Monthly Archives: December 2008

On-brand Seasonal Message

Happy Holidays to everyone!

I wish you all the best wishes of the season, and a happy, safe, fun and prosperous New Year! See you all in 2009, I hope.

Love from Matt and Cassie, and Gordon

LA Xmas Lights

This photo was taken by Cassie, who would otherwise be in it. It was taken while walking along the Los Angeles Department Of Water And Power Annual Holiday Light Display And Bake Sale, which was a nice brisk walk through a cold Griffith Park, checking out all the imaginative displays, eating churros and drinking hot chocolate.

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 2

See Part 1 here.

Inspired by Flesh’s new Acer Aspire One, I decided to have another go at getting Ubuntu on my EeePC. This thing is now a bit old by netbook standards, being a first-generation 700, but it still makes me smile.

I’d had some problems getting Unetbootin to run on the EeePC, something to do with legacy dependencies, glibc and the like. A question was asked, and answered, and now was the time to try the new version. Also, my desktop is now up and running, so I should be able to run it there.

Unfortunately, when I downloaded the latest deb file from sourceforge for the i386, the package installer complained it was the wrong architecture, “amd64”, despite my having downloaded the i386 file. Another brick wall. I tried the amd64 version too, and that gave the same error.

While looking around the Ubuntu Eee wiki (which has no link to the “How to install” page on the front page by the way – it’s here)  I saw that there are many issues with Skype, sound and wireless networking, and lots of forums activity to get them all fixed. At least, it looks that way and the wiki doesn’t seem to reflect reflect the most up to date situation.

I’d also noticed in the Google searches that there is another Ubuntu for EeePCs, Eeebuntu, which appears a lot slicker, apparently works out of the box, and seems to make it clear how to install it. Kind of.

I got as far as torrent-downloading the ISO file, before I realised I should really be packing for my Xmas trip. I’ll get back to this after the new year. Have a good one!

Bah Humbug – No That’s Too Strong

I did not want to emerge from my cocoon this morning. I have the clock radio on loud to encourage emergence, but I find that if I put my head under the covers, I can listen comfortably. I was up late last night wrapping presents, packing my suitcase and preparing the apartment to be left for a few days. I’m driving up to LA this afternoon, and then Cassie and I are going up to Orinda to spend Xmas with her brother’s family. It will be ace.

The nostalgia centres of my brain are on overdrive at the moment, as has been noticed by friends, but I love Xmas, always did. I don’t come from a particularly large family, but when we were all together, it was a happy time. I like presents, obviously, and as my fortunes have improved, I enjoy buying gifts for people. I have been frustrated at my own lack of foresight and gift-buying imagination sometimes, especially when I see the wonderful array of one-off stuff available on the net. But in general it’s an exciting time for me.

I’ve taken to calling it Xmas in recent years on this blog. It’s partly a Futurama reference, and partly trying to avoid the religious connotations. I’m not religious or superstitious (the same thing, aren’t they?). Xmas for me has always been about the season, the colours and atmosphere, the food, the music and the imagery. I have no problem with the disconnect from the original meanings, be they Christian, Pagan, or other religion.

I have no shame in telling you that I love Xmas music. My favouraite Xmas song is Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas, which has an anti-war message (of course, for the time) but also a couple of interesting lines about about belief. Plus the Troika melody, which always brings a tear to my rheumy sentimental old eye. Also in the running:

This morning, the blaring radio had an item about the Humanist winter celebration, HumanLight, which is celebrated on December 23rd, halfway between the winter solstice and Xmas. Humanists gather, sing songs, play games, and do all the regular Xmassy stuff, but with an emphasis on reason-based (as opposed to faith-based) beliefs, and trying to create a peaceful and prosperous future for all.

While the imagery of HumanLight doesn’t appeal to me, and the music I heard on the radio certainly doesn’t, I appreciate the effort to make something concrete for this time of year. There’s a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing around this time, where if someone asked me why I was using all the decorations and religious imagery, I’d have to make some general comments about liking the season (much like here).

Does that mean I would like to get rid of “traditional” Xmas? I don’t think so, I’m too fond of it. But it may be necessary in the future. The War Of Attrition On Christmas, perhaps.

Anyway, I appreciate the HumanLight sentiment. All the best for the season, and I wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year!

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 2

UPDATE: This is all being moved to a dedicated page, where I will continue to document the differences.

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 1


= pretty much equal to
~= similar to
/= not equal to
CVS = Boots
Rite Aid ~= (a slightly shabby) Boots
Walgreens = Boots
Target ~= what Woolworths could have been
7-Eleven ~= Londis / Wavy Line (as was)
??? = WHSmith (I’m still looking)
Reno 911! ~=
Sanford & Son = Steptoe & Son
Hershey’s chocolate /= chocolate
Sidewalk = Pavement
Pavement = road surface
Smoke a cigarette = Smoke a fag
Smoke a fag = shoot a homosexual dead
Rick Warren ~= Rowan Williams
Brian Williams /= Zeinab Badawi (but kind of, and I ran out of ideas)

Recent Links, 20081215

» Strange Attractor – 20 signs you don’t want that internal social media project Oh Sharepoint… The pain of recognition.

» Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn | Oliver Postgate RIP Brooker takes a break from the savage wit to write a heartfelt and affecting tribute to the late Oliver Postgate, who created so many classic kids TV shows from our childhood.

» Bad Science » “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that…” and other excellent Christmas gifts. Ben Goldacre sells a bib with the slogan “MMR is safe, tell your friends”, for your baby to wear out and about and cause confrontations.

» Graph of measles cases in the UK As the ill-informed (in fact just plain wrong) hysteria about vaccines continues, measles cases increase. Next up, rubella, then smallpox… Won’t someone think of the children?

» THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth – the complete guide to The Human League 1977-1980 Excellent site. Info, history, lyrics, great design which longs to be emulated. My parallel universe band would follow this model.

» Music Week – Burnham’s copyright speech in full Wrong in many ways. _When_ the Music Industry and the Music Business get “washed away”, music, and the musical community will remain. The business models that will support them are evolving. Please, rats, leave the sinking ship.

» Radios from I would like to have modern electronics in a casing like these. It would be good if you could easily put your stuff in new bodywork.

» : Online FLV Converter You know those youtube videos which are just the music? Grab the audio with this.

I Want My Money Back

Got up this morning, and before I could do anything else I had to put the heat on for the first time in my apartment. What the hell? I’ve been joking recently to friends back in the UK that it’s been so cold here that I had to roll my sleeves down. Now that Xmas is a couple of weeks away, it’s finally getting properly cold, albeit still not as cold as London.

Looking from my 14th floor office window, I’m greeted by a view pretty much like the one I had from my London office in Victoria, except for the 4 US flags I can see from my chair, whipping in the wind. It’s grey, dingy, and rain is spattering against the glass. If this keeps up, I won’t be walking the three blocks to the gym after work. And so the decline begins. I think I’ll just drive home.

The problem with rain in California is that because it is so rare, the roads don’t get rinsed off so often like they do in the UK. This means that when it does rain, the first thing that happens is the roads are coated with a thin film of water, dust and oil. This makes the commute interesting, and you hear the radio reports of crashes and delays, in the same way that snow in the UK makes the commute “interesting”.

If Cassie and I are planning to move to San Francisco next year, which is indeed the plan, I had better get used to weather like this. But it won’t stop me from moaning for the moment. I still have the scarf my Mum knitted for me as a child – best dig it out.

Both Bars On’s Top Ten Albums Of 2008

It was back when I lived in Tooting with Mairi. We knew there was a nice couple living next door – we had seen each other over the garden fence from time to time. Siobhan and Andy, who later turned out to be called James – feck knows where I got the name Andy from. It was the usual strangers-in-proximity London thing for a while, passing on the doorstep and so on. Then one day I was having a new oven delivered, and I realised I couldn’t get it up the stairs to our kitchen.

So I shrugged and rang next door’s bell. James answered the door, and I asked if he could help me lift a great heavy electric oven up my stairs. He kindly agreed, and we set to it. Thanks very much, nice to properly meet, we must go for a drink etc.

Fast forward god-knows-how-many months.

Eventually James, Siobhan, Mairi and I went for a drink at the Ramble Inn on Mitcham Road, a funny little place with table service (fatal), big sports telly, and thriving Irish community regulars. It was a really nice evening, if interrupted somewhat by the highly entertaining impromptu singing in the pub (not ours).

Then James and Siobhan moved away, luckily only a few streets away. We managed to meet pretty regularly for the pub quiz, first at the Castle (where we won a couple of times, and came second or third often), then later at the Selkirk (where we were foiled by 20-strong cheating nurse teams, we wuz robbed etc).

When Mairi and I split up, I went for a walk on Tooting Bec Common with James to talk about it, and we often went for man-chats and pints over the following months. Before I left for the US, Siobhan and James invited me for dinner, and we had a great evening. I was sad to leave, even though at the time I felt numb and emotionless from all the stuff that needed doing. I miss those guys. Hey, you guys, I miss you!

Anyway, all of this sentimental drivel (must be the season, in fact ’tis) is a lead in to a plug for James’ excellent co-authored music blog Both Bars On, and specifically their Top Ten Albums of 2008, sort of like the Festive Fifty but for albums, and different, with less Black Star Liner. Both Bars On bloggers jkneale and angrybonbon do a swift rundown of their favourite new albums of the year, and make a compelling argument for immediately buying them all (or adding them to a wishlist, *whistles nonchalantly, strolls away looking up*).

I’m slightly distressed to realise that I barely know any of the bands on this list, apart from a couple in the “bubbling under” section. Then again, I’m coming to terms with the fact that my musical knowledge has not really kept up. The number of links to other music blogs is proof that there is more stuff out there than I will ever come to terms with. I often have to ask Cassie what music is playing in her car, and even then I can’t remember later. I still have enough knowledge to hold my own in musical conversations, usually managing to sound informed, if a bit “old school” with a nice line in slightly obscure oddities to fend off the “stuffy old git” jibes.

Maybe if I buy all these albums I will be cool. That is the Both Bars On guarantee, after all.

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 1

Here’s my ongoing project to spot which US products are like which UK products, because it has never been done before anywhere, in slim humorous books or elsewhere. These are my observations as and when I think of them, so don’t expect completeness or accuracy, or indeed entertainment. Keep your expectations low, is what I’m saying.


= pretty much equal to
~= similar to
/= not equal to

(* includes bonus reactionary curmudgeon entries! No prize if you can spot them!)

Pine-sol ~= Dettol
Clorox = Domestos
Good Humor ice cream = Walls ice cream (same logo)
Lays potato chips = Walkers crisps (same logo)
3 Musketeers ~= Milky Way
Milky Way ~= Mars
Snickers = Marathon*
Vons ~= Sainsburys / Tesco
Gelsons ~= Waitrose
Albertsons ~= Asda (I think you know what I mean)
Cif kitchen cleaner = Cif, which used to be called Jif
Jif = a brand of peanut butter
Starburst = Opal Fruits*
Bro-Magnons =  Townies (i.e. collars flipped up)
Glenn Beck / Sean Hannity = Richard Littlejohn / Peter Hitchens
Larry King /= Jeremy Paxman (no matter what Larry thinks)
Larry King ~= Michael Parkinson (i.e. sycophantic but with a delusion of being a hard-hitting interviewer)
NPR and its local affiliates KPBS, KPCC, KQED and KALW etc ~= BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service

Recent Links, 20081208

» YouTube – Section 25 “Looking from a Hilltop” (Version 1) I walked past the Hulme Crescents every day on my way to college. They were covered in posters for anti-poll tax gigs.

» Comforter Clips – Bed Bath & Beyond I need this cos I have this problem and it drives me mad.

» Elements of an EmotionML 1.0 Via plasticbaguk’s twitter feed, this is a doc describing a possible way of describing emotions in data. So you can annotate a dataset with how it makes you feel? I can’t help but think this may be a practical joke like that old spec for Pigeon-Enabled Internet.

» Portrait of a modern Moriarty « Why, That’s Delightful! V was awesome. Mike Donovan was cool, but Michael Ironside’s character was cooler. And harder. And less soft on the lizards.

» We Are Change London We are morons, more like.

Yes, But Who Is He?

While driving back to LA from Las Vegas after Thanksgiving, a process which took a lot longer than usual due to the holiday, we tried listening to the local AM stations for traffic news. Along with sparse info along the lines of “This traffic is normal for Thanksgiving Weekend, suck it up” we also heard a right-wing phone-in show getting themselves in a right froth about Obama, and how his right to be President is in question. The host and her guest were both blithering on about how they had read all the information, educated themselves about the situation, and were still not happy about the validity of an Obama Presidency. They claimed that if the evidence they wanted could be shown to them, they would be happy, and would shut up and go away.

Sure you would.

This article from David Weigel in Slate describes the extent of the conspiracy about Obama’s citizenship. This fringe movement, based around earnestly hysterical blogs, petitions and talk radio shows, has all the hallmarks of the other dumb conspiracy theories*, including the classic “Despite all the talk, some questions still remain unanswered.” Answer these questions, and ten more will spring up, usually at a tangent to logical discourse. And on it goes, like a child asking “Why? Why? Why?”

In the radio show, caller after caller came on to ask some weird question or make some crazy observation, to the enthusiastic interruptions of the hosts. Once, a guy came on to dispute what was being said, and was effectively told he wasn’t welcome because he didn’t agree. The host cut him off before saying smugly, “I have the button”. It was like the old James Whale late-night TV show, only marginally less sickening.

Philip J. Berg, who filed the first lawsuit asking for Obama to be ruled ineligible, also ran cases for 9/11 Truthers (this is true). He also has a case pending in the US Supreme Court about the Earth being flat. The globe we see in pictures from space is just effect of a fisheye lens, apparently, and the oceans are kept in place with magnets (this is not true, sadly).