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February 24, 2003

MAKE a FORTUNE selling the detritus of your YOUTH on EBAY

Mike IMed me, to let me know that he'd sold our Cosmic Encounter set on eBay. This made me unaccountably sad. I haven't played the game for many years; I rarely play board games any more and when I do it's probably going to be Sorry! It was clearly Mike's to sell, for all that if I'd anticipated eBay I might have made more of an effort to hold onto some of the accumulated stuff when we divorced.

But, back when we were students, back when the Internet meant e-mail in the library, when we had no easy access to phones, televisions or cash, we were heading gloriously for thirds*, and did no work whatsoever. Instead, we played games of all kinds, including a great deal of Cosmic Encounter. When Mike describes it as 'frequently played', he's not kidding. And everyone except Mike drank endless coffee whilst playing; I'm astonished that only the rulebook is stained.

Oh well, in fewer years than I like to think about, Marianne will be old enough to play Cosmic Encounter, and I can get a shiny new set that only contains those rules that aren't totally outrageous.

Cosmic Encounter Player

Goodness, disc cameras were rubbish

*At the time, this seemed tragic. Now, it's scary to consider how our careers might have gone with better degrees.

Posted by Alison at 11:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Advertisers' Dream Girl

While I was ill, I watched television. So I saw some adverts. As it was mostly daytime telly, these were mostly for loans, credit cards, refinancing schemes, car credit, and accident compensation lawyers. Some ads, however, just act as public information bulletins, providing instructional material for how to live your life.

One of these is the current ad for HP Sauce, which shows a woman making and eating a bacon sandwich. Which reminded me that I'm very fond of bacon butties. So Jonathan and I had them for lunch today.

The ingredients that set brown sauce apart from other sauces are date and tamarind. For a while it was possible to buy a date and tamarind pickle from Sharwoods, which sort of tasted like upmarket brown sauce, but they discontinued it a few years ago. I'd never really had the habit of brown sauce until after I started eating the pickle; my mother disapproves of ketchups of all kinds and, although she eventually relented on the matter of tomato ketchup, we never had brown sauce at home.

At any rate. Really soft white bread; you can use thick sliced if you like, but I prefer to take slices off a loaf. Butter; it's critical, for all you're about to add your own weight in bacon fat. Bacon; and I like streaky because I like it fairly crisp but still soft in bits. Brown sauce, by which I mean HP Sauce, because I am an advertisers' dream girl. You don't cut up the sandwich unless you're feeding it to a toddler.

Interestingly, HP Sauce is now part of the Danone group, "committed to improving the lives of people around the world by providing them with ... more healthful pleasures." Mmm mmm.

Posted by Alison at 02:34 PM | Comments (0)

Get Your Neep Neep Here

Pierre Igot reviews blogging options for Mac users, but rejects Movable Type, despite having web hosting with cgi, because of the difficulty of managing the initial server configuration. Now, I adore the strength, flexibility and ease of use of Movable Type, and love its web interface to bits. I particularly like being able to blog from anywhere; a major failing of box-bound systems like Radio. But I have to admit that my ubergeek configured it for me. It took him about ten minutes -- but it had taken him much longer to set up his own system. It's still a bit cheap of Pierre, though, because paid installation of Movable Type for blogs is no more expensive than Radio.

Now, Pair, who provide my hosting, already have some handy support features, like 'click here and we'll set up statistics for you'. So it wouldn't be out of the question for a host to say 'click here and we'll (automatically) install Movable Type in a standard way on your site', would it?

The link to Pierre came from Ranchero, who also mention that there's a rumour of tabbed browsing in Safari beta 0.62. Now, I recall Dave Hyatt arguing passionately that tabs were a cure for a problem (slow window handling and poor window management) that Safari didn't have, and that Safari would never have tabs. But I can't find that post now. Although I'm likely to stick with Safari with or without tabs, I'd like to have a single tabbed window to keep all the pages I'm editing in Movable Type in, and another window to open all the interesting pages from the aggregator on separate tabs. Of course, being Safari, I'm sure they'll have sorted out all the things that are really irritating about the Chimera/Camino tabs, like not being able to move a tab from one window to another. Update: While they're at it, they could also fix my number one irritation about Safari; it doesn't always fetch new versions of pages on reload, and in particular, it doesn't always fetch the new version of my blog, so I have to open another browser to view my freshly-minted posts. Update 2: A comment on MacSlash linked to the not yet released Safari 0.62; I grabbed it and yes, Virginia, there are tabs in Safari, in the Debug menu.

And one more thing on aggregation: I wanted to aggregate Neil Gaiman's journal, but it doesn't officially have an RSS feed. So Adam Wendt knocked up a bit of PHP to produce one. Which is sort of creepy, but very useful. He's done a feed for Bill Gibson's blog, too.

Posted by Alison at 11:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 23, 2003


Well, I can't get NetNewsWire's weblog editor to work for me. Eventually I got it looking right, but my sample post disappeared into the ether. The set up was highly non-intuitive, and the Autofill was unfulfilling for me at least.

Apart from that, I did get all those great blogs lined up in the aggregator. If you have an RSS feed, would you mind checking that you're feeding the full text? I mean, assuming you want to. But lots of good blogs that I'd like to read in NetNewsWire deliver poxy little extracts only. If you're using Movable Type, there are some suitable templates here. (via Electrolite)

I also tinkered with this site a little bit so various of the archive pages are tidier; and if you're a paid LiveJournal member you can add the posts on this site to your friends list. Update: Vicki Rosenzweig writes to say that free users can also add it, provided they haven't added much else.

Such activity! It surely can't have had anything to do with the fact that this house is now a Buffy free zone.

Posted by Alison at 11:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Despatches from the Parenting Frontiers

Marianne has finally found a writer who inspires her to spend hours with her nose in a book; and rather to my astonishment, it's Enid Blyton. What's more, the books that she's so delighted by are The Enchanted Wood, The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair and their sequels, all of which were great favourites of mine at her age. She's reading some of them in modern editions, and some in old hardbacks at my parents' house. "They've changed all the names," she commented. "Jo is now Joe, and Bessie is Beth. Fanny is Franny and Dick is Rick. Why did they do that?" I wonder what else they've changed.

Weirdest Enid Blyton link: Up The Faraway Tree. "One of my best books ever" says the author, who encountered them at the age of twelve. Twelve! Tolkien, Heinlein, Le Guin, Jan Mark, Margaret Mahy, Orson Scott Card, Anne Fine, Peter Dickinson, Philip Pullman, and many many more. But not Enid Blyton, and certainly not these lovely books for little children who are just starting to read independently.

Meanwhile, Jonathan's sense of the natural order of the universe becomes more acute every day. After playing in Marianne's room this afternoon, we discovered that he had put Barbie's orange juice cartons safely away in the fridge. They're nice and cold now.

Posted by Alison at 07:35 PM | Comments (1)

Productivity Slayer

A couple of months ago, Mark and Claire Fishlifter were explaining how they'd been hit by a Buffy productivity virus, and had slurped their way through the entire run of Buffy and Angel in less than six months. We smiled to ourselves. Of course we planned to get round to watching Buffy at some point, but we would do it in a measured fashion. There was no need to be excessive about this. We'd take it slowly. After all, people had been telling us it was essential viewing for several years.

Turns out it's crack. Who'd have known? The only thing that's stopped us watching Buffy around the clock is that we have to wait till the kids are in bed. Which is good; it means we haven't had any days that consist of 12 episodes of Buffy punctuated by occasional takeout. I'm sure we would if we could, though.

Expensive crack, too; as we were coming to the end of series two, with no immediate prospects of borrowing series three off anyone in the next few days, I dropped into Woolies; but the prospect of paying £80 for one series of a TV show was too much even for me. Yes, I know it doesn't work out as that much if you consider it as 22 episodes. And it's way cheaper on the web, though without the instant gratification element. But still.

So, instead, Dr Plokta and his mum are coming round for lunch, and Dr P's bringing series three and four with him. As well as owning six sets of extremely expensive DVDs, he runs a 2003 equivalent of an opium den; scoring the pre-broadcast satellite feed of Buffy off the web and inviting the Fishlifters and other Croydonites over to eat Chinese and watch it each week.

But he doesn't buy Angel, and most of the hardcore addicts I know watch each in turn. So I guess we'll still have to buy some of them.

Update: Well, Mike came round for lunch, but unfortunately left seasons three and four of Buffy on the train. Whoops. Beware South London luggage racks; very dangerous.

Posted by Alison at 11:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 18, 2003

Normal Service Now Resumed

So. What's been going on while I've been poorly? Well, 390,000 British people declared their religion as 'Jedi Knight' on the 2001 Census. That means that we apparently have more Jedi than Jews, Sikhs or Buddists. Watch out for Yoda appearing on "Thought For The Day" any day now.

"Spotting the new Congestion Charging signs I was, when thought I had. Traffic chaos a rift in the force is. Ken Livingstone a Sith Lord may be. Strong in the force you are, young Sue."

On further thought, he'd be pretty indistinguishable from Rabbi Lionel Blue.

Of course, there are still far fewer Jedi than people describing their religion as 'none', and atheists and humanists still don't get a spot on "Thought for the Day", much to their annoyance. (Apparently the explanation is that atheists get a platform on Radio 4 for the remaining 23 hours and 55 minutes every day.)

A million or more people marched peacefully in central London on Saturday, including many of my friends. "Make Tea, Not War," said the signs. Not me, though; I was having a lovely weekend in Lincolnshire doing essentially nothing (a bit of sitting around, a bit of watching babies playing on the rug, a bit of drinking tea, that sort of thing) with my whole family.

And my life was not complete without Perversion Tracker, a site which monitors releases of really, really rubbish Mac OS X software (via Forwarding Address: OS X).

Posted by Alison at 08:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 13, 2003

Dancing in the Pews

Long-time readers will know that my favourite venue for live music is the Union Chapel at Highbury Corner. And that my favourite live band is the Oysterband.

On Saturday we went to see the Oysters at the Union Chapel. Obviously, what with the pews and stuff, it's not the sort of venue they normally play. But this wasn't an ordinary gig; the Big Session, with Eliza Carthy and a host of up-and-coming young talent, is intended to evoke the feeling of energy and cross-fertilisation of a fine pub session. The large audience appeared to be mixed between Oysterband fans, and Eliza Carthy fans, but with a noticable contingent of traditional folkies; presumably Waterson: Carthy fans.

The Oysterband opened with a couple of songs from Rise Above. But they quickly made clear the purpose of the night, changing the line-up between every song and showcasing the younger performers in turn. It's clear, both from what they said between songs and what they say on the website, that not all their fans are keen on this. But we thought it was great.

We've seen Rose Kemp before, of course; I think the first time we saw her live on stage must be getting on for five years ago now. I remember thinking then that her singing was somewhat immature; as she's 17 now, that's not surprising. She's singing well, and performing her own stuff; and she's confident and outgoing; one to watch.

But the person who startled us was Jim Moray, who'd been playing various instruments on earlier tracks. But to open his own section, he chose to perform "Lemady", sampling his voice as he went to provide an accompaniment on sampler and powerbook. "How superfluous!" said Flick, bouncing up and down. By the end of the song we were committed fans. He has an EP available, and the website has mp3 samples and a link to streaming video of his BBC Young Folk Award performance. (He lost out to a batch of cute toddlers who play their instruments nicely).

James O'Grady is a young piper who played with the Oysters when we saw them at the Marquee last autumn. He and Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar, bouzouki) both struck me as competent and energetic, and added greatly to the liveliness of the set; but neither look like stars in their own right.

The Oysters finished the first half with "Moon Over Milford Haven" ('we thought it was time to romanticise some British place names').

The first part of the second half showcased Eliza Carthy (who didn't appear at all in the first set), playing material from Anglicana, which feels like a mature return to traditional music, and which I'll buy. She also did "Fuse", backed by most of the band. "I also write my own songs; and I've read the rule book -- they're all miserable." Then everyone came on for a loud stompy song. A measure of how exciting this section was is that at the end, when most people retired, leaving the Oysterband on stage to do a couple of their songs, I was a bit disappointed.

After a couple more from Rise Above, everyone came back for the (first) finale; the expected anti-war rallying cry -- "Er, I suppose there must be some people in this country who are in favour of this war. Except that I don't know any of them. Everyone go to the march on the 15th. Or, that is, everyone who's not going to be coming to see The Big Session in Salisbury, go to the march" and a stomping version of 'All Along the Watchtower'. Encores were 'The World Turned Upside Down' and, er, something else. I have the second half of the set list, which says 'Put Out the Lights'. We do often get that as an encore in London, but not this time. And everyone finished with 'Bright Morning Star'.

It was terrific, from start to finish. If asked why I listen to traditional music, I could do no better than to point to this gig. Great singers, great musicians, terrific material, and a real sense that the event was being created right there in front of us. Thanks to the auspices of the Arts Council, tickets were £12. Cheap as chips, as they say on daytime telly.

Posted by Alison at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2003

The Flexible Wooden Snake

This is a real Raising Hell sort of blog post. (Update: So much so, that they made me the guest author of the week.) So if you think you might not like that sort of thing, look away now.

I'm recovering from tonsillitis; my brain shut down for five solid days. That's where I've been. Too sick to read a book, or watch TV with a plot. I've mostly spent my time lying on the sofa watching UKStyle, the television channel devoted to wall-to-wall house and garden improvement programmes.

But today is different. I am, for sure, a little better. But I also have Jonathan. "No, you can't play with the thermometer". "No, you can't play with my hot cup of sweet tea." "No, you may not dismember a pack of baby wipes." Eventually, I cast around for something he could play with, being careful not to insult his intelligence by offering him a toy. My eye fell on the flexible wooden snake. Much like the snakes sold halfway down this page, this much treasured craft object is a much superior version of the plastic snakes that wobble from side to side; it's about three feet long and wriggles alarmingly. Seemed pretty harmless. I showed him how it worked and he started playing happily.

Sometime later I wandered into the bathroom. Sticking up out of the water in the loo were the last three or four inches of the snake, which was clearly more flexible than I'd ever imagined. Even the S bend was no match for Jonathan's new-found drain-clearing ability. Grabbing a rubber glove and holding my nose, I pulled it out and dropped it in a bucket of hot water. But somehow I think it is doomed.

Posted by Alison at 01:37 PM | Comments (1)

February 02, 2003

Anti-Consumer Month is Over

We celebrated by getting in the car and looking at every child's bed available in South-East England before buying the one we first thought of. At IKEA on a Saturday afternoon.

The children were remarkably sanguine about giving up their entire Saturday to shopping. We did fetch up at the Hackney City Farm at one point, allowing them to see a slightly different variety of small farm animals from those at our 'regular' city farm, Brooks Farm in Leyton. We also had a really delicious, relatively cheap, lunch at their café.

It was a good thing it was reasonably cheap, because I'd neglected to bring out my purse, so we just about managed to scrape together enough from the bottom of my handbag, pockets, glove compartment, etc. to pay for the meal. I reallly regretted not having enough cash to bring home a box of fresh laid duck eggs. On the extensive community noticeboard (all greenish alternative ventures have one of these) I noticed an ad for The Back Passages of Spitalfields, described as "like a guided walking tour, only good". I'll look out for it running again this summer. Update 6/4/03: The people behind the Back Passages wrote to let me know that the walks have started up again for 2003, and that all the details are on their website.

Having no cash meant that we couldn't buy any drinks or ices in IKEA, but as we were driving home, complete with large lumpy packages, we spotted a new Borders complete with Starbucks. Which takes credit cards. So I ended up with a Venti Mocha Valencia. Serious error of judgement. Chocolate & coffee is a good mix. Chocolate and orange is a good mix. Chocolate and coffee and orange isn't, and besides, once you've put a bucket of whipped cream and half a pint of chocolate sauce on top this is really a pudding, not a coffee. I could easily give up several of these a day.

Now, in preparation for making Jonathan's bed, we're cleaning all the not-Jonathan stuff out of his bedroom. This includes all our vinyl. We've never had a working turntable; not in this house nor the last one. We're quickly ditching the singles, the albums we've already got on CD, and the albums we can't imagine why we bought in the first place. Next, we'll make a list of those of the rest that are easily obtainable on CD, and plan to get them (or definitive collections of all the good tracks in some cases). We'll probably keep those that are unavailable on CD. Probably.

Posted by Alison at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

Give Me That Old Time Election

This is not a remotely controversial thing in the UK. Here, we go into a little carrel, and mark a cross, in pencil, on a piece of paper. And then we put that piece of paper into a locked box; they check they've got all the boxes and then they count all the ballots, by hand. And if it's close, they count them again. The papers have codes on them so that they can be tracked back to specific voters in the case of suspicion of irregularity; which I used to think was vaguely worrying but now I find quite reassuring.

Of course, that's not the only way to control an election. My favourite line: "Nebraska has a just-passed law that prohibits government-employee election workers from looking at the ballots, even in a recount."

But of course, these days we're looking at enabling e-voting here in the UK. With a secure paper receipt at present.

(via The Sideshow)

Posted by Alison at 08:57 AM | Comments (2)