Tag Archives: Personal

Finally!

I love Cassie, and we want to be together, and so we’re getting married!

We just told Cassie’s family, and we’re enjoying a glass of fizz.

It’s been a long time coming, despite the fact we’ve only been living  together for just under a year. It wasn’t necessarily a spontaneous thing – I didn’t surprise her with a trip to Tiffany in New York on New Year’s Day, or reveal a printed t-shirt stenciled with ‘the question’ while dining in Pizza Hut, or go down on one knee over the Thames (people I know did all of these). It was a joint decision, which was the logical next step.

But that doesn’t diminish how happy I feel right now.

More news as it appears!

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, That We Went After The NSA

Had a fun and social time at the Electronic Frontier Foundation 20th Birthday party at SF’s famous DNA Lounge last night. Met up beforehand with foodie and antiques fan Adam at Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant, which is a tiny grubby place, with amazing food at incredible prices. It was the first time we’d met after being that most modern of things, “Internet Acquaintances”, for nigh on six years, via Monkeyfilter, WTFIWWYP and so on. Great to finally meet.

After stuffing ourselves we went over to the venue, where the earlier VIP event was still winding down. But they soon let us proles in, and we had a look round the space. The DNA Lounge is pretty popular amongst the geeky set in San Francisco, and there are several club nights there I might take a look at. Then again, I haven’t been to a club proper in years – and an Industrial night called “Meat” may not be the best place to start.

I got to meet lots of cool people. Adam is friends with the EFF’s Rebecca from way back, a symptom of what he described was the incredible way that in SF, there only seems to be 3 degrees of separation (is that why lots of guys in San Francisco are big fans of The Three Degrees?). He introduced me, and it was nice again to meet someone who I follow on Twitter. Hearing my accent, Rebecca in turn introduced me to Veteran Of A Thousand Cyberwars Danny O’Brien, who was working the room like a pro after his on-stage antics, and he seemed pleased that I was wearing my old “Elite” NTK tshirt. We had a chat about the old NTK days, how it started, why it stopped, and why it’s no longer needed. I contributed a couple of tiny things to the site “back in the day”, including the Paunch tshirt of which I am not really that proud.

paunch_tshirt

Here’s a couple of Flickr sets from the evening, including clips of the hilarious “Legends of EFF” theatrical production, which told the story of the EFF, from the first case of the US Secret Service raiding an RPG manufacturer because they thought it was a cybercrime cell, through the incredible antics of AT&T and the NSA (just a block away from my office!), to the court battles over the Broadcast Flag.

Great evening, good fun, good cause, and it’s spurred me on to dump the evil (and under-performing) AT&T and get a better phone – so much of the social whirl seems to be driven by iPhones and Androids, and my battered Centro just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Plus I want a new toy.

2009 – WTFIGO?

It’s about that time. I’ve got a nice lunch and some cocktails sloshing around inside me, so I just wanted to say to you all, Happy Holidays, and the best wishes of the season!

Interestingly, despite the US supposedly being a theist cloud cuckoo land, it’s much more acceptable to say “Happy Holidays”, so that’s what I’m doing. As I’ve said before, Xmas to me is about the atmosphere, lights, yes gifts, food, family, friends. Cold weather helps. San Francisco is certainly colder than San Diego, but not as cold as London, from what I see on the telly.

It’s been quite the decade! Lots to talk about, but in the meantime, I just want to repeat

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Writing Things Down So I Don’t Forget

When I was employed in my first “proper” job, which in fact I have to this day, I was always trying to find ways to organise my thoughts and notes in such a way as to record everything I needed to know, and to remember, and to write up elsewhere. I would watch respected senior colleagues draw margins in notebooks, and scribble with pencils and fountain pens, and try to incorporate their methods. Now, finally, as I approach 38, I feel I have settled on a pretty decent system. It’s just a few things I do, and I don’t know if it’s perfect or even ideally suited to me, but I thought I’d lay it all out in plain sight.

The Tools

I use a regular hard-backed spiral bound notebook, with the spiral on the side rather than on the top. In the UK I would use a A4-sized one. Sometimes it would book-bound rather than spiral, which didn’t matter much. Now in the US I use some weird thing that is 7″ wide by 9 1/2″ tall. Doesn’t really matter. This book is my everyday notepad, work to-do list, sketchpad (I’m an engineer who thinks in diagrams), and everything else. I also use Outlook for email and calendar, but I carry the book around, to meetings and so on. It’s my record of everything. I have a shelf with about half a dozen of them.

I have one blue and one black Parker Vector fountain pens. I find that my terrible handwrting (I’m an engineer after all) is at least partly legible if I use a fountain pen. Failing that, I have a couple of Pilot G1’s floating around. I also have a Staedtler Mars 780 lead holder for pencil sketches. I love the metal knurling, but wish it would stay sharper for longer – the lead pointer makes such a mess.

The Method

In the insde front cover, I write the date, so that I know when I started using the book. When the book is full, I write the date again. This gives me a record of all my notes.

I number the books pages in the top outside corner as I go, and give it a margin if it doesn’t have one, using the old hold-the-pen-with-fingernail-against-edge-of-book-to-get-straight-margin-line-method. My current book has margins, and date boxes and all sorts of good stuff.

As I write stuff down during meetings, I draw a little box next to each task, or other notes if they’re required. Then later I can go through, rewrite stuff, and check off the tasks. When everything on a page is done, checked, ticked, or otherwise finished with, I write a diagonal slash across the bottom outside corner. That way I can flick through and see that there is nothing on that page that needs my attention.

Once a bunch of pages is completed, I clip them together using a small foldback clip. If I have one undone task on a page which is preventing me from marking the page as complete, I copy it to a newer page, marking the number of the new page in the tasks little box. On the newer page, I also mark the task with the page it came from, to show that it  has been deferred, and should be dealt with quickly.

That’s it really. Pretty simple. Considering it took me years to settle on a method that seems to work, you’d think it would be more complex and profound. Nope.

Anecdote: A colleague used to use a small tape recorder to record thoughts on the way home in his car. It was quite amusing what he would do to mark the end of one thought and the start of another – when he had finished talking about one subject, he would make a long, low beep noise, “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep”.

Later, when he was trying to find his various thoughts on the tape by using the fast forward and rewind buttons, he would be able to hear his speeded-up talking, interspersed with high pitched, “biiip!”

25 Albums – Pet Shop Boys – Actually

Part of the 25 Albums project.

Spotting a trend yet? Not one for the rock music, me. Maybe later in the list.

The Pet Shop Boys’ second studio album was the one that really pushed them out, with several chart hits. They had the 1987 Xmas Number One, with a song that still makes me tear up, the cover of Presley’s Always On My Mind (which didn’t appear on this album, but never mind). It was just what everyone was into, and I had a taped copy from Paul, or Gavin. I listened and listened…

One More Chance

“The city is quiet, too cold to walk alone, strangers in overcoats hurry on home”

This album always had a very “London” feel. This was the late ’80s, with large amounts of development along the banks of the Thames, new sterile yuppie communities springing up and images of “strangers in overcoats” hurrying on home. This song always made me think of what it would be like to live in the capital, in a modern flat in the Barbican, for example, or in the new Docklands area. A clean slate of an environment, and a clean slate of a life. No history, or at least a history buried under smooth concrete and frosted glass.

Musically, this album has quite a few similar tracks. Despite the fully electronic instrumentation (I think it was one of the first to be performed on digital instruments, mastered digitally, and then distributed on a digital format, that is, the CD ([D][D][D])) it’s the organic sounds that strike you here. The tom-toms, the strange sampled “meep-meep” sound, and most evocative of all, the squeal of tyres in the underground car park.

In common with many tracks on this album, it combines some quite sparse sounds and drums, with atmospheric strings and piano, all given a big space with some reverb. Lovely stuff.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?

“Now I can do what I want to – forever…”

The video for this always makes me smile. Backstage rushing about, dancing girls getting ready, and the Boys just doing their standing around thing, while Dusty grooves as the curtain goes up. PSB had wanted to do a big theatrical performance tour around this time, but couldn’t afford it. Later they could, and Performance was the result.

This is a classic story spelled out in song. Broken relationships in an unfamiliar (to me) place and time. I wonder what it would have been like being of “dating” age when this album came out. Or at least 30.

When Dusty Springfield sings her second verse, and the strings take off, it makes me shiver.

Shopping

“I heard it in the House of Commons, everything’s for sale”

Little bit of politics. There were lots of de-nationalizations around this time, with electricity, gas and telecoms companies all being sold off. Add to that the fact that the new entrepreneurialism was sweeping away lots of traditional industry, and Thatcher (may the ground swallow her) was cementing her leadership. Yuppies, free market enterprise, those who can’t streamline go to the wall (“what wall?”), “no such thing as society”.

Musically, not a great one. More sampled voices used as instruments, electronic horns, and so on. Let’s move on.

Rent

“You buy me things, I love it.”

A classic, and another twisted love story. Quite the giveaway as well. There were those who thought PSB tried to hide the gay aspect of their music and background. Fools. Famously (?) covered by Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, this one. It hangs around in a melancholy key, but some phrases lift themselves up into a more optimistic space, before dropping back.

Hit Music

“… all night long to your desperate hit music”

Quite a barnstormer. Cunning use of string hits, and touches of sampled crowd noise to make a point. Pop music is an outlet. You work the working week, then dress up and head out for your dose of hedonism. A bit like Soft Cell’s Bedsitter, except you get the impression that the subject of this one has a job.

I like the way this one switches to a slower groove for the fade-out, leaving a nice space for the next song…

It Couldn’t Happen Here

“In six-inch heels, quoting magazines”

A slowie! The title theme for PSB’s movie starring them and a crazed Joss Ackland! I never saw the movie, funnily enough, but I loved Ackland’s manic grin on the cover of Always On My Mind.

The lyrics refer to Tennant’s early days in London, when they “were never being boring”. Optimism, friendship, followed by sadness and disappointment.

It’s a Sin

“I didn’t care and I still don’t, understand?”

A real breakthrough hit for PSB. Big stab at Catholic school education and an apocalyptic trashing of Catholic guilt. Weird sample about “20 seconds…” or something. Big blarey horns and synths, great beat.

I Want to Wake Up

“I stood at the kitchen sink, my radio played songs like Tainted Love and Love Is Strange

Talking of Soft Cell. A bizarre love triangle, a kitchen sink drama that mentions the kitchen. Musically, pretty similar to most of the rest of the album.

Heart

“If I didn’t love you, I would look around for someone else”

I didn’t like this one when it was released as a single. But repeated listening on the album melted my resistance a bit. It’s a bit like It’s A Sin, but not quite as triumphant. Strings and synths again, with a swirling guitar, is that?

I was unaware that Ian McKellen played the Nosferatu-like protagonist in the video.Would that have changed my initial opinion? Hard to say, considering I didn’t know who he was at the time. Still, a favorite now.

King’s Cross

“I’ve been hurt and we’ve been had. You leave home, and you don’t go back”

Prescient indeed. In my original taped copy of this album, this song overran the end of the tape, and as it was a slowie, I wasn’t that bothered. But it rounds off the London feel of the album. Stations, streets. It touches on homelessness, street life, drugs. It’s one of the reasons I liked PSB so much – they had one foot in the gutter and one in the… perhaps not penthouse, but a nice flat in Islington at least.

I was interested to read that The Sun tried to get PSB to release this one as a charity single after the fire, but they refused. I bet that didn’t endear them to the noble, upstanding integrity-ridden Sun or their highly intelligent and dispassionate readership.

Overall, the tracks seem to fall into two types, the string-laden reverb-y slowies which ended each side of the vinyl or cassette versions, and the rest, which were mostly simple synth-and-drum-machine workouts. Standouts were It’s A Sin and What Have I Done To Deserve This?. Another example of an album which grabbed a time and place for me.

“Stop the car! I’m getting out!”

A-Movin’ And A-Truckin’

Cassie and I moved in together, at the same time moving north to San Francisco. Double whammy! Luckily, my company paid for the move, so we were able to sit back and relax as paid men boxed all our crap personal effects and loaded it onto trucks.

They were amazingly quick, because they weren’t distracted by everything they picked up, like books or scraps of paper, they just packed everything in their path. They were like locusts, it was incredible. We had to shift all of the stuff they weren’t to take out of the way. That was easier for me, because I was living alone in San Diego, and I had a spare room. I just put my suitcase and the stuff I was taking by car in there and told them to ignore it. It was harder for Cassie, because she had a roommate, and lots of his stuff was mixed up with hers, especially in the kitchen.

But because they were so quick, they also ended up packing some stuff that was a little unnecessary. They would open a drawer, take a sheet of their wrapping paper, grab a handful of the drawer contents, and wrap it up, almost without looking at it. This meant that when we were unpacking, we would open a bundle of paper to find that they had wrapped a couple of paper clips, a half-burned tea light and some lint. If we had packed, it would have taken ages, but we would have purged at the same time. As it was, while unpacking at the other end we filled the trashcan twice over, and the recycling bin, and two or three boxes for the thrift store.

It was kind of embarrassing to have them running up and down stairs in San Diego on a very hot day, while I literally just sat on the sofa. There was nowhere else to sit, the sofa wasn’t being moved, and it was out of the way. I walked to 7-11 and got them cold drinks, but other than that I was just hanging around, keeping out of their way and answering questions from time to time.

Once they had left me alone in my little place in San Diego, Rimah, the best landlord I’ve ever had, came over and we did the paperwork and final sorting out. Then it was time to hit the road, first to LA, where Cassie had just said goodbye to all her stuff as the movers whisked it away.

Her place looked weird, completely empty. I don’t think her roommate had much of an idea how much of the furniture was hers. A blank slate, so he can make his mark. We spent a day or so making final preparations, meeting friends, feeling too hot thanks to the local brushfires, and getting psyched up. Then we hit the road, Cassie in her Jeep and me in my Audi, stopping first at Home for a final breakfast. We didn’t plan to drive caravan the whole way, but that’s the way it ended up. We got a mighty convoy, ain’t she a beautiful sight, only with Bluetooth instead of CB Radio. We only got split up in the morass to pay your toll and get over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco itself. Once we arrived, we had a bit of a rest before inflating our temporary air beds and getting comfortable before the delivery of our stuff.

In San Francisco it was the same embarrassing situation. I stood there with a clipboard, while the movers dealt with the stairs, boxes, and sweat. When they left, Cassie and I were stuck with the task of trying to make all this stuff fit in our apartment. We’re still trying now,  but slowly and surely we’re getting there.

After unpacking, we had a dozen boxes filled with flattened other boxes and wrapping paper. A call to the movers and they came and collected that as well, for reuse or recycling.

And here we are! It’s been couple of weeks, and we’re pretty settled, but there are some boxes around the place which whisper to us and make us feel guilty when we watching whatever’s On Demand on the cable. Soon, my boxy friends. Soon.

A Reason, Not The Other

Post are a bit sparse here right now because I’m moving from San Diego to San Francisco, and Cassie is coming with me! My company are moving us both, the movers are coming this Thursday, and this time next week (hopefully) we will have all our stuff set up in the new apartment in Noe Valley.

I’ll write more about the search for a place, and what else I’ve been up to recently, but right now I ought to go to bed. The other problem has been that some tweaking of the proxy servers at work mean that I can’t access my website from work – a real pain because it means I can’t add posts when the mood strikes, and then when I get home there’s always something else to do. I think there may be a text file in my Dropbox which I could just stick up. Yeah, I’ll do that.

Don’t Masquerade With The Guy In Shades

OK so I got new prescription sunglasses. I felt (and I was agreed with) that my current simple metal frames were not cool enough, considering I now live (for the moment) in a city with plenty of sunshine. I’d seen a few reviews of these cheap online sunglasses stores, so I decided to take a risk and go for it. I suspect a lot of these places depend on the “for this price, why not” crowd. For $40, even if they sucked, it won’t be too bad.

After reading about a few places, I plumped for Optical 4 Less. They seem to get good reviews, and they had the frames I wanted, so I dug out my lenses prescription and went through the site’s ordering process. They give you many choices about lens type, materials, coatings and so on, and obviously that adds to the price. The website laid it all out pretty clearly, breaking it down into clear steps. I had to measure the distance between my pupils, which I did following these instructions. My sunglasses were pretty much the most basic you could get, with simple not-very-powerful lenses, no coatings and just a simple tint – “brown3”, the darkest brown they had. They came to $40 including shipping from Hong Kong. If you want special lenses, or any other fancy features, you pay extra – I saw one type of lens that would add $180 to the price. For that much I would probably visit a local store.

I ordered them on June 15th, and on Saturday June 27th I had a card in my mailbox to collect a parcel from the Post Office. I must remember to get stuff delivered to work, to save these lunchtime trips to collect parcels. When I finally got my hands on the box, here’s what happened. Look, an unboxing slideshow!

I’m very happy with the glasses. They are good quality frames – not flimsy, the lenses are working fine, and the shipping was pretty quick. If I had one complaint, the tint is not quite as dark as I would have liked. I chose the darkest brown, and they could do with being just a tad darker. But they are great, and I would recommend them.

The ones I chose are the “Freeway” model, which is an obvious ripoff of the Oakley Thump sunglasses so beloved of tedious renegade douchebags everywhere. Only joking, they are actually a copy of the famous Wayfarers from Ray-Ban, as immortalized by the Blues Brothers, that one line out of that one Don Henley song, and beloved of tedious hipster douchebags everywhere. They don’t have the little white Ray-Ban logo in the corner, but I can add that with Tipp-Ex, so that’s not a problem.

The link above is to The Blues Brothers 2000, which I’m sure you will agree was superior to the original because it had John Goodman and a child in it, John of course reprising his roles from King Ralph and The Borrowers. Hint: Never see a movie where the poster has John Goodman (or anyone else) looking shocked on it. He was great in True Stories though, despite David Byrne effortlessly acting him off the screen.

I actually got these frames in my continuing effort to more closely resemble John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank. Perhaps I should dye my hair and become attractive and talented too? Hmm? I got my black suit altered. Or perhaps Joachim “He’s Mad” Phoenix in Walk The Line. Either way, I will use them to watch you weave then breathe your storylines.

Personal Data Flow Diagram

With my Palm Centro, I’ve been playing with methods of keeping all my contacts and calendars up to date. I’ll admit it’s more of a geeky labour of love rather than a legitimate need for a solution. As the complexity of the links involved became clear, and after I had some problems with timezone shifting of my calendar events due to duplicated synchronization (always a bummer), I had started to draw it out as a simple data flow diagram.

Then I saw this beautiful Disney Organisation Chart from 1943, and I decided to create the flow chart in this style. The only tool I had immediate access to was Microsoft Visio at work, so one lunchtime I had a first crack at it.

One of the nice stylish features of the Disney diagram was the text wrapped inside the circles, fitted to the curves. Microsoft Visio doesn’t allow you to fit text to a curve, unlike pretty much all other drawing and paint software (even the “business graphics” packages do). The solution to this requirement according to the helpful souls up in Redmond is to create a Word-Art object in Word and paste that in. This would be fine except that it a) looks shit, b) can’t be edited in Visio, and c) doesn’t actually work anyway.

A quick Google found The Visio Guy and the Circular Text Generator Version 2, which is brilliant. Thanks, Visio Guy!

> wait
Time passes...

Since then, I decided I didn’t want to be trapped in Visio, so I transferred it over to Inkscape, the open-source vector graphics editing package. Inkscape is a work in progress, but so far it’s very powerful, and getting friendlier by the update. It’s default file format is SVG, so at a stretch you could edit the file in a text editor (if you were feeling crazy).

Inkscape is not yet at 1.0, so some features are a bit clunky, and many would be far easier to do in a mature commercial package, but I like to support these efforts. Particularly useful were the “Flow text into shape” feature, which is a basic tool in most other drawing software, even MS Office. The key feature for me was the Connectors feature, which is again the most obvious tool in Visio, because it allows you to connect shapes together with lines which stay connected when you move the shapes, and which can avoid overlapping other shapes if you want. Ideal for data flow diagrams.

Anyway, here is the current version of the graphic, as of today’s date.

personal data flowchart 2009 06

There is a bit of a gap in the lower left, where JPilot should really sync to Thunderbird, which would be sensible, instead of having all my C.E.N.T (Contacts, Events, Notes, Tasks) info go around the houses via Google Calendar and web. There are other weird things going on, and stuff missing, but it’s a start.

There was a box called Schedule World, which was a free service for syncing info over the web, but now the developer is charging, so bye bye. I’d bought a SyncML client for the Centro as well, which is now redundant. Guess I should remove it from the diagram.

Also, this is a PNG file exported from Inkscape. I could add links to the SVG and post that up here, but SVG support is not ubiquitous yet, so I won’t. Don’t want to deny the IE crowd.

“It Was 37 Years Two Days Ago…”

… as The Beatles never sang.

So anyway, my birthday. After last weeks trip to Las Vegas, I’m driving up to LA this evening, for a nice weekend involving the usual dinners with friends, brunch, dogwalking and relaxing. Oh and maybe some database design for Cassie, you never know.

In terms of gifts, I got a few nice things. My brother sent me some photographs of Marmite and Typhoo teabags, Cassie bought me an awesome new computer monitor amongst other things, and Joan and David got me this cool monogram stamp with which I am in the process of personalizing everything I own. On the way back from Las Vegas, we stopped at an outlet mall (I know, I know – I left them in a jar on the mantelpiece), and I bought myself a rather smart new Coach briefcase. Look at me, all growed up.

But just in case you’re feeling happy, I ought to announce this, the unspeakable truth. Time magazine’s cover for 19 June 1972, just days after my birthday, got it right. The lead article describes the shocking rise in occult practices and beliefs -or at least the shocking rise in the sort of people that believe this nonsense. But the cover made the truest statement of all – Satan Returns. Just days after I was born? Is there a connection (beyond the fundamental interconnectedness of all things)? I think we should be told.

(Reason.com article link from Boing Boing)