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Wed, Nov. 17th, 2010, 12:22 pm
This is the best thing I have ever learnt

Here is a thing I have just found out:

Books all have an ISBN. (This isn't something I've just found out, I knew that already).

They also have an EAN, which stands for International Article Number (originally "European Article Number", hence the abbreviation). My understanding of this bit isn't completely clear, but I think a book's EAN is its barcode number, and it has some of the same numbers as the ISBN but with extra little bits so that it can work as a barcode. (This is something I've just found out, but it isn't the interesting bit. The interesting bit is coming.)

There's a bit of an EAN that shows what country it's from.

When the EAN is for a book, the bit of the number that shows what country it's from says: Bookland.

This is not strictly speaking true any more, apparently the system changed in 2007 in a way that meant EANs can say 978 and mean "hey this is a book" rather than "hey this is an object and it's definitely from a country that we just made up". But if you grab a book nearby, one published before 2007, and look at the number on the back, that number says: this is an object, it comes from a place, and that place is Bookland.

How did I not know this? I don't know much about barcodes and EANs and ISANs and ISSNs and all the rest of it (I didn't know that EANs, ISANs or ISSNs even existed, until this morning). I admire them, certainly. miss_newham lets her secret barcode knowledge slip, occasionally, and I always think "yes, barcodes are pretty great!". But all the same, this is the single greatest fact in the world, and I only just found it out.

There's also a Musicland, for sheet music.

Wed, Sep. 15th, 2010, 01:59 pm
Things that I have done

Hey, here are some internet things that I have been involved in!

Balloons, Spies, Asparagus and Other Wandsworth Stories: some odd things that have happened in Wandsworth over the past thousand years. There are balloons, spies, and asparagus, and also dogs and floods and grumpy monarchs. If you're in the UK and interested in strange history, do please fill out the quiz: I will then send to you, on a postcard, through the mail, the Wandsworth story pseudoscientifically calculated to most fit your interests.

Playmakers: a cheerful 35-minute documentary about pervasive games, made by thinkpublic. There's a pile of people talking, and some people playing, and an ongoing thread about me and Alex (of Hide&Seek) designing a game. It has actual production values! And that bouncy cheerful boop-ba-boop music that all cheerful documentaries use whenever people do stuff.

Their Questions Answered: answers to the rhetorical questions posed each week by people who have written in to the Letters page of the Guardian Weekend Magazine.

Thu, Sep. 2nd, 2010, 11:50 am
Not Very Flat It Turns Out

The only thing I knew about Norfolk, before I visited, was that exchange in Private Lives: "Very flat, Norfolk." / "Don't be unpleasant." I was going to spend three days in a place noted primarily for its flatness! I was pretty excited.

But it turns out, Norfolk isn't really all that flat. It's flattish! There are flat bits. There are no obvious mountains. But there are slopes, and undulations, and a couple of undeniable hills. This is a bit disappointing! If you're interested mostly in things that are very flat, I can't wholeheartedly recommend Norfolk.

If you're interested in things other than extreme flatness, though, there's plenty to choose from, and it's all very good:

• For the first day, I thought there were no young people in Norwich all, but there are! They're all gathered in one place: outside the Forum, one of those big glass millennium buildings, where they sit on the steps like pigeons with angular haircuts.

• Norwich is super-fond of superlatives. There's not a plaque in the place that doesn't claim to mark the somethingest something, no matter how specific those somethings have to be: "oldest pub" or "first provincial newspaper" or "one of the most interesting streets in the country" or "one of the best sprung dancefloors in the county" or "largest six-day a week open-air market in Europe".

• They have cleverly segregated all their generic high-street shops (for when you want to quickly buy a swimming costume, having left yours at home) from all their interesting shops (for when you want to look at overpriced bunting, books, board games, chocolate, and giant moomins, or drink coffee accompanied by cheerful 1950s music).

• There are so many churches! There is a church on pretty much every block. I can't imagine what they did with all these churches, before half of them turned into art galleries and cafes. Church crawls? Giant games of sanctuary-themed hide and seek?

• The sea in Cromer has undertow! I'd forgotten about undertow.

Thu, Jul. 1st, 2010, 12:59 pm
Hide&Seek Weekender

Hey, you know how I occasionally post saying "hey you know those games things I organise, there was another one, it was great"? This time I'm actually posting in advance!

In a week - from 9 to 11 July - the 2010 Hide&Seek Weekender will be taking place at the National Theatre (we're based mostly in the Olivier foyer). Yes, that's the actual National Theatre, the one on the South Bank, that is a theatre, and is national.

You should come! And tell other people to come! For the following reasons:
1. It will be pretty brilliant!
2. It's free
3. No, really, it will be amazing. We have 35 games, everything from "sit around a table arguing" to "run around the South Bank frantically and hide from enemies". Iphone games, cutting-out-pieces-of-paper games, flag design games, games with blindfolds, games with a band playing a waltz, games from theatre companies and game designers and choreographers and musicians and journalists and, oh, pretty much everything really. Mostly for adults, but some stuff kids and families can do.
4. And imagine how sad all the designers would be if there was nobody to play the games - their little faces! Their tear-filled eyes as they blink bravely!

(If you're around on the Friday night and up for being incredibly useful, as well as having fun, kevandotorg and I are running a game called Visible Cities on the Friday night, about travelling between different versions of London - say, underwater London, desert London. We need people to man checkpoints for travelling between Londons and/or to chase and terrify the innocent wide-eyed players, so if you're up for either of those, let me know. I can pay you back with stupid amounts of cake - comment or email to holly@hideandseek.net.)

There is a Facebook event here! The schedule, in case you've lost the link from the top of the page, is here!

My goodness 35 games is a lot, though. If you talk to me any time between now and the 11th, don't expect me to make too much sense...

Fri, Jun. 11th, 2010, 12:50 pm

Oh, things! They do keep happening, and I never seem to write them down.
  • I'm now working most days in Farringdon, which is a pretty great place! Our offices are on Hatton Wall, and "we" are Hide&Seek, and I heartily recommend the "Who We Are" page because the picture of me is excellent. If you, like me, work in or near Farringdon, maybe we could meet up for lunch some time?

  • I turned 29, which was also pretty great! miss_newham hung bunting around the living room, Kevan made a cake, and people gave me various presents including an excellent cheese grater, a fluffy cushion with bee stripes, and a book of fantastically bad lateral thinking puzzles. We also played some walkie-talkie games in the park, but they would probably have gone better if the trees of Battersea Park hadn't decided to celebrate by putting every single little bit of their pollen and tree-fluff into the air all at once.

  • Kevan and I went to the Freemasons museum, as part of the ongoing boring-museums-of-London quest. It was entirely bemusing! Half of the plaques assume you already know an awful lot about Freemasonry, and the other half are keen to tell you either (a) that they can't tell you something because it's secret, or (b) that Freemasons totally don't ever use goats in their initiation ceremonies and will people please shut up about the goats because there aren't any WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND THERE ARE NO GOATS. There were, however, three silver elephant-shaped Masonic cigar-lighters.

  • Jo had an exciting Eurovision party with scorecards and everything, and: oh, that's what Eurovision is like, then! I very much liked the one where the woman was wearing a tutu and the man with the violin was on a spinning giant record player, and they did that thing where they're momentarily silent and everything hangs in the air like a ball and then the music starts again approximately six hundred times.
But all that's in the distant past now, because since it happened I have been to New York. As I seem to be listing things that are pretty great: about 80% of the things I did in New York! But perhaps I'll make that a separate list.

Tue, Apr. 6th, 2010, 04:54 pm
Spring! Games, gardens and chocolate.

Spring! It's nice. Here are some nice things about spring so far, though I see that miss_newham has covered most of them already...


You know the V&A Lates, where once a month the V&A is open late in the evening and different things happen? March's Late was themed around games, I curated it with Lizzie from the V&A, and gosh, that was good fun. We got four and a half thousand people (!), which was fifteen hundred more than we'd expected, so it was pretty busy - sorry if you came and didn't get to play anything! But, but, a giant pass the parcel filled with feathers and paper cranes and moustaches! Works of art recreated using huge brightly-coloured cardboard shapes! Fifty two-foot balloons with LEDs in them, and a scavenger hunt where people tried to win string in order to make their balloon fly highest! Football penalty shots as taken by someone viewing themselves in the third person via a camera streaming video into visors! A stealth forty-person choir! And, oh, lots of other things.

The night before I dreamt that all the games had been cancelled and replaced with an interactive art installation named Plieby, which was a pair of pliers with a face that you could talk to; but fortunately that turned out not to be the case.


Our garden is getting pretty ridiculous, all daffodils and chirping tiny birds. On Sunday there was a squirrel eating spaghetti, and a wren. Between them my housemates have covered pots with wire, and sown bulbs, and planted potatoes and strawberries and kept them safe from predators, and made early-morning trips to Homebase, and chosen flowers that will attract cheery bees, and learnt how to prepare raisins for picky blackbirds, and mashed up moss with buttermilk and painted it on the walls of the shed (apparently it will stop looking like bird poo soon). My entire contribution to the increasing loveliness has consisted of going "hey, let's paint some more terracotta pots", which have since been filled (by Kevan) with lilacs (bought and tended by Jo).

On Easter Sunday we had:
  • Egg-rolling, which we didn't really know the rules to, and there aren't technically many big hills in Battersea Park, but still! It all worked out in the end, except the bit where I came last.
  • A contest where we tried to eat hot cross buns as they dangled from strings, as suggested to us by archive footage of Hackney during the Silver Jubilee. I won this one, getting my bun down to a mere thirteen grams before it fell from the string! There is no documentary evidence of this, however, as it turns out that pretty much the most unflattering way to take a picture of someone is to do it while they're involved in a bun-from-a-string competition.
We also watched Easter Parade, with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, which its cover claims is "the happiest musical ever made". In actual fact (SPOILERS!) it is not the happiest musical ever made, but on the plus side, it is one of those musicals where all the songs were written for completely different musicals and they've been jammed together apparently at random - in this case, 17 songs, in fact, which in a 99 minute movie leaves relatively little time to explain who anyone is, why they're singing at all, what they want, etc. This means we get situations like: 
  • FRED is trying to buy presents for his girlfriend, as it is EASTER and apparently that's what you do at easter. He goes into a shop to buy a rabbit, but oh no! A small boy has just grabbed the last rabbit! Fortunately there are a lot of drums in the shop, allowing Fred to sing that he is "Drum Crazy" until the small boy is distracted by the drums, and Fred runs off with the rabbit.
  • JUDY has left a shop, but oh no, it's raining! Fortunately SECONDARY MALE LEAD is nearby, and falls for her instantly based on her hat, and there's an umbrella nearby which he grabs, allowing him to sing that he is "A Fella With An Umbrella" while walking Judy to her next appointment.
  • Also every now and again it's arbitrarily EASTER again, so that they can keep singing "Easter Parade".
Also: Kew, a puzzling artwork made from crisp packets, and a tubewalk through the suburbiest place I think I have ever been, where I just missed seeing a man carrying a pig. So, yes, well done so far spring, and the lilacs aren't even out yet.

Wed, Mar. 24th, 2010, 12:26 pm
The London Borough Motto Awards

Welcome to the London Borough Motto Awards! There's a lot to get through, so let's get started.

The award for smuggest motto goes, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Kensington and Chelsea, with What a good thing it is to live together in unity.

The award for daftest motto that is, okay, slightly endearing in its enthusiastic brashness goes—again perhaps unsurprisingly!—to Shoreditch, with More Light, More Power. Well done Shoreditch, even though you're not actually a borough! Not quite sure what you mean there, but I'm sure it makes sense to someone!

The award for Borough whose motto most dramatically increased in ambition when that borough became a London borough rather than a county borough goes to Croydon, for its switch from May We Grow In Health to Let Us Strive After Perfection. Nice work, Croydon.

The award for motto that seriously makes no sense, what? goes to Barnet, with Willingness Rids Way (which is from a speech in Henry VI Part 3, so presumably Barnet is trying to woo kerrypolka and the_alchemist, but I'm pretty sure there are some lines they could have chosen which would, say, actually have made any sense at all).

The award for Borough whose residents are most likely to be cannibals in an episode of the Twilight Zone goes to Bromley, with Serving the People.

The award for Most cheery motto with an edge of desperation goes to Waltham Forest, with Fellowship is Life. Don't worry, Waltham Forest, it's all going to be okay.

The award for Most embarrassing wore-the-same-dress-to-the-party motto clash had a field of exceptionally strong candidates, for example...
Islington: We Serve. Wandsworth: We Serve.
Harrow: The good of the people is the highest law. Lewisham: The welfare of the people is the highest law.
...so in the end the judges decided to give the award to the mottos that sounded most like a series of dance steps. Congratulations Brent, Hillingon and Hounslow!
Brent: Forward Together. Hillingon: Forward. Hounslow: Let us go forward together.

Now we get to the two big awards of the afternoon. I'm delighted to announce that the winner of the prize for motto that sounds most like it belongs to a totalitarian government in a piece of 1980s dystopian fiction goes to Redbridge, with In Unity Progress!

Of course "progress" tends to sound dystopic by nature, and that makes it all the more impressive that the winner for most charming motto is Newham, with Progress With The People. Well done Newham! It was a close-fought battle, with Tower Hamlets' cheerful From Great Things To Greater coming in a close second.

The full list of mottos: A longish list.Collapse )

Fri, Mar. 19th, 2010, 05:18 pm
Hey ho, nobody home, yet will I be merry


  • People to play games with
  • Shared washing up
  • Greater likelihood that someone will notice when the squirrels are doing something comical outside
  • The potplants get watered
  • The potplants exist at all, for that matter
  • When your brown sugar runs out unexpectedly, there's a good chance that there will be some more brown sugar in the house
  • Sometimes said housemates will gather around a piece of knitting and frown at it while looking perplexed [NOTE: may not be applicable to all models of housemate]


  • When you're not used to being home alone, and the house is suddenly empty for a day, the natural response is to eat two large packets of mini-eggs, drink a litre of coca-cola, dance around the house to 1930s showtunes, and see if you can still do headstands (answer: well it depends on how stringently you define headstand, doesn't it). It turns out—and it may be that this comes as a surprise to nobody except me!—that this can make you feel really rather queasy.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010, 05:28 pm
Sherburm Blodgett update

In my last post, I mentioned the "revolving shuttle machine" patented by Sherburm Blodgett, as discussed in an informative A4 sheet from the Sewing Machine Museum. However, doubts were raised in comments about Mr Blodgett; perhaps his name was not Sherburm but Sherburn? Google, after all, knew nothing about Sherburm, and had at least a couple of results for Sherburn.

I've now looked for relevant patents, and though I couldn't find the revolving shuttle machine, I can confirm that a Mr Sherburne C. Blodgett is the holder of a patent for "improving hemming and cording of umbrella covers".

That seems pretty conclusive. However, a search also shows one other patent belonging to Mr Blodgett: a patent for an eating implement, specifically an improved fork. For precisely how it's better, I turn you over to Mr Blodgett:
My improvement consists in constructing the ordinary fork so that the interstices of a portion of the fork between the tines shall be filled up by a metallic surface or web. By such a fork many articles of food can be more conveniently eaten than with the spoon which is now required; at the same time the tines of the fork can be made smaller and the whole fork rendered lighter without diminishing its strength.
So, basically, a spork. Now, I am as bored and irritated as anyone by society's now-thankfully-dormant conviction that SPORK, along with SPATULA and FISH, is an intrinsically hilarious pairing of word and concept that can act as a punchline to any joke (why did the chicken cross the road? SPORK HA HA HA). But Blodgett's protospork patent predates any known about by Wikipedia by twenty years, and also he's named Sherburne C. Blodgett for goodness' sake. This feels like a pretty significant discovery in sillywordsology.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010, 10:01 am
The Sewing Machine Museum

Perhaps because I talk louder than either of them, Kevan and miss_newham continue to indulge me in my conviction that we should go to pretty much every museum in London, the nicher the better. This weekend it was the first Saturday of the month, and we all know what that means: the Sewing Machine Museum in Balham was open between 2pm and 5pm!

Now, the Greenwich Fan Museum is widely treated as a punchline to "what shall we do today?", but I've been, and: it's pretty great! There's a diagram with all the different parts of a fan, there's informative cards about peculiar fan-involving jobs that no longer exist, and there are two or three special exhibitions a year. When I went the special exhibition included one fan with eyeholes in it (for spying and flirting); and another with a branching dialogue, written half on each side, so the fan-wielder and her companion would always have something to say.

The Sewing Machine Museum, on the other hand, contains:
  • Approximately 600 domestic sewing machines, largely indistinguishable to the human eye (one of them has a small sign noting that it was owned by Queen Victoria's daughter).
  • Many vases and small china objects (eg a Charlie Chaplin figurine, who to be fair is wearing clothes which were presumably sewn at some point so perhaps it's thematically appropriate after all).
  • Seventy or so industrial sewing machines for different specialised purposes, labelled "zig-zag edging", "shirt sleeve inserts", "parachutes/corsets", etc.
  • A "History of the Sewing Machine" A4 sheet with sentences including "Most importantly, John Bachelder patented the vertical, straight reciprocating pointed needle with eye and a yielding presser foot mechanism" and "Also Sherburm Blodgett patented the revolving shuttle machine". Sherburm Blodgett!
  • A huge stack of April 2000 copies of the Journal of the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society. You're allowed to take one away with you! Best metaphor: "the millennium has been and gone and the world, like the sewing machine, keeps on turning". Best slice of sewing machine history: "Not only did she look stunning as the Statue of Liberty, she was also the only contestant who combined her costume with sewing-machine interest. Remember it was Singer's French bride, the one he ran away from America with, who was reputed to be the model for the Statue of Liberty". Best typo: "At age 91, Louise Schlatter does not think twice about puking the pedal to the metal - that is, the foot pedal to her old sewing machine".

It's kind-of brilliant and I highly recommend it and am very glad we went, but it is certainly the case that—at least for people who don't know anything about sewing machines, a group which includes (for example) me and Kevan and Jo—it's incredibly dull. I have therefore been set the challenge of locating a more boring museum in London. Any suggestions?

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