Monthly Archives: March 2005

Colonization 2.0

I’ve been commenting for some time on the number of Brits living in New York (particularly in Brooklyn, where I live), and have been warning American friends that a “stealth recolonization” by Her Majesty’s Subjects is already well underway.

According to a recent New York Times article titled “URBAN TACTICS; Close Your Eyes And Think Of England,” it seems that I was correct:

“IF you live in one of the more gentrified swaths of Brooklyn — Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene — you can’t mistake it these days: a British presence so strong you have to pinch yourself to realize you’re not in Hampstead or Manchester, but rather the borough of New York that brought the world the Dodgers, Walt Whitman and fuhgeddaboudit.

“It’s not just the cacophony of British accents, it’s the creeping growth of Brit establishments. Bars have mutated into pubs, with darts, microbrews, trivia competitions and even cheese-and-onion-flavored crisps. Fish-and-chip shops do booming business, and food products (American friends might dispute the term) like Marmite and spotted dick are available in local bodegas and supermarkets.”

Thanks to Jamie (another Brit in Brooklyn!) for spotting this one.


Just a quick post to recommend Channel 4’s Snowmail service, a daily e-mail taster of news stories that will be aired on Channel 4 news later the same day. Although somewhat UK-centric, the reportage is extremely current, agreeably personal, and often very funny, as this excerpt from today’s post (by Alex Thomson) amply demonstrates:

“Turns out he [Mark Thompson, erstwhile boss of Channel 4 and now BBC Director-General] BIT an employee many moons ago when running the BBC 9 O’clock News (always an aggressive newsgathering operation in my limited experience). Yes – bit an employee. He’s admitted it. He never bit me all the time he was at Channel 4 and now I don’t know whether to feel relieved or left out.”

Sign up for Snowmail here:

Random Clippings

A few random facts and news clippings that have captured my attention recently:

Free museums get more visitors
Visitor statistics for England’s national museums and galleries have increased dramatically since admission fees were universally abolished three years ago (the tab is now picked up by the National Lottery). Kind of a no-brainer really, but nice to see the proof in the numbers.

Clean and Quiet Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle
A prototype motorcycle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell has been demonstrated in the UK. Built by a company called Intelligent Energy, the Emissions Neutral Vehicle (ENV) has a top speed of 50 mph, can travel for at least 100 miles on a single “charge” of hydrogen, emits nothing but water vapour that is clean enough to drink and is so quiet that it’s fitted with an artificial engine noise maker to alert pedestrians to its presence! I’m totally convinced that hydrogen fuel cells are the future of motorized transportation.

School Dinners
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed support for a campaign by a TV chef, Jamie Oliver, to improve the quality of school dinners. Personally I have very good memories of school dinners in the 70’s and 80’s, but apparently these days it’s all frozen burgers and chips, so this has to be a positive step in promoting healthy eating and reducing child obesity.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
I’m currently reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, and it’s a very readable and entertaining primer on the history of science, covering everything from subatomic particles, through earth and life sciences and on up to cosmolology and the origins of the universe. I knew most of the actual science already, but the stories of how the various discoveries were made, and the personalities involved, were fascinating. It’s easy to forget how much the human race has learned in the last 200 years.

Here’s a random interesting fact that I read today: a typical human body comprises of about ten thousand trillion cells, and each cell contains approximately 2 metres (about 6 feet) of densely packed DNA. This means that, if you stretched all the DNA from your body into a single continuous strand, it would be something like 20 million kilometres long — long enough to stretch to the moon and back 26 times!

Anyway, it’s a good book, so here’s the filthy lucre Amazon link:

Rockstar Games

I spent rather too many hours playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City while I was “detoxing” earlier this year, and so I was curious to learn from a BBC article about the UK computer game industry that Rockstar Games, the developers of GTA, are based in Edinburgh (although on reflection the humour in Vice City is quite distinctly British).

Anyway, I clicked through to their website and ended up spending a long time there: Firstly, they provide a free web-based sequencer called Beaterator that enables you to create convincing techno/house tunes quickly and easily. Secondly, they offer free downloads of “Rockstar Classics,” older games such as Grand Theft Auto I & II and Wild Metal, providing you sign up for a mailing list.

Anyway, here’s the Amazon link to GTA: Vice City (be warned: This game is a SERIOUS time sink):

CLiMBing Frames

I just got back from a short trip to Washington D.C., where I was attending a partners/planning meeting for the CLiMB 2 project. CLiMB is an acronym that stands for Computational Linguistics in Metadata Building, a fascinating project exploring the use of computational linguistic techniques to partially automate the process of cataloguing scholarly image collections.

This is a very good idea, because museums, libraries, archives and visual resource collections are facing an explosion in the number of digital images that they need to manage, but without a corresponding explosion in resources to adequately catalogue them — and without good cataloguing, it will be more difficult for curators and end users to find the images that they need.

The CLiMB toolkit works by locating references to target objects in digitized scholarly texts (catalogues are ideal, but other texts can be used too), determining the limits of the relevant section of the text, and then using something called a “chunker” to extract noun phrases from the text. These noun phrases can be optionally matched against controlled vocabularies and thesauri, which is another very nice feature, and after being reviewed by a human cataloguer, can be added to the catalogue record for the target object as useful subject terms that will facilitate end user retrieval.

The first phase of the CLiMB project resulted in a prototype toolkit with a relatively user-friendly web-based front end that demonstrated the feasibility of the approach, whereas the second phase of the project is looking to both refine and extend the functionality of the toolkit, and demonstrate the utility of the toolkit in real-life cataloguing scenarios.

I enjoyed the meeting very much; in addition to being an interesting project in its own right, the Primary Investigator Judith Klavans assembled an excellent group of people, so it was also a great networking opportunity for people “in transition” like myself!

Plus I got to hang out in Washington D.C. in decidely spring-like weather with old and new friends, drink Chimay and listen to live jazz at the Eighteenth Street Lounge (former home of Theodore Roosevelt and current home of the Thievery Corporation), and check out the Modigliani exhibition at the Phillips Collection.

Getting Out More

I need to atone for the tedious nature of my last post… Why should anyone care that I wasted a perfectly good day faffing around with software on my computer?

Anyway, obviously I needed to get out more, so tonight I went to see the fabulous Emily Zuzik at Rockwood Music Hall. I’ve seen Emily several times previously (primarily because of our mutual friend Carrie), but this was by far the best and most intimate performance I’ve seen her do — plus she gave me a lift back to Brooklyn afterwards! Can’t say fairer than that.

iTunes Rant

I’ve spent altogether too many hours today fighting with iTunes, the supposedly user-friendly music jukebox, store and iPod interface software.

I pretty much use iTunes all the time that my computer is switched on, and normally I think of it as a fairly reliable piece of software. However, when I tried to update my iPod today for the first time in a couple of weeks, it said that the interface software wasn’t functioning correctly, and I should reinstall iTunes. I did this, several times (each time necessitating a lengthy system reboot), but it still wouldn’t talk to the iPod. Then I downloaded and installed the iPod Updater, but that told me there was an “iPod Service Error.”

Eventually I found a help page on Apple’s website that told me what I had to do (it seems this is not an isolated problem): Completely uninstall iTunes, delete lots of folders manually, reboot umpteen times and then reinstall everything from scratch. Even this went wrong a few times, and I had to completely uninstall Quicktime too before the installation would successfully complete.

It’s working now finally, but I’ve probably spent a good 4 hours or so on this today. What a complete waste of time.


I’ve been having fun in New York with various visitors from out of town recently.

Over the weekend, a big posse of folks from San Francisco were in town to see Christo and Jeane-Claude’s Gates, resulting in much revelry, and then on monday I caught up with a former flatmate from London and his girlfriend over oysters before going to a private party in an East Village restaurant.

Overall, I’ve been on a very effective “re-tox” programme! for the last few days!