Monday, December 31, 2007

Dinner for One

I wish you a Happy New Year with an odd story courtesy of Dr Rob
Every New Year's Eve, half of all Germans plunk down in front of their televisions to watch a 1963 English comedy sketch called Dinner for One. Walk into any bar in Bavaria and shout the film's refrain: "The same procedure as last year, madam?" The whole crowd will shout back in automatic, if stilted, English: "The same procedure as every year, James." Even though Dinner for One is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most frequently repeated TV program ever, it has never been aired in the United Kingdom or the United States, and most of the English-speaking world is ignorant of its existence. When Der Spiegel probed the mystery last New Year's, it found that the BBC had not only never contemplated broadcasting this veddy British nugget in the United Kingdom, the BBC's spokesperson had never even heard of it.



You are not laffink?? Ve haff vays of making you laff!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mea Culpa

I'm off to Wales today for some book talk, but I am ashamed to say that - although I have polished off the other three nominations - I haven't reread 'Crime and Punishment' even though I am the one who recommended it. I remember it reasonably well even though I first read it years ago, so a little internet revision and a flick through the paperback will have to take the strain.

On the importance of reading - now that I am feeling remorseful for ducking Dostoevsky - I was very struck by this review of 'Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point' last week.
While freshmen down in Manhattan at Columbia and NYU think about jobs and paychecks they'll secure after graduation, and hook-ups they make before it, cadets have a rigorous regimented existence in class and out, and they know they will assume command of 30 men and women when it's over, probably in a hot zone.
The prospect throws them into hard questions of life and death, duty and sacrifice, courage and leadership, and they probe great works to figure them out.

Another stereotype bites the dust.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Amundsen and Scott

The Guardian
Two men, one with a suspected broken jaw, have been airlifted from the Antarctic's most remote research facility after an incident described as a "drunken Christmas punch-up".
The brawl happened at the US-operated Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, located at the heart of the frozen continent.

I finally finished "The Last Place on Earth" Roland Huntford's book on Scott and Amundsen and the race for the South Pole over Christmas. It's not like me to dawdle over a read for three months, but the volume became my kit bag book, as its episodic construction suited it for piecemeal reading while the NNB had a Muay Thai lesson, or I whiled away half an hour on the recline exercise bike.

Oddly enough a chance encounter with Top Gear's Polar Special on a Freeview channel earlier this week remnded me what a brutal business travel on the ice must have been all those years ago. Richard Hammond lost the ability to count from one to ten and was bursting into tears after a matter of days on the dog sled.

Friday, December 28, 2007

N95 Podcast Client

I have found a podcast client produced by Nokia and installed it on my N95.

I tried it out with In Our Time yesterday, and it worked a treat downloading audio via the office Wi-Fi connection.

You can connect bog standard headphones to the N95.

I'm definitely going to start using this to keep me entertained when I'm out pounding the road as the Childline Challenge for 2008 looms.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Peace Oil

I got a bottle of Peace Oil for Christmas. It is produced in Israel by Jews, Arabs, Druze and Bedouin working together.

That seems very laudable, and - by the wonder of the memory palace that is a relgular blog - it has sent me back thirty months in my imagination to The Trycicle Theatre and The Arab-Israeli Cookbook.

Less laudably; progress in the Middle East over the last two and a half years: none.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pyelem G Vudhaus

Encouraging news from Russia in The Telegraph today
An expression of dreamy euphoria crossed the face of Sir Watkyn Bassett, collector of antique silver and nemesis of the hapless Bertie Wooster.

On the stage of Moscow's Cleopatra restaurant, a bearded Honky Tonk band was playing Irving Berlin. Nearby a group of girls in their evening finery debated which of Bertie's aunts was the most detestable.

The décor may have been decidedly New Russian and the food served by the waiters khachapuri - a sort of Georgian pizza - rather than Dover Sole. But for Sir Watkyn, alias Mikhail Kuzmenko, it was as though the restaurant had been transformed into the dining hall of Blandings Castle or the Drones Club.

Outlawed by Stalin in 1929, P G Wodehouse - or Pyelem G Vudhaus as he is known - has undergone a remarkable revival since the ban on his books was lifted in 1990.

As president and founder of the Russian Wodehouse Society he has attracted over 3,000 members, some from as far away as Cheliabinsk and Omsk, thousands of miles to the east. His monthly Wodehouse dinners at the Cleopatra and elsewhere are always sold out.

In a week when I have been gifted a copy of Michael Frayn's long out of print 1963 "Best of Beachcomber", is there a hint of a revival of classic British humourists in the air? Civilisation can only benefit. For the avoidance of doubt, be advised that I unhesitatingly include Vivian Stanshall, the Ginger Geezer, in that august company.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Carol

Just like last year, and the year before I am marking Christmas on the blog with a story. This season's offering is perhaps the most famous, and a hat tip goes to my brother for getting me to read it.



STAVE ONE.

MARLEY’S GHOST.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.
The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call “nuts” to Scrooge.
Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.
The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”


Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Afghanistan

Maybe work like this is what the Ministry of Defence was trying to supress with the shenanigans I railed against.

I think you should read it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Light to Variable

I'm off to Wales so blogging will be sparse for a few days though I may fill in the blanks later.

Happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

D'yer Mak'er

An astounding tale of Céline Dion’s global semantic flexibility:
If you hear Céline in Jamaica, run: Her music, blasted at high volume, has become sonic wallpaper in bad neighborhoods, according to music critic Garnette Codogan: “It became a cue to me to walk ... faster if I was ever in a
neighborhood I didn’t know and heard Céline Dion.”

Well I never. Then again, at least the rude boys haven't adopted the resurrected Zep's:

Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You don't have to go oh oh oh oh oh
You don't have to go oh oh oh oh oh
Baby please don't go.

Ay ay ay ay ay ay
All those tears I cry ay ay ay ay ay
........... etc.

I run whenever I hear that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Now you squids ....

As Colour House completists we are off to see CabareX this evening. Judging by the picture on the right, this may possibly not be quite my thing as I tend towards the world view of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End ......

Like the shock of fondling a raw sausage blindfold at a gay party the significance of the van was made clear. In a florid scriptiform on the side was painted the following: Nice and Tidy, and in brackets, Both A Right Couple Of Pairs, Just Relax And Let Us Do It, and in the right hand corner a crude drawing of the masks of tragedy and comedy labelled Before and After.

The gentlemen owners of this vehicle lodged in the village at the Fool and Bladder and did contract housecleaning but they purported to be resting theatrical artistes. Both were given to striped blazers, orange pancake, obvious wigs, matching handkerchiefs, shaven legs and musical comedy which they visited on the drinking fraternity of the Fool and Bladder with unceasing enthusiasm, until that is old Seth Onetooth put a stop to it claiming "I’m going as daft as a mahogany frying pan".

Great Aunt Florrie’s premise that all musicians were "nice people" had prompted her to place the music room at Rawlinson End at their disposal. And they confessed themselves to be "terribly touched". Henry’s reaction to their presence now was primarily of apoplectic astonishment, after all you don’t expect decent folk to take you up on an invitation, its just downright rudery. "Grrreat Thing" he bellowed "those simpering nancy boys are in the house, get up you stinking blancmange, quick go lock the piano pacey pacey before the.." but it was too late. There were loud theatrical chortles from across the hall, a hint of Cologne, and

(Duet - Nigel Nice and Teddy Tidy)

This impertinent jollity in the middle of an English afternoon left Sir Henry shivering with a red passion. His eyebrows like limp bats, and his face a crumpled tissue upon which a lobster might well have wiped its bottom. "All crime" he declared "is due to incorrect breathing".

Grim faced and cold Henry snatched from the wall the sickle sharp boar tusks he used for defacing Reader Digest, and in moments crossed the hall and flung open the doors of the music room. Startled, Nigel Nice, banjulele held fol de rol, mince mince minced across the room. "Sir Henry, nice to see you, to see you…." Henry’s glare throttled his hypocrisy at birth.

"Do you know what a palmist once said to me? She said - Will You Let Go.

Gentlemen I am a bulldog and you will know my bite is worse".

Teddy Tidy held the piano stool before him. Nigel Nice in an attempt to look invalid put on his glasses and blinked. Stamping in frenzy Henry bellowed the war cry of the Zulu "Whoo Shoo Foo" and adjusting a serviette about his throat "Now you squids prepare for whacks".

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SimpleDB

Amazon SimpleDB is a web service for running queries on structured data in real time. This service works in close conjunction with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), collectively providing the ability to store, process and query data sets in the cloud. These services are designed to make web-scale computing easier and more cost-effective for developers.
Traditionally, this type of functionality has been accomplished with a clustered relational database that requires a sizable upfront investment, brings more complexity than is typically needed, and often requires a DBA to maintain and administer. In contrast, Amazon SimpleDB is easy to use and provides the core functionality of a database - real-time lookup and simple querying of structured data - without the operational complexity. Amazon SimpleDB requires no schema, automatically indexes your data and provides a simple API for storage and access. This eliminates the administrative burden of data modeling, index maintenance, and performance tuning. Developers gain access to this functionality within Amazon's proven computing environment, are able to scale instantly, and pay only for what they use.

If we were just starting out in business I might be tempted to use Amazon for everything. I'm amazed that Microsoft doesn't seem to be responding for all the trumpeting of its Live initiatives.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Plough

I went to see the First Emperor exhibition in the British Museum yesterday. A six o'clock ticket meant that I had to find a nearby boozer to watch the Arsenal Chelsea game which kicked off at four.

When The Profit Burglar suggested The Plough in Museum Street, I remembered reading in Time Out a couple of weeks ago that this was the pub where Aleister Crowley drank regularly.

All the time we were there I kept smiling to myself at a mental image of "The Wickedest Man In the World" convening a meeting of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn over a pint of bitter and a packet of cheese 'n' onion crisps in such a quotidian setting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Glory Days

Hugh gave me a copy - out of the blue - of the "Best of the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band" at Tighten Up's Christmas dinner on Friday. A gracious gesture, to repay us I think for hosting him at AbbeyFest's free music Fridays over the years, and especially the Bob Brunning organised Blues Weekend that traditionally closes the event.

Coincidentally, I was having a pint in the Tup with Simon (Bob's son) a couple of weeks ago, when he hailed another drinker with, "Did I hear you say that your father played with Chuck Berry? Mine did too."

This, I remember thinking, was a marvelously unlikely turn for events to take on a slow Monday night in Colliers Wood.

They swapped stories. My favourite was Chuck's predilection for duck walking over the the keyboard player to ask, "what song are we playing?" during extended solos. I guess twelve bar blues progressions tend to blur one into another after half a century on the road.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Banglatown


There are about eight thousand Indian restaurants in Britain and the great majority of these are run by Bangladeshis. Most of these come from the Seaman's Zone at the centre of the small district Syhlet.
So begins chapter 9 of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors whence I refer you to the intriguing tale of how lascars conquered British tastebuds.

The Profit Burglar and I decided to celebrate this (and tick Bangladesh off our "eat our way around the world in London" project) with a visit to Brick Lane this week.

Brick Lane teems with curry houses, hustlers, and hawkers who try and entice you into their establishments with promises of discounts and free rounds of drinks. We picked out a place called Sonargoan at random and got outside a mountain of familiar fayre in the form of bhajis, curries, pulaos, naans and relishes.

Cheer thrice for the good people of Syhlet, and follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Bill

They're filming "The Bill" outside the office again this morning.
The Bill is a long-running British television police procedural, first broadcast on 16 October 1984 and transmitted on ITV, at 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

I half watched it last night - with a glass of wine in hand - with the parents of a boy who does Thai boxing with my little fella, and as our kids were getting outside some pizza.

I didn't pay any attention at all to the story that was unfolding, but I was amazed to find that I was utterly and unironically thrilled whenever I recognised a location; which was often as the studio is only around the corner.

I spent a very exciting five minutes trying to work out if a pawn brokers in the episode was a redressed Charlie's Rock Shop, and practically swooned when I recognised Venus.

It is all very worrying. I could easily become an Olympic level bore if I watch it again.

“A man's gotta know his limitations.”


P.S. The Bill's director had obviously studied his 'West Wing'. There was an awful lot of "walk and talk" in the station.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Arithmetic on the frontier


We are on the cusp of 2008 and our troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001. Why? The video above of various people wandering about is the first shot in Musa Qula since it fell.

Gordon Brown has outlined a new long-term strategy to "isolate and eradicate" the Taliban, but I am none the wiser. It is certainly a long way from John Reid's ludicrous assertion (back in 2005?) that we might get out of Helmand without a shot being fired in anger.

I wonder if our leaders read their Kipling?

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre!"
And after--ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Irrelevance Filter

Scientists believe they have located a new brain area essential for good memory - the "irrelevance filter".
Once again the capitalist press and the state-run puppet regime at the BBC have turned their reactionary ...... ............. ............. ................. ........... ........... totally sickening ...... .......... ....................... ................. ....................... .......... irrelevant in the room .............. .......................................... er ................................ ................... ............... ................ .............. continued on page 94 ............

DAVE SPART (C0-Chair of Troops Out of Aldershot - Neasdon Branch - has been filtered).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Help Desk

I've just got off the phone talking a client through logging onto one of our systems and this YouTube clip (hat tip Chris) seems curiously apt.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Presidential Paintball

I don't generally hold with the notion that kids are naturally more at home with IT than anyone old enough to shave, but I am still surprised - in my wired house and my wired office - at my seven year old's familiarity with the online world.

He amazed me with his skill at navigating Google Earth on Friday, "we don't do it on the whitebaord we just do it in the IT suite". And yesterday he found and whiled away a quarter of an hour playing Presidential Paintball. At least he hasn't got a clue who Hillary and Rudi are; that is valuable innocence.



Sunday, December 09, 2007

Humble Giants

In Japan, blogging is "karaoke for shy people".

Meditate upon:
... the remarkably harmonious blog that Junko Kenetsuna has been writing five times a week for the past three years about her midday meal.
With understated precision, she calls her blog "I had my lunch."

Sounds good to me. Hat tip, Norm.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

plebs

I'm still reading about Scott of the Antartic. Cardiff still breeds roaring plebs, howling for glory not bread. I'd translate it into Latin and adopt it as a motto if I wasn't so plebian myself.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My Car from Afar


View Larger Map

Here, via Google Maps and as a trivial sequel to yesterday's post, is a satellite shot of my car parked by the office. This would have been astonishing a short time ago, but it is unremarkable now.

For all the legitimate concerns and Pyrrhic victories of campaigners, I think the genie is already out of the bottle with regard to privacy and the internet.

The world is changing in ways we can scarcely imagine, and there really is no alternative to a committed engagement with the process.

John, Anne and Panama

The story of John Darwin, the "missing assumed dead" canoeist's miraculous reappearance after five years has been all over the press for the last few days. Eyebrows were raised when a photo of him with his wife apparently taken in Panama last year emerged.

Here's how it happened:

The woman who uncovered the picture of missing John Darwin with his wife found it with a simple search on Google.
She typed in the words John, Anne and Panama, clicked on images and up it popped - complete with date.
The single mum, who does not want to be named, said: "I'd like to nominate them for 'World's Dumbest' awards.
"Not only were they photographed but the date was actually on the picture. It was just too good to be true."
The photo of John and Anne was taken in July 2006 for a "Move to Panama" website. It has now been removed.

This is how the new world is going to work.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Standing Up in a Hammock

US and Russian astronauts have had sex in space for separate research programmes on how human beings might survive years in orbit, according to a book published yesterday.

Pierre Kohler, a respected French scientific writer, says in The Final Mission: Mir, The Human Adventure that the subject is taboo both at Nasa and at mission control in Moscow, but that cosmic couplings have taken place.

"The issue of sex in space is a serious one," he says. "The experiments carried out so far relate to missions planned for married couples on the future International Space Station, the successor to Mir. Scientists need to know how far sexual relations are possible without gravity."

He cites a confidential Nasa report on a space shuttle mission in 1996. A project codenamed STS-XX was to explore sexual positions possible in a weightless atmosphere.

Twenty positions were tested by computer simulation to obtain the best 10, he says. "Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions. The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even Nasa was only given a censored version."

Only four positions were found possible without "mechanical assistance". The other six needed a special elastic belt and inflatable tunnel, like an open-ended sleeping bag.

Mr Kohler says: "One of the principal findings was that the classic so-called missionary position, which is so easy on earth when gravity pushes one downwards, is simply not possible."
From The Guardian, Thursday February 24 2000, via Simon.

What's your position on this?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Zero Degree Turn

Even as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies or questions the Holocaust, Iranians have been glued to their TV sets watching the concluding episodes of a 22-part, government-financed docu-drama in which an Iranian saves his Jewish sweetheart from the Nazi death camps. Not only is the Holocaust not denied or questioned, its Jewish victims are treated with unambiguous sympathy.

In Zero Degree Turn, a half-Iranian, half-Palestinian named Habib Parsa falls in love with a French Jewish girl while studying in Paris. Later, as an official at the Iranian embassy, he arranges to issue Iranian passports to the girl and her mother and send them to safety in Tehran.

Director Hassan Fathi says the story is based on Abdol Hussein Sardari, a real-life charge d'affaires at the Iranian embassy in Paris, who saved some 1,000 European Jews by forging Iranian passports so they could exit the country in an exodus of Iranian Jews back to Iran
...........
Isn't that astounding? Maybe things are looking up.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Spirit of the Beehive

Q. What is Amy Winehouse's favourite tube station?
A. High Barnet.


I got in the habit earlier this year, of popping into the office where they were editing the Any Winehouse documentary to see how it was getting along. It was a fascinating process - especially towards the end when, though the structure was essentially set, I was amazed to see what a difference all the fine tuning made to how smoothly it ran together.

It is out on DVD now if you are interested.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Flagging


Wales has, in my humble opinion, the best national anthem and the best flag in the world, so I was unmoved last week when a Labour MP called for the Union flag to be redesigned to include the Welsh Dragon. I quite like the design above however which was submitted when The Telegraph cheekily solicited ideas.

Truth be told, I think we are better off leaving well alone.

Katherine Jenkins is the Welsh Amy Winehouse.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Much to be humble about


My daemon is a monkey according to the Golden Compass movie site, though you can influence its final form for the next few days.

At least I can post it without devotees of Hanuman getting on my case.

I've got an urge to pop down the Build-A-Bear Workshop and get a new friend. What shall I call him?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas Card

The packs of the cards produced from the NNB's school artwork my My-School-Christmas-Cards arrived yesterday.

He disappeared up to his room and came back with the first one inscribed and addressed to me.

Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Monarchy

Off to the Palace again today.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The sweet essence of giraffe

And each time I hear your name
Oh, oh, oh, my, my, how, how it hurts
In the wardrobe of my soul
In the section labeled "Shirts"

I caught "The Line Between" in the Colour House Theatre last night. "Two men, one dog and a partially molested Wardrobe are trapped, but before they can escape their rooms, they must first escape their minds."

Perhaps not entirely up my street, but the place was full which is encouraging.

Is there room in the budget for a "sold out" sign?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Damage Limitation

The wonder of the internet and the blogosphere and our freedom to express ourselves thereon, gave me the immense privilege of a brief email and comment correspondence with the wise and shrewd Deborah Lispstadt early last year. She is famously humiliated David Irving in court when he sued her for libel, and strangely - in view of last night's debate - I think it may have been me who first brought Nick Griffin to her attention when I sent her this link.

Here for what it is worth is my tuppence worth on the disgraceful scenes.

  • The Oxford Union does have the right to invite people with odious views to address it.
  • The rest of us have the right to object, organise and protest, but we don't have the right to sabotage the event, and physically intimidate or even attack those who choose to attend.
In general I am in favour of free speech and unfettered speculation, but who would have thought that quantum physics would be the discipline that proved it was dangerous?

Have we hastened the demise of the universe by looking at it? That's the startling question posed by a pair of physicists, who suggest that we may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, which is thought to be speeding up cosmic expansion.
Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and colleague James Dent suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the universe to revert to a state similar to early in its history, when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," says Krauss.
Cool.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Red Hat

It was interesting to hear over the weekend that the Pope had elevated the the Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans to the rank of cardinal. Rather like the Maronites of Lebanon, the Chaldeans, of whom I don't think I have previously heard, are an Eastern Rite in full communion with the Catholic Church.

It is just another fact to file away to remind ourselves of the complexity and richness of the real world compared to the banality and simplification of what passes itself off as news reporting and "opinion".

I've also read that:
Jews have lived in Baghdad for thousands of years. Less than a century ago, fully one quarter of the city's entire population was Jewish and there can be no question but that Jews have played an important roles in the city's economic and cultural development. That, however, may be coming to an end. There are only about two dozen Jews in the community now and they will probably leave soon.

Note to self: I understand nothing whatsoever about how and why that extraordinary change occurred. It seems almost inconceivable. What percentage was Jewish 75 years ago, or 50, or 25?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes

After posting from the N95 yesterday, I tried and failed to post from the NNB's PSP lite this morning. I just can't get on with the text entry.

Five minutes ago, I noticed that he is surfing the net on it via the house's wireless network without even understanding that he is doing anything different from just noodling around.

Suddenly I feel old.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

hello world

this post is via wi-fi from my N95. Painful.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gadgets

The Profit Burglar sent me this link to details of the eStarling 2.0 WIFI Digital Photo Frame, yesterday. That brought me up a little short as "the eStarling frame supports all major RSS photo feeds, including Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, AOL, Smugmug, iPhoto, Gallery,and more", and I'd made up what I thought was a hypothetical gadget that would do just that, pitching an idea to a potential client the week before last.

Since I lost my mobile phone, I've picked up a Nokia N95 as a replacement. It has got an integrated GPS receiver, it's a a fully fledged music player, features built-in WiFi internet access, and sports Carl Zeiss optics on the camera. Some folks have even worked out how to use its accelerometer to make it sound like a light saber when waved through the air.

Much of this remains a mystery to me however as I can't work out how to configure it so that the screen's backlight stays on long enough for me to try the features out.

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Snap

I have been asked to tell you that:
I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.
Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.
Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.
What do you think of it? At first I thought it was a great idea, but now I have installed it I find it somewhat overwhelming. I will try and trim it down a little. I like it on the post titles (I'm not sure that it was all that clear before that they are links) and on the blogroll, but it is redundant on internal and functional links.

Expect tinkering.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

None ever wished it longer

The first instalment of Philip Pullman's hugely successful trilogy of fantasy books, His Dark Materials, has had a troubled transition to the screen. The adaptation has managed to upset both Christians and atheists, the former because of the book's anti-religious themes and the latter because those very themes have been watered down and virtually excised from the film. ............

Why can't people just lighten up a bit? After all this is a movie in which the ever reliable Sam Elliot "shines as the gun-toting Texan aeronaut who joins forces with Lyra and a whisky-drinking polar bear (with a voice supplied by Ian McKellen) on their quest to save Roger and the other kidnapped children".

Agreeable as it might be to have a five minute adolescent fantasy chat about how odd it is that - say - the militantly atheistic Pullman's magnum opus is steeped in theology, while religion is absent from the devoutly Catholic JRR Tolkein's Middle Earth, it is scarcely serious.

Anyway, break out the popcorn because here is the bit where true bear king Iorek Byrnison and pretender to his throne Ragnar Sturlusson have a big fight because one said the other's momma was so fat or something (while simultaneously superseding the ephemeral reach of ideology by slipping the facade of allegory).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Attention Please

I'm hoping to take my seven year old plus assorted waifs and strays to "Who Stole Santa Claus", a Christmas show for all ages that is playing at the "The Chamber" in the old GLC building opposite Westminster.

I'm aware of it because Mark, a guy I know from the Colour House Theatre is in it, and it turns out that it has been written by Amy Winehouse's brother Alex.

It seems to have sold out this weekend since he got a crafty plug in for it when he was speaking up for her recently, so we are going to have to catch it another time.

The power of media attention is extraordinary. Traffic to our auction site doubled last week when Chris Evans talked about Police Auctions on his Radio 2 show without even mentioning it specifically.

I'll take that, and good for Alex as well, 'cause you gotta get out there and hustle, but God knows how someone like Amy Winehouse copes with the dark side of it.

(I've made jokes about her myself, but I think they're pretty inoffensive).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Freedom of the Rules

Kate Williams' biography of Emma Hamilton was on my mind yesterday, as I had finished reading it on my tube journey into Waterloo.

As we got plumbed in to Fullers London Porter in the Mad Hatter I smiled to remember part of the book where friends wondered if she was pregnant when she took to drinking porter as it was supposed to be good for expectant mothers. Times change eh?

I also imagine that the Kings Bench Prison to which her debts led to her confinement - along with her and Nelson's daughter Horatia - must have been very near to where we were drinking.

It was an odd sort of imprisonment though, as because she could afford to purchase the 'Liberty of the Rules', she was allowed to roam within three square miles of the prison, and rented a place to live at which she was even visited for dinner by one of George III's sons.

Perhaps "The Rules" might be the answer to our own prison overcrowding. I shall suggest it to Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, next time I bump into him at the newsagent.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Come Fly With Me

Wandering the South Bank from Waterloo to London Bridge stopping for the odd cheeky pint and sniffing round landmarks like the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe is a fine way of whiling lazy weekend afternoon away.

As I'm doing that later today with some chums, I got the idea of trying the route out on Google Earth.

When you first start Google Earth, the default view of the earth is a "top-down" view, but you can tilt the terrain from 0 - 90 degrees, and rotate the view for a new perspective with the navigation controls.

It really is surprisingly good, and if you turn on the 3D Buildings layer, flat shaded models of some key buildings appear. You can see Red Ken's Gherkin and London Bridge rendered in that format in the screen shot above which was taken towards the end of my virtual meandering.

It is still essentially a toy, but this software is going to be indispensable in an iteration or two.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Fire in the Minds of Men

In a week when we learned that "Adult FriendFinder May Have Been Acquired For $1 Billion+", and "fans' community website MyFootballClub has agreed a deal to take over Blue Square Premier outfit Ebbsfleet United", things are moving as quickly as ever as the internet is terraformed by social networks.

Would it be valuable for me to use - say Facebook Beacon - to allow users to tell their friends that they had won an auction by publishing the fact in their newsfeeds?

Read "Explaning OpenSocial to your Executives". Should there be a Bumblebee Auctions widget that can live in MySpace?

Interesting times. Pssst, wanna buy a BMW?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Google Translate

Good Morning campers: Select from the drop down list below to choose a target language for a translation of my ramblings. If it works well I may add it as a permanent fixture on the left.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Gay Hussar

Greek Street, the home of 'Private Eye' and the 'Coach and Horses' seemed a legendary place to me when I was growing up, and so the same street's 'Gay Hussar' was a natural choice for our Hungarian dining destination last night.

I had Beef Goulash Soup followed by Kacsa Sült (Crispy Roast Duck with Red Cabbage, Hungarian Potatoes and Apple Sauce). The Profit Burglar started with Fried Cheese Salad before getting outside Borjú Pörkölt (Veal Goulash Stew with Galuska). We shared a bottle of house red.

Here's Nick Cohen on the place's colourful past and present, including:

"stories of the energetically homosexual Labour MP Tom Driberg organising a lunch in the late 1960s during which WH Auden leaned across to Marianne Faithfull to ask if she hid her drugs 'up her arse'

A class act indeed. Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations as we eat our way around the world in London.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lions Led by Donkeys

The Chief of the Defence Staff is quoted in the Telegraph today bemoaning the "lack of understanding shown to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan".
"They are concerned the British public does not appreciate or understand what they do. We need to express that a bit more visibly. I welcome recent efforts to do that. We need to have a little more tangible and visible expression of our appreciation."

It is all too easy for this brass hat to scold the public. Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, has told us off similarly.

Has he ever considered that the Ministry of Defence's gagging orders - which I blogged back in September - might contribute to this lack of understanding?

I'm going to reprint the same quote I used then:

Members of the Armed Forces and MOD Civil Servants must seek prior permission from MoD media authorities] if they wish to communicate about defence via books, articles or academic papers; self-publish via a blog, podcast or other shared text, audio or video; take part in external questionnaires, polls, surveys or research projects, speak at conferences, private engagements or other events where the public or media may be present; or contribute to any online community or share information such as a bulletin board, wiki, online social network, or multi-player game...

[This] covers all public speaking, writing or other communications, including via the internet and other sharing technologies, on issues arising from an individual's official business or experience, whether on-duty, off-duty or in spare time.

Given that the troops aren't allowed to tell anyone anything, how the bleedin' hell is the public to get the understanding that he thinks they lack?

The MOD is a shower. Do you remember when Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf back in March? The country was engulfed with sympathy and goodwill for Faye Turney et al until Des Browne and the ministry sold them down the river with the botched and undignified handling of the issue of whether or not it was appropriate for them to sell their stories to the papers.

Somebody at the top needs to get their ducks in a row, and apply a little consistency and common sense.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Identity

Facebook has launched "Facebook Pages, which are distinct, customized profiles designed for businesses, bands, celebrities and more to represent themselves on Facebook". It is part of a larger advertsing driven initiative.

I've created a page for Bumblebee Auctions as a mechanism to get my head around it as much as anything else. The page is at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7060458932 and Chris has sniffed it out and joined already. Why not join as well so we can feel our way into the future together?

Online identity is a tricky beast. Coraider, our company, has reasonable Google visibility through products like our auction system, yet http://www.coraider.co.uk/ doesn't seem to register at all, and I'm bemused as to why.

I'm also becoming uneasy about how high this blog appears in the results of searches on the company name. It's not that I want to hide the relationship, but by the same token I'm not sure that I want to advertise it. Perhaps I ought to move it to a new domain rather than a coraider.com URL.

(This post will of course compound the issue by mentioning Coraider so frequently.)

P.S. I think I may have lost my mobile phone, so I will appear to have vanished in a puff of smoke in another quadrant of the digiverse.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sprinkling Stardust

A philosopher once asked, "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?" Pointless, really...”Do the stars gaze back?" Now that's a question.

I took my seven year old and a school friend along to the Odeon to see Stardust yesterday. I think in so far as I have been paying attention that it has been lukewarmly reviewed. We went based on a word of mouth recommendation from my brother and I for one thought it was great.

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won." Hooray, and good for him, especially when there are witches, sky-pirates, spells, sword fights, princes, and a star fallen to earth in the form of a damsel in distress along the way while all is set to soaring, shimmering strings.

For myself I could have done with a monster guarding summat as well, but I supppose you can't have everything: Beowulf will have to take the strain.

Give yourself a treat and catch it on the big screen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Naked and the Dead

Norman Mailer, towering writer with ego to match, is dead at the age of 84... NYT ... AP ... LAT ... Nation ... Guardian ... Reuters ... Telegraph ... Salon ... Chic Trib ... BBC ... Newsday ... Boston Globe ... NPR ... Time ... CNN ... NYT ... USAToday ... Wash Post ... London Times ... LAT ... Salon ... SF Chron ... Independent ... dissent from Roger Kimball

I read a great deal of Mailer in my youth, then opted out and never went back as I just couldn't be bothered with the doorstop that was "Ancient Evenings".

If anything of his stands the test of time it will be the longer non-fiction rather than the novels or essays.

So much of what he wrote was truth be told and for all the macho posturing, on the silly side of quaint. Do you remember all the "fugging" in "The Naked and the Dead" or the airhead indulgent daftness of "The White Negro"?

I remember that the blurb in the back of my paper back copy of "Advertisements for Myself" said something along the lines of "Norman Mailer is the author of 'The Naked and the Dead', The Deer Park', '"Why are we in Vietnam' and other books that have knocked the 20th Century on its heels." My italics.

"Up to a point, Lord Copper."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Once in a lifetime

I got the chance yesterday to take a call on my mobile and say, "I'll have to call you back, I'm in a bathroom in Buckingham Palace".

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rivers of Blood

Looking at the furore over Nigel Hastilow this week, it really is astounding what a hot potato Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech remains nearly 40 years later.

You can read it here. Is the fuss overblown? Sometimes I think it is, and sometimes I think it isn't.

I met Enoch Powell once. Back in the early 1990s as I recall, I was in some sort of Private Sector/Civil Service discussion group to whom he spoke at a weekend conference. I can clearly remember talking to him with a glass of wine in my hand at an al fresco buffet and thinking "this is a turn up for the books". I've no recollection at all of what was said.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I am a Human Bean

I went to see Will Adamsdale's "The Human Computer" last night. I enjoyed it, but it defies description. Go to http://thehumancomputer.willadamsdale.com/ for the specification.

It was on in the Battersea Arts Centre, and it struck me that I probably haven't been there since I went with Chalice back in the day to see "MC Jabber", her brother. If you get a chance to see him, he is excellent by the way.

There's a breadcrumb trail from that to me being secretly amused and almost proud after falling asleep at the ballet when Kim dragged me along to see some Matthew Bourne thing, but outraged when Jane fell asleep during the Trevor Nunn production of Hamlet at the Old Vic in 2004.

Different strokes for different folks, and I suppose what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, but as Will Adamsdale said last night, "you can't win at sex ....... but you can lose".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Get Your Space Face On

I count myself lucky to have met Marc Canter last year. I didn't really grok his Digital Lifestyle Aggregator (DLA) concept at the time (though I'm clearer now), but what it has definitely given me is a framework in which I can start to place contemporaneous developments as diverse as Google's OpenSocial initiative and KylieKonnect (an entire social networking site devoted to Kylie Minogue) in context.

Tedious and pretentious as much of the MySpaceFaceBookYadaYadaYada noise is, there is a kernel of truth there and we are potentially on the brink of another round of profound changes online.

I'm trying to persuade clients to take advantage of some of the opportunities that social sites offer today, but in a much more down to earth way.

My approach is based on exploiting the economies of scale that result from the Internet's relentless commoditisation of storage and distribution of media types.

Imagine my surprise to see an excellent example of it in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's web presence. Look at this page about the Saudi Arabia State Visit; video is hosted and embedded from YouTube and photos are hosted and embedded from Flickr.

This rids the FCO of much of the overhead in managing and serving media files and also gives it extra online presence, visibility and distribution on http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreignoffice and http://www.youtube.com/user/ukforeignoffice.

It is very clever. I'm torn between feeling vindicated and a little put out that I'm not as original as I sometimes imagine.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

fin de siècle

Perhaps because I went to both the first night and last night performance of the recent short run at the Colour House, Hedda Gabler seems to be much in my mind lately.

Thus a propos of nothing much at all, I was struck the other day by the way that Hedda Gabler’s romantic imagining of Løvborg's suicide as beautiful is exactly like Dorian Gray’s ultimate rationalisation of Sybil Vane killing herself in Wilde’s novel.

Both were published in 1890 so it is unlikely that one influenced the other. Maybe it was just a morbid fin de siècle notion that was in the decadent air; Edvard Munch was breathing it in Oslo at the time as well.

And yet, I made a belated start on Sunday on the Amundsen and Scott book that Rob sent me.

The first chapter about Amunden’s youth once he moved to Oslo (he would have been a desultory university student around 1890) added a lot of depth to my understanding of the era and location of play; there are echoes like the maid moving out of the family home to look after him etc.

It is also a timely warning against my tendency to generalise. Decadent is just about the last word you could apply to the first person to reach both the North and South Pole, a man who is recongised as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage, and who was lost in June 1928 on a gallant rescue mission.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Red letter day

I, along with my father and both my brothers, was at the Millennium Stadium in the early hours of Sunday morning to see Joe Calzaghe join "the boxing immortals", as The Times put it.

Did you know that while Enzo Calzaghe's "gym in Newbridge, a small valleys town in south Wales, can already boast three world champions with many more set to follow", there is only one world champion in England?

Enjoyably parochial a dig as that is (and all of the Calzaghe fighters on the undercard won yesterday) the English champion is the redoubtable Ricky Hatton, whom we will all be supporting when he fights Floyd Mayweather next month.

Joe Calzaghe wants to move up to light heavyweight and fight Bernard Hopkins next. I think we are pretty much honour bound to follow him to that bout even if it is in the States.

Fly to Vegas, watch the fight, meet Gina Carano and live happily ever after. I could do that.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stick to the ribs

I laughed to myself when I saw "The new rules for defeating cancer" on the front page of The Times last week because (with the excusable exception of breastfeeding children) I go at everything in their Do list and everything in the Don't list with equal vim and enthusiasm, and I'm not in the slightest embarrassed about drinking red wine with my steak.

So here, not that the world is crying out for them, are my guidelines for eating.

  • Regardless of what you read about wonder foods, food is not medicine.
  • Regardless of what you hear about junk food, food is not poison.
  • You are an omnivore, eat a varied diet.
  • Purchase and prepare fresh produce when you get the chance.
  • Lastly, don't fret. Mark Twight has wisely observed that "weighing portions and counting calories and allowing food to rule one's life is just as much an eating disorder as sticking a finger down your throat".

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Snazz Sichaun

"Eat our way around the world in London", added another of the "Eight Great Traditions" of Chinese cuisine to our bag this week when Sichaun joined Hunan and Canton.

The menu at Snazz Sichaun is certainly a wonder to behold (strange-flavour rabbit" or "fire-exploded kidney flowers" anyone?), and intimidating enough to send us to the set meals.

Sichaun food is very hot and it watching the profit burglar squirm and dab his eyes and nose as he got outside his steamed chicken in Chongqing special sauce (cold) starter was worth the price of admission on its own. This is a style of cooking and eating that demands further investigation; I noticed on some other tables that guests seemed to be cooking their own food by simmering it in a broth rather like the sukiyaki that we had on the Japanese leg of our journey.

The proprietor came over for a chat towards the end of our meal and I was genuinely flattered when he seemed sincerely interested in our little project.

Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations since 2005. Alternatively, if you've got Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/), click here and fly to the restaurant.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I've got an axiom to grind

“Mathematical correctness gone mad."

It's a phrase almost all of us have used at one time or another. In fact, it's a cliché.

But like all clichés, there is more than an element of truth behind it.

In Britain today, mathematical correctness has gone mad. And it is driving people crazy.

There are so many examples of this obsession with mathematical correctness; it's hard to know where to start.

But here are just a few, to get us going.

Axioms in traditional thought are "self-evident truths", but that can be a problem because at a formal level, an axiom is just a string of symbols, which has an intrinsic meaning only in the context of all derivable formulas of an axiomatic system.

Hilbert's program tried to put all of mathematics on a firm axiomatic basis, but according to Gödel's incompleteness theorem every (sufficiently powerful) axiomatic system has undecidable formulas; and so a final axiomatization of mathematics is impossible.

It would be easy to go on and on, because the examples are countless.


In some cases, the exercise of mathematical correctness is relatively harmless. It provides good knocking copy for fulminating commentators, or for late-night radio chat shows.

But in many other cases it is not. We cannot simply dismiss every example as an isolated case of stupidity or zeal or plain barminess.

The systematic spread of mathematical correctness has a corrosive effect on our society.

It makes people imagine that mathematics, as far as its formal content is concerned, can be reduced to set theory in the sense that every mathematical statement or proof could be cast into formulas within set theory.


It provides officials with an excuse to meddle and interfere in people's lives, where they have no business to.

It leads to expensive, time-consuming and pointless litigation.

It plays into the hands of extremists.

And it undermines people's respect for the institutions of our country.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I can't believe the news today



At last a worthy sequel to a George Bush stick man falling through balls. That is on the blog somewhere though I can't find it.

Update: Ah, here it is at http://nickbrowne.coraider.com/2006/06/free-fallin.html

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hughesovka

Who am I?


I was born Merthyr Tydfil where my father was an engineer at Cyfarthfa ironworks. It was there I learnt my trade there before moving to Ebbw Vale and then the Uskside Foundry in Newport in the 1840s.


There I married, had eight children, and worked hard and well enough to earn a seat on the board, a directorship of the Millwall Engineering and Shipbuilding Company in London, and credit for the business's worldwide acclaim for iron cladding wooden warships for the British Admiralty.


When the company received an order from Imperial Russia for the plating of a naval fortress being built at Kronstadt on the Baltic Sea, I sailed to the Ukraine with eight shiploads of equipment and around a hundred specialist ironworkers and miners, mostly from south Wales, to build a metallurgical plant and rail producing factory.

My factory gave its name to the settlement which grew in its shadow, and the town with the delightfully unlikely name of Hughesovka (Yuzovka) grew rapidly.

I am John Hughes and I am the latest Welsh Born Icon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

City News

Brewing giants Carlsberg and Heineken have said that they are in talks about forming a consortium to buy Amy Winehouse.

They said there was no guarantee an offer would be made for the singer, whose albums include Frank, and Back to Black.

Winehouse said any forthcoming bid would be "unwelcome" and that she was committed to being an independent woman.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween

The New Ninja Bomber is back from Asia and I am very glad to see him regardless of the fact that his jet lag (plus the clocks going back) robbed us of a trip to Manchester, and led him to wake me up at 3:30 am and nag me downstairs.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Analgesic

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails... You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds... Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
T.H. White via Harvey J. Kaye via Norm. Thanks fellas.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

From the local rag:

The Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden racked up the biggest bill for paper, envelopes and postage in the course of a year, figures from Parliament reveal.

All I can say, is more power to her elbow.

When I wrote to her in 2005 to flag my worries about the "Racial and Religious Hatred" bill she arranged a meeting for me and other concerned constituents with the Minister responsible.

Last year, when I wrote explaining our Virtual Bumblebee product, she helped me get a representative from the Home Office along to a user meeting.

She could have saved money on both occasions by not writing back.

I think that she may spend more on mail than her colleagues because she works harder.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Exit signs? They're on the way out.

The New Ninja Bomber being in Asia until the weekend. I was free to go along to the Roar with Laughter comedy show at GJ's last night for the first time since February.

The line up was different from that advertised but I imagine it will be recorded on the previous gigs list soon.

I had a good time, but I can't help but think that we live in a period of stultifying orthodoxy and received opinion in which performers - while convinced that they are free spirits - are actually terrified of being tarred with a phobia or an 'ism if they say something out of line.

They need to grit their teeth and remember this, which applies as well to jokes as more serious matters:

Accusing your opponent of causing you offence has become an everyday tactic in public discussion.

This is a cowardly tactic, which means that you don’t have to bother putting your own case, or pointing out the other’s flaws.

This also presents another’s opinions as mere ‘hate’ or ‘phobias’, suggesting that your opponent is blind or irrational, and not worth arguing with.

Against this, we should celebrate the virtues of public argument. It is through arguments that we develop our own ideas, and learn from each other.

We should avoid playing the ‘offence card’, and continue with the match of public debate.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I survivied St Joseph's Convent Infants School



The way those sisters used to whack me, I don't know what. They thought they was going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You couldn't make it up

A leading novelist today welcomed the revelation from headmaster Albus Dumbledore that gay rights spokesman Peter Tatchell is fictional.

But JK Rowling said the champion of homosexual equality's "lack of corporeality" should have been made clearer in the stories about him.

Dumbledore exposed Tatchell’s apocryphal essence while teaching a class at Hogwarts.

“Peter is made up,” the Professor revealed to a response of gasps and applause.

Dumbledore then joked: “I would have told you it was a stunt as soon as I realized if I had known it would make you so happy.”

Story supporter JK Rowling said: “It’s good that children are being taught the importance of mythical characters, since they exist in every culture.

“But I am disappointed that the media have not always made Tatchell’s nature clear.

“We always new he was fabulous, honey,” she clarified. "But a fable? Sheeesh!"

Dumbledore said that his suspicions began years ago when he read an article praising Mr. Tatchell in the Daily Mail.

“I guessed I was being had, when I came across approval for the leader of the radical queer rights non-violent direct action group OutRage! in conservative Middle England's house paper. And all apparently because he had attempted a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe!

“You couldn’t make it up,” he said echoing Richard Littlejohn, the fictional journalist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The State of the Nation

It's probably more detail than you need, but when I am grinding out the virtual miles up the virtual hills in Virgin of a lunchtime, I plug earphones into the exercise bike and watch the built in TV.

This explains how when I started cursing footage on the news of a smirking scumbag swaggering free from court even though he had punched a 96-year-old war veteran in the face leaving him blind in one eye, my voice was rather louder than intended and I got some strange looks from people who imagined I was psyching myself up.

From The Telegraph today:

Stephen Gordon, 44, was captured on CCTV launching a savage, unprovoked attack on defenceless Shah Chaudhury after they bumped into each other on a crowded tram in south London.
Other afternoon passengers, including children, looked on in horror as Gordon called Mr Chaudhury a "b******" and lashed out at the great-grandfather with his clenched right fist.

It's obvious to me that he should be punished for that attack. I am far less interested in jaded sophistry about whether or not banging him up is in the best interests of the public.

Judge Kenneth Macrae told the court.
“That said it would do nothing to protect the public in the future and my real concern is the public. It seems to me that the best way of ensuring that he is not a risk, is in relying on various support from psychiatrists and probation officers.”

Thanks 'n all Judge, we can all sleep sounder in our beds.

Here's a small detail, insignificant from some viewpoints I suppose, that seems to me to illustrate how degraded we have become as a civic society:

In a statement to Croydon Crown Court Mr Chaudhury, a British citizen, said he had been standing in the aisle of the tram because nobody would give up their seat for him.
He was gripping a rail with both hands to steady himself when Gordon tried to squeeze by under his arms.

I'm ashamed to live in a country where one offers a seat on a busy tram to a frail nonagenarian. In Edmund Burke's words:
Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.

There is a sliver of hope for us though, two school children who were on the tram chased Gordon and later gave evidence against him.
So shines a good deed in a weary world.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Geek Binary Joke

Here's a 10 finger salute for anyone who doesn't understand Classless Inter-Domain Routing.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Manly Arts

The New Ninja Bomber is in Hong Kong with his mother for half term. I'm taking him skiing with me (in a party of thirty one old Whitton chums including four other kids around his age) next year, and I took advantage of this weekend's trip to the Twickenham Beer festival to pay the balance due at the travel agent.

I'd like him to grow up knowing how to ski. I get a lot of satisfaction from his progress in swimming and Muay Thai lessons, and I remember thinking when Mark was kind enough to put him in the saddle last year, that it would be no bad thing to get the drop on that as well. I'm also developing a vague idea of taking him on a beach club holiday in the summer to see if he can't be blooded as a little surf dude.

Accomplishment in the manly arts is an important part of education, and I've found a new one that The Profit Burglar and I can add to our repertoires as part of Eat Your Way Around the World in London.

Opening a bottle of champagne with a saber, or sabrage, was apparently invented by the swaggering Hussars of Napoleon's cavalry, and it seems that at certified sabrage "caveau" Le Vacherin (Chiswick W4 5LF) the payment of a £10 supplement allows you to sabre your own bubbly under the watchful eye of master sabreur Malcolm John. Surely that has to make it our French destination of choice.
"Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I am a Camra

Back to Whitton last night for the 9th TWICKENHAM BEER & CIDER FESTIVAL 2007.

I generally confined my attentions to milds, porters and stouts with one diversion to cider and another to:

Jaipur IPA (5.9) Strong and hoppy – a real
IPA; named after the pink city where the
brewery’s owners were married.

How romantic!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Summit of Sumner

There is no need to be tongue-tied around Sting. Acting on his own advice, if you ever find yourself in his august presence, you could say he:

  • lost his faith in science and progress
  • lost his belief in the holy church
  • lost his sense of direction
  • was a lost man in a lost world
  • lost his faith in the people on TV
  • lost his belief in our politicians.
You see, there was no need to be nervous after all. Admittedly, he does seem rather prone to losing things, but somehow I think it makes him seem more human.

Tread softly though, because if he ever lost his faith in you there'd be nothing left for him to do, and that would be sad.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cocoon Butterfly


Cocoon Butterfly is a shop in Abbey Mills where I got the silk above for my niece. I think it looks jolly splendid.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Come on England

Amy Winehouse looks likely to be named today on the left wing in the England team to play South Africa in the World Cup final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Winehouse was training yesterday in the position that had been filled by Josh Lewsey before the London Wasps player pulled a hamstring shortly before half-time during the semi-final against France last weekend. If Brian Ashton, the head coach, does include Winehouse, he will be picking a woman who will not have played live for three weeks, and whose form has been inconsistent.

The decision to go with Winehouse is a straight wino-for-wing selection. The alternative would have been to have fielded the combination that finished against France last weekend, with Mathew Tait moving from outside centre to the wing and Dan Hipkiss slotting into Tait’s original position.

Ah, the joys of find and replace.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Harder, Better, Faster, Stranger

I actually farted the Daft Punk sample that serves as the hook for Kanye West's single "Stronger" last night.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tooting Bac

From the Guardian:
It was lunchtime on London's Northern line. Deep underground, passengers were getting on and off the tube trains as normal. Two men boarded a train at Colliers Wood in south London. As the train gathered speed towards its next stop, Tooting Broadway, one of them got up from his seat and dropped a small carton of face powder out of the window. He could have been idly throwing away litter.

As the train sped on, the carton hit the tracks and burst. Out spewed millions of tiny spores, which began to spread throughout the dark tunnels. Dust swabs taken after three days and two weeks showed that the spores had spread as far up the line as Camden Town station in north London, 10 miles away.

This really happened. But the two men weren't terrorists but government scientists. And the spores weren't anthrax spores, but a harmless micro-organism designed to mimic clandestine sabotage with anthrax. This was an official experiment in 1963, and it showed how easily saboteurs could inflict a potentially devastating attack on Britain's capital.

I promise never to be bored on the Northern Line again.