Monthly Archives: July 2008

It Was Full Of Comics And Toys

Comic Con - Thursday evening Now that I seem to live in San Diego (don’t quite know what happened there) it only seemed fair to go to the famous Comic Con at San Diego Convention Centre. Brian’s friend got us free weekend passes, which was very kind, and he is staying in my guest room for the weekend. Sadly I had to work yesterday, but I scurried down the road (the Con is about 6 blocks away) after work, and met him after his full day of seeing the sights.

The place looked just as crazy as the news reports show, with swarms of people laden down with poster tubes, bags, badges and all the paraphenalia you would expect. By the time I arrived, it was winding down for the day, but there were still many people dressed up to the nines in appropriate (and some inappropriate) costumes.

We had a quick look round, and I took some photos of a couple of things that caught my eye. B knows so much more about this stuff than I do, so I’m happy to let him guide me around. I was taken with the film props for sale at $20,000 and up. Yes please!

Food was required at this point, so after braving the swarms from the Con overwhelming the Gaslamp Quarter, we drive up to Lefty’s Chicago Pizza in North Park, which is so word-of-mouth it doesn’t even appear in my Garmin! We enjoyed a couple of slices of delicious sloppy cheezy goodness, with fresh tomatoes and basil, then swung by one of B’s old haunts, the Zombie Lounge, which he was sad to see had been changed into The Radio Room by new owners. The old electric sign remains though, as does his old friend who is a barmaid, so if she’s there next time I go, it may be worth dropping a name.

Later in the evening, we got the call to drive out to Winston’s over in Ocean Beach, where klown-fi micro-circus crazy band Gooferman were playing, supported by Dr Madd Vibe, AKA Angelo Moore from Fishbone. The Doctor was playing when we got there around 12am, and he has an amazing voice, some keen moves, all over a laptop playing grooves and chunky instrumental backing. Then the klowns stepped up and did more of the laptop rock thing, with added guitar and deep bass, and a melody line played on a rubber chicken. All this with whiteface and leaping about.

Then home with the seabreeze blowing in the Volvo, and a possum crossed the road. B says they’re vicious.

The Perfect Surprise

So as I was saying, on my birthday proper I went for a nice dinner with Cassie. We also planned to have dinner again, at a nicer place, on the following Friday. The plan was to let LA know I was here. Turns out they already knew.

Cassie told me that we would have a nice meal relatively early on Friday, then we’d go home in time to meet a couple of friends who would bring a birthday cake. I was looking forward to seeing that bunch again, as I hadn’t seen them yet this trip.

Come Friday, Cassie and I dressed up (well kind of in my case), and we went to Café Stella, which is a really nice place, even if the cheese plate looked like they were taking the mick. The food was great, the suggested wine was really good, and of course, sitting at a table in the covered outside area, in the balmy Silver Lake evening, was delightful.

During the meal, Cassie sent a couple of texts, which I don’t mind – I need to send messages as soon as I remember as well. Then as we were finishing up, the waitress came round with our coffee, and asked if we wanted to look at the dessert menu. Cassie looked at me and then said that we would skip dessert, as we were meeting friends at home. The meal was pretty pricey, but excellent. We’ll be going back there.

I drove us home, then I walked up the steps, unlocked the front door, and opened it just as the aprtment full of guests turned on the lights and shouted, “Surprise!”

It was perfect! I had literally no idea. The place was full of people I hadn’t seen for ages, and was strung with stars and stripes bunting and a big ‘Happy Birthday’ banner. You see, it wasn’t just a birthday party, it was a surprise birthday-and-welcome-to-your-new-life-in-a-new-country party.

As we walked through the door, a glass of bubbly was pressed into my hand, and Brian stepped up to make a short speech and toast. I was too busy gasping and gaping like a fish on a carpet to remember exactly what he said, but it was spot on, and everyone cheered and drank the toast – none more so than me. I was then presented with my first gun – an inflatable M16, in camoflage pattern, with USA stencilled on the stock. I slung it over my shoulder and carried it for the rest of the night. I don’t want no teenage queen, I just want my M16.

I say I had no idea, and it’s true, but thinking back, little things I’d dismissed turned out to be relevant signposts. The bathroom had been cleaned, and candles put out. People I’d wanted to meet for dinner earlier in the week had bailed out, or asked for a raincheck. It was like an M Night Shallamallamayan film, only without the intelligent design advocacy, and very enjoyable.

There was a cake, an amazing Red Velvet beast with cream cheese frosting, and barbecue, and lots of food, and music, and people being nice to me. It was organised by Cassie, with loads of help from Brian and Stacy, whose wedding I attended in October, and Sarah, and lots of other people all in on the deceit.

Obviously it look loads of organisation, and part of that was the detailed instructions Cassie left for Brian and Stacy so they could set up while we were at dinner. Here’s a bit of what she wrote.

Hi guys,

I thought I would put down on paper some last minute stuff that I won’t be able to do because it would arise too much suspicion. But first I want to thank you guys again for your help with this. It could not have been pulled off without you.


  • Extend the kitchen table by pulling out the sides under the table and push it up against the window. This will allow the food and cake to be displayed and provide as much room in the kitchen for mingling as possible.
  • Fill the blue ice bucket found in the laundry room with ice for people to put beer in. You can put the Champagne in there too.
  • Display the cake on the table when it arrives with Sarah Cohen. You can put the plates and napkins and forks out too.

Living Room

  • I will have the iPod set up on the speaker dock set to a playlist for the night. It’s called “Cocktail Mix.” Just press play at some point when people start to arrive.
  • Please make sure the curtains are closed.


  • Keep the bathroom window closed until we get home. We will walk right past it on the way from the car to the house.


  • Please do not plug in the green/blue lights in the back where the BBQ is. I will be parking in the driveway when we get back and Matt will see them if they’re on. We can plug them in when I get home.
  • Don’t worry about anything in the back. Just keep in dark and quiet over there and we can set it up when we arrive.

Our Arrival

  • I’ll text you when we are paying our bill which will give you a 15 minute or so head’s up. At that time you can make sure everyone has their champagne glasses assembled and the champagne ready to be poured. Please have two glasses ready to hand to us when we walk in the door.
  • When we get close to our place, maybe as we’re turning on the street, I will call my land line and let it ring once or twice. That will be your signal to be quiet and have your glasses ready. We will park in the driveway and walk up the stairs. I will have heels on so you will hear us arrive.
  • Make sure the door is locked, both the door knob and the dead-bolt. I will unlock the door, open it and hopefully Matt will be right by my side. Make sure you tell everyone to get eyes on Matt before they yell “Surprise!”
  • Brian, I would love it if you would make a little toast to Matt when he gets over the shock of the surprise and has a glass in his hand. It’s totally cool if you don’t feel like it but there just seems to be a need for some sort of formality as long as everyone is standing there with champagne in their hands. Anything you want to say would be great.

After all that, I want you to drink, eat cake and relax. Thanks again. You are awesome.

And that’s exactly what happened. I ate cake and drank as well. Lots of booze and cake.

Thank you Cassie, and Brian & Stacy, & Sarah, and everyone. I’ll never trust you or anyone ever again.

May 2008 London Election – ORG Reports

The Open Rights Group, with whom I used to volunteer, has published its report on the May 2008 London Election. It is also viewable here in a screenreader.

The upshot is that ORG is still unhappy with electronic voting and counting, and with good reason. Their concerns, stated many times in the past, highlight that fact that because e-voting and e-counting systems are commercial products, there are commercial pressures to prevent audits of the software being used to count the votes. This is a large block to the transparency that is so vital to real democracy.

The independent body set up to organise the elections did a good job, by all accounts. But there were several ways in which the attempts at providing transparency were a sham. In addition, the system allowed for paper ballots to be retrieved in case of an unclear count; this was not done anywhere, even when the possible discrepancy was greater than the majority of the winner.

But still they carry on with this belief that throwing public money at private companies to fix a problem that does not exist will create 100% voter attendance and higher engagement with the democratic process. These companies set up their Potemkin Villages and the naive civil servants are duped by the salespeople into stumping up for these unproven, unsecure, and unreliable systems.

I love new technology, when it does something better than the old method. In the case of voting, paper, pencil and manual counting remain the most cost-effective, reliable, secure and transparent mechanism for recording and counting votes in a democracy.

In other political news, my ex-colleague from the Cooling the Tube Programme (blogged by various people recently), Kulveer Ranger, is now a member of the board of Transport for London. Kulveer was one of the consultants responsible for commissioning the Oyster card across London. ORG have mentioned the Oyster in the past, but only in relation to Deloitte’s use of open source software to save money. The fundamental security issues surrounding the Oyster card are covered extensively elsewhere.

Good luck to Kulveer. I hope he makes a better job of it than some of the other people in Boris’s team. Gawd help us if Ross Kemp is making more sense than the officials. I’m with Charlie Brooker when it comes to Boris Johnson anyway.

I’m keeping tabs on the news in the UK. But I suspect it may get drowned out in the next few months…