Monday, July 30, 2007

Meme Too - Eight Random Facts about Stan

Thanks Cru for "tagging" me - I couldn't think of anything to blog about anyway, so let's do the random facts meme you've challenged me with.

As I understand it, the idea is to give 8 "random" (oh, I hate the inaccurate use of that word) facts about myself, and to tag 8 other bloggers to do the same.

Try these :

(1) I can juggle and play the trombone. But not both at once.

(2) My degree was in Pure Mathematics - I was a big fan of Abstract Algebras and did a paper on the life and works of √Čvariste Galois.

(3) I speak a bunch of languages, but my accent is terrible in all of them. I cannot roll my "ars" (sic). A whole cake shop full of French people recently laughed their butts off at my attempt at saying "tarte au poire".

(4) My sense of direction and my handwriting are woeful. Thank heavens someone invented Satellite Navigation and Word Processing.

(5) I proposed to Mrs Stan 3 days after we first went out. We met at John Brown Engineering in Clydebank, which is about the last place you'd expect to find romance. On our first date we went to see the Bolshoi Opera in Glasgow. The next day my head was so mixed up with unfamiliar intense feelings that I had to go home sick.

(6) I'm a Certified Accountant and an Oracle Certified Database Administrator. I won an award for the best use of Data Warehouse technology in the World in 2005. Mrs Stan and I had to go to Disneyworld in Orlando to collect it. Stanetta had to stay at home. One day, she may forgive us.

(7) Recently, I was rapidly losing weight after realising that 100kg is a suitable weight for nearly two people my height. However in the last few weeks, it seems I've done something to my vertebrae and haven't been able to exercise. I wish I could avoid cakes with the same skill I've recently applied to avoiding scales. I wish I enjoyed swimming as much as I enjoy running (but I don't).

(8) My favourite snack is a crisps on white bread sandwich with salad cream. Mrs Stan would rather I ate baked sweet-potato wedges on granary with low-fat mayo, but it really isn't the same.

I really don't keep up with that many blogs, so I'm afraid I can't pass this onto 8 other bloggers, but I'd be genuinely interested to see Stanetta, Kenny and Arctic Fox's attempts.

Kenny : see if you can tag Bryony Gordon - I think it would be a hoot if we are the two-degrees-of-separation between Cruella and Bryony !

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tony Soprano is a Wimp

I hate Westerns. It's just not a format I care for. To me it's the American version of the Arthurian legends - with chivalrous knights doing battle for the hand of fair maidens, or riding around doing-what-a-man-gotta-do, which usually involves shooting someone neatly and bloodlessless for Honour, Country or Machismo.

There are only two exceptions that come to mind .

"High Noon" is a complex, multi-layered piece of drama that could easily have been written by Shakespeare, and Gary Cooper's performance is a reminder that acting can be an Art and a Craft.

"McCabe and Mrs Miller" could not be more different, but is every bit as fabulous. Robert Altman's plausibly grim and literally dark tragedy with more mud and drugs than Glastonbury, and Leonard Cohen's definitive soundtrack of melancholy in a minor key.

Deadwood owes really quite a lot to this latter film. I don't think anyone would have commissioned such an expensive anti-Western without Altman's pioneering work of a generation ago.

For those who missed it (and I was one of them) "Deadwood" is HBO's drama based in the real gold-rush town of Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s. The statistic that 90% of women living in Deadwood in 1876 were prostitutes should tell you kind of place it was. Muddy, Mucky and Masculine.

There's a lot of cussing in Deadwood - which is totally justified, because everyone's lives really suck. There's disease and violence and hardly any medicine and too much drink and pox-ridden whores and no law. No soft toilet-paper either.

I don't intend to describe it in detail - check out HBO's website or just rent the boxset and watch it in one sitting, like eating a whole box of chocolates. But here's why I love it :-

* The good sheriff, who is fully capable of being genuinely bad in a good cause.

* The evil bar-owner, who is fully capable of being genuinely good.

* The relationship between the bar-owner and his chief prostitute. Not sure if it's sadomasochism or domestic violence, but it's disturbing and complex and I'm dying to see how it works out.

* The massive range of other characters and well-crafted storylines that build a genuine atmosphere and drags you into this so-different world.

Deadwood was one of those series that I could lose myself in. It did sag a little in the middle, but overall it's comparable in quality to HBO's best-known hit, "The Sopranos".

In fact (and I can't believe I'm saying this about a Western) it's better than "The Sopranos". Deeper, darker, bloodier, muddier and scarier. Tony Soprano wouldn't have lasted five minutes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Master

Mrs Stan and I went down to London for a few days. Not difficult to decide what Show we were going to see - John Simm in "Elling".

After producing the two best performances on TV this year (Sam Tyler in "Life on Mars" and The Master in "Doctor Who"), I couldn't resist seeing him attempt a mad Norwegian mummy's-boy on the stage.

I was certainly not disappointed - a totally believable portrayal - an extraordinary physical performance. The scale of his achievement was not fully apparent until he came back for the ovation. Although he had not changed costume or removed makeup, he was totally transformed from the awkward misfit he had been for the previous two hours. He seemed at least a foot taller and 100 IQ points smarter. Quite some trick.

I'm between jobs at the moment, and I've been gloriously wasting my time watching DVD box-sets - expect my reviews of "Huff" and "Deadwood" sometime soon. Especially "Deadwood" - quite teh most immersive experience I've had for a while.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The 3:30 at Chepstow

I'm in the middle of my own pity party. Attendees? Me.

My legs don't work so I can't get the 60 miles to work. Wheel-chaired for two weeks, stick for more etc. etc. Cracked open head from said crap legs giving way -- Lordy. Bad enough that I haven't been sent any work to do remotely so my brain does not implode with daytime TV. The only upside to daytime TV is Countdown's Suzie Dent. She has the most beautiful smile.

My internet connection is down (my own company provides it) and I cannot figure out what the hell is wrong. We had a lightning strike a couple of weeks ago and yet, despite getting two new routers, I have not managed to fix the damned thing. Lucky for me some muppet around here has absolutely zero security on their wireless access so I suppose that is one thing that is vaguely good.

I'm infested with flying ants that are driving me nuts.

And just as I'm thinking it could not possibly get any worse, I get a law-suit filed against me for £16000 by my ex-wife. We've been apart for 10 years now -- how that logic works, I will never know.

Anyway, pull up a chair, a smoke and a brandy and let Uncle Kenny make you wish you were having needles poked in your eyes.

The world really is a beautiful place.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Not Cricket, But So What

I can't believe I got to the age of 40 before seeing my very first game of Diamond Cricket.

Take two large teams of children - set out four wickets in a diamond - give four of the kids plastic cricket bats, and then put a teacher in the middle to bowl or throw a plastic ball at whatever wicket (or child) they feel like.

Total mayhem on a scale that makes 20/20 Cricket seem pedestrian. Would definitely pay to see it played at Test level by the England and West Indies Under 12s.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Suit, One Geek, One Girl

I've been in the position of needing to buy a lot of IT services and equipment over the years, and I've had a lot of visits from vendor pre-sales teams.

It's uncanny the number of times you get a team of three (the number you can comfortably fit in a Mondeo with luggage on a long journey?):-

* A Suit - a usually older, smiling man/woman in a tailored suit/trouser-suit wearing an expensive watch/dangly jewellry. His/her sole purpose is to spout empty weasel words ('Total Cost of Ownership', 'Synergy', 'Speed to Market'). He/she's usually the one with the Gold Amex, so good for some food and plenty drink at least, so not a total waste of space..

* A Geek - Lost-in-space tech-head with an IQ of 190, who knows the product inside-out and back-to-front. Plus he actually knows how to work the projector. I say "he" because they are almost always male.

* A Girl - Young, smiling, helpful. Often looks good in a skirt. In a small vendor company, the girl can also double as the Suit or the Geek. But I swear, in a large number of cases, the Girl was there purely to look good in a skirt. She had neither technical prowess nor weasel smarminess. Why was she there ? Why not send me a spare geek ?

Here's my question : do IT companies use attractive girls to sell product to mostly male decision-makers ? It's hard to imagine that the same techniques used to sell cars at a motorshow or lager at a Grand Prix could really work with accounting software, but maybe I'm totally naive. Or a sexist throwback - my mind is totally open on the subject.

Personally, I'd want three geeks every time - but how typical am I ?

For the record, I've worked in IT for and with women of awesome intellect and charisma, whos laptop power cables I was not fit to carry. Sending women of that calibre I wouldn't have an issue with. But why send me girls ?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I'm only girly over at Stan's

I've just had radio 4 on for the lunchtime news. It was sickening. Yeah, there are wars going on all over the place where people die, but there was one story that literally turned my stomach. Some bloke in Lincolnshire murdered his own parents.

I heard this literally ten minutes after I had been on Cruella's blog and followed her link to the blog about ECT (I am too lazy to put in the links, but Cruella is linked from here and her post points you to the post about ECT). I'm more liberal than Stan would believe and was outraged about the ECT stats; I seriously cannot get my head around that at all. I left a comment. And then I listened to the news. Good God. Talk about a recalibration? If you are that sick in the head that you can murder your own parents, what we need is a blunt instrument inserted into the temple and wiggled laterally -- that is your classic labotomy.

The lady who wrote about women being three times more likely to be subject to ECT has a very definite point. I know equal amounts of women and men. Thankfully, as far as I know, they are both equally sensitive to others and there is no pathos. It's a well believed theory that men have less sensitivity but, to be honest, that is utter rubbish. We're human and we feel just as much as women do; in some cases more. So for women to be three times more likely to be subject to electric shock treatment, it's utter madness and I can understand completely why the lady in question raised the issue. It is absolutely unacceptable to fry people for being a particular gender. Yes -- hang the bastards who would blow us all into smithereens, but please, if a woman is suffering from post-natal depression, have the decency to let her get on with it and get over it. Sending a few volts through her (and yes, I know, it's not the volts, it's the amps) is not going to help her or her child in any way, shape or form.

I think I'm falling in love with Cruella -- she's always dead-on. Like Bryony Gordon from the Telegraph, I have never once disagreed with a word she has written. Maybe I'm sexist for listening to women more than men. All that would prove is that Cruella is right and that women do think deeper than men. Or it could be that I'm smitten by the opposite sex and fascinated with their thoughts.

Whatever. Follow the Cruella link and read it; it's horrific. My obsessions are not of real import.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vast vision must improve our sight

My favourite photo is Nasa's "Hubble Deep Field".

In 1996, the space-telescope (how cool a concept is that BTW.) was aimed at an "empty" bit of the sky and left on a long exposure. Even seasoned astronomers were knocked out by the sheer richness of what was revealed - called by some the "Galaxy Zoo". Some galaxies look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period "only" a few hundred million years after its creation when the universe more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge.


There was an updated picture in 2004 , the so called "Hubble Ultra-Deep Field".


This was in many ways a more ambitious picture and technically more advanced, but to me it didn't have the shock value of the original. I can almost imagine the scientists' boggled-eyed amazement when they saw the first pictures coming through.

Like Douglas Adams said, "Space is big" - sometimes you forget just how big. Do please click on these images and then run through your current set of problems. I guarantee you will discard half of them as being too small to worry about.

Not moved by the sight of 10,000 galaxies ? Check your pulse - I think you are dead and just haven't stopped moving yet.


I have been helping out on the online Galaxy Zoo project. The idea is that the human eye is better at identifying whether a smudgy galaxy is elliptical or spiral and if a spiral, which way the spiral arms are rotating. Using a network of space geeks (guilty ..) who are willing to work for free, they are cataloguing galaxies, looking for patterns. It takes about 10 minutes to work through their on-line tutorial and then you're a fully-operational galaxy-sorter. Loved the idea that I could probe the limits of the known-universe from the comfort of my Travelodge room, wearing pants (no picture available).

Incidentally if you search Google News for "Galaxy" on Google news at the moment, most of what you get is an ageing trick-shot specialist called Beckham and his bimbo wife making millions in California. Give me the Universe any day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hmmm

As is probably well known, I work in IT. I'm about the most security minded individual on the planet. If it ain't over SSL or 128-bit encrypted, none of my personal details are entered. How is it, then, that someone has managed to spend £2000 of my money? As I said on my own blog, if it had been over a lost weekend of alcoholic blur, I would probably take it on the chin. The fact of the matter is that it was all done when I was in hospital so had no access to the internet at all, and would not have been able to type anyway thanks to the substantial quantities of valium I was subjected to.

The telling trait is that is all spent in Euros. I spend in pounds sterling and dollars only. Call me an infidel, but I do not believe in the Euro. That and the fact that I could not possibly have bought four items from a company I have never heard of in bloody Euros when I was parallel to the floor in a hospital bed, sedated to my hilt. For God's sake, I couldn't even remember whether my cousin had visited me so I doubt I would have found a computer, logged on to t'interweb and spent £2000 on anything. If I had, I would expect cruise tickets today and a fantastic holiday. Unfortunately, I suspect I am not that bright when I'm sick, so I've been electronically mugged.

Thankfully the bank have been brilliant. They'll have it sorted in days. They watch spending patterns and me buying something in Euros raised their eyebrows once I pointed it out. I send dollars to the US, occasionally buy things in dollars, but the rest is all sterling. I have never once used Euros, so they agreed with me straight away. Lloyds my peeps, Lloyds. Their customer service is second to none. Within three days, I'll have a new card and all the fraudulent spending refunded to my account. That is service.

All I can do is advise what I always do, which obviously isn't enough. Make sure you only order over SSL (https) and make sure it's 128-bit encryption. God knows how whomever managed to get my details (maybe I should not have taken my wallet into hospital with me), but I will track the swines down -- even if the bank can't.

Stan? Opinions? Help?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Blogger made good

Congratulations to blogger Guido Fawkes for getting into The Guardian's "Media Top 100" list at number 81. Doesn't sound like much until you consider Chris Evan is at 82 and Andrew Neil is at 85.

Despite being rather to the right of er.. everyone, he has a wonderful way with words and the same kind of sources that makes The Drudge Report/ such a formidable player in American politics. Pity he's wasting so much effort trying to get the funny, clever but terminally dishonest and inept Boris Johnson to run for London mayor. I do hope Boris realises how unlikely his election would be and save his energy for his TV and Newspaper careers.

Fawkes has his critics, but as far as I can tell they accuse him of being opinionated and publicity-hungry. You'd have to lock up everyone with a blogger.com account if these ever became crimes.

Stan predicts Guido to be in the top 50 next year - and at least one other blogger to join him.

For the record I have no ambitions in that direction myself. I blog as occupational therapy - I would weave baskets, but I am allergic to raffia.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

NHless

I've done enough moaning about my own health on my own blog so I'll cease and desist.

What I am annoyed about is the imbecility that is the doctoral register here. We have perfectly brilliantly qualified doctors who are falling foul of a daft online application system. The mainstream media have been, quite rightly, all over this one.

To be honest, I started off being unphased as it's about as ridiculous as corporate Britain. But recently (or to be more accurate, imminently) it has hit me. My GP is a locum and is about to have to go, and she has no job to go to.

Since my return from the US, I've been through a few GPs as I've moved around. Believe me, the locum girl who leaves at the end of the month is by far the best GP I have ever had. The thought of her not having a job leaves my jaw dropped. How can we train such talented people, let them run up massive student debts and then drop them like hot potatoes? I have always found it hard to relate to medical people, but this girl is such a natural and brighter than a flare. I cannot comprehend how we waste such skills. I don't care whether she would get paid over the odds -- I'll quite happily pay taxes towards that. In fact, increase National Insurance if that is what it takes.

My first GP surgery when I came back from the US was a husband and wife team. The bloke knew what he was doing; his wife was about as medically au fait as me so I just ignored her...a bit arrogant but you'd have done the same thing.

My second was in Leeds and he needed medication himself. I'd have given him lithium in industrial quantities. He was a nice guy, but kind of thick. His website was enough to send epileptics into A&E.

I've now fernagled my way into the best practice in this area, with the best GP I have ever known. And thanks to some bloody civil servant, she's off. I know she would be eventually because she is way too bright to be a GP (she'll be a consultant within a couple of years), but hell, I will miss her. She speaks English, not Medicalese (even though I can speak that) and she actually gives a rat's arse about her patients -- strange in this day and age.

I've written to the head of the practice to make a play for her to be retained. I am currently thinking about what I can write to my local MP that may influence future legislature -- it cannot be right for us to import doctors when our best universities produce such prodigious talent. I wonder how much of this is sexist? Stan will not believe me coming up with a conspiracy theory given my Telegraph-reading ways, but I honestly think that female doctors are discriminated against. The male ego kicks in, and the fact that women are more more people-friendly than men means there is a threat, so they're ignored. Go to the GMC website and and look through the registered doctors; from my casual analysis, only about a quarter are female. And do not tell me that there's only a quarter of females who are as bright as blokes...if you do I will prove this is not true by breaking your nose and altering the stats just a little.

My ex-wife was a do-goody two-shoes and she meant well, but she applied different rules to work than home. I still have the scars to prove it. I have no objection at all to equality of the sexes -- anyone who reads my blog will know that -- but I do object to discrimination in any form. Which is kind of contradictory really -- I want my doctor to have a job (preferably one that involves me being one of her patients), but I don't want to discriminate against equally well qualified foreign doctors.

I guess seeing that one of my local MPs is the Health Secretary, I can write to him and explain my concerns. And Dr T, go nowhere; you're an integral part of "keep Kenny alive" at the moment and just the smile on your face is worth a full regime of antibiotics.

Sorry Stan -- went off on one there.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Manchester Monkey Magic

"Imagine The Lord Of The Rings being done by the Chinese State Circus in the style of House Of Flying Daggers, and you are some way towards understanding the appeal of Monkey."
I went to Monkey: Journey to the West at the Manchester International Festival, and haven't been able to come up with a better description than the quote above from Kitty Empire's review in "The Observer".

The story is familiar to those of my age-group who watched "Monkey !" on TV in the 1970s. A spoiled-brat monkey takes on heaven, loses (of course) and seeks redemption through good works (body-guarding a cross-dressing monk on a holy mission). It's not compulsory to follow the story however, which is just as well, because the sub-titles at the theatre were set to "Random Fortune Cookie" mode, and you never knew who was saying what, or why (unless you had a smattering of Mandarin).

Damon Albarn's music was amazing. Mrs Stan thought she caught some influence from Messiaen, some bits I thought were like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" and there were undoubtedly some classic Gorillaz-style basslines. It was hardly catchy, but it had the whiff of authenticity and was a perfect accompaniment to ninety minutes of extraordinary dance, gymnastics and martial arts on a breathtaking scale. Even Stanetta - who was sleep-deprived after a girlie sleep-over party - gave it fullmarks and stayed awake throughout, before coming home and sleeping 14 hours straight.

And cartoons of course - funny, wild animation from Jamie Hewlett, who worked with Albarn on Gorillaz. I'm ashamed to say I bought three miserly £7.50 back-seat stall seats for the family, and we could only see the bottom half of the screen.

But - £7.50 !! You pay double that for a cinema ticket in London West End. You pay five times that for a half-price on-the-day ticket for whatever Abba-Tribute musical is on in WC1. You pay ten-times that for Covent Garden opera, and that's where the true comparison is to be made. This, as Damon Albarn himself points out, was "proper opera".

Except it was full of families and ordinary people in casual clothes having a good time.

You don't get any of that at a Covent Garden opera.