Archive for February, 2005

New neighbours

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

The couple in the basement flat next door to me are moving out today, which is a shame. I don’t know them at all – I think I said ‘hi’ to one of them once in the past 18 months – but they are quiet, which is a real bonus. (Well, let’s just say that they are mostly quiet. I’ve learnt an awful lot about lesbianism since I moved here – I’ll leave it at that for now).

The street I’m on is generally really good (certainly at my end – as you go further down it turns a bit studenty and noisier). The flat at the top of next door is occupied by someone who’s taken to playing dance music until 5am every so often, but the council are on to them so fingers crossed. The other day they had friends round and were cheering out of the window from 7pm until 2am – for no reason…

But I’m worried about these two moving out because there’s a chance some raving party animal will take their place. I once had the misfortune to live above someone who was in to mixing, but only seemed to mix the same few seconds of the same record. It was so loud my flat used to shake.

I’m not sure what it is about people that makes them decide they’re going to ruin other people’s quiet enjoyment of their own homes. Seems about as selfish as you can get.

I’m hoping that as the flats round here are quite expensive (well over £150,000 to buy and at least £600 per month to rent) that whoever moves in will be respectful of the neighbourhood. Otherwise I can see myself having to move out again in the vain search for some peace and quiet.

Wind farms

Friday, February 18th, 2005

One of the benefits of the Kyoto treaty which came in to force this week is the emphasis on alternative forms of energy, such as wind farms.
But I’m sceptical myself. I’m worried that if we create too many wind farms we may soon find ourselves over-farming to such an extent that within a generation there’ll be no wind left!

It’s a worry…

The large print giveth…

Thursday, February 17th, 2005

From today’s Guardian, an interesting plan by american publishers to reverse the decline in readers:

“There is a crisis in literature. Readers have stopped reading, drawn instead to other perhaps more modish forms of entertainment.Sales are down, authors are despondent, salons are closing and literary lunches have become drab affairs.But US publishers have come to the rescue. Literature’s woes, they have decided, lie in the smallness of the print.’Many people over the ripe old age of 40 are starting to have trouble reading, and reading mass market books has become very difficult,’ Jane Friedman, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins told the Associated Press.The answer is obvious: publishers are to make books bigger, thereby making space for larger print on the page and solving in one swoop the malaise affecting literature.”

More…

Britain – land of culture

Thursday, February 17th, 2005

I got a bizarre email today offering tickets to go and see a new show being recorded for ITV, our main commercial free-to-air channel here in the UK. Looks classy 😉

We would like to offer you free tickets to attend the recording of the fantastic new ITV1 entertainment show ‘CELEBRITY WRESTLING’.

*** TOP CELEBRITY GUESTS FIGHTING IT OUT FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT***

CELEBRITY WRESTLING is a fun filled show for all the family with amazing entertainment throughout the evening. If you’re energetic and like to make a lot of noise this show is definitely for you!

So if you, your friends, family or colleagues are free next Tuesday 22nd or Wednesday 23rd and fancy a fantastic FREE night’s worth of entertainment, give us a call RIGHT NOW! TICKETS ARE VERY LIMITED AND SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY

***OTHER DATES AVAILABLE!! CALL FOR FURTHER DETAILS***

The show will be recorded at Elstree Film & TV Studios, Borehamwood Herts (nearest train station Elstree & Borehamwood – Thameslink).

For free tickets please call 0208 324 2700

If you’re in the UK, please feel free to call the number. And if you’re visiting the UK next week, forget St. Pauls, the Tower of London and all that rubbish – why not go to Elstree, home of James Bond, and experience real British culture…

New Hitchhiker’s Trailer (updated)

Thursday, February 17th, 2005

There’s a new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trailer available at the Amazon Trailers site containing actual footage of the film (unlike the official ‘teaser’).

It’s difficult to judge it from what we see here and I’ve got mixed feelings about a few things, largely because some of the classic lines here sound different to the ones ingrained on my memory from the original radio broadcasts, records and BBC TV series. For example, Arthur Dent’s ‘what the hell is THAT!’ is changed to ‘what the hell are those things?’ and, picky as I know it sounds, it’s not… quite… right.
I have this dreadful feeling that I’m going to go and see this film and be reciting the script in my head and noticing all the changes 😦

Anyway, good points: looks good, Arthur Dent seems faithful to the original, effects shots are top notch, Magrathea looks like a sand pit in England (so faithful to Douglas Adams’s experience as script editor on Doctor Who and the BBC’s original TV series)

Bad points: maybe too slick to be truly ironic, Ford Prefect is American (that’s not an anti-American statement, but it doesn’t quite sit right with the parochial nature of the opening Earth section), Zaphod’s second head is mostly hidden, Marvin – depite my early thoughts – doesn’t look right (from the 2 seconds you can see him in this) and the music…
If you watch the trailer listen at the end – isn’t that the Men in Black music? Now I know that trailers are often given fake scores because the music isn’t ready, but this seems a bit odd. And for some reason, I think if they don’t use the classic Hitchhikers theme it’d be a shame.

But I’m still looking forward to it. The books, radio plays, records and TV series contradicted each other dreadfully and that’s part of the fun.

What with this coming out April/May, the third Star Wars film in May, and the new series of Doctor Who on 26 March I think 2005 is turning into a bit of a retro year…

(Update) According to SFX magazine, the theme music will be a remixed version of the original. And apparently it is the Danny Elfman Men in Black music on the trailer, but the final film will have music provided by the same composer who scored The League of Gentlemen TV series, so should be good…
There’s also a better Quicktime version of the trailer available from what looks like a slightly dodgy source.

This time next year, I’ll be a millionaire

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

I decided today (after discovering that £700 had vanished without explanation from my bank account leaving me in a rather desperate situation) to put about 40 books (3% of my collection) up for sale on Amazon.co.uk. Mostly stuff like ‘Dreamweaver 2.0 Unleashed’ and so on – stuff there’s really no point in keeping hold of.

I’ve just opened my email program and what do you know, I’ve already sold two books! Grand total £16.04 in just one hour!
I should’ve asked for more.

I don’t want to get carried away here, obviously, but maybe this could be the answer to the imminent disappearance of my main job (I say imminent – I have until December to find something else). This time next year, as Del Boy would say, I’ll be a millionaire…

Missing the point

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is in hot water this week after being accused of making an anti-Jewish remark to a reporter for the Evening Standard. The London Assembly voted unanimously to censure him, but he has refused to apologies saying his comment may have been offensive, but it was not racist.

It appears that a reporter for the Evening Standard, a paper that famously detests Livingstone, was sent to report on who attended a reception to mark 20 years since Chris Smith, former arts minister, came out as gay. A photographer grabbed pictures of everyone present.
As Livingstone left the reporter pursued him asking questions repeatedly, in response to which Livingstone asked him if he was a concentration camp guard, simply carrying out orders and effectively hiding behind the political will of his paymasters. It was a comment made in the knowledge that the reporter was Jewish and obviously made with the intention of causing the same level of offence that the reporter was causing him. The Standard has, it seems, reported Livingstone’s private life in great detail and made many allegations against him in the past that he has found offensive and hurtful.

But now it seems everyone is offended – the Jewish community has claimed to be profoundly hurt by the comments and claimed that it is offensive and insensitive to compare someone to a Nazi, particularly givven the recent commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz etc etc.

I have to say I think Livingstone is right to refuse to apologise. He said yesterday, with refreshing honesty, that the easy thing to do would be to say sorry, but that he wouldn’t mean it. His comment was aimed at an individual who was behaving offensively. The paper concerned had apparently shown little interest in covering other receptions but chose to send a reporter and photographer to one celebrating homosexuality, presumably with the intention of covering it in a less than polite manner. The reporter claimed to be, in effect, simply following orders – which was of course the excuse used by those who worked at the concentration camps (which were not just a Jewish affair, incidentally – or is saying that ‘anti-Jewish’?)
In that context his remarks are understandable. In the context of a private conversation they aren’t even relevant to public debate. But the whole story has become politically charged with the Standard and their sister paper The Mail delighting in whipping up a frenzy, and it even became a topic of questions at a reception for the International Olympic Committee yesterday. But that’s okay – throw away our chances of hosting the Olympics for a front page ‘exclusive’, why not?

Yes, the remark was offensive to the reporter. It was meant to be. But it wasn’t aimed at Jews in general, so why the fuss? I worry that there are too many comunities around today who are willing to stifle discourse because they are ‘offended’ by it, and too many people who politely give in. We had it with a play set in a temple that was closed down after a riot in Birmingham because people who hadn’t seen it and didn’t understand the point it tried to make decided they found it ‘offensive’. And then there are the Christian groups who are taking the BBC to court for blasphemy after broadcasting Jerry Springer: The Opera. This is getting stupid. And the fact I feel uncomfortable ‘having a go’ at Jews for being upset about a comment about concentration camps is also worrying.

And here’s the main point, that seems to have escaped everyone’s attention. It was an anti-fascist remark, not anti-Jewish. It was intended to underline the point that the Standard appeared to be pursuing an anti-gay agenda, persecuting anyone in the public eye who is either gay or supportive of gays. Personally I don’t think Livingstone was nearly offensive enough.

Hypocricy

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Pro-hunt campaigners in the UK lost their appeal against the law banning hunting with dogs that comes into force this weekend.
Good.

What irritates me about this bunch is that they took the government to court claiming the ban was illegal, and lost. Now they say the ban is unenforceable and have vowed to continue hunting.

Hang on a minute – you can’t turn to the courts to change the law and then, when the result goes against you, decide to break the law. If you have no regard for the law, why appeal? It’s hypocricy and, if they do kill any foxes this weekend, quite literally bloody hypocricy.

The pro-hunters are clinging to an opinion poll that shows support for the ban has dropped below 50% (from over 60% five years ago). But the poll also shows a rise in thenumber of people who no longer care – and this is worrying. Even I am so fed up with the length of time it’s taken to get this ban in force, and the sheer bloody mindedness of the idiots involved, who tend to be the sort of people who think ramblers should be shot on sight, but think they’re above the law, that sometimes I want to say ‘whatever’ just to get the focus back on life’s little problems like child poverty, third world debt, the housing shortage – but maybe I’m just missing the bigger issue.

Hunt supporters have lost their latest legal appeal against the law banning hunting with dogs in England and Wales. The Countryside Alliance had claimed the 1949 Parliament Act, which MPs used to introduce the Hunting Act after House of Lords opposition, is invalid.

The Appeal Court ruled against them – meaning the ban will start on Friday.

The RSPCA said the judges’ decision shows the group’s arguments are “wafer thin”, but the alliance vowed to fight on and said hunting would continue. “On Saturday hunting will look, sound and smell exactly the same as it always did” Simon Hart, Countryside Alliance

Pro-hunt groups say the ban is unenforceable, but both the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA say they will help police to monitor the hunts.” Read more…

Roman ghost stories

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

My home town of York (not been? You should!) holds three records of particular note: the only place in England where you can see evidence of every major historical period, the most haunted place in the country (per capita I assume), and the most pubs per square mile. I always assumed the last two claims were linked somehow.

Anyway, today I spotted a news story that builders had dug up a Roman coffin complete with ‘gypsum mummy’. Apparently the technique was to encase the body in gypsum so that when it decayed it left a perfect cast of the corpse behind.

How nice – you could put it on the mantle piece.

There’s a short video of the story here, it’s quite interesting. Note the authentic York accents – sadly mine’s long gone, though it comes out when I’m angry.

The building site is actually behind my old school – spooky.

One of the most famous York ghost stories concerns a plumber and his assistant in the 1950s who were in the cellar of the Treasurer’s House, an old Tudor mansion (I think) next to the Minster. They apparently saw a ghostly legion of Roman soldiers walking through the cellar – the weird thing being that the army could only be seen from the waist up, everything else was below ground level.

When people began digging around later they discovered an old Roman road running underneath the building – and the depth of the road was such that anyone standing on it would come waist high to the new ground level…

I wish I hadn’t told you that as it’s now my bed time and it’s suddenly gone very cold.

Oh well, while I’m at it…

A pub on Goodramgate, just inside the city walls, has a few ghosts but one of them was of an American pilot who stayed there during the second world war, during which he was killed. For years his ghost haunted his old bedroom – quite a friendly spirit apparently.

Anyway, this ghost was well known in the city as I was growing up (I mean well known as in ‘known about’ rather than ‘we often saw him floating around the place’) and was included on the ‘Ghost Walks’ which every city seems to have now, but which started in York.

A few years ago, after I’d left the city for pastures new, the ghost was reported ‘missing’! There had been no reports of any activity from it at all. (Not that the pub suffered as it has another, rather more vicious ghost to keep the tourists happy).

Then a few weeks later the landlord got a phonecall from a rather worried American who had stayed there just before the ghost went missing, wanting to know if they’d noticed anything missing. Apparently, the ghost was now living with her in the US!

Most people are happy to buy a postcard or a plaster cast of the Minster, but this woman got a souvenir with a difference.

BBC NEWS | England | North Yorkshire | Mummified body found during dig: “Archaeologists working in York have discovered an ancient coffin containing a preserved body.

Workers made the find during development work and discovered the body had been mummified using a rare technique.

The body, possibly dating from Roman times, has been well so well preserved historians are hoping the facial features can still be seen.

The coffin is being taken to the York Museum Trust for examination on Tuesday

A spokesman explained the discovery of the mummification technique, known as the gypsum technique, is the first to be found during a modern dig.

‘If we are very lucky the face may not have been covered so it is possible the actual features of the individual may have been preserved.

‘It may be possible to actually look into the face of one of our ancestors,’ he said.

The coffin will be taken to a storage site and later rehoused at the Yorkshire Museum.”

iPod Shuffle

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

I have to say I’m rather impressed with my iPod Shuffle. It’s tiny,
light, sounds great – and the two things that its critics have focussed
on (the lack of screen and the random play) are actually its greatest
strengths.

I’ve set mine up to autofill from a playlist in iTunes that consists of
any rock music that I haven’t heard in the past year (about 4000
tracks) and over the past couple of weeks just walking to and from
work, and using it at the gym, I’ve made a fair dent in that.
I’m listening to music I forgot I had, and rediscovering some great
tunes. And the juxtapositions of artists and styles the iPod comes up
with it quite interesting. I don’t seem to have the patience to sit
through an entire album now, so this is a great way for me to listen to
loads of music without having to change CDs or rely on compilations.

The Shuffle also works brilliantly as a data storage device – I’ve
reserved about 100Mb of the 1Gig for files and it’s been a real
godsend.
And I only spent about £60… for 1Gig! That’s a tiny amount to pay.
Only problem is it’s so small no one knows I’ve got one – and I think I
might be the first person in Brighton with one. So no jealousy
quotient, which is a shame as I’ve noticed since Christmas that
everyone has an iPod or iPod mini. Last week I saw my first
non-traditional iPod owner – by which I mean up until now most people
with the white earbuds have looked like media types. Now they seem to
have tipped into other social groups. (I did spot someone on the bus
the other day who had iPod earbuds plugged into a well-hidden Creative
MP3 player – hell, it was ugly!) So the drive for social distinction
goes on.

Anyway, strongly recommended. I still have my 40Gig iPod for long
journeys, and it’s mainly filled with classical music. But my Shuffle
is the one I’m carrying day to day.
I haven’t decided if I should wear it round my neck on the lanyard
thing – I’m not sure I can pull that one off. And although I have an
armband on order from Amazon I might cancel it as it really fits neatly
into my pocket. Minor issues 🙂

I think these things are going to fly off the shelves.