Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ely avec Paxo sans tapas

National treasure Jeremy Paxman has a TV series and a book out: The Victorians. Books, so I’m told, are some kind of primitive TV show in paper form. You can fast-forward and rewind them just like your Betamax. But none of the pictures move unless you jiggle the book about. And all the voices are in your head, which tends to annoy all the other voices in your head. You know, the ones telling you to jump off that bridge or burp in that cathedral.

By a stunning coincidence, I was in Ely cathedral a few hours ago (with Andrew and Richard) listening to Jeremy Paxman burping for an hour about his book and TV series. It’s a straightforward but interesting premise: how paintings of the Victorian age reflected reality – or not.

Paxo’s just as opinionated about the paintings as he is about the politicians he interviews. He happily dismisses one or two as “tripe” but maintains that they’re interesting nonetheless. Unsurprisingly he’s a very confident, engaging speaker and he spoke for an hour with barely a reference to his notes; certainly a master of his subject, projecting slide after slide of contemporary paintings and belching innumerable factoids thereon.

He has, I think, rather a romantic view of the era. Of course he knows and speaks of how the mass migration to the cities led to appalling slums and workhouses and ridiculously short lives, and of the hypocrisy of the times: high-falutin’ morals but 3000 brothels in London, for example. But he sees the Victorian age as the time that Britain was greatest: hard graft and enterprise took us from an agrarian economy in the 18th century to the mightiest industrial nation on Earth and a global empire a century later. He’s not shy in saying that he thinks we’ve lost that drive, along with the empire, today.

Enjoyable talk, and a stunning venue. Shame they built it right next to a road, though.

He took questions afterwards, most of which stuck to the topic of the talk. There was one about University Challenge (he turned down the job initially as he thought Bamber Gascoigne should do it again, but it turned out they’d spoken to him about it months before) but nothing hugely revelatory. Oh, he pretty clearly thinks faith schools are a Very Bad Idea, which got him a round of applause from the blasphemers, heathen and sinners in Jesus’s house.

Avaragado’s rating: half an apple

Several hundred people attended, and most of them were of the older generation. That didn’t stop them sprinting to the front when the time came for autographs. It was like the grim reaper had walked through the front door, you wouldn’t think they could move that fast.

We decided to go for a pizza rather than queue for an hour for an awkward exchange of pleasantries and his 322nd signature of the evening. We had thought that we were getting free tapas, but that turned out to be a figment of Andrew’s imagination. Voices in his head, probably.

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Richard Herring’s shower curtain

It occurs to me that I have scandalously neglected to blog about the Richard Herring show, The Headmaster’s Son, that Chris and I saw last Thursday.

We both read his blog, which he writes daily, unlike me. I also follow him on Twitter (no guesses as to my username if you want to stalk me). So by the time we arrived in the cultural wasteland that is the Cambridge Leisure Park for a pre-show pizza we were already pretty familiar with the show. And we knew that he was staying in the Travelodge over the road, that the staff were miserable, and that his shower curtain was decorated with the contents of a previous occupant’s nose.

We wondered whether he would be sitting in Pizza Hut in the corner with a small Hawaiian, or in fact any American of any size, constantly tweeting. Nandos seemed a better bet but we didn’t spot him. A later tweet from him indicated that he couldn’t get into Nandos and had a chicken sandwich from Tesco in his hotel room instead. The celebrity life.

I dream that one day I will be famous enough to write a blog and send pointless tweets and eat chicken sandwiches from Tesco. But that day will, I fear, never arrive, since I only eat HP Sauce sandwiches as everyone knows.

The show was sick and perverted and poignant and funny and involved a trumpet. What more could you ask for?

This was the second time I’ve seen Richard Herring live. His second coming, if you like. I’m not saying he’s Jesus. That’s for others to say.

Avaragado’s rating: elderberries

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I still haven’t woken up back in 1999

Jade Goody Official Tribute Issue of OK magazine. Despite her not actually being dead at time of writing.

You’ll excuse me while I return my goggling eyes and slack jaw to their rightful places.

It is, almost inevitably, issue 666 of the magazine.

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Somewhere in Time

I promise not to keep harping on about the age thing. But for me, the best thing about nearly being forty is the queue of people telling me that I don’t look forty.

When I was, I think, 22 – still at college – I was walking home along a drizzly Trumpington Street when I was stopped by someone ostensibly doing market research but in reality trying to butter me up and sell me some timeshare. As a workshy layabout student with nothing but Neighbours and the Neighbours repeat to occupy my afternoon I played along with his inane line of questioning waiting for the inevitable reveal. After some nonsense about what type of holiday I prefer, locations, and other drivel, he asked me how old I was. I answered truthfully.

“Er,” he replied. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure.” A damp pause.

“Well, thanks for your time.”

Ah well, no timeshare for me.

Several years later when I was 28, the usual mob of that era were in a random pub. Toby’s then-ladyfriend was asked to guess people’s ages. For me, she guessed 38. Yeah, thanks love. Whatevs, as I believe the kids say these days.

It seems that my apparent age hovered well above my physical age until I hit my thirties, at which point it started to descend. When they coincided I don’t know, but now everybody seems to tell me I look a lot younger than I am. By everybody I mean about four or five people in the last few months, including Richard at work today. That’s approximately everybody.

I must have grown into my baldness. They can’t all be overdue for eye tests.

The scary part of turning forty is that it seems like ten minutes since I hit thirty. I’m half-expecting to wake up and find myself back in 1999 having dreamed the last ten years, with Bobby Ewing in my shower. It would certainly explain many things, not least George Bush.

But I’ve made some great friends in the last decade so it’d be a shame if they were all imaginary. I suspect some of my friends actually are imaginary, but not all of them. Hmm, if I do wake up tomorrow back in 1999 I’ll try to remember to make Flickr, and YouTube, and Facebook, and Twitter… I’ll fund them from my SCO options while they’re still worth something.

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Five weeks to midnight

When I was a minigeek I was obsessed with stats. This is normal for boys: see Top Trumps, Motty, etc. My mathmo/compsci skillz meant I drew graphs, or wrote programs, or wrote programs that drew graphs, to feed my obsessions. Add some kind of event into the mix (World Cup, General Election, etc) and I was in stats heaven, my silver wings woven from the wavy grey hair of noted fascists Norris and Ross McWhirter.

Thus it came to pass that one bored New Year’s Eve I wrote a program that watched the clock and displayed various tedious time-based percentages, updating every second: how much of the year had elapsed, how much of the day, how much of the hour, how much of the minute. The idea being, of course, that only at midnight that night would all values reach 100% (at which point they’d all be 0% again). This amused me in a way that only a 16-year-old at home on New Year’s Eve writing pointless computer programs will understand.

That program’s currently running in my head, I think. And every now and then – probably when one of the percentages cycles back to zero – an event fires that triggers an introspection process; or more likely it’s a garbage collector. The minutes, hours, days and years appear to be converging on 100% in exactly five weeks, when I turn 40.

I think it’s natural to be a little introspective at this delicate time: to look back, to take stock, and to think about what comes next. All while avoiding the classic mid-life crisis. Rest assured that messrs Harley and Davidson will not be receiving a visit, and neither will I be sporting a trophy girlfriend any time soon. But I wouldn’t be surprised if my navel-gazing does have some kind of effect still fomenting in the deep recesses of my subconscious.

However, there’s introspection and introspection. And I do have a tendency for the latter.

Introspection, analysis paralysis, death by a thousand buts, whatever you want to call it, it’s in my top three least-favoured attributes. (The mere existence of such a list proves that I take self-assessment into realms that HMRC wouldn’t have a form for. Even though, of course, I’ve just made up the list for the purposes of bloggage. However, had I such a list, its existence would, ipso facto bingo bango, ensure its presence on itself. A self-inserting list, if you would. New Year’s Resolution #1: Stop Making New Year’s Resolutions.)

So here I am, introspecting my own introspection. Matryoshka madness. Before long I’ll be busywaiting in my own skull, rocking in a corner of a bouncy white room with a beard and a mad expression on my face, reciting world records ad nauseum to a signed photograph of Roy Castle.

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Watching the Watchmen

Although in my youth I read a lot of comics, I’d more or less given up by the time Watchmen appeared. Consequently the fuss passed me by; I was aware of it, I’m sure, but I never bought an issue. But now, never knowingly missing a bandwagon, I bought the graphic novel to read before I saw the film.

Naturally it sat unread along with all the other books I haven’t yet got round to, while I engaged in ritual procrastination activities. Eventually though it out-stared me and I picked it up. I read a chapter a night for a few days, enjoying it a lot. Then I missed a few days. Then it was Friday, and I was seeing the film the next day.

I read a chunk of the book on Friday evening, having a night in thanks to a persistent cough, but still had many chapters to go when I headed into town on Saturday morning. I took the book with me and read a chapter over lunch. Then, with three hours before the film, I parked myself in the Picturehouse bar with a pot of Earl Grey and made a concerted effort.

I turned the final page only an hour before the projector cranked up, and just as Chris and Melanie arrived.

Seeing the film just moments (well, minutes plus a cuppa) later was surreal. The images, fresh in my mind from the novel, were suddenly moving – and faithful to the original. Some shots were lifted straight from the page.

There are some liberties taken, of course, to fit the running time. I can’t say that any of the alterations are clunkers; some are improvements. A cunning title sequence in particular sets the scene for the film nicely, and a bit of helpful exposition about tachyons is brought forward significantly (that’ll be the, uh, tachyons). One big, small difference in the film: nobody smokes.

The, uh, stand-out character was always going to be Dr Manhattan due to his, uh, powers. He can subtract my intrinsic field any day. I have no idea what that means.

Ahem.

As a film about superheroes that isn’t a superhero film it’s very well done. As a film of a famous graphic novel it’s excellent.

Avaragado’s rating: one Mars bar

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VisionFS

As Steve said, Roger’s written a history of VisionFS.

I’ve said this before I suspect, but of all the products I’ve worked on VisionFS is the one I’m proudest of. It was a small but great team of people, all pulling in the same direction, with sufficient autonomy – whether official or unofficial – to do the Right Thing. It was also, mostly, fun.

For me there were a number of firsts. It was the first product I was involved with from such an early stage in development (thanks to Roger, I’m sure). It was the first product on which I had a great say in the doc deliverables. It was the first full-length printed manual that I wrote. It was the first complete UI that I designed. It was the first project on which I felt part of the team, rather than being the person doing doc for whatever the team produced.

There’s a lot more I could write about VisionFS, and I might do so once I’ve had a chance to look through my extensive archive.

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