Yearly Archives: 2007

Sshh. Don’t Mention It.

They used to joke that you shouldn’t mention The War (at least not in the same breath as the English World Cup victory of 1966). Maybe they still joke about it, I am not sure.

Then again, perhaps it wasn’t a joke. Maybe people were serious about that and, in polite company, you shouldn’t mention The War. I thought it was a joke because Basil Fawlty first taught me that mentioning The War was not good: although spilling soup is not good and he didn’t seem overly concerned about pouring hot tomato down the front of your trousers. So, I may be wise not to cite Basil Fawlty as a mentor (and wiser to steer clear of such conversation topics).

Still, it’s fair to say that The War has been replaced in recent months with Heathrow Airport. It may seem odd that a stretch of land to the west of London can be compared to one of the most terrible events of the 20th Century and I am obviously not comparing the great evil which attempted to take Western Europe to a mass of concrete and jet noises in any way as being being on a similar scale but take it from me you don’t want to be talking about either.

You see, right now, people will work themselves into a purple-faced rant about how terrible Heathrow is in a way that makes me wary of mentioning it. You should not make the mistake of saying the words ‘flying to Oslo’ and ‘terminal three’ in front of anybody who has been out to, what was, the Great Western Aerodrome for you will be subjected to an outpouring of such rage that you will wish you’d said something all together different (I wanted to use a comparison there to something truly awful but decided against it lest people think I was serious about the previous paragraph).

Heathrow has become the chattering class’ villain du jour (and you know it’s serious when you invoke a du jour). Nobody likes it. Ken Livingstone doesn’t like it. Kitty Ussher (City minister, did you know we had one?) isn’t keen and former Chancellor Lord Lamont labelled the airport a “national disgrace”. Really, Heathrow is not winning a popularity contest right now.

The problem? Well, that depends on who you ask. To some the airport looks shabby and not a giant gleaming temple to London’s greatness that some think it should be. To others it the baggage (or lack of) that seems to cause consternation. While others think the queues are to blame. All of which is nonsense. Regular readers (well, the regular reader) will know I travel regularly on business and I often go from Heathrow. And I have been laughing in the face of these naysayers for months. My mantra was ‘read the rules and ye will have a speedy voyage’.

On recent trips I have been astounded by people who were passing through. The large signage reads ‘only one cabin bag allowed’ yet there is a lady with three and she’s getting frustrated that she’s having to go the back and check the others in. Then it says ‘No bottle over 100ml’ and yet, lo, here’s some chap with a bottle of aftershave containing enough liquid to give us wave power for twenty years. Put your metal objects in your hand bag before you go through screening? Well, it must be written in invisible ink given the number of times the alarms go off. We’d actually given these people passports.

I am a Heathrow fan and these people, as my mother would say, were just showing themselves up. Give yourself time, pack properly and all will be well. At least, that’s what I had argued until Monday when I headed for Oslo from LHR T3 where I was greeted by an enormous security queue and a, probably very pleasant, young man. You know the sort, his power simply oozed from his fluorescent yellow jacket.

I present to you, gentle reader, the man whose job it was to ensure the right people got through the queue at the right time. So, only people whose plane was leaving within the next two hours could join the line of passengers waiting to be scanned. The rest of us had to wait patiently until our time was called. A sound and reliable plan (and the lack of seating for the waiting crowds was not his fault).

“Not time yet sir. Only planes leaving before half past,” he would say.

“Please come back two hours before your flight. We’re only letting people through then” he added in a reassuring ‘you won’t miss your flight’ way.

All in all, a very sound and sensible approach to the growing crowds and the lack of resources to screen everybody quickly. No earlier than two hours. Please don’t cheat the queue. Get yourselves a Pret while you wait. Except for one little problem. The man charged with filtering stressed passengers and tasked with keeping the calm and encouraging the nervous flyers to wait until they still had two hours to get to the plane didn’t have a watch. Not only that he didn’t have a clock. He had no clue about the time. You can imagine the rest.

On this day…

2004: Book Eating

Green Before Her Time

I’ve been a little frivolous recently. Listen To Musak’s been a bit frothy of late. Pot snacks, presentation tips, Bifidus Digestivum and the like. Yet here at Listen Towers we really have a serious side. It’s not all reboot your train and Sir Terry here. I do care about important things and some events that are worth mentioning don’t want to be made light of. When something is worth noting it can appear a little disingenuous amongst the nonsense that is written here but you mustn’t take it that way.

I missed the news that was announced while I was travelling yesterday: Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop and campaigner for a more ethical way to trade, had died, suddenly, of a brain haemorrhage. I was listening to Dame Anita on the radio a couple of weeks ago talking about ways in which people can start their own business and describing – with great passion – how she had started The Body Shop. I recall thinking how, more than 30 years after she started, her enthusiasm still shone through.

I have always found it a little strange how, at a moment like this, you can feel so moved about somebody you had never met. Although my only connection was as a purchaser of little bottles of blue liquid to wash with I do feel sad that somebody so passionate should have passed on. My thoughts are with her family.

On this day…

2006: Red Bull part company with Klien
2005: A New Beginning
2004: Fish For Me
2002: Still The Same Bart
2002: A JavaScript Moment
2002: One Year On

A Mastery Of Technology

I am writing this episode of Listen on one side of the screen while watching an episode of Queer As Folk (US version) on the other side of the screen. I’m playing it from my computer’s built-in DVD. I am doing this as I am sat in a hotel room in Oslo. See, the relentless march of technology allows me to multi-task in ways I would never have imagined a few years ago.

You could almost say I am stunned. But I am not. I am just bored in a hotel room.

Having said that, it would be great if all that technology stomping around the world managed to get a coffee machine or kettle in this hotel room. As it is I had to take the lift and fetch a cup of over strong coffee from the reception area. Really, Scandinavia is supposed to be so much more advanced. All this wood, heated bathroom flooring and sweet herring is all well and good but I want a good old fashioned cup of Costa Coffee and there isn’t one to be had.

Sorry, back to that relentless technology marching. I am seeing sleek back and silver gadgets marching in perfect unison through Red Square; USB cables tightly rolled and ready to attack at the first sight of an invasion. General Mac and Air Marshall Windows quietly surveying their battalions with stern pride and swelling chests full of medals. But this is modern tech. It would fail. It would let you down. The connector would be the wrong size or the driver would be missing. The intruders would conquer and a few bits of bare wire and broken hard drives would litter the streets.

See, I am well aware that technology is not fool-proof. How many times have you sent that email to somebody who should not have been on the cc list? How many times have you wasted half the paper in the printer because you forgot to check how that document would print? How many times did your Sat Nav take you the wrong way down a one-way street? How many times have you called somebody on your mobile that you didn’t mean to call? How many times have to had to reboot your train?

Yes, honestly, my train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that). I was thinking ‘which terminal?’ and wondering if those people on the platform were going to be charged excess baggage for the small van-load of cases they were taking. Then the train driver announced a small problem they were working on. A few minutes passed. We were late. The driver came on the tannoy again: now the power would be turned off and back on again. We weren’t to panic as we were plunged into darkness and the doors locked themselves. So we sat there in darkness with all the power gone. And then somebody switched us on again and – as with all turn it off and on agains – we were good to go. So we did. Go, that is.

Seriously, they turned my train off and then on again to fix it.

And it was at that moment I knew that technology had gotten the better of us. Machines now rule and we are relegated to the bit parts (every pun intended).

On this day…

2006: Schumacher to quit at end of year
2005: Staying For Breakfast
2004: Where’s Matt’s Tongue?
2003: A Video Moment
2002: Around The World

The Slag Of All Updates

I truly believe the YouTube model may become the model for all television. A couple of weeks ago I spent many happy hours watching old clips of British Breakfast telly. The Breakfast Time title sequence was a particular fave when it got to about two o’clock in the morning (Frank and Selina were always my favourites). That shows that it’s as easy to get a YouTube habit – and I may need to seek help any moment now – as it was to think faux leather sofas were the most sophisticated thing you could have in your living room in 1982.

I don’t remember what I started searching YouTube for when I first got there but by the time all the drunks had got safely home to bed and the street outside was silent I had a full play list of old television idents and clips. Really, a computer generated Central Television sun (or was it moon?) from 1989 or a Granada TV Continuity announcement about a School Fire isn’t really scaling the heights of art and culture is it (I wonder if the moon/sun won any awards at the time)? So what on earth was I doing spending the night searching out these TV gems? Maybe it says a great deal about what was on broadcast television that night but I wouldn’t want to say as I was so addicted to the swirling letters L, W and T (if you live in London you’ve probably gone all misty-eyed at the very mention of those letters) that I forgot to look at the real super high definition million inch orbiting sound box that tries to hide in the corner of the room.

The YouTube model works so well that all content will be served like this in the future. I mean why would I watch what some bloke in ripped jeans and a t-shirt with a witty slogan scrawled on the front wants me to watch in the early hours when I can watch Mary Beth being taken hostage in a clip from Cagney & Lacey? Why would I ITV Play when I can Supermarket Sweep with Dale? Seriously, this is a much better way to be a couch potato.

My inner couch potato would have been very happy today as YouTube grabbed me again. I was reading some old items from Listen To Musak (the world’s greatest blog) when I came across an entry from August 2002 on the irrationality of complaints about a television commercial for a snack food pot. You know that’s just a poncy way of saying that I mentioned that an army of people had found time to complain about Pot Noodle’s Slag of All Snacks ads. Seriously, the complainers have almost as much time on their hands as I must have to write this nonsense.

Now listen up kids, back in 2002 there really wasn’t a YouTube (really, all the Internet was in black & white back then). And if there was a YouTube (which there wasn’t) we were all using a telephone dial-up line access the Internet so there’s no way we’d have been watching. Can you imagine? So back in 2002 I wouldn’t have been able to link to the ad. Which I can now. Here’s the link: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=L_6GGDhHzKI. See, the ad is really funny and cleverly plays on the British attitudes to sex (I say that but so does the New Statesman so I must be right, mustn’t I?) and it shouldn’t have been banned.

So now, thanks to YouTube, you can write to your MP about the fact that the Slag Of All Snacks is on the net now and try to get it removed. Really, YouTube’s given you a whole new way to complain. Told you it was the future for television.


And so, to those who read on here is a spinning computer-generated moon and some whizzing letters for you to enjoy. Who says I don’t entertain?

On this day…

2006: Hello From Here
2005: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
2002: The Art of the Blog

Presentation Porn

Ever read 43 Folders? Right up there on the front page it says “43 Folders is Merlin Mann’s site about personal productivity” and it carries lots of tips to make you better at stuff. Not better at the high jump or getting to the next level on Donkey Kong but better at stuff like remembering to cancel the papers when you are going on holiday and dealing with the 75,000 emails generated at work over a weekend while you’re sleeping. 43 folders can help you get over procrastination and clear your clutter (like Dawna Walter but without the Crusher). If I was pretending to be down with the kids then I’d say it’s cool which would only go to prove that I never was ‘down with the kids’. But it is a great site.

I digress.

I was sat at work last week, feeling tired one lunch break after ploughing through however many hundred emails were in my inbox that morning thinking that, like Nat West, there must be another way (see reference to free stuff here) when I weave my wandering web way to 43 Folder’s inbox zero pages. I think the uber cool refer to it as izero (or is it i-zero?) but we’ve established I am not uber anything.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and it proves you are a smart cookie who can jump ahead in a story like this one. You’re thinking that I read inbox zero and got my inbox to zero right then and there while eating a Coronation Chicken bap and a caramel square. Admit it, that’s what you were thinking was next. And I don’t want to spoil your opinion of yourself so, yeah, I did that (and I was eating that). It’s neat (see, down with the kids) but anybody can do it if you hit delete and pretend the server must have crashed on that important email from your boss.

It’s not the point. The point is also not that I sat and hit the delete key several hundred times while watching Merlin’s Inbox Zero presentation (yeah, right, like I don’t know about shift-delete) and felt good about myself. If you want to achieve the Zen like state of inbox zero (sorry, izero) then watch the video. Merlin is presenting to, what I imagine to be, some brainy people at Googleplex and I am not sure if they are taking it in or not. I imagined the really brainy folks would have asked more questions than they did. Not sure what that says about them. Probably says there were eating a Coronation Chicken bap and a caramel square (which, I gather, are free at the ‘plex).

And now to the key point some 460 or so words into this little piece (don’t count the words, I edited a bit and so that number, while once real, now resembles something I made up). Merlin’s presentation is great. Really good. But it’s not just good because it helps you get to an i0 state (i0, I just thought of that). No, I mean it’s a really good presentation.

I should write about my presentations. I think I will. But not now because I am talking about Merlin’s presentation (if I use only his first name it’s like we hang together, right? I’m way cool). It’s a done properly (his presentation, not the hanging). The slides are illustrations and there are more pictures than words (pictures are good for recall, apparently). He doesn’t use the slides as a safety net in case something is forgotten. No, they illuminate and reinforce his points. They are there as visual support. I mean that his slides are not his presentation. What he says is the presentation. The slides are, if you will, the side slide show. Useful, entertaining but not the star attraction.

This really shouldn’t be such a revelation but it’s an almighty, lightening strike of a revelation. I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. Hell, I’ve given hundreds of presentations and few, so very few, are like this. By which I mean most are rubbish (including some, although not all, of mine). It jumped off the screen at me.

I got so wrapped up in it that I had people standing around wondering what I was watching and how I could be so attentive and engaged by a video on the web. So, go watch it. It’s presentation porn, if you will (although you’ll learn more and there’s much less grunting).

On this day…

2005: Memories Of The Walkman
2004: Digital Download Chart
2003: Silly Pop Stars
2003: Beep Beep To Profit
2002: When Love Comes To Town

Better In Just 14 Days

Today must be like a good dose of Bifidus Digestivum for my database. You know the tellybox ad that tells us that digestive discomfort affects 56% of women, or some such statistic, and then tells us to eat a pro-something yoghurt type thing and in two weeks we won’t feel like we want to fart so much?

Think of junk comments (15,481 of them) and junk trackbacks (3,598 of them) as well as the undetected junk comments & trackbacks (about 7,000 in total) as that bloated feeling and the delete button as a daily helping of tasty Activia from Danone (this blog accepts freebies if you want to contact me). In fact, to help my database get over the discomfort I thought about buying it a blanket and some cushions but it said another Rhubarb Fruit Yoghurt or a tasty Prune Fruit Layer would be better.

So there we go, scientific proof that fewer comments makes you less gassy. So, I turned them off.

On this day…

2005: By Ek
2004: Save A Pop Idol
2004: Open House 2004
2004: Back Ache Update
2003: Oh Canada II
2002: Don’t Call Me Stupid

Read The Manual

I am configuring my new ATMT Network Hard Drive (and, according to the box it’s a Samba Server & FTP Server too). I plugged it in and it was seen straight away on my network. Lovely job.

I am using it as a network drive to store music, photos, documents etc. and share it to all the PCs on my network without ever having to have any one particular machine switched on. Great for sharing my iTunes library with my work laptop when I bring it home and stuff like that.

So, there it is, on the network and I start copying files to it. They all appear and all my machines can see them. Very nice.

But I didn’t think of the file structure on the new server. For example, would it be easy to map parts of the system as different network drives? Of course it wasn’t. I have to set the different shares up in advance through the browser-based GUI on the drive. Which is why I am now copying all my music from one partition to another and will have to let it run for the next few hours.

Aggghh. Now I wish I’d read the manual.

On this day…

2005: My Idea Changed
2004: Administrative Apologies
2003: Buffalo Soldiers
2003: Another Russian Birthday
2003: Not Another Teen Movie
2002: How do you say Happy Birthday in Russian?
2002: Marry Me

Anything You Can Do

I haven’t written much here for a while. I don’t really know why but I haven’t gone away – perhaps I am just spending all my time moving my Windows Media library across to iTunes. Yes, after all these entries about music players, I gave up and switched to an iPod Nano. And, after all those trials and tribulations with other music players, I am very happy. I even bought the Nike+ kit so that I can track how far I have run at the gym. Seriously, I’ve tried many of the music players and they just don’t have the ease of use and integration that the iTunes has. It’s the seamless interaction that makes it all work so well.

Still, that’s not why I picked up the keyboard today. Earlier I watched the European Formula One Grand Prix; and boy what a race that was. But I don’t really want to talk about the race itself (I am sure you can read all about it here) but I did want to talk about one of the best pieces of advertising that I have seen a long while.

Even if you are not a petrolhead follower of Formula One – and especially if you are British – you can’t have failed to have read some piece about the Championship scrap between Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The latest advertisement from Mercedes (which is of course the team they both drive for) plays on this rivalry beautifully. Anything you can do, I can do better:

I just think the whole thing is really well pitched and they seem to have had some fun making it.

On this day…

2002: Fix My Car
2002: Running Shoes
2002: Oh Canada

Naught, Naughty Patrick

 

Pride Flag in London

Pride Flag in London

According to Media Guardian, on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy, Patrick Kielty called Colin Murray a “big gayer” after he finished his song. There was a national outcry at the homophobic comments (well, a dozen or so people bothered to complain) and the BBC chose to “reminded Patrick to be more careful during the remaining live shows”.

Careful during live shows? Is the BBC suggesting the comments would have been OK had he made it off air?

How about ‘reminding’ Patrick that more than 60,000 gay and lesbian school pupils are victims of homophobic abuse that includes serious physical and sexual assaults [source] and that calling somebody a ‘gayer’ is not big nor clever and we really expected more of him.

On this day…

No other posts on this day.

I’m Silent. You Are Not.

Photo by dog007 at Flickr

Photo by dog007 at Flickr

I’ve just been through the backlog of comments that have been building up on the Man of the Moment section. Even though there has been no new content since April 2006, it seems people have been happy to keep the interactive comment section ticking over.

The Take That reunion seems to have sparked a renewed interest with Mark Owen fans. Dancing On Ice did the same for Stephen Gately.

Here on Listen to Musak it appears the 2007 Formula One season export for Outlook calendars seems to have been a hit. The data was pulled from a preliminary calendar and, as such, need updating. Perhaps I’ll get to that before the season starts for real.

On this day…

2004: Defining Your Own Space
2004: Similarities At BBC Radio
2003: Freddie, Will and George
2003: And The Years Pass