Monday, March 31, 2008

Live TV – Blueprint, (Anderson) On The Air, Ten O’Clock News, animated Weather, Newsnight

Another one of those rare occasions tonight when we made an appointment with the box in the corner to watch some TV as it happened ... well, as a hard drive on Ormeau Avenue played out a pre-recorded show.

Tonight was the long anticipated broadcast of the first of three Blueprint programmes, looking at the physical history of Ireland. William Crawley and his red-coated experts exploring the land we live on, peeling back its layers, and telling the story of its development over millions of years.

(Given that the filming took place over more than a year, it did leave me wondering just how many pairs of the same pale trousers and dark jacket that William has hanging up in his wardrobe, all slightly differently torn and grubby!)

Fossils from northern and southern hemispheres found near each other, the sound of tectonic plates crashing together (though I was never sure where to look when the plates were being animated), a wonderful world map carved in the sand*, amazing revelation that there are active saltmines in under Carrickfergus**, pictures of otherwise sensible scientists like Emily Murray walking too close to the crashing waves, and a blue CGI grid that kept appearing to keep the visual narrative as the programme hopped from location to location. (The grid did cleverly mirror some of the shots of fields in the Glens of Antrim.)

(c) 2008 BBC - Blueprint - Carrickfergus Castle and harbour in a dessert?

After a slowish start, the production (and the land) warmed up. As one with a scientific bent but an aversion to natural history programmes, it held my attention throughout. Until, suddenly ten minutes from ten o’clock it abruptly ended. With the threat of an ice age, the titles calmly rolled up the screen (jittering a bit while someone cut to the wrong feed) and then rolled to their conclusion. A fizzle rather a climb up to a glorious conclusion.

But a great start to the new regular local programming slot at 9pm on Monday nights ... we'll be back next week (and it’s repeated on BBC Two on Wednesday at 7pm if you missed it) and perhaps we'll drop in on the companion show Off the Beaten Track on BBC Two on Thursday at 7pm to wander a mile or two with Darryl Grimason over some of the spots that were mentioned tonight. (For the really keen, Radio Ulster are doing what radio does best, and drilling into Ireland’s landscape history in more detail with Blueprint: Geology on Saturday morning at 11.30am. Plug ends.)

* second favourite bit; ** most favourite bit - if it had been broadcast tomorrow, I'd have said salt mines under Carrick counted as an April Fool!

Then from the sub-lime to the ridiculous. On The Air, the clay animation that brings visual life to real conversations from Gerry Anderson’s morning radio show. Hard to remember and believe sometimes that these aren’t made up. Gerry putting a couple of she goats in touch with a buck.

And then onto another potential seismic shift (as Blueprint might have phrased it). Zimbabwe. With the intrepid John Simpson telling the story for The Ten O'Clock News from within the country (along with other BBC colleagues like Ian Pannell getting less name checks on air - ITN have teams inside Zimbabwe too) though not yet on camera.

And George Alagiah standing at the South Africa/Zimbabwe border, poised to rush across to anchor news reports from the capital, if and when the opposition is declared to have won the election.

And after one of the most animated weather reports I’ve ever seen – Daniel Corbett practically conducted the weather as it flowed across the animated map (maybe it's the result of his US influence) – it was over to Newsnight where the talk was of the potential for peaceful protests, that would almost certainly invite military response and provoke violence.

An unnatural delay in declaring the results, leading to suspicion and uncertainty. Result rigging? Difficulty finding someone to tell President Robert Mugabe that he’s lost by a significant margin? Votes genuinely close leading to secret recounts? No one yet knows.

But the result, and the next few days, will be long-remembered in southern Africa’s history … alongside the initial hope that Mugabe brought Zimbabwe, latterly replaced by military might, corruption and despotic tendencies. The kind political epitaphs will tell of Zimbabwe’s literacy rate of 90% - the highest in Africa. But the broader analysis will point to 100,000% inflation, mass unemployment, and a life expectancy that only reaches half way to three score years and ten.

Titanic effort to convert Strangford’s tide into electrical power

Seagen Tidal Turbine Blades

Reuters UK news agency carried a story last week about Harland & Wolff diversifying into producing large renewable energy generators. Sticking to their watery roots, they’ve assembled the 1.2 megawatt SeaGen tidal energy converter that will be placed in Strangford Lough later this week to provide power for around 1,000 homes starting this summer.

The installation was postponed from last August when the necessary jack-up installation vessel Jumping Jack was held up on another contract.

But a mention of the Titanic is never far away when a journalist types the phrase Harland & Wolff. So there are a few of paragraphs reminding readers about the firm’s history and continuing legacy:

“Despite becoming a symbol of disaster worldwide, the memory of the ship Titanic is cherished by many in Northern Ireland as an example of its historic industrial importance.

The Titanic, the world’s largest ship at the time, was built in 1912 and sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton in England to New York. Almost 1,500 people died because there were not enough lifeboats for all on board.

In Belfast there is even a new 135-acre “Titanic Quarter” under construction to offer thousands of apartments and space for offices, education and hotels in what its builders say is Europe’s largest waterfront development.”

It's not actually clear if H&W actually built the turbine - it may only have been shipped into Northern Ireland via their dock!

The advertising for Blueprint – BBC NI’s landmark multi-platform series which hits our screens on Monday night at 9pm looking – also found the twin yellow cranes irresistible in their marketing campaign.

But I can’t find an online copy of the picture ... so you’ll have to imagine a flooded Belfast Lough with just the top of the cranes peeping out of the ice water until I locate a copy. And in the meantime, enjoy the image of a City Hall free from asbestos and refurbishment!

(c) 2008 BBC - Blueprint - Belfast city centre (City Hall and Big Rickety Wheel) suffering from a high water table

Update - 10 April - at lunchtime, finally walked past the image I was looking for - up on a billboard.

BBC NI Blueprint advertising poster - showing one of the Harland & Wollf cranes (David or Goliath) encased in ice

Lateral thinking Flybe-style to save £280,000 ... pity about the planet

The Flybe press release on the 27th started with ...

“Flybe is celebrating 2 years flying on our popular Norwich to Dublin route with an amazing FREE FLIGHTS offer and giving away 200 return tickets!”

But that isn’t quite the whole story. Coming up to the end of the financial year, Flybe were lagging behind the passenger volumes agreed in their contract with Norwich Airport. About 172 behind.

A spokesman for Flybe explained that they had

“a commercial agreement with Norwich International Airport (NIA) to fly 70,000 passengers from the airport each year ... We are pleased, delighted and proud to say that we have exceeded that figure. Within the agreement, Flybe had committed to fly 15,000 passengers on the Norwich to Dublin route but, as of March 29, were 172 passengers short of that target.”

They’d actually flown a total of 136,000 from Norwich, nearly double the overall target. But falling short of the 15,000 figure meant a £280,000 penalty from the airport. So after some lateral thinking, they came up with a plan. Two actually.

  • (1) Advertise free flights in the press release above, with a completely separate from normal booking process, publishing a simple email address for punters to get in touch.
  • (2) Secondly, place an ad for actors on the StarNow website to become last minute passengers.

100 + extras for background work in Norwich on Sunday 30th and Monday 31st March.

The assignment is for a well known airline who are updating their in-flight literature etc., You will be boarding an aircraft and flying to Dublin and then flying back into Norwich airport there may be up to three flights during each day.

Photo ID will be required. Lunch and refreshments will be provided during the day. Normal day clothes will be required. A good rate of pay is on offer.

Everyone interested and available please apply by email including your phone number. If anyone is interested from anywhere outside the Norwich area (there will be a travel allowance) and can fill a car etc, please also apply with your contact number.

Please apply asap with your phone number.

Payment details: 82.38 per person per day net

Oh, and if necessary, lay on two extra planes for today and tomorrow to carry the budding extras backwards and forwards.

Trying to wriggle out of the contract, Flybe argued that they “had managed to get so close to the target ... offered the airport a one-off payment of £50,000 (more than 20% of the financial payment).” But Norwich Airport turned down the offer, demanding £140,000 (basically halving the fine). Blaming the airport’s “ridiculous, intransigent and downright greedy attitude” the Flybe spokesman insisted:

"Flybe is not prepared in this time of high fuel prices to put Flybe jobs and services to Norwich at risk and therefore, with regret, has taken the unusual step of putting on two extra flights on Monday March 31 to meet the demands of Norwich International Airport.

These flights will be full of normal fare-paying passengers. However if we do not reach the 172 target we will place temporary staff on to the flight to reach the airport's target. Flybe will 100% offset the carbon caused by this flight."

Anyone else think that "temporary staff" sounds a bit like hired in actors?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stolen pleasures ... a purloined copy of Third Way magazine

Third Way magazine - new logo (2008)

Everyone brings things to a relationship. I bring a lot of books, gadgets and clutter. Amongst more books, clutter and other wonderful things, my wife brings a subscription to Third Way magazine.

It’s always a pleasure when I notice that a new edition has arrived through the post. And a bone of contention when I disappear off to a corner with the magazine before she can get to read the pristine copy first. A purloined copy is read so much more avidly than your own.

It’s essentially a magazine that gives a Christian perspective on culture, culture in its widest sense. It’s not tied to a single theological or denominational position, so it’s free to use a wide range of contributors and viewpoints. Refreshing to read.

Awful photo of the front cover of April 2008 edition of Third Way magazine

This morning, I escaped downstairs with the April 2008 edition. The first since Third Way’s restyling the layout. The new fonts are gorgeous – using Mrs Eaves with its fancy squiggles (ligatures to those in the trade) is adventurous, unusual but very classy.

There’s an article by Alastair McIntosh which moving tells the story of his still born son Ossian, explaining how the experience injected hope into the book he was writing on climate change. (Hell and High Water: Climate change, hope and the human condition by Alastair McIntosh due out on June 23, published by Birlinn.)

Must say I’m slightly bemused by the advert from Autosave, with their “24 years experience supplying vehicles to churches and charities”.

There’s an interesting discussion between Theo Hobson and Joel Edwards around baptism, based on the tail end of Matthew’s gospel, 28:16-20. Theo’s thinking on baptism doesn’t resonate with me:

“The problem with baptism is that it says that real Christian identity is about membership of a certain institution.”

To me, it’s got nothing to do with membership of a particular church or denomination. It’s about God’s love, his Church (big ‘C’) as he defines it, not as I might constrain it.

Joel finishes with an interesting comment:

“We all want Christianity without walls but we can’t afford Christianity without borders.”

Four pages are devoted to the thoughts of Jim Wallis on the Democrat / Republican battle that we’re so fascinated in. Wallis’ book God's Politics accompanied me on jury service back in 2006 and is still sitting half finished (maybe half started?) on my bedside table.

But back to the article. Rather than focussing on the personalities and party battles, Wallis reckons that many in the US are ready for “better religion and better politics”, through “a better public engagement by faith communities”. He sees a “levelling of the praying field” with Democrats “rediscovering their own religious roots” alongside the traditional moralistic Republican party.

Wallis also notices that the agenda of faith community has at last broadened to “include issues such as poverty and pandemic diseases, environmental care and climate change, trafficking and human rights, genocide, the need for a more ethical response to the genuine threats of terrorism and a foreign policy more consistent with our [US] best moral values”. Sounds like Jesus? Bringing “good news to the poor” – who are most badly affected by the litany of doom listed above.

Luck and the Irish: A brief history of change 1970-2000 by R F Foster

As well as an earlier comment piece on Ian Paisley’s imminent departure, local-man Mark McCleary offers a quick review of R F Foster’s new book Luck and the Irish: A brief history of change 1970-2000. After “political crises and corruption scandals ... Foreign investment, a low tax structure ... The European Union” the Irish population have a desire for change. At speed too. Bans on public smoking and plastic bags, switching to the Euro, revised moral codes (allowing Irish laws on homosexuality to become more liberal than the UK). The review ends with a warning:

“Every time there have been similar upheavals and rapid change in recent Irish history, they have swiftly been followed by disaster.”

There’s the odd piece of humour, forgivable poems, and lots of language that is accessible and not too academic. Did I mention the interview with Ben Elton? Update - 2 April - Media Guardian's just picked up on the Ben Elton interview and his comments about the BBC being "scared" to allow jokes about Islam. Also made it to the front page of BBC News online. No mention of Third Way's new fonts! The Church Times blog has commented, and linked to a blog post by the interviewer James Cary.

Third Way is well worth a read if you come across someone else’s copy on a kitchen table!

Think of a number, double it ... and you’re still lower than the price of 900 litres of home heating oil

Yesterday, Lord Timothy of Belmont (who couldn’t live more than a mile away from AiB) about the price of home heating oil. He linked through to Cheapest Oil, a Northern Ireland comparison site that lists online prices from some of the local oil sellers.

They compare the price of 500 litres and the “normal” 900 litres (the quantity that generally attracts a discount). Not all companies offer online ordering, so our usual stalwart of Hylands Fuels (based just up the road in Dundonald) isn’t listed. You may also find that the over-the-phone prices differ, and some firms offer discount to loyal customers or prompt payers.

Here’s the current trend graph from their website (click for a more up-to-date one) – makes for miserable viewing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

2008 University Boat Race

If it hadn’t been for Miffy’s Facebook status update, I wouldn’t have known that it was the University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge today. Same coxes as last year – and with the controversy over last year’s result – a bit of a blood match between the two crews.

The controversy is over Thorsten Engelmann, one of last year’s successful Cambridge crew members withdrew from his course and college after the boat race but before graduating, which may be in violation of the behind-the-scene-but-not-public rules. Oxford certainly claim that it means that Cambridge should forfeit the race result as they (Oxford) are now the first eligible crew to finish (even if it was in second place).

ITV switched presenter again. Out went last year’s Mark Durden-Smith who joined ITV Sport to front the 2007 coverage and did a great job, and in came Craig Coyle. Formula One kept Steve Rider in Malaysia last year. This year, ITV seem to have left the commentator most closely associated with Olympic rowing coverage to research Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League match in Rome rather than letting him loose on the Boat Race.

The same production sleight of hand seemed to be in operation again this year. The last time you hear from presenter Craig Coyle is just before the ad break that precedes the start of the race. As he handed over to commentator Peter Drury, he would have been in a speed boat being shunted from the start of the race up river to the finish for the post-race interviews. So his handover would have been pre-recorded. Though this year, at least Peter Drury didn’t respond with “Thanks Craig”.

2008 University Boat Race - taken by Andrew Wilson

While heavier crews have been more likely to lose races (lost 9 of the last 16), in the rougher conditions, weight and stability seemed to be to Oxford’s advantage. And at 12 minutes, Oxford started to pull away from being ahead but still overlapping the other boat to being over a boat length ahead and finally powering away in front to win easily with the slowest time of 20:52 since a monstrous 23:01 in 1947.

As a total sporting non-aficionado, the Boat Race along with the London Marathon strangely still gets my vote every year.

PS: Clocks go forward an hour tonight in Europe.

(Thanks to Andrew Wilson for the photo above from Flickr.)

Torchwood special on Radio 4 this summer ... to mark the opening of new particle accelerator (LHC) at CERN

The current series of Torchwood has been a lot stronger than the first, and probably better viewing that Doctor Who (though it’s some kind of heresy to admit this in a public forum).

So greet with interest news that there’s to be a one-off Torchwood special masquerading as Radio 4’s Afternoon Play this summer, to coincide and tie in with the opening of the world’s largest particle accelerator at CERN.

Veteran of penning Torchwood episodes and Doctor Who online material, Joseph Lidster is writing the radio play which will star the usual cast (John Barrowman etc) and the show’s regular production team.

(c) CERN - LHC accelerator

The Large Hadron Collider is a spectacular 27km ring running 100m under the Switzerland/France border outside Geneva. (Workers have to carry their passports at all times in case they have to evacuate the facility into a different country from the one they went down to work in!)

You can apply online to go along to visit LHC on 6 April 2008 if you think you’ll be near Geneva. Regular tours of CERN are available six days a week ... we nearly visited while on honeymoon in Switzerland, except I applied too late - there’s a three or four month waiting list.

Single parents should be issued with medals ... at least annually

Posting’s been pretty light on AiB this week. Mainly due to an enormous folder of paper that needed to be read and considered for a meeting on Thursday night and all day Friday. Oh, and the small matter of going back to work on Thursday too.

(Don’t read the next bit before breakfast!)

But the other reason has been a sick Littl’un. There’s some kind of tummy bug going around, and boy has she got it. But then she seemed to be perking up on Thursday afternoon again. Bouncy enough that Mummy headed off with a student group to Derry, leaving me in charge!

But the sickness came back. Stories read, and tucked up in bed, I’d left the room to put the smelly nappy in the bathroom bin. I’d just reached the bin when I could hear her wretch.

And that’s when being on your own stinks. A child to mop up, change and comfort. And a bed to strip down and remake, sheets to get into the wash. It all happens at once. “Stay with me, don’t go” is the weary cry that can’t be ignored. Yet the numskulls inside my head are listing all the things that need to be done to make sure that the dirty sheets and pyjamas get washed and dried quickly to become the backups for the next occurrence.

It can be so much easier with two. But on your own it’s constant. A responsibility that cannot easily be shared. And there are moments when you just want ten minutes or half an hour to yourself. But it’s hard to be out of earshot of a child whose next puke will come without warning, and when you least expect it.

Littl’un and I looked after each other for a week before Easter. We had a great time and lots of fun. And grandparents were very hands on and appreciated. But it was still exhausting. Getting her to nursery, driving back into work, picking her up again, food, bath, stories. And knowing that if she woke up crying in the middle of the night, there was only one person in the house to go and comfort her. A pleasure to be a parent, but hard work.

So I’ve an amazing respect for single-mums and single-dads who manage to do all this day in day out without complaint and without looking as knackered as I feel on those rare occasions when I’m home alone with a wonderful three year old. (I’ve an amazing respect for Mummy who copes all those times I swan off to London with work for a few days or a week!)

No matter the circumstances, I suggest that medals are pressed and issued. At least annually. To show appreciation for hard work, nerves of steel, and love that really gives. Not in a patronising way. But to honour parents who are constantly going the extra mile. To mark a set of people, many of who are the most organised and capable people I know. People with a heart that often extends beyond their own household and improves life for lots of other people too.

Think I hear a car pulling up outside. The bus from Derry has brought Littl’un’s Mummy home. Better pop the kettle on. Could be a long day … even with the two of us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Paid your congestion charge? Like 3,000 receipts?

Graeme Ellis opens some of the 3,000 receipts TfL sent him for his congestion charge

Graeme Ellis is a blind-fitter who sometimes has to drive through the congestion zone in central London. He’s been fined three times for days on which he’s forgotten to pay.

So he pulled his socks on and started to pay the £8 online – requesting a receipt as proof of payment.

  • First time, he got 25 identical receipts through his letterbox – each in their own brown A5 envelope.

  • Next time he paid online, it rose to 500.

  • But no comparison to the last time he paid online and received 3,000 receipts – dropped off by a big Royal Mail lorry at his doorstep!

Guess what, a computer error is to blame. And perhaps a missing user story that fell down the back of a filing cabinet stating:

As a Congestion charge operator
I want to automatically send no more than 5 receipts a day to the same name/address
So that
I have a chance to manually intercept repeat payment mistakes (or system errors) and don’t bombard people with unnecessary mail.

You can catch a two minute news bulletin clip about the story for a few more days.

In a statement, Transport for London explained:

“This is clearly an unacceptable error. Our service provider, Capita, have identified the fault and put in additional controls to ensure it does not happen in future.”

Mr Ellis is considering paying at a petrol station from now on! Though his children are enjoying the lifetime’s supply of drawing paper. And his rabbits are enjoying the shreddings as bedding.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Last Enemy – 1984 updated for our privacy-conscious and identity-obsessed world

I’m a sucker for techno-drama. Anything that has scientists walking around a set wearing white coats is sure to warrant a few megabytes on my PVR. There’s about one a year. And no, Primeval doesn’t count! Last year’s candidate was the three-part Superstorm.

A lot of the time, the scientific community make lousy subjects for TV drama. Scientists come across all weak and lacking in life experience, desperately in need of strong leadership.

The Last Enemy feels like a worthy successor to George Orwell’s 1984. Its five hour-long episodes finished on BBC One last weekend, and over the last couple of days I’ve finally caught up and made it to the end. (Unlike about half the original audience of 5m who deserted it during the series if the viewing figures are to be believed.)

The Last Enemy - Stephen Ezard (played by Benedict Cumberbatch)

Stephen Ezard (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a recluse and returns to London for his brother’s funeral. See – you know already from the word “recluse” that he’s the scientist of the piece. Michael (Max Beesley) was an aid worker, killed in a landmine. Stephen quickly hooks up with his brother’s partner Yasmin (Anamaria Marinca) and starts to burrow into the details behind Michael’s death.

After a major terrorist attack, ID cards are now the norm, CCTV is all around and monitored centrally, and TIA (Total Information Awareness) is the state’s Big Brother. Not yet as controlling as Harrison Bergeron, but using technology to amass an incredible amount of intelligence about people’s movements and actions.

For a drama that was first dreamt up four years ago, and commissioned at the end of 2006. the prescient piece plays out in a UK that is identity-obsessed. Privacy concerns, political cover-up, explosions, and a lot of swiping cards and punching in codes to get in to rooms. A fine drama.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Passion – a Jewish perspective and some final thoughts

I’d never thought to look for a review of The Passion in the Jewish Chronicle, which sits alongside The Tablet in the national religious weekly papers shelf of your local newsagent.

But reviewer Simon Round’s analysis of the first two episodes made for remarkably interesting reading. He begins by asking a question relevant to his audience:

“Whenever a major drama is launched about the Crucifixion of Jesus — particularly if it is made by the people to whom we pay our licence fee — it is incumbent on us to analyse the paranoia factor. So is this series good or bad for the Jews?”

And the answer?

“... the Jews do not come out of this one too badly. Having said that, The Passion does suffer the fate of every saga made about Jesus since the late 1970s. Whenever you recreate Jerusalem around this time and populate it with disciples, market traders and Romans, you half expect Terry Jones to appear, saying that ‘Brian is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’.

The difficulty in suspending disbelief is exacerbated by James Nesbitt’s performance as Pontius Pilate — The Life of Brian meets Yellow Pages, perhaps.”

Christians like Doug Chaplin have been asking a similar question this week: is this series good or bad for Christians? And Christianity?

Despite the absence of the miraculous and the supernatural (other than the small matter of a resurrection), I think the majority of online opinion settles on “yes”.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Pontius Pilate, played by Jimmy Nesbitt

Anyway, Round goes on to comment on the regional accents that are very obvious in the production:

“The preponderance of Ulster accents is slightly weird though not disastrous.”

Producer of the series, Nigel Stafford-Clark, tackled this very issue in an online Q&A:

“We thought long and hard about the issue of accents. We could, for instance, have asked all the actors to work in what's called RP (Received Pronunciation) - what you might expect if you watched a traditional performance of Shakespeare at the RSC.

However, one of the most important aims for us was to make the story seem as real and as immediate as possible ... We therefore decided to be "accent blind" - to allow the actors to speak in their natural voices, just as they would have done at the time.

Palestine in 33 AD would have been rife with regional accents, even with different languages. We were very happy with the results for us it helped to make characters like the Disciples and Barabbas feel more like real people and less like figures from history. And James Nesbitt's hard Northern Irish accent felt like the voice of an outsider, underlining his role as head of a Roman occupying force.

The "voice of an outsider", unless your a viewer accustomed to or surrounded by County Antrim accents! In which case, terms like "occupying force" and "Rome" take on whole new meanings depending on your background and politics.

BBC The Passion - Caiaphas played by Ben Daniels

Anyway, back to Round’s review in the JC ...

“Our attention is firmly upon Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest.”

Although I’d never really thought the matter through before, it makes a lot of sense that the production’s treatment of Caiaphas – the highest ranking Jewish religious official in the area – would be a key area of concern. Just as the words put into Jesus’ mouth and every frown and groan will be uber-interpreted and judged by a Christian audience.

“In the Gospel according to Stafford-Clark [The Passion’s producer], Caiaphas is portrayed sympathetically. He presides over a volatile Jerusalem (some things never change) where the balance of power is threatened not only by the arrival of Jesus but also the appearance on the scene of violent terrorists (the Judean People’s Front?), all of whom threaten the tenuous autonomy of the Jews in the Holy City.

But however sensitively Caiaphas is treated (we even see him stroking his pregnant wife’s stomach), he still hands Jesus over to the Romans, or at least I assume he does — we will find out in the third episode, which goes out tonight.

I tend to agree with comedian Ivor Dembina that Jewish history would have progressed more smoothly had we merely roughed Jesus up a little, but presumably the Jewish consultant [the show had one alongside Mark Goodacre as the New Testament consultant] could not persuade Stafford-Clark that this would have made a better story.”

It was really interesting to read someone else’s view with their different perspective. Ed Kessler also takes up the Jewish point of view in an article on the BBC’s The Passion website. As well as thinking about Jesus overturning tables in the Temple, Kessler’s reflections fall on Caiaphas.

“One of the most intriguing characters of the series is the High Priest, Caiaphas. The High Priest was appointed by Rome and his duties included performing Temple rituals, managing the Temple treasury, and presiding over the Sanhedrin.

In the past, performances of the Passion have often inaccurately portrayed him as Pilate's superior. The BBC's The Passion gives the viewer an indication of what it must have been like for a High Priest who struggled with his conscience in order to protect the limited autonomy given to Jews by the Romans. Caiaphas is portrayed as a sensitive man who knows he is caught been between a rock and a hard place.”

I was (pleasantly) surprised that The Passion was actually commissioned. Religion’s not exactly at the top of the list of media crowd pullers in a world that associates Christmas with a man wearing a red suit and Easter with the annual short season of Creme Egg sales. But I’m glad it was made, and I’m glad I got the time to watch it.

Originally destined to be spread over six half hour episodes, it probably did make sense to maximise viewers by concentrating The Passion over a smaller number of evenings. In fact, the first and third episodes (the hour long ones) were probably the main ones, with Monday night’s being missable, and the last resurrection episode strangely also feeling at times superfluous to the production. What do I mean?

(c) BBC - The Passion - Jesus, played by Joseph Mawle

The drama of the crucifixion, the way in which Jesus approached it, the longing to avoid it, the feeling of separation, the unfairness – it made for powerful and emotional viewing. Certainly as a Christian viewer, it brought the reality of the cross and the sacrifice home again.

But while the story isn’t complete without the resurrection, it’s not as visually striking. I did like the gentle and subtle way The Passion portrayed the resurrection, and I’m glad they avoided CGI and mistiness. But it’s the point in the narrative where attention turns away from Jesus’ on-screen presence to the actions and reactions disciples and Jesus wider circle of followers.

There were wonderful moments when the disciples’ human weakness and insecurity were really visible. Moments when you’d expect them to be in the thick of it. Yet instead, you’d find the two Marys and a prostitute tending Jesus body, with no sign of Peter or James.

At the end of the final episode my wife remarked:

“You can see why Luke wrote Acts.”

There’s a wondering about what did they do next? How did the tired, broken and confused disciples begin to build a faith community that would withstand disbelief and continued pressure from Caiaphas and the Temple authorities? The story of Stephen, stoned to death. Of Saul’s conversion.

No wonder that Luke wanted to record the sequel to Jesus life. To make sure that the early application of his teachings wasn't forgotten, and could be built on.

We’ll have to re-read Acts - or Acts of the Apostles - on paper, in the Bible, to catch that story. (Recommend using Peterson's everyday (US) English translation - The Message - as a starting point.) Can’t see it being portrayed on our TV screens anytime soon. But a story worth revisiting.

W5 - Easter Monday - take one look at the queue and go home

The queue at 13:45 on Easter Monday 2008 to get into W5 at The Odyssey

Easter Monday, most people off work, what'll we do?

Why not head down to W5 at The Odyssey?

A great idea, validated by the hundreds of other people who had the same good idea ... and are in the massive queue snaking all the way through the Odyssey complex, past The Streat, and heading towards the front door!

In England, you'd get to queue on the motorway half way there. But with a smaller road network, NI offers an advanced solution. Actually drive all the way to your destination, incur parking fees (unless you park down Sydenham Road) and only then join the queue within sight of the door.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Retro displays - don’t throw out that old oscilloscope!

I stumbled across this quite by accident.

Remember physics lessons at school, on the few and far between days that you got to lug an oscilloscope across the classroom to your desk and hooked it up to measure signals coming off circuitry or motors. I can barely remember why we ever used them.

But fear not. In this age of LCD and plasma displays, the old oscilloscope is not quite dead. Turns out that they’re not just limited to sine waves and simple lines. Oh no. Switch it onto X/Y-mode, and feed it some music from a PC’s sound-card, X connected to right channel, Y to the left.

This is the kind of magic you can produce.

Turns out, that with a bit of effort, you can use it as a display for a game of Tetris too.

You can read more about it on Lars Pontoppidan’s blog. Lars is a Danish electrical engineer/software developer with an interest in embedded electronics. He comments:

“The first english words I ever knew were LOAD RUN LIST IF THEN etc. because my older brothers taught me how to program the C64.”

Probably no more power hungry than a plasma display either!

Happy Easter

Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc -

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Armagh Observatory under financial pressure ... not sure if Planetarium affected

We were recently talking at home about Armagh Planetarium, thinking that in a year or so Littl'un will be old enough to wander around the exhibitions; she might stand a chance of sitting in the dark and getting something out of the star show, in awe at the thousands and thousands of pinpricks of light that would appear on the planetarium's roof. (Though all but one of the star shows require children to be 6+.)

So sitting tonight in Ballyhackamore's The Orient waiting for a number 67 to be prepared, it was disappointing to read in the Belfast Telegraph that the two hundred year old Armagh Observatory is under is severe financial pressure. The article didn't make it clear whether the recently renovated and reopened Planetarium (the public bit) is under the same threat as the Observatory (the science/research end).

This isn't the first post where I've made reference to my happy childhood memories of trips down to the Planetarium, and I hope the current difficulties won't mean that the next generation will miss out on an opportunity to look beyond the confines of Earth and start to explore the Solar System and universe.

To infinity and beyond ...

Easter - Dawn Service - and other people's scribblings about The Passion

Sunrise, Easter 2004, Castlereagh Hills

If you're wanting to join other folk in East Belfast to celebrate Easter Sunday early tomorrow morning, then you'll find some brave souls up at the Henry Jones Playing Fields (just up from Castlereagh Presbyterian Church) for a Dawn Service starting at 6.15am.

(There's breakfast in the church halls afterwards!)

Dawn Service, Easter 2004, Castlereagh Hills

The one and only time I was there was back in 2004 when over 200 people turned up.

Sticking to the Easter theme, various folk have been scribbling online about their impressions of The Passion. (I'd forgotten that it was originally intended to be six half hour programmes.) Doug Chaplin's thoughts on part 1, part 2 and part 3 can be found over on his MetaCatholic blog - "Reading scripture in a post-thingy world". You'll also find Doug's interesting post about MacEvangelists! (HT to Mark Goodacre.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Passion - gets the Gareth McLean treatment

© BBC - THE PASSION on BBC One, starts 16th March, 2008 Pictures show: Jesus (JOSEPH MAWLE) in the Garden of Gethsemane for more info, interviews, pictures and clips.

The Guardian's Gareth McLean reviews this evening's (third) episode of The Passion in today's paper in his inimitable style:

The Passion
9pm, BBC1

While there are no prizes for guessing what occurs in tonight's instalment — and Sunday's final episode is Dallas's Bobby stepping out of the shower at the end of season nine all over again — the familiarity of the story by no means detracts from its power. Even for nonbelievers, Frank Deasy and Michael Offer's vision of the Passion — from Jesus's journey to Gethsemane, the trial before Pilate and the brutal journey to Golgotha — is wrenching stuff.

Pity it also clashes with Torchwood and the last episode of Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach. Time to set the video.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

BBC Micro and Literacy Project - teams reuniting at Science Museum (this afternoon)

BBC Computer Literacy Project Owl logo

Every now and again, AiB reverts to some Acorn reminiscing. Formative teenage years spent compiling assembler to load into sideways memory banks, getting a programme published (incomplete) in Acorn User, and being taught how to make letters fall down people’s screen by an IT teacher.

So my eye caught the Technology section’s headline on BBC News online this morning ...

'Beeb' creators reunite at museum

Bit late notice unless you’ve got a few hours free in London this afternoon. But you could do worse than head around to the Science Museum and join in the seminar being hosted by their Computer Conservation Society.

It’s in the Fellows Library of the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD. An exhibition of BBC micro hardware is available from 1.30pm, while the main event runs from 2.30pm until 5pm.

At selection of the original Acorn/BBC Literacy teams will be speaking:

  • The role of the micro within the BBC Computer Literacy Project - the genesis, scope, and impact of the project, and the role of the Micro within it. John Radcliffe, the Executive Producer for the BBC Computer Literacy Project will illustrate his talk with extracts from “The Computer Programme”.

  • Its legacy for the BBC - Micro applications, telesoftware, Domesday, and further innovations- led by George Auckland, Head of Learning Innovation at the BBC.

  • Steve Furber
  • Its technological legacy - ARM processor applications, the Cambridge phenomenon, computer architecture research. Steve Furber, CBE, Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Manchester, and one of the key designers of the BBC Micro will lead the discussion, including mention of the ARM microprocessor that is the dominant architecture in today’s mobile and embedded systems, as well as unpacking the cluster of companies and investors that continue to work in the high-tech economy around Cambridge.

  • Its educational legacy - Computer hardware and software in schools, standards and applications. The lead speaker is Mike Bostock, a key educational adviser in the 1980s, who will talk about the educational impact, its ease of use in schools, the take-up of hardware and software, innovation and consolidation, BBC Micros, Macs and PCs, and the continuing influence today of the 1980s generation of teachers.

Herman Hauser is also due to attend the event.

The exhibition this afternoon

“... will be displaying and running several computers from its collections as part of the meeting: a BBC Model B, a gold-plated BBC Micro, an Acorn Atom, Archimedes and Electron and a BBC Domesday System.”
BBC Micro

Watch out for a fuller BBC Micro exhibition in the Science Museum in 2009, coinciding with Dr Tilly Blyth’s book about the BBC micro project which is due to be published next year by Macmillan. Curator of Computing and Information at the Science Museum , Dr Tilly Blyth will be attending this afternoon, no doubt picking up some more history and background about the machine and the literacy project that surrounded it.

Ah ... just remember the deafeningly loud beep when you turned the machines on, or using Shift-BREAK to boot off a floppy.

Update - interviews with Steve Furber, Hermann Hauser, Sophie Wilson and John Radcliffe, along with a quick video.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke dies ...

Sad news tonight that author Arthur C. Clarke has died aged 90 in Sri Lanka. He continued to write science fiction until quite recently, collaborating with Stephen Baxter in his final book Firstborn in 2007.

While 2001: A Space Odyssey written way back in 1968 is probably his most recognised and acclaimed work, I think it’s 3001: The Final Odyssey that I remember best, with its four towers on the equator reaching up to a massive city in the sky.

It’s about ten years since I read it, but I still carry with me the realisation that we’ll not be building any Babel-like towers for a while yet, not until humankind finds an incredibly strong but amazingly light substance to build with – otherwise towers tend to collapse under their own weight.

Time to dig out the Arthur C. Clarke books downstairs, and dust them off for another read.

St Patrick's Day - Big Tunes & Anthems in the Waterfront

It’s not often I do anything to celebrate St Patrick’s Day ... other than fly to England for a meeting that’s not recognising that the day’s a holiday for our company’s NI-based employees, and have to take another day off in lieu instead.

After spending the morning at Streamvale Farm – the open farm up on the Ballyhanwood Road behind Dundonald Ice Bowl – with the Little’un enjoying playing in the sawdust, ignoring the cute animals, and wolfing down a hot dog and enjoying a tub of their excellent home made ice cream. They’re now open daily for the Easter holidays (10:30-17:30, on Sundays it’s 2pm to 5.30pm).

BBC NI Classical Music logo

The evening took the form of Big Tunes & Anthems in the Waterfront Hall, a free concert supported by Belfast City Council (kind of a cultural rates rebate!) and BBC NI who were broadcasting it on Radio Ulster (on Listen Again until next Mon).

It was an evening of music from Belfast-born composer Shaun Davey, backed by the Ulster Orchestra with a vastly extended percussion section, a combined choir (Belfast Philharmonic, Saint George’s Singers, Renaissance Singers and Ulster Youth Choir), and a fair number of soloists. And a relaxed John Toal compèred the evening – a long way from the impromptu carol service in December.

Shaun Davey - composer

Davey sat on stage during the whole of the first half, sometimes singing alongside his wife Rita Connolly, playing the guitar for one piece. He nearly feel off his chair in pleasure diring the opening number The Longship at Sea, grinning and smiling in a boyish fashion, soaking in the atmosphere and the incredible sound of the orchestra and choir that were belting out his compositions, like the cat who’d got the cream.

While the paying free-loading audience were banned from photography, Davey spent the first 15 minutes after the interval wandering around the Waterfront’s auditorium taking pictures with his camera before retaking his seat onstage. But he’d lost his glee, unhappy with the monitor mix at his feet, and looking on edge. Even sang May We Never Have to Say Goodbye with his arms folded.

There couldn’t be too many composers that take such advantage of (or interest in) such a range of indigenous Irish instruments. At least three types of pipes being played last night – uilleann, gaita and Scottish – never mind the fiddles, accordions, tin whistles, Lambeg drums!

Davey’s not a composer who does complicated endings. Nothing fades out like a sentence that an author forgot to . Pieces nearly always build up with a crescendo at the end and then stop. Dead.

And if last night’s selection was typical, he uses the choir more for their oos and ahs than for words. Makes them sound a bit like the Voice Ahs patch and on my old Roland keyboard!

A couple of the items in the first half used tiny shrill handbells that cut over the mêlée of the orchestra. Music of the Spheres was a real highlight as four of the percussionists were positioned high up around the back of the auditorium with a bell or two apiece. It was the true surround sound experience as the sound of the bells travelled in an arc across the back of the hall, while the orchestra continued to play up front. Magical to close my eyes, put my head back and just listen. Bet it wasn’t as good on the tranny!

For a radio concert, they made good use of the lighting, with a warm yellow/orange glow appearing in just the right spot in The Pilgrim’s Sunrise.

I think we were spoilt by the first half. After the short interval it was back for what felt like more of the same. Two excerpts from The Relief of Derry (including another surround sound experiment, this time with instruments dotted around and Scottish pipers parading in.

The second half’s highlight had to be Flag Music from the Special Olympics suite. Originally performed by 100 percussionists in Croke Park Stadium, it had been pared down to nine last night, though they had their hands full of gizmos and racket-making gadgets. Six or so minutes of percussion, with a quick blast of brass near the end. Noel Eccles was king of the back row noise-makers. I think the last time I’d seen him he was centre-stage banging big drums in Riverdance in the Kings Hall at Balmoral.

Ulster Orchestra logo

While all sounds good on the radio, the mix in the Waterfront Hall itself wasn’t great. The big choir wasn’t often audible above the orchestra pit, soloists couldn’t always be distinguished from the noise sound booming out from the Ulster Orchestra seated behind them.

Maybe sitting about eight rows from the front (just in front of the sound desk), the sound quality was always going to be doomed? Could folk sitting higher up distinguish between the different musicians and singers? It wasn’t awful, and didn’t ruin the evening, but it was far from ideal. In some ways, it felt like it was deliberate. Making sure that sounds from one area of the stage didn’t bleed into the microphones in other areas. Preserving the radio output over the audience’s experience?

All in all, a good night’s music, with some terrific performances from long-time Davey-collaborator Liam O’Flynn (uilleann pipes) and the other soloists. And special mention to conductor David Brophy who must have springs in the heels of his shoes as he bounced up and down, and danced across his podium, keeping time and bringing in performers in front, as well as above and behind him.

Watch out in case there’s a St Patrick’s Day concert next year. Might be worth picking up some tickets.

Goodfellas ... two reviews, neither too kind ... though one is a bit more Alice in Wonderland

I've been keeping half an eye on the court case between Goodfellas and the Irish News.

Back in February 2007, Goodfellas Restaurant & Pizzeria at Kennedy Way successfully sued the Irish News for £25,000 over a review in August 2000 by restaurant critic Caroline Workman. The review had been less than positive - scoring 1/5 - and the restaurant's successful action looked likely to make reviewers vulnerable. I wondered if I should think twice in the future before dashing off an online AiB post that would describe a bad experience?

Then last week, the Irish News won its appeal, and the case will now go to re-trial if the plaintiff (Goodfellas) decides to go ahead. (Could be a costly business if one side was to lose.)

Giles Coren went to review Goodfellas - the restaurant at the centre of a court case and appeal

But the intervention of the The Times (of London) really took the biscuit when they flew their critic Giles Coren across to Belfast last weekend to check out Goodfellas for himself. (Thanks to Mick Fealty over at Slugger for the heads up.)

In an effort to demonstrate what the appeal court's ruling had explained Coren didn't hold back in outlining his opinion with a heavy sprinklig of exaggeration to season the less-than-serious piece. So while the review reads like a savage attack, remember it's written in the context of the five points that Coren summarised at the top of his piece:

1) That anything written in an article flagged as a review is to be accepted as “comment” (regardless of whether it is presented as opinion or fact);

2) That the bare substratum of fact required to sustain that comment is that the reviewer has had the experience he or she claims, in this case that he has ordered and been served the meal described;

3) That “fair comment” is defined as any comment an honest person could have drawn from the “facts” available;

4) That a comment may be called “fair”, “however exaggerated, or even prejudiced, the language may be”;

5) That malice has no power to mitigate a defence of fair comment, as long as the reviewer genuinely holds the views he expressed.

(emboldened to help understand what Coren was getting at when he penned his acidic review)

As well as taking a look at dishes in front of him, Coren cast his eye around that night's cliental to criticise the diners - "almost everyone is fat" and the men have "big square heads and little pink faces".

His pasta starter was "fine ... fine in the sense of being the sort of thing I used to cook as a student when I was too stoned to dial a pizza" and the chips seemed to quite acceptable.

But his impressions of the main course of pollo marsalla (which featured in the original Irish News review - can't find it online) was much more severe. I quote:

"Then my pollo marsala arrives: an oval dish containing a chocolate coloured liquid and pale lumps of something. I eat a mouthful. The sweetness is, indeed, alarming. As is the consistency of the meat. Without the court papers to confirm what I had ordered, I’d have guessed I was eating thin strips of mole poached in Ovaltine.

It is revolting. It is ill-conceived, incompetent, indescribably awful. A dish so cruel I weep not only for the animal that died to make it, but also for the mushrooms. Ms Workman said it was inedible but, to be honest, as it sits before me, congealing quietly, I cannot leave it alone but return to it every few minutes with the grim fascination of a toddler mesmerised by a pile of its own faeces, nibbling at it, gurning with revulsion, then nibbling some more. If you’ve ever sniffed your finger after scratching your arse, and then done it again, then this dish may not be entirely wasted on you."

Unfortunately, the apple crumble dessert didn't improve matters:

"Alas, what they brought me resembled a mixture of budget muesli and aquarium gravel served in an old man’s slipper. The accompanying custard was pleasant only in that it reminded me of a scented pencil eraser I used to enjoy sucking in the hot summer of 1976."

Coren demonstrated what the court's ruling allowed reviewers to say, using caricature and exaggeration to lampoon the West Belfast diners and the meal he ordered.

Given the Goodfellas is still doing a roaring local trade, it's difficult to see how the original Irish News article could be proven to have damaged their long-term business. But then, I'm not a lawyer!

And it's certainly difficult to see how anyone could argue that an Alice-in-Wonderland review in a national (shrunk) broadsheet could do any damage either. In fact, the publicity surrounding the case, its appeal, and now Coren's review could only be good for business. It makes me want to pop on my fat suit and pink face to go across and experience the atmosphere and menu of Goodfellas for myself!

While as a one-off it's fine, I do hope that newspaper restaurant reviewers can go back to their normal business of reviewing the food and atmosphere in eating establishments, rather than branching out into the world of comedy writing.

And for the record, having originally been less than impressed with Gourmet Burger Bank on the Belmont Road, it did improve. We called in around six last night on the way into town, and the Garlic Burger, chunky fries and onion rings were divine - and the service was fast too.

Update - Having written most of this post, I’ve just realised that the Goodfellas story and Coren himself featured on Nolan’s phone-in show on Monday morning, (listen again for seven days) where he was accused of "test[ing] a principle of law by making offensive remarks" with one caller pointing out that his article (now corrected) referred to the Irish Times instead of the Irish News. Other callers saw the funny side.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick's Day

Belfast City Council - St Patrick's Day carnival and concert

Belfast City Council are putting their name and weight behind a carnival parade (leaving the City Hall at 12 noon), and a concert in Custom House Square between 1pm and 3pm featuring Mutya Buena (formerly of Sugababes), Nae Goats Toe (an Ulster Scots folk orchestra), Four Men and a Dog (“toe tapping blend of traditional Irish favourites”) all pulled together by Pete Snodden.

And there will be lots of other events across Northern Ireland to keep you busy ... unless you're stuck in school or work!

PS: I can't really be bothered to comment on the Paul Rankin publicity stunt to gather together lots of people called Patrick in Trafalgar Square on Sunday. Didn't Dave Gorman do that first?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Passion – part 1

The Passion started tonight over on BBC One. The first programme set up the background to Passover week in Jerusalem, the power struggle between the Romans and the Temple authorities, the destabilising influence of Jesus, and introducing the main characters.

Rome’s “rule is light” in the area. So while the Romans hang onto some control by keeping hold of the High Priest’s special robes, the Temple authorities and their Temple Guard are allowed to keep the city running.

“Children paying to enter their father’s house?”

The temple courtyard is half animal marketplace and half bureau de change. Roman generosity even extends to the practice of keeping everyday Roman currency out of the temple, and forcing temple visitors to change currency on the way in to buy animals to sacrifice at Passover.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Pontius Pilate, played by Jimmy Nesbitt

While there is some balance, the cast is awfully white, like stained-glass windows in Western churches where Middle Eastern characters are all depicted in skin tones even paler than I am! And Pilate has picked up a thick Northern Irish accent – must have been watching Murphy’s Law in the chariot on the way down to Jerusalem.

It was impressed with the first programme. It didn’t overtly deviate from the story I expected to see and hear; yet it had detail and colour, making Jerusalem seem so politically complicated and fired up, raising the possibility of anti-Roman feeling (the actions of Jesus Barabbus) being confused with the less understood Jesus of Nazareth (“nothing good ever came out of Nazareth”).

The characters were more than 2D cut-outs from a Sunday School worksheet. With the dialogue so sparse, at the beginning Jesus seemed only capable of speaking in cryptic one-liners, but that improved as the momentum and passion built in the second half. Jesus’ mother Mary offered a great line while discussing the reality of what Jesus seemed to be walking into over the next few days:

“It’s easy to believe when you’re young”

A telling and thought-provoking line that tied together Mary’s experience thirty years ago, when she was young and chose to put all her trust in God. Yet people meeting Jesus, including the prostitute, are willing to turn from their supposed security and believe.

It was moody, atmospheric, a little mysterious, but with touches of humour in amongst the increasing body count. Despite the horrendous weather that the production faced last summer while filming, Morocco does offer a rich backdrop to the drama. One scene sillueted people walking across the ridgeline of a hill – reminiscent of The Seventh Seal.

At the end, it felt odd to see so much of the coming episodes revealed … and then I remembered that the story (and the ending) is pretty well known, so there’s no need for the programme makers to keep their powder dry.

I think it’ll be interesting to see the depiction of how Pilate (Jimmy Nesbitt) and Caiaphas (Ben Daniels) make their decisions around what happens to Jesus, and to feel how the mood of the crowd is influenced and changed as the week’s events unfold.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Jesus, played by Joseph Mawle

Do leave a comment and let me know what you think. The second part will be broadcast between Eastenders and Crimewatch on Monday night at 8.30pm. And Mark Goodacre has interesting commentary on the production over at his NT Gateway Weblog.

Secret Sainsbury's - and a petty whinge about signage

Problem with the Sainsbury's fuel prices?

Secret Sainsbury's at Holywood Exchange (the store that nearly closed waiting for Ikea to arrive) has been undergoing a refit over the last month or so. Lots of shuffling around of shelves and freezers, adding more clothes and electrical items, and changing the in-store and uniform branding from blue/orange to purple/orange.

It's had its ups and downs.

The cafe closed for a week - without anyone changing the what's-being-done-this-week sign outside the store - cue tears from a disappointed three year old whose brand loyalty to Sainsbury's is far above that of Tesco).

Dust under sofa in Sainsbury's cafe

The cafe's now reopened, though the sofas have been moved away from the quiet corner, and the pictures from the Shorts Camera Club have been removed. They closed the cafe at 5pm today - despite the cafe's opening hours sign saying 6pm for Sundays. And the builders didn't quite clear away all their dust before they moved offsite.

Sainsbury's Plastic Bag Tree

Belfast Lough's foreshore is windy, and the branches of trees soon fill up with plastic bags.

Sainsbury's Plastic Bag Tree

Driving around the car park is a visual nightmare. There are now so many lines and pictograms marked on the tarmac, that it's quite distracting. They've also shuffled the Disabled and With-Small-Children parking spaces around, taking down a lot of the upright (easy-to-see signs) and leaving drivers looking down to squint at the markings in the actual spaces. An accident waiting to happen. And there seem to be a fewer Child spaces than before.

Sainsbury's Fuel Sign problems

The petrol forecourt got a makeover too ... though on Saturday, the Chancellor had either had a massive impact on the price of fuel, or Sainsbury's were having a few problems with the new digital display!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Community's a funny thing - Part I

Last Sunday felt like Community Day.

Community - pipecleaner figures dancing in a circle around the world

Communities. We all belong to lots of them. Groups of people with common interests, similar goals, shared beliefs or even just a comparable post codes. A shared history or struggle. Sporting clubs, choirs. Traditional communities involve a lot of face-to-face contact.

Blogging’s a funny business. It’s relational, despite the fact that many of the corresponders (posters and commenters) are held apart by networks of electrons.

The growth of social networking has brought a wider awareness of a phenomenon that has been there in the background for twenty years through dial up bulletin boards, MUDs and forums.

Online communities are different from traditional physical groupings in that their members are often to be found typing away in the glow of their monitors. Yet the feeling of relationship and community is still there.

  • Facebookers track both people that they know (or once knew) in real life, as well as contacts that they’ve only ever “met” online.
  • Following interesting strangers is even easier on Twitter.
  • Bloggers read and comment in each others blogs, sometimes conducting email side conversations in which they’re a bit more open about their lives and beliefs.
  • Status watching on Facebook or Twitter allows you to get a view of other people’s movements and motivations as they go about their daily grind.

And yet the feelings of community become so much stronger when the virtual participation gives rise to a real meeting, when the geeks come out from hiding behind their keyboards and face each other in daylight!

You can talk and listen a lot more in ten minutes physically standing 30 centimetres away from someone that you can 30 milliseconds away at the other end of the internet.

Like that other great religious movement of Manchester United supporters, Christians (are meant to) have something in common before they meet. Hopefully, an even stronger interest and belief than football! There’s a shared understanding, a common heritage that stretches through time to the cross, back to Bethlehem, and on back to Abraham and beyond. (In fact, it’s a heritage tree that most of the world’s religions can trace back into - as we were reminded that Sunday evening.)

Sunday morning was a moment when two communities collided. A blogger meet-up in church! (Three of us in the same pew! And the lightning bolts didn’t come crashing down through Fitzroy’s roof to scorch us.)

It was so good to put a face to a name, to share food, faith, time and conversation with a new friend. To be community. And to do what communities do. To talk about our journeys up to that point, to relax and be a lot more open than any ever is on their blog, to share and to connect. To discover the joys of Farmer Jason (who's now getting a lot of air play in our house.)

Making friends online is good. But it’s hard to beat real life!