Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Problem With Joan Harris

Disclosure: At present I'm in the middle of watching series 4 of Mad Men on BBC4. I'm behind America and anyone who has been watching on torrents by quite a way.

Since I first heard about the drama series Mad Men (BBC4 if you're in the UK, AMC if you're in America) I have consistently heard one character mentioned above all others. Whether she's referred to by name, hair colour, her job, or - most likely - her figure, you'll probably know who I'm speaking about. The curvy one, the office manager, the redhead, Joan.

Call me odd, but she doesn't do anything for me. Now this isn't anything against Christina Hendricks, the actress who plays her. The appeal, or lack of it, comes from the character herself. Joan is sure of herself. She gets what she wants. She is determined, forthright, rarely smiles, bitchy to people who she either doesn't like and who she doesn't have time for. She knows she's popular, and has that cocky, hip-shaking swagger that goes along with it. Furthermore she doesn't look as if she would be easy to get along with. In other words, she's the kind of girl who used to make my life a misery at school.

Is Joan without appeal? No, and she's certainly a character who plays her part in the rich tapestry of the show (as her brief absence in the latter half of series 3 showed), but in my mind this has been shown when the outer veneer has been removed and what lies beneath the surface is shown in greater detail. There are several examples of this, the most notable being:
  • Her exit from Sterling Cooper in a flood of tears when her idyllic future was seemingly falling apart in series 3.
  • Her frustration at being separated from her husband at the start of series 4 (N.B. Bonus points to Mad Men for not showing him to be a complete scumbag in this episode as it would have been so easy to do - lots of shades of grey in this programme that I love).
  • Her genuine distress as Roger Sterling's two heart attacks in series 1.
Nasty, not smiling, robot Joan, not attractive. Not to me anyway, sorry for not being conventional.

And I know I advocate Betty "I didn't even cry when my father died" as a more attractive reason for watching this programme. I can't explain that. Sue me (unless you live somewhere where you can actually sue me, in which case I'd prefer that you didn't).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Getting Back the Writing Bug

Not that you would ever know it from here, but I've regained the writing bug again. I'm trying to write various different pieces here and there, whenever time allows, mostly for the fun of it. I still really enjoy writing and when I get back to it I wonder I don't do it more often (with the usual reasons coming to the fore: family, job, commuting, other commitments).

So with that in mind I thought it might be interesting to put in some writing tips from some of my favourite writers. Here they are:

Mark Twain (19th Century American author, writer of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"): To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.

Peter King (Sports Illustrated NFL writer): Write every day. Write unpaid at local weekly. Then write some more. (source)

Bill Simmons (writer for, author of "Now I Can Die in Peace"): Work in a bar or a restaurant. Learn about people, get up at noon every day, go to bed at 4 a.m. every night, hang out with people who are just as confused and directionless as you are, drink and smoke as much as possible, throw wads of money around after shifts like you're a drug dealer, date somebody with no long-term potential, and live like that for six months. It will be the best thing you ever did. (source)

N.B. I'm pretty sure he also made a point that he asks prospective writers who they are reading, and then bemoaned how no-one reads anymore. Can I find this point anywhere? No, of course I can't. (And I probably don't read enough, especially fiction.)

Will Leitch (former editor of Deadspin, author of "Life As A Loser"): I'll give you the same advice Roger Ebert gave me in college: "Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better. It's the only thing you can control." (source)

And although I couldn't find anything definitive by them on the subject, I'll throw a mention out to a couple of my favourite other writers, J.D. Roth (Get Rich Slowly), David O'Brien (Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution), Nigel Roebuck (formerly of Autosport) and Gina Trapani (formerly of Lifehacker, now of

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I've Been A Busy Boy

I need to make a shout out. Bill Simmons, irreverent sports journalist, you were the only person who even hinted at how different it was having two children in comparison to having just one. Simmons pointed out, in sports terminology naturally, that going from one child to two meant that he and his wife switched from running a zone defence to a man-to-man defence.

And that's certainly the case. Lorraine and I had really become used to having one child around, worked with it, and ran everything accordingly. Now things are a little bit different, as this blog post testifies!

I'll have something bigger and better next month!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Facebook By Numbers (Redux)

About eighteen months ago I tallied up my then 40 friends on Facebook and broke it down. Now I've crossed 100 friends I'm doing it again, and probably never again because it is getting tricky and time-consuming to compile now. Anyway, here goes:

By nation:
Scottish - 65%
English - 21%
American - 13%
Other - 1% (Hi Sally!)

Female - 67%
Male - 33%
Other - 0% (insert your own joke here)

I know you all so well:
Not met 4%
Met once 2%

Where I know people from:
Former work - 52%
Former church - 35%
Current workplace & current Church - 0% (nice!)
Fellow supporter of by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen - 6%
Met through my parents - 3%
Uni - 1% (Hi Gill!)
School - 1% (Hi Simon!)
Own family - 1% (Hi Charlotte!)
Other - 1% (Hi Pat!)

I'd guess that about 60% of my best friends are now on Facebook, although one of my friends did take the decision to close his account there (which at least got us in touch with each other - I was worried I had offended him!).

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Another Family Announcement

To let you all know about the birth of our second daughter, who we've named Jemma Leah.

She was born at 1.34am on Friday 25th June and weighed 5lbs 12oz when she was born.

Beautiful at birth, just like her big sister.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

My Favourite Music Videos

Just thought I'd put these together following a recent podcast I listened to which spoke about some of the host's favourite music videos and how they were put together. One of the ones they mentioned was Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" which won plaudits for telling a story (another song did as well, but as they were unaware of the story the song was telling I've decided to overlook that one, especially when a better example from a similar era would have been Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach").

So anyway, here are my favourites. I don't claim that these are the best of all time by any means, but they're my favourites and ones which I like/remember for one reason or other. At least until an hour's time when I remember some ones which I've missed and end up repeating this post in a few months. Apologies in advance for any videos with lyrics, ones which may disappear and any which don't allow embedding (thanks for nothing, Sony).

Weird Al Yankovic - "You Don't Love Me Anymore"

If you haven't seen it before just watch it. Hard to pick just one Weird Al one, as I've enjoyed that many over the years. This one narrowly beats out "Amish Paradise" though.

Dire Straits - "Walk Of Life"

Only listed because when I was ten I probably wrecked my parents' sofa trying to recreate everything that takes place in this video. Special shoutout to the guy with the tambourine, who just beats out Bez from the Happy Mondays as looking the most out of place among any musicians ever.

Los Del Rio - "Macarena"

Actually listed for comedy value, having seen this at University about 10,000 times.


David Gray - "Be Mine"

Because I like people who can laugh at themselves.

Spandau Ballet - "Gold"

Everyone knows that the girl in the video is Sadie Frost now, right? Okay, now we've got that neccessity out of the way this video is mainly here for the song, and for the bongo playing which I've re-enacted on the steering wheel of probably every car I've ever driven (err, at least the ones I didn't learn to drive in).

(Embedding disabled, sorry.)

Delta Goodrem - "Lost Without You"

Not sure quite what it is about this video, but if I catch a glimpse of it I have to see it through to the end. I'll put this down to the atmosphere/ambience of the video and the little details like Delta taking her shoes off to play the piano.

(Embedding disabled, sorry.)

Dido - "White Flag"

Everyone knows I love this song by now I guess, but I love the video too. Not sure I had ever seen anyone make a tracksuit top look this good before this point either (and then Holly Valance smashed that in a Prison Break cameo). Lots of good little details to look out for there too.

(Embedding disabled, sorry.)

Gwen Stefani - "Cool"

My favourite video, for the combination of song, storytelling, creative content (what I've learnt is called "Match Cut" technique) and Stefani's willingness to go back to her natural hair colour (via a wig from what I've read).

What are your favourite videos? Any glaring ones I've missed? Post them in the comments.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A Time To Review

Far too often I'm spending time talking about things on this blog, and they get left there and never mentioned again, so on this occasion I thought it would be nice to review some of the things I've posted and what I've learnt since I posted them.

March 2010 - Backups

Yep, just a matter of days after posting about requiring a backup plan I needed to refer to it. It also led to me discovering some flaws with it, and that a weekly backup wasn't enough.

Due to a problem on my hard drive which began on the Thursday evening I had a backup which was nearly a week old. Fortunately it has been a quiet week, but I saw that just backing up weekly wasn't often enough. I needed a daily backup too. Not one which caught up everything, but one which would get anything important I had worked on in the past week.

So I added a daily profile to SyncBack, set it to only back up my documents and settings (as the main user on the computer), skip over large files like music files and video clips (which can usually be replaced easily, especially if burned from a CD) and again add the settings from the original weekly backup profile. This has ended up leaving me with an additional backup which comes in at around 5Gb and hopefully meets my needs. If you don't mind though, hopefully I won't need it too soon.

April 2009 - PS3 Games

Just needed to update this, especially as I've taken a bit of time this week to catch up with some time on what I would say are now my two favourite games: Madden NFL 10 & NHL 10. These are just two awesome games, with NHL 10 narrowly edging Madden as my favourite due to the fantastic feature where you can add in your own music for special points at the game. Of course I've not really done much with this, and certainly haven't added this in when Palace, er, the Ducks score.

April 2008 - Nurses Pay

My wife got paid today, her lowest pay in about eighteen months. Can I figure out why she got paid what she did? Absolutely not. In the words of Toyah Wilcox, "It's a Mystery".

May 2007 - Must See TV

Okay, that's a really tenuous link. Anyway, here's the point. Mad Men is fantastic, and I cannot wait until series 4 beings.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Few Personal Lifehacks

I love Lifehacker. I can't remember when I first discovered it, but once it led me to Google Reader it became the first thing I read through it and it became the first feed I subscribed to there. They are always posting useful tips from around the internet.

So in honour of their from the tips box section I thought I'd follow in due course. I was going to make this a list of my favourite shortcuts, but then I thought that would be a) Not expansive enough, and b) Incredibly dull. So anyway, here goes nothing.

Lifehack 1: "You own your phone, your phone does not own you."

Discovered many years ago in a book called Clutter Control this is very simple. Basically you pick and choose when you answer your phone, don't feel obligated to pick it up just because you're there.

This is a great way to eliminate needless phone calls, especially when there are so many junk callers out there. They can't get to speak to you if you don't pick up the phone. And don't recommend the Telephone Preference Service, not when so many companies work internationally and consequently out of their jurisdiction.

(N.B. This is also why I ask most friends to call my mobile first. I'd get them to call the house phone, but I'm not paying the £600-£800 that BT want each month to show a caller's ID.)

So if you call me and you get no answer, don't take it personally. I'm at home, not working. Or failing that, call my mobile. I'm still friendly to my friends.

Lifehack 2: Keyboard shortcuts

Very, very handy time saver in all kinds of computer programs. Here are my top five:

  1. Open Windows Explorer: Windows key + E.
  2. Open a new Firefox tab: CTRL + T.
  3. Copy...: CTRL + C.
  4. and Paste...: CTRL + V.
  5. Switch programs: ALT + TAB.

I think most people know these already, but they are every day timesavers for me.

Lifehack 3: A backup plan

I pulled this originally from a Lifehacker post, but here's my current backup plan.

Using SyncBack, I get the data from my Documents and Settings folder and copy that over to my external hard drive. To limit possible clashes I eliminate the following data:

  • .lnk files
  • *ntuser.dat* files
  • *parent.lock* files
  • *UsrClass.dat* files
  • thumbs.db files
  • Any directories named Cache or Temp

I presently run this once a week. In addition to that once a month I move these to a monthly folder and allow the backup to recreate itself from fresh (which has been handy in regard to making sure that I've got old copies of files on some occasions).

At some point I suspect I'll incorporate an online element to this, but that's presently a wait and see option.

If you like these posts let me know and I'll consider another one in future, thanks.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The problem with being English in 2010

Earlier this month my best mate and I got our heads together, arranged to take some time off in the middle of June and watch the beginning of the World Cup together. He's coming up the night before it starts and I'm looking forward to watching South Africa play Mexico with him on June 11th.

The next day England take their bow against the USA. I'm looking forward to this too, but for different reasons. Watching a game with my best mate and a common interest, great. Sharing a common interest with my other friends, with a plethora of texts going to and from my phone, great. The England kit? Work of art. The players wearing it? Meh.

Seriously, who do we have representing us this summer? Ashley Cole - known to cheat on his wife. John Terry - known to cheat on his wife. Rio Ferdinand - a player with a drug ban on his record (and a whole lot of gossip regarding why he got it). Wayne Rooney - great player but with a temperament that makes Russell Crowe look chilled out. Steven Gerrard - who has been known to get upset on nights out in Southport. And I haven't even mentioned "Fat Frank" and the polarising opinions he generates.

Is there really any one player you can fully say is likeable? I'm honestly struggling to find one.

This reminds me of the Portland Trail Blazers "Jail Blazers" era of a few years ago. The team went after talent at the expense of character and found themselves with an utterly unlikeable team which made the Portland community squirm. In recent years the team has built around character (and luck in the draft) to build a team that the fans are proud of for more than just they're doing on the court.

Will I struggle to support the team in the World Cup? I know I won't. Something will come round, something will happen and I'll get as swept up as every other casual fan of the national team. And even if those things don't happen I can rely on something else stir my patriotic side: the Scottish tabloid media. Yes, the one collective who I think can actually make John Terry likeable, and that's saying something.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sporting Images of a Decade

One of the good things about where I work presently is we're allowed to choose our own desktop wallpaper. Obviously there are some limitations, but that didn't stop me from piecing together some sporting highlights of the last decade, shrinking them into pictures small enough not to annoy anyone and then distort them further by knocking them down in to black and white. The images I chose? The following:

400 while hitting .400. The curtain call Chipper Jones took after his 400th Home Run for the Braves. The one constant for the Braves in the decade, still my favourite player to see playing at Turner Field (more on TV these days, sadly).

Andy says sssh. Last day of the season, 2004/05. Andy Johnson steps up to take a crucial penalty against Charlton Athletic. He buries it in the bottom corner, then runs past a big section of Charlton fans with a finger over his mouth. It still makes me laugh. Pity the end result wasn't better though.

Anaheim Ducks, Stanley Cup Champions. Scott Niedermayer lifts the cup after the Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup. Pretty simple, still a great moment for me personally.

Ronnie runs over New England. September 2008. The 0-2 Dolphins head to New England to face the hated Patriots. The Fins were on a run of having lost 20 of their last 21 games. The Patriots hadn't lost a regular season game since losing to the Dolphins in Miami... in 2006. Cue the Wildcat's introduction (or the reintroduction to the single wing, if you prefer), Ronnie Brown running for four touchdowns, throwing for another and barreling over Ellis Hobbs in the process. The South Florida franchise has been on a mostly upward path ever since.

The Bulls draft Derrick Rose. Following a pretty lousy decade (compared to the fabulous 90s) the Bulls struck lucky in 2008, winning the draft lottery and the rights to draft Memphis guard Derrick Rose. He's no Jordan (he's a much different player) but at least he's a better pick than Eddy Curry and he offers a great hope for the future with the right pieces around him.

And in case you're wondering, to the left of those pictures I put a January 2010 calendar, which means this wallpaper is now effectively redundant. Time to start the creative process again!