Tuesday 01 July, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 131 : Bicycle

Bicycle, The Film Official Trailer

Hey look! That's my bike! And that's my wife riding it!

Bicycle has its VIP premiere this evening up in Bradford. We were invited but had to turn it down. Work, you know, and school and stuff. I'm in London today, so even further from Bradford that I ordinarily am. As the film opens, I'll probably be putting in a few laps of Regents Park on my folder before catching the train. Chapeau!

[Add a comment]
Friday 20 June, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 130: Electric Ballroom

On the 14th of June last year, I took a slightly round-the-houses trip to a wrestling show in Bethnal Green solely to see Jushin 'Thunder' Liger work a match. It was a pretty special thing. This past Sunday, exactly a year later, I went back to Bethnal Green to see another of Revolution Pro's wrestling shows. While it's pretty common for UK wrestling promotions to bring in well known workers from the US and Japan, RevPro seem to bring in bigger names and more of them and bloody hell they stack a card.

The closing match of first half featured Kevin Steen. The "Internet dirtsheets" would call him an "indy wrestling darling", but they can take their smart-mark snark and shove it up their arses. Steen is possibly the most complete wrestler I've ever seen - he connects with the crowd, he's quick and funny, improvises in the ring, and he can "really go". He's off to the "big leagues" of the WWE and so is effectively on a farewell tour at the moment. Working with Marty Scurll, they really put on a show. It was a privilege to seem him wrestle.

I could left then and been pretty happy, but the match I'd made the trip to see was up next - Shinsuke Nakamura vs Zack Sabre Jr. It was just amazing. Zack isn't the biggest guy in the world but looked like he belonged in there - the match was terrifically stiff and energetic. But Nakamura, Nakamura, Nakamura. Nakamura is just electrifying. He just has something - you can't take your eyes of him.

When the MC asked York Hall? Are you ready for the next match? my honest response was no I'm done, just send me home so it's a credit to guys in the final two matches that they managed to not just engage, but reignite the crowd. In truth, the final match of Prince Devitt vs Adam Cole probably would have got people going even if they'd come out and just jabbed each other in the chest for a bit. Devitt, after many years at the working at top level in primarily Japan, is also joining WWE shortly and so this was probably his final appearance at a RevPro show. Cole is the top star in Ring Of Honor, one of the largest of the American independents. Booking logic said Cole should win but emotion wanted Devitt to go out on a high and, in the end, he did.

I came out of York Hall so hopped up I eshewed the tube, with its standing and waiting and heat shuffling crowds, instead walking, striding, loping even, from Bethnal Green along the length of the City Road back to Euston and the train home.

» ProWrestling Torch Glossary of Insider Terms - defines the term insider in a kind of meta-glossary ahead of the glossary itself

» Kevin Steen might be heading to WWE - includes the phrase "independent wrestling darling".

[Add a comment]
Friday 13 June, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 129 : And Breathe. And Relax.

Home again. Two full englishes but only one falafel wrap. Went to some interesting talks, which were mainly useful. Drank some beer. Used four pairs of socks - could have done with a couple more. Left computer behind. Walked a lot of miles around some new bits of London, serendipitously taking in two of Hawksmoor's churches en route. Watched wrestling on the train back. Didn't read Overload - sorry Fran.

[Add a comment]
Wednesday 11 June, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 128 : Travelling Light

I'm in the middle of packing my bag to head to Devoxx tomorrow. This should be a pretty straightforward thing. I'm only away for one night so I'm travelling light - toothbrush, socks, smalls, couple of t-shirts. Put clean stuff on when I get up, avoid chucking food down myself for the duration, and there's no need for anything else clotheswise. Add to that wallet, phone, Nexus 7 (it has assorted books on it that I'm unlikely to read, some comics that I might read, and some wrestling videos I probably will watch), battery pack, main adaptor, pens, A4 pad (a new Pukka Pad that's only a couple of days old), the copy of Overload which arrived at lunchtime, the current bedside paperback, and that pretty much covers it.

The question I'm really spending too much time wrestling with is do I take a laptop. Without wanting to sound all I'm-so-busy-and-creative-and-amazing, I've got all kind of things I could spend a hour or two or three or four in the evening poking around at, all of it interesting, and all of it pretty fun. Some of it I even get paid for. Even if I don't look at any of that, there are events at the conference where whipping out the laptop for a quick bit of hands-on action might be just the thing. But if I do take it, I'm worried that I'll feel obligated to crack it open. No point lugging it all the way down there and only to ignore it. On the other hand, it might be pretty cool just to treat the whole business as some kind of city minibreak but with technical talks instead of art galleries or something. I can have my full English, hit the conference, have a couple of beers and falafel wrap, stroll over to the hotel, watch a bit of wrestling, sack out, do it again on Friday, then head home. In that case, if I am overwhelmed by the sudden urge to write some code, I'll just have to bottle it up until Saturday.

Might do that.

» Seven Ineffective Coding Habits of Many Programmers - Let's be careful out there.

» Email Self-Defense - guide to email signing and encryption. It's not hard and you really should be doing it. End-to-end encryption is coming for you GMailing types too.

» Forget these 'Trojan horses' – the real issue is faith schools - Too right. Without wanting to get to caught up in what might have been going on at the various schools recently investigated, I was struck that one of the things that was considered inappropriate were posters in Koranic Arabic exhorting the power of prayer. Curiously enough that kind of thing is considered absolutely appropriate for religious schools. St Bernard's Primary School, just down the road from here, has a lovely big picture of the Pope in the entrance way just for starters. The first duty of 'the family' in their Home School agreement is Support the Catholic ethos of the school. I imagine that rather sticks in the craw of the non-Catholic contingent. But that's tough, because it's a religious school, so it can plaster as many posters about the power of prayer about the place as it likes, build its school policies around Christ's message of love, discriminate in favour of Catholics in its admissions, and so on and so on. Quite how that meshes with working in and for the community must depend on your definition of community, I guess.

I have no idea what a city minibreak actually is.

[Add a comment]
Tuesday 10 June, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 127 : Inconvenient Timetables

I'm heading off to London on Thursday for a conference and stopping overnight. I spent a chunk of today plotting walking routes that will take in the station, the venue, and depending on which end of the day it is either a Full English or a falafel wrap. Breakfast and dinner options seem to have become one of my primary preoccupations whenever I visit London at the moment, even if I don't necessarily go all in for fry-up or chick pea oriented comestibles.

I head down to London approximately once a week. In the past I had a brief dalliance with Moor Street-Marylebone, but it took longer, wasn't that much cheaper, and meant cycling through fucking Fitzrovia, an area of London with highest concentration per square foot of rich self-important twats driving ludicrously enormous cars. So I stick to New Street-Euston, which delivers you into slightly less up itself Camden. The cheapest time to travel down is before 6 in the morning and the cheapest time to travel back is after quarter past 8, so that's what I do. It's knackering, but thrifty. I get up at the crack of bleeding dawn, arriving in London at quarter past 7. Quarter past 7 is, in anyone's language, breakfast time. Quarter past 8 in the evening is, generally speaking, well after tea. Consequently it's perhaps not a massive shock the options for both have come to occupy my travel thoughts, although I did surprise myself by deciding that a two mile diversion to hit my preferred breakfast spot on walk to the venue wasn't remotely unreasonable.

The gap in between will be filled by Devoxx UK, which probably doesn't tell you a great deal. It's a two day conference focused on Java, web, mobile and JVM languages, which might tell you a bit more. Encouraged by m'chum Russel I took a chance and bought a super-early-bird (i.e. heavily discounted) ticket even before the programme was announced, but that looks to have paid off because it looks like it's going to be pretty good indeed.

» The first dedicated Fighting Fantasy convention, Fighting Fantasy Fest 2014 is awkwardly scheduled to coincide with the weekend immediately before the start of term. Ah well.

» Woodland creature story sizing in practice : A badger has no equivalent time value and a squirrel has no ‘completed by’ date. I do like the sound of this. I really do.

[Add a comment]
Sunday 08 June, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 126 : Birmingham Bears?

Birmingham Bears?
You're having a laugh!
Birmingham Bears?
You're having a laugh!
Birmingham Bears?
You're having a laugh!
La la la!
La la la!

It's fair to say the Edgbaston crowd hasn't really taken to Warwickshire's rebranding as Birmingham Bears for this season's Twenty20 competition (itself rebranded as the T20 Blast). Even the club itself didn't seem fully behind things - it said Warwickshire on the scoreboard. Good fun game of cricket yesterday evening though. It's always good when Warwickshire bat second and win in the last over. The crowd are more loosened up and engaged, and so the cheers more full blooded. It's childish, but after one of the Durham players dropped an absolute sitter of a catch, my kids enjoyed the quick and friendly chorus of Whoever you are, you're shit. And, I confess, so did I. We're off again in a couple of weeks to see the game with Lancashire Lightning. Hopefully we'll see Freddie Flintoff biff a few quick runs for Lancashire followed by another Warwickshire win.

I don't disagree with anything in the blog post - in fact it's a rather good list, but I absolutely disagree that's the job of university to prepare people for work. That's something employees and employers should do together. Even the most vocational of vocational courses don't produce people who can step right out in to a job. Nor do those courses aim to, nor should they, nor can they. What any course should aim for is the core of the subject, to show the student just how much more there is out there, and to show how much more there will always be. Nothing stands still.

» The New Zealand National Anthem sounds like a bit of a dirge (even when compared to God Save the Queen), but its history is fascinating.

» This recipe for Chocolate Orange Cake is terrific.

[Add a comment]
Thursday 29 May, 2014
#Installing Ruby and Rails on Ubuntu 14.04

This is mainly for my own benefit, because bootstrapping a Rails installation is such a collosal faff.

Prepare yourself
Make a cup of tea.  This could take a while.
Install Ruby
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install git-core curl zlib1g-dev build-essential libssl-dev libreadline-dev
 libsqlite3-dev sqlite3 libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev python-software-properties

git clone git://github.com/sstephenson/rbenv.git .rbenv
echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
echo 'eval "$(rbenv init -)"' >> ~/.bashrc
exec $SHELL

git clone git://github.com/sstephenson/ruby-build.git ~/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build
echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
exec $SHELL

rbenv install 2.1.2
rbenv global 2.1.2
ruby -v

echo "gem: --no-ri --no-rdoc" > ~/.gemrc
Install Rails
sudo apt-get install nodejs

gem install rails
rbenv rehash
rails -v
gem install bundler
Install Postgres
sudo apt-get install postgresql libpq-dev
sudo su - postgres
createuser [me]
createdb -O [me] [whatevs]_development
createdb -O [me] [whatevs]_test
Setup Rails Application
git clone [application]
cd [app_dir]
rbenv local 2.1.2
bundle install
rake db:migrate RAILS_ENV=development
rails server

[Add a comment]
Friday 09 May, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 125 : Professor Colin Pillinger CBE FRS FRAS

Stones from the sky: A heaven-sent opportunity to talk about science

Colin Pillinger, who died on Wednesday, was my first boss. I got a job as a research assistant in what was then the Planetary Sciences Unit at the Open University after I graduated in 1991. We didn't actually see that much of the 'popular science lecturer' side of Colin you can see in the video above. In fact, I didn't see that much of him at all. His management style could, even by the relaxed standards of academia, be alarmingly hands-off. The unit had a meeting on a Monday morning, where everyone gave a quick update on what they'd done and what they planned to do. That was about as much direct 'management' as I ever got. Phil, the Unit's other RA, once said he had "the same relationship with Colin as I have with the man who empties the bin in my office" by which he meant that they both let him just get on with what he was doing. That was how Colin ran his department - he trusted his people to good work and let them get on with it. It certainly served Phil well, he's now a professor at Curtin University in Australia. Without wishing to over-romanticise my time at the OU, it set me up pretty well too.

Although I didn't see a great deal of him day to day, I enjoyed the time we did spent together. He was good fun, generous with his time, and able to talk on almost any subject. During my interview for the job, I was asked what I was interested in, the subtext being what's an electronics graduate like you doing in a meteorite research lab like this? Even though it seemed a stupid thing to say, I replied that I was interested in everything. Since as a new graduate I had precious little else to offer, I wonder now if that actually got me the job. Colin drank his tea out of mug bearing the slogan "Scientists now more about Art than Artists know about Science". He was interested in things, and he liked people who were interested in things.

The PSU was a really good fun place to work. My job there, as described in my contract of employment, was to "carry out such duties as were required by your Head of Unit". Mainly that meant maintaining the various analytical instruments that the Unit had bought or built, and building new instruments. I taught myself a lot of software, a decent amount of electronics, and some heavy electrical stuff too. I learned a ton of stuff about meteorites, the early solar system, mass spectrometry, lunar exploration, planetary evolution, plate tectonics, volcanos, geology in general, and the fun you can have with liquid nitrogen. On a couple of occasions the job meant fastening roof racks to Toyota Landcruisers and once it meant fixing the florescent lights that had been damaged by flying corks when Colin popped off some champagne in the Monday meeting after he was elected FRS. One long, long night, it meant helping Andy run an experiment on some lunar soil. Colin was at a conference in Houston, where Andy phoned him the results which, as I remember, he promptly presented. I exaggerate - I wasn't *required* to do the experiment but, when Andy and I announced our intentions in the Monday meeting, I was encouraged to do it. That's the kind of place the PSU was.

It's a great shame that Colin will be remembered as the man who's spaceship broke down on the way to Mars. An investigation laid the some of blame for the mission failure on Colin's "poor management", but I believe that overlooks a very great deal. Just getting the thing built and launched was a triumph by itself. Securing the funds, building the instrument, getting the thing in the air, while simultaneously growing the PSU into the far, far larger Planetary and Space Sciences Institute, all that takes a long time and it doesn't happen by accident. He was a sharp guy, a good guy, and I very sad to know he's gone.

» The Life Scientific: Colin Pillinger

» Rosetta: Ptolemy Instrument Blog - Colin's "other" experiment. In November, after ten years in space en route, Rosetta will attempt to land a small probe onto a comet. The Ptolemy instrument is a GCMS and will examine the isotopic ratios of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, giving an insight in to the origins of cometary materials.

» Professor Colin Pillinger - obituary at The Telegraph

» Colin Pillinger obituary at The Guardian

[Add a comment]
Wednesday 07 May, 2014
#The Forest Road Reader, No 124 : "fruitcakes, loonies ..."

Now, where the hell was I?

Election watch: It's a shade over two weeks until the council and European elections but the local parties have hardly leapt into action. We've so far received one UKIP leaflet and one Labour leaflet. The UKIP leaflet is about the European elections and is entirely generic, so much so that it doesn't even name the candidates. It promises a life free from "EU control" and "of course, tough on immigration", both things outwith the control of MEPs. The Labour leaflet is for the council elections. Given that two out of three of the current councillors are and the council is controlled by Labour it's very steady-as-she-goes. It opens with a nice picture of the candidates and focusses resolutely on ward issues. Personally, I'd like the council to make more noise taking on Eric Pickles in his mission to reduce local councils to little more that refuse collectors, but if that's going on at all it's very much, and rather disappointingly, happening behind firmly closed doors.

One of the most depressing things about the upcoming European Election is the number of right-wing nutjobs standing. Locally we have a full slate of UKIP, BNP, and English Democrats, together with slates of anti-EU ex-UKIP types who seem to think that becoming an MEP is exactly the way to poke Brussels in the eye (or at least avoid having to get a proper job). [West Midlands Euro Candidates 2014]

While nutjobs are on the rise in the Euro elections they do, pleasingly, seem to have all but disappeared from the council elections. There's the odd UKIP is standing again, but the BNP in Birmingham do finally seem to have dried up. That's progress of a sort, I guess

(Those collections would be weekly, of course, with prayers said beforehand and flags flying from every bin lorry.)

Occasionally I chuck this quote around at work to put the wind up people. The conversation often follows an established pattern along the lines of we have paying subscribers and they get very upset if our site goes down countered with if a major news site goes down, it's all over Twitter in no time. Yes we have paying customers, yes they pay a lot of money for the service, yes they're on the phone immediately anything goes wonky, but yes, I believe we could release into production more often and we could move more quickly as a result.

» The future of London is already here, it's just not evenly distributed: A user's guide to William Gibson's London : One of our fondest memories of Tottenham Court Road was the time we recently spotted the fading box of a first generation iPad sitting quietly gathering dust in the corner of one shop window. The pristine white glow of its Apple branded box slowly wilting to a deadened yellow in the sunlight while the ghost of Steve Jobs hovered futilely nearby, hurling empty invective at the hapless shopkeepers - Went cold into reading Gibson's Zero History, which I thoroughly enjoyed, a month or so back, and was struck by just how real his London felt. The story takes place in almost exactly the area my knowledge covers, even down the Southwark cafes where you can find a fried breakfast and Thai noodles on the same menu.

» You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise - I seem to have become an enormous Judas Priest fan over the past couple of weeks. Rob Halford could be Sutton Coldfields's hardest rocking bus pass holder, but that's only because the members of Black Sabbath are from over the border in Aston and Handsworth

[Add a comment]
Saturday 29 March, 2014
#First ice cream van of the year ...

... gave a brief chime yesterday, Friday 28 March, at 16:25. I have seen the odd ice cream van out and about, including one back in February, but yesterday was the first time a van showed up in our street, and that's what I'm logging. Records show this year is late, but not record breaking.

Previous years:

[Add a comment]