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Tuesday, August 28

I'm ill. I have been for a while, and it's been bad for a week now. Fever, constant tiredness, headaches. It seems to be on its way out now, but I'm still essentially housebound. Very annoying - I always have things I want to get done, and at the moment I'm so permanently tired that I'm completely ineffectual. My parents insist I should see the doctor again, but I saw her last week, she told me it's nothing serious, she warned me it might take a couple of weeks to heal, and she said there's nothing I can actively do about it. When 5 days later very little has changed it would clearly be a waste of my doctor's time - she should be seeing people who she can actually prescribe stuff to....

Anyway, while being ill I have watched more television than is good for me. Convenient to be ill when there is a Test Match on (not that I'm actually that interested in cricket the rest of the time).... I have also made certain other great discoveries:

  • Spaced is very funny.

  • I have a copy of Festen on video. I have no recollection of taping this film, but I have wanted to see it for ages, so it was a nice discovery.

  • The TV news has found new and more ridiculous ways to moan about stuff when nothing happens. The local news covered the Reading Festival (I'm sure Reading should not be in the same region as the south coast, but that's another matter), and though it did manage to drop in a throwaway reference to the vast piles of money that local food & booze shops make out of it the report was almost exclusively about traffic problems. The next day Channel 4 news reported on the immense cost of policing the Notting Hill carnival. �4,000,000. Sounds terrible, except that about 2,000,000 people go there over the course of the weekend. That's �2 a head - starts to sound like better value doesn't it? What a bunch of miserable gits Brits can be....


Anyway, the main point of this is that it isn't very exciting. This has been my life over the past week or so, which is why I haven't been writing here. Things should get more interesting from now on - I'm actually going out and doing stuff again.
posted @ 7:58 AM -

Tuesday, August 21

just been sent an article called The real history of the GUI which explains a lot about why desktop computers take the form they now do. It starts with a fairy tale about 2 cavemen, but goes on to actually tell a true story, and debunk some of the highly politicised myths about who exactly stole which ideas from whom.
posted @ 6:03 AM -

Sunday, August 19

U2


mmm.... Just had a great night out.

My cousin works for a jeweller in New York, and her job involves raising the profile of the brand by getting their products seen on famous people. Her greatest triumph to date is that she supplies sunglasses to Bono. This means she knows his stylist, and that his stylist occasionally does favours for her like putting her on a guest list. This time round she decided to come to London, and was guestlisted + 2 (me & my brother). I ought to make it clear that this wasn't an "access all areas" & party with the band pass, but I wasn't going to complain now was I?

What it did mean was that we got in free (�45 tickets that said "Band Allocation" - nice), had good seats, and had access to the after show bar, which actually wasn't all that exciting because the band weren't there and the bar wasn't free. The thing that actually counted most to me was simply being able to get a ticket, as I never get around to phoning early enough to actually get tickets for big shows before they sell out.

PJ Harvey opened for them. I'm quite fond of PJ Harvey, but didn't expect their set to work well in a big arena. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only does Polly Harvey have an extraordinarily powerful voice, but she is also a good performer, who grabs the stage in exactly the way I had assumed she wouldn't be able to. Great (short) set, and I have a feeling it will get me listening to PJ Harvey a whole lot more.

There was no question, however, about U2 being the real attraction. They weren't doing the kind of self-consciously over-the-top show that their last few tours involved, and when I heard this I was disappointed, but what they did produce was an object lesson in stagecraft. On the one hand Bono is the king of frontmen, strutting around the stage like it is his front room, while at the same time managing to seem genuinely grateful to each person there for showing up. On the other, the whole event was staged beautifully.

The main part of the stage wasn't actually very big, but then U2 don't tour with additional musicians, and they don't have phallus-substitute banks of keyboards or amps cluttering the stage, so really they don't need any more space than your average pub rock band. The surplus is needed to scale the show up, and what they did this time was put in a heart shaped walkway, which contained both the stage proper and a section of the audience, so some people were actually surrounded by stage. This, combined with the fact that part of the catwalk was below audience shoulder level, allowed the show to be intimate and large at once, which is a truly impressive feat. Catwalks at gigs usually fail because they continue the separation of band and crowd; this one really did bring the two closer.

For me, (having never quite recovered from my episode as a stage lighting geek) the icing on the cake was the lighting. It wasn't that the lighting was simple - there were times when there were projections all over the ceiling and big monitors behind the band - but most of the time they made stunning use of simple effects. It's the first time I've seen the actual structure of the lighting rig being used as a feature. Sometimes this was as a shadow to project (the criss-cross structure of the girders looks very cool if lit through properly) and sometimes using the lights themselves. Lights turned almost, but not quite, off glow without casting a beam, and that ends up looking like a mass of candles over the stage. REM's tour manager can look and learn (classic case of great music, disappointing show with them).

There were also projection screens over the stage - 4 screens, one showing each band member in black and white. These were often filmed facing into spotlights, which was a surprisingly successful effect. The screen ends up mostly washed with white, but the person in the light appears as a sort of silhouette, but with the edges completely blurred because of the over-exposure. Bono sort of glows black under these conditions.

I haven't written about the music, because it wasn't the main interest for me. It was a good gig - I like U2 and most of their songs are a lot better live than on record - but the show was what made this into a big deal. I think the only bands I've seen before who actually seize a big stage to really striking effect are Marilyn Manson and the Cure (who put on a light show that was actually better from far back than close up). All the other really impressive performances I can remember were in relatively small venues, or just impressed me because the music itself was so great.

All in all I'm pretty pleased with the night I've had. Now it's time for bed....
posted @ 5:47 PM -

Friday, August 17

interesting debate in the Economist about what exactly constitutes a universal human right:

click here
posted @ 9:48 AM -

Wednesday, August 15

this looks interesting [not to do with my holidays any more]. An attempt to create a neural network to encapsulate "common sense" by getting lots of people to validate statements, and keep the ones that there is apparent consensus on. I'm very dubious about the claims they are making for it, but I will certainly be following the project with interest:

Visit Mindpixel
posted @ 9:09 AM -
Actually settling in at home again

After all this I went on a week's kung fu club summer training camp on the Isle of Wight, which did me no end of good. The end of that coincided with my brother's birthday, so I went up to London to meet up with him, which was also good (yes I am getting tired of typing now).

I finally came home on Sunday the 22nd of July, and this time round I did settle, and I did find myself liking home again, but I have to say I was less excited about returning to Brighton than I used to be. I think it is about time I moved on, even if only temporarily, and this has increased my resolve to leave the country when I graduate. Apart from the seagulls (who are more numerous, noisier and considerably fatter than last year - I blame the dustmens' strike) I do still like Brighton a lot, and I could still see it being a place for me to spend much of my life (though I am becoming gradually less hostile to London), but it's time I travelled a bit and saw more of the world. Maybe then I can think about settling down somewhere long term.
posted @ 6:23 AM -
Thursday & Friday 12th & 13th in Brighton

Bad mistake this. I had given myself a couple of days between trips to get various things sorted out, mainly work related. It would actually have been far better if I had gone straight from Stockholm to the Isle of Wight without touching base in between, because I didn't feel at home at all, and just felt very put-upon, suddenly having to work when in travel mode. Thoroughly miserable couple of days that could have been avoided with the benefit of hindsight....
posted @ 6:10 AM -
Tuesday & Wednesday 10th & 11th of July in Stockholm

Partly because of the stupidity of my arrival, partly because I was tired, and partly just because it was the end of a good holiday, I started my brief stay in Stockholm in a pretty bad mood. This got worse when my first mission took me into Norrmalm, which once I had seen other parts of the city I realised was the least nice part. Norrmalm is where the main amenities (train & bus stations, library, supermarket, tourist info office) are, but it is also home to many of the features of cities that I don't like. It's busy, crowded, full of the noise and smell of traffic, dominated by nasty 1960s style concrete cubist buildings. I'm very glad that writing in retrospect I can say the rest of Stockholm is far nicer.

Before going back to writing nice things, I feel obliged to criticise something, because I have been so enthusiastic about everything on the holiday so far, and balance is needed.... To begin with, Stockholm is ludicrously expensive to live in. I think it is the first place I have found where a simple lunch is actually more expensive than in London, and public transport is almost as expensive. Public transport is also not as exemplary as in Helsinki, in contrast to my stereotype that all services in Scandinavia are perfect. It's still easier to get around than London though.... More annoyingly, I found a lot of Stockholm populated with the sort of self-consciously trendy types who spoil Shoreditch. I know I'm basing this judgement on a short visit, but this is what I felt, and it made me feel strongly that this was not my place, just as has happened in Shoreditch (which was once one of my favourite parts of London).

Anyway, on to the positives. Stockholm is a beautiful city, at least away from the post-war developments. The old town (itself a small island) is the picture-postcard part, with narrow cobbled alleys and brightly painted buildings. It's worth seeing, but actually a bit too touristy, to the extent that it is dead at night, and generally feels a bit fake. Much nicer are the north and south shores of the lake which divides Stockholm. They too have the brightly painted buildings that remind you they are not Britain (though actually there are a couple of streets like that in Brighton, and the place would be improved by the presence of more), are built on a grander scale, and have more space around them. They also both benefit from the view across the lake to each other.

I didn't get time to actually do many things, but one thing I was particularly impressed with was the Vasa Museum (which was also reccommended to me by anyone I met elsewhere who had been to Stockholm, and I can see why). This is basically the Swedish equivalent of the Mary Rose, except that it the ship is almost perfectly preserved, so visitors get to see the awesome scale of the thing (which was the whole reason it sank in the first place), and the beautifully intricate carvings all over it. It's also housed in an interesting modern building (not an attraction in itself, but a very good setting for its contents), and surrounded by well-prepared exhibits about mediæval Swedish life.

All in all, I was just beginning to like Stockholm when it was time to leave. I had far too little time there, and didn't get the chance to engage with the place much, which is a real shame. I don't regret travelling the way I did though - I lost time in Stockholm to Estonia, and had a great time there. Meanwhile Estonia is relatively hard to get to from Britain, whereas Stockholm is easy. I may well go and spend a few days in Stockholm the next time I feel the urge to go and travel, because it's dirt cheap to get there (should cost me more to get from home to Stansted than Stansted to Stockholm!), and outside the main tourist season it should be easy to book flights & youth hostels at short notice.
posted @ 5:19 AM -
Monday 9th - Tuesday 10th of July - ferry crossing to Stockholm

This crossing had potential to be a disaster, because I tried a little too hard to do it on the cheap. When I booked my ticket, the cheaper cabin spaces had sold out, so I decided to not book a cabin at all, rather than spend an extortionate sum of money just to have a bed in a shared cabin. Like most other things on this holiday, it turned out nice in the end.

I was awake within sight of the shore at either end, and in between just slept on a floor inside the boat. Not ideal, but no worse than I put up with every now and again staying at friends' houses.

I'm very glad I did this trip actually, because the Stockholm archipelago is well worth seeing. It is a huge area, taking about 4 hours for the ferry to get through it, and it is also completely disorientating. There are so many small islands with narrow channels that it feels like land and see have simply become mixed up, especially striking to someone used to Brighton's seafront where the beach plunges fairly clearly into the sea. The channels are also so narrow and tortuous that it is hard to believe large ferries can get through. Obiously I was rationally aware that this must be a dredged channel, and the crew must be well aware of exactly where they can go, but still at each turn I felt like we were bound to run aground.

Arrival in Stockholm was less good. I hadn't had the foresight to get any Swedish money in advance, there was no bureau de change at the ferry terminal, and the terminal was a bus ride (for which of course some cash is required) away from town. Arse.
posted @ 5:06 AM -
Monday 9th of July - Tallinn - folk festival

Had I known that I was going to see a folk festival in Tallinn I would have assumed that it would be the place to see Estonian culture & cultural pride. Quite the contrary. Normal entertainment in Estonia (like the club in Pärnu) is a good place to see how proud the Estonians are of their identity and culture, whereas the folk festival was rather like ones in Britain - more tourist attraction and curiosity than anything of real interest to locals.

There were some great acts though. I remember being particularly moved by some "Livonian" (that's what they called themselves - I guess it means Lithuanian, Latvian or both) singers, who gave a performance I would have expected to hear at a modern classical concert rather than a folk festival. Several very powerful singers at times singing in unison, at times across each other, producing an effect of which Schöneberg would have been proud.... There was also a group of Czech dancers, who immediately distinguished themselves by the twin virtues of looking like they were enjoying themselves, and having a dance that didn't just consist of demure women in big skirts skipping round in a circle. Instead theirs involved a troupe of girls dancing in a circle, only to be invaded by a troupe of boys (fairly young) swinging axes around in a way that made it look miraculous that no-one was hurt. Class.
posted @ 4:57 AM -
right. Today I will finish writing about my holiday from a month ago. It's long overdue, to the point that really there isn't that much reason to write it any more, seeing as most people who are likely to be interested have spoken to me since, but I want to put something down if only so I can look back on it in future and not find a gap in the diary....
posted @ 4:47 AM -

Wednesday, August 8

most interesting. Brighton & nearby towns may be in the process of getting a tube network all of our own. It's only a proposal so far, but it's certainly a promising idea:

read all about it
posted @ 6:05 AM -
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