Friday, 30 November 2007

Personal stereo systems

I thought I was kicking some pretty ill flavour with my new iPod shuffle. And then I saw these guys.

Click here for more info. Thank you

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

When Christmas Zippy Strikes

The Santa at the Christmas Markets by work is a big old egg man that looks like Zippy.

When Christmas Zippy Strikes, originally uploaded by Ben Scicluna.

flickr meet, originally uploaded by loumurphy.

Ho Ho Ho! (and thanks to the photographers who let me reproduce their work!)

Monday, 26 November 2007

School in a cave

I was pointed in the direction of this link to an amazing Reuters photoset by Boing Boing - a Chinese school in an enormous cave. Wow.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Challenge Tennis - round 2

Challenge Tennis is an exchange of fun challenges between me and my friend Kate, who is in Japan teaching English. It started like this.

Kate's return challenge was as follows:

I challenge you to recreate an iconic or highly recognisable scene, pose, poster or something similar from a film. It can be your take on it or as faithfull a rendition as you can make (or somewhere inbetween of course!) Anything from silloutted man with gun a la James Bond or slow motion domino stumble scene a la Monsters Inc, anything you like!

Naturally you can be in it or taking the picture.

And here's how it turned out...

the first steps, originally uploaded by chiptooth.

'...a bit further...', originally uploaded by chiptooth.

'...even further?', originally uploaded by chiptooth.

in the water, originally uploaded by chiptooth.

movie version, originally uploaded by chiptooth.

Dave's version, originally uploaded by chiptooth.

idiot with towel, originally uploaded by chiptooth.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Scott Speranza, welcome to the world!

You might remember Rob from this post. Well, the baby's here, and he's a beautiful little thing. Hooray!

EDIT: I just found this video Rob made, what a hoot!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Which part of my new iPod Shuffle will I lose first?

Favourite: The docking port's USB socket cover.

It isn't an integral part of the working life of the iPod, and - because losing it won't really affect listening to music - it'll be loved less than other components. Odds on.

Second favourite: The headphones.

They'll go everywhere, they're easy to remove / detach, and they're most likely to be 'borrowed' to be used in something else.

Third favourite: The iPod Shuffle itself.

It'll go everywhere, and is easy to put down, have stolen, forget that you left it at your seat on the train back from a big weekend in Sheffield.

Fourth favourite: The docking station.

What? It's going to be in the house, mostly plugged into the computer. The fact that it's going to be plugged in a lot makes the cover for its USB socket even more likely to go first. Long shot.

Am I tempting fate?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Delegating and Coaching

Another day, another training course – so it goes. Whereas the Understanding Data course was flawed mainly in the level it was pitched at, the Coaching and Delegation course ground my gears for other reasons. Early signs weren’t good: the trainer used an iPod in a speaker dock during plenary sessions. I expect that training organisations can claim that the iPod and the dock are business-critical expenditure, and get it tax-free. I’d seen that before, at some training that I’d found excruciating that was run by the Dale Carnegie organisation. I don’t think that playing music in the background is in itself a bad thing, but my experience of the Dale Carnegie course wasn’t great.

Dale who? Allow me… Dale Carnegie, author of the worldwide bestselling self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which is probably the most famous self-help book of all time.

You’ve heard of the Carnegie Hall, New York New York, right? Well, it’s a different Carnegie. Well, after a fashion, at least. You see, plain old Dale Carnegey changed his name to Carnegie in 1919 to increase the chance that people would associate him with contemporary philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, he of the Hall. Such shape-shifting may be seen as innovative in the eyes of some, but to me that’s just downright sneaky. This weasel of man left an empire of self-help and training organisations worldwide. Winning friends and influencing people the Dale Carnegie way amounts to, insincerity, language trickery and sliminess. It trades in Barnum Statements, in cold reading and in bullshit. That approach is totally at odds to my system of values.

One of the factors that affect the impact of the Forer Effect is the perceived authority of the speaker. Whereas a regular con-artist might need to earn the trust of his audience with a false title or exotic setting, a trainer on a work-related course is automatically placed into a position of authority – our organisation, to whom we are subordinate hierarchically and moreover who knows best for us, has chosen this trainer, to whom we are implicitly subordinate in knowledge, to drag us out of a technical gutter, and to show us how to improve. And so we’ll swallow any shit.

“… and we all know that some departments are poorly managed, aren’t they?”

How vague. How inclusive. How fuzzy. If ever you’ve felt your department was poorly managed, you’d feel like that comment was directed right at you. How sly – making the impersonal seem personal. There’s a weird sort of power in being able to get a class full of people to say “yes,” repeatedly – and it’s more than just asking obvious and leading questions too. There’s a technique in playing the class in such a way that makes them think that they knew the answers all along, and the just didn’t realise that they knew. Saying “Yes, and what else?” is an excellent way of disguising the phrase, “That’s not what I was after, try again.” There’s a skill involved in being able to laugh off a difficult question in such a way as to not answer it without any – many – of the class realising that you’ve sidestepped the issue with a grin. And when what you’re selling is a way of selling – find out what will your delegated person get out of the extra work you’re giving them, and then sell it to them – then who could blame the audience for getting sold.

I gave the trainer eight out of ten. I didn’t much like her methods, but she knew them inside out. I wish we wouldn’t get that kind of training bought in, but that’s an issue with commissioning, rather than with the trainer.

The course started with this slide:

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to learn.”

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.”

The second statement holds merit as an introduction to the ideal (and idealised) notion that increasing self-reliance through education in process-based solutions is superior to increasing dependency through end-based solutions, particularly around aid. Although clich├ęd, and flawed in its detail (one can only catch fish if there are fish in the lake to be caught, however proficient one’s rod-handling or netsmanship, for example), its principle is sound, and its usage harmless.

The first statement really angers me. It’s tautologous. It’s a mis-quotation of the phrase – “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find out for himself” – and it’s misquoted in such a way that the essential element of the original is removed, and so is its crucial point. The emphasis in the original is on the importance of pupil participation in successful education. That is not the same as “helping someone to learn.”

Consider too the logical incompatibility of the two statements. It makes no sense to declare a process – teaching – to be deficient in one breath, and then to praise the lasting impact of that same process in the following breath. This is broadly symptomatic of the course as a whole – lots of killer soundbites that impress in isolation, but don’t hang together as a cohesive whole.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Why Facebook makes me mad.

Badly written blurbs in groups. Check out this toss:

"The most important rule of all is that the unfortunate loser necks the trophy drink in one movement - no sipping, casual gulping or 'pussying out'... this should normally be accompanied by a chorus of 'get it down you zulu warrior' or alternatively 'chief chief chief...'

This individual should then experience some or all of the following:

1) Vomiting
2) Runny Poo
3) Physical attraction to all living creatures
4) Falling Over
5) Shouting
6) Abusive behaviour towards taxi drivers, random passer-bys, doormen
7) Spontaneous nakedness
8) Simulated Masturbation
9) A tendency to rip the boxer shorts from friends' bodies
10) An unjustified belief of being the coolest man alive"

*gnash gnash* Poor punctuation pisses me off too.

Making friends isn't easy, I know, but...

At the stop before I get off, the bus driver swerved erratically. “Did you see that bloody cyclist?” he asked a passenger, “What kind of an idiot wears black on a bike?” The passenger didn’t really respond, and got off at the next stop. I pressed the bell, and moved to the front. I’d rather stand there and get off first than be in the scrum as everybody gets up. I stood level with the driver. As we passed Subway in Withington, he stamped on the brake, hard. Everything jerked forward – the body of the bus, the bags in the aisle, the litter on the floor, and me. I’d been holding onto the railings, so I didn’t go flying.

“That board were lucky,” says the driver, “cor, I braked a bit there, huh? Nearly went flying, huh? EVERYBODY ALRIGHT IN THE BACK? You see, it’s a different bus every day they give us, you see? Pedals all over. You can’t never tell what’s next…”

Thankfully, my stop is next, I thought.

“…do you drive, I mean – buses are something, and then they’re something else…”

We rolled to the stop. I thanked the driver, and got off. I found myself wondering whether he was driving deliberately badly to break the ice so that he could chat to his passengers.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


The receptionist at work sits inside a glass box in the foyer of the building. Ostensibly it’s for their own protection, given the swash and backwash of misfits, scoundrels and public servants that flow past it, but it does serve another function that might not have been intended. Everything at work that’s about work is online. The intranet is how we find out about other areas of the council. And if the public ask us something we don’t know? Type, search, click, and – bang! - the information is there. Our receptionists NEED a computer, for just this reason.

Of course, it gets used for all sorts of other things too. Reception is a pretty dull place. How do I know? I come down the stairs at the end of the day and see that computer screen’s reflection on the inside wall of the glass box. One woman, in her fifties with wide glasses, plays solitaire. Another younger woman was drawing a tree using MS Paint, with an acid cyan sky. I smile at them. They smile back, and they never know.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Last Night of the Proms - rewound

This was the programme at the Last Night of The Proms at the Bridgewater Hall. And it was brilliant.

Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla - Mikhail Glinka

Semper Fidelis March - John Philip Sousa


Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty - Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Song of the Toreador from Carmen - Georges Bizet

Hungarian Dance No. 5 - Johannes Brahms

Nimrod from Enigma Variations - Edward Elgar

Flower Duet from Lakme - Leo Debiles

Bolero - Maurice Ravel

Overture from The Marriage of Figaro - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Non piu andrai from THe Marriage of Figaro - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Great Gate at Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition - Modest Mussorgsky

Harbanera from Carmen - Georges Bizet

Prelude to Act 1 from La Traviata - Giuseppe Verdi

Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus - Johann Straus II

The Dam Busters March - Eric Coates

Jerusalem - Sir Charles HH Parry

Rule Britannia - Thomas Arne

What Sundays are all about.

A horrid week at work ended with a brilliant weekend. A big Friday night at Tall Trees led to most of Saturday day being spent recovering in bed. Vinny had planned to visit to go for some indie dancing in Manchester on Saturday night, but we were both quite tired, for our own reasons. A couple of pints in the Vic with the football was a good start to the evening, but sushi and noodle soup at Wasabi was the start of a slippery slope. The pace of our conversation slowed after we'd eaten. "It's just the food Dave, we'll liven up in minute." We went to the Temple for a couple, but the signs weren't good. "Once we have a couple more beers Dave, we'll liven up." Nope. On to Odder. "A sambuca will wake us both up a bit," said Vinny. Then he fell asleep. Paul arrived. Vinny woke up. "I'll be alright by the time we get into the club Dave, we'll pick up."

Ouside Odder:
"Can't we get a taxi there Dave, I'm bloody freezing."
"You should have brought a coat Vince."
"Look, I'll pay for the taxi."
"It isn't very far away Vince."
"I'll pay for the taxi."
"Okay Vince."

At the bar of the Venue:
"I don't have enough money left to get any drinks."
"That'll be the taxi Vince."

Vinny fell asleep on the dancefloor. Standing up. Amazing.

Today Pippa came round with a cake she'd made for Paul and I, and then she took me out for my first ever driving lesson. We found a quiet spot in the car park at Christie's hospital, and went through biting point and how to start the car, before doing a little bit of setting off in first, and a little bit of steering. I didn't realise how much concentration driving involves until the lesson was over and a huge wave of relief washed over me. All credit to Pippa - she made me feel very relaxed and not at all nervous, which I'm sure helped with driving. Lessons ahoy, I think. After I got in, I saw the listings for BBC1, at 9pm tonight. How apt.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Seven years too late, still...

"...Bush reached an unwelcome record. By 64%-31%, Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they "strongly disapprove" of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974."

USA Today

Songs that I didn't expect to be the same length - 1

Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name Of

Belle & Sebastian's The Boy With The Arab Strap.

5 minutes, 14 seconds

Craig has suggested that the boat I'm making should be self-propelling, and that he should also make one, which we'll then race. That wasn't why I got into it in the first place - it was for the fun of making the boat, not the fun of racing it. But I can still enjoy building it, even if I have to fake my enjoyment of the race.

I was so stressed at work today that I had a three-cigarette lunchbreak, and ended up too tired to go to the cosmobiology lecture. Rubbishimo!