Blogathon 11/19: Going flat

A couple of years ago, when we got the dog first pair of cats, we put a cat-flap in.

Not long after that we put a different cat-flap in. A battery-operated cat-flap. For battery-operated cats.

We soon noticed, post battery-operated cat-flap implementation, that the house stopped smelling quite so ‘catty’.

And so it has continued. The battery-operated cat-flap has continued to let our cats in (and out!), and it has continued to keep invading cats (that ginger tosser from next door) out.

But the battery-operated cat-flap began to get through batteries quicker and quicker.

So we moved to rechargeable cats batteries.

Now we rotate the batteries every 3-4 days, which isn’t long, really. There must be something in the design of the cat-flap that makes it eat battery juice. Or something.

Anyway.

Today I ordered a new battery for the ZX10R. I was offered a choice. I could order a Kawasaki battery for £180. Or I could order a battery with a different name on it for £80.

Well gosh, that’s a tough choice.

Blogathon 10/19: It’s not good to talk

We need to talk. It’s good to talk. You should open up more. I have something to say. Do you have something to say? Have you got something on your mind? Do you want to talk about it?

Really?

When the last one of us gets home we turn the key in the lock and say ‘I’m locking the effers out!’ and the other one of us will say something like ‘Good!’

We aren’t sociopaths; there is ample evidence to contradict that. But we both get a little… reticent (someone who doesn’t like to talk).

We just reach a certain point in our day when we don’t want the social construct of talking to someone outside of our inner circle.

I’m the same when I go to the stables. I don’t want to get into big conversations about what kind of a week you may or may not have had.

I’m sure you’re a lovely person and that, but I’m at the stables to get my boy in, groom, tack up, ride his furry little bottom off, untack, groom him, and put him to bed.

And at home, at the end of a long and hectic day, we have the same sense of inner purpose. It’s all about switching off, moving away from the dictates of the working day, into a softer, more comfortable, closer-fitting, envelope of calm.

A bit like your favourite pair of pyjamas. Well no, not like *your* favourite pyjamas, obv. That would be wrong.

Anyway, you’re probably asking yourself where I’m going with this?

Simples. It’s about speech. Or dialogue, to be more precise.

I’m working on The Difficult Second Novel and I have fallen in to a pit of dialogue.

Personal statements. Writing dialogue, is difficult. Writing *good* dialogue is impossible.

But if your characters don’t interact, then you lose a vital leg in your storytelling. And your plot falls over.

I’ve just written 555 words of near-total dialogue and it was not a good experience. It will take much editing to get it down to the level of sharpness that will make it fit with the rest of the project.

It has taken about two hours to produce 555 words that I don’t like much. That’s why I don’t like dialogue. That’s why it isn’t good to talk.

Bob Hoskins had it wrong.

Blogathon 09/19: Mix tape

About three-hundred years ago I used to make mix tapes.

Ankle-deep in C30s and C60s, I’d record music off the radio (usually the Sunday night chart show off the BBC – or the Friday night chart show if Luxembourg reception was good enough – seldom was though), or try to blend selected tracks from my huge vinyl collection (T. Rex – Slider, Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman, Carole King – Tapestry).

I’d blend the mix tape music together to suit my future moods such as the inevitable break up that would inevitably follow when Belinda Thomas actually inevitably deigned to start talking to me which, inevitably, she never actually did. Strangest relationship ever. We communicated exclusively by passing notes to each other on the journey to/from school and only speaking on the phone on weekends.

Or a mood mix tape for the inevitable rebound relationship with Belinda Thomas when she inevitably realised the inevitable folly of her ways and we made it to full-on talking to each other in public (which, inevitably, never happened).

Or a mood mix tape for the inevitable time I picked up my self-esteem and inevitably left Belinda Thomas in tears, as she inevitably realised the foolishness of her ways – but, inevitably, too late – and I inevitably blew the dust of that small Welsh town off me, and strode manfully into the setting sun. Actually, most of that one happened.

My point is a lot of time and mental effort went in to producing each mood mix tape. I’d make lists, I’d make lists of lists. I’d make lists of lists of lists. Probably not that last one.

I’d try to match tempo, so that listening order wasn’t random. I’d try to put lyrical themes together, so that messages flowed. Nothing was left to chance.

Years later, when I was stationed on the Dutch/German border, I discovered the wonderful world of Dutch FM radio stations and the awesome selection of world music they played.

And I made more mood mix tapes. For my car this time. The Phillips stereo FM/cassette player didn’t have much of a receiving range, but I had tape-cases full of cassettes all over the back seat of that Mini.

Fast-forward a bunch of years and I was (largely) consuming music through my iPod Classic. Mix tapes are not called mix tapes any more. Now they are playlists. My playlists. On my iPod. They are made from my music, all 10,000 tracks of it, and these playlists are all exclusively mine. And they’re on a device the size of a cigarette packet.

All those cassettes, gone.

Fast-forward another bunch of years and I still have my vinyl collection (slightly bigger than it was all those years ago). And I still have my iPod Classic. And all those playlists. But now there’s a new game in the musical town,

Spotify.

Now I have access to millions of tracks in millions of playlists. But unlike the iPod playlist years, these tracks aren’t exclusively mine. Yes I can search and select for a global database of music, but there are two additions.

The first addition is that now I can access playlists of complete strangers, no matter which part of the planet they live on. I can add those playlists, or any number of components of those playlists, to mine.

The second addition is that I can share my playlists to anyone; people I know, people I don’t know. I can post a link to any of my playlists here. Or on any social media. I could even share a playlist with Belinda Thomas. Except I can’t. She’s probably still not speaking to me. Inevitably.

But music? That’s growing up really fast.

Blogathon 08/19: 500 Internal Server Error

Error messages that don’t actually tell you what the error is.

What’s the point of that?

I’ve been experiencing quite a lot of 500 Internal Server Error lately.

It crops up a lot in various WordPress and Drupal forums – it’s a particularly frequent little blighter against those two types of tech (but 500 Internal Server Error isn’t an exclusive error to WordPress and/or Drupal).

And because ‘500 Internal Server Error’ doesn’t give you any pointers as to what the problem is, or which part of the internet tech is at fault, the user is often left scratching their head (or backside) as to the cause.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is the fact that it usually only pops up on the Admin dashboards – seldom appears on the ‘public-facing’ webpages.

So here it is, kids, what ‘500 Internal Server Error’ actually means, where it originates, and how to fix the pesky little bleeder.

The root (ha ha ha ha ha – technical pun there) of ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is in the .php code that many websites are built on.

Let’s have a quick look at the Wikipedia entry for the 500-range of http status codes (the 500-range is specific to server conditions):

Response status codes beginning with the digit “5” indicate cases in which the server is aware that it has encountered an error or is otherwise incapable of performing the request. Except when responding to a HEAD request, the server should include an entity containing an explanation of the error situation, and indicate whether it is a temporary or permanent condition. Likewise, user agents should display any included entity to the user. These response codes are applicable to any request method.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HTTP_status_codes#5xx_Server_errors

So what ‘500 Internal Server Error’ *actually* means is: ‘I’ve hit a problem. It’s a very big problem. It’s serious. I have no idea precisely what that problem is. But it’s a big serious problem. Therefore I don’t know what to suggest you do to fix it. Have a nice day.’ In a nutshell.

This kind of error message is marvellous. It’s straight out of the Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book on helpfully vague error messages. If such a thing exists. Which it should do.

Anyway.

Because ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is an http status error message, and the 500-range are server-side notifications, it is safe to assume that this error message probably originates from the underlying .php code that most websites are written in in which most websites are written.

As ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is so effortlessly vague, the most common cause is the equally wonderfully vague .htaccess file.

Usually (again, but frequently in my experience) ‘500 Internal Server Error’ can often be made to varnish vanish through simple surgery on the .htaccess file in the root of the website.

How do you do this? Magic Simples.

You fire up your trusted ftp software (or use your website’s control panel and navigate to the root of your website in your File Mangler Manager. Find your .htaccess file and rename it to something cryptic such as .htaccess_old.

And then you log in to your website and Lo and Behold there are Three Wise Men Kneeling Around A Manger In Which A Virgin Has Just Placed Her Newborn Child you have vanquished and banished the ‘500 Internal Server Error’ for ever (perhaps).

Like I said, magic simples.

Blogathon 06/19: Alexa, stop listening!

Here’s an interesting little nobble that could trip up a person or several.

Alexa will allow people/persons within hearing range to order/buy things on the controlling Amazon account.

If you have Alexa, and if you don’t want someone to be able to say ‘Alexa, buy me a Maserati’, you have to go in to the settings to switch this off.

It’s simple to do:

Go to alexa.amazon.com or open the Alexa app on your mobile device:

Click Settings in the left menu
Scroll down and select Voice Purchasing
Click the toggle beside Purchase by voice to disable the feature

Now then, who wants to buy a Maserati?

Blogathon 05/19: Networking

It’s 21.05 and I’m sitting at home listening to a random playlist on Alexa whilst talking to a guy in India, another in Scandinavia, and another fairly local.

That reminds me, I must tell you about the bluetooth headset I bought recently.

Anyway.

Sam has just baked a lemon drizzle cake and I’m going to inhale a slice or two in a moment.

I’m working. The day job kind of working.

I started at 8am, left the office at 5pm, and started on this call at 7pm.

According to the change window tonight’s job will finish at 00.30, but I think we’ll be done on this aspect of the change by 10pm.

Some things you can do during the 9-5 (except who works 9-5 these days?), and some things are just too risky to do during normal business hours.

So We do them when the bulk of the organisation/country isn’t working.

There have been a bunch of these network changes lately, and there’s a little more to come.

I think I need to work out my Lieu Time, the last two changes have ended well into the early hours!

Blogathon 04/19: Getting 16 hands between my legs

(Prem is actually 16.2″ hands high in his stockinged feet*. With shoes on he’s probably bordering 16.3hh)

It’s about time I did a fulsome Prem update.

Two weeks ago he moved to a new home. He settled very quickly, made eyes at the little blonde girl (grey mare) in the next stable (she made eyes back and now they’re close friends).

His new home is quiet, has much more grazing/turnout, and has a significantly nicer arena. The hacking is pretty good, but we don’t actually do any hacking yet.

Prem saw the dentist last week, and had a few rough edges taken care of.

He’s in great shape; he’s getting exercised 7 days a week. His workout routine consists of about 40 minutes a day 60/40 split between walking and trotting, working in tight circles, large circle, and straight lines to encourage flexibility and an even muscle development.

There’s no rush; there’s no hurry.

After successfully rehabilitating Prem as a physically damaged racehorse, I now need to rehabilitate Prem from being a racehorse into being a riding horse.

If this all pans out we might do some low-level competitions.

Or we might just turn into a hacking couple.

I’m just glad to have the opportunity to own a smashing chap who has a lovely attitude, and who will help me stay fit.

However there’s a downside.

One of his turnout companions is ripping Prem’s rugs. Two have gone im the last fortnight; and that’s getting expensive.

He came in with a swollen face on Saturday, which implies one of his turnout companions bit Prem in the face.

If we can’t sort these problems out I might have to fallback to moving him to another home.

This would be a real shame.

*Prem doesn’t actually wear stockings

Blogathon 03/19: So Wrong It’s Right

I have been an off-on follower of the BBC Radio 4 comedy game I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for a decade or several.

Humphrey Littleton
Barry Cryer
Tim Brooke-Taylor
Graeme Garden
Willie Rushton
Colin Sell
Sven
Samantha

They have all entertained, amused, and made me giggle.

As the cast has changed, over the years, guests have dropped in (and out).

The dynamic changed with every rotation. So did the comedy skills.

Some people are just funnier than others.

And some of the funnier people work moments of comedy magic.

Here’s one such moment of comedy magic from the very recently late Jeremy Hardy.

Although he was famous for his diabolical inability to sing, this ‘One Song To The Tune Of Another’ is…

Magic

Blogathon 02/19: It’s Groundhog Day. Again

I could write a detailed academic essay on the film Groundhog Day, but I will make every effort to avoid that level of analysis here.

I have a copy of Danny Rubin’s original shooting script (which I treasure, both as an example of how to write and format a film script, and how to write impassioned phrases in to ordinary scenes, and thus how to make a moment on celluloid in to a magical place).

The script tells a slightly different story to the tale the Groundhog Day film shows us.

The character Stephanie Decastro doesn’t exist in the film, yet in the script Stephanie is a pivotal character. She places a curse on Phil, which is the spell that makes him live his recurring day.

How long is Phil trapped in the Punxsatawney bubble before he breaks the spell?

There are several scripted clues to Phil’s passage of time, and there is a direct answer to the question on page 89.

Neither of the clues, nor the direct answer make it in to the film.

The clues?

There’s a reference on page 56 of the script to Phil having already lived his Punxsatawney Groundhog Day 211 times.

On page 89 Phil says to Rita: ‘After I got over the shock, it was kind of fun for the first year or two. I had anything I wanted. Except you, of course’.

And the answer? Well, that’s considerably greater than a year or two. You’ll have to read it. It’s in a paragraph below.

It was the excess of every lifetime that Phil chose to live in his recurring day, the highly concentrated, back-to-back excesses, that eventually brought him to realise that before he arrived in Punxsatawney, Phil had been living a life of selfishness.

And yet, in amongst the acted scenes of selfish excess and levity, there are words of magical poetry:

Phil recounting what he’s learned from previous cycles, with Rita:
‘You like boats but not the ocean. There’s a lake you go to in the summer with your family, up in the mountains, with an old wooden dock and a boathouse with boards missing in the roof, and a place you used to crawl underneath to be alone, and at night you’d look up and see the stars. You’re a sucker for Rocky Road, Marlon Brando and French poetry. You’re wonderfully generous; you’re kind to strangers, and children; and when you stand in the snow, you look like an angel’.

And later, Phil to camera for what will be his final Groundhog Day report:
‘When Chekhov saw the long winter, it was a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope; and yet, we know winter is only one more step in the cycle. And standing among the people of Punxsutawney, basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter’.

At that point of the film, the viewers may begin to wonder how long Phil has been in Punxsatawney?

Long enough to live his selfish lives of excess?

Long enough to dive deep in to a dark place of madness?

Long enough to climb out again?

The answer to all of these is ‘yes’.

And on page 115 of the script, Phil gives us the final answer when he says to Rita:
‘I’ve been waiting for you every day for ten thousand years. I dream of you every night of my life. You’ve been my constant weapon against total despair, and just knowing that you exist has kept me alive’.

Now that, my friend, is classy writing.

The final departure between script and film is that the script has Phil making a final VO as he and Rita walk through Punxsatawney, and the camera pans to a high-level shot of them:

‘And so began my final lifetime, and ended the longest winter on record. I would find myself no longer able to affect the chain of events in this town, but I did learn something about time. You can waste time, you can kill time, you can do time, but if you use it wisely, there’s never enough of it. So you’d better make the most of the time you’ve got’.

Let’s make the most of the time we’ve got, eh?