Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: January 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Danu site launches

With the successful launch party yesterday, the all new Downing Ball website is now live. Learn all about Danu and the Celtic seasonal theme of this year’s Ball. As always we aim to fully support all browsers and although the site is blessedly flash-free (Dave and I are on the same page there) it features our state-of-the-art MultiSeason™ and FourSkin™ technologies. You can now book tickets online or using the form on the back of the flyers that I am told will be doing the rounds, and as always Downing members can have their ticket(s) charged to their college bill. Below you can see how the four poster designs fit together as one.

Danu posters

While Apple’s Mac ads continue to push misleading stereotypes that are borderline lies (albeit more watchable with the help of the Peepshow guys), Dave showed me a great set of spoofs that highlight how pointless the entire debate really is.

The Event Calendar feature in the sidebar has been lying empty and unloved for a while now. I apologise for that, but will endeavour to get it filled up once more. If you are involved in any events that you would like to highlight then please let me know the details and I can add it to the calendar for all to see.

And that’s a wrap for the first month of 2007 — I figured you deserved a nice quick read after our self-indulgent retrospective last time!

A Brief History Online

Everyone’s sites seem to be reaching landmarks. Neil, Jane and James are all taking a look back, so I thought I would engage in my own retrospective charting the murky waters before P-2006 was recognisable in its current form and before all but the most dedicated readers were, well, reading. So let us travel back to the late nineties where a not-quite-teenage boy sits in front of a keyboard…

Scant evidence remains of the first proper site I produced, Palace of the Phoenix. It quickly evolved from a simple hobby into a sprawling web covering a variety of interests from music to web design, but the bulk of the site was dedicated to my chief hobby at the time — Warhammer fantasy wargaming. Being a creative sort I particularly enjoyed designing new characters and crafting entire backstories for them. The site eventually became a useful resource for others with archives of fan-created content produced by people worldwide. The fate of the Palace is long since forgotten although I suspect it may have been the victim of a server crash since no files from that period still exist online or in my archives.

Crypt of the PhoenixAt the very end of 2000 I began work on Crypt of the Phoenix, a new site dedicated to a somewhat darker interest of mine — vampires. I was new to the subculture and found that putting together the site was a great way to learn more about it. It was very much a special interest site, but many friends frequented it as it became one of my chief expressive outlets in the form of a large library of (often rubbish) poetry. The site gradually morphed and found its footing as a resource for those with similar interests in the vampiric, from role-players to researchers to the more hardcore vampyre lifestylers.

By 2003 it had become a hub for all sorts of people, many of whom started to contribute material and make requests. In 2002 I was pleasantly surprised to see it pick up a couple of web awards and it went on to earn a cluster the following year. It also marked my initial experience at writing film reviews. Reviewing within a specific genre provided boundaries and comparisons that make it much easier than I was to find generic reviewing later on. The site went through 4 iterations during its lifespan, and its final logo featured a photo of Emma Liddel, a Wiccan friend, although the site itself was never intended to become a generic occult resource.

P-2004I always had great difficulty in finding hosts as I could not afford to pay for hosting, yet refused to have my visitors constantly bombarded with flashing ads and pop-ups. By this time finding reliable hosting was becoming problematic with the Crypt’s host, Brinkster, reverting on their ad-free promise. P-2004 existed on the beigetower servers from 2003, a free community-based hosting solution that was self-selective. Only if the community approved you, based on examples of your work, could you become a member. P-2004 coexisted with the Crypt for some time, though the latter gradually fell into disrepair as 2004 progressed. My focus shifted to the new site that I felt better encapsulated me, particularly the Earth section which housed what became the regular blog that you now read. Beigetower worked well for some time but eventually maintenance of the servers fell by the wayside and it became more difficult to get things done resulting in the eventual move to a paid host in 2005.

Despite obvious similarities in name and the four-section layout, P-2006 marked major changes from its predecessor P-2004. For the first time I was paying for hosting and I also purchased a domain for the site. Although I was still handcoding the site, I had switched to WordPress for the backend which made posting much easier and more pleasant to do.

Which brings us back to the present day. I am incredibly grateful to those who have stuck with me throughout much of the adventure, Sam C in particular who contributed writings to the Crypt and still reads here occasionally although he does not comment as often as he ought. Although major overhauls now traditionally seem to happen in Septembers, I don’t know how old this site as a more ethereal entity really is, but whatever its age and despite all it has been through, I am quite sure the future holds even more exciting developments.

Everybody’s Waiting

Six Feet Under

I just watched the final episode of Six Feet Under. It provides the most incredible closure to a television series that I have ever seen. Its ending was very planned and can be felt throughout the fifth season, although its climax is really several episodes before the end. I do not wish to spoil that moment, but suffice to say it leaves much to be resolved in the aftermath with the show’s usual existential exploration of the human condition. By comparison the finale itself feels overdrawn to the point of being ponderous in a very Lord of the Rings-y fashion. That is until the final five minutes which utterly redeem it with a tumultuous, emotional and truly beautiful conclusion.

Candles and balloonsI hesitate to name the luscious song which accompanies it since hearing it for the first time as part of the greater whole adds to the memorable experience. However you would be well advised to check out Sia, the artist in question, who has produced a range of gorgeous stuff (though I warn you her website is hideous in the Powerpuff sense of the word). For its exceptional writing and visual stylishness Six Feet Under has long been one of my favourite television series and it could not have ended on a higher note. Every show finale could stand to learn something from Alan Ball. I know I’ll be missing this family of death-obsessed narcissists for some time — at least until the box set falls to a reasonable price.

Inhaling heliumThe photos accompanying this post are from Rob’s birthday formal on Tuesday, a fun night with a suitably varied group of friends. His birthday candles (accidentally, I am told) turned out to be of the relighting variety which caused considerably difficulty and the eventual burning of his fingers as he took the brute force approach to extinguishing. I found myself running to and from the hall more times than I care to remember in setting it up, while the decorative helium-filled balloons somewhat inevitably ended up being inhaled for high-pitched renditions of — well, very little really.

Auditory Workout

Over the weekend my speakers were given a real workout that I’m sure they thoroughly enjoyed. After Dyson’s birthday dinner people ended up in the party room without any speakers powerful enough to fill the large space so I got a call. Bringing down the Logitech beasts, I was able to turn them up to 3/4 of their maximum capacity as they belted their lungs out. It was the first time I had seen the Hamster Cage (as the improbably large sub woofer is known) moving a hefty amount of air through its hole. Now if only I can find an excuse to turn them all the way up to 11…

Much of the weekend was spent frantically coding as the Ball website is due for release this week with much of the art and content only now arriving. However a working model has been approved and I can confidently state that Downing Ball will have the best-looking website for the second year running. Sure, I’m a little biased, but it has certainly been a team effort this year and Angie has been awesome help. Not being on the committee this year I am not privy to all the inner machinations but I will endeavour to keep you informed and see if there’s any info I won’t be hanged for leaking. For now just be aware that tickets go on sale at the end of the month and will be available at a reduced price for the first 3 weeks so book early.

Finally the DVD Bargains page has been updated with some great box set deals on British comedies that I picked up over Christmas. The 8-disc complete Jeeves & Wooster box is a steal if you’re a fan of Fry, Laurie, Wodehouse, or — as you ought — all three.


I finally acquired a webcam two days ago. It was largely by chance really. I had only been looking for a headset since several people have been encouraging me to use Skype, which I’ve had installed for years but never really used. I had just realised that a half-decent headset was going to set me back about £18 when I stumbled across a combined Logitech Communicate STX package including a webcam for just £29.99. It even came with a nice back-of-the-head design headset so I could have both voice and hair at the same time.

PTVLogitech have cemented their reputation for being fantastic with hardware and awful with software. On first using the set I watched both Toby and Jane tear off their headsets and glare at me, apparently attacked by a loud, hissing feedback noise. The intermittent issue was clearly something at my end but I had no idea what could be causing it. Bizarrely it had nothing to do with the headset but was a problem with the camera’s driver. Replacing the boxed software with a newer version from the Logitech site solved things and I’ve had no complaints since.

I’ll be honest, I was expecting virtually nothing from the camera but was pleasantly surprised to find that in decent light it produces a pretty sharp 640×480 image. Good enough, in fact, to record videos. Ciao! are currently encouraging members to contribute video reviews by paying a substantial sum for each short clip. My first attempt garnered a tidy £7 so if I can manage the same again the webcam will actually have paid for itself within a couple of days! Not bad for a chance purchase.

The TV Fund

I mentioned Ciao! when I started using it back in November. Aside from enjoying sharing reviews through the community I’ve already made almost £20 through the site so thought I’d give it another recommendation to any hard up students out there. Go sign up now!

Kirsten and I have been arguing about vibrantly discussing the requisite essentials for a flat, given inevitably tight budgets upon moving into our dear Capitol City. I suggested that I could put up with virtually anything so long as I had a decent hi-def TV to escape into with films and games. She scoffed at the idea, suggesting a dishwasher was far more useful. Presumably she was suggesting a slave to scrub our plates clean as you already know my opinion on the mechanised variety.

She went on to accuse me of being silly with money, which may have been a mistake. I rose to the challenge by setting up a TV fund which would be calculated by totalling any excessive/frivolous purchase or impulse buy for which she is responsible. I reckoned I’d have my TV within a couple of months. Purely in the interests of transparency the course of the fund will be plotted in footnotes here as it expands.

+£170 lime green luggage
+85 hairdresser/dye
Total: £255


If “crippleware? seems an unduly harsh description, it balances the euphemistic names that the industry uses for copy protection. Apple officially calls its own standard “FairPlay,? but fair it is not.

-Randall Stross, NYT

Following my previous discussion of the iPhone I came across a very insightful article somewhat inappropriately named Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs. Inappropriate in that it is less about the iPhone than FairPlay, Apple’s dubious DRM system which it uses to lock customers in to their products — an accusation often levelled at Microsoft but rarely at their rival. Particularly interesting is the second page which details how Apple blame record company demands for the copy protection and yet still utilise it when record companies make no demands at all (indeed many songs protected via iTunes can be legally bought elsewhere sans “crippleware”).

Apologies for my silence after returning to Cambridge. It’s taken me a few days to get up to speed and I’ve had an Equity mock exam to grapple with too. With that out of the way I can now dive into the term proper which promises to be a fairly intense one. Whether that means I become less or more prolific remains to be seen.

Shamini mentions that she’s been playing keyboards on her father and uncle’s musical endeavours. The Bundell Brothers describe their sound as “Contemporary & original English Folk / Roots”. You can listen to a couple of tracks from Stood on the Shore.

Roaring Clichés

Apple unveiled the iPhone at Macworld in probably Steve Jobs’ proudest moment to date, causing Apple fans to salivate in a typically Pavlovian response. Given my love of mobile gadgetry but distrust of fruit-related electronics companies, several people have wondered about my response to the device. In keeping with their usual design manifesto it is very sleek and very pretty. Replacing the entire interface with a gigantic touch-sensitive screen seems like a masterstroke since I have always been pushing for the largest screens possible without expanding the devices too much. At first, anyway.

My initial worry was about people’s grubby fingers all over the glossy screen which but there are more serious issues. The interface is flawed, much like Apple’s two-button mouse, in that there is no touch-based feedback to the user. Fumbling in your pocket or in the dark there is no way to swiftly lock or unlock the iPhone, let alone dial. When it came to price there was an unsurprising divergence between Jobs’ rhetoric and the maths. He claimed the price point of $499 (on a 2-year contract) combined the $199 cost of an iPod with the $299 cost of a current smartphone. But that $499 is the 4GB model (an extra hundred will net you the 8GB version) while many iPod users now opt for the 30GB+ units. A measly 4 won’t be storing my music collection any time soon, certainly not if it’s shared with the rest of the phone’s features. I’m not knocking the innovation and thought that has clearly gone into the development of the new interface, but there’s a lot to take in here so don’t get carried away with the fanboy stampede.

The Cliché Finder is a nifty little tool for budding journalists and writers who worry that they may be overusing phrases without the requisite creativity that their chosen field is supposed to promote. Simply enter a block of texts and it will highlight any banal and regurgitated text that one ought to avoid. I actually believe myself to be guilty of this on many occasions, but was pleased to find that entering the current front page of site entries it flagged up only a single misfit, “end result”. Proverbs, on the other hand, are a whole different matter. All they usually require is a lion.

Play it again, Sam (and Max)

Let’s hurry, Sam. We only have 14 minutes and 55 seconds of fame left!

-Max, Sam & Max – Situation: Comedy

More circumlocutory mayham as Episode 2 of the new Sam and Max series lands and fortunately it seems my fears about its online delivery were misplaced. Situation: Comedy lampoons the full range of dire daytime television staples as the feisty duo work their way through a studio earning their 15 minutes of fame. Although the game lasts a little longer than that, it’s not much longer — again a couple of hours. This is largely due to the ease with which you’ll likely solve the game’s puzzles, although they remain as creative as ever albeit with less lateral thinking than their last outing. The storytelling and presentation is top notch and as one of six episodes included under the single price tag of just over £20, it’s hard to complain about another amusingly diverting adventure. Bring on episode three!

I came across an interesting NSA document on network security. It includes various notes on strong password selection that should be obvious, but has a few interesting ideas too. Arguably too invasive for the home user with its strict rules, it’s still interesting to see how the alleged professionals handle things.

A Big Bother Worth Watching?

I apathetically glimpsed (or failed to leave the room) the start of another round of “Celebrity” Big Brother, the fifth such affair I am told. The crowd of non-celebrities wanes in stature with each attempt with the highlights this year being H from Steps and Jo from S Club. Their presence is interesting as a scientific curiosity alone, since it had previously been conjectured that for members of both bands to inhabit the same room at once would cause a rift in time and space (a “Big Cheese”) with potentially cataclysmic consequences. I suppose Big Brother probably counts. In fairness I would consider Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5 and Dirk Benedict of the A-Team worthy of the now nominally requisite celebration had they actually done anything in the past two decades. But they haven’t.

You may be wondering why I am discussing all this when I clearly have no interest in how this televisual “event” unfolds. I merely have a humble suggestion for your approval. Why not take Pete Doherty and dump him in the Big Brother house, then deny him access to drugs, forcing him to detox live. Now that’s something I’d happily watch, and it might even steer the nation’s youth away from cocaine at the same time. I’m all for good, wholesome programming. Consent is not an issue; you could even kidnap him — it’s not like he would remember whether or not he had agreed to it. I can only hope some studio lackey stumbles upon this entry before the inevitable 6th attempt…

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

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