Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cameron's big ideas

Last night on Newsnight the Conservative leader David Cameron was being quizzed on his views and Conservative Party policy. Frankly it was a bit embarrassing to watch, even by the normally very poor performance standards of politicians in interviews. Now I've never been a Tory supporter, but when Cameron was chosen as their new leader it did seem a like a bit of a nice change from the previous couple of leaders (probably not as much of a change as if Kenneth Clarke had got in, but some change at least) with the prospect of a decent opposition party - ok, so Cameron was totally playing the Blair card, but he was trying to sound a bit caring. However, after having a bit of a battering in the last few months, and with Brown actually seeming to be quite popular, he's done the old appeal-to-the-Daily-Mail-reader change of heart by showing he is tough (and Tory) on crime, immigration and family breakdown - there's "anarchy on the streets of the UK" apparently! In the interview he was maintaining that his views have been consistent over his 18-19 months as leader, but even if they've not actually changed that much he's certainly changed emphasis a lot! His talk of having the most disadvantaged people as his main priority were particularly exposed when he was questioned about the Tories insistence on sorting out inheritance tax as a first goal, which would help the middle /upper classes most, so I wont complain, but would be of very little practical help to the poorest families. His talk of having £20 a week of extra benefits for married couples was also quite laughable - as if that's going to be an incentive for people to stay in broken relationships or encourage unmarried couples to wed! Then his talk of the Tories idea for green taxes was just stupid - he complained that under Labour such taxes would be implemented as stealth taxes, but the Conservatives would impose green taxes (e.g. an extra few quid on air travel) by dropping taxes in other areas i.e. you end up paying the same amount of taxes, but it is just shifted in name - is that really a disincentive to flying!?

My main thought was that David needs to do a hell of a lot better, especially if Brown calls a general election in the next couple of months.

Second time around

It's been public via the medium of facebook for about a week now, but I should let my loyal blog readers know that the band I'm in will be performing its second (third if you count our Australia tour, but I prefer not to!) gig next month. This time around we're going solely under the name of Look Up for Danger with a new bassist in our line-up. We are again going to be playing at the Glasgow University Research Club on Thursday 20th Sept, because the venue is so good not because we couldn't think of anywhere else to play. We'll be playing a new set of great covers, so everyone should come along and enjoy the evening. If you are around Glasgow University look our for some of our posters.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kitted out

I got a second step on the way to building up a proper drum kit today. I went and bought myself a snare drum (a black and chrome pdp 805 series - it's one of the cheapest snares, but the guy in the shop said it was decent), along with a stand and case. Using it at home might not be that regular an occurrence as my flatmate might not be too appreciative of it, but hopefully when I do get to practice it'll help improve my skills - one of the main reasons for getting it is that the electric kit I've got doesn't have the response of a real drum skin, so it's hard to practice things like a drum roll.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A night on the cobbles

Last week for my birthday a few of us went through to Edinburgh for a bit of a live comedy fix. All-in-all we had a very good time and went to see an interesting combination of shows.

First up wee-n-sarcastic and I went to see a comedy sketch show called Two Left Hands - we were just hanging sround the Pleasance courtyard trying to decide what to see and the person flyering for this show was the only one who made a decent effort to tempt us. The show was a series of English-seaside-town/seaside-holiday-based sketches written and performed by "Smack the Pony" writer Leila Hackett and random television presenter Charlotte Hudson, and was being shown in the tiny hut that was the Baby Grand at the Plesance. The show started off with a rather poor sketch about the two girls trying to perform a burlesque style dance routine, but things did generally improve after that. A lot of the sketches were quite predictable once you saw the opening premise, but that didn't stop them containing some funny material. One of the main pieces running through the show was based on Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson in which Barbara had fallen on hard times. wee-n-sarcastic loved this having been forced to listen to "I Know Him So Well" many times as a small child. It was a reasonably funny set of sketches, but I suspect many people might not have had that much of a clue who the two people were - the main thing I knew about Elaine Paige was that she went to secretatial college with my mum. Overall it was a fairly enjoyable show and amusing enough that we didn't feel robbed of our entry fee.

Next up was the main event that we'd come to see and had pre-booked tickets for - Stewart Lee in his show "41st Best Stand Up Ever" - performing in the big upturned inflatable purple cow that is the Udderbelly. A couple of years before some of us had gone to see his show "90s Comedian" (and in fact we feature in the DVD of that show, which he was trying to flog during the course of this show!) and it was very good, so we were expecting something of similar quality from him. Before the show Lee wandered around outside the venue with his backpack, occainsionally on his phone, and generally looking confused - or maybe he was trying to size up his audience (consisting, as well as us, of such comedy luminaries as Mel and Sue and Armando Iannucci.) The show's main theme was an attack on TV and how Lee is now officially, actually, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% proven to be, undeniably, the 41st best stand-up ever! I don't think there was actually that much material in the show, but it was all delivered really well in classic Stewart Lee style (that's about as good a description as I can come up with - it was done in the style of himself - inciteful I know!) For some reason when doing an impression of his own mum it came across very much as if she was in fact Richard Herring. I don't know if Richard Herring bases his performance on Stewart's mum or vice versa, but it was very funny none-the-less. Overall a very good set, with some properly hilarious parts, from someone who's still pretty high (41st best) in their game.

Finally, at the request of ellielabelle, adren-junk and wee-n-sarcastic, and somewhat trepidatiously on my part, we went to see Eurobeat in the rather large venue of the Grand at the Pleasance. As the name suggests this is a spoof of Eurovision. My trepidation proved ill-founded, because after a couple of minutes of the show (and after an introduction by none other than Terry Wogan himself) a smile formed on my face that stayed there for about one and a half hours. In terms of a spectacle the shows production values were really high. The style of the event, the costumes and the choreography were all excellently done. But what made it were the songs and the performers. For true bizarreness and camp kitschiness you can't beat the real Eurovision itself, but the Eurobeat songs really did capture the Eurovision feel without feeling too forced or derivative (obviously they were quite derivative, but when done so well it was still very impressive). There was even an inteactive element to the show with everyone being given a country to support at the start and a text vote for the winner at the end. It did have some comedy moments, but in genaral was just great fun with the whole audience getting into the spirit of it. Very enjoyable even for a non-gay like me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hair today

I've cut my own hair in the past, I even have a decent pair of hair clippers for such things, and the results have generally been reasonable, but today I went slightly further than normal. My hair was getting to the stage that would require some sort of gel to keep it in check, so I decided to use my clippers and rear it in a bit. The shortest I've gone before is a number 2 (about 10mm in length) and that was the plan again. I shaved it down to that level, but then was struck by an adventurous idea that I could probably pull off a number one (about 5mm). So I carried on whittling away. I also have quite an unruly bunch of hair on the back of my neck which I wanted tidying up. This is quite hard to do when cutting your own hair, especially when you've not got an extra mirror to see what you're doing. I basically attempted this tidy up (using the bare clippers set to their shortest setting) by relying on a bit of blind hope that it would be ok - in the past this has been an area where I've brought in outside help. After this I had pretty short hair anyway, but I wanted to know what the back of my neck looked like, so I used my digital camera to check it out (again I have no spare hand held mirror to help). The result of my efforts was to have produced a neck line that was as ragged as the Scandanavian coastline. There were two options: 1) ask my flatmate to straighten it up, or 2) shave off all my hair. I went for option 2.

I think the overall effect isn't too bad, but I've had a mixed reaction from my friends. When I say mixed I mean a generally shocked and horrified reaction, but at least I know I'm probably that slight bit safer when walking through the dodgyer areas of Glasgow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Code masters

Now I like coding as much as the next man - the next man being someone who quite likes his coding - but there's one aspect that can be especially infuriating: debugging.

Writing a nice piece of software from scratch can be quite enjoyable and even a creative process (programming is an art form!). You think about what you want the program to do and work out how to best split the task into seperate managable functions and structures; then you let the creativity flow down your fingertips, through the keyboards and onto the text editor of choice (I use kwrite, which many might think is a bit of a soft option and I should instead be using something more hardcore like emacs, xemacs or vim instead, but I like kwrite goddamn it) adding your own style and artistic flourishes to your work. If you're programming in C this artistic process includes blindly declaring pointers, chanting some voodoo incantations, and hoping the thing compiles (or at least that's how I deal with them!)

Now once your coding materpiece has been completed the man steps in with his rules and regulations trying to make you conform. He throws about syntax error's here and request for member `X' in something not a structure or union's there. Sometimes your most bold and inspired brush strokes are just too far out there for the current establishment to deal with. However you deal with his requests grudgingly, but never let you artistic integrity slip. Often you find that the man's requests make you see more beauty in your work and make you appreciate certain parts of it more. This is the easy part of debugging.

Then you try and run your code - my arty analogy kind of breaks down slightly here as I've not heard of people trying to run a sculpture or painting. Segmentation fault it says. Or the output some indecipherable goobledegook, or just plain smack-me-in-the-face stupid. You respond with a swift "Bugger!" knowing that somewhere your magnum opus (arty again) is trying to access a bit of memory that's not been allocated, or is plucking random numbers out of thin air (aka somewhere in the computer's RAM). This is followed by adding printf statesments just about everywhere to work out where the program's falling down. When this doesn't highlight the problem and you can't see anything at all that looks wrong you start banging your head against a brick wall for several hours/days/weeks/months getting more and more irrate and frustrated! Your urge to kill will rise to quite extreme levels (did you know that there is a large statistical blip in the murder rates around Redmond, WA!) More often that not after an undefined period you realise that you've been excessively stupid, fix a minor unseen, but blindingly-obvious-when-you-spot-it, problem, and everything works out well. Although sometimes codes are just tempermental beasts that work one day, but not the next!

Anyway I suppose it's best that a piece of software falls down completely at the start rather than working properly, producing reasonable results, and looking hunky-dory, for ages before you realise that there's a mistake. But that never happens now does it...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seasons greetings

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, but now the new football season's started I've become reinvigorated to write something.

Firstly I have to congratulate Watford on a fantastic start to the new season with a 2-1 win against Wolves (note that the BBC website doesn't really write as much about Championship games as they do for Premiership matches.) Apparently we played pretty badly in the first half at least, but if we can still play badly and manage to get a win that's the main thing - it's what champions do :)

The Watford game was actually being shown on Sky Sports, but I doubted that any pub would be showing it when there was the Aston Villa vs. Liverpool game on (and the England vs. France rugby match on), so I watched that instead. It was a 2-1 win for Liverpool, with a fantastic free kick from Steven Gerrard. The game wasn't that enthralling until the last 20 mins when things got far more exciting. As ever I can see a lot of Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent down the pub over the next 9 months (although after that there's the European Championship to look forward to).

The new season has also bought back some televisual delights in the form over Football Focus, and tonight sees the return of Adrian Chiles in MOTD2. My Saturday lunchtimes and Sunday evenings are complete again.