August 2004 Archives
August 30, 2004
August 29, 2004
Warning: gushy idealistic Jonathan at the keyboard again.
The stadia won't be ready. Transport will be a nightmare. Greek organisation will be a disaster. The IOC is a corrupt and wasteful organisation beset with cronyism and financial impropriety. And drug-taking is so rife, none of it matters anyway. I probably would have nodded idly to all of those charges, three weeks ago.
But they've all turned out to be either ill-founded, or plain irrelevant: the Athens Games have been an utter joy, a triumph of the Olympic spirit, and a celebration of the world and its people. The IOC might well be fundamentally broken, as has been sagely argued for years, but it really doesn't matter - incredibly, the Games is bigger even than its own organisers.
Because in the end, what matters is not committees, nor even nations - what we see is individuals, their sacrifices, their failures, and their joy. In the reality TV stakes, Big Brother comes off a pitifully poor relative.
And somewhere, in the middle of all this, one catches a glimpse of what might, just maybe, be possible as a planet and its people. As the problems that beset us appear immutable beneath months and years of political inadequacy, the Olympics serve as a timely reminder that we can, collectively, get things right.
Heh. Sport works. Fancy that.
August 26, 2004
The wardrobe is here, finally. It's huge, at least compared with the gaping hole that's no longer occupying the corner of my bedroom. Much shuffling of drawer contents, shelves and the like to follow this afternoon and evening.
Meanwhile, out to the local Indian veg shop for some cabbage; it's increasingly like a deli, lacking only marinated anchovies to be, well, basically, Peckham's at half the price. Today they had - da-da-daaa! - Earl Grey mustard, a product for which I've been searching since I managed mysteriously to lose my last jar almost two years ago. Terrific stuff.
Then a late lunch in the tea shop: more dahl, and a most excellent and surprising red Yunnan tea: smokey, but less so than lapsang souchong, and also florid.
It's a hard life.
"Hello Mr. Sanderson, we're just calling to confirm your delivery tomorrow of a chest of drawers and two trunks. It'll be between nine and eleven o'clock."
A two-hour window; they missed by an hour and a half. To their credit, however, the chaps who turned up were extremely patient with the concept that I was still in bed. And the wood, I discover, is very nearly the same as the backs of my internal doors. I knew I'd seen it somewhere before.
Just the errant wardrobe to arrive, now. It should have turned up yesterday, but apparently there was a mix-up with faxes and whether the shop assistant Geoff actually has a clue, and it didn't so much as move off the shop floor. Between nine and twelve, they say, but it's the same company as the other stuff, so...
I should be able to tell you about Jeux d'enfants, having gone to see it at the GFT tonight. But I accidentally walked into the wrong cinema, and saw an Edinburgh Film Festival screening of the Spanish wife-beating story Take My Eyes instead.
I'd love to report that this innocent blunder was the beginning of a marvelous evening, but while I did enjoy the film - not the right verb, but it'll suffice for the moment - I find myself decreasingly satisfied as the hours post-showing run on. It is, of course, an horrific subject, and one apparently rather topical in Spain at the moment; it seems there's a culture of hidden/tolerated domestic violence mirroring that in Scotland. The film is nicely shot, elegantly scripted, and the performances range from the wholly competent to the genuinely world-class. It's also far more watchable, and indeed witty, than the subject matter would lead one to expect. So what's not to like?
Perhaps it's the enormity of the subject. In attempting to address swathes of hidden culture, director Icíar Bollaín has taken her eye off some of the fine detail that's more pertinent to the specific story she's telling. Confusion over timescales, for example, becomes distracting, as we jump months between scenes with no indication to the audience.
The story centres around the abused wife, and her tragic journey from the moment she walks out, through a reconciliation that's initially tentative, then passionate, but finally bleakly futile. But she's a curiously passive character in the story, driving the narrative mostly through her choice of which doors she will enter at different junctures. Whilst this may be a realistic portrayal of a victim, for me it squares badly with the same character's transformation, apparently overnight, into a confident and enthusiastic speaker on the figurative interpretation of the works of Titian and El Greco. That this sounds ridiculous when written here rings alarm bells for me, but evidently not for the writer.
With the wife dragged along by the film's message - a stunningly capable performance mildly hamstrung by the dictated chain of events - the husband is left to carry the story. And while his choice and eventual failure is realised in clever and deliberately stark fashion, the eventual thesis, from a male perspective, is unmitigated in its bleakness. His efforts, we are told, were at best doomed to futility, but more likely dangerously self-delusional. This became more apparent through Bollain's charming, witty, but ultimately somewhat alarming interview after the screening. Much is made, for example, of the husband's perception of apology; the character's turning point when he finally does apologise to the wife is not, however, a scene included in the film. This might have been a clever choice, but for the revelation that the director had not noticed.
Is it possible for a story to be over-researched? Perhaps not, but I can't help feeling that Bollain's noble attempt to cram as much of her subject into this film as possible has not served her story entirely well. Less would, I think, have been more.
If it's worth 500 words, it's worth seeing; on general UK release in the autumn.
August 25, 2004
Hey! Jack's alarm clock made Boing Boing!
Dang. If I'd written about this thing when I'd first seen it, I'd have been, like, more hip than Cory et al. Or something.
...now there's a thing. It's been a week since I saw Ji-woon Kim's "A Tale of Two Sisters," and I'm still not sure I'm clear on exactly what happens in it. It's beautifully shot with startling performances, and it's nigh-on baffling in the story stakes. I can't say much more without seriously spoiling the plot, and that would be a pity, since it's well worth seeing. Preferably before the mooted Hollywood remake.
Of course, it may not have helped my understanding of the plot that I had my eyes shut for a fair chunk of the thing. I'm a bit of a wuss with horror films, you see. Bloody ghosts in cupboards included.
August 24, 2004
From where I stood I could see a huge beam of projected light flooding up into infinity from the reactor. It was like a laser light, caused by the ionisation of the air. It was light-bluish, and it was very beautiful. I watched it for several seconds. If I'd stood there for just a few minutes I would probably have died on the spot because of gamma rays and neutrons and everything else that was spewing out.
New Scientist have an interview with one of the workers who was on-site at Chernobyl in 1986.
August 21, 2004
August 20, 2004
It's been positively days since I posted anything seriously geeklike here: a situation which clearly cannot be allowed to continue.
Thanks to El Reg for making me laugh:
"Alienware still regards high-end gaming PCs as being a core market but it also became apparent that other types of users are willing to pay for good looking high-performance computer systems," Alienware said.
Indeed. They're called 'Mac users'.
On the other hand - and much as I respect Alienware kit, from what little I know of it it's really rather good - one has to be concerned when they're promoting PCI-Express as being exactly what high-def video editors need. Er... really? We're talking a top-end of a hundred Mb/sec or so; there's ample capacity in even bog-standard AGP to push several such streams through for video card compositing, if such a thing is possible.
Sure, bandwidth is a Good Thing; 10Gigabit Ethernet is just around the corner, FiberChannel SAN systems are the very dog's kahones, and all that jazz. And yes, I'll likely hold off replacing my glorious tank of a desktop until PCI-Express is standard on multiprocessor G5s. But purr-lease, let's be reasonable here.
"We've no idea what Owain Glyn Dwr looked like, but here's an extremely detailed three-dimensional model of a completely random Welshman anyway."
Actually, I'm rather enjoying The Battle for Wales. There are far too many easy sniping targets for criticism, mostly centred on the direction - just how many different contemporary styles are they trying to hit? And unless they failed to see Brass Eye, what makes them think the 'walk/talk/head turn/shot change/final line' device is anything other than naff? But despite all that, it's rather good fun, isn't it?
Tell you what, though - by throwing the kitchen sink of production styles at the subject matter, they must have spent a monumental amount of money. Even if the mass engagement animation tech is built on the same platform as that Eddie Mair Time Commanders thing, costume re-enactments don't come cheap.
But that isn't a criticism, either. Watching forty archers let fly is enthralling, isn't it? More lavish history, I say.
Oh, happy day. I finally toddled down the road to a tea house that opened whilst I was in Leeds. It's a new branch of a Glasgow West-end institution, Tchai-Ovna, about which chum Martin has been raving for years but I never quite managed to track down.
A few hours later, I'm Keemun'd out and have a belly full of excellent dahl, having been remarkably productive with a pad and pen whilst perched on a cushion. They claim around eighty types of tea: this could take me a while to verify, but I'm going to try.
August 19, 2004
One of the things I'd forgotten I was going to write was about cameras. I have recently not bought a camera. This surprises me, since I really really really really want a digital camera. Also, you'd think, what with the whole 'geek' thing, that I'd have had one for years already. Oddly, no. Why?
Compact cameras suck, basically. Years ago, I bought one of the original Canon Ixus models. It's absolutely beautiful, and apart from the fact that APS as a concept was a distinctly bad idea, it's about as good as non-zoom compacts get. And guess what? I've practically never used it, since it's only any good for taking snapshots, and I very rarely want to do that. I'll still, very occasionally, shove it in my pocket when I'm going somewhere, but that's about it.
I'd use a digital compact more, of course, but... no, I'm going to wait a little while longer. Because the chances are, my next mobile phone will be just about good enough for snapshot use. By the one after that, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing 'Sony Ericsson Nikon' units: it's one of the few bits of digital convergence that actually makes sense.
Besides, what I really want is a digital SLR. And I've just spent that money on furniture.
I have, it turns out, very odd tastes in furniture. Take wardrobes, for example: having wandered around a good many stores, I find that I like one company's interpretation of 'simple traditional,' but nothing else in the store. Whereas no other 'simple traditional' will tickle my fancy. As a rule, I thoroughly dislike slab-front modern wardrobes... but today one design leapt out and charmed me. In one store, I'll espy one fine-looking wardrobe, and find it's (natch) the most expensive thing in the shop. Elsewhere, I'll only like the rock-bottom cheapest. No, really, that happened yesterday. In the local bargain-basement pine store, of all places.
So this afternoon, I found myself choosing between half a dozen pieces, ranging in style from positively Elizabethan through to up-to-the-minute funk, and in price by a factor of six. What I've ended up buying surprises the heck out of me, and I sincerely hope I still like it when I get the thing home: it's (don't laugh) a faux-'Mexican Hacienda' pine number from (again, don't laugh) The Pier. Who, I should note, were an utter disaster to do business with. Extremely smug, condescending, unforthcoming, and inefficient - one of those shopping experiences where one begins to understand the implications of the casual discrimination faced daily by people from ethnic minorities. Like, oh, I don't know, women. Ugh. I'd have walked away on the deal, except that they were flogging me a £670 (again, don't laugh) 'armoire' for £230.
I also bought a chest of drawers and a couple of trunks from the same range - storage! hurrah! - ... and a chrome and glass table from John Lewis. Er... well, you know. they're for opposite ends of the flat. Nobody will notice the clashing styles. Or something.
And as for beds... oh, don't get me started.
The BBC expend considerable effort in collecting references on people working for them; curious in an industry where most people either pick up the phone and call a common chum, or got in touch that way in the first place. No, Auntie's HR flacks invariably call, their tone varying on a scale from charming to abrupt, to request an email address so they can send a 'very simple' 'one-page' form that will 'take moments' to complete.
Don't get me wrong, I've no objection to giving references. However, there are a few things I've added to my 'given the chance, do this better' rolling list:
- Don't pretend it's urgent to collect a reference when I'm quite likely to know the person in question has been in post for a good while already.
- ...especially when I'm likely to know that the contract is only a couple of weeks long. That's just rude.
- If you're going to send a form out via email and expect it to be returned as such, please make sure it works in that context. Word table cells with seemingly-random and certainly inconsistent formatting, for example, are confusing. 'Signature', in this context, means what, precisely? Do you really want a PGP hex key?
Small mercies, however: the most recent HR bod to call was polite, and has filled in the personal details bit of the form, which is the most confusingly-set part of Word template. It's just that I can't help thinking that the whole thing would be more worthwhile if somebody picked up the phone and called me for five minutes. Unless it's just an exercise in paper pushing, of course. Ahem.
August 14, 2004
From this morning's Guardian:
Groundsmen at Devizes Cricket Club in Wiltshire were startled when they lit a paraffin-soaked bonfire and a rabbit shoot out with its tail ablaze. They did not see where it went, but 30 minutes later their nearby shed went up in flames, causing £60,000 worth of damage.
What I love most about these stories is their sparseness.
August 13, 2004
Years ago, on some other website, I planned to introduce a 'potato of the month' feature. It made sense in context, what can I say?
Sadly, two crushing disappointments crippled my tuberous endeavours. Firstly, Sainsbury's, despicable toads of shameless appropriation that they are, started doing the same thing. Only, with, like, real potatoes. Bastards. Secondly, the not-quite-mentioned website upped and popped its little SQL clogs.
However, whilst clearing out old OmniWeb bookmarks, I did stumble across what was to be the source of my spudesque knowledge. Dear reader, I give you: The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee's Potato Variety Image Bank.
This, I submit, is what the World Wide Web is for.
Oh, the simple joys. ClipboardSharing does something I've wanted for many months; runs the Mac OS X clipboard as a cloud shared between Macs on the local network. So... I copy a URL from OmniWeb on my PowerBook, open a new OmniWeb window on the desktop Mac, paste... done. Very neat, lots of well-phrased options. I'll test it for a little while longer before I completely succumb, but I sense a PayPal donation coming on. VNC and Apple Remote Desktop are all well and good, but this works much more smoothly when the machines are physically in the same place.
Speaking of OmniWeb: v5.0 is finally out in a formal release version. I've been using the betas for a few weeks, watching with glee as some fairly nasty crashers have been eradicated. It's... well, it's the best web browser I've used, and I've used all the major ones, most of the minor ones, and some that would best be described as 'esoteric.' Just make sure you read the manual, since there's lots of stuff that's easy to overlook but staring-us-all-in-the-face obvious once you've seen it. Bookmark sync rocks, of course... why no Workspace syncing, hmm? ;-)
Whatever was screwing up with blogging client Ecto the last time I toyed with it seems to have gone away now. I like it, but I'm still... hmm, maybe I'm just waiting to see what Brent has in store for us in NetNewsWire 2.0. Perhaps I should sign up for his beta test?
Finally, HistoryHound looks for all the world like Serac's iRemember. Which is a good thing. I'm currently testing. The default 60-day index expiry has me worried, though - iRemember's strength was in finding things you'd seen waaaay further back than that.
'Everybody knows' that we read by recognising the shapes of words, right? It's common knowledge in the design and typography worlds, I thought.
Turns out, the designers and typographers either misinterpreted early psychology work in the field, or the psychology work was plain flawed. This excellent overview article explains all, and I think it has me convinced that I, for one, have been parroting rubbish for years.
A few comments: first, I wish I was more surprised that some psychologists had adopted the 'Not A therefore B' fallacy early on - there's some genuinely bad science on show in there, happily exposed by later work but more specifically by clearer thinking. I'm reminded of a truly dreadful paper I once saw presented at the British Association, which purported to study comprehension rates when listening to human speakers. The study concluded that comprehension did not fall off with speaker distance, which would have been surprising and interesting. However, a minute's back-of-the-envelope examination of the size of their video screen, the likely line resolution of their dodgy camera, the resolving power of the human eye, and the distance range of their study... The casual assumption that the greater the distance, the less information the subjects had to work with was not, in that study, the case. There was, in essence, no difference between their tests.
Secondly, I've said before that I admire Microsoft's efforts in typography and font design, and this is no exception. Given this work, I find it mystifying that Word continues to set type so badly, but I guess that's backward-compatability for you. At least we have Verdana and Georgia, two of the very best screen fonts available.
As for ClearType, Microsoft's type anti-aliasing system that uses the arrangement of red, green and blue dots on LCD screens to increase the effective horizontal resolution: it's not something I've had the opportunity to use in practice. Anyone care to comment? I have used Apple's similar rendering options (System Preferences -> Appearance -> Font smoothing style, for all you Mac OS X heads), but find the colour fringing distracting. Thus, I turn it off ('Best for CRT').
August 12, 2004
I read somewhere, recently, that British Olympic hopeful Michael Faulds was tipped for stardom in clay pigeon shooting very shortly after he picked up a shotgun. In those first stands, he hit 17 of 25 clays.
Pfff! I'm not impressed.
Mind you, he was nine years old at the time.
August 11, 2004
Every now and then, I remember why I don't watch very much TV. Turning over from 'My breasts are too big' on C4, I hear on BBC1 'Mark once trained to be an astro-physicist. He's been a rail cop for eleven years.' Mark then proceeds to gallantly check the toilets for offensive graffiti.
At least on ITV1 we have celebrities trying to cook for 250 schoolkids without serving them all chips. 'Celeriac? Sounds like a disease.' Quality.
Sanderson's Fifth Postulate goes like this:
All stereotypes are true.
One of the things we've been trying to do in the public understanding of science community is dispel the mythical image of 'the scientist' as being white, male, bearded, and wearing a labcoat. Oh, and probably also sandals. With socks.
In this endeavour we have, of course, been spectacularly unsuccessful. Scientists, in the public's eye, are still male, still wear labcoats, and still, more often than not, talk in strangled German accents. A dozen or more years of concerted effort by some seriously effective communicators has had pretty much no effect I can discern. Why? Well, there's the somewhat inconvenient problem that the stereotype has at least a vague connection with reality, with the possible exception of the strangled German accent. It's unpopular to point this out, but if I believe it to be the case, words like 'flogging' and 'equine' and 'deceased' come to mind. In combination.
However, it doesn't appear that we've been uniformly unsuccessful. Sure, everyone still thinks scientists are men with bubbling test tubes, but the generation heading through school and university now will change that. Why? Because they're girls. Boys' results in science and maths have been tending downward in exactly the same way oil prices haven't; girls, in comparison, are doing rather well. And, reasonably enough, they see interesting and varied careers in... well, often medicine, actually, but nobody realises medicine isn't really a science until far too late, and that's a whole other kettle of smelly fish anyway.
As a result, a significant majority of newcomers to the public understanding of science industry are women, and guess what? They're all intent on dispelling the myth of the male scientist. Because... why, exactly? Just what are we trying to achieve here?
Perhaps we should be adopting the Action Man approach: taking an old, tired, somewhat crufty image, and updating it to make it more appealing to today's kids. Specifically boys, since the girls seem to have the sense to get along quite well anyway, thanks very much.
(This post summarises a deliberately inflammatory remark made in discussion at the BIG Event a couple of weeks ago.)
August 8, 2004
I'm guessing most (both?) readers here won't know of Audioscrobbler, but: (a.) it exists; (b.) it's kinda cool in a geek-hip sort of way; (c.) they're taking new memberships again; and (d.) I'm one of the new sign-ups. I'll let you know how it goes.
Currently listening to: Home from the album When It Falls by Zero 7.
August 7, 2004
Holy cow, Scotch Bonnets are hot. Around the quarter-million Scoville mark, up there with Habanero; cf. wussy Jalapeno at 2,500 or so.
They also have a delightful fruity taste. No, really, they do. In those brief moments between stuffing one's face with yoghurt in a vain attempt to quell the sensation of imminent death, there's something almost summer-fruit about them.
I love them.
(One of these days, I really will get into posting categories.)
Oh, so many things I should have posted over the last few weeks. Stay tuned for: Bashing trees with sticks! Square-wheeled bicycles! Unexpected children! Windows trojans! Cameras! Insulting comments from my dad!
If you're really good, dear reader, I may even... [pause for effect]... no, I always do pause for effect, that's a given. No, I may even... [pause again for effect] ... write something that's actually interesting.
But I wouldn't count on it.