Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Manchester, it's the new Vegas

Around my neck of the woods, people ask you on a Friday or Saturday night whether you are going to "Vegas" or not. Vegas, in this context, is Ashton-in-Makerfield. It consists of a couple of crap pubs, a couple of really crap pubs and a couple of night-clubs with such wonderfully inspired names as "Mad Jack's" and "Owd Mary's". The better looking bar staff in my local habitually descend there after the local has shut. I would do, but I'm now thirty-something and feel it lacks the dignity that someone of my phenomenal stature exudes.

Well, Vegas has now moved. And it ain't in Blackpool where such tack should be quite rightly installed. It's good old God's Own Manchester.

I picture sexy CSIs roaming Longsight and Moss Side. Jorja Fox in knee length leather boots ambling around Rusholme taking pictures of dead pigeons. Wow. Marge Helgenburg down th'Oddies supping pints of mild with Owd Norm, Wally et al.

Well maybe not. Another regeneration project bootstrapped on the back of banality. It's akin to opening a "Big Brother" house in Salford. I despair. Again. Just what the Northwest needs -- like we haven't got enough betting shops and casinos already. Oh, and debt.

Having witnessed my grandfather's penchant for the horses, I still have the sickly taste of a wasted life in my mouth.

You're lucky if you see me buying a lottery ticket. You will not find me in a casino. Not even if Jorja Fox is in knee length leather boots. I'll stick to harassing Nicky in my local; a much more honorable pass time.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

When looking for faults use a mirror, not a telescope

I finally got round to watching "An Inconvenient Truth" on the same day that I read in "The Guardian" that the Neo-Con, Big-Oil, Big-Hair, Fat-Butt Business-as-Usual Hawks have decided that "smoke and mirrors" is a solution to Global Warming as well as being their default Public Relations strategy.

If you need me, I'll be trying to come up with a plan to save the world that doesn't involve Wile E. Coyote-style technology.

Ideas welcome.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I should be so lucky ... lucky, lucky, lucky

I have enjoyed the recent coverage of the case where poker was judged to be at least partly a game of luck. I'm struggling to think of any game that doesn't have an element of luck. Just about every sport has a phrase to witness the presence and importance of luck. Rub of the green. Unlucky bounce. Run of the balls. Fluke.

Even chess. "The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake". That's a quotation from Savielly Tartakower, who in the 1920s and 1930s was one of the world's best chess players, and one of the world's worst roulette players.

I have in my time been accused of being lucky. Like it was a bad thing. From my science education I don't buy the hypothesis that there are people who can consistently beat the statistics on pure-chance events. However Life is not a pure-chance event, so maybe there are people who can regularly beat the odds.

I only recently read this article about a Professor Wiseman (no, really) at the University of Hertfordshire who is studying the idea of luck.

He did a remarkable experiment with two groups of people - one group that considered themselves unlucky, and one group that thought they were lucky.

"I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside.

I had secretly placed a large message halfway through the newspaper saying: "Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250."

This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than two inches high.

It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people, and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected.

As a result, they miss opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else."

Professor Wiseman's 4 keys to maximising your luck are :-

Listen to your gut instincts - they are normally right

Be open to new experiences and breaking your normal routine

Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well

Visualise yourself being lucky before an important meeting or telephone call. Luck is very often a self-fulfilling prophecy

I'd like all Radio Free Stan readers to be lucky, so go out and give it a go. Let me know how you get on, and when the money starts gushing in, just remember who put you on the path to greatness.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

You can't be prejudiced against gay people ...

... unless you're Muslim, Catholic or, to a lesser extent, Anglican. .

In fact I have slightly more respect for the extreme viewpoint than for the Church of England. Catholics fervently believe homosexuals are sinners - Anglicans say that they have "fallen short of the glory of God".

Both of them are reading Romans 3:23, just that the Anglicans have spin-doctored the three-letter "S" word out.

The prejudice is the same - just that Anglicans are a sight sneakier about it.

Meanwhile, we live in a democracy ... I get to grit teeth over some of our government's policies. I get to vote them out if they really hack me off, but I don't get a veto.

The Imams, Cardinals and Weasel-Word Archbishops don't get a veto either.

Someone should tell them.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Stealing and Killing are Bad, People

I was initially amused by the updating of the age-old tradition of scrumping in the West Country.

No land-owner should be too upset about the loss of some low-hanging fruit, eh ? So why should the insurers of the MSC Napoli mind the loss of the odd slightly-salty motorbike ?

Actually No. Take stuff that doesn't belong to you and you're stealing. In fact, since a disaster is involved here, these guys are looting. I'm sure the letters page of "The Telegraph" is going to contain heart-felt letters from retired Majors urging a shoot-to-kill policy.

Ooo - slightly strained segue into the recent goings-on in Northern Ireland.

You say "scrumping", I say "stealing".

I say "serial killing", you say "salaried pest-control".

It seems Special Branch has, in our name, been running their own little Protestant Tonton Macoutes. So long as the slightly suspect so-called intelligence flowed, the Billy Boys could break all manner of laws and all of the seven deadly sins before breakfast each day. It was only IRA and IRA-sympathising scum that were affected, eh ?

Where to start ....

OK, here's the charge sheet :

Armed robbery;
Assault and Grievous Bodily Harm;
Punishment shootings and attacks;
Possession of munitions;
Criminal Damage;
Drug dealing;
Conspiracy to murder;
Threats to kill.

And that's just one of the guys involved, "Informant 1"

Also when a number of serving and retired officers were asked about the matter :-

(some) ..."gave evasive, contradictory, and on occasion farcical answers to questions. On occasion those answers indicated either a significant failure to understand the law, or contempt for the law. On other occasions the investigation demonstrated conclusively that what an officer had told the Police Ombudsmans investigators was completely untrue."

I'm guessing it was one or more of these who destroyed all evidence so that now there is no way to bring the bad guys to justice.

You'd imagine such things in the Iraqi police force, not in the UK.

Do yourself a favour and read the full report. It deserves to be better reported than Jade up-herself Goody and Rick Stein's effing still-dead dog.

It would please me if some of those responsible for the Northern Ireland mess are finally brought to some kind of justice.

I also whistle a happy tune as I imagine a looter trapped under their loot as the oily tide rises around them.


Stan and I are going through a lean patch at the moment (work-wise). Stan's appears to be less lean than mine. We're in the middle of some big merger gubbins and I think it is fair to say that there's a certain amount of apathy surrounding the whole dealy-bop. The vast majority of the people who care to express an opinion on the whole shebang are so negative, if you join them together in a room, they become like the national debt of the UK.

I've worked at numerous start-up companies in my time that have been sold on to mid-size companies (SMBs to us takeover savvy peeps). I've usually stayed around for a couple of years while the takeover hangover dissipates and then bolted. As far as mergers/acquisitions go, I see no problem with this one at all. There's "rationalization" and other trendy business-speak words going on, but it phases me not one jot. It's much harder merging 20 people into an organization of 200 than it is merging 500 into an organization of tens of thousands. You just need a bigger stick and more teflon.

I have long since decided that railing against the machine is a pointless and usually painful process. To be honest, the negativity of the people is worse than the negativity of the integration. Some have gone so far as to file law suits, presumably because the angle of a dot on their contracts is slightly different to the previous version. Having spent time in corporate America, I know how hard you can have the metaphorical stick rammed up your unmentionable so I am impervious to European businobabble (© Kenny) and find it very odd that British people seem to think that England owes them a living.

Ho-hum. The downward spiral continues to spiral in a Southerly direction. I continue to keep my head in the clouds. Which makes doing the crossword just a tad tricky...wet paper and limited vision.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.

David Beckham really is worth $128 million over the next five years. Jade Goody's personal fortune of £4.5m is deserved. A qualified nurse is worth less than £20,000 a year.

Beckham's pay-packet can be justified in that someone out there is willing to pay that kind of money, presumably looking to make a profit on it too. David Beckham is worth $128 million (to a few rich people).

Jade Goody too. Some people with more money than sense keep wanting to hand it to her in return for branded perfume or a ghost-written autobiography. Jade Goody is worth small amounts of money (to lots of mainly poor people).

Nurses. That's when things get hard to explain. Everyone thinks nurses do fantastic work, way out of proportion with the above two individuals. Unfortunately there are two issues making their pay low. Firstly, there are lots of capable people willing to do the job for that money. Secondly, a lot of the people who say that nurses are underpaid would complain if we doubled the cost of the National Health Service to pay them more. Would be quite a tax-bump. Nurses are worth £20,000 a year (because they are).

Of course that's their worth in money we're talking about. Very little in life should be reduced to this level, because you get apparent paradoxes like the above. To me the current New Horizons space mission to Jupiter, Pluto and beyond is well worth $700m - others would definitely disagree, prefering to spend the money on something concrete and earthbound. My favour dissenter is The Onion .

Value is more than money, and people and projects have a value way beyond a dollar sign and lots of zeros. A narrow view of the financial consequences, the Return on Investment, can cripple a civilisation. I'm concerned by how many UK government decisions over the last thirty years have made purely on the things that can be measured - money and league tables. A concentration on money has produced some sensationally bad government which has damaged our civilisation and our values.

I'm with Ralph Waldo Emerson : "Money often costs too much"

Friday, January 19, 2007

I'll name that tune in 2580

Sometimes technology amazes even a tech veteran like myself.

A few weeks ago I was watching a "Best of Top Gear" programme and a tune I've enjoyed for a long time came on as background music.

After the show I couldn't get it out of my head and remembered there was a mobile service called Shazam. You dial 2580 - play a piece of music into your mobile phone and Shazam texts you back with the name of the piece. It's all automated - their software matches patterns in the music with their huge database of known tunes.

So, I logged onto YouTube, found the Top Gear programme segment and played it into my mobile. And even though Richard Hammond was in the foreground banging on about some wet-dream Lamborghini, a few seconds later I got a text with the name of the tune.

To complete the triumph of technology, I then went to the iTunes store and checked it out - yes, it was the right tune.

"Dead Bodies" by Air, since you ask.

It's a fairly trivial application, but please note that none of the elements of the solution (Fast home broadband, Shazam, YouTube, iTunes) was available even 5 years ago. Last century I would have had to brave ridicule by singing the tune to the clerk at my local record store. And we thought we were pretty advanced back then.

Any bets on what will become possible in five years time that we find hard to do now ?

I pity the record store clerk. I'm sure life will become less funny when people stop coming in to sing "You know - the one off the telly - 'la la - dah - la - bhun bhum''"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Drop the Dead Doggie

Celebrity Cornish chef Rick Stein's beloved dog has died, aged 17.
As someone who pays money to fund the BBC, I'm incensed that someone wasted time reporting on this. "Rick Stein dead" would have been news. Poor dog, but aren't there one or too other things going on in the world at the moment ?

Looks like we can't rely on the BBC not to dumb-down the news. "Old dog dies of natural causes" shouldn't make a parish magazine, never mind a major international news organisation.

Just say no

Germany wants to revive the EU Constitution

The fact this was even considered has always incensed me. If I wanted to live under a fundamentally inert and insubstantial regime, I would move to France. Imagine, if you will, how long it takes to get something to and then through the European courts at the moment. Typically, it takes years. Now imagine the appelate process while various overpaid Brussels bigwigs cross swords over constitutional interpretation. The cost and the time to a decision would be astronomical.

You may argue that the US does this all the time. But the US has one advantage. The law is written in English and is interpreted by English speaking people who appreciate the nuances of our fair language. If an EU constitution were written, you might as well write it in Latin for all the use it would be to any given non-native speaking nation. Or Flemish.

It is quite simply, unworkable, unwieldy and unaffordable to the average tax payer. To even suggest its revival is moonbatism in its purest form.

Here endeth the case for the prosecution. Or should I say "Hier endeth het geval voor de vervolging"?

Don't even get me started on the EU as a principle let alone a single currency.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sometimes a Big Brother is a good thing

OK, this old lefty is going to go against type and come out in favour of the Government Database.

The way I see it, the government - any government - will always collect information about their people. Let's be open about it, and let's make it accurate, and let's make it possible for the data to be challenged.

Also let's do the job properly.

My day-job involves installing large databases at large companies. I'm sure the uninitiated have a preconception about the way a large company stores their data. Probably in a pure white, squeaky-clean building with big, humming computers and blokes with huge egg-heads and glasses.

Nah - most of them use a bunch of inconsistent spreadsheets on their laptops. Sometimes the Accounting system is OK, but the accountants don't use it - they've got a spreadsheet too, and everything else is usually a mess of spaghetti and duct-tape.

That's the way I imagine the ultra-secret database that's probably already out there in some government department starting with an "M".

The film "Brazil" is one of my favourites. I'm reminded of the bit near the start where a literal bug gets into the teleprompter at The Ministry, and Tuttle turns to Buttle with horrific results for Mr Buttle and family.

I don't think we have a choice between a database and no database. I think the choice is between a secret shambles and a clean, open, accountable database built using the best methods of modern computing science.

Well, I can dream ...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Talk loudly AND carry a big stick

There is a British attitude to problems abroad that more volume is needed rather than better understanding. So the Brit, when unable to communicate his order for Sausage, Egg and Chips in a cafe in Seoul, shouts louder rather than trying a different tack.

Which reminds me of the Bush attitude to Iraq (excuse the delay - I've been trying to avoid a knee-jerk response and have been genuinely thinking about it).

How can it be that such a difficult problem can be solved by more men with guns ? Especially since it was created in the first place by men with guns.

If the USAF bombed my house, killing Mrs Stan and Stanetta, and then no matter how many Marines dropped by to protect me from looters, I would find it hard to be sociable I'm afraid.

The Bush administration's attitude to the problem stinks. All this talk of the "investment" of human life in solving the Iraq problem is deeply sick. The lives are lost, not invested. Now I'm afraid Gamblers Anonymous should be concerned by their double-or-nothing approach to losing.

Mr Negroponte today said that Al-Qaida poses the gravest terrorist threat to the United States. I'm afraid I would consider the greatest danger to be the nameless cabal of Neo-Con Hawks within the Republican Party who are running the US for the benefit of friends and family.

Monday, January 08, 2007

First throbbing vein in forehead of 2007

Who the flip is Tobias Jones.

"Militant secularists like Richard Dawkins are taking their revenge on us believers for refusing to stay in the closet"

Whoahh !!

"There's an aspiring totalitarianism in Britain which is brilliantly disguised. It's disguised because the would-be dictators - and there are many of them - all pretend to be more tolerant than thou. They hide alongside the anti-racists, the anti-homophobes and anti-sexists. But what they are really against is something very different. They - call them secular fundamentalists - are anti-God, and what they really want is the eradication of religion, and all believers, from the face of the earth."

Jings ! Crivens ! Help ma boab ! This bloke has been sniffing the incense methinks.

I personally think the world would be better off without religion, but very few of the people I know with similar views would even so much sign a petition against it, let alone beat up a person of faith, much less kill 'em all.

And what exactly is a "Secular Fundamentalist" - there is no text to insist is literally true. And you're either Secular or not - like you're either Pregnant or not.

Anyway the guy got flamed to a crisp in Guardian Online. They really shouldn't publish people who can't tell the difference between "secular" and "atheist". Especially if he's deluded enough to think he's the victim of a conspiracy between Sikh playwrights, Stand-up comedians and Oxbridge professors.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Sometimes my commitment to Freedom of Expression is sorely tested - usually when it's something that could hurt my little Stan-etta.

There are people who believe that anorexia is a valid alternative lifestyle-choice rather than an illness. These people use the Internet to meet and chat. According to naive Freedom of Expression, I'm morally obliged to be prepared to die to defend their right to express their misguided opinion.

Would it be right for happy teenage alcoholics to be allowed to swap details of how to get smashed, stay smashed and not throw-up on the teacher ?

It's difficult to decide how you stop the dangerous stuff while preserving the right for good people to say what's on their minds...

... but I'm willing to try

Holocaust Deniers ? Dangerous rubbish - block it.
Creationism ? Mostly harmless nonsense - go on then.
Elvis kidnapped by aliens ? Totally true - should be more widely known.

I think the only sensible solution is for me to become Benign Dictator of the Universe. You can trust me to keep our children safe while allowing adults free debate.

Vote Stan.

Pawn to King 4

I cannot help but brag over here as well. I played my mate Yoz at chess last night. Previously, I have won one game in countless. The man is a lean mean chess playing machine. He had just finished beating someone who is ranked in the 2000s, which qualifies them as a grandmaster. If I were in the top 3000, I would have a badge that read "worship me, for I am a grandmaster."

Anyway, I beat him. He had to resign; there was no other option.

Pawn to King 4 is an opening I have long hated. It's so dull. The Knights come out and then it's a battle for middle territory.

The way that I got my just deserts last night was to open on the flanks. Pawn to King's Knight 3 and pawn to Queen's Knight 3. Verticals do not do it for me in chess -- you need Knights and Bishops. You get those Bishops in tandem, with Knight support and you have half the board covered in about 5 moves.

You may all praise me in comments for my grandmaster flash (prizes for the reference).

PS -- I used to be married to the ex-girlfriend of Nigel Short. I never met him, and my ex was utterly crap at chess, but I do now want to meet him. I know -- too arrogant! ;)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Four letters - begins with S and ends with T ("SEAT")

My car is made by a Spanish subsidiary of a German company. Not quite as good as the German cars but attractively priced and I'm not one for designer logos, so the total lack of charisma and basic trim-level weren't issues for me.

Four-years on, and my car is taking in water to the extent that we've started calling the back seat "the shallow end". Worst part is the condensation which means I have to sit with the engine running for 10 minutes to clear the windows.

Last month the fusebox blew and my radio went into safe-mode. According to the manual I should use the code that was written in my manual. It then described the process for inputting the unlock code.

Turns out the main-dealer who sold me the car gave me the manual for the wrong sort of radio. I did some googling and found some instructions for my radio. I entered the code - turns out he had also given me the wrong code.

The manual then goes on to say that I could go along to my friendly local main-dealer and they could obtain a code for me and unlock it.

My cunning plan was to get the leak fixed at the same time as I got the radio unlocked. I usually distrust main-dealers ("stealers") but it seemed no-one else would unlock my radio.

Took the car in, drove off with a tiny, noisy courtesy car that made me feel grateful for my old bus and came back that evening.

To find my car :-

(a) full of water
(b) steamed up like a passion-wagon
(c) battery discharged so it wouldn't start
(d) radio still locked in safe-mode

Turns out that they didn't have a clue how to put the code in (I actually had to teach them how to do it) and had run the battery down in the attempt. They had washed the car afterwards - and the water had gushed through their "repair". They also assumed the code in the manual was correct and hadn't bothered ringing SEAT UK with the serial number and asking for the unlock code.

Not wanting to start the new year with a battle, my new cunning plan is to shame them into giving me the unlock code and then trade the thing in on a German car. Hopefully on a dry day.

So, if you ever buy a SEAT Toledo (pre-2004) - make sure you memorise lots of songs to sing when your radio locks up, and keep a hairdryer handy to dry the carpets.