November 13, 2012

The Automatic Journaller

Day One App icon For some time now I've wanted an automatic journaller. Not to write blog posts particularly, but because I write stuff, all over t'internet, every day, and have done since about 1993. And if you mashed it all together it would be a journal. Like Pepys except with a lot less nookie. There was an iPhone app, Momento, which did some of this, but for some reason it only grabbed summaries of much of the data, and hasn't been updated for a while. Also, I don't primarily want to store this material on a phone; I want it on my desktop and properly backed up. Day One Journal is a really lovely journalling app, with all the stuff you want for your day to day journalling, invisible iCloud syncing between Mac, iPhone, iPad, and an elegant, intuitive interface. It also makes it really easy to create backdated entries. It doesn't yet have automatic journalling, but they have promised it for early next year. In the meantime there are scripts available, but the developers have said 'our solution will be awesome'. And everything else about the app is awesome, so I believe them. In the meantime, I've been sucking some of my old writing in manually -- watch out for features like '20 years ago today' coming shortly on Macadamia. How much stuff is there? I have over a thousand entries and I feel like I'm just scraping the surface.

Hello to Charlie, who said 'I like what you're doing with recipes on your blog'. So I'll try to do a bit more of that too. This week's food was bought without doing any meal planning first, which is normally a bit of a mistake but seems to be working out ok this time. Today we will be having a broccoli and pasta bake, probably augmented by bacon and with rosemary breadcrumbs on top. The recipe should make double so that I have one for the freezer. And tomorrow I plan to roast a shoulder of lamb using a recipe for anchovy lamb from Kitchen Revolution. This recipe is particularly notable because last time we had it (using a leg rather than a shoulder), it fed four of us six times: the three dishes described by Kitchen Revolution, and then the last of the lamb went into moussaka, the leftover gravy flavoured a bacon and mushroom pasta sauce, and I boiled up the lamb bone for soup.

Studying: I scraped through the first half of the SaaS course and have, perhaps incautiously, signed up for the second half. MIT 6.00x is going well (and so it should as it's an introductory course), but Harvard's CS50 'do it when you like' approach is having its usual effect and I'm behind.

Exercise: I've sort of finished C25K now; finished in the sense that I can run continuously for half an hour, and finished in the sense that I can run/walk a 5k without feeling exhausted, but not finished in the sense that I can run 5k continuously. So the next step is working progressively on improving my speed and endurance. We will probably do a Park Run in a few weeks; we've been slightly stymied by being busy every single Saturday morning.

Christmas: approaches like an oncoming steam train.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:37 AM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2012

Olympics so Far

So far, the Olympics has been not particularly disruptive and rather good fun. We're going for a mix of glued-to-the-telly and actual London experience.

The only tickets we won in the ballot were for Wednesday's archery. It was really good. The audience was a mix of about 10% UK archery enthusiasts (lots of club shirts in evidence), 10% Korean fans, and 80% clueless. Arriving early would have been good for that latter batch, because there was a very clear exposition of what was going on. It would have helped with the endless stream of questions from people around us of very basic things about the sport ('what's with all the metal bits on the bow', 'how do they know where to aim', 'why do they all wear bucket hats'). I don't know what can be done with people who don't know how to turn the flash off, or mute, their digital cameras, or who witter on to their mates as people draw. There were sharp words from the commentator but I think the legions of volunteers should have had Quiet boards like at the golf.

Overall it was a brilliant day out; our top tickets were much less pricey than for most sports (and in particular, every seat in this small venue will be better than all but the £1000 seats for the athletics). We got to see two plucky Brits be knocked out, the top ranked man get beaten, and the awesome Iraqi woman on a wildcard getting to lose to the top ranked woman. Round the back it was possible to do 'have-a-go archery', too. Infrastructure was good because obviously Lord's normally has a lot more people visiting than this, but the food and drink choices were pretty limited.

Yesterday we had park-only tickets for the Olympic Park, so that we got the other half of the Olympics experience. These tickets were the one clear benefit for host borough residents; they weren't free, but they were very cheap. Our plan to buy sandwiches was foiled because we entered from West Ham and were funnelled through a shop-free 25 minute walk to the site. We had spent the earlier part of the day at South Kensington, lured there by free exhibitions, some of which were interesting and some of which appeared not to exist. The Science Museum milk shake bar is becoming a regular for us, too. By the time we got to the Olympic Park we had already walked for several miles. Possibly a mistake. The park is beautiful in fine weather and you could easily spend an entire day there, especially if you have cameras, even without event tickets. The plantings, which are all sort of like wildflowers only better, are exceptionally lovely, and the buildings are interesting (and interestingly lit at night). There are interesting sculptures, random music, a range of things to see and do, and lots of walks. Much of the art and activities are small-scale, like micro-programming, so you sort of stumble over it. The park has sturdy permanent benches set in all over the place, and agreeable grassy banks. And rivers. And the new Royal Yacht Gloriana.

The only downside is food and drink choices; water fountains are plentiful and free, but otherwise it's overpriced and not very good. We bought burritos, our standard go-to festival food because they normally fill you up deliciously with mostly plants for little money. This was no more expensive than the excellent burrito I had the other day from a burrito shop, but was much smaller, and had been made earlier and left under hot lights so the tortilla was crispy. So take a picnic and empty water bottles. And if you're going to an event, also take a Union flag; they're sold out everywhere in the park, with new shipments being sold instantly as soon as they turn up.

We stayed till about 11pm, fetching up for much-needed crepes at the still busy Westfield shopping centre before catching a fast bus home. The space between Westfield and the rest of Stratford was the only place all day where we saw significant numbers of police; perhaps a dozen mounted police and 50-100 other officers, clearly focused on preventing trouble from Stratford. Which does not, to me, seem excessive.

As everyone else has pointed out, the army of volunteers are wonderful; unfailingly cheerful and delightful to talk to. Trained by McDonalds; they did a good job there.

Exercise notes: I walked 28 thousand steps yesterday, doubling my previous Striiv best.

We have early bird guaranteed tickets for the Victoria Park Live Site today, but after exhausting ourselves yesterday I think we are going to go for the Walthamstow Living Room Live Site instead.

And tomorrow, wonder of wonders, I have got last-minute tickets off the 2012 ticket site for the morning athletics. This is a treat for my mum, who has loved the Olympics for her whole life, especially the athletics, and didn't get tickets. So we'll be back then. And then I am done with Olympics live and am back to telly.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:33 AM | Comments (2)

July 09, 2012

30 Minutes of Exercise

A month, or so, ago, I said I'd like to re-structure my days so they included 30 minutes of exercise. It took me a bit longer than that to get properly started, and buy some relevant toys, but it feels like it's embedded now, so I thought I'd write a bit about it. If you'd like a blow-by-blow account in rather more detail, I am user 'BohemianCoast' on My Fitness Pal.

By '30 minutes of exercise', I mean '30 minutes of cardio'. I'm being pretty relaxed about what the minimum for that is; a 30 minute stroll is fine. I'm also just beginning (as of today) to do strength training; probably about 10-15 minutes three times a week.

I sorted the living room out so that there was room to play physical wii games again, and fished out the Balance Board.

I resolved that I didn't mind putting some cash into this. Exercise gear isn't that easy if you're a big size; a lot of stuff that's supposedly 'active wear' in larger sizes is completely useless. Particularly trousers if you don't want sweatpants. Sweatpants are far too hot; they also tend to be about 6" too long for me.

I found some nice things at Sainsburys, of all places. They don't go up all that far in size (up to 22), but the clothes are reasonably generously cut, well-priced and stretchy.

Although I'm doing some stuff outside the house, the constant rain doesn't inspire. So I 'refreshed' my Wii games with a new dance mat game, mat-free dancing games, and a walking game. I also fished out some older dance mat games and Wii Fit Plus.

Wii Fit is still as maddening as ever; although they have put more longer routines into WF+, the strength exercises range from pointless to impossible, with very little in the way of recommendations, and require more room than there is in my living room to do them. The cardio is fun but doesn't always work as well as you'd like, and it's still far too easy to find large gaps between games. The kids like it a lot though. Best for: kids.

The 'Just Dance' style games have rather taken over from Dance Mat and I thought I should give them a go. Abba: You Can Dance uses the 'Just Dance engine. But although it's fun dancing to these tunes, I like proper metrics in my exercise games, and the scoring method is just too arbitrary for me. In particular, you don't really need to move your feet to get points, which is a bit of a problem. There are karaoke modes and you can plug in a microphone. When I was ten or so, my friends and I spent hours singing Abba songs into our hairbrushes. This game would have been the *best thing ever*. Best for: parties, girls' nights in, too much Lambrusco.

Dance Dance Revolution is as fun as it's always been, and it's now possible to play the full game while also on workout mode and play full-length songs. They've also adjusted the difficulty calibration so that dances are ranked out of 20 instead of 10. This is brilliant for working out because it makes it very easy to set up dances that are pitched at exactly the right level, interspersed with some that are just a bit too hard, and some to warm up/cool down. In theory it also allows you to play double (the best mode for both fun and exercise, with one person dancing across two mats) on the Wii. Irritatingly, this feature only works with Konami mats, not after market dance mats. That would be fine if the Konami mats were as well-made and padded as my FutureMax pads. But they're not. I do have two of the Konami-style mats, and I think it will be ok if I turn jumps off. Best for: getting a proper workout on the Wii. Have water handy.

That same restriction applies to using dance mats with Step to the Beat (Walk it Out), but in this case the game is walking (and light jogging) only, so it's ok. This is a bit hard to find, but has a passionate user community. It's sort of like a more extensive and structured version of the jogging section in Wii Fit. You walk around an island to the beat of J-Pop songs, and use your step count to unlock a wide variety of things (houses, trees, zodiac signs, events, bridges, music, people) on the island. The tunes vary in intensity so sometimes you have to walk quite hard or even jog for a few minutes before returning to a gentler pace. It's fun to do with family or friends because you can chat while you're walking and the time just slips by. It's not very strenuous (and has options to make it easier), so I think this would be absolutely brilliant for people who are limited in what they can do through age or infirmity. I use it on rest days. It's no longer distributed in the UK but there's the odd copy around. Due to its rarity some people are selling it for very large amounts of money. Best for: 45 minutes non-stop, relaxation, elderly people.

Outside, the main newish thing I'm doing is playing badminton with the family. Steven bought me a fancy racket for my birthday, and we got a cheap racket for Jonathan so that he stopped complaining about using Steven's 30 year old ones, but otherwise the only serious expense here is the courts, which cost about £10/hour. We've been doing this for a couple of months; if we carry on then after the summer one of us will need to get a gym membership that includes court booking privileges because we're currently spending a fortune.

Food notes: Thai Peanut Turkey Burgers are very nice, and something you can do with turkey mince that doesn't make you wish you were using beef mince. We had homemade pizzas on Saturday night (healthy ones with less cheese and mostly veg toppings), and an actual ready meal yesterday (we don't do this much); an Asda Chinese feast for 2 and half a crispy duck. The duck was great and everything else was sort of ok, so next time we might just get two ducks. Tonight we are having some kind of bacon and veg based pasta sauce; perhaps this one.

Study notes: I'm (just) keeping up with Udacity CS258: Software Testing, which I'm finding a bit serious and worthy. Udacity ST101: Intro to Stats is still easy, though the week 2 programming exercise was harder. I'm slightly behind my self-imposed week-ahead schedule on 6003z, because I got a bit stuck on convolution and have to do some more worked examples. And I haven't picked up any of the self-timed stuff for a week, so hopefully I'll get back on track this week.


Posted by Alison Scott at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2012

Remembering Childhood Nightmares

Of course, when you're busy, there's lots of things to write about and little time to do it. So this is a very quick update. We were driving back from Chippenham last night when the beacons were lit, and had fun spotting the ones near the road. I love beacons, though I think it's a shame that they abandoned proper beacon chains in favour of specific lighting times.

We missed the Jubilee Concert of course, but it appears to have been very well staged. Highlight is unquestionably Madness, with the light show on the palace -- at 2:41 in the BBC playback (for a week) or on YouTube (until it gets taken down, but more will spring up I'm sure).

An inspirational concept rather than an inspirational video today: Hard Fun. Isn't all the best fun hard?

And since I last looked, the 1972 ITV adaptation of Marianne Dreams has both been issued on DVD and been deleted. That's sort of annoying. Anyway, it was (I never remembered this) called Escape into Night. I'm amused to see that it's rated '12', even all these years later. Obviously I saw it when it was brand spanking new; I was seven at the time and it had a lasting impression on me to say the least. The colour originals have been lost so this DVD is black and white. In the way of the modern world, the entire thing is also on YouTube.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2012

Bits and Bobs

Inspirational video of the day: How to use a paper towel properly. This is only a few minutes long. A second video which you have probably seen but my kids haven't -- The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Food notes; tonight we are celebrating -- with the help of Pizza Hut -- Jonathan's achieving the highest score in his school on the Junior Maths Challenge.

At the weekend we had a family favourite meal -- Allegra McEvedy's slow cooked lamb & chickpea soup with chermoula. We tip noodle nests into this at the end to make something more like a pasta. The second meal was the duck salad from Jamie's 30 minute meal version, with giant croutons and rice pudding but no stewed plums. Luckily, home made rice pudding and toasted almonds and a bit of lemon curd was plenty tasty. You do need to have something with this meal because just the duck salad and croutons would be very light, and obviously you don't make home made rice pudding in 30 minutes. I had hidden the full fat milk for this for an entire week in the fridge.

Posted by Alison Scott at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2012

Two inspirational videos for today

A really short one -- Richard Feynman speaking about confusion in 1963, and a really long one -- Randy Pausch's 'last lecture' (not actually his last lecture by any manner of means). That last one is over an hour long and it has 14 million hits. I think I may be the last person on the internet to see it (except not, because I've just passed it on to Marianne).

I didn't watch either of those today, but I watched two other videos (as with food and study, I'm keeping public notes here). The first is another Randy Pausch lecture, Time Management. If you're familiar with time management, there's not a lot new here; he tells you to pay attention to Covey's four quadrants, to eat the biggest frog first, and to get your inbox to zero. But it's still jolly entertaining, and it's all a good reminder.

I've been planning to watch more TED videos, but how to choose? There's a lot out there. So I decided that I could probably do a lot worse than start with the most watched TED videos that I hadn't already seen. So I sorted by 'most watched', and came up with Ken Robinson's argument that the entire education system is wrong. I thought this was pretty mediocre to be honest; the premise seems obvious to me to anyone who is paying attention and I don't think Robinson takes it anywhere very interesting, or addresses it in a terribly clever way. Moreover, I observe my kids' schools trying to address this, and teaching IT, and enterprise, and learning power, and all the sorts of things that I think it would be jolly good for schools to teach kids. The catch is that the curriculum in these areas is so bad, the quality of the teaching so poor, and the subjects so reviled by the kids that I genuinely think they'd do better just teaching the kids Latin.

Finally, one video that features the greatly inspirational Peter Norvig and the not-so-inspirational me -- tonight's Office Hours Google hangout for Udacity CS212: Design of Computer Programs.

Posted by Alison Scott at 04:46 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2012

They've let me order a Raspberry Pi

I finally got the email saying 'hey, you can buy a Raspberry Pi'. So I have done, together with the operating system and power supply. Now I just need to work out what I might do with it. Good thing I'm learning (a) circuits and (b) Python, right? Jonathan has grabbed schematics for a case and logo and is aiming to persuade his technology teacher to let him make a case on the laser cutter at school; if he fails then my next stop will be Hackspace. Anyway, if you have any ideas for good uses for a tiny cheap computer, do let me know.

I finished unit 5 of Udacity CS212, now onto game theory, and loved every bit of it. Currently taking a break from learning about impedance and complex amplitude in MITx.

What have we been eating? Yesterday we had a spring vegetable and veal lasagne by Gordon Ramsey, chosen because Ocado had an offer on sustainably farmed veal mince. I obviously ignored the exhortations to use super-expensive baby veg and just used what we had, so fresh chicken stock, leek, carrot, courgette, flat beans, mushrooms, spinach, dried chervil, ordinary cooking cheddar not parmesan. Pasta bakes that don't have a roux-based sauce get a real boost from pouring egg over the top, and this looked beautiful and was much appreciated and served six (using at least twice as much veg as he recommended). My one concern was that the ricotta did not form a smooth sauce; nobody seemed to mind though.

The day before we had pizza. I've been going all technical with homemade pizza; purchasing pizza stones and baking sheets with holes in them. If you buy the toppings specifically for the pizza then it becomes very expensive; if you reckon to use whatever's around then it's not. In this case we had scraps of duck, chicken, a couple of tiny chorizos, black olives, red pepper and red onion. Whenever I'm making the sauce I think I should make this in big batches, but then I forget again until the next time.

Tonight we're going to have cheating chicken biryani, except slightly less cheating because I'll make the curry paste as I go. Later: The paste was a small onion, two cloves of garlic, a cube of ginger, and a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds, together with some ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne (what I think of as 'cheap curry spices') and some ketchup (famous cheat for all sorts of things where I don't want to use a whole can of tomatoes; this bottle has indian spices in it already and was a freebie from Heinz). I have slightly reduced the amount of chicken and added half a celeriac.

I also had two beetroots that needed eating up, and they couldn't go in this without making it a totally different sort of curry. So I've made Beet Pachadi, from Das Sreedharan of Rasa. I use the recipe from his brilliant cookbook Fresh Flavours of India, which appears to be unavailable now.

Posted by Alison Scott at 03:57 PM | Comments (2)

May 26, 2009

The Glories of Spotify With Worked Example

Spotify Logo I'm pretty excited by Spotify, though with so many of these things I do not understand its business model. Or rather, I understand Spotify's business model, but I am not sure why labels are happy with Spotify but not with other free all you can eat music services. The free version of Spotify is ad-supported (I am listening to some ads now). You can get rid of the ads for 99p for a single day, or £9.99 for a month.

The lovely thing about Spotify is that it finally delivers a workable modern form of mixtapes. I can tell you how wonderful a band I'm listening to is, and link to a Spotify playlist that includes their music. You can listen to all the tracks I've chosen in full, and then use Spotify to explore further. I am not sure what its reach is yet (in particular, I'm not sure it reaches the US). Even better, there are collaborative playlists that several people can edit.

As an example of this, I've complied a short list of tunes and songs in five time -- A Bunch of Fives. You'll need to have Spotify to play it of course. Do add the tracks I've missed (though not 'other weird time signatures' please, just fives). For the benefit of people who can't get Spotify, this currently includes Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", Mawkin Causley's "Ye Mariners All", the second movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony ("Pathetique"), Shirley and Dolly Collins' "Searching for Lambs", "When Your Mind's Made Up" from the film Once, Jethro Tull's "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow", "Everything's Alright" from Jesus Christ Superstar, the Mission:Impossible theme (Lalo Schrfrin), "River Man" by Nick Drake, and "Mars: the Bringer of War" from Holst's Planet Suite.

Here's a second collaborative playlist -- at present with no tracks in it. Recommend music for me here.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)

April 29, 2009

Free Big Fish Games

Big Fish Games Logo
Edit June 2009: Not any more, for the large number of you googling this! That's Free as in Beer. Casual Gameplay explains that Big Fish Games is giving away four of its best games for absolutely nothing for a month or so. That's Azada, Hidden Expedition:Everest, Fairway Solitaire and Spa Mania, all available for Windows or Mac. I have already bought the first three of these, and really enjoyed all of them. You need to have a (free) Big Fish account, and you need to be careful when using the coupon codes (FREEAZADA, FREEEVEREST, FREEFAIRWAY and FREESPA) to uncheck paid-for options. When all is well, your checkout total will be zero. And obviously, they're hoping to reel you in and sell you loads more games. Which would not be such a bad thing.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:56 PM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2009

Trying Something Once: Geocaching

The Groundspeak Geocaching Logo is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. Used with permission. We found ourselves in darkest Suffolk with not much to do, and the weather was fine, so we went Geocaching. Geocaching is the outdoors equivalent of making vegetables into smiley faces; it turns out you can get children to walk for miles and miles if they believe they're hunting hidden treasure. I think a lot of grownups do it too. The idea is that people hide containers in random bits of countryside, and note the exact co-ordinates using their GPS. You then note down the co-ordinates, and go and retrieve the container, sign the logbook contained inside, take one of the treasures contained within, enclose one of your own, wrap everything back up and put the cache back exactly as you found it.

This would, I'm sure, be fun under any circumstances. But once you combine it with the iPhone, it's unstoppable. You click a button to get a list of caches near you, pick one, and start driving/biking/walking towards it. Health Warning: that can lead you to walk off the edge of a cliff. Not, however, in Suffolk. 2/3 of the band LAU come from lumpy places; their word for the trauma induced by the flat open spaces of East Anglia is 'horizontigo'. If you were in the Lake District, you'd probably want to have decent maps with you. If you're going after 'easy' caches in a flat, dry, industrial park on the outskirts of Ipswich, the main hazard is the local traffic. And dog poo.

How many caches are there? Well, here in London, there are at least a dozen within two miles of here. Out in rural Suffolk, there were still plenty around. Worldwide, there are 3/4 of a million. Which is, well, quite a lot.

Our first cache was noted as 'tricky'; after a little while of fruitless hunting, we became discouraged, and went after a nearby 'easy' cache. We found it and were very jolly. We quite failed to be stealthy because we were too busy whooping about. We set out after another, but the iPhone ran out of charge. So now we have a plan for future geocaching; take an iPhone charger with us. I think we will also take our 'better' GPS, the Garmin 305 bike computer.

We also have a small puppy; a trackable object called Tosca the Travel Puppy. Tosca is trying to get to Windsor Castle, and as we're a lot closer than Ipswich, we're helping him on his way. Unfortunately, our weekends are in the wrong order; last weekend we were in Sunningdale Park, which is within spitting distance of Windsor Castle.

Later we went searching for a cache by the side of the Lee Navigation, but once again couldn't find it. Perhaps we will stick to easy ones. Meanwhile, the kids have walked for miles and miles, and are now sleeping soundly. Don't let them in on the secret.

The Groundspeak Geocaching Logo is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. Used with permission.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:55 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2009

Another MacHeist Bundle

MacHeist BundleYes, I know I keep plugging MacHeist. That's because I love it so. This year the bundle is even cheaper at $39 (though I'm not sure that's not more than $49 was in real money a year ago) and the bundle's bigger.

There's always a contingent worrying that developers who sign up for MacHeist don't get a lot of cash in return for giving away tens of thousands of licenses. I observe that they're consenting adults; and besides, the iPhone has shown that selling your app very very cheap can be a terrifically successful business model.

So, what's in the bundle this year?

There are also three not-yet-unlocked apps, BoinxTV, 'a live-editing tool for video podcasters' (I think this is a very cool program but I'm not sure what I'll use it for; but honestly, anything that's a product of Boinx and the Coding Monkeys is likely to be fantastic), The Hit List, a task manager (I use Remember the Milk, and I've tried a huge range of programs in this space; I would struggle with anything that didn't have both a strong cloud presence and a separate iPhone app at this point), and Espresso, a web development tool (I don't do much, and when I do I handcode, and perhaps Coda or similar is in my future? Who knows). There was some considerable discussion last year about why unlocks always happen (so much so that bundles with locks that are selling weakly always end up releasing their locks early to push sales).

Finally, although the bundle is great, for me the real joy of MacHeist is the build-up, with ingenious puzzles, loads of free software (including some super programs like Fresh and Scribbles) and a great web experience. Worth the bundle cost for that alone and I recommend that people jump on board earlier next year. Anyway, you have two weeks to get the bundle. If you want.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2009

Seeing Watchmen (with some spoilery stuff further on)

Slightly revised moon landingI finally saw Watchmen at the iMax last night. Should you see it? I think it depends on your demographic group. Obviously, if you're a total Watchmen fanboi, you'll probably want to see this movie. You are likely, based on my experience and that of others I've spoken to, to feel that Zach Snyder has done a pretty decent job on the whole with the material, and it could have been a great deal worse. If you didn't think much of the graphic novel, you are unlikely to find the film to your tastes; it is at least as downbeat, and the violence is just as graphic but more in your face and it goes on for longer. If you've not read the graphic novel, then there seem to be a range of reactions. I have now seen several reports from thoughtful SF fans who are very impressed. I think Roger Ebert is the most notable of these, and I was just astonished that he hadn't previously read the graphic novel. But others find it unpleasant and unconvincing, and it's clear that many ordinary filmgoers are just bemused.

I enjoyed it. I thought the length was fine but the pacing was just a little sedate at times. Obviously much is cut but I didn't think the movie suffered too much. I would have liked slightly sharper editing and two extra brief scenes that I think are critical. The first is "Where did Rorschach get his mask from?" and the second is an establishing shot early on that shows Ozy with Bubastis and demonstrates that just as the other heroes are basically friendless, he is a mad villain who only loves his cat. The first is a nice to have, but the second is I think critical setup for Ozy using Bubastis to lure Jon into the intrinsic field subtractor.

I thought most of the changes were good. I don't miss the squid at all. A friend pointed out that the dialogue is much worse in any lines that Alan Moore didn't write, and that's quite true. My main concern about the new ending is that in the original, you are I think supposed to conclude that were Rorshach's journal to be published, the fragile peace would collapse; the question is whether it will be published or not. In the movie, Ozy's explanation for the ending is so utterly convincing that it seems to me implausible that Rorschach's journal would have any effect at all.

The one exception on changes was the final scene between Laurie and Sally, which my husband said "felt like it came from a totally different movie". That's the one thing I need to go back and search the novel for, because I know that the scene happens but I cannot believe that Moore would write any dialogue that bad.

I am a total Watchmen fanboi, so I noticed lots of places where Snyder didn't pick up some of my favourite things from the book. For example, the film is still extraordinarily episodic, but the 'fearful symmetry' is lost from that section; would it have been so hard to retain it? And the panel where the police observe that there's something in the air -- there is, and it's a giant Gunga Diner airship. In the movie the panel is there, and the airship is there, but the line isn't.

The look of the movie is very impressive. The costumes, sets, lighting and blocking are all superb. We knew from the blogs and trailers that the exterior scenes had been recreated very faithfully but I was impressed by the 80s detail in, well, everything. I also liked the use of blatantly obvious music choices; one of these (All Along the Watchtower) comes directly from the novel, and I was very sad that they didn't use "These Foolish Things", which is the song I most associate with Watchmen (presumably licensing). The costumes have been updated to reflect trends in superhero costumes in movies; I think that was a smart choice. The one area where the film fails is in makeup; the aging makeup is desperately unconvincing and the prosthetics are awful. I am not quite sure why this happened in a film where so much money was spent otherwise.

The acting was variable. Jackie Earle Haley is terrific as Rorschach, and I also liked Billy Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Malin Akerman was not by any means as bad as I had feared from other reviews, but a better actress could have got more from this part. Would a better actress have taken her kit off, though? I would have preferred to see Dan Dreiberg played by an older actor in worse shape than Patrick Wilson; he still looks far too convincingly superheroic in his owl suit. As for Matthew Goode, he has said in interviews that Ozymandias is intended to have ambiguous sexuality. Why, therefore, was he as camp as Butlins, and why the 'boys' folder on his computer? Ozymandias could have been fitter, smarter, and still most probably gay.

Everyone loves the credits sequence, and I'm no exception. But I have two questions. Why do we see Batman posters on the wall in the scene when Nite Owl I saves Bruce Wayne's parents from the mugger? And what has been changed in the Kent State scene?

Finally, one question about the real world. I have always wanted a Bubastis action figure. Surely I can't be the only one? Why is nobody doing this?

Posted by Alison Scott at 02:11 PM | Comments (2)

July 19, 2008

More iPhone app reviews

Well, there seem to be lots of people out there on the web looking for iPhone app reviews, and I've just acquired a pile more apps. Obviously they're not cheaper by the dozen. But there you go.

One general point about apps; many of the apps seem to run better if you reboot your phone first. Now, that's not very Maclike; but I think what's happening is that some apps are strewing cruft around where other apps trip over it. So this is worth bearing in mind.

Banner Free is free and feels like it could be very handy in those noisy, crowded places where it's difficult to attract people's attention or make yourself heard. It scrolls a banner message (like an LED banner sign) along your screen. Nice and big, you just type the message. Bubble Wrap is also free and simulates a little piece of bubble wrap. Handy when you're stressed out.

After I mentioned eReader, a friend told me to pay actual folding money for Bookshelf. This has several nice features; it reads several ebook formats already, with more to come; it loads books over WiFi by looking in the eBook folder on my desktop (desperately handy), and then transfers books onto the phone in a few seconds. I've read a novel using it, too, which was perhaps not as pleasant, but much more portable, than carrying the book. £5.99.

Critter Crunch is a very cute action puzzle game which has had excellent reviews on other platforms. I still feel like I'm learning and am making silly beginner mistakes; which often prove fatal. I do like games of these kinds but normally get the most fun out of them in that sweet patch between sussing them enough to play effectively and exhausting their normally limited strategy. £5.99.

Motion X Poker screenshotMotion X Poker is getting rave reviews everywhere. This is an implementation of that fine old standard of beginning programmers, poker dice. But what a version; dozens of gorgeous sets of dice each with their own sound effects and lovely rendering. You roll the dice by shaking your phone, and manipulating the dice to hold and release them is super quick. I bought it for its secondary mode, where you just roll dice; handy if you're one of those people who can never quite find a pair of dice when you need them. But in fact I've played the poker dice quite a lot; I just want to unlock all the dice sets now. £2.99 which is a total bargain. Everyone's asking for two-player support but top of my wish list is a big ask which would probably be a slightly different program; I would like support for rolling an arbitrary number of dice (more than the 1-5 now supported), but even more I would like support for the commoner sorts of polyhedral dice. Because frankly it would be easier to carry around an iPhone than a dice box.

Brain Challenge also has pretty good reviews, but for me the jury is out. I enjoy the 'daily challenge' on these games, but as yet I've unlocked very little and have little enthusiasm for repeating those minigames I've tried. I may review this one again in a few days. £5.99

iDrops looked quite pretty at 59p, and it is a very sharp implementation of a puzzle game that I've never liked; where you click on groups of squares to remove them; as you do so the squares squeeze up and you have to get rid of all the squares to progress. If there is any strategy here beyond blind luck I have never found it. But this is nicely done, with sweet jellied edges to the squares.

Guitar ToolKit is probably best value if you're a guitarist, but I bought it because it has a splendid electronic tuner, which is another of those things, like dice, which I want to keep in my pocket at all times. It also has a sweet metronome with a tap the beat feature; I would like it to have more better beats (at least 6/8 and 5/4 please, both of which I use quite a lot). The feature which I don't use but obviously would if I was a guitarist is a chord diagram library with over 200 chords in it; the feature that doesn't quite hit the mark for me is reference tones, where I could do with all 12 like a pitch pipe but instead this just has the strings of standard tuning. Which is a little odd as the tuner offers you, as well as 'any note', a choice of dozens of different custom tunings. £5.99

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:25 AM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2008

Shiny new iPhone

Yes, of course I have a 3G iPhone. I now have a proper, bona fide, Apple queueing experience under my belt also. Which resembled a silent movie in which primitive iPhone hunters of Walthamstow ran back and forth between the O2 shop and the Carphone Warehouse shop depending on which was currently being the least disorderly.

CW won the day for me at least; they had more iPhones, and they were better organised. O2 had only 15 iPhones, and could only sell them to people who were upgrading as their systems had crashed. CW had clearly rather more than 15 iPhones, and could sell them to anyone, but only new customers could easily walk out of the store with them, because the credit check for existing customers required a search on the O2 system, which was just as crashed at Carphone Warehouse.

Anyway, after a couple of hours I had an 8Gb iPhone 3G, so that was one game won I suppose. I realised I had no idea how to transfer my SIM over, or even where the SIM was. The internet clued me into the need for a paperclip; we appear to live in a post-paperclip society but I eventually found one. Days later I discovered that the 3G iPhone comes with a Official SIM extraction tool.

The new phone is very nice, and 3G and GPS are £99 worth for me at least (yes, I know there's a contract extension too, but in the UK at least the tariffs are perfectly reasonable.) I noticed the yellow tint before reading about it.

I immediately set about getting apps for it, including social networking and games. AIM and Twitterific will work better once the much-heralded message count in background is implemented. AIM is a bit pointless if you have to actually be in AIM to tell if someone's messaging you. The best free app to give your mates a laugh is Carling iPint. Yes, it's advertising. That doesn't stop it being funny. The best free games appear to be the rhythm game Tap Tap Revenge, the currently unavailable Cube Runner and match-3 RPG Aurora Feint.

Other handy free apps include Apple's iTunes remote control (but just as with the Apple remote, better to control everything on your Mac, not just iTunes, and I'm sure someone will offer this soon); Light, which turns your phone into a handy torch; and eReader, which should read your eReader.com and fictionwise.com bookshelfs, but in my case at least only reads eReader books. It's a start, but I'm waiting for FBReader.

Exposure, a slick Flickr browser, demonstrates a likely iPhone business model. Like Twitterific, you can have this app free and ad-supported, or in a premium, paid-for, ad-free version. The App Store doesn't appear to support free trials in any obvious way, so this is an alternative approach. Exposure delivers a powerful hit of icy-cool future shock, with its 'Near Me' button; click it, and you can see the photos on Flickr taken near where you happen to be at the moment.

And what of paid apps? I've bought two so far. Super Monkey Ball is the poster demonstration game for the iPhone, and well worth £5.99 to amaze people. However, as other reviewers have noticed, it's incredibly hard and unforgiving, and it breaks the first rule of portable gaming, which is that you should make it easy for people to quit and resume at any moment. It also breaks the second rule of portable gaming, as I discovered while playing as a car passenger; whenever we drove round the corner, my poor little monkey flew helplessly into the ocean. So, it's very pretty and very clever, but you can't really play it when in motion, or when you only have a few minutes to play.

The second was Zen Pinball: Rollercoaster. The iPhone's a good shape for pinball games, and this table's reasonably interesting and a good price at £2.99. As I wasted many many hours playing the various Pro Pinball tables, I'm always slightly disappointed by other pinball sims. This one is a bit cluttered; some of the shots are not obvious and the modes are not as imaginative as they might be. But it's a reasonable attempt, and after all, you're gaming on your phone.

Which brings me to the great catch of iPhone gaming. Will the iPhone be a serious competitor for the Nintendo DS? No. Why not? Because the iPhone already has the battery life of a geriatric firefly; a few minutes' gaming and it's turning up its toes. To test the games I've bought, I've played with the iPhone plugged in; at which point it drains power faster than it charges.

The solution is clearly to power my phone through my bra, either by solar power or harnessing my natural bounce. I can't wait.

Posted by Alison Scott at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2008

The Dark Lord's Tower

Our train pulled into Northampton station, which was odd in itself, because it wasn't supposed to go anywhere near Northampton. I'd asked to sit at a table; I like the tables, and they seem to be dying out. They foster conversation on trains, which is, on the whole, a good thing. And I was whiling away this slow and deviated journey by conversing with the other people at my table. The man sitting next to me pointed to the tower, and asked us to guess what it was. We were all wrong. Repeatedly. But I was wrongest, with my explanation that it had fallen through a rift in the space-time continuum from one of those fantasy worlds where the evil-doers build very tall and largely featureless towers. All the better to drop things from a very great height, you see.

Like, say, lifts.

Photo from Simon Hammond's Flickr stream; CC licensed for which thanks

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2008

Comic Life Magiq first impressions

Mayday bank holiday 2008 I got an email from the lovely people at Plasq offering me a cheap family pack of the new version of Comic Life. The new edition is Leopard only because it uses all the lovely Leopard core functionality. As a test for this review, I made this collage of some of the photos Steven took of the morrismen on Bank Holiday Monday. I really liked the extract feature, which isn't perfect but is good enough, and amazingly quick. I liked the flexibility around lettering, panel shape options, the great array of comic fonts that come bundled in and the starter templates. And I liked the overall ease of creating comic pages. You can see above that for a local club, you can create something really fun very quickly.

What's not to like? Well, a fair bit actually. Do you remember 'Kai's Power Goo'? It was a great little image editing program with a really silly interface. Looks like Plasq remember it too. If you decide to do complex editing on an image, it throws up a large palette in the middle of your screen, with a tiny editing window inside that; perhaps 640x480 (see screenshot below; either that editing window is very small or very far away). There are no context-sensitive right-click menus, and almost none of the elements are smart. Layout programs with layers need easy ways to see what layers are under your mouse at any given time and bring the right one out to work on. If there's a way to do this in Comic Life, I haven't found it yet. I want it to be perfectly obvious how to, for example, flip an image or object 180 degrees horizontally; I never found a way to do that at all.

The program keeps guessing about what it is you're trying to do, like Clippy. Several times, it decided for me that I wanted to insert an object into the frame of a different object. Er, no, ta; why would this ever be the default for anything other than an empty frame? And on one occasion Comic Life created a smart object out of two different elements, for no reason I can see, and I couldn't retrieve them except with Undo. either that editing window is very small, or very far away There's a weird circular editing tool that brings up a wheel of seemingly random options; its purpose is completely opaque to me. I guess my problem is that I'm not looking for 'intuitive' or 'whimsical' user interfaces; I'm looking for a neat array of tools with clear menus for their use, and a program that takes full advantage of my screen real estate.

Having said all that, I do think this is a great program. Comic Life has been used not just for comics and for family greetings and snapshots, but for a whole range of instructables and manuals. This version extends its functionality and provides enough editing tools for most non-power-users' needs. And the core of the program -- making comics to share with your friends and family -- is as much fun as ever.

Posted by Alison Scott at 05:37 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2008

Smultron and LilyPond

Regular readers will know that I'm a great fan of Barfly, a great .abc reader for the Mac. And, in fact, a great fan of abc, the simple music file format that's very popular with folk tune collectors. Barfly's now been upgraded to work fully with Leopard. It's splendid for dealing with long abc files with many tunes in; it plays them really well, and it generates sheet music instantly.

However, nobody could claim that Barfly's printed output is beautiful. For that we turn to LilyPond, a Free Software music engraving program. The output from LilyPond is exceptionally lovely; the program has been designed from the ground up to make elegant sheet music. LilyPond itself is not exceptionally lovely; it's a command line program. It once had a nice Mac gui front end, but this has broken in Leopard. Instead, it's now supported on the Mac with a tiny bit of Applescript. So you do have to roll up your sleeves to use LilyPond at present. And although LilyPond includes an abc2ly converter, I can't make it work. Hand-coding from scratch is taking me about ten minutes a tune at present (this for 'ordinary' 32 bar English tunes). So I will not be producing a 2000 tune tunebook any time soon. But for tunes I'm actually learning, it's fine. In fact, it's causing me to think about the ways in which the abc that I'm working from is different from the tunes as played by the better melodeon players around me.

LilyPond has a reputation for fearsome syntax; I had little trouble with straightforward tunes, but as soon as I tried tunes with chords or books of tunes, I started to struggle. It's worth persevering though, because when it does come right the results are spectacular. I'm not exactly stretching it, with easy monophonic tunes. The most complicated thing I've coded so far is a You can use LilyPond to produce multi-part orchestral and choral scores. But you might die in the attempt.

At heart this is a markup language, and for that you need a text editor. Plokta famously uses SubEthaEdit for collaborative working, so I hadn't tried other text editors. The text editor of choice for LilyPond is Smultron, which is a lovely Maclike editor that supports LilyPond syntax colouring. I'm not exactly a power user of text editors, but this appears to me to be both easy for beginners to use, and has some key features (like keeping track of nesting). For some reason the Mac isn't overly provided with good, free text editors, so it's nice to find one that's actively supported.

Posted by Alison Scott at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2008

Corflu Silver

What are you doing this weekend? Well, over in Las Vegas, they're holding Corflu Silver, the 'core fandom' convention (and oh, how I dislike the term 'core fandom'). And they've got a live video feed. Well, not now, because it's the middle of the night. But there's a linked chatroom, so you can watch the feed, chat in the box, and generally lose track of time. Fun.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2008

More MacHeist

If you missed MacHeist, or just love software bundles, MacHeist have released a 'retail bundle' of Mac apps. You'll have most of them if you been a MacHeist player all along. But if not, it's pretty good: it includes several apps from previous MacHeists that have found their way into my daily workflow, such as iClip, Awaken, Overflow, and the most beautiful iTunes controller ever, Cover Sutra. It also has the writer-focused word processor WriteRoom (I use Scrivener, in the same space), personal finance program Cha-Ching, personal organiser DevonThink Personal, password/data manager Wallet (I use 1Password), utility to remove excess code from your programs XSlimmer, and three different Pangea games. Anyway, not a bad bundle for $49, and you can get it here. Disclaimer: that's a referral link and I get prizes if you buy the bundle.

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

October 05, 2007

Catching Up

We are overwhelmed with school admissions. People who haven't done this have an eye-glazed-over moment when I mention it; people who have are all sympathy.

Anne Briggs -- Sing a Song for YouI'm very taken with Music Arcades, where David has put his music collection on Shuffle by Album and is writing about it one day at a time. I don't know how many albums I have; there are currently 20,820 tracks. The next album up on Shuffle is "Sing a Song For You" by Anne Briggs; her albums are perennial seller despite her turning her back on singing and recording after only a few years in the limelight. And for all the glories of the current folk revival, I don't think there's a singer of traditional material to touch her.

Posted by Alison Scott at 02:23 PM | Comments (1)

August 29, 2007

Testimonial: eFrame.co.uk

picture of a framed Hugo nominee certificateOne of the nice things about having a blog is being able to do the odd product review. Now, I have a house full of odd bits of artwork and other things that need framing. Some of them are 8x10, or A4, or can somehow be coaxed into a mat and a standard frame size. But lots can't, and I find myself down at the local frame shop Giving Them All My Money.

The standard advice on this is to make your own frames, but honestly, life is too short. I don't get that many frames. What we need is a website that makes frames to order and sends them to you for a reasonable amount of money.

Enter eFrame. You put in the exact length and width of the thing you want framing, and they sell you one of a wide range of frames. You have great control over frame mouldings, mounts, and so on. I tested it out, tentatively, with the rather nice and quite oddly-sized Hugo Nominee certificate that came in the post the other week. The frame, without mount, arrived after a little over a week, and fits perfectly. Total cost, including a hefty p&p that would be much reduced by buying several frames at once, was about twice what you might spend for an A4 certificate frame. That's about a third of the amount I spent when I last had a Hugo certificate framed. The frame's nicely made and came with picture hanging string and loops for me to fit once I'd added the picture.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:10 PM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2007

Chore Wars

chore wars logo, with various fantasy types wielding brooms and mops Unsurprisingly, the Kittywompus household is totally up for Chore Wars. We've defined multiple common tasks, with bonus points for particularly nasty ones, discounts for particularly pleasant ones, and plenty of easy kid-friendly tasks, and we're starting to adventure in the morning. I wonder if the kids will be up for it? After all, we already get Jonathan to help tidy by telling him that we're tackling Bedroom Level 2. Or whatever.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2007

Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture

John Dennen wrote to remind me about the Douglas Adams Memorial Debate, this year on May 3 in central London. The question under discussion is 'Is SF good for the public debate'; with a variety of interesting looking speakers. These are mostly academics and do not appear to include any SF professionals. Which feels a bit odd to me but what do I know, I'm only a begonia*. I've never yet managed to squeeze one of these into my overly compressed life but I've heard good reports.

*Wrong talking plant, I know.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2007

New broadband, old Eastercon

virgin media logo A qualified thumbs-up to Virgin Media, who have, by and large, done what they said they'd do at the times they said they'd do it. The only downsides were the long wait for a day when an engineer could come and I could be in for him (complicated by Easter), and the fact that they simply did not send me the required serial number (complicated by my being an existing (ntl) customer), requiring me to phone customer service and hang on a line. Nevertheless, the service slot was today, 8am-12noon, and I'm sitting with improved telly and broadband, at 10:47. I did not get them to run cable through the house and fix the modem in the study. I believe my long-term broadband solution is the new Airport Extreme stacked under the Mac Mini or the Wii.

fab Navel logo by Sue MasonA complete thumbs up to the Crowne Plaza Chester, who looked after us splendidly at the Eastercon. There are few exterior photos of this hotel, and those that exist tend to be artful, being as how it's built on the top of the Trinity Street car park. But that's the short stay shopper's carpark for Chester, so for the first time for ages at the Eastercon we were bang in the middle of one of the finest city centres in England. I didn't do much shopping, but we did walk round the walls with the kids, eat at several nice restaurants, and go to the zoo. We also produced multiple copies of the Contemplation newsletter, The Navel, and they're all online now. Including, for the first time at an Eastercon, colour editions. We were helped there by having a relatively small membership; fast colour printing is still out of reach of Eastercon budgets.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2007

EMI Breaks Ranks

Blogged everywhere, and of course I'm delighted; EMI music will be available DRM-free through iTunes. Higher quality, slightly more expensive for singles. But it will be the same price for albums and I do particularly buy albums; I've only bought a trickle of individual tracks on eMusic, for example. I am quite pleased with the idea of becoming an iTunes customer, though I'm not sure in practice how much stuff there'll be that I want and don't have.

The really odd thing here is that EMI have been particularly virulent about putting DRM on CDs, completely ineffectually as far as the Mac is concerned.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

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...

Barking.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:06 AM | 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)

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)

Contemplation

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)

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)

February 17, 2007

Eye Candy

I'm far too well-behaved to put this in my sidebar, though I was tempted. (There's a vertical version too). This is a mini-version, from last.fm, of my beloved iTunes screensaver. I wish it used all of my albums rather than just a few.


Posted by Alison Scott at 07:17 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2007

Happy New Year

Over Christmas people started spamming the blog, so comment notification is turned back on. Meanwhile, I'm getting 500 errors on key page rebuilds. I find that the prospect of rebuilding Movable Type again fills me with gloom and is unlikely to happen till March at the earliest. So I cannot edit the Potted Music page. Meanwhile, Spiers and Boden have a new website, and all the links to music from their site have now broken. Joy.

The correct links are:
Bold Sir Rylas
Sportsman's Hornpipe

and for Bellowhead, Fire Marengo.

Mad Spiers & Boden fans should also note that I 'quite often' have a CD of sea shanties on which Spiers and Boden appear for sale on eBay.

The Tate Modern slides may or may not be art, but the level 5 slide is the largest slide in Britain and they are free. Höller argues that slides combat depression and improve mental health; I think what he means is that it's great fun. Go, but go early in the day; we picked up timed tickets for noon and 12:30 at about 10:45am, but TM warns that late-arriving visitors will not be able to get tickets. I was so excited by the experience of sliding that I almost forgot I'd brought my stereo camera with me. They could do with recycling arrangements for the tickets of those who wimp out on the higher slides; the top slide in particular was notably under-subscribed.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2006

Politically Correct Meat Products

Daily Express journos are frothing at the mouth with the discovery that a school was planning to have a Christmas dinner with halal chicken instead of turkey. Which seemed odd to me; lots of people have chicken instead of turkey for Christmas dinner (or, indeed, at our office, lots of people go and have curry or meze for Christmas dinner, on account of how disgracefully expensive Central London turkey dinners tend to be). What's the big fuss. And Jonathan's school (whisper this bit) both serves a Christmas dinner and serves only halal meat. So they may have been doing this for years without it exciting comment. Anyway, the school has now backed down.

Meanwhile, a search on 'halal Christmas dinner' reveals that it is possible to get a traditionally slaughtered halal turkey, and a good thing too given the apparent rise in demand for a traditional British halal Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Mixed marriages are blamed there.

It is, of course, no stranger for Muslims to celebrate Christmas with a tree, presents and turkey than for our family, where we don't revere Christ even a little bit. However, we celebrated this bizarre modern advent season yesterday by going to see The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3d, on its first day of general release here. It was in the new Disney Real 3d, which delivers a polarised image using a single digital projector showing 144fps. I'd not seen the film before, so I was watching the film as well as the 3d. It is terrific; perhaps the best 3d movie ever, and all the better because of a notable lack of eyepopping 3d effects. It was just charming and real. Oh, yes, and great 3d skeletal reindeer. It is also very careful with its descriptions of how Christmas works as a holiday. The film never actually says that half the planet worships Santa Claus, but it doesn't exactly deny it either; Santa is clearly the most important person in Christmastown.

Meanwhile, I learn from BoingBoing that over in Wales, Trading Standards have come down hard on Welsh Dragon Sausages, demanding that they be relabelled to avoid confusion for customers who buy them expecting them to contain actual Welsh dragon meat, rather than pork, leek and chili.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2006

Friday Roundup

I have a cold and am feeling very sorry for myself. I have stuck to my resolution not to play video games, despite the fact that at my current intellectual level, I could no more write my dissertation than fly. I also missed out on a trip to see the Michael Cross walking-on-water installation, which wouldn't have been too crowded to see, and the Tate Modern slides, which were apparently beyond belief heaving, with massive queues for both the timed tickets and the turn-up-and-slide slides. This feels like a must-see exhibition though, one that people will be talking about for years. Strategy is clearly called for.

My mood was not improved by attempting to preorder a Wii from a large and formerly reliable games shop: it's rejected both my credit cards on a range of different browsers. I conclude that it's just overloaded or something. Phone booking line is closed; I'll try again tomorrow.

On the other hand, Cute Overload has capybaras today! Definitely my favourite Rodent of Unusual Size. Also in the blessings count; I ordered a tshirt of my melodeon marmite design (reworked into a more tshirt friendly shape) from TShirt Studio. I picked them more or less at random because they had the colour of shirt I wanted (oatmeal) and their site didn't break using Camino. But the tshirt is lovely; by far the nicest custom shirt I've ordered. It just doesn't have any of the normal flaws of custom shirts. So I'll be using them again, for sure.

If you haven't yet voted in the Cumbria Top Dog competition, then by all means go and support the very sfnal Hugo "PaperbackWriter" Gernsback, the not-so-tiny Basset Hound.

I ordered and received Maggie's Melodeon, a D/G tutor book with CD. It's a very agreeable tutor, starting from 'this is which way up you hold it' and taking you through to 'off you go to a session and practise'. There's a strong focus in this one on learning to play the basses rhythmically (in march, waltz, jig and hornpipe), with only a little at the end about different bass patterns, different bass rhythms and row crossing. I could have really done with this book six months ago, before it was ready! Now it feels like good material for consolidation but I find myself faunching for the next book. The key thing I want to know: how, when you hear a new tune, do you work out which basses will sound really good with it? I suspect this is a bit like chicken-sexing, and after you've played for 10,000 hours, it's easy. Also this week, I have for the first time managed to play a song and sing along to it at the same time without it sounding absolutely awful. The song is Burl Ives' The Lollipop Tree (sorry, the official Burl Ives website is so ghastly I can't link to it), which I was very fond of when I was six or so. I need to do a photoshop to go with this tune though, ready for when I record it in Garageband.

Make it Folky, one of my favourite podcasts, on Cambridge Community radio, has a new episode available. They've also started pledge-driving, so I've sent them some money and offered help with the show. I also renewed my membership to Radio Britfolk, who hadn't emailed me to let me know it was running out, apparently in an effort to avoid spam. Also in my 'recently added' music are a couple of free Tom Waits downloads from eMusic, and the Spiers and Boden Womad set from Radio 3 (you'll need Audio Hijack or similar to save it). But about 60% of my listening at the moment is still Bellowhead. I'm sure I'll get tired of it at some point.

Back home in Walthamstow, the big event tomorrow is our Apple Day celebration at the Vestry House Museum. A grand day out to be sure. Last Sunday we went on the Walthamstow Family Bike Ride for the first time and had a very jolly time. It's really rather nice to be riding out with a group of people who understand the business of taking children on bikes. That ride happens on the second Sunday of the month, but I think November (which we will miss) will be the last one. We fetched up in the forecourt of the Nag's Head for a well-earned pint, fortunately before their 7:30pm Child Curfew.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2006

The Vow of Electronic Chastity

Well, I have missed the deadline for my dissertation. Desperate measures are called for. I have vowed to play no video games* until it is complete. That little asterisk is the exceptions, which are:

This still rules out 99% of all known games. And I have done no gaming since Thursday. Which has given me plenty of time for non-gaming activity. Like, say, blogging.

fissionicon.jpg I definitely need to plug Fission, which is the new stripped down lossless audio editor from Rogue Amoeba. Rogue Amoeba's products seem to be designed to reflect real life workflows. They observed that many people were using Audio Hijack Pro to grab a lengthy audio file, and then needed to trim it a bit and split it into tracks. And the programs that could do that were either high-end, complex or lossy. Or all three. Fission still feels a little bit 1.0ish, but it basically does the exact task that I need to do all the time. And I think the icon, which is dead simple and reflects both audio editing and nuclear fission, is perhaps the finest I have ever seen.

Over at Melnet, somebody asked me about my Edirol R-09, and I wrote the following:

I basically love it; it replaced a minidisc which I'd used for several years after buying super cheap on eBay (I would still, I think, recommend second-hand minidisc recorders as a way to get started recording on the cheap). Basically, the festival workflow went from 'look for blank minidiscs, curse lack of blank minidiscs, try to find somewhere that still stocks minidiscs, fill backpack with minidiscs, put blank in recorder, record, curse lack of adequate level meters, keep eye on watch because disc runs out in 80 minutes and many sets are longer than that, keep eye on watch because batteries run out completely randomly, make sure minidisc record-protection is set because it's incredibly easy to tape over them by mistake, carefully spend spare time at festivals labelling and sorting minidiscs, get home with massive pile of minidiscs, slowly get round to transferring them at 1-1 time to the computer using Audio Hijack Pro over the course of the winter' to 'put R-09 and mic in pocket (and it doesn't actually matter if you forget the mic, which is a win), record, change batteries between concerts, transfer files in a couple of minutes when you get home'.

When I first started using it I was using a 2Gb Kingston card and it was apparently prone to corruption; I didn't lose any files but I did have to transfer some of them at 1-1. I have since switched to Sandisk since when I have had no problems. Touch wood. Weirdly, I am fairly sure my Sandisk card is a fake. But it works.

The only other criticism I have of the R-09 is that it has a massive and incredibly obvious red light-up record button. I am sure this is handy if you're recording legitimately, but given how small and inconspicuous the R-09 is otherwise, a record button that's clearly visible 100 yards away and incredibly distinctive is not the perfect choice for anyone who might be stealth recording (perish the thought). It is the same weight and very slightly larger than a minidisc recorder (but substantially smaller than, say, a minidisc recorder & a pack of five discs).

I mostly use my R-09 with my Sony ECM-719 mic; I've done test recordings with the internal mics and they sound fine. I am not a good person to judge audiophile quality. I am rarely recording material where purity of sound is the key consideration, and I am a coarse recorder to boot; I record in MP3 and I leave AGC turned on. (Because recording is normally very much a secondary consideration; I'm mostly there to enjoy the music).

I probably should also have mentioned that it runs on AA batteries (good!) but that the battery case is so badly designed they ship a special warning (bad!). And there have been reports of weaknesses in the mic input.

Anyway, the combination of the Edirol and Fission mean that there's some realistic chance of my processing all the live recordings I make now. I do still have a big minidisc backlog.

Headphones for neighbours appeal: One of my 101 things is to play in a band. For the last few days, Steven, Marianne and I have been playing Rakes of Mallow, very slowly, on recorder, fiddle and melodeon. Marianne doesn't have all the notes yet (one of the trials of violin is that it's taught in a way that means you can't play tunes for ages). But she's just got her music for the 'Violin III' line in the local primary school string orchestra; given that the song is Sloop John B, we expect to be able to join in in yer actual harmony.

Keep music live: we've been getting out a bit, in fact. We saw two shows in the Spitz festival of folk, Jim Moray and Show of Hands. Show of Hands was very lively, with them obviously relishing playing in a pub full of enthusiastic fans. Jim Moray was capably aided by Jamie Delarre on fiddle and Nick Cooke on melodeon; the overall sound was very good at this one and I hope he continues to tour with traditional musicians. I don't think it's just my folkie predjudices that cause me to prefer this to his electric band.

We saw Jah Wobble and his English Roots Band at the 100 Club last Friday. We'd only previously seen an excellent festival set at Cropredy; JW had cancelled a planned gig at the Bloomsbury because it's a seated venue. We did have seats for this one, by arriving early, but abandoned them when the main band started.

We're terribly apathetic about our excellent local folk club, ignoring one choice guest after another due to inability to stir ourselves on a Sunday evening. But we couldn't ignore that their 5 November guests are Spiers and Boden, and they decided to ticket that night by selling tickets at other club nights. So we thought we'd better go along and get tickets, which would give us a chance to see Mick Ryan and Pete Harris. I knew nothing of their work, though I quickly turned up the fact that Mick wrote a song called "The Widow's Promise", covered by the Poozies as "The Widow". Marianne had remarked on it, in fact, the other day, asking me what it meant, and when I prevaricated, saying "that's because it's naughty, isn't it Mummy?"

Well, they were great; entertaining songs with uniformly good choruses, and cheery patter in between. Well worth catching if they're in your area. They were launching their new album The Island of Apples last night; they played half a dozen songs off the new album, all strong.

This week we have tickets for the Bellowhead album launch party. Can't wait.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 07, 2006

Namechecks

It's all very busy and will be till the end of the month. But meanwhile, I think I need to namecheck Macadamia who wrote to ask me if I liked their music, which is sort of ambient. The entire album is available to download on a Creative Commons license -- isn't that cool? But it's zipped so I can't link to a track.

And a quick shout out to Canadian political blogger The Coast of Bohemia. Boy was I surprised to find your blog.

But the biggest surprise today was a bit different. There's this chap I stalk a bit online. Not a lot. I was in love with him, completely and absolutely and forever, when I was sixteen. I don't think he fancied me in the slightest. He has a very uncommon name; he's the only person with his name in the US. And he's never had any online presence to speak of really. You know, the occasional forum entry, directory listings, names of people who contribute to the local PBS station, that sort of thing. All at the other end of the country from where we used to live, but obviously the same chap. But, you know. No website, only work email, no real sense of being a web citizen.

Nevertheless, every few months, I stick his name into Google, just on the offchance. I'm not sure why. I'm hardly about to make contact.

And today, I found a photo. He was a finalist in a contest run by a local TV station. He didn't win, but they still put his photo on the website. Perfectly recognisable, despite having aged 25 years overnight.

Posted by Alison Scott at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2006

If you're reading this blog by RSS feed...

...you won't see this message because my RSS feed has moved. It's now here. It moved when I upgraded Movable Type, but I've only just noticed. So if you've been wondering why I stopped blogging, that's why.

Posted by Alison Scott at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2006

Needs an Alarmist and Armageddonist Factoid, Vern

I'm sure this is being blogged everywhere, but Greenpeace sent the Philadelphia Inquirer a press release containing the immortal line

"In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

Alternative Browsers

I wrote a fabulous post last night that got eaten by worms. Anyway. The gist of it was that I'm trying out Camino and Shiira, because Safari runs unaccountably slowly and crashes.

A Greek chorus might say that Safari crashes because I have 48 windows open at once, but as this Exposé screenshot, taken randomly last night, shows that this is a considerable exaggeration.

Meanwhile, Shiira's unique selling point is Tab Exposé, which lets you see what's in all those rows of tabs. But what I really need is an extension to Exposé that explodes the tabs as well as the windows. Because it's not unusual for me to have 100 open tabs. Whoops.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2006

Bits and Bobs

I upgraded Movable Type to version 3.2. At present I'm still moderating comments, because I'm not fond of captchas and KittenAuth is not yet sufficiently reliable. But otherwise it's a considerable improvement, though not without the normal set of trouble that always attends upgrades of this program.

Steven tried to get me to join up with a complex online life management program so that I could use the shared calendars feature. After struggling for a little while, we went over to Google Calendar. 15 minutes later, we had a selection of seven family calendars imported from iCal and subscriptions to a couple of public ones (eg Waltham Forest School Term Dates), with easy sharing and intuitive date entry. Tip for Google Calendar: edit your custom view to display "next 3 weeks" and then make it your default view. Result: a sensible day by day view that shows about 10 items per day with start times.

Myspace continues apace, with the fabulous Last Night's Fun and the Demon Barbers both having spaces, and tracks for download, now. From MySpace I learnt that Jim Moray will be launching his new album on Wednesday night at the burlesque club Madame Jojo's. Google Calendar, meanwhile, helpfully let us know we're quadruple booked.

We'd recommend Belgian CenterParcs; much like UK CenterParcs, but with better beer. And our weekend was cheaper than it would have been in the UK, but we had the villa for an extra day because they book Friday-Tuesday over Easter weekend. Other differences from UK CenterParcs were the brilliant indoor pirate play area Discovery Bay (Arrrr!), that children are allowed in the spa and sauna (though ours were too loud honestly, and we stuck to the (rare) Brit-friendly swimwear allowed sessions), and mayo or satesaus on the chips.

Posted by Alison at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2006

Accordion Hero

Erik Olson wrote to tell me that the button-melodeon teaching game I was searching for actually has a web site. It's called Accordion Hero, and is the latest game from Schadenfreude Interactive, the company that brought you Need For Speed: Underhill, Grand Theft Ottoman and Hannibal Crossing.

I want one.

Posted by Alison at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2006

Friday Night, Saturday Morning

So, why, oh why, did none of my friends tell me how good Veronica Mars is? Most scary thought; it apparently gets better in the second half of the season. Why is this scary? Because we sat down to watch a little yesterday, having bought it from Play, and watched six episodes, one after the other. Only stopped at 3am when it started to become difficult to stay awake. This show is a rough combination of Buffy and Twin Peaks, except sassier and with better music.

In other news, I have pre-ordered the UK edition of Guitar Hero. From Game, becuase I believe, possibly erroneously, that they should be experienced in handling prioritising preorders of games in short supply. It's hard to imagine a game that is more precisely targeted to me.

And then I fell to thinking. Why guitar? If you did 'Keyboard Hero' or even 'Melodeon Hero', you could teach the rudiments of the actual instrument through the video game. You could require people not only to hit the right button at the right time, but also with the right volume (ok, that would require Hammer Action Keyboard Hero, and it might be a bit expensive for a video game controller). You could wire up a Streb e-Melodeon to a video game and make people work through morris and sea shanties to the greatest hits of John Kirkpatrick, Sharon Shannon and Kepa Junkera. Of course, development costs would be high and about three people would be interested. But there you go. It does slightly worry me that I'm about to invest quite a lot of time and energy in a video game that will not actually teach me to play the guitar.

Posted by Alison at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2006

Rounding up the loose sheep

OK, time for a bit of a catch up. It's not all melodeons, I promise; if melodeons are tedious, then skip halfway down the page.

I realise I haven't written much about the melodeon, largely because when I think about it, I tend then to go and play it. Nicking a joke from Private Eye, it's brilliant! You can take it with you everywhere and it plays thousands of different tunes! Though at the moment it seems to be rather better at playing ditty little nursery rhymes than it does at, eg, the Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Luckily, if you practice specific tunes until you can get a AA* on them, you begin to unlock more tunes. More worryingly, you seem to also unlock more melodeons. I now have two, and plan to get a third. And Steven is making worrying perhaps-I-should-get-a-melodeon noises too. This is known as MAD, or Melodeon Acquisitive Disorder.

My two are both second-hand two-row Castagnaris; a G/C Roma and a D/G Studio. I bought the latter because all English teaching is done (pretty much) on D/G, and I'm off to Melodeons and More next month. The Studio is a no-frills Castagnari starter instrument with only 19 treble buttons -- much less smart than the current Studio. The Roma was heavily modified and tweaked by Castagnari to suit its former owner and is probably pretty much unique now. The Roma is a much better sounding instrument, and not merely because it is posher. D/G melodeons are squeaky through much of their range, so morris tunes congregate around the bottom keys in a way that's incredibly obvious once you know it's there.

I'm mostly learning by thinking of tunes and seeing if I can play them, but I'm also downloading tunes in the very wonderful abc format and playing them using the equally wonderful BarFly. It's difficult to overstate how cool this is; abc tunes are text files which are so cleverly and intuitively designed that with a very little practice you can read the tunes right off the page. Barfly takes a single text file with a list of these tunes (for example the files of Lewes Favourites), and turns it into a complete songbook with staff notation, lyrics, and midi-style playback.

Apart from that I'm working with the first of the amazingly difficult John Kirkpatrick videos, and playing along to Radio 2's rather triff virtual session. And yes, I'm pretty much stuck on everything.

Like everyone else, I giggled all the way through The IT Crowd. And I've lost count of the number of people who've told me I should be watching The Thick of It. But can I find a torrent?

I've never been much of a fan of music DVDs, though I've acquired a few over the years. But now that iTunes and the iPod (though not mine) support videos, I quite like storing music videos with the rest of my music. Handbrake is a freeware one-step video conversion tool, and Dive Into Mark has a very straightforward tutorial. So now I have all the songs from the Oysterband's 25th anniversary gig in my iTunes collection. I actually blogged the set list for that one; Angels of the River, Hal-An-Tow, Dark Eyed Sailor, By Northern Light, Tumbledown, and We Could Leave Right Now were played but didn't make it onto the DVD. Ah well.

I also adore my Nintendo DS, and in particular Metroid Prime Pinball (which hasn't been released in the UK but which is readily available from importers). This game was released to 'low expectations', being a pinball tie-in to the Metroid series, where the main character can turn herself into a powerball. It defies those expectations. The physics are good, the board is static (scrolling boards are the worst of many video pinball sins) the game uses the DS touch screen very effectively for nudge, and there's rather wimpy force feedback that adds to the sense of playing a physical game.

Although there are many non-pinball elements to the game (various different aliens to shoot with balls or bullets, a 'wall jump', rain, your ball can lose health, and so on), they all seem to fall reasonably naturally from the pinball mechanics. I've played many, many video pinballs over the years, and this does a very good job of making it feel like you've got a pinball machine in your pocket. It is not as realistic as the Pro Pinball series, but I think it is better than any other video pinball I've played. I think the trick is that the ball never does anything stupid; yes, there are aliens wandering across the table, but you just hit them with the ball as if they were moving drop targets.

It is slightly easy for me (and I am only moderately good at pinball); and tellingly, on 'expert' mode there are fewer extra balls and harder video segments, but the actual pinball mechanics are no harder. I would have preferred if the shots had been a little harder to make, the board had been faster, and the slope a little greater so that untidy shots didn't go round ramps. The board is designed with very few dangerous shots, too; even when you miss things it tends to send the ball back to the flippers.

Nevertheless, the game is well-designed; you collect 'artifacts' on 2 starting tables; once you've gone through several modes you can visit more worlds to get the last two artifacts from bosses. Then there's an 'artifact temple' where you slot the 12 artifacts into 12 holes to cash in for the endgame; more bigger bosses. Weirdly, I've never been much of a fan of videogame bosses, but the concept works really well in pinball, which always was about setting up a difficult sequence of moves to deliver a particular outcome. Once you've done all that, you start again only harder. And there's an online high score table, and I even managed to get onto it very briefly.

I'd better mention the fabulous Richard Thompson Box Set from Free Reed. 99 tracks over six CDs, together with a lengthy book and James Adie's Vincent catalogue. Many delights here; most tracks are rarities but there was clearly a cornucopia to select from. It's a mix of unusual versions of well-known songs, songs not recorded elsewhere, covers of other people's songs (including "Ca Plane Pour Moi", an interesting choice to represent punk as part of 1000 years of popular music), other people's covers of his songs, and so on. It's great; and at about 50p a track, cheaper than iTunes.

Plastic Bertrand, meanwhile, demonstrates the level of the bar for famous Belgians; having been a one-hit wonder more than 25 years ago is enough to do.

Posted by Alison at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2006

Leviathans

There is a baby whale swimming up the Thames. It swam right past my office; if I'd been at work today rather than at Warwick Business School, I could have joined the crowds of people gawping.

And the Horslips DVD, Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts, arrived while I was away. It's a two DVD set with the documentary, and a second DVD with many full tracks and other delights. It includes the full version of the clip I linked to on my music page.

Meanwhile, in a totally random sample of successful senior public sector managers who took a mock of CIPFA's Strategic Business Management exam (one of the final parts of the CIPFA qualification), only five out of twenty-one passed. What conclusions would you draw about (a) the calibre of public sector management, (b) the content of the SBM syllabus and exam? (6 marks). In our defence, we had had no teaching on it whatsoever; our tutors were testing the theory that we'd all pass by miles without help. I gloriously achieved the lowest score in the entire class; the first time in my entire life that this has happened to me in any subject not involving a ball. By contrast, on our very first go at the other part of the final exam, the designed-to-simulate-real-life case study, one of our number (sadly not me) had a score higher than the highest national score when that exam ran for real.

Posted by Alison at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2006

Queen Mab's Music

Oddly, sometimes agents have mp3s and photos on their site even when the artists don't. No, I don't understand it either. Anyway, Queen Mab's Music represent some of the UK's best folk bands, and if you're wondering what all the fuss is about, there's a full mp3 from each tucked away under the 'resources tab'. Delights include the Demon Barbers' Katy Cruel, The Lusty Smith from Horizon Award nominees Ben Murray and Rosie Doonan, and bellowhead's amazing version of the Rochdale Coconut Dance. Go grab before they change their minds, though you probably have to be considering booking them or something.

Over at the Show of Hands website, the band have released the single Crooked Man as honesty-ware. You can download it; if you like it, go back and pay them 79p. Separately, a double album from Show of Hands has turned up at my very favourite legal mp3 site, eMusic. It features many of their 'popular hits' -- you know, all those songs that everyone at the festival knows every word of. Good trick that.

Posted by Alison at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2006

Two Quick Things

I really like parent hacks, and in particular the suggestion that if your child is currently obsessed with, eg, dinosaurs, you should visit Flickr's dinosaur slideshow. Instant happy toddler, for sure.

And yesterday, I went swimming for the first time at Oasis, which is about 10 minutes from my work, has a heated 25m outdoor pool, and was absolutely fantastic. A swim is 3.30, plus 20p for the lockers. It was exactly like swimming in a hot tub; by the time we went (6pm) it was really dark, and cold, and you could see the steam coming off the pool.

Posted by Alison at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

September 30, 2005

Plugging the Demon Barber Roadshow

I mentioned this in the sidebar, but it needs promoting*. The Demon Barber Roadshow is Britain's premier live folk extravaganza. The music is provided by Damien Barber's rather nifty band the Demon Barbers and fiddler Bryony Griffith. And it's great. But the show is also rounded out with clog (Tiny & Fiona Taylor), morris (Dogrose Morris) and rapper (Black Swan Rapper). Just in case you weren't sure what traditional English dance was like.

The Demon Barbers are very much to my taste, with a mixture of folk and electric instruments, and a proper bass section. Damien fronts of course, and I think one of the finest things about this band is that he has a brilliant authentic folk voice. I can't think of another electric folk band with such a strong, traditional vocalist (I know, you're going to give me dozens in the comments). The songs are traditional but obviously the arrangements are not, and it's good and loud.

The Roadshow is something really fine though. I am not a big fan of clog but the clog is well-done, and wisely set to the full band music. Dogrose Morris call themselves "Morris with Altitude" and I don't think I've ever seen morris dancers jump so high. But the showstopper is the rapper. Rapper is a dance for five athletic young men with flexible swords who weave in and out at high speed. Black Swan Rapper are just about the best rapper side there is at the moment. And if the fabulous dancing weren't enough, they also use glow-in-the-dark-swords. It's a complete showstopper.

We've seen them live twice, most memorably at Cecil Sharp House where we were about ten feet from the dancers. And very exciting it was too.

I think in an effort to persuade people to book the Roadshow, they've put together a promo DVD, and you can download it all from their website. You'd probably want broadband. The videos are pretty good quality for internet downloads, and include studio versions of all three of the dances, songs by the Demon Barbers, and festival footage. Oh, and some very cute footage of a schools workshop with kids doing rapper with balloon-animal balloons instead of swords.

When I tell people I like electric folk music, they sort of wince and you can see they're thinking of late sixties stuff played by people in floaty dresses. I have to say, no, I like the stuff that's new and exciting now. And hey. Now there's a website I can point them at.

One more thing. You won't see it live because they're never repeated it, but at Sidmouth a couple of years ago Black Swan did a rapper firedance. Because they are nutters. Actual nutters. And you can download the video for that too. It is the most amazing thing and required watching for anyone who thinks English dance is dull. There is a bit of a flaming pentacle issue though -- I'm not sure if they'd worked out that would happen in advance.

flaming rapper swords forming a five-pointed star

hot flaming pentacle action

*Admission: Damien said I could have one of the actual DVDs if I plugged the band on my blog. But you know, they're brilliant, I'd go to a festival just to hear them play and I have everything they've ever recorded.

Posted by Alison at 12:16 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2005

Overheard on 6Music

Phill Jupitus was reading the papers. Turns out they're using stem cells from mice to repair sheep hearts. It looks likely that in time they will be able to use mice to generate heart cells for people, and possibly other sorts of cells as well.

"Which means", he said, "we're finally going to have Marvellous Magical Mouse Organs.

Posted by Alison at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2005

Katrina

I'm not writing a lot here about the flooding in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states. I've posted some links to the right, of various types. I encourage people to consider what they can sensibly do to help. I visited New Orleans when I was really too young to properly appreciate the city; it would be nice to return.

I lived in Houston for a while as a teenager. It's not a city that gets a good press in the UK, and Texans as a whole do no better, but I found them friendly and kind. The people of Texas, and particularly Houston, are, in huge numbers, opening their homes to strangers and near strangers, and finding all sorts of furnishings and equipment to help people out with. Good for them.

Posted by Alison at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

Back on my Hobby Horse

A super quick plug for The Mini Morris Company and its indefatigable proprietor Liam Robinson ("sometimes my girlfriend helps out too"). Lots of different semi-traditional arts, mostly schools work, with set up from the Princes Trust.

Liam kept very busy at the Crawley folk festival, running a workshop on melodeon in which I got to play with a one-row box (I might be hooked on squeezeboxes, yes), and one on Molly dancing. He also sold us a set of sheet music for Lincolnshire dance tunes, and gave us the demo CD by his band Pigeon English.

Oh, yes, and he did two hobby horse workshops, making highly traditional osses using none-too traditional craft foam and a glue gun. We ended up with a pair of fine hobby horses and a hobby moose. Yes, I know it looks more like a hobby goat; those orange twiddly things are metaphorical antlers. Still, this is by some margin the Best Children's Craft Workshop Ever. Or ever so far. "Do you do birthday parties?" I asked, plotting.

Posted by Alison at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Designed by a Man

The last few times I've walked down Whitehall I've seen the new Memorial to the women of WWII, draped in a cloth.

Today it was uncovered, presumably for photos; it will be unveiled next week. It's a bronze slab on which are hung a variety of women's uniforms.

I hate it. One of the problems with the way that the women who served in the last war are remembered is by their clothes. There's a sort of weird fetish thing going on about 40s women and their clothes. This memorial perpetuates this; by focusing only on the clothes it implies that they maketh the woman, that the important thing we need to remember about these women is the clothes they wore.

Of course, I automatically assumed the memorial was designed by a man -- and so it proves; John Mills, who has made a bit of a career out of memorial design. There are official explanations of the choice of memorial here (note the repeated references to 'girls') and here.

Posted by Alison at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

June 11, 2005

Statement of Intent

I'm back, I'm staying back. Comments are cleansed, trackbacks have gone.
Trinkets have gone -- I'm still doing sidebar links but they're now at Del.Icio.Us. You can generate an RSS from that or add it to your consolidated set of del.icio.us links.

I know it's still untidy. My excuse is that I've been busy, and I've been listening to a lot of music -- the next post. I've also bought one of these. It's lovely, and the Migration Assistant meant that I plugged my old iMac into my new iMac, waited an hour or so, and then had all my stuff right there and working, just as I like it. The easiest new computer set up I've ever had.

And it means this blog has now come full circle and lasted me through an entire desktop lifecycle. I do miss my beloved anglepoise iMac; it would still be highly saleable on eBay, but is now my daughter's computer. She's delighted and is learning to type. Every five minutes or so, she turns the screen towards me to show me some cool thing, and I do miss being able to do that. I console myself with the knowledge that I could put this computer on a sturdy arm if I wished. My son, a playing-in-boxes baby when I got my very first Mac, is now in school, and a dab hand on computers himself. We've acquired several other Macs in the last three years, and have influenced numerous friends; SF cons here are overrun by Apple laptops.

I've been busy; with work, with Interaction, with the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Finance and Leadership, with the Nikoli puzzle site (particularly Nurikabe and Light Up), and with lots and lots of music.

So I did wonder whether to stop blogging; retreat to LJ, del.icio.us and even fanzines. It would be a sensible break point. But I still have things to write about.

Posted by Alison at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2005

Rebuilding the Blog

A quick and boring entry, to say that I'm rebuiding the blog to get rid of the uglinesses, so it's going to spend a while just looking like a default MT style while I sort things out.

Posted by Alison at 11:57 PM

February 03, 2005

Just what I needed; an excuse to buy two iPods at once!

I think I may need an iPod Photo stereoscope. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this already.

It's more a proof-of-concept idea. I'm already using my Clié TH55 to carry stereo pairs around with me. The Clié has a screen resolution of 480x320, so a vertical pair has resolution of 240x320. By comparison, the iPod photo is 220x176. With this stereoscope you'd be able to see every pixel. A little while ago there was a Nokia product called the Kaleidoscope; it struck me at the time that a pair of these would make an excellent electronic Viewmaster, but again, screen resolution (270x228) is just too low.

The advantage of the iPod photo solution is, of course, that you can store all your stereo photos; and, as the writer suggests, you can output from S video to a dual projector set up with fabulous quality.

Posted by Alison at 08:27 AM | Comments (2)

January 30, 2005

Praise where Praise is Due

I've fallen out of the habit of getting electronic equipment repaired, even under warranty. I've found the processes that you typically go through to get stuff fixed to be so byzantine and stressful that it's easier to just assume the risk of a certain amount of systems failure. Many companies make it as hard as possible to work out how to send stuff back, operate their warranties to the minimum limit of the law, require you to comply with all manner of weird requirements. All to avoid their legal obligations or stated warranty cover.

Just before Christmas, one of the pair of cameras I use to take stereo photos stopped reliably taking photos. I use Fuji cameras for this because their vertical format allows me to attach a pair of cameras to a bar using their tripod points, with a separation of only 73mm (only slightly more than typical eyes-apart distance). I've owned 5 Fuji digital cameras over the years, taken thousands of pictures, and have never previously had a problem with any of them.

It was still in warranty, about ten months old, though I bought it as an end-of-line clearance item. My previous experiences with warranty repair didn't give me good heart, but I couldn't replace it easily, so if I didn't get it repaired I was faced with buying two new cameras. But then I looked at the Fuji UK website, complete with clear instructions for both in and out of warranty cameras and an unequivocal 'we'll do what we can to keep your camera running' message, and sent it off with a copy of the paypal receipt because I could no longer find the invoice.

I got a receipt for the camera after two days, and my camera back less than a week after that, repaired under warranty and in perfect working order.

Posted by Alison at 06:25 PM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2005

Rebuild the Planet One Video Game at a Time

Astraware emailed me, to say that they're donating 100% of the purchase price of Bejewelled registrations all January to the tsunami appeal. Your chance to put one of the most addictive games ever on your handheld and get a warm feeling inside at the same time. (I've already got Bejewelled, of course; my Clié is actually a thinly disguised GameBoy, storing my calendar, address book, to do list and 30 different games).

At home I'm warping into a parody of myself; as my children complain about their homework, tidying their rooms, eating their dinner, I find myself saying 'You should think yourself lucky that you have a home to tidy, a school to give you homework and dinner to eat, because there's a million kids out there who don't any more'.

Posted by Alison at 10:29 PM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2005

Not Waving But Drowning

Movable Type is now requiring comment moderation on all comments on this blog, despite my best efforts to configure it otherwise. However, it's not bothering to tell you that when you try to comment (sorry, Mike). My attempts to sort this out have messed up the look of the blog, and made the comment page in particular pig ugly, but have not improved matters. I need to think seriously about taking my blog down; I have better things to do with my life.

Posted by Alison at 11:18 AM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2004

The Better Mousetrap (Christmas edition)

So there was a big pile of Krinner Christmas Tree Stands in Homebase. "oh, yeah, that's a no-brainer", said Steven. It works just as described; open ratchet, insert tree, ratchet up levers, let go; total elapsed time about 8 seconds vs. 10 minutes or so for old tree. You only save 10 minutes a year, but goodness, it was a stressful 10 minutes. It also looks loads smarter than our old tree stand (and in fact smarter than the tree skirt we had covering the old tree stand). As for the tree, this year we have a Fraser fir, which smells divine, looks the right shape for a Christmas tree, and has branches strong enough to hang ornaments on and sparse enough that there's room to. On all these points it compares favourably with the incomprehensibly-popular-in-the-UK Nordman fir; we will have to see how the needle drop is.

Posted by Alison at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

Dates for Your Diary

Anyone coming to the UK for Interaction next year and who likes the sort of music I do should note that Cropredy 2005 is definitely happening, and is the weekend after Worldcon. Gosh, I do hope they get Richard Thompson, Levs Acoustic and Jah Wobble.

Alternatively, if you're looking for a really good reason to come over to the UK (ie, not a Worldcon), then you might like the first Big Session Festival, which is 17-19 June. No website yet (we learnt about it at the gig last night) but confirmed are Oysterband, Eddi Reader, Eliza Carthy, Show of Hands, Martin Simpson and obviously more to come. Main stage is indoors I think (the De Montfort Hall, Leicester) and tickets go on sale tomorrow. We really enjoyed the last mixed indoor/outdoor festival we went to (Crawley). We will almost certainly be at both of these I should think.

Posted by Alison at 11:10 AM | Comments (1)

September 13, 2004

A Visit from the Airbrush Fairy

OK, so I still haven't managed to track down a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It was clearly Around at the Worldcon. People tell me it's good. And Big. People tell me it's Big. Meanwhile, here's a picture of Susanna. This is, pretty much, what she looks like, you know, here in England. This picture comes with a little note explaining that this isn't what she looks like in America -- in America, Susanna looks like this. It must be some weird glamour. Ottakar's Yossarian suggests that she's had a visit from the Airbrush Fairy. Update 28/9/04: The book arrived from Amazon yesterday, and I'm devouring it in great chunks, blinking as I return to reality every so often for, eg, meals. It's difficult, though; my doctors have told me to avoid lifting heavy weights.

Posted by Alison at 09:52 PM | Comments (4)

September 07, 2004

Bad Science of the Day

The headline screams Having Children Significantly Lowers Parents' IQs (all over the Interweb, but I got it from Bloggerheads). When you read the article, you discover that it shows that parents' IQs, when tested when their baby is six months old, are lower than before the baby was conceived.

OK. So that headling ought to read Six Months of Systemic Sleep Deprivation Significantly Lowers IQs. But that might not be quite so newsworthy, right?

I noticed that my brain function reduced substantially while my children were tiny, mostly due to sleep deprivation and exhaustion but also to some extent not having time for intellectual pursuits. And of course, as everyone ages, some mental skills wane while others improve. But overall, I think I've now recovered most of the faculties I lost in childbirth, and I'm quite sure that I wouldn't score 12 points lower in an IQ test than I did at age 18 or 30. (Not least because in most IQ tests, there aren't 12 points more to score; they top out at about 155).

Posted by Alison at 01:45 PM | Comments (1)

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)

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)

Scriptorium

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)

July 03, 2004

New Vincent motorbikes

Another illusion cruelly shattered.

Posted by Alison at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2004

It's on the tip of my tongue...

Over at LiveJournal, lyrics quizzes have evolved into the much-less-googlable Intros Quizzes. Basic model -- a zip file somewhere contains 21 intros, points given for title, artist, and creative interpretation. Or something like that.

Here's one by my ex and his girlfriend, and here's another and another.

Some of the songs in these were very hard. So we decided to do an intros quiz that everybody should be able to get a decent score on, designed to encourage people to feel good about the amount of music they know! And here it is: Alison & Steven's Easier Intros Quiz for the Musically Challenged.

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

June 07, 2004

They Work For You

From BoingBoing I learn of the public beta of They Work For You, a site which delivers a commentable, RSS-able version of the highlights of Commons Hansard. It's a marvellous, shiny thing; allowing people to comment on practically anything that an MP says in Parliament, to search effectively for their MP's contributions, have an RSS feed for your MP, and so forth.

Posted by Alison at 09:34 AM | Comments (1)

May 24, 2004

Wonders of the Modern Age

Feorag writes of a modern Jain temple designed so that the sunlight lights a statue at a particular time. My favourite example of this from modern times is that the whole of Milton Keynes is designed so that at sunrise on Midsummer's day, the sun is aligned directly with Midsummer Boulevard & is reflected in the mirror finish of the railway station.

Posted by Alison at 09:32 AM | Comments (3)

May 09, 2004

More on Dance Mats

One feature of <plokta.con 3.0> was a plethora of programme items about the personal obsessions of the cabal. One of them was mine on dancing games, and it seemed to go quite well. People asked where I had got my dance mats; from the US with months of waiting and worrying.

I've now discovered that the very wonderful source of gaming accessories, Lik-Sang, has opened a EU shipping centre. This means that when you buy from them, you have a choice of buying direct from Hong Kong, or, for products that are legal in the EU, you can buy at higher prices to have items shipped within the EU, saving worries about intercontinental shipping, VAT and duty. And they do ignition-style padded mats (the sort I have) and, for those with lots of space, full-sized metal pads.

Posted by Alison at 02:59 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2004

Phabulous Phantograms

I learnt about phantograms from Bill Burns. They're 3d pictures, designed to be printed, laid flat, and viewed with anaglyph (red/cyan) glasses at a 'sweet spot'. At the sweet spot, the object jumps out of the table at you. Terry Wilson has now posted a fabulous gallery of phantograms designed for web viewing on a monitor -- he's taken anaglyph photos of his printed phantograms. You'll need a pair of red/cyan 3d glasses to see them, which should be easy for everyone who's been following the Mars pictures. And indeed, some of Terry's phantograms are formed from the Mars images.

Posted by Alison at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2004

Never Accuse me of not being Political

Still unsure which Democratic presidential candidate is for you? Now you can see them all in 3D.

Posted by Alison at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2004

Low Humour

Today's had little to redeem it on the whole, but it was bracketed by two good laughs. I arrived at the station to see in the papers that on this huge news day, with Hutton leaking and the Government narrowly escaping the vote on top-up fees, a headline writer at the Daily Star had produced a little gem.

Today's Daily Star cover -- 'Jordan Silences Her Knockers'

And then Thette pointed me to http://www.cummingfirst.com, the website of the First United Methodist Church of Cumming, Georgia. They're dedicating their new organ at the weekend. As they suggest, "Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord".

Posted by Alison at 11:10 PM | Comments (1)

January 26, 2004

Not Safe For Work

And, indeed, Not Safe For Anywhere Else Either. Having discovered that goatse.cx has lost its website following a complaint, I'm almost overwhelmed with the urge to link to the Prime Number Shitting Goatse.cx Man. You'll notice I haven't done so. That's because if you understand the antecedent references, you will immediately guess exactly what this site is like. And if by some strange chance you don't, You Really Do Not Want To Know. Honestly. Trust me on this.

So. Go look it up in Google if you like. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Posted by Alison at 02:26 AM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2004

Media Special

Martin Freeman (Tim in The Office) has been cast as Arthur Dent in the forthcoming Hitchhiker's movie. This may just be the most perfect piece of casting of all time. (via)

Those sensawunda moments are becoming commoner. Not in fiction, which rarely inspires like it used to, but in the world around me. Only a little while ago, we would have had to look to SF to discover a reality television programme in which twelve unemployed people compete to win the chance of a job interview. I was practically foaming at the mouth before I sat down to watch Career Boot Camp, so perhaps it was for the best that it's been pulled from the schedules for the while.

In a sort of all welfare to work, all the time evening, that (non-existent) programme is followed later this evening by the first part of Shameless, a comedy drama about an alcoholic single dad & multiple kids, that has garnered rave previews.

Two TV programmes I want to watch in one evening. Gosh. And this all in a day when the BBC is reeling from the news that only one of their digital channels regularly gets a large enough audience to count, and it's CBeebies. Eh-oh! I could have told them that. Apparently one BBC3 programme cost £136 per viewer per hour to make. Woo. See, your license fee is good value. For somebody else.

Posted by Alison at 09:46 PM | Comments (2)

November 30, 2003

Invoking the Sale of Goods Act

Over at BoingBoing, Cory accuses FACT of intellectual dishonesty. A rare thing in the anti-piracy industry, after all. And for sure most of us are bright enough to realise that if we buy a DVD of a just-released movie from the suitcase of a lad in well-used running shoes, we might not be getting an entirely pukka product.

But, as it happens, as I was walking back from Walthamstow market today, I passed a consumer in the process of trying to get a refund from a pirate DVD seller because the picture quality was crap. So clearly some people are surprised when their £6.99 copy of Master and Commander turns out to be a hand-filmed copy with Chinese subtitles. I didn't stop to listen, but I did hear the poor bargain-hunter threaten to report the DVD sellers to Trading Standards.

Posted by Alison at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2003

Wiggly 3D

Xeni writes in BoingBoing about these wiggly stereo pictures of Burning Man (NSFW if your work is really uptight). I think this is the best no-viewer-required any-monitor-will-do stereo that I've yet seen; they're animated gifs of the stereo pair. I may blog stereo photos of mine in the same way in the future.

Posted by Alison at 10:20 AM | Comments (1)

October 03, 2003

Legal ROMs, tuppence a pound!

Over at Star ROMs they're selling Atari ROM sets for download. You play them with MAME or other emulator of your choice. Atari's the only copyright owner they've manged to bring on board at the moment, but they're negotiating with others. They have about 60 games, including Tempest, the game I bought a Griffin Powermate to play, and other longstanding Alison favourites like Tetris, Klax, Marble Madness and Gauntlet. Other games include 'classics of the genre' Missile Command, Asteroids, Centipede and so on. Most of the money goes back to the copyright owner, helping them to believe it's worth keeping their back catalogue available and encouraging the other companies to join in, and some of the profits will go to emulator development projects.

You buy credits, allowing you to download games. If you buy more credits, they're cheaper, just like arcade tokens used to be in my youth (and probably still are). The games themselves work out at between $2 and $6 each before the discount. The $3.85 I paid for Tempest must work out at about a farthing for every time I've played it. (I do have a legal version of some of these games, bought from Atari, but I find MAME purer to play). He gives you 15 free credits to start you off; that's not quite enough to buy one of the better games, but it allows you to download a basic game to test your MAME setup.

By paying for the ROMs, you get a nice, reliable, secure spot on the Internet to download them from. But better, you receive absolution, and a lovely warm feeling inside when MAME asks you if you're allowed to play Tempest.

Posted by Alison at 09:34 PM | Comments (1)

September 06, 2003

Look closely at their eyeballs

This is all over the web, but I can't resist it. San Francisico's The Wave magazine administered the Voigt-Kampff test to six mayoral candidates. The results are, well, amusing. One of the candidates spots what's going on; another doesn't know what a calfskin wallet is. (via Flick).

Posted by Alison at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2003

An Inexplicable Horde of Journalists Descend on Tottenham Street

I was part of London's first flash mob this evening. We gathered in pubs in Soho from 6, and then from 6:17 received our instructions.

the slip of paper with the instructions

These contained not just where we should go, but also what we should do when we got there. Mike instantly started moblogging to LiveJournal.

Mike moblogging

Meanwhile, people syncrhonised their watches, and at 6:17 we were off! Just round the corner.

watches.jpg

On arriving at the sofa store, all ready to excise the o's from our spoken voice, we discovered it was closed. At this point the mob milled around a bit, unsure what to do next.

crowd.jpg

Luckily, the security guard was nearby, and seeing a mob of people outside his store, he did what any sane security guard would do, and opened up the shop; this triggered the last part of the event, where people coveted the sofas with the words 'Oh Wow, What a Sofa', without making the sound of the letter oh.

ikea.jpg

And this is different from shopping in IKEA on a Saturday how?

After a few minutes we all dispersed; perhaps not quite as quickly as the inventor of flash mobs expected.

Posted by Alison at 12:42 AM | Comments (3)

August 05, 2003

What Will They Think of Next?

From 23 August, you won't be able to board a central London bus without buying your ticket in advance. This is because queues of people paying the driver slow down buses. Who'd have thought it?

You know, they could speed up buses even more by increasing the use of open platform buses with conductors. Wouldn't that be an innovation?

Posted by Alison at 12:36 PM | Comments (3)

July 15, 2003

Early Days of a Better Nation?

I enjoyed the VoxPolitics blogging seminar, though I think it fair to say that more heat than light was generated.

I didn't take my powerbook, and regretted it hugely when I saw a Hydra springing up around me. Hydra is the perfect application for an event like this; everyone in the room with Hydra could automatically see the document, and it meant that people could comment on the seminar as it was going on.

Speakers were Stephen Pollard, Tom Watson, Steven Clift, and Pernille Rudlin.

All very good and thought-provoking, with the exception of Pernille Rudlin, whose text appeared to be "Isn't moblogging exciting! Of course, it was invented in Japan, you know. It's much more important than computer blogging because so many more people are enfranchised. Not that you can blog anything of consequence from a phone anyway; and in fact, it turns out that most people use their phones for networking."

Tom Watson and Richard Allan were there; and promised us a third MP blogger shortly in the form of Sion Simon. Tom Watson explained that he'd taken up blogging because his website was dreadful and nobody visited it. He started websurfing and came across Bloggerheads; suddenly realised what weblogs were and that he could do it himself. He struck me as being a very typical, salt-of-the-earth, back bench labour MP; not at all the technophile I'd been expecting. He sees blogs as a tool for political participation, and is encouraging people to discuss political themes as part of Blogathon on 26 July.
He pointed out that about three members of the public, on average, come to a committee session, but the room was full for this seminar. (The commentator in me points out that this is because nobody realises that the public are welcome at nearly all sessions of standing and select committees. You don't have to queue; find out from the House of Commons site when the session you want to hear is on, turn up at St Steven's gate and explain to the policeman what you're here to see.)

Stephen Pollard initially used his site to collate his writings; after a while he realised he could write pieces for the website even when nobody was paying him. Although MPs are excited by the potential when they learn about blogs, journalists always say "but why would anyone write for free?"
He sees a clear link between blogging and political journalism. Believes that blogs are very influential in the US now, and this will spill over into the UK; that posting to a blog means that unlike writing for a newspaper, the debate continues, and the quality of intellectual argument is moved forward. Although he's not paid for blogging, he often gets ideas from his blog that he can then write paid articles about. He mentioned the possibility of fomenting grassroots involvement through websites and blogs. Quote: "People who don't see what's going on are living in the 20th century".

Steven Clift saw the power of blogging not as a democratising tool, but as a politicising one; that a few bloggers can influence policy in the US, and increasingly in the UK. He felt that the power of the web had been ignored for a while after the dotcom bust; the prevailing atmosphere was "if it doesn't make money, what possible good is it?" He spoke a little about Dean, and asked "If you have a blog and nobody reads it, do you really have a blog?" (Yes.) He points out that bloggers are overwhelmingly on broadband, feels it isn't connecting as many people as it could yet. He spoke about the Minnesota state legislature, now online all the time; legislators have desks with computers in the chamber, can get emails during debates, or correct facts, and be influenced by them. He was the one person who didn't automatically assume 'America is ahead of us'; he said a couple of times that no US representative or senator has a blog -- something I knew but that most people neither knew nor picked up on. Tom Watson is a real trend-setter. He sees blogs as a tool for local people to get involved with local politicians.

The quality of the Q&A was varied. Some discussion of whether the party machine would prevent free speech in blogs (the prevailing view was that MPs who were on message would stay on message in their blogs, and the Awkward Squad will be awkward in any case.) A worry that this technology really only supports people who are articulate, literate and informed, and who's looking out for the lumpen proletariat? (Blogs are hardly the guilty party here.) "Green ink is invisible in cyberspace"; but in fact, blogging provides a means for less extreme constituents to get in touch with their MP informally. Most people have no idea how to do this.

No serious discussion of aggregators, where next (apart from a brief mention of wikis), how to help people become politically active, issues of propriety and privacy, or the many other uses of blogs that are not political. Nor yet the notion that this may provide a way to make the political process more transparent to a huge swathe of people who believe that they currently have no power to change anything. This last is the point that really excites me; that if by blogging, Tom and others can help ordinary people understand how you use politics and politicians to make things happen that you want, people can begin to pursue their aims more effectively.

Posted by Alison at 08:58 AM | Comments (5)

July 08, 2003

Spawn

With the help of Patrick's instructions, this blog has now spawned two sweet bloglets, Trinkets and Latte Free Zone. You can still read them in the sidebar, of course. But if you're using an aggregator, they come complete with a full set of tiny fingers and toes RSS feeds, which can be found in the normal places.

Posted by Alison at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2003

Something For the Weekend

I am resolved to add a sidebar, like Patrick's, for all those links which are interesting but don't make a full post. But I haven't quite worked out how to code it, yet. It would include things like this obviously true (and spoiler-ridden) explanation of Fight Club, and the first female Iraqi blogger.

Posted by Alison at 10:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 20, 2003

Accessible Representative No. 2

The second MP's blog; and this one hand-codes his HTML on his Red Hat box at weekends. Richard Allan is the Lib Dem IT spokesman and sits on the Information Select Committee. Posts so far have eschewed the political in favour of explanations of parliamentary procedure and the trials of multiple-browser website design. Richard conforms to the rule that only MPs younger than me are allowed to have blogs. Update: Turns out Richard Allan and I share something in common; unease about overly enthusiastic implementation of electronic voting. Apparently it was possible, in Sheffield, for many people to vote twice (though there's no evidence that anyone did):

The lack of security was introduced as the lesser of two evils when compared with the alternative which would have been to turn people away from any polling station that was offline or make them wait during the evening slowdown. It would have been unacceptable to keep turning people away or make them wait hours.

Posted by Alison at 11:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2003

Bits and Pieces

From the It-May-Be-Practical-But-It's-Too-Silly-To-Use-Dept.: the NapStrap. (via Tom Watson)

Enigmo is, essentially, Lemmings Dripping Wet, and is very pretty and plenty addictive enough. (via Dr Plokta in email)

We've been re-ordering the study, so my iMac now has a proper desk of its own, and the two PCs are now tucked under the other desk and linked with a KVM switch. Kudos for Dabs; we ordered the switch mid-afternoon and it arrived (on their regular 1-3 day delivery service) the following morning. I'd understood that KVM switches could be useful, but I'd never realised how much fun they were.

Steven promptly installed Mandrake on the older PC, and is now wrestling with a pile of interesting configuration issues. I am resolutely not getting involved.

Oh, yes, and I made a serious attempt to burn the house down today; fell asleep on the sofa and was woken up by the kids going 'Mummy, Mummy, make the loud noise stop'. I'd put some black beans on to cook, and promptly forgotten about them completely. Thank goodness for the irritating nature of smoke alarms.

Finally, how could I forget the DVD audio commentary on The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky? "You view the conflict as being primarily about pipe-weed, do you not?" (via Gary Farber)

Posted by Alison at 02:24 AM | Comments (1)

April 03, 2003

All My Friends Are At the Pub

Though I did, to be fair, get a trip out to a much nicer pub on Monday. It's been a while, hasn't it? What's happened?

I'm feeling a lot better, and am back at work, though still with no idea what went wrong. My doctor is referring me to a haematologist (on the slightly spurious grounds that the only thing apparently wrong now is a blood test) in a sort of belt and braces way, but I think I'm fine. I'm eating properly (actually, I'm eating all sorts of complete junk), I'm managing to do most of my flylady routines, and I'm doing the dancemat thing again.

We seem to have invaded, not that I'm watching the news or anything. Everyone linked to the "Operation Piss Off the Planet" Onion Special Issue. But my favourite bit was the top right hand corner.

His teen appeal section may leave something to be desired, but I think there's something rather endearing about Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, with his blog. I might have an entire blogroll section for MPs, if I can find a few others whose blogs don't appear to be written by their researchers.

After last month, when we were all eating Caramacs, this month I hanker after an almost new product. Steven, who is a man who understands my tastes in confectionery, bought me a Snickers flapjack in a petrol station somewhere in England a few weeks ago. (I wasn't feeling terribly well at the time, ok? I have no idea where we were at all, except that I'm reasonably confident it was north of London.) It was quite scrummy and neatly combined all the best features of, well, Snickers bars and flapjacks. I've been looking out for them ever since with no luck whatsoever. So, if you know a handy Whitehall source, let me know.

Steven, meanwhile, is planning to buy a new bike tomorrow. His old one was looking a bit rusty, especially when compared to my Powerbook.

But mostly, I've been playing Geneforge, a non-linear, isometric rpg in which you get to roam around a map, work through a substantial plot with lots of endings, and grow beasties to fight for you. It's shareware, and the demo's plenty long enough to get you hooked if you like that sort of thing.

When I did get round to buying it, I did so as part of Ten for X Games, a compliation of interesting Mac shareware, all registered. That cost me about 60% more than Geneforge would have been on its own, but includes several other interesting looking games. Haven't played any of them, though; too busy working back through Geneforge a second time trying to find the rumoured mega Easter Egg (I've had a hint which I think will allow me to track it down).

And my mouse has definitely about to turn up its furry little toes. ("This mouse is utter rubbish," said Dr Plokta the other week, just as it was becoming erratic). Not remotely Apple's fault; I've just dropped the bloody thing off the edge of the desk one too many times. Time to put the iMac on a proper desk and relegate one of the PCs to the skip attic. Just went to look at the Apple website. �45! For a mouse with only one button? They have to be kidding.

Posted by Alison at 08:52 PM | Comments (6)

March 18, 2003

What to do While You're Waiting for War to Begin

Well, if you haven't already seen it, you could do a great deal worse than watch the Bremner, Bird and Fortune Xmas Special, Between Iraq and a Hard Place. The entire thing's available online (in RealPlayer), and very funny it is too, though it makes uncomfortable watching in places for career civil servants. (via Hixie's Natural Log)

Posted by Alison at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2003

Vast Imaginings

I just want you to know that neither of my children have ever done anything quite this weird. The really scary thing about this tale? It's seven years old.

Posted by Alison at 12:32 AM | Comments (1)

March 14, 2003

Cricket Commentators Seek Freelance Work

The Guardian's over-by-over commentary on India vs. New Zealand is taking a surreal turn today. (via Simon Bisson's LiveJournal, where opinion is divided as to whether this is a comic relief special or whether the over by over commentary is always like that).

Posted by Alison at 02:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 12, 2003

Why, it's not even May yet

My favourite line of journalism for some time, from David Aaronovitch writing in the Guardian yesterday:

What rational being would not prefer sex with a stranger to attending the Welsh Labour conference? In Swansea?

Posted by Alison at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 23, 2003

Aggregation

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

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 02, 2003

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)

January 18, 2003

Press Misrepresent Worldcon Shock

Newly on the web, thanks to the industry of Keith Stokes, is the following snippet about sf fans being abused by journalists:

Did you see the write-up ... (the magazine) gave to the convention? If you did not, you are lucky ... When the ... reporter showed up at the Hall, somebody evidently button-holed him and piloted him around, at the same time blowing off his mouth. The resulting write-up ... treated the whole thing as if: fandom were a bunch of children; pro mags catered to these children with ray gun thrillers and Martian invasion epics...; we didn't have much intelligence; and we gave off steam writing such letters as: Quote: "Gosh! Wow! Boy-oh-Boy!"

From the scans of Bob Tucker's Le Zombie 10, August 5, 1939. As you know Bob, the convention was Nycon; the magazine was Time. Le Zombie also announces "prints pictures", and indeed, the photo's clearer than some I see in fanzines now. (via Earl Kemp writing on Memoryhole)

Posted by Alison at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2003

Bloggy Snippets

Here's a good idea; long thin photos of London streets, so you can work out what that really cool shop you went to the other day was. Covent Garden is near where I work, though mostly the maps tell you that it's all a whole lot less interesting than it used to be. This one shows the Monmouth Street Coffee Shop, though, and Base, the shop where I bought my favourite jacket of all time. (via BoingBoing.)

Marianne's birthday present was the Leapfrog Explorer Globe. I'm sure she'd like it if only Steven and I would stop playing with it for a minute. We race against the clock, with Steven griping about the US-centricity and unusual enunciation, and me not having the faintest idea which continent Laos is in. It's clear that a week with this toy will teach me more political geography than I learnt in 16 years of formal education.

Meanwhile, Greg Costikyan wonders why Snood gets no respect. His correspondents quickly point out that the answer is "because it's a clone of Bust-A-Move". But the general question is a valid one. "Little games", like Bejewelled and Word Shark, get almost all of my (very limited) gaming time at present. But nobody pays any attention to them at all.

Posted by Alison at 01:10 AM | Comments (1)

January 09, 2003

Word of Mouth

OK, here's an experiment that deserves to succeed. For a while there's been some evidence that posting the entire text of books online increases, rather than reduces, sales. It's not uncommon for technical books, in particular, where there is a distinct advantage to having the physical text in front of you. Novel publishers have been slower to jump, though it's clear that the existence of Project Gutenberg has stimulated interest in public domain classics. For more recent books, the Baen Free Library includes the texts of quite a lot of good books (often, though not exclusively, the first of a series). Baen has also experimented with selling e-texts by subscription far cheaper than the paper price; and the latest David Weber novel includes a CD-Rom with e-texts of all his other books, and some by other Baen authors. Occasionally, novels (such as Geoff Ryman's 253) have been originally written for web publication, and published as novels later.

But as far as I know, nobody's tried giving away the entire text of a brand new, professionally published novel, at publication, to see what would happen. Cory Doctorow's new novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, has just come out from Tor, and Cory's released the text under a Creative Commons License. Kudos of course to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Cory's editor, and Tor Books. No doubt lots of authors would like to do this; normally the publisher is doubtful. (I bet the publisher's doubtful this time, too, but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.) Cory says "first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don't have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth".

Link everywhere. Tell everyone.

Update 10.1.03: Number 1 on the Daypop Top 40. This is what we want to see.

Posted by Alison at 08:18 PM | Comments (1)

Love Your Body

The New Republic has an article (you'll need free registration, but 'cypherpunks' works) questioning whether any of us are dying from being fat. As one of those people with a Pooh-type body shape, I've been vaguely aware for some time that the evidence was not entirely clear that being overweight was, in itself, a significant health risk.

But what about all that research?

University of Virginia professor Glenn Gaesser has estimated that three-quarters of all medical studies on the effects of weight on health between 1945 and 1995 concluded either that "excess" weight had no effect on health or that it was actually beneficial. And again, this remains the case even before one begins to take into account complicating factors such as sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, dieting and diet drugs, etc. "As of 2002," Gaesser points out in his book Big Fat Lies, "there has not been a single study that has truly evaluated the effects of weight alone on health, which means that 'thinner is healthier' is not a fact but an unsubstantiated hypothesis for which there is a wealth of evidence that suggests the reverse."

Of course, it's easy to sell books by telling people that it's all right to be tubby. The alternative view, of course, is that being overweight takes years off your life.

But this is a largely uncorrected study of the sort decried by the previous article. So, what's the real problem? The New Republic argues that it's largely the diet industry, and appetite suppressants in particular. Perhaps that is part of the tale. Certainly, I suggest you avoid diet products. They are unlikely to do you any good and in some cases they may be dangerous. But further down the TNR article is this:

Quite simply, when researchers factor in the activity levels of the people being studied, body mass appears to have no relevance to health whatsoever--even among people who are substantially "obese." It turns out that "obese" people who engage in moderate levels of physical activity have radically lower rates of premature death than sedentary people who maintain supposedly "ideal-weight" levels.

In other words, activity level is a highly significant predictor of premature death, and weight and BMI aren't. Now, overweight people tend to do less exercise, and find it harder to find exercise regimes to suit them. But if the answer's to exercise more, why the obsession with weight?

And what of our activity levels? They're not high. Those of us reading Pepys' Diary as a weblog have been struck by the extent to which Pepys' normal day, and that of everyone else he knew, consisted of walking around central London doing business with people. And he would have led a sedentary lifestyle compared to most of his contemporaries. "Moderate exercise" means the equivalent of half an hour brisk walking a day. Most of us don't do that; the article suggests only 20% do, but my guess is that this figure is high. Certainly I noticed a huge improvement in my physical fitness after only a couple of months of playing the dancing game, and I was already doing quite a lot of not very brisk walking and cycling. (via the Sideshow)

Posted by Alison at 06:55 PM | Comments (9)

January 08, 2003

Snowy Morning

My children had never seen falling snow until yesterday. There was sufficiently much snow today that many of our plans were disrupted. Outside my office window, the facade of the Royal Society for the Arts looks like a street scene Christmas card, with snow settling on roofs, window ledges, railings and statuary. While I had a rare quiet lunch with my husband, half my staff nipped out to Embankment Gardens, built a snowman, and had a snowball fight.

This is a very austere time of year, especially for journalists. But nestled in amongst the weather reports, resolutions, detox plans, and recommended fitness regimes comes this counter-cyclic article, which makes me deeply hungry just thinking about it. I've eaten some of these things, but not the majority. These reminders of the ones I have eaten (food pulled straight from the ground, extremely good chicken, durian, and so on) leave me agreeing enthusiastically. What I really need is to eat a perfectly ripe durian straight from the tree.

Bad news report of the day: Fizzy Drinks 'affect children's sleep', explains the BBC. I click through hungrily, astonished by the headline -- I know that carbonic acid isn't the best thing for teeth, but what could carbonation possibly have to do with sleeping patterns? Of course, if they'd said 'Caffeinated Drinks affect children's sleep', it would hardly have been news. The poor quality of this article is not confined to the headline; the term 'fizzy' is used repeatedly in the text too. Marianne explained confidentially to me that Orangina Rouge is her very favourite drink. Which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it's packed with enough stimulants to wake the dead.

Posted by Alison at 07:20 PM | Comments (4)

January 06, 2003

So where's everything gone?

Radio started to eat my posts. Apparently it's a bug. Anyway, I've got the posts back and they're stored in an archive. But this is the sort of thing that causes people to switch blogging tools, and I have. I've quickly upgraded my hosting package, and I'm now using the much loved Movable Type. Thanks to Dr Plokta for installing it for me, in about three minutes flat. I think it would have taken me several hours.

Changes to the default layout may happen. Archived Macadamia posts should still be here. I am importing the 2003 posts, including the chewy half-eaten ones , and they will appear, complete with their comments, below. It does not appear to be trivial to edit the time and date stamps on comments, however, so they'll be wrong.

Should you happen to subscribe to my old rss feed, you won't get any updates. The new feed is here instead. Just a different default setting.

Posted by Alison at 01:24 AM | Comments (2)

January 03, 2003

here a blog, there a blog

Time, I think, to draw your attention to Snail Musings, which has been on my blogroll for a few weeks. I can't succintly describe the theme of this careful pan through the web in search of occasional tiny particles of the philosophically transcendant. And the author appears to wish to remain anonymous, which inhibits me from writing about my personal reaction to the blog.

The other exciting new blog is of course that of Samuel Pepys. "If the diarist Samuel Pepys were alive today, he may well have used the web to record his thoughts", explained the BBC. Well, indeed, and we would have been much the poorer for it. Most political diarists do write with a view to the possibility of eventual publication, but I think it's safe to say that if Pepys had known his diary was being published instantly, it would have been very different.

Just as Pepys was publishing his first online diary entry, so Lucy Huntzinger was writing her last. The archive is still there, though. Although Lucy's diary was always intended for publication, she started it at a time when writing online was scarcely more public than writing in a fanzine. There was no particular reason to suspect, for example, that your future employers would investigate your online persona as part of any recruitment process, that your ex-partner might seek out your fan fiction, or that grubbing through the personal detritus of your colleagues would be a standard Friday afternoon trope.

The last of my houseguests, Green Amber, explained cheerfully that privacy was dead, and complained that nobody ever linked to individual LiveJournals. This was all during a chill out and detox day on which we didn't quite drink our own weight in half-price Tesco Vina Mara Rioja Reserva. She also gave me the first book I've read in 2003, Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. Of course, cookbooks scarcely count as reading 'cos you don't really do it cover to cover, and you've not properly read a cookbook till you've cooked out of it, and despite Nigella's cheerful protestations, I'm buggered if I'm going to cook seared tuna salads in the darkest days of winter. Nevertheless, I'm counting that as 1.

My New Year's Resolution, you see, is that I'm going to borrow Maureen Kincaid Speller's practice of keeping not just a note of which books she's read, but also which she's started. Do I really leave so many books half-finished? I have two on the go at present; Daniel Deronda, and The Lord of the Rings. Just call me media-tie-in girl. The Eliot is my current e-text; much more compact on the Clié than in a book. And I do not intend to become one of these people who reads LOTR every year. But having seen The Two Towers, I am struck by a desire to read about nobility.

Posted by Alison at 08:05 PM | Comments (6)