Friday, September 12, 2008

Ranting Homo

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way home one evening with my Lovely Husband™. We were sitting next to each other on a Central Line train, as we are wont to do. At one of the stations, another gay couple got on and sat opposite and down a little from us. I was busy playing my Nintendo DS, my man was listening to some music. And on we trundled. I was vaguely aware that the other couple were chatting away, and it was pretty obvious that they were a couple.

As we approached Mile End, my Lovely Husband™ suddenly shouted to someone opposite and down the carriage a bit "What the fuck is your problem?"

I was a bit taken aback. I think one half of the other gay couple had the same thought as me - that he was aiming his anger at them. It quickly became apparent that the other gay guy was not the target of my Lovely Husband™'s anger. Rather it was aimed at the man sitting beyond him.

It seemed that this fellow had been making gestures to the chap sitting opposite him suggesting that gay people should all be strung up, or kicked down. We had a homophobe on our hands.

Here's a photo of one, so you'll have an idea of what they can look like. I must point out, though, that the one we encountered wasn't as good looking, and probably doesn't have a talented, if somewhat misguided, wife. Then again, they might both be in the same boat in that regard within a few weeks.

While I've got his mug grinning at you, I read an interview in that gospel in newsprint form that is Metro (or perhaps it was London Lite or The London Paper - but I'll pretend it's Metro because I like the fact that the editor has the same name as me). When Guy Ritchie was asked about Christopher Ciccone's claims that he is homophobic, he trotted out the standard homophobic defense: "I'm not scared of them, it's not a phobia."

Yawn.

However, he betrayed his arrogance when he then went on to claim that his discomfort around The Gays is entirely normal, and shared by 90% of straight men. What a pig-ignorant, self-satisfied, omphallocentric tosser. If he "thinks" something, then he arrogantly assumes that everyone "thinks" the same. Really, the man should get out more. No wonder he's only enjoyed success with one film (and a couple of variations on the same theme). Narrow-minded prick.



But back to the tube.

So, my Lovely Husband™ completely has a go at this guy, who was initially a bit blustery and clearly embarrassed at being called out on his behaviour. There was no stopping my man. He tore strips of the guy - verbally - and when the guy started trying to have a go back, he tore some more. Despite the obvious tension, he said what he said with sufficient aplomb to get most of the people in the carriage on his side, and the other guy was on a ticket to nowhere. As it happens, the phobe was getting off at the next stop (Mile End), as were the gay guys that he had been making his gestures about. One of the couple shook hands with both of us on the way out, the other was enthusing about how awesome the whole thing was, and dashed back onto the train again for another handshake and a "That has made my entire year!"

I think the best line that came out in the heat of the moment went something like this:

"If you've got so little self respect that you have to try and feel superior to people because you happen to be straight and they happen to be gay, maybe if you got you fat arse down to the gym and lost a bit of weight you could get some self respect without having to do it at anyone else's expense."

Of course, having lost the target for his ire because the guy had gotten off the train, along with his victims (who were no longer feeling like victims, since the bully had - like all bullies - caved when confronted), my Lovely Husband™ was now all fired up with nowhere to go. Exactly the wrong moment for the other guilty party - the guy at whom the phobe had been making the gestures - to decide do anything other than sit quietly and let everything settle down.

"And you're no better - you were encouraging him!"

Now, this other guy did a better job of defending himself, and did seem, initially at least, more prepared to have a go. The realisation seemed to dawn, however, that he didn't have the sympahy of his fellow-travellers on his side; and that by now he was one, and we were two. Eventually, the guy sitting next to me got both sides to pipe down, and the rest of the journey passed in relative peace. But oh my - my man did a big bit of flying the flag for gay rights that night. And even though I'm far too British to have actually savoured the confrontation, I was very proud of him standing up to unacceptable behaviour and actually being prepared to tackle someone's public wrong-doing. Inspiring.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The O.C.

The last year has been a bit tough on the job front, with a few chunks of time spent on the bench desperately scrabbling around for something new, and mournfully watching as our once-proud savings account started to detumesce. However, I've been gainfully employed for a few weeks
now. The rate isn't great, but it's a decent length of time, and I'm making the most of it by getting experience in an area that I expect will grow over the next few years, and it's never a bad thing to be able to claim lots of experience in something that everyone wants. Also, they promoted me after the first couple of weeks. Yay! No extra money, but it will look great on the CV. I'll make sure it does.

I have worked in the same profession for 16 years, and spent a significant proportion of that time in the offices of large corporations. Consequently, I can say with my hand on my hard that I have a good handle on what counts as normal within such an environment. It also means that when I see abnormal, it stands out like a Christian in a porn shop.

I'm working in Docklands again. I quite like it there. It's an easy commute for me, not especially long, and it's handy for a branch of my gym. Being in Docklands, everything is a bit science fiction, new and shiny, modern and a little bit sinister. Too clean, too perfect, too calm. Much like Singapore, I'm told.

And on the subject of too clean, here's where the abnormal thing happens. It took a few days for me to notice it, but once I had, I can't stop noticing. Every day, at least four times a day, but it could easily be six, someone comes around to dust all the communal cupboard areas. Now, it's true that folks are in the habit of leaving team biscuits on here so that anyone can help themselves. (When I say team biscuits, I don't mean that in a rugby team sense; although the white chocolate chip cookies did make me wonder.)

Keeping the place clean and tidy is one thing, but four to six (or more) times a day? That's just madness. I wonder whether someone on the board of directors has an obsessive compulsive disorder, and has mandated that their obsessive cleanliness should become a way of life for everyone who works here. It truly is bizarre. How much dusting does a corporate stationary cupboard need in a day?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Run away!

So last weekend I find myself standing in a queue at our local off-licence. I say local. There is one that's closer, but the staff are terrible, spending most of their time in their little office in the back getting very high indeed, and generally not giving a shit about their customers, their shop, or their stock. And they know fuck all about wine. Which you don't expect in Threshers, you really don't.

Queueing in front of me - this is the borders of Essex after all, so bottle stores usually have a queue - are two Young People, one of either sex. The male one sported sequin clad gym pumps and a matching belt. They might have been a bit theatrical, their conversation suggested as much, but I have an inkling that when it comes to theatre, this young fellow has it in much more than just his blood. Oh, and he was wearing heavier makeup than a Northern lass out on the lash. The last time I saw that much foundation, they stuck the Gherkin on top of it.

Apropos of bugger all, the chap behind me suddenly leaned in close and said "Bolt!"

"Huh?"

"Bolt!"

"I'm sorry?"

"Bolt!"

At this point he gestures vaguely to something that he is resting on his shoulder.

I had taken his utterance to be an imperative. He was telling me to run away. At first I thought it was a threat, that perhaps he was about to hold the man at the till at gunpoint until he had mixed him the perfect vodka martini, or whatever it is that these criminal types do. When I realised that he wasn't threatening, my next thought was that he was making an uncharitable (and homophobic) comment on the campness of the little theatrical Mary in front of me.

But my puzzled face had triggered a response from the harpy accompanying the chap, and she shrieked something about not everyone watching the Olympics. The chap then said to me "Bolt - he's the fastest man in the world."

"Oh, right," says I.

"He won the (whatever races it was) and broke (whatever world record or records he broke)."

"Did he? Well ..."

The harpy joins in again about not everyone watching the Olympics. They exchange views on whether it is reasonable to assume everyone in the country ought to have known what the guy was talking about because the vast majority of people have been sitting glued to their television sets for the last few weeks. (Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that I actually have a job, and whilst their number may be growing, I don't think you can accurately refer to the jobless as the vast majority of people in the UK. Not yet, at any rate.)

As if offering further explanation, the guy said "He's Jamaican," and indicated towards the thing over his shoulder again. I think it was a Jamaican flag. I'm not very good with flags. I'm not sure how this was meant to allow me to make more sense of the earlier exchange. The guy didn't sound at all Jamaican, though he could have had some ancestry from that part of the world.

What perplexes me is that I really do not understand what reaction he was expecting. What on earth did he think a random stranger would do when someone comes up to them and tells them to bolt?

Sport? No thanks. I'll stick to faggotry, thank you very much.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Base Knowledge

If someone were to create an on-line knowledge base for people like Gary Glitter, what would they call it? I mean, wikipedia is already taken ...

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Festive Season

We spent a long weekend at the Edinburgh International Festival. Or one of them, at least. The event has grown so much over the years that these days it's something of a cultural hydra, with the Fringe possibly being the biggest bit of it. And what a marvellous time we had - once we got there.

The train journey was bad, but could have been much worse. As a result of some severe delays and overcrowding, we got there almost an hour later than planned. It seems the latest money-making wheeze amongst the more desperate elements of the criminal fraternity is to steal copper cabling from railway points and resell the metal. Noice.

So, we got to Edinburgh a bit late, popped over the visit the friends we were staying with and drop off our stuff, and then headed out to meet up with a chum of mine from Aberdeen who had sorted out tickets to a magic show by young mentalist, Chris Cox. I might review that at a later date. After a quick bite and a change of venue, it was time for Scott Capuro, who really pushes the envelope of what he can get away with saying, and made me laugh a lot. He's actually friends with one of my dearest chums, and we've had dinner together, but since he spent most of that evening drooling over the waiter is doesn't really feel like I've actually met the man.

We did a late show that night: Slutty Livin' starring Livinia Slutford, the latest altar ego of and comedy vehicle for Jonathan Hellyer. Utterly, utterly amazing. Every time I see this guy perform I am blown away by his vocal talent. Of course, as Nick's blog makes clear, regular visitors to The Royal Vauxhall Tavern on a Sunday get to enjoy this kind of thing every week, and indeed, some of them even got to see the preview show in London before it launched in Edinburgh. In looking for a link to the show, I learned on Jonathan's web page that he was the guy who replaced Jimmy Summerville in Bronski Beat, and sang opposite Eartha Kitt on Cha Cha Heels - to my mind one of the campest pop songs ever recorded. Marvellous.

The next day I popped out earlier than my Lovely Husband™ to see a show starring Arnold Brown. He's a Glaswegian Italian Jewish comedian. As he puts it, three stereotypes for the price of one. Unusually for Edinburgh, he had a warm-up act. I can't remember the guy's name, but he wasn't very funny at all, and had awful comic timing. Arnold, in contrast, shone, but not as shiny as I've seen him in the past.

Later, my Lovely Husband™ joined me and we headed off to see Phil Kay in his 20th year at the festival. He and I studied philosophy together at Glasgow University, although we didn't know each other. I remember seeing him on TV a long time ago and thinking: he sits a few rows in front of me on Monday mornings. He was amazing, as always, although sadly his performance was seriously marred by his friends. He had generously brought a very large bunch of young people with him and given them free tickets. The rewarded his generosity by interrupting his show, talking loudly during his performance, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. To his credit, Phil tried to get them behaving a bit better, and managed to get the show more or less back on track, but we were both angered to see this lovely, gentle soul showing so much respect and having so much patience with a crowd of boorish loudmouths who didn't give him the same respect in return.

Sunday night, we had dinner with the friends that we were staying with, and that was a very pleasant evening indeed.

And then on Monday, my parents arrived ... more of that (and pictures) later.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Nudles

One of the less acknowledged facts about healthy eating is that wholewheat pasta is much tastier than normal pasta, and has a much more interesting texture.

So far, so good.

Another not very well acknowledged fact is that noodles, as used in a variety of cuisines, particularly those of Asian countries, are pretty much the same as pasta.

Take these two facts, and add the third. It's much easier, in UK supermarkets, to get your hands on fresh wholewheat spaghetti than any other type of fresh wholewheat pasta.

Put them all together, and you can start using fresh wholewheat pasta to accompany stir-fries, pad thais, all manner of dishes. And it's yummyumum and then someomeome.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pbuh!

Following on from my last post, and Frobisher's comment on it, I was reminded of one of those things that I've been meaning to blog about for some time.

A while back, I visited an old friend of mine who now lives in one of the Home Counties. He teaches religious education. Indeed, he is the head of the department. He tells me RE these days is a deeply interesting subject, encouraging the kids to think long and hard about the questions that it raises, to confront and challenge their own and other peoples' assumptions, to take arguments to bits, etc.

However, I was utterly shocked to learn that nowadays, in every textbook produced in the UK, any time Muhammed is mentioned, the letters PBUH are added after the name. (Sometimes in brackets.) It stands for Peace Be Upon Him, which is what devout Muslims say any time they utter The Name.

I have no issue with them choosing to do that, but I think it is seriously misguided, perhaps even gravely misguided, to kowtow to Muslim sensitivities by obliging everyone to carry out this act of reverence.
We don't do it for other religions. I was brought up Catholic, and in the Catholic tradition - as it is expressed in central lowland Scotland, at least - you are expected to bow your head any time you say or hear the name Jesus. (Holidays in South America are understandably not very popular with Scottish Catholics.) If schools are obliged to add PBUH after every mention of Mo, why shouldn't everyone have to follow the Catholic practice of bowing every time they hear or say the name of the Big J?

If followers of Islam expect everyone else in this country to enforce their tokens of reverence, why should Buddhists not do the same? They always refer to "Our Lord Buddha", so wouldn't it be reasonable for them to expect everyone else to say that too, or at least a variant on it (Lord Buddha, for example)?
And what about those of the Jewish faith? They are prohibited from speaking the name of god. Shouldn't we also observe that rule and never say Yahweh? (With or without the aspirated "h".) Admittedly, it's not a word that comes up often in conversation, at least not in mine, but all the same ... Perhaps in textbooks it should be written Y****h.

These religions seem to accept that it is inappropriate for them to seek to impose their religious practices, observances and small acts of piety on people who do not share their faith. Catholics (and possibly Anglicans) genuflect in their churches, but they don't really expect non-believers or those of other faiths - even other Christian faiths - to do the same.

Why do followers of Islam seem to think they can call the shots, and demand that we all follow their religious observances? More shockingly, why do the institutions of this country let them call the shots in this way, and actually go along with their demands? Freedom to practice one's religion is fine, but when you step outside of your own freedom and start encroaching upon the freedom of others by seeking to control their behaviour, you are on very dodgy ground indeed.

Is it any wonder Islam is growing in the UK? They wholeheartedly embrace an ethos of bullying people into doing what they want. How could that fail to appeal to weak-minded, disempowered, poor urban youth?

Be a bully, get your own way, gain respect. Unearned.
If you saw it in an email, you'd assume that it was spam.


Choose Islam.

Choose a faith.

Choose a set of rules.

Choose a fucking big stick for hitting people who disagree with you. Choose to be told what to eat, when to eat, how to pray, who to associate with, where to holiday, who to marry. Choose halal meat, no alcohol, homophobia, misogyny, and wilful ignorance. Choose to give your money to people who'll help you destroy the country that gave you the money in the first place along with the freedom to spend it. Choose to demand respect without earning it. Choose to disrespect everyone who doesn't agree with you. Choose robes. Choose beards. Choose little white knitted hats. Choose to dress like you live in a desert, even though you were born and raised in Leyton, Berwick or Halifax and the nearest you've ever been to sand was a school trip to Southend. Choose what the women in your life should wear. Choose sheets as clothes. Choose to hide the love of your life under a sheet because you're so fucking insecure you can't bear the thought of any other man seeing her face. Choose domestic abuse. Choose sheets that will cover it up. Choose bombs. Choose hate. Choose limitations on your freedom. Choose to undermine the freedom of others. Choose to give up your autonomy. Choose not to think for yourself. Choose not to think. Choose to feel. Choose to have your feelings dictated by someone else. Choose to be told what to do by old men seething with pathetic envy. Choose to interrupt your life several times every day for prayer. Choose to limit your consumption of literature to a single book in a language you can't read. Choose to accept everything you are told about what that book says, as long as it confirms your own prejudices. Choose not to worry about any of the complex things in life. Choose laziness. Choose not to choose. Choose voluntary brainwashing. Choose cognitive dissonance. Choose to limit your horizons. Choose suicide bombing. Choose an afterlife of virgins.

Choose Islam.

(With apologies to Irvine Welsh.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Marriage Of Inconvenience

Made-up rumour of the day:
Foppy-floppy English actor Jude Law was rumoured to be have pursued big-haired country diva Shania Twain for a possible romantic liaison. In the event, they decided not to take matters any further, because they didn't like the idea of the children being brought up under Shania Law.

And in other news ...

On a not very related note, I am working on a parody of tonsurial apiarist Amy Winehouse's hit single Rehab. It seems to me that a growing minority in the UK are using their claimed religious beliefs as an excuse for intolerance, and using religion for political / personal-politic gain and power-playing. Like the teacher who wore a full veil when teaching tiny little children to communicate. Ridiculous. I suspect that many of these people wouldn't actually enjoy a life lived fully under the banner of their belief system, and if push came to shove, they would chose the freedoms of Britain over the harshness of scripture-based systems of "justice". This parody is aimed at them. It's a work in progress, but here's the first couple of lines:
They tried to make me go to Riyadh
But I say no, no, no.
I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Amazing Appearing Pounds

People often ask me whether I can make money appear. If I'm performing in a paid gig at the time, I laugh politely. If it's not in the context of a paid gig, and I'm a bit more at liberty to display my genuine response to such a question, I pour scorn on their lack of originality and usually try to encourage everyone in the room to point and laugh mockingly.

(I don't do that when my Lovely Husband™ makes his gag about doing something about the dishes using magic. He says it every time, but then he has seen the tricks hundreds of times, and for some of them, knows every line as well as I do.)

Obviously, if any magician could make money simply appear, we wouldn't feel the need to ingratiate ourselves into sometimes charmless company and attempt to raise a smile, an eyebrow, or better get a gasp of amazement. As Jerry Sadowitz once memorably put it, "If I could do this for real, I'd be lying on a beach in the Bahamas with fifteen shades of lip gloss working their way up and down my cock."

Yet I noticed that I have been able to make pounds appear. Oh yes. Every since I came back to the UK in fact. I was looking through some photos last night (or possibly the early hours of this morning) and was shocked at how jowly I've become in the space of 3 years.
Let's see.
The picture on the left, of your author sporting a bow tie and a somewhat "I've just shat my pants" smile* was taken towards the end of February 2006, more than 6 months after I got back. (I was at the civil parternship of some very lovely friends in Cambridge.) The picture on the right was taken a couple of weeks ago, just before we took the father of my Lovely Husband™ to the airport at the end of his European Tour. There's a lot more of me in the second one. I need to sort that out.

Made up quote of the day:
"He tried speed dating to no avail, but switching from speed to rohypnol made a huge difference."

*I hadn't.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Court Mayhem

Where we live, on the countrified outskirts of Olde Londone Towne, it's peaceful and idyllic (as long as we ignore the queens shagging in the trees just down the road from us).

So, I'm a bit concerned about a recent development. Middle-aged women who have siblings have taken to having lots of parties in the court where we make our abode. I for one am deeply concerned about this rise in aunty social behaviour.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Health And Safety

During my last contract, I was obliged to complete a health and safety assessment at work. What a complete waste of time.

It provided me with no new information, only confirmation that the whole health and safety industry serves two purposes, neither of them remotely aligned with the purpose they claim to serve. Those two purposes are job creation and arse-covering. The former serves those who work within the health and safety industry. The latter serves the employer.

The course assessment at the end of the online course that I was obliged to do produced a list of changes that I needed to make to improve my work environment. If for any reason I failed to implement these changes, I would be in no position to sue the employer because, hey, they had made the appropriate recommendations. Never mind that in most work places, it isn't possible for me to set up a desk to conform to all the rules.

One problem that I have with all of this is the implicit sexism within all the courses. They go to great pains to ensure that if you're little, and your legs dangle, then there is a way you can still get into the officially recommended position at a desk. They make no such provision for those of us who are taller. If I adjust my seat to the recommended height, I can't get my legs under my desk. I've only ever once worked in a place which had desks of adjustable height, and most people didn't bother adjusting them.

I say implicitly sexist because a lot of the "information" on these courses is very obviously based on years old, outdated research from an era when the only people sitting at the desk working a keyboard were female secretaries. Hence the emphasis on what to do if you're too short (women are generally shorter than men), and little or no emphasis on what to do if you are too tall, since the men are always away from their desks doing the real work of business and enterprise. Apparently.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Musical Tags

Hello blog. Hang on.

*blow* *rub* *wipe*

Just get rid of the dust a bit. It's been a while. Two whole months have gone past since I last mused in public. There have been lots of instances when I almost wrote something, but clearly none of them pushed me quite so far as to actually put finger to keyboard. But now, thanks to the ever-lovely Mandy Davis, who tagged me with a music-related meme, I'm doing it, really doing it.

So, to the meme. The original instructions for it came from Brian Sibley, and 'twas he who tagged Mandy, and why I got tagged, too. The "to do" thing is:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now.

So here goes. In no particular order.

I Just Wanna Dance (Alison Jiear)



This song has been in and out of my awareness for a while now, and I'm grateful to Nick for mentioning it in a recent post which nudged me into finding out more about it. And even more grateful to him for enabling me to hear several different versions of it. The song comes from Jerry Springer - The Opera. If you haven't heard it before, the name of the show might serve as a warning about the lyrical content. It's always good when we hear a song that accurately expresses something that we have felt ourselves, and this one certainly does that for me. Incidentally, the YouTube clip is a popular dance remix of the song, accompanied by a mixed bag of clips from films. It's very well put together, and delightful to play "spot the movie". Baz Lurman is well-represented, and there's lots of bits of Xanadu, but there's so much more - it's a treasure trove. I must confess that every time I watch this video, I have goosebumps of delight by the end of it. And if you fancy digging around a bit on YouTube, there are also some very funny clips of young queens lip-synching to the song


Cry For You (September)



In looking for this song on YouTube, I learned that it's not called You'll Never See Me Again after all. Always learning. I love it. It has a hypnotic quality that I find really appealing. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that lots of straight men like the video.

With Every Heartbeat (Robyn & Kleerup)



I think I saw the video for this a few times at the gym, but didn't know what the song was because although I could see the screen, I was plugged into my MP3 player and my own choice of music. The video always appealed to me, with its St Martin's film student feel, and when I finally heard the song, I immediately liked it. I was especially impressed with a section towards the end when the words "and it hurts with every heartbeat" are repeated several times, but sung in short little bursts of sound, so you can actually hear the hurt. Noice! Different. Unyoosual.

Black and Gold (Sam Sparro)



I can't embed the proper video this one on the page, but I've made the title into a link to the relevant YouTube page. I first saw Sam Sparro on a late night chat show. Probably Jonathan Ross, although it may have been the Friday Night Project. It took a few seconds for me to get hooked, but then the sheer sexiness of the voice got to me. My Lovely Husband™ pointed out that he has a very gay energy, prompting my to do a bit of digging on that there interweb. I came across the usual set of indignant teenage straight girls complaining about all these rumours that their beloved Sam might be a shirtlifing pillow-bighter. And then my Lovely Husband™ brought home a copy of Attitude featuring an interview with the man himself, in which he talks about his boyfriend, who is also his stylist. A few repeat listens had me admiring the lyrical content of the song, and the video is fun, stylish, sexy and shows a nicely restrained element of camp, I think.


Four down. Three to go.


Dragostea Din Tei (O-Zone)



I think I've posted a link to this one on my blog before, but it's worth repeating - and I still listen to it regularly and love it. Funnily enough, when chatting with Nick about I Just Wanna Dance, it came to light that we have both learned the lyrics to the song despite neither of us having any fluency in Romanian. I can't listen to this song and not feel happy, although I have a strong preference for seeing O-Zone perform it rather than the fat bloke who made it popular on YouTube, and renamed it "Numa Numa".

Don't Stop The Music (Rihanna)



This is another one where I can't embed the official video, so the title provides a link to the relevant YouTube page. The embedded video above has the right song, but the wrong video. Catchy. Mind you, most stuff that Rihanna has done is catchy - like that bloody umbrella song. Which I loved despite myself.


About You Now (Sugababes)



This is a great song for dancing to. It reminds me a bit of Avril Lavigne, and of many happy nights dancing my socks off in Popstarz. And of course, some of the remixes are absolutely fabulous.

Is that seven? Yes, it think so. Right. I'm done. But I'll try to get back into writing more frequently, because I do so enjoy it.

And just to be a bit contrary, here is number eight:

The Journey Continues (Mark Brown & Sarah Cracknell)



Thank you, Mandy, for the tagging.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just semantics

A phrase which often comes up in the IT business, perhaps more often from the business and management side of things rather than the techie side, is "that's just semantics". It has always bothered me. How can semantics - what something actually means - be dismissed in such an offhand manner?


Often, IT projects go wrong because there has been miscommunication. Requirements have been misunderstood. The architecture has been implemented incorrectly. The infrastructure has been built in a way that failed to take account of some critical operational features. Yet when it comes to getting a clear understanding about some things, a wave of the hand and a flippant "Oh, that's just semantics" is all it takes to set a disaster in motion.


I have often found that people talk glibly about a concept, or use a particular word, and when queried they either cannot define it, or, more often, there are wildly differing meanings being used by a group who remain ignorant of the fact that they are not talking about the same thing. I came across an example of this phenomenon only a couple of days ago, around the interpretation of the word "warranty". I've encountered many over the years. And yet to some, querying what they mean by a particular word is quibbling over what is "just semantics".

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Card Of Hearing

Oh, it's been a while, eh? Blame FaceBook.

I've recently (via my iGoogle news items linking me to something on The Telegraph) become aware of the Song Chart phenomenon, where an attempt is made to represent an item from the hit parade as a graph or chart of some kind. Or maybe a list. Or some element of a computer application or web page. Or a flow chart, UML activity diagram, entity relationship diagram, venn diagram, etc., etc., etc. Here's a couple of examples (of my own), in increasing order of difficulty:

Just will not do









Optimal Proximity
I'll post the answers in the comments box if prompted. If you like these puzzles, I would recommend visiting the Flickr group where they live. There's loads on there, some of which made me laugh out loud.

So, having played around with the concept a bit, one popped into my head, almost immediately followed by the thought that it would make a great birthday card for my Lovely Husband™. Then it occurred to me that what would be even better would be to have it play an appropriate bit of the song when the card opened. So that sent me off on the trail of customised card with sound chips inside them. Of course we're all familiar with the technology, and have probably received a talking or musical card at some point in the last 20 years. I had never looked into the possibility of getting one specially made.

In researching the topic, I learned that the chips that are used in the pre-made cards in shops actually support recording as well as playback, but they don't have a microphone, since that would increase the cost of the card. Now I could have gone and bought such a card, taken it to bits, put a suitable microphone on, and gone ahead with it. But instead, I discovered a place that sells blank greetings cards into which your own audio message (max 10 seconds) can be recorded. And it should have been obvious all along - the Royal National Institute for the Blind. They're a fiver a pop, and they have a built in microphone as well as a speaker, making it easy to record your own message in the card. I sent off for one, it arrived this morning, and I made the card up.

Not surprisingly, having gone to all that effort, the last thing on my mind was then hiding it in a cupboard for the next 9 months, until the birthday comes around again. So, he has seen it, and it did indeed delight him.

The whole exercise has opened me up to the possibilities of really interesting, home-made cards. And it is very easy to re-record and re-use these things, which makes them even more appealing. Hmm ....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Youth String Ensemble

It occurred to me yesterday that a youth string ensemble could be described as kiddie fiddlers. It's not much of a thought for the day, but it was the best I could do.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

1 and a 2 and a 3

The ever-delightful Da Nator has tagged me with a meme about books.

The rules are:

1. Grab the nearest book of 123 pages or more.
2. Open it to page 123.
3. Find the first 5 sentences and write them down.
4. Then invite 5 friends to do the same.

Until yesterday, that would have been easy, but I put in a bit of time doing some home improvement yesterday, and as a result, my office space is as tidy as my downstairs area after a quick trim with the Wahl. As chance would have it, the closest book is one that I bought last weekend at the Blackpool Magic Convention. It's a joke book by Michael Close. In addition to being an excellent magician, Michael is also a hugely talented musician, and a great collector and teller of jokes.

The book in question is called That Reminds Me, and is subtitled Finding the Funny in a Serious World. However, it's not all jokes, and page 123 happens to be one of the pages where he introduces a section of the book by talking abut the friend or acquaintance that inspired, reminds him of or told him the jokes therein. This particular section is dedicated to Billy McComb, a very talented and very funny magician, who died just over two years ago. His loss is still felt very strongly within the magic world.

Here's what Michael writes:
Billy McComb was of the same generation as Jay Marshall, and he too achieved great success as a performer. He appeared on big stages, variety halls, and workingmen's clubs, and he starred on television in the United Kingdom. Unlike Jay, who retired from active performing to run his magic shop, Billy kept plugging away until just a few months before his death. He was regularly featured at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and he was often the opening act for The Amazing Jonathan in Las Vegas. I could not imagine how an audience that had paid money to see Jonathan would react to seeing a frail-looking old man walking out on stage.
So there you have it. I'd love to urge you to go out and buy the book, because it's very funny, and has a highly amusing foreword by Penn Jillette. I don't think it's on sale to the general public, although you can buy it online.


And now I have to tag five people. That's going to be a challenge, because I spend much less time doing this bloggy thing these days, and consequently have far fewer prospective tagees to draw from. And one of them has already been tagged by someone else.

Tell you what, if you want to do this meme, consider yourself tagged - only do let me know so's I can go and have a varda when you're done.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Private Dick

Frank was in danger of lapsing back into Catholicism. It was that last glass of Campari which had just been one too many, and now sinister and subversive thoughts were stealing across his cerebellum with willful and wily alliterative intent. Transubstantiation might not just be a poor excuse for bad sleight of hand (seven years in seminary - surely enough for even the dullest seminarian to master a bit of simple palming!); confessionals needn't just be to save the pounds that pervy old Irishmen would otherwise fritter away on premium rate wank lines; and the whole shebang might not just be an outlet by which the closet cases of the world could have their camp cake and eat it.

He shrugged his shoulder and got to his foot. A passing sign told him that you're only ever half a man without Jesus. He grimaced, remembering the cute bit of Mexican trade who had stolen his wallet in return for what was probably the best blow-job the little shit had ever had.

A furtive man was glancing at him from the opposite side of the street, making a conspicuous effort to appear shifty. Frank saw through him like he was yesterday's countdown conundrum (washboard). He held no mystery, just a small dick and a tight throat. Why he was holding a throat will remain unknown. It was his own, as was the dick. Or at least until the hire-purchase people caught up with him.

A yellow net curtain hung in the shop window, and as he stared through it at the antique sweets within, he thought he saw the pattern in the net rearrange itself into an autostereogram of William Burroughs shooting up with heroin. Billow. It was gone. The tampax dummy in the window went on drying her hair as the fan restarted. Frank moved on before toxic shock set in. Serried ranks of solemn shops sailed past, echoing an earlier alliterative allusion and adding assonance as an alternative angle.

It was turning into one of those days. The initial bad sign had been when someone has almost discovered his secret identity. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a piece of foam shaped round a metal prong? Is it a rip-off? Yes and no, it's Thigh Master. With a final steamy whistle, that train of thought vanished into the distance. Even the favoured trick of sticking his head out of a high rise to admire the vertical horizon had failed, although he did succeed in donating a satisfyingly thick gobbet of phlegm to the sparse covering of a passer-by's head.

Perhaps it was time to become a lesbian.

A blush added brief fire to his cheeks for no other reason than that his corpuscles needed the exercise. Someone was playing Fur Elise badly on a piano with a flat A. Who was dealing these cards, anyway?

His apartment eventually made its ponderous way to his demanding feet, and with a sigh he headed for the cool comfort of the lift. There was only one letter waiting for him. The rest had been too impatient. It was an invitation to a party at 'The Gobbling Nun'. He didn't recognise the name of the sender. It was nobody he knew. He knew a lot of nobodys.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Lion, The Witch & The TURDIS Of Oz In Wonderland.

I decided this morning that I really ought to see if I can do anything to retrieve my juvenalia, with a view to publishing it on here, or on my website.

Towards the end of my school years* I wrote a lot, much of it humorous in varying degrees. Along with a very dear friend, MF (whose initials are quite unintentionally amusing), I was heavily involved in creating a school magazine. MF was great at coming up with ideas for characters and so on. I wasn't so good at that, but I did seem to flourish when it came to taking those ideas and really pushing them. It was a great collaborative effort, the likes of which I have only found once or twice in my life.

Amongst the other characters that sprang from the fertile soil of MF's mind were Elsie & Tom. Elsie Senga Mince was often described as housewife, superhero and all-round good egg. She was the companion to Tom Baker, who travelled around the universe in a battered blue police box. Basically, we were both big Doctor Who fans, the show wasn't being made any more, and Tom Baker was "our" doctor, i.e. the one who had been on all the shows we watched as children. So, although he was called Tom Baker, he was still The Doctor, or at least had all the props, characteristics and mannerisms that he had brought to his portrayal of that character.

We both read lots of the Doctor Who books (many of which were little more than the scripts from the TV show with "he said", or "she exclaimed" tacked on at the end of each line of dialogue). Being British, the best way we knew of showing our love for something was by taking the piss out of it mercilessly. This included paraphrasing and mocking all of the clichés that occurred in the books, and the standard plot lines. We also pilfered freely from much greater writers, too. The end result meant that whereas the books would (almost invariably) say this:
With a wheezing, groaning sound, a dark blue box slowly appeared on the forbidding alien landscape
our stories would have something like this:
With a wheeze, a groan and a hey nonny-nonny, a TURDIS suddenly appeared out of nowhere, exactly the way that bricks don't.
After we finished school, and stopped doing the magazine, MF poured his remaining creative juices into a full-size novel about some of his other characters, the Boys Of The Filofax. It was a great story, reminiscent of Douglas Adams, particularly during his Dirk Gently phase, with hints of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I read a draft, and loved it, but somewhere along the line MF gave up on it and, I believe, threw it away.

Meanwhile, I was writing longer stories than I had for the magazine, but still way short of an actual novel. And whereas MF had made the transition to proper novel-appropriate thinking, I was still messing around in pastiche land. To that end, my proudest achievement was Elsie & Tom in Snow White & The Seven Cybermen. It featured a Snow White who was anything but, some cybermen who had been unaccountably shrunk to midget-like proportions, making them much less menacing, and a brief but important trip back to ancient Greece during the race between Atlanta and Hippomenes. I also started work on what was to be my masterwork: Elsie & Tom in The Lion, The Witch & The TURDIS Of Oz In Wonderland. My intention was to take the characters through a butchered version of all three of those stories, mostly for my own amusement.

There were a few other things that I wrote during that period. Lots, actually, including deliberately funny letters to various friends. I really enjoyed writing, and for a few years afterwards, I would come across something or other I had written earlier and marvel because I had forgotten how funny it was.

Alas, some years ago, during a period of separation between my parents, disaster struck. Most of this writing was in a garage at my mum's place. Unfortunately, the local kids were a seriously nasty lot, and had a habit of torching the garages. Everything was lost to the flames.

I did have some old floppy disks with some of the material on it, but they were created on at Atari ST, and even using an ST emulator on my PC, I couldn't get anything from most of them. I did manage to salvage some bits and pieces of few years ago, but nothing from the longer stories, alas. Man, I would love to get my hands on those.

As chance would have it, a bit of digging around on the way back machine has given me a couple of smaller pieces. I'll put them up here as separate articles and see if anyone likes them.




* US readers might like to note that "school years" for me doesn't include my time at university. School is school, university is university - that's why we have different words for those things :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chilli Fecundity

Last summer we treated ourselves to a chilli pepper plant and a capsicum plant. The former yielded quite a few chillies, the latter only one or two capsicums (or peppers, or bell peppers, if you'd rather).

Around October, new fruit started to appear on the chilli plant. It took a while to develop, and quite a long time to go from green to red (via that odd blackish colour that they turn to make you think that they're about to rot and fall off). But now they're sitting on the vine, ready to be harvested. So the plant has kicked off another round, and we now have at least half a dozen new peppers starting to appear.

I've never known a plant to be so keen on producing fruit, and especially when it's a plant that is probably more used to warmer climes than those provided in England. In winter. Amazing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The future of hacking

I was reading a piece this morning on CNET about the Storm BotNet, a vast array of computers that, unbeknownst to their owners, have been quietly taken over for use in acts of cyber-terrorism, cyber-vandalism, and various other cyber-otherisms.

Over the last few years, as the number of little programs running on my PC has climbed inexorably upwards, and as the behaviour of various pieces of technology have clashed, the performance of my machine has been, at times, flaky. In the early days of botnets, mass-distributed viruses, trojan horses and the rest of that paraphernalia, you could tell when your machine was "infected" because the performance usually suffered. That's no longer necessarily the case, especially when the people who control the botnet don't want you to realise that your computer has been co-opted onto it.

Now that serious, well-organised, well-funded criminals are involved, I was entertaining the thought that in the future, the well-structured botnet program might do everything it can to improve your system's performance - secretly downloading bits of software to analyse and adjust the internals. That way, you might not mind being part of a botnet so much, because in return, you get a machine that's more reliable, without having to spend hours and hours running diagnostics and patching things up yourself.

Sorry. Bit geeky. Happens sometimes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Election Earing

The way things are going, it looks like the next president of the US will be the Irish-American gay porn star, Bareback O'Bama.

Personally, I think Hillary Clinton would be the more radical choice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not quite dancing in the streets

Earlier this week, I was walking along Oxford Street shortly before 09:00, on my way from the gym to the office. I passed someone lying in a doorway wrapped up in a sleeping bag. I would have said sleeping in a doorway, but I think the person in question was awake, because there was steady, rhythmic movement taking place about half-way down the sleeping bag.

Now he (or possibly she) could just have been rubbing their hands together to keep warm. It really didn't look like that, though. It really did look like he was about to make a Big Issue appear out of nowhere.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Letting Go

It's now three weeks since I started my new contract, having rushed out to buy a laptop for it, because I was asked at the interview whether I could supply my own.

I've had misgivings since the very first day. There seemed to be a lack of clarity about exactly what I was meant to be doing. I've struggled to get enough information to allow me to be productive. There doesn't seem to be any obvious place for me to go for information. And the people that I could go to are really busy, and so haven't been able to give me a good steer that has allowed me to get under way properly. I've not found it easy to get proper network access, and consequently have been at arms length from some useful intranet-based resources that might have helped. I'm all for being self-motivated and not needing hand-holding, but it does help not to be left completely at sea.

So it didn't come as a great surprise to me yesterday when my project manager took me aside to tell me that they had decided to let me go. The client that I was meant to be working for has put the work on hold, and revealed that he initiated it without actually having the budget to pay for it anyway. The company that I am working through don't have anything else for me to do in the meantime, and they can't afford to have me not doing billable work. So, it's adios.

I've never been "let go" before. I've been made redundant once. That was great - they gave me lots of money. This isn't so good, not least because I have been turning down offers of work for the last few weeks, and had one really interesting offer yesterday morning, before I knew that the decision about my future had been made. I can't find the details of the agent in question, so I can't get in touch with him, annoyingly.

Still, it might mean that I've been busy for a few weeks and making a bit of money, just tiding myself over until a really good contract comes in. I'll tell myself that anyway to ease the affront.

And now - back to trawling JobServe!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Line That Isn't

I am now working again in London, and facing the daily nightmare that is a rush-hour commute. I have noticed that announcements being made about the fate of the East London Line, and they struck me as a bit puzzling. The announcements go something like this:
The East London Line is closed until 2010, when it will re-open as part of the London Overground network.
The East London Line is currently part of the London Underground network, and when the line re-opens, I venture to suggest that it won't be called the East London Line, since that would invite confusion with the lines on the underground network. This leads me to conclude that in fact, the East London Line isn't closed, rather it no longer exists. Sure, the track is still there, and doubtless the rolling stock is stashed away somewhere. But that entity which we called the East London Line has ceased to exist.

The situation is similar, I think, to that which now exists at the Edinburgh Festival when it comes to comedy awards. For years we knew that if you did really well, you could win a Perrier Award. The awards are still given, except now they are not sponsored by Perrier, so they are called the IF Comedy AWards. A lot of people still think of them as the Perrier Awards, because they recognise it's a same shit, different brand thing, but technically, they are the IF Awards.

I think this is the flip side of the classic problem of the Philosopher's Axe (not to be confused with the Philosopher's Axe Wound, which I won't be going into). The classic problem presents the problem of identity very elegantly. I have an axe. Over time, I replace the handle (or haft, if you'd rather). Later, I need to replace the head. At this point, it's still my axe, even though it no longer contains any of its original constituent parts. Is it really still the axe I started with? At what point is it not my axe, or not the same axe? In the case of the East London Line, and the Perrier/IF Awards, the opposite is happening - the label changes even though the thing itself remains the same.

Actually, the East London Line is a bit different, because the label is likely to change, the context is going to change (from the LU network to the LO network), and the thing itself is going to change. Really, the line has ceased to exist.

So, to conclude, I would be much happier if the announcements on the tube went like this:
Please be aware that the East London Line has ceased to exist. Passengers are advised to seek alternative routes.

Blackpool or bust

Only a few weeks from now, I'll be treating myself to a long weekend in the urbane and stylish grandeur of Blackpool. Every year, that jewel of the north plays host to the world's biggest magic convention, and this will be my second year in attendance. Last year, as a newbie, I didn't get there early enough, and I didn't stay long enough. This time around, I know better. I've booked the Friday and Monday off work, and I'm heading up relatively early on the Friday. Things kick off properly on the Friday afternoon with the first lecture of the convention.

To add to my delight, a fellow I recently became friends with will be travelling over from the US to attend. I met him and his wife when they were over here late last year for the International Magic Convention. He came second in the close-up competition with a very funny, magical, and beautifully structured act. Sadly, not all of my magical chums will be able to make it. One in particular who was very lovely to me last year, and with whom I shared the experience of a traditional Blackpool landlady, directly descended from the Lambeth Wyrm, or some other dragon of yore.

I am particularly looking forward to a lecture by J C Wagner, arguably the best bar magician the world has ever seen - although it's a tough call between him and Doc Eason.

There might be a blog soon about the new job. At the moment, I'm a bit too busy getting my feet under the table to write about it. Or indeed to write about much at all.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New job, new toy

Finally, as of Monday I'll be back in the workforce!

I'm quite pleased with the role that I've landed myself, and if the interview is anything to go by, it will be a great place to work. They were very friendly. We got allong very well. So it looks like I'll be spending a lot of my time between now and April working out how a whole load of people can migrate a whole load of local council processes out of their existing offices and into a new location in Essex. This might even involve trips to Essex, which will be very easy for me given that I live to close to the borders of that fair county.

Unusually, the company I'll be working for asked if I would be able to provide my own laptop. I've never owned one. I've almost always had one for the last 10 or 15 years, but every single one of those has been the property of whichever company I have been working for at the time. I have long been an advocate of desktop machines. I think many people buy laptops when a desktop machine would be just as useful to them, would cost a lot less, and would be more amenable to upgrading. However, I jumped at the idea of buying my own for use in the new role, because it helps to reduce my exposure to certain tax liabilities that I'd rather avoid. Using my own equipment goes a long way towards establishing that I am not, in fact, an employee of the company with which I have a contract.

Anyway, after ordering quite late on Thursday night, and then geeing them along yesterday and agreeing to fork out for additional shipping costs, my new tablet PC turned up today. So far, so good. It seems lovely. The tablet thing is great, and I think I'm going to get a lot out of that facility. It also has an entertaining alternative to putting in username and password information all over the place - I can just swipe my finger across a little sensor, and it checks against a record of my finger print. Marvellous.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Joy Of Slow Cooking

It's now two and a half years since myself and my Lovely Husband™ moved (or moved back, in my case) to London. When we did, I arrived a few months ahead of him, and got lots of things sorted out - a job, a place to live, etc. When he arrived, I had only recently found a flat, and it was completely unfurnished. We put that right over the next few months. Along the way, we had one of the biggest arguments we have ever had. It was about cushions. I won't go into the details, but the end result was that the Lovely Husband™ ended up going back to a department store and returning some items that he had bought, and being issued with a credit slip. Some time later, we used that credit slip to buy a slow cooker.

We haven't made that much use of it until recently, although any time we did, we appreciated the results. However, I've been making soups of late, and the more I do, the more I come to love the slow cooker. For those of you who have never used one, or aren't inclined to cook, let me just say that they are very, very easy to use, and allow you to make some really beautiful food with so little effort it's almost wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a lentil soup with a ham hock in it. Wow - it was divine! One of the tastiest soups I've ever had. Yesterday, partly out of curiosity, and partly to satisfy a dietary-related new year's resolution*, I essayed a similar broth, but without the benefit of the ham hock. It turned out stunning. Delicious. Wonderful.

But here's the thing - I deliberately did it with just about the minimal effort possible. I sloshed some water into the slow cooker, chucked in some red and green lentils, bashed a couple of garlic cloves and threw them in, skins and all. Okay, I did peel and chop an onion, and a piece of kumara (sweet potato), but the total amount of time I spent prepping was less than five minutes, and that includes tasting and adjusting the seasoning (salt, pepper, chilli flakes, veg stock powder). Then I just left the slow cooker to do its thing. Several hours on the low heat setting, and voilà - perfect lentil soup.

I was out for dinner the other night with a journo friend, and mentioned slow cookers to him, but didn't get around to nipping his ear about how wonderful they are. I think I might direct him to this item once I've posted it.



* That new year's resolution is to try, as far as possible, to eat meat (or fish) only every second day, alternating with vegetarian fare. There are two reasons for this. One is that I think it is healthier on a fruit/veg consumption front, and on a weight management front. The other is that I am persuaded that meat reduction is very good for several environmental reasons. So, we'll be healthier, slimmer, and the planet will be a little less damaged. What's not to love about that?