Thursday, March 30, 2006

In With the Old

A North Carolina licence plateYou may remember that I recently bought myself a car, which, I must tell you, is great to drive. The only problem was that the tape deck didn't work, so I was stuck with listening to the radio. Today, I took the car to the dealer to get my licence plate (click here for explanation). While there, I asked them to look at the tape deck. They couldn't find the problem, so they replaced the tape deck. I was pleased to note that they were happy to do this free of charge despite the fact that I bought the car without a warranty.

I bought the car from a Saturn dealership and I have to say that I am very impressed with their attitude. The chap who sold me my car also sold Mark his car. We like the no-haggle pricing and the non-pushy sales technique. Everyone at the company seem very laid back. Other dealerships that we have visited have been very hard-sell, which makes me dig my heels in and not want to buy from them.

Anyway, the point of this post was not to sing the praises of a Saturn dealership. The point is that my car only has a tape deck and radio. There is no CD player. At first thought, this seems rubbish. However, not having a CD player has forced me to abandon the usual, modern fare and drag out some golden oldies that I only have on tape and so haven't listened to in years. So far I've listened to They Might be Giants, The Saw Doctors, Primal Scream, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and Jesus and Mary Chain. It takes me right back to the good ol' days. I'm looking forward to delving into the old collection to see what else I can find.

I also bought a set of tapes of the BBC dramatisation of Emma (Jane Austen) for only $10 from our local used bookshop. I know that almost everyone else likes Pride and Prejudice, but Emma is my favourite. I'm looking forward to listening to these in the car too.

It all makes me want to do a lot more driving.

Licence Plates

In the UK, one buys a car with the licence plate already on it. The new owner then registers their ownership of that car with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). When the car is subsequently sold, it keeps the licence plate and the ownership is transferred to the new owner.

In the US (or at least here in NC) when one buys a car it doesn't come with a number plate. The dealership orders a new plate in the name of the owner when the car is bought. The buyer has to pay for the new plate as an additional cost on top of the cost of the car. The buyer is issued with a cardboard 30 day licence plate until the actual one arrives. I'm not sure what happens when a car is then sold. Does the owner surrender the licence plate back to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or do they keep it to put on their next car?

The other thing here is that vehicles only have to have a number plate on the back, not on the front. I'm thinking of getting an England flag for the front of mine (especially as this is a World Cup year).

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Close Encounter of the Third Time

Mark, Lauren, Mark's Mum, Emily, Mark's DadSo far, since moving here, we have had three encounters with legal aliens. Our first visitor from outer-states was Emily's godfather. He came to see us when we had only been here about a week and were still living in a hotel; with most of our earthly possessions on a ship, half way across the Atlantic; and before I had started this blog.

Lauren on the monkey barsOur second visitation was from Mark's brother, who came to see us last November, when we had only recently moved into our new house.

Our third visitors were Mark's parents, who have come to see us en route to Los Angeles. They arrived on Monday evening (27th) at about 6:30. Although their plane landed at 4pm, it took them over two hours to get through the checks/customs. Mark and Lauren by the lakeThe time difference made them very tired, so it was just a quick chilli and rice, then early to bed.

The next day, after breakfast, Mark's Mum and I went shopping in Walmart while Mark, his Dad and the girls had a look in our local used bookshop. They came home after having bought half the contents of the shop between them. After lunch, we went for a walk along the lake (the same lake that Mark and I went to for my birthday). Emily on the monkey barsThe time difference taking it's toll, Mark's parents fell asleep after dinner, so after the girls were in bed Mark and I watched the latest episode of 24 that we'd videoed earlier, before heading off to bed ourselves.

Mark was teaching on Day 3, so this was mostly spent relaxing and doing nothing. Lauren, Mark's Dad, Mark, Emily, Mark's MumWe went out to a local restaurant for dinner in the evening, then it was early to bed because their plane to LA is due to leave at 6am.

After their stay in LA, they will also come and see us for a few days on their way home.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Some "Interesting" Articles

I realise that many of you who read my blog are literary types, or "bookworms", as you are fondly referred to in the vernacular. I thought that you would all be very pleased to know that reading High Times does not necessarily lead to harder reading (although I suspect that it's much too late for most of you as you have long ago already progressed to the heavier stuff).

Here's the article:

Study: High Times Not A Gateway Magazine To Harder Readings

Those of you who would like the coalition troops to pull out of Iraq may be interested in this article:

Rumsfeld: Iraqis Now Capable Of Conducting War Without U.S. Assistance

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Worthy of Sid the Sexist

Breast Cancer RibbonMy Mum, who is currently in Chennai (India), sent me an email containing lots of images. The email was a chain letter that, if passed on, purportedly somehow helped in the fight against breast cancer. I don't understand how it was supposed to be able to do this, but perhaps someone can explain.

I don't know the origins of most of the pictures, but where I do I've tried to link to the originating websites of those that I can. Although the images were obviously put together by men (in that they're very sexist), I thought that some of them were quite funny, so here they are. If you happen to be somehow inspired to donate money to breast cancer research, then all the better.


 Pink bowling lane with flowers growing in the gutters
Car sales organised in accordance with the colour of the vehicle
Parking space with flashing runway lights marking the approach
Car mileometer with comments instead of numbers: slow...quickish...scary...shut eyes...
Hammer and screwdriver set that are actually a shoe and a knife
Toilet with its seat chained to the floorToilet with lots of toilet rolls

Some of you might be wondering who Sid the Sexist is.

He is a character from Viz. Viz is an adult comic that I used to read when I was younger. It has a Beano-esque style, but is aimed at adults. It can be very funny, but can sometimes be a bit too profane for my tastes. Sid is a Geordie who can never get a girlfriend because he's too sexist and always manages to offend the opposite sex.

A very funny Viz book, if you're interested, is The Sexist Book of Records. It is a fabricated compendium of sexist "records" (eg. the record for the furthest a woman has driven with the hand brake on -- something I'm quite infamous for doing). One half of the book is about women and the other half is about men.

You might also be interested in perusing Viz's online Top Tips. They mimic the sort of reader-submitted tips that you'd find in magazines. Here's a few examples:

FATTIES. Take a tip from smokers and stop your cravings for chips by Sellotaping a crisp to the top of your arm each morning.

EMPLOYERS Avoid hiring unlucky people by immediately tossing half the CVs into the bin.

SHOPPERS When buying oranges, get more for your money by peeling them before taking them to the counter to be weighed.

RAPPERS. Avoid having to say 'know what I'm sayin' all the time by actually speaking clearly in the first place.

I'll stop there because you probably get the idea by now.

I'd also like to warn anyone who is easily offended that they maybe should not click through to the Viz site because a lot of Viz humour can be in bad taste.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy

So Owl wrote... and this is what he wrote:
Pooh looked on admiringly.
"I'm just saying 'A Happy Birthday'," said Owl carelessly.
"It's a nice long one," said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
"Well, actually, of course, I'm saying 'A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.' Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that."
"Oh, I see," said Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

It was recently Mark's and my birthdays. For each of us, it's another year older and another year nearer to the big 40. Mark says that he's looking forward to being forty. I try and tell myself that if it can't be stopped, it might as well be embraced. One spends the first 20 years wanting to be older, then the rest of one's life trying to apply the brakes. I realised years ago that there are no brakes. Anyway, the girls absolutely love birthdays, so in our family they are always big occasions.

My Birthday

Mark walking by the lakesideI awoke to Lauren coming into the bedroom to wish me a happy birthday. After everyone was up and ready, there was a present and card opening session. Emily and Lauren had each bought me a mug. Mark had bought me a new 4 megapixel digital camera (Canon Powershot A520), which I took great pleasure in trying out (see photos). It'll take me a while to familiarise myself with all its gadgetry. He also gave me some comic books that he'd picked up in our local second hand bookshop. Mark and Me, by the lakeMark took the day off work, so we went out to a Japanese restaurant for a sushi lunch. After lunch we went for a walk in the woods near a local lake. After school was finished, I took the girls swimming. We arrived home and Mark had cooked a lovely dish of steak in port with roast vegetables.

It was such a lovely day that I was almost able to forget that I'm one notch nearer 40.

Mark's Birthday

Mark and the girls at the Mexican restaurantI awoke at about 6am to the sound of really loud meowing. To explain -- when we got the cats, we bought them some cat toys (all part of the fun) that included several coloured balls with little bells in them. It turned out that Rosalind absolutely loves chasing these balls. When she catches them, she walks off, carrying them in her mouth. If we're watching the telly or are on the computer, she finds one of these balls, drops it at our feet, then meows really loudly until one of us throws it for her. Well, this morning, she had brought a ball up to me while I was still asleep and meowed very loudly until I woke up. Then the alarm went off and Lauren got up on the wrong side of the bed shouting, "Can someone switch that stupid noise off?" A quick reminder that it was Dad's birthday changed her countenance immediately and the Birthday-proper was able to begin.

In keeping with tradition, as soon as everyone was ready the present-opening session began. Emily had bought him a one litre beer tankard. Lauren had bought him a set of four glass tumblers. I had bought him a small vacuum cleaner (a bit of a joke present), which turned out to be broken (thanks Walmart!). His main present was an MP3 player (Creative Zen Nano Plus) that he can wear while jogging or whatever.

Mark and the girlsWe tried out a different Japanese restaurant for lunch. This one was much better than the one that we'd been to for my birthday. The food, service and general ambiance were excellent. In the evening, we went out to a Mexican restaurant. Again, this was excellent. It was a small place in a basement, below an antiques shop and was actual Mexican -- run by Mexicans. Again, the food and ambiance were very good. The portions were far too huge. In the UK, this would have been a negative because I dislike waste; but here in the US, we've noticed that people tend to take their un-gnarled leftovers home with them, which is what we did. This means that we can look forward to a lovely Mexican meal tomorrow as well.

I think that Mark really enjoyed his birthday too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Faith Based Scholarship

Alan Bandy has been conducting a series of interviews with various theologians about the relationship between their personal faith and their scholarship.

Mark has now been interviewed, so you can read his and the other interviews at Alan's blog, Cafe Apocalypsis.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Here we go again ...

You've probably heard it said that if you find a perfect church, then you shouldn't join it. As soon as you do, it stops being perfect. In In Search of a Church, I had explained how we had decided which church to attend:

When we'd looked at quite a few churches and our radius was extending a bit farther than we'd like, we decided to take stock. We looked at all the churches we'd visited and discussed what we liked and what we didn't like about each one. We eventually settled on a medium-sized (by US standards) church with a contemporary worship style. We chose this church mainly because it was not too far from where we live and because it has a lot of children of Emily and Lauren's ages. We'll have to see how it goes from here.

A Wooden CrossUnfortunately, though, a few weeks of attending that church made us realise that we were not a good fit. This is no reflection on the level of perfection of the church (and I hope that it is not a reflection of our being overly fussy). The way it operates works well for those who have made it their home, but we came to realise that it is not for us.

The church has two services, each just over an hour long. We had initially decided that we could cope with just over an hour. We could go to the later service, so could still have a bit of a lie in on Sunday morning. The church had a lot of children of Emily and Lauren's ages and the girls seemed to enjoy going to the Sunday School.

Our first discovery that I considered problematic was that the Sunday School, it turned out, runs for the entire length of the service. This means that the children don't get to be with us during the service at all. We had already discounted other churches on these grounds because we consider the inclusion of children in a service as very important. I don't mind them not being present for the sermon (after all, I tend to wish that I'm not present for most sermons Smiley Face Emoticon), but I like them to be present during the rest of the service; especially during communion.

Upon enquiring about this, we were told that the way the church works is that everyone goes to both services (starting at 9am). One half of the church go to the first service. Of the other half, most are signed up for adult bible studies, children's Sunday School, and the remainder are signed up to do "serving" -- taking Sunday School, ushering etcetera. At the later service time, they all swap, so that the bible-studiers and servers attend the service.

Our choices were:
  1. Do our own thing regardless of how the church is set up (ie. just go to one service, let the children join us in the service, then let the children go to Sunday School during the sermon). This was obviously a far from ideal solution.

  2. Get stuck in fully and embrace the way that the church is set up. The problem was that this demanded a lot more from us than we are willing to give.

  3. Find another church -- one that better suits our needs.
Furthermore, a regular attender was kind enough to explain to us how the church's "small groups" work.

A ChurchSmall groups are a means by which large churches keep a personal touch. Many churches here have them. As everyone can't know each other, fellowship with other Christians on a personal level in large churches is achieved by splitting the church into smaller groups that meet regularly. In essence, I dare say that this is fair enough (even if it does require an evening per fortnight of our time, it is a good way of meeting and getting to know people). When we first attended the church we were told that many people brought their children to their small group meetings. I'm all for the inclusion of children in church activities and it would save us having to get a babysitter or alternate who goes (which would default to being me going every time).

However, the more the man explained, the more we realised that Small Groups were not for us. It turned out that about once a fortnight the families go to these small groups only to be split into separate "bible studies" -- one for the men, one for the women and one for the children. Under this model, I'd only be getting to know the women in the church and even then only in a "bible studying" scenario. In addition, this sort of setup could, if a church is not careful, serve to propagate conservative Christian sexual stereotypes -- just the sort of thing that we try to steer clear of.

Although we decided to move on, it was not a wasted experience. It helped us to consider more closely what is important to us and what compromises we are or are not willing to make:
  • We don't want inordinately long services and we especially don't want long sermons. I don't believe that God distributes His love or anything else in proportion to the length of my attention span (if he does, then there's little hope for me).

  • We don't want to go to a church where we will be inadvertently sucked into having to attend endless church-based activities. We want to the freedom to be able to decide how involved we want to be, without any pressure.

  • Wine and BreadWe want a church where the children are included into the service, especially during the singing and communion. We would like any Sunday School classes to be held during the sermon, not at a separate time. Some churches offer children a blessing during communion. Although this is better than nothing, I believe in allowing children to partake in communion as soon as they are old enough to eat a bit of bread (or wafer) and sip from a cup. I am willing to compromise in this because I am aware that there are few, if any, churches that hold this view. However, I think that it is a minimum requirement that the children are at least present during communion.
We are not looking for a "perfect church", just one where that is a good fit for us. So, all things considered, as far as the search for a church is concerned, here we go again...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sin City and V for Vendetta

We recently got Sin City out from Netflix. We also went to our local cinema to see V for Vendetta this afternoon.

Sin City

If you liked Kill Bill (Vol 1; Vol 2), Pulp Fiction and film noir, you're bound to like Sin City. I have to confess that I have never read any of Frank Miller's Sin City comic books.

Has this film made me want to read them?

Well, yes and no. The excellence of the creation that is Basin City and the stories that occur within it make me want to go straight to Amazon and buy the lot. However, I am not one who can cope with too much violence. Even though the film was mostly shot in black and white; even though the most violent parts were animated; and even though blood was most often depicted using white (although sometimes red or yellow); I still spent at least half the time flinching and/or turning away from the screen. I might have turned it off, if not for the fact that the narrative was so compelling.

What did Mark think? -- He was just happy that it had Jessica Alba in it. Smiley Face Emoticon

You might like to know that Sin City 2 is in the pipeline. There are also rumours of a TV series, but I haven't found any news on this that is post-November-2005.

V for Vendetta

It's not often that I get to see a film on its release date, so I was pleased to be able to see V for Vendetta yesterday. You may recall my telling you that I had read the book years ago, as a teenager.

Thankfully, I'm not familiar enough with the book for minor nuances to be able to spoil my enjoyment of the film. As far as I was concerned, the film looked right. Most importantly, V looked right. The rest fell into place. The film was one of the best films I've seen in a long time.

A lot of reviewers have been whinging on about how the hero (V) is a terrorist and how inappropriate this is in this day and age ... Etcetera. This is because they are watching it in a post September the 11th world, when the story was actually first published in 1982-5. There are two types of masked heroes. There are Superman, Batman, Spiderman and all the heroes of Astro City, who catch the baddies and hand them over to the police and the full force of the law. The other kind are the vigilantes -- the ones who hunt down and kill the baddies and anyone who gets in their way. Examples that spring to mind, just off the top of my head, include The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Matrix and The Authority.

OK, so they blow up the houses of parliament, but in the V for Vendetta alternate universe, the government are the baddies. The story is just as much a story about V's quest for vengeance against a government who has wronged him personally as it is about his liberating the people from the said oppressive government. We don't have to agree with V or with his methods for the novel to be a cracking-good read and for the film to be excellent.

(By the way, I like the way John Hurt, who was Winston Smith in 1984, is the despot in this film.)

Dr Who: T minus 0

I couldn't get the most recent theme tune without having to pay for it, so I'm afraid that you have to put up with the theme from the 1996 Paul McGann movie.

The Christopher Eccleston Dr Who series has reached the US at last.
Tonight. Sci-Fi Channel. 9pm Eastern.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bart Ehrman on The Daily Show

Bart Ehrman was on The Daily Show today talking about his new book, Misquoting Jesus. Normally, when Mark starts harping on about theology I glaze over and enter a catatonic state until he's finished. After all, if it doesn't contain the word "computer" or "C++", what is there to interest me? However, I know that Mark knows Bart Ehrman. In addition, "Misquoting Jesus" is a catchy title and Jon Stewart is funny. This was enough to hook me, so I watched the interview.

It was an interesting interview. Ehrman talked about how he used to be a "born again" Christian who believed that the Bible was the exact and unchangeable Word of God, until he studied theology. He then realised that there were thousands of manuscripts, each different, which have been utilised in the formation of the sort of book we would find in a hotel room.

Jon Stewart then made an astute point (and one that reflects my own view) -- that the knowledge that the Bible has developed over time; and reflects the experiences and biases of both the original writers and the countless subsequent scribes; only serves to bring the Bible to life and make it more, not less Godly. He said that he had not previously been interested in the Bible, but that reading Ehrman's book has made it seem more exciting.

I've never met Bart Ehrman myself, but I think that he came across very well on the programme. I must admit that the interview has made me want to read his book.

I'm just on the penultimate chapter of a book that one of Mark's friends wrote, called The Gospel Hoax. Apparently, there was a chap called Morton Smith who, in the late 1950s, made up a gospel (known to theologians as Secret Mark). Stephen Carlson, the said friend, is a patent attorney who used his skills to show how the gospel was actually an elaborate hoax. The last chapter is called "The Anatomy of an Academic Hoax". I haven't got there yet, but I'm hoping that it's going to be an Agatha Christie style telling us how he did it. If you like a good hoax story, this book is a good read.

Once I've finished this book, I might start on Ehrman's. I get the impression that it's aimed at a level where even non-theologians can understand it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Nightmare on Tanie Street

Here's a story, in Tanie's blog, Pink Icing that's the stuff of nightmares. Funny, yet oh-so-very disturbing.

Read it at your peril.

The Wild Wood

"What lies over there?" asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a background of woodland that darkly framed the water meadows on one side of the river.

"That? O, that's just the Wild Wood," said the Rat shortly.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Emily looking out from the decking
Emily looking out
from the decking
Our house sits on a half-acre plot, most of which is wooded. The woods on our plot is but a part of more extensive woods that stretch across many of the plots along our street. As a result, we get a good amount of wildlife. One thing that is really lovely about being out here in NC is that one can sit out on the decking and just enjoy watching and listening to the woods. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at knowing what I'm seeing, but when I see something new I like to google to try and identify it.

The sounds are mainly crickets. I know that other areas of NC also have very noisy tree frogs, but I'm not sure if there are any in our woods. If there were, I'm sure we'd be able to hear them. As it is, the sound of crickets makes an almost constant background buzz, especially in the evenings. On a rainy day, the buzz is taken over by the sound of the rain, then starts up again once the rain has stopped. We also have some rather noisy owls.

Mostly there are grey squirrels. Apparently, they're the official state mammal! Emily and Lauren have seen the odd snake and gecko. When we first moved here, the neighbour's son had caught a baby snake and put it in a bucket. They saw the gecko when it jumped onto the neighbour's shoe. They tried to catch it, but the neighbour's dog got to it first. Whether it was too quick for the dog and managed to get away, or whether the dog had an unplanned protein supplement added to its menu that day is one of life's great mysteries. There are also raccoons and deer. Mark was out on the upper balcony recently, when spotted a group of three deer eating the grass by the side of our house. They spotted him and scarpered. None of us have seen any raccoons, but there was one that had been hit by a car on the side of a nearby road, so their residence in our wood is not outside the realms of possibility.

The woods also contain many birds. We quite often spot what may be woodpeckers or sapsuckers; and have also spotted quite a lot of Eastern Bluebirds and a Cardinal. There are also a lot of other little birds that are likely to be finches, tits and thrushes of one sort or another, but as I'm not an expert, I can't say more than that. I've also seen a large hawk sitting on the roof of a house on our street. I didn't get a clear enough view to be able to identify it, though.

It's now mid-march and the weather is really hotting-up. Spring is in the air (actually, by UK standards it's more like a July heatwave) and the woods are more alive now than they were in the winter. The wood is gradually colouring itself green from the floor, upwards. All our windows have mesh over them, so we can open the windows without insects flying into the house (except for a few tiny ones). When the windows are open, Memory and Rosalind sit on the sills and watch the woods. Sometimes they become animated because something has caught their eyes. Most often, they just sit and watch and listen, even if it's raining.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Part II

Here's another guest entry from Mark:

Just before Christmas, I did a guest blog here on How to cope without British TV and Radio, the gist of which was to lay out some of my strategies for managing without our much loved British television and radio. Well, the quest continues and since December I have discovered some more strategies and some more programmes. This first follow-up post discusses the phenomenon of watching BBC news and politics on-line.

I mentioned last time that one could watch Question Time (Thursdays, BBC1, 10.30 pm) either live or archived. Likewise Andrew Marr's Sunday AM. Both of those are still regulars for me, and if you are doing housework while you watch them, as I do, the squidgy quality of the picture doesn't matter too much (though I hope the day comes when seriously good quality video links for these are available from the BBC). More recently, I came to realize that you can also watch the main BBC news broadcasts on-line too. I have never been a big fan of television news, which to me seems even more like The Day Today now than ever, but there is something strangely comforting about seeing the news, especially when watching it live, especially when you catch a little of the BBC1 announcer just before it starts. To receive it, just go to the BBC News Front Page and click the video link in the bottom right hand corner. When it's on live (1 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm GMT on weekdays), you'll see "Live Video" there. When it's not on live, the video link will take you to the most recent major bulletin. As with the other on-line BBC news programmes, I right click my little Real Video screen and go to Zoom / Full Screen.

My guess is that if one were to spend a bit of money ($39.95 a year), one could pick up those bulletins in glorious broadband quality -- see Broadband video news, but it is not quite clear to me whether the Broadband news from the BBC does provide one with the regular BBC1 bulletins, or whether it is sourced from BBC News 24, BBC World and the like. There's a free trial available (see previous link), though, so I might give that a try and report back.

Jeremy Paxman in Newsnight
One of the most valuable programmes available on-line, though, is Newsnight. That was always pretty much a staple for me in the UK, perhaps because I often found myself doing the washing up at 10.30 pm. Like Sunday AM and Question Time, Newsnight is available live (weeknights at 10.30 pm). And they then make each programme available for 24 hours after the broadcast, until the next one. Newsnight Review is not included in the live package on the Friday (it stops at the half-way point), but the good news is that you can pick this up too from Saturday's at noon on the Newsnight Review page.

You can also catch The Daily Politics on-line (Daily Politics website here). The site describes the programme as "available in beautiful broadband" but the link in fact gives one the standard squidgy real video [See Updates and Comments below (Ed.)]. As with several of the other programmes, you can watch live or watch the archive up to a day or so afterwards. I am hoping that eventually the BBC will add This Week too, which was one I always watched when in England; I was never in for The Daily Politics, so that one is new to me. On Wednesdays, one can catch PM's Questions as part of the show.

Also available is The Politics Show but that is not one I have dipped into yet.

Oddly, there is nowhere that I can find that provides a list of what the BBC provides by way of free on-line video. On the whole, you have to stumble across it or go searching for it. So here is a list of the programmes I am aware of so far:

Live, weekdays, 10.30 pm, and archived for 24 hours

Newsnight Review
Archived each Saturday noon (not available live on Friday)

Question Time
Live, Thursdays, 10.30 pm, and archived for a week

Sunday AM with Andrew Marr
Live, Sundays, 9 am, and archived for a week

BBC News
Live, weekdays, 1 pm, 6 pm, 10 pm, and archived until the next one appears

The Daily Politics
Live, weekdays 12-12.30 pm, Wednesdays 11.30-1.30 pm, and archived until the next one.

The Politics Show Live, Sundays, 12 pm, and archived for a week

March 14, 2006

On the question of the alleged "beautiful broadband" quality of the Daily Politics feed, an email received today from the BBC says, "Hmmm. Are you saying that it's the same as when the DP used to launch in a standalone Real stream? You ought to be seeing a high-quality stream (same as Newsnight) in the BBC Video Player. We've just increased the quality of the feed by quite a great deal, but if your browser has stored the old settings for the Video Player, you may not be seeing it." Well, it looks a bit crummy to me, at best only marginally better than the BBC News feed. On the possibility of a feed being added for This Week, the same email reports the good news that there are plans, "as soon as the technical boffins buy a new piece of kit! Watch this space..." Will do!

March 14, 2006 -- Update

It turns out that the person who emailed me at the BBC was right -- a bit of searching and you can indeed get the Daily Politics in "beautiful broadband". And not just The Daily Politics but lots of other BBC content too. But it's not a
question of changing your settings; it is a question of finding the right way in. You need to find the right door. If you click on any of those links above, they will open by default in the crummy old squidgy format with poor sound quality. To get these in beautiful broadband, and I have tried multiple different ways to do this, it seems that the most straightforward is the following:
  1. Go to the BBC News Player. NB: Bookmark this link. This is the key. I have placed it as a button at the top of my Firefox browser (drag the bookmark to the links bar).

  2. On the right of the News Player, you will see a series of links. Either scroll to the bottom and click on "Programmes" or hit the drop down menu at the top headed "Watch more video news", and hit "Programmes".

  3. This will bring up a list of all the complete programmes that are available in glorious broadbrand. They are, in order, Newsnight, Panorama, Politics Show, Question Time, Sunday AM, The Daily Politics and This World. Essentially, these are the ones I had listed in the original post, with the addition of Panorama and This World.

  4. Click on the programme title and it should begin playing. You can then point your browser at the screen and choose full screen mode, double mode etc.

  5. When you have been used to watching this stuff in the ultra-low-tech non-broadband format, this is a revelation!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Prisonbear: Revival

This is for anyone who loves The Prisoner and/or Portmeirion and/or The Adam and Joe Show. The Prisonbear is a 12 minute pastiche of The Prisoner, starring a Teddy bear. It is very well done and very funny. You will have to pay close attention and watch it more than once to catch all the jokes.

As the film is 12 minutes long, it will take a while to download, but it's well worth the wait.

May 29, 2006

Prisonbear 2: Stalemate is now available. Here's my blogpost on it.

My New-Bought Freedom

White Toyota Corolla
At long last, I'm not house-bound while Mark is at work. I've just bought a 2001 Toyota Corolla.

Quiz Farm

Here's another time-wasting idea -- Quiz Farm. You can try out the quizzes or even try your hand at creating your own quiz. I discovered it via Gladly Suffering Fools.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dr Who Confirmation

I said that I'd let you know when the scheduling for Dr. Who on the US Sci-Fi channel is no longer just rumour.

I can now confirm that the Christopher Eccleston series of Dr Who is definitely being aired on the US Sci-Fi channel on the 17th of March at 9pm (Eastern).

The Wedding Present

The Wedding Present is a band that we used to listen to back when we were students. It's really mainly Mark who's into them and has most of their albums, although I think they're OK. The band is actually David Gedge and whatever lineup he has to have at the time. They didn't release an album in eight years, except under the name of Cinerama. Then, last year they released one. They went on tour in the UK to promote their album. They played in Birmingham in March 2005. Mark was very disappointed that we couldn't go and see them because we had too much else on at the time.

The Cat's CradleThe redemption came a year later, when we discovered that they had a US tour planned and that NC was on the itinerary. So, last night we went to our first US gig -- The Wedding Present at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro. Last night was also the night of the UNC vs. Duke basketball game.

We told the babysitter that we'd be back by 1am or so. We'd worked out that if the support band comes on at 10pm, then The Wedding Present comes on at 11pm, we should be home by 1. The Wedding Present famously have a policy of not doing encores, so we thought that this would be fairly accurate. Little did we know.

We arrived at the gig at about 9:30pm. The venue was exactly like the sort of small venue one would find in the UK -- small and dark. I'd say that it had a capacity for 500 or so people at the most, although there were only about 250 people there. There was a small back room with a bar, a pool table an a whopping great plasma TV playing the Duke-UNC game. It was different to any gig I've ever been to in that it was a smoke free zone. It's a strange, yet pleasant experience to watch a band without a haze of smoke.

The support band, a local NC group called Sorry About Dresden, had the radio coverage on while they set up. At half time (about 9:50 or so), they started their set.

Some people, when they go to gigs, miss the support bands and arrive in time for the main act only. I think that this is a mistake. Half the fun is seeing the support. You can never know when you're likely to see something good, but before they're famous. For example, back when we were students, we went to see the Sultans of Ping FC at Oxford Brookes University's Student Union. They were being supported by a band called The Jennifers. The Sultans of Ping FC came to very little, but The Jennifers later morphed into Supergrass.

The band were OK, but they seemed to be poorly rehearsed. They also seemed more preoccupied with the basketball than with performing. The lead singer kept putting the radio on between songs to find out the score. Although I found this a bit tiresome, most of the audience were also preoccupied with the game, so it seemed to work well.

So far so good, until we realised with horror that the next band setting up was not David Gedge's latest lineup, but another support band -- a Brit-fronted ensemble called Sally Crewe and The Sudden Moves, who are touring with Gedge. Although we like the idea of getting our money's worth, it became evident that there was no way that we'd be home by one. This band were much better than the first. As they were unencumbered with concern for basketball, they were actually able to take some time to tune their instruments and play some music without messing about.

The Wedding Present came on at around midnight. They played a good set. They mostly played old songs, but with a few from their recent album and a couple of Cinerama songs (although not my personal favourite one). They didn't play Kennedy (for anyone who's familiar with the band). They finished at about 1:20 and we were back at the car by 1:25, keen to get back and relieve the babysitter.

Unfortunately our route home had been blocked off by a police courdon, so we had to find a longer route around; then our petrol light came on and we couldn't find a petrol station that was open; then we realised that we'd forgotten to get some money out of the bank to pay the babysitter. All in, we got home at about 2:40. Mark then took the babysitter home, hoping that he could find an open petrol station en route (which he managed to do). As I rolled into bed some time after 3am and Mark didn't get in until 4:15, we decided to make Sunday the "day of rest" and gave church a miss.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Separation of Church and State

I went to church recently, where I was conversing with a woman.

ME: One of the striking differences between England & this part of the US is that in the UK, very few people go to church, whereas here, most people go to church.

HER: Yes, but this is not true throughout the States, we are after all in the Bible Belt. It may also be because Britain doesn't have the separation between church and state that we have here. Didn't it start with some king who wanted to divorce his wife?
ME: Thought cloud saying: Eh??

I can understand that the situation is not the same throughout the US, but I was not (and still am not) sure why a separation between church and state would result in more people going to church; or conversely, why having a monarch who is the head of the official state church would lead to fewer people going to church.

The US has a written constitution, wherein the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". The separation of church and state is based on this, together with a letter by Thomas Jefferson and subsequent legal precedent.

The UK, on the other hand, has an unwritten constitution. The UK constitution is not based on a particular document, but on precedent and tradition. Not only that, but the reigning monarch is the official head of the state church -- the Church of England.

The funny thing is that although the US has a constitutional separation between church and state and the UK does not, US politics is steeped in religion in a way that the UK's is not. It is rare for a UK politician to play the "I'm a Christian, vote for me," card. Even strongly religious politicians will tend to keep their personal religious beliefs private. Even at ground level, politics and religion are not closely tied. Within a given church one is likely to find individuals with political beliefs that span the spectrum of left to right.

In the US, however, it seems that the professed beliefs of a politician can be a strong influence on the voting public, with the right being dominated by conservative Christians. I cannot comment on the political persuasions of individuals in the churches we attended because it is not something that one can tell at a glance.

A couple of weeks ago I heard Simon Mayo interview an American called Jim Wallis on FiveLive. He was in the UK to promote his latest book, God's Politics: Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. The interview is no longer available for download, but here's a Guardian interview instead. Mr Wallis's religious views seem to be conservative, but he seems to de-emphasise issues like sexual morality and abortion in favour of a political agenda that promotes social justice. I haven't read this book or anything else that Mr Wallis has written, so I can't yet comment further on his views, but perhaps as more left-wing Christians come out of the woodwork the political balance can be redressed.

By the way, State gives Church a really good thrashing in Googlefight.