Monthly archive

Haven’t you got better things to do?

Here comes a special boy!

My Achewood stuff showed up! So I now have the following T-shirts eg viz. ‘HERE COMES A SPECIAL BOY’, ‘WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE’, and ‘WHAT WE NEED MORE OF IS SCIENCE’. Especially the last one. (I also have XP Day and Google T-shirts due to being at XP Day, of which more later.) Also I got the first collection book, ‘Achewood: A Momentary Diversion On The Road To The Grave Vol.1’.

I have photocopied this strip out of it and pinned it up near my desk at work as it is one of my favourites:

If you do not know my job is basically to be Roast Beef in this strip.

XP Day

So I went to XP Day which was really good, and there was loads of interesting talks and seminars ekcetera. It was at the Ironmongers’ Hall which is in London, Citie of Onne Thousand Surprises, and it is a fantastic building with such as wood panelling everywhere and chandeliers, coats of arms, paintings and statues and what not. This is the Banqueting Hall which is where the keynote talks were, and unfortunately there was not a massive banquet, as I could have just done with some haunches of venison, mead and eg buxom serving wenches.

Sorry it is grainy cameraphone photos as that was all I had with me, and the lighting inside was not great. It was full of immaculately dressed staff in tail coats and spats looking like polite stuffed frogs, to pinch a simile from the master, and I did not think they would have looked too kindly on me setting up a DSLR, tripod, speedlites, optical slaves, HMIs ekcetera. It seemed as though my inner Jeeves coughed softly and murmured, “I should scarcely advocate it, sir.”

I felt quite pleased with myself as I was Captain Courageous and boldly went up and chatted to by far the prettiest girl there. I will not bandy her name obviously, but sadly she turned out to be an astonishingly dull conversationalist. I hope she does not read this as I do not mean to be horrid, also I am sure she thought I was ghastly boring as well, which was sadly evident from her manner. It is a shame that super looking girls sometimes do not turn out to be as interesting as you thought.

I do not know why I cannot meet an interesting girl, or at least one that does not think I am boring. I guess if you do not like the type of things I am intrested in eg stars, photos, books, plants, chess, being outside, cooking, music, chatting, computers, Go, archietecture, physics, movies, phillersophy, walking, skies, nice handwriting, cars, languages, Buddhism, comedy, making things out of glitter and card, and the psychology of the individual, you would not be interested in me either. I did not get a chance to mention all those things obviously, but I felt a premonition that I would be wasting my time. The problem is I do not know what that actually leaves. I am not sure if there is anything I’m not interested in. Maybe foopball.

This was from an interesting session on literate testing, where you describe in vaguely English-sounding terms what your program is supposed to do so that you can check if it is working or not. I do not know if you can tell, but I slipped a few extra cards in just to see if the other delegates were paying attention. Luckily they were not.

What stuff to get me if you want to get me Xmas stuff

I know it is fashionably cynical to decry the commercialised nature of Christmas ekcetera, but it is rarther jolly to get presents all the same. So if you like me and want to see my little face light up on Christmas morning, I have got quite a lot of things on my Amazon wishlist that I would like:

keithlard’s wishlist

I do not want to seem churlish or eg moralising but I really like to support local independint bookshops instead of giant chains like Borders and Waterstones and cut-price Internet retailers like Amazon that are driving small shops out of business.

So my favourite Christmas option would be if you could order the book that you wanted to get me from your little local bookshop and then post it. I realise that is a bit of a pain though compared to just twitching the flexor muscles of your mouse hand slightly. Perhaps it is irritatingly quixotic of me to even suggest it, but you never know. I think a big part of changing the world is just having the courage to say things like that without fear of being thought a ridiculous prig and eg one of these enviro-fascists that give you disapproving looks for not pedalling to work on a bike made of recycled tofu.

Next best option would be getting it from a massive bookshop, which are not nearly as nice as the small ones and are generally not run by people in faded patched jumpers who love books and talking about books, and sometimes make you cups of tea. They are usually vast and full of big tables of exactly the same books in every shop which you can buy 3 for 2 and bad luck if you like intresting and obscure books instead of bestsellers.

Obviously I would still be super pleased to get any books at all, even if it is from Amazon, so I hope you do not mind all the above. Incidentally the problem with not buying from Amazon is that the book still shows up on your wishlist obviously, so if you like you could comment anonymously to this post saying what book you have got me and I will take it off the list.

Star party

You would not think you could see an awful lot of stars in London, and indeed it is a whole different story when you get out into the country at night and the great glittering wheel of the Galaxy above you takes your breath away. Still if you can just get a bit away from street lights (like in the car park at the back of the little flat) you can see some lovely stars such as eg Sirius - above right of the big tree - and Rigel - top right corner and it is Orion’s left foot. This link is a nice example of what can be done in dark skies (with a long exposure).

I got myself a new tripod while I was in Cornwall, and it is really good for night time photos and long exposures ekcetera. It is even better now my Dad fixed it so a tiny importint plastic bit does not drop out of the tripod when you open it up rendering it basically useless.

If you have ever done astro photography you will know one of the most difficult things is just getting the camera in focus to start with. The EOS350D is not the best for this as its viewfinder is awful small and dim. There is a magnifier ( the Canon Magnifier-S ) you can get that attaches on to it like a little jeweller’s loupe; I am going to try and get one of those. In the meantime all you can do really is take a lot of test shots and use the digital zoom to check the sharpness until you get it right. One thing which would make this very much easier is if you could preview the image on the LCD screen. Of course the mirror is in the way being an SLR, but there is a mirror lock-up function so it could be done. (Edit: The EOS20D does this.)

A starfield in Orion, with the Great Nebula centre. This is applying a bunch of computer techniques I have read about eg Going Deep with a DSLR and Neutralising the Sky Background and using the Dcam Noise 2 Gimp plugin. Here is the original image so you can see the difference. Basically good astro processing comes down to a judicious use of the Curves tool, a little Selective Gaussian Blur, and lots of experimintation. You also need to take a lot of frames to start with as some of them will mysteriously turn out shite.

This is the best shot I have got of the Orion Nebula so far thanks to my new tripod. I read a good tip on the web somewhere as well which is not to turn up the ISO setting on the camera as you would normally think to do for low light photography, because it is not a ‘sensitivity’ setting as it is with film. Instead it controls the gain that amplifies the signal from the CCD, so you are not capturing any more photons - just amplifying CCD noise along with the same number of photons. I will use a low ISO with a longer exposure next time.

Close-up of the nebula, enhanced as well as I can do and slightly blown up, but at this level optical artefacts start to dominate and obviously it does not really look like that in terms of nebulosity ekcetera. Still it is quite recognisable (see this gorgeous mosaic from Hubble for probably the most detailed picture of the nebula ever made). I am very pleased with the Dcam Noise plugin though as I expect even better results next time when I am using minimum ISO gain (hence minimum noise) on the CCD. There were 8 or 10 obvious hot pixels left which I removed by hand. I am also going to do some dark frame subtraction next time I go out; I did not have time this time because it was getting cloudy!

A nice picture of the Moon which could have been even better except some hazy cloud was rolling in and consequently it is lacking a little definition. Still the ray structure of Tycho is clearly visible ( left, below centre ). The small bright spot just left of top centre is the crater Aristarchus. I hope you like it as I think the Moon is beautiful and sometimes I just like to sit and look at it out the window. Not in a scary way though.

Crispy spicy Finchley-style pakoras

This is a delicious and tasty recipe if you do not have much stuff about. It is basically just vegertables and such like fried in a crispy batter. It makes good party snacks or something to go with a curry, or you can take it to work and gobble it up in front of your co-workers’ surprised faces!

It is refreshingly easy to make as it is just vegertables, flour and water.

Ingrediments

  1. Flour (gram flour is best but any sort will do if you have it, it is not an exam)
  2. Some intresting vegertables, you can use anything for this, I have used onions, carrots and green peppers. Also some scrumptious prawns!
  3. Water
  4. Cooking oil
  5. Some spices ekcetera
  6. That is it basically

How to make

  1. Finely chop the vegertables and gradually mix in flour into a big bowl until it starts to get sticky and gunky.

  2. Add a bit of water and mix in, adding more flour if necessary to get a nice sticky consistency but not too wet.

  3. Add spices, again you can use the power of the imagination here, I like some ground cumin, pepper, chilli powder, fenugreek and so on. Mind you I have a super well stocked Indian food cupboard, which is much better than yours. Do not attempt to imitate keithlard as he is indestructible.

  4. Into smoking hot oil drop a few small spoonfuls of the mixture. If it is too big spoonfuls, it will not cook properly, but too small and it is just like eating fried dust.

  5. The oil needs to be kept as hot as possible while cooking, ideally you will have a wok or other big pan with a lid. If not then just turn the heat up and think warm thoughts.

  6. Deep fry for a couple of minutes or until crispy and golden. The most difficult thing is thinking of things to do while you are waiting for the pakoras to cook. I like to pass the time by eating some of the ones I have already made.

  7. Drain on kitchen paper and get on with frying the next lot. It takes a while in fact as you can only do so many at a time, but the trick is not to get impatient and try to do a big batch all at once. If you do they just go all sad and soggy, like wet football fans whose team has lost.

There is nothing more to it really except a bit of practice to get them just right. Luckily that is the kind of hard work that I do not mind putting in. Most things in life are better if you do them slowly and lovingly, and this is no exception.

Homo-erotically obsessed with Daniel Craig

It is not really of course as I am not interested in men, which is a shame in some ways as it effectively halves my chances of a date. Obviously Mr Craig is a good looking man, and apparently trained quite hard for Casino Royale, but all the way through that movie although I enjoyed it, I was just thinking ‘My God… he is ripped.’ A discerning critic might query the seemingly excessive number of shots of Craig walking out of the sea in tight Speedos, though all the women in the cinema went a bit quiet, perhaps they were wondering if there is time to get to the shops to buy their boyfriends some of those swimming trunks for Xmas.

So I am obsessed now with copying the actor Daniel Craig and trying to be exactly like him, I would not be surprised if gym memberships have gone up since that movie came out, as even I have started weight training again and I am the world’s laziest man, with a physique somewhat approximating a bin liner half filled with custard.

Then today I read in the Guardian about how beards are back in fashion as Craig is sporting one in the forthcoming Northern Lights movie (it is called something different in America as apparently Americans do not know what the Northern Lights are). This is exciting news as I look slightly OK in a beard, and it frees up an extra several minutes a day for procrastinating and reading Asterix books in the loo.

So if you see me around Finchley looking hairy and muscular, and wearing a cut-out mask of Daniel Craig glued to my smiling face, that is why.

Scent of a man

I was chatting to Jane about men’s scents yesterday as I spent a happy afternoon in the Body Shop experiminting by spraying myself with various different smells and then smelling myself. Much to Matt’s disgust as later I was forcing him to smell various parts of me in the pub. I quite like either Activist or Javari but I cannot remember which is which now. I ended up getting some hair stuff which smells really nice, I smell a bit like a delicious ginger cake now.

So I was thinking about what smells are nice for men, I do not usually wear any scent as I have some Allure by Chanel which Angela bought me but it is a bit heavy and sultry for everyday use. I quite like Activist as it is quite light and citrusy so not too overpowering. I thought I would canvass opinions here.

If you are a girl do you like scent on men? If so what is your favourite. Men, do you wear eau de cologne, aftershave, body spray, sensual mist, or any other euphemism for what is basically perfume? What sort do you like? And how and where do you wear it, eg spray it on yourself, dab some on pulse points, or spray a little in the air and then walk through it like on posh makeover programmes?

Coco Chanel apparently said that her favourite smell was the back of her husband’s neck. I have asked around but been unable to buy this anywhere, so what should I get instead?

Men's smells and grooming - the frightening truth

Well this is the results of my highly scientific survey about what people think about men wearing cologne ekcetera, and basically the conclusion is this:

Different people have different views

That does not sound exciting enough for a press release though, so if I combine subjective bias with some made-up responses, suddenly it all looks a lot clearer. It seems most girls like either just freshly clean smelling men or with a subtle scent that blends with their own skin chemistry but does not overpower. I read somewhere that the right strength of scent is that you should not be able to smell it unless you get within six inches of someone. Certainly not across the room.

That being so it suggests you should wear something inherently subtle and not too artificial-smelling, and apply with discretion. Under clothes not over them, and if you have those spray bottles which give out a great blast sufficient to kill a moose at twenty yards, it is probably best to spray the air and then walk through it.

Someone pointed out that no scent is necessary; of course it’s not necessary, any more than make-up or pretty dresses for women are necessary. That said, though, it’s nice in certain situations to feel that you look or smell attractive and it gives you confidence. Perhaps that confidence from feeling good is what really makes you attractive.

I just got through reading a book called How To Persuade People Who Don’t Want To Be Persuaded, by a chap called Joel Bauer who specialises in attracting crowds and generating buzz at trade shows. It is not one of these ‘how to bend people to your will and sell them insurance’ type books which is a relief. It is more about techniques that you can use for surprising, amusing and entertaining people so that they want to listen to you, and then remember what you say. Bauer uses everything from origami to magic tricks to grab attention at meetings and close sales, and it is nothing more or less than practical psychology.

For example, a very common question when you first meet someone is ‘What do you do?’ The dullest way to answer this is what we mostly all say: “I’m an accountant / IT guy / events manager / ekcetera”. That puts all the burden onto the other person to pretend interest and think of the next thing to say. Instead, Bauer suggests it is much better to say what you do in terms of what it means to people. For example, if you are an IT engineer you could say ‘I help people get their work done by making sure their computers don’t crash!’, or ‘I help people work, shop and relax by making sure they can access the Web sites they need’.

Now this could sound hokey and fake, but if you say it with a smile and you actually care about what you do and think it’s worthwhile, you can communicate that to the person you’re talking to.

Another thing that Bauer talks about is the importance of clothes. Most of us can’t change our faces or bodies, but we can change our clothes, and it’s the most cost-effective way of looking good. Smart and attractive clothes do half your persuading for you - and whoever you are, whatever you do, you need to persuade people. If you want to talk to top-level managers, dress like the kind of person that talks to top-level managers. If your audience is dressed well, dress better!

In essence, looking smartly dressed and well-groomed is a way of paying someone a compliment - it’s saying ‘I care about your opinion of me.’ Showing up to a meeting in jeans and T-shirt projects arrogance. It says ‘You’ll listen to me whatever I look like, because I’m so damned smart’. Now you have to work twice as hard to get your idea across. It goes without saying that this doesn’t just apply to business meetings but any situation where you want the other person to pay attention to you and remember you - a date is a very obvious example.

I do see the force of this, and I’ve been thinking it’s about time I had a bit of a change of image for the smarter! So I’m going to outlaw jeans and T-shirts and go get myself some nice trousers and shirts in the sales after Christmas! I need a feminine eye to help me though so does anyone fancy coming shopping with me?

keithlard's wizzo weekend

I had a super Saturday which was meeting up with Sophy in town and having sophistercated coffees ekcetera, and then looking at shops. Thanks to my personal shopper I got some nice new shoes, and some subtle yet exotick cologne such as featured previously in the pages of this journal!

We had drinks at the NFT which is about the same price as a weekend in space, but then you are paying for the ambience and eg such as top celebrities and movie stars, although we did not see any. Then we did lots of photography along the river looking at all the pretty coloured lights and the Eye and so on, of which photos to follow! So that was great.

Then on Sunday Jane made me a delicious casserole of chicken and vegertables, and we ate it with some posh wine and choclet fudge ice cream, and watched Hogfather which was really good. I wore a jacket and tie and shiny shoes and Jane said I looked hott! So my theory is correct that actually I scrub up pretty well. I expect all you doubting folk that said it is best to wear a potato sack and smell like a tramp will be laughing on the inside of your faces now.

I quite like my new stylish image and I think basically I always had a suave inner elegance, it is just that the outward expression of it was slightly hidden by wearing eg ratty old jumpers and jeans gone out at the knee. So if you see me around town looking like a dapper, cosmopolitan bavardeur, flicking an imaginary speck of dust from my immaculate lace cuffs, you know why!

In other news, I just got through reading Chocolat by Joanne Harris which is terrific, so now I am going to read all her other books. I like it when you read a really good book by someone and then you get to the end and see that they have written other things as well. Also it is now a major motion picture so I would like to watch that.