Archive for the ‘Internet’ category

Life on the Royal Road

October 2, 2007

card1.jpgDo you remember that I expressed a recent determination to take up magic? My relative silence on the topic of late might have conveyed the impression that it had fallen, predictably and with an audible clang, by the wayside. Not so, my little chickadees. In fact, such has been my determination of late that the blog has been left behind, rather.

Things are definitely improving. I find myself nicely immersed in an amusing little world at the moment. TalkMagic is one of my favourite websites just now – a place (if we believe what we’re told) for magicians to chat. And chat we do. Or rather, they do, and I listen, piping up only occasionally.

The reason I have not been able to contribute much is that it isn’t always clear what’s being talked about. Magicians have a way of obscuring any reference to their techniques in order that they are impenetrable to the layman (that’s you lot). It makes the discourse look a bit unsalubrious, all this talk about c****** p*** not to mention frequent references to ‘bottom dealing’. But still we persist.

The other day, I was preparing for my viva. That has been and gone, by the way, and I have just received a conveniently itemised list of all the changes I need to make in order that it might one day pass muster. But to return to day of preparation, there was just time (in between frenzied searching for academic references) to perfect the ‘Oil and Water’ routine, a classic of close-up magic re-interpreted by Mr Derren Brown.

When Mrs H came home, I was eager to perform it, and duly arranged the set-up, and performed the first phase. To spare you the detail, the cards were made to rearrange themselves under her hands. Now, we all know Mrs H as a woman of the world, but would she have the emotional resilience to withstand my foolhardy disregard for the physical laws that comprise the very fabric of our reality? I imagined she would probably need a glass of water and a sit down before the performance continued.

I have been chastised in the past for describing Mrs H in terms that incorporate bovine comparisons. Let me be clear: there is nothing derogatory in my use of the term ‘cow-like’ to describe Mrs H’s calm, somewhat bemused demeanour in response to my magical efforts. There would be no need for the smelling salts after all. She had the look of one who thinks they ought to be surprised, but cannot quite fathom why.

‘But you’ve not done anything’, said she.

I explained what I’d done.

‘But I saw you do it’.

She is a sweet thing, really. She’d caught me in a certain sleight of hand, and had presumed that I had deliberately made it detectable as part of the trick. This little foible of Mrs H is, of course, rather endearing, but it makes her a rather unsuitable audient for whom to practise the dark arts.

My struggles continue elsewhere. I’ve been practising a nice card relocation to a couple of my colleagues, and they appeared moderately baffled (although both admitted to seeing the c****** p*** as I did it). A further demonstration involved memorising an entire pack of cards, the response to which was ‘yes, my maths teacher could do that, only quicker’. Curses. Still, I followed it up with a Double Thought Projection (great use of the D/L) with a nifty Do As I Do (which depends on a mere b***** g*****) bringing up the rear.

I won’t bore you with anything more, largely because that’s the lot, to date. I’m delighted to be ambling happily down the Royal Road to thaumaturgy, and will keep you updated as best I can.

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Making the Connection

August 29, 2007

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Our internet connection has been a trifle temperamental of late. This represents an enormous problem for someone so devoted (?) to the task of regular blogging. Understand: our wireless arrangement has always needed the odd bit of focused persuasion to do its job properly, but would usually only require of a frustrated would-be internet user that they right-click on the little network icon in the bottom right, and left-click on ‘repair’. A panacea for all connectivity complaints.

Things took a turn for the worse recently, and it all started with our CD/DVD drive. One day, it decided that it would point-blank refuse to play (or indeed acknowledge) any DVD that wasn’t either Aliens or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This amusingly selective deficiency did not extend to CDs, on which it seemed to have imposed a blanket refusal policy. And so, I gathered my faculties for an expedition to PC World.

For those who have ever actually asked the immortal question ‘where in the world is PC World?’, you’d have no problem spotting the enormous, lilac aberration that represents the Corstorphine branch. It’s only once you’re inside that the real problems begin. The moment I pass through the entrance turnstile, I am confronted with the vivid reality of my technological ignorance. Most of the things in PC World I simply do not understand. This may come as a surprise to some, particularly those who thought my genius extended even unto the realm of computing. To me, a Quick-Start manual reads like quantum physics.

With an affected air of confidence, I strode (via every possible aisle) to the CD/DVD section. On witnessing the myriad choices available, I realised I would need to obtain assistance from one of the pallid youths that represent the PC World staff. This was quite difficult in itself. My first strategy was to stand still, whilst arranging my face into a suitable ‘help me’ expression. Nothing doing. Next, I decided to amble around in the general direction of the lilac-shirted, but whenever I was in speaking distance they seemed to sense that I was about to make demands of them, and would scurry away. Eventually, I homed in on a small group of employees. They duly dispersed at my approach, but I managed to isolate a slower individual from the rest of the pack, and corner them against the printer cartridges.

I escorted this chap back to the CD/DVD section, as I gave him a rundown of my problem. He agreed with my astute diagnosis (“Yep. Sounds like it’s knackered”) before directing me to the most appropriate (i.e. cheapest) replacement drive. Concerned as to how it might be made to function, I piped up with what I hoped was an endearing innocence:

‘I suppose you just plug it in and away you go?’

‘No, no’, said he. ‘This is an internal one. It goes inside the computer. Do you want one that just sits by the side?’

‘Is that better?’ I asked.

‘Not really. More expensive. But you don’t need to take your computer apart to install it, which some people prefer’. He had me pegged, obviously.

That shan’t be a problem’, I blustered. ‘I suppose it’s, um, easy enough?’

‘Yep, it’s a doddle’.

‘When you say a doddle, would I be able to do it?’ I hoped he would read between the lines.

‘It’s like this,’ he said, clearly tiring of my thinly-disguised ineptitude. ‘There’s two wires to plug in at the back. One’s small. One’s big. If you can’t tell them apart, I’d say that a broken CD/DVD drive’s the least of your worries.’

So that was it. I’d been goaded into purchasing something I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to get working. And in order to look at the instructions, I would need to break open the box and thus render the purchase irrevocable.

A note for would-be computer enthusiasts. There is almost certainly a way of opening up your computer without the aid of a screwdriver and splinters of plastic flying in all directions. I was as surprised as you to discover it after an extremely effortful half-hour. Check your manual for details.

Anyway, I got in, and yes, the two wires were in there, and yes, I could readily distinguish them. I swapped the broken drive for the new one, put everything back together, and booted up. Luckily, Windows is usually clever enough to automatically install the software (some call it a ‘driver’) needed to run whatever bit of new kit you’ve just plugged in. What’s less clever is that it seems to assume all your existing bits of kit can be elbowed out of the way to make room for the newcomer. Thus I discovered that the introduction of the new CD/DVD drive had somehow knocked our internet connection for six. Is there no end to it?

Eventually, it was all made to function again, but I had to carry the whole computer upstairs to the access point (where the internet cable comes into the house) and start from scratch with the ol’ wireless. Everything’s working much better now, though.

A more taxing problem turned out to be the issue of removing a forgetten CD from a broken CD/DVD drive, once the drive is out of your computer and sitting on your kitchen table. Try it for yourself, using only kitchen implements. Sounds easy…

Hallows Be Its Name

July 20, 2007

Greetings, brethren.

For a nigh-unimaginable number of people, it’s a very special day today. This day, the 20th of July 2007 AD has been dubbed ‘the last golden day of ignorance’. Everyone get ready. We are about to turn a page.

The page in question, of course, is the front cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh instalment in J. K. Rowling’s record-breaking series. I assume it’s a record-breaking series, although I am at a loss to cite the latest Guiness tome chapter and verse. Let’s take it as a given.

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You’ll have noticed that a degree of fuss has been made over these books. None of it by me, I might add. I’ve not read any of them myself. Which, some might argue, makes me a trifle underqualified to hold forth about them. I did see films one and two, though, which is something. The first one I loathed. But I thought I’d give the second one a go. The second one I loathed.

I found it difficult to get excited about the world’s favourite boy wizard. I am all but alone, it seems. In Britain, one in every forty households has pre-ordered a copy of Hallows. In Morningside, home of J. K. Rowling and veritable hotbed of Pottermania, it is one in every nineteen. Remember, of course, that these figures represent only those would-be readers who have chosen to receive their book in the post. It tells us nothing of the scores who will this evening be crowding into Waterstones to get their greedy little hands on a copy, nor of those more sensible folk who intend to pick up a copy over the next couple of weeks, just whenever they get the chance.

Everyone’s waxing lyrical about Harry Potter at the moment. Our new PM thinks that J. K. Rowling has ‘done more for literacy around the world than any single human being’. Even those responsible for medical audit at the John Radcliffe have entered into the spirit of things. They’ve published the finding that, on average, accidents involving children are far fewer on Harry Potter release dates than on other weekend dates. So they’re all for it, obviously.

I’ve been having a little sniff around all the conspiratorial Potter waffle on the internet. I’ve been particularly enjoying all the leak-anxiety that seems to be floating about. You see, when you’ve got all these books lying about waiting to be delivered, it’s all too tempting for people to take a quick peak. There are all sorts of stories about plot secrets from previous books being leaked prior to the release dates. But the message from the true fans is clear: ‘seriously, we’re almost there guys’. At least Potter fans have got each other to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Anyway, enough of this tosh. Suffice it to say I won’t be attending any Potter launch parties tonight. Largely because I’ll be enjoying the Transformers premiere down at the Ocean Terminal (which, coincidently, starts at the exact moment Hallows is officially released). Stick that in your cauldron and boil it.

Don’t worry. There’ll be a spoiler-laden review to follow shortly.

The Third Age

July 12, 2007

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 Thank you for waiting so patiently. This post marks the (somewhat belated) arrival of Volume III, which (for all you mathematicians) means that we’ve entered the third quarter of The Hutchison Monologues. Game on.

I’m hoping that this quarter will represent a significant renaissance for the ‘Logues, which, it must be said, have suffered a sad neglect of late. Once you’ve not blogued for a significant length of time, it can be hard to get back into it. But I will try; not only to satisfy my philanthropic urges toward my reading handful, but also for my own questionable amusement.

I’ve just come back from a week in Oxford chez mes parents. A lovely holiday, all told. And (I thought) a justifiable break from bloguing, since (I thought) mes parents were sans internet capabilities.

I occasionally propagate a story about my parents’ internet capabilities. Specifically, I have been known to give the impression that, having not used it for six months, those helpful people at Freeserve disconnected them on the assumption that they had died. In reality, I don’t know whether it is Freeserve company policy to assume death after six months of online inactivity. But it seems sensible.

Anyway, imagine my horror when, on the final day of our sojourn, we were trying to piece together some arrangements for a homeward journey. Curious about train times, I suggested that I might phone national rail enquiries, to which my inestimable father responded ‘why not just check the website?’

With all the innocence we can only expect from bona fide Luddites, he had assumed that I had consciously chosen not to use his (actually very active) internet connection for a whole week.

Honestly.

Driven to Distraction

May 8, 2007

I recently set out some views about the respective driving practices of men and women. Since writing about it, I have come to realise that the rot runs much deeper than I first believed. Is it just me, or are the roads choc-full of really bad drivers?

Now, I don’t mind the odd missed indication, or even those who accelerate when the lights change from green to amber. But some of the things we witness might make us question how on earth certain people were ever allowed to get in a car, never mind turn the key.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Just another self-unaware ranting session. After all, nearly everyone thinks they’re a better driver than most, and that it’s other drivers who are to blame for the world’s ills. In fact, polls suggest that 80% of drivers think they are ‘better than average’. On the basis of statistics like these, people assume that most drivers over-estimate their abilities behind the wheel. However, there is another possibility: that 80% of drivers really are better than average, but that the average is dragged way down south by a small minority (say, 20%) of absolutely awful drivers. But at least they admit it.

When pootling around Edinburgh on four wheels,  one is liable to encounter these terrors of the tarmac. There are those, for example, that see the ‘lane system’ as a set of informal suggestions, rather than as measures designed to preserve life and limb. Having been blessed with the ability to plan more than five seconds ahead, I often find myself occupying a spot in the correct lane (for my purposes) only to find that someone in the adjoining lane has designs on exactly the same portion of space as I’m currently occupying. They proceed to mosey on over, without so much as a by-your-leave (even a quick signal would do). It’s not even as if they don’t see you. It’s almost as if their desire to be in the correct lane is greater than their desire to continue existing.

Did you read about that chap charged with causing death by dangerous driving the other day? He’d had a few tipples before he started his journey, but told police “I thought as long as you were wearing a seatbelt you were alright to have eight or nine pints.” He didn’t have a licence either, unsurprisingly. I imagine he would’ve stumbled at the theory test.

Anyway, this irksome train of thought led me to the Baddriving.com, a site which chronicles complaints about poor driving, and allows those afflicted with otherwise-unmanageable road-rage to let off a bit of steam. Here’s some of the photographic evidence from the site:

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Now, I’ve taken the liberty of obscuring the number-plate, since I know that certain ‘Logues readers are die-hards (you know who you are). I wouldn’t want to advocate tracking down the person responsible for this ‘Crap Parking’ and in order to give them a good biffing. However, if you are in any way aggrieved and are looking for an outlet, why not visit the website and Rate This Menace! You will see that a lot of the submissions to the site (including the one above) were made by ‘thegooddoctor’, who bears the dubious honour of being the ‘Most Easily Annoyed Member’ as well as sharing a nickname with the late Harold Shipman.

After having a little look around the site, I’ve had a slight change of heart. In retrospect, I’m not sure what’s worse: bad driving, or those who keep going on about it.

Absolute Anonymity

April 27, 2007

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You may have noticed (but probably not) that I’d put a new link amongst my blog recommendations. I suggest that you visit it. But not before you’ve read this post. That would just be rude.

I should probably warn you that the things you encounter on the site might not conform to your standards of taste and dignity. On more than one occasion I’ve been confronted with depictions of the unadorned female form. You will see things that are life-affirming, heartbreaking. This is a place where the depravity and dignity of humanity share a common stage.

The blog in question, of course, is Postsecret. It’s only technically a blog, really. It’s more like a regularly-replaced website. But one mustn’t quibble.

The raison d’etre of Postsecret is to provide a forum through which you can reveal your innermost secrets from behind a wall of anonymity. There’s something amusingly paradoxical about it: things that you wouldn’t tell a single person are paraded in front of the entire globe. Or rather, the small subset thereof who frequent the site.

I spend quite a lot of time listening to people’s secrets. It’s a real privilege. For most people, anonymity is very disinhibiting. Within minutes of meeting a person, I can be hearing about things that their nearest and dearest, who have known them all their lives, would never suspect in a million years. They feel they can tell me, because I’m ‘outside the situation’. I have no emotional investment in it.

In practice, though, my conversations with patients are usually pretty tame. Our agreement of confidentiality isn’t total, you see. There are instances in which I might have to break confidentiality, for example if people are in danger. People are probably wary of taking their discussions into Postsecret territory in case I should feel the need to reach for my Special Button Under The Desk.

A quick look at Postsecret will probably yield a mixed bag. Some confessions are mundane, self-indulgent whining. Others are outrageous, and it is difficult to see how someone could ever share them via the normal channels. It seems that the less chance you have of being found out, the more scandalous the revelations you are prepared to make.

Does Postsecret represent a glimpse of What Goes On Behind Closed Doors? Do we all have secrets like this? Or is it simply an outlet for the deviant few? Does it tell us anything about our society? Probably not. I get a strong whiff of the USA off of it, frankly. And how do we know that it isn’t the same handful of people writing in again and again? And, of course, how do we know if any of these statements are actually true?

It makes you wonder, though. Is there something that you have never divulged about yourself to anyone? If you had the guarantee of total, unconditional anonymity, what would you want to say?

All revelations are to be made via the comments facility. No one will mind if you set up a bogus email address for the purpose. Time to come out with it, I say. Spill your guts.

I am realistic enough to anticipate no response.

Young Hearts Run Free

April 23, 2007

1.jpgDo you spend much time on YouTube? I don’t. Well, I do sometimes. I find it a pleasant place to pass the time. There are all sorts of interesting things to watch, as well as a lot of dross. They can’t all be winners, kid.

There is, however, one subject area that always grabs my attention, and one keyword search that features in every one of my YouTube sojourns: le parkour.

I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started a couple of years back when I saw a little snippet on Channel 4. It was one of those little ‘shorts’ that tend to get aired just before your intended viewing starts. This one was probably about two minutes long.

It featured a young lad, probably 14 or so, who was telling us all about his hobby. He was ‘really into it’, although he wasn’t sure that his mum shared his enthusiasm. My prejudices kicked in, I’m afraid. Maybe because he wore a white tracksuit, and had one of those mouths that stay open between sentences, I assumed that his new pastime was robbing cars. But then they showed some footage of him engrossed in his hobby, which made me sit up and pay attention.

It turned out that this chap spent quite a long time running around in urban environments, climbing vertical surfaces, leaping between buildings, and basically negotiating a whole gamut of man-made obstacles with a flair and dexterity that boggled the eye. He’d dubbed himself ‘the monkey boy’ or something suitably grandiose, but I’d no idea that this practice enjoyed wider appeal.

Le parkour (the art of displacement) or free-running has an excellent definition on Wikipedia. We’re told that the aim is ‘to move from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the possibilities of the human body’. Some have described it as a martial art, but as one concerned with techniques of escape rather than combat.

For an excellent YouTube offering which sets le parkour within an escape narrative, click here.

Now, is it just me, or does all this look rather fun? Take away the machine gun-wielding thugs, and I would wager that le parkour might be a fine way to pass an afternoon. I’ve found myself wondering whether it is the sort of thing one could learn. It’s really just gymnastics with a grittier, urban edge, and without the crash mats. I think there’s something rather noble about the idea of using one’s strength and wits to overcome the detritus of civilisation. And in making videos of one doing it. I would love to make the sort of parkour video of which the YouTube community might think ‘this vid is tiiiiiight’.

It was with some regret that I realised I’ll never be able to do anything like this. At 27, I’m a touch on the old side for starting this sort of thing, so I suspect that the good ship HMS Parkour has well and truly set sail. After all, you’ll never get a gymnast worth their salt starting out at 27.

So. I’m guessing that my gangly limbs will never be put to this interesting and exciting use, which is a little bit sad. But in my hour of desolation, who better than YouTube to keep me in touch with reality and thus provide me with emotional solace? I’ve got two particular keywords in mind:

parkour accident