Thursday, October 31, 2002

Since parking the new car up there I've become preoccupied with finding out why Beacon Hill in Holloway is so called. It's not really much of a hill, although undoubtedly it is on a slope. I thought that rather being the haunt of prehistoric surveyors (dodmen) or beacon fire lighters (colemen), it might have something to do with the optical telegraph or semaphore telegraph, but it doesn't seem so.

Eventually my wanderings brought me to a fantastic site which shows Charles Booth's "Poverty Map" of London, with every street and house colour-coded according to the economic circumstances of the people who lived there at the end of the 19th century. It's fully searchable too - hours of fascinating browsing. Didn't help much with the history of Beacon Hill though, except I found out that in 1898 it was called Beaconhill Road. If anyone can enlighten me further, please do!

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

08:45 - new car ticketed...09:00 - new car clamped...09:10 - £75 clamping fee paid...10:45 - new car unclamped...11:05 - new car removed to lawless Beacon Hill in Holloway, the last remaining enclave of North London where one can park at will. Now to decide on most expedient course of action: a) attempt to obtain parking permit for new car, or b) move to N7. Remembering the last round of shenanigans we had with Camden Council's Parking "Solutions" department, b) would probably be quicker and easier. Still, it's always nice to know that my money's going into valuable council services. And the walk back from N7 to NW5 is always pleasant, even when it's raining.

Alfred Watkins would have had one or two things to say about the name "Beacon Hill". I bet the colemen and dodmen never had any trouble with traffic wardens.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Can you believe the British public? Sixty minutes of Rosie Boycott reminding us about poor Diana throwing up food and visiting hospitals, and they're grasping for the remote control through the piles of soggy Kleenex Balsam, tears coursing down their cheeks and Candle in the Wind on endless repeat as they click the "vote" button over and over again. Get a grip, you fools! Only last week you thought the Greatest Ever Briton was Isambard Kingdom Brunel! Let's get this straight: Diana was a dim Sloane with a nice smile. She was emphatically not the greatest Briton that ever lived. Now, John Peel, on the other hand...

Sunday, October 27, 2002

I'd forgotten to say up to now that my work have seen fit to dispatch me to San Francisco to attend a meeting and "network" with our good friends at Headquarters. I'll be there from the 14th to the 22nd November. I've never been to SF before, so am open to anyone's recommendations about things that I should do or see there. Not so keen on the general touristy stuff, but any kind of alternative-technology-culture-conventiony-type malarkey would suit me just fine. Also, as a non-smoking, non-drinking vegetarian I guess there's no better destination for me, so I'm looking forward to finding out how and where one socialises without the involvement of alcohol, which in the UK is pretty much impossible.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

H. and I cycled to Dalston for a Shithole* editorial meeting. It was a fantastic autumn day, everyone in our street was out in their front garden talking to each other, the trees were turning red and gold, the street cats were milling about, cycling along the canal there were lots of lovely North London-type couples in woollen winter coats and colourful scarves out for a walk, ducks were paddling along, there were kids out playing in the autumn leaves in London Fields. Sometimes even the heart of London can seem like the countryside.

Editorially we didn't progress very far (apart from completing a new column called Bras of the Stars!, which will be appearing on these pages just as soon as we've done the photography), as Blind Date intervened, as did Simon Schama (who I fancy, but Sara told me not to) and his History of Britain (read: History of England, plus a couple of things that happened in Wales, Scotland and Ireland that had some bearing on English history). I'm sure I was driving behind Simon Schama the other day. Simon, if you're reading this (and I like to think you are), please confirm if that was you driving around Mayfair in a red sports car. And next time, remember the Picts!

Friday, October 25, 2002

Still on the subject of environmentally-friendly "feminine hygiene products", Smat (who really needs to get her own blog) has now alerted me to the existence of something called The Keeper. So if any Friday night pub bores ask you to "name something a woman invented", you know what to say.

On an entirely different note, H. just returned home jabbering about gangs of beautiful women roaming the streets of Kentish Town. It's probably a ploy by FPD Savills to try and flog the dodgy flats they've built round the back of the old false teeth factory. "Occupying a prominent position", indeed. Only if you're into watching people smoking crack or shagging behind giant dustbins. Or if you enjoy getting mugged on a regular basis. Still, on the plus side, it's very close to Pizza Express.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Turns out Smat is a virtual Mum after all. She gave me a list of websites where one can purchase and resell new and "pre-loved" cloth nappies. You'd be amazed. If any of you have small infants in tow, then ditch the evilly corporate and environmentally-hazardous Pampers and give one of these a try:

The Nappy Lady

Twinkle On The Web

Plush Pants

The Soft Option

Oh and ladies, apparently there's a growing trend towards washable, knitted "feminine hygiene products" too. I think that may be a cultural evolution too far....

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Am being assailed with blinding headaches, due no doubt to having spent 18 hours solid on Friday sat on uncomfortable dining chair staring at laptop and monitor screens. Snow Crash nothing, this is the real downside of attempting to live a virtual life. Only available course of action: three Nurofen and I'm off to the Surrey countryside to see my friend Smat, whose life (including as it does a husband, three lovely daughters, Brownie pack management and a garden) is anything but virtual.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Tom Coates gave me a handy opportunity to find out if I still understand Italian. So here's the article from Il Sole 24 Ore in English - it's pretty cool too. A pox on the media industry! And apologies to any passing Italians for the liberties I've taken with the original text:

A Blog Infection

A look at the the viral spread of personal publishing sites
By Giuseppe Caravita

“Blogorrheic” is the term, now well known, coined by the man who is generally held to be the Italian blog pioneer : Antonio Cavedoni, a web designer from Modena, is the author of one of the first of these personal sites to appear, in the summer of 2000. Blogorrheic is not a pejorative term ; it means love for the things that one has to say. The joy of writing and of updating one’s site every day.

It’s from this that you get what is perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of this phenomenon – its viral nature. It’s different from the classic online communities, which accumulate around specific subjects on a centralised site managed by a moderator. Blogs behave like neurons exchanging signals along a chain. Or like cellular organisms, capable of self-replication. «Let’s take the example of someone who starts a blog, talking about their own life and interests,» explains Weblog expert Tom Coates. “Gradually they start to link to other people who share their interests, and if they produce content that is particularly interesting, they will be linked to in turn. In this way, via constant interlinking, communities of interest form, which continually enrich each other. The blogger naturally tends to attract his friends and relations to his site, generating further “proliferations”. And you often get geographical groups forming, in which you don’t just get online friendships but also personal, real-life relationships.”

Virtuous Circle: It’s a sort of virtuous circle with three separate development trajectories – the community of interest, the real-world family and friends, and local groups of bloggers. The whole system is further consolidated by the activities of aggregator sites (like Bloggando or and above all, by search engines. In particular Google, which compiles its rankings on the basis of the number of times a site is linked to. This tends to increase the visibility of the most popular blogs and further extends their readership. The bloggers, of course, produce all kinds of stuff – journals, music, digital art, books, advice, opinions, hobbies, associations and a huge amount of spontaneous journalism.

Some examples: For example, a site like Kuro5hin, created by a young American physicist, Rusty Foster, organises spontaneous discussion groups around interesting subjects (mostly current affairs) and boasts around 100,000 regular readers, with 6.5 million page impressions per month. Another of the best known blogs, Dave Winer’s Scripting News (Dave is the administrator of Userland Software, a company that produces one of the best blog authoring tools) has a “circulation” of around 10,000 readers, and is considered one of the best technical sources in the US, particularly as regards Open Source software. In total, according to the Online Journalism Review, the half a million active blogs have a combined audience of 150 million American readers and almost half a billion worldwide. These are big numbers. To the extent that venerable titles like the New York Times have started to create partnerships (with Userland, for example) to deliver news channels aimed specifically at bloggers. And online publications like Salon are experimenting with inviting external communities to contribute to sites run by its own reporters, communities who often add to Salon’s articles or rip them to pieces.

The journalistic front: Fear of a progressive undermining of the big publishing houses (primarily online publishers like AOL Time Warner) by the new and unstoppable network of blogs, have recentlly multiplied in the USA. A key case was the 11th September. While the TV networks, during the attack, only showed the images of the towers in flames, the New York blogs reported live (albeit in an often imprecise manner) what was really happening in Manhattan. And this was without the news feeds that are received centrally by the mass media. A lesson which today is driving much of the American media to develop new websites where thet can conduct a dialogue with readers. Amd to provide tailored information services for the blogging community. Given that, as Myrray Fromsen, professor of journalism at the University of South California, observes: «every online community, of whatever size, still needs a traditional news feed to get its information». Except that in the Userland environment there are tens of channels which users can “subscribe” to get the primary material from which they can produce their comments and discussions. The result: it’s certain that blogs, starting from the US, will change the structure of the information industry. But the signs of a possible innovative synergy seem to be already visible.

Guess what - today I received a lovely letter from the Rt Hon Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, in response to my fax about how we should not attack Iraq. Here's the text in full - I am not sure whether Franko is giving me the party line or his own opinion (if there's a difference), so maybe any political pundits out there can read between the lines and tell me what's really going on in his mind:

Thank you for your recent letter about the possibility of war against Iraq. I share your concerns. I do not support unilateral military action by the United States and Britain. Measures to secure Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions can only be taken with the explicit authority of the Security Council.

Before launching any military action, even with the authority of the UN, it would be necessary to consider the long-term impact on Iraq, the Middle East and the world in general. Questions which would need to be answered, and answered satisfactorily, include:

- could the disarming of Iraq be secured by other means?
- could military action achieve this aim without a large loss of life by the invading forces and enormous Iraqi civilian casualties?
- what would happen to Iraq afterwards?
- what form of government would be acceptable both to the divided inhabitants of Iraq and the United Nations?
- what would be the impact on the Middle East?
- what would happen to oil supplies during and after such a conflict?
- what impact would a conflict have on the fragile world economy?

That said, it is undeniable that the current Iraqi regime is vile, has invaded two of its neighbours, and used chemical weapons against both its people and Iran. The people of Iraq and neighbouring countries would be better off if Saddam Hussein and his Government were ousted.

Many aspects of the problems posed by Iraq and the general instability and lack of democracy in the Middle East are inextricably linked with the conduct of Israel towards its neighbours and in particular the treatment of the Palestinians. Some people argue that action to disarm Iraq will not be acceptable to other Arabs until action is taken to re-establish the Israeli/Palestininan peace process and bring it to a successful conclusion. Conversely it could be argued that the issue of Iraq distracts attention from the Israel/Palestine problem, and provides an excuse for the United States not to get on with putting its weight behind the peace process. One thing is sure, there will be no lasting peace and stability in the Middle East until both Israel and Palestine are sovereign states with secure, internationally accepted boundaries inside which their people can live in peace with one another and their neighbours.

Thank you for writing,

Yours sincerely,

Frank Dobson [signature]

He's succeeded in making me think that maybe we won't attack Iraq after all, but correct me if I'm wrong - I'm a naive Libran and am usually prepared to believe anything I'm told if it sounds sincere enough. Anyway, I'm remarkably impressed that he wrote back - he's certainly gone up in my estimation.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

I just wrote today's witty and polished blog entry three times and every time I pressed "post" it disappeared. I want to cry. What's happened to Blogger while I've been away?

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Ooooh, this new blue colour (shamelessly stolen from Yeah - On Bizzarro World) is so much better. Anyway, today I happened to step outside to take my dry cleaning to the dry cleaners, and Kentish Town looked like a completely different planet. It struck me that I've been inside for months, working, studying, travelling and sleeping. "Outside" has actually become an alien world. Is this the future? I can't remember the last time I saw any of my friends - my best friend e-mailed me today to say she hadn't seen me since before she was pregnant with her new baby, who's now...well, she's on solids anyway, if that means anything to you. But it seems to me like I saw her just the other day. So that's like, a year, passed by without me noticing.

And what's more that old feeling is creeping up on me again, that feeling that I'm actually in a coma in hospital, or in an asylum, or dead, and I'm just imagining my life. Hmph. I should never have read Marianne Dreams as a child, or The Bridge as an adult, or seen Naked Lunch or The Others. I'm also reliably informed that this is also a plotline in Buffy, although I've never seen it.

Oh, and thanks to Andrew for fixing the broken bit of HTML. Next thing is, how do I put pictures on here? Maybe I just lie back in my hospital bed, stare at the ceiling, and imagine them into being?

Friday, October 04, 2002

If someone could tell me why there's a random piece of HTML appearing in that box over there, I'd be most grateful.
Status update 1: Even though I accidentally left the Snopake ReOrganiser at home, the project was an overwhelming success. This is despite the fact that on my way to the airport I caught sight of a solitary magpie by the side of the motorway. Which got me really hung up on the magpie thing again. Like....when does the magpie's effect wear off? If you see one, does it portend sorrow for the next 24 hours, the next week, the next month, or until you see two mapgpies? Someone please help - amateur magpie augury is taking over my life. I feel like that guy in my fourth-form latin book - haruspex. Apparently the haruspex used to run around at posh dinner parties with a long sticky (and no doubt brown) stick, catching birds on it and reading their entrails to tell the future. Or am I confusing two different things?

Status update 2: I now have exactly 72 hours in which to revise the whole of my MA course for the exam on Monday.

Status update 3: I have not washed my hair for days, have got no make-up on, have had about 6 hours sleep all week, and am wearing scruffy old clothes. Despite this, H. this evening spontaneously told me I looked sexy. He never says that when I am dressed up and stuff. I guess that's what you get for going out with a Unix developer.

Status update 4: It's my birthday on Monday. I will be 32. Please leave me messages of condolence and encouragement.

Question of the day: Where has UK Play gone?