Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Still Busy, But Go On Then - Part One

I mentioned a bunch of stuff I didn't have time to elaborate on in the previous post. Obviously I have a duty to do them justice before I get into this week's business.

Firstly, Stephen Fry and the Gutenburg Printing Press. I loved the description of the Rhine Valley as "Silicon Valley" circa 1500. His delivery was light, but not played for laughs. It was a great walkthrough of what was needed to make the printing press happen. The rediscovery of paper for a start. And it took a breakthrough in moulding and a year's effort to make the letters.

And as for the double-helix wooden screw ... a work of genius, flawlessly executed. I'm in awe of the mind that could visualise such a thing and have the skill to make one without computerised lathes and laser cutters.

Watching those craftsmen making a working replica of the press gave me the distinct impression that I would have been a total liability in the 16th century. I'm certain that myself, Mrs Stan and Stanetta would be crouching in a muddy field eating raw turnip if we had to survive on what I could made with my hands.

16th century - badly coordinated klutz = muddy peasant eating turnip
21st century - badly coordinated klutz = well-paid Geek blogging in suburbia
26th century - badly coordinated klutz = anyone's guess

Now for "Waiting for the Guards" on the Amnesty International website.

Never, ever will you think again that "stress positions" are a mild and civilised form of persuasion.

Amnesty took a performance artist and simulated the kind of treatment permissible by the official US guidelines on such things - the guidelines that tend to be used as toilet paper during the perpetual war-on-terror.

I was reminded a little of the knees-bent exercises people do when they're getting ready for a ski-ing holiday. It can start to hurt after a while, but you stop when it aches a bit. The film shows what happens if you're forced into a position where you're not allowed to stop.

The guy is stood on a shaky cardboard box, his hands cuffed behind his back and a bag over his head.

It obviously hurts - even though the guy is an actor who could stretch between takes and who knows he's going home at the end of the day. He isn't shell-shocked from the capture and the "special rendition". He isn't sleep-deprived and frightened for the safety of people he cares about.

You feel anyone would say anything just to make the pain stop, and that makes evidence extracted through torture totally meaningless. And it should be stopped and we shouldn't let our governments get away with it. I don't care if the means is subtle and the end is justified -noone benefits from treating people like this.

Cripes - that was a long rant : "Mad Men" and "Humphrey Littleton" will have to wait for another time. Although I might get distracted - local election day tomorrow.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


No time to rave about Stephen Fry's amazing programme about the Gutenburg printing press.

No time to describe my reactions to the shocking "Waiting for the Guards" video on the Amnesty International website.

No time to beg you to make "Mad Men" part of your lives.

No time to regret the passing of Humphrey Littleton.

Like Jean says in Victoria Wood's "Dinner Ladies" :-
"Orgasm? I haven’t blown my nose since Wednesday."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Raking It In

There is a scene in the "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons" in which Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in 30 seconds, stumbling from smack-in-the-mouth to smack-in-the-mouth without the wit to break the cycle. It's on YouTube and well worth watching.

Is this the metaphor I've been waiting for to describe the current behaviour of Gordon Brown ?

Rake 1 - Giving up the 10% tax rate he himself invented not all that long ago
Rake 2 - Not spotting he had just made a heap of poor people even poorer ... the week before the local elections.
Rake 3 - Not gaining the support of his back-benchers - not even close to it.
Rake 4 - Steely determination not to do a U-turn gets big laughs
Rake 5 - Initial Compromise proposal to maybe look at possible ways to maybe take some of the pain for some of the people "next year" gets even bigger laughs

As of today, he's beefed up the compensation plan, and is taking flack for being spineless and clueless. It is by no means certain that Sideshow Brown has stepped on his last rake.

Monday, April 21, 2008

iPlayer fix

Allow me to provide a technical solution that I've been working on recently. It's boring if you don't have the problem, but it took a while for me to work out for myself, so the chances are I could save someone out there some time and effort. Who knows, that person might invent a perpetual motion device or a cure for cancer in the time I save them.

It concerns the BBC iPlayer. If you don't know what it is then either :-

(a) You are technologically illiterate : in which case you probably aren't reading this
(b) You don't watch TV : the only one of my readers meeting that criterion works for a broadcasting organisation (go figure).
(c) You don't have decent broadband speeds : Mother & Father Stan being an example.

For the rest of you, iPlayer and the similar Channel4 application are a means of downloading TV programmes so you can watch them on your PC.

It's great for train journeys - on a recent journey on the Manchester to London service, for every suit doing an Excel spreadsheet there were two watching Shameless.

The problem comes when you've installed the BBC iPlayer and also the Channel4 equivalent and one or other other of them stops working as a result. Quite likely, as they are both built on the same technology and use a lot of the same files.

The directory you need to look in is C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Kontiki. There is a config file here called zdata.db.

Rename the file to (say) zdata.c4.db

Now you need to stop and restart the zservice service. If you don't know how to do this, you might be safer switching PC off and back on again.

You should find now that the BBC iplayer will work. It will create a new zdata.db file when it starts up. If had a bunch of good stuff downloaded from C4 that you now seem to have lost, you can always just switch the files back.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

The title is a reggae song by Jimmy Cliff which sprang to mind as I read a letter from this morning's Guardian newspaper. Mrs. Stan and Stanetta would also point out that it's something that Jesus was reported to have said in the Sermon on the Mount.

Anyway, here's the letter - which is as far from the the ideals of Reggae and Christianity as you can get. It refers to the practice of "gazundering", where you wait to the last minute in a house-buying process before lowering the previously agreed offer in the hope that the seller will be so desperate that they'll accept less money and not punch you in your worthless mouth.

"I have successfully gazundered on the property I am buying. I agreed a price mid-January, with an exchange due next week. With all the reports on property prices falling and, given that I put a large sum of capital into my purchase - which I am buying outright - I had become nervous that I was about to lose a large sum of money on the deal, and at the age of 65 I have no means of recouping losses incurred if markets dip as predicted.

Of course I am now ridden with guilt and have gone against my principles. I certainly do not feel like gloating over the whole episode, but at the end of the day I had to be hard-nosed. I wonder what the vendor would have done in my situation?

Jane Burchell, via email"

Personally, if anyone I was dealing with even hinted that their offer was not final and irrevocable, I would proactively kill the deal myself. Life is too short to deal with people (like Jane Burchell, via email) who reckon that they can make a deal and then break it. I just wouldn't trust such a person not to come back with ever increasing demands and then to change their mind totally at the very last last-minute. I certainly wouldn't want to think of them hosting dinner parties at the house at which they boast of the all extra money they had screwed out of me.

Even if it costs money and hassle, the only rational response to the statement

"The deal is off. Would you accept less ?"

should be

"I'm glad the deal's off. You're a toe-rag. I wouldn't sell to you now even if you offered more. Goodbye."

I have a few things to say to Jane Burchell (and the less publicity-hungry people like her) :-

  1. I'm glad you are riddled with guilt. That's what guilt is for - it acts as a deterrent for some, and a punishment for others. I'm just sorry it didn't deter you from hurting the vendor who has done nothing to deserve it.
  2. I can understand your nervousness, but if you were nervous, your ethical option was to not buy the house. Sounds more like basic greed (lightly camouflaged) to me.
  3. The victim of your scam is also probably at an age where they also "have no means of recouping losses incurred".
  4. You have reportedly "gone against your principles" for mere money. They almost don't deserve the name "principles" if they can be so cheaply bought.
  5. You didn't feel like gloating, and yet sent your story for publication in a national newspaper. Discuss.
The Jimmy Cliff song has the better bassline, but I've got to admit that the Sermon on the Mount has the better lyrics :-

"But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stan's Three Laws of Finance

Bibble ! Bibble! Bibble!

Good evening. The noise you hear is me making Bibble noises with my finger on my lips as I contemplate the Bank of England's response to the Credit Crunch.

Bibble !

Remember my previous posting where I compared mortgage-backed securities with contaminated meat in the Pie industry ? Well, the Bank of England has decided to allow banks to borrow money from them using this second-hand toilet-paper as collateral.

"Who cares ?" I hear you cry. Before answering, please be aware of Stan's three laws of finance.
  • Stan's First Law of Finance : "In any complex financial transaction, someone always gets shafted."
  • Stan's Second Law of Finance : "If you don't know who is getting shafted, then it's probably you"
  • Stan's Third Law of Finance : "If the Government is involved, it's definitely you"
Put simply - your money will be used to sort out all the bad bets made by banks in the last few years. This is to allow them to carry on making bad bets in the future.

Whatever happened to the quaint notion of letting the markets decide who survives and who fails? It seems if you're a bank then you get all the government help you need. But if you're a private citizen , you're on your own.

There is only one reasoned, sane thought-out response : take your finger, put it on your lips, and everyone repeat after me :

Bibble ! Bibble ! Bibble !

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Poetry once defined is dead

Anyone who knows me at all knows what words mean to me. It’s really only those that know me best that know what poetry means to me.

Poetry sprints where mere prose jogs. It’s a direct line into the unstructured mind of a confused mortal with secrets they are bursting to tell, even though deep-down they’d rather you didn’t know.

Poetry is super-condensed emotion, formed under extreme pressure, forcing words out of their earthly role and instead to become something that sings and soars and lives eternal.

The absolutely least important thing about poetry is the format in which it is written.

This is why I was sick to the stomach to read of the “Queen’s English Society” who are declaring war on non-compliant poetry. They believe a “poem” need have rhyme and metre or else it is not a poem.

They sound to me like frustrated poets who want to destroy in revenge for not having the talent to create.

Poetry is looking at the edge experiences of life – to me defined metre and rhyme schemes are only suitable if you’re Pam Ayres and you Wished You’d Looked After Your Teeth.

My favourite poets ran roughshod over convention, and by doing something no-one had done before, they got results that no-one had ever got before.

Many of my favourite poems might fail the pedants’ test. I’m thinking ee cummings, I'm thinking “Howl” by Alan Ginsberg. I’m even thinking Dylan Thomas - it defies belief that his incandescent blank verse might not make the academic grade.

So, nuts to that. I hope poets continue to ignore the empty men such as the “Queen's English Society”

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Next Bigger Thing

Two years ago I was a speaker at the first conference devoted to a promising new technology. Delegates were enthusiastic techies and generally represented smaller quirky companies with a taste for early adoption of risky "bleeding edge" technologies.

There were also, I was told, a smattering of blue-sky thinkers from consultancies and large companies looking for their "Next Big Thing".

On Thursday I went along to the third conference. Five times the number of people and the customers speaking about their experiences were from a major world Stock Exchange, one of the UK's largest retailers and one of the UK's largest banks. I also completely misjudged the dress code - every one had pricey suits and there seemed suddenly to be a lot of tall, confident people with great hair from the leading consulting groups in the room.

I felt greatly ambivalent - on the one hand there's pride in seeing your hunches being proved right, but on the other, there's a feeling of losing "your" little secret.

It was bizarre hearing the senior guys from these huge companies saying exactly the same things I did two years ago, the only differences being the price of their suit and the quality of their hair.

The good news is that there's gold in them there terabytes. The bad news is that tailoring and coiffeur are probably going to be more crucial than technical skill in the next phase of the product's life-cycle.

Plus I have this insane urge to shout out "I've been saying that for years ! Years, I tell you !".

So now I'm on the lookout for the next, next big thing. If you have any ideas, do tell.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Shhh !

The most interesting and bloggable event in my life in the last month was my second interview to become a Magistrate. Unfortunately I was asked to keep it confidential.


So, if you've arrived here in an attempt to prepare for your interview; good luck, but I can't help you. Just keep a cool head and I hope you say what you really think; not what you think they want to hear. The panel that interview you are experienced people who have been lied to by better liars than you on a daily basis for decades.

And if you've arrived here because you're vetting me for the job - see; I can keep a secret.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Blame Game over the Flame of Shame

If I were any kind of cartoonist, I'd drawn a picture of an athlete surrounded by two thousand police carrying two immense fingers in an "up yours" gesture through the streets of London. This was the message that the Olympic torch relay conveyed to me anyway.

It was reminiscent of a "rolling maul" from Rugby Union - blue Chinese guards and yellow police doing synchronised jogging around someone without the nous to be ashamed of what they were doing.

It was gratifying to see that the police had to crowd in so tight that no-one could recognise the torch-bearer - could be Ellen McArthur, could be Geoff Capes.

Fortunately there were a few principled people who turned-down the chance to carry the torch, and it was obvious from his face that Gordon Brown didn't want to be within a country mile of it. I thought it was a sign of the organiser's desperation that Konnie Huq got her over-exposed hands on it.

And then after a hard day watching the coverage on BBC News 24, we went out for a Chinese meal. Because my grumble isn't with the Chinese people, it's with the fascist head-cases who are currently oppressing them.

I don't believe that the demonstrations will have any effect on the Chinese government and certainly will not directly help the Tibetan people. But it's good that our elected leaders get a taste of the strength of feeling on these issues, and they will hopefully act accordingly.

Oh, and I don't justify any law-breaking in pursuit of even such a good cause. Anyone actually found guilty of a public order offence deserves to be fined. Count me in if anyone's doing a whip-round to pay the fines though.

Update 07/04/2008 : Well, it seems the French ran up more points today despite there being 3,000 police on duty in Paris. I say the Brits scored four points:-
  • Touching the flame (Konnie Huq incident)
  • Fire Extinguisher near-miss
  • Flame forced off the road and into a bus
  • General obscuring of the flame
Compare that to the French, where the flame actually had to be extinguished three times and a big ten point for the premature cancellation of the relay. Formidable !

The action now moves to San Francisco on Wednesday - can the Americans get close to the French score despite the fact that American police are armed ?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wherever I Lay My Hat, That's My Hat

You look just like me first girlfriend … do you want to be?’

I heard a clip of the very funny performance poet Hovis Presley on the radio a few weeks ago and tonight I finally got round to surfing around for more information. I was very annoyed that the first thing I found was his obituary. Turns out he died of a heart attack aged 44 in June 2005 after turning his back on the not-very-much fame he'd earned.

Watch him in action here. A breathtaking fusion of puns and poetry, and you must go see a doctor if it doesn't at least make you smile.

"It's true what they say about women... it's an irregular plural"