Thursday, 31 May 2007


A bit of a let-down - the reader (hello you) may have noticed where I say something about my friend Polly having babysat for the Voisin family. After the rather good Roger Voisin tribute today, Roger was far too surrounded with famous people for me to say hello so I went and said hello to Peter instead and congratulated him on his talk, his coping with the frequent tech hitches (Powerpoint nightmare!) , etc. All absolutely fine till I tried to explain my Polly connection - total blank. Maybe even a bit of "I'm going to look past you over your shoulder till I find someone better/easier to talk to then I am out of here."

So I felt a bit of a d*ck (clue: not a duck, dock, nor deck) really. Either Polly has inadvertently exaggerated her relationship with the Voisin family (seems highly unlikely), or I have misremembered what she said (also seems unlikely - it was only last week and I am not quite that gaga yet) or Peter has had a stroke and can't remember things (don't know him well enough to guess), or he remembers perfectly well but thinks I am some unpleasant weirdo and does not wish to discuss my knowing his dad's former neighbours, babysitters, etc (hmm maybe that's the one?). Or perhaps he was just stressed out over the talk or could not understand my bizarre accent or something ... Whichever way, it was not a good moment and the only thing I was grateful about was that others were not there to witness my mortification. I slunk off.

Come to think of it, I have been making a tw*t out of myself a lot this conference. Almost any time I speak to someone they are not who I think they are, or they claim never to have met me though we talked yesterday, or I say something to them which reveals that I am completely confused. (Real-life example: Reinhardt not Reinhart: victim, Murray Greig. Murray now thinks I am nuts too.) It might be easier if I just said nothing, ever.

Kar's Sweet 'N Salt Mix

What kind of sicko would put Smarties in a bag of salted peanuts?

Never, never buy this product.

That is all I have to say on this topic.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Joomla'ed! (moo moo)

The Moo Moo is there for no particular reason but yes, we've been Joomla'ed. (Aside: I do hate making pretend-past-participles by waving apostrophes around till something bursts into flames and frightens the horses. All suggestions on how to say "we've been joomla'ed" without using one or losing the sense are more than welcome. Now back to the other channel.)

What I mean by this is that we are now using Joomla, a content management system, for the conference coverage website. I submitted my first two stories straight into the site whereas before I would have been emailing Word docs to Gary then he'd have been editing and emailing them on to Michael to put up. Photos are easier too (though I do not know the details) and Michael has installed a nice lightbox gizmo so you view photos floating on top of the (temporarily greyed-out) story, having clicked them from thumbnails.

It's definitely technically cool. It's definitely better from several points of view and will make some things easier/better. At the same time I am feeling slightly aggrieved: either the CMS or my possession/use of a laptop, or both, have rendered me even less liable to social interaction than before. I can now go out to an event, rush back here, write up, submit it and get ready for the next event (yeah, if only I had, but that is another story) without actually speaking to anyone. Today, Michael and Gary might as well have been in San Francisco for all I've seen of them.

I probably ought to get a bit less pathetic about all this. Tsk. Maybe something nicer will happen this evening! {little annoying smiley face}

Hungry! (in Maureen Lipman / Dr Who voice)

Oops. I have not signed up for any kind of meal plan etc and I have no idea how or where to get breakfast now that the board meeting has ended. Fortunately they fed us so much during the meeting (then you make a slower target for the guards if you run, you see) that I could probably survive the rest of the week anyway. On the other hand, I would really quite like a coffee and a bun. What's a chap to do? Tsk!

Strawberry Yoghurt - YoCrunch

Blue Wall Cafe at UMass Amherst during jazz gig. Very disappointing - a bit slimy and pink, no hint of fruit, slight graininess but not in a nice way. Despite its "live and active" claim this is a desperately artificial-seeming yoghurt with a sweet, cloying flavour. The "crunch" bit is irritating little crunchy chocolate bits, which are done much better by the corner-related yogs with interesting stuff in. These are not enough to redeem a dire yoghurt. Not suitable as an accompaniment to jazz: more of a yogzak, an elevator-music yoghurt. Yuk, 2/10.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Conference diary day 2 (a wee bit late)

(This was drafted and completed somewhat out of sequence. I started it days ago then it got left when I became too busy with writing and the board. Now I have a little more time, plus I am stuck here while something downloads, so I may as well finish it.) (Except I didn't, and am now at Logan airport, with the flight not boarding for an hour, so here I go again ...) (.. and then I finally finished it in London after several more days' delay ... sheesh!) (Too many parentheses ..)

Monday 28th was rather a nice day. We (Michael, Gary and I) met up for breakfast not too early, chatted to a few other people, and went off for an outing in Gary's car. We drove up into the Berkshire hills heading for the small town of North Adams. On the way, Michael knew an interesting loop we could do as he'd already been trout fishing there. (He's plugged into an international trout fishing network and can find people who know the local places pretty much anywhere.) So we turned off the main road and onto a minor winding one, which was more fun. Eventually we stopped at a very interesting spot (map) near Florida, MA, where there's a railway crossing a trestle bridge over the Deerfield river. To an English eye, brought up on (inter alia) cowboy films, a railway trestle is just about as American as you can get. You just need a steam train with a cow catcher, perhaps pursued by a group of angry Native Americans, and the picture would be complete.

Anyway, this particular trestle was very nice and a great opportunity to walk over. It had been a two-track line and one is now gone, so the space where the other used to be is now safe(ish) to walk over. It's had timbers laid across it and little tarmac ramps at the ends, which offers the (terrifying) prospect that you could drive a vehicle across it. There are gaps down between all this wood but, while it's alarming, you couldn't actually fall through. I think.

Anyway. So we walked across this nice trestle, took some photos, and generally admired the river and the view and so on. Then came The Tunnel. Oh yes. There's a famous railway tunnel (the Hoosac Tunnel) right there, just a few hundred yards from the trestle, apparently of some huge length - five miles or something - through the mountains. Some nice people, who had a sort of little fishing camp (and a very nice Labrador) right by the trestle, told me there are only about eight trains a day so it is not too dangerous to go and look at. The fascinating thing was that as I looked up towards the tunnel mouth I could see a mist hovering, perhaps discoloured a little brown (or maybe that was just reflection) as if something had just gone past and stirred up dust, or something.

As you walk towards the tunnel mouth things become clearer, metaphorically anyway. There's a sort of microclimate at the tunnel mouth, presumably because of the interaction between the tunnel air and the much warmer air outside. You hit it like a wall - the temperature suddenly drops sharply and although you can still see it's a warm sunny day elsewhere, you are no longer in it. This starts maybe fifty yards before the tunnel mouth. It's weird and exciting and I don't recall having experienced anything quite like it before. If you don't mind a quick shower you can dash through a chilling downpour into the tunnel itself. It's pretty cold in there! Apparently people walk right through sometimes. You'd want to be sure of foot and also to be pretty confident in your torch, your backup torch, its backup and a big box of candles and matches. Maybe a specially trained Night Attack Panda. Whatever - you get the message, it would not be a trivial stroll.

I tried taking a couple of pictures inside the tunnel but since the air is mostly water all you get is bounced flash. Or at least it is on my camera. However I was a little more pleased with the picture of Gary and Michael just outside the tunnel, seen from inside it, and it is this which accompanies this paragraph. The two guys in the further distance are Two Guys who were very civil but are not as far as I know ITG members and they do not feature any more in this tale, unless I give one or both of them a bit part later, which I will probably not do.

Michael wanted me to climb up on the top of the tunnel portal and be photographed lording it over the scene. Someone was already doing this and looked pretty cool. Yeah, man! I went charging up it like a mere stripling of, say, 48, got three-quarters of the way up it and realised that as it steepened and got glossier and wetter my trainers were turning into skates (hmm sounds fishy) and I had a brief vision of what fun it would be spending time in hospital here, and thought better of it. No, man! So Mike didn't get his piccy and I am very sorry, but both my knees still work right now, which is a good thing. The guy came down eventually from on top and I was delighted to hear him mentioning how dangerous it was ... made me feel slightly less of a wimp. What we did do is explore up the side a bit where a busy mountain stream has been diverted in a sort of mill-race thing (but without the mill, natch) and that's quite pretty too.

Leaving this rather nice spot behind we pressed on further up into the hills, stopping to admire a superb view from a look-out point, then reaching the small and pleasant town of North Adams at a time conveniently known as Lunch. We had a bit of GPS-competitive hilarity trying to find the said lunch: Michael had brought Sophia and I had mine, which I am told is now called Betsy. Since most things were shut (it was Memorial Day, a public holiday) this was a bit of a challenge but eventually we found - not quite where either GPS had it! - the rather splendid Freight Yard Restaurant & Pub which is on some kind of heritage park site. We ate outside sitting in those amazing semi-rocking chairs with big springs underneath - if you lean back it feels like you'll fall right over but you never do. This was all very pleasant. These are actually two of my favourite people on the planet and it was nice to spend some unstressed, non-working time with them.

After lunch we drove a little further away from Amherst, and had quite an exciting near-offroad experience with help from Sophia. It never got really hairy but it was unsurfaced and a bit bumpier than you'd normally take a hire car onto! The drive back down was very pleasant and we were back in Amherst in good time for the start of the board meeting.

After that the account gets somewhat less exciting and anyway I've done odd jottings on the rest of the conference already (and see new photos in this story too), but I just thought it might be nice to get this rather fun day down on paper.

Conference diary

Well it's not really a conference diary, just a comment or two. The real conference diary is in theory being wroted in my lovely little PDA of the Small Computer of Smallness variety. If I ever get round to it. So this is just a thought or two, or rather a twittering observation or five.

It's Monday today and the conference proper begins tomorrow (Tuesday, do try to keep up) evening. So why did I travel on Sunday? Because the board meeting began tonight and runs right through tomorrow up to the conference's start. So add in a tiny bit of recovery and jetlag time and there's yer answer.

Yesterday I was met in the early afternoon at Boston airport by Gary and whisked away to Boston. We did some city-centre-tourist-wanderings. Notable was how nice the harbour is, and the area nearby, and the Old State House, which latter was simply superb. From last year's visit to Philadelphia, through Gary sending me the excellent book 1776 by David McCullough, to this year's Boston outing, I've found US history absolutely fascinating. I think in the past I have been guilty of assuming that history, if it did not have knights in armour in it, was not interesting: these experiences in the US have helped to confirm the wrongness of that view. I had reread 1776 just before coming here so it was completely brilliant to see Boston, the harbour, Faneuil Hall and so on.

Even more brilliant was the dinner to which Gary then treated me at Legal Sea Foods. My word. It is no secret that I am a bit squeamish about sea food. I mean, I have always been a bit weird about fish but much more so about oozy gritty things in shells. On the other hand, there's often various Imps Of The Other Shoulder pointing out that it's a shame to miss out on interesting stuff, that When In Rome blah blah blah blooby blah, that I usually like it when I do try something, etc etc. So I joined Gary in a big pot of "steamers" (steamed clams) which are served with two things to dip them in, a buttery thing and a soupy thing. These were very very delicious indeed. Then I had this:

Legal’s Signature Crab Cakes

Maryland lump crab, mustard sauce, greens tossed with fall (?) fruits and nuts; choose:
• Combo: one crab cake, grilled shrimp and scallops
• Dinner: two crab cakes

This was megatronically fantastic. I had the combo not the dinner version so you get the variety. Difficult choice for the greedy as the crab cakes are so fabcakes that you could eat, say, seven of them: on the other hand the other stuff, the shrimps and especially the scallops, were wonderful too. This was one hell of a dinner. Yum yum yum. I was then going to be all good and have a lemon sorbet with my coffee but Gary - masquerading as an Imp of the Sprengel's Shoulder - talked me into Boston Cream Pie, which was also rather good, and at least we shared one between two. Pedants will have noticed that "fall fruits" probably was not in the menu we saw on May 27th but it was in the online one and I didn't take the blog to dinner, nor nick the menu, so I don't know exactly what it said there though the basic message is correct. You'll get over it. (Unless you are a real pedant in which case you will probably have to go there, check it, and email me about it. You know who you are.) (Oh yes, it's me. Damn.)

After that seriously good eating experience we walked (well I lurched, more, really) back to the car and orf we went to Amherst. I was very pleased that my GPS got us around Boston and out to Amherst so well. I brought the device itself and Gary brought two MicroSD data cards which I had bought and had delivered to him. If I can be bothered I might explain why two cards but I wouldn't hold your breath. And then if I did it would be pretty boring so hey.

We checked in and did all that stuff and then once I was settled in I went along to see Michael as he and Gary are sharing a room. It was excellent to see him again, too. I had a beer with them, but was fading fast and got back to my room in a seriously zonked state, falling asleep and waking again at odd and inconvenient moments. When I woke up at 1.30am fully dressed and feeling it was time to go to work (which it was, in London) I was pretty bl**dy confused but by a heroic effort I went back to sleep and that was Sunday down the tubes.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Oh just read the bl**dy instructions would you?

The standard state for any packet of anything in my household is "Ripped Open". This causes me deep anguish.

This is what happens. The manufacturer dreams up some nice system, with a little perforated bit, a resealable flap, a bit of double sided tape. Maybe something clever that folds over? An origami joy, no less. Then they write a little essay about it. "For enhanced freshness just deperforate the Flip-n-Scoop Module™ then fold over the Fold-y-Top and secure with the Gummy-Yummy semi-glued Flap (slogan - It's Semi-Glued, Mommy!)" Millions of person-hours have gone into this master- or mistress-piece of industrial design.

Then along comes a member of my family, knuckles dragging lightly on the kitchen floor. They go:

(gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!)

After that, the Beloved Object is certainly open, but it ain't closing again, not the way the manufacturer intended, no way no how. Gosh. Someone appears to have bitten the top right off (My G*d, are those raptor tracks Professor??)

Ho hum. It's very difficult having OCD in a house which mistreats Temporary Storage Technology so badly. Sigh.

Friday, 18 May 2007


On Friday morning, for the second day in a row, I forgot my trumpet, leaving it behind under a bench in the changing room at the gym. It was less bad than Thursday where, truly horrendously, I got almost to work before realizing - at least on the second occasion I only got as far as the cafe in the gym. On the other hand, to do it twice - and only moments before I had been reminding myself to remember it. I'd even pushed my work bag right up against it so that I could not forget the one if I had the other. Yeah right. Sure, all sorts of deep and not-so-deep psychological interpretations of this are possible. Or, I just forgot it. Either way, I am a bit spooked.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Good morning!

I do think it would be particularly nice if people more often remembered to say something like "good morning" or "how are you?" before launching into whatever their actual requirement is. This covers work, shops, cafes, whatever ... are we really all so busy that we can't afford the 2.8s of courtesy, even if it's pretend? I know it's a kind of window dressing but I think it is all part of what makes the world go round. Smile and say hello, it won't kill you.

Monday, 14 May 2007

All in one strand

The "no-context" thing (see below, or above, or in a parallel universe, or wherever it is) is a real problem. My natural tendency is to want to explain everything. Not some of it - the Lot. If I don't counter that, I will never be able to write a word because everything requires ten pages of introduction, fifty-three of end-notes, and an appendix in its own extension with a separate entrance, air conditioning, and a mini-fridge and kettle in case it gets a bit peckish in the afternoons. I think I will just have to try to get used to writing things like "So, Colin finally turned up with the Milan tickets! Good old Col!!" and that's yer lot.

PS (and its colleagues PPS et al):
He didn't really
There aren't any tickets
I am not going to Milan
I don't know who Colin is
It was an example

Work, work, workitty work.

Today had some good moments, and others of the Less Good variety. There's nothing much to beat a computer which just WON'T show your lecturer's funky ultrasound videos, and you've got 40 people waiting for you to do something, preferably mend it. Unfortunately your specs (glasses, if you must) are off freelancing round your office somewhere and your usually oh-so-nimble fingers (cables for the fettling of) have been replaced by great big bananas. I could have fixed this situation just as well as I did by actually NUTTING the PC (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!) and it would only have looked slightly less professional.

A good good-moment-source was the fact that some of the people here for our big course (yeah, I know, no context, sue me) are inordinately nice. One of the mighty triumvirate who runs it is accompanied by his wife and they always do lovely cultural things in London like we who live here ought to but usually do not. Also they know Roger Voisin, a seriously famous trumpet player who was principal in Boston for yonks. This is good, interesting, an ting.

I am listening to a Herbert Grönemeyer track, an insane version of Land Unter. I think it's supposed to be all Rapophonic(TM) and other groovy stuff for drug-crazed young persons to dance to. In fact, as I am quite enjoying it, albeit in a slightly sick way, I can only assume they wouldn't like it. It's all in the marketing, Dr Jekyll.

Blogalog, Bill! Blogalog, Ben! (weeeed)

On Saturday I had a most interesting conversation with one of my many daughters about blogging. Why do it, why not do it, security of identity, work, etc etc. All fascinating. I still do not what my strategy is nor whether I actually have one, but it is nice to talk it through with people of the daughtorial type, all of whom know more about this field than I. (Not that that is per se difficult you understand.)

Friday, 11 May 2007

It's a sunny day in London

It's a sunny day in London, a daughter has a place to finish her degree, and an old friend is visiting the office for the purposes of Luncheon. These are Good Things. Yes indeedy.