Friday, 31 January 2014

waiting at the station


I've travelled to the North through the rain then snow then rain again.

Now it's feeling gale force cold, but I suspect that's more about my southerner constitution rather than the actual climate here.

No one else here seems to notice.

I've just been waiting for the next train to depart.

...Could almost be the title of a play.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

a near future experience


I feel as if I'm from the near future at the moment. Except I don't know the raffle ticket numbers.

It's the combination of commuting in the little space bubble, being on evening video conferences from a hotel room and then eating Japanese noodles from a pot.

Somewhere between cowboy bebop and fifth element.

I've noticed there's an exhibition across the river about life in 2050. I think I'll need to visit.

Monday, 27 January 2014

hot toddies at the Folly


One of the standard freebies in London is the little wallet to keep Oyster cards and other travel tickets safe. I usually use them as a main wallet, which is also a way of paring down the amount I'm carrying.

There's plenty of sources, beyond the ones from the train stations and I've been using a Royal Academy one recently. Of course they eventually wear out, but are surprisingly robust and can last for more than a year before the first sticky tape has to be applied.

It's always good to have a couple of spares, and today's 'snowy London Town' scene addition was from The Folly where we'd arranged to meet for an early evening supper.

The Folly is one of those slightly subterranean bustling bars and restaurants that seems to be perpetually busy. It's much bigger on the inside than you'd expect and has various zones with different designs varying from garden areas, lounges, long tables and stand up bar areas. We'd taken the precaution to book because even at an early hour the place fills with a boisterous evening shift of clientele.

We'd picked the venue partly because of its location, kind of equidistant from Bank and London Bridge. I'd walked from London Bridge station, over the bridge, thereby becoming the evening's lone person walking north against the solid commuter flow heading south*.

An entertaining supper followed as we chatted and schemed, before heading in opposite directions which would see us finish the evening hundreds of miles apart. London's closeness. For card carrying members, with free wallets.

* Pretty much the route used by Bridget Jones in that movie

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis - cool for cats?


In Leicester Square, it was a last minute decision to go to see 'Inside Llewyn Davis', the movie about a struggling folk singer on the 1961 Greenwich Village circuit. We're talking the era of early Bob Dylan and the emerging folk scene from the Village inside of New York. I enjoy wandering the area around Bleecker when I'm in New York. So that's a double tick in the box. Music and district. The movie is also directed by the Coen Brothers. Should be another tick.

Yes, I expected to like it a lot. There's great cinematography with every scene evoking stylish album covers from the era and locations that look brilliant.

I just wasn't sure about the main story or character. Oops.

Our man, Llewyn played by Oscar Isaac is in a spiral of downward situations, most of which he tries to escape from by bailing onto the nearest fire escape. Not a complete unknown, he's seen earlier modest recognition with a co-singer who committed jumped off the Washington Bridge.

Llewyn sings fairly well and plays a lot of C, F and G chords. I know he wasn't supposed to be likeable, but aside from throwing the occasional strop, there wasn't any real passion or heart to create empathy.

There's other characters that add some spark. A double act by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan as a couple of folkies who help Llewyn along. That's Justin on the right.

Mulligan has other problems, but that's where, for me, the film goes rather too formulaic. I don't think she was given the best script here and tries to act her way our of being given a caricatured and sometimes illogical part. Later, when stoned jazz muzo John Goodman turns up, he's also give a part that is larger than life.

Then there's a few middle of the road folk acts that turn up wearing matching sweaters or singing novelty space race tunes. Whenever Llewyn has a chance to get royalties on a song or join an up and coming commercial opportunity, he makes the poor wrong decision. If there's a sign pointing to anywhere better, or anywhere redeeming, our man will miss it. Akron, Ohio, springs to mind.

I began to wonder if the film was all a big movie buffs' in-joke. Introduce a cat to make the main character show some loveable compassion. Show the main character is a bounder by him maybe getting his best friend's girl pregnant. Even the graffiti in the toilet at one stage asks,"What are you doing?"

The Coens are good at quirky humour and I suppose there was some in here. It could be possible to play an irony card too, but I don't think that for me it has really worked. Even the film's narrative loop seemed flimsy and somehow unsatisfactory. I was thinking, surely it can't just be that? as the final credits appeared. Maybe I did care more for the cat(s).

I can understand that sometimes music albums need to be listened to a few times to appreciate their greatness. I'm not so certain that this will happen for me with this movie.



Saturday, 25 January 2014

margins of respectability?


Flying past Canary Wharf every day at the moment, I keep seeing the trader blocks in the distance.

I've already written about Wolf of Wall Street and although I'm not convinced it was part of the original plan for the movie, it's one that lingers because of some of the ideas.

There's the rampant sales culture about 'sell anything', the premise that the punters are fools, a totally unreliable narrative which we are expected to follow. There's fair warning right from the start when the Ferrari changes colour from red to white during a trip along a freeway in the opening scenes.

Then there's the almost entirely male wheeler-dealers and the women often regarded as little more than objects.

I'm reminded of a few of the other movies about the same era 1980-2008 which includes 'Wall Street', 'Boiler Room' and the tad more extreme 'American Psycho'.

One that has previously stuck in my mind (which even had a female Investment Banker) was 'Margin Call'. That's the one about the collapse of a Lehman-like bank.

Without it being a spoiler, and true to many Hollywood scripts, the character played by Demi Moore was the one who became the scapegoat.

The worrying thought in the back of my mind is that although this stuff gets made into movies it is probably still happening.

Who really knows what happens when the US prints another $40bn per month of QE? Or how this gets beamed around the planet and then every so often a currency in another country collapses?

In a few of the words from the amoral Margin Call...

John Tuld: There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat.

Peter Sullivan: Look at these people. Wandering around with absolutely no idea what's about to happen.

Eric Dale: I run Risk Management. I don't really see how that's a natural place to start cutting jobs.


Friday, 24 January 2014

blurred vision


What with whizzing around London and working in various offices, I've really had to put the blog on the back-burner this week.

A few hasty iPhone grabbed snap-shots is about all I can declare.

No television, no external entertainment, pretty much head-down.

A blur, really.



Thursday, 23 January 2014

the crane in rain


I said this would be a week of few words as I fly around docklands. The foggy iPhone picture of the crane from yesterday needs further development, so here's one of it around sunrise. Even the people punching the tickets on the Air Line were taking pictures of the bright early morning.

It wouldn't be complete without another one of the crane in rain.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

London fog makes me feel so blue?


Of course, it's not always sunny around docklands, and this time we've some of the fog atmosphere, the way that London gets portrayed in old movies.

Pea-souper fog, umbrellas and bowler hats. As if.

Monday, 20 January 2014

counting the cars on the east London Air Way


Another week of commuting across the Thames using the cable car. It's interesting how much the view changes on a daily basis, from the sunshine of Monday, through rain and mist and fog. I don't have much blogging time this week, so a few snaps of the journey from my iPhone should suffice to keep things moving along.

I can remember the frisson of pleasure the first time I travelled on the New Jersey Turnpike out of New York. That song, obviously. And I was somehow drawn to remember it when I watched the cars on the east London Air-Way. Even without a gaberdine suit.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

wolf of wall street


We went along to see The Wolf of Wall Street on Saturday evening. It's a film about excess. The Leonardo di Caprio lead character of Jordan Belfort leads us through boiler room scams making money initially from penny shares.

When I say excess, everything in the whole movie is writ large. There's expletives beyond count, partying that would fit well into scenes from those hangover movies, snow drifts of cocaine and bottles of the last Quaaludes left on the planet.

The sexual politics are (deliberately?) very dated and I did see a few people walk out of the cinema during the movie. It wouldn't pass the Bechdel test, for sure: many females; mainly love interests; or prostitutes; main roles involve men/sex/child rearing; often not fully clothed. Oh and did I mention the dwarf tossing?

Add noisy rows of leery barrow-boy traders at Stratton Oakmont extracting large sums of money from people ill-equipped to deal with share trading.

Pump and dump the chop stock, as the scam theory goes.

Buy the cheap share illegally, inflate its price, sell it to the ignorant and then sell your own now inflated price shares before the price tumbles. Easy money in the unregulated '80s.

Interestingly, we don't get to see the actual punters, except in the sense that the early recruits to the firm could have all been punters themselves. Tire salesmen*, furniture shop workers. Maybe it needed a postman as well.

The style of the movie remanded me of Goodfellas with lead character Jordan narrating his point of view, sometimes to camera, and even a drug addled scene reminiscent of the helicopter part when Henry Hill is cooking the ziti.

There's a helicopter in this movie too, at one time parked badly by di Caprio and later receiving a Titanic fate. Like everything else in the film, you just know that a boat trip from a glassy sun drenched Portofino to the 200km distant Monaco can only have one type of weather. Excess. Oh yes. 100 foot waves that would do the North Sea proud.

But that's to quibble. And they could always throw a party on the rescue boat.

I enjoyed the film for it's melodramatic portrayal of the excess. There were a few extemporised scenes that ran too long and could have sliced some time from the around 3 hour run time. There wasn't a lot to like about the di Caprio character, whose real-life counterpart makes a small appearance at the end of the movie.

It also illustrated the worrying sales culture trend to extract money from punters at all times. What's the business being bought or sold? Don't know, don't care. Gimme your money. Want to cash in? Don't care. Gimme some more of your money.

Boiler room scams persist to this day. They've just got the internet and ACD (Automatic call dialling) to ramp them up from those early days.

Oh, and the real Jordan Belfort to help get the sales lines right.

Friday, 17 January 2014

siri, samatha, cortana and clippy


Although it was first being discussed several months ago, the new Microsoft equivalent of Siri is getting recent attention. I know the code name was Cortana, but it seems that the implementation is to get that name as well.

It's one of those names that, when googled, can get *ahem* more than one expects. I guess it's because it was also used in that popular game Halo, as the VGH* avatar for the Artificial Intelligence.

Some may have seen that Spike Jonze movie 'Her' about a guy who falls in love with Samantha, his Scarlett Johanssen voiced electronic personal assistant. In the freeze-frame below, that's Samantha in Joaquin Phoenix's shirt pocket.

If you switch the American female voice on in Siri, it'll give 'Samatha' short shrift. I didn't find it works so well with the UK voice, which has more of a male butler's tone.

But I suppose there'll be fun to be had when both Siri and Cortana are available together. Start a conversation with one of them, keep the other one switched on and see what they make of each other. It has to be done

I guess it's all moved on from Clippy the annoying Paperclip.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

wheeler dealers


Thursday and I'm still commuting by cable-car.

I couldn’t help notice the number of wheely bags around. The rumble of the big wheeled silver Rimowa and the skitter of colourful smaller rollers.

Clusters of dark clothed professional people checked out of hotels pulling their bags to their client sites, presumably before heading back to distant homes. It’s another variation on the road traffic move away from busy Friday to busy Thursday.

I suppose Friday has become work from home day, which I makes for wheely Thursday.

For me, as I headed back on the cable-car, Friday would still be another office day.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

gravity


I remember seeing the trailer for Gravity ages before the film came out. All jump cuts like most trailers with hardly a scene lasting more than a second.

Sometimes the trailers are so narrative-rich they there's no need to see the move at all. 'Atonement' was one that I always remember being in that category.

Gravity is different, where the all-action trailer missed the deliberately shaded dynamics in the film.

The opening scene to me is a great case in point, where we adjust our eyes to the dark of space, the earth and little else. Then notice something in transit, which we recognise as having activity around it. Suddenly there's a kind of ground rush effect as it gets bigger and we see the detail. All held on a more or less fixed camera position.

Of course, there's plenty more that happens later in the film, in what is actually a fairly simple 2-hander story or maybe a 3-hander if I count 'Space' as the third person. It's told in a way that gives a real sense of the scale and dynamics of space.

I don't think I'll be orbiting earth any time soon, so this type of movie on a massive screen and with a few 3D flying shapes gives the next best sense.

Yes, even with Gravity's simple story, I found myself being pulled in.

Monday, 13 January 2014

cable-car commuting


It had to be done. The weather is even sunny for it.

Yes, I've managed to find a reason to commute to work by cable car at the moment. It's the Air Line across the River Thames and it fits with my short term needs quite well.

It'll only be for a short time, but it certainly makes a change from the usual trains and cars.

I've used the route in the past, for what I'd describe as sightseeing views across London, so for the moment I will join the very limited number of actual commuters using this under-publicised service.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

ye car parkes of olde England


Saturday, we headed to a different town for some stunt shopping. That's the type where there are particular, but unusual, items in mind.

Not knowing the area, we headed for the car park with the most likely name for a city centre.

This would be a combination of words like 'Gate', 'Abbey', 'Nunnery', 'Market', 'Cross', 'Friary', 'Wall', cardinal points, an old fashioned craft product and maybe the odd 'The'. Friary Wall, Abbey Cross, West Gate, The Lace Market. You get the idea.

We found one and drove in. "No spaces available", it proudly announced outside. Then another sign that said "no lifts working" or something similar. Then a really big sign that said "Pay and display or £80 fine". I was passenger as we drove ever higher around thin little turnings to try to find a space.

Soon enough we reached the upper floors. There were spaces. Another sign explained that the car park was not being maintained to the usual standard.

We descended the seven flights of stairs out into the shopping area's afternoon sunlight. I wondered if the condition of infrastructure was cause or effect of the demise of some central shopping areas?

Friday, 10 January 2014

@bookmerica : Washington State #bookmerica


Drinking coffee around St James before a meeting, I thought of another book for the bookmerica.org project. Yesterday I picked New York State, this time I've gone for Washington State.

Two books again as a starting point.

First up, 'The Financial Lives of the Poets', by Jess Walter, which I read about a month ago.

This isn't explicitly set in Washington State, and is a kind of 'Anywhere, USA' suburban tale.

The smart money says it's based in the author's hometown of Spokane, WA, and that's my excuse for including it here.

It's the tale of a middle-aged man who gets fired, is being foreclosed on his house (his wife doesn't know) and stumbles into a little pot-dealing after meeting some slackers in a 7/11 store. His wife is having an affair with the man from the DIY store.

Matt Prior was a newspaper reporter, who now narrates this story of our time as the forces of economic collapse, digital replacements and fast food see him living on the edge of ruin. His misadventures receive police attention, but even that doesn't go smoothly.

If it sounds bleak, its actually quite funny, treading along the edge of a crumbling America, with characters exhibiting both dumb moves and survivalist instincts whilst trapped in a suburban middle class bubble.

One to read to get a slightly nutty sense of mainly white suburban anywhere in troubled times.

My second Washington State book is Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland.

I first read this back in 1995, and recently found my original loaned-out hardback copy for a reprise. It still had the bookmark price ticket in it.

There's a familiarity because I've visited Microsoft's Redmond campuses a few times, spent time in the neighbourhood and lived out of hotels in Belleview and Kirkland, which feature in the story.

It's narrated in the form of a Apple Powerbook diary by Dan Underwood. He's a computer programmer for Microsoft, and it tells how he lives with a bunch of other developers around Seattle. There's plenty of references to a recognisable Microsoft, and their offbeat '90s lifestyle.

It has plenty of colour such as the flat food to be passed under doors into the coding rooms, the jargon of vesting shares and dozens of wearably quotable lines:
"I say ‘Uhmm...’ a lot. I mentioned this to Karla and she says it’s a CPU word. It means you’re assembling data in your head - spooling.”

“Beware of the corporate invasion of private memory.”

“Happy. And then I got afraid that it would vanish as quickly as it came. That it was accidental-- that I didn't deserve it. It's like this very, very nice car crash that never ends.”

“...most guys have about 73 calories of shopping energy, and once these calories are gone, they're gone for the day - if not the week - and can't be regenerated simply by having an Orange Julius at the Food Fair.”

The second half of the book sees the gang branch out into a start-up company, ahead of the dot bomb. They move off to Silicon Valley and here the tale is around Sand Hills Road and San Jose, where they illustrate a kind of beta test of parts of the world we all live in, now, in the early 21st Century.

If I could choose just one of them to put into the bookmerica machine, it'll have to be the Coupland. I've loved most of Coupland's books anyway. Girlfriend in a coma is another bittersweet favourite.

As Coupland is saying: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

@bookmerica : traintime = booktime #bookmerica


My book reading can be extremely variable, depending upon what else I'm doing. At the moment I've been commuting again, which means Kindle time on main line trains as well as the tube.

I've just read a couple of books about New York, and thought I could link one of them into a project that fellow blogger Hannah has just started, which is called Bookmerica.org. It's all about creating a crowdsourced American State based reading list.

The first of the books I could consider is Triburbia, by Karl Taro Greenfeld

It's formatted as a novel, but is really a set of stories set in a posh bit of New York. Last year I read John Lancaster’s Capital, which was about a gentrified street in London where the properties had whizzed up in value and the stories were of a kind of interlinking of the characters inhabiting adjacent houses.

This turns out to be a similar idea, set in around Tribeca in Manhattan, with characters with suitably artsy creative jobs - sound engineers, artists, photographers and the like. And a gangster type.

The fellas all meet together for occasional coffee after dropping off kids for school and there’s interweaving between incident of their lives, which are more like a set of individual tales with some overlaps.

I’ve wandered around Tribeca and can recognise they there would be well-heeled people inhabiting the area's gentrified blocks. Maybe like parts of Islington or Notting Hill?

The story telling is pleasant enough, but I didn’t really warm to the characters or their predicaments. I suppose the idea was to paint pictures of the privileged nouveau artisans of the area, seen through the mainly 30-40 year old male perspective.

I didn't really have enough empathy for the characters, and found it to be a little like a soap, rather than fully holding my attention.

I guess it's one to read to enjoy intrigues of urban high-income 30-somethings, inhabiting a privileged lifestyle in a busy part of Manhattan. Possible, but not ideal, for bookmerica?

By comparison, I've just been reading The Deep Whatsis, by Peter Mattei. Note the cover doesn't have a title on it.

Also set in Manhatten, this one was much more fun*, giving a first person perspective of a high-flyer Chief Ideas Officer for an advertising company.

Massively paid, ruthless, cynical, downsizing his department as a sport, the anti-hero is also losing grip on his life. There's an inevitability to his mishaps with the Intern, the high end New York bars and bistros that he inhabits, the effects of over indulgence and the sociopathic voice that continues to drive him.

There's other stories that deal with some of the themes, including the movie 'In the Air' with Clooney, but the voice of the protagonist in this story keeps the attention as he slides obliviously from one horrible incident to another.

One to read to recognise some of the excesses of corporate mayhem, with a morally bankrupt lead character who manages to get worse as the story progresses. One I'll probably re-read - and have decided to suggest to bookmerica.

* and a bit rude

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

lucy visits a cloud


An emailshot today that created a mild puzzle was the one from iTunes advertising the 'new' release of the Beatles back-catalogue, from the USA.

For a mere £89.99, I could click to order a dozen of the Beatle US releases, to be downloaded to iTunes.

That's where it seems odd. There'd be a little picture of the cover art from the original US recording, with both the mono and stereo versions of each track.

If, like many Brits, I've already got the UK versions of a reasonable number of the tracks, why would I want the American versions? I could understand it if there was some kind of collectable element (like the original gatefold covers, or the extensive artwork of the Magical Mystery Tour), but otherwise it amounts to little more than a playlist re-organisation of the UK versions.

Although, I notice that on iTunes at the moment, all of the UK versions are priced at £10.99.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

fifteen months, and what do you get...


Strange what goes through one's mind sometimes. I was standing on the tube today reading the Standard when the old cowboy song '16 tons' came into my head. I amused myself adapting it.

People say pol-i-tics is made 'a hot air.
Poli-ti-cians words seem that they don't care.
They don't care as long as they get on
Position for elections with expenses that's strong.

You got fifteen months, what do you get?
Every day older and deeper in debt.
Cameron don't call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to Osborne and Co.

Wake up every mornin' at the break of day.
Pick up my iPhone, off into the fray.
I load sixteen gig of Windows eight files
But the smug man says "I'll soon wipe that smile"

Take fifteen billion, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Politicians don't call me 'cause I can't go
All my money's in the government sto'.

I woke up one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Scrimp and save are my middle name
Payin' to the government, fistfuls of what I'd earn
But the government will lose it and I'll never learn

Take twenty billion, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Bankers don't call me 'cause I can't go
You shipped all the money to the haven off-sho'

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men tried
One fist of printed dollars, the other T-bill.
If the quantitive don't get you
Then the easing will.

Take 25 billion, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Politicians don't call me 'cause I can't go
We owe all the money to the politicians' sto'.


I know, it needs more work. I got to my stop. And apologies to Ernie Ford.

Monday, 6 January 2014

timeless


One of those strange nights.

I'm back to a more normal routine this week and decided to have an early night to sort of 'reset' myself.

It didn't work.

Curiously, I woke up at what I thought would be near morning to discover it was only 00:55.

Often I wouldn't be in bed until that type of time, so this was something strange.

Then I woke up again at about 03:55.

Not a big deal, but I flipped to listen to the radio, which a few minutes later did the pips for 04:00. Except it was on BBC World Service and so it didn't say the time at all.

Apparently because the World Service is available everywhere means the time can't be stated. Surely a little bit bonkers?

They've started not stating the time for programmes in the schedule too. They just say the programmes are 'on today'. Kind of Dali's 'Persistence of Memory' based scheduling.

I'm sure it didn't used to be like that. I seem to remember times in GMT because I'd have to mentally adjust that it was one hour later during the summer. I think they also used to say things like 'It's 7am in Moscow and 5am in Paris' as well.

Still. Darkness and rain when the alarm finally peeped.

Welcome to the normal form of January.

Timeless.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Lilyhammer


When I worked in Norway, the seasons were very definite, compared with the UK. In the summer months there was an outdoor cafe life and in the winter there was reliable snow.

With that in mind, I've been watching the heavily advertised Lilyhammer series. It uses the premise of Steven Van Zandt playing a Soprano-style gangster moving to Lillehammer, Norway on witness protection and the various scrapes that ensure.

Early snowy episodes include a singing policeman, who plays a kind of Norwegian Elvis. It reminded me of a gig I attended in Stavanger, where a Police band called 'Strong arm of the law' played a rock set.

A curious parallel perhaps, but the series is full of observations about differences between US and Nordic sensibilities. Although made in Norway, the American point of view seems to prevail in many of the outcomes (i.e. the ex-mobster generally wins).

Turn the tables when the Elvis cop character visits New York and offers the local detective a donut, but is told 'Sorry I'm on a low cholesterol diet'.

I've watched the whole series 1 now, suspending my disbelief through the dozens of helpful co-incidences that get the hero started on the new lifestyle, which allows him to create a new Lillehammer bar, The Flamingo, which looks remarkably like Silvio Dante's club in the Sopranos.

The series gets American screening too, although I wonder how the spoken Norwegian with American sub-titles will go down? It's clearly a hit show in Norway as evidenced by van Zandt's appearance on chat show Ylvis.

I'll watch series 2, it's already all up on Netflix.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

dancing through the days


Usually, December sails along at a fair rate of knots but then after the New Year arrives, the January anchor is thrown overboard preceding a rather slow drift through the month. Not so this year, when I'm already mildly obsessing about whether the indoor tree lights will be down before twelfth night.

I've dismantled the front garden lights today, braving sleety rain and they are now tucked away in the garage for another year.

The speed effect has also affected my blog writing, where I've noticed several incomplete draft entries that will now not now see light of day.

I was going to write about the over-reaction from certain quarters to PJ Harvey's guest editing of the Today Show a couple of days ago. I usually hear the Today show - often only the first half because of schedules. The prior special editions last week were guest-curated by a Barclays banker, the ex head of SI5 and Oxford Python and traveller Michael Palin, with nary a peep from the listeners.

Musician writer PJ Harvey dared to take a slightly less middle road with some controversial inserts whilst discussing ways to challenge power.

I thought it appropriate; it wasn't all about agreeing with the content, more that it created a dynamic basis for thought and debate. I'd place the programme more as an obvious opinion piece rather than fact-driven, but it did shift the approach from the normal format in a provocative way. I don't think it gave answers, but that's another discussion - but one that will be quietly buried, probably.

The Torygraph, Fail and Stannit were quick to use it as a reason to challenge the ongoing role of the BBC and leftishness in general. Usually British politics is about the fight for the presentable middle. Whichever part of the Bullingdon/Eton/Westminster/Oxbridge set are in play will use the middle to help hold their position.

The recent discussions about 11% pay rises for politicians are a case in point. A red herring when most of them are quite well off, thank you very much.

Picking at random, using published figures, defence man Philip Hammond's worth is supposedly around £5m, cyclist party leader Cameron £3.2m + legacies, Labour leader Ed Miliband cagily hides his worth assumed to be north of £2m, wallpaper magnate and chancellor Osborne's at £4.5m, health supervisor Jeremy Hunt around £4.5m.

That's all before any post-political directorships and special advisor roles. Of course that doesn't always work out. Ex MP Michael Mates tried to get one of those police commissioner roles by moving from his ongoing family home in Chichester into rented rooms in Winchester just before the relevant election. Turns out he didn't win, but I'm not sure if that's enough reason to let it drop?

I know there will be MPs without 'other interests', but there's an awful lot with the prime indicator of second homes. 340 of the MPs claim their entirely legitimate energy bills for their second homes on expenses, as a quick example.

The discussions by the likes of Polly J and recently Russell Brand can be flags about a situation rather than providing answers. We enter 2014 with a still broken economy. The UK doesn't print as much quantitive easing money as the Americans, but UK is still sitting on all kinds of hidden debts, underemployment and crashed pension plans.

The stats appear to show improvements, but if one applies the reasonableness tests, it doesn't quite feel right.

Sometimes there's a need for a more useful challenge to status quo, which has to go beyond trying to put a quote into a politicians mouth suitable for a rolling news feed.

So I'm all for a bit of thought provocation from some non-politicians as a way to try to see past the usual moves.

Friday, 3 January 2014

FaceTime picture scrambler


It's many years since the use of personalised video calls started. I had one of those cameras to clip onto a PC before they became embedded in the screens of devices.

It was still mainly an occasional thing to go for a proper video conference though. Usually it would be something important like a major review, or something involving lots of countries, although even then there could be problems with sound out of sync or a mis-dialled office.

Nowadays we all have FaceTime, Lync, Skype and similar facilities. It's made it ubiquitous, although my experience is still that people mainly use telephone conference calls and maybe a shared workspace for some powerpoint or screen control.

I guess it's partly that adding the faces in non-studio conditions can sometimes create unexpected looks.

Challenges include loss of eye-line, big shadows and the unflattering low angles. My inner photographer always want to adjust the image presented.

There's also the dilemma of early morning calls on FaceTime. Will the other person be 'prepared' or is it all going to go a little bit strange? I'm inventing a special screen saver for that purpose.

One that looks as if there is something wrong with the connection, but where the sound still works.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

press reset


All kinds of counts are reset to zero for the start of the new year, so I thought I'd cross check my bicycle stats. I've added all of the monthly running totals into a simple table and then compared the last two years.

My original target for each week was 40 miles and for a month was 160 miles, so I'm quite a way ahead of that. My baseline annual target was therefore 1,600 miles. I set braze, slier and gold targets on top at 2000, 3000 and 4000 miles to make it more interesting. Both of the last two years I've done well to pass the targets and this year the 6200 miles seems pretty good.

It's like the salesman problem though, where the targets get harder year on year, and I've not sandbagged any mileage to start the next year, so it could be difficult to increase any further than last time around.

After last evening's bash and a somewhat late start, I've managed to get in a few miles today, but I guess I'll have to ease myself back in after what feels like a quieter period around the festive season.

I've also been told about that dryathalon thing for January, and may well have a go at that as well.

So far, so good, as they say.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

elemental start


2014, eh?

By now it's morning and we're rearranging ourselves from last night's various shindigs.

We've already decided that today needs to be a slow one, although I think I've made the coffee a bit too strong.

The rain abated around midnight for the fireworks, but has returned today; one of the crackers had a question about the commonest element. I think we can safely say hydrogen.

Although, after the last few days of celebrations, I'm beginning to wonder if the most common element ought to be cake.