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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Friends 

I met up unexpectedly with two ex-colleagues at the weekend. It's staggering to realise that the last time I worked at the same place with both of them was fifteen years ago. The last time I saw one of them socially was about 10 years ago.

It's way too easy for me to lose contact with colleagues, friends and even family. It's impossible for keep in touch with everyone all the time but I sometimes surprise myself by how long it's been since I have seen or even been in email contact with some people. I have cousins I haven't spoken to for years.

I need to make more of an effort to maintain my social contacts or I will wake up one day and find no-one in my life.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Found: one brain 

It’s amazing what a difference the effect of the type of work I am doing has on me.

For a large chunk of the last few months I have been mainly writing requirements and design documents for the next phase of work I am about to undertake. Just recently I have actually started coding again. That's programming to the uninitiated.

I forgot how much stimulation I get from it. This is the reason I am still a programmer at 42. I love it. I feel alive again. I can think again My brain is working. I can actually lose myself in my work and not be distracted by the least thing. The day passes like a flash instead of like elephants wading through treacle.

I know that makes me sound like the biggest, geekiest geek going but I don’t care. I have got my brain back. You know in Red Dwarf where Holly’s IQ goes down to 6 and then up to 6 million. I feel a bit like that.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Barry Norman, prophet and seer 

It really doesn't seem that long but I suppose it really has been 30 years since Star Wars graced our screens.

The BBC have published Barry Norman's comments from the time on their website. For any non-Brits reading this, Barry Norman is a celebrated film-critic who has been reviewing movies on British television since the Dawn Of Time.

What amused me were the final few strangely prophetic paragraphs of the article:

... the final scene leaves all the options open for a spectacular sequel.

As to that, Gary Kurtz the producer has assured me the sequel will not be made unless he and the director George Lucas are quite sure it can be as good as the original.

I only hope financial blandishments won't persuade them to change their minds and cut corners in search of the easy dollar.


Could someone send that to George Lucas and underline it in red?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sponsored walk video 

I have just added the video of my sponsored walk to my YouTube account.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Grey 

I did video myself and record my thoughts on parts of yesterday's walk. On the whole I was quite pleased with the results. I am in the process of editing it all together and when that is done, I will post it on YouTube in the next few days.

However, three things struck me when I watched the videos:


I don't think David will like that too much. He's quite fond of my beard although he doesn't like it too long. I don't think he'd be that keen on me losing the hair either.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sponsored Walk 

Today, I am taking part in the bi-annual sponsored walk for St Christopher's Hospice. They looked after my mother in the last few weeks of her life and gave the rest of our family some much needed support during that time.

I have decided that I am going to walk the longest of the four courses they have on offer. That's 11 miles. It will, as I have mentioned in many other places, be a challenge.

I am four years older than the last time I walked it, I am at least two stone overweight, I have not been to the gym for nearly seven months, and, lastly, I am just getting over guttate psoriasis which will mean that parts of me aren't going to like walking for several hours with all the potential chafing that involves.

Anyway, that's the excuses over. I think that if I take if at a comfortable pace, I should have too much of a problem.

I plan to take my small digital camera with me and use it to make a video diary which I will post on YouTube. Watch that space...

By the way, late donations will be welcome, if this link is still active, click on it and give them some money.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Return of Tinky Winky 

David and I took Trish along to watch Evita earlier this week. It was as brilliant as it had been the first time I saw it.

This time we sat in row A, the closest to the stage. Good seats. We got loads of legroom and a marvelous new perspective on the show. We could see everyone's expressions from the leads to the ensemble and all of them were acting their socks off.

I did get a little neck ache but it was worth it.

The guy who was once a Teletubby was still in it. When he appeared on stage I had to turn to David and whisper "it's Tinky Winky!". Wrong of me, I know. I hate it when people talk during a show.

It's a shame that the show is ending in a week and a bit.

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I'm a writer? 

Good heavens! I just read a couple of my more recent posts and was shocked to see I hadn't proofread them. There were a couple of unfinished sentences and some other bits that really just did not make sense.

I've corrected them now but it's a bit worrying to see stuff like that when I am pretending to write a novel.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Working from home 

Yesterday I had my phone line restored which meant I had to work from home while I waited for the man from Virgin Media to arrive. Actually he arrived fairly quickly and didn't spend too long fitting the new phone line so I was able to spend most of the day trying to work.

I find I don't really like working from home. There's nothing to stop me losing the plot and getting distracted. Sometimes I can get very focussed and get lots done yesterday I just couldn't really get my head into work mode. I tried but there were too many other things, fun and interesting things, that demanded my time.

I did get some work done but not really enough.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Saving Eurovision 

These are my last thoughts on the Eurovision Song Contest until Making Your Mind Up 2008, if there is such a thing. The Netherlands are threatening to drop out. I can easily see the UK doing the same.

This is not a gripe about the winners. Serbia were clearly popular with all concerned although it was also clear that something is not right with the system. There were songs that were popular with the press and with the audiences of both the final and the semi-final that didn't figure very well at the final count. Surely, they all couldn't have been wrong?

Firstly, we should scrap the Big Four concept. The Big Four are, I believe, the UK, France, Germany and Spain. They cough up a substantial part of the funding for the contest in exchange for guaranteed places in the final. This is wrong, either everyone should pay an equal share or the winner should foot the entire bill. There is also no reason why the Four should get into the final unfairly.

Secondly, there should definitely only be one vote per person. It can be done. Allowing multiple votes per voter is greed on the part of the EBU or whoever it is who gets the money from the premium rate phone calls and texts. Imagine what a mess we'd be in if our governments were elected in such a haphazard manner. Oh, hang on...

Thirdly, we also need to scrap the points system. Yes, it is lovely and quaint to hear the words "United Kingdom, twelve points", but, in a televoting system, it is outmoded and we really need to see countries voted for by absolute numbers. It is not right that 300 votes from one tiny county carries the same clout as 3,000,000 from somewhere bigger.

Various concepts have been bandied around since the semi-finals last Thursday and all have revolved around there being more semi-finals or even separate contests for the original Eurovision countries and the more recent entrants. I thought these were good ideas at first but now I don't think they would work. They would cause even more conflict between the participants and that is not what Eurovision is all about.

We need one contest that is fair. That's all.

That is it, no more comments on the E-word, for another ten months although I may respond to comments.

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Eurovision conclusions 

Well, we didn’t win. Quelle surprise. I didn’t expect us to do so badly though. If it hadn’t been for Malta (12 points!!!!!) and Ireland we would have had nil points again. That would have been a grand shame as there was no way that Scooch were as bad as Jemini (our previous nil-pointer – that was the year one of our singers was spectacularly flat).

There is a huge political element to the ESC. Not only do countries vote for their neighbours (oh yes, they do) but we lose out on votes because of our presence in Iraq.

That still doesn’t explain why the other real European countries got nowhere and some of the Johnny-come-latelies made it to the top ten. Not everyone is as involved in Iraq as we are and not all the Western songs were crap.

Something needs to change. The voting system needs a real shake. One person, one vote would be a start.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

More Eurovision thoughts 

I let my brain freewheel too much, obviously, but I was thinking more about the current Eurovision trend for the Eastern European countries getting all the votes, especially in last night's semi-final.

I've also been talking to colleagues and reading ESCToday.com.

Anyhow, thoughts and ramblings ...

  1. To the EE crowd, Eurovision is a new and important thing. We in the West have become a bit blasé about the contest, especially in the UK where it is seen as a bit of a joke in many circles, although not to me. Consequently, they vote, and we don't.

  2. There is the tendency to vote for people and singing styles you are familiar with i.e. your neighbours. The EE countries have a lot of neighbours in common and therefore there will be an overlap in votes.

  3. According to someone on ESCToday, the tele-voting thing is not monitored and you can vote for your favourite as many times as you like. That will be bound to distort the figures a bit. So, let's test the theory and VOTE FOR SCOOCH tomorrow night over and over and over again.

  4. My rather cynical colleague suggested that the EE countries were voted in last night by countries already in the final to remove the competition. This theory has some appeal but I'm not sure if I am cynical enough to believe it.


This whole thing needs looking at. Should we go back to a jury system? Should we make it one person one vote? Should we have regional finals? Who knows. If the current situation continues, however, there will be tears before bedtime.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Big News! 

The big news is that Tony Blair has announced his retirement.

The bigger news is that tonight we had the Eurovision semi-final. The ten to go through to Saturday's final were exclusively Eastern European countries. Rumours of fixing abound.

What will this mean for the countries already in the final? Favourites such as Switzerland and Denmark didn't make it so the countries tipped as favourites in the final itself could come anywhere.

I liked Sweden but I don't think that will appeal to Eastern tastes. I rather liked the Ukrainian entry, which, on the face of it, should garner support from the other EE countries. However, it is an incredibly camp song and I suspect that will not sit well in the pantheon of Eastern Euro-ness.

However, although I have a bet on Sweden and another on Scooch to finish in the top eight, I am going to stick my neck out and declare that I think the Ukraine will win this year. It's popular and its Eastern, gaining both the camp and the political votes in one go.

I do hope that all of this continuing controversy will result in a change in the way the whole thing is organised. As I think I suggested last year, there should be regional heats and then a big final for the regional winners.

Also, voting by phone needs to go as well. Yes, it's fast and cheap but it's open to fixing and is hugely statistically biased to whichever country has the most voters with phones.

I hope it will all change but it won't. Regional semis will take a huge organisational change and voting by phone generates income to pay for these huge extravaganzas so they are extremely unlikely to get rid of it.

There was an episode of Father Ted where the ESC featured. The Irish organisers of the event wanted Ireland to lose because they couldn't afford to host it anymore. There is truth in that. These things are expensive; having a sizable proportion of the world calling special rate phone lines must help a great deal.

Perhaps I should get out more.

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Family news 2 

I have another great-nephew! His name is Tad and he was born at the weekend to Richard (my nephew) and Jenna (his wife).

I can remember, all too clearly, when Richard was just a bump and, of course, it seems like yesterday.

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Family news 1 

Tomorrow, my sister is 60 and she retires. So now, I’m the only one of the Williams children working and I probably have at least another 20 years before I can join the leisured classes.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we no longer think of people in their sixties as being old? I don’t think of my brother or sister as old at all. Years ago, sixty-year-olds looked ancient and haggard. Never mind that, in some black and white movies, even people in their thirties looked old.

It probably comes down to outlook. Think you're old and, hey presto, you look it.

As I said to someone today, sixty is the new forty.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Psoriasis 

I went to the doctor again this morning. I wasn't happy with the way that the GP I saw a few weeks ago and the MediCentre doctor I saw a few days after that both seemed uncertain about the rash on my arms and legs.

They both agreed it was probably guttate psoriasis although the second one wasn't really making that much of a distinction between guttate psoriasis and plaque psoriasis.

By the way that word is one of the worst ones to type! Psoriasrs ... Psosiarsis ... Psoriasis.

So because I was unhappy about the uncertainty and it was spreading, I decided to see another of the GPs at our local practice, the one who is a dermatologist. If anyone would know, he would.

Within seconds of me whipping off my shirt, he confirmed it was guttate psoriasis. Hooray!

He told me three things:

  1. it will go away but after weeks or months

  2. the ointment I got from the MediCentre is useful although I don't have to use it as often - I need only use it once a day but I should also use aqueous cream about an hour beforehand as a moisturiser (no-one mentioned that!)

  3. it spreads mainly on the arms, upper legs and torso so my face will be unblemished and my career as an international male model is unharmed.



At least I am more certain about what is afflicting me. I hate it when there is doubt.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Keepsake 

For those of you who don’t know, Keepsake is the name I have chosen for the science fiction novel I have been writing on-and-off for the last two and a bit years. It does actually exist as a complete novel in that it tells a story that lasts for a little more than a hundred thousand words.
It needs work, however. The first three chapters were terrible. As hooks to lure a potential publisher into wanting to sell my novel, they were completely ineffectual and a potential reader would have returned the book to the shelf by the end of the first sentence.
So the last few months have seen me rewriting those three chapters again and again. It was tricky. A murder scene from chapter three had to open the novel. That wasn’t just a cut and paste job; moving that scene from its cosy location in chapter three to the spotlight showed up a lot of flaws. It had to be rewritten.
The new chapter two had to introduce my main character, Tace Holgate. In the old chapters, she wasn’t lively enough as a character. She lacked that little something that made the reader engage with her. She didn’t live.
I experimented with different versions of her. I made her lots more cynical which would have been fine except that she’s a detective and a cynical detective is a cliché.I made her psychic and able to feel the past spirits of people who had been reincarnated. That brought in a huge can of worms that I really didn’t want to deal with. She would be dealing with reincarnated people all the time and it would have been a hell of a lot of hassle making sure she reacted correctly in every scene. Also it would make her a lot like Anita Blake and I didn’t want her chasing long-haired men in different coloured Nike trainers.
Chapter three is also new. In the various chapter ones I experimented with, I realised that one of my minor characters needed to be part of the murder. So his part was beefed up. He ceased to be one of Tace’s colleagues and moved to a private police agency, for instance, and he has a back-story involving a very pushy trophy wife. Chapter three is his introduction.
I also addressed two other problems with the same stroke, I think. One of my friends pointed out (although I had spotted it myself) that although the novel was set in the future, it seemed very present-day. There is nothing wrong with that per se. It would be wrong of me to make my characters speak in some sort of futuristic patois. I’ve read novels like that and they are irritating.
The other problem is that I couldn’t ignore the ecological changes the world is going through at the moment. Two or three hundred years could make the world completely unrecognisable to us now. I would hate to have to guess as to what will happen and most of the current research seems little more than a guess. Also, I didn’t want to write an eco-thriller. If there was to a Message in my novel I didn’t want it to detract from the story.
So to avoid that and to provide enough of an SF backdrop, I took the radical step of setting the story in a universe where we have had to abandon Earth. This makes some things easier and other things a lot harder.
In fact all the changes I have made in those first three chapters will have major impacts on the remainder of the novel. However, I’m a lot happier with the chapters and will unleash them on my friends in the near future.
They have been warned.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Eurovision 2007 

I have become a major Eurovision fan over the last few years. I have even gone to the extent of buying the CD before the contest has aired and now have a really firm idea of which songs are my favourites. I have also placed a couple of online bets!

There are four songs that stick in my head. I find myself humming the entries from Sweden (my favourite), Switzerland and the Ukraine. Although I like the Swiss entry, Vampires are Alive, I don't want it to win. It's clearly jumping on the Buffy-esque bandwagon started by last year's winners, Lordi (who do their act dressed as demons and throw in lots of lyrics about Hell). Both the Swedish and Ukrainian entries are camp and do not take themselves at all seriously, which, to me, is the whole spirit of Eurovision.

I said four, didn't I? I do actually like our entry. Like the Swedes and the Ukraines, it obviously has its tongue in its cheek. Won't win, of course.

We only have a week and a bit to wait to find out who wins this year!

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Traffic 

I should be in Cologne at an HL7 conference but I'm not. Instead, I am back in the office in London.

I got held up in perfectly static traffic on the way to the airport this morning and completely missed my plane. I have never done this before and don't plan to do it again. I phoned my boss, who was already out there, and we decided that the best option was for me to give up on the whole idea and go back to the office.

Four lessons learned:
1. No matter how early I leave for the airport, I need to leave earlier.
2. Never go for an early morning plane.
3. Heathrow is always a bad idea and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
4. If I have to go to Heathrow, I should most definitely not drive. I can then, at least, blame someone else and, more importantly, be able to go to the loo.

However, the world has not come to an end and I have managed to do some useful work today for a change.

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