Cranes and ducks

TV "I'd done a lot of radio at this point, so being live wasn't so bad. The thing about television is, you can't see the millions of people watching. If you stood up in front of an audience of 5000 people you'd piss yourself wouldn't you? But if you're in a room on your own with a camera and you make a mess of it, nobody's there to jeer, or cringe, or not laugh at your jokes. Nobody's there at all. I remember painful moments of not having enough material to fill the time on one or two occasions. That's my abiding impression of those first three weeks." -- Andy Crane on being in the Children's BBC broom cupboard in an interview for Off The Telly.

Shopping and funking

Life Christmas shopping trip in Manchester today so that I can make the most of the season ticket I have for the train. Managed to buy some nice things at the continental market and around and about. Interestingly it didn't feel less special because I've been in the city for the past five days. Actually there was something quite liberating about leaving the train at the station and going the other way up Oxford Road for a change, even though I absentmindedly walked too far, subconsciously going in the direction of the place I used to work, and nearly missed the market entirely. I suppose there are some routines which never quite leave you.

Picked up Nikka Costa's 2005 album Can't Never Did Nothin' at Vinyl Exchange and it's every bit as good as her debut. It's brilliantly difficult to classify. Imagine Anastacia without the idiotic tendency to mimic the Diane Warren power ballads, crossed with the Shakira of the pre-English language albums with hints of anything produced by the Neptunes. And James Brown. Although the current track I'm listening to is pure Stina Nordenstam. Now I'm confused. Also finally found a copy of Shelby Lynne's Suit Yourself. I'll report back when I've heard the whole thing but in the opening few moments Lynne has a discussion with her band in the studio about what they can't get the song right and the title of track twelve is Track 12.

Review 2005

Robyn Wilder

Causality and the Invisible Girl

2005 has been good to me. I have bought a house, gone abroad twice, begun a job I enjoy, started to do music again, acquired some new friends and been adopted by a cat.

But for me 2005 will always be the year that I became visible.

I have always imagined myself to be an observer to life's events; in the passenger seat; just along for the ride. I have been The Best Friend, The Girlfriend, One of the Guys. I have been easygoing, undemanding and on the periphery; not wanting to appear too interesting in case someone asks too many questions and realises that I'm not anyone really - I have no opinions, I'm just a cipher that experiences pass through for grammar and editing, and become anecdotes.

I have made being superficially agreeable and emotionally distant an art-form.

This year, all that changed. In almost every critical situation I've encountered this year, I've had to step up to the plate and account for myself - for no other reason than to improve myself. I have been asked my opinion and whatever half-baked answers I have stammered out have been listened to as though I were a - gasp - real person.

This is an odd sort of thing for an invisible girl to get used to.

So I took a look at my life and realised that I have been a real person all this time. As invisible as I may have thought myself, the decisions I have made have had a direct impact on my life. Here are a couple of the less than wise ones...

It is a wet winter night in 1992, and I am standing on a windy suburban rail platform, waiting for my ride home. I have just been on a tentative date - my first - with a boy from college. I'm not at all sure how I feel about him. The boy is waiting with me. He smiles and kisses me wetly. I'm not sure I like it. Then he leans over and whispers in my ear, "I love you." I stare at him, aghast, thinking really? How do you know? My ride pulls up. Not wanting to rock the boat, I reply, "Me, too" and leave. Five years later the relationship goes horribly, torturously wrong, and I am surprised.

It's another wet winter night, this time in 1995. My boyfriend is a guitarist in a band and, sick of being The Girlfriend and having some musical ambitions of my own, I decide to start a band. I play guitar, sing and write songs, so I have put an ad in a local music paper for drummers, bassists, etc. The person who shows up is a girl who plays guitar, sings and writes songs. This isn't exactly what I was after, I think, but give her a go. By the end of the evening I am sure I don't want to be in a band with this person: she's nice, but we don't complement each other in any way; and besides, she's a bit mad. But then she asks if we're hooked up and I say yes. I spend the next 4 years trying to make the band work; pushing her ideas while thwarting my own ambitions. The friendship ends explosively one night outside a cineplex, and I wonder why these things keep happening to me.

I'm not saying that I was to blame for these situations or how they turned out, but I did have a hand in their execution. See, the problem with thinking you're invisible when you're actually subject to causality just like everyone else is that you make bad decisions out of fear or recklessness. Because it doesn't occur to you to ask yourself what you want - you're invisible - what could it possibly matter? And so you do what you think you should in that situation. In my experience, this is almost always the wrong thing to do, because it can set a precedent for the rest of your life.

Ever lay the dinner table and forget to include a place for yourself? That was me until 2005. These days I still make bad snap decisions, or else vacillate endlessly, but I'm more prone to revisiting the issue and asking myself, was that honest?

And with every situation I scrutinise and deal with honestly, another little piece of me becomes visible.

Perhaps next year I shall become opaque.

Robyn Wilder writes Ninja Polymath Blues.

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.


Life Just in case you thought that posting writing that other people have been gracious enough to contribute would mean that I wouldn't be around for a month I thought I'd better leap in and say that I am still around I'm just really busy. Time management has been a nightmare lately, what with the essays and travelling and trying to have a life. I'm succeeding in two of those and I'll leave it up to you decide which. Although bare in mind that it's 10:30 on a Friday night and I'm here writing this...

Blimey! That's Claire Danes on the cover of 'The Guardian'

Film Now that is something for some reason I never thought I'd see. Claire Danes is in the country shopping around Shopgirl and there she is being all blonde on the cover of the paper. For moments the queue to pay in WH Smith I was in heaven. The interview is about what you'd expect:
Her first film jobs after leaving Yale were the quirky Igby Goes Down, The Hours and then, surprisingly, Terminator 3, a movie she agreed to do mainly, she admits, because she was stupefied with jet lag from a recent trip to Australia when she was asked. Her overriding impression of Schwarzenegger was his "ambition". "He doesn't apologise for seeking the things he actively desires which is a virtue, I guess. I'm not like that. I equivocate and self-reflect and, I don't know, interfere with my success." Does she still see him? "Oh God, no."
Do you think if we flew her to Australia and back in a day she might agree to that My So-Called Life reunion? Also, I do wish people would leave Stage Beauty alone. It's a great film.

'Don't do anything I wouldn't do. And if you do, take pictures.' -- Al (Quantum Leap)

TV Something which I've been wanting to do since I moved back, oh -- oh so long ago, was to crack open my box of cassettes which have been hidden under the bed gathering dust. I'm going to make shelf room on Sunday but I pulled some out this evening and top of the pile was a compilation I threw together way back when of music from the tv series Quantum Leap recorded directly from video. I haven't heard this thing in about ten years, but I still remember the order that everything appears in and the mess of dialogue which appears overhead.

Trawling the Internet Movie Database to find out who owned a voice I recognised I found this. Without a pro account I couldn't see the details for Quantum Leap: A Bold Leap Forward, but a quick google search and here's an interview from last year with one of the writer/producers. She sounds like the Russell T Davies of Quantum Leap -- especially when it comes to respecting mythology. The basic premise is that Al accompanies Sam's daughter, Sammy Jo as she searches for her father. It's great that they've decided to use an existing character in this way. It seems that they're turning a continuity reference into a mystery:
"S: Well, as I recall, Deborah Pratt, who created Sammy Jo, told me that in the "present day" Sammy Jo would be in her thirties. I really hate to be the one to initiate a debate before this project even gets off the ground, but Leapers are probably bigger sticklers for detail than even Don, who established Sammy Jo's birthdate around March 1967.

Trey: Long Live The Leapers! And while you?re absolutely correct about all the fine print details of the show's timeline, there are really only two ways in which I'm at liberty to respond: 1) Time has a funny way of altering itself -- or better yet, in the QL continuum, of being altered by someone else. So please keep in mind that some objects may eventually appear younger or older in the rearview mirror. ;-) and 2) It was an absolute mandate for everyone involved that the next chapter of Quantum Leap have its characters rooted in present day -- and then limit our leaping to Samantha's lifespan -- at least as long as our audience initially believes her life to be. "
Which opens the possibility that Samantha's own personal timeline can be changed mid-season by something her father does which sounds really exciting. The wikipedia says that a full series is due for broadcast next year and I can't wait. So long as they keep the feel of the old series, even with a slightly younger sensibility I'm happy.

Review 2005

Adrian Hon

Designing puzzles is something I fell into, not quite by mistake, but certainly not intentionally. I can't say that I studied neuroscience and began a PhD on it thinking that it'd be useful for designing puzzles - although it has proved to be handy, on occasion. No, I became a puzzle designer, at least for a few months, because of a game.

It's an odd sort of a game; it's a game that follows you everywhere you go, and continues running even when you're not watching. The game doesn't reside on a DVD or on a piece of cardboard or on the internet - it's both more ephemeral and yet more substantial than that. It's an entire living and breathing alternate reality that is self-consistent and attempts to pervade every media channel in the world; it's what is called an Alternate Reality Game.

I stumbled across the first alternate reality game in 2001. It was a promotion for the movie A.I., and for this reason, I initially avoided it. After it was mentioned on Wired, I finally caved in and look at one of its websites. It so happened that the website I picked was for a fictional university set 150 years in the future. I'd seen similar things before - I'm a sucker for huge RPG universes, for example - but nothing on this scale.

The university website read and looked exactly like a real one, except it was based in the future. And all of the sites it linked to were also based in the future. And none of them admitted that they were fictional. And all of them were to do with a murder mystery that about 10,000 people around the world were collectively trying to solve, in real time, by hacking into these fake sites, taking part in 'real world' live events, solving fascinatingly obscure puzzles and falling in love with the characters. The next three months of my life suddenly became centered around this alternate reality, and arguably changed the rest of my future.

After the game ended, I felt like I had to do something to do with alternate reality games. I had a vague idea that it would be awfully fun to make alternate reality games, although I had no idea how I would manage to be paid to do such an enjoyable thing. It being 2001, my natural response was to set up a weblog about ARGs and hope that eventually someone might discover it and offer me a job.

About three years later, I left my PhD programme at Oxford and was hired to design an alternate reality game called Perplex City, so I would say that it worked out pretty well. That only brings me up to 2004 though, and this is supposed to be a review of 2005. Well, the rest of 2004 was taken up with designing the foundations of Perplex City. It was tough but satisfying work, and I have a lot of interesting stories from that time.

2005 saw the company, Mind Candy, begin to grow beyond the three person operation it began as. I continued to design more of the Perplex City universe, and as various deadlines approached, I would often find myself in the office (which at that point I actually lived in, as well as worked in) at 2am, staring at a computer screen and desperately trying to come up with one more puzzle or one more place name. The idea that the ARG would ever, in fact, begin, seemed totally remote. The idea that the puzzle cards we were selling in association with the ARG, both of which I'd poured countless hours into, would find their way into shops seemed like a fantasy. That's not to say that I doubted it would happen, but it always seemed to be at some indeterminate point in the future.

Gradually, there was less and less work to do. The puzzle card artwork was sent off to the printers, and eventualy it came back in the form of a rather large number of packs of cards. During this time we'd been 'trailing' Perplex City for several months, and we'd revealed that you would have to pay for the cards. We also revealed that there would be a £100,000 prize as part of the ARG. The response from the anarchic ARG community, long used to a free ride in return for being advertised to, was first of shock, then anger, then denial, and finally acceptance.

The cards went on sale in August. They did pretty well. We got a lot of press. The ARG kicked into gear and started attracting a lot of players.

(I am being deliberately vague here, because I've already gone on for too long, and besides, there isn't much I can say here.)

In October, our website that people could use to submit puzzle card solutions went online, and the number of players unsurprisingly started increasing. Then the cards went on sale in places like Harrods and Hamleys, as well as dozens of other shops around the country. Now, Harrods and Hamleys are both places I'd been to once or twice, but to me they're not places - they're mythical institutions. I didn't really believe that the cards were on sale there. It was only when I was wandering around Regent Street that I idly walked into Hamleys and struck upon the idea of looking for the cards - no doubt hiding in some dark corner, I thought.

They weren't in a dark corner - in fact, they were displayed rather prominently in a glass case. I stood there for a minute, savouring the moment and mentally shutting out the sounds of the kids running around. A couple of weeks later, I was in Harrods visiting the chocolate bar when I went to the toys department and discovered the cards on sale there as well. Not bad, I thought. Not bad. I picked up a pack of cards and looked at them. I've been involved in the design of every single part of Perplex City, from mocking up the artwork to getting the barcodes for the cards, and it was a strange feeling to see these things that I'd help design on sale in a place where people might actually buy them.

About a week ago, the second wave of Perplex City cards went on sale, and the ARG continues apace; last month, a helicopter took off from Battersea Heliport carrying spies working with a dangerous organisation from Perplex City. The spies were forced to run because they'd been discovered by a group of sixty people who'd come from all over the country to hunt them down. I'm told it was all rather impressive, although I don't know what the guys in Perplex City think of it.

Player numbers are well on their way to reaching 10,000 by the end of the year, and Perplex City puzzle cards are due to roll out in many more stores around the UK pretty soon. And despite all of this - despite seeing the cards in Harrods, despite being interviewed at a games conference about the future of the industry (as if I were a veteran games designer!) - I am still waiting for the moment when I spot someone on the bus or the tube trying to figure out one of our cards. When I do, I'll probably smile and laugh. Then I'll go over and try to help them out.

Adrian Hon writes

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Review 2005

Lilly Tao

In April 2000 I posted one of the longer entries I've written on my weblog. It started out:

"I get stressed easily. I worry a lot. And I stress and worry about how much I stress and worry. I'm better than I used to be, but I still need to remember to relax."

The entry was prompted by an article in a now defunct online magazine that described how stress leads to bad health. Summed up: Stress makes your cortisol levels rise. High cortisol levels lead to a suppressed immune system and heart attacks. A low cholesterol diet makes little difference and, worst of all: "You can raise your cortisol levels just by thinking about stressful eventualities -- even fictional ones." The article cited studies that indicated people (and monkeys) with less control over their environment get more heart attacks.

I decided I was doomed and needed to start maintaining control over my life.

But that was the wrong tack entirely.

I don't have any control over the events or people that add stress to my life. And I've determined that I cannot avoid a constant stream of stress inducing events. There are times of extreme stress, but the baseline climate always provides fodder for anxiety.

Thus, the problem is not maintaining control over my life and environment. The problem is maintaining control over myself. I choose to worry.

I could be sitting on a lovely beach somewhere and I'd worry about skin cancer instead of looking idly at the waves.

There's a simple solution, choose not to worry, but it only sounds easy. To not worry in an effective manner, I need to say "I don't care." I had some success ignoring things that I didn't feel strongly about, but I still made a habit of taking on too much anxiety. I care about many things.

Then I became a parent.

Before the baby arrived I was drowning in worryful topics. Birth defects, labor complications, names that pass the playground torture test, cloth or disposable. I endlessly researched all the props of parenthood (strollers, cribs, swings, carriers, car seats). And there was a constant undercurrent of "Am I going to be a good parent?"

The baby was born and suddenly there was no room to worry about much beyond what was right in front of me.

The baseline worries were gone, not because the situations no longer existed but because there was something much more prominent in the way.

That something had immediate needs that occupied my brain constantly. The stress of that was intense. But the prioritization was clear. What else is important?

Not much. Baby comes first.

Want to worry about whether we bought the right car? No time. The car runs fine. It has a baby seat in it. That's all we need. Like to spend time overanalyzing that stupid comment I made in a meeting last week? I can't even remember what it was anymore.

Oh and maintain control over my environment? With a baby? Right.

When the intensity of coping with our lack of sleep and new family member died down somewhat, the baby was still #1. Everything not connected to the baby wasn't worth worrying about.

Sure I'd shifted to worrying about the baby, but the baby worry was paid back tenfold in baby cuteness. And over a little time I learned to prioritize.

I knew I had learned how to properly order my worries when I read a plea from a women on a moms' email list. She needed help coping with her baby's naptime at daycare. Horror of horrors, the baby was napping on a different schedule in daycare than she was trying to maintain at home. She was terribly concerned. Obviously this would ruin the baby for life.

I wrote her a short email in response: "You need to learn to let go. Your baby will get the sleep he needs. Timing is irrelevant. Let it go."

I worried only for a second that she would take it the wrong way. She wrote back immediately. "Thanks. You're right. I need to let it go."

There's the trick. Pick your battles. Pick the right worries. That's where the control lies and hopefully the lower cortisol levels.

It took my son to get me here. And he's nowhere near done offering me opportunities for stress. But there's no use worrying over that.

Lilly Tao writes GirlHacker's Random Log.

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

Review 2005


It is 4:30 in the morning on September 30th 2005 and I'm sitting on platform 13 of Manchester Picadilly railway station waiting for the first train back home to Liverpool. It is cold and whatever skeleton staff are manning the station are pumping music through the annoucement speakers to keep everyone awake. I'm reminded of the scene from Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm were Tobey Maguire is sitting on the iced up morning train reading a Fantastic Four comic. I have a book, but I'm so tired I can't see the words, let alone understand their meaning.

One day I'll write about the events which led up to me being in that situation. The reason I mention it here is because I wanted to give an example of something that I've always wanted to do -- to be catching that first morning train home. It's an odd thing to wish for and certainly there are higher examples on the list which include great monuments and the set of some television show but I think that it's true that most people, apart from those dream experiences, have all kinds of things they always wished they could do.

For this year's Review 2005, over the next thirty-one days, right through to New Year's Eve all kinds of people will be writing all about those experiences. About those moments when they finally did that thing they've always wanted to do, and about how it made them feel. Some will be films they've seen, or concerts they've been to or foods they've tried. Others will tell us about the fundamentals, the changes which have happened or decisions they've made that have changed their life forever...


Annette C Arrigucci
Mike Atkinson
Jacques Baptiste
Samantha Burns
Stuart Ian Burns
David Campbell
Suw Charman
Sasha F
June Gidley
Keith Gow
Kat Herzog
Gary Hollingsbee
Adrian Hon
Ian Jackson
Mimi Leigh
Adrian McEwen
Alistair Myles
Nice Guy Eddie
Anna Pickard
Franchesca Puehler
Pete Nu
Leah Penn
Neil Perryman
Alan Sharp
Lilly Tao
Laura Póvoa Tintori
Karina Westermann
Robyn Wilder


Well, I really hadn't expected that.

I've been trying to write this conclusion or epilogue or whatever it is for days. I wanted to offer something to sum up what's been written by everyone else here but really I can't. Not without sounding fake, fatuous or false.

When in mid-October I began to think about the substance of this year's Review 2005, how I'd be getting the world involved I simply hadn't assumed that there would be thirty-two people willing enough to put themselves out in that way -- take the time to write something for this weblog, and such great writing, about big issues and big emotions. I mean really, as each email came in and I sat reading about how their lives had changed this year, about those fundamentals, I was humbled.

Two thousand and five was a difficult twelve months. In the closing of the year, look at a newspaper, watch the television and there will be someone describing the bodyshocks the planet and its people have experienced, trying to comprend how we'll cope if similar things occur in two thousand and six. What the people who've written here over the past thirty-one days have proved is that life goes on. We will cope. People do. We just carry on.

Thank you everybody.


Music Currently listening to Jazz in Paris - Jazz De Chambre which is the kind of music you realise your enjoying when you notice that your foot is tapping after it starts doing it...


Liverpool Life I went to get my hair cut on Saturday and somehow missed most of the UK Cross Challenge & European Trials which were happening in Sefton Park. I did see the runners from above though as they gathered together in what looked like a mass jog. It was quite incongruous seeing them dashing about the field rather than the road. You can still see the course even now as the dirt track they created has marked the grass. Cross country is one of the few races in which the runners can leave their mark physically at the place and not just in the record books or in this case online, as the results are on this page at The Telegraph.

Big moon

Astronomy Walt reveals the moon optical illusion. That photography with the Washington Monument is amazing.


Commuter Life I looked up from my newspaper as we stopped at Widnes Station and the platforms were white. Seeing the first snow of the season this early is very exciting. I'm sitting in the university library now and it's drifting outside. Every now and then someone looks out of the window, smiles and carries on reading. I've suddenly realised that Christmas is on the way.

Dark Green


Originally uploaded by Jack O'Carroll.

I have to pass this 'shed' on the way to the paper shop on a Sunday morning. I've never seen it looking this stark and mysterious. It actually houses the various equipment the Sunday league football teams use.

Perfect for the post-Matrix generation

TV When the long-running science fiction series 'Doctor Who' reached its Twentieth Anniversary in 1983, there must have been only one idea at the forefront of the minds of then producer John Nathan-Turner and cohorts Eric Saward (script editor) and Terrance Dicks (writer). A story which would bring together all of the previous Doctors with the latest, and the more popular companions and monsters in a epic story. Seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Little did they know what they had themselves in for. Which in a way makes 'The Five Doctors' quite idiosyncratic viewing - the main interest being the ingenuity of Dicks as he overcomes the obstacles which would be in the way of bringing a coherent story to the screen. For a start not all of the Doctors would be available. The first, William Hartnell, passed away some years before, and Tom Baker decided not to appear (a fit of hubris he would regret in later years). In the show then, Hartnell is replaced by Richard Hurndall, an apparent lookalike so wildly unlike Bill as to be a distraction. Baker's absense is explained through unseen footage from the unfinished adventure 'Shada' and a malfunction in the main baddies computer. There seem to be few monsters other than Cybermen, a Yeti and a Dalek. That's because all of the rights to these monsters have fallen to their creators and clearance to use must have been a nightmare. And then there are the companions. Believe it or not most don't appear because of other work commitments. So you're left with the then current companions, The Brigadier, fan favourite Sarah-Jane Smith, and Susan, The Doctor's ersatz granddaughter. When some other companions did become available at the last minute they were swiftly written in as 'illusions'. And the thing would appear as the centrepiece of the very first Children in Need appeal and so had to be intelligible to a wider audience than usual. So it should a complete mess. And it is. But what a glorious mess. There is some nostalgia in seeing 'your Doctor' at work again even in a brief few scenes. And The Master is in top form. And without the need for a cliffhanger every twenty-five minutes the story has an extra pace - perfect for the post-Matrix generation...maybe...pickup the DVD if you can, for Peter Howell's haunting music - which strangely may be the highlight...

[I wrote the above capsule review for my own blog many years ago. Spot the moments when I was still being cagey about being a fan on there, but also the sections which could only have been written by someone who knows their way around a TARDIS. Also I'm not sure why Susan is ersatz. I think I'd read the word somewhere and thought it would sound good.]

Total fiction.

So I was saying to his friend when we were chatting at home, that I had been to the park.
He sweated visibly.
Could he have been embarrassed about something?
Then his eyebrow lifted and he knew immediately that something was wrong - very wrong.
The park had been empty, I remember.
Icy cold.
I had nearly stepped on a Robin that was dying of old age.
It reminded me of my own mortality.
Two people had been kissing on a park bench near the lake.
I felt the warmth of being in a good relationship myself.
The memory in my mind became clearer.
At the time I had been too cold to think.
But as the colours began to brighten here there was something.
The scarf of the girl in the kiss.
The golden hair which tucked out from under the hat.
The shoes on her feet.
Was that sadness I saw in his eyes?
Regret even?
It was my world that was breaking apart, not his.
My emotions were not what I would have believed.
Hate, love, anger and sympathy all in the space of a few moments.
He just stared, not saying anything, waiting for my reaction.
It was not his fault.
He had not meant to fall in love with her.
She had been the unfaithful, and even then there must have been a reason.
I put out my hand and offered him a coffee.
The door bell rang.
There was no hat, no scarf but it was her.
Same shoes, same golden hair.
She smiled - not at me, but at my friend, who was standing behind me.
He smiled back, nervously.
I tried to ask why, but she ignored me.
Pushing me out the way he grabbed her hand.
They left through the door.
I sat in the dark, in the corner, alone.

[I wrote this as an exercise during a computer course at university almost exactly twelve years ago. Total fiction.]

"Oh, it's so sad. I'm so sorry!" -- Céline (Before Sunset)

Film A wiki which is building a transcript of Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, including excellent notes on locations intermixed with the dialogue.

Jolly Cool Brill

Music Just finally heard (and saw) The JCB Song and its one of the best things I've heard all year. Another album for the list. The Guardian talks about it here. [via]