31 January 2009

I love Dark Avengers #1

Dark Avengers is the much anticipated main title in the Dark Reign saga that follows on from Secret Invasion. It rocks!

It is written by Brian Michael Bendis who has been the driving force behind the Avengers line of comics for several years and who has brought us the epics Avengers Disassembled, House of M and Civil War. These storylines overlap with each other to make the Avengers the most exciting place in the Marvel Universe.

Dark Reign starts with the premise that the old guard were at fault during the war against the Skrull (Secret Invasion) and the new people in charge are the baddies who came good when it mattered. But being a Bendis story I am sure that there will be a lot more to it than that and I know that I am going to enjoy reading comics over the next few months.

The epic stories is what makes the Avengers a must-read but the artwork is a real plus too. Mike Deodato is the art hero in Dark Avengers. I've chosen these two pages from the sample pages on the Marvel website because of the contrast they give with the fairly standard, but well executed, superhero group picture and, at the top, a story page with a compelling layout and dramatic use of colour.

Good story, good art, great comic.

29 January 2009

Upgrading to a Canon Ixus 80 IS

I've bought a number of Canon cameras over the years starting with a fairly large but simple Sure Shot Ace. Twenty years ago I paid something like 150 GBP for a 35mm camera with no zoom.

My next major camera was an original Ixus. I bought this because I wanted a compact camera that I could carry with me on business trips without looking like a tourist. I only stopped using this last Summer when I finally said goodbye to analogue film.

My first Digital Ixus was a V2, which cost me around 400 GBP eight years ago. I am shocked to realize, I have had a total of 5 Digital Ixus cameras all told.

My previous purchase, about two years ago was a Ixus 55 which I bought in anticipation of a holiday in Poland. It's still my main camera and is responsible for well over 1,000 photos that I have posted to the web.

My new Ixus 80 IS, a bargain at a little over 100 GBP, was bought in anticipation of another holiday, this time to China. Camera technology has moved on a lot in two years, making the purchase of a new one almost a necessity. Unlike the 55, the 80 IS has Motion Detection Technology, Face Detection Technology and a lot of other goodies. Basically that means it takes sharp photos even when you or the object are moving in poor light.

Buying it some months before the holiday gives me plenty of time to practice taking pictures in different situations so that I'll have a good record of the China holiday. And I should be able to get most of the holiday photos on one SD card as the 4Gb cards I bought for a mere 5 GBP each hold around 1,100 photos each.

I do love it when technology matures and becomes better and cheaper at the same time.

28 January 2009

Great fabrics at MoDA

When buying some shorts in Liberty recently I was reminded of the unexpected discovery that I made of the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) on what was meant to be a trip looking at art deco railway stations.

MoDA is somewhere near the top of the Piccadilly Line (I needed a guide to find the place) so is not the easiest place for me to get to, but it is worth the effort.

The museum building is quite small, as is the main exhibition area, but that is not why you go. The gem at the heart of the museum is collection which includes interesting quirky things like catalogues from plumbers' suppliers.

But what really got me excited was the collection of fabrics and wallpapers, some of which are shown here.

I was trying to find exact matches for some of my Liberty fabrics when I found these and while they are not quite the same they are clearly from the same period and style.

If Liberty did make shirts in these fabrics then I'd buy them.

26 January 2009

Stop Heathrow expansion

The proposed expansion of Heathrow, a third runway and a sixth terminal, is going to be a major topic of interest to everybody living in west London for a quite a few years to come.

Many of us are puzzled by the government's love of both air travel and of Heathrow when trains are a better option for travel (as Spain is showing) and Heathrow is about the last place you would want to build another London terminal.

This map shows the extent of the proposed development, the blue area would be the new airport boundary, the red area the runway and the aeroplane the site of the sixth terminal.

The good news is the spanner. This is the plot of land bought by Greenpeace, with help from with Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith.

You can help too - sign up now by clicking on the logo on the right-hand side to get your own piece of the plot. It's not a financial thing, but you will be included as an owner on the legal deed of trust. I've signed up.

25 January 2009

Sumptuous art in Authority #6

I am currently reading Authority: Worlds End #6 but have paused briefly to post a picture of some of the sumptuous art from Simon Coleby that is blowing me away. This double-page spread gives you an idea of how the art carries both the grandeur and the grimness of the story.

24 January 2009

Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands is wonderful

I was not too sure what to expect of Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands at Sadlers Wells as, somehow, I have never seen the film and the other Matthew Bourne productions that I had seen were quite different from each other and so gave no real clue as to what this one would be like. At the end of the performance I was stunned, delighted, charmed and moved.

The story itself is pretty simple; boy (Edward) dies, father makes artificial boy (Edward Scissorhands), father dies, artificial boy goes out in to the world where he makes friends and falls in love, artificial boy dies, his love carries on loving him into her old age. The story begins and ends at the Edward's grave.

Dramatically this falls in to three sections that go dark Gothic, jolly high school romp, dark Gothic. Think of a jam sandwich made with rye bread.

These changes in mood are reflected in the set design (graves are always good for Gothic) and in the dancing which is slow and passionate with few actors in the Gothic scenes but boisterous, feisty and funny with a stage full of actors for the jammy middle.

All sections of the show work well and the mood and the music flows well between them too to produce a single coherent drama that is truly dramatic.

The middle section with the full cast and a heavy dose of humour had some of the feel of The Carman and the Gothic sections had some of the intensity of Dorian Gray but in Edward Scissorhands Matthew Bourne has crafted something quite different from his other ballets but with the same assured creative stamp that makes all his productions sparkle and delight.

I do not do star rating but if I did this would be 5/5. I will gladly go to see it again and next time I'll take more people with me.

22 January 2009

Conversations about conversations

I've talked previously about the preparation that I did for the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on Conversations, and on the process that we went through on the evening, now it's time to address the subject matter itself.

But first, here's another one of David Gurteen's photos from the event so that you can see me in action. Until I saw this picture I did not know that I did that with my hands!

What follows is a fairly random set of comments that I made during the evening or which have occurred to me since as a result of further deliberations.

Our group was tasked with looking at the definition of conversation and while we looked effectively we failed to agree. The majority view was that a "conversation" had to be balanced, i.e. a dialogue between equals, but some felt that it could be any dialogue including some extreme cases like interrogation. I remained neutral as I am not sure that we really need a definition.

We also looked a little at conversational skills, e.g. listening and open questioning, but without any surprising ideas. What struck me was whether we could define a conversation as anything that uses conversational skills, much as a song could be defined as anything that is sung.

Our conversation certainly made me think if there were tools that I could use better to recover failing conversations or to make OK ones sparkle. Things that I need to look at include, humour, sentence length and structure, body language. Alternatively, could a failed conversation not be the fault of the conversation but a symptom of something else?

The concept of conversational disease prompted some interesting thoughts and example, such as a politician being interviewed who deliberately does not answer the questions put. This may kill the conversation from the point of view of the interviewer and, probably, the audience, but the politician sees this as a valid response and the conversation is a success from his/her viewpoint. This also returns us to the original question of whether this is a conversation in the generally accepted term or is it better described as an interview where the rules and objectives are different.

Web2.0 conversations do exist and they have different rules and behaviours. The plus side is that in many cases you can lurk in a conversation to learn the rules before joining in. This is much harder in real life, though Alison did give this an honourable try in the pub later!

Trust was mentioned a lot but I remain unconvinced. I have had lots of good conversations with people that I would not lend £10 to.

Are conversations just a means to an end or does the chitter-chatter have its own value? Can we live without conversation? Is there a basic need here that helps to explain the amazing success of Twitter?

Is it possible to judge the success, or quality, of a conversation if the end point is undefined and can change throughout the conversation? Something unexpected is needed to lift a conversation from the good to the exceptional, and you cannot plan for the unexpected but you can be prepared to respond to it.

I am paid to have, or enable, conversations. These are mostly held by phone and email.

All this is just a sample of the thinking prompted by the excellent Knowledge Cafe. Thanks Ray and David!

21 January 2009

Sandman: The Dream Hunters #3

Sandman: The Dream Hunters is still the first comic that I read when it's in the pile that I collect from They Walk Among Us; and deservedly so.

Issue 3 marks a noticeable change of pace with what was originally an illustrated work (i.e. mostly words with a few pictures) morphs in to comic book that carries the story with its pictures and uses words sparingly.

Sadly I have not been able to find any of the sumptuous interior artwork by P Craig Russell online so you will just have to make do with the cover and imagine the rest!

The next issue, #4, marks the end of the story and while that will be a sad moment it will also be a good excuse to read all four episodes again.

20 January 2009

Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on conversations

It has taken me rather longer than I hoped to write something about the recent Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on conversations so I am making it easier for myself by doing it in two parts - process and content; this is the process.

David Gurteen opened the show and then retired in to the background to take lots of photos of the event. I've taken the liberty of using some of them here but it is worth looking at the full set to get a proper feel for what the events are like.

Ray Shaw was the facilitator for the evening on his chosen subject of conversations.

Here we see Ray explaining the structure we would use for the sessions.

It was a slightly different process from normal, and David even billed it as a "Cafe Ray", but the similarities were greater than the differences.

The main difference was that instead of everybody discussing one topic we were offered four different aspects of conversations to consider.

In the initial session Ray addressed us all as a group, and it was quite a large group of seventy or so showing the keen interest in the subject.

The four broad topic areas were 1) defining conversations, 2) web2.0 conversations, 3) brilliant conversations and 4) business conversations.

Having four topics to cover gave Ray the excuse to talk for longer than usual for these events and he did this with enthusiasm, energy and insight.

Just to prove I was there and paying attention you can see me on the right of this picture.

Once the topics had been introduced we all chose the one that we wanted to discuss and split in to smaller groups with two groups per topics to keep the sessions manageable.

The small group sessions are a key part of these evenings and are where I get a lot of the value from going to the Knowledge Cafes.

Obviously the direction the discussion takes depends on who is in each group and the the unplanned mix adds to the fun and the learning.

This learning is expanded and reinforced in the last two sessions of the evening, the whole group session, where individuals offer up their key learnings and, finally, at the debrief afterwards in the pub where the previous sessions provide the foundation for conversations that take off in all directions.

I hope I have given some idea here of why the Knowledge Cafes work and why I make every effort to attend each one. Later I'll try and explain some of the things that I learnt about conversations at the last one.

19 January 2009

Kensington Olympia

As the detritus of life accumulates around me some patterns clearly appear, and a more obvious one is my need to photograph Victorian iron roofs whenever I am under one.

Luckily London is well served in this respect and I have, for example, an impressive collection of photos of the greenhouses at Kew where the roofs are the main feature and the plants serve to frame them with luscious colours and unusual shapes.

The two halls at Kensington Olympia are well worth photographing too, bit for different reasons. At Kew it is the proximity to the roof and the contrast with the flowers that does it for me but here it is the clear unobstructed view sharpened by the bright sky beyond.

18 January 2009


BETT is a major exhibition covering all aspects of ICT in schools.

I go every couple of years or so just to keep up to date with what is going on.

This feeds a personal interest and is relevant to my work as a school governor and as an IT consultant.

BETT is held at Kensington Olympia which is basically two halls each on two levels.

Actually, it's more complicated than that and you really need the map you are given to find your way around.

I was not really interested in finding my way around so I eschewed the map and just wandered around for a couple of hours looking at displays, demonstrations and leaflets on hardware, software, furniture, devices, websites and services.

It was a hectic and stimulating couple of hours. For example, I discovered I had a previously unknown interest in school furniture. There were a few highlights, such as the remote teaching for Gifted and Talented children, but overall there was little that was truly innovative or exciting. Almost everything was based around PCs and interactive whiteboards and virtually nothing on new platforms like the iPod/iPhone and the Wii.

Apart of the technology, BETT is famous for the way that its visitors, mostly teachers, devour the freebies, such as pens, like a swarm of unusually hungry locusts. I have enough pens to keep me going for ever so I didn't take any of them. However, I did somehow accumulate four cloth shopping bags, three other bags and a t-shirt. Not bad for a morning's work!

16 January 2009

'Nuff Said

People are literally queueing up to buy this comic and most of them are not comics fans, they just want to own a piece of history.

14 January 2009

Mary Goes First at the Orange Tree

The Orange Tree's seasonal comedy (by that I mean it's season for a comedy, not that the play is seasonal) if Mary Goes First, points fun at social rivalries in Edwardian England.

Mary goes first because she leads the local society, which includes being lead in to dinner first by the host.

All this changes when one of the other society ladies gets elevated by her husband's knighthood. As Lady Bodsworth she triumphs in her new position by chairing committees and frequently mentioning invitations to the local aristocracy.

Mary does not take this well and responds initially with snide comments and then with a plan to recover the situation.

This involves her husband changing parties, becoming the local MP and making a suitable donation to the party to justify a baronacy. The plan works and Mary goes first again. This causes some confusion at the end as it is not sure which lady should be led in to dinner first and Mary seizes the initiative and the two ladies go in together.

The plot is slight but is a sufficient framework for the comedy that grows from the observation of the pathetic rules that govern society. It's a comedy of manners and characters that happens to throw a few barbs at politicians too.

The play is mostly about Mary, what she thinks, what she says and what she does, and Susie Trayling carries the role with aplomb.

Mary Goes First is a full package that sparkles, delights, amuses and entertains throughout.

13 January 2009

How much can you trust online maps?

The concept of Information Literacy was fairly prominent in Knowledge Management a few years ago but seems to have lost potency recently, which is a shame as it is important to know how reliable information sources are and how they can be checked. My experience with online maps helps to show this.

I use Google Maps a lot and was already aware that there are some quality issues with these, e.g. several roads near me are incorrectly named, but I persevere with it because it comes with the iPod touch and a main competitor is now owned by Microsoft!

Tonight I am going to a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe. These are peripatetic meetings and move around London depending on who is hosting each one.

Tonight's meeting is at the London Development Agency (LDA) and this map taken from their website shows where they are located.

It's quite easy to find but I wanted a local map of the area on my iPod touch because that's what I always do when going to meetings in new places. Better safe than sorry, as they say.

Using the Google Maps application on my iPod touch, I searched for the LDA by their street address, i.e. 197 Blackfriars Road, London.

The "A" pin shows where Google Maps thinks 197 Blackfriars Road is.

Actually, Blackfriars Road is the large yellow road running down the right-hand side of the map so the pin is not very close to it at all.

The only good news about this result is that the positioning is so bad that it is clearly wrong and so you know that it can be ignored.

My next attempt was to find the location on Google Maps using the LDA's postcode, SE1 8AA.

A London postcode covers just a few buildings (sometimes only one) so a postcode search is normally good enough to find a location.

I also preferred to search by postcode because it requires less typing!

This time the pin is even further away from the correct location and is placed just north of Waterloo Station.

The postcode there is something like SE1 8XR; close but nothing like close enough.

Overall this was two very poor results from Google Maps and if I was relying on them then I would not have got to the meeting.

So I put my instinctive hatred of Microsoft aside and tried multimap instead.

Multimap does not have the clean look of Google Maps but this is because it shows local features, such as schools, which can be useful.

The multimap search for 197 Blackfriars Road did point to a location on the right road but one that is significantly south of the correct location.

This would have been good enough for my purpose (unlike either of the Google Maps results) as this would have taken me to the correct street and I could have used the street numbers from there to find the correct building.

I might have complained more if it had been raining though so perhaps I should not have accepted this near miss as good enough after all.

My final attempt was to do a multimap search by postcode.

This was, for all intents and purposes, spot on.

So both multimap responses were fit for purpose but neither of Google Maps were.

I managed to get to the right answer in the end only because I knew to question the first response that I got and how to check this against other information sources and other search methods. Useful skills when we are all wallowing in digital information where it is all to easy to mistake a quick answer for a correct one.

I'll still use Google Maps but now I'll be even more cautious about what it tells me.

11 January 2009

Images of London

Another Stop the War demonstration took me to London on Saturday and I took the opportunity to do some other sightseeing while I was there.

Exiting from the tunnel at South Kensington station I went first to the National History Museum where there was a small exhibition of ice sculptures.

My favourite was this one of three penguins that must have felt right at home in the cold foggy conditions that engulfed London at that time.

It is virtually impossible for me to go anywhere near South Kensington without popping into the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and this was no exception.

After the usual visit to the architecture section I wandered almost aimlessly and found some sections that I am sure that I have not been to before, including an Arts and Crafts section that I would have been to several times before if I knew that it was there (I refuse to use a map of the museum because that would take away some of the mystery).

One of the many things I like about the V&A is the collections of normal household objects of which this lovely period tin is an excellent example.

Walking up Exhibition Road towards Hyde Park takes you past the modern entrance to Imperial College London.

Imperial specialises in science and technology so it is not that surprising to see a Ferrari Formula 1 car in the entrance hall.

Students, like most office workers, do not care who follows them through a badged door so I was easily able to get in to take a shot unhindered by glass and then escape before my unauthorised presence was noticed.

And finally to a frosty Hyde Park for the demonstration for peace in Gaza.

We assembled by Cumberland Gate before heading off west along the evocatively named North Carriage Drive to leave the park at Lancaster Gate.

From there the scenic route took us through some of the smartest streets in London as we travelled along Bayswater Road, down Kensington Church Street and then east along Kensington Road to the Israeli Mission in Old Court Palace.

The march was the usual oxymoron of a harmonious singing crowd brought together by something bad. It was cold miserable day but the spirit of the crowd and the importance of the cause were uplifting. It was a good place to be.

10 January 2009

Thinking about conversations

The next Gurteen Knowledge Cafe is about conversations and I have been doing some thinking on the subject ahead of the event. Much of this has been through an exchange of emails with Ray Shaw who is leading the debate at the Knowledge Cafe.

I have tried to capture some of these thoughts as pictures as this is how I like to do my consulting.

This categorisation of dialogues tries to show how conversations differ from other forms of dialogues which includes the extremes of preaching and interrogation. My conjecture is that two factors we need to consider is to what extent a participant in the dialogue has control of the exchange and to what extent the exchange of information is balanced between the participants.

This gives us the four extremes where one person is telling (preaching) or demanding (interrogating) and another person is the recipient, i.e. is being told or interrogated.

I've defined conversation as the square in the middle where there is equilibrium on both the control of the exchange and the direction of the change.

If we accept this definition of a conversation then the next thing to consider is the tools that we can use to make these conversations happen.

This diagram considers "tools" in terms of the degree of interactivity they allow (e.g. blogs allow some feedback via comments but this is limited) and in terms or the richness of content within the exchanges (e.g. Instant Messaging is just text).

I do not think that either of these models is complete and I am not sure yet whether they will prove to have any value, but I am sure that my thinking on conversations will get a boost at the Knowledge Cafe. I'll post an update then.

Update: You can now also read my blog posts on how the Cafe was run and what I learnt from it.

9 January 2009

The shirt event. I'll repeat that…the shirt event*

When it first opened, Liberty was described by Oscar Wilde, a friend of founder Arthur Liberty, as “the chosen resort of the artistic shopper”.

I agree.

My sadly limited collection of Liberty shirts is not getting any younger and some of them are seriously showing signs of years of wear and adoration.

The worn ones get relegated to very casual wear, then to gardening wear and only when devoid of any colour are they reluctantly put in the fabric recycling bank.

So it was time to make another pilgrimage to Liberty, fortuitously coincident with their Winter Sale.

Liberty menswear department has been ringing the changes in recent years as it has moved out of the Regent Street section and moved away from its Gentleman's Outfitters appearance (which I loved) and has adopted the standard modern shop look with lots of space and not many clothes.

Sadly there has also been a move away from the beautiful swathes of traditional Liberty fabric that used to adorn shirts, ties, pyjamas, underwear, and almost every other form of male clothing.

I have never gone as far as underwear but I do have loads of ties, a rugby shirt (the other one died), some polo shirts and more handkerchiefs than any man has a right to own.

I went to Liberty hoping to find three new shirts but not really expecting to be able to do so.

But Liberty came up trumps and I left joyously with three gorgeous new shirts that shout "Liberty" at you from 50m. That's what I call a successful shopping trip.

*No clues where the title comes from, you really should know.

6 January 2009

FreakAngels is stunning

As an avid reader of comics and a lover of leading edge technology it is a little odd that I have not done much with online comics before. That is now changing.

I am starting to play with the ClickWheel application on my iPod touch which looks promising but has a limited catalogue of comics available.

I think that the iPod/iPhone is the platform of choice for the future but for the moment the content is mostly aimed at the PC.

One of my Twitter friends pointed me to FreakAngels, a free weekly comic by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, and I love it!

You could call it a post-apocalyptic story because, er, it takes places after an apocalypse, but that would be to miss the point.

It's a story about a group of 23 year olds who happen to have caused the apocalyptic event and who are now trying to save part of what's left, i.e. London's Whitechapel.

I spoke warmly of Warren Ellis' writing recently and he is an established writer so it is no surprise that the stories are good.

Paul Duffield was not an artist that I knew before but he has quickly impressed. There are 40 episodes of FreakAngels so far, each of 6 pages, and each page is wonderful.

I could have picked any number of pages to show the quality of the artwork but I managed to limit my selection to just three.

The top image is actually the last page of the first arc of the story and shows post-apocalyptic London (OK, so the apocalypse is fairly important to the comic) where a large part of the city is flooded.

This flooding is dramatically shown in the second image of the London Eye, Guildhall and Shell Tower. This is a very recognisable rendition of these London landmarks made suitably bleak by the colouring.

This is simply beautiful artwork and I would look at this even if the story was poor or in a foreign language.

The story makes a lot of being set in London and this adds to the interest to me.

I am not sure what the Whitechapel connection is yet (I need to read the FreakAngels Whitechapel Forum to find out) but I like the fact that the story is set there. I worked around there for a couple of years not that long ago and am familiar with its streets, architecture and atmosphere.

I chose the final picture to show both what Whitechapel looks like and, for those who already knew that, how well the character of the place is captured.

I read all 40 issues of FreakAngels today and am only disappointed that I have to wait until Friday for the next episode.

5 January 2009

Happy Snowman in Carnaby Street

Prior to the demonstration on Saturday I was able to enjoy some of the delights of Soho, the heart of London, and once again Carnaby Street was seasonally dressed to impress. While I very much appreciate the decorations I just wish that they were not confined to the street that has the highest concentration of tourists.

4 January 2009

March for peace

On Saturday I went on what could be the first of several demonstrations against the violence in Gaza.

The march started at Embankment, on the Thames in Central London. It was due to start at 12:30 but I got there just after 1:00 (I had to take my eldest son to Pizza Express first).

The march had already started but there were still many people congregated there waiting to move out.

We took a fairly familiar route, heading first along Victoria Embankment towards Westminster and then back along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square.

Also familiar were the colourful banners (mass produced and home made), the chanting, the mix of people different in many ways but united in one, and the sheer comfort of being in a large crowd with a common purpose.

Trafalgar Square provided a dramatic setting for the rally at the end of the march. In happier circumstances I would have spent more time savouring the architecture and art but buildings like the National Gallery were only a backdrop, a solid silent frame to enclose the movement and noise of the crowd.

There were several speakers but, to be honest, there was not that much that needed to be said as we all knew that the immediate need was for Israel to stop the killing.

I walked around the square to absorb myself in the atmosphere of the event and caught sight of Ken Livingston and Tony Benn. The later has been a hero of mine for many years and the former has said some wise words on the current situation, especially the comparison with Northern Ireland where the UK deliberately did not respond to acts of violence during the successful peace process.

Another demonstration is planned for next weekend in Hyde Park. I hope that it proves to be unnecessary but if the violence is still happening then I will be there.

3 January 2009

Stop Gaza Massacre demonstration

I would rather that there were not injustices in the world to demonstrate against but there are and so I am off to London today to join one of the many UK demonstrations against the current violence in Gaza.

I appreciate that the Israelis are concerned about their own safety but two wrongs do not make a right and there is no justification for their use of such force against a civilian population that they have imprisoned and blockaded.

The demonstration is also against the submissive position adopted by most western countries to this atrocity, and George Bush's recent statement putting all the blame on Hamas is neither truthful nor helpful.

I am not sure what effect, if any, our demonstration will have but I would much rather be there showing my support for peace than sitting at home watching it on TV.

2 January 2009

Catching up with the X-Men

I am taking advantage of the Winter holiday to seriously tackle my comics backlog and may even get it down to something like manageable proportions before I have to make my regular pilgrimage to They Walk Among Us for my next fix.

Having caught up with Secret Invasion I am now addressing the various X-Men titles and have come across a couple of real gems.

Cable, a new title by Duane Swierczynski and Ken Lashley, tells the story of Cable's attempt to protect the new mutant baby from Bishop who wants to kill her to stop the future world that he comes from (where mutants are treated as slaves) from coming about. Dr Who fans will be familiar with such plots and such paradoxes!

The essence of the story is a chase through time between two very experienced soldiers who can set and detect complex traps.

Time travel is used very effectively in the story as Cable jumps forward in time to escape from Bishop and then spends years preparing for Bishop to catch up with him.

I am sure that I have not given the story justice but I hope that I have given you enough of a clue as to why I am enjoying this sage immensely.

But you do not have to rely on my words to explain the quality of the art work. This extract from King-Size Cable Spectacular #1 shows the fantastic futurescape and the dramatic use of layout to tell the story.

To be honest, I was not sure what to expect from Cable and was not initially impressed by the premise behind the story but it proved to be a compelling and very rewarding read.

The other title that has made its mark on me recently was Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes by Warren Ellis, Alan Davis and Adi Granov. This is a two part story spun off at a tangent from the ongoing Astonishing X-Men series.

The tangent takes us off to parallel worlds and explores alternative scenarios on four alternative Earths in four short and very different stories.

Again, the basic premise is simple, one alternative Earth wants to annex another (travel between the dimensions is achieved using the Ghost Boxes) and the X-Men stand in defence.

The stories have different styles, give us different perspectives on the same situation and have different outcomes. And being X-Men stories they are linked by familiar characters which means that we immediately understand, and believe, how they react to each situation.

Ghost Boxes gives the impression of being a collection of stories that Warren Ellis came up with but could not fit in to the main Astonishing X-Men storyline. There must be many many stories like that but most of them never get written. I am so glad that these were.

1 January 2009

Burning Our Money

How government works and how it spends our money to do so interests me greatly so I like to read the research published by the Taxpayers' Alliance.

The basic premise that we have too much government and that it costs us too much money is one that I agree with.

The TPA's latest report is on public sector pay, something that I have recent first-hand experience of. The local authority that I worked for had a Chief Executive, several Executive Directors and each of these had several Divisional Directors. Below these there were Assistant Directors, Senior Managers and Managers. And, finally, people who actually deliver services.

Some of their key findings are:
  • Average pay in 2008 was £21,413 in the public sector against £20,715 in the private sector. Pay in the public sector was therefore 3.4 per cent higher.
  • Since 2000, pay in the public sector has grown by 37.1 per cent whereas pay in the private sector has grown by 30.5 per cent.
  • In the third quarter of 2008, public sector employment increased by 14,000 whereas private sector employment decreased by 128,000.
  • Public sector staff take more time off work sick. The average public sector worker took nine days off, against less than six days in the private sector.
  • Public sector organisations are still recruiting for a large number of jobs of dubious value, these are non-jobs.