I have a very special memory. One that I have not thought about for years but it came to me today in the middle of Saving Private Ryan. I don’t think I’ve shared it before. In my solitude, you haunt me A long time ago, I had a girlfriend and I used to sing to … Continue reading Solitude
The line between a terrific teacher and a terrible teacher is a fine line indeed. So many of the very best teachers dance along the line with fancy steps on either side, changing the lives of students fortunate to be touched by their magic or cursed by their conceit. Mr Gooden was terrifying and a … Continue reading The Terrible Mr Gooden
The first gun I ever fired was a Lee-Enfield, the mainstay of the British Empire for the first half of the 20th century and the weapon of choice of the Sea Cadets. Wikipedia says that our Lee-Enfields were modified to fire .22 rounds but, in my memory, they were the original .303s. Who knows? (Petty … Continue reading Fun with Guns
I’ve always thought of automats as lonely, melancholy places. I entered my first automat when I was 14 and visiting the first of many, many navy bases. Naval establishments in those days were almost defined by their automats and automats were the place to be for a certain kind of junior rating. There were the … Continue reading Lonely in the Automat
I wonder if people seeing new paintings at the dawn of each new period experienced them the way we experience an exciting new technology? When the renaissance painters rediscovered perspective did their fans experience it the way we experience 3D movies? Was the incredible depth of emotion in Baroque anything like technicolor was for us? … Continue reading Virgin at Prayer
A long time ago, I went to a school called Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar. It was a good school: very academic and very sporty. Purple blazers. It was about as close to being a public (i.e. private) school that you could get without paying large sums of money. At one time, Chiselhurst and Sidcup was … Continue reading Sozzlehurst and Hiccup
It’s hard to miss Terry Gross if you are a commuter in Silicon Valley. As much as I intend to leave the office in time to hear the endlessly entertaining Kai Ryssdal, by the time I have shut down the computer each evening and made it to the car, seven o’clock has crept up on me … Continue reading A Fresh Look
I have a routine now. I google for an image on my iPhone and prop it on my knee while I sketch it on my iPad. I think that’s enough copying for now though. Time to come up with my own idea. A portrait, maybe. Funny thing about Monet prints…the images that turn up in … Continue reading Monet’s Field of Poppies
In one of the universe’s subtle attempts to mess with me, my grandmother died yesterday on the same day that I finished this painting – Girl Seated in a Cemetery by Delacroix. In another week or so, I’ll be standing in cemetery myself with lots of other sad people, remembering the fantastic lady who was … Continue reading In a Cemetery
When I first started fingerpainting, I would slap out a picture in an hour or two. As I got better at it, I would pay more and more attention to the detail and it took longer and longer and became less and less fun. I was able to whack this one out in a couple … Continue reading Captain, My Captain
I did this one on Monday while waiting for Jazz. I used to have a print of this picture when I lived in London until, one day… I was taking a shower before work in the morning when the water suddenly stopped. I went to work with suds in my hair. When I came home, … Continue reading Monet’s Sunrise
I’ve been reading Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists. De Botton’s big idea is that the least interesting thing about religion is whether its claims about God are true. We should be more interested in the fact that religions have had a couple of thousand years of experience of understanding and guiding human nature through art, ceremony, and moral … Continue reading Religious Bathwater
My guilty pleasure is reading Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative. I’ve been reading him for well over ten years. My New Year’s Resolution this year was to stop but I just couldn’t leave him alone. Rod’s blog is addictive because, while his worldview is so foreign to me, he is a smart, (usually) fair … Continue reading Ceremonial Shintoism
I’ve been visiting the breathtakingly beautiful campsite at Mount Madonna at least twice a year for twenty years now. It really is a magnificent campsite. When Silicon Valley is so hot as to be unbearable, the shade of the finest coastal redwoods will help you find your cool. There are no critters to raid your food larder … Continue reading I Will Shoot Your Dog
I’ve always struggled with the words progressive and liberal. In America at least, liberal seems to mean so many different things to different people that it doesn’t seem to mean anything at all. I have no idea what progressive means at all. Interfluidity has a handy-dandy chart that attempts to sort lefties into useful categories. While I am … Continue reading To the Left!
I’ve been a Billy Bragg fan since I saw him at the Portsmouth Guildhall in ’86 and I’ve terrorized my family and friends by singing his songs ever since. My best Billy Bragg memories include teaching Train Train to Dylan when we lived in New York. He was only a year old and he used to finish … Continue reading Levi Stubbs Tears
I love the show RadioLab (from W-Y-N …Ceeeeeee!). It’s an hour-long show but I never get to listen to it because I can rarely find an uninterrupted hour to put aside to sit through a whole podcast. Sometimes, I’ll catch a bit on the actual radio in the car but I always regret it because I’ll catch … Continue reading What day is it?
As I mentioned at our reunion, we had quite a few stories of teacher on pupil violence. Mine was best 🙂 It was the end of the third year (8th grade for the ‘mercans) and we had to pick our subjects for ‘O’ Level so Paul and I went to speak with Mr Lewis to get … Continue reading Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!
Ever in search of new experiences, I went to church on my own for the first time ever. Church-going folk always seem delighted to welcome non-church-going folk. That pleasing fact makes me smile down deep inside. I sat discreetly in the most out-of-the-way spot I could find and was all alone until an older lady … Continue reading Don’t Break the Chain
Crossing the line is an important milestone in a young sailor’s life. King Neptune demands that every time a ship crosses the equator, everyone aboard be called to account for his sins and he rises from the deep to hold court. He pays special attention to those who are crossing the line for the first … Continue reading Crossing the Line
See, I was looking for a picture of a freshly inked tattoo. I knew it was there somewhere but I found a thousand other pictures first. There goes my evening. I’ll have to look at every single one of them….and so will you! First up, Falklands tour from September, 1984 to March 22, 1985. Your … Continue reading I Was in the Navy You Know
When I returned from travelling around the world, I took a crappy job fixing avionics on planes at Heathrow Airport. Ooooooooooh how I hated that job. I quit after about three months with no idea of what to do next. Eventually, I narrowed it down to one of five things. Six years in the navy … Continue reading It Changed My Life – Book Four
Something – The Ragged Clowns (click to play) Liner notes by Wikipedia “Something” was recorded during the Abbey Road sessions. It took 52 takes in two main periods, the first session involved a demo take on Harrison’s 26th birthday, 25 February 1969, followed by 13 backing track takes on 16 April. The second main session … Continue reading Vague Traces of Rhyme
Four years ago, I drove up to Portland, Oregon to make a new life and I fell entirely in love with every detail of the city. I loved exploring Portland and I found something new each time I looked. I have a sense that the puritans never made it as far as Portland. In San Jose, … Continue reading Here we go out of the sleep of mild people
I find it simply amazing that, one thousand years ago, people were drinking excellent beer and singing this fantastic song and that even now, one thousand years later, beer is still excellent and the song is still fantastic. There were three men came out of the west Their fortunes for to try, And these three … Continue reading John Barleycorn Must Die
I just read Alan Kay’s Early History of Smalltalk. It was timely for me because Brian Marick’s mention of the New Math put me in auto-rant mode on how schools optimize for students who are unlikely to excel in the subjects they are being taught. One of the themes of Alan Kay’s sparkling career has … Continue reading For whom?
Scene: It’s 3am at the Hotel Fifty. Only the rumble of the train and the roar of the traffic disturbs the silence of the over-active air-conditioner. Our hero is sleeping softly. *door creaks* *door slams* Mysterious Stranger: Fuck! What is this shit??! Our hero awakes. Startled by the noise and the stranger in his room, … Continue reading The Intruder
The folks who wrote Pragmatic Programming recommend that you learn a new language frequently because, with each language, you’ll learn a new trick or a new way of thinking about programming that you never thought of before. When you go back to your old language you’ll take your new trick with you. Last year, I learned Objective … Continue reading What’s your trick, Python?
When I was a teenager, I thought there was nothing that I couldn’t do if I worked hard enough at it. Except art and music. All my attempts at drawing ended in tears and my attempts at playing the recorder made people cry. Miss Sindy, my art teacher at Chis and Sid, always seemed to … Continue reading No Limits?
When the big little clown was in fourth grade, he and his friends were really into Texas Hold’em. I regularly hosted a bunch of nine year olds for poker sessions. They couldn’t get enough of it. The Little Clown and I used to play all the time, even when his friends weren’t around. Nine year … Continue reading There’s a one in five chance…
They teach way too much english and history in school and not nearly enough physics (but that’s the topic of my next blog). But the one subject that they really need to teach more of is rhetoric. Jay Heinrich believes that every parent should teach their children to argue and I agree. To disagree reasonably, … Continue reading Teach Your Kids to Argue
I read about america’s worst mom when she became famous last year. She has a book out. The media dubbed me America’s Worst Mom (Go ahead, Google it.) But that’s not what I am. I really think I’m a parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). … Continue reading Child Abuse
It has come to my attention that there is a whole continent of people who have never listened to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds. This is a crime against humanity. The War of the Worlds is the very pinnacle of that mountain of great concept albums that defined the 70s and … Continue reading The chances of anything coming from Mars
Affirmative action is counter-productive. So is the minimum wage. And minimum standards of education. Technology is uninteresting. Well over 90% of science fiction is crap. Checked exceptions are stupid. I am afraid that pubic hair will go the way of under-arm hair. C# is better than Java. There is not enough testing in schools. Tipping … Continue reading More than fifty surprising things that I believe
In my travelling days, I used to keep one note and one coin from every country I visited. I just came across some notes in a photo album and, on a whim, had a look on eBay to see if they are worth anything. I have a Gibraltar Pound from 1979. This is a £50 … Continue reading A Pound’s a Pound the world around
A little while ago, Jeff and I attended a funeral because Julio reminded us that you should always go to the funeral and on the way back we talked about how the one thing religions really do well is funerals and that it was a pity that atheists didn’t have anything as good. The discussion … Continue reading Funerals for atheists
Oyasuminasai! First customer visit. After three train rides, four tickets (costing an average of 8 million yen) and about a thousand miles, Australian Jeff, Polish Mirek, Japanese Yukio and English I arrived at our destination (late) and rushed in to give my first presentation with Yukio translating for me. I have no idea how it … Continue reading This side of Nagasaki (day 2)
When I was a lad, it was the law that every school had a religious assembly and, at my primary school especially, we used to sing 3 or 4 hymns every morning. In the assembly hall, we had two enormous (to a 10 year old) contraptions that dangled enormous hymn sheets from the ceiling. One … Continue reading Judas and Mary
I hate internet memes too, but I like this one. List 10(ish) books that had a big influence on your life. Here are Will Wilkinson’s and Conor Friedersdorf’s and Ross Douthat’s. At the end of the third year at Chis and Sid, I won a prize for the most improved student. After coming dead last … Continue reading It Changed my Life – Book One
Whenever we hear a story about someone who has suffered a tragedy or illness that leaves them in a bad way physically, we have that conversation. The one that goes “I wouldn’t want to live that way. Just have me put down.” I always have the same response: as long as I can still think, … Continue reading A Beautiful Mind
Wish You Were Here I got a bit carried away with the overdubs but it was fun. I got most of the parts in a couple of takes – except the last two lines of the second verse. I sang the second verse about 20 times before I realized that I had played the wrong … Continue reading Trading Heroes for Ghosts
When I was 20, my girlfriend’s brother bought me Bleak House for my birthday saying “I love buying books for people who will get pleasure from them.” I’ve flirted with Bleak House more times than I can remember but there is always some other book ready to steal my affections. I’ve been through an substantial proportion of the … Continue reading The Gift of a Book
I’m not really sure why they call him Slowhand. My hands were much slower than his. I gave up trying to copy the last two measures of the solo and just made something up. Sunshine of your Love I thought it’d be at least easy to sing. Turns out… not so much.
Timoth Garton-Ash describes in The Guardian what he sees as the root cause in the difference between the US outlook on the War on terror and the European outlook. He compares the pro-war conservatives in the US with the militaristic imperialists (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori“) in pre-World War I Europe and suggests … Continue reading The Old Lie
It used to be hard to find well-thought-out justifications for atheism. Most people I knew were atheists but didn’t like to talk about it much (probably because they didn’t know that most people they knew were atheists too). The only famous atheists were either the shouty, angry kind or weirdos. You had to go all … Continue reading Why not?
Roger Ebert has written a powerful, meandering essay about shame. The essay takes many twists and turns and each one of them is fascinating journey in its own right. It starts out as a review of the movie The Reader I was watching Tony Scott on the Charlie Rose program, and he said, in connection … Continue reading My Deepest Shame
One of the many books I am reading at the moment is The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. It’s a bird-watching diary written by a man who (according to the intro) is in the last year of his life and decides to devote it to watching falcons. The book is just day after day after day … Continue reading What is, is now
Muriel Gray doesn’t like the word Bright either, so she has coined her own word. Here’s what I believe as an Enlightenist. Atheism is not a driving concern, since belief in God is of little consequence. After all, if there is an interventionist God then there would be continuing demonstrable evidence of such, which there … Continue reading Enlightenist Schools
I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance three times. The first time I read it, I thought it was the best book ever and it got me reading Plato and interested in eastern religions and philosophy. I also had a flurry of interest in zen-influenced physics books (Dancing Wu Li Masters, The Tao … Continue reading It Changed My Life – Book Two
Remember, remember The fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason Why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot. A long time ago, there was a King of England called King James I. In the years before James came to the throne, there was much religious strife in England. James’s great-great-uncle, King Henry … Continue reading Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
Footscray. Council estate. Fancy grammar school. Parents divorce. First in class. Run away to sea. Engineering apprenticeship. Girlfriend. Falklands patrol. Girlfriend. Sonar engineer. Polaris submarine in Scotland. Patrol North Atlantic. Midshipman. BRNC Dartmouth. Quit. Backpack (California, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raitaia, hitchhike Sydney->Cairns->Darwin, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Komodo, Singapore, Malasia, Thailand). East End. Poor. Girlfriend. … Continue reading My life in 100 words or less
Hearing the reports and interviews about the San Francisco plane crash brought back a long lost memory. I had just turned 21 when I joined the nuclear submarine HMS Revenge. I was one of two petty officers responsible for all the sonar systems on board. The other dude, Mark, was a year or two older … Continue reading Fire! Fire! Fire!
There is a beautiful, sprawling tree on top of a hill by our house. It has a rope swing and someone has nailed boards into the trunk to make it easy to get up to the crown where a splendid panorama of Almaden Valley awaits you. The tree has a special place in clown family … Continue reading Have fun!
We arrived early enough for a beer and the biggest pizza ever shared by two and, once we had our nasty little tickets in our sweaty hands, we ambled up to the stage and picked out a comfortable spot about 5 people back from the rail and started gently bobbing to the crazy, improvised sounds … Continue reading Purple Madness
Tom lent me the Game of Thrones to read recently. I enjoyed it thoroughly but I couldn’t help but think that – if you take away the thin veneer of magic and fantasy – it reads a lot like the history of my country. And how much more fantastic to read a true story? So … Continue reading Hic Harold Rex Interfectus est
I bought The Golden Treasury of English Verse and a harmonica as my only mementos of civilization when I set off to go backpacking around the world. I’m not entirely sure why though because I couldn’t play the harmonica and I hated poetry. By the time I got back, I was enchanted by both. Being … Continue reading It Changed My Life – Book Three
Why is that these two statement evoke such different reactions? I hear they are making a movie of The Lord of the Rings. I hear they are making a movie of The Lorax. Those of us who are fans of JRR Tolkien were positively thrilled when we heard the fantastic news all those years ago. … Continue reading Once-ler Goes to Hollywood
A couple of years of ago, Beckham left ManU for Real Madrid and, a few days later someone new showed up wearing the No7 shirt. “Who is that?”, I wondered. Within about 3 minutes, I said “I think we got the better end of the deal here. This guy is much better than Beckham”. This … Continue reading Play Beautiful !
It was a warm, balmy evening last night, so Georgina and I decided to go out on the town. We got all dressed up in our finest rags – Georgina wore those long, dangly diamond earrings – and set off from our room in the residential hotel where we live determined to have a grand … Continue reading Lost!
I just got through reading Charles Murray Real Education so I was perfectly primed to be alarmed by this passage Teachers can’t prepare for the content of the tests and so they substitute practice exams and countless hours of instruction in comprehension strategies like “finding the main idea.” Yet despite this intensive test preparation, reading … Continue reading What is education for?
It started with a random comment on a blog. A few months back, I blogged about a rather famous party at my school and, last week, Helen left a comment. It’s always exciting to get comments on my blog- especially when the commenter is someone you haven’t spoken to for 25 years. Helen was at … Continue reading Reunions FTW
Spoilers Ahead! Before I read the book, I had always understood Lolita to be a sexually precocious teenage girl who seduces an older man. In this scenario, Humbert is technically guilty but it’s still possible to have a little sympathy for him. It’s only our prudish modern society that frowns on sexual relationships between middle … Continue reading Betraying Lolita
The third post in which I blog my reactions as I plough through Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. This was the first section where I was listening to most of the albums for the first time and I had an intense reaction to every one of them. OK. Except Robert Johnson. I … Continue reading Quest 500. 21-30
I’ve been reading a lot recently about how leftists are supposedly disappointed with Obama because he was not leftist enough and centrists are disappointed because he was not centrist enough. I’m disappointed, but none of that rings true with me, perhaps because I am neither a leftist nor a centrist and my criticism of Obama does … Continue reading President of my Dreams
I have a sense that Facebook is about to score its first victory in the battle for civil liberties. Facebook has been ablaze with outrage over the new Porno Scanners at airports and their creepy human cousins, the Groping Agents. Facebook has managed to bring the issue into everyone’s consciousness the way that newspapers and … Continue reading Private Principalities
Bob’s post about liberty reminded to to finish a post I started about 3 years ago. Most people think of politics in terms of left and right. In America, there are liberals and conservatives and anyone in the middle is a moderate. This is a gross over-simplification and distorts the political discourse in many ways … Continue reading Go down, not left !
Since I have access to all the songs in the world I told Rhapsody to just play me some songs that you think I might like. Rhapsody thought I might like to listen to some Kate Bush which was nice because I haven’t listened to Kate Bush since I was about thirteen with hormones and … Continue reading Pick me Kate! Pick me!
A few years ago, the wife of a dude I used to work with died. I didn’t really know him well – and his wife not at all – but word got around and a friend of mine said “are you going to the funeral?” I said “well, no probably not. I didn’t really know … Continue reading Always go to the funeral – redux
I heard from several correspondents that they thought my attitude to religion (Christmas vs Holidays) was unusual. One had been brought up in a religious environment and now rejects the whole shebang – she can’t understand why I am interested in Christian mythology at all. She wouldn’t even let me buy a children’s bible for … Continue reading A kindly old man
I finally made it back to my room, giftless and tired, with two hours remaining before our next installment of eating and drinking. I was looking forward to just relaxing in the bath but, when I checked my email… bling-o! blong-o! … American Jeff IM’d me to see how I was getting on. I told … Continue reading This side of Nagasaki (day 4.5)
I started this picture ages ago but I got frustrated trying to draw her face. So she has been stuck on my iPad for about a year waiting for me to finish. Then, when I came to finally finish her, Art Studio crapped out on me and wouldn’t start. I had to back everything up, … Continue reading Lady by a Wall
[story is a little out of sequence due to international dateline] Woke up this morning feeling only slightly fragile and, with my three dinners of the night before fully digested, I was ready to make an attempt on the World Breakfast Record. I had miso, nearly raw egg – just the yolk – in a … Continue reading This side of Nagasaki (day 3)
HMS Invincible just sailed off to the scrap yards. Invincible came into service right before I joined up. It was a big deal at the time because Thatcher’s Axe inflicted a series of massive cuts on the armed forces right before I signed on the dotted line. HMS Invincible was actually sold to Australia and … Continue reading Tempus Fugit
The next ten albums in my quest to listen to 500 Greatest – according to Rolling Stone – Albums of All Time. It’s handy, on a quest like this, to have access to all the music in the world. Imagine if you had to buy them all on iTunes at 99c a track. It’d be … Continue reading Quest 500. 11-20
I’m reading the biography of Winston Churchill by Max Hastings and I’m also following along with The Orwell Diaries on RSS. I’m at a similar point in both stories and what strikes me most forcefully is how bleak those times were and how close Britain was to utter disaster. My imagination won’t stretch far enough … Continue reading In Our Times
Here’s a quick way to test whether you understand what’s going on or whether you are still clueless like me. Scenario There are three people on a bus going to the beach. One person says “Does anyone want a newspaper?” The correct answer is: No, I’m fully up-to-speed with the day’s events already thanks. Yes, … Continue reading Philosophical Comprehension
Like I wasn’t gonna get the new GarageBand for iPad?? It’s pretty good but VERY frustrating. There are tons of bugs and it’s a little too slow to keep up with any kind of complex strumming. I lost my whole guitar track once and, by the end of the session, the sequencer view thingie was … Continue reading iPads make iMusic
Haven’t recorded one for a while. I’m stuck on a plateau and can’t seem to make progress. I have three or four songs where I can play everything but the solo. This one doesn’t have a solo so it’s good to go. It isn’t quite right, but it’s about as close as I’m gonna get. … Continue reading My aim is close
Atlas Shrugged is a classic tale of good versus evil. The heroes are easily recognized by their strong profiles, high cheekbones and tendency to speech rather than speak. Heroes always know the precise angle to present their bodies so that the setting sun can highlight their virtues and their flat hips while the bright red … Continue reading Atlas Whatever
Quick! Name a heroic action in World War I. I bet you can’t. Modern European attitudes to war and nationalism were largely shaped by that most patriotic of wars. Passchendaele, The Somme, Verdun, Galipolli. The names of the battles are associated in our minds with tragedy and disaster. The names of the generals will forever … Continue reading At the going down of the sun
Ohayou-gozaimasu! So, after we left the yakitori place, we went to a wine bar. Wine was so-so, but the whole pig’s leg sitting on the bar was interesting. When Yukio asked for prosciutto, the barman just got out his carving knife and cut some bits off for us. It was the best prosciutto I ever … Continue reading This side of Nagasaki (day 2.5)
Wonder what it’s like way up there…? Oh! It’s like that! Looks high! Do they have beer? Yes, the good kind though. Not that kind. What’s that I see in the background? Ah! Mt Hood! (click pictures for bigger ones)
In my profession, software engineering, only about 10% of the professionals ever read books or practice or attend conferences or keep track of what the gurus are saying or aspire to gurudom themselves. For many, the highest aspiration is that one day they will stop being a software professional so they can manage other software … Continue reading 90% of everything is crap