Monthly Archives: April 2005

I’m impressed (and relieved)

Tony Blair launches the 2005 Labour manifesto, 13 April 2005
Really. I am. Labour’s campaign is good. On stage yesterday, at the manifesto launch, the front bench was awesome – handing off and harmonising like The Beach Boys. Brown’s seething resentment is impressively under control – and I mean really under control (did they drug him?). There’s a seriousness and professionalism on show that’s reassuring. Blair’s cabinet looked, at the press conference, like an experienced, un-flashy board of directors and I think that’ll play well with even pissed-off voters. Howard’s unremarkable gang are going to need to lift their game a lot if they’re to stand a chance against Labour’s really polished team and the Liberals look, frankly, like the Three Stooges in this company…

Watch the BBC’s news coverage of the manifesto launch. Read the manifesto… and you’ll want to be reading Simon Hoggart on “a major serving of sound gristle”.

John Berger is back

John Berger photographed by his friend Jean Mohr
When I was young, I used to love John Berger. Then I went off to college in the Big City and quickly learnt that he was out-of-date: a crusty old humanist in the cold universe of infinitely deferred closure and inaccessible meaning (and all that). So I put his books up on a high shelf and tried to get on with the unloveable Red Brigade of deconstructivists and post-structuralists I was supposed to identify with now. It didn’t really work (I did my best) and, twenty years on, the old Bolshevist has conspicuously and happily outlived the ‘theory’ nihilists. In London this month, there’s a celebration of the man’s life & work.

Sean O’Hagan wrote a lovely piece about him for The Observer last week and here are a couple of emotional pieces by the man himself from The Guardian: one about his old friend Cartier-Bresson (another sad old humanist) and one about Fahrenheit 9/11.

When I was about eighteen my Dad, who used to visit a village in the Haute Savoie close to Berger’s, walked the couple of miles up the mountain to Berger’s fantastically remote house – no electricity and no running water at the time – to ask him to sign my copy of Another Way of Telling. Berger was out but his wife promised he’d sign and return the book by post so my Dad left the book behind. When he told me he’d troubled the great man in his mountain hide-out I was mortified but, after a couple of weeks, it turned up, politely and tidily inscribed. I’m looking at it now.

My fantasy

My wife thinks I’m naive (or it might have been ‘stupid’ – I can’t remember). Anyway, I have a fantasy: Tony and Gordon are good mates. Really. They’ve been together too long to let a bit of professional rivalry come between them. Tony gets impatient with all that Presbyterian, son-of-the-manse bollocks and Tony’s high church mumbo jumbo makes Gordon feel slightly sick. Their wives don’t get on, of course, and they hate each other’s friends but, basically, they like and trust each other and they’re serious about working together to win the election and lead the country into a healthy, modern, fair and un-neurotic future. Of course, I could be wrong.

So long Longbridge

Heart-breaking business reality finally steam-rollers the Rover dream. Having been through one liquidation (a bit smaller, I’ll admit) I feel pretty confident in saying that Rover is tragically but definitely history – its passing will be painfully and pointlessly deferred, though, because the UK Government can’t acknowledge that the Phoenix route may have been the wrong one – at least not until after the election. The sad thing is that I can’t have been the only person who thought Rover was done for five years ago when the Phoenix fantasy got the Government OK and £500M in cash.

What I’m wondering now is: what if some clever and realistic executives (not the ones who just took £30M out of the business, for instance) picked up the assets left behind and turned them into a green transport powerhouse. There are no significant UK manufacturers of hybrid or Hydrogen powerplants, of interesting non-carbon transport tech or of low emissions vehicles in general. Since the Hydrogen war has already been well-and-truly won (in a few years we’re going to be talking about Big Hydrogen and the people behind Big Hydrogen are going to be… Big Oil!) now’s the time to invest in Hydrogen transport tech. Wouldn’t it be exciting if those 6,000 jobs (or a serious fraction of them) could be recycled into a really promising, really long-term business instead of being flushed down the toilet..?

Update: Wired this month has a bunch of interesting green power articles: Brendan Koerner looks at Toyota’s ambition to be the number 1 hybrid/Hydrogen manufacturer, Paul Eisenstein tests all the current hybrids, and there are a lot of them: they’re going to catch on quicker than you expected. Lisa Margonelli reckons the Chinese will be driving hybrid uptake, which is encouraging.

Book review: Hypercard reborn?

Applescript, The Missing Manual, Goldstein & Pogue, O'Reilly pub, cover image
Going on twenty years ago Hypercard, created by Bill Atkinson, felt like something helicoptered in from a William Gibson novel. “Make my own computer programmes? Pretty ones with sounds and visuals and proper interfaces? I am as a God!” Of course, I actually used it to make crappy catalogues and half-finished tools (sometimes half-finished catalogues and crappy tools) but, like everyone else, I could tell there was something big and important under the skin and, of course, some people actually built big, important things with it.

There was the mind-blowing Voyager CD Companion Series which used Hypercard to provide historical and musical context to classical music recordings – applications which I reckon would still seem pretty cool today (in all their one-bit glory) – and countless useful programmes interfacing Macs to cash registers and power stations and knitting machines – and millions of perfectly serviceable membership management stacks for Round Tables and scout troops and athletics clubs.

So it was really dispiriting to watch Hypercard disappear without trace over the next ten years or so – killed off, I suppose, at least in part by Mr. Berners-Lee’s less friendly but more flexible HTML, which, cleverly, allowed you to connect not just to resources on your hard drive but to stuff on other computers. Hypercard still exists in various specialist forms, some even adapted to the web, but it’s more-or-less irrelevant. Not exactly a hotbed of developer creativity (why not, I wonder?).

Anyway, the latest version of Applescript and its integration with OSX Tiger looks like a minor revival for the spirit of Hypercard (which is what got me thinking about it in the first place). Adam Goldstein, irritating geek prodigy, has written an excellent Applescript ‘Missing Manual’ for O’Reilly which I reckon is pitched nicely at people like me (old-timers with failing short-term memory) as well as at ordinary Mac users and which could conceivably get us all coding again.

Tiger, apparently, comes with some useful Hypercard-style dev tools for Applescript which could kick off a real renaissance for home-developed tools and gadgets just like Hypercard did all those years ago. The metaphor is different but the goal is the same – a library of useful and reusable scripts and applications that make life easier. I’m going to keep this book next to my Mac for a while and see if it triggers any creativity. Yeah right.

I’m back (like you’ve been missing me…)

I’ve been to Ireland with the family for a few days. We stayed on my cousin’s farm (complete with ducks and calves and so on) and we are now sorely in need of a rest from listening to my Dad going on about… well, the kind of things grumpy old Stalinists go on about. I took some photographs, of course (actually I took about 400 photographs – you should consider yourself lucky).

Now that I’m back, and the election campaign is under way (exciting, isn’t it?), and the bloggers are looking pretty important all of a sudden, I’m interested to read the fiend’s thoughts on the scary obligations of bloggers (yes, you) as journalists and publishers.