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August 23, 2004

Saturday Treats

We're busily looking for treats and entertainments that can be managed with only one hand . That wouldn't include the twirly Poi we bought for her at Cropredy, then.

Digression: Do you know the Legend of Poi? Once upon a time there was a young acolyte who studied hard and showed great devotion. Every day he asked his teachers "How can I join the ranks of the masters?" And they told him to seek out Poi. But they knew nothing more about it. He started to seek, high and low, to the ends of the earth, trying to find Poi. Every so often he'd hear a rumour, and travel to a remote and forbidding place in search of Poi. But he was always disappointed.

Eventually, he found himself at the foot of a tall mountain, so tall that the top was shrouded in cloud. He met the monks who lived at the base, and told them he sought Poi. They said he must speak to the master. So he began to climb the mountain. He climbed for three days, sleeping on the mountainside and listening to the howl of the wind. Eventually he reached the top and found the master.

"I seek Poi!" he cried. "Can you give me what I seek?"

"Of course. Would you like steak and kidney Poi or chicken and mushroom Poi?"

End of digression. Anyway, we went to Matsuri High Holborn for lunch, on a £10 buffet special (nothing off for kids) that has probably ended now. One of the delights of living in London is the ability to eat cheaply in the summertime, as the city depopulates and restaurants will try anything to get people in. We added teppanyaki icecream, which suitably impressed the children -- Jonathan explained 'that was close!' after the fireball -- and was very tasty. Even when only paying pizza prices, you get to watch teppanyaki, eat perfectly prepared 'everyday' food, and have the joy of perfect service. We were inordinately loud compared to the mostly Japanese families we were eating with; this is the first quiet teppanyaki I have been to. Matsuri also has a regular restaurant section, and a sushi bar -- we sat at the sushi bar the other week when Steven and I went for dinner and ate perfect sashimi and sushi, and lots of it, at high prices that felt rather good value.

Then on in a 'what's interesting and near here' way to the British Museum, which I hadn't visited since it acquired its new glass roof. The roof and the dome of the reading room were much admired by the children. The reading room itself is bizarrely furnished now, with a set of books around the wall that reminded me of the walls of books you get in pubs; rather random and for decoration rather than use.

We discovered much later that the reading room is also where you go to pick up borrow-and-return backpacks and activity trails for children; these are not well advertised and despite knowing that these packs existed and asking museum staff about where to get them, I was never directed there. Instead they sold me the children's guidebook, which is rather good for curious children of about Marianne's age, and which we could have done with having before we visited, to choose what to go and see.

I was tempted by the current exhibition, a virtual reality tour of a mummy -- the Tube posters show anaglyph glasses, but this is actually a polarised 3d movie. We decided against it but I may sneak back without the children.

The regular common or garden mummies, which we came upon randomly, were suitably fascinating, extraordinary, beautiful and (for adults), really creepy. As I become older I find I become less and less confident that displaying dead bodies for the entertainment of the general public is acceptable, no matter how old they are. Marianne's fascination with ancient burial customs was cut short by a fire alarm that caused us to move randomly in some other direction. We came upon the Parthenon Marbles, pronounced 'boring' by Marianne, and the Nereid Monument, which impressed us all.

In the shop, I didn't buy The Royal Game of Ur, though slightly regret that now that I've played the online version. Although the shop says for players of 14 or over, the easier rules would be fine for a sharp four-year-old. I like the fact it has tetrahedral dice, though they're used as binary dice. I was also surprised to see one of these vases, twin to the one on our living room mantlepiece, for a great deal more than we paid for ours in Ironbridge a few years ago.

In Museum Street we found a specialist games shop, Playin' Games. Marianne and her friends are currently obsessed with Top Trumps. It's hard to explain just how parent-pleasing this is -- it's as if all the Juniors had suddenly started playing with hoops and sticks. So we picked up a set of Roald Dahl Top Trumps for her, which we played all the way home on the tube. Huh. In my day we had to make do with helicopters and dinosaurs.

Posted by Alison at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2004

Let's Do the Time Warp

While implementing David Allen's system in my office, I came across a disposable camera, completely full of photos, 'develop before 12/1994'. So of course I took it down to the photoshop and was rewarded with a series of grainy photos from the Confabulation committee's holiday in Carnforth a decade ago. And here we all are.


Spot the young people!

Posted by Alison at 12:15 PM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2004

One Minute Medley

glenn macdonald is ceasing writing his excellent music column The War Against Silence. He's getting married and moving on. But before he goes, he's provided a quiz for people who found the LiveJournal intros quizzes a little bit trivial: 41 intros in 58 seconds. I knew lots of them but could identify very few.

Posted by Alison at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

Truth Gave Me Her Icy Kiss

Bugshaw is marking her birthday with the traditional question "Is this all I get"? My birthdays vary, but this year I too celebrated my birthday with a dose of moping. Wasn't I supposed to change the world? Whoops, something seems to have gone awry there. And I quickly set to counting all the things good in my life, like you do, and reflecting that the relatively few things that are less good are reasonable consequences of the choices I've made. And the birthday feeling slipped away again.

Bridget asks if she still has the potential to attain 'special', by which she clearly means not the everyday humdrum special that she's clearly attained already, but to do something extraordinary and notable. While I was getting old, I noticed that most of the extraordinary and notable things that people do make them no happier. But still. I know what she means.

In the story notes in Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang quotes Kurt Vonnegut writing in the 25th anniversary edition of Slaughterhouse-Five:

"To ... all others younger than myself I say, 'Be patient. Your future will come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are.' "

I've shortened the quote from a longer one -- it's well worth buying one of these books just for the quote.

Posted by Alison at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

Recommend me a Radio Show

When I first moved in with Steven, he listened to Chris Tarrant's radio show on Capital. I had been in the habit of listening to the Today programme, but Steven found it insufficiently London-centric and too serious. So I quickly got used to Tarrant, and put up with the relatively dreadful music.

When Tarrant retired, Johnny Vaughan took over, and we've given it a few months, but he simply Will Not Do. So, here are the parameters.

We listen from about 6:45 to typically 7:30 or a bit later. We don't listen very hard. Music would be nice, and we'd really like a station that plays nearly all electric folk and roots. Given that 2 million Britons attend festivals in the summer, you would think that there was scope for a digital roots station, wouldn't you? OK, well, perhaps that's asking too much.

Talk is nice too, though we discover we're picky. (Actually we knew that; we managed Tarrant's regular absences by steadily getting more irritated by Dr Fox by the day.) We tried BBC London while Danny Baker was on holiday and his place was taken by Julian Clary. That was fine, and we'd have happily listened to that show, even though there was no music. Now Danny Baker is back and we have honed our DJ requirements.

The problem with Johnny Vaughan, and Neil Fox, and Danny Baker is that they don't manage to be clever without being irritating. Neil Fox says stupid, offensive things, very consistently. Johnny Vaughan doesn't say very many stupid, offensive things, but he doesn't say anything very clever either. This isn't about not saying things I disagree with; opinions backed by brains are fine. When people on the radio say stupid things to me at 7 in the morning, I get angry and want to argue. So I'm looking for a presenter who is consistently clever and sharp-witted and never gratuitously offensive.

Danny Baker says a great many clever things, but he and the other people he work with spend most of their morning laughing at their own jokes, which gets very wearing. And he mixes some stupid things in with the clever things; for example, on hearing A level results, said 'Photography! How could you fail photography! OK, look through this window and press the button, how hard can it be?' Nevertheless, if he'd speak a bit more slowly, have fewer people in the studio all talking at once, and not laugh while presenting, I think he'd do.

The Global Village is a wonderful thing, and I'm happy to countenance streamed radio stations from around the world, with shows broadcast at all hours of the day or night that correspond to 7am in London. However, London stations have the big advantage that they mention, reasonably frequently, the current operating status of the London Underground and the expected London weather for the day. Regular GMT/BST time checks are also helpful. So while we might settle on a station from Paraguay, we probably won't.

Suggestions welcome.

Posted by Alison at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2004

Department of Implausible Injuries

It seems to have happened like this. On Monday, Marianne went with her holiday club to a children's indoor soft play area. She was sitting on a piece of soft play equipment, waiting for her turn on a more exciting piece of soft play equipment. She unbalanced and toppled over backwards, falling about two feet onto a padded mat. She landed awkwardly on the back of her hand, so the people running her holiday club sat her down with an ice pack, after which she seemed okay. She complained a bit of pain in the evening, so we gave her Calpol and put her to bed, loving parents that we are.

Yesterday morning, her arm hurt considerably more, so we took her down to the hospital.

She's broken her arm.

It's a tiny, clean fracture just above the elbow; they've put her in a half-cast (ie, full-length, but only going halfway round her arm) and she'll be in it for three weeks or so. She's been very good about it all, and is coping well with the cast (even to the extent of eating her favourite moules mariniere this evening), but is miserable about the fact that she can't swim, either in the pool or the sea, while we're on holiday next week.

Posted by Alison at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

August 18, 2004

As Others See Us

This Popular Science article first surfaced online a few weeks ago, but here's the proper link. Much of the action referred to takes place at <plokta.con>; surely our members aren't unusually bearded or pedestrian in appearance compared to the readership of Popular Science?

Posted by Alison at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)


I got my regular newsletter from Scriptorium, who are busily begging people to link to them. I realised I'd never blogged about them. We love Scriptorium, who have several hundred fonts based on historical lettering. If I'm trying to produce a piece of art-with-lettering in a specific historical style, Scriptorium is the first place I go to get ideas. This year's <plokta.con> badges were done using various weights of their Captain Kidd font, and the Middle Plokta cover of Plokta used their Brandywine font.

They have free web fonts, free trial versions of many of their fonts, and the full fonts are cheap enough that it's realistic to buy them for use in fanzines and other homebrew projects. As well as the display fonts, they also have several lovely text fonts based on historical fonts; I particularly like the Morris lettering True Golden. They have some more exciting monospaced fonts than you see elsewhere, and they have fonts with wild collections of alternate characters.

As well as fonts, they sell collections of out-of-copyright images by famous designers, often linking artwork, tiled backgrounds, frames and fonts by a single designer. They also have a really neat set of fonts for designing antique maps.

Posted by Alison at 09:50 AM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2004

Gosh isn't the Internet Cool? (part 94)

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a staff writer on the Tacoma News Tribune, asking if they could use my passionflower photo to illustrate an article for this Saturday's paper. And here it is. No, I have no idea what their designers thought they were doing with the contrast.

Posted by Alison at 11:09 PM | Comments (2)

August 07, 2004

Any colour you like, as long as it's not silver, pink or blue

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention in the middle of all the networking that I had a tiny little accident in Micro Anvika while buying my base station. "Ooh, is that an iPod mini?" I said incautiously, assuming they wouldn't have any to sell. "Lovely, isn't it?" "You want one, don't you?" said the salesman. "We have green or gold to take away now." Ooh.

So I'm now the proud owner of a green iPod mini; and when I plugged in the firewire cable, the icon that appeared on the desktop was green to match. I had wavered slightly on seeing the store model of pink; as reported around the place, it's not a grim hello-kitty pink at all, but a really cool strong purplish pink. There's a long waiting list for pink. But my desire for instant gratification kicked in, and the green's good too.

My old iPod looks just exactly like a radiogram now.

But here's the thing. I know Micro Anvika are a big reseller, and it was that busy after-work-but-before-closing time. Nevertheless, they were basically shifting iPods out of that shop just about as fast as they could get them off the shelves. Third-gen iPods, now discounted. Fourth-gen iPods all new and shiny, with a click wheel and loads of space for only pennies more than the mini. iPod Minis in less popular colours to impulse buyers like me, and in more popular colours to names being checked off a list. They must have shifted a couple of dozen just while I was in the store. Is this happening everywhere?

Posted by Alison at 10:39 PM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2004

If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it

OK. So I bought an Airport Express, so I could stream music to the living room. Airport Express will extend an airport network, but I quickly discovered it won't extend my aging wireless network. So I bought an Airport Extreme. Beautiful stuff, should be able to link to the Airport Express, just what I needed.

Except that I cannot, absolutely cannot, get NTL to talk to it. It thinks it's connected to the cable modem and to NTL, it pings and so on. It just won't give me any internet.

I suspect a problem with the MAC address myself; I can't seem to force it to NTL's MAC registration phase. And the Airport Extreme won't spoof the MAC address I've been using. Help welcome. NTL officially doesn't support routers of any kind, so I'm not terribly sure that they'll help if I ring, but nevertheless I'll probably try in the morning if I get no luck here.

Update: I rang NTL, and although it took me about 40 minutes to get through to the set top box support line (0845 650 0125), when I got through they were absolutely helpful. I wanted to mention that because NTL's customer service does not have a particularly good reputation, but over the years we've used broadband we've found them mostly very helpful.

If you've browsed to this page because this is your problem, then the sequence of events goes as follows:

Turn off your Mac.
Turn off your Airport Extreme
Turn off your set top box.
Wait one minute.
Turn on the set top box (wait for the two green lights).
Turn on your Airport Extreme
Turn on your Mac.
Browse to the actual IP address of the MAC provisioning page (told to me as
Register (you'll need your customer number (the one that starts with three zeroes) and your password which is the one you use when talking to them, not the one that was on my introductory letter).
Turn everything off again.
Reboot, again in the order set top box/router/Mac.
Browse to any web page; all should be well.

Posted by Alison at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)