Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Weapons of mass destruction

Bari, Italy, Tuesday:

Italian authorities were checking a lorry which had just come off a boat from Patras, Greece. It was full of the usual cargo: loads of oranges, a couple of wooden boxes containing Amraam air-to-air missiles...

Erm, sorry, you did say missiles?


Madre de Dio!

The driver explained that he'd picked up the boxes at the Andravida airbase in Greece. The Italian authorities, excited that they'd foiled a terrorist plan to try and smuggle the missiles, immediately got on the blower to the Greek Air Force. Who were understandably put into a state of panic as they tried to work out whether they'd mislaid the odd deadly weapon or two.

It would be interesting to see just how well organised and efficient the Greek (or any other) Air Force are when it comes to keeping track of their missiles. I don't know, but I'm guessing that there was a lot of frantic checking and counting going on. And some top brass spending rather more time than usual in the Gents.

It's not clear what the perpetrators were supposed to be doing with these air to air missiles. Unless they'd previously smuggled out the odd Phantom II (F-4) jet, or an F-16. Which aren't so easy to hide amongst a load of oranges.

After many hours of alarm and panic, it turned out that the cargo was being shipped to defence contractor EADS in Germany, and that the missiles were actually iron replicas, identical in size and weight to the real thing, which are carried by jets on test flights. They'd been in Greece for some such tests.

I think what I love about this story is the incongruity of missiles amongst a lorry load of oranges. For some reason I have a picture in my head of an air strike, with jets flying low and unloading their terrible arsenal - of citrus fruit. Though it wouldn't be a joke if you got hit on the head by some.

Nevertheless I think that it would be great if the world's military could replace all their soul-less, metal bullets, missiles, bombs, etc. with more edible weapons. It would be a terrible waste when some of the world's population are starving, but it would be the ultimate food fight, and might save lives in the long run.

I can see the future President of the US boarding Air Force 1, along with the special Briefcase. The one that contains all of the launch codes, which one terrible day he (or she) with heavy heart (or drunk, maybe) will use in defence of Freedom to launch the country's custard pies.

Bill Gates testing America's new Secret Weapon

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Kingmaker

World Exclusive!

For most office workers, paper clips and other stationery items are just anonymous unexciting objects piled up in an equally anonymous cupboard. They have no idea of the research and dedication that goes into planning the shape of tomorrow's staples. I met Wayne Roolaflicka II, Managing Director of the Office Requisitions Research Group, to find out more...

BOV: They say you put "it" into Requsitions. What's "it"?

WR: Sex, of course! A visit to the office cupboard beats going to a sex shop any day. More people have sex in the office than any other workplace. And 67% of those office lovers use stationery to spice things up.

BOV: I'm sorry, I'm having a difficult time imagining this. Could you elaborate?

WR: Well, just think of the different "non work" ways people use their photocopiers. And then there's string, scissors (blades), tape...

BOV: (interrupting) Okay, I think my imagination's had enough, thankyou. But presumably you're not actually trying to find, er, marital uses for your products. What are you researching?

WR: We're trying to make sure that these items are not only fit for purpose, but that they exceed that purpose. We want people to stop buying "stationery" and instead invest in Office Solutions.

BOV: That's great, but stationery requisitions are always the first thing that companies try to cut back on. How can you get them to buy more and better?

WR: Office Solutions are the tools of your trade. Without them nothing else is possible. Like any craftsman, the office worker chooses tools that will serve him well, won't let him down, will be his trusty companions through thick and thin. I think slowly the corporate world is getting the message.

BOV: But I already have a stapler. How can you make it better?

WR: The Stapler is a perfect example of a product that needs Office Solution Engineering. If it jams too often then it's useless. But if it works too well, or is too safe, then that also causes problems.

BOV: I'm sure most people would prefer something safer and more efficient...

WR: Look, we need to think holistically. Offices can be boring dull places. Those places can kill you, or at least they kill your drive, your thrust, your passion...

BOV: (Interrupting) We've already covered the sex angle...

WR: We all need an element of danger to keep us alert. If they ever invent a "safe" hammer, you might as well send all the carpenters home. They'll not be paying any attention to what they're doing. Same with the stapler. We also need success and triumphs along the route of our office lives, and successfully defurring your mouse, or unjamming your stapler puts something positive into what might otherwise have been a negative failure-ridden day. You go home feeling you've done something right.

BOV: Weren't you responsible for the Microsoft Paper Clip, when you were in charge at the Paper Clip Marketing Board? The one people really hate?

WR: Yeah, well, that didn't quite work out. I think that our willingness to engage with a Corporate Giant like Microsoft in pursuit of Paper Clip Marketing shows how fired up and synergetic we are.

BOV: I'm resisting the urge to get fired up and punch you right now! (takes a moment to calm down). What gives you all this energy? What keeps you going?

WR: The knowledge that tomorrow's world leaders, Captains of industry, future billionaires are starting out in their careers in a little cubicle, wearing a cheap suit, and with a drawer full of staplers, rulers, pens and highlighters. That those humble tools are making future kings. And yeah. That's better than sex. Except when your secretary puts a hole punch...

BOV: (hastily) I think we'll leave it there, thankyou.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Safety in Numbers

An extract from Euclid's Elements

I'm reading "Pythagorean Murders" by Tefkros Michailidis at the moment. It is set in the 1920s, where a mathematician is trying to find out who murdered his friend (a maths teacher). As his friend didn't get out much, this is a bit of a mystery, but it may be that the novel's interludes, which talk about the Pythagoreans thousands of years ago keeping quiet about a terrible secret, have something to do with it.

The Pythagoreans were a little bit odd. They believed in reincarnation, and so did not eat meat, since it was possible that the animal would turn out to be one of their long deceased relatives. They also did not eat beans. I read somewhere years ago that this was because it was also possible that you were reincarnated as a bean.
Pythagoras (top left) with some of his followers.

So far in the book, one of these ancient Greeks has discovered something awful. They don't have enough numbers. They've got numbers like 1,2,3,4, and so on. They also have numbers like 1/2, 78/96, and so on. There are infinitely many of these, so what's the problem?

The problem is that a new recruit to the sect has realised that if he draws a square, say, 1 metre by 1 metre, he can't work out the length of the diagonal. It's none of the numbers I've mentioned. In fact, it's irrational.

This can't be the reason that our guy gets bumped off in the 20s, because even Plato knew about irrational numbers. These aren't numbers that need to see a shrink, or female numbers, or numbers which are odder than odd numbers. They are numbers which can't be written as fractions.

Some of these irrational numbers are transcendental (don't ask). These have nothing to do with Doctor Who, or Oriental Meditation. If I draw a circle, say, 1 metre in diameter, then the circumference will be a transcendental number of metres long.

We also have complex numbers, each of which is part real, and part imaginary. Funnily enough, these are used by engineers, who you'd have thought wouldn't have much imagination. Some groups of numbers are friendly, others amicable or sociable, and a special few are perfect.

I still can't think (imagine?) why someone killed the novel's victim. Maybe it was an irate neighbour, complaining about the smell. He probably ate too many beans and stank out his block of flats. Come to think of it, the Pythagoreans may not have been completely crazy...

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Road Signs

Driving back from town this morning, I found myself behind a vehicle that had in large letters on the rear windscreen "Keep Your Distance. Kid's on board." Now, I don't know who "Kid" is, but it was an example of the sort of thing that really pisses me off. I'm not referring to the apostrophe, but the whole message.

Really, I should be grateful. Otherwise how would I know which cars I can happily run into the back of? I was going to drive inconsiderately and dangerously, but now you've drawn my attention to the fact that you might have children in your car, I will be careful.

At least I could read it though. Often they're much smaller, so that you have to get really close to find out that it says "Back Off", or "Baby on Board".

I don't like tailgaters. Tailgaters are total tossers. They don't think about their own safety, let alone anyone else's. I can't imagine that these signs do any good. The most effective solution I've found (short of attaching a flame-thrower to the back of my car) is to slow down suddenly. Using the gears so that the brake lights don't come on. They tend to back off. Way back sometimes.

Talking of brake lights, the other habit I dislike is people stopped at traffic lights who put on their brakes as you approach them. Apparently this is a friendly and helpful indication that they are stationary. Thanks for doing that. Otherwise I'd not have noticed and run into you. I don't feel helped. I feel insulted.

Once I had stopped being pissed off by Mr or Mrs "Kid's on board", it occured to me that there might be money to be made from such signs. How about one with a target, and the words: "Do Me A Favour. Mother In Law on Board"?

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Hell on Earth

You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas,
Go directly. Do not pass " Go". Do not collect 200 Dollars. - Tom Lehrer
After many months, I finally finished Yiorgos Grammatikakis' "The Autobiography of Light". Towards the end of the book it looks at scientific predictions for the future of the Universe, as well as for the Earth.

Scientists believe that in around 5 billion years time, the Sun will expand into a Red Giant, which may well be so big that it engulfs the Earth. Even if it doesn't, it'll be so hot that we'll all burn. Sounds familiar?

He briefly speculates on things we might do to save the human race. One idea is for us to move onto planets further away from the Sun, the main candidate being Mars. Of course, we'll probably have to move planets in fewer than 5 billion years once we've trashed this one. Once they make Mars inhabitable, property prices here will plummet and all of the "respectable" people will move to a redder neighbourhood.

Mars isn't too bad. The days are almost the same length as here, and by pumping enough greenhouse gasses out they think it's possible to create an atmosphere similar to Earth's. We're experts at the greenhouse gas thing, so that should be okay.

Presumably once Mars is no longer the "in" place, it might be possible to move further out. Even if the planets aren't suitable, maybe their moons will be.

Another possibility, instead of trading in our old planet, we could just move it out of danger. All right, there's not really any "just" about it. Grammatakis suggests diverting an asteroid to push us, but warns that it was an asteroid strike that wiped the dinosaurs out. Maybe they were trying to do the same thing.

If we survive that, then there are all sorts of depressing possible futures for the Universe as a whole (big contraction, big bang, entropy). But scientists still don't really know what will happen there.

All of this is being rather arrogant, anyway. What makes us think that we're likely to be able to survive another 5 billion years? People keep talking of Humans wiping ourselves out, but I'm thinking more about Nature. Something else will evolve that will kill us off. We're good at stopping the big animals, but things like superbugs are out to get us.

So we're all going to die. Well, we kind of knew that anyway, but scientists have a way of making it seem more final and making us realise how helpless we are in the face of Cosmic Forces. It's not science's fault, and I think all these big scale things to do with stars, galaxies, etc is absolutely fascinating.

In the meantime, I can now start my next book. It's a Mathematical Murder Mystery. I did start it before, but left off 1/3 of the way through, so now I'm getting back to it. Hopefully it won't take as long as the last book to find out whodunnit...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Grumpy Old Men

I went to the pub last night. I don't go very often, and it was nice that quite a few people were in there who I hadn't seen for a while, so could catch up with them.

This came at a cost, though. I had too much Guinness, stopped at the Chinese for Beef Satay & Fried Rice on the way home, and wasn' t really up to watching the Aimilia repeat (having missed the main edition earlier).

Anyway, I was up in the night with indigestion. About the only time I ever turn on the UK television is when I can't sleep. They had a compilation of the "Grumpy Old Men" on. This is a programme where they have some 50+ celebrities bemoaning modern life in Britain. It's very entertaining. There is also a "Grumpy Old Women" series too.

The only thing is, I often find myself agreeing with them. I suppose I'm a GOM in training, though of course the "Old" bit is decades away. Here are some of my grumps:

Schoolchildren: They seem to be putting them into positions of "responsiblity" these days. There are policemen, managers, even Government Ministers, who look to me like they should still be at school.

Excessive Safety: Childrens' toys all require a screwdriver to get at the batteries. Plugs on table lamps all have 3 Amp fuses, so that half the time when the bulb blows you have to change the fuse as well. I'm sure people didn't die from 1.5V batteries or blown light bulbs when I was younger.

Beer: They must be putting something in it these days. I used to be able to stay out late, get up early for work the next day, no problem. Nowadays, I just can't.

Language: You can't be grumpy without moaning about aldulterations to our Mother Tongue. Generally I'm all for progress in this area, but I do find one or two Americanisms irritating. "meet with" instead of "meet", and "privacy" pronounced "pr-eye-vacy". Corporate speak is also getting a lot worse. We don't have libraries, we have "Knowledge Centres". We don't do training or courses, we "participate in learning and development events".

Cycles: In an attempt to pretend to be cycle-friendly they've painted useless pink areas all over our roads - in front of traffic lights, so-called "cycle paths". All of which reduces the space available to cars. Then they wonder why there's more congestion...

Television: I'm glad I rarely watch it. They've dumbed it all down so far that I suspect their target audience must be chimpanzees. How much further down the food chain can they go?

However, there was an outstanding triumph last night. I completed the Times Crossword, having only attempted it once in the last 3 months or so. And in less than an hour. At least my brain's not rotting as I slowly mature...

Sunday, 20 January 2008


Meet the latest addition to my flat - a fridge freezer! It is actually a gift - after having a conversation at Christmas time about how I was planning this year to finally get round to acquiring a means of storing frozen food, my mother said "Let me buy you one as an early birthday present - get one in the sales." We generally exchange bottles of Scotch on special occasions rather than large domestic appliances, but she was insistent, and here is the result.

Of course, this prompted me to have a look through Wiki on the subject of refrigeration. The results of my research? Practically nothing, I'm afraid. There's loads of stuff about it, but I couldn't understand any of it. Chemistry was never my strong point. One thing I did learn was that they've banned the inert safe refrigerants because of CFCs, and that my new frozen friend has the highly flammable isobutane running through its veins. They don't tell you this in the manual, of course. Well, actually, they do, since they mention "R600a", which is the refrigeration business' name for Isobutane.

Oh well, I wasn't planning to try and smoke it in any case.

So, I went shopping this morning, and in addition to my usual purchases bought a few other things:

Ice Cube Trays - It comes with one, but I'm planning to use a reasonable amount of the stuff, so I've now got another two. I wonder how long it'll be before I do what my mother does and just buy bags of ice cubes from the supermarket?

Bread - I'm forever throwing bread away because being on my own it doesn't always get used up fast enough. At least I used to throw it away, in the dark days before I was able to freeze it.

Peas & Sweetcorn - Peas are better out of the freezer rather than a tin, and again, I won't have any wastage. In addition, they are also essential for first aid - think of all the body parts people have had cut off, but managed to save because they could keep them fresh in a bag of peas.

Fish Fingers & Micro Chips - The above stuff looked too healthy and sensible. It's necessary to maintain a balanced diet, after all

Jaimie Oliver Chopping Board - This has nothing to do with my increased refrigeration capabilities, nor would I normally buy anything branded by a celebrity chef, but they're selling of all the "gift" products at sale prices.

Now that I've written about it, it'll probably develop a fault and blow up. Which will make for a more exciting blog post. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to relaxing this evening with a nice glass of Ouzo. On the rocks.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Party Idea

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Wilkommen, καλώς ορίσατε...

I woke up. Was it morning? I looked around. I was not, as I expected, in my bed but on a block. An operating table! Had I been rushed to hospital? No, there were no doctors or nurses. Around me were gloomy shadows, but I couldn't make out much.

Then I heard Chuck Berry. I looked at the block underneath me. It was very smooth and shiny like metal, but felt soft and comfortable. There was some movement. Chuck Berry died away and I heard steps. Two people. Were they people? They looked a bit like cartoon characters. A man and a woman, both naked. The woman looked at me and said, without moving her lips started saying something in a language I didn't understand. Wait a minute, lots of languages. "Welcome", "Bonjour", "Wilkommen", "καλώς ορίσατε", then some more I didn't understand.

"What is this?" I asked. The man started making whale noises. When I looked puzzled, he made some more, louder.

Then I heard a piano playing Bach. The pianist was singing along. Glenn Gould! "That's more like it!" I said. "That's more like it!" said the woman, in my voice!

Feeling a little bolder I stood up. The woman turned, and then I realised why she looked like a cartoon - behind a piece of metal with a picture of a woman on it was a wierd... alien! Just like the ones in the films!

Now I understood. The aliens had come across one of the Voyager space probes, and found the various pictures and messages put there specifically for this purpose. When you stopped to think about the sort of thing they'd sent, you realised that it was all not much use when it came to teaching aliens to communicate with us.

I decided to try out my alien language skills - I'm something of an expert having watched all the 1950's B movie alien films. "Take. Me. To. Your. Lea. Der!" I said in a flat voice.

The "man" stopped talking whale and said "You. Speak. Our. Lan. guage! Wait. Till. I. Tell. Them. Back. Home!"

They seemed friendly enough, but they were determined that they were going to take me back to their planet with them. I protested. "I. Don't. Want. To. Go. To. Your. Shit. Ty. Plan. et.". I know I was passing up the chance of a lifetime, but would you want to end up in some alien zoo?

"You. Must. Take. Our. Lea. Der!". I said. Painstakingly I described a whale. "I. On. Ly. Work. Here. Our. Lea. Der. Is. The. One. You. Want!"

They had a conflab. "He. Might. Be. Right!" Said the "man". "Well. He. Is. Pre. Tty. Stu. Pid!", replied the woman. "And. So. Ug. Ly! Not. Like. His. Pic. Ture!".

There was a loud screeching noise and I passed out.

I woke up in my own bed. Was it a dream? Almost certainly. After all, alien abductions are rubbish, right? And bug eyed humanoids that talk like films!

Later that day, I read the story about a shark which had mysteriously vanished from an aquarium in Japan. Ooops.

A shark. What can I say? My description was rubbish. I can't help that, they should have abducted a marine biologist or something. Oh well, I hope their whale music doesn't freak it out.

[Serendipity Mine: Kree! Alien 101]

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

"In Admiration"

Last week we were discussing the allegedly "hot" actor Brad, someone or other... mind like a sieve... em, oh yes Pitt (any relation to the famous "Pitt" family, I wonder?). Today I'd like to mention someone who was famous for being at the other end of the scale from Aimilia.

Dame Margaret Rutherford was brilliant as the eccentric "medium" in Blithe Spirit, and also starred as Miss Marple in a series of adaptations of Agatha Christie books. She was in her 70s when she made the films, and stars in them alongside her husband, Stringer Davis, who played the specially written character of "Mr Stringer".

Her Miss Marple is a very determined woman who doesn't let her age stop her participating in a variety of daring and energetic escapades, all, of course, with the aim of finding the murderer.

She was never considered to be an attractive woman, so throughout her career played mainly comic roles. She was proudly eccentric, something many of us Brits aspire to.

It's nice to have good-looking actresses in films. Nevertheless, most of them wouldn't be able to compete with MR in terms of character. It's difficult to imagine, say, Rachel "airhead" Weisz playing Miss Marple, even when she's old enough.

Her Miss Marple films do not follow the books very closely, and the character is not at all the same. Nevertheless, they are wonderfully entertaining. They were made in Agatha Christie's lifetime, and afterwards she dedicated one of her books: "To Margaret Rutherford. In admiration."

Sunday, 13 January 2008


At Helena's insistence, we watched The Fantastic Four yesterday. The film describes how during a space mission that goes horribly wrong (well, it could happen to anyone), five people get large doses of cosmic rays which transform their DNA and give them super powers. The fifth is the evil "Doctor Doom", who was funding the mission, so went bankrupt when it failed, and is determined to wreak terrible revenge on our four superheros.

What superpower would you choose to have? The characters don't actually get a choice, and in fact the powers they get are physical extensions of their existing personalities - those cosmic rays are clever things. They can also be looked on as embodiments of the "elements".

Metal - Dr Doom becomes metallic. Just right for his hard, cold, personality. He can turn lights on and off, which would be a clever party trick, except that the light switch already does this. Light switches also have the advantage that they aren't evil geniuses hell-bent on causng mayhem. I don't think I'd choose metal as a super power - it would be a pain at airports and would probably make operating things like mobile phones difficult.

Rubber - Reed Richards is your flexible friend. He can transform his shape, and stretch himslef, squeeze through gaps under doors, and so on. All of which is useful if you want to win a yoga competition. It's not difficult to think up practical jokes, though everyone would suspect you. It would also appear to be great to be able to get things at the other end of the room (or in another room) without having to get up from your seat. But personally, I don't get enough exercise as it is.

Stone - Ben Grimm was already built like a brick shithouse. The brawns of the operation, exposure to the cosmic ray has enhanced this by turning him into a hulking mass of stone. No one will get in your way, or argue with you, but I'm already heavy enough, thanks. His hands are also very clusmy - no good for typing.

Air - Sue Storm can make herself invisible. This is clearly a mistake, since the last thing anyone wants is not to be able to see an attractive woman, although someone does comment "I wish my wife would disappear like that". Most of us have been in embarrassing situations where you think it would be great to fade away. But then, everyone really would notice you. The fact that you need to take all your clothes off is also a bit of a drawback. Especially in the winter.

I already possess this power. Or my car does. I distinctly remember buying a blue car. Not one made out of the same material as Wonder Woman's plane. I also bought a fairly basic model, and I'm certain that I'd have noticed if it came with a Klingon Cloaking Device. It doesn't even have a CD player. Nevertheless, I do appear to be invisible to some other drivers. Unfortunately I don't have Sue's force field capabilities, so I can't "blow" these other cars out of my way.

Fire - Johnny Storm was a outgoing show-off. Now he can get as hot as a supernova. The Human Zippo is a blast at bonfire parties. Unsuspecting smokers will regret asking him for a light, though. Sitting here on a wet, cold, day, I think his ability to warm things up would be the one power that I'd like to have. No more bills for heating or cooking. My carbon footprint would be reduced.

I know what you're thinking, though. I'm hot enough already. Which is just as well, seeing as I'm not planning to go on any disasterous space missions any time soon.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Not Brad Pitt

Bee has been shamelessly flaunting her Brad Pitt obsession, and The Frogster shamelessly plugged his (very good) explanation of the uncanny similarities between him and BP. So I decided to shamelessly "borrow" this idea, and explain why I am so much better than Brad Pitt.

There is no photograph of either of us, because some readers might just spend all their time gazing lovingly at it. However, there is a little treat for the ladies at the end of this post.

Why I Am So Much Better than BP:
  • I do not live in a cave: Research suggests that women find BP attractive because he looks like a caveman. Come on, ladies! In the 21st Century where we have houses with heating, electricity, etc, why do you want to go back to the Stone Age? Maybe this is why Angelina Jolie prefers to spend so much time in war zones.
  • I am not passionate about good causes: Okay, I agree with quite a few of BP's concerns, but I wouldn't describe myself as "passionate" about them. You may think that it's great to see BP's sensitive side, but I suspect that most women aren't so crazy about Al Gore, which is what BP will become in a few years.
  • I am not as old: He's getting past it now. Almost on the wrong side of the line between 40 and 50. It'll be plastic surgery next. If you do get your hands on him, bits will probably come off in them.
  • I am not sleeping with Angelina Jolie: I'm sure women wouldn't want to have to compete with her.
  • I've not yet realised my potential: BP has won all sorts of things, and has been voted the sexiest man alive, and all that. The only way for him is down. I on the other hand can only get better.
Of course, I should point out that I have a queue of women interested in me. I won't tell you how many, as I don't want to boast.

Finally, just for the ladies, here is a picture of a Brad Pitt lookalike. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


Today's word is "νταλίκα", which means "Juggernaut". It came from a report in To Vima about an overturned lorry which caused traffic chaos in Thessaloniki. I like this word, because it reminds me of "Dalek".

Trouble is, I know bugger all about trucks. Or Daleks.

There used to be a radio programme here called "Just a Minute". For all I know, it may still be going. There were 3 or 4 contestants, and the idea was that they had to talk for a minute on a subject without hesitation, repetition or deviation. If they did any of these things, another contestant could challenge them, and he or she would then get to talk for the remainder of the minute, unless they were also challenged. The winner was the person talking when the minute was over.

So this is my attempt to write about Juggernaut. It'll take me longer than a minute, and although you can if you wish read this without hesitation, I can promise that there will probably be repetition, and definitely deviation.

When I think about lorries, two things come to mind. The first is the film "Convoy", starring Kris Kristofferson and some woman. I must have watched this film about 100 times when I was in my teens - it was a favourite of my parents for some reason, particularly my father, who liked that kind of American "culture".

It was basically a car chase style film with lorries and CBs. They moan about text-message English these days, but it is far more comprehensible than "Breaker, Breaker 1-9, got a bear in a plain brown wrapper, 10-4".

The other thing that comes to mind is hedgehog sandwiches. In the 80's in the UK there was a satirical programme called "Not the Nine O'Clock News", which used to be broadcast at 9pm on our state broadcaster's second TV channel (BBC2), whilst the main 9 O'Clock News bulletin was on BBC1.

They had a sketch that was a song called "We Like Trucking", where they all played the parts of unpleasant lorry drivers. One of the things they did was to put stickers on their doors every time they ran over hedgehogs.

The next week the programme started with an apology, saying they had had complaints from animal lovers about the squashed hedgehogs. They made this apology whilst eating hedgehog sandwiches, and loads of the sketches from then on included people doing the same.

Eventually an enterprising snack company started selling hedgehog flavoured crisps ( = "potato chips" in the US). However, the factory was so smelly that they were forced by local residents to close it in the end.

According to Wiki, hedgehogs were eaten in Ancient Egypt, and were encased in clay and baked, so that when the clay was removed the spikes went with it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any recipes or pictures. I know you'll be disappointed. I'm sure that hedgehog pate would be ideal on Holy Toast.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Η σταχτοπούτα

When I started this Greek lark just over a year ago, I was faced with the daunting task of learning all the vocabulary of the language. The first thing I did was start reading News websites, which I would do with a dictionary in my hand looking up almost every word. I made some effort to write down the words I was looking up, but I just ended up with huge lists every day.

Now things are somewhat better, and I only need to look up a few words. I write down some of them, mainly ones I get when I'm watching TV. It occurred to me that I could pick one of these each day as the theme for my blog. If this doesn't seem like a good idea to you, don't worry, as I can't imagine I'll keep it going for long - I'm one of these people who starts things and never finishes them!

Cinderella Part II

Cinderella finally sat down, exhausted, but with the feeling of a job well done. You could eat your dinner off that floor - actually, the dog often did. She heard heavy footsteps approach and stop outside the door.

"Take your boots off before you come in. I didn't spent all day scrubbing this sodding floor for you to trail horse shit all over it!", she yelled.

There was a grunt, and one by one the sound of two boots hitting the stone slabs of the corridor, and finally Prince Charming entered, in full hunting gear (minus the boots, of course).

"I do wish you wouldn't use such language darling", he said in clipped tones, "and a Princess really shouldn't be spending all her time cleaning. We have servants for that."

"But they never do it properly.", argued Cinderella, "Anyway, I've got to something whilst you torture those poor senseless animals."

"That's no way to talk about my ministers, Cindy. Anyway, I'm all yours now." He said, as he started to take off his shirt.

"Oh no!", moaned Cinderella, "I've just finished this. I'm too knackered. Anyway, you've got plenty of wenches for that."

"But they never starch my collars properly, you know that.", the Prince replied, handing Cinderella his shirt, which she reluctantly carried over to the sink.

"We've got to look our best tomorrow", continued the Prince, "because the Emperor is coming to a State Banquet."

"Oh, not that stuck up old git!"

"And you my dear, well, you'd better keep your mouth shut. Do you hear? I'm hoping that we can sign a new peace treaty. Remember his armies are capable of wiping us out if he gives the order."

"All right, I won't say a word. What if I don't go?"

"You've got to come, Cindy. You know how famous you are. Word of your beauty and purity of soul have reached the farthest corners of civilisation."

"Purity? Ha, Ha, Ha!"

The next day everything was splendid. The chefs had been working for weeks to prepare the choicest dishes - it was rumoured that half of the country's annual tax returns had been spent on this one meal. Everyone was dressed in their finest robes, and Ciderella looked radiant. When the Emperor first set eyes on her it took him some time to regain his powers of speech before he could congratulate the Prince on his beautiful bride.

The meal started well. Conversation was polite but friendly. And then disaster struck! The Prince's beautiful wife showed just how ladylike she wasn't. Unused to the rich food (they usually made do with stew), she was overcome with a loud bout of flatulence. The sound reverberated through the hall. The Emperor looked down at his plate. No-one knew what to say.

"Better out than in, eh?", said Cinderella. The Emperor pretended to be studying his plate even more carefully.

"Oh come on, don't be so stuffy!", said the beautiful Princess, and she threw a roast potato at the Emperor, which hit him on his forehead.

The Prince had his head in his hands, and was peering through the cracks in his fingers, whimpering slightly.

The Emperor slowly looked up. "So it's war." He said in measured tones.

The Emperor's Royal Guard unseathed their swords, and on the other side of the hall, the Prince's did the same. Both groups stepped nearer the table.

The Prince looked up to try and placate his guest - and was hit on the nose by a large bone which the Emperor had launched in his direction.

Soon the only person not laughing was the Royal Chef, as his carefully prepared banquet became the ammunition of a royal food fight. Needless to say, the peace treaty was signed (after everyone had had a shower and a change of clothes).

And they all lived Happily Ever After.


Sunday, 6 January 2008

Να πάει με τόλμη...

The Real Enterprise with the TV cast (NASA Photo)

I was accused of being a "Star Trek fan" by Dan the other day. If Star Trek fans were like, say, CSI fans, then I might not mind too much being counted amongst them, but as we all know these people are in a completely different league, and live in a totally different universe.

They are also very important. They administer and probably develop most of this planet's computer systems. I'm not sure whether the fact that many of our finest technologists have this obsession should worry us. I'd certainly be wary about using words such as "Star Trek" and "crap" in the same sentence - the Internet might suddenly stop working...

...Well, it didn't. Phew! Anyway, the programmes did have their good points. The women in the 60's outfits, for example. There was something else, though. The technology wasn't clunky like it was in most 50s or 60s Science Fiction. This was probably because the actual science bit wasn't really a major part of the story, and a lot of the gadgets and devices were things that people might want to use today.

Take their radios. These look very similar to modern mobile phones, although they don't have SMS or cameras. Or annoying ringtones (maybe the future will be better after all). And you never see Captain Kirk in the middle of some great mission getting a phone call from his mum.

Scientists are currently working on teleports. They've already managed to "transport" some atoms a metre or two. Not quite enough to beam up and down to a planet, but it's a start. Although you may well need a teleport at both ends, which is perhaps an issue. It'll be a braver man or woman than me who ever goes in one.

Computers talking is definitely a mistake, unless you're blind or can't use a keyboard. But the technology is there, there are just so many obvious practical problems - or opportunity for evilness. Can you imagine walking through an office full of voice activated computers saying loudly "Delete All Files", or "Reboot"? Yes, I thought you could.

The memory storage that they use is in the form of small disk-like objects, which aren't much different in scale from a DVD. Though the iPod seems to have gone out of fashion in the 24th Century. On the other hand, they have the holodeck, which is a considerable advance on the XBOX

One technology they never anticipated was the flatscreen displays In Star Trek, as with most programmes of that era, an astonishing amount of equipment is controlled with levers and buttons, and the output is in the form of a few coloured bulbs.

I've got all of the original series, and the 7 years of the "Next Generation" on DVD. As always with TV series, I'm obsessive about watching the episodes in order. I was devestated when Denise Crosby left half way through the first year. At some point, I intend to get round to watching the other three series.

I enjoy them, so maybe on second thoughts that does qualify me as a bit of a fan. But don't ever even think of calling me a "Trekkie", or I'll send some Klingons round...

Friday, 4 January 2008

All the Time in the World

A few years ago I read a book called "Time On My Hands" by Peter Delacorte, who is a fan of old films. This book is a wonderfully entertaining time traval story. The protagonist gets his hands on a time machine and has to decide what he wants to do with it. In the end, he chooses to go back in time and kill someone in order to make the world a better place.

But who. Hitler? He doesn't speak German. What about Ronald Reagan? He decides that this would be the best idea, especially after watching some of his old films. He goes back in time and gets a job at the Warner Brother's studio, where he can get near Reagan, who he ends up becoming friendly with, and decides that he can't possibly kill him.

There's a lot more to the story, but I don't want to spoil it.

Anyway, I'm currently still reading Yiorgos Grammatikakis' "The Autobiography of Light". I've got past the half-way mark, and past the description of the scientific advances, such as Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. One thing that he briefly mentioned was the possibility of particles that travel faster than the speed of light, which would end up going backwards in time. Apparently it's not thought that these, if they exist, would help you communicate with the past, but there are other possible phenomena that might.

So if we get our hands on a time machine, what do we do with it? Do we go back into the past and kill Hitler, or Ronnie, or Bill Gates?

The problem with doing something like that is that you don't know what kind of future you'd get. In the short term it might be better, but what about the long term? If you killed Hitler, would all the scientists who left Europe and helped develop the atomic bomb in the US have done it in Germany, and some other nutter taken over instead of Hitler and nuked everyone?

I'd vote not trying to change history, although stopping Hugh Grant taking up "acting" is a very tempting thought...

Instead, I think it would be better to use it so that you could travel further, for instance to other galaxies, come back and still be home for tea. You'd need to be able to either put yourself in suspended animation, or travel through a wormhole, but once you solved that problem the difficulty you'd have is that after travelling hundreds of light years you'd arrive back on Earth hundreds of years into the future. So the time machine could be used to put yourself back in the 21st Century. At tea time.

The other use for this machine would be to go forwards a few minutes or hours. Boring meeting? Just press the "skip" button on your time machine and you're done. You wouldn't need to wait for anything ever again. The only problem with this is that your body clock would get horribly out of sync with days and nights and stuff, until you'd either have to skip the best part of a day, or go back in time, risk meeting yourself and destroying your future or past or something.

Supposing that you had a blog post to do but didn't have time? Well, the next day you just go back 24 hours. Unfortunately, this doesn't actually give you any more life, unless of course you're destined to be hit by a bus on such and such a day.

What would happen when it went wrong? Supposing you pressed the wrong button? Supposing you went somewhere and couldn't get back?

Come to think of it, I'm sort of hoping that no-one gives me a time machine...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A Paradox, a Paradox, a Most Ingenious Paradox...

Napolean after we beat the crap out of him

Have you heard the paradox of the barber? It goes like this: There is a village in which the barber shaves all those men who do not shave themselves. This sounds reasonable until you ask "Who shaves the barber?". If the barber does not shave himself then the statement says that he does, which is logically contradictory. If he does shave himself then he doesn't. Sort of. He can't have a beard, because then he doesn't shave himself. The barber can be a woman, but that's cheating.

Have I lost you yet?

In the first of a series of 365 posts, Bee talked about her "lack of lack". It wasn't until I'd sufficiently woken up my brain with copious quantities of alcohol (well it was New Year's Day) that I realised that there was, to quote Private Eye, "Shome mishtake shurely". If you lack lack then you lack nothing, but you still lack something, i.e. lack. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe she meant "Lack of luck". Or "Lack of lock", though I don't think that Practical Husband Andy would let their house lack a lock, but she could be bald. However, none of these look like typos, since "u" and "o" are a long way from "a" on the keyboard. "Lack of lqck" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Maybe a letter didn't come out and she meant "Lack of black" (lipstick?). Which reminded me of Graham Rawle's "Lost Consonants". I couldn't see my favourite, which was "Napolean defeated in his trousers". Accompanied of course by a picture of Napolean looking very uncomfortable.

I'm sure, though, that Bee really meant "lack of slacks" (maybe her "s" key isn't working properly). Which describes Napolean after he hit himself...

Totally Unrelated Footnote: According to some sources, Napolean was 5'2" tall.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Lack of Resolution

Some people make resolutions. Bee has resolved to post to her blog every day of 2008 (except February 29th, which if you ask me is cheating - I know, you didn't ask me).

I don't do resolutions. I have a whole load of things that I would like to do bettter, but writing them down at New Year isn't going to make any difference. I was going to deliberately not post today, since I would start the year as I mean to go on (i.e. not necessarily posting every day), but that sounds too much like a resolution.

I saw the Greek New Year in watching Cypriot TV. They went live to the Ministry of Finance, where they were saying goodbye to the Cyprus Pound, and hello to the Euro. I missed the best bit, which was President Papadopoulos being the first to draw Euros out of an ATM (perhaps he was planning to hit the clubs afterwards). At least, that must have been better than the rest, which was a series of speeches, oh and an inspirational message from the President of Malta. I expect that there wasn't a dry eye in the house - they were probably all bored to tears. Historic moments are much more interesting when you read about them later, or watch the edited highlights.

I stayed up until the "real" New Year, partly because I still had some Cava left, but mainly so that I could put up my 2008 calendars - Calendars are probably the only thing I'm superstitious about - I never change them, or turn to the next month until the moment actually comes. To do it early would be tempting fate.

Anyway, Happy New Year!