Friday 19 December 2003

Christmas In Canada

This is my last blog entry for the year. I'm flying to Canada today and won't be back until January 11th. Don't expect a travelogue as we're just visiting friends and family in Victoria and Vancouver and maybe doing a bit of skiing. It shouldn't be too much of an adventure.


I often get a bit melancholy as the year passes away and a new one starts. You only live once and I hear the life-o-meter clicking over. Certainly, 2003 was a watershed year for us. Since I left Microsoft and took a sabbatical, Jenny and I have had plenty of discussions about what we really want to do with our lives. We still haven't reached many conclusions but we know there's lots of experiences waiting for us to try and changes to come. I expect 2004 will be pretty packed year for us. Stay tuned.


I would like to wish you all Season's Greetings and an exciting and eventful path in the New Year! May you live your dreams.

Wednesday 17 December 2003

My Head Gets Cold!

I remember hearing many years ago that those of us who experience hair loss go through the same phases of grief as people suffering other major losses.  Well, I think I've finally got to the Acceptance phase. A few weeks ago I got my (remaining) hair cut short. Very short.  I mean really really short. We're talking clippers set at #3. It's been taking me a while to get used to it.

All the solutions for hair loss I've heard are just different forms of denial. Despite the spam, there's no cure for hair loss. Well, there may be one but it involves cutting off your testicles at the age of eighteen. I missed my chance with that one. Of course, if I had only KNEW about that one, things would have turned out MUCH different.

Coming into this Acceptance phase, I now find lots of advantages to really really short hair:

  • It feels weird and beautiful women want to touch it (well, one does)
  • I have almost no need to comb my hair
  • I don't look like cr*p when I get up in the morning
  • A bottle of shampoo will now last years and years
  • My hair drys within minutes of getting out of the shower or pool
  • No more helmet head or toque head problems
  • It makes putting a diving mask on a breeze
  • I can pretend to be a football yob and look menacing if need be

However, I realize now that hats need to become an important accessory.  Not just for the suave look either. First, it's critical to stop reflections from blinding people and causing accidents. They're also necessary to prevent sunburn so I don't get mistaken for a stop sign (why is that queue of cars behind me?).  And my head gets cold!

Monday 15 December 2003

Saddam Gets Fair Trial While Others Rot In Camp X-ray?

Isn't it a little ironic that Saddam Hussein, accused of tremendous crimes, is to be given a fair trial while over 600 people rot in Camp X-ray with no trial, no legal representation and no formal charges?

Saturday 13 December 2003

Frontyard Is Finished

Yea! The front is finally finished five years after we moved in to this house. Well, there's a caveat there in that it needs to be filled with plants yet so I guess it's not finished finished but the builders have finished their bit. It looks so much better than before. We still need an electrician in come in and install some lighting that Jenny purchased. I think Jenny will have quite a lot of fun with the planting design but that's a project for next Spring.

The Big Read Results

So the Big Read has just announced the final results of the popular vote for best loved fiction in the UK:

  1. The Lord Of The Rings
  2. Pride And Prejudice
  3. His Dark Materials
  4. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
  5. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

I think the most interesting question is how heavily is this list biased by recent film and TV exposure? If the Lord Of The Rings movies hadn't come out and been so successful, would it have really done so well? Pride And Prejudice was recently aired as a TV series last summer. Likewise, Hitchhiker and Harry Potter have had big television/cinema coverage. I think the big winner here is His Dark Materials since it's something you can only read (or get the audio book). I definitely need to pick up a copy. I've read 1, 4 & 5 already.

Of course, the great result of this is whole exercise is it gets people interested in reading more. Sales of books that have appeared on the list of nominee's has jumped.

Feral Children

Interesting list of children raised by animals and the stories behind them.

Friday 12 December 2003

Media Literacy Begins at Home

Nice article from MIT Enterprise Technology Review.

"Parents have more control than ever before over how popular culture influences their kids. The trick is to treat media as an ally rather an enemy."

I've often thought that media literacy should be right up there in the core curriculum taught throughout the school years; not just an option in Senior School. Instead the onus falls to parents to teach their children to be discerning about what they see and read. But how many are ready to do that? Can you teach them to deconstruct the messages they are being bombarded with? In an information age, isn't this a core skill? This article contains some good advice and a reading list.

Thursday 11 December 2003

NASA's Visible Earth

"a searchable directory of images, visualizations, and animations of the Earth"  Cool.

Big Numbers With Megapenny

I was talking to R* about big numbers and we found this nice website illustrating the names of large numbers using pennies. It went down very well and is great for visualising what the numbers mean. Ever heard of a novemtrigintillion?

Sleeping Beauty

Went to the townhall last night to see a pantomime of Sleeping Beauty by a local theatre company. I didn't even know what a Christmas pantomime was until I moved to the UK and had children. They're one of the best things about Christmas now. It's a great community event where everyone gets to scream their head off ("He's BEHIND YOU", "Oh NO HE DIDN'T", etc). One of the great things about the UK is how strong the theatre culture is. Every small town or large village seems to have a theatre company. Anyone can join them. The production quality can also be really very good. Some years back, I saw a play performed by students at a local senior school and was quite surprised at how high the quality was - acting, singing, dancing, set design, lighting - everything. Nothing like my old high school in Canada. Close to our house we even have a theatre school. Kate Winslet being their most famous student. Some of the students have been in the Harry Potter movies. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get R* to consider going to the school. Can't get her interested in acting or dancing. Yet.

Wednesday 10 December 2003

I've created a new subdomain that takes you directly to this page. It's If you've got this page bookmarked, please update it to be this URL. I'm planning to reimplement this website next year using a different software package and this subdomain URL won't break. It's also easier to type in.

Tuesday 9 December 2003

Frontyard Progress

I'm happy to report that the frontyard is almost complete. In the UK, they don't call it a frontyard. It's the front garden. However, I can't see calling it a garden as there's no plants in it. Doesn't a garden need plants?

They're just finishing putting on the tiles of the new roof which overhangs the front door and garage. It makes the house look much better. All the fencing and hardscape is finished. They've just finished laying down the gravel on the driveway. Today they've layed down the horticultural fleece and delivered all the wood chip which now needs spreading. The planting box is complete and lined but hasn't been filled yet. Jenny is hunting around for lighting fixtures. The gates haven't gone in yet. Can you believe it costs £20 just to put a nice house number plate up on the wall?

Sheryl Crow at Shepherds Bush Empire

cover Last night we went and saw Sheryl Crow play at Shepherds Bush Empire. It's the first time I've ever been to that venue. Really good place. It's quite old and small and a bit delapitated like many London venues. However it makes for a very cosy atmosphere and the bar wasn't very crowded. The view from the comfy balcony seats was excellent and the acoustics were good. Best yet, it took less than an hour to get there and parking was straightforward. I'll watch out for more shows there.

The concert was excellent. I have all four of her main albums (can I still use that word?) so I know the songs well. She opened with Steve McQeen and then proceeded to play every good song she's done which is enough to last the two hours she played. Can't think of anything she missed. Ron Wood (Rolling Stones) joined her for one song in the middle of the concert and one of the encore songs. I'm not sure of the name of the encore song. I think it's "I'm Losing You" - cover of a 70's hit.

As for Sheryl, she wore a black leather mini skirt, tall black boots and a simple black top. Sexy. Looks younger than she is (born in '62). However, she's no great performer. She's very stiff on stage and seemed to take a while to warm up. She'd start dancing a little but would soon stop. She doesn't communicate with the crowd well. Her comments seem to be well rehearsed and forced. It left me with the strong impression that she doesn't enjoy performing. It's unfortunate 'cause she has great material and could easily work the crowd up better. It's a big contrast with Ron Wood who is obviously very relaxed and playful on stage.

Her playing is simple and she has a country twang.  She mostly played bass but she played a Telecaster and acoustic sometimes and finished on the piano. What she excels at is composition, collaboration and singing. Her voice is great. Didn't realise until I checked her bio that she got her break by being a backup singer for various big names including Michael Jackson.

The stage was very simple and the visuals basic and unoriginal in my opinion. No big deal as that keeps you focused on the performers. The four other members of her band are excellent.  I forgot the name of the warm-up band already (Clarkville?). They were ok but I got a bit bored with their set.

I've heard that Sheryl Crow got pretty burnt out with the music industry and struggled with the last album. I was surprised to see a "Very Best Of" album come out as that usually means the record company is milking the song catalogue and the artist is on the wane. Too bad. I hope she manages to find some enthusiasm for the music again and comes back to London with some more great tunes.

Sunday 7 December 2003

Guardian: Iraq delays hand Cheney firm $1bn

Call me cynical but I think there's probably quite a lot of motivation to delay this being a level playing field:

"So far, $1.7bn has been made available to Halliburton for the work....According to contract rules, Halliburton can make a margin of up to 7 per cent on the work."

Saturday 6 December 2003

Why Is Growth Imperative?

You know a question that's always been in the back of my mind is "Why is annual growth such an imperative at a company like Microsoft?" Every year, new sales targets get set higher and higher. Big speeches get made by the executives (I've seen many). Managers exhort their direct reports to make the numbers. People sacrifice their home/work balance to meet the new objectives for their performance reviews.


Why can't the growth targets be scaled back and investors just given dividends? Obviously Microsoft isn't a growth stock. If there was zero growth and a big dividend, the stock price would remain stable. Why can't the energy be placed on quality of product and service instead? Would that be the sign of a mature company?

How about someone asking Bill this at the Q&A session of the next big meeting?

Dare to make the Green Gloves pledge?

"If the UK government gives the go-ahead to commercialise the growing of GM crops against the overwhelming wishes of the British public, I pledge to non-violently remove GM crops from the ground or support those who take action to remove GM crops"

Christian Aid: Where did the Iraq money go?

Here's a report by Christian Aid that claims that billions of dollars of oil money that has already been transferred to the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has effectively disappeared into a financial black hole.

For all the talk of freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people – before, during and after the war which toppled Saddam Hussein – there is no way of knowing how the vast majority of this money has been spent.

No surprise. Call in some auditors! (but not Arthur "Shred'em" Andersons please).

Tea Girl

R* surprised us this morning by bringing us two cups of tea in bed. She's never made tea before but she did it properly. She's been boiling water in the electric kettle to make her own instant noodles and she can also use the microwave to warm food up. So this is a good next step if you ask me. Fantastic! I can now ask R* for a cup of tea! She's never taken to drinking tea herself even though many of her friends do.

Thursday 4 December 2003

Lenny Henry Live at Lunchtime

We just saw Lenny Henry live at Norden Farm. Jenny discovered the short lunchtime show an hour before it started so we just showed up and managed to get tickets (£1.50!). The theatre was pretty well full.  He needed a test audience to rehearse new material for his Christmas appearance on the very popular Parkinson Show. Great material. Had us laughing most of the show and there was some great audience interaction. Don't know what he's going to cut out to get it down to just five minutes. Interestingly, his notes were written as mind maps on large pieces of cardboard.

Blogging Survey Results

I participated in this blogging survey and the results are now back. Quite interesting. There may be some broad conclusions you can draw from the results but there probably needs to be an analysis of the categories of bloggers out there rather than thinking of us as a single homogenous community. It's an interesting thought to use bloggers as a PR channel. Quite a risky approach for a company but it could pay off really well. It's probably most suitable for complex products that aren't easily summed up in a soundbite.

Wednesday 3 December 2003

Beatroot Bateria

Last night I went to one of the regular practice sessions of Beatroot Bateria. They're a samba band like the ones you see during carnival time. The website has some MP3's if you want to hear them.

I only discovered their website a few days ago and immediately thought it sounded like a great thing to try. The band is open to beginners and you can just drop in. So I did.

I arrived, bought some ear plugs (essential!) and was eventually assigned a high surdo to play. Instruction was minimal. I was buddied with another high surdo player, shown the first rhythm I needed to know and we started. I had a bit of trouble here and there following changes but I eventually got the hang of it. There were about thirty of us in a small room so the volume is incredible.

During the break, I chatted with a few other people. They have about 10 songs they practice and play lots of live gigs. One couple had been there only three months and had already played a gig. You can change instruments if you want but most people stick to one.

I hope to take Jenny next week. She's always liked the idea of playing drums.

Tuesday 2 December 2003

K* Is A King

K* played one of the three kings in a nativity play held at his nursery this afternoon. He was very proud and proclaimed that he did a great job. Of course he did. That's our last nursery play as he starts school next April.

Monday 1 December 2003

Bodysong Interactive

Fascinating way to organize and navigate a website. Click in the box and try it out. Make sure you've got the sound turned on. The short blurbs associated with each flying image are great. It's kind of like "infotainment". Too bad each image isn't a small video. You could take this concept a long way. Cool.

End Of Month Website Stats

I always find it interesting to check the website stats at the end of the month. Let's see.  More visitors this month: 1122 compared to 1001 the month before. Nice to know people really do arrive at this blog. The number one visiting country this month by a significant margin is Hungary. This is followed by US edu sites and then the UK. Top articles remain the "Writing Code" and StrengthsFinder ones but the diving travelogue of Jordan got a lot of reads. Hmmm. In fact, there were a lot of Hungarians visiting Jordan when we were there. Indeed, I was told they were the main country from which the tourists came up until Europeans started coming back a few months ago. Maybe a correlation there! Hey, now this is weird. Nine people looking for "tall blonde german" came to my website. Sorry, you won't find that here!

BAFTA Interactive Nominee's

The nominee's for the twelve different categories of the BAFTA Interactive Awards have been announced. Find out the winners on February 19th. I gotta spend sometime going through them. I usually get myself a new computer game around Christmas and this is a good short list.