Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reality TV

So the other day there was a report that ITV have apologised for a drama about Alzheimer's. Apparently, the scene which portrayed the victim dying in fact showed him slipping into a coma. He died two days later.

There are some things we don't need to know. He had a terrible desease. He died. The fact that we didn't see him die is, to be honest, a comfort to me. There's transparency .. and there's TMI. This rediculous pursuit of perfection will inevitably be at the cost of understanding. The worst part is that it is not done for the benefit of the viewer - but for political reasons. Where will it end?

"The channel apologises for the recent programme implying that hospital is the safest place for a mother to give birth. In fact, this is not true: studies have shown that mothers who give birth at home are more relaxed and have better outcomes."

I'd love to hear the NHS response to that one!

Last night there were a good ten minutes devoted to the documentary on Alzheimer's. Following it was a short article on the misleading reports about the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and another about the US military misleading the families of a soldier killed by friendly fire. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this prioritisation a little skewed.

The point is .. if there is one at all .. that channels apologising for ripping people off by stealing their money is fair enough. But, guys: you can stop there. We dont have to be told of every inaccuracy on TV .. there just isn't enough air-time! I for one am happy to believe in artistic license and take everything with a pinch of salt.

Life Imitating Art

Is it just me - or is there something wonderfully ironic in the Cornish shark story? Did anyone else notice that Jaws was screened on Saturday night .. just as the shark reports were being made public?

What's even more fun is the capture of a small shark, the reassurance that the beaches were now safe, and then more shark sightings. I kept expecting Richard Dreyfuss to pop on screen saying "I think we need a bigger boat".

Still, at least no bikini-clad teenagers have been half-eaten ...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Music to my Ears

It appears that the powers that be have rejected requests to extend music copyright to 70 years. The likes of Roger Daltrey and Sir Harry Webb (AKA Cliff Richard) have campaigned for the current 50 years to be reviewed.

I have to say I'm glad the copyright hasn't been extended. Successful musicians make an awful lot of money. Royalties are really money for old rope. Yes, the creators deserve credit and money - it is their livelihood after all. Not forever, though. After 50 years, any piece of music has lost its novelty. Most pieces which have remained popular this long have been rehashed and used as inspiration for other pieces by then. In short, the creativity has been paid for.

It's easy for me to say, sure. I'm a musician who'll never make any money out of it. I don't exepect to still be receiving credit for software I've written in 50 years' time. Why should musicians expect this?

The real sting here (no pun intended) is that these people really don't need any more money. Successful pop stars can earn a shocking amount of money if they're clever enough. Can't they get a pension like everybody else?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

That tone of voice

It's crept into the news reporting now. That tone of voice. You know the one - where the narrator Stresses Every Word to Drive Home the Importance of What He's Saying. And is always is a bloke.

It started with those "Police! Stop!" programmes imported from the states. The voice over hyping every incident into world-shattering criminal activity. Something like two kids in a clapped out hatchback, having jumped a read light; the narration makes it sound like they're hardened criminals, threatening the lives of all around them.

.. and then, the felons attempt to escape on foot - abandonding the car without a second thought for the other read users. It all goes to show .. there's no escape when you have a broken headlight.

It reminds me of Stephen Tompkinson's character in "Drop the Dead Donkey" .. where he places a cuddly toy in shot and then turns to camera and says ".. and in the rubble .. a child's teddy bear." It's all so fake. The programme ends up skewing the truth to the point where it bears no relation to reality.

I was listening to the news reporting on the flooding in Gloucestershire last night. Arrgh! Why, WHY does it have to be sensational? It's bad enough as it is - without hyping it all up. Do they have an inferiority complex .. that our floods are nowhere near as bad as the aftermath of hurricane Katrina? Is it a competition? Is it an attempt to extract sympathy from an audience numbed by constant bombardment? I would feel more sympathetic if the reporting sounded at least a little sorry for the victims.

When I rule the world .. such reporting will involve public flogging. Now there's sensational!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Age is scary

I've just read the scariest thing. It started innocently: an article about Brian May (yes, that Brian May) finally preparing to submit a PhD thesis abandoned in 1971 when he joined Queen. Then the bombshell:

... the 60-year-old ...

Sixty? SIXTY? No way. Brian May is sixty?

I'm going to lie down for a while until it all goes away.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The search for the perfect ... CMS

I have built a few relatively small-scale websites in the past. Originally hand-coding in HTML, I have progressively adopted server-side technologies to create more interactive sites. In the attempt to reduce the amount of coding I have to do, I have tried a few well-known frameworks. Here is a taster of my discoveries so far - and a taste of what is to come.

HTML is all fine and good. A well though out combination of HTML and CSS can product an attractive, accessible and flexible website. With the right approach, the HTML can be tweaked to ensure it looks OK in all the major browsers and reads well without the styling. The down-side is that when there are more than a handful of pages, the maintenance becomes a real headache. A simple page layout change becomes a major reworking excercise.

Step in the CMS. Content Management Systems are, as the name implies, designed to manage website content. Typically, they allow the presentation to be separated from the page contents by using some form of templating. Most will offer on-line page creation and editing. Some are tailored towards simple blog sites; some are designed for complex business or community sites and include forums, and collaboration tools such as project management. For my own reasons - hosting, etc.. - I have stuck with frameworks implemented in PHP.

At the simple end, I have used Exponent. This offers online page creation and maintenance, to build a hierarchic site with automatically created navigation. Each page is effectively stand-alone and can include any number of page "modules". The supplied modules range from simple text to calendars, forms and forums. Exponent is easy to use, and has some 3rd party support - but is not very well known.

At the other endof the scale, there is Mambo. This is a large and comprehensive CMS. Content is abstracted from pages and can be listed blog-style, shown on "news" pages or single, full-page articles. Content is tagged by sections and categories. In addition to content, applications ("components") are supplied - including forums, polls and news feeds. Modules are also configurable and may be placed in "channels". Each channel corresponds to a position in the page template. Menus are managed separately and page templates can be associated with menu items - meaning that the same page may be presented in a totally different format by two separate menu items. All in all this is the full bells-and-whistles solution, but should be used with care as anything less than a fully thought-through deployment can look a total mess! A conservative deployment can be seen in natality. Mambo is very well supported by a hige number of 3rd party developers and is one of the best known CMS available.

My needs are somewhere between - which is why my search continues. Both of these offerings are mature and have been well developed. The down-side is that there are few innovative features, and almost no AJAX-type interativity.

The nirvana (NB: did you know "Teen Spirit" is a brand of deodorant in the US?) is a small, lightwieight, easy-to-use PHP framework which produces an attractive, accessible website which works in non-JavaScript browsers but adds all the interactivity for modern browsers. Maybe I'll have to write my own ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Smoke Without ...

Right. This global warming clap-trap has gone quite far enough. Cleaning up the environment? Fine. Reducing pollution? Fine. More energy efficiency? I'm all for it. But putting a stop to bonfires? Madness! (Come back, Los Palmos 7 - all is forgiven.)

Sure, there's smoke'n stuff. CO2, even. But, really: how often does bonfire night come around? And is it really worse than any "alternative entertainment"? What're they gonna replace it with - which doesn't consume a huge amount of power?

OK, I'm a bit of a traditionalist. But surely, a Guy Fawkes celebration can't be a proper Guy Fawkes celebration without a good ol' bonfire? I grew up near Lewes - where bonfire celebration are taken very seriously, indeed. No bonfire? Not if I can help it!

Also: who's gonna stop them? Round our way, there's a fire in someone's back garden most days. If they stop the annual flame-fest, they'll just burn it all at home anyway.

The bonfire celebration is particularly English. Not the fire itself .. most countries do that. Not the fireworks - they're Chinese or somesuch. What's wonderful about it is that the whole country celebrates an attempt to blow up parliament. That says something about us. I'll accept your suggestions as to what this might be ...

Friday, July 13, 2007

News Stories You Wish Were True: #1

Bernie Ecclestone admits: ‘Podium Champagne is just Cava in a fancy bottle’

I do so hope so. Champagne is so overrated. Maybe I'm ill-educated, but I can't help thinking that a decent Cava is preferable.

And, if it is *so* special - why waste it? Would you pay fifty-quid a time for a shampoo? Oh. Ignoring the Women for a moment, then. But you know what I mean. Do they have food-fights with beluga caviar? They do? I give up.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No moral compass

I read through some of the comments on today's "Have Your Say" on the BBC site titled "What should children learn in schools?". I was struck by how many of the messages posted argued against teaching religion. These may well be the same people who will complain about declining moral standards. Some of these poeple may well be the victims of crime, driven by disaffected youth. Why do they think, I wonder, our society is crumbling?

Now I don't think of myself as a particularly religious person. I don't feel strongly connected with the church, but I was brought up to be Christian. I can see the argument that the Church of England and Christianity in general is out of touch with society. I agree. I don't think the answer is to disregard religion, however. In fact, the opposite is true: I think English life would be much improved for involving religion more. Whether this is the responsibility of school, I'm less certain.

But if the church is not going to give us a moral compass - who is? Would you rather be told by politicians or by the Police what is right and what is wrong? I know I wouldn't.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Up that creek .. without that paddle

I've been working on my first project at NewWorkTM for a few weeks now. I was made clear that there would be no project manager - for the first phase, at least. I have been putting together the high-level design, by talking to lots of people and bringing together their expertise and ideas. It's been rather fun - in a weird sort of way - and a great way to get to know who's who in the company and how the company ticks. FWIW, I've already been branded the team eccentric due to using a real china mug and a cafetière [did you know they were called "French Presses"?].

So I've been rudderless .. providing my own steer by dipping my toe in the water. [I could start to enjoy this analogy.] It's been plain sailing so far [oh, come on .. it's to do with boats] and I've been able to find support from other quarters.

Now I find, due to an unexpectedly early maternity leave and someone else's holiday that I am totally without support. I'm tantalisingly close to a documented solution - but that final paddle [would have been "sprint" but that would have spoiled the theme] is not straightforward. I am not really up the creek .. but I have no rudder, and now no compass.

I'll keep moving forward to avoid sinking [OK, that's enough with the aquatic thing] and ponder on how companies organise themselves - and whether leadership is actually necessary, or whether good teamwork is enough.

Is there a political undercurrent? Not intentionally. Am I saying that us'uns don't need them'uns? No. I believe that in a well structured society, most people add value - to a greater or lesser extent. Some will take advantage and abuse their advantages. Some will not take the opportunities which pass their way. On the whole, leadership is required to guide the boat. Just guide: the sailors make the ship go, not the captain. It's a balance thing.

I was once told that French government is set up with the clear mandate that it serves the people. I like that. They work for us. We pay them, they help us. Long may that be so.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Come on, Lewis!

Despite the disappointment of Lewis Hamilton's lack of pace on Sunday, I think it was a good race. Certainly there was more anticipation; more excitement. After the dazzling last-minute pole position, and the fact that they were back on British soil, it was an edge-of-the-seat start.

The press have made a big thing of his premature leap from the pits - but I don't see that any time was lost there. Sure, it could have been a real disaster. He narrowly avoided the embarrassment Christijan Albers suffered at Magny-Cours last week. I think the crux of the problem was his choice of set-up and perhaps the race tactics, too. He chose a different car from Fernando Alonso - which appears to have be a costly decision. I also think that the decision to refuel earlier than Kimi Raikkonen lost him the race.

Still, he is still 12 points clear of team-mate Alonso and McLaren still leads the constructor's championship. So: go Lewis and go McLaren!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pensioner used live shell as doorstop

I love stories like this:

"Royal Navy bomb disposal experts were called to a house in Paignton, Devon, after a tip-off that 68-year-old Thelma Bonnett was rather ill-advisedly using a live First World War German shell as a doorstop ..."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Minor Kitchen Setback

... meanwhile, the kitchen re-fit goes ahead. The old hob and oven have been removed - along with the unit and worktop it sat in. The gas pipery has been reworked, ready for the new cooker. The new cooker arrived, and was (almost) installed. It was at that point we realised that we'd ordered the wrong cooker. That is to say, the description on the website lead us to order a cooker which we didn't want. Double cavity oven apparently doesn't mean double oven. It means an oven with two spaces. A subtle difference? In this case, it meant one was a separate grill. Bum. Back to the shop it goes ...

So now we're playing at camp in our own kitchen. The double-burner gas stove is doing quite well so far. All the roast dinners have been filed in the freezer and it's fry-ups for this week. It's only a matter of time before the gas bottle runs out, though ...

Otherwise, the bit-by-bit approach is working. It does mean there's lots of clutter for a long time - but regular dump trips help. Oops: that should be "recycling centre" trips. [Call it what you like: it's still a dump to me - even if you *have* stuck plastic flowers in the grass border.]

And now there's a brief gap in the rain - so I'll trot along and do me shopping.