Sunday, February 18, 2018

Del Trotter, Are You There?

Fans of the Peckham wide-boy whose exploits were documented in the TV series Only Fools and Horses will surely appreciate the following snippet.

In one of my other incarnations, I maintain a website dedicated to the cartoon character Bristow. From time to time collections of the cartoons, originally published in the Evening Standard, were issued in book form. The first one appeared in 1966 and, unusually, comprised redrawn full page versions of some of the original cartoons together with pictures specially drawn for the book to make more of a story. It is rarer than the other books but still not too difficult to find on Ebay and on second hand book search sites.

Recently I saw this book on Ebay. It was for sale for £1601.27. This compares with a "normal" second hand price of between £5 and £15. I assumed this must be a mistake, was tempted to send the seller a message1 but, as Ebay doesn't make this possible until you bid for something, decided not to waste my time.

Today the following appeared in my web browser, as a targeted ad based no doubt on the fact that I had looked at the book.

I can save £1,375.70!!! according to Messrs. Ebay. Wow, with those savings I could take a week's holiday. I could buy a wardrobe of top clobber. I could... hold on....I'm not actually saving a bean. A book that was on sale for 100 times a reasonable price is now available at a dramatic price cut (but still some 15 times more than anyone with half a brain would pay). I am being invited to pay an unbelievably stupid price for a second hand book of which the seller can't even be bothered to supply a picture of the front cover but hey! it's cool because not long ago he wanted a price so ridiculous he was probably in line to become Regius Professor of Rip-offs and Scams at the Trotter Institute.

And if you're wondering what the front cover looks like, here it is and you don't have to cough up a single bean for the privilege of seeing it.

1. The message I would have sent? Something on the lines of "I don't know what you've been drinking / inhaling / injecting lately but I'll take a crate of it, OK?"

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lines on the Prolonged Departure of Jacob Zuma

Once again this column presents a piece of "verse" skilfully commenting on current events (this time in South Africa) whilst finding clever rhymes for the name of the subject. It is profoundly to be hoped that his successor, Mr Ramaphosa, does not, through either his style of government or the manner of his eventual leaving of office, merit such treatment.

The crowds had gathered in the streets.
They'd heard a tasty rumour.
Their eyes were fixed upon the news
That spelt the end of Zuma

Their mood was turning rather bad
What made for better humour?
'twas support that melted in the night
That did for Jacob Zuma.

It didn't go as fast as planned,
But stuck like an angry tumour.
Still in the end they got him out.
Goodbye, good riddance Zuma.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How Stupid Is Steam?

Steam, for those who do not know, is the trading name of a business that sells computer games over the internet and provides many related services. I have been a customer for several years. As with other online enterprises, they hold information about me that helps prevent unauthorised access to my account. I have no issue with this.

What does make me raise my eyebrows in exasperation is what happened when, as occurred today, I logged on and they displayed a message asking if my email address was still as it was. Fine, I get the idea that if it has changed I need to let them know so they can contact me should this be necessary. But the email address has not changed (indeed it has been the same for about fifteen years). When I clicked on the little button to affirm this, I was then invited to verify that this was my address. Which means they would send an email to which I would reply. I did do this the first time the account was set up.

Now, on this occasion, the email address has not changed. I have told them it has not changed and that what they are displaying is correct. What then is the reason for them effectively telling me that they don't believe me? Why is my simple click on a "Yes, this email is still the same as it was" not good enough? Do they employ systems designers who sit in their little cubicles munching doughnuts and saying to one another  "Yeah, Chuck, I know they can just click Yes and they have logged on correctly and all, but you know maybe they did change their email and they forgot and all so we'd better check anyway. Whaddya say Chuck? Let's do it, huh?" and Chuck would swill down the last of his coffee and grunt approvingly.

If you're reading this, fellers (and you know who you are), do feel free to explain.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Saying it like it is

The sports news on Radio 4's Today programme this morning covered the opening of the Winter Olympics in Korea. Someone in the British team has dropped out of something (I wasn't paying that much attention as the effort of waking up came first) but I snapped wide awake when the hapless representative went on to affirm that "Someone else will step up to the plate".

Oh, please! I know British clichés are no longer the best in the world but surely we can do better than parrot this stupid Americanism? "The Plate" means the bit where the batter stands in a game of baseball. He only has to stand there while the bowler throws a ball at him three times and then he is out, unless he has managed to hit the thing first. The plate is not particularly far from where the teams sit waiting their turn to come out nor particularly difficult to reach. There are no tanks of piranhas on either side waiting to grab a clumsily placed foot. There are no snipers up there in the "bleachers" (God, how I love that word) waiting to take out anyone who is too slow. In brief, "stepping up" to the plate is easy. It's a doddle. Anyone can do it. It takes no talent or even bravery. You can always duck, once they start chucking the ball at you.

I contend that to use this phrase to indicate the acceptance of responsibility in the face of adversity is not just lazy and ignorant but an insult to every red-blooded Briton (and if anyone knows of any Briton whose blood is not red, do get in touch). We have plenty of suitable sayings of our own based on sports we actually play and can claim to know something about. For example (and with footnotes for those many Americans I know will be eagerly seeking explanations):

  • Walking out to the first tee1
  •  Marching out to the crease2
  •  Striding up to the oche3
  • Pedal up to the start line4
  • Sidling up to baulk5
  • Sticking out your hand 6
  • Standing one's round7
  • Shouting down the opposition8

and doubtless, many more

If you would like to support the Campaign for British Clichés please get in touch.

1. You must know this one, surely.
2, Cricket. The crease is the line marked on the ground in front of the wicket. The wicket is made of three stumps and two bails. The stumps are ... look, there is such a thing as Google you know, you could be looking it up there instead of wasting your time here.
3. Darts. The oche is the line behind which the players must stand when throwing. Pronounced "Ocky", not to rhyme with "blotchy". Not be confused with the Scottish expression "Och, aye".
4. Cycling. Or competitive tricycling, for younger readers.
5. The baulk line on a snooker table is where the cue ball is placed for the opening shot of each game. Players don't necessarily have to sidle but late at night, with the cigarette smoke thick over the shaded green lights and the pints stacked up on the side tables, a long cool sidle is what you do when you want to intimidate your opponent. So I'm told.
6. in a "one potato, two potato" divvy-up of teams for playground football. See the Opies' excellent Lore and Language of Schoolchildren Oxford University Press 1959 for more. I suppose these days there is an app for team selecting.
7. What you do in a pub.
8. Politics

Monday, January 29, 2018

This Will Last A Lifetime! Snigger, Snigger

I've remarked before about how businesses feel they can twist ordinary words to make them mean whatever they want them to mean. There's another example today, with the news that top-selling SatNav company TomTom has decided to stop supporting certain models with its "lifetime guarantee" even though they are still widely on sale.

When you buy a SatNav you may (or may not) get continued support in the form of updates to the mapping software. Typically you are told you will continue to receive these updates for the life of the product. You may feel that this means for as long as the product remains usable. And of course this perfectly fair day-to-day meaning is not what the supplier means - he means that support will go on for precisely the length of time that he wishes to provide it and not a second later. And there is nothing you can do about it.

For a wonderful example of circular reasoning, here is the full explanation from TomTom's website about what they mean by "lifetime" of a commercial product:

"lifetime" means the "useful life" of a device: "ie: the period of time TomTom supports your device with updates, services, content or accessories. A device will have reached the end of its life when none of these are available any more."

So the lifetime is as long as they do updates and as soon as they cease then, miraculously, just at that moment, the lifetime of the product expires. The one defines the other. Or to put it another way:

Q: How long will you provide updates?
A: For the life of the product
Q: When does the life terminate?
A: When we stop providing updates
Q: And when will that be?
A: When the lifetime of the product expires  etc etc

I own a SatNav, not made by TomTom, and which did not come with any warranty about updates. I don't care. It's still accurate for all main roads and it's probably cheaper to replace it in a year or so than to buy a more expensive model that does have the "guarantee" which will then be deemed obsolete by the supplier a few months later. What I will not do is buy one that does have a "guarantee" unless they tell me how long that is going to be. In years and months, not whenever someone in their Tech Dept flips a coin and pulls the plug.