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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

February 27, 2004

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

Reading this review of Down with Love, I'm reminded of why I stopped reading film magazines some years ago (some time after I stopped reading music magazines). The problem is that the 12 year olds who review films, for the most part, have absolutely no memory of anything before, say, Reservoir Dogs, which is the film that made them want to review films in the first place.

Because, you know, it was so deep and meaningful. The irony that Tarantino got away with R-Dogs precisely because he knew that the reviewers wouldn't know as much about trashy far eastern movies as him seems to have escaped them.

This film, Down With Love, don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's every bit as bad as they say. But What's all this Rock Hudson/Doris Day stuff? From the little I've seen of it, it's a remake of Sex and the Single Girl, a 1964 Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood movie that I watched once, in 1981, and happened to be in just the right mood to find it fantastically funny. Natalie Wood plays Helen Gurley Brown, famed Cosmo editor, and Tony Curtis spends the movie trying to "interview" her about her book and get her in bed.

In Down With Love, Renee Zellweger plays a renowned author of a book about sex/relationships and McGregor plays a journalist trying to interview her and get her in bed.

What part of this are the reviewers missing? Rock and Doris? Please fuck off to your real job in a fast food restaurant. Thankyou.

Fuji S20

Now this is more like it. It seems to me that what Fuji are admitting is that their resolution-centred technology, the hexagonal so-called Super CCD, which interpolated double-sized images from the recorded pixels, didn't really work out.

More pixels does allow for bigger prints, but most people have an upper limit of A4 or A3 for a print, so after a certain stage more pixels was pointless. And as far as I was concerned, Photoshop could manage image interpolation at least as well as the cameras could.

Another reason to have more pixels is to capture more detail. But you can only capture more detail with more physical pixels; interpolation doesn't work for that.

Enter Fuji's new Super CCD SR, which puts pairs of photodiodes together to, they claim, offer more dynamic range and detail. One of the pair of photodiodes is low sensitivity, the other high. This is supposed to offer more detail with less noise.

I'm going to have to try one of these when they appear (April, they say). The technology sounds interesting (though not as interesting, as, say the Foveon sensor used by Sigma), but I still have reservations about the Fujinon lenses.

About a year and a half ago

I borrowed some Buffy videos from a friend. I tried to give them back a couple of months later (on the way home from work), but he was out when I called.

So he just contacted me this morning to ask for them back, he's leaving town soon, which sort of makes me feel guilty. It's bad enough not keeping in touch with people who live a few hours away by car or train, but to lose touch with someone who lives in the same postal area is disgraceful.

But it's the story of my life. I've probably mentioned it before, in the early days of this blog, but who can be bothered to look? I do lose touch with people. This in spite of the fact that I find it very easy to reeeeeel off pages of text or long or short emails. I can type pretty fast and I I let my fingers do the thinking.

But it always takes two to keep in touch, and I will eventually take a back seat, become a passenger in the relationship. If the other person takes their hands off the wheel, who am I to yell a warning from the back seat? Nobody likes a back seat driver. And that's the way it is with a true Spaniard.

So we'll meet up and I'll give the vids back, and he'll leave town, and though we both have easy access to email, that will probably be it. I'm realistic enough to know this. And to my eternal shame, he is actually one of those 40-ish year old friends that are so missing from my life.

I'm a craphead, obviously.

February 25, 2004

The Cure

The Cure for techno lust is often to see the thing in the flesh, as it were, to hold it and touch it, or just see it for what it is. Yesterday, I went down to the Focus on Imaging show at the NEC.

I was especially keen to view the Leica Digilux 2, which I thought was going to be the Holy Grail of digital cameras: fantastic lens, no film, full manual control. But I didn't reckon on it being huge, chunky, and clunky. It doesn't even have the elegance of, say, a Leica M-Series rangefinder camera. It looks like an early, early prototype of the first ever digital camera. Far too big to want to carry around, for me anyway.

Another huge one is the Sigma SD10, which uses interesting new sensor technology, but the raw pictures from the camera look crap until you use the supplied software to bring out the detail/colours.

The innernet isn't very good at giving you a sense of scale. It's a failing. Everything looks the same size. You can't try on shoes online (though I have bought some I only basically like two kinds of shoes which I know will generally fit me - other people would surelyu have more problems) and you can't test drive a car (again, I bought one online, but I knew what I wanted and I knew a test drive wasn't going to change my mind because I only ever buy VW). And of course, in spite of the attempts to sell groceries online, I'd not do it again (after trying it for the novelty) because I don't trust a shop employee to pick out a cut of meat or vegetables etc on my behalf.

So in terms of technolust for a new digical camella, I'm wondering whether the Panasonic equivalent to the Leica will be more elegant.

On the other hand, it was funny to see all these old boys having digital cameras explained to them by the Leica reps. The funniest moment of all was the old boy with extremely shaky hands (Parkinson's, possibly) approaching the Konica Minolta Rep with the A1, saying, "I'm interested in your anti-shake technology..."

I wanted her to say, "It's not that good."

I entered a prize draw to win a Digilux 2. The question is, in the unlikely event that I won it, would I keep it? I think, on balance, probably not. The pictures would have to be incredible, wouldn't they?

February 23, 2004

The Scale

Look away now if you are easily offended by thoughts of a slightly sexual nature. Some might say sexist, but what's wrong with being sexy? A lot of you have written to ask how I maintain my serenity within a long term relationship. Well, the answer is The Scale.

From a starting point of that Dudley Moore film which posited a 1-10 rating for sexual attractiveness, I did ask myself this question: Why would you bother rating someone, say, a 4? Where are the divisions in class? On a scale of 1-10, what is a 1?

My answer was that anything below the level of 5 on a scale of 1-10 was in the nature of not worth bothering with. So I started a scale of 1-5. Anyone not on the scale is a zero. There are no negative numbers. You're on, or you're not, and if you're on, you are indeed sexually attractive in some way.

But for me it's not just about sex, but the chase. As a great man once said of me, I am a connoisseur of the chase. So I had to factor in some means of chaseability. Hence, The Scale. Bearing in mind that to be a "1" on the scale is a great compliment. Most do not even Get On.

1. Wouldn't mind seeing her naked, but she may have some flaw that would require a paper bag over the head or indeed a sock (hose, not punch) in the mouth.

2. Wouldn't mind seeing her naked, no paper bag or hosiery required

3. Ditto above, would consider chatting her up with a view to going out

4. Ditto above, also excellent long-term girlfriend material

5. You'd throw everything away, house, wife, kids (if applicable), for the chance one crazy night of nakedness and love and/or running away together.

Obviously, you hope you never meet a "5".

You'll note the subtleties of the Scale, where a "2" could actually be sexier/better looking than, say, a "4", but you wouldn't want to necessarily go out with a 2 (maintenance problems etc). A "3" is the first point on the Scale which might include an element of the chase.

On the other hand, a "5" could in fact be less good looking and/or personable than a "4"; but a "5" has to possess that x-factor that makes you want to stupidly throw your life away.

Don't willy nilly, go around awarding Fives. It just won't do. If you meet a 5, it is apocalypse time. I know people who would be tempted to award, say, a 4, to every person who occasioned a second look, a turn of the head. For the most part, a second look equates to a 1 or a 2. Anybody driving a car is automatically a "1" because you only see them from the waist up. Unless, that is, you are unlucky enough to see a Five driving a car. Then all bets are off.


Had a couple of days off over the weekend, for various reasons. Half term was one, and going back to the doctors about the blood pressure thing was another. Wanted to have my blood pressure taken without having driven down the motorway from work. As it turned out, it was lower than last time (/90 instead of /100), but still too high. My ECG was normal, and they took some blood, so I'll see. I'll eat a pound of lard if my cholesterol is high - I just don't believe it's possible.

The time off gave me the opportunity to play with some things. One was the M-Audio Luna microphone. It goes out of its way to look a bit different, but really delivers in terms of sound. It manages to impart a flattering, valve-like warmth to a vocal, and a richness to an acoustic guitar. Of all the microphones I've tried over the past couple of years, ranging from a cheap Sennheiser dynamic (not enough output) and the Shure SM58 through condensers from Beyerdynamic, AKG, Rode, and SE Electronics, the Luna is the only one that sounds really different - and better, to my ears.

So that's now on my list of things to have, and I'd recommend that over buying an SM58 or even a Rode NT1A, which are both extremely popular home studio microphones.

The other thing I got to try this weekend was the Pro Tools LE versions of the Sony Oxford Plug-ins, including the fantastic Inflator. The Inflator does amazingly complex things to audio (changing the probability of the samples, apparently), but is really easy to use, with, again, a noticeable sonic improvement.

I had trouble getting the EQ to install, so I haven't used that yet, but I can thoroughly recommend the Dynamics, the Inflator, and the Transient Modulator. This latter can be used to make, say, a woolly bass sound more punchy, or pull a too-loud snare down a bit. Above all, it's great for fixing things that you can't, for whatever reason, re-do.

The Inflator can be used on individual tracks to make them sound fuller, warmer (e.g. acoustic guitar); or run across a whole mix to bring it up to fashionable loudness levels - but without the unwanted side effects of compression and limiting. It's £145 for the Pro Tools LE version, but if you only buy one good plug-in in your life, it's the one to have.

February 18, 2004


This is very very funny.

February 17, 2004

Epson R800 photo printer - I want one NOW

As promised, I've now seen a demo of the Epson Stylus Photo R800, which is part of their latest generation of Photo printers.

Epson have had a problem in the past year or so, because other manufacturers, like HP and Canon, have caught up with them in terms of quality, and Epson no longer had the unique selling point of being the only manufacturer using Light Cyan and Light Magenta inks in addition to the usual Cyan, Magenta, and Black. They've been dabbling with gloss and matt blacks, but now they've really reached another level, with glossy and matt black, plus blue and red inks (not red and green as I previously thought), plus a Gloss Optimiser, which you can either think of as a varnish type coating or as "white ink."

The printer looks fairly standard, attractive in a steely grey and smoked perspex kind of way (if you like that kind of thing). It has the usual USB port, but also FireWire, which I hope will lead to extra fast print spooling times. The engine is pretty fast, too, so even on the highest-quality setting it will whip out the prints pretty quick.

Individual ink tanks, so you can replace colours as they run out rather than the whole thing as of old. Individual ink tanks have been slow to arrive across the Epson range, but they've been there for a year or so now - the printer I've currently got (the Photo 870) still uses one big cartridge for colours. I think there are enough people in my position: two or three year old printer, no real reason to change... until now.

I got a couple of my own photos printed, and they came out looking great. It's hard to tell the difference between gloss optimised and non-gloss optimised prints (this is on glossy photo paper) -- until, that is, you see something printed out that has a lot of white in it. Then you can see the effect of the gloss across the whole surface of the paper instead of just the bits that have ink on them. It makes the difference between what looks like a nice inkjet print, and what looks like a lab printed photo.

The results are superb. Not only do they come out quickly, but they emerge from the printer dry to the touch, with none of the careful handling required from printers like my old 870.

CD printing looks easy, too. You stick the CD to be printed in a special holder, and with a single adjustment to the front output tray, you post the CD into the front and press the paper feed button. The printer then drags it in (backwards, as it were - it pokes slightly out of the back) and works out exactly where it is. Then it prints relatively quickly and pops out, again dry to the touch. You get some software with the printer that allows you to quickly bodge together what you want - they even supply CD and DVD type logos if that's your bag.

As soon as I saw my first sunflower print emerged, I said, ker-ching, sold. Definitely getting one of those.

SOS - Save Our Sainos

At the weekend, I took the irrecoverable step of applying for a Tesco credit card. This after a period of time during which I have been dragged reluctantly away from the comfortable bosom of Sainsburys to the pert bottom of Tescos.

I grew up on Sainos' and, give or take the odd few months when I didn't live near one, I have always shopped there. It sort of had a reputation for being slightly more expensive, but I always argued that the vegetables in Asda are crap, so you get what you pay for. Besides, people who shop in Asda smell and are usually fat and poor*.

But a Tesco Extra store opened near us, the largest in Snottingham, and we paid it an exploratory visit. Another will open even nearer to us before the end of the year. B was sold immediately, because they stocked tinned hearts of palm, which is a comfort food to her, and Sainsbury's don't do them. And while Tesco has always had a bad rep for its meat, it does bread better than Sainsburys.

In fact, the Sainsburys bread, more than anything else, has caused me to lose faith with them over the past few years. It's not cooked properly, and it tends to be full of air pockets, due to lack of kneading. It's endemic, because I've noticed the problem in more than one shop.

The last bastion of Sainsburyness is that their best tea, Gold Label, has no peer in the Tesco range. I know my tea, and I'm never too impressed with the single-leaf types. Just Assam on its own is not good enough, and Saino's Gold Label offers the right mix of Assam and Ceylon type teas. We're talking leaf tea here, before you ask. I won't have teabags in the house.

But the final nail in the coffin came a couple of weekends ago, when I took Didi to Sainsburys because we were on our own, and left to my own devices, I'm like a homing pigeon.

The last month or so, I've been planning each week's meals more than usual, because of doing the point counting, so I've been buying a fairly standard set of stuff, give or take the odd thing. So always a couple of thick sirloin steaks, a variety of fresh fruit and veg, and so on. In Tescos this has been costing between 80 and 90 quid a week. In Sainsbury's, one hundred and twenty seven english pounds.

Which is like saying, for every 3 visits to Tesco, you get one free, in comparison with what you spend in Sainsburys.

That's the edge. So the Sainsburys credit card is going in the bin with the Nectar card, and its Tesco points for us from now on. I can't say I'm happy about it, because loyalty is important to me, and I don't like the way Tesco is laid out. But £40 is a lot of money to be saving each week. It's like a fairly decent guitar every six months.

*The equivalent to Asda in France, I would say, is E Leclerc - where the customers really smell. Tesco probably has its equivalent in Geant/Casino - just because of the different scales between the hige superstores and the small local shops, which Tesco are into in a big way at the moment. Then you have Cora and Auchan, which are our favourites - but a bad Alsatian Bank Holiday experience in the Cora car park has left me scarred for life and probably gives Auchan the edge.

Hornby not the railways

I just got that Nick Hornby 31 Songs book. It was one of the free ones through amazon/kelloggs. I've had a load so far (7 in fact), thanks to B eating so much Kellogg's Just Right, but I didn't want to buy any of the "women's fiction" so I went for this.

Funny. In 1990, when applying to go to university, I realised I'd almost exclusively read male writers, in much the same way as I'd only listened to male musicians/singers. So I set about deliberately seeking out and reading female writers, just to be a little more right-on, you understand (and as it turned out, it didn't matter really).

It wasn't that I hadn't read any female writers; probably more that I rarely notice the names, and sometimes (in the SF field, at least) a female writer will take a male pseudonym. That's the way it is with a true Spaniard. Beyond Kate Wilhelm and Enid Blyton, I couldn't bring any to mind. In the same way that Nick Hornby is all about songs, I've always been all about stories when it comes to writers.

It was around then that I bought my first Nanci Griffith CD, and the rest is history, including Nanci Griffith (who is just a little too schoolmarmish for me). Over the years I have read a great many female writers, including firm favourites like Katharine Kerr and Lorrie Moore, but when faced with that kind of metropolitan Guardian readerish kind of modern fiction written by women, stuff that's all about relationships and marriage and divorce and all the rest of the kind of stuff you have coming out of your ears every day of the week, I felt I had to go for the Nick Hornby exercise in insufferable self-indulgence.

Still, it was free.

February 16, 2004

fitness shitness

I'm managing to get out most weekends for a 10 mile bike ride. This past weekend, got up early on Sunday and went out before there were too many cars about.

It was cold, but not windy, so the circuit took me ten minutes less than it has recently. But I felt under the weather anyway, and aches and pains marred the experience. Both hips hurt, and my arms.

I was also hypochondriacally aware of the blood pounding in my veins and felt sure I was going to drop dead any minute from an aneurism. B insisted I carry her mobile in one of the pouches on the back of my cycling shirt, in case I dropped dead. Then I could call her and tell her to put the chicken in the oven with my dying breath.

Slowly, slowly, I am, losing weight and I guess I am a little fitter, but you know, I've never really had any strength or stamina. 20 years ago, cycling to work was a pain, and my hips used to hurt then, too.

So there's a long way to go before I'll be able to tackle the hill near B's parents' place in France. It's on a road that has been used on a Tour de France stage, but the hill, if it has a category, would only be a Category 3 or 4, if they go that low. On the other hand, I am determined to give it a go.

Week before last, in the blasting wind, I was forced to use the Granny cog (the smallest at the front) on my little hill. Otherwise, I was being blown backwards faster than I could pedal. But this has been the only time. On the other hand, I shouldn't even need to use the middle front cog on this hill, if my legs had any strength (but they never have had, as I said).

But there's a way to go yet, as I said, and as I realised when the old man overtook me going up said hill on his old touring bike. He had white hair and was at least 20 years older than I am. Bet his hips don't hurt.

I'm not an anarchist, but...

(This by way of a joky reference to those chewing gum ads which begin, "I'm not a dentist...")

Well, perhaps just a little, but I'm not about to shave my head and cover my face in tattoos, earrings and studs. For example, I resent having to use a passport and don't see why there needs to be a layer of bureaucracy to issue and check them, since (a) anyone who wants a false one seems to be able to get one and (b) the existence of passports doesn't seem to do a jot to prevent drug and people trafficking, not to mention terrorism, which I just did.

So while politicians are bleating yet again about public spending, here's some money they could save with my blessing. Do away with passports, the passport office, and blokes who sit in a hut all day and look at passports (once they've finished reading The Sun, that is).

I resent the existence of nation states who arbitrarily decide that here is a border and, lo, thou shalt produce a passport, though in Europe it seems to be the British are the only ones really keeping up a pretense.

Without passports, with the free movement of people round the world, the whole issue of economic migration and asylum seeking would be moot. Instead, somebody could spend some time targeting the real criminals, the cruel and evil people who exploit the desperate and traffic people around the world.

What else? Oh yes, when it comes to voting, I tend to think not voting is the most eloquent way of spressing my opinion, and I know I'm not alone in this. Not apathy, but despair.

And as far as parking is concerned, though I never park illegally myself (because I'm too tight fisted to pay fines), I'm of the opinion that if everyone could just park anywhere, this would be the ultimate traffic calming measure. See, where they've been going wrong is in trying to keep traffic flowing. If you did the opposite, not only would people generally drive more slowly and carefully, but a lot of people would just give up and leave their cars at home. So we could be delivered of a whole nother layer of bureaucracy, namely traffic wardens, the whole administration of fines and penalties, and the white van cowboy clamping agencies who go around making profit out of other people's misery.

And I hope nobody thinks I thought any of this through before writing it down.

February 12, 2004


IN the odd online forum that I sometimes hang about in, the most frequently trolled subject is the old "Mac vs. PC" debate, to which the answer, of course, is fuck off.

B recently got a laptop through work, a Tosh, with Windows XP on it. Of course, because I know everything about the Mac, she assumes I will be able to help her with problems on the Tosh, but I just can't. Partly this is because just seeing Windows XP in front of my eyes sends me into a blind rage, and partly this is because I just cannot fathom an operating system that treats its users like imbeciles.

In my mind, Windows treats people like idiots because only idiots buy machines running Windows. You will not get a rational argument out of me on this subject, so don't try. Any email that goes, "But blah blah blah PCs Windows Intel blah blah," will evoke the two word reply.

First of all, it looks horrible, okay? It looks like it was put together by a colourblind 11 year old who thinks he is Jesus. It's garish and tasteless and makes me feel bilious. Also, all versions of Windows suffer from the "We didn't copy this off Apple, you know" syndrome. So things are different not because they're better that way, but because they just have to be different. That Start menu rubbish is just the stupidest idea on earth.

But I could go on for days about how much I hate it and nobody would be won over. What I simply will never understand is why so many people consent to be patronised by an operating system that assumes, no matter what your experience, that you don't know what you're doing and want Windows to do everything for you. It's a disease that extends through the whole MS range of bloatware.

Like capitalising sentences. Like automatically starting a numbered list. Like the stroke inducing Office Assistant. Yes, you can switch all these things off, I hear you say, but that's the fucking point, isn't it? You have to switch them off. Surely any competent person switches them off. But why do we have to? It would be so much better for operating systems to assume you knew what you were doing, but to include a button that says, "Help me, I'm an imbecile."

I'm no great defender of OS X, by the way. I have to tone down its looks in preferences, and I position the Dock on the right and all that. But this is the same kind of thing as turning off menu blinking under OS 9 and speeding the cursor movements up. Crucially, even OS X manages to be a great consumer operating system, but without patronising you once you know what you're doing.

Adding new hardware, god jesus christ almighty. As a Mac user I'm used to having the level of control that allows me to insert the CD (or download the driver), double click the installer, then tell it where I want it to go. Then plug in the new printer, or scanner etc., and the thing works as it is supposed to. On Windows they think you want to plug in the device, and then the operating system takes over and does everything for you, step by excruciating step, because you are too stupid to do it yourself.

And crucially, even if you try to do something for yourself, it doesn't work properly, because the operating system doesn't know what the hell it is you're trying to do.

The final straw for me came last night. B took the scanner to work and the school techie installed the drivers, however it is you do that (it's a longer story than I can relate here). So then we set about doing a test scan.

First of all, it assumes that what you are scanning is an A4 page. Or some other kind of full page thing, which you can set. Not a photo booth size photo, for example. this is because the windows scanner driver has assumed from the start that it's dealing with an imbecile who cannot be allowed access to any "advanced" settings. Like choosing exactly what it is you're scanning, how you want it to be scanned, and where you want it to be saved. I had to switch off all the simple interface gubbins before finally getting to what you see on a Mac by default. My point here is that, if you are too stupid to learn to use a scanner properly, you shouldn't be allowed near a computer.

But not only do Microsoft pander to the terminally dumb end users who populate the world, but they still ship an operating system chock-full of security holes which those same end-users will be too stupid to plug.

I use Windows 98 at work, running under Virtual PC, because I have to, because our MIS system runs on it. But that's all I do. I never, ever, do anything else in Windows, and I never would. As I've said before, I'd rather not have a computer at all than put up with it.

February 11, 2004


My blood pressure was even higher on the return visit to the nurse than it was the first time. It's the bottom figure that's high, the diastolic, which means that my heart isn't getting any rest or something. Last time it was /90 and this time it was /100.

So now I've got to go back for a blood test and other stuff, in a couple of weeks.

My sister has always gone on at me about taking relaxation lessons or something. I'm not what you'd call a hyper kind of guy, but I do always have to be doing stuff. That can be reading a book or playing my guitar, but it has to be something.

I'm peeved, because (occasional fish and chips aside), there's really not a lot in my life that seems that bad to me. I mean, there's not a lot else I could give up and still want to get up in the morning. For years, I've eaten a fairly good diet, very meditteranean, and I deprive myself of things like ice cream and even pizza. I only very rarely cook pizza now, which is my favourite thing to eat, and we never have it in the office any more (a few years ago we were sometimes having it twice a week, with different vendors coming in). But we realised how fat everyone was getting and knocked it on the head.


Whatever software it is reads the content of these pages and comes up with the ads at the top, has put together my obsession with guitars and my championing of the left lane on the A610 and come up with an ad for "Left Handed Guitars."

Also, my mention of "a true Spaniard" produces one for Spanish lessons.

This takes my breath away. This is surely better stuff than the Amazon algorithm that assumed, after I bought "Brothers and Sisters" by the Allmans, that I would also like Cl*ff R*chard's latest platter. "Since you like melodic pop..."

I've been practising my pentatonic scales, by the way, so I can do a crappy bit of lead guitar on "Sway."

The pundits are always wrong

Tech pundits love to write obituaries, if not for Apple, then for Apple gear.

While it may be true that the iMac looks seriously underpowered in comparison to a G5 desktop, it's certainly not the case when compared to comparable laptops. In fact, as you well know, laptops have to compromise their performance so much in order to conserve battery power, that they don't really fit my definition of a desktop alternative.

The success of laptops is more down to fashion than functionality, and if the iMac has a weakness it's what it always was: as a design statement, you either love it or hate it. And as a design statement, it can look old before its time.

That said, dusting off the old "iMac without a monitor" idea is hardly original thinking, and not really the answer. Pundits always assume that Apple want more cheapskate customers, but those are the customers you want to avoid. Sorry, cheapskates, but there's just non profit in ya. Apple would always rather target the wealthy (and competent).

The problem for the iMac is that, in appealing to the fashion- and design-conscious, it sowed the seeds of its own demise, because these people are fickle and unforgiving. The line, "...the chance that I'll buy another iMac... is nil" arises out of that, rather than anything else.

Because for what home users are likely to be doing, it is not underpowered. It's just not. For internet, word processing, messing around with iPhoto, and even making music, it's perfectly fine. It's not a big, ugly, hulking workstation for power users because it doesn't need to be.

Mark my words, the iPod will come in for its own line of criticism before too long, and the reasons given will purport to be rational and even technical, but actually, they'll based on the fickle passing of fashion

Canon Fodder

Canon have a bunch of new digital cameras coming out at the end of this quarter, like the Powershot S1, which is a 3.2 megapixel model with 10x optical zoom and image stabilisation. This will compete directly with cameras like the Minolta Z1 and the Olympus and Fuji ultra zoom models. Knowing Canon, it will feel better in the hand than the Minolta.

Canon use CMOS image sensors, which tend to produce less sharp images than standard CCDs. But CMOS is a cheaper technology, so the sensors can be made larger, meaning that the camera lens has to work less hard. I'd say a characteristic of the Canon G5 (which is the flagship compact digital model) is that the images have a softer look, but one which is more flattering.

On the other hand, the Fuji hexagonal CCD technology also produces a soft image, but one which to my eyes looks less flattering - just un-sharp. Fuji models continue to be popular (because they look like good value for money) and get extremely good reviews in the photography magazines. For the life of me, I have no idea why this is. All it shows, for me, is that you can't trust magazine reviews. You have to suspect that the journalists are falling victim to freebies.

I've noticed that in camera magazines, there's no such thing as a bad review. Or rather, everybody is scoring above 70%, which is either an indication of high quality across the board or backhanders ahoy. I'm tending to interpret anything in the 80-90% range as good, while anything above 90% is supposed to be exceptional. Except you find a lot of Fujis scoring 90+%, and honestly, I wouldn't use one even it if it was free. So you have to read between the lines, and know what you want and like. I know I don't like the pictures produced by Fujis, whereas I find the CMOS-Canon images quite acceptable, probably because the Canons capture light in a better way, producing a luminous image.

I did notice, too, that the images produced by the Minolta Z1 were soft/flattering, in a Canon-like way, which is possibly an indication of using less in-camera sharpening (which can produce artifacts).

I'm hoping to get my hands on a couple of these Canons really soon. You know how keen I am on the ultra zoom. There's also the forthcoming, 8 megapixel PowerShot Pro1, which looks like it'll be pretty nice, too.

All of this is said whilst still yearning for that Leica Digilux 2.

February 10, 2004

Ultimate Allmans Compo

Blue Sky 5:10
Statesboro Blues 4:22
Ramblin' Man 4:48
Done Somebody Wrong 4:36
Southbound 5:10
Jessica 7:31

31 minutes of gentle noodling to put you in a mellow frame of mind whilst driving to work.

Dymo Country

DYMO Labellers have come a long way since I last looked.

I used to like that Dymo font you could get, but now you get Dymo labellers that do proper printing, which isn't the same.

But we're having fun making little labels to stick everywhere. We've come up with the concept of Management by Dymo Label. So, for example, you could stick NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU THINK across the computer display of someone who just won't do what they're told. And, of course, THANKS FOR TRYING for someone who is off sick a lot.

My personal favourite would be to sack someone with a Dymo label. We've had text sackings, and email redundancies. I fancy sticking Dymo across someone's monitor, so they see it first thing in the morning, or when they come back from lunch. COLLECT YOUR P45 ... You're sacked.

I've got a sticker that reads, GET YOUR TROUSERS ON ... YOU'RE NICKED on my monitor today. It's my favourite Sweeney soundbite, along with "We're the Sweeney, son, and we haven't had any dinner...."

You're my Sunny Day

While I've known for a long time that Duane Allman was highly rated, I almost like the idea of Duane more than I do the actual music. This week I've been listening to At Fillmore East on the way to work, and it's not a bad thing to have going on while you're pootling along, not in a particular hurry to get where you're going. Seems to be the right kind of vibe for that kind of a ride.

But while I've always wanted, in my heart, to dig Duane, the fact is that Brothers & Sisters is more my kind of thing. Back in the 70s, my late night Radio Caroline sessions were always lifted when they played Jessica. And I went on loving Jessica, even on Top Gear (in fact, I'm still disappointed that they re-recorded it a few years ago to save on royalties). If I could have only 3 Allman Bros. songs, they would be Blue Sky, Ramblin' Man, and Jessica.

February 09, 2004


This is the first car I've had with cruise control, since last May I've had it, and once I got used to it, it's been a boon on the longer journeys. Because you can force yourself to obey the speed limit, and yet you seem to arrive everywhere in good time, and use less fuel.

It's only when you have the cruise control on that you realise how inconsistent most people's speed is. We've all had that experience where you'll overtake someone, and then they'll overtake you back and almost immediately slow down again to the point that you have to overtake them again. And that's the way it is with a true Spaniard. But if you are sharing the inconsistent speed thing, then you might put your foot down a bit harder for a while and leave them further behind at this point.

Coming up the motorway yester, I had the CC set to 70, and found myself overtaking and being overtaken by the same Fiat Punto for almost the whole journey (and, by the way, don't rear seat passengers in small cars look incredibly vulnerable?). It's especially noticeable on hills. The revs drop, the car slows down, you get to the top of the hill and you're 10 mph slower than you were at the bottom. So I find, actually, that without ever speeding, you still get where you're going quicker because of sticking to a consistent speed. At the same time, you use less petrol. I was getting 52 mpg yesterday, which is about 10 better than when I used to drive at 80 on the motorway. And yet, overall, I think it took me no longer to get where I was going.

I've found this on long trips through France as well. Whereas I used to average 50 mph for the journey there, I'm now averaging as much as 60-65 mph, simply through sticking the cruise control on at 130 kph.

February 06, 2004

Groundhog Day

I read somewhere this week (must have been in that Independent article) that Groundhog Day, so-called, falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. And it's after G-Day that you begin to notice the days getting longer.

This is extremely true, I love this kind of thing. In fact today you can feel spring in the air and looking out of the office window, it is still (just) light. I also love the fact that the G-Day tradition actually goes back to an earlier, European, Hedgehog Day tradition. It's just that Europeans weren't stupid enough to continue said tradition once electricity and the printing press were invented.

Spring really begins for me when I can leave the office at 6 o clock and it's still light enough to see. The downside of spring is that people can see you pick your nose in the car.

Technological Solipsism

My guitar is officially up for sale... and I'm nervously awaiting even a single genuine caller.

I seriously doubt it. Maybe because it is the beginning of a new year, but there seem to be an awful lot of second-hand guitars for sale in Guitarist magazine this month. And after my experience with Frank the Fraudster, I hold out no hope. It's not just that people are dishonest, but the age of the innernet seems to have made more people think they can get away with being dishonest - all these secret online identities make them feel like spooks. It's as if they think that because they don't really exist, then nothing matters. It encourages a kind of solipsism that people transfer into their everyday lives.

Like with mobile phones. You know that thing that happens nowadays, when someone will be standing in front of you talking about something, and their mobile goes off, so they answer it, even though you're in the middle of a conversation with them? Because the virtual person on the end of the virtual line is considerably more real to them than the real person standing in front.

I've even seen it with email, where you can be standing at someone's desk talking about something, and they'll get an email and have to read it straight away, especially if it is trivial and unimportant. I think I'm the only person I know who will push the "no calls" button on the phone if it rings while I'm talking to someone. But then I've always hated talking on the phone.

I was watching Clarkson talking about the phone last night on BBC2, which is why I think of it. Do I have a mobile? I have B's old one in the glovebox of the car, because it has about a fiver's worth of credit on it. But the display on it doesn't work properly, so it's not really useable. If I ever get around to using it, and it runs out of credit, I'll throw it away. The older I get, the more unreachable I like to be. Nobody wants to call me anyway. I'm too grumpy.

Playing the percentages

On the A610 into Nottingham from the motorway, the left lane is the percentage lane.

There are two reasons for this. First, the left lane is always the one that filters off: off the motorway slip road (an extra left lane to Ilkeston appears halfway down the slip road); then off the first section of the A610 (as you approach the roundabout, another left lane appears to carry traffic off onto the B600 and A611); then off the next section, yet another additonal left lane approaching the roundabout carries traffic off into Bullwell; and then again at the next set of lights, there's yet another left filter lane.

By this time, the left laners have left their right lane counterparts far behind.

The second reason is that the right lane is always the lane you get caught behind someone who is turning right. Well, duh. Some days this might not happen, but that's why it's called playing the percentages.

In a triumph of optimism over experience, some people never learn. The aggressive and stupid always choose the right hand lane, making the left lane a haven of gentle and considerate progress. This is especially good fun on days like today, when there is a three-quarters of a mile queue on the motorway even to get onto the slip road. You see people risking a horrible death by cruising up the middle lane and then attempting to cut in on someone who has been queuing patiently for half a mile as high-speed trucks thunder towards them. And then you pass them all in the left hand lane as they queue in the right, because in their tiny minds the right lane is the fast lane for fast people.

It's like something out of an Aesop's fable, it really is.

February 04, 2004


Baked potato and fish is the king of all dishes. I like to bake the spud for an hour, then empty the skins into a bowl, mix with butter, cheese, and cubes of frozen fish (I buy the regular, square kind), and then refill the skins and cook for another half hour or so.

As comfort foods go, it's... comfortable. And frankly, there is no greater feeling in the world than opening the front door to the smell of baking potatoes.

Or is that just me?

February 03, 2004

House of Pure Evil

Did you see that crappy paranormal thriller thing on the BBC last night? Rubbish, wasn't it? One hour of story stretched to 2 hours. I won't dignify it with a name. Suffice it to day, it was like the X Files but without the good bits. Not a patch on my own rejected idea, "Strange Fish," which is what the BBC are crying out for, but they'd have to beg me to write it.

So Dog puts me in mind of some of the horrors of my flat sharing days. My first year at university, I was stuffed in with 5 lads, 10 years younger than me, who used to sit in the kitchen talking in really loud voices, whilst at the same time playing CDs very loudly in each of their rooms. You'd think this would be a phase they'd get over, but they never did. They carried on the "Look at me, look at me" competitiveness throughout the whole year. It was unbearable, so I took to spending every night round at my girlfriend's place because (a) it was quieter, and (b) she had a telly.

The boys went out one night, leaving me alone for once, but not in peace, because one of them left a CD on repeat play, extremely loud. At first I thought he was in his room, which is probably what he wanted people to think. Eventually, I switched the electricity off at the mains, a tactic I used one or two other times. This whole business of playing your own CDs really loud while everyone else is doing the same thing has cured me forever, really, of ever playing something I'm listening to for someone. Nobody wants to know. It's okay to talk about, but dn't expect anyone to listen. I even switch off the CD player in the car when someone else is there.

Anyway, year two I was in with a bunch of older guys. There was a semi-autistic guy who rarely spoke. There was a stoner, who was pretty good fun, except he was going out with someone who was best friends with my now ex-girlfriend from the first year. So I kept having to see her wimpering about how much I'd hurt her. There was a depressive philosophy student who was OK most of the time (though I avoided him ever after). And there was a twat Dental student, who had the best (i.e. biggest room) and drove some kind of flash car and treated the rest of us like servants.

That was the best of the 3 years. Final year, I had a Twin, who was an idiot; George the Greek, who was fat and smelly, and Pedro the Wolf Boy. I can't remember who else. Pedro the Wolf Boy was a horribly scarred individual who looked like he'd had his head dunked in a vat of boiling oil. But I didn't hold that against him. What I held against him was (a) the smelly portugese dried fish he used to cook for hours on end, stinking the whole flat out; and (b) the fact that he shed black hair on every surface, so that when you got into the shower, it was like standing on a bed of pine needles.

They were also nocturnal, all of them, and seemed to compete to see who went to bed last. So at 3 o clock in the morning, one of them would go out and use bathrooom before bedtime, and then half an hour later, another one would do the same. I used to lie there listening to them, unable to sleep because of all the noise. My tolerance of insomniacs is now zero.

Ah, happy days.

Groundhog Day

From the Independent:

"And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Some religionists are so desperate to engage with popular culture. I almost respect more the ones who just say it's evil through and through. If you redefine "respect" to mean slightly less than full-on contempt.

February 02, 2004

Groundhog Day

From the Independent:

"And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Some religionists are so desperate to engage with popular culture. I almost respect more the ones who just say it's evil through and through. If you redefine "respect" to mean slightly less than full-on contempt.