/walking west iv
Latest About Archive Before Others

Tuesday, 11 September 2001

So now I've got this shiny new layout and I'm hardly posting about anything except the shiny new layout. Sorry about that. I'm building up a great store of things I want to talk about here, but I'm just too busy. Picking up the keys to the new flat in half an hour, and we move in over the next couple of days. And—with perfect timing—there's a conference here over the next three days, starting in an hour. See you Friday.

Monday, 10 September 2001

One of my favourite travel moments was riding the trams in Berlin and realising where the sample at the start of U2's 'Zoo Station' came from. Now there's a whole site built on the same sampling ethic [via MeFi].

Friday, 7 September 2001

Now this is exactly what I needed on a Friday afternoon: Berkeley Breathed at the Onion AV Club [via The Nubbin].

I think I've got the design issues all sorted now. Everything lines up in IE5, NS6 and Opera 5 for Mac, and it's adequate in NS4.77; I've changed the background graphics on the left to GIFs to improve them on a PC; I've darkened the outer background so that it looks more like cobble-stones to avoid further confusion (mea culpa); and a quick glance at IE5 for PC shows it's looking okay there. Phew.

Newspaper quote of the week (Metro, local freebie, 6 September):

Meanwhile, a leading Nasa scientist is due to arrive in Scotland today to discuss plans for growing potatoes in space.


With the countdown to moving-in well and truly happening, our lives have turned into one long round of furniture stores. Habitat was at least a manageable size. Ikea was an aircraft hanger, filled with birch-veneer boxes with names like 'Ektorp' and 'Toksvig' and 'Groggi'; just when we thought we'd made it to the end of the store, we emerged into the warehouse section with its rows and rows of prepackaged Ektorps—and ran screaming into the night. I am Rory's sense of discontent.

Wednesday, 5 September 2001

It's quiet. Not just because the Fringe has ended—although that made a noticeable difference to the feeling on the streets around here last week—but because we have no TV in our temporary flat, no radio, no stereo, no home computer, no nothin'.* For the first time in years** I've been ploughing through novels at a rate of knots (or one every few days; not much of a rate of knots, come to think of it). I keep meaning to review some of them here, but the more books I've read the further behind I've got. So before things get way out of hand, here they are:

Neal Stephenson, The Big U. His long out-of-print first novel, now reissued; good crazy stuff set in a giant university dorm, surprisingly similar to later Stephenson in its relentless build to an over-the-top climax. Stephenson doesn't rate it highly nowadays, but methinks he doth protest too much; it's fine.

Robert Charles Wilson, Darwinia. Science fiction in the alternative history vein, or so it seems for the first third of the book, as explorers venture into the heart of a strange new continent that has mysteriously replaced Europe overnight in 1912. In these early pages Darwinia has shades of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. As the explanation for Europe's mysterious transformation becomes clearer, though, it turns into cosmos-spanning SF of an entirely different kind. The transition isn't handled perfectly, but the book is full of good ideas, and on the whole it works.

Matthew Kneale, English Passengers. Shortlisted for the 2000 Booker Prize and winner of the Whitbread. I bought this because: (a) I read his first novel years ago, and remembered enjoying it; (b) it's largely set in 19th century Tasmania; (c) it's also set in the Isle of Man, where my grandmother was born; (d) one of the characters is a nutty creationist pastor, and another is a rum smuggler. It turned out to be a great read, probably my favourite novel of the year. I quickly searched out his previous one, Sweet Thames, set in the cholera-stricken London of 1849, which is similarly—but not quite as—good. There are some interviews with Kneale at Bold Type, The Guardian, and WhatAmIGoingToRead.

Nick Hornby, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. I figured it was about time I caught up with everybody else by reading these. The former is uncannily similar to the film, considering it's set in a whole different country, and is just as satisfying in its depiction of male obsession; the latter is readable and insightful even for a reader who isn't English or a football fan, since it's as much about, er, male obsession as it is about Arsenal. I'll have to read his later novels now to see how he writes about themes other than male obsession. [Obligatory Hornby link.]

Michael Frayn, Headlong. Another Booker nominee, from 1999 this time. Frayn often writes comedy, but this hardly is; instead, it follows an English academic's attempt to con a neighbour out of what he believes is a long-lost painting by Bruegel. Sort of an academic thriller; Frayn artfully entwines the history of the painting and the tale of its pursuit, and by the end you've learnt all about Bruegel and the 16th century Netherlands, a grim and fascinating place.

David Baddiel, Whatever Love Means. Out of all of the recent UK-comics-turned-novelists, Baddiel is shaping up as one of the best. His second novel isn't comedy in any shape or form, though; it's a serious dissection of infidelity, set against the backdrop of the 1997 hysteria following Princess Diana's death. The final resolution is a tad predictable, but still handled well enough; more satisfying are the various asides on life, death and, well, whatever love means.

Ben Hatch, The Lawnmower Celebrity. Just finished this, and it's the funniest book I've read in ages. Imagine a cross between Adrian Mole and Holden Caulfield, with a BBC manager for a father and a penchant for losing jobs and crank-calling celebrities. It seems that it's more than a touch autobiographical. The story takes a turn for the serious as it goes on, but is none the worse for that; I'd recommend it unreservedly.

It's times like this I remember why I love fiction. Then, inevitably, the reverie breaks, usually with the return of a television set. We're going to hold out for as long as we can this time around, though. Want to make sure we didn't ship over all those books and CDs for nothing.

*Not for much longer, though. The deposit has been paid, the mortgage has been offered. All we have to do is sign some papers and pick up the keys, and the flat is ours. We take possession next Tuesday, and our stuff from Oz gets delivered the next day. Can't wait.

**Four. We didn't have a TV during our four months in New Zealand, either.

Welcome Stranger, Clive James's new webcasting venture; and more Clive. (Who?)

Tuesday, 4 September 2001

I've now had two readers mistake the background image for a keyboard, which while it's somewhat appropriate isn't actually what I intended. It's a picture of cobble-stones in Parliament Square on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with the saltire—Scotland's flag of St Andrew's Cross—fading in on the top left. Unfortunately, not only has this design fallen victim to the usual CSS discrepancies (some of them now corrected), I'm now up against cross-platform differences in JPEG rendering, which is beyond my humble coding powers to correct. All my careful fades and subtle colours get blasted into chunky stripes of grey on a PC. Maybe GIFs would work better. Maybe raw bitmaps or layered Photoshop documents pumped down a honking great T1 line would work better. Maybe I should give up and go back to flat backgrounds in one of 212 exciting web-safe colours.

Anyway, it's readable.

Spent the weekend with Maria Trip, Hendrickje Stoffels, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Always good to see old friends.

Caught between saying nothing about the Tampa affair or having to say everything, which I don't have time to do, I'll simply point to these two articles in The Age. Greg also has some good comments on it all.