Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Talk about niche publishing - the following post will only be relevant to the tiny percentage of my already tiny readership who own a Topfield 5800 Personal Video Recorder and are having problems with it.

I bought it from a small company (3wisemonkeys.co.uk) through Amazon earlier on in the year. Worked fine for a while but then we noticed that after a few hours the quality of the TV signal would fall away to 0%, even though the strength of the signal from Winter Hill was still coming through good and strong.

I engaged in a long-running set of emails with all three of the monkeys, during which we ruled out all the standard user-related ID10T errors e.g "Are you sure it's plugged in ? Have you tried switching it off and back on again ?" Speak to any techie - the worst thing you can do for their blood pressure is to treat them like just another user. 3monkeys were polite and thorough and eventually agreed to take the machine back to have a look - if they could replicate the error then they would send a replacement.

Guess which machine ran without error for days of stress-testing at 3monkeys HQ ?

I ended up taking the "defective" machine back - this was causing me some stress at a time I didn't need stress over a mere appliance. It then became something of a hobby for me to find out what was wrong with the thing. I had many theories and all of them were falsified by experiment over a period of months, during which time I learned a lot about digital TV broadcast, reception and storage.

Then at Christmas, when I had some spare time and was rested, I read a report of overheating in a different brand of recorder in Australia. They had cured the problem there by standing the unit up on its edge, with the power unit at the top so that heat would rise away from the sensitive electronics inside the box.

Bingo - works like a dream, but does look a little odd at that angle.

It seems that the current state of the art in these digital recorders is such that you have two choices

(a) A big fan, which cools but makes a racket
(b) A little or no fan, which is quiet but which can fry

Early adopters of this technology should beware. The Topfield is otherwise an excellent product and 3monkeys are the nicest, most patient people in electrical retailing - but even so this wasn't a pleasant experience.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stan Awards

I love the end of year lists that clutter up the newspapers and TV schedules at this time of year. It's a great opportunity to pick up out the stuff that actually has lasting importance from the flashy and the superficial. So much the better that we've got a whole decade to look back on.

The following are the Stan Awards for the twenty-noughties - beverage of their choice in my local coffee shop for any of the winners who fancy collecting the award in person.

Book of the Decade

Carol Ann Duffy - "Rapture" (2005)

So few words, all of them exquisite. Never has the arc of a passion been more skilfully evoked. You can read the poems in the book in an hour and that's one of the best uses of an hour I can think of. Set aside two or three hours though - you WILL want to read it over again when you finish.

Band of the Decade


Look, they had the album of the last decade with "OK Computer" and still somehow managed to follow it up with four great albums that bore little resemblance to their greatest hits and to each other:

2000: Kid A
2001: Amnesiac
2003: Hail to the Thief
2007: In Rainbows

Seemingly infinitely creative, even going so far as to offer "In Rainbows" as a download with a voluntary price tag.

Album of the Decade

Florence + the Machine - "Lungs" (2009)

In a different mood I could have chosen :-
  • Radiohead - any of the four albums from the decade
  • Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black" (2006)
  • Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not" (2006)
  • PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000)
But I couldn't resist making a fuss about this amazing d├ębut album - warped lyrics, a fine voice, sound textures like no other, and an intoxicating sense that here is a performer with a future and I can't wait to hear her next five or six albums over the next decade.

TV Show of the Decade

The Wire

You've heard it all before, not least from me. Makes the best of the rest seem amateurish and lacking in ambition by comparison. Mrs Stan bought me the complete box set for Christmas.

Best. Present. Ever.

Film of the Decade

Shrek (2001)

Funny and imaginative, rewarding repeat viewing in a way that the sloppy sequels don't.

In a different mood I could have chosen one of these :-
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Children of Men (2006)
  • Man on Wire (2008)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


There is a battle raging in the Stan household and poor Stanetta is caught in the middle, having to choose sides.

The dispute is around the use of the word "dialoguing", which Mrs Stan used in an essay recently and which gave me something akin to anaphylactic shock when I read it.

To me, there are valid situations where converting a noun to a verb just works. For example, I don't object to the use of "to oil" instead of "to apply oil" - nor do I whince when "chair" is used as a verb. Yet the use of "dialoguing", "medaling", "signaturing" and even "transitioning" can raise my blood pressure more than reading about a mere human rights abuse. What does that say about me ?

No, don't answer that.

In the case of "dialoguing", this was a perfectly acceptable verb form to Shakespeare, then it fell out of fashion for a few centuries before being enthusiastically adopted by the kind of management consultant that gets paid by the syllable. I'm sure it's this Bullshot Bingo association that provokes my response.

Mrs Stan and I agree to disagree on this, but really it's down to Stanetta - she inherits the English language from our generation and it will down to her lot to decide whether in future we will "dialogue our issues and language a response".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Troubled Visitor

Some days the visitor statistics for this blog throw up a surprise - some people find themselves here for the strangest reasons.

For example, one recent visitor had found my posting on the various grades of Assault by asking Google the following question :-
"if i plead guilty to a section 20 gbh will i go to prison"
The short answer is "probably", but I have a few pieces of advice for them:-

(a) Don't rely on a Google search to make a life-changing decision like this. Get a lawyer - get one now.

(b) Pleading guilty is a smart move if you are guilty and you know you are guilty - it is likely to earn you a significant discount on your sentence or even improve your chances of escaping a prison sentence altogether. But check with a lawyer before you do.

(c) Pleading guilty is the right and proper thing to do if you know you are guilty. Not just for you, but for everyone affected by the incident and for everyone who cares for you. But check with a lawyer before you do.

(d) If you're Not Guilty then it's doubly vital that you start talking to a lawyer now.

Did I stress highly enough the wisdom to getting yourself a lawyer and getting one now ? Seriously, nobody on the Web knows enough about your position to help you out of the hole you find yourself in. Stop doing Google searches and start dialling numbers out of Yellow Pages for solicitors.

And if you find yourself back at this blog sometime, I'd love to know how you got on.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

War Crimes and Bald Tyres

There's a big tray of forms in the retiring room - I figured they were all sentencing decision proformas or biscuit requisitions. Now that I know that somehow it's possible for Magistrates to issue warrants for the arrest of foreign politicians, I will definitely pay a bit more attention.

This week's sitting didn't have nearly that amount of drama, which was just as well because the Chair didn't show up and two Magistrates with a combined total of three years experience had to take care of business.

Pick of the cases was that of a confused old man who had had two blow-outs on his trailer. His response ? Keep on driving.

Eventually a concerned citizen called the police to report a car and trailer bouncing diagonally through the town centre. The vehicle examiner's report read like an air accident report - he had absolutely wrecked the brakes, the axle, the lights. Worst of all the tyres were so far gone that he had probably carved tramlines in the road surface with the rims.

What made the case interesting to me was his utter inability to grasp that he had done anything wrong. His story when stopped by police had been that he was on the way to the garage to get the tyres fixed. Even if that was true (and the vehicle examiner was doubtful), how did he convince himself that driving a death-trap through a population centre wasn't any kind of problem ?

He was genuinely gob-smacked when we found him guilty and docked his benefits for the next two years or so. Guidelines allowed us only to put three points on his licence though, which sounds mightily lenient to me given the potential mayhem that he was risking - imagine if he had kangaroo'ed through a bus queue ?

The thought that haunts me is this : When I do my 30,000 miles per year, how many people like this am I sharing the road with ?

Sunday, December 13, 2009


At the end of your first year as a Magistrate (assuming you haven't run away screaming by then) you get a couple of days consolidation training to prepare you for your assessment.

Good to catch up with my peer group - lots of great war stories, but we did all promise confidentiality so I'll resist the temptation to pass any of them on. Suffice it to say that I got some reassurance that my experience of the criminal justice system I sporadically document here is not at all untypical.

We did some role-play scenarios of the type that were fascinating when we tackled them in basic training, but now we've actually experienced dozens of real cases they are completely unsatisfying. We've all seen how the outcome can depend on a number of subtle features that you won't see summarised in a one paragraph summary.

Another difference from last year was that the groups didn't get wildly different answers from the exercises. Which is reassuring - shows that the training and the guidelines actually do seem to do the job.

The biggest shock was working without an experienced Chair. You don't fully appreciate what they do until you try to replace them with a rookie and watch the process unravel.

At the end we were shown a short piece of propaganda to the effect that we should consider the effect on witnesses before agreeing to a postponement of a trial. A very laudable aim that I'll definite take note of, even though the production values of the video nearly gave me the giggles.

All in all, not nearly as blogworthy as the initial training I'm afraid.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Strange Days Indeed

In my dreams I'd want to crash through the end of the decade sideways in a race car with bald tires, an empty tank and the brakes on fire shouting "BEGGAR ME ! WHAT A RIDE!"

What's actually happening is that I'm driving up a snow-covered hill in a 1966 Hillman Imp. My rusty 874cc engine is spluttering and my wheels are spinning as I slowly slide back into a ditch.

The run-up to the Christmas break has been so weird and warped. Stanetta has gone down with yet another ailment. Work has gotten strange in a way I'm neither enjoying nor understanding. I've got some Magistrate training and sittings to fit in. I'm tired, confused and short of patience and good humour. I've also acquired a Urologist.

Ho, ho flipping ho.

One recent task at work was to calculate the number of working days between two dates. Easy enough to say in English - actually quite difficult to write in an efficient piece of SQL. I found I kept testing it by calculating the number of working days between now and Christmas. I'd then run it again and again to see if I could get the number to fall.

Are we nearly there yet ?

And another thing ... why does "The Guardian" think I'd be interested in some free wrapping paper designed by Lily Allen ??? What's next - carpet tiles designed by Bamber Gascoigne ? Michael Palin's tiffin recipe ?