Thursday, July 31, 2003
This is a public service announcement. If you have any old £10 notes hiding away in a wallet, purse or piggy bank, you have until midnight tonight to spend them. They won't be legal tender tomorrow and it would be criminal to waste them. The Bank of England reckons that there are still 117 million old £10 notes out there somewhere, which is about two each. I'd check down the back of the sofa and under the mattress just in case because otherwise that's more than a billion quid up in smoke by the end of the day.
I should clarify that we're talking about the old £10 note with Charles Dickens on the back. The one with a picture of the cricket match between Old Muggleton and Dingley Dell from Pickwick Papers. That's the note that ceases to be legal tender tomorrow. It's being replaced by the new £10 note with Charles Darwin on the back. The one with a picture of HMS Beagle and a Galapagos Island hummingbird. That's the new note with all the clever security features. Tenners are only supposed to have a life expectancy of 18 months, and Darwin first started replacing Dickens way back in November 2000, so the Bank of England think they've waited long enough before withdrawing them. Just not long enough for some.
Our current set of banknotes features Elizabeth Fry (£5), Charles Darwin (£10), Edward Elgar (£20) and Sir John Houblon (£50) (he was the first Governor of the Bank of England, before you ask). That's British society, science, art and finance all summarised in four pieces of counterfeit-proof paper. And all different sizes and colours too. How much more attractive and easy to use than those nasty green American banknotes. All exactly the same colour, all exactly the same size, and all bloody hard to distinguish when it's dark or you're drunk (or both). And Americans wouldn't dare put Darwin, the father of evolution, on a banknote either. Not least because he wasn't actually American, but mainly because whole communities would be up in arms demanding that God be pictured on the $50 note just to maintain a sense of balance.
The Bank of England website contains a treasure trove of banknote trivia. For example, the first fully printed banknotes were issued in 1855, before which date every note had to be signed individually. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by a Somerset bank in 1921. Modern banknotes feature a red and green fluorescent number clearly visible under ultraviolet light, just below the hologram. Demand for new banknotes peaks around Christmas, Easter and the summer holiday periods, with troughs at the end of January and in mid-October. And yes, there really are four times as many £20 notes as £5 notes in circulation, which is why you can never find a fiver when you need one and if one ever does appear in your change you probably spend it almost immediately afterwards.
Footnote 1: Don't panic. The old £10 doesn't completely lose its value tomorrow because it can be exchanged at the Bank of England forever.
Footnote 2: This year's batch of Creme Eggs also reach their best before date today. I still have ten to eat by the end of the day.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, July 30, 2003The best of July
(Thought it was about time I revived my monthly update again)
TV programme of the month: You'll be expecting me to say Big Brother, and so I will. OK, so it was over-hyped. OK, so it was a bit trashy. OK, so it may not have been as gripping as last year. OK, so they had to force stuff to happen by constantly changing the rules. But nothing else in the last two months has gripped me quite as much as this ongoing saga of thirteen people doing not very much. It's a bit like life really. It's a lot more interesting to get to know people you see regularly by observing their everyday behaviour than it is to read about the carefully-screened public appearances of distant global superstars. Or is that just me? Whatever the case, with Fame Academy and Pop Idol failing to fill the gap, and nothing much else on the horizon, TV in August suddenly looks a lot emptier.
Football result of the month: Yawn. Isn't it August yet?
Film of the month: I wasn't tempted by Hulk. I could probably have been dragged to Bruce Almighty. I was very nearly tempted by Secretary. But walking straight past the première of Legally Blonde 2 was as close to Hollywood as I got this month. Just as well I didn't fork out for a year's membership down at the UGC multiplex then.
Gig of the month: The Polyphonic Spree at the Brixton Academy. Review here.
Next month my money's on Robbie Williams instead (Knebworth, this Saturday).
Album of the month: Loss by Mull Historical Society. I'm months late on this one, more than 20 months late in fact, but after that gig in Brixton I thought I'd better catch up on the support act's back catalogue. That back catalogue consisted of two albums, Loss and Us, both of which I bought and one of which I love. Colin MacIntyre's first album is jam-packed full of songs that sound simple but clearly aren't because they creep inside your brain and stay there. Enchanting, innocent and captivating, like a mist-covered Scottish island. Sadly the follow-up LP never quite scaled those same heights. His Loss, my gain.
Single of the month: I haven't actually (ahem) bought any singles this month so, hmmm, what to select as a favourite? Let's check out the BBC Radio playlists and see what I rate on there. On the Radio 1 playlist I'm rather taken by Goldfrapp's Strict Machine, Junior Senior 's Rhythm Bandits, Benny Benassi's Satisfaction and Pink & William Orbit's Feel Good Time. On the Radio 2 playlist... nothing. That's a relief, although it has got a lot better over the last few years. And on the Radio 6 playlist... just the Goldfrapp. Hmmm, maybe I'm not as avant-garde and trendy as I might like to think.
posted 18:00 :
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
I reckon that elementary science has a lot to teach us about human relationships. Here then is my new theory of chemical attraction. Maybe one day it'll replace astrology. Have a read below and see which element (or group of elements) you think you most resemble.
Common and extremely lightweight, with a very thin shell. Flits from relationship to relationship, combining with virtually anything. Doesn't really fit into any set group.
Unstable, volatile and liable to explode at the slightest provocation. Should be kept at arm's length. Very soft (easily squashed) with little material strength. Easily tarnished, easily dissolved. (e.g. lithium, sodium, potassium)
Very reactive and must be stored carefully to prevent sparks flying. Dominant in character when coupled with any weak elements. Forms permanent relationships, never single. (e.g. magnesium, calcium)
Alkaline earth metals
Always solid and reliable, forms a very strong bond. Hard, tough and dense. May tarnish when exposed. Malleable, that is, can be bent. Easily hammered. (e.g. iron, copper, silver, gold)
Rarely occurs in nature and may be dangerously radioactive. Relationships often decay rapidly. Difficult to extract and separate from the surrounding environment. (e.g. uranium, plutonium)
Rare earth metals
Strong, resilient and durable. Good conductor of warmth and electrical energy. Always hard and firm. Has a very high melting point and boiling point. (e.g. aluminium, tin, lead)
Displays characteristics of both metals and non-metals - may swing either way. Versatile material for a multiplicity of uses. (e.g. silicon, arsenic)
Generally dull in appearance and rather colourless. Tends to be brittle, rarely hard enough for any activity where force is required. Melts at low temperatures. (e.g. carbon, oxygen, sulphur)
Over-reactive and particularly poisonous. Toxic even in small doses. Colourful in character and gets darker the further down you go. (e.g. chlorine, iodine)
Unreactive, with no wish to bond to anything. Exists naturally as a single particle. Very stable, perhaps too much so. Rarely ever melts or boils. Never found down to earth, only up in the clouds. (e.g. helium, neon, xenon)
How about me then? You might think that, as a diamond geezer, I'd be carbon (6, non-metal). No way. I'm definitely krypton (54, noble gas) instead. No superman, but pretty inert. And last time I tried establishing a long-term bonding I made the mistake of trying to combine with potassium (19, alkali metal). Never again. Think I'd be better off associating with some nice stable aluminium (13, metal) next time. Assuming I ever react again.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, July 28, 200310 things to watch on TV today now Big Brother's finished
• RI:SE (Channel 4 6:55am): Join the three other remaining viewers to watch last year's Big Brother winner co-host the breakfast show that nobody cares about. Another post-BB career nears its end.
• Balamory (BBC2 10:40am): It's the daily soap opera for the under-fives, set in a primary-coloured Scottish village. It may not have had much press, but it's brilliantly done.
• Thunderbirds/Captain Scarlet (BBC2 from 11:15am): Even four decades on from their first screening, these Supermarionation classics still hold their place in the TV schedules. Fab.
• Diagnosis Murder (BBC1 2:35pm): If you work during the day, you'll have missed this cult US medical drama. Dick Van Dyke stars as insightful Dr Sloan in one of 178 remarkably similar episodes.
• Countdown (Channel 4 4:15pm): Three vowels and six consonants. That's only if the cricket is cancelled, you understand. And even then it's only a repeat. How rubbish is that?
• Nobody Likes A Smartass (BBC2 6:00pm): It's new. It features a panel of celebrity 'know-it-alls' being probed by the studio audience. It's hosted by Jo Brand. It'll be 20 minutes of unbridled sarcasm then.
• The soap hour-and-a-half (ITV and BBC1 from 7:00pm): "Scott proves to Chris that he's Jean's father." "Audrey forces Archie to reconsider his future." "Sharon's gift to Dennis leaves him feeling uncomfortable." And if you can match each synopsis to the correct soap, there's more than a little bit of addict about you.
• Thunderball (ITV 8:30pm): No, it's not the National Lottery's unloved offspring, it's ITV's annual trawl through the James Bond back catalogue. As old as Thunderbirds, and nearly as fab.
• Taboo (BBC2 11:20pm): Remember that programme a couple of years back that caused a huge fuss when Joan Bakewell gazed upon a young man's erection? They're repeating it, but I bet they still blur out the central figure.
• Big Brother USA (E4 from midnight): All the latest action from the Los Angeles house, and only 78 days to go. No, please, there are limits you know.
posted 06:55 :
Sunday, July 27, 2003Cruel Summer
I went along to a fete in a local park yesterday. It rained, which was a shame. In fact to say that it rained would be an understatement because the organisers had clearly deliberately scheduled their event for the wettest Saturday afternoon of the entire summer. It started raining quite early in the proceedings, continued to chuck it down at various intensities as the afternoon wore on, and ended up with the sort of downpour that Noah must have faced on ark-launching night. The assembled public made the best of a bad lot, struggling to enjoy the festivities as if it were one of those fantastically sunny weekends that we enjoyed earlier in the year, but somehow the event wasn't quite the same standing under a tree in a plastic raincoat.
The fete had started off promisingly. A large crowd turned out, despite worries that nobody would come this year after they made a real mess of organising last year's event. A lot of people had turned up in fancy dress and there was also the chance to bump into a number of people from the local community that you hadn't met for ages. The police seemed to be in attendance not so much for reasons of crowd control but to hand out balloons and to encourage people to sign up to join the force. There was beer, there was music and there was undercooked greasy food at extortionate prices. The queues to buy beer were almost as long as the queues to get rid of it again (you know what I mean). When not drinking, people seemed to be spending most of their time taking photos of each other. Mobile phone companies need not worry that their investment in 3G networks has been in vain - it appeared yesterday that the British public are preparing to embrace picture messaging with a vengeance.
And then it rained. Just one droplet to start with, but the sky was leaden grey and there was much more fallout in store. At the first sight of rain out came the umbrellas that the more pessimistic amongst the crowd had brought with them. And, alas, up went those umbrellas amongst the crowd watching the musical entertainment, completely obliterating any view of the stage for those of us standing behind. The appearance of heavy drizzle also encouraged many in the park to sport that fashion disaster, the rain poncho. It may be lightweight and foldaway but covering yourself in a sheet of plastic is not the way to sartorial elegance, especially for those wearing fancy dress. A large proportion of the crowd took shelter in the few tents provided on site, which then became impossible to use for their intended purpose due to the huge numbers packed inside. The small stalls run by community organisations suddenly became unexpectedly popular, even if it was now all too clear which of them had forgotten to print their information boards using water-resistant ink. A number of people made a beeline for the shelter of one of the few trees on site, hoping that the rain would go away. It didn't, and as the leaves dripped it soon became just as wet under the trees as around them. And the rest of us, brolly-less, poncho-less, tent-less and tree-less, we just carried on wandering around the park in the rain, because it's only water isn't it?
And so the afternoon carried on into the evening, and so did the rain. It was wet, we were wet, but we remained of good cheer right up to the close of proceedings. A local dignitary ushered off the last musical act and wished us a safe journey home. Then, as we turned to make our way to the exits, the heavens suddenly opened. It was as if Niagara Falls had relocated immediately above us. There was no escape, no shelter, and we were all drowned within a minute. The nearest tube station now seemed a very long way away, and so it proved. There were streams of rainwater flowing out of the park gates by the time we got there, and it looked at one point as if my waterlogged mobile phone would never work again. I headed home sitting on the underground train like a drowned rat. The rain had cleared by the time I got there, of course, but any thoughts of heading on elsewhere to continue the night out had evaporated. Don't you just love the British summer?
posted 11:00 :
Saturday, July 26, 2003Saturnday
Today Saturn is at perihelion. In other words, today the ringed planet is as close as it ever gets to the Sun, a mere 1.2 billion kilometres away. This doesn't happen very often. It takes 29½ years for Saturn to orbit the Sun once which means that the last perihelion was over ten thousand days ago, way back in January 1974. UK readers, think three day week; US readers, think Watergate. And the next perihelion will be in 2033. Whatever you do, don't think how old you're going to be then.
A few facts about Saturn. It's the second largest planet in the Solar System (it's huge), it's the sixth in line from the Sun, the Romans named it after the god of agriculture, the Greeks called it Cronus, it's mostly gas, it weighs 95 times more than the Earth, it spins on its axis once every 10 hours 39 minutes (that's very fast), it's the furthest planet that can be seen with the naked eye, it has 31 known moons (18 of which have names), Gustav Holst wrote a nice piece of music about it... oh, and it has rings. The famous rings are 250,000 km in diameter but less than one kilometre thick, they're comprised primarily of tiny particles of water ice, and they're gorgeous.
The first space probe to reach Saturn from Earth was Pioneer 11, way back in 1979. Voyagers 1 and 2 passed by during 1980 and 1981 on their way to the outer planets (and beyond) but it's been a bit quiet out there ever since. Now at last a fourth spacecraft called Cassini is on its way to Saturn and is due to arrive there next year. There was a lot of fuss back in 1997 when NASA launched the plutonium-powered probe (what if it had exploded on takeoff?) but Cassini is still on course to enter orbit around Saturn next July. It will then continue to take readings and pictures for many years, while a small probe will be despatched for a 2½ hour descent onto the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Watch this space.
posted 11:11 :
Two years ago the British public surprised themselves by voting for a gay man as the winner of Big Brother. This year the British public have surprised themselves again by voting for a god-fearing bible-believing Christian instead. Orkney fish trader Cameron Stout has won the £70,000, as much to his surprise as ours, and how chuffed is he? No doubt a brief life of D-list celebrity awaits, but I suspect Cameron'll cope with that better than most. Could a life of religious stardom await too? But let's just hope he never ends up on a committee appointing bishops.
The road to eviction
Day 8: Anouska (46%), Jon (31%), Federico (18%), Scott (5%) [Total: 594,393 votes]
Day 15: Justine (57%), Jon (43%) [Total: 640,081 votes]
Day 22: Sissy (45%), Federico (39%), Jon (17%) [Total: 897,852 votes]
Day 29: Federico (40% at 8:30pm), Jon (37% at 10:30pm), Cameron (34% at 10:30pm) [Total: 1,735,317 votes]
Day 36: Tania (72%), Nush (15%), Steph (13%) [Total: 676,109 votes]
Day 43: Gos (46%), Nush (36%), Ray (18%) [Total: 575,965 votes]
Day 50: Lisa (82%), Steph (12%), Cameron (6%) [Total: 1,110,256 votes]
Day 57: Nush (67%), Cameron (33%) [Total: 1,422,858 votes]
Day 64: Steph (196,026), Scott (786,978), Ray (1,428,231), Cameron (1,928,570) [Total: 4,339,827 votes]
[Total: 11,992,636 votes]
posted 00:04 :
Friday, July 25, 2003Day 64 in the Big Brother house
Way back in the first hour of this year's Big Brother I posted my initial thoughts on all the housemates. How well did I do at instantly judging all of their personalities based on first impressions? Not that I ever jump to conclusions, you understand.
Anouska: "She did an A level exam in Sociology last Wednesday. Started quiet, has got much louder. Must go."
I missed Anouska's obvious appeal to a Sun-reading audience, but I did correctly deduce that the public would want her straight out. Good riddance too.
Likely future job: porndigitalchannel hostess.
Cameron: "Living in the Orkneys must be very similar to being isolated in the BB house (only considerably more scenic)."
I may have spotted that Cameron would be very different to the other housemates, but I didn't spot his pure wholesome appeal and winning potential.
Likely future job: Songs of Praise presenter.
Federico: "He's a waiter, and he's packed a pair of handcuffs in his suitcase. That's two blokes from Scotland then."
The Scottish bit turned out to be irrelevant, but the handcuffs were a hint to a sparky, unpredictable and off the wall character. Federico couldn't last.
Likely future job: back to being a waiter.
Gos: "He's a chef. It would be impolite to say that he looks like a chef too, so I won't."
Generally nice but strangely devoid of personality, Gos didn't really have a hope of winning. Large as life but small of interest.
Likely future job: children's ITV chef.
Jon: "Twin, and seems very sure of himself. That's two blokes from West London then."
I spotted the certainty in Jon's outlook on life, but not the endearing geekiness that the nation would take so firmly to its heart. BB4's only star.
Likely future job: I suspect there may be a vacancy for Prime Minister soon.
Justine: "Another twin. Seems overbearingly nice and polite at the moment. Barely registering."
Two weeks later Justine still really hadn't registered, and she was out. It seems that being merely nice and inoffensive gets you nowhere on the telly.
Likely future job: I very much doubt that any of us care.
Nush: "What are the chances of having two contestants called Anushka? Has a manically emotional mother. Might win."
Can't win now, but Nush did get as far as the penultimate week. Her mother was probably only flustered about the public spotlight on her daughter's sex life.
Likely future job: yoga columnist in Heat magazine.
Ray: "This year's cheeky chappie. I suspect you'll either love him or hate him. I'll give him four weeks."
I was right about two of my three comments at least. It seems you love the cheeky chappie, and Ray still has a very good chance of almost winning.
Likely future job: anger management counsellor.
Scott: "What's a normal bloke doing in BB4? Trying to find himself, by the sound of it."
It turned out to be Cameron who was on BB4 to find himself, but Scott certainly proved the most normal of the bunch and may well win as a result.
Likely future job: maybe now Radio 4 will want to broadcast that play what he wrote.
Sissy: "Scouse loudmouth and fashion graduate. She's not great, she grates. Needs evicting."
You chucked sobbing Sissy out eventually, about three weeks later than I would have done. The house has been a happier and quieter place since she left.
Likely future job: Club 18-30 rep.
Steph: "It's her birthday next week. I bet C4 are more likely to select you if you have a birthday in May, June or July."
Looks like Steph barely registered with me at the beginning either, but she's shone through as the most genuine girl in the house ever since.
Likely future job: she's welcome to come and clean my flat any day.
Tania: "Clothes, nails, shopping, labels, fags, yah, darling, ciao. Ciao, hopefully."
Just as shallow as I feared, or maybe it was only that I didn't share Tania's overbearing interest in make-up tips and fashion accessories.
Likely future job: cameo role in the next series of Absolutely Fabulous.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, July 24, 2003We asked 76 people when their bedtime was. Our survey said...
When's your bedtime? 9pm (4) 5.26% 10pm (10) 13.16% 11pm (18) 23.68% midnight (17) 22.37% 1am (15) 19.74% 2am (12) 15.79% Total number of votes: 76
9pm (5%) Nobody goes to bed at 9pm. Actually that's not true because apparently at least four of you say you do. I can only assume that one of you does shift work and another of you is under the age of 10. However, I note that the other two of you both voted at half past eleven last night, so I suspect you were lying about your bedtime (or else you live in a different timezone to here). So let's move on.
10pm (13%) One in six of my readers is in bed by 10pm. There would seem to be six possible reasons for this.
1) Your day is so physically or mentally exhausting that by mid-evening you need to go straight to bed because you're knackered.
2) You need eight hours sleep, at least, and can't be doing with anything less.
3) You no longer have any time for personal space once you've got home from work, cooked a meal and put the children to bed.
4) Big Brother is rubbish, so you never bother to stay up to watch it.
5) You live in an Iron Age hut and go to bed when the sun goes down.
6) You're not going to bed to sleep, you're going to bed to have carnal relations with your partner.
11pm (24%) The most popular bedtime, according to my survey. You've watched the ten o'clock news, you've despaired at tomorrow's weather forecast, you've flicked over to Graham Norton but his guests are all American non-entities, you've checked out Newsnight but it's a bit highbrow, you've waddled to the kitchen to make a nice milky drink, you've settled down to read six pages of a good book, and it's lights out at eleven. Very nice. I could never go to bed that early though, not unless I was ill.
midnight (22%) The average bedtime, according to my survey. (For any statisticians out there, the mean bedtime is actually 11:51pm) There's something quite satisfying about staying up until tomorrow, and it seems that most of us like to stay up until at least the witching hour before retiring for the night. Just in time for Big Ben and the Radio 4 news headlines, even if some of you can't quite manage to stay awake for the shipping forecast. Wonderfully soporific, that.
1am (20%) Some of us, and I include myself in this category, stay up until 1am most mornings. That extra hour after midnight makes a big difference to how much I can get done in a day. That's seven extra hours awake in a week, over a day extra every month and a fortnight extra every year. In fact by staying awake until 1am every morning until I'm 80 I'd be increasing my conscious life expectancy by about two years. That's assuming I don't waste it all by sleeping in late every morning, or otherwise end up so tired in the morning that I accidentally walk in front of a bus tomorrow.
2am (16%) One in six of you is still awake at 2am. Maybe you like the peace and solitude of the early hours of the morning so that you can get on with various important tasks uninterrupted. Maybe you're on shift work, or at least your body still thinks it is. Maybe you suffer from insomnia and barely sleep a wink every night. Maybe you're contributing to a late-night talk-radio phone-in. Maybe you don't need to be up until 10am so you might as well stay up late too. Or maybe you're the selfish idiot in the flat nextdoor who plays loud dance music until 3am in which case it'd be appreciated if you went to bed at 9pm instead please. But, however long you manage to sleep, do have a good night and sweet dreams.
posted 01:00 :
Wednesday, July 23, 2003Jumping to conclusions
Blame - there's a lot of it about at the moment. Not least in the cinema where Hollywood's latest blockbuster is Hulk, the comic-book story of a vengeful superhero who gets angry, goes green in the face and throws the most enormous temper tantrums. I've not been to the cinema to see it, mainly because the reviews of the film have told me that it's rubbish. Two hours of tedious over-wrought drivel, and a crushing disappointment. Or so they say. There again, who am I to make sweeping generalisations about the movie based merely on hearsay and gossip? And how dare I publish a withering critique of the film on my website when I've not even been to see it myself to form my own opinions? I'm no better than the Hulk himself if I get inappropriately judgmental, lash out and force my misguided rage on others.
I try very hard in my everyday life not to jump to conclusions about other people or events based on insufficient evidence. If I don't know what I'm talking about, I shut up, listen and try to learn more. I may chip in with an opinion, but I try not to broadcast that opinion as definite fact if deep down I'm not sure of what I was saying. Neither would I dare to accuse someone else of any terrible misjudgement without being absolutely certain that that's what they meant to say in the first place. I don't think I'm unique in this either. There are lots of level-headed even-handed people in this world, willing to hear both sides of an argument and then make a rational decision based on the evidence provided. Unfortunately there are also lots of people (and organisations and publishers) out there for whom blind over-simplification and damning spot-judgement is second nature.
The story of weapons expert Dr David Kelly has been all over the media in the last week. The tragedy of one man's suicide has been lost in a sea of escalating arguments about who exactly should be to blame. Neither side thinks it should be them, but the original point of the whole affair has somehow become secondary to other parties pointing a finger and wagging it sternly. It's not about Weapons of Mass Destruction any more, it's only about who might have said what and why they shouldn't have done, so there. The Government and the BBC blame each other. The Daily Mail blames Tony Blair, because it suits their political agenda. The Sun blames the BBC, because it suits Rupert Murdoch's digital agenda. A hugely complicated story has been simplified in the press, poisoned and spoonfed to people who have no hope of understanding it, merely to score points. There's only one person who knew for certain why the doctor took his own life, and he's no longer with us. Everything else that's been said on the subject has been mere speculation.
The Sun newspaper seems to exist only to jump to conclusions. Bombing Iraq is good. The Prime Minister is infallible. The Government is otherwise bad. Breasts are good. The irrelevant is important. Big Brother is boring because nobody is shagging (although nobody's been shagging for the last four years of Big Brother and they've still filled acres of newsprint discussing it). I should assure you that I only ever check out the Sun's website to ensure that I'm fully informed on how awful the paper's core values are. But I can therefore say with some degree of confidence that very few things annoy me more than the Sun's gross over-simplification of the complex, because I think that everyone deserves to make up their own mind rather than having it cynically made up for them.
So, there you are, jumping to conclusions is always wrong. And anyone who tells you otherwise is a jerk.
posted 07:00 :
More than 50 bedtime votes already, thanks.
And you've still got until bedtime tonight to vote if you haven't already.
posted 00:00 :
Tuesday, July 22, 2003A question for you...
You've got until tomorrow bedtime to vote, and results on Thursday.
posted 01:00 :
Ten links they spotted
• Banksy - impressive online portfolio of the inspirational London graffiti artist (via drD)
• PawSense - the only way to stop a cat accidentally typing gibberish on your keyboard (via Ulterior)
• Lego Treasure Hunt - help Jim the Lego Pirate to find the hidden treasure below decks - brilliant (via b3ta)
• Buildings at Risk register - English Heritage list the sites under threat in your neck of the woods (via Casino Avenue)
• Tecwen (cough) Whittocks's homepage - I can't work out if this is a mickey-take or not (I fear not) (via besty's blog)
• Googlewhack - word pairs that return only one search engine hit (via Dave Gorman's new show)
• Jon Tickle's 'official' website - it had to happen, and it's not bad actually (via BBgossip)
• Firefly clock - looks great on your screen in a dark room (via Volume 22)
• Hipster Bingo - to be cool, complete a line of five (via SixDifferentWays)
• Art by Vic Reeves - now it's Painting Stars (via Vic & Bob)
posted 00:10 :
Monday, July 21, 2003School's out
What wouldn't you give for six weeks off work? Back when you were a kid you got six weeks off work every summer (or even longer if your parents paid for you to have a 'better' education). Now, if you're employed, it's highly probable that your annual leave entitlement is even less than that single six week break. The days of endless half-terms and holidays are long gone. So, my apologies for reminding you that the annual school summer holidays start this week. Probably the last thing you want to be thinking about today if you're trapped in a stuffy office but sorry, I'm going to mention it anyway.
Many years ago, when you were about three-quarters of the height you are now, the school summer holidays were the promised land at the end of a very long year. You'd looked forward to them for months, you'd survived the last day of term where you brought games in so the teacher could have a day tidying the cupboards, and week-off 1 dawned full of promise. There was Why Don't You on the TV suggesting inane ways of filling the day (or, for those of us of a certain age, there was yet another repeat of Robinson Crusoe or White Horses). There was a museum to visit, or a park to hang out in, or just the chance for a bit of personal space. By week-off 2 that personal space was getting a bit excessive, you'd played Swingball once too often and ideas for things to do were running out. Never fear because week-off 3 was the annual family holiday, probably somewhere in the UK in those days, with a frugal B&B, crazy golf and sandcastles to look forward to. Weeks-off 4 and 5 were more difficult because everyone else had staggered their seaside breaks to occur once you were back at home, and by week-off 6 you'd be begging to go back to school just to have something to do and to meet your friends again.
The long summer break got even longer when you reached higher education, maybe even twice as long. You probably had a 'reading list' or something that was supposed to fill your time, but you just skimmed through the most important books on your last afternoon and spent the rest of the time slobbing. It's different nowadays of course, where those three months need to be spent trying to earn enough in wages doing some desperate summer job in order to reduce your millstone debts to vaguely-manageable levels. And then after graduation, unless you stayed on in education and became a teacher (and good luck to you if you did), those long summer holidays suddenly disappeared overnight.
So here you are today, part of the rat race, working through the summer with minimum leave entitlement and afraid of taking a proper holiday because they're always so astronomically priced during the school summer break. Even should you manage to slip out of the office and take the odd day off then you'll discover that the normally-quiet world outside has been invaded by children of all shapes and sizes, everywhere. Shops are packed with mini-people and their disinterested parents, cinemas are full of loud teenagers more interested in raucous social-climbing than watching the film, and streets are crowded with extended families of tourists who haven't a clue where they're going. To be honest, you're probably better off staying safely inside your office right through to the end of August and taking a break in September instead. It'll still be warm enough and it'll be a lot cheaper. Plus it'll be a lot quieter because all the children will be safely tucked up in school, dreaming of their next summer holidays ten months hence. Ah yes, I remember it well.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, July 20, 2003And then there were four
Cameron: Big Brother's global ambassador has undergone something of a personality transformation over the last two months. Mild-mannered fish-trader or manipulative busybody? You decide.
To vote for Cameron, dial 09011 21 44 09 or text VOTE SCOTT to 85444.
Ray: The short-fused firebrand, with a tendency to let it all out (notably once underneath a duvet). Has only ever been up for eviction once, and survived the public vote comfortably.
To vote for Ray, dial 09011 21 44 09 or text VOTE SCOTT to 85444.
Scott: Quiet, intelligent and without an enemy in the house. Has played a clever game, kept his nose down and survived right to the end. On course to be Big Brother's nicest but least charismatic winner.
To vote for Scott, dial 09011 21 44 09 or text VOTE SCOTT to 85444.
Steph: The only remaining girl, and the one that the tabloids have been paying least attention to. There's a bit of friction between her and Ray, but she uses the carpet sweeper like a dream.
To vote for Steph, dial 09011 21 44 09 or text VOTE SCOTT to 85444.
Jon: No, sorry, you can't vote for him. He'd win by a mile otherwise, wouldn't he?
(phone votes cost at least 25p; text votes cost at least 25p; bit of a moneyspinner for Channel 4 this, eh?)
posted 11:00 :
Saturday, July 19, 2003200%
It's the two hundredth day of the year. On the one hundredth day of the year I took the opportunity to look back over 100 days of diamond geezer to see if I could pin down what sorts of things I'd been posting about. I thought I'd try the same thing again today to see how things have changed since then. Not because I want to get all self-analytical, you understand, but because the percentages are still easy.
98% of days have at least one post I only missed out on four days
92% of days have links to somewhere else and today is no exception
90% of days had more than fifty visitors and almost every day since January
89% of days have comments thanks for increasing numbers of those
85% of days include the word 'I' I still talk a lot about myself, don't I?
80% of days include a list of some sort I'm a listaholic
51% of days had over a hundred visitors most of them since April
49% of days have pictures these are more common since March
47% of days have two posts I like to offer value for money to the reader
44% of days mention London I actually live somewhere worth writing about
32% of days have a post at exactly 7am I'm getting obsessive about posting 'on the hour'
31% of days have exactly one post but it's usually meaty in size
27% of days have a post by half past midnight I like to get in there early
20% of days mention television both old and new, I'm not proud
20% of days have three or more posts you lucky, lucky people
18% of days have more than ten comments most of them actually relevant
16% of days discuss other blogs always good to talk about ourselves, eh?
15% of days have puzzles so, what percentage don't?
15% of days mention music and only a few about the Buffseeds
12% of days mention the Underground and gradually increasing I'm afraid
7% of days are illustrated by photos expect a lot more of them next month
7% of days mention football well, it is the close season at the moment
7% of days feature Big Brother bet you thought it was more than that
5% of days mention films it's still not a golden Hollywood year
4% of days have more than twenty comments maximum so far is thirty-five
3% of days had over two hundred visitors I'm getting there slowly
3% of days were posted from abroad hurrah for internet cafés
2½% of days have no posts at all I do occasionally get away and have a life
½% of days mention giraffes that would be today then
posted 21:00 :
Giraffes: Coming home from town late yesterday evening on the bus, I was more than surprised to see six giant illuminated red giraffes standing on a bridge over the Mile End Road. I perhaps shouldn't have been quite so amazed. This was after all the legendary Green Bridge that carries Mile End Park over the busy A11, complete with grass and trees. And we are currently in the middle of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival, an annual outdoor performance-arts-fest with an international flavour.
So I got off my bus and followed the giant giraffes on their night-time puppet procession through the park, complete with music, pyrotechnics and a supporting ensemble of French redcoats. Huge crowds of gobsmacked locals followed the performers as they processed to the dramatic finale at the top the park near the Palm Tree pub. The fishnetted heroine reached an operatic climax while a mad red-wigged ringmaster climbed a lamppost and the redcoats fed the grazing giraffes from bowls of dry ice. It was surreal - half-inspired and half-insane. They frittered away my council tax on this international arty nonsense, you realise? And I'm delighted that they did.
posted 12:30 :
Friday, July 18, 2003After the sun, the rain
The heatwave has broken, the temperature has dropped, the sun has clouded over and the pavements are wet. That'll be another British summer over, then. Hide the shades, stick the shorts back in the wardrobe, leave the barbecue to rust down at the end of the garden, wait for the thunderstorm and make sure you've shut all your windows. So much for that legendary meteorologist St Swithin, whose scalding feast day on Tuesday has since been followed by almost constant rainfall. Let's hope we don't face forty days of downpour.
The rainy season brings that sharp-spiked instrument of the devil out onto the streets - the umbrella. At the first sign of drizzle some Britons appear unable to progress even a few yards along a pavement without wielding this offensive weapon in public. Suddenly the world has a canvas covering, which is particularly frightening for those of us who are just a little taller than average because all those metal spikes are positioned at approximately eye level. Golf umbrellas are the worst, like a huge bladed weapon. Why anyone needs something that wide to protect them from a little bit of moisture is beyond me, unless it's just a way of marking out one's personal territory. A pavement packed with golf umbrellas accommodates only half as many people as it could when dry, so the progress of other pedestrians is impeded and you end up out in the rain for twice as long, twice as pissed on and twice as pissed off.
I wonder what gene it is that makes some people whip up a brolly at the first sign of impending light drizzle? It must be that the world is full of ladies with perms and men with recently-dry-cleaned suits determined not to get even slightly damp at any cost. They'll stop dead on the street to wrestle with their opening mechanisms, standing exactly where you're trying to stand, selfishly blocking your way and wielding their brolly like an offensive weapon. At the first sign of rain other people who've been caught outdoors unprepared will rush into the nearest shop to buy a new umbrella, despite the fact they have ten more at home from the last ten times they got caught out like this. No wonder lost property offices are full of discarded, forgotten and unloved brollies. Maybe it's time for local authorities to start up umbrella recycling schemes to return these instruments of torture to point of sale or, preferably, to bury them deep in landfill sites instead.
Even more worrying is the length of time it takes some people to notice at the end of a downpour that it's stopped raining. The last drop fell minutes ago, the sun's now out and the rest of the world is back to normal, but these people are still bustling along the pavement in their own sheltered world, oblivious to improved atmospheric conditions. All you can hope is that they might stumble too close to the edge of a rain-soaked gutter and be completely drenched by a passing car. Their precious umbrella can't protect them from that low-level watery fate, but at least in the ensuing commotion they might finally notice that it's safe to take it down. Although they're probably thinking that maybe it'll rain again soon, so perhaps it's better to leave it up just in case? Sigh.
I think I preferred being hot, lethargic and sweaty. Can we have the sun back please?
posted 07:15 :
If you were having trouble reading the mouseover text on the Feng Shui post below, hopefully I've now fixed the HTML code so that the text pops up on all browsers. Hopefully. Thanks David. Or, of course, you may still find that it's a dodgy method based on incorrect assumptions that promises much but still doesn't really deliver - rather similar to Feng Shui in fact.
posted 07:10 :
Thursday, July 17, 20035500°C Average temperature on the surface of the Sun
450°C Average temperature on the hottest planet in the solar system - Venus
170°C Recommended oven temperature for baking a Battenburg cake
105°C Maximum surface temperature on the Moon
100°C Boiling point of water
57.7°C World's highest recorded temperature (Al'Aziziyah, Libya; 13 September 1922)
37.1°C UK's highest recorded temperature (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; 3 August 1990)
37.0°C Normal body temperature
33.5°C Highest temperature in the UK so far this year (Wisley, Surrey; 15 July 2003)
26.5°C Lowest sea surface temperature at which hurricanes can form
15.5°C Average UK temperature for June 2003, 1.9°C above the June average
9.2°C Average temperature in Central England, based on extraordinarily detailed monthly records going back to 1659
0°C Freezing point of water
-27.2°C UK's joint lowest recorded temperatures (Braemar, Grampian; 10 January 1982 & 11 February 1895) (Altnaharra, Highland; 30 December 1995)
-78.5°C Temperature at which dry ice (carbon dioxide) sublimates from a solid to a gas
-89.2°C World's lowest recorded temperature (Vostok, Antarctica; 21 July 1983)
-155°C Minimum surface temperature on the Moon
-240°C Average temperature on the coldest planet in the solar system - Pluto
-273.15°C Absolute zero - the lowest possible temperature, anywhere, ever
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, July 16, 2003Feng Shui for Bloggers
(with mouseover text)
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, July 15, 2003Light at the end of the tunnel
At long last, after years of stalled planning below the streets of London, things are on the move Underground. Two long-long-awaited new projects have finally been given the go-ahead in the last week, after many years of nobody quite deciding to do anything about either of them. Both Crossrail and the East London Line extension should make a real difference to transport in the capital, eventually at least. And, as of midnight this morning, the tube network is now under the control of Ken Livingstone and his new management team. There'll be no visible changes overnight, but there's now the real promise of changes to come. Transport for London have just issued a new 27-page document outlining their plans for all 12 Underground lines, and dates for the upgrade of all 275 Underground stations. I'm delighted to see that my local station is due to be one of the first to be improved, but even that's two years off and might turn out to be nothing more than a new coat of paint. Fingers crossed.
Crossrail: There have been plans for a fast East-West rail link across London since 1989, but prohibitive tunnelling costs have always kept those plans on the drawing board, until yesterday. A fast-track service between Paddington and Liverpool Street is promised, extending outwards to link suburban routes to the west and east of the capital. Canary Wharf to Heathrow on one train is a definite winner, even if Romford to Richmond or Dartford to Aylesbury are rather more unlikely journeys. You can see the proposed routes here, here or maybe here. There's a much more detailed map of the central section here, which suggests that Crossrail will go nearly past my house just before it enters its new tunnel under London. But it's not all good news. The nearest station to me will be at least a mile away for a start, plus Crossrail may not even be finished by 2012 in time for a potential East London Olympics. And the rebuilding of Tottenham Court Road station will mean the closure of London's Astoria nightclub, home to... OK, so it's not all bad either then.
East London Line Extension: The East London Line is the runt of the Underground system, a mere 5 miles, 9 stations and 7½ minutes long. It links Shoreditch to Southwark through the historic Thames Tunnel, completed in 1843 and the first tunnel ever to be built under a navigable river. This engineering miracle marked the the beginning of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's construction career and is now to be the centrepiece of London's first 21st century tube line. To the south the line will continue to Clapham and Croydon, down into a swathe of London previously untouched by the Underground. To the north the line crosses old disused viaducts through Hackney to Highbury, bringing trains to trendy Hoxton for the first time since Broad Street station closed back in 1986. Extension plans here have been delayed because of objections to bulldozing the new line through the Bishopsgate Goodsyard, another example of early Victorian railway history, objections overturned only last week. The extended line may just be in operation by 200
678, but the two stations at Wapping and Rotherhithe could then be forced to close because they'd cost too much to upgrade ready for the proposed increase in traffic. London's first semi-orbital tube line should finally become a reality by the end of the decade but, if you live beside the river, don't hold your breath.
posted 00:01 :
Monday, July 14, 2003Summer sport...
...is rubbish, isn't it? Not that winter sport is always a thrill a minute, but summer sport is so much worse. Come summer, the sports supplement in the newspaper generally goes straight in the bin, unread, even unflicked. There's a blatant gap in the sporting year while the football season's closed down, stuffed half-full with dull sports that few people below upper-middle-class even care about. This gap is important in even-numbered years in order to accommodate the spectacle of the World Cup or the Summer Olympics, perhaps even the Commonwealth Games or the European Football championships. However, in odd-numbered years such as this one, the summer sporting drought is no mirage.
I've already slagged off cricket (here) so I won't do that again (tempting though it is, useless bloody sport). Then there's tennis, although that's merely a brief distraction while Tim Henman gets to displace EastEnders in the TV schedules for a week and a bit. There's athletics, but that's a mere 9.78 seconds of excitement stretched out to extreme lengths. There's golf, but I couldn't possibly beat Mark Twain's description of that as "a good walk spoiled". There's cycling, but most people prefer to tour France more sedately and wearing more flattering clothing. There's the odd Grand Prix, but they're just a lot of very fast cars in a long queue failing to overtake one another. There's rugby league, but it's unnatural to play rugby in the summer without mud to smear your tackle. And there's the football transfer season, whose bottomless expense is no doubt the reason so many clubs launch their new overpriced replica kits every July. Roll on the autumn... but maybe not just yet, OK?
posted 21:30 :
Trois links français pour le jour de la Bastille
• Tricolore - c'est un jeu bleu, blanc et rouge
• Le Calendrier Républicain - il était très compliqué et n'a pas duré
• Le Français Cool - un guide essentiel de l'argot des jeunes français
(free translations available here)
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, July 13, 2003Linking in
If you blog you'll know which other websites you link to, but you may not know which other websites link to you. Which is of course far more interesting. Here are six ways to find out.
• Technorati - This is a great site which keeps track of two-thirds-of-a-million blogs (yes, there really are that many) and then works out who's linking to who. You merely type in a web address and it tells you which bloggers are linking to it. Easy. So, for example, here are the 63 blogs it reckons link to me here at diamond geezer. Fascinating stuff, and a regular treat.
(I'd never have spotted this astute post without it - 50 observations on English life by an American who's just moved over here)
• Daypop - Much like Technorati, but they only search 30,000 blogs so they find a lot fewer links. Just 17 for me at the moment, but different to the list above. One of Daypop's other fine services is to suggest blogs which are similar to your own, based on content. In my case I'm pleased to see that list includes Troubled Diva and Swish Cottage (presumably pre-battery).
• Blogstreet - Thanks to Scott for this one. Blogstreet checks out nearly 150,000 sites and provides a ranked list of blogs linking to you. The ranking is interesting but potentially obsessive (what do you mean, I'm only 2392nd?!). There are lots of other options including a clever visual map to show how your links link which is pretty but, as Scott says, pretty useless.
• Google - You type "link:" in the search box, then you stick your blog's web address on the end, then you press return. Simple. Works with any other web address too. At the last count 152 pages out there link to mine, even though there are tons of repeats on the list. Maybe Google search results really are all blogged up.
• Downhill - You'll remember that a few months ago I wrote a piece about six degrees of separation for blogs. How many links does it take to get from your blog to another, or from another blog back to yours? Here's an astonishing site that can tell you exactly that. For example, Star Trek's Wesley Crusher links to me in 3, from his excellent Wil Wheaton page via Movable Type and then Samizdata here to diamond geezer. Go play, but beware, it is dangerously addictive.
• Trackback - This is a way of telling someone else you've blogged about something they've written. It's a bit complicated. This explains it quite well. This explains it in rather more detail. I can't trackback on this blog. So I'd better stop there.
posted 10:10 :
Saturday, July 12, 2003Something for the weekend?
It's a fantastic sunny summer weekend here in London, the sort of weekend that come November it'll be all too easy to forget could ever have existed. And there are so many things to do in London this weekend, as ever...
Musical things: The Human League were playing in Hackney last night. Missed them. Shania Twain is performing in Hyde Park today. Definitely missing her. (If there were any justice in the world surely those two artists would be the other way round?). Goldfrapp are playing in the courtyard of Somerset House tomorrow which sounds rather more appropriate, but they're sold out. (Shania sold out years ago, of course).
Theatrical things: Tonight's the last chance to see the revival of Abigail's Party at the Whitehall Theatre. Damn, too late. I'm still determined to see Jerry Springer the Opera at the National Theatre before it transfers to the West End, but not without someone to go with.
Arty things: There's the impressive Art Deco exhibition at the V&A, except that it'll be packed on a Saturday and everyone else seems to have gone already. Then there's the Bridget Riley retrospective at the Tate Britain, except that I'm waiting until I can take my Dad to that.
Big screen things: London has more cinemas than anywhere else in the country, except that all the new films out this week are worse than awful, so having a large number of cinemas doesn't actually help.
Event things: Canary Wharf is hosting an international programme of outdoor dance this afternoon, but that may be just a bit too arty for my tastes, even the choreographed skateboarders. BW really rated the Hampton Court Flower Show, but I only have two geraniums in need of inspiration at the moment.
Outdoor things: London has more than its fair share of open spaces, all no doubt filled this weekend by lazing tanning bodies, which really isn't me. All the tables outside pubs will already have been hijacked by extended familes nibbling and picknicking, which is just unpleasant. The river looks always fantastic in this weather, even the really ugly bits, but I've walked most of that before. London's just dripping with fascinating places to walk, to visit and to be, but they're all dripping hot at the moment.
So, what have I actually planned to do this weekend? Well, none of the above, alas. And no alternatives yet either. Any other suggestions?
posted 14:30 :
Big Brother's most desperate gimmicks
1) Day 50: Voting Jon Tickle back into the house for the last two weeks. And I think it might just work...
2) Day 37: Hiding "Moaner" Lisa in the reward room as a surprise new whining housemate.
3) Day 32: The African housemate exchange, flying Cameron to Africa and the rather-livelier Gaetano to Elstree.
4) Day 29: The ill-advised double eviction, removing both Federico and public favourite Jon overnight.
5) Day 45: Sticking a free pub in the reward room, open twelve hours a day for five days. Hic.
6) Day 25: Subtly increasing the number of housemates up for eviction from two to three to boost revenue from voting.
7) Day 1: Sticking Anouska in the house to keep Sun readers happy, only for the public to boot her out at the first opportunity.
8) Day 44: The bomb-scare evacuation. It was all genuine and not a set-up to increase the ratings, honest.
9) Day 10: Getting everyone to dress up in cub scout uniform and go camping in the garden.
10) Day 46: Playing music into the house as an alarm call to try to make the housemates a bit more animated. Fat chance.
posted 00:10 :
Friday, July 11, 20036,297,188,574
posted 23:57 :
Today is World Population Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to remember that there are rather a lot of us on the planet. More than 6 billion of us, no less. You can watch us increase here, or here, or here, or here. You can stop us increasing with one of these.
World Population facts
• Since the beginning of humanity, an estimated 75 billion people have been born and died, and 6 billion born and still alive, a total of 81 billion.
• At the current pace, humanity is adding about 78 million more people every year (about the population of Germany), over 200,000 more every day (about the population of Southampton) and about three more every second.
• Humanity reached its first billion in 1804 (gap of 123 years) its second billion in 1927 (gap of 33 years) its third billion in 1960 (gap of 14 years) its fourth billion in 1974 (gap of 13 years) its fifth billion on 11 July 1987 (gap of 12 years) and its sixth billion on 12 October 1999.
• 1 in 5 people on Earth lives in China and 1 in 6 lives in India, each with a population of over 1 billion.
• The 20 most populous countries in the world are China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, Philippines. Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia, Thailand and the UK.
• 1 in 900 of the world's population lives in London. Back in 1930, it was 1 in 250.
• More than 1 billion people on Earth are between 15 and 24. Another 1.8 billion are under 15. More than 95 percent of them live in developing countries.
• An estimated 114 million acts of sexual intercourse take place in the world every day. Some 910,000 lead to conception and in 356,000 cases a sexually transmitted disease is passed on.
• Only 17 per cent of sexually active young people use contraceptives, which would be why the UN has chosen this year's World Population Day to focus on the theme of adolescent rights, health and development.
• All in all, you're pretty insignificant, aren't you?
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