In brief

29 July 2003

I haven’t even been updating the brief column. Lots of things going on recently just knocking the energy to blog out of me: the best party I’ve been to in a long time (thanks dear), full-time work, trying to sort out possessions, catching up on TV, general exhaustion. Recent acquisitions include the London Elecktricity album, Billion Dollar Gravy (superb) and the Dizzee Rascal album, Boy In Da Corner (doubly so). I’m working on the posting thing, anyhow.

I’m not going to let it slip this time.

I think my favourite memory of the past week, and my favourite memory in a long while, was getting tired at said party of people asking me “how are you?” because, well, it was getting tiresome having to explain simply how excellent everything is at the moment. It really is that good over here. It’s a wonderful feeling.


21 July 2003

I’m growing to like this portable life. I’m sitting on my bed, evening light streaming off the hill outside me, listening to Daniel Bélanger’s album Rêver Mieux, Powerbook resting on my lap. The Bélanger’s an interesting beast; he’s Quebecois, and a friend who’s just spent a year abroad in Quebec lent me the album. It’s best described (without lending you a copy) as a peculiar hybrid of Air, David Gray, and Four Tet; mellow electronic Francophone singer-songwriter. Delightful. Oh, and nice packaing too. It’s also interesting listening to something which isn’t in my first language, or even my second or third (much the same kick that I get from MC Solaar), and yet I know how bits of it work, and as a musician and a scholar of literature, I get the way it sounds; lyrics, after all, are chosen not just for meaning but for sound as well.

I’ve been noticably absent from here for a while, mainly due to exhaustion after a first week at work, and having to tend to our garden – small, but overstocked – in the absence of my father. Normal service has now resumed. Work (IT support for a school) progresses slowly on, and I’m doing my best to fit everything else around it. Right now I really need to sort my floor, as I still haven’t quite finished tidying everything away after my return from University.

Last night I realised I probably ought to get back to the blog or it was going to stagnate like the last one, but I only had time to make some notes on what I was going to post. The easiest thing to do was to paste in those notes, and expand on them. Ah, the joy of unordered lists.

  • God I love the lark ascending. First of the 2003 Proms last night, and I caught a brief snippet of something half-familiar, entirely electrifying. Had to leave, but sat and watched, mesmerised by the intertwining violin and oboe, and remembered that classical music will always have a place in my heart. When I found out it was the Vaughan Williams, everything clicked.
  • Work It’s taken a while to get back into the work thing, and as I’m no longer a student any more, I had to fill out a P46 and enter the world of grown-up tax. Still, I’m settling down again, and getting used to nine til five. And it’s a pleasant atmosphere to work in; a good night out bowling with the team (and I did quite well for once) and several lunch hours playing Warcraft 3 against each other have all reminded me how important good company is. (Warcraft 3, is, incidentally, superb; perfectly balanced, far more subtle in the difference in races than ever before, genuinely subtle, and genuinely fun – the first strategy game – in fact, the first new game – I’ve enjoyed in ages. And it works on my Mac.)
  • Biking – My. Girl. Friend. is a keen cyclist and whilst I’m not as mental as her at times, two years riding at Cambridge have reminded me that it’s a form of exercise I rather enjoy. Also, borrowing her father’s Orange P7 has also proven the importance of a (relatively) good bike, so I’m scouring local ads and eBay for deals. Nothing flashy; just a moderately good bike. I’ve always bought such cheap, crappy things before, and though I don’t plan on becoming a bikenut or cycling to work, it’s an area I’m looking into.
  • T3 gets a 12A. The world is going to end. Enough said. When the latest installment in the Terminator franchise gets passed with a freaking 12A, I’m not sure what the world’s coming to. Not searingly violent Arnie-action, that’s for sure.
  • Six Feet Under is brilliant. This is pretty self explanatory, but despite Brenda’s turns towards madness, I’m loving the new series of Six Feet Under. It’s possibly the funniest thing (to my twisted, scabrous sense of humour) on TV at the moment, and it works because it’s really funny about really unfunny things. I’m not watching much TV at the moment, but there’s always time for this.

OK, I promise to keep things briefer next time, and try and keep my posts on the small side of things. And, if I’m lucky, make them more interesting…


20 July 2003

The DVD of X2 comes out on the tenth of November. I. Cannot. Wait.


19 July 2003

So I’m sitting watching Top of the Pops thinking: “when did Damon Albarn turn into Tom Coates“…


17 July 2003

Ooh. Broadband gets activated at my local exchange in September. Now, to arrange something along those lines…


13 July 2003

120 years of Electronic Musical Instruments, 1870-1990. Interesting, comprehensive database.

Dan raises some interesting points in his criticism of an article in the Sunday Times’ Doors section this weekend, which essentially described the problems women find in their interactions with computers.

I think the really interesting point he touched on is the specifivity of applications: how much it is that applications are built to do, and how much they really need to do.

The novice user often makes the misconception that “because I do not need to do this, no-one needs to do this”. This, coupled with the misconception that “because Word is standard and popular it must be good and thus I must use it”, and the misconception of most commercial software manufacturers that “one size fits all” and you’ve got a big, big mess.

Applications are tools. They are there to be used by the user. There is no obligation for the user to make use of all the facilities offered – after all, I am not going to take up fishing purely to make use of the fish-gutter on my Swiss Army Knife. The real lessons that users need to be taught is that the key to successful use of a software package (by which I mean: the user can acheive everything they wish to, first time, off their own bat, without wasting time) is learning what you need.

I’ve often helped my Mum with things she’s needed to do on the computer; I’ve taught a family friend a great deal about her computer and how to acheive her goals; and I know that my mother has also passed on advice to her friends. None of us have gone down the route of working our way through every menu in Word. Successful education is simply done by asking a user what they need to do, and showing them that. Some people I know specifically needed to be able to make tables of contents; something most of the Doors readers would think an unnecessary complexity hidden in the menus.

So, different people have different needs. Dan points out that in Word 2000 and onwards, the menus become adaptive to your needs (once you figure out where half of the options have disappeared to). If software is to become more catch-all. At the same time, my copy of Word should be roughly similar to yours – or else I’d be unable to use it when I visited – so you can only make something so adaptive.

The alternative is to have more applications and have them do less. Something between Word and Textedit/Wordpad would suit most people. To be honest, Textedit/Notepad would be fine for most users needs – I mean, for letter writing, you can probably type the date manually; you don’t really need auto-insert. This is a route Apple has pursued with success – iLife works because none of the apps do too much; this is great for streamlining of interface and simplicity, but also means that suddenly, when iPhoto isn’t enough, you’ll need to go out and buy Photoshop. At the same time, this is why novice users (such as one woman in the Doors article) take to iPhoto etc. more than they take to something designed for functionality and power, rather than simplicity and friendliness. Photoshop works for me because it lets me work with a minimal amount of hassle – and believe me, I don’t use nearly all its features. But one or two of them, some quite high-power, make my life so much easier. And I don’t need brushed metal to get in my way. That said, it’s notable – especially in the Mac world – that shareware and freeware authors are more and more progressing down the small-but-simple route, and that can only be a good thing for end users.

Computers are complex beasts, and user interfaces help us to tame them. At the same time, much of the software built to run on them attempts to harness that power as best possible – and when the same software for professionals is being marketed and sold to the home market, it’s no wonder people find it unfriendly. Perhaps this is why Apple’s current approach to software and operating design is looking in the right direction. In the end, though (reading the article again), I think that people need to realise (and realise soon) that if you want the benefits of such advanced technology, it’s going to be complex. It needn’t be, but you shouldn’t criticise your latest-and-greatest gadget for being complex. The one woman I definitely sympathise with in the article is the one whose phone was upgraded unnecessarily – her old one worked fine and, most importantly, she worked it fine. That’s the relationship you should aim for with your technology.

Even if it means forgoing rotating and adding drop shadows to your virtual Post-Its.


11 July 2003

Back from hols. Updates will resume, for all you two readers…

Vanilla != Plain

There is nothing plain about vanilla. It is one of the loveliest, subtlest flavours around. Nothing beats really good homemade vanilla custard or ice-cream. Nothing. My hypothetical children shall be taught to cherish vanilla in all its glory. Also, they shall be taught it comes from pods, not bottles.

Sorry. It’s just over the past few days, I’ve been realising lots of things I refuse to let my children grow up not knowing. Such as where food comes from: beef is from cows, not from Tescos; cheese is from milk; eggs are from chickens; potatoes and chips are the same thing. Etc. I’m on a foody tip at the moment (and there are some interesting devlopments to come on this tip soon) and this is what’s buzzing around my head.