Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Turning the screw

I saw "The Turn of the Screw" last night at the ENO, courtesy of some nice cousins who had spare tickets. Now, I'm not a great opera goer, and don't listen to much classical music beyond some of the easier-drinking works of Bach, Sibelius and Philip Glass, and I wondered how much I would really enjoy an evening's excursion into the atonal.

All I can say is that Britten's use of disturbing disharmonies to convey Henry James' disturbing tale is a marriage made in Heaven (or possibly the other place, given the story line). I literally felt a tingle of fear down my spine at one moment in the unfolding of the last scene of Act 1, as the ghosts (Timothy Robinson's Quint and Cheryl Barker's Miss Jessel) tempted the sleeping children (Nazam Fikret as Flora and Jacob Moriarty as Miles) .

I've always had a certain fondness for Lear upon the blasted heath, possibly due to a still-vivid dream from Farleigh House (where I boarded from about seven to twelve) which involved me in the crowded school chapel, "walking down the aisle, reciting random numbers with a fixed, courageous smile". Anyway, Rebecca Evan's governess, sadly singing "Malo, malo" as the opera closed, did it for me, if you'll forgive the technical phrase.

And the visuals - wonderfully gothic, black and white (mainly black), not a scrap of colour that I can recall, just one sinister tableau fading into another, and all so buttoned-up that it made Whistler's Mother look like a sixties flower child.

Any moans? Without wishing to be mean, I thought the signer was an unnecessary visual distraction, especially with surtitles overhead. And on a seriously trivial note, could they have done anything about Timothy Robinson's slightly worrying resemblence to Gryff Rhys Jones?

And not a moan, but a question - is the tail slightly wagging the dog here? Part of me feels that the "ceremony of innocence is drowned" theme should be the engine powering the story of the governess' crisis - either she has failed the total responsibility she accepted for two innocent children, or she is slowly going mad. That's a good story, isn't it? Good enough for Rosemary's Baby, at least? But this production, at least, got so much mileage from the first theme that it was not until those final notes that I, at least, could feel equally involved by her fate. Maybe it's just one of those "life's unfair" things - it's easier to care about children than about governesses, even if the latter were once the former.

Seriously, it was an eye-opening experience for this non-opera goer, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone who ever feared being bored at a night at the opera.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Getting things done (part II)

Well, turns out it's a year and a half since I unwisely announced that I was going to adopt the Getting Things Done system.

It didn't stick, but the situation didn't get any better. So now I'm having another go, concentrating just on my Gmail account, using the approach described in this article.

I've made a couple of changes - the filters don't depend on me being the sender, so I can send myself reminders from my work account, or Eva can send stuff straight into my action folders by using the right extended gmail addresses.

And I've set up a "Done" folder and filter so I can give myself a little pat on the back at the end of the day or of the week.

Will this work out any better than last time? Let's prepare for the worst and hope for the best...

Update: Just got a Zero Email Bounce on my gmail inbox, after bobbing along at 995+ for a week or more. Scott Hanselman refers to the "psychic weight" of having 1000 or more emails in your inbox - maybe the only way to understand what that phrase means is to feel it suddenly lifted from your shoulders - aaaaah!

Have to think about aiming for ZEB on Outlook at work - but Outlook 2003 isn't quite so helpful to this process as Gmail.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What was that?

I've been taking an interest in Erlang and wondering how suitable it would be for anyone launching a non-telecoms web project, so I was quite impressed by this strong endorsement yesterday from the co-founder of a start-up called MochiAds.

Naturally the next question you ask ourself is "how real is this company?" - so I did a double-take when I spotted this techcrunch post today, which seems to show them getting real traction even in private beta.

Nice to think that my technology hunches haven't gone totally rusty...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The other view

Well, after the somewhat negative tone of an earlier post commenting on a TechCrunch item, here's something to get your eyes on the horizon, your foot on the accelerator and your heart in gear.

To hear the following Teddy Roosevelt quote from someone with the entrepreneurial credentials of Yossi Vardi really adds something special:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Churchillian, I'd call that, except that Churchill was always better on matters of war than more subtle and pervasive issues like citizenship.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Johnny and Jake rock out

Improvement on a certain video - the "Dad-dancing" has been replaced with something cooler. Behold: Johnny on the deck, best friend Jake on the sofa!

Update: 2007-10-17 - got video link working
(video shareable under this CC licence)
Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 10, 2007

Web 2.0 infrastructure and the start-up day-dreamer

I see that Powerset have just started publishing their business models, and "This first set helps a company that intends to index the web whether it is better to purchase, lease or create virtual servers on Amazon EC2."

Thinking of Amazon, they've announced FPS (Flexible Payment Services) to go with their S3 (Simple Storage Service) and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud ). There's less and less excuse for the intrepid developer with a dream not to have a go.

Until you read this by the founder of hireahelper.com, in which he describes how he designed the entire site and spent $3,700 getting a friend of his in Pakistan to code it all.

So being a developer is now probably a handicap to anyone thinking of starting something up. Ruby Tuesday was right: "catch your dreams before they slip away".

Monday, July 16, 2007

parallel futures?

Great blog on What would you do with 80 cores? by Sean Koehl, an Intel researcher. This is one of my longer-lasting hobby-horses - I find the argument that we will eventually run out of steam on single processor architectures quite persuasive, and I would love to have a go at programming the 80-core teraflops research chip (is it as similar to the transputer in spirit as it appears to be?).

My hunch is that when and if explicitly parallel processing has taken off, the wave of change that this generates will open a window for optical computing, which has enormous potential for analogue and digital parallel processing.

In the mean time I'm learning Erlang as a background recreation - it's always good to give the grey-cells a work-out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Republican virtues

I may not believe in God, but I can understand and respect the urge, in those who do, to seek his forgiveness for a serious sin. A touch of humility from those in power is always refreshing to the rest of us.

But passing on the news that you have in fact received not only your wife's but also God's forgiveness seems to me to reflect a slightly different virtue.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A stopped clock is right twice a day

I know a stopped clock is be right twice a day, and even my clothes may start looking fashionable about once a decade, but I've pretty well given up hope on my economic forecasting being proved right.

But if I'm going to get it wrong, I might as well get it wrong on the record and go down with all flags flying.

Evan Davis is worried about first quarter figures for UK real household incomes and savings.

And the boys have told us that they are planning to go back to Poland (once they've finished painting our new place, we trust) because Poland has is co-hosting the Euro 2012 football championship and no longer has enough workers to build the stadiums.

I think the property boom will be seriously over within six months. I've thought this for at least three years, and the market has made a liar of me for at least two and a half years, but let's make a prediction and see.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Waiting for the PRT wave, part II

An interesting Wired article on future engines - it seems that a surprising amount is happening here in the UK.

I've written before about my hunch that Personal Rapid Transport is a technology that may yet transform our worlds - my interest in this article is that some of the future engine technologies mentioned, such as the PMLFlightlink Wheelmotors in Hampshire, would appear to be highly suitable for PRT components such as ATS Ltd's Pod.

I suppose we also have to consider the possibility that electronic cars may be so successful that they kill the demand for PRT, thus leaving us with a second-best solution. Actually I could live with that, if the roads really were cleaned up and quietened down. But I don't think I will have to. Big developments like town centres, out-of-town shopping malls, airports and campuses are built using scarce resources, for specific purposes. Wasting money and space on road surface and parking has only ever been the price paid for efficient and flexible access. If and when a better alternative can be demonstrated to exist, then I believe it will be adopted - and rapidly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On Ian McEwan

The advantage of a sleepless toddler is perhaps the unexpected reading opportunity - so started and finished On Chesil Beach between 4-something and almost-7 this morning.

It's a short book (166 pages) and given the apparently small focus of the narrative - a young couple on their wedding night in 1962, both virgins, both nervous - it's surprisingly gripping. This is perhaps a measure (perhaps intended) of the author's accomplishment, as is a hinted-at matter in her background which he confidently leaves un-explicated.

I can't help wondering if the title is also intended to be a reminder of the poem that lies, un-named, like the subject of a riddle, at the heart of the both the plot and themes of his last work, Saturday.

Is this kind of business a compliment to the reader's intelligence, or just a smug re-working of Mornington Crescent? I don't know, but I can see how tempting it is.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Revenge of the Zimmers

A band of OAPs with a combined age of over 3,000 have recorded The Who's "My Generation" for BBC 2's Power to the People programme, which I look forward to watching tonight at 9 o'clock.

The video is amusing and moving, and has created a massive stir. And if you feel that a 90-year old singing "hope I die before I get old" is in dodgy taste, try and remember how you felt the first time you heard Bono's "tonight thank God it's them instead of you". There are more important things to feel uncomfortable about - that's the point of this exercise.

It makes me proud to be a BBC licence payer. If not so proud of being part of a society that regards our elderly as an embarrassing expense.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Silent protest

Robert Scoble, the blogger I've followed longest, is going silent for a week in protest at the attacks on Kathy Sierra.

What has our internet come to?

Don't imagine anyone will notice, but I'm following suit. It seems kind of pointless, but less pointless than anything else I can do.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Third time lucky

I took Johnny to the swimming pool at the Brixton Recreation Centre for one more try after two unsuccessful visits, where despite his love of bathwater he'd clearly found the whole swimming pool environment rather alarming.

Unlike our first visit the training pool was open this time, albeit after a ten minute wait for a lifeguard to appear. This is good - it's warm and has metre-wide, shallow steps going into it, perfect for aquatic toddlers to get used to the water. But Johnny wasn't impressed by any of this, and when I tried to lower his feet into the water he scrambled up my tum until he was clinging limpet-like to my shoulder.

I was almost ready to give up when I had the ridiculous idea that maybe I could get him used to the water without prising him off my shoulder, so I lowered myself onto my back with my head and left shoulder sufficiently raised to stop either of us from drowning, and waited for him to get bored. Jake's mum Melissa waded by and helpfully did a bit of splashing for Johnny, then he did some splashing with his hand, then he sat up on my chest and did some kick-splashing, and at last he slid off and waded around the knee-high top step.

With trumpets playing fanfares in my head, I lent him my hand to step out of the pool and back again, and then for stepping onto the waist-height second step and back a few times. Finally, when I was all ready to quit while we were ahead, he decided to step down to third step -up to his chest - and up again.

Two very satisfied individuals left that pool with smiles on their faces, one of them with his head full of notions about the importance of combining logic with spontaneity - until a post-pool Melissa punctured it all with her observation that we had made a fine sight, Johnny on me, me on my back, like the ship's cat on an upturned hull.

In praise of Babytype

My favourite new utility is Babytype, which makes your computer into a wonderful baby-proof activity centre - every key pressed pops up an image and makes an entertaining noise, rather than sending emails to employers and old flames or reformatting the hard disk.

The only flaw was that I kept having to dive across the sitting room to start Babytype whenever Johnny approached the keyboard, which he can now just reach. So I asked Raize software if it could be turned into a screensaver, and got the following helpful answer:

First, you need to go to the directory where you installed BabyType. The default location is "C:\Program Files\Raize\BabyType." In this directory, you will find several files. One of the files is named "BabyType.exe".
Select the BabyType.exe and then select the Edit|Copy menu item. The select the Edit|Paste menu item. This will create a copy of the file which will be named: "Copy of BabyType.exe".
Next, select the File|Rename menu item and change the name to: BabyType.scr
Then finally, select the File|Install menu item and Windows will install the program as a screen saver.

I would like to say that this works perfectly, that the sitting room PC is now goes into Babytype after 5 minutes without use, and that the reply was sent on Saturday night, which is pretty damn impressive for a product that currently costs a mere $19.

Great product, great attitude. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Of Barbies and burqas

Interesting comment by Ophelia Benson on what religious fundamentalism and the commercial sexualisation of ever-younger girls have in common. Have I become a feminist without realising it?

Of course, the complexity always seems to re-emerge under a different bit of the carpet. Even at eighteen months we see our firstborn as "all boy". Naturally we both hope for him to grow into a happy and fulfilled man, so maybe we take even more pleasure in those sides of his character which we hope will help him become an alpha male (such as the fearlessness and joy with which he clambers up his cot and somersaults over the edge onto the sofa) than we would if he was a girl.

And marriage itself teaches you a lot (especially those innocents who've never lived with a partner before) about the reality of the differences of the sexes. But then it teaches you a whole lot about the realities of individual difference, and about adjusting to them.

As with religion, I think I respect sexual difference because it's an indivisible property of individuals - it's when you turn that around that things seem to start going wrong.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Adventures in Johnnycare

Eva's doing an online test for her OU course in accounting today, so I've taken the day off to look after Johnny. After a pizza at Franco's in the Brixton Arcade (officially called Eco nowadays, but us old-timers like the old name) it started raining, so I took him to Adventure World in the Brixton Rec.

Adventure World is great - a safely padded three-dimensional maze of slides and ball-pits, ramps and rope-bridges. So in we go, happily chasing each other round until we find ourselves going down a ramp. Johnny's technique is rudimentary - he basically goes spread-eagled and slides down until one foot hits a padded rung, at which point he starts spinning until he hits the next one. He stops half-way down, turns his face up, opens his mouth, and "Waaah!"

Well, he knows he's stuck but he isn't in full meltdown yet, so I lift him by both hands and let him slide until both feet are square on the next rung. Down goes his bottom, up go the feet and he slides to the next rung, and so on all the way down. Have I traumatised him? He immediately heads down the next ramp, this time just holding my wrist with one hand as he confidently bum-slides all the way down.

Ah, the magic and rewards of having a toddler - the growth in skills, the growth in confidence - and it's pretty cool seeing Johnny learn stuff too.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Culture wars - is there still a fence to sit on?

It seems to me that you can have respect for individuals or respect for cultures, but these will inevitably lead to contradictions at some point, and that if and when the contradictions become serious enough you have to start making choices.

This article and, of the debate that it kicked off, this supporting piece by Turkish German author Necla Kelek, persuades me of the case for valuing respect for the individual above respect for culture.

Thanks to ButterfliesAndWheels for the link

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The semantic web - no longer a pipe-dream?

Let me be rash - I've just had my first look at Yahoo pipes and I think this will prove a major milestone in the evolution of the web. I believe that the semantic web is appearing under our noses, not as the result of the ontologies and predicate reasoning that I used to imagine would be involved, but through a rapid evolution of bottom-up folksonomies and strength-off-association relationships, which in fact are a better fit to the loose-fit metaphorical reasoning we actually use in practice.

I'm too tired and coffee-wired and busy right now to write my own pipe - but I'll be doing it as soon as work and domestic circumstances permit.