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June 24, 2008

SOAPBox v2.0 is no more…

Writing about web page http://www.alastairsmith.me.uk/

My blog is moving away from Warwick.  If you're interested in staying with me, you can find me at http://www.alastairsmith.me.uk/.  It may take a little bit of time for the DNS update to go through, so the link may not work for you just yet.  Be patient :)


January 18, 2008

A clutch of film reviews

I've seen a number of films over the last couple of months, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on them with you all.  I'll try and keep each review brief, as there are a few :-)

American Gangster

It's easy to say that as Ridley Scott directed this, it was a very good film; he does, after all, have a good track record.  Whilst it was masterfully directed, as one would expect, the real joy of this film is to be found in the treatment of the story and the acting.  Denzel Washington shone, and I'm gaining respect for Russell Crowe who has never in the past struck me as a particularly good actor; I found his performance in Gladiator rather wooden at times, for example.  2004's A Beautiful Mind changed all that; his portrayal of the great mathematician John Nash was truly moving.  He's not as good in this as he was in A Beautiful Mind, but it was another example of how he has discovered or grown his acting abilities. 

In the same vein as films such as Blow, American Gangster tells the story of the real-life drugs baron Frank Lucas (touting heroin in this case, as opposed to Blow's cocaine), his descent as the power and wealth accrued corrupts, and his moral recovery.  That, and how he allegedly helped to bring down a large portion of the DEA for corruption, although the veracity of this claim is being disputed.  Lucas' operation was a marvel of organisation and negotiation, employing the same "direct from the wholesaler" technique to heroin as has traditionally been applied to things like white goods. 

This is a long film, but doesn't really feel it until it's nearly over; there's a lot of story to cram in, and Scott just about manages it without dragging in the detail too much. 

Highly recommended.

4/5.

Beowulf

I've not got much to say on this one, as it was generally pretty rubbish.  I did, however, go to see this in 3-d, which made it worth seeing, not least because a lot of it had obviously been made specifically for the 3-d version.  It was an enjoyable way to spend the time, but it was not a great work in any sense, and the only reason I woud recommend it would be for the 3-d effects and the interesting rendering techniques used.  Seeing it in regular 2-d probably wouldn't give you the necessary distractions from the movie's shortcomings.  

3-d version: 3/5; 2-d version: 2.5/5

I am Legend

Will Smith stars in this story of the last man alive in New York after a deadly virus sweeps the world, killing or mutating the entire population save the 1% who are immune to its effects.  

I am Legend is the tale of Robert Neville (Smith), a military scientist who has stayed behind in New York ("this is my Ground Zero") despite the advice to get the hell out.  He feels responsible for what has happened, and is looking for a cure.  Neville has been in New York, alone, for nearly three years when we join him at the start of the film, and the long shots of New York empty and abandoned are nothing less than chilling.  I literally had tingles running up and down my spine for a full 30 seconds or so.  But even this is indebted to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, which did the same thing to London. 

I am Legend is really two films, and this is what what lets it down.  Particularly because the second film is a bit crap.  The first film, running for the first hour of the picture's 1.5hr running time, is an interesting psychological study of a man who's been alone for too long.  Neville's only friend and companion in this first film is Sam, his dog, and it focusses on Neville's use of routine to cope with the loneliness and boredom.  Most people would have gone insane and probably killed themselves in this situation, but Neville is driven by his desire to find a cure to atone for his crimes.  And the deaths of his family.  That's not to say he's compis mentis; he holds conversations with mannequins, knows every line of Shrek off by heart, and has difficult adjusting to human company.  Will Smith plays Neville fantastically, carrying an hour's worth of monologue as though it were the most natural thing in the world - he is Robert Neville.  

The second film is an action-packed half-hour that winds the story up too quickly and in a different direction from the one you might expect.  There's a significant event at the end of the first film that leads us to the second, but it doesn't stop I am Legend feeling like it's spiralled out of control.  The last half-hour contains comparatively little plot development and is mainly zombies/vampires attacking Neville's house, and this is to the film's detriment. 

I had high hopes for this film, expecting it to be on a par with I, Robot but once it leaves behind the sometimes excellent first part, it loses any chance of even clutching at I, Robot's tail feathers.  

Recommended.

3.5/5

Charlie Wilson's War

I cannot recommend this film highly enough; it is an absolute joy to watch.  For fans of The West Wing in its original incarnation, you will recognise Aaron Sorkin's writing at its best throughout this film.  This is an accomplishment itself, because Sorkin's writing often takes a turn for the sentimental and he doesn't handle that sort of material as well as he does sharp political commentary.  As someone once remarked about Sports Night, Sorkin's first success:

It's like all the worst bits of The West Wing thrown together.

Charlie Wilson's War, however, is the exact opposite.  It's everything that The West Wing was when it was at its best, and somehow more too.  The script is sharp, witty, and incisive.  You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a comedy, the jokes come that thick and fast, but it's not.  It has a serious core, and that core is the story of America's intervention in Afghanistan.  No, not the 2001 incursion, but the original intervention, back in the 1980s on Reagan's watch.  It tells the story of the congressman Charles Wilson, who inspired the covert action against the then Soviet Republic's invasion of Afghanistan.  It was America that put the guns in the hands of the Afghan people, and, as Sorkin makes clear towards the end, it was America that didn't clean up afterwards.  

Tom Hanks plays Charles Wilson very well, with — certainly by the end — more than enough humanity to make him a loveable old rogue rather than a man with questionable morals.  Julia Roberts is disappointingly two-dimensional and uncommitted as Joanne Herring (compare this with her excellent starring role in Erin Brockovich), but doesn't appear in the film enough to take the shine off.  Philip Seymour Hoffman as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos steals the show, however, providing pure gold in every scene he is in.  The scene in Wilson's office when Gust and Wilson first meet is a masterclass in comic timing and farce.  

Having seen Charlie Wilson's War, you can't help but feel that actually maybe there is something in all this political rhetoric about Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc., sponsoring terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.  The methods employed are very clever and constantly maintain plausible deniability: for example, using Israel's stockpile of confiscated Russian weapons to arm the Afghans so that there was no evidence of America's involvement, not to mention getting Israel to side with Arabs.

Very highly recommended.

4.5/5

Babel

This is not a film about an American woman (Cate Blanchett) shot on a bus, supposedly by terrorists.  This surprised me initially, as this is what the trailers seemed to promise, and I'm sure that had Alejandro González Iñárritu (most well known perhaps for 2003's 21 Grams) put together that film, it would have been excellent.  What is delivered instead, however, is something far more outstanding and unique. 

It's hard not to draw comparisons with Paul Haggis' Crash, but all those comparisons are favourable.  Crash was an excellent film, but Babel is outstanding.  Babel is to language and communication as Crash was to racial prejudice, but carries it off in a much more subtle manner, despite the obvious allusions of the title and the tagline ("If you want to be understood... Listen"). 

Like Crash, there are multiple and interwoven storylines traced concurrently.  Unlike Crash, they are taken out of sync, and time becomes as elusive as the comprehension the characters so desperately seek.  There's the married couple with problems that are in Morrocco to try and work things out; there's the Morroccan goat-farming family who purchase a rifle to keep the jackals away from their herd; there's the deaf-mute Japanese girl struggling to cope with her mother's suicide and rejection by men; and there's the Mexican nanny who takes her two charges to Mexico for her son's wedding and struggles to get back into the US that night with almost tragic consequences. 

The film is at its most vocal when the characters aren't talking; the most comprehension between the characters is gained when they're not actively communicating.  The Tokyo club scene is a clever and subtle exposition of this idea.  

This is a film that will either affect you or leave you a bit cold; it's "arty" in places, particularly with some of the Tokyo scenes, and this might put off some people.  But every story line is as moving as each of the others, as is the underlying theme.  

Highly recommended. 

4.5/5


January 04, 2008

Cars

Ok, so I'm in a position to be thinking about buying my first car.  My first proper car.  A horribly underpowered Ford Focus (that's otherwise pretty nice) doesn't really count, and a Vauxhall Nova certainly doesn't count, so I'm going to forget I drove them for the purposes of this post. 

The main thing to bear in mind here is that I don't know much about cars.  I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I have, to put it mildly, a very poor understanding of torque, and all I know about Brake Horsepower is that it has a silly name, and somehow describes the power of an engine.  As such, I know my Focus has about -2365bhp.  

However, having been given Clarkson's latest book, Don't Stop Me Now, for Christmas, it's safe to say I'm quite excited by the prospect of driving a proper car.  One that does 0-60 in less than a day.  One that is a driver's car, because I'm the sort of person that likes driving to be fun.  I'd like to feel the G-forces when I accelerate; you get more G-force from licking a spoon than you do from accelerating in my Focus.  One thing I do love about my Focus, though (and there are more than just this), is the boot.  It's huge for a car that size.

So I'm interested in a number of models, and intend to undergo a long try-before-you-buy process of test-driving everything with four wheels that comes within a sensible budget.  What is deemed sensible is still up for grabs, as is the insurance premium.  

My Holy Grail, perhaps, is the Golf R32.  Less chavvy than the Focus ST, but obviously still a solid driver's car and well-spec'd.  Conversely, a new Mondeo or a Citroën C4 or a less souped-up Golf would do nicely.  The reputed reliability of Citroën is putting me off the C4, though, and I'm not 100% sure I necessarily want a family car just yet, however much fun the new Mondeo looks.  There's also the option of getting my Dad's Mercedes C220 diesel second hand in October.  Not that I'd be able to drive it until I'm 25 in March 2009 for obvious insurance-related reasons.

I don't know whether I should be looking for petrol or diesel engines: I gather that diesel is more economical over large distances, but petrol is greener and cheaper and gives better performance.  Apparently.  Somehow.  A lot of diesel engines seem to be turbo-charged, too; does this bring their performance up to the level of an "equivalent" petrol engine (if that even means anything)?

So, in essence, I'm opening this up for debate.  What sort of thing do you think I should I be looking for?  What can you recommend as being a reliable car that's fun to drive and sensibly-sized and -priced?  What should I test drive first?


December 26, 2007

Doctor Who

Am I really the only person to have been disappointed by the Doctor Who Christmas special?  And consistently so?  The first one was too short to successfully develop the myriad of ideas presented; last year's was better, although I was disappointed to see the Santas recycled, and I'm not a fan of Catherine Tate either (could make Series 4 a tough watch); this year's was the most ambitious of the lot, and had evidently had a lot more money thrown at it. 

As lavish as the set and CGI were (the CGI particularly was a vast improvement over previous series), and as many big names (Kylie Minogue!) they got for the cast, the writing and the plot turns were, as with most of Russell T. Davies' episodes, quite frankly rubbish.  The twist at the end where the baddie has control of the boat's engines and shuts them down remotely defied belief, not least because if that was the case, why did he go to all the elaborate lengths of paying off the captain, controlling the Host, etc.?

The only really nice twist (in the "good" rather than the "nice" sense of the word) was that the bastard stock dealer survived when everyone wanted him dead. 

There was too much cheese in the writing, and Kylie's character, Astrid, was so two-dimensional in a 1950s-Sci-Fi-B-Movie kind of way that I almost didn't feel anything when she died.  Twice.  If it wasn't for David Tennant's masterful portrayal of the Doctor making something good out of a dodgy script I honestly couldn't have given two shits whether Astrid lived or died.  Compare this with Davies' handling of Billie Piper's exit at the end of Season 2 whose pathos almost moved me to tears.  

So, BBC, please get someone else to write the Christmas specials.  Davies does have some great ideas, but they can't be realised in the small time slot allocated to the specials (even this year's longer slot).  Ideally, consign Russell T. Davies to a director or executive producer role where he can retain overall creative control and plot direction over the series, but for God's sake stop him writing scripts!  His episodes are consistently the weakest in each series, carried more by the strength of his ideas than their generally ham-fisted execution, and it pains me to think of what someone like Steven Moffat, whose episodes have consistently been the best in each series, might have produced.  

Good morning, world. 


December 23, 2007

Bali

I've been reading the New Scientist's special report on the Bali climate conference, incidentally whilst sat on the now-closed M3 outside Winchester. The account of the conference is an interesting one, with clear and bubbling enthusiasm for the monumental decisions taken and the extraordinary events that unfolded. Perhaps the biggest credit should go to plucky little Papua New Guinea who reportedly told the US in no uncertain terms where to stick it. I quote:

"Conrad...simply commanded them: "If you are not prepared to lead, get out of the way." And they did."


December 20, 2007

Fog!

For the last two days, I've not been able to see Morrison's for the particularly dense fog.  Hold on, I'm saying that like that's a bad thing...  Woo-hoo!!! I haven't been able to see Morrison's for two days!!!

Additionally, the weather forecast is telling me that it's currently -4°C outside.  I'm not sure I completely believe it, as it is the forecast for Cambridge.  Worryingly, as Cambourne is in the middle of nowhere, it is usually colder here than it is in Cambridge.  There is, at least, no wind, and all the trees and things have a beautiful layer of frost on them which, if there were any sun and no fog, would be glittering beautifully. 


December 17, 2007

In other news…

...I am now officially down to a 32" waist again, and have been for a couple of weeks now.  Woohoo!  My hard work at the gym (that has admittedly fallen by the wayside a little bit recently) has paid off! 

Also, Gethin and Camilla were robbed.  I need to go and watch Saturday's show, because apparently Matt and Flavia danced very well (it's good that Matt finally got a hold on his nerves after last week's abysmal performance), but I think Gethin deserved it more; he's come so far in the last couple of weeks, and he totally deserved a place in the final.  I was looking forward to a showdown between him and Alesha.  It was a shame that Kelly Brook dropped out a couple of weeks ago, too, on a number of levels ;)  She had a similar amount of raw talent as Alesha and it would have been a very interesting final had it been down to the two of them.  

Apparently Rhydian was robbed too.  I care less about this, having only seen two shows of The X Factor ever (both this series, coincidentally), and not really being a fan of ITV television generally.  Two interesting points to note having watched the final with Lorna on Saturday, though:

  1. Pairing Rhydian with Catherine Jenkins possibly swung the competition somewhat.  He really showed her up for the beautiful but talentless <insert your choice of word here> she is, and her mic was too loud in comparison with his.  Mind you, her mic will always be too loud for me.  I felt dirty having had my ears sullied by her voice.
  2. Leon's face after his duet with Kylie was an absolute picture.  He was a bit starstruck, but by the time he left the stage you could clearly see the dirty thoughts of threesomes with the Minogue sisters running through his mind.  They were coming on to him quite a bit (particularly Dannii), it was rather amusing!

Winding down for Christmas

This last week has been a busy one.  On Monday, I visited Paul at his flat in Cambridge for a quiet night in; we spent most of it watching funny stuff courtesy of the BBC's iPlayer.  Tuesday was my one free day last week, so I spent it catching up on some TV, that sort of thing.  Wednesday saw me travelling to Huntingdon with a couple of mates from work to see American Gangster; this is an excellent film, if a little long at 2hrs 40mins.  It is also somewhat unusual in that it's a slow burner from Ridley Scott of all people, but it's carried off very well and both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe give sterling performances.  I highly recommend it.

On Thursday, Paul came round to my flat for another night in, although a little less quiet than Monday's was! We got some beers in, watched The Negotiator (a thoroughly enjoyable film with performances of the quality you'd expect from Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Spacey) and then spent the rest of the evening playing Portal from Valve.  This is a truly fantastic game; the black sense of humour pervading the game, along with the innovative Portal gun and the powerful Source game engine combine to provide a top-class experience.  I cannot recommend it enough, you will want to play this to the end the moment you pick it up.  

Friday saw me leaving work a little early to pick up Lorna from the station.  She came up to visit and accompany me to the Citrix Christmas party which took place on Friday night.  It was a low-key affair compared with last year, but not at all in a bad way, and both Lorna and I had a very enjoyable evening.  We left at about 1am after consuming a rather nasty bottle of rosé between us (although I think I ended up having most of it) and stayed up for about another hour chatting about Heroes and Lost and other random stuff.  

On Saturday Lorna and I headed into Cambridge for a spot of Christmas shopping, feeling rather brain-dead.  I say "a spot"; what I mean by that is that I needed to do all my Christmas shopping, and Lorna needed to do a bit!  I didn't get up until about 11.30 or so, and Lorna about 12-12.30, so it wasn't until 1pm that we actually left.  We arrived in Cambridge at about 2pm and headed straight to The Gourmet Burger Kitchen for lunch (my new favourite place to eat; their burgers and milkshakes are to die for).  We staggered back on the bus at about 6pm after a lot of shopping and a good rest in Costa at the top of Waterstones including, of course, a bowl of tea that you can lose your face in.  We settled down in front of The X Factor Final for a couple of hours before it was time for Lorna to head back to London.

Yesterday, all told, was a much more relaxed day, with boring things like a to-do list.  On the plus side, though, I completed everything on my list (bassoon practice, Christmas cards, pub quiz, washing) and got through some old TV too; most notably, the last episode of Top Gear.

And so here we are: the final week of work before Christmas; I have my first review coming up after Christmas, and an initial discussion with my manager today regarding my performance over the last quarter.  From what he's said so far, though, everything seems to be going swimmingly, and I'm confident that the review will not throw up any major issues.  

More to come soon, I hope.


November 12, 2007

A truly lovely weekend

So, I was a little apprehensive about going back to Leamington this weekend, but I am now so glad that I did. 

On Saturday, Sarah hosted a wine and cheese night at Russell Court.  This was part of the source of my apprehension; I hadn't been back to Leamington, let alone Russell Court, since Zoë broke up with me, and I was concerned about how well I was going to take it.  Most of Saturday was a slight downer given a number of factors including the cold and the slight rain, not being able to buy new shoes, and a crap morning involving an alarm that should have been turned off the night before and not being able to get back to sleep again.  I also developed a bit of a headache Saturday afternoon, partly due to dehydration, and possibly partly due to my scarf being tied too tight around my neck (!), so all in all I wasn't feeling 100% up for the event.  But having a chat with Sarah before it started really sorted my head out (I've come to this conclusion before: I really need to learn to pick up the fucking phone when my head gets there, because talking always sorts it out now), and by the time people started arriving sometime after 7.30, I was really excited to be seeing everyone again and well up for the night's events.  

In addition to the wine and cheese, we indulged in some YouTube-based mirth, including the fantastic Armstrong and Miller sketches of the WWII RAF Airmen (you really have to watch these if you haven't already!), a piss-take of Pachelbel's Canon, and the very funny Harry Potter Puppets (the second clip is better than the first...).  It was so good to see my friends again, and it really surprised and touched me how sympathetic everyone was, and the level of concern they expressed.  I guess I'd never realised the true value of the friendships that I have with these people, nor how much of an impact I make with the people that I meet.  The event alone provided self-validation in truckloads, realising that, unlike previous relationships, I actually have my own relationships with this shared group of friends, and they appreciate and value me in and of myself, rather than seeing me as the appendage of their friend, which is how previous friendships have felt at times.

As good as the wine and cheese night was, though (and it was fucking awesome, just so you know ;), the icing on the cake of the weekend was having lunch with Zoë on Sunday.  We went for a meal at Strada just off the Parade in Leamington, "our place" for eating out, and it was in so many ways just like old times.  Certainly, it was everything I'd hoped it would be, and it has left me feeling that my friendship with Zoë is actually going somewhere and, more to the point, going somewhere good; something that I wasn't at all sure of previously.  For me, the most telling moment was as I was leaving this evening: Zoë lingered at the door of her flat watching me leave.  Obviously, I don't claim to know what was going through her mind at the time at all, but my interpretation is that it was disbelief at what she was seeing. 

So this will be my mantra from now on for any day when I'm feeling even slightly down: I am a fucking good person, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I'm pretty fucking happy, too.  I am infinitely stronger and more confident than I was, and I now know how to carry myself. 

As I left Russell, Lorna asked me if I was all right.  I nearly burst in to tears at this point, and a number of other times over the next half hour or so, because the answer was purely and simply "yes".  I've said it before and I'll say it again - just as you think you're done crying, something new comes along.  But this time, it was tears of happiness and relief, and not tears of pain and hurt, that were welling up.  I'm mended; fixed; repaired.  I'm me again, and I have a fantastic bunch of friends who will love and support me no matter what.  And the most special person in the world most definitely falls into that category too.  

Watch out, world; here I come! :-D


October 26, 2007

A bit of an update

I've had an interesting and busy couple of weeks since I last blogged.  I'm feeling a lot better about my new life in Cambridge now, and am settling in to work well.  The tasks that I have to work on now are much more involved and time-consuming than the ones I started with, and I've had a couple over the last month or so that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  One task, to support a new feature in our flagship project, kept me occupied for something like two weeks, and was a good level of challenge.  More recently, I've started working on some tasks related to smart card authentication (basically using chip-and-PIN technology to log on to our products), and it looks like I'm going to become my department's smart card bitch :)

Additionally, the Citrix iForum in Las Vegas this week has created a bit of buzz (not least because we've started showing off the products of our acquisition of XenSource), and it's reminded me just what an exciting company Citrix is, and what a good thing it is to be working for them.  Whilst Citrix is a nearly-20-year-old $1.5bn multi-national company homed in the US, it still has a feel of a fresh start-up, and part of this is because of the sheer level of innovation going on in the company.  There are some really amazing things happening at the moment.  The emails from the upper echelons praising our hard work were a nice touch, too.  

Outside of work, I have recently joined a gym, and I am continuing with my bassoon lessons.  I've had a few good workouts at the gym, and as it has a pool too I have been cooling off with a swim afterwards which has been really good.  It does, however, mean that I'm at the gym for a good couple of hours, which is no bad thing unless I want to be doing something else with my evening too!  I've also found that I can't practise after going to the gym, as I'm generally too worn out.  This is causing some problems — I haven't practised in about 2 weeks now :( — but I'm aiming to rectify that, starting tonight.  

I've been working on very technical exercises since I started here, as I really wanted to undo the four years' worth of accumulated bad habits and get somewhere close to the standard I was playing at when I started University.  Recently, I had started to feel as though I was losing my focus a bit having been pooled for the Cambridge Phil and not practising as much, and I was almost starting to wonder if I was wasting my teacher's time and my money.  I realised soon into this week's lesson, however, that I was actually starting to play well again, and producing a particularly nice tone, and that if I could just get myself back on track with the practice, I could achieve my aim.  It's not a good feeling to feel like you peaked at 18, and I don't think that's necessarily the case: with determination and hard work, I think it is possible to be playing as well as I was.  I'm still young, and my fingers are still nimble; they just need to re-learn how to move quickly, and I need to re-learn confidence in my playing.  And this is why I think my new teacher is going to be good for me.  She's fun, enthusiastic, encouraging, and has started dropping phrases such as "someone of your standard" into the lesson. I had a couple of reservations before I started learning with someone only a couple of years older than me, but she knows her stuff as well as my second teacher did who used to play with the BSO.  It's also quite telling that my bassoon lessons are the only thing that I don't have any doubts about going to, even though my teacher is a 20-30 minute drive away near Trumpington.  This is all buoying me confidence-wise, and I hope that I will have many more good lessons to look forward to.

I also met up with Paul, one of my housemates from Uni who's doing a PhD at Cambridge now, last week, and we hung out at his with a bottle of wine chewing the fat.   It was really good to see him again and catch up.

I spent last weekend in London with visiting Lorna, and Sarah came down to see us both too.  It was a lovely weekend, and an emotional one too, as Lorna has already hinted.  We wandered around London for most of Saturday, visiting the Tate Modern in the afternoon before settling in for the rugby.  The crack (Shibboleth 2007 by Doris Salcedo) was impressive in size, but disappointingly artificial.  Having read a bit about it before going there, I was intrigued by the idea, but as Zoë later pointed out, it doesn't really say anything in and of itself; you have to read the leaflet to find out what Salcedo is trying to say with it (in a nutshell, it represents the divides in society).  I was disappointed by the fact that it was so obviously artificial, but maybe that was part of the point of it; that the social divides are artificial.  

And finally, I'm going to go buy myself a TV and DVD recorder tomorrow!  They are the last piece in the puzzle for my flat, so I will be properly sorted in a couple of weeks' time!  I'm then heading on down to Southampton to stay with my parents for the weekend before heading back late Sunday afternoon. 

October 06, 2007

I'm absolutely shattered…

Since Thursday, I've had Neill, a friend from college, staying with me, which has been really good.  Thursday night, soon after he arrived, we went to Kym Moy on Mill Road for a brief bite to eat, and then met one of his University friends, Daisy, for a drink.  We got back about 11.30pm and I got to sleep soon after midnight. 

Last night, we went to Daisy's for a few drinks and a couple of rounds of a variant of Mille Bornes (both of which I won :), then later moved on to the student bar at Churchill College where we played a couple of games of pool and a game of table football.  We did the traditional late-night kebab van run at Market Square, and got back to Daisy's house at about 2.30am.  I crashed on her couch, and after a a few fitful bouts of sleep, left at 8.30am to get the bus home.

So given that my sleeping patterns are still a bit disrupted (I'm waking up at 6am every day now, and not really falling back to sleep properly, just dozing lightly), these two late nights are now taking their toll on me.  I'm shattered: my legs are aching, my feet are caning, I have a tiredness headache (that kind of dull, thick, ache at the back of your head), and I'm wondering how I'm still awake.  

My Mum told me the other day that I was born middle-aged, albeit in a very different context, and I'm starting to think she's right :)  I had a lovely bath earlier, with some jazz (Diana Krall, mainly; she's got a lovely smooth, rich voice) on in the background, and found myself thinking that the only way it could be improved would be with the addition of a nice glass of red and a good "cultural" book!  Also, however much I enjoyed last night (which was a lot, don't get me wrong; it was my first good night out in quite a long time...), I'm starting to wonder if I'm maybe getting a bit old for these late nights.  I certainly didn't find myself missing the kebab van, and the best bit of the night for me was when we were sat in Daisy's lounge drinking, chatting, and playing cards.  

I also found out last night that my bladder is made from steel. 


September 30, 2007

A good night out

Just got back from the pub quiz at the Monkfield Arms in Cambourne with a few colleagues from work.  We had a good night - we came joint second in the first round (earning us £8 of drinks vouchers for next time) and first in the second round (earning us the pot to split between us)!

With a stonking 16/20 correct answers in the second round, we wiped the floor with everyone else, and netted a tenner each.  Subtracting the £1.20 I paid to enter the quiz, I made a cool £8.80 tonight :)

Additionally, after two pints of well-tended Pedigree (the Monkfield Arms is a Marston's pub, after all) on nothing more than a not-quite-ripe apple, I'm a little tipsy :)  I can't remember the last time I felt this good!

Slightly negatively, though, realising how much tonight has taken my mind off things, and how quickly tonight has flown by, makes me remember what it is that my mind has been diverted from.  That's putting a small dampener on things, but I'm on a bit of an alcohol-fuelled high at the moment, so I should be ok until tomorrow morning at the earliest.  

The weekend's been a tough one, and it always seems that just when I'm done crying there's a fresh burst of grief waiting for me around the corner.  The suddenness of everything hit me hard this weekend, and I had another long cry this afternoon.  I also said something particularly nasty to my Mum that I completely regret, and that I wish I could take back, and I can't believe she's being so understanding about the whole thing.   I'm really starting to understand how lucky I am to have parents as loving and supportive of me as they are, and I couldn't be getting through this without them.  

I also need to thank my friends, five in particular and I hope you know who you are, for all the support they have given me; a couple of them have been so amazingly supportive and caring at a time when I was feeling so lost and alone, and I'm so utterly grateful to you all for everything.  If you're noticing that I haven't been in touch recently and are missing me, I apologise greatly; there are a few things I need to sort out myself, and they are requiring me to put a little bit of distance between me and you, but I promise this is only temporary.  

Additionally, I'm constantly battling with myself to keep the emotional distance between myself and Zoë.  I know I need to keep this distance for the foreseeable future, but there's so much exciting stuff to share with her, and so much that I want to say, that's it's proving very difficult to keep a lid on it.  I'm sharing it with other people, but not having her in my life at all is proving very difficult.  I know what I want to say won't change anything in terms of the situations that we are now in, but I do hope that it will smooth over some of the crevasses that have appeared in the last few weeks.  I'm just not ready to tackle that, though, and I don't yet know when I will be; to get back in touch now, however much I want to, would only open myself up to a new world of pain and I can't do that until the pain will be numbed by time and distance and all those other things that people keep telling me about.  

The whole thing is made harder by the fact that the person that I love is gone, maybe permanently, maybe temporarily.  Zoë is no longer the person that I fell in love with; she has changed so much in the last two months, more than I thought possible, and it is painfully apparent to me that the person that she is now doesn't want me, and, to some extent, the "old" Zoë doesn't want me anymore either.  The photos of her that I see of Zoë shows her looking the same on the outside — obviously — and I remember the Zoë that I love and all the happy memories, pain and grief that goes with the fact that I'm no longer with her, and no longer able to be with her.  What I struggle with is keeping sight of the fact that I don't love the new Zoë, and this is because there's too much that reminds me of the old Zoë.  I'm struggling to live and cope with the fact that she's so different now, and every so often, like this afternoon, it hits me in a new wave of grief and pain and I burst into tears afresh.

All in all, though, I am right now feeling the best I have done in weeks, and I can only hope this will spill over into the new week.   The likelihood of me waking up feeling shit again tomorrow is greatly reduced, I hope, and I've got some good ideas to mention to my manager at our one-on-one tomorrow :)

There will be some form of further update at some point in the future.  With my life in flux quite so much at the moment, it won't be as soon as I might like, but I promise you, dear reader, that there will be a new post.  


September 29, 2007

Time heals all

Greenday - Time of Your Life

Another turning point;
a fork stuck in the road.

Time grabs you by the wrist;
directs you where to go.

So make the best of this test
and don't ask why.

It's not a question
but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs
and still frames in your mind.

Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time.

Tattoos of memories
and dead skin on trial.

For what it's worth,
it was worth all the while.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life. 


September 18, 2007

The mornings are the worst.

Waking up way before my alarm, realising it's not all a bad dream, feeling sick at the thought, trying to fall asleep again.  Waking up again.  And again.  And finally crawling out of bed too early and into the shower. 

As the day goes on, I find that my mind eventually gets engrossed in the tasks of work, and I start to feel better.  These last couple of days, I've also had things to engross my evenings too, and so the days are easier.  The first weekend that I spend truly alone (25-26 September) is going to be hard, but I don't know if it will be harder or easier than the last weekend I spent sort of alone.  I also don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, which could make it harder still.

Last night I depped for the Cambridge Philharmonic, an orchestra I'm hoping to join following my audition next week.  It was a good rehearsal; the orchestra are of a high standard although none of them are professional, and the focus is more on musical detail than was the case with the UWSO (no disrespect meant to the UWSO there - they're a fantastic orchestra!).  The social side seems to be lacking from what I can tell, with the mid-rehearsal coffee break being the extent of this as far as I can see so far, but given that I was only depping, and for a rehearsal at that, it's unlikely that I would have got much more of an impression of this.  

I also went for a run this evening.  I managed 30 minutes of almost continuous exercise (I needed a break after about 15 mins as my asthma was starting to kick in), and it felt good, in a really knackering way.  I might even do it again...  And afterwards I spent an hour or so at the pub with a colleague, which was nice, and of course good to get out of the flat. 

And for the first time in quite a few days, I might actually fall asleep with relative ease.   


September 11, 2007

Ups and Downs

Again, it's a few days since I last blogged.  I'm not doing so well at what was intended to be a better attempt at regular blogging, but there we go. 

Today's been a beautiful day in Cambourne.  It's been still and sunny and warm all day, and this is what I love about September.  What I don't love about September is that the nights start drawing in (it's now dark before 8.30pm) that remind me that autumn and thus winter are not too far away now.  It will be interesting to see Cambourne in winter; I've only ever seen it in summer so far (with the exception of the day I spent here for my interview in December).  

And I love iTunes' not-new-at-all Party Shuffle feature.  For what is actually just glorified random-play functionality, it still gives off the impression that it's doing something funky in the background.  Only in my iTunes library will you get Party Shuffle that looks a bit like this:

A Quick Peep - Oasis
Lonely Stranger - Eric Clapton
Please Don't Die - Robbie Williams
Creep - Radiohead
Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart - Manic Street Preachers
Lesson Learned - Limp Bizkit
Façade - William Walton
49 Percent - Royksopp
Danse Des Petits Cygnes from The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky (John Lanchberry and the Philharmonia Orchestra recording)
Ticket to Ride - The Beatles
and so on...

And for those of you who have been following my Facebook status updates, you'll probably have picked up on the fact that something's been up the last few days.  Zoë and I have been going through a hard period for nearly a week now, centering on the stress of us both moving on from University.  This led to a particularly tough weekend this week, which seemed to be about fifty times longer for not seeing her.  Things are looking somewhat promising, in that we have found one of the roots of the problems, and I'm hoping that we will be able to work through the problems.  We are seeing each other again this weekend, and there will be much talking going on about this.  

Work has been an up, though.  I finally started some real work today, playing with a beta of Server 2008, code-named Longhorn, which is essentially Vista Server.  And it's actually alright.  Some of the annoyances of Vista are there - User Account Control, for example, and the fact that just looking at it makes you feel lost as you realise that everything has moved, again - but it's actually really well designed.  You don't get the classy Aero interface (duh, this is a server), but the other interface improvements are there, such as the new address bar in Explorer, and the revised Start Menu, and they work.  Well, for me, at least.   I'll still be waiting at least until Vista SP1 is out before inflicting it on my personal machine, though, however much I want the shiny new Media Centre functionality (because I can't seem to get anything else to work...). 

So, my life is full of ups and downs at the moment, as this post reflects, and it will be a while before things are fully resolved.  We shall see what this weekend brings, and beyond.  And at the very least, it will be so good to see Zoë again. 


September 06, 2007

Quick update

A quick update as I've dropped off the radar a bit recently...

I finally started work at Citrix on Monday — woo hoo!  I spent the day setting up my two PCs; I have two because we get one as a "corporate workstation" (emails, Internet, etc.), and one for development. The first is a bit above "standard configuration" — dual core, 2GB of memory (IIRC), WinXP (although Vista was offered, I politely declined; I'm not going anywhere near it until Vista 2.0 — also known as SP1 — is out) — the second is for development and is a beast with a total of 4GB, count them: 1 2 3 4GB of memory, also dual core, running Windows Server 2003.  Unfortunately, it's running the 32-bit distribution due to support for 64-bit distributions being non-existent, so technical problems with memory addressing could potentially be encountered.  I hope not. 

There's still a fair amount of work to be done on the development machine, as the original one had some issues with installing Server 2003 — the machine would hang when the installer started searching for previous versions of Windows, so it's likely that it was an issue with the hard disk or the hard disk controller.  Luckily, Citrix is the sort of company where if there is this sort of issue impacting your work, they'll happily run a replacement machine up to you.  

Monday afternoon was met with a call from HR at Chalfont Park (near Gerrards Cross, west of London), stating that I was required to attend a two-day induction there on Tuesday and Wednesday.  So I hastily arranged a lift with some other new starters, cancelled my attendance at the Cambridge Phil's rehearsal, and headed down to Gerrards Cross.  Today was the Citrix Summer Party, also held at Chalfont, so for my first week at work, I've done very little work!  I will resume my tasks tomorrow before settling in for the weekend. 

The weekend will be interesting; I've unfortunately had to cancel my trip to Leamington this weekend, but I think I will try to spend it doing more unpacking, and I might try and get into Cambridge if the weather is nice and just spend some time wandering around.  The last few have been too task-oriented to properly enjoy — particularly the trips into Cambridge — and I hope to be able to relax a bit more this weekend.  

Plus of the day: TV's now available on iTunes, and Apple are releasing an iPod version of the iPhone (i.e., an iPhone without the phone, or an iPod with a touch screen and Mac OS X).  These both rock.  Minus of the day: TV episodes are £1.89/episode, ~£20/season.  Rubbish.  


September 02, 2007

Short weekends

It rather seems that the weekends are getting shorter.  Maybe it's excitement about starting work tomorrow that has shortened this weeked, maybe it's the fact that the nights are drawing in and it's now dark at 8.30pm (in Cambridge at least), or maybe it's the fact that yesterday was spent clearing my flat and dashing round town looking for a door stop before popping to the cinema to see The Simpsons Movie.  Whichever it is, this weekend has gone very quickly indeed. 

I was supposed to spend it getting my flat tidier so that it's a bit more bearable when I come home from work.  I was supposed to be preparing myself for starting work.

I don't feel in the least bit prepared.   I'm a bit nervous, but not scared.  I feel like I should have done more, but I don't know what more I can do (I've printed off and filled in a P46; my contract, etc., was signed and sent back in January).  I'm tired, but I'm not sleepy.  I can't wait to start, but I don't feel ready.  Would I ever feel ready?

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life, as the cliché goes.  And yet, it doesn't seem real somehow.  I could almost forget to go into work tomorrow, as it feels like it is the same as every other day I've spent here in my flat.  But I know I won't, because when I wake up, I'll be feeling better about it.

I guess it's nerves, and that sleeping on it will help.  Only a few hours until I do that.  In the meantime, I'll kill time with more clearing, a bit of bassoon practice, some more 24, Day 1, and maybe a spot of cleaning too...  Who knows?


August 30, 2007

Bandwidth trading via BitTorrent

Writing about web page http://technology.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn12565&feedId=online-news_rss20

As part of my subscription to New Scientist, I get a free online subscription too, which I choose to manage via their RSS feeds and Google Reader.  One of the articles I saw today was an interesting modification to the BitTorrent protocol that has come out of Harvard, and is encapsulated in the Tribler program. 

The modification itself is quite interesting; taking the BitTorrent etiquette of giving back to the swarm what you download (i.e., maintaining a share ratio of 1.0), and the practice of blocking leechers (who have a share ratio far below 1.0) carried out by some private torrents, the Tribler guys have created a bandwidth credit system.  You actually trade bandwidth: uploading "earns" your bandwidth, and downloading is classed as "spending" your bandwidth.  Thus, if you don't upload, you can't download.  The creators hope that content can be distributed as fairly and efficiently as possible (cf. the ISPs' current issues with high-bandwidth applications such as video). 

Not only this, but looking briefly into the client program's features, it has collided head-on with the socially-networked world of "Web 2.0".  A recommendation system based on a "collaborative filtering algorithm" highlights torrents that you are likely to enjoy.  It also provides you with a one-stop shop for everything required to use your torrents - no more hunting the 'net for the right codec, Tribler has got it covered.  

Sounds good, but I'm not sure I'm ready to switch from Azureus yet.   Not on my PC, at least, which has enough power to cope with Azureus' memory-hogging antics, but Tribler might be worth investigating on my now-rather-underpowered G4 iBook...


One step forward, two steps back…

I'm back in Cambourne now.  The run back from Southampton was pretty good, all things considered (including the remains of an accident and spillage between the M3 and Staines on the M25...), and it's quite nice being back in my flat. 

Except my flat is a tip.  I somehow managed to get a whole car load of stuff out of Southampton having expected to be collecting basically my clothes, CDs and books, and now I've got boxes strewn around the flat again.  The lounge is a mess, with boxes full of collapsed boxes (left over from before I left because they're so big), boxes full of my stuff, and empty boxes strewn around the floor.  I bought a rug to go under my coffee table which I can't currently even unpack because of the mess.  The anal, organised part of my brain is very very unhappy.  

But there's some respite for that corner of my mind; I've completely unpacked my CDs into my new CD rack.   The "popular" music is sorted alphabetically.  Classical music is divided into ballet musical, chamber music, choral music, compilations, concerti, general orchestral music, solo music and symphonies, and each section is ordered by composer.  Then Jazz is stuck on the end; I don't have enough Jazz yet :(  The CD rack is full to overflowing, and, as with the matching DVD rack, some of my boxsets don't fit.  I hope to do my books tomorrow, and I may need to make another trip to Argos to buy another bookshelf...

All fun and games at the moment, as you can tell.  In other, more exciting news, however, I've settled on a TV and DVD/HDD recorder; I'm just waiting for DFS to contact me regarding my free credit for my sofa, and then I can get on with buying those!  The snappily-titled Panasonic TX32LXD700 and Panasonic DMREX77EBK will be mine, and then I can watch and record TV, and play Gamecube and Wii, to my heart's content.  I can't wait! :)


August 28, 2007

Sofa, So Good

I've been in Southampton since last Monday to clear out my room here, and things are going quite well.  I finally purchased a rather nice sofa from DFS (the Vetta sofa, three seater, no reclining action) in a warmer shade of beige than pictured, and provided the credit check goes through ok (always a worry for new graduates...) I should get it interest free for three years, too, with nothing to pay until this time next year.  Bargain.  

In the meantime, I've been looking at rugs (to go under my coffee table), bean bags (to sit on for the next two to three months whilst I wait for my sofa to be delivered) and cushions (to go on my sofa and match my rug).  I've done quite well, and I am still haemorrhaging money.  Oh well, the sofa's on credit.  I hope

Clearing out my room has been a good experience; I have a lot of junk that is just going, thank god, but there's still some stuff that's coming with me to Cambridge - CDs, books, Mum's old food processor...

Which, of course, is the other benefit of having come home.  My parents seem to like spending money on me (they obviously haven't yet kicked the habit of "looking after me" whilst I was a student), which is nice and always appreciated, and so I've ended up with a set of rather nice chopping boards, a set of rather nice Kitchen Devils knives (complete with storage block), a knife sharpener and a potato peeler.  And my Mum's old food processor. 

I also went through my tax return with Dad, and I have implemented a new filing system.  The anal, organised part of my brain is happy.   

I'm off back to Cambridge on Thursday with all my stuff, so I'm sort of killing time now, binning junk, blogging and doing the times2 puzzles.  9 across, "Betrayal of one's country (7)": "traitor". Erm... no. That's someone who betrays their country; treachery is the act of betraying one's country. But that's 9 letters.  Flipping tabloid. I might actually be able to finish this one, if the rubbish clues don't hinder me too much. 

Catch you later, alligator.