DVD rentals by post

I’ve just signed up for ScreenSelect, a postal DVD rental service. From no such service being available at all in the UK in mid-2001, there are now a couple of dozen to choose from. I chose ScreenSelect because they have one of the largest collections of DVDs available (including lots of TV series), and their prices are good. (CompareBox helped whittle down the short list.) £14.99 a month allows unlimited rentals, and three discs on loan at any time.

I’ve been having a great time browsing through the service and adding films to my rental queue. So much to choose from! And unlike buying DVDs, or renting them from the local Blockbuster, I don’t have to restrict my selection because of how much I can afford, or how much I can watch in a single weekend. I can just add and add, and my queue just gets longer and longer…. I’m up to 67 at the moment, but I’m sure I can bump that up to well over a hundred in no time! Woo!

(Hmm… John Woo… Which of his films have I not seen yet?)

Archive changes

I think I’m going to make some changes to my blog archives. I use SSI to show the same sidebar on all my home page and all my archive pages. One of the side effects of this is that a typical archive page is not static. If you go to a typical archive URL, say “http://www.sunpig.com/martin/archives/2003/12/28/oliebollen/“, the blog entry the page relates to is static (although the comments may change over time), but the sidebar information varies on a daily basis.

This means that when a search engine indexes a given archive page, the information it registers at that time may not be there at some point in the future. This is a bad thing. I know that I get frustrated if I follow a link from Google only to find that the information I was expecting to find at the other end isn’t there any more. I’m sure other people do, too.

On the other hand, not including things like the Quick Reviews in the sidebar of archive pages is going to decrease the number of people who will read them. Looking at the server logs, it is not uncommon for someone to find an archive page through a search query, and then browse around the reviews for a bit. So the question is: do I want more eyeballs, or do I want search engines to index me more accurately?

Seeing as I’m not trying to generate revenue from this site, the answer has to be: more accurate search results. Although the quick reviews feaure links to Amazon, the click-through rate is very low, and the conversion rate even lower. In the time I’ve been with the Amazon affiliates programme, I’ve earned just enough from referral fees to buy a single book. And I have no intention of running Google Ads any time soon.

Another benefit for readers and searchers is that removing extraneous information from the archive pages will reduce page download times. Basically, it sounds like a good idea all round. It’ll be interesting to see how the server logs change in response.

Being a Haive

Alex role-plays a lot of the complex issues in his life. Very often these games involve him turning the tables on us. For example, he sometimes tells us it’s time to go to bed, and he will lay down a pillow and a blanket for us. Other times, he will say that he is angry with us, and that we have to be sad.

Last week, he told me that I was being very naughty, and that I had to go to my room until I was a better boy. I obediently went through to my room and sat down on the bed, while Alex closed the door on me. He then went through to his own room to giggle and play.

A few minutes later, I stood up and walked to the door. Alex heard me making a noise, and he rushed through to greet me. “No, you caaaan’t come out of your room,” he said, gesticulating with his expressive hands. “You’re not being a haive.”

I wasn’t being a what? A haive? (It rhymes with “slave”.) Was this a new word he had picked up at nursery?

The explanation hit me a moment later. We often tell him that he has to behave. What he has been hearing, however, is us telling him to “be a haive.” His brain had figured out that this strange noun “haive” was equivalent to “good boy.” Which, idiomatically, is mostly true–it’s the grammatical fineries he got mixed up.

Yet another fascinating and funny insight into linguistic development. Our days are filled with them.

Rands on Bugs


“Heinous means bad. Really bad. Horrible sky-is-falling bad. Grossly wicked. Jack the Ripper bad. Are you getting this? Good.

“Heinous is the word to describe the type of bug you will not ship with. As a responsible parent for your product, you think you will ship with no bad bugs and that’s where you’re loopy. You’re going to ship with tons of bad bugs. More than you’ll be comfortable with. You’re, however, not going to ship with Heinous bugs because these are the bugs which, if found AFTER YOU SHIP, the presses would stop. People would run around screaming about the building. Money will be lost and heads will roll.

“I’m not talking crashes… I’m talk massive data loss… horrible operating system hangs… exploding computers. I’m talking Heinous.”

There are some people I need to show this article to….

Corrupting our nation’s youth

Alex loves videogames, or, as he calls them, “TV games”. With both a Playstation 2 and a Gamecube in the house, TV games are as much a part of his everyday playtime as his toy trains, cars, and books. He is particularly fond of Nintendo’s Mario games, and the characters in them. Whenever he plays with his toy farmhouse and the four plastic farm animals that go with it, the animals take on the personas of Red Mario, Green Mario (Luigi), Daisy and Peach. Whenever the four real humans in the house hang out together, Alex will regularly instruct us on what roles we should all adopt. “I’m Red Mario, you’re Green Mario, mama’s Daisy, and Che-o-Fiona’s Peach!”

This isn’t the only videogame vocabulary he has adopted. Piggyback rides put him in the mindset of Ratchet and Clank, where he is the tiny robot Clank who clings to the rabbit-like Ratchet’s back. We often play at “Boss Battles” together. Anything you can do with two people becomes “multiplayer”: multiplayer potty time, multiplayer bath time, multiplayer bedtime. If we want Alex to do something, we can pretend that we’re holding the “Alex controller”, which has jump, cuddle, kiss, and run buttons on it. I often whizz him around the room from sofa to table so he can “grind the rails” like in the snowboarding and skateboarding games. And he is convinced that my current job involves fixing giant robots all day. With a spanner.

When we first started playing SSX Tricky together, he could barely hold the controller, but in the last six months or so he has started to get pretty good at his games. In games like Ratchet and Clank and Mario Sunshine, he can easily control the characters on screen, making them run, jump, and hit things. In Mario Kart: Double Dash!, he no longer always comes last when he’s playing against the computer.

The violence in videogames is something we have to watch out for. He doesn’t get to watch me play Vice City or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance any more. The games we allow him to play where he can hit things (Ratchet and Clank, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Zelda) are –most of the time–cartoony and playful, and about as aggressive as Tom and Jerry, or Road Runner.

We have also been drumming the distinction between fantasy and reality into his little head. It seems to be working. A couple of months ago, we rented the game Billy Hatcher and The Giant Egg for a weekend. On the Sunday morning, I got up with Alex and fired up the Gamecube. When Abi came downstairs a little bit later, she greeted the scene by saying “Hello Alex, hello Billy Hatcher.” Alex turned round to her, and said in a serious voice: “Billy Hatcher’s not real, mama, it’s a game.”

Last Friday I had a half day from work. Alex, Fiona and I all went into town while Abi took a relaxing afternoon off. While I was browsing through the games section of the Virgin store, Alex wandered off to play with the Gamecube demo pod. It was running the new James Bond game, Everything Or Nothing.

I watched as Alex took up one of the game controllers and started playing. After a while, he got distracted by something, and spaced out for a moment or two. In that time, another boy, who looked to be about twelve or thirteen years old, joined him at the demo pod, and picked up the other controller. At the same time as the older boy started to play, Alex returned from the twilight zone and started paying attention to the game again.

I moved in a bit closer to make sure that Alex didn’t start telling the other boy to go away. (He can be rather bossy at times.) On screen, James Bond sneaked around a darkened control room, occasionally popping up from behind conveniently located crates to subdue an unwitting guard or enter a keycode at a computer terminal. Bond seemed to be doing just fine, but the older boy was looking up and down from the screen to his controller in frustration. He thumbed the buttons hard a couple of times, then pushed it aside. He probably thought the game was stuck on demo mode, and that he couldn’t interact with it.

Meanwhile, Bond carried on as if nothing had happened. Sneak, sneak, jump, fire, roll stealthily under a desk. The older boy looked from the screen down to Alex. Alex pushed the joystick forward and from side to side, and rolled his little thumbs over the buttons. I saw the older boy’s eyes widen as he realized that the game wasn’t on demo mode, but that this toddler was holding the active controller, and was directing Bond like an expert.

The older boy turned away and walked off to join his pals at the other end of the store. I laid my hand on Alex’s head and couldn’t stop grinning.

That’s my boy!