Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Heartbroken at the loss of pie

I've been host to an unexpected house guest these last few days, a little Patterdale Terrier Cross whom I now know as Bruce.

I was driving through Meanwood on Sunday afternoon when I saw a van stopped by the side of the road, hazard lights flashing, and the motorist on the pavement bent down holding a small dog whilst making a call on his mobile. I pulled over to see if the chap needed any help. He explained that he'd stopped because he was worried for the dog which he'd seen straying, fearing it would come to harm crossing the busy roads. He'd called the police who weren't interested, and he'd called the dog warden to be told they don't collect strays at the weekend. The motorist was stuck, he couldn't put a dog in the van as he was on his way to a job, but neither could he just leave the dog to fend for itself, and so the dog came home with me.

He was well behaved and calm in my car, but when we got to my house he was understandably unsettled. I put a water bowl and some dog food down for him which he sampled. He had a bit of a sniff around, then settled by the front door obviously wanting to leave. I made a bit of a fuss of him, showed him round the garden, played a little, but mainly I was hands off to let him take in his surroundings in his own time. By the evening he'd gained a lot of confidence and subjected my house to a thorough sniff, hoovering up odours from every nook and cranny in CSI investigative style.

At dusk I took him out into the garden again, whereupon he discovered some fallen snowberry fruit. This led to a what the dog thought was a brilliant new game, as I chased him up and down the garden trying to get him to spit out the marble sized white berries. Each time I approached he'd drop the berry, only to snatch it just at the last moment and race off to the other end of the garden. I did the only thing I could - stop chasing him, and entice him to chase me. It turned out he liked this new game just fine, and happily chased me back into the house.

From time to time he'd whimper and start this groaning howl, which was quite the most amazing sound I've ever heard from a dog, reminiscent of a special effect soundtrack for a haunted house. He'd be great on Hallowe'en - his groaning would create the perfect spooky atmosphere.

Monday 5:30am came and he joined my dad, his dog Jessie and myself on a Roundhay Park walk. After our walk I put the dog in my car boot and closed it, accidentally locking the dog in and me out. This resulted in a 22 mile tour of Leeds, as my dad drove me in his car back to his to pick up a spare set of keys for my house, and then to mine to get a spare key for the car, then back to Roundhay park to rescue the dog. Poor boy, he was ever so licky and pleased to see me when I got the car open.

Finally back home, the computer systems were down when I called the dog warden, so I was asked to call back in the afternoon. Having noted how much the dog used his sense of smell, and recalling episodes of Lassie, I decided to take the dog back to Meanwood for a walk around the area where he was found. I was optimistic when the little fella started confidently pulling me towards a pedestrian crossing. Three turnings later we were at the start of a muddy path and I realised he was taking me on walkies around Woodhouse Ridge. In the woods we met a dog walker, with two West Highland Terriers, who recognised my mystery dog, and was able to gave me a description of the owner, but not his name.

Ultimately that was as far as the Lassie experiment took us, and it was with some resignation that the little dog got back in my car. Back at home I finally managed to leave a description of the dog for the dog warden. I had a hospital appointment in the afternoon, which meant leaving the dog for a couple of hours. When I returned I was again treated to the hyperactive licks and wiggles of an anxious dog.

As he became more settled and relaxed in the house, I could see his natural confidence emerging, and through the course of the evening he checked out the relative comforts of each of the chairs and sofas, before finally deciding to tuck himself in at my feet.

I had registered the dog on the (most excellent) DogLost website, and during the night I got the best kind of call - the kind that suggests the dog is going to be reunited with his family and have a happy ever after. The lady told me she was sure he was "Bruce" who'd gone awol from Woodhouse chasing after a female in heat. Only one problem - the dog didn't respond to the name.

By the morning I had a plan - perhaps the local vets could get a positive ID if he was microchipped. As soon as the vets were open I popped the dog on the lead and walked him to the vets. En route I learnt that, in the absence of a pooh bag, a discarded fag packet can double as tongs allowing dog mess to be dropped in a drain. Krypton factor challenge successfully completed, we continued on our way. Life is strewn with unexpected obstacles, but they rarely manifest as large pork pies. As bizarre as it may sound, we came across one such obstacle, but I was cunning and managed to scoot the dog by without giving him the opportunity to get close enough to snatch it.

They found the dog's microchip at the vets and confirmed he was Bruce, so I was totally absorbed in texting Bruce's owners to give them the good news as we walked back to my house. While I might have totally forgotten about the abandoned pork pie, Bruce certainly hadn't and he seized his chance, grabbing the pie as I ambled passed in a texting daze. The pie was easily as big as Bruce's head. What a sight. I felt so mean prising the pie away, but I didn't want to risk returning Bruce with food poisoning. Poor thing, he looked so heartbroken at the loss of pie, but I knew I had something much better lined up for Bruce than a ratty old discarded pork pie.

And so it came to pass that Bruce was reunited with his family, and all was well in his doggy world once again.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Go stone age

I’ve been maintaining radio silence for a wee while now, but today I’m free to wax lyrical. Well, I say I’m free, but I suppose I’m only as free insomuch as anyone is truly free, given the behaviours we must forgo in order to participate in a social community. For instance I’m not free to murder, maim or create mayhem. Alas.

On the plus side I get to reap the benefits of participating in civilisation, and this should not be underestimated. Imagine a world where there was no cooperation, where it was each person for themselves. You could take what you want from anyone else, as long as you had the might to take it, and the strength to keep it, but would there be anything worth taking in such a world?  

We cooperate on a massive scale to produce even the most humble of objects. A door is simple thing, but if I had to make a door from first principles with no assistance how would I fair? I’d need to chop down a tree, so first I’d need to make an axe. 

I could go stone age, and track down flint to shape into an axe head. I suspect this would be challenging, but perhaps not as impossible as finding and mining iron ore, building a furnace to smelt it, then converting it to steel to make an axe head. 

Once my tree is chopped down I’d need to cut it into planks, not so easy with the stone-age axe, but if I’ve been able to make steel perhaps I might be able to make a suitable saw. Assuming I’ve gotten as far as producing planks, I reckon I’d be able to manage the rest fairly easily, but frankly I’d be amazed if I got as far as the plank stage.

We are all so blasé about the society we live in, but the simple fact is that without civilisation we’d be in mud huts struggling to feed ourselves and stay warm. So let this be my ode to cooperation, and the willing surrender of a few absolute freedoms in order to sit in a cosy warm home tapping away at my computer.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Bigger strides into the galaxy

Good luck to the crew of the Atlantis now on approach for landing at Florida!

To all the people who've contributed to the Space Shuttle program from inception to its final mission ending today - thank you for taking humanity forward.

Let us hope that these small steps into space will lead to bigger strides into the galaxy.

Live coverage

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Kissed by the axe

Unfit for work this week, I've been comparing the nuances between co-codamol and trammadol for a spasmodic symphony of pain from a cricked neck. Co-codamol seems to ease the spasms, it also makes me queasy and dopey. Trammadol, aka tremmadol, relegates the pain to something of an irritation, whilst hitting me with the buzz of a dozen double espresso's.

Back at the ranch, it seems the rumoured axe has manifested and culled the herd.

First they came for the poor performers,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a poor performer.

Then they came for the long of tooth,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't long of tooth.

Then they came for the weak and sickly,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't weak and sickly.

Then they came for me,
    now just another weak and sickly, long of tooth, poor performer.

Someone up top is divorced from the ugly reality of a demoralised workforce, brutalised by repeated deep cuts, haunted by survivor's guilt.

Now I must focus on uncricking my neck, so it can be kissed by the axe come Monday.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Premonition of incipient nostalgia

I'm in the calm at the centre of the storm. I've been badly buffeted by the storm's arrival, and there will be more distress before it's over, but just now I'm enjoying the respite.

Ordinarily I'm so tired, caught up in the drudgery of working and commuting, that I fail to raise my head and take in the scenery.

Today, my mind is settled, and I'm at peace. In this oasis all things seem to sparkle with intense vibrancy under the solstice sun. A premonition of incipient nostalgia perhaps.

This brief moment in time feels like a gift. One last chance to value what I have before it becomes what I had.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Recall furiously failing

Fallibility of memory, the curse of middle age, is upon me. A thought will occur to me, causing me to rise and walk into another room to get something, but by the time I reach my destination my mind is blank. Now what was it I came here to do? I’ll look vaguely around until my eye happens on some chore waiting to be done, which I assume is what I came to do. Leaving the room, I look back, with that nagging feeling of something forgotten. The moment I sit back down, it hits me, the memory of what I’d intended to collect. So I rise again, sometimes with the same result. On the bright side, it gets the chores done, and since there usually is a flight of stairs to traverse I get some exercise too.

When we say we can’t remember, we really mean we can’t recall. The memory is undoubtedly resting comfortably somewhere deep within our noodle, barring brain injury and neurological issues.

I have trouble with the passwords I need to remember to access systems at work. Often they are so fiendishly complex they defy mnemonics and can only be remembered as a movement or pattern across the keyboard. I’ll sit, fingers poised, mind blank, recall furiously failing, then a shiver will pass through me, leaving the desired memory in its wake. I imagine somewhere a gland has released a squirt of neurochemicals to reconfigure the neural pathways to allow the memory to rise to my conscious mind, the excess drugs flooding the hypothalamus causing me to shiver. If only I could do that on demand.

The flip-side of failing recall is the unprompted recollection, the memory that surges from nowhere. While my dad and I circumnavigated the lake at Roundhay Park this morning, he explained how the sudden recall of a childhood rhyme had gotten him thinking about memory:

Here’s the church,
And here’s the steeple,
Open the door,
And here’s the people

While he remembered the rhyme he couldn’t recall the hand movements, but by the time we spoke he had rectified that with a little help from google and youtube. What left him puzzled was the randomness of this memory surfacing. Like a prime number divisible only by one and itself, the memory had only been recalled this one time since it was formed many years ago.

How many memories do we have laying dormant, to be triggered to recollection just once?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Batty baby birds

The sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and goldfinches all seem to have had a successful year judging by the number of batty baby birds flitting around my garden.

Yesterday the fledglings were vibrating their wings and chirping for food, but today the parents are using the "monkey see, monkey do" educational technique to teach their demanding offspring how to forage for themselves.

There is something utterly charming about the young birds, their feathers all fluffy and ruffled, with their inelegant and haphazard flights from perch to perch, often landing on the flimsiest of branches which oscillate wildly under their weight.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Look no further

Congratulations to Rachel and Meg on the launch of their new website www.doggystylist.co.uk.

With their bespoke mobile dog grooming facility, the DoggyStylists bring the salon to you, taking the hassle out of getting your dog washed, trimmed and groomed.

If, like DoggyStylist, you're a small business looking to set up a professional looking website with minimal capital expenditure, then the chances are that you need look no further than Blogger.

Once you have created your blog, you need to create one post which you will use as your home page. In the Design interface you can untick most of the options on the Blog Posts page element to minimise the "blog" look and feel:

You can create up to 10 pages to use as the supporting pages for your website:

Add the Pages element to create the horizontal menu:

Add some graphics, play with the layout, tweak the colour scheme, and hey-presto you're almost in business.

You probably don't want to put mybusiness.blogspot.com on your marketing material - but no fear - you can buy a www.mybusiness.com domain name for your business, and configure Blogger to use a custom domain:

You'll need to configure cname records with the provider you bought the domain name from. If you buy your domain via Blogger this is all done for you, and if not then Blogger has instructions telling you how to navigate your provider's website to get this set up.

The pièce de résistance is the ability to set up myemail@mybusiness.com addresses. For this you step outside the Blogger environment, and use Google Apps, which is free as long as you need less than 10 email addresses. There are quite a few steps to work through to get this all up and running, but there is an excellent wizard to guide you through it. The only tricky piece is setting up mx records with the provider you bought the domain from, but this is broadly similar to setting up the cname for your custom domain for Blogger.

Best wishes to Meg and Rachel at www.doggystylist.co.uk, and all their woofy customers.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A respectful ending now of our relationship

I was up at 5:30am to meet my dad and his dog Jessie for a walk around the lake at Roundhay Park. As is often the case at that time of day, the sky was clear, though rain has threatened since. There wasn't a whisper of wind and the lake reflected park and sky perfectly. The view had the makings of a fine one thousand piece jigsaw.

Back home, after a little breakfast, I caught up on some telly on the BBC iPlayer. On a whim I watched Wonderland - The Trouble With Love and Sex. I hadn't seen an episode of Wonderland before, so I didn't know what to expect. I was quite taken with the concept - the voices belonged to real people who'd agreed to be taped during their counselling sessions at Relate, and the footage was a cartoon interpretation. It was insightful to listen to these sessions, with the nuances of body language and expression heightened by the cartoon characters, seeing them immersed at times in the imagery from their psyche.

There was a point in the documentary where the counsellor reads a letter out to the young man who he as been helping. It is written as if by the young man, and addressed to the dark voice that became the focus of their counselling sessions, the voice of the young man's insecurities, the voice that whispers 'you'll fail', 'you don't deserve it', and 'end it all.' As he starts to read it I'm cringing, it is so fake and silly...

Dear Darker Influence,

RE: Thank you for services supplied, and a respectful ending now of our relationship.

Since I was born you have protected me from adult couple relationships by ensuring I never became committed before I was ready.

During our time together you have shown me how much I appreciate my life. Amongst other things you did this by pushing me to even consider suicide.

That you engaged in this high risk strategy with someone you loved is testament to how much you believed I did value my life, and when ready would make the changes I dreamed of.

Now with your help I feel ready to engage in a meaningful couple relationship.

Hence this letter is to tell you I no longer need your services.

With much love, affection and thanks,

Good bye.

...then the words reach something locked inside me. Suddenly I'm in tears, my expression mirroring the face of the cartoon man, as this psychobabble works its hocus pocus on me. The words I absorb aren't quite the words spoken, as they're internalised to suit my situation.

I feel liberated. Giddy with relief. A weight is literally lifted from my shoulders. I can breathe deeply.

I can let go.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gnashing of teeth

The other day a popup dialog appeared asking if I'd like to upgrade to Firefox 4, to which I blithely agreed.

Woe is me.

In Firefox 4 the buttons have been moved around and the address bar has been incorporated into each tab. Trivial stuff, but I'm becoming more adverse to change for the sake of change as my brain fossilizes into middle age. When I discovered the option to move the address bar back to its proper position I resolved to stick with version 4.

After the next reboot my Firefox woes began in earnest. Each time I tried to navigate to a new page, open a new tab, or even refesh the page I was on, Firefox 4 hung in a not responding state. The browser would eventually spring back to life, but the net effect was much the same as if I'd reduced my connection speed to 2400 baud, placing Firefox 4 in the chocolate teapot category of browsers.

Googling 'I hate Firefox 4', 'Firefox 4 sucks' and other such blunt phrases I discovered I was not alone in my pain.

And lo, there was much lamenting and gnashing of teeth.

Mozilla's advice was to turn off lots of add-ins, uninstall other software products, and Firefox might just decide to play nicely. Everyone else recommended downgrading to Firefox 3.6.

And thus it came to pass that Firefox 4 was banished to the netherworld, and the people rejoiced.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Pantomime politics

Recently a wedding and a funeral have conspired to keep the AV referendum at the bottom of the news agenda, but it deserves more attention.

The First Past The Post (FPTP) system has allowed our democracy to flounder in a evolutionary eddy. With FPTP there is no incentive for cooperation or constructive debate. Instead we are poorly served by the "Oh yes we will!" and "Oh no you won't!" pantomime politics we so commonly see in our House of Commons today.

AV would be a great leap forward in evolutionary terms. Parliamentary candidates would have to work much harder to be returned as an MP for their constituency, requiring more than 50% of the vote, rather than a simple majority. Party politics would focus more positively on the policy similarities with their rivals in order to garner secondary votes. Coalition governments would be more likely, but this would foster a more adult and collaborative approach to government.

There is a fear that AV would lead to a succession of weak and indecisive coalitions, but I doubt the electorate would re-elect politicians who put party politics before the needs of the nation. Besides we've seen the Con-Dem coalition in action, and though no one got what they voted for, at least they are proving that coalitions are no less effective than a majority government.

The "No" campaign are trying to mobilise the over-50's age group to vote, on the expectation that this group will vote like fuddy duddies for the status quo. The "No" campaign are claiming that AV is too complex for the electorate to understand. How patronising.

Which ever option you favour - get out on Thursday and vote. People have died in their thousands this year in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria fighting for the right to have a legitimate say in the running of their countries. Show your solidarity, respect their sacrifice, and that of our own forebears who fought for the universal suffrage we enjoy today in the UK - exercise your right to vote.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Obama kills Osama

Barack Obama today announced that US ground forces have killed Osama Bin Laden.

Will this make the world a safer place? I suspect not - bloody retaliation from Al-Qaeda seems more likely. I would not be surprised if the UK threat level increases from Severe to Critical in the next week or two.

Will it save Obama's presidency, and give him a second term in office? I hope so. While unpopular at home, Obama is still well thought of outside the US, where we continue to enjoy the pleasant novelty of an American president whose IQ is larger than his shoe size.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Surrealist cognitive dissonance

The threats of the unions to organise strike action to coincide with the Royal Wedding came to naught in the end. One suspects that some shady part of the establishment brought pressure to bear on the union leaders, or perhaps they realised that their proletariat workers are actually rather fond of the monarchy. The day was free from terrorist atrocities too, all credit to our spooks and law enforcement agencies.

The wedding was streamed live on the YouTube Royal Channel, gloriously free of inane commentary, but the frame rate gradually decreased, until it ground to an ignominious halt just as the bride arrived at the Abbey. The BBC News website was similarly afflicted. I flipped across to the CNN website whose video stream wasn't affected by network congestion.

After a pretty standard Church of England wedding ceremony, the newly-wed couple left the Abbey with the orchestra playing Sir William Walton's "Crown Imperial" march written in 1937 for the coronation of George VI.  There are echos of this march in the familiar orchestral themes of Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones. Watching Kate and William process down the aisle, I was struck with a surrealist cognitive dissonance as my mind kept overlaying imagery from the Star Wars medal ceremony over the top of the footage of Westminster Abbey.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Crazy cross-species peeping tom

It's funny how sometimes the origin of a phrase suddenly comes into sharp focus. Looking out of the window just now I spotted two Wood Pigeons sitting together all cosy on the fence. One was pecking at the neck of the other, and I thought 'aye-aye - I know what he wants, randy ole pigeon.'

I stood and watched them a while, and saw that they were taking it in turns to groom each other around the head - the only spot on their own body they can't groom for themselves. They then started rubbing their heads together, and I thought 'ahh, how nice, just like young lovebirds.'

That was the light bulb moment. I'd never thought about the origin of the phrase 'lovebirds' nor ever had any image of courting birds in my mind whenever I've had cause to use the phrase. This might be because I've never before witnessed this gentle side of bird courtship - I'm far more used to the Rock Pigeons in London where the male aggressively harasses the female to the point of exhaustion, whereupon he mounts her without so much as a by-your-leave.

Anyway, the real reason I was gazing out of the window was not to be some crazy cross-species peeping tom, but to admire my handiwork.  I've been laid low for several days with a ghastly cold, but today I felt almost human and could be restrained no more. Today I oiled the decking. Well, strictly speaking, I oiled about half of it, which used up the whole 5 litre tin of oil. I've ordered another. It should be here on Wednesday, by which time my back may have recovered from today's abuse. Can't wait.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Everywhere we go we leave electronic traces. If we walk in built-up areas we're captured on CCTV. If we drive we're caught on the ANPR system. If we carry a mobile phone we leave a trail in the logs of the cell towers. When we browse the internet we leave behind details of our IP address, ISP and city (see the Feedjit live traffic feed on this blog.) Use a cashpoint, credit or debit card and the time and location are recorded.

We're ok about this because we're comfy in our democracy. We have civil liberties, and the expectation of privacy. If someone has broken the law, then we're happy for the relevant authorities to order companies to release their data on the culprits. Since we're law abiding citizens we have nothing to hide, and hence nothing to fear.

Some freely choose to share itineraries and personal information on the internet, yet it is disturbing to be unwittingly "outed" by technology.

Take a photo with your smart phone and post it on the internet - you may find you've just released your precise location because your ever-so-smart phone encoded your GPS coordinates into the image metadata. Imagine the photo was of a high value item for an eBay auction - you might as well put a poster up on your front door inviting burglars in.

Apple have been in the news recently over reports that iPhones and iPads are tracing where their owners' take them. Apparently this is ok because Apple said they would do this somewhere in the 18 pages of Terms and Conditions that device owners accept when they take the shrink wrap off the box.

Google have gone one better with their Android phones. It seems that where ever one of these phones is taken it is busy sniffing out all the WiFi networks in reach. The MAC address, signal strength and GPS coordinates are then sent back to Google and published for anyone to see.

Do androids dream of electric sheep? No but they're dreaming of being your big brother.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Mad Max kit

The UK is a free and democratic society today, but what about tomorrow? History has plenty to teach us about the fragility of society, and the ease with which a totalitarian regime can emerge given the right conditions.

It seems to me that we're on the brink catastrophe on so many levels - climate change, population growth, and fossil fuel scarcity.

Imagine the measures governments would have to take to keep order in a world where crops are failing due to changing weather patterns, populations are displaced by rising sea waters, and fuel & electricity have become rationed commodities.

In such circumstances we'd be lucky if we just had to put up with a totalitarian government - resource scarcity also triggers war.

We all hope that a new energy source will be invented, and climate change will turn out to be a load of bunk, but perhaps we should be planning for the worst?

We often joke in the family about putting together a Mad Max kit - a survival tool chest for a post-apocalyptic world including food, water, medicine, survival gear, and defensive weapons.

The truth is we're not survivalists. We hope the chaos doesn't come until after our natural lifetimes, and if it does - well - perhaps it is best to bow out early and leave the survival business to the nasty types who have what it takes to thrive in a mean world.

As Private Frazer (of Dad's Army fame) would say "We're doomed, doomed I say."

Thursday, 21 April 2011


I have a large area of decking at the back of the house, which was constructed by the previous incumbent. Ground level drops away from the front of the house to the back, so what is ground level at the front is one storey up at the back. The decking was built on 2m stilts in order to be level with the 'ground floor' of the house. I've never seen anything like it, and I'm sure the neighbours weren't best impressed when it was put up.

This time last year I wrote that I'd been swabbing the decking. I did intend to apply an oil to the deck afterwards, but wet weather and a tree releasing a tonne of fluffy floaty seeds which coated every surface conspired to put me off. I've had that tree pruned, so there would be no seeds to scupper my plans this year.

I spent last weekend cleaning the decking with a pressure washer, and it is now ready for the oil. We've had beautiful weather all week while I've been stuck at work in London. I've been avidly checking the Leeds forecast for this weekend, which has gradually deteriorated to include the possibility of thunderstorms.

I wasn't too concerned about this - I booked a couple of days off work, which in combination with the Good Friday, Easter Monday, Royal Wedding, and May Day bank holidays has given me a ten day break. I thought we're bound to have a few dry days in that period when I can oil the decking. What could go wrong?

Cue the common cold. Sore throat, runny nose, blocked sinuses. Misery.

Scuppered. Again. Arrrrghgggh....

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Stretch yawn faint

Occasionally I'm overwhelmed with the urge to have a really good stretch, tensing my muscles until they tremble, tipping my head back and unleashing a full on yawn. Lately this is followed by a faint spell - the world goes distant, my vision fades, and everything gets a bit woozy. After a few breaths the world re-intrudes, and normality resumes.

It hasn't concerned me, but after a particularly strong episode today my curiosity was peaked, and I typed 'stretch yawn faint' into Google (hallowed be thy results, for thine is the engine, the spider and the crawler) to see what cropped up.

It turns out the combo of stretching and tipping the head back starves the brain of oxygen. The stretch lengthens the blood vessels causing a blood pressure drop, whilst it also creates demand for oxygen in the tensing muscles, and finally the head tip constricts an artery in the neck which cuts off the blood to the brain.

I'm not sure how common it is in absolute terms, but the forum post I stumbled on was full of 'omg, I thought it was just me' comments.

This brings me neatly on to internet shorthand. Omg. Lmao. Lol. Cringe.

Question: What is as ghastly as 'cool' folks inventing their own 'cool' private language?

Answer: un-cool people co-opting the cool phrases in the mistaken hope they'll look cool.

Now I can segue into a rant on txt-spk, wich I cn jst bout toler8 n mob ph txt msgs, bt I jst h8 n oder contexts. d tym u savD n typin Ive 2 spnd n decoding - tnx 4 dat.

If I had my way, I'd make reading Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks mandatory punishment for txt-spk addicts.

Wun ov thi peepil in thi buk torks like this ol thi way fru. Iss a gr8 buk if u cn tek the time to lrn 2 reed foneticly spelt wurds, but tork about 1/2ing 2 wurk ard & u 1/2 2 1/2 sum imajinayshin 2 wurk it ol out.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Scout's honour

A piece on the BBC News website titled Dib, dib, dib...Scouts offer sex education scheme caught my eye this morning.

Scout's honour - this is the photo that accompanied the article:

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, fnarr-fnarr, ooh-err crikey missus. Do you think he's already got his badge? Know what I mean? Eh? Eh?

I was getting my current affairs fix this afternoon when I noticed the article had been updated with a new picture:

Ah well, all good things must come to an end. Sigh.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Just got home

Rail delays after body discovered

Nightmare journeys for tens of thousands of travellers.

Far worse of course for the person killed and their family. My sympathies to them.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Did it fall or was it pushed?

As I left my house one morning I noticed a football lodged high in the branches of my shrubbery. Nothing particularly unique about that - the boys next door are all footy mad. Then I noticed my lovely lilac tree lying on the lawn, broken at the base of the trunk.

It was the juxtaposition of the two that caused my eyebrows to rise. My mind's eye played a ghostly video reconstruction of events in CSI style.

Ball gets lodged in shrubbery, boy tries to gain extra height to reach said ball by climbing the lilac, only it promptly breaks under his weight, and the boy jumps clear as the tree crashes earthward..

This is pure speculation of course. It could well be that the tree came down in high winds. We had some strong winds a few days before this happened, although not between the time I last saw it standing and when I saw it felled.

Did it fall or was it pushed?

Needless to say, no young lads rang my bell to sheepishly admit they'd accidentally killed one of my trees. This is a shame since I would happily have lent them the tools to chop it to bits ready for disposal, and I'm sure they would have enjoyed lopping the branches.

I eventually undertook that task myself. Before I could summon the enthusiasm to undertake what would be several car trips to the council waste facility to dispose of the remains I was involved in a road traffic accident which wrote off my car.

The positive news is that the other party was at fault, and my insurance company had the settlement check in the post to me in under four days. Admirable Admiral.

Sadly the car was worth far more to me on the road than it was in purely monetary terms. £2450 doesn't get you much car, so I'm having to raid my perilously spartan savings in order to re-mobilise, and don't get me started on the perils of buying a used car.

Rest in peace Festa the Fiesta, and rest in pieces Lovely Lilac.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

All about the money

Whilst passing through St Pancras on my way to Kings Cross I noticed that a "London 2012 Shop" has opened with a sign at the entrance stating "We are proud to accept only Visa."

What about notes and coins? Surely it is against the law to reject legal tender? I decided I would challenge the till troll, but before I had chance I saw an American gentleman paying with a Visa card and cash. While they do accept cash in the store, online they cannot, making ticket and merchandising purchases inaccessible for people who are not customers of Visa.

I suspect I will not the only one to be incensed by the idea of a payment monopoly for what is billed as an inclusive sporting event. I do have a Visa card, but this has left such a foul taste in the mouth that I'm considering switching to a less obnoxious credit card provider.

Mooching round the store in a half-hearted attempt at browsing I was un-tempted by the vast variety of t-shirts and the like carrying the naff 2012 branding, nor did the various representations of Wendel and Wossisname get me reaching into my pocket.

Then I came across a display of 50p coins. This may seem like a daft question, but how much would you pay for a 50p coin? Well the London 2012 Shop thinks you'll be prepared to pay £3. Yes, that's right they're selling 50p coins with a 500% mark up. If you are struggling to believe me why not visit their online store and see for yourself.

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympics,
It isn't about winning,
It isn't about taking part,
It certainly isn't about sport,
It's all about the money!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Rise, leap, move

I love the perfect duality of the word spring. It is the name for the season of regeneration and growth. It also means to rise, leap, move, or act suddenly and swiftly. Both senses of the word come together in me as the season of Spring arrives, and I can fly into action after months of being constrained by the bleak winter weather. 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Run, Harry, Run!

Once again I've been led a merry dance from platform to platform at London Bridge train station. Arriving at Platform 1 on a service from Cannon St, I crossed to Platform 4 to catch my onward train. When it arrived it was already packed, and after everyone piled on it left resembling a sardine can, an experience I decided to forgo. A little while later my next train option was announced - back on Platform 1.

See Harry. See train. See Harry run. Run Harry, Run!

Other than that, my journey back to my London digs was much less eventful than yesterday. We were rocking along as usual last night when suddenly something started clanking around under the train. We had either run over an object, or a piece of the train had fallen off. Either way it sounded large and metallic, striking the underside of the train a dozen times with floor vibrating clangs.

The was a nervous titter around the carriage when I remarked to the lady opposite "that's not a reassuring sound." When she replied "I hope it's not the brakes," a worried silence fell over us all. Soon after the train started to slow as we approached my station, and with people visibly relaxing I disembarked and transferred to a bus for the rest of my journey.

The bus was just about to turn onto my street, when I noticed blue flashing lights, and the driver announced a diversion. Turning left up the hill instead of straight on, I felt a little uneasy, not knowing the area where I stay in London during the week very well. When I eventually escaped the bus I was able to retrace my steps back to the right street, where I found a bus on fire just opposite my building, complete with attending firemen, and gawking crowds.

Who says commuting is boring?

Monday, 24 January 2011

Folly laid bare

I'm in a dark place. Storm clouds have rolled in to block out the sunlight, leaving the world tinged in that sickly yellow light that precedes a thunderstorm. Gulls circle overhead, and beneath me the waters swirl in a vortex that threatens to suck me deep into the maelstrom, where I would surely drown.

Suddenly, my folly laid bare, I realise the ocean despises me and will not tolerate me to stay in its demesne. The strong might be allowed to swim its waters, but the weak and ill are fools to believe the sea to be as supportive as it appears. You might paddle in the shallow bay awhile, rising with the gentle swell, but tarry too long and the sea will test you, falter and the riptide is merciless.

I had been so sad and lonely on the beach, watching my friends swimming back and forth, slowly recovering from the grievous injury that had washed me ashore. Fear and longing held me immobile for the longest time.

'Come in, you can do it,' urged the swimmers. So I dove into the water, but surfaced quickly, shocked by the strength sapping cold. Gasping for air, water found my lungs. Spluttering and coughing, I realised too late how weak and unprepared I was. With a feeling of foreboding, I was drawn further from shore by the gruff exhortations of the other swimmers. 'Come on, catch up, you've fallen behind.'

I've lost sight of the others now. Irked at my slowness they left me to fend for myself. I'm alone in the sea, with the storm crackling above, and the current dragging me down.

There are three choices before me: try to catch up with the other swimmers; let the ocean drag me to my doom; or somehow find a way back to shore.

I don't know what to do, but whilst I weigh my options beneath the jaundiced storm clouds the sea, gleaming golden, sucks the life from me.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Bunk and twaddle

With my scientific background and logical mind I'm practically duty bound to denounce horoscopes as so much bunk and twaddle. Indeed, I have no problem doing so. Horoscopes epitomise the Barnum Effect. Here a few Scorpio horoscopes I’ve pulled together from the internet, covering the week and month ahead:

Think about how hard you have worked. How much effort you have invested. Has it all paid off? Of course not. Nothing we ever do is 100 per cent successful. It's the same with the money we spend. Not every penny can be parted with wisely, no matter how frugal we try to be. We either accept this or we drive ourselves insane in an effort to achieve unattainable perfection. Now, think of an aspiration that you are all but ready to give up on; a campaign that you have lost faith in. Put more energy into your great dream this week, it won't all work out... but some of it will.

You are inclined to be aggressive and hot-tempered now, particularly when your will is blocked. Your pushiness or competitive attitude is likely to create antagonism, hostility, and further resistance to your efforts. It is best to work alone rather than try to cooperate or coordinate your efforts with anyone at this time. Also, you are impatient and tend to behave in an impulsive, irritable way which makes you more prone to accidents during this period.

You find it harder to get a handle on that idea -- or that one person -- you need to understand. It's a sign that you need to back off for now, as deeper wisdom takes lots more time.

It all sounds pretty specific, but the themes are very generic really. Anyone reading these horoscopes will see some element that resonates with an aspect of their current situation.

What I struggle to dismiss is the personality profiling associated with my own star sign, Scorpio, as it seems to fit me perfectly. My inner scientist writhes in shame to admit this. What hard science could give credible reason why personality traits are determined by the position of the sun in relation to the stars at the moment of birth?

Perhaps it could be more easily argued that the temperature, season, light levels during the last few months of gestation and the first few months after birth might have an effect on personality. The cycle of the seasons seem, on human timescales, as regular and predictable as the motion of the solar system. I've used this seasonal rationalisation as the crutch that supports my vague affinity for Scorpio traits.

There was a headline last week that the wobble in the earth’s rotation (precession) means that the dates when the sun processes in front of the various constellations has changed from when the zodiac was first defined thousands of years ago. Here I am thinking I’m a Scorpio, but apparently I am in fact a Virgo.

Astrologers say this “revelation” is hardly news, and see it as a dig by astronomers at the art of astrology. Our western tradition, called tropical astrology, ignores the shift in the earth’s axis of rotation, since it is based on the configuration of the solar system relative to the Sun, not the remote constellations. The Hindu astrology tradition, sidereal astrology, bases its ideas on the configuration of the earth relative to the sun, the solar system and the constellations, and therefore does incorporate the effects of precession.

In any event, it seems a perfect opportunity to test the Barnum Effect. If I assume that I am a Virgo, will I find things in the personality ascribed to Virgoans that resonate with me? To test this I pulled the following together from http://www.astrology-online.com:

Tropical Zodiac Dates
October 24 to November 22
August 23 to September 23
Sidereal Zodiac Dates
November 23 to November 29
September 16 to October 30
Traditional Traits
Determined and forceful
Modest and shy

Emotional and intuitive
Meticulous and reliable

Powerful and passionate
Practical and diligent

Exciting and magnetic
Intelligent and analytical
On the dark side....
Jealous and resentful
Fussy and a worrier

Compulsive and obsessive
Overcritical and harsh

Secretive and obstinate
Perfectionist and conservative
Health foods

Hidden causes

Being involved

Work that is meaningful

Being persuasive
Being given only surface data
Hazards to health

Taken advantage of
Anything sordid

Demeaning jobs
Sloppy workers

Shallow relationships

Flattery and flattering
Being uncertain
Dark Red to Maroon
Green and Dark Brown

The bits highlighted in orange are the pieces that seem to fit. I would say this is a pretty inconclusive result, which only goes to prove the Barnum Effect is indeed in operation.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Poor motherless son

In the red corner we have the Union movement, an old bruiser whose glory days are decades in the past, needing a big win to stave off extinction. The unions come from the cage fighting school of boxing. No rules and the last man standing wins.

In the blue corner we have the Conservative government, using the dire economic situation to green light all the swingeing cuts to public services they've ever dreamt of. The government prefers to play by the Queensbury rules of boxing. As far as the authorities were concerned Arthur Scargill rather ruined the sport when he just didn't have the decency to know when to stay down, and changed the law to cramp the style of any future Scargill wannabes.

The days of general strikes and mass pickets may be legally curtailed, but the unions are beginning to realise they can pick strike dates that, just by chance, coincide with action by their sister organisations in other industries. Socialist politics are typically republican in outlook, it being difficult to reconcile the theory that all folks are born equal against the inherited privileges of the monarchy. What better choice then, than to target the upcoming royal wedding with multi-industry strikes?

The unions are banking on overwhelming public support against the cuts, but what they seem blind to is the fondness that the average working classes have towards the royals, especially the poor motherless son of the late sainted Lady Diana. They may well find the public are rather looking forward to their street parties, and will take a dim view of any union action that threatens to spoil the fairy tale wedding.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Out came the knives

Perhaps it was post-christmas shopping deprivation, or a need to spend a little on myself before the cost-of-living and tax increases suck my wallet dry, but whatever impelled me I had a wee buying frenzy on Amazon the other day.

Normally I'm extremely adverse to buying gadgets for the kitchen, as they typically end up gathering dust after the novelty wears off. Bread and ice cream makers, electric carving knives and pepper mills, fondue sets and chocolate fountains. Lets be honest, who doesn't have a little herd of white elephants looking sad and unloved at the back of a cupboard?

I started off innocently enough, looking for a handheld vacuum to do my stairs. Having picked one with dozens of glowing reviews I added it to my basket. This is where it all went horribly wrong. Amazon showed me one of those "People who bought this, also bought...." lists. Before I knew it I'd added two other items that I didn't know I needed to my order.

A big Amazon parcel arrived today containing all three gadgets.

The handheld vacuum needed constructing, which I did, but it also needs charging, so I have twelve hours of anticipation ahead of me before I can give it a whirl.

I also bought a citrus juicer, but that needs to wait until I buy some oranges before it can be tested out. I'll be off to Costco to stock up just as soon as I can. Why did I suddenly decide I needed a citrus juicer? I'm not entirely sure, but it might have had something to do with the delicious freshly squeezed orange juice I'd had with my breakfast in the canteen.

The third item is a knife sharpener, but not just any old knife sharpener, this one is billed as the "World's Best Knife Sharpener." How could I resist? I have five top quality Global knives that have all become as blunt as I am in the five years I've owned them, perhaps helped along the way by my inept attempts to give them an edge.

I was a bit disappointed to discover the new sharpener wasn't in any way electronic, and pretty similar in operation to the useless sharpener I already own. However I resolved to give it a fair trial. Out came the knives. First I tried running the knives lightly over a dried apricot to test their edge. A ripe tomato would have been better, but sometimes you just have to improvise when the cupboards are bare. This confirmed that my chopsticks have more of an edge than my knives.

I operated the lever on the sharpener that fastens it to the worktop via the miracle of suction, and followed the instructions to pull the knife lightly from base to tip through the sharpener a few times. I then tested said knife on the aforementioned dried apricot. Low and behold, a clean slice. Two of my knives needed a lot more than a couple of runs through the sharpener, but before long all my Global knives were once again dangerously sharp.

So I give to you the perfectly named "AnySharp - The World's Best Knife Sharpener"

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Smell the internet

The doorbell just rang, which is unusual as I don't generally have casual callers at this time in the evening, so I raced down the stairs to answer the door. When I opened it I was faced with a young woman and a girl in Woodland Trust tabards. They both waved their arms and chimed "Hello!" immediately followed with the woman chirping "Aw, don't you look cute with your hair in a little bob!"

"Would you mind not patronising me on my own doorstep and tell me why you're calling?" I responded. You can tell I wasn't best pleased. I'm never happy to be called to the door by chuggers, but I'm damned if I'll be insulted by cold callers. It might have been a suitable greeting if a toddler had opened the door, but it's just a teeny weeny bit inappropriate for anyone over the age of five.

She seemed non-plussed by my directness, and launched into the usual chugger routine of asking questions that demand a "yes" response, so that when the moment comes to ask you to sign up you're supposed to automatically say "yes!" Perhaps I'm easily insulted, but frankly who would be pleased with the assumption that you're of limited mental capacity and easy prey to these naff sales techniques?

"You've heard of the Woodland Trust?" she asked.

Beginning to feel the winter cold, I replied "I've no wish to talk about the Woodland Trust on my doorstep, goodbye!" and shut the door.

Opening the door to an unexpected caller on a cold dark winter night would give anyone elderly, ill or living alone pause for thought. Do they seriously expect people to stand there freezing while they rattle through their ten minute sales patter? What planet are these folks on?

To all cold callers - wake up and smell the internet. I don't buy or donate on my doorstep, if I'm inclined to do either then I do it online. You're obsolete. You're a menace to society. Stop knocking at my door. You are the weakest link. Goodbye!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Portents and omens

Astronomy was scuppered by meteorology today as clouds obscured last night's Quadrantid meteor shower and this morning's partial solar eclipse. To add insult to injury I didn't feel the 3.6 magnitude earthquake which hit Yorkshire yesterday.

We've had an uncanny number of portents and omens in the last month. In addition to meteors, solar eclipse and earthquake, we had an eclipse of the moon on the winter solstice which has not occurred in nigh on 500 years. On New Years Eve 3000 blackbirds fell dead from the sky in Arkansas, while 125 miles away 100,000 drum fish washed up dead. The end of days?

Today we're intellectually curious about these events, but in less enlightened days we would have been disturbed, fearful even, and looking around for a suitable sacrifice to appease the obviously angry Gods.

I might be hard pressed to pick just one person if someone had to be ritually slayed. We have so many figures we love to hate who would do nicely. Politicians are always firm favourites, and there are endless unlovable celebs. How would one choose?

We'd have to hold one of those "Top One Hundred" TV programs, detailing the lives and sins of the nation's hate figures, where obscure comics and commentators talk to camera about the candidates, interspersed with amusing archive footage.

This would need to be followed by a "I'm a Sinner, Sacrifice Me!" Reality TV series, where each week the public vote out the least obnoxious of the candidates, until only the most loathsome one remains. The "Top Gear" team could be tasked with designing the actual sacrifice, bringing to bear their inventive destructive skills which have been honed on poor innocent caravans for years.

Of course the whole scheme might seriously cheese off the Gods - who knows - maybe it was Reality TV dross that angered them in the first place. Still if mankind is to be wiped out, at least everyone would be able to die smiling, happy in the knowledge that the ultimate reality TV show was actually entertaining.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Orange constellations

Last night, as the clock struck midnight, revellers all across Leeds set off fireworks. After the fireworks faded, the sky gradually filled with Flying Chinese Lanterns, which drifted south east across the city, forming orange constellations of hopes and dreams in the clear night sky.