Monday 31 July 2006

A new hoover.

The old one broke, so we just got a Dirt Devil DD2404. Yeah, exciting stuff. Actually, it's a masterpiece of minitiarisation and very easy to empty, so that's nice. But not why I'm blogging.

No, it's the marvellous instructions. For once, remarkably light on the stupid safety advice — do not use the vacuum cleaner to fend off sharks at the bottom of the ocean while stabbing yourself in the eye, that sort of thing. And the instructions, while a bit obvious (it's a hoover — what can they tell us that we haven't guessed?), do appear to have been written by someone who speaks English. No, Dirt Devil seem to be working on a whole new approach: while most electrical manufacturers provide instruction manuals dictated by paranoid lunatics in Esperanto over bad phonelines, they're going for understated minimalist subtlety:

Finally, replace the cover — replacement is the opposite of removal.


Kicked in the fingers.

Been meaning to mention this for a while, but just kept forgetting.

For the last week or so, my hands have been repeatedly kicked and punched, through the outer layer of Vic's belly. That is to say, we're going to have a child of some sort. Twenty-seven weeks gone now, so the violent little so-and-so's viable already, with luck.

We don't know whether it's a boy or a girl — the Ulster Hospital don't tell you, in case they get it wrong and you sue them for the cost of pink wallpaper. But we have seen lots of scans now — a scan every couple of weeks, in fact — and he or she seems to be doing perfectly well.

We're very happy, as you might well imagine, especially since this is far from the first attempt. The last couple of years, in fact, have been kind of similar to Hell at times. But I won't go on about that.

Anyway, that's it, really. Not so much fishing for congratulations as warning you that this blog might soon degenerate into a journal of nappies and Fimbles. But not Ballamory. Ballamory will not be tolerated in this house. Hey, award-winning BBC people! "Hoolie" does not rhyme with "story" and "nursery" does not rhyme with "day". This you call educational? Grr.

I am hoping that, after the birth, he or she will stop kicking me.

Friday 28 July 2006


As a result of a long rambling discussion over at Gary's place about the political and environmental issues surrounding SUVs, David and I have reached the following important conclusion.

Australians call small trucks "utes", short for "utility vehicles".

"SUV" stands for "Sports Utility Vehicle".

Therefore, we should call SUVs "sputes".

"Spute" may well be my new favourite word (with the possible exception of Terry Pratchett's "sausagidity"). Henceforth, I shall call SUVs "sputes", and I invite you all to join me.

Tuesday 25 July 2006


Yesterday, by accident, I discovered a rather odd feature of some Windows XP machines. Hold down the Alt Gr key and press the down arrow, and the display flips upside-down. Alt Gr + Up Arrow flips it back. On some machines (though not mine), the right and left arrows also have appropriate effects.

Does anyone know what the hell this is for? (Other than doing it to your colleagues' machines while they're at lunch, that is.)

Lying around the office.

Just noticed that the front-page headline on the September 2005 edition of Ulster Business was "Catalyst for Change". And then I realise, of course, that that's a phrase one hears a lot in managerialese these days.


Stabiliser for stability. Regulator for regulation.


Sentencing considerations.

In this post, reviewing this book, Mr Raw Carrot discusses the relationship between crime and sentencing in the UK. Among other things, he attacks the popular left-wing notion that too many people are in prison in Britain at the moment, providing a graph (figure 5.2) of Home Office statistics which show that Britain's prison population is in fact in line with those of other European countries, contrary to the claims made by the likes of (picking one recent example) Jon Snow on Channel 4 News.

My problem with this line of argument is that it concedes far too much ground. There is a major fault in the claim that the UK's prison population is too large compared to that of other countries, and it has nothing to do with the actual size of the UK's prison population. Once you start arguing about relative numbers of prisoners in different countries, you are implying that it's a sensible thing to argue about. And it isn't.

The real issue is a simple matter of fair trials. I'm in favour of them myself. One aspect of a fair trial is that the judge's reasoning, when considering sentencing, should consider such things as: Is this a first offense? Was anyone harmed? Has the convict shown any remorse? Did they plead guilty? Have they helped the police? That sort of thing: things related to the crime and the criminal in question.

If it is true that Britain has too many prisoners compared to France, then the solution is for judges, when sentencing, to consider this sort of thing: What is the population of France? How many prisoners are currently in French prisons? What is the population of the UK? How many prisoners are currently in British prisons? What is the ratio of the former to the latter? What sort of ratio would be reasonable? These things are totally unrelated to the crime and the criminal in question, and therefore have no place in a fair trial. By extension, neither do they have any place in anyone's criminal justice system.

A criminal's punishment should be related to their crime, not to the crimes of other criminals in other countries. The correct response to any complaint of disproportionality between sizes of prison populations in different countries, regardless of whether that complaint is based on truth, is simply "So what?"

Sunday 23 July 2006

A slight omission.

On the BBC's This Week the other night, there was a debate about the current war between Israel and Hezbollah. The two people chosen to put forward their views of the situation were Simon Schama and Vivienne Westwood.

Let's leave to one side the BBC's idea of showing both sides of the debate by having two people on who both think the UN should take over. Let's even let go the fact that one side of this geopolitical debate appears to have been represented by a famous fashion designer — designing clothes doesn't make you stupid, and it's no more inherently ridiculous to have Vivienne Westwood talk about Israel than it is to have Bob Geldof talk about Africa or Kim Wilde talk about gardening — and they're both experts.

No, what is wrong is to introduce her merely as "the human rights campaigner Vivienne Westwood" and never once to mention what it is she actually does for a living. That is simple misreporting.

As it happens, this particular piece of misreporting was a gross disservice to eloquent, intelligent human rights campaigners everywhere, as Westwood was neither.


Natalie the Wise is rather eloquently angry with Jeremy Bowen and the BBC.

In the comments to her post, inevitably, up pops an Israel-hater to claim, as they always do, that the BBC has a pronounced pro-Israel bias, presumably because the BBC's newsreaders don't actually foam at the mouth or routinely precede the word "Jew" with "stinking".

But what really interests me about this particular comment is its bizarre use of the word "even". Call me picky.

Finally the BBC, which -even according to its own internal report- is baised in favour of Israel, is starting to call a spade a spade.

I honestly can't figure out whether that's bald-faced sneakiness or just tongue-dragging idiocy. Does this commenter (name of "Gerbil" — as usual, I can't take the piss while calling myself "Squander Two") really think that that works? The usual way to word something like that would be "The BBC deny being biased against Israel" or something. This use of the word "even" implies that the BBC's denial reinforces the BBC's denial. Not following me? Here are a couple of parallels:

David Irving, who, even according to his own press release, is biased in favour of Jews....

David Duke, who, even according to his autobiography, loves black people....

Matt Lucas, who, even according to his own CV, is funny....

See? Weaving half-truths through sentence structure. Amazing. And wrong.

Two pictograms.

The expertise of some of my readers never ceases to almost amaze me. OK, so enough with the flattery. Anyone out there read Chinese? Because here is an interesting thing.

I have a tattoo on my arm. Here it is:

It means "tattoo" (chosen for non-hilarious reasons that I won't bother going into just now). And I know it means "tattoo" because I'm not the kind of eejit who wanders into a tattooists and picks some foreign gibberish off the wall without the foggiest of what it says. No, I spent a day researching it in a library well stocked with Chinese-English dictionaries, then checked with a local genuine Chinese person. Furthermore, since I got the tattoo, various Chinese people have commented on it, their comments ranging from "Oh, tattoo," through "That means tattoo, you know," to "You know what that means? Tattoo." No sniggering or other such reason to doubt these people's word has ever occurred.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I go into my favourite local Chinese foodery wearing short sleeves for the first time, and one of the waitresses notices my tattoo and informs me that it's spelt wrong. She still recognises what it's supposed to mean without my having to tell her, so it's just a matter of the "spelling" being slightly out rather than it being some other word entirely. She reckons the first pictogram is correct but the second should be different. I have no reason to doubt her sincerity either, especially since she said "Who cares? It still looks good."

So, I know it's correct, according to a large number of independent sources, including several dictionaries. I know that at least one native Chinese speaker reckons it's wrong. I also know that many Chinese words can be written in more than one way. So, is this confusion down to regional dialects, recent changes, or what? Anyone got any idea?

Wednesday 19 July 2006

The wonder of bureaucracy.

I am about to become an uncle again. My sister-in-law is to have her second child tomorrow. Cool. The first one's great.

Anyway, she's having a caesarian for various perfectly sound health reasons. She has had an appointment for tomorrow for a caesarian for a few weeks now. Today, she called to check which ward she's to be on, and the hospital informed her that they have no record of her appointment. On further interrogation, they admitted that they have three caesarians booked for tomorrow, but they have no record of who the patients are. They reckon, since she's asking, that, yeah, she might well be one of them. Probably.

Surgeons at the Ulster Hospital are intending to perform three operations tomorrow, but they don't know who they're going to perform them on.

Envy of the world, etc.


After she arrived at the hospital, it only took them an hour-and-a-half to find her bed. Eejits.

Anyway, I now have a rather excellent little nephew called Noah.

Wednesday 12 July 2006

Two tunes for nine hours.

And that's all I have to say about what's blocking up my home town today.

Understand who you're dealing with.

So the big story this Twelfth of July has been tyres. Yes, the environmental lobby have decided that the real danger of violent bigots building massive bonfires with pictures of Gerry Adams at the top is that they tend to use car tyres, and that burning these can be bad for the environment and your lungs. On Monday night, the news was full of rather strange reports about how, this year, thanks to Friends of the Earth working with the bonfire committees, the bonfires were being built entirely tyre-free. Cue footage of giant all-wood bonfires. By Tuesday, every bonfire was covered with thousands of tyres.

It appears to have occurred to no-one that when you tell people who enjoy rioting that something is both dangerous and illegal, they might do more of it.

Wednesday 5 July 2006

While we're on the subject of the licence fee....

As we all know, the great thing about the BBC is that, thanks to the unique way in which it's funded, it doesn't have to bow to commercial pressures; it can make programs for minorities, programs that commercial television would never make. Like Changing Rooms. And showing Love Actually at Christmas.

Which is why they just axed Top of the Pops: because its viewing figures were too low.

Could someone from the BBC explain to me what exactly was wrong with Top of the Pops's ratings? I get that they'd plummetted. I get that they were very low. What I don't get is the bit where the BBC care so much about that that they drop the show. What was the problem? A drop in advertising revenue?

Understatement of the year.

Here we go:

North Korea has test-fired at least six missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2, despite repeated warnings from the international community.

Oh, yippee. Aren't you glad that those men of peace, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, did so much for peace? When North Korea launch the war, which should we lynch first?


The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul says the North has been feeling under pressure and ignored in recent months, with the US refusing to negotiate on its demands over its nuclear plans.

Its nuclear plans, as eny fule no, involve threatening other states with nuclear missiles in order to extort and probably invade them. Which bit should the US negotiate over, do you think?

Long-running talks over North Korea's nuclear capabilities have stalled, with six-party negotiations on the issue being repeatedly postponed as neither Washington nor Pyongyang are prepared to give ground.

I love the implied equivalence there. "We want to nuke people!" "We'd rather you didn't." Both parties are simply refusing to give ground.

But here's the best bit:

North Korea may see this action as a way to get attention and break the diplomatic log jam, our correspondent adds.

Yes, that's clearly what they're trying to do: break a diplomatic log-jam. Much like France did with Greenpeace.

Hundred-and-thirty quid a year this expert insight costs me. Tsk.

I don't like coffee.

It is a truly foul concoction. So I find it hard to believe that this tastes any worse than the usual stuff. I mean, it couldn't, could it?

Weasel coffee has been eaten and regurgitated by rare Vietnamese weasels! Honestly! As you can imagine, the weasels' gastric goings-on radically alter the taste of the coffee and the result is a stronger, smoother, heady flavoured coffee that will appeal to serious connoisseurs of the mighty bean. Once 'evacuated' by the bean-loving fur balls, the coffee is collected by eagle-eyed villagers, who then market the stuff directly to the manufacturers.

That's an interesting job. Collecting weasel vomit. I wish that were on my CV.

This stuff is arguably even more "interesting":

Only about 50 kilos of this blend is collected per year, making it the ultimate in exclusivity and rarity. And when we tell you where the beans have, er, been, you'll understand why. You see the primary reason for Civet Coffee's distinctive taste is that it's been partially fermented by passing through the digestive system of a Sumatran Civet Cat. No, really!

Basically this feral feline prowls Sumatran coffee plantations at night, choosing to eat only the finest, ripest cherries. The stones (which eventually form coffee beans) are then collected by sifting through the Civet's number twos.


Native Sumatrans consider this to be the finest coffee in the world

On the other hand, maybe they consider telling foreigners that they consider it to be the finest coffee in the world to be the finest joke in the world. I am reminded of the T-shirt with Chinese characters on it that translated as "Look at this stupid white guy."

You know, when you consider that a bag of weasel puke is a whole seven quid cheaper than a bag of civet shit, you realise just how much of a bargain it really is.

Beauty tips for the undead.

I don't usually watch Dead Ringers — Jon Culshaw's far better on the radio than on TV — but I did happen to watch it last week, and was reduced to hysterics by the sight of Gillian Bloody McKeith — well, actually it was a very good impersonation of Lynn Foulds-Wood, but it was clearly meant to be McKeith — anyway, yes... the sight of Gillian McKeith proclaiming

I'm a pretend doctor with a Ph.D. in salad.

Wondering whether anyone else was as pleased about that as I was led me to this:

A friend of mine wants to do a Ph.D. in Salad Research. I told him not to bother. After all, it's not roquette science...

I love the Internet.