bluefluff's blue fluff

Thursday, December 29, 2005


A little late, but just to show we had some :-)

Our snowy lawn, taken by Claire.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Not being intellectual tonight

Current reading is pure indulgence.

There are chocolates, too.
Well, we all deserve a night off :-)

Getting to the bottom of it

A Scottish university is undertaking a serious academic research project to help us predict the answer to that burning question: "Does my bum look big in this?".

Four female models with various sized bottoms will wear different types of clothing as part of the research.
I'm not making this up.

Just one more...

Festive political correctness, DeadBrain style.

Probably time I switched from leftover 2003 Cuvee Picheral Vin de Pays du Gard, to Asda Dry Tickly Cough Syrup Dextromethorphan Pharmacy Only Orange Flavour, & tried for the novelty of a night's sleep. Expectorants are all very well, but personally I find it tricky to nod off in the middle of expectorating.

Deadbrain does it again!

Devastatingly funny take on the current climatic conditions:

  • Food stocks, petrol supply, life to expire in Kent within hours

  • Geordies consider wearing outer clothing reports

  • New government dossier: Iran to blame for frozen onslaught

SPECIAL COVERAGE: How Britain is coping with snow

Catching up with my reading

Amazing what you can fit into a few days when the OU offices are shut & there's no marking to do....

Have finally read Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, the punctuation best-seller. I liked that a lot & can quite understand why it became so popular. It treats dry topics such as semi-colons & misplaced apostrophes with the kind of fervent levity you would normally associate with newsgroups/blogs - in short, a web writer's voice addressing a bookish subject (in a book, of course....).

Then tonight I got halfway through David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined (his follow-up to The Cluetrain Manifesto). That's good fun too, on a much broader canvas. A philosophy teacher turned software marketer turned web theorist, he takes a bunch of Big Concepts (time, space, that sort of stuff) & looks at how the web gives them an alternate meaning.

My favourite chapter so far is Perfection, where he argues persuasively & humourously that the web's 'brokenness' is its strength: its flaws are precisely what make it human & therefore attractive, overcoming corporate glossiness, political correctness & all the other little strategies used in the 'real world' to cover up our deep embarassment at failing to achieve perfection. Weinberger says it all far better than my summary!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Not much in the way of real snow round here, but thanks to Nogbad, we have the virtual stuff :-)

Make your own snowflake!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Just found this brilliant meta-search engine for buying books: BookButler.

It searches 70 online bookshops & marketplaces, with both a simple & an advanced search option. Hits are returned in price order & one click takes you through to the relevant page on the seller's site.

According to its copyright declaration, it has existed since 1999, but I hadn't heard of it before. It just got me out of a very sticky situation involving a delayed birthday gift!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Special Christmas offer!

Thanks to Hazeofpink's friend in Australia for this :-)

Rudolphus rubrinasus

A very jolly festive offering: "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" sung in Latin by the choir of New York's St Bartholemew's church.

Official MP3 version

Lyrics, should you fancy a spot of karaoke:

Rudolphus rubrinasus fulgentissimo naso,
Vidisti et si eum dicas quoque candere.
Omnes tarandi ceteri ridebant vocantes nomina;
Non sinebant Rudolphum interessa ludentes.
Olim crassa nocte Christi,
Nicolaus it dictum:
"Rudolphe, naso tam claro, agesne traham meam?"
Qui tum tarandis amor conclamantibus eum,
"Rudolphe, rubrinase descendes historia!

Enjoy :-)


Spend, drink and be merry

Nice article in Scotland on Sunday (the Scotsman) for those of us who feel faintly uncomfortable celebrating an event whose religious significance we don't believe in, faintly resentful of the way we're dragged into the lair of rampant consumerism, faintly guilty etc. etc.

In amongst the humorous common sense, this, I think, captures it rather neatly:

If you believe what you read, the only people who seem to get on at this time of year are hardcore Christians and the secular left, both of whom put aside their differences to really try to destroy what is still, for most of us, a happy and joyful time with a massive splurge of griping.
According to the Christians, Christmas is a religious festival that has been hijacked by the retail industry, which has destroyed its true meaning and created stress and misery for millions. According to the secular left, Christmas is a pagan festival which has been hijacked by the Christians, and then by the retail industry, which has destroyed its true meaning and created stress and misery for millions. Now there may not be many certainties in this world, but of one thing you can be sure: if two such extreme and opposed world views are in agreement then they must both be wrong.

Does that mean I can go & enjoy myself now?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Another almost political post

Found a really rather funny satirical satire site tonight: Deadbrain ("The UK's least reliable news source").

I particularly enjoyed their take on the recent CIA 'prisoner flights' (actual story here)

& this older piece on binge drinking & why it shouldn't be blamed on the Sixties.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Der Ball ist rund

The BBC news site reports that in the face of England's poor (& worsening) record of foreign language learning, the British Embassy in Berlin has published a useful bilingual glossary of football terminology ahead of next summer's World Cup finals.

The full glossary can be downloaded, but the website gives an interesting taster, including a neat explanation of the offside rule. If you want to discuss punched clearances & half-time whistles with your German acquaintances, this is the resource for you :-)

Friday, December 16, 2005

First review of Valor del Corazon

Well, I must say I'm jealous to read this track by track review of Valor del Corazon, but then again, Darren Stockford is probably an even bigger fan than I am....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hey - it works!

Regular readers will recall my report on Valor del Corazon:
One of the most interesting aspects of Valor del Corazon is that Ginger has told the "recording industry" where to stick their corporate crap. It's released on his own independent label, through an exclusive deal with HMV, with all the pre-release publicity done by fans.
Well, pre-orders have put it 4th on the HMV online album sales chart, beaten only by Sugababes, Now 62 & Pussycat Dolls, & ahead of Madonna, James Blunt & Black Eyed Peas.

Impressive, or what?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Poetry readings online

Entirely coincidentally, I went to the BBC news page straight after blogging about Wendy Cope & highlighted on the front page was this report on the launch of a new online audio archive of poets reading their own work. Wendy Cope isn't included yet, but I'm sure she will be, soon. Her work is available as audiobooks.

The Poetry Archive

Unfortunately it needs Real Player, but this may well be a good opportunity to investigate that downloaded "Real Alternative" I've had sitting around for ages.

If I don't know

That's the title of Wendy Cope's 2001 poetry collection, from which I quoted her Being Boring a few weeks ago.

It's also the name of her forthcoming "tour" of assorted provincial venues, where she gives wonderfully understated readings of her work, chats to the audience & answers questions. I first heard Being Boring (still unpublished then) at one of these events 6 or 7 years ago in Louth... hang on... it was 27th November 1998. Still have the ticket tucked inside the book she signed!

Anyway, "If I don't know" is coming to the Trinity Arts Centre at Gainsborough next March, & I've just booked tickets :-)

I'll finish with one of her typically light pieces:


Late home for supper,
He mustn't seem drunk.
'The pob cluck', he begins,
And knows he is sunk.

Smoke signals

Interesting piece of analysis on the BBC news site about the role played by User-Generated Content (UGC) in their coverage of the Buncefield oil depot fire.

Apaprently a record 6,500 photos, taken by "ordinary people" on mobile phones & digital cameras, were sent in to the BBC site in the aftermath of the explosions. Many were used; none were paid for, except by the fleeting glory of public acknowledgement.

Not surprisingly, professional photographers are none too happy about this rise in "citizen journalism", but isn't it just another manifestation of the Smart Mobs phenomenon, a sign of digital democratisation?

We only need specialists/experts/professionals when we can't do something adequately as amateurs. Once technology enables us to bypass that need for training & skills, protectionism can only hold back the tide for a little while. De-skilling may come with a high human cost for the individuals left behind with obsolete skills, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. It doesn't even mean it shouldn't happen.

I'm reminded of an observation made by Thomas Hardy over 120 years ago, in the face of rural industrialisation (which he saw as regrettable but inevitable, & not without its advantages):

It is only the old story that progress and picturesqueness do not harmomise. They [agricultural labourers] are losing their individuality, but they are widening the range of their ideas, and gaining in freedom. It is too much to expect them to remain stagnant and old-fashioned for the pleasure of romantic spectators.

I feel this ties in with other cultural shifts I've been looking at recently: the broadcast paradigm, & the culture of exposure, with their essentially optimistic perspective on the "connected society". (Yes, I should probably be cross-posting this to my serious blog!)

Buying into digital technology may be conveniently funding the globalised megacorporations who currently supply much of it, but maybe, just maybe, the "innovation commons" Rheingold writes of is a step nearer to becoming reality.

I promise to post something trivial tomorrow :-)

Monday, December 12, 2005


But with a difference....
I often find it difficult to get worked up about political issues, despite having been very "engaged" in the past. Nowadays I'm pretty detached except at General Elections, when I'll go & place my cross in a place that I deem appropriate.
Partly this is down to a deep cynicism about ordinary people being able to "make a difference" (& yes, I know that's illogical - the more people detach from the political process, the more likely it is that cynicism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy).
A couple of weeks ago, though, I came across this blog by Austin Mitchell, the MP for Grimsby (or Great Grimsby, as it likes to style itself these days). The press usually describe Austin as a "maverick", because he doesn't toe the party line if he disagrees with it. An intelligent ex-journalist, he could easily have made his way into the corridors of power if he'd been prepared to sacrifice his principles, but he chose to put principle first, which is pretty rare for a politician nowadays.
Anyway, I was so intrigued to find him blogging that I sat & read the entire archive, often laughing out loud at his sarky descriptions of life at Westminster & reflections on current issues. Sample, on the recently defeated proposals to extend detention for terrorist suspects:

Thanks for your letter apologising for the loaded questions in your letter of last Friday. Questions like "Do you agree that the Police should have all the powers they need to beat the shit out of drug-crazed terrorists who would otherwise kill and maim thousands of defenceless women and babies by blowing up crowded crèches all over the country?" are not exactly scientific. Seventy per cent of the public and 100% of Sun Editors may want 90 days but that's less than the population who want hanging, castration of paedophiles and public floggings.

That isn't how you expect an MP to write, & that's precisely why I like him. I also like the whole idea of MPs writing blogs to communicate with their constituents (& wider audiences) - really communicate, not just churn out soundbites & party propaganda. I live just over the constituency border, where the Labour MP is a "Blair Babe" whose voting record is impeccable... the new generation of 'New Labour'.
She doesn't have a blog.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Community Revisited

Way back in June, Nogbad & I had a debate about "community".

I was laying down strict criteria for a community & therefore arguing that lurkers were not part of the community in which they lurk:
For me, a community needs more than commonality. There has to be interaction & bilateral consciousness of participation. I'm doubtful whether "lurkers" can be truly considered part of a community in most cases. Observers, maybe, but not members. When I read conferences on FirstClass without identifying myself or posting messages, I don't regard myself as a member of the community served by that conference, just as a visitor, an "outsider".
"Lurkers" (unless identifiable via message histories etc.) are unseen, unknown - you cannot interact with somebody who, to all intents & purposes, isn't there, & though they may be participating (passively) the community is not conscious of them. Hence consciousness of participation is one-way, not bilateral.

Nogbad made the point (backed up by Kat) that having the potential to contribute is what sets a lurker apart from, say, somebody at home watching TV. The TV audience has commonality, but no opportunity to interact (either with the show or with each other). The lurker does have that opportunity, even if it isn't taken up & s/he remains invisible (metaphorically, of course) to the rest of the community. At the time, I wasn't convinced. I think I was attributing far too much significance to invisibility.

I smiled at this sentence in Rheingold:
If I had encountered sociologist Barry Wellman and learned about social network analysis when I first wrote about cyberspace cultures, I could have saved us all a decade of debate by calling them "online social networks" instead of "virtual communities.

I completely see his point & it removes my mental block. A network can comfortably accommodate both active & passive nodes. Once somebody is connected to the network, they are indubitably part of it, unless/until they decide to disconnect themselves (or are forcibly disconnected - ostracised). They are inside the boundary...

Since June, I've taken some baby steps in systems thinking, been exposed to the network paradigm & dabbled in the sociology of cyberspace. The message is slowly getting through :-)

Merry Hell

Blog Wars are under way this Christmas, according to this BBC piece.
Both sides, it seems, have taken their battle over sales of Jerry Springer: The Opera into cyberspace, with a campaign conducted largely through email & blogs.
I'm torn between disgust at this new instance of American-style religious narrow-mindedness encroaching on British cultural life & delight at an example of public debate (informed & rational on one side, at least) being played out in this arena.

Valor del Corazon

"Strength of Heart"

Title of the forthcoming double album from Ginger, troubled & talented ex-frontman of the Wildhearts. This is a band possibly more famous for its history than its music. Here's my favourite press clipping about them (reproduced happily on their own website!)

31 December 1997 The British music weekly NME publish their '1998 Almanac', a set of predictions for the coming year. The July 1998 entry reads: "The Wildhearts split up and reform again 11 times in two days. The trauma eventually becomes too much to bear, and they accidentally split up while already apart, imploding in on themselves and creating a single being. He is a small naked Italian man called Alfredo and he beats himself constantly." Wildhearts fans worry that the truth might be even stranger.

This solo album (one in a long series of side projects) is the product of Ginger's mid-life crisis, rawly documented in this account. It might well have been titled "The Man Who Cheated Death", after one of the tracks (hear it here).

Most Wildhearts stuff provokes a "noisy, innit?" reaction from people hearing it for the first time. But it isn't shouty noisy. There's always a core, a heart, of sweet melody to it, with lyrics that are intelligent & often witty, rather than inane or miserable, making the whole experience a strangely upbeat one. Ginger's music, especially "The Wildhearts must be destroyed" has got me through many a dark night. If ever I'm in a coma, just play me the opening chords from any track on that album....

Outside the Wildhearts, he ranges across genres. One of the side projects (Clam Abuse) has a glorious spoof country song, "Unlucky in love", & Valor del Corazon, with its 19 tracks, looks likely to be entertainingly eclectic.

I saw the Wildhearts live once (you had to be quick, as they tended to split up before the ink was dry on the gig tickets). It was when I was going through a bit of a wild phase myself & I thought it quite "cool" that I went home with a black eye from colliding with a fellow mosher. (I should probably add that I'd left 40 behind then. Mid-life crisis & I are old friends. Yes, my kids were faintly embarrassed.) But this year I also caught a Ginger solo gig at Leeds, as part of my "getting out more" campaign (a New Year's Resolution that can be spoken of, because I achieved it!). That was brilliant - a couple of hundred people at most, crammed into a smoky room at Joseph's Well in Leeds. We were very near the front, we weren't even the oldest people there, & it was like he & assorted guests were playing for a bunch of mates. Which we were, in a way. Definitely one of the highlights of an excellent year!

One of the most interesting aspects of Valor del Corazon is that Ginger has told the "recording industry" where to stick their corporate crap. It's released on his own independent label, through an exclusive deal with HMV, with all the pre-release publicity done by fans. We got a call, one day last week, via his mailing list, to spread the word. So I did my bit, by posting announcements into a handful of online forums & newsgroups. Not as adventurous as putting up flyers, but very much in keeping with how I live now :-)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Computer-Assisted New Year's Resolutions?

I've been looking at "43 things" (described in detail here on Bill Larnach's blog).

In theory, I can see its attractions: instant contact with people anywhere in the world who share your aspirations.

In practice, it makes me shudder deeply! Sites like that make me want to crawl into a hole & contemplate my inadequacies. Or get very drunk. Most of the ideas put forward by contributors seem either very scary (requiring youth &/or beauty &/or vigour &/or confidence) or very private, to a squirmingly embarrassing degree.

I reckon New Year Resolutions should be treated like the wishes you make when you blow out the candles on a birthday cake: don't tell anyone about them until they've come true.

Is this what Sir Bob meant?

I've been puzzling for a while now about Bob Geldof's anti-email tirade (BBC News, 15th November). I wasn't the only one - when I posted the link to my T175 group discussion of the pros & cons of email, it provoked quite an indignant backlash from people who knew how heavily the "Make Poverty History" campaign had relied on emailing.

Most of the follow-up "Have your say" discussion on the BBC site involved people trading "email is great"/"email is a pain" remarks based on its use in office or family, rather than political, contexts.

But I've just come across another condemnation of email as a campaign tool, from an equally surprising source. Jon Lebkowsky, online activist & founding figure in the libertarian EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) had this to say in a 1999 article:
Don't confuse email or fax campaigns with action. Decision-makers know how easy it is to create this kind of communication, especially if you're doing little more than typing your name onto a fixed message. If the feedback represents minimal commitment of time and energy, it has lacks weight and makes little impression. Phone calls are better.
When Jerry Berman was director of EFF, he told me that EFF-Austin should charter a bus to D.C. and show up in our legislators' offices there. This kind of personal investment and immediate presence is incredibly valuable. You could send thousands of emails and make no more than a fraction of the impact.

Now, doesn't Bob's starting point:
Live8 organiser Bob Geldof has revealed his contempt for e-mails, blaming them for tying up people's time and stopping genuine action.
Mr Geldof told a conference in London that e-mails "give a feeling of action, which is a mistake".

make a lot more sense?

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Online peanut galleries are incubators for kibitzing"

Or so it says here....

Page 331 of Virtual Communities, & the first time I'd been completely defeated by one of Rheingold's statements. I expected him to make me think, to throw up new names & new concepts, but not to use English in a completely inscrutable way. I couldn't even hazard a guess from the context.

According to Worldwidewords, a peanut gallery is C19th American slang for what we Brits would call "the gods" - the cheapest upper tier of seats in a theatre, so called because their occupants tended to express their unruly displeasure by hurling peanuts in the general direction of the stage.

Bartleby defines kibitz as To look on and offer unwanted, usually meddlesome advice to others. It sounds yiddish, & it is.

So, putting that together, Rheingold believes that online discussion groups open to all & sundry tend to encourage unhelpful heckling.

Educational stuff this reading, innit?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Well I never!

Here's a startling finding:

"Children who live or go to school near fast food restaurants are more likely to eat there"

At least the survey was carried out by Which? magazine& didn't use up any taxpayer's money...