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Linkblog – March 6th to March 7th

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Links between March 6th and March 7th:

Just so you know, this is an automated recent overview of the Linkblog, a collection of interesting links I find on my travels. The archives are here:

Blown Away in Leeds

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I was still trying to wake up after an early morning start. The
geek-based course was about to get in full swing, and all the various
course teachers were coming in, vulture-like, picking off the
delegates one by one. Their enforced cheeriness grated slightly after
half an hour spent trying to find a car park in Leeds, a task only
marginally easier than forcing jelly down a drain. However, they did lighten our spirits on the drab, rain-filled morning. I even started looking forward to five days of database training. Sadly, people with personalities generally don’t train people in databases, as I discovered when a small Indian man shuffled round the corner. He announced the course in a thick Indian accent, showing all the excitement of a morgue assistant finding another dead body down the back of the incinerator. We all glanced at each other before shuffling off behind him to the training room.
By lunchtime I had at least learned something – never underestimate a boring man. He seemed to know everything there was to know about databases and computers in general. His problem, sadly, was that he was not good at conveying that knowledge. We could only understand every other sentence and developed a system of nodding whenever he looked at us, attempting to show we were following every word. It took about an hour to tune into his accent, and a further hour before I got into the groove of the difficult topic. Luckily the course notes we comprehensive enough to bluff my way through.
Lunch was not particularly inspirational either. Cold salad, hastily knocked together quiches and orange juice filled the vapid hour before the afternoon session. Thanks to the smokers insisting on going outside in the freezing wet weather to puff on their cancer sticks, the room got colder and colder. It was, frankly, a relief to go back into the training room, and perhaps this was precisely the reverse psychology we needed. The afternoon went with a bang, and before I knew it we had finished the first day. I managed to get to the car park without being blown off course – coinciding the course with bad weather was a possible error – and got into my car on the top floor. “Dammit”, I thought as I saw the NCP car park ticket on my passenger seat. “Please pay on the bottom floor,” it mentioned. So, downstairs I went, wallet in hand. A wallet, it turned out, which caught the notice of a woman sitting huddled on the bottom stair, looking as if she was waiting for someone. Me, as it turned out. “Nice weather,” I ventured, trying to be friendly as I searched for the ticket machines. “Yeah. The machines are other there.” She pointed to a darkened corner of the room. As I opened my wallet and got out wads of cash – NCP managed to charge £14 for 7 hours of parking – she piped up again. “Yeah, I may be homeless but I can be useful.” Here we go, I thought. After a wail about her life story, I felt compelled to give her a couple of pounds. I told myself off as I wandered up the stairs, but it was too late. She had probably bought a quarter pound of brown by the time I’d reached the top stair.
I had arrived in Leeds on Sunday afternoon for the five-day marathon and booked into the closest hotel I could find. It managed to be situated beside a chinese restaurant and a TGI Fridays, which gave little choice for healthy eating – but a big choice for deliciously overpriced fodder. I was here that I returned that first afternoon. As I entered the hotel for the second time that week, a large gust of wind heralded my arrival, blowing everything around me off the table. Hell of an entrance, I think you’ll agree.
After a meal at TGI Friday’s, some newspaper reading and email sending, I settled down to a good night’s sleep.
And that’s how it’s been for the past five nights. The weather has got worse – my mother phoned on Tuesday to check how close I was to the especially windy Pennines – the trainer’s accent has got bearable, and I’ve actually learnt a whole load of useful stuff. Today I’m off home, back to my wonderful girlfriend, my wonderful new house and a whole load of DIY…

Blogging isn’t just for geeks – honest.

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I’ve been putting down stuff on for four years now. It’s a quirk that has its perks – through it I’ve met and helped politicians, become a consultant (albeit free, damnit) for other blog enthusiasts and turned into something of an unofficial mouthpiece for the software behind the site.
Of course, blogging is only just emerging as a New Thing – and with it comes the questions. Why do people blog? Isn’t it a bit… geeky? For me, it’s a chance to get all the great and not-so-great things recorded for posterity. But in the last few days I’ve come across two weblogs that really capture the reasons for doing it.
One is Ivan Noble’s Tumour Diary, hosted on the BBC News site. I’ve dipped in and out of his regular updates on life after developing cancer, charting the highs and lows that he goes through. And then, just the other day, he published this entry – telling the world that he is soon to die. Just like that. It really hits you when someone who’s typed those words and who has held your attention for so long is about to leave the mortal coil. The blog’s really worth a read.
The second blog, you’ll be pleased to know, is less morbid. It’s called karmagrrrl, and she’s an American documentary filmmaker. She started the blog as a way of keeping in touch with people she moved away from and her’s is actually a Video Blog – instead of words, she posts videos. And those videos are extremely good, giving a unique insight into her life and American life in general.
See? It’s not just for geeks, I promise.

The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off

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“People, even in this day and age, are still frightened about death. They won’t talk about it and it’s such a shame because it’s part of life. So, why not organise it like you would organise an anniversary or a birthday? Let’s get it right.”

Channel 4 really pull out some crackers sometimes. True, it was morbid, and maybe a touch voyeuristic, but The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off showed the last 4 months of Jonny’s life, as he courageously battled an awful skin condition that developed into cancer. He had a ball though – planegliding, hosting a houseparty, even visiting 10 Downing Street. He was also the narrator – and was all the more moving as he had the amazing prescience to narrate his own funeral. Humourous, uplifting, courageous and even to the end raising money for his charity DEBra – there was a big man inside that distorted body.

Uncle Enzo

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“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.”
Tupac Shakur
It’s not often I remember my dreams.
But yesterday morning’s was particularly vivid. I had gone to a house in the country. My Italian cousin Sara was there – we were playing catch, as I remember. It was a sunny day and we were outside in a field. And then my uncle Enzo, a kindly Italian man, walked in to the room, a room that suddenly appeared out of nowhere – as they do in dreams. Behind him was Auntie Cookie, whose nickname stuck when my mum called her Cookie as a child.
And I remember being happy to see them all. They all live in Italy – I don’t have many opportunities to catch up with them, and I was very pleased as I sat down and chatted for a while with my uncle, all about life and what he was doing. Slowly, he faded. I remember waking up, and wondering how they all were.
Uncle Enzo died yesterday morning, after a short fight with cancer.

Visiting London

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Well, on Friday Michelle and I have returned from a thoroughly enjoyable 2-day London trip, visiting Harrods, TGI Fridays, Leicester Square and Kensington, and staying in a rather corking hotel. And a visit to a Thai restaurant. It was, frankly, wonderful. And all paid for by Michelle. THANK YOU MICHELLE! However, here are a few tips for visiting the huge place:

Travelling around London – The prospect of your travelling day running smoother than a pair of Ulrika’s tights is about as likely as Barry White at a singles party. Out of the 5 trips I made in two days, every one was interrupted by signal and train failures. Even visiting Americans, normally totally in love with the place, muttered expletives and vowed never to visit again. Truly stunning.

The Tube – You think the overcrowded, illegally hot, mucky, rat-infested and maze-like underground tube system is bad now? Try next February, when the Traffic Congestion Charge rolls into town. All those hundreds of thousands of lovely, car-loving commuters will be spooned lovingly down the stairs and onto the Tube. It’s like a game of sardines, only you’ll want to cry.

Blowing your nose – Never do it after you’ve been on the fume-filled tube. The sheer blackness of it all will instantly label you a concerted smoker, even if you’ve never been near the blasted cancer-sticks in your life.

Visit Harrods – It may be illegally owned by an Egyptian grocer, but it’s seriously top draw. The gold and marble-covered escalators really are the pooch’s privates. And if nothing else, you should visit purely because it’s the only shop I know where spending a penny costs a pound.

London residents sense of distance – I suppose, if you lived in London, you’d have the necessary cash to hail taxis, and the necessary time to use public transport. But for visiting bods like Michelle and myself, walking was the only option, and asking how far some landmark was is like asking John Leslie for a quick snog. SIMPLY WRONG. “Just about a mile up that way, sir” smiled a friendly doorman. 2 1/2 miles later, we arrived, legs like stumps and gasping for air.