The Simonator's Blog

15th September 2008
Subject: A Class and a Snarf full production

When Cadbury's musical advert featuring a Gorrila drumming along to Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight first went live a couple of years ago, the time delay before people started redubbing the footage and posting the results online could be measured in shakes of a ducks tail. Replacement tracks ranged from the obvious to the inevitable to the downright odd.
Some of the inevitables included Welcome To The Jungle, one of the most overused backing tracks ever, and When the Levee Breaks, which would have John Bonham spinning so much in his grave he'd influence the Earth's magnetic field, if he hadn't been cremated.
The odder tracks included Blondie's Call Me, a strange choice since the main drum fill is right at the beginning thus missing the whole impotus of the original advert, and From Out Of Nowhere by Faith No More, which doesn't really have a drum solo at all.

The main track that wouldn't immediately spring to mind but seems obvious in retrospect is Total Eclipse Of The Heart by the gravel-voiced pop royalty that is Bonnie Tyler. With a slight re-jig the advert fitted perfectly, and reached YouTube within about an hour of the ad's first airing.
Cadbury, it would seem, found this idea rather intriguing.

6th September 2008
Subject: Newby hall in flood

Trains don't work well on hills after a light shower, but when that light shower has made the river rise by nine feet putting the track a good eighteen inches on the wrong side of the surface then what you need is a hull and some sails. So it was when i arrived at work this morning to find a lake encroaching on my parking spot by the station. Over the next few hours the platform turned from a walkway to a stream to a torrent. Part of the problem is the flood defences for York at Naburn. Since the barriers don't get rid of the flood water rather move it somewhere else, when the gates close the level rises by a good three feet in less than twenty minutes, when the rise can be measured in miles per hour you know your in trouble.

Fortunatly 500 steel pegs through the sleepers means the track won't move, unlike last time when it took an entire weekend to re-lay the west loop. Unfortunatly it seems the rest of the county wasn't so lucky. No doubt there will be a public enquiry as to why the river flooded, forces of nature apparantly not good enough for politicians who want someone to be held responsible for absolutely everything, as long as it isn't them.

Natural disasters aside, the real news tis weekend is that the Newby Hall Royal Scot moved under its own power today for the first time in five years. Whilst that may not sound like much its big news for us mad train enthusiasts at Newby, there were more staff clustered round the engine shed than visitors in the grounds.It was a partial success; without getting too technical, i'll attempt to explain.

Within each cylinder stack, there is a piston which moves the full length and transmits the drive to the wheels via the linking rods. Above the piston is the slide valve which controls when the steam enters and leaves the piston. Waste steam is exhausted upward through the chimney creating a draft which draws air through the fire. If the valve rings have worn out, the steam entering the valve leaks staight out to the exhaust causing a drop in power. The problem with the Scot is that one of the rings has gone completely wheres the other three are ok. So instead of the four even beats (two per cylinder) that we should hear, it produces three strong beats then a colossal whoosh as 120 psi of steam discharges vertically upward through the chimney. Which is quite fun to watch but ultimately not very productive.

Keep an eye on the "My Pictures" page where some photos of the Scot in action will be posted soon.

17th August 2008
Subject: Everybodys doing it - except you

The school playground has long revolved around the question "have you done it yet?". By adulthood the answer is pretty much unanimously "yes" so mags have had to change the 'it' from 'had sex' to 'had sex with four thai ladyboys in a hot tub filled with olive oil and red wine.' If the answer's no, you're practically still a virgin.

In other words, its time to get swinging with the 'new sex rules' (Cosmopolitan magazine, August 07) Glossy mag pages stretching as far as the eye can see with coverlines about 'Kinky Survey Results' (New Woman, June 07) revealing the "daring new sex everyone is having. Lose your inhibitions on page 75." Everyone the is, except you!

Some journalists are now seemingly single-mndedly dedicated to reporting back from the new hot sex frontline. For her "Sleeping Around" column in the Independant, Catherine Townsend offloads her weekly experiences as a hot sexualiser experiencing everything with everyone as though she thinks anyone cares. Her lusty liasons lack communication, "We never talked much..." but always end in "hours of very intense sex". Sex for her seems invariably "very intense", like driving a speedboat across a glacial lake with a tiger armed with an epilator. Verily these people exude confidence.

I don't mean confidence do i, these people need a lesson in ourreality. Either that or i need to find a way into theirs!

11th August 2008
Subject: Punkrockers and flowers?

Whilst Sandi Thom may play testament to the age of modern computing, if a major worldwide hit can be produced from a flat in Tooting of all places, even though her internet-grass-roots-word-of-mouth success was partly, make that predominantly, helped by words from the mouth of a major PR company. Maybe she really does wish she was a punkrocker, though she hasn't got around to buying any of the right gear so we have to question her commitment on that score.

The really annoying thing about Ms Thom though is her grasp of history, or lack thereof. She may have studied at Liverpool's Institute of Performing Arts but she probably spent too much time quaffing too may litres of discounted Southern Comfort.
The title of her hit (i use the term loosely) song called for a new youth movement to combine the punk and hippie legacies. Its a few eons before my time, but punks and hippies hated each other. You can't have punks with flowers in their hair, they wouldn't be punks. Flowers on the fire was more their thing.
Also, another line states "in '77 and '69, revolution was in the air." Now as i recall, wasn't revolution more likely in the air in '68, assuming she's making a vain attempt to reference the original woodstock. The only revolution in '69 i know of was the Green Revolution that put Colonel Gadaffi in power in Libya. Anyway, happy birthday Sandi.

8th August 2008
Subject: Olympics

For anyone who didn't watch the opening ceremony at Beijing, you missed a treat. From the CG footprint fireworks at the start, through the drummers, tae-kwon-do performers, green glowing light-men, through to the fireworks and the lighting of the torch, it was a triumph of organisation and design flair.
The biggest problem will be topping it in four years time. Certainly we'll look like chumps if we don't manage something at least as spectacular.

So in other words, we're going to look like chumps. China has several advantages, no Kyoto treaty to obey, no Greenpeace sticking its nose into every aspect of proceedings. Thanks to the beauraucrats and eco-mentalists, our opening ceremony will be a very green, carbon neutral, very boring and pathetic embarassment to the nation. I can't wait!

3rd August 2008
Give it 2 me slow

No, the title isn't a desperate plea, honest.

One of the things most likely to annoy for what seems like the rest of time is when a song on the radio sounds eerily similar to another, but you can't work out what. There are a few ebsites devoted to just this problem, but on the whole their main skill is listing vast swathes of tracks you've never heard of. Its only rare that the song you want is listed, and even more rare that it identifies its mystery cousin.

Case in point, Madonna's latest single, "Give it 2 me", gratuitous use of txtspk notwithstanding, its not a bad song. However, upon hearing it the cogs immediately went into overdrive trying to think why it was so familiar. I knew it had a doppleganger in the not too distant past, but the identity was beyond me.

All i can say now is, thank Zeus for the Random Play All function in Jukebox programs. (I use Amarok, but they all have them.) Quite by coincidence, when i got home this afternoon and hit the play button, the very song i'd been trying to remember was first. Readers of a comparable music geekiness level to myself will probably have worked out what song i'm going to say now, but for the rest of you...

"Slow" by Kylie Minogue, the tune that had remained tantalisingly out of reach for the past couple of days. If you have both songs in a playable format, listen to them back to back, paying close attention in the chorus, and you'll see what i mean. They do differ though, particularly the solo around 2m30 in "Give it 2 me", which sounds like a seatbelt warning buzzer with Turret's syndrome.

So, has Madge knowingly mimicked another song, or is it a sheer coincidence. Well, given Madonna's recent history in the arena of original melodies, i'm steered toward the former. Who can forget "Hung up", with its heavy overtones of "Gimme Gimme Gimme".

An article in New Scientist a while back made interesting reading. There are only (as a round number) 1000 notes that can be heard by the human ear, thats right the way from Elephantine rumble to Gnatular hum, and virtually all permutations of these notes have been used in musical compositions, this is including music right back in previous centuries not just pop music from the 60s onward. So when you hear a riff in a song that sounds familiar, it is quite possible those few notes have indeed been used before in the order. However, blatent ripping off of another tune is a different matter, usually a bad thing.
Are they just too lazy to write their own?

28th July 2008
Subject: XP on XO

I can't be the only person who nearly had palpitations when i heard that Microshaft want a version of XP to run on the OLPC's XO B4. Thus missing the whole point of its supposed adaptability and intuitive interface. Well they've gone and done it.

Lets start with the bad points (always appropriate with Micro&oft!) In order to fit XP and Office onto the XO, they've had to cram in an SD card, fine in theory, but since the XO only has one SD card slot, this means with XP running the slot is effectively useless. It can't be ejected because then the OS crashes, not that XP needs much help there, and therefore no other cards can be inserted and read. Thats one bullet in the foot already.
The next crashing failure comes with the ease of use, or lack thereof. Sugar, the original linux-based OS, was/is fantastically easy to grasp. All functions are simple to find, usually with large clear buttons on the desktop, and pre-programmed with optimal default settings so its just click and go.
XP takes a far more complex view. In MS's XP on XO video, availiable on Youtube amongst other places, it shows how to record an audio file on the Windows XO. In Sugar this means pressing the "Record" activity on the bottom toolbar, selecting "Audio" (it defaults to photos, and the one "Record" activity records anything -- photos, video, or audio!), and pressing record - done.
XP requires navigaion through 3 sub-menus of the Start Menu (Start-Programs-Accessories-Entertainment, for anyone following at home in XP). Then after finding the Sound Recorder, one has to muck about with the custom audio properties (Stereo sound and normal compression?) before finally recording. Right, that's intuitive!
Then the demonstrator loads up Windows Movie Maker to capture video (again, to do this in Sugar, you'd just change from Audio to Video in the Record activity). Again he alters compression/quality settings (1/2 MB bitrate and 30 FPS -- really? I just want to press "record"). It works and has the standard Windows Movie Maker timeline/video editing capabilities, which is beyond unintuitive into the realms of unfathomable.
One counter-argument against this that i've heard is that children will get used to Window's hyper-complex methods. This isn't the point, when you're first learning to read, you don't leap straight in with Tolstoy or Jane Austen. You read books like The Very Hungry Catapillar, or Spot the Dog. Sugar is Thomas the Tank Engine, Windows is Finnegans Wake.

Microsoft expects teachers using Windows XOs to have USB thumbdrives and be ready to pass them around their class to share videos/photos/recordings and such. Heck, I don't even let my thumbdrive leave my sight at uni.
With class sizes of over 30, how long will it take for each student to plug a drive in, have it pop up, copy a video to their desktop (again, providing they have any space left over after Windows and Office), and then finding the "Safely Remove" icon in the taskbar, clicking it, and correctly selecting the thummdrive and not the Windows SD card, and then passing it to the next student.
Sharing a video becomes an all-class-session activity, when it should be done through improvements to the mesh and a peercasting video tool. To be fair, outside of shareable activities, the process currently doesn't work much better on the XO (at least without a School Server to host the shared file) but taking out that mesh connectivity altogether is knifing one of the very principles the XO was built on.

Not mentioned in the video of course is the dire need for security software - anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-phishing and so on that's suddenly very important if you're releasing XP machines to people who aren't used to the internet and haven't developed an automatic mistrustof Nigerian 419 scams, "Your computer is infected" flashing malware banner ads, and the like.

Sugar has its faults; no doubt about it, but it was clean and intuitive with a core belief of an "unlimited ceiling" of upward development. Windows is designed against this, with no programming tools built in, and an almost anti-hacker/explorer/fiddler philosophy that goes beyond it merely being "closed source" to putting up impediments to learning any useful skills. XP is completely unsuitable for the XO's target audience and Microshaft should stop sticking its horn into places where it isn't welcome!

14th July 2008
Subject: Germany part Vier

Trier is a remarkably pretty city, particularly by German standards. Despite their usual array of houses that appear to have had their eyebrows singed off, and the works of modern "art" which wouldn't look out of place in Mad Max. By contrast to many British cities the whole place looks cared for, the pavement free of those lichen-like splodges that testify to Wrigley's 90 percent share of the gum market.
Its the little extras round a city that add up to create an impression, the healthyflowers in the flowerbeds, the unbroken benches, the lack of graffiti on the signs. On those points Trier scores very highly.

Todays concert was held in a small square behind the Town Hall and Tourist Information office, out of the way. The shade of the surrounding buildings providing a welcome break from the pounding sun.
The dixie band went first, getting them out of the way early. They can't offend a crowd who haven't gathered yet. Andy bemusing passers-by in usual flamboyant fashion. If any gathered to cause a traffic disturbance, we had the choristors to get rid of them. (Sorry Laura!) By the time the Big Band rolled round, the hottest part of the day had passed and the temperature dropped to pleasant rather than unbearable.

Dinner that night was a a classic German favourite, sausage. Whilst Germany may not be famous for its cuisine, the few items they are responsible for are fantastic.

13th July 2008
Subject: Germany Part 3

Today didn't start well. Actually thats not true, when i woke up i felt fine. Breakfast was the soon to become usual array of indestructable bread buns filled with watery reconstituted ham. Sadly my stomach was having none of it and half an hour later reversed the process.
That kind of set the tone for the day really, during the ninety minute bus journey my overall health deteriorated from queasy to necratic, until after the concert i was ready to kneel bu a shallow grave and wait for someone to push me in. At first i thought i might be suffering from my first proper hangover, but hangovers don't last three days, i'm writing this on Wednesday in a coach traversing Belgium and only just starting to feel human again.

The concert, ironically, was in a rehab centre about 70 miles from the hotel. They seemed to enjoy the music, tapping their feet and clapping, but since they carried on regardless after each song then maybe they were just hapy to be outside.
Even though James destroyed one of their flowerbeds and nearly caused the bus driver to leave us behind by implimenting him in Village People Medley, they still had a whip round and gave us a sizeable donation, which James said he would use to by us an "Ice Cream".

As far as the headmaster is concerned we're "practising for commem". I'm happy to report that rehearsals are going exactly as expected.

12th July 2008
Subject: Germany Part 2

Faced with an eight hour drive on a coach through Belgium, the mood over breakfast was understandably subdued. Still, it was a buffet again so no point in worry about the day too early. Bacon, sausages, eggs, sausages, bacon, fried bread, beans, bacon, sausages, bacon... and several pints of tea to wash it down.
The Government recommends we eat five item of fruit and veg a day, but they also rape our wallets at every opportunity and use the money to let out foreign prisoners so they can stab people, while penny-pinching from the army in Iraq meaning they get shot and die as well, so forgive me if i take their advice with a quart of salt. I've managed to subsist entirely on meat and potatoes since i fist learned to pick the green bits out at the age of two, thereby disproving what mothers tell their kids at every meal: "if you don't eat your greens you won't grow up big and strong", never did me any harm.

Anyway, eight hours on a coach isn't that bad. My sister is going to Venice soon, and that's a twenty-eight hour coach ride.
At least we get a DVD player, admittedly that skips every time the bus hits a fly, which can make watching I Am Legend a bit frustrating, not that its a particularly happy film to begin with.

Once we'd finished seeing Will Smith strangling dogs and throw grenades at Zombies, we all needed cheering up, cue Peter Kay.
Whilst i'm not a fun of his TV programmes, Max and Paddys Road to Nowhere was especially odd, his stand-up is second to none. He's a bit like Ricky Gervais in that way. The Office made me want to leave the room by means of a window, but, Animals, Politics and Fame contain some of the funniest stand-up comedy ever committed to celluloid.

Our first foreign concert venue was in the town of Maastrict, part of that odd comma that separates Belgium and Germany with a five mile strip of Holland. Seemingly famous for its waffles and toasties, there was barely a shop in the street that wasn't selling one or the other.
Whilst we were playing the the bus disappeared to find a place to park, whereupon he managed to to get driven onto twice, so he says. Quite how anyone can miss a large red coach coach with bright white flashes down the side puzzled me, but after watching a few lorry drivers for a half hour it became clear.

By the time the Big Band finished we'd built up quite a large audience, then the choir sang for a bit. Fortunately the audience came back again a few minutes into the second set. The Village People Medley seemed to go down quite well quite well here, make up your own mind what the says about the locals. Gotta love the Dutch.

When we finally got to the hotel there was just time to invade the rooms and scatter possessions to the winds before dinner was served. The German approach to cooking meat draws a close parallel to my attitude towards spiders, if it isn't burnt to a crisp it needs more heat. The also applied the some process to their chips it seems, creating fries so hard they not only snapped but splintered, though it was at least an improvement over last years hotel, whose meals contained far too much vegetation to be healthy.

After James' usual pep talk about lights out times and alcohol restrictions, at which many of the younger ones looked rather disappointed, not understanding the crucial yet subtle wording, vis a vis he does not want to see underage kids drinking, which is not actually forbidding them from the pleasures of alcohol. Mentioning precisely which bar he will be spending the night in is not merely background information, it gives a specific location to be avoided.

Anyway, after the speech we hit the town, or more accurately descended en masse to the only bar still open. James had said quite specifically that he didn't care what we older ones did, since we don't go to the school any more we're not his responsibility and are old enough to know better, or at least be arrested.
This looks set to be a fun holiday!

11th July 2008
Subject: Germany Part 1

When my old Band master from secondary school asked last October whether i'd like to come back and join them for a trip to Germany i should have known better, but like a beaten wife returning to the husband, i didn't want to say no.

Things didn't start well for the Big Band grand tour of Germany. NST, the company who "organised" the trip for us sent the coach to Birmingham instead of the school in Ripon. It was hammering down with rain and we ended up crammed into the art room. 42 of us crammed into a space that's cosy with 20. Most of us are a bit tetchy at six in the morning, but when it turns out we could have had an extra two hours in bed the atmosphere becomes tense.
We eventually acquired transport, a favour called in from a friend of a friend of a slightly less good friend who happens to own a coach company, and we travelled through the Monsoon to Birmingham only to get hopelessly lost in the twisty rabbit-warren that is Birmingham inner city. The town hall needle nestling somewhere in the second largest haystack in Britain.

Going from Ripon to Hull via Birmingham won't make much sense to those familiar with England's Geography but there were reasons, honest.
The Big Band finally made it through to the final of Music for Youth. We'd only been trying for seven years. Unfortunately the final was the same day we left for Germany and it was too late to change dates.
By the time we'd finished it was pushing three o'clock, loading the coach took another half hour, thus leaving us ninety minutes before the five o'clock check in at Hull. Birmingham to Hull is a two and a half hour trip at the best of times, and Friday rush hour is not the best of times. The ferry left at seven o'clock, we got there at quarter to, plenty of time.
Dinner was the Four Seasons buffet, half the reason i went was the buffet on the outward journey, the other half is the buffet on the return trip.

Later in the bar we suffered the boats resident (or should that be captive?) band, Nightqueen. A bunch of fairly talentless musicians who presumably couldn't get a job at Tesco.
Evidently not fussed as to which genre of music they slaughter, they decimated Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers, The Darkness, David Bowie, Don McLean, hang on i'm spotting a D theme here, maybe they work on the other letters one by one. When they get to ZZ Top and The Zutons the audience probably will up sticks and move to the piano bar upstairs.

4th July 2008
Subject: Independence Day

The day when American's insist on celebrating the day we cut them loose, or according to Hollywood, were invaded by Aliens who can be wiped out by the Jolly Roger virus. Whilst Independence Day with a brilliant film, i want to talk about one thats...less good.

Teeth, a film about a girl who has teeth in a rather unusual location. She's not the best looking girl in the world, yet everyone one insists on trying to sleep with her. All of them get a nasty surprise.
Lets start with the basics, the cinematics were confusing, the script was feeble, the acting totalling lacking in feel or enthusiasm and the underlying plot almost non-existant. And, as with all the best horror films, the Japanese got there first.

Kiseichuu: kiraa pusshii, or in English, Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy. Very similar idea, except that several girl develop the 'condition'. Whilst it is dripping in japanese cheese, the entertainment value is far superior to the Septic's version. It only an hour long, but thats a good length for it, it means it doesn't outstay its welcome and become boring. Whats more, the girls are far more attractive which makes watching more interesting and the plot line more convincing.

The Japanese version is far more fun to watch, and lets not forget that entertainment is the primary function of the silver-screen. A film that you don't enjoy watching has failed at the most basic level.
So if you want to be entertained, 'acquire' (rent, legally! Aren't i a hypocrite!) a copy of Kiseichuu, subtitles optional. If you enjoy throwing money away, go and see Teeth.

30th June 2008
Subject: Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

It's not every day that one receives an email from their mother to say their father has just bought a Rolls Royce. But a week ago exactly that happened. He had an idea that he could hire it out to weddings and the like, and knowing him he'll make it work somehow.

He bought himself a 1988 Silver Spirit, in almost immaculate condition. There's the odd nick in the paintwork, and the electric passenger seat is temperemantal, but otherwise its like new.
It doesn't have any toys on it that the Volvo or BMW haven't, but for a twenty year old car theres enough to play with. What a Roller is really about though is the feeling of absolute quality when you're sat in it. The glove box for instance, none of that plastic clunk like modern cars, a solid slab of walnut descends on a damped slider with a gentle hiss. The window switches have a very definite chunky motion. The ride quality is unbelievable, even on a rough farm track in glides over the bumps like its riding on silk. And i haven't got to the engine yet.
The huge 6.75 litre V8 doesn't even produce 200 bhp, but the torque makes up for that. The acceleration isn't sudden like the BMW or as electric as the Volvo. Its more a relentless surge pushing you toward the horizon. Depress the throttle and nothing much seems to happen, the speedometer just starts to climb, but it keeps on climbing, at the same rate, up to a top speed we haven't dared find out yet. Yet all the while, the cabin noise never increases, nor does the engine. Its a very satisfying rumble, even if it has a serious knock on effect at the pumps. The 160 litre fuel tank can cause pain to the person unlucky enough to fill it. Which is why it is being converted to gas at the earliest opportunity.

And the price for all this: six thousand pounds. This is a hell of a lot of car, for less than a new Fiat Panda.

27th June 2008
Subject: Another year down.

Another year of education finished. Whilst Get-Me-Smashed week may have done its bit for liver destruction, some of us still have to get home. So having scoured the room for lost coins ans shooting down the beercan tower for the third time, we packed our worldly goods into respective cars and escaped.

Get-Me-Smashed week turned out not to be as much fun as i'd hoped. Indeed, quite what was special about getting smashed this week instead of any other never became clear, whilst one is at university its the major passtime, and to hell with the consequences. All that was new was the ball on Tuesday night, with a Hog Roast (good!) and a foam party (not so good!). Generous amounts of hog down the gullet, particularly when its free should be enough to cheer anyone up. However, i personally avoided the foam party like the plague. Last time i went to one, my skin was so red-raw the next morning it felt like i'd been shaved with a broken window. Bearing in mind my skin shrugs off Hydrochloric Acid, Caustic Soda and Cuprinol as though they were mere water, it was odd to find i had such a bad reaction. I never caught up with anyone else who was there to ask if they had a similar reaction or if it was just me, but i wasn't taking any chances this time.

The other parts of the week were Zanzibar on Monday, a three-legged bar-crawl on Wednesday and Mad-fer-it on Friday. Having been to Zanzibar (its a nightclub) once already, which was three times too much, and Mad-fer-it (another nightclub) a few times, mainly under sufference, neither of them held much interest. Im used to the quiet life up north, life moves much slower for us, so a dark room full of excessively loud noise and sozzled students vomiting down each others shirts isn't my idea of a night out. WHat i like is a few pints in a quiet pub with some light conversation and the odd game of pool.
The three-legged bar crawl also wasn't an option since CJ decided to have her birthday bar-crawl on the same evening, which was far more my sort of evening for the reasons above, that is until we got to The Venue (the SUs own nightclub), where it went to pieces. Their repertoire every Wednesday shows a crippling lack of variation, the changes week-by-week adding up to a total of none. However, they seem to try countering this with the volume control, displaying the same mindset as most amateur bands, that by making it louder the music becomes better. Alas no, the result is merely deafening crap rather than just loud crap. Maybe i've missed the point of nightclubs, but if i haven't then i stand by my earlier point, they're not for me.

12th June 2008
Subject: Bring this man over here! We need him!

To those of you not familiar with Joe Arpaio, He is the Maricopa County Sheriff (Arizona) and he keeps getting elected over and over again.

These are some of the reasons why:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio created the 'tent city jail' to save Arizona from spending tens of millions of dollars on another expensive prison complex.

He has jail meals down to 20 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them.

He banned smoking and pornographic magazines in the jails, and took away their weightlifting equipment and cut off all but 'G' movies (thats 'U' to us Brits). He says:
'They're in jail to pay a debt to society, not to build muscles so they can assault innocent people when they leave.'

He started chain gangs to use the inmates to do free work on county and city projects and save taxpayer's money.

Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn't get sued for discrimination.

He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked up the cable TV again but only allows the Disney channel and the weather channel.
When asked why the weather channel, he replied: 'So these morons will know how hot it's gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs.'

He cut off coffee because it has zero nutritional value and is therefore a waste of taxpayer money. When the inmates complained, he told them, 'This isn't the Ritz/Carlton. If you don't like it, don't come back.'

He also bought the Newt Gingrich lecture series on US history that he pipes into the jails. When asked by a reporter if he had any lecture series by a Democrat, he replied that a democratic lecture series that actually tells the truth for a change would be welcome and that it might even explain why 95% of the inmates were in his jails in the first place.

With temperatures being even hotter than usual in Phoenix (116 degrees just set a new record for June 2nd 2007), the Associated Press reported: About 2,000 inmates living in a barbed wire surrounded tent encampment at the Maricopa County Jail have been given permission to strip down to their government-issued pink boxer shorts.

On the Wednesday, hundreds of men wearing pink boxer shorts were overheard chatting in the tents, where temperatures reached 128 degrees.
'This is hell. It feels like we live in a furnace,' said Ernesto Gonzales, an inmate for 2 years with 10 more to go. 'It's inhumane.'
Joe Arpaio, who makes his prisoners wear pink, and eat bologna sandwiches, is not one bit sympathetic. 'Criminals should be punished for their crimes - not live in luxury until it's time for parole, only to go out and commit more crimes so they can come back in to live on taxpayers money and enjoy things many taxpayers can't afford to have for themselves.'

The same day he told all the inmates who were complaining of the heat in the tents: 'It's between 120 to 130 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and they have to walk all day in the sun, wearing full battle gear and get shot at, and they have not committed any crimes, so shut your damned mouths!'

Way to go, Sheriff! If all prisons were like yours there would be a lot less crime and we would not be in the current position of running out of prison spaces!

5th June 2008
Subject: Freedom!

This is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning. Exams being the bane of ones education, but they are necessary, if only for to have something to look forward to when they're over. So after rolling into uni at nine-thirty for the last time this year, two hours later i was free.

Chemists can be a boring lot! Most subject areas, when the exams are over, go straight to the bar and spend the afternoon getting solidly liquidated! Not us, oh no! We'd far rather disappear to our respective homes and spend the afternoon watching tv it seems, since that's precisely what happened. Given that i've yet to find a girl who doesn't glaze over at the mention of valve timing or Perl syntaxs i'm still single (not that this doesn't have its advantages!) so i did likewise. Five hours straight Top Gear, bliss!

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but at least there is occasionally a cheap barbecue. So when Ben came to my window about five asking if i wanted to go to the Geology BBQ i was out like a shot. It wasn't quite the same small friendly affair we had with scouts a few weeks ago, to be honest it was packed, but they'd clearly been to Makro and stocked up on food which they needed a hand getting rid of, always happy to oblige!

Uni life, fantastic!

22nd May 2008
Subject: Doomsday

Watching Films in the Cinema isn't something i do very often, the notion of handing over money in exchange for a movie having become slightly alien over a few years. I will admit though that a full cinema screen with surround sound and decent sub-woofers does beat a 1280x800 LCD and tinny laptop speakers. Still, as a linux user the copy-protection and DRM found on DVDs doesn't really have any effect so buying the DVD to watch it comes a distand second to copying someone elses.

To the point then, yesterday i went to see Doomsday with some scout friends. With a combination of NUS cards and Orange Wednesdays we got in for £2.75 each so it didn't break the bank. Unfortunatly the film wasn't even worth that.

It began with high hopes, the thought of sectioning off Scotland due to some deadly virus outbreak isn't the best way to win over the audience, i personally quite like the Scots, but that was assuaged when i noticed they'd included Newcastle in the Quarantine zone so every cloud...
Unfortunatly it didn't improve, the violence and gore appeared to have come from a graphics designer who'd watched Saw and thought he could do better. It didn't really seem to fit and detracted from the plot, not that there was much to begin with. The story was as though the scripts from Braveheart, Gladiator, Waterworld, Mad Max and the 'Happiness in Slavery' video by Nine Inch Nails had blown away in the wind and only a few pages were recovered and stuck together with gaffer tape. You could almost hear the clunking noise as the scenes fell into each other.

Lets pick out a few details; an APC window cannot be broken from the oustide by a man with a hatchet. The guns took inspiration from Quickdraw McGraw in the number of bullets they managed to compress into one cartridge. A circuit board will not make an effective lock pick, no matter how good at it you are. A steam engine takes slightly more than thirty seconds to go from cold to fully operational. A human cannot outrun a motorbike, even one adorned with horned skulls. A Bentley Continental can easily outrun a Pickup truck. And lastly, that same Continental would not survive driving through a bus with the front intact and only light scratches to the bodywork.

In conclusion, its another commercial knockout with about as much depth as a kids play-pool and nothing you haven't seen before.

If you're obsessed with seeing every latest film thats out you can do worse, but for the rest of us, save your money and spend it on something better, like a bag of chips.

15th May 2008
Subject: A dabble with Sam & Ella

Being impressionable in this day and age could widely be regarded as a bad thing, if we followed every scrap of health advice from the government or other HSE fuelled organisations we'd all be trapped indoors eating tinned potatoes and boiled cabbage. Except we couldn't have any form of vegetation because of the pesticides used to grow them, if we bought inorganic they'll be riddled with pests due to lack of spraying. Meat of any description will instantly cause a heart attack. Fish will give us mercury poisoning. Fruit from this country is out of the question for the same reason as vegetables, from any other country the pollution due to transport getting it here will plunge us into another ice-age. Processed foods cause diabetes and cholesterol poisoning, on which note eggs should be banned as they're pretty much neat cholesterol, alcohol is the scourge of humanit..........[ping]

The point is this, with all the health advice flying around these days we seem to have moved on from the basic "fat = bad" to producing definitive lists of everything that will kill you, a range of such diversity that they encompass every food stuff known to man. Except the avocado for some reason.

The slightest mention of a barbecue probably causes the people who make these lists to convulse with terror, but that's part of what makes them so good. The warm feeling in the back of the mind that we're annoying the HSE on several levels, fire, smoke, thorough cooking, carbon etc.

Barbecues have always seemed faintly odd, after putting great effort into lighting it then making it die down again, one lays food across it, then spends the next half hour or so frantically rearranging it like a draughts player on speed. And the result? Charred, blackened lumps of chicken that you'd send back if it arrived anywhere else. Logic defies the analysis but somehow they're still great.

Barbecuing seems largely to be the preserve of the male, and with good reason. A woman would take the logical option and cook the food inside, in an oven or on a hob. It takes the stubbornness of a man to persevere, swear, blaspheme, burn themselves, curse some more, and then eventually emerge supreme no matter how Pyrrhic the victory. So since it involves fire we Scouts took to it like a duck to water.

Charcoal isn't the easiest thing in the world to light, to alleviate this manufacturers have now taken to pre-packaging manageable quantities in paper bags to facilitate the process. Great idea, but we'd never come across this before. A word of warning, piling up five bags of this, dousing it in lighter fluid and throwing a match in may be a very efficient way of trimming a beard (as i can testify) but for cooking food the resultant 12-foot beacon isn't really appropriate. Thirty minutes is the time the packaging claims the barbecue should take to be ready, ours burnt out almost completely in ten.

When we'd finally got the hang of it things settled down. We'd bought enough food to feed a bus but only 10 people showed up. Not that this troubled us, more to go round. Its now the morning after and so far no-one has made abusive phone calls complaing of food poisoning, though theres still time, so i think we can declare victory on this one.

12th May 2008
Subject: Love, hate, marriage and consequence

Q: Whats the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral?
A: One less drunk

This weekend saw the wedding of my cousin Sarah to some bloke i met once in passing, so i'm told. He completely failed to make any impression then and things haven't much changed since. Still, the whole point of someone else's wedding is the bar and buffet at the reception so good luck to the pair of them.

The most important thing to work out at the beginning of any evening is who's paying the bar bill. Sadly this time it was us drinkers, thus giving the kiss of death to the two sweetest words to any students ears: "Free Bar". Fortunatly i was there with parents, negating the hemorrhaging effect on the wallet, or at least, my wallet. Student discounts in bars at uni in the south only really serve to level the price to the same level it would normally be at home in the north, which makes hotel prices even more painful, they seem to be a necessary evil though so far, which is why i normally avoid them like the plague. Flashing the vast array or discount cards i've aquirred in my wallet didn't help the situation, so dad paid. Result!

The buffet was better, subscribing to the Hana-Barbera princle of the same four items repeating themselves down the room. Thats fine though, thats the formula that makes them work, if there were too much choice then each set of greedy fingers would only get one of everything, making it impossible to find out what you like then go back to scoff inordinate quantities of it. A small selection yet copious volume of chicken legs, kebab sticks, mini-kievs and other finger food is best and thats exactly what we got, as well as some salady things for the tree-huggers in the room.

The speeches thankfully passed by relatively quickly, a lot of toasting was involved, who to or what for i never worked out, regarding them as annoying distractions from the buffet. The DJ got it into his head that he could sing, albeit Meatloaf and Queen, serving as further evidence (as if it were needed) that there is no God, as no lightning bolt appeared to smite him on the spot.

Overall though, it was good fun, if only serving to highlight the immutable fact that other peoples weddings are invariably less regrettable than your own.

8th May 2008
Subject: Baked Beans are off!

People sometimes ask me where i get inspiration to write this from. Well okay, one person vaguely alluded to it a while back, but its the kind of question i'd like to be asked so i'll answer it anyway. The simplest answer would just be 'i don't know' and then move on but that doesn't really fill pages or incite the reader to keep coming back. The more complex answer is that i spend ages (maybe five minutes) thinking up a title, then open the first paragraph with something completely unrelated and work back to the reference i originally had in mind. Sometimes it works a treat, sometimes i get so far into the opening gambit that i've forgotten what i originally had in mind but it doesn't matter since i measure my human worth by the bandwidth meter. This causes some articles to appear longer than natural like what those badly written spam emails seem to think i ought to be. At this point the title might start to make more sense but if not don't worry, much, its just that you need some culture instilling into you like a whale needs a hole in the head!

The spam folder on any webmail account is bound to be taxed by those companies who seem to think that filling your mailbox with badly written dirge is going to make you well disposed to their product. I've never understood the mindset myself but then most people don't understand my mindset so maybe thats not surprising. A brief trawl through the Spam folder on my Gmail account turns up three major categories, plus a smaller misc subset which i'll come to later. It had never occurred to me before how many ways Rolex could be spelt, R0lex, Ro1ex, Rol3x, R0l3x, RQl3x, 2Q13><, you get the idea. All of them in pidgin English asking me to ring a number with too few digits to be real "for claiming to of free R0lex for good partnership of to business", whatever that means. One of these days if i get one with a realistic number then i'll ring it from a payphone somewhere and hold an air-horn to the mouthpiece if anyone answers, serves them right.

Category two, the old favourite: pills, creams, surgery and christ knows what to enlarge the membrum virile of the recipient because "b1g p3nis is wh4t wom3n want". I won't open this particular can of worms here but suffice to say that this category outsizes all the other spam i receive, so either someone out there is targetting me or this is the genre of spam which generates most responses. Perhaps playing on insecurities is one of the best weapons they have left.

Category 2a, same idea as above but offering breast enlargement instead. Now, working on the assumption that the larger half of internet users are male (the divide is shrinking but i'm sure its still there), or at least more of the traffic generated is by men, offering mammory inflation seems like a shot in the foot, unless its some attempt at applying this so-called 'Age of Equality' to the interweb. Any mention of this usually prompts the inevitable demented honking from the feminist camps desperate to pummel us into a politically-correct and socially-equitable mush but since my email client possesses* a rather useful button labelled 'Delete' i'll take my chances. Why i get emails declaring hatred and death i've never understood, i only write stuff in my (limited) spare time then post it and forget, so go bother someone else.

The third category is why the most amusing spam lurks, often undiscovered. The Nigerian Business man style emails dropped off a couple of years ago but returned like a brick to the forehead in recent weeks, only now theyre trying to be clever about it. Heres one i picked out specifically:

Office: Minister of State On Foreign and Commonwealth
Minister: The Rt. Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG
Address: King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH England.
Telephone: 070 2401 9991
Fax: 087 0471 9836
Attn To: Foreign/Commonwealth Beneficiary
Sir/Madam, Payment of Your Contract/Inheritance/Award Winning Fund Via an International Certified Bank Draft. This is to inform you that the Prime Minister of England has stepped into the non-payment of your outstanding fund with Nigerian Government. The instruction to pay you was given by the Prime Minister himself, Rt. Hon Gordon Brown MP; following the Intelligence Report on Foreign Payment he received from The United Nation on behalf of Foreign Beneficiaries, which revealed that some Financial Institutions are engaging themselves in the practice of payment delay through unnecessary use of bureaucratic office processes and in most cases, impose unauthorized fees. To curtail and put a stop to this misconduct and deliberate delay of payment under one flimsy reasons or the other, this office is mandated by Rt. Hon Gordon Brown MP to Facilitate and Raise your full payment in this earlier Second Quarter Payment of 2007 Fiscal Year, and to ensure that such payments are received by the Beneficiary within a short period of Five (5) working days, starting from this day of notice [...16 lines deleted...] your payment will be release/paid to you via an INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED BANK DRAFT, which will be either in your Name or in the name of your Company as you may deem appropriate. And once the draft is made-out and signed-off by you, and then you will be required to deposit/tender it to your bank for the confirmation and crediting of fund into your own account. Finally, any contractor or depositor who does not prefer draft payment and wants fund remittance via Telegraphic Transfer is advised to apply officially to this office without delay. This may take a little longer time for the approval. You are advice to contact this office on the above lines once you receive this notice for further details concerning your payment. Sincerely yours,
David Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Now its just a hunch, but i don't think David Miliband uses a Yahoo account for official purposes. Furthermore, i don't know Miliband, but i suspect his English is rather more refined than this, and he would also be familiar with the concept of paragraphs, he wouldn't mix up the year (i received this two days ago), the phone numbers would be real, he would have written a letter and addressed it from a real minister. Lets face it, they can find us easy enough when it comes to taxes and other charges that drain our pay-packets.

Does anyone actually fall for these, i presume people do otherwise the scammers wouldn't keep writing them. Sadly this leaves the rest of us straining under a perpetual dirge of inane crap when all we wanted was a few viral videos. Further proof (as if it were needed) that the gene pool needs chlorinating!

* 'Possesses' feels strange to type, its like writing 'qwerty', or 'stewardessess'.

3rd May 2008
Subject: Crash and Burn

With the advent of exams and the dreaded revision process starting to take hold i haven't been able to update as often as i'd like. Normal service will be resumed after 5th June when i get my life back, in the mean time it may be rather intermittent.

So it seems that New Labour are sinking as surely and terminally as the Titanic, Gordan Brown is now officially less successful than the man who was thought to be Labours worst ever leader, Michael Foot, who lost spectacularly to the Tories in 1983. Since history often has a habit of repeating itself, Brown must surely know that he has as much chance at winning the next election as Alun Buffry of the LCA, though if Buffry were to win it would be hilarious! After slipping into third place in the recent local election, behind even the Liberal Democrats, Labour has some serious bouncing to do if they want any chance at staying in power at the next General Election, which if they win i will run naked through the streets of York singing the Birdy Song!

Speaking of bad ideas, congratulations to Boris Johnson for becoming the new mayor of London. Boris's leadership could go two ways, total disaster or raging success, and one of the things we know and love about Boris is that he could very easily go either way! I want him to make a success of it, because i want him for Prime Minister, and i believe many readers will agree with me. As Boris himself puts it: "lets get cracking tomorrow, lets have a drink today!"

28th April 2008
Subject: The Nanny State

Perhaps i've missed the point with Health and Safety, perhaps they really are only trying to keep us safe and stop us mutilating ourselves in a variety of creative ways. Or perhaps they're trying to invade our lives like an aggressive cancer and nail down every aspect of existence into a padded cell lest we haven't got the nous to protect ourselves. I suspect the latter is more the case, and experience has done little to assuage this. The best way to give a HSE officer a near heart attack is just to wave a piece of asbestos at him (or more regularly, her, for reasons as yet unclear), the presence of such a terrifyingly dangerous chemical (not!) puts them into overdrive and their brain short-circuits. In case you haven't got any asbestos handy a barbecue does nearly as well which brings me to the point i was trying laboriously to get to.

Summer is a time for cold beer, sunbathing girls, water fights and barbecues, at least in the few hours we can fit around the drizzle and wind. HSE seems to have other ideas though, i'm already not allowed a fridge in my dorm room because it hasn't been PAT tested (not that its going to stop me!) and now the powers that be have decided we can't have barbecues either because apparently they catch fire. (Isn't that the idea?) This is ridiculous, like the hard hats that Tesco engineers have to wear even when they're doing nothing more dangerous than mending floor tiles. Naturally, being students, we're not going to let a small thing like rules hold us back so full steam ahead with the charcoal and Boddingtons and let the HSE stick their regulations where only customs dare to probe!

21st April 2008
Subject: Wixboxstation 3

When gaming ceases to be a pass time slotted in around the many daily tasks of life and starts to dictate your weekly schedule then things may have gone a bit awry, As a child i was never (un)fortunate enough to own a game console, at the time rather more basic affairs like the Sega Megadrive. Reassuringly pixelated monocartridged joystick powered square boxes. Rather than today's sleeker, brushed aluminium or iPod-white plastic, DVD reading contraptions, each offering a new and innovative way of controlling the proponent on screen. Being devoid of such a method with which to sabotage my youth i sought solace in the class of game more readily found on the PC. Since the PC back then was more of a luxury than a staple (seems hard to imagine now) and was nowhere near as high powered as the laptop I'm typing on, or for that matter the phone in my pocket, the games were either puzzles or adventure. Based more around strategy and story than point gun and keep pressing until everything dies. I'm generalising i know but it makes the point easier to get to.

Once i'd mastered Myst, Riven, Minesweeper and Robots, moving on to a console is like moving from a bike to a lawnmower. The controls feel unnatural and awkward. FPSs are difficult to get used to, the experience being somewhat crippled by the lack of a mouse. The Wii takes this one better by doing away with the gamepad and forcing the player to wave a plastic cuboid around like a mental patient. Aside from the imminent risk to all surrounding objects and the potential for rather embarrassing bruises resulting from items you hadn't noticed until you swing an invisible tennis racket into them, the movement sensors leave much to be desired, the the character's actions on screen bearing only rudimentary correlation to the manic baton twirling expected of the Wii-mote by the player.

18th April 2008
Subject: Machine Gun

Its good to see Portishead back on the scene. Sat here watching them on Later with Jools Holland and pleased to see they're still as low-fi, simple, electronic and brilliant as ever. Always one to avoid stereotyping, their first two albums were not a huge media success. I loved them, but they seemed to sink out of sight during their ten year gap, at least up here in the north. Their new single, Machine Gun, is fantastic to listen to, can't wait 'til the album comes out.

14th April 2008
Subject: Two, Four, Six, Eight, Verminate!

Pest control can be a controversial subject, particularly among teenage girls in whose eyes the Rabbit is a gorgeous, cute, furry, bunny that couldn't possibly do any harm to anything. The reality is that the countryside is crawling with them and they eat crops like there's no tomorrow. As such they're a pest and thereby need controlling. Standard methods involve traps, poison and gas; but there's such a better method:

Its made in America, and trades under the name of the Rodenator! It fills the Warren with an Oxygen and Propane mixture, and ignites it. Cue large grin spreading over face and whooping noise. A chemist's dream come true, getting paid to set of underground bombs for a week!

Whilst the workings may be simple, using the device is even easier. Stick the bulbous nozzle down a hole in the ground, hold the trigger for about thirty seconds, say a brief prayer and press the ignite button. The deep burrows make a dull thud and the earth shakes, the shallow ones produce a blast like a cannon and shower everything in the area with earth. Its not just for rabbits, it works well on rats, shrews, mice and any other burrowing animal.
Moles are particularly fun, because their tunnel is only a few inches below the ground, when the trigger ignites you're left in no doubt as to the route, because it blows a five inch deep network of trenches into the farmer's crop within a fifty foot radius, and he never asks you to deal with any moles ever again.

Defra always seem to do their best to obstruct pest control on account of it causing damage to the environment. The fact that this is more or less the whole point apparently has not occurred to them. Hence any effective poison, trap, gas, or other chemical attack is taken off the market, leaving only the almost wholly useless Phostoxin (which removes oxygen from the burrow, doesn't work in anything above a mild breeze!) and the .22 rifle as viable options. Fortunately though the Rodenator is still legal (for now) and i get to ply with one for a week. Whoopee!

24th March 2008
Subject: A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist

Finally got round to watching the new Knight Rider tonight, it isn't being shown on TV over here in the UK so i had to find an...alternate...source (wink wink). I wasn't expecting much, another bad sequel which should have been kicked in the teeth before it even got to the producers.

And i must say that i'm disappointed! Because it was good. Part of me wanted to hate it, wanted to say that they should have left Knight Rider in peace and moved on, rather than attempting beat the dead horse so vigorously they could at least pretend it was twitching. But what actually unfurled on the screen before was cleverly written, brilliantly produced and above all, perfectly watchable. Its still not as good as the original, but only because the original defined the formula, so any changes are naturally going to grate a little. However they haven't gone overboard with the contemporary updating, it still preserves the essence of Knight Rider while at the same time bringing it straight into the 21st Century with as little teething trouble as possible. I only hope that if a full series is commissioned, they show it on this side of the Atlantic as well.

The new series is a direct continuation of the original four seasons, set twenty five years further down the line. Professor Charles Graiman, who helped build the original KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) has built a new car also dubbed KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand). Many of the same features are to be found in the new model, along with a host of contemporary updates such as satellite imaging and GPS. The armour this time around is also different, 2000 had a molecular bonded shell which could resist attack from nearly all conventional weapons, 3000 on the other hand has a nanotechnology based surface which automatically repairs any damage it sustains. This surface is deactivated if the computer is shut down and KITT becomes as vulnerable as an ordinary car.
However, the events of the 1991 made-for-tv film Knight Rider 2000 appear to have been forgotten. Set in the year 2000, guns have been outlawed. Police are now armed with ultrasonic tasers. Imprisoned criminals are cryogenically frozen until their sentence is finished. KITT has been dismantled and a new car has been built, KIFT (Knight Industries Four Thousand). Michael Knight has left the foundation but is persuaded to return by Devon to drive the new car in a demonstration to the mayor. He reactivates KITT's computer and mounts it in his old '57 Chevy until the new car is ready. One of his missing chips turns up in the head of a policewoman, Shawn McCormick, who was shot and left for dead by Thomas J Watts, the head of a conspiracy to rearm criminals so the city have no choice but to give the police their guns back. They join forces but attract the attention of the bad guys, KITT saves them by driving off the end of the pier knowing that the watertight passenger compartment will protect them, but water shorts out his CPU in the process. Meanwhile Devon is shot and ends up in hospital where he is murdered by Watts. Michael transplants KITT's CPU into KIFT and they go after the rogue police officers who are attempting to smuggle guns out of the city. After intercepting a conversation between the Mayor and Watts they intercept the maverick cops in a shopping mall and capture Watts. The Mayor is imprisoned in the the same cell from which Watts was released, Michael goes back to his secluded lifestyle and KITT & Shawn go back to the foundation.
The movie was originally intended as a pilot for a follow up tv series, but despite high ratings the plan was dropped. Shame.

21st March 2008
Subject: Grand reopening!

After a long dark winter of silence, Newby Hall once again echoed with the sound of voices, footsteps and rustling leaves. Unfortunately the rain rather took the edge of the day visitor's enthusiasm, only a couple hundred through the gates. Room for improvement certainly but we've had worse starts. It remains to be seen if we'll beat last years record on Easter Sunday, though the weather for cast doesn't look hopeful. Part of me is relieved, 1337 people on the train in one day is too many, a normal busy day sees 700 or so gracing us with their presence. Parking is a nightmare as well when we have the better part of 4000 people in through the gates, there just isn't room at Newby for that many. It filled the gravel carpark, the grass carpark, the overflow carpark and the field opposite.

When i was there over Christmas my boss was agonising over the effects of the Credit Crunch on visitors this year, however i expect it to be very good for business. And the reason is simple, people are less likely to afford a holiday, or if they do it may be a truncated affair. This means they will be more inclined to go on day trips or visits. This year might be nearly as profitable as 2001, when foot-and-mouth saw over 200,000 visitors flocking through the gates, up by over a third from 2000. One can only wait and see.

17th March 2008
Subject: The best laid plans...

Some would say that driving a miniature train for a job doesn't really constitute work, i'd argue that while the actual driving may not be that difficult, the maintenance can be a right royal PITA. Fortunately though, since David is one of the more organised members of the staff (not a difficult achievement in itself!) he'd finished everything he needed to do over winter. Downside to that is, i ended up working for Adam for this week, shovelling! The paths at Newby Hall are covered with very fine gravel, the bane of mothers with prams, turning a gentle stroll into a ceaseless push. Sixty tonnes between two people in one day is good going by anyones standards, by by jingo do you pay the price when you get home! Even a two hour soak in a bath does little to shift the aches and pains. Squeezing a tractor through a gap two inches wider than the wheel arches with priceless works of art at stake also doesn't help to relax the nerves, its easier than shifting it all by barrow, and more fun in the long run, though ultimately nerve wrecking at the time.

14th March 2008
Subject: Micro$oft never learn

This week, Microsoft released detail and specs of its next Operating System, codenamed Windows 7, to the committee that oversees its US anti-trust compliance. So far they're keeping schtum on details of the software, appearance, workings etc. Lets hope they learn from the "Vista Compatible" debacle, unfortunately if their past record is anything to go by they won't. I still maintain that their best product so far was Windows 98, because they took the time to get it right, seven years in the making. What did we get with Vista, five years of hype followed by a huge let down. Come on Microsoft, you're the largest software company in the world, do try to make an effort.

11th March 2008
Subject: Our communist state!

On Wednesday the Chancellor Alistair Darling will unveil the 2008 budget, and with it, a series of tax hikes on motoring. The government is still planning to press ahead with a 2p increase in fuel duty, to take effect from April 1st 2008, despite increasing fears over the state of the economy and new record oil prices being set each week. Oil prices reached a record $107.44 on Monday morning.

Figures from show that the price of unleaded has shot up 18.1p per litre in the last year. At the beginning of March 2007 a litre of unleaded cost 88p. Both unleaded and diesel are at record highs - unleaded is now 106.1p per litre and diesel is 112.5p.

Despite the impact record prices are having on motorists, on the haulage industry and on inflation, it's likely believe that the Chancellor will push through the price rise anyway. Many believe he is scared of being labelled as a hypocrite - this year's budget has been billed as the 'Green Budget', and cutting fuel duty would not be in line with the overall message the government wants to convey.

Other methods of taxing motorists are expected to be announced too, for example taxing gas guzzling cars out of existence, by adding a 'showroom' tax of £2000 to the most heavily polluting cars, and colour coding tax disks by carbon emissions. This would make it easier for local councils to identify and penalise high polluters, possibly by charging 4x4 owners more for parking.

But why does the Chancellor need this extra revenue? Rising fuel prices caused by oil price rises have been bad for motorists, but good for the government. Compared to the Pre-Budget Report in October, figures suggest that the Treasury has received an extra £1.2 billion in revenue because of the tax on North Sea oil. This means Mr Darling could easily afford to scrap the 2p increase, which estimates suggest would cost £1 billion.

To be honest, they can continue pushing prices up. It's only a matter of time until it will not be worth going to work once we have factored in fuel, cost of parking (goes to council), council tax, income tax & NI. Then paying for everything else in our lives, which benefits would cover. For anyone outside London, particularly us up North, we cannot get jobs on our doorsteps. We HAVE to travel, there is NO WAY to travel on the public transport. So benefits could soon, if this continues, be the most viable career.

If you haven't heard the term 'Peak Oil'; brace yourself as you'll be hearing it a lot more in the years to come. It's been a whispered term for many years, much like "global warming" was back in the 60's.

In 1956, geophysicist Dr. M. King Hubbert predicted that oil production in the USA would reach its peak around 1970 and then go into a state of decline. He also predicted that global oil production would peak around the late 90's/early 21st century. He plotted the increase, peak and decrease of oil production on a graph; and his theory is popularly known as Hubbert's Peak.

Dr Hubbert also flagged with the world the issue not only of declining oil production, but the increasing cost associated in extracting what oil remained after the "low hanging fruit" had been picked.

There is no doubt that the cost of oil production in recent times has been huge - not only in the exploration and production itself in financial terms; but also in terms of environmental damage caused. Added to that has been the huge military expense and associated human suffering caused through wars that have been pushed on the public by their governments as being issues of national safety rather than their true motivation - control of oil reserves. The war in Iraq is a classic example of that.

Dr Hubbert was ridiculed by many when he released his research; but his predictions appear to have come true. USA oil production did indeed go into rapid decline around 1971.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel of countries whose members sit on around two-thirds of the world's oil reserves have been in a state of public denial about peak oil theory for many years; but that seems to have changed recently also.

In the November/December 2006 issue of OPEC's publication; "OPEC Bulletin", on page 62 is an article by Dr Shokri Ghanem, Chairman of the People?s Committee, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) of Libya; discussing not the "if" of peak oil occurring; but "when" and he acknowledges that we may already be in that timeframe.

Paints a rather grim picture for our oil addicted society doesn't it? If we're willing to invade a country now for oil, how much more aggressive will we be when supply really gets tight?

How does food get to your table? Do you grow it in your yard, or is it trucked in to your supermarket? How do you collect it; do you walk to the supermarket or drive? How do you get to work?

When the Iraq war and other geo-political issues pushed the price of oil to record levels; people stopped buying SUV's. Within a couple of weeks of a drop in prices; they went back to buying them again. It just goes to show how little we learn. We had a taste of what really expensive fuel was like, yet as soon as the pressure was backed off a little; we went straight back to our previous oil-greedy ways.

We won't learn, oil will have to run out or become so horribly expensive that only few can use it to any degree. What will it cost? How much will it impact on the cost of other items? How many more people will have to die and how much more will our environment suffer while we squeeze out the last viable drop of oil that the planet has to offer?

These are important issues to think about - don't rely on governments to provide the answers to a world without oil as they've all been in denial for way too long. Yes, there are renewable/alternative energy programs in place; but given the major role that oil plays in our lives; permeating just about every aspect; whether these new, cleaner technologies can be rolled out broadly before we hit the real crunch is something I'm not very confident of.

Lets look at the facts. The national defence needs an extra £1.5 billion from the tax payer. How is that going to save the environment?

Can you give an example where this money raised from the so called green tax has been used for the benefit of the environment?

We must also remember humans are not the only species on the planet. We are out numbered by other organisms which produce CO2 when they exhale. Look at volcanoes, the biggest source of pollution you can get, and its all natural.

One is tempted to ask to tax them.
Humans are so small in comparison to the earth there is no point in punishing one country in the world in the name of the environment. Start talking to China and the US Making the UK the greenest in the world will only result in economic collapse.

Its a shame normal people are no longer able to drive enjoyable cars really. We are living in a communist society dictated by goverment taxes, we are not free. The majority of rich people pay no tax, earn 80k a year and just lose the tax in their company, its a joke!

Let's scrap this increase and the last one and, more importantly, this Chancellor and the rest of this lying, corrupt gang of psychopaths in Westminster.

8th March 2008
Subject: Marmite, love it or ignore it, you can't hate it.

Always one to sing the praises of my favourite sandwich filler.

A little snippet of wisdom you may not be aware of. Marmite my hold the key to the middle east problem. The crisis is caused by aggression. Agression can be attributed to a lack of Zinc. Zinc can be obtained from yeast, fine for us in the west, but in the east bread is unleavened. Marmite, made from yeast, can fill this deficit of Zinc. So by exporting this product we can solve the violence in the middle east, it can't be any dafter than any of America's solutions.

Marmites production process is particularly unique. When beer is brewed yeast is added to the vat, when the vat is drained a sludgy brown residue remains on the walls, this residue is collected from some breweries and shipped to the Marmite factory, where it is purified and refined into Marmite, they basically just take the lumps out and smooth the mixture.

The structure of Marmite also holds some proof of how inter-related different sections of the natural world are. Imagine a haemoglobin, the major protein found in red blood cells, the exact structure is very complicated but in simple terms it is a large, circular blob of amino acids with an iron atom in the centre. The molecule transports oxygen by forming iron oxide from this iron atom. However, if one removes the iron atom from the protein and replaces it with a magnesium atom, you produce chlorophyll, the green, light absorbing protein in plants. But if instead of a magnesium atom you instead insert a zinc atom, you have the major component of Marmite, the yeast extract. Bear that in mind next time you feel superior to the natural world, you're only one atom different to a plant or a jar of Marmite!

5th March 2008
Subject: Alphabet-Photo

Heres an idea if you're trying to organise a night out, get everyone to bring a camera (preferably digital) and make it an alphabet-photo challenge. The rules are simple, each team takes 26 photos, of items starting with the letters A-Z, some are harder than others. Extra points are awarded for having a member of the team in every photo, but if two teams snap the same object for the same letter, they cancel out and no points are awarded for that letter. The scoring is kept simple so the judge can still work out who won even after the several pints they'll have got through in the bar whilst waiting for the teams to return.

After we won, a trip to the club to celebrate seemed reasonable, it was quite late so the tart fuel* was already flowing well. Call me soft if you like for wearing earplugs, but it means i can still hear the arguments when we get kicked out at two in the morning, avoiding the splitting headache that blights the larger half of my compatriates at that time.

*Tart Fuel, a slang term for alcopops.

29th Febuary 2008
Subject: Bank Charges

Being a northerner i dislike spending money, but i dislike even more someone else taking it from me. So when Halifax decide that i owe them £35 for a bounced transaction on Paypal i wasn't going to take it lying down, especially since my account was only eight pence short!

For those of you not familiar with Martin Lewis (this is addressed only at my British readership i'm afraid) he is the financial wizard who appears on many radio programs and also presents 'Make Me Rich' on ITV1. His website is

Back before coming to Uni this year i had some trouble extracting an overdraft from the Halifax which fans of this site might both remember. Fortunately they weren't so awkward this time, after sending a letter derived from one of the templates on Martin's site, for the sake of 8 pence they accepted they'd been too overzealous and gave me a full refund.

Party time tonight!

For anyone else who has received bank charges, i recommend you read his site and fight back, you'll be surprised how easy it can be!

27th Febuary 2008
Subject: How to make a solid chocolate easter egg

Never let it be said theres no useful material in this blog. Today i shall demonstrate how you too can turn a boring hollow egg into a scrumptious solid egg, using simple and basic cookery items. And if you're reading this at school and get caught you can say, truthfully, that this is an educational website.

The two main problems are these: 1) Heating chocolate directly causes it to burn very easily, 2) Pouring molten chocolate into a thin chocolate shell will quickly melt through it. We will address both of these problems in the process.

First we need to cut a hole in the egg. Place a sharp knife into boiling water and allow it to sit for a few minutes to heat up. This will cause the knife to melt the chocolate around it as it cuts and reduces the chance of the whole egg cracking. Ideally the hole should be about 3cm across. Keep the top to stick back on later.

Once the hole has been cut, place the egg and top in the freezer, this will stop it melting during handling and also help it keep the shape when molten chocolate is poured into it. Leave it for at least three hours to fully cool.

A chemists method of keeping temperatures down is to use an ice bath, and being a chemist i can assure you it works. To make my version, you require a roll of tape, a plastic food bag, a cd spindle cover (from a spindle of 100 discs) and some iced water. Fill the cover to about two inches below the rim, then tape the plastic bag open to the inside, so that when the egg is placed in the centre, the plastic bag prevents the water reaching the egg.

If you heated the chocolate directly, you'd end up with a layer of burnt cocoa welded to the inside of the pan on the moleculer level. Therefore we use another water bath. In an ideal world one heats the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, but i didn't have a bowl so a glass sufficed. Melt 50% ordinary milk or dark chocolate with 50% cooking chocolate, this makes the chocolate retain its consistancy when it resolidifies.

When the chocolate has melted, pour it into the egg residing in the bath of iced water, you may need to help it with a spoon. Continue melting more chocolate and adding to the gg until it is level with the rim. When the egg is full, place in the fridge to harden. Whilst it sets, fill the cap with molten chocolate and allow that to set. When both have hardened, use a little molten chocolate to stick the two back together.

If there is any molten chocolate left over, dig in with a spoon and enjoy, it always tastes so much better than when its cold.

Now use your imagination to enjoy your solid chocolate egg, maybe give it as a present, or just keep it to yourself.

24th Febuary 2008
Subject: Facebook lands Minnesota students in trouble

More than 100 students from Eden Prairie High School in Minneaplois have been suspended from activities or reprimanded after being shown drinking at parties over Christmas. While undoubtably posting such pictures after you signed a pledge not to drink alcohol, which anyone who joined a sports team at the school had to do, it does beg the question, what were teachers from the school doing looking up photos of their students on the internet anyway?

20th Febuary 2008
Subject: That car! There's no-one driving it!

Cars that drive themselves, even parking themselves at their destination, could be ready for sale within a decade, General Motors executives say. I disagree, driverless cars could be ready for sale tomorrow, if only they got their act together and built one.

All the technology is available, it started with cruise control, the ability to keep the car going at a steady speed. The evolution of that is radar-guided cruise control, which stops the car hitting the one in front.
Of course, the car will need to know where it is and where its going, thankfully theres a ready solution to that, and getting cheaper all the time. Sat-Nav is becoming more and more commonplace, and with the price of a reasonable unit sub-£100 its easy to obtain.
Citroen were next on the scene with their Lane-Departure warning system, the car senses the white line on the motorway and vibrates the seat if you drift over it, apart from the obvious benefits to single women, this evolved into the system found on the Lexus LS, a car which will actually steer itself back into the lane if you drift, couple that with its radar cruise control and it can auto-pilot down the motorway, we're getting close!

The Lexus LS's party trick is found when you need to park it. Drive past the space, select reverse gear and the image from the rear mounted camera appears on the screen. Tap a couple of buttons and the car drives itself perfectly into the space.

Mix all this technology together, which with modern computing power available in cars ought to be easy to do, and you would have a car which could very easily drive itself about. So why haven't we?

The short answer is probably that we, as a consumer, still aren't ready. We've all seen films like The Love Bug, Christine and The Car. We still don't trust machines that think for themselves. We still think back to HAL from 2001: A Space Oddessy. Hopefully, we'll get over that though, and soon!

16th Febuary 2008
Subject: Intel abandons OLPC

Six months after Intel and Negroponte settled their dispute and joined forces, Intel has pulled out again. The breakup apparantly comes after Negroponte asked Intel to stop selling its ClassmatePC while it was a part of the OLPC project. The XO B4 is currently based on an AMD chip. The Classmate PC was one of the main sources of disagreement before the union in July, Negroponte even went on 60 minutes in May and accused Intel of short-selling the Classmate to keep the XO "out of the hands of needy children."

Intel and OLPC were working on an Intel based XO, but the OLPC insisted Intel end its production of the Classmate. According to an Intel spokeswoman, the OLPC actually asked Intel to stop working with any company that produces low-cost laptops, like Asus with the EeePC.

The OLPC hasn't exactly had an easy time, even the 'Give one, Get One', program failed to drum up as much interest was was expected.

The final blow was when an Intel saleswoman tried to persuade a Peruvian official to drop the countries commitment to buy 270,000 XOs in favour of Intel PCs. This was the final straw for Negroponte, who demanded that Intel stop their attempts to undermine the groups sales, which translates into stopping production of the Classmate, Intel didn't agree and ended their partnership last month.

On the plus side, OLPC gets to keep the $18 million of funding that Intel contributed when they first joined up in July.

14th Febuary 2008
Subject: Bad COPP, and the curse of DRM

It seems that Amazon and Netflix are going out of their way to alienate customers by ramming Digital Rights Management down our throats at every turn. Imagine the horror of losing access to DRM-protected purchases by upgrading your PC monitor. In order to access the Watch Now service on Netflix's website, you had to give Microsoft's DRM sniffing program access to all of the files on your hard drive. If the software finds any non-Netflix video files, it revokes your rights to the content and invalidates the DRM. This means that you would lose all the movies that you may have purchased from services like Amazon's Unbox. Because your computer could send an unrestricted HDTV feed to a monitor, Hollywood decides to revoke your ability to stream 480 resolution video files from Netflix. In order to fix the problem, Netflix recommendeds that you downgrade to a lower res VGA setup.

The irony in all of this, is that the DRM that Hollywood is so much in love with, is really only harming their paying customers. When you do a DRM reset, it's not your pirated files that get revoked, it's the ones that you already paid for that are at risk. You're not allowed to watch low res Netflix files, even though you have the capability to download high def torrents? How does this make sense? It's almost as if the studios want their digital strategies to fail!

12th Febuary 2008
Subject: Alcohol and Sperm

Whilst it can be said i have as much enthusiasm for organised religion as i do for attending a Lilly Allen concert (see previous article) i do enjoy as good laugh based on it. So without further ado, i give you the prayer for students:

Our lager,
Which art in barrels-
Hallowed be thy drink.
Thy will be drunk,
(I will be drunk)
At home as in the tavern.
Give us this day our foamy head,
And forgive us our spillages.
As we forgive those who spill against us.
Lead us not into incarceration,
But deliver us from hangovers.
For thine is the beer,
The bitter and the lager,
Forever and ever-


In other news, a group of scientists are working on a rather unusual source of propulsion for nanobots, taking a page from reproductive biology they have decided to use the flagellum from a human sperm as a bsis for inventing a mini propellor. The sperm can swim at a rate of seven inches per hour, by comparison, if a six foot man swam the equivalent number of body lengths in an hour, his tally of 3.7 miles would smash the American long-distance swimming record. Good old sperm eh, where would we be without them?

10th Febuary 2008
Subject: Online Folly

Whilst nursing a desperate need to avoid losing any more of my life to the internet as it slowly takes over my entire life like HAL from 2001, the occaisional vapid breaths of fresh air running into your lungs when food becomes a necessity and i emerge blinking into the sunlight like a vampire cause one to realise that some method of combining various Social Networking, or as i call them Soul-Sucking, websites with one easy to use program would be a very useful idea. Naturally there already exist a few in the category but as yet none of them are really diverse enough to catch on fully. I'd got used to people asking for my email address instead of phone number but now they've moved on to asking for my Facebook nickname. The advent of MySpace and LiveJournal have already turned me into a disconnected social recluse, and while this could probably have described me quite well beforehand i don't want to make the problem worse by adding another online mouth to feed. Thats mainly why i contain most of my personal writing here, the other reason being that no-one in the IRC channels particularly cares.
The need to be a member of not just one but several social networks...

I'm going to pause here and question that phrase, social networks? "Ooh look at me, i've got 598 friends on MySpace, Who I've Never Met!" Posting content is like throwing your message in a bottle into an ocean of messages in bottles. The number of people reading it will be depressingly slim, i know many people will credit MySpace as having helped launch the career of many successful music artists, but frankly i'd rather Lilly Allen had never surfaced at all, in fact i'd have held her head under the sea of messages in bottles until the air ran out, but who am i to judge. Only someone who in their childhood years had it drummed into me that if i didn't pronounce the Ts in words i wouldn't be fed. The use of the the word "boh-ull" to describe the drinking vessel would see me smacked around the head. And rightly so!

Sorry, where was i? Ah yes, the need to be a member of not just one but several social networks can be understood through Barry Wellman's concept of 'networked individualism', the ability to communicate more via the internet, which has shrunk the world so far that Austrailia is no further away than Austria, though of course many Americans already thought that, admittedly for different reasons.

Unfortunatly, none of the combination programs yet offers that most important skill, namely the ability of using my Warlock to kill the ongoing streams of scantily clad girls who can't speak English that want to be my friend on these sites, hope is a wonderful thing but somehow the magic disappears when you consider the balding, sweaty, man that will inevitably be sat behind one of these accounts.

7th Febuary 2008
Subject: Free Ubuntu Computer Stickers

Free is a nice word, in this case 'free' means the cost of a stamp and envelope. Like the sticker that denotes your laptop was 'Designed for Micro$oft Windows'. The Linux Emporium offer a nice strip of four Ubuntu stickers to show you've seen the light.

For your free strip of stickers send a stamped SAE to:
The Linux Emporium
Bridge House
17a Maybrook Road
Sutton Coldfield
B76 1AL UK

If you're not from the UK look here for your local address.

My Laptop with sticker:


4th Febuary 2008
Subject: Knight Rider Necromanced!

So, what happens when Ford buys a TV show? Well you end up with one big advert for the car giant, just about every vehicle in the new made-for-tv movie that airs on the 14th is a Ford. The only major crash though happens with the only Chevrolet amoung them.

Which brings me on to the new KITT. The Ford Mustand GT500KR, aka the Knight Three Thousand.

Its not a bad looking car by any means, despite all the confetti sprinkled round the gunnels its actually quite handsome. But as a replacement for the original KITT, not quite so good.
The problem stems from image, the Trans Am was sleek and elegant, but still quite subtle. You wouldn't lose it in a car park, but you wouldn't necessarily give it a second glance at the lights. It was understated and discreet.

The Mustang GT500KR just isn't, with all the vents, ducts, flaps and that huge rear wing it sits on the road like a giant hornet, waiting to pounce on the next tasty car that crosses its path. A car that scares small children into silence simply cannot be a replacement for the charismatic KITT.

Which brings me on to some 'statistics' about the new car. Theres the usual brace of computer powered features like hacking and microjamming, but the performance specs needed reading with a pince of salt.
The acceleration is a good place to start, Knight 2000 did a standing quarter mile in 5.4 seconds, not slow by any means, the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage takes over 13. The Knight 3000 however does the same quarter mile in 3.2, resulting in G-force that would cause a human driver to black out without special training.
Where we find the really hard to believe data is in the braking though. Knight 2000 pulled up from 70-0 in 14 feet, which would again result in G-force making the driver lose conciousness, and could even potentially kill someone. However, the Knight 3000 claims to pull up from 300-0 in 12 feet.
For those of you without a maths or physics knack, let me put some gravy on the meat. A body undergoing decceleration experiences a force. This force is the inverse square of the time taken, so half the time increase the force four-fold, a third of the time means nine-fold etc. Car manufacturers know this, thats why they fit airbags and seatbelts in cars, the airbag isn't designed to stop you, it increases the time taken for you to slow down thus decreasing the force. If you hit the dashboard you slow down so fast the force can be too high to survive.
I won't bore you with calculations, but a 70 kg body slowing from 300 mph to nil in 12 feet experiences a force of 2,000,000 N, or if you prefer, 3000 G, thats 3000 times the force that keeps you stuck to the floor. Now at that force level, not only would a standard three-point seatbelt trisect you, but when your flailing limbs connected with the dashboard they would experience time-travel.
Perhaps the producers have got a little carried away with this invincible hypercar fantasy!

29th January 2008
Subject: Pay Up or I'll Kill You!

There's an email doing the rounds at the moment claiming that a paid assasin will kill you unless you pay a fee to cancel the contract, i've recieved it twice in two weeks. Maybe someone out there really wants me dead, if this blog stops updating permenantly then please send a sympathy card to my parents. Of course it's obviously a hoax, otherwise i wouldn't be here now, and in normal daylight its almost laughable, but it can be a bit of a shock at three in the morning when you get back from the pub having had a skinful, to find a message flashing on screen that someones going to kill me. Just slightly out of the ordinary!

Since i recieve an almost ludicrous volume of mail daily it is unsurprising i got this one, but for those of you who haven't seen it yet, heres a transcript:

Subject: BE MORE CAREFUL !!!


I am very sorry for you ,It is a pity that this is how your life is going to end as soon as you don't comply. As you can see there is no need for me introducing myself to you because I don't have any business with you, my duty as I am mailing you now is just to (KILL YOU ) and I have to do it as I have already been paid for that.

Someone you call a Friend want's you Dead by all means, and the person have spent a lot of money on this, the person also came to US and told me that he wanted you dead and he provided us with your name ,picture and other necessary information's we needed about you. So I have sent my boy's to track you down in Pakistan and they have carried out the necessary investigation needed for the operation on you, and they have done that but I told them not to kill you that I will like to contact you and see if your life is Important to you or not.since we have find out that you are innocent.

I called my client back and ask him of your email address which I didn't tell him what I wanted to do with it and he gave it to me and I am using it to contact you now. As I am writing to you now my men are monitoring you and they are telling me everything about you.

Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? As someone has paid us to kill you. Get back to me now if you are ready to pay some fees to spare your life, $9,000 is all you need to spend You will first of all pay $5,000 then I will send a tape to you which i recoeded every discusion i hade with the person who wanted you dead and as soon as you get the tape, you will pay the remaining $4,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will carry on with my job straight-up.




Now, for starters, none of my friends have the funds availiable to pay a professional assasin, and even if they did, what would they gain? I own bugger-all! A car thats as old as me and a hi-fi! Maybe they want my beer-can tower (now under reconstruction) all to themselves! Perhaps its the guy next door has decided he doesn't like the Robert Plant and Fleetwood Mac i play on the afforementioned hi-fi!

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has come around, in fact i distinctly remember the FBI issuing a report about scam emails in London, circa January last year:

The warning reads:

01/09/07-There is a new twist to the IC3 alert posted on December 7, 2006 regarding e-mails claiming that the sender has been paid to kill the recipient and will cancel the contract on the recipient's life if that person pays a large sum of money. Now e-mails are surfacing that claim to be from the FBI in London. These e-mails note the following information:

* An individual was recently arrested for the murders of several United States and United Kingdom citizens in relation to this matter.
* The recipient's information was found on the subject identifying the recipient as the next victim.
* The recipient is requested to contact the FBI in London to assist with the investigation.
* It is not uncommon for an Internet fraud scheme to have the same overall intent but be transmitted containing variations in the e-mail content, e.g., different names, e-mail addresses, and/or agencies reportedly involved.

Please note, providing any personal information in response to an unsolicited e-mail can compromise your identity and open you to identity theft.

As for the hitman, i'll take my chances!

25th January 2008
Subject: OLPC, or maybe per country

If Nicholas Negroponte ever has another idea to make the world a better place we could hardly blame him for not telling anyone about it. Not only has the OLPC project been forced to close its comercial sales and the 'Give One Get One' program last December, but a Nigerian Keyboard manufacturer, LANCOR, is also doing its best to cripple the organisation.
Guess what they want from the OLPC organisation? US$20 million!

I jest not. 20 million dollars in 'damages', and an injunction preventing the XO B4 from distribution in Nigeria. They have the second from an interim injunction from an ex parte motion filed, meaning OLPC didn't get chance to object. Other co-defendants include the Growing Business Foundation, have already has their offices searched for 'evidence', though none was found.

Theres a fantastic review and breakdown of the court filings on for further reading. Its either another nail in the coffin for OLPC or further evidence of the corruption that saturates Nigeria, as if that were needed!

21st January 2008
Subject: Is Dell catching up to the iMac?

Those who have seen the new Dell XPS One may well have been struck by its radically different shape to what we normally think of from Dell. At first glance you think its just the monitor, but then you notice the thickness and extra buttons that show it is really an all in one unit. With just a single power cable and wireless keyboard and mouse the XPS One is designed to be as simple to install as possible, the hardware specs are impressive too. With a 2.66 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo (two processors in one) and up to 4Gb of RAM, the XOPS One is a powerful desktop PC, and it has met Apple's iMac head on coming the opposite way.

The iMac has always been a distinctive customer, the original G3 which looked like a CRT Monitor in a translucent plastic case set the tone. Despite looking somewhat like a kids toy, the G3 sold in large numbers partly due to Apple's ingenious marketing department.
The G4 changed the design radically, with a hemispherical base and the monitor on a protruding metal arm, the G4 looked far more grown up, if somewhat plasticy, you may remember the tv advert with it dancing in a shop window.
The first model G5 was a large white-plastic rectangle with a screen embedded in it and looked like an albino etch-a-sketch, fortunatly it wasn't long before they matured and gave it the nicer brushed aluminium case it enjoys today. It looks far better than any pc model various companies can throw at it, until now.

The XPS One seems to have been made by someone who understands what made the iMac so popular, the looks. By keeping the design simple yet futuristic they've created what is the iMacs first real rival, and with some impressive guts to go with the looks, you might imagine that Apple are starting to worry.

Not exactly, whilst the XPS One's asthetics have been very well recieved, it is still burdened with the bane of new PCs, Vista. Add to that the pitiful selection of pre-loaded applications it comes with, and the US$300 premium over the better programmed iMac it still falls short of being a threat. Even when the iMac is upgraded with the wireless keyboard and mouse and the extra 2Gb of RAM it lacks in standard form it is still US$100 less than the Dell. And whilst the XPS One only has a 20-inch screen, the iMac is blessed with a 24-inch display, and as anyone whos used both will know, thats quite a difference.

However, maybe all is not lost with the XPS One, its Achilles heel may be due to the lastest Micro$oft blunder, but what if it were freed from its shackles?
Linux has for many years being the preserve of geeks and hackers, but not any more, with the release of Ubuntu 7.10 (and its cousins Xubuntu and Kubuntu) the underdog that for years has been a minor irratation is growing into a fully fledged thorn. Canonical, who maintain the Ubuntu franchise, seem to have finally hit on a winner. And the best thing about Linux, indeed its defining feature, is the impact it doesn't have on your wallet. Its as free as you could possibly want. Dell doesn't offer Ubuntu on the XPS One, though given its popularity on the other machines Dell does offer with Ubuntu it can only be a matter of time. Then maybe we'll have a true rival to the mighty iMac.

19th January 2008
Subject: Vista competition

It seems Vista's main competion is coming what what would surely be the most unlikely source. Its predecessor, XP. The six year old XP is still going strong a year after the full launch of its sucessor. Dell, for example, resumed selling XP on its new systems last April, while in August Micro$oft announced Service Pack 2c for XP, doing nothing but add new product keys so it could keep selling XP into this year.

The Vista desktop does look pretty i'll admit, but its all fur coat and no knickers. The list of bad ideas rivals that of Governments but the biggest whoopsy of them all must surely be the massive lack of backwards compatability. Perhaps Micro$oft thought we'd all gladly buy new software to be compatible with Vista, i think not! Even they admit that a significant proportion of sales this year will still be XP. It seems they didn't learn after Windows ME failed to surplant the more stable and easier to handle Windows 98, which i still hold to be the best OS they ever made.

Statistically, from visitors to this site, 3% of you are using Vista, as opposed to 23% XP, 15% other Windows versions, 18% use a Mac, a whopping 36% use various incarnations of Linux and 5% couldn't be identified by the tracking script. Since the official figures are that Micro$oft has a 92% strangle hold on the home pc market, thats quite a victory for Linus Torvalds.

16th January 2008
Subject: Exams

The main downside of education is the seeming necessity of the teaching body to smother the student with examinations, nowhere is this more apparant than being taught A levels, where every other phrase is a variant of "when this comes up on the exam". You never get the impression you're being taught useful information to utilise in later life, merely what to write on an A4 piece of paper that some nameless faceless marker will tick or cross. And real life isn't like that.

During the two years prior to one's GCSE exams, the turning point that signifies you are nearly at the end of your compulsory schooling, all the lessons are related to doing well in the July of whatever year your state education finishes. After that you'll only be in school if you want to be, which you may think is the cue for the lesson's focus to shift closer to reality, but no. It's another two years of work up to the same tedious conclusion you were hoping to finally be rid of.

If you're really keen you end up at University (the stage i'm at now). This is the point where you're definatly only here of your own accord, since no longer is the state fully funding your education. The £3070 hole in the pocket per year, amoung Brown's extensive resumé of bad ideas resulting from his decade as chancellor, reminding you all the time that tax is a parasite that should warrant the government for execution. At last you hope for some proper learning, the good news is thats what you get. For the first time in your whole education process you feel that the teachers, or as they're now called, lecturers, actually want you to know and understand the subject for its own sake, rather than just writing the correct answer on a sheet of paper.

Of course, exams are still inevitable, but unlike before, they're not the central focus of the course. In many ways they're as much for the lecturer as for you, a checkpoint at which they can see how well they've taught you. And that is what the week ahead has lined up.

The biggest downside is the absence of laboratory sessions for the week, but the silver lining is that no labs means no practical reports.

8th January 2008
Subject: Complaining to the Police

Here's a thought for all the Embra dwellers on the service your boys in blue / black / yellow provide. True email sent to the force, lengthy but absolutely brilliantly written.....

Anonymised correspondence from a member of the public:

Dear Sir/madam/automated telephone answering service

Having spent the past twenty minutes waiting for someone at Leith police station to pick up a telephone I have decided to abandon the idea and try e-mailing you instead. Perhaps you would be so kind as to pass this message on to your colleagues in Leith by means of smoke signal, carrier pigeon or ouji board.

As I'm writing this e-mail there are eleven failed medical experiments (I think you call them youths) in West Cromwell Street which is just off Commercial Street in Leith. Six of them seem happy enough to play a game which involves kicking a football against an iron gate with the force of a meteorite. This causes an earth shattering CLANG! which rings throughout the entire building. This game is now in it's third week and as I am unsure how the scoring sytem works, I have no idea if it will end any time soon.

The remaining five walking abortions are happily rummaging through several bags of rubbish and items of furniture that someone has so thoughtfully dumped beside the wheelie bins. One of them has found a saw and is setting about a discarded chair like a beaver on speed. I fear that it's only a matter of time before they turn their limited attention to the bottle of calor gas that is lying on it's side between the two bins. If they could be relied on to only blow their own arms and legs off then I would happily leave them to it. I would even go so far as to lend them the matches. Unfortuneatly they are far more likely to blow up half the street with them and I've just finished decorating the kitchen.

What I suggest is this. after replying to this e-mail with worthless assurances that the matter is being looked into and will be dealt with, why not leave it until the one night of the year (probably bath night) when there are no mutants around then drive up the street in a panda car before doing a three point turn and disappearing again. This will of course serve no other purpose than to remind us what policemen actually look like.

I trust that when I take a clawhammer to the skull of one of these throwbacks you'll do me the same courtesy of giving me a four month head start before coming to arrest me.

I remain sir, your obedient servant



Dear Mr ??????,

I have read your e-mail and understand you frustration at the problems caused by youth playing in the area and the problems you have encountered in trying to contact the police.

As the Community Beat Officer for your street I would like to extend an offer of discussing the matter fully with you.

Should you wish to discuss the matter, please provide contact details (address / telephone number) and when may be suitable.


PC ???
Community Beat Officer


Dear PC ?????

First of all I would like to thank you for the speedy response to my original e-mail. 16 hours and 38 minutes must be a personal record for Leith Police station and rest assured that I will forward these details to Norris McWhirter for inclusion in his next book.

Secondly I was delighted to hear that our street has it's own community beat officer. May I be the first to congratulate you on your covert skills. In the five or so years I have lived in West Cromwell Street, I have never seen you. Do you hide up a tree or have you gone deep undercover and infiltrated the gang itself? Are you the one with the acne and the moustache on his forehead or the one with a chin like a wash hand basin? It's surely only a matter of time before you are headhunted by MI5.

Whilst I realise that there may be far more serious crimes taking place in Leith such as smoking in a public place or being Muslim without due care and attention, is it too much to ask for a policeman to explain (using words of no more than two syllables at a time) to these twats that they might want to play their strange football game elsewhere. The pitch behind the Citadel or the one at DKs are both within spitting distance as is the bottom of the Albert Dock.

Should you wish to discuss these matters further you should feel free to contact me on ??? ????. If after 25 minutes I have still failed to answer, I'll buy you a large one in the Compass Bar.


P.S If you think that this is sarcasm, think yourself lucky that you don't work for the cleansing department.

5th January 2008
Subject: RIAA propaganda for US local tv stations

Since no one wants to watch anything that means they might have to think during the Christmas Holidays, and local news usually needs a short story to fill the gap between the tap-dancing dog and the minor collision in the next state that caused $30 of damage to the car. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) obliged with a two minute 'news' story about how music piracy is going to trigger the next ice age.

Naturally, the video found its way online within 30s of creation, and the slating from the online community began shortly after. The video is quite exceedingly awful, the narrator could bore Ghandi to sleep, it has no pace or energy, and the fly in bullet points look like those annoying emphasis 'features' in Powerpoint that no self respecting user would touch.

The first part is fairly accurate, if poorly presented, it concerns some recent sting operations at duplication facilities. Then come the bullet points.
To quote: "Watch for compilation CDs that could only exist in the dreams of a music fan," the commentary warns, an unfortunate (for them) admission that Pirates are better at providing what consumers want than the industry. Oops!
Then theres a cracker: "Audio Quality on pirated CD's is usually atrocious." Someone please explain to these people the concept of digital copying!

After this it switches to basic advertising, "Make sure the music you buy is legitimate," says the voiceover. How? Use the "cool, innovative ways to get your favourite music that the industry offers." For which they display iTunes gift cards and ringtones. Stop me if i'm wrong, but iTunes vouchers are unlikely to be much good to many of the people watching, ie those either without a pc or whose knowledge doesn't go beyond email and word processing. And as for suggesting ringtones as an alternative to CD's, who are they trying to kid?

You can see the advert here:

3rd Januray 2008
Subject: Vista named 2007's most disappointing product

No big surprises, but to put the cherry on the cake of disappointment and humiliation that has surrounded Vista since its release, PC magazine has declared Vista the worst product of 2007. I quote: "Five years in the making and this is the best Microsoft could do?... No wonder so many users are clinging to XP like shipwrecked sailors to a life raft, while others who made the upgrade are switching back. And when the fastest Vista notebook PC World has ever tested is an Apple MacBook Pro, there's something deeply wrong with the universe."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Vive le penguin!

Micro$oft really do seem to be having trouble with the real world. In Service Pack 3 for Office 2003, Microsoft disabled support for many older file formats. If you have old Word, Excel, 1-2-3, Quattro, or Corel Draw documents, watch out! They did this because the old formats are 'less secure', which actually makes some sense, but only if you got the files from some untrustworthy source. Naturally, they did this by default, and then documented a mind-bogglingly complex workaround rather than providing a user interface for adjusting it, or even a set of awkward 'Do you really want to do this?' dialog boxes to click through. And of course because these are, after all, old file formats ... many users will encounter the problem only months or years after the software change, while groping around in dusty and now-inaccessible archives. You have to wonder if they really have any clue sometimes!

2nd January 2008
Subject: Hangover cures

If you celebrated New Year properly you woke up yesterday morning with a rather thick head. Alcohol affects people in different ways, but the general result is a splitting headache, delicate stomach, aversion to light and someone having turned the volume knob up to 11.

These all stem back to one thing, dehydration. The lack of water has caused your brain to contract slightly, pulling it away from the membrane inside your skull. Your brain contains no pain receptors but the inner membrane between it and the skull is laced with them. People will offer all sorts of 'miracle' hangover cures with varying degrees of repulsiveness, ranging from a greasy stodgy fried breakfast to drinking raw egg. It has been said that advice is a form of nostalgia thats been recycled for more than its worth, but here goes with my version. Trust me, im a chemist.

Have a hot shower, this dilates blood vessels in the skin making removal of toxins more effective, it also soothes aching muscles and helps to relax the tension in your scalp thats only making the headache worse.

Drink two large glasses of orange or apple juice, or if you're like me just down the entire bottle. The water in the juice is the badly needed hydration your liver and kidneys will be crying out for. The vitamin c (Ascorbic Acid) is also an anti-oxidant and helps to flush out your liver cells after their hard night.

Take two Ibuprofen tablets (eg Nurofen) to help ease the pain in your head. Don't take Paracetamol (eg Panadol), your liver has had a rough night already with the alcohol thats been through it, the last thing it needs is another toxin to burn off (yes, paracetamol is toxic, thats why they don't let you buy too many). Ibuprofen doesn't harm the liver so is the far better option.

Take one or two Milkthistle extract tablets, availiable from any good pharmacy. Milkthistle is a herb that, amongst many other useful effects, repairs damaged liver cells. Like i keep saying, your liver needs all the help it can get, without it you'll die a painful death, so treat it with compassion.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, take some exercise, outside. Crisp morning air will do more for your recovery than any of the previous points, combined with the exercise to get the blood flowing better, oxygen into your system, muscles respiring and rearranging the hormone balance in the brain. The most effective hangover curing exercise i've ever had was kayaking in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco (see the pictures page), but this isn't really practical on an everyday basis. A brisk walk will be nearly as good.

Things to avoid: Coffee, more alcohol. Coffee might help straighten you out initially, but its diuretic problems will only dehydrate you further, making the problem worse in the long run. Alcohol, or the 'Hair Of The Dog (that bit you)' will do the same but throw a kick in the teeth for the liver into the bargain.

Premptive measures: Eat before you drink, have a square meal before a nights drinking and you'll feel far better in the morning, not only because the alcohol takes longer to get into your system after soaking into the food thus giving your body time to react, but the nourishment released from digesting the food gives your body an easy source of sugar to respire rather than having to plunder its energy supplies from the liver which has enough to worry about. Starchy foods like bread, potatoes and pasta are good choices.
Also, Zinc tablets are useful, not only does Zinc help keep your skin in good condition, but it also catalyses the oxidation of Ethanol (Alcohol) to Ethanoic Acid (Vinegar). Whilst this sounds ominous, this is the same process that your liver uses to break down alcohol, so giving it a boost in this direction helps. If you don't fancy taking tablets then why not eat Marmite instead, vitamin B12 contains a good source of Zinc, and marmite is one of the best sources of vitamin B12 around, not to mention the tastiest. So there you are, Marmite can be a medical product as well as a foodstuff!

And last but not least, drink quality alcohol. That way you'll probably end up drinking less of it, thus reducing the problem in the first place, but also you'll be ingesting less toxins because quality products will be more refined and better for you.

Above all though, try to be sensible, that way we can all have a good time. Bottoms up!

1st January 2008
Subject: F1R5T P05T!

Without moving into the inevitable genre of trollling, you'll find a seemingly infinite number of posts on internet fora round the world saying either "first post of 2008" or "happy new year everyone". Not being one to follow the masses, happy new year everyone.

Link to 2007's Blog

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