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March 30, 2007

Dept. of Implausible but True

Thanks to the Londonist for the critical data that the local authority area with the highest level of dog ownership is...


Posted by Alison Scott at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2007

Catching Up with Daily Blogging

Actually I have no intention of catching up with daily blogging, not ever; assume that if I miss a day I'm just off having a good time.

from an Elk in the Woods publicity photo Last night we popped into The Elk in the Woods in Camden Passage for a quickish meal. On the whole, I prefer my gastropubs a little bit more like pubs and with slightly cheaper gastro, though there are reasonably priced meals here. My venison was really very tasty, and I adored the slightly toasted bread with parmesan oil that we had to start. But, honestly. Gastropubs ought to be required to serve good beer.

publicity shot for Faustus As, for that matter, should folk clubs. No real ale at the Magpie's Nest a monthly club in Islington that has been going a year and attracts an astonishing Grim Up North London crowd of slightly grungy 20 and 30 somethings. It's careful to advertise itself as nufolk, though the acts seem pretty consistent with any other club to me. Doors 7:30 with floor spots (being Islington, these are described as an open mic) followed by support and main act. Some seats and some standing, including sitting on the floor at the front for latecomers. The room is a lovely large upstairs pub room with a good sized stage and sofas.

The club is run slightly shambolically by a young folksinger called Sam, who has a fine voice and whose singing is far more trad than he lets on to his trendy crowd. However, his sense of timekeeping is that of someone who doesn't have to get to work on Thursday morning. Result was that by the time the very wonderful Faustus (Paul Sartin, Saul Rose, Benji Kirkpatrick) arrived on stage at 11pm, many people had already left. We very luckily got a lift back to Walthamstow, which probably saved our bacon in terms of this morning.

However, a splendid open mic with a very good mix of musical styles, a band I've wanted to see for ages, and lively support from the Groanbox Boys, all for six quid. Or three quid if you volunteer for a floorspot, for all that Sam couldn't actually fit me in. We'll be back next month. And the Groanbox Boys had a lagerphone! I've never seen one in the flesh before.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

Hugo nominations

Nippon in 2007 logo The Hugo nominations have been announced; many thanks to all who nominated Plokta; we're honoured. Science Fiction Five Yearly will wipe the floor with us, and rightly so.

Elsewhere, all fandom has been plunged into war by John Scalzi's nomination for fan writer. He is a pro, who writes entertainingly about topics of general fannish interest on his blog. But he's perhaps not quite a truff, so should he be getting a fan writer award?

My take on it is this: I cannot imagine a time in the entire long history of our subculture where faneds would not have fought over an article by a professional sf writer about how he *taped bacon to his cat* in an effort to avoid writing. Fan writing. Absolutely.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2007

I fancy a trip to Boise, Idaho

the very beautiful stereoscopic logo of this year's stereo photography conventionSomehow I think it unlikely that I'll be headed out to Boise in mid-July. But I wanted to show you the exceptionally pretty logo for this year's joint International Stereoscopic Union and National Stereoscopic Association convention. It's a parallel pair, so you view it by defocusing your eyes as if you were gazing rather inconstantly at the moon or similarly distant object. Eventually the images will separate sufficiently that there is an overlap, and it will gradually come into view. You know you've got it right (rather than cross-eyed or pseudo-stereoed) because there's a little fish at the front of the pic. The logo's by Terry Wilson, with the 3d conversion by Ray Zone.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:15 PM | Comments (1)

Either those curtains go or I do

Death in a William Morris patterned shroud and Jonathan in an anorakSo it's officially summer, or at least summer time. Not that you would have been able to tell at the William Morris birthday party, which we went to with our friend Abi. It was absolutely perishing cold. I played some tunes on the melodeon with others from the folk club, and we met a giant skeletal figure of DEATH dressed up for the occasion in a William Morris patterned shroud. There was a remarkably good turnout; by the time we arrived they had run out of raffle tickets.

You can tell it's summer time because we are once again struggling with the timer switch. Our timer switch -- the one that wakes us up in the morning -- is a masterpiece of human interface design. People sat around for hours going 'how could we make this less intuitive?' and implemented everything they thought of. So the switch that turns it on and off is the same switch that switches from manual to auto. These are indicated by tiny LCD microdots as well, but you aren't about to see those when half asleep in the dark. It has a special 'random' setting, that turns the radio off at random times or wakes us up at random times in the middle of the night. It's very easy to set this by accident. Oh, and it steadily gains time, which is a far better thing in an alarm than steadily losing time. But still.

The timer switch lives between the mains power and the active speakers. The DAB radio, by comparison, stays on all the time. Except when it crashes, which, being fundamentally a computer, it does from time to time. As we use this bit of Heath Robinson as an alarm clock, we have another problem here. Critical systems should not fail to danger, and this one does. If we screw up the timer switch setting or the radio we don't wake up.

We use this very elaborate system as an alarm clock so we can hear Phil Jupitus from 7am on weekdays, but wake later at weekends. But all good things come to an end, and Jupitus finishes his breakfast show on 6Music next week. Last time it took months of grumping around before we found a radio show we could tolerate.

If we used a backup system it would presumably wake us early, and unnecessarily, at weekends.

We looked for stereo systems with inbuilt alarm, aux input (for the iPod) and DAB, but found very few. I suppose I could try again. But that 7 day alarm requirement seems to scupper us. Are we so unusual? It doesn't really seem odd to me. Worse, the day it's most likely to go wrong is the day I'm most likely to need an alarm; the Monday after the clocks go forward.

What I need is the Apple iWake; it's a little box that plugs into your wall and your iPod (or DAB) and speakers, and communicates wirelessly with your network. You can set it from iCal in any computer on your network, either to come on at pre-programmed times, or to wake you automatically a certain amount of time before your first appointment of the day. Something like that.

Finally, a ghastly warning. It is possible to download a playable (PC) demo of the new DS and PSP game Puzzle Quest. This game is a Japanese style RPG in which the combat mechanism has been replaced by a souped up version of Bejewelled. Yes, it's a little bit like Puzzle Pirates. Yes, it's completely addicting. Don't do it. But if you do do it, Druid is by far the most challenging starter class.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2007

Precocious Child Genius This Way

I don't post all that many stories about the brilliance of my kids. Honestly. Jonathan's reading book this week is the very fabulous Spells and Smells by Nick Sharratt and Hilary Robinson. It's one of those books where the pages are cut into four horizontally and the book is spiral bound. So by combining different part pages, you can produce many different spells, each of which turns an <adjective> <noun> into a different <adjective> <noun>. Marianne and Jonathan were reading it gleefully. "Hey, if we spill some beans, have a nice cup of tea, wait for a blue moon and eat seven lettuces we can turn a loudmouthed Mum into a luminous rabbit!" "Ok" said the loud-mouthed Mum (or possibly the luminous rabbit), "tell you what, Marianne. Tell me how many spells there are in total and I'll give you a pound." This is made slightly harder than it might be because the book's been used in a school and some of the pages have fallen out. But still. Marianne is ten, so it's quite tricky if you don't know how to work it out, but perfectly plausible. She starts to ponder and counted the pages.

Meanwhile, Jonathan, who is six, said "Marianne! We need a calculator." He ran off. A minute or two later, he came downstairs and said, "Mummy, there are 7,920 spells." And so there are. I gave him the pound. He explained it was a guess. But I'm still proud.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

iClip 4

a screenshot of iClip: the clips are Creative Commons licensed pictures by Flickr users mattdork, Daveybot, Bob.Fornal, cicilief, maych and Fant, thanks to allThis is a shameless marketing gimmick, but I haven't written about iClip before, so I will now. MacZot are dropping the price of iClip today by a dime for every review of iClip posted -- until it's free. I got it as part of some previous maczotty type extravaganza -- I started using iClip 3, and then upgraded to iClip 4 as part of MacHeist. I've been using it daily ever since.

You can see from my history of using iClip that it is very linked into the MacZot way of doing things; clever marketing, small shiny apps. But is it worth your money? Well, if you get it later today via MacZot, it will surely be pretty cheap.

It's an enhanced clipboard. Very beautiful, copies in loads of different sorts of clipboard content. It works in two different ways, and I use it for both. First, there's a clipboard recorder. The recorder keeps hold of the last so many things you've copied to clipboard -- how many is configurable. So that saves your bacon if you're holding something in clipboard and then accidentally copy something else.

The second is that you can configure sets of clippings separately. I keep separate set of clips for text that I regularly want to paste into things. This is mostly boilerplate answers to common eBay questions, text I send to people who've bought books from me, that sort of thing. But I also keep my credit card number in a clip. Yes, I do know this isn't very secure, but it's dead handy. I know there are much more elaborate ways to do this using dedicated programs and keyboard shortcuts, but I am a click on the bunny sort of girl and iClip works for me.

You can see from the screenshot that iClip is very beautiful, and also that sometimes that beauty could theoretically get in the way of efficiency. You can choose to have the clips in slightly less pretty but more practical square boxes instead, and you can see the full content of a clip by mousing over it. You can also choose where on the screen it sits, and whether it seamlessly hides away. I keep it on the right hand side of my widescreen monitor and autohide it. So when I want it I just have to go and get it.

Even if you don't decide to buy the main program, there's a widget version of iClip that is free, iClip lite, and that has won loads of 'best widget' awards. Go check it out. It doesn't have as many features as the main program, but it's very well worth having for nothing. It requires Mac OS X 10.4

I should say that I also use another clipboard application, Spike, from Porchdog. It's much less pretty and I don't think it has so many neat features, but it carries my clipboard across all my networked computers, both Mac and PC. That's very cool and I don't know any other way to do it.

Update: I won a prize from MacZot for 'best iClip screenshot' in their ReviewZot, so I've won various free software licenses. Including the license for iClip, which as you will remember I already own. So first person to ask can have it.

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:39 PM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2007

Online Postage

a picture showing how online postage worksI've been using the Royal Mail online postage service for a little while, for my eBay and Amazon packages. It's a great service; you type in the weight and size of the parcel and it offers you the full range of Royal Mail services. You then type in the address, and pay, and it prints you a postage label. Not to be confused with the SmartStamp service, which costs money over and above the postage.

What would really make it better, I mused, would be to link it to the Paypal payment details. That would remove the requirement to retype the address and save several clicks. I may have even mused on the feedback form.

Anyway, I went into my Paypal account today, and there it is. "Print postage label" -- links directly through to the RM service. This is going to save me a significant amount of time and trouble.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2007

Hell may be freezing over

telling about air conditioning trials in deep tubes Or at least, the Victoria line platforms at Victoria. I saw this sign on the tube this morning. It's like living in the future! Of course, this morning was distinguished by being so cold that a baking hot underground would have come as a blessed relief.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)


The Eastgate clock, Chester, by flickr user SarahCartwright, cc by sharealikeJust to remind you that if you haven't got memberships yet for Contemplation, this year's Eastercon, there's still time. Just. Postal registrations close on 25th March. In Chester, which is a great city to spend a long weekend in.

We will be there in force doing the newsletter. Look for us in the bar. We want your spiffy digital photos also.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

Emily and Hazel Askew

askews.jpg Just time to mention that we saw the Askew Sisters at the folk club on Sunday night. They now have a couple of tracks (online, not for download) on myspace. We had enjoyed seeing them do a short set supporting Rachel Unthank a year or so ago, and bought their EP. They're now working on an album, largely recorded but still apparently titleless, and they were great on Sunday. I particularly like them because Hazel sings over a melodeon; this gives me heart as you can imagine.

Speaking of melodeon, I actually played out on Sunday. There's a little band at the club, consisting of anyone who turns up early, is game, and brings an instrument. I have not previously been game, but people have been very encouraging, and I took my box along this week. Very nicely, they asked me what I could play, and then started out with Winster Gallop and Rakes of Mallow. These are very easy tunes indeed, and, in particular, Winster Gallop is sort of the melodeon equivalent of 'Smoke on the Water'. It all sounds all right on the tape so it can't have been too bad.

And then Hazel Askew finished their set with Winster Gallop. Which was quite funny. Sounds better when she plays it...

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:59 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2007

EasyCrop and EasyFrame

mands.jpg Sometimes Photoshop is just too darned chunky. I followed a link to Yellow Mug software from another blog, and discovered that they say that their pictures are resized and framed for the web using EasyCrop and EasyFrame in under 30 seconds. For EasyCrop, you drag a picture from anywhere to its well, drag a crop window (or define the size), set a slider to change the resolution, and then, once all is well, drag the result off to your desktop or other program. You can send the output from EasyCrop to EasyFrame. To be fair it must have taken me a full minute to generate this picture, but that's because I tested all the frames. You can even upload your own frames to this program, and I probably will. Brill. EasyCrop and EasyFrame cost a few dollars each, or you can buy a bundle that does this, plus a similarly sweet screenshot program, plus a pile of interesting utilities, for $40, or $50 for a family bundle. I love family bundles and that is what I'll be getting.

Meanwhile, isn't this a cute photo? From 2000, at her Grandad's wedding. I'm just fixin' to sell the little red dress on eBay. Unless you know a particularly gorgeous three year old who needs it.

Posted by Alison Scott at 02:27 AM | Comments (0)

A mystery resolved, war on spammers, and museum rescue

My idea of blogging for ten minutes a day reaches its third day! But I have too many things to tell you. Yesterday's mystery is resolved; it is Morrison's Jig. Steven remembered it from Alan Stivell's Gaeltacht, and I from Rosheen's Musique Celtique. We also have versions from the Flash Girls and from the Family Mahone, and we're pretty sure Fairport play it live.

able.jpgIntimations of mortality; I was sent a copy of Able Magazine, "Britain's Leading Disability Lifestyle Magazine" in the post. Very worthy I'm sure but as we're all members of the temporarily able-bodied I was a bit mystified. Eventually I remembered that I am also a purchaser of RADAR keys. I am sure I told them at the time that I wanted them in order to open gates on towpaths to let tandems through but I doubt the database is so discerning.

In the war on spam, I have accidentally deleted almost a year's worth of genuine comments on this blog. Yes, I am an idiot. No, they weren't as far as I know backed up. Please feel free to make any recent comments again. Spammers need not apply.

untitled.jpg Just time within my ten minutes to tell you about the William Morris Birthday Party, happening on Saturday 24 March at Lloyd Park in Walthamstow from 12-3 (the park that surrounds the William Morris Gallery). This is a chance to celebrate the life of Morris, and, incidentally, challenge the council's budget cuts that mean that the William Morris Gallery, the only museum dedicated to Morris, and the Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow's local museum, will only be able to open at weekends. Singers, musicians, families, banners and anything else celebratory is welcome.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:44 AM | Comments (3)

March 18, 2007

El Túnel de las Delicias

We are being driven mad by this tune, which you can download, after registering, from the Celtas Cortos website, or hear them play on YouTube. They've collaborated with the Oysterband (their collaboration on Granite Years is on YouTube), and they wrote Oyb favourite "20th of April". So. Is it the Oysterband we've heard playing this, many times? Because if so I don't think they've recorded it. Is it Davy Spillane or Afrocelts? Is it a traditional Irish jig that's in O'Neills and was picked up by Horslips or Sharon Shannon? We are both very familiar with it, but drawing a complete blank.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 17, 2007

The Copper Plated Nail

The copper plated nailThis came in a science kit and included a nail, but you probably have everything you need around the house. What you need: a small dish, some loose copper change, salt and vinegar. Oh, and a nail.

Suitable for ages: well, round here it wowed people from ages 6 up to umpty-um.

Put a dozen copper coins in a small dish. Pour some salt on them, and then add vinegar. Er, cheap vinegar is fine, but we didn't have any. We used balsamic. Also fine. Wait for a while. We waited an hour or so. It says the coins will come out shiny clean but ours were a mess to be honest; I think this experiment may date from before copper coins were a thinly-plated base metal. Then put your perfectly ordinary nail into the now copper-infused liquid. Wait another hour or so, then stand your now copper-plated nail on its end to dry.

Amaze your parents. Oh yes.

Why it works: oh, go Google.

Posted by Alison Scott at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2007

February Music

I am currently watching two Martian television series -- Veronica Mars and Life on Mars. Both have very poor websites. That, combined with my normal pre-Easter collection of too many commitments and not enough time mean I can't blog very much. So just a quick run through last month's new music.

I saw Jez Lowe at the Plough -- I nearly said 'the folk club' but although the pub was the same the event was different, promoted by the pub not the club. He was triff and I bought three albums -- Bede Weeps, Doolally and Live at the Davy Lamp. I discovered that his song 'Greek Lightning' won a Radio 2 contest for 'saddest folk song' but they decided it was so wrist-slitting that they didn't play it on the radio, making Jez officially 'too sad for Radio 2'. Right. His song 'Dover, Delaware' is covered by the Dukhs on their first album -- the one my daughter loves so well.

I picked up the first two volumes of Topic's splendid collection of authentic British folk recordings, Voice of the People, now available from eMusic. There are 20 CDs, and I intend to get one or two a month from here on in. eMusic has now priced Booster packs past the point where I'm likely to use them unless I can't bear to wait till the end of the month, but the albums I want and don't have are stacking up.

I gave up waiting for Nic Jones' "Game, Set, Match" to turn up on eMusic and bought the CD. It has of course now appeared on eMu for that is the way these things work. Again, this is a collection of live versions, rarities and outtakes from when Nic was active.

Clive James' folk music collaborator Pete Atkin also played at the folk club, and I picked up CDs by Pete and by Pete & Clive; "Live in Australia", "The Lakeside Sessions" and "Winter, Spring". We'd been tipped off by Piers Cawley that Pete was a must see, and so it proved. A really terrific night, enhanced by winning the folk club raffle for the first time ever. (Yes, it's a proper folk club. We sing along with choruses, we have a raffle in the interval, and the pub brings out a nice plate of sandwiches). My prize was 'any CD from this box' and I grabbed John Kirkpatrick & Chris Parkinson's "Sultans of Squeeze", a CD I'd sort of been planning to buy when I got around to it. My kids were particularly amused by the rendition of the Who's 'Squeezebox', a song that it had never previously occurred to me might be about a melodeon.

Rather naughtily, I bought one of 22 copies of the new Oysterband album Meet You There being sold illicitly on eBay by someone who'd got them from the German record company fully two months before release. Somebody mentioned it on the Oysterband list and a day or so later they'd all sold. The band were not particularly pleased but didn't begrudge the list members their early copies! You can buy the album before the formal release from the Oysterband website, too. I'm pretty excited by this album; the songs grow on me with each listen, and those that I've heard live are very much more exciting live than on the album. I guess I'm just hoping to go to the secret launch party and sing along with all the songs.

My father turned up with a CDr of a cassette tape he found of a small string trio I was in when I was about fourteen. We weren't very good but again, this caused much innocent family amusement. As did the copy of "Tijuana Nursery Rhymes" by "The Torero Band" (actually Alan Moorhouse) that I got by the technique of asking nicely over at Vinyl Vulture. This was a favourite album when we were children; for some reason my Dad got rid of it, perhaps by accident. I want to be able play these jazzed-up nursery rhythms on the melodeon, too.

I already had the splendid album by The Devil's Interval, but I did pick up Jim Causley's solo album when the trio came to sing at the folk club. That really was a good night, with them doing most of the songs from the album plus loads of others. They do a workshop at festivals where they get kids to write new verses for "The Two Magicians"; the verses the kids write are so good that they've stopped singing the original ones and just do the new ones. Some of which are inadvertently amusing in ways the kids don't perhaps intend.

Fellside Records (label of my heroes Spiers and Boden) has appeared on eMusic. Obviously I already have all of the S&B, but I did pick up some other delicious bits and pieces; Frankie Armstrong's collection of Child Ballads "Till the Grass O'ergrew the Corn", which features Maddy Prior and John Kirkpatrick, "Strands of Gold" by Nancy Kerr and James Fagan (who are coming to the folk club in a few weeks, and who I saw with Tim van Eyken at the Royal Opera House a couple of months ago) and a selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Not the Bert Lloyd one (which I also have), but a newer one featuring amongst others 'John Bowden' -- who I believe is Jon Boden but actually nothing on the web says so and some pages say explicitly not.

Finally, there's "The Bird in the Bush", Topic's collection of 'traditional songs of love and lust'. Originally released as an EP of songs by Bert Lloyd and Anne Briggs, this was later extended to CD length. I do have all the Anne Briggs material on other albums, but there's other interesting stuff here too. Many of these songs are in the identical genre to 'Squeezebox', interestingly; the song that purports to be about some innocent activity but is actually about sex, with a double entendre per line and a couple more in the chorus. The classic version is about an occupation of some kind; weaver, ploughboy, poacher and so on; the bloke is about his business when he runs into a pretty young maid, he offers to demonstrate the tools of his trade to her, and she's generally pretty pleased about the tidy way he makes use of his skills. After hearing a few of these in a row I get a bit tired of them, but it's clearly an authentic folk tradition that continues into modern times. A very good modern example of a song of this kind is "Telephone Man" by Meri Wilson; I'm sure there are others.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)