Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Down with the Sandwich of Death !

Fact : Crossing the road is a dangerous activity. Figures show that people who cross roads are statistically more likely to be hit by cars than people who cower a safe distance back from the kerb their entire lives.

Fact : people who breathe lungfuls of air have a higher cancer risk than those who take shallow breaths in an oxygen tent.

Fact : Making children, having fun and meeting people all expose you to risk. Better to shut yourself in your plastic bubble and watch Ant 'n' Dec repeats in the dark.

And heaven help (according to these people) those of us with outrageous rock 'n' roll lifestyles who tackle hard-core extreme risk, like eating bacon.

Yes, bacon. The same nagging tone that scolds people for indulging in promiscuous, unprotected, unbiblical sex with bi-sexual drug-addicts is being used to talk us out of eating yummy, crispy pig-bits.

As a self-confessed Guardian-reader and one-time Vegetarian, I ought to be all in favour. But there are two things you need to know about Stan :-

(a) I hate, loathe and detest people telling me how to live my life

(b) I blooming love bacon.
The question I have is this : "What's next after bacon ?" If we give in and switch to organic tofu rolls, what will they go after next ? Cuddling ? Smiling ?

Fact : "the highest known risk factor in relation to breast cancer is age, with 80 per cent of cases occurring in women over the age of 50." Don't get old, ladies. It's bad for you ...

Fact : One day I am going to die of something. This will come after a very full life, crammed with joy, risk and discovery.

If I could have a choice, I would like to go as a direct result of exhaustion arising from my beating the living carp out some whining, passive-aggressive, flaccid, milksop control-freak who tried to spoil my joy. Hopefully, this will happen when I am 150 years old. With a freshly-eaten bacon butty (white bread, red sauce) in my tummy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Pain in the L5S1

After a certain age, learning is usually as a result of something going wrong. You learn about cars when yours develops a mysterious puddle in the footwell, and you learn about your body when stuff starts dropping off.

The results of my MRI scan are in, and while my lower spine is in many ways a picture of loveliness, it seems age has withered it rather.

A spinal disc is a complicated beast that does two jobs: it flexibly connects two vertebrae together and it acts a shock-absorber.

It looks like a doughnut ("mmmm ... doughnut ...") with a jelly-like substance in the middle ("mmmm ... jelly in the middle ...")

With age, one of my low-down discs known as L5-S1 ("the lumbosacral joint" to its friends) has lost water. This dried-out disc has compressed, which has resulted in the jelly squidging out of the doughnut, causing havoc with my sciatic nerve.

You wonder whether there's any way of rubbing some moisturising cream into the disc. This would "reduce the signs of ageing" "because I'm worth it".

It seems it's a Clan Stan design fault because Father Stan is a fellow sufferer.

Feels good to know what the problem is, especially since it definitely isn't one of the really nasty spinal problems it could have been.

Quick : finish with joke :-

There's a rumour that Tampax will be the new sponsors of Bolton Wanderers. It's appropriate, because the club is going through a really bad period.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aux gogues la vie

Hands up those of you who can't sleep because you have a play by Samuel Beckett stuck on a loop in your mind ?

Just me then.

Last Saturday I went to see "Fragments" , a set of short Beckett theatre pieces which included "Rockaby", a minimalist solo piece for one prematurely-aged woman and a chair.

I had never seen the piece performed before, but I had read and enjoyed it in the "Complete Dramatic Works" and at first I was pretty irritated by the performance.

You see, Beckett was pretty clear in his stage notes as to how the play should be performed. For a start, the vast majority of the dialogue should be played from a recording, with the actress responding in voice only a little. Even the exact shape of the rocking chair was spelled out. It was also specified that this carefully described chair should be rocked by an unseen mechanical means with no assistance from the actress.

These instructions were followed at the performance to the letter, except that no recordings were used and the chair was not a rocker, just a straight-back chair which the actress rocked herself throughout.

Look, the thing about minimalism is that everything unimportant has been taken out by the author, leaving only what they believe is crucial behind. So when Beckett says something, he thought it was important dammit, so don't mess with it. Dammit.

So, with all this screaming going on in my head, the piece was halfway through before I fully appreciated Kathryn Hunter's performance. Damn, she can act. Beckett's dialogue is sparse so the actress needs to fill in with her eyes, her bearing and her tone. Kathryn Hunter gripped the audience - even managing to drown out my inner pedant.

It's all about death and perception and the perception of death and the death of perception, so best try something else if you're looking for levity. But it is one of the best short plays there is, and Peter Brook (the director) should blooming well stop trying to "improve" it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Change

Hats off to the Criminal Masterminds who decided to try to pass £28 billion in half-million-pound-notes (i.e 75% of the face value of all sterling notes in circulation).

It was a nice touch that the people they tried to con were the Bank of England, who you would expect would know a thing or two about how the notes ought to look.

The Bank of England, in fact, would know that there never was a £500,000 note.

Their £1,000 notes weren't much better, and strangely enough, these are a more serious issue than the big guys, because it's not considered "forgery" if the thing copied never existed. Isn't the law funny ?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Music that makes you feel the World is working out just fine

I bought Corinne Bailey Rae's eponymous album at the Virgin Records store at the Trafford Centre. I first tried at HMV and failed to find it filed under either "C", "B" or "R" in any one of the "Rock & Pop", "Urban" or "Jazz & Blues" sections.

Maybe they had a "Music that makes you feel the World is working out just fine" section - if so, that's where I would have found it.

What a voice ! Her phrasing and all-round musicality is astounding and she backs it up with a soulful voice that sounds vulnerable without being in any way frail. I was stunned to find she was from Leeds - I would have sworn she was from Roberta Flack's American South.

You don't have to rely on my ropy descriptive skills - go to her website which has a taster.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More, Smaller, Just as Good

There's an apocryphal story about an American motor executive who got angry in a meeting about plant closures and sarcastically remarked "Hey, why don't we close them all down - then we can save some REAL money".

I'm reminded of this when I read of the BBC's latest adventure in downsizing.

THe BBC's lack of ambition is astounding. They have a monopoly position, are funded via a semi-compulsory license fee, have a track-record of producing some of the best TV and Radio of all time, and have one of the world's most-used websites.

Some of their greatest hits have come from small-scale work :-

* "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was a BBC radio play
* Aardman Animations cut their teeth on creating a character called "Morph" for a children's TV programme
* "Whose Line is it Anyway?" was a BBC radio panel game

And if we just look at comedy - how about "The Mighty Boosh", "Dead Ringers", "The Goons", "Goodness Gracious Me", "Mitchell & Webb" and "The League of Gentlemen", who all started by making successes of radio shows before transferring to more glamorous media.

The plan of concentrating on "fewer, bigger, better" is madness. There is little creativity in big budget items. For every "Life on Mars" there are a hundred safe and boring Classic Costume Dramas. If the BBC raises the entry-level budget for programme-making they are going to become oh-so like ITV1, and that's not a good thing.

I'm all for "cutting fat", but Mark Thompson seems set on excising some of the muscle too.

And another thing : this idea of combining Radio and TV reporting is utter nonsense. Radio journalism is more than just TV journalism without the pictures, just as "Under Milk Wood" (another BBC success) was more than just a play in the dark. It was a "Play for Voices", which is an art-form in itself - just as valid as any other.

A radio journalist needs to paint a picture with words, and the picture is often deeper and clearer than the one that a TV camera would be allowed to capture. I'm not at all associated with the industry, and I can appreciate that. Why can't the Director General of the BBC ??

The management theorist Dale Dauten concisely summarises my message to Mark Thompson

Why are CEO's who slash jobs so proud of themselves? Instead of bragging about "cutting fat," they ought to be getting up before their employees and saying, "We did such a lousy job of planning and hiring that we have more people than work. And we are so broke and so dim-witted that we can't come up with any way to get more work. So our only solution is to send a lot of good people home. I am ashamed and I am sorry."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Let's Radioheadercise

Radiohead are one of my favourite "difficult listening" bands. You've got to be a certain mood to get it, but there will always be a place in my i-pod for most of the songs on their six albums, even if they're not what you need when you are trying to feel the burn at the gym. Nearly as bad as Primal Scream and Massive Attack in that regard. Has anyone else ever tried riding an exercise bike to "Unfinished Sympathy"?

Anyhow, there's a seventh Radiohead album now with the online release of "In Rainbows". You go to and download it, paying whatever you think it might be worth. Or if you're an obsessive you can pay £40 to get the download plus CD plus vinyl plus collectors' packaging.

I don't need vinyl so I paid £5 for the basic download, which I understand is about par for the course. For that, I got a simple zip archive containing the tracks in mp3 format.

And it's simply marvellous. The last Radiohead track to really affect me was "Karma Police" from 10 years ago. There have been some really interesting tracks since then, but nothing on that kind of level of emotional connection. For example, when I first heard "Karma Police" it was on the car radio. I had to pull the car over and it was ten minutes after it had finished that I was together enough to drive on.

Now, all ten tracks on this album are never less than interesting - all are complex and experimental. But it's "Reckoner" that stands out and gives me monster goosebumps even at the thirtieth time of listening.

There's even a track, "Jigsaw Falling into Place", that's unfashionably danceable - there's even a chorus dammit. It might even work with aerobics, which would spoil this weight-loss routine I've invented called "Radioheadercise" where you shrug along to their music until you're too depressed to eat.

All in all, if you've enjoyed any three tracks from any of Radiohead's albums, you'll love this one to pieces. If you've never heard of them, or hated near everything they've done then this album is unlikely to convert you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Half A World Away

It would be remarkably easy for me to become a racist. As an IT guy, I'm surrounded by Indians whose English is often difficult to understand, whose names are all but impossible for me to remember and whose presence in the market is driving down the rates I need to keep The Family Stan in good style.

I haven't joined the BNP, but I guess in my mind, I've regarded them as interchangable pieces of office furniture and I've rarely socialised, even though as fellow geeks I'm sure we'd have a lot in common.

Last Friday, I checked out of my Travelodge pod and brought all my luggage into work with me. Half-way through co-operating on a bit of Linux magic with a Indian lady, she noticed my bags and asked if I had family. Out came the pics of Stanetta and Mrs Stan and she showed me pictures of her boy, and she told me that she's been extended to the end of the year and wouldn't see her boy for another 3 months and I'll be damned if both of us weren't on the verge of making a tearful exhibition of ourselves in the open-plan office.

It's rough being away from home - I remember when I worked in Frankfurt I only managed to get home every alternate weekend - but the idea that your career needs you to be that far from your family for that long is crushing. It's no picnic either for those left behind, but that side of the story is for Mrs Stan and Stanetta to tell whenever they get their blogging boots on.

I'm a fan of globalism. I'm a fan of free-trade (it cuts prices and it stops war). And I acknowledge that problems of this generation of Indians is as nothing compared to those of their parents and grandparents. But there's a price being paid here.


The tech company Teradata claim that they have "Operationalized the Enterprise". Anyone can inventionate a word by appendising to a pre-existioned word, but what exactly do they mean ? Apparently it means leveraging strategic intelligence to enable operational excellence. Still not sure entirely what it all means, but well done Teradata anyway.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Christmas - 9 Months Late

In the UK we had to wait until this Thursday to see last year's Christmas Episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" on More4. I had to wait a little longer because I was away from home and Mrs. Stan had recorded it for me.

It's a wonderful piece of television drama. Funny and moving, full of smart dialogue, addressing important issues and basically gripping you for the full 42 minutes.

The highlight for me was the sub-plot that concerned a group of musicians made homeless in New Orleans by the Hurricane Katrina. They had come to Los Angeles to try to make some money for Christmas, and the musicians on a number of TV shows had phoned in sick so these guys could "sub" for them.

Many people lost a lot in those floods, but among the losses were thousands of musical instruments. I'm not anything like a musician, but I love music and I'm a bread-winner, so I can only begin to understand something of the loss involved in losing your Art and your livelihood.

The musicians in the show weren't actors playing New Orleans musicians - they really were those musicians, led by the profoundly talented Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, who can blow a horn like few I've ever heard.

The piece they did at the end of show is available free here on the NBC website. Enjoy, then drift over to the Tipitinas Foundation website and give them what you think the music is worth.

I was cross that "Studio 60" was only given one series, and now after the best episode to date I'm spitting mad. Here is a series that's just getting into its stride, the characters are gelling and rubbing against each other, the writers have found their voice ... and now it's all over.

Stan says "Grrr !"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pretty Amazing New Stuff

Geek Warning : The following posting contains barely coherent techno-waffle. Non-techies should skip to the bottom for a joke I enjoyed.

You would think that after a few decades in IT, I'd be pretty hard to impress. The truth is that with every passing year I'm more and more blown-away by all the pretty-amazing-new-stuff (PANS) that keeps coming my way.

PANS 1 - I was able to sit at my desk in London while a world-expert in Boston took over my PC and dialled into a server in Amsterdam with which I was having problems. The technology involved ("Webex") is not new, but it was new to me. In the old days you just had to put the expert on a plane and consign him to a life of airports and hotels.

PANS 2 - Google Apps : A free Word Processing, Spreadsheet and Presentation suite of programs that allow you and a few dozen of your colleagues to share information online. The "sharing" is a bit flaky, but I can see this taking off big-time.

PANS 3 - Knoppix running under VMWare on my Windows laptop. A wonderful way to work with Linux on your laptop without having to give up Microsoft products. There's a sensationally straight-forward guide of how to set it up on
. The only thing I'd have added is that if you want to get data back from the Knoppix environment to Windows, you need to use Samba.

That last idea tickles me. I imagine that if my laptop is a brain, then Windows is a dream that it is dreaming. Knoppix in VMware is a dream within that dream - and the idea that within a dream-within-dream you can push stuff into the dream ... Maaaan, my mind, it is blown.
And that's just from the last month, and truthfully I was too busy doing the day-job to do all that much of my own stuff. And I never mentioned Vista - because I've tried it and ho-hum I'm not over-excited.

The speed of technology is so fast just now and I count myself fortunate to be alive at this time in history.

And now for the joke ...
Five cannibals get appointed as programmers in an IT company. During their induction course the boss says: "You're all part of our team now. You can earn good money here, and you should go to the company canteen if you need something to eat. So don't .. er .. you know ... eat the other employees".

Four weeks later the boss returns and says: "You're all working very hard, and I'm very satisfied with all of you. One of our cleaners has disappeared however. Do any of you know what happened to her?" The cannibals disavow all knowledge of the missing cleaner.

After the boss has left, the leader of the cannibals says to the others: "Which of you idiots ate the cleaner?" One of the cannibals raises his hand hesitantly, to which the leader of the cannibals says: "You FOOL! For four weeks we've been eating team leaders and project managers and no-one has noticed a thing, and now YOU have to go and eat the cleaner!"

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Playing Silly Burgers

Heaven knows I'm open to Modern Art, but the I'm-an-artist-not-a-photographer Boo Ritson is surely taking the Mickey.

Asked to choose her favourite shot for the Guardian, her choice is a picture of nine cheeseburgers she covered in glue, painted and got someone else to photograph.

And as an example of suffering for her Art, she cites the fact that she is Vegetarian who loves cheeseburgers.

Is there anything here that Andy Warhol didn't do to death in 1960's ?

Still, anyone who wants a picture of painted, gluey junk-food should contact the Alan Cristea Gallery on

Or maybe you'd prefer Stan's contribution to this oeuvre, "Well-dressed Laptop III"

It represents the growing commercialisation of blogging, and full image rights can be yours for a £10 donation to the charity of your choice.

Other works are available from Stan's "Travelodge Period" :-

* Well-dressed Laptop IV
* Well-dressed Television XI
* Well-dressed Kettle LXIX
etc. etc. etc.

Not to mention my latest work, "Badly-dressed Laptop I", which is basically just a picture of a laptop.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Boris Beeblebrox

Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.

I had a moment of clarity during a fiery Brick Lane curry tonight.

Boris Johnson (who is responsible for the quotation above) is Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Mr. Beeblebrox is a major character in Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker" books. He is a two-headed, exhibitionistic, ego-maniac with an unshakable faith in his own coolness.

He is also President of the Galaxy, which sounds impressive, but the Book makes clear that
The purpose of the president of the galaxy is not to exercise power, it is to distract attention from the people who are really exercising power.

Zaphod, with his gift for shameless self-publicity, is the most successful President ever as the media are constantly chasing him, leaving the people who really run the galaxy to get on with it in peace.

I can see Boris being just such a Major of London. You just know he'll make radical speaking howlers, have sex with people he shouldn't and put forward surreal policies. Anything else that happens in London that's less interesting (but more important) is likely to relegated to the inside pages.

Vote Stan. You know it makes sense.