Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Shouting into the void

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Every now and then, kindly sends me an e-mail announcing a new version1 2 That reminds me that I do actually have an active WordPress installation, and a moderate obligation as a citizen of the Internet to make sure it's not being abused to send "make money fast" e-mails mine Bitcoin.

Much has changed in the five or so years since I was a semi-regular blogger. I still read a lot (on Google Reader and then Feedly, but mostly both through the Reeder app), but it seems feeds are almost as irrelevant as blogs are today. I'm still mostly a completionist. I eagerly await the weekly arrival of The Digital Antiquarian. I tweet a reasonable amount, but bitrot had kept the "recent tweets" on this blog locked in 20123.

I've tried to sort out some of the most obvious bitrot, but various plugins I used to use don't work any more through the passage of time, or won't update due to server configuration. Reading back through a couple of pages of posts I find links to sites that no longer exist, domains that are now being squatted, photos removed from Flickr4.  Do I delete those, fix them, or ignore them?  To bring the content up to date it could well take a good couple of days; add a couple more to move it to Google App Engine, in an "eat your own dogfood" sense, and then more still to file the bugs I would expect to uncover.  The other option would be a site like Medium, who does all this for you, where you trade off control for overwhelming attention to typography.

In the earliest days of the Internet, I had two web sites which I lament the loss of - one on GeoCities, which I can't find a record of the name or number of, the other on my own domain name (in 1996!).  On the other hand, the BBS I used to run is safely archived on a CD at my parents, which I assume is gradually losing its phthalocyanine dye coating and probably suffering a similar fate.

The debate about online advertising continues with the release of iOS 9 and content blockers, and the news cycle around Marco's quick change of heart. Many people rewrote his post, adding nothing new, in order to gain attention and something to sell advertising against. The only polite, non-tracking way to make good money online — which I have no desire to do, let me be clear — seems to be native advertising, either by having a large audience and selling sponsorships, or having a niche topic and advertising things that that audience might want by virtue of reading that niche. God bless those who do the latter. I already mentioned the Digital Antiquarian: I equally enjoy London Reconnections, who have an audience so niche they will still buy a paper magazine. These publications will survive.  Many of the people whose bottom-feeding livelihood is threatened by ad revenue they might lose probably deserve to go.

It's easier than ever to get started writing today, but harder to have something to say. The audience for my writing here has ranged from "my close friends, who will get the in-jokes", many of which I've lost touch with since leaving New Zealand eight years ago, to "people who might want to hire me for my work with technology" for various technologies that I no longer use, no-one uses any more, or are now my employer's competition.  Most writing of this type has moved to Facebook, in which case, you end up being "content" for someone else's advertising machine.

Anyway, that I've written all this clearly means I'm procrastinating.

Is there anybody out there?


  1. I love that it says "If that was an indiscretion you'd rather forget" as it's unsubscribe footnote. 
  2. I had to look up the markup for footnotes. 
  3. I tried to use Google to show the cached version, but apparently I have a robots.txt blocking that. More bitrot. 
  4. If you do anything where you expect longevity, especially where you link to other content, it seems like mirroring it yourself is a good idea. 

Title of Record

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Londoners take their titles very seriously. Filling in my name on the TFL's web site's "Contact Us" form, my options for Title are:

  • Ms
  • Mr
  • Mrs
  • Miss
  • Dr
  • Cllr
  • Prof
  • Sir
  • Not given
  • Air Cdre
  • Ambassador
  • Baron
  • Baroness
  • Brig Gen
  • Brother
  • Canon
  • Captain
  • Cardinal
  • Cllr Dr
  • Colonel
  • Commander
  • Count
  • Countess
  • Dame
  • Dowager Lady
  • Duchess of
  • Duke
  • Earl
  • Empress
  • Father
  • Fleet Admin
  • Gen
  • Gp Capt
  • Hon
  • Hon Mrs
  • HRH
  • Imam
  • Judge
  • Lady
  • Laird
  • Lieut Colonel
  • Lieutenant
  • Lord
  • Madam
  • Major
  • Major General
  • Marchioness
  • Marquess
  • Mayor
  • Pastor
  • Pc
  • Prince
  • Princess
  • Rabbi
  • Rev
  • Rev Dr
  • Revd Canon
  • Rt Hon
  • Rt Hon Baroness
  • Rt Revd
  • Sergeant
  • Sheikh
  • Sister
  • Sqn Ldr
  • Viscount
  • Viscountess
  • Wg Cd
  • Other

They list HRH, but not HM?  Surely, it's not unreasonable to assume that the Queen has complaints about service on the Underground?


Three months with the TouchPad

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

I first started writing this post on 2 September 2011. It was going to be called "three days with the TouchPad". I'd like to say that my opinion has changed substantially over the three months since then, but for that to have happened, I would have had to spend serious time with the device.

I haven't.

Last time anyone in our house tried to use the TouchPad it got thrown on the couch in disgust1 On the contrary, our iPad is happily used every day. Is this just a case of "you get what you pay for"?

The story so far

I fought my way through the broken websites to purchase an £89 HP TouchPad when they cleared their stock at the end of August. I couldn't be sure that Carphone Warehouse had stock for all their orders, so I was overjoyed when mine turned "dispatched" later in the week. Then, it never arrived.  I wasted hours on the phone with CPW and Yodel (cheap courier of choice for "free delivery" everywhere), who claimed it had been delivered, when no knock had ever graced my door. The driver only spoke Bulgarian, and intimated (through a translator and wild hand gesturing) that he had given it to someone who had come up from the stairs below us - an empty flat.

I had all but given up on the delivery when, after the weekend, our neighbour came over and said their housekeeper had collected it on Friday and had it the whole time.


Eventually, thanks to people like me, the TouchPad ended up getting 17% of the market!

Of everything that wasn't the iPad.

(So, more like 1.8% then.)

And remember, I very nearly wasn't a member of that club, as it seemed very unlikely that Carphone Warehouse would have been in a position to give me another one, had the first one not surfaced.

The TouchPad was an impulse buy, as we already owned an iPad. I had opted for middle of the range - the 32GB with 3G.2 At clearance price, my iPad cost 7 times more than the TouchPad, but remember that the original retail pricing for a comparable device was £399 for HP vs £429 for Apple.

With all that in mind, here's a collection of thoughts about the TouchPad today. It is not a review: if you are interested in a review, albeit one from before the fire-sale, go read what Shawn Blanc wrote. The experience has hardly changed.

The good

I came into TouchPad ownership with a very open mind, based in part on my ex-colleague Sergei owning a Palm Pré and not hating it. Also, everything I read about webOS online made it seem that it was designed, where Android was mostly congealed. (My apologies to Douglas Adams.) Further, I wanted webOS to be a success, because I like to use systems that feel like they are consistently designed throughout, and I didn't think it would be good for the world if iOS was to be the only relevant platform for which that was true. We are in the odd position today that Microsoft has replaced Palm as the loveable underdog: Windows Phone (and possible Windows 8 for tablets) has taken the mantle of "mobile operating environment which actually has some moden design principles applied, rather than just copying iOS", which surely must provoke some cognitive dissonance for all the people still bitter about how Microsoft stole everything from the Mac.

I only made one note from three days after unboxing: "It is really handy to have the number keys on the keyboard all the time". It still is. I suppose there are other nice things, depending on your point of comparison. Notifications are good, in general, though I really don't care that each web site I visit exposes a search endpoint, so I don't appreciate that the TouchPad displays me a notification for each and tries to add them to the search.

Grasping at straws, I still like the card metaphor, though not as much for multiple tabs as for multiple applications. And the things that were good about webOS on the phone, such as the integrated contacts, are still good here, though not as useful. The only other thing I noticed in a quick look through the menus is that it has Beats Audio, which I like to think makes me one step closer to Dr Dre than most. I don't think I've ever actually tried to make the thing play audio in order that I might notice a difference.

The goblin

How long after the horse died is it acceptable to still be flogging it?

The TouchPad is slow, out of the box. Nerds like me can make it faster with - wait for it - syslogd and kernel patches, and even overclock it if they feel the need. (I didn't.)  The iPad 1 still runs rings around it in everything - even though the iPad has half the CPU cores at a much lower clock speed, and one quarter the RAM of the TouchPad.

It has a handful of apps, but not enough to retroactively justify the purchase to me, even at £89. If I go to my Applications list, I have a beta Kindle reader, which I had to side-load as it is US only: the best Twitter experience is something called "Spaz HD Beta Preview 2", which is both award-winning and open source, though apparently named by the people who came up with "The GIMP". In fairness, it's not bad, it's just not up to the experience which is available on any one of the great Twitter clients for other platforms. And with the on-again off-again abandonment by HP, surely most of those who came into the TouchPad did it eyes-open, knowing the chances of it ever developing a good app ecosystem were not high.

Most of what I do on a tablet is web browsing, and so even if it had no apps but did web browsing brilliantly, it might be redeemed. It doesn't. It has Flash, which really just serves to make YouTube worse. Maps are horrible, scrolling is slow and sluggish, and clicking doesn't normally hit the link you want it to.

Physically, it feels cheap, due to the plastic back.  It is a good weight however.

The purchase

In my mind, there were three groups of people who wanted to buy a TouchPad at fire sale prices:

  • People who wanted a "tablet" (iPad), but couldn't afford or justify one at market (iPad) prices
  • People who wanted an "Android tablet" and figured that a port couldn't be far away
  • People who liked webOS and actually wanted a TouchPad to use webOS on it

I was in the third group, but I also suspect that was about 1.8% of the people who actually got the device.

If you were to compare the experience on a £89 TouchPad vs. whatever else you could legitimately purchase for £89 - how long were the queues for the Binatone HomeSurf 7? - it seems like a no-brainer. If there was no chance that the tablet were ever able to run Android, I don't think it would have sold nearly as quickly. At the time of writing there is an alpha-quality CyanogenMod release of Android for the TouchPad, for developers, rather than end users. With the recent release of Android 4.0, it's likely there will be a reasonably good upgrade path for the application story, and on this kind of hardware Android should be about as good as it is on any other kind of hardware.

I bemoaned this fact when I came to buy it:

Three months later, has my attitude changed? Somewhat. I simply don't want to own an Android tablet. (Neither do many other people, as we established before.) Would it be better on this hardware than webOS? Probably. Ask me again when 4.0 is released for the TouchPad - I don't think the attempts to shoehorn Android 2.x onto tablets have done hackers any better than Samsung.

I don't think there can be any argument that the fire sale was a dumb idea, and HP's CEO eventually paid the price. Would I have paid £200 for this? No, but they would still have sold out at that price.

The summary

First world problems much? Our two tablet household isn't as good as it would be if we had an iPad each. Sure. I knowingly bought an £89 gadget to have a play with, and I suspect I could easily get that back if I wanted to sell it. Alternatively, if either of my brothers read my blog, I might be convinced to post it to them for Christmas. Over time, I think I might find a use for it - if I could pick up the Touchstone dock-slash-stand, I think it could make a great digital photo frame.  Even if all it ever did was be an LCD Kindle, it was still a bargain.

But the crux is that neither of us ever want to use it. It almost got put in the cupboard today. Attempts to use it provoke disgust, throwing it back onto the couch, and getting up to find the iPad. There is really nothing redeeming about it.

  1. Fern later clarified: "It wasn't thrown on the couch, it was thrown at the couch. 
  2. If I were to look back on that purchase, I would say the money spent on the 3G was mostly wasted - tablet usage is mostly at home. The iPad spent over a year without a 3G SIM card, though it has one now thanks to Arunabh, who pointed out that T-Mobile have a remarkable 12 months free on an iPhone 4 PAYG SIM, and the iPad takes the SIM quite happily. 

Review of "Amazon Web Services: Migrating your .NET Enterprise Application"

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Amazon Web Services: Migrating your .NET Enterprise Application
Rob Linton, Packt Publishing

(Review copy supplied by Packt Publishing.)

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is not a small topic. Just listed on their 'product summary' page are 28 different topics, most with an entire set of both product and API documentation behind it.

Condensing that into a book is not a trivial task, and it requires establishing a suitable narrative. This book has taken the angle of a ".NET Enterprise Application", and starts off well: a sample application, if a little trivial, is provided, and a goal stated to move the application from traditional server hosting to the Amazon cloud.

Good, but short, consideration is given to why you would put such an application in AWS rather than a platform solution. It then dives in to creating instances for deploying the application.

A book that takes you on a journey, as opposed to a general reference book, should not be afraid to make choices. Five pages are dedicated to the Import/Export service, which lets you post Amazon a hard drive. Shipping terabytes of data is a problem that users are unlikely to have up front - the book should acknowledge its existence, but it wastes time and confuses users by going in-depth on a subject which should be an appendix at best.

Similarly, Chapter 6 covers SQL Server, required for the example application, but then also covers Oracle, MySQL (RDS) and Amazon's key-value store SimpleDB, none of which are used or required. It is great to see that the notification (SNS) and queuing (SQS) are discussed in the context of how the application could be enhanced to use them, although using these services means you are "locked in" in much the same way you are on a platform service - somewhat undermining the point the book made in the beginning.

Many statements in this book are just plain wrong (such as not being hosted on AWS, or network (EBS) volumes being faster than instance disks - whole books could be written on this topic alone). Other sections of the book are have been made outdated as Amazon has rolled out improvements - the most major of which being the new license mobility options allowing the use of SQL Server Enterprise. While there is nothing the author or publisher can do about progress, there are occasions where the book is internally inconsistent - for example, referring to 4 regions in one section and 5 in another. In general, poor editing detracts from the reading experience.

One of the reasons Amazon is so much cheaper than regular datacenter providers is they allow you to build reliable solutions out of commodity hardware. However, this means you need to make allowances that are not at all discussed in this book. Deploying applications across availability zones is absolutely essential - Amazon is up-front in saying that they expect failures, which are widely reported by people who do not understand that AWS is not a traditional, expensive battery-backed-SAN-reliable datacenter. This book mentions availability zones, but doesn't show how to properly use them.

Redundancy is only briefly touched on - SQL mirroring and failover, possibly the most important topic this book could cover, is given two paragraphs and then offloaded to Microsoft. Even though there appears to be enough servers for a redundant architecture, the eventual service is riddled with single points of failure and there is no way that an application built to this model should be allowed into production on AWS.

Further, many best practices, especially those around firewalls, security groups and Active Directory, are described incorrectly, and are likely to lead to insecure or unnecessarily expensive deployments.

The author clearly understands both Windows/SQL Server and the basics of AWS, but taking 28 topics and picking out the important ones is a difficult task, and overall this book does a poor job of it.

Updating a manuscript to include new functionality means it would effectively never be published. The alternative is a 'living document', published online: hard to make money from, but guaranteed to be up-to-date. I am unlikely to bother reading another book on AWS.


Please do not press this button again

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Revitalising the public library

Monday, January 10th, 2011

My friend and colleague Ian McDonald tweeted that our local library is in danger of being privatised.

Pros and cons of this decision aside, the article says:

The authority said it has completed a public consultation that assessed how to “provide better value for money but also encourage people to use our libraries more”.

It has seen a drop in the number of visitors aged between 16 and 44.

As a member of the public firmly between the ages of 16 and 44 (near-on exactly between, as it turns out), I'll offer an opinion.

I like books, though I don't particularly care to own them; I am not particularly attached to books physically (they don't smell as nice as they did when I was a kid), and I'll rarely re-read a book soon after the first time through. Further, I've lived in three countries in the past 5 years; books tend to be heavy and more expensive to cart around than just to re-buy in a new country.

You might think I'm a perfect candidate for a Kindle, and you would probably be right, if not for two reasons:

  • I like the lendability of books, which Kindle is only starting to address
  • E-books aren't nearly cheap enough

A good public library addresses this situation.

A good public library

Before moving to Richmond, we lived in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada for two years.  Though their libraries were physically as much a living relic of the 1970s as any other, and their website was more Web 0.5, the Kitchener Public Library and I had a beautiful thing going.  It worked a little like this:

  • Go to a book store
  • Look in sections of interest, and on the "What's New" table
  • Write down titles
  • Go to KPL website and reserve books

Cost to me: $0. Time expenditure: minimal. I would then get an e-mail when the books I wanted were available; I'd walk into the library (conveniently, not even 5 mins from my work), go straight to the reservation shelf, walk the book the ten steps to the counter, and be out in under a minute.

I generally go to bookshops as time-wasters while in shopping malls. When I'm in a bookstore, I already have a book I'm reading at home.  I am not there because I have nothing to read; I'm there because I want to know what I might want to read one day.  The somewhat random nature of library reservations worked well for me, in that I would get books as they came available.  If I ended up with more than I could read at once, I'd just re-reserve the ones I didn't have time for. Remember, this is just me; I know that your mileage will almost certainly vary.

A not-so-good public library

How does this work in Richmond?

  • The Richmond library network probably doesn't have the book
  • If they do, you pay almost a pound per book for reservation (average price of a paperback book: £8?)
  • There are so few copies of books, spread amongst many branches, that it can take months to get to you if it's half-way popular
  • To top it off, most commuters probably get back to Richmond after 6pm, when the library closes.

See why I don't bother going to the library?

Why libraries are hard

Lets ignore all the other benefits of a library as a civic space (as I rarely use them myself, so on the theme of privatisation, I wouldn't pay to keep them around) and focus only on the borrowing.

Generally, my discovery system tends towards the popular books - those that make it into Whitcoulls/Chapters/Waterstones etc - though there are some that I learn about online and would love to read. To me, libraries have always felt like they are places where books go to die. In some cases, libraries are probably the only place to find old books; it should be pointed out that fiction rarely changes, but non-fiction books are often supplanted, or refer to outdated concepts.1

This sounds like a problem that requires consideration of the "long tail" theory. Consider, for a second, They already have a warehouse system, allowing them to stock goods that likely wouldn't be profitable to show in a store.  For anything more than that, Amazon opened their platform to let others advertise on it: the additional cost of listing rare items tends towards zero. Other people can make a business of selling rare books, perhaps at a higher cost, or perhaps just for the love of rare books. Maybe the stock isn't kept on hand, and has to be ordered from the publisher as each copy is ordered. Maybe, over time, this model will tend towards businesses like, where, when you order a copy of the book, it will be printed for you there and then. Imagine that in your library?

So, as time passes, the 20% moves into the 80%, and the popular books move into the long tail. Libraries obviously keep books a long time. Why show them? Have the most popular books - the 20% - on display, and the rest discoverable online, where the council suggests most people are already looking.2 The library of my teens, the Hamilton Public Library, had a section called "Core Stock" which contained a lot of their older books; however, it was still a (relatively small) room you could go walk around.  Make this a machine-indexed basement, and charge people for getting books that they can't get any other way - a rare book is worth far more than 80p to someone who wants to read or cite it.

Why not offer a Netflix model, where I can pay ~£4 for a book which is posted to me, and comes with a return envelope?

The council knows that 16-44 year olds use the Internet, and know what they want.  The job of letting people know what books exist no longer needs to be performed by a library.  Many enjoy browsing shelves looking for a book, so keep a browseable library,3 but a much more focused one; then optimize the case where people want to order a book online and have it get to them somehow.

I'm not sure Richmond council can wait on the existence of miniature publishing machines (and the requisite copyright changes) to make a decision on their library. A public library has to compete with other media (film, internet), free (pirated books), digital/electronic and easy (Kindle, iBooks etc), digital/paper and easy (Amazon).  In a business context, many people try and compete by charging more and offering a better service; not really something that local government can do.  I'm sure it can find a niche.  If it can offer a good solution to my workflow, as Kitchener did, great.  Maybe the time will come for libraries to stop existing altogether, but I don't think we're there yet.

  1. As much as it would be a walk down memory lane to re-read the Commodore 64 books I read when I was 8, I don't think they need to be taking up space on library shelves. 
  2. And make the online display appealing - you have all the space, and attention, you want. Show full cover images, rather than thumbnails, and link to web services that can tell you more about the book from its ISBN. 
  3. Or build your branches next to a book store. That'll learn 'em! 

Review: Barenaked Ladies at Hammersmith Apollo, 15 September 2010

Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Barenaked Ladies

For a large period of my life - pretty much from the moment I first saw them live in Auckland in '991 - Barenaked Ladies were my favourite band. I can't put my finger on when or why they fell from that position – possibly in the quiet period between the release of their somewhat lacklustre Everything to Everyone and the double-CD-in-two-parts that was Barenaked Ladies are Me/Men in 2006/2007 – or even who replaced them; they just wandered out of my playlist, in the way that bands sometimes do. However, they are still undisputedly the best live band I've ever seen (only Green Day have ever come close), and I will jump at the chance to see them play.

The elephant in the room2 is the lack of singer/songwriter Steven Page, who departed the band 18 months ago. Last time we saw the band was in their home town of Toronto in December 2008, two months before the split; I'm glad I got to that show, even if it was a bit Christmas-carol heavy. Since then, after a long break, BNL have returned with All In Good Time, a record firmly at the grown-up end of the spectrum (as you might expect from a band whose last studio output was a children's album called Snacktime).

Last night they bought their All In Good Time tour to the Hammersmith Apollo in London, officially making Barenaked Ladies the third band I have now seen in three different countries.3

While as expected there were a number of cuts from both their new album and their hit album Stunt (you know, the one with the "Chikkity China" song on it), the set had a number of tracks from its follow up Maroon. Older songs were fewer - Old Apartment was the first song where Ed Robertson took Steve's lead vocal, and it's worth noting that drummer Tyler Stewart makes a surprisingly good Ed to Ed's Steve.

Strangely the song where I missed Steve the most was one he didn't even sing - the first single of the new album, You Run Away, which is ostensibly about the circumstances surrounding Steve leaving the band he'd been in for 20 years. The end chorus on the record relies on Ed's double-tracked vocals, and the live version was just crying out for a proper duet.

Barenaked Ladies

However, the new arrangement worked brilliantly in other places. I'm the first to admit that the voice of Kevin Hearn (a taller, thinner Turtle from Entourage) isn't generally to my taste. Sound Of Your Voice from Barenaked Ladies Are Me is my favourite BNL song since the Maroon days; Kevin wrote this song, but Steve sings it on the album. Since Steve left, Kevin has taken lead vocal again, and even if Kevin was a more powerful vocalist, Page's are very big shoes to fill, especially on a belter such as this. The current arrangement features Kevin playing acoustic guitar, and the other three clustered around a microphone singing the backing vocals in a "doo-wop" style, complete with clicking fingers and synchronized swaying. It was suitably different and it bought new life back to a great song.

Many of the rest of the new songs were treated as bathroom breakers; by comparison, It's All Been Done almost got some of audience jumping up and down where the seats should be. The loudest cheers of the evening were reserved for mentions of all things Canadian, no doubt by the gentleman (and ladies!) all in hockey garb.

A trademark of the BNL experience was the live improvised song/rap, which tonight was about English accents and a kid telling Ed not to steal his bike. (Trust me, they're better in person.) The improvised story in the middle of If I Had A Million Dollars told us that in lieu of him being able to find a park to run around, he was doing laps of the Shepherd's Bush Green, and the descriptive story of his hotel (with "snow room" - more Canadian cheering!) no doubt led some of the more intent fans to camp out in front of it the next morning!

More BNL trademarks include the throwing of underwear (placed on guitars) and Kraft Dinner (thrown from the balcony, and hitting everyone in our vicinity!).  Did the "those in the know don't throw" message not get through to those who were super-fan enough to still go through with this?

One of my favourite parts of the old BNL show was the post-Million Dollars medley, a carefully crafted pastiche of current pop songs. I fondly remember the Auckland show, seeing Tyler run up and down the stage singing "Near" and "Far" in the style of Sesame Street, then Steve breaking into "Near, far, wherever you are" from My Heart Will Go On (this was 1999!). From bootlegs I've heard, this was dropped from the set around 2000, but seems to have come back with a vengeance; Kevin's slow start on Oh It's Magic soon joined by a beatboxing Ed and turning into I Got A Feeling by the Black Eyed, Peas, Baby by Justin Bieber and California Gurls by Katy Perry, ending in a triumphant Tyler-carrying-Jim moment.

The encore started great, with Tyler-the-drummer down the front and Ed on drums; it not being Christmas, so his regular Feliz Navidad seemed a bit unlikely: instead, we were treated to a madcap version of Alcohol.4 It all got a little muted from that point on; the new Kevin-lead ballad Watching the Northern Lights was treated as another bathroom break, and the finisher Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel is a great song, but one I figured Steve would get in the divorce. The new lineup seems freed from the obligation to finish with Brian Wilson every night, although examinations of other setlists suggests they do still play it. (This is not a game I should play, because examinations of other setlists simply make me jealous that they played songs I like on other nights!)

While it's not the same band any more, it's still fun, and I disagree with comments that suggest it's butchering the memory. No more so than having BNL featuring Thin Steve with stylish glasses.

Update: Check out some professional photos of the evening at IES Photography.

  1. I think it was '99; strangely enough I can't find confirmation on the Internet at all! 
  2. On the subject of elephants in rooms, I gained another chin eating a diet of hot dogs and poutine in my two years in Canada; I don't mean to generalise, but the room at BNL, on average, appeared to weigh a lot more than other, primarily-English audiences I've been in there. Just sayin'. Eat healthy. 
  3. Behind R.E.M. and Crowded House; technically I could include Neil and Tim Finn solo, but I won't. 
  4. Bass player Jim Creegan sings lead vocals on one or two songs an album nowadays, and takes live lead on some Steve songs, but didn't get one tonight. 

Hat-in-rubber-gloved-hand time

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Me and my 'mo

Point, chuckle, and then donate.  (Hey, I've got 11 days to go.)

This is my every-three-yearly charity drive.  Last time I tried it, my boss made a sizeable donation on the condition I never do it again.  (Sorry, Andrew.)  Two countries and three years later, I'm at it again - and you should make a donation to prostate cancer research in my honour, because otherwise we just go on not talking about it until Rubber Glove time.

T minus 5 days

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Five days from now we'll be in the air, on the way to Chicago (which is actually in exactly the wrong direction), and then onto London.

(Did I tell you we were moving to London?  Oh well, now you know!)

Before then, we have to:

  • Sell our remaining stuff
  • Have people who have bought stuff and not collected it, collect it
  • Put boxed stuff on a boat
  • Visit our "Canadian family" for Thanksgiving
  • Fill in the holes in the walls, even though we didn't put them there
  • Lots of cleaning.

Last Saturday we saw Russell Peters - perhaps not the "world's greatest comedian", as the intro announcer suggested, but definitely a very funny guy.  Half his act is race jokes (Peters is Indian, which pretty much lets him riff on whatever racial group or stereotype he wants), and the other half is embarassing the front row, especially couples of mixed ethnicity.

Sunday we had a lovely meal with Fern's old workmates from Manulife Financial, including no less than three different types of dessert.  I baked brownies.  By which, I mean "Cindy gave us brownie mix a year and a half ago; we bought a brownie pan six months later, and since we're leaving in a week, we should use both".  There is only so much you can get wrong in "mix water, oil, an egg, and this packet of powder"; I think it would have been nicer with standard vegetable oil instead of extra-virgin olive oil.

Talking of stand-up comedy, "extra-virgin" is something George Carlin would have had at:

That's another complaint of mine - too much use of this prefix "pre". It's all over the language now — "pre"-this, "pre"-that, place the turkey in a "pre-heated" oven. It's ridiculous! There are only two states an oven can possibly exist in: Heated or unheated! "Pre-heated" is a meaningless fucking term! It's like "pre-recorded" — "This program was pre-recorded." Well, of course it was pre-recorded! When else are you gonna record it, afterwards?

Scalping pt. 2

Sunday, June 21st, 2009
Old men make amusing post-punk rockers.

Old men make amusing post-punk rockers.

I see Green Day are touring NZ. The last time they were there was on the American Idiot tour, and it was a fantastic show. Go if you can, I am going to the Hamilton, ON show in three weeks.

The band and their Aus/NZ promoter (Frontier Touring Company) have announced anti scalping measures. This is a topic of personal interest, so I'll mention them here:

  • you only get a receipt when you buy a ticket, and you don't get the ticket until 30 days before the date (so you can't sell on Trade Me, which requires you have ticket in hand to sell)
  • 300 GA tickets, a maximum of 2 per person, are available from the box office of the venue, in this case Vector Arena in Auckland, the day tickets go on sale.

Lets look at the second measure first.  With a total capacity in the 12,000 range, Vector probably has a GA limit of at least 3,000.   Therefore, this would imply that 10% of the audience - those lucky 150 people who work in downtown Auckland and can justify queuing for the morning - will get tickets through.

Or, professional scalpers will pay a homeless guy $10 to queue and then take their place at 7.59am.

90% of the GA tickets, and presumably the total 11,700 other tickets, will go on the 'tubenet like always before.  Which leads back into the first measure.  Even if you're only sent a receipt, without Trade Me taking an active part, there will be auctions that read "$300 pen with free Green Day ticket receipt".  New Zealand is both blessed and cursed to only really have one public marketplace, and it's one that has expressed no interest in not taking its cut of the auction proceeds in the past.

Compare and contrast with what we have here: all GA tickets and the best seated tickets are pick-up on the night only, with the purchasing credit card.  If this were matched with a facility where you can return unwanted tickets to the retailer for a fair refund (minus handling perhaps), and have them invalidated, and made available to the pool again - yes, this means checking back later could actually have good reason! - I consider this the perfect solution.  Sure, there will be people who try and sell the invalidated tickets, but a number-checking web site could clear that up quickly.

Now, on-street scalping will never stop, but it's probably not a bad thing that it exists.  Fern and I went to see The Police on the strength of people standing outside who wanted to sell their tickets at face value (albeit a young couple, not the regular toothless hobo scalpers at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto). I even sold a ticket for R.E.M. in London to a scalper when we didn't have a fourth person who wanted to go.

A couple of weeks ago, tickets for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup, the NHL ice-hockey finals, were going on the street in host city Detroit for 1/3 face value, owing perhaps to the fantastic economic climate in host city Detroit.  Some friends of mine made the 3 hour drive down for Game 7, the final in the best-of-7, but by that point the scalpers had figured out which way up to hold their calculators and were charging between $500 and $2100.  The game was instead watched from the Windsor Casino.  You have to be prepared to walk away.