Thursday, October 23, 2008

The shortest party ever
One of Lisa’s friends is moving to Saudi Arabia and invited us to a leaving party on Saturday night. We really wanted to go, but we’d also earmarked that evening for ourselves. We were determined to get some “US” time, so we booked in for a late dinner at a restaurant in Godalming (the Bel and Dragon – it’s a converted church which offers a really good menu).

By the time we got to the party, we only ended up having half an hour there before going on to the restaurant, and all the rushing around meant we arrived there so tired we could barely make it through the meal…

I guess we don’t just need to schedule “us time” we need to schedule it with big gaps around it…

From Saudi Arabia to Egypt
Sunday was the South London Food Club again – with Egypt as its destination. I’ve actually been to Egypt, but it was a bit of a package deal and we were very firmly discouraged from eating anything Egyptian throughout the trip. And we weren’t inclined to either after seeing a few Egyptian markets – where the backside of a donkey covered in flies seemed to be the display item of choice for most buchers.

Anyhow, the food we ended up cooking and eating was really good – we made falafels, humus and stuffed vine leaves (which went completely wrong – the recipe required wrapping the rice in the leaves uncooked – and of course we forgot that as the rice cooked it would expand, so we ended up with everything as a tasty but unattractive mush).

We spent the morning doing lots of cooking, and by 4:30 in the afternoon, I was so tired I fell asleep on Sam’s sofa and had to come home and go to bed. The work of the last few months has really got to me by the looks of it, and the mouth ulcers I acquired on holiday have been coming and going ever since. Mexico will hopefully be a break and I’m not taking on masses of work after I come back (it’s not just work of course, George is always there to make sure neither of us are ever off duty).

Still, Lisa seems to be bearing up well, and hopefully with a bit of rest, I’ll be back to normal by the end of the year.

Voiceovers and showreels
The trilobite animation is nearly done – and last night, the voiceover artist came over to record the narration. It was good to finally meet him – he’s narrated both my documentaries and we usually only speak by email.

This project was a bit of an exchange. He needed his acting showreel edited, so I spent the evening cutting that in exchange for the voiceover.

Editing somebody else’s work is actually quite relaxing – when everything’s working. You can immerse yourself in the finer details of getting cuts right knowing that somebody else is worrying about the bigger picture.

Somebody needs to explain growth to me
Somebody needs to explain economic growth to me. Everyone (even the lib dem leader on the Today programme this morning) seems to thing it’s essential, to a good economy, but I’ve got this nagging feeling that if that’s true then the whole system is some kind of a pyramid selling scheme…

See, the way I understand growth is in biological terms. You plant a seed and it grows into a plant – and that’s how people understood it for a long time. Then they realised that plants didn’t just grow, they had to take energy from somewhere to do it. And that somewhere was the Earth. if you kept planting plants and never put back the nutrient taken out by them then pretty soon, the soil was useless.

Ok – so the green analogy is pretty predictable, but it’s just the first one that occurred to me. This is actually a fundamental law of everything – it’s the law of thermodynamics. You can’t get more energy out of anything than you put in.

So if economic growth is what it seems to be then it’s not possible - the different parts of the world economy can grow – basically by nicking stuff off each other – but the whole – the global economy itself can’t grow except by taking something from outside. So what’s this economy thing (whatever that is) feeding on? The only things I can think of are people’s hard work and the resources of the Earth itself. Which is fair enough, but so long as its expanding, surely it’s needs have to expand too don’t they? In which case, it doesn’t matter how much we like the idea of an expanding economy, we can’t have one.

Maybe I just don’t understand what growth is – that’s quite possible – or maybe economists are just living in cloud cuckoo land. That again isn’t unlikely given recent events.

Meanwhile there seems to have been a lull in the economic crisis – a slowdown in the slowdown, but it’s not a lull, it’s just a gap between what you can call news and evidence. The news headlines aren’t full of people talking about calamity any more – which is good because as I said last week, they’ve run out of superlatives. And that means it’s easy to think it’s all gone away. But still in the background there’s the steady drip of figures coming out – each one pointing down further than the last. Nothing big enough to be Shock Horror headline news, and nothing on its own people weren’t expecting. Still, taken together, it’s not got any less momentous than last week…

As an economist said on the news this week “a few billion pounds here – a few billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money”

A survey out today says the gap between rich and poor has been narrowing since 2000. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t have got wide coverage if Gordon Brown had been on the ropes… it’ll be interesting to see if it gets buried now.

Don’t recycle
I learn from “Confessions of an eco sinner” that recycling isn’t quite as green often as it’s made out to be. Although aluminium can recycling produces massive savings over mining “fresh” ore, paper and cardboard seems to be being transported around the world so much and recycled with very little efficiency. At the same time, most “virgin” paper comes from sustainable forests in Scandinavia which actually help reduce global warming – so all in all, recycled paper takes twice as much energy to produce than fresh paper.

In addition, the treatment of sewage now means that many of our rivers and seas are now too clean to support the filter feeding creatures at the base of the food chain.

Mind you, as with all the problems with recycling, these things are only true because it’s not being done in a sophisticated enough way – and the only way it gets to be done in a sophisticated enough way is to keep on doing it… recycling is still the way to go in the future.

The mobile phone language
There’s a strange language understood only by mobile phone users. I’m not talking about txtspk – I’m talking about the language you have to learn to even buy a mobile. The language of roaming, tribands, tarrifs and 3g bandwith.

My mobile has been fading for some time, and I now have to assemble it from a sequence of shattered parts every time it rings before I can answer it. I also can’t hear anything anyone says to me since the speaker is now rattling about somewhere inside the casing.

In short, it’s failing to provide the only service I want from it, and since I’m going to Mexico, I figured I probably needed some way to keep in touch, so I went into sainsburys (I just couldn’t face the idea of talking to someone at carphone warehouse – five minutes of being told about price plans makes my brain begin to shut down).

I was surprised and pleased by the sainsburys assistant who quickly admitted she didn’t know the answers to any of my questions (for example, “what kind of phone works in Mexico?” and “why on Earth can’t I use any sim card in any phone?”) and said I should go to Carphone warehouse.

Anway, I’ve eventually ordered a phone (from carphone warehouses website).

What I want from a phone
I already have pockets full of techy devices -a palmtop PC for word processing, an ipod, a GPS, a phone (OK – not very often, but I should) a camcorder, a camera, etc. etc.

I either want a mobile that does all those things so I can dump all the excess techno crap, or I want one that just makes phonecalls (I specifically don’t want one that does texting – it’s a dreadful pointless habit. If I could find a phone that wouldn’t receive texts, I’d definitely go for it.

The phone I really want will give me instant access to my phone numbers, my email, my music, and videos. It will let me write word documents (on a proper keyboard), it will let me record HD video and take 6mp photos with a decent lens. It will let me browse the whole of the Internet with a perminant connection wherever I am in the world and it will know where I am and provide me with maps to wherever I want to go along with information about any service I want along the way.

But I don’t want it to have any of this information on it – It must allow me to access all my data, but not store any of it on the machine. I’m bound to loose it and when I do, I want to be able to pick up any other device and immediately treat it as my own with all my information available.

I don’t want to have to charge it up, I want it to charge using the motion of my body as I walk with it.

Oh, and by the way I want it to replace money – I want it to detect whatever I pick up in a shop and deduct the money automatically from my bank account when I walk out. Likewise, it needs to replace tickets to trains, busses, live events, and anything else.

And as for phonecalls, they need to be free – no reason why they can’t be – if someone can tell me why putting up a few transmitters costs more than the whole underground wired telephone network, then I’ll understand why land lines have lower call charges than mobiles.

The funny thing about this phone is that it’s perfectly possible – all the technology is there to do all these things, it’s just that nobody’s built one yet. Instead, we have to fill our pockets with devices, change and paper.

So in the meantime, the phone I’ve ordered is the most basic, cheapest one I could get with coverage of mexico (apparently that’s what “triband” means – although there’s some debate about whether I really needed to have “quadband”), and I’m going to continue using pay as you go because I really can’t face trying to understand the various insanely complex contracts.

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