Sunday 30 November 2003

Chain Letter

My daughter (age 8) got a chain letter from a school friend of hers last week. A real snail mail chain letter. It purported to be trying to set a Guiness Book of Records record and was sent FreePost (no postage required). I'm pretty surprised the Royal Mail delivered it. After searching around the Internet, I found out that variants of this chain letter have been in circulation since 1981! Geez. Talk about perpetual motion! Check out Break The Chain.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

cover Saw this DVD last night. I rented it after seeing how highly rated it was on IMDb. Sure enough, it deserves the rating. It's a fast-paced twisty detective film set in 1950's LA but it's also a good character study. Amazingly, the twists and turns in the movie are far simplified compared to the book which is supposed to be excellent.

Saturday 29 November 2003

Guitar Institute

Had my assessment at the Guitar Institute last Thursday. It turned out to be more of a chat than an assessment. Very cool place. Very chaotic. They teach guitar, bass and drums. Lots of students jamming narrow corridors. Rehearsal rooms with bands playing. Good vibe all around. The school is tucked in a industrial/warehouse part of Acton but parking is still a nightmare.

Anyway Charlie, my assessor, recommended that I do the Arpeggiator course. I also think the Foundation Blues course sounds fun. Have to see how I can fit this stuff in.

Friday 28 November 2003

The Making of a Building Site Manager

After four weeks the builders are still at it doing our front yard. There's been some heavy rains so that's slowed the work down. It's driving Jenny crazy. It seems like every time she leaves the house for a few hours, the builders screw up. Lately they've built the fence wrong. Before that it was the circular paving slabs. Before that it was an uneven brick edging. It's a long list.  It's great that she catches all the mistakes. Jenny could have an excellent career ahead of her as a building site manager.

Thursday 27 November 2003

The 2002 Bloggies (Weblog Awards)

Another discovery. Interesting reading if you've got the time. Great weblog history article. I'm still checking out how other bloggers design their websites and surveying the tools most commonly used.

UK Weblogs

Useful site for UK bloggers. I just submitted my site. Also take note of the UK Bloggers Christmas Party next Saturday in London. There's also UK Blogger Mailing Lists.

The Urinal Game

I don't know how old this is but it's an excellent tutorial on how to select the correct urinal. I got one answer wrong though.

Wednesday 26 November 2003

Say good-bye to the Great Apes

The UN needs $25 million as a minimum to save the Great Apes from extinction and is grasping to find it. Isn't it amazing how billions can be quickly found to fight a war but it's so hard to scrape together millions to push back extinction?

Musical Mania

The kids are keen on watching old musicals at the moment. Last month they watched "The Sound Of Music" and haven't stopped singing songs from it since. I can tell you I'm sick of hearing "Do Re Mi". The other week we watched "My Fair Lady" and today they're watching "Oliver!".  I'm expecting refrains of "Food Glorious Food" for the rest of the week. Turns out Jenny hasn't seen many of these musicals either and she's going around singing the songs too. Arrghh!

BBC: Top UK judge slams Camp Delta

Excellent. Someone with influence and a conscience calls out this perversion of justice by the US.

The Law Lord said the US was guilty of a "monstrous failure of justice" and challenged UK ministers to condemn the decision to hold any prisoners there....He said detainees were "beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors".

BBC: Tourists dream of hunting haggis

One in three Americans considering a trip to Scotland believed that haggis was a creature. No surprise really but it's just a PR stunt for a Haggis maker.

Scotsman: Fury as France and Germany Escape Rule Breach Punishment

This really looks bad. If one of the smaller members of the EU had breached the rules, I bet they would have been fined. But the guys who made the rules don't follow them. Either they got to stick to the rules or change the rules to be more flexible especially with the new member countries getting added. Otherwise, the workings of the EU become opaque, loses trust and gets further mired in political wrangling.

Tuesday 25 November 2003

One Month Until Christmas

Arrgghh. We still haven't got around to writing Christmas cards and shopping for presents and it won't be long until Christmas is here. The kids are getting excited. We're off to Canada to visit family and friends in Victoria and Vancouver during the holidays. Even if you don't work the time sure fills up quickly with all the things that need to get done.

Whale Rider (2002)

cover We watched Whale Rider during one of our regular Foreign Film Nights. Superb film. It certainly deserves all the awards its won. The review on IMDb sums up the plot well. What truly amazes me is that Keisha Castle-Hughes who plays the 12 year old Paikea was simply plucked from a classroom in New Zealand. She had no training but her acting was superb. Good script. Good pace. Good acting. Beautifully filmed. A great story. Worth watching.

Monday 24 November 2003

Power Tab

If you play guitar or bass and haven't heard of Power Tab, then you have got to download this software and try it. I only discovered it last week. Of course you probably know there's lots of ASCII (text) guitar tablature out there (e.g. OLGA) but there's also tablature available in Power Tab format. Power Tab is a free Windows program that displays the tablature perfectly and even plays it for you. The tab files often have both guitar and bass scores together. After you download and install it, go to Power Tab Central and start finding the songs you want learn to play. I had a great evening finding over twenty songs and was really impressed with the quality of most of the transcriptions.

There's numerous features but one the best is that you can output a score as a MIDI file. This allowed me to add a drum track to it and then drop the guitar so I'm left with a bass and drum backing track. To get the drum track, I imported the midi file into Band In A Box and let Band In A Box create it. Yeah, call me lazy but it's cheap and easy. Then I export this back to a midi file. Next, I import both these midi files into Cubase SL and select the right parts for playback. Simple!

Power Tab is a great learning tool if you're a guitarist. Indeed you can customise it for any stringed instrument.

Friday 21 November 2003

Cheap Music CD's?

I'm always looking for the best place to buy CD's in the UK. Yes, I still like to buy CD's and not just download MP3's. Found this comparison engine recently that seems pretty good but it doesn't include CDWow which has great prices. I still often wait until I can go splurge at A&B Sound in Canada. Drop me a comment if you know anywhere cheaper.

Thursday 20 November 2003

Guitar Playing Assessment

I signed up for an assessment of my guitar playing ability at the Guitar Institute next week. Gulp. Time to at least pull out a few theory books so I don't totally embarass myself! The assessment is just so they can figure out what courses would be best to offer me. They do offer some really great sounding courses.

Wednesday 19 November 2003

Science Museum: Lord Of The Rings Exhibition

cover Yesterday, Jenny and I went down to the Science Museum to see the Lord Of The Rings exhibition. Really enjoyed it. To make the film realistic, they tried to create strong cultures for each of the races and creating culture involves creating detail. The exhibition essentially shows you the incredible lengths that they went to create this cultural detail in the costumes, weapons, architecture, language, mythology, etc. There were also interesting demonstrations of how they created the illusion of character height differences and assembled the massive battles scenes. All in all, a very cool exhibition. Took us two and half hours to meander through it.

I do have one complaint though. The One Ring was on display but it didn't have any script on it! I think it was a fake. Obviously the real One Ring was allegedly destroyed but I suspect it's in a vault somewhere to prevent it falling into the wrong hands...

Truly, it is amazing what can be brought to life on the cinema screen nowadays. I'm looking forward to lots more epic films making their way to the screen. I saw a trailer the other day for a film called "Troy".

UK Trades

So in the UK, a brick layer is a Brickie and a carpenter is called a Chippy. I haven't heard of names for other trades peoples but I guess an electrician should be called a Sparky? Maybe a plumber should be Splashy? Or just Pipes? Could call someone who digs Mucky. No idea what you could nickname a Plasterer. Slappy?

Tuesday 18 November 2003

Time Magazine Rewriting History?

Interesting story of a media teacher discovering that Time Magazine has changed the contents and titles of a past issue in one of it's magazines. Specifically, an article by George Bush Snr and Brent Scowcroft entitled "Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam." The article is very pertinent to the US situation in Iraq today. Next we learn Colin Powell has connections with the parent company of Time Magazine.

Time Magazine claims the article was pulled because it doesn't have online publishing rights to it. It does leave you wondering though. Is it 1984 twenty years late?


I hurt. I've started going to the gym. Yesterday was my second time. I went for a few months last year but got bored but I'm giving it another shot. Gotta do something to get more fit and I've got no excuse about lack of time now. But I'll say it again. The gym is boring. However, I do feel good after the workout

I'm starting with 10 minutes jogging, 10 minutes rowing and 10 minutes on the cross-trainer. That builds a good sweat. Then some stretching followed by going around various weighting training stations concentrating on legs (so skiiing won't kill me). Then some more stretching before a shower. I discovered where the sauna was last visit so I'll probably squeeze in some further stretching in the sauna too. Sauna's are great.

Monday 17 November 2003

R*'s Field Trips

R* went on her third field trip today. She considers it her first *real* field trip. They were taken to the London National Art Gallery to look at the paintings featuring Greek Gods as part of their Classical Studies.  I think it's great she gets to study Classics. At dinner, she started explaining all kinds of gruesome mythical stories. I guess that's what makes Classics appealing!

Last week, they visited a synagogue as part of their studies of Jewish cultures and before that, they went to a teacher's home to participate in a Jewish festival. Those visit were all part of the Religion Education class. The school isn't Christian based so I hope they given a balanced view of the other religions too.

Sunday 16 November 2003

Oriental Cooking Classes

I finished reading Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway and, inspired, I roped Jenny into trying something she's talked about but never attempted. We advertised in the local paper that she would be teaching an introductory course in Oriental Cooking. Unfortunately, the ad hasn't worked that well. We're looking for four students but only one person has signed up so far. She's not planning to teach it until January so we've still got time to find three other students.

New Front Yard

We've had builders ripping up our front yard for the last two week. Jenny and her Dad worked out a really nice design and to her credit, Jenny has been taking care of getting it done. She selected the contractors and is doing all the material selection and project management. Gardens and landscaping is much more her forteit than mine. The new driveway is almost finished. It's going to be gravel rather than tarmac. The front wall is almost done too.

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

cover I recently finished reading this book. I don't usually read self-help books but it seemed to be well recommended. It brings together many ideas I've heard before and explains a good way to think your way through any fears you may have. Worth reading. I've written up a summary of the whole book.

Guardian: 'Shoot-to-kill' demand by US

Great. If I go to the protest on Thursday, I may get shot by a trigger happy American or maybe blown up by a terrorist. London is going to be a mess.

10,000 Pet Tigers!?

This story caught my eye. There's only about 5,000 Bengal Tigers in the wild but "up to 10,000 tigers are currently being kept as pets in basements and backyards across the US." One fellow was found with a 350 pound tiger in his New York flat! Well, maybe that's a bit of good news for conservationists. Once we can't find a species in the wild, we just have to start checking peoples backyards. Pet rhino anyone?

Friday 14 November 2003

The Matrix Revolutions: Two Thumbs Down

I went and saw this this afternoon (yeah - seems weird to go to a movie in the afternoon!). It's quite a big let down. Sure, it's got lots of effects and style but substance is missing. Much of it is just a 3rd rate Hollywood lets-fight-the-bad-guys-with-big-guns type of movie with shlock dialogue glorifying human foibles. What a waste!

The first movie was excellent with ground-breaking cinematography and innovative adaption of the wire-flying martial art film techniques. I also thought it was pretty brave using such a hardcore sci-fi plot in a mainstream movie. The whole issue of reality could have been such a rich plot device.

No, it's just a stylish war movie with an incoherent cosmology and an uninteresting script.

Download your Dancing Stick Figure

Superb visualization for Windows Media Player or Winamp. You can download lots of different dancing stick figures or even make your own. The coolest part is you can make your own from a photograph. I ought to do one of the kids. I love the political ones. Check out the dancing President Bush.

Tuesday 11 November 2003

Guardian: Fear of trade war after US steel tariffs ruled illegal

Just more evidence that the US doesn't believe in free trade for itself; only for others. Looks like I have to postpone buying that Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Monday 10 November 2003

Michael Moore at the London Palladium

We went and listened to a talk by Michael Moore at the London Palladium last night. It was excellent. The talk was much less structured than I expected. He essentially came on stage and rambled in a very entertaining way: sometimes very serious; sometimes very funny. He was certainly very disparaging of Tony Blair for supporting George Bush and in some ways, blames him more as the more intelligent of the two. Without Blair, Bush may never had been able to rally enough support for the war. His next movie is about Bush and his connections with the Saudi royal family. No doubt it will be out just in time for the presidential election.

The main takeaway from the talk was not to be afraid of kicking out Tony Blair due to lack of an alternative and to please PLEASE attend the anti-Bush rally on November 20th in London. America needs to see the lack of support Bush has.

Saturday 8 November 2003

Chomsky and Globalisation

coverJust finished reading this book. It's full of many interesting points and arguments but at only eighty pages it isn't able to back up it's allegations very well. For that, you would have to follow-up with the numerous references to original sources. Nevertheless, it is damning of globalisation and the doctrine of neo-liberalism. It's well worth reading as an introduction.

I used to believe that globalisation was a good thing. How naive! I've slowly changed my mind after a lot of reading from various points of view. Unfortunately, it's a very complex topic and well beyond the interest of the vast majority. Globalisation might work if there were proper world institutions (legitimate, transparent and with effective authority) to oversee it but in it's current form, it's a disaster.

Wednesday 5 November 2003

New Travelogue: Diving In Jordan

I've finally published our travelogue of our trip to Jordan. Sorry for the wait. I know a few of you have been looking forward to it. I should warn you that it contains over 500K of photo's. No doubt it's full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes too. Please forgive me for them.

I've started to put more photo's in this blog and particularly in the travelogues as I think it makes it quite a bit more interesting. However, this makes the page load much slower for those of you on dial-up. I'm assuming that most of you have either a cable modem or broadband. Let me know if this causes you troubles. You can still read the text while waiting for the photo's to render.

Monday 3 November 2003

Top 50 Things To Do/See

Interesting compilation of 50 places you should see within your lifetime along with 50 things you should do. Its inspired Jenny and I to draw up our own lists. I think it's a great exercise for anyone to really think through what experiences you want to have in this lifetime. Luckily Jenny and I have a lot of overlap! Then it's just a matter of picking one and going for it.

Sunday 2 November 2003

Guardian: Israel outraged as EU poll names it a threat to peace

Well, the United States is probably the worst threat to world peace but I would absolutely agree that Israel is a major threat. I don't see how that could be surprising and find this reaction amazing:

"Reacting to the poll, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which claims 400,000 members in the US alone, has begun ordering a petition to condemn the European Commission and demand the EU no longer be represented in the so-called Quartet group trying to mediate an end to violence between Israel and Palestine."

I'd say the EU is pro-Human Rights rather than pro-Arab. Maybe that's why they don't want the EU at the table. The article gets more interesting:

"Israeli Ministers and spokesman have also been at pains recently to insist that a definition of modern 'anti-semitism' should include criticism of the way the state of Israel chooses to protect itself, defining that criticism as an overt attack on Israel's survival."

That's outrageous. Israel wants to label all policy criticism as anti-semitism? There's a difference between racism and criticising blatant oppression.

October Stats

It's always quite interesting to visit the website stats at the end of the month. This website had 1001 unique visitors in October which is a small increase from August and September. Top country is always the Netherlands but I assume that's due to indexing servers being hosted there. Next comes the UK and Australia. The Writing Code Is Stupid article is still popular with 207 viewings making it the most read article on the site.

Saturday 1 November 2003

Somebody nicked my pumpkin!

I left a carved pumpkin outside our front door and tonight some kids stole it and kicked it down the street. It was the one I did; the kids' pumpkins are safe inside. A few years back, someone stole a very nice Christmas wreath off our front door that Jenny had spent a lot of time making.

We live in a pretty good neighbourhood but you often get groups of kids walking along the street. There's plenty of pranksters. It's quite sad that these things happen and makes you think twice about putting up decorations.

Extreme Ironing

If you haven't heard of Extreme Ironing, you really should check out these pictures. Amazing what people get up to just for the challenge of it.