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Monday, October 19, 2009


A few odds and ends

1. A reminder to all American friends that the votes are starting in Maine on Proposition 1, the homophobic amendment that would outlaw same-sex marriage. Blogger Greta Christina (possibly not work-safe, as she also blogs about sex), who I've cited before, has an article here going into the reasons why Maine is important - political momentum - and why it's important to get campaigning now rather than at the last minute. Protect Maine Equality is the place to go; let's all strike a blow for freedom and justice. 

2. It's my pleasure to point out another fine offering from the BBC: their Sunday-evenings adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, which is turning out to be the best Emma I've seen. Romola Garai manages to give the most intelligent turn as Emma I've seen an actress do, and is thoroughly charming; the drama is carried well, the cast and script are all excellent. The nature documentary Life is also on again tonight, and as last week's episode kicked ass, I fully expect great things. Two highly recommended reminders that attacking the BBC is attacking something great. 

3. I just saw The Damned United and it was brilliant. If anyone isn't familiar with Peter Morgan's scripts - which also include The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland - 
you're in for a treat. They're fantastic. All except the last also star the amazing Michael Sheen, whose ability to portray real people as diverse as Tony Blair and Kenneth Williams makes me think we need a new phrase for what he does. I'm going with 'performance biography'. Peter Morgan, Michael Sheen, these are ornaments to the contemporary film scene and I can't overpraise them. 

4. An explanation I seem to owe about Facebook. A few weeks ago I signed myself up, and I didn't mention it but people seem to be finding their way to me anyway. When they do, I don't sign them on as friends, which is unfriendly of me. So, explanation. 

Like a lot of people, as the years go by I find a lot of my friends moving to places where I can't easily get at them, like New York and Bristol and Reading and other places where you can't just pop by. Living in London, even my Londoner friends tend to be a fair old hike away. Lots of them are having babies, at whose pictures I like to coo but whose presence limits their visiting energy. Joining Facebook means that I can keep in touch with these people on a day-to-day basis, which is all very nice.

However, since I'm also a writer who hangs around on discussion threads, this also means I'm fortunate enough to get goodwill from people I haven't met. After some reflection, I've regretfully decided that if I sign these nice people up as Facebook friends, I'll be getting all their Facebook messages too - which means that I'll find it harder to spot the messages from my long-lost personal friends in the crowd. This is especially the case as the kind of people who friend writers on Facebook tend to be lively and frequent Facebook users, which is an excellent thing in itself but liable to swamp my long-lost friends, who tend to post only one message every few days. I have therefore sadly decided that if I want to use Facebook for the reason I signed up, I'm going to have to friend only people that I know socially. 

This is one of those awkward etiquette situations that new technology somethings throws up. All I can say is, if I don't friend you, please don't think this means anything personal. I'm very happy to chat on my blog or reply to e-mails; I'm just trying to keep Facebook for a specific purpose.

At some point, if somebody can explain how, I might try to set up a separate Facebook account where readers can sign up as fans, because I know that this is possible to do. Anyone who wants me to do this, please give me some pointers and I'll see what I can manage. But in the meantime, I fear I'm going to be using my Facebook page as a kind of semi-private line, not because I don't like to meet new people online but just because I miss my friends and want a place where I can hang with them. 

5. A big thank you to everyone who joined in the conversation on the last post, making for a most interesting discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'll be preparing new posts, but as well, does anyone have any questions or topics they'd like to hear me talk about? 

I have no bloody idea where all those little As with hats on came from. Blogger seems to be going through one of its phases and I fear to tamper; Blogger seems to take tampering personally and revenge itself with paragraph changes beyond the nightmares of typesetters.
It seems to just be a matter of different encodings. If you set your encoding to UTF-8, they go away.
What with the UTF-8 what? How do you do that?

(As you may be able to tell, computers and I have a somewhat limited relationship.)
Well, how to set your encoding to UTF-8 will vary by browser; in Firefox, it's under "View", then "Character encoding". If it's not there, go into "More encodings" then "Unicode". I can't speak for other browsers but it should be essentially similar.

Explanation of what's going on here, if you're unfamiliar:
So, computers were invented by English-speaking people, right? So when the ASCII code was made it just covered English letters, numbers, and punctuation (as well as special control characters and such). But eventually this wasn't sufficient and it had to be extended. But, there's not one standardized way of extending it - there's quite a few. And if the file's written one way, and you're trying to read it a different way, things are going to look rather messed up. So evidently Blogger is putting in some sort of special spacing character. And it's writing its files in UTF-8. But evidently whatever the code is for that character is in UTF-8, represents a hatted-A in ISO 8859-1. So if you're reading it, thinking it was written in ISO 8859-1, your browser will see that code and interpret it as a hatted A rather than a spacing thing. But if you can tell it what sort of code is actually being used here, that problem won't occur.
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