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Showing posts from 2010

Washing up liquid and war

A while ago I was washing up and I got a bit of washing up liquid in my mouth. (I was eating the scraps off on of the plates I'm ashamed to say.) They put a substance called Bitrex in some washing up liquid, because the fragrances they add make some smell like food. It has no smell, but is incredibly bitter and the taste remained in my mouth for the rest of the evening. I happened to finish a book  set before and during the First World War on Remembrance Day. Parts of it were like that tiny bit of Bitrex, one scene particularly so. However I can only imagine that for those living through it it must be like drinking cups of it every day. I remember a programme during 2007 when the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery was being marked when one person was a bit exasperated by the subject and just wanted to move on, rather than being reminded over and over what his ancestors had done. Well, yes and no, I thought. It's not the sort of thing that needs thinking about every da

Periodical novels in the digital age, and scones

I'm reading The Unbearable Lightness of Scones  by Alexander McCall Smith (a great title), the fifth in the 44 Scotland Street series of novels. It was originally published in The Scotsman , each short chapter a day. I'm enjoying it immensely, more than the previous one , the first one in this series which I've read. I think it's partly because I'm more familiar with the characters, and also because I was slightly distracted by the blurb in the other book which mentioned a minor plot point which I waited for ages to arrive. I think the blurb writer, given the intertwined nature of the stories and the lack of major plot points, seized on something to mention which actually was one of loads of details in the life of a character. He writes in the introduction: The story has numerous plots; characters drift in and out; some matters are unresolved; strange things happen. In short, a serial novel is particularly well-suited to the depiction of the shape of real life,

University Radio York

When I was at the University of York I had a show on University Radio York  (aka URY). (This fact has earned me some cool points with my children.) I had two hours on a Saturday morning to fill. I found it quite hard to fill the show. If you wonder why, then try and think what it must be like to find 30 tracks you like, when you're only 20, and in the days before the Internet. One of the tricks I'd do was to find an album with a song I knew on it, play that song, and pick another half decent track on the same album - only one album to lug around then. Anyway, the reason I'm posting this is because out of curiosity at the weekend I thought I'd see if it was mentioned on wikipedia, and it was. Not only that, the picture above could almost be me. It was taken around the time I was there, I wore a cool jumper with shoulder pads like that (except mine had a zip down the front). The only way I could convince my children it wasn't me was by pointing out I don't like

The smell of smoke

Smell is the most powerful sense when it comes to evoking memories. (Feel free to dig out the research references for this statement.) On the way home this evening I smelt smoke and it brought back memories - all good ones. One of the oldest memories is of stubble fires. Kate Bush put it in the song Never Be Mine: The smell of burning fields Will now mean you and here For me it brings back childhood memories of long rows of smoke and flame. It's not very common these days, which is understandable, but it's a shame because there's something quite exciting about a whole field on fire. Once I helped someone clear trees and bushes from some land they'd bought so they could build themselves a house. The fire was struggling, but I managed to coax it into life and we burnt lots of wood. When we first moved into our current house there were some Leylandii trees in the garden. I hate that variety for various reasons, and so I set about getting rid of them. The first stag

Guerilla pedants

You can spot them because they often carry two sheets of sticky labels. One is blank, to cover up spurious apostrophes that they find, such as at the greengrocer's stall at the market. The other contains apostrophes which are inserted where they are missing, often at banks: Barclay's, Lloyd's TSB, and supermarkets: Tesco's, Morrison's. However the world of guerilla pedants is a divided one. Although they all share the same standard when it comes to English as she is spoke and written, they lack a similar benchmark when it comes to communities. The Pedant's Society was torn apart (soon after their triumphant Millenium Party held on the 31 December 2000) by argument and a separate Pedants' Society was formed (both are correct). The guerilla pedants, although sharing a common need to put the written word to rights, are not united in the tactics. There are those who think that if people only ever see correct English they will absorb it and only produce it

I've been thinking about buying the domain and setting up a website for a while. I had a bit of money for my birthday that would cover it. I was hesitant though, because it was a bit like work, as well as being a bit fun too. What tipped me over the edge was when our old family page hosted by, now Orange, got deleted because I hadn't dialled up in a while. Normally when this happens I reactivate it, but it was such a long time they'd deleted it. So I went and set up . One of the choices was which hosting company to use. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it, as I wasn't going to spend a lot of time on it, and I found a company that let me pay for a tiny amount of webspace at a reasonable rate - asmallorange - "silly name, serious hosting". So now I've got my own home on the internet. It needs a bit of decorating though.

Event: Holiday

My todo list says "do nothing" I'm scheduling some spontaneity I'm diarising some dallying I'm planning some pleasure My time will be down My outcomes are enjoyment My KPIs are ice-creams and sandcastles The silicon will be on the beach The chips will have salt and vinegar on them


Roadside apple tree sheds its fruit in front of cars vegetarian roadkill It would be a proper haiku if I used the word "vegetable" in the last line, but I think "vegetarian" is better.

Terry Pratchett

When I told someone I liked Terry Pratchett they said that they didn't like funny stories. That made me think. Although his books are sprinkled with humour, they aren't silly. He writes about a very well thought through and consistent universe, which happens to be a bit like ours and also a bit different. He writes about deep things, and has great plots. Yes, they are funny, but to call them funny is missing the point a bit. Here's my review of his book Wintersmith . This is supposed to be a children's book. I suppose his non children's books are supposed to be for adults. However I see no reason why discerning readers of all ages wouldn't love any of this books. This one is about a teenager, which is probably why it's classified as a children's book. As always, I am amazed by his inventiveness and treatment of deep things. In this case it is about witches and how the seasons work and what happens when the two get tangled up. It has its funny moments, bu

Mercury Awards

So the nominations are out. I am pleased to see I Am Kloot in there. I first heard them on the Radio 2 evening show a few weeks ago. Northern Lights sounded like an old song from the 60s, but also quite fresh. I didn't remember the name of the band, but a mention of the fact that they were something to do with Elbow, maybe produced by Guy Garvey helped me track them down later. I never bother trying to track stuff down, so it must have been good. Another comment to make is on the resurgence of folk. It puzzled me a few years ago when Joss Stone became famous singing blues I wondered if it was the music, or the artist that made her successful, as blues doesn't often feature in the charts. I wonder the same thing with Mumford and Sons.

Another photo used without permission

I'm not sure if anyone's particularly interested in sites that use my photos without permission, however this is a good a place to store them as any. uses . Update: They say "We actually view the blog as a “non-commercial” initiative – it’s a personal-finance advice/ consumer advocacy publication. Whenever an individual author has a problem with their photo appearing on the blog, we are happy to remove it." Hmmm. Not sure I agree. Anyway, they removed it.

There's a crack in my monitor! A desktop for Doctor Who fans

My new favourite website -

A while back I was looking for a website to park the list of ISBNs I'd got from the Bucks County Council website ; the list being the books I'd borrowed over the previous couple of years. (It wasn't easy to get that list, however with a bit of screen scraping I managed.) The websites I found seemed to be orientated towards keeping lists of books you owned, whereas I wanted to concentrate on books I'd borrowed from the library. The other day I came across (linked from the Council's website in fact) where I could upload that list of ISBNs and it would look them up and pull out the cover picture and other information. One thing it wouldn't upload is the date I read them, so I've just finished filling that in for over 100 books. I love this site. It seems that everywhere you look you can find new things - you can how many other people have got/read your books, you can see ratings, reviews, see who likes similar authors to you etc. etc.

I won a Digital Emmy! (update: and a Bafta)

For the programme Virtual Revolution . I couldn't have done it without a team of people. Seriously, I couldn't have, as I actually didn't do very much. However they could have done it without me. As the programme was put together in public on the Digital Revolution (working title) blog I made some comments, so I consider myself as having been involved in it. Other posts on the programme: How I'd do the BBC Digital Revolution programme My 1.5 seconds of fame Update: We won a Bafta too. I discovered that you can see all my contributions.

Music on the Wii

We have Wii Music and Lego Rock Band for Wii in our house now. They are both good ways of lowering the entry barrier to music. What do I mean by that? I've seen an attitude with music that what you're doing is not music until you reach a certain standard, you do it in a certain way, on a certain set of instruments. It's a bit like that apparatus you see in some playgrounds where the first step on the ladder up the slide is quite high, to prevent little children climbing up the big scary slide. With Wii music, you can never play a wrong note. Whenever you make the appropriate gesture or hit the button to get the music out of the imaginary instrument you're playing you get the right note. If you don't do it in time to the original melody, you get a counter-melody. With the super-easy level on Lego Rock Band you just have to hit any drum at the right time to get the points, or just push the "plectrum" button on the guitar, or make any sort of noise into the m

Amusing school closure notices

There is quite a variety in the notices that appear on the Bucks County Council website saying which schools are closed. As they are very transitory I thought I'd capture some for you. "Enjoy the snow!" appeared seven times. Some were very boring and studious: All students should have access to MyMaths and SamLearning accounts and we recommend that they, Y11 in particular, make use of these today. Some were studious but more lighthearted: So stay at home – but don’t be a stranger, Study hard and check the VLE, There’s a lot to do, just go and see! Some were just fun: Another day of snow and disruption. Another day of snowmen, sledging and snowballing. Or poetic: School is closed again today, This snow just will not go away, It's really causing so much sorrow - Let's hope it will be sunny tomorrow! I've consulted with the puppy from school; He loves the snow but is no fool! Temperature dropping: ice on the way, Alfie, the lab says, 'Open? No way!' Or in