Friday, February 27, 2009

Banking gestures

Gordon Brown is considering legal measures to get back some of the £693,000 pension paid to former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin.

Strange to say, I hope he doesn't, or is not able to. This is because my considerable dislike of smugly complacent overpaid not very good bank chiefs is still second to my dislike of politicians who move the goalposts because the headlines tell them to.

Freddie's considered response to the idea that he should forego some of the pension as a "gesture" is available for public view. He's agin it, though you'd think that on the salary he's been paid recently he really should have put a penny or two aside for a rainy day. As he says:
"to voluntarily accept a reduction in a pension entitlement which has been built up over many years and in other employments in addition to RBS, is not warranted."
Quite. I'm a one-law sort of guy. If someone has benefited because the law was in the wrong place, change the law, don't come after the benefittee. Even if he is stinkingly rich. One law. If the government finds a legal way of taking some of his £693k off him, they will find a way of denting the monthly fiver I confidently expect to be claiming off them soon after my 85th birthday, or when old age forces me to retire, whichever is sooner. That would be a Bad Thing.

And anyway, who among us (apart from RBS account holders, but I'm not one) doesn't actually find it screamingly funny? I can't remember when I first heard the argument that "you've got to pay the right sort of salary to find the right sort of people", but it was a long time ago, way before the present crisis and probably way before the last. I didn't believe it then and I don't now. Finally, finally it's being exposed as the lie it is in such a way that even the politicians are having to accept it. The "right people" got us into this, you dolt. Freddie is the peak of a very large pyramid going all the way back to Thatcher and probably beyond. If this fiasco finally gets it into people's heads that you pay people what they're worth, and if they screw up then they're screwed, then it will be worth every penny.

And will either Gordon Brown, who ravaged our pension accounts, or his illustrious predecessor who got us into an unjust, illegal and unwinnable war, and who between them spent every last penny of our spare cash such that there is none left anywhere, be foregoing the considerable benefits that accrue to an ex-prime minister?

Anyway, I have a solution. Stop me if I'm wrong - it's possible - but is the basic idea of banking not:
  • you give the bank all your money for safe storage.
  • occasionally you draw some of this money out.
  • but not all of it.
  • so they get to play with the rest - invest, spend, whatever - just as long as any sum you wish to claim is always there on demand.
I'm going to hazard a guess that a large part of the £693k, or the monthly £57.5k, won't actually be spent. So, if Freddie keeps it in a bog standard checking account at RBS, RBS will still have that money and he'll still be quids in. Everyone's a winner.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In which English becomes marginally richer

Proofreading the workbook for a Shibboleth training course has unearthed two typos that really ought to be proper words.
  • Confliguration: configuration that you basically make up as you go along because you don't know much about it either.
  • Recommendatino: a small suggestion. A bijou recommendationette, if you like.
The book also, with a completely straight face, manages to make the subject sound a lot more interesting than it is.
"After this number has been reached, the child process will die and be respawned."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our one source of energy, the ultimate discovery

The folk at know what electricity is really for. As their site explains it, Tesla coils:
"... produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt which put out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers."
Which means you can play tunes on them. Like this guy, getting lightly grilled (about 45 seconds in) to the strains of the Imperial March.

Thanks to Major Clanger for the info.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Be ceiling you

Shortly before Christmas, a hole appeared in the ceiling of our porch, which was goodness knows how old and possibly original to the bulding. The hole looked a bit like this, only smaller.

Then it grew to look exactly like that; then it grew to look like that but even bigger. Each fall stabilised it a little, until the edges of the new hole succumbed to gravity and fell. You can see an incipient dangly bit next to the light fitting.

But no more. The entire old ceiling now looks like this:

... and its replacement like this.

Drying out nicely, which sadly means we've missed the chance to do some interesting Sistine Chapel-type frescoes in the plaster. Probably just as well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Snow angels of Abingdon

The snow is all but gone but in Albert Park the remains of the snowmen linger on, scattered around the grass. It's like something Anthony Gormley might have installed when he was very young.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hello, world

I just thought I'd announce that at some point today the planet will have orbited the sun exactly 44 times since I first opened my mouth, took a deep breath of fresh Northern Ireland air and howled my protest at being evicted from my nice warm home of the last nine months. We're shortly off to see Slumdog Millionaire, which is probably something we'd have done anyway but for the sake of argument is officially the Birthday Treat.

In other news, Far Frozen North CID have been in touch again; there are a further 12 eBay accounts linked with the gentlemen under investigation and it's thought he may have profited by about £50k over the last three years. That's a lot of Galactica boxsets.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Oh. My. God.

I am married to Richard Dawkins ...

Your result for The Doctor Who Companion Test...

Romana II

You are Romana II. While you still retain all your knowledge from the Academy, your time spent traveling with The Doctor has mellowed you a bit, and you and The Doctor now get along quite well. The Doctor also greatly enjoys your company - you're smart enough to keep up with him, but are no longer the brash young know-it-all of your previous incarnation.

Unfortunately, all that mellowing has also caused you to become a bit more dependent upon The Doctor than you might like - you seem to be getting captured by monsters more and more these days. Still, you know how to enjoy yourself, and will probably stick around for the time being.

Take The Doctor Who Companion Test
at HelloQuizzy

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eat justice, perp

Well, this is exciting.

About a year ago I got stung on eBay, foolishly sending off a cheque for £35 for the boxset of Battlestar Galactica series 3, which never arrived. The vendor's feedback seemed good but clearly the system doesn't always work.

(Note to close relatives and family members: if anyone tries to give me a hard time about this confession, I will bring up the subject of who recently ordered a £55 bottle of wine in a restaurant without checking the price. Are we understood?)

eBay themselves spotted something dodgy about the vendor because they emailed me to say they were closing the account - conveniently and thoughtfully, it was soon after I had mailed the cheque. It was too late to cancel, the cheque had already cleared, and frankly it wasn't worth going round to the guy's place because he lived in the Far Frozen North. I put it down to experience and nowadays only buy DVDs'n'stuff on Amazon, if I do it online at all. And I pay by Paypal or card.

But today I get an email from a detective constable in Far Frozen North CID, saying the guy is under investigation, and my name is one of the 255 eBay have provided him with as having bought something off him in December 2007 or January 2008. Would I mind letting him know what happened? All the sums involved were quite similar to mine, most stingees did like me and put it down to experience ... so over a two month period the perp was quietly amassing 255 x £35 or thereabouts, which = quite a lot.

I've sent off my report and copies of the emails that were exchanged. Funny that now I can fantasise far more exciting punishments than I could a year ago when I was quietly resigning myself to my loss. Gene Hunt is never around when you want him. Or Judge Dredd. Or Lord Vetinari.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Child's play

Time's Chariot gets its first decent review - by my standards of decent, anyway, i.e. by a science fiction publication with reviewers who are likely to Get It - in the latest Vector. It emerges favourably at the end, even if the reviewer does play the game reviewers like to play (and I doubtless do it myself) of "pick up on something that hasn't even occurred to the author and make a deal of it".

Sometimes this is good; it reveals strengths and weaknesses and stylistic quirks that the author can take into account the next time round. Sometimes it's just baffling ...
"The fact that it is so clearly 'written down' for children might prevent their full enjoyment."
Ahem. 'Written down'? That's my actual style, thank you very much.

You don't believe me, ask a genuine child, like 14 year old Tommy who reviewed it in the Cork Evening Echo, second only to Vector and perhaps Locus as a nexus of the sfnal hive mind. Generously he gives it a 7/10, apparently deducting 3 points because "this book would really only be suitable for anyone over the age of 12 because the author uses difficult words to describe things and there is some bad language".

Sadly he doesn't cite the bad language (I'd love to know where he found it) but he does at least explain that bit about the difficult words: "I didn't like the way the author used futuristic, made-up words which he didn't explain, for example agrav."

A future in SF critique does not (yet) lie ahead of young Tommy, but give him time.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A flaw in the BCP

If the Chief Technology Officer is going to send an email to everyone saying "stay at home", he really should do it earlier than 8.32, a time at which on a normal day almost everyone is at their desks.

My own manager did try to phone me, but the call came as I was pulling out onto the main road and I don't answer the phone while I'm driving. By the time I had slithered into work and seen the almost deserted carpark, I could guess what the voicemail she had left would say.

The roads were much less crowded than yesterday but also much more slippery, cancelling out the advantage. To be honest I only pressed on to work because I had seen the queue of traffic heading in the other direction. Still, having got there I was able to give a colleague a lift back to Abingdon, to catch any bus that might be heading for Oxford, so I felt warm and fulfilled.

Tonight's recipe: gnocchi bolognese, hot and with lots of garlic. Perfect for the season, I think.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Honour satisfied, now go home

Management at work are currently considering whether to declare a BCP scenario. Lovely as it would be to think this means they will whip out a 1662 Book of Common Prayer and see what it says about the weather, it means the Business Continuity Plan will come into effect. After an hour's journey in and a cup of coffee, and with full managerial approval, I pre-empted it by coming home anyway.

Earlier on, Bonusbarn escorted me to my car, frolicking in the virgin snow like a little lamb and helping me on my way with snowballs, bless him. I left him stewing with the possibility that school might still be open. It's a hardy place. The last time we had snow, every other school in town closed except his; they let everyone get in, then sent them home again at 11. This time they saved him a journey by announcing that sixth form lessons were cancelled; no excuse for everyone else. So he's happy.

The roads were slushy but passable, and very slow due to careful drivers. There's a certain solidarity amongst snow drivers; an esprit de corps, a knowledge that we're all brothers and sisters. Unless you're the driver of a 4x4 Chelsea tractor that broke down in the left-hand lane halfway up Steventon Hill, flashers on and blocking off traffic to Didcot. Stuff the esprit de corps, you're allowed to find that hilariously funny, unless of course you're one of the drivers behind it. But as it happens, I go up the right-hand lane of Steventon Hill, so that's okay.

Coming home, I came down the A34 which had no problems at all, and I saw The Snowplough. It appears to be the only one in existence in the UK, and I saw it. Ploughing snow. I feel fulfilled.

Now to get down to the work I brought home on a stick, relishing the chance to do it on a PC.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Strapped to a gurney

So, you've given blood once or twice before and thought that platelet donation would be much the same? You fool.

The first difference is when the nurse breezily announces that the process takes on average 90 minutes. You gulp, and think of all the great books you could have bought to fill in the time. She assures you that they have plenty of newspapers and magazines. The Daily Mirror, Men's Health ... tears begin to come to your eyes.

Oh, and DVDs. You begin to perk up.

The second difference is when you are introduced to the Machine, a cross between a school chemistry experiment and a bad Dr Who special effect from the time when everyone knew you could tell a really advanced computer by the number of moving parts. And this is the really clever bit. It sucks your blood out, and you get to see it go down the tubes and squirt itself around a small plastic labyrinth (that's the school chemistry bit). It then pumps into something like an unfeasibly long transparent condom which gets spun around in the machine's innards. The platelets separate out and manifest in a clear plastic bag as a cloudy yellow liquid a bit like cheap consommé, or that stuff that floats to the top when you leave gravy in the fridge too long. And then the machine pumps the rest of it, which is still red, back into you. Therefore you don't actually lose much, and can just get up and walk away when they unplug you 90 minutes later.

You feel tingling in your lips, making you feel strangely like you're holding back tears even though you aren't, which is an effect of the anti-coagulant they pump into you along with your returning blood. Otherwise the only real discomfort is sitting in the seat, something a bit like a dentist's chair, for so long.

The guy who was scheduled alongside me had to pop out to phone a flatmate and alert him to a delivery from Tesco, so I was plugged in first and I got the unit's sole DVD player. I got to watch Sliding Doors, an enjoyable bit of fluff with Mrs Martin which I hadn't seen before. It's a 95 minute movie for what turned out to be an 85 minute session, but they kindly let me finish it.

So, I get to do some good, lose a little consommé and suffer driving to the JR in rush hour, which frankly is the worst bit. Oh, and I get dinner three hours later than normal, but the sting of that is offset by an understanding wife who sticks an extra banana and kitkat in with my lunch. In return unknown strangers that I will never meet in this life with leukaemia or other disorderly nasties will benefit and, who knows, maybe lives will be saved. The good outweights the bad.

Will probably do it again, and next time I'll take a book.

Observation affects outcome

Put it this way - if you weren't a tiny percent nerd, you wouldn't do things like this, would you? says I'm an Uber Cool High Nerd.  Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and talk to others on the nerd forum!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Why the slippers were red

The participants in this conversation were a middle-aged prime of life man whose degree course included a year on Comparative Communist Systems, and a child born three years after the Berlin Wall came down and who is now studying the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin.

See if you can guess which speaker is which.

- "Yugoslavia had maybe the most successful communist system, though it was only held together by Tito-"

- "Dorothy's dog?"

- [after baffled pause] "what?"

- "Dorothy, in that film ..."

- "The Wizard of Oz?"

- "... had a dog called-"

- "TOTO!"

- "Oh. Well. It's only one vowel."