jasonbstanding.com

The most realistic story ever told.

Category: Musing (page 2 of 4)

Anatomy of a head-wall interface

I’ve been doing some work on the website for my new co-venture, WhiskySquad – a monthly whisky tasting exercise designed to give enthusiastic amateurs a chance to get their palates around some interesting stuff – and the problem that needed solving in this instance was that of easily setting up a way for people to register their interest in the strictly limited number of spaces for that month.

My initial thought was, “Ah, there are services that do this!” – Meetup.com and Eventbrite.com both provide systems to set up events and have people respond.  Both also provide payment gateways, however as you’d expect these both charge for the facility, and one of the core goals in the short term of whiskysquad is to run at an affordable cash-neutral position.

Andy suggested that we just publish each new tasting session on the site as a Post (the site is a very simple WordPress installation), and interested parties email us for that particular month’s session.  We then email them back with our bank details, and they transfer the money – once the transfer’s come through then we mark them down as “officially on the list”, and could then potentially edit the Post to reflect how many spare spaces we’ve got.

Being a programmer – as well as a fairly busy & fundamentally disorganised person – I tend to eschew entering into arrangements which are going to involve me keeping a lot of hands-on manual effort from my part, when there’s a possibility of automating some or all of the process.  I figured that WordPress, being a fairly mature platform now and widely felt to be a CMS product in its own right, would more than likely have add-ins available to speed me along my way.

After some concerted searching of the calendar plugins available I was quite surprised that Events Manager seemed to go quite a long way to solving the problem.  A typically easy installation later, and some need for tweaking became evident.

The problem for me is that the Event Signup form is a web form, so anyone can sign up.  It provides no protection against formbots (automated scripts that trawl t’internet and submit forms full of spam details), or nuisance submitters.  Many CAPTCHA plugins exist for WordPress, however they only insert/provide CAPTCHA ability for the “standard” WordPress forms: I couldn’t find a way of inserting one into the event form.  The obvious solution is therefore to limit it to Registered Users, whereby a person needs to sign up as a site subscriber, then verify that they’ve signed up, and only once they’re logged in will they see the event booking form.

I still want to keep the event notice and some info visible to non-registered people: calendar of upcoming tastings is a selling point/promotional tool, however there is a WordPress plugin that allows you to display part of your form to the public and keep some of it for subscribers – the Hidepost plugin.

After installing & playing with this I became frustrated that the user registration process takes you into site back end rather than front end, and one thing I can’t stand is confusing sites that send you places you don’t want to be.  Installing a sidebar-login box solved the problem of being sent off elsewhere in the site upon login, but not on registration – I couldn’t find a way around that, as part of the registration process is filling in your personal details, and then once that’s done you’re directed to the back-end dashboard, where the path back to the front end isn’t necessarily obvious.

It also occurred to me that site-registration is a little old, and in 2010 we’ve got better methods available, such as OAuth.  Wordpress doesn’t have a functioning OAuth plugin at the minute though, and by this time I was losing interest in perfection, and just wanting to get the damn thing out there.  Standard registrations, it was.

Once you’d registered and then found your way back to the main site it wasn’t too bad, and if you logged in from the sidebar login box in the first place everything worked OK, so that wasn’t a showstopper.  However I then got very irritated that you had to type in your name & email address to the event form after having logged in – presumably once a user logs in this information is already accounted for?  But how to pre-populate the event form…  the Events Manager plugin authors hadn’t provided any means of doing this, and perhaps my search engine skills are lacking, but I couldn’t readily find any way of retrieving these variables, and then working out the escape sequences required to insert them into the form (which itself is inserted into the page layout by way of a “shortcode”).

Aware now that I’d wasted the better part of the day on this, I figured that for simplicity’s sake in the first instance I’d just have a publicly accessible form, and would deal with it further down the line if it became a problem.  The next issue though was RSS feeds – we use Feedburner for our page’s RSS feed, as it both increases flexibility for the end user (email subscription as well as RSS), and gives us access to see how many people are reading our feed.

The Events Manager plugin literature plainly states that it stores events in a separate table to WordPress Posts, and I had a horrible feeling this meant that Events would therefore not show up in the RSS feed when published – this turned out to be the case.  The literature, however, reliably stated that the plugin produced its own feed.  Do you think I could find any indication ANYWHERE of what the address of this feed might be?  Could I BOLLOCKS.  It’s certainly not included in any obvious documentation/readme files I could see.  I managed to dig it out by grepping through the source code, however the problem now came about that I had 2 RSS feeds, and I only wanted one.  How best to amalgamate the two, then plug them back in to Feedburner?

Yahoo Pipes! Surely?  It’s fairly trivial – as it turns out – to amalgamate multiple RSS feeds and get a resultant output feed from Pipes.  I felt it was almost *too* easy, and it turned out I was right.  Whilst getting a joint feed was fine, convincing Feedburner to swallow that feed wasn’t going to happen – it kept reporting a 404 error.

Seems a bit ridiculous to me

Currently I’ve abandoned the RSS feed problem: I’ve decided that in parallel to publishing a date via the event system I’ll also write a News post to say there’s a new event, which will therefore appear in the main RSS feed.

However the problem still stands that it’s possible to submit blank or incomplete booking forms – which is nigh on useless for any sort of website.

So, do I take the code of the Events Manager plugin and develop my own (and try to plumb the myriad depths of the WordPress system – mindful of the fact that WordPress 3.0 is due for release any day now and probably dramatically restructures the entire system), or would it just be easier and a better use of time to publish each new tasting session on the site as a Post, interested parties email us for that particular month’s session, email them back with our bank details, and they transfer the money?

Looking at it, paying for Meetup.com is sounding like an attractive option.

Their mums must get some awesome postcards!

It’d be fair to say that I know a fairly mobile bunch of people – many of my friends from growing up don’t live in the ol’ neighbourhood any more, though having moved to different parts of Australia, or the world.  I’m going to assume this is pretty normal going by the number of places I’ve been on holiday where I’ve heard an Australian accent pipe up in the background (that is to say – EVERYwhere I’ve been, with possibly the exception of Mississippi).

Every now and again, however, I hear of someone who’s turned up somewhere that really makes me stop and say “Whoa, cool!”.

Don’t get me wrong – moving anywhere has a degree of risk & adventure about it, so I reckon it’s pretty cool when anyone goes anywhere (and that’s not solely because it gives me an opportunity to crash on another sofa somewhere obscure).  However, well… try these out:

A couple of years back I heard that Mark was working over in Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division doing electronical engineery stuff.  He was keeping a blog for a while, which made for pretty cool reading – I mean, come on…!  I know someone… right?  Who works… IN ANTARCTICA!  There’s a bit of footage of Mark lurking in the background from this ABC documentary episode thing, if you’re interested.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37ZpfFSODAk

Since then, Matty’s gone over there as well I believe – which is equally cool.  I know *2* dudes working in Antarctica.  What’s funny about that is they’re 2 of the most prolific wearers of shorts that I’ve ever met.

But the one which got my attention today and thus prompted me writing this post (cos it turns out I didn’t write anything when I found out that Mark worked in Antarctica – lazy bitch that I am…), was the news of a young chap from my Adelaide Gang Show days named Emrys Leitch.

Emrys is in Kyrgyzstan.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

I’m always really impressed to hear of someone who’s gone somewhere where there’s more than likely a big language barrier, and where they probably don’t know loads & loads of people already.  Having never heard of anyone ever going to Kyrgyzstan before, I don’t imagine there’s a massive community of Adelaideans that Emrys can regroup with.

The bit that impressed me more, though, is how he got there.

Emrys rode his bicycle to Kyrgyzstan, starting in Germany.

I’m not going to tell the story, because it’s much better if you listen to the ABC Radio interview.

In fact there’s no point in writing anything else, because even if I come up with the world’s best one-liners about it, or think up a new way to express my incredulousness or respect for having the balls to pull off such an epic adventure, it’s all going to be eclipsed by the fact that EMRYS RODE A FRIGGING BIKE FROM GERMANY TO KYRGYZSTAN!

Respect, man.

(n.b. Story photo courtesy Bell Chamberlain)

Further tales of Windows brilliance

We have an arrangement set up here in our office so that in order to work from home we connect to the corporate network using the Cisco VPN (Virtual Private Network) Client – a little bit of software that burrows through the Intertubes and joins up to some servers in the rack/farm so that our home computer now appears to be a node on the corporate network.  The way we set this up is to install the Cisco VPN Client on the machine, then run a little application which sets up some registry keys with the connection data/settings we require to link in to the corporate network.  Once connected, we then use the Windows Remote Desktop tool to log in to our development server (which has all our tools & software installed), and away we go!

The reason we exclusively use the Cisco client, and the accompanying RegKey program, is that nobody in the IT department can remember exactly what the configuration details are in order to type them in to any other VPN client: the RegKey.exe file is the only way we have to configure a VPN client.

Personally, because I’ve got all Apple gear at home now, this means that I’ve got to run a virtual PC on my computer using something like Parallels or VMWare, and then install Windows XP on that.  Once I’ve got that working I can install the Cisco VPN client and use the RegKey app, and everything runs in a fashion that you might describe as hunky-dory.  Matter of fact it’s better running it from my iMac than from my computer in the office, because my iMac screen is much bigger, and our internet connection is faster than the link we’ve got going out of the office.

A colleague at work has recently kitted himself out with a shiny new Sony Vaio laptop running Windows 7 – it’s a pretty spanky looking unit, and in the last couple of months he seems to have decided he’s quite happy with it.  Yesterday he asked if I had the VPN Client installer so he could set it up for remote working.  After I eventually got him the file (punctuated helpfully by USB stick failure, which is a separate whinge) he tried to install it but reported back that the install didn’t work, so rather than try & troubleshoot remotely one step per day at a time, I suggested he bring the laptop in.  Yes, that’s right, I still say “laptop”, rather than “notebook” – call me a child of the 80’s.  A notebook’s got pages in it, fool.

Sure enough, the VPN client installer got to about 85% finished and then failed with an error code, and a little bit of Google mining revealed that the Cisco VPN Client is a 32-bit piece of software, and not compatible with 64-bit installations of Windows 7.  We check Paul’s operating system.  It’s 64 bit.

We try to run the installer in Windows XP compatibility mode, however the OS is too smart for that and won’t have a bar of it.  A bit of further Google mining turned up a nugget of information that Windows 7 has an optional installable Windows XP compatability feature whereby when you download & install this dooberry you can run software in a built-in virtualised aspect of Windows XP, and this is perfect for running the Cisco VPN Client (which the developers don’t supply in 64-bit form).  I tried to download the Windows 7 XP Mode package to put on my USB stick ready to stick on Paul’s Vaio, however when the pre-download questionnaire asked me what version of Windows 7 he had (Home Premium edition), a message came up saying words to the effect of “This option is not available for this edition of Windows 7.  Please upgrade to Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate”.

We figured that whilst a massive pain in the arse and a bit of an imposition, it was probably OK to do the upgrade depending on cost, so we set about trying to find out what the upgrade price was to go from Home Premium to Professional (the most basic of the editions which would support the feature we needed).  The two of us searched away for about 10 minutes each, but were unable to turn up any information – the Microsoft site indicated that the only way to find out a price was to run the Windows Anytime Upgrade tool on the machine to be upgraded.  One site appeared to indicate that the upgrade cost was around USD$100, however this sounded to me like the sort of price that would apply to a US upgrade purchased in the US only (such is the nature of software pricing).

With now no recourse than to plug his laptop in to our office network, he ran the upgrade wizard thing, and finally we were presented with the information we sought – £120.

To put it into context, with £120 you could buy 5 slabs of 24 cans of Carlsberg lager (not that you WOULD, of course…), or 51 bottles of proper beer.  I thought it could also buy you the 31 disc anthology box of Wrestlemania, but it turns out it can’t.  But it CAN buy you an OEM copy of Windows 7 Professional, and leave you with enough change to buy yourself a nice new t-shirt with an orangutan’s face on it – so yes, it costs more to upgrade from one version to another than it does to buy the new version outright.

One hundred and twenty pounds, for an upgrade of one version of software to another version of the same software, purely so it was possible to install a virtual downgrade of the same software in order to be able to install another bit of software with which to connect to another machine.  And all because someone couldn’t be bothered finding out what the connection details were.

It all makes being alive seem just that little bit more worthwhile, doesn’t it?

Cuisine (feeling haute, haute, haute)

Magnificent, isn’t it?

batchelorchow1

After a long day out & demanding evening, it’s possible – thanks to the wonders of modern domestic science – to enjoy a healthy and balanced pouch of nutrients, and though the diagram on the front looks terrifyingly wholesome, the preparation method is actually a lot simpler than you might initially suspect!

batchelorchow2

What could be easier?  There’s no need for junky takeaways any more now that we have the life-giving Orange Pouch – simply squeeze, tear a small hole, then put in the microwave for 2 minutes (or, as we call it, the Mystical Illuminated Rotating Food Heaterising Cabinet).  It turns out that the “squeeze” phase is more of a palpating action performed gently on the bag, rather than an enthusiastic grab for the middle like a spinster aunty might give.  Incorrect grippage at this early stage can result in bag rupture, and subsequent distribution of the pouch’s payload all over and betwee one’s kitchen floorboards (depending on boardal spacing, naturally).

And is it as good as the picture suggests?  Well, let another picture tell you the thousand words you’re dying to hear… errm… know:

batchelorchow3

And the GOOD news is that – according to the information displayed on the pouch – one’s got until October next year to enjoy that particular meal.

Ah dear.  Orange Pouch Bachelor Chow – for those rare moments when you just can’t be arsed to go for a kebab.

Still jealous?

Are you trying to tell me Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?

Was making a coffee in the kitchen at work just now, and for some reason the following sentence popped into my head:

You put snot on the ball?

Stopped me dead in my tracks, that did.  What relevance does that have to anything?  After a moment’s pause, it occurred to me that it was a quote from the 1989 baseball comedy Major League, starring Charlie Sheen, a very non-buff Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, and Dennis Haysbert back when he was still doing TV bit parts and probably never envisaged playing the President of the USA in 24.

So as I completed my coffee construction ritual my mind wandered to see what other Major League quotes it could come up with.  I used to fricken’ love that film as a kid.  Couldn’t have seen it more than 180 times though.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Hats… for bats…  keep bats warm…
  • Want me to take him outside, beat the shit outta him?
  • Tyreworld, Lou Brown speaking…
  • I feel like a banker in this!
  • The local press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat!
  • We should’ve ordered a live chicken…
  • Up your butt, Jobu.
  • By the way, saw your wife last night, hell of a dancer, you must be very, very proud. I mean that guy she was with, I’m sure he’s a close personal friend and all. But tell me, what was he doing wearing her panties on his head.
  • You can’t say “goddamn” on the air!
  • What the hell league you been playing in? / California Penal…
  • Taylor calls his shot!
  • Shit, I been cut already?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uWGXUaEi1s

That’s all I could think of – it doesn’t take long to get a brew through with the Aeropress.  Plus I like to get it over & done with as quick as possible, because people keep thinking it’s a cock pump.

If you can think of another good one feel free to add it to the comments…

Mmm… Contrasty…

Hello Dolly isn’t typically the kind of musical I’d embrace, in my jaded old age – written in the 1960s, it very much embodies the fanciful & superficially wholesome stereotypical thing which kinda irritates me about the entire genre.  You know what I’m talking about.  As soon as the curtain goes up the scene gets set with a certain presentation of class (in this case, middle-to-upper); a beige backdrop against which the protagonist(s) can introduce their distinction.  See Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fiddler on the Roof, The Producers for more examples.  The latter two are somewhat less saccharine and therefore bad examples.  It’s the kind of thing that also gives me the willies about Richard Curtis films.

Still, a cheap ticket’s a cheap ticket.  Plus the few stage shows I’ve been to at Regent’s Park had been excellent.

In point of fact I wasn’t intending to write too much about Hello Dolly specifically, but as I’ve started a good summary would be that it was as I had expected: a real-life recreation of the big MGM studio production pieces.  The story of a meddling busybody marriage broker in New York society, and the unlikely scrapes & hijinks that ensue when a couple of working-class lads stumble into a world above their station, whilst the meddler’s past helps her to fulfil a missing part of her life.  The costumes were pristine period-wear, presenting a sterilised version of a caricature of a time.  The performances were wholesome and twee, with plenty of “Well golly-gee!”s and the big first half finale featuring the parochial 14th Street Parade, where everyone’s suddenly sporting US flags and rosettes on their breast pockets.  The restaurant, where much of the second half’s action takes place, is staffed by eunuch-like tapdancers, capering around in that way that the staff always do.

I don’t want to give you the impression I didn’t enjoy it, of course.

In fact, once you looked past all that – which of course you’d need to, unless you were a pointless twat – there was some good fun stuff in there.  The third song in, It Takes A Woman, was the usual kind of chauvanistic anthem that turns up in musicals – I assume to set the scene that the male lead is the sort of hard-nosed, no-nonsense hardass who recognises women only for their utility value and thereby raises the stakes for when he inevitably softens and falls in love with the female.  The girl in the seat next to me sighed with exasperation and was quite tense during this song, and I was hoping she might storm out with frustration at the rampant sexism.

So if the point wasn’t to talk about how good the show was, what WAS the point, exactly?  Well, Regents Park is located very close to where I live, and so the optimum mode of transport is to walk there.  It takes about 15-20 minutes, and this provides an opportunity to have a bit of video playing on the ol’ iPod (the only way I get to watch telly these days).

The show I’m presently making my way through is the gritty, sexy Louisiana-based vampire story, True Blood.  Man, if ever there was a stark contrast with the wholesome antics of Hello Dolly…

True Blood is the tale of waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who has telepathic abilities, in the hick-town of Bon Temps.  It’s set in a hypothetical reality where science has discovered a synthetic substitute for human blood, and as a result vampires no longer need to hunt people to survive.  Vampires have therefore dropped their secrecy and come forward to join mainstream society.  You get everything – the mystical awesomeness of vampires, the tension of small-town prejudice against outsiders set against national-level attempts by one group to make peace with the other, a bit of standard romance & drama, a decent-sized bit of violence (cos it’s a show for grownups after all), and they’ve not skimped on pouring in massive lashings of sex & nudity.

Consequently, my evening went:  BLOOD SEX VIOLENCE SWEARING BIGOTRY SEX VIOLENCE POLITICS UNDEAD BLOOD NUDITY TURMOIL ANGER DESPAIR BLOOD VIOLENCE SWEARING laa dee daa dee daa You’ll get married, I’ll get married, Big parade, tapdancing waiters, I don’t love you, yes I do, happily ever after, dum dee dum dee doo doo BLOOD SEX VIOLENCE SWEARING FLESHEATING SEX VIOLENCE and BLOOD.

What a trip.

Incidentally (back to bitching about musicals for a second): one of the things which reviews of the Regents Park production all seemed to agree on, and similarly be enthused about by punters, was that the full stage dance routine where the cast formed into a big lump, and then transformed themselves into a steam engine, was a triumph of theatrical imagination.  It was pretty cool – the people forming the “wheel-level” section joined some furled umbrellas up and rotated them such that the whole thing had a drive-train feel to it, and somewhat inexplicably the man at the front wearing the stovepipe hat suddenly had smoke issuing forth in a very chimneylike way.

It was pretty neat, but I saw pretty much the same thing carried off (minus smoking hat) in 1986 in the Adelaide Festival Centre when Cats came through (during the song about Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat).

Final analysis: if they can put together a Jane Austen film with zombies in it, then they ought to be able to cook up a version of Hello Dolly featuring vampires.

Lookie likey

A comment on my previous post (from Wurst, who I gather breezed in from Stonch’s Beer Blog) brought up the turbulent topic of celebrity lookalike-ness.  He asserted that I looked like “a cross between Jaz Coleman and that singer who was in that show with an American guy from the Mighty Boosh!”.  Thankfully, Wikipedia was on hand to tell me who each of these people are, and a process of deduction helped me arrive at the identity of the latter being Matt Berry.

Berry / Coleman

Berry / Coleman

I guess he’s got a point.  With any luck, it’s partially complimentary.

In my youth it was often hinted at that I used to have a bit of an Antonio Banderas thing going on, especially in this gem of a picture from Lynn’s 21st:

The tongue of Zorro

The tongue of Zorro

I’m not upset with the progression to Berry/Coleman (not that I’m entirely sure who either of them are).  I just hope that further progression to the next celebrity takes as long, if not longer, for people to pass comment on.

But then I guess there’s always scope for things to be worse.

jackie_stallone

Finally, a bit of culture

Following my earlier piece of hastily constructed drivel about the plinth project, I’ve not seen much of interest going on up there.  Of course unless you’re permanently glued to the webcast then there’s not much chance of that happening anyway… assuming anything of interest *does* happen.

Charlie Brooker seems to have nailed the situation quite succinctly in his recent Guardian column – calling it “Britain’s Got People”, and reinforcing my earlier point about one hour being quite a long time to be in the spotlight.  As Brooker notes, Warhol’s observation about “15 minutes of fame” is played out hourly on the plinth, where seemingly even the most well-prepared plinther arrives with something “to do”, and then after about 15-20 minutes of their performance they realise that an hour is an inordinately long time, before resorting to shuffling about, taking photographs, and phoning their mates – the platform of fame turning into a prison of scrutiny.

There’s been a few deviations from this – in week one Pat Purves played morris dancing tunes on his melodeon and welcomed the dawn in…  The fact that the morris man was put on at 3am to me casts doubt on the randomness of the “random computer selection”…  but that could just be a conspiracy theory evolving.  Another recent highlight was when The Stig (apparently) took the plinth – but of course as Stig’s 2 modes of behaviour are driving around like a frigging maniac, or standing still with his arms folded, there wasn’t much likelihood of apologetic shuffling or friend-phoning.

Yes, this is going somewhere.  Shut up.

My learned work colleague Steve & I were just returning from an impromptu Quality Control Sampling evening at The Speaker and then The Red Lion the other night, when we thought we’d pop in & see what was going on at The Plinth.  From the other side of Trafalgar Square we could see what appeared to be a gyrating blue woman.  It seemed only fair & reasonable to go over & pay attention, because – crucially – it was about 40 minutes past the hour, and yet there was gyrating going on!  A breaking of the 20 minute barrier!

P1020200

Some sort of alien, perhaps?

Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the blue girl was in fact a blue painted girl, not sporting much else.

Must be cold up there.

Must be cold up there.

As you can see, it was a fairly chilly night, so our assumption was that the blue was paint, and not some hypothermic skin hue – certainly explained her keenness to keep dancing in any case.  In the spirit of giving you, my dedicated audience, a better picture of what was going on I had the presence of mind to take some video footage.  Unfortunately I haven’t figured out how one rotates video 90 degrees, so I apologise if watching the following makes you develop any neck-related discomfort.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up68DkZyt5k

Another shortfalling of the plinth becomes obvious at this juncture: you need halfway decent amplification up there for the audience to hear whatever it is you’re hearing, and we didn’t stand a chance of hearing whatever bluegirl was dancing to on her domestic CD player.  In fact, having wandered in more than halfway through we were a little puzzled as to what the relevance of the whole thing was to anything in particular.

As the 5 minutes to the hour mark approached she stopped dancing and wrapped up in a towel, as the Cherrypicker of Destiny approached bearing the next plinth candidate.

"She'll need a longer runway", we wistfully said

"She'll need a longer runway", we wistfully said

For that time of weeknight there seemed to be quite a crowd gathered, and the mysterious blue dancer was farewelled to enthusiastic cheer.  This may well have stricken terror, or maybe misguided optimism, into the heart & mind of her replacement.

The batteries on this singer seem to be flat

The batteries on this singer seem to be flat

Her replacement – the above bowtied & dinnersuited adolescent – I later discovered was promoting his platform as trying to sing as many songs from Les Miserables as possible over the course of the hour.  He wasn’t off to a flying start as we shifted uneasily yet expectantly from side to side, as his amplification system wasn’t working.  And so, the sizeable crowd dissipated.  Such is the fickle nature of fame.

Well read? Well… read, anyway.

Inspired by a conversation on Twitter between me, @mooley, and peripherally @neonwombat, here’s a list of my top ten books.  I’ll qualify this by stating that I wrote this list whilst not in front of my bookshelf, or with any attempt at recollection of which books I’ve got stack up in boxes in Adelaide.  Arguments about anything on this list are happily welcomed, particularly on the basis of me having declared something to be in my “top 10 books” list previously and then having omitted it here.

  1. Last Chance To See – Douglas Adams
  2. Axis Of Time (trilogy) – John Birmingham
  3. Lord of the Rings (trilogy)- JRR Tolkien
  4. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (“trilogy”) – Douglas Adams
  5. Join MeDanny Wallace
  6. He Died With A Felafel In His Hand – John Birmingham
  7. Big Bang – Simon Singh
  8. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
  9. Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, The Best Legal Whorehouse in Texas, No Child’s Behind Left and Other Tales of Class Combat in a Dying Regime – Greg Palast
  10. The Ode Less Travelled – Stephen Fry

Yes, trilogies count as a single book.

Knackers! I knew I’d forget something!

It hardly seems relevant now, but that’s never stopped me in the past – one of the key elements I totally forgot to refer to in the Arcade Gaming story was the 3-letter-nicknames thing!  As with most computer games, arcade games always had a High Score table – the difference between the modern setup and the games I was reminiscing about is that whilst nowadays you’re accommodated with lots of space to write your name in, back in The Old Days you were afforded a fairly mean 3 character limit.  The philosophy was obviously that you were meant to put your initials in, no doubt geared on by the limited RAM storage space available in those days, and also the fact that – given the mentality of your target audience – it would have been suicide to offer four letters.

hiscore

Some of the bowling kids actually used their initials – Tristan always put TJH, Kirsty was KJM, Daniel cunningly used DAN.  There was a dude called Serge whose dad used to run the trophy shop up the road (if you’re gonna run a trophy shop – put it near a sporting venue or 2.  Good business practice) who eschewed initials and went straight for GOD.  This seemed a little bit too self-glorifying for my taste.

The earliest 3 letter sobriquet I remember adopting was ACE – at the tender age of 8 or 9 this seemed to make perfect sense, as my Dad and several of his mates (unofficial uncles, I guess) called me “Jase the Ace”.  So ACE I was for a fair while, until one day at the bowling alley I was watching one of the Big Kids playing… errm… Bombjack, maybe?… when he finished up by putting ACE into the score table.  In order to clear up any misunderstandings, I piped up and said “But, I always put ACE in when I get a high score” – however the lad was quite swift to set me straight on who was who around here: “No.  I’M ACE”.

Having now established who in the world ACE was, and keen not to cause any future confusion (imagine if one of ACE’s friends had thought he’d gotten a high score on a game when it was in fact me?! Who knows  what hijinks may have ensued!), I had to find myself another 3 lettered moniker.  It’s a tricky process: it’s like finding a new nickname for yourself.  You want to come up with something kind of cool-sounding, but not so cool that it’s obvious that it’s you trying to sound cool.

I knew that ZOZ and BIT were out of the question, having previously been claimed by my mate Alex B and his brother Andrew.  In fact, having just googled ZOZ out of curiosity, it seems that he’s still very much known as ZOZ.  We’d also proven on many arcade consoles that BUM was out of the question – second-guessed by prudish game producers this Forbidden Code was often set back to AAA, with an accompanying ticking off message.  Equally unsuccessfull was ASS, although for some reason to the Australian adolescent this lacked the sophistication and draw of BUM.

You could contrive other swearwords too, such as KOK, NOB, DIC, etc. but it provided me with all the satisfaction of making up words in Scrabble.  I mean, you might get a good score with a word like “coomy”, but ultimately you know you’ve cheated.

For a while I tried ZAX, but it never seemed to fit right.  Sticking with infrequently used letters I briefly gave TYX a shot – but again, not being a real word lent the whole thing an air of trying too hard.

I might add that my brother Tim had had the foresight to have a 3 letter name to start with, so that was a bit of a no brainer.  And an odd source for fraternal jealousy.

I thought I’d hit paydirt one day whilst playing Wizball on the Commodore 64 at home one day, realising that WIZ was a pretty cool contraction which was a widely-recognised and therefore not too wanky sounding construction. Unfortunately this moniker was disputed too by my mate Alex S, who started claiming WIZ as his own (I still maintain that he hadn’t, as I’d have bloody well seen him do it).

Having gotten to this point I briefly struggled to remember what it was I settled on, but it’s just come back to me: DOC.  The whole concept’s a bit stupid now I think of it, because despite the amount of money I funnelled into those damn games I don’t recall scoring particuarly highly on most of them.

Were you to ask me now to come up with a 3 letter combination to represent my name, I think I’d either opt for JBS (having reached peace with my personal nomenclature), or – more than likely – caught up in the adolescent mental attitude that video games conjure up for me, snigger a bit and then key in WNK, before furtively darting away feeling pleased with myself.

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