Archive for August 2004
Headlines from The Register. The first is today’s story, the rest are, they say, “related”:
- Deafening phone – Siemens issues health warning
- Mobile phones get on your (ear) nerves
- Mobile phones rot your balls
- Nokia phone explodes in Finland
- 3G in new health scare
- Text messaging could damage your kidneys
- Mobile phones are akin to cyanide, says academic
OK, that’s it! I’m not getting another mobile phone, ever again…
On a sadder note: I was humming Laura Branigan’s Self Control all day today, after I learned that the singer died suddenly last Thursday. That was my favourite of a string of hits she had in the 80′s, and while she left the business to start a family, Laura returned to the business after her husband died in 1995. She had more recently garnered rave reviews on Broadway as Janis Joplin – a tall order if there ever was one. That I remembered her music so clearly, after all these years, really says something positive about the music.
“It’s Arbor Day, so now my car’s up a tree.”
A quote from today’s Viva La Bam: Don Vito should know better than to let his keys fall into Bam’s grubby paws…
Something I realized today while writing a Usenet post: My father was born in ’34, I in ’68, so he was 34 when I was 0. Two years ago I was 34, while he was 68, and 34 years after that I will be 68. I didn’t have any kids when I was 34, but maybe that’s a good thing – after all, who wants to be 68 when your kids are 34, or vice versa?
I shied away from Usenet in recent years, mostly because I never had a reliable Internet connection for personal use. Email was usually available where I worked, so I joined distribution lists and got email sent to me. I’m defying the “conventional wisdom” by using Microsoft Outlook Express as my newsreader: I tried a few different ones, and settled on Mozilla Communicator, but it let me down by downloading a virus-laden attachment, despite being clearly told not to. It didn’t try to execute it, but it was still stored locally and picked up by a virus check, which is a little embarassing at work. I also had problems getting Communicator to work properly in Offline mode, which is what I need, since I don’t get time to do much on Usenet at work beyond downloading the messages, perhaps quick replies in threads I’m already involved in.
My other concern was time: would I spend hours and hours on there, to the exclusion of other things? No, I’m managing to keep Internet use, and related offline work (Usenet, email, this website) down to sensible levels. I seem to have grasped the message that the Internet, like all culture, is optional: these are the things we don’t have to do. Unless we want to.
Oh, won’t I look a right geek on the Stalker Tour bus? I now have a micro-keyboard for the iPaq, editing raw HTML pages on that will serve to while away the hours between stops. That, and a new wireless card compatible with MiniStumbler – so lock up your WiFi, folks. Both items were surprisingly inexpensive, which shows what waiting a few months can do when it comes to general electronic items.
The same can not be said for musical instruments, however, not even electronic ones like my Akai MPC1000 – I paid a trade show price, and I still don’t see that bettered anywhere, six months later. Knowing that meant I had no reason to wait, and I don’t regret the purchase. Still, I seem to have spent more time writing about it than using it, but someone paid me a cool compliment about that today, saying printed copies of the FAQ I wrote are circulating around Washington DC like some kind of hip-hop Samizdat. (OK, that’s overstating it a little, but it’s nice to hear that it’s doing some good.) All I need now is: Puff Diddy to fly me out to LA as a “technical consultant”, eh?
Last night I finally got round to watching Sixteen Candles, one of the earliest of the John Hughes teen films, of which The Breakfast Club is better known. It’s also the film that made Molly Ringwald a star, with a marvellously naturalistic performance as Samantha. But Sixteen Candles is a comedy first of all, in which Samantha’s 16th birthday is totally overlooked by her parents, who are fretting over her sister’s wedding the day after. There’s also a school dance, a party, with other fairly familiar elements given a surreal twist. A pivotal conversation – in a half-assembled car in the school workshop – leads to The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) borrowing Samantha’s knickers to show off, in exchange for an introduction to a handsome guy, Jake, who conveniently happens to be going through a relationship crisis with his older girlfriend, and is looking for something deeper.
The Geek : You know, I’m getting input here that I’m reading as relatively hostile.
Samantha : Go to hell!
The Geek : VERY hostile.
Much of the fun comes from the period detail, but the party… what you would call a house-wrecker, in which walls are punctured, trees are T.P’d, the slightest action is accompanied by the clatter of beer cans. Not as deep as The Breakfast Club, but still worthwhile. I may get to see Pretty In Pink later this week – must be a DVD release season, or something.
Why do I enjoy these John Hughes films so much? He seemed to me to be good at depicting teenage issues in a way relevant to grown-ups. You can’t just dismiss them as “teenage angst” despite what some critics say, and The Breakfast Club in particular would be good viewing for parents with troubled teenagers, I think. He managed to shed light on teenage behaviour while simultaneously mocking it, and exposing its origins in what I can only call a shortage of worldly wisdom. That unworldliness is not necessarily a bad thing: I also feel the nostalgia for a time when I didn’t know as much about the world as I do, when the questions were simpler (but the answers were not).
My last Japanese class was a month ago, and I’ve taken a breather from it since then: even our class visit to the Ukiyo Sake Bar (Exchequer St., Dublin) didn’t involve much actual Japanese speech. My dictionary says Ukiyo – 浮世 – means “floating world”, a reference to an artistic movement in the Edo period.
The Rush Stalker Tour is two weeks away, and we now have the final itinerary. It won’t be stressful at all, and I’ll carry my Japanese books and papers with me. I should have a little time for shopping and mucking around in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. After the last concert, I have a visit to another old school chum. I deliberately chose a Saturday as my last day, and the plan is to load up on any PC bits I find in the Saturday markets in London. I’m in the market for a new PC, something small and quiet, power is no longer such an issue for me. Another function I want it to perform is the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) role, to replace my old, clunky VCR. (It’s not that old, actually, but it is incredibly noisy.)
The British Curse has struck again: the Media in the UK has a particular way of “supporting” people in an oppressive way that can soon become counterproductive. The effects can be seen:
- in politics, in their treatment of every Prime Minister since Gladstone;
- in entertainment, when bands like Radiohead or Coldplay are hailed as the saviours of mankind, and respond by hiding or deliberately shirking their alleged “responsibilities”;
- in Sport. Paula Radcliffe is the holder of the Marathon World Record time, and was expected to win Gold in Athens, but today she became the latest in a long line of Britsh athletes to wilt under the weight of expectation. The conditions were tough, with hard roads and high temperatures, and she blew a gasket after 22 miles of the 26. Care to guess what tomorrow’s headlines will be?
Americans seem better at handling such pressure; with such a huge Olympic presence, there will be enough medal winners to reduce the pressure on any individual, but I also think the nature of the pressure is a factor: to me they seem less blindly demanding, better at leaving people alone when that is required. I’m not saying they get it easy
Today was mostly spent on finishing my MPC1000 MIDI Tutorial, in which I’ve tried to make MIDI arcana more relevant to the kind of MPC1000 user I meet on the MPC Forums: this powerful box has landed on their desk, and they have no idea how to make it control their keyboards, sound modules, and other MIDI devices. I find this kind of “work” relaxing, since it’s optional and there are no deadlines attached. I could muck around with diagrams, sparring with OpenOffice’s patchy support for Microsoft formats, and so on.
No more dreams: in the three minutes I spent on the web, looking at dream interpretations, I found some remarks suggesting a plane trip signifies uncertainty about my future, and a plane crash means I fear it can all go wrong. Which is fairly valid, but nothing about my painless escape from the crash, so I’ll take that as an expression of my confidence in my ability to get through the forthcoming changes. I think I’ll need it.
Not much to report from the last few weekend: I, like, totally vegged out, multitasking between a 18-hour game of Civilization III, books, and TV. I did something to my starboard neck muscles in Dubai, or on the trip back, and it’s still stiff and taking its time to recover. The highlights of my weekend were domestic shopping, for a fan and new pillows, and that’s about it.
The first Rush UK concert is three weeks away: I’ll be at that and the other 5 concerts they will do in the UK. Wouldn’t one be enough? Probably, but the Stalker Tour is also a symbolic event for me, possibly the last time I will do anything this nutty for music, as I slide towards my 40′s. It may be Rush’s last European tour, if the time elapsed since the last one is any guide, and may be my last such event too, since I’m having real problems with the rock concert experience, especially the sound quality.
It’s a holiday from work, from daily worries, a chance to immerse myself in music, on the road with a bunch of likeminded geeks. Though it includes RushEuCon2004, I don’t see it being a total Rush-fest, actually: there’s already talk of skiving off to go and see Gary Numan on a free night, and other social events besides the expected bulk beer consumption. I’ll be heading for the local guitar shops around the UK, and may drag a few other musos with me when I do. Which reminds me, I need to look for more activities to suggest to the other Stalkers. Later…
I’m not one to put much stock in dream interpretation, possibly because I rarely remember them, but… last night I dreamed I was in a plane crash. It was a very short flight on a “puddle-jumper” over the sea. As we approached an airport on an island, I could see out the cockpit windows; we were clearly too high to land. The pilot then figured the same thing out, cut the engines and put the plane into a stall. We hit the end of the runway hard, and bounced over the end, into the sea.After that, however, it was almost fun: I had no problem getting out, and looked around to see if anyone else needed help, but no-one did. We got the message that everyone was out and all made it the short distance to the shore wall and struggled up. As the dream ended, I was pondering if I should swim back out to the floating plane and pick up some of my things, but I woke up at that point.
Interpretation? I see a connection with what may happen at work: my company just announced some horrible financial results, with talk of layoffs. I must be thinking that the company, or at least our division, hits the ground hard; but everyone gets out safely, perhaps even bending the situation to our advantage. We shall see.
Today, I’m going to write a little about breasts.
No, I’m not kidding.
There’s a documentary on Channel 4 at the moment, My Breasts Are Too Big, which I didn’t plan to watch, but it’s morbidly fascinating, and not at all prurient. The first shock, for me, was a statistic quoted by a manager at Rigby & Peller, the company who supplies underwear to HM The Queen. She says that the average bra size in the UK is now 34E, which – in my limited experience – is filed under “huge”.
First question I ask: “aren’t you in pain?” Tonight’s documentary was about the extreme cases, where the answer is definitely “Ouch!”. One woman reported shooting pains down her sides, back and neck problems, “athlete’s foot” under the, um, overhang, and men who talk to her chest, rather than to her face.
The documentary follows three women heading for surgery, two of which really need it, and get the surgery for free on the NHS for medical reasons. The third, however, is a 19-year old medical student who should have known better, and had to pay for it herself. Getting a plastic surgeon to agree to it meant counselling first, but she was not to be dissuaded.
Another woman’s surgery is shown in great detail, with the removal of a pound of flesh from each side. It seemed to go well, but recovery was complicated, a lung collapsed and she landed in intensive care. A month later she’s still tired, house-bound, but optimistic and already feeling the benefits.
Why is there such a huge variation in breast size? It’s most obvious in young societies such as the USA, where Will & Grace is a huge TV hit. Grace, played by Debra Messing, gets at least one joke per episode about her tiny bosom, especially compared to Karen (Megan Mulally). I find myself at odds with the apparent male preference for pendulous udders: I actually like the way Grace looks, since she’s athletic – well, athletic-looking – and it’s all in subtle proportion.
Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I’d rather see her than the women who seem physically unbalanced, structurally unsound, forced to wear girder-stayed hammocks, to stop gravity stretching the skin until her knockers knock into her knees!
What’s behind the growth trend? General weight gain is part of it, but I think I see a more insidious trend: evolutionary selection. If I’m right, then: men in some cultures, over the centuries, have acted on their preference for large-breasted women, with the result that every new generation of daughters outbats their mothers, and we end up with the situation I see some “old” societies such as the UK and Ireland, or Russia. Yet China and Japan are as old, but haven’t gone the same way, which says something about those cultures, I think. Big boobs make as much sense as a peacock’s feathers, or the red bit around a baboon’s bum. All in my opinion, of course.
Work? Wassat? OK, there is some going on, notably clearing my email InBox (down from 520 to 380 already – most of which predated my holiday, to be fair) and answering questions that (apparently) only I can answer. Not too many of those, since I have, in this job, been far more successful at Indispensability Avoidance than in the past, something I managed to identify as as cause of stress and tackle.
I’m also catching up on web news, blogs, forums, diaries, and so on, and found this interesting quote from Bill Nelson’s Diary:
My goal, my real game, for as long as I can remember, has been to sneak odd and very personal ideas in through the back door. All that sixth-form, palpitating faux-anarchism so predictably trotted out by fashion Marxists for the benefit of adolescents in bed-sits, far, far away from home has proved itself to be just as media sensitive and desperate as any poor dupe in search of a starring role on ‘Big Brother’. The arbiters of ‘fringe’ or contemporary alternative cultural taste are equally as corrupt and decadent as the very institutions they so enthusiastically declare war on. In fact, there is no war, just a mealy-mouthed resentment and a frustrated desire to join the ranks of the enemy. Come the revolution, and all that…
Back in Dublin after pleasant flights, marred by mixups at Heathrow. It amused me to book the same seat on the Dubai legs, and it turned out to be the same plane too, so the return flight would have seemed a continuation of the outward leg, if not for different cabin crew. Getting from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 means a bus, which is a little archaic, but manageable. However, I hadn’t flown out of Terminal 1 in years, and had forgotten how it is laid out. I had a boarding pass already, with a gate number (86), but when I arrived in the Terminal I found no signs pointing to it. Then I remembered that flights to Ireland from Heathrow are considered “Domestic”, and in a separate section of the Terminal, but could I find that either?
After asking for help – generally a last resort for me – I managed to find the right route. The “Domestic” gates are so far from the rest of Terminal One that you could almost consider them a separate Terminal: I will try to remember this arrangement, in the future, by calling it Terminal Half; after a half-mile slog, I made it with time to spare, but with a smelly shirt and gummed-up contact lenses clouding my vision in more ways than one. A nice coda: though I had been assigned a window seat, someone else took it, and gave me their aisle seat – always my preference.
My stay in Dubai has given me plenty of food for thought about the possibilities available to me. I’m not seriously considering moving there, not any time soon, it will take more research about the financial and other implications. Decent driving skills are an absolute must, something I would need to tackle first. While Dubai is tax-free, it’s not cost-free: the government gets its money from you in other ways, and there are fees on everything. Want to own a car, a house, a cat, or bring in your sister to look after the kids? It will cost you.
Just being an expatriate resident means you take biannual health checks, including a HIV test; anyone with HIV or another serious disease is considered a public health risk and has no rights of residence in the UAE. The UAE is a monarchy, after all, but one with more resident foreigners than locals, mostly those from the Indian subcontinent. (I saw the term “Keralite” used heavily in the “Marriage Proposal” classifieds today, and had to look it up: it refers to people from the Indian province of Kerala, on the south-west coast around Trivandrum.)