic on Saturday Night, Row W in the Stalls, not great but not bad its not a large theatre and S can see Ian McKellern's famed Widow Twankey.

So we'll be driving down in about an hour and a half, if you're on the M40, wave.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-07 09:46
Subject:Steamed contryside

It's a very steamy morning this morning but the steam is cold, freezing fog. It's almost cold enough to feel the air crackle on your face as you walk through it. Almost.

Just as there are cycles in traffic flow as cars bunch up and lag behind the car in front, when even moderate bad weather happens the traffic clogs into all the corners of the town. Since S has moved schools to one across the river it's generally fine getting there but very slow to come back with three routes converging before the bridge, the large housing estate the school is on, the main road through Arley and on to Astley and Worcester beyond and the road that comes into the town from Dunley. With the freezing fog it just clagged up completely this morning.

To avoid all this entirely, I took the switchback road to Bewdley instead, which winds beside and above the Severn and was completely empty. It's called the switchback because of the stretch of road that undulates and the camber alternates from the centre to the sides. When we first lived here it used to be undermined by flood waters from the woods above every year and collapse in the Winter. Now it doesn't collapse and encourages you to drive fast along it in all weathers and throughout the year. About half way along it there's a shrine of flowers to some dead motorbike rider who was tempted into driving into a large oak.

The traffic in Bewdley itself is a dribble compared to Stourport and perhaps that underlines the continual commercial decline of the town. At one time it seemed it was going to become the Stow-on-the-Wold of the Wyre Forest with an antique shop every few yards but most of them have closed now. This is good news for locals in that the tourists disappear completely for the Winter but it has affected the health of the town badly.

Coming back towards Stourport and our house the traffic backs up from the lights at the Crossing, named for the railway line that was a spur through Burlish and joined up with the Severn Valley Line until Beeching closed it. The actual crossing is a good quarter of a mile away from the crossroads and the old signal box house is still there and has been extended and modernised completely. The foundations of the building are of the native sandstone and there is what looks like a huge cellar extending underneath the whole building.

They put in traffic lights at the crossroads about fifteen years or so ago because of the number of accidents but they never have managed to get the timing right to stop long queues forming. The best they've managed to date is to only allow one way to go at any one time. It seems the likelyhood of any one vehicle turning right from any of the four directions is just too likely. This is the one situation where I'd be glad of an automatic convoy system that kept everyone moving up the queue at a steady rate and then the worm of traffic contracting and extending would start to glide slickly around places like our town.

This morning it lurched like a drunken worm, partially because the local stone mason in front of me spent more time grappling with the girl in the passenger seat than watching for when the traffic moved in front of him.

Half an hour to travel around five miles in a loop.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-12-06 10:10
Subject:Purposes, Exits and Entrances

I watched the documentary Aardvark'd, 12 Weeks with Geeks yesterday and I've got two neatly cleaved reactions, one to the film itself and one to the process of internships that Joel Spolsky uses.

There are some quite remarkable pieces of filmmaking going on in this film surrounded by other pieces which are rushed or ill thought out or just messed up because of time constraints and resources.

It's evident that Lerone Wilson thought long and hard about what kind of film he wanted to make and the kind of film he didn't want to make. I think he wanted to make a rights of passage film about these four young men, geeks, dropped into a commercial world from what seems like a fairly comfortable university experience. He certainly captured their innocence and their bravura masks right at the beginning but all too often he missed the pivotal event because he didn't have the resources (budget, money), to be there every day and I guess if he had been there every day he'd have got in the way of the process.

There's been a fair amount of grumpiness about the quality of the film making, criticisms of the lighting and so on. Lerone covers quite a lot of that in his commentary. In the first scenes in the Fogcreek Office they are lit beautifully and you can see the New York buildings around them because he'd gone to the effort of sticking up filters on all the windows he was shooting through as background. In later scenes though, either because he ran out of filters (and budget), or he had to shoot ad hoc, especially Joel who it seems wasn't one for hanging around for lighting and sound setups (I can sympathise with that), the lighting is garish and the light sources ill controlled.

But then that's a whole faux documentary method in itself these days, the jerky hand held and the less than controlled lighting. In this case I think it was genuinely just circumstances and not being a poseur.

There are subtleties in how he brought out the characters of the four geeks in interview and how they referred to each other but although he attempts to get them to look as if they're a team I was never convinced that they gelled into a team at all.

As the film progressed it was evident who out of the interns would fit into Fogcreek as an employee and who wouldn't and this brings me to the intern side of things.

Now, we don't have anything like an intern process in the UK, there are industrial placements where for one year in a CS degree a student will work for some kind of employer and there are sponsored students who sort of work for their sponsor from the outset, but there's no real experience of employers going out and getting students and having them work in quite this way.

From the beginning Fogcreek wanted a different kind of internship process this year. Instead of integrating the interns into a current product development and launching them at a development process that was being managed already they (Joel I imagine mostly), decided to have the interns exist as a separate product group with their own marketing intern and so a la The Apprentice, come up with the goods, or not.

It certainly isn't clear in the film who is managing the group, Joel is show giving the requirements speel and I know he produced a detail requirements document and gave them the starting platform of an existing open source product to build upon. What I don't know though is how they were managed on a day to day basis, were they allowed to sink or swim entirely with management being hands off and laughing up their sleeve, or were they chivied and prodded into useful directions?

Given the bug that showed up after the public demonstrations and after the useability testing and the type of bug it was (an unitialised variable that happened to be ok most of the time), I'm guessing it was the former.

Now that was kind of alright given they had a very constrained development plan with well defined goals and the developers didn't show any signs of the well known angst where they aren't sure what they're doing, why they're doing it or where the goal line is. But the one member of the team who did show that angst and who was evidently swinging in the breeze most of the time was the marketing intern, Yaron Guez.

Marketing isn't something you can learn as a job in college to any real extent and to leave Yaron to manage marketing development seemingly on his own is on the face of it a breach of trust. It's a fundamental of management that you don't set people up to fail or where they don't have the necessary experience to cope and that as soon as you spot someone is failing you support them in whatever way makes sense at the time.

Now it might be that Yaron was supported, but the film didn't show it. What it did in one scene show revealingly is how someone is rejected after management has decided they aren't interested in them.

Ok, it did have all the taste of a scene being reenacted, Guez is on the phone with some journo or other, the call ends and he goes into Joel's office, Joel turns around with a friendly smile, Yaron tells him there'll be an article in some NY publication the next day, or this week, and he reacts ah huh, and then his whole body language switches off and Yaron slinks out.

It could just be bad acting, or it could be unconscious body language.

Is it a success?

It's a success as a film, flawed but successful.

Is it a sucess as an internship? I can't tell, yes one was offered a hire and I think (its ambiguous), he accepted it though he starts Graduate School in January. Was it useful for the others? Again its hard to tell but its obvious they had an experience.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-11-24 00:42
Subject:The new way to get rich

or not.

  • Think of an idea, a service.

  • Sell the idea to customers.

  • Collect the money for the service.

  • Don't bother performing the service.

  • Wash and repeat.

Two directors of a private mail firm who admitted dumping more than 350,000 letters have been jailed for two years.

Southwark Crown Court heard Inderpal Narula, 33, and Royston Heaton, 42, who worked at Mail Logistics in Acton, west London, each netted up to £1m a year.

They arranged for international mail, from firms including Royal Mail, to be put in rubbish skips across London.

Letters included hospital blood tests, charity mail shots and university acceptance letters.

BBC News Story.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-11-21 13:08
Subject:A Tall Tree Falls

The oldest man in Scotland and the last survivor of the Christmas Truce 1914 and the games of football that broke out in No Man's Land between the British and Germans has died in a nursing home.

As S said last week whilst watching a program on the few remaining WWI veterans (there are now just three British survivors), this isn't history it's real.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-11-21 13:05
Subject:Harry Potter a Film for All Seasons

S, I and a family friend went to see the HP film on Friday evening. I don't know the fourth book that well, I didn't get to read it continuously at the time so a lot of it I hadn't remembered and I didn't realised where they pulled and twisted the plot a little and swapped characters around to get it into a manageable length.

S thinks they missed an opportunity with the opening scenes and lost things that should not have been lost. She was most bothered about the loss of the house elves as they form a pivotal part of the plot development and are an important sub plot of the book.

Even so I think its the best of the films so far, and S might even agree.

On Saturday night we went to the Grand, Wolverhampton to see A Man for All Seasons with Martin Shaw as Sir Thomas More. I did have a slight fear that he might simply play it as John Deeds in doublet and hair shirt but he didn't. He wasn't as waspish as Schofield and less monastic than the production I saw at the Liverpool Playhouse in the early 70's. The supporting cast is very strong and the Common Man (Tony Bell) pitched it just right and manfully wrestled the sometimes reticent audience into the artful gags and the modern political parallels.

It's a play that is for all seasons and times as much as More was not a man to bend to the prevailing climate, the references to imprisonment without trial and the control of what people think tolling like a bell throughout the production.

I may not have got up on my feet at the end as some did but it was an excellent overall production. That the actors were unsure how the audience was taking it was obvious when I read Martin Shaw's lips as they came forward for the second curtain call, 'That's a relief' he said to his 'wife' and Thomas Cromwell (Clive Carter), punched him on the shoulder in congratulations.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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Date:2005-11-18 08:11
Subject:Is it really you?

From next year first time applicants for a UK passport will have to have a personal interview. This is supposed to be so that they can verify the person in the tiny photographs (already countersigned by some solicitor or similar as being a faithful likeness), is the person getting the passport. In future no doubt it will also involve the 7-9 different biometric tests and then everyone will have to go through it.

Hmmm, that will make it harder to forge them no doubt.

There was a man from the Passport Office on the radio yesterday defending the price rise up to £51 of the passport and saying it was very secure from being forged because it was digital.

Hmmm, see doubt above.

This is on the same day that the Head of MI6 opined that ID cards would be of no practical use as they'd be forged.

The original posting in the new journal is here

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