The most realistic story ever told.

Category: Blog 1.0 (page 2 of 58)

2007-11-28 : What is the point of being able to find your own arse with both hands and a map, if the map is no good?

Claim: The North Magnetic Pole has shifted, and is midway between King's Cross and Euston Underground Stations.

Facts required for proof: The North Magnetic Pole moves about in an elliptical path with a maximum radial distance of about 80km coinciding with movement about the sun (ignoring polar drift for now), and as such the Magnetic North Pole is considered to be on average an area rather than a point. A compass needle points towards magnetic north, and once you are atop the magnetic north pole the only direction it is possible to travel is south (i.e. away from magnetic north).

Evidence for my highly scientific claim: If you are at King's Cross, you board a southbound Victoria Line train, and travel one station to Euston. Change to the southbound platform for the Northern Line, go one stop, and you're at King's Cross. Repeat ad-nauseam until you've spent all day heading south and have gotten nowhere.

2007-11-27 : Enlightenment

What is it about blokes that, once they hit about 40-45, makes them want to own a good sturdy torch (that's “flashlight”, for people of American extraction)?

I remember as a 5 or 6 year old having a little square AA battery torch, which was next to bloody useless as a source of illumination, but hey – you switch the switch and LIGHT COMES OUT OF THE END! Since then I've had a succession of torches, ranging through the variety of cheap crappy supermarket D-Cell eaters, through various penlights (each with a more astounding ability to self-strip the endcap thread than the last), until in my mid-teens I joined the ranks of Maglite owners. Granted, it was only the AA Mini Maglite – made from aircraft aluminium and giving the distinct impression that you could roll a tank over it & it wouldn't split into 50 bits like all those other cheap crappy torches. Owing to the size though the mini-maglite was still eminently loseable, and many of them lay scattered about the South Australian wildernesses, Wherever Scouts Do Go.

Once I'd moved into the ranks of motorists and no longer had to carry everything in my bag when I wnet places, suddenly the 3 D-Cell maglite became my lightsource of choice. Not packing the same intimidating yet awkward baseball bat-like form as its brothers the 4 and 6 D-Cell, the 3-D was like a gronup version of the mini maglite, except a lot more difficult to lose down a longdrop toilet and also treated with slightly more care & reverence owing to its $60+ pricetag. For a frigging torch.

I've subsequently had dalliances with a Petzl head torch – designed specifically so that you blind anyone you have a conversation with – both of the incandescent and LED variety, and with an enviro-friendly self-charging torch. A brilliant concept – moving magnetism creates electricity, which can then be stored in a battery and used to make light. The problems being firstly that you need quite a strong magnet, so placing this torch down near credit cards, audio cassettes, or anything else reliant on magnetic nature is duly buggered. Secondly, in order to move the magnet up and down the shaft of the torch you have to adopt a hand action which your friends will take great delight in using as a behavioural correlation to go with the fact you've bought a self-charging torch. Thirdly, the light source was a group of LEDs – touted not only for their low energy usage – but also notable for their low light output. Who knew? Oh and there was the brief but enjoyable period where I owned a handheld 50,000 candlepower portable spotlight. It was brilliant for summoning superheroes, and quite handy for rapidly drying paint, however not particularly practical for any of the purposes I'd typically need a torch for, and – somewhat inexplicably given the size, shape, and weight of the thing – I have no idea where on earth it is.

However the thing I'm talking about is what I perceive to be a middle-aged male need for what I know as a Dolphin Torch. A biggish, heavy, solid incandescent flashlight which uses one of those big, boxy, heavy batteries with the terminals that look a bit like metallic pigtails. Maybe it's a dad thing?

I don't understand the attraction to that particular size and style of torch. It's not as if that kind of battery lasts any longer than other types – my Dad's big orange torch always seemed to be out of juice (although that might have been because my brother and I would always go and get it from its place behind the front door and flash it around behind the furniture and stuff, because being in the dark's more fun when you can see what else is in the dark with you).

This isn't really going anywhere – I just wanted to talk about torches for a bit. I don't think I even own one any more. After the wankertorch (see above) died I've just resigned myself to having to stumble about in the dark.

2007-11-27 : These giant monkeys will devour us all!

Had a dream last night that the world had been somehow populated by giant apes and lizards (King Kong / Godzilla stylee), and that civilisation was generally freaking the f*ck out about it. The main trouble being that in these times of life largely being centred around retail and tourism, nobody seemed to have much of a survival instinct, and people were therefore getting eaten or crushed left, right & centre.

Upon waking up, my first thought seemed to be, “Hmm, good idea – better write out a risk management plan to deal with giant mutant humanoid reptiles and simians”, but the trouble is there's so many damn variables.

Is it a better idea, for starters, to be in the city or the country? In the city you'd have more tech resource at your disposal, but you'd also have more crowds of panicking people to deal with. In the country you'd be better positioned to gather food, but unless you could fortify a cave or something, you'd be more exposed. Of course it's not something you can necessarily plan ahead for, and I would assume that in the midst of a rampaging dinosaur crisis is not the best time to be totally reliant on being able to get a flight out to Australia (good place to take refuge, I reckon).

A lot depends on the species of giant animal, also – I guess I'd assumed that they'd be carnivorous, but that's not a given, is it? Maybe the animals are ordinarily placid, but are being driven insane by the massive volumes of radio wave traffic in the air? The individual's survival solution would therefore be to get somewhere where there's either less radio activity, or less dangerous animals.

One would assume there to be some sort of military or police involvement, however having thousands of gigantic predators suddenly appear in a city is hardly something that's going to happen by random chance – it's plausible that some sort of evil super-genius is behind it, and he's already crippled the nation's defences. These are all things that must be considered!

There's obviously more to this risk planning caper than I had previously acknowledged. But then I guess I'll look pretty silly if it *does* happen, and I'm sporting a stupid facial expression and protesting that I didn't have enough time to plan. Hmm, what to do…

2007-11-23 : 2008 Stache Roundup

On the topic of Movember (these guys are the originals, although I suppose this relates MOre to the Flaming Mo's over at the jazzed up bandwagon-stealing fundraiser), whilst not participating or instigating an effort on this side of the pond, I thought it would be the decent thing to acknowledge the endeavours of my peers. So here's this year's lineup…

Winnie: the first person to contact me about Movember this year, he's sporting a bit of a Chopper. I remember when I first met Winnie back in 1992 he was more geared towards the Beatle-esque “Sergeant-Major” look, although this is still a fine effort.

Carty: Straight, no-nonsense lip slug. Good work, that man!

Benn: Bit of a high-profile mo, this. He auctioned styling rights off on eBay in order to raise extra fundage, and seems to have gone from rather a dastardly Ed Rooney, over to a Chaplin.

Jez: Random inclusion, cos I spotted his Facebook profile photo and assumed it HAD to be Movember related. Another sturdy Chopper.

Ryan: Tidy bit of Chopper action here from Mr Davidson. I was a little disappointed he didn't go for his trademark Zappa, however I guess Movember rules stipulate “nothing between the top lip and the chin”.

Stew: Evil, evil bit of lip-slug there, and no mistake.

Little Benny: Another Chopper, looking a little 80's-Australian-Cricketer actually… I understand that some of the money raised from this year's event will go towards an operation to get that car out of his arse.

Wazza: Bit of a surprise inclusion here, from sunny Brussels. Apparently Wazza's girlfriend's none too pleased about this MOnifestation, but I'm glad he made the effort, and it's a definite asset to the field of global quality moustache production.

Paul: this fairly sad and noncomittal token tache turned up on Paul's lip in a semi-ironic “lets all do Movember again this year” way, and disappeared on about the 2nd of the MOnth. I can't help but feel a little disappointed, particularly in the face of the excellent contribution he's made in previous years.

OK, I lied about not participating.

I've inadvertanly wound up with what I'd descride as a bit of a Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap-style Mo, although it isn't really what I was aiming for. Ah well. Another year, another ridiculous collection of facial fungus.

Good work, men.

2007-11-18 : What other excuse are you waiting for?!

Recently I got a sponsorship email from a mate in Australia for Movember, and always one to help out a mate, I flicked about £20 in his direction. He emailed back and said “Wow?! 50 bucks?! That’s awesome man! Although that’s probably only the price of a cup of tea to you, isn’t it?”.

It made me stop and think exactly what 20 pounds was worth, and I did this in my normal unit of measure: Beer Opportunity Cost. It’s similar to The Big Mac Index, except in terms relevant to me that I can understand. So how much beer can 20 squid get me?

The price of pints varies wildly depending on where you go, from 1.70 at the Samuel Smith’s pub we go to after morris practise, to about 3.20 (I’m not sure exactly how much they are here – I’m usually mullered by the point I’ve agreed to set foot in the place) at our local, The Oxford Arms. So I settled on a median price of about 2.90 a pint. This means that – working from the British pint measure, 570mL – beer is roughly 5.08 per litre.

I then thought “I wonder just how that stacks up against Australia?”. When I was over in Adelaide in Novmeber last year, I remember (primarily due to my outrage) paying AUD$5.20 for a pint of Coopers Dark Ale. For want of any other figure of comparison (I know I was paying about 7 bucks a pint for James Squire Ales when in Melbourne, but lets keep it normal), I worked this back to $12.23/litre (given that the Adelaidean pint measure is 425mL), or – at the exchange rate of the day, 1GBP = 2.264AUD – £5.38 per litre!

So beer’s MORE BLOODY EXPENSIVE in Australia!

Seriously guys, buy the ticket…

2007-11-13 : Flawed figure of speech

Kitchen sink

There's some building going on over the road from work, and I was moderately amused at seeing what they'd thrown in the skip today.

It wasn't until I'd spent about 20 minutes trying to think of a witty headline for this post that my brain pointed out to me that it's not a kitchen sink at all, but a bathtub.

Consider yourselves lucky.

2007-11-09 : What IS this magical thing that happens at 9am, anyway??


It would be fair to say that I'm not one of the world's great “early risers”. Getting out of bed is a traumatic experience that occurs daily, and I don't seem to always cope with the idea so well. Typically any problems with this manifest themselves mostly in a workplace context, however as it's a blog and therefore a place to express and explore my personal thoughts, I thought I'd y'know… do that.

My confusion I suppose is two-pronged: firstly, where this notion of 9 to 5 came from. The phrase “9 to 5” really is the cliche of typical office life. In many many cases I suppose there are environments where 9 to 5 are the hours of the day where the business happens, and therefore that's when you've got to be there. For example, a chef needs to be in the kitchen for their shift, because the shift occurs when there's people in the restaurant trying to buy food, and there clearly needs to be someone there to produce it for them. A librarian needs to be in the library so that when it opens there's someone there to loan books out and to help with whatever library stuff needs doing for the patrons (you'd think after this many years I'd be more articulate about what librarians do, eh?). Stock market traders can only trade their stocks during the hours the markets are open. Pilots have to make their planes take off at certain times in order to get people where they're going on time, as well as not fouling up all the other airplanes scheduled at that time as well (although, cynically, this always happens anyway).

As a result of this general acceptance of 9 to 5 as “the core hours”, it seems a great many businesses have geared their approach to coinciding with this framework. Generally speaking this would be complimentary businesses (e.g. stationers that supply offices need to run at the same time offices do). Schools tend to start earlier still – presumably this is partially geared at making it easier for parents to drop their children off on the way to work. The need for a school day to run to fixed hours is obvious enough – it's not economical or possible for a 1:1 teaching ratio, so it must be done in scheduled batches.

Additionally, there are other support businesses which use the timing of office hours as a basis for their core hours – coffee bars and sandwich bars do most of their trade immediately before 9 (the period when the 9 to 5ers are rushing to get to the office on time), lunch time (the mid day break), and then the post-work traffic.

As so many businesses are 9 to 5, it is therefore customary and expected that the periods between 8-9 and 5-6 become “rush hour” (a fairly stupid name given how much less rushing gets carried out at this time of day). Many people are attempting to stuff themselves into the transit networks, which results in crowding, jams, blockages, frustration, delays, and on the whole it's usually a far less pleasant experience. Speaking personally, the London Underground is quite a pleasant way to get about, except for during those “peak hour” times, where you find that you're wedged in there in conditions which would typically qualify you as a perpetrator of indecent assault.

There are certain categories of endeavour which aren't directly connected with other business time constraints – for example a dry cleaner. You drop off your clothes, agree a delivery time, and from there on it's largely immaterial how the dry cleaner operates in between. I'd also say that freelance software developers and my mate Albert the engraver fall into this category.

The beauty of being involved in this latter type of business is that it generally removes the need to participate in rush hour – at least as far as work output is concerned. Granted, there will be times when a meeting is organised which require all the participants to be in the same place at once, but outside of that the key factors are quality of output and meeting the delivery deadline.

Unsurprisingly, I’m all in favour of the latter mentality, and as such my perfect work day schedule would be:

  • 10:30 Arrive (having missed Tube crush and related holdups).
  • 10:30-1pm: answer questions, discuss with colleagues, etc.
  • 1pm-1:30: Lunch
  • 1:30-4: work on stuff
  • 4-4:15: Latte break
  • 4:15-5:30: Work on more stuff
  • 5:30-7pm: work on stuff with no interruptions from external sources (I term this the Productive part of the day
  • 7pm: go out for the evening, e.g. straight to dinner, show, movie, etc. And negate the need to get public transport home only to then have to turn around and come straight back in again.
  • 10:30-midnight: somewhere in here get Tube or bus home, again avoiding peak hour crush

I suppose the part I find hardest to get my brain around is that while this later-focussed day is frowned upon and deemed unacceptable by many, for some bizarre reason people who apply the same hour-shift but in reverse to be ok, and in fact celebrated! The number of times you hear “Bob’s been here since 8am!” being cast about as a statement of virtuous conduct… never mind the fact that Bob’s going to be leaving his desk at 4pm, and will therefore be identically unavailable for whatever it is the 10:30 person is unavailable for at the start of the day!

Society’s prejudiced in favour of the Early, that’s what it is. Daylight Saving – there’s a plan that only an early riser would have thought of.

2007-11-08 : Not as many otters as you may be led to believe

I'm lucky enough to have been around a bit of England, and gotten involved in a few different traditional and folky fixtures & endeavours. Often they're steeped in tradition, so much so that the origins are often obscured or even totally lost to modern knowledge. However this is the first time I've ever found myself scratching my head and genuinely asking myself, “Why?”.

K, her Dad (Vic) and I went to the Devon township of Ottery St Mary for their annual and widely famed Tar Barrels night. When I agreed to do this, I didn't really know if I was registering as a spectator or a participant, and as the date drew closer I got more nervous in the absence of any more information on this point.

For starters, despite the name, there's bugger all in the way of otters there – the name comes from the nearby river, the River Otter. That's not relevant, I just thought I'd throw it in for free.

The sequence of the tar barrels event is: every half hour or so from about 4pm through til midnight a barrel is run in the designated spot, starting from wee little quarter-casks for the kids, progressing up to the last 3 barrels, which appeared to be sherry butts. Each barrel is coated inside with coal tar so it's nice & flammable, and a “run” consists of the barrel being set fire to, and then the runner (sporting hessian gloves and protective clothing that looked a lot like rugby tops) mounts the barrel across the back of their shoulders, and then runs up the street with it. As the barrel gets too hot or heavy, or if the gloves catch fire, the barrel is passed off to the next runner, who then carries on in much the same fashion. This continues until the barrel has burnt down to the point where there's not much barrel left to burn, and the charred smoldering remains are abandoned by the side of the road. The runners are nominated from the local population, and evidently to be selected as a runner is something of an honour.

What puzzled me most initially was how they picked where to run – was there any pattern to it (and thereby, was there some sort of goal to this?), or were they just running about with a burning barrel? The answer, it seems, was the latter.

The event is quite a big one, and as such draws quite a crowd – this year it was estimated to be 23,000 people, but they get more when bonfire night falls on a weekend – so part of the running process involves the crowd getting the f*ck out of the way when a huge great flaming barrel comes towards them. The sites for the barrel runs are dotted all over Ottery, typically in the vilalge square or in front of pubs, but as pubs close down they now hold them in the streets where there used to be pubs. Quite a lot of the local shopkeepers and residents board up their windows in preparation for the surging masses, and during Monday afternoon it was quite a bizarre sight to see the town bolstering itself for the onslaught.

As well as this, safety signage is put up around the place to warn people that there will be flaming tar barrels in the area. I'm not 100% sure for whose benefit these are, as the only reason you'd be anywhere near the place at this point would specifically be to see the tar barrels…

As interesting as it all was though, I just still can't get my brain around WHY they do it. A YouTube video on the 2006 “festival” opens with the caption “Men, woman (sic) & Children have braved the flames to carry flaming barrels of tar through the streets”. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something. To me, “braving the flames” is something that firefighters do.

As well as the tar barrels, there's the bonfire (a key fixture of bonfire night, I suppose), and Ottery holds one of the biggest bonfires in the region.

Bloody hell, they weren't kidding. I think I have a better appreciation now for what CFS bushfire fighters deal with in Australia. The Ottery bonfire was a stack of brush, wood, furniture, pallettes, and by the look of it any burnable matter for miles around, stacked about 50 feet high, crowned with a chair featuring a bonfire guy. Standing where we were it wasn't long before you had to put your hands up to shield your face from the heatwave, and maybe it's cos I wasn't really brought up with Guy Fawkes' Night, but I found the whole burning of an effigy thing a little macabre.

Another feature unique to Ottery for this time of year is the “cannons” – not anything like you'd find on a pirate ship, but rather a series of hand-held bits of bent pipe, which are packed with gunpowder and fired off by the designated people at times which only they seem privy to. Again, it's supposedly a tradition, but I get the distinct impression that these people just like messing around with gunpowder and making lots of noise, and the tar barrels night is the only time of year they can get away with it, on the grounds it'd be hypocritical for anybody to complain about that and yet still condone running around carrying flaming barrels.

Anyway that was that – it was a nice trip & we did heaps of cool stuff. Photos can be found in my gallery.

2007-10-31 : It’s so small & shiny!

I've managed to avoid iPod envy thus far. I mean really, it's just a bloody mp3 player, isn't it? Having owned a 20 Gb Rio Karma since late 2004 the device – for me – is definitely a Nice To Have. Sure the iPod has nice integration with iTunes, but being forced into a controlled relationship with a buggy piece of software isn't my idea of a good time. The newer ones which allowed you to display photos on the screen were pretty neat too, but it's not really a killer feature.

But that all changed the moment I caught up with The Gringo the other day and saw his shiny new iPod Nano 3G. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have one.

A couple of clicks on Amazon, and it was on its way…

It's frigging TINY! Seriously, it's smaller than the credit card I used to buy the damn thing! 8gb of space to store whatever goodness I want on it – initially I was skeptical about “small capacity” players, but as I've got about 120gb of tunes at home I don't suppose I'll ever get it all on a pocket sized device any more, and 8gb is a vast & far cry from the old 256mb offerings of yesteryear.

However the absolute killer fature that sold it for me was: VIDEO! Granted, the screen's about the size of a postage stamp, but it's got great resolution, and – for me at least – TV's mainly about sound with the visuals providing cues for what's going on. After installing a convertor and crunching down some files I've been able to really effectively watch episodes of Freakazoid and Dexter (coincidentally, both shows featuring protagonists with the same first name!) on the tube… this device is brilliant! It'll enable me to catch up on all that crazy TV that Nicklearse Klau's been waxing lyrical over for the past year and a half. Of course, it's decimated my reading habit.

And it changed my life for little over a hundred quid.

Maybe it's my first step to becoming one of those Apple zealot type people. Or, more correctly, resuming my former status as one – of course, things have moved on substantially since the MacPlus.

2007-10-30 : Admittedly I thought they’d said “Middle Earth”

Paul, HC and I elected to broaden our intellectual horizons and attend a public debate at the Institute for Contemporary Art (previously a place I'd only ever been to see weirdass movies), entitled “Is Radio 4 Too Middle England ?“. Probably less of a debate and more of a discussion, however the lineup of panellists would guarantee that however it went, it would be eloquent, intelligent, and erudite: Mark Damazer (Controller of Radio 4, and possibly my new hero), Natalie Schwarz (director of radio at Channel 4), Miranda Sawyer (radio critic for The Observer), and Simon Elmes (programme producer for Radio 4). I can't remember the compere's name.

Possibly a good job it wasn't a proper debate, because although there were some excellent points made in a variety of topical arcs, the one central and ever-present theme was the difficulty in pinning down exactly what's meant by the phrase “Middle England”. Various suggestions were proffered; initially that of “Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells” – a village apparently totally populated by grumpy retired Colonels whose main occupation was finding things on the radio to complain about. Indeed many of the panellists and people there seemed preoccupied with asserting that this was the “average audience” that Radio 4 attracts and therefore pitches to, whereas Mark Damazer went to great length to try to explain that this fictional median group doesn't really exist and that their programming in fact is far far more varied and challenging than is popularly perceived.

Another term which kept surfacing was “middle class”, and Damazer went to strident lengths to stress that R4 didn't pitch to them either (a point which Sawyer said was pure poppycock, and wasn't helped by Damazer & Elmes' definite air of middle-classedness). In the pub discussion Paul & Hannah & I had after the session finished we spent a goodly deal of time trying to work out what in the hell “middle class” is, and how someone is deemed to fit into it – I left with the firm impression that I'd missed something somewhere. It's not based on social networks, it's not based on economics, and seemingly the more rigorously you try to analyse it in the context of an induvidual, the more ethereal it becomes…

Amusingly, I thought, was that using listener statistics it has been possible for researchers to get a picture of the “typical” Radio 4 audience – one factor being an average age of about 55-60. The trouble with averages is that they very seldom bear any resemblance to the real situation. Most people have slightly more than the average number of legs. And looking around the room it was plainly obvious that there weren't a lot of 60 year olds in there, and the passion with which those who spoke spake it seemed clear that they were in fact part of that listening audience. One particularly irritating oik behind us made a point of broadcasting the fact he was 22 (I may have been a little jealous because he used lots of long & relevant words and spoke without hesitating or muddling his speech, and seemed to be able to construct a response based around an intelligent premise… These are all things I hope to be able to achieve one day).

Incidentally, as I probably should have pointed out earlier for people not familiar with Radio 4 – it's currently Britain's only Talk Radio station, being made up of many produced programs that vary from documentary, to drama, to comedy, and universally have high production values. Largely for this reason also it's seen as a fairly Establishment station, or at least that's the viewpoint that Miranda Sawyer put forward and that Damazer and Elmes tried to insist wasn't the case. It's not a talkBACK radio station, so you won't have an inflammatory DJ airing passionate views about what's wrong with society today and stirring up retirees to ring in and agree that the kids have got no respect, etc. etc.

I haven't said much about Natalie Schwarz really, and primarily the reason for that was that her contribution was largely an awareness and sales presentation of the fact that Channel 4 are throwing a hat into the talk radio arena and forming a competitor to Radio 4… she managed to do that thing where she spoke too close to the mike and thereby appeared to be shouting at everyone, but I don't suppose that's relevant to the content. The trouble was that after everyone had universally agreed that a bit of competition is a healthy thing, she didn't really have much else to contribute to the discussion, and spent much of the rest of the chat grinning awkwardly as Elmes, Sawyer and Damazer locked empassioned horns.

So I suppose in answer to the question “Is Radio 4 too Middle England?”, you'd have to respond – as I think the panel did for most of the night – “It depends on what you mean by 'Middle England'…”.

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