Friday, 20 May 2011

Batty baby birds

The sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and goldfinches all seem to have had a successful year judging by the number of batty baby birds flitting around my garden.

Yesterday the fledglings were vibrating their wings and chirping for food, but today the parents are using the "monkey see, monkey do" educational technique to teach their demanding offspring how to forage for themselves.

There is something utterly charming about the young birds, their feathers all fluffy and ruffled, with their inelegant and haphazard flights from perch to perch, often landing on the flimsiest of branches which oscillate wildly under their weight.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Look no further

Congratulations to Rachel and Meg on the launch of their new website

With their bespoke mobile dog grooming facility, the DoggyStylists bring the salon to you, taking the hassle out of getting your dog washed, trimmed and groomed.

If, like DoggyStylist, you're a small business looking to set up a professional looking website with minimal capital expenditure, then the chances are that you need look no further than Blogger.

Once you have created your blog, you need to create one post which you will use as your home page. In the Design interface you can untick most of the options on the Blog Posts page element to minimise the "blog" look and feel:

You can create up to 10 pages to use as the supporting pages for your website:

Add the Pages element to create the horizontal menu:

Add some graphics, play with the layout, tweak the colour scheme, and hey-presto you're almost in business.

You probably don't want to put on your marketing material - but no fear - you can buy a domain name for your business, and configure Blogger to use a custom domain:

You'll need to configure cname records with the provider you bought the domain name from. If you buy your domain via Blogger this is all done for you, and if not then Blogger has instructions telling you how to navigate your provider's website to get this set up.

The pièce de résistance is the ability to set up addresses. For this you step outside the Blogger environment, and use Google Apps, which is free as long as you need less than 10 email addresses. There are quite a few steps to work through to get this all up and running, but there is an excellent wizard to guide you through it. The only tricky piece is setting up mx records with the provider you bought the domain from, but this is broadly similar to setting up the cname for your custom domain for Blogger.

Best wishes to Meg and Rachel at, and all their woofy customers.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A respectful ending now of our relationship

I was up at 5:30am to meet my dad and his dog Jessie for a walk around the lake at Roundhay Park. As is often the case at that time of day, the sky was clear, though rain has threatened since. There wasn't a whisper of wind and the lake reflected park and sky perfectly. The view had the makings of a fine one thousand piece jigsaw.

Back home, after a little breakfast, I caught up on some telly on the BBC iPlayer. On a whim I watched Wonderland - The Trouble With Love and Sex. I hadn't seen an episode of Wonderland before, so I didn't know what to expect. I was quite taken with the concept - the voices belonged to real people who'd agreed to be taped during their counselling sessions at Relate, and the footage was a cartoon interpretation. It was insightful to listen to these sessions, with the nuances of body language and expression heightened by the cartoon characters, seeing them immersed at times in the imagery from their psyche.

There was a point in the documentary where the counsellor reads a letter out to the young man who he as been helping. It is written as if by the young man, and addressed to the dark voice that became the focus of their counselling sessions, the voice of the young man's insecurities, the voice that whispers 'you'll fail', 'you don't deserve it', and 'end it all.' As he starts to read it I'm cringing, it is so fake and silly...

Dear Darker Influence,

RE: Thank you for services supplied, and a respectful ending now of our relationship.

Since I was born you have protected me from adult couple relationships by ensuring I never became committed before I was ready.

During our time together you have shown me how much I appreciate my life. Amongst other things you did this by pushing me to even consider suicide.

That you engaged in this high risk strategy with someone you loved is testament to how much you believed I did value my life, and when ready would make the changes I dreamed of.

Now with your help I feel ready to engage in a meaningful couple relationship.

Hence this letter is to tell you I no longer need your services.

With much love, affection and thanks,

Good bye.

...then the words reach something locked inside me. Suddenly I'm in tears, my expression mirroring the face of the cartoon man, as this psychobabble works its hocus pocus on me. The words I absorb aren't quite the words spoken, as they're internalised to suit my situation.

I feel liberated. Giddy with relief. A weight is literally lifted from my shoulders. I can breathe deeply.

I can let go.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gnashing of teeth

The other day a popup dialog appeared asking if I'd like to upgrade to Firefox 4, to which I blithely agreed.

Woe is me.

In Firefox 4 the buttons have been moved around and the address bar has been incorporated into each tab. Trivial stuff, but I'm becoming more adverse to change for the sake of change as my brain fossilizes into middle age. When I discovered the option to move the address bar back to its proper position I resolved to stick with version 4.

After the next reboot my Firefox woes began in earnest. Each time I tried to navigate to a new page, open a new tab, or even refesh the page I was on, Firefox 4 hung in a not responding state. The browser would eventually spring back to life, but the net effect was much the same as if I'd reduced my connection speed to 2400 baud, placing Firefox 4 in the chocolate teapot category of browsers.

Googling 'I hate Firefox 4', 'Firefox 4 sucks' and other such blunt phrases I discovered I was not alone in my pain.

And lo, there was much lamenting and gnashing of teeth.

Mozilla's advice was to turn off lots of add-ins, uninstall other software products, and Firefox might just decide to play nicely. Everyone else recommended downgrading to Firefox 3.6.

And thus it came to pass that Firefox 4 was banished to the netherworld, and the people rejoiced.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Pantomime politics

Recently a wedding and a funeral have conspired to keep the AV referendum at the bottom of the news agenda, but it deserves more attention.

The First Past The Post (FPTP) system has allowed our democracy to flounder in a evolutionary eddy. With FPTP there is no incentive for cooperation or constructive debate. Instead we are poorly served by the "Oh yes we will!" and "Oh no you won't!" pantomime politics we so commonly see in our House of Commons today.

AV would be a great leap forward in evolutionary terms. Parliamentary candidates would have to work much harder to be returned as an MP for their constituency, requiring more than 50% of the vote, rather than a simple majority. Party politics would focus more positively on the policy similarities with their rivals in order to garner secondary votes. Coalition governments would be more likely, but this would foster a more adult and collaborative approach to government.

There is a fear that AV would lead to a succession of weak and indecisive coalitions, but I doubt the electorate would re-elect politicians who put party politics before the needs of the nation. Besides we've seen the Con-Dem coalition in action, and though no one got what they voted for, at least they are proving that coalitions are no less effective than a majority government.

The "No" campaign are trying to mobilise the over-50's age group to vote, on the expectation that this group will vote like fuddy duddies for the status quo. The "No" campaign are claiming that AV is too complex for the electorate to understand. How patronising.

Which ever option you favour - get out on Thursday and vote. People have died in their thousands this year in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria fighting for the right to have a legitimate say in the running of their countries. Show your solidarity, respect their sacrifice, and that of our own forebears who fought for the universal suffrage we enjoy today in the UK - exercise your right to vote.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Obama kills Osama

Barack Obama today announced that US ground forces have killed Osama Bin Laden.

Will this make the world a safer place? I suspect not - bloody retaliation from Al-Qaeda seems more likely. I would not be surprised if the UK threat level increases from Severe to Critical in the next week or two.

Will it save Obama's presidency, and give him a second term in office? I hope so. While unpopular at home, Obama is still well thought of outside the US, where we continue to enjoy the pleasant novelty of an American president whose IQ is larger than his shoe size.