Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Would you like an insult with that, Msieur?

There are few things so likely to give us all a good laugh as legal proceedings in North America where it seems people will sue for the most trivial of reasons. My morning routine (waking blearily to BBC Radio 4 on the clock-radio) was enlivened today by this strange story - a waiter in Canada who was apparently fired for being too rude and who claimed, being French, it was in his culture to act this way. He has, of course, taken this as a breach of his Human Rights.

Alan Coren, thou should'st be living at this hour!

In your much-mourned absence, let us return to that courtroom we frequented once before when the weirdness of those across the water became manifest.

Clerk: You 'vill all rize for his honour Mr Justice D. Crockett!. Those who vill not rize will be treated as enemies of ze State. All Heil to the Judge!
Judge: Say there, Mr von Obergurgl, that's taking respect for the bench a little too far, ain't it?
Clerk: It is chust my Cherman culture and upbringing, Herr Judge. I am not to blame!
Judge: OK, feller, ease it off there. Now who's doing what in this here cotton-picking case?
Clerk: Zere is nein cotton in zis case. That is striktly verboten.
Judge: Yeah, yeah ...is there any chance of a cawfee? I haven't had one for ten minutes.
Hamilton Burger: Your honour, I represent the plaintiff, Hiram B Monteczuma III and my colleague Mr Mason the defendant, the State of New York.
Judge: Proceed Mr Burger.
Burger: My client is a descendant of the Aztecs. He is proud of their great culture. He wishes to continue to practice human sacrifice. The police have warned him not to rip the hearts out of prisoners to hold up before the setting sun. He claims this is a gross breach of his Human Rights and wishes to sue for ten trillion dollars on the grounds that an entire people have been insulted.
Judge: Okey-dokey, feller. Mr Mason?
Mason: Your honour the defendant will plead that, while of course it utterly respects the rights of insane killers to practice their ancient religion, the use of unsterilised knives is not permitted, dragging bound captives up to the top of pyramids is a clear breach of health and safety and that as the Aztecs did not play baseball there is no reason to accord them equal treatment under the law.
Judge: Now you just hold on a gosh-darned moment there mister.
Mason: Your honour?
Judge: Nothing. It's just part of my culture to make this sort of stupid interjection from time to time.
Foreman of the Jury: This is the most stupid and pointless case I have ever seen. What the hell is going on in here?
Judge: What's your beef feller?
Foreman: I am French. It is my birthright to be rude. You 'ave a problem wizz zat? And don't get me started on the Mexicans who are on this jury, ze are all sitting slumped against the wall of the cantina wearing huge sombreros.
Judge: I ain't never seen a cantina wearing sombreros, son.

etc etc

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Link Me Out, If You'd Be So Kind

I joined LinkedIn a long time ago in the vague hope that it might in some way benefit my career. It didn't. I remain a member purely to see what may happen. I don't mind people who know me asking to join my "network" but I see no reason why total strangers should be given this privilege. Today this appeared in my email

I have never heard of Blumbo Smith. I have serious doubts that this is a real name. What must the other children in the nursery school have made of it? Blumbo the Jumbo perhaps, or Blumbo the Dumbo. Down in New Orleans it would be Blumbo the Gumbo. Seems really cruel to me. And the pathos of that "Smith" at the end. I mean - if you were going to call a child "Blumbo" then surely you would have a surname to match, such as Farquarharson-Colqhoun of that Ilk or Butterbread or Von Strassenbergergemeitlich, Jr.

Anyway, this person, be they male or female (or trans gender or transitioning or androgynous, God you've got to be so careful these days) is not numbered amongst my acquaintances nor have I ever done business with them. I think I would remember a Blumbo, somehow. So why does he/she/it wish to connect with me? I guess the answer lies in that job description - Telesales. Poor old Blumbo, desperately trying to get his 1 sales quota up before the month end and another missed bonus. Maybe there is a final warning hanging over his head?

Enough of Smith and his distinctive forename. What am I to do? My good friends at LinkedIn have thoughtfully allowed me to say yes to his ludicrous suggestion but not to say No.  There is no way I can send Smithy a little note pointing out that he's not getting his grubby telesales-grasping hands on my vast list of contacts and no way I can tell LinkedIn that it is stupid that I am unable so to do. So I shall do nothing. There, that was easy. The email is deleted. Bye-bye, Blumbo, raise a final glass to me from your little cubicle as I depart from your life and better luck with your next victim contact.

1. Male is henceforth taken as signifying all other genders.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Facing up to the Inevitable

Just fancy that. Facebook is under investigation for passing on the personal data of its users to a data analysis company, Cambridge Analytica, who may have used the results to assist in political campaigns, including that of D. Trump recently. This is the outfit [Facebook, not the data analysis people: Ed] who, if I recall rightly, used to claim that any photographs uploaded to their servers became their copyright. Users don't pay anything to store data or to exchange messages with friends on Facebook. These two facts alone ought to be sufficient to make it clear that it is very much caveat emptor when dealing with tech firms. Consider the Facebook terms and conditions. Have you ever read them? If you did and you disagreed with any, can you negotiate with the firm to have them changed? Obviously not.

The funny thing is that there is, inevitably a "backlash" on social media (which largely takes the form of people relaying messages with the same hashtag in). But they use other forms of social media to send these messages. If they cease using Facebook they will use something else which they don't pay for. Naturally the owners of these sites will seek to monetise the data that they are accumulating, no matter how many fine promises and mission statements they may publicise.

Moral: Don't put your personal data online. Or if you do, be aware of what it is and how it may used.

Oh, by the way, nothing in this piece should in any way be taken to suggest that Facebook might have done anything wrong. We totally deny that allegation absolutely. It must surely be the most amazing coincidence of all time that "forensic auditors" employed by Facebook were at work in the offices of Cambridge Analytica just when it would certainly have been convenient if the data that Facebook supplied could all be deleted before any Government investigators could get a look in.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Snow-Bound in Sheffield

The plan was simple. Drive up to Sheffield on Saturday, stay over, and on the Sunday morning collect Mrs.C's mother from her retirement home and drive her to London where she was due to take up residence in a new home. All went well until the blizzard struck on Saturday evening. Sheffield, sprawled over many hills, became a paralysed city. On a particularly steep rise that led from our nephew's home to a nearby restaurant to which we were driving, we watched in shock as a car coming  down towards us seemed to lose control. It bounced off one car parked just ahead (not parked particularly well and with its hazard lights on) and ricocheted off to hit another on the other side of the road. As the drivers began exchanging details (and perhaps a few choice personal remarks), I drove gingerly past, the wheels beginning to skid. Later that night a short drive to the flat owned by Mrs.C's brother and sister-in-law was a tense affair as we slewed and crunched down a windy hill, nearly slamming into the car crawling along just ahead, then it was eyes straining to see through a near white-out as we chugged in second gear; fortunately the roads had become very quiet by then.

I thought I was pretty clever parking overnight on a side road rather than risk the steeply raked drive to the flat's parking area but the next day the car was in a foot of snow, the wheels merely spun when I touched the accelerator and, given that we had no easy way of digging the car out and that the idea of driving back to London with a 90 year old seemed pretty crazy in any case, that was that for the day.

So we spent a day holed up in the flat (my in-laws were themselves lying low in London), venturing out just once to the local Tesco to get something to eat, and watching the news which, when it wasn't all about Russians murdering anyone they didn't much like, showed  transport mayhem all over the country. It stayed at freezing point all day but the second round of snow promised in the forecasts did not materialise.

Today we managed to get back on track, albeit a day later than intended, and apart from a nasty few feet of sheer ice on the pavement (I was so worried about falling I was seriously pondering about sliding down on my bottom), the weather caused no further problems. By lunchtime at Leicester the snow had virtually vanished, the temperature was a reasonable 6 or 7c and the motorways were safe and dry.

That's the first time I have been marooned in this way and it brings home how much at the mercy of nature we are.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Fantastic, though a little late, news that must surely grip all residents of the most beautiful suburb in commuter-land. Only a few years ago (geologically speaking), Ruislip was by the sea. Yes, our ancestors strolled up and down the strand, threw pebbles at passing coelacanths, bought tasty mammoth-on-a-stick treats and spent hours in the amusement arcades with the one-armed bandit (or Ug the 'armless as he was known).

Ruislip 56 million years ago

Ruislip today - the bustling heart of the suburb

OK, it was 56 million years ago so there probably wasn't even a Dreams' sale going on and the only extensive delays to public transport would have been when a sabre-toothed tiger jumped in front of a dugout canoe, but there was plenty going on in what they are already calling the "Ruislip beds" - marshes, swamps and animal in trees according to the boffins who are digging the test pits along the proposed route for HS2. That doesn't surprise me much. As one who regularly walks in that area, I can testify that there are plenty of marshes and swamps in which the unwary hiker can easily step thus blasting mud all over one's lower trouserings.

So come to historic Ruislip and marvel at the prehistoric landscape just 33 metres under your feet. Genuine samples of mud, which must surely resemble very closely the stratum that is so exciting the geologists, may be purchased, at very reasonable prices, from this very establishment. You can also buy pottery very similar to the stuff made by the Beaker folk, pencils on which you can scratch the word 'Ruislip' if you so wish and why not take home a box of our very special rock cakes (made with real local rocks which may be the very same that once stunned an inoffensive trilobite).

Bad Taste Corner - 3

I can't help feeling that some names should be kept out of public view if the owners wish to avoid smirks, sniggers and inappropriate comments from the ignorant. This column, sadly, is forced to align itself with the mockers upon reading the following in today's paper

I can't help but picture the scene as young Keith meets his careers master during his final term at his dear old school back in County Down.

"So young Bomber, have you given any thought to what you will do when you leave us? Engineering perhaps? Finance? Medicine?"
"Well sir, I'm determined to do something in politics. The paramilitaries are the answer. We must defend what we believe to be right and I just know I can do it without anyone suspecting a thing"
"Umm - have you thought this through, Keith?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

You Must Remember This

I couldn't let this news story pass without comment. There is a startup business claiming that it will be able to store the entire memories within a human brain with a view to making them available after the death of the owner. This is the stuff of cutting edge science fiction. For example, Iain M Banks' Culture series envisages super-smart Artificial Intelligences of the future scanning the brains not only of humans but any other intelligent species to be found in the Galaxy and able to copy the data into new bodies, effectively producing eternal life. To have a company claiming to be on the verge of doing this today is thrilling.

Oh, hold on. There are a couple of catches. The first is that this is no more than an conjectural technique at the moment. They haven't actually recorded any memories at all. All they appear to be doing is making a map of the structure of the brain. But a scan using today's technology, such as MRI scans, is useless for recording memory - they would need the state of every molecule and the exact state of all the electrons moving between those molecules, something probably ruled out by the laws of quantum mechanics.

The second catch is a little more disturbing. Every reader of horror fiction, be they fans of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley or H. P. Lovecraft (and his many disciples) knows that any form of reanimation requires an undamaged brain. How gratifying to find that Nectome (for thus they style themselves) are reported in these words:
However, its current process requires a fresh brain.
The product is "100% fatal", the team behind it told MIT Technology Review.

Let us repair to the very top of the castle. Let us bolt the doors and mask the windows. There is a mighty storm brewing. The current is leaping from electrode to electrode. The bodies are strapped down and the scalpels are gleaming. It is surely time for that classic shout to echo across the rooftops

Friday, March 09, 2018

Spring Resumes

We had a difficult time of it last week as a combination of an errant jet stream and an Atlantic storm brought unseasonable cold and snow to much of the country. It's all back to normal now, with mild weather and that little hint of warmth in the air that means Spring is on the way. The days are lengthening rapidly and the light is brighter as the Sun moves higher in the sky.

For the first time in many years the aquatic facilities on the estate [pond out the back:Ed] are free from plant cover; last year I threw out the heavily overgrown beds of snake grass, irises and miscellaneous grass and weeds and have yet to replace them. The question is - will the much greater extent of open water attract back the frogs? We can only hope.

Let's Play 'Who to Follow' Bingo

I've previously commented on the way that Twitter thinks it knows better than you what should be displayed when you visit the site. On that occasion it was the utterly pointless "While you were away" feature that put older tweets in your face whilst hiding the current ones (the ones you actually want to see) further down the screen. Today we focus on a similar useless enhancement - the little side panel that has a selection of tweeters that, in Twitter's opinion and based on an algorithm they don't share with you, and which is titled "Who to Follow".

Why is this subject to my derision? It has never once suggested to me anyone that I wish to follow, not even fleetingly. Furthermore, there seems to be no easy way to remove it (although using the adblock addon has been suggested but having this app screws up other sites). Today it presented to me the names of three football clubs. Now, I do follow a certain football club. I am well aware of the other clubs in the league in which they play and if I want to follow them I can jolly well make that choice. Twitter obviously have a cunning plan. They presented to me today three clubs from a different league. Why on earth they think I would look at these mysterious names and wish to follow them, I have not the slightest idea.  You can delete one from the list but it then gets replaced by another. And each time it was another club from a different league.  After a lot of clicks it finally suggested to me something different - the Central Line of the London Tube. Yes, I can see the logic here. I follow the Metropolitan, on which I travel regularly. So naturally, even though as a Londoner I am thoroughly familiar with the entire structure of the transport system, Twitter assumes that I haven't a clue and randomly pulls out another tube line.

Anyway, the rules of Who to Follow Bingo are very simple. Select one of the useless suggestions and click on the little x to remove it. If what replaces it is just as useless score 1 point. If actually relevant and helpful deduct 2 points. First to 10 wins.

And there's a bonus game. See how many clicks it takes before you get a celebrity who someone you follow has chosen to follow as well. This morning I got Stephen Fry in about 20.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Customer is King (snigger, snigger)

The latest business that is unable to tell the truth to its customers and chooses instead to dress up something unpalatable in lies and PR speak is E.ON. They have abolished the discount of £30 a year given to all customers who buy both gas and electricity without having a paper bill. They could have explained that, due to the rising costs of wholesale energy and that in order to keep their CEO and his cronies in the style to which they are accustomed, these increases are to be passed on. Unpleasant but truthful. Naturally they chose to wheel in their spin-doctors and the following emerged:

[the changes] ... make it simpler and easier for customers to understand our tariffs and compare them with other suppliers in the market.
Now, as far as I know all, 1 of their competitors continue to offer a dual fuel/paperless discount (although this may cease to be the case as everyone gleefully follows E.ON's lead). In any case, it is one thing to make changes to simplify tariffs that leave customers paying roughly the same as before - if you hike the prices and try to disguise it by saying what a wonderful job we are doing to make things easier for you, then this is mendacity. What is more, they are the ones who chose to make the tariffs complicated and hard to understand in the first place, not their customers. How about apologising for that, at least?

1. [Has this been checked at all? Researcher, see me later: Ed]

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Advice to Travellers: Don't!

The cold blast is continuing. Red alerts (danger to life) have been issued for some parts of the country and snow is severely hampering travel everywhere. We only had an inch or so overnight here in beautiful Ruislip but a lot more has been forecast. I usually take the tube to Finchley Road on a Thursday but, fortunately, my class has been cancelled. I say fortunately because here is the current status of the Tube (and one taken from yesterday when I also made that journey)

1st March 10:30 am

28 February 9:20am

Few of the reasons given for the problems mention the weather. It is the usual suspects of faulty signals and defective trains that dominate. Odd that two such awful days should exactly match two of the most difficult days, weather-wise, but you may draw your own conclusions.