Wednesday, November 09, 2011

New genre

I've just discovered what a supercut is. Try out this quirky history of the line "What are you doing here?" in Dr Who. All sorts of possibilities come to mind. What about all the Doctor's excuses for the Tardis not working? Or all of Servalan's rather scary smiles from Blake's 7?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Non-smart phone

I've just done something I rarely do: buy a mobile phone. I decided that the easiest way to do this given that I have zero interest in which one to get was to go into the first shop I found and ask for their cheapest pay-as-you-go model. Which seems to have worked. Ironically, the shop had terrible reception for Vodaphone and so making the test call (or whatever it is) was really difficult.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I've still not been to the pictures much recently, but I did make an effort to see this, as I have a long and happy relationship with John Le Carre's work.

Basically: it's not at all bad, but falls down in some important ways. Firstly, I like the general look of the film: it's all a bit seedy and understated and the colours are unsaturated browns and greens. This does sometimes veer into a 70s pastiche perhaps (it looks more of its decade than the Alec Guinness version which was made in 1979). I also liked the portrayal of the Circus itself. Not sure where that huge building is that they filmed in but it has a great sense of place, of claustrophobia, and suspicion. It's a lot less cosy and more industrial than the cream-painted corridors in the old BBC version. There is more made of people listening in to phone calls, which sets the right atmosphere. The scene where Guillam has to steal a file from the library, and then gets hauled in front of the senior guys and roasted is very good. There are many other nice details, including the decision to make Percy Alleline Scottish (as he should be).

I feel one big error is the character of Ricky Tarr, who kicks the whole plot off. Ricky is a cocky little bastard who you wouldn't turn your back on, and was brilliantly played by Hywel Bennett in the 1979 version. The version here is all dewy-eyed sensitive boy who seems to have actually fallen for Irina the Russian trade delegate. As if Ricky would care, with all his other conquests.

A brief scene suggests to us that Peter Guillam is gay, which seems a pointless change to the book, in which we learn a bit about the nice female flautist he is currently seeing.

Many of Le Carre's lovely minor characters are gone: there is no Fawn, no Sam Collins (though Jerry Westerby seems to have inexplicably taken on some bits of his role), no Max ("I drive for you, shoot for you, what the hell?"). It must be hard compressing a complex novel like this into two hours of screen time, so maybe some loss is inevitable, but you can't help mourning your favourites.

And it's another film which doesn't know how to end: I was looking forward to the moment of unmasking, which is not actually shown, and to Colin Firth doing his big final number about why he did it, which is skated over very rapidly. And the end follows almost immediately. I think one of the last bits is meant to show Ann coming back to George, but I'm not sure.

Basically still worthy of your time, I think.

Monday, August 29, 2011

All change at Haymarket

The news that the council have voted for Edinburgh's trams to stop at Haymarket, rather than going to St Andrew's Square is incredible, even by the fucked-up standards of this project. Can you imagine having to change there to a bus to complete your journey? More likely, nobody would use it for the journey from the airport. I certainly wouldn't. I do wonder if it's not an attempt to goad Alex Salmond into paying more for it. But he's too smart for that I think.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The concealment of information

In our age of instant and easy communication it's interesting to see how terrible some organisations are at it. I renewed my house insurance recently. The company didn't send me the policy documents; they sent me an email with a link to a web site where I can log in and view the documents. This is annoying. Why should I create an account that I'll use about once a year, and will forget the password to? Well, after some grumbling, I eventually did. There was a link to my policy, which was in the form of an ASPX file. Some surfing turned up a few ideas about how to view this, but none of them worked. Why do they make it this hard? Why not use a PDF or an Office document like the rest of the planet? In the end I phoned them up and asked for a paper copy by post.

It's not just the technical fails that are annoying here. If you are buying a service, there is something reasuring about a printed document that you can hold in your hand. I feel they've just got this wrong.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alas for the Clyde Room

I went to Glasgow yesterday, mainly to see the new Transport Museum. I had a nice day out, but found the museum itself a bit disappointing. Firstly the good bits. I like the look of the building and they have secured an eye-catching contemporary look. The redevelopment of that section of the waterfront means that they had a blank canvas, and we've got something quite fresh-looking as a result. The Glen Lee has been moved downriver a little to sit outside and looks rather splendid reflected in the dark glass front. Its masts stick up over the top too, like branches of a metal tree. The Govan ferry now lands just outside and there are interesting connections with other developments along the river.

But inside, it's too small. I know I went on a busy day with lots of kids running about, but my first thought was: "How have they managed to fit everything in here?" The answer seems to be that they haven't. Like a number of other modern galleries that I've visited, the building has exciting bulges and angles, which look cool but lose a lot of space. If your main reason for having the space is to display bulky things like cars and trains, this is not good news. They have come up with some clever ideas to get round this, like the much-talked-about "wall of cars", but I am not impressed. You can only see the nearest and lowest cars clearly. The ones furthest away are poorly seen, and from below, so you can examine under the mudguards, but not on top of the bonnet. If there was viewing gallery parallel to the wall the gimmick might work--but there isn't.

Now we come to the real crusher: where is the Clyde Room? This was my favourite part of the old museum. It was a largish room where the museum's superb collection of ship models was laid out in a huge grid of glass cases. Here was the history of Clyde ship building, from pioneering steam craft and large warships to big Cunarders and container ships. And don't think that I mean some crappy amateur attempts: these were the models by professional model builders made when the ships were ordered, huge and resplendent with every plank, railing and porthole. So what have they got now? HMS Hood sits on its own. A tall display case has ship models hung at different heights. Why would you want to look at the underside of the hull? And they're not even labelled. Another display promises to be a ship "conveyor" (or something) but doesn't seem to be working. All of these break up the collection and lose all context, turning the displays into meaningless fragments. A grid of well-labelled glass cases, with perhaps a chronological order, is an excellent way of presenting information that allows you to find your own connections between things. As a piece of information design, the old Clyde Room was actually rather fine. I think Edward Tufte would have approved. I'm just getting grumpy now, so I'll stop.

Round two

I moved the bird feeder even higher, but not only can the magpie still reach, he has started bringing a friend. So now there is a bird at each side tapping away.

Right then.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Bird brain

A while ago, I got one of those bird feeders that is made of clear plastic and sticks onto your window. How cool it would be to watch those little guys pecking up seeds just through the glass!

Well, they ignored it for a long time and several lots of seed went mouldy. Then in the spring I got a few blue tits. Aw! Then a magpie discovered it and started hoovering up the food. Not cute at all. Raucous and aggresive in fact. I thought I had solved this by moving the feeder up the window, as the magpie would not be able to reach inside when standing on the sill, and was too big to fit inside. But the seeds kept going, with no visits from the cute birds.

I caught the magpie this morning tapping the feeder from below until a seed or two would fall out of the slots at the corners. I'm not sure if this is smart or just displays a behaviour that adapts very well to changing situations.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Voting, working

My voting today was a bit damper than last year when I wrote this sunny little essay. I'm willing to share that I voted for AV. But then I am a statistician, and most people are not. Something tells me that we will not be adopting this system any time soon.

Today the company I work for was taken over. We are assured that it's only a takeover on paper and is actually a great opportunity, and that may be right. It can be so hard to tell with these things. I've been through quite a few of these big changes in a previous job and was largely the same at the end of most of them. I've consequently become quite stoic about the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Election time again

We're coming up to another election, and so it's time for a look inside my postbag again. Tonight I have two leaflets delivered together: one is from the Scottish Lib Dems, and the other is a virulent tirade against AV, from people calling themselves no2av. Oddly, the Lib Dems don't ask me to support AV in their leaflet. Why is it that the no2avites can get to use the electoral register (the letter is addressed to me personally)?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meek's cutoff

Last night I managed to go and see my first film at the cinema in a long time. I used to be a fairly regular film-a-week man, but I'm struggling to think of something that I've seen since the New Year, and I'm not sure what's changed.

Still, I managed to see Meek's Cutoff, which is best described as a Western that isn't. Just as well really, as I've never much liked Westerns. The film concerns three families on the Oregon trail who hire their own guide and split off from the main train. The trouble is, the guide doesn't seem to know where he is. I liked the film's studied avoidance of everything that you might expect in such a work. There is no stirring music, and the landscapes are shot at a low angle, making things feel oddly claustrophobic for a film set entirely out of doors. If the screen briefly looks as pretty as a John Ford Western, nobody on screen is bothered, because they have been walking behind the wagon all day and are covered in dust. The film gives the women a lot of screen time, often observing the main action from their point of view. They rise before dawn to light fires and cook breakfast. They watch in a group from beneath their bonnets as the men folk debate what to do next. And one shows herself very handy with a flintlock. (Military history anoraks will enjoy the scene where she fires a shot, goes through the laborious process of reloading, and fires again. )

Cutoff suffers from a couple of the irritating ticks of current films: the dialogue is often mumbled and unclear, and the ending is sudden and unconclusive. But well worth your time, I would say.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Spot on

Once again, the wonderful xkcd hits the nail on the head. It's actually not bad as an explanation of Type I errors.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


It's a cliche of our time that computers go rapidly from awesomely advanced to piles of crap, but it is interesting to see this at first hand.

I'd been half-heartedly trying to get rid of a Dell laptop for a while, but the more I looked into the possibilities, the less it seemed to be worth. I still thought of it as rather good, but it was 7 years old, and a bit of surfing turned up that my model was actually known for its poor design and overheating. So. Not sought-after then. I thought I might still get ~£50 for it and took it to some wee shops in town, but nobody would bite. One shopkeeper suggested Cash Converters, and they came close to coughing up £20, but spotted some loose wiring and got cold feet.

So it's gone from about a grand to almost nothing in 7 years.

Let's hear it for Freecycle, where I finally got rid of it to a nice lady who just wanted to do a bit of web surfing.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Filled today

I've just reached another life milestone: my first fillings. I've always had excellent teeth, but I suppose all that sugary crap we eat and the odd crevices that our teeth provide to catch things in must take their toll eventually. Given that I was brought up in the east end of Glasgow, it's a bit of a miracle that this didn't happen before my forties.

It was all pretty easy and painless. Ah, modern medicine! I'm so glad I don't live in a previous age.

It's probably another milestone of sorts when your dentist is younger than you.

Friday, February 04, 2011

War Nerd on Egypt

I thought Gary Brecher, the War Nerd, had disappeared (again). But he is active again and providing this excellent post on the current troubles in Egypt. There was some quality time-wasting at work this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Double walk

This can be a difficult time of year to get out for a walk. A combination of short days, poor weather and public holidays can make this frustrating, but this new year I had offers of walks on two days in a row.

First up was a trip to Ben Ledi with Dave. I took a train to Stirling to find him standing behind the ticket barrier, nursing his freedom from family for a day and the remains of a MacDonalds breakfast. Ben Ledi is a classic cobweb-blower, and we encountered as big a crowd of people as I've met on a winter hill. They displayed much resourcefulness in finding ways of not falling over on the ice.

I was in the mood for taking pictures of landscape fragments, such as the odd ice on this reservoir:
And these trees picked out by the snow:
Refreshments after at the Lade Inn.

The following day Craig suggested two interesting Corbetts, Faragon Hill and Meall Tairneachan. Interesting to me anyway, as I've attempted to get to this area before from Pitlochry, with little success. Ice was another theme of this day, encasing moss and grass like super-hard jelly.

Craig provided a nip of very good whisky to keep the cold out (don't try this at home kids). So that wasn't so bad. We warmed up further at the Taybank in Dunkeld.