Thursday, 11 August 2005

Death to all semi-colons !

Semi-colons are unloved creatures at the best of times. Most people don't have a clue what to do with them and feel slightly uncomfortable at the thought of introducing them into, what is otherwise, a grammatically correct sentence. To be honest, my use of semi-colons is experimental at the best of times, so I shall refrain from using them in this entry to avoid looking like a grammatical slob (more so than usual at any rate).

Anyway, I am losing track of my original point. They are unloved creatures, and whilst I may have trouble placing them correctly, I don't despise them to the extent that I avoid using them altogether. That is, until today.

I suppose it is not really the semi-colon's fault; Adobe is really the prime suspect. My CDROMs, yesterday on the verge of completion, were suddenly swallowed up in a mire of confusion.

I had tenderly, for an obscene number of man hours, compiled extensive metadata (title, author, subject, keywords, description, date of publication e.t.c) for over 500 documents. This enabled me to develop search indexes so that people can search the contents of the CD ROM. We go to test it and what happens? The author search doesn't work!!

Two hours of frantic testing later and we discover the culprit. Yes, the dear old semi-colon. Now, whilst Adobe allow keywords to be separated by semi-colons, when it comes to authors it is a different matter entirely. For some reason Adobe believes that there can only ever be one author to a document, and therefore the services of a semi-colon are unrequired.

Well Adobe, may I advise you that in research papers you can have up to 10 authors(if not more) and therefore it would be logical that the semi-colon separation principle would apply here too. And if it doesn't, it would be nice if you could mention it in your 'Help' function.

Unfortunately, logic and computer software don't tend to mix. I therefore spent a frantic morning removing in the region of 5,000 unloved and dejected semi-colons from my metadata. Happily, I can say it is now done and, fingers crossed, I'll be able to get on the plane on Saturday safe in the knowledge that my CD ROMs are complete and void of all semi-colons.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005


The countdown is on till I touchdown in terminal 3 and crash headlong into the gritty reality of the polluted metropolis of London. The title of this entry 'Torn' is not quite exact. I can't say I'm exactly torn between here and London; it is an unfortunate necessity that I board the plane on Saturday. Dissertation and credit card bills being the main reasons for my return home but also the need, after 6 weeks, for a decent cup of coffee. Oh and of course to see the folks and my young man which go without saying.

So what's wrong with London? Well where do I start. Smiles. An extinct phenomenon in our dear capital. One journey on board our misery-infested tube system is enough, if you let it, to depress you for a week. In Laos people smile. They have nothing, but they are grateful for what little they have. People feed entire families on 25p a day and still they smile.

In London, people have everything and yet they constantly moan because everything is never quite enough. They moan when they haven't got the latest mobile phone; they sulk at their overflowing yet 'empty' wardrobes, muttering about their need to go shopping; if their job doesn't pay 40 grand they whinge. I'm not saying I'm any better, I do exactly the same when I'm in that environment. What a breath of fresh air though, to discover that there is more than one way to live. Where quality of life and happiness are not necessarily proportional to your monthly salary.

I'm also going to miss the accepting nature of Lao culture. You can be the queen of queens and no one bats an eyelid; homosexuality, at least for men, is totally acceptable. There are no looks, no sniggers, no beatings, nothing. Gay men are seen as equals. Although London is probably the most accepting area of England, it still has its share of prejudice and beating up gay men remains the sick past-time of some.

The same goes for religion. Everyone and anyone is accepted into their Buddhist culture. Anyone can sit in a temple and everyone can take part in Buddhist ceremonies. There are a lot of religions that could learn from these examples.

Somehow, in our progress from the developing to the developed world, we appear to have lost our acceptance for fellow humans. We have become narrow minded, prejudiced, competitive and greedy. There is a lot to be learned from our lesser developed neighbours.

I shall also miss the weather. My jumper has remained scrunched up at the bottom of my rucksack waiting for its inevitable emergence on my return home. I even enjoyed the frequent encounters I had with red mud. At least when it rains here it does a decent job of it. None of that hair-frizzing drizzle we get on a daily basis in the UK.

I wont miss witnessing horrific bike accidents.

Well enough of all that. It's back to the 4 quid tasteless sandwiches, the 5 quid glasses of wine, the ineloquent grunts of retail staff and the opportunity to rub shoulders with suicide bombers on the underground!

Monday, 8 August 2005

Party Lao style

Having finally recovered from the emotional rollercoaster of coming face to face with death, I’m going to mention the rather happier start to my evening on Saturday night.

Tim and Song were holding a party for Song's nephews who were heading back to Paris after a month visiting their relatives in Laos. The age range was 5 months to 80+ years.

In true Lao style, the entire community had got together to prepare for the evenings events. When I arrived just gone five, there were groups of people sat in circles preparing vast amounts of food, a gaggle of lads setting up some giant loud speakers for the must-have Lao music and crates of Beer Lao stacked up in piles in every corner. Needless to say, it was a bit of an event.

To kick off the evening there was a pre-Buddhist Basci ceremony. A rug covered corner of Tim’s house was host to a golden shrine, placed in the centre of the floor and lovingly decorated with flowers and pieces of string. Everyone sat in a circle around the shrine and I was made to sit up front to hold one of the five pieces of string which had been draped off the shrine. Then, with the distinct melodies of Thai pop music wafting through the window from the speakers below (Lao singers had yet to arrive), the elder of the house began to chant. The words banished evil spirits and wished good luck to all those present, especially the two boys heading back to Paris (as translated by Song). Mid chant, the inevitable happened. Yep, you’ve got it…..a mobile phone went off. Not only that, but the guy whose phone it was decided to answer it whilst the ceremony continued around him. A couldn’t quite contain my need to giggle. What a mosaic of old an new!

Part of the ceremony involved pieces of boiled egg and rice placed on the head and shoulders of various people. These were then eaten. My wishing that I could be excused from this section of the ceremony obviously worked, as I managed to miss out on the eggy-hair experience (either that, or I just wasn’t considered worthy).

Finally, everyone tied pieces of white string around each others wrists. As they tie the knots they wish the receiver of the string luck in all aspects of their lives. I now have six pieces of string tied around my wrists that I am unable to remove should bad luck be bestowed upon me. It’ll look great in any job interviews I may have coming up.

The rest of the party was pretty average with copious amounts of Lao food, Lao music, Lao dancing (I have discovered my Achilles’ heel) and a life supply of Beer Lao. A great evening, until the bike ride home!

Sunday, 7 August 2005

the cost of the war in Iraq

Came across the National Priorities Project website whilst doing some dissertation research. You can never really guarantee the accuracy of these sites, but it certaining puts the cost of war in perspective. Check it out!