Category: venting Page 2 of 5

Maybe She’s A Giant Who Lives In The Flat Downstairs And Has Smashed Through

I can’t be alone in having spotted how many adverts or pieces of packaging seem to feature smiling or laughing people.

The implication, I guess, is a pretty straightforward one: Look, the good-looking people in this picture are in close proximity to this item and they’re smiling! If you buy this item you’ll smile too, and you might become a bit more good-looking! Straightforward to the point of insulting your intelligence, really.

As a result of having deconstructed this aspect of advertising in my head, I find myself often a bit bewildered by billboards and print ads, and asking questions like ‘who are these people?’, ‘why are they just laughing?’ and things like that. It’s very disconcerting, especially for the chap who was stood next to me when I saw the pictured item in Currys yesterday.

I appreciate that it’s tricky to try to make adapters particuarly appealing, and so Devolo’s packaging people have decided the best thing to do is to put a picture of a pretty lady on the box, but… but what the hell’s meant to be going on in that image? Is she supposed to be lying on the floor down by the socket and looking over her shoulder coquettishly? If so, her elbows must be resting about three inches below the level of the floor.

I think about these things too much, don’t I ? I think I’d better go and get a cup of tea.

We’ll Be Moving Our Anna Karenina Update To The Docklands Light Railway So We Can Shoot The Final Scenes

If you live in the London area and have somehow missed it, just a quick note to alert you to the impending London Underground strike.

Unless something happens in the next couple of hours to avert it, then the entire tube network is going to be pretty much dead from 6.59pm tonight for a period of 48 hours.

In theory, this should mean that tubes will be back up and running from 6.58pm on Thursday, but given how good London Underground are at meeting timetables at the best of times, I wouldn’t be expecting to see any trains rolling up to platform edges and opening the doors until Friday morning.

All pretty ho-hum really, but one line in the Transport for London press release on the strike amused me:

“Among other things, the RMT has also demanded … improved travel facilities”

Yes, RMT, I think a few million other people may have asked for better travel facilities in the London area over the years. Good luck with that request!

The Dead-Headed League

Offer of the week from the always-interesting DVD firm Network is One Summer, a series from 1983 which was written by Willy Russell and stars – as you can see from the picture – a young David Morrissey.

I’ll be honest : I don’t know anything at all about the series (though it’s clearly got a pretty good pedigree) – what really caught my attention was the quote from the Daily Mirror which is reproduced at the bottom of the DVD cover:

“David Morrissey and Spencer Leigh are most beguiling.”

I’m more than willing to believe this is the case, but it’s almost impossible to imagine this sort of turn of phrase appearing in a TV review in the Mirror nowadays, isn’t it ?

Assuming that quote’s contemporaneous with the series’s original broadcast date, I find myself somewhat amazed that in 26 years, the Mirror‘s writing style has changed from sounding like a character from one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories to… well, sounding how I suspect characters will sound in Guy Ritchie’s forthcoming Sherlock Holmes film*.

*This comment is, I realise, the very embodiment of prejudice; however, the idea of a re-imagining of the Holmes canon really does smack of a paucity of originality. Intead of ‘re-imagining’ or otherwise riding the creative coat-tails, how about ‘creating’, or even plain old ‘imagining’ new characters?

He’s Only A ‘Mad Scientist’ Insofar As He Gets Angry When People Make Unsubstantiated Claims Or Use Pseudo-Scientific Talk. And Who Can Blame Him?

There’s an idiot of my acquaintance who claims to be able to heal people by waving his hands around them whilst they stand up.

He tried it on me once, and confidently told me that I had some back pain, which I told him was not the case, and cheerfully asked him why he’d missed the fact I had a blinding near-migraine headache which was rendering me half-blind in one eye. Hmph. He also claims to be able to heal people over the phone, so he doesn’t even need to be in the same place as them. I don’t know if he’s genuinely deluded or lying to extract money from the unwary, but I think that on any reasonable assessment of, y’know, facts, it’s pretty clear what he’s saying isn’t true.

Mind you, I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m equating belief in such matters with idiocy – he’s an idiot in many other regards, but as that rather strays into personal stuff I needn’t share here, I won’t go into any more details; suffice to say people who know me well, and of some of the events of the past five years, will know who I’m talking about.

Anyway, as hot is matched by cold and day is twinned with night, so such idiocy is balanced by intelligence; nature, they say, abhors a vacuum, and I guess it also dislikes a prevalence of empty brains, for there are people in the world who are very happily married to the accumulation of knowledge through verifiable experimentation and the accretion of provable facts.

Such a person is Ben Goldacre.

Ben – and I’ll call him that so he doesn’t sound like a Bond villain – writes on the subject of Bad Science in various newspapers and his blog of that title, and is frequently a clear voice of sense in an area which is all too often (and, it seems, all too easily) rendered indistinct and vague by all sorts of new-agey woo-woo. If you haven’t visited his blog before, I recommend a look.

And it’s because of a recent update to his blog that I’m posting; some time ago, Ben suggested it wasn’t right that vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was taking out adverts denouncing the use of AIDS drugs in South Africa, and promoting his vitamin pills at the same time. Mr Rath took umbrage with this, and sued Ben and the paper that his comments were published in, claiming libel. The case went on for over twelve months, until Mr Rath withdrew the case – but by this time the costs involved in fighting the action were around half a million pounds. Steps are being taken to recover this money, but in the meantime, the removal of the legal action means that Ben’s free to add his chapter on Rath to his book – also called Bad Science – but in order to get the information ‘out there’ to as many people as possible, he’s also put the entire chapter on the web.

You can find it as a PDF here or, if you don’t have Adobe Reader, it’s available as an MS Word document here.

I’m ashamed to admit that, whilst I’ve always enjoyed his blog and print work (and he came over well on some TV consumer-thing I saw him in the other week), I don’t yet own a copy of Ben’s book. Methinks I should set about remedying that…

Reluctant Post, As It Might Be Seen As Providing The Oxygen Of Publicity, But…

… seriously, I wasn’t overkeen on providing yet more coverage of a topic which is already very much covered elsewhere, and yet another post which just makes a cheap joke about something I’ve spotted, but I felt I had to comment on the latest issue of OK! magazine.

It is, as you can see, a tribute to Jade Goody, with the dates of her life and death given on the cover. This strikes me as rather questionable for two related reasons:

1. As of this writing, Jade Goody is still alive (very ill, granted, but alive), so they could have waited.

2. If they had waited a week, it would have meant that their Jade Goody Official Tribute Issue would not have been issue number 666.

I mean, come on

Unintelligent Design: DairyStix

Staying in hotels is, of course, one of life’s great delights; as well as televisions with fewer channels than one can watch at home, and showers which have two extremes of temperature (Inferno and Arctic) and nothing in between, there’s always the thrill of using the ‘tea and coffee making facilities’.

If the room has a fridge, you might have some real milk, so you can make a proper cuppa, but more often than not, you’re likely to have a kettle, cups, teabags, and, in some form or other, UHT milk. UHT milk is obviously handy for hotel-owners, as it lasts for ages (decades after we humans are dust and gone, the giant radioactive cockroaches will still be finding stashes of it and drinking it in an attempt to fend off Causium-234-induced osteoporosis), but it doesn’t taste very good at all… by which I mean it tastes of virtually nothing at all, being more like a homeopathic version of Tipp-Ex than milk.

Anyway, UHT milk used to be supplied in hotel rooms (and on trains and service stations and other strangely neither-here-nor-there places) in little pots, like miniaturised yogurt pots, with a foil lid; as Ben Elton noted in the 1980s, these pots appeared to have been spot-welded shut, so it was a battle to get them open, invariably resulting in you showering what little ‘milk’ lurked within all over the place. And Ben was right to point this out, but the so-called solution is no better, quite frankly: ladies and gents, the milk processing people and hospitality industry proudly present (while the rest of us just resent)… Dairystix.

Yes, all the lack of flavour of UHT milk, now in a longer-than-it-is-wide foil tube. Apparently taking their design cue from those Mr Freeze ice pops which can be found in the Walls freezers in newsagents in summer, the idea is that you tear the end off the ‘stick and then pour the milk (well, it’s UHT, so I use the term in its loosest and least-accurate sense) into the cup. Which would be fine, if the ends actually tore off in anything approximating a straight line. But that’s not likely to happen with the ‘dotted lines’ you have to tear along, because they’re coated with plastic and so you get an untidy tear along it. Which, when you squeeze the tube, means the milk comes out of two or three places in the end of the tube, like a man trying to urinate after someone’s stapled the end of his prepuce (if that comparison appalls you, you may want to stop reading now – there’s worse to come before this rant is over).

The reward for all this is a pathetic splash of not-milk, which barely coats the bottom of most cups. So you have to put two in, though you’ll be lucky in most hotels to get more than two of the sticks per person, so you’ll have to think carefully about when you drink your tea. And even then two isn’t really enough to make it look like tea. And the reason for this is pretty pathetic; these milk sticks, like the milk pots before them, contain a minimal amount of milk.

In fact, I’m such a sad pedant that I actually did a bit of research to try and find out just how much (or, rather, how little) UHT milk is contained in a DairyStix. Appallingly, it is 12ml, or about 4% of a can of Diet Coke. So, all that effort wrestling with the end of it and then you squeeze down the length of it several times over, resulting in a spray in unexpected directions? All of which is – frankly – little more than the overall quantity of the average male ejaculation (where do you think the group 10cc got their name)? Perhaps it’s in some way connected with the choice of films on the in-room TV.

Anyway, my friends, as something that doesn’t work and yet looks quite modern and flashy, this is a pretty classic example of Unintelligent Design. Yes, perhaps I love my tea a bit too much, but it seems that the makers of DairyStix and similar items treat the making of tea and coffee with a little bit less love than they should, given that it’s part of how they make their living.

First In A Possible Series Of Posts In Which I Take Phrases Which Are Used Without The Brain Being Engaged First, And Refute Them With A Picture

The accused:
The fashion phrase “double denim disaster”, used to describe someone wearing both jeans and a denim jacket.

The refutation:
Mr S. Stevens of Wales.

Further evidence to be taken into consideration:
Mr E Presley of Memphis (to be confirmed).

As This Post Demonstrates, 140 Characters Would Not Be Remotely Sufficient To Contain Me

I suspect it’s part of the would-be contrarian streak in me, the part that likes to think it’s pointing out the nudity when everyone else is admiring the cut of his majesty’s new threads, but I tend not to get into things as quickly as other folks.

An example of this was my reaction to the film Pulp Fiction – at the time, everyone was raving about it so much that I actively waited until the attendant fuss had died down before seeing it. I have an almost instinctive mistrust of the ‘general opinion’ – possibly born of often feeling on the fringes of things at school and college – as well as a tendency to like things with some degree of longevity; I once blew a job interview with a well-known music retailer (at a time when I needed an income) by carelessly stating that I liked music by bands who had at least two albums in them “and not these horribly disposable and interchangable musicians who are here for a couple of singles, there’s a big fuss about them, and then they’re gone” (into that category I rather feel that Katy Perry may fall, and Lady Gaga too, but time will tell).

In all honesty, I think it’s because I don’t like to say things which I don’t mean, whether deliberately or not; returning to Pulp Fiction for another example, it was voted greatest film of all time in a 1996 Empire film poll, a mere two years after it was made, which struck me as recent memory playing a large part in the voting (and indeed, a decade later, it was no longer top of that poll, having been usurped by … er, another film from 1994 [The Shawshank Redemption]). And on a personal level that kind of thing tends to mean a slightly embarrassed admission that “maybe I was getting kinda carried away with things, caught up”.

That’s kind of normal on a personal level, though the more public one is in the initial proclamation, the more embarrassing the semi-retraction. Obviously, there are a lot of public figures who’ve found themselves in this sort of situation over the years (though politicians increasingly seem not to bother with this sort of thing, but that’s probably right as they make fewer, and less important, mistakes than the rest of us), and indeed there are some in the spotlight even as I type.

All of which is my typically verbose run-up to explaining why I won’t be joining Twitter in any kind of hurry. A couple of friends have urged me to join it with some zeal, and whilst I can see they’re enjoying it, and the service is clearly breaking through into the mainstream at the moment, I don’t see myself signing up in the immediate future. Maybe I’ll think about it once the fuss has died down and if all the people who I’d like to communicate with or ‘follow’ are still members in a year or so, but given how many people who urged me to join Facebook are no longer participants in it, I do wonder what proportion of my friends who are current Twitterers will be as active this time next year.

For those of you who are keen and eager for me to join, then, it looks as if disappointment awaits. If it’s any consolation, much of my scepticism comes from two people of my acquaintance whose Facebook exploits very much coloured my opinion of such matters (and if you wonder why I compare Twitter so much with Facebook, well, isn’t it just the Facebook status line? I think it is…). Let’s call them persons one and two…

Person One told me that I had to join Facebook, and that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to contact her in any other way. No e-mails or anything like that, it had to be Facebook or nothing. Oddly dogmatic, as if she was on commission or something, and rather undermined by the fact that friends who do have Facebook accounts say that despite them sending her messages via that method, she still doesn’t respond for months at a time. Hmm, not the best advert.

Person Two, I have to say, is someone whose Status Updates are works of inadvertent comedy genius, in that they’re the very worst kind of information about her life. If she’s not posting cryptic comments such as ‘ah well, it’ll be okay’ which are presumably designed to elicit queries as to what she means, she’s posting the most insanely mundane items. The other week stated that she was ‘eating Weetabix’, which remained current for about ten hours, suggesting either a large bowl or a small spoon – or both. I’m painfully aware that many of my blog entries (certainly including this one) venture into self-absorption and the sharing of trivial minutiae, and I really don’t think I – or the world at large – would benefit from me having a new method of telling you what unimportant nonsense I’m up to.

Anyway, all of the above justification-stuff may have the tinge of the negative about it, so by way of trying to leave things on a more jolly note, I would politely point you towards the picture at the top of this post, which I think is a rather good gag on this matter, and also towards the silly reports about the way the musicmaker Calvin Harris has been known to update his status on Twitter. Quite similar to Person Two referred to above, I fear, though I think his tongue may be planted in his tweet, as it were…

I’m not ruling Twitter out forever, but at the moment? Nah. A quick search for my name on t’internet turns up my e-mail address if you want to get in contact with me, and those of you who have the number of my mobile phone (something else I resisted for a long time, incidentally) will be all too familiar with my gramatically-perfect text messages. For the time being, the world will have to content itself with these means of communication.

And some might say – with good reason – that it’s more than enough.

And I Won’t Be Surprised If The ‘Pretzel Fainting Incident’ Is Revealed, In His Memoirs, To Be Something Rather Different

It’s an embarrassing thing when a band or music artiste you like puts out a not-so-good album, especially if you’ve previously been vocal in praising them. And in much the same way, it’s awkward for people who’ve made allegiances to political parties or even particular politicians, only for them to do something boneheaded or prove themselves unworthy of that support.

That said, I think that the annals of history are unlikely to view George W. Bush as a very good president at all. In fact, all things considered, I think it’s probably very likely that he’ll be viewed as the worst president that the USA has ever had. And, to my mind, rightly so.

Putting aside the issue of the non-finding of bombs or similar in Iraq – let’s leave that as the GOP elephant in the room, as it were – and the fact that he permitted torture and detention without charge (both in contravention of the UN Declaration on Human Rights) on his watch, let’s look at the record from the only perspective which seems to matter to many people – that is, the economic angle.

When Bush entered office, the federal budget surplus was $127bn. Last year, the federal budget deficitreached $455bn, and is expected to top $1trillion this year. That’s not good, is it? Obviously, a lot of this has been caused by expenditure on … er, let’s say international diplomacy, but even more of it is the result of the current economic situation, much of which appears to have been caused by banks. Now, one might argue that this should be blamed by the banks, but if you’re in charge of a country, you have the power to regulate banks; if you don’t do so and it all goes round the U-bend, it’s about as surprising as … um, well, the last time this happened as a result of unregulated lending institutions lending too much money on bad mortgages. Those who don’t learn from history are indeed condemned to repeat it.

Anyway, it’s all too easy to kind of write off Bush as a joke president, and the last eight years as some kind of comedic aberration, which would be fine if it many of the consequences of the last two presidential terms weren’t so un-funny. Here, though, is my favourite Bush-era joke, courtesy of Alan Moore:
Q: What do you call an eight-year-old Iraqi kid with no arms, surviving family members, or unblackened skin below his waist?
A: I don’t know. I was shouting at the TV and I didn’ t catch his name.
Ha ha ! It’s hysterically funny, isn’t it? Now watch this drive.

So, I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see the man go, not at all – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think Obama will be the cure to all ills, so please don’t go thinking that I hold any brief for the Democrats either. Though the fact Obama can string a sentence together suggests he may be nearer to the sort of candidate for the role that an electorate might hope for. And that, in essence is much of the reason why I’ll be pleased when Bush is out – there seems to be very little in his record which suggests that he’s fit to hold high office, and I think it’s a hard-fought argument to suggest that he’s the best man for the job, or the best representative of the USA. He’s supposedly quite charming in person, and great at the people-stuff, but that’s probably more appropriate for the mayor of a small town, or maybe the captain of a bowling league, if you want to play it safe.

None of this, I hasten to point out, should be construed as an attack on Americans per se – most USA-born folks I’ve ever met have been perfectly decent people, and their motivation and drive to better themselves (in whatever way they define that) is probably a lot stronger than that of the UK; M’colleague once pointed out the difference between the UK and the USA thus: “In the UK, if people see a Ferrari drive by, they’ll sneer at the rich swine. In the USA, people see a Ferrari drive by and decide they’ll work hard and buy one with the money they’ve earned”. A simplification, yes, but it’s certainly a difference that I’ve seen for myself, and it’s an admirable one. My point is, the american people deserve a better figurehead than they’ve recently had. Whilst I had serious reservations about John McCain’s running mate, the man himself seemed more plausible than Bush (when he spoke about war, he actually knew what he was talking about) – then again, even though he wasn’t elected President, he seems to be otherwise employed, playing Colonel Tigh in Battlestar Galactica.

Lots of words here on this subject, but for those of you who prefer political issues in numerical form, I’d urge you to have a look at the summary of the Bush era created by the US-based Magazine Harpers, which can be seen here. I would politely draw your attention to the amount of time he spent on, or en route to, holiday.

Speaking of things on the newsstands, the picture accompanying this post is the ‘variant cover’ of the current issue of Amazing Spider-Man, featuring President-as-of-tomorrow Obama. There’s been quite a bit of news coverage of this, for some reason, and when I went to my comic shop of choice the other day, I asked if they’d had much call for it. The chap behind the counter said yes, they had, but as it was a limited edition item, they’d run out almost immediately. “Quite a few people seemed to be buying it as a historic thing,” he said, “to note the event”. We agreed this was odd, as people could buy something a bit more immediately relevant, such as the newspaper that comes out that day. Or that week’s Time magazine. Though probably not, I’d like to think, the plate.

Always Rings Twice? It’s A Miracle If The Postman Rings The Once

It’s probably fortunate that I didn’t have a blog at the time, but a few years ago, the local sorting office decided to start telling lies about me. I’m sure of this, because various bits of post – including test items that I sent to see if my suspicions were true – were returned to sender with a sticker on saying ‘Gone Away’. It was annoying (especially as it was just before Christmas), and ultimately a serious problem, as the bank (not entirely unreasonably) saw the ‘returned Gone away’ on my statements and suspended my account. Thanks Royal Mail, I hope you enjoyed the money that you were paid in advance to perform a service.

Anyway, that eventually stopped – though not without a lot of hassle from my end – but in recent weeks it appears that the local postman has found a new way to not do his job properly but still take home the pay. A fortnight ago, m’wife was home and went to check the post at about 11am, and saw that there was a ‘Sorry You Were Out’ card on the mat. However, not only had there been no buzz on the buzzer (and she wouldn’t have missed it, ours is very loud), but the ‘attempted delivery’ was noted as having been at 11.45am. Being one who enjoys a touch of sarcasm, she immediately called the local sorting office and asked if our postman was the owner of a Tardis.

They made suitably apologetic noises, and confirmed that yes, the parcel was waiting to be picked up – given that we’re nowhere near the end of the route, it seems probable that the parcel never actually left the sorting office, and that the postman had decided to drop the card in without trying to deliver so he didn’t have to carry the parcel (not a large one, incidentally). I mentioned the above in passing at work the next day, and a colleague agreed this was likely to have been the case – he’d heard a card being dropped through the letterbox (without any knock or ring of the bell), and run down the road after the postman and asked for his item, to be told that er, um, actually the parcel’s back at the depot.

This morning, we received another Sorry You Were Out card – again, with no buzz at the door – and after Mrs Soanes and I had grrred and ground our teeth a bit, I Googled to see if other people had experienced the same level of non-service from Royal Mail. I expected a few matches, but there were literally dozens of people who’d received You Were Out cards with no attempt to establish if they were in fact out. Startling.

Those people, mind, were strangers, and so I’m keen and eager to know if you good people, who actually have names and some of whom I’ve had the good fortune to actually meet in person, have had similar experiences. Have you chased a Royal Mail employee down the road to be told they don’t actually have the item? Have you had cards dropped through without the doorbell being pressed or a knock at the door? Or are you a Royal Mail employee who could disabuse me of the notion that sometimes the post staff just write up the Sorry You Were Out cards in advance, and leave the items at the depot so they’ll have less to carry? Like the Jeremy Kyle research team, we want to hear from you (though you won’t get shouted at ).

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