Bill Bailey – Steampunk

Programme cover for Bill Bailey's Steampunk show - Bill stands in front of a machine playing guitar.

On Saturday night Jane and I got last-minute tickets (from a friend-of-a-friend) to Bill Bailey‘s Edinburgh Fringe show Steampunk.

Sadly, it being the Fringe, the show only lasted for a few minutes over sixty before we were ushered out so that EICC staff could make ready the theatre for Jimmy Carr’s sixty-minutes performance. But not before we had heartily laughed our metaphorical socks off.

The highlight of the show for me, besides his musical gags, was a short piece about postmodernity which ended with him demonstrating Wittgenstein’s critique of the postmodern attempt to discover one’s true identity by first rejecting all previous attempts at defining one’s identity, in terms of a hobbit wedding:

“With this ring, I thee … where’s she gone?!”

The show ended with Bailey’s tribute to German band Kraftwerk: a Kraftwerk-style rendition of “the Hokey Kokey”, entitled “Das Hokey Kokey”. You could see it coming, right from the start of the show, as the lyrics are printed on the back page of the programme. But that didn’t distract from its comic genius.

On the way into Edinburgh I read in Saturday’s The Scotsman an interview with Bill Bailey in which he talked about a recent 10-week stint in New York. His experience of working in a country where he is less well known, he said, changed the way that he approached performing.

Anyone who’s seen him live before, or on telly, will know that he tends to start his stand-up shows fairly slowly. He’ll wander on and mutter and mummble for a bit…

“Yes… hello!… isn’t it? Oooph! … Hmmm…”

…before suddenly launching into some completely left-field topic and off he goes; Eddie Izzard does something similar. But New York, it seems, taught him the need to come out and hit the ground running.

But what I liked most about the article was Bailey’s comment on what comedy is about, and about language play, and the beauty of language, and how language can be used efficiently and simply to encapsulate an idea.

While he was [in New York], Bailey got slightly homesick and bought Elvis Costello’s When I Was Cruel, along with a Beth Orton CD.

“I think what I craved was Britishness. I bought those albums for a bit of British moaning. It’s comforting.”

A big fan of Costello myself, I’ve noticed he’s popular among Bailey’s peers, notably Phill Jupitus and Jo Brand. Is the appeal his extraordinary use of language?

“Language is a big part of it,” Bailey agrees, ‘because it seems like poetry set to music and I think that’s what most stand-ups aspire to, to use the language in a way that’s condensed or twisted or personalised in a way that it’s elevated above speech. It’s what you aim for. And that unique voice It’s also the way he manages to crystallise an idea-in a song, which is what a joke aims to do, to sum up a whole subject That’s the duty of a comic, to do that, and you should try to apply that to all subjects.”

(Source: The Scotsman, Festival supplement, p.11 – Saturday 19 August 2006)

I just thought I’d share that with you.

Review: Lenovo 3000 C100

Lenovo 3000 C100 laptop computer

A couple of months ago I realised that I had the Scottish Episcopal Church youth camp approaching, for which I was requiring a PC to work on the daily ‘newspaper’. With various other web-based projects on the go and looming I thought it about time that I invested in a laptop or notebook computer.

So, last month, while Jane was enjoying the wonders of Canada, I bought a new laptop from (link updated in 2016 to BT Shop). Two important considerations when buying new hardware:

  1. ensure that your wife is out of the country
  2. have them deliver it to your workplace

Buy what you need

When I told people that I’d bought a new laptop quite a few said “Wow! Well if you bought it then it must have a really impressive spec.” Which was quite flattering, really, but totally wrong. Because I believe in buying hardware that is appropriate for the job.

My first question is always: what do I want it to do? If all I want is something that will allow me to do basic office tasks, some Web browsing and maybe a little graphics manipulation and Web development (which is what I wanted it to do) then I certainly wouldn’t buy the latest shiny desktop-replacement laptop with full DirectX 9.0c 3D graphics and a dual-core, 64bit CPU with enough processing power to take half the human race to the moon and back.

What I would buy, however, is something that will allow me to do basic office tasks, some Web browsing and maybe a little graphics manipulation and Web development. It’s the same reason that I still use a Psion PDA and haven’t ‘upgraded’ to a Windows Pocket machine. That and the politics involved, and the GUI, and the Geek Factor!

Lenovo 3000 C100

So after much deliberation, research, asking friends for their recommendations, and some good old fashioned bargain hunting I finally settled for the Lenovo 3000 C100 for a very reasonable £359.99 inc VAT.

Lenovo is the largest PC manufacturer in the People’s Republic of China, and the third largest in the world following its buy-out of IBM’s PC division. They currently have two ranges of notebook: the ThinkPad range (essentially a rebranded IBM ThinkPad) and the 3000 range, of which this is the most basic model.


This model really has a surprising number of features for a laptop of this price.

Operating System: Windows XP Home
CPU: Intel® Celeron® M Processor 370 1.50GHz (FSB 400MHz)
Screen: 15″ (4:3 ratio)
Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 XGA 1024 × 768 pixels
Memory: 256MB (which I upgraded to 512MB)
Hard Drive: 40GB (PATA)
Optical Drive: CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo (EIDE)
Audio: 2 x integrated speakers (1W)
Communications Devices: 56K V.92 fax modem (RJ-11), 10/100 Ethernet (RJ-45), 802.11a/b/g WiFi, Bluetooth
Expansion Connections: 4 x USB 2.0, IEEE1394 (FireWire), SD/MMC/MS, PCMCIA (PC Card), S-Video, VGA-out

Tour of the machine


The case is plastic, but pretty strudy. The lid is an attractive silver colour — which fooled me into thinking that it was metal for a couple of weeks until a more careful inspection proved otherwise. The rest of the machine is a dark brown colour, which looks black in certain a light (night-time!). Access to battery, memory and hard disk is from beneath using nothing more than an appropriately-sized Philips screwdriver. It took me seconds to install a second 256MB SDRAM memory module.


The front edge of the Lenovo 3000 C100 is very simple, housing only the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and three light indicators: power, battery and WiFi. The location of the DVD/CD drive is often a matter of personal taste. Some prefer it at the side, others prefer it at the front. Personally I’m not bothered by it, except for those few occasions when I accidentally hit the bright orange eject button with my thumb when moving the machine.


The left-edge sports the following connections (from rear to front): modem, power input, USB #1, headphones, microphone, WiFi on/off switch, left speaker.


Looking at the machine from the rear, from left to right: IEEE1394 (FireWire), LAN 10/100 Ethernet, USB #2 and #3, VGA-out, S-Video out, USB #4, fan.


The right-hand side of this laptop houses only the PCMCIA (PC Card) slot and beneath it the 3-in-1 card reader, supporting Secure Digital (SD), MultiMedia Card (MMC), and MemoryStick (MS).


The keyboard is first-class. I usually struggle with laptop keyboards but this one is really comfortable to use. My only niggle is the location of the Fn key, which sits to the left of the Ctrl, as I keep accidentally hitting Function instead of Control — I would have much preferred Ctrl – Win – Alt – Fn.

As well as the usual 85-key laptop keyboard the keyboard area is kept simple with the inclusion of only three more keys: Power (on/off), Lenovo Care and Mute. The Lenovo Care button is used during a boot-up to access the System Restore utility, and during normal Windows use to access laptop-specific help. To the right of these extra keys are five LEDs: hard drive use, SD/MMC/MS card, Caps Lock, Num Lock and Bluetooth usage.

One complaint I frequently met while researching this latop was the quality of its touchpad and associated buttons. The main criticism was that the touchpad buttons didn’t have enough travel, but to be honest I’ve found both to be perfectly usable and comfortable to use, with plenty of space in front of the keyboard to rest your palms.

It took me a while to work out that that by dragging down the right-hand side of the touchpad and along the bottom of it I can control page scrolling. While some laptops have this area marked to aid users, I had to find this out by myself after my mouse-pointer kept suddenly changing to what looked like a scroll-bar with a mouse. Some heads-up about this in the accompanying documentation wouldn’t have gone amiss.

That said, for prolonged use I plug in a USB mouse. I tried using a mini laptop mouse, but I found that more uncomfortable than using the touchpad, so I’ve reverted to a full-size desktop mouse instead.


The screen quality is very good, and is remarkably bright. To save battery I usually turn the screen contrast down, which still makes it usable indoors.

The default maximum resolution of 1024 × 768 pixels is usable, although I do miss my usual resolution of 1280 × 1024. According to the Lenovo site this laptop will support a maximum resolution of 2048 × 1536 “with max video RAM”, although I’ve yet to discover how to do this.


Like most budget laptops the onboard sound quality is not great. The built-in speakers are located on the left and right sides of the case towards the front of the machine.

It is usable, it is adequate, but if you want to listen to music or watch a DVD for a prolonged period then I thoroughly recommend external speakers or headphones.

Headphone and microphone sockets are located to the left of the keyboard and while clearly labelled colour coding them (green for headphones, pink for microphone) would have made them much easier to distinguish.

Battery life

Having mostly used Psion PDAs I’ve been spoiled when it comes to battery life. The 3mx and 5mx last about a month (about 40 hours of use) on a pair of AA batteries, the Series 7/netBook lasts around 8 hours. Lenovo claim around 4 hours on a single charge, and so far I have been fairly close to that.


Thie BIOS is accessed at boot-up time by pressing the F1 key. This laptop has a very simple BIOS (Insyde Software SCU) with very few user-adjustable options. There are only five categories: Main, Advanced, Security, Boot and Exit, but it does give up some useful information such as model numbers for the hard drive and DVD/CD, and serial numbers for the model, system and motherboard.

General usage

Like all PCs when I first get my hands on them I disable most of the automated tasks and ‘useful’ applications that the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) install on them to ‘help’ me, and then install my applications of choice. I’ve now got it pretty much the way that I want it. Windows XP Home edition is happily connecting to my wireless network, communicating well with my desktop PC on the local network workgroup and connecting to my printers via the desktop PC. (I really need to get these moved to Ethernet print servers at some point.)

In terms of speed and my general impressions of the machine, I am impressed. I’ve had it most doing fairly basic office tasks, the most demanding of which was coping with graphics-heavy publications in Microsoft Publisher. The only thing that it struggled with was playing MP3s while downloading 5.1 megapixel images from an xD card via the PCMCIA slot. The audio was very stuttery during such a heavy data transfer; so much so that I simply paused iTunes until the files had been copied to the laptop. Other than that it has coped very well with whatever I’ve thrown at it, including running the XAMPP (Apache, MySQL and PHP) server.

Watching DVDs has been very good, using the pre-installed InterVideo WinDVD 5. Playback was smooth, the picture was clear and with external speakers or headphones the audio was clear. Ripping to MP3 is done simply and without a fuss, and I’ve even managed some basic video editing using Windows Movie Maker 2.

Switching WiFi networks can be managed easily with the built-in Broadcom Wireless Utility which is a nice feature.


The inclusion of built-in WiFi, Bluetooth and 4 USB ports make this a very attractive laptop computer for the price. A larger screen resolution, more hard drive space, 1GB of memory and a DVD-rewriter would have been great but for this price you still get more than what you pay for.

If you can put up with a few niggles, such as the location of the CD/DVD drive and the Fn key, this is a very good, sturdy laptop with the most comfortable laptop keyboard that I’ve ever used. All in all I can’t complain: it does what I need it to do, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Edinburgh, Edinburgh and … erm, Edinburgh!

Mike and Mike sitting at Cellardyke harbour.
Wendy and Mike sitting at Cellardyke harbour. (Wendy forbade me from posting a photo of her on my blog, so I’ve just cloned Mike where Wendy was sitting.)

Alright, maybe I wasn’t back for all that long! I now have a back-log of all the blog posts that I want to make, but just in case you were wondering where I’ve been…


Having slept for most of Sunday, Monday morning saw me up bright and early and driving down the A915, A92 and A90 to Edinburgh Town to meet up with exNYCgb friend Mike Jeremiah. We met up on Hanover Street and saw Kockov’s Free Mind Show, which was hilarious. I then kidnapped Mike and fellow exNYCer Wendy Nieper and drove them back to Cellardyke to stay at Kadesh overnight. Fine chat, fish and chips and a wonderful evening with friends.


I fancied a change on Tuesday morning, but alas! I was back in the car and driving back to Edinburgh before I knew what had happened to me! I didn’t want to subject Mike and Wendy to the unpredictabilities of public transport. And to be fair, by the time that I’d driven them to the nearest railway station I would almost be in Edinburgh anyway! So I drove in, dropped them at Bristo Square, turned around and drove back to Cellardyke.


Guess where I drove to on Wednesday? That’s right: Edinburgh. You know, I should probably just move there! At 14:00 I had a meeting at the Christian Fellowship of Healing to discuss redesigning their website. At 14:30 I arrived, having been caught up behind a Mr Magoo Fan Club driving tour of Fife!


And today, well today I sat in front of the telly while reinstalling Windows XP Home edition on my Mum’s PC. (After I’d backed it up to DVD, installed a new 40GB hard drive, and remembered which end of an IDE cable is “Master” and which is “Slave”.)

There really is some rubbish on daytime television, I can tell you! I switched off Richard and Judy when Richard was interviewing someone whose son will be one year old tomorrow. “Happy Birthday,” said the guest to the camera. Richard snorted, “Surely he can’t understand you!” “Idiot!!” said I, and switched off.

I watched two films, too: Snatch and Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, caught up with what’s going on in The O.C., Friends (even though they are repeats, and I’ve seen them all before), Neighbours, Holly Oaks, Holby City and Big Brother.

My word, what a dull day I’ve had! The highlight of the day was going to the Co-op and trying to decide on whether to buy the blue fabric softener or the green one. I really need to get out more … maybe tomorrow I’ll drive to Edinburgh.

Why not? I’m going there on Saturday too!

I’m back!

Tom and Gareth playing mahjong cards.
Tom Birch and I playing mahjong cards late one night.

Sorry about the blogging hiatus. I’d meant to write something before I went, and I had expected to have WiFi internet access while I was away, but it was too much of a hassle to set up and then I quite enjoyed not being connected for a week.

I’m just back from a week at Glenalmond College where the Scottish Episcopal Church holds its annual youth weeks; I was on week 2 of 2. It’s always an incredible experience — the lack of sleep included — being with 40+ young people of secondary school age from all over Scotland. I learn so much from them, and they bless me so much. I love them all, in a What Would Jesus Do-stylee.

I’ll write more about it tomorrow. For now, I’m off to bed again, having slept for most of today already!