Idle Time


currently playing: Ultrasound - Floodlit World

Gregory Peck: 1916-2003

I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house. And that he'd rather I'd shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit 'em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncrib, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.

Coding Towards Infinity

Three years ago, I wrote an extension to The Gimp, an open source image editing program, allowing users to create text representations of their images. For example, here's a picture of the Linux mascot, Tux:

And here's the same image after my extension has created an all-text version (you might need to look at the enlarged image to actually see the text):

The script had a few fancy options, like being able to select different fonts and sizes, plus it could read huge amounts of text (say, if you wanted to paint a picture of Hunter S. Thompson with the words from Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas). It only took me an afternoon, and I was fairly pleased with how it worked.

Being one of those no-good Free Software types, I placed it on my old web site under a license known as the GPL, which gives anybody the right to use, distribute and modify the program, providing that they continue to allow access to the source code (and any changes they may have made). I added it to a website which lists various different additions for The Gimp, and promptly forgot about it.

Today, I was searching through Google, and came across a link to my code. Only it was on a different website from my old one. Curious, I started another Google search, looking for references to my program. It seems to have spread far and wide across the world. People have made additions and changes to my original work; updating it to work with the new version of The Gimp, and bundling it with a bunch of other programs and selling the collection on CD.

Scattered across the world, in thousands of different places, my name still resides in the source code. It'll remain there until the CDs biodegrade, roughly a hundred years from now. I'm not quite sure how to deal with that.

currently playing: Mercury Rev - Delta Sun Bottleneck Stamp

Was I Being Persnickety?

A scary moment from yesterday: my sister and I are having a conversation about a wall. About a minute into the conversation, we stop in horror as we realise that we're talking like Aaron Sorkin characters. The scary insane ones. The moral of the story? Watching too many Sports Night episodes in succession can do strange things to your mind. We're now taking a little break.

My final cheque from Chapel Hill arrived this morning, so I'm $600 richer today. After working it out, it seems like I left America $1,000 worse off, as I took $6,000 with me last August, and I now have roughly $5,000 in several different accounts on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, I still have several thousand pounds of student loan debt from my time at Manchester, but let's not think about that, shall we?

Weather forecast for Saturday's barbeque: 22˚C and sunny. Come one, and come all…oh. Well, it did say earlier that it was going to be sunny. I promise. Still, 19˚C isn't too bad, I suppose.

currently playing: Ghetto Boys - Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster

Up And Out In Oxford

Another trip to Oxford. Last time I went, they were digging up most of Cornmarket street. Obviously, they thought that this wasn't acceptable, so they've started work on the front of the Waterstone's bookshop as well. The jackhammers are a nice touch.

They say never judge a book by its cover. I am really bad at this, as I've bought many books simply because the cover caught my attention (Thomas Pynchon's V popped out of a bookshelf in Manchester one day, and I spent the next six months buying every one of his books). I'm also fascinated by changes in cover design when books are reprinted. Today in Oxford, I saw two horrible new book designs: The US edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay has a wonderful period cover, evoking the book's pulp comic themes. The UK version has a picture of a tied-up man. Even worse is the new printing of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. They've dropped the classic Ralph Steadman art and replaced it with a horrible late 1990's medicine bottle design. Ugh.

My feet and legs are now killing me. I'm still breaking in my new boots. Yes, for the first time in almost six years, I'm wearing boots that aren't black. They're a bit smaller than my old ones, so my leg muscles need some time to get used to the change. Ow ow ow…

currently playing: Black Box Recorder - The Facts of Life

I Believe In Donovan Over Dylan...Love Over Cynicism

One of my current projects is to finally watch the whole of My So-Called Life, having spent close to $200 on getting the DVD release (long, long, long story). Two observations from watching a few episodes: firstly, Angela has worn the same shirt in several episodes so far, which is somehow cute and endearing (considering that in most TV shows, people wear an outfit once only). Secondly, it seems that even MSCL (as all the cool kids are calling it these days) wasn't completely immune to the phenomenon that is the "magic teacher" episode.

It seems to be a staple of drama and film; a teacher with an unconventional method of teaching arrives in town, causing chaos in her or his wake. The students are inspired, but the parents and the rest of the teachers plot to remove the new teacher. Ultimately by the end of the film or episode, the teacher is run out of town, but the children Have Been Changed. Cue end credits.

Did anybody actually have a teacher like that? Is it more of an American culture difference? I have many teachers that I remember fondly, and yes, they were unconventional, but they stayed. The teachers that left after a term or so tended not to be very good. So I've never really understood film and television's obsession with this idea of a rogue teacher (okay, I understand to the point that it's a good way of creating conflict, and easy for a a TV show to cast the role for a one-off performance, rather than keeping the actor on the staff).

Happily, the episode in question did its best to make things as ambiguous as possible; the teacher turned out to have an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to pay alimony, and he ran away at the first hint of trouble. Hurrah for subtly subverting teen drama clichés!

(Oh, and the dance Claire Danes does in the middle of Why Can't Jordan Read? Simply magical.)

currently playing: Super Furry Animals - If You Don't Want Me To Destroy You

Billy, Don't Be A Hero

Important things that Should Be Remembered: the distance back to your house is always greater than what you think it is, and the rain is heavier that it initially seems. Failure to keep these details in mind will result in a half-hour trudge through pouring rain.

As you can imagine, I failed to remember these two important facts at Luke's barbeque tonight, and so I'm currently dripping onto my keyboard. Luckily, it was a lovely day today, so the rain was more cool and refreshing rather than "you will die of exposure before the third roundabout". And a Yay! for my Dad for making me a mug of hot chocolate when I finally stumbled in through the garage door.

Yes, it's barbeque season once more. This is the short period of time from June to August when you can sometimes safely cook outside for five hour periods without getting soaked. There are certain traditions about our barbeques. The first is that my friend Gavin always does the cooking. I'm not quite sure how it started, but none of us would even think about usurping his position (mainly because he's really good at it). Gavin has a tendency to cook everything in sight, so it's a wise idea to hide a few things to prevent him from cooking all the food in the first hour. The second tradition is that there is always, always too much food. At the end of the night, there's normally a plateful of sausages left uneaten (they're nasty things, so I understand why). The third tradition is that if the event is held at my house, then I am honour-bound to make my Mexican dish (Chorizo Enchiladas). Before I left for America last year, I gave the recipe to Gavin, only to be told "it's far too complicated. You have to make it." So in the next few weeks, it'll make a return, along with my experiments with Carolinian BBQ sauces. I'm calling Greenpeace and the EPA in advance, just in case something goes horribly wrong.

currently playing: Lisa Loeb - It's Over

Tonight's Music

For a moment there, I had thought they'd changed the format of Later... to eliminate the annoying Jools Holland bits. How wrong I was. Still, it was nice to see Radiohead playing live again. I'm also really warming to Zwan as well, which is weird considering I wasn't too much of a Smashing Pumpkins fan (liked a few singles, have an album or two kicking about somewhere upstairs). Mind you, I love Celebrity Skin, and if half of the rumours are to believed, that's little more than a Billy Corgan record sung by Courtney Love.

I think I've finally managed to settle on a script to concentrate on, so I'm working on that at the moment, inbetween cardboard sword fights with my sister. Important things first, you understand.

How sad am I? I see Peter Saville in the audience, and go "Ooh. It's Peter Saville!" When you've got to the point where you recognise record sleeve designers, do you have to admit that you have a problem?

currently playing: Radiohead - 2+2=5

Corrections and Revisions

Er, yes. It appears that the Wolfowitz piece from yesterday was a garbled translation from the German newspaper Die Weit, and the traditional game of Chinese Whispers transformed his comments quite far from his original intent. So I apologise. I am rather annoyed at The Guardian for not bothering to cross-check it with the DoD's transcript, and for pulling the link with no explanation.

But hey, who needs Wolfowitz, when you've got Ashcroft on the loose? And then from yesterday, there's this wonderful bit of legalese:

But Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff told the three-judge panel that the Sixth Amendment right did not extend to questioning foreign enemy combatants held by the military overseas. Even if Moussaoui did have the right, he said, the request should be denied on national security grounds.
Just so we're clear:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Now, where does it say that national security means that the amendment doesn't apply? Yes, I know that in times of war, governments are allowed to get away with certain actions in the name of the national interest. But then, that allows things like this to happen. The law courts should not repeat the mistakes they made then.

UPDATE: The Guardian now has a correction page up.

currently playing: Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us

The Onward March of Globalisation

We're part of the Wal-Mart family now!

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Department of Defense continues in its relentless attempt to bring down the British Government. Back in February and March, we were told not to listen to those dirty hippies who kept on saying that the West's interest in Iraq was mainly based on all that lovely oil its sitting on. No, it was about the weapons of mass destruction (and then it became freeing the Iraqi people, but that's another story) that the regime was hiding.

It seems that now, after having got their way, they're talking more openly about why we attacked Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz is the Deputy Secretary of Defense, known as one of the leading hawks in the Bush Administration. His comments from a conference in Singapore at the weekend, on why North Korea is being treated differently than Iraq:

Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.
That sound you hear is Tony Blair's quiet sobbing, as our trusted ally happily tears his arguments to shreds.

The US media may not pay too much attention to Wolfowitz's comments (I'm not there, so let me know if I'm wrong), but I guarantee that this'll be all over the British newspapers tomorrow. The Press is beginning to smell blood.

EDIT: This story is wrong. See the June 5th entry for an explanation.

currently playing: Tori Amos - Precious Things