Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The power of the net

In the bad old days when I commuted daily, I often moaned about the problem of what strategy to adopt when faced with delays. And by delays, I don't mean actual gaps in the train schedule but the word itself. When you enter a tube station and see on the electronic displays (or the trusty old hand-written white board) that there are "delays", or, God forbid "severe delays" on your chosen route, what should you do?

Well, we now have ways to beat the system. The combination of the net, a tube app and a smart phone equips the traveller in a way undreamed of just a few years ago. So this morning, on my way from beautiful Ruislip into central London, and faced by those dreaded words "severe delays" and "no service between Baker Street and Aldgate" I made a cunning plan. A Piccadilly came in almost at once - fine, I took it on the grounds that if things looked bad I could stay on it pretty well all the way. But this is a second-best option, it is way slower than the Met and nothing like as comfortable. Decision time was four minutes away when the lines divide at Rayners Lane. By then I could see on my phone that Mets were running in good numbers and some were going through to Aldgate. So I debarked at Rayners to take the Met that I knew was a couple of minutes behind. Arrived at Harrow to find the train on the adjacent town-bound platform was out of service and lots of evidently disgruntled and just-turfed-out passengers waiting for us. Naturally my train was a slow one and we were quickly overtaken by a fast Aldgate that was almost empty but that is pretty well par for the course in these parts. My point is that on arrival at Finchley Road my phone told me there was another through train behind us and once more I debarked and changed trains.

Not too long ago this would have been too much of a risk. I would have remained on the Picc and emerged much later to change at Kings Cross with my back aching from those low spongy seats.  So thank you for the modern communication systems that empowers us hapless commuters in these difficult times.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Official: We will not be censored

A headline on the BBC news site today - Blogs with turnover of less than £2m will not be subject to new system of press regulation, government says. Well the good news is that Ramblings does not quite achieve this particular target so we will continue to bring you hard-hitting, up-to-the-minute journalism of the highest quality [cough. ahem. cough: Ed].  And the bad news is that because this blog is not pulling in a lot of cash, the funds available to bring you this hard-hitting etc. etc. are somewhat depleted and this may result in a bit less of the hh stuff than you might wish.  Sorry.  But these are the facts.
 [There was some talk a while back of a Xmas bonus - is that still on by any chance? Ed].

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The nutters of Pyongyang

North and South Korea have been in a state of war for sixty years. Military hostilities ceased in 1953 but only because of an armistice. No peace treaty has been signed. Recently the unbelievably weird lot who govern the North have been making the most incredibly belligerent statements about the ghastly things they are going to do to the South, to the USA, to their allies and to anyone else who gets in the way, and anybody else on the planet who they may run into during that process, plus any stroppy inhabitants of the solar system and visitors from the planet Tharg for good measure. Even Millwall supporters must be impressed.

But today, reports the Guardian, they are terribly upset and crying and saying "it's not fair" because some demonstrators in the South had a go at the nutter-in-chief Kim Il-Sung. They are demanding - and get this, irony-lovers, - an apology. Yes, they are on the verge of deploying missiles and threatening invasion but first they want someone to say sorry. Ah, bless. It's a scene straight out of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy - this one, in fact

... distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.
The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time. A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

If it wasn't for the fact that the North Koreans do possess weapons that they seem keen to use, gales of derisive laughter would be sweeping the world. 

Why Oh Why ( number 2 in a slowing growing series)

...do people use Facebook? In two separate developments in recent days, Facebook has announced plans to charge people who send messages to certain members of the celebrity class (and all of the money will be retained by Facebook, not distributed to those who are making this revenue stream possible), and to provide their own operating system for mobile phones which will be constantly logged in and displaying adverts.

Given that most Facebook users are children this is desperately sad. The peer pressures to be on Facebook are immense, and growing as some websites require a Facebook login for access, never mind the ludicrous and evil association that classifies all your casual contacts, and indeed the relentless advertisers in the background, as "friends" with contributions that are to be "liked". And who knows what data is being collected to hand over to advertisers each time a user connects with a real friend or makes a posting?

Brand advertising is relentlessly pernicious. I have from time to time on this blog pointed out particularly irritating examples. Happiness is not about buying things, or choosing to consume one branded good over another. Indeed, although the foundation of classical economics, itself the root of modern day market theory, is built on the idea of choice, the idea that choice = happiness is utterly unproven. It is just something that has been asserted and then succeeding generations of economists have taken it for granted. I think there are real studies of consumer behaviour that suggest that the profusion of brands and choice, typified by modern supermarkets, bewilders and distresses. And if there aren't, then there ought to be.

So anything that "delivers" (their word, not mine) even more advertising to the most vulnerable in our society is to be utterly deplored. This website was supposed to be about students keeping in touch with each other not a goldmine for commercial interests.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fish story

At a stroke, and for the grand sum of £13, I have doubled the fish population on my estate [i.e. the pond out the back: Ed]. There are now ten of the little blighters, a mix of goldfish and shubunkins but it is anyone's guess how many will survive. The most fascinating moment was when the incomers were lowered into the still achingly-cold water, cocooned in their plastic bag fresh from the aquatic centre. They squirmed about as if desperate to plunge into the rather murky waters below. The resident population came up to greet them, clustering around the bag as if encouraging a break-out. When I judged that they should be acclimatized (or rather, after a few minutes, when I was fed up waiting), the bag was cut and the new lot, with a little gentle persuasion of the "lift up the bag and shake it" variety, emerged and quickly vanished to explore the delights of the silt at the bottom with their new found chums.

The next exciting development will be feeding them. They respond to warmth but we haven't had much of that so far this year. And there is still no sign of the frogs. More later (if indeed there is any more).