diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 29, 2004

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Today is the first leap day of the 21st century.
2) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year.
3) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every 1461 days. Raenell is quite passionate about it. Great site.
4) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
5) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
6) About 40000 people in the UK are leap day babies. Meet some of them here.
7) About 200000 people in the USA and 4 million people worldwide are leap day babies. Meet some of them here.
8) The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000, because there was no February 29th 1900.
9) The Queen will be sending a birthday card to her cousin's son James Oglivy who turns 40 today, on his 10th birthday.
10) The composer Rossini was born on February 29th 1792, Pope Paul III on February 29th 1468, and actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928. More leap day birthdays here.
11) In a leap year you probably get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
12) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
13) Today is the last leap day to fall at the weekend until 2020.
14) If you have a leap year birthday, like one of my work colleagues, you have to decide when to celebrate it in non-leap years - February 28th or March 1st. Or both.
15) Ladies, today's the day to propose marriage to your man. Hurry up, if you wait another 4 years just think how old he'll be. Why not send a postcard?
16) Exactly 500 years ago today, Christopher Columbus pulled off his great eclipse trick. A leaky ship forced him to beach on Jamaica, and he and his crew rapidly ran out of supplies. Fortunately Columbus knew his astronomy and realised that a total lunar eclipse was due on February 29th 1504. He gathered the local natives together at sunset and told them God was displeased and would eat up the Moon. The eclipse started, the natives were sore afraid, and Columbus eventually agreed to 'return the Moon' in return for food. Genius.
17) Is your watch showing the wrong date today? It is, isn't it?
18) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
19) Leap years are quadrennial, like the Olympics or the World Cup.
20) Leap Day number 1s of the past 40 years would make an fascinating compilation CD: Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000) and Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004).
21) Today's only the tenth February 29th I've ever experienced. And, all things being average, I have less than ten more to go.
22) Bloggers - take a look at the a day in the life project, or click back there tomorrow to view the photographic results.
23) Webpages about the date February 29th here, here and here.
24) IT-type people feared computers might go wrong on Leap Day 2000, misinterpreting the date as February 29th 1900, a date which didn't exist. They were wrong.
25) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103.
26) Every leap year the town of Antony on the Texas/New Mexico border holds a Leap Year Festival. Today they're celebrating with hot air balloons, a parade, parachutes and special birthday cake for all.
27) Tasteful leap year merchandise, oh yes.
28) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.
29) And that was leap month on diamond geezer. Full explanation of how leap years work scattered further down the page.

About time [2453065]
It's not easy to count the number of days between one date and another, particularly when the two dates are many years or even centuries apart. Astronomers get round this problem by measuring time in Julian days. Day 1 began at noon on Monday January 1st 4713 BC (don't ask), Julius Caesar began his calendar on day 1704989, and today at noon we reach day 2453065. You can calculate Julian dates, and lots of other calendar conversions, here.

 Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Count 2004

Last February on diamond geezer I was busy counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a thrilling daily feature called 'The Count'. Think of it as a 28-day tally chart. Now, one year later, I thought I'd revisit those 10 counts to see how different they were this February compared to last February, and then ponder meaningfully on how my life's changed since last year. Or not.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): Last February more than two thousand visitors logged in to diamond geezer (that's about 75 a day). This February the visitor tally is nigh seven thousand, a more than threefold increase of which I'm mighty proud. Thanks to you the reader for dropping by, and to all those of you who link here from your blogs and keep the visitors flowing. 250 daily readers eh? Blimey, that's almost as few people as watch bid-up.tv at 3am.
Total number of visitors to this webpage in February 2003: 2141
Total number of visitors to this webpage in February 2004: 6917

Count 2 (Google searches): I think we've established that Google will link to anything, like the bindweed of the internet. Nobody is safe from its beady searching eye, and many's the bewildered soul misdirected here in search of some nugget of information I know nothing about. Still, at least the recent steady dripfeed of Google image-seekers doesn't seem to be skewing my statistics too much.
Total number of search engine referrals to this webpage in February 2003: 316
Total number of search engine referrals to this webpage in February 2004: 947

Count 3 (Blog content): Now this surprised me. I thought I was writing a lot more this year than I was last year, but that turns out not to be the case. Only a bit more in fact. Good, I'd hate to think my blogging was increasing out of control like an addiction or something. Do anything for a hit, me.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2003: 14392
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2004: 16214

Count 4 (Spam): I've been plagued by spam over the last year. Last February I was barely touched, but then my blog email address started attracting Nigerians with erectile dysfunction and then there was no stopping them coming. In January I was clogged by 437 chunks of processed spam, and then (joy!) my service provider installed a filter to block them at source. So, this February, only one more spam than last year - result!
Total number of spam emails I received in February 2003: 30
Total number of spam emails I received in February 2004: 31

Count 5 (Nights out): Now, here's the big change in my life. Last February there were seven nights I stayed in - this February there were only seven nights I went out. From three quarters extrovert to three quarters introvert, that's one hell of a personality switch. I thought this might happen when my best mate emigrated to America last March. I suspect what I really need to do is to get off my arse and go out and do something on my own instead. Just not tonight though, can't be bothered...
The number of nights in February 2003 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 21
The number of nights in February 2004 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 7

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): After the last category, it probably comes as no surprise that my Becks intake has plummeted too. I no longer hiccup so often either. Anyone noticed if the brewery's share price has dropped accordingly?
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2003: 58
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2004: 17

Count 7 (Tea intake): Blimey that's consistent.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2003: 135
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2004: 135

Count 8 (Trains used): See, Ken Livingstone's transport policies are vindicated - transport usage in London is on the increase by 6% year on year. Obviously I've extrapolated that figure from a very small sample, i.e. me, but looks like the Congestion Charge is a success. Either that or the Central Line is finally working again.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2003: 103
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2004: 109

Count 9 (Exercise taken): My daily exercise is walking up escalators, even the really long ones. None of this strutting around time-wasting at the gym, I get my workout underground. And look, the same number as last year, apart from one escalator I couldn't walk up because some thoughtless git was blocking it with a wheelie suitcase.
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2003: 73
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2004: 72

Count 10 (Mystery count): I never told you exactly what I was mystery-counting last year, did I? I said I would if the count ever crept above zero, but it didn't, not last February and not this February either. Nor even the February before that, for that matter. London - it's overrated.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2003: 0
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2004: 0

About time [25770]
The Earth wobbles. It wobbles on its axis like a spinning top, but very very slowly, which is why you've never noticed. It leans at an angle of 23.5° and gradually spins round once every 25770 years thanks to a phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes. At present the North Pole points pretty much towards Polaris, a small star in the constellation of Ursa Minor, but this gradually changes as the Earth's axis traces out a giant circle in the sky. In 2000 BC our pole star was Thuban, in the constellation of Draco, and around the time of Julius Caesar there was no pole star at all. Polaris reaches its closest to the pole in AD 2102, then the pole moves on to Alderamin in AD 7500, Deneb in AD 10000 and the bright star Vega in AD 13000. As the constellations shift in the sky, so the signs of the Zodiac also shift from their original positions, moving backwards one sign every 2150 years. The Spring Equinox isn't really in Aries any more, it's been travelling through Pisces for the last two millennia and is now entering Aquarius. Which is just one reason why astrology is bollocks.

 Friday, February 27, 2004

Retail therapy update: My Amazon wishlist has been up for a week now, full of London-based media stuff you could buy me for my birthday. I've added a few more books to the list to keep it fresh, and now I'm wondering what'll be left for me to buy for myself in a week's time. Hmmm, judging by all the action so far, everything. This is probably just as well - my letterbox isn't Amazon-package-sized anyway, so why should I waste time trooping round to the local sorting office when I could be out doing proper shopping instead? Hmm, no, sorry, I still don't quite believe that.

Seven media

I was reading some article about the relentless advance of mobile phones yesterday, in which the boss of Nokia said that mobile telephony was becoming "the sixth medium". It was news to me that there were five media in the first place. The others, apparently, are radio, TV, print, the recording industry and the internet. Makes perfect sense now I come to think about it, even if 'the recording industry' is a bit of a vague category better split into music and film. Which makes seven media.

To support my retail therapy I thought I'd see how much I spend on each medium over the course of a year - that's both money and time - and stick the list of seven media in order. Here's my list. What about yours?

total money spent       total time spent
1) mobile1) internet
2) internet2) music
3) print3) television
4) music4) print
5) television5) radio
6) radio6) mobile
7) film7) film

Quick analysis of results: I spend most money on my mobile, but I hardly ever use it. Maybe I'm signed up to the 'mug' contract (I bet Value Witch will have something to say about that). I use the internet a lot, but film just passes me by these days. I do well out of TV and radio (see, the BBC is good value for money), and probably don't read quite as much as I ought to. And I don't spend much on new music, maybe because I'm too busy listening to old stuff I already own instead.

About time [3300]
Our Gregorian calendar includes one leap year every four years, except in century years not divisible by 400. That's a total of 97 extra days every 400 years, making an average year length of 365.2425 days. Very very close to the correct length of 365.24219 days, but still not exactly correct. Pope Gregory was only out by 26 seconds a year, but those few seconds add up to one whole day every 3300 years. Not a problem we're ever going to have to worry about, but in a few millennia someone's going to need to drop an extra February 29th to kick the calendar back in line.

 Thursday, February 26, 2004

The best view in London?

Last month I asked you to tell me from where is the best view in London? You came up with lots of answers, including up the top of the Eye, Hampstead Heath, the top deck of a Routemaster, and Alexandra Palace. But two particular spots came out on top - Blackheath Point and Richmond Hill. So I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

Click on the picture above to see the full view from 'the Point' - an outcrop on the edge of Blackheath, overlooking the centre of London. Immediately below lie the streets of Greenwich, clinging to the side of this unlikely hill, a stack of neat terraces and bland council flats. And in the distance... well, ok, my camera isn't very good at picking out the detail, but there's a wheel and a gherkin and all the other London sights you might expect. The Point itself is a small strip of parkland, half grass and half mud, well off the tourist trail, used by well off locals for exercising their dogs. I'd have enjoyed the view more if there hadn't been two labradors frisking in the excrement behind me, but the view in front of me was unexpectedly impressive. Thanks for pointing it out.

Across the other side of South London lies Richmond Park, a huge expanse of green untroubled by public transport. In one corner of the park is Richmond Hill, from the top of which can be seen two celebrated views. The most well-known of these is to the west across cow-strewn meadows towards the meandering Thames. It's rather pretty, and the local population clearly enjoy hobbling along the terraces atop the hill to see it, but I've seen better.

Less well-known, but more interesting, is the view to the east. Central London may be a long way away, and the skyscrapers may look more like distant matchsticks, but the astonishing thing is that the City is visible at all. My photo here was taken from the top of King Henry's Mound, a prehistoric burial mound set on the highest point of Richmond Hill. There's a framed gap in the bushes here, looking out directly down an avenue cut through the nearby woods. You won't be able see it in the photo, and it's not easy with the human eye either, but perfectly aligned at the end of that avenue lies St Paul's Cathedral. Precisely 10 miles away.

This is one of London's three designated linear views, protected by planning regulations. You can't build a tall building anywhere on the line of sight between Richmond Hill and St Paul's, it's the law. The other two protected views, by the way, are from Westminster Pier to St Paul's, and from the Mall to Buckingham Palace (though I'm not quite sure what anyone would build on that last one).

There are also six protected London panoramas, one of which is the view from Blackheath Point. Similar planning rules apply. The other five include Alexandra Palace and Hampstead Heath (which shows what good taste you all had), plus Primrose Hill, Kenwood and Greenwich Park. All covered by the London Designated View Framework, which you can find in Mayor Ken's latest umpteen-page London Plan (check page 37 of this enormous pdf for a great map showing all the protected lines of sight). Good to know that you, and your ancestors, will still be able to enjoy these views for years to come.

Me, I still love the view from my desk at work. Alas, that view isn't protected.

About time [1000]
There are 1000 years in a millennium. Thank goodness blogs hadn't really taken off five years ago, otherwise dreary people would have been droning on and on about how the arrival of the year 2000 wasn't actually the start of the new Millennium after all. Well, I'd hate to think you all missed out. I wrote a huge long spiel on the subject at the time - I just didn't have a blog to post it on. Thankfully that situation is now rectified. Click here please - let's party like it's 1999.

 Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Image conscious

Have you noticed that Google's image database has got bigger? A lot bigger. According to Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, they've "doubled the index to more than 880 million images." I've noticed. I've noticed because Google is now directing people to my blog in search of pictures that aren't here.

It works like this. I place lots of links on my site (yes, you'd noticed, hadn't you?). Most of those are links to other webpages, but some of them are links to images - like jpegs, gifs or bmps. Here's one, for example, a link to the jpeg of Sergey Brin on the Google website. Google's search robots then crawl all over my site, spot that I'm linking to an image and add it to the Google image database. Once it's in the database anyone searching Google may come across the image, sitting there all temptingly on the results page. Then they click on the image and Google shows it to them on what it thinks is the original webpage, here. Except that the image was never on my page in the first place. All I had was a tiny insignificant blue-text link. The searcher gets to download a whole page of my archives only to find no image at all, wasting their time and my bandwidth.

There are two particular images I'm suffering for linking to.
• Type the words "Get out of jail free" into Google's image search and the very first picture that appears is of a rather tasteful old Get out of jail free Monopoly card from a site called adena.com. Click on the image, however and you don't click through to adena.com, you click through to me. I linked to the image back in August, and now I have a steady drip of visitors turning up here unable to locate it.
• My other problem image will become obvious if you search Google's image database for the word "business". That search comes up with about 1½ million images, but one of the first 20 is an image that I linked to in October. Go on, try it, you'll spot which image it is. And no, you won't click through to reclaimthestreets.net, you'll click through to here. And, great image though it is, it isn't here. Messy business.

So, if you'd like to attract extra visitors to your blog, try linking to some images. I can't say I recommend this course of action though, because those visitors won't be impressed by what they find, because it won't be what they were looking for. I suspect this is a particularly blog-related problem, because we bloggers have lots of links that don't stay on our front page for long. Honestly, you'd think Google could sort all this out and link images to the right location, particularly given that they own Blogger in the first place. In the meantime, hello to all of you image-hunting visitors with a Monopoly fixation - please click here. And to all those of you seeking that amusing tube sign, try clicking here. Personally, I think the Cattle Class jpeg is even better (bugger, I just linked to that too).

About time [400]
Julius Caesar's calendar repeated every 28 years. The Gregorian Calendar we use today repeats only every 400 years. This is a result of removing the leap day from three out of every four century years (those not divisible by 400). It's usually true that this year's calendar will repeat in 28 years time, and this will be true for the rest of your lifetime, but around 2100 there will be seven consecutive non-leap-years (so, for example, 2088 won't repeat until 40 years later in 2128. One consequence of this 400-year repeating pattern is that a new century can only begin on a Monday (as in 2001), Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday - never on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

 Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The BBC is flagging

Remember those 12 regional flags I posted here last week? Go on, scroll down to last Monday and remind yourself - it'll be important later. The regional flag idea came from Tony Wilson's campaign for a North West identity, and was picked up by Radio 4's Today programme and BBC Online's Magazine. They invited people to email in their designs, in jpeg format, so I did. And they promised to publish some of them this week, which they have.

At 7:15 yesterday morning the Today programme discussed regional flags again. Or rather John Humphries was lectured by some bloke who believes in England but not in regions. Nothing about flags at all - they don't work well on radio, flags - although John did mention there were some listeners' designs on the programme's website. And there are. Take a look - the page is here. There are three flags displayed on the website, all alternative flags for the North West. Very nice they look too. And then there's one of those special BBC online picture gallery things, in the column down the right-hand side. There are 15 flags in that BBC online picture gallery thing. Guess how many of my 12 flags made it into the 15 flag picture gallery. Go on, guess. Then click on the picture gallery link and take a look.

So, well, cor blimey, what an honour to have one's work showcased by the BBC. It's almost worth the licence fee in itself. I assume that only four people bothered to send in any designs but, well, hey, national recognition at last. OK, so they kicked off with my Cheshire flag, which I thought was one of the weaker ones, but 80% of that gallery is mine, all mine. Can't complain. Well, actually, yes I can. My 12 flags were quite small (96 pixels by 64) but the other people's designs must originally have been rather bigger and more detailed. And the good old BBC have displayed all of our flags in size 300 by 200. Jpegs aren't the sharpest of image formats so they don't expand well, so all my 12 flags look really blurry. But hey, they're BBC blurry. Respect.

I have one particular reason for a broad smile this morning. One of my 12 flags the BBC have posted on their website is this white flag here, labelled 'Flag design for the BBC by dg'. It's meant to be a flag of surrender, symbolic of the board of Governors' capitulation to the Hutton Report. I have a special message to the BBC lackey who lovingly snipped up my 12 flags and inserted them on the Corporation's website. "This was irony. I suspect you missed that". I really think the Today programme should check their sources more carefully. Have they learnt nothing?

About time [366]
Leap years, such as 2004, contain 366 days. The extra day means that my birthday is about to leap over Monday (yippee!) but leaps over Saturday in 2008 (boo!). This year is the 511th leap year to be observed since Julius Caesar invented them in 45BC (but only the 510th in most of mainland Europe, because they skipped 1700 and we didn't). Just a reminder that the official extra leap day isn't February 29th, it's today - February 24th.

 Monday, February 23, 2004

Get London Reading

Today sees the launch of Ken Livingstone's latest cultural extravaganza - the Get London Reading campaign. A bunch of famous authors are gathering at Canary Wharf at noon to plug read from their latest novels, and later in the week there'll be some evening events involving librarians. Sounds thrilling? But hey, there's also a surprisingly detailed website full of 'books about London' (tons of them) which is well worth a look. Discover authors and books based in each London borough, and find out what other Londoners are reading. Great listfuls of fine books about London, and just in time to add to my birthday wishlist (cheap plug - see last Friday for full details).

They've identified 12 books for London to give particular prominence to - on posters, in campaigns and on giveaway bookmarks. Not a bad selection either. I've read the following four of them so far, how about you?
London Orbital by Iain Sinclair: A walk round the M25 on the Eve of the Millennium. Beautifully written, but disappointingly inconsequential.
London by Edward Rutherfurd: Lengthy saga follows London families from the Roman invasion to the present day. History-lite.
Do Not Pass Go by Tim Moore: Street-based London travelogue looks at the real-life Monopoly board. Wish I'd thought of doing that.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: A music-obsessed listaholic with one failed relationship behind him. Hmm, who does that remind me of?

But that's only four. Here's another eight London books I'd add to the list to make 12. Four tube-related, four not. Please click away.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: A dark twisted underworld living in the tubes beneath London. And one of those one-off classic TV series they never repeat, sob.
253 by Geoff Ryman: Unique set of character portraits on board a crash-bound Bakerloo line train. Started as a webpage, so you can go read it right now...
Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe: Bloke attempts to visit all London's tube stations the day before his wedding. You can guess how it finishes.
King Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell): An odd thriller with a bunch of misfit characters all linked through the tube.
Spanky by Christopher Fowler: I could have picked any of his books, most of which are set in nightmarish London, but this modern Faust just swings it. Fab.
Demonized by Christopher Fowler: OK, just one more. This is his new collection of horror stories, and I'm still reading my signed copy. See, I bought something this weekend. Good it is too.
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott: 60s East End gangland beautifully evoked, and currently being filmed by the BBC. Can't wait.
London Compendium by Ed Glinert: After all that fiction, the best stories about London are still the non-fiction ones. Arranged here by postcode. Dip in and enjoy.

About time [365]
The earliest form of clock was the sundial - a stick whose shadow marked the passing hours of the day. However, sundials are a surprisingly unreliable means of telling the time. Not just because it has to be sunny to use one, but because the Sun isn't always where you'd expect it to be. In fact a sundial only tells the correct time on four out the 365 days of the year.
Here's why. You might expect the Sun to be at its highest point in the sky at noon, but this isn't usually the case. The 23½º tilt of the Earth's axis places the Sun on the meridian at noon only at the solstices and equinoxes. Inbetween these dates the Sun runs either slightly fast (equinox to solstice) or slightly slow (solstice to equinox). But there's another factor at play here. The orbit of the Earth is an ellipse, not a circle, which places the Sun on the meridian at noon only at perihelion and aphelion. Inbetween these dates the Sun again runs either slightly fast (July to January) or slightly slow (January to July). You have to combine these two effects to get the true picture, producing a wobbly graph called the equation of time. The changing position of the noonday Sun therefore traces out a figure-8 pattern in the sky as the year progresses, a figure-8 called the analemma. There's a very good 1-page explanation of all this here, and a beautifully designed techie explanation here, complete with amazing moving graphics.
Sundials therefore run up to 14 minutes slow (in mid-February) or up to 16 minutes fast (in early November). And the only four days on which sundials tell the correct time? They'd be April 16th, June 14th, September 2nd and December 25th. Near enough. See all the figures for 2004 here.

 Sunday, February 22, 2004

Mobile obsolescence

M'lud, further evidence for retail therapy prosecution. Exhibit A - my mobile phone.

My mobile phone is two years old today. Two years may not be particularly old in most spheres of life, but in SIMcardWorld it's positively pensionable. Back in February 2002, however, my Sony Ericsson T68 was absolutely cutting edge. All gleaming silver, thin and sleek, with a whole range of functions few previous phones had boasted. Look, a full colour screen! Look, a port for attaching a camera! Look, the ability to download pictures and use them as backgrounds! Look, a mini-joystick! Look, the battery stays charged for a week! Look, a diary and a notebook like a personal organiser! Look, the ability to send and recieve email! Look, something new and mysterious called Bluetooth! Look, even works in America! This was indeed the future in my hands. Ah, for a few brief months my phone was a conversation piece, a box of shiny tricks, a 21st century icon for others to covet. How soon things changed.

Soon after the T68 came out, the T68i followed. This was the phone Sony Ericsson had been meaning to release all along, the version where all the software worked properly and you could type a text message in under three minutes. The T68i featured something new called multimedia messaging, where you could send pictures and photos as well as text (not that there was anyone else to send these to at this stage). They immediately stopped selling my phone, my mobile one-upmanship at an end. Thankfully, through the magic of a software upgrade in some backwater electrical shop in darkest Tottenham, my T68 eventually metamorphosed into a T68i. On the inside at least. Which was fine, because I always thought the T68 looked far sexier on the outside than its bastard offspring, so I was pleased to have ended up with the best of both worlds.

The new T68i was destined to be a mass market product, and before long phone companies were giving this little beauty away nigh free, whereas I'd paid a three-figure sum for its clunky ancestor. And then other phones with proper inbuilt cameras started to be released, and they had big colour screens and polyphonic ringtones, and they were virtually mini computers, and the T68 series was doomed. Quietly these phones disappeared from the shops, and slowly they disappeared from people's pockets. Except I've still got one, and it still does everything I need. I don't want to take surreptitious photos on the tube, I don't want a gangster rap symphonic ringtone to embarrass the hell out of me every time I get a call, I don't want to download tiny videos of Premiership goals, and I don't want to develop RSI and a squint by replaying mini-computer games from my childhood.

I ventured into a mobile shop yesterday. They've changed rather since two years ago. Then it was nasty plastic replicas being flogged by disinterested suits, now it's posh models on soft cushions foisted on you by so-called phone trainers. I ventured out of the shop almost immediately. I didn't want to discuss my ideal service package requirements, I just wanted to carry on using something that sends text messages and rings about twice a year. I shall stick with my antique phone a little longer, I think. Im-mobile, me.

About time [360]
• The Ancient Babylonians were big fans of the number 360. It has tons of factors, and it's very nearly the number of days in a year. Nearly. Those Babylonians also loved nothing more than to divide up their 360s into bits. They divided their 360-day year into 12 months each of 30 days. They divided their 360-degree sky into the 12 signs of the zodiac. And they divided each of those 360 degrees into 60 minutes, each subdivided into 60 seconds - units still used today to describe latitude and longitude and to map the sky.
• There's now a modern proposal that the daily rotation of the Earth through 360 degrees could be the basis to construct a new global time standard. The system's called New Earth Time, and it runs daily from 0º to 360º, from GMT midnight to GMT midnight. I rather like it, take a look. (Oh, and if there are any techie bloggers out there, could someone tell me if it's possible to add Javascript to a Blogger page, or am I wasting my time trying to display a Java New Earth Time clock on here?)

 Saturday, February 21, 2004

Twelve tube-tastic links
Animals on the Underground: Yes, I know everyone else has beaten me to this one but, cor, aren't they good?
the 3D tube map: Ditto this site, but Corey's tubes are indeed rather special.
3D tube station diagrams: See how all those tunnels, passageways and escalators link together.
Stop Motion Studies: 20 looped flash movies of people on the tube, sitting, standing, twitching, moving, smiling, snarling, existing.
Platform for art: The tube as an art gallery, retrospective. My favourite's the David Shrigley Billboard Commission.
Estimated time of arrival: Now you can find out where your train is without standing on a platform. But only on the Bakerloo at present.
Free Posters: While stocks last. Three to choose from - I went for the Zandra Rhodes creation. Bet they've run out.
Londonstation: Retro-style photographs of various London tube stations. Better than it sounds.
The Transport Forum: Join the tube drivers talking about the tube, or just lurk in the background and wallow in techie anorakness.
tube magazine: A seasonal in-house online magazine, this month featuring Art Deco architecture on the Northern and Piccadilly lines.
One Stop Map Shop: Want to buy, or use, a tube map? Bargain at £290. I think not.
Tourist advice: from the very wonderful Geofftech. He may be almost as cynical as I am.

I know you're all on tenterhooks to discover the latest news from Bow Road, the Underground's pioneer renovation station. What rebuilding work have the good people at Metronet carried out so far? How hard have the builders been working? Are the station's listed architectural features still intact? How have travellers been inconvenienced? What does cutting-edge urban ergonomic design look like? Well, worry no longer, because I've decided to provide regular daily updates. In this comments box. Maybe events will get even more exciting - stay tuned!

About time [354]
In the Islamic calendar, every month starts with a sighting of the New Moon. Not just a little symbol appearing in a diary, but someone somewhere actually has to see it. Except that it's impossible to see the New Moon when it's really new, because it's invisible. It normally takes at least 16-18 hours for the thinnest sliver of the crescent moon to appear, and to be spotted. The new month then starts at the following sunset, because all Islamic days begin at sunset.
Example: there was a New Moon yesterday, at 9:18am GMT, but nobody will have seen the crescent moon until very early this morning (about now in fact). This means a new month will start at sunset tonight, and tomorrow will be the 1st day of Murharram.
Islamic months always last either 29 or 30 days, but there's no pattern to the sequence and it's not possible to produce accurate calendars looking into the future. Each Islamic year is exactly 12 lunar months long, which is approximately 354 days. This is eleven days adrift of the solar year, which is why months like Ramadan move through the seasons year by year. Islamic years are counted since the Hijra, Mohammed's flight from Mecca in 622 AD.
Example: The next Islamic year will be numbered AH 1425 (anno hegirae, or "in the year of the hijra"). The new year starts on the 1st day of Murharram. Which starts tonight, at sunset. Happy New Year!

 Friday, February 20, 2004

The retail therapy project II

12 months ago I launched my semi-legendary retail therapy project. If you don't remember, it went like this:

    1) I am crap at spending money on myself. Please help me.
    2) I'll put up £100 of my own money to buy myself a present.
    3) You lot get to vote online to decide what that present is.
    4) I'll go out and buy whatever it is, just in time for my birthday.
    5) Look, I'm now the owner of two £50 Mathmos flashing lights. Ta.

I had a day off work earlier this week and decided to go shopping. Nothing better to do. I thought I'd see if my retail skills had improved, one year on. I headed up to Oxford Street to join the seething half-term crowds and attempted to spend some money, on myself. How did I do?

• First I tried a selection of London's finest record shops. They were all selling lots of new stuff I didn't want, plus lots of old stuff that, if I'd ever wanted, I'd have bought the week it came out. Bought nothing. So far this year - bought just one CD (Air, recommended).
• Then I tried a selection of London's finest bookshops. They were all selling the same old books from before Christmas, cunningly still labelled as 'new fiction', plus lots of even older stuff, cunningly labelled as 'recommended'. Bought nothing. So far this year - bought just one book (half price).
• Then I tried a selection of London's finest clothes retailers. They were all selling lots of hip expensive stuff I didn't think was me, plus lots of hip-hop street stuff I didn't think was me either. Bought nothing. So far this year - bought some socks (black).
• Then I tried a selection of London's finest department stores. They were all selling lots of smelly stuff, lots of chrome stuff, lots of labelled stuff, and lots of homeware aimed at people who have very different homes to me. Bought nothing. So far this year - bought one cushion (blue).
• Finally I tried the BBC Shop, just round the corner from Portland Place. They were selling lots of things I'd seen on TV I didn't want to watch again, plus lots of things I'd not seen on TV because I didn't want to watch them in the first place. Bought someone else a birthday present. Bought myself nothing. Came home.

So, the underlying problem still remains. I am still crap at spending money on myself. I still require retail therapy. I suspect I'm a lost cause. However, this year I thought I'd approach my problem from a different tack. I've thought very hard and I've tried to come up with a list of consumer-type products I might actually 'want'. Sorry, 'want' feels like such an alien concept to me. Then I've compiled my very own Amazon wishlist, and I've installed it over there in the sidebar. Or you can click here. The wishlist contains £200 worth of books, DVDs, videos and stuff, all on a London theme. If you want to suggest some other London stuff that ought to be on the list, please do. The wishlist stays up for exactly two weeks, then it comes down, just before my birthday. You could buy me stuff off it if you like. And if you don't, I'm going to force myself to go out and buy all the remaining stuff off the list, up to a total of £100. It's going to be painful, I just know it. But I need retail therapy again. Help me, please.

About time [304]
The first Roman calendar was drawn up by Romulus, one of the city's founding fathers, in approximately 738 BC. He introduced ten months of 30ish days, and it was at this time that the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months were (correctly) named September, October, November and December. However, ten months wasn't enough, and this calendar contained only 304 days. The remaining 61 days were apparently ignored, resulting in a calendar-free gap during the winter before the new year began again in March. It was all a bit rubbish really. Romulus's calendar lasted only 25 years, before January and February were first introduced.

 Thursday, February 19, 2004

 Alphabetical Quiz: All of the answers to today's quiz are sequences of letters lifted from the alphabet. Maybe the letters spell a word, maybe they're an abbreviation, or maybe they just sound like something else when you say them out loud. Here are some examples to give you the idea. If we were using the backwards alphabet, then 'dined' would be FED, 'American capital' would be DC, 'observe' would be VU, and 'beast' would be NML. But we're not using the backwards alphabet, we're using the forwards alphabet.

So, can you solve these alphabetical clues?
1) airline  9) artist Julian
2) a fruit10) make of car
3) shabby11) singer in hat
4) greeting12) negative years
5) cabbage13) restore to health
6) backside14) likeness of person
7) negative      15) slow-cooked meal
8) can't hear16) beyond visible light
Answers in the comments box.

About time [235]
As previously mentioned, full moons don't fit exactly into one year but they do fit almost exactly into 19 years. During this period - one Metonic cycle - there are precisely 235 lunar months. The Jewish calendar follows this 235-month cycle, with 12 lunar months in most years, but a whole extra leap month added roughly every three years to keep the calendar in step. To be exact, there are seven leap months every 19 years, making 235 months in total. The sixth month of the Jewish calendar is called Adar, and in leap years there are two Adars called Adar I and Adar II. More here.

 Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Yanks Brits

What a great idea to have one night to celebrate all that's best about British music. Cutting-edge creativity, genre-busting originality and arse-wiggling brilliance - all of these deserve to be celebrated. Just not last night. Last night the record industry organised a marketing piss-up with one eye on the American market to promote all that is middle-of-the-road, mid-Atlantic, and safe. Shall we just roll over now and let MTV rule our airwaves?

Last night's Brit Awards show kicked off with a band from LA performing in front of a US diner backdrop. Then a country singer from Canada presented the Best International Male award to a Rolf Harris lookalike from Tennessee. The awards continued in a similar vein, a conveyor belt of gangstas, molls and transatlantic cheese. Not that I have anything against American music per se you understand. Sure a lot of it is tepid, bland and overproduced, but hey, so's a lot of British music these days. There just seems to be less British music around.

But there were still golden statuettes for us to win. How kind of the Britmeisters to invent a special rock category for The Darkness, and then to allow them to win two of the existing awards as well. It's clearly still 1974 in Lowestoft - I know, I've worked there. How unexpected to watch Fame Academy reject Lemar scraping Best Urban Act, as announced by a hip-hop act from Virginia who'd clearly never heard of him. And what a night of triumph for the sterile triumvirate of Dido, Busted and Daniel Bedingfield, who'll no doubt value their clutch of awards almost as much as their imminently increasing royalty payments. Still, this is what happens when you get Sun readers, MTV viewers, commercial radio listeners and record executives to vote for the winners.

Sorry, easy target. Actually, if you look back through the history of the Brits (here), a load of crap wins every year. Just that there's usually the odd gem in there too and, this year, that didn't shine through. Anyway, for balance's sake, here are some past Brit award winners we'd rather forget...

[1982] Best British Male Solo Artist: Cliff Richard
Best International Act: Kid Creole & The Coconuts
Award For Technical Excellence: Spandau Ballet
Best British Comedy Recording: Neil - "Hole In My Shoe"
Best International Group: Huey Lewis & The News
Best British Group: Five Star
Best British Producer: Stock/Aitken/Waterman
Best Classical Recording: Handel's "Messiah"
Best British Single: Phil Collins - "Another Day In Paradise"
Outstanding Contribution: Status Quo
Best British Newcomer: Beverley Craven
Best British Group: Simply Red
Best Soundtrack: The Bodyguard
Best International Newcomer: Lisa Loeb
Artist of a Generation: Michael Jackson
Best British Newcomer: Kula Shaker
Best British Male Solo Artist: Finley Quaye
Best Soundtrack: Titanic
Best Selling Live Act: Steps
Best Pop Act: Westlife
Best International Male: Shaggy
British Breakthrough Artist: Will Young

About time [128]
Julius Caesar's calendar, with one leap day every four years, would have been correct if a year was 365¼ days long. But it isn't. Not quite. A year is 365.24219 days long - a tiny difference, but equivalent to one day less every 128 years. That's why the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in 1582, requiring one extra day to be lost from the calendar for every 128 years elapsed - ten days in total. The UK changed over in 1752, over 128 years later, by which time an extra eleventh day needed to be lost. Most Eastern Orthodox churches still follow the Julian calendar and are now 13 days adrift - celebrating Christmas on January 7th.

 Tuesday, February 17, 2004


It's a year today since Ken Livingstone risked his political future and started charging vehicles a fiver to enter central London. As you'll remember, drivers rebelled, gridlock ensued, businesses collapsed and Ken was forced to resign. Except no, it didn't actually turn out like that did it? The streets cleared, traffic speeds increased, drivers acquiesced and Ken is on track to be re-elected Mayor by a thumping majority. Even the Evening Standard seems to have stopped complaining about the Congestion Charge, which has to be a measure of the degree of its success. Of course, it's not all perfect. Some small businesses have suffered, not enough money has been raised to fund improved public transport, and the company who collect the charge are an incompetent monolith. But, overall, an unexpected success.

The Congestion Charge isn't what puts people off driving into Central London. Central London is what puts people off driving into Central London. You have to be mad, or an addicted petrolhead (or both) to want to drive into the middle of this city. One-way systems, bus lanes, traffic wardens, speed cameras, narrow streets, jaywalking pedestrians, limited parking, red routes, endless traffic lights and, above all, other lunatic drivers - driving in London is an absolute nightmare. It amazes me that anyone would want to even own a car here. There's a bloody good public transport network available - not perfect, not complete, and not fast, but still perfectly adequate. I know rich people would still rather sit in their gas-guzzling 4x4s to collect little Jasmine from ballet, but little Jasmine would survive sitting next to a pensioner on the tube, honest.

So, where next for the Congestion Charge? Onward and outward. Ken's eyeing up extending the zone to Kensington, to Heathrow and maybe to Canary Wharf, and other UK cities are equally interested. But Central London could still do better. I'd like to propose a fifty pound charge for the following:
• Driving any single journey of less than a mile.
• Entering an IKEA car park during daylight hours.
• Riding the state coach in a ceremonial procession.
• Parking at bus stops (unless you're a bus, of course).
• Travelling on a giant coach with fifty other foreign tourists.
• Cycling through a red light, because 'red lights are only for cars'.
• Owning a huge jeep designed originally only for Welsh mountainsides.
• Venturing south of the river (most taxis already charge extra for this).
• Running a marathon through the streets of Docklands dressed as a cow.
• Being driven by your own chauffeur (get used to having a bus driver instead).

About time [94]
Our seasons are not all the same length. The orbit of the Earth is an ellipse, not a circle, so different quarters of the orbit take different lengths of time to complete. The Earth also moves faster when nearer to the Sun, ie faster from October to April than from April to October. All this means that Spring (94 days) and Summer (93 days) are a bit longer than Autumn (90 days) and Winter (89 days). Good news - in the Northern hemisphere at least.

 Monday, February 16, 2004

Could this be the new flag for North West England? Tony Wilson, founder of Manchester's legendary Factory Records, hopes so. He's spearheading a campaign for North West devolution, website here. And I'm ever so impressed by Peter Saville's proposed NW redesign of the flag of St George - simple, ingenious, clear and devastatingly brilliant.

Inspired, I've had a go at redesigning flags for other corners of the UK. What do you reckon?

About time [61]
Some minutes contain sixty-one seconds. This doesn't happen very often, in fact it's only ever happened 22 times, but every now and then an extra leap second is required to keep our days in line with the rotation of the Earth. The invention of atomic clocks in the 1950s is to blame, allowing scientists to spot that our days are lengthening almost imperceptibly. In 1972 Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) was adopted, replacing GMT as the global time standard. The first leap second was added in the middle of 1972 and the most recent at the end of 1998, since which time the Earth has been rotating more regularly. Leap seconds are added just before midnight UTC (when there are 7 pips rather than 6) and only on December 31st or June 30th. It's more complicated than all that, of course (for example, GPS devices use a slightly different timescale established in 1980 that is now running 13 seconds ahead of UTC). Readable explanations here and here. Techie stuff here and here.

 Sunday, February 15, 2004


I've discovered where London's Observer readers go on Sundays. They go to Spitalfields market. I bet they do Borough Market on Saturdays to satisfy their organic foodie cravings, but on Sundays it's off to Spitalfields for the capital's biggest pseudo-arty-ethno-leftie car boot sale.

Spitalfields market is a huge covered hall in the East End, hidden between Liverpool Street and Brick Lane. Originally the area was called 'Spittle Field', a poor-quality grazing area for cattle. There's been a market here since the 17th century, although it probably didn't sell healing crystals and hemp lollies back then. In Victorian times the market was frequented by prostitutes, and two of Jack The Ripper's victims were murdered in neighbouring streets. At the turn of the century a fine iron and glass roof was built to protect traders from inclement weather. The fruit and vegetable market relocated to Leyton in 1991, and the present Sunday market then moved in.

You get no sense of the size of the building from outside, but behind the surrounding frontage lies a space the size of a small aircraft hangar. Every Sunday the hall is packed out by stallholders selling alternative wares. No nasty antiques and crockery, just amateur arty crafty stuff, stripy knitwear, old records, mystic tat and objets d'art. I was particularly disturbed to see one stall trying to sell quartz-like rocks as 'natural crystal deodorant', and even more disturbed to spot someone actually buying some. One corner of the market contains a large food court, serving up veggie vegan noodly-type snacks to noodly-type people. Spitalfields feels like a market for young adults who've outgrown Camden, but aren't capitalist enough to want to go to Portobello instead.

But Spitalfields market is now under serious threat from its new owners. Half of the original building was demolished a year ago so that yet another City office block can be built on the site. The other half, the half in which the Sunday market still takes place, is scheduled for internal redevelopment. Ballymore Properties Ltd want to build various glass blocklike structures inside, taking the market upmarket and cutting the number of stalls by nearly a half. It's a future, but it's not a future that the stallholders want, nor that the existing shoppers will support. They've banded together to organise a vocal protest group called SMUT (Smithfield Market Under Threat) - website here. Good luck to them. London contains quite enough anodyne modern retail malls. Spitalfields may not be my kind of market, but it deserves to survive, and to flourish.

About time [60]
The Ancient Babylonians are responsible for the division of hours into sixty minutes and minutes into sixty seconds, because their mathematical system was based on the number 60. It's a good number to do maths with, having more factors than 100 - and in fact more factors than any other number less than 100. Their ancient civilisation has set the pattern of our modern lives. Whenever we "wait a minute" or "hang on a second", the time we wait was decided 4000 years ago by a bunch of Iraqis. See, they invaded us first.

 Saturday, February 14, 2004

dgeezer.netA suite of heart links

King of Hearts: Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day? Thou are more lovely and more temperate:
Queen of Hearts: Princess Di, Princess died, Princess remembered, inquest underway.
Jack of Hearts: Get your Anti-Valentine from Meg, here. Quick, before her bandwidth explodes.
Ten of Hearts: In agony over a loved one? William Blake and Wordsworth offer their advice in the poetry surgery.
Nine of Hearts: Look after your heart, before it kills you.
Eight of Hearts: ITV - TV from the heart. Remember cardiac logo overload here.
Seven of Hearts: Hearts FC, doomed never to rise above Scotland's third best football club.
Six of Hearts: Maybe Hearts lurks on your PC alongside Freecell and Minesweeper. Rules here.
Five of Herts: Ahh, Hertfordshire, the county of my birth. Love Herts.
Four of Hertz: Heinrich Hertz carried out the first experiments with radio waves - the unit of frequency is named after him.
Three of Hurts: The Darwin Awards showcase those who kill themselves in awe-inspiringly stupid ways. Ouch!
Two of Harts: Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers starred in this classic early 80s US drama.
Ace of Harties: Russell Harty was King, or maybe Queen, of the chat show. Relive the opening titles here.

About time [52]
There are fifty-two weeks in a year (near enough). Weeks are officially numbered from 1 to 52, and occasionally 53, according to international standard document ISO 8601. Weeks start officially on a Monday, and Week 1 is always the week containing the first Thursday in January. This year Week 1 actually started on Monday 29th December 2003, and the year finishes with a rare Week 53 which will end on Sunday 2nd January 2005.

 Friday, February 13, 2004

An apology on behalf of the single people of Britain

Dear Couples

We, the single, do hereby apologise for the wanton wastefulness of our our selfish lifestyles. We, the single, swan around on our lonesome, using up valuable resources, failing to produce offspring and threatening global environmental survival. We apologise. We apologise, in particular, for the following:

• Taking up half of each double seat on public transport, so that you couples can never sit together when you get on.
• Emptying supermarket freezers of ready meals-for-two because ready meals-for-one are too small, then doubling the length of the queue at the checkout.
• Eating our ready meals at home rather than dining out alone, because that's dead lonely, thereby condemning restaurants to financial underperformance.
• Filling up hotels unnecessarily by occupying overpriced double hotel rooms but using only half the bedspace. Unless we pull, which never happens, because we're single.
• Occupying 30% of the UK's housing stock, wasting valuable accommodation that could be better be used for coupled flat-sharing, and cranking up house prices as a result.
• Not having kids, leading to the collapse of the education system within a decade, and no fresh blood to staff social services by the time we single people retire with no partner to look after us.

However, for one day only, the tables are turned. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, the one day of the year when couples are more wasteful than singles. We hereby accuse you of endangering the planet through romantic overindulgence. We accuse you, in particular, of the following:
• Polluting the atmosphere with sickly lovey-dovey ballads.
• Consuming excessive amounts of fattening chocolate in fat heart-shaped boxes, increasing levels of obesity and heart disease.
• Savagely slicing the stalks of defenceless floral species, enveloping them in paper to diminish photosynthesis, leaving them to die in a dark corner of an unwatched room, then chucking them in the unrecycling bin.
• Purchasing numerous folded cardboard rectangles covered with lovehearts and glitter, spending millions of pounds of gross domestic product on stamps, then deliberately clogging up the national postal network.
• Holding hands in public, blocking pavements, stopping suddenly to look at window displays, then walking into the road without looking because you're too absorbed in each other, endangering the lives of other road users.
• Increasing the spread of venereal diseases, which if you were single like us would never spread and would therefore die out completely.
• Getting romantically carried away, ending up shagging like rabbits, then adding to the global population explosion somewhere around November, increasing demand on pensions and senior citizen healthcare in 70 years time.

We'll let you off, just this once. Enjoy your VD tomorrow.

About time [30]
There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden, and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar. Rather than lose all 11 days in one go, they planned to miss out every February 29th from 1700 to 1740 instead. They missed out the leap day in 1700 correctly, then forgot to miss it out in 1704 and 1708. Oops. At this point they gave up and decided to revert back to the old calendar, which required an extra leap day to be added in 1712. Pity the Swedish babies born on on February 30th 1712, because they never saw another birthday. See here and here.

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wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards