Friday, September 19, 2008

When CSIs stray too close to home

I remember an interview with Emma Thompson way back when she was in The Tall Guy with Jeff Goldblum.
"You play a nurse, did you spend time at a hospital to observe how nurses work?" she was asked.
"No." She replied, "I'm an actress, I acted being a nurse."
I loved that response, skewering in a few words a legion of method actors and the interviewer into the bargain.

Yet, how many of us have watched our profession portrayed in film or on TV by some walking cosmetic-surgery commercial and cried, "No one buffs nipple-gimlets like that!"  (or words to that effect).

Well, I was enjoying an episode of CSI:NY the other day - it told the story of the Cabbie Killer, an evil taxi driver who kidnapped and gassed his passengers.  The idea of a killer cabbie is ironic as most of them seem to be trying to kill themselves and everyone within side-swiping distance anyway.  Anyway, the Cabbie Killer had kidnapped some irritating blogger (bloody bloggers) and was forcing him to live-blog the killer's moments with his current corpse.  Our hero, Mac Taylor and his attractive but useless sidekick, Montana were reading the web-site with distate.  On recognising that the page was being updated in real-time, Montana turned to Mac and said...
"I'll create a GUI interface using Visual BASIC and see if I can track an IP address"

Ignoring the fact that no-one except the Goateed Bassman writes anything in VB, it doesn't make any sense.  She may as well
Write a Java app that connects to the domain using ASP.
Prototype a Ruby executable that will decode the URL.
Create an extreme program with DSDM that derives the TCP/IP.
Developers don't really sound like that!

Do we?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where nuts come from

I am typing this with fingers that are stained black.

We have a walnut tree in our garden yard and it is laden with fruit.  Walnuts are one of those things where I was a little vague about how exactly they grew.  Il Capo's father was from the Welsh valleys and he used to talk about the evacuees* that came to his village from Liverpool.  These young city children knew milk came from a cow, but they couldn't work out which part of the cow the bottle came out of.  Same with me and walnuts.  I knew they came from a tree, but after that it got a bit vague.

The walnut that you see in a bag in the shop has an edible kernel and an outer shell, but on the tree this shell is surrounded by a green fleshy hull.  To prepare walnuts you have to remove the hull then leave them somewhere cool and dark to cure for a couple of weeks.  That sounds easy, doesn't it?

Our tree is a black walnut tree, so named (according to my cub scout book of trees) because of its black bark.  Well, our tree's bark is grey, but having hulled an experimental 21 walnuts my fingers are definitely black.  The problem is that the hull doesn't want to come off the shell unless you hit it with a hammer.  And when you hit it with a hammer it sprays out this dark green juice that dries into a black dye.

So a couple of days ago I was out on the deck, hitting these lime-like fruit with a hammer and making my hands look like I'd just stepped out of the cellars of 50s Fleet Street.

I tried cleaning them with alternating washes of soap, lemon juice and a combination of vinegar and baking soda, but none of these had any significant effect.  Il Capo suggested bleach and I couldn't quite tell if she was serious.  After I admitted defeat, Il Capo took me into the kitchen and showed me where "we" keep the gloves.  You can imagine how much I appreciated that.

I'll let you know how the walnuts turn out after curing.

I wonder if is still available.

* In the first couple of years of World War Two, Britain was under continual bombardment from the Luftwaffe.
A decision was taken to evacuate city children to the countryside, where they lived with those who volunteered to take them.  For the children this meant saying goodbye to mother and father (if he wasn't already fighting abroad) and getting on a train with a suitcase and a name-tag around their neck.  Once at the destination station, a coordinator with a clipboard would allocate them to whomever they could find to take them in.
I don't know what the general opinion of this policy was, but my Dad was six when he was evacuated with his older sister and he hated it.  Suffice to say that times were hard, people were forced to accept children they didn't want and the outcome in his case wasn't good.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We Fat

When I was young and single, I was lithe.  I was lanky.  I was, let's face it, skinny.  I'm six feet one inch and in my early 20s I weighed eleven stone, which is 152 pounds.  Then I met Il Capo and started visiting her family for meals.  Her Mother, now known as Nanny, resolved to rectify my problem.  Over the next year I gained 20 pounds.  Today I notice I've gained 15 pounds since we arrived in America exactly eight months ago, which puts me two pounds shy of 200.

Luckily, it's attractive fat.

With obvious concern for the structural integrity of the house, last week I ordered a Wii and accompanying Wii Fit.  If you haven't heard of a Wii Fit, have a look at this video.  Or um, this one.

Today it arrived!  Having ushered the Squeakers off to bed, I plugged it in and it measured our BMI and then announced our Wii Fit Ages.  This is the machine's opinion of a person's fitness.  My Wii Fit Age is ten years above my actual age.  Nanny's Wii Fit Age is seven years below her actual age.  Il Capo's Wii Fit Age is... (whisper it) 18 years above her real age!!!

We've spent the evening jogging, stepping, balancing and dodging football boots.  It's a lot of fun, but will we keep it up?

The real test of the machine comes tomorrow.  Son Number One will wake and he will want to try it.  And anything he does, Bagpuss will demand doing also.

Did Nintendo design Wii Fit to survive SNO and Bagpuss fighting over who gets to do Yoga?  We will see tomorrow...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sneaking out

I snuck out the office early this evening to catch Federer versus Murray in the US Open Final.  With luck I would be home by 6pm, one hour into the match.

Well it's 6pm now and I'm in a train stationary in The Bronx.  An earlier train has broken down and is blocking the track.  We've been here 30 minutes so far.

To be honest, I can only remember three other incidents that have caused delays greater than five minutes (and that includes a building collapsing beside the track) so that's about a 1/80 chance of such a delay on a particular trip.  I just hope Murray doesn't wrap it up in three quick sets...

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Hanna has left us and is heading for Nova Scotia.  We're all still here, though the beer took a battering.  Last night four inches of rainfall had turned the house into waterfront property, but that has all seeped away now.

To be honest, even as little Hanna was passing, a lot of attention was being focussed on her big brother Ike, who is a category 4 hurricane with average speeds near the eye of 135 mph.  Ike is about to hit Cuba then pass into the Gulf of Mexico towards Texas.

In September 2005 I was in Connecticut doing the work of colleagues who had travelled to Houston for some performance testing of our software.  When I did some testing in Houston myself, I remember our dedication to sampling the local culture, especially the Margaritas they make down there.  Anyway, they had only been there a couple of days when they evacuated from impending Hurricane Rita.  This was a month after Hurricane Katrina, so everyone was jumpy. 

When they came back, they reported the attitude of the Houstonians was exemplified by the signs displayed at the bars - The only good Rita is a Margarita!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hanna drops a spanner

I am writing this from under the table.

Tropical Storm Hanna is heading our way (you can track her course here) and I am enacting my emergency plan which is to find a safe place and retreat there with a cache of beer.

Sustained winds of 50mph doesn't sound too scary to me,  but the gusts could be a lot higher for all I know.  Plus, the accompanying rain is forecast to be 3-6 inches.

Anyway, if we lose water I have my beer.  I we lose power I'll have to play Uno with Son Number One until it's restored.

Pray we don't lose power!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vernal mutterings

Monday was Labor Day, which most Americans consider the unofficial end of the Summer.  Looking at the weather forecast, today is going to be in the 80s but I do feel that the season is coming to an end.  In high summer there were thunderstorms every evening and they stopped a few weeks ago.  The trees seem to have noticed, as some early-adopter leaves have already changed colour to red or brown.

In the city there are less trees, but you can see Autumn Fall is on its way by looking at the advertising hoardings.  In America, most of the dramas and comedies start each series season in September and looking around New York, 80% of the adverts are for TV shows that will be starting soon.  Remarkably, half the remaining hoardings are for paint.

It's curious which industries spend the most on TV and billboard adverts in the USA and the UK.  In the UK, the most frequent adverts are for cars, washing powder and beer.  Over here, there are few car and beer adverts and possibly none at all for washing powder.  There are lots for drugs, (including the excruiating Viagra one), lots for TV and phone companies and lots for chain restaurants.  A hurtful person might say that this implies British men spend their time driving to the pub while the wife is at home cleaning and that Americans use technology and pharmaceuticals to keep them happy and when that doesn't work, they head for Chillis.

I'm sure that right now there are many socialogy students earning their theses by expanding that last paragraph to 200 pages.

Another sign that Fall is around the corner.  Son Number One has his first day at school tomorrow (not including the three months he did last winter in the UK).  School will neccessite a dramatic change in our morning routine, as we'll have to get Son Number One fed and dressed approximately 30 minutes earlier than he's ever managed it before which means me getting up earlier to encourage it into him.

Early night tonight...

Also it is Il Capo's birthday tomorrow.  A quick tip for you currently single guys - don't hitch up with a woman who's birthday falls at the beginning of the month.  I spend each August thinking, "Oh, it's next month, plenty of time" and then three days before, I suddenly realise I have nothing but an afternoon of intensive present shopping between me and a gruesome death.

I wrapped her presents last night and hid them under the bed, then this morning whispered to Son Number One to go and have a look, but not to tell Mummy.  He went to Il Capo and said, "stay there", then went and found them.  When he came back he said to Il Capo, "Mummy, don't look under the bed".

Swimming cities of Switchback Sea

We went to an artistic production last week.  A group of travelling artists and a floating performance on the Hudson River.  They had four home-made boat/raft/junk-piles on which they stood and told a story while the audience watched from the river bank.  They called themselves the Swimming cities of Switchback Sea.

They told a story of a perhaps near-future world, where people driven by failure or hopelessness or a lack of belonging, gathered and created a ship-borne group that travelled from town to town, never much welcome in any place, but kept strong by their shared spirit of community.

The story was told by a series of monologues, interspersed by music from a quartet who sensibly decided not to risk their instruments on the boats and stayed on dry land with us.

It was interesting, but a little odd for someone as literal as me.  I'm not a big fan of experimental theatre, so I found myself hoping for more interaction between the actors.  A little dialogue to separate the monologues.  The couple of times when people did interject into others' speech were the moments when the story seemed most real to me.

The writing was very good, there was a rythym  to the words that made them flow beautifully and most of the actors spoke them well.  It was a little disappointing to notice half-way through that several of them were reading their parts, though.

The music was good and the female vocalist was great to listen to.  Curiously, the musicians sat facing the aquatic stage with their backs to us in the audience.  I'm not sure why they thought that was a good idea.

Overall, an unusual night out, and cheap entertainment - free entry and several hats passed round at the end.