Posts tagged "mumblings"

Re-visiting poetry

mumblings

It’s interesting how your perspective on things shifts as you get older.

A little while after Valentine’s Day this year, I remembered an experience (many years ago) when I came across a poem while browsing in a bookshop, just after Valentine’s Day. I had just endured a very painful and messy break-up of a relationship, and my bookshop meandering was an attempt to distract myself for a while. I picked up a book of poetry at random (Michèle Roberts’ collection ‘All the selves I was’), and opened a page at random. Bam.

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Keeping track of the day

mumblings

It can be difficult to keep a grip on time passing, particularly when you are working and living in the same place with little opportunity to travel to other places, and little variation in the pattern of your days and weeks. A few weeks ago, I discovered the ‘Solar Dial’ watch face on Apple Watch. I don’t know if it is new for WatchOS 7, or if it was there all the time and I hadn’t found it, but I really like it.

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Confessions of a reluctant exerciser

life mumblings

I’ve never been an enthusiastic exerciser, at least not exercising for the sake of it. I’ve always enjoyed walking and cycling, but as a beneficial by-product of going somewhere interesting and enjoying the outdoors. Apart from a brief period of running while I was at Oxford, and practising Tae Kwon Do in my teens, I have never really done an organised exercise program. That wasn’t too much of a problem while I could be active as part of my normal day, but during lockdown, that outlet mostly disappeared. In truth, I had already started to realise that as I was getting older, I needed to get serious about doing more weight-bearing exercises to prevent my muscles from wasting away. Predictably, my plans to do something about that always started tomorrow.

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire

mumblings

I look at you and see
My life that might have been
Your face just ghostly in the smoke
They’re setting fire to the cornfields
As you’re taking me home
The smell of burning fields
Will now mean you and here

[…]

Ooh, the thrill and the hurting
The thrill and the hurting
I know that this will never be mine

[…]

I want you as the dream
Not the reality

— ‘Never Be Mine’ by Kate Bush

Great works of art (of all kinds) have a tendency to make you think, and to encourage your mind to make connections which you might not have thought about before. Yesterday I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire and absolutely loved it. I can’t stop thinking about it and it has made all sorts of interesting links in my mind.

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The joy of the usual route

life mumblings

There’s a kind of quiet joy to be had in walking the same route every day, even when it is forced on you. My daily walk takes me on a roughly 2 mile route, the middle part of which is a circuit around our scrubby local ‘nature reserve’. The sweeping, majestic plains of the Serengeti it is not. It’s a strip of land on either side of a small stream, circled on all sides by housing estates. But it does have wild flowers and some mature trees, and — as all I’ve had in the way of nature during lockdown — I have come to love it.

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Listening for the return of spring

life mumblings

Do you ever experience that thing where an inability to tackle something new and difficult means that you become able to tackle something else which was the previous thing you were unable to deal with? Perhaps that’s just me. I just can’t put my thoughts together about the recent General Election result in the UK yet, but this has somehow unblocked my previous inability to write about how I felt in the early months of this year when I feared that we might never hear birdsong again. So here goes…

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Choosing the right tool

mumblings

This week, I have found myself fixing things, completing jobs that have been languishing for too long in my ‘todo’ pile. In the process, I have been thinking about the importance of choosing the right tool for the job.

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Juggling projects with org-mode

productivity mumblings

It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to realise that I am bad at juggling multiple projects. And when I say ‘bad’, I mean, really bad. My natural mode of working is to focus intensely on a single project at a time. This is unfortunate, because academic life mostly consists of juggling a large number of different projects simultaneously. I love (almost) everything else about academia, and I’m generally good at my job (I think), but I struggle constantly when having to switch between projects. Last year, I read about Shawn Blanc’s 8-week work cycles and was jealous. His ‘monk mode’ sounds like heaven to me. I do what I can with the wiggle room I have to carve out blocks of focused time on particular projects, but I still needed some way to — if you’ll forgive me for extending the juggling metaphor — avoid dropping any balls in the process. Since I’ve been using Emac’s org-mode a lot recently, I decided to see if I could help me.

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Finding serenity

life mumblings

The past few weeks have been somewhat busy and disruptive, with a lot of different projects on the go at work, and renovation work on our bathroom at home. As often happens at times like these, I’ve been daydreaming about calmer, more serene times whenever I’ve had a moment or two to myself. I kept finding my thoughts going back to a particular experience on holiday in Pembrokeshire.

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How to cross the road

travel mumblings
On Thursday, I arrived back from another work trip to Indonesia, this time to the island of Sumatra. The trip itself was amazing (as ever — this is my third trip to Indonesia, and my first to Sumatra), but the travel involved was exhausting. We had multi-leg flights with stops, punctuated by all the getting out of bags of liquids and x-raying of laptops that modern air travel involves. After a while, it was hard to know where we were and what day it was. Continue reading →

Backward looking fashion

sewing mumblings
Finding myself in that rare position of having an unspent book token recently, I was browsing around in a bookshop and picked up 19th-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston. Now, the idea that I would look twice at any book with the word ‘fashion’ in the title would have made me roar with laughter a few years ago, but since I started sewing, I have become fascinated by construction techniques, and with borrowing ideas from previous periods in which different body shapes were celebrated. Continue reading →

Jeans and freedom

sewing mumblings

Morgan jeans - closeup of front

“Can girls wear trousers too?”

I remember it with great clarity. I was about four years old, my Dad holding me up at the window, as we looked out at the street. I had seen a girl, wearing jeans, walking down the street, and the though suddenly struck me for the first time. When my Dad answered that of course girls could wear trousers, it was like the sun coming out. I really wanted to wear trousers, and had no idea that I could. That was the beginning of my love affair with jeans.

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Walking through the past

mumblings life

Panorama from Brandon Hill Park, Bristol

A few weekends ago, Mr. B and I went to Bristol for the day. He had got a print into the Royal West of England Academy’s annual Open Exhibition, and it was the ‘varnishing day’ and preview. The first part was artists only, so after we had enjoyed a lovely late breakfast at Yurt Lush (my favourite yurt-based cafe), he went on to the gallery while I re-acquainted myself with Bristol.

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Pitt Rivers Museum

mumblings

We recently spent a week in Oxford for a family wedding, the first extended period of time we’ve spent there since Mr. Bsag and I moved away nearly 13 years ago. We spent a few wonderful days wandering around Oxford re-visiting favourite old haunts, one of which was the Pitt Rivers Museum. I’ve written about the museum before, but it continues to fascinate and delight me. I also find the collection quite moving. I think the typological display of the collection emphasises the shared humanity of disparate people. There are — of course — many interesting differences between cultures in the objects they make and use, but much more striking are the similarities. All humans make clothes, musical instruments and objects related to their religious practices, whatever the differences in the types of those items. Unfortunately they all also make weapons to kill and injure one another (of which more later). The overwhelming impression you get is that human material culture is driven by our shared needs, beliefs and fears, and that the differences tend to be rather superficial.

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Slipstream and micro.blog

mumblings
I seem to be continually tinkering with different ways to bring together my various bits of activity on other social media platforms (e.g. bookmarks on Pinboard, photos on Flickr, reviews of films on Letterboxd, and so on) into some kind of vaguely coherent stream, somewhere that is under my own control. The last bit of tinkering about 18 months ago resulted in a cobbled together system in which activity on various sites triggered IFTTT recipes, which created formatted text files in my Dropbox, which I could then tweak to post on a Hugo-generated blog. Continue reading →

Blackbird singing at the break of dawn

mumblings
We’ve just got back from another peaceful break in North Norfolk. It has been an incredibly busy start to the year, and I am off on a work trip to Indonesia next weekend, so it was something of an island of tranquillity in a sea of turbulence. Or something like that. As usual, we enjoyed walking (I’ve posted some photos on Flickr), eating some amazing food, and getting the best and most uninterrupted nights of sleep we have had for ages. Continue reading →

No more silence

mumblings

I enjoy quietness. I always have. I like a quiet working environment, and very rarely listen to music when I am focussing. However, for the past year or so, my peace has been broken by an insistent, pulsing, singing, hissing sound.

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On keeping it together

mumblings life

I’ve been trying to marshal my thoughts into some coherence for more than two weeks now, but I think I’ve been gripped by disbelief. I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up, and find that it has all been a horrible, disturbing dream, and that my country isn’t really a chaotic, directionless, leaderless, vicious, fearful, isolationist, xenophobic place. While I’m waiting for that to happen, I should really try to write something about it, and the way that coincidence has made me even more sensitive to the current situation. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even cohesive: it’s just a few of the things that have been circling around in my brain and making it itch over the past few weeks.

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De-cluttering

mumblings life

There’s not much that’s as satisfying as a good old clear-out is there? I don’t mean the kind of organised, mindful, zen-like exercise (like the KonMari Method, which has recently become flavour of the month), but the bin-bags-at-the-ready, frenzied-whirlwind of a clear out. The kind where you accumulate a small mountain in your ‘recycle/take to the tip’ pile, and can be occasionally heard to cry out in anguish, “Why did we ever think we needed TWENTY-SEVEN London Tube maps? Do they breed if left unsupervised?” That kind. I had one of those last weekend, and I am now enjoying the space and ordered efficiency of our spare room, before it inevitably succumbs to entropy, and those tube maps start breeding again.

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New New Street Station

mumblings

Those of you in the UK may have heard that the new, refurbished New Street Station (and the inevitable attached shopping centre) has now opened. It seems to have taken ages. New Street is one of the busiest rail hubs in the country, so there was no way that they could close the station while the work was going on. They managed (and I still don’t quite know how) to completely reconfigure the inside of the station while it was still in constant use. At times over the past couple of years, the experience of moving through New Street station has been a deeply disorientating experience. From one week to the next, corridors would unexpectedly change orientation, exits and entrances would be blocked off or open elsewhere, and spaces would abruptly change shape and size entirely. It felt a bit like being in a really low-budget episode of Doctor Who, only without the Daleks.

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Holiday highlights

mumblings

Last weekend, we got back from a week away in North Norfolk, staying in a gorgeous, tiny cottage in Blakeney. Since then I’ve been frantically catching up with work, to the point where it feels as if I’ve never been away. It was a wonderful holiday, though. Mr. Bsag had spent years trying to get me to go to North Norfolk. I was initially reluctant, as I spent much of my childhood being rather reluctantly dragged to South Norfolk for visits to an aged relative — an experience than inevitably coloured my impression of the whole region. Anyway, a few years ago, Mr. Bsag won his battle for the holiday destination of his choice, and I found that I loved North Norfolk. It will never supplant the Inner Hebrides or areas of Devon or Cornwall in my affections, but Norfolk is a great deal easier to get to from Birmingham. It’s very peaceful, beautiful, has lots of wildlife, and huge skies.

Here are a few of my highlights of the holiday.

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Slipstream renewed

mumblings
Last weekend I finally got around to doing something with my short-form blog, Slipstream. In its last incarnation, Slipstream was running on Kirby, which is a very fine and flexible CMS driven by the filesystem rather than a database. It works well (and there’s a newer version 2 which has some great features), but I was struggling to make it do what I wanted it to do. My intention with Slipstream has always been to have a place where I can both pull together things I’ve posted in other locations (photos, reviews of books and films, snippets of text that I have posted to App. Continue reading →

Skylark

mumblings
It was the perfect day for a walk on the coastal path at Holkham in North Norfolk. The sun was warm, the sky a bright, clear blue, but the air was crisp and fresh and humming with Spring life. As we walked along the dunes backing the beach, closing our eyes occasionally to enjoy the warmth of the sun on our faces, we were stopped in our tracks by the song of a skylark. Continue reading →

Favourite things

mumblings
How can it be 11th January already? I had a very relaxed Christmas and New Year, and recharged the batteries a bit, but apparently I’m still trying to wind myself back up again to normal levels of activity. I think I was really in need of a holiday, because — for most of the time — I slept like a baby and felt much better for getting all the sleep I needed. Continue reading →

A wheel at each corner

mumblings
“Look! It’s a Hillman Imp!"1 We were visiting Hidcote Gardens while on holiday, and I was practically squealing with delight as I spotted the car in the car park. I took a photograph, and had I not been too embarrassed, I would have given the little car a hug as well. I’m really not a car person. Cars are a mode of transport for me, and if they are functioning adequately, I pay them very little attention. Continue reading →

Standing to work

mumblings geek
Like many people whose work is primarily office and computer based, I spend far too much of my day sitting. Not only do I sit at my office desk at work for much of the day (when I’m not lecturing and so on), I sit at the computer for long periods at home too. I work or do my own thing on the computer at the weekends and in the evening, and I often work from home for at least one day a week. Continue reading →

Appreciating Kate

music mumblings
With all the talk about the opening of Kate Bush’s first tour since 1979, I’ve had her music occupying my brain more than usual. I watched a fantastic documentary about her on BBC Four, which included a lot of clips of interviews (given that she gives so few interviews, it was probably most of them) and also performances of her music. Now, I listen to her music a lot. I always have. Continue reading →

Secret history of our streets

mumblings life
I’m just catching up with a series of documentaries about particular streets in different areas of Scotland, called The Secret History of Our Streets. I didn’t realise until I looked up the website just now that this is actually the second series — the first was on streets in London. Having seen two out of three episodes of the second series, I’m really sorry that I missed the first, because it has been fascinating. Continue reading →

Sewing progress

sewing mumblings
A couple of months ago I wrote about my adventures learning to sew. I haven’t been idle since then, and have been busily making more clothes. I’ve learned two things about myself in this process, one of which has surprised me, and the other which has not. The first (unsurprising) thing is that I have found that I’ve loved learning a completely new skill. I like learning things in general (it’s difficult to be an academic if you don’t), but I’ve been hoovering up tips and techniques like it’s going out of style. Continue reading →

Learning to sew

sewing mumblings
I mentioned last month that I was going to start making my own clothes. Most weekends (and some evenings) since then, I have been doing just that. It has been enormous fun, occasionally frustrating, and very rewarding. Here’s what I’ve made — and what I’ve learned — so far. This is pretty long, so if you like, you can skip down to The start, which is naturally at the bottom. Continue reading →

Surfing spring waves

mumblings
My favourite time for cycling to work is in the spring. Everything feels new and fresh. The timing of my commute is such that in spring it coincides neatly with a frenzy of birdsong. I ride on cycle paths through little fragments of nature reserve, parks, and scruffy, forgotten bits of urban wasteland, but in spring it becomes a corridor of song. At times it feels like surfing a wave. The swelling roller of a robin’s song pushes me forward, and just as the wave breaks, it propels me into the neighbour’s territory, and a new song. Continue reading →

Making clothes

mumblings
My hatred for clothes, and the associated shopping for clothes, is well documented. I always avoid the shopping part for as long as possible. Unfortunately, what I laughingly call my current ‘wardrobe’ is now so old that it is starting to wear badly and fall into disrepair. For example, I recently spent most of a working day unaware of the fact that two gigantic holes had worn through the inner thigh of my cord trousers1. Continue reading →

Language and gesture

mumblings
One of the things I enjoy most about the TV series of Inspector Montalbano (apart, that is, from the pleasure of watching Luca Zingaretti) is the dancing hands of the Sicilians as they speak. It’s endlessly fascinating. I spent a summer working in Italy as a PhD student, and one of the things that helped me enormously with my laughably poor Italian was the fact that most people gestured copiously as they talked. Continue reading →

Goodbye 2013

mumblings
Happy New Year, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I’m quite glad to see the back of 2013. The year — particularly the latter half of it — was a pretty trying one Chez Bsag. Quite apart from having some difficult things to deal with, it was definitely the Year When Things Broke. An extraordinary number of things broke, failed or ceased to function, from our central heating boiler, kettle and espresso machine, to me having to have my wedding ring cut off my finger. Continue reading →

Getting things done by letting things go

mumblings gtd
One of the things I find most difficult (in both my personal and professional life) is letting go of projects that I have committed to, but sometimes it can be the best way to make progress, however painful it might be. I’ve had an exceptionally busy Semester at work, and an additional source of worry and stress outside of work has been piling on even more pressure. On top of all that, I had decided to apply for a grant that had a deadline that fell before Christmas. Continue reading →

Flexible hours

mumblings
I’ve been watching Tudor Monastery Farm recently, and have found it just as interesting as the other historical series done by the same team. In episode 3, there was a fascinating bit about some of the earliest mechanical clocks. These were used in monasteries from the 13th Century to regulate the times of monastic offices, and ring a bell to call the monks to prayer at the appropriate times. They needed to have seven offices during the day and one at night, but since the length of the day (and night, correspondingly) changed with the length of daylight over the seasons, this caused a problem. Continue reading →

Library of Birmingham

mumblings photography
In September this year, an enormous new library opened in Birmingham: the Library of Birmingham. I hadn’t yet had a chance to visit, but this Saturday, I decided that since the weather was so lovely, I would make a special trip into the city and have a look around. I went armed with my library card and my camera, and was curious about whether it would feel like a place I would like to visit again, or whether it would be a showy, brash bit of architecture — all style and no substance. Continue reading →

In Transit Between Shells

mumblings
Several years ago, while I was working in New Caledonia, I used to really enjoy watching the tiny hermit crabs moving around on the beach. When they were securely in a shell, they were quite confident as they could just pull themselves inside if threatened. However, those that had outgrown their shells scurried about searching for a new home of the right size as their soft bodies were terribly vulnerable without protection. Continue reading →

Upgrading the facilities

cats mumblings
Last weekend, work on our downstairs toilet finished. There are various parts of our house that we haven’t really touched (other than painting walls) since we moved in about 7 years ago. The kitchen is really in need of being refitted1, and the bathroom could really do with being updated and having an extractor fan fitted2. We really want to get all of these things done in time, but the money required and upheaval involved has been holding us back. Continue reading →

Talking to strangers

mumblings
Just over a week ago, I travelled to Surrey to give an outreach talk about my work. I could have driven, but the timing was rather tight and since the M25 on a Friday afternoon makes any journey time estimates completely moot, I decided to take the train. It’s a slightly complicated journey of a couple of legs, and to get the cheapest ticket I had chosen two single tickets: one going out via Reading and the return coming back via London. Continue reading →

A bit of rest and relaxation

mumblings travel
On Friday, we got back from 5 days away in North Norfolk, staying in a cottage we’ve rented a couple of times before. It seems to have been a rather long summer, and we were more than ready for a break. As much as anything, we wanted some of the peace and quiet that we get in the cottage and the surrounding countryside. I count myself lucky that we have a home at all, but I do wish that our environment was quieter. Continue reading →

Back from the non-foggy Tyne

mumblings travel
It seems like I’ve been away from here for ages, but I’ve just been at an academic conference for about a week. I was also pretty busy with preparation before that, so this weekend I have been mostly relaxing and decompressing a bit. The conference — held in Newcastle upon Tyne — was great, and there were some very interesting talks. But as I’ve written about before, being an introvert makes these kinds of events difficult for me, and I now find myself completely exhausted after 5 days of trying my hardest to be sociable and interactive. Continue reading →

Dear Brain

mumblings
Dear Subconscious Brain, You and I both know that we spend far too much time reading and answering email. So why, pray, have you started making me read and answer imaginary email in my dreams? What really gets my goat is that you make these emails so plausible, so that even when I have woken from the dream, I can’t help fretting about them. The other night you concocted an email from an imaginary student, sent to someone higher up than me, and complaining that I hadn’t dealt with some situation to their satisfaction. Continue reading →

The Way of the Megapode

mumblings
One of my favourite books about natural history is Last Chance to See written by the late Douglas Adams (not actually a biologist) and Mark Carwardine (actually a biologist). Douglas Adams, of course, could write about just about anything and make it both thought-provoking and funny, and in Last Chance to See, he brings an outsider’s eye to the study of the animal kingdom. The book is an account of a number of expeditions the pair made to see critically endangered species, but along with the natural history, it is a hilarious travelogue and a brilliant account of the trials and tribulations of the zoologist. Continue reading →

Regional terms of endearment to strangers

mumblings
The door bell rings and I open it to find that it’s the delivery guy from a courier company. He’s a regular on this route, and happens to be from the Black Country. “Owroight chick?” he says, “Can you sign this for me?” If you’re not used the regional use of ‘chick’ as a friendly greeting by complete strangers, or you’re not a time-traveller recently arrived from the 1960s, it can be a little startling. Continue reading →

Meeting hares by moonlight

mumblings
Last week, we went on holiday for a few days to Norfolk, and stayed in the same cottage that we rented last summer. Our departure was delayed by a day because of the snow, but we made it there eventually. On one evening, we had a wonderful walk to one of the local pubs. One of the things we miss living in our current location is a nice1 local pub that we can walk to. Continue reading →

Caffè Interruptus

mumblings coffee
We’ve just caught up with the latest series of Borgen to be shown on BBC Four. We enjoyed the previous series, but for some reason it took us a long time to catch up with our recordings of the current one. Of course, being a drama about politics, there are many little details in it that you can obsess about, but for some reason the thing I became obsessed with was the espresso making. Continue reading →

Living with an escapologist

cats mumblings
One day last week I was working from home. As often happens at about 3.30 or 4 pm, the cats decided that it was time for their dinner. They start strutting about on the desk, staring pointedly at me from about 5 cm away1, chewing my hair, rolling on my keyboard, and flicking my pens off the desk. As you can imagine, this does not make for a conducive working environment, so at some point I usually crack and go to shut them in downstairs. Continue reading →

Post-Christmas miscellany

mumblings music
I hope that you all had a good break over Christmas and New Year. I spent most of mine1 doing two things: a bit of DIY on the house and listening to music. The DIY was long overdue. There always seems to be immense inertia surrounding making improvements to the house. First you have to decide what materials you need, buy those materials, find or buy the tools you need to do the job, do the job itself and then clear up the resulting mess. Continue reading →

Cyclical

music mumblings
It has been a hard few weeks. Actually, it has been a hard few months. I’m sure you all know the feeling: you are running on the hamster wheel, trying desperately to get ahead of the next deadline. There seems no end to it, just a blur of rungs and the endless loop of turning the wheel. Now that I’ve got out the wheel for a couple of weeks, I feel dizzy and disoriented. Continue reading →

Cat sounds

cats mumblings
As some of you may know, our two cats are Somalis. Somalis aren’t as vocal as, say, Siamese, but they do have a distinctive range of chirrups and trills that are rather unusual. Even among Somalis, Bianca’s vocalisations are — shall we say — unique. I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the bizarre noises that come out of her from time to time. The Meoyawn As the name suggests, this happens when she starts a meow but then gets ambushed by a yawn mid-meow. Continue reading →

Beer tasting

mumblings
The week before last, Mr. Bsag and I went to a great beer tasting session at the Birmingham Beer Festival. It was a guided session1, run by a lovely and very knowledgeable woman. I’ve drunk real ale for quite a while, but I’ve never done an actual tasting before, so it was very interesting. We started by smelling different varieties of hops and also eating malted barley. The barley was really a revelation: I couldn’t believe how much it tastes like beer. Continue reading →

On rabbit holes

mumblings geek
What follows is deeply geeky and probably only of interest to me and about three other people. It’s also a bit of a rant at my own tendency to fiddle. You have been warned! Sometimes you just need to leave things alone. Yesterday I decided that I’d have a go at replacing rvm with rbenv. Both are collections of shell scripts that allow you to manage multiple versions of ruby, which you may need to do if you deal with applications, scripts or APIs that require a specific version. Continue reading →

A curl of the tail

cats mumblings
It’s no secret that I’m a cat lover (or a crazy cat lady, depending upon your point of view). Like any person in thrall to all things feline, I love to watch them in motion. However, there are times when I find myself completely entranced just watching them sitting. They have such an elegant shape. I particularly like it when they sit upright, in a pose I like to think of as the “Goddess Bastet”. Continue reading →

Ten years old today

mumblings
Ten years ago today, I published the first post on this blog. Clichéd though it may be, it really does seem like yesterday. I’m not sure that I ever thought that I would continue writing for so long. I wasn’t sure what I was doing when I started out (I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing), but somewhere along the way, I began to really enjoy writing. I found my own true voice, settled in to my pseudonym, and this blog became a kind of basecamp for my online life. Continue reading →

Norfolk peace

mumblings life
I really needed a holiday. For one reason or another, it seems to have been a very hectic and stressful year. Work has involved a series of Red Queen situations, in which I’ve had to keep running faster just to keep up, and home life hasn’t been exactly relaxing because of the neighbourhood we live in. This has never been a great area, but recently one or two families have moved in who have absolutely no concept of what it means to be a good neighbour. Continue reading →

Moving my virtual home

geek mumblings
If you read tech blogs, you may have seen the news that Joyent recently announced that they were ending their Lifetime shared hosting. Several years ago, they offered customers the opportunity to buy a Lifetime account, which — we were assured at the time — would exist for as long as the company did. It was a big lump sum for me at the time, but I liked the company (then called TextDrive), and since the whole business of looking for a good hosting company was both difficult and tedious, I thought it would be a good deal: a chunk of money up front in return for being able to forget about hosting problems. Continue reading →

Taekwondo

mumblings
I’ve been meaning to post about taekwondo since the end of the Olympics. As I suspected, despite loving the opening ceremony, I didn’t watch any of the actual sport. However, while flipping channels one day, I came across one of the taekwondo heats. My curiosity was aroused because I used to practice taekwondo as a teenager. It was interesting because the style that the contestants were using was quite different from the sparring style I was used to, and there seemed to be very little use of punches. Continue reading →

Tiny hedgehog

mumblings
I keep meaning to write about a visitor we had to our garden a few weeks ago. Mr. Bsag was around during the day, and said that he heard an unusual sound in the garden, like a very loud squeal. When he went out, he found this tiny hedgehog, calling loudly1. He also came across the dead body of another hedgehog of a similar size elsewhere in the garden, so we think that something (possibly a cat or a fox) may have attacked a family. Continue reading →

Who we are

mumblings
Who are we, the Britons? What do we want to tell other people about ourselves? I don’t envy Danny Boyle the problem he was facing 7 years ago, I really don’t. For one thing, we are — of course — many people, and all different. There is no ‘national character’ in that sense. However, there are threads that link together attitudes and sentiments we think of as British. We tend to include only the good stuff in there, for understandable reasons: it gives us something to aspire to, if nothing else. Continue reading →

Crafted software

mumblings geek
Some tools can change the way that you see the world. Whenever I watch a time-lapse film of plants growing, I marvel at the fact that it allows you to see movement of plants that is otherwise invisible to us as humans because we live at the wrong rate. Our un-augmented senses and brains can’t get to grips with the pace of plants unless we speed up time using film. Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit about the tools I use. Continue reading →

Yo and so

mumblings
As Laurie Anderson sang, “Language is a virus”. Recently, I’ve noticed a particularly virulent infection running through academia, in which the speaker starts a sentence with “So,…” Mr. Bsag and I had a conversation about this after he had listened to an episode of ‘In Our Time’ on the radio in which one of the participants had started almost every sentence that way. It annoyed him. It annoys me too, and yet it is such an infectious construction that I find myself using it anyway. Continue reading →

Achievement file unlocked

gtd mumblings
If you’re anything like me, when the time comes to update your CV or convince those above you that you do actually do some stuff, your mind goes frighteningly blank. “I know”, you think to yourself, “that I’ve done something this year, but what was it?”. Even if you do manage to remember a few things, you have to rummage around in your hard drive or filing cabinet to retrieve the details of that talk you gave or that cool thing you did. Continue reading →

Antiques Roadshow

mumblings
I found out today that the England vs. AnotherTeam match is going to be screened on TV at 7pm. Hooray, I thought. That means that we’ll have a blissfully quiet neighbourhood for at least 90 minutes on Sunday evening. Then I realised that this meant that Antiques Roadshow would be postponed. Boo. Those two thoughts couldn’t mark me out as more middle-aged and middle-class if I tried. However, as I have absolutely no interest in antiques, my love for Antiques Roadshow is somewhat baffling. Continue reading →

Razors

geek mumblings
A couple of days ago, I had a brief conversation with HelgeG on Twitter about razors. He was thinking of replacing a cartridge razor with a safety razor. I heartily recommended it, having switched (for leg shaving purposes) from cartridges to a double-edged safety a while ago. That reminded me that I had meant to blog about it at the time, but had forgotten to do so. Cartridge razors had annoyed me for some time: they are very expensive for what they are, the blades seem to go blunt after only a few uses, and they don’t even provide a very good close shave. Continue reading →

A summer wet blanket

mumblings
I don’t want to be a wet blanket, I really don’t. But somehow I can’t help myself. This summer seems to be filled with events that I have no interest in, but which will fill the TV and radio schedules and everyone’s conversation, and will be impossible to escape from. Bah humbug. It started with last weekend’s Jubilee celebrations. I’m not a monarchist or a republican: I’m more or less indifferent to the Royal Family. Continue reading →

Alarming

mumblings
I spent a couple of days this past week in Lincoln, giving a talk at a two-day workshop. It was fun and intellectually interesting, and Lincoln turned out to be a really pleasant little city. We stayed at a hotel overnight, and since I didn’t have to be up early for the start of the second day, I was looking forward to having a lie-in for at least an hour. What luxury! Continue reading →

Taxidermy

life mumblings
A couple of weeks ago, Robert Brook posted some lovely photos from what turned out to be the Horniman Museum. I loved his photos, because I find old taxidermied animals rather compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer to see animals alive and well and in their natural habitats. But stuffed animals hover interestingly in that uncanny valley between alive and not alive, and I’ve always been fascinated by them. Continue reading →

Opening hours

life mumblings
Sunday trading hours are in the news at the moment, as the government is planning to suspend current Sunday trading restrictions for the duration of the Olympics this summer. ‘Small’ shops are currently already exempt from such laws, but what many people do not perhaps appreciate is how disruptive apparently ‘small’ shops can be. But first, a bit of backstory. When we first moved into our house, there was a pub just opposite it. Continue reading →

Twitching

mumblings
I seem to have developed a twitch around my eyes. At first, it was just a small twitch of the muscle at the outside of my left eye — annoying but intermittent. Then it got more frequent, and my right eye occasionally joined in. Last night I was looking in the mirror and realised that the muscle underneath my left eye is continually fluttering. I didn’t know because I can’t feel it, but it’s pretty obvious when you see it. Continue reading →

Silence and darkness

mumblings
A couple of days ago, I came across this review of Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’. It’s an album I like very much, and have found very calming at various points in my life. One particular description struck me as being perceptive: This is music, not just sound. There's structure there, melody. But it's also something of a hologram. There's a three dimensionality about this piece. Listen, and you can walk around in the music. Continue reading →

Some thoughts about coffee

coffee mumblings
Coffee is an amazing drink, isn’t it? I can think of few other drinks that can take on such a spectacular range of flavours and change so dramatically in character with tiny changes in preparation method. And that’s before you think about changing the way in which the beans are roasted. I have been steadily learning how to get good espresso from my Rancilio Silvia, but while the coffee has become much more consistent and pretty good, I knew it could be better. Continue reading →

On not following fashion

mumblings
It’s not news to regular readers of this blog that I dislike buying clothes. I have no interest in following fashion, and tend to wear clothes until they literally fall apart. Sometimes I continue to wear them after they have fallen apart, if the structural integrity of the garment is sufficient to keep the weather out or to avoid showing too much flesh. My rules for buying clothes are as follows: Continue reading →

Synapse Strikes Again

mumblings
I’ve written about how much I love my Tom Bihn Synapse rucksack a couple of times before. I’m probably boring everyone stupid with my adulation, but I really can’t say enough good things about this bag. I’ve had it now for nearly two years, I use it every day, and it still surprises and delights me. A couple of weeks ago, I had to take two bottles of champagne1 to work. Continue reading →

Spitting Image

mumblings
I look very like my my mother, and have done since I was a girl. Whenever people who knew me met my mother for the first time, or met me having only known my mother, they would invariably exclaim (to me), “Don’t you look like your mother! You’re the spitting image of her.” I would then traditionally roll my eyes in exasperation and disbelief. I couldn’t see it at all. I thought people who said we looked alike were loopy. Continue reading →

On Weird Daughters

mumblings
I was amused to see the following tweet from Merlin Mann the other day: "When I was a baby, I didn't like the smell of buses. Now, I really like the smell of motorcycles. It's so distinctive." — My Weird Daughter @hotdogsladies It’s pretty clear (if you’ve read any of Merlin’s writing) that when he says “My Weird Daughter” he actually (quite rightly) means “My Amazing and Excellent Daughter”. Continue reading →

I Can See Clearly Now

mumblings
We’ve been meaning to do it for ages. Every time we looked at our ratty windows, we thought, “We really need to replace those windows.” But, for a long time, we didn’t. It was a big hassle, an upheaval, and most of all, it was going to be expensive and we had to save. Then we had to get our soffits and facias replaced before the mouldy, rotten things started to let water into the roof and cause us even more expense. Continue reading →

The Tale of the Lost Shoe

mumblings cats
Settle down, while I tell you a tale full of intrigue and mystery. Well, some mystery, anyway. As I set off for work yesterday, I looked around for the heavy walking shoes that I usually wear on my bike. We don’t have any fancy dedicated shoe storage, so I usually put them on the floor of the hall, next to the stairs. One of the pair was there, where I expected it to be, but there was no sign of the other. Continue reading →

Running of the Deer

mumblings
I’ve been in Scotland for some of this week at a conference, and the proximity to craggy shorelines and heather-covered hills reminded me again of an experience when I was working on the Isle of Mull ten years ago1. I was working on the island for a charity running whale-watching tours. In the early part of the summer, I lived on the boat used for the tours, but towards the beginning of autumn, the storms made it… interesting to live aboard full time. Continue reading →

Civility and Nobility

mumblings
I wasn’t going to write about the riots. It’s hard to know what to say, when so many words have already been used up, and when — like many people — I’m still struggling to understand what happened. But something has been nagging at me, and it won’t let me go until I’ve got it out of my head. Everyone has been asking questions about why this happened, and it is important that we try to understand (not excuse — I’ve heard a lot of people confusing the two). Continue reading →

Island Life

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[I’ve just found a notebook in which I wrote this last September, while we were on holiday, and which I totally forgot to publish.] For as long as I can remember, I have loved natural bodies of water, particularly if I can swim in them. When I was young, my parents used to rent a slightly scruffy cottage in mid-Wales. The cottage itself wasn’t much to write home about (though it had an adjoining store room chock-full of dusty stuffed animals — real ones — antique farm machinery and tools, plus rusty and potentially lethal animal traps: all very exciting for young children). Continue reading →

The Agony Of Word

geek mumblings software
I really dislike Microsoft Word. It’s a necessary evil in academia, where .doc or .docx is the editable format of choice, but I avoid it wherever I can. It’s true that things have got slightly better since I upgraded to Office for Mac 2011. Office at least looks like a proper OS X application now, and some of the annoyances and downright bugs have been removed. But it makes things unnecessarily complicated and has a nasty habit of biting you just when you are most in need of having a fully-functioning word processor. Continue reading →

Growing Up

mumblings
On my way to work by bike, I ride through a space in which there is a skate park. There are ramps and half-pipes and rails and all the other accoutrements necessary for demonstrating ‘ollies’ and other spectacular manoeuvres with impenetrable names. When I pass by in the evening, the skate park is packed with teenagers (mostly boys) on skateboards or BMX bikes, rolling, flipping, crashing and swearing and generally having a good time. Continue reading →

Curious Cats

mumblings
I know that cats are renowned for being curious (and it being the cause for their untimely demise), but I have never come across such nosy cats as our present pair. You really can’t do anything without having a little furry ‘helper’ wanting to join in. Recently I’ve been doing a bit of tinkering around the house, like connecting up a new hard drive to the Mac mini in the living room so that we can use the drive for Time Machine backups for the other computers. Continue reading →

One Looks At One

mumblings
(Title with apologies to Robert Frost.) A couple of times I’ve seen a muntjac deer in a scrubby bit of land on my way to work. I saw it again early yesterday morning, and it never fails to cheer me and make the day feel special. The area is a ‘nature reserve’ but it’s one of those urban slivers of land crammed in between houses and roads and warehouses that feels far from natural. Continue reading →

Old And New But Both Classics

mumblings
I’ve had fun recently spending some Christmas money by buying some classic items. One was old, the other was new, but both are classics. The first item is a Singer 99 hand cranked sewing machine that I got on Ebay very cheaply. Singer has an amazing web page which enables you to look up the serial number of their vintage machines and find out the year and place of manufacture, so I know that my machine was made in 1951 in Clydebank. Continue reading →

Scales

mumblings
Sometimes the old things are the best things. I had a set of electronic kitchen scales, which served me well for many years. They weren’t fancy, but they worked and did the basics: you could weigh in metric or imperial, and you could tare the scales so that you could adjust for the weight of a bowl or some existing ingredients. I don’t even remember what make or model they were, and they were made of a cheap looking plastic, but they lasted for a good 15 years or so. Continue reading →

Spare Bed Blues

mumblings cats
A few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep again. After tossing and turning for a while, I decided that I might as well go and sleep in the spare room, and then at least I wouldn’t be disturbing Mr. Bsag. Our spare room is also my office, so to save space, we have a futon sofa bed in there. In actual fact, we have two futon sofa beds: the other is the one we use full time as a bed. Continue reading →

Just Shift It

geek mumblings
I’m one of those people who finds the Caps Lock key on the keyboard more of an annoyance than a useful feature, so I have recently remapped my Caps Lock to Control. This is now surprisingly easy to do on Snow Leopard: launch System Preferences, choose Keyboard and click the ‘Modifier Keys…’ button. I’m quite happy with this as I’ve got a more comfortably-placed Control key, and if I ever need to do a run of all caps characters, I can easily type lowercase and transform to upper case afterwards in most applications. Continue reading →

Heave To The Towpath

bike mumblings
Wind tends to be the perpetual enemy of the cyclist. When you are battling a headwind (and by some quirk of meteorology, it always seems to be a headwind, whichever direction you are cycling in), you feel like Sisyphus. While we were touring around the Isle of Mull by bike some years ago, Mr. Bsag persuaded me that it would be a good idea to go out for a ride in a gale force wind. Continue reading →

Bodging it big time with Sugru

mumblings
I enjoy bodging. Not the [original meaning](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodging) of the word (turning green wood on a pole lathe) --- though I would love to be able to do that --- but the modern English sense of cobbling together a fix for something which may look a bit inelegant, but does the job well. You might call it a hack, but I prefer the word bodge. Whatever word you use, a bodge is a satisfying thing. Continue reading →

Lamy 2000 fountain pen

mumblings
Fountain pens are addictive. I've written here about a couple of fountain pens I've bought and enjoyed, including a Rotring Newton and a Pilot Capless. I have particularly enjoyed writing with my Pilot Capless, which I only use with a converter and bottled ink, but I have recently started to get mildly irritated with the slightly fiddly process of filling (you have to remove the inner nib unit from the pen) and also the small ink capacity of the converter. Continue reading →

Bewildered of Birmingham

mumblings
I'm back from my travels, in body at least. The good news is that I do not appear to have any invertebrates making a home in my body like last time^1^, and I don't even have that many mosquito bites, considering that my bite count is usually around the 50+ mark. However my brain does not appear to have entirely caught up with me after the long hours of travelling across several time zones. Continue reading →

Caturday tales

mumblings
Mr. Bsag has been away the past week on a printing course in Cornwall, so I've had the bed to myself. I wondered whether the cats would alter their sleeping arrangements, given the sudden increase in available space. Bella usually sleeps at my feet, or on my feet, so that I often wake in the night to find myself scrunched into a foetal position, while Bella stretches out in the bottom third of the bed. Continue reading →

Ikea hacking

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{width="500” height="375”} We've been thinking about rearranging our guest room/home office for a while. When we originally set the room up, Mr. Bsag needed (for one reason or another) to have his iMac in the office, and I needed a desk too for my laptop, so we put together a couple of quite large desks with Ikea Vika desktops and legs. That didn't leave much room for the double sofa bed to be unfolded, and it wasn't really a good use of space. Continue reading →

The opposite of interested

mumblings
I have absolutely no interest in football, and very little in any other sport (with the possible exception of the Tour de France). So you might think that the current convergence of World Cup fever and Wimbledon would be deeply irritating to me. Actually, I'm loving it. I'm not enjoying the sports coverage at all — in fact, I'm studiously ignoring it all. What I mean is that I'm enjoying being disinterested in it all. Continue reading →

Feeling the distance

mumblings
In the winter, when we had the snow, I walked to work for the first time from our current house. I don't know why I hadn't tried it before: we live quite a distance from the University, but it's a walkable distance. Perhaps the problem was that I knew only fragments of the area between home and work, and simply thought that the distance was too great to make it a practical proposition. Continue reading →

The TARDIS bag

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{width="180” height="240”} I've admitted before that I'm obsessed about bags, and that I'm a total perfectionist about trying to find the One Bag. That Maxpedition bag was good, but it inevitably ended up not being perfect. One of the reasons was that I started walking to work fairly frequently, and so I needed more space to put my packed lunch and a change of t-shirt (without having to carry another bag). Continue reading →

Exploding Head Syndrome

mumblings
Every now and again, while wandering around on the internet, you come across the answer to a question you hadn't thought to ask. This happened to me the other day, when I stumbled on this passage: As strange as the name sounds, exploding head syndrome is actually a rare and relatively undocumented sleep phenomenon. While sleeping or dozing, a person with the condition hears a terrifically loud sound in their head, such as a bomb exploding, a clash of cymbals or a gun going off. Continue reading →

Suspended

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{width="180” height="240”} We were in Bristol this weekend, for a wedding (the one I had to go clothes shopping for). The wedding celebration itself was great fun, so we had a lovely time on Saturday evening. However, because of travelling problems, we arrived later than we'd expected, and had to leave at lunchtime on the Sunday. This was a shame, because I was looking forward to wandering around one of my favourite cities. Continue reading →

Parklife

mumblings
As I cycled home from work through the park, I witnessed this scene: Two magpies stood watching a hedgehog. The hedgehog was walking — slowly and very precisely — along the white line of a football pitch. The mapgies kept about half a metre from the hedgehog, but walked along behind it, watching it intently. I'm sure that they were probably sizing it up to see if they could eat it, but I couldn't help thinking that — apart from the fact that they weren't wearing tiny, twee clothes — it looked like an updated and slightly sinister scene from a Beatrix Potter book. Continue reading →

Infinite monkeys

mumblings
A couple of days ago, I went back to my office after leaving the computer for a short while, and heard the voice synthesiser reading out menus and other interface items. This — needless to say — was slightly freaky. The explanation was obvious, but still rather puzzling. You see, the cats have got into the bad habit of wandering over my keyboard recently. I've also found Bianca curled up peacefully on my MacBook's keyboard more than once. Continue reading →

Memo to Bianca

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{width="240” height="180”}{.image} Dear Bianca (Cat^1^), It's really sweet that you always want to accompany me to the bathroom if I get up at night. After all, I could get lonely in there, and a friendly, wide-awake cat is always a pleasant companion. And it's lovely when you rub around my bare legs — you have very soft fur, and it's nicely soothing. However, we have to talk about the toe licking. Continue reading →

Cat occupations

mumblings
Cats are strange creatures. Many seem to find themselves odd modes of unpaid — but deadly serious — employment. Maru inspects boxes with great thoroughness and Tom Cox's cat Janet (a he, not a she, by the way) collects retro plastic wrappers from a nearby lake for a living. One of our cats has also revealed her occupation recently. When we got our cats, the previous owner told us that Bella liked to drink from the tap. Continue reading →

Perfect afternoon

mumblings
Life seems to have been incredibly busy and tiring recently, but I've just had one of the most peaceful and relaxing afternoons I've experienced in a long time. Mr. Bsag and I sat reading on the sofa with the cats, listening to Aleyn by June Tabor. He read the paper with Bianca lounging gracefully on his lap, while I started my library copy of Kate Rew's Wild Swim. I dreamed about how nice it would be to swim off a Hebridean beach or a Cornish tidal pool, while Bella purred in between us, her head and forepaws tucked into the curve of my hip, long whiskers twitching slightly while she dreamed some feline dream. Continue reading →

Dear Google Maps

mumblings
Dear Google Maps, We need to have a quick word about your walking directions feature. Don't get me wrong -- I love your maps, and dragging the selected route around to re-direct it is brilliant. I use your service a lot, and not just when I'm trying to find directions to an unfamiliar destination. For example, this weekend, I used the walking directions when I was too lazy to get out a map and a bit of string and measure a distance we'd just walked to a familiar destination. Continue reading →

Yellowstone

mumblings
I love wildlife documentaries. I grew up watching all the classic Attenborough natural history TV series, glued to the wonders he showed us, and desperate to find out more. I couldn't really tell you whether I watched them because I was obsessed with animals, or whether I was obsessed with animals because I watched the documentaries, but either way, both played a large part in my eventual decision to become a biologist^1^. Continue reading →

Orphaned items of clothing

mumblings
You know those sad, solitary items of unpaired clothing you see placed on walls or on the spikes of fences? Those orphaned, singular mittens and lonely socks? Have you found yourself wondering if they are ever reunited with their mate again? Well I can tell you that such happy reconciliations do occasionally happen. Yesterday morning, I got yet another puncture on my bike, in the front tyre just like last time. Continue reading →

De-militarised zone

mumblings
In my previous post about my new Maxpedition bag I mentioned that I wanted to 'de-militarise' it a bit. I decided to create a bit of needlepoint work (or tapestry -- I'm such a newbie at this, I don't even know the correct term) which I could mount on the velcro patch on the front flap. The space available was quite long and thin (or 'widescreen' as I tend to think of that format now), so I needed a design which would work well in the space. Continue reading →

Bag lady

mumblings
My name is Bsag, and I am a bagaholic. I'm not remotely interested in your Prada or Gucci or other 'It' bags: no, my thing is rough, tough bags with lots of pockets. My problem is not that I want to collect a lot of them, but that I'm absurdly picky and a perfectionist when it comes to bags. I want something that's comfortable to carry fully loaded, particularly when riding a bike (like a rucksack), but that is easily swung around to access the pockets (like a messenger bag). Continue reading →

Borrow a purr

mumblings
If you don't have a cat, but enjoy the sound of purring, you are welcome to borrow 30 seconds of Cleo's purring, recorded earlier this evening. You'll need to turn the volume up a bit, because the mic on the iPhone isn't very sensitive. In case you are wondering, the funny squeaky sound at the start is her sniffing the iPhone.

A conspiracy of iPhones

mumblings
Today was my first day back at work after the holiday, and I wasn't looking forward to it with any great enthusiasm. As I got up, the news on the radio was full of doom and gloom (death and destruction in Gaza, economic collapse etc.) and reported that today is supposedly one of the most depressing days of the year. It was also snowing and icy, which meant that I had to get the train to work -- another prospect that I didn't relish given the propensity of our rail network to seize up at the first hint on inclement weather. Continue reading →

Cat sauna

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{width="180” height="240”} I've often thought that an easy way to measure the warmest point in any given room, when you don't have a thermometer handy, is to allow a cat into the room and watch where it settles. As the weather has been getting colder, Cleo has taken to giving herself a little cat sauna when the heating comes on. She sits side-on to the radiator in the bedroom, her left flank touching the surface, then turns her head towards it, so that her nose is only a few millimetres from the hot metal, as you can see in this photo. Continue reading →

The writing on the wall

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An interesting feature of my ride to work in recent weeks has been a series of chalked messages written on the wall by the South Gate of the University campus. The first one I saw (which happened to be on a Monday morning) was: MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH... "Heh", I thought while waiting for the traffic lights to change, "it's funny because it's true. It's Monday morning and here I am, back at the ranch. Continue reading →

Stair descending technique

mumblings
I've come to the conclusion that owning a cat makes you change your stair-descending technique. As all cat owners know, cats appear from nowhere when you start to walk down the stairs. You set off with a clear run, then almost as soon as you've started, your cat flashes past you in a blur of fur. This wouldn't be so bad, but the cat then immediately comes to a dead halt on the step immediately in front of you. Continue reading →

Halloween

mumblings
Perhaps I'm a bit of a killjoy, but I've never quite seen the point of Halloween. It's a fairly recently imported tradition in the UK, so there's not really any consensus about how to celebrate it, or indeed whether it should be celebrated at all. I wouldn't mind so much if we got adorable little kids dressed up as ghosts or witches coming round. However, in our neighbourhood, we get 16 year olds who haven't even bothered to dress up (unless you count hoodies as fancy dress), who just hammer indiscriminately on doors. Continue reading →

In the ‘hood

mumblings
As a postscript to yesterday's post, while I was writing it, I wasn't sure of my spelling of Robert Burns' gang aglae and decided to do a quick Google search to check. Google kindly asked me if I perhaps meant "gang algae", which I found a charming notion. Yes, those gang algae are always hanging around in their slimy green hoodies, throwing floppy gang signs and corrupting all the young, innocent liverworts and mosses in the neighbourhood. Continue reading →

Human clock revisited

mumblings
Some of you may remember when I recounted how I tend to use other people I encounter on my cycle commute in as a kind of fuzzy human clock. Well, it seems that other people do this too. Recently, I've been passing another cyclist at about the same point in my journey every day. We often smile and say hello as we pass, but today, I encountered him quite a bit further on in my own journey than usual. Continue reading →

One in three

mumblings
As I blogged about a few years ago, I'm a first aider at work. We have quite a few qualified first aiders in our building, and there were practical reasons related to my job that made getting qualified a good idea for me, but I've always been aware of the importance of having some knowledge of first aid. My Mum (a nurse) taught us common-sense stuff about dealing with medical and other emergencies, and I did my First Aid badges in Brownies and Guides, but my qualification 3 years ago was the first time I had fairly formal training. Continue reading →

Dreaming Web 2.0 Style

mumblings
I had a dream the other night in which Mr. Bsag and I had not long moved into a new house (in reality, the last house we lived in, not the present one). We were in bed, asleep, in the early hours of the morning, when we got a phone call. It was Ben and Mena Trott, of Movable Type fame, and Ben was crying. He told me that they were the previous occupants of the house, and -- by some mischance -- they had left the only remaining copy of the source code^1^ of Movable Type on an old computer in the house. Continue reading →

Multi-pen

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Sorry, image is missing. I'm a bit of a pen fanatic. I love all kinds of pens and pencils, from gel pens to fountain pens and mechanical pencils. When I went to Japan (a wonderful country for pen fanatics) a couple of years ago, I bought a Zebra brilliant multi-pen, which had black, blue, red and green ballpoints in it. I've used it a lot, so the ink has almost run out, and I couldn't find any suitable refills for it. Continue reading →

Feline obsessions

mumblings
Recently, our cat Cleo has developed a couple of obsessions: Obsession 1 - the airing cupboard: We have an airing cupboard on the upstairs landing, housing the hot water tank, clean towels and a variety of cat-trapping voids and spaces. She has never shown a lot of interest in the cupboard until now, but suddenly it seems to have become her aim in life to get in there against all odds. Continue reading →

Fraud

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A couple of days ago, I came home to find that I had received a call from the security department of my credit card provider. I panicked a bit, of course, but called them straight away. They told me that they had flagged up a couple of transactions as suspicious, and gave me the details of the dodgy items. To my great relief, the transactions had actually been made by me, so there was no problem. Continue reading →

New TV

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It must the technology breakdown season or something: after the amp blew a capacitor, both our ancient TV and the less ancient Freeview box started to go on the blink. The Freeview box was crashing and needed to be rebooted and retuned several times a week, always -- as luck would have it -- just as some programme we wanted to catch from the beginning was starting. When I was a kid, we used to have to turn our old black and white set on a few minutes early to let it 'warm up', so this didn't feel like great progress. Continue reading →

Stormfront

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Cycling home today, I had a storm-front behind me. Ahead, all was blue sky, sunshine and fluffy white clouds; behind, deep bruise-grey clouds and a fat rainbow. I was being soaked by the rain, while simultaneously feeling the sun warm my wet face. I felt as if I was pulling the storm-front along in my slipstream. Of course, that wasn't what was happening. I'm not (yet) egotistical enough or crazy enough^1^ to believe that I control the weather. Continue reading →

Starting a fight in a cattery

mumblings
When we went away this weekend, we had to leave Cleo at a cattery for the first time. It would have been better if we could have asked our neighbours to come in and feed her for a couple of days, but for one reason or another, that wasn't possible. Luckily, we have a wonderful cattery not far from us, run by very caring people, so we knew that she would be in excellent hands. Continue reading →

Rambling mind

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One of the main benefits of cycling on a car-free path over driving on a car-jammed road is that your mind is free to wander from one pointless, weird topic to the next, without worrying that you'll crash into someone or something. Sometimes when I actually think about what I've been thinking about on these occasions (if you see what I mean), it amazes me that people trust me with a responsible job. Continue reading →

Funny habits

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At night, we shut our cat Cleo into the downstairs rooms (living room, dining room and kitchen) so that she has access to a comfy sofa, her food and water dishes and her litter box. Normally, by the time we're ready to go to bed she's happy to have a last bit of food while we're locking up, then she toddles off to her bed. However, she occasionally gets very playful when we're going to bed, and refuses to be shut in. Continue reading →

End of term

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When I was in school, we used to be allowed to take in board games for the last day of term. Right now, I really wish paid employment followed the same pattern. I've got a pile of things to do before I finish for Christmas on Friday, but I'm so exhausted that I'm having tremendous difficulty getting them done. All I really want to do is play Hungry Hippos or Cluedo with my friends. Continue reading →

Blanketed

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I noticed yesterday that the rain coming down was a little more solid (and colder) than usual, but I didn't really expect it to snow properly. We were going to do some work on the allotment, but chickened out because of the foul weather, and spent the day cosily inside, reading, listening to music, and in my case, writing installation and upgrade instructions for the next version of Tracks. We closed all the curtains before it got properly dark, so it was a bit of a shock when I went into the kitchen at about 10. Continue reading →

Play

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In my various ramblings about our cat, Cleo, I think I mentioned that she wasn't at all interested in toys, and didn't really play. That certainly used to be true: if you rolled a ball towards her, dangled string, or jiggled a toy mouse, she would look at it steadily, then look at you, then walk away. But in the past couple of months she's started getting playful. I think part of the change is down to her being stronger and more energetic now that she's put a bit of weight back on. Continue reading →

Smelling your way home

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Now that the clocks have gone back, my cycle home is in the dark. I have fairly decent hub dynamo lights, but even so, the way is unlit across parks and open spaces and on moon-less nights, I can really only see a patch of path about 3 m in front of my wheel. That makes for quite an interesting trip, particularly as most pedestrians seem to wear dark clothes at night. Continue reading →

Light show

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In our house, we have our bedroom at the front. Generally, this is fine, because we both prefer the rooms we spend more time in (the kitchen, Mr. Bsag's studio, my office) to be at the back of the house, with a nicer view. However, there are two drawbacks to the location of the bedroom. One is that there is a pub opposite, so we sometimes get disturbed late at night by drunk people reeling away from a night spent imbibing as many lagers and/or alcopops as is humanly possible. Continue reading →

Setting the tone

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I saw a van belonging to a local bathroom fitting company today -- a company which has the word Classique in its name. Now, what does that word bring to your mind when applied to bathroom fittings? What logo would would say Classique to you? Luxurious Roman baths, decked out with fine mosaics? Basins with Doric columns supporting them? A Victorian claw-foot bath? Something redolent of ancient Greek temples? Evidently, that wasn't what the graphic designer had in mind. Continue reading →

Chirrup

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One endearing characteristic of Somali cats (well, one of their many endearing characteristics) is their chirrup. Where other cats miaow or yowl, Somalis chirrup. Imagine someone pronouncing a rolling 'r' (as in Spanish^1^) with a rising, musical inflection, which sometimes ends in a miaow-like sound. I've never heard a cat make a sound like that before, and it makes me smile every time. The other night, during a protracted chirruping bout before her dinner, I realised that the sound reminded me of something else: Chewbacca on helium. Continue reading →

This is your sub-conscious calling

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Do you ever get the feeling that your sub-conscious is trying to tell you something? I've had 'Make dental appointment' on my todo list for a few weeks now. As far as I know, my teeth are fine, but I need a check-up before I go to Brazil again in the autumn. For one reason or another, I've been very busy, so I haven't got around to booking an appointment, and the item has languished on the list, overlooked. Continue reading →

Out of sync

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Many of the stations along our local line have got new automated train information boards, plus automated announcements for approaching (or, more frequently not approaching just yet because they are delayed) trains. Sometimes they seem to get themselves a bit out of sync with reality. It was absolutely slinging it down with rain this morning, so I decided that rather than starting the day completely drenched on my bike, I'd get the train instead. Continue reading →

Smelling Spring

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After all the rain last week, we've had some wonderful Spring weather recently. It's been bright and crisp, and at long last, I can smell Spring coming -- literally. Now that my cold is finally going, I can smell the grass beginning to grow again, the bulbs blooming and -- best of all -- the almond trees along my route to work are in full, delicious blossom. Taking a deep breath and filling my head with almond blossom smell is my favourite part of the day. Continue reading →

Legal matters

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Sod's Law, Section 16.8, Paragraph 12: Commencement of a severe cold or other non-life threatening but messy and energy-sapping illness with implications for the vocal chords shall coincide neatly with the only important public event at which the aforementioned party is engaged to speak within one calendar month either side of the aforesaid illness. And so, the public lecture I've been looking forward to/dreading^1^ delivering for several months has coincided with a really horrible cold. Continue reading →

Germination brings hope

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I sowed some 'Sweet Chocolate' pepper seeds a few weeks ago in the airing cupboard, because they need at least 25°C to germinate, and apparently you need to get them started early in the UK to get a long enough growing season. They've done better than I could possibly have hoped, as you can see above. It's really the first time I've ever grown anything from seed, and I was watching them constantly for signs of life. Continue reading →

Twitterings

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In a fit of messing about, I signed up for Twitter this week. I haven't yet decided if it's fun or a total waste of time (or both), but if you're on Twitter too, my username is (naturally) bsag, and I'd love to know yours. Incidentally, if you use a Mac, Twitterrific makes using Twitter much easier, and -- importantly -- easier to turn off when you need to concentrate.

Sense and Insensibility

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I worked at home today and so enjoyed that rare weekday treat -- a civilised lunch with my lovely husband, instead of the usual frenzied and simultaneous typing and sandwich consumption that comprises my so-called 'lunch hour'. I blame my lack of familiarity with the format of a civilised lunch for the following. As I wandered downstairs, I could see that Mr. Bsag had already started getting out bread, salad and other nice things from the fridge from which to construct our lunch. Continue reading →

The Red Shoes

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{width="300” height="224”} It's amazing how much difference red makes. A while ago, I bought a pair of dark blue Beach Crocs. I loved them to bits, and wore them so much (including a lot of rough terrain walking Brazil) that I eventually wore the soles out. So, it being nearly winter, I retired the Beach Crocs to garden wear, and decided to buy a pair of Endeavor [sic] Crocs, which don't have holes for the biting British winter wind to whistle though. Continue reading →

The Joy of Baths

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In the latest of a series of on-going plumbing problems, our shower has broken, so we're having to take baths instead. Bathing rather than showering is annoying because it takes so much longer and wastes a lot of water, but it is really quite excellent when you're very tired from your first day back at work after six weeks of sick leave, and even better when I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue is on the radio at the same time. Continue reading →

Morrissey gave me a hug last night

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...in a dream, of course. I was standing watching some kind of fireworks display outside. Morrissey came along and, smiling, said "Hello Woman". I smiled back and replied "Hello Man". In the dream it was clear that we were friends and this was our little ritual, a private joke. He stood behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and we watched the fireworks. He was wearing a big old woollen ex-military overcoat, and as I leaned back against it, it was slightly scratchy and musty smelling, but comforting. Continue reading →

Zurich Airport

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We flew to Brazil via Zurich airport, and I was amazed by the place. It's like stepping into a clean and shiny future, where people speak with gentle, calm voices, and everybody can afford Rolex watches and Mont Blanc pens. Even the smoking rooms looked stylish (from the outside). Most airports seem to have a variety of cafés and shops, ranging from the downmarket to the upmarket, but everything at Zurich seems to be at the very upper end of the scale. Continue reading →

Home Comforts

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So, I'm back home again, after what feels like a very long three weeks. Brazil is (and continues to be) a wonderful, exciting country with truly lovely people, but what with one thing and another (none of which I really want to go into), it has been an exhausting period, and I'm glad to be back home. After a long, tough time away from home, there really is nothing more wonderful than your own bed, not to mention your own husband beside you in the bed^1^. Continue reading →

Off to Brazil

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I'm off to Brazil to work for three weeks tomorrow. What with my slightly dodgy health situation, and leaving our new house just when I'm settling in, I can't say that I'm as excited as I might be about going. It's also a long time to be away from Mr. Bsag. At least this year, we got to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary together (it's today). Still, I've got several tonnes of equipment crammed in a suitcase with some clothes filling the gaps, checked my hand baggage repeatedly for any deadly liquids, gels or creams (aaarghh! Continue reading →

180 degrees

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Our new house is on the same train line that I used to commute to work on, but on the other side of the University. This means that I arrive at (and leave) the University on the opposite platform to the one I'm used to. It's going to feel quite weird until I'm used to it, and lends a kind of 'Alice Through The Looking-Glass' feel to my mornings, particularly when I'm not quite awake. Continue reading →

Emotional Meteorology

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It was too hot to sleep last night. It's funny how the weather mimics your mood sometimes. We're supposed to be completing on our new house purchase tomorrow, and then moving, so we're in limbo, just waiting. At about midnight, we temporarily gave up on sleep and sat on the patio in our pyjamas, enjoying the cooler air outside and watching the lightning from a distant storm flash on the horizon. Continue reading →

Tooled up

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Busy

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So this post is intended as a big, fat apology for the lack of any interesting content in these parts right now. Normal service will (eventually) be resumed.

Friday thoughts

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It has been a tough week. In consideration for my poor, tired brain, I will just comment on a couple of more than usually inconsequential things that crossed my mind today. Is there anything more frustrating than an unopened (or only very slightly open) roasted pistachio nut? I would add unopened mussels to that list, but when they don't open after cooking, it usually means they're dead and would give you no end of gastro-intestinal distress if you ate them. Continue reading →

Senior Geekgirl

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I heard a wonderful piece on Home Truths this morning about Anthea Hanscombe who is in her eighties and is passionately interested in steam engines of all kinds. Quite apart from anything else, she had the most wonderful, infectious laugh, and she had me chuckling along just because it was such a pleasure to hear her laugh. It seems that Anthea has been interested in steam engines since she was a girl, and used to run out into the street when she heard a steam roller and breathe in the tarry fumes. Continue reading →

Invisible plasters

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I'm convinced that my IQ is about 50 in the first 15 minutes or so after I've woken up. I think that it's partly to do with getting up before 6am (I'm less dopey if I get up an hour or more later), but whatever the reason, I'm a bit of a danger to myself and others until I've had time to give my brain a bit of choke and start up properly without spluttering and backfiring. Continue reading →

Bare feet

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For about a week now, I've had a dodgy right foot for some unknown reason. My ankle is swollen and the ball of my heel is very sore when pressure is applied, which obviously happens very time I take a step.

Catless

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My parents came up this weekend to pick up our feline house guest, and the house suddenly seems empty and a bit lifeless without that little furry monster. I miss her jumping in my lap and head-butting my book as a not-so-subtle cue that I should be getting her dinner ready, I miss the way she wound herself around my legs, purring furiously when I was trying to get my jeans on in the morning, and I miss her suddenly curling herself into the tightest possible ball, paw over her eyes on the sofa in the evening. Continue reading →

So cold

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Note to self: wear a warm jumper tomorrow.

Age limit

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I went to buy a birthday card for my cousin's one year old daughter at lunchtime today. There were a few cheery looking cards, but a particularly bright design with a "1 Today!" banner along the bottom caught my eye. It had a little board picture book inserted into the top of the card, and I thought it would be a lot more exciting for her than just a card. Then I looked on the back and saw a little sticker which read: Continue reading →

And our survey says…

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"The internal staircase has 13 steps". OK. Is that good? Or bad? Why do we need to know how many steps there are? "Some of the steps squeak." It's cursed! It's a cursed house! Oh my Bod!^1^ And breathe... ^1^ A little tribute to Nebulous â†'

Thoughts per millisecond

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Sometimes it's funny how many thoughts can pass through your head in a very short period of time. Last Friday, I had a very busy day, but was feeling really ill so I came back to work from home for the afternoon. I was later than I expected to be, and hungry because I hadn't had time for lunch. So I started making a sandwich, feeling a bit shaky and dizzy as I did so. Continue reading →

Husband soup

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I was working at home the other day, and my lovely husband made some wonderful, thick, home-made minestrone soup for lunch. From scratch! With beans and macaroni and loads of vegetables and everything. I walked into the kitchen and smelt the delicious smells rising from the saucepan, grinned like a cat who has got the cream and said: Mmm... Husband soup.

Distraction

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And that’s why I’ll never be rich

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Misheard

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We sometimes listen to 'Private Passions' a programme on Radio 3 in which generally erudite people talk to Michael Berkeley about their favourite pieces of music. It's a bit like an upmarket version of Desert Island Discs, but without the restrictions on numbers of pieces, and they actually play the whole piece rather than snippets. So when Mr. Bsag was looking at the Radio Times yesterday and said, "Anna Nicole Smith is on Private Passions tomorrow", I did a bit of a mental double-take. Continue reading →

Word of the day

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I love discovering obscure words that are new to me. The following word arrived via an article about Proust that a reader of this blog sent me: abecedarian: (adjective) 1 arranged alphabetically : in abecedarian sequence. 2 rudimentary; elementary : abecedarian technology. noun a person who is just learning; a novice. ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from late Latin abecedarius 'alphabetical' (from the names of the letters a, b, c, d). Continue reading →

Dorking

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In homage to Douglas Adams' and John Lloyd's excellent The Deeper Meaning of Liff: dorking (verb trans.): the practice of expressing the curious and contradictory mixture of irritation, secret pride and frustration felt by a geek when a Google search for some vital piece of information leads to his/her own blog post on a superficially related topic. Tends to provoke thoughts similar to "if I already knew the answer, I wouldn't be Googling for it, now would I? Continue reading →

3 am insanity

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I blame it on being very busy at both work and home recently, but lately I've been waking at 2 or 3 am most mornings, having just come out of a dream about getting an angry email from a colleague or from a reader of this blog, lambasting me for something or other. In a sleepy, confused state, I know very well that it was just a dream, but for some reason I can't shake off the feeling that should go and check my email on the computer, as if I've got an IMAP connection on a secret dream port, and might have actually divined the content of a genuine email in my sleep. Continue reading →

My new favourite phrase

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There was an excellent quote on Hyperdrive last night, which might well become my favoured expression of mindless enthusiasm: "Set lasers to patriotic". I like it despite the fact that I'm not in the least patriotic.

Escape

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{width="201” height="240”} The blue sky and golden tree outside my office window looked so inviting in the rare winter sunshine today, that the vertical blinds felt like prison bars.

Automated legs

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Sometimes when I'm tired or ill, I can get into a state walking home where my legs are on 'automatic', and seem to be disconnected from my brain and the rest of me. I seem to be able to just put the gear stick into drive, and then sit back. It's almost like traveling in a vehicle, or riding on your father's shoulders when you were little, or even wearing a pair of Techno Trousers (ex-NASA! Continue reading →

Dental decoration

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When I moved from Oxford to Birmingham just over a year ago, I managed to sort out most of the administrative changes (like signing up with a new GP and informing people about the change of address) pretty quickly. However, for some reason, I never got around to registering with a new dentist. A few weeks ago, I realised with a shock that it must have been about 18 months since I had last seen a dentist, and signed up with one. Continue reading →

White Russian

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Spotted

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I got the new issue of MacUser magazine through the post today, and was just flicking through it to see what was being featured when I spotted a report of the MacExpo which had some pictures of the show. Imagine my surprise to find that I was in one of the photographs! I don't know what the chances are, but when you consider that the show was open for a total of about 24 hours, of which I was present for 4, that there were thousands of people and a huge number of stands, I find it incredible that I'm in one of the shots. Continue reading →

Pick and mix Lego

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Grappling with the Bezier pen

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The bezier pen: he's a slippery little blighter, isn't he? Occasionally I have to use a vector drawing application to produce a diagram of some kind for work, and on those occasions I hope like blazes that the diagram in question doesn't require any curves because I've never got to grips with the bezier pen. Of course, I can form perfectly nice paths with straight segments until the cows come home, but the moment I try to click and drag to form a curve, all hell breaks loose, and the resulting squiggle explosion looks like the outcome of an interaction between a sugar-crazed two-year-old and a crayon. Continue reading →

Waiting for Jonno

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Every single announcement involved a delay or cancellation. There were floods in Carlisle, power outages in Lockerbie and other trains also awaiting train crew in other places (have they all been abducted by aliens, or something?). The perfect piece of disruption recursion was the announcement of a delay because the train bringing the crew to the train in question was also delayed. I wondered for a moment how far this went back, and whether it's possible to bring the entire railway system to a standstill if one driver decides to bunk off and spend the day in bed. Continue reading →

I’m an idiot

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There are times when I manage to do truly idiotic things. Take yesterday, for instance: I went into the city to get hold of a few things, including a set of hand weights. I'm still going the gym regularly, but I wanted to have some free weights at home to do extra arm and upper body exercises. So I went to Argos ('Home of the Laminated Book of Dreams!'), selected my chosen weights set, paid up and waited at the counter to collect my purchase. Continue reading →

Soggy

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Imagining nothing

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I started reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything today, and before I'd got thirty pages in, I was distracted by a thought (which is why it sometimes takes me a long time to get through books). The passage I was reading was about the Big Bang, and how time and space begin at that precise moment: By a huge coincidence, I spotted a highly relevant sight gag in the episode of Futurama I watched today on DVD. Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: Pandora, I really don’t think you should do that…

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[First published 08/11/2002] In the little coffee room on my floor at work, a fridge-freezer has just appeared. It's a standard domestic model, only distinguished by the sign on the door. "Experiment in progress. Do not open." I am aflame with curiosity. What's the experiment? Why is it taking place in a fridge? What dreadful calamity would befall me if I took a peek? Is it all a Cunning Plan to stop people stealing this guy's milk? Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: A moment

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[First published 16/11/2002] I missed capturing a moment as a digital image today, because I didn't have my camera with me. So, here it is translated by my brain from the image formed in my eyes. Our bus approached a deep flood in the road, water arcing up on each side. Kids in grey hoodies ran alongside, exhilarated, trying to get soaked, dolphins surfing the bow wave. Sun shattered the water drops into sparks, igniting their smiles. Continue reading →

Wet

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We did some more work in the garden over the weekend, and I planted some lettuce seeds in one of the beds. When I got home from work today, I went out in the garden to have a look at them, which was slightly ridiculous. I knew perfectly well that nothing would have germinated in 24 hours, but I wanted to look anyway. Growing plants from seeds is such a magical process, even if you know — in theory — how it works. Continue reading →

Soil therapy

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I've had one of those weekends where almost everything I've tried to do on the computer or with anything electronic has gone wrong. My computer has crashed twice while I was in the process of putting it to sleep, some work I was trying to do on Tracks hasn't worked out and I don't know why, and — most aggravatingly of all — my phone keeps crashing. By lunchtime today, I had reached my tolerance limit, and wanted to deal with something for a few hours that couldn't crash. Continue reading →

Happy Birthday to Me

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I've just entered the dreaded 35-45 age bracket on marketing surveys. Urg.

Airport at the airport

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My return flight to the UK has been delayed by at least 4 hours. Delays are always a pain, but I always find that on the homeward journey I get in to a kind of 'return mode', and so I find delays on the return journey particularly painful. I've been wandering round Osaka airport for a couple of hours already, randomly spending money to try to pass the time. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I seem to have amassed quite a collection of pens — I go into a shop, see some fancy, 4-colour gel pens that you can't find in the UK, and buy some. Continue reading →

Japan here I come

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I'm just about to leave for Japan (well, to leave to get nearer to the airport from which I'll be going to Japan), leaving the house in the capable hands of Mr. Bsag. If I get time and an internet connection, I might update the site a little, but otherwise it will be at least a week (plus recovering from jet lag time) before I post again. Play nicely in my absence. Continue reading →

The policy of honesty

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Sometimes it's nice when people in officialdom are brutally honest. I had to go to London yesterday, and caught a Virgin train from New Street to Euston. That service has now been more or less converted to using the fancy tilting 'Pendolino' trains, which can get to higher speeds (when they aren't stuck behind another train, held up by points trouble etc.) Anyway, the train I got was slightly late arriving, and was also not a Pendolino, but much older rolling stock. Continue reading →

Brummie puns

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One thing I've noticed since living in Birmingham is the number of names of shops and businesses that feature puns. Of course there's the usual hairdressers' names — like A Cut Above or Curl Up 'N' Dye — but then you expect hairdressers to use puns (for some reason I've never been able to fathom). No, what's unusual here is the diversity of other businesses employing a finely-honed play on words in their name. Continue reading →

Moonlight

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I had to get up in the very early hours of this morning to use the bathroom, and was amazed by finding the bathroom full of moonlight. The full moon was a couple of days ago, and the room was dappled by shards of silver light, broken up by the patterned, etched glass in the window. I went into Mr. Bsag's studio and watched the blue shadows of the trees outside dance on the walls. Continue reading →

Progress and multi-tasking

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It's funny how inspiration has a tendency to wax and wane. A week ago, I was really struggling with development of Tracks. I was tired, and even when I had time in the evenings to try and code something, nothing worked out. Then Rails 0.10.0 came out, and I'm flying along again. Things I tried and made an utter hash of before worked first time, and Tracks has come on in leaps and bounds. Continue reading →

Snow

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When it isn't being remorselessly dull, British weather is just plain weird. When I left work on the train this evening, it was beautifully bright. The low sun and clear air made even the dowdiest buildings shine like jewels. Gradually, as I got closer to my station, the colour drained away and big, fat flakes of snow started to fall. By the time I got off the train, the sky was low and a soft dove grey and I walked into a swirl of dim whiteness. Continue reading →

Two steps forwards

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Do you ever have one of those days when you do a load of work and then find that you have to undo all of it? I do. This afternoon, I was trying to add some kind of authentication to Tracks. I knew what I wanted to do, had a vague idea how to accomplish it, and off I went. Two hours later, and all I succeeded in doing was making a total pig's ear of the thing. Continue reading →

Static

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I don't know what it is about the weather today, but I've been generating massive amounts of static electricity in the office. The combination of dry, cold air, an acrylic fleece and a synthetic carpet must be nearly optimal conditions for generating static, because every time I touch anything in the office (light switch, sockets, poor shocked PowerBook), sparks crackle from my fingers like I'm some kind of human Van der Graaff generator. Continue reading →

When I was a girl

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"What's that you said? Yes, grandaughter, I remember the Ikea riots of '05. Oh, terrible it was. There were flaming bags of GLIMMA being hurled over the BILLY barricades, then exploding in a waxy splash on the AMORF. KLACKBOs were being fashioned into makeshift trebuchet to chuck RESPEKT at those packed into the warehouse. I even saw one woman use a KLIPPAN on a trolley as a battering ram. Shocking. Of course, back in those days, Ikea just sold reasonably priced furniture, not like today. Continue reading →

Feeling fined

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I got my first ever library fine today: a whopping 40p. I'm like some kind of outlaw. I expect there will be posters up in Police stations around the country offering a 30p reward for information about my whereabouts.

Handwriting

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I have a question: does anyone know of good resources for adults to improve their handwriting? I don't mean calligraphy, but everyday fluent handwriting. I used to have really neat handwriting when I was at school, but as I've used computers more it has gradually degraded to the scruffy, illegible scrawl I use today. When I look back at my old school books, and even my undergraduate notes, it's hard to believe that it's my handwriting. Continue reading →

Free web app icons

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Now that I've released the next version of what is now called Tracks, the awful realisation has hit me that my icon designing skills leave everything to be desired. The icons I made for Tracks are grey blobs. All of them. So I'm on the hunt for some replacements. I'd like some 16x16 pixel icons for edit, delete, show note and perhaps also a 'done' bullet point (a tick or checkmark in a circle). Continue reading →

I nearly forgot…

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...Happy New Year!

Subversion

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I've fallen in love with Subversion. Some time ago, I had a go at using another version control system (CVS), but I never managed to get the hang of it; it seemed more trouble than it was worth. But when I moved to TextDrive, I found that I had access to Subversion repositories, so I decided to see if I could get to grips with it. The Subversion book proved invaluable, but it all seemed much simpler than CVS once I'd got the basic idea. Continue reading →

Moving hosts

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I'm moving hosts again — I'll explain more when the transition has been made. So there may be some odd things happening, posts and comments appearing and then disappearing, 404s and so on until things have settled down. Do not adjust your sets!

Film washing

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Here are a few photographic tips for you: When you put your trousers in the wash, check the pockets for 35 mm film canisters that you meant to drop off at the photo processors on your way through town. Vigourous agitation in a detergent solution at 40°C does not suit colour film — who would have guessed? When you forget about Tip 1 and you go to pick up the photographs after having experimentally submitted them for processing, do remember to run away when the assistant tells you that the film couldn't be processed because it was wet for some reason, and also smelled of summer meadows. Continue reading →

Overheard

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Two girls, chatting in a sandwich shop: I don't feel so guilty when I eat crisps, because they're like... flat. Excellent, the thickness-based diet — you can eat as many thin foods as you like. Crisps, crackers, After Eight mints, processed cheese slices and salami can all be eaten ad libitum, but apples, tomatoes and broccoli are right out the window.

Getting equality straight

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I must suffer from some rare and highly specific form of dyslexia. Even though I know exactly what the difference is, I keep using = when I mean ==. I reckon that about 80% of the problems I've had while writing Ruby have come from using the assignment operator when I really want a comparator. I need to tattoo = != == on the back of my hand.

Losing your place

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One of the things I've noticed travelling on the train is the number of people who lose their place momentarily. They might be reading, listening to music or just day-dreaming, when they suddenly realise that they don't know exactly where they are because they haven't been paying attention to the stops. They search the darkness outside anxiously for some familiar pattern in the lights and shadows. It's happened to me a couple of times, and it's very disorienting. Continue reading →

Tunnel of Light

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This photo reminded me of something I meant to write about when I got back from Germany, but forgot about. Frankfurt airport has an amazing link corridor through which those moving walkways run to speed you between gates. It's painted white and generally dimly lit, but a series of lights paint the walls with a shifting set of colours, producing an effect a little like the Aurora Borealis. At the same time, there's a sound track of bird song, running water and gentle bells, which is quite soothing. Continue reading →

Space Odyssey

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Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets last night. It is a fictional — though factually-based — account of a six-year manned mission to all the planets in our Solar System. I thought that the combination of fact and drama might be really cheesy, but it was pretty well done. The facts were somewhat simplified for a popular audience, but it wasn't dumbed down too much. Continue reading →

Top Gear presenters in the making

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I overheard this exchange at the bus stop this morning, delivered by three boys commenting on every car that went past: [Boy 1, in a pre-pubescent Brummie squeak]: Whoa! That's a Subaru! [Boy 2]: Like the one in "2 Fast 2 Furious"! [Boy 3]: Yeeahh! [All watch in awed silence — crowded on the curb for a better view — as the car goes by] [Boy 1]: Crap spoiler^1^, though. Continue reading →

Yoda spam

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I've just had some spam from Yoda: Hello! The company on development web project are required Financial Leader(permanent or temporary work). You it is necessary whole only pair hours a day for this work, rest we shall teach you. The company guarantees the social package, honesty in cooperation, ensuring the salary beforehand on acceptance on work, vacation. Acceptance is realized on competitive base. We are pleased each workman! Salary from 5000 pounds in mounth. Continue reading →

The art of bike folding

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Mr. Bsag has just got a Brompton folding bike to replace his old Philips folder for commuting, which has now officially become a write-off (in the technical sense of costing more to repair than replace). Bromptons aren't cheap, but you get what you pay for in a very solid build quality and a tiny folded size. He managed to find an ex-demonstration model at a big discount, which was great, but it didn't come with any instructions, and arrived folded. Continue reading →

Minor changes

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As I mentioned when I was writing about my new camera, I'm finding flickr much easier to update with new photos than my own photoblog. In particular, I still haven't found a good way to automate the updating of the thumbnails that I show at the top of the page, and I have to do it manually. Since I'm posting most of my images to flickr (and then copying some to Wings Open Wide), I decided to use flickr's own script to display the last five images. Continue reading →

Found poetry

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I love Caribbean accents. The other day, on the bus, I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a Jamaican couple. I do try not to earwig in on other people's conversations if I can help it, but I find the Jamaican accent so mellifluous that I couldn't help myself. I think that they were talking about doing the laundry and related problems. At any rate, at one point, the guy said, Continue reading →

Smelly car

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We've had a very peripatetic end of the week and weekend, driving (it seemed) half way across the country a couple of times on various errands. I'm not particularly keen on driving at the best of times, but I feel like I don't want to get back into my car for a least a couple of weeks. Part of this aversion is down to an unfortunate odour we picked up in Staffordshire. Continue reading →

Staying open

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One of the pitfalls of commuting on public transport every day is that it is so easy to switch off and close in on yourself. You travel the same route each day at about the same time, and the sirens of the rails want to seduce you into switching off and just being passively transported; it's hard to resist. But I don't want to spend two hours each day as a zombie. Continue reading →

Completion

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I went to fetch Mr. Bsag from our old flat on Saturday, where he has been finishing off some work. So now everything is cleared out of our old place, and our new house really feels like a home. Great though the new house is, I knew that something was missing — my husband! We cooked a great meal tonight (listening to Bach's Mass in B minor on Radio 3), then sat there looking at all the space we have and grinning like cats who have got the cream. Continue reading →

Moving

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It's getting very close to moving day for us, so I'm going to be disconnected (in so many senses) for a few days. There's already broadband set up in our new home, but the owner can't quite remember what the settings are, so I've got some detective work to do before I'm online again. So it's goodbye Oxford... [Fanfare] ...hello Birmingham!

A question about tipping

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We're incredibly lucky that the University is paying our moving expenses for us, so we're getting a removals firm to shift all our junk (for the first time in our lives), and they are even packing stuff for us. Which is just as well, because my packing strategy is rubbish, and half of my plates would probably end up broken. But this raises a tricky issue; how much do you tip removals people? Continue reading →

A short trip

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I'm off tomorrow to La Continent for a conference — great timing, just as we're about to move, but it has been planned for a while. So unless I find an internet connection somewhere, things will be quiet around here until next Thursday or Friday. Have fun while I'm away, but no parties in the house, OK?

Clearing out

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One of the good things (well, the only good thing) about moving house is that it forces you to sort through all the cruft that naturally accumulates over the years. I was amazed when I managed to fill three small bin bags full of clothes (two for Oxfam and one for fabric recycling). It's not as if I'm any kind of fashion victim (as must be painfully obvious to anyone who sees me), though perhaps the fact that I tend to hold on to clothes for years doesn't help. Continue reading →

BSAG goes AWOL

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I won't be posting for a few days as I've got to run around much of the Southern half of England trying to sort out work things, housing things and other things, all without the solace and emotional outlet of an internet connection.

Cartoon violence

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There's a school playing field out the back of our flat, and earlier today, we were watching a pair of carrion crows pecking and pulling at something flat. It looked a bit like a deflated football. This was — perhaps — wishful thinking on our part, as a gang of mini-thugs regularly trespass on the field outside school hours, and continually whack their football against our fence, breaking the fence and annoying the hell out of us. Continue reading →

Wedding photographs

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A few weeks ago, we went to the wedding of a couple of friends of ours. I've just got the photographs that I took back from the developer, and I've put a few up on Wings Open Wide. It was a wonderfully unconventional wedding. The groom is in a band — Red Star Cycle — and they played a set at the reception. My Lomo camera loves occasions like this, so I tried to keep my hand as steady as possible and took some very long-exposure shots. Continue reading →

Barbecues

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What is it about planning a barbecue in Britain? It seems to be an almost foolproof way to manipulate the weather. Let's say that you plan a barbecue to celebrate someone's birthday on Saturday night. Friday will inevitably be gloriously sunny, balmy and generally perfect weather for cooking and consuming food outdoors. Likewise, Sunday will also be warm and sunny, with a pleasant gentle breeze. On Saturday — more specifically Saturday evening — it will start to pour with rain just after you have set everything up, wrestled with the almost waterproof gazebo, and lit the barbecue. Continue reading →

Procrastination

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In an effort to keep on top of our finances, I try to enter the details of all our receipts, bills and so on into a finance application (Moneydance), so that I can check the items off when the statement comes in and make sure that I'm not being swindled by the bank or anyone else. It doesn't actually mean we have any more money, but it does give an important illusion of control over the situation. Continue reading →

Don't try this at home

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Note to self: when you have just moved in to a new office, and haven't quite got used to the layout of the furniture, do not place your bag directly under low shelves which hang on the wall. Rummaging in the bag and sitting up suddenly can only end in the untimely death of several billion much-needed brain cells, and a lot of un-ladylike swearing.

Birmingham photos

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I've finally got round to posting some more pictures to my photoblog — the thumbnails aren't very interesting, but I'm quite pleased with the full-sized results, despite the annoying jagged edges on the diagonal lines. I think these are the result of compression, but if anyone has any suggestions for avoiding them in future, I'd be grateful.

Release

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I'm sure that regular readers will have noticed that I've been worried and depressed about my work situation. I've tried not to rant about it too much, but if you aren't in a good state of mind it does show in your writing. So I'm really happy to announce that — after months of rejections, and lying to myself about what I really wanted to be doing in an attempt to convince myself that the situation wasn't as soul-destroying as it seemed — I've just been offered a great job in academia. Continue reading →

Moving offices

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We made the long-delayed office move today — though it hardly seems worthwhile for me. There's almost no chance now that I'll get another job in this department, so I'll be moving out in a couple of months. This is a bit of a shame^1^ as the view from the new office is really superb — dreaming spires prickle the horizon, and I can look down on the candelabra-like flowers of horse chestnut trees. Continue reading →

Finding films

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Sometimes it would be really handy to have a search facility for finding the titles of films where you can't remember any of the words in the title, the director, or any of the actors. For example, this morning Mr. Bsag and I were trying to remember a great French film we saw a couple of years ago. Our search terms would have gone something like this: What was that French film with the welder who runs away from his wife and family and becomes a painter in Venice? Continue reading →

The Joy of Gills

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In this age of huge out-of-town superstores, it's comforting that you can still find an old-fashioned hardware shop when you need one. Gill and Co.^1^ — tucked away down a very narrow alleyway in Oxford — is just such a shop. You can go in and ask for a single two inch nail, and know that they will happily sell you one and solemnly wrap it up for you. We managed to break the plastic doohickeys that fix the toilet seat to the pan, which resulted in an unpleasantly insecure seat. Continue reading →

Whale dream

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I had a very odd dream last night. I was on a boat, helping out on a whale-watching tour. I did this for real, and often dream about it, particularly when I'm a bit stressed. I was up on the observation deck, when I saw — to my utter joy — that we were surrounded by killer whales (orcas), leaping and breaching high into the air. The tourists on deck got very excited about this, and reached out their arms. Continue reading →

Banana Splits

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Photoblog finished

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I've finally finished messing about with my photoblog, and I've set up redirects from the old entries to the corresponding entries in the new blog. I say 'finally finished', but of course a true geek never finishes tinkering :-D. I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out. I've mentioned before that I used an adaptation of the WordPress publishing platform called Pictorialis, which has been developed by Mark. It has loads of great features, like automatic uploading, re-sizing and thumbnailing of images, and it also sucks down the EXIF data provided by the camera, so that you can show the shutter speed, aperture and so on, which can be very useful. Continue reading →

Un-British weather

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I'm going to do something very British here, and talk about the weather. But the reason I'm doing so is because of the very un-British weather we've been having today--with me so far? The weather in Britain is generally defined by its moderation. It doesn't get very hot, it doesn't get very cold, and it often drizzles half-heartedly for days on end rather than having a jolly good downpour and getting it all over with. Continue reading →

April Fool's Day

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I've had two shocks today: I had a nasty moment when I thought that Brian Eno's prodigious talent might have completely evaporated overnight — just like that. When I checked my email on Mailsmith this morning, I heard a loud buzzing alongside the normal notification sound. I thought that one of the drivers must have come adrift in the speakers, but I eventually checked my notification preferences. If you use Mailsmith, take a look at the notification preferences today (I'm not giving anything away :-)). Continue reading →

Neck trouble

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I don't know what I was doing in my sleep last night, but I woke up this morning with a really painful neck. I think I might have trapped a nerve. I've been walking around all day very gingerly — as if I'm wearing an invisible neck brace. Some kinds of relatively minor injuries seem to cause disproportionate amounts of pain and inconvenience, and you can't do very much at all without moving your neck. Continue reading →

I wish I had my camera when... (No. 1)

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...I was looking up at a small flock of pigeons circling around a tower of University College, dark against the twilight sky. They settled on the ramparts, spacing themselves perfectly and keeping a wing length between each bird. Four to a crenellation, they made an extra layer of decoration on the battlements — soft, curved, feathered crenellations on top of hard, stone, square ones.

Labour intensive fruit

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I try hard to eat healthily, and take a couple of pieces of fruit to work every day. However, I do tend to get stuck in a bit of a rut in terms of fruit diversity because not all fruit is easy to deal with at my desk. For example, I love kiwi fruit, but eating them seems to require numerous tools and — as a result — a lot of washing up. Continue reading →

Just the ticket

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Yesterday I discovered the perfect antidote for reading too many undergraduate essays and spending four hours trying to explain complicated theoretical models when your head hurts: a glass of wine and Hustle (not to be confused with Hustler). It's frothy, knowing, ultra-glossy, and best of all it has a Man From U.N.C.L.E. You don't even need to trouble your brain with the plotâ€"just enjoy the fancy hardware and the frequent slow-motion shots of people in nice clothes walking away from office buildings. Continue reading →

A modern proverb

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"A watched backup never ends." I've been watching the MB fall for the past ten minutes, and it seems as if time is slowing down. Perhaps I need a proper hobby.

Stress and relief

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I've just had a very tense and stressful week, which was due to a combination of having a bad cough and cold and feeling rotten, and yet still having to prepare to give a research seminar at another University, which — for one reason or another — turned into a much more significant event than it would normally be. I did the seminar yesterday. Things went fine, people seemed to enjoy my talk and my voice didn't pack up, and now I feel exhausted but exhilarated. Continue reading →

Small pleasures

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For four days, I've had a wracking cough. This has meant that I haven't got much sleep, and I'm constantly irritated by a dreadful, incessant tickling in my bronchi. I feel like my lungs are trying to escape. In an attempt to distract myself from these annoyances, I was trying to think about the kind of simple, pleasurable things I enjoy. I remembered a cold winter walk I went on a little while ago. Continue reading →

Outlying spam

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Like many people, I've been deluged by virus-laden and bounced emails (with my address spoofed as the sender) as a result of the MyDoom virus. I've also had the usual quantity of spam, through which I have to dredge to find my genuine email. But among the usual crop of ‘hot chicks/viagra/Atkins diet' tempting offers, one spam stood out — metallic yarn on special offer. And my metallic yarn needs have gone unfulfilled for so long. Continue reading →

Spoofed email

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If anyone else has received an email with the subject line "The Garden of Eden" which appears to originate from my rousette.org.uk email address, I hope that I don't need to tell you that I didn't send it. I've received one email from a perplexed recipient already, but I'm reluctant to reply directly to the sender in case it's an even more byzantine spamming attempt. The email is most likely from a sender who is unknowingly infected with the Klez virus. Continue reading →

The dangers of half listening

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We were watching a documentary we had recorded about religion and celibacy. Well, when I say 'we were watching', what I actually mean is that Mr. Bsag was watching while I surfed blogs and half listened but mostly didn't watch. Suddenly Mr. Bsag says, "Look at those big knobs". Since the last image I glimpsed was of Hindu Sadhus doing very painful-looking things to their penises with long sticks, this immediately got my full attention. Continue reading →

New Pentax camera

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I was reading the latest MacUser magazine over breakfast this morning, and my attention was caught by a review for a new Pentax digital SLR. It's a lovely looking camera, and was given a rave review in Digital Camera Magazine, but the thing that struck me first was the name. It's called the *ist D. Yes, that is an asterisk. I was so convinced that '*ist D' was the catastrophic outcome of some freak spell checker accident that I checked Pentax's own site, but it turned out to be the real name. Continue reading →

Giggling

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I caught a classic bit of the Today programme this morning. They had Falim Khoury (the head barman at the Savoy Hotel) shaking cocktails for everyone, and it was fairly evident from the general level of merriment that a certain amount of actual drinking was going on. Poor Charlotte Green had to try to read the news with sounds of shaking cocktails in the background, and she got a serious case of the giggles. Continue reading →

Happy Winter Solstice Holiday

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I'm going to take a short break from blogging over the holiday, so I hope you all have a relaxing break from work — however you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) the season.

Reasons to be cheerful, 1, 2

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In the interests of counting my blessings... I've just finished two days of interviewing prospective undergraduates. This is surprisingly hard work. If you're at all empathic, the fog of nervousness exuded by the students starts to seep into your pores. It took a session with my iPod playing Magnetic Fields at an unwisely high volume on the way home to expunge the feeling. Our beloved iMac is back home with a shiny new keyboard^1^, and a shiny new video card. Continue reading →

Nice title switcher fixed (again)

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I'm sorry about all the messing about, but I've finally managed to improve the switcher without breaking anything[1]. I've also rolled it out to all of the main pages, so nice titles should work everywhere (or not work everywhere if you've got it switched off). I'll stop messing about now... [1] Yesterday I left out a set of parentheses in the JavaScript, which was what caused all the problems. D'oh!

Ahem

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Sorry about the disappearance of the 'Nice titles' switcher in the sidebar on the right. I was trying to improve it by changing it into a radio button, which would also show the current state, and--well, I broke it. And I didn't make a backup of the file before I started. This is what happens when you try writing JavaScript when you've got a heavy cold. I'll endeavour to get something working when I'm feeling a bit better. Continue reading →

Kiwi fruit alcohol

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Fruit bowls are strange things. I'm quite a keen fruit consumer, but however much I eat, there always seem to be one or two pieces of fruit which decompose quietly at the bottom of the bowl. Today I discovered an ominous looking kiwi fruit lurking at the bottom, and gingerly picked it up. It squished in a worrying way, and then actually fizzed. It sounded like an alka-seltzer dropped in water--that's a serious level of fermentation. Continue reading →

Security

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I was amazed by the number of Police still hanging around on Friday morning. As the coach came past Buckingham Palace, there was a military helicopter flying low over the grounds and a Police officer about every 10m. It was a proper 'ring of steel'--or rather a 'ring of fluorescent yellow' as it was raining and the coppers all had their waterproofs on. I'm no monarchist, but I can imagine the Queen thinking that it was all a lot of fuss over nothing. Continue reading →

It’s that time of year again…

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I'm bunking off work tomorrow to go to the MacExpo in London. I'll probably be back late, but I'm hoping to get time for a full report on Saturday. If you're visiting the Expo and spot a short woman having a Gollum-like argument with herself about the merits and demerits of blowing six months of salary on a G5, then do come and say hello. And stop me, please...

A sure-fire winner if ever I saw one

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You know what I would like to see invented? Automatically-engaging stabilising wheels for bicycles. Bikes are fine when you are bowling along at some speed, but you lose the gyroscopic stability as you slow down. Also, when you are riding in traffic, you are continually slowing down, putting your feet down, and engaging your feet on the pedals again--all of which is inefficient. On a recumbent bike, the speed at which instability strikes is lower, and getting the bike started is harder. Continue reading →

Crossing that line

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I'm not quite sure what cues I use to pull off this feat. I'm quite good with voices (even just the general timbre of someone's voice), and the actors' mannerisms and way of moving are often a give-away. Unfortunately, I'm quite bad at remembering names, which means I have a lot of slightly Victoria Wood-esque conversations, along the lines of "Oh look, it's thingy. You know, he was in that film with the guy in the vest. Continue reading →

A few changes

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{.pixframesmall width="163” height="39”}An email from D. J. Nightingale about my blog design prompted me to make some minor but long overdue changes to the design of the page. He pointed out that I could position my images a bit more cleanly using CSS rather than the clunky vspace and hspace attributes I used because I was in a hurry. So, I've finally pulled my finger out and got on with it. Continue reading →

Vinyl

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The parents visited today, so we did the usual thing of visiting colleges, wandering around shops and drinking coffee. I made the mistake (from my mum's perspective, anyway) of introducing my dad to Avid Records--a fantastic second-hand vinyl shop. They have acres of rock, pop and blues on the ground floor, but it was only recently that I discovered they also have a first floor (up the narrow stairs, taking care not to kick off the piles of records stacked there) which has thousands of folk and classical records. Continue reading →

One year old today

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I've just realised that this blog is one year old today! I can hardly believe that I've been writing it for a whole year--it certainly doesn't seem like that long. It's hard to imagine life without writing something every day--well, almost every day. I've got so much more out of it than I could ever have imagined this time last year.

Exhibition

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Mr. Bsag has an exhibition of his paintings at the Far From The Madding Crowd pub in Oxford, so we got up at an unreasonably early hour to go and hang them up. Several hours later, and with a great deal of "up a bit, no--down a bit" business, we finally got about 26 paintings hung and labelled. It was great to see them all hanging in such a big space. Continue reading →

Who’s there?

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I noticed something a bit odd about my referrer logs the other day. In the statistics for visitors' domains, guess which country with a known domain comes sixth in the list of most frequent visitors? Go on, have a go. Give up? Well, I'll tell you--it's everyone's favourite volcanic Caribbean island, Montserrat. So after .com, .net, .uk, .ca and .edu, .ms is right up there with the big domains. The domain sucks down a lot of pages, but very little bandwidth, so I have no idea what that means. Continue reading →

Birds with a death wish

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Many of our car journeys around Somerset (of which there were few--we walked most places) were considerably impeded by huge flocks of game birds mooching about on the roads. I don't think I've ever come across birds with fewer survival instincts. Despite the fact that I slowed to an absolute crawl, they seemed determined to hurl themselves into my path. If I braked to avoid a partridge on the left hand side of the road and steered around it to the right, the silly thing would suddenly run back into my path at the very last minute. Continue reading →

Taking a short break

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It's got to that time of year when I need to take a break from work, or I'll explode or something. So I'm going to take abdicate all responsibility and take a few days off. I won't be posting until the end of next week. With any luck, I'll return rested, enthused and bursting with health and well-being. That's the plan, anyway.

Bus surfing

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My bike still isn't fixed, so I'm suffering a bus ride every day. It's particularly packed on my way home from work, so most days I have to stand up all the way home. This is annoying but--as I always try to make a virtue of a necessity--it has prompted me to revive a sport I invented when I was about 8 years old. I really liked the idea of surfing or skateboarding, but we lived too far from the sea, and my mum wouldn't let me have a skateboard. Continue reading →

Updated ‘About’ page

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I've updated the About page with a Colophon, giving some details on the origin of the image in the header, the fonts used to create the page and so on, in case anyone is interested.

I've been Googlewhacked

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I had an exciting comment posted to this blog today by Saddo, informing me that my site contains a Googlewhack. For those of you not familiar with the term, a Googlewhack is exactly two words, which — when entered as a Google search — return exactly one result. Apparently (and I have tried it), but she's a girl comes up as the only result for this particular search! I'm not sure what this actually means, if anything. Continue reading →

Another new look

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As you've probably noticed by now, I've given the site a bit of a make-over. I'd started to feel that the header image was a bit lame, and the sidebar was reaching epic proportions. So, I've rearranged some of the information in the sidebar to bring the search bar up 'above the fold'. I certainly use the search bar a lot myself, and it was annoying to have to scroll down. Continue reading →

Ooo Matron!

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We've been watching Monty Don on 'Gardener's World' tonight. As Mr. Bsag knows all about my fondness for Monty, he keeps teasing me with double entendres of an almost Carry On film championship standard. Some examples: "Ooo, look at the size of his dibber." "He's got a nice fat marrow there." And so on... The trouble is that double entendres are a bit like Pringles — once you pop, you can't stop. Continue reading →

Police terminology

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I had to go and report my accident to the Police yesterday, and found to my surprise that one of the multiple-choice options for describing the cause of the incident was — and I'm quoting the exact phrase here — 'looking without seeing'. The very phrase I had used! Trying to describe my bike was a bit of a problem: "So, does it have a registration plate?". The driver seemed to have formed the impression that it was a motorized vehicle — if only! Continue reading →

Perl Dreams

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I'm getting on fairly well with learning Perl, but the fact that I can only study during the evenings and weekends is having an odd side effect — I've been programming in my dreams. I could be coding up a storm, whipping up killer Moveabletype plugins, or even my own custom content management system^1^, but I'll never know. All I'm left with when I wake up is a vivid impression of having done a lot of coding, together with a few variable names and snatches of syntax. Continue reading →

Funny looks

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One of these days, I'm going to take my Lomo out on my recumbent bike, set the focus distance to 3 m and take photographs of the looks of amazement, surprise, amusement and derision on the faces of passers-by. Keeping my balance whilst snapping away and pedalling at the same time might be a little tricky, but difficulty should never get in the way of art. I'll tell that to the nurse when I end up in Casualty (translation for non-UK residents: the Emergency Room) with broken bones. Continue reading →

Screen shots

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I'm a bit nervous about owning up to this, in case I find that it is just me, but... Does anyone else find that — when loading up a screenshot in a browser which opens in its own window — you try to click the close widgets in the image rather than the real window widgets? This happens to me all the time. I'm sitting there scowling while clicking away fruitlessly, muttering "Stoopid close button" in a Homeric^1^ fashion, before I realize my mistake. Continue reading →

Sk8ters

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Mr. Bsag and I went to London today to visit the Royal Academy Summer show (more on that story later^1^). On our way back on the Oxford Tube, we saw half a dozen inline skaters weaving around Park Lane, looking like toreadors taunting the taxis and buses, touching the cars then sweeping away. They must do it for the adrenaline buzz — I don't fancy even driving a car around that chaotic race track. Continue reading →

Audio geekery

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My brother was visiting over the weekend and — as often happens on such occasions — we ended up in an expensive hi-fi shop, promising ourselves that we were 'just looking'. As we browsed the various gorgeous and ruinously expensive bits of equipment on the shelves, the following exchange took place between us: Brother: I know it sounds a bit pervy, but come and twiddle this selection knob! Me [twiddling a huge, solid aluminium knob on a Musical Fidelity amp]: Ooo, nice. Continue reading →

Sea of green

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The reeds and rushes in the water meadows are now almost as tall as I am. In the breeze, they ripple like a green sea, a froth of creamy meadowsweet flowers capping the waves. If I close my eyes, I can imagine myself on a quiet shore. As I walk the path through the meadow, I smile, feeling like Moses parting the waves. Everything is lush.

Fence-watching

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As one might expect, I spend quite a bit of time watching animals, trying to work out what they're doing, why they're doing it, and — in the case of mugger ducks — how I can get them to stop doing it. Much of this happens at work, but I also watch animals in a non-professional setting, as I have for most of my life. Sometimes I can work out what is going on — at other times, I can only wrinkle my forehead in perplexity and think, "What the flippin' Nora is going on there, then? Continue reading →

About the time I was mugged by a duck

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After my last post, there seemed to be some interest in an expansion of my 'I once got mugged by a duck' comment. So here it is. One lovely summer's day, I decided that I would get out of the office at lunchtime, and eat my sandwiches in the University Parks. As I sat myself down in a pretty spot by the river and started to unpack my lunch, the ducks started to gather. Continue reading →

Normal service is resumed

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I'm sorry if you had problems loading this site yesterday. The whole of my host's domain was out for hours. It turns out that they had a small fire in their server room, and had to evacuate the place and then get everything back up again. There doesn't seem to have been any harm done anyway. I think everything is still here, but if you emailed me yesterday, it may have got lost in the system. Continue reading →

Button fever

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Everyone's gone button mad! You can make your own or steal them from gtmcknight.com — which is what I did! I had a few buttons before, but I thought that I'd take the opportunity to update them and replace a few with prettier ones. I know that that everyone and his dog uses them, but they are a nice compact way to display information.

Ansty

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While I was on the H2G2 site, I found this definition of Ansty (a place I've mentioned here before), according to the Meaning of Liff: Ansty (adj.) Descriptive of a computer mouse icon pointer that refuses to move no matter how much you gyrate the mouse. Fantastic! I've got the Meaning of Liff, but I'd forgotten that Ansty was included.

More Florida photos

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I've put some more photos from our Florida trip up on Wings Open Wide. This time, all the pictures were taken with my Lomo.

An extraordinary phrase

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I was listening to the Today programme this morning — half asleep as usual — when my brain filtered the following phrase out of the warm fuzz of words: "...lives blighted by otters" Take a moment to read that again. The questions 'what?' 'how?' and 'why?' immediately springs to mind. The piece was following on from another yesterday, which noted the welcome recovery in the otter population due to the banning of pesticides like DDT and dieldrin. Continue reading →

I can't believe it's a coincidence

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As a kind of bribery/attempt to reinforce a positive association between XHTML-wrangling and pleasure, I treated myself to watching the DVD of Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) on Monday night. I saw it ages ago, but it was fun to watch again. It's not a vintage Allen film by any means (the sketches are a bit variable in quality — some are hilarious while others are a bit so-so), but one line made me sit up and take notice. Continue reading →

Interesting things

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An interesting fact I learned today, in the course of totally legitimate work-related research on laterality (or 'handedness'*): true hermaphrodites always have a functional ovary on the left and a functional testis on the right. Also, in most men, the left testicle hangs lower than the right, despite being lighter. I don't have a large enough sample size to personally confirm either of these facts, but I will be paying much closer attention in future. Continue reading →

Blogging with a delay

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I found it unexpectedly hard to blog while I was in the US. I had thought that it might be difficult to write about my experiences after the fact, as weblogs (well, mine anyway) are meant to be spontaneous things. So I made sure that I actually wrote my posts on the day that they occurred to me. What I hadn't anticipated was that it would matter if I didn't publish the entry immediately -- that was completely unexpected. Continue reading →

Airboats

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[Sunday 23rd March] Phew. Airboats are fast. And noisy. And probably really bad for the environment. Buy boy are they fun! We thought that we really had to have a go on one while we were in Florida. Actually, we saw quite a bit of wildlife on the trip -- lots of birds, some lovely dragonflies and an alligator some way off in the distance. The first time you ride on an airboat and the driver heads straight for a patch of reeds, you can't help thinking "Aaarggg! Continue reading →

Infomercials

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[Thursday 20th March] This is my third trip to the States, and every time I come it reinforces the impression that 'The Simpsons' is a documentary rather than a comedy. To be fair, this is an impression mainly garnered from infomercials. I have to say that I'm fascinated by them. "Do you want to be able to upgrade the software used by your brain?" Yes, Pam -- tell me more immediately about how I can speed-read up to 2,000 words per minute! Continue reading →

TTFN

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This is likely to be my last regular post for a couple of weeks. On Monday I'm off to Florida -- the land of Disney and spam barons for a conference and then a little bit of R&R&SWM*. I'll be writing about my experiences as usual offline, and if I do get a chance to connect I'll upload a load of posts at one time. I've applied for a T-Mobile wireless account, so if I find a hotspot Starbucks, I'll be a happy little geek bunny. Continue reading →

I really must use that one

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I've just watched the last of Grand Designs. To be honest, I'm not sure why I've been watching it: we can't afford to buy any kind of of house in Oxford, let alone build some state-of-the-art, luxury design statement, so watching this program is somewhat masochistic. Anyhoo, this week's build didn't go entirely according to plan, to put it rather mildly. But the chaos prompted Tom, the owner, to come out with the most perfect expression I think I've ever heard. Continue reading →

Names

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On my very long and very dull drive today on work-related matters (I won't bore you with the details), I saw the best place name ever -- Ansty Cowfold. When I looked it up on Multimap, I found out -- disappointingly -- that it's actually two villages which just happen to share the same road sign. Still, never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, I have decided that if I ever write a novel (like that's ever going to happen), the main character will be called Ansty Cowfold. Continue reading →

That's why a bear can rest at ease...

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What with all the excitement of donning my deerstalker earlier (what a sad life I lead), I forgot to mention my strange waking-up experience earlier today. I reached consciousness this morning already singing The Bare Necessities from 'The Jungle Book' in my head. It's quite a jolly way to wake up to be sure, but suggests to me that I must be under a good deal more strain than I had previously suspected. Continue reading →

Breakdown

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Today seemed to be one of those days when everything broke down. The University's network connection with the rest of the world was down for most of the day, which meant disaster — now we had no displacement activity to put off the awful business of work itself. It's amazing how much you miss just being able to do a quick Google. I kept saying things like, "Hang on, I'll just look it up. Continue reading →

Botanical Gardens pictures

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I've put up a few pictures from my jaunt around the University Botanical Gardens over on wings open wide. There weren't a lot of flowers in bloom in the main garden (understandably, given the season), so most of the images were taken in the glasshouses. I discovered some technical difficulties with taking photographs in a glasshouse: the lens kept steaming up, so I was wiping it every few minutes, and the light was rather subdued, so some of the pictures have a rather limited depth of field. Continue reading →

Special reader offers

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We've started buying the Radio Times as The Guardian guide doesn't cover digital radio very well, or have detailed information about the programmes on the Freeview channels. It does the job, but the thing that amuses us every week is the catalogue of ‘reader offers' which comes with it. Last week, we had the tempting offer of a dog ramp: a specially constructed wooden plank to facilitate your dog's access to the car boot. Continue reading →

One two, one two...

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As a general rule, I detest using a microphone when giving a lecture. For a small person, I have a reasonably big voice when required, and I can project to the back of the lecture theatres we have at work without much problem. I hate the fading in and out of the volume when you turn your head, and the general ‘tinny' timbre of a badly amplified voice. However, I've got a filthy cold at the moment — my voice has become a whispery, scratchy thing — so I decided that I'd better give in and use the mic. Continue reading →

Childhood weekends

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For some reason (nostalgia is a funny thing) I've been remembering how I spent my weekends when I was a child. I had a Best Friend, Susie, and we were virtually inseparable. We spent almost every weekend together, either at her house or mine (we lived in the same street). I'm going to sound like I'm having a bit of a Monty Python moment, but when I was a kid, we spent most of our time outside if it wasn't raining too hard. Continue reading →

And now, for something completely different…

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Slipping smoothly from something very serious to something utterly trivial, I've been tinkering with my templates again. First, I've SmartyPant-ized the comments and trackback listings, so quotes (double and single), apostrophes, ellipses, en-dashes and em-dashes should all be properly encoded for your commenting pleasure. Second, I've reversed the display order of comments, so that they appear with the oldest first. This is much more logical to read if people are following a thread of a discussion down the page. Continue reading →

Bristol pictures

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I've just put up some pictures from my trip last week to Bristol on Wings Open Wide. I've even made a new gallery category for them, which will encourage me to go back soon and take some more. Feel free to go and take a look.

Bow-riding

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The sequence in this week's Life of Mammals where David is obviously exhilarated by watching dolphins bow-riding brought back the memory of that experience for me. I've mentioned before that I worked for a summer on whale-watching tours off the coast of the Isle of Mull. I saw plenty of minke whales, harbour porpoises and even a lone Risso's dolphin, but I always managed to miss the huge pods of common dolphins bow-riding, much to my disappointment. Continue reading →

You must be kidding!

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You know, when I wrote my post about partworks I made up all of the titles except the 'Understanding Your PC' one. Shocking, I know, but call it creativity. Then I got a shock. We were watching something we'd videoed last night and fast-forwading through the adverts as is our custom, when what should flash by in a swirl of materialism but an advert for a partwork on miniature teapots! My gast was well and truly flabbered. Continue reading →

Soggy

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It's been a rather damp start to the New Year here. As if it wasn't bad enough going back to work after Christmas, I had to get there through a biblical deluge. The Isis (the Thames, for normal people^1^) has grown enormously. I might curse the fact that I live on a hill when I have to cycle back up it, but it does mean that I don't get soggy carpets three times a year. Continue reading →

The morning after

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So how did you celebrate the New Year? We decided not to venture out into the cold and wet (Oxford is also curiously dead at New Year), and instead planned an evening in. We got a great Chinese take-away from The Oriental Condor (not Asian-Andean fusion food, as you might conclude from the name). We had a bottle of red and a bottle of sparkling wine, and watched "The Big Lebowski" for the nth time. Continue reading →

New! Improved!

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It's happened at last - I've finally got round to getting my gallery fixed up. It doesn't have a lot of pictures in it yet, but that will gradually change over the next few weeks. Take a look here, or follow the link in the new navigation bar above (so much newness!). I've also added a handy little widget in the sidebar so that you can see a thumbnail of the latest picture here, courtesy of the wonderful MTOtherBlog plugin, developed by David Raynes. Continue reading →

Housekeeping

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I've been doing a bit of housekeeping on this site today. I've added a few links to the Browsing section in the sidebar to update it with some weblogs I've started reading recently. I've also fixed the "More.." link in the About box so that it actually goes to the about page as promised. Sorry about that - the link broke when I moved hosts, and I've only just noticed. Continue reading →

Grrr…

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I've just spent half an hour tinkering with my XML summaries, thinking that I'd broken something when I moved hosts. I'd got round to testing it with NetNewsWire, but found that I got an error when I tried to subscribe. Minor panic ensued. I couldn't find anything wrong with the file, and after tearing my hair out in a techno-rage, I finally decided to try quitting and re-starting NetNewsWire. My XML file now loaded beautifully. Continue reading →

All set up and ready to go

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I've set everything up at my new host, Blogomania, so all it needs is for the DNS changes to propagate through the system. If you can see this post, it means it's already happened! Everything went incredibly smoothly really. The folks at Blogomania and on the support forums were really helpful, and after a few minor hitches due to my own stupidity, all was well.

Moving hosts

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I'm moving hosts at the moment, so there may be a bit of downtime over the next 24-48 hours. Do check back again later, I'll unpack the kettle from the packing cases and brew a pot of tea.

My mate loves Marmite

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If you love (or hate) Marmite, you might be interested in this load of waffle on the subject. Mr. Butshesagirl was very amused as he is a Class A Marmite addict. He even took took a jar when we went to Florida earlier this year, and got rather agitated when he thought he might have to give it up at customs. As it was, they did let us in the country with it, and he made it his mission to convert a significant proportion of the American populace to the joys of the sticky brown stuff. Continue reading →

Amazing invisible comments

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Something has gone a bit pear-shaped with the comments. The comment count has updated correctly, but the comments themselves don't appear on the page. I've posted a question on the Moveabletype support forum, and hopefully some kind soul will help me fix it. If all else fails, I'll reconstruct the comments from the notification emails I received for them. Normal service will hopefully be resumed in the near future.

Final update tonight

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I want to go to bed, but I think I've finally got full comment functionality back, and I've restored the previous comments. I had to add them manually myself, so I'm afraid that the posting dates are all wrong. Anyway, at least your words of wisdom are preserved... There are two morals of this story: BACK THE FRELLING THING UP, YOU IDIOT! Maybe think about switching hosts. I think part of this problem might be host-related, and anyway, I'll be running out of space before too long. Continue reading →

Problems, problems

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My Moveabletype database got seriously frelled somehow. I've managed to trash the old entries and reimport them, but now the entry ID's are all wrong. Sigh. Anyway, this post is partly for me to check if comments now work.

Am I so predictable?

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For the first time ever, I took a look at the "Your Store" tab on Amazon. Here are Amazon's picks for me. Dreamweaver MX Magic by Al Sparber, Gerry Jackson Dreamweaver MX: PHP Web Development (Tools of the Trade) by Bruno Mairlot, et al Python Essential Reference (Essential Reference) by David Beazley Python Standard Library by Frederik Lundh The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Extended Version] - Four Disc Set [2001] DVD Gosford Park [2001] ~ Robert Altman (Director), et al DVD Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones [2002] DVD 24 [2001] The first four are fairly obvious as I'd ordered other books from them on Dreamweaver MX and Python. Continue reading →

Apple and Victorian engineers

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{width="200” height="150”} A thought struck me yesterday about the similarities between Apple and Victorian engineers. Unlikely, you might be thinking, but bear with me. The Business Design Centre used to be an agricultural hall - basically, a glorified barn for markets and shows, and was built in the 19th Century. But if you look at the roof from the inside, you can see that the engineers thought that there was nothing incongruous about a practical, functional building with humble origins also being beautiful. Continue reading →

Teething troubles

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There seem to be some teething problems with comments. You may encounter a "500 Internal Server Error" if you click a comments link. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Who knows why. If you try again later, it will probably work. It's a very general error (basically it means that something went wrong when a perl script was run), and is thus rather tricky to pin down.

Feeling deflated

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A few days ago, I stepped on a wood staple in my Nike Air trainers. The inevitable happened, and my air reservoir got a puncture. I was a bit sceptical that the air thingy did anything at all, but now that I'm listing to starboard with a deflation induced limp, I can appreciate that they did actually have some purpose. You might say, "Well, serves you right for wearing such over-rated, sweat-shop produced products of a sick capitalist society", and you'd be dead right. Continue reading →

What’s the magic word?

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I think I must be transparent to infra-red. The lights in the toilets at work are triggered by an infra-red sensor. At least, that's supposed to happen: when I walk in, the lights stay sullenly off. I have to go back and wave frantically at the sensor to persuade it to turn on. I don't know about you, but I often anthropomorphize technology, particularly when it's misbehaving (oops, there I go again. Continue reading →

Checkout delays

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Winter is dribbling in. Today is one of those days when Britain exhibits its ability to produce really world class drizzle. By this I mean rain that isn't sufficiently forceful to be exciting, but just enough to make you thoroughly wet and miserable. Mr. Butshesagirl and I had to go into town this morning, and Cornmarket Street was a sea of umbrellas, grey puddles and grim faces. While we were in the tiny branch of Sainsbury's searching vainly for veggie sausages, there was an announcement on the public address system: "We apologise for the delays customers are currently experiencing at the tills". Continue reading →

Same but different

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I've been having a bit of a tinker with the site. I wanted to convert the site valid XHTML, with the page layout handled by CSS. After a lot of effort, I think I've done it. It looks more or less the same, but it should be standards compliant and, more importantly easier to maintain. Bear with me if there are a few glitches for a little while.

Celebrity, schmelebrity

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I was glancing at the headlines on a rack of women's magazines while drinking a coffee in a rather dull service station. These caught my eye: Cosmopolitan: Celebrity Real-Life Stories (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) Company: 126 Celebrity Hair Secrets (such a precise number - couldn't they dredge up enough celebrity hair secrets to make it up to a round 130?)

My first post

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This is my first entry - yay! I'll be adding more later, but there has to be a first post and this is it. I've been thinking about writing this blog for a while, so the next few entries won't be on current events, but things I've been mulling over recently. Then hopefully the blog will catch up with life.