Beating around Bush

There's been some amount of chatter about this interview with Bush. Actually, for once gwb comes across not as completely lost for words, but is at least able to string sentences together, even if they don't really adequately answer the questions thrown at him. What is particularly shocking is that on several occasions he berates the interviewer for interupting him (when it appears that he's finished saying anything of content). It makes you wonder if he's actually been interviewed by a serious interviewer any time recently. Compare this to the lively back and forth that you'd hear on the Today programme or Newsnight, and you wonder what he's complaining about. [xref to this transcript of a typical paxman interview with Blair and count how many times they cut across each other]. In fact, if he actually responded to the question rather than whingingly complaining about being interupted, it would actually cut out a lot of the waffle and make him sound a lot more focussed. Perhaps the expectation is that that all these snipes would get cut out as the 10 minute interview gets snipped to 30secs for consumption (it didn't; it went out in full on Irish TV).

Equally intriguing is this discussion (from NPR on Saturday) about Bush's debating style. It's based on an article in the current Atlantic Monthly [relevant article not available online at the moment]. In it, they play clips of Bush from Texas Gubernatorial debates from about 10 years ago, and contrast to some more recent examples. It's really quite staggering how big a difference there is: the 1994 bush is surprisingly eloquent, on the ball and responsive. The commentators suggest three explanations: that the current inarticulacy is entirely deliberate; that this is some recent onset of aphasia; or just that the stress of the job has pushed him into incomprehensibility.

Of the three explanations, I'd be most inclined to go for the second. It's very easy to try to dismiss gwb as a gibbering idiot. See, for example, that "Kelvin 761.5" movie. But that's just not the case; he may not be particularly bright, or particularly clever, and has succeeded thus far in life due a lot to his family, and his supporters. It's also a bit much for the already gulled US public to admit that almost half of them voted for a certifiable moron; much better to classify him as suffering from a mental disease. So, let's at least get the guy diagnosed. There's clearly something wrong with him. And, just as Martin Sheen got into trouble in the "Let's Pretend the Democrats were capable of winning an election" sci-fi/fantasy Show, "TheWestWing" for not telling the electorate that he was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis [... so should shrub].


Competition Update

Literally three people wrote in to request GMail invitations, so all three original invitations are gone. But, logging in to the account to look at all the bounced messages, I note that I have been issued with a new invitation, so I will extend the comptetition further. However, I noticed that all the three winners had something in common: they all lived in the same house as me during at various points between september 2001 and september 2002. Therefore, I'm adding a new rule to the competition: you can only win if you lived in the same house as me between september 2001 and september 2002. Don't all rush at once.

I am 11011!

So hurray for me. Of course, I'm more looking forward to November, when I will be 10,000 days old.


More Phone Capers

I got a phone call yesterday from MBNA America, which was recorded in a rather garbled form on my answerphone. So I called back (wondering, do I actually have any business with MBNA America, and also, does that mean that the full name is "Maryland Bank of North America America"?), and spoke to someone who asked me if I was Olivia A***** [no, her surname is not rude; I'm just supressing it for obvious privacy reasons].

No, he must have a wrong number. But then I realized -- that's the name of one of the people who live in the flat above mine. I know this fact because my fat lazy idle postman often delivers their mail into my mailbox. As far as I can work out, his method for sorting the mail to the two flats that have letterboxes next to each other is to take it in one hand and then stuff it all in whichever box seems closest. Occasionally, I also get letters for the next house along or, if I'm really lucky, a house with the same number but on a completely different street. I often wonder what life would be like if I had a competent postman.

So, going back to the phone, this to me is a remarkably odd situation. I've received a phone call for someone who lives close to me. I ask if the person phoning has the address, and he does indeed have the address of this building, but the upstairs flat. I can only guess that somehow he's got the phone number by searching a database but putting in the wrong flat number. Still, for someone who is very used to the distinction between logical and physical mappings into address space, I found it more confusing than most people would.

Which reminds me of a problem I had for a while with telephone number reuse. It's the following situation: you move into a new place, get a phone line installed, and start receiving phone calls for the people that used to have the same phone number. How do you concisely explain this to the people who have called? Because they've not dialled the number incorrectly, it's just that the people who used to have that number don't have it any more. Probably they moved. But I think many people believe that if you move house, then the same phone number goes to the same house, so I must have moved in to their old house -- and so maybe I know their new number. Not so; I have no clue what their new number is. They'll just have to find some other way of getting in touch with their friends who they haven't called for six months.

Now, how do you communicate all that in as succinct a way as the well known "Sorry, wrong number" or "Please add my number to your do-not-call list" [used to US telemarketers, although this has become more or less obsolete since the creation of the FCC Do Not Call registry] ?

Then, when you've solved that, a possibly easier problem: my telephone number has the last four digits abcc [no, you idiot, it isn't actually letters; again, I am using masking for my privacy you dunderhead]. And for a while I got frequent calls from people asking me when school was opening that day, or to tell me that little Johnny was sick that day, or whatever. Eventually I figured out that there was a local school near by whose number was identical to mine except that the last four digits were abbc. Now, is there a concise way to deal with idiots who are unable to dial correctly? Is "Wrong number" sufficient for this? Maybe they wrote it down wrong. Perhaps I should tell them to dial the correct number (now that I know what it is). More relevantly, what action should I take when people leave messages on my answering machine intended for the school? At the moment, I just cackle evilly and delete them. On one occasion, someone rang up to enquire about nursery places. I rang back and left a message on her machine to say that I wasn't currently accepting children.

Finally, what should I do about my mystery electronic caller? About once every couple of weeks or so, I get a call from a machine. It beeps at me balefully for about a minute or two, and then hangs up, and tries again a bit later. Clearly, someone has my number in their machine and hasn't noticed that it never gets through. And nothing shows up on the caller ID. Thankfully, these calls are fairly rare now, and usually come during the middle of the day, when I'm not trying to sleep and am often out. But still, it is mildly annoying -- about as annoying as a fly buzzing around you. Can't really be bothered to swat it.

That is all.

Conversations with my ISP

I called up my ISP (Verizon) the other day. The conversation went something like this:

"Hi, I'm just trying to find the price of my DSL connection. Your website says $30 a month, but I'm paying $35 a month"

"Yes, that's a special promotion for new customers"

"Ok, but I can't find any other price listed on the website listing the regular monthly price."

"Well, it's a special promotion for new customers. [pause] Would you like me to put you on that promotion?"

"Um... OK."

"Great. Oh, and would you like us to increase your upload speed to 384kbs?"

"Uh, yes please"

"OK, I'll do that for you."

Very weird. But it seems to work.



Am I the only one to have notice that the lovely Warwick Boar site has been hacked? The main site, on www.warwickboar.co.uk is untouched, but the warwickboar.co.uk page has been defaced, apparently by a bunch of anti-war protestors. How exciting.

Does anyone care about Gmail anymore?

Hey, do you remember that time back in, oh when was it, spring 2004 or around then, when everyone went crazy about Gmail? What were we thinking! Yet another web-based email system -- big deal! Anyway, I went back to log into my old account again after what seemed like years, and guess what --- it's still there, more or less. So, on the off-chance that anyone still gives a damn about it, I seem to have three invitations to gmail, assuming that there's anyone left on the planet who doesn't have an account there but would like one.

Do you remember the days when people bid on ebay for Gmail accounts? Or offered to trade goods and services? Then, people started giving them away in lame competitions to guess the number of attendees at conferences... well, now you help yourself to an account just be emailing me. You don't even have to give a reason, or complete a tie breaker, or answer an easy multiple choice question. Just ask, and you shall receive. I'll let you know if anyone can even be bothered to enter this competition.

Must have existing email address to enter, which doesn't render the entire effort entirely pointless, oh no. Entrants must be of legal age, and female, and single, and... oh, who am I kidding? Entrants must be male, and nerdy, and lonely. Error and emissions excepted. First three entrants that I don't ignore will win invitations to google gmail account; next ten runners up will win ten shares in google each. The organizer reserves the right to change the terms and conditions at any moment, and to act petulantly if and when he feels like it.


Up Jonathan Creek

I've been watching some of the more recent episodes of Jonathan Creek recently, and I was rather disappointed. The writing didn't seem to be up to the usual standard. There were lots of loose ends in the plots, and the whole things looked a lot more sloppy than before.

Today I discovered the reason after downloading an episode that I had missed. BBC America, which has been showing these episodes over here puts them on from 8 - 9pm. So far, so good. But there are lots of adverts shown during the programme, probably about 15-20mins worth every episode. That leaves 40-45 mins of actual show. The episode I downloaded is 60 mins long, and has no adverts in.

That's right, BBC America has been hacking large lumps out of the programme in order to fit more adverts in. I'm actually pretty disgusted with this behaviour. Imagine reading a book where 1/3 of the pages had been covered over with adverts and, worse still, about 1/30 of the pages are covered up with a big sticker telling you the name of the book that you are reading and the publisher.

It just makes you glad that internet piracy is alive and well to give me the information I seek without the casual brutality towards the creative content. Hmm.

MacGyver's Alive?!

This week, I have mostly been watching:

MacGyver and the lost treasure of Atlantis.

This is the best film that has ever been made. It has many features which mark it out as a classic that should be enjoyed by all concerned, including:

1. MacGyver
2. Brian Blessed.
3. Many parts of it are set in England
4. Other parts of it are filmed in England but are claimed to be somewhere else.

Here is one of my favourite scenes:

The camera pans up on what is obviously Battersea power station [obsessive classic rock fans: cross ref to Pink Floyd's 'Animals']. But wait! It's actually playing a role in this film as...

An outpost in a non-specific Balkan war!

OK, onto the plot. Several years after his TV show finished, MacGyver is back again, this time to help Brian Blessed shout his way to the Lost Treasure of Atlantis. We discover that MacGyver is actually an ABD archaeology student, which allows the film to basically retread lots of familiar Indiana Jones ground (including several instances of the precious object which, when removed, causes a trap to be triggered). Instead of snakes, MacGyver appears to be frightened of spiders.

There is also the love interest, in the form of a lecturer at "London University":

Which, to those in the know, is really Royal Holloway with a sign stuck in front saying "London University". More on Royal Holloway when I get round to it in a later post, and also remind me to dig out my favourite episode of Alias which involves a trip to "Oxford University".

Referring to "London University" is almost accurate, since Royal Holloway is one of the constituent colleges of the somewhat notional University of London. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the scriptwriter isn't too bothered with notions of accuracy or research, since "Prof Carson" has recently received her "tenure" and is considering a career change. [Note to international readers: the UK doesn't have tenure. Or a London University, at least not in the sense that you would think we do. And we call university faculty "Lecturers", not "Professors".

The plot is the typical traps and treasure, trickery and double-cross that you'd expect from anything of this nature. At the risk of spoiling the ending, the best line of the whole movie has to be Blessed shouting (of course) "The Treasure of Atlantis is... Knowledge!". Although, it has to be pointed out that, as the lost temple of atlantis disappears back into the volcano five minutes from the end, that although MacGyver and crew do escape unblemished, the treasure does disappear again sinking into the heart of the volcano, perhaps lost forever this time. Also, isn't it a little concerning that MacGyver pushes the bad guy into a vat of boiling water to his certain death? Seems a little bit out of character.

Overall, this is a great film. I would give it five stars out of five.

This just fills me with curiousity for the almost certainly cancelled before it even got out the box effort of Young MacGuyver [looks like it has never been shown, but there must be some internet bootlegs of it out there somewhere?

I'm still also desperate to see any episodes of Days Like These, the word-for-word copy of That Seventies Show, set in England and described by its own fan page as possibly being "Britain's Worst Ever Sitcom".


Lolly Stick Redux

Almost forgot: a new lolly stick joke.

What did the lawyer call her daughter?

Shockingly bad, eh?


It's a funny business applying for academic jobs. Even after I've fixed myself up with something for next [academic] year (BCIS/DHS permitting), the jobs that I applied for back in December continue to dribble in with belated rejection letters, at the rate of one every week or so. At least the current batch are lying to me as blatantly as some did: these were personalized looking letters complimenting me on the strength of my application but sadly regretting that they were unable to invite me for interview -- and then the scanned signature of someone who'd clearly never actually looked at my application package.

What else is new and exciting? UK denizens should be aware that the Graveyard shift is back, albeit in a slightly curtailed, and fat-free form. For US readers, this can be enjoyed before dinner by listening live, or wherever you are in the world, it can be enjoyed before lunch, before tea and before dinner thanks to the listen again feature.

Some important McGuyver and Quinlanck news to follow, when I have enough time to fire up the image capture device. There was probably something else to pay attention to, but it's getting late and it's nearly time for the Daily Show. Abnormal service will be resumed as and when. Yesterday's mashed potatoes.


Everything in moderation

I was in a department store the other day (an "anchor store" of the mall complex, as my companion charmingly put it), and on the map of the store was a large section called "Moderate Sportswear". Gosh, I thought, I wonder where they put the immoderate sportswear?

Presumably "moderate sports" is some kind of riposte to "extreme sports". Have extreme sports become so mainstream now that they are assumed to be the norm, and everything else must be labelled to distinguish it?


Absolutely Unprecedented

According to the guardian, Richard Branson is to launch an unprecedented third attempt to run the lottery.

Could this be unprecedented because, the UK National Lottery, which started in 1994 was initially granted to Camelot, and the licence was renewed in 2000. So, er, this would only be the third time that it's come up for bidding.


I was literally spitting blood...

...after my visit to the dentist. Honestly, is it really necessary to attack my gums with a pointed stick? And how is it that I end up leaving the dentist with my teeth aching when they felt fine when I went in? Any answers, keep them to yourself.

Quick referrer log trawl before I go and see a man about some money. Someone looking for 'standard techniques' (could you be a little more vague please?) probably won't find any here. Someone else wants to know "What happened briths airport"[sic]? Dashed if I know. Our old friend is back looking for 'scissor truss pics' (still don't want to know, but thanks for your persistence). Plus a few more hits for phrases such as: "shrek fiona nude" and "gay pics of shrek nude". Time for a quick top five search terms of all time (Well, since records began last year) to illustrate what is on the mind of the typical internet user. If you like, think of this as my "greatest hits"

5. Goodness Gracious (14 hits)
"Oh, Doctor I'm in trouble", as Romana was heard to remark on more than one occasion.

4. Shrek (27 hits)
Almost all of these in conjunction with the keyword 'nude' or 'naked'. Is there some giant green ogre fetish that I'm not aware of?

3. Dervla (48 hits)
Often in conjunction with "Kerwin" and "nude", which shows that there is a larger fetish for naked misspelt celtic temptresses.

2. Diggerworld (87 hits)
Another erroneous spelling: people (including me) kept looking for "Diggerworld", a JCB-themed theme-park, when in fact we should be looking for "Diggerland". Can't help thinking that they should consider changing the name...

1. Milkshake (1067 hits)
My milkshake brings all the boys to my page. Or something like that. La-la la-la laa.


Adhered Adjective

An adhered adjective is an adjective that is stuck to a particular noun, usually because the person saying it is obliged to use those words in combination because they are reading from a script. Often the adhered adjective seems awkward in this combination, and it is only through repetition that we fail to notice it. Often heard whilst travelling, eg:

"Please do not leave packages unattended as this may lead to unnecessary security alerts".

Here, 'unnecessary' is the adhered adjective. Note the subtle implication here, that there may in the course of an ordinary day be a necessary security alert, but if you leave your bag of sandwiches next to platform 4, then it will cause an unnecessary secturity alert.

"A warm welcome to our OnePass members who are earning valuable air miles on this trip".

In this Continental greeting, the script tries vainly to emphasise the importance and value of the air miles, despite the fact that it takes you about 10 years of frequent jetsetting to earn anything like enough miles for a trip from Newark to JFK.

Anyone know any more adhered adjectives?


Boring Tech Stuff

Was going to post interesting observations on my european vacation, but can't be bothered to indulge you with them. Instead, I'll indulge myself with some tech rambling. I got hold of one of the highly sought-after Philips DVP642 DVD players this weekend, by the cunning ruse of going into WalMart on Friday afternoon and buying one. These machines have been hard to get hold of lately, due to a lot of interest in them on the internet. They are fairly cheap ($70) slimline DVD players, with two very nice features:

1) It plays MPEG and DivX movies burned onto DVD+R/+RW using standard burning software.
2) It becomes region free through entering a code on the remote.

Both of these features are very important to me. I don't like sitting in front of the computer to watch things, it isn't the same environment as watching TV. Yet, since I'm too lazy to get a VCR or be in at the right times, or if I want to watch old or foreign TV shows, then I download a lot of TV shows (a remarkably grey area, legally, but let's brush over that). Until recently, I've been using the Apex 1100 ($45 from WalMart in 2002), which can play MPGs only, but is not region free). The Apex is an amazing machine, and has played pretty much every file I've thrown at it over the last eighteen months. But a lot of things I want to watch are DivX, and I'm too lazy to convert them -- it hardly seems worth the effort. It also has a very good user interface: ability to pause, ffwd and rewind at up to 16x, and jump to any point in the file.

Perhaps surpisingly, the Philips interface is a little less nice. It does display up to 16 chars of the filename instead of 8 on the Apex, but going through the filelist takes longer -- it always seems to be reading from the disk instead of caching the directory listing. Ffwd and rewind work well enough, but only up to 8x, and direct point access also is a little more clunky than on the Apex (you have to enter 00:10 to jump to ten minutes in, even if the file is less than an hour long, and then press 'OK'). Peculiarly, there seems no way to display the length of the file, or time remaining.

Format-wise, it seems to cope pretty will with a large variety of DivX/Xvid/MPG versions. It baulks at WMV, but who wouldn't, and seemed to crash occasionally on some Xvid files. Also, because of the wide variety of codecs out there, it's not surprising that it occasionally runs into something that it can't handle: it didn't like one avi that had Xvid video but the Divx/WMA audio codec, and played the video without any sound. But it still succeeds on a large fraction of things I have tried on it, and played a 90minute movie last night without any problems.

Yes, it's not quite as universal as a modded Xbox with xbox media center would be, but that requires a lot more time, money, effort and swearing than the DVP642 that worked straight out of the box. The region free setting was also easy, and means that I can now enjoy my imported copies of A Very Peculiar Practice and The High Life, neither of which are likely to be release in Region 1 any time soon.


Am I dead?

To anyone worrying about my health due to the lack of blog entries lately -- can't you read? I quite clearly posted a calendar of my movements a fortnight ago, which showed that I wouldn't be around to take notes on the minutiae of life for a while. But I'm back from my trip to the Isle of Elba (which, trivia fans, is just a little south of the Isle of Lucy), refreshed, tired, energized and too lazy to do anything useful, hence am writing silly blog entries. Will probably add comments about Italian transport, social engineering and anything else that peturbs me later, but I've just got in to work, and it's nearly lunchtime. So, time to stop for lunch, obviously.