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.