Monthly Archives: January 2009

Neko Case’s “People Got A Lotta Nerve” – Blogged For A Worthwhile Cause

I’m not I am a fan of Neko Case, although and she does look good standing on a car with a sword in her hand, but and it’s for chariddy an’ all, so here goes. Cassie pointed me to this site, asking people to post a blog entry with this song, Neko Case’s “PEOPLE GOT A LOTTA NERVE”. I am her blog posting bitch, so here’s a link to the download site.

Updated: I really ought to listen and not be quite such a dick

Recent Links, 20090127

» Eminemmy Hill vs Doctor Who Absolutely astounding music video/documentary, and proof of alien life.

» Grave threat to UK privacy – Write to your MP now! Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act. It would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’, that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another. This would allow massive data sharing between government agencies, private entities, and the outside world. It would reverse the whole point of the Data Protection Act, and it must be stopped. Use to easily contact your MP and get them to vote against it.

» 22 Most Used Free Fonts By Professional Designers | instantShift Some nice fonts here, and all free (with caveats)!

» 26 Essential Firefox Add-ons for Web Designers | instantShift Some useful stuff here if I get moving on updating and tweaking my website, or if anyone else wants stuff doing.

» Charlie’s Diary: Preventing the New Dark Ages: Start Here Charles Stross presents a good case for keeping your life’s work in an open data format.

» “Social media consultants” I’ve had to block a fair few of these on twitter recently. I love it when PR firms show their true colours.

» Grow Tower Flash Game The latest in this series of really cute and fun puzzles. Click on the icons to build you tower, and watch the animations – see if you can max your tower out!

» New version of Game of Life caters to the hellish economy We’ve been playing Game Of Life recently, and we noticed how unrealistic it is for the most part. Maybe this will redress the balance. The old one did have the accountant pocketing your taxes – that’s true enough.

» xkcd – A Webcomic – Windows 7 Panel 2 – “No UI?” – haha that’s good cos I was in “The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui” which is about Hitler!

Board Games Automated

This post on Boing Boing got me thinking about the time I wrote a program that played with itself. I think it was written on the mutated basic supplied with the ICL/BT Merlin Tonto that my Dad brought home one day. Or it could have been on the ZX Spectrum, can’t remember.

Anyway, I taught the computer to play Snakes and Ladders (aka Chutes and Ladders). The board was held in a one-dimensional array – no need for two dimensions, for reasons that will become clear. Certain cells in the array held markers that would cause the program to send the player forward or backward to another cell if they landed there – this represented the Snakes (sending you backward) or Ladders (sending you forward).

I the first complete version of the game, a human could play against the computer. You pressed the space bar, and the program would roll a virtual die, that is, randomly generate a number from 1 to 6. Then it would tell you what space you landed on, whether there was a snake or ladder there, and where you ended up. Then the computer would roll the die for itself, and display it’s final position. Repeat until one or both of you were at position 100. The human always went first, and it was possible to have a draw. This prevented me from having to decide who got to play first. You had to land exactly on 100. I had implemented the rule whereby if you were at space 98 for example, and you rolled a six, you would move two forward, then back four to 96.

The next stage was to get the computer to play itself (“number of players: zero“). This was easy, just do the computer turn twice. I built in a delay to the turn and position display so you could watch them play. You ran the program, the display would flicker it’s digits for a few seconds until one of the computer players would reach 100, and it would be lauded as the winner.

The final step into insanity came when I removed the display portion altogether. You ran the program, and about a second later, a winner would be announced. Of course, it looked like I was just randomly selecting a winner and displaying it, but I knew that in the guts of the computer, the subroutines were running and pieces were being moved up and down the board. I even got it to play “best of 3”, “best of 5”, and later, “best of 99” which took a couple of minutes – but every game was played through properly.

I like to think of two Little Computer People, Red and Blue, shaking a tiny die (at least 7 pixels square on a side of course – you work it out) and moving their little pieces, hoping to land on that long ladder that went all the way from 5 to 95.

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 3 – The Sickening

The story so far: Part 1, Part 2

Charlie Stross, a sci-fi writer of some regard, talks about installing a new Linux OS on his Asus netbook, and again I am inspired to give it another go. Where was I?

Unetbootin woulnd’t work, that was it. So just to confirm I gave it another try, installing it on my Ubuntu dektop with the Debian Package Installer, making sure to install the dependencies. This time when I ran it, it worked fine, giving me the config screen to allow me to choose my ISO file. In the background, I’d been downloading (via bittorrent) the new Easy Peasy distro, which is the new name for Ubuntu Eee.

Unetbootin tells you to make sure the USB stick you are going to use for the ISO installation is formatted as fat32. OK, I opened gparted (the Gnome Partition Editor) and had a look. A strange thing, the USB stick, an Integral 2GB blue thing, appears as two devices in Linux, mounting itself as two drives. One of them contains a single file, U(something).exe. Both drives appear to have the same amount of space available, 1.92GB. What’s going on? In gparted, I was able to unmount and format one of the drives as fat32 as required. The other I couldn’t touch.

I left it as it was, ran unetbootin, selected the Easy Peasy ISO file and the correct USB drive, and let it do it’s magic. Once it was installed on the stick, I pulled it out and plugged it into my EeePC. I switched on, pressing the f2 repeatedly to get it into the setup screen. There, I chose the boot options, making sure the USB stick was top boot priority. Then I restarted. Fingers crossed!

“Invalid system disk. Remove and press any key”. Bugger.

I suspected this was due to the two devices issue – maybe the EeePC was trying to boot the device without the ISO on it. It didn’t give me a choice. So could I remove this other device, leaving a single 2GB device, mountable as a single drive? Gparted wouldn’t allow it. Fdisk see two devices, which you can’t merge.

I bit of googling around about this issue told me that this phenomenon of two drives is a result of some software built into the stick itself called U3, which helps with some autorun issue with Windows, allowing the stick to autorun applications or something. I don’t care about all that shite, get it off my stick.

There is a bit of a fuss about U3 on the net, with the idea of a drive purchased coming with extra software that installs itself. I found that for a long time there was no way to get rid of this software, until the creators SanDisk published a tool which could remove it. But of course, this would only run on Windows or Mac, everyone else can just sod off.

No wonder the stick was so cheap, and once again teaches me not to buy anything from f**king Dixons.

This tool seems to work though, so I came to work this morning with the intention of running the tool on my work Windows PC - in between shifts, obviously, while my colleagues wait for their turn at the pail of water. I downloaded the tool, stuck the USB stick in, ran the tool, and it said “Please insert a U3 smart drive”. The ‘Next’ button was greyed out. The tool wasn’t recognising my stick. Why won’t it recognise my stick!?

Sod it. This lunchtime I’m going to go out and buy a new USB stick from somewhere. I have myriad sticks lying around, but they’re mostly freebies with 128MB or 256MB- not big enough. I’ll crack this yet. BoingBoing Gadgets has covered other compact netbook Linux distros in the last couple of days, so it’s obviously the thing to do.

Vacated Sockets And Hope

I had my follow-up with the nice Dr Eckstein this morning, where he told me that all was well in the jagged splintered holes in my jaw. The nurse praised me for my post-op home cleaning and so on, but stopped short of patting me on the head and giving me a lollipop. Probably not good practise for a dentist. Perhaps some crudités? They gave me a syringe device for squirting warm dilute mouthwash in the crevices to clean them out, and sent me on my way.

Before I left for the appointment, most people in the office were gathered around the TV usually reserved for the company project showreel. Some had been there, wrapped up in their dress shirtsleeves, since the office opened, some 1 hour before. I went to watch the new President’s oath and speech, and it was impressive. The dude can orate.

It was a great speech, and I picked out a few buttons he pushed:

  • a nod to non-believers, but still in that “in addition” sense, hmm
  • civil rights
  • science!
  • the environment
  • we’re great the way we are, but we still may need to change
  • greed was a factor in the crash

Good luck to him and to America. It’s nice to be here. 

In other news, my apartment is carpeted (not my choice), so I had to buy a vacuum cleaner. I went the value route and got a <$100 model, which I hope will suck. Amazon delivered it to my office on Friday, so I’m taking home tonight for an evening of getting to know each other.

Down Three Teeth

I saw the new year in with a throbbing jaw, thanks to the movement of a wisdom tooth that had been dormant since my twenties (my twenties, not the twenties. There is a difference, thanks). Cassie had a stinking cold as well, so quite the sorry pair we made. We were having some friends over for a relatively quiet new year dinner, and this meant it would be even quieter. So at the same time as buying wine (for mulling – yum) and food, I went to Rite Aid to collect the penicillin my dentist had kindly phoned through for me. That kept me going until my appointment with the dentist back in San Diego, who prodded around with his implements and recommended I have it out. The date was set for last Friday.

It would involve enough sedation and anaethesia to prevent me from driving home – I would need to be dropped off and picked up. Cassie was unable to take work days off, after the extended break we’d just had. Luckily, my friends Brian & Stacy were free to come down to San Diego, take me to the oral surgeon first thing in the morning, and then pick up the drooling, moaning results. So they came down on Thursday, we went for a disappointing meal (after rave reviews on Twitter) at Crazy Burger. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling in the mood for beef’n’beer, or ostrich’n’beer or croc or anything else – I was nervous about the needle. I’ll go back another time – I’m sure it’s really good if you’re into it.

Early Friday morning B&S took me to the Center for Oral Surgery, and we hung out in the waiting room watching the standard dentist fishtank and reading Newsweek magazine. Then I was summoned. They took a once-around X-ray, (I must get hold of these images sometime) and then it was time to be knocked out.

I had to have one tooth out, but I spoke to the dentist about another one which has given me problems in the past, and he said he’s take that one out too while he was in there, and while I was out. This  meant he had to take the one above it out as well for some dental reason. The fourth could remain, it was so well embedded in my head.

I got nice and comfy, then they covered me up with plastic sheeting to protect my clothes, the walls etc. The nice anaesthetist first had me breathing some laughing gas, which did actually make me giggle. Well, that and the anaesthetist’s statement that she was my new favourite drug dealer. Then the IV went in and it was bye-bye.

I woke up with a head full of gauze, both physically and mentally. I decided to relax for a while on my recovery room bed, then B&S came and took me home. I was given Vicodin and Amoxycillin, and went to bed, and to la-la land.

Cassie came down from LA later and took over my care – the first thing she said was, “Can I slap you in the face?”. The weekend consisted of chilling out, maxing and relaxing all cool (no B-Ball though), popping pills and eating a variety of soft or liquid foods. It reminded me of the scene in Trainspotting when Renton kicks heroin using the Sick Boy Method.

“Recovering from Oral Surgery. Stage One: preparation. For this you will need:

  • one room which you will not leave
  • one sofa
  • one bed
  • one television
  • one DVD player
  • chicken soup, for consumption warm
  • tomato soup, for consumption warm
  • mushroom soup, for consumption warm
  • ice cream, vanilla, one large tub
  • Trader Joe’s Belgian Chocolate Pudding, one tub
  • Vicodin pills, one bottle
  • Amoxicillin capsules, one bottle
  • Ibuprofen pills, one bottle
  • salt water mouth rinse, several glasses
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast, various flavours,
  • Jello, strawberry flavour, one bowl
  • rice pudding 
  • The Internet and it’s colourful cousin, the World Wide Web
  • one fully-appointed bathroom

And now I’m ready. All I need is a final Vicodin to soothe the pain while the Amoxicillin takes effect…”

Giving Thanks To Vegas

Late November, 2008. It was my first American Thanksgiving weekend, and it was my best ever. Cassie’s parents live in Las Vegas, in a nice gated community called Spanish Trail. In the few years they’ve been there, Cassie’s Dad has already got himself elected as the President of the Residents Association (or something). He calls himself the “King”, but no-one else does (except Cassie – she loves her Daddy).

Thanksgiving traffic is famous. I should have taken the train to LA, but I had a big suitcase, and I needed flexibility for my return journey. I was able to nip off from work early, but even leaving at 1330 on Wednesday had me taking 6 hours to drive to LA. Monstrous. Train for definite next time.

The drive to Las Vegas is pretty spectacular in places, with great expanses of scrub and tumbleweeds, and the orange mountains in the distance, under the stark blue sky. The problem is, the straight road and the distance make it very similar to the Desert Bus Game, albeit from LA to LV rather than from Tucson.

Joining Cassie and I and her parents for the big dinner were some of her parents friends, who were very nice, and the food was good, and the wine was good, and the surroundings were good and it was very nice all round. None of the histrionics I had come to expect from watching countless Thanksgiving episodes of American sitcoms.

The food included the traditional turkey. I explained about how turkey is the Xmas food in the UK, and that we don’t do Thanksgiving (I’m sometimes surprised at how many people ask me that). With the bird we had Italian stuffing, chestnut stuffing, cream mashed potatoes, pumpkin squash souffle and other sides. For dessert we had pumpkin pie (of course), whipped cream, chocolate cookie pie (not sure what it was really called, but it was delicious) and a cheeky little sparkling Chiraz (I know!) that Cassie and I have been enjoying recently. Cassie’s Mum is an awesome cook, and she loves feeding her family and friends. She gave me some Spaghetti sauce in freezer containers, of which I am enjoying the second batch this week.

There’s a common misunderstanding that goes around here about turkey. People say it contains high levels of an amino acid called tryptophan, which causes you to feel sleepy. This story gets trotted out every year, and every year doctors and scientists have to explain that no, it’s the thousands of calories and multiple glasses of wine that make you sleepy. That and all the college football.

While digesting, we watched a movie-on-demand. Having watched The Savages a couple of weeks previously, I really didn’t need to see Smart People, but it was the consensus. Apart from anything else, I didn’t care about any of the people. The fact that the premise is effectively the same (fractured family comes together, injury forces members to help etc.) didn’t help matters. That said, it’s true that The Savages affected me more because the storyline concerned an elderly parent and adult children. I still find myself affected by memories of the deaths of my parents.

So just to remind me some more about age and mortality, the next night we watched Young At Heart, a brilliant documentary about a singing group in Massachusetts whose average age is 80. They sing standard show tunes, but also adapted versions of songs like Schizophrenia by Sonic Youth (“You can’t understand the words!”) and Talking Heads songs like Life During Wartime and Road To Nowhere. The latter was particularly apt given that the original video for that song had the Hi Vista Community Hall Singers performing the opening and closing refrains – it echoed the community spirit of the story. It’s a great movie, and one that had us all welling up.

Cassie’s Mum (or should I start saying “Mom”?) asked me to check her computer for spyware and stuff, because I am that most precious of family members, the one who is “good with computers”. I agreed of course, and I was pleasantly surprised to find she is using Firefox, and her security software is all up to date. This is a big change from someone elses machine I used to check. One Xmas I updated their virus files. The following Xmas I checked their virus files and found they had been updated “…365 days previously. Please update now.”

Cassie and I had splashed out and booked a night at The Venetian, one of the less crazy hotels in Vegas, with just a small recreation of the Venice canals up on the 4th floor, complete with gondolas and boutiques. The room was pretty nice, a split level with a king-sized bed, remote control drapes, big TV, marble everywhere and a great view of the hundreds of air-conditioning units covering the roofs below. I was seriously coveting the lamps, but I have to be careful about what that means. We got room service and watched a completely legitimate DVD of Stephen Fry’s America documentary, specifically the episode where he went to Nevada and California. Nicely meta. It was interesting to see his take on Vegas while stretched out in a hotel room in Vegas.

That evening we joined the folks again to go and see the musical Jersey Boys, the musical story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It was a really slick production, with great a falsetto performance from the lead, and many songs that I never realised were originally Frankie Valli songs (like Bye Bye Baby, which I thought was by the Bay City Rollers. Yes, I know now, don’t I?). The show was performed in a special full size theatre built inside hotel casino just for this run, and it was comfortable and spacious – a big change from London theatres. But did it lose the charm? Don’t think so.

After the show, we had dinner with the folks again, and after that, and a couple of Grey Goose Gimlets, I was ready for bed. We slowly made our way back through the casino, drinking in the atmos, and finally crawled into the huge bed.

Opening the curtains by remote control from said bed was cool, but I could have done with a couple more hours in the dark. But, we had to get up and go, especially considering we had our drive back to LA in the not-quite-so-atrocious post-Thanksgiving traffic. It did take a couple of hours more than usual, but at least that gave us time to listen to crazy right-wing AM talk radio as we stop-started through the desert.

Terracotta Comment – The Matthew Petty Interview

A long one with a backstory, this. In December 2007, I posted a comment to Sarah Brown’s Que Sera Sera post about things that give her the heebie jeebies. I simply wrote “terracotta”.

Much later, earlier this year, I received an intriguing email from another comment poster, asking about the terracotta comment, and linking to this post on their blog. The email included a request for an interview! With me!

In the spirit of “why not?” I agreed, and a list of questions was sent to me. I replied in full (so, so full), and sent them back. As far as I can see, the interview hasn’t been published yet, so I’ve decided to do it here. Make of that what you will, after you read my replies…

Interview Commences

Q – Hey – thanks for letting me interview you about the important topic of terracotta. And a whole bunch of random things, too. Because one day when I grow up (er, I mean my kids) I might actually be a reporter. If I feel like it. People just need to hear answers to the questions in my head. Okay here goes. Have some fun along with me- fully aware it’s going to be posted on my blog. Which essentially gets posted on CNN every week and sometimes the New York Times, naturally.MP – My pleasure. Pleased (and guardedly flattered) to be of help. Can I just say that I feel a bit weird being interviewed like this, for what was basically a single word comment on a blog, but that said, I can’t help but dive in and give my all. The question is, can you handle it? The answer is probably “yes”, which kind of deflates the question, but there you go.

Okay so first memory of encounter with terracotta?

Difficult to say. My parents had a nice garden, with fruit trees, and a small patio area with a couple of pots – possibly terracotta. I don’t remember being rubbed against them. My earliest memory was jumping from a stile and landing in a nettle patch, but the terracotta had nothing to do with that.

Tell us specifically what it is you hate about it- help us feel the hate.

Just the texture of it. I don’t like the way fingernails or dry skin drag against it. Like flaking fingernails on a used blackboard. A hangnail dragged across brickwork. Teeth chewing on foil. A knitting needle held close to the eye. A spider scuttling across the bedclothes. Hate is such a strong word, though. More like “don’t like much”.

Why do you think you hate it?

One connection I can think of goes back to Xmas 1978. My sister got the double LP of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds. It’s fantastic rock opera album with ominous narration, some wonderful songs, and very creepy bits. I still have that copy in my collection. At the beginning, the first Martian cylinder, lying in its crater, is slowly unscrewing. The sound it makes sounded like a terracotta pot being dragged slowly across concrete, in fact according to this page ceramics were involved.

Is it anything made of the material, or just the pots?

The material itself, in its rough unfinished form. I like the color of it, and the rustic feel it gives. I like varnished tiles made of it.

So in AZ there are stores on the side of the road (no joke) of people selling all sorts of variation of this stuff. If one of your friends blindfolded you as a joke and left you inside, what level of heebie jeebies would it create (1-10, 10 is shiver & shake).

Blindfolded and not touching anything, I would be fine. Not blindfolded and not touching anything, fine. If they held me down and forced me to drag my fingernails or my teeth over it, then it would be a 5. But then I would have to bury them in the desert for their transgression. It’s not so terrifying (terra-fying?) an ordeal really. I am a supporter of Arizona cottage industries. I could live with terracotta. I have learned to live with terracotta. I have published a book called Learning To Live With Terracotta. That last one was a lie.

What did you think when you read my post about you hating terracotta? I personally loved the party bit, how did that whole imaginary scene go over with you?

I felt a bit strange, and surprised that such a small thing could spark someone’s imagination. Butterfly effect, I guess. The wonders of the web! The party scenarios would be amusing, I think. The terracotta thing isn’t really debilitating, so I would probably fetch the ice, and then later slip something into the guy’s drink and film the results.

Do you say “cheers” instead of goodbye?

I often say “Cheers”, as well as “Cheerio”. Also, “Goodbye”, “Bye”, “B’bye”, and “TTFN”. I also say “Same to you”, “that’s what your Mum said”, and “Up yer arse” depending on the situation and dress code.

Have you ever watched The Changing of The Guard in London? Or do you think that’s gay? (p.s. gay=lame in America and is 100% politically incorrect. Don’t use that kind of slang at work, ok. You will for sure get sent to HR)

I have seen the Changing Of The Guard, a long time ago on a childhood trip to London. I was more excited about seeing the Natural History Museum with its dinosaurs and the Science Museum, though. And the Planetarium. The display of royal pageantry was great to see, but now as a republican (in the UK sense – look it up) it’s a nice display for the tourists which hides in plain sight a side of the UK I’m not keen on. On a side note, I think political correctness, that is, not being deliberately insulting, and being fair to people, gets a lot of bad press, but don’t get me started. Or is it too late?

What are your top 5 (or 10) favorite bands of all time?

Erm, in no order… New Order, Talking Heads, Underworld, Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, The Human League, Pulp, The Cars, Front 242, The Who, The Future Sound Of London, William Orbit, Big Audio Dynamite, Hawkwind, The Frogs. Take your pick.

What is your least favorite British band and / or song of all time. (Can I guess? Is it Queen?)

MP – One that always makes me grimace is ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis. The band were big with pub-and-football types, and this song especially was hollered drunkenly at the drop of a hat, because it sounds like it has some deep meaning, which it doesn’t.
Queen occupy that kind of niche that the Beatles are in. They just existed, and I think it’s a bit strange to say “I’m a Queen fan”. They’re in the national consciousness, everyone knows their songs, likes some of them, but only in the background. I heard a joke about how if you leave a cassette* in a car long enough, it will always turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits.

* that dates me.

What do you think is strange about Americans?

Too much to list. The USA is an amazing country. People sometimes comment on how many/few Americans have passports. But with a country so vast and stunningly varied, one can understand why many don’t. You guys swapped the red and blue meanings for conservative and democrat, which is totally confusing. In the UK, a “True Blue” area is usually wealthy and traditional, and guess which way they vote? At the same time this huge variation means areas can be so different that two lifestyles in the same country can be completely alien. But then the idea comes along that one lifestyle is the “real” America, and then you’ve got trouble, division and conflict. There, that’s all the problems solved. Don’t thank me. It’s sad how the USA was founded on freedom of religion, but it doesn’t necessarily include freedom from religion. A strange twist. As the Euston Manifesto says, America has a “vibrant culture that is the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions”. I agree.

What do you miss most about England [besides Nobbs]?

This is a tricky one. By Nobbs, so you mean David Nobbs, one of the greatest comedy writers ever? Or Hobnobs, one of the greatest chocolate biscuits ever? Both of those I miss a lot. If you mean penises (or nobs), there’s no shortage over here, not that I crave them. I obviously miss my friends very much, and I hope they’ll come and visit me soon. I’ve been rotten at staying in contact, so I hope they remember who I am. I miss my old dog. I miss level-headed newsreaders, interviewers who ask proper questions, Radio 4, satire, shitty weather, public transport. I miss the marginalization of religious emphasis in state affairs. I miss scowling waitresses, bad drivers, small cars, narrow streets. I miss politeness and rudeness.

Who was your childhood hero?

Douglas Adams

What was your favorite American Sitcom (if any) while growing up?

I liked Cheers at lot, and Moonlighting before it went all shit with the love story and writers’ strike and all (although that’s not really a sitcom). Reruns of The Munsters were shown in the UK, and Taxi was a hit with my family.

Best British movie in your opinion and why.

Brazil. Funny, terrifying, prescient, and for once the theatrical version had the downbeat ending. So many characters, great actors, great effects, design, music.

And British Show?

TV show? Here’s a few in genres. News – Newsnight. Music – Later with Jools Holland, Top Of The Pops. Comedy – Father Ted, Black Books, The Young Ones, The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge. David Attenborough. Armando Iannucci. Jeremy Paxman, Stephen Fry, I’m getting carried away now.

What were people like where you lived that like The Cure? I am curious if it was a strictly gothic crowd or a mix of that plus normal people or simply everyone.

In my home town (Bedford, Bedfordshire) there were state schools, and private schools. I went to a state school. The Cure seemed to be more popular in the private schools, for some reason. Cure fans weren’t always full-blown Goths, more like trendy kids with spiky (yes, sometimes dyed black) hair, or floppy collapsed quiffs. The real Goths liked Sisters Of Mercy (Temple of Love is a great tune), Fields of the Nephilim and so on.

Also, are you a fan? If so- top 5 favorite songs please.

No, I’m not. I did like that one song In Between Days though. The Walk was OK. Lovecats annoyed the shit out of me, and Lullaby was tedious. Sorry.

Man, this interview is really going to be boring if you hate music. Sure hope you are into music. At least a little. And not Queen. jk.

No problem, I love music. Although I can feel my tastes calcifying with age.

Favorite band in the early 90s?

New Order

Favorite band today?

Wow, tough one. Not necessarily my favorite bands, but currently in my car’s creaking CD player are Ladytron, Nick Cave, The Burning Of Rome. If I set my iPod to Shuffle Songs, the first 5 bands that come up are as follows (honest): Spiritualized, The Primitives, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Richard Hawley. That was pretty representative, so here’s the next five, to show I’m not ashamed: Hawkwind, New Order, David Bowie, Howard Jones, OMD. And just for luck, the next five: Boards of Canada, Jane’s Addiction, Kraftwerk, Schmoof, William Orbit. Take yer pick.

First concert?

I’ve never been a big concert-goer, which is something I truly regret, and which I am working on changing. It’s Nick Cave in San Diego next week. My first concert was in 1990, Inspiral Carpets, Brixton Academy.

What would your reaction be if I mailed you a wild, rare, million dollar plant (what? they totally exist.) nestled inside of a terracotta pot? Would you transfer it into something else and risk its death or try to overcome The Terracotta?

I would be cool with transferring it to another pot. Or I would leave it. I would just have to be careful of hangnails. Like I said, this thing isn’t debilitating. Please go ahead with the sending of the plant, thanks.

Do people really eat beans for breakfast often in England?

Yes they do, as part of the de-licious, nu-tricious (said in Slim Pickens accent) Full English Breakfast, which in my favorite heart-stopping incarnation consists of bacon (juicy UK style), sausage, toast, fried eggs, baked beans in tomato sauce, and thick chips. All with lots of ketchup and HP sauce. But it’s up to you – add black pudding, fried bread, white pudding (Scottish or Irish), fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, whatever you like. Don’t listen to people who claim there’s a “real” Full English Breakfast, or to people who claim there’s a “real” England or a “real” America. Sorry, carping on again.

Someone tried to run me over when I was visiting London. When my husband tried to fight him, he (the other guy) kept saying in his British accent “I am going to eff you in the ass”. (although he didn’t say ‘eff’ he said the real F). Is this a normal expression of anger(?)?

No it’s not, but the sort of person who gets angry and violent when they are called out for attempted murder are not really a good barometer of language trends.

If you could tell my readers the best places to visit in the UK where would you suggest they visit?

I wish I was more qualified to answer this. I have friends who enjoy hiking and walking – they could probably tell you more.

  • London obviously. Do all the tourist stuff, it’s great. But also try to find the smaller stuff – there’s so much going on, and so much to see. I regret not doing more when I was there.
  • The Peak District
  • The Lake District
  • The north-east coast, Northumberland etc.
  • The south-west coast, Devon and Cornwall etc.
  • Avoid Peterborough. Seriously.

Link me to your favorite blog post of your own.

In the absence of a better idea, this one. Other than that, have look around. The old theatre stuff is quite fun, as I blogged the run of a show. The site’s in a bit of a state after a problematic upgrade, so just have a wander.

What are you top 5 favorite blogs to read?

I read a lot, and my favorites change from day to day, but here are some that I grab as soon as they’re up.

Favorite concert ever- who/ where?

Jarvis Cocker, London Astoria, February 2007. The man’s a star.

What did you think of the movie 28 Days Later?

The first half was great, deserted London, sudden shocks, David Schneider as a vivisectionist (something I can now cross off the wish list). The second half was a disappointment. It suddenly reduced the scale of the film. Christopher Eccleston was great, of course, in his saliva spraying madness, but I wanted to see the whole country decay, not just one small group. I like seeing large-scale shots of devastation and chaos.

What was the Manchester scene like in the 90s when you were in school there?

Ha, well, you’re asking the wrong person really. I got into college there, and arrived in September 1990. I wasn’t really equipped to cope with studying and looking after myself. Planning my time, getting up, all that stuff. I wasn’t ready. Add to that the fact that it was a huge buzzing place that everyone was talking about, and I think I got out of my depth. That’s not to say that I partied all the time. In fact, when I failed my exams and left after the second year, it was just because I didn’t study. I don’t have much in the way of happy memories from that time. A shame.

I saw on your blog you are into theatre. Favorite show and why.

My favorite show was The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in which I played the eponymous lead. Great play, great director. Hi Mike!

There is really a place called TOOTING in London? Is this funny to anyone else besides me? Sorry, I joke about tooting with my 1 and 4 year old every single day. We need to know more about this place. We hope people there appreciate how awesome it is to be there.

Some people do. It’s a really mixed place, with lovely small terraced houses, some kept nicely, some not. “Partially gentrified multi-ethnic” is how it’s been described by marketing demographers. It was made famous in the 1970’s by the (pretty bad in retrospect) Citizen Smith, a TV sitcom about a hapless Che Guevara-t-shirt-wearing Marxist revolutionary wannabe and his group, the Tooting Popular Front. The intro had him walking past Tooting Broadway tube station, then stopping, raising his fist and yelling, “Power to the people!”. Probably on YouTube somewhere. He lived with a right-wing security guard, with hilarious results. Tooting Bec Common is a lovely park, with the huge (cold) Lido. Tooting! Less snobby and expensive than Balham to the north, less of a total shithole than Mitcham to the south!

Thoughts on San Diego so far?

Warm, dry, good food, good dog beach. Still collating.

Biggest regret / disappointment album purchased? (mine = Sublime)

You mean which album do I regret buying the most? Good one. Recently, Spiritualized, Songs in A&E. Ever? Dunno.

Favorite Wonder Stuff album?

I was never really a Stuffies fan, but I like Eight-Legged Groove Machine the best – great fun, simple songs. They got all showbiz and circussy after that. Plaid suits and violins, yeuchhh. For a while, Miles Hunt was his own Cockney Rhyming Slang, until James Blunt came along. That said, On The Ropes from Construction for the Modern Idiot is one of my favorite songs ever.

If you could pull together your ideal concert summer series who would you put in the line-up (old and current bands alike).

Wow, blimey, that’s gonna take some work. Can I get back to you on that? Perhaps a gathering of all the old political dub-rock festival groups from the early 80’s. Or perhaps not.

p.s. send a photo of yourself so you can be properly recognized on the post about YOU and hey doesn’t that make blog entries more interesting and inviting?

Here’s Flickr.


And that’s that. Feel free to draw conclusions, and make sure you send any analyses to the proper authorities. Just give me a day or so’s head start.

My Best Side – Facebook Profile Photo Categories

On one of my sporadic visits to Facebook, when I block a few more applications, and take a few more quizzes where the setter of the quiz has got the spelling of the movie/band/80’s cartoon character/TV show wrong (there’s no such thing as Monkey Magic, dolts), I noticed that profile photos tend to fall into a limited set of categories. I’ve tried to list them below.

  1. The Look, It’s Me On My Grainy Webcam
  2. The Look A Little Closer
  3. The Look Into My Eye
  4. The Look, I’m On Stage
  5. The Look, I’ve Had Professional Black And White 8×10’s Done, Please Cast Me In Something
  6. The Look, I’m Sat On A Mountain
  7. The Look, I’m Wearing A Silly Hat Or Other Amusing Headgear
  8. The Look, I’m Wearing Sunglasses On Holiday
  9. The Look, It’s A TV Or Movie Character That I Like
  10. The Look, It’s A Vegetable And Not A Portrait At All
  11. The Look, I Have An Apple Mac and PhotoBooth
  12. The Look, I Got Married To This Person
  13. The Look, I Used To Be A Child
  14. The Look, I’m A Breeder
  15. The Look, I’m Drunk

No judgement here, only observation. Off the top of my head, I have fallen into at least four of these categories in the past.

Actually, thinking about it, this list is pretty comprehensive. I’ve been back and added several after reading it. Again, I’m not trying to be sarcastic or snarky with this list, it’s just an observation. After all, people are going to use whatever photos they have that tell a story. Exercise for the reader: What styles other than the above are there?


I don’t really go on Facebook much these days. Twitterfeed squirts these blog entries onto my Twitter feed, my Twitter feed is duplicated as my Facebook status and my Flickr pics go up there too. I really should, many pals are there.

San Francisco, October 2008 – It Was A Trip

I’ve been doing a bit of zooming around the West Coast in the last few months. Back in mid-October (yes this is one of those “about time too” posts – the Xmas 2008 post is coming soon) was a nice trip up north. Thursday night after work I scuttled through the streets to catch the Surfliner to LA. After an uneventful train journey up the coast, watching the last of the sunset over the Pacific, my bird Cassie picked me up from the beautiful art deco Union Station (as used by Ridley Scott for the interior of the LAPD in Blade Runner), and we grabbed some food in Chinatown.

In the morning we (or should I say I?) finalised packing, and then met some folks for a nice breakfast at Dusty’s, a favourite of ours. We’ve taken to sharing breakfast plates, because with the rosemary potatoes, toast and jam and everything else, we realised we didn’t need two omelettes as well. So this time was the Dusty’s special (with a side of crunchy American bacon) and their delicious strawberry and orange juice, and of course much coffee. Then we hit the road.

It’s not the most scenic of voyages, driving straight up the 5, but it’s a lot quicker than driving up the coast, less hassle than flying, and until the California High Speed Rail gets built, it’s pretty much the only option.

The first night we stayed in leafy well-to-to Orinda, with Cassie’s brother Don and his family. It was gratifying that her nephews were pleased to see me; Bennett especially likes to use me as a trampoline. We ate dinner with Don and Darien at a nice little restaurant with a big gnarly tree impinging on it. We were tired after our trip, so we didn’t indulge too much before hitting the hay in Darien’s immaculate guest room (mucho Resto).

In the morning Don was making pancakes, so I grabbed a couple for the road, and Cassie and I drove to the BART station for a day in San Francisco. The BART trains and tunnels were used in THX 1183 before they went into service, that is, the original version of the movie, before George Lucas did his thing and cocked it all up with CGI. Pillock.

The first thing we did was to go to the California Academy of Sciences, newly refurbished with its famous turf roof. This was my idea, and while I’m all for these museums and galleries, with their agenda of opening up science to families and so on, but they do get a bit samey after a while. I do like looking at these displays, especially aquariums (aquaria?), but with the emphasis on educating the little ones, adults do end up reading how important water is quite a lot. Perhaps there’s a niche for a grown-up’s Natural History Museum, complete with dioramas and hands-on wheel-turning and button-mashing, but with the emphasis on the more adult side of the world of nature. Should be fun.

Sadly the Planetarium was fully booked. This was a real shame – I haven’t been in a planetarium since I was a boy, when my parents took me to London and I went to Madame Tussauds, had the shit scared out of me at the Doctor Who exhibit, and then even more shit scared out of me in the Chamber of Horrors, with its displays of famous serial killers and methods of execution. The recent idiotic (or deliberately misleading) comment from Republican presidential hopeful John McCain about a $3 million “overhead projector” reminded me that I want to go to another one. They’re probably improved since 1980.

We were due to meet Cassie’s pal Chandra at Haight & Ashbury, so we rode a taxi  with a funny and very enthusiastic driver, and hopped out right outside the Ben & Jerry’s right on the corner. Lunch was at the All You Knead Cafe, a bohemian joint with great burgers and veggie diner cuisine combined with old faded formica and psychedelic murals.

We hung out in San Francisco, met up with Cassie’s old high school friend Taylor, and went for drinks at Zeitgeist (where we got free cake by the happy accident of sharing one of the big outdoor tables with a birthday party), followed by a walk through the city to another bar, this one a nice relaxed pub, with stools at the bar, friendly barman (gave Cassie free drinks, eh?) and fun decor, motorbikes hanging from the wall, those Borg-recharger spark things, and classic neon signs.

To round off the evening, Cassie and I had a late dinner at Firefly before walking down the hill to catch a late BART ride home, which was kept lively by a contingent of screeching drunken cougars and their hopefully-embarrassed prey.

We slept in the next morning, as well as can be expected with three young boys running around above you (the guest room is downstairs beneath the kitchen). Maybe the pounding was in my head, I’m not sure. The next morning we left Orinda to drive north over the Golden Gate and onward to Santa Rosa, to visit with a friend of Cassie’s.

I’ve found that in the US if you add “West” to a street name, or forget to add it, you find yourself on the complete opposite side of town. So it was that we arrived at the Homeless Mission. A quick phone call corrected the error, and soon we were settled in the comfy living room of Cassie’s old friend Erin, meeting her partner and her cute son Bodie (sp?). He was engrossed in an episode of Thomas the Train, which is the US version of Thomas the Tank Engine. I think they changed the name because mentioning a tank offended the gentle people of this most pacifist of nations, and instead of Ringo Starr, they have Alec Baldwin voicing it. Bodie has this fantastic habit of not saying yes when answering a question in the affirmative. Instead he says, “Oh!” in such a way that you expect him to follow it up with, “… I do declare!”. Pretty damn cute.

For dinner we picked up a good takeout pizza and a takeout jug of good beer from this micro-brew pub, where a band was playing some original stuff to an appreciative and varied crowd. Having scoffed the pizza, we then finished off the beer and stayed up late debating the economic bailout and watching more Thomas the Train.

We had to head off back south the next day, so we strolled to A’Roma Roasters for some brew and an American-style Breakfast Cake. Santa Rosa, or what I saw of it, was beautiful, with autumn trees, wooden houses, and the old rail tracks that were used for the Handcar Regatta.

After that we hit the road again, and much later I was tiredly crawling into a taxi to take me home from the station. Home.


I took a load of photos, but my camera got dropped while it’s lens was extended, and now it seems to be knackered. I’m sure it will be fine to get the card out, but that means I’m in the market for a new camera. January sales…?