I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday the 13th and other random musings

Friday the 13th
As I started this post, it was almost 2am on Saturday 14th November and I was watching Friday 13th Part V: A New Beginning. It's the one after The Final Chapter, an episode so final that subsequently there have been 7 more (not including remakes, but including Freddy vs Jason). I have them all on DVD, and ever since completing the set I've wanted to have a fest of this sort, a back-to-back all-nighter of watching them, on an occurrence of the date. Today I finally took that ball and ran with it.

These are seriously low brow films. I struggle to think of films more formulaic. They take no brain power to watch. Actually, that may not be the case: if you let them, they occupy the brain when you try to figure out what on earth the comically bad endings to part 2 and 3 are all about. They distress the brain when each episode starts with a recap that's way way way too long. They leave you with enough capacity to spend an entire film thinking "fuck, where else have I seen that actor?" without losing track of the action. But mostly, from episodes 2 onwards, they make you -- that is to say, they make me -- laugh. I think they're fantastic. (Actually, such a broad statement isn't strictly true: episodes 1-4 are great, 5-8 considerably less so (though 6 is OK), 9-10 + Freddy vs Jason back on point)

Does anyone know where my Making Friday The 13th book is? I have a feeling it might be in my garage. It's certainly not in my bookshelf, or in my bedroom. Wherever it is, it's probably next to my copy of If Chins Could Kill. I really want to find them both...so I can lend them to others.

Why can't I find any popular science books, or even introductory academic texts, on writing/script? Well -- actually -- I found one, the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction To Writing And Script, but it was a huge disappointment. Mostly it was about various ancient scripts and when they were in use, when they dropped out of use, what they eventually morphed into, and how decipherment works. All very interesting to other people I'm sure, but not to me: what I'm really interested in is a history or explanation of, literally, why certain shapes came to represent certain sounds. Why individual scripts look like they do, in themselves and relative to one another. But I can't find anything like it. I've plenty of linguistics books about word meanings, about cultural differences in language, about language as an expression of thought (Pinker RULES), and about language development... but nothing about writing in the way I'm interested. Is it simply a case that we just don't know that kind of stuff about scripts?

I'd never heard of wulffmorgenthaler.com two weeks ago. But in that time I've seen links to their strips from two different sources; one of them reckons this strip says something about me. Maybe it does, but worse than that is how much of a kicking today's XKCD gave me. Ouch. (If you're going to read more of this post, make sure you read that XKCD strip first)

I've recently bought a parade of ever-fancier toys. Of most immediate relevance is that I upgraded my phone to the Android-powered HTC Hero, after years of being a Sony Ericsson fanboi. I have massively mixed feelings about it so far: there were loads of teething troubles getting it set up with contacts, getting it onto my wireless network at home, the alarm app is a load of shit (sometimes alarms don't go off, and when they do there's no snooze option), battery life is rubbish, ... but oh me oh my it's a fucking fancy shiny toy.

The Cowon S9 is a great mp3 player, I love the interface and the sound quality's superb, but I don't like how there's no way to record a log of what you've listened to and send it up to last.fm (who I continue to use massively, despite the bastards turning me down for a job in the summer ;-) ). Actually there may be a way if I use a more complex way of loading it up with music, but it's a load of hoop-jumping bullshit that I can't be fucked with.

The Squeezebox Radio is my best electronics purchase this year. The sound is amazing and I've loved the squeezebox server software for as long as I've known about it (which is over 2 years now). Access to all my music in my bedroom, when I fall asleep, when I wake up, when I have a lie-in, etc etc, with the most flexible yet simple to use interface I've ever seen, is just fantastic, something I've wanted for years. So in tandem with the ongoing project of re-encoding all my CDs, I now get to listen to them each morning and night, when previously I either couldn't, or had to do some kind of bullshit iTunes fakery and listen through laptop speakers. The Squeezebox Radio is nigh-on perfect.

I have flimsy justifications for getting these toys! Yay me!
  • I have always adored music
  • my last phone was horribly broken.
The truth is I already have 2 working mp3 players and one perfectly functional old phone, and could have got the broken one fixed. But until someone or something (preferably the former) comes along -- and I am trying to do my bit -- this pale facsimile of fulfillment will likely carry on.

Since I'm turning this long, rambling post into something which approximates a week or so of tumblr.com-esque snippets, I might as well embed a few song videos. These are tunes I think are incredible, or getting there at least. There's no reason why anyone should agree with me, especially as I listen to an awful lot of music and sometimes have a pretty low quality threshold, but still...these are great songs, and not remotely extreme metal.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sun is shining, weather is sweet

Huh. I'm in a good mood. Have had a few of these recently. How curious. I blame the fact that, er, things are going a bit better these days. Or are they? Maybe it's all smoke and mirrors, but I'm not going to spend too long dissecting that. Instead I'm just going to ramble in a "fuck it, I fancy writing a blog post for the sake of it" way about how shit's going.

I got a job! In a bizarre twist of fate, while explicitly searching for permanent work and using the search term "no agencies" I stumbled upon an agency advert for a contract. But I recognised the language in the job description, feeling sure I knew who the employer was. So rather than go through the agent, I contacted a few friends who confirmed my suspicions. A few emails and a job interview later and hey presto, I am back at Yahoo!, 17 months after leaving -- an event which itself took place around 17 months after I had first attempted to quit.

Anyone who's known me for a while or has randomly decided to read old posts on here will know what happened in 2006. But fuck it, I'm in the mood for a recap.

I had a pretty fucked up summer that year. My job turned to shit, my missus of almost 7 years left me, I went to my first ever international football matches (in fact, they are to date still the only ones I've seen) which just so happened to be at the World Cup, one of them being England getting knocked out by Portugal. BASTARDS. While in Germany I started this blog! And when I came back, I attempted to quit Yahoo! (a job I'd started in September 1999). I say attempted because I actually got talked into staying, in a completely different role. But as I'd already booked a cheer-myself-up epic round the world fat cat business class holiday, we all agreed I could disappear for 2 months and come back fresh.

That holiday started exactly 3 years ago today. I had a one way ticket to Gibraltar, with the RTW ticket waiting for me at the BA desk at the airport. I'm not going to say too much more about what happened then because I wrote fucking loads about it at the time. Go look at the posts for September and October 2006. I think I'll do so myself, actually, because I really enjoy reliving that holiday (and I enjoyed writing about it as much as doing it). But ANYWAY.

Huh. Lost my flow now. Fucks sake. What was I going to say? Oh, that was it, yes, so, I'm back at Yahoo!. In a Groundhog Day style thing. And it has made life better. I really love working here. Most of the people I worked with when I left are still here, sat round the corner, including my ARCH NEMESIS at table tennis. The Diet Coke may have risen in price by an infinite percentage, being 40p instead of free, and I may have to go all the way to the 3rd floor to get it, but that's OK. I guess. There's no canteen, but that just forces me to go out into the west end at lunch, oh no! And the drinking is as hard as ever. It's not a good thing that I now mean hard as in difficult as well as copious, but I'm sure it's just an extended "welcome back" phase we're all going through. It'll calm down, I'm sure, especially as Christmas approaches. Hmm.

I love the working environment too, specifically (for the sake of this paragraph) the fact that I can listen to music all day every day with very few interruptions. This is a consequence of (a) having a boss in France, so all communication is done over instant messenger/email (b) having very little interaction, for the work itself, with anyone else in this office (c) everyone else doing the same and most conversation being done over IM anyway. Such has been the nature of my job for most of my career, but I did go through a lean couple of years where there were loads of interruptions and meetings, or just a different management/co-worker style, which meant it didn't really happen. Ironically enough I felt most unable to listen to music all day while working at a fucking radio station. GRR. But anyway, now I can listen to music it's all awesome.

Before I went to Australia in June/July I started ripping all my CDs, from scratch, into a new bit of kit I'd bought. With my mood ever-so-bastard-slightly different when I returned from that trip, I never got back into the hang of it, but now that I'm listening all day to my own music (streamed from home) I'm back into "wait, I own [such and such] and want to listen to it, and I've not ripped it yet!" mode so it's all kicked off again. I spent over 7 hours ripping stuff on Sunday, lots of Ps Qs and Rs -- it seems that back in the day I vaguely alphabetised my collection! So behold, it's all Pussy Galore and Repulsion and Public Enemy and Pearl Jam this week.

Actually, no it's not, it's all kinds of stuff, but those are some of the things I'm reacquainted with. And I'm going to, er, acquaint other people to them(!) because my DJing is BACK. Or at least it will be, when me and ex-colleague Mark get our shit together and make a podcast or two full of all kinds of eclectic choices and mindless banter. We've had to almost stop talking to each other on IM or down the pub in case we use up all our jokes and anecdotes which would be better off left in the show, hah.

Christ, this is a ramble and a half, huh. I should probably head out to get some lunch soon. Except I've just had a delightful pop-up reminder that there's a meeting in 3 minutes. Bollocks.

So, just quickly: my new xbox is great. I like the Batman: Arkham Asylum and WET demos. Also Wii Sports Resort, House Of The Dead Overkill, and EA Grand Slam Tennis on the Wii are great. And I still rock so hard at Guitar Hero. At the weekend I played Shortest Straw on Guitar Hero: Metallica, difficulty level 'hard', and only missed 20 notes. TWENTY NOTES.

Not everything's great. Some really good mates of mine are individually having really hard times of it at the moment, and I've not been much use to them. I've bottled out of attending a few bashes here and there due to fairly powerful but hard to articulate feelings of not wanting to turn up. There are people I've been promising to catch up with and/or go visit and not doing so. I'm single, and my ex's cats are still living with me. And Gregg's in Surbiton doesn't stay open until 4am like the two branches in Nottingham city centre. But this paragraph is making me miserable, so I'm going to stop.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My awesome summer of 2009

I'm having a FUCKING GREAT summer. Yeah, really. Or not. I know a bunch of it is pissy little shit that shouldn't matter, that I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to afford the financial side of what's occurred, and that bits are my own fault, some even directly. But fuck me what a fucking soap opera, what a series of varying strength metaphorical kicks in the fucking face I am taking. This sucks.
  • I got made redundant (fine, this was my choice, and I got bribed for staying as long as I did. And I had some savings, and a plan for the summer, and didn't know I would be desperate to fill my days with work just to drown out everyfuckingthing else)
  • I bought Guitar Hero: Metallica and it was delivered with a broken guitar so I had to send it back
  • The light switch in my living room caught fire and I had to fork out for a sparky
  • Hellfest ended with a £225 visit to a French hospital, all thanks to a poxy fucking mosquito and an over-zealous first aid doctor. Saw no bands on the 3rd day and had to spend the following week dry
  • I went on holiday with my missus who I hadn't seen for 9 weeks or so. And I got dumped, if not actually on my birthday then in essence (I think it was actually on my birthday, though). From a relationship that was NEVER in trouble, to my knowledge, until that fucking day
  • My 6 month old niece was thoroughly non-plussed with me
  • I spent the entire bribe I got (see: redundancy) on coming home 9 days early from what obviously turned out to be a predominantly fucking awful holiday
  • The cats brought in 8 mice and birds, in various states of being, in 7 days
  • I'm not 100% crazy about having the cats here, or Ruth's stuff, and I'm not going to get an "I've made a terrible mistake" email no matter how much I (think I) want one. I'm also really fucking miserable about being single, especially having basically been single since March/April WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT.
  • I've spent the best part of 3 hours, on and off, on the blower to Sky convincing them to send someone round to fix my signal issues. Paid £65 to get an engineer out who not only couldn't do the job, but left me with no signal instead of just a bad one.
  • I am being fucked about/ignored (for weeks on end) in the recruitment process of what started off looking like a promising new job
  • My fucking xbox 360, the number one time-killer I have left in the house, is fucking fucked. SYSTEM ERROR E71 followed just by a whole lot of buzzing that seems to mean I AM FUCKED SO GO PISS AWAY YET MORE MONEY LIKE WATER ON A NEW ONE WHY DON'T YOU. My 360 is both games console and DVD player.
  • Several of my friends are having a shitty time of things too and I'm doing a terrible job of being any use to them
Huh. I'm in a fucking AWESOME mood about life this morning. I could really do with a way of making PORK more popular, or even pay. I could do with getting a job and a woman. I could do with dropping another 15kg. But mostly I could just do WITHOUT ALL THIS SHIT.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Heathrow to Suvarnabhumi

Went to the gate as soon as it was announced. As with the rest of T3, it was a zoo, this time full of teenagers or young twentysomethings all off to, as far as I could tell, Thailand. Not really surprising I guess, given the airline and destination: Thai Airways flight TG917 London Heathrow to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.

The best thing, in fact the only good thing, about getting to the gate early, is that they did early boarding for Royal First, Royal Silk, and people with gold cards. Business class is Royal Silk, and that's what I was booked in, thanks to having forked out ~£500 and half the miles I'd spent the best part of 3 years accruing with BMI. I always feel privileged and lucky to fly in such comfort, but yesterday this feeling was topped up with a significantly high amount of snobbish fuck-me-glad-I'm-not-in-the-same-cabin-as-those-fuckers. Early boarding gave me the opportunity to stride past them with a huge sense of superiority (or, OK, shuffle past them, a little put out by all the "why's he going up when they've called the posh people only?" stares I was getting). Either way: win.

Upstairs on a 747 is so cosy. Every time I've been there (once with Cathay Pacific, a few times with BA, and now once with Thai) I've loved it. It's kind of better than business class because it's such a private cabin, in which you never see anyone else. I felt out of place. Not in a I-don't-belong-here kind of way -- I got over that ages ago -- but more in an "oh, everyone else is Thai, and the staff are speaking Thai, and in fact the staff and the punters all seem to recognise one another" kind of way. I think there were only 2 non-Thais, me included, amongst the 26 passengers. Eek! So there's no reason why this should really have surprised me at all, it just felt more ... foreign, than, say, Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific.

I certainly didn't see what was so funny about the guy dishing out champagne having a Chinese name, but it caused semi-uproar among some passengers.

My bag didn't fit in the overhead compartment. I blame Jeremy Kyle. In fact it almost didn't fit in the one between the seat and the window either, and JK had to come out so I could squash it in. In the compartment behind that one I spotted 3 huge Boeing 747 Schematics manuals. Ace.

Aircon was either off or broken. It was sweltering. I had a couple of orange juices and a very cold hot towel (which also happened at the end of the flight) and settled down to check out the entertainment magazine. Unfortunately mine only had the cover, not the actual pages. Oh well.

The entertainment system -- including the giant projector screen at the front of the cabin -- was stuck in soothing music and map display mode while everyone boarded. Much better map than on BA, including the 3D pilot view of win (though, sadly, not an actual camera out from the cockpit). And while I had to make sure my seat remained upright with my footrest folded yadda yadda yadda for take-off, I availed myself of the in-seat massage button. It lasted AGES. I'm sure someone else I flew with in 2006 has a similar thing. Cathay? Qantas? Someone in that part of the world.

The headphones Thai give out are SHIT. Really really bad. I had to have the volume at maximum to have any chance of hearing all the dialogue in Frost/Nixon; after half hour or so I gave up and plugged my own in, and the difference was astonishing. It's only a pair of £30 noise-isolating JBL things, but bloody hell. I turned the volume down to almost the minimum from then on!

Frost/Nixon itself was preceded by a short video about wellbeing in the air. All that stretch your legs, roll your neck, draw circles with your ankles, etc etc stuff. Presented by a wacky cartoon character called STAN THE EXERCISE MAN. A real "what the fuck?" moment, that -- but not as bad as the laughable dubbing in the film itself, where Kevin Bacon clearly says "fuck" or some other disgraceful curse. What I heard was someone completely different, about an octave higher, say "If you cheat us on the 60 per-cent" before KB took over the rest of the sentence. AWFUL.

Didn't see all the film. Fell asleep. Saw the ending, not sure how much I missed though, I think about half hour. A combination of being really tired, not having had much Diet Coke, and the Thai business class seat being preposterously comfortable meant I actually, for the first time ever, didn't see a complete film on a long-haul flight. I tried to watch Anchorman -- which the system said is 191 minutes long, really!? -- and fell asleep half hour in, waking up as it was finishing... so I started it again, and did exactly the same thing. FAIL. Or alternatively, win, since sleep is actually what you're meant to do.

Ah yes, the seat. It goes flat, but not 180 degrees, so there's a real sliding-forwards danger. I avoided that. It also felt comfortably wider than BA's business class seat. I could look up the actual seat pitch etc, but instead I'm going to go "yay, I'm smaller than I used to be!", or something.

At about 7am UK time, I felt a buzzing in my pocket. It was my phone's alarm going off. Oops. By "my phone", I mean the second handset I've brought with me, having bought a Vodafone SIM just before so I can do texts and calls in Australia for a pittance. At home it had been sitting on the side with its battery out, but now that it's back in it remembered there was an alarm set... and it wasn't on silent mode. Thankfully I caught it before, as far as I could tell, anyone else noticed. Though they may have noticed the fat western bloke flinching like crazy and playing with a mobile phone. The upside of this incident was that, well, it woke me up, around 5 minutes before the crew were going to anyway: it was time to serve the pre-descending-into-Bangkok meal.

I've turned the alarm off now.

The cabin crew were wearing different uniforms when serving breakfast. What the hell? Seems like a lot of effort to go to. Sure you might want to change into something fresh, but something actually different? Nice touch I guess.

When the staff were making an announcement, the monitor said PA IN PROGRESS. Without much of a gap between PA and IN. My leg's fine, ta.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Surbiton to Heathrow

My cab turned up on time. The driver even knocked on the door! Nice bloke, drove a strange route but got me there quickly enough. Heathrow T3 is a fucking ZOO, and strange things were afoot at entrance D -- people just wandering up and going in, but one special queue for one airline in particular, not sure which. Maybe Etihad?

Anyway it's a horrible, shabby terminal. I checked in at the Thai business desks which used to be the Singapore Airlines desks -- I know because Ruth checked in there last year. I'd already done it online, with baggage, all the way to Australia, despite the website telling me last night I hadn't done the second leg.

The first security question I was asked was "have I asked you the security questions?". Nice. Got directed to Lounge B near gate 11 after the formalities were over. She'd said "You know where the lounge is?" to the bloke in front of me, but not to me, just straight out with the directions. Possibly he had status with Thai Airways on his boarding pass, but more likely he looked the part while I don't. BASTARDS.

Up to departures and another scrum. Fast track was merely faster track. In 2006 I had this down pat -- all metal out, shoes off, laptop out, straight through, bingo. These days I'm clumsy and stupid: dropped me laptop, prepared to take shoes off without noticing that no-one else was doing it (ie, we didn't have to), and I left the m2-to-USB-stick adapter in my pocket which set the bloody alarm off. Grr. Tiny little thing had to go through separately again while I was putting my belt back on.

Sent a message to twitter (and therefore Facebook) before I even got the lounge. As if anyone expected anything different.

This lounge has self-service beer -- like all* business lounges. Better yet, this lounge has self-service beer taps. I've been in one like that before, the AAdmirals Club in Tokyo Narita. That was better, in that I was allowed a beer when I was there. But I'm on antibiotics now and being a good boy. Bah.

Cold food. The little potatoes of varying colours in the potato salad are olives. And we have to eat with plastic fucking cutlery! At least there are cheeses. Diet Coke from a tap, not mixer-size cans, is an improvement over many lounges. My laptop still works (for now?). Despite epic extra emergency expense of last few weeks (sparky, health treatment, € exchange rate at Hellfest) a tiny part of me was hoping it was broken, as an excuse to buy a VAT-less new Macbook Pro in Dixons Tax Free. But that would have been financial suicide: I don't have a job, nor the means with which to live without one for longer than a couple of months. Less, if I'd bought one. This thing'll have to do until I get a job offer.

Yesterday the doc said "not ideally" when I asked if I can have a drink while on these thrush pills. That's not an outright refusal, right? And she at least said I could have one or two on my birthday. Would it be really bad if I had one or two between now and then? Possibly. It is, frankly, stupid to chance it. I have shit skin and a skin issue for which I am being medicated. Best carry on being the good boy.

Best go. Laptop says 19 minutes of battery life left, and history tells me it means I WILL DIE ANY SECOND AND YOU WILL LOSE EVERYTHING YOU'VE WRITTEN. Forgot the plane-socket-adapter too, so this is it 'til Bangkok probably. Oh well. Maybe I'll go have a dri...FUCK IT.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Doing shit offline

I was just thinking it was cool that I'm already the 3rd hit, at the time of writing, for "do shit offline" when searching on Google. But then I snapped out of it. Yes, my generation game post yesterday was about websites, but not all software engineering is about the web. The stuff I bang on about needn't spit out HTML or PHP or anything of the sort. I have an mp3-fixer-upper (mentioned below) which spits out a shell script. That's because these are just software engineering techniques (patterns, if you will) for generating lots of similarly structured output from minimal input: lots of unique data, but comparatively few templates.

I work as a software engineer whose career has mostly led him to working with websites; I do not work as a web developer. And despite currently being on the dole, I figured I might as well pimp some software that helps with doing shit offline, huh. These are 2 projects I've been intimately involved with as both developer and user.


Yahoo!'s r3 is ostensibly an internationalisation/localisation tool, but to my mind its real power comes from the fairly complex, at first glance, inheritance path concept. This brings object-oriented techniques to file generation, and there's the key word: r3 is first and foremost a file generation tool. In go templates, out come files.

I was one of the core engineers on the team which developed and maintained r3's predecessors, which were internal CMS tools at Yahoo!. I had fairly heavy involvement in some of the architectural and design discussions and decisions made during r3's genesis, and was the sole internal customer representative at the team's first "next steps" planning etc session 18 months later. I'm quite a fan, even if the public docs aren't quite up to scratch.


This is something I knocked up in Python in the last couple of months. I even blogged about it before. So much for "don't repeat yourself", huh? It's a simple script which marries YAML to a template, and creates some output. The output can be STDOUT or a file, and 4 template engines (of sorts) are supported. It's meant to be standalone, but deliberately usable as the central pivot of a get-some-data, produce-some-output, put-it-somewhere pipeline. In fact, when used this way you don't even need YAML - just a couple of python dictionaries. See my mp3-fixer-upper for an example of how.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Generation Game

Let me tell you a story (or "lie", if you prefer). In 3 acts.

Act 1

I live on a roundabout. Like that bloke who lived on a roundabout, or the fella from Parliament Square. And I'm famous. People come up to the roundabout from one of the 5 roads, and before they make their way round it they ask me my name. But I'm mute, so I have to write it down on a sign for them and hold it up. They read it, and go on their way, so I throw the sign away. But then someone else turns up on another road, and I have to get round to them and do the same thing.

It's really very tiring, writing my name on signs over and over again all day. The worst thing about it is the traffic around this roundabout flows very slowly, and people get annoyed at how long it takes to drive round me. All they want is to know my name, but they have to wait 'til I've told loads of other people before they even get to ask. I've even heard that a lot of people just aren't even bothering to come my way any more.

Act 2

I still live on a roundabout. People still drive up to ask my name. But y'know what? I've got a couple of mates now. No-one's interested in them, which is good, 'cos it means I can just get them to write the signs for me. They write about 25 and then have a rest. Now, when people drive up to ask me my name I just take one of the signs out and show it to them, then throw it away.

It's much better. I get to tell so many people my name now, way more than before. It's still not perfect though -- when one or both of me mates is ill I have to scramble around as before. And once 25 drivers have come and gone, the 26th one has to wait ages while a sign gets written for them. But still. I'm loads more popular!

Too popular.

The council gave me a second roundabout. And a third. I'm a tourist attraction. So now there are people driving up to three roundabouts, and I've had to draft in a lot of introvert mates. And every time 25 people have gone past one of the roundabouts my mates have to draw another 25 signs. They're getting burnt out. I'm going to have to start paying them (more).

Act 3

I haven't got many mates any more. Just one, in fact. Got 10 roundabouts though, and well prepared for any more. I had a bit of a brainwave, see.

Me and my mate made 50 signs. And we attached them to posts, facing the roads at each roundabout. So now, when people come up, they can ask my name but it's already there. Right in front of them. Sometimes there's an accident and I have to replace one, but in general it works a treat.

People don't even need to ask me the question any more, and if I change my name, well, I only need to tell my mate. He can make some new signs. And he doesn't take much looking after.

The analogy explained (in case it wasn't obvious)

I used to be a fully dynamic website. Database queries on every request. I had a bit of traffic. Not much though.

Caches were my friends. They're databases, and I still had to do queries, but smaller and faster ones. But I had to maintain the databases which just duplicated the data I already had. And they kept emptying and coming back to ask the main database the same query as they asked half hour ago. They needed a bit of looking after.

I'm now a damn fast website. I get through a lot of traffic. My one companion is a generator/publisher. It prepares stuff in advance which doesn't change, and just places it there, right in front of all the traffic. And if I get twice the traffic? He can probably cope. Five times the traffic? Maybe then I'll need another one.

The moral

Seriously, just do shit offline. The Q in SQL is for "query". Like question. Why would you want to ask the same question multiple times if you know the answer doesn't change, or changes rarely -- and, crucially, if you know when it changes? Why even use a cache if it's only going to expire, and you need to maintain both the databases and the code which populates them? Moreover, the code and database are there to do nothing but store exactly the same information as you already have. What happened to "don't repeat yourself"? Is that only for code?

The master/controlling source of a website's data (eg a CMS for a media site), knows when data changes, so just push it out. Not to some intermediary - again, why bother? Just push it out all the way to the front. Generate it. Build it. Publish it.

I'm not arguing for no dynamism in websites. I'm just saying look, make the dynamism appropriate. Base it on the user, their behaviour, their request, or whatever -- but not on the things you already control. Changed your name? Don't wait for someone to ask you, get it out there before they even ask.

Want to know a query whose answer rarely changes? "What's the main body of the content at URL /2009/06/fail/?" One which changes regularly? "What's the most recent bit of content on the site?" Just think. about which parts of your site, and which parts of each page, actually change based on some kind of external input, be it the time and date, some facet of the current user, or some other unique facet of the individual request. You can do more of those, and provide more functionality, if you generate/build/publish the stuff that you control.

Do shit offline. Capiche?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

GPS cocks

Hot on the heels of PORK and Did someone say pub?, here's my latest bit of extra-curricular online action. It's juvenile, it's big, and it's clever: it's GPS cocks.

The premise is simple. As I say on my twitter profile, I consider myself to be a 1974 vintage London native who is yet to mature. That is to say that I've retained a juvenile sense of humour (aided and abetted by a Viz subscription). So when, the other week, my mate Nige set me a challenge for a walk to spell out a word, I took that ball and ran with it. And turned it into two balls and a shaft. I decided to scribble a virtual cock on the landscape.

The Cerne Abbas Giant may have got there way before me, and this guy may have been drawing things with GPS trails for years (and taking it all very seriously), but as far as I can tell I am a pioneer in the fledgling scribbling-genitals-with-technology-like-a-schoolkid-on-an-exercise-book space. I'm also giggling a lot.

So, behold, gpscocks.com. Buy a GPS (from my Amazon store ;-) ), log your tracks, and send the parts which look like parts to me. FAME AND FORTUNE AWAITS.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My pious, holier-than-thou view on expenses

I used to have a job where I could legitimately run up and claim expenses, when I was at Yahoo! and travelling internationally. I don't have it on record but I think I only once, ever -- in, I dunno, 15 or so overseas trips over 8.5 years -- claimed for something other than flights and hotels, that is to say that all they had to do was get me near the office and put a roof over my head. No meals, no cabs or other local transport, no bar bills, in fact back in the UK office I didn't even buy any books. No nothing. I had my own reasons for this, and never had any issues at all with, or criticised, any of my colleagues who did what was, actually, expected of us all. They were genuine entitlements, which I chose not to take up. And this stance, somewhat amusingly, has now given me a nice big high horse to sit on, a lofty pious holier-than-thou moral perch from which I can spit invective down toward a whole bunch of this country's politicians.

These MPs can all go fuck 'emselves. The rules (pdf link), as just read out on Question Time, were/are clear as daylight. The claims should be for things which are "wholly, exclusively, and necessarily incurred" in order to do the job of an MP. There's more, but really, what the fuck. How is that not clear? Why does this system need reform? People in the audience are asking this question, making this point, time and again, and the MPs (including, depressingly enough, Menzies the merciless) are just basically ignoring it.

Margaret Beckett's just said the whole issue is distracting everyone from the "very real" issues facing this country, like unemployment etc etc. So clearly she doesn't think that the people running the country and elected in good faith being a bunch of morally bankrupt greedy careerist untrustworthy shysters is a very real issue facing this country. Get to fuck you cow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making bacon

Did I ever mention how much I wanted to be a DJ? Ah, yes, I did. Repeatedly. OK then! But did I ever mention that I now am a DJ, of sorts? Because I .. oh, wait. I've done that too. Seems I need some other flimsy excuse to big up mixcloud.com and my shows. And this is it! In an attempt not to gain listeners, but to hopefully entice others to make shows that I can listen to, here's a guide to how I make PORK. (No animals were harmed during the writing of this post; the chicken in the curry I've just ordered died ages ago. Probably)

Now, I could just say "I use such-and-such-a-piece-of-software, go read the instructions", but that would be pretty damn lazy of me, so what the hell: Flight of the Conchords doesn't start for ages, I'll kill the intervening time trying to be helpful. I may not succeed.

All that said, I do need to mention the software, as it is pretty central to the whole process.

The software #1

I use Übercaster. It's a Mac-only piece of kit which isn't free, both of which may alienate a lot of people from the start. But I only have a Mac; and I did try a few free hoops, but jumping through them proved comparatively painful.

The songs

I wrote a bunch of stuff here about how I go about picking the songs, and now I've deleted it: it was all pointless guff and bunkum. The simple fact is I buy and listen to loads of metal, and when a song grabs me by the bollocks I note it down. When I've got to 10-12 songs I call it a setlist.

The setlist

I have a formula. It goes something like this:
  • start with something which sounds like a pig
  • flip-flop between death metal and grindcore
  • play something a bit lighter about three-quarters the way through
  • finish with a beast
Not exactly rocket surgery.

The software #2

Back to the nuts-and-bolts how-I-make-the-show bit.

Übercaster is awesome. I want to make that clear. I'm not on commission, this isn't an advert, and I forked out 80 quid even though I could have easily got a cracked or hacked copy. I forked that out because I used it for the first 3 shows in free mode and loved it. The way Übercaster lets (actually, makes) me work is what makes the show so easy and fun to do. The enforced workflow is this: prepare, record, cut, release.


OK, so there's still a step prior to Übercaster: I copy the mp3s I'm going to use into a directory for the episode, numbered in the setlist order. So for example 01-AnnotationsOfAnAutopsy-GoreGoreGadget.mp3 and so forth.


Now I'm ready to fire up Übercaster. To begin with I'm presented with a mostly empty screen, with nothing but the mic configured. You can do a lot of things at this stage, if you're more professional than I am: set up auto-timings (if you know how long you want to, or are going to, speak for), use a show "template" which contains, say, the jingles or ads you're going to play already, etc etc. But I'm just going to play music and talk, so it starts thus:

Into this window I drag and drop the songs. Once they're imported, most times my OCD takes over a little bit and I arrange them into the right order, normally in 3 columns. Why do I do that? No idea. Here's some proof that I don't always.

Note the numbers in the boxes. They are the shortcut keys I have assigned each song. This is my favourite feature of the software: a key turns the sources on and off while you're recording, which means mute/unmute for the mic and play/stop for the songs. I set them up to be orderly and intuitive: M for the mic, 1-9 for songs 1-9, 0 for the tenth song, and if there are more, shift+1-9 for songs 11-19 (though I'm unlikely to ever play that many songs in one show). The next picture shows the dialog which comes up when you set it. It's so simple, and means no dicking around with the mouse/trackpad during the show.


Actually recording the show is so easy -- because of the keyboard shortcuts, because all the chat is freeform, and because I do no mixing, beat-matching, cross-fading, etc, it's simply this:
  • click record
  • wait for the 3-2-1 intro countdown
  • say "My name's Darren, and this is PORK"
  • hit 1, hit M
  • ... song 1 finishes, hit M, talk ...
  • hit 2, hit M
  • ... song 2 finishes, hit M, talk ...
  • rinse and repeat 'til the last song
Here's the recording screen, with a song playing. The red boxes are the live sources, and the "clip" (song) shows how long it has left. It starts to flash with 5 seconds to go, which is handy. You can also see there's an overall running time near the bottom left too, plus the familiar record/stop/pause controls. There are other fancier bits too, volume levels and source controls, but I'm such a basic user they mean nowt to me.

I use a Logitech ClearChat Pro USB mic to record my voice, these days. Prior to that (for the first two shows) I just used the laptop's builtin mic. Nothing pro here, and I've no desire to spend money on more equipment.

The spiel

I have very little in mind about what I'm going to say between each songs. I mean, fairly obviously I'm going to say who and what I either just played or am about to play (or both), and I'll make some repetitive claims as to the filthy provenance of each song, and sometimes I'll say what album and/or year it came from. If the band are playing at Hellfest I tend to mention that, ditto if I ever saw the band live. But other than that I let the emotion take me where it wants. The key point, I believe, is that I listen to the songs live. They're not just cut and pasted in, with me doing the talking bits pretending I've just heard the song. I have just heard the song! And how it makes me feel feeds what I say.

I'm led to believe that Bruce Dickinson sounds rubbish and wooden on his radio show, as if he's reading a script and having his talking bits spliced in between the songs. The opposite approach to mine. Maybe his is better, I don't know.


Back to Übercaster. Cutting, for me, is just tidying up. Do I go back and listen to my own voice? Sort of. Sometimes I'll listen to entire links, but mostly I'll just listen to the transitions between chat and pork. In "cut" mode, Übercaster lets you drag entire clips around, and also shorten them by grabbing the ends and moving them inward. So, since generally I turn the mic off after the song starts, cutting mostly consists of ripping off the overlapping bits from the mic. Then I tighten the gaps between music and talking up a bit -- perhaps talk over a fading out cymbal or what have you -- and we are GO.

Übercaster lets you do loads more than I do with it. You can create volume envelopes, and by having multiple sources playing at once you can do mixes etc. I could fade a song out and talk over it, or fade it in, etc etc. But I don't. This software is powerful and I only scratch the surface. Pork scratchings, if you will.


Release is their single-word for saying "save". Of course I'm being a bit flippant, and it's more than that: releasing an Übercaster project actually means saving it to mp3, filling the mp3 with ID3 tag metadata (including album art), etc etc. What's more, it has integration to things like Amazon S3 and FTP, meaning it'll acutally publish it on the internet if you want. But I only put mine up on mixcloud, so saving it as an mp3 is good enough for me.


I'm really not going to document the mixcloud upload process here. Come on! Suffice it to show that I put the setlist in a text editor ready to cut and paste in, but that's about it. Then I go announce it on twitter (and therefore Facebook), and hey presto. PORK.

Squeal for me

Pork Radio Show, originally uploaded by alex_lee2001.

My ex-colleague Alex is a superstar. Though I'm still getting a proper logo done ;-)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stephen Dave Ireland McClain

Has anyone ever seen Stephen Ireland (left - or right?) and Dave McClain (right - or left?) in the same room at the same time? Does Stephen Ireland play drums for Machine Head? Does Dave McClain play in midfield for Man City? I think we should be told.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How I make extra money playing roulette

Can't believe I'm writing this. Not that I'm going to give away any big secrets or some kind of MAGIC BETTING FORMULA, but just that it's possible to write a post with this title that isn't bullshit. Because it's not! It's true! I really have been making a regular profit playing roulette over the last 6 months, something along the lines of £100-120 a month -- and now I'm going to REVEAL MY MAGIC BETTING FORMULA. Or, err, not. Shall I begin?

Actually, before I begin, let me emphasise some things. First, this is not "how to make extra money playing roulette". This is "how I make extra money playing roulette". There's so much luck involved that it really would be stupid of me to claim, or anyone to infer, that this is anything more than just me recounting my own experience. It's roulette for crying out loud! So please, don't go reading this and thinking you can do the same, guaranteed, and then get pissed off with me if you try it and lose money. I'll probably lose money one day. This is more a story about how I've managed to learn a bit of self-discipline, and have something statistically improbable happen to me along the way.

Right. Here goes. The PATH TO RICHES is paved with the following.

1. I play at bluesq.com.

I'm not "a roulette player". I play roulette using bluesq.com's livecasino. That's the only place I play it, and the only place I have played it the whole time. It's real roulette -- they've got webcams pointing at real tables in an Eastern European casino-cum-sweat-shop. None of this computerised theft going on.
2. I picked a number and stuck with it.

I bet on the same number every time. Every time. My number happens to be 11.

3. I picked a number in the middle row.

The middle horizontal row, that is. Numbers 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, ... you get the idea. And I already said which one I've chosen.

3.1 I didn't pick 2 or 35

I bet on 9 numbers at a time. It's not possible with 2 or 35.

4. I bet on 9 numbers at a time

I put a quid each on the corners of 11, and one on 11 itself. That's a 5 quid bet in total, covering 9 numbers, just under a quarter of the available numbers (there are 37 including 0).

5. I wait for the numbers to come in

If anything from 7-15 comes in the bet makes a profit. Each corner bet is a bet on 4 numbers: 7,8,10,11; 8,9,11,12; 10,11,13,14; 11,12,14,15. So here's what happens

  • A corner/odd number comes in (7,9,13,15): you get 4 quid profit, or 9 quid in total. The bet was on 4 numbers out of 36, after all (they don't count zero in the odds), and 36/4 is 9.
  • A side/even number comes in (8,10,12,14): you get 13 quid profit, or 18 quid in total. This is because 2 of the corner bets came in, paying £9 each.
  • 11 comes in: you get 67 quid profit, or 72 quid in total (with the stake back). This is because you win 4 bets which pay £9 = £36, plus 1 which pays £36.
6. I have a stake and an aim, and I (mostly) stick to them

I put in £20 each time, about 5 times a week. If I make four £5 bets and lose them, I don't chase: that's it for the day. If a bet comes in, I keep playing until I've either lost all the money or made £50 profit (ie, reached £70). Then I withdraw the cash. Do not chase losses! But do carry on reading, as, well, I don't so much chase winnings, but I do behave in a way that can make the possible profit be more than £50 a session...

7. I deviate slightly thanks to a bit of obsessive compulsive disorder

Amounts of money which don't end in 0 or 5 annoy me. So if I have, eg, £32 in the bank, I'll bet just £2 (expecting to lose it) before going back to the normal bet. Generally it'll be a quid each on two corners, covering all the numbers from 8 to 14, for example. £4 will be the four corners, £1 just 11, £3 the corners plus 11. You get the idea.

8. I'm slightly greedy, especially if drunk

On occasion I'll be a bit pissed off, or happy/flush, or drunk, and double up. So £40 in and not quite the normal bet doubled, but instead £1 on the 4 corners, the 4 edges, and £2 on 11 itself. If 11 comes in this bad boy pays out £170! But gambling like this doesn't happen very often -- thank goodness. It would backfire way more often than it pays out if I was doing it regularly, and what's more the corner numbers still only pay £9 so there's no profit made when they come in. The £5 bet on 9 numbers is much safer.

9. I'm also slightly greedy when sober

Numbers seem to come in more than once in 5 spins or so fairly often. Surprisingly so, to me, but there may be a good reason for it. Anyone know? Ah, I don't really care, just happy enough to have noticed it. So sometimes 11 has come in twice on the trot, in fact a few times. Knowing this, I don't tend to stop immediately I reach a £50 profit -- instead I let the OCD drive for a while and treat £70 as the new £0. Does that make sense? It means if I win on the first bet, for example, I end up having £82 in the bank after a win, I'll gamble £2 and then £5 and, well, sometimes it comes in, simple as that.

10. I'm really fucking bastard lucky

Seriously, look at this. How can the above possibly be a useful, sensible way of spending time and money? It's just luck. 11 has come in enough to make me an average profit. I play about 5 days a week, at different times (mornings, evenings, middle of the day, whatever). I stick to my guns, the deviations from the basics are tidy (number 7), tiny (number 9) or rare (number 8), and this is what has happened to me. Nothing more, nothing less. It's luck. Yes, betting on 9 numbers at a time feels "safe", and even appears to be, but IT'S ROULETTE!

11. I do the maths and don't gamble what I can't afford

I've made about £100-120 a month doing this. Compare that with the amounts I'm staking: I'm throwing in about £100 a week! It's a slow profit and it gets nervy, and I'm lucky enough that I can (at the moment) swallow a dry spell -- I frequently go days without winning anything, on one occasion a couple of weeks -- but when the wins come in they tend to be in the £70-120 range. Chasing losses would be catastrophic, and I've learnt/discovered the discipline and patience that has stopped me from doing so. I'm quite proud of that, given my gambling habits of old. It remains to be seen what happens when an inevitable month-of-shit comes along -- hopefully I'll slow down before it goes horribly wrong. Or maybe you'll see me in the gutter.

Monday, April 27, 2009

simple django+yaml file generator

EDITED to change its name.
EDITED to change its name again! What was I thinking? It should always have been called pork.py.

I was trying to write a website for PORK, but I fail massively at HTML, CSS, design, all of that nonsense. And I'm bored, a bit. Watching The Business on Channel 4 HD despite having seen it about 5 times before (I love it). So, rather than do anything useful, I've done a stereotypically daft, over-engineered, off-on-a-tangent avoiding-the-real-problems thing and knocked up a tool -- which countless other people (me included) have already implemented in the past -- to generate what I need... though of course I still need to write the source templates, so it hasn't actually done me any good at all.

Yes, it's another simple static file generator.

This one uses django+yaml to do its stuff. After some cursory investigation it seems there are already a couple of "lightweight static file generators" that do similar things, but frankly none of them seem as lightweight as mine. It's one file, 100-odd lines but ~75% docs, comments and whitespace. It does the job for me, maybe it does the job for someone else. I called it pork.py. Mmm.

I don't go for the github way of doing things, and nor do I tend to go back to something once it reaches a usefulness limit to me personally -- so if by some miracle you do like this and want it to do more, just take it, extend it, publish it, put your name on it, I really don't care.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fuck off. But have a nice weekend!

I got an email yesterday, just after 5pm. It was a rejection email: I won't be working at [some company -- I won't be saying who it was or the names of anyone there]. Great. As if my weekend wasn't bad enough. But really though: why would someone send out a rejection email to a job applicant on a Saturday? That's a genuine question; what follows is an emotional rant about why I think in my individual case it was a fucking horrible thing to do.

First, some context. I've been made redundant, but with a longer than normal consultation period. As soon as I knew the dates involved I formulated a plan: finish work in May, job hunt toward the end of May/in the first 3 weeks of June, then go to Hellfest and Australia, come back, start new job (this plan obviously has some built in confidence/arrogance in it, in that I'll not have any trouble finding a job in May/June).

Then came a spanner in the works. I came across [some company]'s website because I wanted to use their service. I was really quite excited (and I don't get excited very often) to discover they're based in London, and doubly-triply excited to see they had an open vacancy for a role which pretty much read "must be Darren Foreman". The match between the required skills and my CV was (actually, still is) pretty much as good as I could hope for. Add that to the fact it's a company whose product I am massively enthusiastic about and I thought, I have to contact these guys. I can't pass this chance up.

I sent them a couple of emails. In them I was completely upfront about my availability -- I'm not willing to quit during my consultation period, for various reasons. I prodded a friend who, I discovered after sending those emails, works there. He managed to get someone to read and respond to them. So then I had an interview; it was positive, I was even told that my availability matched up with their plans quite well. After the interview I spent a fair while arranging the time to sit a test. I sat the test, and I waited to hear more.

I heard nothing until yesterday. A Saturday. Now, these guys knew full well my eagerness to work there, my wide-eyed enthusiasm about their product and the chance to play a part in it. Yet armed with that knowledge, they rejected me on a Saturday. Why would you send out what you absolutely know is going to be a disappointing message in the middle of a weekend? I honestly can't figure it out, and obviously I'm very fucked off about it (maybe that's a good thing?)

The rejection told me I did not fit a "very specific profile" for the role. On paper the role and my CV/experience are an almost perfect match, so I'm very cynical about that. And with talk of profiles, I wonder why I had to sit the test at all. It seems like I've wasted my time -- and theirs -- and that they got my hopes up for, literally, no good reason.

The rejection also said they'd be hiring more within the next year or two, so I should keep in touch. What gives there? Even given my liking of the product, why would I hang around them waiting for another chance to pimp myself in their directions? If they don't want me when I'm actually available, I can't see why I should or would make myself available for them if they decide to suddenly invent a me-shaped role. And besides, I explained to them in my interview the value I place on stability and two-way loyalty in my career. I like long-term roles. I was at Yahoo! for 8.5 years, and I left to go to another established company with a long-term plan. Of course circumstances change, and at Global Radio they've changed massively and to my detriment, but I am not someone who always keeps an eye and an ear out for other opportunities and roles. I only leave a job if I have to, not because I spy what might be some greener grass. And, crucially, I told them all this.

Yes, I'm emotional about it. It's a bitter disappointment to not get the role, but I can deal with that. I'm a big boy now. But the manner and timing of the rejection just sucks.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I fail at maps, directions, and signs

Golf course, originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.

It's true. After my mostly dismal attempt at walking the Thames Down Link the other week, today I tried to walk section 9 of the London Loop. This is, as the name suggests, a "circular" route through the outskirts of London, split into nice simple chunks. Section 9 is between Hatton Cross and Kingston Bridge, and although the recommended route is to walk it in that direction, I wanted to do the opposite, because I'd just seen Ruth off at Heathrow.

So, at 0630, I emerged from Hatton Cross station. I was better prepared than for the Thames Down Link, having done a bit of map reading but also, crucially, printed out the written directions from the official London Loop website. Granted, as said, they were for the reverse route, but surely all I need to do is swap my lefts and rights. Left?

It worked for a bit. I found some signs. They were useful. That was good. Less useful was the rain that started just as I turned off the A30, but in for a penny in for a pound.

I walked next to the River Crane. I followed the next signs. I crossed a road. I carried on next to the river. I went over a weir. I went over a bridge. I came out on a bit of Hounslow Golf Course ... and I was lost.

The instructions say -- "go straight across the golf course, over the bridge, and turn right". Well I'd just turned left, crossed a bridge, and emerged on the golf course, so I went straight across.

I FAIL, originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
No path. Oh. I walked to the right, through a little clearing, then arriving on another hole. Still no path. I walked down the side of the fairway, near the river. No path. Between the fairway and the hole there was a little bridge and then a path. Over the bridge, along the path, up a hill/mound... no, this didn't match what the directions said at all.

Back to the hole, back to the river, no path. Back to where I emerged, facing it, trying to find a way of standing such that behind me was a path. Couldn't do it. Straight across? At which angle? None of them that I could tell. This charade took a good 30 minutes or so, in the pissing rain, and just annoyed me so much. Where were the signs? Where was the path? Why couldn't I find either? So I walked back down the aforementioned fairway, got to the mound again... and spotted a path next to it that I'd missed first time!

Not the right path. It just took me back out of the golf course onto Staines Road -- the road I'd crossed (correctly) back when I was still on course and hugging the River Crane.

On the road there was a knackers yard and some roadworks. Puddles and rain. Loads of traffic. Just horrible. I walked along it, determined to still walk even if I couldn't do it in somewhat nicer surroundings.

Turns out the directions mention that earlier in the route you cross Staines Road. Since earlier meant later for me, I did actually hold out some hope of rejoining the loop if I just persevered along the road.

At the time, there were two crucial things which I had no idea about -- but do now, having plotted the map of my route. First, my route out of the golf course had been a huge double back. The fact I'd crossed Staines Road earlier was a mystery -- it had just been "a road", and sufficiently further along to look very different. I'd lost my sense of direction, sort of.

Second, there are two Staines Roads around the area. I was on the wrong one.

I figured this out, actually, by the time I got to the outer limits of Hounslow town centre. Here I really thought about giving up properly and just jumping on a bus, but two things stopped me from doing that. I knew where I was (and thus which way to go), and the sun was coming out. The weather being as it was, I thought there was a good chance of a rainbow, and I wanted to photograph it.

No rainbow was forthcoming. Instead I just walked to Whitton, used the community toilet scheme, bought a diet coke, found a park with a "River Crane walk" in it and set off back along that damn fucking river -- though not before spending ~5 minutes staring at the map + information board trying desperately to figure out which way would take me toward Twickenham and which back toward Hatton Cross.

I picked right! But I still got really confused. In a day of pairs, I learnt two things about the River Crane walk. One: there are two routes along it, one "via River Crane" and one via something else. Huh? I don't get it. But anyway, two: the "via River Crane" route hardly sticks near the River Crane at all. I thought I'd been typical me and got lost when I didn't see the river for a while, and especially so when I suddenly found myself next to The Stoop and then in some residential roads. Much to my surprise I then saw a "River Crane Walk" sign on a corner...

... but I didn't care. Enough was enough. It was about 0930 now, I'd expected to be at Kingston or Kingstonabouts but I was just north of Twickenham station, opposite Heatham House, venue of -- perhaps -- Halibutt Sharon's finest ever gig (though the Marquee was pretty sweet too). In the spirit of my old band, then, I stood at a bus stop and waited for a bus. For about 2 minutes. And then I went home and made some pork.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sydney Panorama

Sydney Panorama, originally uploaded by Auswomble.

Of all the photos my brother has on flickr, this is one of my favourites. That is all. (OK, it's not quite all -- I also think it's a shame it doesn't quite fit in this post)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Identify the sender of my mystery post

I got some post today. Nothing particularly unusual about that fact. What is out of the ordinary, though, is that one of the items addressed to me was an empty envelope. No indication of who it's from. No return address, no proper (stamped-on) postmark, and obviously enough no contents. There are 3 things which could, I guess, lead in some way to a guess at identifying the poster.

Exhibit A: a number above my name. What could it mean? 132 has no signifiance to me.

Exhibit B: a Royal Mail postage paid "stamp" -- on the sticker which also had my address and the 132. What does SWDO 754 mean? Who uses stickers like this?Exhibit C: a not-quite-barcode thingummy. Means fuck all to me.

Beyond the normal cycle of bills and magazine subscriptions, the only post I'm expecting is a couple of replacement bank statements from HSBC. But they aren't due to arrive for another couple of days, should (I expect) be in an envelope with HSBC's return address on -- like everything else they send out -- and would probably not be addressed solely to Mr Darren Foreman.

So. Er. Anyone?

EDITED TO ADD after a request, here are two more photos.

Exhibit D: the full envelope. It's A4(?). That's a pen on it so you get the size and, as requested, "that 'look'". Hi Chris.
Exhibit E: nothing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Financial institutions and me YET again

Have I ever mentioned how much I fucking hate banks? Oh, yes, I have. Twice. But this is no credit crunch they're-all-bastards-because-people-borrowed-too-much-and-the-media-encouraged-it rant, it's a purely personal rant (again) about how banks seem to treat me like total shit.

If you can be bothered, you can go back and read my previous rants about the fiasco that was my attempt to move from NatWest to Nationwide. Well, this time I'm angry about having moved back to NatWest.

Not that I ever fully left them. Nationwide's team did manage to move my direct debits and standing orders across, in so far as they got them cancelled on the NatWest side. My mortgage bounced -- twice -- from Nationwide though. Sigh. And because of all the other grief they gave me, most particularly lying to me about my credit rating and refusing to give me anything but a Fisher Price "my first bank account" service, I moved back.

The move back had to be manual. I'd never closed my NatWest account, or even moved my salary payment to it. So I had to move all the direct debits back by myself, either online or on the phone. I did them all, I'm sure I did. I remember having a list of them written down and ticking them off as I contacted them. The sooner I got away from Nationwide, after all, the sooner I could stop the standing order which was funding it and close the bastard (not that I've done that last bit just yet).

Since doing so, my Orange direct debit has bounced and I've been cut off with no notice -- on, as it happened, a day when Ruth really needed to get hold of me, from Pakistan (when I finally spoke to her she was in floods of tears). I've now had to set up a direct debit to a credit card instead of the bank, which will cost me an extra £3.50 per month (thank fuck for miles-earning credit cards, though see below for a rant about one of those too).

My Fortean Times subscription has ended, after ~13 uninterrupted years. I'm pretty sure this is because the direct debit has bounced. I've contacted them but had no reply. The password I used to login to subsinfo.co.uk in February (when I went in to sort it out) no longer works.

My TV licence expired and the direct debit to renew it bounced.

My council tax direct debit has bounced. Twice.

Hmm. I'm sure more things have fucked up too, but I can't remember what right now. Too angry I guess. Anyway, I'm fairly certain that what's happened is this: NatWest have seen a bunch of direct debit requests from accounts that were fairly (but not hugely) recently cancelled, and decided to refuse them. But that's bollocks: I've set these things up manually, and it's called a direct debit instruction for a reason. I instruct the bank to do what I fucking say. And at the very least they might want to, y'know, phone me up, write me a letter, send me a message through online banking...

Deep breath. That's enough about NatWest for now. How about we talk about MBNA? Don't get me wrong, mostly they treat me very well (big credit limit etc), but sometimes they do take the piss. My MBNA credit card is an affiliate card with BMI, the airline, so that I can earn miles on all my purchases and then fly in comfort on long holidays. I don't actually fly with BMI at all, but if I did I would earn double the miles on purchases made with them. It's a loyalty card, after all.

In February (or was it March? I forget) I made my first purchase from BMI with my BMI card. Except, oh wait, no I fucking didn't: it failed authorisation. The call centre had to ask me for an alternative card with which to make my payment. And straight after I got off the phone to them, I got a phone call from ... MBNA. Telling me an attempt at a suspicious transaction had just been attempted, so they had emergency cancelled my card and issued me with a new one, new number, new PIN, new the lot.

That's good service, but for the fact that IT'S A BMI BRANDED/PARTNERED CARD AND THE TRANSACTION WAS WITH BMI. For flights! How can that be suspicious!?

I fucking hate banks.

Pay to play

I want to make my PORK shows (and the non-PORK ones I've got planned) available for download. Mixcloud's great, but the few people who listen so far would like an offline version. I want to do this legally, which involves getting a licence.

Amusingly, the costs are (or at least feel) punitive, in that the more popular you are the more it costs. It seems the licensing authorities either want to discourage people from promoting music too much, or encourage them to shove ads in their shows or get sponsorship or whatever. Ho hum. Whatever. I don't expect to be that popular anyway, but it's got my back up that you're essentially forced to whore yourself out (or stop completely) if too many bloody people start listening.

Anyway the upshot is mp3s of my shows will be put up, but only after I'm legal, which means waiting for a response to the email I sent to the PRS's enquiry line, reproduced below. If I get a response I'll probably post that too, though tbh I expect it to come with a huge disclaimer-signature which prohibits me from doing so. And just before the email itself, this is the licence I refer to in it. I think it's going to cost me ~£246 to make the mp3s.

To: onlinelicensing@prsformusic.com
Subject: suitable licence for weekly podcast


I would like to start making available an online weekly "radio" show -- ie, a podcast, downloadable by my audience (not streamed). Each show would contain 10-15 songs, with speech between most but not all songs (some will be played back to back), and I'd expect a maximum of ~100 or so downloads of each show. I won't be running ads, being sponsored, or charging for anyone to listen.

Am I correct in thinking I need a Limited Online Exploitation Licence, band B? If I understand the information on your website correctly, my plans above require this (rather than the podcasting licence), and correspond to a theoretical maximum of 15 x 52 x 100 = 78000 downloaded works per annum.

As you're aware, your fee structure discourages hobbyist music lovers from promoting music (that they've already paid for) to too many people -- ie, becoming even vaguely popular -- by making it prohibitively expensive above a certain audience level. Because of this I presume you can provide me with some advice on how to ensure I don't reach such a level. I need to stop before too many people listen to the music, as it would only take 450 downloads of each show before I go beyond even a band C LOEL, itself a financial stretch too far. Please let me know the recommended way of doing this.

PS I notice this paragraph on www.fairplayforcreators.com:

"Music creators rely on receiving royalties whenever and wherever their work is used. Royalties are vital in nurturing creative music talent. They make sure music creators are rewarded for their creativity in the same way any other person would be in their work."

Most people in their work are paid a wage or salary, not commission. For example, I'm a web developer, and I don't get paid more if more people look at my employer's website. But don't let that stop you.

Thanks in advance,


Sunday, April 12, 2009

mixcloud invites

Turns out one of the founders of mixcloud likes what I have to say about it. Check the comment on my "radio darrenf" post. Very flattering -- especially the positive comment about the quality of my show(s), which, let me be honest, is a bit of a surprise. I'm well aware of the, shall we say, niche appeal of the music I've so far been playing, and I can't really envisage, based on what I know about the fella, him really getting into a bit of grind. ;-) Nonetheless, a compliment's a compliment and I'm grateful for any and all that come my way. Cheers!

I'm not going to write much about mixcloud itself. There's a more thorough examination elsewhere, or you could just read their own about pages, but the short version -- and what's got me so excited personally -- is this: anyone can be a DJ. Make a mix, or radio show-esque recording, and upload it: job done. Somehow the murky legal world of licensing the tunes you play (the obstacle that has stopped me from doing this before now) are dealt with for you. You create, others listen (online, no downloading).

I can't wait for it to come out of invite-only mode. But while I, er, wait for it to come out of invite-only mode, something else has my way come. From the founder bloke. Not just the complimentary comment, but my own personal 50-strong invite code to give out. As I said earlier on twitter, preference for them should really go to people who actually want to listen to my show -- if not for the music, then for the sparkling banter between the filth and fury (this is an exercise in epic narcissism after all, even if that is at odds with my disdain for self-promotion) -- but since I don't know many people who care much for either of those things I thought, fuck it, might as well just post it on here.

The code itself is gloriously simple and corresponds awesomely with my recent attempt at fashioning a consolidated online identity: it's darrenf. See what's happened there?

So if you fancy:
  • listening to death metal, grindcore, and a fat cockney bloke swearing (me, here); or
  • listening to dance music of various sub-genres, including "fidget", "glitch" and "wobble" (I'm not making this up -- but I guess it's no worse than thrash/speed/death/technical death/black/grindcore/goregrind/...); or
  • uploading your own mixes/shows of any sort of music (doesn't everyone want to be a DJ? no?)
get yerself over to mixcloud's sign-up page and tell 'em darrenf sent you.