Saturday, December 13, 2003

Belgium last weekend

Exactly a week ago (was it really that long) I strolled into the famous bar 't Brugs Beertje in Bruges. There were Australians in there.

I joined them, and over the course of the evening asked that they take some photos of me.

You call that a beer glass?

That is a beer glass.

Actually, that is also a beer glass

Would you guess that this place sells beer, judging by the decorations on the wall?

When you have drunk too much of that Belgian beer (7% alcohol or more) it is sometimes possible to do embarassing things.

Some photos of Antwerp tomorrow.

The slow pace of Hollywood and lawyers

Over at Samizdata, Andy Duncan says the following about the prospect of a film of The Hobbit

let's just hope Mr Jackson gets the film rights for 'The Hobbit', to give us something to watch next Christmas.

Sadly, "next Christmas" is much too optimistic. Peter Jackson is making his King Kong remake for Universal next (which is scheduled for 12 December 2005 - remember that a two year gestation period is typical for a big Hollywood film), and he has also said things about making a smaller New Zealand based project at the same time or soon after. He has also mentioned that there have not been enough good zombie films made recently, and has expressed an interest in making one. This may or may not be the same project as his "smaller, New Zealand based project".

The rights for "The Hobbit" are apparently presently split between New Line and MGM (Miramax likely have some rights too, although I think these would be purely financial - they have some right to profit but no right to stop the movie being made). These parties will have to do some kind of a deal before the film can be made. Although this isn't an insurmountable obstacle (films are made by combinations of more than one studio all the time) it does mean that the lawyers of the various parties will have to get together to come up with a completely different deal from the one that applied for the Lord of the Rings before the film can be made. And while it is in the interests of everybody to make such a deal for a film that is a certain moneymaker, this will take time. Plus there is the simple fact that everyone is very tired. Despite the usual two year gestation period for big Hollywood movies, they have made three in three years. Yes, there has been a certain amount of effort saved because the films were shot back to back and were all one long story, but only a certain amount. A lot of things have had to be done separately for each movie. And remember, these have been very big movies.

In short, it would amaze me if this film is in cinemas less than five years from now. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.


I have been ripping my entire CD collection to MP3 using iTunes. (Well, there have been three or four CDs that are so embarassing to own that I have left them out. No I am not saying what). Interestingly, I have been playing the already ripped songs in random order as I do so. And this is a weird nostalgic experience through my musical tastes since about 1988, when I first bought a CD player. Actually, I am surprised how much I still like most of the stuff I bought, given that I am in no sense a music fan.

Update: Actually I don't have quite my whole CD collection, although I thought I did. I can think of half a dozen discs that are missing, and there are undoubtedly more. No problem: I must have simply left them in Australia. I will have to sort this out next time I am there.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Not much more from me today

I have been quoting some silly song lyrics at Transport Blog, however.
First computer impressions

Scott Wickstein observed to me yesterday over instant messaging that moving computers is like moving house. It is, but with the exception that you have both houses available to you for an overlap period. So moving files is something I can do slowly. As there is no CD burner on the old computer, the memory card and card reader that I purchased to go with my digital camera is suddenly extremely useful to me. However, more than transfering files, it is about configuration, which means finding the CDs that came with my hardware and installing appropriate drivers. I am also simultaneously upgrading from Windows ME to Windows XP. Whatever my feelings towards Microsoft, this is a vastly superior operating system. If I hadn't had to put up with all the earlier crappy versions, I might even feel better towards Mr Gates. Of course, when I am installing hardware, in a lot of cases this means that the driver I have is too old to be sure of working correctly with XP, and I have to download a new version over the internet, demonstrating that I didn't need the CD after all. It's interesting though the way that many new hardware devices will now essentially pretend to be an external storage device of some kind and latch on to the built in standard driver sortware, and don't need you to install driver software at all. We really have just about reached Plug and Play.

Plus there are little bits of software I like to be downloaded over the internet, and semi-essential things from non-Microsoft parties (Quicktime, the Google toolbar) that need to be installed. And I have just downloaded iTunes, which will be useful for keeping track of music for my cute little MP3 player that was my "free gift" that came with the computer. (The choices for me "free gift" were printer, digital camera, a second battery or an MP3 player. As I had the first two already, it came to a choice between a useful accessory or a new toy. The new toy won.

Now, having commented a few months back that my next computer needed to have lots of USB ports, I have once again got one with only two. This was because the Dell system I got was so good for the money in other ways that I went for it anyway, although other brands did in some cases have many more USB ports. As I followed the advice of my readers on that occasion and bought a USB hub, this doesn't matter so much. At least I hope it doesn't. I do have IEEE1394 (Firewire) port as well, which may come in useful if I ever buy a camcorder. Although given that my USB ports are the new high speed kind, it also may not be needed.

Anyway, having fun. I just now need to find a free WiFi hotspot in a nice cafe somewhere nearby.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Life could be worse

Freshly baked pizza - check

Kick-arse new laptop computer - check

Unpasteurised brie - check

20 year old Speyside scotch whisky - check

Interesting policy level job offer from the Australian federal government - check (I think)

Australian cricket team about to start test match against India - check

Update: India won the test match and lead the series 1-0. Damn.
New computer has arrived

More blogging soon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Somebody had to

Virginia Postrel has posted her results for one of those instant quizes, this one answering the question "Which state is perfect for you?". She gives "No surprises there" for her answer being California. I took the quiz, and two of my answers were that I like states that are crowded and states that have mountains. Despite that, I kept getting the answer of "Iowa". So I am not going to post my results and I am going to suggest that version 2.0 is perhaps needed.
Good things

Dell tell me that my new laptop has been made to order, and it is in the "preparation for delivery" stage. Hopefully that means I will have it in a couple of days. Given the state of non-working of my existing laptop, this will be a huge relief. I have bought a machine with inbuilt wireless, so I will have to go around hunting in London for wireless hotspots, I suppose. I paid an extra £10 for 802.11b/g wireless rather than just plain 802.11b. I could have paid a bit more for 802.11a/b/g. I suppose I will find out in a couple of years time whether 802.11a takeup occurs in a big way and whether I should have made the additional investment. Of course, if it becomes an enormous deal, I will still be able to add an additional 802.11a card, so it is not like I have restricted myself very much.

And of course my last laptop lasted me for two years. Even if it was still properly functional, it was getting to the point where its featureset was not up to my requirements. We will see how long this one lasts.

Update: It has now shipped from Dell's European manufacturing facility, which is probably in Ireland. I wonder how long it will now take. For people who are wondering, my financial resources turned out to be greater than I expected, so I am getting a Pentium M 1.4GHz system with a 60 GByte hard drive, a 1920x1200 15.4" screen, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, 512 Mbytes of RAM, onboard 802.11b/g, and a few other things.
The Belgians demonstrate that they are just as petty as the Canadians

Belgium is not a biligual country. It is a country in which different languages are spoken in different parts of the country. Generalising of course, Flemish people can usually speak French, but are very reluctant to do so. Walloons usually cannot speak Dutch, but even if they can, they generally won't. Signs are not bilingual. As you cross from one section of Belgium into another, the signs change from one language to the other. As most towns have different French and Dutch names, this can be highly confusing if you are just trying to go somewhere. The exception to all this occurs in Brussels, which is the capital, and is a French speaking city entirely surrounded by Flanders (ie by Dutch speaking country). Signs in Brussels are almost always bilingual.

Yesterday, I encountered a slightly absurd manifestation of this. I was on a train from Antwerp in Flanders to Brussels. It was a nice new train, and like new trains in many countries it had LED displays inside the carriages giving information about where the train was going to and which stations it stopped at. In Antwerp and as we travelled through Flanders, the information on the Display was entirely in Dutch. However, as we crossed over the city limits of the city of Brussels, it suddenly changed, and it was giving information in both Dutch and French. Presumably, if the train had continued on into Wallonia, everything would have changed into French only. Given that the display system could clearly operate in both languages and that most people on the train were travelling from one side of a linguistic boundary to the other, some of us would have thought it was sensible for the system to display information in both languages for the whole time.

But that would have implied that Belgium was a bilingual country. And we couldn't have that.

Monday, December 08, 2003


I have a little piece of travel writing over at Samizdata.
Citibank kind of save the day

When I travel, my practice is to simply withdraw funds from ATMs, which will be linked up via a global system to my bank. In the vast majority of the world, this works perfectly every time. However, there are some countries where this does not always work, as ATMs are either scarce or not linked into the global network. As I recently, Japan is one case, although not nearly as bad as it used to be. And, inexplicably, Belgium is another. There are very few ATMs, and most do not take foreign cards. And while it is easy to laugh at the "Citibank 24 hour banking centre" just across the road from Central station in Brussels that is closed between midnight and 6am, it does at least take foreign cards. I got some money from this machine between changing trains in Brussels but as happens this morning I ran out. I couldn't find a machine anywhere in Antwerp that would give me money. This was not ultimately a big deal. I had some pounds in my wallet which I could change to euros at a physical money changer.

However, the advent of the euro has dealt a blog to the money changing business in Europe, and those money changers that do still exist spend most of their time processing wire transfers of funds to Senegal and things like that rather than actually chaning money. So, just wanting to change £10 into euros, I found myself standing behind a man who had a tremendously complicated set of transactions. After some time, he and the man behind the counter proceeded from a civil conversation to a heated argument in French. (It contained the words "deux" and "gratis" frequently, so I think he believed he should be charged a single fee for two transactions). In any event, I wanted to make the simplest transaction in the world, so I moved to serious eye rolling mode. (This type of thing annoys me about post offices, too. People are receiving welfare payments, paying bills, changing money, getting drivers licence and passport applications processed, and all manner of time consuming things, which drives me mad when I am in the queue behind them and I merely want to buy some stamps).

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I'm in Belgium

Right now I am in Bruges. It is quite cold. I spent yesterday evening drinking a wide assortment of extraordinary beers with a number of other Australians, a Brazilian, and a fanatical Flemish Liverpool supporter (who even had a giant Liverpool FC flag that he apparently carries with him at all times) in 't Brugs Beertje, described by my guidebook as "the best bar in Belgium" and which has over 500 different beers to choose from. Bruges is full of English speaking people, or, more particularly, English and other London based people who are over here for the weekend. The options of cheap flights and train tickets seem to be being widely used. I am off the Antwerp. More then.

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