Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Wordy Wednesday

I haven't posted for a few days, and this is going to be one of those rambly posts, which I don't usually attempt, since Bee and Tracy are both far better at it than me. Still, here goes.

Dead to the World

I've been zombified the last few days, not sleeping well. I don't know why, but last night I went to bed at about 9pm. Which meant that I woke up just after 5. So for once I watched a bit of "7-10", RIK's breakfast TV show whilst ironing some shirts. And got to work before 7am.

More Boring Technical Details

I've finally got my laptop working online with Ubuntu. I ended up getting a network card from "The Linux Emporium", and was online within 5 minutes of opening the parcel. £20 well spent! This is my first post from the Silver Surfer with Linux.

I had to set up all my web browser bookmarks, RSS links to all my favourite bloggers, and so on, but the most important thing was to choose a background. I've gone with the following from the "House of Dionysis" in Paphos, Cyprus.

So, what's so good about Ubuntu/Bad about Windows? At the end of the day, it's really just my personal taste. I have used Unix systems for the last 15 years, and I prefer them. And that's all I'll say, since I've bored you all enough about this.


I saw something really scary on the news this evening. They were throwing babies off the tower of a temple in India. The people below catch them in sheets. It's a centuries-old tradition that they claim has never resulted in any accidents, and which apparently gives the child good fortune and health. But it was an awfully tall tower, and the babies didn't seem very happy about it

That's All Folks!

And that's all I have. Oh, other than to say that I'm glad Tracy remained hurricane free, that Dan didn't shoot anyone, that Bee's plants are safe, and that Jean Knee's finally freed up some space in her Freezer of Horrors...

Sunday, 27 April 2008


It's been a day of fast food. This morning Helena and I ate a cooked breakfast. Well, all right, we shared a tin of baked beans and sausages.

Then Helena wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch. We don't go very often, maybe once a month or less. It was a nice day, so we walked the 2 miles or so. She always has a "fillet-o-fish" with fries, and I always have a Big Mac.

There's something I've always wondered. Maybe one of my American readers can help me out. Why do they call them "big"? In the US, this word when used to describe food usually means that you're not going to manage to eat it all in one or two sittings, and that if you intend to try, you should first check your medical insurance is good and book an ambulance. Yet the total amount of meat in a "Big Mac" is less than a quarter-pounder.

Personally, I prefer BK's Double Whopper - the burger actually appears to be made of beef and you also get real bits of vegetable and pickle. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for my health), the nearest Burger King is in the middle of town, so I only tend to go there occasionally. Like yesterday at about 10.40 am, after I'd been to get my hair cut.

I developed a taste for burgers as a student - I don't think I'd ever really eaten them up till then. I was living opposite "The Canadian Charcoal Pit" (I think they were Iranians or something), which did great burgers. Though I'm sorry to say that a few of them that were eaten on top of far too much beer didn't stay down for long.

Anyway, while we were eating our nutritious lunch, Helena mentioned "Supersize me". "He's an idiot," I said, "what did he think was going to happen to him if ate nothing but fast food for a month?" I shouldn't criticise too much, as I haven't seen the film. As I understand it, a healthy fit guy stops exercising and goes on a diet of 3 McDonald's meals a day for a month, puts on weight and feels like shit. This hardly seems earth-shattering.

This evening, I've just had a tin of meatballs and microwavable rice. I had to have an early meal (4pm), because all this talk of food was making me hungry. Now I feel full and will have to stop writing before I start feeling ill.

Oh well, that's it for my weekend of indulgence. Back to healthy microwaved ready-meals next week...

Friday, 25 April 2008

Hardy Heron

I was going to go to the pub this evening.

Actually, it's almost 1am, so make that last evening.

But as you all know, Hardy Heron (Ubuntu 8.04) came out yesterday. Ubuntu is a Linux operating system, though Jean Knee just thinks it sounds obscene. I'm not sure why, but I haven't tried saying it with a Texan drawl.

Ubuntu releases a new version every 6 months. Their release names are based on animals and go through the alphabet, so the previous one was Gutsy Gibbon, and the next one will be Intrepid Ibex.

The release numbers are year and month, so Gutsy was 7.10 and Intrepid will be 8.10.

I installed Gutsy on my desktop machine last month, and removed Windows entirely. I've not used my laptop (The Silver Surfer) as much as I'd planned, since I prefer using my Ubuntu machine. I can do all the things I need to on it. Use email. Access the web. Read blogs. Watch Aimilia.

So, instead of going to the pub I spent a couple of hours downloading Hardy. Then another few hours installing it on The Silver Surfer. It took ages because I've left Windows on it as an alternative OS, so had to resize my hard drive (No doubt Jean Knee will tell us that's obscene as well).

The good news is that it mostly works. The bad news is that the wireless thing doesn't. I have two options - get another wireless card or have a go at installing a slightly different version of Hardy (32-bit instead of the AMD-64 version), and if that works, installing the appropriate drivers for the wireless card.

So I've ordered another wireless card. If that arrives (and it's from Amazon, so that's a big "if"), I'll probably be sorted. If not, I'll think again.

So I'm near, so near, to being a Windows-free zone.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Misspent Youth

About a quarter of a century ago I would have been spending quite a lot of my time playing with computers. My parents bought me one when I was 11.

As well as learning to program, I had loads of games. A lot of them were versions of the popular 80's arcade games, such as Pacman, Galaxians, Pole Position, and so on. One I discovered when I was about 15 was Lode Runner.

At first sight, this didn't look very good. Even in the 80s stick men were a little primitive. The idea of the game was incredibly simple - collect all of the treasure and avoid getting caught. You had no weapons, but you could dig holes. The guards would get stuck in these holes. Nevertheless, I remember spending hours playing it.

But that was a quarter of a century ago. In all that time, I don't think that I've ever thought about Lode Runner. So I was excited to find a free clone called xscavenger. I downloaded it on Sunday, and remembered why I'd enjoyed the game so much.

It's because each level is a puzzle. You have to put a lot of thought into working out how to do it. The guards are predictable, so it is possible to get them into places where they are stuck and can't get near you.

I've already spent some time getting to level 8. It's rather challenging - I'm not at all sure how I'm going to all that treasure, but I'm sure I'll work it out, because this game is seriously addictive...

Sunday, 20 April 2008


You were going to get a post about my misspent youth, but Bee wanted to know about my dreams, so:

A few nights last week I had dreams. This doesn't happen very often. Whatever the reason, I wish it hadn't happened, as I went through last week in a totally zombified state.

Some people claim that they can interpret dreams. Personally, I think that they're just your brain freewheeling and you shouldn't try to read to much into them. Nevertheless, here are a couple of ones that I wrote down so I wouldn't forget them.

On Tuesday I dreamt about my blog. I had a comment from someone else - it might have been one of the commenter's from Bee's blog. The odd thing was that when I replied I used a different name from the one on his comment. Does that make sense?

On Thursday I dreamt that I was on a train. It was busy and was full of Greeks. There was even Greek music being played over the speakers. Yet it was a British train. I finally found somewhere to stand, then realised that there was actually some kind of fold-up seat there, so sat down. Then the guards came checking the tickets. For some reason there were two of them, a man and a woman. I had a ticket, but couldn't find it.

I ended up emptying all my pockets onto the floor. There was a lot of room on the floor despite the fact that the train was crowded - another one of these weird dream distortions. The guards got bored and went away saying they were going to get a policeman. I still never found that ticket.

It's as if the dream was "To Be Continued", but they never are...

Saturday, 19 April 2008

"Out of the 300 I've Screwed, I'd Recognise 20"

You were going to get a post about my dreams, but Dan was saying the other day how much he and Marie love watching romantic films. Which got me thinking. I'm not into "chick" films, but there are a lot of films which are romantic but aren't just for women. These tend to be older films and foreign ones.

I'm guessing that none of you will want to watch this, but one of my favourite "romantic" films is Les Gout Des Autres. You wouldn't think it from the title, but it's in French.

Anyway, the film's title in English is either "The Taste of Others", or "It Takes All Kinds". I think it's known in America by the latter, which is less of a literal translation, but describes what the film is all about.

Our hero Mr Castella is a businessman who owns a factory somewhere in provincial France. He was educated in the university of life. He is married to a nightmare of a wife who fancies herself as an interior designer. Except that you wouldn't want her to design your interior. Unless you were Barbara Cartland. They spend their evenings watching soaps.

One evening they have to go to the theatre, because their neice is acting in a play. They get there, unenthusiastically, and then when it starts Castella says "Shit, it's in verse!". However, he changes his mind when he sees one of the actresses. It's love at first sight. By an amazing co-incidence he was also about to employ her to teach him English.

English Lessons (Jean-Pierre Bacri & Anne Alvaro)

She doesn't like him because he's a philistine, who writes her embarrassing love poems as part of his English exercises. He, on the other hand is making a reasonable job of trying to get used to her world, even commissioning artwork from one of her gay friends.
[Not that there's anything wrong with it]

The film's writer, director and real-life wife of Jean-Pierre Bacri (Castella) is Agnes Jaoui. She plays a barmaid who deals drugs on the side. She serves Castella's chauffeur and recognises him. He's surprised, says he doesn't remember her. How does she know him? "We just had sex, that's all", she replies.

So they spend another night together. "How could I forget?" he asks. Later she admits to her friend, "How could I remember?" Never mind, she's soon having a much more satisfying time with Castella's bodyguard.

Agnes Jaoui during filming

It's a film that has me laughing all the way through. Oh, and you find out at the end the point of all those clips of the chauffeur practising the flute. I realised when I started writing this that I could have written a blog post about each of 5 or 6 characters, you get to know them all so well. Which is good going for 108 minutes.

One other thing about this film (and "Comme une Image" also with Jaoui and Bacri) is the wonderful use of music. If you ever get the chance and you can even stand subtitles a bit, watch it.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Now Hands That Do Dishes...

... Can Feel Soft As Your Face...

You were going to get a post about my dreams, but by special request here is the lowdown on dish washing in the BOV household.

Here is where all the important action happens. The main areas are listed. most of the actual cleaning is done with spongy pan scourers, though there is also a brush to remove those stubborn stains.

You may just about be able to see leading brand of washing-up-liquid - only the best is good enough.

Most people these days have dishwashers. However my kitchen isn't large enough to fit one, and washing up after one isn't very onerous in any case. Though I tend to get through lots of glasses and coffee mugs, since I often use a fresh one each time.

If anyone wishes to try out the facilities let me know and I'll save all my dirty dishes for you.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Got the Blues... and the Greens...

The wonders of modern technology...

I turned on the news, but I was greeted with something like this:

The sound was okay, but no picture. I tried the laptop as well, but it was the same. No Emilia. Tragic. So I listened to the news for half an hour, then turned to Greek TV instead.

Unlike Cypriot telly which is (normally) very stable, the ERT stream is unreliable. In addition the picture's not as good, and the sound and images never match up. I watched 20 minutes or so of "Green Team", talking about Eco-friendly computers.

Did you know that computers are responsible for the same amount of emissions as aeroplanes? Yes, a staggering, wait for it...

two percent.

Now I know that that's probably tons of carbon, but with all the fuss they make about flying being really bad for the environment, I thought it would be a big contributor. So if we all stopped using our computers and stopped flying the world would still be pumping out 96% of the emissions it is today. Actually, more, because we'd travel by some other means and watch more TV.

It was the same with the shower swindle. The Green folk say that we should have showers instead of baths and trot out figures that show how much water we could "save". However, since I switched to having showers rather than baths (for convenience) I found that I am still using the same amount of water. I suspect that their figures compare someone having the quickest possible wash under a weak shower with someone filling one of those huge round baths Archimedes-style up to the brim.

As you can probably guess, I'm not exactly EcoMan. Perhaps I should be more concerned, but I suspect that the world will get warmer, colder or whatever it is they're predicting whatever I do.

I'll happily sit under the light of eco-friendly bulbs in front of an eco-friendly computer. As long as they fix that blue screen...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

How Rich Do You Have To Be... spend $300,000 on a watch that doesn't tell you the time? It doesn't tell you the date. It's not even gold. It doesn't tell you the phases of the moon, but it does tell you whether it's day or night. Amazing!

I have windows I use for precisely this purpose, though I suspect that they cost a lot less. These watches are really accurate. So that you'll know exactly when the sun comes out. And unlike my windows, watches are portable.

Also, looking out the window isn't an exact science.

Is the sun out? I really could do with one of those watches...

The other important point is apparently that you can spend a lot less on a watch that will tell you the time, so people who buy expensive watches aren't buying them for that.

Logically, then, since you can pick up a mobile phone for next to nothing that will allow you to call people, an expensive one doesn't need to have that feature. Instead it could contain a special mechanism of cogs and springs, hand made by Swiss craftsmen that tells you which way up you're holding it. I'm thinking of putting one on the market for $400,000. There'll be a red limited edition version that I'm hoping Bee will pay $600,000 for.

My special fountain pen will be a snip at $50,000. The nib has been sharpened by the specially shaped teeth of the rare Bwami Swamp Alligator. There is nowhere to put ink - after all, attempting to write with this precision instrument would not only damage it, but you'd risk ruining your expensive suit if the ink leaked out.

In the medium term, I predict that the laptop will be the next must have luxury item. I'm thinking that it'll be a bit cheap to include any electronics, so instead the screen will be hand-painted by some of the world's finest living abstract artists. The price? Well, if you have to ask...

Friday, 11 April 2008

Shopping Therapy Crocodile-Style

Another creepy animal that we saw at the zoo was a crocodile. Actually, they had a few. Anyway, this morning I read a story about a crocodile in Malaysia. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a version in English to link to, but basically the croc decided to go shopping.

The crocodile, 3 metres long and weighing 200 kilos paid a visit to the two-story shop in the State of Malacca. However, none of the outfits were the right size. Perhaps it should lay off the mini-eggs...

In fact, it didn't actually get right into the shop, as it had a problem getting up the stairs, and ended up stuck half-way. In Britain it would be able to sue under the Disability Discrimination Act, but instead the terrified customers called the fire brigade who took it to a local zoo. It is believed that it is not an escapee, but came from a swamp.

I'm not sure whether there is a moral to this story. In the zoo they had a display of various crocodile items, such as handbags, which had been siezed by customs, and so it might be seen as poetic or fitting in some way that the crocodiles should seek their revenge - I wonder if the shop in question had any crocodile goods.

I just hope that Jean Knee's shopping expedition was more successful. And less scary.

Other News

I've only just noticed this one, too. Someone stole a crocodile from an aquarium in Norway the weekend before last. Apparently they just walked out with it (it was during one of their busy periods). Some people will steal anything...

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Wonders of Nature

On Wednesday, Helena and I went to a local wildlife park (zoo). It's always a good day out. They have a play area, a canteen, and lots of animals. On the way Helena asked me what my favouite animal was. I couldn't think of an answer. "I don't really like any of them", was the best I could come up with.

We didn't get round all of the animals - we missed seeing the farm animals, nor did we go into the tropical enclosure this time, we also managed to avoid going into the shop that sells all sorts of tacky rubbish. This has to be a first, as Helena is usually very keen to go in there, but we left once she'd had enough traipsing around for one day. We'll probably go again in the summer.

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. I realised when we were halfway there that I had forgotten to bring my camera. Never mind, there are far better photos on Wiki, and in any case there's no way I'd have spent enough time anywhere near an arachnoid to get this kind of picture:

Visiting the "creepy crawly" house is something that is very important to me, though. Mainly to make sure that the tarantulas are still in their cages.

We also saw some bats. Again, I couldn't have photographed them - the bat house is kept very dark. They're pretty creepy too:

Finally, here is a snake:

None of the snakes we saw are this colourful. I don't mind snakes, when I'm looking at them through glass. There aren't really any poisonous snakes in the UK, and it's rare to see any type outside of a zoo. The worrying thing was how well camoflauged some of them were.

I suppose I should be amazed by the wonders of nature. By how diverse and strange the animal kingdom is, but as always I came back unmoved. Animals smell. Some of them can kill you. You wouldn't let most of them in your house. Only one thing really impressed me.
That was the ants. They're amazing because of the way that they manage to work together. And yet each of them has the brain power of Britney Spears. It's very impressive. The other nice thing about ants is that they aren't at all scary or creepy. Which I suppose must make them my favourite animal...

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Technology Corner

As you know, one of the main aims of this blog is to keep you informed about the latest developments in science and technology. Today we look at the cutting edge in the competitive field of In-car navigation systems.

For those who like me are capable of getting very lost, the in-car global, erm, globe will be ideal. It combines the traditional with something that's on a suitable scale for someone liable to end up on the wrong continent. The kind of thing that happened to Bugs Bunny when he took that wrong turn at Alberquerque.

I only nipped out to the supermarket...

Another invaluable tool for the geographically challenged motorist is the backseat driver. They are always completely certain of what turn to take. So much so that even when you've done what they suggested the last ten times you hit that junction, they will be unwavering the eleventh time.

The passer-by is another useful source of information. This is never any good for me, as I can't even understand directions for places that I do know, never mind somewhere strange, but some people don't seem to have this problem. However, make sure that the passer-by is on his or her own. Like watches, it's never a good idea to consult more than one. They'll spend forever arguing about completely different ways to go until you are even more confused than before. And probably have acquired several parking tickets.

You could go all hi-tech with a satnav device. However, they are far from perfect. You really don't want this sort of thing happening to you. I don't know if this is the same story that I heard about, but due to a road closure lots of people were directed through a ford, which provided a bit of extra income to a local farmer who was towing them out with his tractor.

Personally, though, I prefer good old fashioned maps. The only problem is with trying to read them and drive, so I suppose that my ideal navigational aids would therefore be a map and a chauffeur.

Even better would be a chauffer who knows where she's going... Oh, well, maybe when I'm a millionaire...

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Crime doesn't always pay

I've just been reading about the Czech shop assistant who foiled an armed robbery. The youth was wearing a Spiderman mask, and pointed a gun at the woman, demanding money. Instead she offered him tea and cake, and asked what a nice young man like him thought he was doing trying to commit robbery. After some refreshments, he left empty handed.

I've often wondered about this sort of thing. What people who use guns to get their way actually do if someone says "no". Though if I was looking down the barrel at the time, I suspect my curiosity would quickly disappear. I suspect that unless you're a reasonably mature woman the old cake routine wouldn't work.

There's something very satisfying about incompetent robbers. I love that clip which is shown on almost every "stupid criminal" programme - the one where the robbers couldn't get out of the bank because they didn't realise you had to pull to open the doors - presumably that sort of important detail is supposed to be picked up when you "case the joint".

Or the thief who stole a record collection, then later returned it because they were Des O'Connor records. [NB: Link not safe for work!]

Another brilliant one is the recent story about bank robbers in Mexico who tunnelled into a bank, but miscalculated and ended up in a locked toilet instead of the vault. With all the alarms going off, they probably felt a pressing need to use the facilities, though I doubt they had time.

They really should give more publicity to these people, in particular plastering their names and faces all over the media at every opportunity. Surely the possibility that you might spend the rest of your life as a laughing stock would be a better disincentive to becoming a robber than the threat of a prison sentence.

However, a bigger deterrent could be to sentence theives with a year listening to Des O'Connor records non-stop...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Fashion Corner

I don't know if you've seen this new whiteboard T-shirt, but for a mere £60 you too can express yourself. Of course, you can do that with a regular T-shirt, or get your own printed, but they aren't hi-tech enough. And they're usually too stylish for geeks.

I know what you're thinking,
but I don't have one like this.

On one of the sites I went to whilst looking for a report in English, they commented that it would be great for writing down girl's phone numbers. If you can pull the chicks wearing it. It reminds me of the screens the Teletubbies have on their chests.

However, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they'll become a must-have fashion item. Just in case, it'll be a good idea to work out what you'd write on yours. Well, any ideas?

I've decided what I would put. Can you guess what that would be?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Grow Old Along With Me...

This sort of follows on from yesterday's subject of aging.

At the weekend I was reading a science fiction short story by Arthur Selling, which is in an anthology I have called "Stories of Time and Death". I know, it's not one of the books on my sidebar, but it will be once I've finished the last chapter of "The Yellow Dog."

Anyway, I know that you're all experts in Special Relativity, since we covered that topic a while back. You will of course remember that one of the strange facts discovered by Einstein is that you age less when you're moving relative to someone who isn't, and that if you move very fast you may start to notice this.

In the story our hero is a scientist/astronaut called Grant who travels in a very fast spaceship, looking for evidence of life on other planets. For every year he's away, about 15 years pass on Earth, and his missions can last as much as 3 years (40-odd Earth years).

He's contracted to do this work for 20 years, which turns out to be 8 missions. Every time he comes back to Earth for a few months he meets a whole new generation of people.

As you can imagine, his personal life is almost nonexistant. Almost. The story is set between his 7th and final missions. After about his 5th, he'd had a relationship. The woman had fallen madly in love with him and they'd got married. The woman (who's name I can't remember so lets call her Cher) had a son. Our hero came back after 30-odd years expecting to find his now 60 something wife, only to discover that in a desperate effort to cope with the age difference, Cher had had all sorts of cosmetic surgery so that nothing original or real was left. She'd also pressured their son to become an astronaut like his dad, but he couldn't take it and became a total nervous wreck. Grant couldn't cope with all this, and he vowed never to have another relationship.

You can guess what happens after the 7th mission. He meets and falls in love with a woman. They have a great time, then he tells her about his life and how hopeless their love is. In order to ensure that astronauts fulfil their contract, they only make a reasonable amount of money after they finish their last mission, but Etta has enough money, so she suggests that he just stay with her.

He won't. He is determined to complete his mission. This is the point in the story which was a real let-down. Come on! If they're so madly in love, he wouldn't go back into space. Someone else could go instead. But no, he shows how much he cares and gets ready for another trip (33 years this time).

So she goes off and gets herself a baby. Not with Grant, or any other man, but a baby that will be a clone of her, which she will give birth to, bring up and then when Grant returns he'll have her back again just as she is now. Except it will actually be her daughter.

Is it just me, or is this sick? Etta reckons that because the child will be a clone and Grant is the only man for Etta, he'll be the love of her daughter's life too. Shouldn't she just have told him what a jerk he was when he refused to stay on Earth?

What do you think?

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Isn't He Dead Yet?

I don't often listen to the radio, and certainly not British radio these days, but I have heard a reasonable amount over the years. When we lived abroad, the Forces Radio and the World Service were important, especially in a country where there was only one TV station, and that only broadcast in the evening.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst driving Helena home, she asked me to put on Classic FM. This is a national classical music radio station. A familiar voice was talking. I'm not good at descriptions so I'm not sure what is so recognisable about it. It may be the American accent, or the tone, or both. Anyway, it was obviously Paul Gambaccini. Doing the classical charts.

When I was a teenager he used to do pop charts every week, and for some reason we often had the radio on at home during part of this. So when I heard him in the car I thought "Isn't he dead yet? He must be getting on a bit."

Still With Us

Today, I happened to see on of those lists of people born on this day, and there was Mr Gambaccini, born 2nd April 1949, in New York. So now I know. Not only is he not dead, he's not even 60. He must have been about 30 years younger than I'd imagined when I was a child.

Not that my childhood was that long ago. I'm a long way from 60...