Monthly Archives: March, 2008

Blackstone beginnings

Exciting stuff – The Blackstone Key is not officially launched yet – that happens on Thursday – but Amazon have a few in stock and have shipped some to people who pre-ordered. Laura, who ordered hers ages ago, is the first person we know who has actually received a purchased copy.

There’s even a nice first review from somebody:

…With strong characterisation that keeps revealing new facets to the characters and an intriguing spy mystery, the author holds the reader throughout, right up to the thrilling conclusion on the dangerous streets of London.


In days of yore, the seasons were well-defined by the agricultural and ecclesiastical calendar. For most of us now, however, the progress of the year is marked by other milestones. One day, I’ve decided, I’d like to write a coffee-table book with photographs, about what indicates changing seasons in the modern world. They’re different for all of us, and they don’t have to be limited to four.

For me, in Cambridge, the first real change occurs when I can ride a bicycle without wearing gloves.

A little later, the punts start appearing on the river, and then the hearts of the colleges descend into silence as exams approach. Female undergraduates wear sleeveless dresses.

Post-exam balls lead us into high summer, as our undergraduates are replaced with language students, who spend a few months here learning English and learning to cycle on the left.

Then, after a while, you find that the walk to a college dinner is something you do in the dark, and before long, you need to wear gloves again when you’re cycling home.

What defines the changing seasons for you?

Software as a service

I’m not sure whether Adobe is seriously wanting to get into web-based software as a service, or whether they just want to demonstrate the potential of Flash, but Photoshop Express is pretty cute.

Et in Arcadia ego

The ‘Grand Arcade’, Cambridge’s new shopping mall, opened its doors at 10am this morning. At one level, it’s just another shopping centre. But they’ve done a nice job of burying some quite pleasing stone- and wood-clad modern architecture…


behind the old shops on Regent Street:


There were pretty girls wearing Grand Arcade sashes, inaudible speeches by the mayor, and aerial acrobatics:


and there were balloons falling from the sky.


All mildly entertaining, but for me, the most amazing thing was the genius of the Apple marketing machine. I didn’t even go into the shiny new Apple store – I’ve been into plenty of those in other places – but hundreds of other people did. Dozens of new shops opened their doors for the first time today, but the centre was dominated by the long queue waiting to go into Apple and get their free tee-shirt. The Apple employees outside cheered and applauded the first customers to enter. People lined the galleries wondering what was happening and asking each other why this was the most exciting thing in the arcade. Sheer brilliance.


Michael and Laura must have been around number 150 in the queue but still got the VIP treatment.

Compare this to the ‘Coast’ store as photographed by Geoff Jones

The sign says, We’re really sorry, we’re unable to open as our till system is not working.

One week from today

The Blackstone Key

“The footsteps grew louder, and now Mary could make out the dim figure of a man advancing towards her. What was he doing on that lonely stretch of road on a dark, inclement night? It seemed impossible that he was an innocent traveller, however much she wished he might be. His tread was too cautious, almost furtive, and he was carrying something… it looked like an unlighted lantern. Surely an honest man would not choose to travel in the dark?”

The UK edition of Rose’s novel, The Blackstone Key, hits the shelves on Thursday.


To follow on from my last post, it occurred to me that I could probably run IE on my Linux machine using WINE, which would save me having to run the whole of Windows. A friend had mentioned doing this, but I presumed it would be quite complicated. My Windows VM is currently “installing Security Update 64 of 97”, so I thought I’d look around while I was waiting.

It turns out to be very easy now to get IE5, 5.5 and 6 going, thanks to a script called IEs4Linux.

On Ubuntu, you need a couple of packages from the Universe repository first:

sudo aptitude install cabextract wine

(More detailed info here)

Then you can just follow the instructions on the IEs4Linux page.

This post was made with IE6 running on my Linux machine. Good. It works. Now I can go back to Firefox.

The irony of monopoly

Regular readers will know that I’m a Mac user, but I do have a copy of Windows on my machine as well, which I can run using Parallels. Generally, the only time I fire it up is to check that web sites I’ve created using standards-compliant browsers also work under Internet Explorer. Generally, they don’t, and I have to start inserting nasty hacks to get around the bugs in IE. Anyone who does web design will know this process only too well.

It struck me tonight just how ironic it is that the only reason I ever need to run Windows is because it’s broken!

All that’s best of dark and bright…

Some amazing skies this weekend, all kinds of weather, from snow and sleet to bright sunshine.




I’m not the man I once was, Pecksniff

Schofield One of my favourite actors, Paul Schofield, died yesterday.  He was always good, but I remember him most fondly as Martin Chuzzlewit Sr. in the BBC production.

A great loss.

Putting the ‘i’ back in iPlayer

iplayer logoOne of the most interesting technology developments of the last couple of weeks has, it seems to me, attracted very little attention. The BBC’s iPlayer, which lets you watch most of the last week of  BBC TV if you’re in the UK, and a subset of it if you’re elsewhere, received early criticism because it didn’t work on anything but Windows. 

Now at least some of it works on other platforms, but the latest one is the most interesting. It now works on the iPod Touch and iPhone. I now carry around in my shirt pocket something which gives me an eminently watchable archive of the last week’s TV, as long as I’m in range of a wifi network.  The iPod Touch is a great video player and now, for free, there’s a huge amount of stuff available in a rather high-quality format.

Only a very few years ago, the idea of having any access to an archive like this would have seemed amazing.  But having it on a beautiful slab a few millimetres thick is almost sci-fi.  I just wish I had the time to watch any of it!  But we do live in most interesting times…


For Apple laptop users, Patrick Stein’s SmartSleep looks like a useful little gizmo…

The Officers’ Ward

The Officers’ Ward

In general we watch almost no broadcast TV, and a very large number of movies, thanks to LoveFilm (the UK equivalent of NetFlix). When Rose told me last week that the film she had lined up was about “a guy who gets badly injured in WW1 and undergoes early reconstructive surgery”, I can’t say I was immediately enthusiastic. There seemed to be other, more fun, ways to spend a Friday evening after a long and tiring week.

But The Officers’ Ward was, in fact, absolutely superb, with some really beautiful moments. Yes, there are some slightly gruesome bits, as you would imagine, but remarkably few, and it asks some very important questions. It won several awards and nominations in France when it came out in 2001, and rightly so, but I hadn’t heard of it.

I’m glad I have now; highly recommended.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser