Monday, 8 November 2010

La Bamba: The Mother of all Earworms

It's about 4:30 in the morning.

I'm sitting in the rocking chair in the semi-dark of the nursery, the only light an orangey glow from the night light beside the bed. The rain is pattering on the roof, there's a cool breeze blowing somewhere around my ankles. As  I move gently to and fro, cradling my slumbering son in my arms, all I can think is:
Para bailar la bamba
Para bailar la bamba
And then, shaking my head to clear it,
Por ti sere
Por ti sere
This is the result of finally looking up the actual lyrics to La Bamba, after a lifetime of singing
Bab-a-lab la bamba
It turns out the words are pretty straightforward. It's the tune that's the thing.

And I can't get it out of my head.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Friday, 10 September 2010

Difficult business, writing (bloody satisfying though)

At the end of August, I publicly committed to write and publish three times a week, on the varied subjects of user experience, pragmatic environmentalism, and cycling.

It's been eye-opening. It's been hard work. It's been delightful.

Hard work

It's been exhausting.  The Muse has been erratic in her visits. Whilst I have no shortage of ideas, sometimes I can't quite get traction on the topic; I'll start to write without really seeing where it's going, without knowing the point.

There are articles that want to be written when I'm cycling to work, but which vanish when I sit down at my keyboard. There are articles that start off heading in one direction and end in quite another. There are clear-cut articles that flounder at their first point. There are obvious, simple articles that require further research.

There are articles, in other words, and there are articles.

And then there's the time.

Making the space - the head space, the time - to sit down and write three times a week has been challenge. I've got a full time job and a young baby, and I want to spend time with my wife and friends. Writing has had to fit in around that. And, pretty much, it's managed to do so rather well.

Writing to the standard that I want has been a challenge; I know that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but sometimes I'm not convinced that what I've written is even approaching good, never mind perfect. I'm writing these things with my name at the end, my real name; it's public now, there's no hiding here. And I like that, too. I'm proud to stand up and put my name to my work.
Sidenote: The thing is, I've written articles for scientific conferences, research papers, that have been received, reviewed, read and even presented to large communities. Why is this writing any different? I'm not sure. But it is.


Writing is a wonderful thing. Being able to write; committing to do it, making the time to do it, doing it - I delight in it.

The simple fact of meeting my schedules has been glorious. And realising that meeting my commitments is more important than slouching in front of the television, watching some programme I don't care about. Not as important as my son's needs, nor as my wife's feelings. But on the scale. Important.

On a good day, an elusive point will emerge as I work; this result really is satisfying but does take some time.  If it happens at all.  This wednesday's article on UX, for example, was a long time coming; I couldn't get started on the two or three topics I had in mind, so I ended up writing something else anyway (better to be writing than not).  But nothing was gelling. It just wasn't happening.

Then something magical happened.  After a nice sea bream supper, and a couple of glasses of wine, an idea emerged.  I went immediately to write it down, and it just flowed; within ten minutes I'd got the core bits together. After another ten it was done but for a few URLs.  Not on any of the subjects I'd planned to write, but on something else that just emerged whilst I was looking elsewhere.

Clever thing the brain.

Monday, 6 September 2010


(Yorkshire dialect)
"Website where folk rattle on about thasen"

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Will the Real Jaffle McSnaffle Please Stand Up?

There's a lot of talk recently about being a doer rather than a talker or about being scared to do something but doing it anyway. Perhaps it's the change of the seasons and weather, as September takes us into the cooler months. Or perhaps I've just noticed it because I'm sensitive to it at the moment.

Writing has been a big part of my semi-private life for a long time now, and I've been putting off the important and scary (and necessary) step of making it public. On August 25th I made and acted on a decision; I publicly announced (well, tweeted) the location of my "serious" / professional blog, and made a public commitment to write at least three times a week.

And I've been doing just that.

It's been hard work, unsurprisingly, finding the time to write - I'm not short of inspiration, and the temptation has been to charge off in a hundred different directions. I have a lot of notes. But making time and space to sit down and organise my thoughts into the semblance of something I'm happy with, something I'm prepared to release into the wild - it's been a challenge.

It's also been enormously exciting and uplifting and I'm very pleased to have done it thus far.

The added spice is that I'm doing it all under my real name - no hiding behind a thin pseudonym any more. So what I'm putting Out There had better be super good; it's got my name on it.

At the moment I'm writing on three topics that probably all deserve their own separate blog. And I've not settled on a title for the endeavour yet - but as Chris Guillebeau says"dreams first, details later".

The title can always come later. Besides, Blogger is already starting to annoy me, thinking it knows better than me what I meant by particular HTML markup, and binning what it doesn't like. So I might need to think about registering domains and getting back into WordPress.

The happy fact is that I am writing, and telling people about it. There's no hiding here.

I've also been delving into the statistics and details of this blog, and the most popular post rather surprised me - generally found via google, it seems. So I've tweaked a couple of the archive pages to bring out some of the other content, which I'm particularly proud of, and I will be continuing to write here, almost weekly.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Signs of Ageing

There's a process to ageing, a certain kind of rhythm. The obvious signs are all very well: the grey hairs, the lines around the eyes, the creaking knees. These are kind of expected; predictable, easier (by some measure) to tolerate.

But it's the unexpected signs of ageing that stand out the most. Like hearing oneself say:

"I think I'll get these. They're the best fitting gardening gloves I've ever found." 
Ah, me.

Friday, 27 August 2010

When "Finest" Sandwiches Aren't

The label rather proudly proclaims that
"All Finest sandwiches are made by hand"
...which means that others are made how, exactly?

Horrible, just horrible.

My definition of a good sandwich, let alone one to which I could apply the superlative, is one that I don't have to smother with English mustard in order for it to taste of something, anything.

If "Finest" sandwiches are this poor, what does that mean for the rest?

Monday, 9 August 2010

DIY: Changing a Washbasin (and a Personal Best)

I am not the King of DIY, as we have established previously.

So why did I agree to change the washbasin in our shower room?  Why did I let myself be persuaded that it would be a relatively simple job? For starters, it's a plumbing job; the most challenging kind for those of a non-DIY persuasion, given the chance of broken pipes, localised flooding, and water damage. Plumbing is scary.

So before I agreed to the job, before we even ordered the new washbasin, I rang a Capable Friend, and asked if it was a job that I - me, the absolute not-king of DIY - could do.

He assured me that it was, estimating that a couple of hours would be required. He even talked me through the basic steps; it seemed very straightforward. I thanked him for his counsel.

So we bought the new basin, and matching pedestal. We bought new taps to go with it. I researched the task, made the initial Purchase of Necessary Tools long before the planned start date. I practised visualisation and relaxation techniques. When the appointed day came, I was calm. Prepared.

Removal of the old basin was trivial and quickly achieved; a few screws, some isolator valves, and it was done. My elation was without bounds. After a few minutes, the job was already half complete!

I congratulated myself quietly. After all, destruction is always faster than construction. But I was buoyed by my success as I turned to the second stage of the work.

And - of course! - when it came to fitting the new basin, I discovered that the pipework could not simply be connected to the new basin as my Capable Friend had suggested. Some cutting of copper water pipes (Flood alert! Beware!) was required. And the waste outlet - the waste was not a matter of fitting a new one, oh no. The three or four different types and fittings I tried simply did not fit, would not fit; could not be made to fit. One was the wrong size (a novice mistake); another the wrong shape for the pedestal fitting. A third would not fit the existing configuration of pipework (which I did not want to alter for fear of enlarging the job and, consequently, the risk of Major Damage).

In the event, it took me several hours, on three or four separate occasions, over a period of more than a week, to complete the job. In all, I made five visits to various DIY stores to complete this job (including the initial Purchase of Necessaries before I began the task). Five visits; a personal best for a DIY (or should that be DIM*?) task.

I'll need to make another trip to return the bits I bought and didn't need.

Oh, plus the two consultations with the Capable Friend (one on the telephone, one a personal visit). And the loan of his tools, without which the job would have floundered.

It does look rather nice in the room, though. And there were no leaks, floods or spillages during the process, nor any since. Which is something of a result. But I'm not expecting to be wearing a crown any time soon.

*DIM = Doing It Myself

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Another DIY task

...another incident waiting to be blogged.


Suffice to say I was attempting the apparently-simple task of hanging a small mirror on a nail.

The picture shows the first nail after I had applied my excellent hammer skills.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Note to Self: When Buying Flowers

I must think of something witty and/or withering to say to those colleagues who spot me carrying bought-for-my-wife flowers into the office, and who waggishly comment
"Oh jAf, you shouldn't have!" 
"For me? How kind!"
Because my standard response of  "Mmmmm" just ain't cutting it any more.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Goodbye to Flora

Time to say goodbye to my first fixie.

There are, simply, too many bikes in the garage, and too little time to ride all of them.

Flora was only ever intended to be a tester, trying out fixedwheel singlespeed cycling to see if I enjoyed it.

I do.

I'm getting another fixie, this time on the company's Cycle2Work scheme (yay!) so it's time to let someone else enjoy Flora.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Don't just smell the roses

...photograph them too.

If you see something you like, photograph it today. Now. This minute.

'Cos tomorrow you'll be too busy and the next day you'll forget, and when you do remember, a week later, the flowers will be gone and the plant will have been eaten by caterpillars and black fly.

Yep, a couple of months ago, the Sparkly One and I bought a few rose bushes for the garden. One of them, Evelyn, has beautiful huge flower heads.

Well, it did have them. That was a few weeks ago, before the caterpillars moved in.

And I didn't take the photograph.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Word of the day: Buttress

buttress [buht-tres]

  1. A long lock or curl of hair on the bottom.
  2. Any sort of arse hair.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Two McSnaffle Facts

There are two aspects of my character that have remained constant over the period of study (which is to say that they seem quite true today, and I half-remember them having being true at an undetermined point in the previousness).

These facts are as listed here:

1. I always eat too much at barbecues.

2. My hayfever is always worse after rain.

I suspect that the first is due to a combination of greed, and choice. I half-remember reading about a study that found that people tend to eat more when there is a wider choice of food available. Even a meal consisting of different coloured pasta resulted in the study participants eating more than they did when the same meal was presented with uniformly mono-chromatic pasta.

Barbecues, in my experience, tend to have a wide variety of tasty foodstuffs on offer.

Whatever the underlying cause, the current significance of these truths is that I attended a barbecue yesterday evening, and there was some light precipitation in the same time frame.

So this morning I have a rather sore tummy and a very drippy nose.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Larva in my dining chairs

The fixing holes in my wooden dining chairs are exactly the right size for an unidentified insect to hide its larva, swaddled in green leaves.

In all, six holes across three chairs have tell-tale little green leaves peeking out of them, and when I introduce the end of a sharp stick, each hole reveals a chrysalis or larva, orange-brown, gooey in death.

The chairs are in the conservatory, which is regularly exposed to the outside, for reasons of thermal ventilation.

More mysterious is why one chair was spared from the infestation/colonisation.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


"A creamy chickpea & cannellini bean dip with coriander, chilli & cumin"

It's a spicy bean dip. With apologies to everyone in my office, but it's delicious.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Flapjack with coffee. And grit.

Grit can be a good thing.

Grittiness in particular can be a very good thing, particularly if the roads are icy. It's also good if it's related to a movie.

On the flip side, grittiness can be bad if it's found in food, like a flapjack or salad.

And in this case, on this particular occasion, it's in my flapjack.

Other than that, the flapjack would be very nice; nicely sticky and oaty.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hot chocolate

...made with chocolate and double cream, and nothing else. Except maybe a spoonful of sugar, because this chocolate is brutally bitter.

The way nature intended.

Proper Hot Chocolate

The best kind of hot chocolate, made with chocolate and double cream, and nothing else.

Except maybe a spoonful of sugar, because this chocolate is brutally bitter.

In other words, the way nature intended.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Cake of the Day (2)

Today's - ahem - secondary cake is a chocolate and cherry tiffin with lovely biscuit bits. Delicious!

This does mean, however, that there will be no Cake of the Day tomorrow.

Cake of the Day

Today's primary cake is a massive blueberry meringue, four by five inches oblong, and an inch high throughout: 20 cubic inches of eggy sugary fruity froth. Bliss!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Doughnuts are not nice

We cover them in sugar, and fill them with jam to hide this fact. But the dough is stale, heavy, when cold.

File under "best served hot".

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Spring, and a Young Man's Thoughts

...turn to spring cleaning, obviously.

Today, I cleaned my car (I know, I know; who am I and what have I done with me?). Panic not, I've not changed so much; I won't be taking up golf any time soon.

In my defence, it was just the inside, filthy from the latest trip to the household recycling centre (that place that used to be called a tip). Certainly not the outside, filthy from a winter full of salty gritty roads (and another 3 or 4 winters before that; the last time I personally cleaned my car was when my father died).

Yes, my car has been cleaned since then. I distinctly remember the time I put the car through the wash at the garage, and wrenched my aerial off in the process (so that the carwash wouldn't damage it, you see).

So what prompted me to this rare act? Spring madness? No, it seems I've discovered a sense of pride. Or at least, a sense or bored frustration with the state of the car. Or because I'm planning on selling it. You decide.

In the process of cleaning, I found stones, more fingernails than I have fingers, and 2 bits of ladybird.

Two bits of ladybird. Well, it is spring.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Gu chocs

They say:

"A luscious liquid caramel enhanced with a hint of sea salt encased
in 70% cocoa chocolate"

I say:
To describe them as "grown up rolos" would be largely accurate, but unfair. These are luscious chocolate - not milky - and the caramel is indeed liquid, fluid, runny. They burst in the mouth, spilling their honeyed centre (that could, for my money, include a little more than a hint of sea salt).

A real indulgence; expensive, but worth while. Delicious.

Blogsplash! Fiona Robyn's new novel: Thaw

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. Fiona has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow.

Thaw cover image

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat — books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about — princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading here

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Definition: Ook

ook [ook]


  1. To be excessively delayed due to fannying around.
  2. To send an email around the company proclaiming your love of monkeys or
    something monkey related; to do this to someone else ("I left my
    computer unlocked and he ooked me!"
  3. To slack off a meeting.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

BING is not Google

Did you ever wonder what BING stands for?

It seems obvious to me (remembering that computer people are noted for their peculiar sense of humour) that BING is not Google.