The Simonator's Blog

Link to 2008's Blog

31st December 2007
Subject: Another year gone

A lot has changed in a year. Scouting has gone through its centenary. China developed a missile to shoot down satellites. Big Brother finally did the decent thing and died. Micro$oft set themselves back several years with Vista. Bird Flu came and went. Alan Johnston got what was coming to him. The Dollar fell to a record low against the Pound. Madeleine McCann disappeared. Tony Blair resigned. The Cutty Sark combusted. Russia grew back to super-power status. In May we had a Blue Moon. Tony Blair's white elephant, The Millenium Dome, is rebranded to the O2 arena and finally finds use. Much of Yorkshire floods (again). Some doctors drive a flaming Jeep into Glascow airport causing 37p worth of damage. Smoking was banned in public. Some ex-KGB spy is ionised by a glowing cup of coffee. The seventh Harry Potter book became the fastest selling novel in history with 8 million copies shifting in the first day. Large amounts of England follow suit after Yorkshire and flood as well. England loses to South Africa at Rugby triggering an unofficial day of mourning amongst meat-head fans everywhere. Airbus launched the A380, holding the record for the largest commercial airliner. Apple launch OSX 10.5 aka Leopard, disappointing fans of Tiger, its predecessor. The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes investigation continues to waste large sums of public money. Pekka-Eric Auvinen shot dead eight people in Finland. HM R&C lost half our details in the post. Diana is found to still be dead by another investigation which will inevitably go on to cost millions yet fail to tell us anything new. Led Zepplin played their one and only reunion concert to 81,000 fans, after total requests for tickets amounted to in excess of 95 million. Time named Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year. Queen Elizabeth became Britains oldest ever monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria. And Kenya started scrapping over the results of an election.

And so, we move into a new year, which will hopefully be no less action packed, vibrant and interesting than the last.

See you all in 2008!


28th December 2007
Subject: Happy Birthday Stephanie

Naturally, once my parents had experienced the wonder of raising the chosen one (yours truly) for a few years, they decided to try again. Like when Steven de Souza had finished making Die Hard, he tried again in 1990.

Either way i ended up with a little sister, whom my mother insists I wanted to call Esso, for reasons i've long since forgotten. They named her Stephanie, and to placate me they called her teddy bear Esso instead. She's since reprised Esso as a nickname but thats a different story.

Over the years our relationship has been tolerable, cordial is perhaps a better word. But overall its worked out ok, for the most part we ignore each other which seems to suit everyone best. It could be worse, at least shes not one of these ever nosy younger siblings who constantly pesters their older brother, unlike some of her friends.

Three days after Christmas seems a potentially awkward time, Easter would perhaps be better, but thats mine, Summer wouldn't be good in the long run, because she'd be one of the youngest in the year which can be hard, September or October would be handy, then one would be the elder of the school year, useful at 17 because it means you start driving sooner.

Birthdays are fun though, because it gives me an excuse to get out of the house under the perogative of not being in the way. I spend it down in the garage, as if i needed the encouragement.

And afterward theres always left-over cake!

25th December 2007
Subject: Happy Birthday Jesus

Well, i've managed to keep this up for one demi-year, widespread international readership, gold and riches (chance would be a fine thing) spiralling in. Keep this up i might be able to write a book or start a business, if Maddox can get people to buy his t-shirts then who knows...

I'll keep this one short, since i'm sure you're all too full of Christmas cheer to pay much attention to anything. If your religion forbids you to drink alcohol, then tough luck, to everyone else who enjoys a glass of fermented grape juice then cheers!

Now lets go eat inordinate amounts of turkey to celebrate the birth of an icon!

21st December 2007
Subject: Wonder if she has a trans-sister!

If you meet a woman on dating sites you risk having more than your heart stolen. Russian chat forums have recently played host to a new breed of conversation partner.

Cyberlover is an online program known as a chatbot. And unlike other bots, who usually ran out of responses early on, Cyberlover's artificial-intelligence (AI) is so good that its victims very often don't realise its not a real person. In an unwilling parallel of the Turing Test, Cyberlover can apparantly establish up to ten relationships in a half-hour period. The software compiles profiles of everyone it meets, including name, photos, contact numbers etc.

The potential of this information to hackers in enormous, online identity fraud becomes frighteningly easy when you have all this data collected about a person.
The official warning issued on this threat is simple, and really shouldn't need repeating, but i'll say it anyway. Don't give out personal information on the web! In case thats not clear enough, heres another way of saying it.

In other news, a round of applause to Seagate, who have recently launched their new range of "FreeAgent" external hard-drives. Well done to them for alienating anyone who uses Linux, OS (Macs), or versions of Windows older than XP. They must have worked very hard to accomplish this, since Linux is much-loved for its abilty to use almost any item of hardware without quibbling, while Windows (and in some cases OS) grind to a halt as soon as anything new is brought to the fore.

The problem lies in the Drive's power saving features, and also that it is shipped formatted to the NTFS filesystem. While the later isn't too much of a problem, most Linux kernals will write to an NTFS drive, the power "Saving" timer is annoying. It powers off the drive after a few minutes of inactivity, shutting down the USB connection, if it does boot back up the connection reappears as USB1, the now long outdated mode that means the data rate slows to a crawl.

There a ways round this but Seagate adamantly insist they don't support them, instead they are telling the world their new drives do not support Linux.
Some of you will be reading this thinking "so what, very few people use Linux." This is true, but of the people likely to buy this drive, the more tech-savvy of the population, a far higher percentage of them will be Linux or Mac users.

Perhaps this is merely Seagate's Christmas present to Maxtor and Western Digital?

19th December 2007
Subject: Crocodile captured at Zinkwazi

>From an email recieved recently, hunters in Zinkwazi captured a large African crocodile. Whilst preparing it on the bank, they emptied its stomach, the photos show the process.

Four of the thumbnails have been deliberatly blurred. Some readers may find the images distressing. If you are one of these people or suspect that photographs of an animal being butchered may cause you recurring nightmares or even to sink in a dead faint, do not open the images.
If you're sensible like me though, click away, you'll probably find them interesting.

18th December 2007
Subject: Students "should use Wikipedia"?

Thanks to Mike for sending me a link to a story he found on the BBC news website. Jimmy Wales, in a spectacular U-turn worthy of the Labour party, is now saying that young students should be able to reference the online encyclopedia in their work. He likened it to music, saying: "You can ban kids from listening to rock 'n' roll music, but they're going to anyway. It's the same with information, and it's a bad educator that bans their students from reading Wikipedia."

This is hardly the point, the idea of an "educator" is to educate, telling their students not to trust Wikipedia is a good way of doing that. I'm an editor on the site, and i wouldn't trust it to get the date right.

To his credit, Wales did agree that the site lacked the authority needed to qualify as a "citeable source" for university students. The part he missed is that it isn't suitable for use by High-school, primary, or pre-school children either.

I could go on here, but i'd only end up repeating myself, Wikipedia isn't necessarily a pile of crap, just treat it the same way you would a known axe-murderer.

The original BBC article can be found here.

15th December 2007
Subject: One down already!

So I survived this term, they say School years are the best ones in your life, i disagree, University trumps them by a large margin.

The cleaners must dread the holidays, they never know what they might find! Heres the end wall of my room when i left:

All mine, apart from about half-a-dozen Carlsbergs. Ten weeks that took, worth every minute. Shame it has to come down!

Maths time:
13 Boddingtons (1.8 units per can) = 23.4 units
70 Carlsbergs (1.8 units per can) = 126 units
73 Strongbows (2.3 units per can) = 167.9 units
Subtotal = 317.3 units.

3 Bottles of Jägermeister in the window (18 units each) = 54 units.
Subtotal = 371.3 units.

Pints drunk elsewhere (estimated) = 40
Average 2.5 units per pint = 100 units
Subtotal = 471.3 units

Duration = 10 weeks.
Units per week = 47.1.

Government recommendation = 21 units per week
How dead the Gov. thinks i should be = 47.1/21x100 = 224%

I love being a student!

Tatiana Says: Brilliant. Bear in mind though you weigh more than the average man so you can drink more beer.

13th December 2007
Subject: SlimVirgin, short-selling and Web 2.0

When the founder of a major Web2.0 encyclopedic website begins an article in the New York Times with the phrase "We aren't democratic" then you know something serious is afoot. So it was when Wikipedia's ruling clique's totalitarian approach to administration went many steps too far.

In early September, more than 1000 homes and a large online retailer found themselves banned from editing WP by the inner circles attempts to silence one man.
Judd Bagley, head of communications at, and his boss Patrick Byrne have waged a fairly public crusade against a S&S trick known as naked short-selling, it came to a head in February when Overstock filed a 3.4 billion dollar lawsuit against 12 New York broker firms, for waging a "massive, illegal stock market manipulation."

A brief detour to explain what this means, short-selling is a way of making a profit if share prices go down. When the price is about to drop, you borrow shares from someone else and sell them, once the drop happens, you buy the shares back and then return them to their owner.
Naked short-selling is much the same, except that you don't borrow the shares, then after the sale when its time to deliver shares to the buyer, you don't. This is especially illegal if you're trying to manipulate stock prices. But it happens worryingly often on a grand scale.
This practice can drive entire companies out of business, large companies can kill off small companies very easily.

In March a documentary was broadcast by Bloomberg Television in the US about naked shorting, Byrne's views were prominently aired, but the press painted Byrne as a raving madman. (No sign of a political incentive there!)
One of his most vociferous critics was BusinessWeek reporter Gary Weiss. Over the past few years he has devoted much bandwidth to persecuting Byrne, and their crusade against naked-shorting.

Bagley came into the picture when he was working as a journalist, he interviewed Byrne for a podcast series about entrepreneurial figures. During the interview, naked shorting was discussed, and Bagley agreed to host a PowerPoint presentation that Byrne had made detailing the subject on his website,

The presentation can be viewed here. Its long (85 mins), fairly US orientated, and only really directed at people with an interest in the matter.

A few days later, Bagley found in the site's logs that someone had accessed the presentation via Wikipedia, visiting the encyclopedia for the first time, he found that someone had linked to Businessjive from the article on naked shorting, and then someone else had removed the link.

This person, known only by the IP address had made multiple edits to the WP article on naked shorting, these edits being blatantly biased. He believed someone was trying to skew the article from telling the whole truth.

This is the sharp side of WP's 'anyone can edit' nature. Bagley restored the link to Businessjive, a few hours later it was removed, so he restored it again, and it was removed again, clearly someone didn't want the PowerPoint presentation referenced.

After six months of digging, Bagley decided this Wiki-Nemesis was his old enemy Gary Weiss, the IP address seemed to belong to him, and he also used the account "Mantanmoreland" to control not only the naked shorting article, but those of, Patrick Byrne and Gary Weiss. The account was created just after his duel with and its first act was to edit the naked shorting article, then create the article on Gary Weiss.

Bagley felt he had enough evidence to prove his claims and decided to bring it to the attention of WP's top administrators, though in a rather ill-advised manner. Using an account called WordBomb, he posted a reference to a lawsuit brought against Weiss, adding some true but unflattering details to the Weiss account, expecting Mantanmoreland to object, bring the manner to the dispute resolution process, and eventually result in Mantanmoreland's banning from WP.
Things didn't quite go as planned, instead an admin known as SlimVirgin immediately banned Bagleys account. (See the talk page here.)

After some additional to'ing and fro'ing, Bagley went to SlimVirgin with evidence he'd collected, he was trying to show that the Mantanmoreland account was a "Sock Puppet". (For more information on Sock Puppeting see my previous article about Wikipedia.)
SlimVirgin wrote back, saying that the evidence was meaningless, but Bagley wasn't sure if she'd even looked at it. So he sent some more files, this time with a small script (spyware basically) that would ping his server if the file was opened. A few minutes later he got the ping, but it came from Weiss.

At this point he knew something was up, he stopped trying to edit the encyclopedia, but spent the next year collecting evidence against Weiss and WP and posting it to his new site call
On the 22nd of August, Bagley posted details from a database dump he'd procured to this website. Two weeks later, after some other Wikipedia users accused the site's clique of immoral actions (myself included), Bagley's IP range and that of were banned by WP's UK press officer, David Gerrard. Because Bagley's ISP Broadweave used a shared IP range, this ban also included over 1000 other homes in the area.

A couple of days later, a discussion began about banning certain sites on the encyclopedia. was top of the list.
To quote Dan Tobias, a WP contributor from Florida: "Sites such as Mr. Bagley's - sites that strongly criticize members of Wikipedia - were being associated with stalking and harassing and practically everything up to threatened rape, people were greatly exaggerating what the danger was from these sites, and even going so far as to insist these sites were so evil that shouldn't be able to link to them under any context, for any purpose, anywhere."

Bagley is convinced that this "blacklist" of sites was started simply because the inner circle didn't want anyone to see the evidence he'd posted against SlimVirgin, by making sure no-one could link to it from WP, they thought no-one would hear about it.

Another WP writer, Charles Ainsworth has stated that anyone outside the inner circle is not allowed to edit the articles on, Patrick Byrne, naked shorting or Gary Weiss.
Ainsworth has contributed more articles than all but six others, but when he tried to edit the Weiss article, he was immediately banned for 24 hours by Durova, the administrator at the heart of the Mailing List scandal.
On top of this, Durova's ban was supported by none other than Jimmy Wales.

So whats really going on here?
David Gerrard said that Bagley and Overstock were banned because they were "Spamming", but Bagley hasn't edited in over a year. He also calls Bagley's IP range an "open proxy", but according to Broadweave it isn't, and never has been. Clearly this ban is about something else.

Bagley and Byrne think they know what is happening, the ban is part of a wider conspiracy to discredit their views on naked shorting. They believe a group is trying to control public opinion via Wikipedia.

This makes sense, one of the public first actions when they hear about a new topic is to Google it, then read the WP article that comes up. Therefore, by manipulating that article, you manipulate public opinion.

There's no denying that the inner circle has the four articles in question under the thumb. When Bagley attempted to level the playing field, he was immediately banished. This will not do in the long run. Wikipedia could be a fantastic force of good to the wider community, but as long as those in control have a hidden agenda, and react this ruthlessly to anyone who disagrees with them, it will always be overshadowed by doubt. What is more worrying is that as long as Jimmy Wales and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation support these peoples actions the long-term viability of the project will suffer greatly.

11th December 2007
Subject: Hosed Anna in egg shells is.

Now as you'll probably know, organised Religion is something i have no time for. That said, theres nothing wrong with a good sing-song, and Christmas is as good a time as any for that, with a few carols.
On Saturday, Em managed to bludgeon me into agreeing to help her hand out flyers for the carol concert she was organising, maybe she thought people were less likely to say no to me. Whatever it was it seemed to work.
This meant i didn't really have an excuse not to go, since i could hardly claim not to know the time and place, there was pizza and a quiz afterward though so its not all bad. (I do seem to have got through an awful lot of Pizza this term!) I wasn't paying this time anyway so suits me.
The quiz wasn't quite what i was expecting, this being the Christian Union one would imagine there'd be a fair few questions on the life and time of Jesus but no, not a single mention of him. Admittedly a night out with the CU isn't as fun as the Spiral Dances i went to over Christmas last year, but thats another story.

Being something of a gadget freak i was more intrigued by Michael's laser pen, ordinary laser pointers are usually about 5mw, and they're quite bright. This one was 240mw. It was so bright that you could see the beam itself as well as the dot. I don't know if they're legal in this country (it came from China), i just want one!

9th December 2007
Subject: Party on a budget

An inevitably lower-key affair, lacking the funding and decoration, but still fun. Rosie and Claire's birthday party. Top floor of their block, involving lots of drinking and pizza. Music blaring out of a £20 hi-fi, tinsel arranged into rude yet amusing shapes on the wall. Theres something slightly odd, although nostalgic about 18 students playing pass-the-parcel surrounded by empty cans and discarded Jenga pieces.

A little tip for you if you're going to university in the future, or possibly already there. Take a note of all the pizza and fast-food companies numbers that come through your block's door, then play them off against each other, we managed to get ten 15" and two 12" pizzas, a blue-cheese burger, two garlic breads and three large bottles of Coke down to £60, by playing Dominos off against Blue-Point, and then taking the lowest price to Tushba and asking if they'd beat it. £130 down to £78, then down again to £60. Try it, its a warm feeling knowing you've halved the price with a little digging.

8th December 2007
Subject: Adams' Street

On May 11th, 2001 a very talented writer passed away, leaving behind a legacy that will last for decades to come. Douglas Adams, the man responsible for the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy radio program, tv series, audio cassettes, calendars, mugs, bathmats, musical socks and some may remember, book.

While for many of us that might be the end of the story, for a group of enthusiasts in Portland, Oregon, in the US it was a calling. They decided to name a street after him. Which one? 42nd of course!

To quote from the webpage:
It will reflect Portlanders' commitment to the arts.
It will reflect Portlanders' respect for the environment.
It will reflect Portlanders' desire to provide technological access to all.
It will reflect Portlanders' passion to further education to all people.
It will remind all Portlanders' the most important lesson in times of uncertainty and fear...

A website was set up about the project, mainly to help raise funds, renaming a street is not cheap! Amongst other things, they sell bumper stickers, which due to the current exchange rate, can be bought by us Brits for just £4, including international postage.

The sticker reminds us of that most vital piece of survial information:

You can visit the site at

6th December 2007
Subject: Christmas Balls

Part of the tradition at Universities involves everyone getting dressed up in their finery and dancing the night away whilst drinking heavily before slowly collapsing into a drunken stupor shouting "Merry Christmas" at every passing life-form. So it went this Thursday evening.

Off we went in our dinner jackets and posh frocks down to the bar, which was unrecognisable for having being decorated for the occaision. Draps hung from the walls, embedded with flashing lights and tinsel. Balloons in quantities you wouldn't believe, some of them with flashing lights inside, i nicked a couple to light the Jägermeister bottles hanging in my window.

The best part was the promise of free food, but what kind was not mentioned on the ticket, we soon found out when we got there.
Whoever invented the Chocolate fountain should be made a saint, i'd never tasted the produce of one of these devices before, yet can't wait to do so again. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, quite the opposite in fact, yet mini-doughnuts lathered in molten chocolate are going to be the national dish when i come to power!

Three paragraphs in and i haven't mentioned the casino yet, our ticket got us 8 free chips (thats gambling chips, not fried potato), and that was our lot for the night, if we wanted more we had to earn them. I manged to close two hours later with 8, not the most promising finish but at least i hadn't lost anything, others cleaned out in five minutes, but the winner when they closed at 11 had 92, not a bad finish. Imagine starting with £1000, he'd have £11,500, quite a good profit margin.

When we'd got bored with this we migrated back into the dance hall with frequent visits to the bar, all a bit of a blur after that. When i'd sobered up slightly i found there were six of us in my room watching Monty Python's Holy Grail. So, a good night all round.

5th December 2007
Subject: Laptops, Wikipedia and the RIAA

...One of the less successful childrens book series.

"Birmingham City schools will be the first in nation to get XO laptops" shouted the headline from the Birmingham news. Unfortunatly thats Birmingham, Alabama not Birmingham, England. Which i suppose makes sense because an electrical item given to a Birmingham, England student would be like throwing money off a bridge, worse in fact, you wouldn't even be able to watch the laptops as they floated off, never to be seen again. But in Alabama the mayor Larry Langford (only in America!) has signed an agreement for 15,000 of the OLPC XO B4s. The $3 million deal will allow every child in grades one through eight in the city's schools to recieve a laptop. The computers will be distributed to the children on April 15th and they can even take them home. Since the laptop was designed to be easily picked up by children training will not be a problem. And a new generation of children will be raised who realise that Micro$oft is not the be-all and end-all of computing technology. Oh some of the things to be read in chatrooms from clots who have never seen the light. One cretin though Linux was a shoe shop, not sure what was going through his head.
A few weeks ago i wrote a stint about the XO B4 shortly after its final announcement, and after finally battleing through the filters to publish it i recieved an email from an American gantleman called Martin thanking me for bringing his attention to it and saying he planned to purchase a couple for his children this Christmas. Martin, if you're reading, thanks for the note and please let me know if the XO B4 is all its touted to be.
This isn't just a blog, its a public service.

In other news, in the week that the San Francisco Chronicle printed a complimentary article exhaulting Wikipedia's success trouble has been brewing under the veneer of encyclopedic virtue the site puts across.
Controversy has erupted amongst many of the core contributors after it was revealed that admins have been using a secret mailing list to mount attacks on threats to their influence, real or percieved.
The tale should sound eerily familiar to serial forum frequenters like myself, snappy admin blocks innocent user for reasons understand by none but themselves. Such lists are surprisingly common, usually a closely guarded secret amongst the admin team.
The Wikipedia list was revealed after an admin called "Durova" used it to enforce the mysterious ban of a longtime contributor known as "!!", yes, two exclamation marks. Colloquially he's become known as "Bang Bang" because its far easier to say. Durova's ban portrayed him as an "abusive sock puppet", which is an account specifically created with the intention of damaging the encyclopedia. !! was a well established long time contributor with a padded history of minor edits, corrections, and even some DYK work.
DYK stands for Did You Know and is the section near the bottom of the homepage you probably wouldn't have noticed unless you were looking for it.
Durova claimed that his helpful writings were merely a front so that he could gain the trust of other contributors. Such paranoid delusions certainly don't nurture this supposed trust but it was bound to backfire sooner or later. After several hours of indignant messages from other users, none of whom seemed to think of !! as a threat (which he clearly wasn't) Durova backed down and released the ban, still claiming though that she was right and we'd regret it. The only regrets we'll be having though is paying any attention to her in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, !! hasn't made a single contribution since, after the way he was treated, we can surely all understand why.

4th December 2007
Subject: LiveJournal

As i learned from your emails (most somewhat abusive) after last time i wrote about LiveJournal's foibles many of you have already ascended it to the level of God and treat it as your main source of entertainment, some even asking what happened to my old style of anecdotal complaining about stuff. Well heres a brief ramble to see.

In 1997 George Ouzounian, better known as Maddox created his egotistically titled yet ultimately rather immature website aka "The Best Page in the Universe." Now i respect his right to opinions as much as anyone elses so i won't criticise the content, or any of it in fact. Instead i'll use it as a comparison. It started out merely as a text file containing 50 or so things that irratated him and from there grew into a digital empire of satiric ranting, it also includes "The Best Store in the Universe" through which he basically sells T-shirts with slogans about vegetarians and littering. All fine and dandy to him, he makes a sizeable proportion of his living off these garments alone, along with his book "The Alphabet of Manliness." I haven't read it and don't intend to but it shot straight to the top on Amazon after it was published sometime mid last year.

Where am i going with this you ask, well, it shows how a little entrepreneurial spirit can lift what starts out as mere textual ramblings into an income generating online media source. Steeing back to the original subject matter, when Brad Fitzpatrick started LiveJournal back in 1999 as a way to keep in touch with former high school friends he probably had very little idea that six years later it would be bought by internet media giant Six Apart, the amount it sold for was never disclosed, but i for one expect it saw Brad living quite comfortably afterward. Six Apart wisely used the tactic of management by Deja Vu and kept the site exactly the same, since many users had feared they would be forced to buy accounts to keep their service. Brad left Six Apart in early 2007 to concentrated on other matters but since the sale of LJ to Russian company SUP has been reappointed as a board member. Not being a user of LJ i have no idea if the changeover will be noticable but Brad was reported to by very excited about future developments. We shall see.

3rd December 2007
Subject: Zohnerism

Zohnerism is defined (by wikipedia at any rate) as "the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion."

You may have heard of the Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax from a few years ago. It has appeared in many forms, but usually in the form of a petition to ban this "dangerous" substance after relating to the victim a few facts about its effects. Stuff like, causes severe burns in its gaseous form, can cause death when inhaled, has been found in cancer tumours, etc. Also, some eco-nutter hysteria about factories dumping hundreds of tons of it into rivers and lakes every year. All very true, but not something we should be worried about. I'll give you a clue in case you don't know the answer already.
The formula of Dihydrogen Monoxide = H2O. Look familiar? Yes, it is better known as water.
I'd hope most of you knew that, but you see how choosing your facts carefully can skew the description.

To put all this in context i'll refer to the latest resurfacing of Acrylamide in the popular press. Acrylamide is a substance found in baked or fried foods, formed by the reaction of Asparagine (an amino acid, part of a protein) and reducing sugars such as Glucose or Fructose during the cooking process. Both very common in starchy foods. In tests Acrylamide has been found to be highly carcinogenic and also a potent neurotoxin. The press had a field day, briefly.

Now before you go off, bin your pans and convert to fruitarianism; hear me out. Whilst the press focused only on how this chemical, the formation of which in the cooking process is unavoidable, New Scientist magazine remained a lone voice of truth in a frenzy of speculation and deception.
Being a scientist i ought to reference my work by putting a link in to the article, but since its on the NS website, and if you're intelligent enough to read more you'll be able to find it yourself, i'll stick with the brief abstract.
It (roughly) stated: Whilst it is true that acrylamide showed carcinogenic (that means causes cancer in case you're wondering) effects in tests, the crucial point is how those tests were performed. Lab rats were the proverbial guinea pigs here, which means theres a very important difference before this can be applied to humans. Rats don't eat cooked food, we do. And we have been for the past umpteen million years. What the papers failed to realise (or more likely overlooked) is that over that time, humans have developed resistance to these negative effects.
Indeed, further tests, this time on humans, failed to show any reliable connection between acrylamide and cancer. Evolution is a wonderful thing.

So in conclusion, apart from the obvious don't believe everything you read in the papers, Acrylamide is not going to kill us all, same way Global Warming won't, plastic bottles won't, takeaways won't, not eating five portions of fruit a day won't, drinking water won't, need i go on?

28th November 2007
Subject: Student Finance

As the debate concerning the government's plans to possibly lift the cap on university tutition fees rages on, more and more unions and societies are getting in on the act. I've already signed the petition in our local SU and been photographed for the "Rail Of Debt", a worrying reminder of just how much i'll owe when i've finished my degree. Yet, with many students sucking their student loans for every penny it can give, while others have overdrafts maxed out with every bank that will give them one, the Government insists on bluntly advising students not to get into debt whilst simultaineously bleeding them dry. The worst part is that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who were both university educated for free and recieved grants to be so, by introducing these fees were unceremoniously burning the ladder up which they themselves climbed. Removing the cap on tutition fees will effectively create a market in higher education, with the older well established institutions charging a fortune, safe in the knowledge students will still come to them regardless of the cost. Whilst smaller newer universities will also be forced to raise their fees because common perception would be that the price represents the quality of product recieved. All of which will further erode the numbers of students wishing to continue into higher education. The commercialisation of higher education will create few big winners but many big losers!

At the risk of being overly tangental, a story from Varsity newspaper into student jobs in Cambridge highlights some of the desperate measures students will go to in order to alleviate some of the financial problems. Whilst most student's with jobs work in bars or retail outlets, many students are chossing to work in the sex industry to fund their lifestyle.
The student 'call girl' who was interviewed admitted that she spent a period in her first year charging £50 and hour for sex. She slept with between 40 and 50 men for money over two months, and once with seven men in a single night. She went on to say that "I did have a day job but it wasn't paying enough, I met other student who did it too. Once you've done it, it is tempting. If you need quick, easy money, its there. I would sleep with between one and seven clients a night, the most being at Christmas when it was really busy. I probably earned between £5-6k in the time I was at the agency, about £1000 a week cash in hand."
If students are forced to turn to prostitution in order to pay their way through university surely this is an indication of how serious the problem is. If they are willing to act in this way then more needs to be done to aid students financially.

27th November 2007
Subject: What would you like for christmas?

>From Martin Lewis' excellent website.

Kids, get a reply from Santa. Just write to:


His friends at the post office will ensure he gets it and writes back.

26th November 2007
Subject: Copyright

Came across an excellent article today by John Terhanian, "Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap". In it he describes how, simply by acting normally, all of us are technically lawbreakers many times over every day, more so than we ever liked to imagine. I quote:

By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer -- a veritable grand larcenist -- or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.

Read the full article here, pdf format.

24th November 2007
Subject: Only the good...

...die young. Today is 16 years since the great Freddie Mercury died from Bronchial Pneumonia brought on by AIDS. 16 years, but the legend lives on.

There will never be another like him.

Moving on to slightly lighter matters. Concert time. In case you don't already know, i play the trombone amongst other instruments, and i'm pretty good even if i do say so myself. The major problem i have playing in the big band here is that i learnt to play in a Brass Band, where all the music is Treble Clef, and everywhere else the music is in Bass Clef. if you don't know what that means don't worry about it. Still, i'm getting the hang of it now and tonight we had a joint concert with the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, or Wind Band, in a building attached to a church down the road from the university. Its not a huge hall but sufficient. After letting everyone in who'd forgotten the code for the back door, we played the inevitable musical-chairs-cum-british-bulldogs on the stage which always ensues because there aren't enough chairs. Quick rehersal once we were all settled, no mishaps apart from Steve's (the pianist) introduction to Jumping at the Woodside, he went off at about 180bpm in 2/4 time and one could see the panic set into the other players eyes as they realise they'll never keep up. Ben (one of the bassists) loves that piece because its so fast he can play whatever he likes and it will still fit.

The wind band took over at three o'clock, their defining feature is the massive Suzaphone towering over everyone at the back. This enormous curly bass instrument is fairly unique in that the player needs to wear it whilst playing. The three foot wide bell does instil the temptation to throw sweets down it but its a beautiful instrument to watch and makes a very rich tone thats great to listen to.

That evening we all returned in evening dress, me walking a bit stiffly because the jacket is an old one of my fathers and is rather too small for me, another crowd outside the door, a good performance by both bands and we were done, concerts always fly past, its probably the fun of doing something that you enjoy. We stopped at the Marquis on the way back for a couple pints of Staropramen and back to halls. Another day over and done with.

23rd November 2007
Subject: Public Education

By now you'll be aware i have a pretty low opinion of the Plebeculae Intellegentia*, so when i found this story in Private Eye part of me wasn't at all surprised while the other wanted to attach a noose around the offending persons neck and introduce them personally to a large trap-door.
The story reads:

When lottery operator Camelot withdrew its Cool Cash scratch card because players didn't understand negative numbers a new low was acheived in dumb britain.
Many thanks to the numerous Eye readers who spotted this reaction from a 23-year-old angry scratchcard buyer in the
Manchester Evening News:
"On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers i uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said i hadn't.
"I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher, not lower, than -8 but i'm not having it!"

Of course if this should end up in court he wouldn't have the proverbial leg to stand on, or at least we hope not. If there are any Americans reading wondering what my point is, public education isn't great these days but come on! Kids these days are even leaving primary school without being able to read properly, how is this possible? I could read, write, add up, divide, argue etc before i even started school. I couldn't wait at the time (how things change), although my mother says i wasn't quite so keen by the third morning, apparantly i hadn't realised before that one had to go everyday.

Try to polish up the brain power people then we'll be a lot happier!

Any amusing tales of public stupidity to webmaster (at) thesimonator (dot) net please.

*I know latin, how cool's that?

21st November 2007
Subject: Gutsy Gibbon

A few years ago now, the much heralded Linus Torvalds created a UNIX based operating system kernal which has been a thorn in Micro$ofts side ever since, I mean of course the epitome of open-source software Linux.

Linux is something i've been a fan of for many years, its primary attraction being of course that its completely free, and unlike some proprietory offers from IT corporations i could mention, it actually works, without arguing the toss at every turn. It comes in many forms, or distributions as they are known, and there is literally one for every use you might require, this means rather than installing what you're given after paying through the nose for it, then trying to customise the fallout to what you actually require, one can select a version that matches their needs from the beginning. Many of the distro's are highly specific, there are several ones specifically for servers, others for media centres, hand-held PDAs, even mobile phones. There are also many that are more general and aimed at computers used for a wider range of tasks and this is where i'm heading.

The distro that first tempted me away from Winblows was SUSElinux, intended largely for recent converts it's desktop was reassuringly familiar with similar menu structures and the like. I also briefly attempted Debian, which is a much more complicated developer based system that i didn't really get along with, not being a professional computer programmer its largely command-line based interface is a tad scary at first, it can do almost anything you like as long as you're paitient but you might lose blood along the way.

A friend back in school showed me a version called Ubuntu which he was using at the time, the GUI (Graphical User Interface, the bit you see) looked quite attractive if somewhat brown, and the catalogue of software, though not quite as extensive as SUSE was nonetheless impressive, and it also took up rather less disk space which was an attractive prospect since i'd recently got a new laptop for my birthday. I'd tried SUSE on it and it had a couple of issues with the monitor and wireless card, caused by closed source drivers. These are drivers for which the source code is not availiable to the public, therefore the compatability for anything other than Windoze is largely based on logic and intelligent guesswork. It is possible for SUSE to use the standard driver using a gadget call Ndiswrapper, though its clunky and more a bodge than a fix. Ubuntu handled the process much better, though still not perfect, ah well, one has to make a few concessions. I kept SUSE on my main pc where it didn't have these compatability problems until the next major update came out, this version known as openSUSE, i didn't like it, the visuals didn't look right, and put Ubuntu on instead, no complaints yet.

Ubuntu has also published a major update, version 7.10 aka Gutsy Gibbon. First impressions are good, they haven't played about too much with the GUI and it now has Compiz-Fusion installed by default, rather than a long complex tuning process it previously required. Compiz is a window manager with a catalogue of visual effects that would make even Apple's OS X cower in fear, never mind the limp wristed fade Vista churns out with a kind of "There we are, how good am i?!" attitude, Compiz can make windows explode, burn, crinkle, evaporate, even fold up into an aeroplane and fly off. A lot of the fancier effects require fairly powerful graphics hardware but if your computer is newer than about three years it should run them all sweet enough, and even if you're still chugging by on an old Pentium II you'll still manage some of the more basic twinkles.
Other than that they've stuck with the fine linux tradition of not fscking* with anything that works fine, a trick Micro$oft have yet to work out. According to /. the next release, 8.04 Hardy Heron, will focus more on stability than eye-candy, but 7.10 is still a long way from what anyone sensible would term unstable.

For more information about Ubuntu visit:

For information about Linux in general visit:

*No thats not a typo, existing Linux users will know what i mean.

20th November 2007
Subject: 420

On a slightly lighter note than the previous few entries, or slightly higher depending on your point of view, something interesting that was made aware to me earlier today; 20th April, or 4/20 as they call it, is national pot-smoking day in North America. I wonder if my parents realised i was born on a day when US students meet to officially smoke Marijuana and pressure their local governments into legalising the substance?

Whilst i don't smoke myself, i do believe that people should have the choice to put whatever narcotic they like through their body, as long as they don't do it near me. Hell, you only live once, why not try everything?

Other notable births on April 20th include Adolf Hitler and the Prophet Mohammad, maybe not something to boast about. Though on the flipside they also include Charlie Chaplin, definatly someone worth mentioning, Tina Cousins, not too sure about the music but hey, and Carmen Electra, wahey!

18th November 2007
Subject: Rally

Scout camp three weeks ago was merely a taster it seems, for this weekend saw the return of the infamous SSAGO rally. A chance for all university scouts to gather in a field and be very immature. It was being hosted locally this year which meant everyone from our group was basically staff. A somewhat two-edged sword, on the plus side you get first dibs at the food and the feeling that you're doing something useful, which i personally enjoy mightily. On the down side though you work long hours and end up with severe sleep deprivation by the end. Friday night i was stuck in the field kitchen with Nicola grating large quantities of "White Mild Alternative" into a bucket to be used for the sandwiches. "White Mild Alternative" is a catering product that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cheese. Seemingly hours and several layers of keratin later, whilst watching Hoppo torch whatever item came to hand in his attempts to make fire, the rest of the kitchen staff turned up and we began buttering bread like it was going out of fashion. Industrial quantities of Tuna Mayonaise and Chicken were also required, to feed the baying crowds at lunch on saturday, if we hadn't had the radio to keep us going through the night we'd have packed it in long ago.

Then up early Saturday morning to cook breakfast, after we'd cleaned the sink. The last people to use it had left about an inch of congealed fat in the bottom, not something you look forward to without a strong coffee at 5 in the morning.

Once we'd fed the animals they disappeared off to the SU in the city for their morning treasure hunt, involving such items as Vicar, Bus, Masai Warrior (with spear), policeman. We went back to the field kitchen to package umpteen hundred sandwiches, finishing with just minutes to spare before we had to load them into cars and take them to the SU to hand them out. Then we had a short period to rest before beginning to cook tea, Beef Stroganof. Later that night was barn dancing before hopping on the buses to take us back to camp. Hoppo built another fire, with slightly more success this time, and more untraditional camp fire songs ensued, in varying levels of slurred drunkenness until Steve put a very large bundle of sticks on the fire which went up like theyd been dowsed with petrol, dessicating everyone sat within 20 feet. At that point we decided to retire.

Sunday, something of a lie in this morning since i wasn't on breakfast team (thankfully). Spent the morning playing chess with the vehicles in the car park as leaders arrived for kit, before we gutted the campsite and loaded all remaining items into various cars belonging to staff members. We all got our pick of leftover stuff so i ended up with 3 loaves of bread, 5 packets of ham and an entire box of 48 sliced buns. Not bad going.
That evening we went to a local pub called the Owl, they do cheap food in large quantities, i had a "Mighty Mixed Grill", a lot of meat with half a sack of chips and a few fried eggs thrown in for good measure. Not bad for eight quid. Generally things have been pricier than is comfortable down here in the south but the Owl was a pleasant surprise.

16th November 2007
Subject: The truth will out, even when it shouldn't.

Megan Meier had some troubles, like many teenagers (apparantly), but was apparantly getting over them, in part due a new friend she'd made on MySpace. Unfortunatly the term is 'was' because the 'friend' then apparantly changed his mind and insulted her. Megan was devasted, and hung herself in her wardrobe hours later.

His name was Josh Evans, 16, very good looking. Megan was overjoyed when he asked to be added to her friends, Tina Meier (Megans mother) agreed, and for six weeks, under Tina's watchful eye, Megan and Josh became friends in the virtual world of MySpace. Josh was born in Florida, home schooled, he played the guitar and drums. Megan expressed herself as:

She was quite large for her size and had been trying to lose weight, things were going well, she'd lost 20 pounds as she started her eighth year in high school. Amid the positives, Megan ended a friendship with a girl who lived down the street, they'd spent the seventh year oscillating between friends and not said Tina.
Part of the reason for her cheerful outlook was Josh, she'd stuggled with weight and self-esteem and had finally found a boy who thought she was pretty. Tina was still cautious after earlier that year some girls had created a myspace account specifically to talk to boys, when Tina found out she'd ended Megan's access. Later she'd relented and let Megan have an account on the condition it would be monitored by her parents, who would also be the only ones with the password. Megan agreed, and so far there had been no mishaps.

Then on October 15th 2006, Megan recieved an odd message from the boy. "I don't know if i want to be friends with you anymore because i've heard you're not very nice to your friends."
Surprised Megan shot back: "What are you talking about?"

Monday was rainy and bleak, at school Megan handed out the invites to her 14th Birthday Party, when she got home she asked her mother to log on so she could see if there'd been a response, she wanted to know why he thought she was mean, who'd he been talking to?

Tina then had to leave to take her youngest daughter to the orthodontist, making Megan promise to sign off. Once there she rang Megan: Did you sign out?
No, was the reply, theyre all being so mean to me.
Again Tina told Megan to sign off.
Fifteen minutes later Megan called her mother: They are posting bulletins about me, Megan Meier is a Slut, Megan Meier is fat!
Once Tina returned home she ran straight down to the basement where the computer was, she was shocked at the language her daughter was firing back at people. Megan left the computer and ran upstairs. Tina went to the kitchen she she and her husband talked about what had happened, the MySpace account and Megan.
Twenty minutes later Tina froze in mid-sentence, showing that psychic link mothers always have with their children, she ran upstairs and found Megan in the wardrobe, next day she was dead, three weeks before her 14th birthday.

Not just another teenage emo story, this one has a sting in the tail. The boy didn't exist, he'd been the creation of Megan's former friend's mother. Motive's behind her actions are as yet unclear, though some of the messages were unquestionably spiteful, "The world would be a better place without you."
Words which I, and i'm sure many others would brush off like crumbs, but to a 13 year old girl who had previously been treated for depression and was known to already be slightly on edge mentally, this statement seems to have done rather more damage.

Megan's parents were contacted by a female neighbor, one they didn't know well, told then her daughter had recieved a call from the other family's mother the night the ambulance came for Megan, advising her not to mention the MySpace account. The woman's daughter had apparantly corroborated with the family in the whole fiasco and had the password to the Josh Evans account.
That same day the family came down and tried to talk to the Meiers, Ron asked friends to convince them to leave before he physically harmed them. In a letter the family wrote to the Meiers they stated "We are sorry for the extreme pain you are going through and can only imagine how difficult it must be. We have every compassion for you and your family"

Now i come to the crux of this story, the papers didn't name the woman to "protect her teenage daughter", this apparantly wasn't enough for some other internet bloggers, who soon uncovered the womans name, address, phone number, buisness records etc and plastered them all over the web. Moral of the story here, some people won't take no for an answer.

Seriously though, some of the comments this story is getting are completely unnecessary, i quote: These two pieces of human refuse should be relentlessly pursued and forever reminded of their disgusting actions. Over and over, until they too take their lives. Die!

This is just foolish, judging someones worth to this planet based on the media is completely unjustified. You don't know what actually happened because you weren't there nor have you talked to any of the people involved, yet you feel comfortable pronouncing sentence in public. Maybe they are guilty, maybe they're not, at least have a trial first. This kind of emotional aggravation is just what turns the search for justice into a lynching!

Others liken her to a sexual predator, another approach which doesn't stand up to scrutany, 'Josh' never asked for her phone number, and when Megan asked for his he said he didn't have one. The mother of the former friend said she only created the account to find out if Megan was saying anything about her daughter and that she never sent the messages, we'll never know for sure, because the account has since been deleted and MySpace doesn't keep records (so they say). Although strangely, considering this story happened over a year ago, Megan's MySpace page still exists, its set to private, and whilst i do know how to bypass that, and did, posting the contents would just be distasteful. The whole case should be left to the justice system and let the parents get on with their grieving in peace.

And to anyone that reads Michael Crook's blog, don't even get me started on the whiny, bigotted, insensitive, prejudiced, perverted fuckwit!

14th November 2007
Subject: Your iPhone is watching you!

As i sit here applying another layer of tin foil to my hat, Apple have admitted that they record iPhone usage and track the IMEI numbers of all handsets worldwide. Inside the 'weather' and 'stocks' widgets is a process that sends the IMEI to Apple's special URL. No word yet on the effects to hacked or unlocked iPhones. As first revealed on UneasySilence, the process transmits its history to Apple whenever a query is performed. It still hasn't been determined whether or not the information is anonymous. Obviously the weather module isn't something to be too worried about, but Apple knowing which stocks and shares you're interested it, isn't that something to be worried about?

Sudden gear change: Be very careful with online banner adverts on webpages, a new breed is hijacking PCs and bullying users until they buy their anti-virus software (which does the opposite!). These ads have even been spotted on seemingly kosher websites like the Economist. Unless you're a Mac user, or Linux like me, don't buy anti-virus software, download AVG Free, its the best software out there and its totally free.

12th November 2007
Subject: Will you come on my

Its official, Facebook is now the new MySpace!

Why? Because Facebbok has been accused of being lax with security and exposing minors to "sexual predators". Almost exactly the same journalistic sniping levelled at MySpace a couple of years ago. FB did agree to make changes, such as responding faster to reports of abuse. What use is that though, when anyone can instantly sign up for a new account. And a sex pervert is unlikely to use their main account for soliciting purposes anyway so deleting the offending user isn't a deterrent. Speaking as a moderator on various online fora, usually anonymous its safer that way, i can with a degree of experience say that stopping these people is like nailing a jellyfish to a rock, theres always another tentacle ready to swing round and get you.

But wittisisms aside, what do politicians, the media and Cuomo hope to achieve by attacking FB, what do they really want. They all agree on preventing sexual soliciting, but thats already against the law so whats new? Do they want to ban all contact between adults and minors full stop, another non-starter because at the sign-up all FB can do is take your word on that. Maybe they only want to ban questionable messages or requests to meet up, again not really possible, without a massive team of moderators on call 24/7 their only chance would be to rely on automatic text filtering, something IRC tried back in the last century and failed because humans are far better at linguistic gymnastics than machines which are easily defeated.

Slating online regulation is about as tricky as complaining about the Daily Mail so lets do some more of it, the Terms of Service (ToS) on FB (yes i did some research) is curiously silent on the matter except for you must not "solicit personal information from anyone under 18". So apparantly not even if you're under 18 yourself, or what if you are 18 and asking a 17 year old. ToSs are traditionally vague, it means they can match it to almost whatever they like if the need arises so trying to take them literally is a profound waste of time, but i'm fundamentally biased against them because no-one actually bothers to read the bloody things. Seriously, when was the last time you signed up for something and read the "agreement" verbatim rather than just ticking the box?

Going for the more draconian option of banning all contact between adult and minor accounts is easy enough to bypass too. Their primary, and for that matter only, control system is that under 18s must sign up as either in high school or college, if you dropped out or learnt at home its tough apparantly. These accounts then need to be approved before they work properly. Great.
Not quite, its all well and good in theory but human gullibility lets it down faster than a pricked balloon, id hate to be accused of publishing cracking tips on the net (actually thats a lie but nevermind) yet the solution is so obvious your mum could figure it out, if you want a profile under 18, pick a school; create a profile of a girl, pending confirmation; then the master stroke, send friend requests to every boy registered with that school. I can guarantee four fifths will accept, mainly because teenage boy's minds only have one objective and anything percieved as moving them marginally closer to that objective will be completed faster than the boy in question when he first achieves that objective, be honest lads it happens to all of us once.
But i digress, once you have that approved account, the keys to the house really are in the hands of the burgler, you can approve other accounts left right and centre so the whole screening process comes crashing down around its if statements.

And since anyone writing to 14 year olds isnt going to be using their real account, deleting them if found guilty is a slow motion digital game of whack-a-mole, they respawn faster than a BioShock player on acid until they have so many accounts with different addresses that you're looking for hay in a needlestack. Only arrest could stop them effectively but since flirting isn't against the law (thankfully) this is not an option, maybe if someone sends a direct request spelling out all their fantasies to someone blatantly underage you could make a case but first you have to find them, ip tracking only goes back to the server and is hopeless unless they're actually connected at the time.

The next line of defence touted at this point goes for the other end of the stick and says no kid should have an internet connection in their room, but this just daft, ive had one since i was 11 and it never did me any harm, the real solution, and it pains me to say this but its true, is to educate kids about the dangers on the internet and make them wise enough to know where the dangers lie.
There, i've said it, i think i need to go lie down now.

Kids need to be taught that theyre just asking for trouble posting information about themselves on the net, they're not all smart enough to figure it out on their own. I mean, look at this blog for instance, if you read all of it id like to think you get a pretty good idea of my character, interests and personality. But while you can probably figure out roughly which part of the country i live in, theres no detail of day to day movements, where i live, who my friends are (to anyone who doesn't already know them).
Working from this, one semi-solution i'd propose is for moderators on social websites like Facebook and MySpace, and blogging ones like LiveJournal, to go through peoples profiles and advise them where they're telling too much of their lives to the general public, especially minors. I reckon this would go quite a way in reducing the problem.

I could save the world if only anyone listened!

10th November 2007
Subject: My disjointed social existance!

So much for being a personal blog, i seem to have digressed quite considerably in the past few entries, although if it gets hits then so be it. Theres a tracking script embedded in this page which give me a rough idea where people are connecting from and a good 90% of you are from the US. That probably explains the occaisional email from people criticising the spelling, whilst some of the words will inevitably be spelled wrong, the rest are probably just the English (ie correct) method, any that don't fall into either will be slang, being from the North theres enough problems with accent and dialect two hours down the A1, so transcontinental must cause a ruckus at times.

Not much to report really, just another student enjoyng the freedom that being away from home brings. Next weekend sees the annual return of the infamous SSAGO rally, this year being hosted on the outskirts of this city. From the sound of it they'll be more of the same from a fortnight ago; fires, drink, dangerous outdoor pursuits. Everything that gives the HSE paltipations if they see the risk assessment. There are two choices for those runnig the event, myself included: Working in the kitchen or assisting with activities outside. Anyone whos ever sampled my attempts at anything more complicated than flapjack will know for definate which option i took.
No more idea as yet whats involved, its 6 days away so now is at least a week too early to plan anything ahead.

9th November 2007
Subject: Humanity is overated!

Ignoring the connatations of this phrase sparked by recent events in continental europe, it may have a point.

Case in point: some men will got to extraordinary lengths to prove how macho they are. Frenchman Pierre Pumpille recently shunted a stationary car two feet by headbutting it. "Women thought I was a god," he explained from his hospital bed.

Deity or not, however, Pumpille is a veritable girl's blouse compared to Polish farmer Krystof Azninski, who staked a strong claim to being Europe's most macho man by cutting off his own head in 1995. Azninski, 30, had been drinking with friends when it was suggested they strip naked and play some "men's games". Initially they hit each other over the head with frozen turnips, but then one man upped the ante by seizing a chainsaw and cutting off the end of his foot. Not to be outdone, Azninski grabbed the saw and, shouting "Watch this then," he swung at his own head and chopped it off.

In the words of John Connor: "We're not going to make it, are we?"

8th November 2007
Subject: Pretty woman, waking down the street...

So new research has showed that woman only put on the sexy walk when they're at their reproductively least fertile, when theyre ovulating they try to hide it from all males except their chosen partner.
What i want to know is, who does this kind of research (and how can i get involved?) How good would that be, being paid to judge how attractive women are? (In the name of science of course!) Although having said that this research was done by a woman, Dr Meghan Provost from Canada.

On a slightly more serious note, another study has shown that depressed teenagers are increasingly turning to hate sites "as an outlet for their pent-up feelings." Oh for pities sake, wake up and smell the bleedin' coffee! If you think that the Virginia Tech murders and that atrocity yesterday by Pekka-Eric Auvinen were a good thing then go jump off a bridge, we don't need people like you in society. If you think they improve the world then start by taking out one idiot, yourself!
End rant.

Speaking of Auvinen, anal-ysts are saying that the warning signs should have been intercepted by the authorities.
Right, so posing on an internet site with a gun is a sign you're going to go off and become a killer, i don't think so! I've had this avatar on multiple message fora for coming up three years and so far have not gone out and commited multiple homicide!

6th November 2007
Subject: Operation Thistle

Last June, a group of twenty ramblers decieded to do a sponsored walk from Swanage to Lulworth Cove in Dorset, but with a difference, they were all naked!
Aside from the risk of unusually painful sunburn to me this doesn't seem a particularly harmful activity, and anyone who says its offensive can pipe down too, none of them (we hope) had anything we haven't got or haven't seen before, ok maybe they weren't the most attractive bunch being in their sixties but the point still stands.
The police arguably went a little over the top though, the group were followed by ten patrol cars and a helicopter. Isn't this a bit extreme for a bunch of slight nutters wearing their birthday suits? Its not like they were going up to people and shoving it in their faces.

That was rather an unfortunate choice of phrase im sorry!

Above all i hope the Marine Conservation Society in whose aid this event was organised were grateful.

5th November 2007
Subject: Personal Ads

If you're ever in need of a chuckle there are plenty to be had in the form of personal adverts. Not the kind you get in phone boxes, written in bad english on wonky buisness cards with black boxes over their eyes. Incidentally, why the hell are there so many pre-op transexuals on these things, is this some mass fetish amoung the frustrated middle age men in city centres?
The kind of personal ads i'm meaning are the ones found in newspapers and magazines like the Metro, on any given day, in amoungst the usual "Bored young at heart 50yr old, WLTM like-minded male for discreet fun times." or in simple terms, "Woman, 50, gagging for it" there are some gems to be found.
Heres a few from todays Metro, and i'm not making these up:

"Sam, 18, seeks male 18-70 for fun times, ACA"
How unattractive must she be if she's after someone up to the age of 70, at 18!

"Loving caring widow, very young, 62, slim, long blonde hair, 5'5", seeks male for LTR"
Anyone got a dictionary? 62, around 3 times my age, is not young by any means! Hell, thats a long way older than my mother! There are grandparents younger than that these days!

"Pretty female, 18, seeks fit male 18-22 to drive her about, and buy her vodka"
Such an honest advert, for once, i like girls who are upfront about what they want! Never mind this whole caring and sensitive malarky, all she's really after is a rich bloke with money to burn who wants someone to look good on his arm.

"Attractive single mum, 42, seeks adventures with happy genuine male to share the summits through the trek of life"
Unusual to find attempts at poetry in these things. But why does she specify "Geniune" male, has she had bad experiences with artificial men before? Crash test dummy in a suit perhaps?

"Female, 21, slightly tragic, sales male for fun and friendship"
Another direct one, what exactly she means by tragic i don't know, but at least she isn't trying to disguise it!

"Wanted, balding, beer-bellied, aging male for discreet fun times with broadminded 32yr old female."
Hmm, need i say more? Some people crave the wierdest things!

"1973 model, very good condition for year, no rust, immaculate inside and out, needs a little TLC as neglected by previous owner."
Clearly "seeks car salesman". The question is, was she a model in 1973, thus making her somewhere in her 50s or 60s, or, is she a former model who was born in 1973, thus making her 33/34.

"Black, Amazon female, 39, seeks tall, fit intelligent Tarzan to construct grand tree-house together."
I can safely say that, if she doesn't mean it in the literal sense, its the strangest euphamism i've ever heard!

"Cinderella's ugly sister WLTM Mr Nearly-Right, 40-50, enjoys cinema, walking, nights in/out."
Another honest one, this time with a sense of humour.

"Jean, 81, seems friendly male of similar age for LTR"
Call me a pessimist, but isn't looking for a Long Term Relationship (LTR) at that sort of age a little optimistic?

"This one has become availiable, call me"
This is something like putting a car ad in with no picture only saying "Car for sale", a bit more information required!

"Clouded Lady, seeks sunshine male"
Another one needing a definition! What the hell is a sunshine male?

"Roxanne, red light, will wear that dress, doesn't care if its wrong or right"
I'm honestly not making this up. Half of you are sitting there with an eyebrow raised because this sounds familar, for the rest of you, listen to some old tracks by The Police.

"Easygoing, active widower, fair hair, grey eyes, seeks easy gong female for fun."
Surely describing yourself as an "active widower" would have the opposite effect! And it really did request an easy gong female, if its not a typo then he's looking someone with a large cymbol.

4th November 2007
Subject: La la la laa la lap-top

What do children in third world developing countries need? Clean water, medical care, enough food to go around? Thats what i thought too but Nicholas Negroponte thinks differently, apparantly what they need most of all is a laptop computer. Haven't heard that on Comic Relief yet?
"This village in Rwanda had no running water or health care, but now, thanks to your money, they have state of the art Dell Inspiron 6400s and a secure wireless access point!"
Maybe i'm missing the point here, perhaps the laptops are intended merely as tools to aid learning, thus helping tackle the black hole in these childrens education, that sounds far more beneficial, at last all children can enjoy the benefits of homework deadlines and exam stress.
Reading the One-Laptop-Per-Child website this does seem to be their intention (the education aspect, not necessarily exam stress). And it does appear on merit to be a potentially useful initiative, if somewhat contrived.
The first criterium was that it must cost less than £50, that didn't quite work out in practice, although at £93 pounds, its still a good way cheaper than any other laptop on the market, its closest equivalent is probably the Asus EEC launched earlier this year, another simplistic bare-bones laptop running open-source software. The EEC is around £200, depending on location.
At first glance the XO B4 looks something of a childrens plaything, the chunky plastic case and thick bordered screen harping back to a toy laptop i had when i was about 6, full of simple games like tetris and a simple object matching program which says well done when you get it right. Under the skin though the XO B4 is surprisingly advanced. It has an innovative LiFePhOx (Lithium Ferrous Phosphate) battery which lasts several hours longer than most others and can be charged by solar panel, pull chord or even a cow-powered dynamo, as well as a more familar electric cable, with a universal power supply that can take ac or dc at almost any voltage or (for ac) phase making it universal in the most accurate form we've ever had. Its sturdy design means it can withstand being dropped from almost 2m, something many other laptops would disintegrate at, and rather than running expensive proprietory software like Windows the XO B4 has been designed right from the start to run open source software under a version of Fedora Linux, making programming costs virtually nil.

It all sounds rosy, but unfortunatly the end price of £93 is still rather a lot to ask of developing countries, in which many of the teachers live on less than the global poverty line of one dollar per day, fortunately Negroponte has an answer.
XOGiving.Org is the solution, for $400 (<£200) an XO B4 can be sent to a child in the third world whilst also buying the donor the most ethically hip laptop of the year, an ingenius solution, the XO B4 would make a good present in first world countries for primary school children to introduce them to computing from an early age, and with such a tough yet functional one availiable, i for one would expect many thousands if not millions to shift over the Christmas period. Negroponte can surely only be on to a winner here.

3rd November 2007
Subject: Chopsticks Bra

Scientists in Japan have just unveiled their Chopsticks Bra for "busy women who need somewhere to stash their eating utensils while on the go". The bra is supposed to cut down on wood needed to make disposable chopsticks. It has collapsible chopsticks which form part of the bra's frame.
Call me boring but these people seriously underestimate the convinience of a pocket, which would look far less odd than rummaging around your knockers whenever you want to eat something. Though it does at first glance seem slightly less misguided than the "Sushi Specs" invented a couple of years ago by a jap living in Germany. They also had chopsticks built into the frame, but with one crucial difference. When you had dismantled the arms to make the sticks, the glasses fell off. And what sort of market are they aiming at? Short-sighted unselfconcious sushi lovers who didnt mind their ears smelling of tuna for the afternoon? There are times when doubling up just doesn't work and this is surely one of them!

Shifting gears, in other news, two drivers in Northampton caused a major traffic jam by a bizarre stand off. A bus driver and a female motorist could not get past one another and both refused to budge for nearly an hour. The bus passengers were said to be bemused when the driver began to read a book. The jam was only cleared when police arrived.
Ever feel like any faith in humanity is misplaced?

Ona slightly more revolting note, if you're an active online message forum wh0re, like me, you may have heard many people exhalting the merits of Jenkem, or if you read the tabloids you will probably be "aware" of a new drug thats "taking over the streets and poisoning young teenagers". This "drug", and i dont want to sink this low normally but here goes, is made by mixing urine and faeces in a jar, leaving to ferment for a few days and then inhaling the gases. It allegedly produces a high that lasts about an hour involving visual and audio hallucinations. The "recipe" first appeared on TOTSE back in summer this year as a joke, unfortunatly someone in the press got hold of it an turned it into a media frenzy, at least in the US, over here it probably got a few square inches buried in something like the Daily Star. The US police have since agreed it was a needless panic, a good thing too, since the hallucinagenic effects don't exist. Speaking as a chemist i can safely say that the major constituent of any vapour produced would be methane, which is an aneasthetic not a hallucinogen, so even if you tried it you'd only feel a bit sleepy (and probably a lot sick!). The police in America fell for this hook, link, float, line, bait and sinker!
If you hadn't heard of Jenkem before reading this, don't go off and try it. It won't work and you'll probably end up in hospital. If you do, email me, i enjoy a good laugh at a moron!

2nd November 2007
Subject: Amphibious Cars

So apparantly James May has already decided what his next amphibious car will be. In case you don't know what i'm talking about this is understandable, Top Gear gets an average 15 million viewers around the world, so theres a 99.75% chance you don't watch it. Therefore a brief summary is in order.
A couple of years ago they had the challenge of building cars that also work on water, like the 60's Amphicar or the slightly more modern Gibbs Aquada, you drive them to the water, drive in, and then they float and you cruise like a motorlauch, or in the Aquada's case shoot off like a lunatic speedboat. There are military versions too, like the German Schwimmwagen designed in WWII.

With such a wealth of previous success to build on, how hard could it be to take an ordinary car and make it float. In short, very!
James May originally built a sailing boat from a Triumph Herald, quite a good choice as the Amphicar mentioned above was largely based on the Herald, sharing many parts such as the engine and suspension.
Clarkson had the novel yet inspired idea of mounting an outboard on the back of a Toyota Pickup, so chosen because its virtually indestructable. It worked very well until he took a corner too sharply and it turned turtle.
Hammond's Campervan-based canalboat, didn't go too well, its 70hp diesel engine couldn't cope with the 2 1/2 tonne payload after all the additions had been made, and when it got to the water it sank very quickly.

Fast forward to the Sunday before last when they had to revise their original idea and attempt to cross the channel, the little Herald was no match for the big waves and was soon totalled, the campervan had a strong case of deja-vu when it repeated its last performance, meaning that Clarkson's pickup was the only one that made it to France.
Now the main problem they all had was water flooding in and sinking them. Given that little niggle one of the first things i would have fitted in the pickup was a bilge pump. If the air-intake and exhaust were rerouted, ie fitted with a snorkel, the diesel engine in the Nissan could have been left running quite happily to power said pump, so any water which did happen to come in would be dealt with far more quickly and efficiently than trying to bail it manually.

James May is now apparantly planning to build his next car based on an MGB, sticking with the soft-top which is wise because you get a quick exit when it all goes inevitably wrong. His blog on the TG website says he thinks it is a good plan because it already looks a bit boat-like, and also has large rubber bumpers to give bouyancy. Look out for it in a future episode of TG where theyll probably have to cross the Atlantic or something.

1st November 2007
Subject: Blood and Chocolate

'They say Mixed Hockey socials are the best of all' state the leaflets (quite who "they" are seems immaterial) and its certainly true they are the most contrived. For the Hallowe'en party last night our theme was mummies. Anyone who showed up as a mum would have sorely regretted it! Armed with toilet paper (i needed two rolls!) and sticky tape we hit the Redfearn, when we left there was such a quantity of paper scattered around the bar. The problem largely stemmed from the lack of tape, if its only stuck at the top and bottom then as soon as theres a nick in the middle the whole thing unravels before you can say Andrex. The multitude of other costumes around the bar was quite extraordinary, Optimus Prime and the Powerpuff Girls were what first grabbed your attention, since when were they horror characters? And the amount of fake blood flying around, everyone emerged looking like the victim of a Jason film. As always theres one who goes the whole hog, and i mean that in a more literal sense than usual. Someone, i don't know who, had had a field day with the prosthetics and came as a dismembered pig. Another notable outfit was a scarily realistic Leatherface skin mask, what the police must think if they see one of these wandering around is anyones guess.

All a bit of a blur after that, i know we ended up in the Venue afterward, but because they serve drinks for a pound in there its all a bit hazy afterward, ah the joys of student life!

Oh, and about the chocolate, i woke up with a large question mark drawn on my stomach in chocolate sauce. As you do! I get the film reference, but someone's got a morbid sense of humour.

31st October 2007
Subject: All Hallow's Eve

Today sees the release of Manhunt 2, courtesy of Rockstar North. The original was widely touted as one of the most offensive, disgusting, contraversial and politically incorrect games ever made, and from first impressions this new one is more of the same. Its already been refused rating twice by the BBFC, which is rather an own goal on their part as it just makes depressed, lonely 13 year olds even more determined to sit in front of the magic fish tank watching their character slash, garrotte, shoot and plastic bag his way through seemingly infinite yet universally inept AI baddies. Theres a very clear 18 on the back of the few that still find their way here saying that underage impressionable twonks aren't meant to be playing it but theres no question they play it anyway as theyre the only people who particularly enjoy that sort of thing. The media played their usually trick of trying to link it to real life events by implicating it in the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, the police later denied any link and the judge agreed that responsibility lay entirely with Warren Leblanc. This may or may not be correct but theres no denying that, whilst many games have been linked to crime, Manhunt is the only one that provides detailed high-resolution demonstrations of how to viciously maim fellow humans using a multitude of household objects, rather than a quick cut sequence before the action quickly resumes like all the others. Mrs Pakeerah claimed that Warren had been "obsessed" with the game, although this story lacks credibility somewhat as the only person in this story who possessed a copy was in fact Stefan. Maybe i'm just a cynic but parents will often pull any trick to get their dear sweet rosy cheeked kid off the hook. This whole event will be coming up to its fourth birthday next February so lets see what other horrific homicides this sequal prompts before then

28th October 2007
Subject: Camping, Uni Style!

They say theres no such thing as a free lunch, not always true, in fact sometimes theres a free lunch with steaming hot gravy and all the trimmings, you just have to know where to look. Some would say that sitting round a campfire doing more damage to your liver in one weekend than most people manage in a month whilst belting out slurred renditions of classic cameradery songs interspersed with a healthy dollop of innuendo and risque, nay obverse, additions to the lyrics whenever theres a slight pause was a collosal waste of time and we really need a better hobby, and on some levels i disagree stronger than others but mainly direct my arguments at the HSE who would ban this outright if they got the chance. Theres nothing wrong with massacring Don McLean's American Pie with more units than platelets in your bloodstream at three in the morning and i defy anyone to say different. It only comes to something of an issue in the morning when you wake up in a foetal position in the most downhill corner of the tent so entangled in your sleeping bag that your comrades consider using the oxy-acetyline torch to get you out. When they do its usually raining, there are beer cans strewn in places you hadn't noticed existed the previous night, your hair is starting to resemble the norwegian fjords because you havent washed and you slept inverse on it when you finally crawled back to your tent at pete-knows what time in the morning. So in many ways its like waking up in halls, except dryer!

Naturally, being scouts, some element of pioneering is bound to come up sooner or later, this weekend being no exception. A staple favourite of the true scout is the Trebuchet, sometimes (incorrectly) called a Catapult. A Trebuchet has the long arm that flings the ammo overhead usually powered by some kind of counterweight, whereas a catapult stores the energy in a form of elastic material which is then released suddenly to launch the projectile. I could digress here and describe the catapult me and some friends made last year using bicycle inner tubes and a tin bucket but most readers have probably already heard the story, and if you own a Ford Galaxy that mysteriously lost its roof last July then i have no idea how it happened!
Not wishing to do things by halves or indeed any fraction a plan was hatched, we built two A frames about 14 feet high and suspended what was basically a tree in between them. To this we lashed a long pole that was the firing arm, tied a washing up bowl to one end and kept lashing heavy things to the other because it didnt fire far enough. It worked fairly well until about the fifth attempt, the stress of the counterweight (which weighed about one tonne by this point) falling on the fourth attempt, coupled with the brute force needed to unstick the end of the pole from the ground where it had buried itself about two feet shifted something in the structure, which meant when the arm was cranked back and then released the whole framework spectacularly self-destructed nearly flattening half the group. Thats SSAGO for you, sticking two fingers to the HSE at every opportunity.

Another campfire, more drinking, singing, cussing, booing, drinking, burning, drinking, arguing, drinking, (spotting a theme here), singing, drinking and drinking. Culminating in one member of our team dumping the entire box of firewood on top of the embers, resulting in a fire that stretched about 30 feet into the night and, as we saw next morning, baked the leaves on the nearby tree to a well done crisp. Happy days.

25th October 2007
Subject: Halifuss

Now friends, collegues and associates will certainly back me up when i say i don't like things to be too complicated. It hasn't stood me in good stead so far in answering maths problems, learning other languages or arguing with parking attendants. But the rest of the time simplicity can be more effective than the club in saving time and effort. Why is it then that banks, one bank in particular, have to make every last detail of every account so pifflingly complicated that it would be far easier to give up and go eat bark. Case in point, Halifax advertise that they have the largest interest-free student overdraft of any UK bank. (£2750) Their literature spends many primary-coloured glossy pages exhalting the merits, benefits, charms and wonders of their Student Account.
Great, until you try applying for one. I did last May, not only did i have to take a trip into Harrogate because my local branch said "Oh, we don't do those." Not the most promising start but i persevered.
I suppose it is commendable that banks are committed to preventing fraud, but is it really necessary for me to take three forms of identification with me, plus proof that i am a student, proof i've been accepted at a university, references, contacts etc. I was tempted to offer my arm and say they could take as much blood as they needed. I didn't, mainly because the labotomised gibbon working behind the counter seemed to have difficulty working out which end of the pen to use, so risking a chance remark on faith that a sense of humour lurked somewhere didn't seem like too good an idea. Half an hour later i was informed that theyd set the account up, but it would take 24-48 hours for it to become active. Why? What goes on in their black-hole of a computer system that takes two days to add some ones and zeros to a file to open an account?

Fast forward to three weeks ago, the online service is handy for shifting funds around, but there was a little figure on the screen that niggled:
Overdraft Limit: £0
Odd, given the square inches they'd devoted to the afforementioned £2750 overdraft in the literature. I don't need it yet but its nice to have it as a safety net. The online service was as much use as the proverbial chocolate fireguard trying to ascertain what was wrong. They provided a helpline number, which took five minutes to tell me they didn't know what was either and that i needed to call into a branch. Fantastic!
Not to be deterred, the local branch down here is only a ten minute walk away, taking the account details, and every form of ID i had (remembering last time) i ventured forth.
The nice lady behind the counter took the piece of paper id printed from t'internet and promptly disappeared into the back room, she re-emerged with a supervisor and they consulted in hushed voices. Already this was turning into more of a chore than it seemingly need be. She said that she couldn't do anything but she could email someone who could. Fine! I understand there are proceedures, i don't like them but its not really my call.

Fast forward again to last weekend, nothing heard on the online service, more importantly no change. But a letter waiting for me when i got home:
Thank you for your recent application for an overdraft of £2750, unfortunatly we are unable to offer this to you at present.
Slightly miffed, i rang them again, ready to remind them i am a student, require an overdraft, and would they give it to me or did i need to go and open an account at Natwest (worth a try). Got the same, "sorry, we are unable to deal with your request, please call into your local branch"

What does it take to get an overdraft? Went back into the local branch today to try again, they informed me they couldn't do anything as my last request had been turned down on the 3rd October. Yes i know that or i wouldn't be here! They told me to try the main branch in the city centre, as they were only an agency.
Fraying a little at the edges, and wondering whether to call in at Natwest or HSBC en route instead, the bus ride into town went by quickly. After a half hour queue, it took another half hour for me to explain to the foreign lady behind the counter why i was there. Now i'm not racist, but if they're going to come over here and get a such a job working theoretically in a helpful capacity, why can't they learn the language?!
I digress, after much linguistic gymnastics, repetition and trying very hard to remain calm she put a £1000 overdraft on the account and again emailed someone to put the full £2750 on, why couldn't she just do it there and save a great deal of hassle?!

So now i'm again playing the waiting game, until this mysterious email recipient says Yay or Nay. What should be a three minute operation has now stretched out to its 23rd day!

23rd October 2007
Subject: More random spouting

I checked the stats on the web server the other day and this page is getting more hits per month than the rest of my website and previous generations managed in six, either theres a lot of people following wrong links somewhere or you actually all enjoy my textual ramblings, i'd like to think it were the latter.

Picked up todays copy of the Metro on the bus this morning, which is probably the best free paper in circulation today, even though "free paper" and "high quality journalism" normally go hand in hand like Claris and Excel if you'll forgive the geeky analogy. It also comes stapled together with is possibly the best idea anyone in the press industry has ever had because it means you don't distribute the inner pages across the next passenger whenever the bus goes round a corner. Its packed with the usual stuff about recent events and how we're all going to die from global warming, the main filler in any tabloid newspaper these days, unless you're the Daily Express in which case its how Princess Diana will descend from heaven to stop global warming and lead us to the promised land. But interspersed with all the doom and gloom theres also enough quirky news stories to keep even the most bored, managerial type commuter smiling as the Bus pitches, rolls and yaws over the potholes. The 60 second interview, usually on the centre spread, is particularly good, todays was Boris Johnson being asked the normal round of searching questions such as "Whats on your iPod?", he says he doesn't have one but listens to Virgin Radio (oh the irony) and sometimes gets Magic by mistake, which he describes as being like hosed down with Treacle, clearly his private life is more varied than even the Daily Mail would have us believe. He also says he'd like to be reincarnated as a male elephant sea, better than satire, you can't make Boris up.

In other news Tony Blair is apparantly set to sell his memoirs for five million pounds. This may sound odd coming from me but good luck to him. Whatever you thought while he was in No.10 theres no denying he's one of the most influential PMs we've had in the past century, maybe running a close second to Winston Churchill, the charismatic, whisky drinking war hero that according to the BBC at least was the greatest Briton ever. I thought they missed a trick forgetting Alf Garnett but never mind. Blair once said that he felt he left a legacy of triumph behind him, must have loved his motorbikes, but i can't help feeling that this may be his true legacy:

21st October 2007
Subject: Highway Code?

After driving back home this weekend it set me thinking. Is it me or is the Highway Code a little out of date? Other than the stopping distances, which are now so obselete as to be laughable, they're still based on a Ford Anglia. 55 yards to stop from 60mph (without thinking time). I tested that earlier this year and my Escort stopped in 29 yards, remember that i have neither ABS nor ESC, just the old fashioned properly maintained brakes and good tyres.
But steering back on topic, did you know that the highway code is not law. However much the DSA emphasise it when you're learning everything you need to pass your test, (which incidentally can also be forgotton as soon as you have passed, that push-pull thing with the wheel, whose pathetic idea was that?) everything written in the famous blue book is nothing more than guidelines. Apart from the obvious ones like what road signs mean.

Some parts which especially need a revision, headlamp flashing, it clearly states, is to be used only as a warning rather than a give-way sign. A stark contrast to everyday life. If this is updated then surely a mention needed of the double-take on the indicators, used by truckers on the motorway when you've flashed to let them know the back of they're truck has cleared the front of you're car. Simple things. The only time they're used as a warning is when combined with a thumbs down signal, either in the windscreen or preferably out the window, to warn other motorists going the opposite way of a speed camera (usually mobile) thats about to snap them, probably not the sort of thing they had in mind when it was first published years ago.

Other things, like waving thank-you to someone who let you through when parked cars have narrowed the road to only a single track. Notoriously lazy for off-roader drivers who seem to have it into their heads that we enjoy diving into gaps to avoid their ludicrously shiny prickmobile, the raising of a single finger from the steering wheel frankly isn't enough effort.

I'm not a fan of these large vehicles, but only when they're used just like ordinary cars. If the owner takes them up a mountain or down a ravine then fair enough. Even if they tow a lot of large trailers, for which they'll need the extra power and traction. But you can tell that most of them only ever run the kids to school, then proceed to take up an inordinate amount of space in public car parks. Most of the newest laws regarding cars should be scrapped, but one that should be introduced is a requirement for the owner to prove why they need this vehicle before they're allowed to drive it. And also prove they're capable of handling something that large.

The only ones worse than 4x4 drivers are Porsche drivers, not a sign of recognition as they flash past, are they the rudest drivers on the road, or do they just not like me?

18th October 2007
Subject: Latest news

Not much to report this time, the scavenger hunt went well. Each team was given a list of items to find around the campus, ranging from the innocuous (Goggles, washing tablet etc), to the somewhat risque (Contraception leaflet, condom etc) to the downright perverse (handcuffs, Rampant Rabbit, butt plug etc). Many of the items escaped out team, being 5 lads we struggled a little with items such as Girls Bra (bonus points for every size above E). We got one in the end but you don't want to know how!
Last on the list was "Weird Item (Up to 10 points)". We all came up with a few suggestions, Ashley's was a drain lid, but in the end they went with mine: The replacement bumper i had stashed in the boot. The organisers agreed it was weird and awarded us 9 points. Which we were happy with, until a bottle of urine upstaged us by scoring 10. Not happy!

Friday: Went to bed at 9 oclock, a fortnights worth of late nights caught up with me in a big way about three in the afternoon. Couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Saturday, business as usual for a weekend, didn't get up 'til the afternoon, did some of the tutorial questions we'd been given that week, watched the latest episode of Top Gear, ate tea, then spent the rest of the evening playing Timesplitters with some people on Darryl's PS2. For those who aren't familiar, Timesplitters is about a secret research facility which experiments on mutant alien monkeys, and they keep escaping. A very strange game.

Sunday, another late rise, breafast, then a hockey match in the afternoon, i wan't actually playing, but i'd been warned of the consequences for non-attendance, so chose the wisest option. After returning for tea we entered the pub quiz in S Bar, sadly it was a bit harder than the Redfearn, although we did well on the Sex section in the middle. Question 3 was an interesting one, how many erogenous zones does a woman have and name them. There was a definate dividing line here between what the men and women wrote. Men were much more generic and varied than woman, writing things such as Arse, Tits, etc. Whereas woman were far more specific and cast disdainful looks at any man who didn't get what they did. I say its their fault for being so picky.

Monday, back to work again, ish. Only two lectures today, Dr Davies, who was reasonably interesting, and Mrs Gogh, who has been given the task of teaching us the maths associated with the Chemistry course.
After i woke up, went for lunch with Sacha and Hollie, after which they had their Practical session in the laboratory, mine wasn't 'til tomorrow so i walked back to Halls for a nap.
That night was the second Big band meeting this term, caught the bus with Matt, Em and Ben. The rehearsal was a bit more serious this time, but still enjoyable. Afterwards it was time for drinks in the Redfearn, where we entered the pub quiz again. This time though we were the only people to enter, which though it means we're still the reigning champions, also means we didn't win any money. Bugger!

Tuesday, Second practical in the lab today! Thin-Layer Chromatography (or TLC for short). Still haven't had the chance to blow anything up but this is certainly an improvement to the A level course.
Big Band trip to Poppadoms that night, which in case you couldn't guess, is a local Indian curry house (theres a lot of them). The amount they serve in there for a fiver is quite extraordinary! Feeling very full we went to the Dry Dock for a pint (or 4). The Dry Dock is a pub which sticks in your mind, for it is a boat! Christ knows what sort of drunken moment hatched that idea, plonking a boat in the middle of the city and turning it into a public house, but on the other hand, why not?

Wednesday. They say Mixed Hockey socials are the best of them all. ('They' being the mixed hockey team so i suppose they would!) They may be the best but where they get their ideas from leaves a little to be desired! The email that went round took two readings before i believed it, for it instructed all freshers to come dressed a baby! (No joke!)
The idea was that we are assigned into 'families'. Why? I have no idea!
The email suggested bibs and those one-piece suits. Yeah right, try getting one of those for a 6'2" gorilla like me, not likely! In the end i settles for a dummy, bottle, and a teatowel tied around my neck. Close enough. Fortunatly thats about as much effort as the others made so i didn't stand out. Only two people came wearing nappies, they're braver than me walking around the streets in them!
We met in the Loaded Dog where we filled in birth certificates, drank many pints in there, for there have a thing called a Yellow Card, (similar to the Revolution cards many readers will be familiar with,) whereby if you show it when ordering you get a hefty discount.
Can't really remember where we went after that, though i woke up with a VCard and RL ticket, so we must have gone into Varsity, (another bar, a VCard is the same idea as the Yellow Card,) and into the Venue, i had my earplugs in my pocket so my ears were safe, i hope.


11th October 2007
Subject: Still here

Another out of date update, too many things to think about some get forgotten.

Been another wild week, good news is i got into the GMS party last week. (See previous entry.) The most unusual idea we had whilst waiting for the girls to be ready, was if three lads who hadn't managed to dress up, put their arms across each others shoulders and came as an M, quite literally. We spent about 45 mins discussing the problems with this before Sacha, Hollie and co finally came down the stairs. Most of them dressed as schoolgirls ;) only Hollie came prepared with her Wonder Woman costume.
Proceeded to S Bar, where it became clear that most of the girls had had the same idea. Now, i thought if two woman in the same building it was a call to battle that made Waterloo look like a playground scrap, but apparantly not in this case. Most disturbing were the blokes who came dressed as school girls, not sure what was going on in their heads.

Friday: Relatively quiet night tonight, spent it in S Bar playing pool and drinking, lots of people went to Liquid, another of the many nightclubs but i'd seen the literature, not my cup of tea.

Saturday: R&R day today, didn't get out of bed 'til twelve, and even then only because thats when the food is. Wandered down to Asda with Ashley and couple of girls whose names escape me at this time, for essential student supplies*; Bread, milk and beer, emphasis on the beer. :D
Ashley was the unlucky one who got ID'd, which was a bugger as he didn't have any. I sailed through as usual.
Being not otherwise occupied that afternoon I drove over to a town called Rugeley, about 40 miles west, to pick up a new front bumper. I'd found it on eBay before i came away to replace the collection of plastic parts left over from the incident i wrote about before. Its a standard XR3i bumper, but unpainted so i'll need a few cans of spray paint as well. A little project for the winter.
*The answer is no, they're availiable free behind the bar.

Sunday: Same as above, went for a walk to the local swimming pool for a look, we get discount if we show a valid form of ID that we're a student, which is nice. Rather a small pool though, was tempted to ask for a job but decided to hold off until i know for certain what happens on my timetable 'cos i'd hate to double book myself.
First mixed hockey practice that afternoon, friends and regular readers will probably know what i think about sport, and indeeed this is why i didn't join the Men's hockey, as they seem to take it rather too seriously. But mixed seemed like more of a laugh, and the girl behind the counter in freshers fair was quite tasty so i signed up. Part of the practice involved taking a shot at goal, and if you missed you had to down a can of beer. I knew i'd come to the right place!

Monday: Back to the grind where work is concerned, i'd got used to not writing over the holidays, and it showed in the first lecture, by the end my wrist was so sore it was agonising; and my handwriting, which isn't great at the best of times, will probably be completely illegible next week.
First Big Band rehearsal tonight, a very relaxed conductor, even more so then Mr Lancaster! Same kind of music to RGSBB, but all in Bass Clef, which is a bugger since i learnt to play with a Brass band, where the trombone music is Treble Clef. (Or Alto but thats different again!)
Descended on the Redfearn afterwards, where Matt, Em, Ben and I entered "Clever Fuckup", the RF's pub quiz. And won!
Many thanks to Mr Miller in those long A level biology lessons for one snippet of wisdom he imparted which lodged in my brain is that the population of Scotland is one-tenth that of England. The tiebreaker question was just that, 'What is the population of Scotland?', the other team said 8 million, we said 6 (million), and the actual answer was, 5,800,000. £31 between the four of us. Drinks all round.

Tuesday: Another mixed hockey practice tonight, same sort of idea but with a little more emphasis on developing skill, rather than alcohol tolerance. S Bar afterward, more pool, more beer. Jobs a good'un.

Wednesday: The SLUGS (Scouts and Guides) bar crawl. Lots of bars, lots of Alcohol, into the Venue at about Midnight, then Chesney Hawks live on stage. Played a medley of classic hits, Storny Weather etc, plus a few newer ones, I Predict A Riot. Before the inevitable I Am The One And Only! What a night!

Today: Woke up with a bit of a thick head after last night, no idea what time i got back but it was well into the morning. Probably approaching sunrise, who knows. Tonight is the GMS Scavenger Hunt, no idea what it is but we're entering anyway. Our team is 'The Spanish Inquisition', because Nobody expects...etc!

Adios mes amigos.

4th October 2007
Subject: Well, this is fresh!

At uni now, so far its been an action packed and chaotic freshers week. The actual uni stuff is irrelevant thus far, its the social side that brought me here. I'll go through a quick breakdown:

Sunday, arrived and installed in halls. Never before realished how much stuff that might be considered "essential" my mother could think of. From the obvious, shampoo, teatowel etc, to the not so obvious at first but more essential, Marmite, peanut butter, bread etc. Brought the fridge down too so i can keep the booze cold without other prople nicking it. Communal fridges are a loss waiting to happen! Quick jaunt from halls to the uni for the welcome talk, telling us (again) how good a decision we've made, coming to study here. Actually i didn't, i was rejected from where i wanted but thats irrelevant right now. We went in dad's Beemer, cos it meant he had to drive, going through the town centre is a nerve wracking experience!

Monday, day one of freshers fair. (Almost) every society gets a stand to try and convince us to join them. Some expected, hockey, football, scouts, swimming, bands and dramatics. Some more, shall we shall, unusual; The Neighbours Appreciation Society, the Tea Drinking Society, the Bikers club, and the most memorable, the Vikings Society. Who dress up as vikings and have pretend sword fights. To each their own i suppose.
That night was the freshers party in the Venue (SU nightclub). Now i thought the nightclubs in Harrogate were loud, they were nothing compared to this! After a few hours in their my ears were so sore they were crawling off my head looking for a place to hide! Nightclubs were never really my thing, i don't like being deafened in the dark in a room full of people i don't know! But i know i'll end up back in there.

Tuesday, day two of freshers fair and another introductary talk, this one from Prof. Hope, the head of department. After the inevitable round of advertising the uni (i don't know why they bother, we're already here!) he moved on to discussing the course, at last. One of the first things he said was, whilst it is possible (though not recommended) to resit exams if we fail, there are no resits for practical, therefore if we fail the practical module, we WILL be terminated!
Now i for one hope he's only refering to the course, but from the look in his eyes i'm not so sure...
After this we had a whistle stop tour around the lab, after which i walked back to halls via the local homebase where i picked up some earplugs. After waking up deaf that morning, which is a scary thing at first, i'm taking better care of my ears in future.
Can't actually remember offhand what happened that night, but i do remember going into the Redfearn, thats one of the SU bars) around 11, where presumably i drank a malenkey bit of alcohol. No hangover in the morning though, and i woke up in my own bed. No doubt someone will remind me of anything embarrassing in about three weeks at a really bad moment!

Wednesday, not much to do today, only had to be in for one talk, after which we had an "informal chat" in the foyer with the lecturers over drinks. They had free sandwiches and crisps etc to keep us interested, along with Cokes, or beer to wash them down. They all seemed a friendly bunch, i spent most of the time talking to a welsh one about how little practical there was at A level, he assured me there would be far more at uni, looking forward to that!
That night was another event in the Venue, drinks were a pound each before 11pm, though fortunately served in cans which made it easier to stock up a few. This student business i very much to my liking so far! Came to appreciate the earplugs though, can get right up close to the subs at the front, which are taller than i am. (And thats tall!) Its quite a feeling when the pressure waves run right through you like that! Couldn't quite understand how some people were dancing right in front of them and not rupturing their eardums, they'll surely regret that in the morning!

Today, introuduction to practical talk today. And the nice man yesterday was right, this year looks set to be far more enjoyable than last. Got given our books whic detail the experiment, along with the safety proceedures leaflet and duplicating book. This book is designed so that we cant rub anything out, which seems odd, but apparantly its the way things are done in industry. Theres a lot of that being said!
Went to the bookshop afterwards with Sacha and Holly to get the first load of textbooks. And bloody hell were they expensive! 83 quid in total for three! Although to be fair, two of them all several inches thick and very heavy, not light bedtime reading!
Have the welcome party at the local halls bar tonight, S Bar, it's fancy dress. Have to go dressed as something beginning with G, M or S. Now tempted as i was to go as a Student, or maybe a Man, it was catagorically announced that students who didn't show a little more imagination that this would be ejected. So, i have a cunning plan...
Insert dialogue about tails, weasels, foxes and cunning university
I have a map printed from the internet (no idea where its for!), using this, a length of string, a water bottle, my leather bush hat, a pair of shorts and my walking boots. I reckon i can make a passable imitation of a mountaineer!
I'll let you know how soon i get ejected next time. Ciao for now.

26th September 2007
Subject: Playing Tractors

They say boys never grow up, the toys just get bigger. Well John (one of my work colleagues) certainly proves that. His latest 'toy' is a David Brown 780 Selectamatic, which, as you can probably guess from the title, is a tractor. Its his winter project to strip it down and rebuild it.

He spent yesterday steam cleaning all the muck, oil, grease and christ knows what off its bodywork. We now know it to be cream, before it was anyones guess.

He also gave it the first proper once over so far. It became apparant why the previous owner had said it didn't use any oil when he bought it. On lifting the filler cap we found there was none in it. Not a good sign.
Many litres later, we had it up to the line. Then with a splutter and a cackle the mighty machine roared into life. The 3 cylinder diesel showing it still had many hours left in it yet.

The next stage in the process was removing the wheel nuts. The old, rather shot, tyres are coming off the rims, which are then being shotblasted. New tyres are on order from somewhere.
Now i don't know what the nuts had been put on with, the spanner couldn't shift them, the air gun also failed. They defeated the extension bar and when we extended the bar with an 8 foot length of scaffolding pole it snapped sending me flying across the room.

New plan, we found a more robust T bar, never mind some poxy extension, and a socket with a proper hex drive on it. Now we had a fighting chance.
The extra leverage from the pole finally did the trick, and with a crack that reverberated around the workshop like a shotgun, bringing three of the gardeners running in from outside, the first nut was loosened. Ditto for the other nine on this wheel and ten on the other, at last the air gun (or windy gun as we call it) could turn them, they had been done up so tight they had stretched the thread.

Boys and their toys eh...

24th September 2007
Subject: And still it soldiers on.

Haven't got long so i'll keep this brief. Got the car back today and its all still in one piece (thankfully). One small difference, where before the steering was slightly off to the right, now its to the left. Wondering if one of the pins went back in the wrong way round when they reassembled the steering rack. Still drives ok but the wheel has to be kept to the right, since i only steer with one hand usually it shouldn't be a problem.

Ciao for now.

20th September 2007
Subject: Damn that FeO

Well the cars at Mickleton for a look over, David put it up on the lifter, took one look and made that inhaling-through-teeth noise that usually preceeds bad news. Asks how hard i hit it whilst pointing at the nearside front cross member, and i said no, i hit it on this side pointing at the offside. Turns out the mounts have nearly rusted through under the underseal. So it needs to stay in for a few days while he welds new bits in. So its lucky in some ways it went in.

At least he was impressed with the alarm.

19th September 2007
Subject: Close encounters

Driving is a risky business, but it gets worse when idiots overtake on blind bends. Theres nothing much scarier than coming round a corner and being greeted by two cars on both sides of the road. Long story short, rather than go head first into one of them I ended up sideways in the ditch.

Tribute to the Escorts build quality, after dad arrived with a tow rope and pulled me out, it still drove home ok. The front lights are in pieces, the bumper is fragmented, the drivers side door mirror came apart and the spoiler was torn off the back, but mechanically it's sound.

Before it starts, no I did not skid off the road, proof of this is I ended up on the inside on the inside of the bend, physics dictates i'd be on the outside. Go figure.

Taking it up to Mickleton tomorrow just to make sure its ok, fingers crossed.

18th September 2007
Subject: Parking

Imagine this, you're job outlaws you from social gatherings, makes you liable to attack from your clientele and is likely to lose you more friends than you'll ever make. Imagine being a traffic warden.
How much do these people hate humanity to opt for such a career? The case of Angela Powell recently, who in her first 17 days work issued an astounding 500 tickets on the streets of Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Doing the maths this works out at 29-30 tickets per day, more than four per hour. That means slightly under 15 minutes to locate, inspect, photograph and ticket each vehicle, possibly inciting disagreement from the owner in the process.
30 tickets at £30 each means £900 a day, or since prices escalate if not immediately paid, possibly up to £2000 per day, £10,000 a week she could potentially steal from the collective pockets of the motorist. This is little more that legal burglary!
What might be worth enquiring is how many of these tickets are appealed!

Shifting gears, we should take heart from the ingenuity of a humble carpet merchant from Richmond-upon-Thames. Martin Herdman, proprietor of Herdman Carpets, has hit upon a counter-attack that is effective, legal, and overall, irratating to the Parking Nazis that patrol his area. When one is spotted, loudspeakers all over his property emit Air-raid sirens to warn of their approach. This gives people chance to check their parking permits, or alternatively move their vehicles. As a result, the vital supply trucks that bring stock to his and surrounding shops know they are protected from the council mercenaries that have been trying their utmost to drive them out of town.

One last thought, why is it that: while every new generation of car has got wider, mainly because of new safety features like side impact bars, the parking bay has remained the same width, I know people who frequently contest tickets issued on their vehicles for being incorrectly parked i.e. over the line, despite the obvious cause that the car simply does not fit in the bay provided. More cynical revenue raising for Councils and ultimately the Government. This can't go on long before triggering meltdown!

16th September 2007
Subject: Darlington Dog Show

This weekend saw the return of the Darlington Dog Show to Newby Hall, the largest dog event outside Crufts, hundreds upon hundreds of pedigree masterpieces on display to any member of the public sad enough to go see them. Most amusing of all were those victims of canine topiary, the toy poodles. If dogs have thoughts what the hell most be going through these poor miscreants minds if they see themselves in a mirror.

Running a close second in the humour stakes were the registration plates on the owners vehicles and motorhomes over in the caravan park. Heres a taster:
K900 DOG
WUF 842K
All geniune, these people live and breath dogs. God help me if I ever become like that!

15th September 2007
Subject: Sunset

Just a quick one, took this out of the window tonight.

Nice colours.

10th September 2007
Subject: Fencing

What better way to spend a day off work than digging holes in the granite hard soil in someones back garden. Shelly, who i met at work, has a son called charlie, who is autistic, poor kid. She does very well with him.
He's a lovely kid but tends to run a bit wild, so she needs the garden fencing off to stop him escaping. David very kindly volunteered to erect said fence, and nagged me into going along to dig the holes, since he's getting on a bit.

The soil clearly hadn't been dug in years, a pneumatic drill would have been useful, but since all we had was a spade it had to do, awkward when one is excountering thick tree roots every two inches. David would be a good candidate for running a plantation in North America back in the height of the slave trade, sitting there giving orders.

Next time i'm hiring a digger!

9th September 2007
Subject: World Series by Renault, Day 2

If yesterday had drama, it was nothing compared to today, the programmes on tv nearly always gloss over the best parts so nothing compares to actually being there and seeing the chaos on track for oneself.

Today we got there earlier, dad proving what two lane roundabouts are for by skipping out two miles of queue, what the suckers sat there on the inside thought as the BMW flashed past there window is anyones guess, but its a nice feeling knowing you've got one over on two thousand hapless drivers.
The man on the gate giving away free radios hadn't run out this morning, so we were able to tune into 87.7 Radio Renault, on which they broadcast the commentary telling you about all the interesting things happening where you aren't, fantastic idea, causes stampedes whenever theres a major crash as spectators scramble for a better view. Whoever came up with that idea was clearly a sadist.

Lots of nudges, spins, tailgating, cars going sideways through the gravel into the tyre wall. All closeup and exciting, plenty of photo opportunities. All went swimmingly until it was time to leave. Today was over earlier than yesterday so rather than taking five or so hours for the crowds to go home, today had everyone herding back to their vehicles and leaving simultaineously, or not, since there were 25,000 cars all trying to leave through one exit onto a road which no-one would let you out onto. Four hours it took us to get off that field. I got all the way through the latest Harry Potter book while we were waiting. Madness!

8th September 2007
Subject: World Series by Renault

Having a father who is well connected within the industry could never be said to be a bad thing. All sorts of freebies and presents can come winging their way toward you, in this case two VIP tickets to Donnington Park, i don't know where they came from and i'm not sure i want to, but went anyway.

Today (saturday) comprised mainly of testing and heat rounds, ahead of the proper racing which starts tomorrow. But even though the drivers aren't pushing their vehicles, it still makes from some good drama on the track. The best ones were the Formula 3.5 cars, very nearly as quick as F1 cars, but without the support and expertise of a racing team at a major car firm, or the sophisticated aerodynamics, or in many cases the driver skill.

Throw that lot together, factor in the cold tyres resulting from a long wait since the warm up lap, and you've the makings of some fun at the first fast corner, the old hairpin on the north side of the Donnington raceway. The commentry box on this side, comically styled after a spark plug, had a field day as car after car went ploughing off the track into the gravel, or each other, or both.

God only knows whats in store tomorrow, today was only the practice!

7th September 2007
Subject: Bell-boating

Two days ago i got a phone call from Wally asking if i'd come along and help with the bell-boating for the scouts on Friday, rather foolishly i said yes.
For those who don't know (and can't be bothered to find out) a bell-boat vauguely resembles two canoes stuck together side by side, they seat twelve people and, if filled with competent paddlers, can cruise along at a speed that would put many motorised boats to shame.

The origin of the name "Bell-Boat" is fantastically mundane, it has nothing to do with bells in the classical sense, since they neither resemble them nor were used to transport them, or even carried them at all.
One has to turn to Physics for the answer and the Bell distribution curve, you know the one. Often used to demonstrate trends in the population, height for example. A few midgets at one end and a handful of giants at the other and lots of people about normal height in the middle, so that it looks a little like a bell.
Now applying that to the boat, there are twelve (ish) paddlers seating six on each side. If you can't paddle very well you won't keep up, if you're too good you'll be held back. Therefore to paddle one successfully you need to be an average paddler, i.e. at the top of the bell.

Told you it was mundane.

Coming full circle to where I started, no-one died, everyone got very soaked, a few prats amoung the group but thats only to be expected, they got thrown in! Another successful night.

Mike Says:
Thats the second time you've talked about that

I reply:
There'll be a test at the end!

4th September 2007
Subject: Speed Cameras

So apparantly the government now has another weapon in the arsenal for their war on speeders. The dutch firm Peek Traffic has launched their 'indestructable' speed camera, in response to a wave of attacks on camera locations. I find this story both heartening and depressing. The upside is that if such attacks continue one might hope that speed cameras may not be considered with such enthusiasm as currently. In a similar fashion to when french police first tried using the wheel-clamp in Paris. Everyone started putting superglue in the locks. Even if it wasn't their car they'd see a clamp and glue it, they said "Non!" as one to the clamp, so the police soon dropped them.
The downside is that the government shows no signs of abating with this stealth tax they're thrusting upon us. I wouldn't mind so much being pulled over by a policeman for speeding, provided my activities were suitably dangerous, as that shows they're doing their job. A speed camera which nails you automatically even if you only creep over the limit by 1 or 2 mph, which falls inside the tolerences on most speedometres, meaning that it could still be reading under the limit as you get flashed, is just lazy and blatent profiteering!

What we need is a Paris-style revolt against these objects of filth, a mass vandalism spree, the destruction of every speed camera in Britain, then maybe we'll be able to preserve some elements of our liberty in what is rapidly diminishing as a free country.

1st September 2007
Subject: Jumping Fountain

Against all odds, the much scorned, frequently jibed, often cursed and ill fated William Pye fountain was today open for use at Newby Hall. I say open for use, it still isn't finished. Theres a couple of jets missing, the proper covers for the jets havent arrived and the electronic controls are none existant. To stop kids falling down the holes some wooden boards were quickly fashioned to fill the job that the steel mesh should do. To get it going they hot-wired the electrics to basically turn everything on. Not in itself a hard job, as the mechanism consists of a bilge-pump, which is connected to a jet by little more than hosepipe. Parts still to come include a compresser, which sends air through solenoids controlled by computer to shut the jets off, on a random timer, so you never know where the next one is coming from. Juliet and Holli in ice-cream will be chuffed with that running behind them all day!

That only really leaves the issue of cost. £40,000 pounds Newby are paying to William Pye for this. That doesnt include the concrete base, tiles, turf, covers, trenches and pipe ducts. All it is for is the nozzles, pumps, associated pipework and control system. Eight grands worth at most. I'm not going to descend into another long rant about the management, lets just say they need to pull their finger out of the proverbial and wake up!

31st August 2007
Subject: Big Brother

So apparantly there will be no more Big Brother series, with all the controversy surrounding it, particularly after the Shilpa Shetty incident.

Good, say I. As a believer in television as an object of entertainment i've never really approved of this programme. And this really should see the end of it as BB more or less created the format so its demise should spell its fate.

I never understood the whole racial abuse carry on, if i were trapped in a house with Shilpa there would be far more biological thoughts in mind. Maybe taking a leaf out of Richard Gere's book? Who knows.

To mark the passing of another truckload of shite from this "Reality" programme Channel 4 showed a special 8 out of 10 cats Big Brother special, where Jimmy Carr, Jason Manford and Sean Lock were given free reign to take the contestants apart. Metaphorically only, unfortunatly! The two evictees on the panel were some greek bloke called Gerry, and a woman called Charlie, the supposed "IT Girl", well she ain't welcome near my pc.

Gerry seemed quite a smart bloke, but Charlie had the IQ of a smoked kipper. She had the piss taken out of her mercilessly all night, but never realised it. The best moment was when Sean said, 'I want to see how long it would take Charlie to get into a fight with Ghandi', to which she replied, 'Whos Ghandi?' And whats more believed them when told that he was a rapper!

According to one of their statistics, the housemate whom the public would most like to read their diaries is Nikki who, from the footage of her they showed, should be drowned in a sack! One could tell who the more intelligent housemates on the panel were, they had the nouse to keep quiet.

So good riddance i say, although i do think it could have been improved by taking inspiration from a certain horror film triology by director James Wan. Maybe have one of the housemates wake up chained to the bed with a large spiked apparatus hanging above them, the key to which is behind their eye. I would definitely watch that!

If thats a bit extreme maybe Jo Brands suggestion that the eviction process should have a sniper. "Just give them one bullet, and see how they get on."

I'm so full of ideas, when will i get my own tv series?

28th August 2007
Subject: Charlie

Got home today to find Charlie (my cat) had left a little present for me in front of the garage, seven adult birds. No idea what species they were but they were quite clearly dead.

Good to see the collar we bought him has done its work. My sister had hysterics back in the spring when he brought back the bodies of five baby birds he'd fished out of a nest somewhere. So my mum got him a collar with a bell on it. The idea being that they'd hear him coming and scarper. It took about a week for him to learn how to run without shaking the bell, and now he only rings it when he wants attention. Something tells me the plan hasn't quite worked!

26th August 2007
Subject: Wedding at Newby

Bloody hell, today was a long day. (Or rather, yesterday, since i'm writing this on Monday.) When Adam called in at the engine shed a fortnight ago to ask if i'd help at a wedding I foolishly said yes. He assured me it wouldn't be difficult, but he needed an extra pair of hands.

Before I go any further lets get one thing clear, its been called a wedding in the title, it wasn't. It was actually Newby's first "Civil Partnership".
Andrew was getting "married" to, erm, Andrew. Yes they both had the same first name, lets hope one doesn't take the others surname or things will really get awkward! Thankfully they were easy to tell apart visually, one being bald and the other having thick, long, tresses that would put Richard Branson to shame.

After i'd spent the morning (8am start btw) emptying all bins in the vicinity of the hall and filling the 248 lanterns running down either side of the border to the river with citronella oil, after which I came back smelling rather strongly of lemon, I had to move about three tonnes of furniture up from the west lawn onto the flagstones in front of the library, in which the ceremony was taking place. The idea being that if sitting down drinking tea had been too exhausting for them they could sit down and drink tea. Then I was handed two boxes of Olympic Torch style lanterns and told to go bash them in down at the waters edge where the happy couple would depart by boat later that evening.

The time was now about half one, just time to grab lunch before the radio squawked again calling me back up to the house to move some furniture. Yes, it was the same blasted furniture i'd spent that morning giving myself a hernia lugging up, now they wanted it shifting back down to the lawn. Fortunatly Adam came and helped so it didn't take as long this time.

After that was done I nicked Adam's L200 Pickup truck to move the sky lanterns down to the end of the border. These were quite ingenious things, and will be familiar to anyone who read Danny, The Champion Of The World when they were younger. Very simple to construct, they consist of a ring of card soaked in wax, held in the centre of a reasonably sturdy ring by wire, and attached to the ring is a large tissue-paper canopy. In essence a mini hot-air balloon. One lights the wax with a blow-torch, holds the canopy away from the flame until it fills with warm air, shortly after which the whole thing floats away, flame still burning merrily. At night they look quite spooky, lots of lights floating in the sky. We had three hundred of the things, they're not very heavy on their own but a box of a hundred is. Hence the borrowing/stealing of the pickup. This did make getting back from the end of the border interesting, as the road or rather footpath is rather narrow, just wide enough to drive down forward, rather too tight to reverse back up. And with the L200's appalling turning circle getting it to face the other way was out of the question, so if youve ever tried reversing down a road three inches wider than the vehicle you're driving, in the dark, with large and rather unforgiving trees either side you'll appreciate how difficult this can be.

Fortunatly by this time dinner was being served, they had a hog roast with an 85kg pig and a 105 kg pig, and that is a lot of meat! So much that all the guests couldn't finish it and the job turned to the half dozen members of staff gazing longingly at the large chunks put to one side.
Between us we ate about 15kg of pork, quite a lot between six, though I worry slightly that about a third of it went down my gullet alone. But there was plenty to spare so why not?

After dinner the Disco fired up, this being the cue for many of the guests to decide they would rather leave, mainly the more elderly members of the congregation. This meant I had the honour of driving Mr Compton's Golf Caddy that he normally traverses the grounds on. Me being a taxi service for those attendees who couldn't walk back to their cars or coaches. It is a fun job because to get back to the main gate one must drive exactly the opposite direction to it, through a gap in the hedge, then weave about through the gardens in a kind of Blues Brothers stroke Italian Job style, along hidden paths, shortcuts though large bushes and looping round trees, all to avoid three flights of steps, enjoyable, but very easy to get lost the first time you try it.

After this we discovered the toilets weren't flushing, turned out the filter was blocked, but unfortunatly the filter was located directly over the septic tank, rather bad design but if you hire toilets in this can happen. We drew lots, and Adam lost. So thats another suit only fit for recycling.

When we'd pulled Adam out and hosed him down, it was time for the last dance before what was left of the gathered crowds made their way down the border to see Andy and Drew leave by boat. After ten seconds of watching them slowdancing to Truly Madly Deeply; Fraiser, Lucy and I slipped quietly away to go start lighting the Sky Lanterns, with three hundred to light it was a daunting prospect.

Its getting late so i'll get quicker to the point, after they'd left on Mister Kite the crowds headed back up to the carpark and dispersed, we blew out the lanterns down the border whilst walking back up. Then we had to dismantle the inside of the Marquee before leaving as the people were coming to take it away first thing next morning, so it was two o'clock before I got away. I didn't feel tired, but there were a few tell-tale signs I was, cheif amoung which happened on the way out. Adam had asked me if i'd close and lock the main gate at the Skelton end, so I did. Drove up, got out, closed the gate and put the padlock on, got back in the car, looked at the gate and realised i'd just locked myself in rather than out! Fortunatly its a code padlock not a key, so I was able to open the gates again and drive though before locking it. Got home, abandoned the car, got into bed and was asleep before i hit the pillow.

Another hard day over!

24th August 2007
Subject: Alarming News

Finally had an evening to myself, so I made a point of fitting this alarm kit I had, 'cos its not much use sitting in a box in the garage. Armed with a wiring plan of the car and the highly amusing instruction book from the alarm people, battle commenced.

The entire kit laid out on the floor:

The manual had clearly been literally translated from whatever language the manufacturers spoke, so the result sounded like the illegitimate love-child of Borat and Yoda! Example:
For make setting of arming, pressing button of padlock you will be.

But the wiring diagram for the alarm used plenty of symbols, and that was the important part.
The advantages of older cars became obvious, the wiring is all strictly colour coded and easily accessable, fitting this to say, a Vauxhall Astra, would be a nightmare as all wires lead into the CPU. But in the Escort, everything one needs is found under the dashboard.

Quite a lot of the wires needed were behind the radio, so out it came. Splicing in the new ones made copious use of chokablocks. Most of the cars wiring involves those at some stage.

With the radio out and the wires connected they needed tidying up:

The siren wire I connected to the horn, slightly more distinctive and louder. So now its a bip for lock, two for unlock. Job well done.

23rd August 2007
Subject: Another quiet day, har har.

Results day today, which means that first thing this morning we lost Holli, Peter, Paul, Connor, Mikey and Sean. Robbo was also nowhere to be seen, though he got his two Us last week, so there were no other casual staff in. This meant that instead of being on the railway as normal, I was hastily repositioned in the ticket office with Geoff, leaving John in Ice-cream and David on Railway, Pedalo Boats were closed because we had no-one to run them. Adam, the adventure gardens manager, was away, and Stuart (my boss) has a fear of leaving his car at the best of times.

Sods law it would be the busiest day we'd had in weeks, by midday Geoff and I between us had clocked in 900 visitors, and trust me that is a lot between two in one hour.

Then Ron turned up and joined Geoff in the ticket office leaving me free to head back down to the railway, where we took 696 passengers.

All in all, a good days work, the paddling pool is starting to look better as the builders lay the paving slabs around where the fountains will be. The people fitting the water jets came up from London of all places, and I have seen paint dry faster than they work!

Something I noticed that made me chuckle, and dad too. The builders were using a blow lamp for something, powered by a small propane cylinder.

Zooming in to the name on the cylinder we find the amusing part:

RPD Gas, which my father worked for, became Northern LPG Supplies in 1990, which my father still works for. It was incorporated into the Northern Energy group in 1997 after the fire at Bedale but thats another story.
Also, take a look at the telephone number (0677 23323), in 1984 a 1 was added to the STD code to make 01677, but in 1981 a 4 was added to the number to produce 423323, that gives some idea as to how old the sylinder is. The black top denotes that it is a fuel cylinder from a forklift truck, meaning it is 18kg rather than the usual 19kg, and they have a different connector, which went out of use in 1986, so since they will have been unable to refill it since then its done well to last.

A little blast from the past, my father more or less started the gas division of Robinsons Petroleum Distributors (RPD) back in 1980, he drove the first, and at the time only, tanker delivering to local farms around the Bedale area. Now after 27 years, it has grown to become the largest tanked LPG supplier in the north of England. And thats certainly something to be proud of your father for!

21st August 2007
Subject: New Springs

Yes i'm back to the car again, but it is my baby so why not.

But first, Monday is the only day of the week that has an anagram, that being Dynamo.

Now, springs, the old ones had suffered nearly twewnty years of punishment and were starting to give, the car looked like it was going uphill parked on the flat. So, while the suspension was in pieces it seemed to good time to whip them out and slot in some shiny new ones. Heavy duty versions so the car can carry heavy stuff, beer, washing machines etc, without the bodywork touching the floor.

This being a ford the mechanics came apart without too much hassle. The beauty of older Fords is that nearly all the parts are interchangable, proof of which is found under my bonnet. The engine is assembled from three different variants of the Ford Kent. The block (middle bit) and much of the ancillaries are from the Valencia version, so called because it was built at the factory in Valencia, Spain. The head (top bit) comes from a later model called the HCS (High Compression Swirl), launched in 1988 to comply with tighter EU emmission laws. The crankcase (thats the bottom bit) is from a far older version called the Kent Crossflow, originally found in the Cortina.

Anyway i'm rambling, back to the story. When the car is up on the axle stands off come the wheels, place the jack under the suspension arm and take up the weight of the spring on that, otherwise one will never get the bolt out that holds the wishbone to the chassis.

When the bolt is out the arm swings down on its outer mountings and out pops the spring. Fitting the new one is quite literally the reverse proceedure, slot it onto the mountings and jack up the wishbone so the inner bush meets the the bolt hole on the chassis.

Jobs a good 'un. One thing to note though, these new springs are much harder to compress than the original standard ones the car was designed with, so where the back squatted down before it now sits up like a van.

Although it doesn't seem to have affected the handling unduly, car still clings to the road in corners like a drowning man clings to the rocks. When it does begin to let go its now the back thats skipping a little round the corner, rather than the front which understeers. Given that its front wheel drive this is good, makes it easier to corner quickly because one doesn't lose the ability to steer.

Mike says:
You carry a lot of beer then?

I reply:
Of course, now it can take the weight of the fridge as well.

20th August 2007
Subject: Harry Potter

Went to see the latest Harry Potter film tonight, took Laura along because she's been through a rough patch and needed cheering up. She's a lovely girl really if a little temperamental.

>From reading the reviews one might be lured into thinking that the film isn't any good. Let me say this, they're all wrong! The film is fantastic! Once you clear your mind from thinking about how much of the book they've missed out and remember that they only have about two and a half hours to work with its a masterpiece. Not many films can fit in comedy, romance, action, fantasy, slapstick and downright bizarity as this. A round of applause due to the script writers.

The acting has also come on leaps and bounds over the years. Watching Daniel Radcliffe in the first one is a cringing experience, in this he's matured and actually learned to act. Same goes for the rest.

17th August 2007
Subject: Romeo and Juliet

At last, a non car related article. Tonight, tomorrow and Sunday, Newby Hall is playing host to a travelling theatre company. Shakespeare's Globe. On the west front lawn they will be performing their adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Set around that famous Tudor icon, the VW camper van.

I had been drafted in by Rosemary to sell tickets, primarily because I could work a swipe machine. But since we only sold three tickets, the rest were pre-paid, this didn't ultimately matter. What we did sell quite a few of were the ridiculous Newby Hall & Gardens ponchos, which make the wearer look like a teletubby.

The play had all the original dialogue, but a shortage of actors which meant many had to double up, the most interesting being the combining of Friar Lawrence and the Nurse. Not a problem until the scene set in FL's cell which involves both characters, but he managed very well!

Another good scene was that in which Romeo and Juliet have just er...consummated...the marriage. The door of the camper van opened to reveal Juliet in a pink bikini. The whole audience is sitting there shivering and shes stood there, open to the elements wearing very little. She continued full throttle ignoring the effect that such a temperature has on parts of the female body, despite Adam's wolf-whistling.

16th August 2007
Subject: Omega

The time came to say goodbye to the Omega. For a car bought for £500 to run for about three years its not done too badly, we got six out of it. But with 178,000 miles on the clock when we bought it we knew it wouldn't last forever.

Being incapable of running, the scrapman came round with a truck and winched it on. He had to do this because we'd robbed it of all usable parts before he came; fuses, relays, vaporiser, bulbs, everything. We'd also loaded in some old junk lying around by the garage, cheif amoung which was the old boiler. (She wasn't too happy about it!)

All the engine bits taken from under the bonnet ended up on the back seat.

So now we've got the garage space back and the old girls gone to a better place.

14th August 2007
Subject: Central Locking

With the car back on the road and running sweet as a nut, being short of something to do this evening I had a crack at fitting the central locking system i'd bought on eBay.

The story why I got it, other than just the convenience factor of being able to unlock all the doors at once, stems back many years ago to when I was still a cute six year old and we still lived in Bedale.
One morning we were on the way to school. We always walked down the hill to Dad's gas depot then cut across left to go over the level crossing. However, on this particular morning we were leaving just as one of the employees, I think her name was Sarah, was arriving. She parked the car, got out and pressed the button to lock it. Being the inquisitive child I still am, I was straight over there asking if I could have a go. Every subsequent morning for about three years found me running down to meet her just as she arrived, to lock her car for her. Many times I said to my poor mother, "When I go grow up I want a car that can do that."

Fast forward to the present, I have a car which is half the battle, so on goes the kit.

Fitting was a doddle, there were no instructions included just a wiring diagram, so working from basic principles and common sense it only took a couple of hours. The hardest one was routing the wires through to the boot lid, not something recommended if none go there already, but rules are made to be broken! So now the car opens and locks at the push of a button, I spent about half an hour just playing when it was finished.

I'm such a child!

12th August 2007
Subject: Frustrated Mechanic

New tie-bars arrived today, so since the car didn't work fitting them was a priority. I'm changing out the one thats broken first, then waiting until the new springs arrive before changing the other one, so I only have to take the left suspension apart once.

Naturally there was a problem (as always!) The front part of the bar (the big bit) came off without a problem, however nearly twenty years of rust had sealed the nut onto the shaft. And since the bar had snapped there was only about an inch of cylindrical stub to grip to prevent the shaft rotating as the nut was turned. Out came the mole grips, but no matter how hard they were tightened it wasn't enough, until eventually they were so tight the pin snapped when they clamped shut, they had shaved about two millimetres of metal off by this point. New pair of mole grips required!

Running out of ideas I consulted the oracle. He came down with the monkey wrench and a hammer. By setting the wrench slightly too small and belting it in place with the hammer it finally got some purchase.
Now we couldn't shift the nut, both of us tried undoing it at once, and only succeeded in moving the car, nearly knocking it off the jack. We thought Stop! Hammertime!

By hitting the spanner with the lump hammer, each knock moved the nut about half a degree, so after ten minutes it was finally removed. Fitting the new one was a doddle compared to getting the old one off! So the old girl is back on the road and still going strong.

See if you can spot which is the new one in this photo:

I know the car won't last forever, but its still cooler than most of what my peers are driving. I mean, park it next to a Corsa, would you really say the Corsa was better looking?

10th August 2007
Subject: Route 666

Today was finally the time to pack everything in the car and depart for home. I'd shovelled everything out of the tent into the boot last night so it was just drop the tent and leave. After breakfast of course.

Car started first time, naturally. Water bottles filled, lunch packed, I called via pitch A to say goodbye to Robyn, and after i'd got dressed again got in the car and made to leave. Steve Hall collared me on the way out asking if I could take some boxes back up north for him. Since they were fast running out of space to put stuff, it was a case of grab anyone going in vaguely the right direction.

All went well until just north of Junction 37 (Doncaster) on the A1M:

I'd been going along quite happily, when suddenly the back of the car went sideways. Now, i'm only an amateur mechanic, but thats pretty serious. Weaved onto the hard shoulder, but when I touched the brake it swerved left into the kerb. Not good.

Phoned my home breakdown cover (Dad) so about an hour later he arrived with a trailer and we winched the stricken Escort to safety.

Still no idea at this point what was wrong but there was a small clue to be found on the rear offside wheel:

That wheel really ought to be in the centre of the wheel-arch. So after we'd winched it down and pushed it in the garage the wheel was removed, where I found:

A sheared tie-rod. This is the bit that stops the wheel flexing on the wishbone. And without it the wheel just wobbles about on its mountings.
eBay time it seems, two new tie bars. I'll replace both because if this one has broken the other might not be far off. And I don't want to be driving down the B6265 next week and have it slew the other way!

At least my car wasn't the only one in the wars. Back in April the big-end engine bearing in Mum's Omega went, leading to loud grinding noises coming from the engine. The car was parked down the back and has sat there since.
Come last Sunday my Dad decided it ought to go, since Mum was now driving the Volvo and he had his new BMW 5-series. The Volvo had been fully repaired after Mum ploughed it into the side of a Transit on the Harrogate road but thats another story.

Problem, the Omega has electronic dead-locks and the battery is completely flat. Key doesn't open door.

Potential solution: drill door to expose mechanism then unlock it. Graham comes round with hole-saw and begins drilling. Five minutes go by. Drill has still not penetrated. Door has sheild on inside to prevent drilling attacks.

Potential solution 2: Drill rear passengers door and unlock. Again Graham begins drilling, but has to admit defeat when the blade collapses. Passenger door also has sheild.

Potential solution 3: Gain access to engine bay then change battery. A crowbar is found and an attempt is made to open bonnet. Bodywork bends, yet catch remains intact, more leverage required perhaps.
Crowbar is extended with long length of pipe. Dad and Graham pull down on the end, rear wheels of car leave ground. Catch is designed to prevent unauthorised access to engine bay.

Backup plan: Dad fetches hammer and strikes drivers window. Once he's picked himself up and retrieved hammer he tries again. Handle breaks. Window is laminated to prevent attacks from blunt instruments.

Backup plan 2: Small quarter window broken, window is wound down. Small child is found and inserted through window. Child is instructed to open bonnet. Bonnet opened, battery is charged. Car now works again, though looks rather sorry for itself:

It showed how secure this twelve year old car still was though.

8th August 2007
Subject: How to dismantle a camp in two days

Well I'm still down here in Suffolk. Todays the day all the participants leave the main Jamboree site, but not the hardcore team at Splash! Well, not the 35 or so hardcore team members who are staying to dismantle the site. In the few hours between breakfast this morning and as I write this sat in the bar at around half ten, 80% of the staff have upped sticks and left. My tent is now a solitary blue and yellow lump tucked away in a corner of the field, surrounded by a sea of yellow squares.

All of the equipment (and I mean quite literally all, even down to the padlocks used to lock the boats up!) has been pre-sold, with the condition that the owner come to the Splash site to collect it. Which hopefully most of them will, tomorrow. The kit has been divided into piles according to their respective owners, its the most organised thing thats happened this week!

Much of today, for me, was spent hauling bell-boats up the bank and unbolting them into two halves so that the Manitou could load them onto a curtain-sided lorry. After unloading them all by hand a fortnight ago this was a welcome change.

A bell-boat, in case you don't know, is like two long canoes bolted side by side, to create a twin hulled craft that seats ten. The source of the name is fantastically mundane. It concerns mathematics and the bell distribution curve. Basically in order to be able to paddle one you need to be at the top of that curve, i.e. an 'average' paddler. If you are too good or two weak you skew the curve and they become difficult to paddle.

How dull is that?

6th August 2007
Subject: Only one day left

The powers that be decided that no-one should be left out, so instead of staying at the main site the participants who didn't make it to Splash four days ago had to come two days after. Net result we end up running three shifts. James, the facilities manager, spent his 'day off' at Hylands standing over the transport team with a lead boot. Scary thought.

Slowly the people dribbled in, some literally, its a greulling coach journey. As soon as they made their way to the kayaking area they were herded in with military efficiency. Anyone who complained they weren't doing the activity they wanted was dealt with swiftly and quietly. Thus was a high level of output maintained.

By the time we all came off the water at around half seven, we had taken an extra 400 participants, on top of the 1200 we usually get, it had been a long but successful day.

That nights entertainment was brought by Josh, who made a bet with his father that he wouldn't cut his hair for a year. Well, that year was up:

Some things are best kept quiet, especially on a scout camp.

Romance was in the air, with one couple who went off site to get married, so we threw them a party. Odd place to spend a honeymoon though.
On a similar theme, Steve proposed to Shirley. They met at EuroJam two years ago, thereby demonstrating that love can spring up in the strangest of places. They got a half page in the official Jamboree newspaper One Word, which offers the sort of cringingly dire journalism that even The People would shirk! Out of so much editorial drivel, this particular article caught my eye:

Entertainment the next night took the form of Karaoke, the most memorable act being two lads I don't know singing We Are The Cheeky Girls, a sight to haunt the mind.
Gonzo and many others decided to spend the night dressing up in womens clothing and descended on Ipswich, they came back in the morning looking slightly worse for wear, I daren't ask what happened.

Stickey (Steve), Dicky (Richard), Flopsy (Phil, don't ask!) and I escaped early from the 'Spectacle' in the marquee and went to the local pub, a reassuringly english sounding The Kings Head in the local village of Stutton. A quaint little place, tucked into expansive hedgerows, the local beers they served would make George Best wince. After one pint each of 'Summer Ale' and 'London Pride', desperatly seeking some familiarity I requested a pint of Caffreys. The blonde behind the bar piped one out with all the enthusiasm of a husband approaching the counter in boots holding tampons. With a final disdainful flick of the lever the pint was finished and she placed it on the counter, and in a voice suggesting she'd rather be clipping her toenails then serving customers said it was three pounds.

I nearly told her to take it back!

2nd August 2007
Subject: Breakdown!

Sitting here in the beer tent next to Liam and James arguing over James's laptop about some girl over the ether on MSN. When I start feeling like the mature one in any given situation something has gone majorly wrong.

Todays the day the whole transport system came crashing down around its proverbial ears. The official arrival and departure times had been moved forward. Shame no-one told the coach companys. Nineteen of the coaches got lost arround Ipswich resulting in only half the alloted participants actually arriving on site. What the coaches were doing in Ipswich is anyones guess, its about thirty miles off course.
This meant half the instructors on the kayaking section did nothing this morning, myself included. But in true Scouting fashion the plans changed. Plan A went out the window at about 07h30, plans B through J went the same way. This afternoon we reached plan OFI, an acronym you can probably work out yourself.
An excess of participants arrived in the afternoon, so the coach times were extended to accomodate their later departure. However the IST coach left at normal time, thus ripping two thirds of the instructors from the water, leaving the OST to deal with whoever was left.
The day concluded with no great haste, after we'd thrown Taffy in the water because he's leaving us tomorrow to seek pastures new, namely Greece. (its alright for some!)

God only knows what lies in store tomorrow!

TS x

1st August 2007
Subject: Sunrise Ceremony

At 8 am, 1st August, 1907, Lord Baden-Powell blew his Kudu horn on the island of Brownsea to open the first ever Scout camp. He hand picked 20 youngsters from all walks of life, and brought them together to enjoy a programme of activities he had prepared. The camp was a huge success and ultimately led to the formation of Scouting as we know it.
100 years on, we find tens of millions of Scouts in 158 countries worldwide counting down to 8 am BST to mark exactly 100 years of Scouting, whereupon Peter Duncan blew Baden-Powell's original Kudu horn. We had weblinks to hundreds of different locations, some at the hottest part of the day, others in the middle of the night. It was a celebration running a close second to the new millenium just over seven years ago. Lord Robert would have been proud to see his efforts come to so much.

Here at Splash we celebrated in the traditional way. A chant of Oggy Oggy Oggy that was probably heard in Ipswich. Some of the participants had travelled to Hylands both last night and very early this morning. I stayed where I was because I need my beauty sleep!
Either way we were still all out of bed to watch the sun rise at twelve minutes past five. Cheering for some reason, as if the sun rising were a special event. Its only happened every day for the last four point six thousand million years, so why not celebrate?

There were no activities today so chance for a little R&R, hence the reason I was watching James get showered with red diesel as his attempt at siphoning went quite spectacularly wrong. The generator that powers the toilets and showers had run dry a couple of hours previously, which as many of you will know doesn't bode well for a diesel, as it isn't just a case of put more fuel in and restart it, the whole fuel system has to be bled. Light entertainment for a wednesday morning.

Yesterdays activities went well, four cases of severe hypothermia, a broken nose, a cracked skull, two sprained ankles and three diabetics nearly slipping unconcious from low blood sugar, not all on kayaking I hasten to add.
Statistically, with this many people there should be two deaths over the ten days, we're three in and none so far, so lets hope it stays that way.


TS x

29th July 2007
Subject: One down, nine to go!

Well well, todays the day it all came to a head, except, it didn't. The organisers will be sleeping a little easier tonight knowing that all their hard work over the last three years hasn't been entirely wasted. The participants arrived reasonably on time, how all those coaches managed to clock through with no mishaps we'll never know. One of the team must have sacrificed a goat to a pagan goddess at midnight last night to bring us good fortune.
One coach did arrive asking if they were at Gilwell, but shit happens. When they asked how to get to Gilwell they didn't seem too happy with the response; go back to the A12 and keep going west for about three hours, so they decided to stay after all.
All the people that came through kayaking went away with a smile, even though all the safety briefings and checks and whatnot meant they had a net paddling time of about ten minutes, which must have seemed rather an anticlimax to a ninety minute coach ride and half hour walk. Ah well.

I'm sat here on the shores of Alton Water with a cold can of Carlsberg listening to the waters lapping at the banks. A gentle wind rustles the trees behind me. Everything else is still. One doesn't realise how noisy it is living next to a major road until you come right out into the countryside where all is peaceful. Its a scene reminiscent of the bulk of the posts I wrote in the Matbaa Recwar, for those who don't know what I mean its best you don't ask, those who do know what I mean will probably agree.

Out of four thousand visitors, we did quite well to only have fifty left stranded here at the end, they missed the last coach home. Elaine said she'd take care of them and they haven't been seen since. If there is a missing persons notice issued I know nothing.

A peaceful end to another day. Nighty night.

TS x

28th July 2007
Subject: Jamboree

Hello Fans

Been without internet down here at the Splash site of the 21st World Scout Jamboree. BT put the phone line in but fscked up the broadband connection! So i'm sitting in a damp field with my trusty laptop pre-writing this in order that it can be broadcast as soon as they sort the damn thing out.

Bit of background, Splash is the division of the OST (Off Site Team) that deals with water based activities. Hence the reason we're based at Alton Water reservoir south of Ipswitch, some 70 or so miles from the main site in Highlands Park, Essex. The other OST is based at Gilwell Park in north London, the home of worldwide scout hq and somewhat closer, and they are running the land based activities, climbing, archery and so on.

Being so far from the main site makes transport for the participants interesting, since 50 coaches arrive in a 20 minute period and have to manoevere, park, unload their cargo and leave to return to Highlands in a car park about the size of a basketball court, As I write this on Saturday the first coach load has yet to arrive, tomorrow being the first day of activities, so we'll have to wait and see what happens. I will certainly try to be one of the volunteers that brings the participants from the carpark to the kayaking site so I can bear witness to the chaos that will inevitably ensue.

In the few days I've been here life has't been too bad; foods good (still not as good as yours mum!), weather acceptable if rather windy, facilities clean and all functional. The work hasn't been too tiring, except for hammering scaffolding poles into the ground with a 70 pound pole-basher, one round and you're spent. As I sit here I can hear DJ Otzi blaring out of the hifi system,the night is still young so best to wait until later when the good music comes on.

Now they're playing Superman by Black Lace, and through the windows one can see the dancing, who needs a tv with entertainment like this?

Today was the main opening ceremony of the jamboree, so we were all ferried into Highlands by six coaches, the car park was full (see above) so imagine what will happen with another 44...
The main arena was quite a spectacular affair, with a stage that would rival the Pyramid at Glastonbury, dotted around it were various large screens so the people at the back could witness the drama on stage.
The ceremony opened with a ten minute musical montage comprising the chorus ('Right Here, Right Now' repeated many times), and four verses; one each about Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The large screen at the rear of the stage playing a video summarising each country (london buses, angel of the north and tea for England par example) whilst dancers at the front performed a traditional dance, for instance Ireland's was Riverdance. We noticed during this that a plane seemed to be circling overhead, which seemed odd because the entire site was been run with the security of a Japonese POW camp because the Duke of Kent and Prince William were in attendance. But we thought nothing more of it.
After this had ceased, the hosts appeared, which did send the event downhill slightly as they seemed more used to addressing nursery children, Peter Duncan (the Cheif Scout) appeared in a London cab on the back of an AA lorry. Theoretically this was the same taxi that the World Scout Flag had been loaded into at the end of the last Jamboree in Thailand. A video that appeared to have been made in Macromedia Flash had summarised the journey of this taxi for us a few minutes previously, basically a cartoon taxi travelling around a map of the world via the major cities whilst a Yakettey Sax esk tune played over the top. For the benefit of readers not musically aquainted Yakettey Sax was used as the theme to the Benny Hill Show.
After the taxi had arrived and Peter Duncan had confessed to not having the flag in his possesion (oh what a surprise) he commented that he had given it to some friends, who had promised to 'drop in'. (Can you see where this is going?)
Yes, the plane mentioned previously was there for a reason, as five parachutists dropped out of it waving flags, unfortunatly the wind was a little strong and instead of landing in the centre of the site as planned they all missed and ended up about half a mile away in one of the sub camps. But the intrepid runner appointed to bring the flag to the stage arrived in a hail of applause. And as the flag ascended the pole the Jamboree was declared open to enthusisatic cheers, it was a proud moment.

All that remained of the ceremony was to sing the National Anthem (during which many of those in attendance did not remove their hats, very disappointing!) followed by the official Jamboree song called, wait for it, Jambo!
They were up all night thinking of that one! Heres the chorus:

Jambo (Hello) Its a World Scout Jamboree
A hundred years to date, lets all celebrate
Jambo (Hello) join together always be
One World One Promise


This gave us slightly under two hours to explore what we could of the main site. which was about one hour too much. There wasn't much to see apart from a very sinister German tent proclaiming to be the 'Black Magic World of Food'. An enormous, jet black, canvas affair which wouldn't have looked more out of place unless it had large Diesel engines running nearby and deep pits dug to one side.

The coaches very helpfully decided to pick us up in a different place to where they dropped us off without telling anyone, resulting in a quick dash across the site from the south to the north east, but we all made it and were ferried back in sweltering heat to Splash.

Last orders has just been called at the Bar and the battery warning light is flashing, so here seems a good place to sign off.

Peace out.

TS x

14th July 2007
Subject: Duck Race and Queen

Well, its not every morning that one has to swim after two thousand rubber ducks in the river skell, but then it was an unusual sort of day.

Long backstory short, as a fund-raising exercise for the Scouts, we sold two thousand and seven raffle tickets, (it was actually only two thousand, the man in the shop wouldn't print seven,) each of which was matched to a duck, which we then jettisoned from the top of Glovers bridge, by Kwik-fit in Ripon, and the first duck to make it to the next bridge wins.

Simple concept but Physics is a cruel mistress! Ten feet after the bridge is a sharp right bend, so naturally every single duck becomes wedged in the foliage stuck on the corner, hence the swimming. Now, I had my wetsuit on, but that water was still bloody cold! Wading in, its fine until it reaches the groinal area, then (gentlemen especially) it becomes very clear how cold it is.

Once the ducks were freed to progress down the river, all that remains is for them to be collected in, parents and friends dashed down to the bridge as soon as the ducks were launched, unfortunatly because the water was quite high, they all arrived just in time to watch them sail merrily past.

They were collected in eventually, because its not the clearest river in Yorkshire, they all became entangled before long, and by the time we reached the Ford they'd been rounded up.

Fast forward to the evening, it was time for Music On The Meadows at Ripley Castle. With Queen B and the Uk Beach Boys.

A local band kicked the evening off, Beauty And The Beasts, which one was supposed to be the beauty was never made clear, although the lead singer came on breathing fire whilst a techno remix of O Fortuna plays in the background, which was an interesting spectacle to say the least.

Then the UK Beach Boys wowed the masses with their versions of classic Beach Boys hits. I would stick my neck out and say they were better than the originals, but they have also had more time to practise than the originals, three of whom are now deceased!

The support acts out of the way, Queen B took the stage. They were very good, but the Bassist (John Deacon equivalent) was far too lively, Deacon never moved in concert, and the lead singer proved that there will never be another Freddie Mercury (RIP), he gave his all though and it was a very enjoyable evening!

12th July 2007
Subject: Paddling Pool

As many of you may already know, Newby Hall has a paddling pool for the kids, and overgrown kids, to amuse themselves in on hot (and not so hot) days.
You may also know that so far this year the pool has been closed , I mentioned it in the previous blog entry, see below.

Well today they finally made a start on tearing out the old concrete ready for the new ducting which will supply the jets of the water feature it is being replaced with. After they'd finished mating the JCB with the Transit in an unbelievably complex attempt to unload a Stihl saw! They then proceeded to cover everything in the immediate vicinity with a fine layer of concrete dust. Fortunately I spotted this and shifted my car up to the top carpark, David wasn't so quick so his windscreen turned grey quite rapidly.

Still, at least there now appears to be something happening. The website says the new feature will be ready on the 1st August, however he conveniantly forgot to mention which year that might be!

10th July 2007
Subject: HSE

Had a visit from the Harrogate branch of the HSE today at work, because of a complaint made in May 2004 that the train derailed causing injury to the complainant. The complaint was sat on by the council for 9 months, before passing it on to the H & S division of the council, who sat on it until yesterday!
Long story short, an inspector made a tour of the grounds checking for protruding screw heads and the like, all the stuff that HSE panic about but the kids ought to have the sense to avoid anyway!

When they arrived at the paddling pool, currently fenced off because the management were supposed to organise its replacement last winter and didn't. He looked at in for a coouple of minutes until David shouted something like, "Go on, jump over like the rest of us do!"
The look on Stuart's (my boss) face could have killed

Either way, the time in took to remove a single panel with an electric screwdriver, in practical terms 1 minute, was all he took in the adventure playground. Then another minute with the silt encrusted remains of the paddling pool, after which he advised us that it should be closed (well duh! It already is!). Then he took one look at the station and proclaimed "Oh what do I know about trains!" and signed us off as safe.

We need this guy again next time!

8th July 2007
Subject: New Domain

Having waited several months for to become availiable, when it finally expired on the 5th I was straight on the website to reregister it. No joy!
Turns out it now goes onto a 30 day hold then a 35 day wait before it eventually becomes availiable to the public again.

Not happy!

So rather than wait that long I picked a new one:
and this blog can now be reched direct using:

When is eventually released i'll buy it and point it to the domain. But for now, .net it is.

TS x

6th July 2007
Subject: Bleepety Bleep Bleep

Tonight was an interesting night at the Scout meeting, (I'm a leader not a member!) I finally found out what a 'Bleep' test is.

My sister has tried to explain one to me before, but anyone whos heard such a description from my only sibling will understand why I still wasn't completely kosher on what such a test is. I'm sure she was describing her experience of them, but it could have been brick-laying instructions for all the sense it made!

But I digress, Hazel had brought along a friend of hers who is a personal trainer from the Crown Hotel. (Bad start!) The kind who has spent so much time pumping iron his brain has escaped through his ears to seek a better life.
Beginning with press ups, one could tell the scouts hadn't ever been introduced to the concept of exercise, especially Patrick who hasn't been introuduced to reading yet! He then moved on to sit ups, ditto, before producing a cd player and letting it do the talking.
Some basic instructions began, remove loose clothing, Chelsea didn't seem to hear the 'loose'. Ensure the area is free from bags, shoes, broken glass, hydrofloric acid, bear pits etc. Then it began bleeping. Not, as I first thought, the end of the tape, but the signal to begin moving.
Long story short, I dropped out at level 8, the jumbo haddock and chips were starting to indicate they might go the wrong way.

Overall, not really my idea of fun, running is something I will do if i'm late for a bus, or if theres a fire, or even a bus on fire. But for now i'll take the car.


2nd July 2007
Subject: Boredom

Working in the ticket office today. Except it hadn't filtered through yet that we now open Mondays, net effect being that all day I take money from 61 customers, which in real terms is marginally less than none!

Still, its a great way to earn a living, getting paid to sit and read books! Finished The World According To Clarkson, Part 2 and got a sizeable way through 211 Things A Bright Boy Can Do.

30th June 2007
Subject: Smokin!

Well folks, the smoking ban comes into force tomorrow, not that it'll affect me since I don't smoke, anyway...

Good Luck to Holli who quit today, keep it up!

The ban wasn't what prompted me to write this article, what did is described quite well by the picture below:

That was taken shortly after 5 o'clock on the B6265. Now the weather wasn't the brightest sunshine we've ever had, but following this car was like flying into a cloud in a small aeroplane. It was doing about 10 mph, with the hazards going, belching out clouds of smoke which smelt very strongly of burning oil and the engine grinds could even be heard over the Iron Maidon on the stereo. No idea what was wrong with it but it sounded pretty terminal.

When I say it was producing a lot of smoke, this was the state of my car when I got home:

Remember that this car is white, and contrast it to a couple of entries ago when I mention the new spotlights.

Fortunatly it all came of with the steam cleaner, but still annoying to have to do.

Ciao for now. xx

28th June 2007
Subject: Return To The Forbidden Planet

When you invited to a performance at the theatre which one is told contains Shakespeare's The Tempest, 50s rock and roll and a dancing robot on rollerskates what would your reaction be?

So was mine, and not since last time I was in Amsterdam! But I said i'd go anyway, mainly because the inviter was bearing down on me with a compass lest I refuse, and it sounded like a reasonable way to lose seven quid.
So, armed with nothing more than a much-loved car and 5 uninhibited mindsets we descended on Harrogate. We had an hour or so to kill before we were to meet the others at the theatre so a portion of Fish and Chips and a drink at the Banyan fitted quite nicely. We ran into George on the way and he very generously bought the drinks, which is by far the best way to get drinks at the Banyan. We were toying with the idea of entering the Rat & Parrot, but George's pink shirt would have gone down like an iron piano!

7 o'clock arrived as if from a distance and reluctantly. A quick jaunt down the back streets brought us to the Theatre Foyer, where we were fortunate enough to witness a choir of primary school kids singing Queen songs (amazing what you'll find in Harrogate). Don't stop me now was the first one they chose to serenade the assorted crowds with, did they realise that these minors were singing a song about hard drug use? PSHE in action.

Slipping through a gap we entered the stalls, where we were whisked by some gentlemen in Captain Scarlet uniforms. The formalities dealt with we had a while to admire the set crafted before us whilst the 'attandants' explained the 'Polarity Reversal' action to us. This, we were assured, would save our life during the voyage.

The lights went down, the stage lit up. And words cannot describe the spectacle that took place before us on the glorious night, so I won't even try. Suffice to say that you will never think the same way about Shakespeare ever again. If you ever get the chance to see it do, you won't be disappointed.

26th June 2007
Subject: New Spotlights

Bought on eBay for 10 quid, and they look great:

Over the next few years this car will slowly turn into an RS Turbo, on which note, I was looking for some proper RS Turbo lights, the cheapest I found were 70 quid, not likely!
I was also quite surprised at how many perfectly normal parts were listed as XR3i or RS Turbo parts. I'm looking at a headlight listed as 'RS Turbo Headlight' and thinking, no, thats the same as mine and mine is only a Finesse!

Next step is the wheels. Keeping a lookout for some DogLeg alloys like those fitted to the real S2 RST. After which my main concern will be the money-grabbing bastards at the insurance company!

Peace out.

24th June 2007
Subject: Stupid Passenger!

Where I work I encounter many people who shouldn't be let without supervision. (Probably like a lot of jobs!) But today there was one lady who really deserved some form of recognition, preferably involving concrete and a pier!

We all know what the weather was like today. And you would expect that objects outside would be rather damp. But oh no, this lady was having none of it, storming up to me sounding off about the seat being wet and did I understand she'd just had a hip replacement, and what would happen if she sat down, and how she'd lost her husband in the war and i wasn't taking her needs into account and...

Ok so I made the last bit up but you get the idea, one of these people who'll complain that the grass wasn't the correct shade of green. When she had settled down I calmly pointed out that the hydrated condition of the seat was due to the inclement weather, and that the last person who had claimed influence over meteorological activities had been nailed to a tree some two millenia ago, a fate I had no desire to emulate! Whilst this filtered through the recepticle she optimistically called a brain I took the opportunity to remove myself from her presence.

I do enjoy my job but sometimes I wonder how these people work out which end of a pencil to use.

21st June 2007
Subject: Physics

Two years ago, I decided that Physics A level was a good idea. What the hell was I thinking? Admittedly the lessons have been a riot; this year alone we've irradiated vegetables, electricuted each other more times than strictly necessary, fired metal rings at the ceiling (the marks are still there), set fire to expensive electrical equipment (variacs particularly), burned holes in tables, dismantled stools without using the appropriate tools and much more. Its been great.

Its only when it comes to exam season, when the dreaded 'R' word rears its ugly head, that one realises we haven't actually learnt anything during the entire two years.

One teacher spent the entire year telling us how good 'George Benson' used to be, a 'student' he claims he taught. (He by all evidence never existed!)
The other half of the course was taken up discussing what the third years are doing in their PS[insert extra letters here]CE lessons, fascinating stuff but it won't get us into Uni.

So now there are hundreds of students around the country waiting for August 16th. For many the tension seems unbearable, when they haven't got the results they want! Still, fingers crossed.

TS x

19th June 2007
Subject: New Blog

Lets see, new server, new content, new pages, another attempt at keeping a blog (the last three stalled after about 2 entries!) I guess what i'm really saying is: hello and welcome to the last update ever.

Or perhaps not, maybe this could be the entry into a sucessful career in journalism (unlikely), maybe it will just turn into a cobweb like thousands of other blogs full of a witty and humourous nothing (far more likely!) We'll have to wait and see.

Start at the beginning, with the rise of MySpace and LiveJournal, blogging has turned from an in-joke amongst computer nerds into a mainstream giant of mass communication. Suddenly anyone who can type, and many who can't, had the means to share the intricate details of their lives with a massive audience who'll read largely anything. The art of reading and writing, especially joined up writing, was probably not expected from most of them, and the basic HTML knowledge required to craft their wondrous creations into servicable web-pages capable of interesting the masses was far out of their grasp. Then in late 2003 along came Tom Anderson, an Alumnus of The University of California, Berkleley, and created the global interweb sucess story that is MySpace.

I like to keep things simple, as you'll be able to tell be the simple layout and plain styling of my entire website. This not only makes it load quicker but means it will work on all browsers, even mobile phones render it pretty well, although it is really tuned to run best on Firefox ( which I heartily recommend you use. (If you have Micro$oft Winblows Exploder, Internet Explorer to its friends, then I pity you.)

I'm really starting here with no clear idea of where to go. It might contain advice on tuning cars, storys of friendship and occupations thereof, musings on the effectiveness of mashed potato as shaving foam, who knows? All it guarantees is it will be like no other, enjoy...


The Simonator

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