Archive for April 2005
I’m finally getting to see Super Size Me tonight.
One particular allegation had me going “whoa”: a nutritionist was listing the addictive ingredients in a McDonalds meal, most of them familiar. Caffeine, sugar, salts… but cheese? Yes, he said, it contains casomorphin, an opiate. In that case…
… Hi, my name is Brian, and I’m a Cheesaholic. Actually, I prefer the term caseophile. Cheese is truly the Food of the Gods, and I’m not talking about your common Cheddar, oh no. I don’t have one absolute favourite, I try and find a cheese for every occasion. It may be a slice of Dubliner on a home-made burger, grated Parmigiano on Niçoise salad, goat’s cheese on a Four Star “Posh Pizza” from the restaurant down the road, Gruyère and Salami on Rye, or Feta with Olives from the Deli.
Then there are the solo cheeses; it’s been a few years since I graduated from Danish Blue to St. Agur and Stilton, with the world of Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Bleu D’Auvergne still to be tapped, for cost reasons. It’s not all Blue, of course; I no longer live near the shop where I found the Mature Ardrahan that had the neighbours giving me strange looks, but there’s always a place on my plate for some mild Caerphilly, Wensleydale or Camembert de Normandie. A really good Cheddar is not to be sniffed at, only in blocks, never pre-sliced nor grated.
Am I addicted to Dairy? Do I really have to give up cheese? If I did, what would be the point of food at all?
This was the headline from Asahi Shinbun this morning:
dassen is a new Japanese word I learned today, in advance of my class tonight, meaning train derailment; I already knew the words for electric train, densha, and for the kanji for people, hito. JR is short for Japanese Railways – they use the English acronym.
shibou means “perished” in this context; the first of the two symbols, 死, is distinctive, meaning death. Even the sound “shi” is considered unlucky, yet it is one of the (Chinese-origin) ways of saying the number 4; hence the superstition against the number in Japan – you won’t find sets of 4 of anything in shops or homes.
Back in 1997 I missed the Southall train crash by a stroke of luck. I was working in Reading, it was a Friday, and I had requested a half-day off, but my departure was delayed for some reason – probably the same reason I’m late leaving work most days, the work itself. News of the crash came as I was heading out the door, and Reading station was already in an uproar when I got there. There was an alternative slow train route to London that let me get home OK, before the real rush hour, but it was rather quiet on that train that afternoon.
To be fair: even if I had been on the train, I probably would have been OK, since I prefer to sit in the quiet area of those trains. On trains into Paddington that is the rear of the train, the part that didn’t even come off the tracks in 1997. Still, the UK’s rail network has not had such a great safety record in the last decade, has it? I’ve only taken one trip by train here in Ireland, apart from the suburban DART service, and neither service that can be called “high speed” even by Edwardian standards.
So, Japan’s worst train wreck in 40 years is an opportunity for me to learn a new word. Their rail safety record is still the best in the world, with their Shinkansen high-speed network having an unblemished record.
Things hitting my ears this week include:
- Digital Flotsam, which has immediately gone to the top of my Podcast list. As with nearly all Podcasts, the shows can be downloaded in the normal way too, a Podcast client like iPodder just automates the process of getting the latest.
- NWA’s Straight Outta Compton album, edited by ni9e to include only the swearwords, a total of three minutes of un-bowdlerized ear-cleansing opprobrium. The most incredible part of this compilation has to be the fact that only eight of thirteen tracks have been subjected to the ECO (Explicit Content Only) treatment – the remaining five tracks presumably not carryin; no cussin’!
- American Copywriter: a regular Podcast in which two advertising executives dissect trends in marketing and media, often flying off on hilarious tangents for no apparent reason. Great in a “hey, I’m not crazy” sense, since the excesses wrought by their Industry gets them just as worked up as those of us on the receiving end.
- a 1:1 mixture of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 6% hydrogen peroxide: my home-brewed version of some commercial ear drops I used a few years ago. I looked at the ingredients, asked “I paid £6 for this?”, and did my own the next time. Works better than the original, with the peroxide reacting with the wax, heating and foaming the oil, pushing it into every corner. Painless as long as you don’t have any cuts or scrapes inside your ear, I suspect – and why would you, unless you had been trying to tighten the screws holding your tiny brain in place?
I thought I should just do the whole SQL update thing in one lump, not by record and it appears to have worked, but it’s not something I will try too often, because it wipes any data that changed since the backup was taken – comments, etc. I only did it this time because I made several offline fixes to blog entries in the database, spelling & grammar etc., too many to repeat online. Other changes I plan will be to styles and templates, and those are flat files I can simply back up and upload without changing the content. The important thing is to have the mechanism, and an accurate offline copy of the site that I can tweak.
Last night I tried to “clear” an old videotape with a couple of movies I recorded to watch later. First up: The Outlaw, directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Howard Hughes, from 1943. A largely forgettable cowboy tale, of how Billy The Kid (Jack Buetel) walks in to the wrong town, offends Sherrif Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), a former outlaw himself, but is defended by Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) for no apparent reason. After tensions escalate, Billy is shot, but Holliday carries him to the home of his mistress, who nurses him back to health and starts an affair with him – despite the fact that he killed her brother, and she was Holliday’s mistress.
This mistress is largely responsible for the film’s notable status today: Rio, played by Jane Russell, displays a monumental cleavage, allegedly with the assistance of specialized hardware designed by Hughes. It had the censors in a tizzy, and didn’t see the screen until 3 years later, in a cut version. Apart from Russell’s assets, however, the film is tame, and I didn’t finish it, because I had a hopefully better one on the same tape.
The Conversation (1974) was Francis Ford Coppola’s “pet project”, the one insisted on making before he would agree to The Godfather Part II. It was getting late, and I thought I might drop off to sleep, but no chance of that; it’s a psychological drama of the first order. Looking for reviews afterwards, I found Leonard Maltin calling it “one of the greatest films of the 70′s”, and the link above is to Roger Ebert’s second review of it, this time for his Great Movies list. Me, I’ve long been an admirer of Gene Hackman’s acting, and this film might just be his finest hour.
Now this is dangerous, for me at least: an attempt to update this site in a totally offline fashion. The steps involved are simple enough in theory, but carry the potential for disaster.
I now have a replica of the live site on my notebook computer, a task complicated by the fact that WordPress, on which this blog is based, uses a MySQL database backend. You can’t simply copy that data over from point to point; instead, you have to export (dump) the data from the database to a text file, and reimport it at the other end. The import is a one-shot process, but before you do that you usually have to delete all the current data from the database.
Or do I? Actually, now I think about it, perhaps I can do something with the single record that will be created when I save this blog entry, by carving it out of the SQL backup. Hmmm…
“I didn’t understand.” The lament of Mrs Lisbon, mother of five dead daughters, from the film The Virgin Suicides. She didn’t understand how her over-protectiveness deprived her five daughters of the little liberties that made their lives their own.
It resonates with how I felt at that age; the need to have something that is yours, something that says something unique about who you were. You may dress the same as others, and listen to the same music, but the way you hear it is your own. Teenage rebellion as a search for identity. How else can a teenager find out who he or she is? Deprive someone of that opportunity, and what is left, but a seemingly endless grind of study and chores?
Such was the fate that befell the fictional Lisbon sisters. A window of opportunity was opened, but after one of them made an understandable mistake, the window was slammed on all of them, with nothing left to do but plan a memorable exit.
I think that’s what they mean by an “existential” sadness, a sadness that may not be open or obvious to others, but nevertheless runs through your life like a discoloured thread of wool through a sweater. Pick at it for too long, and it all comes apart on you.
One sign that you’ve seen too much television is when you start recognising stars from one show when they appear on other shows. Tonight’s episode of ER featured a cardiovascular sugeon operating on a stroke victim, successfully reversing her cranial arterial blockage. All well and good, but it’s distracting when the surgeon is Tim Russ, best known as Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, and the patient is Cynthia Nixon, best known as Miranda from sex and the city. New ER regular Parminder Nagra originally hit the limelight in Bend It Like Beckham, while another surgeon, Leland Orser, has been in just about everything.
Not content with playing the straight brother on Judging Amy for a while, Dan Futterman has done a pseudo-gay man in sex and the city and a slightly confused one onWill & Grace. Now I’m watching The West Wing, which has even had Matthew Perry in a “bunjee” role a few years ago: he dropped in, uncovered a scandal that led to the resignation of the Vice-President, and dropped off the radar. This year is the start of Election season, and the list of potential candidates is amazing: Alan Alda (M*A*S*H), Ed O’Neill (Married With Children, Dragnet), Brian Dennehy (F/X, Romeo+Juliet), Gary Cole (Office Space, Dodgeball), and Jimmy Smits (LA Law), who is looking like the star of upcoming seasons. This season (6) takes us up to the first Primaries; after that, well, there will need to be some creative writing involved in keeping up the interest in the current incumbents.
I think need a holiday away from a television…
Before reading further, please read this article, by Stewart Brand, from Technology Review. Brand recommends having a rethink with regard to four controversial topics affecting us today: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.
The general thread running through popular responses to these four subjects is alarmism: assume the worst. Nuclear power is the classic example: the assumption that increased use of Nuclear Power lead to another Chernobyl? Well, there was a time when trains were the suspect. (40 miles an hour? You will not be able to breath!) Aircraft were doomed to fall out of the sky on population centres. The Internet will lead to people losing their jobs, and will be abused.
Well? Accidents have happened. Trains have crashed, planes have fallen onto populated areas. The Internet has fallen foul of those predictions. Do we stop flying, or do we learn to do it better, more safely? Do we work to make the Internet better? So it can be with nuclear power: Chernobyl was a poorly-designed, poorly-maintained, poorly-managed reactor: nothing about it was typical, representative, or justification for the avoidance of nuclear power generation.
To me, these questions are related to the Tragedy of the Commons, as described before. The article I’ve linked to covers the wider background to the issue, and suggests a possible solution: intelligence. In the original article, linked from there, the section “Freedom to Breed is Intolerable” covers some of the ground I have, but this latest article appears to paint a more rosy picture than before. If the world’s population growth peaked in 1968, it’s been declining for my whole life so far. Good: fewer, and better (educated) people are what this world needs.
In the same way, a useful technology must make good use of the commons, not waste it. For nuclear power, this means we need real solutions to the problems of radioactive waste, which can ruin our common air and water supplies. Population, urbanization, etc? People who pay for what they take, not rely on welfare handouts. As we have seen, that starts with population, too, on a family scale. Urbanization is partly the result of too many mouths to feed, and partly the response to the city’s powers of wealth generation. It’s not a zero-sum game – we can do all these things better than they were done in the past.
But most important of all, I believe, is intelligence, fostered by education. People can do the right things for themselves, if they know how. Knowing what you should or should not do, which actions are beneficial and which are harmful. It’s not a guaranteed fix: just look at the number of SUVs on the road, driven by people deluded into thinking the increased fuel consumption is justified by improved safety. (One word: no).
It will all come out in the wash, as my mother used to say – see, I was listening – but do we have time?
“Mommy, why are you smiling?”
“Have you heard of ‘psychological warfare’?”
– Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), Desperate Housewives
I am almost speechless at the international reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II. Every media outlet has been gushing about the guy’s merits, mostly forgetting that he rejected all modern ideas of morality, preferring to stick to the orthodox views. This was most visible in his attitudes to sexuality: never mind gay or women priests, he wouldn’t even reconsider the use of birth control, even in desperately over-populated countries like Mexico.
It was completely and utterly over-the-top, and I’m not the only one to feel that way. The Independent talks about the cult of John Paul II; another comment piece asks “are we hypocrites to mourn the Pope?”. Yes, if you actually do that – which is not to be assumed.
Even Prince Charles – the future leader of the Church Of England FFS – has postponed his own wedding so that he can attend the funeral. Did Henry VIII risk eternal damnation for nowt? Get a grip, people. Don’t let a religious leader’s death interfere with your lives. There will be another one along in a week, just watch for the white smoke.
Here at work, all hell is breaking loose: too many cases with people off ill, and now major disruption due to changes in the desk layout. I nearly blew my lid when someone started disassembling my neighbour’s desk while he was away for a few minutes; I stopped it right away. The upshot is that other teams need the space we currently inhabit, but we can relocate into a smaller space than before, because there are fewer of us. It means another change of desk, possibly as soon as next week. Great.