Wednesday, May 31, 2006

So that's a stag night

So I managed not to end up chained naked to a lamp post, or put on the sleeper train to Aberdeen (difficult, from Oxford), or lap danced by a stripper. But with the superior intelligence and moral endowment of my friends (though possibly not my relatives), I would have been surprised if I had.

My stag do was a thoroughly pleasant meal at thoroughly pleasant Browns, followed by "Buddy" at the New Theatre and retirement to the Grapes thereafter. And if you can think of a better way to get a seller of kidnap insurance, an unemployed actory type, and a pair of PhDs in respectively nuclear fusion and lasers all chatting together at one end of a table, you're welcome to suggest it.

"Buddy" starts as a no-great-surprises run-through of Buddy Holly's career from first recording contract to the first buds of real fame, including the obligatory bust-ups over creative differences and a reminder that even the sweet, preppy boy from Texas could be a right git for his art. That's Act 1, whose purpose is essentially to make him famous enough that most of Act 2 can just be a recreation of the gig (complete with souvenir programmes handed out to the audience) on the fateful night of February 2nd, 1959, led by Buddy with the able support of the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Ritchie's very tight trousers and amazing performing roll of socks. (Bringing to mind Edmund Blackadder's critique of the Prince of Wales's stance: "Here are my genitals, please kick them.") Never wise to have the support steal the show from the lead, but the highlight had to be the Big Bopper doing "Chantilly Lace"; still, the rest was pretty neat too. Odd to think that Buddy was just a year younger than my dad.

So, thanks to Andy 1, Andy 2, Dal, David, Derek, George, Jonathan, Marcus, Richard, Rupert and Steve for a time that could only have been improved by slightly more - some! - legroom in the New Theatre. See you on the day if not before.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Whatsa matter?

Someone recently came to this site via a search for "Joe Dolce Scientologist".

Oh come on, you are surely KIDDING!

Though come to think of it, it would make a ghastly kind of sense.

Whatsa matter you? Hey!
Joined a strange new cult.
Auditing my engrams, Hey!
Get a great result.
Soon I will be clear, lord of time and space
Ah, shuttuppa your face.

Oh, hang on. Wrong Joe Dolce.

I think.

Three shades of blue weekend

Let's see, a bank holiday weekend; three days off work; that must mean ... ooh, I remember, decorating.

And we decorated good.
  • Three rolls of vinyl purchased for the floors of three various rooms (thank you, Vampire Plagues royalty cheque).
  • The Boy's bedroom-to-be done out in different shades of blue, as per the specifications of the future occupant, which combine when you're cleaning the brushes into a tint that gives your fingernails a fascinating cyanotic hue.
  • Carpet removed from the Boy's bedroom and taken to the dump, on the grounds of, why not? We're on a roll!
  • Hoover motor burned out siphoning up the resulting dust.
  • Everything, and I mean everything, yes EVERYTHING, from the three rooms to be vinyled moved into said Boy's bedroom-to-be.
Him: "Why do we have to use my room?
Me: "Because it's empty."
Him: "Why not your room?"
Me: "Because I'm sleeping in it."
Him: "Why didn't we decorate my room first?" [Pause] "Oh, because then you'd have nowhere to sleep ..."

He generally gets there if you give him time.
  • And finally, the bathroom floor taken up: "It's the happiest day of my life", the Boy quavered with a tear in his eye, as he set to with a crowbar. The floor was fairly tatty cork tiles, glued to a plywood underlay which had previously been nailed down - probably with a nail gun of the Kalashnikov variety set to "fully automatic and then some". The plywood came up, the approx. half a billion nails stayed down and had to be removed one by one by one by one by ... and so on.
So, three days well spent.

On the way to the dump, I was told "you should definitely blog that." Unfortunately that's all I remember of the conversation. But I'm sure it was good, whatever it was.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In his own words

Should it be of interest to anyone (and I like to think it might to some), there's an interview with yours truly here ... (Conducted back in January, but delayed (I gather) due to the cat wiping the interviewer's hard drive.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I know, I'm never satisfied

I have long cringed at the fact that one of the country's oldest Christian youth organisations is called Crusaders. There have to be better role models for the King of Kings than a bunch of bigoted genocidal medieval thugs. If there was an Islamic youth organisation called Jihad, how good would that look? But Crusaders has just celebrated its centenary, and it was named in an age of different sensibilities.

But no more! Because it has celebrated its centenary by changing its name to -- Urban Saints.

Whether they still sound like a gangsta-rap girlband in another 100 years remains to be seen ...

Erotic exoticism

For reasons that let's not go into, I did a Google search on "exotic punishments". And yes, I spelt it right. Even so, I got a lot of hits not just for "exotic punishments" but also "erotic punishments". The "erotic" was highlighted, showing that Google must have treated it as a search term.

I'm a little disturbed by this. Does Google equate exotic and erotic? Or does it just know from bitter experience that a lot of people who type one word mean the other, so it proactively caters for their need?

Either way, if you search for exotic holiday destinations then you're presumably in for a surprise.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hello peopulll

Michael Howard, the Today programme reports, has written an open letter to John Reid to advise him in his new job as Home Secretary. The letter draws on Howard's four-year experience in the same job.

To save Mr Reid from having to run out and buy the papers, here's the gist of said experience.
  1. Read the Daily Mail each day. Tailor your policies accordingly.
  2. If it has two legs, a heartbeat and moves, sack it. A slim department is an efficient department.
  3. It's not your fault. Accept no blame.
  4. If asked a direct question by Jeremy Paxman, on no account give a direct answer. No one will notice you squirm.
You're welcome.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Things that make us British

For no apparent reason that I could gather, Saturday morning saw a Punch & Judy show and a display of Scottish dancing by ladies and gentlemen of, um, a certain age in Abingdon marketplace. Followed by the band of the Abingdon Sea Scouts playing tunes on those dinky little xylophone-on-a-pole things they have, accompanied by rattetty-tattetty drums and a couple of basses. Tunes I recognised were the Blue Peter hornpipe, Highland Cathedral, and - the piece de resistance - The Surfaris' Wipe Out.


Meanwhile, Cybermen Part 2 was considerably better with several surprises I didn't see coming. Just busy trying not to hate the guy who wrote it, for being 26.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Transports of delight

Now face it, watching the A380 land at Heathrow was cool. Seeing something the size of a flying airscraper always will be. I found it strangely disappointing at first, though, watching on the TV, because proportionately it seems to be the same shape as a much smaller plane. It's not exactly the Fireflash or even something interestingly distinct like a 747. It was the undercarriage that finally did it - a similar arrangement to the 747, designed to take its massive weight when it plonks down on the runway. Once I'd made that mental adjustment, I looked at the rest of it with fresh eyes and thought, bloody hell, it's big.

That's Ben the boy technophile. Ben the wishy washy greeny type also admits that it's basically a bigger and better injector of water vapour and CO2 into our planet's atmosphere. Okay, it's engines are greener and more efficient than much of the competition - say, Concorde on full afterburn - but it's all relative. I'm forced to concede that fleets of these things blocking out the sun won't be great. So we can fly to Australia in one take - why are we in such a hurry to get there? (Sorry, Aussies.)

Ben the Would Be Planetary Dictator (because he concedes that's the only way any of this will happen) says: bring back airships. Look, they don't all have to explode (use helium) or break in two (use modern construction materials). And if watching a flying skyscraper is cool, how much cooler is it to see one drift gently past instead, politely ignoring the outraged yells of gravity? So a transatlantic crossing takes days instead of hours. So what? With modern IT, your physical separation from the office wouldn't be a problem either. You could put in all the work you needed and relax, stretch your legs, get a good night's sleep and everything else.

But there are some people who will always be in a hurry, so let me unveil the second prong of my transport strategy. Ekranoplanes. The Caspian Sea Monster could only possibly be out-cooled if someone invented a real-life Thunderbird 2. Okay, so it doesn't work in rough weather, making it currently a very expensive way of getting across a millpond. But that's why we need to spend money on research, perfecting the design and ironing out the creases. It would be like the old days of the steamships, except that now we would get fleets of these things cruising between Southampton and New York. And they could fly over the icebergs.

You know it makes sense.

UPDATE: The KM Ekranoplan pictured above, I learn, is 30 metres longer than a Boeing 747. That's 100m, as opposed to a piddling 70. Those things were BIG - and as we all know, boys, a big machine = a cool machine. Size matters..

Gor blimey

"A sex slavery cult based on a series of 1960s science fiction novels has been uncovered by police in Darlington ..."
Which is actually grossly inaccurate reporting, as the most recent Gor novel was published in 2001.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I bet Skynet never had this problem

The Calvin & Hobbes site has suddenly decided it requires Flash Player 8 to display an inanimate cartoon strip. I don't have the required administrator privileges to install it, so I either have to sacrifice a virgin chicken to IT Support at the next full moon or read it at home. Read cartoons during my hours off work? What's this outlandish concept?

Meanwhile, the ordering facility at allofmp3 has been temporarily unavailable for a quite unreasonable definition of "temporary".

So all in all, current mood: technosceptic.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cyber sore eyes

The original cybermen were just plain silly. They sounded like Charles Hawtrey speaking into a vocoder and looked about as menacing. During the 60s, they got more menacing and their greatest moment was bursting out of the London sewers and taking on a terrified London. All this was only known to me through the novelisations, of course, and so the televised Tom Baker era "Revenge of ..." was one of my most eagerly awaited Who adventures ever. And I was feeling much the same way in the run-up to Saturday's outing.

It's a very sad feeling to have eager anticipation drain away out of the soles of your feet, when you so badly want to like it ..

I have a suspicion they're trying to do a "Genesis of the Daleks" for the cybes, giving us a good creation story that (somewhat) supplants established canon. But what made "Genesis of the Daleks" effective was Davros - endlessly malevolent, hideous, deformed, yet able to charm, play off one side against the other, and all the while be the loathsome xenocidal maniac who created the pepperpots.

Saturday gave us the metal jugheads' equivalent - Trigger's evil twin, chewing up the scenery but not remotely threatening.

I hope for better next week. If the cybermen discover their own independence and turn on their creator, I shall be ... well, not disappointed because that's exactly what I expect them to do. Meanwhile, Rose's parents have become a subplot, like those episodes of Friends where everyone plays themselves but slightly different just because they can. And are we honestly expected to believe those earpods will ever be fashionable?

But the cybermen themselves ... now, they were good. Emotionless, ruthless, single-minded - just what the doctor ordered, as it were. That stomping march was reminiscent of the good old days when actors dressed in silver-sprayed wetsuits terrorised the tourist trail. All that was needed was the marching theme that we haven't heard properly since the Troughton days.

I wonder how many of today's young generation of viewers think they were inspired by the Borg?

The air that I breathe

There's a certain smell I associate with primary schools. It's quite high powered, sickly and sweet. I always think of it as vomit and colouring paint combined, which in the case of primary schools is probably exactly what it is.

Over the weekend it found its way into my office and I have no idea how. Irritating.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sounds like young people want to go to the Far East

The assisted dying bill has reached the House of Lords, which probably isn't the best place for an objective discussion on bumping off people who are past it.

There's a very fine line drawn between actively helping people die, and just not keeping them alive any longer. You can spot the extremes, not necessarily the bits in the middle.

Still, it occurs to me that places like Switzerland's Dignitas clinic don't come cheap, and assisted dying is extremely unlikely to be available on the NHS, if only because the queues would be so long that people would have died naturally anyway by the time their ticket came up. Therefore it's going to be a private procedure, and as it will be relatively rare, it will be an expensive private procedure. (Can you see the fund raising drives being a success? Terminally ill patients jingling their money boxes outside Waitrose or in the shopping precinct, saying "help me die now!"?) In other words, it will only really be available to very rich people.

Must resist temptation to say bring it on, now ...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

If you have the right mindset and a sound enough Eng Lit education, you will find this site absolutely hilarious.

If not, you won't.

End public service announcement.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Trust me, I'm an Aquarian

"When a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything."
G.K. Chesterton, right? Well, sort of.

Despite this having been quoted in countless sermons and homilies, G.K. never actually said that. A rather interesting Quotemeister page gives the history of this particular maxim. The closest Chesterton seems to have come to it is this, from Father Brown, as part of a longer speech:
"The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything."
Pretty much the same meaning, definitely not the same words. And it's not even true - at least, not in the sense that I have heard the more famous paraphrase used, over and over again. It's quite possible, maybe even more common, to not believe in God AND not believe in anything else of a supernatural nature either - horoscopes, souls, spirits, deities, afterlife, magic etc. It doesn't stop you from being a generally moral being, for a given value of 'moral'. Likewise, you can not believe in God because you do have a very clearly defined alternative supernatural belief - maybe you're a Hindu, maybe you're a Wiccan - that doesn't include him in it. The effect is still the same - you do not then start to believe anything, you simply close down on alternative beliefs.

Chesterton, I have no doubt, was bright enough to know it.

What he meant by 'God' wasn't just Him Upstairs but the whole belief package that goes with subscribing to a particular theological position. For him, that could be described as 'God'. But if you just say "yeah, I believe in God" in a vague, tolerant, nice-guy sort of way, that doesn't narrow down anything at all. Your mind is open to all comers. So, for 'believing in God' in the quotes above, substitute 'thinking through the implications of what I believe'. This brings you much closer to the Chestertonian meaning.

All this was sufficiently obvious to Chesterton, and to Father Brown, that the accompanying thought processes would have taken a micro-second and not required further elucidation. Sadly it isn't sufficiently obvious to preachers who misuse the quote to show why everyone should become Christian NOW. It's bad logic. It's telling people that black is white, when they can plainly see it isn't. And if your argument can only be supported by bad logic - well, what does that say about your argument?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's only a short step to hey nonny, nonny, and then I shall have to call the police

Cue gentle twangy renaissancy music. Soft female voice, probably Emma Thompson, reads:
"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never ..."
Cue angry scratching noise of music being abruptly disconnected.

Excuse me - men? Men?? As Exhibit A for the Defence of the Y Chromosome, may I introduce the most inconstant, deceitful, flirtatious little minx ever to stand with one foot in my lap and the other on my dinner plate. All 24 inches, 14 months and 4.5 teeth of her. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my niece.

Her Aunt Elect, a.k.a. Best Beloved, got a brief cuddle. It was the shiny buttons on her coat that did it. Thereafter it was made quite clear that only adult men need apply. You select your target with a calculating eye cleverly disguised as an innocent blue eyed stare. You crawl over to him, pull yourself up on his leg, look winsome and cute ... and then someone else - your father, your uncle, your granddad - comes into the room and abruptly the previous male object of your affections is history. Off you go across the floor at 90 m.p.h, only occasionally crawling up inside your skirt, to the leg of his replacement and repeat the process. Then you beam coyly back at the man you have just deserted, as if to say "this is your competition - fight him for me!"

All that saves hearts from being broken is that she doesn't yet have the social and life skills to be subtle about it. But give her time.

'Men', the Bard says. Huh!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Actually I was expecting Giles

Yes, it's the Buffy the Vampire Slayer personality test ...

72% amorality, 54% passion, 81% spirituality, 45% selflessness
You probably have a complicated, multi-faceted personality. Kind of like Glory-Ben-Glorificus.

Passionate and driven with a spiritual side that comes out at times, a healthy taste for the finer things in life and a willingness to do what's necessary to achieve your ends. You're assertive and have no problems standing up for yourself. And, push come to shove, you're the closest anyone's ever come to straight-up beating the Slayer and her gang.


If you enjoyed this test, I would love the feedback! Also, you might want to check out some of my other tests if you're interested in the following:

Nerds, Geeks & Dorks

Professional Wrestling

Love & Sexuality



My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 78% on morality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 18% on repose
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 87% on spirituality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 41% on selflessness
Link: The 4-Variable Buffy Personality Test written by donathos on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Random news

Came home to an excited letter from Random House, who have signed a deal with a company called iCue to sell selected RH titles for distribution to mobile phones. They have selected a list of launch titles which should appeal to iCue's demographic and New World Order is one of those.

So for anyone who likes deathless prose on a tiny little screen rather than in a comfortably handheld treeware volume, this is your chance.

I'm intrigued by that demographic. NWO's protags are a middle-aged neanderthal and a half-human teenage boy. If iCue has achieved market penetration in these traditionally overlooked sectors, then I say good for them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Must respectfully decline

A work colleague can't - read, would really rather not - make it to the wedding for what I strongly suspect are reasons of faith. I won't name his church, but it's not big on the Trinity and Bob Dylan wrote / Jimi Hendrix made famous a song about their literature.

And fair enough, to some extent, since I gather his non-trinitarian lot view us the way we would view someone who stood up in the 10 a.m. morning service and started chanting "Jupiter Optimus Maximus". I wouldn't want anyone to be squirming with suppressed conscience on our happy day. But if he had come, he would have had to put up with the congregation singing the mighty "In Christ Alone", containing the lines:
"No power of Hell, no scheme of Man
Can ever pluck me from his hands ..."
I like to think my trinitarian faith means I could attend a satanic black mass or an Aztec blood sacrifice and still emerge unscathed at the other end. (I also like to think I will never be asked to, as it could be pushing ecumenism too far.) It's an access-all-areas, go-anywhere pass. It's spiritual Thomas Cook travellers cheques. It's life in all its fullness. Christ rules and Christ rocks.

That's my faith, anyway.

But he likes the readings.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grumpy Old Ben

Many thanks to m'good friend Simon for putting his GCSE revision on hold and tidying up my Wikipedia entry. He may be destined for a life of serving burgers and fries rather than designing mighty engineering projects as a result, but it will have been for a good cause and I'm sure my friendship with his parents won't be strained in any way.

And if the worst comes to the worst, he has a younger brother so the next generation needn't be a complete write-off.

The question has arisen, though: couldn't I have done it myself? To which I reply, of course I could. You are speaking to the proud creator of Wikipedia's article on SkyDiver (and I don't mean people who jump out of planes) and tweaker of too many articles to mention. But dammit, that's not what Wikipedia is for.

I'm old fashioned. I believe in the spirit of things, and that isn't necessarily making money, even though that is one of the three potential applications for which any new technology is immediately considered. (The other two being killing people, and porn.) I'd often considered starting up a self-promoting Wikipedia article. I never did because I reckoned if I got famous enough to need one, one would come up. There's nothing wrong with using web technology to self-promote, of course. I have a site and a blog for that. But not Wikipedia - it's meant to be a neutral, objective reference source in the best academic tradition.

Likewise, the reviews section of Amazon is meant to be a forum for sharing genuine opinions of books, not hijacking by authors to push themselves. (See Ansibles 181, 219 and here.) eBay is another nice idea, inappropriately used. If you can shift something for more than you paid for it, and make a small profit, then bully for you - but by and large and generally speaking, eBay is there for getting rid of items you no longer need or want or require and it shouldn't be a primary point of sale. I have no objection to books of mine being sold there, even signed ones. I've signed books in bookshops before. But I dislike signing books that turn out to be earmarked for eBay flogging - in fact, having now twigged the scam, I won't. (Especially when I see them pushed as "rare, signed copies". Believe me, it's the unsigned ones that are the rarities.) You want to sell books on the web, set up your own web site.

End audition for "Grumpy Old Men". And why do newspaper boys never whistle nowadays?

Name and shame

Green Peugeot 106, reg. L806LRC. A car not apparently fitted with ashtrays as the driver blatantly dropped at least two clear plastic wrappers out of his window this evening, as I drove home behind him, before he turned left in Steventon.

If I'd remembered to top up the hidden machine guns, he would be a burning wreck right now.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Plan B from time and space

Our plan for the weekend: travel down to parents on Saturday and be uncly at my nephew and niece; do the Sarsen Walk Sunday; visit grandmother for lunch on Monday and collect mystery wedding present. What could go wrong?

Plan A started to show cracks on Friday evening when the Boy was in bed, fast asleep, with a vile cold, at 6pm. Not something to risk exposing nephews and nieces to, and we could probably wipe out a large proportion of Salisbury's geriatric population if we introduced it to 97 year old grandmother and the fellow inmates of her retirement home. But Plan B wasn't half bad. Saturday, the day of really quite nice weather, saw a visit to the Heritage Motor Museum at Gaydon, with gokarts and the 4x4 experience, then the scenic route home via the Fosse Way in the sunshine and icecreams in Burford. Sunday was basically taken off. Monday we commenced our assault on the second last room to require decorating, and the just-about-recovered Boy composed an article for Wikipedia on his soon-to-be stepdad. (Which I carefully haven't tampered with because the spirit of Wikipedia is not self-promotion ... though I did change the title of the piece, where he had put my surname in all lowercase. Prepositions at the end of sentences I don't mind but bad capitalisation is something I will not put up with.)

Of course, if anyone reasonably au fait with my career to date wants to have a go at tidying it up, be my guest ...

So there are worse ways to spend a weekend.

Of course, Plans A and B, and any other plans we may have had to draft from Plan C through to Z then A1 and beyond, all included Dr Who on Saturday night. Ah, Sarah Jane! The first woman I ever fancied still looks pretty darn good. A touch more wrinkly round the eyes, but apart from that. She's probably someone's gran. I don't care. Look, I was at an all boys boarding school when the hormones started to kick in, at the same time as this woman was on screen on a weekly basis introducing feminism to the Middle Ages, being possessed by giant spiders, fighting Daleks, kicking cyber-ass, and blowing up robotic mummies while looking absolutely stunning in a flowing white dress. Not to mention being duplicated by androids in the evil twin of East Hagbourne, grappling with giant homicidal vegetables in Dorset with Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, and evading human sacrifice in Renaissance Italy.

I owe this woman a HUGE debt. Best Beloved understands.