Monthly Archives: February 2009

Recent Links, 20090218

» Desktop Flickr Organizer for Gnome Useful tool for editing tags, sets and descriptions of your Flickr photos offline, then uploading and syncing your changes. Must buy a new camera. Works under Gnome, so fine for Ubuntu.

» Bad Science » Help! Legal Chill from LBC 97.3 over Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering (a bit old now, but still simmering on) Ben Goldacre needs a lawyer. Jeni Barnett, wrong anti-MMR radio presenter, didn’t like him posting a clip of her spouting rubbish and being rude to nurses. Can anyone help?

» Childhood Fears | Sooth Brush Photographs of scary scenes. Some great stuff here. I like the clown-behind-the-sheet.

» The little page of TRANSPORT CHAOS Excellent and funny display of UK transport statistics, with the Threat Level highlighted. One for all my commuting ex-homies.

» Irukandji syndrome – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Don’t go in the water

» California Action Alert – Say No to Biometrics in CA Driver’s Licenses | Electronic Frontier Foundation Email your Senator now via this website – prevent this rushed and clumsy intrusion on your privacy slipping through without public and legislative scrutiny.

» Peter H. Cropes: I am Infected. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m on the way

» The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age – Ars Technica Excellent article about e-books, their past, present and future. Screen size, people’s issues, DRM, Palm, Apple, Amazon, and much more. I used to read Gutenberg Wells and Lovecraft on my Palm TE while commuting. I can see the attraction.

» Johann Hari: Why should I respect these oppressive religions? – The Independent Quite a clear summing up of my thoughts on this subject. Why should respect _any_ religions? Oppressive ones are bad enough, but don’t let the quiet ones get away with anything either. NB This is not to say that I agree with anything else Hari says. I just thought this was succinct.

» London from above, at night – The Big Picture Part one of this wonderful gallery.

» More of London from above, at night – The Big Picture Absolutely beautiful gallery of aerial shots of London, taken at night. Not many of my old stomping grounds featured, but it does make me want to pop back.

» YouTube – maccy A montage of pics of a Westie, set to a C86 Primal Scream song. Affecting.

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

There’s lots of talk about Twitter at the moment, so here’s my two cents worth penny’s worth one Expat Trading Token’s worth.

  • I like it, I use it. If you don’t like it or don’t use it, fine. End of.
  • It sounds stupid” – OK, don’t use it. You’re probably right, and we’ll all thank you when this blows over for your incisive thoughts. Well done.
  • “What use is it?” – None, some, or plenty. Take your pick.
  • “Most people on Twitter are just saying nothing in a big cloud” – partially true, completely the point. Move along.
  • If you have the word “marketing” in your bio, I will block you.
  • I don’t often use the “@” reply thing, but I do use it sometimes. Some people’s twitterstreams are full of simple “@[insert name here] LOL!”, and they use it all the time. Fine by me.

Many people have tried to write dictionaries and rules of etiquette for Twitter, a lot of which have been bullshit attempts to codify something, and thereby claim it. “Oh yeah, I compiled the Twictionary” – piss off. Most people don’t use these words, and the etiquette thing is even worse. Some people think it’s rude not to follow everyone who follows you. As far as I’m concerned, I follow people I find interesting, whether I’ve met them or not. But I like to have been introduced, physically or otherwise.

It was very interesting to follow people’s reactions to the US Presidential Debates, live, as an auto-updating Twitter stream. It seemed that 75% of the people commenting were Democrats. There were also many bots – programs out there posting regularly, created purely to snark. My observation was that most of these were Republican.

I like Graham Linehan’s take on the whole Twitter.

Ignore those grumpy luddites in the broadsheets and elsewhere, who don’t understand it, can’t be bothered to learn how it works and are frightened at the prospect that people are entertaining themselves in a way that doesn’t involve accepted media forms.

My first post (not keen on using the term tweet) was in August 2007. My usage patterns have varied since then, as it has faded in and out of usefulness. I usually use the web interface, as I post from work. I also use Twitterfox, Motwit on my phone (which shows up as “web” in the stats below), and I will be trying TweetDeck soon. Here are a few interesting views, created by the myriad tools out there.

This post’s title comes from the wonderful, uplifting and tender song by Middle Of The Road, posted in my playlist on the “musical Twitter”, Blip.fm. Let’s see what the chattering late-to-the-party journos make of that.

Finally I Can Confess

There have been some nasty attacks in Silver Lake, with men walking alone being grabbed, robbed (sometimes) and injured (often). For a while it seemed nothing was being done, then the LAPD announced they had arrested two boys aged 15 and 16, who were gang members. Scary stuff. This prompted me to think about the crimes I have committed in my time. I am reformed now, but there was a time… (wavy screen effect, as we go back, way back, back into time)

I used to work at Woolworths in my home town of Bedford, from 1989 to 1993(ish), on Saturdays, during holidays, when I was back from college and so on. I worked in the Record Department (called the “Record Bar” because of it’s awkward queuing principle: “Who’s next please?”), behind the till, up in the storeroom, and out on the shop floor restocking shelves. Woolworths has now gone out of business, ending a long history of High Street ubiquity. I have many memories of working there, too many to go into detail over, but here are a few.

  • Before Xmas 1989, everybody that bought anything at the record bar also bought a copy of the Phil Collins CD, …But Seriously.
  • Before Xmas 1990, everybody that bought anything at the record bar also bought a VHS copy of Pretty Woman.
  • Every Xmas, everybody that bought anything at the record bar bought a 5-pack of 180-minute Memorex VHS tapes.
  • Every January, everyone that had bought Memorex videotapes brought them back for a refund, because they were shit.
  • Some bright spark at head office thought the crap Eurodance tune by U96, Das Boot, was going to be as big a hit in the UK as it was in Germany. It totally wasn’t, and for weeks we had boxes and boxes of this CD single piled up in the stockroom. Even dropping the price to 49p and dumping them in the bargain didn’t shift them.
  • Some bright spark at head office designated Akira as a kid’s film, “because it was a cartoon” despite it having an 18 rating. Therefore, because head office said so, we had to put it next to the Disney and Thomas The Tank Engine.
  • We had Easter Eggs in the stockroom in January. “Oo, it gets earlier every year, dunnit?”. Shut up.
  • People smoked in the lunchroom. Seems weird now.
  • A customer brought me an open penknife that she had found on a shelf, and told me it was dangerous for staff to leave their boxcutters lying around. I agreed, apologised, and kept the penknife. Nice wood handle, folding 2″ blade.
  • A couple of weeks later, the manager (who was getting on a bit IMHO) saw me using said penknife and said, “Where did you find that? I lost it a couple of weeks ago, after I had been opening boxes with it.”
  • To begin with, I used to sweep the floors at the end of the day. One day I was on the shop floor sweeping when the lights went out. The manager had turned them off, thinking the place was empty. I called out that I was still there, but he’d gone. Eventually the alarms went off and the police turned up to find me standing waving in the window. The manager, who had to be called in from home to open the doors, blamed me. Senile old fool.
  • I think there was quite a lot of naughtiness and thievery that went on, because the Manager (not the senile one – his replacement, an altogether sharper cookie) instigated a random bag search when we were leaving the store to go home.

Now that the company is gone, I can reveal a filthy secret that has haunted down through the decades. One day, I was working in the stockroom, unpacking a case of TDK blank cassettes. I used to buy a lot of these, because we used to swap copies all the time, and I would buy vinyl to play at home and then tape it to play in my walkman. It’s called format-shifting, try it sometime. I was short of cash. I needed some tapes. I was alone in the stockroom. The slippery slope beckoned.

I unwrapped a 3-pack of TDK D90’s, with a street value of £1.99 (I think) and put the cellophane in my pocket. Then I removed the cellophane from each of the tapes. I opened each tape case, removed the little sheet of labels, and wrote appropriate band and album names on them, which I then stuck to the tapes. “808 State – Ninety“, “Pop Will Eat Itself – This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This!“, “Jesus Jones – Liquidizer“ and so on. I wound the tapes forward a bit so that it would look like they had been played. I scuffed the cases on the floor so they wouldn’t look too pristine. I went to the locker room and put the tapes in my bag, and kept all the wrapping in my pocket. I then went around the store for the rest of the day, putting bits of cellophane and label backing sheet into the various bins around the place, behind tills, in the stockroom, in the breakroom.

At the end of the day, as we all trooped down from the locker room to the back exit, I was nervous about the highly valuable contraband I was carrying in my duffel bag. It felt like I was carrying the Old Man Of The Sea, but he was made out of burning hot radioactive lead. The manager was standing by the door, the keys in his hand, ready to lock the door behind us all. Would he do a bag check? As I approached him, I said goodnight, then I walked out into the Saturday dusk.

I got about 5 steps, then he called out, “Matthew!”.

I froze, and turned around. Should I run? Brazen it out? What did he want? Why me?

“Good work today, Matthew, thank you.”

I smiled, turned, and went to my bike, chained to the railings across the square. I tried not to fumble the keys as I hurried to unlock it, and escape. I was free. Or so I thought. The guilt would make sure I would never be free.

(The last four pararaphs are not true.)

I guess in some small way I contributed to to the collapse of the company. For this, I apologise. But I won’t apologise for the fact that I can breathe free at last.

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 4 – An Ending?

The story so far: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

After the events of Part 3, I went to CVS and bought a $14.99 1GB USB stick in the shape of a panda. I had a choice of panda, tiger, or frog, or SanDisk Cruser infected with U3, and of course I wanted to avoid that. Over the weekend I got it home, used gparted to format it to fat32 (painless), ran unetbootin to install the Easy Peasy ISO to it (also painless) and hit the EeePC.

I plugged the stick into the EeePC, turned it on, and hit ESC until the boot device menu came up. I selected the USB stick to be the boot device, the Easy Peasy logo came up, and the LiveCD install ran. Then it asked me a few questions like user name and timezone, then the install process began.

Then about about halfway through, I got this message:

The installer encountered an error copying files to the hard drive:

[Errno 5] Input/output error

This particular error is often due to a faulty CD/DVD disk or drive, or a faulty hard disk. It may help to clean the CD/DVD, to burn the CD/DVD at a lower speed, to clean the CD/DVD drive lens (cleaning kits are often available from electronics suppliers), to check whether the hard disk is old and in need of replacement, or to move the system to a cooler environment.

I tried reburning the ISO to the stick with unetbootin – same error, different percentage progress. I tried burning a different Ubuntu-on-the-EeePC ISO (Eeebuntu) to the stick, with the same result. I went back to Easy Peasy, with the same result, but a further percentage. I used the 4GB SD card in the side of the EeePC instead of the Panda drive to boot from, still no luck.

So what’s the frickin’ problem? Anyone?

Heavy On The Magick

It was LA again a couple of weekends ago, because we had a few special things planned. Thursday evening I drove up as I often do, and as we couldn’t decide what to do for dinner, we just walked down the road to good old Dusty’s. Walking back up the hill with Cassie in the warm evening with a good meal and a couple of strong Euro-beers inside me was most pleasurable.

Despite having Friday off, I had to be up early, though not as early as Cassie, bless her. My job was to take Gordon to the vet to have his teeth cleaned. This involved a general anesthetic, which in turn involved him not eating, and being given blood tests and all sorts of palaver. I dropped him off, made sure all was OK, then went and hung out with my buddy Brian in North Hollywood. We went for brunch, then for a quick tour around the statues in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, including the Henson Wall. A nice afternoon of chewing the fat, playing with Brian and Stacy’s dog Camden (a beautiful Golden Retriever), exploring the Brian Kinney Museum of GI Joe, Star Wars, Batman, and KISS action figures, and then it was time to pick up Gordon.

He seemed pretty perky when the vet brought him out, but when I got him in the car he curled up on the passenger seat, and went to sleep with his chin on my arm, which is unheard of. Unbearable cute. He was so stoned, he was wandering around, his eyes all droopy. He had a dogsitter that night, because Cassie and I had got something cool lined up.

Our friends A and I had got us tickets for the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which is a bit of an institution. It’s a crazy place, and it does have a bit of a reputation for being esteemed and classy with one hand, and sleazy and naff with the other. They make a big deal over getting people to dress up, and Cassie actually phoned to ask if she would be allowed in wearing flip-flops, because she had an ankle bandage on (she wasn’t, but she wanted to try). She was recommended to ask a friend with bigger feet to lend her some shoes!

Anyway, the four of us made an effort, and it was nice to be there, everyone all dressed up. We were booked in for a meal at a set time (it’s all very “by the clock”), but we got there early so we were able to grab an earlier dinner, then see more of the shows. The shows were what made the evening fun. In one of the small auditoriums we saw a magic variety show with a new stylish act involving clothes that changed color, followed by a much more traditional “assistant in a box” routine. The compére was a live wire, with a great finale involving dozens of those snake-in-the-nut-can tricks, and a blue double-breasted jacket that I think used to belong to the keyboard player from The Jets. Elsewhere in the various nooks and crannies of the building, card tricksters and traditional ball-and-cup-meisters were plying their trade. You could just stop and catch a short act, then move on.

It’s kind of a weird place – all twisting corridors and stairs and dark corners with a couple more tables for dinner, then another bar, then some creepy doll in a box on the wall, then the magical piano that plays what you tell it to (we heard Sweet Child O’ Mine).

The clientele were a mixed bunch. Several groups of younger people, getting a bit rowdy on the monstrously expensive booze. And I don’t know if they were magicians, but several of the older gentlemen were definitely accompanied by their “beautiful young assistants”, if you catch my drift. Maybe they have magic wallets.

It was a great night though, and A & I are cool for inviting us. If you throw yourself into it, and enjoy the effort that the performers make, it’s a really fun evening, even if the actual atmosphere and environment don’t tally with the image they seem to want to project. It’s all smoke and mirrors I guess, the former especially outside waiting for the valet ($8!) to bring your car round.

Then this weekend just gone was a San Diego one. Cassie came down late on Friday, then Saturday lunchtime we went to see The Reader in Hillcrest. An excellent film – my hope for the Oscars, rather than that patronizing one set in India. Kate Winslet was great – a really subtle and strong performance, and the male lead was great too. I also loved the furniture in the scenes in the 70’s. And the professor’s leather portfolio. Seriously. After that we strolled through the drizzle (as in light rain, not some Snoop Dogg thing)  to Mille Feuille for a cup of delicious hot chocolate and a couple fancy macaroon things.

Sunday we actually managed to get to the beach again – Gordon was in need of a good run around after being cooped up out of the rain. The sky was blue with little fluffy clouds,the sun was warm, the sailboats on the horizon out towards the Coronado Islands – pretty fecking beautiful. I must get another camera. Gordon was enjoying running about with all the other dogs, and we walked up to the wire fence separating the dog beach from the Naval Air Base. Then the usual trip to the Dog Wash, then a soda, then some relaxing and TV, before Cassie headed home.

These weekends are the only time we get to spend together, so we try and pack them as much as possible. That’s easier to do in LA, because I know more people there, but that will change. It looks like we won’t be making a move north for a while, because of the work problem – Cassie would need to quit her job and find a new one in SF, which would be kinda dumb, given the climate. We’ll see.

What You (Didn’t) Miss(ed) – A Fascinating Glimpse

I had a bit of a modern dilemma, which I resolved by writing this blog post. Just blurb it out, Petty. If nothing else, it will describe a typical, if busy, evening in the life of your beloved chronicler. A good way to keep the folks at home up to speed, or at least illustrate the little differences.

So after a pretty regular day at the office on Monday, when we were told that budgetary constraints have been lifted so we can carry on working, I went home via the grocery store. I sometimes go to the Albertsons off University, but it does get a little bit ghetto in there. I also go to Trader Joes on University and Vermont, which is more my style (middle class drone “individual human being” that I am). There’s a Ralphs there that I’d never been in, so I gave that a try. In fact I went to both, because they’re next door to each other. Give it a whirl, eh.

Got the usual stuff. I somehow managed to buy a bottle of “green” dish washing liquid at both stores, so that’s me set in case of earthquake. In TJ’s (as I don’t like to call it) I got some extremely girly-girly lavender sachets to put in the dryer. There is a good reason for this. When using the dryers in the laundry at the apartment complex, I don’t like using those dryer sheets cos of the chemicals (all chemicals are bad). I use these knobbly blue rubber balls that tumble around, and help the stuff to dry while making them soft. They work great, but Cassie doesn’t like the lack of fragrance, hence me putting a herbal teabag in my laundry. My underpants now smell like a rural craft shop, and I am a giant pansy-boy.

So I got home with my haul, opened the squeaking, rattling, rolling garage door with my remote, parked in my underground spot (that git in the white Infiniti SUV who always parks over the line wasn’t there, so I could get into it) and lugged the shopping the two flights upstairs, pausing to grab my mail from the mailboxes by the gate.

Once in, I unpacked some of the shopping, changed out of my work clothes in to something a little more… comfortable. Then I gathered my laundry, including my bedding, and lugged it downstairs. There was one machine (out of five) free, which was a pain because I had whites and coloreds to do. The other machine displays said they only had a few minutes to go, so I hung around talking to Cassie, who had called while I was elbow-deep in dirty pants (so no change there). I loaded one machine, slotted in my $1 in quarters, then when a neighbor came out to empty their machine, I nipped in there. The two loads laundry set going, I went back upstairs and while waiting for the 30 minutes to pass, I ate a TJ’s nicoise salad, which had altogether too many capers in it. It was delicious, but too many.

Salad eaten, I washed up while listening to some old Nitzer Ebb and Front Line Assembly (it was the Industrial playlist, in case you were wondering). Warning: you may need to wipe up splashes after washing up while listening to Let Your Body Learn.

By this time, the laundry was done, so I went down and transferred my damp wash to a dryer, adding my blue rubber balls and the aforementioned lady-man lavender sachet. I could fit both loads into one dryer, but I played it safe and paid $1 for a super dry, rather than just 75 cents, because it was a double load. I didn’t put a couple of pairs of cotton linen trousers in the dryer, because they need ironing and it’s easier to do when they’re damp. So having set the machine going I went up and did this, which was extra-fun!

While I was on this crazy domestic kick, I started to polish my shoes, using the fun “set fire to the polish method”. You spread out your newspaper, or the brightly colored advertising freesheets from the local supermarkets that infest my mailbox every day, then get your tin of polish, and light it (it catches quite easily). When it’s merrily aflame and melting, you extinguish it by dropping the lid on it, then open again and breathe the delicious fumes. With a tissue, smear molten polish over the shoe, rubbing it in well. Once both shoes are well rubbed in, leave to dry.

While the polish and clothes were drying, I managed to watch a bit of TV. An episode of Flight Of The Conchords only lasts about 10 minutes if you fast forward through the songs to the funny bits, so it’s good for quick viewing. Then I started to watch some dodgy looking cartoon which turned out to be Heavy Metal 2000, but I had to stop watching because the DVR told me it wanted to record Mobile Suit Gundam Double Zero, which was OK, because I wasn’t enjoying the shite animation and cack music, despite the buxom heroine. I watched a bit of the Japanese lunacy, before switching off and getting back to my chores.

Before that, though, I had to do my One Hundred Push Ups session, as if I wasn’t getting enough exercise schlepping laundry up and down apartment steps. See my progress here.

The time was up for the drying laundry, so I went down and fetched it, finding out that the lavender wasn’t quite as strong as I had feared. After folding the warm laundry, I finished polishing my shoes, which was just a case of taking a brush to them. The dull coating of dried polish rubbed down to a very satisfying shine – I like that. Then finally after a few more minutes of pottering and preparing for the next day, I made the bed with fresh new sheets, and finally gratefully climbed in. I managed a few pages of a Ballard short story before setting the clock radio (89.5 KPBS, Where News Matters) and falling into a nice sleep, safe in the knowledge that entropy had been staved off for one more day, and like a more successful Canute I had held back the tide of kipple.

Drop And Give Me One Hundred

Last week I started doing this One Hundred Push Ups program. It’s a plan to get doing up to 100 pushups in 6 weeks, with a clear plan and tests along the way. Why I should be inspired to do this, rather than just doing more exercise, I don’t know. I think the clear plan, with steady progress means it’s easy to follow and keep up with. I’m on the second week so far, and all seems to be going OK.

I know that “upper body strength” is never something I’ve had, or indeed aspired to. My single abortive effort at surfing is testament to that – all that paddling. And I’m not trying to get “built”, just a bit more active.

I’m tracking my progress through the plan here. Maybe if I manage this, I’ll try the Two Hundred Sit Ups plan. That way I may be able finally to decide between the two waist sizes I oscillate between.