Thursday, May 25, 2006

Farewell Marshall, greetings Gash!

Sorry for the lack of posts, I've been ill (yes again) for several days and incapable of anything except sleep and sniffing.

A couple of minor changes to the blog - Marshall North is sacked for inactivity (his most recent post was back in January) while replacing him is Mark's wickedly vicious Gash blog, which hates (S)Mel Philips and Carol Gould almost as much as I do. Of these two neo-conservative twits Gould is probably the more amusing as:
  • She's barking mad.
  • She hasn't got an editor to tone down her worst excesses.
  • She has zero influence, so her drivel is harmless.
If only we could say the same about (S)Mel...

Hey, at least the two of them are permanently miserable and/or enraged!


Friday, May 19, 2006

Back to the 50s with Tony Blair

One of the many sad things about the 1950s, apart from it's unwatchable films and really bad pop-music, is the quality of the technology developed in that awful black and white decade.

Someday I’ll write a long and detailed rant about the appalling design of most 1950s cars (not for nothing does James Bond drive a 1930s Bentley 4 1/2 litre in Casino Royale - published in 1954). The ridiculous civil aircraft design of the period deserves another rant.

But ‘best’ of all is the technology specifically invented that decade. Two of my favourites are the hovercraft and the nuclear power station. Both were largely invented and (heh heh) ‘perfected’ during the 1950s, both had incredible claims made for them (‘the end of the wheel’ and ‘free electricity for all’) and both turned out to be almost completely useless, with, at best, extremely limited applications.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I learn that the rattled and increasingly eccentric Tony Blair has decided that Britain needs more nuclear power stations in the future. Daniel Davies puts the case against in practical engineering terms you don’t often encounter in the emotional world of nuke power:

In general, all the problems of nuclear reactors have been solved, in principle.

The problem comes when you have to put them into practice, because most nuclear engineering solutions rely on being able to make very big things, machined to incredibly fine tolerances…

Big things are expensive, and fine tolerances are expensive. Nukemen have a really bad habit of forgetting this fact. This is why, in general, nuclear projects tend to go over budget in such an extravagant, life-affirming, joyous kind of way…

What I am trying to say here is that the nuclear lobby systematically puts out estimates of the efficiency and safety of its industry which are genuinely laughable, even by the standards of long-dated projections in general. They always, until their backs are absolutely forced up against the wall, give projections which are based on the perfect nuclear project which exists in their mind rather than anything that could actually be built. They tend to assume that every stage, from putting a fence round the site to lowering the rods, will be completed in the most efficient way possible, rather ignoring the fact that the typical big construction project looks a lot more like Wembley Stadium, and nuclear power stations are more complicated.

Amen. I’m currently involved in a fairly straightforward software project that uses entirely proven technology to accomplish a logical, albeit somewhat complicated task… We’re currently 120%+ over budget, and almost precisely 100% over time. Thank god we’re not making anything actually capable of hurting someone should it happen to go wrong, or be built with less than perfect precision.

Nobody dies. Unlike when nuclear power stations go wrong.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Westminster Bridge by Monet (1871)

A "nothing special" week-end that was just sublime...

A lovely Saturday afternoon of wandering around a grey and misty mellow London in the company of M.

We walked from Liecester Square to the south side of the river and along to the far side of Tower Bridge, with a quick visit to the Tate Modern on the way. M is a star – she endured (with good humour) a couple of hours of me mucking about with parts and old cars at
Tower Porsche, and even bought the lamb-burgers and drinks at the Witherspoons afterwards…

Sunday was equally nice – S and B on good form when we met in Costas and later for a wonder around the bookshop opposite. I persuaded B to buy a copy of the
Sheltering Sky - hope she enjoys it.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Breaking News: The Rachel Corrie Ban

Off to the theatre last night to see a series of 12 short plays (sketches, I suppose you might call them) inspired by the cowardice of the New York Theatre Workshop.

They’re the outfit that, rather late, realised that a play about Rachel Corrie might anger some elements in the New York Jewish community, especially the ones that pay their bills.

So once again, it’s London that shows some artistic freedom, while the self-proclaimed artistic and cultural capital of the world, with enormous respect and self-love for itself, and located in the land of the free, acts like Moscow at the height of some Stalinist purge circa 1938.
Never mind, back in stuffy old London, a competition was announced that asked for short plays, of no longer than 10 mins duration, inspired by the NYTWs cowardly self censorship. One of my colleagues, Haley, decided to have a go and to nobody's great surprise (she's talented) she found her play selected for production.

Things started well with a mildly amusing Disclaimer written by Cary Barney and competently performed by Donnacadh O’Briain. It took the piss out of the NYTW and their fear of ‘controversy' (gulp!). Then we trooped up the stairs and into the theatre itself, a small space but, joy, the seat rows were high enough so you could see, and joy, the acoustics are very good, probably by accident.

All these advantages couldn’t help Homeland, an unconvincing piece, poorly acted, and at least 5 minutes too long. Lie Detector by Peter Yates was a complete contrast - taut, witty, and well acted, with Jenny Taylor outstanding as the interrogator. Elise Hearst's Tough Love, a narration by an Israeli girl soldier (Vanessa Ackerman) was also well acted, although the monologue didn’t entirely convince.

The least said about A Decision, and the abysmal Health and Safety, and the unconvincing Rant 69 the better. The interval was welcome. As always it’s a pleasure to spend time with Haley, and it was nice to meet her charming Mum.

Too soon, back into the theatre we troop, and I’m hoping for an increase in quality, not so much of the material (12 were chosen out of about 100, so the writing is often good) but in their acting, or maybe direction. We start with Press Conference, which is competent satire on American foreign policy (such a difficult target) although I can’t understand why Rick Bland’s delivery seemed so nervous – was he under-rehearsed?

The Serf of Tidworth was a lovely idea – that of Tudor censorship and its parallels today, but poorly executed. The next piece by Aoife Mannix was actually called Parallel and it made me extremely angry, as out came the old and very evil lie that the Israel Palestine conflict is equal and balanced, and that terrible things happen to both sides. Indeed they do, but one side kills over three times as many people as the other side. One side has an army, a navy, an air force, all lavishly equipped with the finest weapons America can manufacture. The other side has untrained teenagers armed with 50-year old Russian small-arms. This ‘balanced’ view is borne of ignorance – I’ve never met anyone who’s actually spent time in occupied territories who believes it.

By contrast, Care Less by Saman Shad was a nice idea – about how good causes become fashionable and are then forgotten about (they go out of fashion!) but marred by desperately awkward and unconvincing performances. So I was rather worried about what Haley’s piece entitled Together for Tomorrow might be like. I needn’t have worried – Orna Salinger put on a good competent performance, and Haley’s writing was fluent and inspiring without going over the top with the imagery or rhetoric. One of the more talented people I've met in the past few years, the quality of the writing wasn't a surprise, but given some of the crap we'd seen earlier, the acting was.

No time to linger much afterwards, but it was a beautiful warm evening, and London felt like a foreign city, somewhere exotic, and glamorous.

I didn’t get home till 2:30AM – I need to move. Maybe I’ll start looking next month.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Photo of the village of Wansford by Hircock100

I'm back, and within an hour or two it'll feel as if I was never away.

Before the feeling fades completely, here's a note on how green Britain always seems, how damp the air feels, and how the light always seems to have a soft grey-filtered quality.