Saturday, May 30, 2020

Setting My Teeth on Edge

I don't usually use Edge, the web browser supplied as part of Windows 10. Tonight, driven by some devil-may-care sense of adventure, I thought I'd have a look. No sooner had it loaded than it wanted me to update it. I had assumed I already had the latest version, given that Windows 10 has recently updated, but no matter. I clicked to update it.

I wonder what language this message is in

I carried on regardless (us Ruislip Commuters laugh in the face of danger, you know) and was rewarded with the next helpful missive

Soon after this the installation completed. Edge opened and asked me if I wished to import my settings from my normal browser, Firefox. I assented. It pretended to be doing something but did nothing at all. None of my bookmarks were imported.

I did a basic web search to see if others had this problem and found someone with the same issue back in January. Naturally the Microsoft professional who responded was unaware that there was a problem, looked into it, confirmed it and then said it was all a total surprise to everyone at Redmond (including those who presumably wrote and "tested" the import procedure) and why do not an export of the bookmarks out of Firefox to a html file and then import to Edge. Yes, indeed. Just as we used to do this sort of thing 20 years ago.

It's exactly the same as if I were to call up my garage
"Hi, my car is not starting, the computer is showing a couple of error messages"
"Oh yes sir, we get a lot of those. Funny things, these computers, aren't they? Now then, have you got your starter handle handy, plus two strong lads to give you a push start?"

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Nothing to See Here

During the covid-19 lockdown we have been urged (and required) to stay at home and avoid any unnecessary travel. It has emerged that the Prime Minister's advisor Dominic Cummings, closely associated with the strategy, himself travelled from London to be with his family in Durham. There has been much speculation about his position but Boris has stood behind his chum and, far from expressing regret that the Government appears to say one thing but do another, has instead told us all to forget all about it.

BBC News

This is a splendid way to deal with matters of public concern. If only men of such spirit had been around in the past then history would have been so much tidier and certain news stories would have been reported rather differently ...


King shrugs off brutal murder claim
Knights exonerated - "They did nothing wrong" says Henry

A defiant King Henry II last night continued to back the men who had, on his orders, hacked to death popular Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket. Relaxing after a hunt and quaffing a tankard of finest Bordeaux wine, the monarch quipped
"He was getting past it to be Archbishop anyway, let's all look forward to Christmas and stop worrying".
Asked if he should be doing penance, His Majesty said "I am the law, God guides me, what on earth is all the fuss about?

    French army annihilated in Russia
    Emperor Napoleon flees back to France

    "I simply don't see this as a problem" the Emperor was reported as saying as he returned to his luxury apartments in the Tuileries "Yes, a few men died. Alright, a few hundred thousand. But what is that against my personal safety? Surely we can move on now, it's not as if their families are of the slightest account after all"


    Nixon re-elected for historic 3rd term
    Huge majority backs "Hero of Watergate"

    A triumphant Richard Nixon returned to the White House after securing a landslide in the 1976 Presidential election. 
    "I told the people it was time to put Watergate behind us" he said to the world's media gathered in the Rose Garden "I said time and time again that I knew nothing about any bugging or conspiracy to pervert justice and you know, if you tell the American people something enough times, it gets so they come to believe it. I'm gonna keep on running and come the 1980 election I know that I'll be the right man for the job"

    Sunday, May 24, 2020

    Ringing the Changes

    Skimming gently through the BBC news web site this pleasant Sunday morning, I noticed the following snippet. Before I clicked to see what the story was about, I became stuck on what this headline is intended to mean. See what you think.


    The possibilities include:
    • A lost ring was returned to a woman but sadly she was then swept away in a flood
    • A lost ring was returned to a woman but was then swept away in a flood and so lost again
    • The ring magically returned itself to its owner after her flood trauma
    • After a ring was lost to a woman in a flood, it was found and returned by the finder.

    I'm afraid that the last of these options is the basis for the story.


    Readers!: Can you find any more ways of explaining the story behind the headline? Send in your entries to the usual address, marked "Utter waste of time competition".

    The Editor's decision will be final, but irrelevant, as there is no prize for the best entry, nor will we be publishing it in this column or anywhere else; in fact it is unlikely we will even read the entries but it's always nice to have something for the cat to shred.

    Thursday, May 21, 2020

    Hey. good-lookin'

    Is this the least flattering picture of a well known figure in social media ever published? Here is how the BBC chose to depict the founder of Facebook in a story published today:

    If you clicked on the link the following, much more conventional, portrait is employed to illustrate the story:

    Pic: BBC
    When I first saw the top picture I thought it was a image from a computer game, the sort where you play a detective about to interview a serial killer, or maybe the bit where an innocuous citizen changes before your eyes into a zombie. Or maybe the plant behind him would sprout teeth and take a healthy bite out of that pasty face.


    Game publishers! If you would like further information on any of these great ideas, get in touch via the usual address. I've got loads more, if you're interested.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2020

    Let's Hack

    This ad has appeared a number of times when I have a look at Facebook (I only go there for its superb coverage of aardvark breeding farms in Delft) and I'm beginning to become a little bothered by it.

    No, not the 'Learn to be a Professional Musician in Three Minutes', risible though that is. It is, of course, the unreal juxtaposition of the words "ethical" and "hacking", coupled with the proposition that, for a small outlay of cash, you too can be ethically hacking away with the best of them in no time.

    Ethical does not necessarily mean virtuous, it simply refers to having a consistent set of core beliefs that govern one's actions, but I had a look at the details of the course (purely from detached scientific motives, naturally) and it clearly is being used to mean good, upright and legal.

    Hacking admits of no such ambiguity. Hacking means unauthorised entry to the technical systems (almost invariable the computer systems in this context). Hacking is illegal. This is not a grey area. It is not lawful to hack.

    Consequently there is no such thing as ethical hacking, any more than there is ethical burglary or commendable GBH. If you access someone else's systems without permission you have broken the law. It doesn't matter what your motives are, any more than you can say "Yeah, I chucked that half-brick through the jeweller's window but I just wanted to see if it was brick-proof. Sadly, it wasn't." 1.

    Now there are one or two special exemptions to this rule. There are organisations, and individuals, who probe for weaknesses in systems so that they can bring these to the attention of the systems designers. I don't know what procedures they have to prevent abuse, but what is very clear is that if you fork out your £12.99 or whatever to learn "ethical" hacking over the internet, then there are not going to be any checks or balances on your subsequent roams into cyberspace. I looked in vain for the terms and conditions that required a criminal records check, or that you register your hacking activities with some responsible third party.

    What next from these people, I wonder. Here are some possibilities that I hope never see the light of day:
    • Hit and Run Like a Pro
    • Learn Snitching the Easy Way
    • Five Simple Ways to Dump Toxic Chemicals. With the add-on, for just another £10.99, And How to Blame it all on your Neighbour
    • My Knuckleduster Technique - Don't Delay, Get Thumping Someone, Today!
    • See It, Nick It - a Shoplifter's Tale
    • Principled Grand Larceny in Western Europe

    1. Well, yes, you can say it but what I mean is, it won't stand up in court and the beak will probably give you an extra three months for being a prat.

    Thursday, May 14, 2020

    High Alert in Ruislip

    The Covid-19 crisis has gripped us for two months. During this time almost all shops have closed, as have many businesses. There is virtually no air travel, the roads are eerily quiet, schools are shut and even hospitals have far less activity in all departments other than those treating victims of the virus. We have been following the slogan "Stay Home", which has always been followed by "Protect the NHS. Save Lives" in every government briefing and policy statement, repeated time and again by our leaders and medical experts.

    Fear of the virus has meant that the Ramblings household has followed the rule. Other than the weekly shop, we have had no physical proximity to others. We go out for exercise or to obtain the odd items from the local shops that the supermarket could not supply, but we have spent day after day behind our doors, as have millions of others.

    As of this week, with a slackening of the infection rate and a drop in the daily deaths attributable to the virus, there has been some relaxation of the lockdown regulations. There is no longer a limit on time one can spend outdoors and all who can work safely (and travel there safely) are encouraged to do so. And the slogan to "Stay Home" has been changed. It is now "Stay Alert".

    I liked "Stay Home". It was easy to grasp and sensible. Staying home is pretty well guaranteed to keep one free from infection. Knowing that others were doing likewise meant that the infection rate was bound to start coming down.

    "Stay Alert" is quite different. I want to be a good citizen. I feel I should, therefore, be on the alert. I stand by the window in my front bedroom from time to time and twitch the net curtains, keeping my eyes trained on the roads outside. I scan the skies whilst sitting in the conservatory which overlooks the back garden. My mobile phone is kept to hand at all times in case that vital call comes in. And yet - is this really enough? Is this, indeed, what we are meant to do?

    I am not totally sure what we keeping alert for. People with the disease, perhaps, sneaking up on us when we are unguarded. But many have the disease and display no symptoms. Others may have coughs and temperatures but how on earth can I spot them if they are outside and I am inside? Should I hide out in the front garden, perhaps cutting a couple of eye-holes in the dustbin and crouch inside with notebook to hand? Should I obtain a tin hat, write "Alert Warden" on it and patrol the street? Maybe I could bang on the odd front door "Here, put that light out, don't you know there's an Alert on?"

    I enjoy the odd light doze in the afternoon, maybe once or twice a week. I had a highly fascinating YouTube video on developments in physics going the other day but must confess to having missed quite a lot of it as my eyes glazed. I came to, though, with a start. Sleeping on duty? When there is an Alert on? That's a court martial offence. I think I got away with it but if Mrs. C turns me over to the authorities then it could be a bleak outlook. They'd take away my tin hat for a start.

    In any case, who do we report to? I mean, if we do actually spot something that ought to be reported, the whatever-it-is that we are on the alert for. I've had no instructions. If they had a sort of Alert Home Guard scheme where you sign up on an official website and receive a badge and maybe a nice pen, plus money-off vouchers at local cafes for being part of the War Effort, then I'd be there like a shot. There is no such website. We are on our own, loyal to the directions of the authorities, but essentially making it up as we go along. I assume we do get tea-breaks whilst being On Alert and have taken them regularly but is this a breach of regulations? Should I be keeping a log of my daily sightings of the postman and the Tesco lorry making its regular deliveries? Is it permitted to have a lie-in on weekends?

    So many questions. So few answers. Actually, no answers at all. Nonetheless, I shall soldier on. I shall remain on a state of High Alert until that glorious day when London advises that the war is over and I can stand down, hang up the tin hat and begin work on my memoirs. Or until they change the slogan.

    Friday, May 08, 2020

    Do you want that bikini with beans, madam?

    During these days of lockdown-enforced idleness, I have been reading through my collection of horror stories. Now, a  horror short story has to pull you in fairly quickly and immerse you. It may seek to have you recoil in shock or with a chill unease. It should not make you put down the e-reader and think "Surely that cannot be what the author meant?"

    But, whilst reading Tighter by Christa Faust, published in The Best New Horror 16, I reached this paragraph on the first page and stopped.

    In one of the older casinos, a tarnished relic from the days when Vegas was still strictly for grownups, Persephone does Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Two shows on Saturday. In the dimly lit lounge, she appears with flashpots, clad only in a golden g-string and tiny, star shaped pasties.
    American readers may be thinking "What's the big deal, bud?". Because they would know that a pastie, in the context of a young lady in a sleazy Vegas show, means two very small strip of materials worn as part of a costume to protect her modesty. Something like these, for example:

    Pic: Amazon

    I, however, as a British reader, can only think of pasties as meaning a Cornish pasty, times two, as follows:

    Pic: Good to Know website

    And now you can see my confusion. I am all in favour of a few tiny pasties at any time, star-shaped or not (actually they would be pretty unusual), even better if chips and brown sauce are involved. Attached to the body of a lady in a casino, though? Not a very effective way to cover the nipples, there would be bits of pastry flying everywhere and how would you stick them on anyway? Perhaps a healthy dollop of mayonnaise might be sticky enough but it seems risky.

    Ms Faust could have matters clearer by using the word "tassels". I shall suggest this, should the editors of the series request my assistance with revisions. In the meantime, let me try to expunge the image of gyrating parcels of fine Cornish cuisine from my still boggling imagination.

    Tuesday, May 05, 2020

    101 Things #101 - Finale

    101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die has reached the end of the road. It all began last September with an exploration of the "must-do" bucket-list ideas of others, and a liberal sprinkling of my own prejudices. I simply wrote about things I did not wish to do and saw no reason to feel guilty about not doing.

    What seems to have emerged is that we can define ourselves as much by what we turn our backs on as that which we embrace. Just because others think something is worthwhile does not mean that it is or that we should worry that we think this way.

    Every one of my preceding pieces has been summarised as as a determination not to do something. Let me now turn the specifics into a single, sweeping generalisation. I am not going to

    Do things just because others say I should

    or to put it another way, I will most definitely not be a dedicated follower of fashion. An anti-fashionista, founder of the Peoples Front Against Trendiness and the Must-Do Ethos, that's me.

    This view is not as obvious as it may sound. I have, on a number of occasions, had salespeople knock at my door to hawk cable TV, driveway cleaning, solar panels or some other service, and they always use the line "Everyone else in your street is having it". Presumably this is effective on others or they would not try it, but it has the reverse effect on me. If everyone else is doing it, and they are doing it because they think everyone else is doing it, then I want out.

    I will go on writing about pointless fashions and trends but not in such a structured way. There is not going to be a 101 More Things I Refuse To Even Contemplate in the pipeline. I shall cease trawling the net in search of ideas to scorn, fun though that has been.

    I am appreciative of the many who have made this series possible, in particular Bucket List Journey (8 times), Aussie on the Road (6 times) and honourable mentions to Pick Your Goals, LifeListed, Personal Excellence, Huffington Post and Lifelot, each of whom have furnished several memorable notions. It is a great relief to know that I can henceforth ignore these sites with their endless exhortations to do things and the underlying sub-text that those who do not flail about ticking off their BL items are somehow missing out on life.

     It is curious to be writing these lines at a time when so many of the ideas I have been discussing are impossible to do because of the covid-19 lockdown. I cannot prance down the street slapping hands, feeding meters or pretending to be someone I am not. I cannot climb the Eiffel Tower, fly the Vegas red-eye, visit Disney Parks or dine in blacked-out restaurants where I shall proceed to order one of everything on the menu. I need no longer try to dodge morris dancers or to gate-crash weddings. Flash mobs are right out! I shall not go to live in Xinjiang, or as a sheriff in a small American town, nor will I venture into space, see exotic shows in Thailand or visit Graceland. I could still, perhaps, compliment myself in the mirror each day, try to collect 100 toothbrushes (online, naturally) or take up hygge but you know what? I ain't gonna do them either and the fact that in theory I could, makes it all the sweeter that I can still turn my back.


    At this juncture I want to insert a brief thought about the mentality behind bucket-lists (and doing stuff because others do). I am not alone in my rejection of the "me-too" mentality. Two excellent articles in support of this view may be found courtesy of that august journal The Wall Street Journal by Joe Queenan and in the equally authoritative The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead.

    Queenan comments
    Bucket lists too often are an attempt to compensate for not having done things early enough in life that they would have made a difference. They're a shortcut, a make-up exam, a trick. Bucket  list accomplishments are like Fantasy League baseball: a cheap substitute for the real thing

    Mead makes a very telling point, using President Obama's hurried visit to Stonehenge in 2014 when he took a break from the NATO summit. The President had a lightning tour of the sight and was heard to say "Knocked it off the bucket list right now". Mead and I are agreed that this goes to the heart of the futility of the bucket-list, of doing something because it is fashionable or because "everybody else is doing it".

    You don't "do" Stonehenge by walking once round the stones. You immerse yourself in the landscape. You study the exhibits in the museums and ponder the culture of the people who put so much effort into building a complex of structures stretching for miles, and to which it is known that visitors came from well beyond these shores two and three thousand years before the Romans arrived. And even then you still don't tick it off, because the archaeology is continuing and new information emerges all the time, and there is loads more in the surrounding countryside at other sites. With a site like the Stonehenge Landscape, arguably, you can never tick it off because there will always be more to be learned. For myself, I've been there as a schoolboy and several times since, the most recent being an organised trip led by a specialist and, revealing though this was, it showed how much more there is to discover.


    And finally, this entire series could not have been possible without the constant support and critical reviews offered by my Editor. Whether it be nit-picking about neologisms, lip-pursing over long sentences or head-scratching about obscure references, he has always been there for me. Naturally, full responsibility for any errors or omissions that remain are entirely down to him and not in any way my fault, that's why I have an Editor after all.

    Sunday, May 03, 2020

    101 Things #100 - Ton Up

    Folks, we've reached our century. For the last eight months I have been writing these little pieces to describe, deride and demolish [I shall miss this brilliant alliteration, you know: Ed] popular ideas for bucket-lists, the things one is supposed to be passionate about doing before death. These form my compilation 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die1.

    Some are based on personal dislikes and foibles. The majority have been collected them from quite a number of websites each of which has long lists of recommendations. What connects every piece is that all of these are things I will not do before I die (and I certainly shan't be bothering afterwards).

    In each of the previous 99 pieces I have tried to explain the notion under examination and then ripped into it. Here, in order to do something a little different, I have hand-selected2 several idiotic and risible ideas and will aim to dismiss each in a few lines. Think of this as a sort of coda to the concerto, or as an encore after the main set, or, if you prefer, as the petits fours after a superb six course meal at a swanky restaurant  - you don't need any more food at this stage but who turns down petits fours? 3


     First up, get your thinking gear wrapped around this almost incomprehensible idea from Develop Good Habits to

    Be in two places at once.

    The website doesn't give us the crucial information needed to make this a useful goal, viz. which two places? I assume they don't mean two physically separate places, such as Ruislip and Ruislip Manor for example, divided as they are by about half a mile of fairly dull suburban housing yet linked by the Metropolitan Railway (journey time approx 1 minute). In fact, I can't imagine any two places that one could simultaneously inhabit, although I am reminded of a gag which goes something like "He was in the state of Arizona and I was in a state of exhaustion", but that's not important right now.

     I'm pretty sure this is not meant to be about some assertion based on quantum physics; elementary particles are said to have have wave functions that embrace the entire universe and thereby theoretically being in every place at once. I hope this is not the case because this branch of physics gives me the sort of headaches only peanuts and an hour of two of Skyrim can dissipate.

    I think we can heave this one into the dustbin of despair for the time being.


     Next, step forward the brains behind and tell us, in your own words, what's so special about attempting to

    Live through 4 seasons of the year:
    Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

    I have lived through these very four seasons something like ... well, let's just say quite a few times. There's nothing to it. One only has to go on living and there you are, each year you can tick off another set. Obviously this is not something I can refuse to do, per se, but I can certainly refuse to regard it as anything worth achieving. What makes it odder is that the source is a New Zealand based website and seasons in that part of the world are fairly similar to those in the UK, I gather.


    Now, please put your hands together for something so easy to mock that should slink away in shame. No, I am not going to

    Say yes to everything for a day

    and nor are you. Consider this simple rebuttal:

    "Darling, you're not going to wear those trousers are you? They're filthy"
    "Yes? Yes what? Yes you are going to wear them or yes you agree you are not going to wear them or yes they are filthy?"
    "Um....I think I meant no"
    "No? No what? No they are okay to wear, is that what you're saying?"
    "Yes. No. Oh, help me, my friends at Bucketlist, what the hell am I supposed to say?"


     We shall pass swiftly on to consider a frankly unworkable plan proposed by Aussie on the I mean, really, one cannot take seriously the notion to

    Go a month without the internet.

    Without the internet it would not be possible to bring you fresh instalments of Ramblings. Nor could you flick through the back numbers whilst waiting for an update. I think I need say no more.


    And finally, as a perfect example of the utter and complete pointlessness of bucket-lists and their creators, make yourself a strong cup of tea and sit down and have a think about this one -

    Get a pair of plain white canvas shoes and draw on them.

    Daring to Live came up with this and quite honestly we think they should have a jolly good lie down and a hard think about the direction of their lives. I suppose a three-year old would regard scribbling on his new shoes as an afternoon well spent. For the rest of us, we do have other things to do, you know.

    And with that we conclude the proceedings, leaving only the wrap-up for the final piece. Go and have that strong cup of tea, you've earned it.


    1. My next set, 101 Things I Refuse To Do In The Afterlife may follow, given sufficient interest.
    2. Sounds good that. Hand-selected. It's a bit like calling something 'artisan', Doesn't really mean a thing but definitely impressive.
    3. Some of us would be happy to more or less move directly to the petits fours but it's not as simple as that.

    Friday, May 01, 2020

    101 Things #99 - An Arrondissement Too Far

    With this, the 99th in the almost-completed series of diatribes against things fashionable, we return to the well-worn theme of travel. Worthy of inclusion in the index of impracticability that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is the recommendation on the website Develop Good Habits to

    Stay in each of the arrondissements of Paris

    Whilst I was browsing the DHG site to find out more about the fascination with the administrative districts of Paris, I spotted something else that nearly diverted me to write a separate piece, and spent some time pondering it before deciding it was just too silly. Rather than deprive you of it, here is the cause of that digression - the suggestion that one should, as part of one's all time bucket-list of things worth doing, 

    Sunbathe near the Atlantic Ocean.

    Whatever view one takes on the pros and cons of sunbathing (a no-no in the Ramblings household), what on earth does it matter which ocean one chooses to be near to? Why the Atlantic and not any other great ocean, or come to that, any small body of water? Why is the world-renowned Ruislip Lido not adduced as an alternative? And why (and this is the bit that had me fascinated) must one be "near" to the ocean, as apart from being right beside it on a nice beach or maybe on a pleasant hillside a few miles away?

    Anyway, I just thought I'd throw that one in as a sort of bonus, to you, my loyal readers, as we near the end of this wonderful journey through B-L madness and personal foibles, and now back to the main event.

    To the non-French speaker arrondissement is a lovely word to roll off the tongue. So much more romantic and evocative than, say, district or as we might have in London, borough. But they are just administrative boundaries, part of the system of local government. The map of them does have a wonderful shell-like design because the numbering system moves around in a great spiral, and as the arrondissements further away from the centre are larger than those in the middle, there is a tangible resemblance to the Fibonacci, or Golden Ratio, sequence of numbers found throughout nature (in the design of sunflower seedheads,for example). This map shows it clearly

    Pic: World in Paris

    Paris is a fine city, Mrs C and I have been there a number of times and anyone new to France (or Europe) should have it on their itinerary. What gives me pause is the idea of staying in each of the 20 districts that denote the central part. If "stay" means at least one overnight, then we are being told to spend three weeks changing our living arrangements every day. 20 trudges up a flight of steps to find a surly concierge or a suspicious desk clerk. 20 luggings of a heavy suitcase (we are in Paris for at least three weeks, remember) up a further three flights of twisting stairs into dark corridors until we finally reach a poky little room, open the tatty curtains and gaze out upon the walls of the apartment that faces us across a narrow, rather whiffy, back alley. 20 rounds of French breakfasts consisting of that sludgy indigestible coffee, an iron-hard roll and a damp croissant with a blob of raspberry jam. 20 rounds of packing, lugging the suitcase back down the interminable stairs and then trying to find the clerk to pay the extortionate bill. And then it's out into the wet streets (bound to be raining most days) and off through the puddles and the hooting, street-clogging traffic to the next hotel in the next arrondissement a mile away.

    All these images, (founded, I should add, on bitter personal experiences both on holiday and visiting Paris on business) sprang into my mind the instant that I contemplated what staying in each arrondissement would actually mean. Let me propose something a lot more sensible. Find a decent place to stay and use the excellent Metro to get around to each part of the city. The time saved on the interminable checking-in and out will justify any additional outlay.

    I suppose the DHG people thought that one could truly experience the flavour of each arrondissement only by staying there, that somehow the breakfast in the cafe on the street corner (we have abandoned our dispiriting hotel breakfast in this scenario) will be different each time, that the pungent aroma of cigarettes and dog-pee will change as we cross the streets on the boundaries, that the gendarme will take his hand off the butt of his firearm, smile and welcome us to his manor ... No, those of us who have been know that this not going to happen. Sure, each part of Paris has its own character but you'll pick that up merely by strolling through the streets. As with all great cities, nearly all of it is residential or commercial and the bits we tourists relish are concentrated in a comparatively small area in the centre.

    So forget the arbitrary lines on the map. Visit Paris, sure. And do it for fun, not to tick off a pointless exercise in political geography.