Month: July 2007

A thank you

My parents did an excellent job in bringing me up. Putting aside the fact that I have to say that because they both read this blog, I do truly believe that. They taught me manners and how to have an open mind, two things I value very very highly. It is with the former in mind that I write this post, although the latter does come into play.

For I have a mysterious parcel awaiting me at the Post Office!

Yes, I received that lovely little card from the Post Office. The one that says “we tried to deliver this but you had the audacity not to be at home, you must be at work, so now YOU have to come and collect what WE should deliver”. I hate those cards, why order something to be delivered to your home if you have to go and drive to a Post Office to collect it? And why is there never any parking near a Post Office, surely the majority of people have to visit the ‘”pickup centre” to collect their undelivered goods?

However, I had an added bonus on the card for, yes dear reader, not only do I have to leave work early to get to the Post Office depot before that pickup centre closes (ohh right, so THEY can keep office hours, but I can’t?!) but I also have to pay £1.06 in additional postage! Fab.

The thing is, I have NO idea what this package contains. I am waiting on race numbers for a 5K in a couple of weeks but they’ll come in an envelope (just like the other set I got in the post yesterday).

Which leaves two possibilities.

  1. Some kind soul has ordered something for me which, if I’m not mistaken means IT’S A PRESENT!!!
  2. OR

  3. I’m a numpty and I ordered something without realising it.

If it’s option 1, I’d like to thank the lovely person who has sent me such a lovely present, one that is so BIG that they got the postage wrong. It is a most unexpected surprise and I’m sure I’ll love it. Whatever it is.

Option 2 is possible but as my bank account shows no signs of any untoward transactions it seems unlikely. I’m not discounting the possibility of course, it may be something I ordered a month ago that has only come into production (ohh god, not that R2-D2 DVD projector.. I didn’t… did I??).

No, it must be option 1. One of my dearest darling readers has sent me a present to thank me for all my tireless efforts over the years. Whoever you are, I do hope you left a note with your lavish gift, as I’d very much like to thank you properly. Of course you may want to remain anonymous, with the gift simply a small tribute offered in reverence, and if that is the case I will respect your wishes. Anything that encourages you to send me more stuff!

You know what?

I have the horrible feeling this post is going to backfire.

Update: And I was right!

It backfired. It was the stamp-addressed envelope I am expecting back with my 5K race details in it.

Poo. And I was all excited too…

Recovery

After a long week, a night out was just what I required. The fact that the company put some cash behind the bar for us was an added bonus.

Thankfully I had Saturday to myself, which is just as well as I spent it comatose on the couch, munching on chocolate chip muffins and Steak McCoys. I have noticed that it takes me longer to get over a hangover these days, and I decided to skip my Sunday morning run. Just couldn’t face it. Must get out tonight. Someone nag me please.

We spent most of Sunday pottering. The house got a once over, as did parts of the garden inbetween some very brief but very heavy showers. We caught up on all our TV watching and I almost started reading that Harry Potter book. Almost.

And next weekend we have a wedding, a stag night, and a reception, from Friday through to Sunday. Thankfully I’ve already taken Monday off… ohh must find out when I pick up my kilt…

I’m waffling. Largely because I’m stuck for things to say. So what else is happening in the world?

The Tour de Farce is over, some bloke who may or may not be on some kind of performance enhancing drugs managed to avoid the drugs tests long enough to win it, and apparently some 21 year old Welsh guy finished the race in second last place. Which is the greater achievement?

The floods in England seem to be receding, and “everyone” will have to pay. Well that’s not very fair, is it? I quite specifically chose to live at the TOP of the Clyde Valley as the instances of flooding were on the rise (sorry) several years ago. Ohh wait, they meant to say “everyone in England”. Well that’s ok then. Sucks to be you, right?

What else? Well Mike Reid won’t be running around anymore, and the EastEnders writers have just had an entire storyline canned. Apparently Mr. Brown thinks we should be thanking Mr. Bush. That’s thanking as in “shake his hand” not thanking as in “shake him firmly by the throat”. What a strange world.

And last but not least, I downloaded some illegal music. Namely every “Now” album ever released (which some poor soul has collated from various random sources). I feel dirty and ashamed to admit such a thing. I mean it. I am ashamed to ‘own’ so much dross. Did score me brownie points with my “stuck in the 80s” wife…

A.W.O.L.

Work is crazy busy at the moment, and general life stuff is much the same. I’m still “here” but don’t expect much from me until next week.

Although I do want to ask why the radio advert for the latest “over water” ride at Alton Towers (or wherever it is), closes with the line “Hold your breath”.

You just said it’s “over water”. Why do I need to hold my breath?

Right, need to go. There is plenty more nonsense to read if you scroll down…

Recently I have…

… laughed until I cried at the way Louise’s cousin tells stories. She is hilarious.

… bought some new music. More on that in another post though, but it’s been a while. I can always tell when I’m need a new ‘fix’ because I invariably start listening to old favourites on a regular basis.

… been enjoying the chorizo and black pudding tapas that Louise made. Recipe may follow if she can remember what she put in it.

… been cursing Sky+. I had recorded the European Grand Prix and settled down on Sunday evening to watch it (whilst flicking back and forth to the Open golf). What a race! 5 laps to go and Alonso is harassing Massa to try and take the lead when up pops a message on-screen. “End of Recorded Programme”. WTF?! OK, there were some delays because of the rain but I thought Sky+ could handle programmes that ran over their alloted time. Feckers.

… been loving the BBC and Peter Alliss. Like Murray Walker, he will be sadly missed when he decides to hang up the microphone. One choice phrase from Sunday, describing the impact of the championship on local businesses and of their return to normality: “The local newspaper shop will cancel the order for 9000 papers and go back to the usual order of 10 copies of the Dundee Courier and a copy of Men Only for the vicar.”

… sent away two race applications, both a little late so I might not get a place. One 5K in Hamilton in a couple of weeks time, the other a 10K in Cumbernauld in September.

… enjoyed the professionally quashed double-take I received whilst getting fitted for my kilt for my friends wedding. When I asked when the kilt would be ready to pick up, the salesman said he would just phone “Ehh.. Mr. Humphrey I guess… or is it Mr. Beattie, it doesn’t say”. To which I replied “Well yes, either of them would do”. He twitched slightly before glossing over it. Well done Mr. Salesman.

… spent most of the last two days alone. Well not alone but as good as, for “she who must be obeyed” has had her nose stuck in some book or other. Apparently joking about “just reading the last chapter” is verbotin.

… been writing up some posts for my other blog but struggling to finish them for some reason, just can’t quite pull the threads together properly.

… “enjoyed” a hill session on Sunday morning. Apparently some of our jogScotland coaches have sadistic tendencies! I thought they were all nice and fluffy but no, give them a whistle and soon you are sprinting up hills, repeatedly, until all the oxygen on the planet disappears and your legs go all wobbly. Jim, the coach who took us, said that we’d look back on it and realise we’d enjoyed it, everyone laughed. Dammit though, he’s right.

HBOVoyeur.com

HBO|Voyeur, what is it? (it’s part of a project). “The website is a virtual city which features a four floor apartment building that you can peek into and zoom in and out of. You can also navigate through the city to peek into four other apartments in various locations. All of the storylines are interconnected and the more you watch, the more you begin to see why and how.”

Where do I fit?

Isn’t it funny, sang Elton John. And he was right, about many many things.

But enough of such modern day philosophy, pop music is not what I want to discuss. Not today at least (although apparently, and somewhat unrelatedly, Crowded House are back together… who knew?).

Today I want to revist some of the posts and comments which appeared last week as, all told, it was all quite interesting. I’ll try and summarise but really you should go read the posts in question. Somehow from this post about a film trailer and a few (unrelated as it turns out) websites, my dearest dahling readers headed off into a discussion about video game violence, and prompted me to ponder the qualities and values in our society

Towards the end of the “video-games-corrupt” thread, Dragon said:

“I believe that video games today are villified in exactly the same way that television, pop music and comic books were in decades past. All of them were accused of lowering moral standards and corrupting the youth.”

And that neatly takes us into this quote, from Blue Witch, in the “good-society” thread:

“As I said, how one chooses to live one’s life today depends where one’s priorities and values reside, and how much one buys-in to consumerism.”

OK, maybe not all that neatly but there certainly seems to be a link there, more consumerism = more opportunity to villify?? OK, it’s a bit of a grasp.

Having just watched the last of the BBC’s documentaries on the History of Rock Music, the closing voxpops may shed some light on this… namely one from Stuart Marconie (yeah yeah, I know) but I have to agree with him that, currently, rock music is at the point where it’s happy to acknowledge those that have come before. Through the 60s, 70s and 80s, even the early 90s, rock music tried to be different, to steer itself in new directions. From the Beatles to the Stones, to Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and through to (early) Oasis and Blur, rock music continued to evolve. The current crop of rock bands — Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs for example — are happy to build on the foundations already there, pulling from punk, funk, metal and everything in-between and crucial are happy to admit that they are doing just that.

Similarly you could argue that video games are beginning to reach that point as well, with their place in culture assured (for better or worse), they are now starting to pull from one another, with platform ideas mutating across into shooters, puzzles appearing in adventure games and so on. I wonder how long it will take before they are, or perhaps if they will ever, be well enough understood to be accepted into the mainstream?

Mind you, that does seem to suggest that, for that to happen, society needs to accept that (some level of) violence is part of everyday life. It is for a lot of people but should it be encouraged? I don’t think that video games are solely to blame for the “state of the youth today” (hello Daily Mail readers!), but I do think that more consideration about their content may be required.

On the other hand, it’s so easy to get hold of things these days that maybe video games are purely victims of their own success and hype. Slapping a label on a video game doesn’t mean that a 10 year old won’t play a game, just as it didn’t mean that a 10 year old wouldn’t be able to see an 18 rated movie. The difference, of course, is that movies used to have a physical barrier. You had to get inside the cinema (or wait a year until a video copy could be purloined and watched, whilst everyone else was out in the garden, on the single video player in the house).

With more people having more ‘stuff’, children frequently have access to a computer, their own TV and DVD player, not to mention a games console.

Stack them all up and any smart kid can download anything they want, and do it all in the “privacy” of their own bedroom. Consumerism isn’t to blame here though, some form of parental guidance and control must surely be expected.

Personally I don’t have kids, but I am a consumer, and all of this has left me wondering where I fit in. Am I a good member of society? I chat to my neighbours, offer to help on occasion, and buy gadgets (grown up toys) because I can afford them (well, technically I can manage my debt…). I live outside of my means on the basis that my lifestyle has little direct impact on others. The dichotomy arises when I look at that last sentence because I know it’s not true, yet it guides most of my life decisions.

But that’s for ME to deal with, and the more I think about it, the harder life seems until it becomes easier to take the “life is for living” line and wash away all those pesky morals.

And so my addled brain skips away from such difficult contemplations, for after all this is the age of the internet, the diversion, the overload. Instead I find myself wondering if this very kind of discussion is why blogging has grabbed the imagination, as we struggle to piece together the inter-linked and intricate facets that constitute life, is it any wonder we seem to need somewhere, anywhere, that we can cry out, in which we can shout and moan and wonder aloud?

A long time ago, on this very blog, I linked to someone (sorry can’t find the post in question) that said that blogging was “very much like standing at the edge of a cliff, and screaming your lungs out”.

I couldn’t agree more.

Further reading: Modern Communities.

37signals needs icons

Over the past few years, I’ve linked to various new web applications and many of them were created by 37signals (Basecamp, TaDa, BackPack and so on). I still use some of their apps but not as frequently as those offered by that other small web app company, Google.

Now I’ve contacted them about this in the past, but I think they need to better “productise” their applications. By that I mean, almost solely, that they need to provide icons, distinct well designed icons, for their applications.

Why?

Well this came to light recently as I tried, yet again, to tweak and streamline my browser (the application I use more frequently than any other). It also highlighted why I’m still using Firefox, namely because I’ve yet to find a need that a Firefox extension won’t scratch… meet.. whatever.

I’m a big fan of maximising space, particularly as I use a lot of web-based applications these days, and the more space they can get the better. However, those self-same, often used, web-based apps provide a problem. How do I quickly and easily access them? Well Firefox has a bookmark toolbar which you can customise to your own needs (right-click an existing link to delete, drag from the address bar (or any web link) to create a new link in the toolbar), and so I have my most often used applications linked from there.

For the record, those applications are:

  1. Google Mail
  2. Google Reader
  3. Google Calendar
  4. Google Docs & Sheets
  5. Google Calendar
  6. Remember the Milk
  7. 37signals TaDa List
  8. Side Job Track
  9. 37signals Highrise
  10. 37signals Basecamp for current project
  11. Google Reader Subscribe favelet

And here they are (with thanks to the Smart Bookmarks Bar and Favicon Picker extensions):

Firefox Bookmarks Bar

And yes, the order is quite specific. I use Mail and Reader multiple times a day, the Calendar and Docs & Sheets, and Remember the Milk a few times a week, the Ta Da list once a week or less. Side Job Track is used ad-hoc, I’m still testing Highrise, and the Basecamp link isn’t permanent. The Subscribe link on the far-right lets me “one-click” to add an RSS feed to Google Reader, and it’s easy to hit as it’s on the end of the list.

Ohh and the Smart Bookmarks Bar extension expands to show the text next to the icon, in case you were wondering.

So, having setup that toolbar, I immediately noticed that none of the 37signals links had icons attached to them. This is purely because they don’t have “favicons” assigned to their website, but it made me realise that Google are certainly taking the whole “product” thing seriously. There are plenty of rumours around that with a couple of extra purchases they will soon be placed, and may formally start to bundle, an Office equivalent. All free, all online.

Whilst the 37signals apps are all excellent, I think they are missing that leap. The leap that pulls people from their desktop apps, and it may just be that a simple icon is all that it takes.

If you start to think about your browser as a web desktop, then the bookmark toolbar becomes the place where your desktop icons live. It’s not a huge leap, and not an original thought either, I know others have pondered the same.

Whilst there is a mindshift required and a couple of missing applications to be created (drag and drop files to… where? if you are in a web browser that is pretending to your desktop??), it is feasible to think that your local computer will only ever really be used as a storage device, with all your applications running online. Certainly for most general tasks that is already possible.

Not everyone will embrace this idea, in fact I’d guess that most people are still against moving to web apps at all, but for those that have bitten the bullet, these small details could be all it takes between adoption and desertion. If another web app comes along that offers similar functionality, but makes its play from a “product” point of view then maybe the 37signals guys may have a bit of a fight on their hands.

For now though, they are still the best around at what they choose to do, and if you don’t read either of their blogs, then you should. Plus the Official Google Blog, obv.