52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

why do all good things come to an end....?

I'm moving my blog.  If you're looking for me, then you should now head to swisslet.com

I've had a pretty good run on here.

I started making my first tentative forays into blogging way back in March 2004.  I was only playing around, so I picked the first name that popped into my head. It wasn't an especially original name, but it was one that I'd been using on a few forums when just mucking around and not wanting to use my actual name.  I quite liked Charlie Higson's SwissToni character from the Fast Show, so I just used that.  Blogging, as the real Swiss might have said, was very much like making love to a beautiful woman... or something like that.

There was no way I could have known how much of my life was going to get sucked into blogging and, almost before I knew where I was, I was stuck with an online identity I wasn't massively fond of and I didn't really think there was anything much I could do about it.

Well, I'd like to think I've come a long way since then, both as a blogger and as a person.  I think the time has come for me to grasp the bull by the horns and just get rid of this millstone by changing my online identity.

I'm still not going for my real name, or anything silly like that.  In fact, I'm not moving very far at all.  From today, I'm shifting from "SwissToni" to "Swisslet".  It's a name that I think Lizzie first came up with a few years ago, and it's sort of stuck.  It's not very different, but at least it's all my own.

This blog will stay here, but I likely won't be updating it any more.

Instead, you can join me at Swisslet.com

I've gone and got my own domain and everything, but I've moved all the posts from here over to the new site, so really it will just be more of the same at a new address.  I've taken the opportunity to refresh my antique template too, whilst I'm at it and to generally have a play around to try to freshen things up a bit (although if anyone fancies tweaking my old blog header so that it has the new name on it, then that would be great!)

Mind you, I'll probably still sign all my comments as ST out of sheer force of habit.....

It's not a big deal, but if you could update your links and stuff, that would be lovely.

Just to show how mature the new me really is, I'll even finish with a quote from the Bible without frothing at the mouth in righteous atheist fury.....

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things"


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Friday, November 20, 2009

They put a parking lot on a piece of land......

It's been a while since we had a Guest Editor around these parts, isn't it? Well, as chance would have it, I had a volunteer to have a crack, and I was only to happy to oblige. I think it's fair to say that he's had one or two goes at this in the past, but he's always welcome. Besides, if you don't ask, you don't get, do you?

Without further ado then, it is my great pleasure to introduce (again) for your earworming pleasure.......

Earworms of the week - guest editor #100 -
Fiery Little Sod.

this feels like being greedy, however the kind bloghost has allowed me another go at his pages, so here's a mixed bag of tunes that will hopefully provide some light relief prior to your weekend

> Take it to the Limit - The Eagles

This song was a part of my childhood and though it contains all the California-rock components one might expect, the limit 25 years down the line is a very different place, and the lyrics mean a little more. I apologise for the cheesy AOR, but I am a child of someone else's times

> Die Young, Stay Pretty - Blondie

It is a small step forward from the live fast, die young adage as it assumes the protagonist is pretty in the first place. Anyway, Ms Harry is dishing out some of her finest and the support lacks little. Seems caught on the kinfe-edge of punk and 80's keyboard madness. Not their best known I expect, however provides a pointer to where musical taste may be headed

> Walking Down Your Street - The Bangles

No excuses, no blaming someone else. Chicks with guitars and harmonies. Survived in my head after I had heard it in the car and was walking down your aisle doing my . Very glad the girl bands could play instruments and write songs when I grew up.

> Cash Machine - Hard-Fi

Realised now I am a commuter again it appears that some folk believe I look like the eponymous article. I on the other hand spend an unnecessary part of my life avoiding the things that charge me for acquiring my own hard-earned wedge. Anyway, this cash machine (sorry, tune) is a modern classic and the keyboard harmonica intro is one of the most evocative (and crowd-erupting) I have heard.

> Come Dancing - The Kinks

Was on the way into work and trying to piece together the first verse and realised it is still true today. Unless one has built a "Selection of Executive apartments with underground parking and 35% affordable housing" then the cinema or palais will be left to crumble where it sits. Ahead of its time like most of their later songs and still contained the vital lyrical element I have yet heard matched

> I Love to Boogie - T-Rex

This is very simple. Twice or more a day I stand on (or stomp up and down) London Underground escalators and when I am not the man knocking you out of the way I gaze vacantly at the small adverts for West End shows. I am glad I know no tunes from the many others, but when I see a 'Billy Elliot' billboard I enjoy a touch of Marc Bolan and struggle not to jitterbug across the station concourse.

> The River - Bruce Springsteen

This chap's songs are still hanging around from seeing him live earlier this year and this song stuck. Why an earworm of the week though I pretend to hear you ask? No doubt about it when my neighbour who can play the guitar but needs to work on the voice chose this as his practice song after lights out on a school night. Not the cheeriest of his output but lacks nothing in quality.

> God Save the Queen - The Sex Pistols

Sadly for the monarchy, the only tune I really hear as I walk past Liz and Phil's house each day is this one. I no longer fear a fascist regime, but the one we have just now ain't too clever. Anyway, hardly melodic this, but gets the message across - even if it is a rather bleak one

> Left of Center - Suzanne Vega

This is where you will find me, I am in the outskirts and I have no idea for what I may be looking. But whilst out there I am totally listening to this kind of stuff. More importantly this tune does have some fine drums - oh, and she can properly sing. [ST's note: she can indeed - I like Luka]

> Klunk - Green Nuns of the Revolution

Courtesy of an unlikely source at work I was reminded of a quality tune that not only makes my brain operate differently but contains some of the most inspired samples I have ever had the privilege to hear. The lesson is that music works. Unlike some of the inventions....

that's it......Hasta luego


Thanks my friend - another quality selection. Always welcome around these parts... not least because it allows me (and everyone else who's sick of hearing that I'm earworming Flight of the Conchords again) to have a Friday off!

If anyone else wants to elbow FLS off his monopoly as Guest Editor-in-Chief around here, then just drop me a line in the comments below or via the email address in my profile above.

All welcome.

...And that's your lot. Have a good weekend, y'all. Stay classy.

I'm doing a stint on the Children in Need call centre tonight, so if you call 0345 7 33 22 33 between 9pm and 2am tonight, you might just speak to me (especially if you're from Wales. I always seem to get the Welsh callers for some reason). Be sure to say your name and address nice and clearly for me..... especially if it involves a ridiculous number of letters. My hearing isn't once what it was, and I still find it hard to tell my Caernarfons from my Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogochs....

Give generously now.

[Previous Guest Editors: Flash, The Urban Fox, Lord Bargain, Retro-Boy, Statue John, Ben, OLS, Ka, Jenni, Aravis, Yoko, Bee, Charlie, Tom, Di, Spin, The Ultimate Olympian, Damo, Mike, RedOne, The NumNum, Leah, Le Moine Perdu, clm, Michael, Hyde, Adem, Alecya, bytheseashore, adamant, Earworms of the Year 2005, Delrico Bandito, Graham, Lithaborn, Phil, Mark II, Stef, Kaptain Kobold, bedshaped, I have ordinary addictions, TheCatGirlSpeaks, Lord B rides again, Tina, Charlie II, Cody Bones, Poll Star, Jenni II, Martin, Del II, The Eye in the Sky, RussL, Lizzy's Hoax, Ben II, Earworms of the Year 2006, Sarah, Flash II, Erika, Hen, Pynchon, Troubled Diva, Graham II, Cat II, Statue John II, Sweeping the Nation, Aravis II, Olympian II, C, Planet-Me, Mike, Michael II, Eye in the Sky II, Charlie III, The Great Grape Ape, asta, Ben III, Earworms of the Year 2007, Cat III, JamieS & Wombat, Pynchon II, Briskate, Craig Cliff, Fiery Little Sod, Cody II, J, Yoko II, Rol, Lisa, Pollstar II, Joe the Troll, Eye in the Sky III, Jerry Cornelius, Stevious, Luke, FLS II, Earworms of the Year 2008, FLS III, Mik, Mark Again, Ben IV, Lisa, FLS V]

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

the wrong impression....

My 22 year old colleague was this week the inaugural recipient of a "Plonker of the Week" trophy from some of our colleagues. His mistake was to get a bit confused about the meaning of the word "harem", thinking it was an all-purpose collective noun for a group of people, and then using it to describe someone's new - female - employee. A touch embarrassing, perhaps, but a harmless enough mistake you would have thought.

The plonker of the week is apparently going to be chosen from a shortlist of nominees in a team meeting, with the winner then receiving a little trophy and having their photo taken receiving the award displayed somewhere in the department. It's all pretty harmless and, as he usually does, 22 y.o. took it all in pretty good spirit, even when he then spent the rest of the evening explaining to everyone who asked about the trophy at his desk what he had done to warrant the award.

Apparently the award will be a little like the World Cup, and if you win it three times, you get to keep the trophy. The joke was that bookies had already stopped taking bets on who was going to keep the trophy even though it had only just been awarded for the very first time....

All very amusing.... but 22 y.o.'s boss got in this morning having been working at home yesterday, and she found the whole thing far less funny. She stormed off down the office to take the picture down, and then proceeded to give her young apprentice a long lecture about how he needed to think about how he was perceived by his colleagues and by other people. What kind of impression is this going to make on people who haven't met him before? How much more difficult could something like this make it to be to be taken seriously by these people? This, she said, was nothing more than workplace bullying.

To some extent, I can see what she means: even when marveling at the things that 22 y.o. doesn't know (like the names of three of the four Beatles), I've tried really hard to not make him feel stupid. He may not know loads of things - some of them quite alarming - but that doesn't make him an idiot. I'm not sure that everyone has troubled to make the same distinction between ignorance and stupidity. The Plonker of the Week award is intended, I'm sure, to be taken as a light-hearted bit of banter with no malice. I'm also pretty sure that 22 y.o. won't be the only person to win it (I reckon I must have been a candidate for this). But does my colleague have a point: is he being bullied? Or does her intervention - a little like your mum wading in at school on your behalf - make it all the more embarrassing for him?

Or is it all just political correctness gone mad?


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I could sleep for a thousand years...

Coming as they do immediately after the night of my weekly injection, I always seem to find Wednesday mornings difficult. My routine on a Tuesday is almost entirely built around my injection: I drink as much water as I can during the day; I avoid alcohol; I take a couple of paracetamol and a couple of ibuprofen and then I go for a run. All of these things - bar the run - are designed to try and minimise the side-effects of the Avonex that I inject into one of my thighs after my shower but before my dinner. The injection itself is usually pretty quick and painless, but the thought of it looms large throughout the whole day.

The purpose of this drug is to try and prevent my immune system from causing any more damage to my nervous system, thus slowing down the onset of disability as my multiple sclerosis advances. The evidence that it works isn't exactly overwhelming, but I'm of the opinion that it's better to try something that might work than to do nothing at all. Not everyone with MS agrees, and lots of people find that they would rather take the chance of the increased relapses by doing nothing than of continuing to live with the side-effects of the drug.

The side-effects vary from person to person, but include things like pounding headaches, shivering, a raised temperature, sweats and other flu-like symptoms. The long-term use of the drug can also damage liver function and cause other blood abnormalities, as well as the more immediate problem of injection site issues where you stick the bloody great needle into your leg. Yeah, it's easy to see why some people decide that it's not worth it... but luckily for me, I seem to be relatively unaffected: my red blood count has been dropping and I'm now slightly anaemic, but my liver seems to be okay, and as long as I remember to take the ibuprofen and paracetamol before I inject, I'm not really bothered by headaches or anything like that (although the one time I did forget, I woke up in the middle of the night with the most incredible pounding in my head, so I'm certainly not in a hurry to forget again).

One side-effect I do experience is that I usually wake up on a Wednesday morning completely devoid of energy. I wake up most days now with very little feeling in the soles of my feet, and have to get out of bed very carefully, but on a Wednesday I struggle to get out of bed at all: I feel as though all of the strength has been sapped from my muscles and I'm weary down to my bones. The main reason I go for a run on a Tuesday night is that I know there's a good chance I won't want to do anything of the sort on a Wednesday. Too much like hard work. Wednesday has become my default (and reluctant) rest day.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed, forced myself to do the strengthening exercises -- that I do every Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- that are helping to stop muscle wastage across my arms and shoulders and got ready for another depressing day at work. The weather was pretty grim, so I think it's fair to say that I didn't exactly have a spring in my step as I left the house.

My energy levels - both physical and mental - are definitely at their lowest on a Wednesday morning. If there is a time of the week when I need a lift, then Wednesday morning is definitely that time. Luckily for me though, that is exactly the time of the week - in term time at least - when I usually receive exactly the boost required: I don't go directly to work on a Wednesday morning, I stop instead at a local primary school to help out with their reading. I often say that it's probably the most valuable hour of my working week, thinking of the kids, but I'm beginning to realise how much of a difference that hour makes to me too.

This morning, I walked into an almost empty classroom to be greeted by the warmest of smiles and a cheery "Good morning Tim!" from a charming seven year-old called Chloe.

It is, I reckon, impossible to feel too sorry for yourself after that.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

hail to the thief...

Statistically, I suppose it was always bound to happen sooner or later: after more than ten years happily buying stuff over the internet, this weekend I was finally the victim of that online identity theft and attempted fraud you read so much about.

I was down in Oxford for the weekend, so I didn't pick up my emails until Sunday morning after a distinctly leisurely start to the day. What I saw quickly snapped me out of my slightly fuzzy, morning after the night before kind of a mood. Amongst the usual pre-Christmas marketing guff, a few emails caught my eye: one was a confirmation from PayPal saying that I'd authorised a payment from Dabs.com, then there was an email from PayPal saying they'd limited access to my account, then there was an order confirmation from Dabs.com and finally there was an email confirming a change to my account details at Dabs.com.


This was strange and alarming because I had no recollection of placing any kind of order with anyone, and I haven't actually used Dabs.com at all for more than five years. A quick read of the emails and my fears were realised: someone had placed an order for two Playstation 3s -- worth £598 -- using my long dormant account on Dabs.com and had paid for it using my PayPal account. There was my name and address on the invoice, right above a delivery address somewhere in Telford.

I wasn't immediately sure what to do, but quickly made my way straight to the money and tried to report the fraudulent transaction to PayPal. They were way ahead of me, it seemed, and even as I looked at my account, the transaction was being removed from my account before my eyes. Pausing only to change my PayPal logon and password, I then went off to Dabs to make sure that the order was cancelled at their end. Here I had less joy. Dabs.com may well be very cheap, but one of the ways that they appear to have saved money (and they're hardly alone in this) is by making it impossible to contact them directly: any question has to be put to them either through email or via a "live link" to a customer services operator. According to their site, all their customer service advisors were busy, so I had to fire off an email and hope they got back to me.

It turns out, as I found out on Monday when I tried contacting them again when they hadn't bothered to reply to my email by lunchtime, that the customer service advisors at Dabs were not busy on Sunday at all... they just weren't there full stop... they shut for the weekend (perhaps explaining why the fraudulent order was placed at 7pm on Friday night, when I would have no chance of getting the order cancelled until Monday morning). My email would be responded to, the online advisor told me, but she insisted that she couldn't tell me anything about the status of my order. By now I was reasonably sure that I wouldn't lose any money as a result of this attempted fraud, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of communication from Dabs when it was clear that the attack had started on their website with someone hacking my account. They may well have spotted this order as fraudulent the moment it was placed, and it may well actually have been them that cancelled the transaction with PayPal, but they were giving me - the victim here - no sign that they cared about me at all. At one point, the advisor told me that the Web Accounts team had sent me an email to my new registered address.... an address that had been changed by the fraudster when they changed my account details to prevent me cancelling the order myself.

In the end, they sent me an email confirming that the order had been cancelled and that they had deleted my account. The sign off was priceless:

"I am sorry that you have been a victim, but would like to highlight that dabs.com Plc is one of the most secure e-commerce companies in the UK, unfortunately identity theft can be the hardest type of Fraud to detect."

Right, so in spite of the fact that my details have been hacked out of your systems and someone has tried to steal £600 from me, you'd like to tell me how secure your site is?

How reassuring.

So I'm cross. I'm cross that someone tried to steal from me like this; I'm cross that they were nearly able to; I'm cross that Dabs.com have made it as difficult for their customers to contact them as they possibly can and that they clearly haven't cared about how they handle their customers; I'm delighted that PayPal seemed to react so swiftly to kill the order and were available to me on the phone on a Sunday morning, but I'm a bit cross that my account access has now been limited (even though I was still able to access it fully and change all my account details on Sunday morning.... and if I could, then presumably the fraudster could have done too). Above all, I'm cross that I probably put myself in this position by being lazy with my online passwords and not changing them around enough to make it as difficult as possible for someone to crack them and try to steal from me.

The internet remains an amazing resource and a great place to find and buy the most obscure things at the best possible prices....I'm hardly likely to be giving that up anytime soon. There are, after all, thieves in the offline world too.

But, all the same..... grrr!

In short: go change your passwords and under no circumstances shop at Dabs.com. In fact, if you have an account with Dabs.com - even if you haven't used it in years - I suggest you go and delete it.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

you're gonna burn, you're gonna burn....

I noticed, about halfway round my run this evening and some nine days after Bonfire Night, that the big charity bonfire in Wilford was finally out. It was still burning when I ran past yesterday evening, and if they hadn't clearly raked it over at some point today, then I'm sure it would still have been smouldering away merrily tonight.

Nine days is quite a long time for any fire to be burning, I would say, but if you factor in the fact that it has been hooning it down pretty solidly every day since the bonfire was lit, then you'll agree that this was quite a big bloody fire. It's so big, in fact, that the organisers of the event apparently have to get a structural engineer to put it all together. It's literally the size of a large house, and this year, they had to build it twice when some of the local youth thought it might be amusing to set the pile alight a week before bonfire night.


That pile of ashes was still smouldering sadly as the organisers somehow managed to conjure up another massive pile of wood alongside so that the show could go on.

Not that I've given this much thought, but a bonfire of that size must burn pretty hot, right? Wouldn't that make it a really good place to get rid of a body? If you could get it into the woodpile somehow, surely it would then burn so hot that nothing would remain? And even if someone did see a man-shaped silhouette in the flames, given that it's traditional to burn effigies at this time of the year, wouldn't they just mistake it for another Guy?

Just as a point of interest and as a terrible history bore, I feel I should point out that Guy Fawkes wasn't burned at all.... he was actually sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but was so weak from his torture that he never made it past the hanging bit, sensibly deciding to jump from the gallows, breaking his neck. Spoilsport.

It seems to me something of an overreaction that he is still such a reviled figure in this country some 400 years after the Gunpowder Plot.... perhaps he'd seen the register of Parliamentary expenses and they were afraid he'd publish?

Isn't it time we got over it?

If we must burn effigies of a catholic in a massive bonfire every year, might I humbly suggest we move on to Tony Blair?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009


As I casually bit into a carrot the other day, about the last thing I was expecting to find was a stone.... but there it was.
I imagine the carrot must just have grown around the stone and at some point assimilated it. When all you are expecting to bite down on is a nice crunchy carrot, this is somewhat less than ideal. My tooth was a bit sore, but nothing appeared to drop off, so I put the rest of my carrots to one side and tried to forget about it.

A few days later, and my tooth still seemed to be a bit sore, so I thought I'd better go and see the dentist to make sure I hadn't broken anything. My next scheduled appointment isn't until next June, but they managed to find me a slot this morning.

Over my life, I have had absolutely mountains of dental work done. It may come as news to anyone who has had to listen to me sounding off on any number of topics, but I've apparently got a very small mouth. I certainly had more teeth than I had mouth, and over the course of my teenage years I had a variety of extractions and orthodontic work done in an attempt to make my teeth vaguely presentable. If you can think of a type of brace, I've had it. I've had metal train tracks to pull my gappy teeth together; I've had a brace with a key that I turned once a week to open it out to widen the gap between the left and right sides of my jaw; I had a brace I had to bite down onto to level out the massive bow in my bottom teeth; I had a brace with hideous cheek plates that warped my whole face; I had some headgear that used elastic bands to push my teeth further back in my jaw..... even today, I've got a metal wire attached to the back of my bottom teeth to hold them straight. I had my wisdom teeth out too, naturally. No room for them in there, so out they came. Under local. Which wore off halfway through. As the dentist was wrestling with a tooth, practically with his foot on my chest as he pulled as hard as he could. Twist, twist, crack.

Yup. I've spent a lot of time at the dentists over the years and - perhaps oddly - the dental surgery doesn't really hold any fears for me. Luckily for me, in spite of the fact that all this pushing and shoving appears to have softened my teeth, I've not really needed much in the way of fillings since then, and my annual visits are usually short and sweet. I've noticed I'm becoming more nervous of these visits as I get older, but they happen so infrequently and I need so little done, that it's never been a problem.

I was a touch nervous this morning as I sat in the waiting room awaiting my appointment. I didn't know if I'd cracked my tooth or not, and I'd not seen this dentist before and so didn't really know what to expect. He was younger than me, of course, and he insisted on shaking my hand before I sat down in the chair. He then made small talk with me.... Goodness, I'd travelled a long way across Nottingham. Where did I work? Oh, that's not so far away from here. Have they started taking graduate recruits again, or has the programme been affected by the credit crunch? How long had I lived in the area? Where were my family from?

....and so on.

All very well, but as soon as he'd put the chair back, adjusted the lamp and started to poke around inside my mouth, I'd rather assumed that the small talk would come to an end. Does it qualify as small talk if there's only one person in the conversation? Isn't it a bit odd to be attempting to exchange pleasantries with someone who cannot reciprocate?

He seemed nice enough, but I found the whole thing slightly unsettling, and an image crept, unwanted, into my head:

Szell: Is it safe?... Is it safe?
Babe: You're talking to me?
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Is what safe?
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: No. It's not safe, it's... very dangerous, be careful.

Anyway. Apparently the tooth looks okay and I've probably just bruised a ligament.

I didn't even know teeth had ligaments....every day's a school day, right? Oh, and apparently I eat too much fruit too.

Just 364 days until my next appointment.

Szell: Oh, don't worry. I'm not going into that cavity. That nerve's already dying. A live, freshly-cut nerve is infinitely more sensitive. So I'll just drill into a healthy tooth until I reach the pulp. That is unless, of course, you can tell me that it's safe.....

Can't wait.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

turn it on again....

At some point on Monday evening, my broadband connection went down.

At first I wondered what had happened and if it was my fault: I had, after all, been moving cables and things around in my man room as I attempted a reorganisation that would enable my good stereo to be connected to my airport express to enable wireless access to my music through decent speakers. I'm sure you know what it's like, and I'll bet you have similar forests of cables behind your desks and TVs.....I've often wondered if I'll be able to remember how to put it all back together again if anything ever stops working and I have to risk unplugging stuff, and this was clearly my opportunity to find out.

After a lot of unplugging of cables and rebooting of various routers and modems, I decided - as my internal network still seemed to be working and I was able to connect to everything but the internet - that the fault probably lay with my broadband connection itself.

But how do you check when you can't access the internet?
How can you find out what phone number you're supposed to ring?

In the old days, you could probably rely on a neighbour having an unsecured wireless network. In these untrusting times, however, these seem to be few and far between (and those that exist have a frustratingly intermittent signal from inside my house, the inconsiderate sods....). I was forced to resort, in the end, to disabling the wifi on my phone and using the 3G / Edge network to connect to my provider.


A quick (relatively speaking) phonecall to a lovely man on the helpdesk in India showed that it probably was my cable modem, and an engineer visit was quickly booked... surely I could manage a measley 36 hours without an Internet connection at home?

You'd think, wouldn't you?

But how am I supposed to publish that blog I'd written? How am I supposed to find out the name of that bloke who was in that thing on the telly and what else he had been in? How am I supposed to put a post up onto Freecycle to tell people that someone has come to collect that futon and that they can all stop emailing me now? How am I supposed to look up the postcode of that place I'm supposed to be going to first thing in the morning to attend a course? How am I going to find out what that red button on the side of the scart block I bought is supposed to do?


It all felt so 2004 to be without wireless and it felt positively 1998 to be without any kind of decent Internet connection at all. I was practically helpless.

It's pathetic, isn't it?

Still, all back online now so I can mainline the Internet to my heart's content now.

Honestly, what have we become?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


A new starter to the department was shown around the office yesterday. She doesn't start for another couple of weeks, but she's clearly very keen and had taken a day off from her current job to be introduced to everyone and to help her get her bearings. She'll be working pretty closely with my team, so her guide made sure she spent a little bit of time getting to know us. My desk is located just opposite the director of the department, and he took a couple of minutes to welcome this new starter to the business. After some pleasant small talk about where she's working now, when she starts and how pleased she is to be joining us, the director then gestured to the desks around him:

"If you want to know what it's really like to work around here, you just have to ask any of these guys. Tim here will tell you what it's really like...."

At this point all eyes turn expectantly to me. This is clearly a golden opportunity for me to stoke the excitement and enthusiasm of this new join as she starts her new job, and also to make a good impression on both the director and several of the senior management team, including my boss, now all waiting with bated breath to hear my easy platitudes about how wonderful a place my office is to work and how we all have such a splendid time together.

I've been put on the spot here, for sure, but I'm certain I have the wit and imagination to come up with something suitable.

So, Tim, what's it really like around here?

".......um. It's..... alright."

Brilliant! Nicely played, I thought.

I was smart enough to feel the disappointment now hanging palpably in the air around me, so I sensed I somehow hadn't been forthcoming enough with my assessment and more needed to be said. Far be it from me to rain on anybody's parade.

"....but then, I do have a window seat."

Stick with me, kid, and I'll take you to the end of the world.


Monday, November 09, 2009

bigmouth strikes again....

As we were driving to work this morning, an innocent conversation about the mist rolling off the river and the number of trees now entirely without leaves suddenly mutated into an argument:

Winter's nearly upon us, I remarked.
Well, said C, actually winter doesn't start until 21st December.
Really? Isn't that the shortest day? Wouldn't you associate that with the depths of winter?
No. It's the winter solstice and it's the official start of winter.

We carried on the debate after we reached the office, with C. sending me something from wikipedia, and me retaliating by sending something back from the met office. As these things tend to do - at least with me - what I thought of as being a trivial, light-hearted discussion seemed to quickly be descending into a surprisingly bitter argument. I'll never learn: just as my dad remains convinced that I used to do a deliberately bad job of mowing the lawn just to piss him off, C seems equally convinced that when we have a discussion like this, I am driven to not only to prove her wrong, but to make her look foolish. Perhaps that's the way it seems, but all I'm trying to do is to understand the basis of the argument. I hope I'm not too grudging when I am proved wrong, but I do like to be swayed by evidence. It's probably my historical training, but even on a subject I know nothing about, I'll never accept anything at face value; I like to be presented with at least some sort of evidence.

I'm the first to admit that this isn't always an attractive trait, and I know that it can have its dark side: I used to maintain that no one is ever more than 80% sure they're right in any particular discussion. With that in mind, I would sometimes chose to make it my position to push at the 20% that wasn't so sure of themselves. All this was originally intended to do was to explore the uncertainty and test the evidence, but in the heat of debate, this probably transformed all too often into a desire to push someone off their point. No matter that the other person may well have been originally more sure of their own argument than I was of my own position, I still found that I could push most people into questioning their own certainty, if not actually making them back down entirely.

I like to think that I've realised that's not actually a very nice way to behave, and it's something to be held back for special occasions. However, in even the most trivial discussion, I have a certain curiosity that compels me to ask questions. It often gets me into trouble at work (in spite of the fact that my analytical brain is the reason I was hired to do this job), and it also gets me into trouble at home.

Why is the shortest day the start of winter?
If it is the start of winter, does that mean that summer doesn't start until 21st June?
If that's the case, why is Midsummer's Day traditionally celebrated on 24th June? Is summer only 6 days long?
When would you say Spring starts? I suppose technically, by this logic, it would be on 21st March - the Spring Equinox. If that's the case, then why is the 1st March called the start of Spring? Is 20th June really still Spring?

....and so on.

These are the questions that I want to know the answers to, and these are the questions that I asked C..... who (perhaps not surprisingly) now thinks that I'm trying to make her look a fool. The thing is, I'm not trying to make her look a fool, and she may well be right.... it's just that I can't stop my brain asking what I see as the unanswered questions, and I then have a need to know the answers. If this is the start of winter, then why? Based on what? Does everyone agree?

Even as C. sent me the wikipedia link, I started searching for more answers.

It seems that winter is traditionally held to start in the UK on 21st December, and has apparently been so for thousands of years, based upon an observation of the stars and the length of the day. Meteorologists don't seem to have much truck with this, and the Met Office for one has the seasons neatly parcelled up: Winter - 1st December; Spring - 1st March; Summer - 1st June; Autumn - 1st September.

But it's all quibbling, isn't it? Aren't the seasons dictated by things other than by dates? The change of the season cannot be marked on a calendar and does not happen at precisely the same moment every year.... there isn't a clock that dictates when birds migrate and animals hibernate; there isn't a calendar that can tell you when the leaves will fall from the trees or when the daffodils will bud. It changes from year to year and is affected by all kinds of things, both natural and manmade...................

And so it goes. More or less every single thing that anyone ever says to me is run through this kind of an internal process, with a succession of questions popping up that can never be fully answered; even if they could be, there are more questions following them up close behind.

I'm not sure why I'm driven to ask these questions, and perhaps more pertinently, I don't know why I haven't yet learned when to stop asking them. I should probably at least be more aware, as I ask all these questions one-by-one, that increasingly the best I can hope for is that I don't lose all my friends by making them feel like they're in front of some kind of ranting inquisition 24/7.

I just can't turn off my brain. Like the scorpion in the fable, I may drown us all simply because it's my nature.

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