Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Monday, March 31, 2003

TV satirist mourns demise of "Gay Daleks"...
Satirist Victor Lewis-Smith has said that licensing restrictions mean that a planned TV series featuring the Gay Daleks will now not go ahead.

"I've been arranging for the pangalactic arse-bandits from the planet Mascaro to take to the skies, exploring Uranus, penetrating a red dwarf, and exsperminating all who cross their path as they travel around the universe in their interstellar cruiser, the Turdis", said Lewis-Smith. But Terry Nation's estate ain't too happy about it and gave a frosty "No".

Michael Jackson putting lipstick and rouge on a doll and then on a baby.
David Beckham taking out David Seamen's hair curlers, running his fingers through his hair and putting a band in his ponytail.
Michael Jackson persuading his children to have plastic surgery and a nose like his.
Geri Halliwell secretly stuffing her face full of cake and gateaux.
The Queen trying to keep her dog from biting Cherie Blair.
Prince William tearing up Highgrove drive way in a motorbike much to Prince Charles' protestations.
Catch Doubletake Monday night's on BBC2

Friday, March 28, 2003

Shoot! tonight...

...and tomorrow night it's Sports Kit Night.
Let there be light...
I don't know about you, but my Game Boy Advance has been sitting in a drawer for almost as long as I've had it. Sure, there are some great games for it like Legend of Zelda and Metroid Fusion, but unless I'm wearing my miner's helmet with the light on the front, after 15 minutes of play I'm cross-eyed and headachy. So my GBA just gathers dust. Considering the proliferation of GBA modifications to add internal lighting to the screen, I'm not the only one with this problem. Nintendo, who seemed to be studiously ignoring this issue, was instead working in secret on fixing it.

And today, with straightforward information and little fanfare, Nintendo have finally released in the UK the Game Boy Advance SP - a total redesign of the GBA. And I, for one, was impressed. OK, so I could also be a callous, bitter consumer, and grumble that this is the GBA that should have been made in the first place, but that also means, as far as I can tell, that Nintendo has done just about everything right the second time around.

First of all, the SP is small, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, only square (actual dimensions: 3.33" x 3.23" x .96"). It has a flip top with the screen underneath which is exactly the same size as the regular GBA screen. The flip top really helps make it small, and protects the screen at the same time. The buttons and the D-pad are exposed when you open it up. The SP is also rechargeable, with a lithium ion battery that will last 10-18 hours on a single 3-hour charge. No more running to the store for AA batteries.

But the best part of the SP is that the screen is lit. Hit the little light button in the centre, and you can stop squinting at the screen trying to figure out which thing is Mario and which is the mushroom. With the light on, the graphics are clear, sharp and easy to see. And if you happen to be wearing your miner's helmet, you can turn the light off to get longer battery life. The system is also backwards compatible, playing all GBA games as well as classic Game Boy games.

With a price of £99, the SP seems to be a better purchase than the £70 original GBA, but Nintendo will continue to sell both models. Of course, current GBA owners might be a little upset that Nintendo didn't get it right the first time.

Nintendo says the SP stands for Special, but I think it should stand for Second Perfection. This time they really did everything right, and I'm looking forward to pulling out my new SP on those long plane flights and finally showing Browser who's boss.

But why take my word for it? Check out Nintendo's own blurb here.
Do these people annoy you?...
Go take a look at Am I annoying? and vote.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Focus on War: A quote from Sky News...
"Umm Qasr is a city similar to Southampton," UK defence minister Geoff Hoon said in The Commons yesterday. "He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr" says a British Squaddie patrolling Umm Qasr. Another soldier added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."
[Thanks Guy]
Speed Reading...
The speed reading course I went on yesterday produced truly amazing results. My reading went up from 373 words per minute at the start of the day to a staggering 1566 words per minute by the end of the day. The guy taught us loads of tricks and techniques (which I'm sure we obviously have to practice quite a bit to perfect). One non-obvious thing he showed us was to use your finger or a pen to guide your eye as you read - it made us feel like kids again, but it worked really well! Increasing peripheral vision by hold the book slightly further away helped too though how anyone can read 7 or 8 lines at a time is frankly beyond me.

Obviously comprehension starts to go down at first as your reading speed increases but as you practice more and more you begin to retain more and are able to recall more of what has flashed before your eyes. To further help this we learnt how to establish a memory map of the reading material first using amongst other things an initial "power browse". It's amazing how well this worked and how enthusiastic you got about a book or article without actually having read it. I must say I'm rather sold on memory maps now.

At points during the course I suffered from a bit of eye strain as I raced through page after page. But in the end there was an immense satisfaction in having devoured a piece of text so quickly. Obviously it's not a technique you would want to apply to a special piece of poetry or a favourite novel where getting there is most of the fun. But for business items, newspapers, magazines, technical journals and trashy page-turners it's a 'must'. I only hope I keep it up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Stella Awards
It's time, once again, to consider the candidates for the annual Stella Awards. The Stella's are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald's. That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous successful lawsuits ONLY in the United States. The following are this year's candidates:

1. Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving little toddler was Ms. Robertson's son.

2. A 19-year-old, Carl Truman of Los Angeles, won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbour ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbour's hub caps.

3. Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of $500,000.

4. Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbour's beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard.The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been just a little provoked at the time by Mr. Williams who was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.

5. A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

6. Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a night club in a neighbouring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth.This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.

7. This year's favourite could easily be Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City,Oklahoma. Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebagomotor home. On his first trip home, having driven onto the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the R.V. left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski suedWinnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he couldn't actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons buying their recreation vehicles.

[Thanks to Russ]

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Speed Reading
Tomorrow I am going on an all day speed reading course.

Part of the process of learning to read more quickly and more effectively will require you to work with one of your own books. Please bring at least one and preferably two books which you have not read, but which you are interested in. The following guidelines should be of use:
The books should be:
- around 200 to 300 pages
- not yet have been read
- subjects which you are interested in

The books should NOT BE:
- fiction or other story format
- a biography or autobiography
- a reference book
- too technical (i.e. lots of formulae and data)

Books which have worked well for the exercises involved, include:
- books on business
- general readers on most subjects
- self help books

So what books do you think I should bring? Any suggestions?

Monday, March 24, 2003

I've been listening to Madonna's new album Amercian Life today. The Amercian Life single is quite catchy albeit sounding a little too much like Die Another Day. Not sure what to make of Madonna's rapping though. Can we expect a duet with Eminem soon?
The local council tax bill has just dropped through the letter-box:-
2003/2004 Council Tax = £1282.37 (Increase 21.0%)
comprising Greater London Council = £274.27 (Increase 29.0%)
Islington Council = £1008.10 (Increase 19.0%)

Last time I checked UK inflation was 2.7%

Friday, March 21, 2003

Madonna? Is it Madonna? Is it? Is it?...
Press release from G-A-Y:

One of the world's biggest SUPERSTARS wants to perform at G-A-Y this Saturday. She will be the biggest name ever to perform at G-A-Y. This is no exaggeration.

Without giving too much away she is one of the best selling female artists of all time. If you want to know who it is, you need to be at G-A-Y this Saturday night. The reason that we are not saying who it is, because this is a one off never to be repeated event for G-A-Y fans only.

LIBERTY X will also still be performing on Saturday night and then followed by our mystery surprise.
All I'm going to say to you is that you have a choice, you can come on Saturday and be a part of what everyone will be talking about or you can miss out and just hear about what you have missed. A G-A-Y WORLD EXCLUSIVE - I KNOW WHO IT IS - CAN YOU GUESS?

It's Madonna, isn't it? Isn't it? Must be, huh? Who else could it be? Yeah Madonna, definitely.

UPDATE: From my friend Darryl Private Whitaker: "sorry to disappoint, it's mariah carey...." And so I have to say in a true Simpsons style - Nooooooooooooooooo!
Weller, weller, weller, huh. Tell me more, tell me more...
I bumped into Paul Weller on the way in to work this morning. He was getting out of a taxi with a couple of other chaps outside the Mayfair Intercontinental Hotel. When I say 'bumped into' what I really mean is I saw him but he didn't see me and I had to dodge to avoid hitting him. Not 'hitting him' in an I-hate-your-records-so-much-you-deserve-a-slap kind of way because I don't. I just had to side-step him. Side-step him because even if he had seen me I doubt that he could have moved in time anyway. He seems to have put on quite a bit of weight recently. So what I am saying? I nearly bumped into a podgy Paul Weller today.
Derren Brown...
Roger, Kevin, Marky and I are going to see Derren Brown tonight. He's the mind control guy. Naturally I shall be going with a highly sceptical attitude - and no doubt return as a true believer! He does give some practical advice on how to spot a liar though which might prove interesting.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Focus on War: France Demands Return of the Statue of Liberty...
Paris, France has invoked a long forgotten clause to demand that the Statue of Liberty be returned.

The people of France sent Lady Liberty as a gift to the people of the United States in 1886, but the recent row between the countries over Iraq has them rethinking their present. A graduate student in history, Jean Renault, at the École Centrale Paris uncovered a document which gives France the right to recall the gift under certain conditions.

"It says right here," said Renault pointing to the aged document, "that if America drops below a certain level on the Franklin Scale (an international measure of a country's liberty and freedoms) that France can demand the statue back."

Jacques Chirac glowed with excitement at the discovery. "Finally, the Americans will feel the wrath of the French. We plan on putting the statue in Eurodisney, or giving it to a more freedom-loving country like North Korea."

Chirac also warned that if the statue is not returned that France would "vigorously enforce its patent on French Fries, and send all its good red wine to Germany." Economists believe such moves would cripple an already weak American economy.

The news infuriated many Americans. Karl Cabot of Waukesha, Wisconsin said, "You know I sorta remember reading about a clause like that before, but I say screw the Frenchies. The statue should stay in Washington D.C. where it belongs!"

President Bush vehemently opposed the request. "America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It says so in our constitution. God bless America."

A recent poll showed that Americans favoured renaming the statue to the Statue of Quasi-Liberty, or The Torch Lady in order to keep the monument in New York harbour.

Tony Blair suggested a compromise in which the Statue of Liberty would be left exactly where it is and France would "bugger off."
Focus on War: Sky News...
Sky News seem to have unpresidented access to our boys in the Gulf. A front row seat in the $1m hi-tech military briefing room, cameras on planes, on the ground and in Baghdad itself. It almost seems like a war staged with their co-operation. Are they perhaps co-sponsors? Will the troops down weapons when the ads come on? Will we be able to control a cruise missile from the interactive Sky News Iraqfile web site? I think we should be told.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Focus on War: Sensible precautions...
The UK Government have issued some sensible precautions in case of a terrorist attack.
It is sensible to be prepared for any emergency in the home and to make plans for any major disruption. In any type of emergency, you could lose access to power, water, telephones, and roads.
Therefore have on hand such items as:- batteries, a battery-powered torch, a battery-powered or wind-up radio, some ready-to-eat food, e.g. tinned food, bottled water and blankets.
Have the phone numbers of your local police, council, utility companies and family members handy in one place. Make sure you know where the main switches for electricity, water and gas are located in your home, as you may need to turn them off in an emergency.
Warden Abbey - The Final Words...
(click for larger version)
Every Landmark Trust place has a log book. I wonder if they'll keep our entry..
Warden Abbey...
We had a simply amazing long weekend with Ben and Sarah staying in the Landmark Trust's Warden Abbey. We got almost smoked out by the fire, wandered into an abandonded railway tunnel which we then struggled to get out of and from the start prepared to repel all-comers from the battlements. Here are some pictures from our stay (click for larger versions).
The Abbey itself. Or what's left of it Basic but comfortable. The evil fireplace from billowed smoke The master bedroom The attic
Whistler's Mother? Walking off a liquid lunch The tunnel Sunset in Bedfordshire
This looks like an album cover Don't ask... The battlements Bless!

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Taken for a Mug
So Michael Shumacher zooms into the pit stop in the final laps of the last Formula One Grand Prix race of the season. He's expecting a super fast 7 second wheel change, engine tune-up and refueling. The pit stop is empty though, except a shabby North London car mechanic who strolls up to the car. He kicks Michael's tyres and with a sharp intake of breath through a fading roll-up cigarette mutters the ominous lines, "Earliest I can get it back to you is Friday, Mr Shoemaker. And it's not gonna be cheap - even if I can get the parts."

I bought a car last October and it's been a constant drain of cash ever since. I bought it from my boss and it turns out I paid almost twice what it was worth. Fume. Adding to that not slight overpayment has been the cost of the parking permit to park it outside my own front door, the insurance (is it me or has insurance good through the roof?), road tax and the fact that the radiator blew up a week after I bought it and needed a £700 repair job. Grrr.

Well the 12,000 service was due a few weeks ago and the MOT too so with thoughts of killing two birds with one stone flittered round my mind I booked it into our local (when I say local I really mean 5 miles away) Renault garage to get it checked out and any minor repairs done. For it is a Renault. Had I not mentioned that? An estate, in fact. A lovely big Renault Estate. French, you know. And you'd be surprised now much an English Renault dealer blames everything on the fact that the car that I own is French. But I that another story.

So I turn up at the garage, or rather Mark does, as I hate garages and the low-lifes that inhabit them, and there's lots of sucking of teeth and shaking of heads as a mechanic kicks the tyres (why do they do that?) and stares at the engine. Quite how he got the bonnet open at all is quite beyond me as neither Mark nor I could ever open it. I'd even made a special point of saying to them on the phone earlier in the day, "whatever else you have to do please fix the bonnet so I can open it". The mechanic now smiled as Mark as he repeated this request and simply answered, "Earliest I can get it back to you is Friday, Mr McGuire. And it's not gonna be cheap - even if I can get the parts." Christ.

We hear nothing for a week. The days drag on but suddenly the calls started coming in from the garage. The car's failed it's MOT. It needs a new this, a new that, it's amazing it ever made it to the garage in the first place etc etc. The bombshell finally hit last week when an itemised parts and labour list arrived on my fax machine at work saying the work would come to a smidgeon shy of £1500. Fuck. That would mean in total we'd have spent nearly three times the value of the car since we got it. I bit the pillow, the bullet and my bank manager and agreed that the work be completed. What else could I do? The car was in bits on their garage floor.

Yesterday the call came through from this we-saw-you-coming garage that our car was finally ready for collect and how would I be paying, Mr Green? I resisted the temptation of saying, 'reluctantly', 'in blood' or 'through the nose' and asked if a credit card would do. "Any way but cash, Mr Green", was the reply. I didn't pursue that one.

I left work early and legged it up to north North London expecting my shiny fully-working car to be all ready and waiting for me. And it was. Phew. I paid the bill without a word and wished a fond goodbye (and hope I never see you again) to the receptionist and multitude of mechanics all getting ready to go home on the dot on 6pm.

I started the car and drove a few yards before stopping. I wonder. I wonder if the bonnet release works OK. I tried it. It didn't. GRRRR! I swept back into the showroom of the garage and spat through gritted teeth (which isn't easy, you should try it), "the bonnet doesn't open. It was the one I specifically asked you to fix". "Ted? Ted? Will you show Mr Green how to open his bonnet, please." Patronising cow. Sure enough 'Ted' couldn't open it either. Hah!. See! So I stomped off home with a promise of, "We'll have it fixed by tomorrow" in my ears.

They just called. They say it's ready. Good. It'd better be.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Warden Abbey
Today Sarah, Ben, Marky and I are off to a Landmark Trust property in deepest, darkest Bedforshire for a few days. Haunted? Probably.
Ruby Wax
Ruby is the Celebrity Fame Academy Prom Queen. From Girls On Top through to Ab Fab, Wax Acts and Hot Wax et al - I've always been a fan. "More champaaaaagne, King Ahhhhmed?"

And after a blistering performance last night where she hilariously murdered Leader of the Pack and Mi Chico Latino she's through to the final. Go girl!

So vote for Ruby. Call 09011 154 009 or SMS Ruby to 82200

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Led Zeppelin...
Marky bought me The Best of Led Zeppelin Vols 1 & 2 on CD this week. So my office has been rocking this week to the toons of yester-year. I say yester-year - many of the songs have been covered or sampled for hip-hop records in recent years though.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Back in the saddle...
Apologies for the lack of blogging of late. I've just been having too much fun. We landed back at London Stanstead (two different places, surely?) late last night. Back from a glorious five day stay in Nice on the beautiful Mediterranean Cote Azur. Good food, food wines, great company, lots to see and do. Thanks Mark, Nikki and Kim - all fine travelling companions. The break was just what I needed. More details later in the week.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Well what else was I supposed to send?...

From: Tracy
Sent: 06 March 2003 11:48
To: Jonathan
Cc: Jamie
Subject: User Guides

Hi Jonathan

Jamie is creating some user guides for your training day now the audio-visual equipment is all installed at your site. He has asked if you could send a piccy or two of the Samsung VCR Remote control that we supplied so he can annotate it. We don't happen to have any piccies here and this is needed to complete the user guides professionally. We're a bit too busy at the mo to take the pics ourselves. But we want the guides to look really impressive so try and make the pictures really good ones if you can.


From: Jonathan
Sent: 06 March 2003 12:23
To: Tracy
Cc: Jamie
Subject: User Guides

Hi Tracy

Pix are attached below. Hope they are the sort of thing you had in mind. If not perhaps you could take them yourself. Too busy? Me too.


The Usual Suspects In The Jungle At The Beach

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Nice, France...
Tomorrow a gang of us are going to Nice for a holiday. Five days in the South of France by the sea for a bit of vin, homme and chanson. It'll be fun. Or will it? You see I don't really know Nice very well. I remember passing through there only briefly when I was backpacking round France in my tender teenage years but I never really stayed long enough to explore the place. Is it like Brighton with garlic? Does it have an Old Town? Will it be warm this time of year? Last, but let's face it never least, is there a gay scene there? So have you been to Nice before? Are you perhaps from Nice? What should we do/see there?

It's actually been a while since I've been to France. I used to go there a lot. Heavens, I used to live there for a while. So I'm fairly used to that smell, that attitude and that language. Love then like I do, the French can be frustratingly 'unique'; their food is wonderful, their demeanour less so but their infernal refusal to speak any language but French is most annoying.

Talking of which my French is really quite rusty. I've forgotten so much vocab and so many idioms that I expect I'll be floundering at the first bistro. Languages are like local Post Offices, you lose them by not using them. Certain gallic phrases will no doubt return after a few drinks though. "Une plus de bière, si vous plait" springs to mind and on the culinary side "Est-ce que vous avez du Mayonnaise?" will surely come in handy. Who knows, I might even get a chance to practise, "Ta endroit ou le mien?". Seulement qui vivra verra.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Is there anybody out there?...
With the recent demise after 30 years in deep space of the Pioneer 10 spacecraft it got me thinking. It must be pretty lonely being an unmanned spacecraft.

Launched on 2 March 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter. For a long time famed as the most remote object ever made by man, Pioneer 10 is now over 7.6 billion miles away.

Pioneer 10 will continue to coast silently as a ghost ship through deep space into interstellar space, heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of Taurus (The Bull). Aldebaran is about 68 light years away and it will take Pioneer over 2 million years to reach it.

Attached to our lonely friend is a gold plague - our intergallatic calling card. Looking at a picture of it now it makes me wonder what an alien race would make of it should they ever come across it. I could imagine one green-skinned alien nudging his neighbour green-skinned alien and sniggering, "These Earth people don't have very long cocks or big tits, do they?"

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Sunday Roast...
Paul, Marky and I all went out to see my folks in Hertfordshire last Sunday. And what a great day out we had. My mother cooked a huge meal catering for all tastes (vegetarian, low-carb, pre-tooth and full-on carnivore) and we sat around chatting, catching up and making plans. Below are some shots I took before we got too 'merry' (!)
My beautiful sister, Jo and beautiful sister-in-law, Dawn Marky and my nephew, Angus Mum and Marky My mother's world famous pink pudding

Monday, March 03, 2003

LloydsTSB stole our money...
Our bank stole £64 of our money and I only found out about it by chance.

I thought I'd take advantage of the fact that LloydsTSB bank accounts can now attract interest on the money in them (money? what money?) and upgrade our joint account (i.e. house account) from a Classic to a Classic Plus. Easy to do. You can do it on the interwebnet even. Just a single click. Only I couldn't. Turns out we don't have a Classic account but a Gold Service account. But we never asked for a Gold Service account. In fact we specifically asked for NOT a Gold Service account. GS accounts cost you £8 a month for benefits that we don't need or want. We just use that account for paying bills. LloydsTSB had converted it to 'Gold' without our knowledge or permission. When I found out I was livid - 10 minutes or so later as I stood in my local branch at the Customer Service desk literally shaking with fury. I explained the situation to them as calmly as I could but they look incredulous. They then kept me waiting for 20 minutes while they obviously checked out my story. Reluctantly they returned to me and the Bank Manager had the cheek to say, "You account was converted last July. We won't look for any evidence of you asked for the account to be converted to a Gold Service account. If you say you didn't ask for the conversion then we won't look for evidence to the contrary." I fumed, "I'd rather you look actually. But you won't find any 'evidence' because THERE ISN'T ANY! And what is it with this word 'evidence' anyway?" They put on their best smile and assured me that all the money would be refunded but offered no explanation or apology. I left in a less than happy frame of mind. Time to make an official complaint I think.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

In the last 12 hours my technological world at home has fallen around my ears. No phones - no Internet - no e-mail - no blogging - no car - no cable TV. So I've come in to work for my daily blogging 'fix' and to watch SM:TV Live. Sad.