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written today over lunchtime

"Hey, you," said the unearthly horror.

"Go away," I said.

Its bristled, wet protuberance squirted a puff of foetid air into my ear. "I hunger," it said in a voice like gravel scratching your best pie pan.

I slapped it aside. "You can't have my soul or my dried fish."

"I only wanted one of those things," it wheedled, but I ignored it and focused back on the bushes.

There was a heavy whump beside me, followed by a series of quieter, rhythmic thumps on the ground.

"Go and bother the urchin girl before I carve a psalm or three into your filthy hide," I said through my teeth, still not bothering to make contact with the acidic red pits it called eyes.

"She's awesome," the unearthly horror said. It did not move. The thumps continued. My target had gone by now.

I stood up in one graceful motion and kicked the abomination in the rear. It was worth the time I spent later sewing the trouser leg beck together.

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Poem: Dissection

Young Baskerville's foray into meta-poetry or satire or something. (© 1999)


by Herm Baskerville, 1999

Settle down, class, please. The lesson has begun.

The poems we will be dissecting today will look
Like this one. The poems we have in school
Have been pre-killed to avoid distress, and are preserved
In formaldehyde. And if anyone feels faint at the sight
Of alliteration, you may go outside.

You can get the necessary instruments from the tray
At the front. You need one poem, one white tile,
One scalpel. It doesn't matter if, like this one, it is a little blunt.

Let us make a start. We haven't much time, so I suggest
That we go immediately for the heart of the poem.
Watch, and make a small incision here, between
Verses three and four: just there will do.
Yes, that's fine; try to make the cut as neat as mine.
And try to keep the punctuation
On the white tile, and not on the floor.

Pay attention, please. Notice the neat form of the simile,
Just peeping out from behind the extended metaphor.
Here we have the colon, and further down,
The semi colon. Can anybody guess
What this is? Yes, it is an internal rhyme.
And here is the inner or hidden meaning, visible
If we just hack our way through the outer meaning.

Oh, there's the bell.
Quickly put everything away. Just tip the pieces
Into the bin. If you haven't had the chance
To open up your heart, it doesn't matter.

Terry Pratchett said he liked this. So did my English teacher, but let's keep the credit to the one who inspired my love of writing rather than teaching a curriculum optimised to suck the life and colour out of it.

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My cat recognises several words thanks to consistent usage: "Clawsewitz", which is her name; "dinner", which means yummy wet food is incoming; "hot", which means keep off the hob; "come", which means saunter over here if you feel like it; and so on. But there is one word I deliberately taught her that is more important than every one of the previous, and that's "finished".

It means "I've stopped doing mean things to you. You can relax."

Teaching this word or phrase is simple enough if you're logical and consistent. Whenever I clip my cat's claws, or run the hoover, or do any other necessary but offensive tasks, the last thing I do is say "finished!" and immediately behave normally towards her. No apologies; don't follow your cat in distress if it goes off to sulk; just be your usual self, whether in your case that means benignly ignoring the cat, giving it a pat on the way past or smiling and talking to it. Your cat picks up cues from your body language almost as well as a dog does, and the message you want to convey is "what? Oh, that's over and done with. I've forgotten about it already*."

(Sometimes I give her a treat at the same time as "finished", which works if your cat's food-motivated, but do not use it as a bribe to get your cat to come back if it runs away. Just toss it in the cat's direction and be unconcerned. If the cat needs to get some distance after a procedure, then that's what the cat needs. You're creating a feeling of safety and chasing the cat will undo that.)

Terminology? I use "finished", but you could use "all done" or "it's over" or anything you like, as long as you use the same words each time and it's audibly distinct from your other commands (cats have great hearing but in my experience they're not as wired to listen to words as dogs are).

Why do I say this is the most important word you can teach? Well, cats do not understand "horrible but necessary". The concept that anything might happen that is not concordant with the cat's wishes is pretty much unthinkable to a cat, and being captured and put through indignities is pretty confusing, even if there's no significant discomfort involved. Even after the bathtime or flea-combing or dew-claw molestation or carpet-hoovering is over, the cat will be upset and uncertain that it can trust you again. After all, there was no warning before you suddenly turned evil. You could do it again at any time! You are the enemy, and an arbitrary, capricious one at that, and you must be evaded!

This is why you need a clear disconnect. Your "finished" command, backed up with appropriate body language, signals a definite end to the stressful horrible things and a return to business as usual. This is a lot less upsetting for the cat than ending the encounter on a guilty, overcompensatory note ("my human is upset; now I know I should feel awful about this process") – or, even worse, on an angry note when the yowling devil claws its way out of your arms.

You must, of course, be truthful. No chasing after the cat. No turning the hoover back on to get a spot you missed.

Your cat may never enjoy procedures like claw-clipping, but that's not the goal of the "finished" command. Of the cats I've known, all of them have quite reasonably hated the clippers and most made an almighty fuss at some point in the process. Teaching "finished" doesn't help much with that (if there's interest I could write a future post with a few tips that will). The ending, though, changed completely. Our former cat Piper gradually wound down his post-pedi pique procedure from running out of the house, to leaving the room, to jumping down from the counter, to taking a token step away and then returning to his usual begging for food.

Take a step into your cat's mind and you'll find that, never mind the 'aloof' image commonly ascribed to felinity**, your cat needs things to be logical and make sense. Cats can and will adapt to all manner of stupid things their humans do, just as long as they know what's what. "Finished" means safety, and that's why it's the most important word you can teach.

Note to people with proper pets: There's no reason the above advice can't be applied to dogs too.

* Cats instinctively understand pretending things never happened. They do it all the time, right after they embarrass themselves.

** Which makes no more sense than their reputation for being graceful, unless you actually believe the cat's "I meant to do that" face after it slides sideways off the counter and takes a towel and half the drying-up with it. Everyone used to think different human cultures from theirs were inscrutable; then we got to know them and found they weren't, they just did slightly different things with tea.

Edit: My mum points out that she was the one who taught me this, from my earliest days growing up with Golden Retriever puppies. I barely remember anything from that young, but looks like I was brung up right…

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In my experience, iThemes Security, the module formerly known as Better WP Security, is kind of terrible. Significantly, it doesn't uninstall cleanly and will lock you out of your own site at the drop of a hat.

Before I fully got rid of its screwups (and I'm not even sure I have, completely), I had to muck around in phpMyAdmin and drop two database tables it created. (These can be spotted from their prefixes, which will be something like itsec or bwpsec.) From help threads it seems much of the time you'll also have to delete whatever lines it's added to your .htaccess and wp-config, also manually, but in my case I didn't find anything I needed to remove.

On paper it does look like a desirable mod to have; if you do use it, at the least I recommend against activating any of the file- or folder-renaming functions. Pretty sure those are what screwed me up…

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Anonymous commenting is disallowed

I have had to ban anonymous comments from my journal. Sorry to do that, but spam is becoming a nuisance.

Comments from non-friends will be screened, but allowed through if they aren't obviously spam.

You can use your OpenID to comment on LiveJournal.


If you have installed a new editor like LibreOffice on your Mac, you may have been given the option while you installed it to make it your default. If you didn't take that up – perhaps you only wanted it as default for certain doctypes, or perhaps a certain office suite stole the default back – you can change it manually.

"Open With…" does not work globally

You might find instructions to open the context menu (right-click) on a document, go to "Open With…" and tick the "always open with" checkbox. This friendly checkbox is a LIE, my friends. In fact this option is pretty much useless: it only changes the editor for that particular file.

Going through "Get Info" works

This method changes it for ALL files of that type.

Open the context menu (right-click) on the file and, instead, choose "Get Info". You're looking for the options with the heading "Open with:". Choose your preferred editor from the list and then hit "Change All…" to apply this to all files with this extension.

You will still have to do this separately for every different file extension – .doc and .docx, .html, .shtml and .xml, for example. Still the only solution I've found.

MacOS screenshot showing the "get info" dialogue box with default file editor options highlighted

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…And we want our own website

In the course of yamming and tweeting about a bugbear of mine, I've realised I have enough to say to make a blogpost.

The bugbear is people who want bespoke websites for short-lived projects

Or, anyway, people saying yes to them without asking pertinent questions.

As I wrote to someone else earlier today: '"Wanting their own site" is a big, big, MAJOR tendency of which I would like to break a great many production teams, programme and otherwise.'

Simply put: I find it futile and annoying how much web design and site-building goes into promoting events that'll last a month, or in some cases, a day. The event, and hence the usefulness of the site, is ephemeral, while the site just sits somewhere afterwards, forever or until it falls prey to a deletion quota.

Why this stuff annoys me

This annoys me particularly because, of all the discrete "websites" I've worked on that went on to live somewhere on bbc.co.uk, many of them in my opinion should not have existed.

On /religion I worked on bespoke programme pages, because at the time (i.e. before /programmes standardised programme pages) this was what was done. It resulted in a lot of lavish sites that nobody now visits. One such example was The Passion, which has been moved to /programmes but whose old bespoke site remains. Look at all that stuff. Galleries, audio clips, articles – all made for a week-long programme broadcast one Easter. It could expect a repeat or two on subsequent Easters, and then? Out to pasture. All that really nice design and build work (CW, BB, PMS: my bribes go to the usual locker number) for a site that was of public interest for far less time than it took to make.

That's fixed now for programme sites, as I said. Each episode now gets its own automatically-generated page on /programmes, which page the programme production team can themselves update with any extra material they care to add. Some get customised page colours and banners, but in general most of the layout and design remains the same as on other programme pages – as it should.

But I also worked on some campaign or event sites. Some were for non-BBC events that we'd publicise for public interest, like the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or World Youth Day (an annual Catholic event). Some were campaigns run by local radio and similar low-budget departments, and were cases in which we'd make a site or page for them because they couldn't afford to. One more prominent example was a large site, with its own top-level directory, for Liverpool '08, when that city was Capital of Culture. It was updated weekly while the event went on. Now? Oops indeed; at time of blogging it doesn't even have a mothball banner.

So, after National Buy a Book For a Cow day was over, we'd end up with a site sitting orphaned somewhere on bbc.co.uk – because while it's bad manners to leave 404s (I'm not sure if 410s are seen as similarly impolite), the site had outlived its usefulness as soon as the ephemeral event was past. With luck someone would remember to mothball this. (If I still have FTP access I might see about doing so for Liverpool '08…)

The problem is that we haven't seen a solution similar to /programmes for websites specific to events ("ephemerals", as I keep wanting to call them for some reason). Actually there sort of is a solution (see next section), but it doesn't seem to be enforced: I still see a few custom sites getting built.

Can't we put a lot of these things on Things To Do?

The BBC has a section called Things To Do, which is geared up to present events that happen at specific times in specific places. Actually I'd never seen Things To Do before @r4isstatic mentioned it today, and when I saw it I thought it was pretty ace and wondered why it isn't being used for a lot of these campaigns and events. You get the design and layout ready-made, space for a nice big picture if you really must have your own set of branding (a separate rant entirely!), things like maps and related events all added for you, and your event stays in a huge back archive, easy to find when you want to refer to it. Why would you reinvent the wheel?

I suspect the answer may be that bugbear: production teams may not understand the web that well, and they want their own site. The problem is that they get it. In the BBC these days you can't just be given a bespoke site without someone giving you permission, and I don't think the permission should necessarily be granted. In my view there are only a few cases – Children in Need, for example, is a perfectly legitimate example that is heavily promoted across the BBC and reoccurs annually – in which a big custom-made site is appropriate. The rest should go through a sort of common-sense test and most of them should be refused.

Questions I'd ask

Here are some questions that I would put to any team that asked for their own bespoke site.

  • Why do you want your own site? (will give an idea of how much they understand the web)
  • What lasting value will it have?
    • Will people still visit the site in two years' time? ("no" answer = automatic refusal)
  • Would it sit appropriately on an existing BBC system, like /programmes, /showsandtours, /thingstodo, News, Blogs…? ("yes" answer = it gets built on that system, not as a new site)
  • Is it infringing on the purpose of another site on bbc.co.uk? ("yes" answer = automatic refusal)
    • For example, is it a site about World Animal Taxonomy Day, which would clash with Wildlife Finder? If so, it gets put on /thingstodo or similar and promoted by Wildlife Finder.

I think that kind of approach would help to organise the way in which we commission sites and cut down the number of ephemerals sitting mournfully where nobody can find them. It would save all that wasted time, effort and budget, which sounds like a pretty good thing at the moment.

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Are you sure you're a real professor?

Moriarty: Some people love it when a plan comes together (as if it just happens - that's not a plan, that's a vague intention combined with luck). #
Moriarty: I love putting a plan together, component by component. Watching it start to move, gather momentum, redundant pieces taking up the slack. #
Moriarty: The outcome becomes almost irrelevant compared to the mechanism. A mere necessary certainty; a coda. The workmanship is the destination. #
Moriarty: That's why I always beat @one_red_dot at Mario Golf. #

Teh Twitz.

Squamous horror plotline notwithstanding, Herm has itchy paws (or should we say voices).

Herm: New blog post: Periscopean http://hellhound.net/blog/2658 #
Anke: @Herm Yay, a blog post! :D #
Herm: @Anke Only a ragecomic, I'm afraid. XD #
Anke: @Herm Better than nothing. It's cute. :D #
Herm: @Anke Ninja star = Weft's fault. #
Anke: @Herm Doesn't he get in trouble when he loses those? :P #
Herm: @Anke Am sure I can arrange a beating for him if you'd like to spectate. #
Anke: @Herm Noooo :( #
Suitov: @Herm I will veto it. #
Herm: @Suitov he no yours you mine #
Suitov: @Herm Don't care will think of something Machiavellian #
Herm: @Suitov Stop hanging around with Jim #
Suitov: @Herm Just for that will think of something Moriartian too #
Moriarty: @Suitov Have sex with him then have him killed? #
Suitov: @Moriarty ...All right, back to plan A it is. #