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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BBC, Macintosh, Cymru

I saw that there is now a new version of the BBC iPlayer for Macintosh, so I decided to give it a try even though I can't see myself downloading DRM-crippled versions of shows that I've already paid for through my licence fee. Anyway, I had to sign up to be a BBC labs tester and it didn't work anyway, but after giving up on trying to download a TV show, I clicked on the "Radio" tab instead and...

Well done BBC

Everything was in Welsh.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fun and games

Well, here's a little light relief in a life made miserable by Brown's crackpot economic policies (yes, I've been filling in my online tax return). One of my all-time favourite games, SimCity, now works on the iPhone. And it's brilliant!


I'm really impressed by the way it's been organised for the device. Obviously, it's been simplified in one or two areas, but the controls are nicely arranged and easy to work through, and it's an incredibly satisfying waste of time on the train. It turns out that almost any random arrangement of streets, railways and public buildings results in a better-planned town than Woking. I imagine that this represents some amazing underlying mathematical principle, like Godel's Incompleteness Theorm or something, so I shall keep on working on it.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, December 22, 2008

Last minute Xmas shopping

I got an e-mail from Amazon, telling me that they had some fantastic savings in the "Toys and Games" section so I clicked on the link to see if there were any last minute bargains to be had.

Amazon Bargain

Wow! A massive 1p off. I wonder if this is something to do with the Prime Mentalist's recovery plan. Another 0.03% off VAT to transform the British economy?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, December 19, 2008

It was fun while it lasted, that blogging thing

Un oh.

I’ve just received some information that could have major consequences for bloggers. My understanding is that a green paper will be published in the New Year setting out plans to make it easier for people to sue for defamation. The idea is to cut down the disproportionate costs of bringing a libel action and there’s even a suggestion that there could be a small claims court for libel.

[From » Blog Archive » Is Labour about to clamp-down on the blogsphere?]

It's only a matter of time before South West Trains or Woking Borough Council take umbrage and shit me down. If you think this might be an exaggeration, remember that Labour have form here. They've wanted to get hold of the interweb for a while.

Answering questions from the floor at the Royal Television Society conference in London last month, Minister for Truth Andy Burnham said: "The time has come for perhaps a different approach to the internet. I want to even up that see-saw, even up the regulation [imbalance] between the old and the new."

[From says: Regulate the internet • The Register]

Oh dear. I suspect that the green paper (or the "Proposed Full Employment Act for Lawyers" as it should more properly be called) will have no effect other than to destroy the UK web hosting industry as everyone moves their servers to the US and stops using their real name to publish. I actually have a friend who is already involved in a bizarre law suit that originates in the US. A guy in the US (let's call him "The Nutter", for short) is trying to sue a guy here in the UK for using the same name as him in a social network context (don't ask me for details, I won't give them).

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas tits

I absolutely love Slade. When I was a kid, they were the first band I adored. I can remember going to a school disco with a Slade scarf that I'd bought and thinking it was the business. I loved it when they were on Top of the Pops and I still think that some of their foot-stomping chart-toppers are classics of the genre. Years ago, I saw them at the Reading Festival and they were still fabulous.

This is why it upsets me so much to say it, but "Merry Xmas Everybody" gets on my tits.

But it set me thinking about a suitable replacement. Obviously, there must be a ubiquitous Christmas tune, played in every shop, hotel and restaurant in Britain from 25th November to 25th December, otherwise it just wouldn't be a traditional Yule.

With renewed tension between NATO and Russia, I think it's time to recognise "Christmas at Ground Zero" by Weird Al Yankovich as the new Chrismas standard. Oddly, they weren't playing it in Tesco today, but it's always been one of my favourite Weird Al tunes and since we're wallowing in 1970s nostaliga at the moment -- Slade, last days of Labour government presiding over economic collapse, Sterling crisis, that sort of thing -- then all we need is a good Cold War singalone and we've got the set. All together now, "It's Christmas at Ground Zero, the button has been pressed..."

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No question

Well that was fun. We went to BBC Radio 4 "Any Questions" which happened to be at the kid's school. It was jolly enjoyable. I've listened to the show for years, but had never really thought about how it worked. What happened was that you fill out a form with your question on the way in and then they pick a few questions from all of those submitted. Before the show begins, they announced whose questions have "won" and those people are invited down to the front row where there is a person with a microphone. The questions are typed out so that the people don't forget them or get mixed up. It all went very smoothly, except at the end when it turned out that the recording of the show had a glitch at the beginning, so they had to do the introduction again.

I couldn't help notice the big difference between the experienced Labour politician Bob Marshall-Andrews and the (somewhat content-free, I thought) Liberal Democrat and the Conservative new boy. I thought the old hand easily wiped the floor with them by being good at being a politician rather than by being right, and he did it very well. It's educational to see a politician, a real politician, work a room like that. Good for him.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Saturday night's alright for...

Was it Alan Bennett who said that you know you're middle-aged when the phone rings on a Saturday night and you hope it's not for you. Well, that happened to me last week, and now I can't stop ruminating on this wisdom of the great man. The accuracy and resonance are truly wonderful and I now feel that I have come to terms with the transition to Middle Age. This means that a strange peace has descended, so that even when I had to sit next to two Canadians discussing the merits of various rucksack designs all the way home from Waterloo, I was at one with the universe (and, of course, I had my iPhone so I was able to enlist the support of Brian Johnson to drown them out).

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Lunatics in charge of regulating the asylum

If I were a rational person then I would simply despair for our future and/or leave the country.

"The internet as a whole is an excellent source of casual opinion," he said. "TV is where people often look for expert or authoritative opinion."

[From Government plans to tighten up online regulation, says culture secretary Andy Burnham | Media |]

God help us. What the Kultur Kommissar actually means by this comment is that TV can still be regulated after a fashion whereas the Internet cannot. I remember reading a book about the history of TV in America -- I can't remember what it was called, this was a few years ago -- which made a penetrating observation about this phenomenon, saying essentially that the guiding principle of government regulation of TV was that the government was regulating because... it could. It couldn't regulate print media any more so it transferred both its cultural nightmares of the mob and its content to the new medium of television. Now that television is beginning to matter less and the fractured multi-channel, trans-national business is harder to regulate, it has become the establishment friend of power and the great unwashed have got their hands on blogs to the dismay of the aristocrats.

Incidentally, so far as the relationship between TV and the Internet goes, I see that Channel 4 has thrown in the towel on behalf of the broadcasters and started broadcasting a programme made up from -- as far as the briefest of glances could tell -- nothing more than YouTube clips. While this is certainly an improvement on the usual Celebrity Chefs on Ice rubbish (particularly because no celebrities or chefs are getting paid because of it) it's not at all clear why you wouldn't just watch YouTube.

Anyway, back to that well-known source of authoritative and expert opinion, TV. As far as I know, the majority of the population never watch documentaries, news, current affairs or anything else aspiring to the Reithian vision. I doubt that 1 in 20 people know who Andy Burnham is. I only know who he is because he made a very, very dumb statement when he was the minister in charge of ID cards, saying that

"I take the view that it is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out," said Mr Burnham.

[From Fifth defeat for ID card scheme | Politics |]

There's a pattern here: he's wrong about everything. But why is he so wrong about the Net? The Net gives me access to authoritative opinion: it's TV that is the source of casual opinion. If I want to know about the impact of some health care reform, I'll go and reader a doctor's blog. If I want to know what's going on in the police force, I'll read a policeman's blog. And so on. Why on Earth would I care what Fiona Phillips or Jeremy Paxman thinks about things?

Sure it's early days, and the structure and etiquette have yet to settle down, but it's already clear that having direct access to first hand experience, well-informed opinion and up-to-date expertise make the Net far more valuable that almost all opinion from television.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, November 28, 2008

Back to the whelk stall for all of them

Now, I don't really want to make a political point here, but it's a fact that most people in the government have never had a proper job of any kind, let alone run a business, not even a corner shop. But how does it happen that today we (ie, taxpayers) became the owners of RBS after the government paid 65.5p for shares that were trading at 55p in the market, meaning an instantaneous loss of £2 billion. It's getting beyond a joke: I doubt that my children will ever be able to pay this debt back, which is why I'll be encouraging them to move overseas. The Prime Minister was busy writing to X-Factor finalists today, so perhaps he took his eye off the ball on this one.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, November 24, 2008


I went off to Twickers (Twickenham) to see the rugger (rugby union football). See, I think I learned the lingo. Then I saw the Boks (South Africa) inflict the Berk's (England's) biggest ever home defeat. It was total mauling -- after about five minutes it was clear that we never had a prayer. Still it was an excellent afternoon out. Mainly because I was being served free drinks in an executive box, but nonetheless.


Marvelous spectacle. And when I made it back home, I watched Man City beat Arsenal 3-0 on Sky to round the day off nicely.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What next? Talking pictures!!

I notice that one of my simultaneously favourite/least favourite programmes is on tonight. For some unfathomable reason, I watch Question Time (usually on the web at the weekend) to give myself a sense of what the nation (well, BBC-style metropolitan liberals) think about the issues of the day. It's a pretty boring programme, largely because you can predict both the questions and the answers with almost 100% certainty. But you do now and then hear something surprising. I heard the ridiculous Dame Shirley Williams -- a second-rate politician from an era best forgotten -- posit that the brutality in modern British society may be due to the influence of "horror comics". Seriously. Still, at least she didn't blame the interweb.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]


I was lucky to get a place to stand, let alone sit, on the 16.30 "Black Hole of Calcutta" from Waterloo. But at least I did eventually get home, even though there was no room to read a book, much less work, on the misery express to Portsmouth. Today, I am pathetically grateful to be able to sit and type on the train. This is only possible because the poor sod jammed in beside me is a very slim young person of the female persuasion. The three seat benches employed by South West Trains date to a bygone age, when the average working-class train traveller was a stunted, dwraven creature with ricketts. They are not made for the modern lard arse. As a consequence, when three people do actually sit on them, the experience is horrible for all of them.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New hope

Having taken over the reins at the Robins, I decided to move to the 4-5-1 in favour at many clubs and opt for more direct wing play as the way to get round opponents. Building on a solid defence, around stalwarts Ifil and Hasjofree, and bringing in some energetic midfielders to support the decent strikers I already had, I made a great start to the new season despite limited resources. Let's hope I can consolidate a mid-table position and then build on it next season.

New hope

Hurrah, Football Manager 2009 has arrived! When I was walking past W.H.Smith on Friday, I was subject to an unsolicited approach from an attractive young lady who told me that if I bought anything over £25 in the shop, they would give me a £10 gift voucher. That seemed like a good deal, so I wandered in and the first thing I saw was FM2009 for £28 (ie, £18). What a pleasant distraction in these inflationary times.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's all for the kiddies

It must be very difficult for foreigners to understand the British attitude to children. On the whole, we don't really like them as a nation, much preferring dogs and horses, which is why the upper classes have traditionally sent the children away to kennels whilst allowing dogs the run of the house. This week there has been story running in the newspapers that is so unbearable that I started crying in Waitrose when I went to pick up my Telegraph and saw the pictures prominently displayed on the front pages of other newspapers. The story concerns a toddler who was beaten to death by his drug addict mother, her boyfriend and their lodger. Despite 60 visits from social workers (and multiple inspections by doctors), the doomed child was returned to these monsters and abandoned to a short, miserable life. Meanwhile, we read that

The Local Government Association warned that the worst cases of obesity will be increasingly seen as evidence of "parental neglect," and that social workers will have to step in to offer advice to protect the child's welfare. In the most extreme cases, children could be taken away from parents.

[From - England, Wales Government Councils Propose Taking Obese Children From Parents - Health News | Current Health News | Medical News]

It's modern Britain in a nutshell. You can torture your children to death with impunity, but if you give them too much junk food they'll be taken away. If you smoke, social workers won't let you adopt a child: passive smoking is beyond the pale, torture is apparently reasonable.

I'm afraid my reactionary rachet has been turned up another notch. It's a shame that the maximum penalty that can be imposed on the murderers is only life imprisonment (which in the UK means a few years of a comfy bed, three meals a day and your own Playstation). Somehow it just doesn't seem enough.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A better class of conspiracy theory

As I was riding my government-subsidised bicycle to work this morning, I was listening to podcasts again. Now that I am a psychyclist, I'm burning through podcasts at quite a rate, so I've been rummaging around on iTunes to find some more podcasts to add to the collection, and I've already found some new ones that I rather like. One of them, which I was listening to this morning, is Skeptoid. This morning I was listening to an episode about World Trade Centre building 7 and the conspiracy theory surrounding it. Very good. Clearly the conspiracy theory is nonsense. But are they all nonsense? When it comes down to it, I've always thought that the fact that Neo (from The Matrix) has a driving licence that was going to expire on 9/11 cannot be explained by mere coincidence.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Down with the filthy rich misanthropes

It used to be that people who had lots of money obtained by not working very much (eg, pop stars, trustafarians) would espouse communism as a way of perpetuating adolescent rebellion but these days the education system is so poor that their audiences don't really understand what capitalism, communism or anything else really means -- besides, the whole left/right thing is so 20th century -- thus they've moved on to another pseudo-religion.

‘Saving the planet’ has become a mission statement both for the pointlessly rich and the political class.

[From Down with the filthy rich misanthropes | spiked]

I read in one of the papers last week, but can't remember which one, that children are being taught (1984-style) to nag their parents about green issues. This makes me very suspicious of the whole green movement, because it's so sinister. Am I wrong to begin to reject some fundamental tenets of the green manifest now that it's starting to look like a religion?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, November 03, 2008

Out of service

South West Trains were well down to their usual standard today. I rush to the station because I'm running late, only to discover that the ticket machines are all displaying "out of service". So I rushed inside the ticket hall, only to find that all of the ticket machines there were out of service as well. And the line to buy a ticket was snaking out of the door and into the street. I wonder if we're being tested, like rats in a maze, by some well-meaning boffins somewhere.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News headlines

When you walk around London you see the Evening Standard advertising boards with their "tease" headlines that try to persuade you to buy the paper, which I never do. Normally, these headlines are of gloom, disaster, crime, recession and such like and they add to a sense of dread as you make your way home, frozen and in the dark. But now and then, they have a headline of such cheer that it puts a spring in your step again and makes the trek home just a little more bearable.

At last! Some good news

At last! Some good news. I absolutely cannot stand Brand, who I never found funny in the slightest and whose mere appearance on the TV causes me to feel nauseous and Ross is, and has always been, a talentless "bloke". His "free adverts for celebrity dreck" show on the BBC is a disgrace and should have been relegated to commercial television years ago.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bus stop!

I don't really understand how transport policy works. I used to drive to Woking station and pay a fortune to park in the car park there. For a few months, however, I've been cycling instead. This is obviously a net revenue loss to the council, so I imagine council tax will go up accordingly next year. Anyway, for a variety of boring reasons, I wasn't able to cycle today so I caught the bus. I haven't used the bus for a while, so I was absolutely shocked that these pirates of the A320 proposed to charge me £3.70 to get to the station and back. When I said to the guy something along the lines of "that's daylight robbery and I won't pay it", turning round to get off, he told me that a one-day pass anywhere in Woking was only £3.60. So I bought that instead, but still spent the entire journey fuming.

Needless to say, I won't be using the bus again either except in the most dire circumstances. But I couldn't figure out the "plan" behind all of this. Are the council colluding with the bus company and trying to get us out of the bus and back into our cars because of the revenue from the car park, or are the bus company just fed up with running buses but too embarassed to tell the council that they don't want to do it any more? This must be what is meant by an integrated transport policy: make everything expensive and rubbish except cars.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Disturbing perspective

Well, that was a bit of a shock. The trains were held up because someone went under a train at Woking, so we travellers were advised to go down to Guildford and pick up a service back into London from there, which I did and was only half an hour late at Waterloo in the end so it wasn't too bad. Anyway, while I was waiting for the Guildford train, I was staring down the platform while I was thinking about a document that I'm writing at the moment so I wasn't really paying any attention to what I was looking at, which was a bunch of emergency services people in high-vis jackets. Then I suddenly realised what they were doing: getting a body up from the tracks. They had it in a black sheet and four of them carried it back up the platform to the exit. What an unpleasant job.

But I was more shocked by it than I would have expected. When the announcer says that there's someone under a train and so services are delayed, you don't really think about the person, just about how inconvenient it is and how you'll be late. Once you see the body, even though it's wrapped in a sheet, you are forced to think about them.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's a guy thing

When you're a Dad, you rarely get a better phone call than this.

No.2 son: "Just wanted to tell you about the game".

Me: "Great, how did it go? Where did you play?".

No.2 son: "[The Manager] asked me to play as the holding midfielder and make smart passes to set things going."

Me: "How did that go?"

No.2 son: "I think I played really well and we won 10-3."

Why does this feel infinitely better than playing in a game and winning 10-3 yourself?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Put your shirt on it

The market never lies. I was out shopping with no.2 son today and we noticed there was an England football shirt sale on at a local sports shop. Since it was a good deal we wandered in and it turned out that the shirts all had numbers and names. Most had already gone, but the ones that were left comprised a few John Terry (explicable, since he hasn't played in the last couple of games because of injury), a few Wayne Rooney (I don't know why, maybe they over-ordered them) and lots and lots of Frank Lampards (but no Stephen Gerrards). Hhhmmmm.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Walls have ears

Overheard a great conversation on the train today. In one of the seats behind me, a guy from a large and well-known systems integrator was talking on his mobile, evidently to a colleague. They were discussing a contract that they were working on for a major bank: apparently, the bank had cut down the contract by a million pounds, so these guys were working out how what parts of the contract to complete and what could be dropped (and what could be cut without the customer realising that they'd have to buy it later anyway). This sounded to me like commercially quite sensitive information. I bet the company in question has a really strict policy about copying sensitive documents to memory sticks and leaving them on the train though.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sofia so good

Had an interesting journey into Sofia -- it was like being in a lazy sitcom about Eastern Europe. The taxi driver was chain-smoking Marlboro, listening to loud heavy metal (Zep, in fact) and really did overtake a horse and cart on the motorway.

Centre of Sofia

It's nice here though, despite a guy in the hotel telling us that he'd been robbed in a taxi and that police snipers are executing mobsters in the street

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, October 13, 2008

Guardians of our money

It turns out that the buffoons at Surrey County Council had £20m in Icelandic banks -- wow! sorry we're flying over the Alps right now and they look stunningly beautiful -- and will undoubtedly claim that they could not possibly have foreseen the problems on the way. Yet...

By March this year the situation was so worrying and so widely known, it was even featuring in the Daily Mail. On 16 March 2008, reporting on risky banks, they wrote:

[From Burning our money: How Were They To Know?]

What the article says is that "Credit insurance for debts at Iceland's biggest bank, Landsbanki, is priced at 610 points while that for Kaupthing is priced at a hair-raising 856. Given that these two have taken billions in UK retail deposits, it may be a sobering thought for savers to consider where they are putting their cash. These banks are now seen as the most unsafe in the developed world."

So it looks to me that they had a few months to get their money out of there and put it under the bed or in the Nationwide or something. For goodness sake Kingston -- get your noses out of The Guardian's public sector jobs supplement and pick up the odd copy of the FT or something.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Facing up

Old and new

I was on my way into Lloyds in the City of London when I saw

Old and new

I couldn't resist trying to take an artistic picture to try and capture how beautiful the City looked in the fading light.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, October 03, 2008

What's in a name?

If you're hanging around bored at the train station, waiting for the next train to come along because you just missed your train because of a huge queue at the ticket office, you may notice that some of the trains that go past have names. In the quaint English tradition, they're always called things like "Duke of York" or "Pride of the West" or similar. Why don't South West Trains give theirs more up-to-date names in keeping with modern Britain? At Woking, the trains should be called things like "Black Hole of Calcutta" or "Survival of the Fittest".

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

XXX travel tips

Well, that's handy. I'm often surprised by the kind of shops I see at airports, but rarely as surprised as I was today when ambling around the duty free at Vienna airport. I was thinking about getting an outdoorsy watch for cycling, since my trusty old Timex has been annexed by no. 2 son (it has a very comfortable webbing strap) and generally pottering about, when I came across the Beate Uhse tax-free sex shop. Naturally determined to fulfill my mission to find things to blog about, and for no other reason, I went in. If I do decide to by myself an enormous sex toy in the future, I'll know where the bargains are. But I must be so old-fashioned, because while perusing the impressive array of devices, magazines and DVDs, I just kept on thinking "who buys these at the airport?" over and over again.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ah, Vienna

A lovely sunny autumn day here in Vienna.

Ah, Vienna

The transit system here is easy and quick and I used it to potter around town this afternoon, even going so far as to go into an eating establishment and have Viennese goulash (made with veal) and Viennese Apple Strudel, both of which were delicious. But now I've had my fill of local colour and I have to go and do some work.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another solution to the North-South divide

Well, money, obviously. But maybe not the way you think.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Up in smoke

I've just thought of a word play I can't resist and I just have to post it. I had a very pleasant evening out last week. I went up to London to see the Mayor's Festival. Thanks to some corporate hospitality I had an excellent view from the Oxo Tower, looking down on the Thames. They had a fantastic fireworks display: the fireworks were on barges in the Thames front of us. The fireworks were not only beautiful and spectacular but also really loud, so loud that the building was shaking. I mean really shaking.

Who doesn't love fireworks! Especially when they are paid for by London taxpayers and not us suburbanites. It meant that I could literally watch Londoners money going up in smoke, and enjoy every bit of it.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, September 20, 2008

With permission

We're having an extension built on our house. Well, we're planning to have an extension built on our house, assume that when I go back to the bank with a more exactly estimated size for my begging bowl they will lend me the money (what else are they going to do with it though, I wonder). Anyway, I've not been through this process before, but having established how infeasible it is consider moving to a slightly larger property (not at all feasible under the current regime) we've gone down the well-trodden path of Middle England and hired architects to draw up a plan and then submit it to the local council. I popped round to the neighbours to check with them that they were O.K. with it -- they were -- and then told the architect to get on with it and thought no more about it.

A couple of weeks ago we got a letter from the council saying something about planning consultation or something. If said something about a web site where you could look at our planning application, but when we followed the URL it turned out that it would be a few days before the application would be visible. When we remembered, about a week later, we'd lost the letter so we're still none the wiser about the cyberplanning process, but not to worry.

Then, a few days ago, I started getting letters from builders touting for business, self-storage companies offering their services and all manner of helpful tradespersons. It hadn't occurred to me that enterprising individuals would, of course, scour the local council planning applications to find new business opportunities. Good on them, I don't mind in the least. You could understand them looking through these things, but no-one else.

But then my wife got a phone call from a friend of hers from work, who said that she had been reading through the planning applications in the local paper and saw our name. It subsequently transpired that whereas, for many years, I have picked up the local paper only when one of my children is featured in it, other people actually subscribe to the neighbourhood Bugle & Trumpet. My wife's friend says that she sits down with a cup of tea, looks through all of the property pages at all of the houses for sale (even though she is not actually looking for a house) and then looks through the planning applications. To her, this is relaxation.

I have never, ever, in my entire life, ever looked at the property pages except when we were buying a house. Even then, I delegated this dreary task to my good lady wife, and confined myself to looking at the estate agent's details for the properties she had shortlisted. But under no circumstances would I ever look through planning applications. When I mentioned this odd behaviour to a colleague, he told me that his wife does exactly the same thing. Now, I knew that the peculiar Middle England obsession with property was greater than I personally felt, but I had no idea it went this far.

Is it a Surrey thing? Or an woman thing? Or a Surrey woman thing?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Driving lesson

The Italian driving test must be very different from ours. I snapped this woman in Milan, simultaneously talking on the phone, smoking a cigarette and overtaking. With style and verve.

Milan Moves

I'm jealous of the Italians, there's no getting away from it. They are too relaxed, too stylish, too happy.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Traditional street scene

Formula One fever is sweeping Singapore. A bit. I turns out that in a couple of weeks they're going to have a night Grand Prix through the streets there, which sounds kind of fun. This is why you see this kind of thing when ambling down the street.

Renault in Singapore

In the evening, the bar near this display was full of a number of very attractive young ladies who had obviously been stood up by their boyfriends, as they were still hanging around waiting for them. Is this connected?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jeju view

I went swimming in sea for the first time since... actually I can't remember the last time I went swimming in sea. But when the sea looks like this, as it does on Jeju, it's irresistible.

Jeju view

It's not as if I don't like going swimming in the sea, it's just that I live in England, where the idea of swimming in the sea is thoroughly unpleasant. The last time I went on to a beach, which I think was in Somerset, all I can remember (apart from the ever-present threat of hypothermia) was that I was the only person in the vicinity without a tattoo, and that included the women.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, September 08, 2008

Seoul survivor

I'm in Seoul. And have nothing interesting to say, but I simply could not allow that headline to go unused. So I'm posting a picture of my toilet, which is the first one I've ever used with its own control panel.

Where's my iToilet!

And, while I'm think about it, respect to Seoul Incheon International Airport. While I was waiting for a flight from gate 23, I noticed a free wifi lounge. I wandered over, ordered a Coke, sat down and logged in. Great service. But get this: the seat had a Macintosh magnetic power adapter coming out of it, so I didn't even have to unpack my adapter. Highly recommended. See, I don't only moan when traveling.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Notorious J.K.R.

When I was in New York recently, I happened to read in the newspaper there about a court case involving multi-millionaire J. K. Rowling and some hapless fan of hers. I won't go into the details because they are too boring, but following another blog trail when I was bored because there's no footie on, I came across this, which I can't resist linking to...

Rowling's hypocrisy is so thick I can hardly breathe: Prior to the publication of each novel, there were books about them that were no more intrusive than Lexicon. I contributed to one of them, and there was no complaint about it from Rowling or her publishers because they knew perfectly well that these fan/scholar ancillary publications were great publicity and actually boosted sales.

[From J.K. Rowling, Lexicon and Oz]

As far as I know, this case is still awaiting judgement, but I had an idea for a settlement: since Harry Potter fan fiction and the like must have resulted in more books being sold and more movie tickets being sold, she could just give say 10% of her take to the fans who create and maintain these sites. Turn them into co-productions. Or, alternatively, just go away and leave them alone.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The world's favourite airline suggestion

I was filling in a questionnaire on board my flight today, you know one of those forms they give to every Nth person. How was the check in? Great. How was the lounge? Great. How was the flight? 10 minutes late, but hey. Any suggestions?

Normally I ignore this sort of thing, refusing to provide for free the ideas that their management consultants are undoubtedly charging them millions to not come up with, but the experiences of the flight led to break the habit, so I suggested they modify the simply two-state lavatory door indicate from "Green: Vacant" and "Red: Occupied" to "Green: Vacant", "Red: Occupied" and "Yellow: Vacant, but I'd give it a minute."

Are you with me!

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, August 29, 2008


I happened to be reading an article about a new book by Polly Toynbee (of The Guardian) and her partner David Walker (fo The Guardian). It's called Unjust Rewards and it's about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, that kind of thing. But something struck me as odd while I was reading it. While conservatives are criticsed for "Victorian" views of the deserving and undeserving poor, it seems to me that the views of the media elite are founded on similarly outdated notions of the deserving and undeserving rich: Some people who earn more than, say, five times the average wage deserve their money (eg, Guardian columnists) whereas other people (eg, lawyers and bankers) don't. I have a family member who is a lawyer, and I can testify that he works far harder than I do and definitely deserves his money. I don't have any family members who are bankers, so I can't say whether they deserve it or not.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Man, kids are smart

As we all know, video games are the cause of most of the world's ills -- for another few weeks. The kids are well aware of this, so as a consequence when a kid was caught making Molotov cocktails, he naturally blamed it not on TV, cinema, rock n'roll, comic books or anything else the judge might not go for. No, he blamed it on Grand Theft Auto (GTA). There was a flaw in his plan...

It’s questionable whether the kids actually discovered how to make Molotov Cocktails from any of the games in the GTA series, because the weapon comes ready-assembled in the game.

[From Teens admit to Grand Theft Auto-inspired petrol bombfest | Register Hardware]

When you were a revolting yob in the 1950s you could blame it on rock n' roll. In the 1960s, you could blame in on television. In the 1970s, Clockwork Orange. In the 1980s, Mrs. Thatcher and yoof disenfranchisement. In the 1990s, it was rap music. Today, it's... computer games.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was riding my government-subsidised bicycle to work again today and I noticed that I'm actually turning into a proper cyclist, and this is only my first month. I got really upset by cars cutting me up on the A320, gnashed my teeth because the council has let bushes grow over the path, swore at cars parked half on the pavement and felt a strange, warm glow of supercilliousness as I freewheeled past the petrol station. I don't know what's happening to me...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Paint it black (and then and jewels)

I was walking down Oxford Street with a friend and he pointed out a Muslim woman walking past in black head-to-toe covering, which I believe is called a hijab. In the back, picked out in sparkly stones, was "Dior". We remarked to each other on the cleverness of designers and walked on. But then, alerted to the phenomenon, we began to notice that many of the hijabs that you see on Oxford Street have jewels around the cuffs or stones set on the sleeve and that sort of thing. I'd never noticed it before, but I guess there's a deep seated human desire to display status -- my husband is richer than your husband -- that will always find a way. It's just a different kind of bling.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 11, 2008

The evil of dihydrogen monoxide

This is pretty funny -- it's Penn and Teller sending out a researcher to get members of the public to sign a petition complaining about dihydrogen monoxide -- but there's a serious point behind it: the public are, generally speaking, a bit thick. They're not as thick as pop stars though: so what the campaign against dihydrogen monoxide really needs is a high-profile spokesperson like Chris Martin from Coldplay.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, August 08, 2008

Smooth operators

How odd. I went into Starbucks with no. 2 son. I had a relaxing Latte, he wanted something with fruit. On the blackboard was advertised some form of special that seemed to involve apples and mangoes. He asked if it was a smoothie. The assistant told us "we're not allowed to call it a smoothie" but then went on to inform us in a conspiratorial aside that "but it is a smoothie". Has someone patented the word "smoothie"? I wonder if next time I ask for a coffee after lunch in a restaurant I'll be told "we're not allowed to call it coffee" because of a retaliatory strike by Starbuck's legal team. But, as always, truth is stranger than idle speculation in a snide aside. It turns out that Starbucks has already been trying to trademark particular coffee bean types!

Starbucks, the giant US coffee chain, has used its muscle to block an attempt by Ethiopia's farmers to copyright their most famous coffee bean types, denying them potential earnings of up to £47m a year, said Oxfam.

[From Starbucks, the coffee beans and the copyright row that cost Ethiopia £47m | World news | The Guardian]

I'm bored of saying it, but you can't make this stuff up.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's all about the kiddies

In the strange, looking-glass world of modern Britain, most stories in the daily newspapers are already beyond parody. For instance: I read in my newspaper (at least, I read in the newspaper of the man sitting next to me on the Tube) of an 82 year-old of woman who was stopped from taking photographs of an empty paddling pool in a public park because a council official was worried that she might be a paediatrician.

So it's true. Anyone out with a camera in a public place is now, officially, either a terrorist or a pervert (perhaps even both). How did this happen?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Terror at 39,000 feet

How angry would you be if this happened to you!!

I was on a red-eye flight to the East Coast when nature called. I shut down my laptop and placed it in the seat pocket. On returning to my seat, I discovered it was missing. Surveying the surrounding area, I found a pre-teen boy nearby using my laptop. When I confronted the kid, his parent said the boy was bored and that I should share my computer with him. I refused and rang for the flight attendant, only to find out that she was the one who’d given the kid my laptop.

[From Macworld | The Portable Office: Travel Terrors]

I don't care how bored someone else's kid is, or who stupid the flight attendant is, I would go beserk.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, July 25, 2008

Commercial break

The Great She Elephant has set up a T-shirt shop and has already created one of the definitive ideas for our age -- on her first day. T-shirts with meta-slogans. I've ordered one already, and so should you. Run, don't walk, over to Meta Tees.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moving story

Well, today I had the most exciting train ride I've had for a long time. The guy sitting in the seat in front of me, in person a rather ordinary (in fact, rather dull-looking) middle-aged man in a grey suit -- I hope he's not reading this -- was reading his text messages on a Nokia smartphone of some description. I was seating in the seat behind, trying to get some work done. I could see over his shoulder through the gap in the seats, so out of sheer boredom I glanced at this screen. It was sensational! I couldn't see what he was typing because he held the phone down to his lap to type, but I could see the messages he was getting back when he held them up to read them. They were from a woman. I deduced that they worked together and that one of her friends had recently left her husband and that she might do that same. Most of the messages concerned speculation as to their joint activities when next along. Probably the only one that I can remember that is fit to describe in a family blog said that she was wearing a T-shirt under her work dress and that when they got behind the door (I'm not sure what that meant) she was going to strip off the dress so that he could... well, you get the picture. (I don't, by the way, as I'm unable to picture any especially stimulating T-shirts.) This sort of thing doesn't happen every day, so thanks for brightening up the morning, Mr. Grey and Mrs. Scarlet.

P.S. I would never send messages like this on a mobile phone. The danger of hitting SEND to the wrong person is just so overwhelming... and what are the chances you'd remember to delete the messages when it comes time to give the phone back to the IT department and pick up your new one...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rail, rain, ran

Picked a stupid day for my first attempt at riding my government-subsidised bicycle to work. I rode it to Woking in the rain, when I was late, locked it up in the town centre (where I saw a CCTV camera, so I assumed that was the best place to leave it) and then ran (well, jogged) up to the station to get on a train into London. I didn't realise that the good people of South West Trains have thoughtfully provided a bike rack inside the station itself, so next time I'll bring the bike in and lock it up there. Once again, I couldn't help noticing that it was less effort than I had been imagining: Taxpayer's money is clearly powering my pedalling.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Take a butcher's

A lovely meal -- very meat-centric -- out at the Butcher's Shop Grill in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg.

Giant Nelson Mandela

Everyone is complaining about how high the prices are here, but that's probably because they haven't been to London recently. I noticed there's a lot of construction going in, including a new train line from the airport, through the townships and Johannesburg and on to Pretoria, which I guess must be related to the impending World Cup. If England don't make it down to South Africa in 2010, I will swear off of football for good. Mind you, my taxi driver was more pessimistic about the host's chances than I was about England's.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Miles and less

While sitting in a coffee shop in Singapore, I picked up a local business magazine that was reporting on some survey of airline passengers. It made the news because Singapore Airlines came top of the poll in most categories (as it usually does) and Changi airport came top of the airport poll in most categories (as it usually does). But I couldn't help noticing that our national flag bearer wasn't doing too well. It came second bottom (to Garuda) in amenities, which is pretty spectacular, and came rock bottom in frequent flier programmes. I think this is an accurate result. BA Miles is a rubbish scheme, which no longer serves as any form of incentive. I have thousands upon thousands of BA Miles and find it impossible to redeem them. Want to take the kids to the States? No chance: there's not a single BA Miles seat to San Francisco in the school holiday. Want to visit friends in India at Christmas? No chance: no seats to Mumbai or Delhi. The only places you can get to with BA Miles are places that you don't want to visit at times when you can't go. As soon as my BA Executive Gold card arrives in a couple of weeks, I'm going to complain -- I figure it will carry more weight once I've got the gold card -- and then start looking for airlines with better frequent flier miles. Any suggestions?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Surveillance and stupidity

Searching for something else, I came across Camilla Cavendish, writing on Times Online. She is right to say that

The latest proposal by Home Office officials, to hold every telephone call and e-mail in the UK, described as a “crucial tool” for protecting national security and preventing crime, is wholly disproportionate.

[From We're a nation of interfering traffic wardens | Camilla Cavendish - Times Online]

But it's more than merely disproportionate: Delivering that kind of power to petty bureaucrats, especially British petty bureaucrats, actually stimulates, encourages and invites the kind of distressing behaviour that we imagine to be the torment of the hapless inhabitants of Burma or North Korea. Just as the Regulation of Invesitgatory Powers Act (RIPA) ended up being used by councils -- at great expense -- to stop parents from sneaking their children into State Education Camp No.913 when they should be going to State Education Camp No. 914, I firmly expect the government's great e-mail database to be utterly useless in finding Osama bin Laden but invaluable to Woking Borough Council when investigating important cases of people not shutting their rubbish bins properly. By matching the e-mail trail to the DNA database to the CCTV photos, they'll have you bang to rights if you put too much in your bin (too much being now defined as more than a binman, sorry binperson, can easily move with two fingers.

I know which way my two fingers are pointing. One of the reasons why I'm beginning to think it unlikely that my children will ever decide to stay and seek their fortune in this green and pleasant land is that the steady erosion of fundamental liberties -- for no good purpose -- is becoming so commonplace that it is scarcely remarked on.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, July 07, 2008

The world's least favourite credit card scheme

I was in the Far East and I needed a software package on my Mac because I wanted to muck about with some graphics for a presentation. I logged on to the (UK) software company and attempted to purchase. Both of my Visa cards were declined and the store doesn't take American Express (or anything else useful such as PayPal). Aaarrgh! How crap is this. Presumably, Barclays' systems were rejecting the transaction because it's CNP coming in from outside the UK and presumably the store doesn't really want any business from international travellers with Amex cards. So stuff them: I will buy the software from somewhere on the street next time I'm in Hong Kong and, frankly, I hope it's a bootleg since I'd done everything I might reasonably do to pay them when I needed the software. Wait a moment, there's always PirateBay...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fuel for thought

I'm very torn on the whole fuel tax / car duty thing. On the one hand, I resent paying a penny to the government since they will almost certainly waste it on something dumb, but on the other hand, if you're going to tax things then it may as well be fuel. No-one can avoid the tax -- unless they are farmers -- and it's easy to collect. In fact, I'm sure that car tax should be scrapped and rolled into fuel duty as well. I think that car discs should display insurance, not car tax.

If the current trend continues, however, and travel by car becomes too expensive for ordinary people, then the total tax take will surely start to fall, won't it? Fortunately, now that I've joined the ridiculous government "let poor taxpayers fund a nice bike for middle class people" scheme, I'm hoping to reduce the government's tax take even further by leaving the car at home once or twice a week. Let's see how it goes...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is the life

French air traffic control are on strike, so I'm stuck on the tarmac, sitting in airless 737 with a bunch of other tired, bored, angry people who want to go home as much as I do. British Airways don't tell us there's going to be at least an hour delay, naturally, until we're all sitting on the plane. Since I'm being forced to traveller cattle-class by a mean and joyless conference producer, there's nothing to eat or drink either. What a total waste of time, especially when I have so much to do. I can just about type, with my laptop jammed up against the seat in front, but it's at an angle that is making my wrist ache: I can feel the pins and needles starting already, so I'm not going to get much work done. If I were a veal calf, aggrieved campaigners such as Carla "it's the people who are the problem" Lane would be waiting to for me at Gatwick.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Longest night

I was woken up in the middle of the night by howling wind, rain lashing against the windows and water splashing from a broken gutter on to the driveway. At first I was puzzled, since I didn't think that there was monsoon season in Britain any more, but then I remembered: it's nothing to do with global warming, it's the strange cosmic impact of Wimbledon, which starts tomorrow. Better get the raincoat for work tomorrow.

When I was woken, I was dreaming that the government had come up with a mental scheme to pay for comfortably-off middle class people like me to buy really fancy bikes and have them funded by the taxes of those on minimum wage. But when I woke up it turned out to be true, so like everyone else at work I've bought an expensive bike. I fully intend to attempt to ride it to work at some point in the future.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Next stop Valhalla

I'm pretty sure I heard the station announcer at Waterloo refer to a train to Isengard and Chertsey. This would seem to be a fairly unusual rerouting, even for South West Trains. Perhaps there are engineering works at Asgard.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, June 16, 2008

Oranges and total lemons

I'm so jealous of the Dutch. The useless English football team failed to qualify for the European Championship, so they've all gone off to somewhere in Italy for Wayne Rooney's wedding. Meanwhile, proper footballers are fighting it out in Austria and Switzerland. I was in Amsterdam last Monday night, when the Dutch beat (in fact, battered) the current world champions, Italy. It was 3-0, and the Italians were lucky to get 0. Everywhere you looked in Amsterdam there was bright orange, carousing in the streets, happy drunken people (with none of the menace that would be associated with same in the U.K.) and flag-bedecked bicycles and mopeds going up and down the road. Brilliant, but tinged with bitter envy from the Brits in the bar.

I noticed an interesting sartorial difference between our two great nations when in thrall to international football competitions. In Eng-ger-land, everyone goes to the pub to watch a big match wearing the national team shirt. In Holland, everyone goes to the pub dressed in orange: orange dresses for the ladies (or jeans, T-shirts and hi-visibility jackets with bright orange stripes), orange shirts and pants for the men, but relatively few team shirts. Wearing the colours is paramount, wearing the official Nike £50 team shirt isn't.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Don't be Vague

Don't be Vague
Originally uploaded by Citizen_Dave

I'm somewhere in The Hague. Round the corner from the Museum of Communication, in fact. And how pleasant is The Hague on a day like today, with the sun shining and the Dutch team steaming through the European Championships.

Many years I ago I used to live here, on the coast right next to the Kuurhaus. What a mistake it was to chose an apartment in the summer, when it's all jazz festivals and dinner overlooking the beach. Come autumn, the wind comes sweeping in from the North Sea and it's like living on Jupiter.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One up the Khyber

Surely I can't be the only one. If I hear on the news about Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, in my head I picture noted English actor Kenneth Williams. That’s because he starred as the Khazi of Khalibar, the head of the Pashtun (I assume) opponents of the British Raj in the greatest film of the Carry On series (in fact one of the greatest English films of all time) Carry On up the Khyber. It’s a natural mistake to make: The Khyber Pass (the geographical feature, not the restaurant in Woking) which is central to the story, is indeed on the border of modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the confusion – a result of my brain’s limited capacity – is understandable.

I won't direct the delicate to a dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang to point out what "Khyber Pass" means in the East End vernacular, and therefore the double entendre in "up the Khyber". That would be indelicate."

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Iced, iced, baby

You think your job is tough? I suspect the head of PR for the Icelandic Tourist Board would be happy to swap with the Corporate Social Responsibility guy at Al Qaeda right now. As you may now, they (together with the Norwegians) have been going out a limb (well, fin) a little with their sea-farming:

The United States on Tuesday urged Iceland and Norway to cease exporting whale meat to Japan, which they have resumed for the first time since the early 1990s despite a United Nations ban.

[From US urges Norway, Iceland to end whale meat exports | Reuters]

Oh no, what now! Well, not long after they outraged just about everyone -- except the Japanese -- by starting to kill whales again, the hardy folk of that beautiful, remote, volcanic world found the first polar bear seen in Iceland for 20 years. And shot it. Way to go sagadudes! Take my advice and put the kitten-throwing competition on hold for a while...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Super, super Cannes

In all these years, I'd never been to Sophia Antipolis before, so I was quite looking forward to my first visit. Unfortunately, the visit was spoiled because as I stepped out of taxi and looked around, I suddenly found the landscape both familiar -- despite never having been there -- and strangely sinister. For a moment I was genuinely disconnected, and then I realised that it was because of J. G. Ballard. One of the greatest of all English novelists, his Super Cannes, which I read some years ago. Ballard's descriptions of the buildings, the executive cars lined up out side them, the trees partly hiding the landscape, are so perfect that my brain slipped out of gear for a moment as it tried to come to terms with the fact that I hadn't actually been there before. Although I'd forgotten about the book up until this moment, the sense of lurking amorality washed over me as soon as I breathed the air there.

Super. super Cannes

It actually is quite an odd place, in that while it's in beautiful hills and no more than an expensive taxi ride away from Nice, there is a pervading artificiality that is slightly jarring. If you're driving around the Cambridge Science Park, say, then it is openly artificial, a medium-is-the-message artefact of the times, and so it's not odd. But you don't get that feeling here. Maybe it's because it's just new. Fortunately, none of the people I met looked as if they might be murdering immigrants in their spare time, but you can never really tell, can you?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Isn't there some sort of EU rule about unfair competition from governments? If so, surely British satirists will have to launch an action, because they simply cannot compete with the U.K.'s elected representatives (at every level). In today's newspaper I read that a local council wants to send out detailed -- and intrusive -- questionnaires in order to establish who the legal guardians of rubbish bins might be. This is, naturally, so that they can prosecute people for putting too much rubbish in the bins (or the wrong kind of rubbish). They blame it on Brussels -- reasonable I suppose -- but I doubt even North Koreans have to register their bins with the commissars. I don't really understand the thinking behind this, except that a general policy of creating crimes that it's hard to arrest and prosecute people for (eg, not shutting a rubbish bin properly) will improve the crime statistics, because these statistics are currently made up of crimes (eg, murder) that it's difficult to arrest and prosecute people for. Householder, particularly homeowners, are much better bet. Such people often try to get their children into good schools as well, it appears.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

News and olds

Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't be a little tougher on the use of the word "news". There must be some way that Google or someone can apply some rudimentary information theory so that news feeds could actually be restricted to news. The definition of news must include so element of surprise: something that you know already isn't news. There would be no point sending out a news bulletin saying that the sun has risen or that a government IT project is late and massively overbudget. We already know these things: it's only if they don't happen that we need to be told. The problems come at the margins, of course. I was thinking about this the other day, when this article turned up in a news feed:

Internet consultant firm Gartner claims that only 1 in 10 commercial virtual worlds succeeds, and most fail within 18 months

[From Slashdot | Most Business-Launched Virtual Worlds Fail]

As soon as I read this I thought, hold on, don't only 1 in 10 of all new restaurants succeed and don't most fail within 18 months? In fact, don't only 1 in 10 of all new businesses succeed and don't most fail within 18 months? So shouldn't the headline have been that "commercial virtual worlds are exactly the same as commercial anything else". Is that news?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the waterfront

When summer finally arrived, I was told the weather in England was unbelievable, but I was in Stockholm, where the weather was unbelievable.


The Stockholm waterfront was wonderful. As the sun went down, we strolled to a fabulous fish restauraunt.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Litter lout

Bill Bryson, who is the head of the Campaign for Rural England, has been complaining about the amount of litter everywhere in the UK. I hate to sound unpatriotic, but he's right: England is a dump.

I spend a lot of time working in different countries at the moment, and I can vouchsafe that nowhere is as filthy as home. You don't see garbage all over the place when walking around New York and as soon as you return to Woking you can't help but notice rubbish in the hedgerows, on the verges, beside the road. Compared to Singapore, living in Woking is like living in a landfill. It really does begin to affect you after a while, because you want to feel proud of your homeland, but it's becoming increasingly more difficult. With St. George's day still fresh in my mind, I'm trying to find -- cling on to -- a few things to be proud about, but all I've come up with so far is Radio Four.

Unfortunately, when I picked up the newspaper are after arriving back in merrie England, the first stories I saw were about a criminal being let out of jail to go on a golfing holiday, the police taking over four hours to respond to a 999 call about a murder and a guy being fined (and getting a criminal record) for putting too much rubbish in his bin (oh, and a convicted terrorist is being let out of jail because he can't be deported as it will violate his human rights). Still, great to have a decent cup of Yorkshire Gold tea again.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Protect and survive

Having been up and down to London a lot recently, I've been experimenting to try and find the optimum iPod playlist for surviving extended use of South West Trains facilities. As an alternative to driving my car into the ticket office and then setting fire to myself on track (when I go, I want to cause the maximum disruption possible, so it's either that or start an internet rumour that there's a secret hoard of Illuminati treasure buried under Clapham Junction), I've iterated to a pretty set. Let me know what you think...

As you as the train is visible, hit play and go into Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins "It's Like That". It pumps you up ready for experiment in natural selection that is any morning train to Waterloo. The pounding beat gets your circulation up so that you can bundle old ladies out of the way and trample schoolchildren to get to one of six remaining seats for the 121 people getting on.

The full-length "vinyl" mix of DJ Tiesto's Adaggio for Strings provides insulating techno-backdrop as the train eases through the Surrey countryside. Plenty of nice variation to help you keep concentration despite the heat and lack of oxygen from the jammed carriages but an excellent trace underlay that allows you to focus on the copy of Metro you grabbed going through the station.

Now that you've finished the copy of Metro and haven't even got to Surbiton, it's time for Peter Rauhofer's "Doomsday" club remix of the old Frankie classic "Relax". I find this to be an excellent track for many public transport situations, especially when you want to turn things up a bit because the person sitting next to you is an management consultant trying to talk to a colleague on a mobile phone, as happened to me last time. What a conversation: "is the synergies presentation ready yet... what... no, synergies... in the switch to multi-model corporate work-life balance education..."

Now we're moving through Clapham Junction it's time to move on to the Blue Man Group version of the KLF groove "Last Train to Transcentral". I saw them do this in New York fifteen years ago, and having taken no.1 son to the show back in New York a couple of weeks ago -- ah, the cycle of life -- I've found it good for managing rising stress levels and the body begins to anticipate shifting to the Underground at Waterloo.

The transfer from South West Trains to Red Ken Rail (I guess I should get used to calling it Boris' Borehole from now on) needs a slightly slower, but still driving effort, so on recent trips I've moved the Canibus with Biz Markie cover of the old Johnny Paycheck favourite "Take This Job and Shove It" up the running order. This takes you through the crowds of commuters and down into the Stygian, airless depths of The Drain, where you shuffle en masse down the steps and into the carriage.

If you're on time, the Chemical Brothers live from Glastonbury "Out of Control" is ideal accompaniment through to Bank and up into The City, where the traffic, filth, beggars, crowds and weather welcome you to the beating financial heart of the British economy.

If you're walking to an office from Bank, I find that the Boy George and Culture Club extended club version of "Generations of Love" is a lovely backdrop, calming and uplifting but not too slow, so that you're ready for action as you walk through the door.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Should I have apologised?

I was walking past the White House the other day, when I suddenly thought to myself that perhaps I should go and apologise because it was burned down by the British in the War of 1812. I know it's all the rage to apologise for ancient wrongs, and I want to surf the zeitgeist.

White House

I have to say it was a beautiful day and as I had a couple of hours free I walked all around the White House and down to the Washington Monument and part way along to the Capitol and a few others places. While I was having coffee, I read an article in the Washington Post about American's giving up their cars and using public transport. I have to say that I've been using the bus and transit here -- I didn't take a taxi once -- and it works very well. I caught the bus to West Falls Church metro and then took the metro downtown. I also took the bus over to Tyson's Corner for a $2 exchange rate rampage. The buses were pretty much on time, comfortable and only $1 (that's a fraction of what I pay to ride the bus to Woking train station, which is the equivalent of $3.50) each way. There was even a story in the Post about a couple getting married and then taking the metro -- along with all of their guests -- to the reception. Once major difference between riding the bus in Washington D.C. and riding the bus in Woking that I noticed was the civility. People were being nice to each other. The teenagers weren't drunk, swearing at everyone or listening to loud music and one or two of them even -- unprompted -- said hello to me. Even the BBC have begun to acknolwedge this...

I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place, the lack of the violent undercurrent so ubiquitous in British cities, even British market towns.

[From BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | America's 'safety catch']
In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dragon's den

I was talking to my 11-year old in the car about school.

Me: So how was school today?
Son: They told us the story of St. George in assembly, about how he killed a green dragon with his spear. But I don't think it's true, it's just a story. It couldn't have happened.
Me: Why do you think that?
Son: Because a long spear only does 1d8 damage, so even if he got critical hit with triple damage, that's not enough to take down a green dragon. Unless it was a juvenile.
Me: Well, suppose St. George had a lance, not a spear, and was charging.
Son: Couldn't have happened. A lance is a bludgeoning weapon and the teacher said he pierced the dragon's side.
Son (after a bit of thinking): Suppose George was a 10th-level Paladin with Weapon Focus spear, Power Attack and strength 18. Then suppose that the story exaggerated the size of the green dragon, and that the green dragon had been out fighting or something and flew back to its lair because it was down to 40 hit points. Then it could have happened, if George got a critical hit. That would have made him a hero.

Clearly, obsession with Dungeons & Dragons is, after all, genetic.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.[posted with ecto]

Monday, April 28, 2008

I saw one! I saw one!

According the U.K. newspapers, the American grey squirrels that have been driving our own British red squirrels to extinction are now about to get their come-uppance from a new master race of mutant black super squirrels.

Scientists say the testosterone-charged black is fitter, faster and more fiercely competitive than both reds or greys.
[From The pack of mutant black squirrels that are giving Britain's grey population a taste of their own medicine| News | This is London]

I nearly fell off the couch when I read this, because I saw a mutant black squirrel in New York two weeks ago, in Central Park. I'd never seen a black squirrel before so I stopped to look and take a picture to show the folks back home...

Mutant super-squirrel caught on camera

Even more amazingly, not 20 yards away I saw the dead body of grey squirrel! Seriously! They're here already! You're next! You're next!

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Top comment on Glastonbury

I wish I could write as well as Emily Hill at Spiked...

Glastonbury’s got 99 problems – but Jay-Z ain’t one.

[From Who killed Glastonbury? | spiked]

A sentence that works on so many levels. In order to understand it, you need to know about Glastonbury's slide from countercultural Mecca (when I used to go, of course) to flabby post-modern dreariness, one of Jay-Z's greatest hits (and a work of modern poetry, "99 Problems") and the fact that ticket sales are down this year. All beautifully encapsulated in a single sentence that literally shines from the page. Sometimes, writing like this makes me want to cry, because I fancy myself as a writer (I've even been to my first editorial conference at a real magazine) yet I know I'll never write that line now.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wireless whingeing

I was staying at the Okura in Amsterdam for a couple of days. They put me in one of their refurbished rooms, which was great. It had a bath as well as shower and a flat-screen TV in the bathroom wall. Normally, I just have a shower and then get on with things, but it was genuine pleasure to lay back and soak in the tub while watching (in my case) football on the telly. The shower cubicle was glass-sided as well, so I watched Sky News while having a shower in the morning. Most convenient.

The room was very comfortable, with a well-configured desk for working (it has U.S., European and U.K. power sockets -- nice touch!) and a comfy bed. All in all, very good. Except... it was 27 euros per day for Internet access. Why do they do this? It drives me mad. I got in late and was very tired, I flopped into bed and quickly typed a couple of e-mails, but when I wanted to send them to had to get up, go and find my wallet and type in the usual rubbish before I was able to log in. There should be a law forcing hotels to display their internet charges -- these are, essentially, a hidden charge since it's simply not possible to go for a couple of days without internet access in the modern world. If only my dongle came with more reasonable roaming charges then these outrageous hotel charges would be a thing of the past.

One more point: like most people in the hotel, I'm sure, I didn't really care what the Internet access cost since I wasn't paying for it, but it's the principle of the thing (and the hassle) that bothers me. Why isn't Internet bundled into the room cost with water and electricity?

By the way, I stayed at the Empire Hotel in New York a few days later and it had free wifi, just as wifi should be.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Guru gloats

There's something quite strange about the looking-glass world that is Britain today. I know this is the case because when I relay news stories from the U.K. to friends, relatives and colleagues in other countries, I find myself having to begin my tale with "I'm not making this up". That, sadly, tells you something terrible about our society. Anyway, sometime back, I said in a post about the Home Secretary's extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that

I'd lay a pound to a penny that the first time Woking council invoke their new Stalinist powers it will not be to defeat a cunning plot by international terrorists dedicated to our destruction but in a dispute over hedges or car parking.

[From Citizen of the World... (Well, Woking)]

I can't tell you how upset I am to find my status as a guru confirmed by the news of the last couple of days. It transpires that

Councils and other public bodies are using legislation designed to combat terrorism in order to spy on people, obtain their telephone records and find out who they are emailing... Last year, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for "directed surveillance", according to figures released by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. This was almost double the number for the previous year.

[From Council spy cases hit 1,000 a month - Telegraph]

Note that, in comparison, applications from police and other law enforcement agencies fell during the same period, to about 19,000. The trend is very clear: soon, councils will be conducting more surveillance than MI5. Are the councils using the legislation to keep track of budding suicide bombers? No, of course not. The whole reason that this has blown up now is that one council was caught... well, I'm not making this up:

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks. The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total. Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications. It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.

[From BBC NEWS | England | Dorset | Council admits spying on family]

For puzzled overseas readers I must point out that the education system in the U.K. is so bad that parents who are unable to afford private school fees that have been inflated by Russian oligarchs, civil servants and celebrities will do anything to try and get their kids into the dwindling number of decent schools. One couple I know (not in Woking) gave their in-laws address, for example, because it was in the catchment area of a good school. In the socialist paradise of local authorities, this is considered an unpardonable sin. Hence the campaign to drive these terrible people (ie, middle class parents who want a good education for their kids) out of our neighbourhoods.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people. [posted with ecto]