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?