Poor to Average

My email is somewhat broken at the moment. It's always interesting for me to hear people talk about five 9's reliability, i.e. 99.999%, since this equates to about five minutes of down time in a year. My experience is that any system in real life usually has at best three 9's reliability (about 8 hours down time per year), and I'm reasonably happy with two 9's: three days of downtime over the year, hopefully spread out in small chunks and taking into account various midnight -- 2am fixes that sys admins seem to enjoy so much. Anyway, my remote Unix system went down sometime yesterday around 4pm, coincidentally when I was reuploading my website, but hopefully not caused by this, and the sysadmin has left a message promising its return sometime on monday, which would equate to around 1.5 days of solid downtime, so well on course for two 9's. If we can stay at this level, and not degrade to one 9, then I'll be reasonably happy. Of course, this is as nothing to the pain caused to sensitive teenagers by the Great MySpace Outage of 2006. Meantime, if anyone has sent me email, it seems to be still there (since my inbox is on a different disk to the one containing all my data, which is currently missing, presumed safely backed up on tape somewhere*). But, it will take a while before I get around to answering it. Yeah, that's why I haven't replied to you, computer ate my .pinerc, that's the reason [+].

[* Of course, all my important data is backed up over about six disk drives and three locations; however, I belatedly realize that my sent-mail is not as regularly duplicated; this will change when things get back to normal].
[+ Yes, I still use Pine as my primary email client. You got a problem with that? It's not as if I'm using mail or elm]

Anyway, in lieu of wasting time on email, I've instead been exercising some of my latent aggression on reviewing bad data mining papers. They are all pretty awful. At the moment, I am particularly riled by one entry on the review form I have to fill in. It reads:

How is the presentation?
5 (Excellent)
4 (Good)
3 (Above average)
2 (Below average)
1 (Fair)
0 (Poor)

Firstly, there is something naggingly ungrammatical about the question, but I can't quite say why. But mostly, the presentation of most of the papers I'm reading is pretty bad. They aren't well explained, figures are squeezed so small as to be illegible, they appear to have been written by translating to Portuguese and then to English via Babelfish, and so on. So the average is pretty bad. I would be delighted if I saw many papers whose presentation quality was "fair". "fair" to me means about average, i.e. the expected level. So it irks me that below average in this list is above fair, because based on the papers I have to review, fair would be significantly above the average. It's generally stupid to have "above average" and "below average" as options here. So here is the list that I would like to see:

5 Good
4 Acceptable
3 Poor
2 Bloody awful
1 Absolutely incomprehensible
0 Riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, illegible diagrams, made-up words, references that don't exist, badly translated idioms, sentences that make no sense whatsoever after repeated attempts to decrypt, and clear evidence that the paper was written in Microsoft word.
-1 Average


Eighty and Tea

Well, I have been overwhelmed by a wave of indifference in response to my shock announcement that I am moving jobs. So I will explain the reasons behind my move, which I have explained to many people over recent weeks.

Basically, my current employer is insufficiently evil. This is not for want of trying, but unfortunately due to their current market standing, they just don't have the power to be a significant power for bad. So I had to look around for a new master who would better share my malignant goals.

I thought about the wholesale Internet smut search engine, Ogle. But even they were insufficiently mean for my tastes, even though their corporate motto -- "Be evil!" sets out their intentions pretty plainly.

Instead, I am abandoning a company whose logo is coffee cup stain, and taking up with one whose logo is the death star. Now, you cannot get much more sinister and foreboding than that, now can you? Monday is my last day with the coffee cup stain, and Tuesday I being as a worker in Sector 7-G on the death star. I don't believe in hanging around.

Update: I have just noticed that my new official job title is "Technical Specialist". Ace!


Yo Blair!

The hiden microphone antics from last week have reminded me that before he was a politician, (Yo) Blair was best known as a musician. Be sure to check out his pre-election smash Have Fun, Go Mad, as featured on the Sliding Doors Soundtrack.


Pee in a Cup Day!

Today was Pee in a Cup Day!

Last time I had to pee in a cup was a couple of years ago. I had to persuade a friend to drive me half way across the state, since I didn't then have a car, or the ability to drive, to roughly where I live now, just so I could pee in a cup. After having done so, I wandered around the area a bit, then got the train to New York and from there back home.

This time was a little easier, because I have a car, but ironically, I had to go and pee in a cup that was roughly where I used to live two years ago. So I had to drive half way across the state. I was planning to go there and back in the morning, but when I called they had no idea I was due, so I had to wait a few hours until someone in California woke up and could sort the mess out. So I set off at quarter to two, got there around half past, filled in some forms then had to sit around for almost half an hour (why?), peed in a cup, then got home, wasting a sum total of about 2 and a half hours all told, just so I could pee in a cup. Isn't corporate America grand?

The reason for the cup peeing this time is the same as last time: many employers require a pre-employment drug screen before officially hiring you. By rights I ought to object to this gross violation of my privacy, but all told the two to three hours of dicking about to give a sample is as nought to the hassle that refusing to micturate on demand would cause. It's all a bit irrelevant anyway, because the test -- which is meant to be scheduled within a tight 48 hour time period so as to avoid you flushing your system, or some such -- is announced as part of the job offer, which you can think about for a few weeks, in which time you can go cold turkey and get the coke and crack out your system. There is then an idiotic 48 hour slot to give the sample, which causes more disruption, then afterwards you can immediately run out to your car and jack up with some pure narcotic of your choice. Perhaps they also fail you if you cold turkey hands are shaking so much that you spill most of the sample.

Anyway, provided I come up clean, this should be enough.

What's that you say?

Oh, yeah, I'm changing jobs. More on this some other time, I expect.



This is a new one, the latest 419 scam to hit my inbox gives a skype VoIP number to call:

Hello dear

Hello sailor!

I am Martin Kwasha from seirra leone but residing in Ivory Coast in
Africa. It is my desire to contact you on honesty and sincerity to assist
me in transferring the sum of $1,800,000 inherited from my father late
Mr. Kwasha. I am motivated in contacting you and hope to gradually build
trust, relationship and confidence in you as i get to know you better.

Is it me, or are the made up finances for these scams going down in value over the year? Used to be you would get a good dead dictator for a round $25M or so, but now we are scrabbling over a measly $1.8M?

So please i want to know if you will be of assistance but first i want to
get to know you better. I am willing to offer you 15% of $1.800,000 usd
for your effort input after the successful transfer of this money and
investment. Indicate your interest towards assisting me by sending your
phone # and address so that i can communicate with you at any time.

And 15% of $1.8M is only $270,000. Honestly, I don't get out bed to commit wire fraud for less than at least a half mill.

I will be waiting for your response
skype: wal fred ci

Here we go! The spammers are on skype now! Is there any anonymous way to call up skype numbers and play James Blunt at them at full volume? Someone must surely be able to think of something.


Subliminal Messages

Am I the only person to notice a certain similarity between the lyrics of the latest pop single song from the Pet Shop Boys ensemble, Minimal:

An empty box
An open space
A single thought leaves a trace

And the Tim Rice/Andrew Lllllloyd-Webbbber "Any Dream will do":

A crash of drums,
a flash of light
My golden coat flew out of sight

Still just me? OK then.

Misdelivered mail

I keep one of those webmail accounts as a back up, and automatically send a copy of my incoming email to this account so I can check it when SSH isn't available (and what kind of uncivilised place doesn't have SSH?). So I don't check it for messages sent directly there, since hardly anyone knows the address. However, it is quite a simple address, so it occasionally gets some spam or misdirected messages meant for someone else. I've just checked, and there are a few messages that are either very well-crafted spam, or meant for someone else. Well, it's too late and I'm too lazy to try to find the intended recipient, so I'll just post up the messages that have come in, and anyone can claim them for themself, if they so desire.

June 12, 2006
Mrs. Graham,

Good afternoon, I hope that you are having a wonderful day!! I am writing to follow-up with you in reference to your message that you left last week.

At this point, I am not sure if I will be able to make it to the Father/ Daughter Dance on Friday; unfortunately, I am not sure if I will be able to obtain a babysitter because my niece is still in the hospital and she has some neurological examinations and other tests coming up and my sister wants to be present for them. These examinations, however, are a good sign because this means that she should be getting out of the hospital soon. I am doing my best to be able to make it- I should have a better picture of my situation by Wednesday or Thursday and I can let you know at that point. I apologize that I am not able to be more precise at this time; however, I will follow-up with you. Thank you very much and have a wonderful day!!

March 15, 2006

send miss tan sok chuan you email adress now!

grumpy little sheep

May 12 2005


Tryin to guess your email address - please can you just hit reply so I can save the correct one.


PS. what is the username and password for preshute@gmail.com account? (Am hopin it might have some of the addresses I need...)


Skye; Ski; Da Skeeza; Skye-san; Skye-rocket

If any of these are your messages, please feel free to claim them.

Return of the Pilot

It's that time of year again when pilots of new TV shows start sneaking out, possibly in order to drum up support and excitement within the so-called "blog-o-cube". Always happy to oblige, I've been watching some of these to see which appeal.
Overall, I've not been impressed by the first batch I watched. There seems to be single problem affecting all of these: too many characters. The world of television is becoming more and more cut-throat every single year. You have to hook the audience on the first episode, or else they won't come back for more. This year saw the first TV show to be cancelled after a single episode. With modern audience tracking technology, don't be surprised if you are watching a feature length pilot episode that gets cancelled after the second advert break. But the shows I watched have so far failed to grip me.

The first one I watched was "Heroes". This has a great premise: across the world, a few people start to develop superpowers. Awesome! This has great potential. Take the whole superhero idea, and put it into the context of everyday struggles -- when your secret identity is your true identity. Rekindle the glory of Buffy. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, the first episode was unsatisfying. There were too many characters, and they were, more or all, all quite depressed. It's also very dark, and not in a good way. The cast included, as much as I can remember:

  • The indestructible cheerleader, possibly the most interesting character, who spent most of the show trying to kill herself. Why? She also spent the whole show wearing her increasingly bloodstained uniform. Why?
  • The daydreamer with his head in the clouds, who thinks he can fly (we never really find out if he can).
  • The depressed artist who, for no particular reason, handcuffs himself to a pipe, then dismembers himself so he can paint prophetic visions of the future.
  • The internet hooker with a heart of gold whose evil reflection has a tendancy to go on killing sprees.
  • The political candidate who wants to keep everything hushed up.
  • The quite painfully offensive caricatured stereotyped otaku-style Tokyo dweller, whose special power is the ability is to teleport, warp time, and offend racial stereotypes
  • Various sinister mysterious characters who are probably part of some evil governmemt conspiracy, they usually are
  • Am Indian guy whose special power is... driving a cab in New York. Hey, don't knock it... some of the things these guys do must require either superhuman timing or the faith that they will emerge from the crash unscathed

Anyway, the show is made more confusing by the fact that most of these characters don't know each other, but they keep crossing each other's paths in a complicated way. The whole thing is about an hour long, and consists of various hints, questions, building tension and so on, for each of the half dozen or so characters, but actually nothing very much happens. For an audience used to the thrills of such shows as 24, where a plane blows up in the first episode, to Lost where, er, a plane blows up in the first episode, this show is singularly lacking in aeroplane explosions. There's hardly any humour, virtually no good lines that I can think of. There is only one glimmer of hope in the whole show, that suggests there might be something to watch in this show, comes in the background of a scene set in a Tokyo bar:

It appears to be the Backdorm boys, the shortlived internet phenomenon which you are not expected to have been aware of (it's more likely to be a couple of guys dressed up in basketball shirts, but there's no way it can't be a conscious reference).

Still, one wonders what they have lined up for future episodes... an epic battle featuring the star wars kid? An evil bad guy declaring "all your base are belong to us"? The self-destructive cheerleader attempts to destroy herself further by doing a poor imitation of the numa numa dance?

(by the way, with these few short links you are now equipped to understand all those mysterious internet references you've never quite got before. Well, apart from all those SoaP/ rank(snakes)=2 memes, but you'll work those out soon enough.

The next two shows I watched were two new sitcoms that both want to be the new Friends (because we all know how successful "Coupling" was when it got translated to America to fulfil this role). The Class follows the antics of a whole class from third grade (this is american for Playschool) twenty years later. What do we say? Too many characters! At least the first show concentrates on a mere half-dozen or so characters instead of all thirty, but this still manages to overwhelm the viewer with everyone. Is it funny? Not particularly. The characters are rather cliched, not particularly appealing, and there's a streak of meanness that runs through it: the central character who organizes the reunion gets dumped by his fiance midway through for (rightly) smothering her with the whole reunion thing; another character spends most of the episode contemplating suicide. Fun fun fun!

Meanwhile, "Our Thirties" is about a group of friends in their thirties. Do you see what they've done there? I watched it in part because it features Peter Serafinowicz as the token English guy. He plays the same role as every other single English guy in an American sitcom, that is, a slightly bufoonish lothario who enjoys remarkable success with women because of his accent. I am somewhat bitter towards this stereotype, since I have found out that it is not particularly applicable in real life. Yet another example of television lying to me.

Anyway, here's a picture of the man himself, looking a little thinner than usual:

The show itself revolves around the lives of eight friends. See the problem? Too many character! In a 22 minute pilot we are expected to form a bond to these people and their assorted fiances, exes over the course of six short scenes. It's too much -- in one episode, we discover one couple are divorcing, another couple would rather live together than get married, one character is marrying a gay man, and another has an 11 year old child he wasn't aware of. Too much, too fast! By the end, we just don't particularly care about anyone because we hardly know them.

So, here are my top tips for budding pilot makers:
  • Keep the number of characters down, and make us like them. You can bring in more characters over time.
  • Don't make the shows so depressing. Especially if they are meant to be comedies
  • References to obscure internet phenomena are amusing but distracting.
  • Even Peter Serafinowicz (the voice of Darth Maul) cannot save your show.

More pilot reviews if I can get around to watching them. I hold out high hopes for Studio 60, wherein Josh Lyman from the West Wing takes up a job as a joke writer for a TV show after his services as a speechwriter are no longer required in the new administration.


Lies, Damned Lies...

I was surfing on the interwebs the other night, when I came across one of those crazy reports that you often do. it claimed that big fat ugly SUVs cost if anything less energy then nice, fluffy lovely environment patting hybrids.

Well, naturally, I was curious at how such claims could possibly be justified, so I downloaded and read the 500 page report. And if I'm going to waste so much of my time on something like that, you can be sure that I'll waste your time as well.

So how does this all work? Well, the study is all about the energy cost of vehicles. That is, the total amount of energy involved with creating, running, maintaining and tidying up after the thing is done with. So the numbers, which appear large, apply to the total energy cost. So this is not just the price paid by the consumer, but also the energy involved in the car plant workers getting to work and so on. All sounds good so far.

The first confusing part of this report is that the price is stated in terms of price per mile travelled, based on the expectation of the number of miles travelled. But this varies a lot, and includes some highly dubious assumptions (apparently big fat ugly tanks will get driven three times as many miles as nice fluffy hybrids). So what I did was to pick out, from the hundreds of vehicles and thousands of figures, just a few examples to illustrate how these numbers work.

Here are the totals, stated in terms of total energy cost for my four chosen vehicles: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic (both "cheap", fuel efficient regular cars), Toyota Prius and Hummer (spit) H3, the latest iteration of the coward's car.

Total energy cost:
Corolla: $123K
Prius: $354K
H3: $403K
Civic: $430K

So straight away these figures seem surprising. How come the Corolla and Civic, two vehicles perceived as quite similar by the public, differ so much in terms of their energy cost? How is the Corolla so cheap? How can a tiny little Civic be so much more costly than the big, fugly H3?

Well, let's split these figures. The 400 page report goes on for pages and pages, breaking down the cost into about 15 components, which makes it a little confusing to the casual reader. But with detailed study, we see that all the careful detailing (down to the energy cost involved in replacing tires) is somewhat irrelevant, because these energy costs are dominated by the cost of disposal of the vehicles:

Disposal Energy Costs
Corolla: $110K
Prius: $326
H3: $363
Civic: $399

(now, the figures in the report don't quite add up properly, but they do more or less work out).

These numbers are big. Huge. They completely dominate the further calculations, and really minimize any other costs. And where do these numbers come from? Why is the energy cost of disposing a Civic 25 times more than the cost of buying a car? There's no explanation. The only break down we have is into recyclable, reusable, and non-recyclable components: $123K recyclable, $254K non-recyclable, and $22K reusable. So now we know why scrap dealers look so cheap and shabby: every time they scrap a little Honda Civic, it costs them quarter of a million dollars in energy.

Are these numbers accurate? Hard to say. What does it mean to say that it costs about four hundred thousand dollars of energy to dispose of a car? I have no idea. But it means that I find it hard to understand, and hard to take seriously. Suppose we focus on the energy cost of these vehicles in terms of their lifetime costs, and put aside for the time being these disposal costs. This gives us the following costs:

Total lifetime energy costs:
Corolla: $30K
Civic: $65K
Prius: $88K
H3: $74K
(by the way, I did warn you that the numbers don't quite add up)

These figures seem a lot more reasonable -- at least they are within constant factors of the cost to the consumer of these vehicles. They still seem a little suspect. The development costs for the Prius are pegged at $30K, the costs for the H3 only $8K -- because, so many more H3s have so far been sold that Priuses. So this cost, while legitimate, does rather seem warped by the number of vehicles sold. The "cost" of the H3 is so low in part because it is basically a Chevy truck body with a big fugly tank piec of plastic stuck on top. The maintenance and manufacture energy costs of the Prius are twice those of the H3 -- possibly due to the complex nature of the vehicle? -- but adding a total of $23K to the lifetime energy cost. Still not clear why a nice little Civic costs twice as much in energy to create and run as its Corolla cousin.

So is this study valid? I dunno, I'm not an expert. But it's clearly a very complex issue. I'd like to see a much clearer explanation of why it is quite so expensive to dispose of vehicles -- and who ends up paying for all this energy? If this is the cost, surely someone is paying? Who? Or are these "projected costs" that it would take to completely and cleanly dispose of the vehicles?

Meantime, expect to see plenty more idiot media outlets taking the press release from the libertarian "reason foundation" glibly repeating "maybe a Hummer is better than a hybrid" soundbite, followed by kneejerk "but hybrids are much more fuel efficient than SUVs" responses, without anyone taking the time and effort to really understand where these numbers come from, or what they denote.



As you know, on this blog I like to post a new and exciting mp3 every day in blatant violation of international copyright law. Today's delight is by a band call Lallakis and is a glorious war march on the topic of "Kill The Humans".

Everyone together... repeat till fade, repeat till fade...



It is officially TDH (too damn hot) on the east coast. I got back to the safety of my garret hostel, and found that it was 96 Fahrenheit (about 35C). I've had the artificial cold maker (AC) going for about an hour, and it's creeping down to a slightly more tolerable 88F (31C). And this isn't just some freak heatwave: it's like this for months on end. Then, in the Winter, it's more like 20F outside for months. You'd have to be mad to live here.

Anyway, onto other distractions. A few months ago, Trixie cried out for help in finding "fun, silly things to watch" on TV. This was in the context of a discussion of Veronica Mars, the least silly thing you can possibly imagine, so it took me a while, but I've recently discovered a new show that might just fit the bill.

It's called Kyle XY, and it plays on the family-friendly ABC Family Channel in the states. The premise is awfully cliched: a teenager with no history suddenly appears. What is his background? Where did he come from? Where did he go? This latter day Cotton Eye Joe begins by knowing nothing of the world around him, as if he has fallen from the stars, but very quickly learns English, proves himself an idiot savant and a supreme athlete, and so on.

If this all sounds familiar, it should do. It's pretty close to John Doe, the FOX show from 2002 that I was briefly obsessed with. (that is also worth seeking out, if you can tolerate the quite frankly dire closing shot). In fact, the opening scene of Kyle XY is pretty much a shot for shot remake of the opening scene of John Doe, as the camera zooms in on the naked torso of the protagonist in the foetal position in the middle of a verdant forest. The difference is that, while JD was mostly a mystery solving show (the one mystery he couldn't solve... is who he was... ahhh... do you see?), KXY seems mostly to be about solving lifes mysteries (although, the one mystery he couldn't solve... etc. etc.).

For a show on the "Family" channel, it's quite racy. It has features nudity, sex in a tent, teenage drinking, pornographic magazines, vomiting, heavy petting, evading arrest, juvenile detention and more... and that's just the first episode. All jolly good stuff.

And each episode features small clues to where Kyle came from. The biggest of these is, he has not belly button. So, he was never born, but instead is a genetic experiment of some morally dubious scientific corporation. Obviously. Problem solved. Next?


Needless Pedantry, yet again

I was making a rare foray out of my domicile yesterday into a mecca of consumerism known locally as a mall. There, I found the following item:

A DVD called "The Presidents" from the History Channel. Note that the cover contains fewer than two dozen words, yet holds a really quite glaring error.

It talks about the "43 leaders of the United States", meaning presidents. There have indeed been 43 presidencies, up to GWB who is casually referred to as 43. But there have only been 42 people filling this role. Look carefully at the highly unauthoritative Wikipedia (unless someone has defaced it again), and you'll spot that numbers 22 and 24 are the same. Grover Cleveland is famous for being the only presdident to hold the presidency on two non-consecutive occasions.

Honestly, if the History Channel can't even be trusted to get the number of people who have been president of the US correct, how can I trust them on the more complex details they purport to tells, such as who won the war? That's not a mistake you'd find in the UK, where everyone knows that the number of people who have been Prime Minister is... sort of complicated, and rather depends on your definition, and whether you count certain exceptions, and anyway, what's the point of counting them anyway?

[I did a quick Internet search for "Prime Minister", and the following rather disturbing advert arose:



Not so funny anymore

I had a great dream last night. (always a worrying start of a paragraph). I came up with a hilarious pun. It seemed to involve Al Gore deciding to run for President in 2008, and selecting Alberto Gonzales (the, er, decidely republican attorney general) as his running mate. This was hilarious, because it meant that the ticket would be described as "Gore-Gonzales". Ha! Geddit?

This caused me much mirth and enjoyment in my unconscious state, and I looked forward to telling others about it. As I gradually woke up, I started to notice a problem: it isn't actually a pun. It was meant to be gorgonzola. Which sounds a tiny bit like Gore-Gonzales. But not particularly.

I think the moral here is, don't try to write jokes while you're asleep. It tends not to work very well in the warm (too warm) light of day.


The Spanish Prisoner

Amongst my other hobbies, I like listing my profile on Internet sites. It amuses me to do so, and it sure beats having to meet people in real life. You can encounter all kinds of strange and interesting people, and delete their messages without ever leaving home. Within this context, I received the following message a few months ago. I ignored it at the time, so I've only just noticed quite how hilarious it is. I got this message from a user called "Rose Ad". I'll share it with you:

Hello,I m Rose Adams, 22, from Abingdon. I would have loved to tell you more about myself but right now 'm in a very serious shit here.there is something i will like to discuss with you but i'm so ashamed of my self. I don't want to tell anyone about this but i'll let you know, I got myself into a big shit here in africa..it all started when i met a guy sometime last year on the internet, he invited me to pay him a visit in his country, i never wanted to go but he told me he love me and will take good care of me. I came down to africa cos i wanna get serious in life and have kids of my own. When i got to africa he took me to a hotel where we lodge, and i was there, he tried making love to me but i insisted on meeting his family memebers first and when we marry. before i woke up the next morning i couldn't find this guy, he went away with all my money and everything i brought, can you see how some men can be so bad? I never wanted to come down here but i was foolish and ignorant, now i really regret ever coming down here. the shit i'm into now is that the hotel is holding my passport captive cos i owe them a bill...all this wouldn't have happened to me if my parents are still alive, i lost my parents in a car accident while we were still in Texas, and my only sister left for me is now a drug adict. I don't know what to do now i'm so confuse. I tried calling the embassy but they said if i have any problem with my visa. I have my return ticket but the hotel just won't let me leave.
I hope to get outa here once my bill is settled, i wanna be happy again, i need someone to bring laughter to my face again, someone i can spend the rest of my life with.. i know you can save me from this shit, i promise i'll definately pay ya back, and do anything you want from me.. i'm planning on settling down finally and get the right man.. I don't know what to do now.. If i can get any assistance from you i'll be so happy. you can reach me in my private email so we can talk better and if you wanna do anything for me rosead112e@[yeehaw!].com

Abingdon, eh? I always knew that was trouble. Typical of someone from Abingdon to get themself into a very serious shit. Too bad that she lost her parents in Texas -- it is such a big state, so easy to get lost -- and her only sister left for her is now a drug addict. Still, I'm not so inclined to bail her out, despite promising to "do anything [I] want from [her]": she ditched her last bloke and he was only after an easy shag, so I doubt she'd acquiesce to anything I might ask for. Trapped in a hotel forever, though -- that doesn't sound much fun. Perhaps I should introduce her to Allan. She is, after all, pretty looking girl.



Several decades in the making, the summer blockbuster G103 is finally released. From the creative team that brought you Maths Club comes G103. Mere words alone cannot fully describe this film. Although, if this were the IMDB, then maybe some keywords would include: Katana / Supervisors / Chalk / Blackboard / Chalk / Nick Jackson / Emergency Chalk.

It's a glorious production, quite staggering in its technical competence and assuredness. It has multiple CGI shots. Whoever heard of that in a student film? You can watch G103 encoded in H264 on the website above.

This kind of thing makes productions like the Statz4life all-stars pale into insignificance.


...and he dies at the end

Hey, I've just seen an amazing new car! It has this big wing of metal stuck on at the back so that it improves the aerodynamic performance! I totally wasn't expecting to see that!

Oh, oops, perhaps I should have said... SPOILER ALERT.

Spoilers are an uncomfortable part of modern life. They are becoming almost unavoidable, which makes you wonder what the point of even trying to keep the relevant plot twist a surprise is. In this asynchronous life of different broadcast and release dates between countries, time-shifting DVRs and video downloads, there's no reason to assume that people will see a new film, book or TV show at anything like the same time, and so a little more consideration in when spoiler-tastic information is revealed would be nice.

The BBC are particularly bad offenders with their "Doctor Who" televisual series. (I'll try and avoid any spoilers myself for a bit). At the end of every episode, before the closing credits have finished running, they tend to show a trailer for the next episode which gives away pretty much the entire plot. Their most recent story was spread across two episodes, and the first one had a big plot revelation at the end. I managed to avoid seeing any trailers or hints, any on line message boards and so on. However, I had the misfortune to visit England between the airing of the first and second episodes in the story, and had the big surprise ruined by... the front cover of the Radio Times. I mean, honestly... can't you appreciate that there may be some people who don't see the programme within five seconds of broadcast?

Another offender are the blurb writers of this world. How many times have you read the back of a book or DVD only to find pretty much the whole plot given away in a single paragraph? I recently played around with this idea with some friends, and we came up with the following (some spoilers, mostly for films that have been out for between ten and sixty years)

HA: "When a big shootout goes down, it's time to round up 'The Usual
Suspects'. But can the police trust the story of the cripple (Kevin
Spacey), or is he just making it up based on objects and words he can see
in the interview room?"

HA: "When Brad Pitt has to investigate a series of murders based on the Se7en
deadly sins, will he be able to stop the crazed killer (Kevin Spacey) in
time before he finds Pitt's wife and cuts off her head and mails it in a
box to him?"

AN: "Luke Skywalker flees Hoth to train with master Yoda on Dagobah only to
learn that his friends are in trouble at Cloud City where they've been
sold out to Darth Vader by Llando Calrissian. How will Luke react when
he discovers that Darth Vader is his father?"

NJ: When private detective Miles Archer is gunned down in cold blood by
femme fatale Miss Wonderly, his colleague Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)
must use all his skills of deduction to beat Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre)
and his portly associate Kaspar Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) to the
location of the priceless Maltese Falcon, before everybody finds out
it's actually a forgery."

Feel free to think of your own. And keep them to yourself.

I'll let Penny Arcade have the final word on the matter of spoilers.


A reader asks...

I am as usual beseiged with questions from bemused readers (often in the form of internet search queries such as "fred bloggs", "kelis nude" or "couple swapping chicago"). Occasionally I take it upon myself to make official pronouncements in long running debates. Here is one such:

Perhaps you can settle an argument. I contend that lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys has, perhaps, the most Sheffield-accented singing voice of all time. However, my good friend alleges that he sounds more like George Formby when singing (he acknowledges that he is from Sheffield but believes his singing voice has more of a Lancashire twang). Which of us is correct? Kthx.

And here is the definitive answer:

You are correct, the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys is, indeed, very clearly from Sheffield. However, whenever anyone attempts to do an imitation of their singing style, the inevitably revert into an affectation of the style of George Formby. Hence the confusion.

I hope this settles this question once and for all.


Catching Up

The Peacocks and Europeans were at a castle in Wales, where we were bussed to enjoy the conference banquet. In fact, it was a "medieval banquet" which, if I had read between the lines more carefully, I might have been tempted to avoid. It could so easily have been one of those awful affairs where people dressed in 500 year old costumes attempt to harass you back into a past century. In fact, it was quite reasonable. Perhaps the performers are very good at reading a crowd, because they thankfully made no effort to get us to participate in the affair, and it was presented more as a "And this is what people would eat back then" affair, rather than too much immersion in the whole affair. Besides, people's attention was wandering by the end, as they hurried back to the 21st Century and the TV room as the football was playing out. Thank goodness it was won at the end of extra time; I was not looking forward to sitting around for an extra half hour of penalties. Instead, we were able to set off on time; it was therefore up to the bus driver to arrange to add half an hour to the journey time by getting lost in the middle of chester a few times.

I left for manchester the next day, to enjoy the cultural delights of the city. The flight back was on thursday morning from Manchester's International Airport. Everything was reasonably to plan, but as I add more miles to my tally, and more tonnes of greenhouse gases to my conscience, I find it more tiring, and become a more discriminating traveler. The plane was a 757-200 series, and seemed to be even more cramped than usual. Perhaps this was because the person in front seemed to find a way to lean their chair back further than usual (and it swang back an alarming six inches every time they sat down); the person behind managed to jam their knees into my back the whole time; and the person to my side splayed his arms and legs over the boundary of the arm rest. The net effect left me feeling quite claustrophobic. I yearn for the days of flights with unoccupied seats.

The inflight movie was "Goodnight and Goodluck" which I'd been looking forward to seeing. Perhaps it was the viewing conditions but I found it rather disappointing. There's not very much by way of drama or tension. The newshounds put out a report about a soldier who was dismissed because of his father; a couple of people complain a bit. They profile McCarthy; he complains a bit. They respond to his accusations; McCarthy resigns. And that's the whole movie. At no point is there all that much excitement. Perhaps living in the modern world has made all this fifties stuff seem rather tame in comparison.

Back home, and I'm jetlagged again, and probably will remain so for the rest of the week. Yawn.


Obligatory weak gags

First, I wasn't at all impressed with the new series of Little Britain. Matt Lucas wasn't in it at all, and it seemed to consist solely of an extended, unamusing sketch featuring Walliams as a long-distance swimmer. Repetitive, catchphrase driven comedy hits a new low.

And, what should the title of this piece be: Air Farce One?


Day 3

Day 3. (I'm writing this after returning, so it is high on pictures and short on words).

Italians and Germans watching the football!


No news is good news

Not much further to report. I get to give my paper this afternoon. Apart from this I have not been overly fastidious in my attendance at talks. Yesterday I explored the heart of the city. As is usual in my trips to England, the main purpose was to stock up on things that I can only buy in the UK. Alas, my baggage is not capacious or reinforced enough to make wholesale shipping of Frazzles to the US a productive endeavour, so I look to smaller and more dense items. In particular, books: I raided a Waterstones 3 for 2 deal to collect specifically titles that have little or no chance of emerging in the US anytime soon (In particular, the Mark Radcliffe novel, and Freakonomics, which is available in the US but not in paperback anytime within the next few years -- the gap between formats is much longer stateside than in UKadia).

Waterstones also seems to have recently engaged in even more excessive price slashing -- they have a regular "books for 99p" offer which appear to be an arbitrary selection of titles, in their entirety. I found one of Lawrence Block's enjoyable "The Burglar Who..." series and snapped that up. They also have a misleadingly titled "Up to half off", which would be better named "Down to half off". By their interpretation, you could quite reasonably sell a book at a discount of a penny. Something should be done! Call trading standards immediately!

I was also on the lookout for music, but both the Pipettes and the much hyped but actually OK LilyAllen aren't out for another few weeks. Guess I'll have to find other ways to track them down.

Ended up in a pub on quiz night. Interesting to see how quizes have evolved: there was a picture round, and most of the other rounds were music based. This is all to reduce the amount of cheating possible with mobile phones and the internets. Only a matter of time before technology allows us to cheat on these as well. Ah, technology: what can't you do?


Day 2

Since I travel so much, I knew exactly how to deal with the jet lag: take a short nap in the afternoon for an hour or so, and then go to bed reasonably early (say, 10ish), and sleep for 10 hours or so. It was somewhat to my surprise that I followed this plan, and then woke up sharp at 1am. More sleep, then again awake at 5am. This corresponds to waking up at midnight "back home". I think it might be to do with the fact that I'm staying in student accommodation. The curtains are so thin that the dribble of sunlight around dawn is enough to illuminate the whole room.

I've stayed in Student accommodation for conferences before. It tends to be quite well suited to the task. I cannot possibly imagine trying to live there for more than the three days though, without going quite screamingly insane after about a week. The rooms are just large enough to put a small travelling case in and spread one's stuff around. Fine for three days, unimaginable conditions for a year. The beds are special editions, barely large enough to sleep one, let alone the two or three that students regular get up to (or so I am informed). Walls are wafer thin, and doors are all fire doors on aggressive auto-closing mechanisms that mean that they slam with a reassuringly loud bang at the slightest provocation. Just to make sure that this causes the maximum amount of disruption, they are slightly too large for the frames, and so will not close and lock unless they are slammed shut with considerable force.

The highlight has to be the ensuite bathrooms, and in particular, the shower. It is actually quite a good shower, by UK standards, and has quite a decent pressure as opposed to the pathetic dribble of water that most UK residents seem content to describe as a shower (I've never had a good a shower in private UK accommodation). The shower tray is obtained by taking a regular shower tray and slicing it in half diagonally. The door opens into the shower, so that getting in and out requires you to inhale deeply and hold yuor breath as you edge around the door. The best part is the shower control mechanism: I'm not sure who thought of this, but it's a work of genius. You know those taps (hard-core Americans: faucets) that you get in public toilets (h-c As: bathrooms) that you push on and they squirt for an inadequate amount of time before switching themselves off again? This is how the shower works. You press a big silver button, which slowly pushes itself out again causing the shower to cut out every 45 seconds (I timed it). This means that for someone like me who enjoys relatively long five minute showers, you need to press the button something of the order of 10 times.

It's hard to imagine exactly what behaviour prompted this design decision. Perhaps the students were of the habit of getting out of the shower and wandering off while forgetting to turn it off. It is starting to become intensely annoying, and I've only taking two showers so far. I'd imagine that after a week or so, one would start coming up with countermeasures, such as trying to wedge the thing in place, or using duct tape to hold it in. It's just possible that this has the effect of reducing usage, since after pressing the button a half dozen times or so, you get pretty tired of the whole affair, and the next time it cuts out, you give up and get out. I'm just not sure that the corresponding increase in violent tendencies in a population subjected to this kind of cruel and unusual interior design is worth the reduction in cost.

Expect more thrilling updates from 5 hours in the future as the week progresses.


Chester Zoo

More travel related hijinks. If you get bored with me whinging about the travails of travel, then you can probably skip this one.

A lengthy trip to the airport. I'm looking forward to the light rail connection between Newark Broad Street and Newark Penn, but in the mean time it means that there is no room for taxis outside Broadstreet so I have to schlepp it crosstown to Penn, at which point I get fed up with public transport and take a cab the rest of the way. It occurs to me that I might be much better off just getting the bus that goes from outside my house direct to Penn.

Checking in from home meant I thought I could avoid lines, but for some reason they make us re-check in at the departure gate, which means a half hour wait for no obvious reason -- all they do is take my I-94.

Wandering onto the plane, there's no room for my bag, so again it is snatched from me at the last minute and checked in. It does emerge at the other end, even more ragged than last time (someone seems to be aggressively cutting off the straps). I will have to get a new one sometime soon, before this dies the death of a thousand cuts.

For all Manchester's delights as an international airport, they still do that thing where you get off the plane and have to take a bus to the terminal. This always makes it feel like some crappy little back-water country. Surely they can manage the direct connection into the terminal by now?

I get to the train station, which is located conveniently half an hour's walk through the airport, and try to buy a ticket. The machine swallows my credit card, but doesn't acknowledge that it has seen it, and refuses to give it back. I shout to the bloke at the ticket counter, who phones up to senior management, who comes to my aid with gratifying haste. He manages to retrieve my card by, yes, turning it off and on again. That shouldn't work. The terminal is some kind of IBM box running some version of XP, you'll be terrified to learn. I try to get a ticket again, this time with cash. Cash works.

I get a nearly empty train headed for Liverpool, and get off as instructed at some no name station in the middle of nowhere. Finding the near mythical platform 5 (it's a quarter mile jog down a footpath from platform 2), the train turns up on time, but is one of those crappy two-carriage affairs that is packed to the rafters with people (the previous service having been cancelled for no apparent reason). I stand for the 40 minute journey, although it seems an awful lot longer. For reasons best known to itself, British weather seems to be doing its best impression of continental summer, and is actually quite warm. I'd forgotten that it could be warm in Britain.

I emerge at my destination, and rather than take the five quid taxi, I elect to walk. Partly to stretch my legs, and partly because it's only 12.30 and the keys aren't supposed to be given out till two, so I need to kill some time. At my slowest pace, I still make it to reception by 1.10 BST (something 8am EST), and much to my surprise find that the desk is open, and I can get into my room. Also, I find that the room was unlocked anyway.

After a brisk 90 minute nap, I feel slightly less like death, and am able to discover a hidden computer room from which I can disperse this missive.

All in all, a pretty standard trip. Still need to sleep for about twelve hours tonight, after which I may be roughly back on schedule just in time to head back on Thursday. This is why you should never leave your home.



Hello all. I got back from Chicago yesterday. I leave for Chester tomorrow. The fun never stops. Here is something to think about:

Chicago'hareport is the worst airport in America (I was going to write "In the world", but I realized that there are whole continents of misery that I have yet to sample).

I talked to many people about their experience arriving in Chicago. The extreme end involved cancelled flights, re-routing via inexplicable mid-points, and early morning arrivals eight hours after the claimed arrival time. I got off relatively lightly, with only a 30 minute delay. I eventually found someone who had experienced no problems flying to Chicago. It transpired that they had flown into the alternate budget "Midway" airport. See what I mean?

I think part of the problem is that even when you get to the miserable place, it resembles hell on earth. Instead of sensibly segmenting the gates, and putting up walls to give a sense of structure and belonging, the entire thing is arranged as a giant series of corridors, all packed to bursting with miserable screaming people desperate for a stand-by seat on an overbooked flight. Baggage reclaim (which I was subjected to after the airline stole my bags from me at the cabin door) takes place in a strange unlit dungeon, with the shredded remains of luggage that didn't make it through littering the corners (my bag eventually emerged, but with the straps mangled and the handle stuck). It's just a horrible place.

I got up this morning, and was going to drive to work when I noticed that something vital was missing. No, the car was safe and well. Someone had stolen the road. So I took the train instead. Hopefully this will be fixed by the time I get back next week.