Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year Resolutions

I never make New Year Resolutions. I do make resolutions at other times of year---then it somehow doesn't seem quite so bad when I fail to stick to them.

I've been badgering Wosog to stop smoking for years, but it seemed the more I pestered her about it, the less likely it was that she would stop. I've been a passive smoker all my life: my late father was a pipe smoker and my mother, who is now over 80 years old, still smokes! Wosog, however, smokes those nice menthol cigarettes, and when we found to our horror some time ago that Gsog had started smoking it was the smell of his ordinary cigarettes, among other factors, that finally made Wosog decide to stop as from 1 January 2006. Gsog says he is going to stop at the same time, but because Wosog has pressured him to do it, I'm not completely convinced that his heart is in it.

I'm not sure that the first part of 2006 is going to be entirely stress-free sharing a house with two people coming off cigarettes, but I'm certain it will be worth it in the long-term.

If there's anybody out there, I'd like to wish you a Healthy, Happy 2006!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Turning Japanese

My new car is a Honda Accord. For the last 8 years I've had 2 consecutive Audi A4s and, although I didn't have major problems with either car I did have several minor gripes with both of them. I've also been aware from consumer surveys over the last few years of how Japanese cars have retained their excellent reliability record while German cars have fallen in reliability. This seems to be particularly true of Audi. As you can see from the What Car? Reliability Index, Audi is among the Worst Ten Performers, but it shares that dubious distinction with several so-called "quality" marques----with Porsche as their least reliable brand! BMW is among the Best Ten Performers with an index of 85.95, but it is still a fair bit higher than Honda's 63.73.

I know that reliability isn't everything, but to my mind it's pretty vital when it comes to spending hard-earned cash on a depressingly depreciating asset----especially the amount of cash you need to shell out for a Porsche. The Porsche Boxter has a reliability index of 277.46, and the Audi TT's index is not much better at 251.2. The Audi A4's figure is considerably superior at 115.34, but this is still very poor compared with the Honda Accord's result of 41.71!

So why isn't everyone buying cars from Honda, Lexus, and the other members of the What Car? Top Ten? Why do people consider that they have "arrived" when they purchase a Porsche, an Audi, a Jaguar or a Saab (all among the worst ten performers for reliability)? Why did my son obviously feel the family would have less "Street Cred" when we moved from Audi to Honda? The answer, my friends, is snobbery, pure and simple----and some of you are paying a very high price for it!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Glasgow Vandalism

I note that the statue of Donald Dewar, the late First Minister, has been returned to its previous situation near the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. As you can see from this BBC article, the statue has been vandalised on several occasions since it was erected in 2002. The powers that be have now put dear old Donald on top of a 6' high plinth in the naive belief that this will deter the vandals.

The "high heedyins" should really learn from the experience of the Duke of Wellington's statue outside the Gallery of Modern Art. Despite numerous attempts to remove it, certain individuals persist in putting a traffic cone on top of the Duke's head. Why they choose to do this nobody knows, but I think it has now been accepted as a permanent feature!

Glasgow is one of the friendliest cities that I know. The people there are welcoming, and always willing to help visitors to the city. However, if there is one thing that Glaswegians can't stand it is pompous people who take themselves too seriously. As politicians go, Donald Dewar was a nice enough guy whose death at the age of 63 seemed a bit premature. His major role in achieving devolution for Scotland does make him a hero in some people's eyes. However, for those who consider the whole devolution project, including the Scottish Parliament Building, to be an expensive waste of time, Dewar is something less than a hero.

Is it any wonder then that this blatant attempt to make Dewar seem like some sort of demi-god is like a red rag to a bull to some people? I would remind the Lord Provost that we have some very skilled climbers in Scotland. Why doesn't she ask the Duke of Wellington?

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Good Christmas

Well was Santa good to you all? He was certainly very good to me. As well as my iPod, which came as a total surprise, I got a Crumpler Formal Lounge. Believe it or not, this is a bag made by a company in Australia that has one of the most eccentric websites I know. Their bags tend to have strange names, but they are widely regarded as among the best camera bags available. The formal lounge is really well designed: both from the security and the ergonomic points of view. I'll just need to get more equipment to fill it now (hint! hint!).

To come back to the iPod, I'm really impressed with the sound quality and I've also started looking into what podcasts are available. So far I've only listened to the New Scientist's podcast, and I think it's one I may well subscribe to. I downloaded a video podcast just to try out the video capability of the machine: simply amazing! It's like being able to carry a tiny televison around with you.

Got lots of other nice presents too, so all-in-all I'm feeling quite smug.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

1984 Revisited

I read about this plan some time ago, but a post on Boing Boing directed me to this Independent Online article about it. Apparently, as from next year the UK will have the dubious distinction of being the first country in the world where every car journey will be monitored, logged and the details stored for at least 2 years. We all think this is a good idea, don’t we? And we all remember voting for it, don’t we? Personally, I don’t remember voting for the “pleasure” of living in a Police State where I can’t drive anywhere without the details being stored in the Thought Police’s Central Computer for God-knows-who to access?

But apparently this is just the beginning! Once these sinister characters iron out the technical difficulties of automatic face recognition we can look forward to our every movement being monitored, even when we’re not in our cars!

The Police and the Security Services argue that technology such as this will make their jobs easier. They will have much less difficulty not just tracking down people who don’t buy tax discs for their cars, and don’t insure their vehicles, but other much more sinister individuals. They will no doubt trot out the old argument that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you shouldn’t mind being watched”. They’ll tell us that the overall aim of systems such as this is to make the public feel safer.

Well I’m one of the public, and proposals such as this don’t make me feel safer. They make me feel sadder, and they make me feel resentful that my civil liberties are being eroded significantly without adequate consultation. As far as I can see the car monitoring system is all set to go ahead, so who knows what else Big Brother has planned for us “for our own good”. As far as I’m concerned, if this is the way British society has to go to combat terrorism, the terrorists have already won the war.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

iHappy At Last

I'm finally getting an iPod for Christmas: a trendy little black one. You probably wonder how I can be (a) so confident, and (b) so specific. Well the reason is that I ordered it myself from Wosog won't even let me look at it until Christmas----she can be so cruel at times!

iPods have become such objects of desire that people who can't afford one have resorted to making there own. I don't think the sound quality from these will be up to much though!

Another iPod-related phenomenon has been the burgeoning list of iThings: iPod-related artefacts. I wonder if the limit of this has been reached with these iPod-ready underpants?

Maybe you know better?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Glad To See Your Back

I don't plan to provide evidence here, but I don't have too much body hair. I've never asked Wosog's opinion on the subject, but I suspect she's quite happy with the situation. As a people mechanic, I see quite a lot of exposed male (and female) torsos, so I think I've got a fair idea of the normal range, at least in Scotland. Believe me, this guy, who was snapped by fellow Flickrer RockyMountainHigh, is not within it!

The picture came to my attention when it was posted for discussion on Flickr Weirdies of the World. There was speculation that it wasn't a real photograph----that it had been "photoshopped". Sadly, I don't think this is the case. I harangued my fellow Weirdies for being superficial in criticising the young man on the basis of his appearance. I speculated that he might well be a caring, sensitive individual----or possibly a werewolf!

Anyway, assuming he is not a product of Adobe's excellent software, I today stumbled on the solution to his back hair problem: and still time for someone to buy it before Christmas too!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Working Class Hero

I was born in 1956 and the music of the Beatles, produced between 1963 and 1970, was something I was very aware of as I was growing up. My sister (who is 9 years older than me) had several of their albums, but the only one I actually bought was "Let It Be".

I never really took to Paul McCartney. He always seemed a bit smug to me. Clearly someone who is as wealthy as he is must have done something right, but I think the music he has produced since the Beatles broke up speaks volumes for where the talent really lay in the Lennon-McCartney collaboration.

John Lennon I found a bit enigmatic. Yoko Ono seemed a strange woman to me and their antics, including their "bed-in" for Peace in 1969, rather put me off. I didn't really follow Lennon's solo career, and when he was murdered on 8th December 1980 the event didn't really register with me in the way that it obviously did with thousands around the World.

The recent publicity about John Lennon clearly stems from the anniversary of his death and on 3rd December Radio 4 broadcast an interview with Lennon and his wife recorded in 1970, just after the Beatles had split up. I had heard that Lennon described himself as a genius in the interview, and I thought I might consider him more of a prat on hearing the full thing. It's an amazingly honest account, and well worth listening to. I came away from it feeling a lot more affection and respect for John Lennon. I would hesitate to call him a genius, but there's not doubt he was a remarkable man who died far too young.

Friday, December 09, 2005

No Place To Hide 2

It seems that certain big name celebrities are worried about the advent of high definition television (HDTV). This technology is already available in the USA and Japan, and will probably be available on Sky next year. It’s unclear when the BBC will release HDTV material. The problem with the new technology if you are a “beautiful person” is that the blemishes that could be disguised using the old standard are exposed without pity on the new screens (that provide a picture up to 6 times clearer).

According to this article, “Distressed celebrities are rushing to plastic surgeons and dermatologists for Botox or laser treatments. Technical and make-up experts are, meanwhile, devising increasingly ingenious techniques for masking flaws such as acne scars and bulging veins.” Apparently, Cameron Diaz and Britney Spears are not quite as pretty as we thought, and Demi Moore’s complexion is "coarse and leathery". Thankfully, some folk still look “hot” on HDTV. These are said to include Mischa Barton, Anna Kournikova, Eva Longoria, Catherine Zeta Jones and Jessica Alba (most of whom I have never heard of).

Worrying as this obviously is to the “stars” concerned, I think it raises more important issues about the sort of Society we are becoming. Why does it matter if an actress, or even a news reader, has skin that is less than perfect? With the relentless advance of technology this sort of “problem” is only going to get worse. It’s the same kind of mentality that leads some people to tolerate the use of potentially harmful chemicals just so they can eat the “perfect” piece of fruit. Personally, I’m with Joni Mitchell on this: “Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees”.

(1) If Cameron Diaz is really worried about her imperfections, I would just like to say here and now that I would be prepared to overlook them (but don't tell Wosog).
(2) Bearing in mind some of the images of Cherie Blair that have appeared on ordinary television, I would suggest that she may have to consider more drastic action before HDTV comes on-stream.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Place To Hide 1

If there is one theme that epitomises modern life it seems to me it is the Cult of Celebrity. The availability of mass media has allowed people who in the past would have been total non-entities to make, often very lucrative, careers out of----well----practically nothing! Like everything else in life, however, instant celebrity has its disadvantages. One of the main adverse effects is the constant scrutiny of so-called celebrity magazines like "Heat" here. I'd rather not say how I acquired this (actually, Wosog bought it) but, as you can see, having bullied the poor celebrities for years into getting as thin as possible, Heat has now started a campaign criticising sundry superstars for being too thin. The chosen few who have a bit of flesh on them are now entering a golden age where they can eat their chip butties with impunity without looking over their broadening shoulders for the flashes of the probing paparazzi.

If I were them, though, I'd enjoy it while I can. Next month the happy snappers will have stopped looking for sneaky pictures of protruding ribs and bony spines. They'll be back looking for tell-tale bulges as of yore.

As if the celebrity mags weren't bad enough, the poor wee souls have the prospect of high definition tv to look forward to----but that, as they say, is another story.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Wee Cough

I've been on holiday this week. I don't usually have holidays left to take at this time of year, but a while ago I realised that I was "running out of year", so to speak. My current car is getting a bit old and I was thinking of replacing it in March next year, or maybe February. On Monday I test drove (test drived?) three cars and, to cut a short story shorter, I'm taking delivery of my new car next week.

Yesterday and today I ventured into The Big City to look for Christmas presents for Wosog. The reason why I had to make 2 visits was that I was singularly uninspired yesterday, although I did take one or two photos of Glasgow when the weather was so nice (see attached example). I even considered getting the little lady a more unusual present, say one of the tasteful pictures from Haunted Memories, but I just couldn't decide which one she'd like most. Today I had a better idea what I was going for and, although I had to spend more than an hour getting a bluetooth phone to connect to the new car, I still had time to get something that I think Wosog will really like---though maybe not quite as much as a Haunted Memories picture. Unfortunately, it cost a bit more than I had planned. Never mind: Wosog assures me that she is worth it.

So there you are: the power of Positive Thinking---and a very expensive half-week. Just as well there's only tomorrow and Friday left: I don't think I could afford to stay off much longer!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Creations of the "Therapy Industry"

I expressed a bit of cynicism recently about the Priory Group's discovery of huge amounts of undiscovered psychiatric illness in the under-5s. I was interested, therefore, to find that the Therapy Industry had created yet another addiction that they can charge "sufferers" large amounts of money to "treat". This New York Times article recounts the trials and tribulations of the poor souls afflicted by "Internet Addiction Disorder".

There is no doubt that, especially with the availability of broadband, use of the internet is becoming much more extensive and prolonged. A study has, in fact, shown that the average American now spends more time watching TV and browsing the internet than he does sleeping. This is a pretty mind-boggling statistic, and I'm not saying that I think it represents a healthy trend, but I would take some convincing that large numbers of people can become addicted to the internet----at least in the sense that I understand the term addiction.

Addiction to heroin
carries the risk of fatal overdose as well as exposure (in intravenous users) to various nasty blood-borne viruses. Addiction to alcohol carries the risk of damage to the brain and the peripheral nervous system as well as life-threatening diseases of the liver and the pancreas. Like both of these, Addiction to gambling can cause terrible damage to relationships and marriages. Addiction to nicotine in cigarettes causes stroke, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer etc., etc. It is difficult to imagine that Internet addiction would have any serious physical effects, unless you include an increased risk of haemorrhoids or obesity! Since, with a broadband connection, the Internet addict won't be spending any more money on his "habit" than his well neighbour it's difficult to envisage dire financial consequences of Internet addiction.

Anyway, it's a relief to read that "A crucial difference between treating alcoholics and drug addicts, however, is that total abstinence is usually recommended for recovery from substance abuse, whereas moderate and manageable use is the goal for behavioural addictions." (including Internet addiction). Maybe there is hope for me yet: I'll still be able to write more of the tripe you've just finished reading!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Santa Sog

I don't know what made me do it, but as Christmas looms I felt like dressing up as Santa Claus and pretending to mistreat some cuddly toys. You can see the result here.

What can I tell you? I'm a bit odd!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Little Jem

As a novel Christmas present Gdog gave Wosog 2 tickets to see the Welsh singer Jem at the ABC Club on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow last night. This club is in a building that used to be occupied by the ABC Cinema years ago and I assumed the audience would be quite large. I was surprised to find that the doors opened at 7.00 pm. One of my neurotic "things" is that I always like to be on time (or even better, early) for things. Hence, I made quite strenuous efforts to ensure that Wosog and I would be at the club for 7.00 pm. In the event, of course, we weren't actually allowed in for about 45 minutes and we even had to wait for the "warm-up act" to come onstage. The latter were quite good, but we were both getting a little impatient by the time Jem appeared around 9.15 pm.

Fortunately, Jem and her band were really good. She's a great live singer, and the band are all excellent musicians. I haven't mentioned that the venue turned out to be really small and my one regret was that I didn't bring a camera with me. I don't have a decent flash unit yet, but even without one I think I could have got some reasonable photos: unfortunately the lack of a camera rather put paid to that!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why Worry?

I've always been a worrier. This guy has got nothing on me. I think part of my problem is that, as a child, I deliberately used anxiety to motivate me to study hard for exams. I was fairly successful at school and university, but I think the strategy has had long term consequences and I'm now having to learn other approaches to compensate. However, being a Hopeless Neurotic doesn't mean I'm a Bad Person!

I was surprised to read here , however, that some boffins are claiming that a tenth of 2-5 year olds have a serious psychiatric illness! I've not read the original article, but I think it's interesting that the news comes from a survey by The Priory Group. Call me cynical if you like, but wouldn't this group have a certain vested interest in uncovering latent psychiatric morbidity?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Great Lego Robbery

I used to love Lego as a kid. Despite the fact that the variety of pieces available was nothing like the variety available now, I could spend hours building things and breaking them up only to create more brilliant designs the next day. I even had thoughts of studying architecture in those days, but I later developed interests in other areas.

I was fascinated to hear via Boing Boing about another fan of Lego called William Swanberg. Mr Swanberg was even more creative than I was, however: he had the brilliant wheeze of swapping the bar codes on boxes of Lego, allowing him to steal thousands of dollars worth of the colourful bricks. Apparently a 2o foot truck was needed to carry away his booty, and it's estimated that he has sold $600,000 worth of Lego over the Internet since 2002!

You would have thought his local toy shop would have noticed sooner that a 40-year-old buying their entire stock of Lego on a regular basis was a little strange.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Spike Who?

Until today I had never heard of Spike Jonze. Then I watched these three videos on Bifurcated Rivets and my curiosity was aroused.

He was born Adam Spiegel, but changed his name to that of "the great bandleader" (apparently) Spike Jonze. He produced "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" (good things). He also produced "Jackass" for MTV, and "Jackass: The Movie" (not so good things IMHO). Between 1999 and 2003 he was married to Sophia Coppola ( director of "Lost in Translation").

So there you are: Spike Jonze is a mildly interesting bloke. Have a look at the videos---I like the first and last ones best.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Interesting Analysis

I submitted the colour version of my photo to the FaceAnalyser website. I thought I would share the results with you.

The first startling finding is that I'm 46% Korean/ Japanese and 54% Chinese: I had no idea that my origins were so exotic!

My personality profile has its highs and lows:

I'm low risk, ambition and sociability.
I'm average intelligence, honour, and politeness.
Apparently I have a very low gay factor, and I am very promiscuous!

Despite the fact that my income is $30-50,000 pa my "celebmatch" is Prince Charles!

I thought I would reproduce my Personality Profile in full:

"You particularly enjoy the traditional way of life. Having drinks with your friends, attending parties and relaxing while watching TV are some of the simple pleasures you indulge in. You may also enjoy physical exercise. Your driving force is to retire as early as possible, so that you can do the things you enjoy more often. Your main source of ambition comes from this desire.

You don't particularly like your job but you do it without complaining. You realize that the income that it provides is essential to your lifestyle. You are friendly yet competitive with your co-workers. This competitiveness may lead you to squander your earnings to match other peoples' possessions.

You operate most effectively when there is a set power structure, and the lines of authority are clear. You know your place in the ranks, you play by the rules, and will deliver what is expected of you. You do not care for responsibility; you would rather be care free."

All in all, uncannily accurate!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Running Out Of Ideas?

I never thought I would see a jelly fish made the hero of a music video, but memepool pointed me in the direction of this.

Quite sad really---in more ways than one!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Still Not Getting Things Done

It's hard to believe that it was April that I wrote this post about "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. If you could see the desk in front of my computer monitor you would know immediately that reading this book has not made the difference to my procrastinating behaviour that I hoped it would!

I still think Allen's ideas are good though, and I see from this interview that he continues to make big bucks with his GTD system. For the moment, my Tickler File (don't ask, read the book) waits in a cupboard for the day when I finally see the light.

I'm afraid it really is hard to change the habits of a lifetime, no matter how bad you know they are!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

When is a door not a door?

There's nothing more satisfying than watching pompous politicians of any party being shown for the asses they really are. This BBC page has a link to a hilarious video clip of George Bush trying to effect a dignified escape from an irritating press conference in China....and failing miserably!

I could just watch it again and again! The still from the video is a joy too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Perils of Videoconferencing

Everyone is so busy these days, but there always seems to be a increasing need to have meetings. I've made the point before that I'm not a great fan of these. Maybe technology can come to our aid? With the increasing availability of broadband links and the falling price of webcams, some folk think that videoconferencing is the answer: allowing us all to sit on our backsides even more, but still take part in these invaluable hot-air-generating sessions.

This video makes the point that videoconferencing should be used with care. One point to remember is that just because you can't see your colleagues it doesn't necessarily follow that they can't see you!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Today's Words Of Wisdom

Thanks to Jim Bumgardner aka jbum of Flickr aka Krazydad for this deep and meaningful quote from The Great Man:

"Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana."
Groucho Marx.

Makes you think, huh?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lost For Words....

Have you ever wondered what the most commonly used English word is? It's "the".

But did you know that "bollocks" is used slightly more often than "calorie"?

Well now you do. However, be careful how you use WordCount: QueryCount is watching you! And you'll never guess what the number one query is.... (Bollocks is number 340, if you're interested).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Recipe for Happiness

I have never been to Slough, but I've always thought the name was somewhat unattractive. Perhaps this is the reason why the place was chosen for a 3 month experiment to increase the levels of happiness there. The results are to be portrayed in a 4 part series on BBC2 entitled "Making Slough Happy".

The expert team recommends 10 steps to happiness:
  1. Plant something and nurture it
  2. Count your blessings - at least five - at the end of each day
  3. Take time to talk - have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
  4. Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
  5. Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
  6. Have a good laugh at least once a day
  7. Get physical - exercise for half an hour three times a week
  8. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
  9. Cut your TV viewing by half
  10. Spread some kindness - do a good turn for someone every day.
Maybe I'll give these a go. What do you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I'm hooked

I deal with addictions every day. In my job I am regularly exposed to heroin addicts and alcoholics. At home I'm forced to live with Wosog and Gsog, both of whom are addicted to nicotine (though they are giving up the fags* at New Year: now it's on the Net---it must be true!). I have even joked on this very blog about "viagraholics". I never thought I would fall prey to any form of addiction....until now.

Here goes...My name is Son of Groucho, and I am a Flickraholic. It started off innocently enough: one or two photos uploaded here and there, grateful for the occasional comment. A few holidays abroad, and I was uploading six or more pictures at a time, sending them to Flickr Groups (more of which later) at random to try and get more attention and suffering terrible feelings of rejection if nobody commented on or favourited my pics. Now, as you can see, I'm snapping away at anything, desperate to have something to upload!

With most addictions, groups are part of the cure for the disease, in Flickr they are part of the disease! Two sick individuals (one in the USA, and one in Canada) "invited" me to join "Flickr Weirdies of the World", and now I'm hooked on that too! I rack my brain for wacky pictures to post to the group, and wait with baited breath for my "fix" of comments. I start new threads and hover anxiously over the keyboard waiting for replies.

The worst thing of all, though, is that I've encouraged Wosog to join Flickr, and even Flickr Weirdies. Please help us if you can, by sending money or comforting messages to here or here.

Thank you for listening. May God help us both.

*that's cigarettes for my American readers.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Neglecting My Duties....

I must admit to neglecting The Voice of Reason recently. Last weekend Wosog finally gave in and agreed to buy the digital single lens reflex camera that I wanted for my birthday in March next year now. She was fed up with the embarrassing spectacle of my drooling over it in various shop windows. We saw the beast in Jessops at what seemed like a good price, and before I knew it I was lovingly fondling my Canon EOS 350D. I later spotted it on Amazon £40-50 cheaper, but whatever!

Despite the dismal weather, and the irritating inconvenience of having to work for a living, I have managed to take a few shots with the camera, and I have been very impressed with it. This new boost to my interest in photography has distracted me from blogging, and of course there's the small matter of my addiction----but that's another story....

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Zombie In Every Home?

I've become a bit disillusioned with Michael Jackson in recent years, but I always thought the Thriller video was a classic. I could never take the zombies in it seriously though, and films like Shaun of the Dead haven't made them seem any scarier.

However, it appears that I (and you) should be treating zombies with more respect, if only because you may be looking straight at one! A recent article recounted an experiment in which Microsoft deliberately set up a zombie pc, put it online and waited to see what would happen. In the 3 weeks of the test, reseachers noted 5 million requests for connections to the machine, and attempts to send 18 million spam messages carrying advertising for 13,000 websites! The article makes the point that spam is not the only problem. Networks of zombie computers, or botnets, can be used to launch phishing attacks, seed new viruses, launch denial of service attacks and be put to other sinister uses.

Help is, however, at hand in the form of the FBI, those well known zombie killers. The boys in blue have recently put the creator of one zombie network in the slammer. Apparently he could be facing 50 years behind bars, which I think is much longer than he would get for murder in the UK!

Call me cynical if you like, but didn't I hear that Microsoft were moving more into the computer security business? And don't you think botnet is too cute and cuddly a name for a network of zombies?

Friday, November 04, 2005

What's Your Excuse?

I'm a pretty law abiding individual. I've only been fined for illegal parking once. There are some situations, including medical emergencies etc., where most people consider overstaying your welcome in the car park is justified. This is apparently not the case in Melbourne, Australia, where the authorities have been trying to fine a 71-year-old corpse for illegal parking!

It seems that the parking attendant, who is presumably challenged in the nasal department as well as visually impaired, failed to notice anything unusual when he attached the ticket to the windscreen!

You really have to wonder what would be considered a legitimate reason for parking too long in Maroondah?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Halloween Update 2

While chewing one of the leftover toffees today, a piece of one of my teeth broke off. I've had to make a dental appointment.

Halloween sucks!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Update

Guess what? It's 22.20 and no trick-or-treaters have been!!!

Goodie bag anyone?

Happy Halloween!

Visiting one of the local supermarkets this weekend, I was amazed by the huge stock of pumpkins that they were carrying. I'm sure that they will never sell all of them! I suspect that the managers, like me, will have done a Google search for pumpkin recipes to try and tempt shoppers over the next week with their unsold pumpkins at knock down prices. If geeky Halloween celebrants discover this site, they'll sell even fewer of the unappetising fruits.

As usual, Wosog has stocked up with cookies, fruit and little bags of sweets to reward our little Halloween visitors for their often, it has to be said, uninspiring performances. There's always the possibility that they won't turn up some year and we'll be left gorging ourselves on fruit, cakes and sweets for the next week.

Anyway, Happy Halloween to all!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Alas Poor George!

It's not been a good week for poor George Bush with his close chums being accused of various dirty tricks: nothing to do with George himself, of course. Then there's the small matter of all those US troops returning from Iraq in body bags.

Like many senior politicians, Bush's ability to be elsewhere when the shit hits the proverbial fan is impressive, but maybe one day he will finally be knocked off his perch (thanks to Octupus Dropkick).

Friday, October 28, 2005

A Glimmer Of Hope

Don't you feel that the news currently is dominated by doom and gloom? We have: the ongoing chaos of the War in Iraq; multiple hurricanes in the United States; scaremongering (probably, maybe not) about avian influenza; predictions about the coldest Winter in the UK for several decades (complete with extrapolations about the dire economic and social consequences); recurrent terrorist attacks, and the new Iranian premier advocating wiping Israel off the face of the planet!

We also have the awful results of the South Asian Earthquake, but here we have the one bit of good news I've heard recently. I was encouraged to read that India has decided to donate $25 million towards the relief effort in Pakistan, and hopefully will also come to an agreement to allow opening of the line of control between the two parts of Kashmir. Considering the appalling relations between the two countries not that long ago, with "sabre rattling" of the most worrying kind going on, this is really a highly significant gesture.

You wonder what sort of catastrophic event it would take to bring the so-called Islamists and the "Infidels" of the West together? I suspect this would be on such a scale that none of us would survive it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

i Don't Believe It!

Continuing with my iPod obsession, I was interested to discover via PlasticBag that some enterprising individual has produced a replacement cap and lanyard for the iPod Shuffle that transforms the little beast into a crucifix.

According to the blurb on the site, this modification is designed to demonstrate membership of the "fastest growing religion in the world" IE iPod owners. In fact, reading the wording carefully, you could be forgiven for thinking that the makers were "taking the Mick".

The new accessory is called the iBelieve, adding to the lengthening list of iProducts. All i can say to this is....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In The Footsteps Of Hannibal....

I refer, of course, to Hannibal Lecter the medical genius and incredibly dangerous cannibalistic serial killer who was originally featured in the film "Silence of the Lambs". "What is he on about?" you ask. Well, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, simply called "Hannibal" was set largely in Florence, and one of the things that we did when we got back was watch the DVD again, and spot where the scenes had been filmed. Thomas Harris, the author, probably got the idea of setting the second film in Florence because of a real serial killer who was given the name "The Monster of Florence".

Many of the scenes were filmed in the amazing Palazzo Vecchio, and the corrupt policeman Pazzi, who is supposed to be one of the ancient Pazzi family, comes to a sticky end on the balcony of the Palazzo. At one point in the film Pazzi washes blood off his hands in the Cinghiale Fountain. Many other famous bits of the city are featured, and it's good fun spotting them if you are at all familiar with the place. The film was directed by one of my favourite directors, Ridley Scott, just after he'd finished Gladiator. It's well worth watching, as long as you don't have a weak stomach!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Brief Respite From Florence

The Sunday Times' Talking Heads column is often a rich source of topical quotations, but this week they've really surpassed themselves. Gems include:

"The most terrifying thing I've ever had to do was sit opposite Salman Rushdie at parents' evening and tell him his son was rubbish at English."
The teacher of Rushdie's son, Zafar.

"I'm racist? How can that even be possible? I was a friend of Michael Jackson's back when he was black."
Joan Rivers on Radio 4's Midweek.

"He's a lovely young man. I wouldn't mind if my daughter brought him home."
Ken Livingstone referring to David Cameron (yes, the Tory leadership contender)!
But for me the prize has to go to:
"The point is that young people are the same as they always were: they are just as ignorant."
Prince Phillip.
Why do the words "pot", "kettle" and "black" keep bouncing around my head?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Only Way Is Up

One of the first things we did on our first full day in Florence was to climb up the 414 steps of the 85 m tall Campanile (the bell tower of the cathedral). The cathedral (the Duomo) itself is 6 metres higher, but there was a queue for it! The climb up the Campanile had 2 purposes: firstly to give us an overview of the city, and secondly to burn off enough calories so that we would't feel guilty about eating much more than usual later in the day.

The weather for most of our stay was great, and the climb was well worth the effort. Fortunately, there are "floors" in the building where you can pretend to take in the view while you try to disguise the fact that you're panting like a dog! A grille in the floor even allows you to admire the dandruff of fellow tourists below (if only from a distance). At the top you can step out and take pictures of people panting at the top of the dome of the cathedral.

Inside the top level you can even find proof positive that the Italian art of graffiti was alive and well in 1803 (or is it 1823?). Personally, I think the descendents of Benedetto Buffo should be hunted down and made to pay for the damage! Perhaps these guys could help out?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Reflections On The Arno

Shortly after we arrived in Florence last Sunday we realised that our hotel lay within 5-10 minutes walk of 3 buildings on one bank of the River Arno. The first of these was the headquarters of the Florence Police'’s Antimafia Squad. This building was identified by an appropriate sign, that I decided to photograph, and 5 closed circuit television cameras that made me decide not to take any more photographs!

The second building was the British Consulate. This had an armed policeman on duty 24 hours a day, but that seemed to be the extent of the security measures.

The third building was the US Consulate. This could be approached by road from three directions. The approach from one direction had been permanently blocked off by two enormous flower troughs. The approach from the front was blocked 24 hours a day by a parked police car. I'’m not sure how the third approach was covered, but covered I'’m sure it was. A second police car was also parked permanently next to the building.

I also spotted the Bangladeshi Consulate some distance away. It didn'’t seem to have any particular security coverage.

Presumably this high security surveillance of American Consulates is reflected in major cities all over the world, and isn't just a consequence of the global importance of the US. It seemed to me a highly visual statement of how threatened the USA feels at present.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Leaving On A Jet Plane?

As I mentioned the other day, in my new devil-may-care style of behaviour, Wosog and I are jetting off to Florence early tomorrow morning. I say "jetting", but to be honest I've not read the small print from Ryanair. Maybe the explanation for the cheapness of the flight is that we're going to Italy in a propeller-driven former Second World War fighter plane? Maybe each passenger has a set of pedals and we all have to engage the legendary British fighting spirit to drive the craft to take-off velocity?

To be honest, I couldn't give a hoot as long as the bloody thing gets us to Pisa in one pisa (or whatever the Italian for "piece" is). I'm not too sure how good the weather is going to be, but it would be nice to get a picture of Brunelleschi's dome without the scaffolding!

Anyway, things will be a bit quiet on the blogging front for a few days. I'm hoping to have lots of cultural events to write about when I come back. That's if Gsog doesn't provide me with ranting material by wrecking the house while we're away!

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Flea In Your Artery

It seems that protein resilin that allows fleas to accelerate 50 times faster than the space shuttle may have uses in the treatment of human diseases. The resilin gene from fruit flies has been inserted into bacteria allowing the production of large amounts of the protein with its amazing mechanical properties.

Possible therapeutic applications include use of resilin in the treatment of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and aortic aneurysm (where the wall of the artery is weakened, bulges, and may rupture).

It certainly sounds as if we can expect patients to bounce back to health post-operatively (Ho! Ho!)!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Typing, Not Journalism

I was interested to read today two articles that focussed on the increasing popularity of blogging: not only as a participation sport, but as a source of entertainment. I have read several articles both online and in old fashioned newsprint by professional journalists slagging off blogging and bloggers. The basic thesis appears to be that if you haven’t “learned your trade” in journalism school, and climbed the greasy pole to end up writing a column for “guardians of the truth” like Rupert Murdoch, your opinion just isn’t worth listening to. The CBS News article “Blogging As Typing, Not Journalism” is fairly typical of the genre.

You have to ask yourself why, if professional journalists are so good and bloggers are so bad, the pros feel the need to criticise us. Could it possibly be that they’re feeling a wee bit insecure?

The article “Blogs vie with news for eyeballs” recounts the increasing influence of bloggers in reporting aspects of major stories. Bearing in mind that there are only so many hours in the day, it must be occurring to the media moguls that eventually even bloggers’ coverage of much more minor subjects may take readership away from them.

“Blooker rewards books from blogs” records the creation of a prize for books that have stemmed from successful blogs: yet another outlet for the creative juices of these “citizen journalists”.

The truth of the matter is that there are good and bad journalists, just as there are good and bad bloggers. The insatiable appetite of the population for information and entertainment will provide an audience for all four groups: the question is who will get the biggest market share in the long term?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Third Time Lucky?

It seems that Madonna's latest album "Confessions on a Dance Floor" is jinxed. First a horse riding accident in August caused three cracked ribs, a fractured collar bone, and a hand fracture. The album is due out on 15 November, and it was felt that the injuries might interfere with video shoots or promotional activities.

It now appears that the album has upset Israeli rabbis because of a track called Isaac about a 16th Century mystic called Yitzhak Luria. The rabbis who guard his tomb say it is forbidden to use his name for profit, and that Madonna will receive "punishment from the heavens" if she goes ahead.

Nae luck eh?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Building Jumpers

Gsog showed me this video clip of building jumpers. These guys need their heads, not to mention their knees, their hips and their ankles examined!

Gsog says he does some of these things on skates, but I don't think I want to hear any more....

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I Swear Before Almighty God....

As a cultured man from whose lips profanity never escapes, I was nevertheless fascinated to read this learned treatise on swearing from the BBC's h2g2 website. Practically every swear word I have never come across is mentioned, and the different meaning of naughty words here and in the USA is covered as well.

A solemnly worded warning precedes the article to prevent those with tender sensibilities proceeding further. Those with more open minds who read the whole piece will find a really interesting etymological study: just the ticket to liven things up when the conversation goes a bit quiet at your next dinner party!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

How's that for spontaneous?

My regular reader will have noted my previous post regarding's chillingly accurate assessment of my deeply flawed personality. Part of the account described me as "at times, overly organized, reliable, neat, and hard working at the expense of flexibility, efficiency, spontaneity, and fun."

I've got two weeks holiday to take before the end of the year, and the first of these starts on Saturday 15 October. It must be said that I rarely make decisions about holidays abroad without a great deal of thought, research, soul-searching and agonising about the cost etc. Tonight I booked two return flights to Pisa for Wosog and me on 16 October so that we can stay in a hotel in Florence, coming back on Thursday 20 October. I really feel quite pleased with myself!

So what do you think of that,

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Pointless Activity?

I don't know about you, but often I find that when I sit down at my pc and start browsing I basically start clicking at random, and the activity becomes just as mindless and time-wasting as watching television.

Thank goodness there are worthwhile things to do on the Internet like this and this!

PS This is Rather Good too!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Metal Scratches Plastic: Shock Horror!

I've posted about iPods before, partly as a means of bemoaning the fact that I don't own one! We had only just bought Gsog an iPod Mini before the bloody thing was replaced by the iPod Nano. However, this may not be a bad thing in view of the faults experienced by some Nano owners.

The broken screen problem sounds like a genuine design fault, and Apple have basically admitted this. I must confess to being more sceptical about the alleged tendency for Nanos to scratch more easily than their larger forerunners. You really have to wonder what conditions these little devices are being exposed to. The temptation for people to carry something as small as this in the pocket of their jeans, rattling around with spare change etc., may be proving too great for some. Even if this is not the problem, you have to wonder why someone who is worried about scratching their expensive toy doesn't pay an extra few pounds for one of the many protective cases flooding the market.

Having said that, with the case in place the wee thing is that bit bigger: almost the size of an iPod Mini in fact! Now that's progress!

Update 12/10/05:
How about this then?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Foot 'n Mouth

According to the Sunday Times, Cherie Blair was talking to wheelchair-bound comic Laurence Clark at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

"Do you do stand up?"
the highly intelligent legal eagle asked him!

She really can't stop herself, can she?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Agar Man Strikes Again

I've never been good at crossword puzzles, but the one sort of clue I often could manage was an anagram. Crossword fans who are web enthusiasts can, if they choose, enlist the aid of the excellent Internet Anagram Server.

It was with the aid of this site that I deduced that anagrams of The Voice of Reason included "evocations thereof" (rather posh); "fiancee overshoot" (worrying to Wosog); and "faience overshoot" (what?). Fortunately, was able to help me with "faience".

Son of Groucho has numerous anagrams including: "cough roofs on" (eh?); "congo of hours" (might help the waistline); "cog of honours" & "cogs of honour" (sound worthy). Then there's the Hugo Group: "croons of Hugo" (tuneful?) and "coons for Hugo" (not very pc). There are many more, but my favourite is either "ouch forgo son" (worrying to Gsog) or "chorus of Goon" (what would Milligan, Sellers and Secombe think?). Personally, I think the last one has it!