31 December 2006

Geek of the week

Here's a cool thing: here's the cycle route that I took last week, displayed on Google Maps . How cool is that? I feel the urge now to try and work out how to embed this in my own page, which seems hard.

29 December 2006

The Guardian

The Guardian really is a most unusual newspaper.

I don't just mean that the style is quirky (though it is). I'm also thinking of the sheer breadth of topics it covers ... in depth.

The paper consistently carries articles of a type that you couldn't read in any other newspaper (or at least, not any other UK newspaper, perhaps the NY Times has some similarities)

Here are three articles that caught my eye just in last day or two that could only have been in The Guardian.

  1. First - for the content - a piece describing the tactics and strategies Kelloggs are employing to fight the controversial new 'Traffic Light' food labelling scheme the the FSA are propounding. The article includes the astonishing detail that, of the £84m pa spent by the industry (not just Kelloggs) on advertising breakfast cereals, under the new regulations proposed by FSA no less than £70m of it would be banned.

    Only in the Guardian could you read an analysis of this topic in this much detail- a double page spread and several other articles .

  2. Second - for it's style - an astonishingly hostile obituary of Marmaduke Hussey

    Only in the Guardian could you read such an aggressive, and unrestrained style of obituary (and it's not the only example - look up P.W.Botha) For instance here is the The Times effort on Hussey for comparison.

  3. Last, a round up of the best articles of the year (some of them excellent, btw)

    What's unusual about that one, you ask, many newspapers have best-of round-ups?
    Well, only in the Grauniad could you read a collection of the year where (in the print edition) every single one of the stories was datelined 28 Dec 2006 :-)

I recently switched from the Times to the Guardian. I buy my paper at the station and, intriguingly, after a week or so the kiosk owner actually commented on my switch. He said he had noticed that quite a number of his customers have made exactly the same change in the last few months. A trend?

28 December 2006

What makes a good blog (and why this isn't one)

Forget permalinks, track-backs and mutual blogrolls; Worry not about short paragraphs, understatement and whether-to-use the personal pronoun: none of these are criteria for being a great blog.

On the other hand, there are five components that are needed to make a great blog. These are:

The Five Components...

  1. Theme: There must be one. What's the blog about? What's the point of it?
  2. Things: (to write about) A good blog needs a natural, reliable source of original incidents / anecdotes / examples / news that fit the theme. (a blog that relies on having a good idea every week, won't last)
  3. Tone of voice: sarcastic, cheerful, critical, suicidal, wry, it doesn't matter, but a blog needs a personality (note - this the only one of the five that has anything to do with the ability to write)
  4. Timeline: A good blog needs developing personal narrative. A good blog is rarely (never?) about its author, but all the same, the author must be present. This is one of the things that makes it a blog, not a newspaper column. The author needs to have a story.
  5. Tempo: A good blog needs regular updates. Contrary to much advice it doesn't have to be daily. But it does have to be regular. Daily, weekly, twice a week. Stick to it.

Some Examples...

Armed with these five criteria, you will often be able to spot examples of blogs that are not a great blog...

  • My Random Thoughts on Assorted Things I Read in the Papers isn't a great blog
  • Hi everyone, gosh its ages since I blogged, sorry is never going to be a great blog
  • Now I've gone part-time look after Harry, I've finally got time for a blog isn't a theme
  • although Part-Time Fireman, part time Dad might be theme. And
  • Inept government policy is killing our part-time firemen .....now you're talking

..and it will be easy to understand why something like Coppersblog is a great blog

  • Theme - 90% of police work is a waste of time
  • Things - life as a policeman is never running out of material
  • Tone - wry, amused, surrounded by idiots
  • Timeline - anonymity, cult blog, famous blog, book-deal, fame, pursuit, discovery, new life
  • Tempo - Dave, you're slipping mate...

The mandatory link..

Everyone knows that an expected feature of all good blogs, is links to other blogs, writing on the same subject: Every post should have one.

Bloggers love to receive incoming links, but don't often get them on their very first post so, hopefully excorpus, also writing self-referentially about what makes a good blog should be agreeably startled :-)


I'll leave my thousands of readers to work out for themselves why, sadly, green ideas isn't a great blog (..but never fear... I have an idea for a new project....)

27 December 2006

Street Fashion

When you get to be the wrong side of forty, it can be hard to keep up with Street Fashion.

In Selfridges for some pre-Christmas shopping, imagine my delight in discovering that this prestigious department store actually has a Street Fashion Department. How easy is that?

It's upstairs next to Cycling - in fact, for quite some time I laboured under the extremely pleasing misapprehension that padded shorts, leather palmed gloves and lycra are, actually Street Fashion. Alas, not.

But the best thing about the Street Fashion Department was the way it allowed me to escape from all the other family recommendations as we passed from floor to floor, from section to section (I don't really like buying clothes).
- "This shirt is nice..." "Yes, but I think I'll check the Street Fashion section, before I buy anything".
- "This is very fashionable at the moment, and it would really suit you" "Hmm, I think if it were really fashionable, it would be in the Street Fashion section, wouldn't it?".

If we had ever actually found the Street Fashion department I might have been forced to buy something. However it was Christmas, no one could understand the store guide, it was extremely hot in Selfridges and of all the family only I had the ventilated arm-pit holes that the situation called for.

Suddenly it all became all too much and we escaped thankfully on to the cool street, - where there were some very weirdly-dressed people we were careful to avoid. We dived into the fundamentally dishonest Bond Street Underground Station (the signs indicate a Station, but take you to a another shopping mall) and headed for home.

I'll have to catch up with Street Fashion sometime in the New Year.

26 December 2006

Wicking and other modern miracles

Back in the last century if I wanted to go out on my bike I'd put my anorak on (well, yes, all right, I'd put my Parka on). If I pedalled hard I became hot and sweaty. If I pedalled very hard I became very hot and very sweaty. In those days we didn't have wicking base layers, we took our jumpers off.

In the 21st Century, like everyone else I know, I have a special outfit for cycling and a quick ride on my bike necessitates going upstairs for a complete change of clothes.

I wear Tardis shorts (perfectly cut on the outside to conceal the middle-aged backside, a close inspection of the contents will reveal within an astonishingly sizeable, completely flexible, self-contained and separate padded layer) and I have choice of two tops: the one thin and short-sleeved, and too cold in the winter, the other thick and long-sleeved and too hot anywhere outside the arctic circle.

Until this Christmas that is! A fruitful piece of shopping yielded no presents at all for my loved ones, but for me: a brand-new, windproofed / shower-proof / low cut back / grey and black, zipped-rear-pocket cycling top. And best-of-all, with that sina-qua-non of sporting clothing, the cleverest invention of C21: zippable armpit-ventilation holes.

How we ever did without these miracles of modern clothing design, I don't know. I have made sure to have them in all clothes worn in situations where over-heating is in a remote danger (ski-jacket, walking jacket, cycling top, interview suit, pyjamas).

On Boxing Day my friend and I managed 16.5 wet and muddy miles along the Crane River and Grand Union Canal in 1 hour 31 mins, average speed 11mph. I wore my new top and, much to the envy of my comparatively ill-clad friend, whenever the going became harder or softer I was able to easily regulate my temperature simply by adjusting the armpit holes. We stopped every 200 metres or so.

My top was a dream: showers bothered me not; my lower back was snug and warm, the wind penetrated my jacket solely through the gaping armpit holes, the only moisture that failed to entirely wick away being the cold, smelly moisture of the River Crane sloshing around in my right shoe (following an, admittedly ill-advised, armpit-hole adjustment on the move. They should put something in the instructions about that). At least it wasn't the GUC.

My top cost just £485. The stretch-fitting (to tell the truth, I'm not totally sure about it) wicking base layer: £79.99. It's good job Mrs Botogol never reads my blog.

Family Christmas...

Christmas Day, about 9.30pm

Two programmes are currently being recorded !
To view
-- Greatest Most Embarrassing TV Moments. Channel 4
Choose a recording to cancel:
-- The Vicar of Dibley. BBC1
-- Doc Martin. ITV1

23 December 2006

change of name?

There is no such thing as a meme. Tell your friends

22 December 2006

The next sentence is there to wish you a happy christmas, but this sentence isn't

The previous sentence is there to wish you a happy christmas, but this sentence isn't.

20 December 2006

Billion Monkeys

My mind has been colonised by Brian Micklethwait's billion monkey meme.
As you can see in the photo, I caught a great many billion monkeys at the flashmob in London last week.

The nascent meme has reached flickr (just) :

16 December 2006

Flash and other Mobs

Twenty minutes before it started the only sign of impending activtiy were two bored-looking policemen.

I imagined the shout
- "All units, we have a report of a pillow fight starting imminently on Leadenhall, Urgent Assistance required"
- "Control this is Charlie Oscar - will deal"
-"Roger Charlie Oscar, do you require back up?"
- "Negative control, have on board water-pistols and anyway all vehicles are classed as homey"

By 18:10 things were busier: an impressive crowd of net-savvy mobile-phone and camera wielding bloggers had gathered were tightly encircling a small crowd of sheepish looking intending cushion-coshers. It was a flashmob waiting to happen.

Waiting for the Flashmob

At the stoke of 18.12 a whistle blew and the square went crazy, erupting in a series of flashes and whirrs as the billion monkeys - as one - pulled out their concealed phones and held them aloft, arms bobbing as they paused to re-set them to 'night' mode, and raised them a second time. In the centre of the square, pillows swung, bashed and burst.

Passers-by were suitably amazed
- "What it is it Mark?"
-"It's one of those things they organise on the internet"
- "Oh, right, I see"

Amidst the frenzy of photogenic feathers one breathess participant interrupted his filming just long enough to make a phone call - "Mate you've got to look out of the window and see what's happening outside your office!"

Flashmobbing in London

I received text and my phone dutifully stopped recording to offer it up to me. It's not often I get a chance to text back sori. runin l8. gn 2 c a pilo fite so I didn't miss this one.

In the middle of the square, people laughed, shrieked and flailed. Around the edge, cameras flashed some more, feathers flew, phones rang polyphonically.

Watching the mob

After about 10 minutes the police must have spotted an Al Quaeda suspect with a pillow full of Polonium 210 or something, as a quick, angry burst of their siren signalled the end of the fun. "Move along now! Nothing to video here"

It was all over but for a moment - just a fleeting one - but a nevertheless a real moment, it seemed the police had moved a bit preemptorily, and some hackles were raised. No one was doing any harm....how can they just stop us....it's a free country..... and I seemed to catch a glimpse - just a tiny glimpse - of a real mob.
And the feathers weren't quite so funny any more.
One day, one of these flashmobs is going to get out of hand.

Mobile Clubbing
More Pictures

Other bloggers who were there
Seamus Macauley Mikko

13 December 2006

Maria Tribe / Louise Braithwaite / Private Showings

The small gallery private showing of a new exhibition is a ritualised set-piece in middle-class English life.

The smart invitation (always featuring the most colourful picture) the glass of warm wine, the canapes, the attendance of the artist, little red dots, the wit and wisdom of one's own critique, the frightful banality of comments overheard.

The occasional coincidence of marital taste and an unexpected purchase.

Mrs B and I have been to two exhibitions recently - Louise Braithwaite, at the Conservatory in Battersea, and Maria Tribe at the View Gallery in Thames Ditton; both paint bright, colourful and allusive portraits of cheerful middle-class life.

Louise Braithwaite's theme is real-places / unreal people. A typical picture contains a recognisable backgound (Wandsworth Common, Big Ben, Padstow) before which a host of blocked-in people cavort and dance. I like them (we own one). Comparisons with Lowry are inevitable, but studying this new collection the startling lack of perspective in the backgrounds, and the strangely-blank expressions of the zombies in the foreground reminded me unexpectedly of medieval art. Nevertheless the paintings are fun, and it would be churlish of me to even consider the possibility that the choice of comfy suburban / holiday-home locations might considerably increase the chance of recognition sale in Braithwaite's target market.

Maria Tribe's theme is journeys, and so again a sense of location is important in her work, which is more abstract than Braithwaite's. and with more restricted palettes. A typical painting features a fashionable juxtaposition of images, text and ideas all collated from a place, or a journey, so in other words it's Blog Art (and what's wrong with that). Her pictures contain figures, riddles, puzzles and hints and are about 60% per sq inch cheaper than Braithwaite's. I like them (and - now - we own one. In fact this one).

There's nothing like buying a painting to enhance enjoyment of the opening-day-exhibition ritual. The quality and beauty of the chosen painting (and hence one's own good taste) is immediately and immeasurably improved by the little red dot and with one simple flourish of the credit card your glass is refilled and you are free to eat all the canapes you damn well like.

You also have purchased the right to chat with the artist, in fact the rules positively demand it. But this is not always the enlightening experience one might expect: whereas Braithwaite professionally exuded charm and chat to customers and potentials alike, Tribe came over all Charles Ryder when asked to elaborate on her painting (our painting now). 'Well, it's a diving picture really", "Yes?", "Yes, I like diving and, well, I've started painting it.". "The red blobs on the left struck me as poppies?" "They're coral".

Well, I don't know much about art, but I know what a show is supposed to be like, and that 60% gradually started to make a little sense: after all even the artist - especially the artist? - should know to follow the opening-day, private-showing ritual.

11 December 2006

No more Christmas

In the botogol household we have decided to ban Christmas. We're replacing it with a similar festival called by a different name and with fewer sprouts.

This decision is in no way connected to the blood-stained Christmas tree presently in my garage, clamped in the vice by, er, a vice-like grip, wood shavings and splinters littering the floor all around it, the diameter of its mutilated trunk still incredibly, indisputably, demonstrably, significantly greater than the diameter of the bucket.

No, this isn't a trivial or opportunistic decision. We recognise that abandoning Christmas is a big step and this is about valuing and respecting the diverse cultures within our family - a family which, when you think about it, is kind of like a large corporation to us.

Sadly, our valuing of diversity seems to trigger a lot of cynicism: friends immediately assume it's simply to avoid the threat of a shunning by our politically-correctly-educated children!

Well its not entirely for that reason: we also value diversity because there is a very good business case behind it, a business case basically involving the risk of shunning from all kinds of people.

With diversity comes a whole set of new values that Mrs B and I have adopted: these include:
  • tolerance
  • respect for each others differences
  • the placing of positive values on different cultures, and
  • generally banning things.

So this year instead of Christmas the botogol family will be celebrating Apocalypto. a much more modern festival much more suitable for a modern extended family, all under the same roof for two days with little daylight.

Apocalypto is a good festival for our family: It preserves all the best things about Christmas but with more chocolate ginger and fewer sprouts. And a smaller tree. A much smaller tree.

08 December 2006

Naked Celebrities

One month in, botogol's memes has received 25,573 hits.and 5 comments.


Close analysis of my stats reveals the following sources:

  • my blogging sister - 27
  • my wife (prompted) - 156
  • my wife (unprompted) - 1
  • all other family members - 14
  • the 257 friends to whom I sent a warm and witty email containing the URL - 257
  • strangers (arriving via one of 845 self-publicising links planted all over the net) - 123
  • strangers (arriving from google searches of things they are actually interested in) - 38
  • myself (admiring my own wit and cleverness) - 5,259
  • myself (tinkering with that bloody template and especially trying to get rid of the blank space in ma mignonne) - 19,798


Close analysis reveals the following breakdown of commentators:

  • myself (testing to see if the comment function is broken or something, that would explain it..... No it seems to be working fine) - 2
  • myself (in disguise, creating a buzz) - 0 (so restrained!)
  • my blogging sister - 2
  • passing strangers, somehow coming across the blog, and reading something they actually find interesting enough to comment on - well hello and welcome, Redkez!

Clearly, a different approach is needed before another blog falls in the forest. Luckily I think I have hit on an idea: From now on I will be mostly writing a Celebrity-Led-Blog!!!


All of a sudden, I don't know what I have been thinking of, ignoring all the incredible blog material right in front of my own eyes. For if you keep your eyes open (as I do) you find you do run into an impressive number of celebrities living in suburban South-West London:

  • I was very surprised to encounter Britney Spears on a secret visit to London this week. She was visiting the Post-Secret exhibition at Foyles. I have too much respect for her as an artist to reveal the contents of the postcard she stuck up on the wall.
  • it was revealing chatting to Wayne Rooney at the Rocky Horror Show. Apparently he's been offered the role of Rocky when it transfers to the West End
    He's a surprisingly good heckler
  • spotted Madonna at my local tip dump last month. Like me she was throwing away her Dyson. We chatted for a while, and afterwards we went to Comet together and she showed me the Miele that her lovely (and very cheap, by the way) Brazilian cleaning-lady swears by, apparently.
  • it was unexpected to spot long term hero of mine, Richard Dawkins in the audience for a talk by Patrick Dixon (futurologist). (I bet Dixon regrets opening up that session for questions!) Richard told me that while he has been in London he really enjoyed, the rather puzzling theology revealed when John Humphrys interviewed Rowan Williams, In Search of God on Radio 4
  • Robbie Williams plays the most unexpected gigs doesn't he? The 58 members of Twickenham Folk Club who crammed into the Cabbage Patch two weeks ago to hear Boo Hewerdine were initially rather doubtful when the identity of Boo's mystery support act was revealed. However the cheeky-chappy soon had us all onside, singing along with the collection of well known folk tunes he was test-driving for his forthcoming folk-covers album (eat your heart out Bruce Springsteen)

You know, perhaps I should carry around an autograph book, and a small camera.

More celebrity-led blogging on-the-hour every hour at botogol's memes.

Hit that atom feed link!

05 December 2006

PostSecret exhibition in the UK

Seeing the actual postcards in the flesh was strangely different from viewing them on-line.

Unexpectedly they seemed less real. I think it was the 'gallery effect': all togther, neatly arranged into groups of six, carefully framed and brightly-lit against a white background, they had become divorced from their makers, and something personal had been lost in the process.

Previously they were heartfelt, now they were just art.

www.postsecret.com has come to Foyles in London

PostSecret in the UK

The selection is well chosen: 90 cards, some I rcognised from the site, others possibly unseen, they are a representative sample ranging from the poignant "I shredded all my photographs", to the witty "I discourage my friends from dieting - because I want them to be fatter than me" to the banal "I hate brushing my teeth'.

But the nature of secrets, however, is that most of them are sad or guilty. "I may be smiling but I'm not happy" declares one, "I steal from my mother" admits another (well stop!) On his site Frank Warren maintains just one link (where he could have 100s) - it's to a suicide hopeline.
Up close it's more evident than it is on-line just how much effort some correspondents put into their cards: artwork, photography, collage and the signs of a fair-copy - and how little effort goes into others. Some secrets we wear lightly on our shoulders others weigh us down.

PostSecret in the UK

Some the cards bear signs of the rigours of the US Postal Service but Warren leaves them resolutely untouched and unrepaired. Most tantalising is the bar-code strip that the USPS sometimes applies, which aches to be peeled carefully away. One card reads "I put lipstick on my boss's shirt, so that his wife will think he is having an affair. Even though we're not" [sticker]
Not yet? Not going to? Not ?
The project asks: what makes a secret? 'I loved you so much' reads one card written across an overflowing ashtray. We are invited to create a narrative, and duly oblige (a parent with lung cancer, an illness, a long estrangement) It fits the mood: but is this a secret or a story, or an artwork? Who is it a secret from?
At the end visitors are encouraged to write their own secrets, and post them up, and it's in this unmediated corner that the project comes alive. There are scores of cards. A few have been prepared and brought along, but most are spontaneous, and the variety and untidiness of the uncollected cards reveals the unseen influence of the collator, Frank Warren, in forming the more manicured, slightly one-note post-secret garden.
This being England, of course, there's an irreverent note to the secrets confessed: 'I love picking my nose' declares one card (surely NOT a secret to anyone who knows him) 'I was the second gunman on the grassy knoll' declares another 'I am Spartacus' comes the rejoinder.
The format also enables a dialogue that's entirely missing from the site. This ranges from the childish (this is England recall!): ''I don't know how to tell Jane that she smells" is followed by the simpler "So do you" through the more metaphysical 'I HATE that this person didn't finish their card / I think they did' (No Warrenish protocol of leaving each card untouched is observed).
If Warren's thinking of how to develop the site further, this must point the direction
After looking through the exhibition I browsed the book. Altogether I spotted seven of my own secrets, but none of my own cards.
Other reviews

04 December 2006

Excessive Dust

Arrived at Waterloo to the odd news that Waterloo and City line was closed this morning because of 'Excessive Dust' on the platforms.

Looking left and right for gobblers, I hurried past the entrance to the 'Drain', only panicking when I became momentarily separated from my demon (A three-toed giant sloth, if you want to know. You'd think I'd be used to her lagging fourteen paces behind by now, she's certainly no fun to commute with. But at least she doesn't require a seat on the underground. Just a free metre of overhead grab rail]

But seriously, what kind of dust could close a station? Other than Emergingly-Intelligence dust falling through split-seam in the space-time continuum, that is ?

  • radioactive Polonium 210 dust?

Now there's a thought.

Later: I'm not the only blogger to hear this announcement, but so far the only one to discern the real cause. I hope the KGB don't read this.

02 December 2006

Rocky Horror Plants?

Saw the Rocky Show for the umpteenth time. An excellent production with David Bedella and Suzanne Shaw, and as much fun as always.

However (and perhaps I am getting unduly cynical in my middle age), is it possible that this production includes some plants in the audience?

You'd hardly think it was necessary, to plant a heckler at the RHS, but.....but.... all the same: were one or two of the heckles just too good? but Was there sometimes a pause-for-heckle at just the right time? It made me want to see it again, just to check.