All this talk about everyone being connected to the Internet by the year xxxx ignores the simple fact that a large number of people in the world are fighting for survival.
January 17th, 2011

Book Meme

Books

I’ve seen this doing the rounds : “The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.” In fact the list is from The Guardian (with thanks to research from Pro-Science). Most people would be expected to have read more than 6 because it’s a list of popular books… they were voted for by readers who probably submitted 10 books at least. I’m still going to do the exercise though. No doubt the meme is so successful because it makes you feel good about just how much literature (though some books on the list aren’t classics) you’ve read over the years!

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January 5th, 2011

Same Routine, New Year

A Christmas break is great, but it’s soon over and after wishing you all a Happy New Year, it’s back to the grind of the routine. The roads were OK for the first Monday of the year, but the queues came back quickly and the routine soon pulled me in, not unlike gravity when you bounce on a trampoline.

One advantage of the days around the winter solstice is that I end up driving to work at dawn. This is not great leaving the house (when it’s pitch black) but quite lovely if the sun comes up as I’m waiting around the Argenteuil bridge (Pont d’Argenteuil). I snapped this photo at a red light, the quality isn’t great and you can never do justice to this kind of view anyway, especially not in the few seconds before it changes to green.

Hope your routine wasn’t too hard to get back into. Have a good start to 2011!

Sunrise, Orange Contrails
Originally uploaded by simon_music

December 24th, 2010

Christmas in France

Bûche de Noël

Nice quiet day today, getting ready for a meal tonight since the French celebrate much more on the evening of Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day itself. Some older children open their presents just after midnight in some families, while the younger ones still wait for Santa to deliver overnight.

Traditional meals often include salmon, foie gras, goose, game birds or duck, and as dessert a Christmas “Yule log” of which many types are available. All this washed down with champagne and wine, of course. In some regions – like Burgundy – they might have snails as a starter while in Brittany there will be more emphasis on seafood.

We won’t be doing a full traditional meal, though we might have a Yule log and some wine. No turkey in sight here, though! Have a good Christmas and enjoy some Christmas jokes while you’re surfing away biding your time until you can open your presents.

Image credit: Bûche de Noël by joana hard, on Flickr

December 19th, 2010

Frozen Snowy Swing and Slide

There’s been a lot of cold weather and frost so far this December, and a fair bit of snow. I’ve never seen quite so much fall in one morning as I did today though. I reckon we’ve had 10-15cm (4-6″) of snow in a few hours.

Last night there was already a bit. It took us 3/4 of an hour to get back home from the town centre, usually a five minute drive. Some steep roads were impossible to get up at all, and every start from stationary was with wheel slip. Horrible driving conditions.

Friday night was awful too. Friends coming to visit us before leaving for Morocco took over six hours to get from Calais to Argenteuil – usually a 2 and a half hour trip. They just made a window of mostly rainy / sleet weather to take off from Orly mid Saturday and are now basking in 28°C in Marrakech.

Snow makes the garden look beautiful, and I love the eerie light of late evening where street lamps and moonlight combine with the reflectiveness of fresh snow. It is totally impractical for getting about though, Monday morning could be a real challenge. I hope local authorities and the government now start preparing for earlier wintry weather, rather than once again blaming “unseasonable” conditions for not having stocks of salt, grit and vehicles enough to keep infrastructures moving.

Frozen Snowy Swing and Slide
Originally uploaded by simon_music

December 8th, 2010

Five and Thirty Years

Dear John Lennon

On this very blog, five years ago, I wrote an article Manhattan 25 Years Ago. Today, it’s now thirty years on since John Lennon was assassinated in New York.

On French radio this morning on my way to work the station dedicated the day to Lennon. Aside from a few errors by some of the guests (mentioning that during Abbey Road sessions, the band played a concert on the roof when in fact it was for the Let It Be sessions) most of the guests seemed particularly knowledgeable and even mentioned that Strawberry Fields in Central Park post dates the song, which was inspired by a Salvation Army orphanage in Woolton, Liverpool – actually called Strawberry Field.

On of my first memories that can be accurately dated is hearing the announcement of the death of Lennon. My son Nathan is now about the same age as I was then. He’s now five; thirty years ago I was five.

Image credit: bloodyjohn

November 22nd, 2010

Christmas Mood Board

A colleague at work created a mood board with his daughter last year, a visual Christmas list for Father Christmas if you like. I decided to give it a go with Nathan this year, and here is the result, created with Picasa.

You might have to click it to see it at a reasonable size. All images were copied from e-Commerce sites. Clearly there’s a Pokemon / Gormiti / Finger Skate theme to it all…
Christmas Mood Board
Originally uploaded by simon_music

November 3rd, 2010

Tasty Guitar Solos

Playing a musical instrument well requires a lot of practice. Motivating yourself is difficult with no goal. When you have other people to play with, and a good vibe between the musicians, and an occasional audience to share the music with, then you might find yourself with good reasons to find that drive. Getting good means spending a lot of time working on ideas and choosing a common repertoire – never easy.

Musical ventures often come to naught. Time constraints, having to rely on other sources of income and commitments gradually take your free time away. There’s no recipe for success or good musical collaboration but one might be to have the social whirl of a life afforded to students, then take a pinch of loneliness, being out of your home country, and having nothing but a CD player and a guitar to keep you company. Two friends from university both found themselves in a similar quantum state at various times during 1995-1996. Of all the times when anything was recorded of their jams, the session when they put down a cover of the track Enola Gay (I don’t remember which other tracks we recorded at the same time) captured some of the keen guitar playing that one of them* was doling out quite regularly on his Squier Strat.
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October 26th, 2010

Installed W3 Total Cache

I have added a new plugin, W3 Total Cache, to improve performance on this blog. It seemed that pages were taking a bit too long to load according to Google webmaster tools. Solutions for caching nearly always make a difference, but you have to be careful about the parameters you set. However, with minimal adjustment to the defaults on this plugin, I now have a working configuration. There are plenty of options as you can see with the whole new “performance” panel in my WordPress admin screen.

Slow loading pages can really turn visitors off. Most surfers have a very low attention span – until they’re captivated by something of course. Improvements in page loading speed have been shown to improve user engagement and site traffic on sites as diverse as Amazon, Google and travel websites. Blogs are probably not as important, but that only means that tolerances are wider. Just because everyone has higher speed internet access, doesn’t mean they want to wait any more than a second for a page to start displaying. I’ve seen a few blogs on rotation that are a bit slower than that. Make sure your blog loads progressively if you can’t reduce overall page elements easily.