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May 01, 2010

Leftovers

She drops the latch, pockets the key.

Mrs. Benson twitches the necessary. “She hasn’t smiled in weeks.”

Mr. Benson stirs his tea.


She turns the corner, crosses the road.

Across the park to the bus stop, checks her watch, waits.


“Morning love.” The Postman waves.

She taps her foot. I am not your love, I do not love you.

The bus is late. The sky is clouding over. I am not prepared.

The bus arrives. It takes her twenty minutes to get into the city, to walk to through the small streets, to find her cafe. The drops are starting as she ducks under the awning, peers through the steamed windows. He is late, she thinks, and I am a fool for being on time. I am always the fool.


She had spent twenty minutes longer on her hair and face, etching the kohl into the corners of her eyes gently smudging it with her finger, defining with mascara.


Entering, she sits, orders coffee which comes strong and hot, scalding her spine with her first mouthful.


When I reach ten he will arrive.

When I reach twenty five he will arrive.

When I reach seventy he will have arrived.


She finishes her cup, orders another.


The waitress holds the mug under the steamer watching the froth build until almost overflowing. I have seen her before, she thinks, I have seen her before but where? Lining mugs on her tray she is serving table nine when the door opens letting in cold air from the morning outside. It bangs shut. He is removing his scarf as she places the mug on the table, taking his order at the same time. Back at the machine she notices his height and the shade of his skin, the dark of his eyes.


“I’m sorry I’m late.”

“I’m sorry I’m a fool.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry you are too.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Well.”

“Have you been here long?”

“No.”

“Right.”


“So what do you have to say.”

“Not much. I have your book.”

“Yes.”

“That’s everything. Nothing else is left.”

“No.”


“Can you not speak more?”

“Can you not speak more?”

“Goodbye then.”

“But your coffee...”

“You have it,” drops three coins on the table. “I should be somewhere else.”


He wraps his scarf around his neck and the cold air the door lets in quickly warms.

She slumps.


The waitress brings the coffee over. “I can take it back?”

She wraps her hands around it. “No it’s fine. I am fine.”


Later, walking home, sleet begins to fall, cutting into her face and upper arms. The kohl is now rubbed away, her hair has lost its shape. She pulls her coat up further.

The house is cold. She lights a fire, picks up the book and throws it in. The flames grow.


The waitress leaving work heads into the tube and grips the bar as the train rattles beneath the streets. There is a smudge of coffee on her face, her back is sore and she has a burn on her wrist.

I know that girl, she thinks, I have seen her before.

The light in her living room is broken; she uses lamps to create a warm glow, boils the kettle, makes toast. Her eyes avoid the pile of books and clothes by the sofa, the ripped up photos, the half burnt letters in the grate. She sits in a chair, lifts her feet onto a small table.

I have seen that girl before.  


April 30, 2010

Social Form

I watch the girl in front. Steam clouds the shop and perspiration crowds her top lip. Her eyes flash, dark they focus ahead, not moving as her lips speak her order. Stirring in sugar the sleeve of her shirt floats despite the humidity; as she walks past I mouth the words “hi” but she stares through me, letting the door slam.

I collect my drink and follow her down the street.

She turns left into a car park, pointing her fob at a long saloon, balancing her cup on top as she climbs in, reaching out for it before she turns on the engine. She drives one handed out of the building.

That night, we go for dinner with the Slaters.

“Do we have to? I have a headache.”

I say it’s politic. She sighs. Buttons up her dress, fastens a necklace.

“We’re not staying long.”

The ride to the house comprises of the highway then a narrow road and a track to their door. The house is old, 19th century clapboard, in need of repainting but with a veranda stretching round two sides.

“I didn’t bring flowers! I should have brought flowers!”

I switch off the engine and open my door. She smoothes her dress, fiddles with the buckle on her shoe. “We didn’t even bring wine.”

I go to hold her hand, she walks forward.

Through the door Nigel shouts us to “come on in!” The table is laid, with tulips “cut fresh from the garden.”

The dog barks, I nudge Claire. She doesn’t smile. Nigel hands me a beer, gives Claire wine and we sit on sunken armchairs in what must be their best room. The wallpaper folds at the corners of strips, a piano hides dankly at the back.

“Do you play?” Claire asks.

We’re told it hasn’t been touched in years. Sheet music is open on the stand, she walks and fingers the keys.

Nigel asks me about shooting. I say I don’t. He says he’ll have me with a gun yet. Claire frowns at the pictures on the mantelpiece. Mary tells us that they are nieces and nephews, “we’ve not been all that lucky ourselves” and touches Claire’s wrist as she stands to refill drinks.

Later, on the highway, the spray from rain forces me to pull over. We sit for ten minutes then crawl back to home, climb into bed.

“The weather will continue for days.” I turn the machine off, roll over to Claire. She is already asleep.

When I get home the next day she is sat at the kitchen table with a card.

“What do you write in thank you cards?”

I say I have no idea and go to the fridge for the water, pour a glass.

There is a vase of tulips above the sink.

“Coffee?”

The door bounces as she leaves.

I make a note to fix the catch. 


February 14, 2010

This is the end

Writing about web page http://mulletron.uwcs.co.uk/blog/

I’ve started a new blog. Please redirect your feed readers, planets and general love.


January 21, 2010

Babblebooks Copy done for The Ashley Bolser Agency August 2009

babblebooks_herbs_spicesnew2_copy.pdf


The Boy on One Leg

Last night I stubbed my toe and had to stand on one leg for a while whilst the pain wore off. I got distracted making a cup of tea and realised I had been standing on one leg for ten minutes. I thought that was impressive, so I stood on one leg for another ten, just to see if I could. I could. An hour later and I was stood on one leg still watching telly. My mum walked in.

She said “Michael” she said

She said “Michael, you oaf, what are you doing?”

I told her, I said “Mum” I said, I said “I realised I could stand on one leg for a very long time and not fall over so now, Mum, I am testing it.”

She clucked and left the room.

After five days my foot started to hurt, not from my weight but because the floor was so hard. I put down a cushion and hopped on to that and it became a lot more comfortable. I got very good at hopping. I could hop all the way from the living room to the kitchen, out into the hall and upstairs to my bedroom. I pinned a pillow to the wall and wrapped up in my duvet, leant against the wall to sleep. I decided that if I only slept for four hours each night that it wasn’t technically cheating and my conscious would be ok with that. Mum got cross because on Sunday I wouldn’t sit down for the roast and ate my plateful from the kitchen side instead of table. She said I wasn’t allowed any wine, she said it would make me wobble. Dad told me I was barmy. I told him he was jealous. I told him it would be the making of me.

After ten days the local paper sent a reporter to the house. I hopped to the front door, let her in and made her a coffee. She looked annoyed to have to stay standing up to talk to me.

The article she wrote made the national news. A TV breakfast show had picked up the story and I was featured on “This Morning” and “GMTV”. Loose Women wanted to do a feature, but they annoy me too much, so I said no.

The Yorkshire Sculpture park rang one day.

“Michael” they said. They said “Michael we need living statues to recreate sculptures. You’d be perfect. We’ll pay you a hundred pounds a day plus travel. I hopped on the train to Bradford. I had to sit in the car but my right foot never touched the floor. I had a lovely week. A small child pushed my arm in hope but found no reaction from me.

I came home. My dad said “You’re barmy. Absolutely stark soaking barmy you are.” he said. I hopped past him and took a beer from the fridge. Turns out alcohol doesn’t make me wobble. I tried to stretch out my right leg, arabaseque-style but the joints had seized. I decided that was just one of those things.

Mum took me to the doctors. He hit my left knee with a little hammer but it had got so strong in the past two months that I barely wobbled. He smiled at Mum. “Not to worry Mrs. Fraser” he said. He said “not to worry Mrs. Fraser, just a phase. He’ll move onto girls soon, and then you’ll be worried.” He gave me a lolly. I wasn’t quite sure why.

The secretary to the mayor of New York wrote a letter to my parents. She said that the city was very proud of it’s statues and would I like to go to a statuite convention there in the city. They would pay for my flights and my accommodation as long as I didn’t mind being filmed a little bit. I said that would be fine and Mum bought a new hat. Dad laughed for ten minutes when he heard then walked out of the kitchen without saying anything.

We flew from Manchester and the air hostesses smiled as I hopped up the steps to the plane. Whilst in the air, I tried to go to the toilet and hopping in a confined space in turbulence was harder than I’d expected. I held onto the head rests of the aisle seats. Nobody seemed to mind.

In New York the Mayor’s secretary had sent someone to meet us at the airport. I hopped into the limosine and Mum followed, unhappy that her ankles had swollen. We went to the hotel and she lay down. They’d set up a bed as I’d asked them but I was too busy bouncing around by the open window. I could see central park! I could see people roller blading! I wanted to go go go but mum said stay stay, just for a minute, she said please stay and just stop moving. I stopped. I think I look quite graceful when I just stand, rather like a flamingo. I thought about saying this to someone else but then decided not too, in case they wanted me to be like a flamingo statue and painted me pink. Then I’d look stupid.

We went to the statuite convention. There were other people there who dressed like statues, people who had won awards for the ability to just stand as still as possible for hours and hours. They would stand and I would watch them and they just wouldn’t move a muscle. I get too bored for that.

I was told that I would be on the news in America but first I had to do a photo shoot. I got a bit worried about that. I don’t have the best skin. I’m a little bit conscious about it and don’t really like people looking at me too closely and the air conditioning on the plane had sent it all crazy. I looked like a pack of bees had stung me in the face and left lots of little red stings. But there were make-up artists, so my skin was made to look pleasing. The make up girl had to stand on a chair to reach my face because I couldn’t sit down and she was only knee high to a grasshopper.

In the photo shoot I dressed up in different poses and stood around holding my arms out and trying not to laugh at what my dad would say if he could see. He would see though, mum was taking pictures. For the last picture they had a picture of me on a boat with the statue of liberty in the background. I had to lean right over and cup my hands out so that from the angle of the picture it would look like I was holding the statue. Mum read from the guide book and told me all about why the statue was built and what it represented. I was more concerned that a seagull was eyeing up my corn dog (they were one of the best things about America, the corn dogs. I ate so many of them).

The next day when we woke up the hotel had sent up all the local and national newspapers.

“ONE LEGGED BOY IN NEW YORK”

“STATUE MAN THE GREATEST SCHOOL BOY OF THEM ALL”

“I LOVE CORNDOGS SAYS ENGLISH LEFT LEG BOY”

And they were all filled with pictures of me looking like a right goon holding up a corndog and an ice cream near the statue of liberty.

The magazine with the pictures in came out 2 days later to coincide with my appearance on Jay Leno. A fansite had been set up for me and had had over two million hits. The hotel was refusing to let any girl under the age of 18 in because they were being rushed at the door with girls trying to touch me. In Tokyo a school girl died whilst falling off a giant billboard with a picture of me on it. She wanted to touch my hair she said.

I returned home with a whole wardrobe full of new clothes. I gave Dad a new iPod and he looked at me like I was insane. He said “bloody hell lad, the whole bloody world’s barmy” he said. I said “I know” and then told him that the bank manager had told me to spend only the capital of the money I’d earned in America but with that I could still buy him a new car. He dropped his mug of tea.

There were movie offers and record deal proposals and I was seriously considering a script that Diablo Cody had written for me when my headmaster called me into his office.

“Now then Michael, you just have a seat, we have some chatting to do young man.”

I said I didn’t want to sit down, I’d rather stand. He looked at me the same as my dad used to.

“Right then. Lean on the cabinet if you want but mind the plant.”

He said “the thing is now Michael” he said “the thing is that your work is suffering and so is that of your classmates. We know you’ve got a very special talent there with your leg but the windows are being blocked by reporters and photographers and some of the smaller children are suffering from light deficiency. It’s not that we don’t want you at school but we need the natural light. You’re preventing that from happening.”

I sucked my lip “I see Sir.” I said, I said “so what exactly are you saying?”

“I’m saying Michael, that we’re going to have to ask you to leave the school. You need to focus on your own work which you can’t do here but we’ve looked up some tutors for you and the little ones need to be able to breathe bless them. You can see that can’t you lad?”

I said “aye yes I could see that well enough” and that I knew my GCSEs were important and that at school I just lolled about whilst the lasses swooned and the cameras flashed.

He stood up and shook my hand. “Glad we had this chat here Michael, been a pleasure having you here for so long and you’ll still sit your exams here.”

“Ta sir” I said. I said “Ta sir” and then that was that and I was out of school forever.

I said yes and went over to the US to film it. I ate too many corn dogs and figured maybe they weren’t for me. When I came back everyone said I had an American twang and that I did my hair differently. My mum said I hopped much taller and had really grown up. Responsibility had come with the money and fame. She said she was proud. My dad sat behind the daily mail and looked the other way.

I got Ds in my GCSEs but as my agent said, you can’t have everything can you. And I was a multi-million dollar film star so I reckon I just about had enough.


December 30, 2009

Avatar – Comparisons …

Spoilers Abound

... with “Aliens”

  • Same Director. This also leads to huge amount of blue-hue’d lighting and darkness in the cinematography.
  • Sigourney Weaver plays a strong female character who mothers (In Avatar note particularly bringing food to Jake Sully and physical contact, especially neck touching) a human that she meets in an alien land. In both cases the human is changed by loss (Sully has lost his legs and brother, Newt her parents). In both cases Weaver’s character objects to some major mistakes, and her criticism is muted by gung-ho militarist men.
  • The Military-Industrial Complex features strongly in the plot.
  • Business interests are represented by a selfish and murderous character. The character is played by an actor better known for comedy roles, portrarying mainly stupid character parts. In both cases the character chews gum whilst plotting in order to demonstrate a lack of care for others.
  • Visually Spectacular.
  • Scored by James Horner.
  • A tough latina marine who dies to the major threat in the film.
  • In both cases a group of humans visit an alien world, and most of them are killed by the aliens, though through faults of their own (stupidity, selfishness or negligence).

... with “Dances with Wolves”

  • The plot is basically the same – the protagonist falls in love with a native tribeswoman after being sent to spy on said tribe, and ends up fighting in order to save the tribe. The love interest leaves an existing relationship. Near the end of the film the protagonist declares himself to be a native, after a process in which the natives accept him.
  • Natives move camp after their main home is destroyed by conflict.
  • US Military provides a major threat.
  • Problems with protagonists leg (Sully is unable to walk, Dunbar is under threat of occupation).
  • Protagonist has considered suicide in the past (Sully mentions it in voice over, it motivates Dunbar’s accidental heroism at the beginning of his story.)
  • Voice over used for narrative exposition.
  • Both overly long.

... with “The War on Terror”

  • Destruction of Home Tree offers visual image reminiscent to the Twin Towers
  • Military conflict started over resources
  • Military attempt ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics
  • No UN Mandate (ok I’m pushing it a bit here)

December 24, 2009

ADSL Connections

Having popped back to my parent’s house for a week or so over the festive period, it struck me that we have terrible internet performance – latency isn’t too bad, but there’s a severe lack of bandwidth. The basic history of our connection is that we were ADSL enabled in 2001 or 2002 and haven’t changed anything since. In other words, we aren’t even on DSL MAX and our exchange won’t be ADSL2 enabled until the end of march at the earliest. I have subsequently changed our internet plan so we will be on the former within a week, and the latter when it arrives, but thats not the interesting thing here – getting our internet to be 3x faster without changing hardware or pricing plans is.

Hardware Background

There are a variety of different phone setups in houses around the UK – most people whose phones have been connected since 1981 and before 2007 are using an NTE5 variant box. This looks like:

This is a master socket, and all your other phones are daisy chained off it. In networking terminology you have a bus network! Usually your connection on these phone networks is mainly dependant on the line between your exchange and the house. Our network however is a spurred connection. We have a small black box outside the house, from which wiring goes to different parts. There is a master socket, but it is a LJU2 Master socket, which looks like:

Ie, like a normal slave phone socket. Its still a master socket, however, since it has a capacitor in, but it doesn’t have any of the conveniences of the NTE5, such as the test socket. Our phone lines are connected like a star network, which has the positive that it doesn’t matter so much about plugging your router into the master socket, because you aren’t daisy chained off of it, but the downside that you are more likely to get local loop interference.

BT Connections

BT try to offer you the faster stable line connection that you can get, they do this by repeatedly reconnecting your DSL line at a lower speed until it stops throwing lots of errors. Once this process had finished for us, our connections speed was down to 640kb. Usually this took 4 reconnection attempts.

Telephone History

An interesting sidenote of the the rollout of telephones in the UK as opposed to other countries is that in addition to the two phone wires in your phone sockets there is also a ring wire. This is only used by pulse dial phones, rather than tone dial phones and is consequently useless if you are using any vaguely recent phone! The fact that this piece of copper wire is sitting there around your house and thats its potentially huge – my parent’s house isn’t particularly large but our telephone wire goes around the outside of the house and all over the place – means that it acts as a massive aerial! Your telephone line, especially if its a spurred design, is picking up a huge amount of interference. This essentially shits on the telephone connection. Its probably not that noticeable for voice calls, but it can cause a lot of errors for ADSL systems and consequently cause reconnection at a reduced speed.

Solution

The simple solution is to disconnect the ring wire from all your telephone sockets. If you have a spurred design then you need to do this at every connection, if you’re using an NTE5 then you only need to do it once. There are detailed instructions at the bottom of this page on rewiring.

For our internet it made a huge amount of difference. Having unwired all 4 ring wires our stable connection speed has gone from 640kbit to 1984kbit, more than 3 times faster. When you consider the maximum connection speed at the moment is still only 2mbit and we aren’t that close to our exchange thats pretty good. Because ADSL MAX and ADSL2 are both dependant on signal strength in order to get optimal performance, its likely that the benefit of this operation will be maintained after the changeover and I’ll probably measure this once its installed, I’m inclined to strongly recommend this approach to anyone using ADSL who has a star wiring setup.


December 20, 2009

Five Pieces of Music You should Listen To Over the Festive Season

Its official – Rage Against the Machine owned X-factor. Its an interesting campaign, one that I agree to in principle, but I chose not to buy a copy of Killing in the Name of. Why you ask? Well initially I didn’t expect it to have much success, and didn’t wish to be associated with the failure. As more details emerged I realised that there was a good chance of success, but unfortunately that one would still be giving money to Sony BMG, of whom Simon Cowell is a shareholder (well its technically Sony shares, but anyway). Further more Killing in the Name of is one of the world’s most overplayed songs. RATM have loads of great songs, especially surprising for a band with only 3 original albums, but its usually Killing that gets played.

Most fundamentally though – this battle has re-invigorated the singles charts – charts who I very disagree with the premise of. I don’t want to use popularity as an excuse to promote already popular songs. I generally don’t enjoy most of the music in them. By ‘beating them at their own game’ people have made a point, but its validated the idea of the christmas number one as being meaningful in the process. For all my dislike of Xfactor – they’ve made the Christmas number a really boring race – something I can avoid taking an interest in, something I can more easily dismiss. And this is before we get onto the inherent heresy that singles are. The best albums comprise no mere set of songs, they are interwoven thematically and sometimes musically.

Analysis aside, there’s quite a few pieces of music that I think in many ways are worthy of listening to, but don’t get enough discussion or playtime. Here we go …

1. Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts
An innovative album from the late 90s, trying to maintain a fundamentally Punk ethos, whilst altering the audio aesthetic fundamentally. The band’s left wing ideology is espoused strongly, furthering the idea that this album is revolutionary, rather than evolutionary.

You could also listen to: The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman. An album that takes a similar approach and is an early exampel of the Free Jazz movement. Lonely Woman is a particular favourite of mine.

2. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Slightly overshadowed in many eyes by his other by 1959 release, the pretentiously titled, “The birth of the cool”, Kind of Blue represents a pinacle of jazz achievement to me. An attempt to move away from the more rigid rules of Bebop without moving into Coleman’s free jazz territory, Kind of Blue positions itself as the archetypal jazz album: bold, and still very smooth. To quote the Fast Show sketch: “niiiice!”

You could also listen to: The birth of the Cool by Miles Davis. Does what it says on the tin.

3. Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No. 3
This symphony has an interesting history – composed in the mid 70s and ignore by people outside of the Polish Avantgarde music circle (which is probably about 3 people), then re-recorded in the early 90s and going on to comparatively widespread success. Compositionally this is a transitional piece, coming from Gorecki’s earlier compositions which are highly dissonant, and his later compositions, that are slower and a lot easier to listen to. Thematically this piece of music is about the separation of mother and children during a time of war – something that particularly resonates with me at Christmas time, since it is nowadays the longest period of time when I see my immediate family.

You could also listen to: Different Trains by Steve Reich. This juxtaposes the train journeys that Steve Reich made visiting his seperated Mother and Father with those that Jews in Europe were making on their way to Concentration Camps. The thing I like to reflect on with this, especially during my journey is that the worst I have to contend with is the poor standard of public transport – whilst my grandparents generation had more important challenges to contend with. Perhaps this is less important to people without Jewish grandparents.

4. At The Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease
Everytime I listen to the “The Swarm” I become convinced its the BEST … melodic death metal track … EVAR. That aside I think this is a strong album, more focussed and simpler than some of At The Gates’ other work it really stands out to me as a straight to business metal album that really gets on with its task at hand.

You could also listen to: Ride the Lightning by Metallica – a classic from the thrash metal era, another straight to business album. And seriously – who doesn’t like Creeping Death?

5. Roy Ayers – Everybody loves the Sunshine
I really wanted something fun for this list – and this fits the bill perfectly. Whilst writing this blog post I’m stuck in the midlands, lying in bed wrapped in a douvet because its the only place warm enough for my liking, with snow outside. I do love the sunshine. I do love it!

You could also listen to: International Thief Thief and Everything Scatter by Fela Kuti. These are both short, so I chose 2 of them! Afrobeat is in a bit of a revival nowadays and why not? Even I want to dance to these rhythms, and I hate dancing. Combined with the jazz and funk infusion. Another one to warm the heart.

Honorable Mentions: Beethoven’s 6th Symphony – I love the first movement, it makes me so happy, Anything By Meshuggah – Polymetric face melting metal.


November 17, 2009

2,000 word assignment.

I came up with the tag line after reading an article in which the wife of the recently late footballer Peter Enke said something about destiny blowing. It began life as a cross between The Great Gatsby and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold but has changed disproportionately since. In fact that's not really the best introduction as it is now nothing like that at all and I've got your hopes up of some jazz age spy thriller, which it most definitely isn't....

Destiny blows in all directions, and I believe in fate, you know?

The midsummer morning hung heavy with mist and it was cold, really cold. I’d set an alarm for 5 but woke before it rang. This is my favourite part of the day, when the birds are just getting started with morning song and the light creeps through the valleys and dales that make up the landscape I call home. A deer crossed the top field as I walked down the back track. It was idyllic, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The track was slippery and the rivers of water from the last week had caused channels to form in the soft chalk so the road had become broken, unstable and unlike any kind of road or track, more like a gorge for the tiny voles that would be living in the just ripening corn fields. The rain had made everything clean. The mist lingered just above my ankles; I felt like I was floating.

I got to my dale and I climbed the five bar gate which was peeling with rust and dropped into the long grass. My legs were soaking immediately, and my trainers, but I waded through until I was in line with the hut which hid the bore hole. I lay down on the grass and looked up. The sky isn’t blue when it’s black. It’s not white when it’s red or grey when it’s pink. When it’s cloudy it can’t be clear and when it’s wet it won’t get dry. If a star is out then it won’t be sunny and if it’s bright then it won’t be foggy. In mist there’s no clarity and in moonlight no sun. If a rainbow arches from end to end then a pot of gold can’t be found even if the rainbow seems to stretch forever and ever into the distance and the sun is its middle point. I thought, the air isn’t hot when it’s cold. It isn’t soft when it is whipping, or peaceful when it whistles. When it’s muggy it can’t be fresh and when it’s stifling it won’t be calm. If it stings my skin then I won’t feel relief and if it’s blowing around my feet my head won’t feel the benefit. When the wind blows into the sea and away from the land, that’s not destiny sucking on a lollipop or a father figure breathing to cool hot tea, instead it’s the pat pat pat of a raindrop constantly hitting the floor, eroding away at the concrete over a continual period of time. If I jumped up and down in a puddle then the ripples wouldn’t be scientific but the effects of my actions on the people around me. If I wave my hands frantically in the air, will I get shot or will I lie down with the lion and the lamb and, in time, sleep peacefully.

I am waving my hands frantically above me now and watching the effect that they have on the air that surrounds me. I can still breathe, but the disruption of the air, or possibly just the movement of my hands, is making it more difficult to control the in and out. The in and out and again, in and out and my diaphragm is moving as I know it must. I lie my hands flat on the bottom of my stomach, each hand just above the corresponding hip bone and feel my skin stretch and relax with each intake of air. The skin is tighter than it has been before and that is because of you, because you’ve made me change into something that I don’t want to be and something I can’t explain to anyone else. Not here where the dales meet the sea and the hills roll and the women in the post office talk. Not where there would be condescension and fake flattery, embarrassment and finger-pointing.

I fall asleep and wake up shivering with a nosy calf nudging my upper arm. Loss is a kind of gain, isn’t it? You gain the experience of that loss and can learn from it, can become a better a person once you’ve managed to jump across the rift of sadness, hate and despair and into calm acceptance and belief. Yes, that’s right and I’m sure you’d agree that if I could get over the loss then you might too. You’d take some convincing but I’m sure that eventually you could see it from my point of view and would no longer need to mourn the loss to see the clarity in the clearness of the point, my point, my argument forward. What would you say? The calf had wandered away but now has come back and I sit up as it sniffs my arms and neck. I put out two fingers and it starts to suckle on them, used to the gesture from being newly born but looking put out that there is no milk covering the fingers, no milk for its purple tongue to lick up. The calf gets bored and moves away again and I lie back down on the now warm wet grass. I have no phone or watch with me and so assume that it must be about 8 by now which means I have about an hour until they realise I’m not in the house and about two until they start to come and look for me. Two hours is more than enough time for what I want to do anyway. I lie back down and close my eyes again.

This time when I wake, there are three calves watching me from a short distance. I pick a blade of grass, hold it between my thumbs and blow, scaring them away with the noise that it makes. The calves have now moved right down to the grass track at the bottom and are pretending not to watch me but I know that they are. I stand up and walk back to the chalk track and back towards the farm but turn left into a field and then down into another dale. This dale is empty which is key for the purpose of what I want to do and has a lake in the bottom and a small stream which trickles into it. We call it the tarn, though it’s not that big. We used to swim in it all summer though since we’ve grown up more, we rarely come down here. There’s a crude wooden jetty that Dad built years ago, in the deepest part, so we could dive in, like our own kind of swimming pool. I stand on the jetty.

The water beneath my feet is moving slightly in the breaths of wind that have just begun to pick up. By the afternoon there will be a lot of wind, the weatherman said, moving in from the nearby sea and picking up speed as it crosses the land. The farm will take a beating. Mum will mind. It will destroy the plants which are just coming into their own and starting to look nice. There are trees rustling at the shallow end of the valley, planted just for the pheasants to live in, breed in and get shot in but at least they had a little bit of time. They wouldn’t be alive unless they were going to get shot. I told a friend that once but she didn’t understand and just looked upset. She didn’t understand that there were preconceived reasons for all things to happen, whether by a farmer or by something else. I guess you and I as we are, or just as I am in this state, was preconceived by something somewhere. And I guess that whatever decided it knew what the outcome would be anyway. It gave me a reason for things. And a reason for an answer that I’d been trying to work out for what seemed like a very long time.

A deer came out of the wood and up to the tarn to drink. It bent its head but must have smelt me on one of the gasps of wind and lifted its head to stare at me for what seemed like hours. I stared back but couldn’t hold its gaze. I blinked, then it had gone. I saw a flash of white disappear into the trees.

The sun was getting quite high now and I decided it was time so I walked off the jetty and stood on the grass. I had some stones in my pockets that I’d brought down from the farm specifically and there were some bricks left over from a makeshift barbeque we’d had at Easter. The bricks fitted into the pockets of the coat I was wearing. I zipped the coat up right to my neck. Then I took out the bottle of sleeping pills I’d brought with me for extra help. I didn’t want to be strong enough to fight when my instincts told me to. I took out three and swallowed them with water scooped up from the tarn. I left the bottle on the side of the jetty and stopped for one last look around.

I said goodbye to the trees, to the sky, to the dales which I’d loved more than anything for longer than I could remember. I began to cry as sleep tried to take hold and became emotional as I felt more tired. The landscape was saying goodbye to me too; I could hear my voice being shouted again and again echoing between the hills. The trees were talking back and as I looked across they were waving at me their branches like arms, moving from side to side. I stepped up onto the jetty. The mist was returning though the sun was hot, very hot, hotter than I’d thought it could be. I looked at the water, walked forwards and jumped.

There shouldn’t have been a hand to reach down for me. I shouldn’t have been pulled back to the surface or had lips closed around mine. I wanted my fate to be the water.

If there are grey clouds then it won’t rain. If there are black ones it will. There can’t be any light when the sun is covered over but how can it still be warm when it is? I never stepped on three drains or crossed on stairs or walked under ladders. I paid my respects to the magpies and always left a house through the same door I’d entered. I wasted salt over my left shoulder. Destiny blows in all directions but it never blew me where I wanted to go.


October 23, 2009

a long time coming.

back at uni now, updating things. this is from the portfolio i submitted for fiction last year. the lack of paragraphing is intentional, not a formatting error. 


The House on the Hill.

There is a house on the hill. There is a house on the hill that is grey. There is a house on the hill that is grey with green gables. There is a grey house with green gables on a hill and ivy is climbing up its walls. Ivy is climbing up the walls of the green gabled grey house that sits on the hill with a dog outside its front door. The ivy-clad green gabled grey house on the hill has a dog outside its front door and an old man walking up the path. An old man is walking up the path to the dog which is sitting outside the front door of a green gabled grey ivy-clad house that is up on a hill looking down on rolling farmland and a tractor in the distance. The tractor in the distance, which is being looked down on by a grey house on a hill with green gables and ivy and a dog and an old man in front of it, is carting corn to the next village. The tractor carting corn which the green gabled grey house is looking down on is blue, which is the same colour as the old man’s eyes, who is currently patting the dog sitting outside the ivy-clad front door of this grey house. The dog being patted by the old man, with blue eyes the same colour as the tractor, is a Labrador, but an old Labrador, whose coat has faded with age from black to a kind of grey in a marked contrast with the old man’s eyes which look like the same colour as the tractor carting corn to the village in the distance but in actual fact are a few shades darker. The village in the distance is framed by a clump of trees on either side that are in full leaf and green but a very different green to the green gables of this ivy-clad grey house. The green gables of this grey house clad with ivy are a dark tennis court green whereas the leaves on the trees are a leafy light green that seems to smile in the sunlight in a similar way to how the old man is smiling now as he pats the grey-black Labrador that sits outside the front door of the house. The front door is red, which matches the unusually placed phone box to the left of the house, but clashes with the green gables and the purple ivy which clings and hangs and climbs up the side of this grey house which sits high up on the hill, overlooking rolling farmland and the bright blue (brighter than the old man’s eyes) tractor which is carting corn to the next village framed by leafy green trees. The phone in the unusually placed phone box to the left of the green gabled grey house on top of the hill begins to ring and the old man looks up from patting the dog but does not move down the path to go into the phone box and answer the phone. From the green gables, a sash window opens and a head with equally blue eyes appears through the ivy which clings to this hilltop grey house and shouts down at the old man to stop patting the dog and go and answer it. The old man who is crouched by the red front door of the grey house on top of the hill and patting the black-grey Labrador, stands with effort and walks to the phone box to answer the phone. In the time that the old man with the bright blue eyes the same colour as the tractor currently leading corn to the leafy green village has walked to the phone box to answer the ringing phone which has stopped ringing by the time he has reached it, the red front door has opened shocking the black-grey old Labrador dog which had curled back up to enjoy the sunshine, and the head from the sash window with the same bright eyes has stomped out attached to a body and legs holding a basket full of clothes. The old man with the bright blue eyes turns to the girl with the eyes of a similar shade who has just stepped out of the grey house with green gables and says that he missed the phone. The bright eyed girl, with the basket of clothes, who had just left the grey house with green gables and a red front door, shakes her head and walks in the other direction onto the grass-green lawn to hang the clothes from the basket onto the washing line. The grey-black Labrador, who had been sitting patiently outside the red front door of the green gabled grey house with ivy running down the side, sees a leveret run through the gate towards the grass-green lawn with the washing line where the girl with bright blue eyes is hanging up the washing and chases after it knocking down the pole holding up the washing line on which the bright blue eyed girl is pegging clothes. The clothes that the girl with the blue eyes, which are really very bright, is hanging up scatter across the lawn causing her to chase after the once-black dog chasing the leveret shouting and cursing. The old man whose genes have given the washing girl her bright blue eyes has called back the number which had just caused the phone box to shrill and chirrup and has found that he and the girl need to head to the leafy green village that the blue tractor was carting corn towards and so he limps past the red front door of the ivy-clad grey house with the green gables to the grass-green lawn to try to chase the brightly blue eyed washing girl chasing the black-faded-to-grey Labrador chasing the sneaky little leveret which has found a gap in the fence and run away to freedom. The old man with the not-so-bright blue eyes and a gouty limp catches up with his blue eyed and red faced granddaughter as she stands at the fence shouting at the black-grey Labrador who is looking longingly at the small gap in the fence and wishing that he could sneak through. The old man tells the young girl what the voice on the end of the phone inside the unusually placed red phone box had to say and the redness in the young girls face drains out leaving it a strange shade of yellow and she grabs the hand of the old man with the blue eyes a similar colour to the tractor which has now reached the village with its load of corn and they jump into a muddy red car and speed off down the long hill on which stands a grey house that has ivy wrapped around the green gables and the red front door and which looks down on rolling farmland with an unusually placed red phonebox to the left and a grass-green lawn to the right where clothes are scattered over beds of purple and orange dahlias and a washing line pole lies abandoned in the centre. 


Question Time (aka Dear Nick …)

Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance lived up to expectations, public passion, some good speeches against racism and the man himself couldn’t really defend his views. Having said that there’s a few key subtle points that differentiate Griffin from other politicians on the show – and his performance demonstrates exactly why politicians seem to have their own dialectic.

  • Too Much Honesty – when he admitted that homosexuals make him uncomfortable he exposed himself to much criticism. He was asked what his opinions on the matter were, and he gave them – but this isn’t how the game is played! If he had simply replied “I don’t believe it is any business of the state as to what people do in their own homes.” (which is his position on the matter) then he wouldn’t have been boo’d and might have picked up respect.
  • Not aware when’s on camera – the BBC cameramen frequently turned their gaze upon Griffin whilst he wasn’t talking, this is fairly usual when a point is being about a person, or an organization they represent. During this time Griffin was looking at his notes, or staring blankly. The most important thing when someone is speaking about you is to look like you’re listening. Even if you’re mentally sticking knives into a voodoo doll. This makes it looks like you are respectful and interested in what others have to say, rather than preparing your comeback.
  • Failure To Reframe the question – When faced with a difficult political question it is always more beneficial to reframe it in terms that support your perspective, party or interest group. For example when Nick Griffin was asked about whether the BNP were sullying the name of Churchill he addressed the concerns of people directly by describing the unpopular ideas the BNP has that Churchill shared. A far better line of attack would have been to talk about the benefits of a strong Britain and play on people’s concerns about immigration. The more a politician swings debate to areas where people have common ground with them the more votes they get.
  • Insulting your hosts – He commented negatively on the BBC, after they had gone through much trouble to have them on the show. Even if his supporters don’t trust the BBC (and recent surveys show they have a far higher than average distrust of BBC Journalists than most people) then he shouldn’t be making himself look impolite on national television. In some sense this is a sub case of being too honest.

The fundamentally interesting conclusion of all this is that the discursive approach that members of the public always want more of from politicians, honesty, directness etc. is exactly what gets you in trouble on political discussion programs. This applies to mainstream politicians as much as to Griffin and the like.

Gordon Brown isn’t a subtle politician – but he is honest, straightforward, hard working and tries his best. These are qualities that are often described as missing from politicians – but in the modern age politicians don’t control the channels of communication in which their message gets to you. So it doesn’t matter if you are honest and straightforward – what you need to be is manipulative of the soundbites that come out of your debates.

Nick Griffin got caught out in terms of his media interaction, in a way that I haven’t seen happen to a politician since John Major called some of his cabinet colleagues bastards and that made for an interesting evening.


October 22, 2009

BNP Bingo/Drinking Game

Its been nearly two months since I last blogged, far too long, but this Thursday evening Nick Griffin of the BNP will be appearing on Question Time. This appears to have caused considerable controversy that I shall not be addressing – but I will be proposing BNP Bingo Rules!

The aim of the game is to get 50 Points. Different events listed below are worth various points. If you are not watching question time at the time the event occurs, you are not allowed the point! I believe this could also be played as a drinking game, with 2-5 points worth a shot, depending on how much you normally drink.

  • 2 points every time Nick Griffin says “We are a legitimate party”. 20 points if the point is argued by anyone else, though this reduces to 5 if this is ironic.
  • 5 points every time someone claims that the party are illegal, due to the recent ruling on membership. 2 points if this is Jack Straw, 1000 if its Nick Griffin.
  • 5 points if a member of the audience insults Nick Griffin or the BNP directly, 10 points if its a member of the panel. 20 points if the BBC are forced to ‘bleep’ out a word.
  • 2 points if Dimbleby picks up Griffin on a point of policy, 10 if he refers to racism explicitly.
  • 5 points when the discussion goes totally off topic and turns into arguments over the BNP.
  • 2 points whenever the issue of the BNP appearing on Question Time arises, 5 points if its a question asked by the audience members.

August 23, 2009

TPHOLs + Munich

I’ve split this blog post into a section about the conference, and another about Munich so people can read whatever is appropriate to their interests. Its a big one guys.

TPHOLS

I’ve just got back from TPHOLs, and I really enjoyed it. I only submitted an ‘Emerging Trends’ Paper, which doesn’t really count for anything, but the feedback from talking to people seemed worth while and positive. I even talked to a guy who had the rest of a compiler verified, using the same semantics as I do, and really wanted my work done so there was an optimising phase. Sounds like an excellent idea to me! Probably better focus less on this crazy bug fixing idea after all, and get back to some proper verification.

There were some really interesting papers, Quite a bit of low level code verification and techniques that viably work in ‘real world’ situations. Top of the list were the L4.Verified guys who were presenting two papers – one on extending their framework to include a separation logic for C and the other on their actual C Verification framework. I was surprised when talking to Gerwin Klein how few restrictions there were in their C subset. Allegedly they even have function pointers now – though it sounds like only verifying simple properties about them is sane at the moment.

One of the annoying feature about C is the non-determinism within the reduction of their expression semantics. Notably that evaluating an expression with a binary operator doesn’t have to evaluate its left hand side or right hand side totally first. Norrish’s original semantics for C capture this by bagging up side effects and then unbagging them non-deterministically – their new framework captures this, but for practical verification, they discharge appropriate proof obligations for common syntactic forms – eg expressions without side effects, functions calls with no reduction required in the arguments. This sounds like a fairly simple and reliable approach.

The Verisoft guys had some fairly heavy duty C verification tasks that they were undertaking as well – its good to see people attempting these large projects. They seemed to believe that they could finish in a year – quite impressive in my opinion.

The other thing I was surprised at was people making an effort at verifying properties of continuous maths, as well as traditional Computer Science. It somehow seems obvious with hindsight to define real numbers as a co-inductive definition, and operate on them co-recursively but I would probably have never made that intuitional leap myself – probably a side effect of not really reading any papers in that area. I always wonder how hard it would be to prove implementations of floating point arithmetic correct against a real number spec correct – I’m tempted to see if anyone has considered this kind of thing before, seems highly ambitious.

The conference organisers really deserve some credit for their efficiency – the directions were excellent, the hotel well chosen, things generally ran according to plan. We went on an excursion to a lake, which I had the utmost belief would result in people getting lost, but I don’t think anyone was at all. This was a complete masterpiece that totally validates my stereotypical belief in german efficiency. At certain key points, eg when a train would turn up or when we had to turn a corner – Stephan would clap his hands, and then all the local organisers would clap, and people knew what to do. The lake was picturesque, the Buccheim Museum interesting and the banquet excellent. Though I still haven’t figured out whether Zander is the German name for a fish I’ve eaten before, or a new fish.

Munich

I managd to forget to bring my camera, so any pictures I recall to put in will be efficiently cribbed from the internets. I visited the Englishgarten, which is a park near central Munich, containing a some splendid nature and a few interesting buildings.

I also had a wander through central Munich, which contains a few old buildings of varying architectural interest.

I had decided not to visit the workshops on the Friday of the conference, since I have less interest in Coq and none in Computer Algebra. I consequently spent the day acting as a tourist. I walked slowly, accidentally bumped into people, mumbled under my breath about the length of time it took for the road crossing lights to change and I even saw some of Munich! In the morning I went to the Deutsche Museum – which is a technology and engineering museum with a bit of SCIENCE thrown in for shits and giggles. This is what we should have more of in the UK.

We used to take family trips to Techniquest as a child, which was ok since it provided ways to play around with a cool demonstration of basic scientific principles, but I found it somewhat simplistic even at my young age, and I can’t imagine particularly enjoying it today. This place on the other hand went into low level detail about all sorts of engineering stuff – and had cool things for kids to play around with! Things like water wheels, boat sails, planes, damns, bridges, railways. This is really cool, and even gave me an idea for a simple physics game where you build a bridge. I’m sure its been done before – but might be cool to write anyhow maybe I can finally get round to learning some proper physics.

In the afternoon I went through the Residenz Museum, which is based in the Palace where Bavarian Royalty used to live, The Residenz. Unfortunately we bombed it to hell during the war, and its still being slowly restored. For example the facade is painted on plaster in some places, rather than being the original ornate part. Fortunately some of the interiors, and most of the fine art and furniture survived by being moved into the country. Really nice in some places, and it tells a bit about the way the Bavarian Dukes lived back in the day.

Afterwards I visited the hofgarden, beside the Residenz, walked around for a while, then sat down in the sun to have a beer. At this point in time it decided to rain … awesome. I managed to migrate myself so I was protected by a parasol and then ate a rather awesome slice of cheesecake. It was larger than my face. Then I wandered back to hotel via another park. Managed to get off at the wrong station on the train to the airport, its platform was marked with the word ‘flughafen’ which is German for airport, and I noticed this – it seemed a bit weird but I rushed to get off. I then realised that the sigh was saying “Flughafen Glies” – which meant it was the platform for going to the airport, rather than Munich city. Thankfully I had plenty of time, and trains were every 20 minutes. Plane flight back was ok.


July 27, 2009

WOMAD 2009

Here’s some typed up gig notes from this year’s WOMAD. Note ratings are entirely opinion, and I didn’t write notes for every gig I heard.

Thursday

Music from the Penguin Cafe

Brief reformation of many of the Penguin Cafe musicians under Simon Jeffes’ son. Good set, especially since it was on the pre-programme. Really ought to listen to some of the original band’s stuff.

6/10

The Skatalites

WOMAD really has a habbit of attracting aging pop musicians, but who are really competent with their instruments. Despite the name the band actually plays a mixture of Ska, Reggae and Rocksteady. Some really nice soloing here. Every year I consider listening to more Jamaican music, but end up getting put off by the pop/dance focussed reggae that seems to have been the overly popular product. Damn you Bob Marley.

7/10

Friday

Victor Deme

Based on writeups I labelled this guy as some what of a wannabe Ali Farka Touré. Impressive soloing, somewhat more traditional compositionally, and I’m sure some of the lyrics would be blatant efforts at catches (what an outrage!) if I understood French. I also listened to his late night saturday set, that was much better – guitarist was showing off more and the audience were into it a bit more.

6.5/10

Cimarron

Fado + Flamenco outfit, nice acoustic sound for the mood I was in at the time, can’t really say they stood out for any reason though.

6/10

Mariem Hassan

Soulful, Bluesey singer from Sahara. Nice, but meh.

6/10

Eliader Ochoa

Former Buena Vista Social Club member, included a few of their songs in his set list. Similar style musically – ought to check out some of his solo stuff.

7/10

Carrivan Palace

How do well sell gypsy Jazz to the younger generation Brain? We do what we do every year Pinky – we put a hot singer on the front and a dj playing incredibly tedious dance beat behind. Crowd were really into it though, and good stae presence.

4/10

Rokia Traore

Does have a good voice, slightly meh otherwise. Allegedly collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, maybe I should listen to that.

6.5/10

The Black Arm Band

Collaboration of Australian musicians presenting a show hilighting aboriginal issues. If Billy Bragg were an australian – he would have been here. I was somewhat disappointed that a lot of the music itself felt very inspired by western protest movements. There were the ballads glorifying the common behaviour of the abused group, we had verses structured as lists of things that had a gone wrong. Pretty basic stuff. But they had a good didgeridoo player, so its all good right? Gave rise to much thought as to whether human rights and poverty issues within third world countries and 1st world countries demanded the same approaches, and the ethic of it all. Heartful performances by all the musicians that really came across live.

7/10

Portico Quartet

Excellent set. Womad used to run a lot of classical music, most notably Indian Sarod and Sitar players, in the evening performance slots – but the change of festival director 2 years ago seems to have purged them from the programme. This is a real tragedy since it used to be a real hilight of the festival for me. This is one of the few late evening slots that I’ve really felt has lived up to that quality of musicianship. The band themselves make a lot out of their use of the hang – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_(musical_instrument) – an instrument I’d come across before, but never really seen showcased rather than used occassionally during performances. Here it sets the soundscape and is interspersed with and juxtaposed against some avant-garde jazz sax and bass. I’ll definitely listen to their previous album, and their new one when it comes out in October.

8/10

Saturday

Zambezi Express

Lively show, telling the story of a boy trying to avoid working in a mine by becoming a footballer.

Music itself was pretty boring djembe rythms – 4/10

Dancing and live show was excellent – back flips whilst skipping is quite pro – 8/10

Oumou Sangare

Traditionalist singer. Audience not really into it at the start (it had rained a bit just before the gig) – but she whipped them up a bit and then everything got into full swing. Not really my type of thing but good vocalist. There aren’t enough purely instrumental sets at womad anymore.

6.5/10

Peter Gabriel

Aging rockers always put on good live sets, think its because live sets used to be really important to a Band’s fanbase in the 70s and 80s. I blame MTV for everything. Weirdly Gabriel has now appeared twice in 3 years at WOMAD, previously to celebrate its silver anniversay, and this time round to support his charity .

7/10

Enkh Jargal

Pro mongolian singer and horse fiddle player. Hilarious horse impressions on stage when trying to explain what his instrument’s strings were made from – awesome.

7.5/10

Sunday

Styl’O’Styl

Combination of modern dance and minimalist jazz. Not really my kind of thing, but was an interesting set nonetheless.

6.5/10

Ba Cissoko

Excellent progressive Kora player – really going in different direction to his contemporary Diabate. Occassionally picked up the talking drum during set as well, when he was singing. Good stuff.

7.5/10

Youssou N’Dour

Yeah, and its not the first time I’ve seen him either. Screw you!

Once you get past the pop crap (the sung the chorus to 7 seconds and thats all in this set) – you realise that he’s actually rather a good musician, and he’s surrounded by good musicians. Last time I heard Youssou N’Dour he was playing more traditional, griot oriented stuff – this set was more modern, mblax focussed stuff. He works the audience well to, just a shame it was raining. (Why do idiots bring umbrellas to festivals, rather than ponchos?)

8/10

Roy Ayers

AWESOME. Second time I’ve heard him live. Started off with minimal actual playing (I was unduly worried, though he barely touched the vibes during his opening number) and playing some of dance/funk/pop numbers that he’s famous for, including the obvious irony of ‘everyone loves the sunshire’ whilst it was raining heavily in wiltshire. My Dad and I had been singing the song all afternoon – I was ridiculously up for this gig. The gig then turned into a 20 minute cover of classic jazz standard ‘One night in tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie which was basically an excuse for some seriously epic jazz soloing.

9/10


June 04, 2009

European Election Predictions

Polling in the UK is far less reliable than the US, and for that matter national support for Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP is incredibly erratic at the moment, but here goes. Percentages are for national voting average, and won’t directly correlate to number of MEPs.

  1. Conservatives – 29%
  2. UKIP – 18%
  3. Labour – 17%
  4. Lib Dems – 16%
  5. Greens – 10%
  6. BNP – 7%

You can’t criticize me for not being bold! UKIP are in second place on the back of their strong polling over the weekend, and Labour’s troubles this week. Lets hope Brown’s reshuffle works out for him, so the next election is in some way competitive. He was actually quite good in Prime Minister’s Question Time .

I find it rather saddening that european elections are always an implicit referendum on British involvement in Europe, and political parties current national status, rather than being related to the issues involved in Europe. Oh and …

DONT FORGET TO VOTE!


May 28, 2009

Poor man's /ignore in trac

IRC generally has the useful /ignore command (this may be clients, but I don’t really care) that allows one to ignore people who are particularly annoying. Sometimes public bug trackers have the same basic issue – that you really need to ignore someone, in order to get on with more important issues.

The computing society website uses the trac system for bug tracking and wiki provision. We really just use it as a bug tracker, but its fine for that purpose on a small project. Trac allows custom reports to be written in a sql-like language, and the report of win is report #3 – which orders everything by milestone. In order to implement /ignore follow the following steps:

1. Create a new report, and call it something trolly like “Serious Tickets”, give it an appropriate description.
2. Copy the report query from report 3, and paste it into your query box.
3. Within the where clause of the report add the clause: “AND NOT reporter LIKE ‘silver’”

Hey presto – life is grand!


May 27, 2009

European Elections

In the past, I’ve written about council elections and this election cycle we have some european elections going on. If you live in the Coventry area there are no council elections this cycle. Interesting update from last year, the whoberley wikipedia page still needs more information. Clearly I should do this at some point in time.

In the european elections there’s a party list, so you don’t get to necessarily vote for a specific candidate, as far as I can tell, but its still worth looking at the candidates and parties I think. Currently the west midlands is represented by 3 Conservatives, 2 Labour Party members, 1 Liberal Democrat and a UKIP member, within the next parliament we will be loosing one of our representatives, through shifting demographics. Interestingly enough if the treaty of Lisbon had passed, it would have the West Midlands another seat, maintaining our current level of importance. The BBC provides a helpful grouping of different european party affiliations on its website.

Candidates

Of the existing representatives, all but one are looking to get re-elected to their positions as MEPs.

The Conservative Party

1. Philip Bradbourn

Number 1 on the Conservative party list, Bradbourn has been a member of the European Parliament since 1999. He has also advised Wolverhampton City Council, and stood for elections at a national level in 1992. When caught smoking inside the EU Parliament building, he allegedly said “I’m a member. I make the rules.” Richard Nixon would be proud.

2. Malcolm Harbour

2nd on the Conservative list, Malcolm Harbour worked as an engineer before his election to the European Parliament. He has stated strong support for software patents.

3. Anthea McIntyre

3rd Conservative on the list, not currently an MEP, Stood in the 1997 election and lost. According to her website, she wants to keep the pound and encourage the single market – but wants no further integration within the EU.

The Labour Party

1. Michael Cashman

Former East Enders) character actor Cashman, has been an MEP since 1999, where he has worked on the Civil LIberties committee. He was elected MEP of the Year for Justice and Fundamental Rights by his peers in 2007.

2. Neena Gill

Another member of the 1999 MEP intake, Neena GIll sits on the Urban Housing intergroup in the European Parliament, and was also a Vice President with the Anti-Racism and Diversity intergroup. She is also listed as a Friend of Football.

3. Claire Edwards

Currently a Rugby Councillor, about whom it is hard to find further information.

Liberal Democrats

1. Liz Lynne

Yet another 1999 intake MEP (I wonder if this trend is nationwide), Ms Lynne is a former MP. She is currently a Vice-President, for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and the disability intergroup. She has also worked with Amnesty International.

2. Phil Bennion

Has a fascinating website that I advise everyone to read. As a working farmer with a PhD, including alleged expertise in BioMass – which I think means shit, Dr. Bennion stands out instantly. He was agricultural affairs advisor to Charles Kennedy, also a former Lichfield councillor, where he campaigned against local post office closures.

3. Susan Juned

A former Avon and Warwickshire Councillor, Dr. Juned has a PhD in environmental sciences, and plant biology and is quite focussed on campaigning for environmental issues.

I think the next two parties who have a chance of electing someone are UKIP and the BNP, and I don’t want to publicise their racist views, otherwise I hope this has been helpful. I might return to this topic again soon. It has stirred some thoughts within me as to what issues the European Parliament could have an impact on.


May 15, 2009

Hotspot Print Assembly

Since google fails at providing this information, and I haven’t blogged in a month:

It is possible to print assembly produced by the SUN Hotspot JVM’s JIT Compiler. In order to do so you will need a debug enabled JVM from http://download.java.net/jdk6/binaries/. The magic flag is +PrintOptoAssembly, and since its a JVM flag it needs a -XX: prefix. Additionally, code is only printed out as assembly if it gets JIT’d – so if you want everything printed, then you reduce the compile threshold. Consequently, an example command look like:

java -server -XX:+PrintOptoAssembly -XX:CompileThreshold=1 SomeJavaClass

Hopefully this is helpful to other people


May 03, 2009

cadence additional

Follow-up to Cadence Country Reggae from WikiOmeros

Cadence (or cadence-lypso) is a French Antillean dance music highly popular in St Lucia in the 1970s. Unlike the English language calypso, it is a French Creole-based form originating in Dominica and Guadeloupe and a development of Haitian Creole compas (or konpas direk). It was one of the forms that later were blended into the zouk (‘party’) form popular in the 1980s. The early lyrics of cadence often dealt with social issues and as such it was more of a political form than zouk, which developed largely as entertainment music. In St Lucia the political aspect was less strong, possibly because of difficulty in understanding other Creole dialects, and the music was more of an excuse for Jump Up (street party). The cadence style is claimed to be developed in Guadeloupe by the group Exile One led by Dominican musician Julie Mourillon and for a while became the main dance music of Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Lucia and other French Creole islands.


April 13, 2009

Economic Stimulus

Towards the end of last year the government chose to attempt to stimulate the economy using fiscal means – that is to say that spend more (creating jobs) and tax less (incentivizing purchases and harder work). This is a traditional remedy in time of economic strife – action that the government can undertake to encourage the economic to grow faster, or shrink less in this case.

The conservatives opposed the measures on the grounds that they would increase government debt. Debt they argue is bad because it its hard to repay, it requires that at some point in time in the future one must either raise taxes or cut spending – either way the economy will be damage by the inverse effects of the stimulus. Some commentators pointed out that the stimulus would only increase the fiscal deficit (ie the amount added to national debt) by 1/15 of the amount that it was going to rise by anyway, and the Conservatives weren’t opposing the ‘stabilizers’, ie the natural reduction in taxation and increase in spending that happens during a recession. It seemed obvious to me that that was merely political expediency, that they didn’t want to be charged with sacking doctors and teachers for example.

There exists only a limited amount of investment capital, the kind that is required to fund businesses and drive forward growth. Since the cause of the economic issues was fundamentally related to the debt markets, and banks in the Uk that have had financial issues have generally been over-exposed to the debt markets there currently exists a climate of irrational negativity with respect to investing in firms, and in general to spending money. The government’s monetary policy, the cutting of interest rates to their lowest rate ever, is an attempt to provide some disincentive to saving, and thus encourage spending and investment.

This all seems to ignore one critical aspect of the financial crisis that has been, in my opinion, heavily overlooked. When a flight to safety occurs, when investors look towards companies that are unlikely to go under during times of economic hardship, the British government’s bonds are always in demand. People already want to invest their money in buying government debt, because its comparatively safe, why encourage this trend? It crowds out the private sector from much needed funds, both in terms of medium term investment and short term spending. Given the size of the deficit during the coming two fiscal years, and the fact that someone has to buy the debt that is issued, there is a lot of money thats going to the public, rather than private sector.

One could argue that since the government are committed to injecting all the debt that they are accruing, via deficit, into the economy it actually isn’t something to worry about at all. Private sector companies are laying people off in ordering to save costs, whilst the public sector can simply plough on, injecting capital where it is needed. If one accepts this duality between debt and spending, however, it means that the net benefit of a government running a deficit is actually the different between its deficit and the amount of bond capital that wouldn’t have been investing in the economy, ie the amount that would normally be stored in some kind of savings account. Since we are currently bailing out banks because they lack these kind of funds … epic sigh.

So having thought about it a little more maybe we should be less gung-ho about using a fiscal stimulus in the current climate. Not that i believe that a fiscal stimulus is useless, but in a situation where there is a such a virulent flight to safety the effecting of crowding out the private sector could do more harm than good. Of course, interest rates have already reached their lowest level ever and can’t really help. I’m still somewhat uncertain as to how exactly demand is going to be stimulated by quantitive easing. To quote the great and wise Bender Bending Rodriguez, “We’re boned!”


April 05, 2009

Failure

So I'm giving up on the whole lent thing, even though there is a week to go. Finding that I have few ideas and those that I do have need to be focused on the two portfolios I have due in very very soon...sad times. 


March 17, 2009

11th to 17th March

More excuses, I am awful, and they all have to do with a boat and sitting on rippling water watching sunlight dapple swans and thinking "I'd really like to write about this" but then getting out of the boat and getting home and being so tired to do anything except eat and go to sleep. Except, it is the holidays so I have nothing to blame except myself and my own laziness. Yesterday I found time to wander around Kensington in sunshine and eat lots of scones and drink tea and champagne in Hyde Park and today I walked around Christchurch Meadows with a sandwich and a diet coke and an old friend so yes, I have found time to write some poetry and also to write a self-indulgent, fake depracating and long winded explanation of the past 5 days or so. 


Without further ado therefore...


17th March


Deep breaths

hot tea

deep breaths

sugar

pause.

wait.

stand up

straight back

eyes down

and watch.

and pause.

and wait.

 

16th March

i.

Swans jeer, I pass them by

but with long strokes they catch up, 

taunting and

teasing so

I lock my wrists and try

desperately hard to breath. 


ii.

The boy slash man opposite is 

attractive but as attractive

as my dress? I'm not sure.

The problem is 

I prefer clothes to human contact:

softer, prettier, longer lasting.


iii.

Is graffitti on trains wrong?

I write on the arm of this

jubilee line heading east. 

The man next to me writes

yes, in red felt pen.



11th March (I did actually write this on the 11th) 


The grey stone is you.

How you look when wet and cold is you

or windswept and blown.

How you moan in February

how you breathe in May

how you laugh in July

and how you defend against cold in December

and fight fog when the North Sea frets and

encompasses us, and you, and 

hear only barks and shouts in the 

very far distance and see

nothing, is you.



Identi.ca

As an experiment I’ve started microblogging at Identi.ca. My microblog’s url is:

http://identi.ca/richardwarburton/


March 11, 2009

6th – 11th March

I've been horrendously bad at keeping this up but again I have excuses...big big race on Saturday took up all energy I had in racing and organizing and then an essay on Monday meant all creative resources were plowed solemnly into that (it was solemn, most definitely.) However, I did a bit of fiction, attempting to try an anti-narrative approach and this is it...


With flattering poses and obnoxious pouts you attempt to prove a point that has never been proven before, and need never be again. It wasn’t long before the mirror in the mars bar showed you something you didn’t like so you spat out lumps of chocolate and tried not to choke. Presently, the west wind blew hard and the pout stuck leaving you with a face like a platypus so it was impossible to eat soup, or anything remotely viscous, from a spoon and if we’d just poured it you would have choked. The silver spoon from which I ate rice pudding and custard, gloating, reflected back and you were surprised to see the bitter hag that you had become in the space of five minutes. Out of guilt and self loathing you stood on the window ledge threatening to jump, though we both knew you wouldn’t and we both knew that you’d climb back down and pour a strong gin and not-much-tonic to drink in a deep hot bath to calm your nerves.


This is just the beginning, there was more, but I couldn't decide whether it worked or not particularly.


ALSO


Currently looking at Zimbabwean poets for a feature in the June Warwick Review issue... Like a guy called Chris Mlalazi a lot, and also Charles Mungoshi.

http://zimbabwe.poetryinternationalweb.org


 


March 09, 2009

Watchmen

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.

-------

In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.