October 2003

NTL email broken; Virgin just plain shite

by Suw on October 31, 2003

One thing that ticks me off is when one of my email accounts breaks for no readily apparent reason. My NTLworld address is currently knackered, for reasons I'm not sure even NTL understand, and it's very annoying.

I don't mind so much when I can't get my email as I tend to assume that it'll still be there when the server's been fixed, but when I find out that emails are being bounced with a 'permanent fatal errors' message saying that my address is invalid, I get really very cross. I use that address quite a bit and have no way of knowing how many emails I will have missed. All I can say is that if you've emailed me and it's bounced back, try me again at this email address instead.

I'm also getting increasingly irritated by Virgin's flat rate dial-up service, which has been a bit crap for ages and is now descending to really very crap. When I dial up I usually get one of a whole variety of error messages and no connection. Perseverance usually wins through, but then I get a connection which refuses to transfer any packets, instead just sitting there like a dumb puppy doing nothing. Or I get a connection that works for half an hour, then just throws a strop and decides that it doesn't like this data transferring business and it'll be buggered if it does any more of it. Or I get a connection at 6bps which downloads pages at a rate of about one a year.

It really is a bit shit that this service that I am paying for is so shoddy. I was prepared for the frustration of having a cacky dial-up connection that ran like a three legged dog, or even a two legged rabbit, but the general shiteness of Virgin's service is getting to be beyond tolerable.

I'm all for sticking by small tech start-ups such as Blog-City, because I understand that they're a small company with growing pains and as I'm paying them peanuts for this rather well featured blog I'm quite happy to see them through their development period and hope that things improve. Besides, I can hassle them directly and when I do they always get back to me with some sort of nice reply.

But NTL and Virgin are big companies who have absolutely no excuse for giving such shoddy service. NTL I can't even get to talk to on the phone about my old broadband account (which they appear to still crave payment for) because, get this, I'm calling from the wrong geographical location.

Their system can tell where you're calling for, and routes you to the 'correct' call centre, except that I've moved so I end up at entirely the wrong call centre and they don't seem capable of either calling up my records and sorting out my query or transferring me to the right department. How shite is that? What do they expect me to do? Drive up to Reading so I can call them from an 0118 number?


I’m usually a very patient person when it comes to technology. I’ve been online for bloody years. I’ve had a computer since I was nine – the first family computer that we got and which I used on a regular basis was a ZX80 – and I’ve had a computer ever since. I may not be the world’s greatest geek, but I am surely one of the most patient, yet NTL and Virgin between them are sorely trying my patience.

So, my question to you, dear reader (particularly the British ones), is this:

Can you recommend a good, not too expensive flat rate dial-up ISP whose email service doesn’t faint every time you try to send an attachment?

Comments, emails, messages on the blog board all welcome.

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Hmm… Vinegar

by Suw on October 30, 2003

Why does vinegar on chips smell so nice? And why does a teaspoon of vinegar stop the hiccups immediately when ten minutes of standing on one leg, drinking out of the back of a glass with a finger in my ear quite definitely does not?

I think these are important questions that should be carefully considered.

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Oh, the irony

by Suw on October 29, 2003

Friday, on my way back from London, I got a phone call from an agency in Bristol, asking me if I'd like to work as a 'search engine tuner' for five months. Once we'd figured out from the job spec what the client wanted, it was clear that it was certainly a job that I could do. Only drawback was that it's in Titchfield, which is a small town near Fareham. Not exactly Manchester or Leeds, not by several hundred miles.

I said I'd think about it over the weekend, but thinking about it didn't make it the least bit more attractive.

I mean, yes, I know I'm skint, I know that I need a job, but would moving to a slightly different arse end of nowhere really help my situation? I'd still not have any friends in the area, still not be in Manchester or Leeds, still have to find work again in March. Although I'd have money coming in, with the costs of accommodation and travel it'd probably still be going out faster. Just doesn't seem like a very satisfactory move to me.

So I had to do the one thing I dislike doing and tell the agent that I wasn't interested in this particular contract. I know it wasn't as if they'd actually offered me the job or anything, but still, one doesn't like to seem negative.

On the other hand, journalism course still going well. Had good feedback from my tutor today on the last exercise I did. Very pleased with the progress I'm making – certainly it's starting to feel like it might well be a viable alternative career, rather than just a pipedream.

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Sun throws a hissy fit

by Suw on October 29, 2003

The Sun is belching out gas like an angry demon with wind and, if the pics are anything to go by, the last one (third biggest since records began, although that was only 25 years ago) was a bit of a beast and heading right for us. Chances are there'll be an aurora borealis tonight, although chances of actually seeing it approximate to nil, considering that it's pissing down. Bloody typical.

The last time the aurora borealis was visible from here I was a young wee sproglet and tucked up in bed. Apparently the sky turned red and it was all rather dramatic, but my Mum, being the concerned parent that she was, wouldn't let my Dad wake me up so that I could see it. Boy, was I cross. If I'd known swear words back then, I would utilised my entire profane vocabulary.

Tonight, I'm just mildly annoyed and hoping that maybe I'll get lucky and there'll be a both an aurora and a break in the clouds.

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Retraining: Sit! Stay! Roll over!

by Suw on October 28, 2003

I mentioned a while back that I was thinking of attempting to resurrect my career in journalism, such as it was, and that I’d started a short online course.

General weirdness over the last couple of weeks has meant that I’ve not knuckled down quite as often as I would have liked and I’ve only today done lesson three.

I actually did read through lessons one to five on the way to New York, (well, on the train on the way to being on the way to New York – when I was actually on the way to New York I was somewhat distracted by the presence of a bar serving free alcohol and nuts), but didn’t get round to doing much about them.

Now that I’ve started to get into it, I am actually rather enjoying this course. It’s not so much that I need to be reminded how to write, but that I need to learn how to package and pitch ideas to editors, something I have never been particularly good at.

Today I spent most of the afternoon working out three potential features ideas. After a shaky start wherein filing my nails and making pointless posts on Zoetrope seemed suddenly much more important, I did eventually get stuck into the task. It’s been a long while since I’ve really concentrated on something that has required actual thought and I rediscovered that I liked it.

I know that sounds stupid, but concentration’s the second thing to go when I get stressed, (appetite is the first), and I have found it very difficult to actually settle down and get on with stuff lately. Well, I say lately. My appetite went, oh, I’d say around the end of May and my ability to concentrate evaporated pretty much as soon as I realised that the business was utterly doomed and nothing I could do could possibly save it. That was around mid-August, I guess. Well, deep down I think I knew before then but I just wasn’t admitting it to myself.

This afternoon I caught a glimpse of my more focused past: Oh, so this is what it’s like to research interesting things! And this is what it’s like to be involved in what I’m doing! Yes, I remember now! I like this!

I just hope that I can retain this feeling of enthusiasm. I think I would prefer my future to involve working as a journalist rather than a project manager, if I’m going to be brutally honest. But in order to do that I’m going to have to put aside all my bad habits and regain the self-discipline that I had at the beginning of the year, when I would work solidly all day, anything between eight and 14 hours a day.

Admittedly, I suspect that those long days, which became more and more prevalent as things edged towards going down the shitter, are the reason why it’s been hard to concentrate lately. Living off your adrenaline for months is all well and good until the source of that adrenaline disappears, and then you’re shafted. You just slowly collapse like a souffl? in a cupboard.

And of course, you can’t reheat a souffl?. You just have to go out, buy more raw ingredients and make another one from scratch.

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Ik leer Nederlands

by Suw on October 27, 2003

I've finally got round to joining a Dutch learners' Yahoo group today, in order to give myself a little more motivation to actually study this language. So far, the things I can say* about myself in Dutch, (and which are actually repeatable in public), are limited to:

– Ik leer Nederlands. (I'm learning Dutch. No kidding!)
– Ik woon in Engeland. (I live in England. So that's where the extra vowel comes from in the footie song.)
– Ik spreek Engels en Welsh. (I speak English and Welsh. Stating the obvious, I know, but that's always been my strongest skill.)
– Ik heb vrienden die in Spijkenisse, Broekhuizen en Eindhoven wonen. (I have friends who live in… Ok, I admit I had help with that one.)
– Ik weet het niet. (I don't know. I suspect this'll be the most-used phrase in my limited vocabulary.)

I think it's good for me to be a rank beginner again, learning a language from scratch. I don't really have much more reason to learn Dutch now than I did to learn Welsh five years ago, but I figure that not having a reason is no reason not to carry on. After all, I found a good use for my Welsh, and I'm sure I'll find an equally good use for my Dutch in due course.

In the meantime, let's just put it down to being klap van de molen (hit by a windmill).

*I say 'say', but actually I can't yet pronounce a single word properly – the last time I tried to get my Dutch friends to help me with my pronunciation, they just laughed and told me I was crap. Ah, that innate Dutch diplomacy.

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Ha haa! The hour!

by Suw on October 26, 2003

Have a nice long kip and still be up early!

Although today does of course mark the true beginning of the long, slow slide into winter, the days becoming darker and more dismal until December 21 when I'll have a wee little party to celebrate that the nights are starting to shorten again. I hate winter. If I had the money I'd bugger off to somewhere nice and warm until it was all over. That would be a far superior solution than my current one – a halogen lamp.

Where's my lottery win, eh? Or my Hollywood deal for mid-sixes to sevens?

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Maciej is still having problems with turbulence, it seems. I have to admit, I'm not in a position to take the piss really – Maciej's fear of flying (and particularly turbulence) is no less irrational than my fear of driving and I actually can sympathise with that white-knuckle feeling you get when suddenly your brain tells you that you are, contrary to all available evidence, about to die. I can trust physics to keep me up in the air without any real problem, but I can't trust myself to control a motorised vehical moving at anything over, oh, about 4 mph.

I'm sure there's a cure somewhere for such fears, and a parallel universe in which Maciej happily jets about the world sitting at the first class bar annoyed only that a slightly bumpy ride spilt a little of his champagne, and I'm a champion rally driver known for her astounding control of her car and her amazing skill in putting it round corners at speeds that defy thinking.

In the meantime, I think I'll just walk, thank you kindly.

On a different note entirely, Ken talks about epistolary relationships, a subject I've touched on here in the past.

I never have understood why people get so freaked out about the concept of building friendships via email and the internet. Epistolary relationships, whether professional, platonic or romantic, have existed for probably as long as the written word, yet with the advent of the internet people are suddenly of the opinion that long distance friendships are new, strange, and not to be trusted.

I suspect that it's not actually the relationship that's strange and new, but the medium within which that relationship has been formed that is strange and new. Email-based friendships seem untrustworthy because people have a level of distrust for emails that is disproportionate to the number of untrustworthy people online. Just because 50% of email is spam doesn't mean that 50% of people online are spammers – it just means a very small minority are making life shitty for the rest of us. And there's nothing new in that.

People have often asked me how I could trust the people I meet online, to which I always answer, how can I trust the people I meet face to face? I start from a position of trust and work from there, just like many other people do – I can't help it, it's hard wired in to my brain (sub required).

Online life is real life – there is no distinction. Whatever happens to you offline can happen to you online, crap fuckwittery and moments of true joy alike.

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Throwing shapes on Big Ben

by Suw on October 25, 2003

Thursday afternoon I went up to London for a drink with some of the guys from Zoetrope.com. Met up with Craig at 1 Parliament Street, where he works. Had to hang around there a little while as he was in the midst of doing battle with his computer, but whilst I was waiting I heard the Division Bell, which goes off every time the MPs have to go and vote on something. Apparently there are Division Bells all around the Westminster, in bars and restaurants, so that MPs don’t miss out on that essential vote whilst having a quick pint. Weird sounding bell though – sort of strangled yet tinny.

Met up then with Renate in the Opera Room of the Chandos off Trafalgar Square. Always a nice pub to meet in because they have nice comfy leather sofas, although getting to sit in one of said sofas does require getting there earlier than we did. Annie, who was over from New York, turned up fairly shortly afterwards, then Caz.

After a good chin wag in the Chandos, we headed off back to 1 Parliament Street, from where we could go through Portcullis House to the Palace of Westminster.

Portcullis House is the new building that hit the headlines for gross overspend and general over-luxuriousness. But it is lovely from what we saw of it – there’s a rather nice atrium with trees and a sort of Eden Project-esque roof. Very posh.

Then it’s down under the road through an old Victorian tunnel which connects Portcullis House with the Palace of Westminster (i.e. the Houses of Parliament). You can immediately tell when you walk into the Palace of Westminster because suddenly you have the beautiful stonework, with a curled dragon on the wall, looking all fearsome.

We went along the walkway at the front of the Palace, which is all beautiful stone vaulting and columns. It's most strange to be on the other side of the fences! Thence it was on through the bowels of the building, including a corridor painted the most vile shade of green I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness, and into The Lords Bar. The very cheap Lords Bar. Which was surprisingly empty of Lords and full of young twenty-somethings. The whole place had a rather collegiate feel to it, I must admit.

Lords merchandise. Who’da thunk it?

As we were arriving at the Palace, Gerry arrived too – his plane down from Glasgow has been delayed by an hour and a half, which was a bit of a bummer. Craig settled everyone else in the bar and took me through another set of winding back staircases and passageways, (including another bar which has all the style, sophistication and atmosphere of the Queen Vic), to meet Gerry. It's a bit of a shame that I didn’t get much time to gawp at the St Stephen’s Porch, with it’s amazing statuary, astounding ceiling and, let’s not forget, policeman with loaded gun.

Once back at The Lords Bar, it was time for a damn good natter about writing, scripts and Zoetrope. It was lovely to be able to talk about such things without people looking at me as if I’ve suddenly grown antlers, which is the reaction I usually get.

I never used to understand why people would join writing groups, having always been a very solitary writer, but now I think I do. There was a great atmosphere of understanding and support, just as there is in Gerry’s office on Zoetrope. For once, when I mentioned my dislike of writers who can’t be bothered to learn the basics of grammar and spelling – or at least, how to use a spellchecker – no one looked at me as if I’d just fallen out of my tree, (not even Craig’s lovely flatmate, Tasha, who’s not a writer at all).

One’s not supposed to take pics in The Lords Bar – I guess the Lords want somewhere to get sloshed and not have to worry about it. So we went out on to the terrace instead for our snaps. That was an astounding moment, to be looking at the Palace on side, the Thames on the other, and to suddenly realise where one is.

Craig, Caz and Renate in The Lords Bar

Me, Craig, Gerry, Renate and Caz

Renate, me, Gerry and Craig

The Palace of Westminster. Cool, huh?

After last orders, Craig took us up on to the roof of the Palace. It’s a little strange to think that just anyone can get up on to the roof of the building, although I suppose that once you’ve got through security and past the policeman with the loaded gun, going onto the roof terrace is frankly no big deal.

A Palace gargoyle

The amazing thing is that you’re so close to Big Ben (although yes, I know that Big Ben is the bell, not the Clock Tower). We were able to stand in front of the floodlights and cast shadows. I would have done bunny ears, but frankly the floods were too powerful and the shadows too ill-defined for artistry as delicate as bunny ears.

Big Ben

And yes, those shadows at the base of the tower, that’s us making those shadows. We did take some pics of us in front of the tower, but unfortunately my camera couldn’t deal with the contrast and they’re too blurred to be useable. However, there is one pic of me with the clock in the background, just to prove that I really was there.

Me, in front of Big Ben

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by Suw on October 25, 2003

What did I read before I read blogs?

I've just opened up Syndirella, as I usually do despite the fact that it's buggy as hell and usually crashes either just itself or my entire computer before it's managed to actually aggregate anything.

I've read all the blogs on my list that have updated since earlier this afternoon. Via my browser I've been to all the blogs I read that don't have RSS feeds just in case they'd updated, and checked some of those that do have RSS feeds that Syndirella had said hadn't updated, just in case Syndirella was lying.

Now I've exhausted my list of regular blog reads, and I'm left wondering what on earth used to steal my online time before I discovered the Joy of Blogging. Before the blog, before Sweet Addy, before the Guardian… I know I used to spend a lot of time online, but I can't for the life of me remember why.

Right back in the very beginning, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in the Yahoo Books & Lit chat room. That was long before the teenagers had discovered the internet, of course, and most of the conversation there actually was roughtly about books and literature. Or at least used words. Once the ASLers turned up, we all buggered off to E-Groups, which then got eaten by Yahoo so we ended up back where we started.

I still have my very first avatar – it's still valid and I still use it on a regular basis.

I remember really clearly the day I was introduced to Yahoo chat. I was temping for a company called DE Shaw in the City in between Christmas and New Year 1997. I was working on reception but as most people had the time off, there was bugger all to do. The office manager came over to me and asked me if I'd brought a book to read. I'd admitted that, in fact, I'd been expecting to have been expected to actually work, so no, I hadn't. So she showed me Yahoo Chat and told me to log in and chill out.

I still use my Yahoo identity all the time now, despite the fact that Yahoo have gone from the cheeky underdog to corporate whores over the last six years. (Pretty much the same line that Google appear to be taking, if you ask me.)

A Books & Lit splinter group formed called Gorpies which was quite a large part of my life for quite a long time. Eventually, though, it became time to move on (amazing how it only takes one irritating old cow to ruin a whole email group), and I stopped chatting in Gorpies altogether. I'm still in touch with a few people from back then, actually, although I don't think I'd go into a public chat room now if you paid me.

Funny, though, how six years on the internet seems like such an age. My life has changed tremendously, the internet has changed tremendously, but the one thing that's stayed the same is that I have met and continue to meet some really cool and interesting people here in this virtual universe and thence later in person. Not sure how many, but it's a lot.

And so far, only one nutter out of the whole bunch.

Of course, I'm quite expecting that to change in November…

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To sleep, perchance to dream

October 23, 2003

I slept quite peacefully last night, to my surprise. I did dream of Elliott, but he was calm, serene and happy and the strains of Last Call echoed through my head all night. Reading the words now, well, they have a whole new interpretation. Last Call last call he was sick of it all asleep […]

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Regaining equilibrium

October 23, 2003

It's not been the best few days, but I do feel like I'm getting back on my feet now, getting some balance back. I'm off to London this afternoon to meet up with some people from Zoetrope.com, which should be fun. I've never met these people before, but I'm pretty sure that they won't turn […]

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The great deposit rip-off

October 23, 2003

Although my mind was on other things, yesterday I got my court papers filed against my ex-landlord. I'm claiming back my desposit and court fees, totalling almost ?800. Hopefully I'll get a positive judgement on this, as I really don't think it's fair for a landlord to retain a deposit just because they think you […]

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Goodbye, sweet Elliott

October 22, 2003

I can't quite believe that I'm typing these words. Elliott Smith, one of the most talented singers/songwriters to ever grace a stage, died last night, aged 34. It appears that he took his own life. I feel quite numb. I never knew Elliott, but I do have friends who did and everyone always commented on […]

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And my eyes, they sting

October 22, 2003

The BBC The Guardian The New York Times NME Pitchfork MTV

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