Archive for February 2007
One of my rare nights out, last night, ended in the usual way: in a noisy Dublin bar, with the colleagues I arrived with to my right, engaged in an inpenetrable shop-talk session. Another closed group of people to my left, whom I had been introduced to earlier, fully absorbed in a mutual self-congratulation session. Not one of the party displayed even the slightest general social skils. How hard is it to notice that someone in your party is sat there by himself, staring at the wall, wondering whether he should bother to inform people that he is going home?
A typical response to that might be something like “stop feeling sorry for yourself, get involved in the conversation”. Well, I tried that, and the other person reacted as if I’d just shot her, before asking me to repeat myself twice further, over the noise. I was hardly feeling sorry for myself; bloody furious is a more accurate description. Once again, I found myself in a position where coming in from the cold would require me to explain basic social graces to people, and I frankly can’t be bothered any more. Am I really getting so old?
Here’s a short explanation of what I’m talking about: when you’re in a party of people, it’s common courtesy to think about every member of the party. The amount of work involved depends on your role; e.g. for the hostess of a party it’s practically a job, but it will be much less so to a member of an informal group. A key point is to recognise that you are in a party of people; it might not be the party you arrived with, or would choose to be with, but consider it a test of your social skills to make the de facto party in to a real party, and to keep it that way for as long as the party is together.
If your party has wallflowers, or gooseberries, your party has failed. (A “gooseberry” by my definition is someone in a party who didn’t arrive with a partner, and feels left out of proceedings as a result of that.) It doesn’t matter who they are, or what their personality is like (shy, obnoxious, deaf); my view every member of a party has some measure of responsibility (however tiny) towards making whole the party a success. I’ve made it sound terribly serious and burdensome, but I’ve been in parties where that kind of thing seems to happen naturally, without any sense that it’s forced, or anything but a pleasure to all concerned. The “recovering nerd” in me relishes these little social skills, but it’s hard for me to apply them when I’m the gooseberry in question.
Meanwhile, back at work, my aim of going a year without any plane trips may soon be thwarted; I’ve been asked to attend a training course in the USA, near Denver, Colorado. It’s not fully approved, and nothing is booked yet, but it’s only ten days away. That would be four flights, with one change each way, but there are further complications; it’s “train the trainer”, so going there will almost certainly lead to a return trip to Bangalore, to give a less-advanced version of training on the product in question. Four more flights.
While in the USA, the timing is such that I could easily make it to SXSW Interactive, the annual culture and technology festival in Austin, Texas, with near-perfect timing. I’m not keen on travelling, and definitely not keen on seeing the US Homeland Security Theater on its home stage, but SXSW might let me make that sow’s ear in to a purse of some distinction. That’s two more flights: I did look at the possibility of taking the Greyhound, but that’s a 48-hour round trip.
Sometimes a writing idea takes on a life of its own; that is what happened earlier this evening, when I read about the Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon underway at Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog. Jim is a veteran writer and film critic, whose position as editor or RogerEbert.com means he is filling in while Ebert is away recovering from illness. Those are mighty big shoes to fill, so I’m surprised he has time for this. 8)
A few hours later, my Contrarian Contribution is called jackassism: a revisionist re-interpretation of MTV’s Jackass show and its spinoffs as a modern instantiation of the Situationist International, with added Method acting.
It’s as loony and contrarian as it sounds, but reflects my overall position on modern art and culture: there may be madness in the method, but the results can transcend the expected, especially in relation to the intentions of the creator. When there is a direct correspondence between the intentions and the results, it lessens the overall effect. Interesting things can happen in the space between idea and application, between thought and deed, between question and answer.
The link is on the right, under “culture”. If you’re tempted to reply that there’s more culture at the back of your fridge, I’m not going to argue…
You know things are quiet when you have had enough of telling people how quiet things are. The new Samsung Monitor / TV is working very well and Guild Wars looks marvellous at 1440×900. Otherwise, until something happens, have some of my favourite recent websites:
- GUBU – an Irish woman’s social, political and domestic commentary
- snopes – rumour has it – urban legends
- ze frank – no idea what it is, but I like it anyway
- music thing – music and technology, and weirdness
- japan probe – behind the scenes news from Japan
- tim harford – the FT dear economist column and other writing
- the daily wtf – a catalogue of computerised calumny
- 365 portraits – a year of people
- questionable content – a comic soap, or is that a soapy comic?
- chaos manor reviews – Byte Magazine may be no more, but Chaos Manor is still a home of the brave.
- fundies say the darndest things – still think religion is sensible?
- metroblogging: dublin london new york city toronto etc.
- church of the flying spaghetti monster – the”hate mail” section is partucularly illuminating
- random acts of reality – the life of a London Emergency Medical Technician
- schneier on security – by the author of Beyond Security
- design observer – writings about design and culture
- craphound.com – SF and other writing by Cory Doctorow
- KurzweilAI.net – the changing nature of technology
- cute overload – home of the kittehs and interspecies snorgling
The last site is quite safe for work, unless you have female co-workers; they might spend the rest of the afternoon at your monitor, drooling on your keyboard at the overwhelming cuteness of it all. If you have to ask what a snorgle is… go and see for yourself, and prepare to say awwwwww….
Monitors are the theme of this month so far, at home and at work. It tells you how little is going on, in general, that I find this a worthwhile topic to blog about, but hey.
In the office I’m just about the last person to switch from a conventional CRT monitor to a LCD, a 17-incher that another colleague was using before switching to at 20-incher left behind by someone who left. I’m managing to confuse the heck out of a few people by running it in Portrait mode, which suits me because of the amount of time I spend reading documents. It works because the vertical resolution, which is now the horizontal resolution, matches what I’m already used to, but it’s effectively twice as high; really great for Adobe Acrobat documents, such as manuals.
Meanwhile, at home, the 17-inch LCD TV / monitor I bought over three years appears to on its last legs. One edge of the display failed over a year ago, which didn’t bother me much, because it’s a widescreen, and that section is only used if I watch a movie from DVD. Now, however, the picture is completely scrambled most of the time. It’s OK for about a minute after power on, then goes again.
The warranty, such as it was, is long gone, so I had it in bits earlier this evening. Cracking open the plastic shell was a huge pain, figuratively and literally (fingers). Once I had the controller board exposed I could power it up and see if any connections were loose, but none were; the problem is in the core LCD module itself, a factory-sealed unit that I know not to bother opening. Besides the lack of screws, and the possibility of harmful chemicals, it’s a semiconductor that is very sensitive to moisture, dust and other contamination. I was pretty rough on it, I thought, but it made absolutely no difference, good or bad: the damage is sealed in.
Never mind: it’s had a good run, and I’m in the market for a new one, and a recycling service for the old one. The shops are open late on Thursdays here, so I’ll make a run in to Dublin centre, probably to Argos. Yes, they are a “box-shifter”, but I already have the catalogue and a Samsung model in mind. In general, I prefer box-shifters, for the simple reason that I’ve usually done more research, on the object(s) I have in mind, than any number of sales people.