David Mullett’s Guide To York

I love giving directions, even, or maybe especially if I don’t know where I am. It’s YEARS since I went out in York, but here’s my best stab at guide to York for someone who likes red wine and red meat.

It begins with a drink in Mason’s and then takes you up the Shambles.  After getting a picture of the Minster, you might head down Stonegate and pop up the stairs into The House of Trembling Madness for a quick one. By now, you can head over to the Whippet Inn, which is the allegedly a very good place to get a steak ( I’ve never been ). Then, it’s a bit of SCHLEP home, I can’t think of anywhere interesting for a nightcap….

Actually, looking at that line, I’d maybe walk along the river to the White Swan? is it and have a pint… it’s a proper pub. And then head down to the Blue Bridge ( which leads to the back door of the Novotel) rather than swim over the river.

The Sun’s “This is our England” cover

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 20.42.35 I wouldn’t buy the Sun if you paid me.

When they posted a free version of this through my letter box I wondered who all the people actually were. At first glance, it seemed clear that the Sun’s England was mainly male, white and long in the tooth. Which is exactly how I imagine they’d like it to be.  It’s how they are.

Of the people shown on the cover, the Sun’s England is 24% female. They like it that way.

So I searched for “johnny rotten delia smith ed miliband” and found nothing. I couldn’t believe it, that no one, that the Sun themselves hadn’t done a key telling you exactly who everyone one was. I’m hopeless at recognising celebs, I don’t really watch soaps, ITV or channel 5.

I started a spreadsheet and tried to name them all… I got more than I thought I would and in the process realised that maybe if other data was added, like income or political affiliation, that the Sun’s pathetic attempt to curry favour would be easily perverted for fun and profit.

If you can help me fill in the names, or add any useful data, please do. Add it to this spreadsheet here.

Trying to re-write the Neo4J browser in pygame with py2neo

This blog post is an exercise in articulating something so that maybe,  just maybe one person, or maybe two can understand me. Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 14.53.21 (2)     So. I’ve written some code that takes the details the delegates gave us about themselves for our upcoming conference. It includes Twitter accounts and a few questions etc. I then semantify ( extract the basic concepts from this ) this data and pile it into a Neo4J database. I’m trying to visualise this data using pygame. The reason I chose pygame were  a. It’s python,  b. I know python. I did try another million angles.

My aim was to simply pile in the data and get “nice” graphs out of the other end. I was wasn’t looking for insight or meaning or valuable data. All I wanted was some “people based” data that connected to relevant random things…. and see where that took me. So. I wrote some code to get me a random person. Then I added some cypher to grab me some connections on from that person to other people. Like this…

MATCH (person:Person {name:"Mally Mclane"}),(them:Person)
 MATCH p=shortestPath((person)-[r*]-(them))
 WHERE length(p) > 3
 RETURN nodes(p),length(p)
 Limit 5

This does most of what I want, in that it makes “pretty graphs” quite reliably. My problem is this. If you look at the  two visualisations above, once running in the Neo4J browser and the other in my (rather hopeless ) pygame code you can see that although they have the same “blobs”, that the Technology_Internet blob in Neo4J is connected to 6 items but my pygame version is only connected to two ( Alex Goffe and the question in green ). I think I know why this is. In python when I get the results back I get 5 items  (see the “LIMIT 5″)  see below… Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 15.13.16 (2) … and in each of those results, it’s values are nodes. Now… when I try to unpack these results into pygame… because each result returns a “path” of nodes, I am simply getting…

1. shoulder bone  node-> arm bone node > elbow bone node > wrist  bone  node
 2. arse bone node > knee bone node> shin bone node> ankle bone node > foot bone node

And there’s the problem. Because shortestPath returns a list of nodes,  a path, and not collections of nodes and relationships… I would have to, with each bone node, go and individually look up the relationships to each of  the other bone nodes. Am I right? Is that what the neo4J browser does? How does the neo4j browser know that ( in my case ) elbow bone node is connected to my arse bone node.

Installing Pygame with pygame.movie on Mavericks

Notes To Self…

… and just in case some other poor soul is struggling with this and searches for the error message…like I did.

I was trying to play a video using pygame.movie and getting…

NotImplementedError: movie module not available

(ImportError: No module named movie)

 

After trawling around and trying every option out there, brew, pip, hacking source compilation… I found this approach actually worked. For me.

 

a. Install MacPorts

 

b. >>> sudo port install py-game @1.9.1_8

 

c. In the terminal add…

 

export PYTHONPATH=”/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.7/lib/python2.7/site-packages:$PYTHONPATH”

 

Now I get …

 

>>> import pygame.movie

>>> pygame.movie

<module ‘pygame.movie’ from ‘pygame/movie.so’>

 

And it seems to play movies fine. As long as you’ve converted it with ( you might need to go get ffmpeg too)  …

 

ffmpeg -i <infile> -vcodec mpeg1video -acodec libmp3lame -intra <outfile.mpg>

 

… otherwise you get …

 

Python(37671,0x7fff762f1310) malloc: *** error for object 0x7ff37408a608: incorrect checksum for freed object – object was probably modified after being freed.

*** set a breakpoint in malloc_error_break to debug

 

… and a crash.

 

Thinking about thinking… and about symbolism and of course, money

We had an excellent presentation at work today by a couple of people from John Lewis and Waitrose about their approach to delivering a fantastic Customer Service. It’s always great getting perspectives from people outside your organisation, in different industries and seeing the similarities and differences.

The point that made me sit up, and for some reason get fired up was about how all John Lewis employees “own” the business. John Lewis doesn’t call them employees, they’re partners. The creator of this idea was John Spedan Lewis who wrote a book called “Fairer shares: A possible advance in civilisation and perhaps the only alternative to communism” which has to it a whiff of before-its-time-new-labour-lefty thinking that for some reason I warm to.

It’s not hard to warm to John Lewis/Waitrose when you discover the original documents relating to Tesco’s strapline from the days when things were are bit more honest.

Every little person working in, and spending all their money with us, helps us to drive down prices for suppliers and make massive profits for ourselves, hahahhaha!

So there I was floating along on a delicious warm Waitrose croissant of general agreement about how valuing employees results in lower turnover of staff, fewer sick days and better customer services – which leads to happier customers ( who come back, again and again ) – which leads to profit.  And because John Lewis doesn’t have shareholders, remember the company is owned by the employees, ahem, partners… all that lovely profit gets paid to them as their bonus. How totally crazy and brilliant is that?

Then we discovered that, as a partner, your bonus is a percentage of your salary. Currently, depending on how well John Lewis have performed, it’s about 17% of your salary. That’s a great bonus.

But it got me angry that those with large salaries, who have already been recompensed for the work they do ( haven’t they? ) then get a bigger bonus than everyone else. For some reason that completely irked me. If a “share” of the profits is “ownership” then why does someone on a bigger salary own more of the business? Should they?

I raised this question and received some counters, from the speakers and the floor, that went:

Well, if anyone wants to earn that much at John Lewis they will be given all they need to climb the ladder.” That’s great but kind of misses my point.

The top bonuses are capped.” Oh I thought, but it depends how they are capped. Are they capped at an amount or a percentage or what.

People often value more the non-financial rewards more than the bonus.” Again, my point isn’t that receiving money isn’t good, but comparing it to a healthy working culture missed my point also.

I felt that I was maybe being unhelpful. They were here to talk about customer service and here I was wanting to genuinely discuss abstract notions of ownership. You see my thinking was, until I understand their idea of ownership which is based on a good culture for employees/partners and democracy of voices and COLD HARD CA$H – that until I could really understand their model, I wouldn’t be able to think about to apply any of their good stuff to my setting.

My point was this…

If “ownership” is being represented by money then why isn’t it equal?

… It always stinks to my ears ( ahem ) when I hear of percentage-based pay increases in the media. Percentages make the difference between the haves and the have nots wider.

Doug EngelbartIt was during the presentation, at this very point that I was reminded of Doug Engelbart who died recently. Doug seemed to get described by the media as “the guy that invented the mouse”, which he did do, but more importantly ( to me ) Doug’s work was all about using the computer to create tools to augment intellect. Not replace it. If you haven’t watched this video, The Mother of All Demos, go watch it. It’s stunning. The hard part is trying to imagine what it’s like not to know what a mouse is. Also pay attention to the things he demonstrates that we still don’t have today.

And so there I was listening and asking questions about the John Lewis bonus scheme thinking… at a gut level, I have no clue as to how the bonus scheme would change  if it were paid equally rather than on a percentage basis. Of course, there are only a small number of people earning the big bucks at John Lewis, but how much bigger is their drain of the collective profit is.

I would argue that dealing with these unusual sliding scales, like when thinking about the 99%, and like when dealing with very BIG numbers is something we as humans just aren’t very good at dealing with, at working with at a gut level. Maybe it’s just me.

And so I thought, well, what do I know? They have 85,000 employees. They will have fewer high paid execs that lower paid checkout workers. I could guess at how much roughly they get. From there I could work out what 17% bonus would be and add it all up.

So I made a spreadsheet to try and get a feel as to what the difference would be.

What I discovered…

…was that if you are on £20,000 you currently get a bonus of £3,400 and if you are on £40,000 you get a bonus of £6,800. If you are earning £150,00 your bonus is £25,500.

If the bonus was equalled out it would be £5,814 each. That, of course would be a massive increase of those at the lower end, but would it be even worth bothering to drag their sorry arses out of bed for those at the higher end of the pay scales who, in my imaginary model would be out of pocket by £20, 000.

One of the strangest things about doing this was, if you remember the Telegraph article I linked to earlier which contained the figure for the total profit announced by John Lewis for last year.  It has £415 million whereas my spreadsheet has £494 million. What I’m quite clear about there is how, given my numbers were pulled from my hat, and have no fine tuning applied and can’t take into account a myriad of factors, it’s still not a bad ballpark figure for something I wouldn’t have even been able to guess at if asked in the street.

I came away wanting to explore the numbers, only slightly, and did. The answer I got told me that ownership is never ever fairly shared out but that some ownerships are more equal than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tory Illuminati

Paranoid conspiracy theorists put it to us that the powers that be are in cahoots to keep us in our place, hang onto power and get all the money.

The more complex theories suggest there are secret societies that maintain an ancient blood line, or that aliens resonating at a different frequency to our universe effectively shape-shift from one dimension to another arriving to feed off our fear. More down-to-earth theories hold that THEY want to create one world government and money system, kill most of us off to save the planet and rule the world ( sometimes with or without the help of aliens ).

Whether or not you believe these theories probably depends on how creative you are or how much you are frothing at the mouth – but I think there is something in them… I  always think that the crazies, if a little crazy, are always worth listening to… I’ve always thought that if you could see what was going on, how things really were, that alone would send you mad.

And I also think some things regarding “crazy” conspiracy theories are as true as can be:

  • we are being lied to
  • people in power do very, very shitty things
  • our imagination probably limits our ability to imagine how shitty things can be
  • people are often greedy and selfish
  • people believe any old shit

Those bullet points pretty much explain religion, but anyway…

No matter which walk of life you wander down, there quickly appear beside you two types of people, those who think they know what’s going on and want to explain it to you (in exchange for being listened to) and those who are happy to be told. People with the Power (point) and tales of doom and those buying the tickets… buying in.

So, in the “explaining what’s going on” department, conspiracy theorists are just the ones with the best stories ( aliens FFS ). They even often interlink their stories to give them readymade credence, so that a chem trail protester will happily accommodate the possibility of the existence of “greys” and the reality of magick.  It makes the “story” real somehow… just like how early christians rolled in any old pagan story that was lying around to make the idea of a zombie carpenter more palatable, more believable. Same shitcom, different actors.

And so, when we look at the U.K… it’s a bit more difficult to believe that the Queen is a satanist child abuser (although her family is pretty fucked up ) and that anyone in the New World Order would want anyone at all from the U.K in its privileged club.

To be fair, it’s the Americans that produce the best conspiracy theories. We have a benign monster in a Loch, they have Big Foot! They have an eye and a pyramid on the dollar bill! They invented bird flu and blew up the twin towers just to attack Islam.

The British Illuminati

In the U.K we have a much more restrained attitude to the stories that surround our slavehood. Yes there’s the Royal family and the class system and the Bilderberg Group but we have something WAY MORE INSIDIOUS…. The Bullingdon Club.

It’s sad that we’re back in the position that we have a Tory government, that lots of the cabinet went to the same posh school. If we lived in a meritocracy, that probably wouldn’t change though, who else do we want running the country but people from the best schools, the cleverest dicks? I actually don’t have a problem with posh schools, or smashing up restaurants in general, it is what lies behind all this that bothers me.

More scary to me, than aliens, conspiracies, poisons in sky or mind control is the of The Bullingdon Club. It is the biggest weapon being used against us, the people.

You see the thing is, the tories are happily robbing all of us, the state, the people to line their own pockets and their main defence, a very British defence is that they are foppish buffoons. I call it the Boris Factor. There he is caught with his dick in the biscuit barrel and  with a posh and witty excuse we let him off. Laughing. It has always been this way. We have always had severely incompetent posh idiots simply walking up to the cash, cocking something up and then having the gall to carry it off.

The Boris Factor is far worse than anything any conspiracy theorist can come up with. And it’s real. Unlike spaceships and aliens and all out war, being posh and affable is achievable and sustainable. You don’t need a secret society, you just need stables. It means these idiots, who we can plainly see as idiots will continue to keep doing this.

Here’s the mad part.

They don’t really believe it either.

They ( the Tories ) just have to believe it. The little ones are sent to the best schools not to learn STUFF but to learn expectation and arrogance and the best of them incorporate eccentricity, classic buffoonery or genuine affability.

Here’s the really mad part. Even when we realise this, that Gove and Osborne and Cameron and Johnson aren’t remotely competent, but can happily be relied upon to mention “whiff whaff” when required…. even then… we still let them carry on.

In the recent Levenson inquiry, we heard how Cameron finished his text messages to Rebekah Brooks with LOL and laughed. And laughed. And failed to notice that it was the rest of the text message that was the story. Prime minister in cahoots with Media boss and perverting the course of justice or laugh at the posh twonk? A Genius stroke. Boris would have been proud of the sheer whiff whaffery.

Jeremy Hunt. Need I say more? Baroness Warsi. Need she ever open her mouth again?

And so now, the Tories, on a roll are essentially on a rolling program of releasing any old right wing policy ideas, and if we laugh more than we actually protest, we’ll get stuck with them. Mark my words, pasties aren’t finished with yet, we’re still laughing at the definition of “hot”.

How’s that for hanging onto power, keeping us in our place and stealing all the money?

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem With Buying A New Guitar

I recently received some royalty payments for work completed years ago. It wasn’t heaps, but it certainly felt like moula from heaven. It was enough to be able to think about buying a nice (enough) electric guitar. How lovely.

And that’s when my problems started.

I know nothing about guitars…

 

The Problem Of Brand Snobbery

First there’s Gibson vs Fender thing. I include into that Les Paul. You have to KNOW which you like and why and to be honest I don’t. You start looking at your favourite bands and noticing what they play. For example, Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker plays a semi acoustic Gibson but they cost about two grand, so that’s out. Before that, he used to play a Gibson SG which are much more affordable.

I noticed that lots of glam bands, or odd bands that I liked also chose the Gibson SG. It seemed to have a raw sound I like.

Modern vs Vintage. So, guitar afficionados seem to prefer certain eras of guitar which again seems to make them expensive.

Epiphone and Squier. And then there a companies that make ( or made ) copies of more famous guitars. And whether or not these are “as good” as the original, or woeful rip-offs seemed to vary. There’s even the legendary Ibanez copy of the Gibson Explorer that was better than the original. I quite liked the idea of that. And it was cheaper.

There’s also the knowing the difference between single coil and humbucking pickups thing. Which, it started to seem, is the big difference between Fender and Gibson. It’s about the way the magnets work to pick up string vibration ( I think ) and humbuckers have more raw oomph and single coil ones more zing. I like oomph and zing.

The Problem of Tonewood

Fenders are a bit thinner, more jangly or trebley and Gibsons have more raw grunt. Some people claim that is due to the wood the guitar is made from. Other people call those people idiots.

The Problem Of Being A Bit Of An Individual

Like lots of people I’ve always had a problem with herd mentality. Sure a Gibson SG or a Fender Stratocaster are both so lovely that they are a waste on me… but I still think I wanted something a bit different.

The Problem With Ebay

I found the array of options available to me daunting, there was Fender Jaguar ( cherry red ) that was £400 delivered from Falkirk, or one for £380 but was pickup only from Birmingham. I’d have to go on the train. Once I was watching ten guitars, the matrix of possibilities fried my mind.

The Problem Of The Illusive Bargain

Ebay is a pain because sellers know the real value of things. I wanted to find a U.S made classic for £100 at a boot sale. That was not going to happen was it.

The Problem Of There Being No Limit

There is always a more expensive guitar you can buy. Always. Always. And even then you can start tinkering with it.

The Problem With Music Shops And Being Shit On Guitar

To say I can’t play is maybe over-doing it, but I definitely can’t play solos, or in public. Going into a music shop and cranking up a guitar and thrashing an E chord is waaaaaay too embarrassing.

But I did it. I went to three guitar shops and played lots of guitars.

 The Problem With The Guitars Themselves

Squier Telecaster for about £100 played better than a £600 Telecaster. Can you believe that? The £600 one simply had been poorly set up and had string buzz.

Les Pauls are indeed ace but somehow, despite the Sex Pistols and Ziggy Stardust, don’t move me. And Flying Vs are a pain to play sitting down – they slip off your knee.

The Gretch was quite nice. The SG was undeniably beautifully adequate. The Epiphone was akin to being a recent Skoda owner after Volkswagon took them over.

I tried a Jaguar and was really surprised. I loved it. I decided I needed a whammy bar and hoped I wouldn’t regret not having humbuckers.

The Problem With Having Made The Wrong Decision In The Future

The problem with finding out about guitars was that it was stopping me buying a guitar. How crazy is that? Having tried the Jaguar I went to the pub to read about it in the hope of discovering that I hadn’t bought a complete turkey.

I found out that they were loved by the grunge scene ( Kurt even ) because they were unpopular but were great ( and therefore cheaper ). The Pixies used one.

By the time I got back to the shop, ready to buy, it had been sold.

The surreal shock to my system, at having actually made a decision was only made worse by being attacked by three piss heads with an inflatable sheep outside the shop. Really.

Making A Decision

So. I decided it was time to stop listening to the experts ( although this guy still makes me laugh ) and make my own choice. I’d got over the Fender ( thin sounding ) snobbery… and besides when you crank stuff up with 8 layers of fuzz, distortion and drive, does it really matter?

I then discovered a new version of old guitar from Fender called the Blacktop Jazzmaster.  It’s a cousin of the Jaguar. It has a whammy bar. It has a humbucker pickup. It is made in Mexico. It has simple controls. Johnny Marr didn’t play one. It is beautiful. And absolutely perfect ( for me ).

I noticed Rowland S. Howard with something that looked similar ( probably a black Jaguar, but close enough ).

There’s probably a whole heap of “but am I worth it” lurking that drove this almost painful OCD that I’m not ready to look at yet… but that’s another story. Maybe one day.

I still now notice EVERY guitar that ever appears on TV ever but I’m no longer lost in an awful never-ending matrix of should I / shouldn’t I / What if I have done the wrong thing and regret this forever?

But at least I’ve escaped my lovely guitar buying hell. The only reminder of how big an idiot I am is the persistent adverts for guitars on the side of EVERY SODDING SITE I VISIT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cult – The Mission – Killing Joke

Killing Joke are playing next month and I probably won’t be going. What?! I hear you scream…

Well it’s like this. When I first heard that they were on tour with The Cult and The Mission I thought, wow what a goth fest, that’ll be great. Then having thought about it and looked at the line-up, which suggests that Killing Joke are on first, the alarm bells started ringing.

The Mission Thing

First, The Mission are billed higher than Killing Joke? What? The Mission were bloody awful. They can be single-handedly held responsible for every worst aspect of goth… which if I’m honest I never really identified with anyway… goth has always been when fashionable pretty girls latched onto punk and started wearing black lace… like the Mission.

My loathing for The Mission knows no end. Not only were their songs derivative, the were crap derivative. Listen to this… it opens like a Psychedelic Furs song and lurches towards Simple Minds.  But it gets worse, isn’t Wasteland The Mission ripping off themselves in a way. It’s basically Marian from the Sisters with different words? Not content with ripping off, goth-i-sizing everyone else, they even did it to themselves.

The Mission are, for me, the band that sold out the Sisters of Mercy. That’s it.

And are they on AFTER Killing Joke? Really? Even as time-fillers whilst they change the stage equipment I know I’d find them annoying from the bar. Galling.

And then there’s the other thing

Killing Joke on BEFORE The Cult? I know Killing Joke haven’t quite had a She Sells Sanctuary hit, but The Cult have only had one. Really?

And then there’s the other thing

I’ve always felt let down by The Cult, or as I should say, The Death Cult. That is to say, I really, really liked The Death Cult. They were incredible. They had Nigel Preston on drums doing the most tribal sounds ever, a wall of sound guitar from Billy Duffy, strong bass and warpaint. Killing Joke were in tatters around now (1982 – 3ish) and Death Cult were emerging as leaders in the world of post punk. Just look at them.

They even had Killing Joke scared. I have a video of Jaz ( since removed from YouTube of Jaz ( obviously drunk ) making veiled threats to the band that “calls themselves tribal for the sake of the music press“. They’d become The Cult and they brought in a frillier, psychedelic sound. When they went rock I danced along, in a way, thinking it ironic… but it carried on.

I mean, listen to Wild Flower. Yes, the riff may be reminiscent of AC/DC but they’re dressed like Status Bloody Quo. And the drumming in BUM – THUD – BUM- THUD. Dull.

The demise of Death Cult from brilliance into popularity was almost a bad as Adam Ants. And Ian Astbury kind of went the same way.

The last thing…

Whilst I’m not quite yet completely convinced by Killing Joke’s last offering, I do like it. They are still trying, still making, still kicking, still relevant. Maybe forced by a lack of “success” to remain true to themselves and producing wonderful tracks like Pole Shift that begin gentle enough and end in an 8 minute transcendental noise mosh pit.

And I don’t think I can grit my teeth whilst The Mission float around and The Cult fail to do Horse Nation ( albeit in the style of ZZ Top).

 

 

 

Killing Joke / MMXII

Firstly, I have to say, this isn’t going to be an even handed review of Killing Joke’s latest album. I can’t not like everything they do. Well, almost. There were the perm years (1984 – 92 ) when to be honest, they were very crap. But apart from that… EVERYTHING!

Whilst I’d hate to limit any artist to a precise definition of what they are, I’m going to do it anyway. Killing Joke are an alchemic substance made of:

  • the most deliciously distorted guitars – with no solos
  • tribal drums – few cymbals
  • synths with sounds nobody else would use
  • loose and flappy funk bass
  • repetitive, or mesmeric
  • arse-rumbling vocals
  • paranoid

… and so this album is a bit of departure. It’s more melodic than the previous album Absolute Dissent ( most of the time ) harking back at times to the Love Like Blood era with slightly syrupy pad synths sounds and single notes from Geordie Walker on guitar.

The opening track, Pole Shift is a wonderful 8mins 57seconds long! This is where Killing Joke should be heading, day long albums would suit me.

Fema Camp has echoes of the Glitter Band for me.. that sort of slow swaggering basic stuff.

The opening bars of Rapture are Requiem and Exorcism all over again… Synths set the scene and noise follows. Dancey. Love it. Similarly Colony Collapse, which (is this just me) sounds glam. I could imagine Gary Glitter ( the shit ) coming out stamping in diamante to this. I love the weirdly extended chorus vocal on this song – but it needed a mad harmony ( trust me Jaz ).

Corporate Elect (live) is a lovely heavy song – but very simple. It doesn’t half remind me of Bauhaus’ Lagatija Nick (Top of the Pops).  Go listen… can you hear it?

I don’t think I like In Cythera at all. I think it may because the lyrics are basically quiet thankfulness from an old man reflecting on life and ultimately, death. I probably have enough of that going in my own head. Killing Joke are my escape. It’s all just a bit too sentimental… like those moments where you know if you start crying you might never stop.

Primobile has a nicely doom laden synth… backed up with CHRISTMAS BELLS? What…

Glitch reuses an old Killing Joke riff. Which is a shame because I like the rest of the song.

Trance. I wonder what this would sound like with more old style Joke drumming from Big Paul? The song, particularly the bass line reminds me of really early Turn To Red era stuff – indicating that they “made it up on the spot”. Which is OK.

All Hallow’s Eve opens like a Rolf Harris number. I the lumbering rhythm with Jaz’s vocals at the end. But it sort of plods.

A New Uprising. Opens like all good Killing Joke songs should. Bonkers synth, joined by noise and Jaz’s growls.

Overall. This album doesn’t have enough bite for me, and when it’s soft, it’s not soft enough. Of course I like it but I’d struggle to pick two that I’d be happy slotting into regular Killing Joke gig.  It’s not that I don’t want Killing Joke to never change and keep re-releasing their 2nd and 3rd albums in rehash form ( except that, deep down, we know I do ).

Given that Killing Joke seem to be ramping up their output, this is a great album. It doesn’t have to be perfect, I just have to go along with what they’re trying to achieve… And because I know ( Apocalypse willing ) that there’ll be another album next year… Sooner maybe…

So. Keep up the good work. Don’t make it better, just make it faster.

 

 

 

 

 

Prograph – Back in the Day

You’ll never guess what. Someone actually asked what Prograph was like back in the day. No, really, they did. Here goes…

To begin with, I must put my cards on the table. I’m not, nor have ever really been “a programmer” as such. Which I think may be where some of the value might be in my Prography reminiscences.

To put it all in context. It was probably around 1997 or 1998. The internet has just happened. Up until then I was lucky enough to be working in a pretty incredible research lab trying to make the craziest educational software we could come up with. We used HyperCard a tool so beautiful it still makes me cry. Although I say “used”… Sam, Richard, Kris and Stephen were our proper programmers… I tended to join in excitedly, but mainly made black & white graphics or icons.

By 1997 we’d made what you’d call a CMS ( Content Management System ) in HyperCard. It made making web sites easy. So easy that school kids did it, in their Mosaic browsers and even won awards. I remember one class project that was a site about World War II, that just grew and grew. You could start to see what all the fuss about HyperText was.

But HyperCard was struggling to deliver the web pages fast enough. Our real programmer had moved on and I started looking at Prograph, a tool for visual programming. Being a bit artsy, I loved the visual bit. But also, rumour had it that, once compiled, Prograph code could run as fast a C++. There was no way I could ever learn C++, but the idea of creating funny flow charts seemed doable.

So. For what looking back was quite a prestigious project funded by the DTI (UK government) I started creating a tool called Spinalot. My only other experience with doing this sort of thing was hacking AppleScript CGIs with Filemaker. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I also had to learn HTTP and SQL ( Prograph could talk to a tiny little database called dtF ). I started work and made a prototype web environment, in which people could fill out a profile, join in discussions, put post-it notes on pages, create web pages and send messages to each other. Yes, it was Facebook for kids and it was 1998ish.

Here’s the bits I, to this day can still go glassy-eyed and frothy mouthed about Prograph and how wonderful it was…

Adding comments didn’t alter your code in ANY way. This meant you could comment something to death and nobody minded, they could be hidden. People even used to sort of DTP their comments. THIS meant people DID comment. This meant I had a leg up in figuring things out. Oh, parameters were commentable too, so if you called “/Do This Thing” you’d be  prompted say for an <object> and a <number>… Wow!

You could “code going forward”. This was a weird one. You simply create a few connected method call, with inputs and outputs and run your code, stepping through each bit. If the method didn’t exist when the running code got there, it simply asked if you’d like to create it now… which the live code patiently waited. You’d then step on a few more steps and if it errored, step back a bit. The WEIRD part of this was that you often, truthfully wrote code that “ran first time” … kinda.

Scrunching. One of the biggest tricks of Prograph, that I’ve yet to see in other tools like say Yahoo Pipes is scrunching. Or as they called it “Opers to Local”. This was a magic feat where a lump of code could be scrunched into one object. Any visual language without this is doomed, there’s only so much 2D space…. this opens up another dimension where clumps of messy code can be “tidied up” and be left with one input and one output. Very cool.

Pair programming. Great idea… how often do you do it? The visual aspect of Prograph meant that working on a screen together, with people cleverer than me, actually WORKED at the human level. This is hard to explain. Similarly, you could smell bad code… visually :-) If with Prograph’s beautiful OO abstraction and scrunching you couldn’t create visually readable code, you were doing something wrong. Obviously.

Having got the Object Oriented bug, the first thing I did was set about creating an object database, not knowing that this was quite a hard thing to do. OK then, it’s impossible. But I made something that resembled an object database to me, not knowing what they were and not able to find anyone who did. It was basically a sort of pickle store that I queried with SQL but got Prograph objects back. It was fast and malleable and crude.

It was around this time that Don Norman, usability god came for a look around our offices on a visit. I showed him my work and asked me to go an work with a quiet genius called Kurt Schmucker in Apple’s Advanced Technology group who was working on some educational web site / Newton (eMate) project. It all seemed very natural at the time, that a non-programming artsy idiot could just get asked to go hang out in the coolest place on earth. Looking back, although Kurt was a Prograph user and advocate, it seemed that each person used their very own programming environment at ATG…. I remember SK8, Lisp, Smalltalk, and Dylan variations and there were others Ive forgotten…

Whilst working with Kurt, he showed me how, if I used HTML templates, rather than pure code to output HTML, that my tool Spinalot could be much more easily adapted. He was right. It seems obvious now but it was genius, trust me. I remember Alex Blanc took my educational community tool and made a ticket sales system out of it. You could sort of do anything that you could conceive of as objects with web pages.

Kurt, at the Prograph conference strongly suggested that if Prograph stored its code differently then it could be used with versioning tools, meaning more people could then work on one project. I didn’t get this, but he was right. Prograph was easy to learn, OO, ran interpreted for degugging and compiled for speed but was geared for “one brain” sized projects.

At the Prograph conference, in Halifax, everyone there seemed to be working on amazing projects. That to me was clue enough that I was using the right tool. Someone had even made a visual Prograph-like spreadsheet ( LKISS ).

On the down side of Prograph, I can’t think of any. Pictorius, the company that made Prograph – described by Kurt as a “boutique language”. bet on Apple’s OpenDoc technology which Apple killed. Trying to stay afloat after this predicament they attempted to make a Windows version… which worked, but seemed somehow to lose their focus… and their users… From a distance it just sort of fizzled out.

In the real world, I’d move jobs and had found the closest textual language to Prograph I could find having tried PHP, Perl and Java… Python. The concept of “open source” was proving itself. With python I could use regular expression libraries or simply download and run tools like Zope that blew my attempts at doing something similar out of the water.

I’m still occasionally hacking with python nowadays, playing with Google App Engine etc.

I used to imagine that one day, if UML compiled to Zope code and was mashed up with Yahoo Pipes that one day, all my Prograph based fervour would mount to something. I’m still waiting.

Prograph, or visual programming, is still the future. Text is very convenient and cheap but crap. All other visual programming environments I tried missed the point somehow, they were locked in 2D space where flow charts just got bigger and messier and less comprehensible. Or worse, they reduce your tools to baby hammers and spanners. Prograph kept everything simple and small, even the big things.

There’s a million other features Prograph had, but I’d need to jog my memory. I do remember demo-ing Prograph to super cool BT research engineers in Marklesham who fell incredulously off their chairs in astonishment. Were Prograph to make a comeback now, I have no idea WHAT it would be. What would you want to make with it? The world has changed so much since then. I lie, I have loads of ideas but they hurt too much :-)

With Prograph I could create things more complex and simple than I could conceive. This still blows my brain. Prograph was like a brain extension, for me at least. Maybe that’s the point… it let non-programmers create very cool stuff. I’ve always been into that idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usability, IA, UX and Design ( formerly theotherblog.com )