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Category: review (page 2 of 8)

Qype: Sky Lounge @ Nido in London

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Maybe I had the wrong expectation of this place – I thought that pop-up bars were meant to be about making quirky, innovative and memorable use of space that was only available for a short time, whereas the modus operandi of this place appeared to be “sell overpriced drinks to pillocks in a penthouse that nobody’s bought because it’s on top of a massive student housing block”.

We went along on one of those daily deal voucher things, not expecting to be treated like royalty, but not to be completely ignored. Quite why it was required that we make a booking for a particular time was a bit of a mystery, because nobody seemed to know we were going to be there, and the table we were pointed to was nicely situated so you could barely see any of the view that was the primary feature of this 32nd floor bar. It probably wouldn’t have been as bad if the staff had gone around periodically and wiped the nose-grease from the windows.

Check out my review of Sky Lounge @ Nido – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Eedinborrow?

We’re back up in Edinburgh this year for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – this time Marty’s over from Australia, and he’s joined Liz, Billy, Myk, Kat & I in a nice centrally-placed apartment for a week of theatrical excess and mayhem.  So far we’ve seen (I suspect I’ll edit this list a few times in the next couple of days to add detail as I get time & inclination):

If there’s a link there, it’s to a review of that show I wrote for Whatsonstage.com

More detail to follow.

Qype: Lazy Boy Saloon in New York

New York – Eating & DrinkingPubs & BarsPubsMicrobreweries

Not strictly a microbrewery (in that they don’t actually make their own beer… guess that’s a bit of a biggie, really), Lazy Boy is a bar which – as the story goes – was started by a couple of tradesmen who took possession of the building as payment for a bankrupt client.

Boasting a selection of over 400 different beers, the bustling atmosphere and people queueing for tables amid a fairly wide selection for restaurants in this popular area of White Plains is a neat indicator of Good Things To Come.

The beer selection is nothing short of amazing, and the draught beer list fills an A4 page with an option for every taste. What sealed it for me, however, was the ribs. These were, unquestionably, the finest ribs I have ever had. Ever. You could feed these ribs to a pensioner whose teeth had fallen out 10 years hence. So tender & moist. And flavoursome.

Just stunning.

Check out my review of Lazy Boy Saloon – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Comedy Rush: Covering a lot of comedic ground in a very short space of time

60 comedians in 60 minutes sounds like a potentially ridiculous format for a gig, and if you thought that you’d be absolutely right.  However somebody cooked the concept up, and there’s clearly plenty of talent keen to get involved because when I went to Comedy Rush at the Shaftesbury Theatre it was the second night in the series.  Apparently revisiting an Edinburgh Fringe concept from 2001, the gargantuan lineup for each night was only hinted at with a few key names – it makes sense really, given the vagaries of the comedy booking landscape.  And as they only had 60 seconds each to deliver their piece, stature and circuit seniority didn’t necessarily guarantee excellence – but the overall effect was an lightning-paced ripper of a night.

MC Rob Rouse delayed proceedings to begin with by getting caught up in traffic on the way in, prompting the theatre manager – a velvet-jacketed old West End luvvie type – to come out and apologise to the punters for the wait (something he probably never had to do while Flashdance was in residence there).  Most people didn’t seem to mind too much however, and it have me a little extra time to take in the appointments of the building which I’d first seen on grainy VHS as the venue for the Comic Relief video from 1986 (with the biggest assembly of UK comedic talent I’d ever seen, back at the tender age of 12 or 13).

Rouse did a serviceable job of warming the crowd up with some material about parenthood and babies: he seemed a fairly safe observational type, although had a way with words that showed echoes of a much lesser Daniel Kitson.  At least he was inoffensive, and in a compere that’s a positive boon (as I’d learned from past awful nights held together by Dave Johns or Hardeep Singh-Kohli).  And it wasn’t long before we were away.

(before we get too far into it, there was no programme and each act was only announced once, so there’s a great chance that the names of half of these will be misspelled or just plain wrong)

It wasn’t looking great, as 4 Poofs And A Piano kicked off with a hybrid version of Bohemian Rhapsody and a peaen to bum sex, followed by Ellis Jameson getting off on a slow start to an obervational piece about living in Wales.  The manic Phil Nichol tipped the mood with a sustained 1 minute of cheering for Ellis Jameson, the Shaftesbury Theatre, Comedy Rush, some guy in the front row, and for the next act on – Nathan Caton.  The towering Caton took stage and delivered a piece about kids and prostitutes, and then passed over to Pat Monahan, who discussed how there’s a lot more hugging up North.

About this point in the gig it struck me that nearly every one of the 6 acts on had commenced with variations on “Hello, Shaftesbury Theatre, how are you?”, and it occurred to me that if we were going to be asked 60 times how we were it would a) grow tired very rapidly and b) probably not change remarkably in response (getting irritated notwithstanding).

Greg Goldstein asked us how we were, made some banter and then launched into his uncanny Louis Armstrong impression.  Pete Dobbing dispensed with jokes and instead mounted a straight-ladder one step at a time with Sexual Healing blaring out in the background.  Zoe Lyons made an excellent point about ugg boots, before Julio Simpson came out & said something about being in Afghanistan.

(you wonder if some of these notes were worth writing, really – but, after all, the acts were good enough to perform for a minute…)

Michael Legge dwelt on the incredulity of playing the Shaftesbury Theatre (a recurring theme for the evening) before getting off on to a nice angry rant about Joseph & His Technicolour Dreamcoat.  The Trap took stage and delivered a faultless 1 minute song called “I Never Knew” (and marked themselves out as a group I should check out soon), and were followed by Tom Price (who asked us how we were) and his set-let about beach weddings & Gollum.  Dougie Dunlop delivered a laid-back piece about age, but was quickly forgotten as a chap whose name I didn’t catch delivered a song about schizophrenia whilst accompanied by a miniature singing “Henry” vacuum cleaner.

There was definitely no shortage of random at this gig.

The ever-lovely Tiffany Stevenson acquitted herself tidily with her bit about body image, before another of my favourite events of the night – the entropic Paul Foot announced that he wasn’t Paul Foot, but a police inspector investigating a murder in the theatre, and that he intended to question each and every audience-member until the mystery was solved.  Seb Fletcher tried to channel Lee Evans with a mime of playing drums to a track, however it was as interesting as watching people lipsync songs on YouTube.  Stuart Goldsmith held up the “established circuit comics” end of the table with a piece about his 3 favourite practical jokes, and couldn’t be followed by Ginger & Black – the “almost” musical storytellers, whose electronic piano problems exposed the mercilessness of the 1-minute format.  Although once they got going I didn’t find them very amusing, so 1 minute was perfect.

Next, my notes say “Joel Gobits” and “Bathroom questions”.  I’ve no recollection of this whatsoever, but he did ask us how we were.  Adam Bloom fared better with some stuff on swearing followed by his 4 topical jokes.  Gareth Jones charged on stage wrapped head-to-toe in clingfilm and executed a fairly bewildering escape act.  Adrian Poynton managed a neat idea about God playing Guess Who using tombstones.  MC Rah came on draped in a Jamaican flag and shouted some unintelligible crap: Was it satire? Was it a character piece? No idea.  Was it tedious?  Oh yes.  Amazing how he managed to bore everyone in under a minute.

Rachel Parris meekly pushed out a piano-backed song about vomiting during your first kiss, and then Ronnie Barker lookalike John Moloney opened with a line about having been mistaken for a lesbian, and then was unable to get any further material out for the remaining 45 seconds because we were all laughing and clapping so much.  Lofty deep-voiced Tom Crane talked of his previous experience in choirs, before singing Jingle Bells at us in Spanish.

While I pondered whether the night would degenerate into people demonstrating their party tricks, David O’Bam(?) mimed a hybrid of ballet and boogie dancing, and Guy Pussey (??!) played saxophone to us as we eagerly leant forward for the eventually non-arriving punchline – not a comic, just a sax player.  Well-played, organisers.  Carey Marx prompted me to write “Very Tasteful Indeed”, followed by the mostly harmless Ricky Grover claiming that he hadn’t been booked – he just saw a queue snaking out of the stage door.  Seymour Mace attempted to hilariously stuff as many marshmallows in his mouth as possible but the audience saw through this and reacted with indifference.

At this point where I realise I’ve hit the 1100 word mark, the idea of writing this “quick” post seems to have proven ill-advised, but we’ve come this far, and only just reached the intermission.  And, much to the bewilderment/chagrin of the drinks-hungry punters, the interval too was 1 minute long.

The Evel Knievel Stunt Spectacular took stage as people filtered back in – riding back & forth across the stage on a tiny motorcycle whilst the stunt coordinator set up the requisite ramp, toy buses, and fireworks.  Excellent stuff.  Variety lives.  Peoh Hudson (??) adopted an Emo Phillips-like cadence to tell us about his time living in Dubai, then the wonderful Isy Suttie gave us the “Brit Awards down a well” treatment, which I didn’t feel worked as well in isolation.  Les Ball brought the gig into the realm of slapstick mime – thankfully only for a minute – and was followed by Ian Smith waxing fantastic about cats doing jury service.

Gruesome magicians Barry & Stuart subverted the artform using cheesewire and a polo mint and about 5 litres of blood, leaving Rob Deering and his loop box to pave the way for beardy outsider Stephen Carlin to deliver some of his Christmas material.  Alan Francis toyed with the non-sequitur of an eloquent tramp.  Josh Widdecombe, who asked us how we were, must have done something along the theme of “Loved & Lost” but I’ve no idea what it was, but what was memorable was The Amazing Mrawa (??) – hula hoop artiste extraordinaire.  Actually her tricks didn’t really go very far, but an energetic lady not wearing much made remarkable contrast to the parade of low-energy males, so she was well-received.

Jacob Edwards underlined how nervous he was about the gig, but left us with the new acronym “FMILF”.  McNeil & Pamphlion sang a clever meta-song about comedic song structure: I was a bit preoccupied trying to figure out where I’d seen one of them before.  Holly Bird (?) seemed to serve no purpose other than to give the “women aren’t funny” brigade a piece of ammunition, as she moved through the audience squawking about I don’t care what and forcefeeding some of us bananas and crisps.

The Scott Brothers gave a Hollywood Gossip report based on the brief flight of fancy that everyone there had second jobs in DIY/trade.  MC Rob Rouse took the stage to do a minute of his own material on the idea of him looking like a Geography teacher, but not before he’d asked us how we were.  The vinyl-clad & bulbous Miss Behave injected some uncertainty into the room before threading her tongue-piercing with a long-stemmed rose and making it twirl about.  James Redmond didn’t make enough of a lasting impression on me to recall what the note “paedo texts” might mean, but Scott Capurro lived up to the reputation I’d heard with his material on gay stereotypes in Abu Dhabi.

Geriatric Lady Agatha trundled to centre stage with her walking frame and loudly announced “I’VE GOT NO COLON!” before using her remaining 30 seconds to walk the rest of the way across the stage.  Will Andrews’ set revolved around facial distortion.  A group called The Neuroscientists (3 kids and maybe their dad?) demonstrated an optical illusion using rotating shapes – not comedy per se, but by this time the gig really had a feel of “let’s get in anyone who has a 1 minute act”.  Matt Kirshen talked about reindeer.  What about them?  I’ve no recollection at all.

The high point of the evening for me, it confuses me to say, was Frank Sanazi – to date the best, and only, Adolf Hitler-themed Frank Sinatra impersonator I’ve ever seen.  After enquiring of the audience by show of hands who had seen him before and who hadn’t he transitioned seamlessly into Sieg Heil With Me, and left me wondering whether I’ll ever tire of cheesy one-joke cover acts.  Seemingly not.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGSU04lacIM

Katy Brand performed a mediocre character piece about an overbearing female army recruiter, then in the biggest surprise (to me, at least) of the night, the normally bulletproof Andrew Maxwell delivered a one-joke idea about going to a Cockney Mosque, then spending the rest of his time revelling in the fact he was playing the Shaftesbury Theatre.  Colin Hoult was impressive with a character piece based on an FAQ about a bloke called Mike who referred to himself in the third person, and Charlie Baker continued the vaudevillian party tricks by doing a couple of jokes and launching into a tap dancing routine.

If it’s possible to have a headline act in a format that only allows the performers 1 minute, the broadcasting of catchphrase “To me! To you! To me! To you!” signalled the arrival of the Chuckle Brothers, which seemed to please the audience greatly – I don’t recall their material being amazing, but it didn’t really seem to matter in this instance as they glided on pure nostalgia value (and possibly got just over a minute allocated as a concession).

The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra finished the gig – Martin White conducting somehow whilst playing the accordion, and then played us out of the auditorium as the marathon-weary crowd shuffled towards the exits.

A truly bizarre evening, and though not one that I’d recommend on a regular basis, as a once (or, in this case, twice)-off it was excellent, and I would say that I enjoyed it more (certainly more consistently) than the Channel 4 Comedy Gala last year.  If there had been tickets available for the first night in the series, it would have been very intriguing to see how the more mainstream headline acts there handled the format (Rufus Hound, Robin Ince, Brendon Burns, Lucy Porter, Simon Munnery).

Qype: Jamie’s Italian in Bristol

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Poor Jamie must be run ragged getting around and personally supervising all the pasta houses that are springing up (about 20, so far) adorned with his cheeky moniker. We thought we’d give the recently opened one in Bristol a go. First tip is to avoid peak meal times – the website cheerfully announces “No need to book!”, meaning that it’s not possible to book (if you’re a group less than 8), and will more than likely find yourself among the queue out the door being looked upon spitefully by the punters at Pizza Express over the road. On a Sunday afternoon however the wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes, which was plenty of time to get into a delicious crisp glass of prosecco.

An absolute must-try are the crispy polenta chips with parmesan, salt & rosemary: square nuggets of crunchy joy. The “Italian Nachos” were also a tasty way to get started – the downstairs area’s decorated with loads of hanging produce and watching the planks of antipasti being prepared and ferried past us got the mouth watering good & proper.

We had a couple of little hitches with the order, but we put this down to the place only having been open a week, and our waiter calmly and capably sorted things out. If this guy was typical of their hiring strategy then they’re pointing in the right direction, as he epitomised customer service. It’s the little touches like introducing you to your new waitress when it’s time for shift to finish. Excellent stuff.

For mains I had Rabbit Ragu Papardelle – a delicious flavoursome savoury creamy rabbit sauce on pasta which had shape and texture that had me thinking of octopus tentacles. My learned colleague had Pumpkin Panzerotti, sort of moon-shaped ravioli-like parcels of pumpkinny goodness. And to accompany we knocked down a bottle of the *very* easy-drinking Fiano, which is the closest thing to peach juice that’s ever come out of a wine bottle – STUNNING!

Caught up in the excitement I think I also smashed a tiramisu in my facehole, but it had been so overshadowed by the excellent meal it will have to go down in history as “probably quite good?”.

The whole lot came to about £70, which represented exceptional value for money without being in danger of being cheap. For food of such high quality in a vibrant and fun atmosphere, it distinguished itself as one of the standout lunchtimes I’ve had in recent memory.

About the only question I’d have would be how much parmesan does this place go through in a day – it seemed to be shredded and added to everything! Does anyone know if Mr Oliver has purchased a parmesan farm recently? If not, he’s missing a trick…

Check out my review of Jamie’s Italian – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Whale snot, and bats being very rude indeed

London delivered another of it’s rare and exciting opportunities into my eager grasp last Thursday night with the chance to attend the 2011 Ig Nobel Tour of the UK, to hear from Marc Abrahams of the Annals of Improbable Research in the Great Hall at Imperial College as he gave a presentation on the 2010 Ig Nobel laureates and their various works.

I’d first heard of the awards when Australia’s Dr Karl Kruszelnicki was awarded one in 2002 for his study on the factors affecting production and collection of belly button lint.  This is the kind of science I can get behind.

The Ig Nobel prizes are similar to the more famous Nobel prizes, in that they honour scientific achievement.  The prizes are presented in September at Harvard, each by a Nobel Laureate, and the winners give a short speech about their research which concludes either when they do, or when the designated small child gets bored.

This year’s list of prizes was:

Category Research Team Achievement/research
Engineering Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse & Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico “for perfecting a method to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter”
Medicine Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam & Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University, Netherlands “for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a rollercoaster ride”
Transportation Planning Toshiyuki Nakagaki & his team from Japan, and Dan Bebber & Mark Fricker of the UK “for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks”
Physics Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, & Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand “for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes”
Peace Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK “for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain”
Public Health Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA “for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.”
Economics The executives and directors of Goldman SachsAIGLehman BrothersBear StearnsMerrill Lynch, and Magnetar “for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof”
Chemistry Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, and BP “for disproving the old belief that oil and water don’t mix”
Management Alessandro PluchinoAndrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy “for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random”
Biology Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol “for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats.”

Our evening was made up of brief presentations by 2 of this year’s laureates, along with an interesting bit of science along the Ig Nobel lines, a product demonstration, and some poetry.

We started with a talk from Dan Bebber about their technique for using slime molds to solve shortest-route problems and to design efficient travel networks, and their subsequent mathematical modelling to simulate the slime molds (thus saving a lot of work and cleaning up afterwards.

Following that we were treated to a demonstration of the Safety Bra by Dr Elena Bodnar.  The safety bra is designed to save lives in emergency situations by coming apart and being re-purposed as temporary breathing apparatus with filtration membrane.

We were also treated to a talk by Matija Strlic, who talked about chemical analysis of the smell of old books, and how his team are working on an electronic nose that can smell paper and work out what steps need to be taken to preserve it base on the degradation agents it can sense (he also passed around a jar containing “old book smell”).

John Hoyland from New Scientist gave us an insight into the sorts of things they get in their “Feedback” column, which is a damn sight more interesting than that description sounds.  Sort of like an extended “Colemanballs” of science, an amusing piece was the advertising copy in a Japanese hotel about the benefits of their spa, and that it helped with “Chronic fire extinguisher disease”, “Gimlet wound”, and “Chronic woman disease”.  Quite the miracle cure.

Finally Gareth Jones dragged us through his research on fellatio in fruit bats, complete with large hand puppets to demonstrate – on the offchance there was any doubt – just what it was he was talking about.

The obvious (and frequently posited question) is how people get funding to do this sort of research, usually by people with little or no understanding of research, and the thing which seems common throughout is that while a lot of these projects sound silly they also teach us something about the world we live in, and are the sort of thing which come about from delving deep into the specifics of one particular topic.  Which doesn’t make it any less ridiculous, of course.

Abrahams also stressed that almost nobody who had nominated their own work for an Ig Nobel had ever won, which goes to show.  Something.

To finish we had a partial group reading of William Topaz McGonagall’s famous poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster.  The relevance of this being (other than just being something profoundly silly to do) that a couple of McGonagall scholars had unearthed some previously unread works of the… errm… poet, and they were celebrating at the Dundee event by reading them out.  It seems wrong to inflict the words on you at this point, but if you’re interested and have a moment, there’s a YouTube of Billy Connolly reading The Tay Bridge Disaster.  If you’ve got a spare 6 minutes and aren’t fussy about how you spend your time, have a look:

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

So that was the Ig Nobels.  By the sound of the way the “main” presentation was described, there seems little or no chance of ever getting a ticket to that, but the Ig Nobel show is an excellent and far more convenient second, and the tickets are free, so if you’re in any way interested in science I highly recommend keeping your ear to the ground around Feb/March next year and see if you can bag one!

Qype: Restaurant La Villa d’Este in Nice

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Whilst stuck in Nice recently due to a transport foulup, my partner and I asked our hotel concierge where a good place to go for dinner might be, and with no hesitation at all she pointed us at Villa d’Este. And in doing so provided one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Though thoroughly busy and full of diners, the adept team of waiters led us past the huge bowls of mouthwatering looking fresh pizza toppings, quickly located us a table and had us seated within minutes of arriving. The place was buzzing with activity and energy, with birthdays, gatherings of friends, romantic couples dining and casual groups all mingled happily together.

About the only point of agony was making a selection from the exciting looking menu – my cannelloni were made of pure happiness, and the margherita pizza was an elegant example of flavoursome perfection. We chose a stunning bottle of Barbera to accompany, however making one single selection from the wine list was another agony of pleasure.

As a nice older French gentleman explained to us on the flight over, Nice used to be part of Italy, but was handed over to France in the 1860s in thanks to Napoleon for his support during the Italian war of independence against Austria. As such, he said that Nice is famous for its pizza – it seems a potential card to exploit to squeeze money out of tourists, somehow. I can’t help but think that when that kindly-faced French gent described “famous pizza” to us, he might have somehow been thinking of La Villa d’Este.

We solemnly vowed to come back the following week when we were back in Nice, and we damn well would have if we hadn’t stumbled across the amazing wine bar… but that’s another story.

Check out my review of Restaurant La Villa d’Este – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

The idealist’s view of The Digital World

Despite my recent move to the periphery of software development, I started life in the Computer Science department at Flinders University, and by virtue of associating with some Mighty Clever Folks had some of the hacker mentality rub off on me.  Since then I’ve held a keen interest in hacking together software projects from time to time, and also learning about the history of the hacker movement and getting a sense of the great names that went before throughout history.

An excellent book on that particular topic is Hackers by Steven Levy, and the final chapter of his book refers to “the last of the true hackers”, GNU founder, Free Software advocate and creator of EMACS, Richard Stallman – commonly known as “rms”.

To then be offered a chance to attend a free lecture by rms seemed a wondrous opportunity, and indeed I metaphorically leapt as high as my enfeebled nerdly legs would allow me.  The topic matter of the lecture mattered less to me (“A Free Digital Society”) than the chance to observe a figure of computing history.

Perhaps my expectations were pointed a little in the wrong direction – I was half expecting a far more technical discussion (which I probably wouldn’t have understood most of), however the lecture was primarily about the dangers to society of surveillance technology, and the merits of Free Software (note: NOT Open Source) over its insidious cousin, Proprietary Software.  Stallman is passionate and single-minded about the idea of open computer systems, Free Software, and presents Free vs Proprietary very much as a Good vs Evil dichotomy.  Perhaps many of the things he said have citation widely known among the engineering community (the event was put on by the Institute of Engineering and Technology), however much of it sounded almost like conspiracy theory.

When rms is referred to as the last of a dying breed, I think I now understand what they mean – he’s definitely an idealist, and it’s refreshing that such people exist and are still influential as it guarantees the existence of a wide spectrum of views rather than the ongoing tendency towards the centre.  I hope it’s not a lazy observation to say that he reminded me a bit of the Kakapo, a large endangered flightless green parrot – extremely rare, quite peaceful, but doggedly persistent in its behaviour and fiercely selective of its habitat (in rms’s case, his Lemote Yeeloong notebook computer).  I don’t know if the Kakapo comparison came to mind because his beard reminded me of the Kakapo’s sideburn-like feathers, or because some friends of mine once told an anecdote about taking rms to Adelaide Zoo and watching him play a recorder at a parrot.

The talk focussed heavily on the fact that surveillance is dangerous if governments don’t dispose of the data immediately, and this extended to internet use including Facebook, Amazon, and financial payment systems.  As the UK undergoes the Census process I’ve read similar articles by people claiming that the data the UK government is collecting is of no business of theirs, urging people to put misleading information on the forms.   Unfortunately, at least as far as I can understand it, there is no argument whatsoever that having access to detailed statistical data about people and their behaviour is of huge use for all sorts of purposes, and ethically it would be highly desirable to anonymise the data as fast and thoroughly as possible so that it could still be of use without breaching privacy expectations.  However to corporate interests the detailed tracing of individuals is of more use to find out more and more about their behaviour, hence the development of the technologies being used.  Surveillance doesn’t stop at CCTV – Stallman spoke of the keeping of phone logs of who spoke to whom, a trivial logging activity in the digital world – and the near ubuquitous Facebook social network is a fine example of a corporation’s ability to collect masses and masses of data which it then sells on to marketers.  Stallman advocated boycotting Facebook (as he proudly does on his site), and famously doesn’t use web browsers to view the web, preferring instead to download pages using wget and then email them to himself.

The core idealistic thrust is that he believes that people sending this data to companies unawares is Wrong, and denounces the fact that people will happily surrender that information in exchange for convenience.  Also that information should be free and sharing should be compulsory, stating that DRM ( “Digital Handcuffs”) was evil and wrong.

Another of his core points was that Free Software must be produced according to the definition provided by the Free Software Foundation:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1).
  • Access to the source code is a precondition for this.The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

During question and answer afterwards an audient challenged that this definition of free software required the user to have a reasonably in-depth technical background.  Stallman challenged this, saying that the 1st and 3rd items could be adhered to by non-programmers easily.  The Q&A session was a fascinating behavioural microcosm as well – the primarily British group of engineers all reluctant to talk into their radio mics to ask questions, prompting rms to shout bruquely that he couldn’t understand the question, which then cued mumbled apologies from the engineers and more shouting from Stallman – who genuinely couldn’t hear them, but did prompt me to wonder why if you’d observed 10 people doing the same thing badly why an engineer wouldn’t alter the process to work more efficiently.  Ho hum.

Stallman also attacked the Amazon Kindle platform, stating that people who used it were playing into the rights restrictions imposed by the corporate world – buying an eBook on Kindle destroys your right to lend or give that book to a friend after you’re done with it, and allowed Them the power to remotely delete content from your device whenever they deemed it appropriate.  Of course, he’s absolutely right, and again it’s a case of people not being concerned about having their rights eroded in exchange for the convenience factor of being able to carry books in such a manageable form.

Overall I found the content matter of the evening to be quite rich and fascinating, but presentationally it would have benefited from a more interactive format, such as a debate, or discussion.  In the event’s favour, I got embroiled in quite a fascinating discussion with some chaps in the foyer about why it might be that Linux (a Free operating system) hasn’t shot past Windows or Mac OS X in popularity.  It’s tough to assume that the world’s full of ignorant people who will do whatever they’re told, but there’s a lot of truth and value in the statement that for many Linux is an ugly, difficult, utilitarian system with little or no “marketing” value of any sort.  In the main, people want something that they can buy, take home, and use, and the ballache of getting Linux to do what you want it to (if you’re non-technical) outweighs the idealistic attractiveness of it.  Apple employ premium pricing along with providing a rock-solid product on very pretty and well-specced hardware to sell a brand, and again the Free Software concept completely ignores this facet of human motivation and behaviour.  And this discussion in turn led to its inevitable conclusion that in order to get the world to progress down the Free Software path you’d need to replace the Capitalist System.  Which seemed to venture into cliché territory, but also brought us closer to talking about “Them”.

Interesting evening.  Very interesting.

Qype: Chang’s Noodles in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsChinese

There are so many little non-chainy food places around the British Museum/Bloomsbury area that occasionally curiosity gets the better of you and you think, “Well, surely this place wouldn’t still be here if it were *that* bad?”. So, feeling like a spot of Chinese food and keen to avoid the vegetarian-buffet-which-isn’t-comfortable-enough-being-vegetarian-to-refrain-from-mock-meat-dishes cliché, I spied the lunchtime offer at Chang’s Noodles on the small sandwich board out front: “soup + dish + rice = £4.90”.

Being seated wasn’t a problem, as I was the only one in there. The atmosphere felt very much like eating in the front room of your granddad’s house. A perfunctory soup arrived, but I wasn’t expecting Ottolenghi for a fiver. For “dish” I had selected the crispy chilli beef, and what arrived seemed more like deep-fried styrofoam twiglets drenched in a sauce made from sour regret.

I chalked it up in the Loss column and decided to leave & say no more about it. So I walked up to the register desk and handed over my fiver. The guy handed me my bill, with £5.40 written on the bottom in red.

“I thought the lunchtime deal was £4.90?”

“Well, 50p tip, isn’t it.”

So, new formula for the board out front: “bland food + disinterested service + misleading promotion = one-star review from mrfrisky”. It makes sense why the Pret next door was so popular.

Check out my review of Chang’s Noodles – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Lupita in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsMexican

Finding myself in need of a bite and in the Villiers Street area I figured I might as well go check out Lupita: any opportunity to check out a potential new source of burritos has got to be a good thing, right?

In summary, “Okay”.

What these guys served up under the description “burrito” was not anything approaching my understanding of what a burrito is. A toasted wrap, perhaps. Seemingly a small example, but with London being a hotbed of burrito availibility right now, this is a crucial thing to get right. I asked for no tomato, and the waiter to his credit tried to make it all better by offering me a 15% discount after he forgot to tell the cooks not to add tomato. In hindsight there was so little tomato on the thing anyway it made little or no difference. And come to it, the wrap was reasonably tasty. But a burrito it were not.

The corn chips to start were very nice, and not Doritos out-of-the-bag like I thought they might be. And again, to their credit, to make amends for screwing up my order the waiter gave me a free raspberry sambuca shot. Which was weird. As was the music, which seemed to be less about trying to create any sense of enjoyable ambience for the customer, and more about listening to stuff that the kitchen staff wanted to listen to as they worked.

It seems wrong to mark Lupita down so much when the waiter was obviously so penitent about slightly mismanaging my order, however to distinguish yourself in the centre of London you’ve got to be Good. And this wasn’t Good. Not Bad, but definitely not Good.

Check out my review of Lupita – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

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