Thursday, October 30, 2008
a) Start crying, and
b) Soil myself
The last thing I would do is
c) Cooly throw myself on the grenade to protect my mates
Hats off to Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher of the Royal Marines who did exactly that and lived to tell the tale. His backpack ended up in orbit, but he somehow escaped to tell the tale and to pick up some bling from the queen today.
A man of his rank makes about £60 per day, and I'm guessing days like he's been through seem actually pretty blooming long.
I can't help but compare and contrast with Wrongathan Ross and Woeful Brand who (get/got/will almost certainly get in future) considerably more ... for doing what exactly ?
Monkeys throwing their own excrement around would seem nuanced by comparison.
And I certainly know who I'd rather have as a mate.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Now that doesnt worry me so much for 3 reasons.
Firstly, at the current exchange rate this represents about three US dollars.
Secondly, it's probably going to turn up when they look down the side of the sofa.
And thirdly, it's not really lost - all you can say is that today's inaccurate guess at the value of the world economy is less than yesterday's inaccurate guess.
Don't lose sleep - and vote Stan.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I dulled the boredom by listening to four hours of news - Radio 5 from 05:00 to 06:00 and then "Today" on Radio 4 until 09:00. Fortunately for my mental health, in among the gloomy financial news items and John Blooming Prestcott, there was an article on one of my all-time favourite poets, Dylan Thomas.
The house where he was born, grew and wrote a great deal of his best work has been lovingly restored it to its 1914 condition and opened as a guest house. If you feel like using Dylan's toilet and sleeping in his bed, you can now stay the night at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea.
But why do that ?! For one thing, not all his best work was produced there. Take "Prologue" , his very last poem. Masterful use of language and it rhymes from the middle outwards, which makes for a very unconventional feel. Written while riddled with pneumonia/emphysema, off his head on alcohol/morphine at the Hotel Chelsea in New York. Surely nobody is going to think it's a good idea to recreate that experience ...
Walking in the physical steps of an artist is a total nonsense. The house is just an old house and the toilet will just be an old toilet.
Also, Thomas, though one of this planet's great writers, didn't come close to making the grade as a human-being. He wasted his talent and heaped misery on all who loved him. His work is definitely worthy of study, but his life ?!.
My advice is to save the money you'd spend on staying in the guest house, and instead buy a copy of "Dylan Thomas Selected Poems, 1934-1952". If you already own a copy, buy another and leave it in your local pub.
We might get lucky and the words of a Poet who became a Drunk could inspire a Drunk to become a Poet.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
And I'm thinking way too much about Question 1 :-
"You have been appointed as a magistrate because you possess the six key qualities sought in a Justice of the Peace. In this box, take a moment to refresh your memory by listing the six key qualities."The answers are in the book, so I could just have copied them and moved on. Instead in my mind I'm imagining a Cosmo-style questionaire : "So You Think You Could Be A Magistrate ?" with a multiple-choice quiz and points to add up and a write-up on what your score means.
The six qualities are as follows :-
- Good character
- Understanding & communication
- Social awareness
- Maturity & sound temperament
- Sound judgement
- Commitment & reliability
Take Jesus, for example - full marks for points 1,2, 3 and especially 6 but there was that unfortunate incident with the money lenders in the temple and choosing Judas as a disciple definitely didn't demonstrate sound judgement.
"Social Awareness" is definitely an area that worries me. My upbringing was loving, I did well at school, I went to a nice University and ended up funding a comfortable suburban lifestyle. Can I really think myself into the shoes of someone born into poverty and abuse and addiction that led on to a life of petty criminality ? And to what extent does it matter if I can't ? How can a Magistrate possibly be both (a) representative of their community of imperfect people whilst (b) being a paragon of virtue themselves ?
Anyway, all this thinking was hurting my head, and I had move it along or else I'd never get anything done, so I decided to give myself marks out of 10 for each of the 6 categories based on gut feel and instinct. I ended up with 46 out of 60, which allowing for modesty, arrogance and imperfect self-knowledge feels about right.
How well did you do ?
Less than 40 points - Put your hands in the air, or we'll shoot!
40 to 50 points - You show some human qualities and many human failings. You might just make the grade.
Over 50 - Forget the magistracy; go straight to sainthood, Reverend Mother.
Now for question 2 ... this could take some time ...
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I got some well-deserved earache from my sister-in-law via email.
One of the pleasures of working away from home in the winter is the long drive home in the dark.
Yes, that right - I said "pleasures".
There's something about a long drive at night. Obviously the UK isn't the ideal place for driving, which is why all the best Road Movies are set in the USA.
- UK Road movie : Ford Focus diesel up the M6 from Rugby to Carlisle
- US Road movie : Dodge Viper along the Historic Route 66 from Chicago to LA.
Even so, I do tend to enjoy myself. For one thing there's the music. A long drive in the dark is one of those rare occasions when you can crank up the music and really listen, rather than just having it on in the background.
I listened to "Every Day Hurts" by Skunk Anansie about a dozen consecutive times. Mrs. Stan has a degree in music, so when some piece gets to me I usually run and get her to break it down for me : why is this so marvellous ? Usually she smiles and tells me that it's always the same sort of music that gets me :-
- Syncopation : the stress is on the off-beat : one TWO three FOUR
- Tension between the rhythmn instruments and the solo creating a "surge" in tempo
- Bass - and lots of it
Thanks to traffic delays, I also had chance to reacquaint myself in some detail with "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd and "Salvador" by Jamie T. I fear that these may turn out to be musically isomorphic to "Every Day Hurts", but I don't care - great tracks in their own way.
I also enjoy overtaking trucks at night - I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because it gives the illusion of speed. Also each one's different and it's going to strange places with cargo hidden from sight. There is something awesome about 40 tonnes travelling at 60 mph mere inches from your window.
I do like the service stations too - which I associate only with pleasure. Bladders are relieved, aching limbs stretched, children eat sweets. Wonderful places and greatly underrated.
But the best bit is arriving at my destination.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Here's what I ended up with - it doesn't look like much but it gives me a more dynamic view of the characters and the beginnings of a voice for them. Incidentally, I've made them both female to force me not to take the lazy route by peopling my book with people just like me.
Our heroine, Hailey, enters Stage Left in oversized Mickey Mouse T-shirt and slippers. Gladys the Ghost sits wearing a pink crystal crown and ball gown Stage Centre at the kitchen table. She is eating toast and reading a newspaper.
Gladys has been busy again; overnight she seems to have redecorated the castle in Barbie style – all pink, all plastic. The kitchen chairs are padded furry pink thrones. It looks totally realistic to Hailey, but it's just that Gladys has the power of making people see whatever she wants them to see.
Together they are trying to come up with a way to turn a run-down, depressing castle into one that people would actually visit. Gladys stages a different redesign every morning. Her favourite was the “Bouncy Castle” redesign on their first morning together. Mostly this was because of the look on Hailey's face when she found out that the soft inflatable kitchen table she had leapt full-length onto was actually a normal wooden kitchen table. Nowadays Hailey is much more wary (and much less fun Gladys thinks).
“Glad you like it, dear. It would definitely attract the little girlie-girls who want to play fairy princess.”
“Sure – but you'd never get the boys within a mile”
Gladys shrugs. “Please yourself.” She turns the page of the newspaper noisily.
“Anything interesting in the 'paper ?”
“Oh yes. And do you know why ?”
“Because this is a magic newspaper.” pause for effect “This is tomorrow's newspaper.”
Big eyes. “Really ?!”
Cheesy grin. “You are SO gullible, girl.”
Silence as Hailey grinds her teeth and Gladys eats toast.
... and then something else happens followed eventually by many more things and finally things stop happening altogether and I stop writing ...
Yes, that really took me a full hour. The book will definitely not be finished by Christmas.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
- A last minute invitation to attend an evening of introductory training this week
- An Induction Pack, including a thick wad of paperwork related to the on-going training and assessment process (the ickily named "Competence Framework")
- An invitation to join The Magistrates' Association.
The reason it's scary is not just that it is evidence that it's all actually going to happen, and happen really quite soon. It's also because my lifestyle doesn't easily adapt to planning eight months in advance. I have no idea what I'm up to on Tuesday June 30th 2009. In fact, I'm equally stumped as to what I'll be doing on Friday January 2nd 2009, and that's only 11 weeks away.
It's no wonder that the Magistracy is dominated by people with predictable, plannable lives; for example teachers, civil servants and retired people. I have absolutely no answer how to avoid that happening : I just felt like having a whinge.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Due to a boring set of circumstances, a work meeting fell through and I found myself with a hotel room I couldn't cancel. I decided to drive South anyway and use it as a base for going into the heart of London for beer and curry with a few dozen techies, some of whom were potential clients.
Now, my hotel wasn't a perfect base for my assault on London. It was in a sleepy town about half-way to the south coast, with a rail service that would take over an hour to wend its way to the wrong side of London.
Hence my extremely cunning plan - to drive into the heart of London.
Yes, I know it sounds like lunacy but I had a few things going for me :-
- If I timed it right I would be crossing the Congestion Charge boundary just after 18:00 and so wouldn't need to pay.
- I have a sat-nav so my shocking sense of direction wouldn't be an issue.
- There's a car park near the meeting place in Trafalgar Square that has a special night rate.
Would I do it again ? Probably not. I don't know how anyone drives in London without having accidents and picking up penalty points twice-daily. The experience made me feel like a country cousin, chewing on a blade of grass, out of his depth in the big city. Driving through a northern market-town during the school run time will seem restful in comparison.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This is thanks to the German virologist Harald zur Hausen, who discovered the link between the HPV virus and many types of cervical cancer, winning him a share of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Seems like a no-brainer to me that every parent would want to protect their girls from such a serious, avoidable risk, but the HPV innoculation jab has stirred up some controversy among a smattering of no-brainer Christian groups.
Their thinking is that by consenting to the innoculation against HPV, I am giving the green light to premarital underaged sex.
If Stanetta is reading this - no, I'm not. You can wait until after I'm dead, as previously discussed.
Seems to me that these out-there Christian groups would prevent people from wearing seat belts on the grounds that it encourages people to drive like morons.
Innoculations save lives - it tickles me that many of the groups opposed would describe themselves as "Pro Life".
Sunday, October 12, 2008
There is a very useful FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, which among other things tells me that even though I'm likely to be in court 26+ sessions every year, I'm still not exempt from Jury Service, which strikes me as rather unfair.
Oh, and according to the "Media Guide for Magistrates" - if I am ever door-stepped by a ravening pack of tabloid journos, then my first instinct (a gruff "No Comment!" ) is not encouraged. Instead I should politely and calmly recite my favourite stock answer, along the lines of "I have said everything I intend to say about the case in court, and have nothing further to add".
So much to learn.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I don't have much to add to what I said before - except to say that many more dominoes are yet to fall, and that all governments should stop assuming that pouring more water into a bucket with a hole is going to give you anything other than wet feet.
Some good things have come of this. For example, the death of the simple-minded worship of The Markets. Nowadays, believing that unregulated Market Forces should alone decide what is Good is akin to believing in the literal truth of Norse Mythology. Especially in Iceland.
There have also been some rather excellent jokes :-
- The Isle of Dogs Building Society has collapsed. They've called in the retrievers. Meanwhile, in Japan, The Origami Bank have folded.
- What's the difference between Investment Bankers and London Pigeons? The Pigeons are still capable of making deposits on new BMWs
- Quote of the day (from a trader): "This is worse than a divorce. I've lost half my net worth and I still have a wife."
Friday, October 10, 2008
This is mostly due to the fact that becoming a Magistrate kind of complicates the act of blogging. For one thing, people will drop in looking for an in-depth account of my life as England's newest JP and, well, they're more likely to get a book report or a current affairs whinge.
I did consider starting a seaparate blog devoted exclusively to the Magistrate issues which would be totally free of the other stuff in my life I care enough about.
This would have been a safer option and would have prevented some bozo from ever complaining that my opinions on Bolton Wanderers, "Spooks", Darfur, Starbucks, Coldplay, Fedora Linux, Damien Hirst, "Lost", Soldiers, Putting Things in Cheese, Single Transferable Voting, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Flavoured Coffee, Garden Centres, Mobile Broadband, Craft Shops, Glen Campbell doing Green Day cover-versions, Icelandic Banks, Spanish Cars, French mustard, Crosswords, Marmite .....
... would in any way affect my ability to do my duty and enforce the letter of the law when I pull on a suit and go and do my civic duty as a Magistrate.
I've decided to take my chances and I'm staying with one single all-mixed-in-together blog. If all you care about are Magistracy issues then these articles are now appropriately tagged and you can get them here.
Although frankly you'd be better off reading Bystander's blog instead - I really don't know a thing yet.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
It was good to meet up with my future colleagues. I stood in a room eating buffet with forty of them, and at first I couldn't for the life of me spot one single common feature between them. I was expecting a few of the stereotype JPs; for example "Bored Wife of Local Worthy" or "Creepy Masonic Golf-Club Member" or "Retired Headmaster", but I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent cross-section. Well, a decent cross-section of middle-aged, middle class white people anyway.
Yes, not a single Negro, Asian, Chinese or Apache. Maybe I shouldn't have been so shocked, the Borough that we serve has a non-white population of 1.9% compared to an England & Wales average of 8.7%. So statistically, to be representative of our community, you would expect a maximum of one non-White person in the group, and it seems we're only one person below that target.
After sandwiches and small-talk we adjourned to the main Court for the meeting. Committee up at the front where the judge usually sits, with the rest of us spread out; some sitting in the Dock and some in the Jury section. There followed an amiable set of elections and some griping about the Sentencing Guidelines and then forty Magistrates tried to leave a small car-park at once, proving that Magistrates aren't any better drivers on average than the rest of the population.
My training is in November and I've been told that three days is simultaneously way too little and far too much. So much of the job relies on common sense and judgement and that can never be taught, but to be au fait with the applicable legislation and guidelines is a almost a full-time job.
A fortnight before Christmas, the rubber-stamping is complete and I get sworn-in. Further bulletins as events warrant.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Have there been times when you've wished your mobile would ring so that you could escape from a meeting ?
Thanks to Stan Industries you can escape in three easy steps
- Send an empty text message to ????????? (+?????????? if outside the UK - it should work anywhere in the world; please could someone with a non-UK mobile try it.)
- My computer will phone you back. As soon as you answer, it will hang up.
- You leave the room pretending that you're on a call.
This application is running on my second-best computer at home which is rather ancient and produces a wicked amount of fan noise, so I'm going to switch it off at nights. So you'll just have to feign a heart attack if you want to get out of an uncomfortable meeting in the small hours.
My plan was to see if anyone would use the service for free, then if there was sufficient interest I would move it onto a premium rate number so that I could actually get some revenue.
My costs are very low :-
* Machine : old computer that was gathering dust - £0.00
* Software : all free - Linux, Skype, SMS Tools, some self-written Python code - £0.00
* Internet Access : using my home connection so no extra cost - £0.00
* Mobile hardware : old Nokia 6230i, otherwise gathering dust, with the USB cable that it came with - £0.00
* Mobile service : Cheapie SIM card from Tesco - £2.47
* Outbound calls : I use Skype (an internet phone service) and my program hangs up the phone in less than 1 second, so I am not charged for the calls - £0.00
* Inbound SMS : You don't pay for receiving text messages - £0.00
* Electricity : my biggest cost - not sure how much it costs to keep an antique PC and mobile phone juiced
So I wouldn't need much revenue to make a profit, but I have a sinking feeling that only-a-few people would be willing to pay not-very-much for this service. I suspect the Dragons in "Dragon's Den" would laugh me out of the room - let me know what you think.
My ex-colleague Fiona has successfully tested the application with her German "Handy", which just goes to prove that my potential audience is everyone in the world who owns a mobile phone - about 2,000,000,000 people. I'm not greedy - I just want 1% of them to sign up and for 1% of those to pay 10p for the service every day.
That would be £20k per day - anyone who's been in IT for a while knows this kind of false business case only too well - it's how Web companies got such absurd valuations during the dot-com era.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Go to any historical house and you will always be able to choose from three or four different sorts of scones with your tea in the restaurant.
Why scones ? The Tudors didn't really sit down to plates of them, right ?
Scone Palace near Perth in Scotland is so-called because it is made entirely out of scones. This would be the one exception where it's justified to serve them.
It's not ? Oh well.
My heroine intends to launch her historic house in a different way to appeal to a younger crowd - we're thinking flagons of ale and some less fogeyish, more authentic food. We're not sure exactly what - but maybe something like Red Deer Pie:-
To Bake Red Deere. Parboyl it, and then sauce it in Vinegar then Lard it very thick, and season it with Pepper, Ginger and Nutmegs, put it into a deep Pye with good store of sweet butter, and let it bake, when it is baked, take a pint of Hippocras, halfe a pound of sweet butter, two or three Nutmeg, little Vinegar, poure it into the Pye in the Oven and let it lye and soake an hour, then take it out, and when it is cold stop the vent hole.Sounds like that would go down well with a couple of cold flagon of ale. And once you'd quaffed that, you'd be in the mood for a guided tour that was a bit saucier and lively than the usual. Because life in these Halls was probably a lot livelier and saucier than the National Trust guides would suggest.
And yes, I am referring to myself and my heroine as "We" and yes, this is not a sign of abundant mental health.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
My Headless Laptop (picture in a previous posting) could be considered an example of such an appliance. Not a particularly good one, but it has the following features, all in the same box :-
- An operating system (Linux Fedora 9)
- A database management system (choice of MySQL or PostgeSQL)
- Storage for data (a 40Gb hard drive)
Doesn't sound like a big deal, but traditionally in database systems you need to buy these separately and get them talking to each other, which doesn't always end well. For example,
- A big Hewlett-Packard server running Unix
- An Oracle database with lots of whistles and bells for working with big databases
- A shed-load of connected storage
There's a lot of debate about how much it actually costs. It's reminiscent of the "free holiday offer", where once you've paid taxes, arrangement fee, compulsory insurance, airport transfer etc it doesn't look terribly "free" any more.
In the case of the HP-Oracle appliance, the quoted price is $650,000, which is actually very reasonable for a system of that size. However, this price does not include er ... most things. For starters it doesn't include the Oracle whistles-and-bells, which at around $100k per processor adds $3.2m to the price. Then add on the storage software costs (around $1.6m) and now instead of $650,000, we're looking at a real-world price of $5.5m. Quite a difference.
If you're not in that financial league, I definitely recommend the Stan Headless Laptop, where the costs are more modest :-
* Broken laptop - around £100
* Fedora Linux 9 - free
* PostgreSQL and MySQL - free
* Storage - free with the laptop - can easily be expanded with external disk drive(s). These will cost money but there is no software cost associated.
Very reasonable, I'm sure you'll agree.