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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 31, 2006

Are You Clean?

Well, are you, punk?

The BBC has a story about the popularity of The TOTO Washlet in the USA. It's a kind of combination heated toilet seat and bidet, allowing you to "feel refreshed" while you worry about the world shortage of fresh water.

It's worth looking at the demo videos, if only to marvel and chortle. this one, the biggest has the best payoff, as a ghostly humanoid comes and makes use of the facility. Check the body language as the bidet operates. Bliss!

Note: they recommend you use a proper plumber and electrician. Can you imagine the hilarity if you try to install one yourself and get the electricity and the water mixed up?

Who'da thought it?

Just a day after the BBC was reporting the 99th British Forces death in Iraq, they now tell us about the 100th.

Were they working in cahoots with a betting syndicate?


I offer this as a silent "wow."

Take a look at their full roster!

How about Shania for your next birthday do down the Dog and Duck?

Paul Gambaccini was unavailable for comment.

What's my favourite again?

Sorry to obsess, but whatever did happen to Selina?

She was HUGE, wasn't she? I like to think her career started to slide when she was interviewing Georgie Fame on breakfast telly many years ago. He was sitting at his piano, and she said, "Why don't you play my favourite?"

...And looked off-screen and said, "What's my favourite again?"

My Hobby

Am I alone in finding the web sites of talent agencies utterly hilarious and fab?

I just love reading the potted bios and viewing the photos of all the yeah-no people, and I'm fascinated with the idea that the "resident word expert on Channel 4's Countdown" is being touted around, as, you know, an expert on words for "the news and on topical language issues."

"Yes, the word bullshit is actually unknown within the M25 nexus... it originates in some far-off land, where the Little People live."

And check out Liam Halligan, "Economics Correspondent at Channel 4 News" on his lovely red scooter. Or Dr. Nick Baylis, a psychologist specialisting in well-being, in his lovely black polo neck.

Next time you need an economist, a word expert, or an architectural historian, you know where to look. And if you ever wondered where BBC Radio 5 Live get all the experts who comment on the news, why - quelle surprise! - they're all at the same talent agency as many, many 5 Live presenters.

I love it when you can see the joins.

Monkies who try to take from you

I too, this morning, received one of those fake messages from Paypal.

This one really did look convincing. Full of links and graphics loaded from paypal's web site telling me that one of my cards has been reported stolen and that I needed to do something to sort everything out to prevent my account being suspended.

As other people have noted, this sort of thing ought immediately to set alarm bells ringing. First, I don't have a credit card, and nothing else has been reported stolen from me (apart perhaps from my youth and naivety), and then there's a link you click on to sort things out.

However, it really really did look official. Three other things confirmed its dodgyness though:
a) I logged into my Paypal account and everything is fine.
b) The mail header for the message has no "audit trail" of previous SMTP connections and is reputed to originate from "mail.com" - yeah, I'm sure.
c) The link points to a server named http://p6.hostingprod.com, rather than Paypal.

It's interesting isn't it, because these defrauders have access into our homes and lives. For a lot of young people, a large proportion of their lives is conducted inside virtual spaces.

Now if criminals were preying on our children the police would soon be on to it. But that's not the case with this sort of fraud, is it.

These people really have direct access to the very core of our lives. They might as well be standing at the school gates stealing dinner money, or pick-pocketing us in the street. Just because it's on-line doesn't mean it isn't real. Just ask your kids: ask the people you flirt with via email.

You know, in some respects the world is now as nasty and as dangerous a place as it has ever been.

Pink Floyd to Tour Scotland

(That's a joke, by the way, Mr Gilmour, based on the BBC headline.)

But what I really, really, want to know is, to whom will the BBC turn for a quote about Paul Gambaccini when Paul Gambaccini is in the news in his own right?

Put another way, is there a rock/pop/jazz etc. artist/group in the history of the world that Paul Gambaccini doesn't have an opinion upon? Does the BBC have a big, fat book of PG quotes for these occasions?

Harper Lee

Thanks to Shorty PJs for the link to this New York Times story about Harper Lee (registration required).

Apart from being the author of one of the most beautiful books ever written, you have to admire Harper Lee for not having written anything else. Why bother? With 10 million copies sold, it's not as if she made no impact; and how could you top perfection? Still inspiring kids, 46 years on.

At a book signing after the ceremony on Friday afternoon, a little girl in a velvet dress approached Ms. Lee with a hardback copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird," announcing that her name was Harper. "Well, that's my name, too," Ms. Lee said. The girl's mother, LaDonnah Roberts, said she had decided to make her daughter Ms. Lee's namesake after her mother-in-law gave her a copy of the book during her pregnancy. Another girl, Catherine Briscoe, 15, one of the essay contest winners, had read the novel six times. She trembled and held her hand to her heart as she spoke of its author: "It was breathtaking to meet the most important person in my life."

When I first read the book, thirty years ago, the idea that you might one day be able to use something like the internet to learn more about the mysterious Harper Lee would have seemed impossible.

January 30, 2006


Is it just me, or does a government report that uses - surely? - no more than 50-100 years worth of data to predict climate change for the next 1000 years not reek slightly of fish?

The 1000-Year Reich? A thousand years of Met Office weather predictions? Can you imagine someone, 60 years ahead of the Battle of Hastings, producing such a document?

In the future, when much of our current knowledge and technology is forgotten or merely hilarious, will seers and prophets pore over this climate report and interpret it for their gullible followers?

Easy Listening?

Taking the listening test referred to in this BBC Magazine article (follow the link from the article) took me back to my early browsing days: waiting 60 years for each page to load, wiggling the mouse around, standing up and pacing round the room. It's probably so slow because the servers are overwhelmed due to the publicity given by the Beeb.

Anyway, if you can endure the long wait for the page loads, it's a test to see if you can tell the difference between short musical phrases. I scored 28 out of 30. I think the two I got wrong were in the middle, when I was distracted by someone walking through the door in front of me, though I may be wrong about that.

Happy state

You know, it occurred to me this morning that the only thing I look forward to, and the only thing that gives me pleasure, is things being cancelled. Cancelled Salsa classes, cancelled guitar lessons, cancelled out-of-hours work, cancelled trips to visit people.

That's not very good is it?

Slate on Art-House

There's an article in Slate by Bryan Curtis about the horrors of the art house:Cinema Purgatorio. As I was reading it, it occurred to me that such places are inevitably filled with misanthropists. You hate the noise and press of people in the multiplex, so of course you're going to find the foibles of art house clientele annoying.

As Curtis says at the end of the article, "You'd go to an art house by yourself. When would you ever do that at a multiplex?" The point being that the art house panders to the solitary habits of the misanthrope, and hell is other people.

I've complained about art houses and multiplexes alike, in the past. The mobile phone generation really has lost all sense of public/private, and live in a jumbled up state of being, ignoring flesh and blood in favour of the virtual, and treating everything as if it's an extension of the living room. There's no reason why art house clientele should be immune to this, and my solution has been to stay away.

But it does strike me, maybe those of us who have given up on cinema should give up the old idea of sitting quietly in the dark, and just roll with it. You're supposed to be socialising. I've spent evenings at the cinema with friends and had just a few minutes of actual conversation - in the queue outside - and then, even if we did go to the pub after, the freaking music was so loud in the pub that we couldn't talk in there, either. So if the cinema is the only place quiet enough to talk, why not talk?

January 29, 2006

Sway 2006 - the full treatment

I spent a few hours working on Sway this weekend.

Started, as with the demo, with an acoustic guitar track, added a guide vocal, then drums, bass, two electric guitar tracks, and piano.

Quite pleased with it, really. And with the brilliant innovation of Castpost, we can have an embedded file in the post. Just click the play button. It disappears for a sec, then returns and starts to play. Depending on the speed of your connection, you might get smoother playback by hitting the back button after it's loaded up a bit.

Performance of the playback link below will vary. During office hours, it doesn't seem very clever, which is a shame, because you'd have to be truly dedicated to bother with it. Shouldn't people be working? If it's very slow, you could let it load in the background by clicking the pause button and waiting, but why should you bother with that? Doubtless Castpost will get better when it moves out of Alpha...

You can grab it by following this link to the RSS feed, which should give you the opportunity to "download the linked file" - which seems to work a lot better than the streaming.

Powered by Castpost

January 27, 2006

Temporarily back from the dead...

Another Rob (who, if he ever tells me his blog address, I will link to) has just said something about iPods that sums up Apple very nicely, even if it is a little non-sequitur;
the iPod, which is much more expensive than its similarly priced rivals...

Perfect! Had to share it with you.

Slappeth ye in swigenichtum!


I feel tired. I'm glad the weekend is here. I intend to get thoroughly lashed, hopefully on sherry or port, but more probably on something far more poisonous.

I plan on doing a bit of recording too. Problem is that I've not sorted out the drumming yet, and I've upgraded the software so it doesn't work at all at the moment. I suppose just enough alcohol to feel it bite and a guitar in my hand sums up all I need for a perfect moment. Spose that's as true today for me as it ever has been for anyone.

I don't know if there is anything on TV later. Maybe I'll watch a video. It's an odd thing. I can play guitar much farther into the drinking experience than I can talk sensibly.

I'm really into QOTSA at the moment and there is at least a risk that I'll end up riffing myself into oblivion in the early hours to Regular John off the first album.

And with that, I'd like to wish you all a fragrant if jagged weekend.

Happy hit counters!

We just popped the 25k mark, which is as significant as any other number.

It would be more impressive if it weren't for a fact that Rob related to me: apparently, at least 24,984 of those hits are from Google users seaching for a pornographic picture involving a carrot that looks like a turnip. Or something like that.


Fellow bloggers who like to make noise might be interested to know about Castpost, which gives you 100MB of storage for audio/video, with feeds - in return for the ubiquitous Google ads.

I've experimented by uploading a demo of Sway as I want to do it in 2006.

I think it might be a bit less hassle than Ourmedia, although - like Ourmedia - it is still Alpha.

Permanent Alpha is the new Permanent Beta, innit?

Anyway, I did have a cold.

Found via Bromman, who is long overdue for a reciprocal link from guitargas.

Milan Kundera

Can you remember the unbearable lightness of being? It was fashionable for a time.

It just struck me how writing comments on other blogs is a bit like that. You decide to dribble the potent seed of your wisdom upon the minds of another blog's readers, and yet in your glorious 15 seconds of fame, you cock it up utterly with trivial, yet fucking hilarious, spelling mistakes and grammatical blunders.

And then you can't go back to correct them. So you're frozen forever in your foolishness, like a man skating on thin ice who falls through and is stuck fast in his eternal indignity so that others might laugh, or, those who are more philosophical, thank the gods that it wasn't them.

That is unbearable.

Share my pain

I was driving through Clifton the other day. It was dark, and there was a bus parked on the opposite side of the road, releasing passengers onto the pavement. Just as the bus started to pull away and move towards me, the person driving the car behind the bus decided to overtake it.

As soon as they saw me on a head-on collision course with them, rather than dropping back and moving back onto their side of the road, they decided that the best course of action would be to accelerate to warp speed, cut the bus up, and swerve in front of it.

Good plan?

Yes, except, this all happened very quickly and entailed me having to perform an emergency stop to avoid a head-on. The bus also had to stop too.

I employed my horn in righteous rasclout fashion at the overtaker. She in turn gave me the bird in no uncertain terms, and swore at me and then sped off.

The bus driver thanked me for stopping, and we both started up again on our respective journeys.

But here's the bit that hurt me. One of the passengers on the bus, as I crept by, shook her fist at me, gave me the "V", and looked as though she was swearing at me.

What was that about? What did I do?

On day release

Recently I've taken to wearing a grandad coat. It zips up on the wrong side, but I don't allow that to trouble me. As a youngster I wouldn't have been seen dead in it, but now I'm older I'm less concerned about these things because I know there isn't anything that can't be resolved with fists.

Anyway, it has other advantages. This freakish coat, coupled with my excessive nice manners, means that I appear to the casual observer to be on medication. That's no bad thing round our way. For once the schoolkids in the chippy respect my personal space, and the woman who works in there and used to be pregnant doesn't get overly familiar with me.

It's a useful device, I can tell you.

It just doesn't seem right

I haven't played any of my guitars for over two days now. This is probably a record. I haven't tried to do any more recording either.

In fact, last night I sat down with my wife. We shared a bottle of wine. Watched a film. She wasn't rude to me either, and didn't accuse me of suffering from alcohol dementia or any of the usual items of abuse.

Likewise my daughter has been asking for help with homework. Maths. She also asked me to read an essay she has written. It's very good.

What's going on? It doesn't make sense.


Towards the end of September, I ordered an organic vegetable box from River Nene.

By some freak slip-of-the-mouse, I set up a regular weekly order instead of the one-off I thought I was doing. Probably thought I chose the right option from the pop-up menu, and didn't notice that I hadn't. And didn't read the confirmation email that came later. Usually, the fact that you get an email is sufficient to know your order has gone through.

Anyway, I ordered a selection of things: a fruit and veg box, a bag of lemons, some milk, and some other drinks.

We thought after this first order that the quality and quantity of what you received wasn't really worth the expense, and there was nothing there that we couldn't get more easily, with more choice, and at a lower price, in a supermarket. The bananas, for example, were so green that we hadn't even started to eat them over a week later.

You don't really realise it when you log on and make an order, but the River Nene thing is a franchise. Your order is just passed on to the franchise holder in your area, who is presumably paying a fee for all the services run by the web site (order taking, on-line payments etc.). In other words, the service is only as good as the franchise holder.

Because I thought I'd made a one-off order, I was a bit surprised when the exact same order turned up the following week. Another bag of lemons, the same drinks, another box of fruit and veg. When life gives you lemons, what do you make?

A phonecall. We phoned up, explained that we'd made a mistake, and I went on-line and cancelled the repeating order. I drove home that night wondering what I was going to do with all the unexpected produce. Another lemon soufflé, that kind of thing.

But when I got home, the order had been collected and returned, which we thought at the time was a result. That was the beginning of October...

This week I received a letter from the franchise holder, asking for an overdue payment of £18.88. Now, I don't know how it is where you come from, but I've never known companies to give consumers 90+ days to pay. 30 days is the maximum I'd expect.

I emailed them, saying that the order they were referring to was made in error, and had been delivered and returned on the same day. Not a few days later, so the vegetables were as "fresh" as they were when they turned up at the door. And since they'd taken the goods back, I didn't expect to have to pay for them.

Tellingly, a trawl round the River Nene web site revealed no actual Terms and Conditions of sale. Buyer beware!

Following my email, I got a reply to the effect that the order wasn't a mistake, because I had made it (I didn't say it wasn't my mistake) and that it had been delivered, therefore I had to pay. It's a bit like the frog ringtone thing, in other words.

I replied again, saying that the goods had been returned on the same day, and again they replied, this time saying they remembered the phone call about it being an error, but "would have remembered" driving over to pick them up.

"Would have remembered." Hmmm. If you wait 90 days before chasing people for money, you stand a better chance of them not remembering events too clearly.

Unless you're dealing with me. Still, I ended up paying it, not because he was right, but because I have previously been burned by unjustified credit blacklisting for a similarly small amount due to an accounting error on the supplier's side. Even when they are in the wrong, they always have the final sanction of reporting you as a bad debt, something you might not know about till years later, when it fucks you up good. I was turned down for a bank loan because - years before - Radio Rentals had tried to collect one extra payment for a rented TV, after the rental agreement had ended and the TV had been returned.

So River Nene can stick their organic vegetables up their organic arses and I hope Tesco put them out of business. I feel like I've just been extorted for £19 (it was over £19 including the card payment fee). Not a fortune, but I could have purchased 12 additional tickets for the £100million Euromillions jackpot with that money.

In 10 years of using the internet to buy all kinds of stuff, this is the worst experience.


I've managed to fuck up and block two on-line accounts this week, due to incorrectly entered details.

I'm pretty good usually, I have a selection of usernames and passwords that I mix and match, so that - even if I forget a particular one - I can usually enter the right combination in a few tries.

Sometimes, however, it seems as if the site you're on conspires against you. Since Yahoo took over Flickr, I always have to enter my ID twice - the exact same way - before it's recognised.

On the Virgin Mobile web site the other day, I completely fucked up, and couldn't get the password correct - to the point that they blocked the account and said I had to phone them up. But I'd rather take my phone into the garden, get a hammer from a shed, and smash it up into tiny little pieces than phone a call centre, so they can fuck off. They're dead to me now.

More seriously, I can never seem to remember my log-on credentials for my new credit card account. It can only consist of so many combinations, but no matter what order I enter them in, I can never get it right first time. Last week, I tried two or three times before getting it right. And here's the thing: this has happened before, so that I know eventually I'm going to get the right combo. Except, just now, I tried and tried and tried (just a week on from the last experience), and I can't be doing anything particularly different, but I've ended up locked out, and have to phone them up now.

Maybe it's just an on-line log-on too far. The human brain isn't designed to remember 70 million different usernames and passwords. It just ain't right. But fuck 'em, I'll just wait for the bill in the post, the old-fashioned way, and they can take their on-line blah-de-blah and stick it up their arses.

It'll never catch on.

January 26, 2006

Rullsenberg Rules: What does it mean to BE gay?

Good post from Lisa on issues raised by the Simon Hughes thing.

7 items

Indeed, as Simon states below, Rafael tagged us. Blog Memes are a bit like chain letters, really, so given that just about everyone I could tag has already been tagged anyway, the chain will not go on from here, although it will certainly go on from somewhere else. As Simon says, there is pleasure in reading back through the chain, if only to marvel at our differences.

7 things to do before i die

1. pay for my funeral
2. make some friends, so there will be people at my funeral
3. eat and drink lots of combustible things so I burn well when cremated
4. throw away my asbestos underpants
5. decide where i want my ashes scattered
6. think of some witty last words
7. remember to speak the witty last words

7 things i cannot do

1. leg spin bowling
2. play piano more than one chord at a time
3. steer out of a skid
4. see without glasses
5. keep a secret
6. hold my tongue
7. hide my feelings

7 things that attract me to... Beatles for Sale

1. it is my first and last musical love
2. the twangy lead guitar
3. the great songs
4. the laid-back acoustic vibe
5. the autumnal cover photo
6. the lack of (UK) singles
7. the sleeve notes by derek taylor

7 things that i say

1. that might be important to you (after ted moult)
2. that's easy for you to say (after roy)
3. everything's the opposite of what it is (after john lennon)
4. so...
5. anyway...
6. you should work that up into a routine
7. i feel crap

7 books that I love

1. Declare by Tim Powers
2. Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. Fox in Sox by Dr Seuss
5. The Integral Trees by Larry Niven
6. Like Life by Lorrie Moore
7. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

7 Movies that I've Loved (no partic order)

1. Trust
2. 10 Things I Hate About You
3. City of Angels
4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
5. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
6. French Kiss
7. It Could Happen to You

Oh, go on then, Anna, consider yourself tagged... and Roy, Andrew, and Patrische might as well pony up as well. Blogless readers could leave them in the comments. You know who you are.

Dobbed by Rafael

He did it to me.

Here's my magnificent seven...

Seven things to do before I die.

1. Restore the once classical sylph-like look of my body to its former state
2. Make sure my kids are heading in the right direction
3. See the aurora on a clear night
4. Finish reading all the books I've bought
3. Improvise fluently on the guitar in the style of Django Reinhardt.
4. See a Large Blue butterfly flying in the English Countryside.
5. Shake hands with Jimmy Page
6. See QOTSA play live
7. See a living orange-spotted emerald dragonfly

Seven things I cannot do.

1. Meet the poet Lord Byron
2. See Led Zeppelin play live in the early 70s
3. Understand how it is that we are conscious
4. Tell my dad that I miss him
5. Be one of the Apollo programme astronauts
6. See what the world really looked like during the Jurassic period
7. Save humanity from its own avarice

Seven things that attract me to ... women

1. a cheeky sense of humour towards me
2. sharp wits and broad knowledge
3. some musical ability
4. a hunger for doing something with their lives
5. an hypnotic stare
6. a twinkle in the eye
7. shucks, a perty ass

Seven things I say (too much).

1. essentially
2. Fuckin' Ada!
3. innit
4. mostly listening to
5. stick-beating chimps
6. please
7. excellent

Seven books that I love.

1. Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf
2. Tender is the night - F. Scott-Fitzgerald
3. Collected Poems - Rupert Brooke
4. The Tempest - Shakespeare
5. current Loeb translation of the poems of Catullus
6. Under The Volcano - Malcolm Lowry
7. Ulysses - James Joyce (honest)

Seven movies that I’ve loved.

1. The Tin Drum
2. Orlando
3. Blue Velvet
4. Once Upon a Time in the West
5. The Red Violin
6. Wild at Heart (so easy to relate to!)
7. Blithe Spirit (1944 version)

Seven people to tag.

Look back up the chain, folks.

Vampire Lovers

... speaking of Chesty Morgan, I seem to remember Ingrid Pitt being very popular as well.

In which I reveal my ignorance

I think I may have committed an error.

I just tried to microwave a potato. It took longer than the marker on the microwave suggests. Longer, even, than I'd expected it to take.

Afterwards the kitchen smelled somewhere between a chemists and a bakers. The inside of the microwave was bespeckled with brown explosion marks.

And the potato was still too firm to be comfortable.

And then it occurred to me: this is a red potato. You never see red potatoes in bags of unbaked baking potatoes in the supermarket. Maybe there is a reason for this discrimination.

Maybe I've just broken some law of nature that is common knowledge amongst the poor and criminal classes. Or maybe I'm just uncouth when it comes to the sophistries of potato microwaving.

Any ideas?

Here kitty kitty kitty

I suspect that we come across sometimes as being prickly, politically snappy, old hedgehogs on this blog.

But we're not, really, of course.

If you could only see through to our soft underbellies you'd understand that we're all playful toilet-paper-soft kittens.

The PC World Experience

In a tale of the triumph of optimism over experience, Kieren McCarthy writes in the Guardian about the joys of computer retail:
"I have had the exact same experience with: an HP print cartridge No. 56 (told a 27 would work - it won't); a PC strategy game (offered a PlayStation shoot-'em-up); a printer (assured four times there was a USB cable inside - guess what?); an Ethernet cable (directed to phone cables); a Freeview box, a webcam, a universal plug adaptor, a camera tripod..."

And yet they manage to make so much money they can afford to advertise on the telly.

For Xmas, I gave my dad a DVD I'd made of the scanned family slides - quite a project, that involved scanning the old slides, colour-correcting and repairing them as much as possible, then putting them on a DVD with background music using iDVD and Photo to Movie rostrum camera software. Apart from the scanner, of course, it was all done on a Mac.

One of my sisters wanted to do the same with her family slides, so she went to PC World. Unfortunately, she's a Windows user, so she falls under my policy of offering unlimited support if you buy a Mac and one terse email if you use Windows. PC World offered her a cheap Epson scanner (with 35mm slide adaptor) and an external DVD writer. I'm sure they didn't enquire of my sister whether - like my dad - she had older square negatives/transparencies, or other non-35mm formats.

My sister did ask, "How did my brother put music in the background?"

"I don't know."

Of course, PC World employee wouldn't know because I used Magick and other Dark Arts like Wizardry, Incantations, and Contact With The Other Side.

I used a Mac, of course. Now, I'm not dumb enough to think that there aren't Windows equivalents of iMovie, Photo to Movie, iDVD etc. I'm sure there are. I'm sure they're not as integrated or simple to use, but I'm sure these products exist. Might even be bundled with DVD writers, you never know.

But the truly amazing thing, even if there weren't Windows equivalents of all these things (and all software is not created equal), shouldn't a PC World employee be aware of the existence of Macs, iLife, iDVD etc?

It's astonishing that they stay in business.

MRSA coming to your home soon

What with all the epidemics of bird flu and chlamidia that are shuffling around anyone would be forgiven for wanting to look after their own.

It's in this climate then that a new breed of cleaning products is being hyped at the moment. New and improved with ANTI-BACTERIAL AGENTS. Kills all known bacteria, DEAD.

Great stuff eh? Now your loved ones can sleep soundly, safe from flu and STDs.

Except that many bacteria are good. They help us. And we actually used to be pretty good at getting rid of bad bacteria through our own means without the help of Useful Products. Now that we don't need immunity from bacteria our bodies are free to impose violent allergic reactions to peanuts and kiwi-fruit instead.

And consider this. Most nurses choose their vocation in spite of getting piss-poor pay, working very unsociable hours, being expected to know nearly as much as the doctors (with a small "d"), having the threat of litigation constantly hanging over them, and having a crap social status.

And we know that bacteria are pretty good at turning their immunity towards anti-bacterial agents.

So, given all of the above, do you think that MRSA in hospitals is caused by nurses sitting on their fat arses all day, too lazy to wash their hands or clean surfaces? Or might it be because they've cleaned too much with ANTI-BACTERIAL AGENTS?

I know which I think most likely.

Rob is right not to clean his kitchen.

What people are like

I've been watching the series on Wednesday nights in which a celebrity traces their ancestors, sort of. So far I'd watched Jeremy Paxman, Sheila Hancock, and last night it was Stephen Fry.

I don't watch it because of any sort of lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous voyeurism. I'd watch if it was about you, or anyone else. I like the sense of the passing of time that it gives me; how fortunes change; how things pan out. It's the nearest we get to immortality, to be able to look down on somebody's entire life. It's the stuff of epic.

The problem is that once you have kids of your own, you immediately find that ill fortune falling on other people's children has an extraordinarily moving effect on you. You feel the pity as if it were your own.

A large part of Stephen Fry's matriarchal family ended their lives in Auschwitz. Some of them were children. It's very easy to be flippant about events in the past, and I think that to some extent you have to be, as none of us has broad enough shoulders to handle all that tragedy. But I felt for them. What an awful hand to be dealt with by fate. Slow, hopeless, and agonizing.

It's also easy to ask how could this sort of thing happen in a modern, civilised land. The authorities kept records of the fate of all the people who were shipped to concentration camps too. Because they were acting legally. It's very much like the romans and damnati ad bestias. One man's barbarity is another's bureaucracy.

You see, it comes back to the thing again, that we're all animals. Actually we're all violent, selfish, aggressive animals, and we constantly have to put systems in place to keep us on the straight and narrow. That's what is so fundamentally flawed about excessive liberalism.

The truth is, that when murder is legalised, given pseudo-justification, and when it is generally accepted by society, we're all capable of it. In the right circumstances we would all happily send somebody else's babies to be gassed, just because we don't happen to value some part of their cultural history; just because we think that they are different from us.

This is the heating system you want

My French brother-in-law was never able to explain to me - given our limited quotas of French/English - how his heating system worked, so I'm glad The Guardian has this article on the subject. It's a brilliant system, freeing us of over-reliance on fossil fuels and Johnny Ball Nuclear, and indeed cranberries.

Costs a lot to put in, but could pay for itself inside 7 years, which is nuffink in heating terms. My brother-in-law did it all himself, too, and yet is slightly embarrassed to know less about computers than me. I ask you!

Transport Apocalypse

Only one thing kept me sane last night, driving home, and that was Jane Garvey's interview with the 4-year-old girl who was summoned for Jury service on Teeside. Garvey's interview was a classic of the genre. It was recorded earlier (wot? I thought it was FiveLive etc), and Garvey herself was clearly surprised they'd played the whole thing, but she shouldn't have been. Jade Martin was first sent a Polling Card, even though her name had been crossed off the voter registration form. Then a few months later she received a Jury summons.

The first few seconds consisted of Garvey trying to get the youngster to say hello. She gave up on that and asked her what she liked watching on the telly.

"Oh, yes, I like CBeebies, too. What's your favourite thing on CBeebies?"
"Bob the Builder?"
"No, that's for Boy's isn't it? What do you like?"
"Oh yes? Who's your favourite Tweenie?"
"What about Bella? Too bossy?"
"And what about Jakey? Bit of a baby?"
"Jade, do you know who Tony Blair is?"


Speaking to mother Jessica, Garvey asked, thinking of the jury service, whether Jade was a sensible 4-year-old, and how long Jessica thought Jade could sit still. "About half an hour..."
"...and only if her favourite video is on," finished Garvey.

That should go on Garvey's greatest hits. If you follow the link above to the news story, you'll note that the council are insisting that they need to have a written request to have Jade removed from the register. It's nice to know that the Jobsworth is alive and well in teeside.

So. The roads. The A610 in Snottingham was closed for most of the afternoon yesterday, following a coach-motorcycle interface. It opened shortly before I set off for home, and it wasn't too bad, considering, except I then got stuck in a 10-mile-Southbound tailback caused by people slowing down to look at the umpty-mile tailback on the other side. I love it when people do that. I lurve it. I want to kiss the people who do that. With my fist of wrath.

The northbound problem was caused - drumroll - by a truck and something that was now spread over most of the 3 lanes. So the motorway was closed for several hours between J23 and J23a. Cars sitting behind the incident were in the for the long haul, their lights and engines switched off (apart from one - optimistic? stupid? - Audi driver, who was clearly so Important and Busy that he was confident of being let through). At the back of the queue, police were slowly getting around to turning vehicles round and sending them back down the motorway to exit up the on-ramp at J23.

Except, there was a problem, in that all the rest of the Northbound traffic was being directed off there, too, so there was complete gridlock on the roundabout above. The second tailback went back some considerable distance, but there were still ill-informed people joining the motorway at J22, only to encounter a queue. Back at 21a, there was another queue as better-informed drivers tried to get off onto the A46. Oh joy.

The apocalypse didn't end there, because the busy M1/M6/A14 interchange at J19 was also closed - initially to Eastbound traffic, and then later, the whole area was closed off until midnight, last I heard.

The roads were strangely quiet this morning, as if people who had finally reached home late last night had then handcuffed themselves to the bedpost and refused to get up.

I was just 30 mins late home, but Jane Garvey: I love you.

January 25, 2006

Nostalgia Bulletin

We haven't had one in a while.

I started my first job in 1982, summer of. It was in the tax office in Luton. My hair had been dyed blond and was growing out, and for some reason this made everyone think I was German.

You could feel the older women bristling as I walked into the office. How dare a German person come to work for Her Majesty's Inland Revenue?

I dyed my hair several colours in those days. Various shades of blond; black; a kind of burgundy colour. When it was black, I used to think it was all falling out because you could see it so clearly against the white bath when it did. That cured me of hair dying.

I was soon - thank god - befriended by Roger the office punk, who was a very funny man, and a brave and cutting-edge performer. He was in a band called The Friction, who personified the punk ethos of doing something, anything, but doing it for yourself. The Friction splintered and morphed into the Anarchist Formation Dance Team, a kind of punk-electronica outfit that used sound effects and drum machines in an often hostile rockist atmosphere. It was the kind of humour exemplified by a name like AFDT that made me admire Roger.

His performance of "Pigs" involved him in crawling around on the floor and making a noise like a pig. It was very impressive. More impressive was the way he swaggered to the bar to get a drink in the middle of another song. I loved this move so much that I copied it, once, when my own band was performing. Only people cleared a path for Roger, such was his charisma. I sometimes wondered if he hadn't started the whole band thing in order to get served more quickly in the pub.

We did a kind of fanzine thing together once, called The AA Book of the Dead. We thought it was very funny. We advised our readers not to write in, but to do it for themselves. I remember Roger nearly got pulped by some bikers who were upset at some of his anti-Thatch rhetoric, shortly after the Faulkland's war.

Later we started a publication for our union branch, called The Conscientious Op. It was a pun on a collection of Dashiell Hammett stories. I can't remember what kind of thing we wrote in it, but it certainly upset the management. We used to distribute it in a kind of rat-run drive around local towns, dropping a pile off at each office. It purportedly got us all blacklisted on some government shit list, too, which was both absurd and a bit scary.

The whole experience taught me that people don't like to be unsettled, and are easily upset. Upset because you look German, or upset because you disrespect authority, or upset because you argue against common assumptions. They'll get upset and sit at their desks bristling, but they won't engage you in conversation. Even when your intentions are the best, and you really are trying to make the world a better place, they'll get upset and wish the world could stay the same.

People are still like that around me. They'll allow something to upset them, file it away as An Upsetting Thing, but won't allow themselves to question why it upsets them, and what it all means.

Roger and I used to go drinking, evenings and lunchtimes. Hard to believe now, but we'd go to pubs and bars where it was easy to get served; there was no piped music, though you could put the jukebox on. You could have a conversation without being drowned out. One pub was built into the base of our office building. Maximum drinking time. Another bar, called the Melson Arms, I think, was so deserted it was hard to see how it stayed open. There were rumours that the landlord had murdered his wife with an axe.

I used to really enjoy the drinking sessions after union meetings. I could never hold my drink. In this era, you could buy cocktails in little silver bottles. I drank Sundowners, because I couldn't handle the volume of beer or lager. Sundowners used to make me sick, but they tasted as good coming up as they did going down. I used to get completely lashed at lunchtime and then cycle home 2 hours later and crawl into bed.

It's for Charidee

Via Macworld, comes this Wired opinion piece, which attacks Steve Jobs for not being more like Bill Gates, who (very publicly) gives millions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies via his charidee donations.

The implication is that Gates is a Good Egg, and that Jobs is a Bad Seed.

Several possibilities. Either Jobs doesn't bray publicly about any charidee donations he happens to make. Or Jobs is too intelligent to fall for the idea of charidee. Or Jobs doesn't give a cranberry (I'm using cranberry in place of another word).

I'm sure he pays his taxes, though. And if people think that's not enough, well, they should vote for politicians who want higher taxes for the rich. Squeeze them until the pips squeak, as a heavy-browed man once said.

Mostly listening to... #65

...not a lot actually.

a) John Williams - Ultimate Guitar Collection - a double CD of mostly classical guitar stuff. Dear dear Johnny. Do you remember Sky? My uncle bought me a triple album of theirs for xmas a long time ago. I could never bring myself to listen to it. I mean, the audacity of suited media-luvvy classical musicians making like a rock band. It was just too uncool.

But actually John Williams can play a nice guitar. I recognised maybe a third of the pieces on here. Unlike many classical or acoustic recordings, it worked well in the car. Good stuff. I will listen to it again.

b) Motorhead - Overkill - You can't imagine the effect this had on my peers when it came out. It was metal turned up to 12 and played at double-speed. Of course, compared to what came after it is only plain old rock and roll. Still, those double bass drums don't 'arf bring back some memories.

c) Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin (I) - I played the first four Led Zeppelin albums to death a long long time ago. So much so that I think I can hear them in my head well enough not to have to listen to them again. You know, when I listen to this stuff I realise that the great thing about Led Zeppelin was Jimmy Page as a producer. He has an unearthy knack for getting sounds that make you think "how dey do dat?"

d)Dallas Simpson - For Alderney - Patrische lent me this. At first I thought the CD was broken. However, when I turned the car stereo up to full I could hear some clicking noises. After a minute or so, I skipped to track 2. More noises. Hmmm. Skipped to another CD... Patrische tells me he put this under my nose for purposes of "mind fuckery". I'll give it a go through headphones sometime.

More on cranberries

They come from swamps don't they? Whatever possessed someone to try a berry that lives in a swamp and tastes like poison? Whatever made them, having once made the indiscretion, eat a second one? And then a third? And then set up an international industry processing and selling them? It defies sense.

There's two kinds of cranberry sauce here in the UK: the one that tastes more bitter than bloody quinine; and the sweet type. The latter is mostly reject strawberry jam laced with slivers of latex.

However, I have to say that I'm partial to the odd Vodka and (dilute) cranberry juice.

...and another thing

Apart from cranberries, another thing I would like to see banned is the phrase "Belgian chocolate."

Because it's not Belgian, is it? It doesn't grow in Belgium, it just gets melted a bit and filled with crushed nuts.

"Belgian Chocolate" is another marketing story, like the dreaded cranberry. It's a brand, not a raw material. And just because you coat a cranberry in "Belgian Chocolate" doesn't make it taste any better.

Nuclear not green

Nice program (docudrama of course) on TV last night starring Ade Edmonson about Chernobyl. Nuclear reactor meltdown and how politicians can fall into the trap of thinking truth more dangerous than the risk of loss of lives when things start to go tits up.

Also, since we're all being fed the line that nuclear power is the way forward, a timely reminder that nuclear power is not, actually, Green.

It isn't that it is unnatural or against nature: around the universe there is plenty of nuclear activity. Just look at the stars and the sun (through appropriate protective equipment).

The problem is us: the talking chimps. We're just not clever or responsible enough. We can't be trusted. Proof that we shouldn't be trusted with as big a box of matches as this is the fact that we now need these matches.

Give a man a car with six gears and he'll plough through a crowd of schoolkids at 85 mph. You know it makes sense.

Southern Rock Companion

Everyone should have a mix CD or iTunes playlist of the following:

1. Ramblin' Man - The Allman Brothers Band
2. Southern Accents - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
3. Tuesday's Gone - Lynyrd Skynyrd
4. Can't You See - Marshall Tucker Band
5. Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares) - Travis Tritt
6. Blue Sky - The Allman Brothers Band
7. That's Why God Made Mexico - Tim McGraw
8. Louisiana Rain - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
9. Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
10. Jessica - The Allman Brothers Band

I'm sure others will have their own opinions. I know Dog's idea of Southern Rock is anything from Essex.

Singing Songs About the Southlands

Following Friday's episode of My Name is Earl, I immediately went on-line and ordered Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album, Pronounced. Yes, in the midst of a comedy show that is quite good, I was a marketing victim.


Quite a good album, though.

It was almost impossible to like Lynyrd Skynyrd when I was a teen in the 70s. There was punk rock, for a start, which had proclaimed all other forms of music to be self-indulgent rubbish (I didn't like punk, but still); then there was the notorious appearance of Skynyrd on the Old Grey Whistle Test, their interminable live version of "Free Bird." It was very uncool to admit to liking guitar solos in that atmosphere.

The clincher, though, for me, was that I'd committed a lot of head time to the likes of Dylan and Springsteen, The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, and the meeting of the two kinds of music in my brain would have caused some kind of anti-matter explosion.

So I didn't know that Pronounced wasn't filled with cock-rock posturing and screeching vocals, and nor was it filled with extended Blues jams, in the manner of the Allmans.

In fact, it's one step on from Exile on Main Street, but with better guitarists and un-faked American accents. I bought it for "Tuesday's Gone," but they're all quite good.

This is their album before all their songs started to be about being in a rock band that was always on the road. These are the songs they wrote before that happened to them. And, crucially, before they wrote those terrible lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama."

Universal records proudly proclaim on the crappy CD cover that they're proud to re-issue this (and other) previously deleted records. And they wonder why people swap music on-line? They own some of the crown jewels of music history and delete it from their catalogue? What, because it wasn't selling as many copies as Britney's latest effort? Shitters.

January 24, 2006

Ban the Cran, Bury the Berry

In response to public demand, I have started a new campaign: Ban the Cran. Please leave your comments here, and I will send them to Nicky Campbell at BBC Watchdog, or Jimmy Saville. Together we can remove this foul fruit from supermarket shelves.

Cranberry lover warning: you will be abused and vilified if you leave cranberry-supporting comments here.

Uriah Heep

2 weeks ago I bought Uriah Heep's Live 1973 for the track Gypsy.

I'd not heard the track since about 1979.

It was in the soundtrack to life on Mars last night. I wonder whether the researchers found it on the basis of memory or the album title. Still; was a nice moment.

Google Zeitgeist

I didn't know Google did this: Zeitgeist. The 2005 year-end stats are fascinating, even if they only really confirm a kind of depressing herd instinct.

Perhaps more interesting are the local stats, and the opportunity to gauge national characteristics based on their search obsessions.

Australians, of course, search most often for Qantas; in Chile, it's the horoscope; in France, more travel: SNCF; Germans like encyclopaedias; Indians, like the French, are keen on railways; the fat British search for diets... others are mysterious and kind of local.

Why do the Russians get so keen on Xmas and the New year in November? The top Japanese search for that month remains a mystery even if you follow the links. The Italians like football, cars, and kids, which is nice.

The Emperor's New Berry

Have we talked about cranberries yet? Have I told you how much I detest them? And yet they appear in everything, as if they had the same respectability and all-round popularity of ginger or vanilla.

This Emperor's New Clothes of berries is so foul-tasting that the only context in which it had success was as a dressing/sauce for that most foul-tasting of fowls, the turkey. Only turkey tasted bad enough to make cranberries taste good.

Yet you can't buy a fruit and nut mix without cranberry contamination, Eat Natural put cranberries in one of their bars (they try to disguise the horrible taste with chocolate), and you see cranberry loaves, cranberry juice, cranberry cheese and cranberry dog shit, I imagine. Sainsbury's report a 67% increase in cranberry demand. Of course they fucking do! They put fucking cranberries in fucking everything, though I certainly didn't "demand" it.

It's because of all this health food arse-wank, isn't it? It's all bloody marketing. Some numbskull tried to claim cranberries had healthful properties, on the basis that they taste so foul they must have. Probably. But here's a clue, health-nuts: there are plenty of healthy foods that don't actually make you gag.

Had it all

Yes, in terms of cunts driving cars I've had it all this morning. Speeding down bus lanes, overtaking on the inside, using slip lanes to cut me up, tailgating. In fact, the entire spectrum of human selfishness.

The traffic recently (since last week) has been bad. It's down to three things: a) Roadworks on the A60 at Ruddington (so people who use that route are diverting to another already overloaded trunk route); b) a new set of traffic lights on a pedestrian crossing on Farnborough Road in Clifton; c) A new zebra crossing on Southchurch Drive in Clifton. You wouldn't think it but these three little things have turned a reasonable journey into a queueing nightmare. That's chaos for you innit. Anyway, it's not just my dwindling fuel that they are pointlessly pissing into the atmosphere.

The only positive aspect was that there had been a head on collision just outside the village. Another one of those bends on which, in spite of being blind, drivers cut the corner in order to avoid slowing down. When I got there, there was a blue car half way up a tree down the railway embankment. There was another sort of metallic lime car in the hedge on my side with the front caved-in and no front wheels. There was glass, plastic and metal all over the road. And a wheel, complete with suspension, halfway up the hedge. Unfortunately both drivers (young and male) seemed not to have been harmed and were both on their mobiles, gesticulating. Twats!

So then, this sort of thing only serves to remind me how much I despise these sort of people.

All of you chimp-men who do this sort of inhumane, pissy, conniving, snatching, scraping, bullet-shitting, stick banging, crafty yet stupid, red-faced, small-minded, selfish, useless, shit-in-your-pants-to-save-a-walk-to-the-toilet behaviour: I have this to say; "You are useless, not even a human being, and everything you do is a waste of existance. I rejoice in the fact that nomatter what you do, you are going to die and every tiny thing you do has been a waste of your efforts."

Register reader spots flying car

An eagle-eyed Australian reader of The Register has spotted a flying car on Google Earth. Nice

January 23, 2006

The sky is falling

Today, at work they've been removing the ceiling. While we work.

I happen to know that there is a two ton UPS sitting directly above me. If that wasn't scarey enough, they dropped a piece of metal onto someone's desk. BONG!

But it's when the entire ceiling is shaking that I become nervous.

The Disappeared

Kristine Kathryn Rush's The Disappeared is the first in a series of novels set in the milieu of her novella "The Retrieval Artist."

Now, I haven't knowingly read the original novella, though it's on my list of things to do, but I was attracted to Rusch's writings when I read "Diving into the Wreck" in Asimov's magazine.

The Disappeared combines two genres, really, because it's a police procedural with a science fiction backdrop. It's an absolutely cracking premise: imagine cultural relativism and multi-culturalism to an nth degree, whereby humans are obliged to abide by the decisions of multi-cultural courts to pay for the consequences of crimes committed against aliens on alien planets, and the police have to enforce those laws and decisions.

For example, commit a crime against one species, and the courts may rule that your firstborn belongs to that species. Your choice: don't have children, or try to disappear, witness-protection style, and start a new life with no connection to your old. In another instance, your sentence might be several years on an alien penal colony. Disappearance agencies spring up, arranging for people to shed their old identities and live under a new name, somewhere else. But what happens if that agency turns out to have a corrupt employee, willing to sell your new identity to those with the original warrant? And is it really corrupt, when what the agencies are doing is illegal?

It's all good stuff, and Rusch keeps the picture complex. Your sympathies lie both with the helpless fugitives, who in some cases were merely high-spirited youngsters, or didn't understand the laws they broke or the offence they caused; and with the cops who are obliged to enforce the laws they have no liking for - themselves in fear of accidentally crossing the line. Even the aliens are not portrayed as wholly evil - ruthless, perhaps - as they try to see justice done.

There are another 3 novels in this series, with two more on the way, according to the author's web site.

Chess Fever

CJ has been playing chess at the after school club. She didn't really understand the full rules (it's amazingly complicated when you think about it), but I saw no reason not to encourage her in this, because if nothing else it might help her with one of the three Rs.

I knew there was a chess game included with Mac OS X, but there was no "absolute beginner" setting, so I downloaded Sigma Chess, which does have one.

I set it to Novice level 1 and set the computer's playing mode to kamikaze, thinking that might give her some chance of winning.

The problem is, I don't want her to get discouraged because she can't beat the computer. She might be able to best another 8 year old, especially if they're not really following the rules. I knew I couldn't teach her, because beyond the basics I'm completely crap at it.

Still, Friday night, I sat and played the computer on those settings, to see how hard it would be. To my amazement, I managed to beat the computer 2nd game in. I was left with just my queen and 4 prawns, but I managed to trap the opposing king into a corner, from which there was No Escape. I cannot describe to you the feeling of triumph.

James May goes to Norway

From the Telegraph: what to do if we ever get a cold winter:
"As I write, I'm wearing the usual pants/T-shirt/socks ensemble, plus thermal long johns and vest, a fleece, my normal jeans, and then a big woolly jummy, some more socks, Gore-Tex over-trousers, an SAS-style survival jacket, a fur hat and two pairs of gloves. Before you dress in similar fashion, remember to remove the car keys from your trouser pocket, and go for a wee-wee."

When you (should) know you're being insulted

Simon's post below about the prince among men who was his teacher reminds me of something I wanted to say about Channel 4's nasty comedy drama Shameless.

My wife watches it; I don't like it. When the mot recent series started, the opening scene was of the main character pissing in a urinal. Gross enough, but they made it worse by offering a "urinal's eye" view of the event. So the opening scene was of someone figuratively pissing in the audience's face.

It's like a challenge from the Yeah-No people. How much can we insult the audience, how far can we go, and people will still watch this shit?

One of my teachers

I was thinking about this over the weekend. It concerns my teacher when I was 7. I was at Porchester Road Junior School in Nottingham. It was my second year there, which would make it 1971 or so. I won't mention my teacher's name, but his surname began with a "W".

At the time I didn't think anything of any of these events, but the more I think about it the more I come to realise that he must have been a despicable cunt.

First, we were learning about animals and nature. We had some assam silkmoths at home and I asked my mum and dad to bring one in to show my teacher. When they did, my teacher accidentally let it escape and the windows were open. When I think back to the circumstances, I'm convinced that he did it on purpose. Now some of you may think that was a Good Thing to do, but you would be wrong. Assam Silkmoths are not adapted to survive in the wild in the UK. They are large and conspicuous and it would almost certainly have been attacked by birds immediately.

Second, I can't remember what I did to get treated in this way. I think I might have said "hello" to a girl who I liked, called Michelle. That was all. All I really remember is him storming across the room, and dragging me by the hair across to the front of the class. It hurt so much that I wet myself slightly. I think I also got slapped across the face after that.

Third, and this really proves the fact. He taught the class to sing the Siamese national anthem. I remember that we thought it was cool to know a song in a different language. I remember the words to this day. "Oh wah tah nar Siam." He wrote them on the blackboard. Two years ago it occurred to me that, recited out loud, these bare a remarkable similarity to the phrase "Oh what an arse I am" in English. What sort of cunt would get a class of 7 year olds singing that? There was nobody else around to hear the joke. Just him. Which in my mind makes him a nasty, cynically cruel, piece of shit.

I hope he is dead now.

The whale

This subject has slipped under our sonar so far. Now it's done and dusted here are a few related facts.

The northern bottlenose whale is one of several species once known as right whales. Not because of some sort of lack of symmetry, but because they were the right sort of whales to kill. It was heavily persecuted from the 1850s right through to 1973.

The whale is unusual in that it is less afraid of man than most other types (hence the previous fact).

It's normally found in deep water where it can dive for up to 70 minutes without needing to surface for air.

The reason why it can't cope with shallow water is that it uses sonar to see its environment. When the water is too shallow it is unable to focus, a bit like when a child says, "dad, look at this..." and then places the object two inches in front of your eyes.

This has been a public information service.

January 22, 2006

All in a weekend's work

Many years ago, I went round Roy's gaff and recorded a song I'd just written (when I was still smarting from what had inspired it). That was 1992, ish. It's okay Val, I'm over it now.

I was cleaning up my iTunes library Friday evening and came across the individual mono tracks from the portastudio - which Roy had sent on a CD a few years ago. At first I didn't know what it was, but when I remembered I thought it was probably a decent little song, in the end, especially when you no longer feel the actual pain. The old (cassette 4-track) recordings were hissy and noisy, the tempo was too slow, and my harmonica was out of tune, so there wasn't a lot to be reclaimed.

I thought I'd try recording it again, so I scribbled the words down - the chords were easy. And that's what I did this weekend. Here's a quick 'n' dirty mix of what I ended up with after I recorded loads of bits and then took 50% of it away.

Only a Week (MP3 128kbps)

What struck me, as I was doing it, was that the bit I enjoy doing most on all my recordings in the organ. Shame I can't play, eh?

January 20, 2006

Thank you and goodnight

Thanks to James for pointing out that I have indeed been mostly positive the whole of this week.

What? You think that I haven't? Ah, then you missed the element of irony.


I was just reading over on Marie's blog (struggling author) that she's nearly finished her novel. Good for her.

Someone added a comment requesting a specially signed copy. Reminded me of a story.

When I was at school, my friend Julian told me that his grandad had written a book. Indeed he showed me his dad's treasured copy. It was titled The Old Smithy.

Years and years later I found a signed copy in a second hand bookshop. I've still got it. Of course I'd long since lost contact with my schoolfriend before then.

Reminds me of the lovely way that coincidence meanders through time.

Funny Old World

Strange to think that in all the time I've been a Mac lover, Mac user, Mac Moonie, they've been considered an irrelevant pimple on the arse of the IT landscape. They still have a minute market share, in terms of sales, and I've never been sure how that translates in terms of users*, but it looks as if 2006 is going to be huge for them: Apple a 'big mean cash machine' - analysts.

Problem is, of course, these are the same analysts who called Apple a basket case in 1996, wrote it off as a company, and caused its shares to drop through the floor as rats deserted the sinking ship.

Now they have an operating system that's nowhere near as different as the old one was in terms of its look and feel, and now they're moving onto exactly the same hardware as the vast majority of PCs, and because Windows has had such bad publicity with regards to viruses and spyware, everyone's getting excited about them.

It's a sign, I think, that the market is finally maturing past yah-boo posturing, as people wake up to their choices and realise the difference they can make. Internet Explorer, the dominant browser in the world, is on the slide. It once commanded around 93% of the Mac market, but end of this month it's dead on the Mac. And on the other platform, people are waking up to superior experiences. One of these days, on-line banks etc will realise that this is happening.

Few financial analysts would have believed that Netscape, in the form of Mozilla, would make a comeback. None of them thought that the Apple of Gil Amelio could command the column inches and headspace that the Apple of Jobs and Ives now does. So now they're all saying the sun is going to be iPod coloured and the Mac is back, I think we have to take it with a pinch of salt.

For some of us, it never went away, of course.

*Recently, a publishing group sent us a bunch of their older Macs for storage before disposal. They've just replaced them all with new. In the IT world, they're supposed to be around 3 years old, but they were much older than that. Some of them were models from '98 and '99, others from 2000 and 2001. That's longevity. My previous two Macs are still being used, by the people that I gave them to. That's a kind of market share that doesn't get recorded in sales figures.

Free legal advice - worth the price you pay?

While we're on the subject of getting free advice (see Simon's N T hell post below), does anyone know what the legal status of pastiche and homage is?

Obviously, something like Mona Lisa is out of copyright, but what happens if you pay homage to something more recent, like a famous album cover from 1973, say?

The internet is no help, because there's a kind of moral panic about copyright issues and service providers etc. are likely to err on the side of caution, reinforcing the views of the corporate lawyers who threaten to sue fan fiction sites, lyric sites, tab sites etc.

But if you take an artwork - famous album cover, say - and change it to a large degree (replace one element with another, use slightly different colours), so that you're obviously not representing it as the original, but as a pastiche of the original, can you get sued?


I was Billy-no-mates today at lunchtime because everyone was working-from-home, on leave, or otherwise engaged. I made the mistake of ordering slow food (an omelette that takes 30 minutes to burn on their hotplate) from the cafe.

While I was waiting a car pulled up outside. A young man and two spotty girls inside. It had a drum machine looping in the car... tum-pit tarrr tippy tum-pit tarrr... ad infinitum. And very loud.

But what really made me stare was that as they got out they were dancing. A sort of smug shuffle or wiggle. They also had sunglasses on, and moved their pointed fingers about in time to the noise from their drum machine.

The two girls sashayed off to the newsagent and came back with crisps and fizzy pop. The boy went into the cafe. They left the beatbox playing loudly in the car, with two windows opened by about 3 inches so they could keep in time; so that the rest of us, in our dark little lives, could appreciate the fineness of their noise, and thus, by association how fine they were, like beautiful and unearthly ephemera.

7 minutes later they all came back to the car. Still dancing with their fingers and speckled foreheads. I heard them mention something about assignments. And bacon. Tum pit tarrr tippy tum-pit tarrr. Then they closed the doors and drove away, heads still rocking like synchronised retards in time to the beat.

If I could, I'd've stoved their heads in with a paving-hammer. As it happens I had to console myself with the fact that the top-loading washing machine my old mum had in the mid-sixties made better, more thrilling, music than theirs.


Speaking of Telecoms providers, we've still got our ongoing thing with our TV/phone/fictional-broadband provider, whose name is composed of three letters, the first two of which are N and T and the last one rhymes with "hell" (notice the cunning way in which I avoid the possibility of litigation).

You'll remember that I've written them three proper, explicit letters, requesting termination of contract in accordance with terms and conditions and that they contact us to remove their equipment? All to no avail? (Credit providers do this too: they say they've closed your account but actually they haven't - they just wait in the shadows until temptation gets the better of you and you try to draw cash on the card for just one more line of coke.)

Anyway, since then my wife has been into their offices. She borrowed a selection of children from the local poorhouse for augmented persuasion reasons. They hate screaming snotty kids in these sort of places, let alone screaming snotty housewives.

Of course, the attempt failed. The security guard called the police and she had to leave.

More recently my wife spent the day on the phone to their customer services department. Finally, we got somewhere. We've got a date of 2nd February for terminating all service contracts. They'll call to come and disconnect us. We'll get a final bill, and then they will pay back the £314 they owe us for the broadband that we, er... haven't actually got.

Except of course we've heard nothing since. Is it time for fighting talk? We've reminded them that they've been deducting money from the account for a service that we've never had (in fact 13 months ago they refunded one month's worth of the money, so they've even known about it for over a year.)

I'll believe it when it see it.

Reluctant phone user seeks likeminded service provider

I just ran through a little wizard thingy on the BT web site, aimed at price-comparing their services with some of their rivals. Their argument being, you'll be surprised how competitive we really are.

Ha ha. They turned out to be cheaper than just one other provider on their list, which they presumably chose very carefully from the most expensive competitors.

See the problem begins when they ask you how many calls you make a week. For me, the correct wording is, how many calls do you make a month? The fact is, I make as many calls in a year as many people make in a day. I will phone my dad every few months if my wife holds a gun to my head, and one occasionally needs to deal with call centres if one absolutely has to, but other than that, the phone is about as useful to me as an electric butter knife.

Incoming calls are as rare. And my phone at work has been trained not to ring much. Anyone calls, I tell them it's not my department. My mobile goes two-charges-per-single-use, on average.

My wife hardly ever uses it. She speaks to her parents in France once a week, but that's because they phone her. She'll occasionally get involved in a long call with a gassy colleague or former colleague, but she's not particularly gassy herself.

It's funny how, for years, we all had the option of mail order shopping over the phone, but it was only when it got nice and impersonal with the internet that we all went mad for it.

I actually just wish I could go back to writing letters to people. That was fun.

Communication is all about habit. Blogging is a habit. Conversation is another. I miss conversation. The only person I ever really talk to at length is Roy(dog), and I only see him about twice a year. If off peak rail fares rise by as much as they say, it might not even be that often. I might as well sew my mouth shut.

Mostly listening to... #64

a) Iggy again - contractual obligations, you understand.

b) Mars Volta - De Loused in the Comatorium - crazy, zippy, post-nu-punk. As you know, I'm a luddite when it comes to technology. Actually, no, I'm worse than that: I'm anti-techno. But this album gives me hope that modern technology isn't just an excuse to make music that is created with mind numbing stupidity and lack of taste. The first two tracks together are inspirational. I hear that they are crazy live, to the point of being crap.

c) Troy Donockley & Dave Bainbridge - From Silence - weirdy new age stuff. No discernable beat. Lots of world instruments. The sort of thing that you might get prescribed if you self-harm. They pipe this stuff out at Sea World. It's probably very calming and therefore very appropriate in the car.

d) ZZ Top - Deguello - from the sound of it this captures a freeze frame of them somewhere right between 70s Texas Boogie Shufflers, and Slick 80s Bearded Phenomena. The thing about ZZ Top is that they were either brilliant or inexplicably shite, with little in between. Interesting.

e) David Lindley - Live Bootleg 1981 - Patrische recommended this to me. I'd never heard of the fellow. Some very excellent guitar playing. The music? Somewhere, if there is such a place, between Talking Heads, Reggae, and Calypso, with some occasional Celtic Folk popping it's head through the wall to say hello and check us out. Some of the most precise and musical slide guitar playing I've ever heard (and it was live! What a guy!)

f) BB KING - Live at the Regal - BB with a friendly audience. Of all the Blues recordings I have, this is the most "show" like. He's got the brass section behind him and the fully anonymous professional backline. It definately feels more like En'ertainment than rock 'n' roll. Some nice guitar playing though, with some jazzy licks thrown in.

Daddy Talk

I'm sure my youngest will forgive me for talking about her toilet habits.

Didi still wets the bed at night. Last summer, we tried to train her, but it was a complete disaster. You can cope with changing the bed once or twice in a week, but twice a night? You run out of sheets, towels, underwear, and pyjama bottoms. And Pampers Care Mats, which are a boon.

So we gave up, and tried her in these new fangled Pampers that instead of feeling totally dry, give the child a "wet sensation", which is supposed to be part of training her to wake up and notice.

They seemed to be working, and he had several dry nights, but then we started to suspect she was getting up in the morning and peeing in the nappy instead of bothering to go to the toilet. You know how it is when you're young: no time for things like that.

So I decided we ought to try again, on the theory that she was dry through the night.

The result? Complete disaster, and we've run out of sheets, towels, underwear, pyjama bottoms, trousers, care mats, patience.

Aaaaaggggh! We never had this trouble with the first one! I'm completely at a loss.

In which I doubt a purpose in dreams

I woke up at 5am this morning with a shock; bolt upright, the room dark and still, the dream I'd just been having still clear in my mind.

Now, I thought I understood the purpose of dreams: I thought they were about feelings rather than events. They replicate feelings that we have, for cathartic purposes, and that comes down from the lower order brain - hippocampus or something - and has nothing to do with logic or reason.

But this dream was weird. I dreamt that Jennifer Aniston was Jesus and was being crucified, bare breasted, upon the holy rood itself.

Now most men have crucifiction dreams, so I can understand that - afterall most of us feel able to relate directly to the Bubby himself. But Jennifer Aniston?

What's that all about?

January 19, 2006

Judging a Book By Its Cover, a Film by its Title, a Pork Chop by its Wrapper

I find that you can rarely go wrong in life when you judge books by their covers. Anything featuring a detail from a classical work of art: avoid. Anything featuring space, planets, spaceships, fantastic vistas: buy immediately. Anything with embossed gold lettering: avoid. Anything with a dragon: hide.

And so on.

I do the same with movies, based on their titles. The Constant Gardener, for example, sounds like it might be something to do with Rosemary and Thyme, that cutting-edge detective series on ITV1. It sounds like something my mum might like, if she was still alive. It sounds like a Radio 4-listening, Late Review-watching, Radio Times Free Previewing wet dream

But I'm probably all wrong about it (it's my hobby), because it's based on a Le Carré thing, which I didn't know until just now. So it might be quite good, or not, but the title puts me off, and the thought that I might meet people like my mother if I went to see it.

I was trying to think of other films you might think are rubbish, based on their titles, but which turn out to be quite good.

I thought The Shipping News would be tripe, and the fact that it had that old ham Kevin Spacey in it made me even more sure, but I quite enjoyed it really. Andrew keeps lending me films that I quite enjoy, though I can't remember what any of them are called, or what the actors are called.

But anything with "Warrior" or "Sword" in the title: it's going to be rubbish, isn't it?

tea made from strange substances

Earlier today Andy very kindly allowed me to sample some tea called Rooibus. I was concerned that it might be made from the skin-flakes off a baboon's scrotum or something.

But it was not so. It's made from a South African shrub. You can see their web site here.

I was also interested to note that they recommend bathing in the tea:
Bathing with Rooibos tea can assist by alleviating certain irritations and skin conditions too. Caffeine free and insignificant traces of tannin are just a couple of the health revitalising properties Rooibos tea naturally brings to you.

However, being a fat bastard, I can't personally see how I'd fit into the cup.

Listening to, Mostly

Simon has the copyright on "mostly been listening to," so this is my version.

I haven't played music in my car much, lately. Sometimes you need a break from it. I have instead engaged in positive self talk and listened to Radio Bloke.

Positive self-talk has paid off in the following ways:

1. I found 55p outside the shop down the road last week.

2. I won £10 on the National Lottypede

3. I found another 5p outside the shop down the road today.

The shop and chip shop down the road are frequented, on some days, by Young People from a technical college. These people have a certain threshold, below which it is not considered worth the effort to bend down and pick up a coin you have dropped. Even for 50p, it is not cool to bend down in front of your peers. I wonder how high the threshold goes, and wonder if it might, one day, stretch to a pound.

Ker-ching, is what I say.

Anyway. This week in the car:

  • 1, 2, and 3. Trisha Yearwood: Jasper County; Sara Evans: A Real Fine Place; Faith Hill: Fireflies. All 2005 releases from Top Country Singers. They're all okay. Ms Yearwood, as previously noted, has the most class; Faith Hill is a tryer, for which she should not be knocked; and Sara Evans' production sound is a little on the shrill side, even without a headache. The opening track, "Coal Mine," is a particular stinker, and should have been left off the record. For her part, Ms Hill should have steered clear of "Mississippi Girl."

  • 4. The Wallflowers: Bringing Down the Horse. This is a great record, and I wish I'd bought a proper CD instead of wasting money on compressed iTunes versions. The lyrics are pretty good; Jakob Dylan's voice is pleasant; and "One Headlight" is a modern classic.

  • 5. Ricky Gervais podcasts, volumes 6 and 7. This is the world's most popular podcast, apparently, so you don't need me to tell you about it. The first one was very funny, the others, not as much for me. I don't tend to watch things like The Office and Extras. I find them a bit cringeworthy, like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, back in the day. Gervais sitting round with Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington remind me of the boys at school. They weren't the school bullies, but they were a bit of a clique, and they did use to pick on people, about the same things, over and over again. People would get landed with something, like a theme tune or stupid name, and they would have to put up with it for years, learn to love it in some cases. They didn't pick on me, particularly, but I did find them deeply unattractive. One of the ironies of the Gervais podcast is that he frequently makes a fool of himself whilst making a fool of Karl. Explaining, "People who live in glass houses..." for example, he explained it incorrectly. Which is a kind of Super-sized irony, if you think about it.

  • 6 and 7 - Home made compilations. One of them was on good guitar music, which we blogged about a long time ago; and the other was one in a series of snapshot moments, stuff from CDs I have bought in the months leading up to the compo. I tend to scribble Serenity on them, and a number, so I know what they are. They're not me picking favourite tracks, or best tracks, but fair-to-middling tracks that deserve more listens than the whole album would get. Sometimes they work really well, like this one. There wasn't much on it I would put on a "best of..." compo for a friend, but in the collection works better than the sum of its parts. As such, it was probably the best thing I listened to all week.

  • 8. Vince Gill - Next Big Thing. Now, I'm going to have to do a cut-down version of this one, or put a few onto a Serenity compo, but by the time this reached track 17, I was ready to kill myself. Gill's smooth, soulful voice makes for pleasant driving company, and his fine guitar playing is especially in evidence on this, but 17 tracks in anyone's company is enough to make me suicidal. T O O L O N G ! ! ! Still it is worth a cut-down version, and the 11th track, "From Where I Stand" is a beautiful example of the genre of song in which the singer says, "Thanks for the offer, and I'd love to, darlin', in any other circumstances, but I just can't, because if I did then I wouldn't be the kind of man you'd make that kind of offer to, if you see what I mean."

    "From where I stand / There's a golden band" etc.

More news

Google in bid to control the entire world's advertising.

You can just hear the roar from the armies of Useful Product Information Technicians marshalling themselves just over the horizon.

Konica-Minolta Lays an Egg

This is a bit of a shocker. After their merger a couple of years ago, Konica-Minolta have now announced that they're abandoning the photography market, apart from continuing to make digital SLR systems for Sony.

Presumably they've licenced their industry-leading anti-shake mechanism to Sony as well.

This seems to be part of the bigger picture of complete panic that set in following the advent of high-megapixel camera phones. Once Carphone Warehouse started selling more consumer digital cameras than Jessops, the writing was on the wall for the low end. Both Olympus and Nikon have previously announced that they're "concentrating on SLRs."

I'm part of a deeply conservative minority who would rather have separate devices. I'd rather not rely on one battery to support phone/music player/camera, and I'm serious enough about wanting to take a lot of photos that I'm willing to carry a separate camera with a spare battery to boot.

I think it's right that serious camera manufacturers shouldn't try to chase the happy snapper market, but they did it anyway, while the going was good.

I was thinking about this with regard to cars the other day. Most cars are built on platforms, so that a Golf/Passat/Beetle/Audi A3/A4/Seat Leon/Skoda Octavia share many of the same components and underpinnings. The differences between the cars are largely cosmetic and are really about the way they make you feel.

James bought an Audi A3 because it's a classy-looking car, and a bit less common than a Golf. On the other hand, I'd have bought the Golf, because - for the same money - you'd have got more. When you buy a luxury brand, expect to pay luxury prices for all the bits you get as standard with the non-luxury brand.

A Saab 93 Wagon will cost you around £5000 more than the equivalent Vauxhall Vectra, on which it's based. Audi make you pay a lot to get things like aircon, electric windows in the rear, and comfortable seats. The lesson is, don't look at the entry price, but one somewhere in the middle, to see if you can really afford it.

Now, the digital camera market has been a platform market, with most cameras built around Sony electronics. The key differentiators were the quality of the lenses, and the software that actually ran the cameras. But whereas platform cars are all carefully targeted at different parts of the market; and whereas a platform typically lasts 7-10 years (with one facelift) before replacement, happy-snapper digital cameras were all targeted at the same market, and were replaced with astonishing rapidity.

Camera manufacturers come from a background of being able to make a thing like a lens or body and then keep selling it for years and years and years. Once software enters the equation, however, the development cycle speeds up, and the demands of consumers become clamourous. With new models being released every few months, camera manufacturers began to see that the money they invested in R&D wasn't being returned in profit before the models were obsoleted. What they should have done, a few years ago, was step back and slow down. But capitalism is inherently wasteful, so they all continued competing with each other, in spite of the lack of profits, and kept releasing new models.

But the problem was, a lot of the new models were actually worse then their predecessors. 8 megapixel cameras, on the whole, do not take better images than 5 megapixel cameras. In fact, apart from increased file size (and increased ability to crop to a small area), the pictures were noisier. Consumers noticed, and sales slowed down.

The manufacturers want to go back to making things that would last a long time, like lenses which are separate from the camera. And they wanted to cater for a market that was willing to pay a premium - the SLR customers, who clearly don't mind carrying around a great big lump instead of a dinky little pocketable model.

It's very easy to make an SLR body, chuck in some Sony electronics, stick a lens on the front and call it macaroni. You can, in fact, offer the same body/electronics and a cheaper lens, together with a slightly crippled version of the camera's software, and presto have a new "budget" model.

Konica-Minolta were hurt - badly - by being too slow to market with a digital SLR; and then when it came out, it was too expensive compared to new budget models from Canon and Nikon. So they were screwed, and they've jacked it in and given the business to Sony. It's a shame, because the anti-shake technology they took so long to develop is really, really, excellent.

The lesson - with all software projects - is (as Steve Jobs said) that true artists ship. You have to release a version 1.0, and you have to postpone features for version 2.0. Konica-Minolta had an installed base of analogue SLR users who were waiting for a digital model that would accept their lenses. But a lot of them got fed up of waiting and went and bought a Nikon D70, instead.

Anti-shake, good as it is, could have waited for version 2.0.


As a result of Beatrix Potter's squirrel nutkin becoming current bedtime story material for my youngest, I have the following observations to make.

a) This story has excellent soporific properties.

b) It contains the following riddle that is supremely quotable.
Hitty-pitty within the wall.
Hitty-pitty without the wall.
If you touch Hitty-pitty,
Hitty-pitty will bite you.

It refers to nettles but is applicable to just about anything.

Nice Apple

I hear that the latest version of iTunes sends useful product information about you to Apple and another third party marketing company.

Interestingly someone in the office tells me that they got an email from Apple recommending certain tracks for sale.

When I said I was a millionaire...

...I meant I had spent as much money as a millionaire.

I'm also reminded of Catullus' poem number 10 in which someone calls his bluff when he boasts about the strength and number of his slaves.

Sometimes I say things about myself which are not true, and I slip between fact and irony like a snake in a bowl of baby oil.

For instance, I don't actually have an infatuation with large breasted dancers. Likewise my love for Tamzin Outhwaite is largely fictional too. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that I don't actually even know her.

By the way, she's on TV tonight in something called Hotel Babylon. Linguists amongst you will know that the word "babylon" is Mansfield street slang for "breasts". I guess that sets the tone for what promises to be a hugely successful pile of pants: quide liderally (D.J jive, rather than latin).

Anyway, you should know that I'm the parent in the school playground who causes mothers to call their children away when they venture too close to me. The Other Parents don't speak to me either. Not because I'm on any special lists or anything, but because I don't push people out of the way so I can get to the front, and I don't have unnaturally orange skin (in summer I go insanely brown if I so much as look out of a window anyway).

My eldest son has been presented with his list of subject options and we have until mid-February for him to choose. Obviously we're keen that he doesn't pick wrong 'uns. Like the one when I was at school that meant "fixing the metalwork teacher's old car" and was for the people who were expected to have a career in unemployment.

Some subject names I can fathom: Food Technology is obviously really just Cookery. Belief System Exploration Technology is just plain old RE, and so on.

Some are less obvious. Leisure and Tourism. What's that about? Drug taking and car theft?

Manufacturing? Huh?

Interestingly the three subjects Physics, Chemistry and Biology, seem to have been replaced by the all encompassing science. Lots of other useful academic subjects too, like business studies, and media studies.

I think they also do some sort of maths and english too. Vaguely. Don't see much in the way of languages though. But then all languages are scheduled to be replaced by the international speak of American Youth Indernet TXT

But this subject option seems utterly perverted; Resistant Materials.

You what?