Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Books I Haven't Written

Over the years, there are many books that I haven't written, whilst I can count the number that I have written on the fingers of no hands. I have an unfortunate propensity for coming up with titles that amuse me, that quickly spin themselves into a story, and then as soon as I sit down to think it through a bit more, they start to fall apart, and it becomes apparent that the joke isn't sustainable beyond the mildly amusing title.

Here's an example: "One Too Many Relationships" - a racy tale of a philandering database administrator. Bit of a geek joke. If you don't get it - and I don't expect many of you to do so - consider yourself lucky.

There is one that I keen coming back to, though, and it isn't based on a bad pun. I'd love to write it, but I might end up just outlining the concept on here one day in the hope that someone else can run with it. I really like the idea, and if I were to write the novel, I would probably get ex-communicated, which would be a lovely thing to happen. That way, no-one could refer to me as a lapsed Catholic. I've never liked that expression. It gives the impression that I merely forgot to renew my subscription, rather than that I took something which was really deep-rooted in me, ripped it out and threw it away. But before I do any of that, I have been seriously jotting down notes for a possible technical manual, and putting together sample puzzles for a possible children's puzzle book.

I think something that my Lovely Husband™ said last night got me thinking of these things. I can't remember how, but the phrase "Do or die" came up in conversation, and we decided it would make a great name for a hair salon. (Obviously, the "die" part would have to change its spelling.)

This is all a bit random and unconnected. But then, so am I at the moment. I just wanted to blog something. They do say blog often, blog early. They didn't say anything about quality.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Branding & "The Unborn Child"

A quick detour before I get into the meat of this post. Possibly not the best choice of words.

I'm working at home at the moment - bliss! Some time away from being wherever I have to be throughout this green and pleasant land. And it meant I got along to The Magic Circle last night for an excellent lecture, followed by a delightful repast with some of my magical chums - all of whom blog, with variable frequency, and all of whose blogs are accessible via links on my blogroll.
I normally eat in Ask after a gathering at TMC, and although I am sometimes not entirely delighted to be eating there, they do a very generous tuna crostini indeed.

I have a load of work to crash through today, before heading off up north for the rest of the week. Still, it means I get to see my family. Yay! However, putting all that to one side, and switching on the serious ...

Back in the days when I was a seminarian, devoutly Catholic (with a capital "C"), prone to singing in tongues, and praising the Lord, I happily accepted that anyone involved in providing abortions was a monster, and any woman seeking a termination was a cold-blooded baby-killer.

If I still thought like that, these days I would probably be delighted that Peter's Chair is now occupied by the German Shepherd, about whom I heard quite a few stories some years ago, I can tell you.

How I delighted in news of Father James Morrow, the renegade Scottish priest who decided to get a little more pro-active on the pro-life front that the Catholic church would normally be.

How I poured scorn on the phrase "pro-choice" when I first heard it, dismissing it with something between disdain and disgust. How evil, I thought, to attempt to rebrand this sickening infanticide by removing the A-word and attempting to downplay the fact that little babies were being murdered.

I won't dwell here on the reasons that I changed my mind, or the long road that brought me from being an ardent pro-lifer to an equally ardent pro-choice supporter. But it was only after making that journey that I looked back and saw the very effective branding that had seduced me.

Those who call themselves pro-life aren't really pro-life at all. They call themselves that in order to avoid using the A-word, and to imply that those in the opposing camp are somehow anti-life. If so-called pro-lifers really are pro-life, then they would probably find that their mission is more readily achievable by encouraging people to shag - all the time, whenever they can, regardless of consequence. No, they're not pro-life. They are simply anti-abortion. The most important thing to them is that there should be no abortions. In some cases even when to continue with the pregnancy would put the mother's life at risk, or the pregnancy was the result of an incident of rape. I'm tempted at this point to launch into a tirade about the evils of male institutions that attempt to control and subjugate women, as indicated by a disregard for the woman and a focus on the bit that the man contributed to ... but I'll control myself.

Those whom I previously described as pro-abortion aren't really pro-abortion at all. They're just not against it. If they were pro-abortion, they would encourage all pregnant woman to seek a termination. Or if they were inclined to behave in the manner of the so-called pro-lifers, they would sneak into the homes of pregnant woman and perform terminations on them whilst they sleep. No, the most important part of the argument for the pro-choice folks (and these days, I count myself in that number) is that it should be the woman's choice.

Having made that realisation, it irks me to hear people described as "pro-life" because I now see it as an undeniably clever but nevertheless dishonest way of attempting to manipulate peoples' emotions into sharing a point of view. It's a branding exercise, in other words. And I'm not keen on those. I don't like being lied to.

And now for an afterthought about other misleading stuff.

30% less fat!

The kind of flash you might see stuck on a packet of crisps any day of the week. This kind of thing bugs me, because I know how easily less sharp-minded folks are seduced and misled by it.

When any kind of comparison is made, it's a good idea to ask for the basis of the comparison.

30% less fat than what? Than there used to be? Than comparable products? Than a block of lard? And even if you get through that bit (yippee - 30% less fat than there used to be) we could still be talking about a total fat content of 80%.

Worse still: 30% less saturated fat!

So same amount of fat, not quite so bad for you, but still unlikely to do you any favours, yet being promoted in a way that suggests it's a healthy option. Bad. Bad!

I used to live in Wimbledon. There was a department store there called Elys. A sign across the road from the main train station proclaimed: "Elys - the store that's closer to you"

Oh, that used to get my goat. (Impressive, I know. Very few department stores offer a goat-getting service.) Closer to me than what? Kuala Lumpur? Tibet? Harrods? My left bollock? Really!

Oh, and give yourself a big pat on the back if you spotted the flagrant hypocrisy in one paragraph of this afterthought.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tip For Travellers: Ironing

I am currently spending much of my time away from home, living out of a suitcase. As ever, having a nice, crisply ironed shirt every day in such circumstances can be a challenge. The main problem is that I have a penchant for pure cotton shirts rather than their (to my mind) rather more tawdry relatives of the polycotton variety. Pure cotton shirts can be a bugger to iron. The really don't want to play ball unless they're damp. And most hotel irons don't have a little squirty watery thing built into them. In fact, the majority of them don't even have steam.

I have tried a number of standard approaches to this problem, but none of them has proved entirely satisfactory. Then last week I had an inspiration, followed by a bit of experimentation, and I think I've cracked it.

I take my shirt with me into the bathroom, put it to one side, and have my shower as normal. Once I've finished my shower, instead of drying myself straight away, I put the shirt on, making sure to press the front panels against my chest and abdomen. (Note: abdomen rather than abs, but I'm working on that.) I take the shirt off, get myself dry, then iron the shirt - which by this time is damp but not soaked.

It works a treat!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bluetooth Blues

Don't you hate it when stuff that should just work just doesn't?

A couple of weeks ago, I took delivery of a bluetooth keyboard for my new iPaq - itself a bad purchase decision, because I have subsequently learned that one of Nokia's new devices would give me more of what I want, and would work better. Including the GPS bit. Plus ca change.

In theory, the keyboard should just work. I've paired it with the iPaq. They should just find each other via the magic of bluetooth, and start talking. Instead, any time I have connected them, it has been after at least half an hour (usually more) of frustration and annoyance trying to get them communicating. This morning, amongst other things, the software for running the keyboard managed to trash my other bluetooth paired devices, and still refused to connect! Until just a moment ago, when I did exactly the same things that I had been trying earlier, and suddenly it worked. The only thing that had changed was that in the meantime, I had connected my (very cheap, third party) bluetooth headset to make sure that I could connect to something! So now I am sitting on an Virgin train to Liverpool, tapping away as I whiz along faster than fairies, faster than witches.

The headset, as it happens, just works. By which I mean it does so without effort, not it does so but only barely. I went through the pairing routine once, and since then, all I have to do is enable bluetooth on the iPaq, turn on the headset, and Bob's your mother's brother. (Well, okay, I had to redo that pairing this morning after the keyboard trashed my list of paired devices.) Amusingly enough, the headset wasn't made by HP, unlike the keyboard, and the iPaq itself. Nor did it cost anything near as much as the keyboard, which I think was badly overpriced. Nor is the keyboard nearly as elegant as a similar device that I bought about ten years ago for my old PalmPilot.

Incidentally, I once tried to encourage friends and colleagues to use "PalmPilot" as a euphemism for wanker. I was hoping this alternative interpretation would catch on, in the same way that "self-starter", the hoary old cliché from a million curricula vitae, had acquired such a different, and much less positive, spin.

The reason I am blogging this today is that I spent rather a long time in Euston Station this morning, and thought I might while my time away by writing. Instead, I ended up spending over an hour trying to get the f*cking keyboard to talk to the stinking pile of overpriced shite that is my lovely new iPaq.

And the reason I had so much time to kill at Euston is that my train to Liverpool was delayed by almost an hour on account of a trackside fire and/or landslide. The whole thing is giving my flashbacks to "The Railway Children", which scared the bejeesus out of me in my youth. This trackside fire thing seems to have replaced leaves on the line as a popular excuse for bad rail service. A trackside fire caused the cancellation of services on the Eurostar a few weeks ago when myself and my Lovely Husband™ were trying to get to Bruges with some friends (we're off this weekend instead).

Having mentioned having the bejeesus scared out of me as a nipper, we've just had Easter. I hope that the light of the risen Christ may shine on you all, so that you turn away from sin, open your hearts to Jesus, and accept him as your Lord and Saviour. Lord knows (sic), he knew what he was doing. Oh yes, that dying and coming back trick, that clearly demonstrates his saviour faire. Not to mention flair. And he does it every year without fail. Now, there is an element of a problem there. You can't get that worked up and depressed on Good Friday, because you already know how the story ends. Besides, why call it "good" and then go around with a long face? However, fundamentally, although the whole thing is a bit predictable, every year Jesus goes through the same routine: dies for our sins and the sins of all humankind, and then three days later (using that odd inclusive counting thing so beloved of the Romans), he comes back. There may be lots of things you could criticise him for, but a lack of reliability isn't one of them. Every year, like clockwork: dead ... wait a bit ... tada - back from the dead! He's just so darned reliable, and I think that's the kind of trait you look for in a Messiah.

And after that, if anyone has a telephone number for Hell, I think I might as well phone up and make a reservation. If it's where I'm going to end up, I might at least try to get a decent seat.

[Time passes, as does much scenery. It's a long way to Liverpool.]

Innocent delight is something that can readily bring a lump to my throat and cause my eyes to glisten. Being a big poof probably helps in that regard, too. Travelling all over the country by chuff-chuff over the last few weeks, I have had several experiences of seeing children in streets and fields that I pass through, furiously waving at the train as it whizzes by carrying its load of jaded intercity travellers.

The sheer joy and exuberance of these little wavers, being friendly for no reason, looking for nothing more than simple acknowledgement, a returned wave, delights me. It costs nothing, but can light up an eager little heart, and a big enough older one. It's a beautiful thing.

I remember being the waving kid, looking in awe at these people on their way to places so far away that I could barely imagine it. And now here I am, having travelled to the other side of the world and back. The fact that kids still wave at trains gives me hope that not all is lost in the sea of delinquency that the gutter press would have you believe in (and be terrified of).
The fact that every waving kid could one day do things they never dreamed possible, as I have, makes me happy too. Happy for them, happy that they have so much possibility before them, and happy that they have the optimism to wave at passing strangers and give a little unconditional love to the world.

It delights me that as a result of the quality newspapers moving to the tabloid format, we now have to use the more accurate "gutter press" rather than "tabloid press" to distinguish hate rags like "The Sun" and "The Daily Express" from real newspapers.

Monday, April 09, 2007


In the rush to wax lyrical about abs and sandals, I completely neglected to include in my previous wibbling some observations about the anti-piracy ads (now, don't go confusing the ads with the abs) which were screened during the pre-show show when we went to see 300.

Let's ignore for a moment the very strong element of preaching to the choir that is unavoidably associated with these ads, and with their cousins, often to be found on DVDs, whether rented or purchased. ("You wouldn't steal a movie ... Erm ... ")

The anti-piracy ad that screens in our cinemae points out how ripped off you would be by purchasing a knock-off DVD of a feature film. The sound quality will be lower, the picture will be smaller, and you might have to put up with filmed footage of someone a few rows in front of you getting up to go for a wee.

Let's look at those things.

If you buy a pirate DVD, then like any DVD, you're probably going to watch it at home. In that case, unless you have the most amazing home cinema system known to humankind, you know in advance that neither the picture nor the sound is going to be as good as you'll get down your local [insert name of cinema here].

And even on that issue, our experience of 300 last weekend included a couple of scratches and sound pops, the likes of which we don't normally get on home-viewed DVD. By the way, if you do have the best home cinema known to human kind, let me offer my condolences - I know that they say it's what you do with it that counts, but it also helps a great deal if you've got a lot of whatever you've got.

Obviously, I'm not talking about home cinemae at this point, and equally obviously you are over-compensating for something!

Anyway, that's two of the three arguments dispatched with. And a sentence with a prepositional ending - how my teachers would weep!

What of the argument that says that if you watch a pirate DVD, you'll have to put with the twat three rows in front of the camera who just had to get up and go for a widdle during the pivotal moment of [insert name of movie]?

This strikes me more as an argument against going to the cinema rather than against buying pirate DVDs. Or indeed, an argument in favour of waiting until the DVD is released and then downloading it via BitTorrent or whatever spyware-laden peer-to-peer networking client takes your fancy.

I am not and have never been a fan of digital restrictions management (DRM) technology. The film industry's efforts to protect its revenue stream are just so misjudged it makes me wonder whether this is an industry that is as creative as it would have us believe. The fact is that any attempt to restrict digital content is doomed to failure, yet the content creators insist on trying to apply the economics of scarcity to their products, when that economic model simply does not fit.

Unlike the sad story of MacroVision that blighted VCR technology from its inception, and the even sadder fate of Digital Audio Tape, which died a death at the hands of the music industry who feared what would happen if people could make perfect, digital copies of their music, with MP3 and the various video codecs in common use, the digital cat is well and truly out of the bag, and content producers will have to come up other ways to make money from their products.

As cinemae rose to the challenge of home video by selling the experience of going to the cinema, so content producers have to rise to the challenge by selling the advantages of content ownership, or content rental.

It will be interesting to see how it pans out over the next few years.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


On Sunday afternoon (in the dark of the matinee), my Lovely Husband™ and I went to the cinema to see swords and sandals epic “300”. When trailers first appeared for it, I was rather under the impression that it was called “Zoo” because of the style used for writing the 3. I blame an old school friend who introduced me to the dangerous ways of the fancy, filigree zed that looks like a number "7" shagged a letter "g".

I say swords and sandals, and there were plenty of those in evidence. Impinging more upon our awareness were the sea of rippling abdominals and the rather incongruous rubber jock straps. Or what looked like rubber jock straps. Hey, I'm not complaining. They set off the aforementioned abs very well.

It was an entertaining piece of cinema, with a deliciously camp Xerxes and a King Leonidas who sounded remarkably like Sean Connery.

Although it’s hardly a chick flick, there were moments when I thought a box of tissues might have come in handy. (Man-sized tissues, of course. As I have said before - and will continue to say until I finally say it to the one person who is going to find it amusing - they don’t call them man-sized because we have bigger noses.)

We’re both hoping that seeing all those muscles on screen will encourage us to push ourselves a little bit harder at the gym. I’m sure I could get myself into that shape if I just … you know, worked out properly and consistently, stopped eating as much as I do, and gave up alcohol completely. Clearly, getting that kind of shape would take so little, and yield so much.

Actually, given that actors are routinely turned from 98 lb weaklings to buff hunks by the Hollywood machine, I wonder whether anyone has setup a business where they take you away for six weeks and turn you into the shape you want to be. I know I’d pay for it.