Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Festivus, One and All

Christmas CarolsDing Dong Merrily On High
I love carols, it's more than nostalgia - we all know the words (and harmonies) to Wham's Last Christmas, but I don't get quite the same feeling en masse or the urge to sing it in a big cold, spicy smelling room lit by lots of candles.

The more committed I become to the Richard Dawkin's fan club, however, the more I struggle with how much I love Christmas even though I know I'm in a long line of other belief systems co-opting the seasonal festival for my own gains.

In my case those gains include not only carols but also the exchanging of gifts, time with family, pickled walnuts and marrons glacé. I would include mince pies but I now put myself on a self-imposed mince pie ban as once I pop (one in my mouth) I really can't stop.

So whatever you're celebrating be it Chrismukkah, Festivus or plain ole Christmas, I hope you have a joyful one full of whatever seasonal jollies do it for you.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Facebook Faux Pas: A Tribute to the Recently Departed "is"

As some of you connected to me on Facebook are already aware, I've got mildly addicted to updating my Facebook status with quite pointless updates to my life.

For those of you who don't know, a Facebook status is a sentence about you that you publish as frequently as you like, and friends connected to you via Facebook can choose to see via a sort of news feed that they receive when they log onto Facebook.

This status message starts "Louise is ..." with a gap where you fill in the details of what you're up to via web or phone. Or at least the "is" was there until this morning, when I found it had been removed, leaving my posted status message reading "Louise frosty in a nice way" which needed at least a colon to make some kind of sense.

Missing "is" aside for one moment, this weekend, as an example, you would have found out I wrote some Christmas cards, played a lot of Guitar Hero III and went to see the Arctic Monkeys. All true, mildly interesting if you know me, and pretty harmless. I do love reading everyone else's updates too - it's really an accessible form of microblogging. This morning I've discovered one friend is ill, another working too hard, and one lucky bleeder made it to Paris for Christmas shopping.

This weekend, however, you would also have spotted a message informing you "Louise is stopping herself from writing rude things in her status every day" because whilst in recent months I've toyed with the vaguely obnoxious - "Louise is wonderful", the pointless film quote - "Louise is doubting your commitment to Sparkle Motion", as well as the dull - "Louise is out of the office", I've never ventured where I'd really like to go - the plain disturbing.

So as both an exorcism of my status temptation demons and a tribute to the recently departed "is", here is a selection of things you wouldn't want to read on a status update and for some reason I've been sorely tempted to write. Here goes. And forgive me.

Louise is...

1. ... dying to tell you about an amazing investment opportunity
2. ... dying for a poo
3. ... going to poke your ex that's still on your friend list and then make friends with them
4. ... touching herself
5. ... the messiah
6. ... menstruating
7. ... completely nude
8. ... off the stalking charge and already within 50 metres of your house
9. ... horny
10. ... dead

There, now that's over, they're all out there, and it marks the end of the "Louise is ... " phase of my life. Like every annoying user that anyone's ever researched, I'll miss the "is" more than anyone who complained about it, but I suppose what the statement starting "Louise ..." lacks in temporality, it gains in freedom, whilst retaining the weird frisson you get when describing yourself in the third person.

Louise is wondering whether you have any statuses you've ever wanted to post.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When Volume Becomes a Fatal Flaw

Two experiences recently for which I have had very high expectations and actually brilliant experiences, but in possession of a common fatal flaw not in themselves, but in their execution.

1. Florence
Beautiful city - great architecture (if a little frilly for my liking), great art (I defy anyone not to gawp at Michelangelo's David), and, for the most part, very good food.

I can't tell you the thrill I felt at walking through the various piazzas, past the Uffizi and down to the Arno especially after watching A Room with a View at least fifty times in my life time (mostly concentrated between the ages of thirteen and twenty) and finally reading it just over a year ago.

I hope you can, however, taste the rising bile and feel the burn on my cheeks, when, on the second day, on walking towards the Santa Croce (home of more art than the pope could shake a stick at) I turned to Rob and screeched "I'm not getting stuck waddling behind another loud, American tour party!". There may have been some additional swearing inserted, but I'll spare your blushes.

Now I have a genuine admiration for the self belief and confidence of the US despite the fact it may contribute to the war stuff, but for a nation supposedly hooked on therapy, a little self awareness when in foreign climes would go a long way.

Let's just say volume was an issue, both in terms of the audio effects the group generated and the sheer mass the groups formed (the latter at least having the upside of making me feel like a European waif a la Vanessa Paradis, which doesn't happen too often).

So if you want to visit for a few days, my strong advice is to check whenever the hotel prices are cheapest and go then, I don't want to imagine the booming, fleshy horror that high season would entail.

2. The Arcade Fire at Alexandra Palace
A great set, a great band, and a great job of filling and inspiring a venue not built for music. Absolutely worth seeing. (More complete and professional review from an amateur on by following link in title above.)

But my very favourite song, a moving, delicate yet rousing piece "My Body is a Cage", that I'd been singing so much in anticipation it featured in my Facebook status, managed to be cocked up by the sound people and had no audible vocals whatsoever due to I don't know what. I choose not to blame that crazy rock orchestra but rather an anonymous engineer who was clearly too busy on the mixing desk getting the balance between treble and bass right to remember to turn the volume up.

However, there was an upside to this flaw, in that I'd missed half of it having been in the loo anyway and had I been able to hear it from there, I may have broken out of the cubicle, pants half mast, struggling towards the mosh pit, sobbing on bloody knees.

And if you're wondering about the gratuitous Winehouse shot, I have tickets to see big-haired Amy at Brixton Academy on Thursday night - I may be going for a hat trick of brilliance tinged with disappointment and a soupçon of rage.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why Microsoft is no Britney to Facebook's Paris

A story by John Naughton in today's Observer about Microsoft's recent investment in Facebook, Microsoft makes Facebook a club you don't want to join, actually made me want to write about my former employer (Microsoft), for the first time in ages.

Firstly, I'm slightly irritated I read the story as I've been so immersed in lovely literature, but the company names appearing together leapt out at me with the loathsome tabloid appeal of a night on the town with Paris Hilton and a knickerless Britney.

I was finally driven to blog about it by the final comment,

"And what does Microsoft gets for its money? Officially, the chance to sell internet ads for Facebook outside the United States. Unofficially, the chance to spit in Google's corporate eye."

Whilst they wouldn't want to miss out on another deal after Yahoo! had a good year of it last year and Google's acquisition of Youtube, the importance of Microsoft getting its hands on the Facebook ad inventory should not be underestimated, or the deal written off as a PR move.

As Ballmer has said, Microsoft are weak in the online ad market - certainly significantly less than 25% I could find as the last estimate of Google's ad share in the US. And I'm pretty sure that globally, Google are even more dominant online. Google's scale and dominance online mean that the kind of ad revenue they can generate for 3rd-party sites already outweighs that which Yahoo! and Microsoft can offer you for similar traffic (as I understand it), so it would have taken a chunk of change to buy into the opportunity.

And if, as it seems, Facebook shapes up to be the social network that captures the imagination of everyone online and especially graduates, white-collar workers and silver surfers, they've got a chunk of really valuable users to target their ads at with an extraordinary amount of behavioural data to get targetting to pinpoint accuracy, and an enormous and growing number of page views.

There's a round-up of reactions here. I think I'm with John Battelle - if this enables Microsoft to play in a new form of advertising with a rapidly growing, globally dominant player - it's a smart move. But then again, maybe that's what Britney's people said about those fatal nights with Paris (the smart move bit, not the rest. although on second thoughts...).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not Writing But Reading

In my recent blogstipated silence, I have been enduring a long reading of Crash. My breath has been taken away by it many times, let alone for Ballard's vision and daring considering when the book was written - it revolves around characters' intense juxtapositions of sexuality and car crashes, but for a slim novel it takes some reading.

It is forming part of a self-imposed and quite satisfying reading list with On Chesil Beach being the last book I completed - although I positively inhaled McEwan's Booker-nominated novella rather than the wrestle I'm having with Crash. Full of wafts of unease and desire, meals uneaten and oranges peeled, On Chesil Beach is a documentary of a time of stifled sensuous pleasures, the main characters' passion only expressed through music and and the occasional pub fight - the noisy drama of both belying their animal natures contained by their history, time and circumstance. It is a book of fading cotton cardigans.

In contrast, when reading Crash, there are times when the taste of salt blood metal in my mouth is too unbearable for more than a few pages. Some of that is fear of who's reading over my shoulder on the Northern Line, I haven't been as conscious of being identified as a sexual pervert since American Psycho on the Circle Line.

On theme, I'm now teasing myself by casually stroking the soft smooth skin of the hardback cover of Exit Ghost as the next in the list. I can never wait 'til paperback time to buy the latest Roth novel but his age now means the reading of each novel has the tinge of a tender goodbye (see title) that I want to draw out as long as possible.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

His risky 8 beat my safe 7

Me overheard yesterday,
“I can’t wait to embed a Channel 4 clip in my blog.”

So here it is courtesy of our new Unmissable Clips service on

Later Note: Richard has also confessed he couldn't get his mind off the obvious 5.

Monday, September 17, 2007

R.I.P. "Getting It"

I'd just like to take a moment to mourn the passing of a once oft-used phrase "s/he gets it" (in a new media sense). For those blissfully unaware it was used as a shorthand, in geek circles, as code for people that understood the implications of the likes of RSS, open APIs etc. - the whole web 2.0 shebang.

Unfortunately, if you needed that explanation and had to follow the ubiquitous wikipedia link, you would have been deemed, at the time, as someone who most definitely didn't "get it". (Note this has nothing to do with "getting it". I think there were a number of people who quite smugly "got it" but actually, when it came down to it, didn't get any.)

We would nod and smile and point at our colleagues who "got it" and those who didn't "get it" (evinced by an addiction to the likes of AOL and/or having Yahoo or MSN as your homepage - even though we all worked for these companies - or just asking "dumb" questions in meetings) we would condemn with a shake of the head and a smirking "they just don't get it". It was bordering on the religious, this state of "getting it" grace we had, and bestowed on or denied others.

I think it may have been Facebook that sounded the final death knell to "getting it". When hoardes of people have found themselves effortlessly social networking, sharing bookmarks, sharing their online data in order to improve their experiences, and even - shudder - using RSS feeds without even realising it, there really is no need to get it.

And, ironically, being active on Facebook I imagine will be much more conducive to getting it than or Flickr ever have been...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wonderings: could your website do with an "oo"?

After two complaints within the past twenty four hours at my lack of blog posts I decided to post something short and sweet about the things I've been wondering about over the past month.

1. Whether some video mashups/remixes (forget musical brilliance such as Jay-Z's grey album) are a manifestation of a rule of comedy - repetition. Take, for example, a small excerpt from a video showing a rodent with a strange expression on its face that has spawned many, many different versions; does that make this an ancestor of the Spam sketch?

2. If success online is predicated by an "oo" sound e.g. Yahoo, Google, Youtube, Facebook (strictly speaking only if you're from Liverpool or the Midlands), Joost and now Hulu? Yeah ok, there's eBay and Skype but c'mon... isn't there something pleasurable about making an "oo" sound? These corporates are playing with our minds! Although there was and oops, maybe Hulu wasn't such a good choice after all.

3. About the origins of the word documentary, and how the blend of images, film and words online is the perfect fusion/medium for the communication of new information. This thought was inspired by the LA Times homicide map (imagine pieces of film integrated into that instead of just news stories). I'm thinking of this in comparison to "downtime" entertainment which possibly "sit-back" video content will always be the purest form.

4. On change in general - my boss, Andy Taylor, left Channel 4 today and New Media as a department is shifting within Channel 4 to merge with all our technology teams. Although I am desperately sad to see Andy go as he was one of the main reasons I wanted to join Channel 4, these are all good moves, I think - but changes to get used to all the same.

A theme which excuses me quoting one of my favourite lines about change from the excellent but sadly axed after three series, Strangers with Candy (n.b. don't bother with the film, try to get the DVDs)

"I've changed. People change. Changes… I'm not the same Jerri Blank who informed on those blind orphans. I'm not the same Jerri Blank who revealed the hiding place of those Guatemalans … such as yourself. And I'm not the same Jerri Blank who took a crap in the Fleishmann's holly bushes … last night."

Can you see how troubled my mind is now? Do you really want me to write some more now? Huh?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm *ba-ack*

Last night I thought to myself "better get these plates uploaded to the dishwasher".

On realising my hilarious new-media gaffe I then thought "I'll blog about this".

And so "real" life returns.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over

We're back and we're wed.

The day itself was a brilliant happy occasion - the rain lashed down all day as forecast but that didn't stop ceremony, speeches, friends, family, food, wine and my new husband all being wonderful.

Photographic evidence of the day itself is slow to arrive but I've already uploaded some shots of the honeymoon fun so you can see how great Nevis was - charming, not too developed, great mix of beaches, mountains, lots of non-dangerous wildlife like bats and moths and monkeys and frogs and we stayed in a lovely homey but luxurious place.

If you can only see shots of frogs and donkeys you will need to be friends with me on Flickr in order to see the full complement of daft and often sweaty shots. I've decided to be a bit more conservative with which photos I share publicly - who knows, maybe an ill-judged photo may discount me from Hampstead Garden Suburb Stepford Wife of the Year or similar. It's a thought.

As well as "the honeymoon period is officially over" the other phrase I'm enjoying irritating my husband with is "this isn't exactly a marriage of convenience, you know ... it's bloody inconvenient if you ask me". Not that it is, of course, I just feel slightly silly using the word "husband" really.

Back to work tomorrow.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

On Getting Married Very Soon

Weather's due to be shit, I haven't broken in my shoes properly, I don't know which lipstick I'm wearing and still haven't finished my speech but hey-ho, as long as I end the day with a ring on my finger and a smile on my face I'm happy.

Am really quite excited. See you in a few weeks.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weddingwards We Go: Controlling the Uncontrollable

A wise man once advised me to focus on "controlling the controllables" and, how, if you try to do anything else, madness lies therein. Despite this phrase having some real resonance and usefulness throughout my life, this has not stopped me obsessing over a number of wedding-related nightmare scenarios over which I have very little control, a selection of which I hereby confess:

The buffet causing food poisoning
We are using a very respectable caterers and there is no trace of oysters, pork or fugu on the menu, but a story from my mate Burnsy about her grandad being so ill at a family wedding he had to be sick in his Italian leather shoes has haunted me since my early teens.

My dress creasing on the way from my house to the wedding venue
Viscose discounted as suitable wedding dress fabric due to potential overheating and general disgustingness, I am now concerned that my beautiful fabric will concertina like paper in the short journey between home and venue.

I briefly entertained investigating whether there was a private hire car company that had a fleet of popemobiles available in the London area, but quickly discounted this. I am still considering getting my mum to sit in the front of the car with me virtually prostrate across the back seat, although I realise the classic bride setting off in the car shot may look a little unconventional (but maybe this lady was actually lying on her front for the same reason).

Me crying constantly throughout the day
I know I have to minimise alcohol intake, possibly not look my future husband, mother, in-law-to-bes or caterers for that matter in the eye, and I am also practising saying the vows as they instantly set me off into an over-emotional torrent. We've even split the speech thankyous by scoring my likelihood to cry on a scale of 1 to 5 being the deciding factor on who gets to thank who - I am left with the florists and cab company. Waterproof mascara it is, then.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

At the end of a long week, sometimes all you can do is sing

Loads going on at the moment, mostly wedding related but also a hectic time at work what with the controversy over the programme Diana: The Witnesses in the tunnel as well as heated discussions over this week's events in the Big Brother house.

I met with the programme makers of the Diana documentary on Wednesday night (I was there to check that the forum was working properly for them so they could read and post) and was really impressed with their commitment and interest in finding out what viewers thought.

And no chance of a breather the next day - another fascinating meeting with some young tv trainees to introduce new media to them - and as it was the morning after Emily's removal from Big Brother and they were from various ethnic backgrounds there was quite a heated debate about what had gone on. I hope it was a great introduction to them for how New Media can play such a key role in interacting with programmes as the debate was already raging in the forums even tho no one had actually seen the footage at that time.

Also went to a Women, Business and Blogging conference on Friday which was really interesting - great presentations from Meg Pickard, Eileen Brown and Jory des Jardins that I'll very briefly summarize thus: Meg - hilarious, insightful and engaging on all aspects of community; Eileen - great personal insights that showed the human side of Microsoft (best PR I think they'll get this year in the UK); and Jory's presentation was the best for me - her knowledge of the economics of blogging and the role of women bloggers as key influencers for marketers was immense, with some great lessons for the UK to learn from.

And finally, the photo you can see wasn't a break-out session from the conference but actually from my hen party last night - another gathering of mostly women with a couple of special fellas. I had an absolutely brilliant time and can conclude I have the best best friends in the whole world. Not just because they let me hog the mike* big time.

*Thought I'd clear up that that wasn't one of the fellas. One of the girls showed quite a lot of interest in "roving mike" until I had to break it to her that we were talking audio equipment. Actually, that was my friend Sue's joke, but it was too good not to repeat.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Whither the Widget King?

Fun night on Wednesday with colleagues and other new media types at Media Widgetised, hosted by Chinwag and stylishly chaired by Steve Bowbrick (thanks to him for photo), with speakers including friends such as Fergus Burns (my contender for King of Widgets). There's a good and sensible write up here.

I put the expression on my face in the above picture down to me trying to figure out where we are in terms of a sustainable widget economy (which is what Fergus and others were trying to get us to buy into).

Not that it was talked about that much, but I understand the potential for and excitement about the death of the browser (a news reader, media player, and a couple of social network or shopping widgets or 3d environments will be all I need) and can see where as a content owner I can get value out of that (even if I don't own or create the widget).

In the short term I'm not sure how sustainable getting traffic from other web pages with embedded widgets is - we will inevitably have to pay if the traffic is at all valuable to us (look what happened to Photobucket), or at least those in the good positions will need to pay (a la paid search).

Maybe it's all part of the journey towards the browser-free web (for your average user, sure they'll still be a few of us sub-editing wikipedia).

Monday, May 14, 2007

I did go crazy

I've been worrying myself silent, thinking I had to try to do justice with words to an event which rendered me speechless.

I was there - last Thursday at Koko in Camden seeing Prince at a distance I had only dreamed of.

I joked with friends that the last time I saw Prince live, if he had impregnated me that night, our child could have voted in the recent local elections. But that really is besides the point.

He sang and played the most amazing music with the most amazing band is as much as I can bring myself to say apart from rubbish phrases like "shitting brilliant".

Thankfully, a fellow user has written an excellent review on his blog, with setlist, photos and videos. Thank you to Prince for the night, and thank you to musiclikedirt for writing this review. I'll pull out one quote from it, which was exactly how I felt,

"There are legendary singers like Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield or guitarists like Hendrix, who you wish you’d had a chance to see. Breathtaking entertainers like James Brown, where you give thanks for the privilege of seeing them, even in later years…
And then there is Prince Rogers Nelson. The best bits of every one of your favourite artists all rolled up in 5ft 2 inches of stone cold genius."
There's just one thing I disagree with - this was definitely the highlight of the night for me ...

And I never thought I'd say "I can't wait til I get to the millennium dome" - but I am going to see him again twice at the newly christened O2 centre.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Displacement Activities: Handbags, Darfur & Goodreads

If you've been wondering where I am then I've been here all along. Just in a sort of suspended animation of worry.

There are a lot of things I should be doing for my wedding. That's what I'm anxious about. A selection includes:
  • working on suitable songs to suggest for the musicians (jazz pianist + great singer)
  • contacting the venue to make sure that we can have said musicians and evening as planned
  • wine tasting (why am I holding off on this one?) so we can decide which booze to have on the day
  • buying various wedding accoutrements (tiaras, knickers etc. - don't even get me started on borrowed, blue etc.)
  • writing my speech (got as far as "accustomed as I am...")

Instead I have done the following:

  • Bought an outrageously capacious handbag because it made me smile. It looks a bit like an expensive disabled black leather muppet.
  • Worried about Darfur and whether there is anything I personally should do.
  • Spent way too long on listing every book I've ever read and rating it. I even started doing some light reviews this evening. I can't believe I've found another social network that I am willing to surrender yet more of my free time on.
I've decided to leave Darfur to Elton John for starters. This feels like progress.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What is it with birds and flowers?

My attitude to the world is changing.

On Sunday night at the end of a day filled with sun, we walked through our neighbourhood on our way to spend a night in a dark room listening to Swedish pop rockers.

We set off through the woods at the back of our house and were immediately arrested by the sight of great swathes of bluebells that must have only arrived in the past few days. Delighted by what I saw, I scampered about like a fox terrier (in ballet pumps).

The woods are pretty small (brilliantly saved a hundred years ago by Henrietta Barnett) so we soon exited and joined one of the roads up to the main square only to be stopped in our tracks by some unusual squawks coming from one of the many tall trees that populate the area.

Looking up, I saw the noise was coming from one, two, three parakeets flying in and out of the branches in little loops around one another. Whilst I'd heard that parakeets had gone native in some of the parks of London, I'd never seen them in the flesh and was thrilled so stood watching them for a few minutes.

Reluctantly leaving my little green friends behind, we eventually left the square turning off into a short road, Heathgate, still chattering about how brilliant nature is, to find that this squat avenue was now lined with trees woozy with fat pink blossom.

The only way that I could be pulled away by this stage was to allow me to take a rubbish picture with my phone so I could sit and look at it on the tube (so bad there's no point in sharing, the picture to the right is courtesy of a generous Flickr contributor).

So despite initial fears, my first year of suburban life has not changed me so much so that I've thrown myself into local community issues (although the great squirrel cull debate in the residents' newsletter had us gripped) nor have I yet worried about keeping up with the Joneses(although have worried a little about what Mr Jones may have spotted as we still don't have curtains). But possibly for the first time ever am aware and excited by what the seasons are bringing us.

That said, I did once got tearry on hearing a blackbird on Brewer Street (not quite a nightingale in Berkeley Square, I grant you), so there must have been a latent tendency all along. Before you know it I'll have ditched Private Eye and be subscribing to Suttons.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poppy Shakespeare MicroReview: It Aint Half Annoying

Finished Clare Allan's Poppy Shakespeare. It annoyed me, but the story and themes have stayed with me for a few days and provoked some thought.

It's about the treatment of the mentally ill, questioning what constitutes mental illness, with lots of big blobs illustrating the nature vs nurture debate. It has been compared to Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but it's not as subtle.

However, it annoyed me because it is written phonetically/colloquially, as if spoken by a common or garden Londoner. As someone who is at heart a true Estuary girl, I find the depiction of London accents intensely annoying even when pretty consistently and accurately deployed. I'm sure Dickens managed without it.

That said, it is really interesting and does feel authentic, but stimulates the reader in a short sharp shock way with a simple plotline and accompanying twist that means it's not worth spelling out anymore for fear of ruining the literary money shot.

Consider it ECT and you won't be too disappointed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

British Holidaymaking

Much as I like people to mistake my inability to drive as an eco-stance, our decision to holiday yet again in the British isles could be seen as us doing our bit - carbon offsetting the rest of you bastards' jollying around the world.

The real reason for both our holiday habits and my lack of car mastery is being a bit rubbish and just not really getting round to it.

Devon it was then.

We had fun - we always do. Rob managed to get sunburnt and at least I didn't have the creeping deep vein thrombosis dread tainting my week as is usual after any flight longer than thirty minutes.

Unfortunately I forgot the camera, so didn't manage to capture some of the beautiful days we enjoyed on stunning coastal walks. But for those of you who may be considering your first British holiday in order to up your green credentials I have noted down a few things to give you an insight into the new experiences you will be opening yourself up to:

Old and mentally disabled people travelling in packs
Holidaying in the UK is actually very low stress - so low stress in fact, that you will find groups of oldies and special needs characters also enjoying your holiday with you. Absolutely nothing wrong with either of these groups but not something you'll necessarily have experienced on your last jaunt to Marrakesh. After getting trapped between two groups of mentally disabled adults in Woolacombe I did worry we might get split up and submerged into the groups never to be heard of again (they looked like they were having a lot of fun).

The fifty/fifty chance on whether the food's any good
I am talking about smallish restaurants or hotel dining fayre in resort towns and villages. In France, you probably have only about a ten per cent chance that the food will be bad, Spain maybe creeps up to a twenty five per cent chance it won't be up to scratch, with Germany creeping up to around thirty five - forty per cent. In Britain you get the added excitement of it being as high as fifty/fifty whether the food will be edible. I have known places to make even crumble disgusting (salty and smelling of sick if you're wondering).

People holidaying like it's 1959*
Yes, they still have those stripey wind break things that they plant on the beach and huddle behind, drink tea out of thermoses whilst sitting in their cars, sit down to eat fish and chips in a restaurant that has a formica table top and still wear headscarves over stiff, coiffed hair.

*A prize to the person who guesses correctly which one of these activities I indulged in during my own British holiday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blogging: Cats or Dogs

A question I've always found very easy to answer and am willing to give you my opinion here and now - dogs. They're loyal, funny, clever and obedient - the ideal partner.

But as reported yesterday it's not such an easy choice between blog or novel - but only in terms of my time spent writing. It got me thinking, however, that in terms of the choice between reading a whole host of blogs or just one novel, the choice is easy - it would have to be the novel. Maybe Sontag was right after all.

Sod keeping in touch and relevancy and immediacy and the directness of the form - if forced to choose it's Tolstoy over Scoble any day of the week.

Ok, but is it a cats/dogs decision? Or have I fallen into the old, wannabe-hack trick of treating blogs as a literary form rather than a communication vehicle? So maybe I do come back to yesterday's conclusion - all have validity. And you know, if forced to choose between a phone and a novel, the latter would still be the winner.

There is the tiny matter that I've probably read more words written by Scoble than Tolstoy but I have just bought Anna Karenina after not finishing it as an over-ambitious teen (no doubt turned over for the more immediate educational benefits of The World is Full of Married Men or similar).

So am I any closer to a decision on where to spend my time? Give over. I might have discovered a blog-as-methadone replacement, however, although Ficlets may well be even worse for me - highly addictive, never ultimately satisfying = literary angel dust?

PS Due to lack of free time and need for a low maintenance pet, we have been thinking about getting a kitten. Yeah they're so clever and independent, aren't they?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Louise's Choice: Novels vs Blogs

Partly due to a lull in my urge to blog, I've been considering whether I should get on with the real writing work I've been practising for - the novel that bubbles away in various paragraphs in various books and files and daydreams. It really pains me to confess to being another of the deluded hoardes who has a novel inside them - it feels a bit like confessing I've found Jesus or am a secret Tory (no I haven't, no I'm not). But it's there, feeling like an addiction in abatement, this blog being a more satisfactory methadone than I understand the real deal to be.

As I deliberated this weekend where to spend my meagre amounts of free time (although I confess in the next few months it's most likely those minutes will be spent on fretting over tiaras and corsages) - book or novel - I came across two things that stimulated my deliberations.

First was a posthumously published piece [of pickled pepper] by Susan Sontag which argues for the importance and superiority of the novel over other forms of mass media. She also attacks the concept of hyperfiction - the rejection of linear narratives that proponents of new forms of storytelling propose as the answer to the presumed confines and limitations of plot - and manages to blame its emergence on television and rubbish thinking within academia.

Then I picked up this introductory video on Cool Hunting about Jonathan Harris - who has made (virtual) flesh Sontag's worst fears by explorations into real multiple stories via last year's project We Feel Fine, where he harvests and presents extracts of blogs with accompanying photos and data from a number of different blog platforms, with the unifying theme being that extracts are pulled only when people have written the words "I feel" and his new project, Universe, where picking up stories and topics from around the internet, he attempts to find where meanings and new mythologies emerge.

I couldn't help think that had Sontag been exposed to We Feel Fine or Universe she would probably be fascinated, and realise that one doesn't really replace the other at all, although I confess there is some displacement of time spent as there was with television and film.

Created with care, works such as Harris's are much more than entertainment and information distribution (also Sontag's criticism of television). New forms of media such as these represent new ways of exploring the world that don't involve words on pages but that do have the possibility to create works which have deeper meaning. In fact, I would say that new forms, which these two works introduce us to, allow more people with different voices unheard, unpublished to be,

"prophetic and critical, even subversive, ... and that is to deepen and sometimes, as needed, to oppose the common understandings of our fate."

- which Sontag lays claim as the job of the novelist. Admittedly it takes another artist such as Harris to help us find the form, to orchestrate what can feel like a cacophony of voices.

All of which still leaves me to ponder which is the most suitable platform for my own prophecies and criticisms. I might blog occasionally, but I'm no Jonathan Harris - although I am excited to be a part of the world he is opening up. But I aint no Sontag either.

I'll think on.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Back to Life

Despite the anxiety vacuum that has left me desperate to find something else to worry about now that work has calmed down, this weekend I have shamelessly and selfishly enjoyed:
  • making and eating and freezing carrot soup
  • playing scrabble including getting a seven-letter word on the first go
  • learning that my fifteen-year-old brother is wearing something I bought him for his birthday (there was a hideous intra-family "regifting" incident at Christmas involving a past present and my sister's partner)
  • buying my mum a golf club
  • playing tennis - badly
  • painting my best friend's daughter's face so it looked like a grubby approximation of a rabbit

    On reflection a few of these things were in parts altruistic. I didn't even eat all the soup.
  • Saturday, February 17, 2007

    The Intoxication of the Working Weak

    Again I found myself tipping into a slightly destructive pattern. Thankfully all it was this time was a relatively short passage of working too much, which I self medicated with regular doses of Stevie Wonder (at one stage the only non-work mental stimulation I could manage was "Don't You Worry Bout a Thing")

    Through this period it became apparent to me how working like this on a more regular basis can have such a magnetic and destructive pull, like the swoon you feel when a tube train thunders into the platform.

    There is a brilliant passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where Kundera describes one character feeling "vertigo... A heady, insuperable longing to fall" as she tries finally to turn her back on a painful relationship. He goes on to comment,

    "We might also call vertigo the intoxication of the weak. Aware of his weakness, a man decides to give in rather than stand up to it. He is drunk with weakness, wishes to grow even weaker, wishes to fall down in the middle of the main square in front of everybody, wishes to be down, lower than down."

    Obviously things weren't that bad, but I love how he expresses that tipping point of self destruction, the seduction of the self into believing how a conviction, a determination and commitment, can be mistaken as strength in itself.

    The character Kundera is referring to also has a total lack of support from anyone else around her, and so I am glad to report I had great support from colleagues and my partner checking on me and pulling me back. I even managed to squeeze in an official engagement, my left hand now a little weightier than at the start of last week.

    Thinking of colleagues, possibly the biggest lesson for me was the potential for a weird co-dependency that I saw some glints of as we ping ponged between euphoria and despair during our long working hours.

    It's easy to subconsciously drive each other on even if you know what you're doing is kind of ridiculous and it feels like each of you are personally deciding to behave like this.

    Weirdly the simile that came to mind was like bulimic sorority girls. As a manager, awful to think I may have been lead "Heather". Apologies to those who haven't seen the film - but I think you'd at least understand we all want to be Winona Ryder really (minus the painkillers and shoplifting).

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Introducing Louby van Hoogstraten

    It wasn't my idea to be a landlady. It was a sensible financial investment thing that my partner, a sensible financial type person, had advised we do. Despite my initial discomfort, however, I'd started to feel comfortable, proud even, of our blossoming property empire.

    Day two of our lives with tenants and now it feels like having needy dependents with none of the potential moral superiority. I realise the upside is supposedly financial, but three trips to Ikea in and our profit margin forecasts are already looking gloomy.

    I refused to buy them a microwave today and felt terrible. On reflection I find it strange that they even asked but then I suppose, why not? It hammers home what a sap I've been through my whole life with landlords having over the years put up for extended periods with dodgy electrics, no hot water, no heating in a bathroom, and on moving into one place, a flat filled with old furniture (including at least 10 wardrobes, 6 beds) for about a week.

    Although the chap didn't get on my best side by describing the sofa fabric we had chosen as "minging" the couple seem perfectly pleasant and I'm certainly not expecting them to be saps. I'm just worried that my microwave refusal is the start of a mean streak endemic to all landlords. I've not had any great role models, see.

    Pull me up on it, won't you? Before I end up on this site.

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Big Decisions about the Big Day

    For those of you who don't know, the wedding of the year has been booked. On June (the) 30th I will be betrothed to my long-term love, Robert, witnessed by a selection of friends and family.

    I've been thinking about what music to have on the big day. It's a small venue so we'll probably only be able to have a pianist and singer. We might be able to squeeze in a tambourine, but that'll be it.

    That said, the favourite joke in the wee hours as Robert drops me off to the station and Auntie La-La plays us her latest top tunes is always "first dance?" Since "our songs" have included a rave version of the theme tune to Black Beauty (just imagine it at 160 BPM - "du-dur-durrr ... du-du-du-du-du-du-du-dur-durrr") and "Animal Nitrate" by Suede, the thought of it being "Calm Down Dearest" by Jamie T isn't all that peculiar despite the fact it might be quite tricky for our singer and accompanist to replicate the slurred delivery and driving bass line.

    And all this stuff about it being your day is nonsense. If "Smack my bitch up" really was what we wanted, I just can't see Rob's dad gently taking my mum by the hand and leading her on to the dancefloor after an appropriate time. They would stand open mouthed and appalled.

    I do realise this is the least of my worries. I have food to arrange, a dress to buy, and travel arrangements to talk about with people from far and wide. We've got the ceremony and vows to agree on, for goodness' sake.

    Incidentally, my other displacement obsession is with the wedding invites over which I have already had some heated debates with my intended. After a relationship that's spanned more than fourteeen years, I think invites with a picture of Trevor McDonald on the front and the immortal line "And finally" inside would be perfect. I'd agree to obey if we could have them.

    Monday, January 29, 2007

    The Agreeability of Pseudonymity

    Ever since someone who went by the name of "my black ass" (complete with associated animated gif) pointed out that my alias on "loubrown" wasn't too inventive, I've been wondering about the relative strengths of having an online pseudonym and the relative weakness of having my identity so clearly strewn across the internet superhighways.

    I "came out" in terms of my online persona in response to a lot of soul searching about the fact I worked for a new media department and so might have vested interests or biased opinions that I should be open about.

    It wasn't like I was planning some Belle de Jour type revelations (those were the days my friend) or a grand whistle blowing (over a year in, and no evidence of a need for it), but I didn't fancy sneaking around wondering if people knew who I was or could work it out. OK, so I also realised I was less likely to write anything too offensive or incriminating (small lapse in judgment notwithstanding).

    However, I now find myself actually embarassed by how much I'm shouting my real name from the virtual rooftops especially as numerous colleagues are now coming out as bloggers and social networkers under various guises. It's a bit like my user names are ALL CAPS and spoken v-e-r-y d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e-l-y. Loubrown, louby, louisebrown... Yes that's me! Yoo-hoo! Here I am!

    There is something so much cooler about having a pseudonym. It's like being the Scarlet Pimpernel or Superman; only a select few know the real you, and everyone else is dying to find out.

    My time-suckingly dreadful forays into Second Life as "Thora Turk" (you are forced to choose a first and last name for your character) gave me a flavour of what it might be like to have a pseudonym and associated virtual image. Unfortunately my poor Second Life programming skills meant that rather than the Lara Croft-like Amazon astride the virtual world of my fantasies, Thora/I ended up as a plumpish Japanese schoolgirl with quite big boobs and a ragged, slightly gothic wardrobe and a tendency to accidentally end up sitting on top of road signs.

    I blame age. I come from the days of the Internet when to get your real name in hotmail was to have kudos. I leapt at the chance to get a (on my terms) cool gmail address but soon found out the downside having since been saddled with a stream of incorrectly addressed email meant for my numerous dopplegangers (one of them having issues with insurance, another a big skiing fan). If you've sent anything dreadfully personal to me that I haven't responded to, watch out, you might end up in The Metro if the email was incorrectly addressed.

    I now have the additional worry that I'll end up giving away enough information here to steal my identity without having to rifle through my bin or glue together my shredded bank statements. There are photos, reading materials, bound to be a biography up there somewhere. People should realise that the idea of your porn name (Name of first pet + Mother's maiden name) was probably cooked up by a really smart identity thief ("How on earth can I get people to reveal the answers to their security questions?).

    In fact, my only comfort is that, rather like the owner of a rashly requested tattoo, the likes of "my black ass" will wake up one of these days to find himself saddled with a once-cool but now plain embarassing pseudonym that it's just too hard to change. In the meantime, I'll just have to relax back into my relative lack of obscurity.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Enough Geekery, Back to the Literary

    Bukowski's The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills was resurrected from my storage boxes a month or so ago.

    When I first pulled it out I marvelled at how the publishers had aged the cover as if it had been left to mellow amongst the emptied bottles of wine and discarded betting slips on the floor of "a 6 dollar a week/room/in Chinatown".

    On second inspection I noted the wine stains and candle wax were mine from when I was living not that far from London's Chinatown and my books (and I) lived in piles on my living room floor (mind you, rent was a bit higher). Let's just say I was no Emily Dickinson.

    Same as a lot of others, mostly male, I am attracted to tales of his experiences and such a life lived. The poems smack of "loving, fucking, eating, shitting" with additional high- and low-lights provided by drinking and gambling.

    Some poems burst with bravado, like when "My Boy Bobby" came in and then a "beautiful whore" showed him "all the tricks of wonderland" whilst they listened to Carmen, although he confesses "days and nights like that just don't happen too often". Most others paint a bleaker picture, shot through with wild energy and cadaverous lethargy.

    I recommend reading a whole volume like this. Taken as a whole, you embrace the world of extremes, drunken memories recounted as if covered by a film of dirt suddenly pierced by bright, sinuous flashes of nature. I loved the energy of the verse and palpable longing of "18 cars full of men thinking of what could have been":
    "I saw a woman in green
    all rump and breast and dizziness running across the street.
    she was as sexy as a green and drunken antelope..."
    There is nastiness and violence to be stomached here, same as in the house of any hardcore drunk. He prowls and pads catlike through his poems and life, lolling with one evil eye open and watchful, then exploding into vicious hissing action. Although I confess I laughed out loud at the scenario he describes in "what seems to be the trouble, gentlemen?" when the police break into a hotel room where:

    "I had the sofa in front of the door
    and the chain on,
    the 2nd movement of Brahms' First Symphony
    and my hand halfway up the ass of a broad old enough to be my
    Saving the best 'til last, the absolute highlight are those mourning for his dead lover Jane. I was moved to tears by "With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough" which I would encourage you to read (hence link), the last image of the forlorn, child-like lover gently sobbing "but/they will not/give her back to me" killed me.

    Yeah, so I love it - some of you will, some of you won't. Oh, and I also saw Factotum recently which is another film based on one of Bukowski's works (first film like this was Barfly) and it was pretty good. So also a DVD recommendation for those of you who can't be bothered to read the book. And for the rest of you, I'll leave you with some online footage (it's a documentary cut into parts) that I just spent way too long watching.

    Note on formatting: I now find that line spacing weirdness after block quotes is a bug. If you've got this far, you can forgive me, I'm sure.

    Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Tagging, Labelling, Categorization

    One of my criticisms of Gmail in my last post was the labelling system which is basically a version of tagging common to a lot of new web sites and services.

    For those of you uninitiated and who can’t be bothered to read Wikipedia, it’s a sort of indexing by readers/users/viewers of content whereby articles, pictures, videos, even people can be associated with any word or phrase that an individual user chooses to – for either their personal use (e.g. an email in gmail) and/or the use of other people on the site (e.g. public photos on flickr). This allows for faster, more flexible ways of finding content giving dimensions of relevancy that a search engine can't compete with e.g. until last week, Leo Sayer would not have been tagged “big brother” but would be now and could have been the second he moved into the Big Brother house.

    For an insight into my own crazed mind, I thought I'd review the tags I've created:

    • I tag on mainly about work - it's a bit messy and inconsistent, but I like the fact I might help someone else find an interesting or useful article that I’ve stumbled upon and one of these days I will get around to tidying up the tags. I use other people's tags a lot here, so there's a lot of give and take going on.
    • I tag on quite selfishly, as by tagging music here I can create virtual radio stations by tag for each of my moods - I very rarely use others' tags, occasionally music genres. On reviewing these, I'm not entirely happy that I can't edit them, as you can all find out that I find "An Old Whore's Diet" a "sexy" song.
    • I’ve even had tag anxiety, worrying that my recent additions to Flickr may have been tagged with an incorrectly identified bridge. You can see here that I love looking at Rome as much as I do Robert.

    So why, you’re dying to know, haven’t I started to tag my emails? Actually, to contradict my cynicism yesterday, I think it comes down to Gmail's great, prominent and trustworthy search. Rather like when you leave a coat on indoors before you go back into the cold, I've never felt the benefit. What each of the above tagging systems do is improve or enable existing or new services which is why I've persisted in using them.

    The reason I've been thinking about this stuff is because we're currently working on a new site, and I've been considering potential features and thinking about how users would actually benefit from each of them. Would I, for example, want to tag myself, and if so - how? "Essex", "Anxious", "Ego", "Laugh", "Big" is about as good as I've come up with for now without getting into an all-too-revealing self analysis. I suppose the location and mental state might be handy for some, but possibly in order to avoid me rather than make a connection.

    In fact, the other place where I find it a bit unrewarding to tag is actually the categories that I can assign to each blog post here. Tagging something “Saddam Hussein” or “Google” seems to rather overblow the importance of this blog. But I've started to do it, I have used it on occasion to find a past post, it's just a little depressing when the real thrust of each post could be much more neatly tagged as “me” “myself” and “I”.

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    On the Rebound: The Truth about Me and Google

    Google’s emergence in search neatly coincided with when I first got a job at Microsoft as the business manager of the newly launched MSN Search UK. When I left Microsoft five years later, I went through a manic phase from which I’m only just emerging.

    It was somewhat akin to throwing oneself into a passionate love affair with someone I’d flirted with through a doomed, dull marriage. Shamelessly, I switched to gmail, telling everyone at Microsoft when I left that was how they would contact me rather than good old hotmail despite it matching the kind of disk space that anyone would want.

    Then the amount I googled everyone, everything and anything bordered on the obscene (even I had succumbed to internal best practice which was at least to try MSN Search first).

    Finally I reignited my blogger flame, which has brought us together here today.

    One of the last hang ups I carried with me was my use of Start, one of the only products – apart from MSN Messenger – that I really believed in, and was at the very least developed genuinely apace with small start ups in a nascent 2.0 world.

    It’s a dead simple start page with inbuilt RSS reader that became my default as soon as I found about it and the agile development team behind it. It very quickly even got Scoble’s seal of approval, so it had to be cool, right?

    I was probably the last person using it. I started to get embarrassed when people noticed me using Start and hated explaining it, thinking that people might think of me as being deliberately obtuse (“I am Queen Geek, hear me roar!”) or a bit dumb (“You can take the girl out of Microsoft…”).

    It felt quite cleansing to finally move to Google reader last week, like I’d thrown away the final photos of me and an old partner – you know, the ones you really want to throw away last – the ones where you both look really nice and quite sexy.

    After I’d imported my OPML file I have to tell you, I felt pretty smug about how close Google and I had now become.

    Sadly, it took a matter of days for me to realise that me and Google wasn't the answer I'd been looking for. It’s not that easy to organise your feeds, and it can be quite slow both to render and navigate about. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But so is … Word. And Excel. They are you know, they’re quite good.

    Then everything came crashing round my ears. Gmail is a bit annoying, it’s not as pretty as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail and the much vaunted labelling system is the only tagging system of a web product that I don’t actually use. And I’ve been left with way too many emails in my inbox. I don’t need to delete any emails because of the stonking storage system but - whisper -I actually would quite like to get rid of some crap.

    But I couldn’t see it. I’d just moved from one overly controlling, co-dependent relationship to another. Looking back, since university all I’d done was move from Marxist to Microserf to Google-dependent. It’s never a good feeling when you realise you’re in a rebound relationship, and especially not one it’s really hard to leave.

    So yeah it was a rebound, ok? I can’t help it if I’m attracted to big strong multinationals who promise the answer to everything with their tidy packages. I just have to come to terms with the fact it’s all a fairy tale that was never going to work.

    Or I could just buy a Mac…

    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    The Outsider: Saddam Hussein

    An existentialist classic I sadly didn't read when studying existentialism, Camus' The Outsider grips you like a cold hand on your heart - your own hand, finally feeling the blood pumping and oozing through and around the organ, the crude nature of that symbol of your loves and passions palpable in its offal nature.

    I finally read it for the first time last week when, at the same time, I kept feeling a similar pall of reality observing the brief scenes and frozen shots of Saddam Hussein (about to be) executed that declared all media outlets open for business in 2007.

    When I'd seen him in court during the trial, he was visibly shaken, confused and angry, pathetically attempting to disrupt proceedings with his shouts and slogans. The thought kept coming back to me that this was a man who was finally being confronted with the fact that he was just a man, having did what he did because he did and it was wrong; all reasonings, justfications and grand plans whether ideological, spiritual or material, were a nonsense.

    Read the book. Watch the footage if you must. Both have enforced some of my increasingly entrenched views. I do not believe in the death penalty. I do not believe in the right of one person to take another's life. I do not believe in the death penalty as a/n effective punishment.

    A friend bought me The Outsider a relatively short while ago. I would recommend it to anyone who feels the disquiet of the current cultural atmosphere (whatever is post- post-modern vs. fundamentalism) and especially anyone affected by the brutal execution of this misguided world leader.

    Coming soon: how I learnt to forget about world worries and love Google's RSS reader.