Archive for August, 2005

White coffee phone slash

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I’d vaguely heard some stuff about the P950i, which will not come just in time to save me from the tragedy of having a phone with a rubbish camera that turns itself off in my bag, but Hermione? What? I’m sure this has been pointed out a million times already but I feel that I have to as well. Given the size of the P910i I would have thought it would be more of a Hagrid, but Hermione’s probably a better name for a smartphone, though it doesn’t say much for its communication ability. I was going to also make some Harry/Snape gadget-mating jokes here, but then I realised that quite a lot of readers might not be aware of HP slash fiction and would just think I was a strange paedophile, so I’ll leave it for a more appropriate place.

It’s stupidly hot at the moment. If you’re in London and you’re thinking of leaving the house/office/other place out of the sun and perhaps incorporating air conditioning or at least fans, don’t. Wait for a couple of hours, it should be quite nice then. Going out now is like being hit with a big cartoon hammer.

If you read my Livejournal you might remember that I tend to have trouble getting black coffee. I’ve been having some success on this score recently, but this morning it all fell apart.

Me: That’s a bacon and egg croissant, and can I also have a black coffee please.

Woman At Counter: A black coffee?

Me: That’s right.

WAC: (to Man Making Coffee – at Pret A Manger there is a division of labour between those on the tills and those making the coffee:) Black coffee.

MMC: White coffee?

WAC: No, black coffee. (bags up croissant and takes my money)
(to me:) Your coffee will just be a moment.

Time passes.

MMC: (passes cup across) White coffee.

WAC: (takes cup, waves it around at various customers) White coffee? (No customers claim coffee, particularly the narrator, who takes a step backwards just to emphasise the fact that he did not order a white coffee. Eventually I am identified as the person who has been waiting the longest, and thus most likely to be the original orderer of said coffee, and WAC hopefully proffers cup.)

Me: No, that’s not mine, I ordered a black coffee.

WAC: (appears to remember, passes cup back to MMC who is joking about with co-coffee-making-people) Black coffee.

Me: (eventually gets another cup, thanks WAC and takes it round corner to sugar counter to surreptitiously open the lid inside the bag and check that black coffee is in fact contained within cup, resulting in minor coffee spillage and scalded fingertips)

What gets me is that while I have been there, and I have spent quite a bit of time in the retro brushed metal environment of Hammersmith Pret, nobody has ever ordered a white coffee. They order cappuccino, espresso and black coffee, in that order. It’s an example of the development of British society. In the past one was forced to neutralise one’s Nescafe with milk or risk public vomiting. Nowadays one faces that problem less often but the instinct for coffee with milk is still there, and cappuccinos are more well known than lattes, though the point of ordering a cappuccino to take away is a bit limited given that thirty seconds of walking around with it means the foam collapses completely and it’s just a light brown liquid with maybe a bit of chocolate floating on it.

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some quick tech news

Note: For one day only, you can get an ad-free version of Opera. Simply e-mail to obtain a registration code. This offer is valid from 12 a.m. Tuesday, August 30 to 12 a.m. Wednesday, August 31 2005 (PDT). (

Sounds unlikely, but it’s their tenth anniversary today, so I’m giving it a go.

Ah, Opera. The memories… versions 4 through 7, I’ve used them all at one point or another, and I was the “why not try Opera?” guy during . I’ve always abandoned them for something else as my main browser, usually because of plugins or the fact that the OS X version was absolutely appalling for at least a couple of years. There’s only so many times you can say “the new version will be ready very soon! but we can’t tell you when! we don’t want to make any promises just in case!”. Eventually they stopped bothering.

I’m thinking of using it on my iBook, though, since the keyboard controls are excellent, and I’m starting to get annoyed with Safari again and its perpetual beachballing. There are two things Safari hates: being asked to close windows, and the New York Times. Did they say something nasty about Steve Jobs’ hair? Since I spend a lot of time closing windows and a reasonable amount of time reading NYT pages this is not ideal behaviour.

Oh, Apple are supposed to be announcing something new today. Expect it to be one of:

  1. a portable USB lobster;
  2. “moving to x86? we were just having a laugh”;
  3. iTunes to sell porn;
  4. yet another frigging iPod

~snoozes in heat~

Edit @ 17:16 – so where are my damn codes then?

Edit @ 18:04 – ah, you can just go here instead to get them. Ooh. It’s wicked fast, on Windows at least.

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A puzzle

Something I was wondering yesterday though – what really did happen to Christopher Hitchens? Okay, we all know the basic facts. Pillar of the iconoclastic left, having a go at Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger (famously) and others. Then took the Bush side over Iraq and now just another neo-conduit for the Republican press machine.

It’s just the middle part I don’t quite get. There was a logic in the position he was taking before the invasion that I saw other people that I respect take, perhaps best stated by a poster on Urban75 who is now, sadly, deceased – I paraphrase, but “hold on, when I became a leftie I signed up to oppose dictators by any means necessary, and Saddam is a dictator, what’s wrong with wanting him gone?” I don’t agree with the position but I’m not here to argue it again; that’s not the point here. The point is that it can be argued in a rational manner without prattling about spreading democracy or relying on made-up yellowcake and sarin and Wapons of Mss D*struction. I saw Hitchens making his case on one of the few public debate programs in the States at the time (not that there was any real public debate anyway, it was just a sideshow) and he really gave the antiwar people there a sound kicking. I thought he was wrong, but he had far more of both style and content than his opposition.

Contrast that with the present day. On September 14, C. Hitchens will be debating with one G. Galloway during the latter’s US tour. Obviously that will be a good show, but I think that the victor is pretty much predetermined now. If there was any way of betting on the outcome I would.

There is so much canting nonsense on the pro-war side that I’m perhaps guilty of being too impressed by anyone arguing rationally for it, but nowadays there’s no danger of that. The pieces I’ve read of his have been increasingly led by Bush talking points. He uses the term “Islamofascism” seriously. He does things like call the London bombings “an assault on all civilisation“. It’s not just a change in opinion, which I could cope with, it’s an abandonment of intellectualism for the meaningless crowing of the FOX News chorus. Every now and then there’s a flash of the old fire, and he still has a better turn of phrase than Coulter could imagine, but in the main it’s terrible rote stuff.

At the same time I’ve been even more disturbed to find his brother Peter, instead of writing 95% bollocks, now apparently only reaching… eh, 70% or so bollocks, at a rough guess. I keep wondering whether Melanie Phillips is going to start making sense to me next.

If I thought that this was a result of the drinking I’d give up booze right now, but that is too easy an answer. There must be something more than that; he wasn’t exactly teetotal before. Stubbornness? An unwillingness to admit having made any sort of error in judgement, and having supported a bunch of liars (not that it wasn’t obvious at the time, but still)? That doesn’t explain the increasing reliance on the “hate our freedom” buzzphrases. Is there something that I’ve missed here? I’m the guy who travelled to the States with a copy of The Trial of Henry Kissinger in his bag, worried that immigration might find it, and while I never idolised the chap or anything – don’t do idols – to see somebody previously perfectly capable fall to this level is an aesthetic shame.

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To guard against the bites of sharks

A quick rant to get me up to speed… I remember reading this on Sunday.

Police foil gas attack on Commons

With a title like that you’d expect that there’d actually been an attempt to launch a gas attack on the Commons, and that the police had foiled it, wouldn’t you? Well, if you considered the Sunday Times a reliable source you might, anyway.

Except that, even according to “an internal police document obtained by The Sunday Times” (read: handed to) there was no attempted attack…

This weekend a senior officer disclosed that the thwarted plot mentioned in the document involved a gas or chemical “dirty bomb” attack against parliament. “The House of Commons was one of their targets as well as the Tube,” he said.

“They were planning to use chemicals, a dirty bomb and sarin gas. They looked at all sorts of ways of delivering it.”

…there was some sort of mention of some sort of plan at some point in some email somewhere. Apparently “extensive research and video-recorded reconnaissance missions” took place as well, though there’s no indication of any research or video actually having been discovered, or anyone in the “Al-Qaeda cell” concerned having been arrested or blown up or anything. We are then told that, in response to these discoveries, security on the Commons was stepped up, and this was the reason that no attack took place, hence “foil”. The idea that even if you take it as read that said emails were found, plans involved might have been wild speculation, utterly unrealistic or just abandoned for no reason is of course ridiculous.

So, let’s see. No gas, no attack and no indication that the police foiled anything turns into “Police foil gas attack on Commons”. The British press at its best.

There’s still a little part of me that reads these stories whenever they come out at politically opportune moments and thinks “no, hold on, it might be true, I’ll wait to see the evidence, if it’s true they’ll back it up surely” and the evidence never arrives. That part of me is a little mute today as it is currently still suffering from ricin poisoning. Nasty stuff, ricin.

Edit: Yes, yes, I know, Sunday Times, fish, barrel.

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High days and holy days

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in a fair world, first against the wall

I am, as has been pointed out, back from being on holiday. Not an awful lot seems to have changed. Sir Ian Blair is still an enthusiastically lying and propagandising political puppet; the Express is still a piece of shit. One of my locals seems to have decided that clichéd and badly-executed Warhol/Beatles paintings will improve the look of its walls – about ten years too late for the zeitgeist there, chaps, and it was crap then too – but I spend most of my time there either reading the paper or using my phone, so I don’t think it will make any difference overall.

Slightly concerned that the staff in one of my more local locals had noticed my absence, even over that short period – well, not too concerned, they’re nice people, but am I becoming a “regular”? Do I need to buy my own tankard? I’m a Londoner dammit, I expect impersonal service bordering on the rude. (Just in case any of them are reading this – please don’t take this seriously, I do actually like having people know who I am.)

Anyway. My major goals were to:

  1. See parents†;

  2. Get some sleep;

  3. Somehow turn into less of an irascible drunken internet-addicted bastard.

Goal 1 was easy. I know where they live. I sort of managed goal 2, except that, no matter how long I slept for, I was far more tired the next day than I’d ever thought was possible. Wake up, maybe in time for breakfast, dick about reading the paper or a book for a little then WHAM, hit by the fatigue train and smeared across the next six hours.

Because my parents’ flat was still full of builders and the smell of cats, I was not able to stay there, and instead booked myself into a holiday camp just down the road. They live in a seaside town; these places exist. I didn’t even consider “Hi-de-Hi” type jokes as it was really just somewhere that I could get a room with a bed and bathroom for less than thirty pounds a night, including breakfast (OK), dinner (hmm) and cabaret (~shudder~).

So at a bit past ten I’d usually think about popping down the road to say hello, have coffee, hang around and maybe get some lunch. The effort required to do this was phenomenal. It felt like I had some sort of unknown but critical nutrient deficiency – all I wanted to do was sleep. I would quite happily knock back caffeine to stay moving in quantities that, in my normal daily routine, would drive me into manic fits. The heat didn’t help, though I was being careful with rehydration, sunscreen et al. After lunch I would go back to my room and lie on the bed dozing for several hours. When the sun went down and I’d had a couple of glasses of wine I was a little more active, but that was only for a couple of hours, after which I simply wasn’t interested in activity any more.

To be honest I really did nothing while I was there. I’m not generally the sort of person who thinks that, say, lying on the beach is a good use of a holiday, but I have to think that maybe I’m fighting against my own metabolism there, not that lying on the beach in this case would have been very pleasurable, too many pebbles. I had my iBook with me (useful for organising holiday photos – no net access with it) and I spent a lot of time writing interactive fiction with Inform, including an almost-complete parody of Rapunzel which turned out, when I actually read Rapunzel, to have nothing at all to do with the original fairy tale in a few very important ways, so you’ll never see it.

I had some odd dreams. I drank less than I usually do; in the first couple of days I was still in London mode and knocked the booze back, but as the week went on I started not being concerned too much and being quite happy with a glass of wine with dinner and then back to the hotel room to listen to the Proms and read books. Oh, yeah, I started reading books again. After having gone to Exeter – my dad needed to visit the hospital there unexpectedly and I came along, wandered up and down the high street for a bit as I was no use anywhere else, and bought some paper-based products – I read Aberystwyth Mon Amour, a collection of German “decadent literature” and half of a Stephen Baxter novel called Coalescent, which I expect to finish in the next few days. After my past complaints this must have some significance. I’m too tired to explore what it might be.

And just as I was thinking that I might be getting a bit less irascible and drunken and internet-obsessed I end up back here, and the first thing I do is go to the pub with my laptop. But hey. It does occasionally do one good to be reminded that a job is not something that one has like one has mass and height, rather something that one does, even if that means that when one returns to it one spends the whole time thinking “this is another hour that I will never get back”.

† “Parents” in this case means my dad and my stepmother. There is no extant collective word for this grouping that I’m aware of and I can’t be bothered to think of one, so I’m just going to say “parents”. You can draw whatever deep psychological conclusions you like from this.

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A terrible loss

I have a post lined up about going on holiday, but before I go any further I’d like to complain about something. Today I went to the toilets at work, which we share with two other companies, and I had my Palm in my pocket. Sitting there I tapped about on the calendar and so on to pass the time, and when I washed my hands I put it down and forgot to take it back to the office with me. I later discovered that somebody had flushed it down the loo. What kind of person does that? It had actually been flushed, so it wasn’t embedded in anything, but I think it’s pretty screwed; water has gotten inside of the screen and that’s the most expensive bit to replace.

It’s not the damage so much though. Who the hell, on seeing a defenceless PDA that somebody has accidentally left somewhere, decides to put it in the loo? That is thoroughly inhuman behaviour. I bought this Palm over two years ago at Philadelphia Airport and it’s been there for me over the whole time. Apart from when the battery just died for no good reason and I had to send it to Texas. But in general it’s been one of my more durable gadgets, and deserved better than to be killed by some random toilet moron. I typed my NaNoWriMo novel on that Palm sitting in Manayunk pubs alone and unhappy. I played BeBop on it in long tedious meetings concerning shit that I didn’t care about. It’s only a PDA but it’s got history.

There are some strange people in that building. Let’s not even go into the issue of the phantom basin-pee-er. I blame the people on the floor below us; they’re some sort of design company and you know what designers are like. Mac-using perverts, the lot of them.

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fridgemagnet is on holiday

Net access is v limited and I’m not that interested in posting about the usual stuff right now anyway (though I’ve already had one rant about US politics, v bad).

You can simulate posts here using the following method:

  1. Open newspaper

  2. Read story

  3. Shout “bastards!”

Back on Sunday. Might write in my livejournal (see sidebar) for anyone who cares what I’m doing, as it’s easier to update over the phone.

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Personal power?

What the hell is this?

The radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed was banned yesterday from setting foot in Britain again under a “personal power” exercised by the home secretary, Charles Clarke.

Last night the man nicknamed “the Tottenham Ayatollah” was at liberty in Beirut after being released from a day of questioning by the Lebanese authorities.

The Syrian-born cleric, 46, who has lived in Britain for 20 years, told a Beirut television station he did not plan to challenge the ban. “I don’t want to go back to Britain unless the government announces personally that I am no longer persona non grata,” he said.

It appears that Home Office officials have established that Mr Clarke has the power to exclude him on the grounds that “his presence is not conducive to the public good”.

This is a different power to that used to detain 10 foreign nationals on Thursday pending their deportation as “a threat to national security”.

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Even for Clarke this is particularly shabby – throwing somebody out of the country who’s not actually committed a crime or anything, basically because he says so and what he says goes. We usually at least try to maintain a pretence of there being proper reasons for these things in this country, Mr Clarke. At least wanting to deport the rest of them had some sort of stated reason behind it, even if that reason was bogus. “Not conducive to the public good”? What’s that supposed to mean?

If one is going to make pointless kneejerk gestures that in fact make things worse (I’m sure this is going to make any potential bomber think “ah, a shining example of the basic goodness of the UK government”) can I suggest that they be harmless ones? Perhaps a balloon display, or building a sculpture out of cornflakes, or cleaning up a local park whilst whistling the Dambusters theme?

Oh, and Rush Limbaugh likes this, which is a great recommendation.

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Fixed slug housekeeping

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If you clicked on the comments link or the permalink for the last post before last night you would have been taken to a non-existent page. This is now no longer the case; I’ve fixed it (to do with a missing post slug). So there. This sort of thing can happen quite easily if I’m composing a post via the web interface and then finish it off and submit it using Ecto.

I also removed the Flickr photos from the Feedburner feed. I didn’t think it really fitted in with the main themes of the blog (whatever those are). You can always subscribe to the Flickr feed independently, it’s in the sidebar with the rest of the syndication info. Or, if anyone cares, I could put it back in. And don’t forget the feed for Through The Mirrorball, which has now turned into a blog of random video from around London.

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Sound and fury

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So after it was stated that we were going to defeat evil perversions of Islam by “the force of reason“, and then that actually we should just amend the Human Rights Act and deport them, or maybe charge them with treason… now maybe a rebranding is in order. I knew there was some reason I mentioned “Brand America” earlier on.

The government is looking at whether communities would welcome having US-style hyphenated terms such as Asian-British or Indian-British.

It is among a “range of ideas” being discussed with Muslim and other groups across the country, Home Office Minister Hazel Blears told the BBC.

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I’ve been in these sorts of “discussion sessions” myself, in a corporate context. You know, the ones where a bunch of people are told to sit down and talk about things on a blue-sky basis… brainstorm (yes, people still use the word “brainstorm” seriously). You know that whatever suggestions are arrived at will be completely ignored, that the only reason the session is taking place is so that somebody can tick a box saying that there has been consultation, that whatever your boss wants done will just be rubber-stamped afterwards, but you still have to spend the day there, and then find a volunteer to present the results at the next team meeting to people who don’t care.

Generally, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I cope with these affairs by drinking too much coffee, making increasingly insane suggestions with a straight face and eventually taking over the flipchart myself. I think somebody has been doing that here. As the sessions continue, expect to see things like “backpacks to be made transparent” and “free kittens for all” appearing in the news.

At the same time the authoritarian simple-solution mob have to be pandered to, the civil-liberties lot have to be poked a bit, and it’s always good to grab as much power as you can get away with just in case you want it later, so we get proposals about banning , treason charges and good old-fashioned “send ‘em back where they came from” rhetoric, as well as various scare leaks like “tens of thousands of potential mujahideen in the UK – full-scale insurgency – fighting in the streets” from “security sources”. These measures have more relevance to real life in that if they pass they will undoubtedly be used against assorted protestors and trouble-makers for political reasons, but they share with the flipchart rubbish the fact that they have nothing to do with making people safer.

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That’s the common factor here. None of this is to do with making people safer. Nobody can seriously think that deporting a few particularly vocal immigrant preachers and threatening to bang up anyone “condoning terrorism” is going to make any difference, even if we weren’t bothered by freedom of speech implications; they don’t brainwash people into blowing stuff up with mind control rays. They’re not the only people who are saying bad things about the actions of the UK and US. If anything the ones being targetted probably aren’t radical enough.

But none of it is meant to be about making people safer. There aren’t really tens of thousands of mujahideen hiding in basements field-stripping AK-47s blindfolded. The potential threat to the government doesn’t come from bombs and dissidents but from the British public, who may not be very happy with the idea that they may be blown up because of some stuff the government is doing in a foreign country that wasn’t their idea in the first place. That’s who all this is aimed at, the “you are in terrible danger”, the “we are doing everything we can” and the “we must take away freedoms to save them, but don’t worry, we’ll only do it to bad guys”.

Oh, and meanwhile we’re still occupying… I dunno, some country or other somewhere. Not relevant, though, that, is it?

In other blogs: Justin sends a complaint to the Standard about their billboards and receives a reponse of similar inaccuracy to the original story.

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