26 December 2006
BT sat down Tom Baker, that greatest of all Dr Whos and now the narrator of Little Britain, in front of a microphone with a dictionary to record phrases. 11,593 of them, to be precise. They're then broken down and reassembled to make other sentences of various sorts, mostly a little rude, sometimes witty, always downright silly.
For a while Tom's voice was actually used by BT as the voice on their text messaging service, but alas, that is no longer. But we still have Tom Baker Says. Check it out:
Tom Baker Says...
25 December 2006
By contrast, trains gently force you to relinquish control, and to interact with the world and others in that curious, usually wordless way that is unique to rail transport. I often reflect on the fact that a train contains a vast collection of untold stories. Its like a massive bookshop containing only new releases by as yet unheard of writers. As you share a journey with these writers you get to know just a little about them by what they read, the way they dress, walk, browse the other passengers and how they converse with their companions. It's like reading the dust covers in the bookshop.
Often you see the same people on a daily basis and suddenly you seem to be in a relationship. I passed a man in the street the other day whom I recognised as a fellow rail traveller. We acknowledged each other shortly but with more than a hint of warmth because we shared a previous connection in a place where we would both otherwise have been disconnected from everyone.
And at the end of the day, these tiny connections are the lifeblood of existence. The hankering for connectedness of any sort is one of the major drivers for most people; the lack of that connectedness the principle cause of sadness.
On the morning journey, staring out of one of the scratched and hazy expanses of Perspex which pass for windows on South Australian trains and listening to Laurie Anderson's 'Big Science' on mp3, I was suddenly a little overwhelmed by this unextraordinary moment and wished my son were there to share it with me. Perhaps that too is inherent in human nature--through connection with others we can turn ordinary experiences into something more. But then it occurred to me that even of he were there, we would not be sharing my experience, but sharing a moment in which we were having different experiences. Those moments in life in which you look at someone else and have a deep sense that your experience or thoughts have genuinely aligned are extremely rare, and beyond price.
26 November 2006
And as the Dean Geyer roadshow rolled on, I feared that Australian Idol 2006 was going the same way. This young man certainly had the package—boyish good looks, sultry eyes, good physique. The trouble was, he was a pretty average singer. The voice was reasonable, but his singing was utterly devoid of emotion. There was nothing behind those eyes even when delivering the most passionate numbers. Yet a few flashes of his six-pack in popular magazines seemed to be enough to propel him towards stardom.
And then something amazing happened which renewed my faltering faith in the Australian public—the viewers voted pretty-boy Dean off the program in favour of the two genuinely talented contestants remaining, Jessica Mauboy, the slightly frumpy Indonesian/Aboriginal schoolgirl from the Northern Territory with the huge voice, deep musical insight and delightful smile and Damien Leith, the shy, buck-toothed Irishman with the soaring falsetto and even deeper musical insight.
And tonight it was Damien who went on, incredibly, to become Australian Idol. I say incredibly, because this unassuming family man really was the most talented person on the program, probably ever, and he is in many ways the antithesis of a superstar. He's average looking, slightly dorky and not exactly cool. And his performances are introspective affairs. He doesn't 'work' an audience so much as carry on an intimate private conversation with a song and invite the audience in. The end result is musicianship of the highest order.
I hang around with lots of classically trained singers (indeed, as the old engineering joke goes, I are one), and I can imagine that in the next few days I'll hear several people criticise Damien's rendering of Puccini's Nessun Dorma. And they'd be right, in part. I personally know a dozen people who could sing that aria better than Damien Leith (although he did it pretty well), but I can guarantee that none of them would be able to make music of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game or Radiohead's Creep. And therein lies Damien's special gift—he seems to have the knack of enabling people to see into the heart of a song, any sort of song, in a way that a pretty-boy with 'star quality' would probably be unable to do. I raise my hat to you, Damien, and wish you all the best. And when you become rich, I'd appreciate it if you paid me back for the 20 calls I made on your behalf to the voting line, but there's no hurry.
Jessica, too, will go far. For one so young she has genuine talent. I hope she stops trying to emulate Whitney Huston and Mariah Carey with their ridiculous warbling and vocal gymnastics, though. Sometimes a songwriter works very hard to select a particular note and the audience deserves to hear it rather than the 257 other notes that Mariah Carey chooses to put in its place.
And as for Dean Geyer, nothing I say will deprive him of success. And I do believe that as he matures he may well learn to sing with the emotion that will make that success deserved.
7 November 2006
What a great race it was. The pace was very easy early on, but from the 1200 m mark they kicked on and the field really spread out. Yeats was ridden very handy and looked well-placed, but seemed to go too early and struggle under the weight. He fought back gamely for 7th. Tawqeet had been a veterinary query before the race and did not figure at all. But the two Japanese horses were fantastic, and Delta Blues held on gamely when he looked like he would be pipped at the post. I commented in my Late Mail that the two were inseparable on form so Delta Blues looked great value. What a tremendous staying performance from both horses, and a finish reminiscent of an immortal Cox Plate from some years ago involving Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star.
My eight top rated horses included 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th—not a bad result.
With Efficient scratched, the big movers in the market are Mandela and Maybe Better, both horses I rated earlier. There's also money going on Pop Rock and I expect him to shorten further nearer the jump. The market seems to have really favoured Pop Rock over Delta Blues, although I suspect there's not that much between them. That makes the lengthening Delta Blues pretty good value, but he likes the going firm.
There have been showers at Flemington this morning, and although probably no more than 1 mm has fallen, that's enough to keep the track rated at Dead at the moment, and even if that rating is modified to Good pre-race, which is a slight possibility, the sting has definitely been taken out of the turf. That is likely to favour UK horses such as Keats and also Geordieland, who has not previously been in my reckoning. Note that Tawqeet and Pop Rock have both had success on slower tracks. as have Zipping, Art Success, Mandela and Maybe Bettter.
With Efficient out of the field there is a lack of pace in the field, and only a few horses who are willing to take a lead and spread out the field. Whilst one might think that would favour the fast horses, who will be able to run ove the top in the final stretch, in reality it means that the field is likely to bunch up out of the gates and hold position for some time and this will cause problems for horses who get back early. Tawqeet, Maybe Better and Pop Rock are all runners who like to sit midfield or further back and may be inconvenienced by the pace. Yeats, Geordieland and Mandela prefer to race handy, so may well be suited.
So my original two tips of Tawqeet and Yeats stand. With Efficient out of the running, I think Pop Rock and Maybe Better might also come into the frame. And I am now putting Geordieland into my reckoning.
from 12. Pop Rock and 23. Maybe Better
Also in the mix:
2. Delta Blues
The Melbourne Cup is here again, and as usual, I'm nailing my colours to the mast despite the ignominy of having struck out at Flemington last year.
So here are my horses to consider or forget :
YEATS is the top weight for good reason. He is quite simply the best horse in the field. That said, he's not raced at this track, has travelled badly in the past and rumour has it is a little unsettled. Also, the great UK staying races tend to be slower and have much smaller fields. I think if he gets forward early from his good barrier then he will figure at the finish.
TAWQEET is untried at the distance, but ran home very strongly at both the Metropolitan and Caulfield Cup, so should not be a worry. The one to beat.
ZIPPING was poor in the Caulfield then had a good win in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup which suggests he might figure. Also being ridden by Glen Boss who has won the last 3 Melbourne Cups.
ART SUCCESS is perhaps the best longshot in the field. Has won over the distance in the Brisbane Cup on a dead track and came home strongly in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup last week to finish 5th having been 11th at the 400m mark. He was carrying 58 kilos then and only carries 51.5 in the Cup which is a huge advantage. As I write it's showing around 45/1 on the TAB and seems great value.
MANDELA is untried over the distance, but had a solid win in the Geelong Cup over 2400m racing handily all the way. He's 2 kg better off than that run and has very in-form jockey Craig Williams on board which makes him a lightweight chance.
EFFICIENT is also untried over the 3200, but comes off 5 wins in a row and a devestating run in the Victoria Derby at this track on the weekend. He was 10th at the 400m mark and finished the 2500 m race more than 2 lengths clear. He has a taste for victory at the moment and as a 3 year old is surely the sentimental favourite. But bear in mind that the last horse of his age to win the Cup was...well, I forget, but it was a very long time ago and he's carrying weight for age for the first time which may be harsh.
MAYBE BETTER was a late inclusion after his great win in the 2500 m Saab Quality from 8th at the 400 m mark. Question over the distance but likes this track. Was carrying 57 then and is now 7 kg better off, but that has forced a change of rider. Not a big fan of Chris Munce who is the new whip, but the horse has real claims.
POP ROCK and DELTA BLUES are the two Japanese entrants attracting a lot of interest in the market. Both classy animals with good form at home, but we have only the Caulfield Cup to go on here. Pop Rock charged home there for 7th but seemed to have trouble cornering earlier. Delta Blues was trapped very wide and fought on for 3rd. Both have real claims but I'm not sure where to put them in my book. I'll be watching them pre-race and in the markets.
My final tips (which at the time of writing look very much like the market on UniTab):
In the mix:
12. Pop Rock
2. Delta Blues
23. Maybe Better
Best long shot: 18. Art Success
Good luck, and as always, I'll take the credit if I'm right and deny all responsibility if wrong!
20 July 2006
It's not something that's talked about much, but the evidence is clear—a number of Arsenal players have a problem with grass. Away from the compact, slick surface of Highbury which so suits our intricate (overly intricate, many of us would say) passing game, our performances last year were often poor and no player was more guilty than our talismanic leader, Monsieur Henry. For years we had to put up with the inconvenience and slight embarrassment of Bergkamp's inability to fly. Now, it seems, TH14 has topped the non-flying Dutchman by becoming unable to play well after travelling on the team bus.
If, God forbid, we were Tottenham, we might have come up with a conspiracy theory by now. Perhaps our North London rivals have fiddled the bus's air-conditioning and a complaint to the FA is in order. But there are probably more logical explanations.
For the media, one of the more seductive theories is that many of our players are delicate prima donnas beguiled by the bright lights of London, who don't like playing with the rougher boys in places they can't find in their Fodor's Guides, like Bolton, for example. And whilst there is some truth in that, I think the real problem is much simpler—we play the purest football in the world, a game dependent on precisely weighted passes and deft touches and utterly confounded by uneven, bobbling, poorly watered pitches. By contrast, teams who like to hoof the ball upfield are not reliant on the pitch and can transfer their football anywhere with equal ugliness.
On top of that, we are a team which relies on pace all over the park, and whilst you'd think we'd play better in larger parks where there is more room to run and get into space, the opposite is true. It's much less work for Henry to run all over Highbury than Stade de France, perhaps one of the reasons he is often close to invisible on the world stage, the recent WC final notwithstanding.
As we head into a new season at a new ground, it is my very strong belief that the biggest variable for us this season will not be Bergie's retirement, the departure of Sol, the possible departure of Cashley or the arrival of the little Mozart. It will be how we adapt to our new, larger playing surface because, I fear, it will be like playing away every week for several months. And the larger crowds may actually be quieter as they'll be in a bigger space and further from the pitch and players. If we settle well at Ashburton Grove, it may lift our away performances. If not, it may relegate our home performances to that level. And remember, our away record last season was the same as Everton, who finished eleventh.
Whatever the players do on the new turf, there'll be no doubt that Arsenal's ground staff will have done their job to the highest level. Head Groundsman Paul Burgess was crowned Groundsman of the Year last year for the second year in a row. That's an honourable tradition at Highbury, where Paul's predecessor, Steve Braddock, also received this award before moving on to supervise the development of Arsenal's training ground.
No expense has been spared to make the Grove pitch once again the best in the world. It's a DD GrassMaster Desso pitch which incorporates a combination of synthetic grass fibres with real grass to create a playing surface with an extremely natural feel. Several other EPL clubs are using this surface, including Liverpool, West Ham and Villa, but Arsenal is the first to combine it with the Stadium Grow Lighting system (SGL) as used by PSV Eindhoven. This system will be used to increase light levels on the pitch, especially in winter where the lights will run virtually 24 hours a day, guaranteeing a summer quality pitch all year round. This system has already been successfully trialled at Highbury last season.
18 July 2006
No, it's not my birthday, but that's less than three months away, so feel free to start saving now. However, there is another Clive on the other side of the world who is celebrating his birthday today. I don't know his surname or anyting else about him, only that on this day last year my friend Sebastian and I were in the Cinque Port town of Sandwich in Kent, and came across this sign attached at the base of another sign:
Purely by accident, I happened to find this picture today and noticed it's exactly a year on. So Happpy Birthday, Clive, whoever and wherever you are!
23 May 2006
28 April 2006
The Battle of Hastings was, interestingly, not fought at the Sussex beachfront town of Hastings at all, but many miles inland at the site of the town now known as Battle. At that sight, William the Conqueror founded a magnificent Abbey in 1070, with the altar stone at the precise point where King Harold fell.
This photo is taken from the lower level of the Monks' Dormitory Range, in the Monk's Common room. A very moving place to visit.
You can find more information at English Heritage's Battle Abbey website.
To my mind, the best keyboards ever made were the old IBM ones which had a lovely tactile 'click' at precisely the point the letter appeared. You had absolute certainty about what you were typing, with audible and tactile feedback. The result? More accurate typing with less fatigue. When they were discontinued I spent my spare time scouring garage sales for second hand ones, with some success.
Alas, there are no keyboards on the market which are that good any more, and others I know share this sentiment. Why is that? Have modern keyboard manufacturers lost touch with what makes a good keyboard, or is the pursuit of low cost and high margin compromising quality?
Never fear. Apple has the answer. In fact, they have two answers, in their wireless and wired USB keyboards, and the good news is that they work with both PCs and Macs, so PC users can also have Apple style.
Make no mistake, these keyboards are pretty. With lovely white keys and compact transparent surround, they are neat, modern and minimalist. But it gets even when you start to type. The action is excellent--soft but decisive. There's enough tactility to be certain of the keystrokes, but very little actual resistance. I sometimes suffer from sore finger joints from typing, but that will be less of a problem now. And like the old IBM 'boards, you can hear these ones, not with that lovely precise IBM click, but a slightly more subdued one, almost as effective. It sounds a little loud when you first start tapping away, but it's a gentle and pleasant when you really start getting into it. It somehow sounds like quality and money :-)
Downsides? Of course, there are some. On the staff machine in the Apple store I could see just how grubby these white keys can get. You'll need to clean them down the track, no question.
Also, these keyboards will not please the 'media' heads who think they need a hundred little silver buttons to control media players, quick launch buttons for every application on their machines, etc. Frankly, I wonder about those sorts of people anyway :-) I used to have a KB like that, but never used any of the other keys, and it took up a vast amount of desk space. Apple have taken away all the keys I don't use and given me back a large chunk of desk. To me, that's a no-brainer.
These 'boards do have keys to raise, lower and mute the volume, and all worked first time on my Acer notebook. You also get a disk eject key, which is, of course, Mac only.
So far all my comments apply equally to Apple's wired and wireless keyboards. Of course there are differences. The wired one has a short cable and two USB ports on the back. It also comes with an extension cable if you need more reach.
The wireless one is Bluetooth, so no cables, but also, unfortunately, no USB ports. Instead it takes batteries and is therefore heavier. It sometimes takes a little while to connect via Bluetooth, and from what I here, you might get really frustrated when batteries start to wear out as strange things happen. But if you know in advance, that shouldn't be too much of an issue. However, the web has plenty of sad Bluetooth stories, so maybe there's a caution in there.
At the end of the day, I think the Apple wired keyboard is better than the wireless. Who really needs wireless on your desk? A short KB cable is hardly a great hardship, and it also gives you two additional USB ports, potentially far less problems, and costs half the money, with no future costs. Either will look cool on your desk.
19 February 2006
So after a break of more than a dozen years from cycling I’ve decided to take it up again to accompany my 9 year old on his flash new aluminium framed Giant. And unsurprisingly, there are a few parts on my bike which could use a refresh. Most notably, the rubber brake hoods are withered, the brake cables are rather stiff and the shoes seem to have hardened up. So down to the bike shop I go to get a few replacement parts, only to discover that Shimano stop making them after 5 years or so. The mechanisms may be in perfect working order, but as far as Shimano are concerned, you need to buy new ones. Even the brake shoes are not replaceable any more. That’s great customer support, eh? Compare that with Campagnolo, Italy’s major component manufacturer. I have an old track bike I bought as a novelty item. It’s in lovely condition but is about 50 years old. Even so, spare parts are still available because it’s equipped with Campagnolo Record components.
Problem is, when you walk into a bike shop, almost every bike is equipped with Shimano components. And they look very trendy and beguiling to the unwary, but you won’t catch me buying them again.
And speaking of Bike Shops, I went into Super Elliots in Adelaide today, and was greeted by some of the most arrogant service I have ever seen. I asked about rubber brake lever covers, and the young bloke scoffs at me and says “That bike’s older than I am.” Yes mate, so am I, but I bet both my bike and I work better than you do. He then suggests I just buy replacement levers for $20, and shows me some for $60, so clearly numbers were not his forte either. Then he just looks dismissive and grunts “Just buy a new bike, mate”. I told him about Campagnolo and spare parts, and he went into a great diatribe about how out-of-date they were, and how great Shimano gear is. That must be why top line racing bikes use Campagnolo, then. I can see why bike shops like Shimano though—all their customers have to buy new bikes after 5 or 10 years when all they need is a set of brake shoes or rubber hoods.
So a great big raspberry to Super Elliots and Shimano.
1 February 2006
Harder to seek out and destroy are the numerous little startup items that load into the background of your machine. Some of these are essential, but many of them can be useless bloatware, or worse, spyware nasties. It's easy enough to look at what's running by going to Start Menu_Run and typing msconfig to bring up the System Configuration Utility. Under the Startup tab you'll see a long list of items, but how do you tell what you do and don't need?
Some software vendors helpfully give their startup items logical names. The Skype application, for example, is simply called Skype. Others are not so helpful. On my system are a whole raft of Microsoft items with names such as TINTSETP.
Help is at hand, at the marvelous Network Techs website. You can just type the name of the startup item you're not sure about into their search engine and find out what it is, and most importantly, whether you need it. That's definitely one to bookmark.
31 January 2006
First up, bear in mind that the Ferrari 4005 is an Acer Travelmate 8104 in wolf's clothing. They are the same machine, apart from the fact that the Travelmate has a silver exterior and Intel CPU as against the Ferrari's AMD chip and stunning black and red livery with carbon fibre inlays. In addition, Acer have cranked up the clock speed on the Graphics Processing Unit of the Ferrari a little, so it does have marginally quicker video than the 8104. That would be appealing if you are a game player.
As for the AMD v Intel debate, it's mostly stuff and nonsense. Don't believe anyone who tries to make a very strong argument for one over the other. You'll see very little difference in performance. Also, the argument that 64 bit is better because it's the way of the future is also fairly shallow. Very few of your applications are available in 64-bit now, so even with the Ferrari you'll be using 32-bit Windows and 32-bit apps. When Longhorn comes out to replace Windows XP, which may still be more than a year away, you'll still need to upgrade all your applications at considerable expense, and all your drivers, and by the time everything is stable and available under a 64-bit operating system you may well be looking at 3 years down the track. By that time your machine will be 3.5 years old in its technology and you'll be looking to get a newer, faster machine anyway. So it's a non-issue in my book.
Apart from that the 8104 and 4005 are the same. Same excellent build quality, great screen, shape, weight, features and form factor. Same curved keyboard which you may dislike at first but will get used to. Same tendency to run quite warm and have the cooling fan spinning all the time. Same fairly clunky trackpad, which you probably won't use because a mouse is far better--except for that stylish but skippy bluetooth one which Acer ship with the Ferrari--it's a gimmick, and you'll put it away in frustration. In fact, all bluetooth mice I have used are frustrating at the end of the day.
Their inherent similarities mean that both the Ferrari 4005 and Travelmate are great machines. Fast, good graphics, great screens and plenty of power for the reasonable weight. They don't have CrystalBright type screens with their ironically-named 'anti-reflection coatings', which means they are clearly not as good for watching DVDs, although not bad, and clearly vastly better for using as a computer, which is after all, what they are for. I don't get how anyone would think that a shiny screen is an improvement for working on documents and spreadsheets in the differing lighting conditions under which a laptop is often used.
So what are the differences, and why would you choose one over the other or over competing models from other manufacturers? To the last question first--there are not that many competing models. As far as I can tell, Sony, Asus and Toshiba's models in the same price range are less powerful, IBM's are much more expensive, and Dell's heavier. That leaves the likable HP Compaq nx8220 which has better sound and is slightly smaller, but suffers from very poor screen brightness and uneven backlight in the one I've seen--bad enough to instantly take it out of the running.
So it's Acer v Acer up the final straight. The Ferrari wins on looks and sex appeal, but loses a little on the fact that you pay a premium for that. The Travelmate 8100 series gains on the fact that there are now faster models available (2.26 Gig 8106 for example) but loses again on the slightly slower video clock speed.
So it's pretty even coming up to the finish line, until the Ferrari hits its fatal flaw, one that I have not seen mentioned in any other review (though apologies to anyone who has covered it). The keyboard surround/palm rest of the Ferrari is covered in this lovely looking matte rubber finish. Unfortunately, I found it felt absolutely awful under my palms. My hands didn't move easily over it, rather the slightest bit of dust or dirt on the palm rest felt really gritty and I found myself constantly dusting the wretched thing down. I simply could not have seriously considered living with that.
So in the end it's an easy choice. The 8104 won, as it were, 'hands down'! Then I got the bonus prize. When I opened the box in the shop to check the display (always check for dud pixels and keep checking until you get zero. If the shop doesn't like it, go elsewhere) I found that my 8104 had a different finish to every other one in the shop or that I had seen elsewhere. Instead of the plain-Jane silver lid, this one has a metallic, textured, mesh-looking finish which looks like a silver version of the Ferrari. It's still not as stunning as the Ferrari itself, but far better than the usual finish. I think of it as my Aston Martin!
And it certainly has been a long time between blog posting for me, but I have a good excuse, honest. My UK holiday which turned into temporary relocation came to an end in December, and another relocation was required, back to sunny Adelaide. Since then I've been setting up a new business, home office and life. And now I feel like a little lie down.
I've missed blogging immensely, though — the interaction with readers, with the blogosphere as a whole and above all with myself and the dark recesses of my mind which tend to be explored and illuminated through writing.
So Eebahgum, Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Live long and prosper and so on to you all, and welcome back to normal trasmission.