The most realistic story ever told.

Category: Jason blogs the bleeding obvious (page 2 of 2)

So much fun it makes your eyeballs hurt.

I’m still here, don’t panic.

Once again the ever present problem rears its head where there’s so much going on and so many cool things to do & people to see that there’s not time to blog about any of it.

Currently I’m sitting in Singapore’s Changi Airport trying not to spend any money, and desperately trying not to strangle the exceptionally loud little turd running around about 1.5 metres to my 5-o’clock.  You’d think he’d be tired by now, given how long he’s been doing that.  I assure you, it’s not the case.

So anyway, the big news is that I’ve just had a week back in sunny Adelaide in order to participate in the wedding of Nicko & Kelly, which went off – as they say – without a hitch.  Well, obviously they got hitched: that was sort of the plan.  But no complications, I mean.

Hopefully I’ll get a moment to myself to recap on all the ludicrous behaviour of the past month or so soon, and thus provide all you wonderful audients with the entertainment you duly deserve.

Assuming I don’t strangle this little fucker and get banged up for 15 years.

More coffee silliness

Near work we’ve got a cafe which operates a loyalty card system.  Unfortunately, as they also have a policy of employing non-native English speakers, my attempts to educate them on the subtle errors on that loyalty card have proven fruitless.


Despite my repeated attempts to get my sixth coffee for free, apparently I’m only allowed one once all the little circles have been stamped.  Rules are rules.

Although I do appreciate the little “Thankyou for yor custom” message.

I guess it’s a mute point*, as I’m pretty much exclusively visiting the awesome coffee cart around the corner nowadays anyway.

* no reason not to slip in another moan – people who say “It’s a mute point”, when the expression is “It’s a moot point“**.  They’ll be the fourth lot of people up against the wall when the revolution comes through, after playwrights, people who say “expresso”, and people who say “cup-of-cino”.

** Oh dear, in researching “moot point”, I’ve just learned that I’ve been using it incorrectly this whole time as well.  Oh well, as long as the revolution get those “cups-of-cino” bastards first, I don’t mind being next up against the wall.  I had it coming.

Objectionable corners of the English language

2 phrases that thoroughly get my lexicographical hackles / heckles / feckles / schmeckles up (ignoring for a minute my favourite dead horse, the word “sorry”), are the following:

“Deeply”: the problem with rampantly overenthusing or overgravatising things is that when you go to actually express what you’re feeling you suddenly feel like you’re not quite giving it the credit it deserves.  For example, the word “awesome”., defined as “inspiring awe or admiration or wonder”…  when your travel agent asks “Do you want a window or aisle seat?”, and you indicate your preference, there’s a chance he/she may acknowledge your response with “OK, awesome”.  Perhaps it is genuine wonder & admiration that somebody’s given them a clear & decisive answer, but more than likely it’ll be because that’s a word that everybody else uses to show enthusiasm, and they’ve merely applied a word with a dramatically inaccurate calibration.  This sort of thing happens all the time – see also “iconic”.

Another way that a word loses currency with the public is when it’s used by a large company as a placatory measure which actually carries no weight.  My specific example here is from when I used to catch the Silverlink train from Kensal Rise to Camden Town, and you would routinely have the disembodied-voice-on-the-pole “The next train from X to Y will be delayed by approximately Z minutes.  Silverlink apologises for this late running and any inconvenience it may cause you.”, where Z reached its ridiculous maximum observed value of 77 over Christmas, which is bewildering for a train that’s meant to arrive every 15.  The devalued word here is “apologises”, because it’s clear that all they’re doing is acknowledging that their service sucks without going so far as to doing anything about it, either by undertaking to fix it in future, or to offer you alternative solutions to remedy their fuckup.

One of the ways that people in the UK seem to have found to get around this is to demonstrate one’s seriousness by applying the modifier “deeply” – it’s a great word, because (especially in the context of seriousness) it sounds like you’re reaching even further, and it can be said in a deeper tone of voice which buys extra significance!  Win!   Trouble is, it sounds ridiculous when overapplied… but corporations and soforth have to apply it in order to give the impression that they actually mean their pre-recorded apologies (for example).

(this is just old-fashioned whining, incidentally – I’m not presently offering a solution)

“Due to”: again, here’s one that has a train-related context.  When someone gives a reason for a particular thing happening (or, equally often, not happening), my rage-gauge shoots up to 15 when they apply the subordinating conjunction “due to”.  The reason it disturbs me so much is that to me it appears to imply an abdication of responsibility for whatever is being discussed by placing the effecting clause into a passive tense.

A train example is “The airport express will be running a reduced service due to strike action at the station” – this is offering strike action as a justification, which implicitly says “and we don’t intend to do anything to offer our customers a workaround or alternate option, even though they’ve paid for our advertised service, which solely exists to get people from the station to the airport”.

Actually, I guess that’s exactly what a subordinating conjunction is really…

Well, this is going well.

Err… is there a punchline to this?

6percentI am not a financial genius.  Perhaps someone else could point out the selling point here for me?

Whilst standing in the queue around the corner from work to get some cash out this morning (because my normal ATM is on the fritz) I spotted this promotional board out the front of the bank branch.  Now, ignoring for a second the fact that the account’s designed for the over 50’s…

Clearly the 6% is meant to be the eye-drawing thing, otherwise they wouldn’t have made it so big, bold, contrasty, or put it in the middle of the poster.  6% seems an attractive number for an interest rate to be at the minute – many savings accounts offer lower rates than this, and this is a current account (meaning you can Do Stuff with it).

Now, is there more to this, or have I got it right in that the fine print specifies “on balances up to £2,500”, meaning the maximum interest you could actually reap from this would be £150?

Given that a £10 monthly fee applies, this means you’re going to benefit to the tune of £30 for the year.  Sort of closer to a return of 1.2%.  Well, minus any tax you pay on the interest, of course.

Maybe there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this when compared with other current accounts – I think mine’s a tenner a month in fees, and I’m pretty sure the rate isn’t 6%…  I guess the limiting of the 6% to the first £2,500 only effectively takes “SELLING POINT!” and adds a footnote of (* not a real selling point).

Ah, who cares?

Enjoying your summer?


Time to work out how long a cubit is yet?

All I’m saying is, you wouldn’t want to move here if you were bothered by a little bit of rain, would you?

In other news, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Neil Innes, Carol Cleveland and others will be teaming up at the Royal Alber Hall in October for a performance of new Python-inspired oratorio, “Not The Messiah”.  Guess who’s out of town that night?


It’s not a particularly cromulent word, is it? It’s causing me some pericombobulations.

Methinks I’ve just been hosed in a game of Facebook Scrabble… errm, sorry, LEXULOUS.

As if.

As if.

I’m all for winning word games using words that sound a bit unlikely, or are a bit on the bizarre side.  You can typically tell these ones because you get an exchange which includes the phrase “it’s a type of”, e.g. ADZE (good word to know if you’re stuck with a Z and not many other letters).

Person 1: Adze? What the hell is an adze?

Person 2: It’s a type of ancient Egyptian woodworking tool, used for hollowing out wood.

Person 1: I hate you.

But at least it’s real.  Now, I don’t claim to be fully conversant with the entire English language (for that, after all, is the language of Scrabble tile-based word-forming games), but I’ve never heard the word “Coomy”.  Neither, judging by the Google results for “define coomy”, has anybody else.  Well, Urban Dictionary seems to have a stake in the ground for it, but then that’s hardly a reliable source of information (Urban Dictionary is a sort of slightly less rude implementation of Roger’s Profanisaurus, of the sort where you can add your own definitions and – as Lord Science did a couple of years ago – try to bullshit people into believing that to “go silverback” is a commonly used expression).

What’s got me flummoxed is that the Facebook implementation of Scrabble word-forming game I refer to has a built-in dictionary check in this mode: whereby if you play in Challenge mode you can put down whatever you like so long as you can back it up when the other person says “Oi, what do you think you’re playing at?”, in Regular mode it crosschecks against a dictionary to make sure you’re not making things up (despite how valid the word “toolage” appears, for example).  The system also provides a dictionary lookup, however in the case of “coomy” the reference dictionary comes up with a “word does not exist” page.

I would conjecture that “coomy” is nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to get a ‘Y’ over a Triple Word Score.

I’ll hasten to admit that I’ve thrown “Radix”, “Urinemia” and “Ortolan” into the odd game, but they’re all real words.  They don’t come up in conversation that often, but then I guess Ortolan isn’t something they serve in the Oxford Arms of a saturday afternoon.  (If you don’t know what ortolan is – and there’s more than likely no reason why you should – it’s an illegal French dish where you take a specially bred bird which you force-feed & fatten up, drown in Armangac, roast whole including bones, then holding by the beak you eat the entire thing with a towel draped over your head to capture the aroma to enhance the flavour… the flavour is said to include any blood in your mouth as a result of cutting your mouth on the bones.  Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson’s had one.)

Anyway, the point is: “Coomy”.  Just say no.

Pavlovian whining vis-a-vis the Countenance Journal

OK, so for this post to be interesting, you’d probably have to be familiar with Facebook, and Twitter.  Cos we’re so Web 2.0 here at Humpy Towers.  And I’m going to assume that you are too.

Facebook has just introduced a new layout, and judging by peoples’ recent comments (where “people” == “my Facebook friends”) from within Facebook nobody seems particularly keen on the new layout.  I’m reading comments such as “NO to the new facebook layout”, “doesn’t get the new facebook, why do they gotta go changing things all the time?!”, and being invited to join groups such as “Vote on the new facebook layout”.

The thing is that with any web-based app there’s going to be constant change: both for usability, and in an environment as leading-edge as Facebook there’s a need to keep looking current, and anybody who’s been on it longer than 6 months will probably recall the reluctance for change the last time they overhauled the site.  Or the time before.  In fact, Facebook update their look at least once a year it seems.

Last time the change took place (and was accompanied by people complaining about how they didn’t like the New Facebook) the chief change in the structure of the thing was to remove the ability for people to include Facebook Applications on their Profile screen.  Suddenly it became a lot harder for people looking at your profile to see all the hatching eggs you’d been sent, or the aquarium you’d built, or how good you were at a geography quiz, or what your IQ score was, or any one of the thousands of other things it was easy and possible to get distracted by.  One reason I was in favour of the last layout change was that profiles (I was a prime culprit of this, too) were taking AAAAAGES to download due to the hundreds of extra trinkets.  It seemed that Facebook had decided to whittle things back so that the Profile screen – your primary point of presence – was simplified.  If you wanted other people to see all the other crap you could set up tabs for them to look at, however by and large (personally, anecdotally) people suddenly couldn’t be bothered because it wasn’t important enough to figure out how to do, and even if you did it would be unlikely that anyone would look at it anyway.

As with any established system which undergoes change there is always a certain amount of intertial resistance, and for a variety of factors.  One is that people don’t like having changes foisted upon them from above without consultation generally… unless of course the change is beneficial and streamlines with what they’ve already got, in which case you never hear any more about it.  Another is to do with Things Being Moved About – it’s the same dread feeling you get every time you upgrade to a new version of Windows, where you knew previously how to perform task X, but in the new version before you can get back to the same level of productivity you’ve got to spend time futzing about with it working out where those arseclowns have moved the option to.

Some people complaining about the new layout have gone into slightly more detail: one I read said “It’s not as intuitively laid out, the changes don’t seem to have benefited the user at all – which kind of seems pointless in making the changes (after all it’s free, so you are trying to attract sponsors – so if users don’t like it they don’t visit facebook as often and hence sponsors as often and the whole thing collapses)”, which is a sort of variation on the last point I made with the added projection of how Facebook’s business model works.  I’d argue that “intuitively laid out” here could be substituted for “familiar”, and – as with the last Facebook change – we’ll all be used to it in 3 or 4 months.  On the “Home” screen in fact they’ve cunningly integrated sponsored content with your personal feed, so it becomes a lot more challenging to visually prefilter ads based on style or position (in the same way that I don’t even see banner advertising on sites any more).

Having said all that, I have to state that I’m not in favour of the new facebook layout, for the following reason: it seems to me that the move is an obvious ploy to align Facebook with Twitter.  You can tell this if you compare the new Home page:


with the output from any Twitter client (in this case, TweetDeck):

twitterThe key points of alignment are:

  1. A comprehensive feed of user updates, with thumbnail pictures of the poster
  2. The chief (in Twitter’s case, ONLY) update mechanism is a text entry box at the top of the screen, prompting “What’s on your mind ?” / “What are you doing ?”

I have read peoples’ descriptions of Twitter as “like Facebook, but with all the irrelevant crap cut out”: in other words, the Status Updates are clearly perceived by many as being the valuable part of the application.  Previously however Status Updates were only a very small part of Facebook, and not used by everybody.  Personally I use it mainly for the networking capability of (re)establishing contact with people from the past and present, and allowing me to contact them without having to keep an up to date set of contact information.  Status updates are interesting, but it’s not the reason I had in mind when I initially signed up.  Twitter, on the other hand, is nothing BUT status updates – hence that’s what you use it for.

“Why is Twitter more desirable than Facebook for status updates?”, I imagine thousands of readers asking – it’s because (and this is the bit where I hope desperately that y’all are on the same page as me) in Twitter you follow people whose opinions you’re interested in reading: in Facebook you network with people who you want to stay in touch with.

They’re certainly not the same thing, and modifying the statement slightly, Facebook also seems hell bent on adding a status update to the feed for Every Single Thing a person does (e.g. Person X has completed a quiz on “What type of post-war violent protest are you?”, and they are Tiananmen Square).  I assume they’ve done this as a means of keeping Facebook applications in front of users’ faces in some way…

The only way I find Twitter (or RSS feeds, or Email) useable is by employing filters, and what TweetDeck allows me to do is set up multiple feeds (see the columns?), based on content and/or grouping (for example, my Friends group contains all the people who I’m personally actually friends with… as well as Tim Minchin, but that’s more just wishful thinking).  I find the new Facebook Home unwieldy because I’ve got about 830 friends listed (vs the 150 or so I follow on Twitter), and currently I don’t know how to filter that information.

Another key difference is that with Facebook you can only be Friends if there’s been a request and an approval, whereas anyone can follow anyone on Twitter.  Facebook has implement the Fan Pages feature, so that you can be a follower of a public profile without an explicit approval from them, however the only one of those I’ve signed up for who is using it is Gary Vaynerchuk (and that’s exactly the reason I’m following him).  However as far as I’m aware there’s extra clicks for someone to update a fan page, and for someone to sign up to a fan page, which makes it just that little bit more onerous than Twitter.

I’m very interested to see where this goes – I can see why Facebook would want to emulate a currently trendy web application (Twitter in the USA as of Feb 2009 had around 8 million users, and that number grows exponentially at the moment due to promotion of the service by public figures such as Barack Obama, Britney Spears, Stephen Fry, MC Hammer… the list goes endlessly on!  Facebook however is in the stronger position, with a Jan 09 USA user base of 42,089,200 users.

One of the reasons for Twitter’s success is its ease of involvement – there are numberous ways of operating the Twitter API: as well as through the main Twitter website, there are numerous Twitter clients for desktop, web, mobile phone, and should you not have internet access you can tweet by SMS.  The downside for Twitter is that the content is also consumable by any of these, and as such they’ve not been able to monetise the service through advertising.  Should Facebook plump for ubiquity they may very well lose the viewer eyeballs which its advert business relies on.

Finally, to the 2 or 3 people who have read this far, it’s worth remembering that though these “Tell the entire world what am I currently up to” services are quite a lot of fun and often useful, it’s worth remembering that they’re just like the rest of the internet, in that EVERYBODY can see them.  It is therefore critical to be aware that you need to apply the normal rules of common sense and also law to what you say.  2 recent examples which immediately spring to mind are people saying what they really think about their job on Twitter, and US court trials which have been placed in jeopardy by having jurors sending updates to Twitter during the trial.

But with 271,000,000 Google results for the phrase “Old facebook vs new facebook”, I daresay the analysis and debate is going to continue for a while yet.  At least until they change it again.

Dodgy Brothers Used-Car-Cash-Milking-Sophistry Emporium

Being a reasonably ethical chap I suppose I am continually flabbergasted at some of the activities my fellow human beings will undertake in order to get ahead in life.  In a system where there’s a finite amount of resources, given that human wants are unlimited, it strikes me that unless there’s a social movement towards central equitable resource distribution then eventually some of the people are going to end up with all of the resources, and the rest without resources.  This is very much how the world works, and it is fascinating to see the mechanisms & techniques people employ in the pursuit of more crumbs of the pie.

The thing which has caused my gast to be flabbered on this particular occasion is a website which my boss Paul somehow got in touch with during the course of trying to sell his car.  My understanding of events was that he listed the car in the motor trader magazine, and was contacted shortly afterwards by a representative from this website.

The premise is that they offer a service where they have a list of buyers who have expressed interest in a car of the type you’re selling and if you sign up they find a match with these buyers.  Your listing will remain on their register until the vehicle sells (as opposed to regular classified ads where you pay per appearance of a listing).  The service is just shy of £100, and if you’re selling a car for £2000 or more it probably doesn’t sound a huge expense to expedite the selling of your vehicle.

The bit which tugs the danger-will-robinson-chain is a little tricky to find – at the very bottom of the T&Cs in fact:

They have defined the terms of their engagement such that if a person expresses an interest in purchasing a vehicle of the type you have, or a similar type, then they have fulfilled the obligation.  One wonders what the exact definition of “expresses an interest” covers, although it sounds like what they mean is if you list a Ford Escort for sale, and someone searches their database for all the Ford listings they have, then that probably means they’ve expressed an interest in a vehicle of similar type.  Helpfully, the definition doesn’t refer to the location of the buyer: Paul got an email from a guy purportedly in Nebraska asking him to calculate shipping costs and sending him a bill for the total amount – seems a little far fetched to believe that a serious buyer would ship a car from London to the US based on a brief text description and no photo, however under the terms of the agreement it’s certainly a match.

On first glance one could be forgiven for thinking that the company does all sorts of work marketing and trying to find interested buyers for the kind of car you’re listing.  On immediate thought about it however it becomes quite clear that the “marketing” which takes place is that they place your listing in their database, which is then retrieved should someone come to the site and search for it.  Given that Paul was contacted upon listing his car in the auto trader (a print & web company with an enormous readership and household name status) it seems fairly apparent that a potential buyer is far more likely to find his car through the auto trader than through this other site.

If you pay your money and then get wind of the fact the site’s shonky, well no need to worry about that – the T&Cs cover that as well:

So, you’ve got no right to a refund if you find out we’re dodgy or suddenly figure out how this scam works – and any right you would have had you now don’t have because we’ve specifically referred to it as a term of your agreeing to use our service.

I suppose my point is I just think it sucks that someone can set up an arrangement which is a dodgy scam to take money off people who misunderstand the specifics of what they’re getting into, largely by way of the definitions they come up with for the terms.

Then again I don’t suppose that’s any different to how any other business anywhere operates, come to think of it.  If only I’d thought this through before blogging about it with such incredulousness.  Oh well.

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