Friday, 24 April 2009

Farewell Geocities - a dinosaur of the early Web becomes a fossil. Oh crap...

In case you haven't already read the story, Yahoo have announced that they will be canning Geocities later in the year. This makes me very sad. Yes, I know it is naff and irredeemably uncool to have a free Geocities-hosted website. I know they stick that annoying sidebar down the side of the page. And I know they have tight diskspace and bandwidth limits. But they've been around almost forever, in World Wide Web terms. They have handy features, and have had since day one. They support Server Side Includes. They have good uptime and helpful support on the odd occasion that things go wrong (and I can only count two such occasions for me in over twelve years of using them). In short, they're nice. But that's not enough, anymore. Geocities' strength was that it allowed the world and his wife to get online easily, to have a web presence. But these days, with social networking sites like Bacefook and MyArse, and specialist blogging (and micro-blogging) outfits everywhere you look, not so many people want to take the time to build a site from scratch, not when they can just set up a blog with a couple of mouse clicks. And so Geocities' days are numbered.

Of course I appreciate the irony of writing this from a blog. But it's a blog I write manually and integrate, myself, within my own site on Geocities. I hand-code my RSS feed. This is a labour of love, not some wizard-based, template-driven instant web presence.

In total, I write four websites - this and one other are on Geocities. Yahoo have announced that before the year is out, Geocities will be gone, so I have to move this and the other one somewhere new. On the plus side, this gives me the opportunity to integrate them together in one new site, with more file storage space. On the downside, all the effort I put in to getting these sites to feature prominently in search engine results will be lost, despite the efforts I'll undoubtedly make with redirection pages between now and Yahoo turning out the light.

So farewell then, Geocities - the behemoth of pre-Web 1.0 has had its day... and I have a lot of coding to do.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Who will win The Apprentice

Not a question but an assertion.

I watched The Apprentice for the first time this series last night. And surely there can only be one winner? For whilst half the contestants come across as argumentative children who surely have never held a proper job in the real world for very long (estate agent Philip, that would be you, for starters), and the other half seem almost religiously intent on either saying nothing at all (Noorul), too much (Lorraine), or simply abandoning all common sense in the pursuit of point-scoring with Margaret and Nick (James), the only person who seems to have her head screwed on is Kate. She can make a decision, fairly, keeps calm, leads a team effectively, has common sense, and most of all... most of all, she seems like someone you could have confidence in if they were working for you, and that you could get on and work effectively with if you were working alongside them.

The Apprentice, then, is surely all wrapped up? If I can find somewhere offering odds on who'll win, I might have a bet...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The joy of YouTube: from The Marriage of Figaro to a talking daffodil in two moves

The first car I can really remember properly from my childhood was a 3-dr metallic blue Fiat 127 Special that we had from 1978 to 1981. Hard as it is to believe in these days of two- and three-car families, this was our only car for a family of five. Anyway, it looked almost exactly like the one in the bottom left of this picture. Normally, we would have kept the car for longer than three years but it was rear-ended at speed in a contraflow on the A1 and, although repaired under insurance, it was never really the same again. That's how my parents came to be in the market for a new car in 1981.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I was a pushy and curiously influential child who had quite fallen in love with the humble Fiat range. I was particularly taken with the X1/9 but since that was a two-seater coupé, I turned my attention - and, by my inherent child's skill of badgering, the attention of my parents - to Fiat's newest model, the Strada. This was quietly revolutionary at the time, from the use of computer-aided design by Fiat's draughtsmen right through to the degree of automation in the construction process. Much was made of this in the advert shown below, courtesy of YouTube - the ad cost a fortune to make, was only shown a handful of time (four, maybe?) on British TV, and pre-dated lots of subsequent car ad's by being soundtracked with opera. I was sufficiently impressed and, by proxy, so were my parents - we ended up with a 1.3 litre 65L in a beautiful shade of blue (Rhodes Blue, it was called in the brochure). This was the car that, some years later, I learnt to drive in (thanks Mum). Anyway, the car has long since expired, but the advert remains a classic, as you can see...

Of course the "handbuilt by robots" tagline was seized upon by comedy-writers of the day. One favourite was to show a car crashing with the subtitle "built by robots, driven by Italians". Hey, I said it was seized on by comedy-writers, I didn't say good comedy writers! But I digress... I much preferred the parody created by the Not The Nine O'Clock News team, below, with its obvious, but nonetheless funny, pun...

And having watched the above on YouTube, I was then offered the following NTNOCN sketch which remains, for me, one of the funniest things they ever did. Enjoy.

Friday, 17 April 2009

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

Shamelessly pinched this idea from the always-excellent Pretending Life Is Like A Song, who in turn pinched it from Rol at Sunset Over Slawit, about whom I know next to nothing but who in turn got it from some guy called Chev who, judging by question 9, probably got it from somewhere like Facebook. Which I won't link to. If you don't already know where that is, you never will. Anyway, here goes.
  1. Which author do you own the most books by?
    Easy. Stephen King. Then probably Arthur C. Clarke (mostly untouched since teenage years).
  2. Which book do you own the most copies of?
    I have two copies of The Fermata by Nicholson Baker, one hardback, one paperback. Other than that, one is usually enough.
  3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
    Not until you, dear questioner, pointed it out.
  4. Which fictional character are you secretly in love with?
    Amélie, of course.
  5. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?
    Watership Down by Richard Adams. At the last count, I think I'd read this fourteen times.
  6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
    God, I don't know, that's a long time ago. Probably something like Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O'Brien, or Spaceship Medic by Harry Harrison.
  7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
    I haven't read any bad ones in the past year. Lucky me.
  8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
    Probably The Outcast by TMC Sadie Jones, a great book but also undoubtedly helped by the circumstances in which, and the person with whom, I read it.
  9. If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
    Look, if I wanted to tag people I'd be doing this on Bacefook.
  10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
    In fantasy land, me! In reality, as many others have already said, why not Stephen King? You don't sell millions of books and maintain a fan base for over thirty years unless you're doing something right.
  11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
    Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. I imagine it being shot like Peep Show, literally through the eyes of the narrator.
  12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
  13. There have been some great Stephen King movies adaptations (I’m thinking The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, The Shining, The Dead Zone, hey, even The Green Mile) but there have also been some rotten ones (stand up The Dark Half, It). I'm scared to watch The Mist in case they've ruined what is one of my favourite King (long) short stories. And for the same reason, I'd hate to see The Long Walk (written as Richard Bachman) turned into a movie... though I've just read that Frank Darabont has secured the rights to that too.
  14. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
    I not making the contents of my dreams public, sorry!
  15. What is the most low-brow book you’ve read as an adult?
    The Savage Stars by god knows who - awful, derivative science fiction that deserves to be pulped. In my defence, I was just barely an adult at the time.
  16. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
    Literally, probably A Hero of our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. Emotionally, Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel - whilst thoroughly excellent, it gets progressively more depressing.
  17. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
    Live performance, I've only seen Julius Caesar, Henry V, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, none of which I'd call obscure, would you?
  18. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
    I haven’t read a lot of either. But I have read some Solzhenitsyn and Lermontov, so I'll go with them.
  19. Roth or Updike?
    Since I have only read Updike...
  20. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
    Since I have only read Sedaris...
  21. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
    Since I have only read Shakespeare...
  22. Austen or Eliot?
    Since I have read neither...
  23. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
    I'm not embarrassed by it but I can't help feeling like I have a huge Dickens-shaped gap in my reading life.
  24. What is your favorite novel?
    Can anyone honestly give a "top one" answer to this kind of question?  For the purposes of this exercise, and to be awkward, I'll go for Watership Down (that's why I've read it so many times, obviously) and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, which speaks to me as a bloke (and a record collector). Those two would be near the top of any list I might ever compile.
  25. Play?
    Another ridiculous "top one" question. I enjoyed The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams tremendously when I saw it last year.
  26. Poem?
    It's a trite, clichéd answer, but I do like Stop All The Clocks by W.H. Auden.
  27. Essay?
    Who has a favourite essay?
  28. Short story?
    Right now, am finding that Angela Carter (especially The Bloody Chamber) and Raymond Carver can always be relied on for excellent short stories. And of course there's Mr King... The Mist, The Long Walk and Strawberry Spring are three of my favourites.
  29. Work of non-fiction?
    Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks, Join Me by Danny Wallace, Are you Dave Gorman? by Dave Gorman. I see a pattern here - blokey fun books (though Dave has some dark moments in his). So to spoil the theme, I'll throw in the excellent A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - brilliant.
  30. Who is your favorite writer?
    King, I suppose. Why would I buy, and immediately devour, everything he writes otherwise?
  31. Who is the most over-rated writer alive today?
    I don't know, but it is depressing to see ghost-written trash attributed to people like Katie Price flying off the shelves...
  32. What is your desert island book?
    Lord of the Flies by William Golding, to remind me to stay a man.
  33. And… what are you reading right now?
    Four Stories by Alan Bennett and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.
Footnote: the title of this post? A quote from Groucho Marx, of course...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

What sort of person keys a car?

Now I don't have the greatest car in the world, but at the same time I don't have an old banger either. I drive an eight year old coupé that will get to 60 in less than seven seconds, has four wheel drive and heated leather seats. It's not an Aston Martin or anything, but it's pretty good. More importantly, it's my pride and joy. I know it's illogical, irrational and ever-so-slightly sad to get so attached to what is essentially a lump of metal, plastic and leather... but I bloody love that car.

All of which makes it even more annoying that I awoke on Monday morning to find that it had been keyed, not once but twice, on two separate body panels. And deep too. These are not fleeting scratches made in hurried passing by some furtive scum. Oh no. These are gouges, deeply and deliberately made. This took effort. Real pressure must have been applied by scum to his keys.

I was hurt first of all, really upset in fact because, as I've mentioned, I love my car. Then I got angry. And I'm still angry now.

Most of my anger comes from just not being able to understand what would lead someome to do this. How inadequate must they feel? And just how disappointed with their own life must they be if they can derive some small pleasure from making someone else's unhappy? Or just how jealous must they be that someone else has a lovely sports car and they do not? Quite apart from the fact that I've worked bloody hard for a long time to be in a position to be able to afford a car like this... and maybe, just maybe, if they're so aggrieved that I have one and they don't, then perhaps they could consider working hard themselves, working towards their own nice car...

Except of course it is foolishness on my part to think that way. Why would such a person work hard to get a good job and earn enough to have a nice car when they can just make other people's nice cars less lovely at the flick (or chiselling gouge, in this case) of a key?

There are other aspects to this story that make me angry too. I reported this to the police, getting a crime number for my trouble. When I asked whether the area in which it happened was a known hotspot for such a crime (since a quick bit of research - okay, I just walked up and down the street and counted - revealed a depressingly high number of other cars have been keyed too) I was told that yes, it was quite common in the area but nothing could be done unless someone was witnessed doing it. The member of staff who took my call then asked me if there was CCTV in the area - a fact I would have expected her to be able to tell me, but there you go. Now I know that realistically the police do not have the resources to crack down on car keying in one small residential area... but the fact that it is so common, and just so accepted, made me angry.

And then there is the question of insurance. Now I have a protected no-claims discount, so theoretically could claim for this without losing that discount but guess what? Even though this has come about through no fault of my own, I would have to pay an excess, and a hefty one to boot, because there is no known third party from which my insurer can reclaim costs. To rub salt into the wound, if I'd been hit by an uninsured driver (a situation in which there would also be no third party insurer to claim against) I wouldn't have to pay my excess, as long as I could prove no blame on my part. But for a keying? Time to get my wallet out.

Except what's the point? Let's say I have the paintwork done. Two different body panels, metallic paint - I don't know but I'm guessing in excess of £400, money I can ill afford at the moment. But let's, just for one moment, imagine that I can't bear to see my pride and joy defaced a moment longer, and have the work done. What then? I proudly bring the car back from the bodyshop, park up in the road outside my home and then... what? A day, a week, a month later? Some other scum comes along with the same lack of intelligence/self-esteem/respect for others/general decency (I would say delete as applicable, but they'll all apply) and keys it again... and so I get into a spiral of expense, bills, and paranoia. I don't want to get to the stage that I'm almost afraid of parking outside my own home, always fearful of what I'll find the next morning. It's sad, but these are the kind of thoughts I've been having.

I almost came to the conclusion that it's just not worth having a nice car. Until I saw, on my research loop of the area, that someone's 1996 entry-level Ford Ka had been keyed too. Don't get me wrong, Ford/Ka owners, I'm not saying that's a poor car... but surely it's not the sort of car that would provoke envy or anger in your average key-wielding scum, is it?

So as it is, I'm applying to get myself on the waiting list for a council garage in the area. God knows how long it will take before one becomes available in my area. Alternatively, someone in the next street is renting their garage out privately... at a cost of £175 per month. It's a measure of how upset and angry all this has made me that I'm actually considering it...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Keira and Women's Aid

Seems to me that Keira Knightley is entirely lovely. She comes across as intelligent, well spoken, funny, beautiful and you know what, she can act a bit too.

Now she's doing even more to boost her "national treasure" credentials, by appearing - free of charge - in a hard-hitting advert for the charity Women's Aid, highlighting the issue of violent domestic abuse.

It's not necessarily easy viewing, but it's a very important cause, so here's the ad:

The songs that saved your life...?

Well, not quite, but here are some of the key albums I played to exhaustion in the latter half of the Eighties and very early Nineties, all of which I recommend unreservedly to you. Hover over each one for my full comments.