Breaking a car window in 1988 #TBT

The rarely seen Escher wing of St Elphins (photo manipulation by Nick Morgan)
The rarely seen Escher wing of St Elphins (photo manipulation by Nick Morgan)

Because this week has been hectic, I’ve not had much time to think about my first Throwback Thursday feature. So here’s something from a wee writing project I’ve been working on, documenting my recollections of my time in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.

This is from my first NYCGB course at St Elphin’s School, Darley Dale in Derbyshire in December 1988.

It’s a long story how, and I won’t go into it here as it mostly involves tales of vomiting while being interviewed by the BBC, three brain haemorrhages, bright lights and ambulance sirens, and not dying, but my dad was a member of a men’s Christian group that had the unlikely name of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. Or FGBMFI for short. Which even then is quite long. And even now I still will it to be the initials of some kind of furniture outlet for the Russian secret service; although technically that would be KGBMFI, not that they are called KGB now—it’s FSB. But I digress.

My dad phoned up a bloke in the Matlock chapter of FGBMFI and explained that his naive, shy and unassuming 17-year-old son would soon be attending his first National Youth Choir of Great Britain course in nearby Darley Dale and if it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience would he be willing to pick me up from Matlock station and safely deposit me at the door of St Elphin’s school?

“I know what he’s like,” he said. “Knowing him he’ll end up chatting to some pretty girl about the post-industrial fate of Greater London market towns. He doesn’t understand how taxis work. He’s scared of buses and I promise that he’ll not break your passenger-side window.”

I broke his passenger-side window.

I was trying to be helpful. I was trying to be neat. I had had no right to wind the window down in the first place. But I was too warm. I was nervous. I was flustered. I’d thrown my luggage into the back of his battered-looking, dark blue Nissan Cherry and quickly clambered into the front.

It was a damp and cold December afternoon. It was already dark. I was warm and the windscreen started to mist up.

“This is very kind of you,” I said as I reached for the handle and wound the window down an inch or two.

“You’re welcome. Don’t…!” he started. But I interrupted him.

“Is it far… to St Elphin’s?” I asked, trying to appear keen and friendly; trying to hide my nervousness.

It wasn’t far. In fact, if we’d bothered to do any research whatsoever then we would have discovered that the distance from Matlock station to St Elphin’s school was exactly 1.6 miles (2,574 metres). That’s about a 20 minutes’ walk, even with a suitcase.

Or a 3 minutes’ drive.

Three minutes later we pulled up outside the school entrance.

I think by that point I was now as surprised as he was at why my dad had felt that I needed a lift to the school from the railway station. It had seemed no time at all since I’d asked him if it was far to St Elphin’s, and actually arriving at St Elphin’s by the end of my question had kind of answered the question for me. I felt quite embarrassed. What must he think of me: this pathetic kid from Scotland who needed a free taxi ride effectively across the road?

I started to wind the passenger’s window back up.

“Don’t…” he started again.

But it was too late. A couple of tugs on the handle and I watched with a certain degree of horror as the window jumped off its runners and disappeared into the car door.

And that was the moment that I asked my question. The same question that I had asked a few years earlier when I sat on the bed of my brother’s friend Jonny and felt the bed legs snap beneath me; the same question that I was to ask again in 1992 in a garage in Brisbane, Australia, when (again) I sat on a bed and (again) felt the bed legs give way beneath me. My question: ‘is it supposed to do that?’

And the universal answer in such circumstances: … No!

I carried my suitcase up a couple of steps to the front door, turned and gave a grateful but apologetic wave to the Christian ‘taxi driver’ whose car I’d just vandalised and I stepped into the wonderfully grand entrance hall of St Elphin’s School, with its spectacular sweeping staircase and at the bottom of it an elaborate mahogany fireplace. The entrance hall was thronging with young people.

I’d arrived.

If you ever happen to stumble upon this blog post, to the guy whose car I unwittingly broke: I’m really sorry. You did, however, deliver me to door of my first NYCGB course where I met some of the best, loveliest friends I have ever known, so also a heartfelt thank you.

Documentally’s Backchannel

Documentally's backchannel
This week’s backchannel email from Documentally

Christian ‘Documentally’ Payne is someone I’ve been following on social media since I first met him in London in 2008.

I love Christian’s style and voice in his writing and the humour and honesty of his videos. I really admire his outlook on the world and his willingness to share so much of his life online with the rest of us. I’m a big believer in the idea that often what we believe to be the most private is often the most universal; I often feel inspired by the stuff that he shares, especially his anecdotes about personal experiences.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I ought to blog regularly about stuff that has happened to me in the past: the stories that I find myself telling in social gatherings, the stories that make me laugh when I’m on my own and wandering aimlessly through my memories, the random stuff that I’m reminded of because of something said or seen or heard. I’ll maybe start doing that as a Throwback Thursday thing, or something.

This year, Documentally started up a weekly email called Backchannel, which has replaced a lot of his blogging. It’s a personal jaunt through his last week: stuff done, books read, drinks drunk, sounds heard, and items bought. I thoroughly recommend it, it’s full of personality and humanity, and a whole bunch of really practical stuff too.

How can I not enjoy something that has a heading of “Greetings from my shed” and opens with:

Nourishing rain. I was starting to feel sorry for the grass. It needs this. More than I need this coffee. But there’s nothing better than sheltering, supping and writing. And it’s too early for wine.

I belong to the rain. If you can be happy on a rainy day, you can be happy any day.

Subscribe to Documentally’s Backchannel.

Opeth—Sorceress

One of my favourite bands, Opeth, has a new album coming out this year, entitled Sorceress. This is the title track. It’s very heavy, very doom-y, very old-school prog.

I know that Opeth’s move from outright death-metal-style progressive metal to more 70s-oriented prog on Heritage (2011) divided the band’s fan-base. It took a while for me to really get into but I like it. But then I’ve always felt that bands should be free to do what they want, move in whichever direction interests them. And if I, as a fan, don’t like it, then fine—don’t listen to it. Listen to the stuff that you do like.

I’m really looking forward to the album being released on Friday 30 September.

Studio report

The album was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, where Queen recorded Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night At The Opera (1975), including “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt takes us on a tour of the studio.

 

Microsoft Excel save dialog… what on earth?!

Every time I have to save a document in Microsoft Excel and I’m presented with this drop-down list of available file types I cry a little inside.

I often use Excel to create files of events to bulk import into Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or The Events Calendar (WordPress plugin). And each time I need to convert from the default Excel Workbook (*.xlsx) format to CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) format I cringe when I see this mess of a list.

Excel save dialog showing file types not in alphabetical order
Whose idea was this listing?!

I find it hard to believe that this order has been the result of extensive user-testing.

Would it be too much to ask for an alphabetical list?

I mean, sure, put the default Excel format at the top, but then list everything else alphabetically. That would work for me, and I’m sure lots of other users too.

Current list

This is the list as it currently looks. I can appreciate that the most commonly used formats are near the top (Excel, old Excel and XML) but after that… where is the logic?

Try quickly finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • Microsoft Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)

More user-friendly list

This order would make much more sense to my mind. The default Excel format is at the top, to make it easier to find, but after that everything else is in alphabetical order. I’ve also removed the “Microsoft” prefix from Excel 5.0/95 as it’s the only Excel format that includes it.

Now try finding CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv) in this list.

  • Excel Workbook (*.xslx)
  • CSV (Comma delimited) (*.csv)
  • CSV (MS-DOS) (*.csv)
  • CSV (Macintosh) (*.csv)
  • DIF (Data Interchange Format) (*.diff)
  • Excel 5.0/95 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel 97-2003 Add-in (*.xla)
  • Excel 97-2003 Template (*.xlt)
  • Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls)
  • Excel Add-in (*xlam)
  • Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Template (*.xltm)
  • Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm)
  • Excel Template (*.xltx)
  • Formatted text (Space delimited) (*.prn)
  • OpenDocument Spreadsheet (*.ods)
  • PDF (*.pdf)
  • SYLK (Symbolic Link) (*slk)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht, *.mhtml)
  • Strict Open XML Spreadsheet (*.xlsx)
  • Text (MS-DOS) (*.txt)
  • Text (Macintosh) (*.txt)
  • Text (Tab delimited) (*.txt)
  • Unicode Text (*.txt)
  • Web Page (*.htm, *.html)
  • XML Data (*.xml)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*.xml)
  • XPS Document (*.xps)

Now, isn’t that easier to use? Microsoft… please make this a thing.

Typography cheat sheet

Typewolf's typography cheat sheet
Typewolf’s typography cheat sheet

This is a really useful typography resource: Typewolf’s typography cheat sheet.

It offers sections on:

  • Quotes and apostrophes
  • Dashes and hyphens
  • Useful typographic characters
  • Accented & non-English characters

There is a single-page printable PDF but it contains only a very small subset of all the characters on offer and without explanation for how each typographic element should be used.

Bookmark it, it’s really useful.

 

 

Tromsø—interactive, high definition photo

Tromsø in high definition
Tromsø in high definition

We are probably all quite used to the detail that we can see on Google maps these days, particularly in the street view. But check out this interactive, high-definition photograph of Tromsø in Norway. The level of detail that it has captured is astounding!

Circus

Circus and elephants
Circus and elephants

On the zoomed-out map you cannot even see the circus tent, but zoomed in you can clearly see the elephants (and a giant, pink dancing elephant).

Mountains

Mountains above Tromso
Look at the level of detail on the mountains opposite.

This is range of mountains directly across from the camera, at maximum zoom. You can clearly see detail of rocks.

Ships, houses and sunbathing

Ship docked, with woman sunbathing on the balcony
Who is that on the balcony?

You can clearly see someone relaxing in the sun on a balcony on this side of the river.

Ski jump

Ski jumps without snow
I wonder if anyone uses this in the summer for skateboarding

This looks like a ski jump without the snow. It’s on the far side of the photograph, certainly too far away to see on the fully-zoomed-out photo.

Paraglider

Paraglider in a rainbow-coloured parachute
Someone hanging around in Tromsø

Check it out!

The photo is quite amazing, capturing an ordinary day in Tromsø. I have probably spent hours over the last couple of years exploring it, looking for the extraordinary amongst the ordinary: Two folks paragliding. A helicopter. Cyclists crossing the road. Two figures in black suits walking through the cemetery. Elephants.

What do you spot in the photo?

New tab pages in Google Chrome with a movie theme

Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab
Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab

A few months ago I blogged about a new Google Chrome extension called Momentum that replaces the default Chrome ‘new tab’ page with a beautiful image that changes daily (they have since extended it with a premium version that imports todos from other applications such as Todoist).

Yesterday I received an email from David Gordillo from Noosfeer who have released a similar extension with the less snappy title of New Tab = A Movie to Watch + Watch List, which I shall refer to as NTAMTWWL.

In David’s words,

It is a Chrome extension that delights its users with movie pictures each time they open a New Tab. The more you interact with the extension, the more the recommendations will adapt to your taste.

You have also a Watch List, in which you can collect the movies you want to watch later.

The website, for the company behind it, Noosfeer, however, calls it “a content reader and aggregator.”

Movies

Unlike Momentum, which gives you the same image for 24 hours, in NTAMTWWL the image and movie recommendation changes every time you open a new tab: The Martian (2015), 25th hour (2002), We Are Your Friends (2015), Whiplash (2014).

While you can click on the little plus at the bottom of the new tab page to bookmark that movie, to watch the trailer later, I can imagine that you might easily forget or close a tab before you’ve saved that movie to your list. As I have done a few times since trialling the extension.

Suggested articles

For full functionality you need to register an account with Noosfeer—the usual suspects are available including using your Google or Facebook account.

This is where it integrates with Noosfeer’s content aggregation functionality.

The extension invites you to enter topics that you are interested in, such as technology, movies, etc. Noosfeer then provides links to articles based on your topics. They claim to tailor the articles to your likes as it learns more about you.

Bookmarks

The bookmarks link at the foot of the new tab page takes you to a list of suggested articles based on the topics you have identified, plus movies you have bookmarked, and articles that you have elected to read offline.

The extension page advises that you can synchronise with your Pocket account, but I can’t figure out how—it’s not very straight forward.

Update: It turns out that you need to sign-up for Noosfeer by logging in to your Pocket account. I was expecting that I could create an account (using Facebook) and then from within my Noosfeer account connect to my Pocket account. Simple instructions on the login page may have made this clearer.

Evaluation

Changes too often

My immediate response when looking at the new tab page was that it was attractive. Within just a few minutes I had already found a few films that I never knew about that look really interesting.

If you want to discover new films then this looks like a really ideal and unobtrusive way to do it.

However, even having used the extension for less than an hour I find the continuous change of image distracting. I imagine that if I continued its use it would affect my productivity: always demanding that I pay attention to this new movie to watch… or what about this one? Or this one here? That’s why I like Momentum: I have the delight of seeing a new image each day, but then it becomes part of the background of my day—it continues to inspire but it doesn’t distract.

I would be happy with a new film every hour or two, even one a day.

UPDATE: This has now been changed, so you can select to keep an image for 24 hours.

No 24 hours time format

One criticism I have: I would like to display the time in 24 hours format. While that may be possible, I couldn’t find how to change it. My Windows default is 24 hours format, so it’s not taking its lead from my system.

Noosfeer integration

The settings appear minimal and whisk you off to the Noosfeer website to do nothing more than select topics.

Conclusion

Having used it for just an hour I have discovered a few films that I will certainly look out for. But the continuously changing background I found more distracting than endearing. I just know the way that I work best, and I need more continuity and fewer distractions, but your mileage may vary.

To be honest, personally, I can’t imagine using this extension, as I use Feedly and Pocket almost daily for following the content and blogs that I am interested in. I don’t have room for any more.

But here is perhaps the main issue for me. I expected to be reviewing a plugin that showed different movies on my new tab page, but I’ve ended up writing about a content aggregator.

Overall, I do wonder if this extension is trying to do too much. I felt like I’d installed it under a false pretence. I was surprised after installing it. I was expecting new tabs with movie recommendations. I didn’t expect a content aggregator behind it—I felt a little duped, if I’m honest.

While this isn’t the extension for me, if you are looking for a content aggregator and love your movies then definitely check it out on the Chrome web store.

I do hope they can find a better name, though. Noosfeer New Tab, perhaps.