Pumpkin Party

We had a little “pumpkin party” on Halloween. This involved no dressing up whatsoever, but cracking open a bottle of wine and trying out some pumpkin recipes. Very civilised.

So using the orange gack from the brains of the pumpkin, we had a Brazilian pumpkin coconut concoction which was intense but yummy. We roasted the pumpkin seeds, which was …well I burnt them. And finally we made a pumpkin pie, which was surprisingly good. That’s following this pumpkin pie recipe (pants website alert) ….evaporated milk being the most awkward ingredient, but happily our friendly local Indian/Turkish/Caribbean/weird-jars-of-stuff corner shop had it.

Then we carved a silly face of course.

pumpkin pie pumpkin

Even our American friend was impressed by the pumpkin pie, and she should know a good pumpkin pie (thanksgiving?) Halloween is a pretty American thing of course, but she told me it’s from Ireland actually. ….”Origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain” according to the all knowing one.

Future of the internet and how to stop it

Future of the Internet book coverI finished reading The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it a couple of days ago, but previously (having read most of it) I went along to the Innovation Reading Circle where seven or eight people sat around discussing the book.

Cyber law expert, Jonathan Zittrain, argues in this book, that that the internet’s future could be bleak, as we see it become more locked-down, less free and open and less inviting of innovation. He uses the term “generativity” to describe technologies which provide open platforms for tinkering and unexpected invention. The internet itself is generative at various layers, and our “end-point” PCs are also built to be generative, but new devices are less so. Tethered to their supplier and restricted in their programmability, these otherwise highly capable web-enabled devices represent a shift towards an undesirable future for the internet. Problems like spam and viruses, the downside of open generativity, may drive change through market forces, or ill-conceived legal interventions which fail to take account of the value of generativity.

The book’s title is obviously deliberately provocative, and in our discussions we were largely trying to decide whether he was overstating the doom and gloom. On the whole I felt that he constructed a detailed end-to-end argument and unlike the title, he didn’t really push an overly alarmist message that disaster is inevitable. Nonetheless I did find myself convinced that there is a problem with the way the internet is going, and whilst we can surely rely on market forces to keep us from some kind of total internet lock-down, the pendulum could still swing quite heavily in that direction if the consuming public and the law-makers do not grasp the issues.

And perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book, was that it did need a whole book (or at least the first two thirds of the book) to explain the issues from top-to-bottom. The merits and abuses of generativity ripple up and down the full technology stack, presenting recurring legal and technical cat and mouse games at every level. Take a narrow viewpoint, and the solutions seem simple.

Pharmaceutical wrinkles

I generally dislike pharmaceutical companies, especially cosmetics companies. I could pretend that I have strong ethical, ecological, political rational reasoning behind this. There’s so much to dislike about them. But really I just instinctively dislike them. In a chemist I find the air choking with all the smelly overpriced beauty products. I grab my 55p litre bottle of apple flavoured shampoo and get out as quickly as possible.

But right now I’m particularly thinking about the TV adverts. Cosmetic TV adverts are certainly among the worst kind (well the worst kind generally allowed on british TV, which thankfully has some fairly strict vetting) Do they think we don’t notice the ludicrously bad lip-synching? L’Oreal have always advertised a lot on TV. Their latest ad has that woman from four weddings and funeral, talking about wrinkles. She says:

“…I call them my life story lines”

Why?? No you don’t! Nobody has a special name for their wrinkles! Shut up!

Cant wait to be… in Northampton

Went to visit Nick in Northampton the other day. We went paintballing and then had a look around Northampton the next day.

Paintballing was a lot of fun. It’s the second time I’ve done it, but the previous occasion was an indoor place in a dark warehouse somewhere near Kings Cross. This time it was the proper outdoor stuff. We drove over to Cambridgeshire to apocalypse paintball . I found paintballing gave me a good adrenaline rush. More than I expected. It was also quite scary at times, crouching behind a log as gunshots pelted the trees above me. The last game was a “free for all” in quite a confined area, which was comical. Maybe I should have moral objections to running around with guns simulating war… but it’s fun. I also thought that the stories of paintballs being very painful, is a bit over-egged. You certainly feel it when you’re hit, but it’s not agonising or anything. Maybe only if you cop one at point blank range. They were pretty careful about safety, bollocking people for removing their masks etc, unlike the experience Stuart had doing 4×4 driving

Northampton was… interesting. We visited the bus station, which was voted one of the worst pieces of architecture in the country. And we visited the Northampton museum, which was all about shoes, but also featured a video display with hilariously cheesy opening music. The only line I could remember was “Cant wait to be… in Northampton”, so it took me a while to find what this was, but actually I need look no further than the wikipedia Northampton article “The Northampton Development Corporation produced a single that was released nationally by EMI, entitled 60 Miles by Road or Rail, by Linda Jardim”. So now you know.


Munkyfest was excellent again!

Although I’ve only been to it twice, I again woke up on the Sunday with a hangover and a feeling I had been part of something quite special. And on the train on the way home, I read through the full ‘social and economic history of Munkyfest’. Quite a journey those guys have been on. I feel sad that it’s all over, so I guess Matt, Clare, Beezly and all the ‘crew’ must be feeling that way too… Or maybe they’re still sleeping on it.

Anyway I was a bit lazy about sharing photos last year (have lots from then too) but here’s a selection from last weekend:

beez on the bassviolinistsnutterscheesey grinbeezlys tea breakswigging beersguitar chicksurprising warm sunme and Francinebandstand crowdpersilbuddle chucklingmany tentsbbqbandstand laptopclare campsite carnage

Me being nosey and prejudgmental

I get on my train back to Baden, on my way back from the end-of-season snowboarding weekend in Flumserberg. I have a ludicrously red sun-burnt face. Zurich Hauptbahnhof is bustling as ever, but this time there’s not so many skis and snowboards being carried around. Seems the Swiss dont bother much towards the end of the season.

On the platform there’s a guy with a moustache and a guy without a moustache. They stand there together, while everyone walks past. They have their arms around each other’s backs.

My impression of Switzerland so far has been based on the family-oriented church-going communities around Baden. I’m imagining Swiss society to be a little backward with regard to homosexuality, so I’m a little surprised to see these blokes in a homosexual embrace in such a public place. But then again, Zurich is a big city, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see it in London.

A middle-aged woman is sitting near me. She’s chubby and has a motherly look about her, which seems to be typically Swiss. She’s like every other family-oriented church-going Swiss woman I’ve seen living around Baden. She stares at the man with the moustache, and the man without a moustache. I am imagining it is a disapproving stare.

But the train starts to move. She waves to them. She presses her face to the window, and continues to wave until they are out of site, and then she slumps in her seat and is obviously trying hard not to cry.


London Friday Night Skate

Last weekend I roller-bladed 12.5 miles around London in a group of over a hundred people. The friday night skate really is great fun. It’s very well organised. They have ‘marshals’ wearing luminous tops, who keep everyone together, and stop the traffic while everyone zooms past. They have a map of the weekly route, weather cancellation information on the website. The route is always in two halves, the second half being faster, for the better skaters.

You have to be pretty good at roller-blading before you should attempt it, because they go fast and they huddle together in a big herd of inter-tangling legs, but if you are a competent street skater, and you find yourself in London on a Friday, I heartily recommend it!

MS Outlook – Ctrl Enter

When I’m manically cutting and pasting between windows I sometimes find that MS Outlook suddenly sends my email before I’ve finished typing it. The reason is that they’ve cleverly made ‘Ctrl Enter’ a keyboard shortcut for the send command. In any other type of window, it just behaves like ‘Enter’.

One of these days this is going to get me in serious trouble. It already came close. A while back I sent an email to some guy, to compliment him on his website and ask him a question. Only trouble is I got as far as ‘Nice website’, then accidentally sent the email, complete with a company ‘signature’ which contained an advert for one of our products.

I would normally have deleted this signature, since its a bit crap, and of no relevance to anyone outside the Tibco integration industry (i.e. most people I email), but as it was, this guy received an email which looked like nothing but an advert from my company.

Naturally enough he quickly came back at me with a vicious flame, and I had to explain what an ‘Ctrl-Enter’ing idiot I am. Thankyou microsoft. Thanks for that embarrassment. I am only thankful he didn’t flame the company sales department (which is what I would do in that situation), imagine the explaining I would have to do then.

[UPDATE: Turns out there is a way to switch off Ctrl-Enter keyboard shortcut in outlook. I’m discovering this while also finding that Yahoo! mail AJAX interface somehow does Ctrl+Enter sending. Gah!]

Disco Ball

Disco Ball This is my big disco ball. It’s about the size of a football. I’ve got a little motor thing for turning it too. Unfortunately I don’t have a suitable light for shining on it. Not just any light will do. I need a spot light really. A normal light bulb doesn’t work very well for two reasons:

  • Firstly it lights up the whole room, so the spots of light on the wall dont look so impressive because the wall is already lit. We do have some directional lamp things which work better, but in general a normal light bulb is not good for dingy disco darkness
  • Secondly a normal bulb creates rays of light which diverge as they radiate outwards. If the bulb is a couple of metres away from the disco ball then you might think that the divergence would be negligable, but no! Unless the light rays are completely parallel, you’re wasting your time. The reflections form faint fuzzy blobs on the wall, rather than impressive well focused spots.

…but maybe I’m wrong about the whole parallel thing. Obviously the correct equipment for the job is a spot light. It doesn’t take a PHD in disco-lightology to tell you that. But what’s so special about a spot light? Do these have parallel rays? No they dont, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to make big 2 metre wide spots, big enough for a ballerina to stand in. But the light is focused, so that you can put silly shaped filters on them (or dog shaped shadows with your hand). A projector is the same. A projector would be good for disco balls too.

The staircase trick

I have had some success with my disco ball. If I turn off all the lights in the house except for the light on the top floor landing. This particular lighting configuration doesn’t occur often, so it was quite an exciting discovery when I noticed the nice well focused spots on the darkened living room ceiling. Light beams were travelling 3 stories down through the narrow gap in the middle of the staircase and striking one side of my disco ball where it hangs above our sofa.

Direct Sunlight

The most impressive thing to try with a disco ball is direct sunlight. I might organise a disco party on a sunny day to make use of this. Sunlight creates perfectly focussed bright spots. Roll the ball from side to side in a patch of sunlight near the window, and it feels like the whole room is rolling!

The circular square disco ball spot phenomenon

Here’s a physics question for you. Given the correctly focused lighting conditions discribed above, why is it that the spots on the wall are circular? I dont just mean blobby roughly circular shapes. They are perfect crisply defined circles. Reflections at about 10-15cm from the disco ball are square shaped, matching the shape of the mirrors exactly, as I would expect. So how come the long distance spots are circles? Surely this is an important question which science must have an answer to. It’s right up there with “how did the universe begin?”