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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Super, super Cannes

In all these years, I'd never been to Sophia Antipolis before, so I was quite looking forward to my first visit. Unfortunately, the visit was spoiled because as I stepped out of taxi and looked around, I suddenly found the landscape both familiar -- despite never having been there -- and strangely sinister. For a moment I was genuinely disconnected, and then I realised that it was because of J. G. Ballard. One of the greatest of all English novelists, his Super Cannes, which I read some years ago. Ballard's descriptions of the buildings, the executive cars lined up out side them, the trees partly hiding the landscape, are so perfect that my brain slipped out of gear for a moment as it tried to come to terms with the fact that I hadn't actually been there before. Although I'd forgotten about the book up until this moment, the sense of lurking amorality washed over me as soon as I breathed the air there.

Super. super Cannes

It actually is quite an odd place, in that while it's in beautiful hills and no more than an expensive taxi ride away from Nice, there is a pervading artificiality that is slightly jarring. If you're driving around the Cambridge Science Park, say, then it is openly artificial, a medium-is-the-message artefact of the times, and so it's not odd. But you don't get that feeling here. Maybe it's because it's just new. Fortunately, none of the people I met looked as if they might be murdering immigrants in their spare time, but you can never really tell, can you?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Isn't there some sort of EU rule about unfair competition from governments? If so, surely British satirists will have to launch an action, because they simply cannot compete with the U.K.'s elected representatives (at every level). In today's newspaper I read that a local council wants to send out detailed -- and intrusive -- questionnaires in order to establish who the legal guardians of rubbish bins might be. This is, naturally, so that they can prosecute people for putting too much rubbish in the bins (or the wrong kind of rubbish). They blame it on Brussels -- reasonable I suppose -- but I doubt even North Koreans have to register their bins with the commissars. I don't really understand the thinking behind this, except that a general policy of creating crimes that it's hard to arrest and prosecute people for (eg, not shutting a rubbish bin properly) will improve the crime statistics, because these statistics are currently made up of crimes (eg, murder) that it's difficult to arrest and prosecute people for. Householder, particularly homeowners, are much better bet. Such people often try to get their children into good schools as well, it appears.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

News and olds

Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't be a little tougher on the use of the word "news". There must be some way that Google or someone can apply some rudimentary information theory so that news feeds could actually be restricted to news. The definition of news must include so element of surprise: something that you know already isn't news. There would be no point sending out a news bulletin saying that the sun has risen or that a government IT project is late and massively overbudget. We already know these things: it's only if they don't happen that we need to be told. The problems come at the margins, of course. I was thinking about this the other day, when this article turned up in a news feed:

Internet consultant firm Gartner claims that only 1 in 10 commercial virtual worlds succeeds, and most fail within 18 months

[From Slashdot | Most Business-Launched Virtual Worlds Fail]

As soon as I read this I thought, hold on, don't only 1 in 10 of all new restaurants succeed and don't most fail within 18 months? In fact, don't only 1 in 10 of all new businesses succeed and don't most fail within 18 months? So shouldn't the headline have been that "commercial virtual worlds are exactly the same as commercial anything else". Is that news?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the waterfront

When summer finally arrived, I was told the weather in England was unbelievable, but I was in Stockholm, where the weather was unbelievable.


The Stockholm waterfront was wonderful. As the sun went down, we strolled to a fabulous fish restauraunt.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Litter lout

Bill Bryson, who is the head of the Campaign for Rural England, has been complaining about the amount of litter everywhere in the UK. I hate to sound unpatriotic, but he's right: England is a dump.

I spend a lot of time working in different countries at the moment, and I can vouchsafe that nowhere is as filthy as home. You don't see garbage all over the place when walking around New York and as soon as you return to Woking you can't help but notice rubbish in the hedgerows, on the verges, beside the road. Compared to Singapore, living in Woking is like living in a landfill. It really does begin to affect you after a while, because you want to feel proud of your homeland, but it's becoming increasingly more difficult. With St. George's day still fresh in my mind, I'm trying to find -- cling on to -- a few things to be proud about, but all I've come up with so far is Radio Four.

Unfortunately, when I picked up the newspaper are after arriving back in merrie England, the first stories I saw were about a criminal being let out of jail to go on a golfing holiday, the police taking over four hours to respond to a 999 call about a murder and a guy being fined (and getting a criminal record) for putting too much rubbish in his bin (oh, and a convicted terrorist is being let out of jail because he can't be deported as it will violate his human rights). Still, great to have a decent cup of Yorkshire Gold tea again.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Protect and survive

Having been up and down to London a lot recently, I've been experimenting to try and find the optimum iPod playlist for surviving extended use of South West Trains facilities. As an alternative to driving my car into the ticket office and then setting fire to myself on track (when I go, I want to cause the maximum disruption possible, so it's either that or start an internet rumour that there's a secret hoard of Illuminati treasure buried under Clapham Junction), I've iterated to a pretty set. Let me know what you think...

As you as the train is visible, hit play and go into Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins "It's Like That". It pumps you up ready for experiment in natural selection that is any morning train to Waterloo. The pounding beat gets your circulation up so that you can bundle old ladies out of the way and trample schoolchildren to get to one of six remaining seats for the 121 people getting on.

The full-length "vinyl" mix of DJ Tiesto's Adaggio for Strings provides insulating techno-backdrop as the train eases through the Surrey countryside. Plenty of nice variation to help you keep concentration despite the heat and lack of oxygen from the jammed carriages but an excellent trace underlay that allows you to focus on the copy of Metro you grabbed going through the station.

Now that you've finished the copy of Metro and haven't even got to Surbiton, it's time for Peter Rauhofer's "Doomsday" club remix of the old Frankie classic "Relax". I find this to be an excellent track for many public transport situations, especially when you want to turn things up a bit because the person sitting next to you is an management consultant trying to talk to a colleague on a mobile phone, as happened to me last time. What a conversation: "is the synergies presentation ready yet... what... no, synergies... in the switch to multi-model corporate work-life balance education..."

Now we're moving through Clapham Junction it's time to move on to the Blue Man Group version of the KLF groove "Last Train to Transcentral". I saw them do this in New York fifteen years ago, and having taken no.1 son to the show back in New York a couple of weeks ago -- ah, the cycle of life -- I've found it good for managing rising stress levels and the body begins to anticipate shifting to the Underground at Waterloo.

The transfer from South West Trains to Red Ken Rail (I guess I should get used to calling it Boris' Borehole from now on) needs a slightly slower, but still driving effort, so on recent trips I've moved the Canibus with Biz Markie cover of the old Johnny Paycheck favourite "Take This Job and Shove It" up the running order. This takes you through the crowds of commuters and down into the Stygian, airless depths of The Drain, where you shuffle en masse down the steps and into the carriage.

If you're on time, the Chemical Brothers live from Glastonbury "Out of Control" is ideal accompaniment through to Bank and up into The City, where the traffic, filth, beggars, crowds and weather welcome you to the beating financial heart of the British economy.

If you're walking to an office from Bank, I find that the Boy George and Culture Club extended club version of "Generations of Love" is a lovely backdrop, calming and uplifting but not too slow, so that you're ready for action as you walk through the door.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Should I have apologised?

I was walking past the White House the other day, when I suddenly thought to myself that perhaps I should go and apologise because it was burned down by the British in the War of 1812. I know it's all the rage to apologise for ancient wrongs, and I want to surf the zeitgeist.

White House

I have to say it was a beautiful day and as I had a couple of hours free I walked all around the White House and down to the Washington Monument and part way along to the Capitol and a few others places. While I was having coffee, I read an article in the Washington Post about American's giving up their cars and using public transport. I have to say that I've been using the bus and transit here -- I didn't take a taxi once -- and it works very well. I caught the bus to West Falls Church metro and then took the metro downtown. I also took the bus over to Tyson's Corner for a $2 exchange rate rampage. The buses were pretty much on time, comfortable and only $1 (that's a fraction of what I pay to ride the bus to Woking train station, which is the equivalent of $3.50) each way. There was even a story in the Post about a couple getting married and then taking the metro -- along with all of their guests -- to the reception. Once major difference between riding the bus in Washington D.C. and riding the bus in Woking that I noticed was the civility. People were being nice to each other. The teenagers weren't drunk, swearing at everyone or listening to loud music and one or two of them even -- unprompted -- said hello to me. Even the BBC have begun to acknolwedge this...

I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place, the lack of the violent undercurrent so ubiquitous in British cities, even British market towns.

[From BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | America's 'safety catch']
In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dragon's den

I was talking to my 11-year old in the car about school.

Me: So how was school today?
Son: They told us the story of St. George in assembly, about how he killed a green dragon with his spear. But I don't think it's true, it's just a story. It couldn't have happened.
Me: Why do you think that?
Son: Because a long spear only does 1d8 damage, so even if he got critical hit with triple damage, that's not enough to take down a green dragon. Unless it was a juvenile.
Me: Well, suppose St. George had a lance, not a spear, and was charging.
Son: Couldn't have happened. A lance is a bludgeoning weapon and the teacher said he pierced the dragon's side.
Son (after a bit of thinking): Suppose George was a 10th-level Paladin with Weapon Focus spear, Power Attack and strength 18. Then suppose that the story exaggerated the size of the green dragon, and that the green dragon had been out fighting or something and flew back to its lair because it was down to 40 hit points. Then it could have happened, if George got a critical hit. That would have made him a hero.

Clearly, obsession with Dungeons & Dragons is, after all, genetic.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.[posted with ecto]