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I have a bunch of partly- or nearly-finished peices sitting in a folder on my Psion.  I’ve decided to post them more or less as they are, in the interest of clearing the decks.  In some sense I think their presence is psychologically wieighing me down.  In the interest of not boring people I’ll be putting them behind cut links, so you can easily ignore them if you wish..

Intersections in realtime

On Friday I made it out to the pub for ‘s birthday drinks, which was reason enough for pleasure and excitement in itself; but it had the added attraction of introducing me to a number of SF lumminaries and LiveJournal friends for the first time.

As well as and who of course I knew already, there were ; Claire and Mark of Croydon fandom; , whom I actually know a little from way back (The Chester Connection); and a couple of others whose LJ names, if any, I didn’t get, and whose real names I have now sadly forgotten. Sorry about that.

Then after a bit turned up, and we discovered a common interest in Psion PDAs. Still later arrived with friend whom I assume was

And lastly a Simon, who I assume is , but I didn’t get a chance to speak to him.

I don’t know why I didn’t post that one.  Probably too boring.

What a great feeling it was to hear the Defence Procurement Minister come on to the Today program to answer for buying a bunch of Chinook helicopters without the software that will allow them to fly in anything but fine weather; and when asked how such a contract could have been signed, answer: “It was signed in 1995, before we came to power.”

God, I love politics.  Alas, we won’t get to see a Tory minister squirm over this.

True, perhaps they should have realised it when they did come to power, but a government must be party to a lot of contracts; presumably a new minister can’t go over every single one.  In fact, whoever is in power, isn’t it the relevant Civil Service people who are at fault in case like this?  Including, no doubt, somebody actually in the RAF.

I wonder, though, why no-one seems to be having a go at the manufacturers, Boeing, for the madnness of ever making them (or at least, selling them) in that condition.  

iSeries geekery

I just spent half an hour searching IBM’s documentation to remind myself of how to do emphasis in UIM (User Interface Manager) panels.  Never again.  The doc is here.

Oh, and emphasis is :HPn.text:EHPn., where n is an integer from 0 to 9.


Additional keywords to help frustrated searchers: panel group help.

Remember me, I used to live for music

I was going to open this with the old “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” quote, and did a search to find the attribution for it; only to discover that nobody seems to be quite sure.  There is a page where the possibilities are detailed, though.

I’ve always liked to mentally twist the meaning of that quote, and imagine people dancing around a piece of architecture. But I mention it now because I’m beginning to think it might hold a lot of truth, for me at least.

I’ve spent a lot of my time reading about music, though: all through the punk years I bought Sounds; then after a hiatus while at university I read the NME in the late eighties and all through the nineties. Even today, I read Uncut from time to time (growing up means switching from a weekly to a monthly schedule: discuss). As well as that, I’ve read a number of musical biographies: The Beatles, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Stones…

So reading about music is commonplace to me. Why, then, should I suddenly begin to doubt the worth of writing about it?

Well, it’s this here Open University course I’m three weeks into.  A103, “An Introduction to the Humanities” covers an unfeasibly broad set of subjects, of course.  The idea is to give us a grounding in various disciplines, and the tools with which to learn to study them.

So far we’ve looked at art history, literature (in the form of the sonnet) and this week, music.

Trouble is, while I found it fairly easy to write about art, and even easier to write about literature (that’s why I signed up in the first place, as I may not have made entirely clear back there), writing about music is another matter entirely, I’m discovering.

It’s not that I don’t have the vocabulary: as well as what I know from general knowledge, and what I’ve learned in more years than I care to remember bashing a guitar, I’ve picked up enough in the last week or so to be able to discuss timbre and tempo and texture with the best of them (the best of them in my tutor group, anyway).  No, the problem is that I don’t find music evokes in me the images that other say it does.  Yeah, I can tell when a piece is dramatic or sad, for example.  But when in tonight’s tutorial they played a piece that everyone who commented said made them think of water in some form (except for the woman from Israel who said it reminded her of her national anthem), I just thought it was a kind of not-very-interesting swooshy piece.  It was, in fact, supposed to represent a river — it was a “tone poem“, apparently.

Maybe I’m unimaginative; but the problem for me, really, is the lack of words.  It’s always been words that have drawn me to songs — in combination with the music, of course: the best words in the world could be ruined by a crappy tune or insipid performance.

But not completely ruined.

I have concluded that most of the reading about music I listed above was actually rather about musicians.  Which is fair enough, but doesn’t help much.

None of this is to say that I haven’t enjoyed the music section so far; just that it’s more challenging than the rest.

But which blows my punk credentials more: having to listen to Hildegard of Bingen or Jethro Tull?

Next week: philosophy.  In the meantime I’m off to compare and contrast St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge by means of interpretive dance.

Clicking links is for wimps: real surfers type them in manually

I am wildly amused by this Microsoft Knowledge Base entry, as linked by BoingBoing.  To Microsoft, then, it’s an acceptable solution to browser security problems, to tell us to type in URLs instead of clicking on links:

The most effective step that you can take to help protect yourself from malicious hyperlinks is not to click them. Rather, type the URL of your intended destination in the address bar yourself. By manually typing the URL in the address bar, you can verify the information that Internet Explorer uses to access the destination Web site. To do so, type the URL in the Address bar, and then press ENTER.

As BoingBoing suggests, a far, far better solution is to download Mozilla; or Firebird; or Opera; or even NetscapeFFS.

They’re all much better browsers anyway, even without this nonsense.

Damn, just let it go past midnight, so didn’t manage three posts in a day.

What’s that Smell?

… smells like whitewash to me.

As I watched the details unfold on the The Guardian‘s website yesterday, I began to get a bad feeling about it; and now the details are out, I ask myself this: Hutton is already a lord; what is he getting out of making the government look squeaky-clean?

Now, it’s clear the the BBC screwed up: Gilligan’s first report was overstated, and the management and governors could have investigated its accuracy while still supporting him. A correction, or even retraction, and an apology in the first day or two, and it might all have blown over.

But none of that explains or excuses the dodgy dossier.

Maybe Blair didn’t know the intelligence was bad (can intelligence be stupid? Discuss). But it was bad, there’s no doubt about that; and Hutton seems to have just excused himself from looking at that area at all. True, his brief was to investigate David Kelly’s death; but that death was inextricably linked with the evidence that was used to justify Britain going to war, and by failing to look at that, Hutton has let us all down.

It’s such a shame, especially since the enquiry itself seemed such a model of openness for the Internet Age.

The Whisky Post

Somehow they slipped a new Iain Banks book out without me noticing. Raw Spirit: In search of the perfect dram is his first non-fiction book.

Ostensibly about whisky (more specifically single malts), it is part-autobiography, part-travelogue of Scotland (with a brief dip down to Chester) and a lot about cars and driving. Rather too much about cars and driving, in my opinion; though it does celebrate Scottish country roads as the best places to drive, which agrees with my own experience and opinion.

And the war, of course: he started doing the research (ie driving around Scotland visiting distilleries and buying whiskies: it’s a hard life as a writer) just as the war was starting, so its events were the constant backdrop to his travels, and he periodically brings them into the foreground. It won’t come as a surprise to many to hear that his attitude is strongly against the war. In fact he started his first trip the day he and his wife cut up their passports (which event I may have drawn your attention to before).

It’s interesting to see that, even when writing non-fiction, Banksie plays the same sort of structural games as in, for example, The Crow Road: he jumps around in time, principally; but it is never hard to follow.

It does, however, show a degree of hurry and under-editing in places; I suspect it was rushed out for the Christmas market, and there are one or two paces where gaps haven’t been properly joined. The most notable of these for me concerns the apparatus of distilling. Banks gives us a brief overview of the steps in the distilling process, fairly early on, and then makes appropriate use of the various technical terms during later distillery visits. All fair enough. But there is one term for part of distillery’s apparatus — the lyne arm — that he starts referring to without ever explaining what it is (I’m fairly sure: it is possible that I just missed that explanation, but I don’t think so).

However, that relatively small matter aside, it’s a fun read, especially if you like whisky: though as I said above, it’s about a lot more than whisky. This book will be good for the Scottish economy, I predict: it has already made me drink more whisky, and I’m sure I won’t be alone.

How I came to get a copy is mildly amusing. I heard about it because they were trailing it as Book of the Week on Radio 4. Then I saw it in a shop and confirmed that it was by the Iain Banks, but didn’t buy it because Christmas is approaching.

Then we had my team’s Christmas meal at work, and we did one of those ‘Secret Santa’ things. And my present was… Raw Spirit! Awesome.

And one last anecdote. In the unlikely event that anybody will be concerned about spoilers for the ‘search’ in the subtitle, I’ll put it behind a cut.

Banksie’s conclusion is, unsurprisingly, that there is no perfect dram, and one person’s favourite will not necessarily be another’s. However, he does give some opinions.

Probably the one he likes most of all on his travels is straight from a cask at the Ardbeg distillery on Islay. Unfortunately, it’s a one-off and all the bottles are already spoken for, so it doesn’t really count. His favourite of all the ones you can actually get turns out to be Glenfiddich’s twenty-one-year-old Havana Reserve. It is aged in Cuban rum barrels. This makes it illegal in the USA, and so leaves more for the rest of us.

So I was on a work trip to Luxembourg a few days ago, and obviously stopped in at the airport shop on the way back. They have an astonishingly fine array of whiskies. And there, right at the end, along with the other Glenfiddichs: Havana Reserve.

A quick phone call (international roaming is a fine thing): “Frances, what do you think of me spending 68 Euros on a bottle of whisky? … OK, you’ll get it for me for Christmas, then? Great.”

And so it awaits me under the tree. I’ll report back on Boxing Day (or thereabouts).


My LiveJournal is one year old today.  Happy Birthday, my LiveJournal.

Actually the first entry is dated the 29th, but the date created as given on my userinfo is the 28th. This post brings my total to 51. Not a very good total for 52 weeks, but there you go. I have other things to do, you know.

And my big post about marriage has been sitting on my PDA for some weeks, awaiting only a final edit to make it fit for public consumption, so you’ll see that one of these days.

And as I wrote around the change of the year, years just flash past these days.

Anyway, in the interest of linking to something other than my own journal, if for no other reason, I should just warn you to beware of what numbers you use: they might belong to somebody else.