Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lost

Maybe my mind is going, but I’m sure that there used to be a special freephone number you could call on your mobile in the 1980s/90s so that you could properly discharge your battery. The call would connect, nothing would happen and when your battery was fully discharged you could plug in its freezer-sized charger and charge it up for a full four and a half minutes talktime.

Nowadays, this service has been replaced by Orange’s 150 Customer Service number.

You do get music (of a sort) and a voice on a loop telling you that your call is important but everyone is currently doing something lots more important. Sitting with the mobile on loudspeaker today, it reminded me powerfully of the looping French distress call in the pilot of “Lost” (“Your call is important to us …Iteration 7294531… Your call is important to us …Iteration 7294532 …”).

And then after 20 minutes it cut me off.

I allowed myself 5 seconds to let the anger possess me and then used my inside knowledge of call centres. I called Billing - who are usually delighted to have someone on the line who is not yelling at them because the bill is wrong. The guy there put me straight through to someone who solved my problem in two minutes. Nice Save.

I got the boxed set of "Lost" Series 1 from a charity shop the other day and I urge any of the remaining half-dozen or so people in the world who haven't seen it to see it. Mrs. Stan needs to hide in a Sudoku book when it gets scary, but otherwise we're loving it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hard News

It seems Alabama think they can ban the sale of sexual aids.

It’s not reported whether the ban would cover someone logging onto alarminglylargerubberthings.com and getting something delivered.

Nor is it known whether it’s illegal to write a book on how to make your own from items found in all of the aisles of a supermarket.

Maybe it’s illegal to link to a site that will make fruit and vegetable shopping all the more appealing.

http://www.homemade-sex-toys.com/

Whoops.

It boggles me just how backward law-writers can be. They seem to still be living in a linear, off-line, snail-mail world.

And on the subject in hand (oo er) – could someone please tell me which of the 10 commandments the vendors are breaking ?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Today aint what it used to be.

I'm afraid it's going to be one of those old man rants ("I remember when chicken used to taste like chicken ...").

When I was 12 or so at school, we were given the task of writing about our favourite TV or Radio programme. Most did "Coronation Street" or "Multicoloured Swap Shop"" or Grandstand. I did the "Today Programme" on Radio 4. You can imagine the stick I got about that from my classmates.

The Today Programme began in the 50's as a pretty dumb show - light-hearted twittering in the morning for people who didn't want music. In the 1970s, however, the presenters were John Timpson and Brian Redhead, who was something of a hero of mine. There was an incredible chemistry between the two - Timpson, the Southern Tory and Redhead the Northern Liberal.

Actually, their political affiliation was official unknown but their insightful questioning scared the juice out of politicians of all persuasions. e.g when Nigel Lawson (Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Chancellor) accused Redhead of political bias his response was :-
"Do you think we should have a one minute silence now in this interview, one for you to apologise for daring to suggest that you know how I vote and secondly perhaps in memory of monetarism which you have now discarded"

There is on TV and radio no shortage of light-hearted banter and celebrity banter. There is however an acute shortage of hard news and comment. Which is why this morning's segment worried me somewhat
Can 19 year old soprano Hayley Westenra sing notes so high that only animals can hear her?

The previous day we had had a 35 minute interview with Tony Blair - and it was a pleasure to hear our leader sweat under an intelligent onslaught from John Humphries. This is what the Today programme is all about.

Someone tell me I'm worried for no good reason, and that Today will be making politicians sweat well into the 21st century.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

For what shall it profit a team, if they shall gain the whole world, and lose their own soul

The best football in Britain is to be found in the poorest neighbourhoods. That's no accident - the top clubs were often started at the end of the 19th century by organisations in dirt-poor immigrant areas to give the young men something to do.

For example, Bolton Wanderers (5th in the Premiership) was founded in 1874 as Christ Church FC - a church sunday school team. Manchester United (1st in the Premiership) was Newton Heath LYR F.C. in 1878 - the works team of a railway depot.

I live in Wilmslow, Cheshire (average household income 25% above the UK average - £36,600) and my local club, Macclesfield, is not at all on the success vector.

The good schools and the low crime rate more than make up for that, but it does mean I need to commute 30 miles to get my football fix in Bolton, Greater Manchester (average household income 15% below the UK average - £25,000)

The majority of accents in the queue for the excellent half-time pies are local to the area. So I deduce I'm something of an exception and that most fans are locals and have to find the cost of pies, parking and a £500 season-ticket out of that reduced average income. Not to mention away games and the occasional foray into European competition. It takes a rare motivation to choose football over the other essentials in life.

As a result the stadium is rarely full and the management are constantly moaning about it. Finally they've done something and cut the season-ticket prices by 10%. Hopefully, that'll make the difference for a bunch of people between watching the game in the pub and coming along to be a part of the game.

An invitation to see a couple of Manchester United games recently gave me an insight into what happens when you price the local fans out of the stadium.

Old Trafford is a magnificent stadium - over twice the capacity of Bolton's Reebok stadium and much better equipped. But where are the Manchester accents ? And at my end of the ground you watch the game behind a glass screen which dulls the acoustic and you may as well be in the pub for all the emotional connection you get. And the pub is likely to be where you watch Manchester United unless you pay serious money (or blag some corporate hospitality like I did).

Bolton is a football club. Manchester United is showbiz.

It wasn't always so - Manchester United used to be very similar to Bolton. But they priced themselves out of the range of locals. They gained success, but lost their souls.

Hopefully now Bolton Wanderers can find their success without losing the people of Bolton.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lithium

After watching the 9/11 Conspiracy Documentary on the (excellent again) BBC last night, I'm even more convinced than before that the only cover-up is around just how incompetent the US authorities were before, during and after the atrocity.

The programme following it unexpectedly gave some clue as to why people hold these way-out conspiracies.

The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain is a very well put-together documentary starting out in the company of an astonishing Seattle Soccer-Mom who gives tours around the Kurt Cobain related sites in her SUV, all delivered in the manner of a suburban realtor.

Then it alternates between his life story and his progression through a packed last two days on earth.

Then he died, and that's when the story gets really weird. He appears to people in dreams, and crucially no-one can believe the banal truth of his death. The real wackos had probably fried their brains or topped themselves in the intervening 12 years, so in fact this is a comparatively sensible bunch of interviewees.

Fact : Around April 8th 1994 he reached into his SubZero (c) Fridge for a root-beer. Then he walked through to his greenhouse, took enough heroin to numb Michigan and shot himself in the head.

I really can't see there is need to doubt this. Just as I see no need to doubt that Elvis died on the toilet when the strain of passing a stool was too much for his drug-addled body.

To me, Occam's Razor Rules OK. People can die without the CIA and Aliens being involved in some plot.

It's hard to accept that a 27 year-old depressive poet junkie could let the fans down by ending it all. But it's part of being a grown-up to accept that bad things can happen for the simplest reasons.

btw. listen to some Nirvana - they really were quite something in their day, and the lyrics are amazing.

I'm so happy 'cause today
I've found my friends ...
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you...
We've broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care...
And I'm not scared
Light my candles in a daze...
'Cause I've found god - yeah, yeah, yeah


I'm so lonely but that's okay I shaved my head...
And I'm not sad
And just maybe I'm to blame for all I've heard...
But I'm not sure
I'm so excited, I can't wait to meet you there...
But I don't care
I'm so horny but that's okay...
My will is good - yeah, yeah, yeah

I like it - I'm not gonna crack
I miss you - I'm not gonna crack
I love you - I'm not gonna crack
I kill you - I'm not gonna crack

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Wait til Your Father Gets Home

I can't work out exactly what David Cameron would like me to do. Does he want me to stop Stanetta from joining an armed drugs gang ? To be perfectly honest, I already considered this to be part of my job even before his recent intervention.

I think he's just saying "families are good; we support the family; our opponents don't; vote for us", but unfortunately I don't speak Conservative.

Could someone translate for me please - I wouldn't like to think I was failing as a Dad.

I wonder whether you'll need an ID card to get a passport?

So from 2009, UK passport holders will need to appear in person at one of the proposed new passport centers to be interviewed and poked for various bodily fluids.

I am all for ID cards -- no problem with them at all. But this level of inconvenience is an unprecedented assault on civil liberties.

Firstly, in order to get a passport when I got my first one, you needed to complete the form, send two signed pictures together with statements from people who are not your relatives and have known you for two years or more (they had to be doctors/lawyers/professional people) and proof of your ID (birth-certifcate). Kind of like sacrificing your first born in paperwork, but do-able as a batch process. Then you waited for about anywhere between two and six weeks and magically it arrived in the post.

In the US, where I had my passport renewed in Washington last time, they insisted that it was couriered and signed for. That may happen here now given the climate.

Today's UK passports contain a chip containing all your details (albeit unusable presently).

Personally, I am happy with the process, cumbersome though it is.

What I am not happy with is being "interviewed" and having anal swabs.

Contrary to what my airmiles history looks like (700,000+), I am a nervous traveller. Not because of planes but because I have been singled out for inspection (and I mean real inspection not a cursory look through the bags) on more occasions than I care to remember. And every time I re-entered the US, I would be the interviewed by the INS for at least thirty minutes. The most memorable of these was a trip to Kristiansund in Norway where, when I went through customs, having flown via Schipol, I was literally strip searched. I had the inners of my shoes pulled out and was down to my underwear. Guess they didn't like 23 year old professionals flying into Oslo for a couple of days with a one day return flight to somewhere else via Amsterdam.

My second experience was on an outward bound flight to Chicago from Manchester, where I had everything in my bag ripped to shreds and then nearly missed my flight.

There have been various other domestic checks in the US, but they have not been nearly as traumatising as the international ones.

The INS had me flagged as having not left the US in 1994 because Virgin did not return my visa waiver card. Also, apparently there is someone in the Midwest who shares my name and is/was a wanted felon. I used to have to point out that I have arrived at and departed from the US at least 100 times since then. It got to the point where I could only hold my nerve with a couple of stiff sherberts in the final hours of descent into the point of entry.

And now I really have overstayed a visa there, albeit while trying to file an adjustment of status, I really do dread the next time I get to go. I'll be photographed, fingerprinted, scanned and subject to what I expect to be a very long and tortuous interview at the US embassy in London.

So, you can see why I hate travel.

Adding some extra authority means I will be even more jittery and therefore it will be a self-fulfiling prophecy and singled out for extra screening. Not to mention being hassled. And inconvenienced.

I'll be renewing my passport next year before this nonsense is introduced. That will cover me until 2018 when I will be 49 and I hardly think I'll be wanting to bound around the world doing business at that age, although I may not have a choice.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Kenny in shock agreement with Stan

Who'da'thunkit?

Strange; Stan and I share moral values but we kind of reach a fork in the road when it comes to politics. Stan's kind of center left while I'm kind of center right. I am by no means the raging capitalist, war-mongering scumbag that I have been accused of being (not by Stan, I hasten to add).

Stan is spot-on on this one. It is by far the fairest and most CO2 friendly way forward.

Car tax is an obvious example of a ridiculous concept. If your car is over 26 years (or whatever it is) old, you pay none, even though your motor is almost certainly kicking out more CO2 than your average rabbit. If you are on a pension and use your car once a week to visit the grandkids who live two miles up the road, you need to damn well pay it. If you're Mr Supersales from Megacorp who does 50,000 miles a year, and flies half way around the world on a Jumbo jet every four weeks, you're paying the same as the pensioner. Utterly balmstick moonbat.

There was a time when company cars were quite rightly taxed to hell and back, with a few incidental taxes en-route. Now, companies and employees have cottoned on and there is the "car allowance". No extra taxes, just extra insurance for the employee.

Our financial models when it comes to transportation need urgently reviewing. I regard this tracking (insert snort here -- subterfuge) technology to be a good opening debate on how we make things fair and environmentally friendly. It may not be right but it fuels debate.

Next, we need to look at the rail system and question whether privatization was the best thing to do.

And once we have solved that, then let's look at planes.

And after that, cows. Can we not buy them some Gaviscon?

Kenny out.

Update: I'm liking this Gaviscon idea. Extra calcium in milk, better meat, stronger bones. It's an absolute winner. Can I claim my Nobel prize now?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stan "In agreement with the Government" Shock

Here's my experience with the road tax petition.

A friend of Mrs. Stan forwarded the following to me and several dozen others on his contacts list.
Subject: FW: Road Tax Petition

>Please sign and pass it on. It only takes a minute.
>
>The Government's proposal to introduce road pricing will mean you having to purchase a tracking device for your car and paying a monthly bill to use >it.
>>The tracking device will cost about 200 and in a recent study by the BBC, the lowest monthly bill was 28 for a rural florist and 194 for a delivery driver.

A non working Mum who used the car to take the kids to school paid 86 in one month. On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be tracked. Somebody
>will know where you are at all times. They will also know how fast you >have been going, so even if you accidentally creep over a speed limit you can expect a NIP with your monthly bill.

If you care about our freedoms and stopping the constant bashing of the car driver, please sign the petition on No 10's new website >
>http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/traveltax/
Please pass this on to anyone who owns a car/motorcycle. It affects them. Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail


My reply to Mrs. Stan's friend was the following (excluding the bit where I was slightly rude about him sharing my email address with the world)

Think yours was the third or so version of the same chain letter I've received this week - suspect it's the fuel-blockade people that started it off in the first place. Got my first version of the email in July last year just after Alistair Darling's announcement - thought it had died out but there's been a sudden increase lately.

Email subtly neglects to mention that this is a replacement for tax on petrol and road tax. The figures don't look as scary if you imagine what price petrol would be without government duty and if road tax were abolished.

Personally I think I'd be worse off - but am prepared to pay more if it means less traffic and if there's a beneficial ecological effect.

As to the civil liberty effects - speed is not something that needs to be measured for the tax to work - a simple transponder with a cheap 'n' cheerful basic GPS chip would be needed and that's not good enough to reliably measure speed. Also, a switched-on mobile phone gives away your position and speed pretty well at the moment.

And anyway, if the government can't even track criminals, I've sure they're not going to be able to spot me giving it some welly down the A34 !


It's so just so easy for people to sign this thing without understanding the implications - just because a friend has asked them to. I'm not at all surprised that that this thing has attracted two million signatures to date, but I'm convinced that upwards of 1.9 million of these people don't understand the issue.

For once I hope people-power fails and the governmnet sticks to their guns. Please, Mr Blair; don't scrap the only government policy I agree with ...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rule Britanniavision

I take it all back. Every negative thing I've ever said about the BBC. I was wrong and misguided to an extent that may prove to be evidence of madness.

The first episode of series 2 of "Life on Mars" was the best thing I've seen since ... er, the first episode of series 1 of "Life in Mars".

Plot : mad, full of ideas and genuinely surprising
Acting : two awesome lead performances
Dialogue : sharp and satisfying

Not only that - but when it was over and myself and Mrs Stan were about to emerge from the world of imagination, there was an announcement.

'The next episode of "Life on Mars" will follow in a few minutes on BBC4'

And so we switched to BBC Digital and dived back down into Sam Tyler's confusing world for another hour.

And episode 2 was even better.

You just know the American version will have a laugh-track, at least one of the actors from "Friends" and will be utter carp.

But for now "Life in Mars" is a genuine televisual work of art and the BBC can do no wrong in the Stan household.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Who's Next ?

You know things are bad when you find you are humming Tom Lehrer songs while reading the newspaper.

Mostly it's the news that the "US-led Coalition of One" seems to be lining up Iran for a pre-emptive strike.

Here's one of America's greatest thinkers from 1965 - a very similar point in history.

One of the big news items of the past year concerned the fact that China, which we called "Red China," exploded a nuclear bomb, which we called a device. Then Indonesia announced that it was going to have one soon, and proliferation became the word of the day. Here's a song about that:

First we got the bomb, and that was good,
'Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that's okay,
'Cause the balance of power's maintained that way.
Who's next?

France got the bomb, but don't you grieve,
'Cause they're on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb, but have no fears,
They can't wipe us out for at least five years.
Who's next?

Then Indonesia claimed that they
Were gonna get one any day.
South Africa wants two, that's right:
One for the black and one for the white.
Who's next?

Egypt's gonna get one too,
Just to use on you know who.
So Israel's getting tense.
Wants one in self defense.
"The Lord's our shepherd," says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb.
Who's next?

Luxembourg is next to go,
And (who knows?) maybe Monaco.
We'll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb.
Who's next?
Who's next?
Who's next?
Who's next?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reprint

I'm going to reproduce the same post that I have just done chez-moi, on the basis that I have not howled as much in forever...

There's a show on one of the BBC channels called Mock the Week and I saw one of the funniest gags ever last night. It will probably not translate to print, but here you go. The subject was terrorism. Some stand-up guy I have never heard of stepped up:

"Terrorism? Tony Blair says we should be worried about Osama Bin Laden having WMDs. Listen, I've seen the pictures. The guy has a donkey and a rifle....when I see an ICBM strapped to the back of the donkey, then I'll be worried."

Priceless. Stan will like that one.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Truth is Out There - But This Isn't It

I downloaded the 9/11 conspiracy web-flick Loose Change. It's an odd theory, that the US government planned the 9/11 disaster for the benefit of family and friends, and to give a pretext for America to go on to screw up a bunch of Muslim countries beyond recognition.

Like they needed to go to those kind of lengths for that.

You can find a fair summary of the plot on Wikipedia, so I won't waste my keyboard repeating it.

The thing is - you believe the people involved might actually think it a cool idea, but you doubt that they would actually be capable of managing a conspiracy of this size.

My favourite debunking of the Moon-Landing hoax is that Russians would have been tracking the lunar module extremely carefully, and it certainly wouldn't have been in their interest to keep quiet if NASA were pulling a fast one.

This line of questioning I think explodes the Loose Change hypothesis also. All those possible ways the truth could have got out - all those governments with no reason to help America hush up mass-murder.

The film is a nasty, amateurish, pseudo-scientific piece of opportunistic garbage. I'm slightly ashamed at wasting bandwidth downloading it - please don't make the same mistake.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

BBC - your Windows on the World

Seems the BBC and Microsoft are engaging in an extended smooch.

I'm scratching my head as to why - I know the BBC are using Microsoft technology to protect their Digital Rights on the BBC on-demand service. But that's no good reason to give free, uncritical coverage to the latest piece of bloat-ware from Seattle.

Reminds me of the column in "Private Eye" devoted to shameless plugs for Murdoch TV in Murdoch newspapers and vice versa.

There was a piece on News Watch on BBC24 which tried to address the issue, but really it just gave me some more ammunition for my cause.

What's the story ? I'm guessing I won't find the answers on the BBC.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Doppleganger

Every now and again, you meet people who are as completely reasonable as you are. Stan is one of them.

I was just going to comment about how he should just go ahead and do the Linux thing but then I realised that the caveat that you should stay with XP is perfectly justifiable. If you're not of a techie bent, moving to an OS that has the following commands, you're a tad buggered:

fsck whatever
kill -9 whatever
rm -rf /*
1,$s:Kenny/Self-righteous git/g

I happen to agree with Stan on this one. The security holes are one thing, but the biggest problem with it is that you need a bloody super-computer to run it. God knows how many gigabtyes of memory and oodles of disk space.

Microsoft, in 2001, realised that Sun were going to be a big problem when they released a 64-bit Solaris. So, a little known fact, is that there's a switch that you can use where XP boots into a simulated 64-bit environment. In reality what that means is that you can actually access what a 64-bit OS will be able to address. 32-bit OS's can address 2 gig of memory. After that, it's, to coin a Blackadder phrase, like a broken pencil: pointless. Microsoft missed the boat again.

This whole thing amuses me no end. I am one of the people who suffered from when Microsoft
simulated a 32-bit OS back in whenever via a "thunk" layer that mapped 32-bit calls to their 16-bit OS. At the time, TCP/IP was provided by third party suppliers like FTP, Wollongong, Banyan, DEC etc. We had a support contract with Microsoft at the time that allowed us access to third line support immediately. I called them saying that Windows for Workgroups broke DEC's Pathworks. They hung up and never called back. I eventually worked out what the problem was called to tell them -- gratitude was not exactly overflowing.

The problem is that if you have a bunch of celever academics and give them a problem, there's a kind of puritanist approach to it. I'm not saying that a "thunk" layer is a bad idea, just that if you're going to do it, do it right. And understand what you are doing.

And while you're at it, watch those buffer overflows. That is schoolboy stuff. Stan's warnings should be heeded.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Don't Panic - Share and Enjoy - Vista is your friend

Anyone who has any knowledge at all of commercial IT will love this quote about a security hole with Windows Vista.
"Microsoft said the exploit was "technically possible" but there was no need to worry. "

I'm reminded of quotations from spokesmen from the Nuclear industry, Big Tobacco, and the Conservative Party. Also Douglas Adams :-
ARTHUR: The ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal ... is it safe?
FORD: Oh yes, it's perfectly safe ... it's just us who are in
trouble.

Microsoft have taken complacency to a whole new level. This user will be sticking with XP for a fair time to come.