Friday, September 28, 2007

Apple II ... what a palaver

One of the first tasks with little Mac Mini was to get iTunes shifted across from the PC and working on the Mac.

What a palaver! Thank goodness English has such a good word to adequately describe the task.
Apple in their wisdom* don’t make it easy to get an iTunes installation across from Windows to one of their white aluminium Macs. It’s not as simple as just copying the folders across from the PC, maybe putting them on a USB key or a removable drive ... though a quick Google search will pick up some tedious instructions that explain how to alter the .xml file etc if you want to hack it across by hand.

No, the official method is to backup your iTunes library onto CD or DVD. iTunes’ File -> Back Up to Disk is constrained to media that you burn. Great if you want to transfer your collection between continents. But somewhat slower than the speed of light to get your songs and podcasts across your desk.

*in a half understandable attempt to increase security and reduce copytheft by making the copy process slow and costly

Like quite a lot of other user who are reporting problems online at the moment, the third DVD failed during the write process. Twice. That’s six DVD-R’s wasted.

Podcast Icon (c) Apple Computer, Inc

Turns out the 4251 error is probably caused by the virus checking software taking too long to scan a large file (in this case it was a video file), which consequently disrupts the burn process. Disabling the virus checker for the duration of the burn allowed the next burn cycle to complete successfully (and somewhat faster too).

Transferring the iTunes collection across to the Mac was then as simple as running up iTunes and popping the DVDs into the Mac in order. They’re automatically detected, and iTunes offers to import the files it finds

That leaves podcasts. Your subscriptions aren’t copied across – though any podcast files are. So you need to go to the podcasts folder in the iTunes library, and use File -> Export to save the Podcast subscription file (*.opml). Then copy it across to the Mac (USB key will do) and File -> Import it. Note that any podcast you’ve already downloaded on the PC, listened to, and deleted will now be re-downloaded, so you’ll want to delete a lot those entries before they start! Why didn’t Apple properly support podcast downloads in their backup feature.

Don’t forget to log into iTunes under your account, and authorise the new Mac – and if necessary deauthorise the PC. You can have up to five machines authorised under your account.

Having checked the number of songs and podcasts on the Mac versus the PC original and found them to match up, I plugged in my iPod. It recognised it, and could show the contents, but couldn’t do an automatic synchronise with the Mac since the iPod was Windows formatted (FAT32). So had to use iTunes to restore the factory settings to the iPod, and then synchronise from scratch.

What a palaver!

I’m typing this up on Mac – using Microsoft’s free (beta) Remote Desktop Connector to get back to the PC. Cheating really, but it’s a quick way to access Windows, albeit in an 800x600 window. But nice to have the Home, End and Ctrl-arrow keys working as expected again. Update: found the preferences to move the resolution back up to something more credible.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Barclays Bank ... in Ballyhackamore?

Who'd have thought that East Belfast's Ballyhackamore would need a branch of Barclays on the Upper Newtownards Road?

Is there something they know that we don't?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jim & Casper Go To Church (Jim Henderson & Matt Casper)

Jim and Casper Go To Church

I stumbled upon Jim and Casper Go to Church (Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians) in a blog posting over at Supersimbo. Having bought it off Amazon and read it while on holiday in early July, I left my annotated copy (the odd scribble and lots of page corners turned in for further thinking) behind with our Swiss hosts to read. So this review has been a while in coming.

Jim’s a Christian. But he wonders about church. Wonders about what it was meant to be? Wonders about what it has become? Wonders what it’s like for new people when (if) they step across the threshold into the liturgy and choreography of a congregation?

So he hires Casper, an articulate, musical, copywriting atheist to join him on a tour of twelve US churches, some of them well known brands even here in Europe. By the way, Casper could make a fortune speaking in churches about his experiences on the tour (and elsewhere) ... though I guess he may not want to!

In a world of seeker sensitivity, servant evangelism, cell church and contagious Christians, what would they find?

The resulting dialogue between the pair is intriguing and pretty challenging. Casper is unimpressed with pizzazz and showmanship, and uncomfortable with saccharine handshaking welcomes and the forced emotion that keeps appearing at the end of sermons.

As a newcomer and an atheist, why is it that pastors apologise to Casper that he’ll not understand everything said this week? Is he not part of the target audience. Why all the talk about believing and having faith, when some of the congregations appear so reluctant to do anything with their faith? Where’s the talk about local community and making a difference in peoples’ lives?

  • “How is the Word of God integrated into practical examples of living the faith?”
  • “What prior knowledge and belief does the church assume attendees possess?”
  • “Is the church more interested in conversation or conversion? In dialogue or debate?”

At the intersection of Saddleback Drive and Purpose Drive, Rick Warren’s church had

“an artificial replica of Jesus’ tomb with a rock parked in the front door ... locked with a large bike lock and chain.

‘Well, I hope they unlock it in time for Easter,’ Casper said.”

It’s not just the set dressing that rings alarm bells. The pair move on to Willow Creek, where Bill Hybels has stepped back and handed over to new leadership; a church situated in a predominantly white area of the US. Casper notices that while the church membership is a sea of white faces, the on-stage band is “the United Colors of Benetton” … something that Casper perceives as a “false inclusiveness”.

“As we walked out of the service, Casper put it plainly once more: ‘Just follow ... Following is a means, not an end. Do all these people doing the following have any idea where they’re going or what they’ll do when they get there?’”

While Saddleback has created opportunities for serving and in-community participation, there was little mention of it during the church service that Jim and Casper attended, diminishing the impact of the message they heard.

Attending First Presbyterian Church of River Forest in Chicago, they were surprised that no one was curious enough about two guys sitting typing on laptops during the service to come over to greet them!

Maybe the place that made the biggest best impression was Lawndale Community Church, also in Chicago (just ten minutes drive from First Presbyterian). It was hard to pick out the humble church entrance on the street given the larger health center, pizza restaurant and day-care center in the way: all part of Lawndale’s work and outreach.

Lawndale have moved away from the Three Bs (buildings, budgets and butts in seats) to the Three Rs (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution).

“... church attendance averages a respectable five hundred, their budget matches a church of five thousand and reveals another story that can’t be measured by worship attendance. They get much of their income from the same sources other non-profits do: grants, subsidized loans, and sales of the properties they develop. And all the money gets plowed [sic] back into the Lawndale Development Corporation.”

The book also points to the value of listening and of personal relationships: in this case between Jim and Casper, as well as with the people they come into contact with along their journey. Jim and Casper’s dialogue and honesty feels like a pattern that shouldn’t be so rare in our lives.

When you get to the end of this fine book, don’t feel smug you don’t live in the US and that you don’t have a faux stone and a faux tomb in your church! Instead question whether there are patterns of behaviour and talk and action that are inaccessible to newcomers? And question whether you’ve ever asked a visitor about their experience? Better to survey visitors than try to guess for yourself. As the book asks about church:

“Is this what Jesus told you guys you do?”

If you’re involved in a church fellowship, you should read this book and then talk about it, lending it to your friends and people who sit around you in church. And then put what you’ve learnt into action.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taking my first bite of Apple (for quite a long time)

I've been threatening for a long time, but the moment has finally arrived, and I've bought an Apple Mac.

Back as a student, we developed Modula 2 programmes using the Metrowerks compiler on Macintosh 512 in QUB's Drill Hall (now knocked down and replaced with the Seamus Heaney library). Before that, I'd used the original Macintosh, and even had a quick play with Hypercard (that needed two floppy disks - both the internal and external floppy drives - to opearate).

Having finally outgrown a BBC Master, I remember visiting CEM - purveyors of fine computing equipment in Belfast - to look at the Macintosh LC. In the end, I bought a Dell 486 (450MHz) instead ... and although rarely powered up, it still works today - dual booting to either Windows 3.1 or Slackware Linux (all sharing 80MB of hard drive and a poxy amount of memory).

It took a long time before I upgraded, this time to a 3GHz Dell Dimension, with 18.75 time the RAM I had HDD capacity in my first Dell! But I've looked on as Macs have developed, and the hankering after a Mac has stayed with me. So I've dipped my toe in the water with a Mac Mini - the cheapest way to get a feel for what they've done to Finder since those student days.

And so I'm learning and adapting. Why have they moved around the " @ | ~ keys on the UK keyboard? Why does hitting Home or End not take me to the beginning or end of the line? I long for a Windows key so I can type Windows -> R(un) -> Calc to quickly launch the calculator without having to use a mouse. (And yes, I do launch Word and Excel with Windows -> R -> winword or excel!)

Why do I have to turn on tabbed browsing within Safari? Why isn't it there by default? And I'm sorry, but despite the well-argued rationale for keeping a straightforward user interface, I miss the right mouse button and its context-sensitive menu. Oh, and why does Blogger not support Safari for WYSIWYG editing?

I hadn't realised that the Mac Mini came with Airport (wifi) built-in. Good news, since all 4 ports on the DSL router were already in use. But how was I expected to know that I needed to prefix the hexidecimal WEP key for the wifi SSID with a dollar sign?

The adventure will continue. And I'll keep you posted. If anyone can point me to a decent Windows -> Mac FAQ/tips guide, I'll be grateful. At some stage, I'll start to experiment with Parallels and getting Windows running alongside MacOS in order to support those applications that don't exist in the Apple orchard. I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, September 21, 2007

That awful sinking feeling ...

You know that sick, churning feeling deep in your body? When things start to fall apart.

I had it this morning when I turned up at the conferenve venue at 7.15 this morning, and wondered why there were no cups sitting out. Why no plates awaiting the hot breakfast that was booked for 7.30?

Quick look up the booking email ... there's my request for a 7.30 start with breakfast ... but I'd missed noticing that the booking confirmation had it down as 9.

Twenty five hungry people ... who wouldn't appreciate a workshop starting at 8 in the morning (with breakfast at 7.30 to bribe them in) and then turning up to discover a lack of hospitality.

But grace abounded, and the food was delivered at 7.45 before all but one delegate had arrived! All's well that starts well.

That's one impossible thing achieved before breakfast.

Yesterday's impossible task was the no show of the projector delivery. It turned up just after 10 - a full hour late - and a full hour after we had to make alternative emergency arrangements. (And handing out permanent markers and a flipchart wasn't really going to work for software demos!)

Update - the boiler in the venue's kitchen wasn't switched on, so the tea and coffee urns were filled with lukewarm water ...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dwight Eisenhower – planning and leadership

Dwight Eisenhower photo from Wikipedia

A five-star General who became the 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower had a thing or two to say about planning and leadership.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Belfast Courts: leaking?

Couldn’t help but take this puerile, school-boy picture the other lunchtime.

Outside Belfat courts (closeup)Outside Belfast courts

They’re doing a lot of work in front of the Belfast Law Library and courts complex: pedestrianising the road, adding grass verges, and a chicane through the middle to allow buses to shortcut from Chichester Street down to Oxford Street,

Cheese and apple on toast for dinner


Cheese and apple on toast

Cheese and apple on toast for dinner.

After all, blogging about food is all the rage!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Booker short list

The Man Booker PRize 2007 logo

I seem to have an appalling taste in literature. Well … rather I seem to be unimpressed by what other’s regard as decent literature (see John Self’s comments about my low opinion of Michael Frayn’s Spies).

We’re now only one month away from the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007 being announced on 16 October. Just over a week ago, the thirteen books in the long list were whittled down to a short list of six.

You can catch an opinion of all of them over at John Self’s The Asylum blog who successfully trawled through and reviewed all thirteen long listed books in a local Bookerthon.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid

One of the books I definitely want to read is Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (though whether it can overcome Ian McEwan to win is another matter). Both Mohsin and his book came across well on Five Live’s Mayo Book Panel podcast (his successful shortlisting was announced right at the end of the review!) and also in a column he wrote in the Guardian’s G2 last week.

Last year, the result ceremony wasn’t broadcast live on BBC2 or Channel 4, though BBC Four ran “Man Booker Prize – The Shortlist” programmes. The schedules don’t yet show whether there will be any coverage of the award this year.

In the meantime, chair of the judging panel Howard Davies’ occasional blog is worth a quick squint.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Gadget consolidation ... a step too far?

Toaster Teapot from

Since Sony merged radios and cassette players into a single Walkman device, the world has debated the pros and cons of consolidating lots of devices into single units.

There are audiophiles who think that hi fi separates are the only way, while others applaud the neatness and usability multi-function midi-systems.

Can the cameras built into mobile phones ever compete with standalone digital cameras? And is it sensible to merge PDAs, phones, radios, MP3 players, cameras and now GPS all into a single device?

But now a new debate will rage: combining the toaster and the teapot!

That’s right, the nice people at (“home of the eccentric teapot”) are selling a single kitchen appliance that can simultaneously make your toast and brew your tea. (The descriptions on Teapottery and various gadget blogs aren’t clear whether it boils the water, or just brews the tea. I suspect the latter.)

(via Shiny Shiny)

“I am a hedgehog”, James Purnell MP

James Purnell MP, Secretary of State of Culture, Media and Sport

James Purnell MP is the Secretary of State of Culture, Media and Sport. Yesterday, in his opening remarks in a speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, Purnell said:

“The fox, said Isaiah Berlin, knows many things. The hedgehog, by contrast, knows just one big thing.

The fox pursues many ends, often unrelated, sometimes contradictory, even at times, anarchic.

That anarchy may ring a bell in this room. Today’s converging media world is a friendly habitat for foxes: so much technological possibility, so many doors to let in content, so many chances to speak.

But actually, and I know you can clip this sentence to make me look very foolish indeed, I am a hedgehog. I know one big thing: that broadcasting will continue to be central to our democracy.”

I couldn’t resist the post's title! He went on to make quite an interesting speech: worth a read if you’ve a penchant for media analysis (usually a case of media commenting on media).

“The greater part of our thinking on regulation will therefore not be devising the minutiae of guidelines. It will instead be the articulation of clear goals, which can then be implemented flexibly.

Those goals would be, first, an open market, perhaps with a greater reliance on principles than on detailed rules. Second, the very best broadcasting should be open to everyone. And third, consumers should be in charge ...

It’s more complex now than it has ever been. The foxes are prowling. But the hedgehog’s point still stands. Democracy is enriched by diverse broadcasting, available to everyone. In the confusion of change, it will be the quality of the content you offer that will determine the fates in the future.

The future of broadcasting isn’t in my hands. It’s in yours. And you should be confident, as I am. Yes, the last few months have been gloomy. But maybe this conference is a time for optimism and resolve.”

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hallam Foe

Hallam Foe against Edinburgh rooftops

For the first few minutes of Hallam Foe, I found myself wondering if this was the sequel to Billy Elliott, where I’d find out what happened next to the young ballet dancer. But it quickly became apparent that Hallam is a much more complicated character played by actor Jamie Bell, spying on neighbours from a tree house, zipping down from nowhere wearing animal skins to scare people, and with a strained relationship with his family.

I’ve previously remarked that a film’s investment in fancy closing credits is the sign of a confident money spinning production: Hallam Foe does fancy opening and closing titles!

As the film open’s, it’s the second anniversary of Hallam’s mother’s death; his father has since got together with his young PA. Hallam’s mother still dominates his life: he keeps an enormous poster of her image pinned up in the tree house, along with a stash of her possessions. Her absence overwhelms his ability to behave rationally. As the story progresses, there’s a slow reveal of more and more details about the circumstances of her death.

Scene from HAllam Foe opening credits

But has Hallam left it too late to reconnect with his family? To reconnect with realty? Has his attitude and actions fatally severed the ties?

After Hallam’s allegations and spying comes to a head, he too quits home, heading for Edinburgh where the streets are paved with gold the roofs are tiled with slate. A climber at heart, he finds more room to sleep as a vagrant on the rooftops (reminiscent of the roof people in Richard Gwyn’s The Colour of a Dog Running Away).

Hallam and Kate up on Edinburgh's rooftops

From his rooftop vantage point, he notices a girl (Kate, played by Sophia Myles who starred as The Girl in the Fireplace in season two’s Doctor Who) who reminds him of his mother. He follows her to work, and talks himself into a job as a kitchen porter at the hotel. With an art for surveillance and picking locks, the hotel’s clock tower becomes his new tree house, and Kate fills the void in his heart (with complications on many levels).

Kate: Is there a love in your life?

Hallam: Yes. (pause)
She’s dead. (pause)
Would you like to meet her?

Kate: I love creepy guys.

Can he resolve his suspicions that there was foul play in the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death? Can he let go of his mother? Can be do ballet on the rooftops? Is the swan on the lake symbolic?

While your understanding of Hallam’s personality traits grows throughout the film, his actions become harder to justify, and his relationships become destructive.

Franz Ferdinand accompanies the closing credits, singing a “rather gorgeous acoustic paean to the film’s title character” (as the NME put it):

You watched for hours
From slates and clock-towers
The lives you loathe.
But your life is others,
And lovers and mothers.

Breeze blows from rooftops to your destination.
Trapped in your imagination,
She’s all you can see.
Black love water you miss her,
Oh God how you miss her so.
Highland flown, a dandelion blown
Yes it’s time,
Dandelion flower.

Hallam Foe’s a dark tale, set against the distinctive backdrop of Edinburgh’s stony architecture and rooftops. As you start to understand the characters, their lives become more and more uncomfortable to watch, with empathy replaced by fear and amazement. Worth a watch and a think (but note that the 18 certificate is justified).

Scene from Hallam Foe opening titles

Update - November 2007: the book is pretty good too.


Everyone's doing it ... but why not?

via ransomizr

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Incongruity* - communication in the modern world

Sitting in a room this morning, squeezed around an oval table with eleven colleagues. Two from west coast US, one from Europe, five from Northern Ireland, one from Scotland, and the rest - the minority - from England.

That must be why the room's in London.

We're discussing a product's development and future roadmap with the vendor. Couple of late flights and lack of a projector delayed the start of the meeting.

The room has a ceiling to floor blue/green curtain against one wall. The opposite wall is dominated by two huge Tandberg monitors, with a camera sitting.

Aha. Someone booked the video conference suite ... but just to get a room, not actually to use its technology.

Pity we didn't know that was the room in question. Then we could have sat in a room with a ceiling to floor curtain in Belfast, and appeared on the screen instead of sitting in front of the monitors.

* Incongruous, but not ironic.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Big Ian taking off one of his hats in January

Ian Paisley looses his hat!

Ian Paisley will be stepping down as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church in January. Martina Purdy stayed up late to get the story.

Jesus in Guantanamo at The Black Box

Jesus: the Guantanamo Years

Did you catch Abie Philbin Bowman playing his one man show Jesus: The Guantanamo Years at The Black Box on Thursday or Friday night this week?

At the end of last week, with Abie’s appearance on Arts Extra on BBC Radio Ulster, followed up with an interview on RTE, there was a fair amount of discussion over at A Tangled Web.

But what about informed opinion. If you were there, what did you make of it?

Want a Tecra A8 Notebook for a week to post a blog review?

Toshiba Tecra A8

I posted about the ethics of blogging back in April. This week’s random email sent to alaninbelfast went something like ...

I work for talkToshiba and our aim is to bring Toshiba closer to online communities. One facet of our work is the Tecra A8 trialist programme.

As an established blogger, we’d like to give you the chance to trial a Tecra A8 Notebook for a week, and write an honest, objective review of it to be published on your blog.

A blurb about you and a link to your blog will be published on the talkToshiba website and we’ll also summarise and link to your review.

We arrange delivery and pick up, so it’s relatively hassle free. Please let me know if you would be interested in participating.

If you are unable to take part at this time then maybe you would like to recommend someone else (perhaps a friend who’s experiencing problems with their current laptop). If so, please don’t hesitate to suggest them/ask them to get in touch.

Drop me a note if you want to volunteer, and I’ll pass your details onto the nice people at talkToshiba. (Though I’m a bit confused since the Tecra A9 has now been launched in the UK ... so isn’t the A8 old hat?)

It’s been a frustrating week.

stock photo of bmi plane

Monday’s flight to Heathrow was delayed. Then there was a 45 minutes wait for luggage to arrive at baggage reclaim.

Late flight + late baggage = tube strike in effect (thank you RMT).

So with no reason to get the zippy Heathrow Express into Paddington, I caught the unaffected Piccadilly tube line. Pity the journey into Leicester Square took over an hour in a half as we kept stopping while striking drivers reversed their trains out of stations and back towards the depots.

Photo of front of London bus, via Flickr from Kate Pugh

Then there was the bus from St Pauls to Tottenham Court Road on Thursday night. After waiting ten minutes for a bus, it pulled in after three stops, the driver turned all the inside lights out, and tossed all the passengers out onto the street to await the next bus.

After ten minutes the next bus arrived. It’s driver seemed on edge, at one point racing the enormous bandy bus at high speed towards a stop before jamming on the brakes and nearly throwing standing passengers off their feet. One woman yelled at him as she got off the bus, and he seemed to huff, sitting motionless for a couple of minutes. When he did finally start up again, it wasn’t for long. Turning the lights out along with the passengers after a couple of stops. Thankfully we’d reached Tottenham Court Road.

Tube image, via evagram's Flickr

Friday’s journey back to Heathrow should have been easier. After all, no more tube strike. Except the Circle Line was suspended in both directions, I’d a couple of bags, and it was sweltering hot.

First mistake was getting into a taxi. Second mistake was not getting out sooner.

We hit roadworks, after roadworks, after roadworks. Like someone in a dusty planning office turned over their desk calendar, noticed that it was no longer August holiday season, and then ordered a blitz on London’s Victorian sewers. What’s normally a half hour trip to Paddington took closer to an hour.

In the middle of this outpouring of woe, I should introduce a moment of grace.

Being short of English banknotes, I’d asked the taxi driver at the beginning of the journey how much he through it would be “just in case you want to throw me out sooner rather than later”. Reassured that I had enough cash, I settled back. But then we hit the jams. When we finally pulled into Paddington he only charged me what he’d first estimated, saying that it was his first fare of the day, and the traffic was particularly bad!!

By the time I got the train out to Heathrow and arrived breathless at the check-in desk, it was three minutes after they’d stopped accepting hold baggage. Arghh. Bumped onto the next flight. And to add insult to injury, when I got through security and reached the bmi lounge, the reception desk were had a new boarding card for me, an upgrade to business on the earlier flight. Except that I wasn’t on that flight any longer, and they tore it up. Late and hungry!

Photo of broadband modem, via Flickr from rastrus

One other chapter in this tale of misery. Oh and in the process of getting a broadband line installed in a London office, I discovered that the modem would be shipped to the building. Except the security guys on the door have a strict policy of not signing for packages ... and I wouldn’t be in the building on the day it arrived. While the order helpdesk agreed to tell the dispatchers to ship the modem to Belfast where it could more easily be collected, they didn’t pass on the message before the modem was dispatched to the London address.

Another moment of grace.

Turns out that one of the security guys holidays in Bangor, Co. Down. Knows that cups of tea are more expensive in Holywood than Bangor! And for once, an Irish accent helped, and he took pity on me, agreeing to sign for the package just this once as long as I collected it before he went off shift.

Of course, I now have two modems ... one in London, and the Belfast one arrived today too! Now just to see if the line is installed and activated on Monday morning.

(Thanks to evagram, Kate Pugh and rastrus for their Flickr photos.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Spies (Michael Frayn)

Spies, by Michael Frayn

Despite its foibles, my usual hotel in London does at least have a lounge downstairs with free internet access, a printer, and as much tea as you can make and drink. The added bonus is that the lounge is full of books that guests can borrow for the duration of their stay. (A bit like some public libraries, they stamp their name all over the side of the book to make sure you’re shamed into returning them!)

I bet the hotel picks up the books cheap; maybe the manager sends someone across the road to raid the oddment bin in the Waterstones bookshop opposite the hotel! Very few of the free library are best sellers, or books that I’ve previously head off. But over the last couple of stays, I decided to give Spies by Michael Frayn a go.

Stephen Wheatley has returned to his childhood cul-de-sac. The book documents his recollections of life during a summer in wartime London. Stephen teams up with neighbour Keith to hide in the hedge of a nearby house and spy on Keith’s family, in particular his mother.

I found it quite an irritating book. A much trailed crucial six words that one character uttered takes two whole two chapters to be revealed, when I’d half expected only to find out on the last page. And when it is revealed, it’s a complete anticlimax since the blurb on the book’s dust jacket uses sixty words to tell the same message!

While the book’s entry on Wikipedia mentions that it is currently being studied by some A-Level boards in the UK, and develops themes of

“ambiguity/uncertainy, duality and conflict, gardens, privet, ...”

not much of that jumped out at me as I read it. In fact, I just wanted to get to the end (as I don’t like giving up on books half way through).

Dysfunction is all around, and the children’s suspicions become ever more elaborate as the web of confusion grows and they continue their midnight forays up The Lanes, through the tunnel and past the dogs. The reader perseveres to find out the real relationships between the characters? Is there really a German presence in the area?

The wartime tale eventually resolves, with a clever twist or two. Yet the effort (and patience) expended to reach the end of the last chapter nearly seemed too great a price to ask the reader to pay.

Michael Frayn may have written nine novels, one of which (Headlong) was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1999, but if Spies is typical of his printed output, I think I’d prefer to sample how he directs his story-telling talent when writing plays (thirteen of them) rather than chance another of his novels. On stage, his plot twists and character relationships might come to the fore, and his unengaging prose would have long ago been edited out.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cape Wrath goes under, in the proud tradition of The Ghost Squad and Making Waves

Disappointing news that Channel 4 won’t be commissioning a second series of Cape Wrath. Produced by Ecosse Films, it was also broadcast across the Atlantic by the US Showtime network under the name Meadowlands.

Publicity shot of the Brogans from Cape Wrath, (c) Channel 4

I’ve mentioned the drama before on AiB. But I was obviously in the minority, as Channel 4 have confirmed that due to disappointing ratings, the Brogan family and their twisted safe haven won’t be coming back for a second series. While 1.6m people watched the opening episode (10.4% share of the total audience that night), only 845,000 (4.9% share) tuned in to watch on the fourth week.

A C4 spokesman said ...

“Cape Wrath was a high concept, experimental drama which attracted a fantastic cast. The storylines worked as a one off series and Channel 4 has several new series in development with our commitment to drama series remaining as strong as ever.”

It’s a recurring disappointment. One of last year’s Channel 4 dramas also bombed when The Ghost Squad wasn’t recommissioned. (Though at least they completed the series, unlike ITV that dropped Making Waves mid series, never transmitting the second half of the series, though I’ve just noticed that it was released on DVD.)

Doctor Who takes a gap year to go travelling? And turns into Doctor When?

Blue Tardis collection at Belfast's W5

The third “new” series of Doctor Who finished at the end of June with Martha staying behind, leaving the Doctor to head off towards his Christmas adventure and an appointment with the Kylie Minogue and the Titanic.

They’re currently filming the fourth series, with Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman, originally known for her fiery character in the revamped but short-lived Crossroads) swapping into the spin-off Torchwood production, before returning to the cast for the second half of the main series. Donna, the runaway bride from Christmas 2006 (played by Catherine Tate) will accompany the Doctor throughout the entire fourth series.

Airing in 2008, the fourth series was expected to be Russell T Davies last. There was speculation that Steven Moffat (who already writes several episo des a season) would take over executive producer/show runner responsibilities, leaving Davies free to work on other shows. Moffat was rumoured to be partnering up with recent colleague James Nesbitt, who would play the new Doctor.

However, a different compromise seems to have been reached with Russell T Davies signing up to write and produce three Doctor Who specials during 2008 (for transmission in 2009), significantly reducing his commitment down from the current 9 months it takes to produce a full series, and leaving him free to pursue some other projects during the slack. He’s promised to return (though not necessarily with David Tennant as the Doctor) to run series five.

So what will the Doctor do while we’re not following him?

Update: In fact, at last night’s TV Quick and TV Choice Awards ceremony, Doctor Two scooped the Best Loved Drama plaudit, while David Tennant won Best Actor. Oh, and Torchwood picked up the gong for Best New Drama.