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Thanks once again to the glory that is the dumb internet that passes bits around without too much thought, I was able to spend friday evening eating roast dinner (not actually anything to do with the internet), drinking cheap red wine (ditto), and watching the Eurovision Song Contest (ah, that would be it). I had tried to keep the result a surprise, but this plan was scuppered by, of all people, National Public Radio, who on the Sunday after the contest let slip the result.

I've missed seeing the contest for the past couple of years (I think the last one I saw was in 2003 when I got obsessed with the Austrian entry [the actual entry where I explained in great detail the genius of his pasta-based lyrics has either got lost in the internet, or else I never actually wrote it]). As a self-acknowledged fan of everything camp, kitschy, glittery and novelty, this year's contest was a delight.

[RSS readers may have to open this entry to appreciate the full effect, if it works]

Latvia (or was it Lithuania? I'm always getting those two mixed up) led off with the awesomly hummable "We are winners of Eurovision Contest Song Competition!". They should have won with that.

Much has already been remarked about the German entry, in their controversial decision to feature a country song. International readers may note that the Teutonic peoples are not known for their life as cowboys, rounding up the cattle and having hoe-downs. Still, at least this entry from "Texas Lightning" wasn't as bad as it could have been: it could have been performed by Texas.

I had a soft spot for the Danish entry, in which the implausibly named Sidsel Ben Semmane revived the sixties dance flash-in-the-pan, the Twist, about the shocking ignorance of today's youngsters of forty-year-old dance crazes. The lyrics feature the fledgling romance between Johnny and the conveniently rhyming Connie, and ends with a plaintive cry that you should "be sure you know how to twist" before attempting to seduce your potential assonant conquests. I'm not sure what it is that appeals to me about this song: perhaps it's the mind-numbing simplicity of the lyrics, the utter anachronism of the tune, or the jaunty costume of its teenage performer. Er...

... which leads me on to the British entry, "Teenage Life", in which an implausible middle aged bloke in a tracksuit and a chorus of graduates of the Sylvia Young School in their late twenties dressed for a night out at the abhorrent SchoolDisco (TM) belt out a cod rap paen to the tribulations of being a teenager with enough fake emotion that you could almost believe that they could remember back long enough to when they were at school. The song was quite catchy though, so I was surprised that it did pretty abysmally in the voting. Perhaps it was something political, to do with Blair, Iraq or 9/11.

Of course, the main problem is that the lyrics make no sense.

What did you learn at school today?
That's what the teachers used to say

Firstly, when did your teachers ever say this? At least on occasion my parents would naively enquire what I learnt at school today. But why would teachers ever ask this question? If they were any cop at being teachers, then they should have a pretty good idea what you learnt, since they just taught it to you. (I refuse to enter into any complex discussions of the distinction between what was taught and what was learnt; this doesn't make sense and that's that).

Why do they always give advice ?
Saying "Just be nice, always think twice"
When it's been a long since they had a teenage life

Yes, why do they give advice? Especially when it is so anodyne as "Just be nice, always think twice". Although, again, in my entire life, no teacher ever gave such advice. Even if they had, it's surely sufficiently banal not to excite any response of great irritation that provokes young Darren to brood on it into his thirties before finally responding with an embittered and decidely Love City Groove/Love City Groove-influenced "rap" on the subject.

I could go on with how silly this song is. But there's not much more point except to remark on the fact (And getting told off Mr T how my life would be) that Al Franken and Mr T. share a birthday, and are about the same age.

And there's Bloody Las Ketchup! I'm sorry, I'll write that again, it should be Las Ketchup with Bloody Mary. As any experienced bar person should know, you don't make a Bloody Mary with Ketchup (it should be tomato juice and tabasco sauce). Still, surprising to know that "professional" singers such as Las Ketchup (who had a worldwide smash with, was it the Macarena? Or Gasolina? It'll come to me in a moment) could compete in the decidedly amateur Eurovision. In their last incarnation, there were only three of them, but now there's four, which, considering they are sisters, is a pretty good trick. Also, according to the official Eurovision website, "All four of them are young, attractive and friendly.". Which is good to know. Perhaps they are friends of Allen's.

While their last hit eventually emerged as a rip-off of Rapper's delight, I did not detect any obvious plagiarism here. Apart from the chorus of "Duty Free, Duty Free, Duty Free, Duty Free!", which was an obvious homage to Keith Barron.

Oh, Lordi, Lordi, Lordi.

Yes, at last we come to Lordi, the performance that had everyone talking. Before we begin, the anal-retentive/borderline Asperger's in me feels compelled to point that this is the Eurovision Song Contest, and that the official rules (which I've not actually read) insist that the prize should go to the best song, not the best bunch of blokes dressed up in stupid, stinking plastic costumes. (perhaps the youtube rendition of the performance is a little too blocky to see what is going on; try the googlevid encode instead).

Still, the lyrics do offer some solace:

The walls come down like thunder
The rocks about to roll
It’s the Arockalypse

On the day of Rockoning
It’s who dares, wins

Careful observers will note that what they've done their is taken words and replaced certain pieces with the word "rock". Very clever.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Let's finish by reliving some highlights of Eurovisions past:

Alf Poier -- Weil der mensch zählt

Gina G -- Ooh, ah, just a little bit

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any archived videos of the performances of Love City Groove or Guildo Horn and the Orthopedic Stockings (they were his support band).

Utter sots (anag)

One thing I feel I have to add to the ongoing Da Vinci Codswallop farago. I looked through the book a year or so back, and was suitably unimpressed. But the acknowledgments mention William Tunstall-Pedoe, pedlar of the really very good Anagram Genius software. It turns out that all those dodgy anagrams around which the plot of the novel turns (oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT, like I care) were generated using W T-P's nifty bit of coding (for more details, see here). Oh, Dan Brown. How you have fooled us with your computer generated illusions! (although, perhaps it would have been better if he had just let the computer write the whole book).

I have a great deal of fondness for AG. Mostly because, using a nice "trial version" of the software, I was able to find that Pamela Anderson is an anagram of Anal Promenades (I forget exactly why I was looking for this; I believe that Baywatch was the toast of the town at the time). It also informed me that various people known to me were anagrams of, variously, Virgin's Testes, Smiling Doll, and Nazi Leader. There are no good anagrams of my given name or my assumed name.

The esteemed Mr T-P hangs around Cambridge, and I must have seen him in the bar a few times. I beta-tested his follow up work, the technically impressive Crossword Maestro, one summer when I had nothing better to do. Disks were passed around from pigeonhole to pigeonhole. It was very cloak and dagger.

X-Men Soda

In one of my rare ventures into the outside world, I went over to New Brunswick (the city, not the province of Canadia) to watch X-Men: 3: the last stand: more colons: last night. It was pretty tolerable entertainment (although: shock! horror! Dumbledore dies at the end. No, not really). Probably the highlight was recognising one of the locations (supposedly in San Francisco) as the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver. Also known as the venue for SODA 2005 (which I attended, eventually).


The Emporer's New Sound

According to the BBC, I'm not supposed to be able to hear this. But I can, very clearly. Take a listen. I presume it is the insistent oscillating high pitch whistling sound, not the background rumbling and other low frequency sounds that I'm not supposed to hear. But I can, quite clearly. Can you?

Or am I just making this all up, and there is no sound at all? It's a bit tricky, when you think of it. Equally, if I can hear it, and people say they can't, how can I be sure they aren't lying too?


Charmingly Spam

I received quite the most naive, innocent and useless spam in a while today which, having my time on it, I will now inflict on you:

From: Allan 
To: []@[]
Cc: []@[], []@[],
[]@[], []@[]
Subject: hanging out with you

Hello my dear friend
I was looking throubgh the web few weekas ago and found
your probfiale. Now I deciaded to eambail you to get to know
you better. I am coming to your country inb few weeks
and bthought may abe we can meet each other. I am pretty
looking girl. I am 25. Do not reply to this address
directly. Email me back at []@freemailserv.com

Two days on, and no one has requested 5 free iTunes. I am secretly delighted that no one I know indulges in this tomfoolery, and assume that most of them must instead obtain their digital music either via self-creation from CDs or from Russian sites of dubious legality.


Free Money Now!

A few weeks ago I was complaining (as usual), this time about the way in which iPods and iTunes are becoming part of the economy. Well, it's just getting worse and worse. After completing the booking of my flight to Chester's International Airport yesterday, the airline has sent me... a voucher for 5 free iTunes (approximate retail value: $4.95). It used to be that you'd get 500 free airmiles, which was a reasonable concept -- at least it has some connection to the purchase just made. But why replace that with iTunes? A proprietary, DRM'ed, specific form of digital music. I don't have an iTunes account, and nor do I wish to have one. Open protocols like MP3s and Ogg were good enough for my grandparents, and they are good enough for me.

Consequently, I don't want this "free" "gift" of a partial right to listen to a crippled digital encoding of Coldplay or Dido, or whatever (as far as I can tell, all iTunes are actually MOR AOR). By rights I should simply destroy the launch codes, but I am wise and benevolent dictator. Therefore, I'm prepared to give away these codes to anyone who wants them, if you can come up with a convincing reason why I should (I did contemplate just posting them here directly, but there's a good chance that some semi-automated robot would just come along and swipe them). There is a single code for five iTunes, so no splitting, and I suspect that it is only valid in the U.S.A. version of the store (more arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions from the rights owners). Since no one is supposed to be reading this, you have a few days to claim them, after which time I will just post the codes and leave it as a free for all. Enjoy the melee!

Best EP ever?

After enjoying John Peel's Record Box yesterday, I'm currently half watching at The Story of Pulp's Common People. It's quite diverting, if somewhat revisionist in its approach to the history of Pulp (implying that they had virtually no success before Common Pulp, when several of the singles off His 'n' Hers started to bring them to people's attention).

It does remind me a lot of late Summer '95, in that crucial time between leaving school and starting university, and in particular the release of possibly the greatest EP ever. It was August, and I was slumming it in the IT department of the county council. Pulp had already saved the summer by stepping in for the Stone Roses at Glastonbury, and bringing the 25th anniversary festival to a unifying conclusion. They were releasing their follow up, a double-A side: Mis-shapes, and Sorted for E's and Whizz. As was the trend at the time, there were a couple of versions released. The one I bought also had Parent-Teacher Association *and* Common People Live At Glastonbury on it. All that for 1.99 in the first week of release! ("Hatched in the minds of men, Who stack singles for one ninety-nine, Get the fucker in the chart! Charge three ninety-nine!" -- King Bing, Babybird). I'd say that was a better combination than pretty much anything else released ever. I must have played it over and over all summer, fifteen minutes of pure indie-pop perfection.

"Sorted" also attracted a mistaken controversy. Not least because of the cover design which featured instructions on how to fold your own "wrap". Of course, since there were multiple covers for the different versions, the one I had didn't feature this graphic. But it was enough for the Daily Mirror (apparently led by one "Kate Thornton") to proclaim boldly on their front page "Ban This Sick Stunt!" I remember eagerly watching the performance on Top Of The Pops (this was the end of the era when you would still watch Top of the Pops), which began with Jarvis reading the paper over his glasses, before tossing it casually to one side. One story is that Jarvis was originally quite upset by the fuss, after mishearing the last word of the headline.

Anyway, it was a single of its time. I never bought that many singles. The ones I did buy were carefully chosen, based on what I was most enthusiastic about at the time. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, instead of gathering dust on a shelf three thousand miles away, I get to hear it quite regularlary on shuffle through my ever present winamp. And, of all the singles I own, those songs evoke those times -- particularly Sorted and Common People live at Glastonbury, bringing to mind two very different festival experiences. So, yes, best EP ever, as far as I'm concerned.


Oh Chester, so much to answer for

I'll shortly be embarking on a world tour, with last minute UK dates just added. On the extremely unlikely offchance that there are any obsessive stalkers who don't like travelling too far but still want to stalk me in person, here is where I'll be and when:

June 10 - 15 Bertinoro, Italy
June 25 - 29 Chicago, Illinois
July 2 - 6 Chester/Manchester, UK (just added)

Yes, I'll be visiting the UK capital of culture Chester for a few days in July. I don't know anyone in Chester, and moreover, I don't know anything about Chester. I believe that it is the location of the fictional docudrama "Holy Oaks", but since I've never watched it, I've no idea what that entails. So, if you have any suggestions of exciting things to see and do in Chester, please keep them to yourself.

How to Send me Spam

I get a lot of spam at the moment, at least partly since I insist on reading my email through the quite antiquated method of connecting to a Unix machine and running pine. It's worked well for me for the last decade or so, and so I see no reason to change. Still, it means that I have only a procmail script to defend me, since I don't seem to have sufficient privileges or arsedness to install spambayes or similar. Thus, I mostly scan through the fifty or so emails that arrive each day to filter out the few that I actually want to read. With this in mind, here is how you can craft your spam to have a greater chance of me opening it on the off-chance that it is not spam, 419, phishing or virus related:

* Enough with the hilarious randomly chosen names already. Even if there really were people called things like Alfonso P. Golightly or Mme. Indignantly T. Hopskotch, I'm not sure that I would want to know them.

* Stop sending email in windows-1251 character set, I automatically filter that to a spam folder, and could't read even if I didn't (I keep toying with the idea of classing as spam everything that contains HTML, since most of my correspondents are cultured enough to know not to use it).

* I refuse to admit that there is such as word as "cureall", and delete everything that contains it. Also, what is the point of telling me that I can obtain all my "meds" by Valentines Day, since it is now well into May?

* Even if I was in the market for a new mortgage, I wouldn't accept such badly spelt offers of a "refi".

My point (if I have a point, which is always doubtful) is that properly crafted spam and scams should be so well set up as to leave one uncertain whether it was 'real' or 'fake'. Everything I get is so obviously spam that I (or a reasonably well-trained naive Bayes classifier) can easily sort the spam from the mail. Surely it isn't that hard for the evil scum spammers to improve the quality of their unsoliced commercial email, yet it all seems as unsophisticated as ever. I wonder why -- perhaps you have to be ignorant enough not to care to be fooled by it.

Unorthodox new sources

I'm currently watching a copy of "John Peel's Record Box", which recounts the life of the DJ through his favourite singles. I'm reminded of the way in which I heard of his death: through an appropriately respectful posting on the "best of the b3ta message board" RSS feed. Being separated from the mass media of Englandland, you start to pick up your information from unusual sources. I'm sure I've witnessed a few other events through sardonic internet cartoons (possibly the passing of Ronnie Barker was communicated to me through similar means). These days, when I see a cartoon on that feed that I don't fully understand, I have to do a quick check to see if something important has happened.

Incidentally, I did see John Peel once. He was supposed to show up and play a DJ set at All Tomorrow's Parties at Camber Sands in 2002, but he never showed up. Instead, I saw him one December afternoon the next year standing on the steps of Broadcasting House in London, wearing an anorak, and deep in conversation with someone else. I can't be sure, but I'm convinced that the person was pressing on him a tape or freshly burned CD.


More hilarious google goofs...

Since NTK seems to have given up on these, a quick one for you to enjoy:
paying costumers (from a paper I'm reviewing)

spoonerism of the day

... is tie pin and pie tin

Was this the greatest sitcom never seen?

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I recently tracked down copies a sitcom that seems to have been specially made for me and me alone. Which is interesting, since it was made in 1996, and I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago.

The programme was called "Asylum", and was shown only on the Paramount comedy cable channel, which might explain why I've never heard of it: no one in England has cable.

Why is it interesting? Because just about everyone associated with it has done things of interest since then. Most obviously, it stars Simon Pegg (playing a character called Simon Pegg) and Jessica Stevenson, and is directed by Edgar Wright, who went on to jointly create Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. Other patients are played by Adam Bloom and Julian Barrett (half of the Mighty Boosh/"Dan Ashcroft"). Ace comedian Norman Lovett (the original Holly from Red Dwarf, yes, but also from the lost-to-humanity sitcom I, Lovett). David Walliams pops up in a cameo [as a child, I used to think that a cameo was an item of women's underwear; although in this case it would not be so surprising] and also co-writes. Parsons and Naylor also show up in a couple of episodes. It's produced by Myfanwy Moore, who produced just about everything else you've seen. It was script edited by Bussman and Quantick who are fantastic. About the only people missing from this line up are Mitchell and Webb, and Alice Lowe, but they were probably too busy finishing their degrees to show up.

OK, here's the final proof that this show was targeted solely at me: every episode concludes with an apposite number from David Devant and His Spirit Wife. Devant is the only band that I was ever truly obsessed with, their quirky pop tunes and elaborate stage shows masking some actually quite intriguing ruminations on life, work, and all that other stuff. I saw them live twice, and would have tried to see them again and again if not for the awkward fact that they loped along in a state of almost complete indifference or hostility from the press. Their closest brush with fame came back in Summer '97 when ace single Ginger (comparing the isolation of being an outsider in society to, er, having ginger hair) was picked up by Mark Radcliffe during the few weeks he was presenting the breakfast show on Radio 1. Unfortunately, even his championing failed to propel the band to the success they clearly deserved.

So, back to Asylum: six episodes united many of my music and comedy idols. It must be ace, then? Well, obviously not. It's passably amusing, with the best parts coming when the resident stand-up comedians are allowed to break into segments of their stage acts. Generally, it's reasonable viewing, but not really anything worth watching over again. I don't think you should really expect anything else.

So that's one rarity worth seeking out, if only for curiousity value. I still have a few other things I'd love to catch up with from that era: the aforementioned "I, Lovett" and the legendary (legendarily bad, that is) "Days Like These", the British remake of That 70's show, which transplanted wholesale the plots and characters, but somehow dropped all the jokes in the transition. While the US original just limped to a conclusion (having jumped the shark when, er, Fez jumped the shark) after several hundred episodes, Days Like these lasted about three episodes, before being shunted around the schedules in an attempt to kill it off. If you have access to copies of the show, I'd love to see it.

Crazy search queries

After a long drought where my search queries have being very monotonous, at last some more freaky keywords:

how to electrify doorbell
borderline japanese jpop
nude bloggs
bloggs happy mothers day
history of fred bloggs [I was born, and then I lived and then I died]
weird cvv [Is this a mispelling of CV, or a search for unusal Credit Card Verification numbers?]
girls being fucked
"squeaky deaky"

Daisy, Daisy

Is it just me (yes), or does the human commentator on this recording also sound like a (more modern) computer generated voice?


In Dreams

Sometimes great ideas come to us in dreams. And sometimes we just conjure up bizarre images that make no sense in the cold light of day. This morning I awoke with a single word "supercaust" echoing through my head. As far as I can remember, it was the title of one of a trilogy of related books, although it might have been something to do with a modern version of ancient roman central heating devices.

(this in turn reminds me of a conversation I had about a decade ago regarding my sumptuous student digs:
Me: "They're even heated with a hypocaust"
James: "Straight up?!"
Me: "No, under the floor")

Anyway, possibly also as a consequence of lucid dreaming, your topical tonguetwister of the day is "Iranian Uranium". Try saying that twenty times in succession while submerged in a giant pot of water in the Lincoln center).


Staggering Incompetency

Why is it, I maintain in repeating to myself, that people who do the same thing every day display such staggering incompetency in their basic task? I called my local Car shop to arrange My First Annual Checkup. The conversation went something as follows:

ME: Hello, I'd like to arrange an annual service please.
Person: Yes, certainly.

[awkward silence]

ME: Well, how is tomorrow afternoon?
Person: No, can't possibly do that, what on earth are you asking me to do that for? The earliest possible time is on Friday.

[In which case, why not damn well say so to begin with?]

ME: OK, how is next Tuesday?
Person: Yes, fine.

[Another awkward silence]

ME: So, shall we say, 3pm?
Person: No, that's far too late, you fool, it'll take much longer than that.

[Again, why not tell me what times will work, rather than making me guess]

ME: OK, how about 10 in the morning?
Person: Right. So what kind of [Model] [Car] is it?

ME: Um...it's a [Trim level]?

[Again, how on earth am I supposed to know exactly what bizarre sublevel of information is being requested here, or why it is relevant?]

In other words, why in this entire interaction was I repeatedly forced to guess in the dark about what are the reasonable answers to the question? They give the impression of utter flexibility, but wouldn't this be so much easier if they said up front that "we have slots available from friday" or "bring it in in the morning because it will take a few hours", and so on...


This week in Blogs

Caption: "Just like that"

Commenting on a website of airline cutlery, top blogger Cory Doctorow said, "you could probably turn one of these into a shiv if you wanted". Yes indeed, and then stab the air crew with it, break into the cockpit, kill the pilots, and fly the plane into a building. Wouldn't that be fun? Why does Doctorow think this is a remotely sane comment to make?

Alias: The Movie

I went to see Alias: the Movie last night. True, it's masquerading under the title of "Mission: Impossible: 3: the quickening: a Tek Jansen adventure", but with J.J. Abrams directing and the Alias cast scripting, it's actually a more or less direct transfer of the creaking TV show to the big screen. Firstly, it's a fairly typical story: a secret black-ops agency has to go rogue in order to save the life of one of their own. There's some mysterious, secret weapon (I expect the subplot linking in to a Da Vinci-esque mysterious prophetic 14th Century scientist got cut for length) that mostly functions as a macguffin and isn't really important anyway.

But the biggest give away is that all the characters are the same as in Alias. There's the close team of super spies able to adopt accents and languages as needed and take place in pitched firefights without getting their clothes rumpled. Various senior agency members who are double- or triple- crossing everyone else for their own ends. The wholly evil bad guy who somehow manages to escape capture about twice a week. Tom Cruise gives a surprisingly effective performance as Jennifer Garner. But the easiest spot is Simon "Spaced" Pegg who gives a spot on re-creation of Marshall Flinkman (note that this is the true purpose of Wikipedia: providing unnecessary detail on fictional TV and computer game characters). Pegg is woefully underused in the movie, of course, and rather bizarrely, appears to be made up to resemble Dave Gorman. Still, not having been aware that he was in the film, it made for a bit of a "huh?" moment when his name flashed up in giant letters in the start after Tom Cruise and Laurence Fishburne.


What's in the box?

Could someone do the obvious Sev7en/Deal or no Deal mashup, with Noel Edmonds playing Kevin Spacey? It's pretty clear how to fill in all the other details. Assuming, that is, that it hasn't been done already. Thanks!


Lesse's Law

Everyone knows Moore's law: every 18 months, computers get twice as fast. But there's a less-well known related version of this law, which is Lesse's Law. The problem with Moore's Law is that while computers double in speed every 18 months, this is not actually true for any given computer. In fact, Lesse's law states that a computer halves in speed every 18 months, because of the accretion of drivers, installed programs, lack of memory, spyware, adware, rootkits and the like. Which explains why it took five minutes for the browser to load this page for me to type this tedious observation.