August 31, 2007

links for 2007-08-31

  • A list of all the markets (antiques, arts and crafts, organic produce, local produce...) in Torino. Tells you where they are, and on which days they're held. There are quite a few!
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August 30, 2007

Ain't It The Life

There's something about being able, when you're stuck in a rut in front of the computer, to just grab your notebook and a pencil and disappear off to a nearby piazza.

A bit of exercise; a change of scenery; some fresh air... and a lack of distractions. I soon had all four of the designs finished where I'd spent the large part of the afternoon at home struggling with the first.

So I had time to relax... watch the other people in Piazza Carlo Alberto - the young couples hanging out, the mums with little ones in pushchairs, the group of accordion players chewing the fat and playing little tunes to each other, the lady working for the council pottering about in her recalcitrant orange Ape emptying the bins...

All while reading about North-west England from the time of my childhood in Tony Wilson's 24 Hour Party People. Compare and contrast. Some things, like the piazzas and the people's appropriation of the space so different; other things, like the industrial heritage and areas of deprivation, so similar.

Then after a while soaking up the afternoon on one of the many stone benches, Rebecca and I retired to the Sfashion Cafe, to a table on the edge of the piazza for an aperitivo (early evening cocktail - a Torino-Milano for me, which was rather pleasant) and some further brainstorming on my designs.

I couldcan get used to this.


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August 29, 2007

I'n't T'Internet Brilliant?

I was going to put this in the previous entry, but it got in the way too much.

I love how the Internet lets me stay in touch with the rest of my life. Facebook, email and blogs let me keep up with what friends are doing. UkNova lets me catch some of the programs I'd watch in the UK, particularly MOTD. And the BBC news website means that I can find out some of the news items provoking discussion and interest in my home country.

It's also a glimpse into the future of media that I can read Jeremy Paxman's speech, watch excerpts from it and listen to him and John Humphries debating the fall-out, and then find a reference to Tony Blair's lecture to the Reuters Institute and find it online moments later.

When(/if?) this stuff is exposed properly, with suitably easy tools to reference sections and edit the footage, the abilities of everyday people to discuss this online through their blogs will be amazing.


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Changing the World is Not Enough

It's strange sometimes how the world conspires to present a wealth of thought strands which I then fail miserably to weave into anything beautiful. At least this time I've got as far as writing something down about them, rather than just flail about in my mind before giving up.

A Sense of Purpose

Number 25 of Mike's 25 things to do before I die is "[c]reate something which people can remember me by". Tom Coates has been bemoaning the degeneration of commenting systems and writing a well thought-out piece about advertising. Jeremy Paxman has urged his fellow broadcasters to rise above the obsession with the bottom-line.

On a national, or even multi-national level, it feels as though capitalism and consumerism have won, and all that matters is how much money you can make with almost no regard for how you make it.

Yet individuals everywhere seem torn between an underlying need to feel a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning; but which is at odds with their day-to-day pressures to fit in and work with the world around them.

Facebook has an app called "My questions", which lets you pose questions for your friends to answer. I'd had to install it so I could answer the questions my friends were asking, but resisted its attempts to get me to ask a question. As a result it has defaulted to some random poser - "What is the one thing you always take with you?"

On Friday, given that a few people had taken the trouble to answer it, I decided that if people were going to the trouble of answering "my" question, it should at least be something worthwhile. I changed it to "How do you change the world?"

Today I've decided that that isn't a good enough question. Although it has a noble aim, and easily converts to a great slogan (as shown by Hugh in the Blue Monster "Change the world or go home" campaign) there is scope for misunderstanding.

Changing the world isn't enough we need to strive to improve it.

Improve the World, or Go Home

What a great idea. No-one's thought of that before... And that's the problem isn't it - How?


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August 27, 2007

Dealing With the Grief of Others

Over on her blog, Zinnia has written a series of excellent articles about what to write or say, or how to act when someone that you know loses a loved one.

Hopefully lots of people will read it and realise that, whilst there isn't a right answer, there are also far less wrong answers. On the whole, when somebody dies the worst things to do are to avoid the people grieving or to avoid the topic of the deceased. Zinnia covers that, but more importantly gives tips and ideas for what you should do.


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August 26, 2007

links for 2007-08-26

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August 24, 2007

links for 2007-08-24

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August 23, 2007

The Superset of Friends

Most people seem to be fed up with entering details of all their friends each time they join a new social website. Of course, facebook's solution is that everyone building a social web app should just use the facebook platform and they can slowly replace the Internet.

I don't want to be down on facebook really, because they're probably the most open (to third-party developers) of the social websites and they also seem to have caught the non-geek audience - something that none of the others have seemed to manage.

However, those of us who create things on the Internet outside of facebook know that the facebook platform isn't the real answer. This blog post is a perfect example - it will, because I've spent time setting it up (which wasn't an obvious process), appear as a note on my facebook profile but won't appear in my friends' stream of my activities. Meaning that most of my friends won't have a full picture of my activities online.

Walled gardens, even ones with some gates like facebook, don't work in the long-term. AOL and Compuserve found that out in the 1990s; the mobile phone operators are slowly learning it; and facebook et al. will find out in the coming years.

It seems that there are quite a few people working on opening up the protocols for helping people to find their friends on new services. Brad Fitzpatrick has written a pretty good introduction to some of the problems and goals of such an endeavour.

He rightly notes and evangelizes that "[m]ost users don't care about XML, protocols, standards, data formats, centralization vs decentralization, silos, lock-in, etc. You, the reader of this document, are not a normal user."

The huge hole in his argument though seems to be his concept of "public data". He says:
"The focus is only on public data for now, as that's all you can spray around the net freely to other parties. While focusing on public data doesn't solve 100% of the problem, it does solve, say, 90% of the problem at 10% of the complexity."

What is the public data in my network of friends? I don't think there's very much. Is it just the list of my friends names? Their names and facebook identities? Their names, facebook identities and email addresses? I'm not really comfortable with my email address being given to random web services by my friends at present; I tolerate it because they're my friends but I get annoyed if I ignore the invite and the web service sends any more emails.

Luckily, at least Joseph Smarr is aware of the problem and arguing the case. "Our users tell us that the contents of their address book are private and that preserving their privacy is very important. So while some users are happy to declare their list of friends in an open and public way, we feel that dealing with private data is essential, and certainly much more than “10% of the problem�."

The problems with spam in email; blog comments; wikis... should remind us that not all users of any system we create will be honest and trustworthy. We should take the effort to think about it from the start, rather than assume we can tack on a solution after the technology becomes widespread.


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August 12, 2007

Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson, the man who gave us New Order and the Happy Mondays, died on Friday.

He was always outspoken and often controversial, but was also someone who followed his own path and beliefs rather than blindly following convention.

He often seemed arrogant or pompous when I saw him interviewed, but I much admired his business ideas and his unwavering support for Manchester and the North-West. He showed that you don't have to head to London to have an impact. The rest of the country (and the North in particular) needs more people like that.

Stuart has a round-up of obituaries although I'll add the one from the BBC.

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August 09, 2007

A New Musical Genre?

Last night we headed over to the polytechnic district of Torino for Jazz at the EDP, which I think was a slightly misleading title.

The EDP part was okay, as the event was at the Educatorio Della Provvidenza. It's the "Jazz" part that wasn't as convincing.

It wasn't like any jazz that I've heard, but then an accordion and harp duo aren't your typical jazz line-up. (I don't know what it is about accordion players in Torino, it must be the French influence, but there are a lot of them about. They regularly appear at restaurants in a similar manner to the obligatory flower-sellers. At one meal we were treated to three different accordion acts!)

Their choice of songs wasn't very jazz-inspired either, more popular classics or at a push I guess you could call it jazzed-up classics. I was trying to work out how to describe it when I was listening to it, and the nearest I could come was that it sounded like music from a TV drama. Given the audience's enthusiastic applause I imagined we were being regaled with classics from the past thirty years of Italian TV and I just didn't have the right collective memory to enjoy it.

Pondering the description further, on the way home, I hit upon Those Were The Days, My Friend as another similar track; at which point I identified the genre linking them all...

Songs with accordions in. Those Were The Days, My Friend, the Theme from Bergerac, the music of Duo Millemiglia (the duo playing at the EDP). Once you add an accordion, the pull of the songs-with-accordion genre is like a black hole.

However, I think we saw the best harp-and-accordion duo in the land last night. They were very talented and the music was better than I think I've made out so far - I don't think I'll go and see them again, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if I did. Our fellow concertgoers were much more impressed. At the end of the show there was such appreciation that they had to come out for three encores!

I haven't worked out if that was just Italian passion, and all events have such drawn out endings, or that the harp-accordion duo is a much celebrated Italian format and these guys are at the top.

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August 08, 2007

links for 2007-08-08

  • For anyone who wants to see more of the city I've moved to - a very varied selection of shots of Torino with a new one posted every day.
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August 07, 2007

More Apartment Photos

Rebecca has just posted a few more photos of the new apartment on her blog, including a shot of the fantastic lounge ceiling.

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August 06, 2007

Fun. With Gongs.

On Saturday we made our first foray into the countryside surrounding Torino. We ventured north, up into the foothills of the Alps to a place just outside Castellamonte.

That's the home of the Montebello Gamelan, and its owner - with whom we spent a delightful evening sat in the grounds of his villa listening to music and enjoying some wonderful food (such as the halved strawberries topped with cream cheese and caramelised ginger).

Rebecca, whose dissertation was about Gamelan and who played in a Gamelan ensemble when we were in the UK, does a better job of explaining the Gamelan side of things, but essentially it's a style of traditional Indonesian music.

The instruments are largely percussion based, with lots of gongs and xylophone-style instruments. We did play the gamelan a little although there weren't enough of us to attempt any real pieces. I didn't stray beyond my abilities, and stuck to trying out the many gongs; they produce a lovely long-lasting tone with hardly any effort. Very atmospheric, almost film soundtrack-esque.

As Rebecca says, it would be fantastic to hear it being played properly.

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August 04, 2007

links for 2007-08-04

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August 03, 2007

Remember, They Drive On the Wrong Side of the Road Over There

Despite a decade of owning left-hand drive cars, I'd never taken either of them back to their natural habitat. Moving to Torino was a hell of a way to change that!

Our roadtrip started last Thursday with the run from Cambridge down to Birchington on the Kent coast. The rain had started whilst I was loading the bikes onto the back of the car, and didn't let up for the rest of the day. By the time we were repacking the car so that Rebecca could fit in it (she'd travelled down earlier that day for her Dad's retirement party) the clouds were throwing all they could at us.

With all boxes of non-essentials abandoned at Rebecca's parents' place (their delivery and delivery method still to be decided...), the next morning the weather had relented and we left for Dover under blue skies.

Compared to the histrionics at Stansted, customs at Dover was a non-event; we were waved through after a flash of our passports - I hadn't even had chance to open Rebecca's!

The ferry crossing was smooth enough, and soon we were on the French autoroute heading south. Largely surrounded by English cars and caravans, but as we put distance between ourselves and Calais the numbers fell away to be replaced by locals. Not that any of the roads were busy, and we made good time as we crossed the country; stopping only for péages (that was a little confusing at first: you get a ticket when you join the toll road section, and only pay when you leave the toll roads - even if that's on a different autoroute), petrol, driver changes and lunch.

It felt strange to have the communication roles reversed whilst we were in France, with my schoolboy French being slightly better than Rebecca's. Still, I was quite surprised and pleased to find that it got us by - including a discussion about the power output of my Integrale with an enthusiastic fan staying at our hotel in Chambery.

Breaking the journey in Chambery meant that the final leg into Torino would only take a few hours, and as we were only picking up the keys to the apartment in the afternoon it meant we didn't need to rush our trip across the Alps. So rather than take the long tunnel Ferré du Fréjus through the mountain, we could enjoy the twisty roads the beautiful scenery over the Col de Mount Cenis.

And the scenery was beautiful. Take a look for yourself. The roads were also nice and windy, but with a fully-laden car and two bikes hanging off the back I couldn't enjoy them properly... this time...

Our last stop in France was overlooking the Lac du Mt. Cenis where we pulled into a little café for some lunch and then it was down the mountain and into Italy. Customs between France and Italy was literally a non-event - there was a barrier that we assume was the border control, but as it was raised and the hut beside it deserted we're not totally sure.

The run into Torino was pretty smooth too. A couple of toll booths to navigate (back to the UK style of toll where you just pay a flat fee to pass the toll booth) but at least here I don't have to get out of the car to pay, and we were soon in the cut-and-thrust of the city traffic.

Even that wasn't as bad as I'd feared. The Google directions again proved that they aren't the easiest to follow once you get into a built-up area, but after a brief stop to retrieve the Torino streetmap from the back of the car we were soon on territory familiar from our earlier visits. The one-way system (which of course doesn't apply when you're learning the city by foot...) provided the occasional hiccup but didn't prevent us from arriving in Via Mazzini pretty much on time.

Three days. Three countries. A thousand miles. Two people who both had a ball.


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The Good and Bad of Italian Broadband

I'm slowly feeling more at home here in Torino as we ease our way into la vita d'Italiana. Getting Internet access in the apartment has been a big help as it means we're less isolated from everyone we know, and also meant access to things to read.

Our boxes of books were one of the first casualties in the great it-won't-all-fit-in-the-car purge, and it hadn't taken me long to read the latest issue of evo and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which were the only reading material to make it with us.

On Tuesday afternoon, two nice men from FastWeb visited and spent four hours running a cable from the basement of our block into the apartment. When they left, we had a new phone number and a box on the wall with three ethernet sockets for Internet access.

As we're in the city, we can get the latest, hi-tech solution for our net access. It's pretty cool to have a fibre-optic cable running all the way into the apartment, with only the last few metres of networking done over copper (or a combination of copper and thin-air...).

It also means that we get a synchronous 10Mbps connection. None of this really high download speed but paltry upload channel like we had with NTL Virgin Media back in Cambridge. In reality, according to the, we're getting about 4.5MBps downstream and 2.3Mbps up. That should at least make things like Skype and Bittorrent run better.

The downside of FastWeb is that you don't get given a proper IP address. Most of the time you don't notice, but it means that there's no easy way for me to connect to my home network when I'm not in the house, and I had to spend the first evening reconfiguring my email server before I could receive anything.

It's good to be back online though.


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links for 2007-08-03

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