Saturday, 28 February 2009

Dilemmas, conundrums and building a mystery

I came across an interesting dilemma today. A sort of variant on the lawyer’s ‘no-win, no fee’ offer. Do you take it? Despite the fact you know you're really being ripped off.

What do you do? You’re not sure whether what you’ve got is worth spending money you don’t have to make sure you’ll get a good deal but on the other hand the other party is loading their risk (time and possibly money spent) into the equation and you’ll end up paying a lot more if you do win than you would otherwise if you’d just chosen a flat fee, whether you win or not.

Now this dilemma is slightly more complicated in that it doesn’t just involve an enhanced flat fee for the risk taken, it’s locking the individual to a profit share thereafter as well.

To illustrate the point, let’s assume I fancy myself as a bit of a multi-instrumentalist (I’m not, I hasten to add but……;). In those quiet hours after work, I’ve composed a lovely piece of music, about an hour long, very melodic, a 'Koyaanisquatsi' for guitar, melt your heart stuff; ideal adolescent ‘making love to’ music. Trouble is, in my head, it’s all a bit ‘symphonic’, multi-tracked guitars, multi-tracked keyboards, multi-tracked didgereedoos, out-Olfielding Oldfield, that kind of thing and I cannot afford the kit I’m going to need to make a half decent multi-tracked recording and mix with which to pitch my demo to a record company.

Now I know someone who works for a record company in A & R. He likes the raw material and seems to have an inkling of what I have in my head but knows that there’s a good chance no-one’s likely to buy into it in its raw state. So he offers me a deal, He’ll let me use one of the company’s studios when its not being used by anyone else. He’ll give me an unpaid janitor job and I can ‘live’ at the studio and use the facilities when they’re not being used by anyone else.

Once I’ve finished, he’ll get a cut of any advance I get if I sell the idea to his or any other record company and he gets 10% of any future royalties. Good deal?

At root, it depends, I think, on how much I believe in my work; in its value and my commitment to it. If I believe I’ve no alternative, that this is the only way I’ll ever get the music as I envision it ‘out there’, then it’s a good deal. Actually it’s the only deal! After all, anything else is no deal and my music gets put in with the ashes and buried in the ground when I die.

On the other hand, if I believe in what I’m making, if I believe I am doing something worthwhile, something of value, not just another counterpoint to juvenile fumblings, then surely I owe it to myself to hang out for another way, make that other way happen, somehow? Even if I have to wait?

The regret that I might feel if I cannot make it happen may be more than I would want to bear but isn’t that better than the regret that I know I will feel at knowingly and willingly being ‘ripped off’. In the end we are only victims if we choose to be. There is always another way!

I have spent this afternoon being seduced (not literally but that’s a thought for later :) by hours of Sarah McLachlan. Strange to spend an hour each day being seduced by the same songs (it’s a favourite where I eat) and not to listen at home. Well, that’s all changed! Perhaps I need to revisit Paula Cole. Oh, and Koyaanisquatsi really is the most divine music to make love to! Thank you, Mr Glass. I know most hate you but I have yet to meet a woman who didn't melt to 'a world out of balance' and I adore you! Me and Keith! And it seems you are being repurposed for the 'Watchmen' if the trailer is to be believed.

I promised I would post a couple of links so here they are:

Fees Guide

Fees Guide (2)

If anyone stops by and has an opinion on the dilemma please feel free to leave a comment. It’s a bitch being a freelance anything!

"Don't give up on the search for ghosts in the park!"

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Kings Cross Liberation Army

What follows is a transcript of the inaugural speech by the new leader of the King's Cross Liberation Army, KKLA, at the first meeting of the reconstituted KKLA (formerly the Democratic Front for the Liberation of the Brunswick Centre, DFLBC).

"Comrades, I stand before you at this, our first meeting, with pride, deep personal pride. I am proud that you have have chosen me, Hieronymous Josep Lenin Blastoma, to lead the crusade against the imperialist, fascist Camden Council and its toadying hangers-on. I am proud that you have chosen me and not that fawning sycophant to Moscow, Michaelangelo Trotsky Stalingrad Stemcell, who led us so far from OUR chosen path with his weasel words and even more weasel-like actions. I stand before you, proud, unbowed, determined to lead this Army to glory and final victory in accordance with YOUR wishes not Moscow's! I am proud, intensely proud, to present to you our objectives, our policies, our agenda for real and sustained change not just here in Kings Cross but eventually across the length and breadth of this 'sceptred isle'! Too long have we lived and worked in the shadows. Today we will rise and show our face and Camden will tremble and know what it is to feel real fear!

May I first welcome colleagues in the struggle from the Free Democratic Republic of Barnet Village, colleagues from Bidonville aross the channel and our most esteemed colleague from Gastropub Owners against the Bomb (GOB). You are most welcome here friends and we thank you for your support! What you will hear tonight will gladden your hearts. What you will witness tonight will make your spirits soar to the very heavens! What you will be a part of tonight you will take back with you and energise your comrades to even greater glory than you have heretofore achieved!

What is our objective? To take back that of which we have been dispossessed! Our dignity, our liberty, our freedom, our right to bear arms, our right to walk the streets unmolested, our right to have our rubbish collected without paying exorbitant bribes to corrupt and capitalist binmen. We will take back our right to do as we please. We will wrest power from those who would succour capital, those who are in thrall to the lure of easy money! We will banish the flow of blood money to Councillors' pockets. We will make King's Cross clean again! A place fit for heroes! A place fit for US!

How will we achieve this? I have today penned a missive to the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, advising him that unless I hear from him by 12:00 noon on 1 March 2009, a state of war will exist between our countries. We will use any force necessary to take back that which is rightfully ours! The golden beaches where once our ancestors, the dodos, roamed will once again be ours. Ours to enjoy! Not the affluent, capitalist, comrade exploiting South Africans! NO! Mauritius is ours! If only we have the will! When Mauritius falls, as it surely will, it is but a small step to the Seychelles, the Maldives, St Lucia! We will work AND we will play!

And what of the developers? I hear you comrades! We will make them pay for the destruction that they have wrought across these fair fields. Every crane, every scaffold, every hoarding will be torn down. Every blight on our landscape will be eradicated by fair means or foul, mostly foul. The Semtex is on order. Already our operatives are inside Eurostar, making 'check-in' even more tortuous, disabling all the 'gates' bar one on busy days; already the x-ray machines are showing machine pistols in every bag; already every French speaking passenger is being made to pay a levy of £50 merely to pass through passport control! We will completely disable Eurostar in 3 months! And this is not the end!

Thank you comrades for your patience. Pens, mugs T-shirts and personalised bombs are on sale in the foyer, together with tea, coffee and Stolicnoya. I urge you to try Olga's bread and butter pudding!


Hmm. Could be going places.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, guv!

Following on from yesterday's post, I spent a wee while (well actually a longish while) trawling through a web site set up some years back by an 'old boy' of the school I used to attend. The school itself no longer exists, although the buildings are now used by a preparatory school; it fell victim to the drive for inclusion and comprehensiveness. The great social levelling that took place in the 60s, 70s and 80s in England when anything that was small and people-sized was replaced by something sprawling and immense. Schools of 500 kids amalgamated into agglomerations of 2,000+ or little Victorian terraced houses and their gardens, ideal for a nuclear family, bulldozed and replaced by 22 storey high rises with ill functioning lifts and stairwells reeking of stale urine and rotting vegetables in a complete misapprehension of Le Corbusier.

It is undoubtedly very easy to look back and think that it was so much better then but it's hard not to think that, in many ways, it was. By the time I arrived in the school, it had a history spanning over 250 years. While it looked back and over at the 'halcyon days' of the English public school system, bending over backwards to turn out middle class, educated snobs from the raw materials supplied (working class oik, in my case), there was a quaintness and charm and a sense of belonging (if you wanted to) which I think disappeared from the 'state system' of education when the last of the old style grammar schools disappeared.

In many ways it was like stepping back in time, the school bell (a real bell) rung to signal the end of break-times, the lawned quadrangle and its 'Keep off the grass' sign, the 'Fives'* court, the 'house' system to encourage competition between pupils, the 'tuck shop', the 'Great Hall' with its oak beams and oak panelled gallery, the pipe organ, Founder's day and masters in their ermine fringed gowns. It really was a bit like stepping back into "Tom Brown's Schooldays", although the first years were not (thankfully) expected to 'fag'** for the prefects!***

It's difficult to conceive now that it would be possible to spend the last two years of your secondary education being taught for the most part in a one-to-one or one-to-two environment. 'Personal' tuition normally comes at a steep price and not just in financial terms. Do, can, teachers now adjourn to the local hostelry for lessons? Do pupils gather round a teacher's flat for lengthy discussions on Plato or Kant on a Friday evening over ever increasing quantities of vino collapso? Does a pupil get dragged off to an art gallery for no other reason than "it's about time you looked at some modern European art"? Perhaps but I just cannot see it happening outside of the 'private' education sector. The demands on teachers in state education are just too great I think.

While mooching around the site I came across a (the only) copy of a 'School Magazine', an annual publication detailing the activities of the school during the previous year. It was from a year some 18 months after I left and contained a reminiscence by a retiring, long serving teacher. Towards the end was this:

"Only the other day I reproved a first former (11 year old, Ed) for disorderly behaviour in the High Street near the school and called to him to come to me. He looked round, yelled, 'Why should I?' and passed on his way. A first former? What are we up against, and why should we bother?.........But comprehensive education will change all this, they tell me, so I had better say no more."

Poor John Roberts, adrift in a sea of rapidly changing mores, more at home in an earlier, less fluid time when respect and obedience were a given; no wonder he was so disillusioned with his profession's future. And did comprehensive education 'change all that'? Not really, the achievers still achieve, the under achievers don't, although perhaps there are more achievers now; opportunities are certainly greater but, judging by some of the English I see university students produce, it makes me wonder whether we just didn't lower the bar when it came to defining 'achievement'.

Ah well, it's the cross every generation bears. The older you get, the more resistant to change, and those rose tinted spectacles come in handy every once and a while :)

For those unused to the terms:

* Fives - sometimes called 'Rugby Fives' (after the English Public School). A game almost identical to squash but played with a gloved hand not a racquet. The court was a favourite haunt (along with the bike sheds) for the surruptitious smokers among the pupils :)

**Fag - an English public school tradition, junior pupils used as 'gophers' by senior ones.

***Prefect - senior pupils used as 'auxiliaries' to maintain discipline during break and lunch times. No corporal punishment was allowed but they could impose other punishments like keeping pupils back after school to write pointless essays or 'lines' (writing, eg 'I must not run down the corridor like a rampaging elephant', 500 times :)



During my last years at the school, a teacher joined the staff. It soon became clear to all of us senior pupils that this individual had a 'predeliction' for junior pupils, although to the best of my knowledge, the Nelson eye was turned. Well, in 2001 he finally got his come-uppance! Three and a half years at 'Her Majesty's Pleasure' for indecent assault. Better late then never, Winky!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sir Walter St John's Grammar School for boys, founded 1700

For the education of 20 poor boys in Battersea parish by the Lord of the Manor.

I ran across a website today and this post is for something I said I would put up for those in the photo below. Nothing more to say except, left to right: '?' Smallwood(?),David Gilford, Rob Ryan(?), Kevin Carson, (kneeling) Alan Roberts(?), on the cross channel ferry on a school trip for a week in Paris. I'm behind the camera. Convenient, no? We're 11 years old!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Blogs and blogging. Is there a future?

What is blogging?

Desperate attention seeking behaviour from lonely nerds sitting in cramped bed-sits? Words of wisdom from the unheard sages of the world? The new journalism? The greatest revolution since Caxton invented movable type? The latest fad doomed to extinction by Twitter's better fitness profile? None of the above?

I know what THIS blog is and it's been explained before. I quite enjoy writing; it gives me something to do in the morning after I wake up and before going to work (it takes me ages to wake up enough to face the journey to the office); it's a quiet past-time for those nights when I cannot sleep; it's useful exercise for the few neurons not swimming in pools of alcohol. I have no desire to be the most hit blog in the blogiverse and if it amuses the few who do read it, I am well content.

However I came across something the other day which made me think. A blog written by a journalist. (You could tell because it had 'Writer and journalist' at the top:) The post I hit was one which was moaning about the fact this his trade union was so reactionary and hide bound when it came to new media. Unwilling to embrace the whole new world of Web2 and stuck in a world view that was doomed to die as much as the print and broadcast media all this wonderful new media were going to replace. All well and good and everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I personally doubt that print media will die as long as reading newspapers on line is as tiring on the eyes as being an IT Manager is or until someone gets the internet into a tube tunnel. However, be that as it may.

Someone else had come across this blog and had emailed the link to someone who worked for said trade union and headed up a department which was being implicitly criticised. The subject line of the inbound email was, to be generous, less than complementary. The aforementioned someone clicked on the link and read the blog. End of story.

Not quite. Because what appeared the following day on the blog was the subject line of the email and the email address (along with a demonstration of just how clever this blogger is; knowing how to read a blog log, knowing how to do a reverse lookup to find the domain name from the IP address, that kind of thing) and it implied that the less than complimentary remark in the subject line of the email came from them.

Now this kind of thing happens all the time on blogs; poking fun, making minor mischief, insults etc but it got me thinking. Most people coming across, say, this blog would not lend it too much credence; if I said black is white they wouldn't necessarily believe me unless they shared the same view. However most people who read what used to be known as the broadsheets or some of the less dumbed down magazines still on the whole believe that what is presented is at least relatively objective journalism. After all, no one seriously believes that the war in Afghanistan isn't happening, that Lehman Brothers didn't collapse (even if you don't know anyone who worked there), that the global economy isn't in meltdown, that George Bush is still in the White House running the US. No, on the whole, you still generally believe what you read unless it's in the Daily Sport or the National Enquirer. Why?

Because you believe that for all the press barons' money grubbing schemes, the journalists writing the stories are still trying to be relatively objective even though politically or economically they may need to veer towards the 'party line' of the newspaper or the magazine. So when a blog advertises itself as being written by a journalist isn't it being implied by the writer that this is relevant, otherwise why mention it? And if you are meant to think that it is relevant isn't it also implied that you should read it as you would a newspaper, believing that there was at least a smidgin of journalistic ethics in there somewhere and that, in the main, it was being objective?

It seems to me that unless you apply at least some of the criteria for 'conventional' journalism, such as checking sources, avoiding rascist, sexist, homophobic remarks, ensuring that what you write reads well and is grammatically correct, to so called 'new journalism' then it's no better than this blog and will further undermine what little credibility journalism still has. It's no good saying it's 'live' and interactive and therefore has different rules, it doesn't; because the primary piece is still there tomorrow and can be read by a new collection of readers. In this particular case, not checking could have had serious repurcussions for the individual concerned who could have been hauled over the coals for seemingly inappropriate behaviour. And a recourse? I would bet my last sou that any attempt at a formal complaint would simply have prompted: "It's only a blog".

You can't have it both ways. Either it's journalism, in which case at least make the minimum effort to apply some standards if you want it to be taken seriously, or it's not, in which case stop pretending. After all, no-one takes the tabloids seriously in the UK anymore because we all know that they abandonned ethics a long time ago and the poor hacks in front of the screen are only doing what we all do, earning a crust, the best way we can. Does anyone seriously advocating the kind of 'new' journalism here want that to happen?

On a slightly different note, but prompted by the same blog; have you ever wondered why people in trade unions often view those organisations as being run by people 'appointed' to do so? As though somehow it's like a government department and yet they're some of the most democratic organisations in the world. Elections every year, usually; major decisions and policy making only made by elected officers; getting to tell the leadership every year that they're a bunch of wankers and are impeding the march of International Socialism. If you don't agree with the policy, try and change it, make the arguments but at a time and place where your arguments can be heard, countered or even agreed. Don't just whinge, do something that might actually make a difference!

Any democracy is only as good as the people who engage in it!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Beauty, beholders and there's one born every minute

Sucker, that is.

It's funny. Someone posted a comment on the last post alluding to fact that I had been suckered by the media for finding people like Isabelle Adjani beautiful, ie the media tell you they are beautiful and you just go along for the ride. And was I being sexist? Not just by choosing all women (I am heterosexual after all and would find a Valentine's day card from a man not a little disconcerting) but by focusing on their 'beauty', which as we all know is only skin deep, I was seeing them as objects (sex or otherwise) not as people with their own virtues and vices.

Now I don't think I'm so shallow as to ignore the fact that people are people irrespective of what they look like (hell, I should know) and beauty or lack of it in a conventional, socially agreed way does not determine the value of someone but that list wasn't composed of people, real people, it was composed of ciphers, representations of something, not the something itself, although the name of the cipher and the name of the thing are the same to aid comprehension.

Now I know that this sounds just as demeaning as treating them as 'objects' but it isn't. What was the purpose of the list? To 'bemoan' the fact that no-one sent me a Valentine's day card! :( Not even as a joke :( A way of garnering a bit second hand sympathy :) A little cyber compassion for a lonely soul with no love and no-one to love :) It's ok, you can put the hankie away now. :) Now I could have given a list of real people, people that perhaps I might actually like to get a card from but the chances of anyone recognising them is marginal, so I chose names from a list of the 'usual suspects'. Having said that, I do consider the three Isabelle(a)s to be genuinely beautiful in the way that the 'Madonna on the rocks' is beautiful. I don't need to understand it. In the same way that I don't have to have a relationship with them, know them as people, just sometimes looking at beauty is food for the soul.

Pfeiffer and Jolie are first in the list as a pointer to where the list 'is going' just in case no-one recognises the three 'I's. So yes, in one sense they are there because they are deemed by all and sundry to be beautiful. I might even be persuaded that I was suckered by the media over Isabella Rosselini, who I encountered as a testosterone fuelled teenager, but Adjani and Huppert? No, they come from a wee affair with French cinema in my youth when no-one here even knew who they were :)

It's funny what you turn up in those idle hours when you can't sleep, can't make a noise because it's 3am but you want to do something, anything. I was doing a little reading around on Wiki about evolutionary psychology when I ran into a research paper on why post natal depression might actually be a positive evolutionary adaptation. Now I suppose to anyone who's had it or knows someone that's had it, that might sound a little weird but the argument is along the same lines as 'fever is a positive adaptation'. 'Boil' the germs to get rid of them!

The idea goes something like this. Parents invest a considerable amount in their offspring, mothers especially. As a result, there is a 'weighing up' process which tries to work out whether the investment in this particular offspring is actually worth the benefit, ie will this offspring survive to produce offspring of its own and thus perpetuate the mother's genes. This of course is not a conscious process.

PND is often found when the pregnancy or delivery have been difficult, where the baby is sub-optimal or where the mother has doubts about the level of investment she can expect from the father. So, the theory goes, the mother engages in a 'strategy' designed to elicit more support from other members of the group to reduce the cost to herself and thus increase both her chances of survival and that of her offspring. She effectively threatens to 'defect' from her responsibilies to gain what she needs.

As I have said this is not a conscious thing but a lot of work has been done over the last twenty or thirty years in 'game theory' on what are known as evolutionary stable strategies. What has been shown is that quite complex behaviours can evolve without any thought being given to them by the individual, decisions happen autonomically. Take 'Tit for Tat'. This is a behaviour like 'If I am nice to you, I expect the same and vice versa or else!' which is quite simple, I think, to naturally occur in a social group. Once it arrives on the scene, it proves enormously successful and is very resistant to 'cheats'.

In the case of social monkeys or apes it succeeds because these animals rely on mutual grooming for both parasite control and to reinforce bonds within the group. It is however expensive because you are not grooming yourself but others. However any animal which tries to 'defect', ie doesn't return the grooming favour, doesn't get groomed and so ends up having to co-operate in order to get groomed. In this way the strategy remains stable.

So perhaps it is possible that what seems to be a debilitating and traumatic condition might actually enhance a female's reproductive success by providing the support she needs at a crucial time. I mean if evolution can come up with a blog writing penguin..........

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Too much code, too much code............too many bugs....not enough sleep........

A big thank you to Michelle Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie, Isabella Rosselini, Isabelle Huppert, Karen Allen and Isabelle Adjani for the Valentine's Day cards ........................................................... that you didn't send :(

Monday, 9 February 2009

A hooley, the craic and why do cab drivers think you like music they like?

It's funny in a way, how as the world turns, customs, mores, attitudes change and not always for the better and to some degree, you forget those things which once seemed so natural. I was thinking over the weekend whether such changes occur largely in affluent, large populations, such as you often find in big cities, but in smaller less affluent, often rural, communities often change seems to pass them by.

I was reminded of this at the weekend at a birthday party. Now I don't usually do parties, the prospect of more that six people in a room brings me out in a rash and like as not occasions a retreat to some dark cupboard somewhere accompanied by a bottle of vino collapso and sometimes a glass. It isn't that I'm anti social, I generally like people, nor that I lack social skills; I am just as capable as the next man of discussing relativity with someone while simultaneously undoing a complete stranger's bra strap, drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette and usually fixing the host's plumbing too. (Always take a wrench to parties, a basin spanner too if you have one. They come in sooooo handy!) . It's just the numbers that disturb me.

Now there were well more people gathered in a semi in Surrey than I would even think of being a part of, but she came to mine so I thought it would be very insulting not to return the favour. So with my prozac, valium and vino collapso, I assumed THEY had glasses, I fetched up on the doorstep. It was largely a family affair, aunts, uncles, 'uncles', parents, siblings and many had flown over from Ireland amidst delays, cancellations etc to be there. So it was an Irish party! Now I've visited a few places but no-one parties quite like the Irish, especially when they're older. Somehow the 'craic' just gets larger and larger the older they get. Personally I think it's the memory of the potato famine that does it; carpe diem!

I can't quite remember when, the host had liberally poured quantities of Remy Martin Reserve Cognac into my glass throughout the evening, but someone started singing. And then everyone joined in and for hours there were Irish folk ballads meandering out of the windows into snowy Epsom, almost as if someone had teleported some Galway pub into so, so English suburbia. Really the most enchanting evening. All that was missing were the plaintive pipes of Paddy Moloney (the Chieftains) who is forever etched into my brain as the only accompianment to Irish folk music. Ah well Paddy, you were in my head at least when they did 'Carrickfergus'.

Now outside of an occasional bash where a professional or semi professional musician was present and a musical instrument was to hand or when I get to see a particular person and she succumbs to a request for just the sound of her voice (she's Irish too :), this doesn't seem to happen here at all anymore. And yet it used to be so common at gatherings of the English working class. It wasn't the native folk music though, it was generally turn of the (20th) century music hall stuff. Where did it go? Where did the idea that you made your own fun go? When households had a cheap 'joanna' (upright piano, ours had a faulty 'E' above middle 'C') and family (or otherwise) gatherings were occasions when everyone could make a fool of themselves. When did they turn into 'huddling round the TV', boombox techno, boring conversation about how the crash has wiped thousands, tens of thousands, off your investments? When was the last time you played 'charades'? Did we all get so affluent, so intellectual, that no-one feels comfortable with 'do-it-yourself' anymore? Perhaps.

So thank you, Pat and Pete (and Deirdre and MC Uncle Ernie) for a lovely evening. If I had a voice, I would have sung, even the parting lovers, him off to war and her singing "For the queen she do need seamen" Think about it! :) (No really, old English folk song), but I don't so I've learned to keep my mouth shut among people who can!

As a Parthian shot, perhaps even a digression, I should add that my own (shared) equivalent started around 6:00pm on Friday when some friends arrived from out of town (the pre-party party). It was temporarily suspended between 3:00am and 9:00am Saturday (for sleep). Food prep (and wine guzzling) from 9:00am until 3:00pm Saturday when the party started until 7:30am on Sunday when after a couple of espressos, bed beckoned. The post-party party started at 3:00pm on Sunday and finished at 2:00am on Monday. My liver crawled up and tried to throttle me just as I was about to leave for work at 8:00 am on Monday. For someone who doesn't like parties I can sure as hell engage when I have to :) It was the best weekend weather-wise of that summer so most of all this took place in the garden. Some neighbours (who had been invited but chose to stay at home) were not amused :) Hell, you're only fifty once!

Oh, and cab drivers? All the way there, awful pop music! Even the Bhangra radio station would have been better!

Monday, 2 February 2009

A work in progress, DECLARE @@ID INT, ships in the night

Secret! Mustn't tell! I'm working on a new picture for the side post. A surprise for the penguin when he gets back! Just because someone/somepenguin trusts you with the passwords to their blog does not mean that you shouldn't use the privilege for your own devilish ends. :) I will of course feel very guilty about this flagrant abuse of trust and will be suitably contrite for days, possibly even weeks! Guilty, I can do very well indeed.

The penguin and little Fricka - a study in calm and contentment. We'll have to wait and see how it turns out. Actually it's more "Da Da, FISH! NOW!..............Pleeease!"

I've been up to my eyeballs in code these past days, missed deadlines, staring blurry eyed at a screen full of VB, SQL and bugs (lots of bugs :) wondering why it won't do what I want it to do :) In trying to make it as foolproof and easy for the staff to use, I'm tying myself in knots trying to work out all the ways someone could screw up an online form ("Never underestimate the stupidity of the human race", F Zappa Esq) and still have the system not throw an error. As an exercise in lateral thinking, it doesn't come much more tricky. Oh alright, it does but this is quite bad enough for a lame-brain like me.

Do you ever wonder how you managed to end up in the situation you're in? Was it a combination of all sorts of different decisions or can you trace it all back to one defining moment when the worldlines bifurcated and you went happily (?) down one path while the rest of the universe went down another? I'm pretty much of the opinion that those 'fateful moments' don't exist. Where you are now is a result of a myriad of small decisions, tiny little forking paths, and trying to disentangle them is a useless exercise, except...........

I took a break from the domestic codeface today and wandered off for a pizza. I do not, unusally for my line of work, indulge in pizza that much but I just fancied a fiorentina and as luck would have it, a pizzeria of exactly the selfsame name stands not fifteen minutes walk from my little abode. Convenient, no? Now on the whole, I dine alone at lunchtime. A brief respite from my colleagues is most welcome, not that I do not wish to lunch with them but conversation is invariably about work and lunch is the only time when you can forget about work for a wee while during the day and so I take the opportunity to switch off for an hour or so; a book, the Times crossword and a fish finger sarnie. Not that I am generally left alone for very long but that is altogether another, not in any way unpleasant, matter. :)

So I'm sitting, staring out of the window, nursing my bottle of Peroni (you cannot have pizza and not have beer; it's like copulation with no foreplay, beef Wellington and no Nuits St Georges, Windows Vista and no crashes) when I started thinking about why I was sitting there. Ridiculous, I know, but sometimes the neurons fire in mysterious ways and I've learned to 'run with them'. So why was I sitting in a little suburban pseudo-Italian pizzeria, staffed by Spaniards.

Strangely I started thinking back to that fateful day many years ago when the telephone rang at 10:00 am on a Sunday morning and I, foolishly, crept from bed to answer it. "Good morning", a 'cheery' voice said (obviously someone who does not appreciate the joys of a long lie in and sex over a cup of coffee and a croissant on a Sunday morning), "We'd really like to offer you the job!" Now I'd had five months of post redundancy 'blues' but then, and now, it seems I had two choices. (1) I'm not working for some damn fool cretin who thinks telephoning prospective employees at 10:00 am on a Sunday is a sensible idea or (2) the mortgage is crippling and the money is starting to run out; I could use the work. Needless to say, you can guess which route my sleep befuddled brain took :)

I often wonder whether if I had just told the idiot to 'naff off and telephone at a civilised time' my life would have been so much different than it turned out to be? Would I still be making love on a Sunday morning with the same luscious redhead? Would I have ever have bumped into another (later) partner on the train station, going to work, and thought, "mmm"? Would Mugwump have woken from sleep to wonder in awe what all that cold, white stuff was? Would I have ever learned to code and bedazzle idle onlookers with the sheer geekiness of it all. Unlikely!

So, thank you Steve! You did not intend it but I have had some wonderful times along the way, as well as some pretty depressing ones, met some wonderful people and some pretty awful ones and seen places that may have remained hidden for ever. If you had known what you were doing, would you have still done it? Probably. You were sure as hell dumb enough!

And to all those people that I didn't meet, sorry! Maybe I just burnt your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents' village when I was Atilla the Hun!

Snow, slush, ice and transport chaos!

Well, winter's arrived here with a vengeance. Woke up to a complete white out. Siberian weather, free, gratis and for nothing, no doubt courtesy of Mr Putin. (Notice how I blame him for everything? Even if I don't really believe the Russians are controlling the weather from the International Space Station. Well actually I'm only saying that to protect myself from the possibility of reprisals for 'blowing the whistle' on our Mafiya friends' plans for world domination.)

Now, it was not unexpected, it had been predicted all last week and merely arrived a day late; so where were the 'gritting lorries'? Not on the roads, that's for sure. Why were all the buses pulled off the road at 11pm last night? Where were the contingency plans? This happens every time we get snow! How much does it take to be prepared? Granted, in London, the snow usually melts without settling because of all the heat that gets lost from all the offices and houses but nonetheless.........When it falls overnight there is less ambient heat in the capital because most of the central heating systems are off so it will settle!

On the whole it's all just a minor inconvenience (unless you're old, when falling and breaking your hip is almost a certainty) but what possible faith can we have in 'the powers that be' to draw up contingencies for surviving a nuclear attack or massive floods or widespread civil disturbance, even a terrorist attack when they can't even deal with a little snow? It isn't like this doesn't happen most years. They must wet themselves laughing in Chicago or Oslo or Moscow as they watch us flounder about, slipping and sliding amidst the flurries of feeble excuses that get trotted out from the 'Same Lame Excuses we used last year' file. :) I think it might in the long run be worth getting a few huskies and a sled, certainly faster than road transport today. Mush, mush! Be a lot of fun I think, lobbing snowballs at stranded tourists as I flash past in a blur of husky fur, overtaking cars condemned to five miles an hour because there's no grit on the roads, taking the Hyde Park Corner roundabout at breakneck speed on one sled ski, huskies baying into the dawn, and me laughing maniacally like some drug-crazed Santa Claus :) Only about one third of the staff made it in today (including me, I hasten to add) and the chances are most of those couldn't get in as opposed to them looking out of the window and thinking: "It's really nice under this duvet."

Little Mugwump doesn't know how lucky he is. The way he sleeps, if he'd still been a stray, sleeping rough, he would have woken up buried under six inches of snow this morning!

Fortunately, I had already booked tomorrow and Wednesday as holiday. It will be far more treacherous tomorrow when all the compacted snow from thousands of footsteps has turned to ice and anyone without skates or chains around their shoes/boots/trainers/dinky little ballet pumps (so de rigeur this year) is going to end up calling for an ambulance to do something about their broken hip/leg/ankle/arm/skull/wrist etc.

Wow! Two posts in a single day! That's a first! So, to celebrate, a small digression. Do I hear a planetary groan? Since I cannot leave comments on another blog, I will leave them here. The only people who are a disappointment are those who have few, if any, morals and would sell their grandmothers for a 'pocketful of mumbles' (beneath contempt) or those who are too asinine to work out that life is not divided into black and white and comes in varying shades of grey (idiots of the worst order); the rest are a joy! No-one needs, nor should we ever consider giving, forgiveness for being less than perfect, however imperfect we or they may be; in an imperfect universe, no forgiveness is required.

And so, finally, to our thought for the day. Take what is given to you, hold fast to that which you can carve for yourself and enjoy!

Paris, Penguins, Profit and Buffet Car Blow Jobs

A successful trip to Paris - at least, I got done what had to be done and we have an agreed 'road map' even if all I got to see was the inside of the Channel Tunnel (why does the train go so slow?), the inside of the railway station, the outside of a sex shop :) and the inside of a restaurant not 20m from the railway station. Oh well, life will start to be kind to me soon.


For reasons buried in the mists and fogs of my subconscious, I always pick up New Scientist(UK) and Scientific American(US) when I go on train journeys. I don't know why, perhaps I think it makes me look a little 'intellectual' and will intrigue devastatingly attractive, like-minded females (are there any?), who will then drag me into a dark corner of the buffet bar and give me a blow job. (Hasn't worked so far but we live in hope:) Although perhaps 'What Philosophy Weekly' might be better for that, I guess. "We test drive neo-existentialism! How does it compare with the new offering from the neo-Deconstructionists?" "Does positing the ego make you more attractive to the opposite sex?" "Can Hegelian dialectism really improve the size of your penis? And if so, is it permanent?" "We compare the ten best philosophies. Which is right for you and will it get you more sex?"

It was perhaps not a wise move. Recent research, the penguin has touched upon this before, indicates that by 2050, the emperor penguin population in Antarctica will have plummeted to less than 5% of its present size (they are too specialised and simply will not, cannot, do not have enough time to, adapt) and from there, one must assume, it will be one very short step to extinction. It is sad to think that what is so inspiring and so beautiful will disappear. Forever. Perhaps, in the end, that is our fate as human beings; to watch, helpless, while all that is beautiful and precious dies from this world. I do what I can, you do what you can, our friends do what they can; but, in the end, it just amounts to a mess of beans. That is the truly sad thing. We have lost control of our lives, our loved ones and our planet, our home, and we are all off to hell, shackled to a hand cart!



As the penguin would say, 'rant over'.

Perhaps it is, as I have always thought, just too bloody complicated for anyone to resolve. No matter how good your intentions are, the world is just too complex for any solutions to work, except at an extremely local level, however well meaning. You try to juggle so many balls that, inevitably, you drop a few; you just can't keep them all in the air at the same time. I'd like to think that getting rid of the money grubbing bastards that over the past 18 months have sent us all down a slippery slide to penury, ruin and misery would make things better, less complicated; allow 'solutions' to have at least a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, instead of absolutely none at all. However I remain pessimistic.

Capitalism and the pursuit of profit (not to mention the exploitation of the vast majority of us) is just politics in a different coat. Unable, or unwilling, to participate in a democratic process; unable, or unwilling, to submit themselves to peer review, judgement, big business runs the world for its own benefit and may the devil take the hindmost, which unfortunately is us! Get rid of capital and they'd only find another, perhaps less overt, way to usurp power again.

Oh dear, a little depressing today. Ah well, Obama will kiss it all better........... until the next time!

Hope you enjoyed the feeble attempt at alliteration in the title today. Perhaps we'll look at Beowulf tomorrow :)

WeeeHa! White out! Snow everywhere, six inches deep!