<< February 2006 April 2006 >>

Friday 31 March, 2006
#

Nattle spent the afternoon waiting for the phone call that would say yes, you are moving next Friday (it didn't come) so I picked up the Bean from school. He'd taken his bike so we cycled back together. As far as I can tell, it only rained for about 15 minutes this afternoon, but those 15 minutes coincided exactly with our trip back. The first drops fell as he strode out of the classroom, they stopped as I rang the doorbell and in between it bucketed it down. In spite of the rain, and a misunderstanding resulting in him almost riding under the wheels of the Wake Green Road traffic, we had a pretty good spin back. The rainbow was particularly lovely.


[Add a comment]
#Sprung
Miniature Narcissi

Crocuses
[Add a comment]
Thursday 30 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Cory Doctorow's Mobile Phone plus Signed Hardback - Sale proceeds directed to funding Open Rights Group. Am highest bidder at time of writing. Hope that doesn't last, because I don't really want a new phone :)

Phew! [added 31st Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]

#[linkfarm] Michinoku Pro 3rd Anniversary Ten Man Tag - Top stuff - watch it now before YouTube start limiting videos to 10 minutes
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Distophia, Misty's, Una Corda, Enablers - two gigs, one night - Pete writes 'em so I don't have to

   * Ken [e] said An old mate of mine (The Baron) has a local gig and music blog - I reckon it may be of interest to Jez and Pete...

http://www.thehearingaid.co.uk/2006/03/a_manifestoof_sorts.php [added 7th Apr 2006]


[Add a comment]
#How To Work At Home: Space

To work at home, you need a proper space to work in. Much of our life is shaped by habit and ritual, and going to work is no different. I've seen people who were barely awake, let alone coherent, suddenly spring into life as the swiped their entry pass. If you ride the lift a few floors to your office, you can often see people getting into character. I recently went to a gig where the band, Enablers, had travelled from San Francisco to play to a crowd of maybe 60 in the back of pub. I'd speculated that they might be a little underwhelmed, but as they got up on stage their game faces were on and they went to work. They were so terrific I bought two CDs on the spot.

The trip to work is important - an hour in the car or up three steps - because it helps you prepare. When you get there, you're ready to go. Even though you are at home, it's important to make the journey. It's important for the rest of your household too - my children know that when I "go to work" they shouldn't disturb me, Nattle avoids interrupting me, even the dog and the cats act differently when I'm on the clock.

I work in the attic room. It's physically apart from the rest of the house so the walk up the stairs is my journey to work, it's high up so there's rarely noise from outside, there's plenty of room for bookshelves and things, I have a nice big trestle table to work at, and the window is out of my eyeline. It's comfortable. I get lots done.

My chum Paul is not lucky enough to have an attic, but he has a good sized garden. He built a rather splendid computing facility next to his veg patch.

The only person I know who worked at home for any length of time on his dining table has no children, pets or noisy household appliances. He started when his wife left for work in the morning, and stopped when she came in. He did alright I think, but wasn't entirely comfortable because the boundaries were blurred. He works in a office an hour away now, and I think he's happier.

You don't necessarily need a room or outbuilding set aside, but you need a known, defined space that you're in - and so at work - or not in - and so not at work. If you can't keep them clear, then you'll never be quite at work and never be quite at home, you'll spend your time feeling there's something you should be doing and never be able relax properly.

[More How To Work At Home]

Ken [e] said Haha. My good lady is having a little trouble adjusting to the "off limits" policy. The problem is I'm a little too eager to step out of the work threshold and into the family one sometimes, so I'm just as much to blame.

Simply shutting the door has a huge effect.

I may have to rejig the house a bit: I hate having a north facing office window, much too dim. Sod the glare on the monitor, I'll take sunlight any day of the week ;)

My most productive time is between the hours of 8pm to midnight. I can't say I'm happy with that, but I work quicker and more accurately. The trouble is I work in an industry where you're still expected to man the phones during "normal" hours.

Hohum, three months in. Early days. [added 30th Mar 2006]


[Add a comment]
Wednesday 29 March, 2006
#Digging around in your old code ...
... sometimes can be a complete PITA ...

... other times it can be pretty funny
*
* Revision 1.79 2001/09/10 15:18:28 jez Corrected and simplifed
* addPIsToChanges. All new elements are now correctly marked. threeWayDiff no
* longer does disjuncion checking or change consolidation. As it turns out they
* were just taking perfectly valid results and buggering them up.
Well I thought it was funny.
anonymous said Is that from the product formally known as L**gua? [added 30th Mar 2006]
The one now known as ***? Yes [added 30th Mar 2006]
anonymous said I think you should call it ****# [added 4th Apr 2006]

[Add a comment]
Monday 27 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr for the WCW Cruiserweight Title at Halloween Havoc - Absolute cracker of a wrestling match
[Add a comment]
Thursday 23 March, 2006
#.NET Annoyances: PrintPreviewDialog can not be used as an MDI child window

Change

PrintPreviewDialog ppd = new PrintPreviewDialog();
ppd.Document = printDoc;
ppd.ShowDialog(this);
to
PrintPreviewDialog ppd = new PrintPreviewDialog();
ppd.Document = printDoc;
ppd.MdiParent = this;
ppd.WindowState = FormWindowState.Maximized;
ppd.Show();
get
Unhandled exception

[More Annoyances]


[Add a comment]
Wednesday 22 March, 2006
#.NET Annoyances: You may not change this Pen because it does not belong to you

Can you see the mistake here?

canvas.DrawString(ra.Name, font, ra.Pen.Brush, x, y);

It's ra.Pen.Brush, but only because ra is returning a built-in Pen from the System.Drawing.Pens class. If I return a new Pen(somecolor), this code works. The stock Pen objects are immutable, which is fine, but reading the Brush property of a stock Pen throws this childishly worded exception. Reading the Color property doesn't, by the way. I didn't bother to experiment with other properties.

As usual, this isn't documented anywhere. It isn't possible to work out at runtime which Pen objects it is safe to read the Brush property of and which it isn't, rendering the Brush property effectively useless. To be safe, if you want a Brush which is the same colour as a Pen, you always have to construct it yourself.

Conceptually, the built-in Pen objects are constant, but C# has no way to express that. Turning a read access, something that should be safe to do to a constant object, into a modification and a runtime fail is sloppy design if deliberate, or sloppy development and testing if it's a bug.

C++ has const and the idea of const-correctness. Being able to express immutability directly in the language helps in all kinds of ways, often simply by making you think about it. Can't help feeling it would have helped here.

[More Annoyances]


[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Basics of Web Design from Scratch
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] XHTML2: Accessible, Usable, Device Independent and Semantic
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Growing a Business Website: Fix the Basics First

   * Ken [e] said Physician heal thyself! I don't *want* to read this page, and it's got nothing to do with the lack of fancy design elements - it's all about breaking basic readability guidelines. A single page-width column that the eye can't track well from screen reading distance - get stuffed back to the drawing board you berks.

(I did force myself to read the common-sense issues raised, pertinent points one and all for anyone who can be arsed to stick with it - a real shame.) [added 22nd Mar 2006]


[Add a comment]
#.NET Annoyances: Don't tell me not to do something that I am not doing

This is what I'm working on right now -

a list box, sitting on a dialog box. It does all the right things at the right times, but I'm not entirely happy with it. The box itself is read-only. You change the contents using another dialog box popped up by the button on the bottom there. Since the list is read-only, it doesn't make sense to be able to select any of the contents. You can see bbb is highlighted here. I've looked at using a text box, but when you mark that as read-only, it changes its appearance completely which is even worse. It's a little thing, but I'd rather it wasn't there.

Poking around I find this

which looks just the thing. So I switch One to None, rebuild and everything blows up
Cannot call this method

A compile time change has lead to a runtime failure. There are a multitude of problems here, but the two most obvious are

I'm using DataBinding to populate the the listbox, and I suspect the problem lies here - OnBindingContextChanged is the clue here. There's a bug report describing something similar in an older version that also suggests so.

[More Annoyances]

Slightly later: Sure enough, if I populate the list box manually, the problem goes away. DataBinding let's you tie a dialog box widget, like a list box, to a property on another object. It takes care of synchronising data back and forth, and means you don't have to write lots of tedious synchronisation code of your own. Unless someone missed a case out of their test suite, of course, in which case you might as well have not bothered. Bah! [added 22nd Mar 2006]
Slightly later again: I stayed with the data binding, and switched selection mode back to one. I added a handler to the list box's SelectedIndexChanged event which unselects any selection made. There's a slight flicker, but I guess I can live with that. [added 22nd Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
Tuesday 21 March, 2006
#.NET Annoyances: Living in a box

I currently recommend the .NET Framework as the easiest way to develop GUI applications for Windows. It's got decent tool support, it's free of charge, it's got a pretty thumping library that covers all the important things you might want (or at least I want to do, so far). I'm not all rah-rah C#-is-the-one-true path, but the alternatives - Java, C++ development with MFC or another class library, Python, whatever - just can't match it in terms of getting Windows stuff done.

You are in a box though. The .NET Framework and its libraries define the boundaries of what you can do, and when you bag up against the edges of the box things can get unpleasant. It's nowhere near as bad as Visual Basic was, when an experienced Windows developer would smash up against hard barriers within about five minutes. The .NET box is much bigger, and you can, if you need to, use things like PInvoke or COM Interop to breach the boundaries. It can be a little hairy-scary, but you can do it. But you are in a box, and you can never quite forget it.

[More Annoyances]


[Add a comment]
#[elsewhere] the way to get "never before seen footage" is simply to wait
[Add a comment]
#They are the urban equivalent of cuckoos. Perhaps I should write to The Times

March 21, 16:23 GMT, and the first ice cream van of the year is jingling outside. That's fully five weeks later than last year, conclusive proof (if such were needed) that this spring is chillier than the past few years.

Marv said I think it came round our way and it played a tune i've never heard an ice-cream van play before. But I can't remember what the tune was, sorry. [added 21st Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
Monday 20 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Daily Express - Political correctness goes mad at the nursery: NOW IT'S BAA BAA RAINBOW SHEEP - Presumably their "World's Greatest Newspaper" tagline is as true

   * Ken [e] said Actually, as a separate but admittedly questionable source, I heard this story cited as fact, (ie. without phrases like "the school was accused") on a morning news bulletin on Saga FM. Presumably if the original source was the Express then the subtleties were edited to be airtime friendly.

I'm sure this sort of PC madness does occur: this particular story? Who knows? [added 21st Mar 2006]

   * Pete Ashton said Nah, I've come to the conclusion this sort of thing never happens, at least not now. Think about it. Have you ever witnessed Political Correctness on an insanity rampage? Do you know anyone who has? [added 21st Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#

Got the wrestling bug pretty hard at the moment, although trying to limit myself to one match a day. Yesterday I watched Mick Foley vs Toshiaki Kawada from May 2004, which is, much as I love Foley, a bit of stinker. Kawada obviously thought so too, judging by the kick he gives Foley at the finish. It's got "don't get booked against me again" written all over it.

Today's match is a completely different league - The Great Muta vs Jushin Thunder Liger. I've been a Liger mark for years - who isn't? - and while I'm aware of Muta's reputation, I've never seen him in his prime. As far as I know this match, in October 96, was the only time they wrestled. It's not a classic as far as scientific wrestling goes, but it's a terrific match because of its great ring psychology. The entrances are bonkers, the match has a good narrative, both men can really work the crowd (some people seem genuinely scared of Muta), and the finish is terrific. It's also wackily Japanese in the details; after Liger's pulled a chair out of the crowd and brained Muta with it, a man scuttles in with a replacement chair for the unseated audience member to sit on.


[Add a comment]
#Ghoti?

It's been announced to day that the national curriculum is to prescribe synthetic phonics as the primary method of teaching reading. Synthetic phonics teaches the 45 basic English phonemes from the outset. Once a child has mastered these, they move on to actually reading books, composing the words from their basic sounds. Proponents often use phrases like "basic common sense" and "tradional methods of teaching" when advocating their position. Analytic phonics - breaking words up into sounds - doesn't cut it apprently, nor does whole word, teaching children to pick up hints from sentence structure and surrounding context, or any other so-called "modern method".

A study in Clackmannonshire on a pretty small group apparently shows children taught using synthetic phonics being 3.5 years ahead, in terms of reading, of their peers at age 11. Unfortunately, if you look at the results in the slightest detail, the headline figure doesn't look as rosy. In terms of spelling, the synthetic phonics group were 1.75 years ahead, which still looks good. In comprehension they were 3.5 months ahead, which I doubt is significant. 3.5 years ahead in reading, but with no comensurate increase in comprehension. Unfortunately, results at 16 aren't available, but I'd hazard that it comes to nothing. A much larger study in the US found no difference in primary age children.

I have to confess that I still don't understand how synthetic phonics is supposed to work in practice. The composing words from basic sounds part appears sensible, but English is one of the most irregular languages around. Armed with your basic letter sounds, your average five year is going to have no trouble reading the word "toe" - t is "tuh", oe is "oh". Easy. Unless you have a girl called Zoe in the class, when you have to explain that while z is "zuh" but, in this case, oe isn't "oh", o is "oh" and e is "ee". How you sound out tough, plough, though, through is rather beyond me. I guess you teach the 45 sounds (or is it 44? or 43? 42? - experts don't agree) to begin with, then spend the rest of the time teaching all the special cases. You can't satisfactorily sound out short words like the or one, you just have to know them. That's a whole word approach though, which won't be allowed. Perhaps you could explain how an e at the end of a word modifies a vowel - hop becomes hope, for example - but that's part of analytic phonics. Oops. You can only understand the some words, like read, in the context of the sentence in which it occurs, and sometimes you might need even more than that. Oops, that's not allowed either.

In a statement welcoming the change to the curriculum, Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools says

Jim Rose, who wrote the report, was working with me at Ofsted in 1997 and he argued for synthetic phonics and he was defeated.
David Blunkett, who was secretary of state at the time wanted to listen to ideologues, the advisors, on the other side who believed that children learnt to read by a process of magic osmosis.
I don't see anyone suggesting "magic osmosis", and feeble insults about current teaching hardly constitute a compelling argument. The only idealogues here seem to be those "tradionalists" advocating a synthetic phonics only approach. I've never met a primary school teacher who taught reading using a single method, nor have I heard one say any single method is best, or even better, than any other. They use a multi-faceted approach, and I'm fairly sure teachers always have. I wasn't taught using solely synthetic phonics at any of the four primary schools I attended - perhaps because my Mum had indvertantly ruined my future by teaching me to read at home. I'm pretty sure my brothers weren't taught using synthetic phonics alone. I bet you weren't either, no matter when or where you went to primary school. The tradional method, as best I can tell, is to use a combination of different approaches. It worked in the past, it works now.

Nothing cheeses off a professionals more than being told how to do their jobs. Is a dubious increase in reading comprehension worth rubbing the nation's primary school teachers the wrong way? Do we actually want to take skills and methods off a teacher's pallette? Daniel, at school now, I want to be taught by engaged and committed teachers, not pissed-off teachers doing what they've been ordered to do. Harry, when he starts, I want to learn to enjoy reading as a fun, exciting, interesting thing to do, not a soulless mechanistic exercise in constructing sounds.

Jim Rose, author of the report prompting this decision, has said that "it is an act of faith" because has "absolutely no idea" exactly how much synthetic phonics would help to improve literacy. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's big on faith too, but if they'll both forgive me I'm going to put my faith in my kids' teachers to do what they think is right.

Stu said As a cunning linguist it gets my on my ghoti too.

The phonics thing appears to be a reaction to the whole-word flashcard approach that meant that children couldn't build up to reading words that they hadn't seen before on a flashcard. That was a reaction to the previous guise of phonics the Initial Training Alphabet (anyone remember that?) which actually used the phonetic alphabet to help us learn to read (to get over the tough/through problem).

The other wierd thing is that they seem to be teaching the method explicitly to the children too. Zoe (just 5) says to me "I need to do better blending" (And she's not talking about a cookery class). Why does she need to know the mechanics of who she is learning?

We have a Glaswegian friend living here in Manchester, who gets very hot and bothered about a reading scheme that says the following words should all be pronounced the same:

/aw/ shore, sure, shaw...which they are not in Scottish English.

I would get similarly hot and bothered if they tried to teach a strong local Mancunian pronuncation. Mind you all the kids seem to pronounce both vowels in ro-ad, sho-es...must ask about that. Perhaps there's a Bury Metropolitan Council version of phonics?

Unfortunately, my faith in teachers having the slightest clue about children, child development, and teaching is a lot lower than it was when I completed my education. Perhaps it's because they've just had too much contradictory input from educational psychologists. Or perhaps it's just a general deterioration of quality that we are seeing in education, health, etc etc.

Or perhaps I am turning into a miserable old git. [added 20th Mar 2006]

JohnH [e] said As a victim of the initial training alphabet (ITA) back in the seventies I would advise you to remove your pre reading age children from school immediately. Teach them at home yourself using the regular alphabet and only send them back to school when it does the same. May be that way you can spare them the pain and confusion I endured and ensure that their spelling is better than mine. I keep trying to spell things foneticaly - who'd have thought it? [added 24th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#I can see clearly now ...

Just collected my shiny new pair of glasses. The whole world looks brighter - for the past few months, as the anti-scratch/anti-reflect coating on my old pair broke down, it's been increasingly like wandering around in fog through windows smeared in vaseline. Hurrah for high-refractive-index-optical-tech!


[Add a comment]
Friday 17 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] The Dudleys vs The Eliminators - Terrific tag team wrestling - look for Saturn's light-as-a-feather moonsault off the top, and the terrific work to the finish
[Add a comment]
Thursday 16 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Proving How the Universe Was Born - Physicists announced Thursday that they now have the smoking gun that shows the universe went through extremely rapid expansion in the moments after the big bang, growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second.
[Add a comment]
#How To Work At Home: Focus

Working from home isn't like working in an office. It's entirely possible, in a normal office day, to do absolutely no work at all, but for no one to notice, least of all you. Working at home is different, because you're become quite aware of what you should be doing, and consequenly aware of when you're not doing.

Focus is important, focussing on the work - what the work is, what you need to do to get it done, when it needs to be done by. I'll come back to this another time. If I cba (boom, boom).

Maintaining focus can be hard, especially when the work is difficult or boring, but you have to grit your teeth. Sometime's it can be useful to take a ten-second oil break, so long as that doesn't turn into spending all afternoon watching wrestling videos on YouTube.

[More How To Work At Home]

Stu said I found that I could get through a whole day in the office too without doing a stroke of work and without even realising it. The standardised temperature and lighting and constant background whirr that was the environment in Xerox in Welwyn Garden City's state-of-the-art building lulled one's brain into a state of complete switched-offness. The whole day could go by without you realising that any time had passed at all - and then it was time to go home. [added 20th Mar 2006]
Pete Ashton said While my office working experience isn't exactly huge I tend to be able to get a good hour's kip each day, often more. [added 20th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Owen Hart vs Keichi Yamada
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Chris Benoit Vs Black Tiger
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Michinoku Pro 3rd Anniversery Ten Man Tag
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Owen Hart vs Jushin Thunder Liger
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Cactus Jack vs W*ING Kanemura
[Add a comment]
Wednesday 15 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Jushin "Thunder" Liger vs. Hayabusa - Good match, with Hayabusa on the wrong end of a Liger Driver for the finish. That driver is one of those moves that really does look like it hurts a lot, and everyone sells it like mad at the end. Solid entertainment. (Told you.)
[Add a comment]
#

I know you're all dying to find out what the ASA made of my complaint about Domestos spray. Well, they didn't uphold it. The ASA accepted Unilever's assertion that their intention in this advert was to educate people about the role of hygienic cleaning of surfaces using bleach to kill all kinds of germs, including flu. Either Unilever has gigantic balls to try this, or the ASA has no balls at all by accepting it.

Advertisements, by definition, are not educative in any sense other than to alert people to your product's existance. Further, a picture of a bottle of bleach and the slogan "Kill Flu Germs, It's Self-Defence. Millions of Germs Will Die" hardly helps to inform people that a regular hygienic cleaning regime, with a suitable product, of frequent hand-contact surfaces such as taps, switches, handles and phones was an effective way of reducing the risk of flu nor will it make them aware that flu, and other germs, could be contracted from surfaces or killed by bleach.

If this was Unilever's intent, then why choose to highlight flu? Flu is primarily spread by aerosol droplets of saliva or by direct contact with an infected person. NHS Direct, for example, makes no mention of transmission of flu via kitchen surfaces. Why not the far more obvious example of food poisoning - campylobacter or salmonella, for instance? All the advice I've read on avoiding food poisoning (like this) mention keeping utensils, cutting boards and work surfaces clean. Perhaps they just picked a bad example. Perhaps they're backtracking and trying to make it fit retrospectively.

I wonder if I can appeal the ASA ruling?

allan@allankelly.net said I'm not surprised they didn't uphold your complaint.

I think there is a complaint to be made about this add but It think its more along the lines of: it could encourage people to use Domestos against people.

Do you remember the stories from a few years ago about people loading their SuperSoakers (tm) with bleach?

[added 16th Mar 2006]


[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] TAKA/Togo/Kaz VS Sasuke/Shinzaki/Naniwa - 6 man tag-team wrestling. Typical stiff and fast Japanese style. This has had about 9 minutes edited out, but still worth watching for Sasuke's terrific springboard moonsault shortly after taking a stiff German supplex with a chair wrapped round his head, and for TAKA slipping off the top rope but instantly recovering to moonsault from the second rope to the floor. Splendid flurry of near-falls at the finish. A chap could spend far too much time on YouTube.
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] A FOR ALAN, Pt. 1: The Alan Moore interview
[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] The Vendetta Behind 'V for Vendetta'
[Add a comment]
Tuesday 14 March, 2006
#

Kids are both sick with fluishness. We are preparing to get sick ourselves, but without the luxury of being able to sit on the sofa under a blanket all afternoon, have random temper tantrums or sleep in as long as we like.


[Add a comment]
#[elsewhere] completely spazzes out
[Add a comment]
#

Went down to the Nature Centre, home of the roving red panda, with Hal-baby at the weekend. They're currently preparing a new enclosure for some lemurs which arrive later in the year. No lemurs equals no fun, you might think. But not so! A digger and men wearing hard hats in a cage are just as, if not more, interesting than any animal. We also enjoyed the ten minutes entertainment provided by the guy washing out the water trough in the wallaby pen.


[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] Use the Unicode database to find characters for XML documents
[Add a comment]
Saturday 11 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] Bettie Page soldiered in the sexual revolution. At 82, she finds her image earns a respectable living - The LA Times meets Bettie Page
[Add a comment]
Friday 10 March, 2006
#

After months of no doubt feverish investigation and adjudication, the Advertising Standards Authority have ruled on my complaint against Domestos. The report will be published next Wednesday, and released under embargo to the press on Monday. Rather sweetly, and perhaps a touch naively, they ask that I too treat it as confidential until then. Bless.

allan@allankelly.net said I'm sure that once upon a time it did seem a bit silly that the ASA would ask you to observe an embargo. But in this day and age when we all have access to media tools of Blogs and the Web it makes sense.

I don't know if this is a new policy for the ASA but I think it does show that self-publishing is a force to be noticed. [added 13th Mar 2006]

I think it's slightly silly for precisely the opposite reason. It is so easy to publish these things - on the web, by email, by SMS to everyone in my phone's address book, and so on. Clearly nobody really gives a monkey's about Domestos really, but sooner rather than later someone will publish something they've been asked to sit on, and it's going to cause a kerfuffle. [added 13th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#Still floatin' ...

... hard up against the ceiling. They don't seem even the slightest bit deflated. I might start taking bets ...


[Add a comment]
Thursday 09 March, 2006
#[linkfarm] sexy trumpet-playing
[Add a comment]
#

My chum Ken took me out for lunch on Tuesday, which was jolly decent of him. He's recently given up his swanky (expensive) offices to work from home, so wanted to pick up a bit of working-from-home-fu. Not sure I really helped a great deal, especially as I gave him all last years 2000ADs. He gave me some copies of BEM from 1979 to 1981.

BEM is a gone, but not quite forgotton, comics fanzine put together by a guy called Martin Lock. He later went on to set up Harrier Comics, and as such has played a pretty significant role in the development of comics in this country. I'd never actually seen a copy of BEM before, and they really are quite wonderful. First of all, of course, they are from a time before desktop publishing so they look very different from today's zines. Next, you notice the sheer quantity of words. The articles are longer, far longer than you see today particularly on the web. They're qualitively different too.

Comics companies are extrememly media-savvy these days (which is what you'd expect really, what with them being media companies) and seem to keep quite a tight rein on news, creator interviews and so on. Many creators now are on exclusive contracts, for example, so can't actually talk about what they do without permission. There appears to be all this comics news, but most of it is basically press releases because comics news websites have the same relationship with comics publishers as, for example, E! has with Hollywood film studios. Thirty years ago that wasn't the case. Issue 29 of BEM, from 1980, has a massive, I mean really enormous, interview with Steve McManus and Alan Grant, then editor and sub-editor of 2000AD. It rambles all over the place, is interesting (even now), and doesn't pull any punches -

McManus: ... I took Nick Landau's job in fact.
Interviewer: He left?
McManus: He didn't leave actually, there was a bit of skull-duggery which was nothing to do with me. He was double-crossed. I think you ought to ask him about that, not me.
Interviewer: How did you become editor?
McManus: I became editor when Kelvin resigned as editor.
Interviewer: It all sounds a bit underhand.
McManus: He'd had enough of 2000AD, he wasn't being able to do what he wanted, he wasn't getting on with the people above him, and he decided to resign.
Interviews like that don't seem to exist anymore, anywhere.

Amusingly, BEM drops its already slightly too-small typeface another point or two for the letter columns. Years later Pete, unknowingly I'm sure, did the same for Vicious, and I'm sure Andy Brewer had to do the same for Battleground. Letters were so important to the health of zine, and yet you didn't want it to look that way. So you dropped a point, to try and keep the number of pages down. BEM also breaks up the letters pages with random spot illustrations, something again repeated a decade and more later by Battleground and Vicious.

No idea if the sample I have is indicative, but BEM had terrific cover illustrations -

BEM 25 cover, Luther Arkwright
BEM 25 cover. This is a Bryan Talbot pastiche I think. It's not bad either, although face is too wide that tattered flag and piles of corpses are pretty good. The cover doesn't relate to the issue contents at all, which adds weight to it being a pastiche. Inside there's an seven page strip written and pencilled by Eddie Campbell. It's called Introducing Cliff, The Moon-Man in 'The Big Hairspray Rumpus'. While not without moments of humour, it gives little (ok, extremely little) hint of budding comics genius.

BEM 28 cover by Brian Bolland, Catwoman and Batman relax on the sofa
BEM 28 cover by Brian Bolland. Wonder if he used it in his portfolio at DC?

BEM 29 cover by Mike McMahon, Judge Dredd with Steve MacManus and Alan Grant
BEM 29 cover by Mike McMahon. Notice the ABC Warriors in the background.

BEM 33 cover by Dave Gibbons
BEM 33 cover by Dave Gibbons. It's slightly longer than A4 so it's chopped slightly at the bottom, sorry. Not sure if this picture is of anything in particular. The issue itself features a long interview with Gibbons.

BEM 34 cover by Brian Bolland, Lady Blackhawk and Cerebus
BEM 34 cover by Brian Bolland. Bolland later drew Lady Blackhawk for DC's Who's Who Update '87. I don't know if Bolland draw the Cerebus too. Probably not, I think it's lifted from an early issue of Cerebus and pasted on. This issue does have an interior illustration by Dave Sim, especially for BEM, of Cerebus menacing Howard The Duck.

Pete Ashton said The main reason the lettercols were in teeny type was because without that they'd take over the whole blimmin zine. People sure did ramble, myself included.

I got a couple of issues of BEM in a job-lot of zines and SP comics and, to be honest, wasn't all that impressed. Methinks you've got something of a good crop here. [added 9th Mar 2006]

Everyone loved to ramble and it was great! If the letter did take over the whole zine then suddenly the spell would have been broken - Nothing but letters? What kind of crappy zine is this? - so we all colluded in pretending that letters were less important than they really were. [added 10th Mar 2006]
Ken [e] said I had a sub to these zines - the wilds of Fife weren't actually conducive to zine distribution. I cancelled it shortly after this batch as (a) I the an American outfit took over (comics media international?), printing shifted to the states - they claimed that editorial control remained but... and (b) I think it then vanished. I guess I came across BEM when it was at a peak, which became a precipice.

BTW sorry for the birod on bra and pants in the Moon Man strip - I was scared my mum would find me in possession of nude lady drawings!

To be honest I'm surprised at your comments that zines don't carry "honest" interviews anymore, or the like. Very surprised. I kinda expected the game would've notched up a gear or two in this respect.

The long interviews are good aren't they? I may have another one or two kicking around here somewhere - certainly one with a huge Pat Mills piece (Nemesis the Warlock cover), and a great little zine called Fantasy Express interviewing Joe Colquhoun (sp?) of Charley's War (Battle). I'll dig around... [added 10th Mar 2006]

Steve Green [e] said Jez, pretty sure that was actually one of Bryan's illustrations on =Bem #25=. My own copies are up in the attic, so difficult to check, but I'd be amazed if Martin didn't credit the art inside the issue. (The in-house reviewer "Ed Sallis" and the artist "Superswipe" are both ML pseudonyms, by the way.) [added 27th Sep 2008]
Hi Steve, hooked mine out of the storage (ok, found them under a pile of stuff as I was tidying) and checked, but can't see an art credit for the BEM 25 cover. I'm still not sure about that face, but the rest of it does look so much like Talbot that it must be by him or it's the work of the world's best tribute act :) [added 1st Jun 2009]

[Add a comment]
#[linkfarm] LED Bike Wheel Images - Bonkers

   * smellygit said Are you gonna make one - and if you do can you make me one? [added 9th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#[elsewhere] Hazy Thursday - comic review for TRS2
[Add a comment]
Monday 06 March, 2006
#[Arabica] GCC 4.1.0 released. New GCC release is always good news. Here's a brief article on the latest version.As expected, it's turned up the Standards conformance another notch. That's good, so long as you don't get throughly disheartened by it's prodigious error reporting. On the other hand, adding 'typename' in one place and watching a screen and half of error report disappear is rather satisfying. [added 6th Mar 2006]
Slightly later - Arabica CVS head builds through with GCC 4.1.0. [added 6th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
#Rags Rocks!

Google fodder this really ...

Daniel turned six last Tuesday. When I tell me childless chums this they says things like "Doesn't seem like that long ago when he was born. Blimey I'm getting old ...". They're getting old. Humph. Anyway, birthday time is party time. We offered him a vast array of choices at a number of local party venues, largely targetted at not having the house trashed by a crowd of hopped-up kids. He declined them all, insisting he wanted a party at home. So we kind of compromised and hired an entertainer - Rags. I've seen a number of kiddies' entertainers of the last few years, and she leaves them all in the dust. She was terrific. There something really quite scary and magical watching someone completely command a roomful of kids, even factoring in "stranger-authority". And she can make balloon-animals. What a woman!


[Add a comment]
# High float 'em

Been so busy ...

FACT: Kids love helium balloons

FACT: Helium balloons last about a day before the helium leaches out, leaving to balloon looking like something even Eeyore wouldn't put in his jar

Astonishing new FACT: The previous sentence need NOT be TRUE!

I'd assumed helium balloons deflated quickly because the helium leaked out through the knot. Helium's a tiny molecule, I reasoned, it's just dribbling slowly out. Not so - apparently helium is so tiny it outgasses through the balloon itself. If you ask your party-shop proprietor to "high float" the balloon, they'll put a little bit of sealant in first which the helium can't cross. It's top! We bought a couple of balloons last Monday, and they're still banging up against the ceiling today. Best extra 10p we ever spent.

planetcutie said Helium isn't a molecule. While most elemental gases (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine etc.) are diatomic (found naturally as H2, N2, O2, Cl2 etc. )and therefore molecular, helium has a complete electron shell and so can exist as a free He atom. But I'm sure you knew this anyway and had just slipped your mind.

M.Lawrenson (A Level Chemistry class, Newcastle Under Lyme College 1992-94) [added 6th Mar 2006]

Doh - it's a noble gas! You know I had to think about that but I am, as you gently point out, a dolt. [added 6th Mar 2006]

[Add a comment]
<< February 2006 April 2006 >>