Friday, 29 February 2008


Et tu, Brute? Illegitime!

Important Notice:

The beginning of March has been postponed until tomorrow. We apologise for any inconvenience. Julius Caesar.

Yes, it's February 29th. If you woke up thinking it was March 1st, then you've got a free day. It also means that the Groundhog wasn't being entirely truthful this year - what he meant to say was "6 more weeks and 1 day of winter". Sorry folks.

It must have been great to be a Roman Emporer. Apart getting assassinated at an early age, the lack of decent medicine, no Internet, etc. But they were seriously powerful. Caesar decided that every fourth February we'd have a leap year, and here we are over 2000 years later following his instructions.

Well, almost. There has been a small change since then, but that's only relevant if you think you'll be alive in 2100. Let me rephrase that. If you're still alive and alert enough to notice in 2100.

When he started his new calendar, he had to add an extra 67 days to the year 46BC. That must have really pissed people off who had annual contracts. Luckily, Christmas hadn't been invented yet. It also must have caused havoc with birthdays. But, he was Caesar, the boss, and if he wanted an extra 67 days, then so be it. As I said, it must have been great to have that power.

The Romans must have had lots of issues with birthdays, though. Maybe they just didn't bother. The system that Julius Caesar scrapped was a year of 355 days, so they had to add an extra leap month about once every 3 years.

Interestingly, Caesar's leap day didn't have a date like February 29th. It was legally the same as the previous day. As if we did February 28th over again. This would have been bad news for Poirot. "Where were you on the night of the 28th?". Which one???

However, I think that it would be good to revive this idea. It would make it easier for people born on a leap day. Not being an emperor yet, I'm proposing a more democratic version. Under my system people will be allowed to choose whether to have the leap day as February 28th or March 1st.

Optimists will plump for March 1st on the grounds that it will be better than the day they've just lived through. Pessimists will choose to repeat the 28th because they believe that March 1st will be worse. Since it's a Friday, I'd go for March 1st. Then I wouldn't have to go into work. To work an extra day that I'm not being paid for.

Oh, well, something else to put on my list for when I'm dictator. I will insist on one thing, though. It will be compulsory to write a blog post on a leap day...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Small Earthquake - Not Many Dead

I was awake at around 1am this morning when everything shook. It was rather disconcerting - such events are very rare here (this was the biggest one in quarter of a century). According to ERT the earthquake measured 4.7 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre near Grimsby (a delapidated fishing town on the East coast). Apparently there are few reports of casualties or damage (one man injured his leg when a chimney collapsed).

Grimsby before the catastrophe

I don't know if you've seen my "headline" before. Sometime in the early 1900s, I think, some Times journalists had a bet to see who could get the most unsensational headline past the editors. Apparently the above was the winner.

Earthquakes were at the time really newsworthy because they are detected around the world almost instantly, whereas most news took weeks to get from some parts of the world. These days almost every quake however small seems to get reported by ERT (The Greek state broadcaster).

I'll obviously keep you updated as events unfold...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Special Occasion

Bee has been spreading the word about "Inappropriate Card Day". After her and Tracy's cards, I just had to have a go myself.

[Picture License]

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Election Results - The Winner

I know you were all on the edge of your seats. The new President of Cyprus is Dimitris Chrisotfias.

Classic Cinema Part II

"PartII? Where is Part I?", I hear you ask. Well, some time ago I discussed the merits (or otherwise) of "Battleship Potempkin". Today I'm continuing my survey of Classic "must watch films" which I have watched so you don't have to with a couple of Italian "Greats".

Note that the plots are discussed, so if you don't want to know stop reading NOW.

The Bicycle Theives (Vittorio de Sica, 1948)

Background: Set in poverty stricken post-war Rome.

Plot: Man gets bicycle stolen, man and son spend all day looking for it, but can't find it. The End.

Good Points: The location filming

Bad Points: At 87 minutes it's about 80 minutes too long.

This is the heart rending tale of a man struggling to keep food on his family's table. He gets a job as a poster putter-upper (what are they called???) but whilst he's busy gluing one to a wall theives nick his bike. Without it he can't do his job, so he and his son go out and try and find the bike.

I suppose it's a social commentary, but not my idea of entertainment, I'm afraid. You may remember the title - it's the film that Tim Robbins goes to see in "The Player". And, if I remember rightly, he's about the only person in the cinema.

La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 1960)

Rome, Trevi Fountain, Anita Ekberg

Plot: Famous film star, paparazzi reporters, not sure (see below).

Good Points: Rome, Trevi Fountain, Anita Ekberg

Bad Points: At 166 minutes, it's about 140 minutes too long.

This is a leisurely look at fame. I think. It's so leisurely that although I've watched it right through twice I couldn't tell you what happens. I'm sure things do happen, but it's never seemed to me to be very coherent.

Anita Ekberg looks good in that black dress, but you don't need to watch the film - just get a poster.

It's not every blog that might have just saved you from wasting 253 minutes of your precious lives. Maybe you can spend a few of them thinking up a specially witty comment ("First!" doesn't constitute a witty comment).

Friday, 22 February 2008

Dead Lucky

As you may remember, I'm not very hopeful of a lottery win anytime soon, since I don't buy a ticket. I don't really think lotteries are very good. You're far better off with the horses, or in a casino. Not that I bet on those, either.

However, a lot of people don't agree with me. In Marano in Italy they think the lottery is such a good idea that there should be one for dead people.

There's clearly no point in giving them money, since by all accounts they won't be able to spend it in their new homes. In fact the prize is precisely that, a new home.

There is a severe shortage of burial plots, so the lucky winners will get their very own space. Currently they're making an unplanned stopover at the local morgue.

Apparently, the problem is only a temporary one, as a new cemetery with space for 1,000 will soon be opening. However, I think that the idea of prizes for dead people is a good one, though I'd do it a little differently.

I think that the first prize should be a memorial. Different weeks they could do a different one. Maybe get a composer to write a song, or a poet an Ode, or a sculpturer erect a statue in a town square or whatever. Or a street named after them. People in generations to come would say "Who was that? What did they do?"

The point is that the people honoured in this way would be chosen entirely randomly. At the moment a lot of the great and good chosen for these sorts of memorials are military leaders whose forces slaughtered more people than their opponents. Or politicians who possibly attained their office through less than honorable means. Far better to pick someone who had a more "normal" life.

When I first saw this story, I thought I'd make something funny out of it, but actually, I'm serious. Deadly serious.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nuke it, Baby!

Texas, Tuesday 19 February 2008:

Police announced today that they are assisting government scientists in a rather unusual "manhunt". They are searching for the source of a mysterious radio emission which has caused an area of space to become "cooked".

"It's just like someone's microwaved space", said the chief scientist leading the expedition. "We've never seen anything like it.". The area could cause a hazard for space shipping, but fortunately NASA have already launched their latest probe, and a special clean-up operation is now being planned for 2009.

"Basically, various particles of cosmic dust have been cooked. They have formed something that is a little bit like a very large piece of burnt food. Maybe a little like an overcooked onion ring. We plan to take a sample back to earth for proper analysis."

It is rumoured that the sample will be tasted by Martha Stewart, although officials refused to confirm this.

Meanwhile, the source of the emissions has been traced to Texas, where the hunt is on to find out what is doing this. Unfortunately, they stopped abruptly on Friday, and haven't been detected since.

"One of my scientists thinks it's a faulty microwave", said the Chief, "but I think that's a silly idea."

Em, Jean Knee...

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Dangerous Woman

Photo By Alan Light [License]

Helena and I have started watching "Murder She Wrote".

Jessica Fletcher is a mystery writer who lives in the sleepy New England town of "Cabot Cove", where everyone knows everyone else. However, there is somethng supernatural going on, because everywhere she goes there is always a murder. And the police always suspect the wrong person, if they have any idea at all. Of course, Jessica always manages to solve the murder, usually risking her life to get the culprit to confess all, with the police intervening in the nick of time to ensure that she'll be back next week.

Unlike Columbo, these are only 45 minute episodes, and it's amazing how complicated some of the plots are, with red-herrings and subtle clues all over the place. Over all the years and 260-odd episodes the population of Cabot Cove must have gone down tremendously, though not all of the murders happen there.

Also unlike many detective stories the writers have to cope each week with the problem of getting Jessica involved in the sleuthing - after all, she's not a PI or a police officer. The police always assume that they can do better. "Are you all right, Mrs Fletcher?" Asked a New York Cop in one episode after she discovered a body. Not realising that she'd probably seen more bodies than he had.

Angela Lansbury was originally British. I haven't seen here in that many films, but she's amazing. She made her film debut at the age of 18 in "Gaslight" (an Ingrid Bergman film), and her performance is a real eye-opener. It's not surprising that she went on to become famous, and she's still working well into her 80s.

Helena would have spent all weekend watching them back to back if I'd let her - as it is, I'm going to have to stock up on some more of them before long...

ELECTION NEWS: President Papadopoulos is out of the race, with Christofias and Kasoulidis going through to the second round. So there's still hope for the guy with the rug...

Friday, 15 February 2008

Αγγλικά για ξένους

The other day, Tracy revealed her "plan" to escape the hustle and bustle of life in the New World and to emigrate to England's Green and Pleasant Land. Having had a maths lesson the other day, I think we should try and learn some English today. British English. Like what the Queen speaks.

So here is my quick guide to British English:

Lesson 1: Making a Phone Call

This isn't difficult, but you must be very careful not to confuse the Telephone with the Television (see Lesson 2).

To make a telephone call, you can get on the blower. It is also known as the "dog and bone" (see Lesson 3).

Some posh bird on the blower

Important Tip: On no account suggest that your interlocutor "have a nice day". Remember, that, even though you may feel safe, Britain is "slightly smaller than Oregon", and you will be hunted down.

Lesson 2: Entertainment

These days, most households in Britain have one or more televisions. These are referred to as "the box", "the goggle box", or "the telly". The latter is never used to refer to a telephone (see Lesson 1).

A telly

Americans will find the lack of channels somewhat confusing, as there are only 5 channels, and not all of the country can recieve the fifth one. In some places (Wales), one of the other four is in Welsh.

Important Tip: Avoid Wales.

You may also find the content offensive. After 9pm ("the watershed"), programmes may contain nudity, swearing and violence. If you're lucky. Otherwise, it's the same old tripe you're used to at home.

Lesson 3: Rhyming Slang

This originated with Cockneys. The idea is that you take a phrase, for example, "Butcher's Hook", where the last word rhymes with the word that you mean ("look"), and then you use the first word, i.e. the one that doesn't rhyme. So, we say "take a butcher's" to mean "have a look".

In this system, Americans can be referred to as "Septics" (Septic tank = Yank), a woman's, er, assets as "Bristols" (Bristol City), and the term "Berk" is used as a mild or playful "insult", despite the fact that it's short for "Berkshire Hunt". "Cobbler's", which means "nonsense", apparently comes from "Cobbler's awls" = "balls" ("bollocks" means the same as "cobbler's").

Lesson 4: Regional Variations

There are a lot of these. Unfortunately, I don't know most of them. Common Yorkshire-isms include "owt" (anything), "nowt" (nothing, so "You don't get owt for nowt"), "tha" (you).

Verb usage is often different in regional use, so "I tried to learn 'im 'ow to talk proper, but 'e weren't 'aving none of it".

Lesson 5: Americans Abroad

Americanisms have been around as long as American English, and most people wouldn't realise that they're using them. It is now standard to spell words like "connection", instead of "connexion", people increasingly "meet with" others.

However, we still write "colour", "programme" (though not for a computer program), "tyre" (this is only on a vehicle).

Road terms is a whole subject in itself. However, remember to drive on the left, and to slow down at an amber traffic light - they change a lot quicker than in the US.

In light of 9/11, US authorities recommended that Americans keep a low profile when overseas. For example don't wear your baseball cap the wrong way round, and don't be loud.

I hope this gives you a flavour of our language. You shouldn't have too much problem communicating, as most Brits have watched enough Quentin Tarantino films to be able to understand US English...

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Grumpy (not old) man and naked woman

I'm not really into special days. Not even birthdays. But Valentine's Day just seems to get worse every year. Fortunately, I've not had to "celebrate" it recently, but I used to get by with the minimum possible fuss when I was married.

But, you say, what a romantic day! Just the two of you, out for that special intimate meal - surrounded by so many other couples it's like a market place. Or flowers at specially inflated prices (I wasn't able to avoid that one), or cards.

I don't generally do cards. For any occasion. Cards are supposed to be sent to people on special days. People that you're not going to see. When I was married I saw my wife nearly every day. What would I want to get her a card for?

Then there's chocolate. The modern woman is on a constant diet and views such gifts with suspicion. Do you really want her to get fat? Haven't you noticed that she's on a diet? Don't you care? Actually, you wanted to get something special, to give her a break from all that fat-free, sugar-free, flavour-free stuff, but she doesn't see it that way.

I hope that those of you who will be "celebrating" this occasion have a nice day. I hope you don't have an allergic reaction to the flowers, that you don't get sick on chocolate and champagne.

The day wouldn't be complete without a reference to Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. Pretty much the ideal woman. Sex mad and not into fashion (or indeed clothes at all). No wonder they used to worship her...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


"... Therefore I must kill you"
[Photo of Norbert Weiner, who as far as I know didn't say the above, copyright RLE at MIT]

You will no doubt remember my post about "The Pythagorean Murders" by Tefkros Michaeledes.


It was the one about the mathematicians who got reincarnated as beans.

I mentioned I'd started reading the book. Now I've finished it. I'm sure that you are all really eager to know what happens. Well, you might be, and I'd hate you to be lying on your deathbeds (hopefully many years from now), wondering.

I'm going to reveal the answer, so if you think that you're ever likely to read this book, read no further.

All still with me? Good. Actually if the book becomes available in English, or Spanish or whatever, I wouldn't recommend it. Stick with Agatha Christie.

Unfortunately, it wasn't really a "Whodunnit". After all, it's a mathematical murder mystery and the only person at all interested in maths apart from the victim (and Picasso, but I think we can discount him), is the narrator.

He even gets arrested, tried and found guilty (the narrator, not Picasso). All the evidence is against him. But he's freed on appeal, because they can't work out a possible motive for why he killed his best friend. His friend that he loved and had absolutely no wish to hurt.

Of course, the reason is to do with maths. His friend has been looking for a mechanical means to prove theorems. This, our hero realises, will take all of the fun out of the subject (do you remember the fun you had with maths at school?). His friend announces that he's solved the problem. Our hero has a look, can't find any flaw in his reasoning, and murders him so that maths will still be fun.

For some strange reason the police and the lawyers overlooked that motive. I thought of it on the second or third chapter, and decided that it was just too implausible. But then what would I know? I did train to be a maths teacher, but then saw sense.

So our "hero" gets released from prison, and goes home with the feeling that although he's killed his friend, it's for the greater good. Then he reads an article by Goedel in a maths journal. In it Goedel proves that the problem cannot be solved. So somewhere in the 15 pages crammed with equations his friend made a mistake. Our hero writes his confession and kills himself. The End.

So the victim was killed because of a mistake in his maths. Maybe he left out a minus sign or something. When your maths teacher was lecturing you about the importance of accuracy, perhaps that's what they meant...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Aleatory Music

Introducing Nora, the piano-playing cat:

Apparently, the impressive thing about this is that the moggie in question manages to play one note at a time. Usually, we're told, cats tend to hit multiple notes at once.

I feel sorry for Christian Pezold. If you managed to watch the video to the bitter end, it was his Minuet in G that the student was playing. For years this minuet was attributed to JS Bach, since it appears in the "Anna Magdalena Notebook".

This "Notebook" was a music book that Bach gave to his second wife, and various pieces that she and the family liked were written into it. Some of them are by Bach, others by his sons, and still more by other people.

The great thing about the pieces of music in it is that they are easy to play, which is why I started learning to play the piano by working through it. So poor old Pezold's minuets have been massacred by generations of students. And now by a cat. He must be spinning in his grave.

There are two good things about Nora. The first is that the sound is better than the howling cats usually treat us to. The second is that now I've heard piano playing that's worse than mine...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

"Brian o vretanos"

A parcel arrived for me today. It wasn't like the parcels I usually recieve from the Mediterranean containing books. This one was decorated with a picture of Green Bean Casserole, and the sender had put some polka dots on it.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened the parcel. I wondered if I should call the bomb squad, but decided to be brave (or reckless?)

Anyway, it contained... a stapler, which I have installed next to my other one as you can see.

The statue is called "Brian o vretanos", although the face needs to be put on. My printer doesn't do photos very well, so I've done this electronically.

I think this is the most thoughtful and unique present I've ever had. Thankyou, Jean Knee!

The stapler even works...

Friday, 8 February 2008

Wonder Pills

I couldn't ignore this story. The Israeli Air Force is looking into the possibility of giving its jet pilots viagra to help lessen the effects of altitude. In other words, to keep them up longer.

Apparently in tests, mountaineers said it worked for them - they don't get so light-headed when they get to the summit. Doctors will now presumably be inundated with patients who claim to have taken up extreme sports and need a prescription.

All of this is great if you climb mountains or fly jets, but those of us who spend all day at lower altitutes sitting at a computer could do with some wonder pills too:
  • Monday Morning Sickness Tablets: So that the week can at least start on a positive note.
  • Corporate Anti Inflammatory Drugs: To be taken as required with emails and newsletters containing corporate and management bullshit.
  • IT Painkillers: Hallucinogenics to make IT downtime pass more enjoyably.
  • Silent Sleeping Tablets: To stop you snoring when you doze off during meetings (or any other time for that matter)
  • Bat Anti-Flatulents: See Bee's blog for further details.
  • Viagra: They should at least try it and see what happens. It might increase productivity.
Some people believe they have already found a wonder cure to many of the above ailments. Namely, blogging...

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A Successful Disaster

I was browsing through HMV the other day, seeing what special offers they had, and came home with the box set of "Airport" (1969), "Airport 1975", "Airport 1977" and "Airport 1979" (only £15). I've never seen any of these films. I've seen some of the imitations and spoofs, but never these films. I've always imagined they wouldn't be very good.

So the other night I watched the first one. I was very pleasantly surprised. Unlike, say, "The Poseidon Adventure" or "Towering Inferno", there's a lot of (intentional) fun - the old biddy who's pretty much a professional stowaway, for example. And it was nice to see Myrna Loy and Jessie Royce Landis.

The disaster is caused by a man trying to pull off an insurance fraud. He takes out life insurance then gets on a transatlantic flight carrying a bomb, intent on detonating it once they're over the water.

He is spotted by an eagle-eyed customs official, but by the time they find out he's just bought insurance, the plane is in the air. However, they get the insurance company to void the policy, and tell the desperate man that, but he blows himself up anyway, taking the toilet with him.

Since the idea of a plane load of people on an 8 hour flight with no toilet doesn't appeal, not to mention the problems caused by having a large hole in the fuselage, they decide they'd better make an emergency landing back where they started (Chicago). But, just for a change, it's snowing there and in addition they've got a plane stuck on the runway.

The would-be suicide frauster could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if he'd seen "Double Indemnity" - he could have just thrown himself off a train. But presumably he couldn't afford to go to the cinema because he was saving all his money for a plane ticket.

He got the explosives for his bomb from his last job on a building site. You'd have thought that the easiest thing of all would have been to stage some kind of industrial "accident", but unfortunately he couldn't stick any job long enough to manage that.

One interesting thing I noticed was how little flying appeared to have changed in the last 40 or so years. Other than airport security, of course. Hopefully someone with a briefcase full of dynamite would get stopped sooner...

Monday, 4 February 2008

A Day to Remember

[Copyright: Charles Roberts/Online Transport Archive]
Norman Wisdom: 1915

George A Romero: 1940

A Zombie

Dan Quayle: 1947

Alice Cooper: 1948

Gabrielle Anwar: 1970

All (with the possible exception of the zombie) were born on the 4th February. They look a bit of a motley crowd, I admit. I hadn't heard of Gabrielle Anwar, but I suppose she's proof that we're not all bad looking.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Election Fatigue

Like most people, I'm getting a little bit tired of all the Presidential Election stuff. It seems to have been going on now forever, and in recent weeks it's not been possible to avoid it.

We manage to avoid this kind of pain in the UK, because election terms aren't fixed, so you tend to get a few weeks notice. Everyone turns off their TVs and stops buying newspapers, and in next to no time they've decided which of the loonies is going to run the asylum and we all get back to our daily lives.

It's different when you have these fixed presidential terms. They can start planning, commenting, speculating, years in advance. Not being a political person, I've avoid letting all this pollute my blog, but I thought I should have a go at this pundit thing.

Commenting about another country's politics is a dangerous business. I could offend someone. With that aim in mind, I thought I'd give my worthless opinion on a topic that I don't really know that much about. It's always far easier to come up with crude generalisations from a state of ignorance.

So, here goes:

Brian's Guide to the Presidential Race

I wanted to start by giving my prediction for who will win, but I forgot to ask Jean Knee. The main contenders are pretty much level pegging in the polls, and I couldn't find a swingometer in any of the DIY stores.

The Middle Ground

Name: Tassos Papadopoulos.
Current occupation: President of Cyprus.
Details: Okay, it's true that he's had five years and hasn't solved the Cyprus Problem, but re-elect him and he will this time. Supports a bizonal, bi-ethnic federation. Unlike the other candidates, his solution won't lead to the island being divided.

The Worker's Friend

Name: Dimitris Christofias
Current Occupation: President of the Cyprus Parliament
Details: Former ally of Tassos, he's appalled at the mismanagement and broken promises of the last five years. And he's not responsible for any of it. Supports a bizonal, bi-ethnic federation. Unlike the other candidates, his solution won't lead to the island being divided. Oh, and don't mention the word "Communist", Comrade.

The European

Name: Ioannis Kasoulides
Current Occupation: Euro-MP
Details: Was foreign minister in a previous government. Centre right candidate. A former doctor, he recently interrupted a speech to administer first aid to one of the audience. Supports a bizonal, bi-ethnic federation. Unlike the other candidates, his solution won't lead to the island being divided.

The Others

There are several other candidates, including a guy in a tracksuit and a bandana, that unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of. There's also a candidate using the "Guinness Book of Records" logo as his official symbol. Apparently he's allowed to because he's named in the book. I'm not sure what he did, but it's not going to get him elected. All these others account for a couple of percent in the polls.

Good News

There's lots of good news. All the candidates are going to solve the Cyprus Problem, and their solution is the best.

But the really good news is that it'll all be over in a few weeks - the first round is Feb 17, and the second Feb 24. Unlike in America where there's almost a year to go.

Friday, 1 February 2008

New Look

If I'd had access to a psychotic fortune teller 13 or so months ago, and she had told me that I'd have a blog, and that I'd do 100 posts, and that my 100th post would be a picture of Al Gore after he rushed to his stylist with a picture of Aimilia Kenevezou and said "Yeah, that's what I want - I've heard it's going to be the lastest fashion". If someone had told me that, I wonder whether I'd have bought the computer after all.

Of course I would. In fact if someone had told me even earlier, I'd have bought it sooner...

Say I am Not

Chris's post reminded me of the record cover thing. I had tried it before and got something very uninspiring, so I had another go today (I know, that's cheating) and got a much better one:

The music itself combines Heavy Rock Bebop Rap with Techno/Folk, and is set to be the first major hit of 2008.

You saw it here first.