Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day at Mildew Mansions

Mildew Mansions was what a friend christened the family home when I was a teenager. He helpfully painted the fridge green to follow through with the mildew theme, something which did not endear him to my mother. You will gather, dear reader, that she still lives in the family home, which is a rather oddly rambling house, fashioned from a labourer's cottage core, which has all but disappeared under the ravages of several families with no taste and one with no money (mine).

We arrived around midday for the traditional cold buffet, clutching our contribution, a beautiful pasta salad made by my son. I usually make the pasta salad, but I was feeling a bit rough this morning and didn't want to risk preparing food for the consumption of others. It was probably a hangover, as I did have a couple of glasses of Asti yesterday.

My sister Sam and Nige, her husband had stayed overnight, along with my sister Amanda, her children Lucy and Peter and Lucy's boyfriend Ryan, forever known as Byron in our family because my mother constantly forgot his name when he and Lucy were first together. A couple of bat-eared bushbaby creatures which they tell me are dogs, but I do not believe them, completes the family.

My brother Adrian had already arrived. His wife Gerry is unfortunately ill and has been vomiting frequently since Tuesday, and so decided not to come to lunch. Good call. Vomiting lunch guests are rarely welcome - I hope you feel better soon! My brother Mike was already there, although his partner Mel and partner's son Barney didn't join us until later. Amanda's daughter Holly and her boyfriend phoned from the other side of town to say they were lost. I heard Amanda say "stop saying house names to me, they don't help at all!" Holly arrived and then eventually my sister Lisa arrived with husband Valerio and children: twins Alex and James, aged nine, and Becky, aged 14.

Conversation during the day frequently returned to the subject of Lucy's breasts, which may seem extremely odd until you know that she has recently had a breast enlargement operation at the age of 22. Although I think those sort of decisions are personal, and nobody's business but your own, there was a surreal element to the freedom with which family members would prod and poke her breasts, and invite others to do so... rather the way pregnant women suddenly find themselves public property for complete strangers to feel their stomachs, a woman who has had a breast enlargement operation apparently has to put up with people constantly wanting to compare the feel of natural breasts with the enhanced ones.

At one point her grandmother encouraged her to show her aunt her scars, in full view of two startled uncles and her sister's boyfriend, but although she is extremely proud of the result from her operation, and hasn't had to buy a drink since it happened, even Lucy seemed to baulk at the general flaunting of her figure to all and sundry and so she didn't reveal more than a bra strap.

As is traditional, lunch was very late while we waited for Mike to fetch Mel and Barney, and then we all fell upon the cold turkey and ham, which was augmented with relishes, salads and aforesaid pasta salad.

The pudding course was even later, with my mother's famed alcoholic bread and butter pudding, and some experimental dishes such as mars bar cheesecake, which I didn't fancy.

Once all the food was cleared away, the traditional present giving took place. For the last few years we have tried various systems for present giving. We had a secret santa for the adults and everyone bought presents for all the children for a while. Then we went to a system where the adults did a secret santa, and the teenagers too, and only the children under 10 got a present from everyone. But - surprise - teenagers don't seem to be very good at buying presents for each other, so they mostly put ten quid in a card. Then they grumped about only getting a note in a card for Christmas....

So this year we decided each family would buy for everyone, spending £3 per person. This was interpreted widely, with some people making foodie presents... my brother Adrian gave some chilli vodka or ginger vodka, my brother Mike had made home-made biltong, and a variety of biscuits, my sister Sam had made fudge and chocolate truffles and packaged them beautifully with cellophane and candy cane decorations.

There was a general crackling of paper as people tore the wrappings off their presents, and then a party popper fight broke out for a while. The twins received a number of foam bullet guns and disc-throwing guns for Christmas, and rallied with a number of supporters, bursting downstairs to rake the assembled family with a combination of plastic disks and bullets, empty party poppers and glowsticks.

The men in the family gathered in the kitchen to discuss special recipes for biscuits, while everyone else gradually sagged and fell asleep. My sister and son joined the cat in the bedroom and had a chat. She told me I must be proud of him, and I am, I am proud of all my children.

We left with bags and boxes bulging with presents, and came home in Sam's car, exhausted. It's the same weird feeling every year... weeks of anticipation, then over in a flash.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Spent the day at my mother's, with a few of the family. Only 11 to lunch today, 23 expected tomorrow. Took some spooky pictures of Kate with my cameraphone. Like this one the best.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And now for something completely different....

The BBC website used to be my main port of call for information about breaking news, and for background information on news stories. Indeed, when I first came online in 1998, they were about the only source of information in the UK - nearly all the other websites used to be American.

It saddens me that the news service seems to be going rapidly downhill... I am noticing more and more grammatical and spelling errors on the site. OK, I know, pot calling kettle black, but a) my keyboard is demonstrably the worst in the world (as shown by consumer polls/scientific testing) and b) This is a private website, not a professionally written and produced one.

Most worryingly, I see things which I think are of national importance, and require national debate, and they barely warrant a mention on the BBC site. They seem to be content to stick a few headline stories on the front page, and never to mention others at all.

The recent publicity over the family in Scotland who lost custody of their newborn baby - and all their children - allegedly due to a weight problem in the family, warranted no reporting at all. The many cases of Social Workers stepping into cases where any reasonable person would not, or conversely not intervening in cases where the man on the Clapham omnibus would have done, (which have been thoroughly reported by that bastion of news reporting, The Daily Mail) have not rippled the surface of the BBC website at all.

Their perverted sense of "balance" seems to mean that they are driven to offer balance where no balance is required. To me, balance implies a fair, non-subjective reporting of a case. It doesn't mean that if you wheel out a creationist to comment on something, you have to drag out Richard Dawkins at the same time. There are many circumstances in which no balance is the balanced way to report. It's hardly likely that a report on an anti-racism initiative would need a racist to balance it, for example.

A story I noticed this morning which seemed to offer promise of being interesting, about an apparent window of opportunity to deal with distressing memories, was grammatically incoherent in places, for example: "In the study, the volunteers were wired up to electrodes and given a shock each time they were shown a picture of differently coloured squares to make them fearful of the image - which they did." Which they did? Which they did...what? Argh. It puts me into grumpy old woman mode.

I think the editorial policy is changing to introduce more and more entertainment stories, and their editorial values seem to be dropping rapidly in inverse proportion to the sensationalism of the stories. There was a non-story on Tuesday about how David Furnish (partner of Elton John, popular singer/songwriter) was worried about George Michael (popular singer) and how unnamed mutual friends were asking John to intervene in some unspecified way. It was the most ridiculous non-story I have ever read, and it's barely even gossip, let alone news. Oh look! It's still there!

Then again, suddenly you find something wonderful on the BBC website: this is a slideshow with a voice over about the XMM-Newton observatory's first ten years. This is where I find it hard to remain grumpy. Perhaps it's rather English to have such an eclectic and eccentric mix of the amazing and the awful, on one site. I'd happily give up the awful in favour of a properly editorial approach to the news, however. Bring back the BBC news site! I miss it.

Gothic pleasures

I went to Gypsy Moon to see what was happening with their store. Most real-life clothing works very badly in Second Life, as American Apparel and others have discovered. Most people appreciate the chance to dress their avatar in things which they wouldn't wear in real life, and are looking for something different.

Gypsy Moon is different in real life though, and I think the clothes could potentially work very well in Second Life. I've been a bit disappointed with the things I have bought from them before... skirts look a lot longer on the box than they do on the avatar, their model must buck the trend and be petite instead of 8 feet tall.

Arriving at Gypsy Moon I discovered it was under construction still, and the build is marvellously gothick, dark and brooding. I right clicked a piece of the build to see who made it and found the name Morphe attached to it.

Teleporting to their store, I found myself on the Snow Crash sim, in what appeared to be a gothic builder's yard. There are some fantastic builds here: stone dragons, dramatic shield maiden statues, crypts in all shapes and sizes.

It's clear the builder, Abel Dreamscape, cares about his work. There is an explanation of the name Morphe, instructions for increasing the level of detail on sculpts,

and in his profile, the advice: "take what you do well, and perfect it".

I was finding that it took a long time for the detail on sculpts to pop in. I stood for some time in front of this carriage and still couldn't see the wheels properly, so I followed the instructions and it did make a difference.

There are complete castle prefabs, builders' full perms packs of components like arched windows and doors, and a whole lot more. If you're looking for a castle, or a small crypt even, I recommend you go and see the things on offer here.

In SL, as I have often said, it is a question of balance: you have to balance up what you want to do with the possible lag and problems of usability, and that's still the case. That means trying to limit the number of textures, sculpts and scripts which you use in a small area, to try to make the experience a good one for your visitors. I think castles lend themseves to the sort of compromise you need to make, because it is possible to limit the number of different textures used, and keep to the same group of sculpties, while still being able to indulge your imagination.

The building packs I picked up sorely tempt me to build a castle. It's been a long time since I had a castle to call my own....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Please advise

Staring at a book I was entering on a web page, I realised that my brain had recognised that there was a spelling mistake on the cover: Practicing Peace ought to be Practising Peace. Knowing it, and yet having to double check (because surely the author/editor/publisher would have checked?), I found a page with grammatical information, which noted that Advice and advise work the same way as practice and practise. The -ce form is the noun and the -se form is the verb. I've never connected the two/four words before.

Why is it that people rarely mix up to advise and advice, but often mix up to practise and practice, then? Interesting.

Edited to add: My son says it is simply the fact that the sound of advice and advise is different and the sound of practice and practise is the same. This raises a lot of questions I am interested in, about why I had never connected the two in my head before, as it offers an easy way to remember which spelling is appropriate for practice and practise. It indicates why English is such a nightmare for people to learn, when practice and practise sound the same and advice and advise do not. And makes me wonder again whether people are right to draw instant conclusions about people based upon how they speak or how they spell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Creative commons images: war and medicine

The Wellcome Institute has recently released a library of images under a creative commons attribution license. I had assumed that these would be medical pictures and of limited appeal to genealogists and family historians, but in fact they have a large category on the subject of war which includes general shots of soldiers on the battlefield, being transported by horse drawn stretcher, in the trenches.

Their "war" category covers historical wars and battles, such as the Boer war and the Boxer rebellion, and includes paintings and drawings too. There may be much to interest anyone, but particularly family historians who are looking for general illustrations for their websites and printed histories may find something to fill a hole.