Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lines on the Departure of Robert Mugabe

Editor's note: It is customary, when penning a ditty to mark a significant occasion of someone, to find suitable rhymes with their name.This produces a pleasing piece of doggerel. The following effort has made every effort to observe this rule but readers must be aware that it is not easy to match English words to a Zimbabewean surname and we hope they will make due allowances

The crowds were milling in the street
Was it to see the derby?
What brought them out despite the heat
T'was to see off R Mugabe.

The military strutted up and down
As if enjoying a barbie.
But graver business brought them to town;
To chuck out R Mugabe.

The market stalls had fish and meat,
Lettuces and kohl rabi.
And eager buyers flocked to eat
Ignoring R Mugabe.

Then ZanuPF gathered, all
Going rhubarbe, rhubarbe
And made the long awaited call
To ditch one R Mugabe.

Chasing the Ratings

Recently I renewed my annual motor insurance. As is sadly so often the case these days, this process required ditching my previous provider because they had hiked up the premium massively for no obvious reason; a few minutes online and I had a quote from someone else. This is not only more than £100 cheaper than the quote from my current provider, it was less than I had been charged last year. It would not surprise me if the same thing happens next year.

And that, you might be thinking, is surely that. One buys motor insurance, one puts the policies away (or in today's case, downloads the documents) and the matter is closed until the first frosts of next winter announce that the festive season of insurance renewals is with us once again. Alas, there is always a postscript. My old provider has cold-shouldered me and no doubt crossed me off their Christmas card list but the new one is keen to further our acquaintance. They have asked me to rate their product. Apparently this will help other customers.

I can go to a restaurant, eat an enjoyable meal and give them a high rating. I can buy an electrical product that fails to do what it claims to do and give it a low rating. But how on earth do I rate an insurance policy? We are not talking about how easy it was to chat to them over the phone because I did the whole business online. Nor about the key feature of any insurance policy - what happens when you make a claim. We are talking about how I rate the product itself and it doesn't even come into effect for another ten days.I am baffled as to how to proceed. Something sarcastic on the following lines perhaps?

A lovely little policy, although clause 14.b is rather obscure and I didn't like the sour notes emitted from clause 18.d(2), albeit that the exclusion of liability for acts of aliens from the Planet Tharg added a delightful touch of levity. My partner enjoyed the cover for the towing of caravans less than 35 cwt. The typeface used for the small print was well-chosen. I can definitely see this policy lasting the full twelve months.  4 stars


Saturday, November 11, 2017

(Un)Silent Witness

Some stories demand to read. Such was the case with this gem concerning a police suspect who, during a routine interview at the station, declined to answer his interlocutor with speech but used an entirely different orifice to emit sounds. The policeman shut his notebook, opened a window and terminated proceedings.

That this took place in Kansas (albeit not the state but the town of the same name in Missouri) adds a certain piquancy.

"Aunt Em, Aunt Em, that terrible noise, that rushing wind, is it ... is it a twister?"
"Hush child, it's just one of the farmhands making, er, comments, to the cops"

Whether the successor to the highly acclaimed Breaking Bad will be called Breaking Wind is not yet clear.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Every unit of measurement has its technical definition (such as a second being so many billions of vibrations of a caesium atom) and its everyday definition (large areas being so many times the size of Wales, smaller areas being so many football pitches). The world of consumer technology is not exempt. The technical definition of broadband speed is the number of bits per second that information can be transmitted but the man in the street doesn't hold with that. The benchmark of  internet access speed is how long it takes to download a high-definition film.

A nice example of this usage is in today's papers with the announcement by big player Vodafone of very fast broadband facilities coming soon to selected UK cities. How do we know how fast it will be? It will enable the downloading of films to be achieved in a few minutes instead the current average of half-an-hour. And this is where I start scratching my head. Because it is not just film-as-measurement that is the problem, it is film-as-justification. The reason why this upgrading of communications infrastructure matters, apparently, is so that consumers can download films faster. And I have to ask - does it really matter?

The film market may be very big. But I have the impression that huge numbers of people choose to watch them on very small screens, smartphones, tablets and the like. So all that high definition is utterly wasted. I sometimes watch films or TV on my 24" monitor and the picture quality is outstanding and this is from standard definition stuff (the files of which are less than a quarter the size of high-definition versions). And why does it matter if some kid has to wait an extra half an hour to begin watching, even assuming they do start watching the moment the download is ended? Suppose they were going to a cinema to see the same film - it might take them half an hour just to get there, then there's the queue to pay, the queue for popcorn and the interminable bloody adverts and trailers before the film begins. This is all regarded as perfectly in order and does not detract from the popularity of film-going. But apparently it is appallingly backward for anyone to have to wait a trivial amount of time once they have decided to see a film on their own device.

Now there are some good reasons for upgrading the speed of internet communications. The article I cite mentions transmission of CT scans between medical facilities. Businesses need to have rapid communications of data. But as long as the film speed standard holds then it is very hard to take the need for faster broadband seriously. I couldn't care less if it takes a few minutes or a few hours to download a game (such as the amazing Skyrim, which has been taking up most of my gaming hours in the past few years) because like any rational human being I can think and plan and find other things to do during the download (such as doing it overnight). And the idea that I, as a general consumer of broadband, may find myself paying more for it in future, so that some spotty herbert can get Alien Bloodbath IV ("This time the blood is even more bloody than last time") a little bit quicker than he could previously, does not make my heart sing on this bright but chilly November morning.

[Oh dear, I think I must have missed Alien Bloodbaths I to III. Were they any good, do you know? Ed]

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Return of the Grauniad

Regular readers, should there be any, of these musings will be aware that I often quote from The Guardian newspaper. This is because I subscribe to it. Consequently that august organ of the press knows my address.

Imagine my surprise then to receive an email from said paper apologising for sending me another email that, they say, was sent by mistake because it relates to a competition open only to UK residents. My surprise was compounded in that I never received the original email.

There may be something sinister going on here, though I cannot quite see what. Or we are back to the modern equivalent of the glorious days of Garudian misprints, a regular source of hilarity in other popular journals during the 1960s (and 70s and probably well into the 90s). They erred by not sending me the first email and erred again by telling me that I no longer appear in the very country to which they nonetheless faithfully mail my subscription vouchers each quarter.

I now eagerly await a third email apologising for the second and explaining that as I am indeed eligible to join the competition, that the closing date was last Friday, and that only non-subscribers resident in Antarctica are eligible to enter.