The Big Day

There's a familiar pattern, which cognitive psychologists know all about.

1) Decide to do something.
2) Make some preparations.
3) Realise it's a terrible idea.
4) Feel compelled to go through with it anyway.
5) Convince yourself it's a good idea, somehow.
6) Do the thing.
7) Realise again it really was a terrible idea.
8) Convince yourself it was a success after all, or if you can't do that,
8a) Blame someone.

It works on an individual level, but also with families, workplaces, and entire nations. The royal wedding gave us lots of examples.

Nationally, it looked like this:

1) The world's in recession, our mid-eastern allies are all being topped, and everyone hates the government - what we need is a big state occasion. Something sentimental, nationalistic and happy - something shiny to distract the little people. How about a royal marriage? It worked last time.

2) Find a royal with a girlfriend, and persuade them to get hitched. Announce it, and wait for the nation to rejoice.

3) Realise the public don't much care. They're not even using it as an excuse for a street party.

4) Hide your annoyance at the plebs.

5) Get the independent, objective media to push the wedding hard. Solid coverage for a month. Hopefully, a few weeks of being told everyone's ecstatic about the wedding will persuade everyone they are ecstatic. Waive the rules on organising street parties, hoping it'll motivate people to have them.

6) Have the wedding. Make it look really plush and don't mention the cost - or that anything else is happening in the world. Find a dozen crazy people who camped out in London to see the procession, and interview them incessantly as vox pops.

7) Grit your teeth to make the best of a bad deal.

8) Continue the blanket coverage, now in retrospect. And/or,

8a) Blame the politically correct student radical types for spoiling it for everyone else.

Here's how it affected my life:

1) My street has an annual party - with barbecue, raffle, and a few dozen people trying to remember each other's names from the previous party. The organising committee - chaired by my esteemed father - were thinking of not bothering this year. But seeing as there was an excuse this time, they decided to go ahead.

2) Put invitations through all the letterboxes. Dig out the home made wine.

3) Note the growing list of names who had other things to do on that day - including two who'd been asked to unblock a relative's drains that day.

4) Decide it's more trouble to cancel than to press on. Don't explain how.

5) Get some cheap plastic flags and patriotically decorated paper cups - just to make it royal themed.

6) On the day, turn up, eat too much, drink too much, and make light conversation with virtual strangers.

7) Take home most of the food and have it for your evening meal.

8) Say things like "That went as well as could be expected" and "At least it didn't rain".

And so, on the occasion of whatshisface marrying whatshername, here's a picture summarising everything it meant to me:

Review: Jitbit Macro Recorder

Computers are good at repetitive, mindless tasks. The kind that require great precision and patience but no imagination or choices. Exactly the kind which humans are no good at, and make working life unbearable.

Half the point of technology is to do away with that kind of drudgery. The other half is to help us do the things we did beforehand, but faster, better, or just more.

All of which is a bit odd really, because most of the things we do sitting at a computer are repetitive, mindless tasks that require great precision and patience but no imagination or choices.

The tedium of adding up a column of figures with a pencil has been replaced with the tedium of typing in a much longer column of figures, which are magically totted up by the spreadsheet.

If only there were some program which could watch you do some thankless task on another program, once, then do the same thing, much quicker and without errors for a thousand iterations, while you go and do something interesting. Probably on another computer.

Well, there are such programs. And while they can't transcribe your handwritten notes or turn them into the polished prose of the novel you're trying to write1, they can record your keyboard and mouse actions, help you fine tune them, and play them back in a loop.

The one I use at the moment is called Axife Mouse Recorder, and it's free demo. I can't register it to get the full version because...the company I'd register with is long bankrupt. But it's still one of the most popular programs of its kind because, frankly, it's very good and most of the competition2 is rubbish.

There are a few good alternatives though. vTask is much more configurable, and its free little brother TinyTask (also in portable version) is great for quick-and-dirty task automation3.

I'm going to be looking at the Jitbit Macro Recorder, to see if its longer feature list and user friendliness are enough to make me switch from my trusty but crippled Axife demo.

Jitbit, incidentally, have an innovative marketing strategy, whereby if someone with a blog reviews their program, the blogger gets a free personal-use licence for it. Good idea isn't it?

Now, I'm working on a project at the moment where I've got 466 text files containing numbers describing the shape of different sound waves. Each wave has 1778 points, and I need to open each file in turn, transcribe every point into another program, then save the result, and move onto the next file.

I've recorded a script in the Axife program, and the first screenful looks like this:

Now here's the same series of operations, recorded in JitBit Macro Recorder:

Both programs can record mouse movements, mouse clicks and keyboard activity, but for both I've recorded only the latter two. In effect, the mouse pointer will jump instantly to wherever it's needed, and any actions like selecting text, copying and pasting are done with the keyboard.

I've also edited the scripts so the delays between keypresses are much shorter than humanly possible - though I need to introduce delays occasionally for things like filesaving, so the computer can keep up.

Removing (or not recording) mouse movements and minimising delays means one wave takes about six minutes to transcribe - and all 466 should take about 40 hours.

At a rough calculation, it would take me about 1000 hours, working nonstop to do the same thing the old fashioned way. That's not just a bigger task - without automation I wouldn't even consider trying.

The other thing to notice is: I've put loops in the scripts. The most important one is a single copy-and-paste from a line in Windows Notepad to a corresponding point in Propellerhead Reason, looped 1778 times4.

So, what are the things I prefer about Axife, what do I think is better in Jitbit...and what's missing (so far) from both?

The Axife display is neater, more compact, better thought out. The delays don't take up a whole line, and the mouse click details easier to interpret as a gestalt.

The basic script editing facilities are the same between the two - move, cut, copy, paste, change event type and change co-ordinates. But Jitbit has a load of extra things you can do.

You can open and copy files directly, switch between windows and wait for them to close before moving to the next event - though unfortunately it doesn't seem to work with DOS windows, so you can't run a series of batch files in a row.

You can launch websites, play macros within macros, pause to ask for user input and perform various clipboard operations. All things I wouldn't use often, but it's good to have them.

But here's the big one. Your macro is no longer limited to doing the same thing over and over again - it can branch. It can make decisions - if a file exists, if the clipboard contains certain text, if a process exists or a window's in focus, if the user inputs this string but not that string....

You've actually got a simple programming language, which means you've got the option of a complex, context sensitive macro. With some ingenuity, you can even make it pick up on whether something's gone wrong - so it'll exit instead of trying to copy from the same non-existent window until you stop it.

There's other things too. If the button you want to click has moved, there's a 'Smart-Rec' feature to find it. You can put labels and comments in your script - useful because all but the simplest get very confusing.

Which leads me to thoughts of what could be better. When you look at a raw, newly recorded script, it can be baffling - even though you've just done the operations which it shows. Does this mouseclick refer to this window or that one? Is that click a window focus or a data selection? Is that copy operation the one for the third block of data, or the filename? Is this where the loop should end?

It would be much easier if I could press a hotkey while recording, type in a label to describe what I'm about to do, then press the key again, and continue5. A kind of writing notes in the margin to yourself, for when you come to the editing.

Some macro recorders have little to recommend them except the ability to do arithmetical operations on data before pasting it. Strangely, Jitbit can't do that, so I'm left pasting data into Windows Calculator or Excel, then copying the result. On this point the similar vTask pulls ahead in the race.

Finally, it would be a lot neater to have the option to display common keypress sequences as operations. Instead of four lines showing 'Hold CTRL', 'Hold X', 'Release X' and 'Release CTRL', just have a line showing "Cut". Even reducing 'Hold Enter' + 'Release Enter' as 'Enter' would help readability and reduce clutter.

In principle, you could make your own shortcuts like these with the 'Goto' or 'Play Macro' commands, but I'm looking to make macros quickly, not spend hours on workarounds to make them tidier.

So, have I been persuaded by Jitbit's Macro Recorder? I think I will use it, but not exclusively. TinyTask is still good for taking a few seconds to make basic macros, Axife occupies the middle ground, and if I'm working on a complicated procedure involving several different programs in sequence (my personal record, by the way, is seven) then Jitbit's Macro Recorder will be invaluable.

1 At least, not until laptops come fitted with robot arms for turning pages and moving webcams around. If they ever do, your computer will be able to read you bedtime stories from a real book.

2 It's a crowded market. A quick google search gives the high end products like Ranorax Recorder and WinAutomation, plus dozens of basic free or shareware ones like Mouse Recorder, Advanced Key And Mouse Recorder, and Mouse Recorder Pro, and autoclickerextreme - which probably wins the prize of Most Ambiguously Suggestive Name.

3 I've got an old tower PC with an even older video capture card, plugged into Film 4 on an old Freeview box - recording...old films. I tried for a week to get the PVR software to work properly - now I've got ShutDownExpert running two EXE mouse control scripts - one to activate VirtualDub to start recording, the other to stop it. It's clunky, but unlike the software designed for the task, it works.

4 The screenshots for this review were converted to JPG using photoshop...automated in Jitbit's program. While I poured another cup of tea.

5 I don't know of any programs which do this, but it would seriously help the editing process.


I don't believe dreams mean anything - except in the general way they reflect your attitudes and life experiences. They're just a grab bag of half formed ideas and feelings floating around in your memory, loosely tied into a sequence of events.

A kind of screensaver for when your operating system is in standby mode. Put it another way. Dreams can have significance, but not signification.

In the dream I was in some sort of institution, with Dickensian architecture but modern (though underfunded) facilities - it provided care for children who'd been abandoned or abused. I didn't work there and I wasn't a child but everyone who worked there knew me.

There were two young children, both boys, age about 9 to 11. I somehow took to caring for them - essentially babysitting. But it was night time, and the rooms, stairs and corridors of the institution were dark, so I couldn't seem them very well.

And because I couldn't see them, I couldn't be sure they really were human children. I spoke with them and we conversed, I did what I could to make them safe and comfortable. I carried them around from room to room, even carrying one to the top floor for a medical checkup. The doctors there knew me and greeted me as they went about their rounds, appreciating that I'd taken the trouble.

But in the dim light and silhouette, one of the boys looked looked like I was carrying around a stack of old, heavily bound books. And the other...looked like he might be a small hairy animal, possibly a dog, or a chimpanzee.

They both spoke like children, and that's how I treated them. I loved them, and cried when I thought we might be separated and maybe they come to harm. I was always carrying one in one arm, and holding the hand of the other as we walked - sometimes swapping. We hugged closely as we moved around the rooms and stairs.

I'm not sure whether they had names, but the emotional connection was intense - full of concern and, well, love.

Then daylight came, and I could see clearly. Both were what I'd thought and hoped - normal, healthy, happy children. The 'dog' boy was absorbed playing alone on a pile of beanbags. The 'books' boy was chatting and relaxed with three friends his own age. I spoke with him, but it was now awkward, because the night had passed and he didn't need my help anymore.

They didn't want to hug, or be carried around, or even talk. They had no trouble letting go of their dependence on me, and though I was relieved that I could now see they really were what I wasn't sure I'd been taking care of...I didn't want to let go of them.

And that's when I woke up.

No, dreams don't mean anything. And to prove it, when I went back to sleep, trying to continue the dream, I was now an invisible observer, watching a frustrated investigation into some kind of bureaucratic coverup which involved 'losing' the boy's records.

Oh, and the investigator was...Captain Jean Luc Picard. Bald, starfleet suited, and with a nice line in righteous speeches. The bureaucracy offices were all futuristic rounded white cubes and the data storage computer looked like a giant metal cactus.

I'm quite sure none of that meant anything.

Less than 100

Some films are more praised than enjoyed - think Citizen Kane, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, and probably everything by Charlie Chaplin.

Others are more referenced than watched - The Thomas Crown Affair, Tron, possibly Dr No...and The Human Centipede.

Full title The Human Centipede: The First Sequence, it's the first in a projected trilogy of escalatingly gory films united around one idea: Mad scientists kidnap young innocents to surgically attach them mouth-to-anus in series. In other words, it's about being forced to shit in each other's mouths.

Now I've finally watched it...and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Two American valley-girls (Lindsay and Jenny) are touring Europe when their car breaks down in the middle of a creepy forest in the rain at midnight. So as is traditional, they go searching for an isolated house with a telephone.

The house is owned by a wealthy retired surgeon (Josef Heiter) who specialised in separating conjoined twins - but now has the opposite surgery in mind. He rohypnols the girls, euthanises a previously kidnapped trucker because his 'tissue is incompatible' with theirs, and goes out to kidnap another tourist (Katsuro).

Lindsay makes a failed escape attempt, prompting Heiter to decide she should be the middle section. The youngsters wake to find the surgery completed, and a leering Heiter.

The good doctor tries to housetrain his new pet, which he obviously intends to replace and upgrade his previous experiment - his beloved deceased 'three dog' - but he's constantly frustrated.

Katsuro the front section is furious and violent, the two girls keep Heiter awake all night with their crying, and Jenny at the back starts to die from blood poisoning. Then the police arrive asking questions, and after he tries and fails to rohypnol them, they return with warrant and guns.

As if Heiter's plans couldn't fall apart anymore, the centipede escapes and incapacitates him. There's a standoff, but Katsuro decides this is his punishment for the dishonourable way he's treated his family, and he cuts his own throat. Then Jenny dies, leaving Lindsay trapped in the middle between two corpses.

The police return, and Heiter kills them but not before one of them fatally shoots him. The End. Lindsay will presumably be found by more police later.

So what kind of film is this? A low budget horror flick that trades on a squicky premise and suggestion much more than gore - certainly. A wannabe cult classic - probably. A dark comedy - given the way Heiter is constantly frustrated by his creation and events, arguably.

Director Tom Six says it's a comment on fascism and the second world war - with the nationalities, language barrier, and of course pointless Nazi experiments. That makes sense, but it's not terribly deep.

The Human Centipede is actually a very silly film. The touted '100% medical accuracy' is bunk, the plot isn't nearly as much as a breakaway from tired horror cliches as the director likes to claim, as satire I think it's shallow and as horror it's neither disgusting nor disquieting.

David Cronenberg created much more unease in Shivers with a less obviously revolting premise, and if you like politics with your horror, Clive Barker probably does it better.

There were a few ideas I found interesting about the movie, though.

Most mad scientists in movies have some psychological reason for their actions, even if it's just curiosity. But Heiter has no motive that adds up. If he just wants a new three-dog, why doesn't he get more dogs? If he's just a sadist, why is he indifferent to death and irritated by signs of suffering? If the centipede is a proof-of-concept project, what does he hope to develop it into - besides the equally pointless twelve-person centipede promised in the (now completed) second film?

It's been called torture porn, but there's a difference. 24 was torture porn, as were the Saw movies, but in these cases we're supposed to root for the torturer - which is one reason they're so worthless. Here the sympathy is all with the victims, and their fightback.

The film's effective lead is Katsuro - he's the only main character to consistently fight against Heiter, and he's the only one to get a big speech. But he's introduced late and dies early. Plus, he speaks only Japanese - while the girls speak only English and Heiter English and German.

When the centipede escapes, Katsuro stabs Heiter in the leg with a scalpel, meaning Heiter is rendered unable to walk, only crawl - just like his creation. He's now a monopede.

The girl's only shows of affection come when they're holding hands in tearful comfort after the joining.

Katsuro may have the mouth (in the sense of both shouting defiance and eating) but Lindsay has the brain of the composite creature. In the escape, it's mostly her who has the ideas, which she communicates by pointing. There's an obvious parable about communication and co-operation there if you want it.

So that's what I think is the kind of movie this is. A loose collection of interesting ideas and nice filmic touches, held together by nothing more than...being stitched together in a row.