Monday, 7 December 2009

Medal-ing with history

Can journalists no longer add up? Could they ever, I hear you ask.

The thought arises after reading this article on Sky News today (click the link while you can - News International want to start charging you for accessing their news online, in what is known as "Operation Send Everyone To The BBC News Website Instead").

The gist of it is that a bloke called Roger Day turned up to the remembrance day ceremony in Bedworth with 17 medals that "military experts" claim it would be impossible to have earned.

Not so, insists Mr Day - who, we are helpfully informed, is 61 years old - they were all earned fair and square.

The most recent medal is from the first Gulf War, at which point he would have been about 40 years old, so no problems there. But the earliest medal was from World War II. Now, even I can perform the sum 2009 minus 61, and discover that Mr Day was born three years after the second world war ended! In fact, he wouldn't have been able to enter military service until 1966.

It's okay though, because Mr Day has the backing of the local vicar. "There are pictures of him in the Armed Forces in his home," he says. Well, that proves it then - he clearly was serving in the army three years before he was born.

After all, you can't fake a photograph...

Monday, 23 November 2009

Computer games in "letting you do stuff you can't normally" shock

I should see about getting some funding for a study. It seems that you can do one on any old crap and someone will pay you for it.

Recently, two Swiss human rights organisations (Trial and Pro Juventute, if you're interested - and yes, they're both charities) have commissioned a study in which they played a load of war games on various consoles. Sounds like piss-easy work to me, but what was truly groundbreaking was their conclusion after this difficult research:
"Certain scenes and acts committed by players would constitute violations of international law if they were real, rather than virtual."
Games let you do stuff that you can't in real life - because it's illegal? Really?! Well bugger me, I had no idea. I was labouring under the impression that not only was it possible to go into outer space and rescue Princess Leia from an asthmatic bloke in a black mask, it was also possible to do so by becoming entirely made of Lego.

Apparently, that's "not possible in real life". I'm truly shocked - and heaven knows how my poor friend Sackboy will take it. He's probably about to find out he's not real either.

Seriously, isn't this the point of computer games? I mean, let's take a look at the child-friendly things you can do in the Grand Theft Auto series:
  • hire a prostitute, take her somewhere secluded in your car, engage in a sex act, then blow her brains out with a shotgun and get your money back
  • steal a fully-laden school bus and drive it full pelt into the front of a police station
  • climb to the top of a high building and take pot shots at passers-by with a sniper rifle
  • steal a bike by kneecapping its owner as he rides past you, then use it to chase an ambulance whilst seeing how many paramedics you can shoot without dismounting
  • buy a nice outfit from one of the upmarket boutiques
Now, we're all well aware that none of the above (well, most of it) is far from legal. But in a computer game, that fair enough. It's escapism - and as far as GTA is concerned, there's a cartoon-y feel to it that somehow removes most of the horror of what you're being asked to do. Think of it as an interactive movie and it makes more sense. I mean, there was some damn gruesome stuff in "Seven", but that still got released.

However, our friends in Switzerland think that games should only allow you to do stuff that you can do in real life. So, get ready for their first fully-approved releases, coming to XBox360, PS3 and Amstrad CPC664 this Christmas:
  • SimDusting
  • Pro Evolution Tax Return
  • Call Of Nature
  • Tom Clancy's Doorbell Needs Cell AA
  • Extreme Bed Maker
It's almost as if they think we can't tell what's real and what's a game any more. And I know that PacMan would agree with me.

Monday, 28 September 2009

It starts at the top, but comes out of the bottom

Many people complain that they have been crapped on by their boss. But they put up with this because their boss is also the person who pays them. Which is fair enough.

How should you respond when you're shat upon by your boss when you're a charity volunteer? That is something I didn't think I'd ever need to contemplate. Surely volunteers are utterly vital to the work of all charities, and when you have a regular group of excellent, hard-working and reliable volunteers, shouldn't you go out of your way to keep them on-board and happy - especially if you're a health charity and some of those volunteers are doctors and nurses?

Soundly pissing them all off via your self-righteous blog is probably not a good idea.

Today, it's a post that confuses "GP" - a doctor trained as a General Practitioner - with "GP practice" - the place where they work, all of the staff within it and all of the services it provides.

If I were to tell you that every GP will get £10.50 for each swine flu jab they give, you would be rightly outraged. If, as is correct, I were to tell you that each GP practice was to be given £10.50 funding for each swine flu vaccination it provides (and the each vaccination consists of two jabs), and that this amount covered all of the administration costs, follow-ups in case of side effects, and actually buying the vaccine in the first place, you'd probably think it was a bit of a bargain.

By taking the completely incorrect first interpretation of this story, quite literally making some other stuff up, and then posting it in his usual "this is gospel" style in his blog, our favourite charity boss has today marked himself out as a Daily Mail-style bullshit peddler of the highest order. He's also massively annoyed his lead volunteer health professional - the person responsible for planning all of the medical training that the charities' team of children's educational holiday volunteers receive. Nice work!

But those volunteers - and especially those at the Edinburgh holiday this year - would expect nothing less. Mr Boss himself volunteered on the Edinburgh holiday, and whist he was there he provided a daily blog so that people could find out what being a volunteer entailed.

So far, so good - it sounds like an excellent plan. Well, here are some snippets from those blog posts:
"We have some excellent volunteer healthcare professionals who will help them keep safe as they enjoy the holiday."

"The fact that asthma nurses are on hand also encourages children otherwise reluctant to try something new."

"The fact we have so many volunteer healthcare professionals here gives real peace of mind."
What's wrong with that, I hear you ask? Well, what about all of the volunteers who aren't health professionals? Don't they deserve a mention? After all, they outnumber the health professional volunteers by a ratio of just over 4:1. It's also worth pointing out that only a small minority of the health professional volunteers are asthma nurses - most are nurses or hospital doctors, although there are some asthma nurses, the odd paramedic and a GP.

But, as shown today, there's no need to let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good soundbite.

Sometimes, I genuinely wonder why we bother.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Sky is limited

Pop quiz: you need to solve a problem with your Sky TV service. Do you:

a) Call the helpline telephone number that appeared along with the error message on your Sky box


b) Google the fault, and solve it yourself with the aid of the first three results it finds?

I, being in a really silly mood, decided to try option "a" - and that's why I'm blogging today.

To all companies that provide "helplines": if no-one on the other end of the phone has even the slightest ability to "help" me, you're on the verge of being reported for false advertising.

Why was I calling Sky in the first place? It's all John Barrowman's fault.

The dates for series three of Torchwood have been announced. The entire series is being stripped across a week of BBC1's schedule - and it's the second week of our Italy holiday next month. The Sky+ planner only lets you programme recordings up to seven days in advance. Seven days before the series starts, we'll also be in Italy. Bugger.

No problem, all I need to do is set my set-top box up to use the "remote recording" application that I have on my mobile phone. Previously this was done by logging into Sky's website, but now it needs to be done using the Sky Active service on my set-top box.

And here was the problem; the set-top box was refusing to connect to Sky Active through the phone line. I was getting the wonderfully-ambiguous "error 106", and given an 0844-number to call for help.

If I'd just dialled "123" and listened to the speaking clock for half an hour, I'd have received just as much assistance.

After giving my details and explaining my problem, the Sky person said that an error 106 means the problem is with the connection between my Sky box and the phone line. Did I have a message waiting on 1571? No. Oh.

Well, maybe I have outgoing number witholding turned on. No, I don't - when I call my mobile, my number comes through. I ask the Sky person if their system shows them the number that I've called them from. "Yes, sir," they reply, and read my phone number out from their display. Well, it's not bloody blocked then, is it?

"Ah, well, some telephone service providers only stop your number being sent to 08- and 09-numbers."

YOU are on the other end of an 08-number, you bloody prat, and you have my number. So let's stop suggesting stuff that you can already see isn't my problem and try something else, eh?

In the end, the best they could suggest was disconnecting all of my other telephone equipment and ADSL filters, connecting my Sky box directly to the phone line and trying that. Well, sod that for a game of soldiers - if I have to essentially rewire my house in order to access Sky Active, then I'll just not bother.

One quick Google search later, and I have a plan of action of my own:
  1. Do a random product search using QVC Active on the Sky box, and see if that works. If it does, then there's nothing wrong with the set-top box or phone line.
  2. Access the Sky box installer menu, and tell the box to dial using the prefix 1615 - this is Tiscali's "bypass all settings" prefix, and Tiscali are my phone line provider.
  3. Try it again.
Guess what? After following those three steps, it all worked perfectly. In case you're wondering, to access the Sky installer menu, press Services, 4, 0, 1, Select on your Sky remote.

The moral of this story is that Google is more helpful than any so-called helpline. But heaven help you if you're not technically minded.

When the analogue TV signal is switched off, the fun will truly begin...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's not rocket science

There used to be a big deal made about "stupidly easy quizzes". There was at least one children's TV show that gave away huge prizes for being able to answer questions like, "who wrote Beethoven's 5th symphony" or, "what is the name of the suspension bridge in Clifton".

One of the funnier moments came when a teenage girl was asked, "what is the main ingredient in tomato ketchup?". She hesitated for a moment and then said, "pass". At the end, the host was laughing at her inability to give the correct answer of "tomatoes".

The main ingredient by weight in tomato ketchup is sugar.

In a dull moment during GCSE biology (and my God, there were a lot of those), I came up with what I thought was the ultimate version of this: why not treat these questions as if they were being used in Mastermind. It needed a new name; something which starts out seeming clever but gets less and less amusing each time you use it. I settled on Wastermind, and if you pronounce it correctly you see that it fulfils both of my requirements.

I only ever came up with the questions for one specialist subject, so I present them for you now:

Specialist subject - questions which all have "fish" as the answer:
  1. What kind of creature is a trout?
  2. One of the most popular British takeaways is what and chips?
  3. What would you keep in an aquarium?
  4. What does footballer Steve Guppy's surname make him sound like?
  5. What English word is spelled F-I-S-H?
  6. What is the odd one out?
  7. Jesus is said to have fed a large number of people with just two items of food. One was loaves of bread. What was the other?
  8. What type of creature can be gold, star or cat?
  9. A popular TV weather presenter was Michael who?
  10. What do anglers expect to catch?
  11. What prefix completes these words?
    -ing boat
  12. What suffix should be added to sel- to give a word meaning the opposite of selfless?
And so on.

Well, (and that was one heck of a preamble) it seems that Farcebook is getting in on the act too. Recently, something not dissimilar to the following appeared in my news feed:
Twatty McMoron has taken the "What's your birthday month?" test, and the result is "April".
How many questions did they have to answer to find that out?

'Kin hell...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Physics and talent

Boyle's Law states the following:
For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional (while one increases, the other decreases).
Susan Boyle's Law is slightly different:
For a fixed amount of talent kept at a fixed exposure, pressure and success are inversely proportional (while one increases, the other decreases).
The "celebrity" culture that prevails in the UK's media has been subject to my ire before on this blog. This time, the mechanics are slightly different, but the end result is the same: someone that no-one had ever heard of just a few weeks ago has gone into a very public meltdown.

If you don't know who Susan Boyle is, don't expect me to explain it to you. Even people living under rocks have heard of her. 20 million YouTube viewers can't be wrong. Well, no - clearly any number of YouTube viewers can be completely wrong 100% of the time. Scrap that comparison.

Susan Boyle's fame is based on one thing and one thing only: the fact that we're all meant to be surprised that an unattractive person can be talented. Now, this is a frankly ridiculous concept. I mean, Rodin was an ugly fucker but he couldn't half sculpt.

More to the point, pick an attractive pop star. Can they sing? On the whole - no, they can't. Without studio trickery, Girls Aloud sound like they've entered Stars In Their Eyes with the line, "tonight, Matthew, we're going to be five cats struggling to escape from a sack in a canal". Kate Nash may well be easy on the eye, but putting on a mockney accent and talking over a piano track (whilst sounding like you're holding a punnet of strawberries in your cheeks) does not pleasant music make. The talented one in the Spice Girls was the one that looked most like a boy, and the talented one in Savage Garden was the one that looked most like a girl.

I could go on, but I only have a finite amount of pop-related insults and you never know when I might need to use some in the future.

Susan Boyle's performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" was good, but nothing more - not really. Amanda Holden's reaction (especially the face she pulls when Susan starts singing) just makes me want to beat her with a brick. "Oh my gosh, this frumpy spinster can hold a tune!" Piss off, botox features.

When Susan Boyle returned on the semi-final, her performance of "Memory" was poor. Based on that performance alone (which is how the show should work), she didn't deserve to reach the final. In the final, she performed "I Dreamed A Dream" again. Is that the only tune she can sing well? The only reason she was runner-up was because of the storm generated by her first TV appearance.

But even in the semi-final, some of her mannerisms seemed false. They were not really Susan Boyle, they were "Susan Boyle, celebrity", and they were hard to watch. The whole "Piers-y baby" air-humping thing that she did was downright disturbing. No-one likes to watch their gran being sexually suggestive on live television, but that was what this felt like.

Maybe Susan has now "made it". After all, she's in the Priory - and that's where all celebrities go, isn't it? Maybe now normality can be restored. Maybe the media will forget about her. Unlike Jade, I don't see there being a series of reality TV shows made about her future exploits. Then again, the schedule on LivingTV has been rather bare since Ms Goody departed.

Susan Boyle's lesson is an important one for us all. I was cheering for her as the perfect representation of "normal people", who take their chance to shine and seize it with both hands. The trick is to keep your feet on the ground, and perhaps Susan's sheltered upbringing (if what I've read in the papers is true) might be one of the reasons why she's not coped particularly well with the media attention.

It is possible to go from "nobody" to "world star" without losing the plot. Leona Lewis, for example. Beware the price of fame: the higher you rise, the further you have to fall.

And the quicker the rise and fall happens, the harder your recovery will be.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Five things I concluded this week

In what may or may not become a regular feature of this blog, here are my bite-sized musings on the last seven days.
  1. The Speaker of The House of Commons has proven what I already knew, and had known since he was first installed in the post: he's bloody useless.
  2. I don't need a Facebook quiz to decide whether or not I'm a potato.
  3. The Irish legal system supports paedophilia: the official enquiry into sexual abuse at Irish Catholic institutions was prevented from naming those accused of sexual abuse when the most-alleged-against brotherhood took the enquiry board to court in 2004 and won.
  4. If the Formula One Teams Association want to form a break-away series that won't be pissed about with by the FIA, now is the best chance they've ever had to do so. And if the teams got all of the TV revenue money to share between them (rather than just what's left after most has fallen carelessly into Mr B. Ecclestone's pocket), there would be no need for the FIA's proposed budget cap.
  5. Going with Mrs Steve to see John Barrowman in concert is bloody expensive: aside from the t-shirt and mug she had to buy, we also learned that he's taking over one of the lead roles in La Cage Aux Folles in the West End from September 14th - which means we're now going to see said show on October 2nd. In the most expensive seats, of course.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Unsafe at any speed

Intelligent Speed Adaption. If you've never heard of it, you will do soon. And you'll also have to put up with the high-handed crap that surrounds it. So allow me to fill you in.

ISA (which is surely a tax-free savings account) is a combination of GPS technology and a passenger that keeps telling you you're breaking the speed limit. A system is currently on test by TfL that only works within the boundary of the M25. The system uses GPS to work out which road you are on, and has a built-in database of all of the speed limits for all of the roads in the area it covers. You can either get the device to inform you whether you are going over the limit or not (by means of an in-no-way-patronising smiley or frowny face), or to actively control your vehicle's acceleration and breaking to make sure that it's completely impossible to break the limit.

Chris Lines, head of TfL's road safety unit, said: "This innovative technology could help any driver avoid the unnecessary penalties of creeping over the speed limit and at the same time will save lives."

Chris Lines is a fucking moron.

What the device really will do is stop drivers from thinking. What it will do is enforce the incorrect belief that if you're not breaking the speed limit, you can't cause an accident. But that's okay, because the current government clearly thinks that already. The number of speed cameras that are popping up - despite having no effect on the number of road casualties in the areas they appear - is testiment to that.

So is the fact that Chris Lines himself describes them as "unnecessary penalties". Creeping over the speed limit because you're - for example - driving past a school and paying more attention to whether any children are running out in front of your car then you are to the exact position of the needle on your speedometer should not be penalised by a machine that can't determine context: a speed camera.

What is more dangerous: a car travelling at 85mph on a clear, empty, dry motorway; or a car travelling at 60mph on a wet motorway with virtually no visibility whilst being about 10cm away from the back-end of the car in front of it?

Obviously it is the latter. But speed cameras and the ISA system will only prevent the former.

The government can't ban cars - fuel and road taxes generate too much money - but they clearly want to make them so unusable that we won't bother with them. If public transport in this country wasn't so utterly laughable, they might succeed. Too many people need their cars, because there is no viable alternative.

Except one.

And that presents itself to us at the next general election.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Enquiring runners

This one's only half there.

Muller 10k

Is this Cheap Tina The Cow?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The prancing horse is lame


What does that name mean to you? If you're an F1 fan who was bought up on the sport in the 80s and 90s - like me - it means "laughable underperformance backed by biggest budget in the sport".

From 1980 through to 1999, Ferrari failed to win anything in F1. It might be hard to remember those times thanks to the work of Schumacher and Brawn (and we'll come back to them in a moment), but they were hopeless in varying degrees.

Sometimes, such as with Alain Prost in 1990, they came mighty close to winning something. Sometimes, such as in 1980 - the year after Jody Scheckter won the world championship for them - they suffered the indignity of undertaking the least-successful ever attempt at defending an F1 title. And other years, such as with Alesi and Berger in 1993, they were just utterly dire.

1980 remains Ferrari's worst ever start to an F1 season, but only as far as points scored are concerned. Because there was a different points system in place then compared to the one in place today, if we look at race results Ferrari's worst ever start to an F1 season took place in 2009. Yep, this year. In 1980, they'd managed a fourth place finish by the fourth race. This year, they only managed a fifth in the same period.

How can this be? Up until the last corner on the last lap of the last race of 2008, they were the champions. In 2007, they were the champions. As they had been every year from 2000 to 2004 inclusive. Where did it all go wrong?

In the past, driver management has been an issue. By failing to deal with Villeneuve and Pironi in 1982, one driver killed himself whilst trying to prove a point in qualifying for the Belgian GP, and the other suffered an almost idential career-ending (but not fatal) accident whilst qualifying in Germany.

Mansell and Prost didn't get on in 1990. By the end of the year, the whining moustache had done enough to unsettle the team at the point when they needed to focus on Prost's title challenge.

In 1997, Schumacher attempted to cheat his way to the drivers' title by ramming Villeneuve, in the same way that he cheated his way to the title in 1994 by ramming Hill. He didn't get the chance to challenge for the title in 1996 because the team suffered three consecutive Grands Prix in the middle of the season where neither of their cars finished. Schumacher was leading races on two of those occasions.

In the early 90s, Ferrari were able to entice designer John Barnard from Benetton, and this looked like a masterstroke. Barnard was responsible for the "flying nose" on the 1992 Benetton which since 1996 has pretty much been the standard front wing configuration used by every team. Although the idea was pioneered by Dr Harvey Postlethwaite at Tyrrell, Barnard had the vision and the funds to perfect it.

Ferrari got their man, but he wouldn't move to Italy! Instead, he worked from his design studio in the UK, with bits of Ferrari moving backwards and forwards between Italy and the home counties throughout the seasons as the cars were designed and improved. His 1994 Ferrari was beautiful to look at and moderately quick. His 1995 car was less attractive but much faster. In 1996 he dropped the flying wing and produced and ugly, dumpy car. Logic dictated that this should be even quicker. It wasn't, and only the brilliance (and luck) of Schumacher got it to perform.

But then Ferrari got Ross Brawn. He did move to Italy. The rest is history.

And then the FIA decide to rewrite the rule book for 2009, which means that all of this year's cars are clean-sheet designs. Everything that went before is thrown out of the window. Suddenly, Ferrari and BMW look like they don't know what they're doing.

Instead, Red Bull and Brawn are the cars to beat. Well, consider the engineering talents of Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey, and it's easy to see why. Between them, they have been responsible for the design of 11 of the last 17 title-winning cars!

Foot-shooting is common at Ferrari, and continues to this day. Had they not opted to use a needlessly-complicated pit exit traffic light thing instead of a bloke holding a stick to signal when Massa could exit the pits last season - a system which inevitably went wrong - then Massa would be champion. This year, they've managed to mess up qualifying on two occasions out of five. That's good going for a team that spends upwards of $300 million a year!!

They don't even appear to have the FIA on their side any more. In the early 2000s, when the teams were threatening to break away from the FIA and start their own series, the FIA made sure that they got Ferrari to agree to stay with them. Without Ferrari, they said, there was no F1.

Last week, when Ferrari threatened to withdraw from the series if the FIA go ahead with their budget-capping plan for 2010, the FIA said that Ferrari could like it or lump it. F1 will continue without Ferrari, they said.

Why the sudden change of heart?

Could it be because Ferrari were the main threat to McLaren, a team owned by Ron Dennis - a man despised by Max Moseley? Probably. Today, of course, neither Ferrari nor McLaren look like winning anything this year, and Dennis is no longer part of McLaren anyway. As far as Moseley is concerned, Ferrari have served their purpose.

And that leaves them up the creek without any means of locomotion. Because, without the FIA to randomly change regulations so that they maintain the upper hand, Ferrari appear to be at a loss as to what to do to improve their car. They look hopeless, a prancing horse fallen lame.

Which is why it's shaping up to be one of the best Formula One seasons in a very, very long time.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Just fan off!

Farcebook. It is the source of constant amusement. It is the place where you learn who has mastered the English language, as opposed to those people who think "aswell" is one word.

Recently, there has been a swell in the number and scope of fan pages on FB. And some of them are, to put it bluntly, staggeringly pathetic.

For example:

Of course, this is just subterfuge. Becoming a fan of "I hate battery low" really means, "I am hopelessly unable to manage the mind-numbingly simple task of making sure my laptop/mobile/mp3 player doesn't run out of power, and want to both announce this fact to all of my friends AND yet hide it behind a veneer of it not being my fault".

But what else are my friends becoming fans of? Let's see...

Jelly Tots !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, I like jelly tots as much as the next man (unless the next man is diabetic, of course). But I will never become a fan of anything that uses fifteen bloody exclamation marks. For pity's sake...

Cuddling, Partying, Hot Baths, Kissing, Sex, etc...
I mean, honestly, what's the point? Who wouldn't be a fan of these things? What's next... Hey, everyone, I'm a fan of breathing. I'm a fan of oxygen. I'm a fan of using Facebook like a pillock. Pur-leese!

I'm not going to confine this Farcebook rant to just fan pages, though. Oh, no! You see, there is something else troubling me at the moment, something which used to be confined to group emails but is now waved in my face every time I access my Farcebook home page: "What kind of [insert random item here] are you?"

I don't give a rat's arse what element I am; what my completely arbitrary "personality evaluation" is; which character in [insert name of TV show] I am most like; how much knowledge of [insert subject or person] I have; or how runny my last shit was. Seriously - there is a Farcebook Bristol Stool Scale application. That's taking "too much information" into unexplored territory.

I don't want to shout about these things, because you're my friends, and if you wanted to know, you would use your own knowledge or, and this might come as a shock to the application writers on Farcebook, you would ask me. Farcebook doesn't let me ignore just applications on my home feed - I either have to ignore every sodding new test that comes along, or take the easy route of ignoring any friends that inadvertently fill my feed with utter crap. Which means that, should they post something I might want to know about, I don't get to see it, because I've blocked them - because I don't care which sodding Care Bear they are most like.

My main problem here is the fact that all these quizzes are for is to make users grant
the people who created the tests access to their profiles. They do that when they click on the "accept" button that appears just before the test application loads. With that click, all of the personal details that are stored in their account are available to the people who made the test application. So, if you've filled in a number of these tests and are suddenly getting a lot more spam than you used to, now you know why.

So, Farcebook - please, please, please make it so that I can block all applications in one go. Please. That way, I will remain sane, despite no longer being privvy to the exact comparison between my friends and boybands.

And please, please, please make "profile harvesting" applications a breach of the T&Cs. In order to fill in a simple quiz, an application does not have a legitimate need to know my email address or my date of birth.

Perhaps I should create a fan page for everyone who agrees with me...?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

15 miles

At 12.43pm.

At the 18 mile point

Cathy crossed the start line at 10.01am.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Friday, 24 April 2009

A marathon runnist...

...looks like this. Try and spot one on the telly on Sunday.

Just in case you forget...

...they even give you safety pins when you collect your race number! Seven of them, for some reason.

At the Marathon Expo

Cathy has her number, her goody bag, and we're all full of pasta!

We're in London!

It's marathon weekend, so Cathy and I are now in London, and are about to trot off to the Marathon Expo at Excel to collect Cathy's race number, timing chip, Asthma UK goody bag and anything else free that we can get hold of!

We'll also be taking advantage of the pasta party that they're hosting, our first of two this weekend (the other being Asthma UK's party tomorrow afternoon).

So, with the aid of my trusty mobile, I'll be blogging from here, there and everywhere over the course of the weekend - you can follow us, and then on the race day you can follow Cathy's progress - here, as it happens. Ish.

Right - train time. See you later!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

America the Daft

There is uproar in the US. Not about the Middle East, or the price of oil (which is also about the Middle East) or the continuing threat of terrorism (erm... that's the Middle East again, isn't it?).

No, this is about something much more important to your average John Doe. Something as important as apple pie, soda pop, free guns for all and oppressing minorities: the Miss USA beauty contest.

This year the contest was won by Kristen Dalton - Miss North Carolina. But no-one cares about her, because she's as dull as you expect a beauty contest winner to be. Like Barbie, but slightly more plastic.

All attention this year turns to the runner-up: Carrie Prejean, Miss California.

The trouble started during the "judges each ask the contestants a question" round. Perez Hilton, one of the judges, asked Miss Prejean what her thoughts were on gay marriages.

Before we get to her answer, let us stop and consider Perez Hilton. As you might have guessed, that's a pseudonym - his real name is Mario Armando Lavandeira Jnr, which frankly sounds more made-up than Perez Hilton. Why was he a judge? Because he's a "celebrity blogger". A celebrity because of his blog. Which is about celebrities. Which probably means he can now get by simply by blogging about himself. Which he frequently does. This in some way qualifies him to judge a beauty contest, possibly in the same way that owning a lawnmower qualifies you to become an official Formula One race steward. When judgement day arrives, people like this will instantly disappear up their own arses, the world will instantly become a better place, and the human race will be saved.

But I digress.

Back at Miss USA, Perez Hilton asked Miss Prejean what her thoughts were on gay marriages. Her response was honest:

"I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offence to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

Unfortunately, this response got scrambled as it was broadcast live across the USA. What viewers apparently heard was:


And so the US is up in arms about this. ABC News informs us that this comment was what cost Miss Prejean the Miss USA title. Perez "not as funny as my real name" Hilton accused her of "alienating millions of gay and lesbian Americans, their families and their supporters". The bloke who organises the Miss California contest put out a press release stating that he was disappointed by Miss Prejean's views on the subject of gay marriage.

Two important questions:

1 - Why do we give a shit? Seriously, why should a woman's personal opinion on a subject which has split the entire nation be of any great interest to anyone? She has no say in whether gay marriage becomes legal in the states where it is currently outlawed, or vice versa. She is a runner-up in a beauty contest.

Which leads me to:

2 - She's the runner-up in a beauty contest! A bloody beauty contest! The things that Europe gave up in the 80s, and that haven't really been remotely culturally accepted since the 50s. Why should we expect the sort of person who wants to enter such a contest to have liberal, 21st century views? They've just entered a fucking beauty contest! Did Germaine Greer ever enter a beauty contest? What about Sir Ian McKellern? No. Because there comes a point in some people's lives when they realise that, no matter how hard they try, they will never be "clever". They will never be able to hold an intellectual conversation because the man they're trying to talk to can't stop looking at their chest. They will never be taken seriously because everything that falls from their lips is unutterably banal, and makes most grown-ups want to drop them into a vat of battery acid. And at this point, and only at this point, do they consider entering a bloody beauty contest.

(If you want my own, personal opinion on gay marriages, here it is in two unimaginative words: They're good.)

Not that all rubbish about, or of, gay marriages stems from the US of A. Here in the UK of GB and NI we are pretty good at liberalised numptyness and spouting bollocks too.

After the civil partnerships law was passed in the UK, Liverpool Register Office took down all of the heterosexual marriage photos from the waiting room so as not to offend gays. This ridiculously stupid act succeeded in offending everyone. Straight couples complained that it made it seem as if the register office was suggesting that only gay couples were now welcome, and Stonewall (the UK gay and lesbian rights group) pointed out that, were it not for heterosexual relationships, there would be no gay people at all, because they would never have been born.

But my favourite piece of bile regarding civil partnerships came from that bastion of middle-England, everyone's favourite fearmongering cack-rag, the Daily Mail.

One of the columnists (I forget who, because I only remember useful stuff) suggested that civil partnerships were an abomination for one reason and one reason alone: he had a 41-year-old friend who had three children with his common-law wife, and owned a home with her. Now, gay couples could get all of the benefits such as inheritance tax avoidance and better tax relief, that were being denied to his friend.

He failed to point out one thing: in order to qualify for these benefits, the gay couple would need to get married...

...something that his friend had legally been able to do, but had avoided doing, for the past 25 years.

Perhaps the USA have the right idea after all - if all the narrow-minded morons are confined to beauty contests, it makes them much easier to ignore.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Embracing technology like a technology embracing thing

My new phone lets me create "picture blogs" and upload them in just a couple of minutes. This is rather cool, although it's worth pointing out that my old phone could do this too - but when I got that phone I didn't have a blog, so I never set it up.

The previous entry to this one was sent from my phone. By the nature of the way my phone lets me make these mini entries, they will consist of a title, a photo, and couple of lines of text. You'll be able to spot them in amongst my "made on a PC" posts, because the latter all feature either no picture, or a picture with a (possibly) amusing caption.

What this means is that whenever I see something that amuses, annoys or just interests me, I'll be able to post about it. Woo. And, indeed, hoo.

Note to self:

Waiting at bus stops during the school holidays is a Bad Idea - they are reserved for chav teenagers that have nothing better to do.

Having said that, I have now learnt that she definitely never got off with Sam at the top of Windmill Hill on Saturday evening.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The difference between radio and TV

Although there are obvious differences between radio and TV (for example, David Mellor has the perfect face for radio), there is one that I wasn't particularly aware of before now.

As far as the ASA are concerned, the main difference between these two media is that young children watch TV on their own, but don't listen to radio on their own.

Hence, complaints about the Government's current "I'm scared" anti-smoking campaign have been upheld as far as the TV advert is concerned, but not as far as the one on radio - despite the two adverts using the same scripts.

Apparently, the ASA "considered that the ad could cause distress to children if they were watching TV alone, without their parents or family to explain the ad to them." But the radio advert doesn't have this problem, because "any child listening would likely be in the company of family - over breakfast or during the school run in the car".

Proof, if it were needed, that - officially - the TV is the child minder that every home already employs. And radio is the weird bloke in the park that you're not allowed to talk to.

Now, forgive me if I'm missing something, but isn't this the point? I'm not really one for scaring children to prove a point, but the ASA assert that, without an adult to explain it, young children watching the advert think that the death of their smoking parent(s) is imminent. Thus, parents who are prone to leaving their young kids in the sole company of a TV set end up having to - heaven forbid - do some proper parenting for a change. They don't like this, so they complain to the ASA. Which, in a BBC-over-the-Ross-and-Brand-incident display of feeblemindedness, they uphold. Tossers.

Thing is, I don't think the "I'm scared" adverts go far enough. I think a child coming out with the line, "I'm scared my mummy will die, and I'm scared that breathing in her smoke will kill me too" would hammer the point home nicely.

Don't want your children scared by anti-smoking adverts? Here are my top tips:

1) Stop smoking
2) Don't leave your children unsupervised watching the TV
3) Try doing both - and embrace the radical art of "good parenting"

And stop blaming the government - who lose masses of tobacco-sourced tax revenue if they succeed in their aim of stopping people from smoking - when it all goes tits up.

Monday, 23 March 2009

This is not a post about Jade Goody

I promised myself that I would not blog about Jade Goody. I'm going to break that promise, but not because I want to speak ill of the dead; there's been a lot of comment about Goody flying around that is reprehensible. I read, "good riddance to her" this morning. I've blogged about Facebook groups wishing death on people before, so you know where I stand on that one.

The world is broken, and Jade Goody demonstrates why. She is not the cause, or even the effect, but she - or rather, the media circus she generated, and continues to generate - is a symptom.

Let's be blunt here: who was Jade Goody? A game-show contestant who became famous for being unbelievably stupid and for flashing her toilet parts to Channel 4 viewers. That is all. No more, no less.

But, if any of us were put in the position to become rich and famous simply for being ourselves, could we honestly say that we would say, "no thanks"? The fact the tabloid newspapers fell over themselves to feature her, that cack-mags like OK! waved huge pots of cash at her to get interviews, and the fact that LivingTV might as well have renamed itself "The Goody Channel" are not Jade's fault.

Whatever else she may have been, she was clearly a loving mother, and her two children have lost a parent - no-one wants to see that happen, do they?

But what else was she? Celebrity Big Brother proved that she was both a racist and a bigot. The past few weeks have proven that cancer cures racism. No matter how harrowing her final months of life, it can't change everything that went before it.

Over the course of the past week, another famous mother has died - Natasha Richardson. Some people seem to be suggesting that Richardson is more deserving of our sympathy then Goody. Not so - but Goody is certainly not more deserving than Richardson.

For example, over the course of the weekend the bodies of three soldiers were flown back from Afghanistan to be buried. How do their familys feel when the Prime Minister decides that Jade Goody deserves a tribute and they don't? These are men who chose to put themselves into a position in which they risked being killed for their country. They are no different to the millions who died in the 40s to prevent us all from becoming German. They are not merely game-show contestants.

The BBC asked website visitors what that thought Jade Goody's legacy would be. Overwhelmingly, they responded "nothing". That she has highlighted the dangers of not being screened for cervical cancer is clear, but the fact that she has bequeathed not a penny to cancer research is worth noting.

In all of this, one name stands knee-deep in more effluent than any other: Max Clifford. As I read in a blog the other week, "if he's so good at publicity why does everyone think he's a c**t?" It's a very good point, and the answer is probably because he is one. I wonder how much money he's made from all of this? How much did he charge Goody for managing the last few weeks of her life? If anyone deserves to rot anywhere at any point in the future, it is surely him.

And then there's OK! magazine - shite-peddlars of the highest order who didn't seem to think there was anything wrong in publising a Jade Goody Tribute Issue with her year of death on the cover in big letters while she was still alive. Words fail me, especially when they decided to send out this tribute as magazine issue number 666. Yes, they really did.

Finally, let's not forget LivingTV, a channel that kept Jade in the public eye through those periods when we were trying to either ignore or forget her with a collection of interminable reality shows such as Jade's Salon. The channel that paid a fortune to screen her wedding, a wedding to a man who gives chavs a bad name.

To suggest that anyone who dies deserves more sympathy, well wishes or support than anyone else is mildly insulting. To suggest that every previous cancer victim is somehow less worthy than Jade Goody is massively insulting to a huge number of people.

Jade died how she lived - in the glare of the public eye. She chose to use that spotlight to make money for her children. In doing this, she highlighted the need for cervical cancer screening. She demonstrated just how horrible dying of cancer is.

It's not her fault that the media spotlight was there in the first place. But in the way her death is being treated, has everyone involved belittled every previous cancer death?

I think they have. And that saddens me to the core.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How to ignore most of the words in a press release

Despite being a "newspaper" (and those inverted commas are important), the Daily Star appears to employ journalists who can only read a small number of words in a press release. After doing this, they then make up a story to fit the words that they chose to read.

In a bout of keeping up with what John Barrowman is up to, I discovered that he is spending the next six consecutive Sundays filming a new show, Tonight's The Night, for the BBC. Wanting to know more about this, I popped over to the BBC's website and did a search, quickly finding their press release about the new show:
BBC One is making dreams come true as part of a brand new, six-part Saturday night entertainment show. Hosted by Torchwood and West End star John Barrowman, Tonight's The Night combines show-stopping acts from world class artists with once-in-a-lifetime performances that make people's dreams come true.

It doesn't matter how young or old, or how big, small or bizarre the wish. Tonight's The Night will end up being the night ordinary people live out their performing fantasy for real and become the most unlikely stars that Saturday evenings have ever seen.

From local community heroes to enthusiastic amateurs with a hidden talent they have been yearning to unleash, Tonight will be their time to shine – with the help of John and the best talent in the business.

This could mean duetting with a favourite pop group, singing with a big band or tripping the light fantastic with the cast of a hit West End musical. John will leave no performance stone unturned to make this the night of their lives and a must-see for entertainment fans.

There will also be big laughs, with a succession of celebrity guest appearances, performances, exciting studio challenges and show-stopping numbers. Guest celebrities will support the stars for a night and become involved in making their wishes come true.

This was released on the 25th January. The following day, the Daily Star reported the news, and added the following:
However, the show has been dubbed as a Britain's Got Talent rip-off. An industry insider told the Daily Star: "You can't blame fans for thinking it's a direct rip-off. But who cares? It has the potential to be a great show and it will be good to see the BBC take on Cowell."
Woah there! Just bloody woah! Where did that bunch of cack come from?! Who are these "fans" that we can't blame? How can a show that lets random members of the public do a single, one-off performance of something, possibly accompanied by a famous singer/actor/band, be in any way compared to a talent show in which twelve performers are eventually whittled down to one winner by means of the public voting off their least favourite act each week? Has no-one noticed the following important points:
  • There's no judging panel
  • There's no voting or even opinion passing about the performances
  • There are no prizes for performing
Nope, what's happened is that the Daily Star journalist who made up the story (after all, "an industry insider", "a close friend of", and "an associate of" are all journalistic terms for "the person who made up the following quote") looked at the press release and spotted the following words and phrases:
  • Dreams come true
  • Entertaiment show
  • Talent
..and thought, "ooh, I can use those words to describe Britain's Got Talent too, so the shows must be the same". Thing is, the BBC have already "taken on Cowell". It was called Fame Academy, and it was pants.

Remember Michael Barrymore's My Kind Of People? No? Well, whether you do or not, and whatever you now think of Michael "fancy a dip in my pool" Barrymore, that is the show that Tonight's The Night most closely apes. And it was good, solid entertainment.

Hopefully variety is about to start making a comeback to Saturday night TV. If it is, I can think of fewer better hosts than John Barrowman. Now, partner him with Denise Van Outen and you have a 21st century remake of The Donny And Marie show just waiting to happen.

Just don't tell the Daily Star. They'll only accuse it of being a rip-off of The Big Breakfast...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Carry On Driving - confessions of a determined motorist

This weekend has featured three important dates - Friday the 13th, Valentine's Day, and Mrs Steve's birthday.

As far as the latter two were concerned, it seemed an excellent excuse for a trip to London and a visit to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see "Oliver", starring Jodie Prenger, Mr Bean, Dr Owen Harper, Davros and Cristatos from "For Your Eyes Only". Which was excellent, and will probably be blogged about later in the week.

Nope, this blog post is about the journey to London. On Friday the 13th. Now, I'm certainly not superstitious, but I'm starting to be swayed...

We set off from home in my trusty Honda Accord, and made our way towards the big smoke down the M40. I was merrily trundling along at ~73mph in the fast lane of the motorway when my dashboard decided to do its Blackpool Illuminations impression. The braking system, anti-lock brakes, airbag and alternator warning lights all lit up at the same time.


I pulled over to the hard shoulder and risked getting out of the car to take a peak under the bonnet. There was an engine there. Which was a good start.

We were only a mile-and-a-half from Cherwell Valley services, so I trundled along the hard shoulder (with my hazard warning lights on) and up to the junction - an act that confused a man in a silver SEAT Ibiza, who couldn't work out whether to overtake me or not despite the fact that I was doing 35mph on the hard shoulder and he was driving on the motorway...!

A very nice AA man duly arrived and took a look at the car. His instant (and, it turns out, 100% accurate) assessment was that the alternator was buggered, and was pumping out far more than the 15V it was meant to. In fact, it was pumping out somewhere in the region of 18V, enough to baffle the electrical system (hence the dashboard illuminations) and toast the battery.

However, we had to be in London in two hours time, otherwise we'd miss the show. We were still 80 minutes from our hotel, and it would take 90 minutes to get a transporter to our car.

There was only one option - we were going to have to see how resilient to ludicrous voltages the electrical system in a Honda Accord was. We were going to have to drive to London.

But there was no chance of managing this unless we could reduce the load on the battery. Which meant that every possible electrical system in the car needed to be running. So, turn on the heater, the air conditioning, the headlights, the heated rear window, the CD player, the windscreen wipers (it wasn't raining) front and rear, and keep the engine revs below 2,250 per minute. Which, in top gear, means the car is doing 48mph according to the sat nav.

Travelling on a motorway at 48mph was the scariest experience of my life so far. But, apart from the Polish lorry driver who thought that driving right up my arse, flashing his headlights and sounding his horn would somehow make my car disappear (or at least render it less solid), it wasn't too bad.

As long as we could keep all of the warning lights off the dashboard, then everything was okay. But if they lit up again, the load was too great on the battery and we needed to use more power.

..and when that happened, there was only one other power item which would sufficiently drain the output of the alternator - the electric windows.

So, picture the scene. On a clear, bright, dry afternoon, a black Honda Accord was travelling down the M40 at a steady 48mph with its windscreen wipers running, its headlights on, and with each window in turn opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing...

But it worked! We got to the hotel 20 minutes before we needed to leave it again to get to the theatre. It was a close thing, though.

The battery was knackered by the over-charging. On Saturday morning when I drove the car to Acton to be repaired, it seemed fine for the first 10 minutes of my journey.

Then the ABS light came on.

Then the alternator light came on.

Then the entire dashboard stopped working.

Thank heavens for sat nav. Approaching a speed camera when your speedometer isn't working is brown-trousers time unless you have a trusty TomTom displaying your speed for you!

Japanese cars? Next time, I'm buying Lebanese.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

If I were a sexist

Beyoncé Knowles, just bloody stop it.

I really, really can't stand whiney-arsed pop songs. The worst offender by quite some margin is "Because Of You" by Kelly 'Not Related To Jeremy' Clarkson - a song that's more whiney, self-centred and angst-ridden than your average teenager's LiveJournal. Not pleasant.

And so Beyoncé has joined the party with "If I Were A Boy". Now, I am a boy. If I'd written a song that basically said, "all girls sleep around, take you for granted, hang out with their mates all the time and don't give a shit about your feelings until you dump them", I'd get every feminist in the Northern Hemisphere wanting to put my bollocks in a vice. I'd also have written a really crappy pop song.

Kudos, then, to Beyoncé and songwriting partners Britney Carlson and Toby Gad. They avoided falling into that trap. Unfortunately, they fell into the trap of writing exactly the same song about blokes instead. Oops.

Let's take a closer look...
If I were a boy
Even just for a day

I'd roll out of bed in the morning

And throw on what I wanted and go
The male gender apologise for that fact that you're too vain to just do this. It's clearly our fault.
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I'd kick it with who I wanted
And I'd never get confronted for it
Cause they stick up for me
We also apologise for being better friends to other guys than girls are to other girls. That must be our fault too. Oh, and to suggest that all blokes chase after girls is insulting. You tart.
If I were a boy
I think I could understand

How it feels to love a girl

I swear I'd be a better man

I'd listen to her
Modest, aren't we Ms Knowles?
Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted

Cause he's taking you for granted

And everything you had got destroyed
That's a bit over-dramatic, isn't it? Would you like a lie down?
If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it's broken
So they'd think that I was sleeping alone
Yes, 'cause that makes perfect sense. The only way I know that someone is sleeping on their own is because their mobile phone appears not to be working. You bloody mentalist.
I'd put myself first
And make the rules as I go
Cause I know that she'd be faithful,
Waiting for me to come home, to come home.
So all girls are faithful and all boys are self-centred arseholes? Sorry, what planet did you say you were from again? Don't blame the rest of us 'cos you've only dated serial twats.

There's more, but it's just the same stuff again. If these lyrics were aimed at just one particular boy then it wouldn't be so bad, but it's a cheap pop lyricists trick to tar everyone with the same brush. Girls will buy the single because it makes them feel "empowered", because they "empathise with the singer", because they "all know boys like that", and because "they're all totally full of shit". The world is not full of blokes who can't go two days without shagging something. You need to get out more.

But you're just a girl.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Roland VIMA: just what's the point?

I love Roland. No, it's not a homoerotic fantasy. I love the Roland Corporation, musical instrument manufacturers.

The first Roland product I owned was an E-30 keyboard, back in 1989. That was replaced by an E-70 in 1991, and then an EM-2000 in 1998. A keyboard which I still own, and still use professionally. It has been battered and bruised through 10 years of gigging, and the only problem was when the power supply fizzled out a year ago.

Along with this, my pedal board is a Roland PK-7, my mixer is a Roland VM-3100, and at home I have a Roland G-70 workstation so that I can make music during the day as well.

So when Roland announce a brand new product range in the UK, I should be excited. In fact, I'm bemused.

That product is Roland VIMA, and it has been around in the US for about two years now. And it's completely and utterly pointless.

I'm not going to bother explaining what it is, because Roland have already done that in a handy video which can be found on YouTube - here, in fact. Take a look and then read on.

Firstly, and something that isn't mentioned in the video, I have a problem with the specification of VIMA. The keyboard contains 128 orchestral sounds. That's the same number as my E-30 contained. Twenty bloody years ago! By comparison, there are nearly 1,600 voices in my G-70, and over 1,100 in my 10-year-old EM-2000. This specification is, quite frankly, crap.

But my real issue with VIMA is that it doesn't actually do anything of value. It certainly doesn't do anything that you can't either already do, or can do with a PC a whole lot cheaper than a VIMA keyboard costs (about £4,995 in case you're wondering).

Let's take a look at what the YouTube video says VIMA can help you do:

Authentic Sound
I've already mentioned this - the sounds will be very good (Roland's sounds always are), but there aren't anywhere near enough of them to justify the price of the instrument.

The non-VIMA alternative: Roland's own low-end electronic pianos offer the same weighted keyboard and can be linked to a sound module for hundreds more voices than VIMA offers. A saving of at least £3,000.

VIMA Tunes
These are just glorified MIDI karaoke files, and you can download thousands of them free-of-charge by doing a quick Google search. Pretty much any decent keyboard these days can play back karaoke files, and most of the higher-end ones have a TV output so you can see the lyrics on a big screen. Failing that, a free PC program such as vanBasco's Karaoke Player can play back MIDI karaoke files through your PC's soundcard and display the lyrics too. All VIMA adds is the ability to overlay the lyrics onto still pictures. Is that really worth £5,000?

The non-VIMA alternative: You're reading this, so you have a PC. Download vanBasco's Karaoke Player and grab some .kar files from the web. Total cost - £0.

VIMA's ability to display the score or a "virtual piano roll" (an utterly pointless display if ever I saw one) is matched by high-end Roland and Yamaha keyboards and electronic pianos. These will set you back pretty much the same amount of money as VIMA, but are vastly superior instruments. If you're happy to forsake the weighted keyboard action, you can cut the cost considerably. With a PC, downloadable program MIDI-Notator (which only costs $20 to buy) lets you take a MIDI file, pick some tracks and print out the score.

The non-VIMA alternative: How about a Yamaha PSR-S900? A saving of about £4,000 - and a much better instrument than VIMA.

Audio CDs
What?! It can play Audio CDs and you can play along with them?! Wow. The only other way to do that is to play an audio CD and then play along with it. You know, like you can do as long as you own a CD player. No point whatsoever.

The non-VIMA alternative: Play an audio CD. Then play along with it using any musical instrument you care to mention.

The ability to remove the vocal line from commercial CDs is always massively fudged in adverts such as the VIMA video. The only way to remove the vocals is to remove all the parts of the original recording that are panned to the centre of the stereo spectrum. This removes the lead vocal, but may also remove any number of other parts. Usually, what it fails to remove is the effects (echo, reverb, and so on) that were applied to the lead vocal in the studio, leaving you with an ethereal-sounding version of the original. And, of course, if the original was a mono recording, this doesn't work at all. Regardless, a free add-on is available for the also-free WinAmp that does exactly the same thing, and which works with mp3, wma and wav files as well as audio CDs. There's also a free add-on that lets you change the pitch and tempo of any sound file as it plays back.

The non-VIMA alternative: WinAmp and the add-ons are free.

Slide Show
Now we enter the realm of complete and utter pointlessness. A slideshow on your TV with musical accompaniment? Let's see now...

Pretty much every digital camera comes equipped with a cable that lets you connect it to a TV set. They also have a slideshow mode that lets you view all of the stored images as a slideshow. So connect your camera to the TV, put it in slideshow mode, and then play a CD along with it, or something. Or whatever musical instrument you have to hand.

If VIMA let you record the results, it would have a point. But it doesn't! Utterly, utterly useless.

The non-VIMA alternative: Play the slideshow and play music along with it. It won't cost you any extra money. If you have a current-generation games console (XBox360, Wii, PS3) it's even easier - and at least £3,700 cheaper than VIMA!

See above, but substitute the word "slideshow" for the word "video". This is even more pointless, because absolutely every digital video camera comes with TV connection cables!

Portable Audio Device
Oh good grief - it gets worse! £5,000 for a glorified iPod dock?! They're just taking the piss now.

The non-VIMA alternative: Connect your mp3 player to a TV or hi-fi using the cable that came with it (or one that will cost <£10 from Maplin if it wasn't provided).

Well, this is just an amalgam of some of the things mentioned above (although what's the point of being able to connect the live feed from a video camera to your TV set? You're in the same bloody room as the resulting picture... can't you just look at it?!). The section about VIMA Tunes pretty much covers all of this. The only thing that you might need to match the capability of VIMA is the ability to connect a second microphone. No problem; a microphone mixer (which would allow you to connect up to four microphones) costs about £12 from Maplin.

The non-VIMA alternative: see above, plus that £12 mic mixer!

Sorry, Roland, but is the massive compromise in terms of the quality of the actual keyboard instrument really worth the extra £4,000 or so over a "normal" keyboard just for the ease-of-use that putting all of these (mostly pointless) features into one device? When a decent keyboard and a laptop can do all that and much, much more for much less money?

I'll get excited about a new Roland product range just as soon as they find the plot again.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

And this year's Eurovision winner is: Estonia

Thus the country chooses Jade. A decision that Lord Lloyd Webber clearly made a very long time ago.

Jade is a good performer. But she won't win us Eurovision. It's not her fault; the song's crap, and the only chance we had was with the novelty value of The Twins.

So, well done Estonia. Eurovision winners 2009.


It's His Tripe Now

Lord Lloyd Webber has chosen. Chosen who is not the act to win Eurovision, that is.

You can take the man out of musical theatre, but you can't take the musical theatre out of the man. That is aptly demonstrated by the song that Lloyd Webber has written for our 2008 Eurovision attempt. And, to be blunt, it's deeply mediocre. Dull, repetitive, and did Diane Warren phone those lyrics in or what? Twelve-year-olds write better stuff in English classes.

And here is the problem. Mark was trained in musical theatre. Take a composer with a background in musical theatre, and get him to write a song which sounds like it should come from a musical, and get it performed by someone trained in musical theater, and guess what... it sounds like musical theatre. Well, there's a bloomin' surprise. And so, very neatly, the Lord has engineered it so that - even if Mark wins the chance to represent us - there's no chance of him winning Eurovision. There is, however, a high liklihood of him sending the Baltic states to sleep.

Jade's performance was fine, but the song's still dull regardless. You can't polish a turd.

Which leaves me with The Twins. And you know what, their version of Andrew's song was really very good. They performed it excellently, and the harmonies made it seem much less dull than it does when performed by a soloist.

I said it last week: give them a slow song and tell them not to move. Bugger me, it worked. Can you believe that I'm about to vote for them?!

I'll blog again as soon as the show's over. Fingers crossed, folks...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Hate, Facebook and spelling

Sometimes I worry about humankind.

Today, this happened when one of my friends signed up to the Facebook group, "The man who raped and killed his 8 day old baby needs to be killed!!!".

Regardless of the crime, the group itself is deeply hateful. But what makes matters worse are two very, very important facts:
  1. The "crime" happened over two years ago, and people are still joining the Facebook group.
  2. The man in question was completely cleared of all charges due to a complete lack of evidence.
Should I be most disturbed by the fact that people are still signing up and demanding that an innocent man be executed? Definitely, and I certainly am. But it seems that quite a large proportion of the group members have signed up because they are appalled of the same thing. Some of the discussion board threads on the group are utterly brilliant, although they are definitely not for the easily offended. Reading beautifully eloquent posts belittling those that appear and text-speak death threats to an innocent man is surprisingly uplifting.

Without a doubt, the best thread is this one:

The thread title - "Watch thsi video if you like rapping kids" - is 100% accurate; the opening post links to a YouTube video featuring some kids performing a rap. But the fact that there were people who think that "rapping" is the correct spelling of "raping", or that YouTube would host a video of such a thing, is troubling. Mind you, some of the responses by sane people in that thread are superb.

Facebook is full of groups like this, and if the owners had any sense of decency they'd make it a breach of the T&Cs to start a group that demands the killing of someone. Or any hate-related groups, for that matter.

Or would that "offend their core demographic"?

Perhaps I should start the "People who create Facebook groups demanding that any person/group of people should be killed, should be killed"...!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Eurovision: Your country needs help

As I type this, Mrs Steve and I are just getting around to watching last Saturday's episode of "Eurovision: Your Country Needs You". We saw it for the first time last week, and were mainly struck by the fact that none of the judges (including Lord Lloyd Webber himself) were capable of saying anything really bad about any of the acts, even when they were bloody terrible.

Would things improve this week? Well, each act has two songs to sing, so let's start with song one!

The complete package; a brilliantly performed song. Emma Bunton (professional mother, former ballroom dancer) thought he was a little to uptight to be "cool". Since when has "coolness" been important in a Eurovision act? And who made you arbiter of coolness? You're older than me, for fuck's sake!

Now that we've got HDTV, is it possible to throw pies at the acts? I've seen more meat on a Chicken McNugget. Apart from the first note, this was a well performed song. I'm not a fan of the breathy if-I-try-and-use-my-chest-voice-I-won't-hit-the-note style of singing, but I'll not be too fussed if Jade ends up representing us.

Emperors Of Soul
They're great, but they're not a Eurovision act. Hopefully fame will follow their appearance on this show - it will be richly deserved after this performance.

The Twins
Oh, where to begin! Is it the fact that they're crying over the song being "a bit hard" when Palastinians are being blown to fuck in Gaza? Is it the fact that their entire performance was so out of tune it sounded like a sack of kittens being slowly minced by a rusty food processor? Or was it the fact that none of the judges had the decency to say, "Fuck me, that was the biggest pile of shit I've ever been subjected to in my entire life"?!

In an attempt to justify their performance, the Twins told us that they'd demonstrated their versatility by "performing in lots of different genrés", neglecting to add the crucial word, "badly". Lord Andrew of Theatreland said, "you do something very, very special when you sing together in harmony". If only they'd tried doing that during the song, eh?

Thank God that this was followed by the second song for each act, and thus we got to listen to a singer who was familiar with the startling concept of "singing in tune".

Song number two:

Excellent stuff, as expected. If this guy doesn't win, well, thinking about it, I wouldn't wish travelling to Russia to get beaten in a singing competition by Estonia ('cause that's what'll happen) on anyone. If he doesn't win, he'll still go far.

I'm surprised. Really. That was a great performance. Fair play, Skinny McThin.

Emperors of Soul
The opening harmony was quite painful, lads. In fact, I say that the lead line singer only accurately hit 50% of his notes in the entire song. Shame; despite all of this, you each still have more talent in your little finger than the Twins would have if you cloned each of them 12 times and added it all together.

The Twins
Oh dear. They've not even started yet, but I get a terrible feeling of despair in the pit of my stomach, when Graham Norton announces that they're singing "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers - a song you should only attempt if your harmonies are spot on. As opposed to sounding as if you've each spent the week practicing the song separately whilst listening to the other one on a broken tape recorder.

Well, bugger me! It's not bad at all. So, Andrew, we've cracked it: if they win, write them a slow song and tell them not to fucking move! However, the last note sounded like it was falling down the stairs, and the one singing the harmony needed to be told to hit the note straight off (rather than sliding up to it in a crooning style) because her sister was doing likewise with the melody line and it sounded odd.

I still get the feeling that there's the real danger of Jemini all over again if The Twins end up representing us, though.

On browsing the Your Country Needs You website, it appears that The Twins made it to the X-Factor boot camp in 2008. Now, consider the utter shit that Simon Cowell has given recording contracts to. The Twins are, according to Simon, worse than any of them. Worse than Robson and Jerome. Worse than Leon Jackson (who, I hear you ask). And probably worse than you.

Apparently they have each taken over 80 driving lessons and still don't feel ready for their tests. Oh, and they chose the lead-up to their first performance to pass on their plan of a double wedding to their two boyfriends. Sorry, I mean ex-boyfriends. Well, I reckon probably are by now. Not the sharpest tools in the box, then.

Until they start singing, of course. Then, and only then, they are sharpness personified.