Houses of Parliament

I went on a tour of the Houses of Parliament today, which was well worth doing. Most obvious point: the chambers of the Lords and the Commons are both really surprisingly small. Too small, in fact; you can see why the Commons is standing-room only for PMQs.

I was amused by the fact that, while the Lords’ part of the building is dolled up in elaborate carvings, gold leaf, painted ceilings, mosaics and other gothic bling, the Commons is much plainer and more austere. This is no doubt meant to be symbolic – but of what? The decor in the Lords is so OTT that I almost felt it was gently poking fun at their lordships. I assume that wasn’t what Pugin intended.

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Yet again with the iTunes icons

I decided that while the coloured vinyl was ok on its own, the addition of a coloured note was just too garish.

The anti-aliasing round the note needs tweaking, but I think it looks pretty good. Better than the original:

EDIT: OK, I’ve tweaked it. Here’s the final version:

For Mac users, there’s a zip of those designs I got as far as making into .icns files here. To change the iTunes icon: rename whichever icon you prefer as ‘iTunes.icns’. Then you need to quit iTunes, right-click it in the Finder and choose ‘show package contents’. In the ‘Resources’ folder, replace the original iTunes.icns file with your new one (but save a copy of the original somewhere just in case).

More iTunes icons

I’ve updated my new iTunes icons for the release of iTunes 7.

I’ve switched to using LaVern Baker.

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Planet Ping Pong

I just watched most of a great documentary on BBC4 called ‘Planet Ping Pong’ about, well, table tennis. I missed the first 15 minutes (before 1949, roughly), unfortunately. If it comes to a channel near you soon (or YouTube or BitTorrent), check it out.

I’m very much out of practice and out of shape, but I used to love table tennis. It’s the short bursts of intensely focussed action. Rather like Mario vs Donkey Kong on the GBA.

Oh, and you could do worse than watching ピンポン, a Japanese film about high school table tennis.

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New iTunes icons

I decided I don’t like the iTunes icon very much, so I’ve made myself some new ones:

Still by LaVern Baker, Young Boy Blues by Eddie “Buster” Forehand, and We Go Together by The Moonglows, since you asked. Picked for what they look like rather than the choons – I’ve only heard one of them anyway. The Forehand is actually a fraction too big – it looks out of place in the dock. I’m using the Moonglows for the moment.

EDIT:

since I’ve been getting a bit of Google traffic for this post, I thought I’d point out the two more recent posts on the subject (one, two).

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FSotW: Tyneham – the village that died for D-Day

Flickr set of the week is Tyneham – the village that died for D-Day by Whipper_snapper.

‘In 1943 the War Department closed Tyneham village near Lulworth in Dorset for D-Day training preparations.

The villagers never returned as the War Department kept the village as a post-war training area and tank artillery range for nearby Lulworth and Bovington camps.

Today most of the buildings are gaunt and empty, like a war zone, but the Army does allow visitors to return to the village on a regular basis.’

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Ten books to explain America

A really interesting question at the cassandra pages: ‘If you were recommending, say, five to ten books you most felt would “explain America” to a foreign person who had never been here in person, what would they be?’ You can read people’s answers there.

I’m not about to try and pick ten books about America, for obvious reasons. I suppose that, as a foreigner, I’m in a position to name books that I felt gave me an insight. But I’m not going to do that. I might try to come up with ten books for the UK. It’s difficult, though; for a start, how much historical background do you need to touch on? I don’t see much need to go too far back ino the Middle Ages, but the Reformation, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the growth of the Empire, the loss of the Empire, the growth of unionism and the Labour party, the Suffrage movement, and the two World Wars are all to some extent relevant to what Britain is now and what British people are like. Oh, and I almost forgot the battle of the Boyne, the Potato Famine, the Irish Question*, the Easter Rising, partition and the Troubles.

But if anything, people’s perceptions of Britain seem to be mired in the past – Americans always seem to be convinced that we’re still obsessing about the loss of empire, for example, which I really don’t think is true. So perhaps the history should be downplayed and more emphasis placed on the past 30 or 40 years. And for the curious visitor who wants to get inside the head of the British, is lots of historical background better than one really insightful novel anyway?

Anyway, I’ll try to think of some interesting choices.

* according to 1066 And All That: ‘Gladstone spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.’

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Shelley the lost Victorian

Well, I’ve finished Richard Holmes’s Shelley:The Pursuit. I didn’t find it as gripping as his superb biography of Coleridge, but it became more enjoyable as it went along. Mainly, I think, because Shelley became much more likeable as he matured personally, politically and poetically. Not that he became less radical, or completely lost the restlessness that tended towards recklessness, but he did become a good deal more nuanced and thoughtful. And what one particularly looks for in a poet – his poetry got much better. He’s never going to be one of my favourite poets, but I’m more positively inclined towards his work now than before I read the book.

An odd fact about the five major English Romantic poets: their lifespans were nested inside each other like a set of Russian dolls. Keats was born last and died first; Shelley was a little older and died shortly after him, and so on through Byron and Coleridge to Wordsworth, born way back in 1770 and going on to outlive them all.

The deaths of Keats, Shelley and Byron really do create an extraordinary discontinuity in English poetry. Not just in terms of the poetry they might have written – if Coleridge and Wordsworth are anything to go by, their later work might not have been very exciting – but just as part of the normal progression of generations of influence. Who knows how Browning’s poetry might have been affected if instead of Shelley the idealised poet, he’d had a chance to meet Shelley the neurotic radical.

It also mires a group of poets in the Regency who, by rights, ought to have been Victorians. The would have been getting on a bit by the time of many of the landmarks of High Victorianism; even Keats would have been 64 when The Origin of Species was published in 1859. Byron would be 73, assuming that he hadn’t died of syphilis or liver failure. But by that time they’d have lived through the coming of the railways, the full impact of the Industrial Revolution, the 1832 Reform Act, the abolition of slavery, the Irish potato famine, the publication of the Communist Manifesto, the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. Shelley would certainly have had a few opinions.

I suppose they might have been less influential if they were still alive. In the increasingly stern moral climate of the time, it might have been more difficult for people to see past the unconventional lifestyles of Byron and Shelley if they were sill alive and racketing about in Italy. There’s a fascinating comment I read once, which I think came from the letters of Fanny Burney, although Google isn’t helping me. She is returning someone’s copy of Oroonoko, which she found too indecent to read. She comments how strange it is that she should find herself unable to read a book in the privacy of her own room which she had heard in her youth being read aloud at polite parties. Perhaps Byron and Shelley would have inevitably changed with the times in the same way; perhaps they would have become increasingly embarrassing relics.

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Bleep music store

There’s a lot to like about Bleep: high bit-rate non-DRMed mp3s, the ability to listen to the whole track online before buying (it automatically pauses after thirty seconds and you have to start it again, but I’ve found that if you open another tab in the same window and have that tab at the front, it just keeps playing), and the neato little customisable music players you can insert in your own site, like this:

or like this:

Yes, I know, by putting in the players I’m just providing them with free advertising, but I still think it’s quite cool.

But how the hell are you supposed to find music you like if you don’t already know what you’re looking for? There are no genre listings (admittedly, there is a rather limited range of genres they sell, but any kind of hint would help), no ‘people who bought this also bought…’, no idea of where to start other than to poke around at random and see what you find.

I guess I’m just not hip enough to be their customer.