Monday, October 31, 2005

How Terribly Strange to be...

...36 today, which I can officially say is one of the real bummer ages to be.

Where 35 is a cool age and still sounds closer to 30 than 40 (even though it's not) 36 is undeniably the age of someone shooting towards an age which - when I was about 8 - I remember clearly thinking was middle-age. Complete baldness (unfortunate in view of my too large, 'can't get a hat to fit' head) and enormous beer belly (as opposed to current just large beer belly) can't be far behind.

And it's just struck me that as only one of my grandparetnts made it past 60, never mind 70, so I'm almost certainly more than half way through my life. Bugger, frankly.

On the plus side, I got a Citizen Smith top, John Peel's autobiography and a Darwin Fish car plaque, plus £50 with which to buy a DivX DVD player. And I've yet to get pressies from J which should include the Shooting Scripts from Season 28 of Doctor Who (alright, Season 1 if you must) amongst other book-based goodies.

Maybe it's not that bad being 36, after all...
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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Not another Flockin' Browser

I've been trying out a new browser for the past few days called Flock. Actually, it's not exactly new, being another build based on Mozilla and, for that matter, Firefox. It's still at an early stage (the current release is a Developers one), but has a nice UI, with a look clearly based on Firefox with just a hint of Internet Explorer thrown in.

The main selling point of the browser over IE and FF is that it's much more of an interactive browser, designed for Web 2.0 (which is a pompous techie way of saying it has a few built in tools which you can use to manipulate content you've chosen on the net). Of course, Firefox is too, but you have to install a variety of extensions to achieve what the developers of Flock aim to have in the final release version of their software. Whether you think this is a good thing or not depends on your views on browser bloat and what constitutes a vital feature in a browser.

The whole point of Firefox is that what you get is a streamlined, perfectly usable default browser off the shelf in a 7MB or whatever download and you can then add just about any functionality you wish by installing extensions.

Internet Explorer on the other hand offers...well, God alone knows what it offers, but presumably people use it because it comes with Windows.

Flock is trying to fill a niche in between the two - more built in features than Firefox, but without becoming the ungodly sprawling mass of security holes and bugs that is Internet Explorer.

I'm unconvinced. Leaving aside the question of whether there is a need or desire for a Web 2.0 Browser whilst Firefox adequately fills that role already, at the moment there's not that much 2.0 Interaction around for Flock to impliment.

As examples, currently Flock has excellent and wholly intuitive integration with del.icio.us and a less smooth blog interface (which I initially used to type this entry but which then lost the whole thing when I attempted to publish it) plus a flickr button, which seemed adequate but as I don't use Flickr I can't really vouch for the quality of the Flock implementation. And that's about it.

Which, to me, makes Flock just Avant Browser (a version of Internet Explorer with tabbed browsing) for Firefox - the same browser at heart with a couple of optional Firefox extensions included as standard. This is an early point in Flock's evolution and maybe it'll grow and improve, but for now I think I'll stick it back on the shelf.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Google Maps

I've discovered (possibly months after everyone else in the world) that you can use Google Maps to find out any number of things for you beyond simple directions.

For instance, this URL highlights all the bookshops in Edinburgh.

And this map (nicked from the net) claims to show all UFO sightings in mainland America.

Which is a useful thing to have to hand, I thought.

(you can tell it's not busy at work today, can't you?)
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Holiday Reading

In some vague and ill-thought out belief that new insights would be granted me by doing so, I took a pile of science fiction novels with me on holiday, all of which featured huge and/or mysterious alien artifacts. I love novels on a vast scale in any case, so it was no hardship to chuck Rendezvous with Rama; Orbitsville; Gateway; ...of the City of the Saved and Eon in amongst my jeans and shirts, nor was it a sacrifice to read them in the evenings whilst the kids slept and thereby precluded any chance of watching TV or speaking above a whisper to J.

In the end I only managed to read the first three of those books (regretfully putting aside the other two on the basis that they didn't really feature mysterious artifacts, just big ones) and, after careful and thoughtful reading came to the less than unexpected conclusion that 'huge alien artifacts are cool' and 'if they're made by unexplained alien races that's even cooler'. Rama was better than I remembered, Orbitsville not quite as good and Gateway quite clearly an expanded short story, albeit a good one. It's a shame - although perhaps not wholly unexpected - that the various sequels to these three classics hit a downward curve very quickly (and in Gateway's case are basically crap).

In other book news, I've also recently finished The Time Traveller's Wife, (wonderful until the slightly abrupt ending); Pride and Prejudice, (just wonderful); The Cutting Room (excellent Glasgow-based thriller) and some Buffy/Angel crossover whose title I forget (apparently written by wrapping a collection of random sentences round the words 'love', 'blood' and 'longing').

And did I mention that J and I, with the two boys in tow, managed to get stuck at the very top of a big waterfall thing on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at EuroDisney, when it managed to break down for half an hour, just before the park closed for the night. That was a laugh a minute...
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Monday, October 24, 2005

The Killing of Mister George

I got back from a week in EuroDisney on Saturday, only to discover that George Burley, Hearts manager for the past three months and credited at least partly with sending us to the top of the league, had resigned or been sacked that morning.

What's unclear though is what happened and who is to blame.

If the Observer is to be believed, Burely had been in talks for a
fortnight with Aston Villa over replacing the Eire-bound David O'Leary. That would be my preferred version of the truth - Burley did the dirty on us, Vladimir Romanov (who we are stuck with) is blame-free and we can appoint someone else safe in the knowledge that Romanov won't go for a 'yes man' who will do exactly as he's told.

That said, everyone knew Burley and our mini-Abrahmovich CEO didn't always see eye-to-eye and that Burley objected to Romanov signing players without consulting him. But the fans could care less about that - neither manager nor owner have bought anyone less than excellent so far (and a couple - Skacel and Bednar - would grace the
English Premiership) and we are top of the league and playing with a flair I haven't seen in the 29 years I've been going to football matches at Tynecastle.

And when all's said and done, the only constant at any football club is the fans - it doesn't matter who's in charge, so long as we do well. Managers and chairmen come and go, the fans are ever-present and ever-concerned.

Which is why rumours abound up here regarding the real reason for Burley leaving. There's the 'he's off to Villa' one, the 'Burley is an auld drunk who turned up on Saturday pished' one, the 'he was told to play more Lithuanians so Romanov can sell the rights to Hearts games to Lithuanian TV' one and - most bizarre of all - the 'Burley was hit by a car on Friday night and is now in intesive care, expected to die' one (which turned up in all seriousness on several Hearts message-boards).

I don't suppose we'll ever know the truth, but given the timing (Burley quit/was sacked at 10am on the day of a match); the fact that Burley's mentor Sir Bobby is
still interested in the job presumably after speaking to Georgie Boy; and that our chairman (and genuine Hearts fan) Lord George Foulkes has so far
continued to give Romanov his backing, I'm inclined to suspect that Burley had been in talks with someone in the Premiership and asked for permission to do so officially on Saturday morning at which point the Hearts' board told him to clear his desk and bog off (and more power to their elbow if that is the case).

Apart from our lofty league position, one positive legacy of the Burley-era is that Hearts' level of expectation is far higher in all things. Names being bandied about for our new manager include Sir Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Hector Cupar and Claudio Ranieri, the latter three of which wouldn't have been even breathed about without hilarity twelve weeks ago.

And not even the west coast red top media has had the gall to suggest that our bubble has burst. Which makes a pleasant change.
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Monday, October 10, 2005

On the road again

At times, driving from home in Edinburgh to work in Lanarkshire, I feel like Frodo heading into darkest Mordor (that's Lord of the Rings 're-imagined' by George Lucas for the Anniversary release on DVD, with Frodo driving a dirty silver Nissan Micra whilst listening to an mp3 player randomly playing tracks from the complete Fall back catalogue).

There's even a point on the country road I use when I can say, with certainty, that I've left the comforts of home behind and am now most definitely in the west. Sometimes you can even see the point at which the sunny east becomes the sodden west - it's like driving into a curtain of rain.

In fact the only good thing about driving towards Glasgow as opposed to driving into Edinburgh is the total absence of idiots on bicycles. I have a deep and fundamental loathing of cyclists on the road - a shower of arrogant, dangerous fools who seem to feel that the mere fact that they have a bike gives them the right to hog the road, change lanes without looking or indicating, shoot through red lights and generally cause mayhem. If you wish to risk life and limb by driving in heavy traffic on something which provides no protection and is liable to cause your death should you skid for any reason, buy a motorbike or scooter please. That way, you will at least have to contribute your share of the tax burden which pays for the upkeep of the road system you will undoubtedly one day be scraped off of.

(For the avoidance of doubt, please note that this ire towards cyclists is nothing to do with one squirting my windscreen with some kind of fruit juice the other day after I called him something fairly anglo-saxon following his decision to shoot over a crossroads against the lights and nearly got someone killed.)

++Edited after I hit 'Publish Post' instead of 'Save Draft' in Blogger+++
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sore Head

A word of warning - Stuart Ale, whilst tasting fairly weak* (actually, quite watery) and not getting you drunk, leaves you with a thumping headache in the morning, even after only a few pints. It took me all the way to work to shake off the pounding.

Thinking about it, part of the reason for the pounding may have been the Jandek cd I got last night in the pub and which I had on in the car. It's good in a Captain Beefheart or early The Can sort of way**, with basic, slightly wonky blues guitar being man-handled in the background as Jandek sings quite close to the mic at the front. The tracks do tend to wander into one another and the guitar is a bit samey but it may be that the album needs repeated listenings to get more out of it (certainly, the bits of lyrics I figured out on first listen do suggest that there's more in there than just stream of consciousness ramblings). And, unexpectedly, the last track on the album sounds like a White Light White Heat out-take.

* Incidentally, that link features an insane Swede describing the beer as having a "[r]ound buttery flavour with tones of fruit and blue cheese." which is about as far from the truth as you can get. It's beer, for God's sake.

** Edited after a couple more listens to add early Can to the comparison. In fact, it sounds more like a Malcolm Mooney solo album than anything else, but only after Mooney had his break-down. I'm becoming worryingly obsessed by this album, to be honest.
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