Sunday, 28 December 2014

Christmas is in Full Swing...

...and I've had a top time with the family doing family things, including the After Eight Challenge. Place an After Eight mint on your forehead. Eat it using only your own head. No hands or other devices.

A few celebs have given this a shot already, including Coleen Rooney.

This trend has been around since 2008 at the latest. I only heard about it on Christmas day this year, though.

I also discussed shit TV programmes with Norman D Golden II, the kid from A Cop and a Half.

New Year plans are steadily forming.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Well, my joke made it into celeb / humour gossip rag Popbitch...

 ...again. This time it made the “Old Jokes of the Year”, a round-up of the bulletin's one-liner submissions, in 3rd position. Can't complain. The joke:

I went out with a cardboard cut-out once. She dumped me though, because I stood her up.

Hmm. That's all I've got for you: I'm still hammering Klavaro in an attempt to up my typing speed and I'm otherwise chilling and enjoying my Christmas. Hope you are too.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Meeting Chris Hadfield

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has released his second book, You Are Here. Today I met him at WHSmiths in Manchester's Arndale today as part of his book signing. He's quite a cool guy, as you'll see in this TED talk where he describes what it's like to go blind in space.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Month of Using Klavaro Touch Typing Software

I spent a month using a free open-source touch typing package to up my speed and improve my typing skills. Klavaro is a plain, no-nonsense but effective program that allows you to learn to type even if it's your first time using a keyboard. Although over the last month I've seen my typing speed increase, I noticed a few issues along the way.

I'd previously learned the beginnings of typing on a package called Mavis Beacon. This was more visual, designed to look like a classroom, with a female animated teacher talking you through the basic keys. Between the lessons, colourful games required you to hit certain keys within certain times to get points. Mavis Beacon offered a visual representation of your fingers on the keyboard, and showed you where you should move your fingers to. Each key would light up as you hit it.

It was fun, but I didn't commit to it properly at the time. This was 4 years ago, before I swapped from Mac to PC. Mavis Beacon was a paid-for product; Klavaro is free from Sourceforge.

Klavaro is much more curt. There is no speech guidance- only the printed text for instruction. There's also very little indication of which fingers to use for which keys- instructions for the home keys are there, but after that you're guessing. There's no on-screen keyboard during the exercises,

After learning the home keys (asdf jkl;) the lessons move on to the keys above before incorporating the two rows. When using keys like qwer, the temptation is to rest your fingers on that row and not keep them on the home keys and reach up with each one. There's no instruction not to do that, though, nor encouragement to keep the fingers in the proper place.

I found some trouble distinguishing upper-case I from lower-case l, and the number 1. You may want to change the font from the default setting. You can also add bold and italics to some of the fonts, should you desire.

A font change, however, won't necessarily help you find the more obscure keys. When incorporating the symbols, you will eventually be asked to press the vertical bar. It looks like this:


Wikipedia says it has something to do with maths. That rules me out of using it for anything other than getting through Klavaro's lessons...

This is also difficult, on-screen, to distinguish between I, l and 1. It took AGES to find. The position, on my keyboard, of the vertical bar is shift and the key directly left of z.

Other problems: The colour scheme is a little hard on the eye, especially for the 1 in 5 of us like myself who are partially colour blind. Yellow-on-green is a strain.

These are nitpicking issues I felt compelled to make a note of for the purpose of blogging later. By the end of the month, I found I could type faster and without constantly looking at every key. I've still got a long way to go, and I'm still making errors, but I type a lot in work so I have plenty of opportunity to see the results of the practice.

I know I said I'd do this for a month, but there's no point stopping now. I'm just getting the knack. I'll sneak a few lessons in over the Christmas period and see what the rest of the package has to offer.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

MK pulled

House music producer Mark Kinchen, AKA MK, played in Venus Manchester, Friday 5th April 2013.

I wasn't there, but here's a Facebook video of the man in action.

Also, here's a pic of him from the night, copping off with Manchester-based Playboy model Sarah Longbottom.

Strange stain on the vest there, MK. I won't ask.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Beating Seated Chest Press: Result!

Back at the start of October I decided I was going to lift everything the chest press machine had to offer

I was already lifting all 20 plates, and added only the 3 1.25kg discs to the rack. I thought I'd do it in under a month, as that meant only 3.75Kg to add to my personal best. It ended up taking nearly 2 months. During that time, though, I mixed in a few other movements to work the chest muscle set in different ways, and broke this up with stomach exercises.

Horizontal Dumbbell Fly

This is a hard exercise to beat, largely because the free weights are ALWAYS being used. Going in on days off meant I could access these be it early morning, late afternoon, or at midnight, oh it's never too soon.

Cough. KC and the Sunshine Band mode deactivated. At the start of the project, my PB was the 30kg dumbbells. That record had stood since May 2011. Going at quiet times meant I could hammer this movement regularly, and I quickly saw gains. I matched the PB in September not long after starting the project. I beat it in October, which felt great- then the next day I beat that record too. 2 days later I beat it again. I haven't quite got 10 reps on the 36s, though.


Great for endurance, dips work the same muscle set as bench press with a little more pressure on the shoulders. I added 1 pitiful rep to my PB during the Beating Bench Press project. It's always best to do dips early into the session when you're fresh. Do endurance after strength training and you'll already be fatigued. Dips before dumbells, however, warms up your arms ready for heavier lifting.

Chest Press

On the first session, I performed 100 reps: 10 for each of the first 10 plates. I worked my way up to the 19th and got stuck there for a full month. Today I lifted everything on the seated chest press. Technique? Eat loads of protein and put in the effort, and you see gains.

I quite fancy a well-deserved break from the gym for a couple of days!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Well, I've submitted myself to the UK Blog Awards.

For what it's worth. Think big, etc etc. I submitted Power is a State of Mind to the submissions section of the site  Here it is on the site. I'm going to forget about it, get on with blogging and enjoy my week off work. Boom!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Meeting James Ellroy... Again.

“I write books for the the whole fucking family, if your family's name is Manson,” says James Ellroy.

5th November: I arrive at Manchester's Dancehouse Theatre just in time to buy a JD and Coke and a copy of Ellroy's brand new novel, Perfidia. Mr. Ellroy is in sales overload mode: “If you buy one thousand copies, you will get sex for the rest of your life.” He goes on to reel off quotes from Ann Sexton and TS Elliot. “We bow our heads,” he says, “and we worship literature.”

Perfidia, he tells us, is the first of a second LA Quartet- the first four books comprising of The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz. Some of the characters from the first quartet will reappear as younger characters, he claims, in Perfidia and the planned further three novels. The chunk of the book he reads hints to this.

“I will now welcome your most invasive and over-personal questions,” he promises. The lights in the theatre go up. “Hey fuckers,” he says, “you look good! Did you know Richard the Third was unearthed from this spot?” A pause. “No? Fuckin' heathens. I killed Richard the Third in a previous incarnation. I just wanted you to know that.”

The Waterstones representative wants to invite questions from the audience, but Ellroy isn't ready just yet. He points at the bookstore rep. “Don't you think he looks like Tom Hardy?”

“I wish,” the rep replies with a smile.

There's a question about women- Ellroy says they play more of a part than ever in Perfidia, which “describes history as a state of yearning. Nobody embodies this like Kay Lake.

“That was a great first question.”

The next question: why write? It's agreed that should be the closing question. He'll return to that young man.

Further questions- and their detailed answers- illustrate Ellroy's writing techniques. He describes digging out chronologies, notes, plot synopses from decades ago- reprising characters from previous novels to recreate them as their younger selves. The new quartet will have “the greatest run of characters, including some real ones. I'll be reprising (corrupt police captain) Dudley, played brilliantly by James Cromwell in the 1997 movie (but not as good as the book)”.

His language, he says, comes from people he meets. “I love that shit: radical shit. Five exclamation points. Racial shit. Five exclamation points. Wild shit. Five exclamation points.”

The next question is about TV show The Wire, which in more recent seasons has been set in Baltimore as opposed to its original long-term Los Angeles home. Would he consider setting his work elsewhere?

“I saw three episodes of The Wire and I thought it was bullshit. Baltimore over LA? Fuck you!” he shouts. “Suck my dick!” He grabs his crotch.

The audience is in hysterics.

“I'm from LA,” he says. “My parents hatched me there. It's where I go when women divorce me. I write film scripts to finance the alimony.”

He's in full flow, and he reveals more of his work, his life and- most noticeably, his ego. He describes Beethoven as “The German Ellroy”, and Tolstoy as “The Russian Ellroy”. This coincidentally ties in with the next audience question: does music play a part in your storytelling?

The answer is yes. “But I hate rock and roll. Here's what I have to say to fans: grow up. Quit wearing black. Stop rebelling.” As a “classical fanatic”, Ellroy describes his red-walled music room back home, complete with Beethoven busts.

Question: After Blood's a Rover (which ends with the death of J Edgar Hoover in 1972), we thought an Ellroy take on Nixon might come next. Instead you went back to the 40s. Why?

Answer: “1972 onwards bores me. Watergate's been done to death. Besides, some of those cats are still alive, and they can sue your ass.”

An audience member describes what Ellroy does best as “nostalgia nausea”, and asks if he agrees.

“No, I live in the past,” he answers matter-of-fact. “I love it. My next project is about life on Earth, but my heart belongs in January 1942.”

Another audience member asks question I was actually wondering myself whilst reading the Underworld USA trilogy: do you plan entire trilogies or work more book-to-book?

“I love big shit,” says Ellroy, and asks if anyone's familiar with the composer Havergal Brian, whose operas are so long some have never been performed. One audience member was familiar. “It's an acquired taste,” admitted Ellroy, “but I like that big shit!

“I was a lonely boy. I'd read long books to stay away from the world. You must get strung out on amphetamines when you read these books,” he instructs us. “I want you to sacrifice the time so you enjoy it, and you'll be able to approximate the obsessiveness of the characters.”

Further questions paint a picture of the man: his sacrifices (“I'm 66. I tried being a family man. It wasn't for me. I'm a bearer, a brooder”), his dislikes (William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson) and his likes (the novel Watergate, written by Ellroy's sole writer friend Thomas Mallin which Ellroy describes as “breathtaking work”). He claims a Washington-based Mallin/Ellroy project is on the horizon.

He returns at this point to the earlier question, why write?

To answer, he reels off Dylan Thomas from memory.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

He writes crime fiction for... couples?

For the record, I met Ellroy in '09 when he released Blood's a Rover. See the writeup here

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Irony of Oscar Pistorius

During the prosecution of Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius, Gerrie Nel brought up an incident where the athlete put on Kendrick Lamar's Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe at a party. Here's the song:

Here's NME's writeup of the day in court, covering the incident.

Listen to that opening chorus line.

I am a sinner
Who's probably gonna sin again
Lord forgive me

He'd already fired a gun in a restaurant before he killed Reeva.

I can feel the changes
I can feel a new life
I always knew life can be dangerous

Changes like prison? And he'd already been burgled and jacked on the highway. He was well aware of the dangers of living in Pretoria.

Judge Masipa should have extended his trial for not knowing what decent hip-hop is. I bet she could bust some Wu-Tang lyrics if she was pressed.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Learning to Touch Type

I've been blogging now for nearly eight years. I've improved a lot over time, and the work that I've done has matured and been refined, not unlike myself. Okay, pretentious douchebaggery ceased.

The point is, I'm trying to develop further as a writer and as a person, and a lot of my time is spent at this seat putting in the words. It would benefit me hugely if I learned to type properly. It would save a lot of time, and would assist me both with my blogging and with my job, which also involves a lot of typing.

Hence, I've downloaded Klavaro, an open-source touch typing tutor program. I'm hoping it will help me to increase my typing speed within a month. Have you used it? What did you think of it?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sorry about this Gerrie Nel impression.

Here's me doing South African Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who's direct and brutal interrogation resulted in the incarceration of gun-maniac killer and paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Doing the Splits with Arnold Schwarzenegger: Results

At the end of August I decided to test my flexibility by reading the largest book in my “to-read” pile whilst attempting the splits. This book was Total Recall: My Amazingly True Life Story, the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

It took exactly 2 months to read. 158cm was my stretch record at the start of the book. I varied in ability, depending on the time off I'd had from practice and the length of time I'd sat in the position. I managed to push the record up to 163cm- I work that out as being 3cm off the widest possible distance I could attain.

The hardest part of the project was a condition I refer to as “numb-bum”: getting a numb arse from being sat on the carpet too long. A condition I've not had since assembly in school, numb-bum in splits can send pins and needles down the legs, making it hard to walk when you get up after reading for long periods of time. I made a point of standing up at every page break / chapter and walking it off, but it sure slowed down the reading.

The book itself was fantastic. Highlights include Arnie leaving the handbrake off a tank and almost running over his whole platoon in training, finding out American women shave their legs, almost killing himself on a horse shooting True Lies and wrapping up Batman and Robin by having vital open-heart surgery days later. Arnie has overcome so much adversity- he dominated the bodybuilding championships throughout the 70s, he had a Hollywood career despite having a “ridiculous Austrian accent” (his words) and became a US governor despite not being born in the country.

He had absolute rock-solid belief in his abilities as a bodybuilder, as an actor and as a businessman, and later as a politician. Anyone looking to build confidence- don't bother with Dale Carnegie. Read this book instead. Anyone who believes he's just this 'roided-up actor who got lucky- think again. His last chapter, “Arnold's Rules”, can help anyone wanting to build confidence or gain direction.

It's possibly the best autobiography I've ever read.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Today is World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

In 2005, the United Nations declared 27th October as the annual World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. What does this mean for you and I?

That depends on how much you care about preserving recorded material, which admittedly is a nerdy passion. But whatever. I'm interested. You'll possibly be familiar with Throwback Thursday, or #tbt on social media- the trend of uploading old pictures once a week. These are normally developed photographs which were scanned in and saved as JPEG, then uploaded to the internet. Audiovisual content, though, is more than pictures- it's video and sound recordings too. Where might these be found? Cupboards at home. Picture albums. Boxes of VHS tapes in the loft. Many possible places.

Video is a format that people are particularly keen to protect- we've been using VHS for decades, and still do. They can last up to 10-25 years in proper storage. But once they're digitised, the quality never drops- so get transferring! Either wire up your DVD recorder, VHS player and TV together... or take it to Max Spielmann.

Next step: upload. Facebook is a difficult platform to properly share on, as most people choose the “friends only” level of security. And even then, there's no way to search for videos on Facebook. Youtube is a better bet as you can add the relevant tags to the video, making it more searchable. Pictures can be uploaded to the likes of Twitter, personal blogs, Flickr and Instagram, but remember to properly tag them so that people searching for that content can find it. Otherwise the only the people who will stumble across it are those scrolling in their Thursday timeline.

Upload it to the site that you'd like the most traffic on. For me, that's this blog.

Then: share via social media. Let people know that the content is there and preserved online. Think about who would be particularly interested. Who's in the picture? If it's a local celebrity, would the local papers be curious? They will more than likely have a Twitter account, which is a good platform for sharing links, so show them from that site.

In essence- use today as an excuse to rummage through your old tapes, and get preserving those memories!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Manchester Posh Bars

Went out with Manchester Posh Bars last night for a second time. A good crowd. I can see this group getting ridiculously popular over the next year as the venues we're checking out are among the best in the city.

We started in the ridiculously busy but warm and friendly Oast House in Spinningfields. Alchemist was full by the time we got there. I'm surprised they haven't upped their drinks prices if they've got queues like the ones they have. I remember friends not being able to get in due to a one-out-one-in policy last year. Around the corner we found the scenic Lawn Club, designed like a summer country club or an upmarket conservatory- wicker furniture, potted plants, floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Probably more scenic in the daytime when they roll out the deck chairs, the club is again popular and crowded with a bit of a wait for drinks, but it's a pleasant wait with a respectful clientele. From there we took the short walk to Suede, one of Manchester's hidden gems. Formerly Ampersand, and in around the turn of the century a new members-only club, Suede is a small but luxurious venue with elegant design. I used to go there in 2006, so it was interesting to see how little had changed: only the music and the people. It was still a good crowd without any problems. I was a little miffed, though, that we still had to pay entry when we were already on the guest list.

We got our picture taken on entry, a first for me, in front of the club's logo a'la Ibizan clubs and a growing number of more domestic venues. The d├ęcor was untouched as far as I could tell, and the movable central podium had also been left in place. The old-school dance and R'n'B had me thinking I was 18 again (minus the check shirt and gelled spiky hair). Incredible. I would have been happy to stay there, but the group was feeling a move.

A taxi ride got us to the Northern Quarter, and to the cripplingly busy Walrus, which had good music- as is always the case in this bar. It is also the only bar I can think of that conjoins with another. Tusk can be entered from their main door or through a literal hole in the wall between the two. Probably confusing after a few skinfuls. Alas, I was driving again so it wasn't a problem for me.

I can see the posh bars group getting obscenely popular over the course of the next 12 months. The places on the events will fill fast, so there could be nights out occurring more regularly very soon...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pea, Ham and Mint Soup

Try not to get too excited by that title. I used my soup maker again, using another recipe from the device's recipe leaflet. My measuring jug wasn't big enough. Ironically, my kitchen isn't big enough for MORE cooking utensils. I ended up pouring the mixed liquid into a giant cooking pot I've had for 2 years and not used.

I forgot that I'd already got a pot of mint, so I've got 2 of those in the drawer now. The recipe actually asked for fresh mint leaves, but I knew better than to buy a packet of fresh. I'd only end up using about a quarter of it and forgetting of its existence, eventually binning the rest when I find it months later rotting at the back of my fridge.

I should also have bought chunkier ham, rather than the wafer-thin sandwich variety. It came out very watery, bitty, pungent and not very filling. And I still have another bowlful to drink / eat for lunch tomorrow. Oh well.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Hollywood Movie “Genius” Filming in Manchester

Popular parts of Manchester were transported back to the early 1900s this week for the shooting of Genius, the story of literary editor Max Perkins. As the MEN describe, the lead role is played by Pride and Prejudice star Colin Firth, and is supported by Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Guy Pierce.

I found out yesterday and- having missed a few days of filming- I darted out there early this morning to catch the last day of the Manchester set. The first location was Princess / Harter St, and was wrapping up by 10am with the production moving over to King St. Hollywood has, over the last decade, realised that Manchester have some brilliant pre-war buildings. Production crews have used our city in recent years for parts of Sherlock Holmes, Captain America, 24 Hour Party People and The Iron Lady.

I managed to get a few visuals of this week's set by climbing onto window ledges etc. Can't say I recognised anyone, but rumour had it Mr. Law is one of these suited types...