Month: November 2007

Guilty Pleasures (take 2)

We all have our dark secrets, our personal foibles and weaknesses of which we aren’t proud. I’ve mentioned one of mine before and, driving to work this morning, I realised I have another.

Backtrack to last Friday night, Louise is packing her bags and I’m sitting at the computer. Thankfully she’s only packing to go away for one night, to Newcastle, with her sister, cousins, nieces and (not yet) sister-in-law. It’s a girly weekend away with shopping high on the agenda, presuming they can still read it after copious amounts of wine.

Louise volunteered to be one of the drivers and asked me to dig out an MP3 CD I compiled a couple of years ago, entitled Ladies Night. Full of divas and disco, Justin and Kylie, with just a dash of Cyndi Lauper and dose of those old stalwarts of the girls night out, The Weather Girls.

As it was a couple of years out-of-date I was spending a little time updating it, adding a track here, moving a track there, and deleting some of the rather more bewildering choices.

With the playlist updated, the MP3 CD burnt and ready for the car, I thought little of it again until this morning. Having dropped Louise at the station, and sick of the rambling nonsense offered on the radio, I switched over to the CD, forgetting that it wasn’t one of the usual ones.

Sidenote here: Louise and I have fairly different tastes in music, so a middle ground is found which isn’t TOO far into chart pop and 80s stuff whilst remaining equally distant from my “weird” stuff although quite frequently my “weird” stuff becomes her catchy tune after time (that whistling track by Peter Bjorn and John, like others I’ve had that on the playlist since March).

Back to the car, and it took me a track or two to realise I was listening to the Ladies Night mix. I quite enjoy a bit of Aretha, and can tolerate the odd Abba track or two so it was only when S Club Seven started singing Don’t Stop Movin’ that I realised not only what I was listening to, but that I really should confess to this guilty pleasure.

My more astute readers (if they are both reading) can probably already see where this is heading so I’ll get the confession out of the road right now. Yes, I sang along at the top of my voice. Yes, I may even have head-boogied a little in the car. Yes, I quite like that track and have danced to it on more than one occasion.

That, however, is not the guilty pleasure to which I must confess.

That honour goes to a disco classic which, like so many of the songs I love, features a narrative and to which I know all the words. Every single one.

Whilst I would also like to pretend that I haven’t, it is also true that I’ve danced along to this track many many times, usually whilst singing at the top of my voice and… well I can’t deny it any longer… I also throw some actions in as well. Ohh yes, this is no foot shuffling Dad dance, this is a full-on display of high campery!

The main reason I can’t deny that I dance like an idiot when this track comes on is that there is (non-digital, thankfully!) video footage of me performing said actions, whilst singing loudly at the top of my voice. I THINK there were all of 6 of us dancing at that point. I may have had alcohol.

The song is a story of heartache, a story of a broken woman vowing to fight on. A disco diva at the top of her form and, allegedly who had a broken foot during the shooting of the video hence why you only ever see her from the knees up.

No prizes for guessing, but let’s see who is first to name my guilty pleasure.

Certain people are excluded from voting, namely my wife, our friend Susan, or Ian’s Mum. All of whom were at the wedding where my performance (that’s what us dancers call it, you know!) and have seen the damning (damn?) video evidence.

OK. I’ve fessed up so now it’s your turn, what’s YOUR musical guilty pleasure?

UPDATE: You know, given the lack of confessions I’m tempted not to tell you which track is my guilty(est) pleasure. But yeah, Lyle guessed right, although I’m not sure how to take his comment: “He’s more Gloria Gaynor than Birley Shassey.”

I (somehow) originally mis-typed the title of this post as Quilty Pleasures. Interesting thought but a different post entirely.

A word of advice

Many years ago, when I was just starting out in Technical Communications, my boss at the time gave me a piece of advice. Every now and then it pops back into my head and, as well as allowing me a small smile, reminds me to do just what he suggested.

His advice was one word.

He didn’t explain it and, to be honest at the time I was a little befuddled. It took me a while to grasp the depth of what he was saying as, at first glance, as it is only one word it does seem very slight and somewhat obvious. Looking back now it even seems a little trite but, remembering the type of man he was, it was most certainly carefully considered and meant honestly and with compassion.

To this day, through all the different positions I’ve held in different organisations, and even into my personal life, his advice holds true. One day I hope I’ll be the type of boss he was, encouraging and enthusiastic, a real leader. Until then I continue to try and follow his advice and so far it’s served me well.

There are many circumstances in which it can be applied, whether you are at the start of a project and knee deep in planning meetings and specifications, or hurtling towards the deadline, grasping at every snippet of information that passes your way. Regardless, his single piece of advice, one simple word, holds true.

Pause.

That’s all there is to it. Don’t send that email, pause. Keen to start writing, pause. Desperate to just get the thing finished? Pause. About to finish a landmark, award winning project? Pause.

A simple word, a powerful piece of advice.

Weekender

After the debacle of having to rip up my bank card, we headed to my parents for dinner on Friday night. They’d left some money lying about on the table (exactly the amount I’d wanted to get from the cash machine) so I pocketed that. I hope they don’t notice…

Saturday morning, up early for a rendezvous at Bothwell Services. We pinned the red carnations to our lapels, and had memorised the identification script:

“Ze grey squirrel enjoys le early morning.”

To which the expect response was to be:

“Yes, but the albatross is far away.”

Unfortunately we had forgotten to inform my sister-in-law of the appropriate response so she just stood there, holding out her car keys, and wondering why I was whispering in a slightly dodgy European accent. It’s ok though, she already thinks I’m a nutter.

So, having traded cars, I watched my wife drive off in the rough direction of Newcastle, and headed back home to peace and solitude. I had plans the first of which, I realised soon after pulling out of the Services, would be to put some diesel in my sister-in-law’s car.

I returned home, locked the door, took the phone of the hook, closed all the blinds and took my clothes off. Hey, nothing beats walking round your own house, naked in the daytime and don’t you dare have the bare-faced cheek to disagree with me.

OK, I’m kidding, I didn’t really take my clothes off, which is just as well as I was no sooner in the door than the doorbell rang. The Avon lady, we call her Anne so I hope that is her name, was there to pickup the Avon catalogue. Thankfully, Louise had left strict and specific instructions for this very occasion.

“If Anne calls, you know, Anne the Avon lady, give her the Avon catalogue back. If Bill calls, the Betterware man, give him the Betterware catalogue. OK? Can you manage that dear?” I confirmed that I thought it was not beyond my capacity. Her knowing look hurt a little but admittedly I have struggled with such things before.

I turned to the hall table, on which the aforementioned catalogue were placed. Thankfully I managed to select the right catalogue, first time! My weekend was off to a good start.

With one catalogue safely returned I decide to keep my clothes for, surely, Bill would turn up the minute I took them off. As the previous sentence sounds vaguely risque, I’ll move swiftly on.

My main objective this weekend was to eat bad food and have complete control of the television. I achieved those objectives fairly early on, sitting down to watch Soccer AM whilst eating a slice of chocolate cake with my morning coffee. What could be worse than having chocolate cake for breakfast? OK, many things I know but it was quite decadent of me as I normally have Shreddies.

And so it was for most of the weekend. I watched a bad movie called Aeon Flux, so bad that not even the rather gorgeous Charlize Theron could stop it being anything but bad, I watched a good movie called Syriana, which was a little long but in which George Clooney was very good, and I watched a Bond movie. Thunderball. Because it was on.

I also managed to build a smallish winerack (photos to follow), watched some football and rugby, upgraded my MacBook to Leopard, and then lost most of Sunday to a migraine. But those things aren’t as much fun to write about. So I won’t.

How was YOUR weekend dearest reader?

Thievery

So it seems some low life piece of scum has managed to get hold of my debit card details and has been using it to purchase… something.

First transaction was two days ago (I guess to test it works) for £10. Listed in my bank statement as “Maidenhead”. Second one for £50 listed the same way and a third for £50 listed as “Vodafone CTR, Newbury”.

My card is now cancelled and nice lady at the Bank said I should get my money back without any hassle. Need to talk to their Fraud Unit of course.

I was only checking my bank, online, to see how much I could give Louise to take with her on her shopping trip to Newcastle this weekend. Thanks to the fuckwits I now have no bank card (thankfully my parents will help tide us over).

It’s at times like these that I lose ALL sympathy with any form of criminal. Those poor darlings who complain about their human rights being abused can chuff right off. They broke the law, knowingly in most cases, so they have to suffer. Tough shit. They should think themselves lucky I’m not trying to get their details and going round with a baseball bat.

Feel free to disagree with me, but be warned that I’m seriously, utterly UTTERLY fucked off. Not in a good mood. Bitter and angry. Any suggestions that these fuckers deserve anything from the system will be meet with derision and scorn. A roof, a bed, three square meals and clean clothes and living conditions. Other than that they should all shut up and learn that life is about consequences.

Ohh and credit to the lady I spoke to on the phone, obviously realised how wound up I was and dealt with me expertly. Not ALL call centres are bad.

Still fucked off though, especially as I have no idea where they got my card details from. I’m very careful online, and I don’t hand it over at restaurants… wracking my brain to figure this out.

Recently Read

12 Lessons for Those Afraid of CSS and Standards

“It took me two years to break out of the comfortable prison of layout tables, and another two years before I could use CSS to produce layouts that were originally intended for tables.”

“The buzz about Web 2.0, CSS, and myriad other subjects of the bleeding edge can become a dull roar to those left ill-equipped for industry changes because of work habits adopted in good faith years before. It is my hope that the experience I’ve shared will help some folks to find a way back to the top of the heap—which is where the web needs you.”

But don’t be afraid, Ben Henick offers some lessons that will help get you through. It’s based on real-life experience and mirrors my position. CSS and standards are good, yes they can be strict taskmasters but remember that 100% compliance isn’t always required, sometimes 98% is enough. As Ben points out in Lesson No. 9: “In the real world, stylesheet hacks will get your project across the finish line”

Design Engineering

“The common expression “Engineers build bridges” is actually a misnomer. Engineers build mathematical models of bridges and draw little pictures of bridges on paper or inside computers. Ironworkers are the people who really build bridges. This inexact, industrial age metonym has led to much confusion in the post-industrial age, where it’s all too easy to confuse software designers with software welders because they both use the same tools and raw materials for their very different work.”

Not sure I agree with all of this but I always tend to learn more from a differing opinion.

What do you seek — Documents or Knowledge?

“Document management can only point you towards documents, like a traditional search engine. In contrast, when you’ve got information on a wiki you can search for information, link to it, reference it, update it, secure it, blog about it and share it.”

I’ve been pondering the possible questions that might crop up when I give my presentation on using Wikis in the workplace, and this is a great answer. So much of using a Wiki is about breaking the document-centric working practises that slow us all down. Don’t they?

The Spiral of Wiki Adoption

“Although reliance on email and familiarity of other tools may illustrate a reluctance to ‘unlearn’ habitual less effective work practices, there needs to be a balance between directive wiki usage and support for different communication styles as people become accustomed to using wikis and the different capabilities they can provide.”

During other research I found that just getting people to start using a Wiki was the hardest part. Once they started, they soon started using it in ways not previously considered. In other words, Just Do It.

And finally, two quick links. One I’ve known about for a while but recently cropped again on TechWR, and the other is just for kicks. Although I do often wonder if people do Laugh Out Loud as often as all that.

A List Apart: Style Guide

LOL?

As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these. Particularly the Design Engineering article which I must admit I partly agree with but I do dislike the “them and us” tone.

vzaar

Disclaimer: Adrian Sevitz, who occasionally comments here, is Chief Geek at Vzaar. I have received no incentive to write this post (cheapskates). If I am rewarded after the fact, in anyway at all, I will of course let you all know. As ever, all bribes and freebies are welcomed…

I don’t eBay* much but the recent declutter means I have a few items to sell and when I do, I’ll be uploading a video clip of each item using Vzaar. I’ve mentioned it before and since then it’s continued to be updated and is now pretty slick, so much so that I thought it deserved a little more exploration. Suffice to say that, if you are selling anything on eBay in the near future, I whole heartedly recommend you check what Vzaar has to offer, it really does make a difference to your eBay listing.

And hey, it’s kind of fun to have a reason to record and muck about with video clips.

Using Vzaar is very straightforward, but the biggest challenge in the process is shooting a good video in the first place. Personally, I’m limited to two recording sources, my mobile phone or my ageing webcam. I’ve used my mobile phone in the past but as it records in 3gp or mp4, both of which I don’t have software to edit, it means I have to record everything in one continuous shot. It is possible, and I’ve used it in the past but I’ll be using my webcam in the future. Recording in AVI gives me the ability to edit things and get the most bang for my buck.

Best of all, the software, if you are in Windows-land is free. If you have Windows XP SP2 you already have Windows Movie Maker** which provides a basic set of video editing functions. It’s a very simple application to use; Simply import your video files, then cut, splice, and merge on the timeline before saving your masterpiece. It also has some simple transition effects but probably best if you don’t go overboard with those. You can view uploaded videos on Vzaar if you require any inspiration.

Vzaar limits the video to below 100MB in size, and shorter than 2 minutes (less is more when it comes to video) but that’s more than enough to demonstrate the item you are selling.

Video clip ready, it’s over to Vzaar.

Sign-up is simple and requires you to authorise Vzaar to interact with your eBay account. Once that is done (2 mins tops), then you are ready to upload your video. You can either create an eBay listing as normal, and then go to Vzaar to add a video, or let Vzaar create a basic listing for you. Personally, and this is only because I’m a control freak, I prefer the former option as it gives a little more control. However, as I have several fairly cheap items to sell, I might give the Vzaar listings a bash as it does seem more convenient.

Execution details aside, the basic premise behind the service —the ability to add a video of an item you are selling on eBay— is very much one of those ideas that make you wonder why no-one thought of it before. Seeing an item demonstrated, a book opened, a piano played, in fact anything that shows scale, quality and usage, is far more useful to a potential buyer than a static photo and vague description.

So, a big thumbs up to Vzaar.

You no doubt have other questions, in which case check the Vzaar FAQ, or skim through the Vzaar blog. So far I’ve not seen any mugshots of Adrian so it’s safe to assume the people involved are pretty smart. Instead they let Dan and Emma do the “pretty stuff”.

Now, does anyone want to buy an old Lexmark printer?

* Is this a verb now?
** If it’s not listed in your Start menu, check in the Program Files folder on your hard drive and look for the Movie Maker folder. Double-click moviemk.exe to get it started.