The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I’ve spent a good portion of today checking out videos from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which just opened in Orlando. Sure, there’s rollercoasters and all that junk, but what I love is the mise-en-scene of the whole thing. The attention to detail. Mobility scooters aside, Hogsmeade looks perfect.

The Ollivander’s spiel made me wish I was 13 years old again (the 31-year old me couldn’t help but see the genius of the scam behind it – what parent is not going to buy a wand for their child after it has ‘chosen them’).

The AttractionsMagazine youtube channel has tons more, if you’re also a giant man-child and fancy wasting a couple of hours too.


Rome Recommendations

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Things to See

St. Peter’s Basilica
Okay, it’s a bit lame and cliched, but this is still a huge part of Roman history that it’s hard to ignore. For me, it still towers above the colosseum as an attraction. Search iTunes for Rick Steves Rome Podcasts – he’s got some audio guides for some of the bigger sights, like St. Peter’s, the Pantheon, the Forum etc. Cheaper (and less lame) than joining a tour.

It was 32 degrees out today. On days like this, it’s fantastic to be able to duck into the Pantheon. I’ve no idea of the science behind it, but somehow this place stays very cool without air conditioning. Plus, you’ll be near Tazza d’Oro, which is one of the better coffee shops in Rome. Try their granita, which is like a coffee slush puppy. Get it with whipped cream and then spend the next few minutes mixing it all together to make a coffee milkshake. You’ll be buzzing for hours.

Musem of the Holy Souls in Purgatory
I only read about this recently on, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. It’s a museum of relics that were ‘burned’ by souls in purgatory. It all sounds a bit cheesy, but still pretty interesting. It’s also in/near one of the few (neo-)gothic churches in Rome.

Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception – Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
I’ve been to the catacombs in Paris, and I’ve thought “what kind of sick fuck decides to arrange skulls in the shape of a heart?” Then I visited this place and it beats the pants off anything Paris has to offer in terms of dementedness. Bones of more than 4,000 monks have been arranged into a series of scenes and dioramas, where EVERYTHING is made of bones. They even have chandeliers made of bones. Chairs made of bones. Light switches made of bones. Very macabre. If there was ever a goth Disneyland, this is it.

Church of San Clemente, Via Labicana
If you ever want proof that Rome is a ‘living’ history, you should go to visit San Clemente. It’s a twelfth-century church, built on a fourth-century basilica, built on a pagan temple. They’ve all been really well preserved and it’s another fantastic place to duck in to avoid the mid-afternoon heat, especially if you’re already up that area checking out the Colosseum.

To eat/drink

Le Mani in Pasta – Via Dei Genovesi, 37
This is more of an upmarket pasta joint. It’s a little more expensive than the normal places (still ridiculously cheap though), but believe me, if you’ve got something to celebrate, this is worth it. It’s like a once-in-a-while treat for us. Very seafood heavy. When I go there, I usually get the carpaccio of swordfish with truffles, then the fettucine with ricotta and pancetta (if you get this, immediately mix everything up on your plate, trust me) and then if I’m feeling particularly hungry or decadent, I’d get maybe a fillet with green pepper sauce. Also, their desserts are great – the chocolate cake is my favourite, closely followed by their amaro semifreddo.

Da Augusto – Piazza de’ Renzi, 15
Classic Roman trattoria, filled with grumpy waiters. Get there early (8pm) to avoid the lines, because seriously, this is one of my favourite places in Rome. Their stuff is cheap, and tastes great. They don’t always give you a menu, so here’s my advice – get the pasta con cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) to start (mix it up a bit to get the flavours going), then follow it with either the strachetti e rugola (thin slices of beef with rocket) or, my favourite, the involtini (rolled veal in a tomato sauce). Actually, get two involtini. You’ll thank me later.

Roma Sparita – Piazza di Santa Cecilia
So good, I had to give it a blog post of its own. Currently my favourite restaurant in all of Rome.

Da Enzo – Via dei Vascellari, 29
Another trattoria. Extremely popular with the Romans (again, turn up early to avoid the lines), but to be honest, I’ve never really seen the appeal. They do a fair carbonara, but I could really take or leave this place.

Da I 2 Ciccioni – Vicolo del Cedra, 3
“The Two Fat Lads” – it’s less a restaurant and more just a bunch of tables on the street outside someone’s kitchen, along with their grumpy old dog, Aldo. They do a set menu for a set price (which varies depending on how many courses you can manage). I suppose it could be seen as a little ‘gimmicky’, but their fagoli are too good to be very cynical about. Recently got written up in the New York Times, which means it’s probably going to be unbearable now.

Dar Poeta – Vicolo del Bologna 45
A pizzeria. Apparently these guys have a ‘secret’ blend of ingredients that they use to make their pizzas. I say it’s a crock of shit because their pizzas are completely unremarkable. BUT, leave plenty of room for their speciality dessert – a Ricotta & Nutella calzone. Terrific stuff.

Fame Nera – Via di San Francesco a Ripa, 29
More of a lunch/snack kind of place. Great sandwiches, but slooooo-o-o-w service. More useful for expats because it’s one of the few places you can get a bacon cheeseburger with actual bacon and ACTUAL cheddar (a rare commodity in this town).

Fior Di Luna – Via della Lungaretta 96
Some ice cream shops talk about how all their stuff is home made and there’s no preservatives. This place takes this to the next level – you can’t even get a cone here, because it’s impossible to make those without preservatives, so it’s just paper cups. This is probably the best place in Trastevere for ice cream. You can still see the bits of vanilla in their vanilla ice cream. We also refer to this as the “creative commons ice cream place” because they’ve got a boner for open source.

Freni e Frizioni – Via del Politeama, 4-6
Probably the closest thing Rome will get to a hipster-type dive bar – a converted garage. But what really sells this place is the sheer buzz of people and the amazing apertivi. Just come along, buy a drink (Beers: 5, RIDICULOUSLY STRONG, ON-YOUR ASS DRUNK cocktails: 7) and help yourself from their buffet of amazing veggie treats. The piazza outside is also a great place to do some street drinking and some people watching. Rumour has it that Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci own an apartment above this place, which seems like a pretty good seal of approval.

I Suppli – Via di San Francesco a Ripa (opposite Fame Nera)
Again, a snack kind of place. Their pizza is good (especially the marinara and fungi e quattro formaggi), but the real draw of this place is their suppli. Oh boy. Deep-fried rice balls in a tomato sauce with some mozarella in the middle. My favourite guilty pleasure, and this place does the best I’ve had in Rome.

Ma che siete venuti a fa – Via Benedetta 25
Around the corner from Dar Poeta is this tiny, tiny pub that serves a ton of nice beers. Very popular with students. There’s a downstairs, but no-one ever goes there. They just hang out on the street looking cool. The name translates to “But what have you come to do?” which is slightly ominous.

Pizzeria Ai Marmi – Viale Trastevere 53
This is our local pizzeria. They’re about middle of the road in terms of price, and service, but their pizzas are pretty good. They also do pretty good suppli and baccala (battered salt cod). I’m not exactly raving about this place because they do nothing exceptional, but they’re extremely consistent. And they feel like home now.

Gonfio/Soppieno – Via Borgo Pio, 149
This is a great little sandwich/salad shop halfway up Borgo Pio (the main borgo up bear St. Peter’s). Their prices are reasonable and the food is always fantastic. Their ‘house’ sauce is a bizarre spicy sauce that, strangely for Rome, is actually quite spicy. Great if you want to picnic after a run through St. Peter’s.

Latteria – Via Borgo Pio, 48
Almost across the road from Gonfio is the Latteria. It’s one of the few bars in this area that aren’t actively trying to rip you off at every turn. Great cornetti too. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent, go for the white chocolate.

Venerina – Via Vitelleschi Giovanni, 44
Again, another good bar that isn’t trying to rip you off. This one is slightly better than the Latteria because it’s slightly bigger, has a wider range of food, does the best cornetti in the area, and best of all, isn’t on Borgo Pio, so it’s less likely to be crowded. Also, this was the only bar open in the area through the month of August.

The Perfect Bun – Largo del Teatro Valle, 4
When you need a break from Italian food, this is a great American-style restaurant. Really good burgers, great nachos (with a fantastic homemade salsa), and decently-priced, cold pints (pints! Not 40cl mockeries!) of Carlsberg. Best of all, they do an amazing buffet-style Sunday brunch. It costs about €25, but it’s a lifesaver when you’re hung over and need some serious soakage.

Sweety Rome – Via Milano, 48
With the demise of Josephine’s Bakery (RIP!), there are precious few places to go and get a decent cupcake or carrot cake in Rome. Hooray for Sweety Rome! Great desserts, and another place for a decent buffet-style Sunday brunch. Might want to phone ahead if you fancy the brunch.


Dangers of Self-googling

The things you find browsing the Adrian Mole wiki at 1am on a Monday:

Sharon Bott

Adrian Mole’s first ‘lover’ and mother of Glen Bott (Adrian’s illegitamate son). Adrian and Sharon have nothing in common and were merely intrested in each other for sex. Sharon represents the underclass of Britain.

My name is Sharon Bott. I was born in Oadby Leicester. I have never met anyone named Adrian Mole. My eldest child is the son of his french father. Sue Townsend did not ask me if she could use my name and if she had done so I would not have allowed her. She has defamed my name i am upset and emmbarrassed. and would sue if i could find a solicitor to help me, «email» 13:15, May 7, 2010 (UTC)


One day at a time

Let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?

Imagine you worked in a shop and that sold both hard liquor and weapons. Let’s not ask why. Now, imagine a man comes in looking depressed and wants to buy a bottle of vodka and a handgun. Would you sell them to him?

Now, let’s imagine you worked in a fast food restaurant. A McDonalds. Or better still, a KFC. Imagine a morbidly obese man comes wheezing in in and orders three Double Downs. Would you sell them to him?

David A. Kessler’s The End of Overeating is a fascinating book. Especially if – like me – you’re overweight. He talks about the science behind food, and what drives us to eat the shit we do. He makes a terrific analogy, a connection I’d never made before. He says that for some people who are wired a certain way, struggling with a food problems can be like an alcoholic trying to come to terms with their own addiction. If you’re trying to kick it, you need to take it one day at a time.

As someone who has struggled with their weight for a long time, this a terrific way of looking at it, and even this one little sentence has had a profound effect on me, in terms of the shite I put into my body. At the same time, it underlines the way in which obesity and food problems in general are seen as ‘socially acceptable’ in a way in which other addictions – drink, drugs – are not. Or rather, they’re not seen as addictions or significant problems at all. Consider the semantic gulf between a ‘glutton’ and an ‘addict’. One implies ‘Conscious’ while the other implies ‘subconscious’. ‘Active’ versus ‘passive’. ‘Choice’ versus ‘compulsion’.

To highlight this, there’s my wife who is incredibly supportive of me, despite the sometimes incredibly stupid things I do. Her relationship to food is very different compared to mine. She cannot wait until all food comes in pill form and it no longer has any significant role in her life. When she saw I was reading a book called ‘The End of Overeating’, she snorted in derision. For her, reading to lose weight is like dancing about architecture. If you want to lose weight, just eat less, dummy.

That’s what I’m trying to do. But I have to take it one day at a time.


Paradox of Choice

In his most recent article, John Gruber once again discusses the difference in philosophy between the iPhone and Android. He talks about how Apple doesn’t include features without a compelling reason for them to exist. By way of example, he talks about the front-facing camera on the iPhone 4. Although Android devices have had this feature for a while, Android doesn’t provide a standard, non-trivial way to use it.

He quotes David Pogue’s experiences trying to get video-calling to work. Pogue says

> To make video calling work, you have to install an app yourself: either Fring or Qik. But we never did get Fring to work, and Qik requires people you call to press a Talk button when they want to speak. The whole thing is confusing and, to use the technical term, iffy.

Ignoring the ‘iffy’ implementation, something that made me sigh was the “multiple apps” aspect. Essentially, Android users must choose between Fring and Qik for their video chats. Fring and Qik are also incompatible with each other, so if you’re using an Android phone and you want to video-call another Android user, you must first agree on which of these two appsAssuming there are, in fact, only two to choose from you are going to use. It’s not simply a matter of picking up your phone and video-calling the other person. You must first phone or text with them and say “Hey, let’s Fring!”if you’re okay with enverbening a proper noun before actually firing up the app (and hoping it actually works). Can you imagine if voice-calls worked the same way, that you both needed to be running the same app to make normal phone calls to one another?

This reminded me of a recent article by Cory Doctorow in which he summarised his experiences with the latest version of Ubuntu. He talks about how he needed to edit some sound.

> When I need to do something new — edit audio, say — I go to the software center and look at what apps exist for that purpose, select some highly rated ones, download them, try them, keep the one I like (all the software is free, so this is easy).

While Cory lists this as a positive, this is precisely why I stopped using Linux on the desktop. Rather than focusing on making one particular app for a particular function and making it great, it seems as if every developer in the Linux/Open Source community has their own idea about how best to reinvent the wheel. And so, rather than having a standard piece of software for audio editing that comes as standard on each installation — as OSX gives us Garageband — it’s left up to the user to find out which one suits them best. Ubuntu currently gives 66 results for ‘apt-cache search audio edit’, each one a software package that scratches a different itch. And while there’s a certain pleasure in taking the time to install and evaluate each one of these 66 pieces of softwareWhich makes me think of JWZ’s terrifically curmudgeonly line, “Linux is only free if your time has no value, I would say that few of us have that luxury, and we’d rather just edit the audio and be done. After all, the editing is the important thing, not the software you use.

I would much rather a well-curated walled garden instead, thankyouverymuch.


I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am ridiculously excited about playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, set in renaissance Rome. The idea of shanking someone outside the Pantheon (in a videogame, of course) seems really cathartic.


Music for dogs, television for cats

Lou Reed has lost his fucking mind:

It’s a dog’s life. Well, it was on Saturday when the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House came alive with the sound of high pitched music and howling dogs at the world’s first concert performed for dogs.

The concert was the brain child of acclaimed U.S. music artist Laurie Anderson and rock legend husband Lou Reed. Anderson wrote the 20-minute piece “Music for Dogs” describing it as “an inter-species social gathering on a scale never seen before in Australia”.

“It was really so fantastic. All the dogs were really grooving on the music. They really seemed to enjoy themself,” Anderson told Reuters.

Big dogs, small dogs, dogs dressed up for the occasion and even a 15-year-old arthritic dog, whose owner pushed him in a makeshift dog wheelchair, attended the world’s first ever outdoor performance staged for dogs.

Reading this, it’s pretty hard not to be reminded of Robert Mitchum in Scrooged

Preston: Do you know how many cats there are in this country?

Frank: N-N…no, mmm…I don’t have…no.

Preston: Twenty-seven million. D’you know how many dogs?

In America…?

Preston: Forty-eight million. We spend four billion on pet food alone.


Preston: I have a study which shows that cats and dogs are beginning to watch television. If these scientists are right, we should start programming right now. Within years, they could become steady viewers.

Programming…for cats?

Preston: Walk with me, Frank. I’m not saying build a whole show around animals. All I’m suggesting is we occasionally throw in a little pet appeal. Some birds, a squirrel…

Frank: Mice?

Preston: Mice, exactly. You remember Kojak and the lollipops? What about a cop that dangles string? That’s his gimmick. Lots of quick, random actions.