Holiday in Mancunia

OK, last chance to see me in the UK for a while now. Here is current final absolute provisional schedule:

Mon 27 Maidstone
Tue 28 Maidstone
Wed 29 Dorking
Thu 30 Maidstone - London - Manchester (stop me and buy one)
Fri 31 Manchester
Sat 01 Manchester
Sun 02 Manchester - London - Maidstone
Mon 03 Maidstone
Tue 04 Maidstone - London - Dorking
Wed 05 Dorking - Heathrow - Newark - Summit

So, if you want to catch me in any of those locales, holler on the usual email address. But, hurry, opportunities are selling fast.



Rather disconcertingly, the americans have been shockingly efficient. After rolling up at the embassy in the early hours of last friday morning, to be kept waiting in the cold and rain for just long enough to give me a cold, they were done with me before lunch time. I don't think I'm violating any great secrets if I reveal that the "interview" of probing questions to ensure that I was a reasonable person to let into the country consisted of asking me "What do you do" and "where did you go to school". Which I proceeded to tell them, until they begged me to stop. I went away, expecting to receive my passport back within a fortnight or so. But I was awoken at the break of noon on monday by the delivery man waving my passport with visa stamped in it. Really quite worrying, as if they're not spending enough time doing the necessary background checks on me.

There are many, many more things for me to mention, some of which I may actually get as far as writing down, but in the meantime to keep you occupied, here is my quiz of the year. As usual, I'm too lazy to deal with grading these things myself, so please, post your answers using the comments facility, and then when the time is up, swap with your neighbour and mark their answers.


1. Would you rather:
a) Blunkett or Cook
b) Bush or Blair
c) Cheney or Rumsfeld
d) Fiona from Shrek or Barbara Bush

2. Apparently, 51% of voters in America chose George W. Bush over anyone else. How did they get away with this?

3. For what personal reason did Blair almost quit this year?

4. Who really won the Ukraine election?
a) Victor Y.
b) Victor Y.
c) Victory

5. Why did America go to war with Iraq? (tick all that apply)
a) Weapons of Mass Destruction
b) Oil
c) Money
d) Stupidity
e) Greed
f) To bring stability to the region
g) Democracy
h) Score-settling
i) Saddam Hussein
j) With the army they had, not the army they wanted
k) Spelling mistake
l) Pressed wrong button
m) Thought they were voting for Al Gore
n) Just felt like it
o) Depends who you ask
p) Depends when you ask
q) Confused Saddam with Bin Laden
r) Confused Iraq with Al-Quaeda
s) To distract attention from the real issues
t) The Illuminati ordered it
u) Guns
v) Butter
w) Plowshares
x) Sponsored by Halliburton
y) Sponsored by Halle Berry
z) The voices, the voices.


1. How many people did Britney Spears marry this year?
a) 0
b) 1
c) 2
d) 3

For 2 bonus points, name them both.

2. What is "Joss Stone"?
a) A heavy lump of rock that, when burnt, emits an aromatic odor to mask the smell of marijuana.
b) An ancient carving of cavorting young women in Devon.
c) Part of the Highland games: the aim is to toss, or "joss" the stone for as great a distance as possible
d) An ancient artifact allowing the translation of soul and RnB standards into those of a teenage girl.

3. In "The Ultimate Matrix DVD collection" there are 10 DVD discs. There are three Matrix films. What is on the other seven discs?

4. Complete the following : "With great power comes great..."
a) Profitability
b) Sequel opportunity
c) Alfred Molinarity

5. At what temperature does Michael Moore spontaneously combust?


1. What was hidden in the DaVinci Code?
a) Painfully bad writing and characterization
b) Lame recycled and stolen conspiracy theories
c) Ill-judged attacks on Catholicism
d) Tedious misdirection not worthy of J.K. Rowling
e) Stupidly implausibly plotting and dialogue

2. Which of these is correct?
a) Eats, Shoots and Leaves
b) Eat's, Shoot's and Leave's
c) Eates, Shootes and Leaveses
d) Awfully smug book about misplaced apostrophes by harridan who can barely write herself.

3. The new Harry Potter book will be called
a) Harry Potter and the half-cut prince
b) Harry Potter and the adjective noun
c) Harry Potter and the something of thingummy
d) Harry Potter and the diminishing returns


1. Blogs are a revolutionary new publishing sensation which show that the internet is not solely a venue for dirty old men to titillate themselves with pornography and cheap thrills. The most read blog of the year was:
a) Belle De Jour
b) Washingtonienne
c) Fleshbot
d) WillWheaton.net

2. Now that suprnova is gone, where is the best place to get good .torrent links? (NB this is not part of the quiz, I'm just curious).

3. The Google IPO made a lot of smug people very rich. Give three other examples of how Google violated their Prime Directive of "Don't Be Evil" this year.


1. Do I give a shit about any sport?

2. How many times did popbitch rip off Offensive Mango's joke about Paula Radcliffe?
a) 0
b) 1
c) 2
d) WTF?


1. Little Britain is
a) Repetitive
b) Over-rated
c) Repetitive
d) Funny the first time
e) Repetitive
f) Yeah, I know

2. Reality Television is
a) Not Real
b) Not Television
c) All of the above

3. Why is "Strictly Come Dancing" strict?

4. This year, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
a) Passed its prime
b) Jumped the shark
c) Missed the mark
d) Was still the only news worth watching

5. The controvery over Janet Jackson at the Superbowl highlighted how many things that are deeply, deeply wrong with American culture? List as many as you can, and attach extra sheets as necessary.

This Blog

Lastly, to test how much attention you've been paying, some questions based on the contents of this web page blog thingy:

1. Complete this lolly stick joke: "Why..."

2. What does my milkshake bring, and why?

3. What brought the largest number of hits to this weblog this year?
a) Explanation of the Milkshake song
b) People looking for dirty pictures of (variously) Barbara Bush, Fiona from Shrek, Jessie from Undergrads, Dervla Kerwin (sp.), Clemence Posey (sp.), etc. etc.
c) Reference to academic paper about Lemmings
d) Reference from Oblomovka about number of hits due to NTK reference to academic paper about Lemmings

4. What's my name, bitch?
a) Fred
b) Hugh
c) Graham
d) Simon Quinlank


Thought I'd something more to say

All blogs are rubbish. You start reading them, and then at some point you find that the writer is progressively running out of things to say, and the updates become less frequent and more sporadic (and contain more redundant phrases).

But never mind, eh? Do you really want to know every last tedious domestic detail of the author (+ their cat)? Oh? You do?

Well, this weekend was mostly characterized by people asking me to move my car, which was irritating, since I don't have a car. But, given their interest, from this point on I will re-purpose this web page, and turn it into a continual discussion of cars, driving, route planning, and discussions of how bad a driver everyone who isn't me is, because that apparently is what people want to hear about.

I'll go offline in a few days time, which if tradition is anything to go by means that there will be a brief spurt of postings whenever I find myself connected to the net while I wasn't expecting it.


Time Travel Trains

Hadn't noticed this till today, but look at this:

-- Trains from New York leave Summit before they arrive! Sometimes by up to 10 minutes! Since I get off at Summit, I haven't really noticed this before, but I'll watch more carefully next time...


Top Drawer

Ive just been scanning the referrer logs and I think I've noticed a subtle new trend. Can you spot it too?

01 Dec, Wed, 05:53:36 MSN Search: paris hilton nude
01 Dec, Wed, 07:28:46 Yahoo: paris hilton doing the dirty
01 Dec, Wed, 08:41:06 Yahoo: clerihew of celebrities
01 Dec, Wed, 15:02:01 Yahoo: Paris Hilton not voting
01 Dec, Wed, 15:33:39 Yahoo: milkshake means sexuality
01 Dec, Wed, 16:40:27 Yahoo: Kelis Milkshake (Radio Mix) lyrics
01 Dec, Wed, 19:22:16 MSN Search: paris hilton nude
02 Dec, Thu, 06:27:43 Yahoo: diggerworld uk
02 Dec, Thu, 12:17:45 MSN Search: crazy moment of paris hilton
02 Dec, Thu, 15:01:55 Yahoo: Kelis Milkshake (Radio Mix) lyrics
02 Dec, Thu, 15:13:49 Yahoo: Paris Hilton legs
02 Dec, Thu, 18:09:32 MSN Search: paris hilton nude
02 Dec, Thu, 18:30:34 MSN Search: PARIS HILTON NUDE BLOG
03 Dec, Fri, 01:42:27 Yahoo: harvey birdman theme song habeus corpus
03 Dec, Fri, 12:00:52 Yahoo: Kelis Milkshake (Radio Mix) lyrics
03 Dec, Fri, 13:53:44 MSN Search: fiona getting fucked by shrek
03 Dec, Fri, 23:51:18 Yahoo: paris hilton guess photos
04 Dec, Sat, 05:17:42 MSN Search: nude photos of paris hilton
04 Dec, Sat, 05:19:05 MSN Search: nude photos of paris hilton
04 Dec, Sat, 05:30:32 MSN Search: nude photos of paris hilton

Hmm. So this gave me an idea: let's do Hugh Anchor's top people, based on the number of queries received. A little bit like FHM's girls of the year, only without the gratuitous cleavage shots and more egalitarian, since it's just based on the people that people have searched for. So, here it is:

1. Kelis (863) [her milkshake brings all the hits to the blog]
2. Fred Bloggs (255)
3. Dervla Kerwin (102) [forever mispelt]
4. Paris Hilton (81) [she's coming up the ranks fast]
5. Shrek (67) [mostly in conjunction with 'nude', worryingly]
6. Fiona (51) [mostly in conjunction with shrek]
7. Celemence Posey (38) [another misspelling...]
8. Halcali (31) [they rock. I'll be in Tokyo next year, hopefully I can pick up the second album there]
9= George Bush (22)
George Formby (22) [You know, this rather pleases me]
10. Hugh (20) [Hey! You forgot Anchor!]
Bringing up the rear, we have:

Miss Piggy, Boogie Pimps, Scissor Sistors, Juemelia, Alf, Barbara Bush, Harvey Birdman, Nitz, MacGyver, Alf Poier, Jesse, Simon Quinlank, Britney, Ivor Biggun, Arnie, Pink, Peaches, Baldrick, Bucky O'Hare, Sergei Brin, Tru Calling, David Brents, Tony [Blairs], [John] Kerry, Fleur Delacour, Pete Shelley, Shaggy, Kobe Bryant, Lena Headey, Janet Jackson, Chris Sievey, Vincent, Michael Howard, Simpsons, and Kimmy. They all had at least two hits. Isn't that enough?

What you give away will come back to you ten times over...

I know it's crass, but I couldn't help but be amused by this:
just desserts?.

Updates on travel plans: I'm flying back to blighty on the 15th. Plans are starting to shape up for the tail end of my trip (30th december onwards), but I'm still at somewhat of a loose end between 19th and 24th, so let me know if you want to attract my attention. In particular, I hope to make a trip to see the Trachtenberg Family Slide Show Players in London at some point.


Thanks for the memory

I know that we are living in the future, but it's still worth stopping every now and then to really appreciate how things have changed. It was maybe thirteen years ago that I got my first PC. It was very exciting, because it had an extra large hard disk -- 80MB. To use this massive capacity, we neede a special controller card, and the disk itself was the size of a shoebox, and made a grinding, rumbling noise. Eventually, after upgrading the computer from a 286 to a 486 a few years later, it was just possible to fit DOOM on this disk, and after waiting for a few minutes, the game was almost playable, providing it didn't crash.

Fastforward to 2004. I recently bought a SD memory card for something like $15. It's about a square centimetre or two in area, and a few millimetres thick. And it holds 128MB. And what do I keep on it? Photos from a digital camera. About four of them, and that's more than all of Doom. Meanwhile, dangling from my key chain is a USB flash drive with 512MB -- that's twice the size of the 256MB drive I bought ten years back to replace the 80MB behemoth. Let's not even mention the 60GB sitting on my lap as I type this, or the quarter *terabyte* in the machine in the corner of the room.

Does anyone particularly care? Well, probably not. But maybe for the first time, it feels like technology has advanced sufficiently that you can actually do things with it. I spent a couple of hours last night trying to get two machines to talk to each other over a windows network, and it occurred to me that this was the first time in a long while that I've actually been dealing with hardware configurations and software issues. When I was a kid, I used to do this all the time: I'd hardly ever use the computer to do anything, instead, I'd spend hours configuring it to work, like trying to get it to run doom or windows 3.0, but not really do anything when it worked. Nowadays, I hardly ever do much configuring, instead I'm actually using the thing. Admittedly, I'm using it to surf the web, write email, or (occasionally) do some work, rather than, I don't know, command my robot army, but still, it's a big step forward.


Out for Delivery

The limitations of internet commerce and parcel tracking become apparent when the package is listed as "out for delivery". There's still no indication of when the delivery will be made. Is it worth staying home an extra couple of hours in the morning to pick it up before heading out to work? Or going to work but sneaking home early to collect it? Actually, neither seems particularly useful since, in my previous experience, the van usually shows up about 2.30, which is roughly the middle of the day for me. Anyway, it's raining this morning, so I think I'll just wait in until the rain stops (sometime tonight, probably), or the truck comes down. How long until they augment the package tracking systems with GPS on the trucks?


Lucas Arts

Has anyone noticed how the titles of the new star wars films are all the same as the old ones? We have "The Phantom Menace" and "A New Hope", which are both (article) (adjective) (noun), and vaguely opposite meaning. Then there's "Empire Strikes Back" and "Attack of the Clones", both of which involve a large force (empire, clones) in a violent act (attacking, striking back). And now there's "Return of the Jedi" and "Revenge of the Sith", (note that Jedi and Sith are, basically, the goodies and the baddies). All the same, you see.


Lamest 419 ever

Is there anyone out there still dumb enough to fall for 419 scams? A compelling argument for eugenics if ever there was one. Anyway, the latest one to fall into my inbox contains a sentence that just jumps out as pathetic:

"But i am contacting you from here in (Dubia )where i am now sicking political

From Dubia? As in George Dubia? Well, I hope you get your assylum. Now sick off.

Advertising jingles

The following has been buzzing around my head for a few weeks now. Feel free to appropriate and turn into something useful.

The scene: Boston, in the early 1700s. Two Bostonians are preparing to celebrate thanksgiving.

Sam: And this is my newest creation!
[He presents Ben with a 12" disc of pastry with melted cheese and tomato topping]

Ben: What is this? Never in my life have I seen so strange a dish!

Sam: Try it!

[Ben takes a slice, and savours the new dish]

Ben: My! Such a cornucopia of sensation! Such a rich blend of flavors cannot be godly!

Sam: Now try this

[He presents a second "pizza", this time with a selection of sweet peppers, mushrooms and sausage meat cooked on top.]

Ben: What fresh devillry is this?

Sam: 'Tis not devillry -- 'tis DiGorno!


NB: this may not make any sense to those who have not spent too long watching US TV adverts -- see this advert if you must.


The Clam Before the Storm

SIGMOD deadline is 11:59pm tomorrow night (could be worse, could be in Europe where it's 5am), and right now I have nothing to do. Hence, the best option is to switch off the computer and get a good night's sleep in advance of anything that may require my attention tomorrow, not to speak of whatever complicated manoeuvres will be required of me on Friday. But before that, I feel obliged to post something here. I just can't think what. The half-dozen or so things that I've been meaning to post about for a while but have been putting off... I can't remember them.

I should probably write something about television, or rather not watching television. I've decided that I will no long watch television, or at least will do so to the best of my abilities. While this sounds very improving, it's less so since I have no intention to stop watching television shows. What I mean is that I can no longer tolerate TV that arrives in the form of an analogue NTSC signal on a cable, sattelite or aerial. The tedium, the fact that there's never anything decent on when you want to watch it, or the show you do want to watch is on hiatus, or delayed by a sporting event or a declaration of war (the frankly weak "Veritas: the Quest" was pulled one week in 2003 to make way for the attack on Iraq, and was never restored to its timeslot) means that I'm fed up with broadcast TV. Instead, from now on I get all my TV shows from DVD or Internet. This is the future of video on demand, although there's still a few kinks to be ironed out of the process.

So while there's a load of tosh showing on "real TV", I'm actually enjoying quite a few good things on my menu. IPTV, say, except that it sounds like something you might admit to a doctor (they should rename it to TVoIP, quick). So what's on, you ask in my head? Well, there's a few good things on at the moment, as it happens.

  • The full series of Eerie, Indiana has come out on DVD. All nineteen episodes are there in their full glory. I picked up a copy in Best Buy for $25. Run out and get it at this price while you can, folks.
  • Murder One is coming out on DVD early next year. I don't know if this will stand up to a second viewing (nor whether the ill fated second series will seem any better second time around). Perhaps the crazy twist ending will be augmented with some more plausible version. I shouldn't complain too much. I watched the whole of "John Doe", the detective show where the detective is a walking encyclopedia, only to be disgusted at the pathetic twist in the closing seconds of the last episode of season one. This could have set up season two with plenty of excitement -- except that the show was cancelled, and so the real mystery of John Doe will never be explained.
  • "Veronica Mars" is currently playing out on UPN/MTV, but no one is watching it. That's a shame, because it has the sharpest writing and strongest female lead since Buffy Anne Summers (yes, Anne Summers -- those stakes are dual purpose). It's bound to get cancelled before the mystery of the murder of Lily Kane is fully unravelled, which is a shame, so try to see this Nancy Drew for the whatever-generation while you can.
  • Oh yes, and Press Gang Series 1 and 2 have been out on R2 DVD for a while now. Check 'em out, these are the best series before the slightly weaker episodes of the later series. Plus, plenty of "before they were famous" cameos from, er, just about everyone.

OK, can't be bothered to write any more, so go away.


The power of hash functions

I'm waiting for some experiments to finish running, which is hogging most of the available computing power, so I have to resort to low processor drain activities in parallel, like reading a book, or posting something here so that it doesn't forget that I exist.

I was charmed to discover the following recently: FCKGW. These are the first five characters of the most commonly used Windows XP (pirate) CD key. I'm not telling you the rest --- because I don't know the rest --- but the ever helpful urbandictionary has a nice helpful explanation.

The random definition from UD is a great way to waste a few minutes. Actually, that's all for now.


Homeward Bound

Advance notice: I'll be in England from December 15th till whenever the US Embassy issues me with a new visa. Always a fun event, this time I actually get to go to the embassy in person so they can verify that I'm not a danger to society. Should be, er, fun.

Anyway, jot this in your diaries, and let me know if (a) you know me (b) you'll be in Englandland about the same time and (c) you want to meet up.

Some quick search queries to answer:
The person looking for "Lemmings Nude" from yahoo in the middle of the night-- why? I don't know if you've noticed, but Lemmings are nude to begin with.

And, to the person asking,
"Why didn't Paris Hilton vote?" Er, I don't know. To get to the other side? Because the mentally incompetent are not allowed to vote (see previous post)

Can't Vote, Won't Vote

I promise to stop whinging about the election soon, which, I should point out, Kerry won on the grounds that the criminally insane are not legally allowed to vote, and you would have to be crazy to vote for Bush. Anyway, a lot of people in the press are blaming the mistaken outcome on people voting on "moral issues". This is a euphemism for "bigotry, fear and hatred". So let's not indulge this any longer: next time anyone mentions 'moral issues', reply, "Oh, you mean gun-toting, homophobic anti-abortionists?".


And the winner is... Bartlett

A slight delay in posting, owing to the fact that Blogger seemed to be refusing my connection for most of the last couple of days. Either heavy traffic from bloggers frantically posting about what they'd just heard on CNN, or my fault for configuring Opera to masquerade as IE. Why is it that I start to feel persecuted for using Opera? Don't answer that.

Anyway, politics first. The simple truth is, the choice of the US president is far too important to be left up to the American people. But I was delighted to see that, after a long and hard fought campaign, the triumph of the Democratic nominee, Bartlett. Yes, in the face of a dirty race, and the theft of an election thanks to unauditable machines in Florida that threw the race into the lap of the incumbent thanks to his brother, I've decided that the real world is far too fictional for my liking, and instead I will cut off all contact with real news media. Instead, I will watch The West Wing from the beginning and delude myself that it's real. Given that there are four seasons before it gets crap and Aaron Sorkin leaves, and I plan to watch one or two episodes a week, I think that gives me a clear year or so to live in a land ruled by Democrats and to give the Zero-year curse a little more time to kick in. A William Henry Harrison-style open air oration may be in order.

Anyway, onto more important things: lolly stick jokes.

Q: Who lives in Sandcastles?
A: Sand-witches

Look: this doesn't make any sense. Firstly, since when have witches had a reputation for living in castles? Apart from the Wicked Witch of the West, I can't think of any witches who live in castles. And what have sandwiches got to do with sand castles? Apart from not wanting to get sand in your sandwiches. This is stupid.


Bush, Kerry... or other (please state)

On the grounds that absolutely no one reading this who happens to have a ticket to vote in the upcoming US popularity contest will be influenced remotely by what someone writing on the internet has to say, I thought I'd say this anyway. After considering the options --- Bush, Kerry, Nader, and so on --- we have decided to endorse a candidate for election. Several media sources have already come out in support of one candidate or another. The Economist went for Kerry. The Financial Times for Kerry. The New York Times for Kerry. Boston Globe, for Kerry. And, er, oh, I'm sure someone probably endorsed Bush as well, just for a change. So it's a tough decision, but we are officially endorsing... Bin Laden for US president.

Check out OBL's manifesto.

He's opposed to the sweeping powers brought in by the "Patriot" act to erode the freedoms of people in the US.

He proposes electoral reform to combat vote rigging and election stealing in swing states (he's a little unclear, but I'm guessing he would also reform the electoral college).

And, most surprisingly of all, he attacks Bush for his failure to respond adequately to the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Presumably if OBL had been in charge, then the response to 11/9 would have been very different indeed.

So on balance, based on this strong performance, it looks like OBL has the strength to protect and strengthen the USA and the world.

I'm Hugh Anchor, and I disapprove of this message.


New Release

Oh, I see Bin Laden's got a new album out. Can't say that I've liked his recent stuff very much -- a bit too repetitive. Still, one more chance for those Doh fans to post on my behalf:

You know, if you keep reminding me about 11/9, I don't think I'd be able to sleep either.


More political drivel

Having just received my first paycheck, it's time to waste some company time on posting a new entry. Firstly, the Economist--with a cover asking The incompetent or the incoherent? (presumably both references to Bush)--- has come out in favour of Kerry. Clearly a consequence of his economic genius mentioned here before, which I would link to, but I'm too lazy too.

Secondly, as has been widely reported, the official bush re-election site is now blocking non-US/Canadian viewers. All thanks to those smart coookies in Akamai! -- thanks guys. This sounds like a very good idea--let's improve the clientele by blocking out those european riff-raff. Consequently, I have decided to adopt the same policy, that only USAdians may read this webpage. Unfortunately, I don't have the same IP address filtering technology, so instead I'll just have to ask you, if you are not currently located in the North Americas, to close your browser and stop looking at this page.

Go on, hop it.


Honestly, what ever happened to decency and people following a polite request?


Free alcohol!

According to the register, An alarming 76 per cent of employees are coming back to work drunk after taking a "liquid lunch" but "Out of the 1342 employees polled, 68 per cent said they enjoyed alcoholic beverages during lunch".

That's amazing -- 8% of those surveyed can get drunk without drinking alcohol (unless they do drink it but don't "enjoy" it).

Read further down and you see "Even more worrying is that a third of respondents (33 per cent) claimed to enjoy a liquid lunch three times a week with 76 per cent feeling slightly drunk when returning to work." So, really this is 76% of those third -- ie 1/4, not 3/4 as claimed. Lazy hacks.


"No, you're a dick..."

If you're a regular watcher of CNN's crosstalk (and I'm not), then the Jon Stewart appearance was probably a breath of fresh air. He certainly had a point as he turned a book plugging spot into a full on attack. And he is most probably right. But it was still a little disappointing. Although he was quite forceful on the subject, he was never entirely clear on his main point. Does he think that CNN and the rest of the media pack is too soft on the politicians, or too hard? And his defense of his own show is a little too easy -- any criticism is reflected by the fact that it's just a comedy show, and what do you expect from Comedy Central? Yet, after Stewart and crew pillioried a morning talk show for asking John Kerry how he keeps in shape -- fairly standard probing for the show in questions -- didn't the bow tie wearing dick have a point when he asked whether Stewart went a little too easy on Kerry when he showed up on the Daily Show?

The point is, as was seen on the debates several times, none of the candidates will answer a straight question directly, and the media seems to have no interest in getting an answer out of them. It's hard to imagine a 'Did you threaten to overrule him' scenario taking place.


Quick Note

For anyone in the process of writing a teen-comedy/parody:

Scene: the new character is being shown round the various tribes in the school yard by a narrative explanatory kid.

Narrative Explanatory Kid: ...then you have the white kids who think they are black, the black kids who think they are white, the spoilt little rich girls...

Camera pulls back to reveal another character:

New Kid: That's the narrative explanatory kid. He always does that with the new kids. We don't know why.

OK, maybe only I understand what I'm talking about.


John Kerry is an Economic Genius!

Yes, it's true. JFK(2) is a genius. If you listen to him in the debates, you'll hear how rolling back the Bush tax cut for the richest 1%, roughly $90 billion, is going to pay for all of the following:

  • Paying for operations in Iraq
  • Fixing medicare
  • Paying down the $5 trillion deficit
  • Leaving no child behind
  • Improving homeland security
  • Making the world love America again

And so on. The man is so damn clever! Let's all vote for him --- eight out of ten countries recommend it!.


Learn English with George W. Bush!

Today's word of the day is litany! It means "a group of sentences or phrases that the pastor and the congregation take turns reading". Hurrah!


In the year two thousand and two...

Hugh Anchor cross the ocean. Blue.

Yesterday was Columbus Day, on which we celebrate the fact that Columbus rediscovered the American continent by not doing anything differently. But for once this holiday has some meaning for me, since it was two years ago (ish) that I landed in New Jersey, on Columbus Day: October 14, 2002. Consequently, I am reminded of the anniversary of my arrival, and I think back on all the pleasures and accomplishments of the past two years.

Well, that didn't take long. So it's time to indulge further in another passtime: the dredging of the email logs. Long suffering readers will recall that about this time last year I posted a tedious breakdown of the contents of my email. Well, guess what: I'm doing it again this year.

I can't really be bothered to do the full analysis I went into last year, as that requires too much effort. Instead, I'll just use the scripts that I hacked together to process my procmail logs to come up with some similar results.

Last year, I plotted a text graph of real mail versus spam. Here it is, extended to this year:

* 3000
* 2900
* 2800
* 2700
* 2600
* 2500
* 2400
* 2300
* 2200
* 2100
** 2000
** 1900
#** * 1800
#** * * 1700
* #**** * 1600
* *#**** * 1500
** *#****** 1400
** *#****** 1300
* #* **#****** 1200
# *#****##***** 1100
# *#****##***** 1000
**# *#****#####*# 900
**#* * *#***######*# 800
#### **** ***##**######*# 700
####* ***** ***##**######## 600
#####* *#**#***###*#########* 500
***######***####*###############* 400
*#**######**###################### 300
################################## 200
################################## 100
################################## 0
2002 2003 2004

Again, # represents a 100 real messages, * represents 100 spam. Categorization is based on the simple, but wrong, assumption that any message from an email address that only occurs once is spam.

The main observation is that, while spam skyrockets (and is safely caught and dealt with by my carefully crafted spam filters), my real email is also increasing significantly, up to baout 1000 messages a month. Could just be that the spam is using more recycled addresses, but I could just be becoming more popular. Or because I'm on more mailing lists, that could also be a factor (maybe I should try to remove those). The spike in March this year could be from the fact that I was in the middle of my job search, although that doesn't really seem like an adequate explanation. It was also reasonably busy, work-wise, but not really any more so than June.

This year, I made some plots of the skewness of the frequency distribution of the counts of messages from each senders. Fans of such things will be delighted that my email exhibits a very clear power law, and that my email this year was skew with Zipf parameter 1.3, whereas last year it was skew with Zipf parameter 1.1. This delights me, since I am a big fan of Zipf distributions, especially ones with parameter > 1.

Perhaps more later. I'm starving now, and I want my dinner.



Some choice quotes from GWB from the most recent debate:

"I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft."

"You might remember the stock market started to climb dramatically six months before I came to office"

and then, about three minutes later,

"The stock market was declining six months prior to my arrival. It was the largest stock market correction -- one of the largest in history".

Well, which one is it?

This exchange amused me:

Is my time up yet?
MR. GIBSON: No, you can keep going.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Keep going. Good. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBSON: You're on a roll.
PRESIDENT BUSH: You looked at me like my clock was up. (Light laughter.)

Well, maybe it is. More later, as soon as the rest of the transcript goes online.

Rumour mill

Apparently, GWB has been hearing rumours about the reinstatment of the draft "on the internets".

No Legs and Company

At some point soon, I will indulge myself with the delightful "K9 and Company". Here, in advance of that, is possibly the worst theme tune for a TV show ever created K9! K9! K9!.

Now, compare and contrast to this. Or am I just imagining things?

Edit: Well, to appreciate the true awfulness of the theme, I think that you have to see the credits sequence in its entirety. Thankfully, you can. That's what I (don't) pay my licence fee for!

And is it just me, or is there something of the alice lowe about Elisabeth Sladen?


More Debate Larks

Had to wait for a transcript to emerge for this one, but it's a nice example of how Dick Cheney delights in ignoring instructions.

FILL: Mr. Vice President, picking up on that, you both just sang the praises of the tops of your ticket. Without mentioning them by name at all, explain to us why you are different from your opponent, starting with you, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Why I am different from John Edwards. Well, in some respects, I think, probably there are more similarities than there are differences in our personal story.

It seems like this is being interpreted as "without mentioning [your presidential candidate] by name", but my natural reading of this is "without mentioning [your opponent] by name". This puts Cheney's response in context: immediately following what could be interpreted as a direct instruction not to mention his opponent by name, that's the first thing that he does.

Of course, none of this affects the fact that it's a completely dumb question. What is this, Vice Presidential Party Games? Defend your foreign policy without deviation, hesitation or repetition (actually, that would have been a refreshing change from the rather boring rehashing of the same old arguments over Iraq). There's a lot of discussion about who was "the winner" of the debate, but to me it's pretty clear that the moderator was the loser.

Mass Debates!

OK, so I'm probably a little too excited that the current VP debate is coming from a gymnasium that I used to cycle past every day for a year, but still...

Dick Cheney lied!

How? He asked us to look up Haliburton on factcheck.com -- which turns out to be a sleazy ad link page. Perhaps he meant to say factcheck.org? BTW, both sites seem to have collapsed right now, indicative that there are too many people like me who are sitting next to a computer during the debate and are not reallly paying full attention.


I'm so lazy

A couple of LazyWeb style requests.

Firstly, does anyone remember the name of a site that was selling cheap textbooks? I think the deal was something like that these were cheap Indian editions of the textbooks, shipped over by grad students in their suitcases... I think it's finally time for me to own a copy of CLR(S)...

Second, a more general idea (perhaps should send this out to the half-bakery instead). In addition to the usual spam, I'm now receiving "corporate spam", ie mail generated from my employers telling me all kinds of dull stuff about retiring executives, profit margins, what I should be doing instead of writing blog entries. Now, if people can use bayesian learning techniques to detect and filter spam, can't we extend this further, and get it to filter out this corporate spam into different folders for, er, later viewing. One could generalize this further, and tag every incoming email with one of half a dozen or so different categories (spam, corporate, personal, work, etc.) for prioritizing viewing of them...


Tell me, is it normal...

...to go to your boss's leaving party the day before you start working for him?

I only ask because... oh, never mind.


AOLly sticks

Have been tidying up this afternoon, and found some discarded lolly sticks stuck to the back of an AOL CD. So, time for an all new game: guess which of the following are lame lolly stick jokes, and which are AOL passwords!

1) What washes up on really small beaches? Microwaves
2) Freeze-chord
3) Fifed-midis
4) What gets colder as it warms up? An air conditioner.

Um, ok, so that doesn't actually work. Never mind, eh? Still, the last one is interesting, since not only does it belie a certain basic lack of understanding of thermodynamics, it can also be read as a metaphor for the US attitude towards climate change and the effect of pollution on global warming. But perhaps that's stretching it a bit too far. The AOL passwords are also becoming rubbish, what went wrong?

OK, so let's have another competition: Where in the World is Hugh Anchor? Hidden amongst these photos are at least four pictures of Hugh looking variously, stunned, asleep, dopey, and befuddled, amongst luminaries of the theoretical computer science community. Can you find them all? And if you do, will anyone care?

The winner, as judged by me, will be the lucky recipient of no Gmail invites. So get ogling!

Consumerism gone mad

Look -- it's a devastating satire of consumerism and capitalism!


Unemployed layabouts


I'm unemployed!


That is, my previous contract finished on September 30th. My new jobs starts on October 4th. So, today and for the weekend, I'm technically unemployed. I'm celebrating this freedom by, er, working in the office on some stuff. Er, never mind, eh? Not my fault someone has dumped a paper deadline on Monday, so I need to get stuff moving for it.

I quite enjoyed the debate yesterday, although it was somewhat repetitive.


Number of uses of the phrase "Mixed messages" or "mixed signals":
GWB: 8
JK: 4

References to Saddam Hussein:
GWB: 16
JK: 12

References to Osama binLaden
GWB: 6
JK: 9

Number of times Saddam Hussein confused with Osama binLaden
GWB: 1
JK: (one slight confusion)
Donald Rumsfled: constantly.

Quote of the night: "That's kind of a pre-September 10th mentality" -- GWB.

Also, "I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial. "

Yes. Wouldn't want to be party to courts that are completely unaccountable and can summon foreign citizens for trial, eh? Let me know, which would you prefer, the Hague, or Guantanamo Bay? I know what I'd choose. I'd choose not to get caught.


Lying cheating swindling scum of the day

American Express, my lovely credit card handlers, make a big deal of their "(upto) 5% back on all purchases!" card. Of course, they are lying. But the extent to which they are lying has only just become apparent. The way the rebate works is as follows:

0.5% base rebate on all purchases
1.5% rebate for certain "everyday" purchases (although it's never made clear what these purchases are).

These rebates are doubled once you have spent $6000 in a year, although this counter resets every year.

OK, so on the basis of this you could, just about, argue that the rebate is 3% if you only buy "everyday" items and spend a lot more than $6000 in a year on them. Hard to see how anyone could consume, say, $60,000 dollars worth of toilet roll and milk, but there you go.

So where is the other 2%? Well, it works as follows. If the account carries a balance in a month, then you get the extra 2% rebate. Great! What does it mean to carry a balance? It means that you get charged a "finance charge". And here's the dirtiest trick of all: you get charged a finance charge not on the difference between the balance and what you paid, but you get charged the finance charge on the full amount. And what's this finance charge? It's currently about 12%APR, or 1% per month (roughly).

So, despite the claims, it's impossible to get the full 5% figure. Because, although you might carry a balance to get the 2% extra, you end up paying 1% of it back in finance charges. This is pretty darn sneaky, and I'm betting that the boys in the Amex office felt pretty pleased with themselves when they came up with this scam scheme.

Of course, no one actually tells you this. I just spent 15 minutes on the phone with a Customer Service Rep trying to get an explanation of how the finance charge is calculated. She didn't know of course, and had to find out herself. Then she added that this information was in the cardholder agreement. I'm sure it is; I'm equally sure that no one ever reads the small print in sufficient detail to work out this stuff.

So, congratulations American Express. You are my Lying cheating swindling scum of the day. Tomorrow: Aerolineas Argentina (agan).


Totally lame...

Totally lame rebranding of otherwise decent film in order not to confuse an international audience, batman!

Harold and Kumar...



Another question for all the technerds out there. I'm thinking about replacing my monitor with one of those LSD Fat Panels that seem to be all the rage at the moment. Those skilled in mathematics will deduce that this will leave me with one (1) CRT monitor and no input for it.

So, my question is, what useful and or interesting things can one do with a CRT monitor with 15pin VGA-style input? The best I can come up with, apart from keeping it as a spare, or attaching it to a laptop, is that one could purchase an appropriate convertor to accept standard video input, and plug in one of the dozen or so DVD players currently lying about the place. I'm just wondering if there is something more fun to do -- are there any other cheap devices that spit out a VGA signal and do interesting things with it? I suspect the answer is no.

Any references to dokbot will probably be ignored.

I notice that someone recently reached here using the google search string "dead horse". Now that I've mentioned it, I supposed I'm blogging a dead horse.

NB. Yes, I know I've done that one before. But that was a year ago, so consider it the equivalent of a repeat on TV.


What's Wrong?

To add to the technical posts, here's a summary of my calls to tech support over the past week, with reason for calling, and solution.

  • Computer could not access the network Problem: DHCP server refused to talk to the machine until its MAC address was added to the list of approved machines.

  • Could not log on to the NT domain Problem: machine was not set up to log on to the NT domain. Had to set up the machine identity by typing in some magic words to various configuration settings.

  • Could not access Exchange Server Problem: machine had not been set up to check the correct domains for the exchange server. More magic words needed to be entered into some secret options.

  • Could not log on to the training website to sit through compulsory employee briefing in order to get security badge. Problem: needed to call training people and get them to add my user id to their list of approved ids.

Why am I whinging about this? Well, because I was handed this machine on Monday, and essentially left to get on with it. There were no instructions, and no guidance. Why give out machines but not tell people that to get on the IP network you'll need to register the MAC? Why not register the MACs of the new machines before handing them out? And why not set them up properly for use? Why do I get told to go to the training website to take a tedious course without the website being informed of my userid? In other words, this is exactly the shambles that I encounter every time I join a new organization: I have to spend chasing round, trying to figure out why I haven't been told certain things, or getting something set up. It's enough to give one a persecution complex, that the instruction manual is always missing. And the solution is always the same: do ennough work to get things working in such a way that you never need to interact with the people who omitted to give you the information that you need (hence: installing cygwin, setting MS Exchange to forward all emails to an account where I can use pine, etc.).

Follow Up

You could guess that it would take technical post to bring the geeks out of the woodwork. Although, I'm not sure if geeks live in woodwork. Seems a bit too natural; they probably live in decomissioned 386s, or something.

Suggestions have included:

Using Firefox/Opera/Avant instead of IE. Firstly, Avant is not a real browser: it's more like a bunch of widgets wrapped around an instance of IE. The tabbing, blocking and mouse gestures do make it quite usable, but there's still the nagging doubt that its black, pulsing heart is microsoft. Also, since it's based on IE, you have to go through the whole bs of switching off the notifications that sending a form sends data over the internet, going to a https address is moderately more secure than http, etc. Somehow I can't bring myself to like Firefox: the last time I tried it, the rendering felt slow and somehow flaky. Opera is currently my browser of choice, but making the browsing experience too convenient distracts from work, and you get nothing done (I should make it clear: I'm configuring my machine for work).

Dropping Putty and sticking with ssh through cygwin. For some reason I found the connections I got through cygwin were more flaky than through putty, and would drop or break after a few hours. Maybe things are OK now, but there's something deeply reassuring about the gray on white of Putty. Plus, I once juggled with Simon Tatham (er, I mean... oh, work it out for yourself), and I feel a certain loyalty to the chap.

VideoLan Client: again, not really something I need for work. I need Winamp/Real so I have something to listen to while I'm working, but I don't think I can really justify watching movies. And, at least in my fairly wide range experience of codecs and the like, I still haven't found anything that MPC can't handle, and I love the way that it integrates .rm and .mov and everything else into one stripped down interface.

On the other hand, there were a couple of things I omitted to mention, most of which are more obscure and mostly to do with PDF/EPS formats.

PDF995 is rather intrustive with its advertising, but it gets the job done, and I'm too cheap to shell out for distiller.

Ghostview/Ghostscript is also a little annoying since you have to ack the licence every time it loads, but I seem to have got used to this so I don't notice it any more.

AdobeAcrobat -- the machine came with version 6 installed, but it's pretty slow to load up, so I'm thinking of downgrading to an older version, which should be a bit faster to start. Meantime, can anyone remember what the utility is that makes acrobat start faster? Yes, I know GV can open PDF now, but it doesn't render the text as nicely.

wmf2eps -- I haven't installed this yet, since it's always a pain to get this to install properly... you need to set up a ps printer driver, then redirect the output... but in my line of business being able to get decent .eps output from windows applications is a lifesaver, and opens up a lot more possibilities for producing figures. I suppose one way is to print the relevant figures to pdf, and then crop down to the desired size (requires distiller, though), or try to do something horrific involving gstools and pdftops and pstoeps, but the wmf2eps solution is somewhat nicer. I would go down the route of doing everything in pdf and using pdflatex exclusively, but my coauthors do seem to be rather stuck in the 1990s when it comes to latex usage.

There's probably more, but I suppose I'll remember these as time makes their necessity apparent. At the moment, I find it more pressing to find some way to connect to a printer.


How to make a Windows Machine into something usable

Takes some effort but:

-- Install Cygwin, X, putty
-- Install winamp, media player classic
-- Grudgingly install the oldest version of Real Player for radio streams
-- Set up windows to be less annoying: reconfigure IE, install google toolbar, switch off as many of the irritating features as possible, set up Explorer to show details view in all modes, don't hide file extensions
-- Delete anything with Outlook in the name
-- get rid of as much autoinstalled cruft from startup, taskbar, quicklaunch
-- tidy up start menu, try to remove as much useless crap as possible, switch off the annoying 'hide unused items feature'.

Make a cup of tea, and relax.

With time, a well-tamed Windows system can actually become quite usable.


Leave, Get Out!

A quick reminiscence from the glory days of the MTV video music awards (from last month). At some point in proceesings there was a fawning tribute to Jay-Z who is, apparently, "retiring" from the rap world after his mega-successful year including "I've got 99 problems but the bitch ain't one". A moving video tribute recording his many achievements and career highlights. There was probably even a special award presentation from, I don't know, Puff Diddy and the Diddymen, or something. And then, as the applause was at its peak, rang out the sound of "Leave! Get out! It's the end of you and me" from teen singing child Jo-jo. Admittedly, this was just to herald the entry of said sprog to present some other award or other, but was I only the person to think that it also functioned quite effectively as an instruction to get on with it?

Political Humour

I thought of "Re-elect Gore in 2004" in the bath this morning, and was glad to see when I checked online that someone else had already gone to the trouble of setting up the obligatory CafePress webshop. Hurry, before stocks run out.


Text Adventure


You cannot enter building, you do not have the ID Card


You cannot get the ID Card, you must present evidence of completing the safety course to security first.


To take the safety course, you must go to a website and watch the video there.


You cannot log on to the website without an NT account.


To get the NT account, you must go to the HR website and set up a ticket to have the account set up.


Access to the HR website is limited to trusted IP addresses within the main building. Try using a computer within the main building to access this website.


You cannot enter building, you do not have the ID Card.



Sexy Darko

I watched the cult hit Donnie Darko hit at the weekend. It's entertaining, although the more you think about it, the more it seems to resemble an extended episode of Quantum Leap. The lengths to which various people on the internet have gone to deciphering every last detail, helped to a certain extent by the writer/director leaving large clues around about the fairly mundane explanation he has in mind ("Living Receiver", "Manipulated Living", "artifact" and "tangent universe", FFS).

But anyway. A few weeks ago I saw 'Sexy Beast', which was released around the same time, and I came up with a list of ways in which the two films are related. Contains some spoilers for both films, I expect.

  • The intrusion of a large physical object as a herald of the disruption to come (the engine in DD, the boulder in SB)

  • A sinister character who repeatedly goads the protagonist into a particular action, until he is killed by the protagonist.

  • The main character's gradual acceptance that he must carry out an unpleasant task, which he does ultimately motivated by love for another.

  • Most strikingly (and, hence, obviously, and not so interestingly): a guy in a sinister bunny suit as a motif throughout the film.


Fatboy Blues

Just heard the new FBS track, and I can't say I'm overly impressed. Firstly, the title: Slash Dot Dash Dot Com? Hello? Affecting mild befuddlement at the naming conventions of the internet is like, so 1996. [Meanwhile the construction "X is, like, so, {recent date or time}" is like, so, 1999]. And the song -- apologies if this is my emperor's new clothes moment -- is just a single sample looped over and over on top of some equally repetitive riffs. Perhaps it will grow on me -- it is repeating over and over in my head as I write. But if you want some much better examples of his recent work, check out the amazing remix of "Stand Up" by Ludacris. That really rocks.

Non-sequiteur of the day: batik is a dying art.


A very 'hitchhikers' day

I set off to go to work today about 10 -- but it was raining so hard that even if I took public transport instead of biking, I would have been drenched. So I cancelled, and worked from home for a while. Then, after about an hour, the rain seemed to have stopped, so I went out, got on my bike -- and it started raining hard again. So I stopped, put up my umbrella, and wheeled the bike back to my door. The rain seemed to have stopped again, so I thought, oh well, maybe I can go on my bike anyway. At which point it started raining again.

In other words, every time I thought I would go to work, it started raining really hard, but as soon as I gave up on the idea, it stopped. Perhaps it is trying to tell me something. Well, screw it, I think I'll give public transport another try.

[Edit: blogger wouldn't pubish this for some reason, so I'm trying again. Just to add that although I tried again, it started chucking it down once more, so I worked from home the whole day again.]

In (un)related news, the SODA results are out, and I got one long in and one short rejected. Not bad, given that the acceptance rate is 1 in 3.5. No news yet on how the people who submitted 5, 10 or 20 papers fared, though. ICDE due after the weekend. If this means nothing to, keep thinking about the clever trick using seal blubber


Death To Telemarketers

This is the peril of moving house: your phone number changes. And so, one is cursed with telemarketers who insist on calling with witless requests. One of the good things here (well, I suppose in some countries it is not necessary, but still), is the existence of the federal "Do Not Call" list, which allows one to register a number on a list so that these people will stop bothering me while I'm trying to work.

The only drawback, and it's a big drawback, is that it takes up to three months for this list to get updated with the new data. And so, I am cursed to deal with this irritant for another two months. (I'm not an idiot; as soon as I got my new number from the phone company I went straight to the FCC website to register my number, which was about three weeks before I actually got phone service).

So, in the meantime, you just have to deal with them one by one. Each company is supposed to have a 'do not call' list of their own, which they must also respect. Here is my most recent exchange:

"Hi, I'm calling from the New York Daily News and Post, and we have a special on for home delivery for only 99cents..."
"No, I'm not interested. Please add my number to your do not call list."
"But it's a really good offer..."

[This I found particularly cheeky. I don't know if this kind of cajoling is in their script, but it's pretty damn obnoxious either way. I know these people calling are on commission, so it's in everyone's interests if we get this exchange over with as soon as possible, and they move on to irritating some more gullible fool]

"No! I asked you to add my number to your do not call list. Thank you---goodbye!".

I don't remember ever having this bother much in Britain, but maybe I got lucky. No idea how they got my number so quickly, unless it was someone else's number in the past who didn't register it.


No Comment

The more tedious amongst you (that is, those of you who read this blog directly, rather than via some complex RSS syndication via Neptune or whatever), will notice that I've switched on the comments feature on blogger.

The circumstances are thus: last night my tame Ivy League Professor came by, and muttered something about comments. Over the course of a meal he strongarmed me into switching them on. Very well; consider this an experiment. I can take this opportunity to remind you of the terms and conditions of reading this non-blog and of commiting its contents to memory (electronic or biological). These are, that this communication is strictly one way. That is, I speak and you listen. Therefore, anyone who posts a comment is in strict violation of these terms and conditions, and will be banned immediately, with no appeals process.

Now that I've made that clear, carry on as you were.

At the risk of repeating myself...

... here's the result of a backlog of lollypop stick jokes from the last month or so. Actually, there's only two, possibly there were more but they may have been lost in the move (or in Andover).

Q: What did the Hamburgers name their daughter?
A: Patty. [*]

[*] Note for readers not familiar with north-American customs: a "Hamburger patty" is the local name for the uncooked meat of a hamburger, shaped into the usual circular shape. This is to distingusih it from the Hamburger Bun.

We will swiftly ignore the fact of the sheer stupidity of the idea of Hamburger meat being able to move, converse, and reproduce in some anthropomorphic manner.


Q: What has wheels and a trunk but no engine?
A: An elephant on roller blades [+]

[+] Secondary note for readers not familiar with north-America customs: a "trunk" is local slang for the boot of a car. Confusingly, "boot" here is used to mean an item of sturdy footwear, or a particularly heavy shoe. A "shoe" is used to refer to the flat piece of material in a car which engages with the wheel bearing in order to effect breaking action, and is usually located under the trunk. Etc.

Additional note: "roller blades" may be thought of as being roughly equivalent to a very fancy pair of roller skates, to the extent that someone over the age of 11 would not feel stupid wearing them.

Lastly, an "elephant" refers to a grey, furry creature, about midway between the size of a skunk and a groundhog. They are not considered dangerous, but should not be provoked. Anyone who sees one is advised to contact their local police department immediately.


Nothing will hold us back

I'm listening to GWB spout his trite drivel. It's thoroughly nauseating. I object to being lied to consistently. But that is what's happening. Half the platform appears to be that GWB was in office on September 11 2001, and that this was something that no one else could have done.

But honestly, what can you expect from a party that styles itself "The GOP" -- that's "the Grand Old Party". It's hard to imagine Labour or the Tories applyingsuch a self-aggrandising nickname on itself. I keep searching for an equivalently smug and obnoxious sobriquet for a UK party, and I keep coming up short.

It's completely inexplicable how he's riding so high in the polls, but then it was completely inexplicable that he got any votes to begin with. There are times when I dislike Tony Blair, but this is as nothing compared to the disdain in which I hold GWB. Perhaps if I had been more aware of her effect I could have felt the same about Thatcher, but as it is, GWB is the only premiere that I have actively hated.

I wonder if I am the only person who, when the convention breaks out into their chants of "Four more years! Four more years!" I am reminded of the Neuremberg rallies. Maybe that happens with every convention like this.


Answers to readers' queries

Another batch of idiotic search queries have come in, so here's another rapid response to them:

"fact fans" ntk sounds about right, if you ask me.

clemence posey That's a deliberate misspelling. It should be poesy.

Google: dervla kerwin
MSN Search: Dervla Kerwin
My, but she's a popular misspelling

"all you beyonces" -- are belong to us?

SuprNova -.net we are scammers I think you are probably looking for suprnova.ORG

im looking for a company that sells dics and the products that go with the dics Right, a question posed in clear English. Unfortunately, I still have no idea what you are talking about. Try here.

"jenny powell" slang towel, apparently. Not sure why, on a number of levels.
bloggs with nudity Well, I'm naked while I'm writing this, does that count?


A Challenge

Using only the information available to you on http://www.nationwidemercurys.com/, tell me when the prize is going to be awarded...

Breaking the silence

Hello. I'm back.

Let me first point out that Verizon are a bunch of irritating swine who know nothing about customer service and who have conspired to make what should have been a two day break in my service into nearly three weeks.

I call VZ up on 9/8/04 to tell them that I am moving within New Jersey, and to request (1) that they cut off service to my current place when I move, on 22nd August and (2) that they set up service (phone and DSL) to my new place in time for me to move in. I don't object to paying for an extra week of service to give things time to settle down.

Of course, obliging souls that they are, they decide to cut off my DSL on 10th August instead of the 22nd. And, as mentioned below, whilst cutting me off takes a mere flick of a switch, getting it back on for the remaining 12 days is beyond the abilities of any mortal.

Oh well, never mind, at least things will be working when I get to the new place.

The move goes as smoothly as can be expected, modulo meeting the neighbors via damage to their property. Unload everything, plug in a phone and... no dial tone.

So on 23rd August I call up Verizon, and get put on hold. And wait... and wait... and wait... I give up after 25 minutes. Using a cellphone to call is damn expensive. I'll use a payphone. So, later in the day, I use a payphone to call them. I finally reach a human after 35 minutes on hold. This is while standing at a payphone outside a 7-11 with traffic going past and the sun beating down. Fun. They do a "line test" and tell me that it looks OK to them, but they can send a technician over to look at it... only $100 for the privilege.

Since VZ have a virtual monopoly on local phone service, I relent after whining a bit that they promised to give me service, and it's not my fault that it's fucked. So they send a guy... scheduled in for a week later, "between 8am and 12 noon on 30th August".

Fast-forward to 1.20pm on 30/8/04. I've been on hold to VZ for about 20 minutes to ask them where the hell there tech is, when a van pulls up. After a lot of running up and down to the basement, a small amount of damage to the basement ceiling, and more running up and down, I finally have a dial tone, and with it DSL. Of course, VZ are still going to stick it to me, with $50 fee for moving my service, $100 for the technician, and, I don't know, about 2 hours of my life on hold that I'm not getting back any time soon.

I shall probably write them a letter. Or better still, see if they have a complaints form online.

Coming up: about a fortnights backlog of whinge posts, including the impossibility of getting a computer to talk to a TV. So don't go away now...


Ivor Biggun

I'm still constantly beseiged by searches for people looking for "George Formby - Wanker Song" and variants on this, so I think it's finally time for me to let you out of your misery.

What you are actually looking for is a song released in the UK in 1979 by "Ivor Biggun". The 'official' title of the song was "The Winker's Song (misprint)" [sic] ([sic]) {([sic]}) etc. There are various myths and stories around this release, most of which can be found by googling (eg, the title/cover art was obscured because workers at the record packing factory refused to touch it otherwise, etc.). "Ivor Biggun" is still apparently alive and well, if you look for his home page. He achieved some fame as 'Doc Cox' on "That's Life", but unfortunately you are far too young to remember that.

Now please, stop bothering me about it. And you'll have to find your own links to it to actually find the thing.

Private Eye publishes untrue story

Sadly, this story is completely bogus. A quick google around for "Arnie Stevens pink" pulls up this link to an obvious fake news website. Although, it did seem to confuse these people for an unreasonably long time. Whatever happened to research (ie, going on the internet for two minutes)?


Whoever wins, we lose

I visited my local cinematheque this friday. My companion attended to the demands of micturation micturition, so I approached the kiosk to purchase the tickets.

The attendant looked me up and down, as if to fully gauge my qualities, and uttered the immortal line, "One for Alien Vs. Predator?".

I acted swiftly to disabuse him of this notion by requesting two tickets for an entirely different film, but I ask you, dear reader, was that a truly fair conclusion for him to jump to?


Well, which is it?

I have no internet and I must whinge

Got home last night to discover my DSL modem winking at me balefully. Hmm, on Monday I call the company to tell them that I'm moving and ask them to transfer the service to the new place next week; today I call them to discover that they've hacked off my service prematurely. Because, of course, just before moving is exactly the time when I could use connectivity most, to change contact details, book removals, and a hundred and one other things.

Which leaves me stranded, because, again of course, although Verizon can terminate my DSL in an instant, it is completely impossible for them to switch it back on again. Useless fools. This leaves with the possibility of trying to somehow hack my BEFW11S4 into letting me leech my neighbour's wireless connection. This appears to be impossible. Grrr.



Those Porter Goss anagrams in full:

GOP Tosser (R)
Rogers post
Toss groper
Ogre sports
R. stops Gore
Press: Go rot!
G. Ross Perot

OK, that's enough lame anagrams.


Head aches

In a groggy mood, time for me to record those vital snippets of mundanity that colour our life.

I'm finally done with reviewing papers for a database conference. In the last few months, I've reviewed almost 30 papers (22 between two PCs, plus about half dozen or so for other conferences and journals). Various guides suggest that, based on a principal of amortization, one should review 2-3 papers for each one that you write. Funnily enough, though, I haven't written 10 papers in the last couple of months--I've been too busy reviewing.

Oh well, I'll be moving soon, and the general disruption that this will cause means that I plan to avoid doing any reviewing, travelling, or work in general, while this is in progress. And, because of visa restrictions, I plan to be effectively unemployed during September, even though I'll still be receiving a salary. This is the rough equivalent of spending a year dead for tax purposes.

The joys of moving

I can set up my new phone line by going online, but to move my DSL service, I need to call them.

Expect more of this excitement in the next four weeks or so...


What's up with the Guardian?

Yes, I know it's only reprinting a PA feed, but you have to wonder why the following is news -- or even english:


As the interview neared its end, Emma began winding up Victor ... The cameras stopped rolling - and the pair launched into a ferocious slanging match, with Victor hurling insults at his arch-enemy. Presenter Dave Berry stepped in to try to calm things down. But then Emma lost the plot and tried to attack Victor.

Shall we play count the cliches / gratuitous coloquialisms there:

"winding up"
"cameras stopped rolling"
"slanging matching"
"hurling insults"
"calm things down"
and, most egregiously of all: "lost the plot".

[the remainder of the story is also, um, packed to the gills, with cliches, but at least that has the, uh, good grace, to be in the form of a direct (although, most likely made-up) quote].

Is this journalism? No.

Edit: and while we're on the subject, a Guardian report on HP4 still contains a number of glaring errors:

French actress Clemence Posey, [...] beat over 3,000 girls for the role of Cho Chang, a schoolgirl who catches Harry's eye.

Um, that would be Clemence Poesy as Fleur Delacour. The clue is, they are both French whereas Cho Chang... oh, never mind...


Friends in high places

Sometimes we all need a little bit of help from our Martian Buddy.

But anyway... the main reason for distracting myself from "the most violent game in the whole of history" (c) The Daily Mail, or somesuch, is to point out a clip from the Daily Show. As we all know, the Daily Show does give more insightful political analysis then any so-called "mainstream media", but this is particularly good: a complete dissection of the way that "talking points" manage to distort and bias media discussion of politics by consistent repetition of the same stock phrases.

Take a look [requires evil Real One software, but you'll survive].

Why is it that I think I'd quite like to attend a liberal hatefest? Hmm, must kill some more zombies. Brains... brains...


Worst article ever?

OK, maybe this isn't the worst article ever written about computer security, but I think it comes pretty close. From the Guardian, a story about Computer 'spy' that could clean you out.

Here are some extended excerpts:

Spies sitting in your computer could be sending signals to international fraudsters determined to clean out your bank account or use your credit card.

"Spies" "sitting" in my "computer"? Puh-lease.

No one is safe - even the mighty Google computers collapsed on Monday in the face of concerted hacker attack.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Google suffered some delays and minor outages as the side-effects of a worm that used search queries to mine for new email addresses to send itself to. This has nothing to do with the rest of this story.

And figures from the national crime squad estimate that computer-enabled financial fraud added up to £195m in 2003 - a figure that is set to grow fast.

I'd like to know if, in the 21st Century, there is any serious financial fraud that is not "computer-enabled". What is the figure for fraud against individuals using phishing and key-logging as opposed to, say, the figure for family members or friends stealing credit cards, or muggings?

Jobs & Money can reveal that fraudsters are now moving away from the simplistic "phishing" first seen late last year.

Phishing has a history of much more than a few months.

Phishing involves criminals attempting to confuse internet bank account holders into divulging user names and passwords by sending them a phony letter from their bank asking for these details to "help upgrade security."
If you comply with their instructions, they can then loot your account or use your plastic card.

Use my "plastic card"? Excuse me? How -- would I email it to them? I think what you are trying to say is that phishing scams attempt to get people to reveal their credit card details so that these can be used by the scammer.

The new menace - which has similarities to the "rogue dialler" scam highlighted in Jobs & Money recently - is called "keylogging," where a small item of computer code is sent to a user. This is usually via an email or attachment. Once this program is in the computer, it remains there until triggered by account holders logging on to a bank. Deats believes criminals have details of more than 1,000 financial institutions including all the major UK banks. The code transmits that you are online to the bank. But the real killer application is that it reads every keystroke you make, as you make it. This means it can replicate your user name and password for future use.

Aha -- so the real part of this story is to highlight the use of keyloggers to capture bank details. Why didn't you say so? Contrary to the implications here, keyloggers have been around for a very long time, and many financial institutions have taken (admittedly not very good) actions to prevent them being effective -- for example, getting you to enter some information from drop down menus rather than typing it in. Such schemes have been in effect for at least four years.

Also, you really don't know what the meaning of the term "killer application" is, do you?

These codes, sometimes known as backdoor trojans, first appeared in Brazil. More recently they have grown exponentially in the US, Australia and now the UK.

When you say 'Brazil', are you referring to the country, or the Terry Gilliam film? To talk about a phenomenon on the global internet as having a specific geographic location is somewhat silly. And "backdoor trojans" is a rather more general term than just keyloggers.

"Warnings and other actions on fake sites were effective. Now all they have to do is to entice you to an email.

Hmm, gosh, just opening an attachment in an email [in Microsoft Outlook] could cause unexpected consequences? I've never heard of that happening before. Oh wait, every dumb email virus for the last three years has done that.

They can be very clever so they will insinuate the executable keylogging code through an email offering information on storms in hurricane zones or about football if you show an interest in sport," Deats says.

Because the computer knows that you like football. And who can resist hurricane information? I know I can't.

Computer experts say they have not yet seen a keylogging trojan that insinuates itself in a system without an opened attachment but believe someone is working on this at the moment.

Computer experts have not yet seen a computer program that is as intelligent as a human being and can carry out complex conversations about the weather and what's on TV, but believe someone is working on this at the moment.

Actually, I shouldn't mock this all that much, becuase the whole Wintel environment is sufficiently insecure that infection without running an attachment seems quite plausible.

Fraudsters have also been helped by the growth of broadband. "Many users keep their machines online all the time - that's the big advantage. But they forget that the longer they are online, the longer they are at risk," Deats says.

Wait a minute, you were talking about email attachments. Are you suggesting that if I leave my machine on longer I will get more email? No. You are confusing email with other attacks on networked machines.

The criminals use different tactics. Some steal your details and may keep them for weeks so that even if you suspected something, you will see no action for a time.

And what difference would it make if I suspected something?

The banks are also fighting back with better software. Lloyds TSB's online users have to prove who they are by answering questions by moving their mouse - mouse moves are not yet picked up by backdoor trojans.

That's not the point: mouse motion could be easily tracked, but unless that could be linked to screen location and what was there, then not much could be done about it.

In conclusion, it is important to understand the real dangers of fraud through online banking systems, but stupid, incorrect and badly researched scare stories like this. Here is some simple advice that will help a lot:

Don't use microsoft email or web browsing software.

Don't open attachments or HTML that is sent masquerading as email.

Don't be an idiot.

Alternatively, do be an idiot and do all these things. Since I don't, then you will get your money stolen and keep the fraudsters busy, while I will be safe from their attentions while their are plenty of idiots like you to be fleeced.


Criminal Incompetence

Why is it, I wonder, that everyone that I encounter in administrative or related jobs displays a level of incompetence, stupidity, or mindlessness that verges on the moronic? Take for example, the editorial staff at a top journal, who invited me to submit a paper there. The deadline for submission was a month ago, and so I sttruggled to prepare my thoughts, add the requisite 30% novel material, and such like, in order to meet this deadline.

Yesterday, just over one month since meeting this deadline, an editorial assistant emailed to say that the paper was over their page limits, and I would have to resubmit.

So that's one month to open the file, look at the number of pages, and compare this to the page limit. That's effciency for you.

"But wait", you are surely thinking, "don't you bear some responsibility for not observing the stated page limits. In fact, isn't this outburst just you redirecting your anger at yourself for not getting this right."

Well... no.

The page limits for the journal are "14 pages in the journal style: 10pt, 2 column". They also invite you to submit in single column, double space, with about 26 lines per page. They mention that in this format, 25 pages are acceptable.

Now, anyone who has ever had any experience with typesetting will know that 14 pages in 2 column format translates to a very large number of pages when you knock up the font size and the line spacing. So when I sent my submission, which was several pages above the 25 page double spaced limit, I knew for sure that it would be much smaller when put in the final format. But, as a reviewer, I know that I appreciate a nicely spaced out review comment on which to scribble comments.

This morning, I spent some time messing around to put the submission into 2 column format. This requires some amount of effort in getting the line breaking for formulae not to spill over, and otherwise make it look OK. This is mostly wasted effort, since when it finally gets printed in a journal, it gets transferred into some bizarre internal format [for no obvious reason]. It came to 13 pages, without cutting or squeezing anything. I sent that back, and expect to hear from them again in a month with some other idiotic quibble.

Second (yes, there's more), I called up my favourite useless, thieving, cheating lying airline: Aerolinea Argentina. Regular readers will remember that they stole lost my bags some months ago. A couple of months back, I sent off a reimbursement claim, and naturally heard nothing from them. Today I called them up to hurry them along (since nothing happens if you don't call people a dozen times). In my original claim I sent a list of missing items. The nice lady on the phone told me that I need to fax to her the same list but handwritten. Handwritten? WTF? But why is it that I have to call them to get this stupid (and not previously mentioned) instruction from them? Are they being serious, or is this just some game that they play with their customers to wind them up and wear them down? I should just sue the buggers, but that's far too difficult.


Doh! Nuts!

One for the NTK fraternity, I'm afraid (too lazy to send it in, so can someone else?). From Wednesday's Guardian:


The Gallery

Time for some screenshots that I've been saving up for a while, and might as well get rid of now. First, what's on TV tonight:

Hmm, one for the MD5 geeks out there, I suppose.

Next, proof -- if proof were needed -- that Excel is somewhat of a crappy program:

Can't have two files with the same file name open at the same time? That sounds like bad programming...

Lastly, a cry for help. Do you have friends who have fancying McIntosh computers? You know, the ones that come in pretty colours? Well, you may have noticed that many of these have a nice fancy screensaver that shows their digital photographs and smoothly transitions between them. What I want is one of those but for a PC. It has to be freeware/shareware with no nags (because I'm cheap). Any suggestions?

[Edit: OK, so in fact the most convenient solution seems to be the "My Pictures Slideshow" screensaver built into WinXP. Which is a start, except, I can't specify other directories, remove the more vile transition effects, or otherwise configure the slideshow to the extent that I would like. It's the straw man that others will be judged against, though]

Summit Happening

After a lot of thought, and careful planning around the location of various vital services (work, groceries, direct train lines to new york), I've settled on where it is I want to live from the end of next month. All I have to do now is to find somewhere to live there that isn't too exorbitantly expensive. More and or less if I actually manage to get people to find such a place for me.


"Pick up the gun"

Now we can at last be sure that Iraq posesses weapons of mass destruction. How? Because we will sell them to them.


John Doh!

I ought to be getting up and doing some work. But instead I seem to be sitting here about to nitpick problems with a 2 year old cancelled TV show.

"John Doe" is a moderately amusing detective show. Since every modern TV detective show needs a gimmick, the gimmick here is that John Doe the anonymous eponymous protagonist knows everything. That's right, everything -- and is able to use this knowledge to solve impossible crimes.

Problem is, the actor playing Doe isn't quite so smart. Take this snatch of dialogue where Doe is using his knowledge of probability theory to win large in a casino:

"The statistical probability the equation of n equals log one dash dc over log one dash dp I'd say the chances you pull a four are 93.3%"

Do you see what went wrong here?


"It's not right and it's not fair"

Bush is making Democrat blocking of presidential judicial nominees a campaign issue.  Now hear the trying hard to be non-partisan NPR categorically take this argument apart.
Of course, judges should not be political appointees, since they are supposed to be impartial interpreters of the law, but we can't have everything we want.

Land of the Free?

For a nation that proclaims itself the land of the free, there are a variety of standards within the USA when it comes to those old favourites, sex and drugs (they're working on rock and roll). While law at the federal level focuses on persecuting based on claimed connections to "terror", the states are happily going their own way to impinge on the freedoms of others for the strangest of things.

Consider the following two case studies:
couple arrested for selling sex toys.
Tommy Chong serves 9 months for selling glassware

That's right: these people were arrested, and imprisoned, not for selling drugs, not for selling sex or even pornography, but for moulded pieces of plastic and glass. And there's a lot of this going on. While the attention is distracted with wars, explosions and politics , freedoms are gently and quietly being removed. Ask yourself, how long before what you do is found to be in violation of some law or other?


"Please listen carefully"

One question: why do all telephone based automated menu systems change themselves constantly. In other words, why is it always "our options have changed"? What is the inherent instability in telephone touch-tone based dialling systems? Or is this just a scam with the telephone company in order to keep us on the line longer while brainwashing us with noveau cliches:

"Please listen carefully, as our options have changed. Your call may be recorded for training purposes. Please hold, because all operators are currently dealing with other customers. Your call is very important to us."

On the other hand, don't get me started on these new 'voice activated' systems, which are incredibly unresponsive. If you want to subject yourself to intense annoyance, may I suggest Virgin Mobile USA, whose "virtual advisor", Amber, is possibly the most irritating false person I have ever encountered. Call 1-888-322-1122 from the USA to enjoy the pleasure of her company as she does her best to prevent you from speaking to a real person who might just be able to help you with your problem.

If you had one shot, one opportunity...

...would you capture it or just let it slip?

Imagine yourself to be a radio DJ, with a waning reputation for being a bit of a firebrand, a bit of a wildcard. The self-styled "saviour of British radio". And, for reasons too banal to go in to, you find yourself at Chequers to promote "Sports Relief" with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Charles Lynton Blair. After a little knockabout fun, in the middle of which you both jog a mile as part of the campaign, you are wrapping up the interview, and have the chance to ask any question you like. Which of the following questions would you ask?

(a) "Mr Blair, a lot of our listeners are young people, and many of them are in the armed forces, or have friends and family who are. Their lives are being put in danger in Iraq on a daily basis; yet, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor is their any credible evidence that Iraq was a threat to the UK. What do you say to those who have lost loved ones in the conflict: what has their loss and suffering achieved?"

(b) "Prime Minister, a lot of our listeners are young people, many of whom will be voting for the first time in the elections in 2005 or 2006. What would you highlight as the achievements of your government over the past seven years, and how would you encourage them to cast their votes?"

(c) "So Tony, a lot of our listeners are young people, and they'd all like to know: what's your favourite cheese?"

To find out which question got asked, listen to the second interview here. [about 6minutes into the clip].

A level of journalism that makes asking Tim Westwood "are you aware that you are white?" look like Paxmanian interviewing. Well, it was a pertinant question in that case.


How peculiar...

Some non-ironic use of the phrase
"valley of our souls" which by the second page of results has become entirely smut-filled.


This is a stick-up!

An Ivy League professor writes,

"Could you email me all your lolly stick jokes in one convenient file?"

In a word, no. Do you think that I really have nothing better to do than to save all the archives of this non-blog thing to disk, boot up cygwin and grep through the HTML for all occurrences of the word 'lolly', and then tidy up the results? I might just as well spend my time downloading random episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus in order to identify snatches of rousing anythems.

On a completely unconnected note, here for your delectation and irritation is a collected list of all the lolly stick jokes that I've picked up over the years. Note that these are all genuined jokes, that came from lollys (lollies? red lolly, yellow lolly?) that I purchased and ate from my local Shtop&Shop. And if you don't believe me, I have the evidence right here on my keyboard -- look:

  • If a gown is evening wear, what is a suit of armour? Silverware.
  • Why did the annoying exterminator lose his job? He bugged his boss.
  • Why was the book in the hospital? Because it hurt its spine.
  • Why did the book join the Police? So he could work undercover.
  • When is a fin not a fin? When it's a dol-phin.
  • Why did the boy stare at the automobile's radio? He wanted to watch a car-tune.
  • What were the two talkative computers doing? They were having a disc-cussion
  • What did the girl melon say when the boy melon proposed? We're too young, we canteloupe.
  • Why did the bird go to the theatre? So it could wait in the wings.
  • When do you have feet on your face? When they're crow's feet.
  • When is a theatre clumsy? When the curtain falls.
  • Where should you put your TV? In a remote area
  • What can of dog can jump higher than a house? A house can't jump.
  • What kind of horse never wins a race? A sawhorse.
  • How to billboards talk? Sign Language
  • What did the lawyer call her daughter? Sue.
  • What kind of phone does a turtle have? A shell-ular phone


Relative Values

Only just noticed the following:

Price of 1.5L bottle of Sprite = $1.09
Price of 1.89L bottle of milk = $2.19

What kind of country has values like this?

Thinks: what is the equivalent cost in the UK?
1.29GBP for 2 litres of Sprite
30p/pint for milk -- so about 1 pound for 2 litres of milk.

Hmm. Not quite so bad.

Lolly stick joke: What did the lawyer name her daughter?


[Edit] I guess I shouldn't try to post lolly stick jokes from memory, as I go and repost an old one. Here's the one I should have posted:

What kind of phone does a turtle have?
A shell-ular phone


Thanks to the non-fathers against injustice campaign for pointing that out.


Clean, clean, clean

Cleaning is so difficult. Who would have expected that one house could have such a large total surface area? The worst part is the vacuuming: first you vacuum the floor with the big vacuum; then you empty the accumulated dust into the bin, and express shock that there could be quite such a large volume of skin cells and hair lying about the place (since you also emptied it just before embarking); then you use the small vacuum to clean up around the bin to get the dust that fell out while you were emptying the large vacuum; then you take out the bin bag because it's now full of rubbish; then you take the bin to the bathroom and wash the bin because it smells and has old bits of food lying around the bottom of it; and then you have to wash the bath; finally, in a bit, I'll fill the bath with hot water and wash myself. It's all very self-referential and infinite regress-y, like one of those InfiniteCat.com/Fark NewYorkPost memes that spirally around the internet at the moment.