March 2004 Archives
March 21, 2004
Oh, yes - it was 'Heartbeat Run' time again. After last year's hoot, fellow-owner Harriet and I were well up for another scamper across the Moors to Scarborough. Did it live up to the joyously barking first run? No, not quite. Was that the weather's fault? Pretty much, yes. Was it still fun? Heck, yeah.
Sure, it's predictable of me to say this, since I own one and all, but there's something gloriously cheeky about the new Mini. Yes, yes, it's a hunk of metal and plastic and I'm anthropomorphising horribly, but look: imagine you're in the middle of a pack of thirty or so Minis, scurrying around twisty little roads, and everybody you pass is smiling, laughing, and waving. Yes, even the poor sods driving Mondeos in the other direction, who stopped to graciously let the first one through and now have a seemingly unending stream of the things. It brings a daft grin to your face, I tell you.
Then there's the fact that, it seems, no two are the same (high marks this year to the black one with lots of chrome, the other black one with a giant Michael Caine on the roof, and Laura's beautiful new vintage white one with beige leather interior). And then there are the owners, a diverse group who are, en masse, rather entertaining. Sure, there's a large posse of tuning-mad nutters with body kits and lights and snarly exhausts, but they're outnumbered by the kids who've dragged their parents along. And by and large the tuners are the better drivers, I reckon - they've spent serious money, after all. These aren't Vauxhall Novas.
The route this year (via Castleton, Blakey Ridge, Hutton-le-Hole, Rosedale Chimney, and... actually, pretty much everywhere) was even better than last year's; excellent roads, terrific scenery. Downsides? The leader of the group I was in was worried about her husband's dubious navigation, and as a result drove rather too quickly - not dangerously so, but you can't keep a string of 35 cars together if you're constantly at the speed limit. A bit of a shame. More significant was the weather, which was at best 'atmospheric,' and at worst downright miserable, which put a literal damper on the regrouping stops.
However, it faired up for the last stop above Scarborough, and any lingering worries about the group being a bit less sociable than last year's were laid to rest. I ran around trying to spot who'd managed to splatter mud furthest up their car. One couple had managed to spray the goopy stuff forwards over their bonnet (eh?), which I thought scored highly, until they showed me what had happened. Apparently they'd had to stop on a hill and had suffered a smidge of wheelspin when starting again. Only, they'd had their windows down. Their back seats - and, for that matter, they themselves - were plastered. Marks for artistic impression, I tell you. My own entry (pictured) paled in comparison.
Ah, fun. I may have to do the 'Rocks and Radars' Dales run in April...
A chum recently asked me - well, he pondered in my presence, at any rate - how one goes about proposing to one's love. This is not, I should note, a situation of which I have vast experience. However, anybody who does have 'vast experience' has clearly been doing it wrong anyway, so there are at least some grounds for my proffering advice.
I think, so long as you're adequately terrified of rejection, you're mostly doing the right sort of thing. All that faffing about with rings and bended knees and perfect timing and so on - sure, it's nice and all, and it makes for good stories, but in the end it's all irrelevant. Abject terror is what counts: everything else blends into the periphery.
Give it a try. Let me know how it goes.
I write an awful lot of words each year, and I'm always looking for my perfect writing environment. Much of what I do ends up in plain text, since Word is rather clumsy in many situations, and LaTeX is too intrusive/hard work.
So I'm fascinated by things like John Gruber's new Markdown, a Perl script and Movable Type plugin that generates XHTML from the sort of plain-text email shorthand most of us geeks have settled on. That is, surrounding words with asterisks for emphasis, using angle-brackets to denote links, quoting text by adding '> ' at the start of each line, that sort of thing. Here's a full list of the (modest, manageable) Markdown Syntax. The key idea is that text intended to be parsed by Markdown should still be perfectly readable as plain text.
This isn't the first such attempt: Setext and Textile have similar goals, amongst others. But Markdown looks like it might be simple enough to use without getting in the way. In fact, I can see only two problems:
First, my own personal email/newsgroup posting style seems to have evolved into using square brackets to denote something akin to stage directions. Which is unusual, but works well enough for me. Unfortunately, Markdown uses square brackets for its link syntax, so all of that breaks. As my friend Conor observed twelve years ago, while writing his own programming language, "Oh, shit! I've run out of bracket types!"
The second problem is more serious: I need to find an editor that handles text as I want it to. BBEdit behaves like a code editor, indenting lines only when asked - so an indented line does not wrap to the same indentation level. JEdit will do that beautifully, but it's a massive, clunky app with a slightly nasty Java interface and far too many options pleasing far too many people in far too many places. Pepper did exactly what I wanted... but it's never been entirely happy under Mac OS X, and development seems to have ground to a halt. Pretty much everything else seems to work either like BBEdit, or like the standard TextEdit. As a result, I find myself writing more and more in OmniOutliner, which has its own annoyances. Perhaps I'll just have to write my own editor.
Strange, isn't it? The personal computer revolution is getting on for thirty years old, and we're still finding new ways of handling that basic commodity, text.
March 10, 2004
Filed here in the hopes I can find it next time: Amazon's 'used' book selection is a always a bit vague, but a few sites offer a clearing service for multiple dealers. Advanced Book Exchange I've used before, with extremely good results (though I guess that's down to the individual dealer). Biblion also looks interesting, the online arm of a large London dealer conglomerate.
March 4, 2004
'Does anyone really know what to expect of FuseLeeds04? [...] In the midst of the garish and, it must be said, almost incomprehensible brochure...' (The Guardian)
"In autumn 1998, Gary Husband seemed suddenly to be gripped by a force bent on undermining a successful commercial career as a musician. A busy session player, Husband had also been widely admired for his work at the drums with the rock band Level 42. But he suddenly cancelled gigs, stayed in his flat in a dressing gown for a fortnight..." (gig programme)
"These aren't so much pieces as... evocations." (Husband)
"So, the next one is evoking Bacharach?"
"No, that was the last one. This one's evoking Bj�rk."
"How can you tell?"
"I read the programme. Look, it goes on about dressing gowns rather a lot."
"When they're enjoying themselves, do they look more or less intense?"
"I think they start nodding."
"There are only two berets in the room, and they're both on stage."
"Shame. Good pony tails, though. And look - there's a part-bleached mullet. You don't see those every day."
"The dark-haired woman in front of us is my pole-dancing class. She completely blanked me just now."
"So... the people she's with tonight don't know she's going to the classes?"
"Shall we tell them?"
"Are they applauding the solo, or what might be the beginnings of a melody?"
"Don't... oh, you've jinxed it now!"
"I'm going home to play video games. Are you coming?"
"No, I'm quite enjoying this part, actually."
11:30pm, Radio 3, Friday. 'Highlights.'
March 2, 2004
Sunday: finding myself unexpectedly in Leeds, I elected to amend the situation by removing myself from it. Leeds, that is.
So it was that I found myself barreling merrily up the A64 past York, heading Moor-wards, into the snow beyond Pickering. A quick detour into the hamlet of Lockton to view the old family retreat convinced me that kite flying at Levisham was a bad idea on two counts. Firstly, the Bank would likely be impassable (and with a 200ft sheer drop on one side of the road, ice is best avoided, I find). Secondly, the day was completely still. So, Whitby it was.
Ah, the coast. It's far too long since I've seen the North Sea, and let it chill my toes. Which is a timely reminder that my walking boots' waterproof layer has now completely given up even pretending.
Having fought the seagulls in an attempt to reclaim at least a few of my chips, I decided against stinking the car out with some kippers (just as well - the shop was shut anyway), and headed back via Egton and Blakey Ridge. It's always a moonscape up there, but with snow piled a metre deep at the side of the road and a setting sun blazing the sky russet it's quite extraordinary. At minus 3.5 (according to the Mini, which was probably exaggerating in an effort to dissuade me from trying any more side-roads) it was also ruddy cold, so I high-tailed it back to Leeds.
A wonderful afternoon. Sorry, no pictures - I had with me no electronics at all. You'll just have to take my word for it.
It would be remiss of me not to note that the pole-dancing class mentioned only a couple of stories further down this page was reviewed in Saturday's Guardian Guide. Described as 'now an accepted form of alternative fitness, guaranteed to improve upper-body strength and muscle tone,' the story nevertheless notes that 'in evidence [are] bare legs - due mainly to the fact that the required pole adherence is never going to happen in tights or denim.'
Right, thanks, that's fine. Far more than I need to know.
The lapwing are back! Well, a few of them, anyway.
Lapwing are curious birds. Pretty, in a fairly functional sort of way, they have wings that are altogether too broad and blunt for their diminutive size, with the result that they seem physically incapable of flying in straight lines. Instead, they'll wheel around crazily, performing mad wing-overs and Immelmann turns, as they try to reduce the lift they're generating enough to get back to terra firma. They're like the avian equivalent of the Pitts Special, endlessly looping by accident while attempting to land.
When I was growing up in East Yorkshire, the fields were full of thousands of the things. Or rather, the skies above the fields were full of them, all trying to land but missing by a country mile and cartwheeling into the nearest barn instead. Then they disappeared - within a year or two, the population fell so far that, for the last half-dozen or so years, I don't recall seeing any.
This year, they're back. Still in nothing like their old numbers, but there's a good-size flock near the A65 just South of Skipton, and I saw several small gatherings up on the Yorkshire Moors this afternoon. They still seem to be flying completely out of control.
Welcome back, lads. It's good to see you again - I've missed you, you crazy-flying bunch.
March 1, 2004
Geek week is almost over, here at The Daily Grind, but we have room for just one more post before we start publishing interesting stuff again(1).
None other than Eric Raymond 'gets it' about Linux, during a fraught session attempting to set up shared printing between two Red Hat boxen. I have reams and reams of logs exactly like this, from pretty much every occasion I've used a Linux box for anything of any significance.
My take: Linux does have a long way to go before it's a genuinely viable end-user desktop OS, but it is getting better; recent Mandrake releases have been really rather good. However, contrast with setting up a shared printer on my parents' Mac network: System Prefs -> Sharing -> check 'Printer sharing.' Firewall automatically modifies itself to allow traffic; Rendezvous stuff lets the other Mac see the shared device immediately, with no configuration of the clients at all. Job done.
Now, I've seen comment to the effect that setting up CUPS on a Mac is no simpler than it is on anything else, and I suspect that's true, but it still fascinates me that this sort of problem isn't more attractive for Linux folks to solve. That ESR himself should be narked by this stuff gives me hope.
(1). Who am I kidding? Like I'm going to stop geeking out in public. As if.