Mon, 31 Jan 2011

Went to see Jerry Sadowitz doing a comedy gig on Saturday night. One of the things he ranted about was "IT" geeks running home and writing up his show on the computer. He got quite worked up about it ... and here I am!

I think the last time I came across Sadowitz was 25 years ago in Edinburgh (probably the festival) and the 80's was his breakthrough decade. Of course, he is so offensive that he's not getting anywhere near the TV or radio generally.

You think you're pretty immune to offensive comedy today because it's so common. To a certain extent that's true but there are still some areas that are off limits. To most at least. Not people like Jerry Sadowitz though. Very funny in parts, obnoxious and insulting to everyone (including Islam for a refreshing change). Too much for most people. You have been warned

Sun, 16 Jan 2011
Glasgow Boys at the RA

I popped up to the Royal Academy yesterday (Saturday) morning because I wanted to see the Glasgow Boys exhibition before it finished on the 23rd Jan 2011.

The short review - very good. Beautiful paintngs by artists getting some deserved attention again.

I visited family in Edinburgh in October 2010 and the Glasgow Boys came up - a well known painting by one of the group's members on the wall. This is Sir John Lavery's "The Tennis Party", shown below.

The exhibition was quite busy and I had to edge my way around the wrong way in order to see the pictures. Perhaps busy because it was the weekend but I think because of popularity as well (the catalogue is sold out).

The range of subjects shown are mainly country and urban landscape, with a very naturalistic representation of nature and people. One of the most striking things I found was the beautiful depiction of light and the arresting and natural way people are shown. The painting of Auchenhew on Arran by James Nairn is shown above and has a wonderful warm pink glow as the sun goes down across the shore. Also see the bright dappled spots of afternoon sunlight on the grass of Lavery's painting.

A surprising discovery was how good some of the watercolours were. Nothing wishy-washy about them, but strong and deep colours. Again, a lovely understanding of light and shadow.

Talent wise, I think it is very apparent that little, if anything, separates many of these artists from the much better known Impressionists.

The artists of note :

  • John Lavery
  • E A Walton
  • Arthur Melville
  • Joseph Crawhall
  • James Guthrie
  • George Henry
  • E A Hornel
  • William Kennedy
  • James Paterson

The Glasgow Boys on Wikipedia.

These artists were all men but there are also Glasgow Girls with a recent exhibition. Keep an eye out.

Thu, 13 Jan 2011
Love Coffee

I really like coffee. I'm a coffee drinker at heart, rather than tea.

However, about 6 months ago I decided to cut my coffee consumption, down from the 10 cups a day (or so) to .. well, 4 or 5. I'm on about 4 cups of ground cafetière coffee now. I did this for "health" reasons, thinking I was drinking too much. But was I? I don't think I had any coffee related health issues (jitters, heart, sleep trouble).

Reading this page on Lifehacker has started me thinking again about coffee consumption.

Then again, I'm starting to enjoy a cup of proper green tea :-)

Maybe I need to cut out the caffeine completely for a couple of weeks and see what happens ....

Sun, 02 Jan 2011
The Joy of Stats

I missed it the first time around, but this BBC documentary from a short while ago is excellent :

The Joy of Stats (Youtube)

The main reason that this program is so entertaining is the presenter, Hans Rosling. He's a Swedish scientist who seems to be gaining quite a reputation on the net for his engaging talks about statistics and how they can be used to improve the lot of humanity. Quite a few well regarded TED talks for instance.

Statistics is also a discipline very well suited to the use of pretty pictures. It's called data visualisation and you can buy coffee table books about it (David McCandless appears in the program). As the program shows, visualising statistics was surprisingly pioneered by Florence Nightingale. This is well worth the time watching - entertaining even to those that know no statistics!

Sat, 01 Jan 2011
Skype Downtime

It's interesting that the recent Skype service downtime has hit the news in a fairly big way. On the front page of BBC news no less, and for a number of days.

Another recent indication of how mainstream Skype use has become is that when I recently helped reinstall a laptop for a friend's mum, she was very explicit in needing Skype installed too (as well as Flash). This was Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick). The Flash was required for playing scrabble on Facebook (how things have changed).

So a few more people now see that Skype is potentially a very invasive piece of software - if you're on a public IP address at least. This is because of their use of (so called) supernodes (Dan York's excellent summary of how Skype works, with pictures).

Basically, Skype might use large amounts of your network bandwidth (and CPU) to route Skype calls via your PC. Of course you agreed to this when you clicked "I Agree" in their EULA, right?

So, maybe a recently software update pushed to the Windows clients caused a lot of clients to start crashing, and so a lot of supernodes to go offline. That's what Voxeo's CEO thinks happened anyway. This update was pushed, not requested or OK'd by the users by the way.

Skype's a very closed company and don't disclose much of their technology or cryptography. Their Linux client plays a distant second fiddle to Windows and they're not open source friendly. When I learned about the "supernode" concept a few years ago, and about how disruptive this traffic might be on a network, it made me very wary of Skype use. I still am.

Update 2011-01-01 :
Well, Skype's CIO, Lars Rabbe, posted a discussion and explanation of this outage on his blog. Turns out that a fault with a Windows software upgrade made the whole network unstable, with the supernode systems (or instability of them) causing most of the trouble. Dan York was right.