Priceless

A trip to the QFT in Belfast is always a treat. We tried to see Priceless last week, but arrived too late to get seats together - not much of date if you have to sit 7 rows away from the wonderful Julie. Instead we went to see BabyMama which was also pretty good. But we wanted to see Priceless, so we tried again and we were not disappointed. Julie loves to watch french movies because of her French skills which are magnifique, I like them because I'm probably a little pretentious!

If, like me, you are soon to be sunning yourself in the south of France you will really enjoy this film. Watching it you will feel the warm sand between your toes, you'll smell the rich aromas of fine French food and wish you could quadruple your holiday budget and stay in a fancy French hotel. But even if you're not off to the south of france this is a great film - perfect for summer. It's a beautiful film whether it's the hotels, the food and fine clothing or Audrey Tautou. But beneath the riches, excess and comedy there is an interesting exploration of love and relationships, money and romance. Go see it and enjoy that experience of no longer noticing the sub-titles after about 5 mins.

3 stories about sideburns

Sidies, lampchops, locks, side-whiskers or side-boards; call them what you want, I've got them. I don't tend to think of my side-burns as particularly impressive or outlandish, but recently I've experienced a third random side-burn moment with a complete stranger and thought I should blog the topic. Here is the full collection of all three stories for your reading pleasure.


1. January 2002, New York subway

Before I convinced Julie to leave her beloved Canada to marry me we conducted one of those wonderful "long-distance relationships." Before the heart-breaking St. Andrews - Vancouver divide we started off with the fairly straightforward London, Ontario - Princeton, New Jersey split. This was the reason why I found myself traveling beyond Manhattan to the borough of Queens to collect Julianne from the home of some friends from University. Anyway, there I was on the subway minding my own business and trying to work out when to get off. I noticed a man standing across the carriage smiling and starting to move towards me...just as I begin to wonder what he's up to he points to the side of his head and says: "Yeah man, 1970s style...I like it!" I took this as a compliment, said thanks and smiled. We then has a nice little conversation about what an Irish guy with side-burns was doing on a subway heading to Queens.


2. July 2007, Sligo, Ireland

Last summer Julie and I spent a week at a conference in Sligo. One night we were enjoying the late night entertainment provided by Dr Dave McNair. We were sitting at a big round table with a few friends and chatting while listening to Dave. I was sitting across from a guy I didn't know very well. He started speaking to me and I heard him say "you've a face of evil." I sort of smiled nervously and said "Right" in a "not sure what to do next" voice. I later discovered that he had actually said "You've a face like Elvis." I was understandably relieved that I did not in fact have a face of evil and assumed his observation was based on the side-burns. Strangely I interpreted it as a compliment.


3. July 2008, Coleraine, Ireland

The latest happened just last week. Another conference, another random side-burn moment. I am beginning to sense a pattern. This time I was distributing handouts at a seminar. After thanking me for a handout a guy in his early 20s said, "By the way, those are some very impressive side-burns." I thanked him warmly for the compliment and he replied, "Sometimes you have to say these things; credit where credit is due." I'm not sure if I have ever complimented anyone on their side-burns, hold on, let me qualify that. I have never complimented anyone on their side-burns, so I've got to take my hat off to this young man for his random act of giving credit.

So there you have it; three random side-burn moments. It's good to be reminded of the old side-burns from time to time. They are not always appreciated and sometimes neglected. I recently read a profile of Labour young turk James Purnell MP and was none too pleased to note the following: "He has Tony Blair’s easy manner as well as his haircut – and thankfully has now shaved off his side-burns. “Somehow he just looks normal,” one MP says." Ouch!

Here he is in all his side burned glory.

Can't wait to see this!

Crazy drum guy


Driving home from Sligo last week I heard a great interview with Lisburn man, Allister Brown. He was telling the world, or at least the listeners of BBC Radio Ulster, about his world record breaking attempt to drum for 100 hours! At the time of writing he has been at it for 13 hours and 26 minutes. He's putting himself through it all to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

He's got form. In 2003 he drummed his way into the record books with an impressive 58 hour drumathon. But that seems pretty easy compared to the 100 hour goal of this attempt.

Here are the details:

30 year old Allister is aiming to drum for 100 hours non-stop between the 22 and 26 July. Allister previously held the record in 2003 when he drummed for 58 hours and 17 minutes, and in 2004 when he drummed for 78 hours. The current world record is 85 hours and 30 minutes and was achieved by Belgian Gery Jallo in 2007. To break the record Allister must play recognisable tunes and not repeat any song within 4 hours. For each hour he plays he is allowed a 5 minute break.

Update:

Just been reading about the fitness levels of rock drummers - apparently they burn between 400-600 calories an hour. According to Allister's website he has successfully crossed the 23 hour mark. Hope he's eating plenty of sweets!

Kicking the habit

Having worked for the mighty Starbucks for a while I'm always interested to hear Starbucks related news items. Things have not been going too well for the caffeine behemoth of late. Starbucks living legend Howard Schultz is back to restore the magic. One big challenge is to see off outlets who are luring in credit crunched consumers with; cheap coffee! Never mind the mortgage, who can afford a Grande latte these days?

No doubt Howie is unhappy that one of the solutions to Starbucks' current malaise is to close 600 stores cross the US. As might be expected the company has held off on publishing a list of the doomed stores. But helpfully the Seattle Times has its ear to the ground. By soliciting information from baristas and customers who hear that their local Starbucks is going bye-bye and using google maps they have created a map to show illustrate the closures.

5


Today we celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary! It all began with a meeting over breakfast in the dining area of McIntosh Hall, St Andrews and here we are many years later still enjoying breakfast together. In NI the 11th July is about Bonfires and for fans of Apple today will be all about the release of the new iphone - for me today is all about Julie!

Belfast Bonfires

Went out today and got a few shots of Bonfires today - before they go up in smoke. Light wasn't so good for photographs, but they at least capture the size of these things.
Posnett Street (behind Botanic Ave)


East Belfast - next to 'The Oval'

Detail: Yes - lots of tyres!



Donegal Road, South Belfast

I was trying to find some stats on bonfires, in particular the whole burning of tyres, apparently 20% of tyres in NI are disposed of inappropriately, But it's good to know our gov take this seriously and are cracking down on tyre burners across the land: Found this on a government site:

Robert Scott (53) of 137 Berryhill Road, Ballaghalare, Dunnamanagh, Co. Tyrone was fined £400 at Strabane Magistrates’ court today for breaches of waste management legislation.

Environment and Heritage Service officers investigated a field owned by Mr Scott behind 137 Berryhill Road, Dunnamanagh, Co. Tyrone on 10 May 2006 following reports of burning and tyres being deposited. Excavation of the site on the 29 September 2006 uncovered 49 tyres from a variety of vehicles.

Robert Scott pleaded guilty to the waste charges and was fined £200 on each of two counts and court costs of £37. The charges related to the permitting the deposits of controlled waste to occur and the storage of controlled waste on land without a waste management license.

Dodgy amazon reviews

I'm a big fan of Private Eye, not just because it's laugh out loud funny, but also because they do a fine line in investigative journalism. I got the latest edition in the post this morning and noticed an interesting piece about the transparency of some of the reviews on amazon.co.uk. It's not a new story; (author gives their book top rating and good review on amazon), but usually the author is fairly good at covering their tracks. But not always. Step forward Mr Chas Newkey-Burden, author of pop-culture classics such as Paris Hilton: Life on the Edge and Amy Winehouse: The Biography.

It appears that a reviewer called 'Read All About it (UK) has been particularly fulsome in his/her praise for works by Newkey-Burden. For example:

The Reduced History of Dogs - 5 stars. "What an absolute gem of a book...I warmly recommend this to any dog-lover but also to anyone who wants a good laugh."

Amy Winehouse: The Biography - 5 stars. "This book is absolutely engrossing to read and had me hooked from start to finish."

Paris Hilton: Life on the Edge - 5 stars. "I thought I knew Paris Hilton until I read this book."

A little digging reveals that "Read All About it" has set up an amazon Wishlist - but wait, it appears that the wishlist for "Read All About it" is in fact for: Chas Newkey-Burden.


Not sure what's funnier - the comments he makes about his own books or the fact that he left such an obvious trail. I suppose the reason I was most interested in this story is that I'm a regular user of amazon and I usually always read reviews of both the book itself and, if required, the 3rd party seller. While Chas' fraud is about as significant as his books it unfortunately undermines the whole reviewing culture that is integral to sites like amazon. Thankfully the Chas' of this world are out numbered by decent reviewers like PD Harris who is currently ranked number one in amazon's list of top reviewers.

gmaps

If you run, walk, bike or just like cool applications check out Gmaps pedometer, a fantastic application for Google maps that allows you to record distance traveled and create cool maps of your favourite running routes.

Just in case you're interested, here's my 4 miler from lunchtime:

Did it in 35:36 which is not too shabby - although the best bit was managing to avoid the rain.

You've got to love google maps and google earth - so interesting, useful and perfect for a little exploring from the comfort of your own home. Some friends were google earthing East Befast and discovered a rather impressive swimming pool in the back garden of a house not too far from them. While this may sound pretty unexciting to those of you in North America, a semi-detached house in East Belfast with a swimming pool is exceptional! Here it is in all its glory:


While measuring the distance of your runs or snooping round your neighbours backyard may be fun, apparently it's not all good news. The recently published Blakey report into the distribution of illicit drugs into prisons, points out that criminals are using google earth and google maps to find the best spot to send items such as mobile phones and drugs 'over the wall' Blakey notes:

"A centuries old method aided by the wonders of google maps." Love it!

Apparently the UK Government have also seen the potential. In a surprisingly innovative move the Government's Information Task Force has launched a £20,000 competition to encourage the creation of useful web applications that use information it has made publicly available.

Some suggestions already made include:

  • Using council databases to create maps showing where road works are and will be in a particular area;
  • An application which shows you where you can break a long car journey with a dip in the nearest swimming pool
(Perhaps I should tell them about the pool in EB?)

What Should I do with my Life?

Answers on an electronic postcard please!


Actually What should I do with my Life? is the title of a fascinating book by Po Bronson. I bought the book a few years back while wandering through Waterstones in Belfast. At the time I was literally asking myself that question and unsurprisingly the title caught my attention. Thinking it was yet another flimsy self-help book I took it down off the shelf and randomly flicked through a few pages. After reading a few pithy endorsements from newspapers ("Inspirational" The Financial Times), I had a look at some of the comments from readers reprinted on the inside pages. They hailed from all over the world and there was a warmth and honesty in their comments that really stood out. As I mentioned I read this book during a time of flux and uncertainty and found it really interesting. While I'm not convinced I have found the definitive answer to this question, I am slightly further on from those months of perfecting my latte making skills, trying to finish a thesis and training to be a professional reader of crime fiction - those were the days my friends!

Anyway back to the wonderfully named Po.

"We are all writing the story of our life. We want to know what it’s "about," what are its themes and which theme is on the rise. We demand of it something deeper, or richer, or more substantive. We want to know where we’re headed--not to spoil our own ending by ruining the surprise, but we want to ensure that when the ending comes, it won’t be shallow. We will have done something. We will not have squandered our time here. This book is about that urge, that need."

That's how Po introduces his project. The following 400 odd pages chronicle his conversations with an eclectic collection of inspiring and life affirming people. They are united only by their decision to start again, head off in a completely new direction or drop everything to chase their dreams. Some made the decision, others had the decision made for them. None of them had it easy or found the answer to the question without struggle, heartache and doubt. Bronson narrates their conversations with a light touch, pushing the story into the spotlight and appearing occasionally to shed a little light or reflect on the time he spent with the person. He doesn't use people to make a point or sell a philosophy or lifestyle; the power of this book is in the stories it tells. I'm endlessly intrigued by how people spend their lives, how they end up where they do and what they did along the way. What Should I do with my Life? is like having a load of great conversations with interesting and inspiring people. This is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

Since it's Monday tomorrow here are a few final nuggets of inspiration from Po. I was looking at my copy a few nights ago and noticed I'd underlined a big section towards the end:

"Bring what you do into alignment with who you are. Failure is hard, but success at the wrong thing can lock you in forever. Don’t be seduced by artificial love. Be open to defining experiences. Don’t mistake intensity for passion. You don’t find your purpose above the neck, you find it below the neck, when you’re transformed by what you’ve witnessed. You can get good at what you need to to serve what you believe in. If you develop the character, the odds are pretty good you can succeed. Success is defined as when you’re no longer held back by your heart, and your character blossoms, and the gifts you have to offer the world are apparent. Don’t cling to a single scenario, allow yourself many paths to the same destination."

Burke and Connelly - good news for fans of crime fiction



"What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order." P. D. James

I've always liked crime fiction. I think it dates back to my early appreciation for Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven. Once you're hooked on crime fiction there's no going back and while waiting for your favourite authors to publish a new book the search is on for new authors. Thankfully Belfast has a first-class crime fiction book store. No Alibis is a fun place to hang out and great for crime fiction as well as author readings and occasional live music events - well worth a visit if you're in Belfast.

If you have no interest in crime fiction, navigate away now.....! If you are still reading I hope you will share my excitement to learn that two legends of American crime fiction have new books due out later this year. James Lee Burke is pretty much top of my list. His latest, Swan Peak is due out in July in Nth America and September in the UK. Set in Montana it includes the usual cast of Robicheaux and family and the unforgettable Clete Purcell. James Lee Burke has form in Montana. Bitterroot, the third in his Billy Bob Holland series, was excellent. After reading it I felt like I'd spent a month in the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana.

In other news we have Michael Connelly who produces a less literary, but no less entertaining, line in crime. Connelly's books run at an incredible pace and are impossible to put down. The Brass Verdict will be published in October (14th in Nth America and 16th in UK). Interestingly The Brass Verdict sees Connelly's most famous character, LAPD detective and all around non-conformist, Harry Bosch team up with Micky Haller of Lincoln Lawyer fame. His website boasts that it's his biggest book yet - good news for Connelly fans since The Overlook was pretty thin.

And to finish some totally useful trivia that unites these two masters of the genre! In Connelly's Blood Work the main character, former FBI agent Terry McCaleb, is working on his boat wearing a Robicheaux's Dock and Baitshop T-shirt - a reference to Dave Robicheaux, the main protagonist of most of James Lee Burke's novels. Robicheaux is a policeman and also runs a bait shop in New Iberia, Louisiana. As if that's not enough, in James Lee Burke's novel Crusader's Cross Dave Robicheaux is up late one night reading Michael Connelly's first novel The Black Echo. Love it! One final inspirational thought, James Lee Burke's novel, the wonderfully titled, The Lost Get Back Boogie, was rejected 111 times!