Friday, September 28, 2007

Trailer Bash

Let's get this straight: I have seen neither of the programmes I'm about to ramble about. But I have seen the trailers, and I'm going to comment on whether or not I think they work in making one want to watch them…. No, that's not true; I'm going to explain why both trailers fail to make me want to watch the programmes.

Secret Diary Of A Call Girl (ITV2)
Based on the blog-turned-book by Belle de Jour, the trailer - and indeed the press advertising - makes much of the fact that the star of this show is Billie 'Rose Tyler' Piper. In fact, all the promotional stuff seems very much geared towards making you want to see Billie Piper in underwear, bondage gear, or maybe less. I don't know if she takes her clothes off for the camera, and frankly I'm so uninterested that it’s almost interesting on a psychological level.

Belle's a prostitute, that much is clear from the title, but the trailer tells us little else. Given that several of my friends said the book wasn't much cop, and I have little interest in seeing Billie Piper nude (well, using that phrase should help with the Google hits on my blog), the trailer fails to get me to watch. And this I can prove empirically, as the programme was on last night, and I didn't watch. Q., as they say, E.D.

The Life And Times Of Vivienne Vyle (BBC2)
A new comedy series written by and starring Jennifer Saunders, she plays a talk-show host who seem to live up to her surname once the camera stops rolling. For my money, the name of the show is a bit weak - yes, it's a semi-joke on Jeremy Kyle, but that's about it. As for the premise, we've seen this set-up previously in The Larry Sanders Show, and as the trailer suggests that Saunders is using the same delivery and mannerisms as her Edina Monsoon character in Absolutely Fabulous, it doesn't look like anything we haven't seen before elsewhere.

Bit of a pity, really, as Saunders can be a versatile comedy actor (see her Comic Strip work) and writer (she invariably gave the best lines in Absolutely Fabulous to other characters), but this looks like a distinctly missable show.

Incidentally, the Vyle show is one of a number of shows being trailed on BBC2 under the heading of 'Thursdays Are Funny', a themed strand beginning next Thursday evening. Presumably this is a tacit admission by BBC2 that the current shows in these slots - Mock The Week and Saxondale - are not funny?

Yes, I'm Advocating You Join the Kit-Kat Club

Many years ago, I was helping an ex-girlfriend (those of you who know me well can readily guess who I'm talking about) to type up her final college dissertation. I'm quite a fast typist to this day, and was certainly one of the faster typists in my circle of friends at the time, and as she was struggling to get it done on time (and probably in some pathetic attempt to make her re-consider my ex- status; I hadn't grown a spine or self-respect at that point in my life), I offered to help out.

Helping out involved not only typing in the contents of the dissertation, but also staying late into the night (well, the early morning really) and helping her move great chunks of text around in order to restructure the work to increase its comprehensibility (it was an English Literature dissertation, so I'll leave you to make your own remark about whether that effort meant I was inherently on a hiding to nothing). Anyway, this meant I was there until about 3am, by which point my eyes were stinging with screen burn, my hands were aching, and of course, I was tired (never a good thing for me; my judgment goes wonky when I'm excessively tired or hungry). I said we should stop and take a break - get a cup of tea, or whatever - but she insisted we ploughed on.

It's a dilemma you often come across in work situations, I find: you have to get X done by a set time, and you've been slogging at it as the deadline approaches, but you really fancy a cup of tea or coffee or a biccie or similar, but that'll take ten mins and you really don't have the time. What to do?

The answer, simply, is: For God's Sake, Take A Break. Take ten minutes away from whatever it is that's eating your time (and very possibly your mind), and you will work far better afterwards. A cup of tea, a nap, a visit to the loo, or just staring out of the window can be just the thing to pep you up a bit, and that'll mean that the work you do thereafter will be much better. In fact, in the same way that I maintain that if you're thinking about staying up all night, your thought processes are clearly frazzled and you ought to go to bed, I'd say that if you're unsure if you should just 'power through' and try to meet that deadline, the answer is almost certainly no.

All this came to my mind because I've been working quite hard the past few days (hence the absence of posting) to make sure that my entry for the Red Planet Prize is ready for the start of October. But on Wednesday morning I was feeling (in much the same way that I'd been concerned my characters are spending too much time in one location) that I’d been spending too much time in the minor details of the story and was losing sight of the overall arc of it, and so I decided to take the evening off.

Lo and behold, when I clicked the Red Planet site on Thursday morning to see if there was any news on the competition, there was a note there (see previous link above) saying about how they'd be contacting people in mid-October. So as well as feeling better about the screenplay, I have a couple of extra weeks to fine-tune, polish and tweak it, should they want to see more.

Incidentally, the ex- got a very good mark for her dissertation, and when I said something like "I like to think my contribution played a small part in that", she denied that I'd been involved at all in it, the ungrateful wretch. Still, we all know what happens to people who are rude on their way up, don't we?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You Don't Hear About Agrarian Myths Very Often, Do You?

Regular readers may recall that I'm one of the finalists in the Manchester Literature Festival Urban Myths Event.

Well, for those of you who can't make it to the city on the night in question to see the event, and for the couple of you've who've asked to see my urban myth, you can now see the entries here - if you click the link, mine is the eighth one down.

I'd be interested to hear what you think of it, so please feel free to post a comment. Oh, and I don't know yet which is the winning entry, but I'll be sure to let you know either way.

"We Don't Do, Never Have Done, Never Will Do Conflict Resolution!"*

As you may have heard, a judge has criticised The Jeremy Kyle Show.

My favourite quote in the report : 'District Judge Alan Berg said the ITV1 daytime programme was "trash" and existed to "titillate bored members of the public with nothing better to do".'

But surely the clues are there: A programme on ITV1 during the daytime? If you're watching a programme that falls into both those categories, you really do have to be bored, with nothing better to do.

*From 'Jerry Springer - The Opera'. Ignore the ill-informed criticisms, it's actually a very funny, musically accomplished, and rather wise piece of work. Get the DVD and see what I mean.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pause For Thought

Ferociously busy today, so very little time to post, but wanted to share a quote which I'm led to believe is from the Aitareya Upanishad, a Hindu text:

"We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

Rather astute, I'd say. I shall leave you to mull it over until normal service (or what passes for it) resumes tomorrow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm A Vegetarian, So Getting Enough Iron Is A Challenge For Me. Irony, On The Other Hand, Seems Plentiful These Days.

"I'm so bored with everything I've heard in the last two years. It's just been so repetitive, so borrowing from the past." - John Lydon, quoted on the BBC News Entertainment website

That's John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, who've just agreed to play a reunion gig in November.

It's not just me, is it ? I mean, you see it, right? Right?

Oh dear, I might be having one of my moments again, seeing irony where there is none. I blame Alanis.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nicely Phrased, But In The End It's a 'No'

Clever bit of wriggling from Sainsbury's there.

What they really should have put was:

'Paying by cheque?
Oh no you're not!'

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Winner ! And, Er... A Non-Winner

Congratulations are due to David Bishop for winning the 2007 PAGE Screenwriting Awards with his script 'Danny's Toys'. I won't pretend to have read the script in question, but I've met David once or twice and he's always been a friendly chap, and if you read his blog on a regular basis it's painfully obvious that he's one of those smart cookies who is able to apply his mind both to the creative and the practical side of writing. Well done to him, I say!

I, on the other hand, have been notified that I didn't win the Acid Theatre Monologue Writing Competition , which I entered recently. Still, they were good enough to let me know swiftly, and of course it means I now have a 30-minute stage monologue in my portfolio, and I learned a few things both whilst writing and researching it, so it was far from wasted time.

"Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer?"

"Ja! ... Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput."

Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the world there, safely translated into German, in tribute to the fact that Blogger is currently showing various items onscreen auf Deutsch. Very odd.

'Sie können HTML-Tags verwenden', apparently.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Let Me Take You By The Hand

… and lead you through the streets of London, where, within 48 hours, I saw the following people of varying note:

Michael Portillo at a tube station in a bow tie and dinner suit
Helen from Big Brother 2 outside Sainsburys in Central London
Russ Spencer (also known as the rather burly blonde-haired chap) from Scooch walking near Embankment
John Simpson, Broadcaster and Writer, boarding a train at Waterloo

Didn't speak to any of them, didn't feel the urge to, or anything like that. Just like the fact that I live in a city where people I see onscreen are also the people I pass in the street.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

REVIEW: 'Lost Girls' by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Probably a good thing my parents don't read this blog (or at least I don't think they do), as Lost Girls is, by its creators' cheerful admission, a work of pornography. It's an unusual format - three hardcover volumes in a slipcase, making it unsuitable for one-handed reading) - and the medium it's presented in - comics - is hardly the obvious choice either.

However, Alan Moore (writer) and Melinda Gebbie (artist) have more in mind here than the clichéd 'woman answering the door to the plumber in a babydoll nightie' stuff, as the Lost Girls of the title are Alice, Wendy and Dorothy, whose names you may well recognise from other works of fiction. The three characters meet in a Swiss hotel on the brink of World War I, and, as well as various encounters with other guests (and the staff) at the hotel, they share tales of their pasts - most of which are, yes, sexual, but which are also re-tellings of their stories in a sexual way; for example, Dorothy's experience of being whisked away by a tornado is revealed to have been the afternoon she first had an orgasm.

The artwork by Gebbie is interesting; to my untrained eye, a lot of it resembles a mixture of pastels and watercolour paint work, which frequently makes it look like the paintings in a children's book (appropriate given the origins of the characters and the format), and adds a slightly dream-like quality to things. There are pages with clear, solid linework, but these are rare, as if reality's the exception and not the rule. There are differing panel shapes and art styles too, depending on whose tale is being told, and this works pretty well, and even when the panels are filled with tangled limbs and fleshtones, there's rarely any problem knowing what's going on, or who's speaking, which is something a lot of comics without pornographic intentions could benefit from.

You're probably wondering about the sexual stuff (though this is hardly a work likely to be bought solely on the basis of its potential for arousal) - wonder no more: there's a whole stack of sex in this book, between men and women, women and women, men and men, and pretty much every other variation - voyeurism, orgies, incest, bestiality, and almost anything else you can think of. Some bits of it might float your boat, others might not, as what is and isn't sexy or arousing is very much a personal thing. Still, there's pretty much something for everyone here - and of course, that means there's a lot of stuff which won't be everyone's bag.

Now we're past that pressing issue, I can comment on the story; for me, it was clever, though flawed - the main flaw being that all the stories effectively amount to ones of sexual awakening, as Alice, Wendy and Dorothy are all young in the original texts; we get three women of varying ages in the story's present telling tales of their youth. To my mind, this is rather limited, and I would have been interested to see stories spanning more of the women's lives. And whilst the sex stuff is kind of interesting and diverting (and occasionally slightly challenging, on the level of “okay, I'm not really into that particular activity”), it sometimes seems a bit of a hindrance when it comes to the telling of the tales - indeed, most of the third volume is comprised of the three women in a variety of sexual situations and costumes and roles, telling each other their tales whilst having it away, and sometimes the little 'present day interruptions' to the storytelling feel kind of jarring.

The story's set in the run-up to the First World War, and there's quite a good sense of something looming, that this rather carefree time at the Hotel will soon be gone, though to be honest I felt the end was a little unclear on what was being said; there's a good point made earlier in Book 3 about how war is just the opposite of sex (all that energy expended on something horrific and destructive as opposed to enjoyable and potentially creative), and I think the final page or so is making the same point again, though in visual terms (I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have missed something painfully obvious here though, so feel free to e-mail me or post a comment). It reminds me slightly of the end of Blackadder Goes Forth in tone, however, which isn't a bad thing at all.

For me, Lost Girls was more interesting than arousing, and more ambitious than successful, but I think it was worth reading, and certainly worth the creators' time - as if anticipating a possible media fuss about the book (which is currently not on general release in the UK, ostensibly for copyright reasons) and its depictions, there's a clever comment about artists' rights to say whatever they want, and the difference between reality and fiction: "Only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them", says one character, in the same way that the South Park film contained a pre-emptive strike at the obvious criticisms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

As For My Own Appearance… Well, It Must Be A Face - It's Got Ears

Are any other writer-types going to the Writer's Guild BBC Event on Thursday evening ?

I am, and if you want to say hello, please don't be shy - I'll be the tallish one in the suit (yes, going there straight from work).

If you are going, please feel free to leave a comment here, or drop me a line at It'd be good to put faces to some of the names I see onscreen so regularly.

Didn't 'Frantic' Magazine Claim It Was "Number Two In A Field Of One"?

You may recall I mentioned that I've sent off an entry to the Red Planet Prize a couple of weeks ago.

Well, unsurprisingly, there's been a lot of interest - indeed, Red Planet head honcho Tony Jordan says "We've had around two thousand entries to the competition…"

If you entered and are feeling a bit glum about the odds of you winning, or even making it through to the next round, then think about how this lady must feel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was watching the news."*

When people remember news events, they often claim to have been in notable places at the time they found out about them. This isn’t always accurate – and indeed I think that there was research done which found that a lot of people claimed to have been ‘on the beach’ or similar when they heard Kennedy had been shot, but simple research showed that this wasn’t true; often, it seems, we rewrite events in the past to meet present emotional needs.

However, for me, ‘where I was when I heard the news’ is often quite mundane – I found out my Degree results in the Boston Dining Room of Butlins in Skegness, for example – or even dull: if asked where I was when I heard a certain news event, chances are the honest are will be that I was at my desk, be it at school, college or home. I wish it was more dramatic, but as you may have gathered by now, I try to be as accurate and honest in my recollections of events as possible.

Anyway, six years ago today, I was at work when I heard about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. There was a lot of uncertainty, partly brought about by the fact we couldn’t get the news up online (everyone else had the same thought, it seems), and this was amplified by the fact we were in a government building in the heart of Westminster.

Various bits of information came in via e-mails and phone calls from the outside world, but I distinctly recall being fascinated by the way that people's worst fears were given voice, and upgraded from notion to rumour.

"I've just got off the phone to my daughter in America," my boss said. "She says there are fifty planes in the air which the authorities can't account for."
"Are you sure about that?" I asked, not wanting to be rude about her daughter - this was my boss talking, after all. "We haven't heard anything like that from anywhere else…"
"Heard anything like what?" said a colleague who'd just entered the room.
"There are fifty planes unaccounted for in the sky over America," my boss said, and with the mere act of dropping a few words off the front of that sentence - the key ones about where she'd heard this and from whom - it jumped up the ladder to near-fact (helped, of course, by her status in the office).

What happened on September 11 six years ago was, obviously, a very bad thing indeed. But lying about it - whether it be about the terrorists being linked to Iraq (a commonly-held belief, it seems, and one for which there is no evidence at all), or about what we were doing and with whom when we heard the news - or otherwise allowing rationality and intelligence to slip does the memory of those who died a disservice. There's enough sloppy thinking and even sloppier talking in relation to this subject, and we don't need any more; in fact, it's loose thinking that led to the events in question, and I think we need to be better than that.

*The ever-quotable Stephen Fry, in 'A Bit Of Fry And Laurie'

Monday, September 10, 2007

LINK: Well, Six Of Them, But Hey, Who's Counting?

Back in July, I posted about my friends Martin and Mathew and how they were performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, in a show they'd written, called Half Life Crisis.

Well, the show took place - and went rather well, by all accounts - but unlike those people whose achievements are writ in water, this internet age and the availability of video facilities means that those of us who couldn't make it to Scotland to see it can still see some bits of it.

And so, laydeez and gennelmen, without further ado, I give you...
How consultancy could have helped the Cree Nation
What 2001 would look like if Windows had been used

If you like it so much you want to donate to the chaps' choice of charity, please do so here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Um, Maybe He Will Have To Give Up The Day Job

So, I hear that 50 Cent has said he'll give up his solo work if Kanye West's album sell more than his (they're both released on Monday).

I don't think Mr West has made a similar bargain, but here are some lyrics from 50 Cent's latest single, co-performed with Justin Timberlake:

I'm tired of using technology, why don't you sit down on top of me

I'm tired of using technology, I need you right in front of me

Ooh, she wants it, uh uh, she wants it
Ooh, she wants it, uh uh (soo), I got to give it to her

Your hips, your thighs, they got me hypnotized, let me tell you
Your hips, your thighs, they got me hypnotized, let me tell you
Your hips, your thighs, they got me hypnotized, let me tell you
Your hips, your thighs, they got me hypnotized, let me tell you"


It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged, That A Single Man In Possession Of Stray Thoughts, Must Be In Want Of A Wife*

1. I've recently discovered, and thoroughly like, Word Magazine. Each issue has a free CD, but that doesn't mean it's all music - there are features on film, TV and books, and I like the general approach they take. Well worth your time and money, and their free weekly podcast is a lot of fun too (have a look for it on iTunes).

2. Speaking of things musical, is it just me, or does Robyn (with that song about - and possibly even titled - 'Every Heartbeat') sound a lot like Kate Bush?

3. And speaking even more of musical things, I note that once again whoever's doing the incidental music for X-Factor appears to be doing so by breaking into my home at night and using my CDs as the source material. Granted, that mainly involves the CDs by Craig Armstrong and Rob Dougan, but still…

4. Had another eye test (post-laser surgery) this morning, and my vision is better than 20-20. Am vaguely disappointed that the improvement hasn't led me to develop X-ray vision and the like, but I guess that's only fair as it wasn't covered by the paperwork.

5. The London Tube strike this week, since you ask, did affect me (and my beloved) a bit, though it could have been worse. One trick which many people seem to miss is that there are boats which run east and west along the Thames, and which you can pay to travel on. Not exactly the vaporetti of Venice, granted, but beats a crowded bus or train. But shh, don't tell anyone I suggested it.

6. I've never had a go on one of the current trend of 'Brain Training' devices, but I'm moderately sceptical; the whole idea of 'brain age' sounds a bit arbitrary to me, and if the idea is to try to get as low an age (that is, a low-number score) as possible, won't that mean that you're looking to emulate an age at which you had fewer pathways connecting the bits of the brain, and therefore are less able to recall items or make connections? I think they've made a boo-boo on the scoring system here. I wouldn't want to get a really 'good' (that is, low) score and then be told that I have the brain agility of someone who toddles around with a nappyful of excreta.

7. I firmly believe that the current elevation of Elton John to 'national treasure' status is a ghastly misjudgement, perhaps brought about by his eyebrow-waggling antics as he sang doggerel at the funeral of the Princess of Wales. I feel he is a man of limited talent, who seem to have released an appalling number of 'best of' albums, and that the way he's currently venerated is an embarrassment. Given this, I'm sure you can imagine that I find this very, very funny indeed.

8. I don't know if you use iTunes v7, but the User Agreement for it (and don't ask how I know this, but it's true) states in section 8 that 'Licensee also agrees that Licensee will not use the Apple Software for … the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, [sic that comma] missiles, or chemical or biological weapons". Maybe I'm just a negative type, but it seems to me that if you're involved in that kind of thing, you're probably not too worried about Apple setting their lawyers on you.

*I've found one, thanks. And she's fab.

A Sudden Veer Into Seriousness. Don't Worry, It Probably Won't Last.

A good friend of mine died recently, and though it wasn't entirely a shock as she'd been ill, it rattled me a bit. You know that feeling, when you get an unpleasant bit of news mid-afternoon and it leaves you feeling slightly out of phase with things for the rest of the day? Well, it was like that (Hmm, typing that reminds me of that line in the 'Sunscreen' song: "The real troubles in life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind the blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday").

Anyway, a memorial service was held (I couldn't attend, which is a pity, as the lady in question led a full and interesting life: a member of one of the first all-female bands, an astrologer, an employee of Her Majesty's Government, tarot card reader, with grown-up children who - if memory serves - were in different countries much of the time doing a variety of intriguing-sounding jobs. Would have been a fittingly lively service, I suspect), though for me it's more often in the little moments that I remember my friend, and feel a pull in my stomach at the thought that she's not around any more.

This morning, I was looking for something in my notebook, and I came across her address; it was there and not in my address book because when she'd been diagnosed she'd decided to leave London and move to a cleaner environment (close to where my parents live, as it turns out), to be in the countryside and eat fruit and vegetables grown close by and without chemicals. A decision, I rather suspect, which added months to her life. But now I find that I have that address in my notebook, her number programmed into my phone, and her e-mail in my list of friends, but she's not there any more.

And it's on those occasions, when I see her name or details, that I realise my friend's gone. And I miss her.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stop Right There, Thank You Very Much

As I've probably mentioned before, I'm looking at soaps (or, if you prefer, 'continuing drama series') with a writerly eye nowadays - looking for plot developments, characterisation tricks, and the like. In watching Emmerdale and EastEnders, though, merely from a viewer's perspective, I've noticed that there are a couple of storylines which have dragged on rather too long - or at least, too long for my interest level (if you watch the shows, you might have guessed the ones I'm talking about, but if not, they are the King Murder plotline, and the whole Bradley-Stacey-Max thing).

As I say, I feel they've gone on longer than is interesting (the King murder has been running since the start of the year, I think, and I think the 'love triangle' has been going on for much the same time), though others may disagree. But it set me to thinking about the extent to which TV shows can run stories before they become uninteresting. Friends, for example, had a lot of favourable audience reaction (not to mention ratings success) with the whole Ross-and-Rachel will-they-won't-they thing, but I think most people would admit that they exhausted that goodwill by the time the series ended. The X-Files, similarly, kept going long after the 'conspiracy' aspects of it had ceased to engage the audience (by which I mean catching either interest or ratings). Because I could guess what was going to happen when Daphne and Niles got together in Frasier, and thought it was the wrong direction for the show to go, I bailed out at that stage, and I think other people have told me I was wise to do so.

Other programmes come to mind, too - Moonlighting and Cheers both had the will-they-or-won't-they romance storyline, as did Lois and Clark (though for me they dealt with the loss of that plotline well, immediately introducing another, utterly logical, element when Clark proposed to Lois: her answer, if memory serves, was "Who's asking - Clark or Superman?", which kicked off a different plotline). According to rumour, my favourite TV series of all time, Twin Peaks, was not intended to reveal who killed Laura Palmer; that was to be the hook which drew the audience in, with David Lynch apparently not intending for the killer to be revealed at all. The revelation of the killer, even the most rabid fan (and by that I mean me) would cheerfully admit, wasn't necessarily followed by the immediate replacement of a similarly compelling storyline (I think co-creator Mark Frost has conceded this).

I'm not pretending I have any kind of answer or conclusion on this, though I remember Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy and Firefly), in relation to keeping the audience interested, said something like 'I need to give [the fans] what they need, not what they want', and he does seem willing to kill off popular characters (even, famously, ones shown in the title sequence) to keep things from getting stale. And thinking about it, Alan Moore, comic writer, magus and possibly possessor of one of the finest creative minds on the planet, says (in the documentary 'The Mindscape Of Alan Moore'*) that the creator shouldn't give the audience what they want, because they don't KNOW what they want - if they did, they wouldn't be in the audience, they'd be a creator. Good points both, I think. Maybe the best route is to respond to audience feedback only insofar as it doesn't involve milking a plotline or playing to the gallery?

Of course, many of the above notions are frankly staggeringly subjective, and tricky to define. Anyone have any more defined measurements of such things? Please post them in the comments if you do...

*I say this with conviction, as I watched the sequence in question just last night.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And Lo, They Did Hack At The Monster

As you might have heard, the online jobsearch site Monster has been hacked into, and around a million jobseekers' personal details were obtained by the people responsible. Tut. And double Tut to Monster for not noticing, and it falling to Symantec to point it out to them.

I put my CV on Monster a very long time ago - back when the internet was still powered by coal, I think - and as I'm still on their mailing list I've received an e-mail from Monster; presumably it's part of their PR damage limitation work in relation to this incident, but I have to say it does little to reassure me... the following are genuine quotes, slightly edited but in the correct chronological order, cut-n-pasted from the e-mail:

"As you may be aware, the Monster CV database was recently the target of malicious activity that involved the illegal downloading of information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for some of our job seekers with CVs posted on Monster sites. Monster responded to this specific incident by conducting a comprehensive review of internal processes and procedures, notified those job seekers that their contact records had been downloaded illegally, and shut down a rogue server that was hosting these records."

Er, not in that order, I hope? You switched off the problem server first, then told people what had happened, and then started to look into it with an eye to prevention of further occurrences, yes? Come on, reassure me here...

"The Company has determined that this incident is not the first time Monster's database has been the target of criminal activity."

No, no, no! You're meant to be putting my mind at rest here, not making me think that your service is like a warehouse with a nightwatchman with a dodgy leg! I want to know how safe and resilient your security measures are, not how often people target you! Still, I'm sure your PR people will have swung into action, e-mailing those whose data's been nicked, right?

"Due to the significant amount of uncertainty in determining which individual job seekers may have been impacted, Monster felt that it was in your best interest to take the precautionary steps of reaching out to you and all Monster job seekers regarding this issue."

Well, that's not very good, is it? Despite the fact you've got lots of personal details of the punters on record, you decided not to go the personal route, but to do an 'en masse' mailing? Hmph, makes me glad I'm not on your Christmas Card list, it'd probably contain one of those unseemly 'this year Monsterette has passed her GCSEs' letters. Still, you're probably about to tell me about the steps you've taken to beef up your processes, right?

"We want to inform you about preventive measures you can take to protect yourself from online fraud. While no company can completely prevent unauthorised access to data, we believe that by reaching out to job seekers like you, the Company can help users better defend themselves against those who have attacked Monster as well as other databases."

Hey, hang on a mo, isn't this the wrong way round? why are you telling me how to avoid my information falling into the wrong hands? Pot calling Kettle and all that here, I think. I'm reminded of the observation the comedian Rob (later Robert) Newman made about the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert taking place to alert us all to the dangers of HIV/AIDS: "Us. Not Freddie. Us." And this e-mail feels the same way, really. Surely the responsibility lies with Monster?

Whilst I appreciate it's a huge kick in the PR groin for Monster, I think that they could have been a lot more specific about what they'll be doing to protect data in future. I mean, I'm not a techie, but ... well, not having servers in the Ukraine might be a step, and indeed relying on third parties to notice that you've been breached seems less than impressive.

Oh, and just in case you're worrying that I might ruin a good working relationship with Monster with this post, I think I'm pretty safe; I don't think I've ever actually got a job as a result of applying via Monster. So it doesn't feel like much of a bridge to burn.

Besides, the bridge has probably already been nicked while they were looking the other way.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Urban Or Urbane? That Is For Others To Judge...

Much to my delight, one of my recent bits of writing has made it into the final stages of a competition.

I wrote a 'Flash Fiction' (that is, under 250 words) version of an urban myth for the Manchester Literature Festival Urban Myths Project (more information here), and was notified over the weekend that I'm into the final ten.

All rather pleasing, and I shall be intrigued to see how the Interactive Arts students from Manchester Metropolitan University decide to bring it to life. Because I've been invited to go and watch, and as this is the first (though hopefully not the last) time my words have been performed by other people, I'm keen and eager to see how that looks.

Oddly enough, it turns out that the cliché is true - whether I win or not (an idea which only occasionally skitters across my mind), it is, as the old saying goes, nice to be nominated.

And to be a part, howsoever small, of a Literature Festival. That's real writing, isn't it ? Crikey, I might be out of my league a bit...