diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Count 2006 (part 2)

Count 5 (Nights out): To be honest, this particular topic was the reason I started 'The Count' in the first place. My February 2003 was a real social riot, with only seven nights spent in, but I sensed a seachange lay ahead with my best mate due to emigrate to America shortly afterwards. And I was right. I'm now a comparative hermit, a study in interactive decline, with 26 of the last 28 evenings spent indoors, alone. Don't worry, I do still go out (Dover was nice, wasn't it?), but I've sort of given up on going out after dark to be with other people. And I don't really mind either, honest. But my apologies to the four people on my blogroll who've been really interested in meeting up this month and who I've never quite got round to taking up on their kind offer. I'm like that, you see. Sorry.
The number of nights in February 2006 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 2
(2005: 2) (2004: 7) (2003: 21)


Count 6 (Alcohol intake): Whenever I'm in a pub, club, bar or restaurant, my alcoholic beverage of choice is a 'bottle of Becks'. It may not be adventurous, but at least I don't spend the evening doubled up in the corner hiccuping to death. Last February I managed to stay unintentionally teetotal, whereas this year (six bottles in one night) my problem appears to be binge drinking. I'll get the balance right eventually. Hic.
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2006: 7
(2005: 0) (2004: 17) (2003: 58)


Count 7 (Tea intake): Hurrah! The lack-of-kettle situation at work is now fully sorted, so regular daily cuppas are again part of my staple liquid intake and my tannin totals have returned to previous levels. As for my coffee intake over the last month, however, that remains at zero. Same as it ever was.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2006: 128
(2005:81) (2004: 135) (2003: 135)


Count 8 (Trains used): See, I told you I was still going out.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2006: 107
(2005: 117) (2004: 109) (2003: 103)


Count 9 (Exercise taken): Two types of people use escalators - the lazy and the fit. I'm one of those commuters who always walks up an escalator, even a scarily long one, because it saves a few valuable seconds and because it's bloody good exercise. Honestly, what are the rest of you doing just standing there like lemons, watching the rest of us power past and boosting our personal fitness? Beats going to the gym, I reckon, but it's a shame there's only one escalator to climb on my daily commute.
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2006: 35
(2005:38) (2004: 72) (2003: 73)


Count 10 (Mystery count): Earlier in the month, one midweek afternoon, I suddenly realised that my February mystery count looked likely to rise above zero for the first time. Imminently. This perhaps wasn't the most appropriate thought to be thinking at the time, because I should have been thinking mysterious thoughts instead. But not to worry because things turned out not to be proper mysterious at all, merely fractional. So I'm rounding the event down to zero. So I'm still not telling you what the mystery event is, sorry. Maybe next February things will round up at last...
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2006: 0.3 [rounding down to 0]
(2005: 0) (2004: 0) (2003: 0)

 Monday, February 27, 2006

The Count 2006

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called 'The Count'. A sort of 28-day tally chart. And I've continued to count those ten categories again, every February since, just to see if and how my life has changed. And blimey it has. Below are my counts for February 2006, accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering. Part 1 today, part 2 tomorrow.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's not been a normal month. I don't normally get random global visitors arriving in droves, but then I don't normally get a big scary link on Blogger's front page. I hate to think what the majority of people clicking through actually thought of my site (probably "what's all this rubbish about London, where's the filth?"). Any of you blogowners out there who crave a similar influx of visitors might be interested in the following figures:
• A mention on Blogger's front page is worth about 5000 extra visitors on the day you're top of the list. I was lucky - I got a whole weekend.
• One single day on Blogger's front page brings in twice as many additional visitors as a whole fortnight on the Bloggies shortlist.
• You stay on Blogger's special list for three weeks, gradually demoted one place each weekday, with additional visitor numbers decreasing sharply as you fall. But still not to be sniffed at.
• Virtually all the visitors who arrive speculatively never come back. 'Fame' is short-lived, transitory and ultimately unsustainable.
• Only a tiny handful of new visitors leave comments. Of these, many are either blatant spam or cringeworthy plugs for their own website (no I will not add you to my blogroll, you miserable parasites). Several other comments are from people who "just don't get it" and write something either tangential or plain barking. Which leaves a small number of pithy, incisive comments from an intelligent extended global audience. Nice to have you along.
Total number of visitors to this webpage in February 2006: 42277
(2005: 9636) (2004: 6917) (2003: 2141)


Count 2 (Google searches): Alas, this count's buggered this month. Blogger didn't link 'directly' to my blog, it linked via its parent company Google. So I've tallied at least seven thousand extra 'search engine hits' this month which aren't really search engine hits at all. For what it's worth.
Total number of Google referrals to this webpage in February 2006: 10473
(2005: 908) (2004: 947) (2003: 316)


Count 3 (Blog content): Well that's a relief. I'm always convinced every year that I'm writing far more than I was last year, but this turns out not to be the case. It looks like I'm really astonishingly consistent - about 500 words a day. Good, I'd hate to think my blogging was increasing out of control like an addiction or something.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2006: 15817
(2005: 16016) (2004: 16214) (2003: 14392)


Count 4 (Spam): Still surprisingly low, methinks, given the avalanche of speculative drivel that clogs the world's inboxes. My ISP still manages to block most incoming spam, thankfully, although numbers are sadly on the increase. The most prolific spam categories at the moment seem to include US stock options, Russian gibberish and the usual desperate willy-strengtheners. And the prize for the most desperate spam web address of the month goes to seehereplease.com (don't bother looking).
Total number of spam emails I received in February 2006: 82
(2005: 54) (2004: 31) (2003: 30)


(to be continued - can you stand the excitement?)

 Sunday, February 26, 2006

As of this evening, the next three Olympic Games look like this:
Summer 2008: Beijing, China
Winter 2010: Vancouver, Canada
Summer 2012: End of my Road, E15 (ha!)

Chocs away
I have to ask. Why aren't the chocolate vending machines on tube station platforms working?

no dairy milk todayNot that they ever worked very well in the first place. Many's the time an optimistic tourist has poked a coin into the slot, pressed the magic three-digit code and waited in vain for their chosen Dairy Milk or Fruit & Nut to appear. Maybe these people dont realise that Cadbury's chocolate is also available above ground in real shops, cheaper.

But the problem is now far more serious - it seems that not one of these vending machines is working. Creeping extinction appears to have occured over the last month, just in time for the Creme egg season. Now every chocolate machine on every London Underground platform has a cheaply wordprocessed notice sellotaped to the front, apologising that the machine is "temporarily out of order". There's a dodgy capital letter in the message, and there's some punctuation missing too, but the implication remains obvious - you can't buy chocolate here any more. I have to ask. What's happened?

option 1) The company which supplies these machines has gone bust.
option 2) The Government has banned the sale of unhealthy food beneath the surface of London.
option 3) Cadbury are planning to refurbish the machines to vend cappucinos, mochas and lattes instead.
option 4) The machines have developed an electrical fault and risk bursting into flames killing hundreds of innocent commuters.
option 5) Something else. Any theories?

Monday update: Who'd have thought - it's option 4!
"A few weeks/months ago, Oxford Circus station was evacuated and LFB called, due to smoke pouring from the chocolate machine. LUL engineers inspected them and found that a faulty part was causing the machine to dispense more than chocolate. Whilst repairs take place all the machines have been isolated in "section 12" stations. Those outside are not affected." (via District Dave's forum)

 Saturday, February 25, 2006

Planet-murdering

It's early Saturday morning, and I've only been awake for an hour and a half, but during that time I have conspired to contribute to the destruction of our planet on several occasions. Which is abominable behaviour for a responsible citizen. So I'd like to apologise to all of you for the ecological havoc I have wreaked, and I hope that your great-grandchildren will forgive me.

Crime 1) I turned the light on in the bathroom
I know, I should have aimed at the toilet bowl in the dark. There may not be any windows in my bathroom, nor indeed anywhere close, but I should have used what little daylight there was rather than burning the country's fossil fuels unnecessarily.

Crime 2) I flushed the toilet
There are times when the toilet doesn't really need flushing, especially when you live alone and nobody else is going to lift the lid and go "eww". So last thing last night I was environmentally aware and didn't pull the little lever to empty the bowl, but this morning I thought I'd probably better. I should have held out longer.

Crime 3) I boiled the kettle to make a mug of tea
My kettle wasn't full, but the water level was still about a centimetre above 'minimum' so there was still some boiling water remaining after I'd filled my mug. Which means I raised the temperature of several billion water molecules to boiling point for no good reason, bringing global energy extinction just that little bit closer.

Crime 4) I finished off a bottle of milk and threw it away
I know, I should have washed the plastic container and sorted it ready for recycling. But that's not easy round here, because my local council has one of the worst records in the country for that sort of thing. They've not provided my block of flats with any separate recycling facilities, and what few community recycling bins exist within walking distance are usually full to overflowing anyway. So I never bother, sorry.

Crime 5) I didn't turn my laptop off overnight
My laptop has been in energy-saving stand-by mode while I was asleep, but it's still been wasting valuable electricity nevertheless. And all just for the convenience of me being able to revive my operating screen to a functional state in 15 seconds flat rather than having to wait around for the full agonisingly slow reboot. I know, I'm lazy. But I still have to reconnect to the the internet every time my laptop wakes up, and that's annoying me enough at the moment.

Crime 6) I ran a bath
Look, I don't have a shower in my bathroom, OK? So if I want to freshen up in the morning I have to pour several litres of heated water into my bathtub, splash about in them for a few minutes and then let them all out down the plughole. Given that southeast England is experiencing its worst drought in decades, this behaviour verges on the criminal. But, given how much commuting time I spend pressed head-to-armpit in packed tube carriages, I happen to think that personal hygiene and cleanliness is important.

Crime 7) I got out of bed
If I'd slept in a bit longer, the environment would have been safe from my conscious destruction. If I'd stayed in bed, I wouldn't have needed to turn the heating on quite so early either. And now I own a laptop I could have written today's post from my bed, but I didn't think to. My apologies. But at least I'm not doing what several copulating couples are doing in bed this morning - creating an new human life, a child who'll grow up to waste even more of the planet's natural resources. Assuming there are any left to waste, that is.

 Friday, February 24, 2006

Olympic bandwagon

Don't you just hate bandwagon-jumpers? Individuals, companies or pressure groups with their own agenda who insist on adding their voice where it's not appropriate. If something big's in the news, or doing the rounds, they're the first to suggest a connection to their own agenda. Start a conversation with these people, on any topic, and they'll twist things round to talking about themselves. It's all me-me-me with this lot. So it's not surprising that London's headline-hugging 2012 Olympic Games are attracting hangers-on in their droves. Like the following, which are just from this week...
Headline: "Lights go out on London’s 2012 Olympics, fear UK energy experts"
PR puffery:
"The UK's leading energy experts have cited blackouts during London's 2012 Olympics as a serious concern, according to a new survey launched today by Mitsui Babcock, a world leader in clean coal technologies. The Mitsui Babcock EnergyPulse survey, which polled 140 UK energy experts.. revealed that a worrying 77 per cent believe power cuts are a genuine threat in 2012."
Reality: There might be energy problems ahead, but these have nothing to do with the Olympics. They just might happen in the same year. Or maybe not. Still, well done to Mitsui Babcock for piggy-backing themselves into the news.

Headline: "Britain can join the modern metric World – and do it by the time that the all-metric Olympic Games open in London in 2012"
PR puffery:
"Britain's road signs could go metric within 5 years, according to a new report by the UK Metric Association. The report shows that there would be many benefits from converting road signs to show kilometres, metres and km/h (kilometres per hour)."
Reality: There might (or might not) be good reasons for converting all British road signs to metric, but this has nothing to do with the Olympics. They're just an unconnected event happening 6 years in the future. Still, well done to the UK Metric Association for piggy-backing themselves into the news.

Headline: "RMT Union wants Olympic strike deal"
Bob Crow puffery:
"People will tell you the Sydney Olympics was one of the smoothest running, public transport wise. What they had done was put an attendance bonus in place where it gave a benefit to people to come to work, to make sure the Games run smoothly and give the company flexibility on the running of the services. I imagine if our members don't get the same as other groups of workers have, we could have difficulties."
Reality: Tube staff don't normally get paid extra just for deciding to come to work, but maybe they'll be so gripped by watching the 2012 Olympics that they'll forget turn up for duty. Or maybe not. Still, well done to Bob Crow for piggy-backing yet another veiled blackmail threat into the news.
It's gobsmacking the lengths some people will go to in order to associate themselves with the next big thing. I'm expecting the following any day soon...
Headline: "Global warming threatens 2012 Olympics"
PR puffery: "Incompetent officials are planning to build London's new Olympic stadium less than 10m above sea level, according to a new survey by Lifebeltz PLC, a Swindon-based manufacturer of very reasonably-priced inflatable buoyancy aids. If all the penguins in the Antarctic were to spontaneously combust, the resulting tidal wave of melting ice could flood the Olympic arena causing massive casualties."

Headline: "Blogging explosion threatens 2012 Olympics"
PR puffery: "The size of the blogosphere continues to double every 6 months, according to top blog search engine Technorati. At this rate there'll be 230 billion blogs in existence by the summer of 2012, which is 30 blogs for every human on the planet. So it's a dead cert that absolutely everyone, including all our top athletes, will be too busy blogging about the Olympics to have time to turn up and compete."

Headline: "Cosmetic dentistry crisis threatens 2012 Olympics"
PR puffery: "Britain's young athletes are so poor that they can't afford top quality tooth-whitening and dental-straightening surgery, such as that provided by Gleam-U-Wite Orthodontic Services of the Eastgate Centre, Basildon. Their spokeswoman Trudi Barrett said she knew of at least three poverty-stricken youngsters who'd turned down the chance to train for Olympic glory for fear of having their brown-stained wonky smile ridiculed by international TV audiences."
etc etc etc

 Thursday, February 23, 2006

Silver discs (February 1981)
A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago


The three best records from the Top 10 (17th February 1981)
Ultravox - Vienna: If you had to pick just one single to represent the 1980s, I suspect many people would choose this. From the very first bar the ominous drumbeat and haunting synth heralded a hypnotic pop milestone. The string arrangement throughout was almost classical, and the accompanying video with its atmospheric foggy streets and swirling staircases matched the melody to perfection. This was Ultravox's first big single with new vocalist Midge Ure, at the time sporting a very dodgy 80s tache which looked perhaps more Berlin than Vienna. And yes, the track remains one of the best records to almost but not quite reach number one, held back both by a re-released dead Beatle and that ghastly Italian novelty record. Boy, it make-a me sick.
"We walked in the cold air, freezing breath on a window pane, lying and waiting. A man in the dark in a picture frame, so mystic and soulful. A voice reaching out in a piercing cry"
Rainbow - I Surrender: Alas not featuring Zippy on vocals, Bungle on bass and Rod, Jane and Freddy on backing vocals - this was a top rock anthem from ex Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Unusually melodic, impressively singalong and, I suspect many of my shaggy classmates at the time would have agreed, utterly air-guitar-tastic. Tommy Vance undoubtedly raved about it at the time, but I was tucked up in bed before his Friday Rock Show seared the airwaves. But oh dear, look at the nursery-level rhyming in the chorus...
"I surrender, I surrender. I'm giving up the role of pretender. Oh be tender, girl be tender. Can't you feel the love that I send ya?"
Dire Straits - Romeo and Juliet: I can't believe I'm recommending Dire Straits as one of the best records in the Top 10 twenty-five years ago. But then this was back when they were still raw and heartfelt, before they went all stadium. Mark Knopfler sings (and mumbles) his way through this heartfelt romantic folk song, perfect for the Valentine season, with just a nod at the Shakespearean. And if the gibbon in the flat above me were to play this track at high volume instead of bloody Brothers In Arms, I might not get my earplugs out.
"A lovestruck romeo sings the streets a serenade, laying everybody low with a lovesong that he made. Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade, says something like - you and me babe, how about it?"

My three favourite records from February 1981 (at the time)
Duran Duran - Planet Earth: Every music giant starts somewhere, and the pouting Brummie kings of mascara started here, unknown. The day this record crept into the lower reaches of the chart Tony Blackburn announced the name of the band as 'Durren Durren', a pronunciation error which nobody in the country could possibly have made two years later. And I was chuffed to have spotted this pretentious talent right from the very beginning.
"Only came outside to watch the night fall with the rain, I heard you making patterns rhyme"
Passions - I'm In Love With A German Film Star: One can only wonder which elusive Teutonic movie god the band's lead singer Barbara Gogan had fallen for. Max Schreck, perhaps, or Conrad Veidt, or perhaps some moody blond pornster in a leather trenchcoat. I guess we'll never know, because the band never troubled the charts again, but I'm in love with this record.
"Sitting in a corner and in perfect clothes, trying not to pose for the cameras and the girls, it's a glamorous world"
The Jam - That's Entertainment: Paul Weller may have looked becalmed and content at the Brits last week, but he was once the outspoken voice of the suburbs. This import-only single perfectly portrayed the boredom and frustration of life on Thatcher's breadline, and all to a tune that even yuppies could hum. A work of lyrical genius from Woking's Poet Laureate.
"A police car and a screaming siren, a pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete, a baby wailing and stray dog howling, the screech of brakes and lamp light blinking - that's entertainment"

15 other hits from 25 years ago: Shaddap You Face (Joe Dolce Music Theatre), Southern Freeez (Freeez), The Oldest Swinger In Town (Fred Wedlock), Once In A Lifetime (Talking Heads), Do The Hucklebuck (Coast To Coast), We'll Bring The House Down (Slade), Somebody Help Me Out (Beggar & Co), Rock This Town (Stray Cats), Car Trouble (Adam and the Ants), St Valentine's Day Massacre (Motorhead), Message Of Love (Pretenders), Jones V Jones (Kool & The Gag), Mutually Assured Destruction (Gillan), Hot Love (Kelly Marie), Elephants Graveyard (Boomtown Rats) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?

 Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Widescreen

Swish and lovely though my new laptop may be, there's one downside that I wasn't expecting. It's not the battery power, because I haven't needed to unplug the power cable yet. It's not the finger-knackering touch-screen mouse, because I can plug in a deskbound replacement. It's not all the useless ad-riddled software preloaded on my hard drive by over-zealous marketeers, because I can uninstall that. And it's not having to re-enter scores of different login names and passwords which my previous computer magically remembered for me, because I had them all written down on the back of an envelope. No, the problem is my lovely sharp widescreen laptop display. Because widescreen sucks.

Which is odd, because widescreen is generally great. Film makers have been working in widescreen for years, allowing full-on action and cinematographic breadth. Transferring those widescreen movies to old-style TV sets proved problematic initially, with serious arty films broadcast squashed between thick black rectangles in the dreaded letterbox format. But television screens eventually responded by becoming broader, allowing a more detailed visual experience without the need for dark sandwiching. And TV producers now design programmes and on-screen graphics to make the most of the widescreen format, making even your daily soap opera more of a home cinema experience. But that's only for film and TV. Because online widescreen still sucks.

There are two different kinds of webpage - fixed
width and variable width. Annoyingly, as is
suddenly becoming all too apparent on my
laptop's new wide screen, the great majority of
webpages are fixed width. The webmasters of
fixed width pages decide what screen size they'll
support (usually a minimum value) and then
imprison their content to match, which usually
means a weeny-thin column of text plus a sidebar
(or two), and maybe an extra column of adverts
if they're so inclined. And then to each side,
for those of us viewing on wide (or even wide-ish)
screens, we're presented with acres of useless
blankness. It's such a waste. My screen goes
across, but most webpages only go down. I have
all this spare space on my screen, but webpage
designers aren't using it. I could be reading so
much more of your page in one go, but no, it's
all hidden off the bottom of my display. Damn
you all. Because I'm having to scroll up and
down far more than I ever had to before on my
old monitor with its deeper screen, and if I end
up with premature RSI I may just sue.

Alas only a minority of webpages are of variable width, and therefore widescreen friendly. My blog, for example, moulds to fit the width of screen available. If your screen's titchy, the column width shrinks. If your screen's wide, the text expands to fill the space. Admittedly this may result in line widths exceeding optimum readable dimensions, but you can always shrink your browser window if you like. You have a choice. Whereas if I'm looking at other people's fixed width pages, I have no choice but to view them inefficiently. I'm not seeing half as much of your webpage as I used to, especially if you're wasting your top three inches with a big title and menu bar, and it's a real letdown. Because I never realised before quite how important depth of screen is when surfing the internet. Somewhow widescreen is no substitute.

Bow Road station update:
(new readers who've missed out on this thrilling story can catch up here)
• Remember that big tube-sign-on-a-stick that they erected on the pavement outside my local station in December? It lights up now. It's so exciting. It's like Christmas never ended.
• Remember the new 'next train' indicators that Metronet installed at great expense on each platform last summer? Alas the entire system stopped working just over a week ago. Now we get announcements over the tannoy telling us "Due to defects the train describers at this station are not working. Please check the destination on the front of the train". Sadly we don't get announcements telling us "We'd like to apologise for ripping out the old train describers just because they were old. Their 1960s lamp-lit technology was 100% reliable and would still have been functional".
• Workmen have installed a new white sign in the ticket hall above the exit door. It's labelled "Way Out". Unfortunately, to avoid 'heritage features' above the doorway, the sign has been attached so close to the ceiling that almost nobody ever looks up far enough to see it. Maybe that's because everyone can spot a bloody big doorway at ground level without any additional help.

 Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sponsored tube station names - update: Remember that list of sponsored tube station names I posted last month, and that you helped contribute to? Well, I've been emailed by Paul to say that he and his friends have been inspired to create a complete London rail map full of sponsored names - all 326 stations no less! It's been no easy task, but the end result is pretty damned impressive. See it here (pdf). Maybe it'll be as big a hit as that anagram map which did the rounds a couple of weeks ago - let's hope so. By way of illustration, I've listed below the revised names for the stations along the Bakerloo line. But if you take a good look at the map yourself, you'll probably have your own favourites...

Ted Bakerloo line: Elephant.co.uk & Castle, British Lambeth North, Portaloo, IBMbankment, Charing Crosse & Blackwell, Harpiccadilly Circus, Oxoford Circus, Reebok's Park, Baker's Complete, Maybelline, Pledgeware Road, iPoddington, Warwick Avonue, Minute Maida Vale, Rentokilburn Park... and all stations to Yamaharrow & Wealdstone.

Windows Update: My computer has been very unwell. It's had the digital equivalent of a stroke (temporary paralysis, emergency medical attention and gradual recovery, followed by the growing realisation that certain lower level functions down one half of the body will never work again). I'm still attempting to rescue information from my damaged data partition, and it's not a straight-forward task. Some of my files and folders are still readable, but a seemingly random selection have become totally inaccessible and it's proving to be a long job discovering which are which. I'm only smiling because I had the good sense to backup certain key files last month. Just not all of them, damn. One of the major casualties is my iTunes music folder, where every single tune is missing, presumed dead. Thankfully all those tracks exist on real CDs so I can upload them all again, which is why I'm glad I never decided to build a music library from virtual 79p downloads. Record shops - you can't beat them.

As several of you correctly pointed out, my hard drive is (technical term) buggered and I need a new one. No doubt this involves a very simple transplant procedure, just whipping out the old drive and sticking in a new one, but I'm one of the 99% of the population who thinks twice before attempting this sort of thing. Maybe later. Anyway, I took this digital meltdown as a sign that my computer was perhaps in need of replacement. Four years is a lifetime in the IT world, and what used to be top spec is now geriatric and clunky. So I went out and bought myself a new computer instead, like you do, which means I'm writing this post on my brand new shiny laptop. A keener geek than myself would probably drool over its multiprocessor functioning, turbocache graphics and X-black screen, whereas I'm just glad to have a computer that works again.

I've also splashed out and got myself a wireless router. Yes, I know I'm years behind the times in going mobile, but I'm looking forward to blogging from the sofa, or the bedroom, even (maybe one day) outdoors. But I could not believe how complex the router was to set up, and it was therefore only with sterling advice from two online friends that I was finally able to get my laptop attached to the internet. The whole tech-unfriendly process took hours, and I must say I'd never have guessed without assistance that the secure network password had to be precisely 58 characters long. So, thanks, and at least my neighbours won't be able to piggyback onto my router and spy on me now. Normal service is therefore resumed. Hurrah - no more kittens!

 Monday, February 20, 2006

Intermission

Normal service will be resumed shortly.
In the meantime please enjoy these kittens.



[Look, I did have a proper post prepared, but Blogger goofed and failed to save it. I even had a spare copy of the post on my computer, but that particular file is currently/permanently inaccessible. So kittens it is. Pray it's not puppies tomorrow]

 Sunday, February 19, 2006

Broken Windows

My computer still appears to be buggered. After yesterday's UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME error, I managed (with your help) to type the correct sequence of obscure codes and instructions to reboot successfully and get back onto the internet. However, the partition (technical term, sorry) containing all my photos, music and documents doesn't appear to be in good shape. A few folders seem to have unexpectedly emptied, and the remaining folders aren't always openable. I don't think the problem's virus related, because I ran a full scan a few hours before everything went pear-shaped. But I've had real trouble trying to dig around through a barely comprehensible hierarchy of system tools and technical gobbledegook in an attempt to get at the root of the problem. As yet, still no luck.
any assistance gratefully received:

So I need to ask. Why are PCs so inherently rubbish?* I mean, underneath, in the operating system, the bit you have to dig around in when things go wrong. It's like the 1980s never ended. The system font is ancient and unfriendly. The interface is archaic and clunky. There are flashing prompts and unhelpful cryptic messages. Nothing is obvious, everything is hidden. If you started designing a new computer operating system today, you wouldn't design it like this. Hell, if you were designing a new computer operating system ten years ago you wouldn't have designed it like this. Surely it doesn't have to be this way, not now, in the 21st century.

But I suppose it's quite impressive that we can still access beneath the surface of our computers. Because when most of our gadgets go wrong, we have no choice but to return them for repair or simply buy ourselves a replacement. New cars, for example, are now governed by integrated electronic systems so complex that you can't just tinker under your bonnet any more - you have to pay a garage for permission to plug your engine into their diagnostic computer and then pay handsomely for the privilege. And you wouldn't dream of taking your television apart, or re-programming your iPod, or typing machine code instructions into your mobile phone. At least with computers you can still get underneath and try to put things right. Or at least some people can.

Microsoft's operating systems aren't for the majority. They're complex, ill-evolved coding labyrinths, and as meaningless to most of us as conversations in Swahili. When the blue screen of death appears, what hope does your average Briton have of putting things right? When a hard drive judders, or a database fails to load, how the hell should we ordinary folk know what to do? Thank goodness for the technically literate. All those good kind souls who devoted their teenage years to learning machine code and taking motherboards apart when they could have been out socialising, and who now keep the nation's IT departments in full working order. At least they understand the meaningless instructions and subroutines that Bill Gates imposes on the world. In fact, if PCs actually worked, logically, sensibly, comprehensively, then half of the world's millions of IT-based employees would be out of a job. And that would be a bad thing, wouldn't it? But at least my computer would work. Damn.

* Yes, I know, Macs are different. Hurrah if you've got one. But, deep down, the majority of the world's computers are inherently rubbish. Why?

 Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blue screen of death

My PC has suffered Windows-death.
If I try to turn it on, it shows me the blue screen of death.
"A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to protect your computer."
(Protect it from what? Useless Microsoft programming?)

"UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME"
(I have not attempted to mount any large boots recently)

"If this is the first time you've seen this stop error screen, restart your computer"
(Typical bloody IT geek suggestion. No, I've tried that, four times. Sometimes Windows XP attempts to start up, but only for a few seconds. I still always end up with the blue screen of death)

"Check to make sure any new hardware or software is properly installed"
(I got myself a lovely flat screen monitor earlier in the week, but that's not the problem. Using the old CRT makes no difference)

"If problems continue, disable BIOS memory options such as caching or shadowing. If you need to use Safe Mode to remove or disable components, restart your computer, press F8 to select Advanced Startup Options, and then select Safe Mode"
(I am not an IT geek. I have no idea what you're going on about. It sounds scary and I might mess things up even more. This is as useful to me as a dentist trying to explain over the phone how to carry out root canal surgery)

TECHNICAL INFORMATION
*** STOP: 0x000000ED (0x82B75AF8, 0xC000009C, 0x00000000, 0x00000000)

(Oh yes, really helpful. I'll check my 0x82B75AF8 straight away...)

(Erm, is that it? Is that all you're going to tell me? Damn!)
I've been faced by a similar blue screen of death on my computer once before, back in 2003. But that was accompanied by an evil grinding noise from my hard drive, and there's nothing like that today, so I'm hopeful I haven't lost everything this time. Maybe.
(and yes, before you ask, I did back-up all my important files last month. I learnt from last time, you see)

So, are there any marvellous wonderful IT people out there? On a scale from 0 to 10, how buggered am I? Is there anything I can do? Or must I seek urgent professional assistance? Smug comments about buying a Mac instead will be ignored. And please hurry. I'm having to type all this in on my old Windows 98 PC instead, and I'd forgotten just how slow the 20th century used to be...
Noon update: All working again, after some scary fiddling around with BIOS, Recovery Consoles and chkdsk. Thanks for all your help - my PC would still be completely buggered without you.

 Friday, February 17, 2006

Great British Design Quest: The BBC's Culture Show is holding an online poll to decide the nation's favourite 20th century design icon. You have to be really careful with online audience-voted awards, of course, because they're not always definitive. The Government's English Icons project was recently hijacked by the fox-hunting brigade, for example, and the Today programme's annual Personality of the Year is regularly rigged. So do take the following Top 10 with a pinch of salt. But here's the shortlist that viewers have voted for so far:
MiniConcordeGrand Theft AutoPhone kioskRoutemaster
CatseyeSpitfireTomb RaiderTube mapWorld wide web
I wonder if you can guess which of those ten I voted for? It probably wasn't the design you might first expect. No, and not that one either. I reckon that both the Routemaster and the tube map should be disallowed for being London icons and therefore not nationally representative. And Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto may be classics, but they're only of minority social interest. So it's got to be one of the other six. And which one would you pick? [go vote]

[One thing that won't be winning any design awards is BBC2's new homepage. Very swish and very arty it may be, but who the hell decided to take out all the useful content (like what's actually on BBC2 tonight) and replace it with a few programme highlights and eight choices of live streaming video instead? <taps fingers waiting for page to load> 2/10]

I bet you've been as gripped as I have by the first week of the Winter Olympics.
Yes I thought so...

But imagine how much more exciting the Winter Olympics could have been if they'd been held here in the East End of London. We may not have any snow, or indeed any contours, but we do have a derelict dry-ski slope, and it would have been good practice for when the Summer games roll into my backyard in six years time.

Here's my Top 10 list of potential East London Winter Olympic sports:
1) Luge:
Name of the Croatian who cleans your Canary Wharf office for peanuts after you've gone home
2) Curling: Four old dears getting their weekly blue rinse down at the local salon
3) Ice hockey: Form of vicious mugging carried out with curved wooden sticks
4) Men's Bob: What that dodgy dead geezer appears to be doing upside-down in the canal
5) Skeleton: What that dodgy dead geezer in the canal will be in a year's time
6) Biathlon: Fake cleaning product sold in Walthamstow Market
7) Speed skating: The council's run out of money to grit the roads again
8) Ice dancing: Saturday night primetime ITV show, live from the Lea Valley Ice Centre
9) Freestyle: The art of getting all your clothes for next-to-nothing from the charity shop
10) Downhill: Where Hackney's heading

 Thursday, February 16, 2006

Millions of people will sit down in front of their TV sets tonight to watch the Brit Awards. Why? They happened yesterday.

Let's ignore the fact that the Brit Awards are nothing but a manufactured corporate PR exercise designed to promote mainstream acts, shift CDs and line the pockets of record company shareholders. I know it's hard to ignore, but let's try. Let's ignore the fact that nobody really gives a damn who wins the award for 'Best International Breakthrough Artist', least of all the bemused artist concerned, because the shortlist was padded out with a bunch of nobodies to start with. And let's ignore the pained jokes and stilted autocue as host Chris Evans struggles to make a draughty room full of sober marketing executives laugh. No, my major concern here is not with the awards themselves, but with their scheduling.

A Brit Award announcement ought to go like this:
Chris Evans: ...and the horse never walked again! (pause while crowd sniggers) And now here to announce the next award it's Brad Pitt and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Duchess of Cornwall: One is most pleased to be here.
(fat skinhead runs on stage with a bucket of pickled herrings and dumps it over HRH's head)
Duchess of Cornwall: (splutter! mumble! burble!)
TV audience: Oh this is bloody fantastic live telly!
Brad Pitt: Hi, I'm gorgeous. And the nominations are...
mysterious voiceover: Kaiser Chiefs... Gorillaz... The Go! Team... Hard-Fi... James Blunt
Brad Pitt: (rips open envelope) And the winner is...
TV audience: Ooh, ooh, who's going to win? Could be Hard-Fi. Might be Kaiser Chiefs. Probably deserves to be Gorillaz. Maybe the Go! Team. But I bet it's James f'ing Blunt. Ooh, ooh, the anticipation!
Duchess of Cornwall: Sir James Blunt!
(James pretends to look surprised and walks excitedly towards the stage)
James Blunt: One is most pleased to be here. I'd like to thank mater and pater, and dearest grandmamma, and my hairdresser, and the entire menopausal population of Britain for buying my records.
Unfortunately most Brit Award announcements go like this instead:
Chris Evans: ...and ITV renewed my chatshow! (deathly tumbleweed silence) And now here to announce the next award it's Chantelle and Leo Sayer.
Chantelle: Oh my god. Hi mum!
(fat skinhead approaches stage carrying bucket full of something gungy-looking)
TV audience: Oh fab, I read about this in the paper this morning. She gets well soaked!
(slightly jerky edit as TV producers cut out the interesting bit)
TV audience: Damn!
Leo Sayer: Hi, I'm Number One! And the nominations are...
mysterious voiceover: Shayne Ward... Pussycat Dolls... Some bland bloke with a guitar... Annie Lennox... James Blunt
Leo Sayer: (rips open envelope) And the winner is...
TV audience: Yeah we already know. It was on the internet last night. It was on the radio this morning. We've been discussing it all day at work. It's James f'ing Blunt.
<switches off television>
It appears that, yet again, the British public aren't permitted to watch this year's Brit Award ceremony until 24 hours after it took place. Live television may be exciting, and immediate, but it's also risky. There might have been some foul language, or an unscheduled incident, or an irreverent comment, or a wardrobe malfunction, or an embarrassing gaffe, and we can't have that can we? We don't want to offend any of the nice aunties who might splash out and buy James Blunt's latest album the next time they're in Tesco. No, let's wait a day, edit out the interesting off-message bits and then stick a sterilised version of the awards show on TV, sandwiched by credit card ads. It's not about celebrating talent, it's about filling record shops on Saturday. And, sadly, it's not about suspense and excitement for the viewing public, it's about time-delayed predictability.

So go on then, spoil the surprise by checking out who won all the awards last night...

...get all your moaning and despairing out of the way now, and then you won't have to watch the Brits on telly later this evening. Although I'm told Prince is very good, and Gorillaz put on an amazing spectacle, and Kanye West's backing singers are wearing next-to-nothing. But I bet they cut out the stage invasion by the fat skinhead.

 Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Security notice

Access to this blog is now by Chip and PIN only.

To prevent internet fraud, please enter your four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) below:

Enter PIN:
Not having any luck? Maybe that's because you haven't been using your PIN much lately. Typical isn't it? You can remember who won the Cup Final in 1978, you can remember how to operate a motor vehicle on a busy motorway and you can remember what cup size Jordan is, but you can't remember a simple four-digit number. But then numbers are scary, aren't they? Nasty horrible mathematical things which remind you of algebra, trigonometry and failure. Stop quivering, you wimp. Things were so much easier yesterday, before midnight, when you could get away with just using a signature. Any old biro squiggle would do, because the dumb shopgirl never once bothered to even glance at it, did she? But now there's a funny black keypad with mysterious buttons and no instructions, and you have to type the correct security number to prove you are who you say you are, and it's dead unnerving. Go on, have another go, you might have remembered it correctly by now...

Enter PIN:
If you find your PIN difficult to remember, you can change it. You can change it at a cash machine, for example, except that you have to enter your current PIN first which sort of defeats the point of the exercise. It's best to change your PIN to something that's easy to remember. Numbers like '1111' or '1234', for example, should be simple enough even for somebody in the early stages of Alzheimers. But don't choose anything too obvious, like '1966' or Jordan's cup size, because half the red-blooded males in the country use those. And don't use anything which also appears on your driving licence, like your date of birth or number of traffic violation points, because anybody stealing your wallet or handbag could easily gain access to those. Fancy trying again?

Enter PIN:
Some easily memorable PINs:
• Use your highest two lottery numbers.
• Use your credit card's maximum overdraft limit.
• Use the 'secret' number you've scribbled on the back of your card in biro.
• Use 13 and 26, which are the atomic numbers of the two most abundant metals in the Earth's crust (as any fule know)
• Use '4846', which represents the number of letters in the first four words of Virgil's Aeneid ("Arma virumque cano, Troiae")
• Oh go on, use '1234' then, at least you won't forget it.

Change PIN:
See if that works...

So, how do you remember your PIN?

 Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentines classified

Thanks to all those of you who emailed in your romantic Valentine's messages.

Big Smoochums luvs her little Fluffybun. Mucho cuddlesies x xDiamonds are a girl's best friend. But maybe next year, eh?
cheapbling.com
topgal - u is da hottie, u is da bomb, luv u 4eva, big up yrself, fink ur gr8 - kewldudeForgotten Valentine's Day? It's not too late! Romantic weekends in Hull still available
lastsecond.com
MC - I've been stalking you since 2003. Meet me outside your front door now. N
Girls! Prove how much you love him! Spend the evening twiddling together on the X-Box
joystick.net
Ellie - I'm cheating on your husband. Every Thursday night after work. He says you're frigid. DawnForgotten Valentine's Day? Better stock up on knife resistant clothing now, just in case.
thickvest.com
Alan - will you get off that bloody internet and talk to me for once?! HilaryDoes she need McMuffin? Have a romantic dinner for two at the Golden Arches tonight.
mcburgers.com
Pedro - You bring me to my knees. Same cubicle, same time tonight? GeorgeForgotten Valentine's Day? We deliver emergency chocolate body paint to your door!
choccy2U.co.uk
Smoochy Wibblechops loves his little Cutesypie. Thiiiiiis much. Luv u lots and lots xxxIt's the perfect day for syphillis, genital warts and gonorrhea! Have yourself a great VD!
stdclinic.org
roses are red, violets are blue, orchids are too expensive, so will cheap chocolates do? Dean
Forgotten Valentine's Day? Then buy yourself a diary, you useless twat.
makeadate.com
Mr Piggywiggy wants to snuffle his Mrs Piggywiggy. Your sty or mine?Alone again on Feb 14th? Ring our chatline on 0900 666666 and go it alone.
calls cost £5/min
Darling Fiancé - I'm planning to divorce you six months after our wedding for half your money - KWhatever you buy her won't be good enough. So just buy something silky you can drool over.
skimpies.com
Snarky - tell you what, you watch Holby City tonight and I'll go down the pub - MugglePerfume needn't cost the earth. Ours costs 99p a bottle.
smellsofwee.com
connor - the baby's due just after our GCSEs, see you down the bikeshed for a spliff & vodka - jadeAre you sad and single? Don't worry, it's much less stressful than being sad and coupled.
samaritans.org
Brian - Let's have the wedding list at John Lewis. Will you civil partnership me? Kevin

(and sorry about the adverts, but I've been getting a lot of visitors clicking through recently - most of whom have absolutely no idea what they're doing here - so I thought I might as well exploit them for cash)

 Monday, February 13, 2006

A Grand Day Out: Dover (part 2)

A walk along the White Cliffs
As English icons go, they don't come much bigger than the White Cliffs of Dover. Up to 100 metres tall in places, towering above the Channel and visible for miles. We take chalk cliffs for granted on the southern and eastern coasts of England, but globally they're actually surprisingly rare. The only other chalk cliffs outside the UK are to be found across the Channel in Normandy and near Calais, and on the two Baltic islands of Mon and Rügen. The very best place to see the white cliffs of Dover is from a passing boat. However, in the absence of marine transport, I decided instead to view them from above and set off on a two mile trek east along the clifftops. To the lighthouse.



It was quite some climb up to the summit of the cliffs from harbour level, or at least it was on foot. Lazier or less able visitors were able to drive direct to a clifftop carpark sponsored by Saga Holidays, which perhaps suggested that walking conditions weren't going to be especially strenuous. It certainly looked easy to walk from the car park to the visitor centre, or to amble along the nearby flat footpaths, but further east the ground looked rather more undulating. Indeed, just beyond the coastguard station anybody in stilettos would be in real trouble and sensible walking shoes were de rigeur. Nevertheless the initial view was excellent, both along the coastline and out to sea across the docks. Several people were stood with binoculars poised, scrutinising the passing shipping (of which there was plenty). Dog walkers were also out in force, although to my great surprise I never quite saw any yappy mongrels scampering over the cliff edge to their death.

In this Health and Safety conscious age, it was refreshing to see that nobody has yet erected luminous orange safety barriers along the edge of the cliffs. You can walk right up to the brink and look down at the sheer chalk beneath, if you so wish. Visitors are, however, recommended to keep at least five metres from the cliff edge just in case the rock decides that, after 70 million years in situ, today is the day to crumble spectacularly into the sea below. On average the shoreline retreats approximately 50cm each year, but in reality rockfalls tend to be rarer and more spectacular than this average might suggest. I was brave enough to venture up close anyway, and the fact that I'm still here today to post the photographs I took suggests that my risk analysis was well judged. Bloody fantastic views they were too.

The further I got from the car park, the smaller the crowds of fellow ramblers became. The footpath curved and climbed before descending again across another sinking valley. At one point narrow steps dropped almost vertically down the chalkface to Langdon Bay beneath, where one matchstick sized couple seemed to be enjoying the remote solitude of the wafer-thin pebbly beach. Back up top a handful of windswept trees thrust their stunted branches defiantly offshore, while grassy shoots pushed bravely up above the chalky soil to semi-cover a fallow field. And all the time, out on the horizon across the sea, there was France. Or maybe it was just a deep grey cloudbank, it was hard to be sure. I suspect the walk is rather more hospitable in midsummer, but even on a cold sunny day the experience was quite magical. And then there was the lighthouse...

South Foreland Lighthouse
Just off the east coast of Kent, just below the waters of the English Channel, lie the treacherous Goodwin Sands. Hundreds of ships have foundered here over the centuries, so the nearby coast was a natural location for a lighthouse as early as 1499. The present South Foreland Lighthouse dates back to 1691, extended to its current height in 1890, and boasts several world-beating firsts:
the first lighthouse to be lit by electric light [Michael Faraday, 1858]
the first ship-to-shore radio transmission (from the South Goodwin lightship) [Marconi, Xmas Eve 1898]
the first ship-to-shore radio distress call (from the South Goodwin lightship) [Marconi, April 1899]
the first international radio transmission (to Wimeraux, France) [Marconi, March 1899]
the last UK lighthouse to be fully automated [Trinity House, 1998]

Today the South Foreland Lighthouse is owned by the National Trust, whose volunteers seemed very pleased to see me on Saturday and to show me around. I guess that, being in such a remote clifftop location some distance from the nearest public car park, they were glad of every visitor they could get. My guide was extremely knowledgeable (or else had been busy learning all the relevant facts over the winter break). He explained in detail how the lighthouse had been powered, enthused over an original 3KW light bulb and also demonstrated the intricate mechanism used to rotate the optic in the lantern room (recently restored). From the roof I could see down into the nearby village of St Margaret's (where Noel Coward and Ian Fleming once lived), but I decided that was too far to venture on today's journey. Having reached the very south-easternmost tip of the British mainland, I retraced my steps back along the clifftops to Dover. Absolutely knackering, but absolutely worth it.

www.flickr.com : Day out in Dover
(the town, the castle, the port, the cliffs and the lighthouse)

 Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Grand Day Out: Dover

70 miles southeast of London lies one of the most famous towns in England - Dover. The town's worldwide fame as the gateway to Britain rests on two geographical quirks. First there are the cliffs - tall, majestic and white - with just one accessible breach where the river Dour has cut a valley deep down through the chalk. And second there's France, just 21 miles away across the English Channel, making this the closest spot in the UK to continental Europe. And so the town of Dover grew up here on the Kent coast, between the white cliffs and opposite Calais. Over the years its unique frontline location has attracted the attention of Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, Henry VIII, Guglielmo Marconi, Louis Bleriot, Adolf Hitler and numerous asylum seekers. Yesterday I joined their esteemed company by taking the train down to Dover to see the place for myself.

Dover's one of those places you usually pause and pass through, not somewhere you tend to stop. I'd been a few times before - down the big curvy ramp and onto the ferry - but only on school trips abroad and without disembarking from the coach. But there's actually plenty to do and see in and around the town itself, far more than I could manage in a day. The town's museum boasts a bronze age boat (the world's oldest seagoing boat, no less), dug up a few years ago when builders were scything a dual carriageway along the seafront. There's also the remains of a Roman 'hotel' with extensive painted walls, apparently the best preserved Roman town house in the country (but closed until April). Most of the town centre is pretty standard, though. Gangs of chattering teens gather up side alleys and mass in the local park (I agree, Laura-Ann, Dover's far chavvier than I was expecting). Pensioners buzz between the minor chain stores on their mobility scooters (I have no idea why anybody would want to retire here - all the interesting places are up steep slopes). Property is cheap, and everything I saw hinted that unemployment is high. For many local residents Dover appears to be somewhere they're trapped, not somewhere they have a future.

Dover Castle
It's been obvious to every military leader since the Iron Age where precisely on the southeast coast of Britain they should build their main fortress. Here, in Dover, above the harbour, beside the town, atop the sheer white cliff, bang opposite France. Both Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror diverted their invading armies a few miles up the coast from Dover, to where the defences were weaker, then marched in overland and established their own military presence here. The oldest building on site is the Roman-built lighthouse (or pharos), dating back to the first century AD. The bottom half still stands (pictured), tucked up beside the rear of the half-as-old Saxon church, although the dark interior of this decaying stone tower is now just somewhere for local pigeons and seagulls to roost. Henry II enlarged Williams motte and bailey by erecting a tall stone keep - still the castle's dominant centrepiece. It's a wonderful building to explore, full of spiral staircases, long passages and side chambers, plus there's a great view across Dover from the four turrets on the roof. Elsewhere you can descend deep into the castle's medieval tunnels - long snaking defensive pathways which twist on (and on) into the dark underbelly of the clifftop, just like you might expect to find beneath Hogwarts. There's also a much more up-to-date labyrinth of secret WW2 tunnels dug into the cliff, complete with underground hospital and command centre in which the Dunkirk landings were planned. It's an extensive site, so allow yourself more than 55 minutes for your visit - my late-entry ticket may have cost half price, but I don't think I did the place justice.

The port of Dover
Dover is one of the original medieval Cinque Ports (pronounced, rather worryingly, 'sink'). Whereas most of the other harbours have long since become unnavigable (or, indeed, landlocked), the port of Dover continues to thrive. The docks dominate the shoreline of the town, from the hoverport, cargo depots and marina to the west to the vast ferry terminals out east. During the railway age trains ran right down to the docks, but declining rail traffic means that Dover Marine station is now long gone, replaced by a Cruise Liner terminal. Now almost everything and everyone arrives by road, so the Eastern Docks are by far the most important. The A2 trunk road cuts through the chalk and descends into the docks on concrete stilts, delivering articulated lorries, cars and coaches direct into the heart of the docks. It's only from a vantage point on the cliffs above that the full scale of operations is revealed. I looked down across acres and acres of flat land reclaimed from the sea, covered by tarmac, covered by parking spaces and brightly coloured containers. Lorry drivers and holidaymakers were being nudged and funnelled around the site, swirling through a series of booths and customs checks before parking up on the harbourside beside a 'food village' to await boarding. Giant roll-on roll-off ferries lined up to accept each new batch of escapees, before closing their bow doors and chugging off through the gap in the breakwater and out into the Channel. It was hypnotic to watch and a reminder that, even in these days of air travel and Eurostar, Britain remains an island nation dependent on its links with the sea.

 Saturday, February 11, 2006

Odd loon dung runner spam

Harry Beck's London Underground map is such a design icon that computerfolk are forever designing spoof versions. There's the marvellous upside-down South London version, for example, and the ingenious London motorways map. But the usual trick is to retain the real diagram and just change the names of all 275 stations instead. Simon Patterson was probably the first (in 1992) with his Great Bear, but since then the tube map has also gone foody, German, sweary (not worksafe), Hollywood and (just last week) ingeniously musical. You can find tons more tube map variants over at Geoff's place and Owen's site.

And now to add to the collection (via via) there's a brand new London Underground map where each station name is replaced by an anagram. Simple, but brilliant. See it here.

Not all London station names are especially angrammable (Bow Road, for example, becomes the none-too inspiring 'Woo Bard'). Some, however, are cunningly simple (like the new termini at 'Pigpen', 'Modern', 'Ragweed' and 'A Monster'). But the great majority of the new names are just amusingly stupid (like 'Crux For Disco' for Oxford Circus, and 'Frog Innard' for Farringdon). By way of illustration, I've listed below the revised names for all the stations along Silverlink's North London Line, from west to east. But if you take a good look at the map yourself, you'll probably have your own favourites...

North London Line: Inch Dorm, Greek Dawns, Sunny Burger, Count Oaths, Natal Concert, Swelled Injunction, Lake Sirens, Do Raspberry Bunk, Rubber Synod, What Stampedes, Dragonfly & Falcon Hire, Hate Shamed Path, A Log Spoke, Wok Stew Thinnest, Add Romance, Absorbancy & Neural Android, This Hungry & Boiling, Cyan Bourn, Dark Tonsil Glands, Centenary Chalk, No Mother, Why Kick Acne, Draft Rots, Wet Mash, Want Conning, Scouse Mouth, Striven Owl, Choir Howl Town.

   Oh boy...
   Blogger front page.

 Friday, February 10, 2006

 Winter Olympic Quiz
To celebrate the opening of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, here are clues to 21 different Winter Olympic sports. The first 16 are picture clues, and the last five are anagrams. You may need to consult an official list of Winter Olympic sports, because some of them are a trifle obscure (I'd not heard of them all, anyway). How many can you guess?
[Answers in the comments box]



17) glue  18) key choice  19) leap in  20) lion bath  21) brown soda

 Thursday, February 09, 2006

It appears from comments received (and yes Gordon, you were absolutely correct) that yesterday's Routemaster anniversary post was of limited interest to my readers. So I've set myself the challenge today of writing three posts which are of even less interest. How did I do?

Uninteresting post 1: My local pelican crossing isn't working properly. If you know the area, it's the crossing next to St Mary's, the church on an island in the middle of the busy A11, just up from the Bow Flyover. It's a staggered crossing, with a short walk required between the two halves to bypass the red-handed statue of Gladstone and the old boarded-up public conveniences. Anyway, the council recently carried out some work on both crossings, adding those dimply paving slabs on either side to help visually impaired pedestrians feel their way safely to the edge of the road. And by the time the workmen had completed all their digging and stuff, and moved on, both crossings were malfunctioning. Normally if you want to cross the road at a pelican crossing you press the button, and a sign lights up saying 'Wait', so you wait, and eventually the lights change and you cross. Well, at my local crossings you don't need to press the button any more. Every time the main traffic lights change back to green, the 'Wait' light lights up automatically without needing to be pressed. And then, after the usual minute-or-so's pause, the lights go red and the traffic stops. It's like some phantom pedestrian is pressing the button, halting the traffic every 60 seconds, even if nobody actually wants to cross. It's an appalling way to treat car drivers on one of Britain's main trunk roads, especially during the small hours of the night when there's no earthly reason for them to stop. But it's brilliant for us local pedestrians, because the lights are often changing just as we arrive at the crossing, rather than us having to press the button ourselves and wait around for the traffic to stop. Goodness knows why or how it happened, but long may this malfunction continue.

Uninteresting post 2: I keep a little jar of 5p coins on my hallway table, as a useful place to deposit my small change so it doesn't weigh down my wallet. That's the tiny 5ps introduced in 1990, not the larger shilling-sized post-decimal coins, of course. At the moment the jar contains exactly 40 5p coins altogether, some looking bright and shiny, and others more worn and rather duller. So I wondered, like you do, how old my 5p coins were. So I piled them all up according to the year in which they were minted, and then counted them. And here are the results:
19906199411998020022
19919199521999020034
19922199632000120044
19930199732001120053
It turns out that almost half of my 5p coins are oldies from 1990, 1991 or 1992, while over a quarter are much newer - from the last three years. And I've got at least one 5p coin from every year except 1993, 1998 and 1999. So I wondered if there was a page on the internet which told you how many 5p coins were minted each year, and what do you know there is. And it's here. I see that about half of the UK's 5p coins are indeed from 1990-92, with the Royal Mint issuing a massive 1,634,976,005 5p coins in 1990. And there really were no 5p coins minted in 1993, which is why I don't have one. So my little pictograph of piled-up 5p coins is actually pretty representative after all. But maybe I'd be better off scooping them all up and spending the £2 down the shops instead.

Uninteresting post 3: When I was little, some time around 1972 I believe, there was this really sweet five-minute cartoon series screened before the BBC early evening news called 'Sir Prancelot'. It was about a medieval knight-cum-inventor who took his castle entourage off on the Crusades, and he was always battling against the oh-so-evil Count Otto the Blot. The show was created by the same bloke who did Captain Pugwash, and used the same slightly-ropey cut-out animation technique. My brother and I even bought the official BBC long playing record of the series, and maybe we've still got it somewhere, you never know. Anyway, I found this website which has full details of the characters, the various episodes and even the LP. Quite takes you back, it does.


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my special London features
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E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
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olympics 2005
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ten of my favourite posts
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my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
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ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
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