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Dom Mooney's Website

April 2007

Pure Bliss [UPDATED]

Pure Bliss
The best £3.50 ($5.99) I've spent in a while.

[UPDATE] I've now burned a CD with his favourites (which just happen to be the hairdryer, clothes dryer, vacuum cleaner and womb sounds) and it is working an absolute treat.

The Secret Pilgrim

A few weeks ago, Jill asked me if I was on some kind of spy obsession based on what I'd been watching. I guess I have been, in the main due to a slow burning fuse lit by reading John le Carré's novel Absolute Friends last May. Le Carré was one of the authors who really made an impression on me at a young age at the start of secondary school. Along with Tolkien, Cherryh and a few others he was a favourite for a long time, but somewhere along the way I lost the passion for his writing. I think it was around the time of 'the Night Manager' or 'Our Game' which really left me cold.

Anyway, I picked up a few of his books at the local Oxfam, when I had gained further enthusiasm from seeing 'The Constant Gardener' on DVD. 'The Secret Pilgrim' is the first of these books. It's fair to say that it has sat around for a while, but that is more due to Nathan's arrival more than anything else. I also had a slight detour in the BBC TV adaptation of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and 'Smiley's People' and have the somewhat enticing 'A Perfect Spy' to watch sometime in the future.

Anyway, 'The Secret Pilgrim' is a novel, but in a very different style to the norm. It reads more like a selection of short stories than a full novel, but there is an over-arching plot in the form of the reminiscences of the main character, Ned. Ned will be familiar to readers of 'The Russia House', but I have to confess that I haven't read that book in perhaps 20 years. Ned works in the Circus (British Intelligence) and is approaching retirement. The cold war has ended and the winds of change are blowing through the intelligence community. Ned has been sidelined into running the Circus' training facility for new recruits. The story begins, and ends, at a special meal held at the end of an intake's course. Ned has asked George Smiley to come out of his reclusive retirement and give the after dinner speech. As he does, memories of triggered of Ned's life in the Circus from his first assignments to his last ever before retirement. We see the changes that years of duplicity and moral ambiguity impart to Ned, punctuated with gems of wisdom from Smiley. Along the way there are a number of what would best be described as rants, putting forward Smiley's and Ned's world view. The crux seems to be that the world has changed, but it doesn't diminish the need for spies. However, it does change how they need to operate, and who the friends and enemies are.

'The Secret Pigrim' is a quietly compelling book. It isn't le Carré's best, but it's a worthwhile read, and a telling assessment of how the world changes.

Nathan on Jill's Birthday

Mum and Son

This shot was taken at the RHS' Harlow Carr Gardens when we went there for a day out on Jill's birthday on the 11th. It was a glorious sunny day, and we had a lovely time. It was a case of fourth time lucky, as we've tried to viist three times before, but always been scuppered by being too late or the weather. Nathan was absolutely shattered at the end of the day (there's a good picture of him crashed out in the Baby-Bjorn I was carrying him in alongside the shot above on Flickr).

I'm not going to add any more here now, as it's getting late, and I've had far too little sleep recently. I'll try and update later this week.

Currently feeling: Shattered.
Currently listening to: White Russian, from the Marillion album 'Clutching at Straws'
Currently reading: 'The Secret Pilgrim' by John le Carré

Eragon and At the Edge of Space

I've finally worked my way through the book that I was reading when Nathan was born, 'At the Edge of Space' by CJ Cherryh.

Cherryh has long been one of my favourite authors and this compilation was an opportunity to discover two of her earlier works which I'm not familiar with. She has never been an easy author to read, often taking up to fifty pages for the story to really take a grip. This is partly a result of the way that she tends to write novels from a very narrow viewpoint. They are written from the perspective of the principle character, and the read discovers what is happening as the character does. There is virtually no narrative exposition of the plot-line to expand and fill in; you get to live it as the person who you are reading about does. Both of the novels within the book explore a theme that Cherryh has returned to time and time again; the experience of being a stranger in a different culture.

In the first book, Brothers of Earth, two human survivors from opposing warring factions need to integrate into an alien culture more backward than their own to survive. In the second book, Hunter of Worlds, the principle character is an alien who has been kidnapped by the extremely powerful race which used to rule his world. He has to make sure a human in a similar position also integrates, because failure could result in the death of a human world. This is a clever set up with nested levels of isolation and difference from the dominant culture.

Both novels in the books are a very satisfying and enjoyable read, but demand that the reader becomes absorbed with the character's plight. Fortunately, that isn't too difficult. Lightweight, it isn't. This is hard SF with good characterisation and plotlines.

The next book I've read is very different to At the Edge of Space; I've had it for far too long and feel relieved that I've finally read it, if only so I can stop being sheepish about it every time I see my mother, who bought it for me perhaps 2 years ago.

It is, of course, Eragon by Christopher Paolini. The first thing to say about this is that it isn't literature! It's much more in the tradition of a pulp fantasy novel of the type that seems to fill thousands of turgid trilogies. However, it was a surprisingly fun, if lightweight read. The writing does – at some points – feel like it is an English Language writing assignment as there is a lack of a natural rhythm to it, but it is very fresh and energetic. However, as Paolini wrote this when he was 15, and has been successfully published (albeit initially by his parent's publishing house), I don't feel I can criticise this too heavily.

It held my interest, which is a big plus, and in parts it reminded me of David Eddings' early books in the Belgariad before his writing became bloated and repetitive. That is a compliment in my mind, as there are few people who have written as approachable fantasy as Eddings. However, it doesn't quite hit the same levels as the Belgariad, and it does feel very deriative in other parts. This isn't to the point of plaigarism, but rather to the point of feeling like it's a teenage Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's first home-built game world made up of all his favourite fantasy stories stuck in a blender. The other authors that particularly called out to me in the text were Tolkien (with a resemblance to the city of Gondolin in The Silmarillion) and Anne McCaffrey (with her Pern books). For all the comments I make here, I would like to read the sequel to this – Eldest – sometime, if only to see if the plot signposts are as obvious as I think they are!

Dom 22/4/2007

Easter Egg Attack! [UPDATED]

Nathan attacks an Easter Egg!
This photo sort of summarises Easter morning. Nathan was fascinated with the Easter Eggs! Ohh! Shiny!

You can see more by either clicking through the picture above, or by going and seeing thumbnails of the last thirty pics of Nathan I uploaded on the photo-album page.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, no, we haven't been feeding Nathan chocolate. He just liked the shiny wrappers!

Nathan-isms at Easter

Nathan's personality is really beginning to show now as he hits three months of age. On Saturday night we think we made a mistake by not giving him a bath before bed as he was tired. He went to sleep, but woke up every three and a half hours rather than the four to six he has been doing since he went in the cot. Tonight, when we put him in the bath, it was very funny. He was so enthusiastic, trying to crawl out of my arms and leap into the bath with Jill. I had difficulties holding him back.

Once he was in the bath, he showed some new tricks, grabbing and throwing and trying to chew the ducks he has. That and trying to drink the bath when we weren't looking! When I got him out he followed that up with peeing on his towel and giggling about it for the second time in a row! He's also been doing some of what Jill calls 'tummy time', and seems to like it, practising his crawling and head holding. He's also getting quite insistent that he wants to try sitting up.

We've had the quietest Easter in a long time, staying at home with no visitors. Good Friday saw us in Leeds for some shopping (getting Jill a coat from the ever excellent Bravissimo store). Saturday saw Jill taking Nathan into Wetherby, while I finally painted the half of the kitchen that we abandoned doing a year ago or more. Easter day itself had us puting a sleeping baby in the pram and walking along the disused railway track to Spofforth. We didn't go all the way – and it seemed a lot longer on foot than on the bikes we usually use – but it was great to get out in the sun and fresh air. When we got back he was still asleep and we left him in the pram while we had a coffee and a sit in some garden chairs with a book. In my case this was the CJ Cherryh novel I was reading back when Jill was in the hospital waiting to give birth. Fortunately, I can remember the plot from earlier!

About the only thing I've forgotten to do is phone Alix, Sam and the kids in Germany, which I remembered too late in the evening. Something to try today if I remember. I always forget the time difference between them and us. It was far harder when they were in Cyprus (as they were further apart in time zone) but it's something I should remember.

As usual, I've some new pictures, but haven't culled and uploaded them. I'll try that later today!

Currently feeling: Content.
Currently listening to: Somewhere Else, the new Marillion album
Currently reading: 'At the Edge of Space' by CJ Cherryh.

First Thoughts, Creative Suite 2

I had a bit of a surprise today, as the copy of CS2 Standard that I ordered earlier in the week was at home when I got in today. It wasn't meant to arrive until 6th April at the vendors, let alone be on my doorstep. Naturally, I installed it this evening. The initial installation took about 25 mins, with a further hour nearly to download and install all the updaters. It's times like this when I whistfully consider whether I should upgrade my DSL connection beyond 1M/sec. 160 Mb data still takes a while. Considering the installation is all run from within an update program, it was a disappointment that I had to enter the admin authorisation for every updater, but I guess that's the price of security and it should only be a single hit.

The initial impression I have of the software – Photoshop CS2, Illustrator CS2, InDesign CS2 plus the Bridge and Version Cue systems – is that although it takes longer (maybe two or three times as long?) to load, it seems pretty fast once you're in it. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as I haven't done any serious manipulation here. If the impression is correct, then I've made the right call and a fast G4 with a bucket of RAM is a fine machine for the package. However, only time will tell.

InDesign will take some learning; I think I may go and see if there are any night school classes in Harrogate again like the ones I did for Photoshop and Illustrator some time ago. However, It's probably a lot better for BITS and other writings than iCalamus is (as it's pretty much one of the two industry standards and integrates so well). I seem to be getting all the materials together for a workflow to restart writing - Scrivener for the text smithing, Word/InDesign for layout, and Photoshop/Illustrator/OmniGraffle for illustrations.

I guess the ending point to this is a tip. If you have an old version of Photoshop, be sure to check out the Jigsaw website. They appear to be offering an upgrade to CS3 Design Premium for £616 inc VAT. As the list price is £1385 inc VAT that's a great deal. Wish I'd seen it first (although, I'm guessing that I'd have resisted because it's somewhat more than I paid for CS2)!

First Swim & First Night in the Cot

Nathan had his first swimming session last week with Water Babies. He went through the whole gamut of emotions - crying, laughing, smiling during the half hour. It was a great day, and Jill really had fun. I felt really priviledged to be there, and got some nice photos which I'll put up next time I upload to Flickr.

Last night was also a bit of a milestone. Nathan's been struggling to stay the whole night in his crib, so we decided to try him in the cot. Jill had been talking to one of her (cohort?) fellow new-mums who said that she'd had the same problem until her daughter went into the cot. So we tried it, and it seemed to be a good night for both Nathan and myself!

Feeling gouged

I've long used the various Adobe products (Photoshop, Illustration, GoLive and Acrobat) but resisted buying the Creative Suite once that became available because of cost. Anyway, I've reached the end of the line for my current versions (Photoshop 7, Illustrator 10) so had to make a call to upgrade to avoid falling off the upgrade ladder (Adobe keep the number of back versions you can upgrade fron a lot tighter than they used to).

I'm feeling a bit gouged by it because you can upgrade from Photoshop (or an equivalent product) or from the earlier versions of the Creative Suite. You don't (in any way) have a way to get other versions of the software considered (so I can only take 1 product into consideration when I upgrade). Sad

Anyway, I decided that the £700+ that was wanted for a full upgrade to the soon to be released Creative Suite 3, and bought an upgrade to CS2 in clearance for substantially less! Happy