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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And the Oscar for most bored listener goes to...

I don't care about things like the Oscars, and reacted very badly to a radio report I heard the other day which had either an actor or director (I didn't catch who it was) talking about "British" success at the Oscars (I haven't actually seen "The Reader", the Kate Winslet film about underage sex, so I don't know how British it actually is) whilst simultaneously calling for more public money for the film industry. Why we should be subsidising rich people to make films I don't know -- if they want more money for films they should ask Kate Winslet for it, not me -- but the person on the radio seemed to think that wealth transfer from me to Kenneth Brannagh is a natural state of affairs and that only a churlish philistine would object to it.

Well I do. Although I like films, just as everyone else does I suppose, I'm not really that interested in them or the actors. I can remember years ago talking to someone about Alien, which is one of my all-time favourites, a film that I've seen countless times. They asked me something about one of the actors in it, and I hadn't got a clue, because I didn't pay any attention to them outside of their characters in the film, if you see what I mean. My all-time favourite film is the original Australian cut of Mad Max, and my opinion of that film wasn't changed one iota when I found out that Mel Gibson is an anti-semitic nutter, because I wasn't interested in him in beyond the context of the film. I'm not saying the Oscars should be banned -- I don't feel that strongly about them one way or the other -- but I do wonder what they are really for.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More about miles

I recently wrote a whinge about BA miles and how useless they are because you can't use them in the school holidays. I only posted this to this blog, which does not have a readership of millions and, I am certain, has absolutely no influence in the world at all. But because my blogs are linked to Twitter, there was a corresponding tweet (with "BA" and "miles" in it).

A couple of days later, I received a letter from British Airways. It did not refer to the blog post or the tweet, but said that British Airways talk to 150 Gold members every month to see how to improve the Executive Club and that based on those conversations they had decided to allow Gold members to book reward flights (for double the miles) during school holidays. I'm sure this must be a complete coincidence, since I don't believe that BA's marketing department could be so ruthlessly efficient as to monitor Twitter to see what nobodies like me are saying about their service. But it did make me think.

So I decide to reinvestigate. I logged back in to my Gold account, and tried book a flight to San Francisco. The July flights are only available (at the time of writing) for two days (10th and 16th July) and those are not in the school holidays. The first day in the school holidays for which a flight is available is 5th August. So, if I exercise my right as a Gold member to go out at the end of July and come back a couple of weeks later, it will cost me 100,000 BA miles plus UKP 212. If I pay for the ticket, it will cost me UKP 689. This makes 100,000 miles worth UKP 477. Say UKP 500. That's 200 miles per UKP 1, so I'm "selling" the miles for 0.5p each.

Now, in a couple of weeks time I have to travel to a European capital city. The BA business fare is 582, the "rival" operator (not one of the budget airlines) business fare is 488, so say for sake of argument it's a UKP 100 premium for BA. This will earn me about 3000 miles, so I'm "buying" the miles for 30p each.

Perhaps my arithmetic is rusty, but it appears to me that BA are selling me miles for SIXTY TIMES the price they are buying them. Now, this isn't quite the equation because (as I'm sure is the case for most people) it's their company that buys the miles. Nevertheless, it means that whereas before I tried to redeem my miles I used to travel BA as a matter of course, imagining that the miles would be some compensation to my family for me being away so much, now that I've actually tried to redeem the miles I'm less likely to travel BA in future, so I still don't get the marketing policy. It should be an integral part of Silver or Gold status that you can use your BA miles to earn rewards whenever you like. I can understand why rewards seats are restricted in general, but they should not be restricted for the most valued customers.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dumbing down

I was listening to Ben Goldacre talking on Start the Week -- I don't know when it was broadcast, I was listening to it via the BBC's excellent podcast on iTunes, and he made a comment that pandered directly to my own prejudices. He said something along the lines of "the public get such rubbish reporting of scientific and technical issues because the media is made up of arts graduates".

Sorry, I just googled and found out that it was the episode broadcast on 19th January 2009:

DR BEN GOLDACRE attacks the media’s bad science reporting, claiming that it is a blot on the intellectual and economic landscape of this country. He believes that the lack of scientific knowledge amongst editors breeds cynicism, health scares and fashionable diagnoses.

[From BBC - Radio 4 - Start the Week]

I wonder, though, if it is actually worth trying to battle the education system and popular culture in order to educate the public any more? Perhaps a better strategy might be to tell them that there are UFOs and that crystal healing is real, and get them to behave in a better way. So instead of saying "you should get your kids the MMR because there is no scientific evidence to link it with autism, and because kids have started to die from measles again" we should tell them that pixies want them to get vaccinated, or whatever.

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

Friday, February 13, 2009


I read somewhere that chickens are sometimes hatched with teeth, as long-disused genes are switched back on by genetic mistakes. Nature is rather hopeless at managing DNA, so your genome is packed with "junk" including old genes that went wrong when we were plants. I was thinking about this because on Oxford Street today I was waiting to cross the road when I noticed a youth standing opposite me. He finished a bag of crisps and then threw the bag on the ground in a defiant manner, glaring around at the midday shoppers as if daring one of them to rebuke him for his exuberantly disgusting behaviour. In itself, not an unusual occurrence in the Zimbabwe of the North. But he looked decidedly Neanderthal to me, the spitting image of our pre-modern human cousins as depicted in museum displays around the world. I started to panic slightly. Suppose three generations of the welfare state has reduced evolutionary pressures for fitness, intelligence and other characteristics to the level below which they can no longer aid natural selection! It would explain a lot: as the old genes are randomly switched on, they are no longer selected away. This could explain why the general population is getting fatter and stupider and also provide an appropriate backdrop to celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth (which I am learning all about from the "In Our Time" podcasts even as I type). In hundred years or so, the population may well become largely Neanderthal again in Britain, and by then scientists will be able to clone wooly mammoths, so everyone will feel quite a home.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The dictatorship of the celebretariat

I was googling for something when I came across this phrase.

It's a dictatorship of the celebretariat

[From Big Brother meets Brother Tommy - The Scotsman]

The article was talking about Big Brother, in a context in which the use of phrase is very clever on multiple levels, which always appeals to me. That's because the article is about Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan and it mocks the old phrase about the dictatorship of the proletariat. But anyway. I've decided that it should replace "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" as Britain's new national motto because it so accurately describes the state of the nation. The general public are quite unable to distinguish between the deranged rantings of celebrities (many of whom are hereditary celebrities, rather than celebrities in their own right), the deranged rantings of politicians, and anyone talking sense. When a BBC interviewer asks an actor who is playing a teacher about education policy, which I actually heard on the radio with my own ears a few months ago, you know the game is up.

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

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Can someone who understands marketing please explain British Airways miles to me?

Since I'm trying hard not to moan about South West Trains after their sterling work during the recent snow event situation, I'm going to moan about British Airways instead, because being a Gold Executive Club member isn't turning out as wonderfully as I had hoped.

Now, I've long since given up trying to redeem by BA miles. They have no incentive value to me at all, because you cannot redeem them on any route during any time that you might conceivably want to use them (ie, in the school holidays). Thus, if you have a family, they are essentially useless.

Today I noticed an e-mail from BA putting forward an interesting and potentially useful alternative. If you book a flight, the e-mail claimed, then you can use your BA miles to get upgrades. That sounded interesting. We're planning on going to States in the summer, so why not go BA? In fact, as I suggested to my good lady wife, why not spring for World Traveller Plus seats and then upgrade to Club for a real family treat. So I called BA, with every intention of spending a couple of thousand pounds more with them that I would otherwise have considered. After about fifteen minutes of listening to recorded messages about insurance and various menus, I got through to a nice lady who explained to me that no upgrade seats were available on the route I was interested from the first date that we could possibly travel (23rd July) until the last date that we could possible travel (26th August). When I asked why, she said that (of course) it was the school holidays. As a result, I'm now more annoyed with BA than if they'd never sent me the e-mail in the first place. What's the point of BA miles? They are not an incentive to travel BA, and now they appear to functioning as a disincentive. I guess I just don't understand marketing, so I'm off to check out the Virgin website later on. After all, they do have hotter stewardesses, according to the advert.

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

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Credit where credit is due

I'm the first to complain about South West Trains, so let me be the first to praise them today. I went down to Woking station and there was a skeleton service running to Waterloo, stopping at various places along the way. I got a seat, and it only took me 40 minutes to get to Waterloo. And on the way back, I only had to wait 10 minutes at Waterloo for a train back to Woking. It stopped at a couple more places, so took a bit longer, but I really didn't care because

1) It was neat looking out of the window at the snowy landscapes of Surrey and

2) Because the train had power sockets in Second Class so I was able to work all the way home. Excellent. I got a lot done and had a pleasant journey.

If I could get a comfy seat and a power socket every time I take the train into London, I would get twice as much done in an average week.

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